The Power and the Glory

Marie Louise Burke’s New Discoveries

How Swami Vivekananda did not just deliver talks but delivered concrete spirituality.


It was, indeed, difficult to distinguish Swamiji from his message. Like all great prophets, he was his message, the embodiment of it, and almost all who were drawn to the one seem to have been drawn to the other also. At first, some had come to him simply as to one more religious teacher, including him in their rounds of incessant lecture-going. “We were insatiable knowledge – seekers,” Devamata writes of herself and her friends, referring to the spring of 1895.

Laura Glenn [Sister Devamata] writes of herself and her friends, referring now to the spring of 1895. “We did not limit ourselves to any one doctrine or scripture. We went to one lecture in the morning, a second one in the afternoon, and sometimes to a third in the evening. Philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, each had its turn. Yet, although we seemed to scatter our interest, our real loyalty belonged to the Swami. We recognized in him a power that no other teacher possessed. It was he alone who was shaping our thought and conviction.”

Soon Laura Glenn and her friends no longer even seemed to scatter their interest. “Through the late winter and spring of 1895,” she writes (meaning, as the context makes clear, the winter of 1895-1896), “the work – carried on without the intermittence of the earlier teaching – gained tremendous momentum and fervor. We divided our interest no longer. It was wholly focussed on the message the Swami had to give. That had become the foundation of our daily living, the stimulus that urged us onward.” It is little wonder that it was so. Speaking of Swamiji’s power to revolutionize the world, Swami Turiyananda once said, “He used to tell us, `Do you think I only lecture? I know I give tangible, living spirituality to them, and they know they receive it.’ In New York Swamiji was lecturing to a class. Oh, the tremendous effect of it! Swami Abhedananda said that while listening to the lecture he felt as if some force was drawing the Kundalini up, as at the time of meditation.”

To be stirred to one’s depths was not always a comfortable experience. Even Laura Glenn, who attended all his New York classes through two seasons, felt so shy in his presence that she never came “in close personal touch with him.” “There seemed,” she wrote, “to be an intangible barrier.”66 Some people reacted with more than shyness. In the Life an unidentified disciple is quoted as having said, “It would be impossible for me to describe the overwhelming force of Swamiji’s presence. He could rivet attention upon himself: and when he spoke in all seriousness and intensity – though it seems wellnigh incredible – there were some among his hearers who were literally exhausted. The subtlety of his thought and arguments swept them off their feet. In one case, I know of a man who was forced to rest in bed for three days as the result of a nervous shock received by a discussion with the Swami. His personality was at once awe – inspiring and sublime. He had the faculty of literally annihilating one if he so chose.”

“Those who feared to be caught in the current of this great power were but few ” Sister Christine wrote;’ “the others by thousands were drawn with the irresistible force, even as iron filings to a magnet. He had the power of attraction so great, that those who came near him, men and women alike, even children, fell under the magic spell he cast”68- and, one might add, even animals. “Even my dog – an Irish setter – felt this,” Sister Devamata wrote. “He would stand perfectly still and a quiver would run through his body whenever Swamiji would lay his hand on his head and tell him he was a true Yogi.”