Swamiji had once said that he was always more interested in the greatness in little things of a person’s life. What he ate, what he wore, how he spoke to his subordinates. And perhaps this is the only way to try and get a glimpse of Swamiji’s life, and understand and feel even an iota of his greatness.
He was the monk who shook the world. He was an emperor without a crown. Where ever he went crowds gathered. But one can truly understand the depth of Swamiji through the little, almost insignificant moments of his life.
He had a wonderful sense of humour. His letters to his sisters where always bubbly, full of jokes. He was extremely witty. When Christians would ask him fif Hindu mother’s threw there baby girl’s to crocodiles, he replied saying “Yes, and now days all the babies are born to men”.
In another incident he was supposed to board a steamer. But he lost track of time as he was speaking to people who had come to meet him.
“Swamiji we will miss the boat”, he was reminded. To which he calmly retorted
“You people live in time, we live in eternity”
One day while in America he finished his food and then licked the plate clean. His hostess exclaimed in shock “Oh! Swami”.
“That’s the trouble with you people,” Swamiji said, “You want to make everything so nice and proper on the outside.”
In the memoirs of Mary.C.Funke she writes how Swamiji was a whirlwind of fun. And how he had a great capacity for merriment.
He would declare “Now I am going to cook for you”. He was a wonderful cook and loves to feed his “brithrin”. He was a great cook albeit a too spicy for all his Western disciples.
Swamiji will stand on the floor with a white napkin draped over his arm, a la the waiters on the dining cars, and will in tone in perfect imitation their call for dinner — “Last call fo’ the dining cah. Dinner served”. — Irresistibly funny! And then, at table, such gales of laughter over some quip or jest, for he unfailingly discovers. the little idiosyncrasies of each one — but never sarcasm or malice — just fun.
At other times, Swamiji would entertain a group of friends with jokes and stories, but he would suddenly grow serious in response to a need or a question, would discourse on some aspect of spiritual reality or spiritual practice. Mrs. Allan, for instance, told of the moonlit evening of Easter Sunday, when a small group gathered on the wide, wisteria? curtained porch. Swamiji sat on the railing, smoking his after-dinner pipe. The air was cool, and someone thought he should have a hat. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Bring the red one.'(This is the hat with the flaps )
Swamiji loved ice cream, tabasco sauce, liked ciagers and coffee, kachuris, and sweetmeats. And he disliked guavas. He was enamoured by French cuisine. As a youngster he had even set up a cookery club called “The Greedy Club”.
He had a easy personality one that let him walk in to a Western friend’s kitchen and cook curry for the devotees, or even smoke a pipe and throw the ashes on the carpet. He was alert to everyone’s needs. He realized that Goodwin his secretary was living in a house full of vegetarians, even though he wasn’t one. He had the kindness to send him out with money to buy a meal at a restaurant.
When he visited in the home of Margaret Noble in Northern Ireland, he went walking one day with her young brother. “My boy,” he said, “it is my religion which has deprived your family of your beef. Come on, let us go to this café and buy you a steak!” In London people would remark on how relaxed and natural he was, just before giving a powerful and mesmerizing lecture; yet the same man would come back from his periodic retreats in such a lofty mood one would not dare approach him.
He could be stern and unapproachable and the most tender and gentle soul at the same time. Once he had reprimanded Mahapurush Maharaj(Swami Shivananda). Mahapurush Maharaj was so upset that he wept. Minutes later Swamiji was upset by his own behavior. He wept for having reprimanded his guru bhai. And then prepared a hookah and sent to Mahapurush Maharaj’s through a disciple room as sign of repentment.
Miss Waldo a disciple and a distant cousin of Ralph Emerson was upset one day because Swamiji had scolded her. She complained and told him that it was unfair that he always scolded her sometimes even for no fault of hers. Swamiji told her that the only reason he scolded her so much was because she was no stranger and was dear to him. And he could only scold her because she was so dear to him. Since that day she never had a problem with Swamiji scolding her.
He once threatened to expel a boy who had dared to deliver a letter in person to a house where women renunciates were living. Yet he had an easy forgiveness, and could declare on another day that asceticism was savagery and fiendish, and spoke of the “torture of religion.”
He had a beautiful melodious voice. His frame was majestic. In Miss Waldo’s memoirs she gives an account when Swamiji fascinated by a mirror stood in front and stared at it. He stood before it and gazed at it intently. In between he walked up and down lost in thought. Miss Waldo watched anxiously “Now the bubble is going to burst, he is full of vanity”, she thought. Suddenly he turned to her and said Ellen “It is the strangest thing, I cannot remember how I look. I look and look at myself in the glass, but the moment I ‘ turn away I forget completely what I look like.”
Mrs. Hansbrough mentioned that Swamiji would come to the breakfast table with his hair tousled. Although he was very careful about his dress when he went out, while at home he was careless about his appearance. He would jokingly remark: “Why should I be careful of my dress at home? I don’t want to get married!” When she was questioned about Swamiji’s hair, Mrs. Hansbrough replied that his black hair was long and wavy. “And as one can see from photographs taken of him at this period, it was fairly long. This was not by chance, but was, rather, a concession to popular demand. ‘His hair was beautifully wavy,’ Mrs. Hansbrough recalled. ‘In fact, it was so beautiful and it set off his features so well that we would not let him cut it. Swamiji himself,’ she continued, ‘did not object. He was wholly devoid of self-consciousness.’
In another account on a hot summer day Miss Stumm and others asked Swamiji to show how he wound his turban–a demonstration he had given perhaps countless times in the West for fascinated children and grownups alike. Miss Stumm tried to draw Swamiji. A charming sequel to this account is that Swamiji himself took drawing lessons from Miss Stumm. She recalled:
At an appointed hour he came, promptly, bringing to me, with a curious little air of submission, a huge red apple, which he laid in my hands, bowing gravely. I asked him the significance of this gift, and he said, “in token that the lessons may be fruitful”–and such a pupil as he proved to be! Once only did I have to tell him anything; his memory and concentration were marvelous, and his drawings strangely perfect and intelligent for a beginner. By the time he had taken his fourth lesson, he felt quite equal to a portrait; so . . . Turiyananda posed, like any bronze image, and was drawn capitally–all in the study of Mr. Leggett, with its divan for our seat, and its fine light to aid us.
He had a knack for picking up new languages. He had great musical ability, and could sing beautifully and knew how to play a number of instruments.
To be able to touch even one inch of the depth that is Swamiji, is perhaps impossible. For in him resided the entire universe. He once said he could hardly sleep at night because he could see the Mother and so many forms, animals, the universe and all of them painted in bliss. And he could never contain that happiness and would start dancing. When he reached out to the world with his words “My brother’s and sister’s of America”, those words came from this vast endless depth of love that he was. And that’s why those words had the power to shake not just a nation or the world, but generations after.