From Epistles – Third Series of Volume 7 of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Translated from Bengali)
C/O F. H. LEGGETT,
21 WEST THIRTY-FOURTH STREET
MY DEAR STURDY,
This is not to defend my conduct. Words cannot wipe off the evils I have done, nor any censor stop from working the good deeds, if any.
For the last few months I have been hearing so much of the luxuries I was given to enjoy by the people of the West — luxuries which the hypocrite myself has been enjoying, although preaching renunciation all the while: luxuries, the enjoyment of which has been the great stumbling-block in my way, in England at least. I nearly hypnotised myself into the belief that there has at least been a little oasis in the dreary desert of my life, a little spot of light in one whole life of misery and gloom; one moment of relaxation in a life of hard work and harder curses — even that oasis, that spot, that moment was only one of sense-enjoyment!!
I was glad, I blessed a hundred times a day those that had helped me to get it, when, lo, your last letter comes like a thunderclap, and the dream is vanished. I begin to disbelieve your criticisms — have little faith left in all this talk of luxuries and enjoyments and other visions memory calls up. These I state. Hope you will send it round to friends, if you think fit, and correct me where I am wrong.
I remember your place at Reading, where I was fed with boiled cabbage and potatoes and boiled rice and boiled lentils, three times a day, with your wife’s curses for sauce all the time. I do not remember your giving me any cigar to smoke — shilling or penny ones. Nor do I remember myself as complaining of either the food or your wife’s incessant curses, though I lived as a thief, shaking through fear all the time, and working every day for you.
The next memory is of the house on St. George’s Road — you and Miss Muller at the head. My poor brother was ill there and Miss Müller drove him away. There too I don’t remember to have had any luxuries as to food or drink or bed or even the room given to me.
The next was Miss Müller’s place. Though she has been very kind to me, I was living on nuts and fruits. The next memory is that of the black hole of London where I had to work almost day and night and cook the meals oft-times for five or six, and most nights with a bite of bread and butter.
I remember Mrs. Sturdy giving me a dinner and a night’s lodging in her place, and then the next day criticising the black savage — so dirty and smoking all over the house.
With the exception of Capt. and Mrs. Sevier, I do not remember even one piece of rag as big as a handkerchief I got from England. On the other hand, the incessant demand on my body and mind in England is the cause of my breakdown in health. This was all you English people gave me, whilst working me to death; and now I am cursed for the luxuries I lived in!! Whosoever of you have given me a coat? Whosoever a cigar? Whosoever a bit of fish or flesh? Whosoever of you dare say I asked food or drink or smoke or dress or money from you? Ask, Sturdy, ask for God’s sake, ask your friends, and first ask your own “God within who never sleeps.”
You have given me money for my work. Every penny of it is there. Before your eyes I sent my brother away, perhaps to his death; and I would not give him a farthing of the money which was not my private property.
On the other hand, I remember in England Capt. and Mrs. Sevier, who have clad me when I was cold, nursed me better than my own mother would have, borne with me in my weakness, my trials; and they have nothing but blessings for me. And that Mrs. Sevier, because she did not care for honours, has the worship of thousands today; and when she is dead millions will remember her as one of the great benefactresses of the poor Indians. And they never cursed me for my luxuries, though they are ready to give me luxuries, if I need or wish.
I need not tell you of Mrs. Bull, Miss MacLeod, Mr. and Mrs. Leggett. You know their love and kindness for me; and Mrs. Bull and Miss MacLeod have been to our country, moved and lived with us as no foreigner ever did, roughing it all, and they do not ever curse me and my luxuries either; they will be only too glad to have me eat well and smoke dollar cigars if I wish. And there Leggetts and Bulls were the people whose bread whose money bought my smokes and several times paid my rent, whilst I was killing myself for your people, when you were taking my pound of flesh for the dirty hole and starvation and reserving all this accusation of luxury.
“The clouds of autumn make great noise but send no rain; The clouds of the rainy season without a word flood the earth.”
See Sturdy, those that have helped or are still helping have no criticism, no curses: it is only those who do nothing, who only come to grind their own axes, that curse, that criticise. That such worthless, heartless, selfish, rubbish criticise, is the greatest blessing that can come to me. I want nothing so much in life as to be miles off from these extremely selfish axe-grinders.
Talking of luxuries! Take these critics up one after the other — It is all flesh, all flesh and no spirit anywhere. Thank God, they come out sooner or later in their true colours. And you advise me to regulate my conduct, my work, according to the desires of such heartless, selfish persons, and are at your wit’s end because I do not!
As to my Gurubhais (brother-disciples), they do nothing but what I insist on their doing. If they have shown any selfishness anywhere, that is because of my ordering them, not what they would do themselves.
Would you like your children put into that dark hole you got for me in London, made to work to death, and almost starved all the time? Would Mrs. Sturdy like that? They are Sannyasins, and that means, no Sannyasin should unnecessarily throw away his life or undertake unnecessary hardship.
In undergoing all this hardship in the West we have been only breaking the rules of Sannyasa. They are my brothers, my children. I do not want them to die in holes for my sake. I don’t, by all that is good and true I don’t, want them starved and worked and cursed for all their pains.
A word more. I shall be very glad if you can point out to me where I have preached torturing the flesh. As for the Shâstras (scriptures), I shall be only too glad if a Shâstri (Pundit) dares oppose us with the rules of life laid down for Sannyasins and Paramahamsas.
Well, Sturdy, my heart aches. I understand it all. I know what you are in — you are in the clutches of people who want to use you. I don’t mean your wife. She is too simple to be dangerous. But, my poor boy, you have got the flesh-smell — a little money — and vultures are around. Such is life.
You said a lot about ancient India. That India still lives, Sturdy, is not dead, and that living India dares even today to deliver her message without fear or favour of the rich, without fear of anybody’s opinion, either in the land where her feet are in chains or in the very face of those who hold the end of the chain, her rulers. That India still lives, Sturdy, India of undying love, of everlasting faithfulness, the unchangeable, not only in manners and customs, but also in love, in faith, in friendship. And I, the least of that India’s children, love you, Sturdy, with Indian love, and would any day give up a thousand bodies to help you out of this delusion.