IT was in the year 1897, the year of my graduation, that I had the rare privilege of seeing at Calcutta the world-famous Hindu monk, the epoch-making Swami Vivekananda, in the house of the late Babu Balaram Bose, a devout bhakta well known to the disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. I went to see him because I was profoundly interested in his message, though its significance was not yet quite clear to me. A few words may be necessary to explain my interest.
I was inquisitive from my boyhood and the question of religion had a strange fascination for my mind. Just as in these days the predominant interest of my countrymen is politics, so in my boyhood their predominant interest was religion. It was a time of great religious movements and controversies. There was a constant play of action and reaction. On the one hand, there was the rising tide of Brahmoism with which most enlightened men were in sympathy. On the other, there was the frantic effort of the so-called orthodoxy with its pseudo-scientific and fanciful interpretation of the religion of the Hindus. Then, again, there was Theosophy with its Mahatmas, occultism, and spirit-world to which many educated people were attracted because they did not like the Westernized outlook of the Brahmos, and further because they felt flattered by the uncritical eulogy of everything Hindu by Colonel Olcott of America and Mrs. Annie Besant of England. It must be said at the same time that not an inconsiderable section of university-bred young men were free-thinkers, rationalists or agnostics who swore by Mill, Comte, Spencer, Huxley, and Haeckel and thought that all religions were equally false. Such was my intellectual milieu as a boy and a youth. I listened to the discussion of my elders and sometimes took part in the discussions. Religion to me was not yet a craving of the soul. It was more or less a question of intellectual interest. Though born in an orthodox Hindu family, yet the influence that I felt most was that of the Brahmo Samaj and also that of a near relative who was an out and out agnostic. With the social programme of the Brahmos I had every sympathy, but their theology I could not accept. I was swaying between two forces — Brahmoism and agnosticism.
It is in this state of mind that I finished my school education and entered college. It is in the first year class, if I remember right, that I first heard of Ramakrishna — yet I did not hear of him from any fellow-countryman of mine but from a foreigner — no less a personage than Professor Max Muller himself. I just happened to read two articles from his pen in The Nineteenth Century — one entitled Esoteric Buddhism, a scathing criticism of Madame Blavatsky and her theosophy and the other A Real Mahatman. This Real Mahatman was no other than our Bhagavan Ramakrishna. A new horizon opened before me. A new light flashed forth. And all this happened at a mofussil town.
About a year after this, I read in the papers all about the famous Parliament of Religions at Chicago and the resounding triumph of Swami Vivekananda there. Who was this Vivekananda? I came to know soon after that he was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna, the Real Mahatman of Professor Max Muller. I was eager to know all about the man and his message. Unfortunately I was not present at Calcutta at the time when the whole city turned out to receive him with the tremendous ovation that signalizes the return of a conquering hero. I read, however, glowing accounts of the event and saw that honour such as this had never fallen to the lot of any man on the Indian soil.
The main theme of my life is to take the message of Sanatana Dharma to every home and pave the way for launching, in a big way, the man-making programme preached and envisaged by great seers like Swami Vivekananda. - Mananeeya Eknathji
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