HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
A life of seventy-five summers, pure, strenuous and exalted and wholly dedicated to the service of humanity!
Ordinarily a man or a woman is viewed as an individual having a separate entity and living a life of his or her own as distinct from that of any other. It is natural and no life is viewed otherwise. But there is a class of men who come into the world or who manage to step out of it as extra-ordinary. They wear the cloak of humanity to enable them to move amidst and serve human beings. Their tabernacles are but vehicles and channels through which super-human energy and light percolate and pass to the earth to strengthen it, enliven it into heaven. They partake more of the nature of eternal principles and powers than of human beings tied to the wheel of Karma. To that class did the Swami Nirmalanandaji belong.
The great Incarnation of the age, Sri Ramakrishna spoke of four of his disciples aa Iswarakotis. They come down with the Avataras to the world of men. His chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, was not one of them. He was a class by himself, high above the others. The other Sanyasin disciples were styled Antarangas. The Swami Nirmalanandaji is said to be one of them. And that is an added reason why he is so dear to our hearts. By his example he showed us the highest possibility of man as man. Incarnations of Iswara and Iswarakotis are exceptions to the rule. In the world of Maya, they are eternally different from men, they are of a different species and they must ever remain so, although for love of man, they sometimes put on the human garb. It is in their very nature to shine, in time, as spiritual luminaries, to show themselves as Divine and to shed Divine love and benediction on earth. But for one of the human species (though perfected as a sage in bye-gone kalpas) to grow to his fullest limits, to break the bonds of humanity, to emerge free out of the prison of the ego is an achievement which humanity may well be proud and glad of and profited by. That is a rare event. Krishna himself says, "Manushyanam Sahasreshu Kaschid Yatati Sidhaye." Of millions of men only one tries to reach perfection and of those who try one in a million attains it. And that was what the Swami did. That was not only the highest achievement of man for himself, but also the highest good that he can point out to the world – Man becoming Brahman!
Of those rare souls who become knowers of Brahman, all do not get dissolved in the ocean of Brahman. The lovers of the Lord, it is said, prefer to retain their Satwic and attenuated Ego to enjoy the sweetness of the Lord, to be His servants or help-mates in His Leela on earth. Such were the Antaranga disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. In the words of Swami Vivekananda "Sri Ramakrishna used to say that the perfected Sages of a previous Kalpa (Cycle) take human bodies and come on earth with the Avataras. They are the associates of the Lord. God works through them and propogates His religion. Know this for a truth that they alone are the associates of the Avataras who giving up all sense-enjoyments with repugnance spend their lives for the good of the world, for the welfare of the Jivas (C. W. Vol. VII. p. 259.)
Referring particularly to his gurubhais, the Swamiji said: "Know each of these who are here of great spiritual power. Because they remain shrivelled before me, do not think them to be ordinary souls. When they will go out, they will be the cause of the awakenment of spirituality in people. Know them to be part of the spiritual body of Sri Ramakrishna who was the embodiment of infinite religious ideas. I look upon them with that eye x x x. You may go round the world, but it is doubtful if you will find men of such spirituality and faith in God, like them. They are each a centre of Religious power and in time that power will manifest." (C. W. VII, p 256.)
It was that power, that strength and fearlessness, that love and spirituality that was revealed through Swami Nirrnalanandaji. The measure of power manifested and the objects to which it was directed and applied varied with time and place and the varying physical and mental characteristics of the people he was brought into contact with. But in the physical plane none worked harder, none exhibited greater power of endurance and resistance and none turned out more work than the Swami. In India at any rate, no other disciple of Bhagavan travelled so widely and so often, visited and revisited so many places from Chamba in the Himalayas to Cape Comerin in the South, from Kashmir in the West to Burma in the East, propagated Bhagavan's and Swamiji's ideas so much, founded so many Ashranms and in his individual capacity made so many lay and monastic disciples as the Swami Nirmalananda.
Success of life as viewed from the stand-point of the individual was thus complete and perfect. Humanity was replaced by divinity.
Such a one has nothing to gain for himself, nothing to fear from in all the worlds. The individual becomes the instrument of God, the channel for the outflow of the Cosmic power. It uses him for its own ends. The Adhikarika Purushas, its agents, infill him and work for the evolution of the human and the manifestation of the Divine. And so was he infilled.
When asked about his visit to Southern India the Swami Vivekananda is reported to have said that he would certainly visit the south and that he would burst in upon it like an avalanche. Truly did he revisit and burst in, but it was in the form and person of Swami Nirmalanandaji, his beloved Tulasi, 'the servant of his servants.' Any one taking pains to compare the two can hardly fail to note that the one is perfectly modelled on the other. The bright intellect, the large heart, the democratic spirit, the towering strength and boldness and above all, the unlimited love for the fallen and the down-trodden are all seen in the one as a clear reflection of the other. It has been admitted on all hands that in the sweeping' grasp of subjects, in readiness in answering any question, in brilliance in conversation, in the harmonious combination of all the different Yogas in oneself – in all these Swamiji was next only to Swami Vivekananda. And the Swami on his part "used to look upon Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda as one and the same." He also used to say that none can understand Sri Ramakrishna except through the Swami Vivekananda who was, so to say, the interpretation and commentary on Sri Ramakrishna. All the activities ot the Swami as well as his character were moulded on those of Swami Vivekananda. Was it not this identity of spirits that prompted Trailinga Swami ro single him out and give him prasad; and the Swami Premananda to instal him as Shiva? and was it not because of this sameness of heart, of love for the lowly, that the Swami came to be sent to the South? 'My heart is in Kerala', he said to a visitor at Benares. Not that he had any greater love for his devotees there than elsewhere, not that it was a more comfortable place to live in, but that the inhuman custom of untouchability and unapproachability and the tyranny of priests and castes were nowhere more cruelly at work in India than in this land of Parasurama. And no other but the bold Swami Nirmalananda with the spirit of Swami Vivekananda could have faced it and dealt it such deadly blows that it is for ever fallen and will never again raise its head. The most priest-ridden and orthodox country in Kerala was Travancore. It was there that the Swamiji laboured for a quarter of a century. The result of his labours, as assessed by the Government of the State and published in the report on the Census of India 1931 (Travancore Part I, pages 356 and 357) is worth reproducing. Referring to the inception and growth of the movement since 1911, the report proceeds to say: "Though the movement is entirely spiritual, it is having indirect social effects also.
Indirect Social Effects in Travancore.As Sanyasins are above caste, no distinctions of caste are observed in the Ashramas and members of different castes of Malabar can be seen living as members of one happy family in these Ashramas. At all important functions in these Ashramas, people of all castes down to the lowest Pulayas, Parayas, etc., take their food together, and, as the food served is invariably prasad, orthodox Hindu doctrine also supports this practice. The Sanyasins spend most of their time in meditation and in practical work; attending to the various needs of the Ashramas, the annual visits of the Swami Nirmaiananda giving them the requisite training's. Philanthropic work is also undertaken whenever necessary in the spirit of pure service, the poor and the needy being treated in a spirit of worship. Just after the floods of 1924, over Rs. 14,000 were distributed in the most inaccessible places in the interior by the Sanyasins."
This great revolution in the deep-rooted habits of the people was not effected by propaganda, jathas or news-paper articles, but by love and example, The reader might remember how the Swami stormed the orthodox citadel at Haripad by merely touching a leaf or two.
The social influence went further. As observed by the citizens of Salem in their address to the Swami, his "labours for over twenty years in Kerala towards the uplift of the depressed classes........paved the way for the Historic Proclamation of His Highness the Maharaja of Travancore, throwing open the State Temples to all Hindus," It must also be mentioned here that in the long and glorious uplifting work he did for the people, he did never ask for or receive any help from the Governments concerned.
Ashramas are spiritual centres influencing social habits, dissolving superstitions and caste prejudices and creating human brotherhood. The Swami established 18 such centres in the South. To these may be added many institutions of a purely philanthropic character, schools, dispensaries, etc.
But he did much more than that. Creation of institutions and destruction of caste-prejudices were the bye-products of his main work which was spiritual. To spread the ideas of Sri Ramakrishna as interpreted and amplified by the Swami Vivekananda, to sow the living seeds of spirituality over the length and breadth of the land, to turn the minds of men, women and children to Light and Truth, this was his real work. To make Man and to knit them into a brotherhood was his main objective. In this also the result of his labours went far beyond the most sanguine expectations of his devotees. Hundreds upon hundreds – men, women and children, all over India and Burma – were given refuge and taken by him to the feet of his Master. Sanyas he gave to 35 young men. Many of them are experts in various kinds of arts and crafts. The beautiful Temple, the first of its kind in the South, built as his memorial in the Niranjan Ashrama, Ottapalam, was mainly the work of his Sanyasin disciples. That such a temple could be built in so short a time after his Mahasamadhi is proof positive and eloquent of the hold he has on the heart of Kerala. That Temple itself is, so to say, a standing monument of the greatness, beauty and durability of his work. The disciples are enthusiastic and thoroughly self-denying in relief and other works of service also. Appreciating their work in the Flood Relief of 1924, the Government of Travancore invited their co-operation in the campaign against malaria in 1935.
It may well be hoped that his work is going to yield a very rich harvest in the near future. Far greater than the number of his disciples is the number of young men, women and children who have seen him and loved him; him they can never forget; their minds he has influenced deeply; to them were vouchsafed the inestimable boons of Satsanga and Mahapurushasamsraya. In all places which he has made holy and sanctified by his presence, the name Ramakrishna has become a house-hold word. Wherever he went, he introduced Sri Ramakrisna and Vivekananda. For truly, in him was Vivekananda, in him was Ramakrishna.
"Verily, the Sun is He, His the ray,
Nay, the Sun is He and He is the ray."
(Hymn of Creation)