LIFE AT SRINAGAR
Time :- June 22nd to July 15th, 1898.
In the mornings, we still had long talks, as before – sometimes it would be the different religious periods through which Kashmir had passed, or the morality of Buddhism, or the history, of Siva-worship, or perhaps the position of Srinagar under Kanishka.
Once he was talking with one of us about Buddhism, and he suddenly said “the fact is, Buddhism tried to do, in the time of Asoka, what the world never was ready for till now!” He referred to the federalisation of religions. It was a wonderful picture, this, of the religious imperialism of Asoka, broken down, time and again, by successive waves of Christianity and Mohammedanism, each claiming exclusive rights over the conscience of mankind, and finally to seem to have a possibility, within measurable distance of time, to-day!
Another time, the talk was of Genghis or Chenghiz Khan, the conqueror from Central Asia. “You hear people talk of him as a vulgar aggressor,” he cried passionately, “but that is not true! They are never greedy or vulgar, these great souls! He was inspired with the thought of unity, and he wanted to unify his world. Yes, Napoleon was cast in the same mould. And another, Alexander. Only those three, or perhaps one soul, manifesting itself in three different conquests!” And then he passed on to speak of that one soul whom he believed to have come again and again in religion, charged with the divine impulse to bring about the unity of man in God.
At this time, the transfer of the Prabuddha Bharata, from Madras to the newly established Ashrama at Mayavati was much in all our thoughts. The Swami had always had a special love for this paper, as the beautiful name he had given it indicated. He had always been eager, too, for the establishment of organs of his own. The value of the journal, in the education of Modern India, was perfectly evident to him, and he felt that his Master’s message and mode of thought required to be spread by this means, as well as by preaching and by work. Day after day, therefore he would dream about the future of his papers, as about the work in its various centres. Day after day he would talk of the forthcoming first number, under the new editorship of Swami Swarupananda. And one afternoon he brought
to us, as we sat together, a paper on which, he said, he had “tried to write a letter, but it would come this way!” –
To The Awakened India.
Once more awake!
For sleep it was, – not death, – to bring thee life anew, and rest to lotus-eyes, for visions daring yet. The world, in need, awaits, Oh Truth, no death for thee!
Resume thy march,
With gentle feet that would not break the peaceful pose, even of the road-side dust that lies so low, – yet strong, and steady, blissful, bold, and free. Awakener, ever forward! Speak thy rousing words!
Thy home is gone,
Where loving hearts had brought thee up, and watched thy growth. But fate is strong, and this the law, – All things go Backto the source they sprang, their strength to renew.
Then start afresh
From the land of thy birth, where great cloud-belted snows do bless and put their strength in thee, for working wonders new. The heavenly river tune thy voice to her own eternal song; deodar shades give thee ne’er-dying peace,
And all above,
Himalaya’s daughter Uma, gentle, pure, the Mother who resides in all as power and life, -who works all works, and makes of One the world; whose mercy opens the gate to Truth, and shows the One in all, – give thee unending strength which is Infinite Love.
They bless thee, all
The seers great, whom age nor clime can claim their own, the fathers of the race, who felt the heart of truth the same, and bravely taught to man, ill-voiced or well. Their servant, thou hast caught their secret, – tis but One.
Then speak, Oh Love!
Before thy gentle voice so sweet, behold how visions melt, and fold on fold of dreams departs to void, – till Truth, bare Truth, in all its glory shines.
And tell the world – Awake! Arise! and dream no more!
This is the land of dreams, where karma weaves unthreaded garlands, with our thoughts, of flowers sweet or noxious, – and none has root or stem, being born in nothing, which the softest breath of Truth drives Backto primal nothingness. Be bold and face, the Truth. Be one with it!
Let visions cease, – or, if you cannot dream but truer dreams, which are Eternal Love and Service Free.
The Master was longing to leave us all, and go away into some place of quiet, alone. But we not knowing this, insisted on accompanying him to the Coloured Springs, called “Kshir Bhavani”, or Milk of the Mother. it was said to be the first time that Christian or Mohammedan had ever landed there, and we can never be thankful enough for the glimpse we had of it, since afterwards it was to become the most sacred of all names to us.
An amusing incident was that our Mussalman boat-men would not allow us to land with shoes on; so thoroughly Hinduistic is the Mohammedanism of Kashmir, with its forty rishis, and pilgrimages made fasting, to their shrines.
Another day we went of quietly by ourselves, and visited the Takt-i-Suleiman, a little temple very massively built, on the summit of a small mountain two or three thousand feet high. It was peaceful and beautiful, and the famous Floating Gardens could be seen below us, for miles around.
The Takt-i-Suleiman was one of the great illustrations of the Swami’s argument, when he would take up the subject of the Hindu love of nature as shown in the choice of sites for temples and architectural monuments. As he had declared, in London, that the saints lived on the hill-tops, in order to enjoy the scenery, so now he pointed out, – citing one example after another, – that our Indian people always consecrated places of peculiar beauty and importance, by making there their altars of worship. And there was no denying that the little Takt, crowning the hill that dominated the whole valley, was a case in point.
Many lovely fragments of those days come into mind, as –
“Therefore, Tulsi, take thou care to live with all, for who can tell where, or in what garb, the Lord Himself may next come to thee?”
“One God is hidden in all these, the Torturer of all, the Awakener of all, the Reservoir of all being, the One Who is bereft of all qualities.”
There the sun does not shine, nor the moon, nor the stars.
There was the story of how Ravana was advised to take the form of Rama, in order to cheat Sita. He answered, “Have I not thought of it? But in order to take a man’s form you must meditate on him; and Rama is the Lord Himself; so, when I meditate on him, even the position of Brahma becomes a mere straw. How then, could I think of a woman?”
“And so”, commented the Swami, “even in the commonest or most criminal life, there are these glimpses.” It was ever thus. He was constantly interpreting human life as the expression of God, never insisting on the heinousness or wickedness of an act or a character.
“In that which is dark night to the rest of the world, there the man of self-control is awake. That which is life to the rest of the world is sleep to him.”
Speaking of Thomas a Kempis one day, and of how he himself used to wander as a sannyasin, with the Gita and the Imitation as his whole library, one word, he said, came back to him, inseparably associated with the name of the western monk.
“Silence! Ye teachers of the world, and silence! Ye prophets! Speak thou alone, O Lord, unto my soul!”
“The soft shirisha flower can bear the weight of humming bees, but not of birds -So Uma, don’t you go and make tapasya! come, Uma, come! Delight and idol of my soul!
Be seated, Mother on the lotus of my heart,
And let me take a long, long look at you.
From my birth up, I am gazing, Mother, at your face -Know you suffering what trouble, and pain?
Be seated, therefore, Blessed One on the lotus of my heart,
And dwell there for evermore.”
Every now and then there would be long talks about the Gita, “that wonderful poem, without one note in it, of weakness or unmanliness.”
He said one day that it was absurd to complain that knowledge was not given to women or to sudras. For the whole gist of the Upanishads was contained in the Gita. Without it, indeed, they could hardly be understood; and women and all, castes could read the Mahabharata.
With great fun and secrecy the Swami and his one non-American disciple prepared to celebrate The Fourth of July. A regret had been expressed in his hearing, that we had no American Flag, with which to welcome the other member of the party to breakfast, on their National Festival; and late on the afternoon of the third, he brought a pundit durzey’ in great excitement, explaining that this man would be glad to imitate it, if he were told how.
The stars and stripes were very crudely represented, I fear, on the piece of cotton that was nailed, with branches of ever greens, to the head of the dining-room-boat, when the Americans stepped on board for early tea, on Independence Day! But the Swami had postponed a journey, in order to be present at the little festival, and he himself contributed a poem to the addresses that were now read aloud, by way of greeting.
TO THE FOURTH OF JULY
Behold, the dark clouds melt away,
That gathered thick at night, and hung So like a gloomy pall, above the earth!
Before thy magic touch, the world Awakes.
The birds in chorus sing.
The flowers raise their star-like crowns,
Dew-set and wave thee welcome fair.
The lakes are opening wide in love,
Their hundred-thousand lotus-eyes,
To welcome thee, with all their depth.
All hail to thee, Thou Lord of Light!
A welcome new to thee, to-day,
Oh Sun! To-day thou sheddest Liberty!
Bethink thee how the world did wait,
And search for thee, through time and clime – *
Some gave up home and love of friends,
And went in quest of thee, self-banished,
Through dreary oceans, through primeval forest,
Each step a struggle for life or death!
Then came the day when work bore fruit,
And worship, love and sacrifice,
Fulfilled, accepted, and complete.
And then thou, propitious, rose to shed The light of Freedom on mankind!
Move on, Oh Lord, in thy resistless path!
Till thy high noon o’er spreads the world;
Till every land reflects thy light;
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken, and Know in springing joy, their life renewed!
That evening someone pained him by counting the cherry-stones left on her plate, to see when she would be married. He, somehow, took the play in earnest, and came, the following morning, surcharged with passion for the ideal renunciation.
“These shadows of home and marriage cross even my mind now and then!” he cried, with that tender desire to make himself one with the sinner that he so often showed. But it was across oceans of scorn for those who would glorify the householder, that he sought, on this occasion, to preach the religious life. “Is it so easy,” he exclaimed, “to be Janaka? To sit on a throne absolutely unattached? Caring nothing for wealth or fame, for wife or child? One after another in the west has told me that he had reached this. But I could only say – ‘such great men are not born in India!'”
And then he turned to the other side.
“Never forget,” he said to one of his hearers, “to say to yourself, and to teach to your children, – as the difference between a firefly and the blazing sun, between the infinite ocean and a little pond, between a mustard-seed and the mountain of Meru, such is the difference between the householder and the Sannyasin!”
“Everything is fraught with fear: Renunciation alone is fearless.”
“Blessed be even the fraudulent sadhus, and those who have failed to carry out their vows, in as much as they also have witnessed to the ideal, and so are in some degree the cause of the success of others!
Let us never, never, forget our ideal!
At such moments, he would identify himself entirely with the thought he sought to demonstrate, and in the same sense in which a law of nature might be deemed cruel or arrogant, his exposition might have those qualities. Sitting and listening, we felt ourselves brought face to face with the invisible and absolute.
All this was on our return to Srinagar, from the real Fourth of July Celebration, which had been a visit to the Dahl Lake. There we had seen the Shalimar Bagh of Nur Mahal, and the Nishat Bagh, or Garden of Gladness, and had spent the hour of sunset quietly, amongst the green of the irises, at the foot of giant chennaar trees.
That same day, Dhira, Mata and she whose name was Jaya, left for Gulmarg, on some personal business, and the Swami went with them, part of the way.
At nine o’clock on the evening of the following Sunday, July the 10th, the first two came Backunexpectedly, and presently, from many different sources, we gathered the news that the Master had gone to Amarnath by the Sonamarg route, and would return another way. He had started out penniless, but that could give no concern to his friends, in a Hindu Native state.
A disagreeable incident occurred, a day or two later, when a young man, eager to become a disciple, turned up, and insisted on being sent on to him. It was felt that this was an unwarrantable intrusion on that privacy which he had gone to seek, but as the request was persistent, it was granted, and life flowed in accustomed channels for a day or two.
What were we setting out for? We were just moving to go down the river, on Friday and it was close on five in the afternoon, when the servants recognised some of their friends in the distance, and word was brought that the Swami’s boat was coming towards us.
An hour later, he was with us, saying how pleasant it was to be back. The summer had been unusually hot and certain glaciers had given way, rendering the Sonamarg Route to Amarnath impracticable. This fact had caused his return.
But from this moment dated the first of three great increments of joy and realisation that we saw in him, during our months in Kashmir. It was almost as if we could verify for ourselves the truth of that saying of his Guru -“There is indeed a certain ignorance. It has been placed there by my Holy Mother that her work may be done. But it is only like a film of tissue paper. It might be rent at any moment.”