On His way to India

(Preparations are afoot in the country to celebrate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. We are starting a new series of article which chronicles the details of his return to India and his message )

With great love for India and glorious vision for her Swami Vivekananda had left for USA. He struggled and succeeded in participating in Parliament of Religions in 1893. His call to West for spirituality was also a call for India to realize that that was Her mission, her purpose of existence. India stirred in her deep slumber. The days of Tamas were to be discarded, she had a mission. The hero's call was sounded and people of India looked towards the hero's return. When will he come, what will he tell, India longed to see him and listen to him.

What about Swami Vivekananda? India was his heartbeats, his Ishtadevata, his thought when he had started for America to participate in the Parliament of Religions in 1893. 8000 miles away from India he toiled day after day over three years to spread Vedanta in those distant lands though he too longed to be in India, to be in his quiet simple Sanyasi cloths, to be in meditation on the banks of Ganga. But he could not discard the work unfinished. Ultimately, when his brother disciples Swami Saradananda and Swami Abhedananda reached West to continue his work there, he was free to leave for his dear motherland.

Swami Vivekananda told to his disciples Captain and Mrs. Sevier, "Now I have but one thought and that is India, I am looking forward to India -- to India!" On the eve of his departure an English friend asked him, "Swami, how do you like now your motherland after four years' experience of the luxurious, glorious, powerful West?" His significant reply was: "India I loved before I came away. Now the very dust of India has become holy to me, the very air is now to me holy; it is now the holy land, the place of pilgrimage, the Tirtha!" (page 152)

Disciples of Swami Vivekananda in England wanted to cut down his travel by sea-route and so instead of going to America and boarding the ship from there to India they made him take the train to France, Italy, Naples. And at Naples the ship was to be boarded to go to India. Thus he could see Rome, Vatican and Naples on his way. While seeing the Rome his disciples and friends were surprised at his knowledge of ancient Rome, they remarked, "This is wonderful, Swami! You seem to know every stone in Rome!"

At Naples Swamiji along with his other disciples waited for the steamer from Southampton. J J Goodwin the devoted disciple of Swami Vivekananda would come in that and all others would join. When finally the steamer came, the Swamiji was beside himself with joy and exclaimed, "Now, at last, it will be India -- my India!"The steamer, the Prinz Regent Luitpold, sailed from Naples on December 30, 1896, and was to reach Colombo on January 15, 1897.

Two incidents made this voyage most memorable. One night, shortly after Swamiji had retired, he had a phenomenal dream, which made a profound impression upon his mind, so much so that he frequently spoke of it in later years. Sister Nivedita and Surendranath Sen who had heard from Swamiji noted it down thus it has come to us. Swamiji dreamt that a bearded old man, venerable and Rishi-like in appearance, stood before him and said, "Observe well this place that I show to you. You are now in the island of Crete. This is the land in which Christianity began. Do ye come and effect our restoration; I am one of that ancient order of Theraputtas (Therapeutae) which had its origin in the teachings of the Indian Rishis." And he added another word which escaped the Swami's memory. Sister Nivedita wrote, "It is my own belief that the other word was 'Essene'. But alas, I cannot remember the Sanskrit derivation!" The word Therapeutae unmistakably means "sons or disciples of the Theras," from thera, an elder among the Buddhist monks, and putra, which in Sanskrit means "son". The old man concluded: "The truths and ideals preached by us have been given out by the Christians as taught by Jesus; but for the matter of that, there was no such personality by the name of Jesus ever born. Various evidences testifying to this fact will be brought to light by excavating here." "By excavating which place can those proof and relics you speak of be found?" Swamiji asked. And the old man pointed and said, "See here." Swamji woke up and at once rushed to the deck to ascertain the ship's whereabouts. He met a ship's officer turning in from his watch. "What is the time?" he asked him. "Midnight", he was told. "And where are we?" "Just fifty miles off Crete!"

It is said that the Swami wrote to a friend in England, an archaeologist, about his dream and asked him to find out if there was any truth in it. It was some time after the Swami's death that an item appeared in the Statesman of Calcutta, stating that some Englishmen in the course of excavations in Crete had indeed come across records containing wonderful revelations of the origin of Christianity.

The historicity does not matter. This incident did not diminish his regards for Jesus Christ. Once to an enquirer he said while referring to the incident in Bible in which a woman washes Jesus's feet with her tears, he had exclaimed, "Madam, had I lived in Palestine in the days of Jesus of Nazareth, I would have washed His feet, not with my tears but with my heart's blood!" Sister Nivedita says Swamiji had explicit sanction of Sri Ramakrishna. When some one had questioned Sri Ramakrishna about the historicity of Srirama and Srikrishna, he had said, “Do you not think that they who could create such things must themselves have been the idea that they held up for worship.” Swami Vivekananda clearly gave the message through these incidents that it is not the historicity of Jesus or any incarnation that matters but what matters is how one could follow the ideal in one's life.

The other incident was related to two Christian missionaries on ship who insisted with Swamiji on discussing the contrast between Hinduism and Christianity. Their methods of argument were most offensive; and when they were beaten at every point, they lost their temper, became virulent and abused the Hindus and their religion. Swamiji stood it as long as he could; then walking close to one of the missionaries he seized him firmly by the collar and said half-humorously, half-grimly, "If you abuse my religion again, I'll throw you over-board!" The frightened missionary "shook in his boots" and said under his breath, "Let me go, sir, I'll never do it again!" From that time on he was most servile to Swamiji on all occasions and endeavoured to remedy his misbehaviour by exceeding kindness.

Later, during the course of a conversation with a disciple in Calcutta, Swami Vivekananda narrated this incident when he was pointing out that Dharma should be the basis for united action, and that true feeling for one's Dharma should bring about the manly spirit so much needed in India. He narrated this incident and asked, "My dear Sinha, if anybody insulted your mother, what would you do?" "I would fall upon him, sir, and teach him a good lesson!" "Well said! But now if you had the same positive feeling for your own religion, the true Mother of our country, you could never bear to see any Hindu brother converted into a Christian. Nevertheless, you see this occurring every day, yet you are quite indifferent. Where is your faith! Where is your patriotism! Every day Christian missionaries abuse Hinduism to your face, and yet how many are there amongst you who will stand up in its defense? Whose blood boils with righteous indignation at the fact?"

Both the incidents and Swamiji's approach to it have become a lesson for us. The providence hinted at how in the succeeding years India would have to face the aggressive conversion activities of the desperate foreign-church sponsored Christian missionaries. We respect Christ for his saintliness whether he was a historical figure or not. We also accept as our own the Christian brethren as they are children of this land and culture. But we should not tolerate fanatic Christians' exclusive approach like 'My God alone is true and yours is devil', and their abuse of our Dharma. It is not manliness to keep quiet in spite of their abuse. If we do that, then we are doing dis-service to them too as we are doing it to our Dharma. The purpose of our Hindu Culture has been to help the humanity to understand God. God cannot be limited to one name and form and abused in other names and forms. If anyone is doing it out of ignorance or ill-will or lack of spirituality in them, then it is our duty to stop it.

The early morning of January 15, brought in view along with the golden sun, the coast of Ceylon. This was India, (as then Ceylon was part of India even politically) and Swamiji was beside himself with excitement. Perhaps he saw also the rising Sun in all its glory on the future of India.

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