The whole of the Bengal Presidency was alive with enthusiasm over the news that Swami Vivekananda had landed in India. Calcutta in particular was following with intense interest the movements and utterances of the Swami’s triumphal progress from Colombo to Madras. A Reception Committee was formed, with the Maharaja Bahadur of Darbhanga as President, to receive him officially and to arrange for a public reception.
The Swami was looking forward eagerly to his return to the city of his birth. The boat trip from Madras was a boon to his tired nerves, for the continuous ovations, public speaking, and talking to visitors, had worn him out. It was to escape all this that he decided to travel by boat instead of by train. Before leaving Madras some of his admirers ordered a huge number of coconuts to be brought on board, the milk of which the Swami was to drink by the doctor’s orders. Mrs. Sevier on seeing the quantity of cocoanuts asked, “Swami, is this a freight boat, that they are loading so many coconuts aboard?” He, very much amused, replied, “Why, no, not at all! They are my coconuts! A doctor has advised me to drink coconut-milk instead of water.” He shared the fruit with the Captain and his fellow-passengers. When the steamer sailed up the Hooghly, the Swami pointed out to his disciples all the places of interest that he knew so well, as well as the places associated with his early youth and manhood.
The Reception Committee at Calcutta had been busy ever since the Swami had left Madras, and when the steamer docked at Kidderpore, there was a special train waiting to take him the following morning to the Sealdah Station. At about half past seven o’clock in the morning the Swami and his party boarded the train. Thousands of people were gathered at the Sealdah Station, Calcutta, from early morning to greet him. They were reading as they waited, copies of the two farewell addresses of his students in New York and London which were being distributed. When the whistle of the train was heard, a shout of joy rang out. When the train stopped, the Swami stood up and bowed to the multitude with joined palms. When he stepped from the carriage, those nearest him made a rush to take the dust of his feet; those further off shouted his name and that of his Master triumphantly. So dense were the crowds that it was with exceeding difficulty that the Reception Committee headed by Mr. Narendra Nath Sen, the editor of The Indian Mirror, could make way for the Swami to the carriage that was waiting for him. Many Sannyasins, in their Gerua robes, were in the crowd, some of them being his own Gurubhais. The Swami was literally loaded with garlands of sweet flowers and was visibly moved by the tremendous demonstration.
Hardly had the Swami with Mr. and Mrs. Sevier seated himself in the landau, when the horses were unharnessed and a band of Bengali boys, mostly students, rushed forward to draw the carriage. A procession was then formed, headed by a band playing lively music, which moved in the direction of the Ripon College, its first stopping-place. A Sankirtana party followed at some distance in the rear singing religious songs with visible emotion, which lent added interest to the great occasion. Along the line of march the streets were decorated with flags and banners, flowers and evergreens. In Circular Road a triumphal arch of welcome was erected, bearing the inscription, “Hail, Swamiji!” In Harrison Road there was another with the salutation, “Jay Ramakrishna!” And another still was constructed in front of the Ripon College bearing the word, “Welcome!“ At the College itself there was a wild demonstration. Thousands had flocked thither to get a close view of the great Sannyasin. Still thousands more pressed towards the College in the line of the procession, until a panic seemed imminent.
At the College an informal reception was held, the Swami replying briefly, as the Reception Committee had decided to postpone the public reception until a week later, so as to afford the citizens of Calcutta a more favourable opportunity of hearing him. After a short time, therefore, the Swami and his party left for Baghibazar, where they had been invited to a banquet by Rai Pashupati Nath Bose at his palatial residence. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the Swami and his European disciples were driven to the beautiful river-side residence of Gopal Lal Seal, in Cossipore, known as Seal’s Garden, which was offered to the Swami and his friends for their temporary residence.
Continually, day after day, and every hour of the day, hundreds of people came to pay their personal respects to the Swami and to hear his exposition of Vedanta. Telegrams of congratulation and of welcome, and also invitations from various towns came pouring in. In the day-time he made his headquarters generally at the Cossipore mansion; at night lie stayed at the Math which was then at Alambazar. The Swami had no rest. The task of receiving and entertaining countless visitors, and the constant discussion on strenuous intellectual subjects, which such visits entailed, were a great strain.
February 28, 1897, was the
day, and the place chosen was the palatial residence of Raja Sir
Radhakanta Deb Bahadur at Sobhabazar for the presentation of
the City’s address of welcome. When the Swami arrived, he was cordially
welcomed by the most distinguished audience that had ever
assembled in that historic capital of the British Empire in
India. At least five thousand people had gathered in the inner
quadrangle and verandahs all around, and the cheering which
was evoked by his appearance was deafening. The meeting was
presided over by Raja Binoy Krishna Deb Bahadur, who
introduced the Swami as the foremost national figure in the
life of India. There were present Rajas and Maharajas,
Sannyasins, a group of distinguished Europeans, many well-known
Pandits, illustrious citizens, and hundreds of college
students. The address of welcome was presented in a silver
casket to the Swami, who
replied in a speech that has become
famous as a masterpiece of oratory, and of fervent patriotism.
This brought him recognition, in an especial sense, as the
Prophet of Modern India. He had defined in a new form the
whole scope of Indian Consciousness and had given birth to
entirely new ideas of national and public life. In this
address one finds his own Master, Shri Ramakrishna
Paramahamsa, proclaimed by him as God Incarnate, and held by him before the nation as a great spiritual ideal manifested for the good of all races and of all religions. The spirit of this lecture and of the Swami himself, made the profoundest impression, which has widened and deepened with the years, producing a New Order in modem India.
Shortly after the Swami’s arrival in Calcutta the birthday anniversary of Shri Ramakrishna came off. It was celebrated, as was usual at the time, at Dakshineswar, but the fact that Swami Vivekananda himself was to take part in the festival, drew large crowds to the temple of the Mother.
Accompanied by some of his Gurubhais, the Swami arrived at the temple-garden at about nine o’clock in the morning. He was barefooted, dressed in a long Alkhalla and wore a Gerua turban. The great multitude catching sight of him cried out the name of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda repeatedly. Vast crowds eager to see him and to take the dust of his feet thronged about him and followed him wherever he went. After a while he repaired to the temple of the Mother, followed by great numbers; there before the image he prostrated himself bowing his head to the ground in adoration, in company with the swarming crowd. The Swami next visited the shrine of Shri Radhakantaji, and then entered Shri Ramakrishna’s room, which was full of devotees. Scores of Sankirtana parties were everywhere singing and dancing in the name of the Lord. Triumphant shouts of “Jay Ramakrishna” echoed and re-echoed from one comer of the vast temple-garden to the other. As though on a pilgrimage, the Swami visited with great reverence the various places of religious interest; accompanied by his European disciples, who had come just then, he walked to the memorable Panchavati Tree, the meditation-seat and place of illumination of the Paramahamsa Deva, where he read a hymn to Shri Ramakrishna in Sanskrit, which was given to him by the composer.
Around the Panchavati, there were scores of devotees of the Great Master, but among them all, the Swami singled out Girish Chandra Ghosh. The two exchanged greetings, and the Swami comparing the present occasion with the former days when only a few attracted by the unique life of the Divine Master celebrated the birthday festival, said, “Well, what a difference between those days and these!” “I know that, but still there arises the desire to see more,” replied the great dramatist, quoting from one of the Epics, where the Bhaktas longed to live on, even though miserable and afflicted, so that they might see more and more of the glories of the Lila or Divine Career of the Lord Incarnate. The Swami then turned his steps in the direction of the Bilva tree, another scene of the austerities of Shri Ramakrishna.
The great masses that had congregated at the Dakshineswar ternple-garden called upon him repeatedly to tell them of his Master. He made an effort to speak, but his voice was drowned in the tumult. Seeing that it was impossible to make himself heard, he gave up the attempt and mingled with the crowd for some time, exchanging friendly greetings and occasionally introducing his English disciples to distinguished Bhaktas of his Master. Towards three o’clock in the afternoon, when the crowd had thinned, he returned to the Alambazar Math, in company with a Gurubhai and a disciple. On the way he talked to the latter of the necessity of religious festivals and other demonstrations of religious zeal and emotion for the general masses who cannot comprehend abstract ideas of Truth.
A few days after his reply to the address of welcome by the Calcutta public, the Swami again lectured before it on “The Vedanta in All Its Phases”. This address was another of those masterpieces of philosophical dissertation which mark his progress from Colombo to Almora. Taking his stand upon the unassailable ground that the Vedas and the Upanishads are the basis of all systems of philosophy or religion in India, he touched upon the Sankhya, Yoga and Ramanuja systems, showing them as classifications of the Vedanta, and maintained that before Hindus were to be known even as Hindus, they must first of all be “Vedantins”. He pointed out that the Vedanta is the climax of systems of philosophy and religion, and stressed the necessity of renunciation. And in this lecture, as in others, he put before his hearers the glory of the Sanatana Dharma and the greatness of the Upanishads and Vedanta. With them as foundation he felt that Hinduism could be restored to a vigorous life. He denounced hypocrisy and fanaticism; he contrasted the degenerating influence of the Vamachara practices of the Tantras with the strengthening and ennobling power of the Upanishadic teachings. The Vedanta, he felt, should be the background of everything in India. This spirit permeated his entire discourse.
This address created a profound impression in the metropolis. The citizens came to understand now more fully that the Swami stood for the true spirit and the essentials of the Vedic Dharma. The beautiful eclecticism of the Vedanta as presented by the Swami appealed most to all.
During the Swami's stay in Calcutta, though he made his headquarters at the Seal's mansion and the Alambazar Math, yet he was constantly visiting one devotee of Shri Ramakrishna or another. He was entertained frequently by one or other of the princes of the metropolis, but he was also the guest of the most humble.
Many distinguished people, persons of various professions and callings as well as hundreds of enthusiastic youths and college students used to come daily to the Seal's Garden. Among the former some came to him out of curiosity, some thirsting for knowledge, and others to test his learning and powers. The questioners were invariably charmed with his knowledge and interpretation of the Shastras, and even great masters of philosophy and university professors were amazed at his genius.
But his heart was with the educated, unmarried youths with whom he was never tired of speaking. He was consumed with the desire for infusing his own spirit into them, and to train some of the more energetic and religious among them, so that they might devote their lives to the salvation of their own souls and to the good of the world. He did not speak to them always on spiritual topics, nor was he too generous with his praise. He deplored their physical weakness, denounced early marriage, admonished them for their lack of faith in themselves and in their national culture and ideals; but all this was done with such unmistakable love and kindness, that they became his staunchest disciples and followers. A few excerpts from the Swami’s general conversations and descriptions of the private meetings in the Seal’s Garden and elsewhere, as recorded by them, will be interesting and instructive to the readers, as showing the depth and the breadth of his vision and his teachings.
Some followers of the Krishna cult in Bengal, led by the erroneous impression that the Swami in his zeal for Vedantism did not present before the Western world that other aspect of Hinduism known as Vaishnavism, had tried during his absence in the West to make the most of this matter in order to belittle his mission in the eyes of his countrymen. But the Swami’s own words gave the lie to these libels. In the course of an eloquent talk on the Vaishnava faith with one of its followers he said, “Babaji, once I gave a lecture in America on Shri Krishna. It made such an impression on a young and beautiful woman, heiress to immense wealth, that she renounced everything and retired to a solitary island, where she passed her days absorbed in meditation on Shri Krishna.” Speaking of renunciation he said further, “Slow but sure degradation creeps into those sects which do not practise and preach the spirit of renunciation.”
One day the Swami was talking with a young man who lived at the Bengal Theosophical Society. The latter said, “Swamiji, I frequent various sects but cannot decide what is Truth.” The Swami replied in a most affectionate way, “My boy, you need have no fear; I was also once in the same state. Tell me what people of different faiths have instructed you and how you have followed their injunctions.” The youth then said that a learned preacher of the Theosophical Society had clearly convinced him of the truth and utility of image-worship, and that he had accordingly done Puja and Japa for a long time with great devotion, but could not find peace. Then some one had advised him to try to make the mind void in times of meditation. He had struggled hard to do so, but still the mind did not become calm and controlled. “Sir,” said the young man, “still I sit in meditation, shutting the door of my room, and closing my eyes as long as I can; but I cannot find peace of mind. Can you show me the way?” “My boy,” spoke the Swami in a voice full of loving sympathy, “if you take my word, you will have first of all to open the door of your room and look around instead of closing your eyes. There are hundreds of poor and helpless people in the neighbourhood of your house; them you have to serve to the best of your ability. One who is ill and has no one to look after him, for him you will have to get medicine and diet and nurse him; one who has nothing to eat, you will have to feed him; one who is ignorant, you will have to teach him, well-educated as you are. My advice to you is, if you want peace of mind, you have to serve others in this way as best as you can.” But the questioner began to argue, “But suppose, sir, if in going to nurse a patient I myself fall ill through loss of sleep and irregular meals as well as by other irregularities—.” The Swami replied rather sharply, “Why boy, it is quite evident from your words and manners, to every one present here, that people like you, who are so mindful of their own bodily comforts, will never go out of your way or risk your health to nurse the sick!”
Another day, in course of a conversation, a distinguished disciple of Shri Ramakrishna, a professor of long standing, asked him, “You talk of service, charity and doing good to the world; those are, after all, in the domain of Maya. When, according to Vedanta, the goal of man is the attainment of Mukti by breaking all the bondage of Maya, what is the use of preaching things which keep the mind on mundane matters?” Without a moment’s hesitation the Swami replied, “Is not the idea of Mukti also in the domain of Maya? Does not the Vedanta teach that the Atman is ever free? What is striving for Mukti to the Atman, then?”
With the nation at his feet, with name and fame and wealth heaped upon him, Swami Vivekananda was the same simple Sannyasin as of old, untouched by pride and conceit. One day, the nephew of Shri Ramakrishna, Shri Ramlal Chattopadhyaya, or Ramlal Dada as he is endearingly called by the Brotherhood, came to see him. The Swami at once got up and offered Ramlal Dada his chair. Ramlal Dada out of humility and disconcerted at taking the Swami’s chair in the presence of visitors, asked the Swami to resume his seat, but unsuccessfully. After much persuasion the Swami made him sit in the chair and strolled about the room saying to himself, “Guruvat Guruputreshu” — “One should treat the relations of the Guru with the same honour as one would treat the Guru himself.” This incident, though a simple one, was a lesson in Gurubhakti to those who witnessed it.
In these days the Swami’s moods varied according to the different temperaments of his visitors. On one occasion some one knowing his regard for The Imitation of Christ and its saintly author, referred to the wonderful humility which pervaded the teachings of that classical work, and observed that spiritual progress was impossible unless one thought of oneself as the lowest of the low. The Swami exclaimed, “Why should we think ourselves as low and reproach ourselves? Where is darkness for us! We are verily the sons of Light! We live and move and have our being in the Light which lighteth the whole universe!”
Once while discoursing on the conquest of lust, the Swami mentioned a personal instance which gives a hint as to what lengths he himself had gone rather than submit to the lower nature. “In the days of my youth,” he said, “once I was so much troubled with a fit of passion that I became terribly vexed with myself, and in my rage sat upon a pot of burning charcoal that was near by. It took many days to heal the wound.”
An enquirer one day asked the Swami about the difference between an Incarnation and a liberated soul. Without giving a direct answer to the question, he said, “My conclusion is that liberation is the highest stage. When I used to roam about all over India in my Sadhana stage, I passed days and days in solitary caves in meditation, and many a time decided to starve myself to death, because I could not attain Mukti. Now I have no desire for Mukti. I do not care for it so long as one single individual in the universe remains without attaining it!”
These words of unbounded love for all beings remind one of a similar utterance of the Lord Buddha. But it must be remembered that both these great teachers of humanity spoke thus only after they had attained to illumination. Only Prophets and Saviours of mankind can challenge Mukti in that manner. Therein is the difference between an ordinary liberated soul and an Incarnation, or one who having Mukti in the palm of his hand, as it were, refuses to be merged in the Absolute or the essence of God Himself, but lives in the world for the good of others, to raise them to the highest slate.
It was at the home of Shri Priya Nath Mukherjee that he said to the editor of The Indian Mirror that his preaching of Vedanta in the West had convinced him that all methods of raising the motherland such as politics, were but secondary to the necessity of clinging to her scriptures and obeying the injunctions thereof. After the distinguished visitor had left, the Swami had the following conversation with a preacher of the Cow Protection Society, which brings out in bold relief his love for his fellow-beings and his patriotism.
Swamiji: “What is the aim of your Association?”
Preacher: “We save our Go-matas (cows regarded as Mother) from the hands of the butchers by buying them; we have established refuges where old, diseased and disabled cows are taken care of.”
Swamiji: “That is an excellent idea. What is the source of your income?”
Preacher: “The work is managed by gifts given by high-minded persons like you.”
Swamiji: “What funds have you?”
Preacher: “The merchants are the chief supporters and patrons of the Society. They have helped it with large contributions of money.”
Swamiji: “A terrible famine has been raging in Central India. The Government of India have published a report computing the death-rate from starvation at 900,000. Is your Society doing anything to save these starving people from the jaws of death?”
Preacher: “We do not help in famines and the like. Our object is to save the Go-matas only.”
Swamiji: “When lakhs and lakhs of your own country men and co-religionists are succumbing to this dreadful famine, do you not think it your duty to help these miserable creatures, by giving them a morsel of food?”
Preacher: “No. This famine has broken out as a result of their Karma, their sins. It is a case of ‘like Karma like fruit’.”
Hearing these words the Swami’s face became flushed and his eyes glared at the speaker. But suppressing his emotions he exclaimed: “Sir, I have no sympathy with such organisations which do not feel for man, which seeing before their eyes thousands of their famished brothers perishing from starvation do not care to save them by offering even a morsel of food but spend millions for the protection of birds and beasts. I do not believe any public good, worth the name, can come out of such Societies. ‘Men are dying through their Karma, so let them die?’ Are you not ashamed to make such a cruel statement? If you make the plea of the doctrine of Karma in that way, then there is no need of any endeavour to do good to others. It may be equally applied to your work: The cows fall into the hands of the butchers and are slaughtered by them as a result of their own Karma in this or in some past lives; and so there is no need of our doing anything for them!”
The preacher feeling thoroughly discomfited said, “Of course what you say is true, but our Shastras say, ‘The cow is our mother’.”
Amused at these words the Swami said, “Yes, that cow is our mother, I can very well understand. Otherwise who else will give birth to such talented sons.”
Perhaps this biting joke was lost upon this preacher, for he without making any remark now asked the Swami for a contribution. He replied, “I am a Sannyasin, as you see. If people give me money, I shall first of all spend it in the service of man. I shall try to save men first by making provision to give them food, education and religion. If after spending money on these things there be any left, I shall give something out of it to your Society.”
After the preacher had left, the Swami said to those about him, “What nonsense that man talked! ‘What is the use of helping those who are dying due to their own Karma!' That is the reason why the country has gone to rack and ruin. Did you see to what a monstrous extreme your doctrine of Karma is dragged! Alas, are they men who have no heart to feel for man!" As he spoke, his whole body shook with grief and disgust.1
But one might go on endlessly quoting from these conversations and dialogues. They are an inspiration for Young India, surcharged as they are with unbounded love of country, fellow-men and religion. “Strength, strength is the one word.” he said in one of his Madras lectures, “that every line of the Upanishads declares unto me.” To make every Indian conscious of the infinite power of the Spirit lying potential in every man, he regarded as the foremost mission of his life, for out of it came everything that made religion dynamic, life-giving, and manmaking. Talking one day to a disciple he said:
“It is rebellion against Nature, struggle for self-preservation, that differentiates Spirit, from Matter. Where there is life, there is struggle, there is the manifestation of the Spirit. Read the history of all nations and you will find that that is the Law. It is only this nation which drifts with Nature, and you are more dead than alive. You are in a hypnotised state. For the last thousand years or more, you are told that you are weak, you are nobodies, you are good for nothing and so on, and you have come to believe yourselves as such. This body of mine was also born and bred on Indian soil, but I have never for a moment allowed such baneful ideas to enter my mind. I had tremendous faith in myself. It is because of that, by the grace of the Lord, that those who look down upon us as weak and low, regard me as their teacher. If you have the same faith in yourselves as I had, if you can believe that in you is infinite power, unbounded wisdom, indomitable energy, if you can rouse that power in yourselves, you will be like me, you will do wonders. You will say, 'Where is that strength in us to be able to think like that, and where are the teachers to tell us not of weakness but of strength and rouse in us that faith?’ It is to teach you that and to show you the way by my life that I have come to you. From me you must learn and realise that truth, and then go from town to town, from village to village, from door to door, and scatter the idea broadcast. Go and tell every Indian. ‘Arise, awake and dream no morel Rouse thyself and manifest the Divinity within!’ There is no want, there is no misery that you cannot remove by the consciousness of the power of the Spirit within. Believe in these words and you will be omnipotent.”
At their very first meeting the Swami had spoken to this disciple in Sanskrit, and taking him apart had addressed him with that memorable Shloka of the Vivekachudamani of Shankaracharya which runs thus:
“Fear not, O wise one, there is no death for thee. There is a way of crossing this ocean of Samsara. That very path by which the self-controlled sages have reached to the other side of its shore, I shall point out to thee.”
At the Seal’s Garden and at the Alambazar Math learned Pandits came to test his knowledge of the Vedanta philosophy, to meet him on his own ground and test him if they could. An incident of this character took place at the Seal’s Garden. A group of Gujarati Pandits, well versed in the Vedas and the Darshanas, came to discuss the Shastras with him. Thinking that the Swami, because of his absence in the West, had lost his fluency in Sanskrit, they spoke to him in that classic language. The Swami replied in a calm and dignified way to their excited arguments, speaking all the while the purest Sanskrit. Only once did he err, using the word “Asti” for “Svasti”. The Pandits laughed aloud making much of this trifling mistake. The Swami corrected himself at once, saying, “I am the servant of the Pandits. May they allow this mistake to be overlooked!”
The subjects of the discussion were numerous and varied, but the main topic was the respective position of the Purva and the Uttara Mimamsa. The Swami supported the Uttara Mimamsa, and with such power of logic and language that the Pandits themselves admitted the superiority of the Jnanakanda. As they left, they remarked to a group of the Swami’s admirers that though, perhaps, he had not a thorough mastery over Sanskrit grammar, he was undoubtedly a seer of the inmost spirit of the Shastras over which he had an extraordinary command. “In discussion he is unique,” they said, “and the way in which he summarises his ideas and refutes those of his opponents is wonderful. Marvellous are his intellectual gifts.”
When the Pandits had gone, the Swami referring to the incivility on the part of the Pandits, remarked that in the West such conduct would not be tolerated. “Civilised society in the West,” he said, “takes the spirit of an argument and never seeks to pick holes in the language of an opponent, or put to one side the subject-matter in order to make fun over a grammatical mistake. Our Pandits lose sight of the spirit in quibbling over the letter of the Dharma. They fight over the husks and blinded by argumentation do not see the kernel of the corn.”2
What love the Gurubhais of the Swami bore to him! While the discussion was going on. Swami Ramakrishnananda was seen sitting apart in meditation posture, counting his beads. He was praying with his whole heart to the Lord, he said later on, so that the Swami might come out victorious in the discussion.
Another interesting occurrence of this time was a visit from two gentlemen who came with a disciple of the Swami to ask him some questions on Pranayama, which had been aroused in their minds by reading Raja-Yoga. The Swami at once recognised one of them as a fellow-student of his, and made them sit by him. After replying to a few questions put by some of the other visitors, he began to speak on the subject of Pranayama without being asked. First of all he explained through modern science the origin of matter from mind, and by drawing contrasts between the laws of matter and of mind, showed the action and reaction of thought on form, and vice versa. He then went on to elucidate what Pranayama really was. From three o’clock in the afternoon until seven in the evening, the discourse continued. From what was heard from him that day, it seemed to all that only a very little part of his knowledge of Yoga had been given out in his book, that his was not mere book-learning, but proceeded from realisation. What astounded the visitors most, however, was that the Swami should have known that they had come to him to inquire about Pranayama, and solved their doubts in anticipation. Subsequently when a disciple asked about it, the Swami replied, “Similar incidents have happened many times in the West, and people have often asked me how I could know the questions that were agitating their minds.” The talk then drifted to thought-reading and the recollections of past births, and various other “Yoga powers”. One of the party asked him outright, “Well, Swamiji, do you know your own past births?” Instantly he answered, “Yes, I do.” But when they pressed him to draw aside the curtain and reveal the past, so that they might see who he was in other lives, he said, “I can know them — I do know them — but I prefer not to say anything on the point.”3
One evening he was seated with the Swami Premananda in a room, conversing in an ordinary way, when suddenly he became silent. After a while he said to his Gurubhai, “Did you see anything?” — to which he received a negative answer. Then he said that he had just seen a ghost, with his head severed from the body, beseeching him with an agonising look to relieve him of his misery. On inquiry it was found that in that very garden-house, many years ago, a Brahmin who was accustomed to lend money at high rates of interest, had had his throat, cut by a debtor and his body thrown in the Ganga. There were several other occasions when the Swami was visited by similar apparitions; on such occasions he would raise his heart in prayer for their deliverance and send them his benediction.
It goes without saying that the main interest of the Swami's stay in Calcutta centred round the monastery which was then located at Alambazar near Dakshineswar. No words can describe the joy of the monks of Ramakrishna when “their beloved Naren” was with them again. Memories of the olden days were revived. The days with the Master and the innumerable experiences of the wandering life of every one were recalled; and the Swami entertained his Gurubhais and the Bhaktas of the Lord with hundreds of tales and episodes of his life and work in “the dim and distant West.” He freed them of many of their social inhibitions by making them accept his European disciples in the Brotherhood, and gradually overcame their objections to association with the Westerners. The Swami had finally the satisfaction of seeing his Gurubhais entertaining his disciples from across the seas as their real brethren.
Of the Swami’s numerous triumphs one of the greatest was the conversion of his Gurubhais from individualistic to the universal idea of religious life in which public spirit and service to fellow-men occupied a prominent place. Up to this time the ideal of the monks of the Math was, to strive for personal Mukti and realisation of the Supreme Atman by severe penance and meditation, remaining as much as possible aloof from the world and its cares and sorrows, according to the prevailing Hindu idea, sanctified by tradition and sanctioned by the sages and seers from the Vedic period down to the present day. But with the appearance of the Swami among them a new order of things was inaugurated. He railed at them — as he had done again and again in his epistles to them from the West — for their lack of faith in themselves and in the great mission of the Master, for their failure to organise themselves into an active body, and for their neglect in preaching the gospel of liberation to others. He appealed to their innate strength, calling them spiritual lions, every one capable of moving the world, if he but used his latent powers. The age demanded, he said, that they should carry the new light unto others, that they themselves should show by their example how to serve the poor, the helpless and the diseased, seeing God in them, and that they should inspire others to do the same. The mission of his life, he said, was to create a new order of Sannyasins in India who would dedicate their lives to help and save others.
The proposition, though grand and inspiring, was to them too revolutionary and staggering. How could they suddenly change at another’s bidding their precious religious ideal to which they had given their lives, for one which apparently went against their whole nature and training? With them the struggle was hard and long. But who could resist the Swami? He bore them down by the overwhelming power of his intellect and his keen insight into the significance of the teachings and the life and the mission of Shri Ramakrishna, no less than by his burning love for and passionate appeals to them. He interpreted his Master’s message in a new light, showing them that their supreme duty lay in the carrying on of the Master’s mission, the bringing about of a religious rejuvenation by raising the condition of the masses through service, and scattering broadcast the life-giving ideas of the Master over the entire world. The idea of personal liberation, he pointed out, was unworthy of those who believed themselves to be the favoured disciples of an Incarnation — for had not their Mukti been already assured by that very fact? They were now to arouse themselves and awaken others. That was, said the Swami, the mission entrusted to them by Shri Ramakrishna through him. Finally, however, out of their profound faith in their Leader, his brother-disciples bowed their heads in acquiescence, knowing his voice to be the voice of their Master; all girded up their loins, to do anything and to go anywhere, for the good of their fellow-beings at the bidding of the Swami.
As the first fruit of this singular self-abandonment, one whose whole life and soul had been indissolubly merged, as it were, in the ceremonial worship of the Master unremittingly for twelve years, who in his unparalleled devotion to that duty, had never left the precincts of the Math even for a single day — Swami Ramakrishnananda — went to Madras at the behest of the Swami to open a centre there to propagate the teachings of the Vedanta in Southern India. Swamis Saradananda and Abhedananda had already gone to the West at the call of the Swami to help him in the work there. And full of the same spirit Swami Akhandananda went to the Murshidabad District to start famine relief work for the people dying of starvation there. It may be said here to Swami Akhandananda’s credit, that this impulse to be of service to his fellow-men had seized him first amongst all his Gurubhais as early as 1894 when he was in Khetri. He is seen then seeking approval for his intention to open schools to educate the masses. The other Gurubhais of Swami Vivekananda were also ready to take up, as occasion demanded, any work of religious and philanthropic utility launched by him or to further his ideas and plans of work in India and abroad. Thus gradually came into existence the various monastic centres, Sevashramas or Homes of Service, and the relief centres in times of plague, famine and flood under the charge and with the co-operation of his Gurubhais and disciples.
After his arrival in Calcutta the increased strain caused by the multifarious demands and activities in the heat of the plains was too much for the Swami. Physicians advised him to take complete rest at once; but at this time he was very busy with plans for a monastery in the Himalayas, with the removal of the Math to a permanent healthy site on the bank of the Ganga, and with the founding of a religious and philanthropic organisation to be known as the Ramakrishna Mission, which would provide training for his own disciples and instruction for the hundreds of persons that came to him. Besides, his thoughts were with his two Gurubhais who were doing excellent work in America and England; from both these countries he was receiving numerous letters asking his advice and praying for his speedy return to the West, where “still larger opportunities” were opening up for him.
Knowing it would be best to follow the advice of the doctors, the Swami relinquished his work in Calcutta and visits to other parts of India for the time being, and went on to Darjeeling whither Mr. and Mrs. Sevier had preceded him. He was joined by Swamis Brahmananda, Trigunatita and Jnanananda, by Babu Girish Chandra Ghosh, Mr. Goodwin, Dr. Turnbull and Messrs. Alasinga Perumal, G. G. Narasimhacharya and Singara-velu Mudaliar. The three last-named were his devoted Madrasi disciples of the olden days, who had come with him and his party from Madras to Calcutta and were living with him at the Math. In Darjeeling all became the guests of Mr. and Mrs. M. N. Banerjee. Through the generosity of the Maharaja of Burdwan, who revered the Swami greatly, a portion of his residence known as “Rose Bank” was placed at the Swami’s disposal for some time.
The Swami now gave himself up to complete rest, walking about on the mountain paths, visiting a Buddhist monastery in the neighbourhood, rejoicing in the glorious associations of the Himalayas, conversing with his friends, or in hours of silent meditation.
While the Swami was the guest at the residence of Mr. M. N. Banerjee, two incidents occurred which give one a glimpse of his Yoga powers. There was then living with the family, Mr. Motilal Mukherjee, who later became Swami Sachchidananda. At this time he was suffering from high fever with delirium. The Swami out of sympathy just touched his head; the fever subsided at once, and the patient became normal. The same person was a Bhakta of the emotional type, and often in the course of Sankirtana fell into emotional states in which he would cry and groan and roll on the ground beating his hands and feet against it. The Swami touched him over the heart one day. Thenceforward the whole religious temperament of the man was changed, and he became an Advaitin devoting himself to the study and practice of Jnana-Yoga! Needless to say, he was no longer subject to trances.
With the exception of a flying visit to Calcutta to receive the Raja of Khetri, who had come all the way from Rajputana to see him after his return from the West, the Swami was free from work and worry. On the occasion of the Raja’s visit, the Prince was sumptuously entertained in the monastery at Alam-bazar, and the Swami held a long discourse with him pertaining to the mission of Hinduism. Raja Ajit Singh and several other ruling princes intended to start shortly for England. The former tried hard to induce the Swami to go with them, but the doctors would not hear of his undertaking any physical or mental labour just then.
Speaking generally, the Swami's health was very bad, though at times he felt some of his old vigour and strength. He was cautioned not to exert himself even to the extent of reading, and above all, not to indulge in any deep or serious thought. But to him to be idle was worse than death.
After a time he returned to Calcutta for two weeks in order to supervise and settle certain important matters before leaving for Almora for his health.
The Swami was far happier at the monastery where he could enjoy the freedom of the monk among his beloved Gurubhais and his devoted disciples than anywhere else. At this time several educated young men joined the Math, as a result of their listening to the inspiring words of the Swami concerning Vairagya. He trained them for future work by constant instruction, and holding classes at the Math on the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedanta. Even during the years of his absence from the Brotherhood, four young men had joined the Math and were leading the life of Brahmacharya. They were anxious to be initiated into Sannyasa by the Swami himself. For several years they had lived under the supervision of the elder members of the monastery; and the Swami, knowing that they were worthy, consented to make them his own disciples. The elder members raised serious objections with respect to one of the four because of his past life. This roused the Swami to the reply, “What is this! If we shrink from sinners, who else will save them? Besides, the very fact that one has taken refuge in the Math in his desire to lead a better life, shows that his intentions are good, and we must help him. And even if one is bad and perverted, and you cannot change his character, why then, have you taken the Gerua cloth? — why have you assumed the role of teachers?” The Brahmacharis who were initiated into Sannvasa, became known respectively as Swamis Virajananda, Nirbhayananda, Prakashananda and Nityananda. Of these the first-named had joined the Math in 1891, the next two much later, and the last, who was much older even than the Swami, had just done so. The initiation ceremony was very impressive and delighted the Swami more than the huge ovations in his honour.
On the day previous to the initiation ceremony, the Swami spoke of nothing but the glories of renunciation, his eyes emitting fire, as it were, and his words of power infusing strength into the aspirants. The discourse, owing to its length cannot be given here. The Swami concluded: “Remember, for the salvation of one’s own soul and for the good and happiness of the many, the Sannyasin is born in the world. To sacrifice his own life for others, to alleviate the misery of millions rending the air with their cries, to wipe away the tears from the eyes of the widow, to console the heart of the bereaved mother, to provide the ignorant and the depressed masses with the ways and means for the struggle for existence and make them stand on their own feet, to preach broadcast the teachings of the Shastras to one and all without distinction, for their material and spiritual welfare, to rouse the sleeping lion of Brahman in the hearts of all beings by the diffusion of the light of Knowledge — the Sannyasin is born in the world!” And turning to his Gurubhais he exclaimed: “Remember, it is for the consummation of this purpose in life that we have taken birth, and we shall lay down our lives for it. Arise, awake, and arouse and awaken others, fulfil your mission in life and you will reach the highest Goal!”4
“You must renounce everything,” he continued, you must not seek pleasure or comfort for yourself. All attachment will have to be cut and cast aside. You must look upon lust and gold as poison, name and fame as the vilest filth, glory as a terrible hell, pride of birth or position as sinful as drinking wine. Being the teacher of your fellow-men and devoted to the Self within, you will have to live to attain freedom and for the good of the world. Can you strive with your whole soul to do these things? Take this path only after serious reflection. There is yet time to return to the old life. Are you ready to obey my orders implicitly? If I ask you to face a tiger or a venomous snake, if I ask you to jump into the Ganga and catch a crocodile, or if I want to sell you to work the rest of your life in a tea-garden in Assam as coolies, or if I order you to starve yourselves to death or burn yourselves in a slow fire, thinking it will be for your good, are you ready to obey me instantly?” The four Brahmacharis implied their assent by bowing their heads in silence. He then duly initiated them into Sannyasa.
Another initiation ceremony took place at the Alambazar Math about this time, when Mantras were given to Sharat Chandra Chakravarti, a lay disciple, and to a Brahmachari (later known as Swami Shuddhananda) who had recently joined the Math after hearing the Swami speak on renunciation. To Sharat he said, “Arouse Shraddha in yourself and in your countrymen! Like Nachiketa go to Yama’s door, if necessary, to know the Truth, for the salvation of your soul, for the solution of the mystery of life and death! If going into the jaws of death helps you to gain the Truth, you have to do that fearlessly. All fear is death; you have to go beyond it. Be fearless, be ready, from today, to lay down your life for your own Moksha and for the good of others. Otherwise what is the use of bearing this burden of flesh and bones? Being initialed into the fiery Mantra of absolute renunciation for the sake of the Lord, give away your body for the good of the world, as did the Sage Dadhichi when the Devas came and told him that the demon Vritra could not be killed with any other weapon but by a thunderbolt made out of his bonesl”
Whenever the Swami came to Calcutta for a brief sojourn, he stayed at Balaram Babu’s house in Baghbazar, where he and the monastic members of the Order always found a ready welcome and warm hospitality. On such occasions it was the scene of the gathering of Bhaktas and visitors from all parts of the city.
It was in the afternoon of May 1, 1897, that a representative gathering of all the monastic and lay disciples of Slid Rarnakrishna took place at Balaram Babu’s house, in response to the Swami's intimation of his desire to hold a meeting for the purpose of founding an Association. He had long thought of bringing about a co-operation between the monastic and the lay disciples of Shri Ramakrishna, and of organising in a systematic way the hitherto unsystematic activities, both spiritual and philanthropic, of his Gurubhais. When all had assembled, the Swami opened the meeting by speaking in Bengali to the following effect:
“From my travels in various countries I have come to the conclusion that without organisation nothing great and permanent can be done. But in a country like India, at our present stage of development, it docs not seem to me well advised to start an organisation on a democratic basis in which every member has an equal voice, and decisions are arrived at by a majority of the votes of the community. With the West the case is different. . . . Amongst, us also, when with the spread of education we shall learn to sacrifice, to stand above our individual interests and concerns, for the good of the community or the nation at large, then it would be possible to work on a democratic basis. Taking this into consideration, we should have for our organisation at present a Dictator whose orders everyone should obey. Then, in the fullness of time, it will be guided by the opinion and consent of the members.
“This Association will bear the name of him in whose name we have become Sannyasins, taking whom as your ideal you are leading the life of the householders in the field of activity of this Samsara, and whose holy name and the influence of whose unique life and teachings have, within twelve years of his passing away, spread in such an unthought-of way both in the East and the West. Let this Sangha, or organisation, be therefore named the Ramakrishna Mission. We are only the servants of the Master. May you all help us in this work.”5
The proposal being enthusiastically supported by all the householder disciples, the future method of work was discussed and some resolutions were passed, laying down the main principles and the aims and objects by which the movement was to be guided. As originally drawn up, they were to the following effect:
This Association (Sangha) shall be known as the Ramakrishna Mission.
The aim of the Sangha is to preach those truths which Shri Ramakrishna has, for the good of humanity, preached and demonstrated by practical application in his own life, and to help others to put these truths into practice in their lives for their temporal, mental and spiritual advancement.
The duty of the Mission is to conduct in the right spirit the activities of the movement inaugurated by Shri Ramakrishna for the establishment of fellowship among the followers of different religions, knowing them all to be so many forms only of one undying Eternal Religion.
Its Methods of Action are:
(a) To train men so as to make them competent to teach such knowledge or sciences as are conducive to the material and spiritual welfare of the masses;
(b) to promote and encourage arts and industries; and
(c) to introduce and spread among the people in general Vedantic and other religious ideas in the way in which they were elucidated in the life of Shri Ramakrishna.
Indian Work Department:
The activities of the Mission should be directed to the establishment of Maths and Ashramas in different parts of India for the training of Sannyasins and such of the householders as may be willing to devote their lives to educate others, and to the finding of the means by which they would be enabled to educate the people, by going about from one province to another.
Its work in the Foreign Department should be to send trained members of the Order to countries outside India to start centres there for the preaching of Vedanta in order to bring about a closer relation and better understanding between India and foreign countries.
The aims and ideals of the Mission being purely spiritual and humanitarian, it shall have no connection with politics.
Anyone who believes in the mission of Shri Ramakrishna, or who sympathises or is willing to co-operate with the above-mentioned aims and objects of the Association, is eligible for membership.
After the resolutions were passed, office-bearers were appointed. The Swami himself became the General President and made Swami Brahmananda and Swami Yogananda, the President and the Vice-President, respectively, of the Calcutta centre. It was decided that meetings would be held at Balaram Babu's house every Sunday afternoon, when recitations and readings from the Gita, the Upanishads and other Vedanta scriptures with comments and annotations would be given, and papers read and lectures delivered, the subjects being chosen by the President. All these were decided in the two preliminary meetings of the first and the fifth of May, and the first general meeting of the members was held on the ninth under the presidency of Swami Brahmananda. For three years the Ramakrishna Mission held its sittings at the same place; whenever the Swami was in Calcutta, he was present and spoke and sang.
For some time the philanthropic and missionary work was carried on through the medium of this Association. In 1899, however, the Swami started a Math or monastery at Belur, and made over its management to a number of Trustees by a Deed of Trust in 1901, the main objects of the Math being the training of a band of monks for self-realisation and for the acquisition of a capacity to serve the world in all possible ways. Soon after this Math was established as the central seat of the monastic order, the Ramakrishna Mission Association ceased to function as an independent organisation, and the Math authorities themselves carried on the philanthropic and charitable work originally undertaken by the Mission Association.
In course of time, with the growth of its scope and public responsibilities it was felt that for the efficient carrying on of the philanthropic charitable and missionary work, as well as for giving it a legal status it was better to have a separate organisation known as the Ramakrishna Mission. Accordingly in the year 1909 a Society under the name of the Ramakrishna Mission was registered under Act XXI of 1860. The exigencies of the Law required certain changes to be made in the rules and regulations of this Mission Association as originally drawn under the guidance of the Swami in 1897. Most of these changes, however, were of an executive nature, the principles and objects as originally laid down by the Swami remaining the same. The management of the Ramakrishna Mission was henceforth vested in a Governing Body consisting of the Trustees of the Belur Math for the time being. The registration of the Mission was undertaken to keep the Math activities, viz the training and maintenance of a band of Sannyasins to carry on religious work, distinct from the Mission activities.
The activities of the Belur Math extended, and in course of time various branch Maths sprang up in different parts of the country. These branch Maths and the Math at Belur were from their very inception treated as part of a single organisation. Side by side with the springing into existence of the branch Maths, the Ramakrishna Mission extended its sphere of activities, and the various philanthropic and charitable institutions that had already been started by it in different parts of India were gradually incorporated into the registered Society known as the Ramakrishna Mission, and new centres also began to be started.
Though the Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Math with their respective centres are distinct institutions, there has been a close association between the two bodies as the Governing Body of the Mission is identical with the Trustees of the Math, and the principal workers of the Mission are members of the Ramakrishna Math, and both have their headquarters at Belur Math. But the Math and the Mission being independent of each other in their respective spheres of activities, own separate funds and keep separate accounts of them.
Turning now from the proceedings of the inauguration meeting of a semi-public nature, one finds the Swami in the inner circle of his Gurubhais and disciples, talking about his ideas and intentions in starting this momentous movement. A Gurubhai having protested that the Swami’s ways of preaching, such as lecturing and holding meetings, and his ideas of doing works of public utility, were rather Western in type and conception and incompatible with Shri Ramakrishna’s teachings, the Swami was roused to an apostolic mood and delivered himself thus with great fervour:
"How do you know that these are not in keeping with his ideas? Do you want to shut Shri Ramakrishna, the embodiment of infinite ideas, within your own limits? I shall break these limits and scatter his ideas broadcast all over the world. He never enjoined me to introduce his worship and the like. The methods of spiritual practice, concentration and meditation and other high ideals of religion that lie taught — those we must realise and teach mankind. Infinite are the ideas and infinite are the paths that lead to the Goal. I was not born to create a new sect in this world, too full of sects already. Blessed are we that we have found refuge at the feet of our Master, and it is our bounden duty to give the ideas entrusted to us freely to the whole world.”
The Gurubhai raising no dissentient voice to these words, the Swami continued:
“Time and again have I received in this life marks of his grace. He himself is at my back and is making me do all these things in these ways. When I used to lie under a tree, exhausted, smitten with hunger, when I had not a strip of cloth even wherewith to tie my Kaupina, when I was determined to travel round the world penniless, even then, through his grace I received help and succour in every way! Then again, when crowds jostled with one another in the streets of Chicago to have a sight of this Vivekananda, I have been able, through his blessings, to digest without difficulty all that honour, a hundredth part of which would have made any man go off his head! By the will of the Lord, victory has been mine everywhere. Now I intend to do something for this country. Do you all give up doubts and misgivings and help me in my work, and you will see how, by his grace wonders will be accomplished.”
The Gurubhai said:
“Whatever you wish shall be done. We are always ready to follow vour leading. I clearly see that the Master is working through you. Still, I confess, doubts do sometimes arise in the mind, for, as we saw it, his method of doing things was so different, and I am led to question myself if we are not straying from the path laid down by him.”
The Swami then said:
“The thing is this: Shri Ramakrishna is far greater than his disciples understand him to be. He is the embodiment of infinite spiritual ideas capable of development in infinite ways. Even if one can find a limit to the knowledge of Brahman, one cannot measure the unfathomable depths of our Master’s mind! One gracious glance of his eyes can create a hundred thousand Vivekanandas at this instant! If he chooses now instead to work through me, making me his instrument, I can only bow to his will.”
Indeed, it was the Swami among all the disciples of Shri Ramakrishna, who saw in the Master not a mere person but a principle, not only the apostle of realisation and renunciation, but also of service to humanity in the spirit of worship. Did not the Master fling away the bliss of Brahman to be of service to mankind? Did he not treat all beings as Narayanas (divinities) every moment of his life? Who among his disciples has not seen his unhappiness at the sight of poverty and misery, and his touching solicitation for their relief? Who could ever feel like him, his whole body and soul wrenched, as it were, at the distress and destitution of his fellow-men and at the sight of oppression to men and animals? True, this phase of his unique character was considerably overshadowed by the grandeur of his illuminated personality ever merging in the superconscious state and breaking forth into utterances of wonderful power and charm exhorting all to seek the Highest. It was left to his greatest disciple to interpret his Master's life and teachings from all angles. It was the genius of Swami Vivekananda to bring out and emphasise this human side of his Master's nature and to clear away the misconception which prevailed in the minds of many, that Renunciation and Service were conflicting ideas which could not be combined without detriment to the one or the other. And it was to his glory that he concretised and gave shape to those divine impulses through the institution started under the name of the Ramakrishna Mission for practising and preaching the Dharma in its universal aspect, Renunciation and Service, according to him, being the twofold National Ideal of Modern India.
Another afternoon, some time later, when the Swami was living at Balaram Babu's house, he was talking in a light mood with some of his Gurubhais, and lay disciples of the Master. At these moments he would be very gay, making all sorts of jokes, willing to take as well as give in the battle of wits. One of the Swami’s Gurubhais (Swami Yogananda) was taking him to task for not preaching the ideas of Shri Ramakrishna and challenging him to prove how his plans could be reconciled with their Master’s teachings. For Shri Ramakrishna insisted, above all, on Bhakti and on the practice of Sadhana for the realisation of God, while the Swami constantly urged them to go about working, preaching, and serving the poor and the diseased — the very things which forced the mind outward, which was the greatest impediment to the life of Sadhana. Then again, the Swami's ideas of starting Maths and Homes of Service for the public good, his ideas of organisation and of patriotism which were undoubtedly Western in conception, his efforts to create a new type of Sannyasin with a broader ideal of renunciation, and others of a similar nature were incompatible with Shri Ramakrishna's ideal of renunciation and would surely have been repudiated by him. The Swami took these observations of his Gurubhai at first lightly and retorted in a jocular way, saying, “What do you know? You are an ignorant man. You are a fit Chela of Shri Ramakrishna! Like Guru like Chela! Your study ended, with ‘Ka,’ the first letter of the alphabet, like Prahlada's, who being reminded by this letter of Krishna, could not proceed further. You are Bhaktas, or in other words, sentimental fools! What do you understand of religion? You are babies. You are only good at praying with folded hands: ‘O Lord! how beautiful is Your nose, how sweet are Your eyes,’ and all such nonsense; and you think your salvation is secured, that Shri Ramakrishna will come at the final hour and take you up by the hand to the highest heaven! Study, public preaching, and doing humanitarian works are, according to you, Maya because Shri Ramakrishna did not do them himself! Because he said to someone, ‘Seek and find God first; doing good to the world is a presumption!’ As if God-realisation is such an easy thing to be achieved! As if He is such a fool as to make Himself a plaything in the hands of the imbecile!”
Growing more and more serious he thundered on:
“You think you understand Shri Ramakrishna better than myself! You think Jnana is dry knowledge to be attained by a desert path, killing out the tenderest faculties of the heart. Your Bhakti is sentimental nonsense which makes one impotent. You want to preach Ramakrishna as you have understood him which is mighty little. Hands off! Who cares for your Ramakrishna? Who cares for your Bhakti and Mukti? Who cares what the scriptures say? I will go to hell cheerfully a thousand times, if I can rouse my countrymen, immersed in Tamas, and make them stand on their own feet and be Men, inspired with the spirit of Karma-Yoga. I am not a follower of Ramakrishna or any one, I am a follower of him only who carries out my plans! I am not a servant of Ramakrishna or any one, but of him only who serves and helps others, without caring for his own Mukti.”
His voice became choked, his whole frame shook with intense emotion. He could not contain himself any longer. Tears streamed from his eyes. Like a flash of lightning he was up on his feet and ran from the room to his sleeping apartment. His Gurubhais were seized with fear and repented of their criticisms spoken to him in that strain. A few of them followed the Swami, some minutes later, to his room. Entering with cautious steps, they found him sitting in meditation posture, his whole frame stiff, tears flowing from his half-closed eyes, the hair of his body standing on end. He was absorbed in what seemed to them, Bhava-Samadhi! Nearly an hour; the Swami got up, washed his face and came out to his waiting friends in the sitting-room. The atmosphere was too tense for words. Finally the Swami broke the silence thus:
“When one attains Bhakii one’s heart and nerves become so soft and delicate that they cannot bear even the touch of a flower! Do you know that I cannot even read a novel nowadays! I cannot think or talk of Shri Rarnakrishna long, without being overwhelmed. So I am trying and trying always to keep down the rush of Bhakti welling within me. I am trying to bind and bind myself with the iron chains of Jnana, for still my work to my motherland is unfinished, and my message to the world not yet fully delivered. So, as soon as I find that Bhakti feelings are trying to come up to sweep me off my feet, I give a hard knock to them and make myself adamant by bringing up austere Jnana. Oh, I have work to do! I am a slave of Ramakrishna, who left his work to be done by me and will not give me rest till I have finished it! And, oh, bow shall I speak of him! Oh, his love for me!”
Swami Yogananda and others fearing a repetition of the above experience gently interrupted him by asking if he would not like to have an evening stroll on the roof of the house as it was too warm in the room. Then they took him up there and diverted his thoughts by small talk, till it was far into the night, and he was his normal self again.
This incident is very significant, exposing as it does the depths of the Swami’s inner nature, namely, that of Bhakti, and also as it gives an idea of the tremendous cost at which his Jnana and his spirit of service to others had been acquired. The monks of the Order ever sought to divert his attention from such tempestuous outbursts, for that would bring him closer to his real nature, when they knew he would tear off all mortal bonds and soar, through Mahasamadhi, into the region of the Supreme Consciousness of Brahman. Reflecting on such moments in the Swami’s life, one of the greatest of his Sannyasin Gurubhais has said, “You see, the Master has brought us all into this world to keep his (the Swami’s) mind diverted to external matters and to his various plans of work, so that he may live long enough to fulfil our Master's mission. Otherwise he may fly off at any time to the sphere of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.”
So profound and convincing was the impression created, that never more was any protest made against his plans and methods of work. It was like the clearing of the atmosphere, which had been overhung with clouds of doubt, now and again breaking forth into stormss of conflict of ideals. Everyone realised as never before that the Master was at the back of Vivekananda working through him.