Swami Shivananda, more popularly known as Mahapurusha Maharaj, was a personality of great force, rich in distinctive colour and individual quality. His leonine stature and dauntless vigour, his stolid indifference to praise or blame, his spontaneous moods and his profound serenity in times of storm and stress, invested with a singular appropriateness his monastic name which recalls the classical attributes of the great god Shiva.
He was bom sometime in the fifties of the nineteenth century on the nth day of the dark fortnight in the Indian month of Agrahayana (Nov.-Dec.). The exact year of his birth is obscure. The Swami himself with his characteristic indifference to such matters never remembered it. His father had indeed prepared an elaborate horoscope for his son, but the latter threw it away into the Ganges when he chose the life of renunciation.
His early name, before he took orders, was Tarak Nath Ghoshal. He came of a respectable and influential family of Baraset. One of his ancestors, Harakrishna Ghoshal, was a Dewan of the Krishnanagar Raj. His father, Ramkanai Ghoshal, was not only a successful lawyer with a substantial income but a noted Tantrika as well. Much of his earnings was spent in removing the wants of holy men and of poor and helpless students. It was not unusual for him to provide board and lodging for twenty-five to thirty students at a time in his house. Latterly, when he became a deputy collector, his income fell, which forced him to limit his charities much against his wish. Subsequently he rose to be the assistant Dewan of Cooch Behar.
We have already referred to Ramkanai Ghoshal as a great Tantrika, and it will be interesting to recall here an incident which connected him with Sri Ramakrishna. For some time he was legal adviser to Rani Rasmani, the founder of the Kali temple of Dakshineswar, where he came to be acquainted with Sri Ramakrishna during a visit on business matters. Sri Ramakrishna's personality greatly attracted him, and whenever the latter came to Dakshineswar he never missed seeing him. At one time during intense spiritual practices Sri Ramakrishna suffered from an acute burning sensation all over his body, which medicines failed to cure. One day Sri Ramakrishna asked Ramkanai Ghoshal if the latter could suggest a remedy. Ramkanai Ghoshal recommended the wearing of his Ishtakavacha (an amulet containing the name of the chosen deity) on his arm. This instantly relieved him.
From his early boyhood Tarak showed unmistakable signs of what the future was to unfold. There was something in him which marked him out from his associates. It was not mere normal conduct and straightforward manners. Though a talented boy he showed very little interest in his studies. An as yet vague longing gnawed at his heart and made him forget himself from time to time and be lost in flights of reverie. Early he became drawn to meditative practices. More and more as days went on his mind gravitated towards the vast inner world of spirit. Often in the midst of play and laughter and boyish merriment he would suddenly be seized by an austere and grave mood which filled his companions with awe and wonder. It is not surprising that his studies did not extend beyond school. Tarak like scores of other young men was drawn to the Brahmo Samaj, thanks to the influence of Keshab Chandra Sen. And though he continued his visits to the Samaj for some time his hunger was hardly satisfied with what he got there.
Meanwhile his father's earnings fell, and Tarak had to look for a job. He went to Delhi. There he used to spend hours in discussing religious subjects in the house of a friend named Prasanna. One day he asked the latter about Samadhi, to which Prasanna replied that Samadhi was a very rare phenomenon which very few experienced, but that he knew at least one person who had certainly experienced it and mentioned the name of Sri Ramakrishna. At last Tarak heard about one who could teach him what he wanted to know. He waited patiently for the day when he would be able to meet Sri Ramakrishna.
Not long after, Tarak returned to Calcutta and accepted a job in the firm of Messrs. Mackinnon Mackenzie and Co. He was still continuing his visits to the Brahmo Samaj. About this time, however, he came to hear a good deal about Sri Ramakrishna from a "relative of Ramchandra Dutt, a householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. The more his heart yearned for deeper things the less did platitudes and cheap sentiments satisfy him. He had not to wait much longer before he met the person who was to satisfy the profound needs of his soul.
One day in 1880 or 1881 he came to know that Sri Ramakrishna would come to Ramchandra Dutt’s house in Calcutta on a visit. He decided to seize the opportunity of meeting him on the occasion. When the long-desired evening came he went to Ram Babu's house where he found Sri Ramakrishna talking in a semi-conscious state to an audience in a crowded room. Tarak hung on his words. He had long been eager to hear about Samadhi, and what was his surprise when he found from the few words he caught that the Master had been talking on the very subject that day. He was beside himself with joy. He left the room quietly some time after. It had made a profound impression upon him. Tarak began to feel an irresistible attraction for Sri Ramakrishna and resolved to meet him the next Saturday at Dakshineswar.
It will be proper to reproduce here his own description of the tendencies of his boyhood and youth and his first contact with Sri Ramakrishna. Later in life he wrote: ' ‘ Even as a child I had an inherent tendency towards spiritual life and an innate feeling that enjoyment was not the object of life. As I grew in age and experience these two ideas took a firmer hold of my mind. I went about the city of Calcutta seeking knowledge of God among its various religious societies and temples. But I could not find real satisfaction anywhere; none of them emphasised the beauty of renunciation, nor could I discover a single man among them, who was possessed of true spiritual wisdom. Then in 1880 or 1881, I heard about Sri Ramakrishna and went to see him in the house of one of his devotees at Calcutta. This was the time when Swami Vivekananda and those other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who afterwards renounced the world to carry on his divine mission, had begun to gather round him. On the first day of my visit, I saw Sri Ramakrishna passing into Samadhi; and when he returned to normal consciousness he spoke in detail about Samadhi and its nature. I felt in my inmost heart that here was a man who had indeed realised God, and I surrendered myself for ever at his blessed feet.” At that time Tarak did not know much about Dakshineswar. He, however, managed to reach the place in the company of a friend. The evening service was about to begin when he arrived. Tarak entered the paved courtyard and began to look for Sri Ramakrishna. Coming to his room he found Sri Ramakrishna seated there. Tarak was overpowered with a deep feeling as soon as he saw him. He felt as if it was his own mother who was sitting yonder in front of him. After the usual preliminary inquiries the Master asked if he had seen him the previous Saturday in the house of Ramchandra. Tarak replied in the affirmative. ‘‘In what do you believe,” asked the Master, “in God with form or without form ?” " In God without form,” replied Tarak.
“You can’t but admit the Divine Shakti also,” said the Master. Soon he proceeded towards the Kali temple and asked the boy to follow him. The evening service was going on with the accompaniment of delightful music. Coming to the temple Sri Ramakrishna prostrated himself before the image of the Mother. Tarak at first hesitated to follow the example, because, according to the ideas of the Samaj which he frequented, the image was no more than inert stone. But suddenly the thought flashed in his mind: ' ‘Why should I have such petty ideas ? I hear God is omnipresent, He dwells everywhere. Then He must be present in the stone image as well.” No sooner had the idea flashed in his mind than he prostrated himself before the image.
The Master’s practised eye judged at sight the boy's mettle. He repeatedly asked him to stay overnight. “Stay here to-night,” he said, “you can't gain any lasting advantage by the chance visit of a day. You must come here often.” Tarak begged to be excused as he had already decided to stay with his friend. When he came again Sri Ramakrishna asked him for some ice. Not knowing where to get it, Tarak spoke of it to a friend who was acquainted with Surendra, a householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, and the latter procured some and sent it to the Master.
From that time on Tarak began to visit Dakshi-neswar frequently. His intimacy with the Master deepened. One day Sri Ramakrishna asked
Tarak: “Look here, I don't ordinarily inquire the whereabouts of anyone who comes here. I only look into his heart and read his feelings. But the very sight of you has made me realise that you belong to this place, and I feel a desire to know something about your father and people at home.” He was agreeably surprised to learn that Ramkanai Ghoshal was his father, and telling of the service the latter had done him, wished that he might see him again. Some time later Ramkanai Ghoshal went to Dakshineswar and prostrated himself before Sri Ramakrishna, who placed his foot on his head and entered into Samadhi. Ramkanai Ghoshal eagerly grasped the Master’s feet and burst into tears.
One day—it was probably Tarak’s third or fourth visit to Dakshineswar—Sri Ramakrishna took him aside and asked him to put out his tongue. Then he wrote something on it. It had a strange effect upon the boy. He felt an overpowering feeling taking hold of him. The vast world of sense melted before his eyes, his mind was drawn deep within, and his whole being became absorbed in a trance. This happened twice again, once jn the presence of Swami Brahmananda.
Association with the Master sharpened Tarak’s hunger for religious experiences. Long afterwards he described the state of his mind at that period in the following words: “I often felt inclined to cry in the presence of the Master. One night I wept profusely in front of the Kali temple. The Master was anxious at my absence and when I went to him he said, ' God favours those who weep for Him. Tears thus shed wash away the sins of former births.’ Another day I was meditating at the Panchavati when the Master came near. No sooner had he cast his glance at me than I burst into tears. He stood still without uttering a word. A sort of creeping sensation passed through me, and I began to tremble all over. The Master congratulated me on attaining this state and said it was the outcome of divine emotion. He then took me to his room and gave me something to eat. He could arouse the latent spiritual powers of a devotee at a mere glance."
From the very first meeting with Sri Rama-krishna Tarak felt in his inmost heart that he had at last found one who could guide his steps to the doors of the Infinite. Intuitively he felt that the vague aspirations of his boyhood and youth were realised in the personality of Sri Ramakrishna. The Master appeared to him to be the consummation of all religions. To know him was to know God. With the growth of this conviction his devotion to the Master increased a hundredfold. The Master also made him his own by his immeasurable love. Tarak felt that parental love was as nothing in comparison. In a letter to an inquirer towards the end of his life he wrote about the Master: "I have not yet come to a final understanding whether he was a man or superman, a god or God Himself. But I have known him to be a man of complete self-effacement, master of the highest renunciation, possessed of supreme wisdom, and the very incarnation of love; and, as with the passing of days I am getting better and better acquainted with the domain of spirituality and feeling the infinite extent and depth of Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual moods, the conviction is growing in me that to compare him with God, as God is popularly understood, would be minimising and lowering his supreme greatness. I have seen him showering his love equally on men and women, on the learned and the ignorant, and on saints and sinners, and evincing earnest and unceasing solicitude for the relief of their misery and for their attainment of infinite peace by realising the Divine. And I dare say that the world has not seen another man of his type in modern times so devoted to the welfare of mankind."
Family circumstances forced Tarak Nath to marry about this time. But the life of the world was not for him. His innate purity, passion for holiness, and the Master's grace never allowed him to fall a victim to the snares of the world. The perfect purity of his married life earned for him the popular name of Mahapurusha from the great Swami Vivekananda.
Tarak continued his visits to Dakshineswar till Sri Ramakrishna fell seriously ill in 1885, which necessitated his removal first to Calcutta and then to Cossipore garden-house. All these years the Master had been quietly shaping the character of his disciples, instructing them not only in religious matters but also in the everyday duties of life. Cossipore, however, formed the most decisive period in the lives of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Here Tarak joined the group of young brother-disciples to serve and attend on Sri Ramakrishna during his illness. Service to the Master and loyalty to common ideals forged an indissoluble bond of unity among these young aspirants. As time went on the boys began to stay entirely at the garden-house to serve the Master. Much of their time was devoted to discussions on religious subjects. All this set ablaze the great fire of renunciation smouldering in them, and they yearned for realisation.
The wife of Tarak had died at this time. Tragic as was the death of Tarak's young wife, it removed the last obstacle which stood in the way of his embracing a life of renunciation. Tarak decided to renounce the world even while the Master was present in the flesh. With this end in view he approached his father to bid him farewell. As the son disclosed his intention the father became deeply moved and tears began to stream down his face. He asked Tarak to go to the family shrine and to make prostration there. Then the father, placing his hand on his son's head, blessed him saying: “May you realise God. I have tried very hard myself. I even thought of renouncing the world, but that was not to be. I bless you, therefore, that you may find God.” Tarak related all this to the Master, who was much pleased and expressed his hearty approval.
After the passing away of the Master, the small group of disciples clustered round the monastery of Baranagore. The first to join were Tarak, Swami Advaitananda and Swami Adbhutananda. The Master’s death had created a great void in the hearts of the disciples, who began to spend most of their time in intense meditation in order to feel the living presence of the Master. Often they would leave the monastery and wander from place to place, away from crowded localities and familiar faces. It was not a mere wander-lust that scattered this little group of young Sannyasins to all points of the compass. But while the desire for realising God consumed them within, they moved from place to place enduring all kinds of privation and hardship. Food was not available always, and too often the only shelter was the roof provided by the spreading branches of a road-side tree. Hunger and cold, thirst and heat were their lot for years. This period of their lives, which stretched over a number of years and which was packed with severe austerities and great miracles of faith, out of the mighty fire of which was forged the powerful characters the world later saw, is mostly a sealed book. With their utter disregard for false values of all kinds they were usually reticent about their personal experiences. Only on rare occasions could one catch glimpses of these days of faith and suffering.
Towards the end of his life Swami Shivananda, the name received by Tarak when he became a monk, one day chanced to lift a comer of the pall of mystery which lay over these stormy years. “Often it happened,’’ he said, “that I had only one piece of cloth to cover myself with. I used to wear half of it and wrap the other half round the upper part of my body. In those days of wandering I would often bathe in the waters of wells, and then I used to wear a piece of loin-cloth and let my only piece of cloth dry. Many a night I slept under trees. At that time the spirit of renunciation was aflame and the idea of bodily comfort never entered the mind. Though I travelled mostly without means, thanks to the grace of the Lord, I never fell into danger. The Master’s living presence used to protect me always. Often I did not know where the next meal would come from. ...At that period a deep dissatisfaction gnawed within, and the heart yearned for God. The company of men repelled me. I used to avoid roads generally used. At the approach of night I would find some suitable place just to lay my head on and pass the night alone with my thoughts.”
Some indication of Tarak’s bent of mind at this period can be had from a few reminiscences which have come down to us. He had a natural slant towards the orthodox and austere path of knowledge which placed little value on popular religious attitudes. He avoided ceremonious observances and disregarded emotional approaches to religion. He keyed up his mind to the formless aspect of the Divine. This stern devotion to Jnana continued for some time. Deep down in his heart, however, lay his boundless love for the Master which nothing could affect for a moment. In later years with the broadening of experience his heart opened to the infinite beauties of spiritual emotion.
During his days of itineracy Swami Shiva-nanda visited various places in North India. In the course of these travels he also went to Almora where he became acquainted with a rich man of the place named Lala Badrilal Shah, who speedily became a great admirer of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and took great care of them whenever he happened to meet them. Here, towards the latter part of 1893, the year of Swami Vivekananda 's journey to America, Tarak also met Mr. E. T. Sturdy, an Englishman interested in Theosophy. The Swami’s personality and talks greatly attracted him. Mr. Sturdy came to hear of Swami Vivekananda’s activities in the West from him and on his return to England he invited Swami Vivekananda there and made arrangements for the preaching of Vedanta in England.
With the return of Swami Vivekananda from the West in 1897, Swami Shivananda’s days of itineracy came to an end. He went to Madras to receive the Swami and returned with him to Calcutta. In the same year, at the request of Swami Vivekananda, he went to Ceylon and preached Vedanta for about a year. There he used to hold classes on the Gita, and the Raja Yoga, which became popular with the local educated community including a number of Europeans. One of his students, Mrs. Picket, to whom he gave the name of Haripriya, was specially trained by him so as to qualify her to teach Vedanta to the Europeans. She later went to Australia and New Zealand at the direction of the Swami and succeeded in attracting interested students in both the countries. The Swami returned to the Math in 1898, which was then housed at Nilambar Babu’s garden.
In 1899 Prague broke out in an epidemic form in Calcutta. Swami Vivekananda, who was at Darjeeling at the time, hastened down to the plains as soon as the news reached him and asked Swami Shivananda and others to organise relief work for the sick. The Swami put forth his best efforts without the least thought for his personal safety. About this time a landslip did considerable damage to property at Darjeeling. He also collected some money for helping those who were affected by it.
The natural drive of his mind was, however, for a life of contemplation, and so he went again to the Himalayas to taste once more the delight and peace of meditation. Here he spent some years, although he would occasionally come down to the Math for a visit. About this time Swami Vivekananda asked him to found a monastery in the Himalayas. Although the desire of the Swami could not be realised at the time, Swami Shivananda remembered his wish and years afterwards, in 1915, he laid the beginnings of a monastery at Almora, which was completed by Swami Turiyananda.
In 1900 he accompanied Swami Vivekananda on the latter’s visit to Mayavati. While returning to the plains, Swami Vivekananda left him at Pilibhit with a request that he should collect funds for the maintenance and improvement of the Belur Math. The Swami stayed back and raised some money.
Shortly before Swami Vivekananda passed away the Raja of Bhinga gave him Rs. 500 for preaching Vedanta. Swamiji handed the money over to Swami Shivananda asking him to start an Ashrama with it at Benares, which he did in 1902.
The seven long years which he spent at this Benares Ashrama formed a memorable chapter of his life. Outwardly, of course, there was no spectacular achievement. The Ashrama grew up, not so much as a centre of great social activity, but as a school of hard discipline and rigorous Tapasya for the development of individual character as in the hermitages of old. Here we are confronted with an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of presenting the life-story of spiritual geniuses. The most active period of their lives is devoid of events in popular estimation. It is hidden away from the public eye and spent in producing those invisible and intangible commodities whose value cannot be measured in terms of material goods. When they appear again they are centres of great and silent forces which often leave their imprint on centuries. Realisation of God is not an event in the sense in which the discovery of a star or an element is an event, which resounds through all the continents. But one who has solved the riddle of life is a far greater benefactor of humanity than, say, the discoverer of highest scientific truths.
Anxious times were ahead of Swami Shivananda; the funds of the Benares Ashrama were soon depleted. At times nobody knew wherefrom the expenses of the day would come. The Swami,however, carried on unruffled and the clouds lifted after a while. Most of his time was spent in intense spiritual practices. He would scarcely stir out of the Ashrama, and day and night he would be in a high spiritual mood. The life in the Ashrama was one of severe discipline and hardship. The inmates hardly enjoyed full meals for months, and there was not much clothing to lessen the severity of the winter. He himself used to pass most of the nights on a small bench. In the winter months he would usually get up at about three in the morning and light a Dhuni fire in one of the rooms, before which they would sit for meditation, which often continued far into the morning. During these times Swami Sarada-nanda, the then Secretary of the Mission, would press him hard to try to collect funds for the local Home of Service and would say jocosely, “Will mere meditation bring money?” But the Swami could not be moved from the tenor of his life.
For some time he opened a school at the Ashrama, where he himself taught English to a group of local boys. About this time he translated Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago lectures into Hindusthani so that Swamiji’s ideas might spread among the people. He continued to look after the affairs of the Ashrama till 1909, when he returned to Belur and lived there for some time. In 1910 he went on a pilgrimage to Amamath in company with Swami Turiyananda and Swami Premananda. On his return he fell seriously ill with dysentery, which proved very obstinate. He became specially careful as regards food after this and began to observe a strict regimen, which continued till the end and to which his long life was in no small measure due.
In 1917 Swami Premananda who used .to manage the affairs of the Math at Belur fell seriously ill, and his duties came to rest on the shoulders of Swami Shivananda, who was one of the original trustees of the Belur Math. And in 1922, after the passing away of Swami Brahma-nanda, he was made the President of the Rama-krishna Math and Mission, in which post he continued till the end of his life. Shortly before this he had been to Dacca and Mymensingh in response to an invitation. This tour started a new phase in his long career which has left a very profound impression upon all who came in contact with him during this period. Large crowds flocked to him at places in Dacca and Mymensingh to hear him talk on spiritual matters, and for the first time he began to initiate persons into spiritual life at the earnest appeal of several devotees, though at first he was much against it.
In 1924 and 1927 he went on two long tours to the South, during which he formally opened the centres at Bombay, Nagpur and Ootacamund and initiated a large number of persons into religious life. The hill station of Ootacamund appealed to him greatly, and here he spent some time in a high spiritual mood. In 1925 during the winter he went to Deoghar accompanied by a large number of monks from the Belur Math to open a new building of the local Ramakrishna Mission. He stayed there for a little over three weeks which was a period of unalloyed joy and bliss for all who happened to be there. Wherever he went he carried an atmosphere of delight around him. Monks and devotees thronged round him morning and evening and for hours the conversations went on.
After 1930 his health broke down greatly, though he could still take short walks. What a cataract of disasters had come upon him since 1927—loss of the comrades of old days one after another, trouble and defections, illness and physical disabilities ! But nothing could for a moment dim the brightness of his burning flame of reliance on God. They only brought into high relief the greatness of his spiritual qualities. At night after meals he would usually pass an hour or so all alone except for the presence of an attendant or two who used to be near. And whenever he was alone he seemed to be immersed in a profound spiritual mood. He would occasionally break the silence by gently uttering the Master's name. The mood would recur whenever in the midst of an almost uninterrupted flow of visitors and devotees he found a little time to himself. In the midst of terrible physical suffering he would radiate joy and peace all around. Not once did anyone hear him utter a syllable of complaint against the torments which assailed the flesh. To all inquiries about his health his favourite reply was, “ Janaki is all right so long she is able to take the name of Rama.” Physicians who came to treat him wev amazed at his buoyant spirits which nothing could depress. Sometimes he would point to his pet dog and say, "That fellow’s master is here (pointing to himself),’’ and then pointing one finger to himself and another to the Master’s shrine he would add, "and this fellow is His dog."
Age, which diminishes our physical and mental vigour, serves only to heighten the force and charm of a spiritual personality. The last years of Swami Shivananda’s life were days of the real majesty of a spiritual sovereign. The assumption of the vast spiritual responsibilities of the great office tore off the austere mask of reserve and rugged taciturnity which so long hid his tender heart and broad sympathy. All these years thousands upon thousands came to him, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, high and low, the homeless and the outcast, men battered by fate and reeling under the thousand and one miseries to which man is prey, and went away lifted up in spirits. A kind look, a cheering word, and an impalpable something which was nevertheless most real, put new hope and energy into persons whose lives had almost been blasted away by frustrations and despair. He cheerfully bore all discomfort and hardship in the service of the helpless and the needy. Even during the last illness which deprived him of the use of speech and half of his limbs, the same anxiety to be of help to all was plain, and his kindly look and the gentle movement of his left hand in blessing, and, above all, his holy presence did more to brace up their drooping spirit* than countless words contained in books could ever do.
During his term of office the work of the Mission steadily expanded. The ideas of the Master spread to new lands, and centres were opened not only in different parts of India but also in various foreign countries. He was, however, no sectarian with limited sympathy. All kinds of work, social, national, or religious, received his blessings. Labourers in different fields came to him and went away heartened by words of cheer and sympathy. His love was too broad to be limited by sectional interests; it extended to every place and to every movement where good was being done. Are not all who toil for freedom and justice, for moral and religious values, for the removal of human want and suffering, for raising the material and cultural level of the masses, doing the Master's work ? He was no mere recluse living away from human interests and aspirations, away from the currents of everyday life. His was an essentially modem mind keenly aware of the suffering of the poor and the downtrodden. His clear reason unbefogged by sectional interests could grasp the truth behind all movements for making the lot of the common man happy and cheerful. When the Madras Council was considering the Religious Endowment Bill which aimed at a better management of the finances of the religious Maths, a Mohunt of a Math in Madras approached him seeking his help for fighting the measure because it touched the vested interests. But the Swami told him point-blank that a monastery should not simply hoard money, but should see that it came to the use of society.
When news of flood and famine reached him, he became anxious for the helpless victims and would not rest till relief had been organised.
Though all kinds of good work found "him sympathetic, he never failed to stress the spirit which should be at the back of all activities. One who witnesses the drama of life from the summit of realisation views its acts in a light denied to common understanding. Our toils and strivings, our joys and delights, our woes and tears are seen in their true proportion from the vast perspective of the Eternal. Work yoked to true understanding is a means for the unfoldment of the divine within man. So his advice was always: Behind work there should be meditation; without meditation work cannot be performed in a way which conduces to spiritual growth. Nor is work nicely performed without having a spiritual background. He would say, “Fill your mind in the morning so much with the thoughts of God that one point of the compass of your mind will always be towards God though you are engaged in various distracting activities.”
His own life was a commentary on what he preached. Though he soared on the heights of spiritual wisdom he was to the last rigid in attending to the customary devotions for which he had scarcely any need for himself. Until the time he was too weak to go out of his room, every dawn found him in the shrine room meditating at a fixed hour. In the evening, perhaps, he would be talking to a group of people when the bell for evening service rang. He would at once become silent and lost in deep contemplation, while those who sat round him found their minds stilled and enjoyed a state of tranquillity which comes only from deep meditation.
Not only did his life stand out as the fulfilment of the ideal aspirations of the devotee, as an everpresent source of inspiration, but his kindness and pity issued forth in a thousand channels to the afflicted and the destitute. Not all who came to him were in urgent need of spiritual comfort. Empty stomachs and naked bodies made them far more conscious of their physical wants than of the higher needs of the soul. His charities flowed in a steady stream to scores of persons groaning under poverty. Perhaps there came to him one whose daughter had fallen seriously ill, but who did not know how to provide the expenses for her treatment. There was another who had lost his job and stared helplessly at the future. Such petitions and their fulfilment were an almost regular occurrence during his last years, not to mention also his constant gifts of cloths and blankets, etc., to hundreds of people.
In the days of his physical decline the grand old man, whom illness had confined to bed, was like a great patriarch, a paterfamilias, affectionately watching over the welfare of his vast brood. His love showed itself in a hundred ways. If anyone of his numerous devotees or members of the monastery fell sick he never failed to make anxious inquiries about him. If any of the devotees did not turn up on the usual day at the Math,
it never failed to attract his notice. And when the devotees came to the Math, even their petty needs and comforts engaged his attention. But very few of them came to know of this.
His numerous children, who felt secure in his affectionate care, went about their duties full of the delight of living. One night after the meal some of the members of the monastery at Belur were making fun and laughing loudly in the inner verandah of the groundfloor of the main Math building. The noise of laughter rose up and could be heard in Swami Shivananda’s room. He smiled a little at this and said softly: “The boys are laughing much and seem to be happy. They have left their hearth and home in search of bliss. Master! make them blissful.” What an amount of feeling lay behind these few tender words of prayer!
His health, which was already shattered, broke down still more and beyond recovery in May,1933, when he had an attack of apoplexy which deprived him of the use of half of his body including speech. He passed away on February 20,1934, leaving a memory which is like a golden dream flung suddenly from one knows not where into this harsh world of reality.
The real is that which is an object of experience. To Swami Shivananda God and religion were not vague words or distant ideals, but living realities. Lives like his light up the dark process of history and point to the divine goal towards which humanity is travelling with growing knowledge.