Review by Stephen David Mauldin
Vedanta Society of New York
Paperback $3.00 146 pp. 2013
Boom! Its the late 1970s, and Swami Tathagatananda is speaking in Sacramento on a visit with Swami Shraddhananda. The brother monks are having a joyous reunion. We are listening to Tathagatananda’s astute and powerful oratory for the first time. Suddenly, at the critical point of his talk, his voice goes supersonic! It’s not just loudness, it’s power that many of us who have heard him know well. Many years later, in 2012, I had a personal interview with him, sitting there with Shraddhananda’s photo gazing down on us from above Tathagatananda’s desk. It was energizing, to say the least. The Swami is in his 90s now, but I hoped to have his holy company at the July 4, 2013 celebration at Ridgely Manor for the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. Tathagatananda had to cancel his attendance as he was not physically well. In consolation, it seems, I was asked at that event to review his book of essays. This way I am enjoying his holy company at a safe distance, as it were, considering his health. Still, I can hear that Voice in his writing. Maybe, with enough grace, I can share some of his insights and together we may not merely reach meditation, but through us Shakti will meditate!
Drawn by this very possibility, I dove directly into the fourth of the six essays, “Swami Vivekananda, Incarnation of Shakti: Apostle of Strength and Manliness.” I take this one as the crest-jewel of the six, and given the space, the only one I introduce in any depth. Obviously, I have been suggesting these essays are not the work of mere research and writing, or that the insights in them are simply intellectual productions. Much deep experience and concentration have generated these writings, and each essay is of inestimable value for us: 1. Swami Vivekananda, Mystic Par Excellence; 2. Swami Vivekananda’s Impact on the Parliament of Religions; 3. Glimpses of Swami Vivekananda’s Heroic Struggle; 5. Value of Brahmacharya; and 6. Swamiji’s Special Relationship with Ajit Singh, A Brief Study.
Given the title of essay 4 one wonders, is there is a contradiction between Vivekananda being an apostle of manliness and also an incarnation of Shakti, the female principle of divine energy? However, no male-female duality is indicated. Clearly, a manly man can embody Shakti. Swami Tathagatananda opens by referencing those who deeply experienced Vivekananda, that embodiment, those who received that Divine Power, who experienced an actual transmission of Shakti. More generally, Vivekananda in person generated a wide range of profound reactions in others, from immediate love to even a kind of fear. Tathagatananda relates the experiences several people had with the great Swami. They speak of his appearance making others near him seem “insignificant in comparison,” of a spiritual presence that “rang continuously like a gong,” or like “dominant thunder.” His eyes were said to be “captivating,” and he “appeared to emanate light.”
Many are the stories of Vivekananda’s manifestation of incredible memory and intellect, of his powers of concentration, of his clarity when spontaneously speaking and writing, of masterful singing and other musical abilities—manifestations of endless facets of an astounding personality. But Tathagatananda in this essay gets directly to the question: “What was the hidden source of Swamiji’s dynamism?” He answers his question with the supreme conception of the Upanishads: the non-duality of complete Self-knowledge. Where there is two, there is fear; so Vivekananda’s Divine Consciousness, not being a fragmented consciousness reflected by a more common mind, was the infinite source of the Shakti manifesting the unlimited Power he embodied.
Tathagatananda then makes a statement that is most significant and effective, one that carries the rest of the essay: “What leads one to the inaccessible veil of mystery that covers Truth and pierces it is intuition alone.” True intuition is “supra-rational, never irrational.”
He goes on to proclaim that Vivekananda’s “clarion call for human development is unique.” Tathagatananda describes it as a calling to live “a life dynamically determined to find unity.” He, Vivekananda, “assured everyone of the infinite capacity within them waiting to be harnessed through strength of character.”
The essay recalls many quotes from Vivekananda’s complete works that are direct appeals to our intuitive experience of the Divine Power. We are clearly reminded, that though we missed Vivekananda’s embodiment speaking words which were “vibrations of his immortal soul charged with a fire whose heat was actually felt by those who listened to him,” his words “carry that fire even today and will do so through the ages.” We can do no better than end by evoking Vivekananda-Shakti now in his own words, just as Swami Tathagatananda concludes this excellent essay:
Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come, when this sleeping soul is roused to self-conscious activity.
TEPHEN DAVID MAULDIN a student of Swami Shraddhananda from 1972, remained with him for over ten years. Subsequently he worked for many years in Central and East Asia. He is currently retired and lives in Brooklyn, NY.” STDAMA9@YAHOO.COM