Wednesday 2 August 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Sister Christine : 21


But it was not all Vedanta, and deep serious thought. Sometimes after the classes were over, it was pure fun, such gaiety as we had never seen elsewhere. We had thought of religious men as grave all the time, but gradually we came to see that the power to throw off the burden of the world at will and live for a time in a state of childlike joy is a certain sign of detachment and comes only to those who have seen the Great Reality. For the time being, we were all light-hearted together.

Swamiji had a stock of funny stories, some of which he told again and again. One was about a missionary to the cannibal islands who, upon his arrival, asked the people there how they liked his predecessor and received the reply, "He was delicious!" Another was about the Negro preacher, who in telling the story of the creation of Adam. said, "God made Adam and put him up against de fence to dry", when he was interrupted by a voice from the congregation. "Hold on dere, brudder. Who made dat fence?" At this, the Negro preacher leaned over the pulpit and said solemnly, "One more question like dat, and you smashes all teology!" Then Swamiji would tell about the woman who asked, "Swami, are you a Buddhist?" (pronounced like bud), and he would say wickedly but with a grave face. "No, Madam, I am a florist."

Again, he would tell of the young woman, cooking in the common kitchen of the lodging house in which he lived with Landsberg. She had frequent disputes with her husband, who was a spiritualistic medium, and gave public seances. Often she would turn to Swamiji for sympathy after one of these differences. "Is it fair for him to treat me like this," she would say, "when I make all the ghosts?"

He would tell about his first meeting with Landsberg. It was at a Theosophical meeting where Landsberg was giving a lecture on "The Devil". Just in front of him sat a woman who was wearing a scarlet blouse. Every now and then, Landsberg said the word "devil" with great emphasis, and when he did, he invariably pointed a finger at the woman with the scarlet blouse.

But soon we found ourselves in an entirely different mood for he was telling the story of Shakuntala. With what poetic imagination! Did we think we knew something of romance before? It was but a pale, anaemic thing — a mere shadow of real romance. Nature became a living thing when the trees, flowers, birds, deer, all things lamented, "Shakuntala has departed!" "Shakuntala has departed!" We too were bereft. Then followed the story of Savitri, the wife whose faithfulness conquered even the dread Lord of Death, Not "faithful unto death", but with a love so great that even death retreated before it. Then Sati, the wife, who fell dead when she inadvertently heard someone speak against her husband. Uma, who remembered even in another body. Of Sita, he never spoke at length at any one time. It seemed to touch him as not even the story of Savitri did. It was too deep and precious for expression, Only now and then, a phrase, or sentence, at most a paragraph. "Sita, the pure, the chaste." "Sita, the perfect wife. That character was depicted once for all time." "The future of the Indian woman must be built upon the ideal of Sita." And then he usually ended with "We are all the children of Sita", this with a melting pathos. And so was built up in our minds the ideal of Indian womanhood.

To be continued.... (Memoirs of  Sister Christine)

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