HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
Thus growing and perfecting themselves in the glory of the soul, in holiness and ecstacy, these children of the spirit of Bharatavarsha felt even the spiritual atmosphere of Baranagore constricting. The world was calling out to them; all the holy places of this ancient land, were inviting them, the hoary Indian ideal of Sanyasa was urging them to leave their last moorings in the world, the monastery and the spiritual brotherhood and to let themselves adrift on the wide world under the canopy of heaven, to tear themselves away from all limitations, to become one with humanity, with life with the all and the unlimited. Responding to the call and following the urge the monks took to the larger life of the Parivrajaka. It was in 1888 that the Swami Nirrnalanandaji first got out on his long pilgrimage.
Before setting out he who had now become established in the self was yet human to remember the loving souls who had prayed to him to give them darsan occasionally. Now he was taking a step which, for aught he knew, might deprive them of that solace for all time to come. He therefore went to them, told them of his intended pilgrimage and took leave of them, consoling them as best as he could
He with Swami Abhedanandaji and others first followed the Holy Mother to Kamarpukur and Jayarambati and stayed there fora few days. Then with the blessings of the Holy Mother and accompanied by Swami AbhedanandaJi he started to Haridwar, Rishikesh and other places. They had as their possession only their kashaya, koupina, kashaya cloth and kamandalu. Reaching the Grand Trunk Road, they began their march bare-footed. They would not use shoes, shirts or coats, they would not touch coin, they would not sleep under a roof, they would live on Madhukari Bhiksha which they would beg at noon and from four or five houses oniy; they would eat but once a day. This was their resolve and vow. Covering a distance of about 30 miles, they reached Ghazipur, where lived the sage Pavaharibaba, They held conversations with him. There they met an old friend of theirs, Hariprasanna Chatterji, a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. It was he who later became Swami Vijnanananda. He was then employed as an Engineer. He took them in his carriage and entertained them. Leaving the place they walked on and reached Kasi, Ayodhya and Lucknow in succession. At Lucknow, a Hindustani bhakta desired to give them the railway fare to Haridwar. They would not accept coin. He then purchased for them railway tickets to Haridwar and also gave them some food. After visiting Haridwar, they again went on foot to Rishikesh. It was during the days of their tapasya on the banks of the Ganges that they witnessed the soul-stirring spectacle which they narrated to Swami Vivekananda and to which he alluded in one of his lectures in America. A Mahatma who had realised his identity with Brahman was sitting on the opposite side of the Ganges repeating 'Shivoham Shivoham.' A tiger from the adjacent forest came down and sprang upon him. He was unaware that he was in the jaws of the tiger, but went on repeating Shivoham. The tiger marched away with his body, while all the time, the Mahatma's 'Shivoham, Shivoham' was reach ing their ears. From Rishikesh they passed through the old rope bridge of Lakshman-jula and visited Uttara Kasi, Devaprayag and other places. Finally they reached Badarika. After doing tapasya there, they resolved to go to Gangotri through Kedarnath. The long route, the wild animals, the impassable snow, did not awe them. They went bare-footed through the snow-capped mountains to Kedarnath. In a cave there, they practised hard tapasya. Thence they proceeded to Gomukhi and saw the sourse of the Ganges. From there they returned to Uttarakasi and through the impenetrable jungle tracts they reached Jamnotri. From there, through Dehra-Dun they returned to Rishikesh, There Swami Abhedananda fell ill. The Swami took him to Haridwar in a bullock carriage, purchased for him a ticket to Benares, saw him off and returned to Rishikesh. In this journey, Nityagopal, the maternal uncle of Tulasi, was a companion of the Swamis for some time. He had become a Sanyasin and was known as Jnanananda Avadhuta, It was while he was in Rishikesh that he met Swami Vivekananda and other gurubhais and they all spent a considerable time there, dwelling in a hut raised by their own hands and living on Madhukari Bhiksha. "Again the resolve to perform severe sadhanas came upon the Swami, (Vivekananda,) but as ill luck would have it, hardly had he proceeded with them for a few days then a severe illness frustrated all his intentions. One day the gurubhais went into the jungle to cut bamboos for the purpose of extending their huts, and returning, the Swami (Vivekananda) was suddenly attacked with high fever and diphtheria. He grew worse and worse until his brethren were in terror. One day his pulse sank lower and lower, and the life-blood turned, as it were, into perspiration. His body became cold, his pulse seemed to have stopped. Indeed, it appeared as though the leader's last moment had come. He lay unconscious on his rude bed composed of a couple of coarse blankets on the ground. His brothers, overwhelmed with grief and anxiety, were at a loss to know what to do. In those days no help could be found within a great distance. While they were thus in the utmost agony of mind, praying that his life be spared and theirs taken in its stead, they heard a faint rustling sound caused by a movement in the grasses outside. And before the entrance of the hut stood a sadhu. They invited him in, and when he heard the case he brought out from his wallet some honey and powdered pichul, and mixing them together, forced the medicine into the Swami's mouth. This seemed to be the one remedy, a god-send as it were
After a while the Swami opened his eyes and attempted to speak. One of the gurubhais (Swami Nirmalanandaji) put his ear near his mouth and heard him utter in a feeble almost inaudible voice, the words, "cheer up, my boys! I shall not die." Gradually he recovered and later he told his companions that in that unconscious state of his body, he had seen that he had a particular mission in the world which he must fulfil, and that until he had accomplished that mission he would have no rest. After he had recovered he made his way to Handwar." The company broke up. Swami Nirmalanandaji remained at Rishikesh for some time more, growing, developing his powers and ascending the heights of spirituality.
After a time he returned to the plains and formed one of the party of the Holy Mother when she was taken to Koilwar on the Sone river. Swamis Saradanandaji and Yoganandaji were also of the party. They with the Swami Nirmalanandaji returned to Baranagore while the Holy Mother stayed at Koilwar. Oft and on the monks would go out when the Parivrajaka mood seized them. Again they would come back to the Mutt, drawn thereto by the Presence which it enshrined and the great purpose which had to be accomplished by their organisation.
The monks had visitors also at dmes. Their own kith and kin of the previous ashrama, the householder disciples and devotees of the Master, and Pandits and scholars who came to argue and discuss with the monks. And what contributed most to their merriment was the visit of madmen "who considered us," said the Swami in fun "as their own brothers."
"Days passed on in Baranagore, every day making the atmosphere holier and the monks richer with the experiences gathered and narrated by the several monks in their pilgrimages and the realisations they had by their Tapasya. They drew inspiration, each from the other. But this first home, the nursery of the brotherhood "had to be abandoned, for the landlord thought of its rebuilding. There was one monk, however, Ramakrishnananda by name, who would not leave the ashes of their Master but vowed with rock-like determination to keep a roof overhead, come storm, come shine so to speak for them and his brothers, till they should all foregather in their worship room once more. He then with Nirmalananda removed to a house some distance away but still in me neighbourhood of Dakshineswar and the monastery which had previously been at Baranagore was now known as the Alambazar Mutt."
Life continued here as in Baranagore under the
supervision of Swamis Ramakrishnanandaji and
Nirmalanandaji. Nirmalanandaji had a room for himself
in this Mutt. "Kali Tapaswi" had another. But from
here again these two set out on another pilgrimage
and visited many places. Now and then the brothers
would separate to rejoin again in the Mutt or
elsewhere. Those who had taken independent routes
would be gladly surprised to meet one another in some
unexpected places. Swami Nirmalanandaji never
kept any diary or record of his travels or activities and
he seldom spoke of them even to his disciples or
devotees. The thread of the story of this period is,
therefore, broken at many points and chronology
becomes a matter of surmise. Published memoirs of
his gurubhats make reference to him in many places.
It is seen that once he was met by Swami
Akhandanandaji at Brindavan and accompanied him to Atowa.
There Akhandananda fell ill for a few days. Swami
Nirmalanandaji nursed him. Then there came Swami
Trigunateeta with whom Akhandananda went to Agra.
Again at Jaipur they were met by the Swami
Nirmaiananda, who was this time accompanied by
Swami Abhedananda. "At their pressing request I
(Swami Akhandananda) returned to Alambazar to
witness the Birthday festival of Sri Ramakrishna."
Mahendranath Dutt has recorded his experience that Swami Nirmalanandaji used to attend on the sick. One such instance may be cited. While at Alambazar Mutt an inmate of Balaram Babu's house was attacked with a virulent type of T. B. The Swami nursed him whole-heartedly. The patient passed away. The Swami caught the contagion and began to spit blood. Fearing that it may catch others and unwilling to give trouble to any other, he left the place immediately and went on up to Hingraj, one of the extreme ends of pilgrimages in the Himalayas. He returned in perfect health. During his long stay in the Himalayas the Raja of Chamba and his family became his devoted friends.
Many and varied, interesting and instructive were his experiences in the Himalayas and elsewhere. As occasions arose he narrated some of them. Himself an ideal host, he spoke of the wonderful hospitality he had received at the hands of a host of monkeys in the Himalayas. In the sparsely populated parts of that father of mountains, hamlets are far removed from one another and the jungle paths from one to the other seldom trodden and hardly distinguishable. One after noon the Swami started from one hamlet to another. The sun set, it was dark, no hamlet or sign of human life was visible anywhere. Unable to proceed further, he sat down under a tree in that dense forest, in enveloping darkness. After a few minutes he saw that a huge monkey had leaped to the tree from somewhere. He had a stick in his hand. The Swami thought that the monkey meant mischief and intended to attack him. But very soon he disappeared. Shortly after he heard the chatter of many monkeys and noises that any how made the forest alive. The monkey reappeared, this time with a retinue and a lighted piece of wood. At a sign from the leader, some of the monkeys surrounded him in a distant circle, some brought twigs which were placed near the Swami to light a fire. The Swami caught their meaning; he knew that fire was a protection against wild animals in a forest. Fire was lighted, he felt sure that the monkeys not only meant no harm, but were warm friends. He wondered at it. But what exceeded even that feeling of wonder was the next act of hospitality. Again at a sign from the leader, a few of the retinue left and came back with some fruits. They were also placed before him. He did not take them, not knowing whether they were edible or not. Reading his mind, the great monkey came down, took one or two of the fruits and ate them himself before the Swami. He had no more doubts. It was the host's assurance and invitation to partake of them. The Swami thanked them heartily and silently and partook of what might undoubtedly have been regarded as Prasad. The monkeys surrounding him kept awake the whole night and dispersed at the break of dawn.
Once he could not come down to the plains before winter. He had to pass his days in a cave up the mountains along with some inhabitants ot the place. Here the inmates stored all the necessaries for the winter months. For food they had no rice; but some flour and meat, not dried but raw or frozen. Animals were killed and then hung up. The meat would not rot on account of the snow and cold. Pieces from them would be cut up and cooked. For water they would bring a block of ice which would have fallen in from and around the caves to a depth of six or eight feet and heat it in the cave. On being asked why the animals were slaughtered so early, he explained that they could not feed them during those months.
Once he travelled in the Tibetan hills where no villege was come across for 3 days. He lived on fried solang mixed with currants that he got on his way.
Another time he passed about six months in a place living on ragi rotti alone without any vegetables or any curry or anything else to taste or eat.
His powers of endurance were tested to the extreme in several ways. Once reaching a sacred spot he observed Kshetropavasam (fasting at night and lying on the bare floor.) The cold was so intense that his legs were almost benumbed and became bluish in colour.
Enlargement of the thorax glands was another experience. It was after coming to the plains and seeing it reflected in water that he knew of it. It continued for about a year and subsided without any medical treatment. Blisters and swellings, cuts and bruises and bleeding from the feet on account of long continued walks was a matter of every day occurence. Sometimes he had to bandage the feet to place them on the ground. Illness of a serious nature too he had on a few occasions. A carbuncle on the head had to be operated on after he came down to the plains. The doctors in attendance were about to administer Chloroform. The Swami said that it was unnecessary, as he could stand the operation retaining his consciousness. Though they had misgivings, they yielded to Swamiji, but for his safety and the success of the operation they wanted his hands at least to be firmly held in position. Laughing, the Swanii said, he would not be fettered and asked them to proceed with their own work. The Swami sat unmoved, not a muscle or nerve quivered and the operation was gone through successfully.
In the course of these journeys he met Hariprasanna Chatterji (Swami Vijnanananda) on several occasions. Every time the chief topic of their conversation was the Master, Renunciation and Realisation. The Swami again and again urged him to give up his work and enlist himself in the Master's service. During his visit to South India (Bangalore) the Swami Vijnananandaji said to one of the devotees: "you do not know how much I am indebted to Tulasi Maharaj. We were classmates in the Bengali Tola High School, Benares. Not only that, Tulasi Maharaj alone knew the details of my visit to Gurumaharaj. While I was in service as an Executive Engineer, he used to frequent my place and stay with me for long. He used to inspire me and press me to give up that kind of life and to take up the cause of Sri Gurumaharaj. I was unmarried and I was thinking deeply of the course I was to take. When the thought was working within me, one day Sri Gurumaharaj appeared before me and asked me to give up that kind of life and to take up his banner. The next morning I wired my resignation, handed over charge to my subordinate, ran away to Alambazar Mutt and became a Sanyasin. That is our relation."