5.12c THE MASTER’S STAY AT SHYAMPUKUR
WHILE he was staying at Shyampukur, one day the Master had a wonderful vision. He saw that his subtle body came out of his gross body as he was strolling hither and thither in the room, and he observed that its back was covered with sores, especially in the region of the throat. He wondered at the cause of such sores, when the divine Mother of the universe explained to him that people had committed various evil deeds and had become pure by touching him; the burden of their sins was thus transferred to him and consequently he had sores in his body. We had heard the Master say sometimes at Dakshineswar that he was not afraid to be born lakhs of times to do good to living beings. It was, therefore, no wonder that he should joyfully speak of it to us without being at all affected by it. We were charmed to remember and discuss his infinite grace. But the devotees, especially the younger ones, took particular care to see that no new-comers should bow down to him and touch his feet till he regained his former health. And some of the devotees, again, thought of their unrestrained early lives and determined that they would not any more touch the holy person of the Master. But some rare persons like Narendra engaged themselves in the inquiry and research into the matter when they got this clue to the truth of the doctrine that one could voluntarily take upon oneself the results of actions done by another — a doctrine which is fundamental to the Christian, Vaishnava and some other faiths.
Girishchandra observed the attempt at preventing new-comers from visiting the Master and said, “There’s no harm trying, but it is not possible; for, that is the very purpose of the Master’s advent.” Although perfect strangers could be prevented the new-comers known to the devotees, it was afterwards seen, could not be. So, it was settled, that no one unknown to any devotee should be allowed to approach the Master. And those who were known should be told beforehand not to bow down to him and touch his feet. The violation of this rule too was allowed from time to time when some perfect strangers were seen to have very great eagerness.
There took place a funny incident with regard to that rule. While the Master was at Dakshineswar, on one occasion he went to witness a certain religious drama staged in the theatre managed by Girishchandra and praised the actress who acted the leading part. The actress had the good fortune to worship the feet of the Master while he was in an ecstatic mood, at the end of the play. Since then, she looked upon him as God Himself and adored him accordingly. She was seeking an opportunity of seeing him again. She became now very eager to see the Master once more when she heard of his serious illness. As she was acquainted with Kalipada Ghosh, she entreated him importunately and placed her entire reliance on him in that respect. Kalipada was a follower of Girish in all matters and did not believe that the Master’s illness would increase if an evil-doer became repentant and touched his holy feet, as Kalipada was convinced that the Master was the Incarnation of the age. He, therefore, had no fear or hesitation in taking that actress to the Master. He took counsel secretly and one day dressing her like an European gentleman, as “young Bengal” used to then, came with her at dusk to the Shyampukur house where the Master was staying. He introduced her to us as a friend of his, took her to the Master and told him who she really was. None of us was in the Master’s room at that time and Kalipada had, therefore, no obstacle to overcome. Knowing the actress had come in that dress to throw dust in our eyes, the Master, fond of merriment, laughed. Pleased with her faith and devotion he praised her courage, strategy and reverence. He gave her a little spiritual instruction that she might have faith in and reliance on God and bade good-bye to her soon afterwards. She shed tears of joy and repentance, touched adoringly his holy feet with her head and went away with Kalipada. We came to know of this afterwards from the Master and, seeing that he was joking, smiling and expressing joy on account of the trick played on us, we could not be cross with Kalipada.
Although the faith and devotion in the hearts of the devotees increased by leaps and bounds owing to the Master’s company and the services they rendered to him, there arose now a possibility of their minds running along a path which was not only full of dangers but led in a direction opposite to that of spirituality. The temporary surgings of emotions now became dearer to them than austere renunciation and difficult self-control. The devotees could not understand that such sentimentalism, sweet as it was, could not impart to them the power of winning victories over lust, anger, and hosts of the other enemies of man, if it did not rise from the depth of renunciation and self-control. There were several causes that produced this sentimentalism. The first of the causes was the ordinary human trait of having recourse to easy paths and objects. While man practises religion, he wants to conduct his life in such a way as will enable him to hold on both to God and to the world, to enjoyment and to renunciation. A few rare fortunate persons only regard them as of contrary natures, like light and darkness and do not fall into such errors. They understand that those two cannot be harmonized without the risk of compromising the ideal of renouncing one’s all for God-realization. Those who want to achieve the impossible feat of keeping close to both the shores take out their life’s boat just a little away from this shore of the world, resolutely discard all thought of farther journey and lie at anchor there for ever. The Master, therefore, tested variously everybody as soon as he came to him and ascertained whether he “lay thus at a safe anchor” or not. If he knew that he was doing so, he would reveal to him as little of the ideal of renunciation for the sake of God as he could accept. This was the reason why his teachings differed with different persons according to their fitness; he gave different kinds of instruction to his devotees with families and to young disciples. That was the reason why, while he gave instruction to people in general, he said, that devotion as expounded by Narada and the singing of the name of Hari were alone efficacious in the Kaliyuga. The study of religion and the scriptures became so obsolete amongst the public at that time that it was doubtful whether one in a hundred understood the meaning of the phrase “devotion as expounded by Narada”. People did not know that the renunciation of one’s all out of love for God also had been taught by Narada. It was therefore no wonder that, prompted by their weak nature, the ignorant devotees of the Master would sometimes fall into the error of clinging to both the lives, the worldly and the spiritual, and of regarding the increase of sentimentalism as the acme of religious experience.
Again, another cause leading the devotees to that error probably was that they did not see the very firm basis on which the extraordinary emotionalism of the Master was established, for his austere self-control and penances had been practised long before they went to him. But the greatest of its causes presented itself when Girishchandra gave his spiritual “power of attorney” to the Master and, fully convinced that the Master was the incarnation of the age, was preaching it at the top of his voice to one and all with great joy and enthusiasm Although many had had that idea regarding the Master, all of them obeyed his ban on revealing it. For the Master had been warning them for a long time to regard that as the time for his passing away when many people would come to know him as an incarnation of God. But Girishchandra’s mind was made of a different stuff.
He could never in his life conceal any thought or action of his, good or bad. He, therefore, could not obey that interdict of the Master. He forgot the fact that his keen intelligence, his life full of various events and his heart surcharged with infinite zeal and faith, enabled him to understand the unlimited influence of the Master’s extraordinary power and helped him to surrender himself to him completely. So he invited one and all quite indiscriminately to do what he himself had done. Neglecting, therefore, the necessity of personal effort, devotional exercises, renunciation, austerity, etc., and uttering the cheap shibboleths, “We have given him the power of attorney”, “We have surrendered ourselves to him”, and so on, people came to regard the realization of God as easy of attainment. Girishchandra’s infinite love for the Master could have prevented his preaching it, had not his intelligence told him that He who had assumed a body to arrest the decline of religion prevalent for a long time and to set the wheel of religion moving anew, and who was undergoing voluntarily the miseries of birth, old age, etc., in order that the Jivas suffering from all the “three miseries”1 might find a refuge in Him, could not possibly pass away before His desired work was completed. He was, therefore, not to blame if he invited people to take refuge in the Master and to have peace and divine bliss like himself.
The intelligence of many elderly devotees like Ramchandra was then overpowered by the keen intelligence and argumentation of Girishchandra. Ramchandra, we have said before, was born in a Vaishnava family. It was therefore no wonder that he should truly take the Master to be Sri Krishna and Sri Gauranga. But he had observed a certain amount of restraint regarding the matter before Girish preached his ideas about the Master, which served like adding fuel to the fire of his zeal. He did not, however, stop with merely preaching that the Master was an incarnation of God, but indulged in speculation as to the identities of particular devotees of the Master in his previous incarnations as Gauranga and Krishna. And those, it is needless to add, who experienced bodily changes and sometimes lost normal consciousness on account of temporary surges of sentimentalism occupied a high spiritual rank in his judgment.
While the devotees allowed themselves to be carried off by the current of sentimentalism, thanks to their firm conviction that the Master was the incarnation of the age, Vijaykrishna Goswami came from Dacca to see the Master and declared before all without any reserve how, at the time of meditation in his room at Dacca, the Master had appeared there physically before him and how Vijay touched2 his body and limbs. This acted like a high wind fanning a wild fire. Five or six of the devotees then used to undergo bodily changes and to lose partial consciousness as soon as they listened to devotional music etc. They gave up the royal road of common sense and reason and discrimination between the real and the unreal and were getting themselves habituated to the morbid attitude that anything might be brought at any time by virtue of the divine power of the Master and were living on the tiptoe of such expectations.
When this unhealthy sentimentalism was being regarded by the devotees as the acme of religious life, it could not escape the notice of the sharp-witted Narendranath, to whom the Master always gave the highest place amongst the devotees, that this kind of mind was as good as useless compared with renunciation, self-control, single-minded devotion, etc., and that there was a possibility of great danger in future if it were given a free rein. Narendra tried to explain it to them and save the situation. The question may arise, why was the Master indifferent even though he saw the possibility of the devotees’ going astray? It may be said in reply that he was not so; but knowing that genuine emotion freed of all artificiality was one of the paths leading to the realisation of God, he was seeking a favourable occasion to guide them on that path by observing who among those devotees were actually fit for it. For, we heard him say time and again, “Nothing comes about but at the proper time, however much we may wish for it;” “Success has its own time;” “Everything awaits the right time.” Again, who knows that he was not observing Narendra in his crusade against that error of the devotees and was waiting for the result of his efforts? Or, it may be that it was his intention to make Narendranath the instrument in the matter and have the corrective administered through him.
Thinking that the circle of young devotees, possessed of firm bodies and determined minds could easily understand his words, Narendra adduced reasons and arguments against this growing tide of sentimentalism He said, “The sentimentalism that does not produce a permanent change in human life but makes man eager to realize God at one moment, but at the very next has little power to make him desist from seeking lust and gold, has no depth and is, therefore, of little value in life. Though under its influence some might shed tears and experience horripilation and other bodily changes, or even a temporary withdrawal of normal consciousness, it is, I am perfectly convinced, produced by nervous weakness. A man should by all means eat nutritious food and take the help of a physician if he cannot suppress it through the exercise of his will-power.”
Narendra added, “There is much of artificiality in those bodily changes and absence of normal consciousness. As our control over ourselves grows firmer, our real genuine sentiments go deeper. It is in the lives of very rare persons that spiritual sentiments become so powerful as to assume the form of tidal waves, overflowing even the firm dam of control, and manifest themselves as bodily changes and temporary cessation of normal consciousness. Foolish men cannot understand this and reverse the process; the depth of spiritual sentiments, they think, is attained as the result of those bodily changes and that loss of normal consciousness. They, therefore, make efforts that those effects might soon happen to them. That will and effort of theirs develop gradually into a habit and weaken their nerves increasingly as days pass on, so that in course of time those changes come on them at the slightest appearance of a sentiment. Consequently, they become insane or afflicted with a chronic malady by indulging freely in them in trying to practise religion, eighty per cent of people turn cheats and about fifteen per cent mad; the remaining five only attain the immediate knowledge of the infinite Truth and are blessed. Hence beware.”
We could not at first take those words of Narendranath to be true. But we had to do so when shortly afterwards it was revealed, by chance, that one devotee sat in seclusion, singing verses that gave rise to such sentiments, deliberately trying to induce corresponding bodily changes in himself; that another had practised earlier that kind of charming dance which a particular devotee had been seen to perform, at the time of the partial withdrawal of normal consciousness during trance, and that a third person, soon after seeing the beautiful dance of the second person, started dancing similarly in trance. Again, observing that a devotee had trances more frequently than before, Narendra convinced him in private of his folly and requested him to practise the control of sentiments and eat comparatively nutritious food, and as the result of doing so for a fortnight, he acquired health and self-control to a great extent. When many saw these facts demonstrated before their very eyes, they had to believe in Narendra’s words and no longer regarded themselves unfortunate, because they did not have bodily changes and cessation of normal consciousness like the other devotees.
Narendra did not stop with preaching this with the help of reason and arguments only, but, when he scented the slightest artificiality in anybody’s sentimentalism, he ridiculed and made merry over it in the presence of all, and the devotee felt embarrassed and humiliated. Again, he would raise the topic of man’s imitating the gestures of woman as was prevalent in the practice of Sadhana of a class of Vaishnavas and the extremely ridiculous form which it sometimes assumed. He thus roused a peal of laughter amongst the devotees and held to ridicule those of us who were inclined to that kind of sentimentalism, saying that they belonged to the class of “women friends” of the Lord. In fact, Narendranath, a lion among men, could not at all put up with the idea that, because a man had come forward to practise religion, he should give up his virility, self-exertion and his indomitable search after truth and should, instead, confine himself to imitating the gestures of women, to the singing of Vaishnava lyrics and to weeping. He, therefore, seriocomically called those devotees “Siva’s demons”, who took to the virile form of Sadhana and had devotion tempered by the discrimination between the real and the unreal, nicknaming, those of the opposite nature as “women friends” of the Lord.
Narendranath could not rest satisfied simply by effecting a breach in the circle of sentimentalism with his reason and sarcasm. He was fully convinced of the fact that mere preaching did not produce its effect till a new mental attitude could be substituted in its place and made great efforts towards that. He gathered together the young devotees during his leisure, sang together with them devotional songs that awakened in their hearts the idea of the transitoriness of the world, renunciation and devotion to God, and thus tried to keep burning in their hearts the flames, of those sterling spiritual qualities. Coming to see the Master, many returned shedding tears because there was roused in them strong detachment and love of God as the result of their listening to the songs, hymns, etc., sung by Narendra in his sweet voice, e.g.,
“O heart, do you hold this culture so dear
Ultimately all that will return to dust!”
“O Thou, the sea of nectar who art concentrated Bliss and
Consciousness, life overflows with joy when we sing Thy name.”
“I am neither the mind, nor the intellect, ego and the mind-stuff,
I am neither the ears and the tongue, nor the nose and the eyes.
I am neither ether and earth, nor fire and air,
I am Siva, Bliss and Consciousness absolute.”
Again, he would narrate stories from the life of the Master regarding the Sadhana brought about by the Master’s profound love of God, or he sometimes revealed the Master’s glory in a way that amazed the disciples. Or, at other times, he would quote passages from The Imitation of Christ and say, “The life of anybody who will truly love the Lord will be perfectly moulded in His pattern. Therefore, whether we truly love the Master or not will be best proved by this fact.” Moreover he reminded us of the Master’s saying, “First tie the non-dual knowledge in the corner of your cloth and then do whatever you like.” He then explained to us that all the Master’s emotionalism arose with that knowledge as its basis. The devotees had, therefore, to make efforts to attain the said non-dual knowledge first.
Narendra encouraged them very often to examine new truths first and then accept them. Hearing that one’s physical ailments could be cured with the help of the concentration of the mind, he, we remember, gathered us together and engaged us in that practice, in a room with its doors closed, to remove the physical disease of the Master. Again, he always tried to see that the devotees kept themselves aloof from irrational observances. The event mentioned below may be cited as an example.
Mahimacharan Chakravarti’s house was situated opposite the place where the southern part of the Mati pond met the Kasipur Road. He was adorned with many good qualities but he was ever eager to pass himself off as greater than he actually was. He did not, it seems, even hesitate to have recourse to falsehood if that would fetch him honour. This anxiety, that people should regard him as wealthy, learned, intelligent, religious, generous and possessed of all other good qualities, regulated each action of his life and sometimes made him a laughing-stock too. Once Mahimacharan started a free school and called it “The Educational Section of the Institute of the Oriental Aryans” (Prachya-arya-siksha-kanda-parishat). He called his only son by the name of “The holy face of one having the moon on his head” (Mrigankamauli-putatundi); he had a deer which he called Kapinjala after the name of that anchorite. For, did it become a scholar like him to call things or persons by short, simple names? He had a collection of various English and Sanskrit books. When we became acquainted with him, one day we went to his house with Narendranath and asked him, “Have you, Sir, read all these books?” He humbly assented in reply. But Narendra brought out some of those books the next moment and, finding that their leaves had not even been cut, asked the reason for it. He replied, “Do you see, brother, people took the books after I had read them and did not return them. I have bought these books again and replaced them with these; I don’t allow anyone to take out books from here any more.” But Narendra discovered in a short time that none of these books had its leaves cut. Narendra was, therefore, certain that he kept those books only with a view to passing himself off as a great scholar and adding to the beauty of the house.
At the time when we became acquainted with him, Mahimacharan introduced himself to us in the course of conversation as a spiritual aspirant on the path of knowledge. He used to visit Dakshineswar many years before the devotees of Calcutta went to the Master, and on certain days of religious festival, placed a tiger-skin under the Panchavati, put on ochre-dyed clothes and Rudraksha beads, took his one-stringed musical instrument and sat for Sadhana with great pomp. He hung the tiger-skin on a wall in a corner of the Master’s room when he returned home. This was enough for the Master to understand the man. For, asked one day whose skin it was, the Master said, “It has been kept here by Mahima Chakravarti. Do you know why? People will see it and ask me whom it belongs to; and when I mention his name, they will consider him to be a very big Sadhaka.”
When there was a talk on initiation, Mahimacharan sometimes said, “The name of my Guru is Agamacharya Damaruvallabha.” Again, he said at other times that he had also been initiated, like the Master, by Tota Puri, the itinerant Paramahamsa. “I met him”, said he, “at a certain place when I went on a pilgrimage in the western part of the country and got initiated. He has asked the Master to live his life as a devotee and instructed me to live in the world as a Sadhaka on the path of knowledge.” It is superfluous to add that the truth of his words was known only to himself and to Him who knows all hearts.
The only Sadhana one saw him practise was the uttering of the Pranava with his voice in unison with the note of his one-stringed instrument, together with “shouting” a verse or two from books like the Uttara Gita at intervals. He said that it was the discipline according to the eternal path of knowledge; no other discipline was necessary if one practised it. This itself would awaken the coiled power and one would see God. The holy image of Sri Annapurna was installed in Mahima Babu’s house and it seems, the annual worship of Sri Jagaddhatri used to be performed there. It is inferred from these facts that he was born in a Sakta family. He seemed to have followed the method of the Sakta Sadhana in the latter part of his life. For, while he drove in a small buggy, he was heard at intervals to cry out, “Tara, That Thou art, Thou art That.” He had a small estate the income from which was sufficient to satisfy his worldly needs.
Mahima Babu came to visit the Master on two or three occasions during the Master’s stay at Shyampukur. On those occasions after enquiring about the welfare of the Master, he came and sat down in the room that was intended for all people, and practised Mantra in unison with his onestringed instrument and, while he was doing it, talked at intervals on religious subjects to others. Charmed with his personal beauty enhanced by the ochre cloth he put on, his gigantic corporeal frame and the glamour of his words, many used to put spiritual questions to him The Master also sometimes said to him, “You are a scholar; please go and give them (all present) some instructions.” For, it was not unknown to the Master that Mahima had a great desire in his heart to have a few disciples and to spread his own name.
One day Mahima Babu came to Shyampukur and spoke thus on many things and tried to establish that the method of discipline adopted by him was the easiest and the best, all other methods being low and tortuous. Narendra could not bear it when he saw the young devotees of the Master, listening to this without a protest. He brought forward contrary arguments and proved Mahima’s position to be untenable saying, “What is the proof that one will see God by uttering Mantras as you, in unison with music of the one-stringed instrument?” Mahima Babu replied, “Sound itself is Brahman. God cannot help revealing Himself in response to Mantras uttered in unison with musical notes. Nothing more need be done.” Narendra retorted, “Has God made such an agreement with you in writing? Or will He appear before you with stealthy tread like a snake charmed by Mantras and herbs, when you raise the pitch of your voice and utter mystical syllables like Hum Hum?” It is needless to say that Mahima Babu’s preaching did not prove the more interesting for Narendra’s arguments and he bade good-bye earlier that day.
Narendranath also kept a watch over the devotees of the Master to see that they paid due respect to the true Sadhakas of all religious communities. “Paying reverence to the Sadhakas of one’s own community only and condemning all others, as people in general do, is”, he said, “as good as showing disrespect to the Master’s doctrine, ‘As many faiths, so many paths’, and therefore, to the Master himself.” We remember an event of this sort which happened during our stay at Shyampukur.
One day a Christian missionary named Prabhudayal Misra came to see the Master. We could not at first know him to be a Christian owing to his ochre cloth. When in the course of conversation we came to know from him what he was, he was asked why he, a Christian, had put on ochre cloth. He replied, “I was born in a Brahmin family; should I give up the customs and practices that have come down to me from my forefathers only because I have the good fortune to put faith in sweet Jesus and accept him as my chosen Ideal? I believe in the Yoga scriptures, and with Jesus as my chosen Ideal, practise Yoga exercises daily. I have, of course, no faith in distinctions recognized by the caste system but I do believe that it is prejudicial to the practice of Yoga to take food out of the hand of anybody and everybody. So, I take Havishyanna3 cooked by myself every day. Consequently, though a Christian, I have been obtaining the results, one after another, of Yogic practices, such as seeing light etc. The Yogis of India, the lovers of God, have been wearing ochre cloth from time immemorial; what dress other than this can be dearer to me?” Narendranath put question after question and brought out all his dearest and innermost ideas one by one and knowing him to be a Yogi and holy man, paid great respect to him and asked us also to do likewise. So, many of us touched his feet and bowed down to him. We took sweets etc., the Prasada of the Master, together, in one and the same place. He expressed his view about the Master and said that he regarded him as Jesus himself.
Narendranath thus guided the devotees of the Master on the right path when the Master’s disease was daily worsening. Dr. Sarkar became anxious on seeing that those medicines that had produced more or less good results before were no longer efficacious. Coming to the conclusion that it was due to the close, polluted atmosphere of Calcutta city, he advised that the Master should be removed to some garden house outside the city. The first half of the month of Agrahayan had then passed. Knowing that the Master would be unwilling to change house in the next month of Paush, the devotees did their utmost to find out such a house. In a short time they hired for a monthly rent of eighty rupees the garden house of the late Gopal Chandra Ghosh the son-in-law of Rani Katyayani, situated on the eastern side of the main road leading to the Baranagar Bazar, where the northern part of the Mati pond of Kasipur touched that road. Surendra Nath Mitra of Simulia, Calcutta, the exceptionally loving devotee of the Master, promised to pay the whole rent.
When the final settlement regarding the house had been made, an auspicious day was looked up in the almanac, and furniture, utensils, etc., were shifted from Shyampukur and other arrangements made. At last the devotees brought the Master from Shyampukur to the garden house of Kasipur in the afternoon of the penultimate day of the month of Agrahayan. They felt great joy in their minds when they saw the Master joyous over the seclusion and the open air of that place, adorned with trees full of fruits and flowers.