Swami Vivekananda | 5. To the New World


5. From the Old World to the New

Swami Vivekananda went by way of Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hongkong, and then visited Canton and Nagasaki. From there he went by land to Yokohama, seeing Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.

The Swami gradually accustomed himself to the life on board the ship.

His rich imaginative nature saw beauty, in a thousand forms, in the swelling and falling of the waters, in every gust of wind and in ever-changing shapes of clouds.

The mighty expanse of water, the invigorating air, the carefree atmosphere and the courtesy of all aboard reconciled him to his new surroundings.

Besides, the sea voyage provided him a unique opportunity to gather new experiences and study the life and traditions of the people he came in contact with at different places.

He was much impressed at the sight of the various remains of Indian religious influences in Chinese and Japanese temples. In China he found to his amazement Sanskrit manuscripts, and in Japan Sanskrit Mantras written in old Bengali script.

In fact, everywhere in China and Japan his attention was attracted by all that might confirm his hypothesis alike of the religious influence of ancient India over the empires of the Far East and of the spiritual unity of Asia.

From Yokohama the ship sailed on to Vancouver—from the Old World to the New; thence by train he reached Chicago towards the end of July.

A few days after his arrival at Chicago he went to the Information Bureau of the Columbian Exposition:

But his hopes received a rude shock when he came to learn from this office that the Parliament would not commence until after the first week of September, that no one would be admitted as a delegate without proper references, and that  even the time for being so admitted had expired!

This was a great and unexpected blow. He found that he had left India much too early, and also discovered that he should have come as a representative of some recognized organization. Then, too, his purse was gradually being emptied.

A great depression came over him. He cabled to his friends in Madras for help and applied to an official religious Society to appoint him as one of its delegates, but the chief of the Society sent him a very discouraging reply.

Girding up his loins even in the face of these overwhelming odds of a discouraging situation, the Swami proceeded to Boston, which was much less expensive than Chicago.

In the train from Vancouver he had made his first American friend— a rich lady from Massachusetts who struck by his noble personality and illuminating talks, gladly asked him to stay in her house.

She introduced him to Professor J.H. Wright, of the Greek department in Harvard University. The Swami discussed all manner of subjects with the learned Professor for four hours.

The Professor became so deeply impressed with his rare ability that he insisted that he should represent Hinduism in the Parliament, saying:

“This is the only way you can be introduced to the nation at large.”

The Swami explained his difficulties and said that he had no credentials.

Professor Wright, recognizing his genius, said: “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine!”

The Professor wrote at once to his friend, Dr. Barrows, the Chairman of the Committee on the selection of delegates stating: “Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together.”

He further presented him with a ticket to Chicago, and also gave him letters of introduction to the Committee.

The Swami rejoiced at this literal manifestation of Divine Providence. But on his arrival at the Chicago train station he found to his dismay that he had lost the address of the Committee.

He was lost and did not know where to go. Nobody would deign to inform a coloured man. At length, tired and helpless, he passed the chilly night in a big empty box found in the railway freight yard.

In the morning he wandered from door to door for food only to meet with insults and rebuffs from the fashionable residents of the metropolis.

On and on he went. At length exhausted, he sat down quietly on the roadside, determined to abide by the Will of God.

At this juncture, the door of a fashionable residence opposite to him opened and a regal looking woman descended and accosted him in a soft voice in accents of culture and refinement: “Sir, are you a delegate to the Parliament of Religions?”

The Swami told her his difficulties.

The kind-hearted lady invited him into her house and promised him that after breakfast she herself would accompany him to the offices of the Parliament of Religions.

The Swami was grateful beyond words to his deliverer, Mrs George W. Hale. From now on the generous lady, her husband and children became his dearest friends.

With Mrs Hale he called on the officers of the Parliament, gave his credentials, was gladly accepted as a delegate, and found himself lodged with the other Oriental delegates.

He soon made acquaintance with many distinguished personages who were to attend the Parliament.

In the grand circle of ecclesiastics that came and went in and about Chicago, he moved as one lost in rapture and in prayer to the Master whose mission he had come to fulfil in this distant part of the world.