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Saturday, October 2, 2021

Dr. Lewis Janes, a Son of Providence: "Philosopher, Patriot, Lover of Man," Part 2 of 3

By Fred Richardson

It is most likely that Dr. Janes first met Swamiji in Brooklyn in the spring of 1894. However, it is known that he did spend time with Swamiji in the summer of 1894 at the Greenacres Religious Conference, whose motto was: “Love Truth more than Victory.”  Greenacres was the “embodiment of the ideals of the World Parliament of Religions.” Here they were both Presenters who listened to each other’s talks and most likely spent a fair amount of time discussing their shared interests.  This is born out by Swamiji’s comments in a letter to Mrs. Hale: “There is my friend Dr. Lewis G. Janes of NY, President of the Ethical Culture Society of Brooklyn who has begun his lecture. I must go to hear him. He and I agree so much.”

It was during this time that Dr. Janes offered Swamiji a place at his Society in Brooklyn where he could hold regular classes and public lectures rather than just traveling from place to place. These classes began in December of 1894 and continued for the next several months.  In Marie Louise Burke’s words: “These classes were considered to be the real beginning of Swamiji’s work in America.” 

Of particular interest during this time, with respect to Dr. Janes' character, was how he handled a controversy regarding the Ramabai Circle and their aspersions towards Swamiji regarding the treatment of widowed Child Brides in India. He wrote several articles and letters challenging these false allegations, despite repeated attacks, and was instrumental in quieting the controversy. As Marie Louise Burke puts it: “He became one of his (i.e., Swamiji’s) most loyal and articulate champions.” Swamiji himself wrote to Dr. Janes praising his defense of him in the following words: “It was so scholarly, truthful and noble and withal so permeated with your natural universal love for the good and true everywhere. It is a great work to bring this world into a spirit of sympathy with each other but it should be done no doubt when such brave souls as you still hold your own. Lord help you ever and ever my brother and may you live long to carry on the mighty work you and your society has undertaken.”

It was also during this time that Swamiji met Sarah Ellen Waldo who was a regular attendee at the Brooklyn Society. She later recorded many of Swamiji’s discourses and later was entrusted with editing them. Most importantly, at his request, she became the first of his American disciples to teach Vedanta classes in his absence. It is also interesting to note that it is written that her relationship with Dr. Janes: “meant a great deal to her spiritual and intellectual development.”

From this time forward Dr. Janes collaborated with Sarah Bull in establishing and directing the Cambridge Conferences as well as initiating and directing the Monsalvat School for the Study of Comparative Religions at Greenacres. In addition to Swamiji, Swamis Saradananda and Abhedananda also participated in these programs and were close to Dr. Janes.  

He was later elected President of the Free Religious Association, which was a ‘free thought’ organization whose members, generally speaking, rejected beliefs based solely on the authority and dogma of organized religion and who espoused the ability of all individuals to use reason, logic, and empirical observation in the search for Truth. In Dr. Janes' words: “The time is past for the mere toleration of opinions: the duty of the hour is not to tolerate but to honor and respect the intelligent convictions of every honest heart.”

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