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A Brief Life of SRI RAMAKRISHNA Early DaysReligion declines when people talk aboutreligion but do not practise it, or when peopleuse it for their own selfish motives. Religion becomes polluted when hypocrisyand dishonesty, lust and greed, jealousy andhatred, ego and fanaticism are rampant inpeople’s minds. Krishna declared in theBhagavad Gita: ‘When religion declines andirreligion prevails, I incarnate myself in everyage to establish religion.’ As the same moonrises in the sky again and again, so the sameGod descends to the earth as a human being indifferent places and in different times to fulfilthe need of the age and to point out the goal ofhuman life. This is not a myth: the lives of Rama,Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Christ, Muhammad,Chaitanya, and Ramakrishna attest to theGita’s statement.
4 INSPIRING LIVES Sri Ramakrishna was born on Wednesday, 18February 1836, in Kamarpukur, a small village112 km northwest of Kolkata. In the spring of1835 his father, Khudiram Chattopadhyay, hadgone to visit the holy city of Gaya to perform arite for his ancestors in the Vishnu Temple. Onenight in his sleep, Khudiram had a vision. Aluminous being gazed at him affectionatelyand then said in a sweet voice: ‘Khudiram, yourgreat devotion has made me very happy. Thetime has come for me to be born once again onearth. I shall be born as your son.’ Khudiram was filled with joy until herealized that he did not have the means to carryout such a great responsibility. So he said: ‘No,my Lord, I am not fit for this favour. I am toopoor to serve you properly.’ ‘Do not be afraid,Khudiram,’ said the Lord. ‘Whatever you giveme to eat, I shall enjoy.’ Khudiram awoke,convinced that the Lord of the universe wasgoing to be born into his household. He thenleft Gaya and returned to Kamarpukur beforethe end of April. On Khudiram’s return, his wife, Chandra,told him of an experience she had had in frontof the Yogi Shiva Temple next to their house.Chandra said: ‘I saw that the holy image of
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 5Lord Shiva inside the shrine was alive! It beganto send forth waves of the most beautiful light— slowly at first, then quicker and quicker.They filled the inside of the temple, then theycame pouring out — it was like one of thosehuge flood waves in the river — right towardsme! I was going to tell Dhani [a neighbourwoman], but then the waves washed over meand swallowed me up, and I felt that mar-vellous light enter into my body. I fell down onthe ground, unconscious. When I came tomyself, I told Dhani what had happened, butshe did not believe me. She said that I’d had anepileptic fit. That cannot be so, because sincethen I have been full of joy and my health isbetter than ever. Only — I feel that light is stillinside me, and I believe that I am with child.’ Khudiram then told Chandra about hisvision, and they rejoiced together. The piouscouple waited patiently for the divine child’sbirth the following spring. Because of Khudi-ram’s experience at Gaya, Sri Ramakrishna wasnamed “Gadadhar,” meaning “Bearer-of-the-Mace,” an epithet of Vishnu. Ramakrishna grewup in Kamarpukur. He was sent to school wherehe learned to read and write, but he soon lostinterest in this “bread-earning education” and
6 INSPIRING LIVESquit school altogether. However, he continuedto constantly learn by watching people in hisrural village. He was shrutidhar, which meansthat whatever he heard once, he never forgot. When he was six or seven years old, he hadhis first experience of cosmic consciousness.‘One morning,’ he recalled in later life, ‘I tooksome parched rice in a small basket and waseating it while walking along the narrowridges of the rice fields. In one part of the sky, abeautiful black cloud appeared, heavy withrain. I was watching it and eating the rice. Verysoon the cloud covered almost the entire sky.And then a flock of cranes came flying by. Theywere as white as milk against that black cloud.It was so beautiful that I became absorbed inthe sight. Then I lost consciousness of every-thing outward. I fell down and the rice wasscattered over the earth. Some people saw thisand came and carried me home.’ Khudiram died in 1843. Ramakrishna keenlyfelt the loss of his father and became moreindrawn and meditative. He began to visit thesmall village inn where pilgrims and especiallymonks would stop on their way to Puri. Whileserving these holy people he learned theirsongs and prayers. Following the brahminical
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 7tradition, Ramakrishna was invested with thesacred thread when he was nine years old; thisallowed him to perform the ritualistic worshipfor the family deities. He had some friends withwhom he would play, sing, and act out religiousdramas. Once during Shivaratri (a spring festivalof Lord Shiva) he lost outer consciousness whileenacting the role of Shiva. On another occasion,while going to worship the Divine Mother in aneighbouring village, he again went intosamadhi. Dakshineswar Temple and Vision of Kali In 1850 Ramkumar, Khudiram’s eldest son,opened a school in Kolkata. As a secondaryprofession, he performed religious rituals inprivate homes. It soon became difficult for himto manage both responsibilities, so in 1852 hebrought Ramakrishna to assist him in per-forming the rituals. On 31 May 1855 Ramkumaraccepted the responsibility of officiating at thededication ceremony of the Kali Temple ofDakshineswar that had been founded by RaniRasmani, a wealthy woman of Kolkata.Ramakrishna was present on that occasion.
8 INSPIRING LIVESSoon afterwards he moved to Dakshineswarand in time became a priest in the temple.Ramkumar died in 1856. Ramakrishna now began his spiritualjourney in earnest. While worshipping theDivine Mother, he questioned: ‘Are you true,Mother, or is it all a fiction of the mind — merepoetry without any reality? If you do exist, whycan’t I see you? Is religion, then, a fantasy, amere castle in the air?’ His yearning for God-realization became more and more intense dayby day. He prayed and meditated almosttwenty-four hours a day. Then he had aremarkable experience: There was an unbearable pain in my heart because I could not see the Mother. Just as a man wrings a towel with all his strength to get the water out of it, so I felt as if my heart and mind were being wrung out. I began to think I should never see Mother. I was dying of despair. In my agony, I said to myself: ‘What’s the use of living this life?’ Suddenly my eyes fell on the sword that hangs in the temple. I decided to end my life with it, then and there. Like a madman, I ran to it and seized it. And then — I had a marvellous
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 9 vision of the Mother, and fell down uncon- scious.… It was as if houses, doors, temple and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite, shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me. They were raging and storming upon me with great speed. Very soon they were upon me; they made me sink down into unknown depths. I panted and struggled and lost consciousness. After this vision it was not possible forRamakrishna to continue performing theworship in the temple. He entrusted thisresponsibility to his nephew Hriday, and spentmore than two years in a God-intoxicated state.In 1859 he returned to Kamarpukur and livedwith his mother for a year and seven months.During this time, Ramakrishna’s motherarranged his marriage to Sarada Mukho-padhyay, a very young girl from Jayrambati, afew kilometres west of Kamarpukur. After themarriage Ramakrishna returned alone toDakshineswar in 1860.
10 INSPIRING LIVES Once at Dakshineswar Ramakrishna wascaught up again in a spiritual tempest. Heforgot his home, wife, family, body, andsurroundings. He described his experiencesduring that period: No sooner had I passed through one spiritual crisis than another took its place. It was like being in the midst of a whirlwind — even my sacred thread was blown away, and I could seldom keep hold of my dhoti [cloth]. Sometimes I’d open my mouth, and it would be as if my jaws reached from heaven to the underworld. “Mother!” I’d cry desperately. I felt I had to pull her in, as a fisherman pulls in fish with his dragnet. A prostitute walking the street would appear to me to be Sita going to meet her victorious husband. An English boy standing cross-legged against a tree reminded me of the boy Krishna, and I lost consciousness. Sometimes I would share my food with a dog. My hair became matted. Birds would perch on my head and peck at the grains of rice that had lodged there during the worship. Snakes would crawl over my motionless body.
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 11 An ordinary man couldn’t have borne a quarter of that tremendous fervour; it would have burnt him up. I had no sleep at all for six long years. My eyes lost the power of winking. I stood in front of a mirror and tried to close my eyelids with my finger — but then, suddenly, I’d be filled with ecstasy. I saw that my body didn’t matter — it was of no importance, a mere trifle. Mother appeared to me and comforted me and freed me from my fear. Other Spiritual Disciplines In 1861 a nun called Bhairavi Brahmani cameto Dakshineswar to initiate Ramakrishna intotantric disciplines. The Master practised sixty-four methods of Tantra and attained perfectionthrough all of them. He then practised othermethods of the Vaishnava tradition, such asvatsalya bhava (the affectionate attitude towardsGod) and madhura bhava (the lover ’s attitudetowards the beloved). In 1864 Ramakrishna wasinitiated into sannyasa by Tota Puri, a Vedantamonk, and attained nirvikalpa samadhi, thehighest non-dualistic experience, in only threedays.
12 INSPIRING LIVES In 1866 Ramakrishna practised Islam underthe guidance of a Sufi named Govinda Roy. TheMaster later mentioned to his disciples: ‘Idevoutly repeated the name of Allah, and I saidtheir prayers five times daily. I spent three daysin that mood, and I had the full realization ofthe sadhana of their faith.’ In 1873 Ramakrishna met Shambhu CharanMallik, who read the Bible to him and spoke tohim of Jesus. One day Ramakrishna visited JaduMallik’s garden house, which was adjacent tothe Dakshineswar temple. In his living roomthere was a picture of the Madonna with thechild Jesus sitting on her lap. WhileRamakrishna was gazing at this picture, he sawthat the figures of the mother and child wereshining and rays of light were coming forthfrom them and entering his heart. For the next three days he was absorbed in thethought of Jesus, and at the end of the third day,while walking in the Panchavati, he had a visionof a foreign-looking person with a beautiful faceand large eyes of uncommon brilliance. As hepondered who this stranger could be, a voice fromwithin said: ‘This is Jesus Christ, the great yogi,the loving Son of God, who was one with hisFather and who shed his heart’s blood and suffered
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 13tortures for the salvation of mankind!’ Jesus thenembraced Ramakrishna and merged into his body. After realizing God in different religions aswell as in different sects of Hinduism, Rama-krishna proclaimed: ‘As many faiths, so manypaths.’ In this present age, Ramakrishna’steachings are the antidote to narrowness,bigotry, fanaticism, and intolerance towardsdifferent religions. He said: ‘It is not good tofeel that one’s own religion alone is true andall others are false. God is one only, and nottwo. Different people call on him by differentnames: some as Allah, some as God, and othersas Krishna, Shiva, and Brahman. It is like thewater in a lake. The Hindus call it “jal,” theChristians “water,” and the Muslims “pani.”’ The precious jewels of spirituality that hehad gathered through hard struggle during thefirst three-quarters of his life were now readyto be given to humanity. In 1875 Ramakrishnamet Keshab Chandra Sen, a popular Brahmoleader who was considered a spiritual luminary.Keshab and his followers began publishing thelife and teachings of Ramakrishna in theirjournals, and as a result many people, especiallyyoung Bengalis, came to know about the saintof Dakshineswar.
14 INSPIRING LIVES Through direct experience Ramakrishnarealized that the form of the Divine Motherwas one with the formless Supreme Brahman,like fire and its burning power, like milk and itswhiteness. The Divine Mother once said to theMaster: ‘You and I are one. Let your life in thisworld be deep in devotion to me, and pass yourdays for the good of mankind. The devoteeswill come.’ Coming of the Disciples As a loving father is anxious to leave hisaccumulated wealth to his children, so a trueguru wants to give his spiritual treasures to hisdisciples. After his first vision Ramakrishna hadto wait nearly twenty-five years for hisdisciples and devotees. We can read in thescriptures or in the lives of the mystics aboutthe aspirants’ longing for God but never aboutGod’s longing for the aspirants. Here is atestimony in Ramakrishna’s own words: There was no limit to the longing I felt at that time. During the daytime I somehow managed to control it. The secular talk of
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 15 the worldly-minded was galling to me, and I would look wistfully to the day when my own beloved companions would come. I hoped to find solace in conversing with them and relating to them my own realiza- tions. Every little incident would remind me of them, and thoughts of them wholly engrossed me. I was already arranging in my mind what I should say to one and give to another, and so on. But when the day would come to a close I would not be able to curb my feelings. The thought that another day had gone by, and they had not come, oppressed me. When during the evening service the temples rang with the sound of bells and conch-shells, I would climb to the roof of the kuthi [bungalow] in the garden and, writhing in anguish of heart, cry at the top of my voice: ‘Come, my children! Oh, where are you? I cannot bear to live without you.’ A mother never longed so intensely for the sight of her child, nor a friend for his companions, nor a lover for his sweetheart, as I longed for them. Oh, it was indescribable! Shortly after this period of yearning the devotees began to come.
16 INSPIRING LIVES Ramakrishna’s disciples and devoteesarrived between 1879 and 1885, and he becamebusy training them to carry out his mission. Hewas an extraordinary teacher. He stirred hisdisciples’ hearts more by his subtle influencethan by actions or words. Ramakrishna trainedeach disciple according to his own naturalaptitude, as he knew everyone’s past, present,and future. He never thrust his ideas uponanyone. To those young men who weredestined to be monks he pointed out the steeppath of both external and internal renunciation.When teaching the would-be monastic disciplesthe path of renunciation and discrimination, hewould not allow householder devotees to benear them. When the flower blooms, bees come of theirown accord. People from all over flocked toRamakrishna and he would sometimes talkabout God as much as twenty hours a day. Thiscontinued for years. His intense love forhumanity would not allow him to refuse helpto anyone. In the middle of 1885, this physicalstrain resulted in throat cancer. When hisdisciples tried to stop him from teaching, hesaid: ‘I do not care. I will give up twentythousand such bodies to help one man.’
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 17Ramakrishna was moved from Dakshineswarto Kolkata and later to Cossipore for medicaltreatment. Towards the end of his life, Ramakrishnadistributed ochre cloths (the symbol ofmonasticism) to some of his young disciples, thusforming his own Order. He made Narendra (later,Swami Vivekananda) their leader, who later cameto America to represent Hinduism, or Vedanta, atthe 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Hesummarized Ramakrishna’s message to themodern world in his lecture “My Master”: Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas or sects or churches or temples. They count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality; and the more a man develops it, the more power he has for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one; for all the doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words or names or sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Sri Ramakrishna passed away on 16 August1886 at the Cossipore garden house; his body
18 INSPIRING LIVESwas cremated on the bank of the Ganges. SriRamakrishna revealed his divine nature manytimes to his disciples. A couple of days beforethe Master ’s passing, while he was sufferingfrom excruciating pain from cancer, Vivek-ananda was seated near his bed. SeeingRamakrishna’s emaciated body Vivekanandathought to himself: ‘Well, now if you can declare that you areGod, then only will I believe you are really GodHimself. Immediately Sri Ramakrishna lookedup towards Vivekananda and said: ‘He whowas Rama and he who was Krishna is nowRamakrishna in this body.’ What Others have Said about HimSri Aurobindo Of all these souls Sri Ramakrishna was thelast and greatest, for while others felt God in asingle or limited aspect, he felt Him in Hisillimitable unity as the sum of an illimitablevariety. In him the spiritual experiences of themillions of saints who had gone before wererenewed and united.
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 19Mahatma Gandhi The story of Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s lifeis a story of religion in practice. His life enablesus to see God face to face. No one can read thestory of his life without being convinced thatGod alone is real and all else is an illusion.Romain Rolland The man (Ramakrishna) was the con-summation of two thousand years of thespiritual life of three hundred million people.Arnold J. Toynbee Sri Ramakrishna’s message was unique inbeing expressed in action.... Religion is not just amatter for study, it is something that has to beexperienced and to be lived, and this is the field inwhich Sri Ramakrishna manifested hisuniqueness.... His religious activity and experiencewere, in fact, comprehensive to a degree that hadperhaps never before been attained by any otherreligious genius, in India or elsewhere. Sri Ramakrishna’s testimony to the harmonyof religions....can make it possible for the humanrace to grow together into a single family —and, in the Atomic Age, this is the onlyalternative to destroying ourselves.
20 INSPIRING LIVES TEACHINGS You see many stars at night in the sky butfind them not when the sun rises; can you saythat there are no stars in the heaven of day? So,O man, because you behold not God in the daysof your ignorance, say not that there is no God. ••• God is formless and God is with form too,and He is that which transcends both form andformlessness. He alone can say what else He is. ••• God is one, but many are His aspects. As onemaster of the house appears in various aspects,being father to one, brother to another, andhusband to a third, so one God is described andcalled in various ways according to theparticular aspects in which He appears to Hisparticular worshipper. ••• He is born to no purpose who, having therare privilege of being born a man, is unable torealize God in this life. ••• A boat may stay in water, but water shouldnot stay in the boat. An aspirant may live in theworld but the world should not live in him.
SRI RAMAKRISHNA 21 ••• A truly religious man should think that otherreligions also are paths leading to truth. Weshould always maintain an attitude of respecttowards other religions. ••• Remain always strong and steadfast in yourown faith, but eschew all bigotry and in-tolerance. ••• That knowledge which purifies the intellectis the true knowledge, everything else is non-knowledge. •••
A Brief Life of SRI SARADA DEVI Early DaysSarada Devi was born on 22 December 1853 inthe little village of Jayrambati in the district ofBankura in West Bengal. Her parents,Ramachandra Mukhopadhyaya and Shyama-sundari, were orthodox Brahmins. They werepoor but generous and utterly simple. Manyyears later, Sarada Devi speaking of her parents’virtuous nature, remarked: ‘If they had not leda life of spiritual discipline, how could divinityhave been born as their child?’ It is said that before Sarada’s birth, bothparents had had visions foretelling the adventof a divine being. Once Ramachandra went ona visit to Kolkata. There he had a dream in whichhe saw a radiant little girl of golden complexionwas clasping his neck, ‘Who are you?’ he asked.She replied: ‘Well, you see, I have come intoyour family.’
SRI SARADA DEVI 23 On his return home he told Shyama about it.She was surprised, for she too had had a vision.She described it thus: ‘One day, as I was goingto the river, I sat down under a big tree there.Suddenly, I saw a charming little girl comingdown from the tree. I was frightened at first,but she was full of angelic beauty and claspedmy neck with her tender arms. I lostconsciousness, and people carried me home. Ifeel she has entered my body.’ Marriage At the age of five Sarada was married to SriRamakrishna, then twenty-three years old.Strange as this marriage may appear in our eyes,such marriages were not uncommon in thosedays. It was more in the nature of a betrothal. Sri Ramakrishna had been passing through astate of God-intoxication. As he wascompletely indifferent to food, sleep, and otherphysical requirements, and absorbed day andnight in meditation and prayer, people tookhim for a madman. His relatives finally hitupon the idea of finding him a wife so as tobring his mind to the normal state. Sri
24 INSPIRING LIVESRamakrishna agreed to be married. He evenpointed out where his bride would be found.But immediately after the marriage, he left forDakshineswar to plunge again into the practiceof spiritual discipline. It was after eight years, when Sri Ramakrishnavisited Kamarpukur again, that Sarada had herfirst real contact with her husband. The Masterinstructed her in both spiritual and secularmatters. He emphasized the need of suchspiritual disciplines as non-attachment, self-control, meditation, and prayer. He also taughther the duties of a householder: how to serveguests, show respect to elders, dischargeworldly duties in an unselfish spirit, and evenhow to trim a lamp, etc. In Sri Ramakrishna’scompany her happiness knew no bounds. ‘ t that Atime,’ she said later, ‘I always felt as if a jarbrimful of bliss was set in my heart. It isimpossible to describe the fullness of that joy.’ After spending a year or so at Kamarpukur,Sri Ramakrishna returned to Dakshineswar.Four long years passed again in intense God-consciousness. Reports reached the village thatRamakrishna had turned mad at Dakshineswar.Sarada was worried and felt that she should bewith her husband to serve him.
SRI SARADA DEVI 25 Soon an opportunity arrived. She made upher mind to come to Dakshineswar and see thesituation with her own eyes. Her father agreedto accompany her. During the trip she wasattacked with a high fever and thought shewould not be able to see her husband. But asshe lay ill she was assured in a vision by theDivine Mother Kali that the purpose of herjourney would be fulfilled. After recoveringsomewhat, she proceeded with her father. Sarada reached Dakshineswar. SriRamakrishna welcomed her affectionately andmade arrangements for her treatment. In notime she discovered that her husband was astender and cordial as ever. Henceforth sheremained by his side as his wife and disciple —but always a nun. One day Sri Ramakrishna, finding Saradaalone in his room, asked her, ‘Have you comehere to drag me down to the life of the world?’ ‘Certainly not,’ she replied without amoment’s hesitation. ‘Why should I entangleyou in the world? I am here to help you realizeyour spiritual ideal.’ She, on her part, asked him as she wasstroking his feet: ‘How do you look upon?’ Patcame the reply: ‘The Divine Mother who is
26 INSPIRING LIVESworshipped in the temple, and the mother whogave birth to this body and is now living in theNahabat (Music Tower), is now stroking myfeet. Truly do I regard you as the Blissful Motherof the Universe.’ Now Sarada was almost eighteen. SriRamakrishna was convinced that the ordinaryrelationship between husband and wifesanctioned by society and religion did not applyto them. Sarada was indeed a manifestation ofthe Divine Mother, and he felt that the time wasripe to fully awaken the divinity in her. On anauspicious night he arranged in his room a specialworship of the Divine Mother. Sarada took theplace of the deity, and her husband offered herformal worship. Sarada was completely lost inherself. She was not aware of anything. Afterthe worship was over, Ramakrishna prostratedhimself before her, seated firmly like an image,and prayed : ‘O Mother of the Universe, I saluteThee again and again.’ Since that day Sarada felt that a divine powerhad entered into her. The simple village girl hadbecome transformed into the Holy Mother,Sarada Devi! One day Sarada was returning from Jayrambatito Dakshineswar with several companions. They
SRI SARADA DEVI 27were passing through a long and lonely stretchof land, which was infested with dacoits. She hadlagged behind her companions; it was dusk, andsuddenly she found herself quite alone. She wasterrified to see a dark, hefty man approaching. Inhis hand he carried a long, stout stick. Saradarealized that he must be a dacoit and stopped.The man asked rudely who she was. In gentlewords she said, ‘Father, my companions have leftme behind. Perhaps I have lost my way. Your son-in-law (referring to Sri Ramakrishna) lives atDakshineswar and I am on my way to him. Pleaseaccompany me. He will certainly be grateful foryour help.’ Sarada Devi’s utter simplicity, straightforwardness, and gentle words completelywon the hearts of the robber and his wife. Theytook her home, fed her, and put her to bed. Inthe morning they escorted her a long distance,till she was safely on the road to Dakshineswar.In later years this couple visited SriRamakrishna many times with suitable gifts.At one time she asked them why they showedher such affection. They replied: ‘But you arenot an ordinary human being; we saw you asMother Kali. Perhaps you hide your real naturefrom us because we are sinners.’
28 INSPIRING LIVES Sarada Devi’s life at Dakshineswar was ofunceasing activity and stillness of prayer. Shewoke up before four o’clock in the morning andspent an hour and a half in meditation andworship. Though she lived a very austere lifethere, she was quite happy serving SriRamakrishna. One day a rich man offered himten thousand rupees to meet his daily needs.The Master, who was the embodiment ofrenunciation, refused the gift immediately. Theman then asked if he could leave the moneywith Sarada Devi. Sri Ramakrishna told her ofthe offer but was met with a stern refusal. ‘Icertainly cannot accept it,’ she said. ‘Myacceptance would be the same as yours.’Hearing her words, the Master felt greatlyrelieved. Sri Ramakrishna was fully aware of SaradaDevi’s divine nature and her future mission. Hegave her detailed instruction about how toawaken the spirituality of her future disciples.One day, a short time before his passing away,Sri Ramakrishna said to her: ‘Won’t you doanything. Must this (pointing to his own body)do everything?’ ‘But,’ she protested, ‘I am amere woman. What can I do?’ ‘No, no,’ said SriRamakrishna, ‘You will do many things.’
SRI SARADA DEVI 29 On another occasion he remarked to her, ‘Lookat the people of Kolkata. They are squirming likeworms in darkness. Please look after them. Howlittle this (referring to his body) hasaccomplished! You have a much heavier task.’In her later life she once said to a disciple, ‘TheMaster regarded all creatures as manifestationsof the Divine Mother. He left me behind tomanifest the motherhood of God.’ After the Master’s Passing away When Sri Ramakrishna passed away on 16August 1886, Sarada Devi stood by his bedsideand wept like a bereaved child. ‘Mother! OKali!’ she cried, ‘What have I done that you havegone away, leaving me alone and helpless?’When she was about to take off her ornaments,as is the custom of Hindu widows, SriRamakrishna appeared before her, looking ashe did before he was stricken with cancer.Pressing her hand, he said, ‘Am I dead that youare acting like a widow? I have moved fromone room to another.’ She did not take off thebracelets and wore them as long as she lived. From now on it will be appropriate to referto Sarada Devi as Holy Mother, the name by
30 INSPIRING LIVESwhich she is now cherished by the devotees ofSri Ramakrishna. A fortnight after the Master ’spassing away, Holy Mother set out on apilgrimage in company with several disciplesof the Master in order to get relief from hersorrow, and she visited Varanasi, Ayodhya,Hardwar, Allahabad, etc. Several times she hadvisions of the Master which considerablyassuaged her grief. She visited Bodh-Gaya, theplace of the Buddha’s enlightenment, whereshe saw monks living in affluence in amonastery. Remembering the hardship andpoverty of Sri Ramakrishna’s wanderingdisciples, she prayed fervently to God for theirphysical welfare. Sri Ramakrishna said that when flowersbloom, bees gather around them of their ownaccord. As Holy Mother ’s inner life blossomedforth, spiritual seekers felt the irresistibleattraction of its fragrance and came to herunasked. They came from all directions—whether she was in Kolkata or in her nativevillage, or was visiting different parts of Indiain the course of her pilgrimages. She becamean unfailing source of inspiration to themembers of the Ramakrishna Order whodevoted their lives to meditation, prayer and
SRI SARADA DEVI 31study, or to the service of humanity. Sheshowered her blessings equally uponcontemplatives and active monks, andencouraged householder devotees to performtheir duties in a spirit of detachment, and topractice regular meditation and prayer. Shebecame their sole refuge from the tribulationsof the world. Once the Mother was waiting for a train atthe Bishnupur railway station during a journeyto Kolkata. Suddenly a porter walked up to her.He was accustomed to worship Rama and Sita.The man fell at the Holy Mother ’s feet exclaim-ing: ‘O you are Mother Janaki (Sita). How longhave I been searching for you. Today is my goodfortune that I have found you.’ The Motherrecognized the genuine devotion of the porterand initiated him with a ‘Mantra’ on the stationplatform itself. One of Holy Mother ’s nieces played a veryimportant part in her life and in the fulfilmentof her earthly mission. Her name was Radhu.Once Mother made a significant remark:‘Everyone says that I am terribly attached toRadhu. But without this attachment I could nothave kept my body alive after the Master ’sdeath. Thus it is the Master himself who has
32 INSPIRING LIVESmade me cling to Radhu — just to preserve mybody. When my mind becomes indifferent toher I shall leave this world.’ How this ordinary humanity concealedHoly Mother ’s divinity has been wellexpressed by Swami Premananda, one of theMaster ’s prominent disciples. In the course ofa letter, he wrote: ‘Our Mother, an empressamong queens, has become of her own accorda beggar and does all the menial work withher own hands. She is putting up with hard-ship to teach householders how to performtheir duties.’ Holy Mother, like her husband, was DivinityIncarnate. It was the same power whichbecame manifest through the human forms ofboth Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi. In theformer the outer manifestation was greaterthan in the latter. It was this embodiment ofthe Divine Mother of the Universe that SriRamakrishna had worshipped in his room atDakshineswar. The Mother left the world on 21 July 1920and was cremated on the bank of the Ganga atthe Belur Math. Today on this very spot standsa beautiful little temple.
SRI SARADA DEVI 33 What Others have Said about HerSri Ramakrishna She is Sarada, Saraswati; she has come toimpart knowledge. She has descended bycovering up her beauty this time... She is full ofthe rarest wisdom. Is she of the common run?She is my Shakti.Swami Vivekananda None of you has understood Mother. Hergrace upon me is one hundred thousand timesgreater than that of the Master…. About MotherI am a little fanatic. I can do anything if shegives the order. I shall give a sigh of relief whenyou purchase a piece of land and instal thisliving Durga there.Swami Brahmananda It is difficult to understand Mother. Shemoves about, veiling her face, like an ordinarywoman, but in reality she is the Mother of theUniverse. Could we have recognized her if theMaster himself had not revealed to us who shewas?
34 INSPIRING LIVESSwami Shivananda Is our Mother an ordinary mother? For thegood of the world the Mother of the Universeembodied Herself to give liberation to souls. TEACHINGS I am the mother of the wicked as I am themother of the virtuous. Whenever you are indistress, just say to yourself, ‘I have a mother.’ ••• Many are known to do great works underthe stress of some strong emotion. But one’strue nature is known from the manner in whichone does one’s insignificant daily task. ••• Suppose one of my children has smearedhimself with dirt. It is I, and no one else, whoshall have to wash him clean and take him inmy arms. To make mistake is man’s very nature;but few of those who criticize know how tocorrect them. ••• Do not fear, my child. Always remember thatthe Master is behind you. I am also with you.As long as you remember me, your mother, why
SRI SARADA DEVI 35should you be frightened? The Master said tome, ‘In the end I shall certainly liberate thosewho come to you.’ ••• If you want peace of mind do not look intoother ’s faults. Rather look into you own. Learnto make the whole world your own. No one isa stranger, my child. The whole world is yourown. ••• The less you become attached to the worldthe more you enjoy peace of mind. ••• One never finds Him without love anddevotion. ••• One who has a pure mind, considerseveryone pure. •••
A Brief Life of SWAMI VIVEKANANDA Early DaysSwami Vivekananda, or Narendranath Datta,or simply Naren, as he was called in his pre-monastic days, was born to Vishwanath Dattaand Bhuvaneswari Devi in Kolkata on Monday,12 January 1863. The Datta family was rich,respectable, and renowned for charity, learn-ing, and a strong spirit of independence.Narendranath’s grandfather, DurgacharanDatta, was well-versed in Persian and Sanskritand was skilled in law. But after the birth of hisson Vishwanath, he renounced the world andbecame a monk. He was then only twenty-fiveyears of age. Vishwanath Datta was an attorney-at-lawin the Kolkata High Court. He was proficientin English and Persian, and took great delightin reciting to his family the poems of the Persianpoet Hafiz. He also enjoyed the study of the
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 37Bible and of the Hindu scriptures in Sanskrit.Though charitable to an extravagant degreeand sympathetic towards the poor, Vishwanathwas rationalistic and progressive in outlook inmatters religious and social, owing perhaps tothe influence of western culture. BhuvaneswariDevi was an accomplished lady with a regalbearing. She was deeply religious. Before thebirth of Narendranath, though she haddaughters, she yearned for a son and asked oneof her relatives at Varanasi to make religiousofferings to Viresvara Shiva. It is said that shedreamt later that Shiva promised to be born asher son. Narendranath was born some timeafterwards. In his early childhood, Narendranath wasrather restless and given to much fun and frolic.But at the same time, he had a great attractionfor spiritual matters and would play atworshipping or meditating on the images ofRama-Sita, Shiva, etc. The stories of the Rama-yana and the Mahabharata, which his mother toldhim, left an indelible impression on his mind.Traits such as courage, sympathy for the poor,and attraction towards wandering monksappeared spontaneously in him. Even inchildhood, Narendranath demanded con-
38 INSPIRING LIVESvincing arguments for every proposition. Withthese qualities of head and heart, he grew intoa vigorous youth. At the Feet of Sri Ramakrishna As a youth, Narendranath’s leonine beautywas matched by his courage. He had the buildof an athlete, a resonant voice, and a brilliantintellect. He distinguished himself in athletics,philosophy, and music, and among his col-leagues was the undisputed leader. At college,he studied and absorbed western thought, andthis implanted a spirit of critical inquiry in hismind. His inborn tendency towards spiritualityand his respect for ancient religious traditionsand beliefs, on the one side, and his argumen-tative nature, coupled with his sharp intellect,on the other, were now at war with each other.In this predicament, he tried to find comfort inthe Brahmo Samaj, the popular socio-religiousmovement of the time. The Brahmo Samajbelieved in a formless God, deprecated theworship of idols, and addressed itself to variousforms of social reform. Narendranath also metprominent religious leaders, but could not get
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 39a convincing answer from them to hisquestions about the existence of God. This onlyaccentuated his spiritual restlessness. At this critical juncture, he remembered thewords of his Professor, William Hastie, whohad mentioned that a saint lived at Dakshi-neswar, just outside Kolkata, who experiencedthe ecstasy described by Wordsworth in hispoem, The Excursion. His cousin, RamachandraDatta, also induced him to visit the saint. Thuscame about, in 1881, the historic meeting ofthese two great souls, the prophet of modernIndia and the carrier of his message. Narendra-nath asked: ‘Sir, have you seen God?’ SriRamakrishna answered his question in theaffirmative: ‘Yes, I have seen Him just as I seeyou here, only more intensely.’ At last, here wasone who could assure him from his ownexperience that God existed. His doubt wasdispelled. The disciple’ s training had begun. While Sri Ramakrishna tested him in so manyways, Narendranath, in turn, tested SriRamakrishna in order to ascertain the truth ofhis spiritual assertions. At one stage, after thepassing away of his father in 1884, Narendra-nath’s family suffered many troubles andprivations. At the suggestion of his Master,
40 INSPIRING LIVESNarendranath tried to pray to Mother Kali atDakshineswar for the alleviation of thefamily ’s distress. He found, however, thatalthough his need was for wealth, he could prayonly for knowledge and devotion. Gradually, Narendranath surrendered him-self to the Master. And Sri Ramakrishna, withinfinite patience, calmed the rebellious spiritof his young disciple and led him forth fromdoubt to certainty and from anguish to spirit-ual bliss. But, more than Sri Ramakrishna’sspiritual guidance and support, it was his lovewhich conquered young Narendranath, lovewhich the disciple reciprocated in full measure. With Sri Ramakrishna’s illness and hisremoval to Cossipore, on the outskirts ofKolkata, for treatment, began Narendranath’sfinal training under his guru. It was a timeremarkable for the intense spiritual fire whichburned within him and which expressed itselfthrough various intense practices. The Masterutilized the opportunity to bring his youngdisciples under the leadership of Narendra. Andwhen Narendra asked that he might be blessedwith nirvikalpa samadhi, ordinarily regarded asthe highest spiritual experience, the Masteradmonished him saying: ‘Shame on you! I
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 41thought you would grow like a huge banyan,sheltering thousands from the scorching miseryof the world. But now I see you seek your ownliberation.’ All the same, Narendra had themuch-coveted realization, after which theMaster said that the key to this wouldthenceforth remain in his keeping and the doorwould not be opened till Narendra had finishedthe task for which he had taken birth. Three orfour days before his maha-samadhi, SriRamakrishna transmitted to Narendranath hisown power and told him: ‘By the force of thepower transmitted by me, great things will bedone by you; only after that will you go towhence you came.’ After the passing away of the Master inAugust 1886, many of the young disciplesgathered together in an old dilapidated houseat Baranagore under the leadership of Naren-dranath. Here, in the midst of a life of intenseausterity and spiritual practices, the foundationof the Ramakrishna brotherhood was laid. Itwas during these days that Narendranath,along with many of his brother disciples, wentto Antpur; and there on Christmas Eve (1886),sitting round a huge fire in the open, they tookthe vow of sannyasa. The days at Baranagore
42 INSPIRING LIVESwere full of great joy, study, and spiritualpractices. But the call of the wandering life ofthe sannyasin was now felt by most of themonks. And Narendranath, too, towards theclose of 1888, began to take temporary excur-sions away from the Math. The Wandering Monk A remarkable change of outlook came overNarendranath between the closing of 1888,when he first left on his temporary excursions,and 1890, when he parted finally from hisbrethren and travelled alone as an unknownmendicant. He began to assume various namesin order to conceal his identity that he mightbe swallowed up in the immensity of India. Now it was that the natural desire of anIndian monk for a life of solitude gave way tothe prescience that he was to fulfil a greatdestiny; that his was not the life of an ordinaryrecluse struggling for personal salvation. Underthe influence of his burning desire to knowIndia better and the mute appeal rising allaround him from oppressed India, he went firstto Varanasi, the holiest city of the Hindus. After
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 43Varanasi, he visited Lucknow, Agra, Vrindaban,Hathras, and Rishikesh, and then returned toBaranagore for a time. At Hathras, he met SharatChandra Gupta who became his first disciple(Swami Sadananda). He revealed to him themission entrusted to him by his Master, namely,the spiritual regeneration of India and theworld. Sharat, who was on the staff of therailway station at Hathras, resigned his postand followed his guru to help him in his mission. An important event in the Swami’s life atthis time occurred in 1890, when he metPavhari Baba of Ghazipur, for whose saint-liness he had the greatest admiration through-out his life. At this time, he was torn betweenthe desire, on the one hand, to becomeabsorbed in the eternal silence of the Absoluteand, on the other, the desire to fulfil hisMaster ’s mission. He hoped that Pavhari Babawould appease the remorse gnawing at hisheart, which was due to the fact that fervourfor the highest absorption in the Divine drewhim away from the work entrusted to him byhis Master. For twenty-one days Naren wason the point of yielding to this temptation,but the vision of Sri Ramakrishna always cameto draw him back.
44 INSPIRING LIVES In July 1890, the Swami took leave of SriSarada Devi, the holy consort of Sri Rama-krishna, who was the spiritual guide of theyoung monks after the Master ’s passing away.He also took leave of his brother monks, withthe firm resolve to cut himself free from all tiesand to go into the solitude of the Himalayas,for he felt it essential to be alone. In the wordsof Romain Rolland: ‘This was the greatdeparture. Like a diver, he plunged into theOcean of India and the Ocean of India coveredhis tracks. Among its flotsam and jetsam, hewas nothing more than one nameless sannyasinin saffron robe among a thousand others. Butthe fire of genius burned in his eyes. He was aprince despite all disguise.’ His wandering took him to various places ofpilgrimage and historical interest in UttarPradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra,Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Hyderabad.Everywhere the glory of ancient India vividlycame before his eyes, whether political, cultural,or spiritual. In the midst of this great education,the abject misery of the Indian masses stoodout before his mind. He moved from oneprincely State to another, everywhere to exploreavenues of mitigating their lot. Thus he came
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 45to meet many leading personalities and rulersof the princely States. Among them, MaharajaAjit Singh of Khetri became his fast friend andardent disciple. At Alwar, he studied theMahabhashya of Patanjali. At Pune, he stayedwith Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great nationalleader. At first, Tilak talked with the Swamisomewhat ironically, but later his depth oflearning and profundity of thought impressedhim, and he invited the Swami to stay with him.From there, after a stay at Belgaum, he went toBangalore and Mysore. The Maharaja ofMysore gave him the assurance of financialsupport to enable him to go to the West to seekhelp for India and to preach the eternal religion.From Mysore, he visited Thiruvananthapuramand Kanya Kumari. Wherever he went, it was not the importantplaces and people that impressed him most. Itwas the terrible poverty and misery of themasses that caused his soul to burn in agony.He had travelled through the whole of India,often on foot, for nearly three years, coming toknow India at first hand. Now he had reachedthe end of his journey, as it were. He prostratedhimself with great feeling before the image ofMother Kumari at the Kanya Kumari temple.
46 INSPIRING LIVESThen he swam across the sea to a rock off thesouth coast, and sitting there for the wholenight went into deep meditation. The vastpanorama of his experiences during his travelspassed before his mind’s eye. He meditated onthe past, the present, and the future of India,the causes of her downfall, and the means ofher resurrection. He then took the momentousdecision to go to the West to seek help for thepoor of India and thus give shape to his life’smission. With this decision, he journeyed to Rame-swaram and Madurai. He then went on toChennai, where a group of young men, headedby Alasinga Perumal, were eagerly awaiting hisarrival. To them, he revealed his intention ofvisiting America to attend the Parliament ofReligions that was being convened at Chicago.His young disciples forthwith raised a sub-scription for his passage. But the Swami wasnot yet certain that it was the Divine Mother ’swill that he should go, and so he asked them togive away the money to the poor. At thisjuncture, the Swami had a symbolic dream inwhich Sri Ramakrishna walked out into the seaand beckoned him to follow. This, coupled withthe blessings and permission of Sri Sarada Devi,
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 47who also, in a dream, had received Sri Rama-krishna’s consent, settled the question for him,and his young friends again set about collectingthe necessary funds. He next paid a short visit to Hyderabad.Then, while arrangements were being made forhis journey to America, there came a suddeninvitation from the Maharaja of Khetri to attendcelebrations in connection with the birth of hisson. The Swami could not refuse this invitationfrom his disciple. The Maharaja received himcordially and promised to help him in everypossible way. And it was here, at his suggestion,that the Swami assumed the name‘Vivekananda’. True to his word, the Maharajasent his personal secretary with the Swami toequip him for the journey and see him off atMumbai. His journey to America commencedon 31 May 1893. On the World Stage Swami Vivekananda travelled to America viaChina, Japan, and Canada, and reached Chicagoabout the middle of July. At Canton, he sawsome Buddhist monasteries; in Japan, he noted
48 INSPIRING LIVESwith admiration the industrial progress andcleanliness of the people. Now, at Chicago, sodazzling with riches and the inventive geniusof the West, he was puzzled like a child. To hisdisappointment, he learnt that the Parliamentof Religions would not be held until September,and that no one could be a delegate withoutcredentials. He felt lost, but resigning himselfto the will of Providence, he went to Bostonwhich was less expensive than Chicago.Previously while travelling to Chicago, he hadmet Katherine Sanborn of Boston on the train.She had invited him to be her guest. Throughher, he came to know Professor John HenryWright of Harvard University, who gave him aletter of introduction to the Chairman of theParliament of Religions. In the course of thisletter, Dr. Wright said: ‘Here is a man who ismore learned than all our learned professorsput together.’ The Swami returned to Chicago a couple ofdays before the opening of the Parliament ofReligions, but found to his dismay that he hadlost the address of the committee which wasproviding hospitality for the orientaldelegates. After a night’s rest in an emptywagon at the Chicago train station, the Swami
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 49set out in the morning to find somebody whocould help him out of this difficulty. But helpfor a coloured man was not readily available.Exhausted by a fruitless search, he sat down onthe roadside resigning himself to the divine will.Suddenly, a lady of regal appearance emergedfrom the fashionable house opposite,approached him, and offered him help. This wasMrs. George W. Hale, whose house was tobecome in future the permanent address of theSwami while in the United States, for the Halefamily became his devoted followers. The Parliament of Religions opened on 11September 1893. The spacious hall of the ArtInstitute was packed with above 4000 people,representing the best culture of the country. Onthe platform, every organized religion from allcorners of the world had its representatives. TheSwami had never addressed such a huge anddistinguished gathering. He felt extremelynervous. When his turn came, he mentallybowed down to Sarasvati, the goddess oflearning, and then began his address with thewords, ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’.Immediately, there was thunderous applausefrom the vast audience, and it lasted for fulltwo minutes. ‘Seven thousand people rose to
50 INSPIRING LIVEStheir feet as a tribute to something, they knewnot what.’ The appeal of his simple words ofburning sincerity, his great personality, hisbright countenance, and his orange robes wasso great that next day the newspapers describedhim as the greatest figure in the Parliament ofReligions. The simple monk with a beggingbowl had become the man of the hour. All the subsequent speeches of the Swami atthe Parliament were listened to with greatrespect and appreciation. They all had onecommon theme—universality. While all thedelegates to the Parliament spoke of their ownreligion the Swami spoke of a religion that wasvast as the sky and deep as the ocean. Whenthe Parliament ended, the days of quiet hadended for the Swami. What followed were daysof hectic lecturing in almost every part of theUnited States. Having signed a contract for alecture tour with a bureau, the Swami had tobe constantly on the move, speaking to all sortsof audiences. Though this tour provided himwith opportunities of knowing the differentaspects of western life at first hand, he foundthat the bureau exploited and embarrassed him.He felt disgusted and severed his connectionwith it. Now he wanted to form a group of
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 51earnest American disciples, and began classes,free of charge, for sincere students. His stay inthe West, which lasted till December 1896, waspacked with intense activity: besidesinnumerable lectures and classes at New York,he founded a Vedanta Society there; he traineda band of close disciples at the Thousand IslandPark; and he wrote Raja-yoga and paid twosuccessful visits to England, where he gave thelectures which now form Jnana-yoga. There hemade some disciples, prominent among thembeing Capt. and Mrs. Sevier, Sister Nivedita, andE. T. Sturdy. Earlier, in New York, J. J. Goodwin,a young English stenographer had beenaccepted as his disciple. It was during thesevisits that he had the pleasure of meeting thegreat savant Max Muller. During his tour ofEurope in the summer of 1895, he also met thefamous German orientalist Paul Deussen. He had laboured hard to give to the West hismessage of Vedanta as the universal principlebasic to all religions, and his effort had by nowresulted in the establishment of the Vedantawork on a permanent basis in the United States.The London work, too, had made someprogress. Now his motherland was calling himand was eager to receive his message. So, from
52 INSPIRING LIVESLondon, he started for India at the end of 1896.Besides his American and English disciples, heleft behind his brother disciples Saradanandaand Abhedananda to carry on the work. Triumphal Return Swami Vivekananda left London with theSeviers on 16 December 1896, and after a visitto Rome and other places in Italy, he took theboat for India at Naples on 30 December. AtNaples, Mr. Goodwin joined the party. Theyreached Colombo on 15 January 1897. The newsof the Swami’s return had already reachedIndia, and the people everywhere, throughoutthe country, were afire with enthusiasm toreceive him. He was no more the unknownsannyasin. In every city, small or big, committeeshad been formed to give him a fitting reception.As Romain Rolland says, the Swami ‘replied tothe frenzied expectancy of the people by hisMessage to India, a conch sounding theresurrection of the land of Rama, of Shiva, ofKrishna, and calling the heroic Spirit, theimmortal Atman, to march to war. He was ageneral, explaining his Plan of Campaign, and
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 53calling his people to rise en masse: “My India,arise! Where is your vital force? In yourImmortal Soul.”’ At Chennai, he delivered fivepublic lectures, every one of which was aclarion call to throw away weakness andsuperstition and rise to build a new India. Heemphasized that in India ‘the keynote of thewhole music of the national life’ was religion,a religion which preached the ‘spiritual onenessof the whole universe’, and when that wasstrengthened, everything else would take careof itself. He did not spare his criticism, however,castigating his countrymen for aping the West,for their blind adherence to old superstitions,for their caste prejudices, and so on. From Chennai the Swami sailed for Kolkataand arrived there on 20 February. His nativecity gave him a grand welcome, and here theSwami paid a touching tribute to his Master:‘If there has been anything achieved by me, bythoughts, or words, or deeds, if from my lipshas ever fallen one word that has helpedanyone in the world, I lay no claim to it, it washis. ... If this nation wants to rise, take my wordfor it, it will have to rally round his name.’ To establish his work on a firm basis, theSwami summoned all the monastic and lay
54 INSPIRING LIVESdisciples to a meeting at Balaram Bose’s house,and the Ramakrishna Mission was formed on 1May 1897. The aims and ideals of the Missionpropounded by the Swami were purely spirit-ual and humanitarian. He had inaugurated themachinery for carrying out his ideas. When plague broke out in Kolkata in May1898, he organized relief work with the help ofthe members of the monastery and laydisciples. After the plague was under control,the Swami and his western disciples left forNaini Tal and Almora. This was a period of greatpreparation and training for his westerndisciples, especially Sister Nivedita. On 16 June,the Swami left for Kashmir with some of thesedisciples. This trip to Kashmir was anunforgettable experience both for the Swamiand for the disciples. At the end of July, theSwami journeyed with Sister Nivedita to theholy shrine of Amarnath. Observing meticu-lously every little practice demanded bycustom, the Swami reached the cave ofAmarnath on 2 August, wearing only loin-cloth,his body besmeared with ashes. His wholeframe was trembling with emotion; a greatmystical experience came over him, of whichhe never spoke, beyond saying that Shiva
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 55Himself appeared before him. This wasfollowed by a lonely visit to Kshir Bhavani, theshrine of the Mother Goddess, a few kilometersaway from Srinagar. This proved to be anothermemorable experience for the Swami. He wasfull of the Mother and said, quoting from hisown poem: ‘It all came true, every word of it;and I have proved it, for I have hugged the formof Death.’ When he reached Kolkata on 18 October, hewas pale and weak and suffering from variousailments. Despite this, he engaged himself innumerous activities. A piece of land had beenacquired at Belur on the west bank of theGanga, 8 km above Kolkata, and the cons-truction of the monastery had started. InJanuary 1899, the monks moved to the newmonastery, the now famous Belur Math. TheNivedita Girls’ School had been inauguratedearlier. The Bengali monthly Udbodhan was alsostarted at this time. And the Seviers fulfilledthe Swami’s dream of having a monastery inthe Himalayas, by starting the Advaita Ash-rama at Mayavati (Champawat, Uttaranchal)in March 1899. The English monthly PrabuddhaBharata had been started at Chennai earlier, buton the untimely passing away of its editor in
56 INSPIRING LIVES1898, it ceased publication for a month. Themonthly started again at Almora under theeditorship of Swami Swarupananda, a discipleof Swami Vivekananda, and in 1899, it wastransferred to the Advaita Ashrama at Maya-vati. During this period, the Swami constantlyinspired the sannyasins and brahmacharins at theMath towards a life of intense spirituality andservice, for one’s own emancipation and thegood of one’s fellow men— Atmano moksh-artham jagat hitaya ca, as he put it. But the Swami’s health was failing. And hisplan to revisit the West was welcomed by hisbrother monks, in the hope that this wouldimprove his health. Across the World Again Swami Vivekananda left India on 20 June1899, taking with him Swami Turiyananda andSister Nivedita. The journey with the Swamiwas a great education to both of them. SisterNivedita wrote: ‘From the beginning to theend, a vivid flow of stories went on. One neverknew what moment would bring the flash of
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 57intuition and the ringing utterance of somefresh truth.’ After touching Chennai, Colombo,Aden, and Marseilles en route, the ship arrivedat London on 31 July. The trip was beneficial tothe Swami’s health. After spending two weeks in London, hesailed for New York. Arriving there, he wentwith Mr. and Mrs. Leggett to their beautifulcountry home called Ridgely Manor on theRiver Hudson. The Swami stayed at thiscountry retreat until 5 November and thenwent to the west coast. He visited LosAngeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and alsomade short trips to Chicago and Detroit. Nowthe conviction that the East and the Westought to be mutually helpful and must co-operate with each other grew stronger uponhim. The mere material brilliance of the Westcould not dazzle him, nor could the emphasison spirituality in India hide her social andeconomic drawbacks. He said to Nivedita: ‘Social life in the Westis like a peal of laughter; but underneath, it is awail. It ends in a sob. ... Here in India, it is sadand gloomy on the surface, but underneath arecarelessness and merriment.’ The West hadtried to conquer external nature, and the East
58 INSPIRING LIVEShad tried to conquer internal nature. Now Eastand West must work hand in hand for the goodof each other, without destroying the specialcharacteristics of each. The West has much tolearn from the East, and the East has much tolearn from the West; in fact, the future has tobe shaped by a proper fusion of the two ideals.Then there will be neither East nor West, butone humanity. The main event of this period was thestarting of the Shanti Ashrama in NorthernCalifornia, which he placed under the chargeof Swami Turiyananda. A Vedanta centre atSan Francisco was also inaugurated. He alsodelivered a number of lectures in the westerncities during this period. But the Swami wasbecoming more and more aware of the ap-proaching end. He wrote to Miss MacLeod:‘My boat is nearing the calm harbour fromwhich it is never more to be driven out.’ On 1 August 1900, he arrived in Paris toparticipate in the Congress of the History ofReligions, held there on the occasion of theUniversal Exposition. With some friends, heleft Paris in October and visited Hungary,Rumania, Serbia, and Bulgaria, before arrivingat Constantinople. Then they proceeded to
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 59Athens and Cairo. In Cairo, the Swami suddenlybecame restless to return to India; he had apremonition of Capt. Sevier ’s death. He tookthe first available boat and hurried back to Indiaand reached the Belur Math on 9 December1900, without any previous intimation. It wasa pleasant surprise to his brother monks anddisciples, who greatly rejoiced at his return. The Journey’s End At the Math, Swami Vivekananda heard thatCapt. Sevier had passed away on 28 October,and he left immediately for Mayavati toconsole Mrs. Sevier. Arriving there on 3 January1901, he stayed for a fortnight. The grandeur ofthe scenery of this Himalayan Ashrama,dedicated to Advaita, delighted him. In spiteof his ill health and the severe cold, he wanderedin the woods and around an artificial lake,happy and carefree. Returning to Belur, he stayed there for sevenweeks and then left for East Bengal and Assam.His mother, who had expressed an earnest desireto visit the holy places there, went with him. ‘Thisis the one great wish of a Hindu widow’, he wroteto Mrs. Bull. ‘I have brought only misery to my
60 INSPIRING LIVESpeople. I am trying to fulfil this one wish of hers.’He returned to the Math in the second week ofMay 1901, after visiting Nangalbandh,Kamakhya, and Shillong during the tour, anddelivering a few lectures at Dhaka and Shillong. Now the Swami tried to lead a carefree lifeat the monastery. He would roam about theMath grounds, sometimes clad only in his loin-cloth; or he would supervise the cooking; or sitwith the monks singing devotional songs.Sometimes, he would be seen imparting spirit-ual instructions to the visitors, at other timesengaged in serious study in his room or ex-plaining to the members of the Math theintricate passages of the scriptures and unfold-ing to them his schemes for future work. Hefreed himself entirely from all formal duties byexecuting a Deed of Trust in favour of hisbrother disciples, transferring to them all theproperties, including the Belur Math, so far heldin his name. Towards the end of 1901, two learnedBuddhists came from Japan to invite him toattend the forthcoming Congress of Religionsthere. The Swami could not accept theirinvitation, but went with them to Bodh Gayaand from there to Varanasi. At Varanasi, he was
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 61delighted to see a few young men who, underthe inspiration of his message, had startednursing the poor and the needy. Their workformed the nucleus of the future RamakrishnaMission Home of Service. The Swami knew his end was nearing. Allhis actions during the last days were deliberateand significant. He said that smaller plantscannot grow under the shade of a big tree. On4 July 1902, he meditated from 8 to 11 in themorning, rather unusually. In the afternoon, hewent out for a walk with Swami Premanandaand explained his plan to start a Vedic school.In the evening, he retired to his room and spentan hour in meditation. Then he lay down quietlyand after some time took two deep breaths andpassed into eternal rest. He had renounced his mortal body, but hiswords uttered in 1896 to Mr. Eric Hammond inLondon remained to reassure everyone of hisimmortality: ‘It may be that I shall find it goodto get outside my body to cast it off like a worn-out garment. But I shall not cease to work. Ishall inspire men everywhere, until the worldshall know that it is one with God.’
62 INSPIRING LIVES What Others have Said about HimNetaji Subhas Chandra Bose I cannot write about Vivekananda withoutgoing into raptures. Few indeed could compre-hend or fathom him — even among those whohad the privilege of becoming intimate withhim. If he had been alive, I would have been athis feet.Rabindranath Tagore If you want to know India, study Viveka-nanda. In him everything is positive andnothing negative.Mahatma Gandhi Surely, Swami Vivekananda’s writings needno introduction from anybody. They make theirown irresistible appeal.Romain Rolland He (Vivekananda) was energy personified,and action was his message to men.... His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. He wasa born king and nobody ever came near himeither in India or America without payinghomage to his majesty.
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA 63 TEACHINGS My ideal, indeed, can be put into a few words,and that is: to preach unto mankind theirdivinity, and how to make it manifest in everymovement of life. ••• Education is the manifestation of perfectionalready in man. ••• We want that education by which characteris formed, strength of mind is increased, theintellect is expanded, and by which one canstand on one’s own feet. ••• So long as the millions die in hunger andignorance, I hold every man a traitor who,having been educated at their expense, paysnot the least heed to them! ••• Whatever you think, that you will be. If youthink yourselves weak, weak you will be; ifyou think yourselves strong, strong you willbe. ••• Strength is life; weakness is death. •••
64 INSPIRING LIVES Arise! Awake! and stop not till the goal isreached. ••• The older I grow, the more everything seemsto me to lie in manliness. This is my new Gospel. ••• Purity, patience, and perseverance are thethree essentials to success, and above all, love. ••• I only preach what is good for universalhumanity. ••• Religion is realization; not talk, not doctrine,nor theories, however beautiful they may be.It is being and becoming, not hearing oracknowledging; it is the whole soul becomingchanged into what it believes.