THE MASTER AND NARENDRANATH
Narendranath had the privilege of enjoying the holy company of the Master for five years. The reader might take us to mean that he spent those years continuously at the holy feet of the Master at Dakshineswar. It was not so. Like all the other devotees of Calcutta, he also used to come from home and pay visits to the Master during those years. But he, it is certain, visited Dakshineswar at short intervals, as he became an especial object of the infinite love of the Master from the very beginning. It gradually came to be regarded an essential duty of Narendra to go there once or twice a week and, when there was leisure, to spend two, three or more days there. It is not as if there were no deviation from this rule at times. But, greatly attracted to him from the beginning, the Master did not allow him to break that rule to any great extent. When Narendra could not come to Dakshineswar for a week for any reason, the Master would be quite restless to see him and, sending him word, would have him brought to him; or he himself would go to Calcutta and spend a few hours with him. There were, as far as we know, no gaps in Narendra’s regular visits to Dakshineswar for two years following his acquaintance with the Master. But he was compelled to break that rule when the whole responsibility of managing his family affairs devolved on his shoulders at the sudden death of his father, soon after his appearing for the B.A. examination, by the beginning of 1884.
When we try to analyse the Master’s dealings with Narendra during those five years we find five main divisions in them:—
First, — since his first meeting with Narendra, the Master had known with the help of his inward vision that a highly qualified person like Narendra was very rare in the spiritual world and that Narendra was born to render him great assistance in the work which the divine Mother had entrusted to him, namely, the work of renovating the Eternal Religion to serve the needs of the modern times by clearing it of its age-long undesirable accretions.
Second, — he bound Narendra for all eternity with the cord of infinite faith and love.
Third, — he tested him in various ways and knew that his inward vision did not bear false witness to Narendra’s greatness and purpose in life.
Fourth, — he taught Narendra in various ways and moulded him in such a way that he might become a fit instrument to fulfil that great purpose of his life.
Fifth, — when the disciple’s education was complete, the Master instructed Narendra, now possessed of the immediate knowledge of Brahman, how to proceed with the work of establishing religion and at last confidently placed him in charge of this work as well as of the Order founded by himself.
The Master had had some wonderful visions about his greatness, we said, before Narendra came to Dakshineswar. It was owing to the influence of those visions that he regarded Narendra, ever since their acquaintance, with an eye of infinite faith and love. That current of faith and love flowed uniformly in his heart throughout the Master’s life and bound Narendra to him with a cord of love that knew no breaking. It is on this, solid foundation of faith and love that the entire structure of the Master’s teaching and sometimes the testing of Narendra were built.
The question may be posed: “Why did the Master test Narendra, though he knew his greatness and the purpose of his advent with the help of his own Yogic visions?” The simple reason is that even god-men like the Master — not to speak of ordinary people — when they enter the realm of Maya and assume a body, have their visions more or less blurred and there arises a possibility of error regarding the things seen by them. That is why such tests sometimes become necessary. Explaining this to us the Master said, “You cannot give a lasting shape to gold without mixing it with some baser metal.” Even so, bodies and minds like those of incarnations cannot be produced out of pure Sattva, which reveals knowledge, if a little of Rajas and Tamas is not mixed with it. There was a wonderful manifestation of spiritual knowledge in the Master, who was having supernatural visions by the grace of the divine Mother, when he was undergoing Sadhana. On many occasions he doubted the truth of those visions and could accept them fully only after testing them Was it, therefore, surprising that, he would now test the wonderful visions he had had about Narendra before accepting them as true?
It must be admitted that, of the five modes of the Master’s behaviour towards Narendra mentioned above, three of them, namely, faith blended with love, testing and teaching began simultaneously. We have already given the reader a brief account of the first kind of the Master’s behaviour towards Narendra, or the Master’s faith in and love for him. We shall have to say much more about it later. For, the Master’s life had never before been so intimately united with that of any one of the devotees who had taken refuge in him as with that of Narendra. As soon as he met one of his great disciples, Lord Jesus said, “I will build my spiritual temple on the steady and immovable foundation of the life of this man of firm faith.” Urged by Providence, such a conviction arose in the Master’s mind too, the moment he met Narendra. The Master had the vision that Narendra was his son, his friend, born to carry out his commands and that the lives of Narendra and himself, like those of a pair of lovers, were eternally tied together with an unbreakable cord of love. But such love is an exalted spiritual love in which the lover gives complete freedom to the beloved, yet keeps the other as one’s own from age to age. It is love in which each of the pair feels happy to give his all to the other wanting nothing in return. It is doubtful indeed whether the world has ever witnessed such an episode of selfless love enacted before, as we saw in the lives of the Master and Narendra. We are quite conscious of our incapacity to explain clearly to the reader all the phases of this extraordinary love. We shall, however, give an indication of it in the interests of truth and then discuss the Master’s behaviour towards Narendra in detail.
Just as Narendra saw the Master’s purity, renunciation and single-minded devotion and became attracted to him since the first meeting, even so, the Master, it seems to us, was charmed to see his boundless self-confidence and love of truth and made him his own from the first day they met. If we leave aside the Master’s Yogic visions about Narendra’s greatness and glorious future and try to find out the cause of their wonderful mutual attraction, what we have said before becomes evident. People in general, devoid of insight, regarded Narendra’s wonderful self-confidence as arrogance, his boundless vigour as insolence, and his austere love of truth as a feigning or as an example of undeveloped intellect. It is doubtless that they came to that conclusion from seeing his absolute indifference to people’s praise, his plain-speaking, his free and unhesitating behaviour regarding all matters and, above all, his disdain to conceal anything for fear of anybody. One of his neighbours, we remember, said to us about Narendra before we had been acquainted with him: “There is a boy in that house; I have never seen a more hopelessly spoiled one than he; having taken his B.A. degree he has become extremely vain, as if the vast world did not count at all with him; he starts singing audaciously in the presence of his father and other superiors, keeping time on kettle drums with his palm and distended fingers; he goes along smoking a cigar in the presence of the elders of the quarter; and so on in all matters.” One day, shortly after this, we went to the Master — perhaps it was our second or third visit to him — and heard him narrating Narendra’s good qualities thus:
Speaking with Ratan, the chief officer of the garden house of Jadunath Mallick, and pointing to us, the Master said, “These boys are good. This boy has passed one and a half examinations (I was preparing for the F.A. examination that year), he is polite and calm; but I have not seen another boy like Narendra — he is as efficient in music, vocal and instrumental, as in the acquisition of knowledge, in conversation as well as in religious matters. He loses normal consciousness in meditation during whole nights. My Narendra is a coin with no alloy whatsoever: ring it and you hear the truest sound. I see other boys somehow pass two or three examinations with the utmost straining. There it ends, they are a spent-up force. But Narendra is not like that; he does everything with the greatest ease; to pass an examination is but a trifle with him He goes to the Brahmo Samaj also and sings devotional songs there; but he is not like other Brahmos — he is a true knower of Brahman. He sees light when he sits for meditation. Is it for nothing that I love Narendra so much?” We were charmed to hear those words and, desiring to be acquainted with Narendra, asked him, “Sir, where does Narendra live?” The Master replied, “Narendra is the son of Viswanath Datta of Simla, Calcutta.” Aferwards, when we returned to Calcutta and made inquiries, we came to know that the young man, so much praised by the Master, was the very person whom our friend, his neighbour, had calumniated so vehemently. Quite astonished, we thought how improper our judgments on others’ characters often turn out to be when we base them on the casual activities of those persons!
It will not be out of place here to mention another incident connected with this topic. One day we had the good fortune to meet Narendranath at the house of a friend, a few months before we heard the Master describing his good qualities in that manner. That day we only saw him but did not like to have a talk with him on account of an erroneous impression. But the words he spoke that day were so deeply imprinted on our memory that even after the lapse of many decades it seems that we have heard them but yesterday. Before describing them, the circumstances under which we heard those words should be narrated; otherwise one will fail to understand why we carried that wrong impression about Narendranath on that occasion.
The friend in whose house we saw him that day had hired a two-storeyed building in front of Narendra’s dwelling house at Gaur Mohan Mukherjee’s Lane in the Simla quarter. We had been fellow-pupils in the same school for four or five years. Two years before our friend was to appear for the Entrance examination, he set out for England, but could not proceed farther than Bombay. Failing in his ambition, he became the editor of a newspaper, wrote essays and poems in Bengali and rose to be an author of a few books. He had been married a short time previously. After that event we heard from many sources that he was living an indifferent moral life and that he did not hesitate to earn money by various dishonest means. It was only for the purpose of ascertaining the truth of this that we went without notice to his house that day.
Sending him word through a servant, we were sitting in a room of the outer apartment, when a young man entered the room and lolling against a bolster began humming a Hindi song in an absolutely nonchalant manner, which indicated his familiarity with the owner of the house. The song, as far as we remember, related to Sri Krishna; for, the two words “Kanai” and “flute” distinctly fell on our ears. We could not view the young man with a kind eye inasmuch as his song about the “black one’s flute” and his familiarity with our unprincipled friend were associated in our minds with his dress which, though not smacking of up-to-date fashions, was clean, his hair which was well tended and his looks of absent-mindedness, easily mistaken for coldness. Seeing him behave unabashedly in that manner and smoke tobacco afterwards, ignoring our presence altogether, we happened to receive the impression that he was a faithful follower of our unprincipled friend and that the latter had acquired his evil ways by mixing with such young men. Anyway, we also did not try to get introduced to him as he assumed an attitude of great indifference and continued to be in his own mood even though he noticed us.
Our boyhood friend came out shortly after and speaking to us a word or two only though we met each other after a long interval, began delightfully to talk on various subjects with the young man. Though we did not like that indifference of his, we thought it was against etiquette to take leave suddenly and were listening to the conversation on English and Bengali literatures, which our friend, the litterateur, had with the young man. Although, when they began the conversation, they were to a great extent agreed as to the function of high class literature, namely, that it should correctly express human sentiments, there arose a difference of opinion between them regarding the question whether a composition expressing any and every kind of human sentiment should be called literature only because it correctly represents it. Our friend, as far as we can remember, took up the affirmative position, whereas the young man held the contrary opinion. He refuted our friend’s position and tried to convince him that no composition, simply by virtue of its expressing a sentiment, good or bad, correctly, could be classed as a piece of high class literature if it did not accord with good taste and establish a high ideal. In support of his own position, the young man mentioned the books of the famous English and Bengali literary men beginning with Chaucer and showed, how each of them gained immortality because he adhered to this high principle. The young man said in conclusion, “Although man feels all kinds of good and bad sentiments, he has always been straining to express some particular ideal in his mind. It is only in the realization and manifestation of that particular ideal that all the difference between man and man exists. Thinking that the enjoyment of sights, tastes, etc., is permanent and real, ordinary men make the realization of it the aim of their life. They idealize what is apparently real.1 There is little difference between those people and beasts. High class literature can never be created by men of this type. There is another class of men who, unable to remain satisfied with the realization of the pleasure of enjoying what is seemingly real, feel higher and higher ideals within and are anxious to mould all outward things after that pattern — they want to realize the ideal.2 It is this class of men only who create real literature. Again, those among them who have recourse to the highest ideal and try to realize it in life, have generally to stand outside worldly life. I have seen the Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar alone to have realized that ideal in life. That is why I have reverence for him”
We were, of course, astonished with the scholarship of the young man and his power of expressing those profound ideas; but we were disappointed to think that there was no agreement between his words and actions inasmuch as we found a close relation existing between him and our friend. We then took leave of our friend. We were charmed to hear from the Master the above-mentioned catalogue of Narendra’s good qualities a few months after this event and went to his house to be introduced to him When we came to know that the young man seen by us before was the Master’s much-praised Narendranath our astonishment knew no limit.
Ordinary people, contented with walking along the beaten track, happened very often to regard Narendra as arrogant and insolent and of improper conduct, when they saw his external behaviour; but the Master never fell into that error. From the very start of their acquaintance, he could understand that Narendra’s “arrogance and insolence” arose from his great self-confidence, which was the result of the extraordinary mental power hidden within him, that his absolutely free behaviour indicated nothing but the self-control natural to him, and that his indifference to the respect shown by people arose from the self-satisfaction due to his pure character. He had the conviction that later on the extraordinary nature of Narendra would fully blossom like a lotus of a thousand petals and would be established in its own incomparable glory and greatness. Coming then into collision with the world, scorched by miseries, that arrogance and insolence of his would melt into infinite compassion, his extraordinary self-confidence would re-instil hopes in the broken-hearted and his free behaviour, remaining within the bounds of control in all respects, would point out to others that self-control alone was the path to real Freedom
That is the reason why it is seen that the Master praised Narendra exceedingly; yet he remained unsatisfied, as if he felt the inadequacy of one tongue for the purpose. Though he particularly knew that a weak mind, when it always meets with praise in public, develops egoism which brings ruin, he waived that caution in respect of Narendranath. The reason of his doing so was that he was thoroughly convinced that Narendra’s heart and head dwelt in a region too high for that weakness. The reader will comprehend it when we give here a few examples of it:
One day the noble-hearted Kesavchandra Sen, Vijay-krishna Goswami and other well-known Brahmo leaders assembled together and were seated with the Master, Young Narendra was also sitting there. The Master went into ecstasy and looked at Kesav and Vijay with a gracious eye. Afterwards, as soon as his eyes fell upon Narendra, a bright picture of his future life got immediately painted on the canvas of the Master’s mind and comparing the fully developed lives of Kesav and others with it, he looked very affectionately at Narendra. After the meeting came to an end, he said, “I saw Kesav has become world-famous on account of the abundance of one power, but Narendra has in him eighteen such powers in the fullest measure. The hearts of Kesav and Vijay, I saw again, are brightened by a light of knowledge like the flame of a lamp; but looking at Narendra I found that the very sun of knowledge had risen in his heart and removed from there even the slightest tinge of Maya and delusion.” A weak-minded man devoid of inward vision would have been puffed up with pride and lost himself, had he been so praised by the Master himself. But there arose a perfectly contrary result in Narendra’s mind. His mind, possessed of extraordinary inward vision, dived into itself and compared impartially its own condition then with the innumerable good qualities of Kesav and Vijay. Seeing himself unworthy of such praise, Narendra protested strongly against the Master’s remark saying, “Sir, ‘what are you saying? People will regard you as a madman when they hear this. Ah, What a great difference exists between the world-famous Kesav and the noble-hearted Vijay on the one hand and a mediocre school-boy of no consequence like myself on the other! Please never make such comparisons again.” The Master was pleased with him to hear that protest and said affectionately, “What shall I do, my child? Do you think it was I who said so? Mother showed me all that; that is why I said so; Mother has always shown me the truth and never an untruth; that is why I spoke it out.”
It was not always that the Master could escape Narendra by merely saying that Mother had made him see this or say that. Doubting the truth of all such visions of the Master, the bold, plain-speaking Narendra would very often say, “Who can say that Mother showed you these things and that they are not the fictions of your own brain? If I had had such experiences, I would certainly have taken them as whims of my own brain. Science and philosophy have proved beyond doubt that our eyes, ears and other organs of sense very often deceive us, especially when there is a desire in our mind to see a particular object as endowed with a particular quality. You are affectionate to me and want to see me great in everything; this is perhaps why such visions appear to you.”
Saying thus, Narendra tried sometimes to explain to the Master with the help of illustrations, the results of the researches and investigations in Western physiology about visions seen by certain classes of persons and to show how they had been proved to be erroneous. When the Master’s mind dwelt in higher planes of consciousness, he regarded that boyish attempt of Narendra as an indication of his truthfulness and was all the more pleased with him for that. But when the sincere, childlike mind of the Master resided in the normal plane of consciousness, Narendra’s keen arguments overwhelmed it and made it anxious from time to time. He then became perplexed and thought, “Ah! Narendra, truthful in body, mind and speech, is not a person to tell a lie! It is written in the scriptures also that only true ideas and not false ones, arise in the minds of highly truthful persons like Narendra; is there then the possibility of error in my visions? But I tested my visions before in various ways and found that the Mother always showed me what was true and never what was untrue. Moreover, I was assured again and again through words from Her holy mouth; why then does Narendra, to whom truth is his very life, say that my visions are fabrications of my whims? Why does his mind not accept them as true as soon as I tell him of them?”
Thus worried, he would at last place the matter before the divine Mother and be free from anxiety on hearing from Herself the words of assurance. “Why do you give ear to his words? He will accept in a short time all these things as true.” The reader will understand what has been said above when we describe here an incident as an example:
The Brahmos had then become split into two parties on account of the difference of opinion regarding the Cooch-Bihar marriage, and the General Brahmo Samaj had been founded a few years previously. Although Narendra used to pay visits to Kesav from time to time, he regularly attended the sitting of the said Samaj and used to sing devotional songs etc., during its Sunday prayers. Once Narendra could not go to the Master at Dakshineswar for a week or two. For days the Master awaited his coming, when, at last disappointed, he decided to go himself to Calcutta and see Narendra. Afterwards he remembered that the day being Sunday, Narendra might have gone out to see someone and he might not be able to see him even if he should go to Calcutta. At last he came to the conclusion that he would surely meet him at the General Brahmo Samaj, where he would certainly come to sing devotional songs during the evening prayers. It, no doubt, occurred to his mind that the sudden and unexpected visit of his might be considered a nuisance by the Brahmo devotees. “But why so?” came the thought to him the next moment, “Although I went thus several times to Kesav’s Samaj, were they not invariably happy on that account? And did not Vijay, Sivanath and other leaders of the General Brahmo Samaj come often to Dakshineswar?” Thus, at the time of decision, one important fact escaped the notice of the simple-hearted Master. It did not strike him even for a moment that, observing the change in the religious opinions of Kesav and Vijay after they came in contact with him, Sivanath and many other Brahmos of the General Samaj had gradually discontinued their visits to him. It was quite natural for the Master not to have noticed it, for, during the whole of his life he had felt in his heart of hearts the truth that with the ascent of the human mind to higher planes of spiritual consciousness and to the Lord’s grace, its previous religious ideas gradually undergo great changes. So, how could the Master understand that the Brahmos, the lovers of and ardent fighters for truth, would now take a different course and put a limit to spiritual experiences?
It was dusk. The pure hearts of hundreds of Brahmo devotees swollen with emotions soared high wafted by the Mantras, “Brahman is Truth, Knowledge, Infinity” etc.,3 and lost themselves in the lotus feet of the divine Lord. Prayer and meditation came gradually to an end, when the Acharya addressed the circle of Brahmos from the altar and gave them instruction so that their spiritual love and devotion for God might increase. At this time the Master entered the Brahmo temple in a state of partial consciousness and went forward towards the Acharya, seated on the altar. Many of those present had seen him before. Therefore the news of his coming did not take long to circulate amongst the congregation. Of those who had not seen him before, some stood up on the floor and some on the benches to see him. Thus there was noise and disorder in the assembly and the Acharya had to bring his sermon to a close. Narendra, who was seated in the circle of the devotional singers, understood the reason of the Master’s unexpected visit there and came to him. But, having decided that the Master was the cause of bringing about the aforesaid difference of opinion amongst the Brahmos, such as Vijay and others, the Acharya on the altar and other eminent members of the Samaj remained that day very cold and indifferent to him, abstaining from showing even the ordinary courtesy offered to a casual visitor.
The Master, on his part, came to the altar without looking in any direction and happened to enter into ecstasy. The eagerness of the congregation to see that state of his increased the disorder and confusion, which showed no sign of abating; when it was found that order could not be restored, all the gas lights in the hall were put out in order to break up the unruly assemblage, which, however, made the confusion worse confounded, and all rushed towards the door in the dark to come out.
When Narendra saw that no one of the Samaj cared to welcome the Master, he was stung to the quick. He now anxiously busied himself in bringing the Master out from the temple in that darkness.
Soon after, when his ecstasy came to an end, Naren brought him out through the backdoor of the Samaj with great difficulty, got him into a carriage and escorted him to Dakshineswar. Narendra said, “It is impossible to describe the pain I felt to see the Master thus ill-treated on my account that day. Ah, how much did I scold him for that action of his that day! But he? He neither felt hurt at the humiliation nor gave ear to my words of reproach, supremely satisfied that he had me by his side.
“Seeing that the Master failed to pay any attention to himself out of his love for me, I did not hesitate on occasions to speak very harsh words to him. I said, ‘King Bharata, we are told in the Puranas, thought continually of a deer and became a deer after his death. If that is true, you should beware of the consequences of your thinking much of me and be on your guard. ’ The Master, simple like a boy, became much perturbed to hear those words of mine and said, ‘Right you are; ah, my child, what will happen if that be so? For, I cannot do without seeing you.’ Sad and afraid, the Master went to refer the matter to the divine Mother. He returned shortly, beaming with delight and said, ‘Away! rascal! I shall never again give ear to your words. Mother said, “You regard him as Narayana Himself; that is why you love him. The day you do not see Narayana in him, you will not even cast a glance at him.”’ That day the Master thus swept aside with one word all the objections that I had raised before against his extraordinary love for me.”