Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna
"You are Hari-das, the servant of Hari (the Lord). Is it possible for you to exist without remembering the Lord?" -- Sri Ramakrishna to Hari
"He is a Yogi according to the Gita" -- Sri Ramakrishna about Hari.
About Hari Maharaj
Before daybreak a teenage boy was bathing in the Ganga in north Calcutta when he saw something floating near him. Some people on the shore saw it and shouted: "Crocodile! Crocodile! Come out quickly!" The boy immediately rushed towards the shore and, standing in knee-deep water, thought to himself: "What are you doing? You repeat day and night, Soham! Soham! I am He! I am He! And now all of a sudden you forget your ideal and think you are the body! Shame on you!" Right away he went back into the deep water and continued his bathing. Fortunately, the crocodile left without harming the boy. This fearless boy was to become Swami Turiyananda.
Each disciple of Shri Ramakrishna was great in his own way. Each had superb qualities which dazzled those who witnessed them. Swami Turiyananda was a blazing fire of renunciation. To be near him was to feel the warmth of his highly developed spiritual personality.
Swami Turiyananda's life was one of absolute austerity and Tapas. More than any of the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, even from his boyhood, he treated his body with the same indifference as St. Francis (who looked upon his body as 'Brother Ass'). His early life was modeled on the teachings of Shankaracharya, and those who witnessed him in later days could witness in him a living example of a Jivanmukta (free while still in the body). Swami Vivekananda once, in his characteristic way of presenting a point of view in the most emphatic and impressive manner, even belittling himself and his own achievements, said to his American disciples, "In me you have seen the expression of Kshatriya power; I am going to send to you one who is the embodiment of Brahminical qualities, who represents what a Brahmin or the highest spiritual evolution of man is." And he sent Swami Turiyananda.
Truly, Swami Turiyananda justified his name (turiya = transcendental, ananda = bliss). He tasted the bliss of transcendental Brahman and he shared that bliss with each and all. Though Swami Turiyananda did not write any books or articles, he wrote wonderful letters to seekers inspiring them in the path to God.. Once he said to a monk, "Whatever I have to give to the world, that I have given through my letters." And what wonderful letters these ! Once an old monk who was very close to Swami Turiyananda told Swami Chetanananda, "Whenever you feel a dry spell, depression, or stagnation in spiritual life, please read the letters of Swami Turiyananda; you will get a boost instantly."
Below we have a compilation by Swami Ritajananda of incidents, conversations and extracts from diaries of disciples, gathered through very laborious research on the life and teachings of the great Swami. The greatest contribution of Swami Turiyananda to the spiritual heritage of India is his immaculate life. Read on and be inspired !
1. Early Life
Sri Ramakrishna, the prophet of modern India, lived for only fifty years; and within the short span of a dozen of these, he practiced most of the major spiritual disciplines and attained perfection in each with a facility and rapidity that astonished his teachers, who themselves had to devote entire lifetimes to achieve success in even a single discipline. For one who has not gone through any of these disciplines, neither the hardships nor the benefits will be very clear. What they involve is made convincingly vivid by the testimony of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, some of whom, according to their temperament, took up a single path and practiced it all their life.
Swami Ramakrishnananda, for example, was a devotee by nature, and ritualistic worship strongly appealed to him. He felt that Sri Ramakrishna, even after his passing away, continued to live in his photograph, and he performed the worship of it as if his Master was there before him, in flesh and blood. Thus, in his case, he demonstrated to the world how Sri Ramakrishna himself felt the presence of the Divine Mother in the image of Kali.
Swami Brahmananda, on the other hand, showed how the mind of his Master dwelt always in the realm of the Divine and that its contacts with the world were superficial and super-imposed.
And Swami Vivekananda, in supreme awareness of his identity with the Absolute, demonstrated how a man of God manifests detachment from the world and how he always conducts himself.
Swami Turiyananda had a different role to play. More than any of the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, even from his boyhood, he treated his body with the same indifference as St. Francis (who looked upon his body as 'Brother Ass'). Swami Turiyananda practiced austerities all his life, and he demonstrates to us what austerity really means and what its value is in the life dedicated to God.
The biographical material of saints is generally meager, since they are extremely reticent about their early life. Whatever we have learned concerning Swami Turiyananda's boyhood is made up of scraps of information that he inadvertently revealed in talks with devotees. Although the details of this period of his life are not available, it is clear that his was obviously an austere character from the very beginning. His parentage, childhood, and temperament all seem to have combined in the development of the personality that soon made itself apparent to the world.
He was born on 3 January 1863. His father, Chandranath Chatterjee, an orthodox brahmin who lived in the Baghbazar section of Calcutta, was well respected by the people of the district for his piety, courage, and capacity to foretell the future. It was said that Chandranath could feel the pulse of a dying person and predict the exact time of death. At that time, many religious people wanted to die on the shores of the Ganga, and these predictions of Chandranath gave much satisfaction to many by enabling them to make provisions for their last moments. Chandranath worked as a storekeeper in a Calcutta firm. He had three sons and three daughters, and the youngest was Harinath, who later became Swami Turiyananda. The eldest son, Mahendranath, was twenty years older than Harinath; and the second son, Upendranath, was ten years his seniors. Two of the sisters had died when they were quite young. The remaining one was about seven years old when Harinath was born.
The suburbs of Calcutta at that time were surrounded by thick jungle. Small wild animals lived there, emerging into the streets and freely entering houses in the evenings. One day, while Chandranath's wife, Prasannamayi, was working somewhere in the house, leaving little Harinath on the floor, a rabid jackal entered and was about to bite the child. The frightened mother came rushing in to save Harinath and was herself fatally bitten. Shortly after, she died. Harinath was too young at that time to have any memory of her. Fortunately by then his eldest brother, Mahendranath, had married, and his wife took care of the motherless boy.
Harinath even at this tender age revealed a stubborn, independent nature, always wanted his own way in personal matters, and was easily excited at the least provocation. At the same time he was not very particular about the needs of life, and whatever food was served he ate without complaint. At the proper age he was sent to the local Bengali school.
When Harinath was twelve, his father passed away. It was the first death the boy had seen close at hand, and it touched him deeply. While he was crying bitterly just before his father's death, the sister asked her father to say some words of consolation to him. 'What is there to say?' the dying man replied. 'Hari belongs to the world and the world belongs to Hari!' It was a true prophecy -- Hari finally did belong to the world, and the world belong to him. Thus Hari became an orphan when he was very young, with no little brother or sister with whom to play or exchange confidences. His two elder brothers and sister-in-law did everything in their power to make him happy. The sister-in-law in particular attended to his physical needs and showered so much affection on him that all his life Hari felt a deep debt of gratitude to her. Years later, he told a group of young monks: 'My mother died when I was a child. I was only three years old then. I grew up under the care of my eldest sister-in-law. I kept myself close to her always. I did not like to go anywhere without her. She was very affectionate and took good care of me and brought me up as if I were her own child. I could not get her out of my thoughts even after I joined the monastery. I was very much concerned about her welfare as long as she lived. Only after her death did I feel relieved of worry.'
In school, Hari paid close attention to all his studies, but his special interest lay in religion and athletics. His ambition even then was to lead an austere life observing all the orthodox rules and traditions. After he was initiated into the Brahmacharin's life by investiture with the sacred thread, he bathed three times a day, repeated the Gayatri regularly, slept on the hard floor, and ate the simplest food. In addition he took so much physical exercise that some feared he would overtax his constitution. The pictures we have of him show that he had a strong physique. This hardening of the body helped him later to remain unaffected by many of the severe hardships he faced. A third ideal he had was the observance of absolute continence. In order to keep his mind away from lustful thoughts, he reduced his sleep and spent many hours in meditation.
Regarding this period of his life, Hari once said: 'I do not think I ever slept longer than three or four hours at night. The first part of the night I passed in meditation. Then I decided that sleep was an obstacle. So I used to sit up and watch the train of my thought. As a result my mind began to discriminate continuously between the eternal and the non-eternal. Then I could sleep no more. I thought within myself, "Am I losing my mind?" I began to pray that I might sleep. But within me was a current of joy, as if someone were saying, "But don't you want to discriminate like this?" ... Then for a year I regularly sang the song:
O Mother, make me mad with Thy love!
He concluded: 'This soothed my mind and brought me back from the realm of the Absolute to the personal aspect of God. If I had a little more patience, I would have merged in the Absolute.'
In addition to the external observances of baths and meditation, Hari learned by heart many devotional hymns, which he repeated whenever the mood seized him. He was also interested in the study of the Upanishads and he committed to memory the Chandi, Vivekachudamani, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana of Tulsidas. An austere life seemed to him to be the ideal spiritual life. The baths in the Ganga gave him great spiritual elation, and the first one was always taken before dawn. He gained a certain satisfaction from finishing his bath before others and in his eagerness went to the river as early as two or three o'clock in the morning. He found that before the sun rose, he had already spent hours in meditation.
Hari's study of Vedanta books left him with the strong impression that the inner Self within the body alone was the Reality, and thus he developed an indifference to the body. Once, while he was taking his morning bath, an event occurred which strengthened him in his developing ideals. 'When I was a young man,' he told it later, 'I was always reading and practicing Vedanta. I constantly tried to remember that I was the Atman and not this body. I was in the habit of taking my bath early in the morning. One day I went to bathe as usual and I was in the river. I saw an object floating in the water. It was still dark, so that I could not distinguish it. Some people on the shore, however, recognized the object as a crocodile. They shouted, "Come out quickly! That is a crocodile coming towards you!" Instinctively I rushed to the shore. But as soon as I got out, I thought to myself, "What are you doing? You are repeating day and night, Soham! Soham! I am He! I am He! And now all of a sudden you forget your ideal and think you are the body! Shame on you!" I thought, "Shiva, Shiva! that is true." And immediately I went back. The crocodile never bothered to come near me. I bathed as usual. But I noticed I was hurrying to get through my bath quickly. Then I said to myself: 'No, I shall not hurry; I shall take my bath as usual." And so I did.'
After finishing his studies in the Bengali Institution, Hari went to the General Assembly School, run by Christian missionaries. In these schools there was an hour set apart for the study of the Bible. Since the classes were not compulsory, many of the Hindu boys absented themselves and the classrooms were always empty, except for Hari, who attended regularly. Though he was an orthodox Hindu, he took a keen interest in the Bible, and, in fact, any religious book had an attraction for him.
About this time, a sadhu visited and settled in the area for a while. Many people went to him daily, each with his own motives. Some asked the holy man to foretell their future; some wanted cure for diseases. It was rumored that the Sadhu had occult powers and that whatever he said would take place. Hari also became interested and went to him every evening. Silently he sat there, watching all the visitors and the way in which the holy man dealt with them. After some days the sadhu said to Hari: 'I find that every one who comes here is asking for some help or other, but not you. Have you any question or problem which I can solve?'
'Sir,' Hari replied, 'I don't have any such problem. I want only the capacity to lead an austere life, to repeat God's name incessantly, and to realize Him. This is all I need.'
The holy man was highly pleased to hear these words from a mere boy, and said: 'Excellent! Excellent! Surely you will succeed, my child. You will get what you want.' These words encouraged Hari, and he renewed his spiritual practices with greater zeal.
This is the picture we have of Hari in his early teens. His life's ideal was already clear before him, and to reach it he believed one should lead an ascetic life characterized by complete indifference to physical comforts, gain a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, spend long hours in meditation, and adhere to strict observance of the brahminical traditions. We do not know whether he desired a teacher to help him; at any rate, he sought out none at this time, but followed by himself the many disciplines which attracted him.
Although Hari's overzealous spiritual life drew the attention of his brothers, they did not raise any objection. Friends of the family would tell Mahendranath, 'Do you notice how Hari is changing daily? Is he going to be a monk? You should warn him and make him take greater interest in his studies and prepare for a career.' But Mahendranath would say, 'After all, Hari is only doing what is fit for a brahmin boy. There is nothing wrong in that.' Hari felt a great relief. Perhaps he would have led this kind of life up to the end, if he had not, about this time, met Sri Ramakrishna.
2. Hari Meets His Master
No one can forget an occurrence which has made a vivid impression on one's mind and brought a complete change in one's life. Hari's meeting with Sri Ramakrishna was such a momentous event.
'I first saw Sri Ramakrishna at Dinanath Bose's house in Baghbazar,' he recalled in later years. 'That was long, long ago. In those days the Master used to be often in the state of samadhi. About that time Keshab Chandra Sen had become acquainted with him. Kalinath Bose, Dinanath's brother, was a follower of Keshab Sen. He happened to see Sri Ramakrishna and was deeply impressed. So he asked his brother Dinanath to bring Sri Ramakrishna to their house, and that was how the Master came to visit Baghbazar. We were all young, about thirteen or fourteen years old. People referred to Sri Ramakrishna as Paramahamsa, and they were all talking about his visit. I and some other boys were curious, and we all went to see him. We saw a carriage stop in front of Dinanath's house with two men in it. Immediately the people around began to say, "The Paramahamsa has come, the Paramahamsa has come," and moved towards the carriage. First, one of the men in the carriage got down. He was well-built. There was a big vermilion mark on his forehead. A golden amulet was tied on his right arm. Looking at him, one felt that he was a strong person and a very shrewd one. Standing close to the carriage, he helped the other person to get down. The other appeared very thin. He had a shirt on his body, and his wearing cloth was securely tied over his wait. One foot was on the step of the carriage and the other was inside the carriage. He was completely unconscious, and it seemed as if someone quite drunk was being taken out of the carriage. But when he got down, what a wonderful sight! There was an indescribable radiance in his face. I thought, "I have heard from the scriptures about the great sage Sukadeva. Is he the same Sukadeva?" By that time, many others joined them and took them to the second floor of the house. I followed them. When the Paramahamsa became a little conscious of the outer world, he opened his eyes and saw a large picture of Mother Kali on the wall. He immediately saluted her and started to sing in a soul-bewitching manner. It stirred a unique wave of devotion in all who had gathered there. The song expressed the idea that Kali and Krishna are identical: "O Mother, for Yasoda Thou wouldst dance, when she called Thee her precious Blue Jewel..." It is impossible to describe the extraordinary feeling this song aroused in everybody. After that, the Paramahamsa spoke on many spiritual matters. Two or three years later I saw him at Dakshineswar in his room.'
The first meeting with the God-intoxicated saint left an indelible mark on the mind of young Hari. He was charmed by everything Sri Ramakrishna did. But at the same time his leaning towards Sankara's philosophy and his search for Brahman, the Absolute, kept him from wishing to become a disciple of one who was a devotee of the Divine Mother. So Hari continued his own way of life -- a life of renunciation, austerity, and continence. He had made up his mind not to get married. His taste for studies decreased, so that he did not try to go on to college.
Hari's second meeting with Sri Ramakrishna took place two or three years later. It was about 1880 when he went to Dakshineswar with some friends and saw the saint again. Hari was about seventeen or eighteen years old. Sri Ramakrishna, for his part, recognized that the boy possessed certain physical characteristics indicative of spirituality, and that Hari was to become one of his intimate disciples. Sri Ramakrishna resolved to train the boy in his own fashion. He told him to come on weekdays, when there were not many people present. So Hari started visiting Sri Ramakrishna when there was a good chance of being alone with him. He would then talk with the Master for hours. Sri Ramakrishna was surprised to find that the boy was drawn to the ideal of the Impersonal.
Before undertaking any direct spiritual training, the Master wished to make Hari enjoy being in his company. One day the boy said: 'Sir, whenever I am here I feel very elated and spiritually roused, but as soon as I return to Calcutta the mood completely disappears. Why does that happen?''
Sri Ramakrishna replied: 'How can it be so? You are Hari-das, the servant of Hari (the Lord). Is it possible for you to exist without remembering the Lord?
'I cannot understand that, sir,' Hari objected.
'The truth of something does not depend upon a person's knowing or not knowing it,' the saint replied. 'You are a devotee of God.'
Day by day Hari felt closer to Sri Ramakrishna and freely asked all sorts of questions concerning him personally. 'Sir,' he inquired one day, 'how can we free ourselves completely from lust?' Sri Ramakrishna replied: 'Why should it go, my boy. Give it a turn in another direction.' This was something new to Hari. He had thought that a Brahmachari, or celibate, should completely destroy lust. But here he found a new kind of advice, which he could never have thought of himself. The most powerful urge in a human being was to be channeled in a different direction, so that instead of becoming an obstacle in spiritual life, it could become a help. Instead of wasting one's effort on overcoming lust, one should direct one's intensity of emotion to God.
Another time Hari told Sri Ramakrishna that he was not at all interested in women, and that he could not bear them. To this the Master replied: 'You talk like a fool! Looking down upon women! Why? They are the manifestations of the Divine Mother. Bow down to them with respect. That is the only way to escape from their snares.' These words permanently changed Hari's attitude toward women.
Thus Hari received, mostly in private, not only answers to personal problems, but much instruction regarding meditation and other spiritual disciplines. Gradually he learned many secrets of spiritual life, and by his close association with Sri Ramakrishna he came to see the Master's unique greatness.
Hari's interest in monistic Vedanta was already deep-rooted. He had studied Sankara's works and accepted non-dualism as his ideal. It was his faith in non-dualism that had made him face the crocodile. Whenever he found time he would study the scriptures -- for a seeker of Brahman must have a thorough grasp of them.
This interest sometimes became so strong that for days he failed to visit Sri Ramakrishna. Such absence did not go unnoticed. When Hari's friends came to Dakshineswar, the Master asked them, 'What is the matter with Hari? He doesn't come here nowadays.' They replied that he was absorbed in the study of Vedanta. Later, when Hari visited him again, Sri Ramakrishna said: 'I hear you are studying Vedanta and meditating on its ideals. That is good, of course. But tell me, what is the teaching of Vedanta? Is it not that Brahman alone is real and the world unreal? Isn't that its substance? Is it anything else? Then why don't you give up the unreal and cling to the real?'
This Hari had to accept, for it was true. The whole of Vedantic literature is based on this statement. However much a man may read, it will not make him understand truth, for intellectual apprehension is not the same as spiritual understanding. Reading books can go on endlessly without giving conviction, for it is experience alone that convinces. Thus, even scriptures fall into the category of the unreal. Reality is not in books. So when Sri Ramakrishna asked him to cling to the real, Hari understood how in these few words he had been shown the importance of conviction. The Upanishads, he remembered, say repeatedly, 'The Atman is not realized either by study or by intellect ...'
Sri Ramakrishna explained: 'Hearing, thinking, and meditating. First, hearing -- you first hear that Brahman is real and the universe unreal, then thinking -- by reason and discrimination you get the ideal deeply and correctly imprinted in your mind; and after that, meditation -- you apply your mind to Brahman, the real entity, by renouncing the universe, the unreal entity. That is all. One cannot attain Reality by means of mere intellectual knowledge. Conviction is necessary...'
This teaching gave Hari a better understanding of what he should do. From that day on, he gave more attention to the practice of spirituality than to poring over books. Still there were some doubts. The book said that the Atman is realized by him whom It chooses. So, even though a man has renounced everything and is practicing intense austerities, there is no guarantee of realization. This was confirmed by Sri Ramakrishna, who also explained the working of divine grace. One day the Master visited the house of his devotee Balaram. The house was in Baghbazar, near Hari's home. Sri Ramakrishna sent for Hari and, after inquiring about his welfare, said with great emphasis: 'Nothing can be achieved -- neither knowledge, nor devotion, nor direct spiritual experience -- without God's grace.' Formerly, Hari had been a strong believer in self-effort; he had the idea that he could bring about whatever he wanted and he used to say so. But this was another point Hari had to understand. The will has its place, no doubt; but it takes a man only as far as his own strength can take him. To reach the higher truth is too much for his limited power. He cannot so easily brush aside the tangible world, whose reality is perceived so vividly by all his senses, and which is constantly trying to dominate him. For this is needed the grace of God, over which man has no control.
Hari heard the Master continue: 'Well, is it an easy matter to realize that lust and greed are unreal and to have the firm conviction that the universe is eternally non-existent? Is it possible without His compassion? It is possible only if His grace produces the conviction in us. Can a man have that conviction through his own efforts? Ah! How small is his power and how small is the effort he can put forth with its help!' We are told by Swami Saradananda that after these words Sri Ramakrishna went into Samadhi. After a while he returned to a semiconscious state and said: 'Man cannot have a clear idea of even one aspect of God, and yet he wants another.' So saying, he started a song of the Uttara Rama Charitam, where Hanuman tells the sons of Rama:
As Sri Ramakrishna repeated these words, tears began to fall from his eyes. It was such a moving sight that Hari could not control himself and he too began to weep. It took some time before the mood passed. Later, Hari referred to the incident and said: 'That day I got a lesson which was forever imprinted on my mind. From that day I understood that nothing can be achieved without the grace of God.'
When we read the letters and conversations of Swami Turiyananda, we see how effective this instruction was. The need for complete self-surrender to God was borne in upon him over and over again; and thus the would-be monist, who was in danger of becoming dogmatic, was made to accept the doctrine of divine grace.
Recalling this, he told Swami Raghavananda later on: 'When I was of your age (in the early twenties), I was an extreme Vedantist. My one ideal at that time was to attain nirvana. I used to consider that to be the supreme goal. But Sri Ramakrishna scolded me again and again and gave me another ideal. He pointed out that the path of knowledge was not my way. He made me a devotee instead. I can still remember how the Master disciplined me.'
Sri Ramakrishna's ability to know each disciple's spiritual path and how to guide him into it was unique. His way of training was also unique in this respect, that he insisted on broadness in his disciples' religious attitudes. He wanted them to be many-sided like himself. Since Hari leaned too much towards the nirvana ideal of the Advaitic school, the Master had to convince him to accept the worship of the Personal God. One day he told him: 'Why do you think of nirvana as the goal of life? There is a state higher than nirvana, and it can be attained.'
Hari had never heard this before. 'Can I attain that state?' he asked.
'Certainly,' Sri Ramakrishna replied. 'By the grace of the Divine Mother one can attain it.'
There were many occasions when Sri Ramakrishna led his young disciple to look for a goal higher than nirvana. In a letter from Almora in later years (August 14, 1915) Swami Turiyananda wrote:
Sri Ramakrishna said: 'Those who seek nirvana are mean-minded. They are full of fear. They are like those parcheesi players who are always eager to reach home. An amateur player, once he sends his piece home, doesn't like to bring it out again. Such players are unskilled. But an adept player is never afraid of coming out again, if by doing so he gets the opportunity to capture an opponent. Then he rolls the right number and returns home once more. It seems that whenever he rolls the dice, the right number comes up for him. So do not fear. Play without any fear.'
I asked, 'Does it actually happen?' The Master replied, 'Of course it happens. By Mother's grace everything takes place. Mother likes people to play. Take the game of hide-and-seek. (There is a granny, there is a thief who is blindfolded, and there are the children trying to escape being caught by the thief). The granny likes to have the children run about and make the game go on. She may extend her hand to help a child so that it cannot be caught by the thief, if she thinks it necessary. Similarly, the Divine Mother is not really pleased with those who seek nirvana, for they want to retire from the game. She likes the game to continue. That is why devotees do not seek nirvana. They say, "O mind, it is not good to become sugar, but I want to eat sugar."
The Master told me many a time: 'What is there in the scriptures? They are like sheets of paper with a list of purchases written on them. They are only useful to check whether all the articles have been brought. When you have checked the articles, the list is thrown away. So you check your knowledge, your devotion. You consult the scripture and see whether they agree. It is said, "When you get the knowledge of the Absolute, the scriptures are worth only a straw." ' Sri Ramakrishna pointed out how the Divine Mother had shown him what is in the scriptures, the Puranas, and the Tantric literature. So, though he was an illiterate person, he was able to lower the pride of pundits. He used to say, 'If you get a tiny ray of light from the Divine Mother, it makes all learning pale into insignificance.'
As we have seen, Sri Ramakrishna's teachings were far different from those of books and ordinary scholars. His simple presentation of the nature of God was something altogether new and wonderfully attractive. While monism describes only the path of the formless, Sri Ramakrishna taught that the Vijnanis accept God both with form and without. The Vijnanis are greater than the Jnanis, those who simply attain nirvana or samadhi. In Sri Ramakrishna's words: 'Jnana is the realization of the Atman through the process of 'Not this, not this.' One goes into samadhi through this process of elimination and realizes the Atman... But Vijnana means knowledge with a greater fullness. Some have heard of milk, some have seen milk, and some have drunk milk. He who has merely heard of it is 'ignorant.' He who has seen it is a Jnani. But he who has drunk it has Vijnana, that is to say, a fuller knowledge of it... To know by one's inner experience that God exists is Jnana. But to talk to him, to enjoy him as a Child, as Friend, as Master, as Beloved is Vijnana. The realization that God alone has become the universe and all living beings is Vijnana.'
Thus Sri Ramakrishna taught Hari, guiding his life and gradually removing all his angularities. And he convinced his disciple that, when it came to actual practice, the devotional ideal was more suitable than the Advaitic in the present age. 'Since the ignorant "I" asserts itself so often,' the Master would tell him, 'and since the attachment to the body is so great, it is difficult to reach the infinite and immutable Brahman. But still the door is not closed.'
'I shall tell you of an incident', Swami Turiyananda recalled much later. 'One day I went to see Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. There were many people who had come to see him. Among them there was a great Vedantic scholar. The Master asked him: 'Let us hear some Vedanta from you.' The scholar with all respect spoke for more than an hour, expounding Vedanta. Sri Ramakrishna was highly pleased. The people around were surprised at this. But after eulogizing the pundit, the Master said: 'As far as I am concerned, I do not like all those details. There is nothing but I and my Mother. To you people, knowledge, knower, and known -- the one who meditates, meditation, and the object of meditation -- this sort of triple division is very good. But for me, 'Mother and I': 'that is all, and nothing else.' These words, 'Mother and I' he said in such a manner that it made a very deep impression on all present. At that moment all ideas of Vedanta paled into insignificance. The Master's 'Mother and I' seemed more easy, simple and pleasing to the mind than the three divisions of Vedanta. From that time onward I learned that 'Mother and I' is the fit attitude to be adopted.'
Sri Ramakrishna's relationship with his young disciples exemplified the attitude of the spiritual teacher in its most ideal form. He showed deep love for them and a steady interest in their welfare. If they did not visit him for many days, he missed their company badly. He himself would go in search of them, sometimes taking sweets to feed them. He knew that these young men were absolutely pure and the time spent on them was well spent. When we read of their later lives, we see what a deep mark he left on all of them -- Swami Vivekananda, for example, felt that Sri Ramakrishna's love had no parallel.
In the scriptures we are told that the pupil should study his teacher, and if he discovers that he is an extraordinary spiritual person he should develop great respect for him. Many of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were drawn to their Master by discovering how perfect he was -- that he had all the marks of a man of God.
Once Hari was busy and did not go to Dakshineswar. When he finally came, Sri Ramakrishna said to him, 'Why don't you come here? I want to see you quite often, for I know you are dear to the Lord. Otherwise for what reason should I spend my time on you? You can't give me anything worth even a cent: and when I go to your house, you can't even spread a torn mat for me to sit on. Yet I love you so much. Don't forget to come here, because here you will get everything that is needed for your spiritual life. If you can find elsewhere opportunities for God-realization, you may go there. What I want is that you realize God -- that you should somehow go beyond the suffering of the world and enjoy divine bliss, that you should attain Him in this life. The Divine Mother tells me if you only come here, you will have God-realization without any effort. That is why I ask you to see me so often.' Saying these words, Sri Ramakrishna was overcome with emotion and began to shed tears.
No wonder Hari was soon caught in Sri Ramakrishna's love. He had not found any other person who could satisfy his spiritual longing, clear his doubts, guide his life and give him such affection. He felt he had received the greatest of blessings in obtaining Sri Ramakrishna as his teacher. Hari knew that, according to the scriptures, if a person is earnest in his spiritual life, the teacher comes to him. Now he saw that this was true.
During the five or six years he was with Sri Ramakrishna, Hari had many opportunities to meet the other disciples of the Master. Early in this period he met Narendranath Dutta (more familiarly called Naren), who later became Swami Vivekananda. Naren was his close friend and from the very beginning had made a very deep impression on his mind. At the same time, Naren developed a great liking for him and called him brother Hari, or Haribhai. Their approach to the spiritual life was by no means identical, yet Naren respected Hari's orthodox ways. Both lived in Calcutta and often came to see Sri Ramakrishna together, sometimes walking, sometimes by boat.
One day they were on their way to Dakshineswar, when Naren said: 'Say something!' 'What shall I tell you?' Hari asked. Then he started quoting from the Siva Mahimna Stotra: 'If the goddess of learning were to write eternally, having the biggest branch of the celestial tree for pen, the whole earth for paper, the blue mountain for inkpot, and the ocean for ink, even then, O Lord, thy attributes could not be fully described.'
Naren began to talk about Sri Ramakrishna. He had been so powerfully moved by Sri Ramakrishna's affection that he described him as LOVE -- love personified. Hari found that they had identical views about the Master, and that Naren was really an extraordinary young man, possessed of deep spirituality, just as the Master had pointed out to him.
Since Hari usually visited Sri Ramakrishna on weekdays when there were not many visitors, records of his talks with the Master are scarce. Only on a few occasions was he present at the same time with M., the recorder of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Two or three meetings of the Master and Hari appear in the Gospel and these accounts are brief.
Hari's recorded questions were simple and not in the least philosophical. They were really expressions of his own problems, rather than queries that came from his study of books. 'Why is it that some people do not have the spiritual experience quickly?' 'Why should human life be so full of misery?' 'Why should God play with us and torment us?' -- These were the sort of questions he asked and they indicate how deeply he had become absorbed in the thought of God-realization.
'As long as you are in the world of thought, you can never know God,' the Master told Hari one day. 'He cannot be reached by argument. For as you proceed to discriminate and argue, you cannot ignore the world. You cannot give up the senses of taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing, and the objects of the senses. You get the knowledge of Brahman only after your discrimination stops. You cannot know it through the mind. It is known only by the Atman, or Self. Pure mind, pure intellect, and the pure Self are all one. In the world, when you want to see an object, you need light, the power of seeing, and the mind. If you leave out any of these, you cannot see. As long as the mind functions you cannot say that the world does not exist. When the mind is destroyed, i.e. when its functions of determination and imagination stop, then you achieve samadhi and have direct knowledge of Brahman.'
In this manner, Hari was taught to bestow less and less attention on formal studies and concentrate more and more on spiritual practices. He spent many days and nights in Dakshineswar, with Sri Ramakrishna training him in the art of intensified meditation. Sometimes when Sri Ramakrishna was near him, Hari would sob like a child as he meditated; he did not know why. The Master explained this as a sign that Hari would soon go into ecstasy. And indeed he did. From what he related afterwards, we can gather that Hari had many profound spiritual experiences during his days at Dakshineswar.
As the disciple's spiritual perception increased, so did his appreciation of his teacher. Sometimes Sri Ramakrishna taught directly, but often the teaching was indirect, especially when he cleared unexpressed doubts of the disciples. At times the Master would appear to be talking to one individual, when he was actually addressing his remarks to someone else. M., according to the Gospel, was the recipient of such indirect counsel many times: other disciples have also mentioned receiving guidance in this manner.
One day Hari visited Sri Ramakrishna during lunch time. The Master was seated, in front of him was a plate of rice and a number of small bowls containing a variety of side dishes. Seeing this big meal, it would have been logical for anyone to think that the Paramahamsa was fond of eating an overabundance of good food and to wonder how spiritual he really could be. But again things were not what they might seem. Sri Ramakrishna's purpose, as always, was to instruct. 'My mind always runs to the Infinite,' he explained. 'Since I want to talk with you all, in order to keep the mind on this plane (of everyday consciousness) I taste a little from this bowl, a little from that bowl, sampling different dishes by putting a bit on my tongue.' And Hari saw him actually eat very little of that big meal. [To explain, Sri Ramakrishna's mind was always tending to get absorbed in God. For, a person's mind can remain in the worldly plane, only if he has some worldly desires and attachments. Not having any such inherent desires and attachments, unlike ordinary people, the Master had to create artificially some innocent desires like the above, so that he might be fit to communicate with this world.]
Six years at Dakshineswar had convinced Hari that Sri Ramakrishna was a divine incarnation. Hence, when the Master fell sick, he could not believe that disease had really overcome him -- the whole thing was a play of the Lord.
One day, towards the end of his life, when Sri Ramakrishna was lying in bed at Kasipur, suffering from cancer of the throat, Hari approached and asked: 'Sir, how are you?'
The Master replied: 'Oh, I am in great pain. I cannot eat anything, and there is an unbearable burning in my throat.'
But Hari was not fooled. He saw that the Master was still confirming him in devotion. For Hari knew that the Upanishads declare that the play of the Atman is all 'as if' -- not actuality. The Atman never experiences any illness or suffering. A man of realization is always the same. And Hari's Master was such a man.
The more Sri Ramakrishna complained, the clearer it was to Hari that his teacher was testing him. Finally, Hari could control himself no longer and burst out: 'Sir, whatever you may say, I see you as an infinite ocean of bliss.' At this Sri Ramakrishna said to himself with a smile: 'This rascal has found me out!'
So when the Master left the world, Hari had gained all he needed from his guru -- instructions and experiences of the highest kind, leaving no possibility of doubt about their reality.
3. Years of Wandering
Sri Ramakrishna left his mortal frame in August 1886. His departure was a severe blow to his young disciples who had renounced the world. At once they had to arrange their life in a new pattern. While some of these young men -- like Naren, Baburam and Sarat -- were setting up a monastery at Baranagore near Dakshineswar, Hari, with intense dispassion and determination, left his home, taking one piece of cloth and a bed-cover as a shawl, and went straight to Shillong in Assam. He spent about six months there. He had never made such an experiment before -- to eat what chance brought him and to sleep on the bare ground in a cold region, the altitude of Shillong being about 5,000 feet. He could not stand the rigor of this life, and when he finally returned to Calcutta he was very ill. He stayed with his brother-disciples at the new monastery in Baranagore. Here he took sannyasa early in 1887 at the age of twenty four. From that time onward, Hari came to be known as Swami Turiyananda. It was a name befitting Hari's nature which from boyhood had been powerfully drawn to the goal of nirvana, known also as the Turiya. One whose delight was in the Turiya became Turiyananda.
Life at the Baranagore Math was extremely austere. Food was obtained by begging; it was for the most part rice without any spices. The young monks had very few clothes between them. But they had been trained in a strong spirit of renunciation, and they did not bother much about their needs. Many hours were passed in meditation; spare time was spent in study of scriptures. Through the influence of Sri Ramakrishna's holy company all longing for worldly pleasures and even family attachments, which are generally so deep, had been burnt away.
But renunciation did not make the Swami a dry ascetic, without feelings of affection. He still loved his brothers very much, although when a higher ideal had been accepted, lower attachments must be given up. We are told that shortly after his adoption of the monastic life, Swami Turiyananda went to see his brothers one day, clad in ochre robe, his head shaven. At first they could not recognize him. They wondered who the young monk might be, standing before them, shedding tears. After some time Upendranath recognized Hari and said: 'Why are you crying? This is what you wanted!'
'I am very much indebted to you both,' Swami Turiyananda replied.
Then the brothers consoled him, 'Let it be so, Hari. We have done our duty to you as elder brothers. You did not enter the family life. The alternative you have chosen is the best. We bless you that you may attain your goal.'
On hearing these words, Swami Turiyananda felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted from his heart. Now he knew his brothers were not offended by his leaving home.
The life renunciation led by the young disciples at Baranagore has never been fully recorded. It was a period when all the ideas they had received from Sri Ramakrishna were put to test. They had before them the illustrious life of the Master, who had set them a living and unparalleled example of spirituality. Now they all plunged into the quest of the Supreme, and the disciplines they practiced helped the growth of the spiritual seed that had been planted by Sri Ramakrishna. But even this life was not completely satisfactory to Swami Turiyananda. For the scriptures say that a sannyasin is a free person -- he is not to confine himself to a particular home or to particular friends. He accepts the entire world as his country, all humanity as his kith and kin. The great sages have compared the man of renunciation to a lion that has come out of the cage. Soon Swami Turiyananda left the monastery to wander by himself to discover how deep was his dispassion, how strong his faith in God.
As we have seen, Swami Turiyananda's mind tended toward austere spiritual practices from his childhood. The tradition of Hindu monasticism confirmed him in this tendency. For countless ages, Indian sadhus have practiced the spiritual disciplines that Swami Turiyananda now embarked upon: to live in solitude, to visit places of pilgrimage , to meditate intensively, to study the scriptures and to reduce the needs of the body to a minimum. Theirs is a life of utter dependence on the Lord as far as food and shelter are concerned. What little food is needed to sustain life is obtained by begging and whatever is given is regarded as coming directly from God.
According to the orthodox Hindu ideal, a holy man is not expected to work in the worldly sense. His prayer and meditation are thought to be of benefit to all mankind, and his life of renunciation is therefore considered selfless -- not an escape from duty. As far as the householders are concerned, according to the scriptures, it is their sacred duty to feed the wandering sadhus, thereby worshipping God in them.
Swami Turiyananda left the monastery with his wearing apparel and a water bowl. He visited one shrine after another, traveling by foot all the way. From Calcutta he moved westward and reached Rishikesh, where the Ganga emerges from the Himalayas. There, with Swami Saradananda, whom he had met by chance on the way, and Vaikunthanath Sanyal, a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, he practiced austerities for a time. It was 1889.
From Rishikesh, Turiyananda went with Swami Saradananda to Gangotri. (The pilgrimage to Gangotri was full of hardships, in those days. The footpath to the place goes through a dense forest, and there is no human habitation -- nowhere to beg food -- for many miles.)
At length, the Swamis found themselves in a part of a reserve forest. The likelihood of finding anyone here was still more remote, as even woodcutters were prohibited from entering this area. But one day, hearing the sound of an axe, the travelers realized they must be near a human settlement of some kind. They called aloud, but whoever had been cutting wood ran away, fearing perhaps he would be apprehended by Government officers. For three days the Swamis wandered without food. Finally they reached a village, but it was uninhabited. They reached a second village, and there also they could not get any food, for all the houses were closed. They finally arrived at a third village. Here they met a man who said that a famine was raging in that region and that the villagers, the women included, had gone out in search of food. He told the Swamis that they could find the people in their houses only in the mornings and evenings. Having fasted three days, Swami Turiyananda was very weak. Seeing some grass, he began to eat it to allay the pangs of hunger. It made him vomit, and he became weaker. Fortunately they met a wandering monk who took them to another village, and there they enjoyed what food the villagers were able to give. After that, Swami Turiyananda found it better to go on alone, and he returned to Rajpur near Mussoorie, where he entered upon a life of intense meditation.
While he was at Rajpur, police officers thought that the Swami was an anarchist posing as a holy man. One of them approached him and put all sorts of questions to him. Swami Turiyananda replied fearlessly, showing his displeasure. At this the officer said: 'How dare you talk that way? Are you not afraid of the police?' Stung to the quick, the Swami shouted: 'I afraid! I am not frightened even of Yama, the god of death, not to speak of the police!' The Swami had traveled all alone without any protection, without any weapon, through the forests full of wild animals. For him there was no need to fear human beings. The police, balked in their attempt to find anything objectionable, left him in peace.
The Swami lived at Rajpur for some months, deeply absorbed in meditation. One day, in the early part of 1890, he met an astrologer who said that he was soon going to meet someone very dear to him. The Swami could not guess who that might be. It turned out to be none other than Naren -- Swami Vivekananda. The latter had been making a similar pilgrimage that year with Swami Akhandananda, another brother-disciple. He had met Swami Saradananda, as well at Almora, and they came to Rajpur. Thus, accidentally, after a separation of two years, the four friends were brought together, to their great joy.
They spent several happy days in Rajpur and then went to Rishikesh. Here Swami Vivekananda contracted fever. Turiyananda nursed him, and when Vivekananda recovered, they both left for Kankhal, where they met another brother-disciple, Swami Brahmananda, who was also practicing austerities. They proceeded to Meerut.
One day, Swami Vivekananda left for Delhi without telling anyone. He did not always enjoy being surrounded by a group. A sadhu seeks solitude at times, because in this way he learns to understand his own mind. As long as a man lives in the company of others, he does not really know how dependent he is on them and how much inner strength he is capable of.
Swami Vivekananda's brother-disciples, out of their love for him, followed him to Delhi, asking him to stay with them. But he said: 'My brothers, just now I prefer to be left alone. That is why I came to Delhi by myself. Please don't follow me any more. Herewith I leave Delhi. I wish everyone to strive for his own goal according to his own light.' Soon after that the group broke up.
Swami Brahmananda had once been asked by Sri Ramakrishna to be associated closely with Swami Turiyananda. Now these two started on a pilgrimage, and were together for almost six years. They visited important sacred shrines and practiced contemplation. Their first place of pilgrimage was Jwalamukhi, in Kangra Valley, in Punjab. It is one of the twelve sacred shrines of the Divine Mother, although it contains no image of the Goddess. During special periods dedicated to the worship of the Divine Mother, thousands of Hindus visit the shrine of Jwalamukhi. Swami Brahmananda and Swami Turiyananda spent some time there. Seeing these two young men leading a pure, simple and intensely spiritual life, the priests and others began to show them respect.
From there the Swamis moved on to Kulu, a place particularly congenial to spiritual practice and therefore inhabited by hundreds of sadhus. The two pilgrims halted there. Soon, their intense spiritual striving attracted the attention of the villagers, who gathered round them in large numbers and every day brought them generous amounts of food. These attentions at length became a kind of worship, to the Swami's great embarrassment. So early one morning they left Kulu for Baidyanath a few miles way. There an extraordinary incident took place.
Baidyanath is a few place where no water reservoirs of any kind exist.
|(Swami Turiyananda - by Swami Ritajananda, (c) Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras 60004.)|