यतो धर्म: ततो जय:
It was discipleship, more than her life as a scribe that defined her very being after her initiation. But here also she was much more than a disciple. We have mentioned how the meeting between Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna will reveal its cosmic significance in time. So with the life of Sister Nivedita. We are not equating her with Swamiji. But those so closely associated with Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and Swamiji are themselves lifted into the mythic. She was not just a saintly woman who lived and died and left an inspiring story for others to admire: she also had a role to play in the cosmic lila, as Swamiji himself saw after meeting her. As Christ called the fishermen to be fishers of men, so Swamiji called this teacher of English children to be a teacher of the ages.
The meeting of Margaret Noble with Swamiji was the meeting of the West with the East—the two civilisations had already met physically, and not too happily; even the minds of the two civilisations were gradually becoming acquainted; but here was a meeting between the Soul of the West and the Soul of the East. Later Nivedita reminisced about her initial reaction to Swamiji's words when she first heard him at a private gathering in London; she spoke of 'the coldness and pride with which we all gave our private verdicts on the speaker at the end of our visit. "It was not new", was our accusation, as one by one we spoke with our host and hostess before leaving. All these things had been said before.' Such was not just the hubris of Nivedita and her friends, it was the hubris of cultivated, sophisticated Western society, which sat, as they thought, at the centre of the universe.
When Nivedita gradually submitted to Swamiji as his disciple, it was the submission of the conquering and colonising West to the spiritual wisdom of India. This may not be evident now. In a hundred years it will be. As she was to dedicate her life to Swamiji's work in India, he insisted that she become Indian Hindu even in her smallest actions, using, for example, lemon juice and powered lentils to wash her hands. And when she returned with him to England to raise money for her work, he told her to forget what she had learned in India and to return to her Western customs. This will in time also reverberate through the world, becoming the model for working in other countries—respecting the integrity of each culture, not trying to turn Africans into Europeans or Afghanis into Americans or Japanese into Indians. A new age of cultural respect will flow from Swamiji's attention to the details of her handwashing in India.
To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)