5.1a THE INFLUENCE OF THE MASTER ON THE BRAHMO SAMAJ
The general public of Calcutta could know of the Master only when he met Kesavchandra, the leader of “the Brahmo Samaj of India”. We have said before that Kesav, who appreciated merit wherever it was found, was much attracted towards the Master from the day he saw him first. Although he was inspired with Western ideas and ideals, his heart was filled with a real love of God and it was impossible for him to enjoy the nectar of devotion all by himself. As he was getting more and more light on the path of his life’s journey from the Master’s illuminating words and contacts, he freely told the public about it and invited them enthusiastically to come and share with him the joy and bliss of his holy company. It is therefore seen that all the English and Bengali newspapers of that society, such as Sulabha Samachara, Sunday Mirror, Theistic Quarterly Review, etc., were full of discussions about the pure character, words of wisdom and the liberal religious tenets of the Master. Kesav and other Brahmo leaders were seen to repeat on many occasions the Master’s words from the altar as they addressed the congregations at the end of their lectures and prayers. Again, whenever they had leisure, they went to Dakshineswar with a few members of their inner circle, sometimes with the whole party, and spent some time in holy conversation with the Master.
Feeling delighted with the thirst for spiritual illumination and love of God of these Brahmo leaders, the Master spared no efforts to encourage them to dive deep into the sea of Sadhana and be blessed with the pearl of the immediate knowledge of God. So great was his joy in the singing and conversation on God with them that he did not mind going uninvited very often to Kesav’s house for the purpose. Thus a close and intimate relation grew up between the Master and many persons of that Society, who were real seekers of truth. He also went sometimes to the houses of the Brahmos other than Kesav and added to their happiness. For example, he often visited, especially during celebrations, the houses of Manimohan Mallick of Sinduriapati, Jayagopal Sen of Mathaghasa Lane, Venimadhav Pal of Sinti in Baranagar, Kasiswar Mitra of Nandanbagan and other persons, all followers of the Brahmo faith. On some occasions it so happened that, seeing the Master suddenly enter the temple while he was giving instruction from the altar, Kesav came down from it even before finishing the sermon, received him cordially and brought to a close the prayer of the day, listening to his words and enjoying the bliss of Kirtan with him
It is with the people of one’s own community only that one can mix freely and enjoy bliss without any reserve. It was not, therefore, a matter of surprise that, seeing him mixing and enjoying bliss with them in that way, the Brahmos came to the conclusion that the Master was a man of their own religious mood and persuasion. On finding that the Master joined with them and enjoyed their company in the same manner, all the communities, the Saktas, the Vaishnavas and others amongst the Hindus, felt similarly on many occasions. For, who would then have understood that the Master could behave so naturally with all sects and faiths only because he was ever dwelling in Bhavamukha? But the people of the Brahmo Samaj had not the slightest doubt that, when he joined them in their prayers, he merged in thought and Kirtan of the formless Brahman with attributes, enjoyed a far greater bliss than they did and truly had the direct realization of an extraordinary Light, while they saw but darkness. They also understood that unless they could offer their all to God and become absorbed in Him, even as he did, the taste of that kind of joy and vision would remain a far-off cry for them.
Seeing the love of truth, the disposition to renunciation and the thirst for spirituality and other good qualities of the members of the Brahmo Samaj of India, the Master tried to help them forward on their own chosen path of religion. He always looked upon those who loved God, — to whatever community they belonged — as very closely related to him and helped them unstintedly so that they might attain perfection by proceeding along their own paths. Again, the Master always said that all the true devotees of God were a class by themselves and never hesitated to eat and drink with them It is therefore superfluous to say that he would look with affection upon Kesav and the members of his congregation, such as Vijaykrishna Goswami, Pratapchandra Majumdar, Chiranjiv Sarma, Sivanath Sastri, Amritalal Bose and others, that he would be ready to help them spiritually and would never hesitate to eat and drink with them It did not take him long to understand that, under the influence of Western education, they were being carried far away from the religious ideal of the nation and were regarding social reform as the acme of their practice of religion. He, therefore, tried to make them accept the realization of God as the ideal of their lives even if their Society failed to follow them to that extent. As a result, Kesav and his party went forward very far on the path shown by him The custom of addressing God by the sweet name of Mother and worshipping God as Mother were introduced into the Samaj; the Master’s ideas and ideals entered into the music, literature, etc., of that Society and filled it with sweetness. That was not all. The leaders of that Samaj could know through the Master’s life that there was much to learn from and think about those ideals and practices of the Hindu religion from which the Samaj had seceded, cutting itself off under the impression that they were erroneous and superstitious.
The Master realized from the beginning that, imbued with Western ideas, Kesav and his companions would not rightly understand all his ideas and instructions, and whatever they could understand would not all be to their taste. Remembering this at the time of giving them instruction, he said to them, “I have said whatever came into my head, you may accept them minus their ‘head and tail’.” Again, it did not take him long to know that with many members of the Brahmo Samaj, social reform and the satisfaction of the desire for enjoyment came to be the aims of life. This he expressed also in jest on many occasions. He said:
“I went to Kesav’s place and witnessed their prayer. After dilating upon the powers of the Divine for a long time, the priest said, ‘Let us now meditate on Him’ I wondered how long they would meditate. But, ah, scarcely had they shut their eyes for two minutes when it was all finished! Can one realize Him by meditating thus? I looked at the faces of them all when they were meditating. Afterwards I said to Kesav, ‘I have seen many of you meditate, but do you know what thought came to my mind? Troops of monkeys sometimes sit quiet, under the tamarisk trees at Dakshineswar, as if they were perfect gentlemen, wholly innocent. But they were not such; they sat and thought of those roofs of householders where there were gourds,pumpkins, etc., or of those gardens where there were plantains and egg fruits. And in a short time, they would jump off to the garden with a yell, pluck them and fill up their stomachs. I saw many meditate that way.’ They heard this and laughed.”
The Master would thus teach us also through jokes. One day, Swami Vivekananda, we remember, was singing devotional songs before him The Swami then used to visit often the Brahmo Samaj, practise meditation and offer prayers twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. He began to sing with devotion and concentration of mind, the song on Brahman viz., “Concentrate your mind on that One stainless. Purusha.” There is one line in that song, “ Worship Him always, strive always to realize Him” In order to imprint these words in the Swami’s mind the Master said suddenly, “No, no; say rather ‘worship and pray to Him twice a day’. Why should you repeat in vain what you will not do in practice?” All laughed loudly; the Swami too looked small.
On another occasion the Master said to Kesav and other Brahmos regarding worship, “Why do you describe His powers so much? Does the child sit before his father and think how many houses, how many horses, how many cows, how many gardens, etc., his father has? Or is he simply charmed to think how dear his father is to him, how great his love for him is? The father feeds and clothes the child; what of that? We are, after all, His children. So, what is there to make much of if He does all that? Instead of thinking thus, a real devotee makes Him his own by love; importunes, nay, demands that his prayers be fulfilled, that He may reveal Himself to him If one thinks so much of His powers, one cannot think that He is one’s nearest and dearest and consequently cannot press one’s demands on Him The thought of His greatness creates a distance between Him and the devotee. Think of Him as your very own. It is then only that you will realize Him”
Besides learning the absolute necessity of striving hard to realize God and of sacrificing everything for His sake, Kesav and other Brahmos got something else from the Master. They had learnt from the Western missionaries and English books that God could never have form. It was, therefore, according to them a great sin to believe that His Presence could be felt in images having forms and to worship and offer prayers to Him there. The Master’s remarks, such as, “Just as formless water gets condensed into ice having a form on account of cold, so formless Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, condensed on account of devotion, assumes forms”; “Just as a man is reminded of a real custard apple when he sees one made of cork, so, having recourse to an image having form, one attains the immediate knowledge of the real nature of God”, made an impression on their minds and they came to realize that there was much to say and think about what they had called “idolatry” and so long considered unreasonable and contemptible. Moreover, there is little doubt that they viewed the worship of God with forms in a new light on the day the Master proved to Kesav and other Brahmos that Brahman and the great universe, which was the manifestation of Its power, were non-different, like fire and its burning power. They understood clearly on that occasion that it was but a partial description of the real nature of Brahman when they spoke of It as being without form but with attributes. They were convinced that the error that is made when God is described as having forms only, is equally committed when He is described as having attributes only and no forms, for, as manifested, He is the universe having forms; as formless Brahman with attributes, He is the controller of the universe; and as One beyond all attributes, He is the eternal substratum of the manifestation, underlying all names and forms, all persons and things such as God, Jiva and the universe. Kesav and others were astonished that day to find such deep meaning in the ordinary saying of the Master, “One should not fix a limit to the nature of God — He is with forms, He is without forms (and with attributes). Who can know and say what else He is besides?”
During a little more than three years since Kesav met the Master for the first time in 1875, the Brahmo Samaj of India under his able leadership was increasingly disabused of its former infatuation for Western ideas and ideals and assumed a new form, and their love for spiritual practices attracted the attention of the general public. Afterwards, on March 6, 1878, Kesav gave away his daughter in marriage to the prince of Coochbihar. As the age of his daughter was a little less than what had been fixed by the Samaj as the lowest marriageable age for girls, this marriage evoked a good deal of criticism in that society; and carried away by their zeal for social reforms in imitation of the West, the leaders split it in two, calling them the Brahmo Samaj of India and the General Brahmo Samaj. But the influence of the Master on the Brahmo Samaj did not come to an end on account of that event. He went on loving both the parties equally and the seekers after truth in both came to him as before and received spiritual help.
After this schism, Kesav, the leader of the Brahmo Samaj of India, made rapid progress on the path of Sadhana and his spiritual life now became very deep by the grace of the Master. Convinced that the offering of oblations, bathing in consecrated water, shaving the head clean, putting on ochre cloth and other symbolic acts help the human mind to ascend to subtler and higher strata of the Spiritual realm, he more or less adopted them all. Having developed a burning faith in the eternal existence of Gauranga, Jesus and other great souls in luminous spiritual bodies as the living embodiments of different spiritual moods, serving as the perennial springs of inspiration for those moods, he applied himself from time to time to deep meditation on them, so that he might realize properly their spiritual characteristics. Kesav, it is superfluous to say, engaged himself in the practices mentioned above, because he heard that the Master, while he had been practising any particular faith, had put on the emblems peculiar to its followers. With the help of the above-mentioned practices he tried to understand the Master’s newly discovered truth, “As many faiths, so many paths”, which resulted, within two years of the Coochbihar marriage, in the founding of the New Dispensation, from the pulpit of which he preached the truth, as far as he had grasped it, to the general public. We are unable to express how devoted he was to the Master and how much faith he had in him, as he knew him to be the embodiment of the said New Dispensation. Many of us saw him come to the Master at Dakshineswar and take the dust of his feet uttering again and again the words, “Victory to the Dispensation”, “Victory to the Dispensation”. Who can say how deep his spiritual life would have become, had he not passed away so soon, just about four years after he had started preaching the New Dispensation?
The Master looked upon Kesav as so intimately related to him that, once having heard of his illness, he promised to the Mother of the universe, the votive offering of green coconut and sugar, should Kesav recover. He went to see Kesav during his illness and, finding him very weak, could not refrain from shedding tears. He said to him, “The gardener sometimes not only prunes the branches of the plant of the Basra rose, but takes out even its roots from under the ground and exposes them to the sun and dew, so that the plant may produce big flowers. The Gardener has brought about this state of your body for that purpose.” Hearing of his passing away at the end of his last illness in 1884, the Master became overwhelmed with grief, did not talk with anyone and lay quiet in his bed for three days. He said afterwards, “When I heard of Kesav’s death, I felt as if one of my limbs got paralysed.” All the men and women of Kesav’s family were greatly devoted to the Master. They sometimes took him to Kamal Kutir1 and at other times came to him at Dakshineswar in order to listen to spiritual instruction from his holy mouth. To spend a day enjoying the holy conversation of the Master and singing Kirtan with him during the Magha2 celebrations, came to be regarded as an indispensable item by the Brahmos of the New Dispensation, as long as Kesav lived. Moreover, Kesav used to come with his whole congregation on board a steamer to Dakshineswar now and then and pick up the Master, and then the entire congregation would lose itself in the bliss of Kirtan and holy conversation as the steamer glided leisurely on the Ganga.
After the separation of the two parties over the Coochbihar marriage, Vijaykrishna Goswami and Sivanath Sastri became the Acharyas of the General Brahmo Samaj. Vijay was very dear to Kesav on account of his truthfulness and love for Sadhana. Vijaykrishna’s eagerness for Sadhana, like that of Acharya Kesav, increased to a great extent after he had had the privilege of meeting the Master. As he was going forward on that path, he attained various new spiritual visions in a short time and acquired faith in the manifestation of God with forms. When Vijay first came to Calcutta for study in the Sanskrit College, before he joined the Brahmo Samaj, his body was adorned with a long tuft of hair on the head, the sacred thread and various kinds of amulets. Vijay gave up all these in one day out of respect for truth and joined the Brahmo Samaj. He boycotted Kesav, who was like his Guru, out of the same respect for truth after the Coochbihar marriage. Again, out of respect for the same truth he found it impossible to conceal his faith in God having forms and was obliged to separate himself from the Brahmo Samaj. As he lost the means of his livelihood on account of this, he had to undergo much suffering for some time for want of money. But he was not at all depressed. On many occasions Vijay clearly told us that he had received spiritual help from the Master and that sometimes he got his vision in a mysterious way. But we do not know whether he loved and respected him as a subsidiary Guru or in some other manner for we heard from him that in the Akasaganga hill in Gaya, a monk mercifully made him suddenly enter into ecstasy with the help of his Yogic power and became his Guru. But there is no doubt that Vijay had a very high opinion of the Master. We have written elsewhere3 in this book, what we heard about it from Vijay himself.
The spiritual life of Vijay became deeper and deeper as days passed, since he separated himself from the Brahmo Samaj. People were charmed to see his joyous, unrestrained dance and frequent ecstasy under the influence of inspiration during Kirtan. We were told thus by the Master of his high spiritual condition: “Vijay has reached the room just adjacent to the innermost chamber, the acme of spiritual realization and is knocking at its door.” Vijay initiated many people in Mantras after he attained spiritual depth. He passed away at Puri, about fourteen years after the Master had given up his body.
It was observed that afer the Coochbihar marriage, a strong ill-feeling arose between the two Brahmo parties, the Samaj of India and the General Samaj. The two parties were not even on speaking terms with each other. But we have mentioned before that persons of both parties having a love for Sadhana used to come to Dakshineswar as usual. One day during this period, both Kesav and Vijay came to the Master suddenly with the members of their inner circles. Of course, this happened because each party was ignorant of the other party’s coming there. A sense of embarrassment was written on the faces of all as they remembered their previous quarrel. Seeing the same sense of embarrassment even in Kesav and Vijay that day, the Master said to them in order to make up their quarrel:
“Look here, once upon a time there arose a quarrel between Siva and Rama and there took place a great fight between them. It is well known that Siva’s Guru is Rama and Rama’s Guru is Siva. Therefore, it was not long before their quarrel was made up afer the fight. But there could never again be a union between the ghosts, the disciples of Siva, and the monkeys, the disciples of Rama. The fight between the ghosts and the monkeys went on for ever. (Then addressing Kesav and Vijay he continued) Whatever was to happen has happened. You should no more have ill-feeling between you; let it remain among the ghosts and monkeys.” Kesav and Vijay were after this on speaking terms with each other.
When Vijay left the General Brahmo Samaj because of his own direct spiritual experiences, those also who had absolute faith in him, left that Samaj, which consequently was much shorn of its glory. It was Acharya Sivanath Sastri that became the leader of that party then and saved the Samaj. He had, before that time, come several times to the Master and had great love and respect for him. The Master also was very affectionate towards Sivanath. But Sivanath was in a great difficulty after Vijay had left the Samaj. He now stopped visiting the Master thinking that Vijay’s religious opinion had been changed under the influence of the Master’s instruction and that was why Vijay had left, the Samaj. Swami Vivekananda had joined the General Samaj a little before that time and had become a great favourite of Sivanath and other Brahmos. But although he joined the General Samaj, the Swami used from time to time to go to Kesav and the Master at Dakshineswar. The Swami said, “Questioned at that time about the reason why he had discontinued going to the Master, Acharya Sivanath said, ‘If I go there frequently all the others of the Brahmo Samaj will do so in imitation of me and, as a result, the Samaj will collapse’.” The Swami said further that under that impression Sivanath advised him at that time to abstain from going to Dakshineswar saying, “The Master’s ecstasy etc., are the results of his nervous weakness and his brain has got deranged on account of his undergoing too much physical hardship.” We have mentioned elsewhere4 what the Master said when he was told about this.
Be that as it may, owing to the influence of the Master, the love for Sadhana entered into the Samaj and all the seekers after truth in both the New Dispensation and the General Samaj tried to mould their lives so as to have the immediate knowledge of God. At one time Pratapchandra Majumdar came to Dakshineswar and shared the company of the Master, when we asked him about the nature and about the degree of the development of the spiritual ideas of the Samaj. He replied, “Did we understand what religion was before we saw him? We merely played the bully. We have understood what a real religious life is after seeing him.” Acharya Chiranjiv Sarma (Trailokya Nath Sannyal) was present there with Pratap on that occasion.
While the influence of the Master on the New Dispensation was evident, it was by no means negligible on the General Samaj, as long as Vijaykrishna was the Acharya there. But when Vijay and many other seekers after spirituality had left it, the said influence decreased there and it simultaneously lost spirituality and engaged itself in social reforms, patriotic actions, etc. Although there was a definite decrease, the said influence was not altogether absent; the proof of it is found in the practice of Yoga, the study of the Vedanta and the pursuit of spirituality on the part of some members of the General Samaj. Some of them, we have also come to know, follow the Vedic doctrine practised by the higher stratum of the Kartabhaja community and try to cure physical diseases with the help of meditation etc.
Chiranjiv Sarma, the Acharya of the New Dispensation, has done a great deal towards the development of the Brahmo music. But, it has been found on inquiry that he composed those songs that awaken high thoughts and emotions, when he became acquainted with the various kinds of the Master’s visions, ecstasies and Samadhis. We quote below the first lines of a few such songs5:
1. Thy formless beauty, O Mother, flashes in dense darkness.
2. The deep sea of Samadhi, endless, boundless.
3. Ah, the full moon of divine Love has risen in the firmament of Consciousness!
4. The waves of the Bliss of divine Love in the waters of the sea of Existence-Bliss.
5. Give me divine inebriations, O Mother.
It is beyond doubt that the fine poet Chiranjiv Sarma has placed all the people of Bengal and all the Sadhakas of the country under a debt of gratitude by composing these songs. There is no doubt, however, that only by seeing the ecstasy of the Master was he able to write these songs: Acharya Chiranjiv had a sweet voice. We saw the Master on many occasions go into ecstasy while he was listening to his music.
Thus the Brahmo Samaj became inspired by the extraordinary spiritual influence of the Master at that time. Although the Master said that the worship of the formless aspect of God preached in the Samaj was that of the unripe type6, we heard from his mouth now and again, that an aspirant would succeed in realizing God if he worshipped that aspect of His with a genuine faith. He never forgot to say, “I bow down to the modern knowers of Brahman” and to make salutations to the circle of Brahmos when he bowed down to God and His devotees of all denominations at the end of Kirtans. It is clear from this that he actually believed the Brahmo religion to be one of the world faiths or paths leading to the realization of God, preached according to His will. But he had a great desire and took great pains to see that the circle of Brahmos should free themselves from the Western influence, and firmly follow the true path of spirituality. He told them repeatedly to beware of the danger of making social reforms and philanthropic activities the only aim of human life, however praiseworthy and indispensable they might be in the ordinary social life, and of regarding devotional exercises for God-realization as useless. It was the Brahmo Samaj which discussed the extraordinary spiritual life of the Master and thereby attracted the minds of the general public of Calcutta to Dakshineswar. Every one, who sat at the feet of the Master and was blessed with the attainment of spiritual power and peace, is under an eternal debt in this respect to both the New Dispensation and the General Brahmo Samaj. The present writer, again, owes a greater debt to both of them, for, it was these two societies that placed high ideals before him and helped him in moulding his spiritual life at the beginning of his youth. Filled with reverence and gratefulness we, therefore, bow down again and again to the Samaj, and its three Gems, namely, Brahman, the Brahmo Samaj and the circle of Brahmos, knowing them as one in their real nature. We are going to make a present to the reader of two especial pictures we had the opportunity of witnessing with our own eyes, of the Master’s enjoyment of bliss in the company of the circle of Brahmos.