HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
THE TIDAL WAVE OF SPIRITUALITY
After a short stay at Alleppey he left for Trivandrum. The devotees had all these days been on the look out for a proper site for an Ashrama. About five mites to the north-east of the town, at Nettayam, there is a hilly, jungly tract in which Mr. Arunachalam Pillai (Retired Telegraph Master) owned about 300 acres. He came forward with an offer of 5 acres for the purpose. It then seemed to the devotees that an Ashrama there would be something like a forest retreat. The Swami inspected the site and agreed to accept it. On the 23rd of December 1915 the gift deed was signed and delivered.
Now, the Swami set his heart on the work of building a first rate Ashrama on the hill top, far removed from the town's maddening crowd. The magnitude of the work had been hardly thought of by any of the enthusiasts and no one had any idea as to the final shape the Ashrama was going to take. The devotees' original estimate of the cost was Rs. seven thousand. Very soon it was found out that it would not fall short of Rs. twenty thousand. Then it went up to fifty. Finally it came to over a lakh of rupees. It was the Swami himself and his friend, Mr. Hrisheekesh Banerji, Assistant Engineer, that made the design and also alterations in it from time to time.
The Swamiji probably knew at the very outset that that Ashrama in the Capital of the State was destined to be in point of location, design and structure, the finest and strongest in India. He desired to have the foundation stone laid by His Serene Holiness, the Swami Brahmananda.
To request him to do it, the Swami decided to go to Calcutta. Before starting, he busied himself in Travancore with the work of collecting money and materials, and of supervising the clearing and levelling of the ground. He was constantly on the move, attending to every detail of the work as it proceeded and also ministering to the spiritual needs of the devotees.
In May 1916, he started for Calcutta. This time lie took two of his dearest devotees, Dr. Tampi and Mr. Kunhiraman Menon with him to get them initiated by the President. Such was his love for his devotees that he had felt sarry that Mr. Menon had not asked Maharaj for initiation at his first visit. He had therefore asked him to accompany him to North India during his previous trip. When he pleaded inability, Swamiji admonished him for pulling off such things. This time, however, he took both Mr. Menon and Dr. Tampi with him to Calcutta. They were initiated by Sri Maharaj.
During their stay there, they were privileged to witness the holy mutual love of such of the children of Sri Ramakrishna as were present there. They had grown up into spiritual luminaries of the highest order as had been forseen by their Master and foretold by their Chief. "They are each a centre of religious power and in time that power will manifest" (C. W. Vol. VII, page 256). So had the Swami Vivekananda said about them. The two devotees also saw the high esteem in which the Swami was held by his gurubhais. One day, there was a conversation class at the Belur Mutt. A large number of devotees had come from Calcutta. Quite unusually Sri Maharaj also came down to the class. The other senior Swamis were all present. Sri Maharaj said: "Tulasi will lead the class. If any one had any further doubts, I shall put in a word." There was hardly any necessity for it. The Swami's answers were so clear and convincing.
After a long stay, when the devotees were ready to return, the Swami told them of his desire to take Sri Maharaj to Kerala. Sri Maharaj had just then returned from a tour in East Bengal. He was saying that he felt tired. He could not therefore be then approached with the proposal to visit distant Kerala. The Swami said, he would remain there until he found a favourable moment to move the matter. So the devotees returned, mentally praying tor the fulfilment of Swamiji's desire.
To accompany Sri Maharaj and to serve him in any journey which he undertook of his own accord was itself an onerous work, though, at the same time, a coveted privilege. But to request and persuade him to undertake a journey up to the southern most point of India and to take up the entire responsibility for his convenience, comfort and safety on one's shoulders was a burden which a superman alone could afford to bear. Swamiji dared to bear it cheerfully, because of his unlimited love for the Master's children in the South and also because of his unsurpassed boldness and unbounded self-confidence.
Some months passed. Swamiji made the request and Maharaj was graciously pleased to grant it. The joyous news was transmitted to Kerala, All were alert and astir to receive the Fountain of Bliss unalloyed into their midst. The Swami with unerring knowledge of men and things apportioned and allotted to different devotees the sacred work of serving Sri Maharaj and party at the several places he was to touch or visit. Maharaj and party reached Bangalore on the 12th of August 1916.
They were given a grand reception at the Bangalore City Railway Station. Maharaj was also presented with an address of welcome. Reaching the Ashrama, he was so very pleased with what he saw that he asked Sri Kumuda Bandhu Sen who had accompanied him to write to Swami Premananda giving a full description of the Ashrama. The Swami's work for the untouchables was also highly appreciated by Maharaj who used to praise him during his absence. The holy spiritual vibrations of the place were attuned to Maharaji's nature. The Swami attended on him, sometimes as Lakshmana on Sri Ramachandra, at other times as a disciple on his Guru and yet at others as Yesoda on her Krishna. Maharaj was quire happy there. Swamiji. felt even happier. Three months and more passed. The season of the south-east monsoon was over in Kerala. The parly started on 26th Nov. 1916. It included Swami Sankarananda, Bhumananda, Durgananda, Nityachaithanya (Yateeswarananda), Gopal and others.
Swamiji had written to Mr. Kunhiraman Menon to take charge of the in-coming party at Ottapalam and lead ie to Alwaye. On its return he was to take it from Ernakulam to Podanur.
The 26th of November dawned – the day on which the dust of Kerala was to be made holy by its contact with the blessed feet of the spiritual son of the Avatara of the age. The Mail Train conveying him and the party reached Olavacode, the first Railway Station in Kerala where the Mail Train from Madras halted. A young man known to the Swami had been sent there to inform him in advance that Ottapalam was ready to receive them. Mr. Menon had gone there the previous day. A rich Malabar dinner for the party, prepared at the hospitable hearth of the Swami's host at Ottapalam, was carried to the Railway Station. The train steamed in. The hearts of the devotees leapt with joy and beat in anxiety at the same time – joy, that they were about to see and serve the Mahapurushas and party and anxiety that the many vessels containing the dinner may not all go into the train intact in a minute's time the train halted there. The Swami, with a joyous smile on his face was peeping out and greeting them. The devotees saluted them and got themselves and all the vessels intact into the train, and prostrated before Sri Maharaj. He was in a very happy mood, serene, majestic and with a gentle smile playing upon his countenance. The Swami was also in the same compartment. There were also some big guns of Malahar talking incessantly of Legislative Councils and other matters. Reaching Shoranur, the party changed to the Shoranur-Ernakulam Train. With the help of the friend of Mr. Menon, who was a railway servant, permission was obtained to serve the dinner in the spacious upper class compartment.
Sri Maharaj was served first by Mr. Menon himself self in a First Class Compartment. He seemed to relish the dishes very much, asking for more and more. When he had finished and begun to take rest, all the others were served and all of them did full justice to the preparations. The Swami was highly pleased that the party felt satisfied, and he congratulated Mr. Menon on his having served Maharaj with his own hands – for MaharaJ could not take cooked food touched by all.
Several devotees had come to Shoranur just to catch a glimpse of Sri Maharaj. Leaving Shoranur, the party reached Alwaye – a famous river resort where a halt was made. Mr. Tampi (Swami Parananda) and other devotees from Travancore accorded the party a filling reception. A fine and spacious river-side bunglow had been engaged for the party's stay. Maharaj seemed to be in high spirits. In the evening he took a short excursion to the river. He was merry like a child. Every one felt comfortable and happy. The next day, people assembled in large numbers to pay their respects to Maharaj and Swamiji. Maharaj was in a mood to speak and he spoke for long on various subjects such as pilgrimages, sacred places, Japa, Dhyana, Samadhi, etc. As it was very rarely that Sri Maharaj spoke in public, the substance of his talk, as reported in the Prabuddha Kerala, is given below.
"Pilgrimages are beneficial in many ways. The chief advantage is that we are enabled to meet holy men and see them. Another advantage is that worldly thoughts tend to decrease and there is constant remembrance of God. No doubt these will aid us in our spiritual progress. We will gain much spiritual knowledge also.
"Kashi (Benares) is a very sacred place. Many Sadhus (holy men) live there. Thus we get the opportunity to be in their company. A spiritual current is always flowing in Kashi. House-holders have many facilities for the worship of the Lord there. It would be good if you could stay there for a time.
"Vrindavan is another sacred place. There are many Sadhus there immersed in the contemplation of the Lord, day and night. You ought to go and see those places. Work, you will have always. But in spite of this, find time to visit these places at least once. So far as work is concerned, there is some which will lead you Godward. Unselfish work belongs to this class. But selfish work will never help you in your spiritual path. Know that your wife, children and all, which you now call yours, belong to the Lord. If you have this firm belief, everything will go on all right for you. The contrary belief will bring about a contrary result.
"Repetition of the Holy name of the Lord is very good. The mind will become pure through it. While repeating the name of ihe Lord you should keep remembrance of the Lord in your mind. Such repetition and remembrance will do much good. Mere repetition without the remembrance of the Lord will not be of much use. I do not say that this is easy. To do it, one must have Upadesha, or initiation by the Guru.
"The Guru will determine your Ishta-Devata (form of Ideal) and other things necessary for your spiritual progress. According to the difference in the nature of each individual, there are many Ishta-Devatas. One cannot suit all. Until spiritual knowledge dawns upon you, you have to follow the direction of your Guru. The more you work, the purer you become.
"To practise without the aid of the Guru is always very difficult. A few rare souls of exceptional strength of mind might be able to realise without any such external help. Yet, it is better to work under the guidance of a Guru. Then there is no possibility of your committing any mistake. Still you should not remain idle, because you have not got a Guru. Begin at once and the Guru will come in proper time.
"The Guru must select the Sishya (disciple) and the Sishya must choose the Guru, Otherwise, if one alone selects, it is not so good. Only a perfect soul (Siddha-Guru) can really help the disciple. Such a Guru alone can give initiation according to the differences in the nature of the disciples. An ordinary Guru can do no such thing. This latter is ready to give Upadesha to any one at any time. When tme proper time comes, God will send you your Guru. Until you get such a Guru, your duty is the worship of the Lord. If not, your days will be spent in vain. Hence have regular meditation, Japa and Bhajana (singing the praises of the Lord) every day.
"As you proceed with meditation you will see that you are, getting more and more realisation. There is no use in merely reading the Shastras (Sacred Scriptures) and discussing about them. By meditation the mind will become pure, and when the mind becomes pure, realisation of God follows as a matter of course. Ordinarily, we hold our mind on wordly matters. No result worth the name comes out of this. But if you fix your mind in the pure thought of God, you will feel a taste of real bliss.
"All your energy is spent in wordly things. Exert yourself a little in the worship of God. You should not spend your life in vain. Begin at once. Worship the Lord. Our span of life is very short. The most important duty for us in this short life is the worship of God. If we waste our time, we can never regain it. Whatever work you may be engaged in, think of the Lord always. It is not enough if you merely sit in a corner for a short time at a certain period of the day and shut your eyes; for then you will see the whole world coming before your mind's eye.
"It is best to start from Dualism. If you proceed a little along this path, you will find that you are naturally led to non-dualism. To see Cod outside of ourselves is a right path. Afterwards you will be able to see God within yourself. This is the highest form of meditation. Is not God all-pervading? Until you get the taste of bliss, you should practise meditation. Until then, Dualism is necessary. In the state of Samadhi, you will see God alone. None can describe the nature of self-realisation. So long as you have the thought of God in you, sin will not affect you."
After Maharaj, the Swami also spoke and answered questions. In the evening, the inmates of the Adwait Ashrama founded by Sri Narayana Guru presented Maharaj with an address in Sanskrit. On the 3rd day, the Swami visited the local market. After midday meal the party proceeded to Kottayam by a soecial Motor boat. The boat encountered a storm in the Vempanad backwaters and it could reach Kottayam only at midnight. The night was spent in the boat itself. Many of the devotees who had come to receive the party at 6 P.M., and were waiting on the shores stayed on there throughout the night. The party landed at 6 A.M., and proceeded to the town by car. After a very pleasant stay of 2 days, the party left for Haripad where a grand reception had been arranged with Poornakumbha, music, palanquine, etc. Seeing all this Maharaj smiled and playfully asked Swami, "Am I going to he made a bridegroom?" He got down from the Motor Car in front of the Temple of the Mother and walked to the Ashrama. As already observed, Haripad is a small out-of-the way village and it was thought by some that Maharaj need not be taken there at all. But the Swami thought otherwise. That he was perfectly right was made clear by Maharaji's observation as he entered the Ashrama, "Ah! what a fine place," he said. He stayed there four days and initiated a few devotees. Among them were Swami Purushothamananda, Mr. Subbaraya Iyer and others. Quilon was reached next. Dr. Tampi was in charge of the arrangements there. A new two storeyed house, the biggest building at Quilon, had been engaged for the party's stay. Spending two happy days there, Maharaj and party left it for Trivandrum. On the day of departure 2,000 persons were sumptuously fed. Trivandrum was reached on the 8th of December. Amongst those who took the lion's share in making arrangements for receiving the President Maharaj may be mentioned Dr. T. Padmanabha Pillai who was initiated by Maharaj at the Cape, Mr. M. R. Narayana Pillai, Mr. D. K. Ghose, Mr. Rama Warrior and others.
All arrangements for the laying of the foundation stone had been completed. The top of the hill was the spot selected by Swamiji for building the Ashrama. A road was newly constructed to take the Maharaj there by car. Devotees from all parts of Kerala had come early enough to partake in the ceremony. Maharaj was seated upstairs apparently established in and enjoying his own glory. By his aide was Mr. Ghosh – the son of the late Kalipada Ghosh, a great house-holder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, then in the employ of Messrs, Dickinson and Co.
Early morning on the 9th of December 1916, Maharaj with the party of Sanyasins, Brahmacharins, devotees from all Kerala motored to the top of the hill. A Pandal had been specially put up at the place and the photos of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda set up. After worship at 8 A. M., in great solemnity and with the due rites, Maharaj laid the foundation stone of the Ashrama which was to rise head and shoulders over all other Ashramas. It was well and truly laid. When asked about what all things must be made ready for the foundation ceremony Maharaj remarked "Tulasi, you remember what Swamiji did at the Belur Math, A few flowers and Ganges water. With these, if we invoke the Lord, He will respond and remain here permanently for the good of all."
Maharaj was presented with 3 addresses, one in English and two in Sanskrit. He had said before: "I am too old to change into the European fashion by receiving and replying to addresses." So he remained absolutely silent, immoveahle as a statue. The Swami Nirmalanandaji replied on his behalf in most appropriate terms.
The next day the party proceeded to the Cape where also a spacious and beautiful upstairs bunglow had been engaged for hia stay. Maharaj reached the Cape by car in the evening. The next morning after ablution the Maharaj and party went to the shrine to worship the Mother. Maharaj made offerings of money at her feet. Various other offerings were also made. Standing before the Mother, beads in hand, he fell into Samadhi. His extraordinarily powerful eyes which were usually half-closed opened wide, became steady and motionless and shone like two brilliant stars. Slowly coming down to the plane of the senses, he circumabulated the Mother, came out and sat in the entrance hall, facing the east and made Japa. Afterwards he returned to his residence. Then followed a course of Tapasya for the party for nine days. On one of these days Maharaj spoke on the last days of Sri Gurumaharaj and Samadhi. Maharaji performed Kumari Puja, feeding some unmarried girls and giving them clothes, etc.
Whenever Maharaj went out, a lot of poor people approached him. Seening them Maharaj would look for the Swamiji who was always by his side with an open bag of money. Maharaj would put his hand into the bag, take out the money and distribute it most lavishly and most graciously.
During his stay at the Cape Sri Maharaji used to go to the temple both morning and evening. Often, he would ask the monks ot his party to sing while he would be seated before the Mother in ecstasy. Sometimes; he would talk to the Devi in Bhava, accosting Her by clapping his hands and saying "Ma, Ma" Mother, Mother.
The day before he left the Cape, Maharaj initiated many fortunate souls like Swarm Sukhananda, Mr. Krishna Iyer who had served the cause, heart and soul and many others. For the first time, Sri Maharaj is said to have scattered his blessings without himself looking into the merits of the recepients. The choice of the person was entirely left to the Swami. Whoever passed by him standing downstairs at the foot of the staircase was led in by the Swami Sankaranandaji to Sri Maharaj upstairs and he was initiated. It was as if the accession of strength vouchsafed to him by the Mother was being freely distributed, as desired by his beioved brother Tulasi. Ordinarily Maharaj was loth to initiate disciples. When he did, it was after proper exercise of his own discrimination and judgement. The recommendations of such highly spiritual companions as Swami Premanandaji are said to have been futile, sometimes. Usually he did not inniate more than one at a time. But here without even any personal knowledge concerning the persons, mostly house holders, he was blessing them by the score. There need be no other testimony to Maharaji's love for and trust in the Swami and in his power of judgement. Maharaj told some of his initiated disciples to receive instructions from Swami in case they found any doubt or difficulty in their Sadhana. He must also have been highly pleased with the most excellent tour arrangement made by the Swami. No Emperor could have had more loving service or greater comfort in such a long journey. It was as if the dearest child was being gently carried in the hands of the mother. So smooth and pleasant was the whole journey from the first to the last day. In fact, the Swami was for the time another man. He openly said: "This time service to Maharaj is my Sadhana. To look to his convenience and comfort is my sole concern". Swami was every moment wide awake. He lived and moved and had his being for the service of Maharaj. "Here is the living God; worship him by service,' he said to a disciple. Swami's sadhana was indeed rigorous. The desired result was more than achieved. Maharaj was perfectly happy throughout the journey, the foundation stone had been laid, the spot was rendered a holy place for pilgrimage, there was a happy family meeting of the Mother and Her children and a score of them was baptised at Her altar. Thousands were blessed by the Darsan of the Son of God. The land of Parasurama itself was blessed. Thus did the Swami labour hard and subject himself to Tapasya again, not for himself, but for his flock, for the poor, ignorant and helpless men and women of the South.
Maharaj and party left the Cape on the 3rd Dhanu, halted at Nagercoil and proceeded to Quilon where he again spent a few days.
As an illustration of the extreme love of Swamiji to the Bhaktas and the regard with which his words were heeded to by Sri Maharaj the following incident may be mentioned. It was settled that a few Bhaktas would be initiated by Sri Maharaj on a certain auspicious day at Quilon. On the appointed day, Swami Sankarananda informed Swamiji that the initiation could not take place as Maharaj was indisposed. At once Swamiji became very grave. Remarking "it is only the initiation of a few sincere souls and Maharaj shows reluctance", he went to his venerable gurubhai to persuade him to bless the devotees. In a few minutes, Maharaj came out accompanied by Swamiji, proceeded to the room where arrangements had already been made and gave initiation to all those proposed by Swamiji. They were Mr. Krishnan Nambiaihiri (later Swami Agamananda), Mr. Chandrasekharan Pillay and Mr. P. Seshadri Iyer, a student devotee. On the 30th December 1916, the party started from Quilon touched Ambalapuzhai and Ernaculam, then entrained for Bangalore.
As stated before, the Swami had made perfect arrangements for the return journey also. Mr. Kunhiraman Menon was to meet and attend to the needs of the party from Ernakulam. The Swami had wired to him the date and time of arrival at Ernakulam. The party stayed there a night and started by the mail train early next day. Mr. Kunhiraman Menon travelled with the party up to Podanur. Swamiji played a practical joke on him which was also a blessing in disguise. He had a fine little basket in his hand. It caught Swamiji's eyes. After the train left Shoranur, he would look at it and then at Mr. Menon's face alternatively. This went on for some time. Then calling the attention of Maharaj, he said: "Maharaj, Kunhiraman has a fine basket here." Maharaj who was reading something looked up and said 'Kunhiraman, we want this basket.' 'Yes, Maharaj', he said, emptied the contents and placed it before him. Maharaj was amused and Swamiji laughed.
The train reached Ottapalam where disciples and devotees had come to pay their respects. One of them (Mr. C. Kunhiraman Nair) had brought for Maharaj some ricecakes puffed with sugar, cocoanuts and spices. Maharaj asked what it was, and like a boy took one – a pretty big one – and ate the whole of it. This was what he tasted last in Kerala. Thus it happened that of all places Ottapalam served him his first and his last Bhiksha in Kerala. The Swami accompanied Maharaj to Bangalore. After a few days' stay there, Maharaj and partv returned to Calcutta via Madras. Before leaving Bangalore Ashrama in January 1917 Maharaj graciously gave initiation to Rao Sahib H. Chennaya, Retired Sub-Judge, who has long been a worker in the cause of the Ramakrishna movement in Mysore and Coorg.