Life at Srinagar
TIME: June 22 to July 15, 1898.
In the mornings we still had long talks as before — some-times it would be the different religious periods through which Kashmir had passed, or the morality of Buddhism, or the history of Shiva-worship, or perhaps the position of Srinagar under Kanishka.
Once he was talking with one of us about Buddhism, and he suddenly said, "The fact is, Buddhism tried to do, in the time of Ashoka, what the world never was ready for till now!" He referred to the federalization of religions. It was a wonderful picture, this, of the religious imperialism of Ashoka, broken down time and again by successive waves of Christianity and Mohammedanism, each claiming exclusive rights over the conscience of mankind and finally to seem to have a possibility, within measurable distance of time, today!
Another time the talk was of Genghis, or Chenghis, Khan, the conqueror from Central Asia. "You hear people talk of him as a vulgar aggressor", he cried passionately, "but that is not true! They are never greedy or vulgar, these great souls! He was inspired with the thought of unity, and he wanted to unify his world. Yes, Napoleon was cast in the same mould. And another, Alexander. Only those three, or perhaps one soul manifesting itself in three different conquests!" And then he passed on to speak of that one soul whom he believed to have come again and again in religion, charged with the divine impulse to bring about the unity of man in God.
At this time the transfer of the Prabuddha Bharata from Madras to the newly established Ashrama at Mayavati was much in all our thoughts. The Swami had always had a special love for this paper, as the beautiful name he had given it indicated. He had always been eager too for the establishment of organs of his own. The value of the journal in the education of modern India was perfectly evident to him, and he felt that his master's message and mode of thought required to be spread by this means as well as by preaching and by work. Day after day, therefore, he would dream about the future of his papers, as about the work in its various centres. Day after day he would talk of the forthcoming first number under the new editorship of Swami Swarupananda. And one afternoon he brought to us, as we sat together, a paper on which he said he had "tried to write a letter, but it would come this way!" . . . [Vide "To the Awakened India"]
The Master was longing to leave us all and go away into some place of quiet, alone. But we, not knowing this, insisted on accompanying him to the Coloured Springs, called "Kshir Bhavâni", or "Milk of the Mother". It was said to be the first time that Christian or Mohammedan had ever landed there, and we can never be thankful enough for the glimpse we had of it since afterwards it was to become the most sacred of all names to us. . . .
Another day we went off quietly by ourselves and visited the Takt-i-Suleiman, a little temple very massively built on the summit of a small mountain two or three thousand feet high. It was peaceful and beautiful, and the famous Floating Gardens could be seen below us for miles around. The Takt-i-Suleiman was one of the great illustrations of the Swami's argument when he would take up the subject of the Hindu love of nature as shown in the choice of sites for temples and architectural monuments. As he had declared, in London, that the saints lived on the hill-tops in order to enjoy the scenery, so now he pointed out — citing one example after another — that our Indian people always consecrated places of peculiar beauty and importance by making there their altars of worship. And there was no denying that the little Takt, crowning the hill that dominated the whole valley, was a case in point.
Many lovely fragments of those days come into mind, as:
Therefore, Tulasi, take thou care to live with
There was the story of how Râvana was advised to take the form of Râma in order to cheat Sitâ. He answered, "Have I not thought of it? But in order to take a man's form you must meditate on him; and Rama is the Lord Himself; so when I meditate on him, even the position of Brahmâ becomes a mere straw. How, then, could I think of a woman?"
"And so", commented the Swami, "even in the commonest or most criminal life, there are these glimpses". It was ever thus. He was constantly interpreting human life as the expression of God, never insisting on the heinousness or wickedness of the act or a character.
"In that which is dark night to the rest of the world, there the man of self-control is awake. That which is life to the rest of the world is sleep to him."
Speaking of Thomas à Kempis one day, and of how he himself used to wander as a Sannyâsin with the Gitâ and the Imitation as his whole library, one word, he said, came back to him, inseparably associated with the name of the Western monk:
Silence! ye teachers of the world, and silence!
The soft Shirisha flower can bear the weight of
Every now and then there would be long talks about the Gita — "that wonderful poem, without one note in it of weakness or unmanliness." He said one day that it was absurd to complain that knowledge was not given to women or to Shudras. For the whole gist of the Upanishads was contained in the Gita. Without it, indeed, they could hardly be understood; and women and all castes could read the Mahâbhârata.
With great fun and secrecy the Swami and his one non-American disciple prepared to celebrate the Fourth of July. A regret had been expressed in his hearing that we had no American flag with which to welcome the other members of the party to breakfast on their national festival; and late on the afternoon of the third, he brought a Pundit Durzey [Brahmin tailor] in great excitement, explaining that this man would be glad to imitate it if he were told how. The stars and stripes were very crudely represented, I fear, on the piece of cotton that was nailed with branches of evergreens to the head of the dining—room—boat when the Americans stepped on board for early tea on Independence Day! But the Swami had postponed a journey in order to be present at the little festival, and he himself contributed a poem to the addresses that were now read aloud by way of greeting. . . . [Vide "To the Fourth of July"]
That evening someone pained him by counting the cherry-stones left on her plate, to see when she would be married. He somehow took the play in earnest and came the following morning surcharged with passion for the ideal renunciation.
"These shadows of home and marriage cross even my mind now and then!" he cried, with that tender desire to make himself one with the sinner that he so often showed. But it was across oceans of scorn for those who would glorify the householder that he sought on this occasion to preach the religious life. "Is it so easy", he exclaimed, "to be Janaka? To sit on a throne absolutely unattached? Caring nothing for wealth or fame, for wife or child? One after another in the West has told me that he had reached this. But I could only say, 'Such great men are not born in India'!"
And then he turned to the other side.
"Never forget", he said to one of his hearers, "to say to yourself, and to teach to your children: as is the difference between a firefly and the blazing sun, between the infinite ocean and a little pond, between a mustard-seed and the mountain of Meru, such is the difference between the householder and the Sannyasin!"
"Everything is fraught with fear: Renunciation alone is fearless."
"Blessed be even the fraudulent Sâdhus, and those who have failed to carry out their vows, inasmuch as they also have witnessed to the ideal and so are in some degree the cause of the success of others!"
"Let us never, never, forget our ideal!"
At such moments he would identify himself entirely with the thought he sought to demonstrate, and in the same sense in which a law of nature might be deemed cruel or arrogant, his exposition might have those qualities. Sitting and listening, we felt ourselves brought face to face with the invisible and absolute.
All this was on our return to Srinagar from the real Fourth of July celebration, which had been a visit to Dahl Lake. . . .
At nine o'clock on the evening of the following Sunday, July the 10th, the first two [Dhira Mata and Jaya] came back unexpectedly, and presently, from many different sources, we gathered the news that the Master had gone to Amarnath by the Sonamarg route and would return another way. He had started out penniless, but that could give no concern to his friends, in a Hindu native state. . . .
What were we setting out for? We were just moving to go down the river on Friday, and it was close on five in the afternoon when the servants recognized some of their friends in the distance, and word was brought that the Swami's boat was coming towards us.
An hour later he was with us, saying how pleasant it was to be back. The summer had been unusually hot and certain glaciers had given way, rendering the Sonamarg route to Amarnath impracticable. This fact had caused his return.
But from this moment dated the first of three great increments of joy and realization that we saw in him during our months in Kashmir. It was almost as if we could verify for ourselves the truth of that saying of his Guru: "There is indeed a certain ignorance. It has been placed there by my Holy Mother that her work may be done. But it is only like a film of tissue paper. It might be rent at any moment".
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.