Tuesday 25 April 2017

Swami Vivekananda in the memory of Ida Ansell - 6

The next day it rained all day. In the morning after breakfast Swamiji sat on Miss Bell's cot and talked for a long time. although even then he had a fever. That night he was very ill, so ill that he made a will, leaving everything to his brother monks. Shanti and Kalyani took care of him. I can see Shanti now, in the pouring rain, heedless of getting drenched, spreading an extra piece of canvas over his tent directly opposite to the one I shared with Miss Bell.

The next day was Saturday and Miss Bell and I had to go to San Francisco. When we returned Sunday afternoon, Swamiji was better. He had been invited to the camp to rest, but every day after breakfast he would sit on Miss Bell's cot and talk to us for a long time, telling stories, answering questions. He told of his hopes for a better understanding of the East and the West and their mutual benefit thereby. He told of his love for Thomas a Kempis and how he had travelled all over India with two books, the Gita and The Imitation of Christ. In one of his lectures in San Francisco Swamiji closed with a quotation from the latter: "Silence all teachers, silence all books; do Thou only speak unto my soul."

After the morning talk and meditation, Swami would be interested in the preparations for dinner. Sometimes he helped. He made curry for us and showed us how they grind spices in India. He would sit on the floor in his tent with a hollow stone in his lap. With another smooth, round stone he would grind the spices much finer than we can do with a bowl and chopper. This would make the curry quite hot enough for us, but Swami would augment it by eating tiny red-hot peppers on the side. He would throw his head back and toss them into his mouth with a great circular movement of his arm. Once he handed me one of them, saying, "Eat it, It will do you good." One would eat poison if offered by Swamiji, so I obeyed, with agonizing result, to his great amusement. At intervals all the afternoon he kept asking, "How is your oven?" Another time he made rock candy for us, explaining how it is the purest kind of candy, all the impurities being removed by boiling and boiling.

The meals were jolly and informal, with no end of jokes and stories. Shanti had been to Alaska and was accustomed to roughing it, and her carefree spirit and indifference to conventions pleased Swamiji. At one breakfast he reached over and took a little food from her plate, saying. "It is fitting that we should eat from the same plate: we are two vagabonds." He also said to her again, "You have become part of my life for ever," and to Kalyani he remarked that if she had lived on the highest mountain she would have had to come down to take care of him. "I know it, Swami," she replied.

Nothing escaped Swami's notice. Some work was being done on the place by a Mexican or American Indian, and Swami noticed that he watched us having breakfast. Later on he talked to the boy, who complained of not having been given any coffee. He said, "Black man like coffee; white man like coffee; red man tike coffee." This amused Swami very much. He requested that the boy be given some coffee, and all the afternoon he kept repeating the boy's remark and laughing.

The afternoons were devoted to long walks. The grand climax of the day's activities was the evening fireside talk and the following meditation. After telling stories and answering questions Swamiji would give us a subject for meditation such as "Firm and Fearless" before beginning to chant. One morning he inspired us with a talk on "Absolute Truth, Unity, Freedom" and the subject for the evening meditation was "I am All Existence, Bliss, and Knowledge."

So the days went by all too fast, with serious mornings, merry afternoons, and sublime evenings.

To be continued...(Memoirs of Ida Ansell)

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