Swami Vivekananda smokes with an untouchable5

Swami Vivekananda enjoyed smoking. In the days of his pilgrimage, when he used to walk along the streets of India, here, there and elsewhere, smoking was his great avocation.

One evening, as Vivekananda was walking along a village street in northern India, he came to a small cottage where an old man was smoking an Indian hookah. Vivekananda had a tremendous desire to smoke, and he asked the old man if he would give him his pipe.

The man said, “Oh, Swami, I am a scavenger, I am an untouchable. How can I give you my hookah? How will you smoke from the hookah of an untouchable? I am so happy to see you. You are so handsome, so spirited. I am so fortunate to see you. But, alas, I come from an untouchable family.”

Vivekananda felt sorry that the old man was an untouchable. He said to him, “I am sorry, I am sorry. Alas, I won’t be able to smoke.” Vivekananda left him and continued walking.

In a few minutes he felt miserable. He said to himself, “What am I doing? What am I doing? What have I done? What have I done? Did not Thakur teach me that wherever there is a human being, there also is Lord Shiva? Each human being embodies God. This is what I have learned from my Master, Sri Ramakrishna.

“I have given up everything; I am a sannyasin. So I am one with the rest of the world by virtue of my renunciation. Yet although I have renounced everything, still I have preserved this sense of discrimination. Here is a cobbler, here is a scavenger, here is a Brahmin, here is a Shudra. Low caste, high caste! How can I have the heart to distinguish? Are they not all God’s children? The sense of separativity, the sense of superiority and inferiority: How can I have that kind of feeling?”

Vivekananda then went running back to the old man and said, “Please, please, give me your hookah. Each man is God Himself.”

The old man fearfully and, at the same time, happily gave the hookah to Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda smoked to his heart’s content and then said to the old man, “I am divinely happy, supremely happy, for two reasons. My human desire is fulfilled; I am able to smoke. And my divine desire is fulfilled, because I have been able to realise my inner vision of universal oneness. My Supreme Lord abides in all. This vision of mine I have been able to manifest today by smoking here from your hookah at your house.

“God is for all. He is not only for me, but He is for all. In each individual Him to see, Him to please unconditionally, is my only goal. I shall remain ever grateful to you, for it is through you that my Lord has taught me the supreme lesson: that we are all one, we are all equal, we are all children of our Absolute Lord Supreme.”

GIM 85. 22 January 1979