There is not a single instance of Swami Vivekananda giving a public lecture during the parivrajaka period of his life.
Once as a wandering monk, he was Prof.Sundararama Iyer’s guest for a few days in Trivandrum, the host has asked him to deliver a public address. Swamiji declined, saying he would be a failure as he had never earlier attempted to speak before the public. In that case how would he “face the august assembly of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago,” queried Prof. Iyer.
If “it was the will of Supreme that he should be made His mouthpiece and do a great service to the cause of truth and holy living, He surely would endow him with the gifts and qualities needed for it”, replied Swamiji.
The professor said he was “incredulous as to the probability or possibility of a special intervention of this kind.”
This comment provoked Swamiji to sharply criticize the professor who ‘inspite of his apparent orthodoxy’ remained a ‘skeptic at heart’ because he set limits of his own to the ‘extent of the Lord’s power of beneficent interposition in the affairs of the Universe.’
The Chicago Parliament of Religions bears testimony to Vivekananda’s faith in the Divine Will. His followers and admirers are familiar with descriptions of his efforts to work against the severest odds to gain formal entry to the reputed Parliament. At that point in time when he finally stood before the ‘august assembly’, his experience in public-speaking/lecturing had not grown richer than what it was in Trivandrum in December 1892.
As is well-known, he was one of the last speakers to address the gathering on the opening day – he had repeatedly postponed the summons to speak – out of sheer stage fright ! His state of mind is best captured in his own words:
“…My heart was fluttering and my tongue was nearly dried up. I was so nervous and could not venture to speak in the morning. They (the other delegates) were all prepared and came with ready-made speeches. I was a fool and had none, but bowed to Devi Saraswati and stepped up. … I made a short speech … and when it was finished, I sat down almost exhausted with emotion.”
After Vivekananda’s phenomenal success at the Parliament of Religions one sees a drastic shift in his inclinations. If before the World Parliament he withheld himself from giving public lectures, after the great event he started his whirlwind tour of lectures addressing large gatherings.
Every one of his lectures was vibrant and inspiring. He did not make formal preparation for his lectures -– simply because he did not have the time to do so. A few years after the World Parliament, he described his predicament to his disciples:
“When I began lecturing in Chicago and other cities, I had to deliver every week some twelve or fifteen or even more lectures at times. The excessive strain on the body and mind would exhaust me to a degree. I seemed to run short of subjects for lectures and was anxious where to find topics for the morrow’s lecture. New thoughts seemed altogether scarce.
“One day, after the lecture, I lay thinking of what means to adopt next. The thought induced a sort of slumber and in that state I heard as if somebody standing by me was lecturing – many new ideas and new veins of thought, which I had scarcely heard or thought of in my life. On awakening I remembered them and reproduced them in my lecture.”
Were these purely subjective experiences ?
From Swamiji’s own account, we learn:
“Sometimes the lecture would be delivered in such a loud voice that the inmates of adjacent rooms would hear the sound and ask me the next day, “With whom, Swamiji, were you talking so loudly last night ?” I used to avoid the question somehow.”
To a disciple’s interpretation that he himself (Swamiji) must have lectured like that in his subtle body, which the gross body would echo, Swamiji’s reply is a tentative ‘May be.”
— Excerpt from “Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Mission’ and the Chicago Parliament of Religions” an article by PROF. R. RAMACHANDRA published in the December 2018 issue of THE VEDANTA KESARI, a Cultural and Spiritual Monthly of the Ramakrishna Order.
Courtesy to The Vedanta Kesari for permission to post this excerpt here.