Swami Vivekananda | 8. In England
8. In England
We have already seen that Swami Vivekananda, after closing his teaching work in Thousand Island Park, visited England in the latter part of 1895.
As a matter of fact, he made three visits there; from September to the end of November 1895; from April to the end of July 1896; and from October to December 16, 1896.
From the moment he set foot in England he breathed a quite different atmosphere of culture and tradition. He discovered here a nation of heroes, brave and steady. But while he admired the English people, he never lost sight of his Indian mission.
He once wrote to Mr Leggett in America:
“The British Empire with all its drawbacks is the greatest machine that ever existed for the dissemination of ideas. I mean to put my ideas in the centre of this machine, and they will spread all over the world.”
On the way the Swami visited Paris, the centre of European culture, and was delighted to see the museums, churches, cathedrals, art galleries, and other artistic wealth of the nation.
He was introduced in Paris to some of the enlightened friends of his host, with whom he discoursed on subjects which ranged from the most learned studies to the highest spiritual thoughts.
On his arrival in England, Swami Vivekananda was warmly received by friends, among them being Miss Henrietta Müller, who had already met him in America, and Mr E.T. Sturdy.
After a few days rest he commenced work in a quiet way:
During the day he paid visits to every place of historic or artistic interest; in the mornings, and often in the late evenings, he held classes and gave interviews.
His reputation spread at once, and within three weeks of his arrival he found himself engaged in strenuous activity:
The Press welcomed and heralded his ideas, and some of the most select clubs of the city of London and even some leaders of its prominent clerical institutions invited him and received him with marked admiration.
He was moving in the best circles of English society, and even members of the nobility were glad to recognize him as their friend. This completely revolutionized the Swami’s idea of Englishmen and women.
In America he found that the public was most enthusiastic and responsive in taking up new ideas; but in England he discovered that, though his hearers were more conservative in their praise and declaration of acceptance, they were all the more fervent and staunch, once they had convinced themselves of the worth of a teacher and his ideas.
Though his stay in London was very short this time, he had the joyous satisfaction of being able to count many as his sincere friends and earnest supporters:
Among these was Miss Margaret Noble (afterwards Sister Nivedita) who was the headmistress of an educational institution and a conspicuous member of the Sesame Club, founded for the furtherance of educational purposes:
She moved in quiet but distinguished intellectual circles and was deeply interested in all modern influences and thought. She was struck with the novelty and the breadth of the Swami’s religious culture and the intellectual freshness of his philosophical outlook.
Swami Vivekananda visited England for the second time in April 1896. A pleasant surprise awaited him there:
Swami Saradananda, one of his brother-disciples, who had been asked by the Swami to come to England to continue the work started during his first visit, had arrived from Calcutta and was the guest of Mr E.T. Sturdy.
This time the Swami opened regular classes on Vedāntic thought; his illuminating lectures on Jñāna-Yoga— the Path of Wisdom—which were as brilliant as impressive, made a direct appeal to the most intellectually gifted people of England and created a very good atmosphere for the spread of Hindu thought and culture in their purest form.
He also gave several courses of lectures in public as well as to private circles.
One of the memorable events during the Swami’s stay in London was his meeting with the great Orientalist, Professor Max Müller of Oxford University, at his residence, by special invitation, on May 28, 1896.
To quote the Swami’s own words:
“The visit was really a revelation to me:
The nice little house, in its setting of a beautiful garden, the silver-headed sage, with a face calm and benign, and forehead smooth as a child’s in spite of seventy winters, and every line in that face speaking of a deep-seated mine of spirituality somewhere behind.”
Max Müller was anxious to know from the Swami more than what he had already gathered about Śrī Ramakrishna, and told him that he would be glad to write a larger and fuller account of his Master’s life and teachings.
The facts, as far as available, were placed very soon by the Swami at the disposal of this venerable Professor, who set to work at once and embodied them in an instructive volume which was soon published under the title Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings;
The book, aided materially in giving the Swami and his mission a firmer hold on the English-speaking world.
The Swami in his previous visit had made acquaintances, which ripened into friendship, with such talented souls as Miss Henrietta Müller, Miss Margaret Nobel, Mr E.T. Sturdy and others:
Now they became his disciples and were ready to sacrifice everything for him and his cause. To this group were soon added two of his most faithful disciples, Mr and Mrs Sevier.
Indeed the Swami held Sister Nivedita, J.J. Goodwin, and Mr and Mrs Sevier as the finest fruits of his work in England.
Exhausted with the strenuous exertions of his London work, the Swami accepted the invitation of three of more intimate friends for a tour and a holiday on the Continent:
He spent most of the summer of 1896 in the midst of the snowy ranges of Switzerland:
It was there in a village at the foot of the Alps, between Mount Blanc and the Little St. Bernard that he first conceived the plan of founding in the silent retreat of the Himalayas a monastery where his Western and Eastern disciples might be united.
And the Seviers, who were with him, never let the idea lapse; it became their life- work.
While enjoying the stillness and freshness of the mountain retreat in Switzerland, there came a letter from Professor Paul Deussen, the celebrated Indologist of Germany, inviting him to visit him at Kiel.
To see him the Swami shortened his stay at Switzerland.
He, however, managed to visit Heidelberg, Coblenz, Cologne, and Berlin: for he wished to have a glimpse at least of Germany, and he was impressed by her material power and great learning.
His reception at Kiel was as cordial and their relations as animated as might have been expected from such an ardent Vedāntist as Paul Deussen.
After the continental tour the Swami again came to London, and Professor Paul Deussen joined him there:
The Swami spent another two months here seeing Max Müller again, meeting Edward Carpenter, Frederick Meyers, Canon Wilberforce, and other celebrities, and delivering another series of lectures on the Vedanta, on the Hindu theory of Māyā, and on the Advaita.
This heavy strain seriously affected his health, and his friends suggested complete rest.
But the voice of India was now calling him back:
He began to feel that his part of the work in the West had been done, and it was time for him to fling himself passionately into the treadmill of action in India for the service of his motherland.
For the management of his works in America in his absence, he soon sent Swami Saradananda to New York in response to the repeated requests of his disciples and students of Vedanta there; and he brought from India Swami Abhedananda, another of his brother-disciples, for the work in London.
The Swami did all in his power to impress the newcomer with the responsibilities of his new life. Day after day he trained him so that he would be able to carry on the work alone.
He was eager to leave behind a worker fitted both spiritually and intellectually to take his place, and the Swami was delighted to find in him a very able exponent of the Vedanta and a capable substitute for doing the Master’s work even after his departure.
Thus relieved, the mind of the Swami now pointed like the needle of a compass to India, the home of poor and sunken millions for whom he had crossed the Atlantic.