HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
After his return from Calcutta, the Swami paid his second visit to Kerala in September of the same year. This time it was in response to the invitation of the Vedanta Society, Trivandrum, of which Dr. Raman Tampi was the President. This was his first visit to Trivandrum, the capital of the State, which, thereafter he visited at least once every year with wonderful results. Although he had left Kerala in March only, he was keeping regular correspondence with his friends over there, making enquiries of all and the progress of their activities. He did not lose touch with any of the vital elements in his work. Some of the members of the society who had invited him went to Quilon to meet him. From there they proceeded to Trivandrum by a country boat, the only available conveyance, the railway to Trivandrum not having been opened then. The members were surprised to find that the Swami would accept no kind of personal service. He said he was not butter to melt at the slightest touch, and that he was strong enough to serve others. In the boat, he insisted on a light being kept up at night, 'dark thoughts, he said 'come in the dark.' He did not take any food that night, but smoked and referring to it remarked to his companions humorously, 'You are taking food in the material plane, while I am in the astral plane.' At the landing place in Trivandrum, he was given a royal reception and was taken in procession through the decorated streets. Replying to the address presented to him he said: "There is an American saying 'Love me, Love my dog.' It is your love to Sri Ramakrishna that makes you honour this dog of His."
Swamiji made a pretty long stay in Trivandrum. Dr. Krishna Pillai, an eminent physician, placed his spacious house at the disposal of Swamiji. The Doctor was a good Sanscrit scholar with a religious bent of mind and he and his family became staunch devotees of the Swami. He held conversations in the Native High School on almost all the days. He also delivered three lectures. For his lectures, he said, no chairman was necessary. Yet, following the ordinary practice, Presidents were proposed for the two lectures in the Jubilee Town Hall. The subjects were 'The General ideals of Hinduism' and 'The Message of Sri Ramakrishna.' Usually he spoke again after the President's concluding speech, so that the audience may not go away with the misconception or wrong ideas emanating from the chairmen, usually tyros in religion, uncorrected. Referring to the unimpressive manner in which a well educated devotee made a speach on one of those occasions, the Swami remarked " You look for fine phrases and come prepared with manufactured, artificial rhetoric; it falls fiat on the hearers, produces no effect If you have some vital tiling to give, phrases and proper words, will come of themselves on the spur of the moment. Style will mould itself as you proceed with your discourse. I had something tangible to give, by the grace of Sri Gurumaharaj and so I had no hesitation in speaking before Western audiences consisting often of the pick of the Society in their own language and they listened with all attention." He was also invited to the Cosmopolitan Club. The President remarked that the Swami must be a cosmopolitan, as he was a Vedantin who believed in the dictum 'Tat Twain Asi.' The Swami fully subscribed to the view that a Vedantin is a cosmopolitan. He then launched a powerful attack on the so-called cosmopolitan who only practised promiscuous eating and drinking. He also rated the so-calied social reformers, who were pulling down and degrading the higher classes instead of elevating the lower ones by giving them proper education and culture. He spoke of the methods of Swami Vivekananda for the uplift of India. As a result of that talk the Vedanta Society began to hold night classes for the benefit of the poor.
In the Gita class one day he took up the l2th chapter and spoke on the Swarat and Virat forms of the Lord and explained the meaning of Upasana as sitting near. 'Love', he said 'made one approach the beloved nearer and nearer. There is a rose-flower outside. We like it, we pluck it, smell it, place it near our hearts in the button-hole of our coat.' That was one of the illustrations he gave.
The next day when he was about to take the Gita one among the students desired some practical instructions in meditation. Swamiji was very pleased and began a meditation class which was regularly conducted during the remaining days of the Swami's stay there as well as on subsequent occasions.
In the early, hours of the morning all would assemble in the room. After placing flowers and burning incense before the photos of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Swamiji would sit in Yogic posture and teach others to sit straight. He would ask them to close their eyes, send a current of good thoughts to the whole world, pray for the happiness and well-being of all; then to salute all the Mahapurushas, Gurus, Gods and Avataras and to crave their blessings. Afterwards they were to imagine a lotus in the heart, full of light inside and outside, and to think of the Ishta-Devata as seated on it. The Devata should be thought of as a living reality. By sincere and steady practice, the Devata can be made to talk to the devotee, clearing all his doubts. One of his ardent devotees and students says: "Thus we were initiated in practical spirituality, and many count that as one of the greatest treasures laid open to us by the great love and mercy of Swamiji. He would often urge us to practise whole-heartedly and regularly, and encourage us by saying that we cannot now conceive of the immense benefit we would derive from it. On the first day of his teaching, he prostrated before all present, saying 'you are all the living temples of God.'
One present had bathed before he sat for meditation. Swamiji remarked: 'The leech always remains in water yet it is not regarded as holy, what is wanted is purity of heart, and not mere external cleanliness.'
Another time he spoke on meditation as follows:– "There will be no great progress if you meditate for a short time only every day and spend all other time in wordly thoughts. The little time you thus devote everyday will have to be spent in trying to remove the impressions which will have crowded into your minds at other times. And this is repeated every day. So to make real progress in meditation, a part of the mind should always be given to God, whatever be the work you are engaged in. If you are able to do that, your mind will get concentrated as soon as you sit down for meditation. The thought of God can be kept continuously under all conditions, by a little practice. Suppose you have a tooth-ache. Are you not able to attend to all your daily duties in spite of the continuous pain. Similarly by a little practice you will reach a state in which you cannot give up the thought of God even for a single moment.
It was during this, his first visit to Trivandrum that a plan for an Ashrama there was discussed. A subscription list was immediately opened. Swamiji in his clear and beautiful hand wrote on it 'Om Namo Bhagavate Ramakrishnaya' in Nagari Character and headed the list with a subscription of Rupee One which he at once paid remarking humourously that he should not be born again for paying it. He was followed by Dr. Tampi and other friends with sums of three and four digits.
Some friends suggested to the Swami to pay a visit to the Maharaja. Swamiji demurred, but the friends urged it again and cited the examples of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ramakrishnananda. Swamiji reluctantly agreed to the suggestion and asked the friend who-had proposed it, to draft a letter. It was done in the usual stereotyped form. 'As I desire to pay my respects to your Highness etc.' Swamiji turned round on him and said 'you do not know, what a Sanyasin should say. Though humble, he should not lower the ideal.' Forthwith he dictated 'I am a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. As I have come to your capital, I think I should convey to you my blessings in person, etc." The Maharaja was indisposed at that time and could not receive the Swamiji just then. Swamiji never cared to visit Royalty thereafter.
Hearing of the passing away of the Sister Nivedita, he became solemn for a moment and prayed 'May her soul rest in peace.' Someone asked him about her conversion to Hinduism. He said 'She was never converted. She was made a better Christian. The Ramakrishna Mission is not a proselytising body; it helps all to realise their highest ideals.'
It was quite a new type of man that the public of Trivandrum saw in their midst. He towered head and shoulders above them all in all respects immeasurably, infinitely he was superior to the best and highest of them, yet how humble, how kind, how loving, how utterly devoid of self! He returns to them the unspent passage money which was his by all standards of right, he does not accept even big donations, he prostrates himself before them! A wonderful personality, a true son of Sri Ramakrishna, they say to themselves. They fix their gaze on him, they are captivated by him.
It may be mentioned that a devoted group of disciples gathered round him during this first visit among whom were Mr. Rama Warriar, a constant supporter of the Ashrama, Mr. Nilakanta Pillay, Mr. Shivarama Pillay, Mr. Sankara Pillay and others who remained steadfast throughout.
Haripad was the stepping stone to Trivandrum. From Trivandrum he shook not Trivandrum only but all Travancore and all Kerala. The fire that he lighted there, the energy which he let loose there, the current which he there set in motion was not to be extinguished, not to be spent out, not to be stopped or obstructed.
Inwardly satisfied that the foundation was well and truly laid, the Swami set out to Kanyakumari to worship the Mother, 'to charge his battery,' as he expressed it, a practice which he adhered to on all occasions of his visit to Trivandrum. Kanyakumari seemed to have been, in fact, his spiritual destination whenever he went to the south. After worshipping the Mother and resting himself for a short time, he returned and touching Trivandrum proceeded to Thiruvella, the third centre in the State to invite him. On his way he got down at Varkalai, a health resort and a very sacred place of pilgrimage, famous in Upper India under the name of Janardhanam. There he was presented with an address of welcome in Sanskrit verse by the great poet, the late Kumaran Asan, on behalf of the disciples of Sri Narayana Guru. Proceeding thence he went by way of Haripad from where he was escorted by the public of Thiruvella in a beautifully decorated 'Snake boat' and taken in procession to Thiruvella. At the request of the local public, the Swami laid the foundation stone of the Ramakrishna Mandiram on the 28th of October 1911. In the evening of the same day he presided over the annual meeting of the local Sri Ramakrishna Sangha held in the M. G. M. School Hall. After his brilliant presidential address, he held a conversation with the elite of the Town. Here he was the guest of Mr. M. R. Narayana Pillai. who was then the local District Munsiff, with whom he was corresponding ever since his first visit to Haripad. After a short stay in the place the Swami left Travancore enroute to Bangalore.