The Master as I Saw Him – Pages from the Life of Swami Vivekananda by Sister Nivedita

The Master as I Saw Him – Being Pages from the Life of Swami Vivekananda, by Sister Nivedita.

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Title: The Master as I Saw Him
Author: Sister Nivedita
Level: Intermediate

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Book Summary – The Master as I Saw Him

“I have a superstition – that the same soul who came once as Buddha came afterwards as Christ.”
– Swami Vivekananda in “The Master as I Saw Him”

“On that day when you really meet what we call a ghost, you will know no fear!”
– Nivedita quoting Swami Vivekananda in this book

The Master as I Saw Him, is a book famous for its chronicling of intense spiritual experiences from the life of Swami Vivekananda, as noted by his disciple Sister Nivedita. Among the many gripping anecdotes that occur in this book are:

  1. Lord Buddha manifesting before Vivekananda, as he sat meditating in his room, as a youth;
  2. The bestowing of the boon of “death at will” by Lord Shiva, when Vivekananda visited the Himalayan shrine of Amarnath;
  3. His actual hearing of the divine voice of ‘the Mother’ at Kshir Bhowani temple;
  4. His experience of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi or complete mergence with God;
  5. The Swami’s vision of an ancient Rishi (sage) belonging to the Vedic period (at least 4000-3000 BC), chanting Sanskrit mantras from the Vedas, in an ancient rhythm long forgotten;
  6. His encounter with distressed spirits who had committed suicide.

The book is written in an easy to read fashion, such that any chapter can be opened and read without losing any continuity. Nevertheless, it has still been assigned an intermediate rating, mainly because the text pre-supposes a familiarity with Swami Vivekananda, India, her religious traditions and historical customs, which new readers having no prior basis may find difficult to understand.

“In truth, Madam, had I lived in Judaea in the days of Jesus of Nazareth, I would have washed His feet, not with my tears, but with my heart’s blood!”
– Swami Vivekananda in “The Master as I Saw Him”

So for a new enthusiast, it is humbly recommended that, they first familiarize themselves with the teachings of Swami Vivekananda before attempting this book. A great place to begin is the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volumes 1-9).

One slight drawback of this book is that Sister Nivedita, perhaps out of immense humility, jumps from writing in the first person to the third person, whenever she wishes to recount certain significant spiritual moments between herself and Swami Vivekananda. This makes for a confusing read. In addition, the first few chapters of the book start off rather slowly, but the tempo builds up after chapter 6. So don’t be dissuaded if you start from the very beginning!

Lastly it is important to remember that this book was written over a 100 years ago, and so it presents a view of India of the past – a country tremendously weakened by its deeply entrenched social and religious prejudices such as the caste system, eating of food cooked at the hands of Brahmins only, child-marriage and the low status accorded to women, especially widows.

About Sister Nivedita – A Brief Biography

“Consciousness,” he said on one occasion, “is a mere film between two oceans, the sub-conscious and the super-conscious.”
– Nivedita quoting Swami Vivekananda in “The Master as I Saw Him”

Sister Nivedita born as Margaret Noble, grew up in Ireland. At the young age of 28 years, while working as the principal of a London school, she first heard Swami Vivekananda speak. He by then was a world-famous monk and preacher of Vedanta Philosophy.

The year was 1895 (19 years preceding World War I), a time of growing misery and rising disparity between rich and poor in Europe. Sister Nivedita greatly disillusioned by the “vulgarity of privilege, and the growing sadness and pain of the dispossessed”, heard in the Swami “a call which would change her life”.

By age 30 this courageous daughter of the West, had taken to monasticism and sailed thousands of miles across to India, to assist Swami Vivekananda in his work of setting up an educational institution for women in India.

For nearly a year and a half, Sister Nivedita studied Vedanta philosophy, India, her history and customs, under the close discipleship of Swami Vivekananda. It was during these years that she dutifully noted down her interactions with the Swami, and left them as a priceless gift for millions to come later, who would not have this privilege.

She later returned to London for a brief period to gather funds and other assistance for her work in India. When she returned, in 1902, it was time to bid farewell to her guru, Swami Vivekananda, who gave up his body shortly thereafter.

Sister Nivedita was a remarkable lady, whose tremendous love for India shines forth in her numerous books. It was as acknowledgement to her steadfast dedication to India’s upliftment, as well as to her monastic vow of realizing God, that Swami Vivekananda beautifully named her “Nivedita – The Dedicated One.”

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