Saturday 30 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Martha Brown Fincke : 3

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Martha Brown Fincke

...The day came, the little guest-room was ready, and a stately presence entered our home. The Swami's dress was a black Prince Albert coal, dark trousers, and yellow turban wound in intricate folds about a finely shaped head. But the face with its inscrutable expression, the eyes so full of flashing light, and the whole emanation of power, are beyond description. We were awed and silent. Our hostess, however, was not one to be awed, and she led an animated conversation. I sat next to the Swami, and with my superfluity of reverence found not a word to say.

Of the lecture that evening I can recall nothing. The imposing figure on the platform in red robe, orange cord, and yellow turban, I do remember, and the wonderful mastery of the English language with its rich sonorous tones, but the ideas did not take root in my mind, or else the many years since then have obliterated them. But what I do remember was the symposium that followed.

To our house came the College president, the head of the philosophy department, and several other professors, the ministers of the Northampton churches, and a well-known author. In a corner of the living-room we girls sat as quiet as mice and listened eagerly to the discussion which followed. To give a detailed account of this conversation is beyond me, though I have a strong impression that it dealt mainly with Christianity and why it is the only true religion. Not that the subject was the Swami's choosing. As his imposing presence faced the row of black-coaled and somewhat austere gentlemen, one felt that he was being challenged. Surely these leaders of thought in our world had an unfair advantage. They knew their Bibles thoroughly and the European systems of philosophy, as well as the poets and commentators. How could one expect a Hindu from far-off India to hold his own with these, master though he might be of his own learning? The reaction to the surprising result that followed is my purely subjective one, but I cannot exaggerate its intensity.

To texts from the Bible, the Swami replied by other and more apposite ones from the same book. In upholding his side of the argument he quoted English philosophers and writers on religious subjects. Even the poets he seemed to know thoroughly, quoting Wordsworth and Thomas Gray (not from the well-known Elegy). Why were my sympathies not with those of my own world? Why did I exult in the air of freedom that blew through the room as the Swami broadened the scope of religion till it embraced all mankind? Was it that his words found an echo in my own longings, or was it merely the magic of his personality? I cannot tell, I only know that I felt triumphant with him.

Friday 29 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Martha Brown Fincke : 2

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Martha Brown Fincke

...The College dormitories were not large enough to house all of the incoming class, so I with three other freshmen boarded in a square brown house near the campus. This was kept by a lady whose independent spirit and humorous outlook endeared her to us, despite her despotic rule. College lectures for the whole body of students with compulsory attendance were of frequent occurrence, and many well-known leaders of thought visited us.

On the Bulletin for November was the name of Swami Vivekananda who was to give two evening lectures. That he was a Hindu monk we knew, nothing more; for the fame he had won in the recent Parliament of Religions had not reached our ears. Then an exciting piece of news leaked out; he was to live at our house, to eat with us. and we could ask him questions about India. Our hostess' breadth of tolerance may be seen in receiving into her house a man with dark skin, whom the hotel had doubtless refused to admit. As late as 1912 the great poet Tagore with his companion wandered through the streets of New York looking in vain for shelter.

The name of India was familiar to me from my earliest childhood. Had not my mother almost decided to marry a young man who went as a missionary to India, and did not a box from our Church Missionary Association go each year to the zenanas? India was a hot land where snakes abounded, and "the heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone". It is astonishing how little an eager reader like myself knew about the history or literature of the great country. The life of William Carey I had read, had heard of St. Francis Xavier at Goa, but it was all from the missionary standpoint. You must remember "Kim" had not yet appeared. To talk with a real Indian would be a chance indeed.

Thursday 28 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - Martha Brown Fincke : 1

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by Martha Brown Fincke

EARLY in November 1935, I landed in Calcutta and set foot for the first time on the soil of India. As I left my home in the United States of America journeying westward to encircle the globe, I thought of myself as a tourist in the different countries through which I passed. Only when I reached India did I in thought become a pilgrim. As a pilgrim I went the day after landing to the Belur Math on the farther side of the Ganga to bow my head in reverence before the tomb of the great Swami Vivekananda. In the upper room of the guest-house I met Miss Josephine MacLcod, his devoted friend. I also met several of the resident Swamis. When to each of them I said that I had once known Swami Vivekananda, their eagerness to hear of that far-off meeting surprised me. It was indeed to me one of the most vital influences of my life, but could it mean anything to others? Since they assured me that it was so, I am setting down my recollections of those two days, now 42 years ago, when I came under the influence of that great man.

In September 1893, at the World's Fair held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, a Parliament of Religions was a part of the programme. To this journeyed the then unknown young Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda. His power over the audiences who heard him set forth his universal Gospel and the magic of his personality are common knowledge.

At the close of the Parliament, in order to be independent of the personal benefactions of his admirers, the Swami engaged with a Lecture Bureau to tour the States beginning with the East, and early in November he came to the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. This charming old town, half-way between New York and Boston, and since prominent as the home of Calvin Coolidge, is situated on low hills in the Connecticut Valley just before the river plunges into the gap between Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke. In flood seasons the low-lying meadows about the town shine with the covering waters, and the purple outline of the Mt. Holyoke range forms the horizon to the south. Stately elm trees border the streets, and the place had then a slumberous aspect except when an eruption of students woke it to animation. For a women's college formed the centre of its intellectual life, Smith College, founded in 1875 by Sophia Smith for the higher education of women.

To this College I went as a freshman in the fall of 1893, an immature girl of eighteen, undisciplined but reaching out eagerly for the things of the mind and spirit. Brought up in a sheltered atmosphere, in the strictest Protestant Christian orthodoxy, it was with some misgivings that my parents saw me leave the home and be exposed to the dangers of so-called "free-thinking". Had not one of my friends gone the year before to Vassar College and was rumoured to have "lost her faith"?

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - H.J. Van Haagen : 3

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by H.J. Van Haagen

...In his teachings the Swami has admonished us not to direct the war-spirit in us to win the greatest victories, to the slaying of our fellowman in anger and hatred when he differs from us, but to the transmuting of this energy into a strict practice of self-control. And what better teaching can a man spread than one which contains such original thoughts as: "He conquers. all who conquers self; know this and never yield", or "In books and temples vain thy search. Thine only is the hand that holds the rope that drags thee on. Then cease lament, let go thy hold."

And now, though he has gone into the great Peace beyond, because his work was finished, he still lives in our memory and in his work, as he also lives in the message which he brought to us. He has done his duty as a great, good, and true teacher, and gave us the means, That we may know the Truth. But that is only one part, the other, without which all is in vain, is our duly, That we may live the Truth, and increased knowledge brings this additional duty with it. For that purpose, to help and assist us to better live the truth, Vedanta Societies have been formed, classes and lectures are being held, and his Brother-Swamis and sannyasin disciples have come to our shores. However mighty nation we may be, he did not seek us for anything but for giving Truth and Wisdom, of which we are surely in need. Let us, by living the Truth of Vedanta, prove that this great Master has not brought his wonderful message in vain to us.

(Prabuddha Bharata, June 1911)
... (Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by H.J. Van Haagen)

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - H.J. Van Haagen : 2

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by H.J. Van Haagen

...The strong impression which this lovable teacher always gave to his students was that of causing them to feel that they alone, while with him, had his whole attention and sympathy. Always willing to devote his entire attention to heeding his students' most humble wants and queries, he, by this most pleasing attitude, made them most enthusiastic and faithful disciples. This created that enduring bond of love between teacher and disciple which is so necessary for any teacher's real success. And how glorious was his success! Today almost every intelligent person is more or less familiar with the literature which like a flower blossomed out of his work. And many are those — the professor, clergyman, and layman alike — who have been influenced to the better through acquaintance with these literary gems.

His teaching bore to us the peace of mind of the Aryan rishis of which we are so much in need. It is but recently that an American scientist pointed out how our fashionable and business life is a continuous nerve storm — a literal hurrying to the grave, speeding along every lifeway, exhausting energy, and inviting premature nervous and mental ruin. Through the strong desire for wealth and sense-gratification the nerve energy is exceedingly overtaxed, and no remedy is sought to restore it. What better cure for this evil could be conceived than the living of that life which the Vedanta philosophy teaches? Not the excessive nervous rushing hither and tither. nor inactive dullness, but sattva — equipoise and tranquillity — is what is offered by Vedanta, and this only can bring back to us the calm which Western nations have long lost.

Monday 25 September 2017

Swami Vivekananda - H.J. Van Haagen : 1

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda by H.J. Van Haagen

WHEN a man steps from darkness into a very bright light, his eyes are dazed for a while and refuse to work properly for the moment. And when we are asked to speak and describe that great joy which lights our very soul, our answer would be, as it were, but a mere groping in the darkness for words. One may perceive and feel most perfect joy, yet not be able to describe it. It is with such feeling that my thoughts wander back to the great impressions of my life, which I can never forget. Although a number of years have passed, these events live in my memory as if they had occurred but yesterday.

I well remember my first meeting with the Swami Vivekananda, that great teacher whose nativity we are commemorating this evening. Though filled with prejudice by my friends, I went to one of the Swami's classes, not so much to hear his lecture as to see for the first time a native of India, the land which I had learnt to love through reading the Bhagavad-Gita, the Song Celestial. I was seated in the class-room waiting for the Swami's appearance when soon a man came in — one whose walk expressed dignity and whose general bearing showed majesty, like one who owns everything and desires nothing. After a short observation I also saw that he was a very superior man, and withal, one who quickly disclosed a most lovable character. Now I became anxious to hear the words he would speak; and after I had done so but a few minutes, I firmly resolved to be a regular attendant at all his lectures and classes. That prejudice which was so strong within me when I entered, now seemed to be driven away by his profound knowledge and charming magnetism. It would be too long to describe the great treats that followed. As wholesome food satisfies the hungry and fresh water quenches the thirsty, so my longing for truth was satisfied through the teaching of this wonderful man. And to this very day I have found nothing that gives a better answer and a clearer explanation to the various vital questions which arise in a man's mind than the Vedanta philosophy so ably taught by the Swami Vivekananda.

Not only were his words in class-room and lecture-room those of instructive value, but also his conversations, while walking on the street or through Central Park, always conveyed the one message. Many of our interesting little talks I can readily call to mind; for instance, on one occasion I expressed my regret to the Swami that his sublime teachings had no larger following, and his wise and fitting answer was: "I could have thousands more at my lectures if I wanted them. It is the sincere student who will help to make this work a success and not merely the large audiences. If I succeed in my whole life to help one man to reach freedom, I shall feel that my labours have not been in vain, but quite successful." This remark filled me with the desire to be one of his students.