Vivekananda Compares India And West During His Stay In Chicago

Swami Vivekananda used to write a lot of letters sharing his experiences with the person to whom he is writing.

Haripada Mitra was one, whom he used to write a lot. Here is a letter by Swami Vivekananda to Haripad Mitra while he was in Chicago for his lecture on Vedanta, which later brought him fame throughout the world.

Who was Haripada Mitra?

Haripada Mitra was one of Vivekananda’s hosts while he was staying in Belgaum in 1892. In his reminiscences, he recalled his first impression of him when he was told:

Here is a learned Bengali sannyasin who has come to meet you.

“I turned back and found a serene figure with his eyes flashing like lightning and a face clean shaven. His body was covered with an ochre robe, on his feet he had strapped sandals of the Maharashtrian type and on his head was an ochre turban. The figure was so impressive that it is still vivid in my memory.”

Haripada convinced Vivekananda to accept both him and his wife as disciples. In his reminiscences, he remarked further:
“I had a desire to have his photograph. He would not agree. I persisted, and after a long drawn tussle, he gave his consent and a photograph was taken. As Swamiji had not agreed to be photographed on an earlier occasion, in spite of the earnest request of another gentleman, I had to send two copies of this one to him on request.”

Letter to Haripada Mitra from Chicago

The letter was written in Bengali and was later translated in English for general public to read.

28th December, 1893.

Dear Haripada,

It is very strange that news of my Chicago lectures has appeared in the Indian papers; for whatever I do, I try my best to avoid publicity. Many things strike me here. It may be fairly said that there is no poverty in this country. I have never seen women elsewhere as cultured and educated as they are here. Well-educated men there are in our country, but you will scarcely find anywhere women like those here. It is indeed true, that “the Goddess Herself lives in the houses of virtuous men as Lakshmi”.  I have seen thousands of women here whose hearts are as pure and stainless as snow. Oh, how free they are! It is they who control social and civic duties Schools and colleges are full of women, and in our country women cannot be safely allowed to walk in the streets! Their kindness to me is immeasurable. Since I came here, I have been welcomed by them to their houses. They are providing me with food, arranging for my lectures, taking me to market, and doing everything for my comfort and convenience. I shall never be able to repay in the least the deep debt of gratitude I owe to them.

Do you know who is the real “Shakti-worshipper”? It is he who knows that God is the omnipresent force in the universe and sees in women the manifestation of that Force. Many men here look upon their women in this light. Manu, again, has said that gods bless those families where women are happy and well treated. Here men treat their women as well as can be desired, and hence they are so prosperous, so learned, so free, and so energetic. But why is it that we are slavish, miserable, and dead? The answer is obvious.

And how pure and chaste are they here! Few women are married before twenty or twenty-five, and they are as free as the birds in the air. They go to market, school, and college, earn money, and do all kinds of work. Those who are well-to-do devote themselves to doing good to the poor. And what are we doing? We are very regular in marrying our girls at eleven years of age lest they should become corrupt and immoral. What does our Manu enjoin? “Daughters should be supported and educated with as much care and attention as the sons.” As sons should be married after observing Brahmacharya up to the thirtieth year, so daughters also must observe Brahmacharya and be educated by their parents. But what are we actually doing? Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your well-being. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now.

If anybody is born of a low caste in our country, he is gone for ever, there is no hope for him. Why? What a tyranny it is! There are possibilities, opportunities, and hope for every individual in this country. Today he is poor, tomorrow he may become rich and learned and respected. Here everyone is anxious to help the poor. In India there is a howling cry that we are very poor, but how many charitable associations are there for the well-being of the poor? How many people really weep for the sorrows and sufferings of the millions of poor in India? Are we men? What are we doing for their livelihood, for their improvement? We do not touch them, we avoid their company! Are we men? Those thousands of Brâhmanas — what are they doing for the low, downtrodden masses of India? “Don’t touch”, “Don’t touch”, is the only phrase that plays upon their lips! How mean and degraded has our eternal religion become at their hands! Wherein does our religion lie now? In “Don’t-touchism” alone, and nowhere else!

I came to this country not to satisfy my curiosity, nor for name or fame, but to see if I could find any means for the support of the poor in India. If God helps me, you will know gradually what those means are.

As regards spirituality, the Americans are far inferior to us, but their society is far superior to ours. We will teach them our spirituality and assimilate what is best in their society.

With love and best wishes,


If you wish to know more about Swami Vivekananda, you can know him by reading his work through this link.

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