Even while Swami Vivekananda was in the midst of his arduous labours in the West, he realised that more important work was awaiting him in India. The soul of the nation was to be roused to a sense of its own worth. Forgotten values of life were to be brought back to light. Religion was to be made a living force which would strengthen the people and lead them to realise the fullness of life. When the great leader returned to the motherland and made his triumphal tour from Colombo to Almora, it was in the city of Madras that he first intimated to eager listeners his plan of campaign. There was great enthusiasm and a genuine desire on the part of the people to learn more of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. Some of the citizens approached Swami Vivekananda with the request that he should kindly send one of his brother-disciples to stay in Madras and establish a monastery which would become the centre of the religious teachings and philanthropic activities outlined by the Swami in his addresses delivered in India and abroad. By way of reply Swami Vivekananda said, “ I shall send you one who is more orthodox, than your most orthodox men of the South and who is at the same time unique and unsurpassed in his worship and meditation on God.” The very next steamer from Calcutta brought to Madras Swami Ramakrishnananda.
In a few words the leader had summarised the individual characteristics of the apostle in relation to the field of work for which he was chosen. South India has all along been the stronghold of orthodox Hinduism. When Buddhism in the days of its decadence upset the ancient religion and made men lose faith in the Eternal Dharma, it was the Alvars, the Nayanmars and Acharyas of the South who gave new vigour to the religion of the Rishis. Again when foreign invasions disturbed the practice of the old religion, it was South India that closely guarded the sacred Vedic fire and passed it on to others when the opportune time came. In order to infuse new life into the ancient religion without breaking the continuity of the tradition the apostle to the South had to be a person of great intellectual attainments, of unflinching devotion to the ideal and of deep reverence for the forms of worship and religious practices sanctified by the authority of a succession of great teachers. Swami Ramakrishnananda possessed all these and in addition he had an overflowing kindness, abounding sympathy for all and a childlike nature which exhibited the inner purity of the soul.
Sasibhushan Chakravarti—that was the name by which Swami Ramakrishnananda was known in his pre-monastic days—was bom in an orthodox Brahmin family of the Hooghly district, Bengal, in the year 1863. His father, a strict observer of religious traditions and a devout worshipper of the Divine Mother, gave the early training that laid the foundation of the lofty character exhibited in the life of his great son.
Sasibhushan went to school, and having successfully completed the school course entered college. He was a brilliant student at college and his favourite subjects were literature (both" English and Sanskrit), mathematics and philosophy. He and his cousin Sarat Chandra— afterwards Swami Saradananda—came under the influence of the Brahmo Samaj. Sasi became intimately known to the Brahmo leader, Keshab Chandra Sen, and was appointed private tutor to his sons.
Sasibhushan and his cousin Sarat Chandra were members of a Brahmo organisation started under the influence of Keshab Chandra Sen, and learned of Sri Ramakrishna from some fellow members of the association. In order to enjoy the company of the ,saint, the members of this association resolved to celebrate their anniversary at Dakshineswar. This event took place on a certain day in October, 1883. Sasi and Sarat arrived at Dakshineswar and along with a few other boy-companions went to see the Master. Sri Ramakrishna received them with a smile and began to talk to them warmly about the need of renunciation in spiritual life. Sasi was then reading in the F. A. class and the others were preparing for matriculation. As Sasi was the oldest of the band the conversation was addressed to him. In the course of conversation Sri Ramakrishna asked Sasi whether he believed in God with form or without form. The boy frankly answered that as he was not certain about the existence of God and was not, therefore, able to speak one way or the other. The reply pleased the Master very much. Sasi and Sarat were fascinated by the personality of Sri Ramakrishna. They henceforth made the Master the pole-star of their lives.
Of Sasi and Sarat Sri Ramakrishna used to say that both of them were the followers of Jesus the Christ in a former incarnation. Were they James the son of Zebedee and John his brother who were so often mentioned as next only to Simon Peter, the chief apostle ? However that may be, subsequent events show that both the cousins, Sasi and Sarat, became pillars of the Order of the great philanthropic organisation founded in the name of the Master.
Although Sasi was a brilliant student his interest in the college curriculum began to dwindle. What was loss in one respect was a great gain from another point of view. Slowly and silently Sasi was progressing in the life of the spirit. His keen intellect, robust physique and steady character were beginning to centre round the one grand theme of God-realisation. One day at Dakshineswar it happened that Sasi was busily engaged in studying some Persian books in order to read the Sufi poets in the original. The Master called him thrice before he heard. When he came, Sri Ramakrishna asked him what he had been doing. Sasi told that he was engaged with his books. Sri Ramakrishna quietly remarked, '' If you forget your duties for the sake of study you will lose all yoyr devotion." Sasi understood. He took the Persian books and threw them into the Ganges. From that time on book-learning had little importance in his scheme of life.
Sasi was now in the final B. A. class; the examination was fast approaching. But at that very time Sri Ramakrishna was lying ill in the Cossipore garden-house. The young disciple had to decide between his studies and service to the person of the Master. Unhesitatingly Sasi decided to renounce his possible career as a man of the world and to give his body, mind and soul wholly and unreservedly to the service of the Master. He with other brother-disciples began to serve the Master day and night. Sasi was the very embodiment of service. His devotion to the Guru was unparalleled. Other disciples also gave their very best in the service of the Master. But Sasi’s case was conspicuous. He knew no rest, he forgot all idea of food and drink, there was no other thought in him except how to alleviate the suffering of the Master. He did not care for any other spiritual practice. Service to the Guru was the only concern of his life. His idea was that this would give him everything that is covetable in spiritual life. Nay, he did not bother about any arithmetic in regard to spiritual life. He was too engrossed in the service of the Master to think of anything else. Those who saw him at that time marvelled at his indefatigable energy and wonderful power of endurance.
Fortunately he was endowed with a strong physique. But more than that behind the body there was a mind whpse strength was incessantly sustained by his love and devotion to the Guru.
Till the last moment of the earthly existence of the Master, Sasi was unflagging in his zeal to serve him as best he could. Before Sri Rama-krishna lay down for the final departure, he sat up for some time against some five or six pillows which were supported by Sasi, who was at the same time fanning him. When the Master was in Mahasamadhi the disciples could not at first realise what it was. Many thought it was perhaps a phenomenon of Samadhi, which was a constant affair with Sri Ramakrishna. Sasi rebuked those who thought that it was otherwise than Samadhi, and along with others began to chant holy texts. But even after long waiting the body did not indicate any sign of life, and the doctor finally declared it to be Mahasamadhi.
The greatest trial was at the burning ghat. Feelings of a contrasting character visited the soul of Sasi. Now the joy and bliss the Master had shed over them all at the time of the Mahasamadhi came over him and he sang the name of the Master in triumphant praise. Then a sense of utter loneliness stole over his joy and made him the victim of most violent grief. When the flames that had made ashes of the body of the Master had died out, amidst the silence that prevailed, Sasi gathered the sacred relics.
Then came the period of supreme depression. The boys who were children of the Master gathered together day and night at the newly founded monastery at Baranagore. Their words were reminiscences of their.years with him; their thoughts were of him; their worship was to him; their lives were lived in his name. Many of them were accustomed to the comparative ease and comfort of well-to-do families. But their deep devotion to the ideal made them face hardships unflinchingly. Sasi played no small part in holding the young band together and in regulating the routine of life to be followed by them. He would force them to rise from their meditation to partake of food. He would send them to repose by force when they continued hour after hour into the night the chanting of the praises of God. While others were indifferent as to whether the body lived or went in their intense search for the Highest, Sasi took care that his brother-disciples had not actually to face starvation. He went so far as to serve as a schoolmaster—though for a very short period—to meet the expenses of the Math. He would say to his brothers: “You just continue your spiritual practices with undivided attention. You need not bother about anything else. I shall maintain the Math by begging.” Swami Vivekananda, recalling these blessed days many years later, said with reference to Swami Ramakrishnananda, “Oh, what a steadfastness to the ideal did we ever find in Sasi! He was a mother to us. It was he who managed about our food. We used to get up at three o’clock in the morning. Then all of us, some after bathing, would go to the worshiproom and be lost in Japa and meditation. There were times when the meditation lasted to four or five o'clock in the afternoon. Sasi would be waiting with our dinner; if necessary, he would by sheer force drag us out of our meditation. Who cared then if the world existed or not! ’' The parents of the boys came and attempted to take them back to their homes, but they would not yield. Sasi's father came, begged and threatened, but to no purpose. The son said, "The world and home are to me as a place infested with tigers." The time came when the boys decided to renounce the world formally by taking the monastic vows. They changed their names. Sasi became Ramakrishnananda. Narendra Nath, the leader of the young band, wanted to have that name for himself but thought that Sasi had a better claim to it because of his unparalleled love for the Master. Indeed Sasi’s love for the Master sounds like a story—nay, has passed into stories. Death could not rob Sasi of the living presence of the Master. He served the Master in the relics with the same devotion and earnestness as when he had been physically alive. Others went on pilgrimages, adopting the wandering life of the monk. Swami Ramakrishnananda stuck like a sentinel on to the holy spot where the Master's relics were temporarily enshrined. Worshipping the Master and keeping the monastery as the centre to which the wanderers would occasionally return were the duties which Ramakrishnananda assigned to himself. He did not think pf going to a single place of pilgrimage.
What place under the sun could be more sacred to him than where the relics of the Master lay ? He would personally attend to all the items of worship; he would bring water from the Ganges, gather flowers and prepare the food to be offered. He would not take any food that was not offered to the Master. The very soul of devotion entered into Swami Ramakrishnananda. Others were transported into superconscious joy and vision of God by the enflaming spirit of his enthusiasm. Hours were passed in devotion, and days and nights, and it was this unparalleled devotion which formed the spirit which has become externally expressed as the Ramakrishna Order.
The leader urged by the Divine Spirit left the shores of India. For a period there was no information about him, and the brother-monks deeply felt the separation. Then came the news of his brilliant success at the Parliament of Religions. Whenever Swami Vivekananda wrote to his brother-monks from abroad, he would address the message to Swami Ramakrishnananda, who indeed had become the pillar of the monastery.
If Sasi’s devotion to the Guru was beyond comparison with any earthly example, his love for' Swami Vivekananda, whom Sri Ramakrishna had ordained as the leader of the whole group, was wonderful. Any word from the leader was more than a command to Sasi. There was no trouble which he would not face, no sacrifice which he would not make in deference to the slightest wish of Swami Vivekananda. This spirit was so strongly manifest in him, that Swami Vivekananda would at times make fun with him taking advantage of his love. Sasi, as we have seen, was very orthodox in his attitude and ritualistic in religious observances. One day the leader asked him, "Sasi, I want to put your love for me to the test. Can you buy me a piece of English bread from a Mohammedan shop?” Sasi at once agreed and actually did the thing. Nobody could believe that it was possible for Sasi to do such a thing. But it was for the sake of the beloved leader!
After Swami Vivekananda’s return from the West when he proposed to Sasi to go to Madras to do preaching work, Sasi at once responded to the call. It meant that he would have to give up many habits of long years, it meant that he would have to leave the place where he was so steadfastly worshipping the relics of the Master. But these were no considerations against the wish of the leader. So by the next available boat Swami Ramakrishnananda started for South India.
After the Master had discouraged his book-learning, Sasi lost all interest in study. His whole heart was centred in devotion and worship. Now he was asked to preach religion and philosophy. The great heart had to become the mighty intellect. It may be that for this reason the leader directed Swami Ramakrishnananda to go to Madras. We have already remarked how this apostle to the South stood in relation to the field chosen for his missionary labours. A combination of deep devotion and keen intellect is something very rare. But this very rare type was needed for the work in South India and it was the good fortune of that province to get Swami Ramakrishnananda. The Ramakrishna Mission work in the'South now stands as a noble edifice giving shelter to thousands of persons who seek the consolation which religion alone can give. But the strong foundation for this imposing edifice was firmly laid by the great monk, the first apostle of the Ramakrishna Order to Madras. The Mission work in South India is spread over several districts and is carried on by many centres, the genesis of all of which can be traced back to the hand of Swami Ramakrishnananda.
Pioneer work is always accompanied by many difficulties. Homeless, alone and often foodless, the pioneer worker has to toil hard; he has to meet many disappointing and discouraging situations which try his patience very much. But the protecting hand of the Deity is always there, manifesting itself much more than it does after the work has grown and men rally round to cooperate in the work feeling it an honour to render such help and co-operation.
Swami Ramakrishnananda arrived at Madras in 1897. At first he was housed in a small building near the " Ice House,” from where he had to shift to some rooms in the Ice House itself. A little later when the house was auctioned away by the owner, the Swami had to stay in an outhouse of the same building at great personal inconvenience. In this connection an incident happened which showed how the Swami lived absorbed in the realm of the spirit and did not care at all for anything which smacked of the secular. When the Ice House was put to auction, the devotees very much wished that if possible some of their friends should purchase it, so that Swami Ramakrishnananda might not be inconvenienced and his work might go on smoothly. As the auction was proceeding, the Swami sat unconcerned in a far end of the compound on a rickety bench away from the crowd that had gathered. A devotee was anxiously watching the bidding, and now and then went up to the Swami to tell him how it was progressing. The Swami looked up and said: ‘ ‘ Why do you worry about it ? What do we care who buys or sells ? My wants are few. I need only a small room for Sri Guru Maharaj. I can stay anywhere and spend my time in talking of him.” Indeed such was the attitude of the Swami throughout his whole life, even latterly when he received much ovation and many honours.
It was in 1907 that a permanent house for the Math was constructed on a small site in a suburb of the city. The house was a simple one-storied building consisting of four rooms, a spacious hall, kitchen and outhouses. The Swami was delighted when at last there was a permanent place1 where the Master’s worship could be carried on uninterruptedly. He said: "This is a fine house for Sri Ramakrishna to live in. Realising that he occupies it, we must keep it very clean and very pure. We should take care not to disfigure the walls by driving nails or otherwise.”
The worship of the Master as done by Swami Ramakrishnananda was very striking. A spiritual aspirant longs to experience the tangible presence of God. But with Swami Ramakrishnananda it was an entirely different matter. He so vividly realised the presence of God that there was no room for any hankering for that in his mind. It was only left to him to serve Him, and he did it with unwavering ardour. He would serve his Master exactly in the way he did while he was in the physical body. Some article of food is preferred hot, Swami Ramakrishnananda would keep the stove burning and offer that piece by piece to the Master. He would offer to the Master a piece of twig hammered soft to be used as a toothbrush, as is the practice in some Indian homes. After the food was offered he would fan the Master for some time so that the latter could easily have his nap. On hot days he would suddenly wake up at night, open the shrine and fan the Master so that the latter might not be disturbed in sleep because of the sweltering heat. Sdimetimes he would talk sulkily with the Master, blaming him for something. To a critical mind these things might seem queer, but he only knew what great Presence he felt. These actions were so natural and spontaneous with him that a witness would sometimes even fall into respecting him for them. Once a certain gentleman, who was then holding the highest position in Government service, called at the monastery to pay his respects to Swami Ramakrishnananda. The Swami, after finishing the morning worship, was at that time fanning the portrait of the Master, which he would do for a couple of hours and more, uttering the names of the Lord—Shiva guru, Sat guru, Sanatana guru, Parama guru, and so on. During such times, the face of the Swami would be flushed red with emotion and his tall and robust figure would look more imposing. The whole sight struck the visitor with such awe and reverence that he could do nothing but prostrate before the Swami and return home.
A bold student to whom the Swami gave the liberty of arguing, once freely criticised him for worshipping the portrait of a dead man as that indicated aberration of mind. The Swami said in reply that a devotee's eyes and mind were very peculiarly transformed, and if others had not such eyes and mind it was not the fault of the devotee. He even went to the length of saying that the images in temples were not simply dull, dead, inert matter, but were living Gods who could be spoken to. There was such a ring of sincerity and genuineness of feeling behind these words that the critic was at once silenced. He could not raise himself to the spiritual height whence these thoughts came, but in spite of himself the conviction stole on him, as he himself afterwards narrated, that what he heard could not but be true.
A superficial critic might say that the devotion of Swami Ramakrishnananda indicated an unbalanced cultivation of religious emotion, but this criticism was entirely wrong, for the Swami had intellectual acumen of a very high order. True, for a period he had lost all interest in study. But when he brushed up his knowledge and gave attention to that direction as necessitated by the responsibility that was placed on him, he showed exceptional ability. His scholarship in Sanskrit scriptures was immense. He thought of writing a Sanskrit commentary on the Brahma-Sutras harmonising the different schools of thought on the Vedanta. But unfortunately his life was cut short and he could not undertake the work. Not knowing, the local dialect, he had sometimes to hold conversations with orthodox Pandits in Sanskrit. He wrote the life of the great Acharya Ramanuja in Bengali, which has become an authoritative book on that saint. Not only of Hindu scriptures, but also his knowledge of Christianity and of Islam was superb. He knew the Bible from cover to cover and could expound it with a penetrating insight which would strike even orthodox Christian theologians with awe. Once on a Good Friday he gave a talk on the Crucifixion with so much depth of feeling and vividness of description that a Western listener, with experience of sermons in churches, became amazed as to how the words of the Swami could be so living. Though to all intents and purposes he was living like an orthodox Hindu, his love for the Prophets of other faiths was genuine and sometimes embarrassing to his orthodox followers. Those who have seen him going to St. Thomas’s Church in Madras relate that he would go straight up to the altar and kneel before it like a Christian and pray.
One evening some Mohammedan students, caught in the rain, took shelter in the monastery. The Swami warmly welcomed them and talked to them not of his own faith but of Islam. His exposition was so illuminating that those Mohammedan students repeated their visit to the monastery many times afterwards.
When holding scripture classes or giving religious discourses, he would not simply explain the texts or repeat the scriptural authorities. He would at times give flashes of illumination from the depth of his realisations. Because of this his words were always penetrating. They would silence even those who came with a combative spirit. With a few words he could explain philosophical problems on which volumes had been written. "That this world is hollow and unreal I can prove in a few minutes," he once said to an inquiring disciple. "All memory exists in the mind. Indeed the mind is made up of memory, therefore all the past and all the future exist in the mind; only the present exists in the senses. Now how long does any sense perception last ? Just for the point of time when the object comes in contact with the sense organ, then at once it becomes a matter of memory. This point of time, like Euclid’s geometrical point, actually has no magnitude. The present therefore is in reality only such a point without dimensions; but man, because he wishes to live in his senses, magnifies this point... .Actually the present has no real conceivable existence and only the past and the future have duration. As these exist in the mind, the whole of the universe may be said to be in the mind; and when a man goes out of his mind, he goes out of Jhe universe.” He had a great knack of probing into the heart of things and of expressing the truth in pithy sayings. Once after discussions with the professor of a local college in regard to politics and religion, the Swami said, " Politics is the freedom of the senses, while religion is freedom from the senses.” With reference to dualistic and monistic systems of philosophy he once remarked: "In the dualistic method enjoyment is the ideal; in the monistic method freedom is the ideal. By the first the lover gets his beloved at last, and by the second the slave becomes the master. Both are sublime. One has no need to go from one ideal to the other.” " Science is the struggle of man in the outer world. Religion is the struggle of man in the inner world,” he once said in the course of conversation. "Science makes man struggle for Truth in the outside universe and religion makes him struggle for Truth in the inside universe. Both struggles are great, no doubt, but one ends in success and the other ends in failure. That is the difference. Religion begins where science ends.”
Personally he had a great love for mathematics. Once he procured from a local college all the latest authoritative books on astronomy and began to study them assiduously. It was not difficult for him to understand them. At times he would be doing mathematical problems as a pastime. But the problems of the inner life engaged the better part of his attention. Delving deep into the realms of the mind, he reached the solution of many problems of the inner life. Full of God-consciousness, his mind rested in the solitude of the sage.
Throughout his stay in Madras the Swami had to work very hard and pass through strenuous days. In the early period he had to cook his own food, do service in the shrine and hold classes in various parts of the city. Sometimes the financial trouble was appalling. But very few people outside his intimate group knew of his difficulties. He would often be very reluctant even to accept the help proffered, for he did not like that anybody should „imdergo any sacrifice for him. One day there was not a drop of ghee in the Math to fry chapati. He was in a fix and began pacing up and down the verandah not knowing where help would come from. As a strange coincidence, a student of his class approached him exactly at that time and whispered into his ear about his intention of contributing his mite to the Math as he had a promotion in the office. But the Swami did not, at first, agree to accept anything from him lest it should cause him some hardship. It was only after great insistence and supplication that the Swami gave out that he might be given some quantity of ghee. If questioned as to how the Swami was meeting his bodily wants, he would say with placid composure, ” God sends me whenever I want anything.” "If we cannot get on altogether without help, then why not ask the Lord Himself? Why go to others?” he would say. And on many occasions help would come to the Swami in quite unexpected ways. A devotee says, " Once the birthday of Sri Ramakrishna was near and no money had been received for the feeding of the poor, which was an important item of the celebration. It was midnight and I was sleeping in the Math, when I suddenly woke up, roused by strange sounds in the hall. Looking about, I could see Swamiji pacing up and down like a lion in a cage, mumbling noisily with every breath. I was afraid to see him in that condition, but I understood later that it was his praying for help to feed the poor. The next morning money did come. A large. donation was received from the Yuvaraja of Mysore who had begun to admire Swamiji, having read his book The Universe and Man, just then published.”
Without caring for his bodily wants, quite indifferent to his personal needs, the Swami worked tremendously to spread the message of the Master and in the cause of the Vedanta. On certain days of the week he had to lecture more than twice or thrice. His classes were scattered over different parts of the city, and to many of them he had for a long time to go on foot. Sometimes he would return to the Math quite exhausted, and as little energy was left for cooking, he would finish his night meal with only a piece of bread purchased from a bakery. People would wonder how the Swami could stand such a severe strain. But the secret of this lay perhaps in his complete self-surrender to the Lord. Once he said: “This body is only an instrument, a passive instrument, and an instrument really has no existence of its own, for it is wholly dependent on the one who uses it. Suppose a pen were conscious, it could say, ‘ I hav^ written hundreds of letters,’ but actually it has done nothing, for the one who holds it has written the letters. So, because we are conscious we think we are doing all these things, whereas in reality we are as much an instrument in the hands of a Higher Power as the pen is in our hands, and He makes all things possible.”
While holding classes or delivering lectures he never posed himself as a superior personage having a right to teach others. He considered himself always as a humble servant of the Lord. Sometimes on returning to the Math after delivering lectures he would undergo some self-imposed punishment and earnestly pray to the Master that the lecture-work might not give rise to any sense of egotism in him. Sometimes he had strange experiences in the classes and he had a novel way of meeting them. After the first enthusiasm had died out, all his classes were not so well-attended. That depended also on what part of the city the class was held in. If, for any reason, not a single student happened to come to any of his classes, he would still .give his discourse as usual in the empty room or spend in meditation the period fixed for the class. If asked the reason for these unusual actions, the Swami would reply: "I have not come here to teach others. This work is like a vow to me, and I am fulfilling it irrespective of whether any one comes or does not come to my class.”
But in regard to what he taught he was uncompromising and fearless. Someone, finding him to Jiold high the ideals of renunciation and fearing lest some of the young listeners might be attracted to the ideal, suggested that certain devotees who were subscribing towards the maintenance of the Math might not like the Swami's teaching such things to the young people. On hearing these remarks Swami Ramakrishnananda flared up and thundered forth: ' ‘ What, am I to preach anything other than what I have learnt from my Master ? If the Math cannot, be financially maintained, I shall very gladly find accommodation in the verandah of one of my students' houses.”
The work of the Swami was not confined only to the city of Madras, but it spread throughout the whole Presidency. One of the most important activities along these lines relates to his work in Mysore State. Those who are acquainted with the life of Swami Vivekananda know that in his itinerant days he spent about a month in Mysore as the guest of the Dewan. At that time he came into touch with the then Maharaja and created a profound impression on him. When the signal success of the Swami as a preacher of Vedanta in
Chicago was known to the Indian public, Bangalore, in 1894, held a public meeting in the Swami’s honour and congratulated him on his great work. But for the next nine years there was hardly any activity in Mysore with reference to the movement started by Swami Vivekananda.
When the name and influence of Swami Rama-krishnananda as a bearer of the message of the Master and of Swami Vivekananda began to spread, in 1903 the Vedanta Society of Ulsoor in Bangalore sent an invitation to the Swami to come there and deliver a course of lectures. The Swami accepted the invitation and a splendid reception was given to him. About four thousand people including fifty-three Bhajan (devotional music) parties received him at the station and conducted him in a huge procession to his place of residence. He stayed in Bangalore for three weeks. During this period he delivered about a dozen public lectures and held conversazione morning and evening. His lectures were attended by a large number of eager and enthusiastic people, and his classes were also equally popular. The Swami was in one of his great spiritual moods during this whole period and electrified his audiences, as it were, illuminating them with a new and forceful understanding of religion. The dry bones of religion identified with mechanical observances became living at the touch of his inspiration, and a strong wave of spirituality passed through the city.
In the same year the Swami carried the message of the Master to Mysore and delivered there a series of five lectures. A noteworthy address was given in Sanskrit to the Pandits of the place assembled in the local Sanskrit College. In this the Swami rose to the height of his eloquence and clearly showed how the message of his Master harmonised the interpretations of the Vedanta by different Acharyas. It was very bold of the Swami to do that, for the Sanskrit scholars of the South, strong champions of orthodoxy as they were, could hardly believe in anything outside the particular system of philosophy they followed.
The interest created by the Swami in Bangalore was kept up by the Vedanta Society. In the following year the Swami was again invited to go to Bangalore, this time to open a permanent centre. He delivered a series of lectures, opened some classes and left a junior Swami in charge of them to continue the work, and went back to Madras.
In August, 1906, the Swami again visited Bangalore and Mysore with his brother-disciple Swami Abhedananda, who had recently come from America. The two Swamis together delivered several lectures and consolidated the Vedanta work in Mysore. During this visit the foundation-stone of the Bangalore Ashrama was laid. After the building was constructed, Swami Ramakrishnananda invited Swami Brahma-nan da, the President of the Mission, to open it. The presence of Swami Brahmananda created a great stir in the city, and the people thought it a blessed privilege to have in their midst one whom
Sri Ramakrishna had looked upon as his spiritual son. Afterwards Swami Ramakrishnananda would visit Bangalore whenever he could snatch away time from his busy life, and he actively managed the Ashrama and the Mission work in Bangalore, and Mysore. Swami Ramakrishnananda also visited Trivandrum and spent about a month there creating enthusiasm in the minds of the people. The Swami made extensive tours to several parts of South India and as a result of that centres were started in other different places.
His fame as a teacher of Vedanta spread far and wide. Even such distant places as Burma and Bombay sent invitations to him. He visited those places and achieved great success. It is astonishing how the Swami, who was deeply absorbed in acts of worship and might be taken to be a medieval saint living again in the present century, could throw himself into a whirlpool of public activities and spread his influence over the most modem minds. Most of his students were persons with high English education and some of them afterwards rose to very eminent positions in the Presidency. The Swami was a wonderful combination of the East and the West, and in him was reflected the Vedic culture of ancient India in the light of modem thought.
Some of the discourses he delivered in various places have been published in book form. They now furnish spiritual sustenance to innumerable people who had not the opportunity to come into direct contact with him. Of these books The Universe and Man and The Soul of Man give lucid expositions of some of the fundamental principles of Vedanta. Sri Krishna, the Pastoral and King-maker is, as the title shows, the life of that great Divinity on earth and is a study of the hero as God-man.
Swami Ramakrishnananda was not a very eloquent speaker. There was no oratorical flourish, (which is sometimes an attempt to hide shallowness of thought and absence of sincere feeling) in his speech. But his sincerity and thorough grasp of spiritual realities made his speech very impressive. He was always at his best in the conversational method of teaching. A student who had the privilege of very often attending his classes and lectures writes: “His method of teaching was unique. It was more or less conversational instead of being stiff or formal, and it appealed directly to the heart owing to the sincerity with which it was uttered. ' Time flew past; minutes grew into hours; but we who were listening to his sublime discourses, were enjoying supreme happiness and felt not how time flew away. Great truths, complicated questions, controversial problems and all the heights and depths of ethics were discussed, but in the most simple manner possible so that even a child might understand them. He had the great knack of disentangling the truth from the unnecessary details in which it remains shrouded and thus of presenting it in all its aspects to the amazement of the audience. For, as he taught us to perceive old truths in a new light, we thought we were under the influence of one who talked not like the scribes, but like one with authority."
In day-to-day dealings the Swami was full of overflowing love. We have seen how at the Baranagore monastery he was "like a mother" to all, taking extreme care of them. When any brother-disciple came to the South on pilgrimage, Swami Ramakrishnarianda would be beside himself with joy, and did not know how sufficiently to take care of him. When Swami Brahmananda visited the South, all Swami Ramakrishnananda’s feelings welled forth, as it were, and there was nothing he would not do for him. He felt that he had God in human form, as it were, as his guest. Of course his attitude towards Swami Brahmananda was of an exceptional character, and it was the logical outcome of his devotion to the Master. Because Sri Ramakrishna loved Swami Brahmananda so much, the attitude of Swami Ramakrishnananda towards him was more of reverence than of brotherly love. It was a sight to see Swami Ramakrishnananda, with his bulky body, prostrate before his great brother-disciple in all humility. A similar attitude could be seen in the Swami, though in a more intense degree, when the Holy Mother with a party of women devotees came to the South on pilgrimage. It is said that on this occasion he worked so hard to remove even the slightest inconvenience that might befall the party, that his health permanently broke down.
It was due to this great heart of the Swami that the Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home in Madras was originally started. At Coimbatore he once saw how all the members of a family except a few helpless children had been swept away by plague. The pitiable condition of these poor children left alone was too much for the loving heart of the Swami, so he took charge of them. The care of these few boys was the cause of the genesis of the school which has since then grown to be one of the most important institutions in the whole of the Southern Presidency.
As a teacher the Swami cared more for building up lives than for reaching a wide circle of indifferent auditors. He was a strict disciplinarian and insisted on all who came under his influence being perfect and exemplary in every detail of their conduct. Once a student was found sitting in his class with his chin resting on the palm of his hand. He at once said: "Do not sit like that, it is a pensive attitude. You should always cultivate a cheerful attitude." Sometimes thoughtless visitors to the Math would take out the daily paper and begin to read. The Swami would at once administer a mild rebuke saying: "Put away your paper. You can read that anywhere. When you come here you should think of God." Once a proud and vainglorious Pandit came to the Math and began to talk of his plans for reforming temples, society, etc. Swami Ramakrishnananda listened to him quietly for some time and then opened his lips to remark, "I wonder what God did before you were bom." The man at once became silent, and the conversation turned to healthier things. The man afterwards left the Math with a better attitude of mind. Once Swami Ramakrishnananda and an American devotee were putting up in the royal guest quarters at Bangalore as the guests of the Maharaja of' Mysore. One day a member of the Maharaja’s official staff came to see them. The visitor began to detail some court gossip to the American devotee thinking that that would be a very entertaining topic of conversation. All the while that the conversation was going on, the Swami shifted his position in his chair again and again showing evident signs of great discomfort. When asked if he was feeling unwell, the Swami unsophistically said, "I am all right, but I do not like your conversation.” The visitor, however, took the rebuke without any offence and changed the subject of conversation.
His own life was extremely disciplined. He was very regular and punctual in his habits. He would follow his self-imposed daily duties under any circumstances. As a rule he began the day by reading the Gita and Vishnu-Sahasranama. Once the Swami passed the night outside the Math, to keep company with Swami Premananda, when the latter was on pilgrimage in the South. That night Swami Ramakrishnananda had not with him the Gita and Vishnu-Sahasranama. When he discovered this he sent some one out to procure copies of those two books so that he might not miss reading them next morning.
The Swami was extremely fastidious in his selection of recruits to be admitted to the Math.
He was not for allowing a religious dilettante or a half-hearted aspirant to join the Order. The candidate must fully satisfy the tests before he could be allowed to embrace the life of renunciation.
The young novitiates who came to receive training under him had a very hard time of it. For, any carelessness in their conduct called forth a sharp rebuke from the Swami. He was particular that the young recruits should regulate their lives in such a way that they could easily reach the Ideal for which they came. And certainly carelessness or absent-mindedness has no room in such aspirations. He was specially hard on those who were in any way seif-conscious or had any feeling of egotism. Himself an amazing example of complete self-effacement he could not stand any idea-of egotism in one who aspired after God-realisation.
All this need not give one the impression that the Swami was only stem. Stem he certainly was when occasion demanded; but his sternness was only surface deep. At heart he was extremely soft and kind. Once when the time came for the departure of a junior Swami of the Order who had come to Madras, Swami Rama-krishnananda fed him well sitting by him and actually burst into tears when the latter was about to leave. Another time Swami Rama-krishnananda had gone to Bengal and when he visited Calcutta he learnt that a young Brahma-charin of the Order who had for some time lived with him at Madras was lying ill at his parental
home in the city. The Swami himself went to see the patient at his home. At this the Brahma-charin was dumbfounded. That Swami Rama-krishnananda who was held in such high esteem throughout the country should come to his bedside ! He could hardly believe his eyes.
It was his love for humanity that impelled him to work so hard in Madras. Had not the leader said that one's own salvation lay in finding salvation for others? So he gave himself up unreservedly to the service of others. From day to day, month to month and year to year, he followed the same routine of hard work. People wondered how he could do so much work single-handed. After some time the body gave indication that it could no longer stand the stress of so much hard work. But the spirit was there. The Swami did not listen to the whisper of the flesh. In spite of his indifferent health he carried on his hard labour till the body completely broke down and the doctors diagnosed the disease as consumption.
Word was sent to Calcutta and his fellow-monks begged him to pass his last days with them. This he felt was best. He had thought of it, but not until the command came from the President of the Mission did he leave Madras. He was housed at the monastery in Baghbazar and the most noted physicians visited him of their own accord. But his condition grew worse.
Most remarkable, however, was the strength of his spirit which burst forth in eloquent discourses concerning high spiritual matters, even whilst the body suffered most. One who loved him dearly, hearing him speak with this distressed state of body asked him to desist. “Why?” came the reply, “When I speak of the Lord all pain leaves me, I forget the body.” Even in delirium his mind and his voice were given to God. “Durga, Durga,” "Shiva, Shiva,” and the name of his Master were ever on his lips. His great esteem and his love for Christ, which was manifested throughout his lifetime, revived constantly in those days. Speaking of Jesus he would become eloquent. He would tell of how Sri Ramakrishna had regarded Christ and of how, when his Master during Samadhi had had the vision of Christ, tHq very body of the great founder of Christianity ii^d entered into that of his own. ./
As the days passed' and his condition grew worse, the. monks knew the time for Maha-samadhi, or supreme realisation, was at hand. Several days more—then the body lay forsaken by the soul. At that moment the Presence of the Lord was felt. The death-chamber had become a tabernacle, it had become the temple of illumination.
Swami Ramakrishnananda entered into Final Realisation on August 21, 1911. A great pillar of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission had fallen. The Swami worked for only fourteen years in Madras. But he worked so intensely and so great was the force of his spiritual personality that the seed he sowed has grown into a tremendous tree, and is still in the process of growing.
Now the number of persons in South India who are interested in the message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda is legion. But they all recall with feelings of deep gratitude not unmixed with blessed pride that Swami Ramakrishna-nanda once lived in the place where they have been bom. Did not the Swami sacrifice his life for them