HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
CASTING INTO THE MOULD
"Like the gentle dew that falls unperceived, yet brings into blossom the fairest of roses" was his influence and teaching, for the most part. Of precepts he had very few, his life was the shining example to all, In the training of his disciples, his own children who had forsaken everything else and clung to him, however it was hot the unnoticed dew alone, but reverberating thunder also had its part to play. He was not very sparing in its use. Little did he care if it frightened any. He wanted his children to be bold and fearless. For a following; for name or fame or for the goodwill of men, he never cared. A monk to the very core of his being, he had dedicated himself so completely to his Master that long long ago his self had ceased to exist. The Master's spirit flowed through him for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many. It had moulded him into an expert spiritual Doctor, not a physician alone, but a surgeon as well who did not hesitate to apply the knife when necessity arose. But such occasions were very rare. 'See and learn', 'observe and understand,' 'exercise your body and mind in useful and healthy ways', this was the teaching of this master of philosophy and Yoga. He only wanted them to be men, bold and strong. He knew that knowledge could not be imparted or infused from without. It was there, within all, covered hy veils. To help the uncovering was alone the teacher's function. This he did by giving them hard work to he done as tapasya, as worship. He did not lay down any University or other educational qualification for his would-be disciples. Had they character – purity and steadiness, that was enough. Even here he was so kind and indulgent as to put up with a good deal of insincerity and waywardness in the hope that ultimately the man will come up all right. He considered hard manual labour done in the right spirit as good tapasya. The harmonious development of all faculties and cleverness in doing all works – from digging and tilling up to Samadhi – was the goal he set up before his devotees, Bookworms he simply pitied. To live with him, to see him work, to hear even his stray remarks and jokes was sound education. Once he was engaged in uprooting a big tree in the Ashrama compound in Trivandrum. The roots were firm and deep and many sided. "Asanga Sastrena Dridhena Chitva." Cut them asunder with the axe of dispassion, said the Swami, impressing upon the disciples how hard it was to get rid of old samskaras. Tamas and Rajas should be worked out,he would say. In every little act he would demand close attention and concentration.
One day at Bangalore he had asked a disciple: "Why don't you cut and keep the lily flower in the shrine'? 'Which flower, Swamiji?' enquired the disciple.
S.– Haven't you seen the lily plants on the road side near the gate?
D.– Yes, there are some plants there.
S.– Did you pass along that road today?
D.– Yes, many times.
S.– Yet, you did not see a flower on any of those plants?
D.– Some how I failed to see.
S.– You do not see the things that are before your naked eyes! I went there only once and I noticed it. Are you so absent-minded and non-observant when you walk. I wonder how you will practise meditation if you are incapable of observing things before your very eyes. Meditation requires the keenest perception and an extremely alert mind. Perhaps, you sit down to meditate, throw your mind and senses into a lethargic condition, a sleepy mood and after sometime get up satisfied that you went into deep meditation. If you practise that way, you will never be able to meditate. That is quite a different thing. For meditation you have to control your senses and direct your energies inward. The mind must he extremely active, I mean alert, in perceiving the finest objects. It must be well concentrated. If your nerves get blunt, how will you perceive fine objects? Cultivate the faculty of close observation and perception. Otherwise you cannot even form a mental picture of the object of meditation. Perhaps, you don't require any such picture or you have no capacity to picture an object in your mind. How else could you fail to notice that flower? Now go and sec if it is there. Such silly matters are unworthy of a Paramahamsa! That is what you might think.' The disciple went and brought the flower.
Another day, clothes were put to dry on the terrace. Suddenly there was drizzling rain. The disciple was engaged in some other work. He forgot all about the clothes. Swamiji called and asked him "what are you doing? Don't you see it is raining and the clothes will get wet?" "Yes, Swamiji I will take them down immediately, I forgot it," said the disciple and brought them with him. Then Swamiji asked again: "How will you get on with the work, if you are so absent-minded and careless?"
D.– I say sincerely, Swamiji, I forgot it.
S.– I don't say you are insincere, lint you are so careless. You do not attend to things whole-heartedly. I had the good fortune to see and serve a greater Paramahamsa than any of you. He was so immersed in God that he could not notice if his cloth was blown away. Yet, he was very particular in attending to the details of every work whole-heartedly. He used to take us to task for negligence or carelessness in matters however small. But you people go about doing your work half-heartedly and carelessly. That is your notion of sanyasa spirit. When you do a thing, do it with the greatest care and whole-hearted attention. Non-attachment does not mean carelessness, indifference or half-heartedness in work. Work with one pointed attention, give up without a single thought.
A garden tool had been lent to a friend who did not return it in time. After some days Swamiji asked for that particular tool. It was explained to him that it had been taken away by such and such a friend. "Then why did you not get it back in time?" asked the Swami vehemently. "This also is your Sanyasa spirit perhaps. It is not that I want these things with me or as my property. I am pointing out your defects and shortcomings to you so that you may become men. You know I have many friends with whom I can live in ease and comforts without any worry or botheration. Yet you see, I live a most simple life in your midst, and I work like a coolie. Do I want anything from you, do I require your service? Even at this advanced age I can walk away to the Himalayas with Kamandalu in hand as I uaed to do in my youth. I do not want anyone to attend on me. I do not want a smooth and easy life. That is my strength and that is why I am bold. Yet I suffer all sorts of worry and undergo all sorts of difficulties for your sake, to make you better men. And you people feel hurt at my pointing out your defects. In western countries I have seen, if one's defects are pointed out, he feels grateful and he thanks you for it. But here it is otherwise. At once they raise their hood. Those who receive instructions in a spirit of humility and gratefulness will improve; others, in whom the devil raises his horns will never improve.
Above all he wished his disciples to have faith, intense faith in Sri Ramakrishna. While he was talking on the future work of the Ashrama, one of the disciples asked him: "Where is the personality like you, Swamiji. Unless there is such a personality behind us how can we carry on such works?" The question was no sooner asked than Swamiji's eyes flashed and thundering came the reply: "Personality! indeed! you depend on personality? Have you faith in Sri Gurumaharaj? If you have faith in Him and if you hold yourselves as mere instruments in His hands and carry on the work that comes to your hands, personality and such other things will come on their own accord. This is the mistake with you all. You have no faith in Him. Don't you see various Christian organisations working wonderfully well for the same cause. Christ is the personality, the power behind. His is the cause; with faith in Him, all those organisations work sucessfully. If you also have that faith in the Power behind you, if you have surrendered yourselves at His feet, then work on boldly, success and other things are sure to follow."
Who can measure the height and girth of his faith, of the depth and vastness of his devotion. Extremely undemonstrative, he hardly ever spoke of Sri Gurumaharaj except as one whose greatness he was unable to understand. He described himself as Ramakrishna's dog. In all these years only once or twice was he seen glowing with emotion at the mention of his Master's name in public. Another touching incident of a very private character may also be mentioned.
Sri Gurumaharaj's Birthday was being celebrated. Swamiji felt that the morning offering was not very satisfactory. He called the disciple in charge (Swami Vishadananda) and asked him what the morning offering was. Such and such sweets, fruits and other things were offered, explained Vishadananda. Swamiji felt sorry; "Devotees have contributed liberally for worship on this special day. But you have made improper arrangements and offered such poor things." The disciple began to explain. "There will be hundreds of devotees attending the morning service. They have all to be given prasad. Similar attendance may be expected in the evening also. Arrangements have been made so as to make both ends meet." "I did not ask you anything about the devotees and distribution of prasad. I asked you about the offering to Gurumaharaj. Could you not have offered something better? Did you not see varieties of fruits in the market?"
D.– Yes. I did.
S.– Why did you not buy a few annas worth of them and offer them to Him this day. Have I asked you to feed all the devotees with all the offerings. Is it not due to your lack of devotion that you did not feel the need?
D.– Yes, Swamiji, it is my lack of devotion.
By this time Swamiji's face became red with emotion, tears began to flow from his eyes. He could not control them. Bitterly he said: "Sri Gurumaharaj is starving; I do not want any food to-day." His feelings began to rise. The disciple, had not witnessed such a mood before. He was non-plussed, puzzled and struck with remorse. 'I shall make better arrangements at once' he said and withdrew. By the time of the noon-service everything was done aa desired by Swamiji and he was satisfied.
Asked about the puja paddhati (method of worship) Swamiji said: "There are two kinds of pujas. One is in an established shrine where a regular system is followed and the other a devotee's worship of his Ishtam when and where he finds it convenient. Our's is a systematic puja in an established shrine. But that should not be followed tike a lifeless machine. What would you do if Sri Gurumaharaj was alive and you were attending on Him. Do likewise now also. Feel His presence and feel that you are attending on Him. Such faith and such service will make Him present here always. Attend on Him with faith, purity and devotion."
"Devoted service to Sri Gurumaharaj is tapasya. What we gained by our pilgrimages and tapasya, Shashi Maharaj attained by his constant and devoted service ", he used to say. And in making pilgrimages or leading parivrajaks life, complete self-surrender and dependance on God must be firmly established. But that cannot be if one carries money with him. Once Swami Vishadananda went as far as Rishikeah and spent some days in meditative life. Some friends had supplied him with money for his expenses. When he returned Swamiji said: "with plenty of money in pocket even the Maharaja of Mysore can go and live in the Himalayas. That will not be tapasya. Depending on friends is not surrendering yourself to God. In my young days I used to travel thousands of miles on foot without a single pie with me and without asking for anything from anybody. If we surrender ourselves at His feet, He will look after us. But, if we depend on ourselves or we rely on our friends there is no surrender to God. We foolishly think we can help ourselves that we are powerful and so forth. God is the source of everything. Have that conviction, surrender yourself and then practise tapasya. Such self-surrender made heroes of men, made them fearless, perfect workers. It is casting away the dross and taking up the gold. Renouncing the lower little self you become identified with the supreme self. That is yoga, and yoga is dexterity in action. Be dexterous in action; no matter what the action is." This was a theme which he was never tired of harping on: work, work, teach yourself to do every sort of useful work in the best, easiest and quickest possible way. In this, he himself was the grand example. On all days except when he was seriously ill, he got up at 2 A.M., and did Japam and meditation till 5 A.M. Then commenced physical works of all descriptions till he retired for rest: at 10 P.M. He did gardening – digging, planting, transplanting, weeding and cutting and he taught how such little details were to be done, he taught music; he taught various methods of constructing ovens and of cooking, he taught carpentry and mason's work. Much of the work of additions and alterations to the Ashramas was done by him and his disciples without the help of professional workers.
At Ottapalam he was once engaged in improving the Shiva temple and the hall in front of it and also the kitchen to the south of the Ashrama. The Swami Muraharananda was doing carpentry work, and Swami Ramananda was building the walls of the kitchen, and Swamiji was giving instructions and leading a helping hand. A devotee, Mr. Chengappa, who was staying there as Swamiji's guest and who was standing near, thought within himself: "Why is the Swami making the Sanyasin disciples do this sort of work? Scarcely had I finished thinking", says Mr. Chengappa: "When Swamiji got up and before anything was said on either sides he went on to say 'you know every art must reach its perfection in a monastery. In Rome even brewery reached its perfection. The best wine was made there. That wine is there for sale even now, it is priced very high. Perfection in every useful art must be reached here. That is why I am making these young Swamis do carpentry, masonry, painting and other works' I was simply stunned by the illuminating answer to my unasked question. I know of several such instances related by devotees in Coorg."
One special characteristic of his work was that it was always artistic. He demanded beauty, grace and loveliness and also durability in all tilings, however small or trivial they may be. And he had a talent for making everything artistic. He would cut a piece of bamboo or a small branch of a tree and make a beautiful walking stick with an animal's head. An ordinary mud-pot would be made to appear a beautifully painted China flower vase. A granite Shivalinga was transformed into a benign and meditative Mahadeva with matted locks, five faces and blue necks. The various tools and implements kept by him in all the Ashramas, his hukhas and pipes of different fashions and materials, everything connected with him bore the stamp of Art, had the touch of beauty and bliss, concentration and perfection.
He stressed the importance of work for women also and he used to hold up the Holy Mother as the ideal for all women. She used, he said, even to wash and dry and keep in their respective places the clothes of the young devotees of the Master without their knowledge. It was in the uplift and worship of womanhood that he saw the salvation of the Mother land. Here also he set the example by the worship of Kumaris. In his last days he made that worship take the form of whole-hearted service to them and their all round training. He trained their hody by teaching them gymnastics and dances and plays of different styles and methods. He bathed them, fed them, combed their hair, put sandalwood oil on their heads, taught them even such little things as how to cut mangoes evenly; he taught them folk songs and stotras.
Strangest of all, although most of them were under 7 or 8 years of age, he initiated them all with Mantras, taught them meditation and enforced regular sadhana both morning and evening and they were also directed to circumambulate the shrines with bhajana songs every evening after arati. He encouraged and helped them to have their own Ishtadevata and worship, and himself took part in it, "In course of time you will see my spirit in them", he said once.
His sympathy for the poor, love for the lowly was beyond compare. Feeding of the Daridra Narayanas was not a formality with him. – It was dead earnestness. He never ate anything until their feeding was over. And then he took something as yajna-sishta, as he expressed it. Once on a Birthday, unexpectedly large numbers had gathered. All cooked food was exhausted; the Narayanas remained to be fed; rice in the store room was also exhausted. The workers gave out that nothing was left and that they might return. The Swami heard it. That set him on fire, roaring rage and weeping compassion flowed out of his person, words and acts. Terrible and Majestic he looked. None dared to approach him – not even his nearest and dearest disciples and friends. None had seen him so awe-inspiring as on that day. He took out and threw at them a bundle of currency notes. "Go, purchase rice, cook and feed them", he ordered. Rice was immediately collected from many houses and the poor were fed. That was an object lesson to all present.
It was a day of Sri Ramakrishna's Birthday Celebration. Many devotees assembled in the morning. Swamiji spoke at length on the regeneration of India, on the need for starting industries and other matters, and then asked the devotees to take breakfast. Children of the neighbourhood had also come to take prasad. All were served and the cry "Sri Gurumaharaj ki Jai" went forth. Swamiji went to the dining hall and found that all had begun to eat. A poor girl was standing outside. He went and brought her in and took the Swamis to task for havmg neglected her. "She is a poor orphan, he said, "why did you not go and see who all were waiting outside? (Pointing to some boys) You invited these, could you not have asked this poor girl also? How heartless you are! Howmuch so ever I may point out your defects and try to rectify your ways, you will not care to learn and improve. Your hearts do not soften." He referred to this incident many times that day. He was so much moved at the sight of a neglected orphan.
In this and other ways, by example, advice and admonition, he laboured to mould the character of his monastic and lay disciples and devotees, men, women and children. Till the year 1936 the Swami had not remained at Ottapalam for more than a few days at any time and those occasions had been mostly availed of by the English knowing devotees and visitors. All the time, at a distance had stood a large body of ardent souls who could not approach him freely and directly on account of the language difficulty. This time, in the last act of the drama, he brought the direct method of teaching and the language of the heart into current use. Mere children of five or six and illiterate persons were now made able to understand his words and im- bibe his ideas. They could easily follow his directions. Each individual received the training suited to his nature. Each had his shortcomings or defects pointed out and each one received his full share of his attention and blessing. This was perhaps his greatest work in these days, the least public but the most abiding and vital, the transformation of character of several individuals.
Since his return to the south after his serious illness in 1936, he had not visited Bombay. His many devotees yearned to have his darshan. He went there early in the year 1937 and after a stay of few days returned to Ottapalam, breaking journey at Salem. Although much worn out and shattered in health by long strenuous work and illness and journeys, the Swami, then aged 74, appeared, as the correspondent of the Indian Express who interviewed him described "a quiet, but dignified figure, well nigh answering to the physical and mental attributes of the magnanimous man of Aristotle, a tall, handsome strong personality with a keenly intellectual face." He again visited Salem during the Ramakrishna Centenary Celebration. The citizens presented him with a welcome address which was read by Rao Bahadur C. S. Bhaskar, M A., Bar-at-Law., Swamiji thanked them and he delivered the centenary address.
He visited Calicut also twice the same year. The local Vedanta Society, blessed by Swamiji, was thriving and making its beneficent influence felt. The Swami Sekharananda (a disciple of the Swami) in charge at Quilandy proposed that, under the auspices of the Society a home of service, be started at Calicut. Swamiji's permission was got and a Home was started for supplying a crying need, viz., the free medical treatment of children. The merchant prince Seth Nagji Purushotam, opened the Home. It proved to be the one thing, the town wanted most. Children of all castes and religions receiving expert treatment every year number many thousands as may be seen from the Annual reports. Swami Sekharananda instituted religious worship of the Sevashrama, reading of scriptures and religious classes also in the Sevashrama. That also proved to be of very great help to many. The Vedanta Society's work also was taken over by Swami Sekharananda. Swamiji was pleased to see that the Sevashrama was doing very useful work and had become very popular with all classes. It was the only Hindu Religious Organisation in the principal town of the District. Swamiji wanted something more there than a Sevashrama for medical treatment. There was much scope for work of different kinds. The many influential gentlemen who met him there agreed with him in that view. He prepared the ground and returned. In this trip to Calicut Swamiji took with him the girl disciples of Ottapalam. They were all the guests of Swamiji's ardent devotee and disciple, Sri T. V. Krishnan Nair, who was the Subordinate Judge at Calicut at that time. For the first time in their lives the poor girls saw the historic town of Calicut, the sea and the wide world.
His one last wish with regard to these children and his other female devotees seemed to have been to take them himself to the lotus feet of the Mother. As its external symbol, he decided to take them to Kanyakumari. With a large party including them he left Ottapalam in July 1937. Perfect arrangements were made for the journey and the halts and for the stay in the Ashrama at Trivandrum and also at the Cape. How he thought of the needs and comforts of every one of the party was worth study. No mother would have felt such solicitude for her children. He looked to every little item of their wants, even for hot-water baths for them. Every one felt supremely happy.
He gave many nice little presents to the children, chains, lockets, etc. which he himself selected and purchased from the bazaar. During Dussera days he gave new clothes to all, he sent Vijaya greetings and presents to his devotees in North India; he had new and pretty frocks made for children of the Ashrama servants (Panchamas). It was a sight to see him call the three year old daughter of the Panchama servant-maid and give her grapes, sugar candy and other fruits and sweets of which he always kept a stock for distribution to the children. He got a tailor to the Ashrama to stitch garments for his disciples and devotees. He explained to them various methods of stitching and several fashions of shirts, coats and caps prevalent in various parts of India. He brought a cap from his wardrobe and asked them what cap it was. They said Gandhi-cap which it was not. He then pointed out to them where the difference lay. Thus did he instruct on various subjects; of amusement he gave them enough, with many stories, humourous remarks and jokes. He also often transported them into far-off realms, sometimes by means of his words, sometimes by melodies and sometimes by his abstracted moods and far-away looks. Thus, in those elysian heights he kept them for months. The trip to the Cape was joy intoxicating.
From Trivandrum many local Bhaktas with their families joined the party to the Cape. It was a very large and happy family with the Swami as its head. Excepting perhaps at the visit of Sri Maharaj, no other party was so led to the presence of the Mother of the Universe. It was indescribable felicity. In the surging sea, on the Paurnima day Swamiji was both the playmate and the protector of the children. He played with them in the waters, he look them in his hands and on his shoulders and advanced further and further into the roaring and surging sea. Rising above the waves with his devoted children, be was actually playing in the ocean of the phenomenal world. Those days at the Cape and at Trivandrum will ever remain an ineffaceable and blessed memory with all who had the good fortune to be with him then.
After their return from the Cape, some of the elders of the party found it necessary to go back soon to attend to their family affairs. The children had to be sent back with them. Ashrarna matters detained Swamiji. How could the children go away without their Swami. They wept loudly for hours together. Not the children alone, but all felt the pang of separation though they knew it was for a lew days only. Tears rolled down every check in profusion! Somehow they departed, kept crying till they reached the residence of Dr. Tampi where Mrs. Tampi comforted them.
At times, during those days, Swamiji referred occasionally to the past, to the days of Sri Gurumaharaj and of his own travels. After the children left him, his thought seemed to go back to those days oftener. He spoke of some of the places he had visited, of the language, manners and customs of many people and once of his own father. He referred to many religious teachers whom he had known and who had passed away, thought of himself as having outlived them all and humourously described himself as Sri Ramakrishna's Kakabhusundi (the old being, mentioned in Yoga Vasishta). It was all an indication that he was withdrawing himself and preparing to go back to the Supreme Abode.
Yet there was some more work to be done for Kerala. He had started only religious centres and made provision for their management by a deed of trust. He had made them all autonomous; independent of each other, but working in co-ordination for the cause of Sri Gummaharaj. In all Kerala there was no organised secular body to carry on charitable and philanthropic works for the uplift of the masses. And no one had deemed it worth his while to try to create one. He would supply that want; he would create a body in the State of Travancore and one in British Malabar also and leave it to the people and to posterity to work it and carry it on if they cared. In the name of the re-generator, the Prophet-saint, of Modern India, in the illustrious name of Narendra, he created a Mission in Travancore.
Following up that idea and wishing to make Calicut a centre of activities, Swamiji next proceeded to Calicut. The cultured Zamorin Raja of Calicut had just then ascended the Masnad. He invited the Swami to his palace and received him very cordially and respectfully. Swamiji blessed him in appropriate terms and particularly wished him long life. At the time of parting the Zamorin enquired if there was anything he could do for Swamiji then. "Nothing, replied Swamiji, 'I shall let the Zamorin know when I need anything.' There is no line of Kings in Modern India older than that of Zamorin at whose port the first European trader to India (Vasco da gama) landed and at whose feet he went as a supplicant. The meeting between the Zamorin and the disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna reminded the spectators of the meetings of the Royal-sages with the Brahmarshis of ancient Bharatavarsha as described in the Puranas. Both were highly pleased, the Zamorin the more so at his having got the Swami's blessings at that time and particularly on that day on which he had received news of the birth of a prince in his family.
Swamiji was there able to organise a very influential and representative body of men for the great work he had in mind. The Zamorin was pleased to be its Patron and the body was duly incorporated.
He returned to Travancore and giving finishing touches to his work then left it for the last time in December 1937 and reached Ottapalam. The children and the devotees were glad beyond measure that their Swamiji was again in their midst.