HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
Alambazar was the continuation and extension of Baranagore except for the absence of the leader. The Swami and the gurubhais were diving deeper into and soaring higher up the spiritual realms and their own selves, unfolding their potentialities and measurimg their growing strength. They were gathering knowledge of men, manners, customs and habits which was to stand them in good stead when they went out as Acharyas of the world. The leader had left them before the Mutt was removed to Alambazar. The next year he sailed for America and at a single leap had become world-renowned as Swami Vivekananda. The monks were glad. They began to see the predictions of the Master coming true. They spoke of him, thought of him and his greatness, unconsciously raised them to greater heights consciously made them strive for greater perfection more perhaps to gladden his heart than for their own sake, more as tribute and service to the Master than for the sake of the world, the East or the West. Their mission in life, the great purpose for which they were born was perhaps yet unknown to them. But the Master's hand was shaping them and directing their course to that end. After the leader's success and renown they intensified their sadhana. All the knowledge, all the ideas which had been given them by the leader while he was with them were now seen against a new, broader and clearer background and began to be more thoroughly assimilated. Unknown to them, undreamt of by them, a new world, a world larger than that of Japa, Dhyana and pilgrimages was opening itself to them. As it was, the Master's touch that opened their eyes to the old world, so it was the leader's touch that was to open them to the new. The touch came in 1897. Electrifying Bharatavarsha from Colombo to Almora the leader returned to the shrine which was then at Alambazar. For days together, it was simply ecstacy, the bliss of Brahman, unalloyed.
The Swami's duties now took a new turn. Service to the leader was now his special privilege and spiritual sadhana. From the very earliest times the Swami had endeared himself to the leader. His rare purity of character, his strength and manliness and his all-round dexterity had been noted, appreciated and dearly loved by him. And Tulasi had made Noren his Ideal even from his youth. All the gurubhais loved and respected Noren beyond measure and acknowledged him as their guardian appointed by the Master himself; they marvelled at his genius and his powers; they believed him a superman who in virtue of the power given by the Master had to fulfil a special mission in life. All this, they saw and believed. But in those days none saw more clearly or believed more firmly than Tulasi that Noren was Ramakrishna in another form. His special attachment and devotion to the leader was therefore, natural, spontaneous, and whole-hearted. And the leader's attachment to Tulasi was peculiar. He was a man after his own heart. They used to smoke together from the same hooka, they cut jokes at each other. Tulasi was also his unofficial Private secretary.
In later days the Swami delighted to describe himself as 'Swamiji's Butler.' That also was true to the very letter. The Swami was a cook of the very first order. His purity, neatness and cleanliness were unsurpassed. Often, therefore, he cooked for the leader who greatly relished his dishes. Once the leader was put on diet by the doctor. He was to take only a prescribed quantity of meat. That much was prepared and was served by the Swami. But the preparation had been so nice and tasty that the leader like a veritable child, said: 'Tulasi, just one piece more, won't you? 'The leader was so persuasive that the Swami had not the heart to refuse him. He gave one more piece. When the leader had enjoyed it, like a born actor, he turned round and asked vehemently: "when the doctor has prescribed the diet, how could you violate it and over-feed me?" Nothing daunted the Swami retorted: "When he who has the universe under his thumb becomes a supplicant for a piece of meat who would refuse him?" There was hearty laughter over it. Another time the leader decided to go to Darjiling with nine or ten followers. At about 9 A M., the leader informed his 'butler' that they would start at 10 A. M. To prepare meals for the great Swamiji and party of ten in an hour's time! The Swami was equal to the occasion. In a few minutes he had nine or ten stoves burning, in an hour he had a number of dishes well cooked and served.
It is no wonder that he had more freedom with the leader than many of his other gurubhais. It was he who with Swami Ramalsrishnanandaji asked the leader to explain to them the meaning and significance of the Hamsamudra, the symbol of the Mission. It was he who requested him, all on a sudden and without any preparation to initiate Swami Suddhanandaji, the late President of the Mission. Swami Suddhanandaji himself speaks of it thus in his work "Swamijir Katha." "It was in April 1897 that I took refuge in the Alambazar Mutt. Of the Senior Sanyasins Swamis Premanandaji, Nirmalanandaji and Subodhanandaji alone were there at that time Swamiji (Vivekananda) returned from Darjiling along with Swamis Brahmanandaji, Yoganandaji and some disciples of Swamiji. One morning I was engaged in my room. Suddenly Tulasi Maharaj entered my room and asked me if I desired to take initiation from Swamiji. I replied in the affirmative. I had not taken initiation from any. Although I had read Swamiji's works I had not received any spiritual instruction from him nor did I try to get any, mainly because I dared not ask him for it. I was also under the impression that he would do whatever was beneficial to me since I had taken refuge at his feet. Moreover, I did not know how spiritual instruction was given. It was at such a period that Swami Nirmalanandaji invited me to take initiation. I therefore felt no hesitation. Straightway I followed him to the shrine. I had no information that Sj. Sarat Chandra Chakravarti was being initiated that day. I think I waited some time outside the shrine as the initiation had not been over. When Sj. Saratchandra came out, Swami Nirmalanandaji took me into the shrine and told Swamiji that I should be initiated. Swamiji asked me to sit down and after initiation spoke to me as to how I should lead my life in future." Such was his freedom with the leader and such was his heart. After the initiation of the two disciples Swamiji remarked to the Swami with evident delight, " Tulasi! two sacrifices have been offered today."
He was not all the time a butler, he was also a pandit, scholar, a teacher of Brahinasutras and other Vedantic scriptures to the new inmates of the Math. With his great heart and well-fed intellect, he had a fund of tun also. A disciple of Swami Vivekananda was discussing the Vedantic scriptures with him. "When Swamiji himself came downstairs and addresing the disciple said "What were you discussing with Nirmalananda?"
Disciple:– Sir, he is saying "the Brahman of the Vedanta is only known to you and your Swamiji. We on the contrary know 'Krishnasthu Bhagavan Swayam' – that Srikrishna is the Lord incarnate.
Swamiji:– What did you say?
Disciple:– I said that the Atman is the one Truth, and that; Krishna was merely a person who had realised this Atman. Swami Nirmalananda is at heart a believer in the Vedanta, but outwardly he takes up the dualist side of the arguments, His first idea seems to be to moot the personal aspect of the Iswara and then by a gradual process of reasoning to strengthen the foundations of the Vedanta. But as soon as he calls me a ' Vaishnava,' I forget his real intention and begin a heated discussion with him.
Swamiji:– He loves you and so enjoys the fun of teasing you. But why should you be upset by his words? You will also answer, " you, Sir, are an athiest, a believer of Nihility" (Complete works of Swami Vivekananda 1922, Part VII, page 188.) The Swami loved him and encouraged him to write notes of conversations with Swamiji, In the appendix to the 'Swami Sishya Samvada' in Bengali, the author who is the disciple referred to above says "It may be mentioned here that Sri Nirmalananda Swami of the Belur Math encouraged the disciple very much to write these notes of the conversations of Swamiji." The disciple expresses his gratitude to these two Mahapurushas – Master Mahasaya and Swami Nirmalanandaji.
To be with the leader was to be educated, enlightened and uplifted. In those days it was particularly so. He was, so to say, re-shaping them to work out his mission. He was making them also torch-bearers of the Religion Universal. The need of the day, he said to them, was "to create a new order of Sanyasins in India, who would fling away their own mukti and would go to hell, if needed, in order to be of help and service to others." The idea was quite new, too revolutionary and staggering. Not all could readily fall in with it. But Tulasi was one of those who could and did readily accept it. Knowing him to be a brilliant conversationalist, the leader desired to bring him out as a lecturer also. And this was how he effected it. While he was in Calcutta, he had been invited by an association to deliver a lecture and he had accepted ihe invitation. On the appointed day, however, the leader asked Tulasi to represent him and to deliver the lecture as he himself way indisposed. The Swami pleaded inability and said he would not go. "Well, then I shall neither ear nor drink anything," said the leader and he refused to take anything when Tulasi set his breakfast before him. 'If he had ordered me to get away for disobedience, I would have gone out' said the Swami afterwards, 'but I could not bear the idea of his fasting. I would have done anything to make him eat and so I agreed to go and deliver a lecture. He was so glad." The Swami went to the Association and began by saying that he was not a lecturer, as they all knew, but had gone to speak to them a few words at the bidding of the Swamiji who was indisposed and regretted his inability to speak to them himself. When he ended he had given them a very good lecture. He had proved himself a forcible and fluent speaker. The report of his lecture was immediately carried to the leader even before the Swami returned to him. He was immeasurably pleased. He patted Tulasi on the back and said "Well done, Tulasi, I knew, the power is in you." 'That was his way of training' said the Swami to his hearers.
In February, 1898, the Math was transferred from Alambazar to Nilambar Mukerjee's garden house. Here "the days of old in Baranagore were often times lived over again. The same old fire was present, the same intellectual brilliance shone forth, the same spiritual fervour was always uppermost." Song and Sankirtan, reading and study, Japam and meditation mingled with philosophical discussions, question-classes in which the leader would invite the members to raise philosophical doubts and he would give illuminating solutions of the problems at issue. The Swami shone at these discussions and it was admitted on all hands that, next to the leader, the Swami was the best in giving ready, lucid and fitting answers to all sorts of questions. In this connection it may be interesting to cite the words of Jnana Maharaj of Belur Math, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda: "I know Tulasi Maharaj and I have associated with him for a very long time in those old days. He had a very strong body and mind. He was very healthy in those days. He used to take exercise and teach others to do so. He used to play on the 'Dugi Tabla' and also 'Pakhuaj' generally whenever Swami Vivekananda used to sing. He knew how to play these instruments pretty well although he was not an expert. Swami Vivekananda was very friendly with him and used to like him very much. Swami Vivekananda used to complain to Tulasi Maharaj if any of us commited any mistake. Tulasi Maharaj used to play with Swamiji and also with us. We used to play All-today, Hudududu, Football, Badminton, etc. Swami Vivekananda could not play with us always, as he used to do, due to his bad health, but his presence was an encouragement for us, Tulasi Maharaj used to work with us in the gardens and fields. He was very hardy and knew the secret of work and how to work. He never tried to please or satisfy others. He was top to bottom an upright man. He liked frank and upright men. He was very loving and at the same time very strict. In the Mutt and outside he used to mix with select friends only who were of his type. We have attended his classes in the Mutt and outside. His explanations of high and hard philosophies were so very clear and easy to understand. He was a specialist in conversation classes. His question and answer class was unique. Any question put to him used to be taken in a way quite different from that of ordinary people and would be answered in an unexpected way so as to convince and silence the questioner. He would cut jokes with us and also with Swamiji. He used to encourage us in singing and dancing, but never joined us in dancing. He knew how to sing well and liked music. But, I do not remember any occasion when he joined us in singing. He was very neat and clean and his nature was very sweet, but some, inspite of the sweetness, take it as bitter on account of his uprightness. When he returned from America he was found healthier and stronger. He used to perform worship in the shrine here in those days, but not always. He managed the Math here for some time. If he found anything against his liking he used to express his frank views and dissociate from that. He was very frank Some of us used to like and love him much. He made long pilgrimages."
It was while the Math was in Nilambar Mukherjee's garden house that the leader boldly conceived and executed the idea of Brahminising the nun-brahmin bhaktas by giving them the sacred thread and the Gayatrl Mantra, an idea which the Swami often advocated in the south and carried out at Ottapalam in Malabar. It was here again that the unique and unprecedented ceremony of initiating at the chapel in the . monastery Miss Margaret Noble, a foreign woman – a mlechha in orthodox Hindu eyes – into the order of Brahmacharya took place, according to Hindu Vedic rites. The consecration was momentous in many respects. Not less, perhaps even more momentous was the Holy Mothers receiving of European lady disciples in audience and of the most orthodox Brahmin woman's (Gopalarma's) eating and living with them. It was here again that the leader introduced plague-relief measures and said that he was prepared to sell the Math property to relieve the distress of thousands. From here again it was that for the consecration of the newly bought Math grounds at Belur, the great leader followed by his gurubhais, disciples and followers carried on his right shoulder the hallowed urn containing the sacred earthly remains of the Master to the new grounds and performed the solemn consecration ceremony. The Swami was one of the chief participators in these movements and ceremonies. He was an alert witness of the doings of the leader. Every word, every act, every idea of the leader was carefully noted, deeply studied, well digested and assimilated by the Swami. He became imbued with the leader's spirit. He became moulded in that pattern. He was transformed into a replica of the leader, the Swami Vivekananda. In the intellectual sphere of work in the Mutt, his main duty was to conduct, along with Swami Turiyanandaji, question classes and classes for the study of the Sanskrit language and of eastern and western philosophies. After the departure of Swami Turiyananda to Kathiawar and also to the West the work fell mainly on his shoulders. In the diary of Swami Saradananda it is stated that Swami Vivekananda returned from Calcutta to Belur Mutt with Swami Shivananda on 4th Feb. 1899 and that he asked Swami Nirmalananda to take charge of the Math. Two days after the Swami's assumption of charge from Swami Saradananda Swami Vivekananda. sent Swamis Saradananda and Turiyananda to Guzerat and Kathiawar respectively to preach the message of the Master.
In 1899 the Swami went to Rajputana for famine relief work. That same year the leader sailed for the West a second time. He came back the next year incognito. He arrived at the Belur Mutt late at night on the 9th of December 1900. The inmates were at their meals when the gardener came running for the key of the gate as a Sahib had come! There was, of course, much excitement at the news. While they were speculating as to who the Sahib was and what his business might be, the Sahib himself rushed into their midst. In boyish fashion he had climbed over the gate, not waiting for the keys, for 'hearing the bell ring for supper he feared nothing might be left for him if he did not hasten.' What was their surprise and their joy at the discovery that the Sahib was none other than their unexpected leader, their Noren, their Swamiji! Immediately a seat was spread for him and he was served with a large helping of Khichri, the food for the night. He partook of it with great zest. The whole night passed in excitement, conversation and song and joy. One present on the occasion, Sj, Nareshchandra Ghosh of Balaram Mandir says: "The Swamis were talking and enjoying throughout the night. I then witnessed The love and affection between the Swamis. Swamis Vivekananda and Nirmalananda sat chit-chatting and smoking together. After talking for a very long time, Swami Vivekananda began to sing and Swami Nirmalananda assisted him by playing Pakhwaj".
On the 10th of February 1901 the Trustees of the Math held their first meeting in the presence of Swami Vivekananda at which Swami Saradananda and Swami Nirmalananda were unanimously made the Secretary and Assistant Secretary, respectively, of the Math and Mission. The Swami discharged this additional duty also with characteristic efficiency and thoroughness. Next year when the leader was perhaps at Mayavari, Swami again retired to his favourite Himalayas for Tapasya. Seeing that he was not returning even after long time the Swami Vivekananda called him over to take up the work of preaching. Swami replied that he wanted to continue his life of tapasya. Swamiji wrote back: "There is no dearth of wandering Sanyasins in India. But I do not wish you to be one of them." A little after, one day, a telegram was put into his hands. He perhaps thought that it was an urgent call. But as he read it he was unnerved. It announced the most unexpected - the most unbearable - news, the Mahasamadhi of his brother, leader, refuge, his All-in-All. It was more than a severe shock. It was alost a death-blow. He fell ill immediately. His life hung in the balance. One night, however, he had a vision. His leader, his Siva, went to him, sat by his side on his bed. 'Tulasi,' he called him in his silver voice and endearing tone, 'Tulasi, you think I have left you! No, my boy, cheer up, I am always with you.' That comforted him and he recovered very soon. Then again without returning to the Math he proceeded to Kashmir where he had a serious attack of pneumonia. The then Dewan of Kashmir was SJ. Neelambar Mukherjee to whose garden it was that the Alambazar Math had been removed. His wife made arrangements for Swami's treatment and wrote to Swami Brahmadanda who immediately sent him ninety rupees by wire and wrote to him asking' him to go to Calcutta, leaving Kashmir immediately as it was the cold season there, He came back.
After some months he was unanimously elected a trustee of the Math and Mission. But he did not accept the trust. He continued, however, attending to his work in the Math. Some time after his return from Kashmir Swami Abhedanandaji desired to have the Swami sent to America to help him in his work, which was growing day by day. Complying with the request and seeing his fitness, the President Maharaj sent him to America.