XVIII

AFTER THE PASSING

Close contact for so long with such burning renunciation and godliness made it impossible for the young disciples to return to the world. Though they were without resources, Surendra Nath Mitra, a householder disciple of the Master, came forward with the necessary pecuniary assistance and encouraged them to found a home where the brotherhood would live together and the householders would also find a temporary refuge from their worldly cares. A half-ruined house was rented at Baranagore where one by one almost all the young disciples of the Master gathered under the leadership of Narendra Nath. Thus the Master's dearly cherished ideal of monasticism took a concrete shape after his passing.

The Holy Mother tried to overcome her sense of irreparable loss by undertaking a vigorous course of Sadhana at Vrindaban, Calcutta, and in the Master's native village. One part of the preordained purpose of her union with Sri Ramakrishna had been fulfilled, namely the setting up of an ideal for the householders of today to follow, according to their respective capacities. There still remained another part to be accomplished, namely the transmission of the Master's spiritual power to thousands of devotees, and specially to women. It was for this that her valuable life was spared to humanity for many years.

During the latter part of December 1886, the members of the Baranagore monastery went to Antpur, a village in the District of Hooghly, at the invitation of the mother of Baburam, one of the monastic disciples of the Master. Here Narendra gathered all the young disciples of the Master, and in the fervour of spiritual enthusiasm which was evoked here, the bond of fellowship among them was definitely sealed. The enthusiasm reached its height, quite unconsciously, on Christmas Eve, when before a burning log of wood Narendra and his brothers kept vigil, talking passionately of the life of Christ and the glories of renunciation. This stirred up the dormant spirit of renunciation in those who had lagged behind, and shortly after their return, the Baranagore monastery had its full complement of monks, all pledged to a life of the highest asceticism.

No chronicler can do full justice to the intense spiritual life these young monks led at Baranagore. The more they felt the absence of the Master on the physical plane, the more intense was their desire to realize him as the expression of Eternal Truth in the recesses of their hearts. No amount of privation or hardship, indifference or contumely, was allowed to stand in their way. Fired with the tales of the tremendous austerities of the Master, these monks practised them to a great extent as regards food, dress, and other necessaries of life. How to realize God was their one absorbing thought. Character-building and realization became the watchword of their lives. Some even thought of ending their lives by continued meditation without food. Narendra was the leader of the group. He was alive to the difficulties of the religious path. So, with the utmost caution he began to mould their lives. He tried to broaden their outlook by saturating their minds with universal ideas and making them conversant with the essentials of the different branches of human knowledge. The topics he took up for discussion were many and varied, ranging from comparative religion and philosophy to history and science. Most of the sublime ideas which he gave to the world afterwards as the great Swami Vivekananda, were not new to these brother monks, for they had heard them in the Baranagore days, or even earlier at Cossipore.

After some time even the holy atmosphere of the Baranagore Math seemed to become constricting to them. They were anxious to go out into the wide world and live as wandering monks, depending solely on God. All, except Shashi who chose to stay by the sacred relics of the Master at the Math, one by one embraced a wandering life, determined to tread the path of austerity and renunciation hallowed by the footsteps of the ancient Indian monks.

They wandered all over the country from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, relying upon God. They had to undergo the travails of a new birth to become the spiritual giants the world knew later. Behind this metamorphosis there was the constant and unerring hand of the Man who chiselled their characters, curbed the impetuosity of their spirit, held tight the reins that directed their course, and brought about their perfection. As a matter of fact, every one of these young men whom the Master had made his very own represented one or more phases of his own multiple personality. The great qualities of head and heart which found expression in these spiritual giants give us some idea, at least, of how wonderful must have been the illustrious Prototype in whom these qualities appeared in the highest degree. When the Swami Vivekananda rose to the highest pinnacle of his fame, when East and West vied with each other to honour him, this was the tribute he paid to his Master:

'If there has been anything achieved by me, by thoughts, or words, or deeds, if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has helped any one in the world, I lay no claim to it, it was his. But if there have been curses falling from my lips, if there has been hatred coming out of me, it is all mine, and not his. All that has been weak has been mine, and all that has been life-giving, strengthening, pure, and holy, has been his inspiration, his words, and he himself. Yes, my friends, the world has yet to know that man.'