Swami Yatiswarananda (1889 – 1966) was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda. He spent seven years teaching Vedanta in Europe, where he founded an ashram in Switzerland, though he lectured on Vedanta from Madrid to Warsaw. He left Europe as the second World War forced a closure to the European Vedanta work. The swami then spent ten years teaching Vedanta in the United States, returning to India to head several Centers, eventually becoming Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Yatiswarananda was famed for his meditative life and spiritual attainment. His book, Meditation and Spiritual Life, a compilation of his class talks, is considered one of the finest compendiums on spiritual life. The article below was taken from the Jan-Feb 1959 Vedanta in the West.
What Are the Obstacles?
In spiritual life, we use the word “obstacles” with reference to both the inner and the outer world, to physical and subtle objects, and to conditions and situations which stand in the way of our spiritual progress.
In general, there are obstacles of various kinds producing misery, or duhkha of various types. In the Sankhya Sutras, Kapila mentions duhkhas of three types: adhyatmika or that caused within ourselves—in the body by illness and unhealthy living, and the mind by evil desires, anger, greed, folly, pride, envy, etc.: adhibhautika or that caused by other living beings such as beasts, thieves, and evil-minded persons; and the adhidaivika or the misery brought about by natural phenomena such as extremes of temperature, floods and storms, earthquakes, pestilences , etc. These may act as hindrances to spiritual life. And we are affected by our troubles all the more when we are not well inwardly.
We are all born with subtle impressions and tendencies brought from previous lives and we also acquire new ones in our present life. While good tendencies help, evil ones obstruct our spiritual progress.
There are different kinds of obstacles, and we come across them in the different stages of our spiritual life. Spiritual life is like a stream and should move towards the ocean of Sat-Chit-Ananda or Infinite Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, call it Godhead, Brahman, the Lord, Allah, or Tao, as you please. Sometimes the spiritual current does not move at all; sometimes it moves for a time and stops; sometimes it tends to move in wrong directions. The task in our spiritual life is to make this current move; move in the right direction and move steadily till the goal is reached.
Obstacles Are Inevitable but Can Be Overcome
This is the ideal. But in actual life, there is no such thing as movement in a straight line. There are ups and downs, breaks or stops, in the movement. Obstacles continue to confront us till we have known God’s grace and attain the peace and blessedness that come from divine realization. Until then, however, we have to persist steadily in our spiritual practices; we have to continue the struggle however insurmountable the obstacles may seem for the time being.
This is a matter of actual experience for many spiritual aspirants. A young man was once asked about this spiritual progress by Swami Brahmananda, his teacher. He said, “Not very well, Maharaj; my mind is restless. I have no taste for spiritual practices yet. There seems to be an obstacle inside me. I feel so unhappy. I must have been born with evil tendencies and these stand in the way of my spiritual progress.” To this the Swami replied: “My boy, you must not talk like that. Try to practice japa (chanting the Lord’s name) at dead of night; if that is not possible, do it during the early hours of the morning. . . . Waste no more of your valuable time. Lose yourself in prayer and meditation; otherwise, how can the door to spiritual truth be opened? . . . The aspirant should first learn about the spiritual path from some great soul and then follow it methodically. If the person proceeds haphazardly he or she cannot make much progress, and if the person gives up entirely, the effort to begin again will be twice as difficult. But no effort is wasted. Lust, greed, anger, all gradually leave one who practices spiritual disciplines.”
When the young man said, “My mind is restless,” he was not speaking of ordinary restlessness and unhappiness. Having made some substantial progress in spiritual life, he found inner obstacles standing in the way and these were making further advance difficult. The question may be asked, how do I know the mind of the young man? I know it because the young man was none other than myself.
There is restlessness and restlessness – that of the worldly man hankering for the pleasures of the world; and of the spiritual seeker yearning for progress, wanting to move from a lower plan of consciousness to a higher one.
Spiritual life is a twofold movement, one of which may be represented as vertical and the other as horizontal. We have to rise higher and higher and also expand more and more in our consciousness.
Most of us may not care to rise to a higher plane. We fool ourselves by thinking that we are all right where we are. We are like Pluto’s men in the cave who took the shadows to be real and were quite satisfied with the life of darkness they lived. We are quite contented with our life in the cellar.
But some of us want to come out into the light and rise to a higher plane with the help of the spiritual current, which may be likened to the elevator which takes people from one floor to another. The spiritual current, when properly roused, takes us from one center of consciousness, or chakra, to another. Sometimes we want to get into the elevator but the door does not open; this is one of the obstacles. The door opens and we get into the box but the box does not move – this is another kind of obstacle. A third one is, we move up but the door does not open. The fourth is the door opens, we get out on the floor, move about for a time, but are not able to find our way back to the elevator when we want to rise higher. Something of this kind happened to me when I spoke to Swami Brahmananda of some obstacles standing in the way of my spiritual progress.
But these obstacles can be overcome. We can undergo spiritual practices, unfold the inner eye, discover the “secret stairs” and move up higher and higher.
Co-existence of Obstacles and Helps
Let us not, however, imagine that life is only full of obstacles. If we come across many obstacles and hindrances, we get also many helps and aids both within us and without. It is essential that we have a correct idea, a balanced estimate, of our conditions and environments.
Never should we weaken ourselves by thinking too much of our shortcomings only. If we have evil tendencies, we also have good ones – even more of the good than the evil. If we have within us such enemies of spiritual life as egotism, sensuality, greed, and anger, we have also such friends as selflessness, self-control, charity, and compassion.
A great help to our moral and spiritual life is the remembering of the supreme truth that we are the Atman. We are the souls eternally in touch with the Oversoul, just as a wave is in constant touch with, and is supported by, the ocean, just as a ray of light is in touch with the infinite light.
And we must beware of morbid theologians who think only in terms of sin, who always speak of humanity as a bundle of sin. There is a story of a new clergyman who started talking too much of sin. One of the congregation congratulated him, “We never knew what sin was until you came!” What a compliment!
All our spiritual teachers tell us that there are two opposite types of ideas working in our lives, the good and the pleasant – sreyas and preyas. We find in the Katha Upanishad: “The good is one thing; the pleasant another. Both these, serving different needs, present themselves to humanity. It goes well with the person who, of the two, takes the good; but one who chooses the pleasant misses the end. . . . Both the good and the pleasant come to humanity. The calm one examines them well and discriminates. The calm one prefers the good to the pleasant, but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.”
Maya, the power that has projected this phenomenal world, itself has two aspects, vidya and avidya, which may be compared to the centripetal and centrifugal forces. Vidya is that current which leads us Godward; it manifests itself as discrimination, nonattachment, devotion, and love for God. Avidya leads us to worldliness and expresses itself as the various passions – desire for wealth, worldly ambition, work with attachment, cruelty, etc. Avidya darkens the understanding and binds the soul. Vidya tends to help us towards Self-realization and freedom. Let us choose the path of good and become purer in body and mind. This purity is essential for our spiritual growth and brings us in touch with the cosmic spiritual forces which the devotee calls the grace of God.
Conditions for Spiritual Unfoldment
It is necessary for us to have a clear conception of spiritual unfoldment and its relation to cosmic existence and cosmic forces. Let us try to understand its secret through the illustration of a seed. If the seed is planted in the proper bed and is kept in touch with nature – with earth, water, heat, air, and space – it grows into a plant and finally develops into a mighty tree. The seed must be kept in close touch with nature and also in the proper condition internally, for only then can it profit by earth, water, etc.
The microcosm develops properly when it is in tune with the macrocosm. This is true in spiritual life also. The individual must be in tune with the cosmos. If we look within ourselves, we find that our body is a part of the ocean of matter and that cosmic energy is flowing through it and sustaining it. Our individual mind is a part of the cosmic mind, and our individual soul is a part of the cosmic soul. In order to keep the body in good health, we must follow the physical laws. When the body is kept in good condition, it remains in touch with the cosmic forces, which again help the body to maintain good health.
To keep the mind in good health, we must follow the moral laws which stand for harmony and purity. This keeps the mind in contact with the cosmic mind and so in good health. Similarly our soul must also be in a fit condition, in a state of purity and harmony, so that it may remain in direct touch with the cosmic spiritual forces. It is then that the cosmic will or the divine grace flows through the soul and assures its progress.
Proper food, moral practices, and spiritual exercises remove the obstacles in body, mind, and ego, keep us in tune with the cosmic will and fit to receive divine grace. Divine grace comes to us at first in the form of spiritual yearning and striving. As we become purer and purer, we come more and more in direct contact with the cosmic spiritual current.
In spiritual life, there must be tremendous effort, but is must not be of the egocentric type. All our practices must be carried out in a spirit of prayer, self-surrender, and dedication to the Divine. In our outlook, habits, and ways of thinking, there must be a revolution. Spiritual life, if properly lived, must lead us from the egocentric to the cosmocentric position.
Relation Between Divine Grace and Self-Effort
What we term self-effort and divine grace supplement each other. We cannot have the one without the other. Without intense and unremitting striving on our part, we can never experience divine grace. Mere prayer without corresponding effort will not bear fruit. It will be just like the man who, finding his house on fire, started praying for rain instead of trying to put the fire out through means available then and there. The proper thing is to do all we can and also to pray.
A little girl’s brother used to set a trap to catch birds. Thinking this was wrong and cruel, she became very sad and wept. After some time, the mother found her happy and cheerful and was curious to know how such a change had come about. “Mommy,” the girl explained, “First I prayed that my brother may be a better boy, then I prayed that no more birds may fall into the trap, and then . . .” she added triumphantly, “I went out and kicked the old trap to pieces.” So prayer is to be combined with self-effort to break old unethical habits and form new good ones.
Blinded by their own narrow ideas, theologians make too much of a mystery about divine grace, which they say can be attained only by following their own pet doctrines and dogmas. But the enlightened ones speak in a different language. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” says Christ in the greatest beatitude uttered by him. This is also the ancient teaching of the sages of India: “The resplendent and pure Self, whom pure and sinless souls, free from evil or impurities, have realized as residing in the body, can be attained by truthfulness, concentration, true knowledge, and perfect chastity.”
The Supreme Reality, or God, is like the sun. It reflects itself on the pure mind. With the help of an illuminating conversation between a devotee and Sri Sarada Devi – the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, also known as the Holy Mother—we can clearly understand the connection between spiritual practice and divine grace.
Devotee: “Mother, how does one realize God? Worship, japa, meditation – do these help one?”
Mother: “None of these can help.”
Devotee: “Then how does one attain to the wisdom of God?”
Mother: “It is only through his grace. But one must practice meditation and japa. That removes the impurities of the mind. One must practice spiritual disciplines such as worship, and so forth. As one gets the fragrance of a flower by handling it, as one gets the fragrance of sandalwood by rubbing it against a stone, in the same way one gets spiritual awakening by constantly thinking of God. But you can realize him right now if you become free from desire.”
The mind has become soiled by worldliness. Spiritual practices remove the impurities, and then just as the clear mirror reflects the shining sun in all its glory, the Divine Spirit is revealed clearly in the purified mind in a spontaneous way.
Here, one point must be plainly understood. The purity attained through spiritual disciplines may be of a very high order, but it is not perfect. The spiritual seeker is established in perfect purity only after divine realization, when objects of temptation become unreal, and the Supreme Spirit remains the only reality. That is why Sri Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Sense objects recede from the abstinent person, but the taste for them lingers still; with the realization of the Supreme Spirit, even the taste disappears.”
It is necessary for us to understand the relation of spiritual practice to divine grace and the important part they play in our lives in removing our inner obstacles. Then only can we feel enthusiastic about the disciplines, which we ordinarily undergo in a haphazard way.
Once a disciple asked the Holy Mother about the utility of spiritual practice. She replied: “Through these spiritual disciplines, the ties of past karma are cut asunder. By these disciplines the turbulence of the sense-organs is subdued.”
Devotee: “Can action ever cancel action?”
Mother: “Why not? If you do a good action, that will counteract your past evil action. Past sins can be counteracted by meditation, japa, and spiritual thought.”
It is a matter of experience that to the extent we succeed in making our mind pure through moral and spiritual struggle, we feel the flow of divine grace. Swami Brahmananda used to tell us: “To obtain God’s grace is the most important aid in spiritual life. The breeze of his grace is always blowing. Just unfurl your sail.” This means that we should keep ourselves open to the divine grace – the cosmic spiritual current – by attaining purity through the performance of regular spiritual practice.
Spiritual Life – The Preparation for Receiving Divine Grace
All our spiritual teachers declare unanimously that the soul in its essential nature is pure spirit. Owing to ignorance, the spirit forgets itself and becomes identified with the ego, with the mind and the senses, with attachment and aversion, with the sense objects, with the body and its functions – all products of ignorance. The Atman puts on the masks of the causal body, the subtle body, and the gross body. It is the masks that become impure, not the Atman. The ego, the mind, and the body may be defiled but the spirit ever remains pure, enlightened, and free.
An illustration of Sri Ramakrishna helps us to understand this better. The body is like a vessel, the mind is like the water in it. Brahman is like the sun that is reflected in the water. The water may be impure and disturbed, but the light of the sun ever remains shining and pure. The Katha Upanishad declares: “As the sun, which forms the eye of the universe, is never defiled by the external impurities seen by the eyes, so the one Self that resides in all beings is never touched by the evils of the world.”
No impurity can affect our primary nature, which ever remains pure. It is our second nature that becomes impure, and it can and should be purified. Spiritual life is the cleansing of this second nature of ours, the cleansing of the masks – the coverings of the ego, the mind, and the body. So there is certainly hope for every one of us. It is rightly said that even as every saint has a past, so has every sinner a future.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Sri Krishna gives this categorical assurance: “Even the most sinful amongst people, if that person worships me, the Supreme Spirit, with unswerving devotion, must be regarded as virtuous, for that person has resolved rightly. Soon the person becomes righteous and attains eternal peace. Proclaim it boldly that my devotee is never destroyed.” “Giving up all other duties, take refuge in me alone. I will free you from all sins; grieve not.” The Lord himself removes all obstacles for the devotee who has completely surrendered to him.
The Transforming Power of Divine Grace
A glorious illustration of how a most sinful person can become righteous and attain the highest illumination and peace through the grace of the Supreme Spirit is seen in the life of Girish Chandra Ghosh, the famous actor-dramatist and a great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. According to his own statement, there was no sin that Girish did not commit. At one time he considered religion a fraud. Later, however, a great change came over him and there grew a deep yearning for spiritual light and peace. It was then that he was drawn to Sri Ramakrishna. Gradually his mind became purified, though he had to go a long way. Once the following conversation took place:
Girish: “Sir, please bless me.”
Master: “Have faith in the Divine Mother, and you will attain everything.”
Girish: “But I am a sinner.”
Master: “The wretch who constantly harps on sin becomes a sinner.”
Girish: “Sir, the very ground where I sit becomes unholy.”
Master: “How can you say that? Suppose a light is brought into a room that had been dark a thousand years, does it illumine the room little by little, or in a flash?”
Girish: “I have no sincerity; please grant it to me.”
Master: “All right, you have faith.”
Young Narendra, who later became Swami Vivekananda, was very friendly with Girish and was warned by the Master not to associate with him too much: “Girish is like a cup in which garlic is kept. You may wash it a thousand times but can never get rid of the smell altogether.” Girish heard this and felt offended. He asked the Master if the “garlic smell” would go at all. The Master assured him, “All the smell disappears when a blazing fire is lighted; if you heat the cup in the fire you will get rid of the smell,” and he declared that people would be astounded at the marvelous change that would come over Girish. The garlic smell did disappear in due course, and he became wonderfully transformed.
Directed by the Master, Girish followed the path of absolute self-surrender to the divine will – a path very few can follow. He would not promise to undergo even the simplest spiritual discipline, and was very happy when Sri Ramakrishna asked him to give “the power of attorney” and promised to assume all responsibility for his spiritual life.
Girish at that time thought that the path of self-surrender was the easiest but later on realized what a most exacting thing it was. He had to practice self-surrender every moment! As a result of this, however, he felt continually the presence of the Lord, and became a man of God. The Lord had removed all his vices – his obstacles in the spiritual path – and filled his soul with his loving, divine presence.
The last time some of us saw Girish, he told us: “As I move my hand, I feel that it is not I but the Lord who is moving it.” His eyes and face were radiant with the glow of his inner illumination and unbounded love for the Lord. This is one of the most sublime illustrations of transformation brought about the divine grace, which flows into the spiritual seeker as he strives to his utmost.
From the Book Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatiswarananda
The Path before us
First of all, it is essential on our part to hold before us the spiritual ideal clearly. According to the ancient school of thought known as the Sankhya, there are only two types of entities — the Purusha or the soul which is of the nature of pure consciousness, and the Prakriti or Nature. Vedanta calls the soul of man, the Atman and says that all souls are parts of an infinite, all-pervading supreme Spirit called Paramatman or Brahman. Hence Self-realization in Vedanta means God-realization. Those of us who believe in the existence of the Atman or the soul and the Paramatman, the Soul of our souls, aspire to have our union with Him, within us and in all beings. Realization of the all-pervading Divine is the goal of our spiritual life. When as students, we approached the great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, they placed before us the ideal of Self-realization. But by Self-realization they did not mean anything exclusive. They told us clearly that the more you approach your higher Self, the more you experience the supreme Spirit and the more you feel He is manifest in all. And then what follows is, you feel like serving the Lord in all. But, before that, we must try to follow the spiritual path through prayer and worship, get some clear conception of one’s own soul and the nature of the Deity who dwells in everyone. Now, since this is the ideal, the question arises: What path should we follow? And here too they placed before us the twofold ideal of salvation and service. Work and worship should go hand in hand. Work is to be performed in the spirit of serving the Lord who dwells in all beings. We perform activities of various kinds, but we do not know how to do it, how to perform our duties, how to engage ourselves in various activities for our spiritual benefit. Work has to be done at first in a spirit of duty. Duty must be performed under all circumstances and then, as we advance, we feel we have to offer all the fruits of our work to the supreme Spirit who is the presiding deity of all forms of activities. Then there comes a time when we ask; why should we work? The answer too then wells up within us: for pleasing the Lord. And there may yet come a time when we feel the divine presence permeating and interpenetrating us. Then we just become channels for the flow of divine power—the divine power that works for the good of mankind.
Be spiritually hungry
Just as work is to be done in the proper spirit, so also worship is to be performed in the right manner. All of us have to perform work of some kind or other. Work is compulsory, but the trouble is, worship is optional! Most of us do not feel inclined to do any worship, or Japa [repetition of holy name] or meditation, and that is the pity of it. If we are hungry spiritually, we would like to take spiritual food. We feed our bodies; we should feed the body with good healthy food. We feed our minds through our studies — the ideas should be good. Similarly we should feed the soul. How to do it? Through the practice of worship, Japa, meditation. There is a parable of Sri Ramakrishna: A child was going to bed and said, ‘Mummy, if I feel hungry, please wake me up,’ and the mother said, ‘I need not do that. Your hunger itself will wake you up.’ There comes a time in the course of the evolution of the soul when we become spiritually hungry and wake up from our age-long slumber. But then, mere waking up is not enough. We must be up and doing. I am reminded of a remarkable saying of the Holy Mother. She said, ‘The room may contain different kinds of food-stuff, but one must cook them. He who cooks earlier gets his meals earlier too.’ Many of us are lazy, we do not want to cook at the proper time; may be, we want to cook but late in the evening; and some are so lazy that they would rather starve than cook their food! Naturally, they cannot get much out of spiritual life and they feel miserable.
Source: Swami Yatiswarananda As we knew him – Vol 1
I had the blessing of meeting revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji (hereafter ‘Maharaj’) for the first time in the last week of December 1958. I was introduced to him by revered Swami Agamanandaji Maharaj, who was a disciple of revered Swami Brahmanandaji Maharaj and one of the great men Kerala produced in modern times. A few days later, Maharaj blessed me with Mantra–Dìksha (spiritual initiation). A distinctive feature of Maharaj’s initiation was the unique technique of meditation that he taught. This meditation is a movement from the Formless aspect of God to the form of the Istha-devata. It is a process of connecting the centre of one’s consciousness to Divine Consciousness. The soul and the Deity are two aspects of an infinitude of Divine Consciousness: this awareness was what Maharaj attempted to communicate through initiation.
As I understood in later years, spiritual initiation has three main functions. In the first place, the aspirant receives a Mantra from the Guru. A Mantra is a special kind of linguistic formula which has (as stated by Patañjali in his Yoga Sutras I.29 and II.44) the intrinsic power to remove obstacles on the spiritual path, awaken spiritual consciousness and reveal the Chosen Deity. Secondly, through the initiation the spiritual aspirant learns a particular technique of meditation developed by the Guru. This enables him to stick to a definite spiritual path, and steadfastness in one path is very much necessary to attain success in spiritual life. Lastly, spiritual initiation admits a seeker into a spiritual community. What this implies in the Ramakrishna Movement is that the soul of the seeker gets plugged into the powerful spiritual current generated by Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother and the disciples of the Master.
In my first meeting with Maharaj I expressed my wish to join the Order, but he did not show much interest in it. When I met him next year, I again expressed my wish to become a monk of the Order. This time he was pleased to see my determination.
On that occasion he gave me three instructions:
‘Hereafter you learn to look upon yourself as the Atman, the inner Spirit. In monastic life the thought of woman would come, but in the Atman there is no gender. Always identify yourself with the Atman.’ ‘If you think it is wrong to do something, don’t do it.’
‘When you get problems and difficulties, what will you do? Take them all to Sri Ramakrishna. Pray to him intensely. He will always protect and guide you.’
These three instructions gave me lifelong guidance.
Early Days with Maharaj in Bangalore
Revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji had been the President of Ramakrishna Ashrama, Bangalore, from 1951. In those days the Ashrama was very calm and quiet, full of trees, and looked like a Tapovan, a forest hermitage.
When I joined Bangalore Ashrama in mid-1961, Maharaj was away on a visit to Singapore and Rangoon. While going through the old issues of the Order’s journal Vedanta Kesari in the library, I came across the notes of class talks given by Maharaj in Germany and Switzerland from 1933 to 1939. I started copying those notes, and wrote to Maharaj about what I was doing. In reply he wrote: ‘We have an idea of bringing out another book on practical spirituality. The work you are doing now may be of help in the preparation of the book in future.’ Maharaj’s wish and blessing was fulfilled nineteen years later when the book Meditation and Spiritual Life was published in 1979. The notes I had prepared formed the nucleus of this book.
Living with an illumined soul like Revered Yatiswara-nandaji Maharaj is a continual process of liberal education. The benefits of gurukulavâsa, living with the guru, which was the system of education followed in ancient India, can be understood only by those who have had the blessed opportunity for it. Maharaj kept a watchful eye on the lives of the monastic inmates of the Ashrama, and corrected us whenever we erred or failed to measure up to monastic ideals. He was not only a teacher but was also like a fond mother, sincerely concerned about our all-round welfare.
Maharaj did not encourage what is known as ‘personality cult’. Owing to his sweet and loving nature, he was adored by his disciples and many others. But he wanted all their adoration to be directed towards God. He wanted that Sri Ramakrishna should be the object of all love and adoration, and everyone else was to be loved through Him and for his sake: this was a basic teaching and attitude of Swami Yatiswaranandaji.
Power of Selfless Service
The first duty assigned to me after Maharaj returned to Bangalore from Burma and Singapore was that of ‘Bhandari’, looking after the kitchen and dining hall. In those days this service involved a lot of work as there was no other help except the cook. Before joining the Order I used to spend several hours in contemplative life, but now I could manage to get hardly two or three hours. As a result of the conflict between work and meditation a kind of discontent began to grow in my mind. I did not tell anybody about it, but Maharaj seemed to have sensed it.
Every day he used to come to the kitchen at about ten in the morning to inform the Bhandari about the number of guests expected to have noon Prasad that day. One day I was sitting in the kitchen dressing vegetables when he came to the door. After telling me about the number of guests for noon Prasad, he stood there for a few minutes more and said, ‘You see, when you do selfless work for Guru Maharaj (Sri Ramakrishna) some Power will come and lift you up.’ He then left the place without saying anything more.
The next few days I thought deeply about the significance of Maharaj’s forceful utterance. It gradually dawned upon me that I had set too much store by meditation, and that the amount of time I spent on meditation was not directly proportional to the spiritual progress that I had attained. Selfless work is generally regarded as a long-drawn-out process of purification of mind. Maharaj’s statement that selfless service opened the door to Divine Power revealed to me a new vista or dimension of spirituality, which is a basic principle in the ideology of the Ramakrishna Movement. It actually unifies the two ideals of the motto, ‘For one’s own liberation and for the welfare of the world.’ As enunciated by revered Swami Tapasyanandaji Maharaj, all the activities of Ramakrishna Math and Mission are based on the faith that the Avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna has opened a new pathway to Mukti: whoever performs any work as service to Sri Ramakrishna and surrenders the fruit of his actions to Him will, by His grace, become spiritually uplifted and will eventually attain liberation. What the contemplatives, as for instance, the monks of certain Buddhist sects who are said to practice twelve hours of meditation every day, attain through hours of contemplation, may be attained by a person who renders selfless service to suffering people as worship of Sri Ramakrishna with the aim of attaining purity of mind and spiritual elevation.
Building up One’s Spiritual Life
Everyone is born with certain inherent tendencies. It so happened that from boyhood I had a desire to live in a cave in the Himalayas, and used to read avidly books and articles on travels in the Himalayas. This desire persisted even after joining the Order. I never told anybody about it, but Maharaj seemed to have sensed it. One night when I went to his room to fill his thermos with hot water, he asked me to sit down on a chair near him. He then talked to me for nearly an hour and a half. The first thing he told me was: ‘If you think of a wandering life now itself, you will only become a vagabond. Live in one place and build up your spiritual life.’
Maharaj then narrated the experiences he had when he practised tapasya on the banks of the rivers Kaveri and Tamraparni and on the seashore at Tiruchendur—all in Tamil Nadu. The Prasad given from temples to pilgrims was his food. In Shiva temples only plain rice used to be given to pilgrims. After living on plain rice for one or two months he felt as if ‘every cell in my body called for nourishment.’ He talked to the priests, and they gave him chutney-pudi (dal powder mixed with spices) and buttermilk. The reason for his narrating all this to me was to impress upon my mind the fact that remaining in one Ashrama and building up my spiritual life was far more important than leading a wandering life.
Some of the other important points in his talk are given below in his own words.
- It is good to learn different kinds of work so that you can serve the Order in different ways.
- Too much introversion and too much extroversion are to be given up. Mingle with all people freely without losing your inner composure and remembrance of God. You don’t have to indulge in gossip; talk to people about what you gain from spiritual life. Maharaj said: ‘When I was in Madras I did all kinds of work, but I avoided talking to people. Raja Maharaj noticed this, and asked me, “I say, why you don’t talk with people?” I replied, “Maharaj, what shall I talk about?” “Why, what you learn through your studies, through your spiritual practices, speak of that.”’
- The joy and calmness you feel in meditation must be brought to bear in your work also. Maintaining an undercurrent of thought of God during work is as important as doing meditation at stated hours. All your work must be done as service to Sri Ramakrishna. ‘I don’t do anything other than service to the Lord,’ he said with great emphasis.
- Our ideal is Âtmano mokshârtham, jagad hitâya ca. If you think, ‘Let me realize God first and then serve others’, it will never happen. As Raja Maharaj has taught, work and worship must go hand in hand. Our ideal should be, ‘I want to realize God along with others. I want to share my life with others.’ Very often, in the name of doing spiritual practices, we think too much of ourselves, become too much self-centred. Think of the welfare of others. Referring to the life of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Maharaj said, ‘I have seen Mahapurush Maharaj, Baburam Maharaj, Khoka Maharaj and other disciples of Thakur; they had no other thought but the welfare of others. From morning till night they worked for others. They all laid their lives for the Sangha. You should also do the same.’
- I told Maharaj, ‘I am not much bothered about work. But I feel unhappy to think that even after so many years I haven’t attained much progress in spiritual life.’ Maharaj replied, ‘Don’t try to be a saint overnight. Leave everything to Guru Maharaj. Let Him do whatever He pleases. You must have more faith in Sri Ramakrishna.’
- Maharaj then spoke about the vision he had had before going to Europe in 1933. A letter had come from Germany requesting the authorities of Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math, to send a Vedanta teacher to Germany, and the Trustees chose Swami Yatiswaranandaji. But Maharaj was reluctant to go. The Nazis under Hitler were coming to power in Germany and the whole of Europe was in a state of unrest. Revered Mahapurush Maharaj wrote to Yatiswaranandaji advising him to accept the proposal, but the letter got stuck in the postbox and was therefore not delivered. Unable to decide, Yatiswaranandaji Maharaj went on praying to Sri Ramakrishna. After a few days when he woke up early in the morning, he saw Light coming from all directions and entering him, and he felt an Infinite Presence. He then realized Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) was everywhere and his going to Europe was His will. He decided to agree to go to Germany. That day itself the postman delivered revered Mahapurush Maharaj’s letter to him.
I was listening spellbound to Maharaj’s talk. When he ended, it was 11 o’clock at night, I knelt down in humble submission, and he blessed me by placing his holy hands on my head.
Swami Dayatmananda is the current Center Leader of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, UK. The following article is reproduced from the Vedanta magazine published by the Vedanta Society of UK – Jan-Feb 2002 Issue. The first part of this article can be viewed at: http://www.chennaimath.org/the-five-commandments-of-sri-ramakrishna-part-1-12701
How to love God and surrender to Him whom we have never seen is a question that often arises in our mind. To some such query of a devotee Swami Adbhutananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, replied: “It does not matter if you do not know Him. You know His Name. Just take His Name, and you will progress spiritually. What do they do in an office? Without having seen or known the officer, one sends an application addressed to his name. Similarly send your application to God, and you will receive His grace.” The answer was characteristic of Swami Adbhutananda, temperamentally a man of simplicity and faith. Though a simple answer, it satisfied the inquirer, for it carried the strength that is in the words of a man of realisation. This assertion of the Swami, however, is corroborated by the scriptures, where the Divine Name has been considered identical with the Deity it signifies. It is not merely a combination of letters. It is both the means and the goal. Words, especially the syllable Om, have been designated as Brahman by the Vedas. All scriptures glorify Holy Names. Every religious discipline prescribes the Name of God for repetition. Its efficacy is recognized by all faiths. Theistic religions specially recommend it to their votaries. In Hinduism even the Advaita system of philosophy, which does not recognize the ultimate separate existence of a personal God, appreciates the value of the repetition of God’s Names as a purifying act.
In the theistic faiths, however, its place is significantly important. Of all the systems it is the Vaishnavite School of Sri Chaitanya, which has laid particular stress on the Divine Name and has raised its repetition to the status of an independent spiritual practice. Sri Chaitanya, the founder of Bengali Vaishnavism, has himself composed a few verses singing the glory of the Name which forms a cardinal doctrine of his system. In the first verse of his Sikshastaka, he speaks about the nature of Name and the efficacy of its repetition:
Chant the name of the Lord and His Glory unceasingly,
That the mirror of the heart may be wiped clean,
And quench that mighty forest fire, Worldly lust, raging furiously within.
Oh Name, stream down in moonlight on the lotus heart,
Opening its cup to knowledge of Thyself.
Oh self, drown deep in the waves of His bliss,
Chanting His Name continually,
Tasting His nectar at every step,
Bathing in His Name, that bath for weary souls.
He also says that the Lord’s Name is to be always sung by one who is humbler than even a blade of grass, with more endurance than that of a tree and who, being himself devoid of conceit, bestows honour on others. Man seeks refuge in God’s name also when he is confronted with difficult situations or involved in crises. Innumerable stories are extant which go to illustrate this fact. When Draupadi was being subjected to insult and humiliation in the court of the Kauravas it was Krishna’s name that saved her honour. When Radha, the cowherdess of Vrndavana, was asked, as a test of her chastity, to bring water in a multi-holed pitcher it was with the name of the Lord that she came off more glorious than ever, out of this fiery ordeal. The great hero of the Ramayana, whom Tulsidas calls the `jewel in the great garland of Ramayana’, Hanuman, crossed the ocean to Lanka merely by taking the name of Rama.
Though it is said that chanting or repeating the name of God is enough it must be understood rightly. Undoubtedly there is an inherent power in the name of God. Even if one chants it mechanically it will save one in course of time. In fact many aspirants do japa only mechanically. There is little or no intensity or feeling in it. That is why little progress is seen in their lives.
Concerning this a great poet-saint, Kabir, has warned us against the complacency and self-satisfaction that may be indulged in by the mere mechanical repetition of the name. He says:
“The remembrance of God is not achieved
By the revolving of beads in the hand,
By the rolling of the tongue in the mouth,
Or, by the wandering of the mind in all quarters.”
Yet there is hope even for those who take God’s name mechanically:
Disciple: “Is it of any use to be merely repeating His Name without intense devotion?”
Holy Mother: “Whether you jump into water or are pushed into it, your cloth will get drenched. Is it not so? Repeat the Name of God, whether your mind is concentrated or not. It will be good for you if you can repeat the Name of God for a fixed number of times daily.” However it would be far more profitable if one chants the name of God with faith, love and longing.
Sri Ramakrishna emphasizes intense yearning:
Goswami: “Sir, the chanting of God’s name is enough. The scriptures emphasize the sanctity of God’s name for the Kaliyuga.”
Master: “Yes, there is no doubt about the sanctity of God’s name. But can a mere name achieve anything, without the yearning love of the devotee behind it? One should feel great restlessness of soul for the vision of God. Suppose a man repeats the name of God mechanically, while his mind is absorbed in `lust and gold’, can he achieve anything? “Therefore I say, chant the name of God, and with it pray to Him that you may have love for Him. Pray to God that your attachment to such transitory things as wealth, name, and creature comforts may become less and less every day.”
The scriptures and saints tell us that there is a tremendous joy in God’s name, for God is of the nature of Bliss; He is Satchidananda. A beginner, however, does not experience any joy. On the contrary he may feel only dryness. It is not the fault of God’s name. The fault lies in the mind of the devotee. As long as the mind has not turned away from worldly delights it is not possible to taste divine bliss. One must try to develop discrimination and dispassion for the world. Only when the mind is purified of worldly dross does one begin to taste the joy of divine name. One must pray to God with yearning for getting rid of desires and for getting delight in His name:
Devotee: “How can I take delight in God’s name?”
Master: “Pray to God with a yearning heart that you may take delight in His name. He will certainly fulfil your heart’s desire.” So saying, Sri Ramakrishna sang a song in his sweet voice, pleading with the Divine Mother to show Her grace to suffering men.
Then he said: “Even for Thy holy name I have no taste. A typhoid patient has very little chance of recovery if he loses all taste for food; but his life need not be despaired of if he enjoys food even a little, that is why one should cultivate a taste for God’s name. Any name will do Durga, Krishna, or Siva. Then if, through the chanting of the name, one’s attachment to God grows day by day, and joy fills the soul, one has nothing to fear. The delirium will certainly disappear; the grace of God will certainly descend.”
Utmost caution and guidance are required to chant the Name effectively. When one chants it with due regard and propriety, said Swami Vivekananda once, one can have both devotion and knowledge through it. We have to impress on our minds that purity of thought and sincerity of purpose are the essential conditions one has to achieve and develop in the religious life if it is to be expeditiously fruitful. An aspirant must practise self-control. He has to avoid all slips in ethical life and should live a life of discipline. These are the sine qua non of the higher life, and it is well-known that nothing will happen if spiritual disciplines are practised perfunctorily. When that purity of purpose and sincerity in sadhana is achieved and when one tries in secret and in solitude and with single-minded devotion to repeat the name of God, His vision will come and thedevotee will get absorbed in Him. This chanting of God’s name must form a regular habit.
Sri Ramakrishna says:
“And one must always chant the name and glories of God and pray to Him. An old metal pot must be scrubbed every day. What is the use of cleaning it only once? Further, one must practise discrimination and renunciation; one must be conscious of the unreality of the world.”
“One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga (iron age). The practice of yoga is not possible in this age, for the life of a man depends on food. Clap your hands while repeating God’s name, and the birds of your sin will fly away.”
A devotee asked, “Mother, what is the secret?” Holy Mother pointed to a small clock in a niche and said, “As that timepiece is ticking, so also go on repeating God’s Name. That will bring you everything. Nothing more need be done. While performing Japa, take the Name of God with utmost love, sincerity, and self-surrender. Before commencing your meditation daily, first think of your utter helplessness in this world and then slowly begin the practice of Sadhana as directed by your Guru.”
The Master: “Ecstatic devotion develops in taking the Name of the Lord, eyes overflow tears of joy, words are choked in the mouth, and all the hairs of the body stand erect thrilled with joy.
Devotee: But I do not find delight in His name.
The Master: Then pray with a yearning heart that He may teach you to relish His name. Undoubtedly He will grant your prayer. . . . I say, “Find joy in his name.” Durga, Krishna, Siva any name will do. And if you daily feel a greater attraction for taking His name and a greater joy in it, you need fear no more. The delirium must get cured, and His grace will surely descend on you.”
Japa means repeating the name of the Lord silently, sitting in a quiet place. If one continues the repetition with concentration and devotion, one is sure to be blessed with Divine visions ultimately one is sure to have God-realisation. Suppose a big log of wood is immersed in the Ganges with one end attached to a chain, which is fixed on the bank. Following the chain, link by link, you can gradually dive into the water and trace your way to it. In the same manner, if you become absorbed in the repetition of His holy name, you will eventually realise Him.”
According to Vaishnavism the Divine Name must be taken without committing ten faults. These are:
(1) disparaging genuine devotees,
(2) regarding God as absolutely different from His Names, Form, Qualities, etc.,
(3) showing disrespect for one’s spiritual preceptor,
(4) speaking too lightly or contemptuously of the sacred scriptures,
(5) considering the glory of the Divine Name mentioned in the scriptures as mere eulogy,
(6) considering the Divine Name as imaginary,
(7) committing sins repeatedly and intentionally on the strength of the Divine Name,
(8) regarding the repetition of the Divine Name as equal to other spiritual practices,
(9) imparting it to unworthy persons,
(10) wanting taste for the chanting or hearing of the Divine Name even after listening to its excellencies.
These faults however will be rectified by chanting the Divine Name itself. As Padmapurana puts it: The sins of those who commit offence to the Divine Name is remedied by the Name alone. And it bears the desired fruit if taken constantly. If one chants the name of God sincerely with faith, feeling, and yearning, and takes care to avoid the faults mentioned above, one is sure to progress in spiritual life, obtain His grace and attain Him in time.
Swami Dayatmananda is the current Center Leader of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, UK. The following article is reproduced from the Vedanta magazine published by the Vedanta Society of UK – Jan-Feb 2002 Issue
M. (humbly): “Yes, sir. How, sir, may we fix our minds on God?”
(1) “Repeat God’s name and sing His glories, and
(2) keep holy company; and now and then visit God’s devotees and holy men. The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities;
(3) it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practises meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle. “To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest.
(4) And you should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.”
M. (humbly): “How ought we to live in the world?”
Master: (5) “Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live with all with wife and children, father and mother and serve them. Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you.”
On his second visit M. received the above five commandments from Sri Ramakrishna. M. practised them to perfection all his life and taught them to devotees who used to visit him. These five commandments are of supreme importance for those who wish to progress in spiritual life. All aspirants, especially the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, must remember and assess their spiritual progress in the light of these commandments. If followed faithfully they are sure to lead to the highest realisation. To the extent the devotees are able to practise them, to that extent they are progressing in the realm of God.
The first of these commandments is to repeat God’s name and sing His glories. Religious lore is replete with the praises of the power and glory of God’s name. Of all the spiritual practices, taking the name of God is the easiest. Sri Chaitanya was a prophet who preached the glory of God’s name. Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna all have unequivocally emphasized the need for repetition of the name of God. A host of saints all over the world have advocated repeating the name of God. Many became saints solely through the repetition of God’s name. The name and the named are one; God and His name are one. The Master said: “God and His name are identical; that is the reason Radha said that. There is no difference between Rama and His holy name.” The name of God purifies and uplifts one who takes it; it washes away all sins and impurities. Indeed there are devotees who maintain that the name of God is even greater than God Himself. Through the power of God’s name one can reach the highest realisation. Throughout his life Sri Ramakrishna himself repeated the name of his sweet
Divine Mother even after attaining Nirvikalpa samadhi.
Sri Jagadananda Pandita, a Vaishnava saint, wrote in verse a book called Prema-vivarta (On the Glory of Divine Love), where he distinguishes different methods of taking God’s name uttering, repeating, chanting and singing. But the best practice, he says, is singing the Divine Name, for that requires the services of many sense-organs. Bhakti-rasamrtasindhu of Rupa Goswami recognises sixty-four forms of devotion. Of these there are five main forms. They are: keeping the company of devotees, singing the Divine Name, hearing the scriptures, staying in a holy place, and serving the Deity with devotion. According to Vaishnava tradition the important sadhanas are three: kindness to all beings, taste for God’s Name, and service to fellow devotees. Caitanya-caritamrta considers the chanting of the Divine Name as the best way of promoting devotion. God’s name is within the reach of all. Even illiterate people can attain God by the power of His name. Amongst the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, there was a lonely widow known as Gopala’s Mother, who lived in a room beside the Ganges and spent her time in repeating the name of Gopala. Her life-long remembrance of God was rewarded in old age by the constant vision of Gopala, the Divine Child, who lived with her night and day for two months. She is to this day loved and honoured by the disciples and devotees ofthe Ramakrishna Order. The glory of the Divine Name bears no comparison. As the Adi purana puts it: “There is no knowledge like Name, no vow like Name, no meditation like Name, no fruit like Name.”
Chanting of the Lord’s name does not go in vain. It must bear its benign result. It is like the philosopher’s stone converting all baser metal into gold. It is like the magic wand of the magician performing unbelievable and unthought of miracles; it transforms man’s life for ever. Name is both the means and the end. To take God’s name lovingly and to see Him are the same. To the votary of the Divine Name, it manifests itself as the Form, Quality and Sport of the Lord. The Form of the Lord is identical with His Name. Devotees say the Name is even greater than Form. Evidences of this can be seen in the lives of Rama and Krishna. While Sri Rama had to construct a bridge to cross the ocean, Hanuman crossed it with the strength of Rama’s Name. When Sri Krishna was put on the balance against His Name written on a Tulasi leaf, he was found to be lighter. The essence of all scriptures is God’s name. Once a sadhu who had remarkable faith in the name of God came to Dakshineswar. He carried with him a book in which the solitary word “Om Rama” was written in big letters in red ink. He worshipped this book daily with flowers and sometimes opened and read it. Sri Ramakrishna became curious to know what was written in the book. The monk showed him the book and said to him: “What is the use of reading a large number of books? For it is from the one divine Lord that the Vedas and Puranas have come; He and His name are not separate. . . That is why His name is my only companion”
Sri Ramakrishna himself was a great advocate of using the name of God. He said: “Chant His name and purify your body and mind. Purify your tongue by singing God’s holy name.” Holy Mother said: “The Mantra purifies the body. Man becomes pure by repeating the Mantra of God. … It is said, `The human teacher utters the Mantra into the ear; but God breathes the spirit into the soul.’ “As wind removes the cloud, so the Name of God destroys the cloud of worldliness.” Once a devotee showed to Holy Mother a tiny banyan seed and said to her, “Look, Mother, it is tinier even than the tiniest seed we know. From this will spring a giant tree! How strange!” “Indeed, it will,” Mother replied. “See what a tiny seed is the Name of God. From it in time come divine moods, devotion, love, and spiritual consummation. “Very powerful indeed is the Lord’s name. It may not bring about an immediate result, but it must one day bear fruit, just as we find that a seed left long ago on the cornice of a building at last reaches the ground, germinates, grows into a tree, and bears fruit, perhaps when the building cracks and is demolished. Knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, in whatever state of mind a man utters God’s name, he acquires the merit of such utterance. A man who voluntarily goes to a river and bathes therein gets the benefit of the bath: so does he also who has been pushed into the waterby another, or who, when sleeping soundly, has water thrown upon him. “There is a great power in the seed of God’s name. It destroys ignorance. A seed is tender, and the sprout soft; still it pierces the hard ground. The ground breaks and makes way for the sprout.” The best thing for people whose minds are attracted by sense-objects is to cultivate the dualistic attitude and chant loudly the name of the Lord as mentioned in NaradaPancharatra (a work on devotion). “Through the path of devotion the subtle senses come readily and naturally under control. Carnal pleasures become more and more insipid as Divine love grows in your
On the Sivaratri night, consecrated to the worship of Siva, a dramatic performance was arranged at Kamarpukur. The principal actor, who was to play the part of Siva, suddenly fell ill, and Gadadhar was persuaded to act in his place. While friends were dressing him for the role of Siva – smearing his body with ashes, matting his locks, placing a trident in his hand and a string of rudrakasa beads around his neck – the boy appeared to become absentminded.
He approached the stage with slow and measured step, supported by his friends.
He looked the living image of Siva. The audience loudly applauded what it took to be his skill as an actor, but it was soon discovered that he was really lost in meditation. His countenance was radiant and tears flowed from his eyes. He was lost to the outer world. The effect of this scene on the audience was tremendous. The people felt blessed as by a vision of Siva Himself. The performance had to be stopped, and the boy’s mood lasted till the following morning.
Source: Life of Swami Vivekananda Volume 1 [Page:166]
Naren (later Swami Vivekananda) was becoming aware of the spiritual power within him. There were moments when he, as it were, touched divinity and became almost physically conscious of Reality by the spiritual transmutation of the internal faculties of sense. His thought became a sweeping power. On one occasion he displayed it. It was on Shivaratri (the Night of Shiva) in March 1886. Naren was seated with three or four brother-disciples in a room in the compound of the Cossipore garden-house. They had fasted the whole day and intended to spend the night in meditation, worship and prayer. A mild shower of rain fell in the evening and the starlit sky was in parts fleeced with clouds. After finishing the worship, Japa and meditation proper to the first quarter of the night, Naren was resting and conversing with others, sitting on the worshipper’s seat. One of the brother disciples went out to prepare a smoke for him and another went to the main residence on a piece of work. Just then a feeling of divine power came to Naren. He wanted to test it out that night, and said to Kali (later Swami Abhedananda) who was sitting close to him, “Just touch me after a while.” When the brother disciple who had gone to prepare tobacco entered the room, he saw Naren sitting motionless in meditation and Kali, with his eyes shut, touching Naren’s right knee with his right hand. He noticed that Kali’s hand was trembling. After a minute or two Naren opened his eyes and said, “That is enough. How did you feel?” Kali answered, “I felt a shock as though from an electric battery. My hand was shaking all the while.” The brother disciple asked Kali, “Was your hand trembling because you were touching Naren?” Kali answered, “Yes, I could not keep it steady, though I tried.”
Cossipore and the Passing Away Of the Master
A little later the young men applied themselves to the worship and meditation proper to the second quarter of the night. Kali entered into deep meditation at that time. He was never seen to enter into such deep meditation before. His whole body became stiff, with his neck and head inclined slightly forward. Consciousness of the outer world seemed to have completely left him for some time. Everyone present thought that he was having such meditation as a result of having touched Naren a little while previously. Naren also noticed that state and indicated it to a companion by a sign.
After the last quarter’s worship was over at four in the morning, Shashi came to the worship – room and said to Naren, “The Master wants you.” Naren went upstairs with Shashi to the Master. No sooner had the Master seen Naren than he said, “What is this? Spending with hardly anything accumulated! Allow it first to accumulate sufficiently in yourself; then you will know where and how to spend it. Mother Herself will teach you. Don’t you see what harm you have done to him by injecting your attitude of mind into him? He has been progressing till now with a particular mental attitude, the whole of which has now been destroyed, like a miscarriage during the sixth month of pregnancy. What’s done is done. Don’t act so thoughtlessly from now on. The boy, however, is lucky that greater harm has not befallen him.” Naren said afterwards, “I was completely flabbergasted. The Master was able to know whatever we did at the time of worship. What else could I do but keep silent when he scolded me like that!”
Swami Abhedananda (Kali) narrates this same incident in his autobiography. The gist of his account is as follows:
On the Shivaratri night, when Naren and I were meditating, Naren’s body suddenly began to shake. He asked me to put my hand on his thigh and see if I felt anything. When I put my hand there, I felt as though I had touched an electric battery, and as though a magnetic current were causing a violent tremor in his body. Gradually this current became so strong that my hand too began to shake. Naren did not infuse any power into me on this occasion; he only thought that he could do so. In order to disabuse Narendra of this illusion the Master said to him later, “This is the time to gain power, not to spend it”
A HYMN TO SHIVA
ॐ नमः शिवाय।
अकलितमहिमानः कल्पिता यत्र तस्मिन्।
मम भवतु भवेऽस्मिन् भासुरो भावबन्धः॥
Salutation to Shiva! whose glory
Is immeasurable, who resembles sky
In clearness, to whom are attributed
The phenomena of all creation,
The preservation and dissolution
Of the universe! May the devotion,
The burning devotion of this my life
Attach itself to Him, to Shiva, who,
While being Lord of all, transcends Himself.
निहतनिखिलमोहेऽधीशता यत्र रूढा
प्रकटितपरप्रेम्णा यो महादेवसंज्ञः।
अशिथिलपरिरंभः प्रेमरूपस्य यस्य
प्रणयति हृदि विश्वं व्याजमात्रं विभुत्वम्॥
In whom Lordship is ever established,
Who causes annihilation of delusion,
Whose most surpassing love, made manifest,
Has crowned Him with a name above all names,
The name of “Mahâdeva”, the Great God!
Whose warm embrace, of Love personified,
Displays, within man’s heart, that all power
Is but a semblance and a passing show,
वहति विपुलवातः पूर्वसंस्काररूपः
प्रमथति बलवृन्दं धूर्णितेवोर्मिमाला।
प्रचलति खलु युग्मं युष्मदस्मत्प्रतीतं
अतिविकलितरूपं नौमि चित्तं शिवस्थम्॥
In which the tempest of the whole past blows,
Past Samskâras, stirring the energies
With violence, like water lashed to waves;
In which the dual consciousness of “I” and “Thou”
Plays on: I salute that mind unstable,
Centred in Shiva, the abode of calm!
जनकजनितभावो वृत्तयः संस्कृताश्च
अगणनबहुरूपो यत्र एको यथार्थः।
शामितविकृतिवाते यत्र नान्तर्बहिश्च
तमहह हरमीडे चेत्तवृत्तेर्निरोधम्॥
Where the ideas of parent and produced,
Purified thoughts and endless varied forms,
Merge in the Real one; where the existence ends
Of such conceptions as “within”, “without”—
The wind of modification being stilled—
That Hara I worship, the suppression
Of movements of the mind. Shiva I hail!
यमिजनहृदिगम्यः निष्कलं ध्यायमानः
प्रणतमवतु मां स मानसो राजहंसः॥
From whom all gloom and darkness have dispersed;
That radiant Light, white, beautiful
As bloom of lotus white is beautiful;
Whose laughter loud sheds knowledge luminous;
Who, by undivided meditation,
Is realised in the self-controlled heart:
May that Lordly Swan of the limpid lake
Of my mind, guard me, prostrate before Him!
नतनयननियुक्तं नीलकण्ठं नमामः॥
Him, the Master-remover of evil,
Who wipes the dark stain of this Iron Age;
Whom Daksha’s Daughter gave Her coveted hand;
Who, like the charming water-lily white,
Is beautiful; who is ready ever
To part with life for others’ good, whose gaze
Is on the humble fixed; whose neck is blue
With the poison swallowed:
Him, we salute!
Translation* of the Bengali talk of Most Revered Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj originally published in his book Sri Ramakrishna Bhavadarsha (Udbodhan Karyalaya, Kolkata). Translation is by Swami Sumantrananda.
*Published in Vedanta Kesari magazine.
Serving Holy Mother
Swami Yogananda was capable of carrying the burden of Holy Mother. He was her first sevak. After his demise that burden rested on Sharat Maharaj. Once Mother remarked, `It is not easy to bear my burden. Yogin could do it, Sharat also can.’ Some one asked, `Mother, can’t Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda) do it?’ She replied, `No, he can’t. His nature is different.’ Now, Mother’s burden was not an ordinary one; it meant the entire load of her huge family. Sharat Maharaj served Mother meticulously. Always he bore the burden of Mother calmly whether she was in Jayrambati or in Kolkata. The dedication and farsightedness with which he rendered this service was remarkable. Those who used to come to Mother were not all devotees. Perhaps someone was her relative while someone else had taken shelter with her having none to depend on. The burden of all such persons Sharat Maharaj had accepted on his own shoulders. He himself has made the statement: `Even a dog or a fox of Kamarpukur or Jayrambati is venerable to us.’ And those who were closely related to the Mother—what to speak of them! What has he not done for them? Serving them did not mean merely to look after them or collect money for them, it meant accepting responsibility of every kind. One of the brothers of the Mother might have done some mischief somewhere or there might be some problem with the landed property, everything he had to manage keeping an eye everywhere; whatever personal inconvenience he might have had, he never felt embarrassed. Even after Mother left her physical body the responsibility of carrying the load of the huge family of Mother remained on his shoulders. The situation remained unchanged even later. Those who did not have any refuge in the world were always objects of compassion to him. Not only compassion, what great love he had for them!
Construction of Mother’s House (Udbodhan)
He constructed the Mother’s house with borrowed money. In those days money was lacking, there was no rich devotee who could give thousands of rupees for Mother. But it was absolutely necessary to construct a house for her and it had to be situated near the Ganga because Mother did not like to stay away from the Ganga. At first the Mother lived in rented houses. But there was not enough money to pay high rent or to take a house permanently on rent. Moreover, she did not live in Kolkata always. When she came, it would be difficult to find a suitable house each time. The Mother had to live in many places like Baghbazar, Ghusuri, Belur. Sharat Maharaj thought, this should not go on; a house must be erected for Mother. But where to get money? With great difficulty some money was collected and the major part was borrowed. Thus the construction work started. In those days even borrowing money was not easy; it could be had only from the devotees. And the responsibility of borrowing money was a great one for the monks. They themselves did not have any provision for food and shelter—how could they dare to borrow money? Who
would repay? And who would care to lend them money? Sharat Maharaj had personality, he had sincerity and he had influence upon the devotees. So by borrowing money he constructed the Mother’s house, and what hard labour he had to do to repay the loan! The situation then was not as it is now. Devotees were there, but most of them belonged to the lower middle class. Very few were in the upper middle class. Hence their capacity was very limited. In those days perhaps the cost of construction of a house was no more than ten to twelve thousand rupees, but even that was a staggering amount. Those who have visited Udbodhan have surely seen a small room to the left of the entrance. That was his sitting room. It was there that he met the devotees and wrote articles for the Udbodhan magazine. Swami Premananda has compared him with Ganesha, stout, calm and reticent.
Sri Sri Ramakrishna-lilaprasanga is his invaluable contribution. He said that he wrote it with the object of repaying the loan incurred in constructing the Mother’s house. Such an intensely thoughtful book was written in that small room sitting in a marketplace, as it were! There was a small desk. On it were done all works like writing letters, articles, books, etc. There was no solitary place at all where literary work could be done peacefully. So many old men and women, so many crazy persons would gather there and he gave his attention to all. No afflicted person returned from him without getting compassionate treatment, be he a monk or a householder. His compassion and consolation filled everybody’s mind with peace. With6 such calm, silent sympathy he listened to their tales of woe that it itself lightened their load of sorrow. He had infinite compassion for one and all. Day after day this scene used to be repeated there. We youngsters did not like those talks. We used to go there to hear about Thakur, but instead of that the talks related to worldly sufferings would go on and on.
His Love and Concern
But he was not indifferent to the aspirations of youngsters who went to him. That is why sometimes he would call an aged monk named Swami Purnananda. He was a doctor in his pre-monastic life. So Maharaj addressed him as doctor. He would say, `Doctor, like to come?’ If he was in good mood he would replay, `Yes Maharaj, coming.’ Otherwise he would say, `Maharaj, today I am not feeling well.’ If he came the conversation would take a turn. While worldly troubles were being discussed, Doctor Swami would come and start religious topics. Later on we realised that Sharat Maharaj’s sympathy was not for those alone who were spiritually thirsty, but his heart wept also for those who were burning in the fire of worldly sufferings. So he gave enough time for them. This we realised much later. But at that particular time we failed to understand this. Moreover he gave shelter to a band of crackpots and for each of them what great sympathy and pity did he have! One day he said, `Look, that old woman’s insanity seems to have increased. She is not eating at all; bring some medicine for her.’ Thus a number of strange persons used to come to Udbodhan, have their meal there and behave crazily. Even among them he was concerned about that old woman who was not eating! There was a Brahmachari who went off his head later. He would keep standing near Maharaj with a huge turban on his head and a stick in his hand. He thought he was the gatekeeper there. Various such abnormal persons used to be there.
In the matter of service he had equal concern for everybody. Some old women had some old ornaments and some cash as their sole property. Where to keep these? Having none in the family to rely on, they deposited these with Sharat Maharaj. He kept these in an iron safe in separate bundles with their names written on them. The day before he had a stroke he called a monk and said, `Take care of the things that are in this almirah. See to it that everyone gets back one’s own items without any mistake.’ Next day he lost his power of speech as a result of the stroke. But to the last day he was conscious of this matter.
He gave shelter to one and all without judging their fitness. This made some monks of Belur Math to complain, `Maharaj, you have given shelter to these wicked persons.’ Sharat Maharaj replied, `Yes my children, I too know that they are unfit for sympathy, but where will they go if I don’t give them shelter? They have no other place.’ So their shelter there remained permanent. Thus, those who had nowhere to go had their place with him. It is not that these persons always behaved respectfully even with him. Care they received without any measure, but still they could not become fit recipients of his love. He came only to give, never expecting anything in return from anybody.
His Detachment and Humility
Another specially memorable incident revealed his detachment. After the demise of Swami Brahmananda a new abbot was to be selected. Some said, `Sharat Maharaj should take up this responsibility. In fact for all practical purposes it is on him alone that this responsibility has been resting so long.’ He replied, `Swamiji has made me Secretary, I shall act as Secretary only. I don’t want to be the President.’
Swami Shivananda was elected President. Shivananda Maharaj had such an unlimited confidence in Sharat Maharaj that it was he who could guide the Sangha properly. We have seen many instances of this confidence. One incident may be cited here. Shortly after the founding of the Saradeswari Ashrama, the foundress Gaurima came to the Math one day and told Mahapurush Maharaj, `Maharaj, we are going to circulate an appeal for helping Saradeswari Ashrama. Prominent citizens of Kolkata will sign the appeal, and we would like to have your name also in it.’ He said, `You see, I have no objection if my name is put there, but you should ask Sharat Maharaj. If he agrees, then do it.’ That is to say, even the decision regarding inclusion of his name in an appeal was left to Sharat Maharaj. The Sangha gradually expanded. It was felt by some that those who had become old could not be depended on any more. Now they all had become physically incapable. So some younger ones should be given the responsibility of running the Sangha. To discuss this issue the first convention of the Math and the Mission was held in 1926. Many
had strongly objected at that time saying that they did not want new administrators. They would rather work under those who had directed the Sangha so far. When such discussion was going on, Sharat Maharaj called a meeting of the monks and said, `The reason for which we want to make this change is that even in our absence the Sangha may run smoothly. So we intend to form a group of new administrators who will be capable of shouldering the responsibility of directing the Sangha in future’. Realising his intentions, the Sangha accepted the proposal. Thus, a working committee was formed and it was entrusted with the responsibility of management. From the day he handed over the work to that working committee, he became totally indifferent. Thenceforth Swami Saradananda, that indefatigable worker, immersed himself completely in japa and meditation as if he never had any responsibility on his head. That mood continued till the last day of his life. If his advice was sought in any matter, he gave it briefly. But directly he did not intervene in the work of the Sangha. It was as if he had returned to his life of sâdhanâ at Dakshineswar. Such was his absorption in japa and meditation that everyone hesitated to disturb him except on very important occasions. His daily routine at that time was like this—in the morning after taking bath in the Ganga he did japa or meditation which lasted up to two to two-thirty p.m. Then he took his food, rested and talked with the devotees. There was no more any thought of work.
Swami Shivanandaji or Mahapurush Maharaj was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and the second President of the Ramakrishna Order. The following reminiscences of Swami Shambhavananda are taken from the book Mahapurush Maharaj as We Saw Him, published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, pp. 157-164.
Great men are essentially simple. To all outward appearance they are so simple that we often underrate them. But once we begin to live with them or come into intimate contact with them, their greatness, slowly but surely, unfolds itself before us.
I was indeed very fortunate, not only to have seen, but also to have had close personal contact with two such great men in the holy dawn of my spiritual life in the Ramakrishna Order. They were Swami Brahmanandaji Maharaj, the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna, the then President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, and the Vice-President Swami Shivanandaji Maharaj, who was called Mahapurush by Swami Vivekananda himself and hence was popularly known as Mahapurush Maharaj both to the monks of the Order and to the devotees.
After the inauguration of the Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home in Madras in July 1921, both the Swamis came to the Bangalore ashrama along with their party. As the news of their visit had been circulated earlier, the monks and brahmacharins of the ashrama and also the local devotees were eagerly awaiting their arrival. Swami Nirmalanandaji Maharaj, the then President of the Bangalore ashrama, received them with due respect and accorded them a hearty welcome. We the ashramites naturally felt immensely pleased and proud to have the two divine souls in our midst.
Swami Brahmanandaji Maharaj (popularly known as Maharaj) was mostly indrawn. He loved solitude and hence could not always relish the company of people. Blessed was he who was lucky enough to have the slightest touch with his life characterised by solemn samadhi and tapasya. He was, as it were, the very personification of spirituality and had the power to infuse spirituality into others as well.
Mahapurush Maharaj was, however, of a different type and temperament. Though he also spent long hours in meditation, he could also mix with all and talk to them on religious subjects, and especially on Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
It was the usual custom in our monasteries during those days, as it is even now, for the monastic members and the devotees to sing devotional songs after the vesper services every day and also have Rama Nam sankirtan conducted on ekadashi days. Some members of the party of Maharaj were good musicians. They used to sing bhajan in the evening, in the prayer hall of the ashrama, and Mahapurush Maharaj also would often join the chorus. This would invariably enthuse the party as also the listeners.
Regularity and discipline were very significant in the life of Mahapurush Maharaj. Even as early as 3 a.m. he could be found seated in deep meditation which continued till daybreak. He would then go out for a morning walk, mostly to the Lal Bagh, about a mile away. On his return he would meet Maharaj and both of them would then receive pranams of other monks and devotees.
After breakfast he would attend to his correspondence. Though Swami Anantananda was his attendant, he would himself carry out most of his duties and work without depending on him. A little later in the day he would go to the garden in the company of Maharaj. Both of them took a very keen interest in the garden, since they loved gardening.
They stayed at Bangalore that year for a little over three months. Taking advantage of their presence, the elite of the local society arranged for occasional religious talks and bhajans in devotees’ houses. Mahapurushji gladly joined in all these functions, delighting the minds of the devotees.
I had the good fortune to render some personal service to Mahapurushji during his stay at Bangalore. That gave me an opportunity to come into close contact with him and thus get acquainted with some of his noble traits. Bangalore is situated at a height of about 3,200 feet above sea level and so has an equable climate. Every morning I used to spread his warm clothing and blankets in the sun before leaving for the market. On my return I used to bring them back to his room and stack them up after duly folding them. One morning, I had gone for shopping after spreading the clothes as usual. When I returned, however, I did not find any of them in their place. I thought that someone else might have taken them inside. Later on I came to know that all of them had been stolen! Naturally I was very much upset. But I was completely surprised to find that Mahapurushji never took me to task! He took this loss just as a matter of course. His love and affection for us was so great that our acts of omission and commission were always pardoned even without our asking for it. This incident increased my respect and devotion for him.
In Bangalore a big flower show is arranged during the first week of August every year. This flower show is perhaps the biggest in South India. Thousands of people visit the show. The superintendent of the government gardens specially invited the two Swamis to the show, and they visited it along with other monks. The glorious assembly of hundreds of varieties of flowers immensely pleased all of them, and especially Maharaj, who was a specialist in gardening.
Swami Sharvananda who was the President of the Madras Math at that time, expressed his desire to worship Mother Durga in the image. Maharajji agreed and arrangements were made for it. Maharajji started for Madras along with Mahapurushji and others on the 4th of October. That was his last visit to Bangalore as he entered into Mahasamadhi on the 10th of April the following year in Calcutta.
Many are inclined to think that Swami Brahmanandaji Maharaj brought Mahapurush Maharaj to Bangalore and other places of South India in 1921, and introduced him to the different branches of the Math and Mission and also to the monks of the Order and to the devotees, so that he might guide their destinies as his worthy successor. Later events lend support to such a surmise.
Mahapurushji came to Bangalore again in 1924. Before coming there he stayed for a time at Coonoor in the Nilgiris for recouping his health. Taking advantage of his stay there, the devotees of Ootacamund and nearby, embarked on starting an ashrama there. Two acres of land were made available for this purpose by a washerman of that place. To satisfy the long felt desire of the devotees Mahapurush Maharaj laid the foundation stone of the ashrama on the 11th of July 1924. More than once he had gone there to advise and encourage the devotees to start an ashrama. On his way to Bangalore from the Nilgiris, he broke his journey at the Nattarampalli Ashrama (on Chennai-Bangalore national high way) for a few days and gave initiation to a few devotees, much to their delight. This helped greatly in the spreading of the message of Sri Ramakrishna in that part of the country.
During those days after spending a long time in meditation in the early hours, Mahapurush Maharaj would have religious discussions with sadhus and devotees. The discussions were continued in the afternoon also. It was a part of his daily routine to attend the evening service at the temple. Like a humble devotee he would stand with folded hands while the arati went on. He would also later take part in the chorus bhajan.
In that year he also initiated a few devotees. Being specially invited to the Anna-Vasathi-Sangham of the Bangalore Cantonment, he went there along with elderly monks. The organizers of the meet and the other devotees there felt greatly inspired by his presence. He prayed for the success of their work and pleased them all with his simple religious instructions. One of the sannyasins who had accompanied him, delivered a lecture, which was followed by bhajan and kirtan.
The Kaveri was in spate that year, rendering thousands of people homeless. Mahapurush Maharaj was greatly moved to learn about that catastrophe. Almost immediately the Madras Math started relief work to give succour to the flood-stricken people. The president of the Bangalore Ashrama also left for Kerala with two other monks on a similar work. Consequently the whole responsibility of the ashrama automatically devolved on Mahapurush Maharaj, who managed things efficiently. Since I was an old inmate of the Bangalore Ashrama and knew the local conditions, the responsibility of many work came and fell on me, and I too carried on all the work according to his instructions. This again gave me a good opportunity of close personal contact with him. I was really charmed by his benevolence and large-heartedness as also by his absence of pride.
I used to regularly do physical exercise in order to keep good health. Mahapurush Maharaj used to encourage me in this respect also. He was so pleased that he gave me thirty rupees to buy Terry’s Chest Developer, which further increased my enthusiasm for improving and developing my health.
His presence at the Bangalore Ashrama definitely helped to intensify the spiritual atmosphere there. Under his inspiration, bhajan, meditation, puja and chanting became a significant part of our daily routine. Those devotees who were blessed with initiation by him during those days, remained loyal and sincere, and also later on, rendered great help and service by spreading the message of Sri Ramakrishna.
I particularly remember a devotee who came to Bangalore from Madras. He arranged for a special worship of Sri Ramakrishna and took initiation from Mahapurushji. As a token of respect he offered some costly clothing as dakshina, as also Rs. 1,001 in cash, which was a fairly big sum in those days. But Mahapurush Maharaj did not accept them; instead he distributed them among the various branches of the Math and Mission. He would often say, ‘It is Sri Ramakrishna who is really the world-teacher, preceptor and Guru. I am only a servant of the Lord, and His messenger,’
Though he had become the venerable President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, there was no change at all in his simple and unostentatious way of life. Here let me narrate an incident from his life which corroborates the statement made above. As the President of the Order he found it necessary to remove the head of a particular ashrama. In doing so he did not consult the trustees of the Math and the Mission, though it was constitutionally necessary to do so. The trustees took this as a serious mistake and reversed the decision. This would have been a terrible blow to the ego and self-respect of anyone, but Sri Mahapurush Maharaj however took the whole thing calmly as if nothing serious had happened. He continued to be simple and childlike and showered his love and affection as before on the Swami who was reinstated, showing not the least sign of bitterness. This behaviour of his struck us all as really remarkable.
We had the good luck to have Mahapurush Maharaj again in our midst at Bangalore during 1926. From Madras he went to Ooty where he stayed for about five months and then came to Bangalore on the 22nd of October. Swamis Gangeshananda, Apurvananda and a few others accompanied him.
This time also his visit resulted in giving a fillip to the Ramakrishna Movement in the Mysore State. Under his direct inspiration and guidance the devotees of Mysore City established an ashrama in a rented house on the Dewan’s Road. Swami Siddheswarananda was appointed its President.
Since Mahapurushji loved bhajan and kirtan, arrangements were made for the singing bhajans in the evenings after the vesper service. Different bhajan parties would come to the ashrama and take part in the bhajan. At the close of the bhajan, offered sweets as prasadam used to be distributed.
This article will become rather long if I am to state all the details regarding how Mahapurush Maharaj impressed us, how we received him on all the occasions of his visit and how the various incidents connected with him were unforgettable. I shall close this memoir by telling how I found him at the Belur Math when I met him in 1930.
Though he was very much delighted to see me at the Math, I was very sorry to find him ailing. My mind went back to those days at Bangalore when I had seen him full of peace and radiance. The thought of the old days came to me time and again and made me very sad. I found that his love and affection for all had increased greatly. He would often enquire of me whether I suffered from any inconvenience and would take all possible steps to make me happy and comfortable. One day he sent me to Dakshineswar along with another Swami as a guide. On my return he affectionately enquired how I liked the visit. I told him that I really enjoyed my pilgrimage to Dakshineswar. Every nook and corner of the sacred place was very familiar to me as I had read the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita earlier. Only Sri Guru Maharajji was not there, in human body! I had actually felt his absence. Sri Mahapurush Maharaj said, ‘The place is very much alive, it is a holy place of pilgrimage and is a great help to increase one’s enthusiasm for a heightened spiritual life.’
After all these long years, whenever I look into the past and think of my holy and happy association with him in 1921, 1924, 1926 and 1930, my heart gets filled with a sense of gratitude to him. Though I did not have the power then to realize his high spiritual nature, I have always cherished him in my heart as the personification of love, purity and affection.