Today is the glorious Guru Purnima! A day to venerate worshipfully the vishaala-buddhi (vast-minded) Sage Veda Vyasa! A day to pay reverence prayerfully to one’s own spiritual preceptor! And all those tireless teachers from whom we learn any training lesson…On this auspicious occasion this is my humble homage to one of our late monks who made me understand the secret of Karma Yoga in a most unconventional manner! Priti Maharaj a man of simple habits was no doubt a real karma yogi whose selfless and weariless work I had seen in close quarters for more than a decade. He joined the Ramakrishna Order at its Karimganj centre (in the state of Assam) in 1951. He was an initiated disciple of Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj and had sannyasa (formal vows of monkhood) from Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj in 1961. He passed away on 10 February 2004 at the age of 73.
It was a crowded shrine hall. Mother Durga glowed magnificently. A tune in kedaar raaga wafted in the air, weaving a melody, working to soothe my wavering mind. Curious to know whose captivating vocal it was, I just peeped in through the window. That was the first time in 1976 at Rahara temple hall where Durga Puja was on, that I saw Revered Prathamanandaji Maharaj who to everyone was dear ‘Pritida’.
His music drew me like a magnet; because so long I have been hearing within the Mission campus only bhajans that are simple and straight. Here was a monk who elaborated a raaga in his inimitable style. The first song that captured my attention was ‘Jaya Shiva Shankara’. When his music ended I was, as if, transported to another world where I could feel the enchanting raaga taking an enticing shape.
Relief and Rehabilitation
Just before the conclusion of my Training Centre period in Belur Math, along with four other brahmacharins, I was, in 1977, deputed to Rajahmundry where a massive relief work was started by the local Ramakrishna Mission centre. First three months went into providing primary relief. The Diviseema area of Andhra Pradesh was devastated beyond recognition by the surging tidal waves. Thousands of houses were washed away. More than 20,000 people died in the sea waters that entered into coastal villages.
Our Headquarters at Belur Math urgently decided to construct 1100 new houses for the poorest of the poor in 11 villages bordering the sea coast – not a simple structure but cyclone proof shelters. A mammoth rehabilitation work had begun. Therein entered Pritida like a colossus taking the challenge head on, with whom I had the blessed opportunity to be with, day in and day out, month after month and year by year for almost a decade long since. Against insurmountable difficulties Revered Pritida struggled to make the rehabilitation work a great success. In order to get hollow bricks right at the spot, he created a huge brick manufacturing unit at Puligadda camp on the bank of the Krishna river with hundreds of local poor people getting casual employment. Seeing the hard working monk, the great cine-celebrity and later Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh – N T Rama Rao came in with his helping hand of large donations.
Under the scorching heat of Andhra, at the coastal area, a two-hour drive from Vijayawada, he used to work tirelessly knowing not what the time was or when to eat in the Rehabilitation camp. Meals used to be taken at random – many a time standing on the veranda. Several of his monastic assistants would stare at him in utter disbelief. Available at all time to everyone, oblivious to his personal needs, there he encountered serious stomach problem, which started draining his energy. Before beginning the Rehabilitation work in a massive scale, he gave the idea to perform a hawan for the peace of those thousands of lives lost by the tidal wave devastation and he gave the blessed opportunity to me to do the shodasha upachaara puja (16 item-worship) and hawan which I gladly did on the sea sands amidst fierce winds.
Memorable Medical Work
Once the Andhra work was over, Headquarters asked Pritida to take up the responsibility of running a newly started medical centre at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. He was appointed the Head of that hospital. He needed one assistant immediately to start the work there and his choice deliberately fell upon me. I did not know whether I would be able to rise to his expectations because the place was absolutely strange to me. People were indigenous tribals. The culture was unknown. The path was unchartered.
Here at Itanagar under his umbrella cover, I saw before my eyes the blooming of a fresh venture with its own inherent problems. It was a treat to witness how a monk, supposedly innocent of worldly intricacies, tackled from multi various angles one by one troubles galore.
Be it laying the roads, aligning the buildings, fixing the electricals or designing the wards, recruiting and training the staff – from doctors down to sweepers -everything would come under the scrutinising scan of his sharp eyes. Here at Itanagar through his watchful eyes I came to know the tips and tricks of ‘man’ management. Pritida was massively brilliant in outwitting the manoeuvre of mischief mongers. Here at Itanagar under his protective wings I was pulled out of my own created cocoon and was exposed to the vast vagaries of people’s mood. It was Pritida who took me in his arms as it were and guided step by step so as to escape unscathed. Here at Itanagar with his able tutelage I had first hand experience in realising that mere outward personality cannot carry anybody farther; only a well balanced interior of mind and heart could sweep the feet off everyone. Revered Pritida was a shining example. He rarely paid attention to his attire. Have I not found my shirts or dhotis missing from the alna (wooden open shelf) only to spot them on his person! Such was his childlike nature that would not fail to charm anyone.
He used to say that his brain functioned so fast that to put the ideas on to paper was almost impossible for him. Even while talking to others, the words from his mouth would flow like a torrent. I received many times his deep appreciation for my secretarial assistance in putting his thoughts in black and white. Many would think that Prityda was restless and could not stay put steadily in one place. Even supposedly enlightened persons viewed him as an enigma. That was not the case. I had seen him lying down on a cot, absolutely carefree, unmindful of any hullabaloo outside and sipping hot tea in a nonchalant manner but seriously hitting on a pleasing solution to a perplexing problem! His involvement in that Centre was total. Was he attached to the work that he created and cared for, nurtured and nourished? No. At the time of leaving that Centre, on transfer back to Belur Math, he left with a simple bag containing a pair of clothes! Thats all that he possessed!
Revered Pritida had enormous admirers among the monks as well as devotees. People flocked to him with their grievances possibly having no method to set right. He took delight in tackling such circumstances. Be it an inter-caste marriage, or falling in penury Revered Pritida was there with ever ready solution in his pocket, always smiling like Ramana Maharishi!
Can I really exhaust about a multifaceted personality? How much have I known about him? Somehow my mind is unable to come to the terms of his termination; rather the thoughts of his traits do create ripples of admiration and astonishment. Slowly and slowly they rise and gather in my lonely moments, whirling into bigger circles like the emergence of smooth flowing air-bubbles, looming large over the head. Prodigious Pritida cannot be forgotten.
When alive he compelled attention, more – when no more.
Dr Hiru Mukherjee, a resident in UK met me in Patna once during one of his pilgrimage trips to India. Indeed a very amiable personality. He left a deep mark in my mind as a person with serious spiritual quest. Later coming to South Africa, I continue to have intermittent email contact with him. His every mail, as is his wont, speak always about the grace of Master, Mother and Swamiji. And also of many other sagely monks of our Order. He was initiated into spiritual life by Swami Vishuddhanandaji Maharaj whose birthday is TODAY. On June 6, 2011 he wrote to me thus:
Param Pujaniya Maharaj,
Please accept my sastanger pronam. Hope you are keeping well. I have not heard from you for a long time. This is causing some anxiety to me. Please reply.
My gurudev’s birthday is on 9 June . Please accept my pronam. Life is a continuous struggle, Maharaj. Path is so slippery Maharaj. It is a continuous battle between one step forward & then ten steps backward. Need sadhu sangha always, Maharaj
I felt an uncontrollable urge to read about Vishuddhanandaji today and found to my surprise a wonderful article on this Guru who knew God well. It makes interesting reading as the author, late Swami Lokeshwaranandaji Maharaj has intermixed his personal experiences with the sage’s life incidents. Hence I am happy to share this article with all avid readers of this blog. This article was originally published in Vedanta Kesari of May, 1971 and I am grateful to Swami Atmashraddhanandaji, the present dynamic Editor for making it available from the archives.
SWAMI VISUDDHANANDA: AN APOSTLE OF GOD·AWARENESS
I do not remember when I first saw Swami Visuddhananda – it was, I think, sometime in the late twenties. Long before I saw him I had been hearing people refer to him as a great contemplative. Being young I liked men of action and thought rather poorly of a contemplative. Why should a man spend all his time thinking of God? I would argue, why should he not do something for the good of society also? Did not Swamiji preach service to man as a kind of worship?’ Yet I found people refer to Swami Visuddhananda with great respect and admiration. This rather puzzled me. How could people be so much enamoured of a man who was a mere contemplative’?
I did not have to wait long for my answer, for I soon came to know Swami Visuddhananda personally and having once known him, had no difficulty in discovering the secret of his charm. I remember the first time I saw him. He was then head of the centre at Ranchi and had just come down to the Math to attend a meeting. Without knowing who he was, I felt drawn towards him at first sight. It was his fine chiselled face, auburn complexion and poise that attracted me. He was not imposing, not even striking by any standard, but there was an aura of sweetness around him which one could not but notice.
When I was introduced to him, I was a bit nervous, but he soon put me at ease by treating me with utmost affection and by speaking to me as if he had known me a long time. He was a soft-spoken man who knew also the real art of conversation, for he never spoke much himself, but made others speak as much as they wanted to speak, himself putting in a word or two when he must. Having known him once I began to watch him closely, for I wanted to know what exactly was the distinctive quality he had that made him the object of universal love and respect. The first and most distinctive among all the qualities he possessed, as I observed, was that he led an organised and well-regulated life. Nothing could happen that would make him deviate from his well-thought-out routine which included, among other things, three-hours’ meditation in the morning and evening. I also noticed how tip-top everything in his room was. Not only was there not a speck of dust there, but the few articles he bad in his room – his clothes, books, bottles of medicines, one or two pieces of furniture, etc., all were well arranged. I also liked the way he dressed. There was a distinctive taste which was unmistakable. Another striking thing was his disinclination to talk about mundane affairs.
He would gladly discuss a religious topic, but if the topic was non-religious, he would probably refrain from making any comments. It was also interesting to note that whenever he talked about religion, he would talk about it from the practical point of view and not so much about its theories. He would make religious experience seem not only the most desirable thing in life, but also a thing easy of attainment, as if even you and I could have it if only we tried. In his religious talks there would always be a fair sprinkling of quotations from popular religious books, specially the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna and anecdotes from the lives of saints of all religions, so that it was always interesting to listen to him. He would disclaim any pretension to being a good speaker, but, in reality, he was a very interesting speaker, always to the point, brief and inspiring. He never made any attempt at oratory; he in fact spoke as if he was talking to a group of friends across the table. He spoke from the heart and his simple words, backed by conviction, appealed to monks and laymen alike.
Swami Visuddhananda was born at a village in Hooghly District about 50 miles from Calcutta in the year 1883. Having lost both his parents at an early age he was brought up by the relations of his mother. As a boy he was quiet, introspective and deeply religious. The question that often troubled him was: ‘What is the purpose of life?’ The question became more and more pressing as he grew in years. When he finished his school education in 1900 he became quite restless looking for an answer to this question. He often spent the whole day at what was then known as the Imperial Library (now known as the National Library) rummaging among books for what he thought might provide the answer he was looking for. The British Librarian, John McFarlance, struck by the young man’s seriousness of purpose, often helped him choose the sort of books that would help in his quest. It is not known if he directed him to it, but once Swami Visudhhananda came upon Maxmuller’s Ramakrishna – His Life and Sayings and this proved a turning point in his life. He went through the book with bated breath. He was elated to discover that Dakshineswar, the place where Shri Ramakrishna lived, was only 4 miles to the north of Calcutta. He lost no time to visit Dakshineswar and kept visiting it again and again. The place, hallowed by its associations with Shri Ramakrishna filled him with inspiration. Every time he went there he spent the whole day thinking of God. He soon came to know Ramlal, Shri Ramakrishna’s nephew, who was then the Chief Priest at Dakshineswar, Ramlal’s company gave him much impetus in his religious endeavours. Not long after this he came to know also M, the compiler of the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna, when the latter came on a visit to Dakshineswar. M, in his inimitable way, talked to him about Shri Ramakrishna, adding further to the intensity of his longing for God. Previously, he used to have his meals at the temple of Dakshineswar, but M pointed out that it was wrong that he should thus tax the hospitality of the temple authorities. From then on the only food he would have was a one-anna worth of meal consisting of some flattened rice mixed with sugar and lemon-juice. While Swami Visuddhananda was once on a visit to Dakshineswar, Sarat Chakravarty, the disciple of Swami Vivekananda who compiled the book Swami-Shishya Samvad i.e., conversations between Swami and Disciple came there. Ramlal Chatterjee introduced Swami Visuddhananda to Sarat Chakravarty and the latter held him spell-bound by telling him stories about Swamiji.
Once while he was thus talking to him, Sarat Chakravaty turned to Ramlal and asked him, ‘How is Mother? ‘ This led Swami Visuddhananda to enquire who this Mother was and when he discovered that this was Sarada Devi, he at once resolved to take the earliest opportunity to visit her at Jayrambati to pay his respects to her. So one day, not long after this, he started for Jayrambati following the route via Burdwan, walking most of the way. When, travelweary and dust-laden, he finally arrived at Jayrambati, Mother received him as if he was her dear child whom she was long expecting. She asked, ‘How are you, my child? Has the journey been very difficult?’ The warmth with which Mother said these words was a balm to his body and mind. He had never known Mother’s affection, but now he felt as if he had found the Mother he had lost as a child. He spent a happy week with Mother and then returned to Calcutta. Before he left Jayrambati, Mother graciously initiated him.
The initiation increased his longing for God-realisation tenfold. It now became an all-consuming passion with him. He decided to leave home in search of God, but felt he must have Mother’s blessings before he did so. He, therefore, returned to Jayrambati for Mother’s consent within a few months. This time he walked the whole distance and had two friends with him who later came to be known as Swamis Girijananda and Shantananda. Mother was as warm as before, but when they declared that it was their firm resolve to live the lives of wandering monks depending upon what chance brought them, she firmly ruled it out. At their request, she, however, gave them Gerua cloth, but directed them to go to Varanasi to have their monastic names from Swami Shivananda who was then there. She handed them a letter introducing them to him and asking him to look after them. This was in 1907.
Armed with her blessings they started for Varanasi walking the whole distance. It took them three months to reach Varanasi. Swami Shivananda welcomed them and they stayed there almost a year. It may be mentioned here that Swami Visuddhananda had his formal monastic vows from Swami Brahmananda at Varanasi in 1921.
Sometime in 1908 he proceeded to Madras to assist Swami Ramakrishnananda in his work. Later he worked at Bangalore also for some years. In 1916 he was transferred to Mayavati where he served for nearly four years. While at Mayavati he was in charge of accounts for some time. Referring to his work as accountant Swami Madhavananda once remarked, ‘He had a wonderful power of concentration. He totalled up figures without ever making a mistake; he would get the correct total at the very first attempt. He was so sure of himself that he would not care to check a second time.’ After a brief interlude in Calcutta when he lived in close touch with Swami Brahmananda and when he was appointed a member of the Governing Body of the Mission and a trustee, he was again sent to South India for some years. After a year’s stay at Bhuvaneswar as the head of the monastery there, he was posted to Ranchi where he served continuously for a quarter century from 1927 to 1952.
His life at Ranchi was the life of a recluse. He seldom, if ever at all, left the monastery or received visitors. Only one or two select devotees could come once in a while to read with him the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna. Most of the time he would keep himself immersed in meditation and study. There are people living who bear witness to the austerity of his life and the state of God-consciousness in which he lived there. Some of them feel blessed that they knew him then and refer to those days with joy and gratitude as if they themselves were privy to the religious experience of this great soul. A road bears his name as a tribute of the people of Ranchi to his memory.
From 1952 onwards a marked change was discernible in Swami Visuddhananda. He was appointed Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission this year and in that capacity, he had many responsibilities, chief of them being to meet people and attend to their spiritual needs. Gone were the happy days of seclusion for him! From now on he spent at least a couple of hours daily meeting people and replying to their religious questions. Hundreds of people came to him, people of all ages and all communities. He was patient to all and his answers were simple, straightforward and convincing, Once a person came to see him he would come back again and again, very often with friends and relations. Soon his reputation as a religious teacher spread. He was in demand all over the country and he in his turn, travelled far and wide ministering to the religious needs of the people. It was at this time that an Indian barrister-at-law who also happens to be an all-India political leader once declared in a public speech, ‘I deem Swami Visuddhananda to be the greatest saint in India today.’ When this was reported to Swami Visuddhananda he was embarrassed and visibly annoyed. He said, ‘What does he know of saints?’
Swami Visuddhananda visited Assam more times than any President or Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission before him did. Mentioning this with pride many people in Assam claim that their State occupied a special place in the heart of Swami Visuddhananda. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that his visits created a religious ferment in both Bengali and Assamese populations, large sections of whom flocked to him as if drawn by a magnet. People who saw him then still remember him as if he was a symbol of a great experience. If there are today a large number of Ramakrishna Ashramas throughout Assam, it may be attributed largely to the influence of Swami Visuddhananda. He set in motion the powerful Ramakrishna Movement which is now sweeping through Assam and its neighbouring States in the Eastern Region.
In the year 1962 Swami Visuddhananda succeeded as President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission following the death of Swami Sankarananda. He was already eighty and his health was indifferent, yet when the call came to him. to shoulder the responsibilities of the office of President, he did not demur. As President he stayed mostly at Varanasi where he had begun his monastic career sixty years earlier. He was now at the zenith of his monastic virtues. As usual he had many visitors every day. However taxing it might be for him to talk to them in his feeble health, he never turned away anybody. He continued to exhort people to try to realise God. So inspiring were his talks and so kind and affectionate he himself was that many people visited Varanasi from Calcutta and other far-off places merely to see him and listen to his talks.
For some years he had been having trouble with his urinary system and doctors had advised an operation. At first he was unwilling to have the operation, but when the trouble persisted he decided in favour of it. He came down to Belurmath and soon entered a nursing home. Before leaving for the nursing home he approached almost everybody at Belurmath with folded hands and begged for forgiveness for any offence he might have given him. The behaviour was unusual, but no one thought that this was his final leave-taking. On June 13, 1962, he had his operation performed by the best surgeons of Calcutta. Contrary to everybody’s expectations his condition began to deteriorate from the midnight of the 15th and on the 16th morning he passed away. His lips were seen moving and his hands were joined together across his chest. Even his last moments were marked by his God-awareness.
Two incidents may be mentioned here which serve as a pointer to what made Swami Visuddhananda the man he was.
Once a vain young man who had atheistic leanings asked him, ‘Sir, have you seen God?’ Swami Visuddhananda, instead of giving him a direct answer, told him that since religious men of all countries and all ages had claimed that God existed and He could also be seen, it was wrong to have any doubt about His existence. The young man was not satisfied with this, but asked, ‘I want to know, Sir, if you yourself have seen Him.’ Again Swami Visuddhananda spoke at some length about how God answered one’s prayers, if one was earnest enough and how if one sincerely wanted to see Him, one could surely have His vision. Swami Visuddhananda thus parried the question a few times, but the young man was insistent and kept asking if he himself had seen God. At this impertinence of the young man, the atmosphere became tense and people present held their breath, worried about how Swami Visuddhananda was going to react. As people looked, they were amazed to see a great change slowly come over Swami Visuddhananda; he looked as if a halo surrounded his body. In words ringing with conviction he said, ‘I have seen God as I see my own limbs.’ A hush fell over the awed audience. The cheeky young man sat speechless. Without a further word, Swami Visuddhananda retired to his room and was not seen for the rest of that evening. People returned home with a sense of having experienced something breath-taking.
The next incident happened when Swami Visuddhananda was staying at Varanasi towards the close of his life. A leading surgeon of the town happened to lose his son, and this so upset the surgeon that he was no longer able to attend to his patients. He in fact was so distraught with grief that he was not even his normal self. Everybody in the town felt distressed at this because the surgeon was extremely popular. Also, there was nobody in the town who could match his skill as a surgeon which meant that the entire population in the town felt helpless without his services. Swami Visuddhananda who knew the surgeon felt sorry that the surgeon should thus suffer and with him also the citizens of Varanasi. He was so moved that he declared that he would gladly forgo the fruits of his life-long prayers if that would make the surgeon normal and enable him to serve the community as before. Strangely enough, the surgeon began to show signs of recovery soon after this and within a week be was able to resume his work. One day he appeared before Swami Visuddhananda and said, ‘Sir, I have just completed a very difficult operation and I think it is going to be successful.’ He came to give him this news as if he knew that his recovery was due to Swami Visuddhananda. The happiest man on hearing this news was Swami Visuddhananda.
Spiritual seekers are of many types. Some have unquenchable thirst for knowing about God; some others love to take the name and sing God’s glory. Yet others would like to spend their time and efforts in serving the suffering; and a few would devote their life in contemplation. Whatever path one may follow, no one is exempted from doubts. We are often assailed by doubts that go on and on till they are cleared. One such doubt is about prayers. Do our prayers reach God and whether God listens to our prayers? On this auspicious holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna it is pertinent to inquire.
Regarding this, Sri Ramakrishna says:
“If a son clamors persistently for his share of the property, his parents consult with each other and give it to him even though he is a minor. God will certainly listen to your prayers if you feel restless for Him. He has begotten us, surely we can claim our inheritance from Him. He is our own Father, our own Mother. We can force our demand on Him.”
Here is a mind-grippping account of a devotee about how prayers are fulfilled. Once we had gone to Belur Math, the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math. We met the Vice-President Swami Vishuddhananda and he was talking to us. He loved us like our own father, guide and teacher. He asked us casually, “ Sri Ramakrishna has said, if you pray for three days and three nights, you will get him. Well, do you pray ? What happens to your prayer?” I was young, and I used to talk boldly. I said, “ We have prayed for so many days, yet there is no response. He has not given us his darshan”. He became very serious and said “ what do you mean?”. Do you mean to say that what he has said is not true? I was taken aback. I said “I am not saying that what he has said is untrue. But my own experience is that I have prayed for many days, but nothing has happened.”
Then he narrated an incident. A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, named Ramlal was in Dakshineswar as the Head Priest after the Master’s passing away. Once a sadhu came from Ayodhya to Dakshineswar early in the morning. Ramalal saw this sadhu standing there covered with dust from head to foot. As soon as the man saw Ramalal, he said, “ I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where can I meet him?”.
Ramalal was taken aback and said, “ Now the mangalarati is going to begin. Come inside the temple.” That man did not enter because he was full of dust and he stood faraway in the temple hall. He saw the mangalarati and then recited a beautiful stotra in praise of Mother Goddess. It was full of devotion and it seemed as though the whole temple hall was vibrating with that and the Mother was highly pleased with it.
Ramlal took a long time cleaning the room and so on because he did not want to face the sadhu again.
When he came out, the sadhu was standing in the same place with the same question. “I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where is he?”. Ramlal brought him to the room of Sri Ramakrishna and said, ‘This is the room where he used to stay. This is the small bed where he used to take his nap in the dytime and this is the big bed where he used to sleep’. Ramlal was using the past tense, ‘used to sleep, used to take rest’, so the sadhu said, ‘Why do you talk in this manner? I want to meet him. Where is he?’. Very reluctantly Ramlal had to disclose him that Sri Ramakrishna was no longer alive, ‘Unfortunately you have come seven days late. He passed away a few days ago.’
It was a shock to the man! He later narrated that he was a sadhu doing tapasya in Ayodhya for a very long time. And one day he had the vision of his chosen deity, his Ishtam, who told him, ‘Now go to Dakshineswar. I have come in the person of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Why don’t you come and meet me?’. In the beginning the penniless sadhu did not believe it. He thought that it was his imagination. Later, thrice he had the same vision. Then he decided to go. He walked all the way as he had no money. He took rest at some places asking people on the way about the direction to go to West Bengal. After three months, he arrived at Dakshineswar, believing the words he had heard in his vision. He had reached his destination, and now here was this person saying that the Paramahamsa was no longer alive.
He was simply taken aback, ‘What is this? What do you say? It can not be!’ he exclaimed. Ramlal said, ‘I am very sorry. If you had come even fifteen days earlier you could have met him. He was not here of course. He was ill and was living in the Cossipore garden house and you could have met him there. But unfortunately, he no longer lives’.
The sadhu was crestfallen. He could not believe it. He just rolled on the ground moaning, ‘What is this? Why did you cheat me like this? You could have told me you were’nt going to live, that you were not going to be in the body for more than three months and asked me to come immediately. You should have told me! Why did you deceive me?’. The tremendous blow was too much for him. That continued for some time. Later, it was time for worship in the room. People were coming and the sadhu just went outside and sat on the verandah. He sat there while the day passed and the night came. The sadhu did not move. Ramlal came and tried to console him, ‘Get up and have some rest. Take some food’. The sadhu just snubbed him saying, ‘Get out! I have not come for all that!’. Ramlal was afraid of this very tall and strong sadhu. He went away and did not say anything.
Another day and night passed. The sadhu was sitting in the same position. Sometimes he used to cry, but otherwise, he was quiet and calm. One more day passed, two days passed and third day came. Ramlal was afraid, because he was the person who spoke first with the sadhu. If he were to die there, Ramlal would be blamed. So again Ramlal went to console the sadhu and to make him get up and eat something, but he could not make him budge. The night also passed. It was hot that night. So Ramlal and others who were working in the temple slept outside on the verandah. That early next morning, before four o’clock, suddenly, Ramlal saw the sadhu, coming upto him on the verandah. He shook Ramlal and laughed shouting with great joy, ‘Did you not see him?’. At first Ramlal did not understand. He thought that may be the man had gone mad as he had not eaten for days and tired from travelling.
Then the sadhu said, ‘Did you not hear the sound of his wooden slippers? He came! Look here! He has given me this Payasam. He came from the side of the Panchavati. I heard the sound of his wooden slippers. He came near me and put his hand behind my back and said, ‘ What are you doing? Why are you crying? Where have I gone? See, look at me’. I was simply overwhelmed and looked at him. He embraced me and told me to get up, “Come, you must have a good wash”. He took me to the steps leading to the Ganga and then said, “Put some water in you burning eyes. Let them be cool”. With such loving words, he consoled and said, “Eat, you have not eaten for the last seven days. Eat my dear!” I could not eat. Tears of joy were flowing from my eyes and I was just looking at Sri Ramakrishna. After some time I could not see him any longer, but my heart was full of joy.”
After narrating this incident, Swami Vishuddhananda said, “Now do you believe it or not? You will say, this is just one of those stories”. He told us that even now that earthen pot in which the sadhu got the Payasam is kept at Dakshineswar and continued, “Tell me, how was his intense sorrow removed? How did he feel full of joy? Do you see how prayers are answered!’. Intense longing prayer… “I have come all the way…. and three days and three nights”. That is what the Master has promised in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. So three days and three nights of one constant, longing prayer, brought Sri Ramakrishna down. He had to come. Prayer has that wonderful power to bring the Almighty down to this earth.
Sri Ramakrishna taught the devotees how to call on the Divine Mother…. “I used to pray to Her in this way: ‘O Mother! O Blissful One! Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must!’ Again, I would say to Her: ‘O Lord of the lowly! O Lord of the universe! Surely I am not outside Thy universe. I am bereft of knowledge. I am without discipline. I have no devotion. I know nothing. Thou must be gracious and reveal Thyself to me.’ ”
SriSwami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him at our Mumbai Ashram within the sanctum of Holy Mother’s Temple. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to highlight an inspiring incident in my early life – how he guided me, giving me his divine grace unasked.
In 1976, I joined the Training Centre in Belur Math. When I went there, I was quite eager to see my Gurudev who I heard was at that time staying in Belur Math and had just returned from Narendrapur. The first day was a lovely day and we, brahmacharins were getting introduced to many of the traditions of Belur Math. Though I could not contain my curiosity, yet I was not bold enough to ask where and when I can have ‘darshan’ of my Gurudev. Unable to get any clue, that after noon, I decided to roam around the place near the river Ganga.
I saw the rear-side of a two-storey building which, from a distance was shown to us as the building where Swami Vivekananda’s room is situated. There was a flight of steps leading down to Ganga. The fresh breeze that was flowing was mesmerizing and I felt the air to be so pure in contrast to the polluted air of Kanpur from where I had just come. Getting down to Ganga for the first time after reaching Belur Math brought an inexplicable feeling of reverence to mother Ganga. Seeing the flowing waters gushing forth I was happy to murmur a hymn of Adi Shankara in praise of Mother Ganga.
I sprinkled some water on my head, uttering “Om Namah Shivaaya”. A few blissful moments passed in silence. When I turned on the steps I could not believe my eyes: there on the balcony was my Gurudev. I was simply stunned and made my mental prostrations from there itself and straight walked into that building in which Swamiji had lived. My Gurudev seemed to be in a supremely happy mood and I was beside myself with boundless joy.
The last I had seen him was in Varanasi in 1974, four years after He had blessed me with diksha in Bombay. What surprised me most was while I did not expect him to remember any of my home details, but the moment he saw me he smiled and asked, “How are your parents in Bombay?”. I was happy to tell him that by his blessings and the grace of Holy Trio, I could come to Belur Math to undergo proper monastic training and would be there for another two full years. On hearing this, he advised me to stay focused on the studies as well as sadhana and instructed me to come to his place as often as possible.
My Gurudev at that time, had a senior Swami serving as Secretary to him and also one monk and a brahmachari were also attendants to him. The attendant-Swami used to keep ‘sandesh’ prasad for me. This prasad would be taken from the remaining portion of his eating from the plate. He was daily served with two ‘sandesh’ that would come straight from the main Temple after the mangalaarati offerings. My days went on happily at Belur Math.
At the Training Centre we were studying different philosophies. One day in the class there was a stimulating discussion on Incarnations. During the discussion, certain queries posed by some co-brahmacharins raised a doubt in my mind about the validity of worshipping Sri Ramakrishna. If Ramakrishna does NOT exist , ‘the doubt’ told me why at all I should have renounced my hearth and home. Was I not then doing something blindly? How to know? Who would confirm that Sri Ramakrishna still existed?
Two days passed without my getting a proper answer to my doubt. Oh! what a period of painful agony! I could not think well for those two days. On the third day I felt like going and asking my Gurudev in spite of the instructions from authorities not to disturb him as he had ailed for some time. He was indeed a Deva Purusha, shining one because in his presence one could feel a light emanating, as it were, from his body in spite of his old age. Whoever visited him would naturally like to stay a minute with him, so that they could tell him their spiritual problems.
So when I went there that blessed morning and made saashtaanga pranaam to him, I found his eyes half closed while sitting on a settee. No one was there in the room. My touch of his holy feet perhaps brought him to outward consciousness and he looked at me with his benign glance. I entreated him to bless me. When I tried to get up from the floor, he placed his right hand on one of my shoulders, and he also slowly tried to get up from his sitting position. There, standing for a while, he, in his own pace, started walking towards the window. I also accompanied him, and when I stood there, he turned to me and said, “Look through this window? What do you see?”
The rear-view of the temple was clearly visible. Even the staircase – that goes up to the ‘shayan-ghor’ where Sri Ramakrishna’s sleeping bed is kept – was visible. When you come down the steps one can actually without any hindrance enter the ‘shrine-ghor’ where the holy image of Sri Ramakrishna resides.
The methods adopted for worshipping Personal God are, in fact, significant in that it facilitates the devotee to mentally identify the real physical needs of God in line with humans. Therefore, a devotee is able to serve the Master as if he is ever alive in flesh and blood. Standing and looking through the window, my Gurudev told me, “Well, every morning at mangalaarati time, I come and stand here, and see (pointing to his eyes by gesture) through these eyes. I see very clearly Sri Ramakrishna, getting up from his bed, going down the stairs, and coming into the sanctum, ‘garbha-griha’ and merging into the marble image. You know, every day I see His movement.”
Listening to his inspiring words, my ‘doubt ‘ in a moment just vanished. With what doubt I came to him, I did not need to put that question to him, because he knew the question that was troubling me, and gave the answer unasked! That was Srimat Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmanandaji, the ‘mind-born’ son of Sri Ramakrishna.
There are many devotees who seek spiritual guidance through email messages. Some problems are quite tricky in the sense that they are not easily given to satisfactory solutions. Many of the doubts arise, in some cases, due to their inability to understand what their Gurus have instructed. That is why it is always better to keep in the habit of studying the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, books on Holy Mother and Swamiji so that our minds are freed from doubts, further strengthened and fortified with renewed enthusiasm.
One lady devotee wrote to me the other day that her in-laws and husband maintain antipathy to everything connected with the Ramakrishna sangha and their attitude actually hurts her in such a bad way that she was unable even to make visits to Belur Math.
She said that “ …Whatever they are, they are not my problem. Almost four years ago very luckily I’ve got mantra from Sri Sri Swami Gahanananda Maharajji; before having any children I didn’t have any problem to manage time for japa and dhyana. But now the situation is that I’m a mother of two little kids – one is three and half year old and the other is one and half year old.
Now after trying a lot I’m continuously failing to take out any time for japa-dhyana except the bed time. Before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning I try to make it regularly and during daytime work, I try to continue the japa in my mind. But I don’t know why this is making me very restless and I’m feeling very guilty that I’m not following my GURU’s path. Can you please tell me what should I do?”
Yes, one side unsupportive family and the other side the pressing need to take care of the family. Finding not much time, though they are earnest, and with the ever-present criticism against such spiritual practices, they feel despondent. Those devotees who have got this type of situation go through silent sufferings as their conscience prick them in what they consider as ‘neglect’ of their spiritual responsibilities.
The following was my reply to this devotee A.
||Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
…..Though it is unfortunate to learn that the related in-laws’ mental vibrations are not aligning with yours specially with regard to our Thakur, Ma and Swamiji, I dont consider that as an ‘obstruction’ to your spiritual life. Only Master knows why you have stepped into ‘their’ family. It is a two-way learning process : for you to become more intensified i.e., strongly resolved in spite of indifference and to them : to become more aware of your ‘bhakti’ as an example. I am happy that you however, are not unduly disturbed by that and you are carrying your sadhana with full faith.
By Sri Thakur’s grace you have obtained a wonderful Guru in Srimat Swami Gahnanandaji Maharaj. You might have read in my blog my memories about the abiding guidance that I personally received from him. So, I consider you as most fortunate.
Coming to your specific problem of feeling guilty over not being able to follow Guru’s instructions, I have to say that your feeling is misplaced. Revered Maharaj used to tell all his disciples after initiation that they should try to always be aware of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna in their hearts and repeat the mantra mentally while doing their works as far as possible. In many cases, while replying to questions of persons in situation of predicament, Revered Maharaj used to instruct them to get up a little early, before the hassles of daily life start, to do their japam. When there is no separate space for worship, even on the bed after putting a clean bedcover. Many people do not get free time in the evening. In their cases Revered Maharaj used to prescribe the time before bed when one had finished all his/her daily responsibilities.
I think A…, you are following Guru’s advice only but unknowingly. After all, it is said that a Guru looks after his disciple’s welfare and guides him/her even when he is not physically present. I am sure by His grace your doubts would be dispelled. Continue doing your japa before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning. Yes, Try to make it regularly. And during daytime work, continue with your mental japa.
My prayers are with you. I have no doubt that Sri Sri Thakur is ever gracious in taking you by his hand in your spiritual path…..
With best wishes
After a few days I got a response from her thus:
…Your reply has given me a great relief. I was really confused about my daily routines. My kids totally depend on me, I can’t deny that responsibility but on the other hand I should not fail to follow GURU MAHARAJ JI’s instructions. After your kind response I can feel it that may be, Guru Maharaj is not physically present but He is continuously with me and He is driving my way of life, otherwise how could I unknowingly managed to follow his instructions? Now I am happy and almost sure I will acquire the Kripa of Thakur, Maa & Swamiji only because of it that my GURU is with me…
Swami Shivanandaji, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once observed: “If you want to achieve anything substantial in spiritual life, visit Belur Math, stay here and do spiritual practices. It is for this purpose alone that Swamiji dedicated his life and founded this Math.”
The spiritual current that flows in Belur Math is carried to all its branches, affiliates, sister-centres and therefore undoubtedly visiting any of them is indeed a pilgrimage.
A bus full of devotees from Ladysmith sub-centre decided to undertake a pilgrimage to three centres in Durban and I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Akshay Mootheeram who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Yushavia‘
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
It was Sunday the 31st of January 2010.
At approximately 05:30, as the crimson sun raised its beautiful head only to reveal but a peak of sunlight amidst the darkness of the early morning, our bus filled with 76 devout and enthusiastic men, women and children alike, from the Ladysmith Sub-Centre set out on an prayerful pilgrimage to Durban.
Pilgrimage to Durban?
Yes, it was certainly a pilgrimage to Durban where we were to visit the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa in Glen Anil, the Phoenix Sub-Centre as well as the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram in Asherville.
Although many of the devotees of Ladysmith Sub-centre had visited these Ashramas at some or other time, it was truly special to travel in unison, as a group with the same frame of mind and moreover, in the greater sense, as a family.
Of course, belonging to an organization of this stature, one can expect only but the best in terms of service, safety and comfort, without any compromise. Therefore, a program was planned for the bus which commenced with the Opening Prayers, which was to be followed by the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa and other kirtans. Although many of the devotees were still dreary from the early morning, everyone joined together in the melodious singing of these kirtans. The atmosphere thus created was serene and calming, soothing the minds of the devotees who were focusing on the great events that were about to unfold.
At approximately 08:30 we arrived at Headquarters. The sight of the majestic Ashram was overwhelming. After being warmly received by the devotees at Headquarters we proceeded to the shrine to offer our pranams to Master, Mother and Swami Vivekananda. We were then briefed in the day’s proceedings and subsequently moved to the Swami Nischalananda Hall where we were served a light, yet refreshing, breakfast. Our Revered President Maharaj, His Holiness, Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, addressed us, both welcoming and blessing all the Devotees. In his short address (because of his prior appointment at Chatsworth Sub-centre), he pointed out the utter usefulness of studying Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature everyday. He added that by such studies, the ever-lasting ideas that the Holy Trio gave out for the world, would slowly sink into our mind and would be conducive for our spiritual sadhana.
Brother Ramesh Ishwarlall, who is the Chairperson of the Centre, then took us all on a grandeur tour of the premises. For many devotees, this was their first exposure to Centre’s Ashram grounds, facilities and buildings. We then reassembled in the shrine to enjoy a blessed satsang and meet His Holiness, Sri Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj who blessed us all. He is a senior monk, South Africa-born, had come from India on a visit. Sadly however, we departed at 09:10 feeling the brief stay, instead of satisfying only kindled our thirst for spending more time. We left for the Phoenix Sub-Centre to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
Once again we were most warmly received not only by the devotees, but by Swamiji Himself. We all then proceeded to the shrine where a 30-minute satsang was held. The ambience in the shrine was phenomenal and left us all speechless, including Swamiji Himself. Next we assembled in the waiting rooms of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa Clinic where we were addressed by Sister Veena Singaram and Advocate Kessie Naidoo, who enlightened us on the activities of the Phoenix Sub-Centre focusing on the program for Youth Development, but moreover, by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who really inspired us all. This was followed by a DVD presentation presented on the breath-taking advancement of the IT industry in India.
The next event was one that everybody anxiously looked forward to…Lunch! Yes, lunch was served with the highest feeling of love and care, we all feasted on the delicious food which was thoroughly prepared by the devotees at Phoenix.
Finally, we concluded the program with a DVD entitled ‘Mind Your Language’ which spread waves of chuckles amongst all present, creating a light-hearted and relaxing atmosphere.
But the highlight of our Phoenix trip was the opportunity to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who spoke to each and every devotee individually. We then left the Ashram, with happiness and peace in our hearts, and proceeded in the early afternoon towards Asherville.
On our arrival at the Sri Sarada Devi Ashrama, yet again without fail, the warmest of welcomes was presented to us.
We immediately proceeded to the shrine for a satsang which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Promptly thereafter we were served refreshments and had the opportunity of spending a few brief moments with Her Holiness Ishtaprana Mataji and Her Holiness Divyanandaprana Mataji. As much as would have liked to stay, unfortunately the time came for us to depart.
There could have been no better way to end our pilgrimage than at Holy Mother’s Ashram. Somehow, the day now felt totally complete and fulfilled.
At 16:00, we boarded the bus and departed from Asherville with complete peace of mind, thanking within, one and all who made the memorable event a truly remarkable. A pilgrimage worth to ponder in a period yonder!
His Holiness Sri Swami Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our Sri Lanka Ramakrishna Mission arrived in Durban today. He was visibly joyful in paying a 10 day visit to this Rainbow nation where in many places he will participate in the 156th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. He was warmly welcomed at the airport by Swamis Brahmarupanandaji, Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre. I cannot but remember Revered Sarvarupanandaji’s amiable nature when he was part of a team of monks who came to Seva Pratishthan to assist the Administrator-monks during service dislocation for a short period. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.
Revered Maharaj started as a volunteer in the Salem Ashram in 1962. He formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1969 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1979.
In 2004 he was appointed the President of the Ooty Math where he served till 2006. In 2006 he was appointed the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Colombo, and continues to serve in this capacity currently.
The Colombo Centre is engaged in a number of ongoing spiritual and welfare programmes to assist the communities of Sri Lanka. These include: spiritual discourses and retreats, medical services, poverty relief, education for youth and personality development, Sunday School for religious education where nearly a 1000 children attend weekly. Of special significance is the work done at times of natural disasters, the most recent being the Tsunami – when 1000’s of families were affected. The Mission adopted a village and built 116 two storey houses to rehabilitate those affected. The Mission is also currently engaged in assisting Internally Displaced People due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. More than 46,000 people are being fed and provided assistance every month.
His public program in South Africa would be as below.
Birth Anniversary Celebration of Sri Sarada Devi
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Conference on “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”(Hosted by the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram)
Time : 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Venue : University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus
Programme at Phoenix Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 17 Foresthaven Drive, Phoenix
Programme at Gauteng Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Eagle Canyon Golf Estate, Club House, Blueberry Street, Honeydew, Johannesburg
Programme at Newcastle Sub-Centre(for all Northern KZN Sub-Centres/ Satsang groups)
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 6.00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, cnr of Centre & Green Streets, Newcastle
Programme at Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple
Topic : “The Glory of Divine Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : 7 Maharaj Street, Gandhi’s Hill, Tongaat
Programme at Chatsworth Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 26 Moorcross Drive, Moorton, Chatsworth
Programme at Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Topic : “Vedanta in Everyday Life”
Time : 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
(Registration for the above programme is essential.