Swami Vivekanada may have been a great intellect, a vedantic scholar and charmer no doubt, but a man like most of us, nonetheless. His philosophical and metaphysical discourses may be valuable to humanity, however to understand him, one must see him as a human with all his frailities– divinifying and deifying him has only clouded our judgement of him. So let us ask – what did some of his close non-Indian friends think of him ? have we ever investigated what sort of personal habits did Vivekanada “the man” have ?.
Not many Indians seem to be aware that the Swami´s personal lifestyle and his over bearing attitude had led to a serious disaffection among many of his erstwhile admirers – they could not accept a monk who showed no dispassion in action. Noted among them were Ashton Johnson, Edward Sturdy and Henrietta Müller. For instance, Edward Sturdy who had admired Vivekananda and brought him to England, was so disillusioned with him after he had seen “very little of Sannyasa” and much “humbug and sham” on Vivekanada´s part, in particular his additiction to tobacco. The Swami was a chain smoker. Henrietta Muller, another genuine patron of the Ramakrishna matt and Vivekananda´s hostess in London noticed his excessive involvement in his family matters (property litigations) and detested his “nature” of intimacy with Sister Nivedita using the façade of Jesus motif, that she completely severed her connection with his movement and returned to the Christian faith. All men are mortal, it appears.
I once heard a Vivekanada devotee claim that Vivekanada died young of a brain hemorrhage, the cause for which according to him was an overload of energy in the Sahasrara Chakra from excessive meditation and yoga !!!. Although my knowledge in the Kundalini system is basic, I have no disrespect for the system, however I could not but help laugh at this ardent devotee´s hypothesis. Our devotion to extraordinary men often prompt us to concort spiritual stories of their death (to shroud it in mystery) to make them look divine- that’s a typical Indian phenomenon. Vivekanda´s health and death has always been a constant source of debate and the Swami´s follower´s often shroud it even further with spiritual nonsense. Vivekananda was severely diabetic, suffered from rheumatism, asthma as well as insomnia according to his doctors. Inspite of this he indulged excessively in non-vegetarian and other fatty foods and excessive smoking. Doctors had warned him several times of his deteriorating health. The most probable medical explanation given for his death is intra-cerebral hemorrhage. Do you know what the three most important risk factors for intra-cerebral hemorrhage is ? – High blood cholesterol levels, diabetes and cigarette smoking.
No description of the Swami is complete without his description of Kerala in 1897 in a public address. He described Kerala as “homes so many lunatic asylums” and Keralites as “lunatics”. Have we once questioned its logic ? Casteism was rampant all over india during the 1890s and not a phenomena exclusive to Kerala. Infact, in the erstwhile northern princely states it was enforced with much more severity and cruelty than in the southern states. Untouchability was practiced all over India (including Bengal) in the 1890s. Sati inspite of being banned in his own home state in 1829 was still being practiced there by slight – on the contrary such practices were completely absent in Kerala. Its matrilineal women enjoyed relatively greater freedom, elevated social status, and not to mention their erudition as opposed to their Indian counterparts elsewhere, a fact explicitly made obvious in commentaries by several other non-native travelers of the time. Yet, despite it, it appears that the Swami specifically attacks Kerala with his exaggerated rhetoric. If one studies Swami Vivekanada´s comment within the context of the then ongoing social reformation movements in Kerala under the auspices of Dr. Palpu, Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamikal, one realizes that it was neither because casteism was more wicked nor diabolic in the region than elsewhere but simply because the Swami had taken upon himself to champion an ongoing cause by bringing greater attention to it. It is best summarized in Vivekananda´s own words, “the garb of spirituality was essential for any organization to be successful in India”.