On the morning of Tuesday, February 9, the Swami visited the Triplicane Literary Society at the request of its members. An address of welcome was read by T. V. Seshagiri Iyer, Vice-President, in which the Swami's attention was drawn to the fact that previous to his departure for America his first public appearance had been in the hall of the Society. It was because of that that the citizens of Madras had been able to value the Swami at his true worth. After thanking the Society for having afforded him the opportunity of making himself known to the people of Madras in 1893, he went on to say that the power of originality once possessed by the Hindus had been lost, and that they were now concerning themselves with details of dress, food, and other trifles.
We have been making ourselves smaller and smaller, he said, and dissociating ourselves from the rest of the world. We have to give up the idea that we are the people of the world. We have much to learn from other nations, and much to give. What India has to give, and has been giving through the ages, silently, imperceptibly, is the gift of wisdom and spirituality. "Slowly they (the Western nations) are finding out that what they want is spirituality to preserve them as nations.... Heroic souls are wanted to help the spread of truth... to disseminate the great truths of Vedanta.... The whole of the Western world is on a volcano which may burst tomorrow.... We must go out, we must conquer the world through our spirituality and philosophy.... What I mean by the conquest of the world... is the sending out of life-giving principles...." The glory of the Vedanta is that it does not depend on a person, or persons: it is based on principles. Hence, if there is any religion that can lay claim to universality, it is the Vedanta. We must stick to the essentials, avoid mystery-mongering, and purge away our many superstitions. The subject of this talk was "The Work Before Us". Although no notice had been given of it in the press, a very large crowd thronged the Society's premises.
That evening in the Victoria Hall, the Swami gave the first of his four public lectures: "My Plan of Campaign".
In the lecture, the Swami said about the reformers: "They want to reform only in little bits. I want root-and-branch reform. Where we differ is in the method. Theirs is the method of destruction; mine is that of construction. I do not believe in reform; I believe in growth...." To dictate to society which way it shall move is to put oneself in the position of God. But who knows, and who dares say which way society shall move? "Feed the national life with the fuel it wants, but the growth is its own; none can dictate its growth to it. Evils are plentiful in our society, but so are there evils in every other society." Every uneducated globe-trotting foreigner can give a harangue on the evils in Hindu society, "but he is the friend of mankind who finds a way out of the difficulty". "The history of the world teaches us that wherever there have been fanatical reforms, the only result has been that they have defeated their own ends."
This was the Swami's position vis -à- vis the reformers, some of whom, as he said, "try to intimidate me to join" their societies. Then he takes up arms against those who say that idolatry is wrong. "I once thought so, and to pay the penalty of that I had to learn my lesson sitting at the feet of a man who realized everything through idols; I allude to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. If such Ramakrishna Paramahamsas are produced by idol-worship, what will you have -- the reformers' creed or any number of idols?... Take a thousand idols more if you can produce Ramakrishna Paramahamsas through idol-worship...." After clearing the ground he comes to his plan: "My plan is to follow the ideas of the great ancient Masters." Since every improvement in India requires first of all an upheaval in religion, the first work that demands our attentions that the most wonderful truths confined in our Upanishads be "brought out from the possession of selected bodies of people, and scattered broadcast all over the land.... And that diffusion... must go out all over the world." Then he makes the points he had made in "The Work Before Us", about a give-and-take between India and the West.
"My plan is to start institutions in India, to train our young men as preachers of the truths of our scriptures, in India and outside India. Men, men, these are wanted" -- sincere to the backbone. "A hundred such and the world becomes revolutionized." He describes what his ideal of patriotism is, and concludes: "This national ship... my friends... has been ferrying millions and millions of souls across the waters of life. For scores of shining centuries it has been plying.... But today, perhaps through your own fault, this boat... has sprung a leak; and would you therefore curse it?... Let us go and stop the holes. Let us gladly do it with our hearts' blood...."