Tuesday 12 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 6

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

In Paris in 1900 Swamiji warned Nivedita about her enthusiasm for the Scottish thinker and sociologist Patrick Geddes. She was deeply hurt, and felt that Swamiji was jealous of her new enthusiasm—not of course in a romantic sense of the word, but jealous of the professor's influence. Swamiji was cold and distant towards her, and she herself was not forthcoming. She fled from Paris to Brittany in distress. He wrote to her, 'I never had any jealousy about what friends you made. ... Only I do believe the Western people have the peculiarity of trying to force upon others whatever seems good to them, forgetting that what is good for you may not be good for others.' This also was not written just to Nivedita, words read once in the course of a private letter and addressed to her troubled mind of the time. It illustrates a universal principle and was spoken to the world.

Those who see in Nivedita's subsequent year and a half in England a distancing of herself from Swamiji, a distancing of herself from the work and methods he had assigned her, and nothing more, have not understood her, nor understood what she represents. Why had Swamiji chosen her, from all the people he had met and loved and valued? It was the depth of her inner strength. As Sri Ramakrishna had delighted in the resistance of Narendra to his teachings, seeing in that very resistance Narendra's strength of mind, so Swamiji had chosen Nivedita for her inner substance. He worked hard, and she suffered terribly, as he took her personality apart and began to rebuild it. That process had taken Sri Ramakrishna five years with Narendra, and even after the Master passed away, Swamiji wandered through the Himalayas trying to throw off the burden that Sri Ramakrishna had given him: his mission.

And so it took time with Nivedita. We shouldn't wonder at it, nor should we doubt that Swamiji had known what he was doing when he chose her. The deeper the character, the more profound the reorientation. Those alone who have gone through a similar experience of total cultural reorientation can see and identify with what went on within her. Though Swamiji was in a class of his own, even among his great brother-disciples, Nivedita was similar in temperament: strong, independent by nature, intellectually alive and brilliant, a person of contrasting moods, moving from the crest of a giant wave of ecstasy to the trough of despair and back again in quick succession.

What she needed was something real at the root of her being, something ultimately True and Significant into which she could pour herself as an oblation, plus she needed the purification necessary for that ultimate self-oblation. Swamiji gave her both, and out of that came Nivedita the power. The time has not yet come when we can fully understand her. We need more distance in time, more depth of insight. We need the ability to see her from within, not just to observe her from without to see what she did and didn't do, judged by our own standards. And if she is to be understood, it will have to be an understanding that sees her whole, not a comfortably truncated person that is artificially harmonious. It will have to include the contradictions she faced within herself and without—creative contradictions, not the petty contradictions that sap the life-force of ordinary people—for in the midst of the dramatic intensity of her life lived a great woman, a witness to the modern Buddha, his scribe and inter-preter, a disciple dedicated at his feet, the very image of renunciation, a whole-souled oblation of self into the fire of his mission, a Vajradharini or Holder of the Thunderbolt whose every act manifested power, a saint who had glimpsed the other shore, and a Light to future ages: Nivedita of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.

And Nivedita's life has to be seen as a process. Swamiji blessed her at her initiation in 1898 thus: 'Go thou, and follow Him who was born and gave His life for others five hundred times before He attained the vision of the Buddha!' And one sees in her life a constant struggle for the ideal, a constant, insistent effort to manifest it; she was always trying to deepen her renunciation and dedication, never feeling that she was yet worthy of Swamiji's trust. This doesn't mean that she was a failure compared to those whose path was so much smoother, like the extraordinary Josephine MacLeod. It means that she was different, a difference Swamiji made absolutely clear: she was meant for the work, and so her training was different and detailed and uncompromising.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

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