HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
THE MOVEMENT GROWS
The Swami carefully prepared the ground, elevated and beautiful, and collected valuable materials for the proposed Ashrama at Trivandrum. Sri Maharaj laid the foundation stone. From now onwards the one thought dominant in the mind of Swamiji was to raise the superstructure on the foundation laid. The building must have the grace, the dignity and the grandeur befitting the person whose name it was to bear and whose hand it was that laid the stone. It must stand every possible storm and it must stand for several generations. Posterity must look upon it as a monument of the activities of a child of Sri Ramakrishna, as a towering light-house shedding spiritual light to the mariners in the dark ocean of Samsara.
Hitherto the building of an Ashrama in any place was the sole concern of the public. The Swami had no responsibility in the matter. In the case of the Trivandrum work; however, it was different. It was at his request that Brahmanandaji Maharaj had consented to lay the first stone. Now, therefore, he owed it to Maharaj to see that the work was carried on to the very end.
He set himself to the task whole-heartedly. The few thousands which were originally estimated as the cost of the building for the Ashrama had to be got from the middle class people. There were no millionaires to donate large sums. By twos and threes and even in driblets it took years to collect the necessary amount. And the Swami had himself to go about for collection. In this he was ably assisted by his friends and devotees among whom special mention has to be made of Mr. Subramania Iyer, Conservator of Forests, Dr. Tampi, his brother Mr. Padmanabhan Tampi (late Parananda Swami) Messrs. M. R. Narayana Pillai, C. K. Krishna Pillai, K. Raman Menon, P. G. Govinda Pillai, K. Sankara Menon (Swami Amalananda) and others, who helped him in the work of construction in various ways. The Swami's presence on the spot also became necessary for long periods. In the previous years he usually visited Kerala only once a year. But now it became necessary to visit it twice or thrice a year.
At the same time he could not forget or neglect the other centres and the devotees in other parts. We see him therefore constantly on the move from one place to another, from Bangalore to Trivandrum from Trivandrum to Bombay to Benares and Calcutta and back ro Bangalore. All-India became his field of activities, the South being his Head Quarters. The nature of his work differed in the North and in the South. The North had already become familiar with the names of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and the Mission; the Swami's special work in that region was therefore limited to the fostering of the spirit already generatcd and to the enlightening of special individuals. In the South, he had to create an atmosphere to start and maintain centres, to train individuals and to rouse the people. He had to keep his eyes on the entire field at one and the same time, he had to run his practised hand on the many keys of his complicated and delicate machinery.
Accompanying the Maharaji's party to Madras and returning to Bangalore he fell ill with influenza, and it was in July 1917 that he came back to Trivandrum. He stayed there till about October, occupied mainly with the Ashrama work, side by side with it went on spiritual talks, meditation classes and teaching of scriptures, and visits to villages. Many and interesting were the incidents relating to these and succeeding periods; his talks were sometimes soul-stirring, sometimes mirthprovoking, always interesting. He had a fund of stories, anecdots, folklore and fun. Now a Bhakta, then a Jnani always a Karmayogin outwardly, but inwardly always a perfect Rajayogi.
On one of such days at Trivandrum, a visitor who had leaning's towards Yoga practices asked the Swami how lost-Brahinacharya can be recouped. "Sri Ramakrishna used to say," said the Swami, "If you want to separate yourself from the west, you need not have to wrestle with it, but simply move eastwards." 'So also if you want to get rid of evil, march towards the good. Fill your mind with good thoughts, speak about pure and holy things and do only good." The visitor pressed his point and wanted the Swami to tell him how he might regain his lost Ojas. 'I know what you want,' rejoined the Swami, "some prescription to bring about a physical change. That won't be of any avail. The mind will still be hankering after the pleasures of the senses. Further such medicines or practices as incapaciate the bodily organs bring on incurable diseases also. So make the mind pure.
Speaking of Brahmacharya, Swamiji was put in mind of the great Brahmacharin and Bhakta Hamunan. The thought moved him to warmth of feeling and he proceeded:
'What is the power of Yogin compared to the Virya of a Bhakta like Hanuman, the greatest and wisest of Brahmacharins? At one bound he crossed the ocean! The Lord Himself had to build a bridge to reach Lanka. See what power he had! Did he practise this sort of Yoga? Was it any Yoga-siddhi or was it Premabhakti?
"Rama, with Sita was seated on the throne after his coronation. All his brothers and Bhaktas – Hanuman included – were in attendance. He was distributing costly presents to all his followers. Hanuman's turn came last. Rama took the most precious garland of pearls which adorned his own breast and gave it to Hanuman.
"How can this unpolished monkey appreciate this gift?" thought Lakshmana. As if in consonance with that thought Hanuman began to bite and break the pearls one by one and after looking into them throw them away as worthless. Lakshmana's blood began to boil. Rama noted it and asked him to question Hanuman what his strange conduct meant. To Lakshmana's question Hanuman replied. "Why! I am looking for Rama in these pearls; and not finding him I am throwing them away. Where there is no Rama, there is no worth. I dun't care to keep it.' Then, with a sneer, Lakshmana asked: "Why then do you keep your body? Does it contain Rama?"
"At once in the presence of that august assembly, before Rama and Sita, Hanuman ripped open his breast and said 'Look and behold!' And Lo! there in the lotus of his big heart was seen seated the self-same Rama with Sita in all his Divine splendour."
Swamiji had suited action to the words and as he narrated it, his audience saw not the Swami, but Hanuman, and in the bared breast of Swami they seemed actually to behold Rama and Sita. So completely had the Swami transformed himself and became one with Hanuman, that all Hanuman's love suffused through Swamiji's person; tears trickled down his cheeks; he was overpowered by a rare feeling. As soon as he came to realise that the heart's treasure had been revealed, he got up, hurried to his room and shut the door. After a long while he came back, shedding peace and benignity. And he quietly said 'Sri Swamiji (Vivekananda) is the modern Hanuman. Don't you know, before going to the West he wrote to the Holy Mother that he felt like Mahavira going to Lanka with the ring, the Message of his Master?'
What ocean of Love tossing up mighty waves was there in his large and mighty heart. And how rarely did the fortunate few catch a glimpse of one of those waves. While he was taking Swami Brahmanandaji to Kerala, one of the party was Kumudabandhu Sen, an old devotee who knew the Swami from the Baranagore days. They were travelling in the same compartment. "We talked of the old days of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda', said Mr. Sen, 'and when we were alone he sang a song about Radhakrishna composed by Ginsh Ghosh. Singing with great fervour and devotion, tears began to flow profusely from his eyes. I wondered that a man of such great control as I knew him to be, could be so full of devotion as not to be able to suppress his tears of joy."
Spending a few months in Trivandrum and giving an impetus to the work in all its phases, the Swami left the place for Malabar on the 26th of Oct. 1917. By the year 1917, in the words of Mr. Kunhiraman Menon, "Swamiji had come to know where to concentrate and where not in his work in Malabar. Tellicherry, one of the three important towns, he liked and continued to visit al- most every year, but the conditions there were such that he did not expect any tangible and permanent results. Calicut, he saw as dominated by the commercial spirit, where religion either would not grow or wouid grow but slowly. Yet it being the centre and the head-quarters of the District, he wished to do something there. Not finding, however, the right man for the time being, he postponed the work and waited for propitious days. They came later on. Palghat, another important town, appeared to him as dry as dust. Ottapalam, he liked from the very beginning, after two or three visits he remarked that he scented an Ashrama there just as a hound would scent a game. He visited these and many other places in Malabar." Wherever he went he left an indelible impression which in course of time wrought a permanent change in the lives of many. Everywhere he was received with great enthusiasm. But nowhere was it more markedly displayed than in North Malabar, where he visited Ryroth, the family house of the great Poet Kuttamath, four miles up the Mahe River. His arrival there from Mahe by boat was always timed at the hour of dusk and he was always received with royal pomp, caparisoned elephants, illumination, fire works and all other paraphernalia. The head of the house, Mr. Krishna Kurup, was, strange to say, not in the least interested in religion. He could not understand it, he said. It was not as a religious man and Sanyasin that he honoured and loved Swamiji. Himself a bold, upright and a highly intelligent man of great business capacity, initiative and power of direction he saw in the Swami the perfection of those manly qualities which he loved and admired most. Though he was not religiously inclined, this contact with Swamiji awakened the religious spirit and emboldened his younger brother, Kesava Kurup, to leave the house all on a sudden without informing any one."
Finishing the round of visits in Kerala he returned to Bangalore by the end of the year. The activities of the Bangalore Ashrama were being extended and carried on regularly. The religious classes, weekly bhajanas, celebrations of Birthdays and other religious festivals, went on as usual. At all times Swamiji was keeping himself in touch with all the important centres and the prominent devotees. He had a large volume of correspondence to attend to. To acknowledge and reply to all letters was an invariable rule with him. He had to do it all himself. It speaks volumes for his character that, to the very last, he kept up the school boy's ,hand, – neat, round and beautiful; each letter in each word was perfectly legible. Neither age nor overwork did affect it in the least.
The next year again he set out on his tours. The annual visits became a regular feature in his programme. Refreshing and nourishing as, the monsoon showers were his visits. This year he visited Coorg also, attended the Birthday Celebration at Quilandy and some other centres and by the time he reached Quilon, he felt so tired and worn out that he returned to Bangalore via Madras in the month of June. In September again he visited Trivandrum. He invited Dr. Tampi and family to spend the Christmas at Bangalore. Dr. Tampi accepted the invitation. The Doctor was never tired of describing the Swami's love and solicitude for the comfort of his guests, what an ideal host he was. This has been testified to by one and all who had the good fortune to be the Swami's guests at one time or anther. Swami Yatiswarananda once said that it was from the Swami that he learnt what hospitality was. With his own hands, without the help of any cook, the Swami prepared coffee for his guests. He knew their likes and dislikes and prepared dishes to suit their tastes. He did not talk of or lecture on Atithi Puja. He set an example to the householders and Sanyasins as well, as to how they should treat their guests. Hospitality was in his very blood. How the young disciples of the Master met at his house and how they were entertained by the members of his family have already been touched upon. For two months he got on without a cook or even a dish-washer. But he did not allow that to interfere with his other works.
He left Bangalore in the month of May 1919. One notable event in this tour was the retaking of Mr.Sankara Warrier, B.A., into the Hindu fold. He had become a Christian but desired to be re-admitted to the Hindu Community. Swamiji was approached by Mr. Warrier. He had the proper ceremonies with Vedic rites and he was taken back. This time his visit extended up to Mangalore in South Canara. He halted at important centres. He also laid the foundation stone for the Ashrama at Salem on the site donated by Mr. B. V. Namagiry lyer on 13th June 1919 and returned to Bangalore.
On the 3rd of August a students' home was opened at Bangalore providing true lodging, boarding and religious instructions to about 13 students attending schools. Some of the boarders attended the National Culture Institute. Swamiji had parallel and horizontal bars put up at the Ashrama itself and he was personally instructing the students in physical exercises. He was also doing kitchen work. On the 12th August he wrote as follows: "As regards the request of the lady Bhaktas of Ottapalam, I am very sorry that at present and in the near future there is hardly any possibility of my getting out of Bangalore. The reason is this: For nearly three months we have no cooks here. We are only two Swamies. One is conducting worship morning and evening, besides doing all outdoor works, such as marketing, shopping and various other duties of the Ashrama, too many to mention. I am myself doing all the works of the kitchen such as cooking, dressing, cleaning, etc., from 8 A.M., to 12 noon and again from 7 P.M., to 9 P.M., daiiy * * * I hardly find any time even to drop a few lines in reply to so many letters that I receive every day and further, now, in Calcutta influenza fever, famine, floods and various other disturbances such as looting, etc. are rampant and as such, it is not advisable that a party of ladies should travel over there. Write to them clearly. Explain the whole situation and reasons. It is not that I am unwilling, but the present circumstances do not permit me to leave Bangalore. Cannot write any more. Quite tired."
It was in October that Mr. Kesava Kurup, the brother of his host at Ryroth near Mahe, left the house for North India, Swamiji only heard of it. He thought of the old Mother, her grief and anxiety. He at once wrote to Bhaktan (Purushotamananda): "You write to his old mother on my behalf, with my blessings that there is no cause for anxiety. Sri Gurumaharaj will bring him back lo his house before long. He had a keen desire to visit the Belur Math and pay his respects to the President Maharaj, and I believe that goaded him to take this trip". It came out as Swamiji guessed and predicted. He returned soon after getting initiation frum President Maharaj. Of course, Swamiji wrote to Belur all about him.
By the end of October Swamiji got a cook and felt much relieved. Early next year (1920) he reached Travancore halting, on his way, at Salem, Ottapalam and other centres. After staying some days in Trivandrum he visited Haripad, where he spent about a week. Instructing the Bhaktas and training the Brahmacharins was his main work there. Regarding worship, he impressed upon the minds of the Brahmacharins that worship was not dry ritualism, but feeling the presence of the Lord and serving him as one would serve one's object of love. He stressed again and again on the need of practicality. He taught them even cooking and domestic economy and how to make the best and most out of what little was available. Some times, when the disciples were preparing to go to the market to purchase vegetables. Swamiji would say: "Wait, let me see what vegetables you have in your garden at this moment'. He would then go round the garden and collect many things, green leaves included. He would himself cut them for varieties of curries: "See, all this was here and yet you wanted to spend money in the market for these or other inferior things", he would say. Another time he forcibly pointed out the evil of fault-finding. "Why should you consider yourself as good and satwic and the others as of baser stuff. Are they also not the children . of God? We must pray for them. Never wound any one's feelings even though you are to be open and straightforward, at all times." By words as well as by example he held up the ideal of love and boldness, strength and snmesightedness. Even to those who were impure, his message and advice was one of hope and strength. Think this way, he said; 'If I am very impure, that gives me all the more right to call upon my Mother, that is all the more reason why she should come to my help. Feel that you are the Mother's child.'
How he enabled the devotees and Brahmacharins to get over deep-rooted caste prejudices is illustrated by an incident. Swamiji, the Brahmacharin at Haripad (Brahmin by birth) and others were returning from Cherthala to Haripad. They had provided nothing for dinner. When Swamiji came to know of it, he rebuked them severely and ordered them to stop the boat near a bridge where he noticed a few dirty shops. Swamiji got down. Rice cake baked by a Muhammedan woman and jaggery water stored by a Tiyya were all the provisions there. Swamiji had a little of both purchased. The cakes were tied up in the Brahmacharin's upper cloth. Coming to the boat, Swamiji asked the Brahmacharin to eat the cakes and to drink the water, while he himself fasted that night. The Brahmacliarin's caste prejudice was completely broken, He insisted on all Brahmacharins having their own water pots and beddings. 'Using another's bedding destroys Virya', he said. He also showed them by example how to avoid useless talks and vain disputes. In the course of these journeys in the interior of the villages, they happened to go to a Warrier's house. The Warrier aaked if Swami knew English or Sanskrit. The Swamiji made him understand that he did not know anything and that he was a poor Fakir going about to earn his bread. He gave a somewhat similar reply to a Christian Missionary – a fellow passenger travelling to Quilandy.
As usual, he visited all the old centres in Travancore and Malabar, renewing old and forming new contacts, tending, nourishing and incessantly adding to his flock.