HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
THE FIELD WIDENED
The Swami had calls from many parts of India and Burma which he hastened to answer. He set out on an extensive tour, visiting Bihar, Calcutta, Chittagong, Comilla, Tippera, Dacca, Narayan Ganj, Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Purnea, Chapra, Patna, Benares, Lucknow, Bombay and other centres in North India and also Rangoon, Mandalay, Akyab and other centres in Burma.
When he was at Benares on his way to Burma his urine was found to contain 28 per cent of sugar. It was suggested that it was not desirable to travel in that state of health. He said: 'I am only an instrument of Sri Ramakrishna. As long as the body lasts, I will try to serve His cause. I do not mind the disease or anything else." He set sail for Rangoon in December, 1927. Swainis Samvidananda and Visweswarananda accompanied him.
At Rangoon, the elite of the City and representatives of all castes and communities gave him a most cordial reception and presented him with an address of welcome. "And to-day", they said "we deem it our special privilege to meet you in this capital City of Burma not only because of your position in the Ramakrishna Mission, which is doing good work for humanity at large, but also for your loyal and sincere devotion to the great cause, viz., the uplift of the millions of people in the East and the West."
The citizens of Akyab also welcomed the Swami and presented him with an address in the course of which they said "you are one of the direct disciples of the world renouned Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and an eminent and distinguished colleague of the illustrious Swami Vivekananda. * * We are aware that nothing is more repugnant to you than any demonstration or expression of feelings with which you are regarded by the public of this town * * We trust that you would excuse us on the ground that whatever we have said has come from the bottom of our hearts." * * The Swami's reply to the addresses greatly deepened their regard and admiration for him. Many pious souls became his disciples. As a result of the Swami's visit, the Government of Burma made over to the Ramakrishna Mission a very valuable building for the use of the hospital maintained by the Mission and the Corporation of Rangoon was pleased to sanction a magnificent grant of Rs. 25,000 for opening a female ward attached to it.
On his return from Burma he again toured East Bengal. At Benares he made a pretty long stay and held many inspiring conversations. At this time a gentleman from Travancore who was residing in Manikarnika Ghat once paid him a visit. The Swami was highly pleased to meet one from Kerala – more so, as the gentleman happened to be a pupil of Mr. Seshadri, a devotee of great attainments and a disciple of Swami Brahmananda. He asked Swamiji if and how it was possible to get unbroken Brahmacharya. Swamiji replied that it was possible and that it depended on iron 'resolution.' "Often you will lose sight of your aim and will have lapses. Don't be disheartened. You may not reach your goat in this birth. Things are not realised by the exertions of a single life. The very urge to put this question is the result of much sadhana. Is it not a pleasure to die for a good cause and with a good ideal before you?" Swamiji enquired if he meant to reside there permanently and added; "Kerala is a fine place. Return soon and work among the people. You must meet me when I visit Kerala next time. My soul is there. I thirst to return to Kerala. That is my place."
The Travancorean was advised by him to leave Benares and go to Kerala. He advised others to go to Benares and live there permanently. The widowed mother of Swami Parameswarananda (a disciple of Swami Saradananda) was one such. And, while the Swamiji was in an exalted mood, he asked the young Swami to go and live with his mother and serve her till the end of her life. To this day he is obeying that command. For some days he lived in the garden house of a rich gentleman. Then Swamiji told him: "You see, don't accept even a pie from a miser for your personal use. It will degrade you. But there is no harm in receiving contributions even from a miser for charitable purposes. Such contributions will make the miser a purer man. But, for personal use, accept not even a pie."
Returning via Bombay. Swamiji reached Bangalore on the 19th of May 1928, Soon after, he went to Ponampet to preside over the Birthday anniversary celebrated there that year. Swami Shambhavananda, the Swami in charge from the very inception, and the co-workers had made the celebration something of a national festival. Men, women and children from all parts of Coorg had assembled in thousands. The programme was a very crowded one and the function a grand success,
Another event of the year was the initiation of 5 Brahmacharins into Sanyasa at Trivandrum in the month of August. Their Sanyasa names are Swamis Srikandhananda, Shylajananda, Adrijananda, Muraharananda and Viswambharananda. In September, 4 more were initiated at Bangalore. They are Swamis Vishadananda, Visalananda, Agamananda and Nirbritananda. The Ashrama at Salem was consecrated on the 14th of November 1928. From Salem the Swami proceeded to Ottapalam. Another event showing his wide catholicity, sympathy for the depressed and readiness to bear hardships even at an advanced age was an unusual ceremony performed by him in November of that year.
About 13 miles to the southeast of Ottapalam, in the interior of the Palghat Taluk, there is a small village called Tolanur, difficult of access for want of road communication. There ia a shrine there dedicated to gods Subramania and Sastha. It is owned by an Ezhava (depressed-class) family. The Pratishta had been done long ago. The owner wished to have it renovated. It is usually done by Vaidic Nambudiri Brahmins. But the owner coming to know of the Mission and the Swami, approached the Swamiji with the request that he might be pleased to perform the ceremony himself. Despite the many deterrant factors, the Swami graciously consented to do it himself. Enduring much hardship he reached the village the previous night and gladly performed the ceremony the next morning. The villagers presented him with a welcome address in Sanskrit. In reply he thanked them for giving him an opportunity to worship Skanda and Sastha who, he said, were the liberators and regenerators of Kerala. He also spoke of the significance of the Yugavatara. Many who could not go to Ottapalam or elsewhere had the good fortune to have hia Darsan that day. Blessing all, he left the place the same evening.The Vedanta Society, Calicut, of which Mr. A, V. K. Menon, Principal of the Zamorin's College, was the president and Mr. Kunhiraman Menon, the Secretary, invited the Swami to go to Calicut and bless the Society. Swamiji accepted the invitation. At its meeting at the Palace Hall, Zamorin's College, Calicut, on 25th Nov. 28 the Swami was presented with an address of welcome. He replied in suitable terms and he blessed the Society whole-hearledly. Although no invitation had been sent, more than three hundred of the educated gentry of the place had attended the function. There was a coversation class in which Swamiji seemed to be at his best. It has been observed that the more intelligent, educated and receptive the audience, the more Swamiji shone forth in conversation.
Returning from Calicut and touring in Kerala again he received another call from Burma. With the 25,000 rupees donated by the Rangoon Municipality, the female ward of the Hospital had been buiit by the Mission. The Governor had consented to open the ward. The Swanii in charge, Swami Shyamananda, – by whose exertions the Hospital and the Misssion work itself had grown into large proportions – invited the Swami to be present on the occasion. Swamiji left Bangalore towards the end of the year (December l928) and graced the occasion by his presence. He received the Governor and thanked him for opening the Ward. He then visited other centres in Burma, gave Mantradeeksha to many, and returned.
Again he made an extensive tour in Bengal and Bihar. This ceaseless journey and unremitting work proved too much even for his iron constitution which demanded rest. The demand came in the form of double pneumonia which attacked him at Patna early in 1929. He was then the guest of Sj. Nandipati Mukherjee. A Retired Civil Singeon attended on him. After some days Dr. D. P. Ghosh of Calcutta was called in. He examined and found the Swami's urine to contain a high percentage of sugar. High temperature, harassing cough and other ailments could not be controlled unless the sugar was reduced. Insulin injection had to be given. Swamiji was very weak. Yet he proposed that he should be removed to Calcutta. The doctors would not allow it. But he was adamantine. He said that in the first place he was putting his host and bhakta to too much trouble and anxiety. Secondly, the old Doctor would feel hurt if his free services were dispensed with and another's accepted. Finally he was removed to Calcutta. He recovered slowly and by the middle of the year returned to Bangalore via Bombay. Again he was on the move, visited the different centres in Kerala and in April 1930 opened 3 more Ashramas in Travancore, viz, Kayamkulam, Kulathoor and Palai. In September he again visited Calcutta. Despite illness and weakness, from 1924 to 1935 he toured in North India every year, in furtherance of the work.
Between the year 1930 and 1935 four more Ashramas were opened in Travancore, viz, Adur, Arur, Neyyur and Muvattupuzha, and one in Cochin viz, Pudukad. The site for the latter Ashrama was granted and material aid tor its construction rendered by a Nnmbudiri gentleman, Vimpur Sankaran Numbudiripad. H. H. Rama Varma Thampuran and Kerala Varma Thampnran, Princes of the Cochin Royal family, have been the main supporters of this Ashrama.
It was during this period that Swami Vijnananandaji visited South India. When he saw the Trivandrum Ashrama he said: "I had known Tulasi Maharaj as a great jnani and Karma yogi. But I now find that he is a great Bhakta also. The artistic taste displayed in the shrine is remarkable. Please convey my love and pranamas to him and inform him that I was very happy to visit this Ashrama."
The meeting of the two gurubhais in the Bangalore Ashrama was indeed touching. Swamiji got up from his seat hurriedly and ran to meet him. They embraced each other most affectionately. In spite of his protests, Swamiji dragged him by force and made him sit comfortably in his own easy chair, though Swami Vijnananandaji preferred to sit on a bench lying there. After greetings, Swamiji retired to prepare coffee himself, putting sugar candy which was so much liked by Vijnananandaji and insisted on serving the beloved friend and brother with his own hands.
The visit of Swamiji to Ernakulam during this period deserves special mention. Mr. Ambadi Sankar Menon, a leading citizen of the place and a great devotee invited Swamiji to his house and gave him a royal reception. Many were invited for the function and there was a ceaseless flow of Swamiji's inspiring conversation. It was a regular feast that was held there and all partook of it.
In 1933, the Swami visited Rangoon for the 3rd time on invitation to preside over the Hindu Conference where he delivered a masterly and inspiring address which embodies a well thought-out, clear and comprehensive statement of the ways and means for the regeneration of the Hindu Society. 'It was, in fact, a summing up of the results of his long experience nnd ripe judgment on the logical application of Sanatana Dharma (eternal principles) to modern social conditions.
These years constituted the last but one Chapter of his life. The blend of Yoga and Sanyasa is here seen in all its grandeur, at its highest pinnacle. His work had extended from the South to the North of India and Burma also. It covered the whole of the motherland. It was apprecialed, loved and esteemed throughout the land. The words of the Swami Ramakrishnananda, written in 1911, that the call of the motherland brought the Swami back from America, were never more true or appropriate in their fullest sense than now. The President of many a Ramakrishna Ashrama in the South was sought and requested to be the President of the Ramakrishna Sarada Math in the North – in Calcutta. The spiritual leader in the South was entreated also to lead a sister movement, the Vivekananda Mission, in Bengal. It was started by some of the most cultured and eminent sons of Bengal, who were also friends and devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission and it had hundreds of members. He was made its President. Thus there accumulated work for a spiritual Hercules. The Swami bore the burden lightly and stood as a being apart – as spirit pure and effulgent far removed from the earth, with not a tinge of attachment to anything mundane – as a fiery monk, as an Atmarama. The withdrawal of the great Swamis Brahmananda and Saradananda, from the physical field of action had left a void in the hearts of the devotees which had to be filled. It was very natural that the Swami's spiritual power and divine love should go to fill the gap. The rush of the spiritual current from the Power House in the South had its repercussions at the centre in Calcutta. And it reacted on Bangalore.
Question arose as to the status of the Ashrama at Bangalore and its administrative control. Swamiji held views which were strong and radically oppposed to those of the then Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Math. He was called upon to vindicate them. The local judicature could not uphold his views – decentralisation and co-ordination – but it wished him, however, in virtue of the great services he had rendered to the Ashrama, to continue to be in charge of it, subject to the control of the governing body and the supervision of a iocal committee.
A quarter of a century's diligence had made the Ashrama a place of retreat worthy of a Royal Sage. All the more so, it was for him who had laboured for it and who was also well-advanced in years. But the sacrifice of a principle for the sake of ease and comfort was alien to his nature. 'I have my begging bowl', he said and he quitted the Ashrama. The clash of views and the controversy happily subsided then and there, although the principles involved were fundamental and of far-reaching effect.