by Swami Tathagatananda
The Vedanta Society of New York, 2012 paperback $2.00 34 pp.
Review by Bill Davis
The main effect upon me of reading this pamphlet written by Swami Tathagatananda was to increase my sense of gratitude to Swami Vivekananda. Not only did he accomplish so many great things, things that have directly benefitted me, he did so at great personal sacrifice and suffering. He was Sri Ramakrishna’s favorite, but this did not accord him an easy ride. It seemed to be just the opposite. This pamphlet details the many ways in which Swamiji suffered while carrying out his mission. However, there is an opening quote from Swamiji: “In my sane moments I rejoice for my sufferings. Someone must suffer here;—I am glad it is I, amongst others of nature’s sacrifices.” (p. 1) Is it that God’s elect, who are brought down for the good of the many, must themselves suffer in order to relieve the sufferings of the many?
To summarize: Before his mission even began he suffered from extreme poverty when his father died. This sensitized him to the misery of the poor. He was absolutely determined to broadcast the precious message of Sri Ramakrishna and became ready to bear the heartbreak of sacrificing even his immediate family if necessary. The life of a traditional monk is full of privation, and Swamiji suffered these to the utmost. This broke down his health. Worse than his physical suffering, his heart had become so soft and tender that it bled for the physical privation of the masses as he wandered the length and breadth of India. He began to feel like a shameless crow begging of such impoverished people.
He experienced disappointment: A Raja who had offered Rs. 10,000 to pay for his trip to Chicago at the last minute changed his mind and would give nothing. When he did arrive in Chicago he was at the edge of starvation and was hooted at in the streets because of his unusual dress. He was turned away from the Parliament because he didn’t have proper credentials. He had to spend a night in a boxcar when he lost the address. He was treated disrespectfully when he begged for food. After his success, there was ceaseless labor. He endured many hardships during the period when he went around America giving lectures. He suffered privation at 54 West 33rd Street when he settled down in Manhattan. His room was crowded with eager listeners but their offerings didn’t even cover the rent. He had to endure the malice of the missionaries who told lies about him and once even tried to poison him. He suffered the defection and betrayal of four close devotees but maintained a charitable attitude towards them. A jealous fellow countryman, long known to him, made up malicious stories about him that had coverage in both America and India. He faced intense opposition when he returned to India despite his great fame. Even his brother disciples resisted the vow of service.
Despite all this, he carried his message with great boldness. Upon his return to India he invigorated that country with this call: “Awake from this hypnotism of weakness … Call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes.” (24) In Los Angeles in 1900 he told of how he overcame weakness: When almost fainting with fatigue I said to myself, “I am it. I am it. Assert Thy strength thou Lord of Lords. Regain thy lost empire.” And I would rise up invigorated. (ibid.)
Swami Tathagatananda: Whenever Swamiji spoke of strength it was exhilarating. Hearing him, others were filled with new hope and courage. “Strength” was the core and kernel, the secret of his heroic life. (25)
To summarize in Swamiji’s own words: “Great men are those who build highways for others with their heart’s blood.” (30) Swami Tathagatananda: They are spiritually courageous and daring beyond all human ability. (ibid.)
How could he bear so much suffering? In his own words (quoting from a letter to Mary Hale given in this pamphlet): “I, the diamond mine, am playing with pebbles, good and evil. Good for you, evil! Come! Good for you, good! You come, too! I am beyond; I am peace.” (27)
This pamphlet could be improved by better editing. However, the overall impression is that it is heartfelt and blazing. • • •
BILL DAVIS came to the Vedanta Society of New York in 1972. After a career as a psychologist, he retired in 2007 and now lives at Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely, where he serves as general helper and handyman. He also still helps out monthly at the Vedanta Society of NY. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org