To a Ramakrishna Math, in North Calcutta, known as ” Udbodhan House” to the public or as the ” Holy Mother’s Abode ” to the devotees, there came a visitor some years back. As he entered the building, in a small room on the left-hand side of the entrance he saw a burly-looking person sitting cross-legged – wrapped in his own thought. The visitor, quite a stranger to the place, inquired of him who he was. ” I am here the gate-keeper,” came the grave reply. The innocent man believed this, and went to the next room – which was the office room. There in the course of conversation when he asked some one who the man was whom he had first met, he learnt that the grave-looking person was no other than Swami Saradananda, the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. The visitor felt so embarrassed at his foolishness in believing that the Swami could be a gate-keeper, that he at once left the place.
Yes1 Swami Saradananda took a pride in considering himself a “gate-keeper” of the house where the Holy Mother, the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna lived, and every evening whoever visited the house was sure to see the Swami sitting there. Strangers would be scared away or frightened by his very grave appearance, but those who were bold enough to approach and mix with him, would know that here was a man who had a mother’s heart. Swami Saradananda lived in this house from the time of its construction, when he had had it built for the Holy Mother to stay in during her visits to Calcutta. Here he would be doing the onerous duties of the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, sitting in that particular room as a “gatekeeper. ‘ ‘
Swami Saradananda came of a rich and orthodox Brahmin family, living in Amherst Street of Calcutta. His early name was Sarat Chandra Chakravarti. His grandfather was an erudite Sanskrit scholar – with a very religious disposition. He lived in a village in the Twenty-four Perganas, where he established a Tol (school for Sanskrit study) and maintained many students. Sarat Chandra’s father, however, removed to Calcutta, and became very rich by being the co-sharer of a medicine shop. But his wealth and religious nature existed side by side. He was known for his honesty, truthfulness and great charity. He devoted much time to religious practices amidst the busy life he had to live. Sarat Chandra inherited many of the good qualities of his father.
Sarat Chandra was bom in the month of December, 1865. But as he was bom on a Saturday evening, many were alarmed as to the future of the child. But an uncle of Sarat Chandra, expert in astrology, after proper calculation removed all fears by the prediction that the new-born babe would be so great that he would shed lustre on his family.
From his very boyhood Sarat Chandra was known for his gravity. He was so quiet that he could be mistaken to be not very intelligent. But soon he showed his extraordinary intelligence in class works. In almost all examinations he topped the list of successful boys. He took delight in many extra-academic activities. He was a prominent figure in the debating class and developed a strong physique by taking various forms of physical exercise.
His deep religious nature expressed itself even in his early boyhood. He would sit quietly by the side of his mother when she was engaged in worshipping the family deity, and afterwards faultlessly repeat the ritual before his friends. On festive occasions he would want images of deities and not the dolls which average lads buy. Seeing this trait in his nature, his mother bought for him a set of utensils required in performing Pujas. Sarat was greatly delighted, and for a long time the play which interested him most was to perform imitation-worship. After he was invested with the sacred thread, he was privileged to perform regular worship in the family shrine. This made him glad beyond measure. And he took full advantage of this opportunity by performing the regular worship of the family deity.
He was also strict about the daily meditations required of a Brahmin boy.
Sarat was very courteous by nature. He was incapable of using any harsh word to anybody or of hurting anyone’s feelings in any way. He had a very soft and feeling heart. He lost no opportunity to help his poor class-friends as far as his means permitted. The small sum of money which he got from home for tiffin, he often spent for poor boys. Sometimes he would give away his personal clothing to those who needed them more.
One who afterwards as Secretary of the Rama-krishna Mission administered relief to millions of suffering people showed himself to be the embodiment of the spirit of service even in his boyhood. Relations and friends, acquaintances and neighbours, servants and housemaids – whoever fell ill, Sarat Chandra was sure to be by their side. In cases of contagious diseases, when people would fight shy of patients, Sarat Chandra, prompted by a spontaneous feeling of love, would go to nurse the case, without the least thought of fixe risk involved. Once a maid-servant in a neighbouring house fell ill of cholera. The master removed her to a comer on the roof of his house to prevent contagion, and left her there to die. But as soon as Sarat Chandra came to know of this, he rushed to the spot and all alone did everything that was necessary for her nursing. The poor woman died in spite of all his devoted service. Finding the master indifferent about her last rites, Sarat made arrangement even for that. This was but one among many instances of this kind.
For all these qualities of head and heart Sarat Chandra commanded not only the love but the silent admiration of one and all – including his friends and teachers.
As he grew up he came under the influence of the great Brahmo leader Keshab Chandra Sen. Those were the days when every educated young man became an admirer of that great orator. In the debating class of his school Sarat Chandra came into contact with some boys who were members of the New Dispensation established by Keshab Chandra Sen. Through various discussions with these boys, Sarat Chandra felt drawn towards the New Dispensation. Gradually he began to study literature in connection with the Samaj and even to practise meditation according to its system.
In 1882 Sarat Chandra passed the University Entrance Examination from the Hare School and the next year he got himself admitted into St. Xavier’s College. Father Laffront was then the Principal of that college. Being charmed with the deep religious nature of Sarat Chandra, the Principal himself undertook to teach him the Bible.
Though bom in an orthodox Brahmin family where all the important Hindu rituals were observed, his mother a great devotee of the family deity, his father and uncle great followers of Tantrikism, Sarat Chandra became an admirer of the Brahmo Samaj and a votary of Jesus.
But he did not lose the slightest faith in the system in which he was brought up. This speaks of the great catholicity and broad-mindedness of young Sarat. And soon he was to come under the influence of one who practically demonstrated the underlying truths of all religions.
AT THE FEET OF THE MASTER
Sarat had a cousin – Sasi, who also stayed in the same family and read in the same college. Once a class-friend of Sasi told that there was a great saint in the temple-garden of Dakshineswar about whom Keshab Chandra had written in glowing terms in the Indian Mirror. In the course of conversation the three decided that one day they would visit the saint.
It was on a certain day in October, 1883, that Sarat and Sasi were at Dakshineswar. They went to see Sri Ramakrishna, who received them veiy cordially. After preliminary inquiries when the Master learnt that they now and then went to Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj, he was veiy pleased. Then he said, “Bricks and tiles, if burnt after the trade-mark has been stamped on them, retain these marks for ever. But nowadays parents marry their boys too young. By the time they finish their education, they are already the fathers of children and have to run hither and thither in search of a job to maintain the family.” “Then, sir, is it wrong to’marry? Is it against the will of God?” asked one from the audience. Sri Ramakrishna asked him to take down one of the books from the shelf and read aloud an extract from the Bible setting forth Christ’s opinion on marriage: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so bom from their mother’s womb; there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive let him receive.’* And St. Paul’s: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to bum.” When the passage was read, Sri Ramak^shna remarked that marriage was the root of all bondage. One among the audience interrupted him saying, ” Do you mean to say, sir, that marriage is against the will of God? And how can His creation go on if people cease to marry?” Sri Ramakrishna smiled and said, “Don’t worry about that. Those who like to marry are at perfect liberty to do so. What I said just now was between ourselves. I say what I have got to say; you may take as much or as little of it as you like.” These stirring words of renunciation opened up a new vision to Sarat and Sasi. Both were charmed by the personality of Sri Ramakrishna. They thought that if they were to seek God they must come to him for advice and guidance. They began actually to do that also. But afterwards they would not come to Dakshineswar together. Each kept his religious aspirations to himself, so the other did not know for a long time that he was so drawn to the saint of Dakshineswar. St.
Xavier’s College, where Sarat was reading, remained closed on Thursdays. Sarat made it a rule to visit Dakshineswar every Thursday unless something very important stood in the way. As he came more and more in touch with Sri Rama-krishna, he was more and more attracted towards him. Sarat Chandra often wondered within himself, how it was that Sri Ramakrishna’s love was stronger and more intense than anybody else’s love which he had experienced in the world ? The love he got from his friends, relations and even parents paled into insignificance compared with what*he had been receiving from Sri Ramakrishna. Yet Sri Ramakrishna was absolutely unselfish. Sarat Chandra was caught in the current of his love.
Sri Ramakrishna also noticed the spiritual potentiality of the boy at the very first sight and was glad to see his stern spirit of renunciation. He began to give directions and to watch the spiritual development of young Sarat. One day Sri Ramakrishna was seated in his room at Dakshineswar surrounded by a group of devotees. Ganesh, the Hindu god of success, was the topic of conversation. The Master praised highly the integrity of character of this deity, his utter absence of passion and single-minded devotion to his mother, the goddess Durga. Young Sarat was present. Suddenly he said, “Well, sir, I like the character of Ganesh very much. He is my ideal.” The Master at once corrected him saying, “No, Ganesh is not your ideal. Your ideal is Shiva. You possess Shiva-attributes.”
Then he added, “Think of yourself, always, as Shiva and of me as Shakti. I am the ultimate repository of all your powers.” It is not for us ordinary mortals to understand correctly the significance of this spiritual prescription. But in later years whoever came into contact with Swami Saradananda did not fail to notice in him a serenity of mind, patience, fortitude, calmness and a readiness to share the burdens of others, which are the special characteristics of Shiva. Verily he drank “poison” from many a cup of life, giving others in return his heartfelt benedictions and blessings.
On another occasion the Master asked Sarat, “How would you like to realise God? What divine visions do you prefer to see in meditation?” Sarat replied, “I do not want to sec any particular form of God in meditation. I want to see Him as manifested in all creatures of the world. I do not like visions.” The Master said with a smile, “That is the last ‘word in spiritual attainment. You cannot have it all at once.” “But I won’t be satisfied with anything short of that,” replied the boy, “I shall trudge on in the path of religious practice till that blessed state arrives.” This clearly indicates the high spiritual aspirations of Sarat even in that early age.
Sarat Chandra had once ipet Narendra Nath – afterwards Swami Vivekananda – even before he came to Sri Ramakrishna. But at that time Sarat Chandra had formed a very wrong impression about one whom afterwards he loved and followed as a leader. Sarat Chandra had once gone to see a friend in central Calcutta about whom the report was that he had gone astray. Sarat Chandra, went there to know for himself by personal inquiry about the real state of affairs. At the house of the friend Sarat Chandra met a young man who seemed to be self-conceited and whose manners were anything but decorous. By seeing this visitor in the house of his friend, Sarat Chandra came to the conclusion that it was by mixing with this young man that his friend had gone wrong. But in the course of the conversation which this young man had had with his friend, when he showed his wide sweep of learning, deep breadth of thought and withal a great critical acumen, Sarat Chandra had been a bit perplexed. Sarat Chandra however could not change the first impression he had formed. He thought that the young man perhaps knew how to talk big but that there was a great disparity between his words and actions.
A few months after this Sri Ramakrishna was greatly praising a young man named Narendra Nath. He was speaking so highly of him that Sarat Chandra felt tempted to have a personal acquaintance with such a person, and got his address from Sri Ramakrishna. And what was his wonder when on meeting Narendra Nath Sarat found that he was none other than the young man whom once he had met at the house of his friend and about whom he had formed such an uncharitable opinion 1 How deceptive sometimes is the external appearance I
The first acquaintance soon ripened into close friendship through the tie of common ideals and aspirations and the common love and reverence for the same saint who was moulding their lives equally. So great was their attachment for each other that sometimes Sarat Chandra and Narendra Nath could be found in the streets of Calcutta, deeply engaged in conversation, till one o’clock in the morning – walking the distance between their homes many times – one intending to escort the other to the latter’s home. Sarat Chandra afterwards used to say, “However freely Swami Vivekananda mixed with us, at the very first meeting I saw that here was one who belonged to a class by himself.”
One interesting incident happened when Narendra Nath once went inside the house of Sarat Chandra. It was in the winter of 1884. Sarat and Sasi came to the house of Narendra Nath at noon. Conversation warmed up and all forgot how time passed. Narendra Nath was talking about his extraordinary experiences with Sri Ramakrishna. The listeners heard with rapt attention. The talks opened up an unknown world for them, and they began to see Sri Ramakrishna in a new light. So long they had thought that Sri Ramakrishna was only a saint. Now on hearing what Narendra Nath had experienced with Sri Ramakrishna they began to think he was as great as Jesus or any other Prophet of similar rank. Nay, from what they heard about Sri Ramakrishna that day, their doubts regarding the authenticity of many incidents in the life of Jesus vanished. In the course of the conversation the day passed into evening. Narendra Nath took them to Cornwallis Square for an evening stroll. There also the conversation continued, broken by a song sung by him. Sarat Chandra felt as if the world around faded into a dream and an unseen world became tangible instead. Suddenly Sarat woke up to the consciousness of time as he heard a clock strike nine at night. Narendra Nath felt embarrassed to have detained them so long. To make amends he proceeded with them to give them his company for a little distance. But engaged in talk he came actually to the house of Sarat Chandra. As it was time for the night meal, Sarat Chandra requested him to take his meal there. Narendra Nath agreed. But as he entered the house, he stopped in astonishment. It seemed as if he had been in this house before, and knew every corridor, every room there ! He wondered if it could be the remembrance of any past life.
With reference to such incidents Narendra Nath irresistibly came to the conclusion that those with whom he was to come into close contact in this life, he had seen in some past incarnation.
Sri Ramakrishna was glad beyond measure when he learnt that Sarat Chandra had not only met Narendra Nath, but that a deep love had sprung up between the two. He remarked in his characteristic, homely way, “The mistress of the house knows which cover will go with which cooking utensil.”
Sarat passed the First Arts Examination in 1885. His father wanted him to read medicine, specially as he had a pharmacy for which he had to employ a doctor. But Sarat Chandra had no aspiration to be a doctor as Sri Rama-krishna held very strong opinions against legal and medical professions. Sarat Chandra was in a fix. It was only on the encouragement of Narendra Nath – his friend, philosopher and guide – that Sarat Chandra joined the Calcutta Medical College.
But destiny willed that Sarat was not to become a medical man. Before he had been many months in the Medical College, one day while, along with some other devotees, he was having dinner at the house of a common friend, Narendra Nath brought the anxious news that Sri Ramakrishna was ill – there was serious bleeding from his throat. The news cast a deep gloom over the whole party. And everybody was eager to do what best could be done to cure the disease.
Sri Ramakrishna was removed to Calcutta for better facilities of treatment. Under the leadership of Narendra Nath, devotees and disciples began to attend Sri Ramakrishna day and night. At first Sarat Chandra used to come to Shyam-pukur – where Sri Ramakrishna stayed – daily from his home, but soon he began to stay there day and night: Sasi, his cousin, also did the same. When Sri Ramakrishna was removed to Cossipore, they followed him there.
Sarat Chandra’s father was alarmed at this turn of mind of his son. Will the boy give up home altogether ? All events indicated that! Sarat Chandra had never any interest in worldly things. Now it seemed he was going to be swept off his feet. Sarat was the eldest son – the future hope and prop of the whole family. The father shuddered at the very idea that the son would cease connection with the family. Jagannath Tarkalankar, the famous Pandit and an adept in Tantrika Sadhana, was the family preceptor. Leaving aside such a capable preceptor should Sarat follow another person! Girish Chandra, Sarat’s father, one day took Pandit Jagannath Tarkalankar to Sri Rama-krishna at Cossipore. His idea was that in the course of conversation between the family preceptor and Ramakrishna it would transpire what a pigmy the latter was in comparison with the former, and Sarat would clearly see his folly in giving up the family Guru. But in a moment’s talk, an adept like the Pandit found that he was in the presence of a blazing fire. He was stupefied to see the spiritual height of Sri Ramakrishna – so rare in the present age. Secretly he told Girish that his son should be considered blessed to have such a Guru. The last ray of hope that Girish Chandra had of taking his son Backhome vanished.
Now Sarat Chandra, with his characteristic zeal for serving the sick and diseased, began to do all that lay in his power to nurse Backto health one who was the guiding star of his life. To serve Sri Ramakrishna became the only concern of his life. It was not only a matter of love and devotion with him, but he had the spontaneous belief that thereby he would get the highest that can be aspired after in spiritual life. On the first of January, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna in an ecstatic mood blessed many a devotee with a touch which lifted their minds to a great spiritual height. Finding that attitude of Sri Ramakrishna, all who were near by rushed to the spot to receive his blessings. But Sarat Chandra at that time was engaged in some duty allotted to him. Even the consideration of a spiritual windfall could not tempt him away from his duty. Afterwards, when asked as to why he did not go to Sri Ramakrishna at that time when there was the chance of getting a highly covetable spiritual experience, Sarat replied, ” I did not feel any necessity for that. Why should I ? Was not Sri Ramakrishna dearer than the dearest to me ? Then what doubt was there but that he would give me, of his own accord, anything that I needed? So I did not feel the least anxiety.”
One day the Master commanded the young disciples, in preparation for their prospective monastic life, to go out and beg their food. They readily obeyed. The boys coming from respectable families went out to beg their food just to get themselves trained as tor how to depend on God for every thing and also to crush their pride of birth. But with their nice appearance they could hardly hide the fact that they belonged to good families. So when they went a-begging, they had varied experiences: some were pitied.
some were abused, some were treated with utmost sympathy. Sarat Chandra would afterwards narrate his own experience with a smile thus: “I entered a small village and stood before a house uttering the name of God just as the begging monks do. Hearing my call an elderly lady came out and when she saw my strong physique, at once she cried out in great contempt, ‘With such a robust health are you not ashamed to live on alms ? Why don’t you become a tram conductor at least?’ Saying this, she closed the door with a bang.”
It is doubtful whether the young aspirant for Sannyasin’s life felt sorry at this experience or enjoyed it as great fun.
When the news of the serious illness of Sri Ramakrishna spread amongst the devotees, crowds of visitors would come to Cossipore garden-house to see him. Also the mother and a younger brother of Sarat Chandra came several times to see the great saint. Sri Ramakrishna was greatly impressed by talking with the brother of Sarat Chandra and said to him, ” Your brother has got spiritual potentiality more than what even you have. Should I attract him also?” Sarat was only too glad to hear that. What could give him greater joy than the fact that his brother also should be the recipient of the great bliss that he had been experiencing! So unhesitatingly Sarat replied, ” Indeed, it will be a nice thing if you do that.” Sri Ramakrishna remained pensive for a few moments and then said, “No, that would not be fair. Two from the same family (meaning Sarat and Sasi) have already come. If he also comes, it will give very much pain to his mother.”
Sri Ramakrishna’s condition began to be worse and worse as days passed on. Best medical aid, most devoted nursing and the earnest prayer of all proved of no avail before the will of the Divine Mother. Sri Ramakrishna entered into Mahasamadhi after fulfilling his divine mission on earth.
The young disciples who banded together under the paternal care of Sri Ramakrishna at Cossipore garden had now no place to lay their heads in. Many of them had to go Backhome. But that was only temporary. The monastery at Bara-nagore was established within a short time, and one by one they began to join it.
When Sarat returned home, his parents were at rest. They thought he had changed his mind, and they were dreaming of the future worldly life of Sarat. But though staying at home Sarat’s whole mind centred on the life and teachings of the Master. At this time Narendra Nath and Rakhal would come to his house now and then, and the; subject of conversation was only how to build up life in the light of the message left behind by the Master.
Sarat Chandra would visit the monastery now and then, impelled by a burning longing for the Great Unknown. This alarmed the father of Sarat Chandra. Was his son planning for a life of renunciation? The father began to reason with Sarat: “So long as Sri Ramakrishna was alive, it was all right that you lived with him – nursing and attending him. But now that he is no more, why not settle down at home ?” But seeing that arguments had no effect, he locked Sarat Chandra within closed doors, so that he might not go and mix with the other young disciples of Sri Rama-krishna. Sarat Chandra was not perturbed in the least. He began to spend his time in meditation and other spiritual practices. But as chance would have it, a younger brother of Sarat opened the door of the room out of sympathy for his elder brother, who then came out and fled to the monastery at Baranagore.
A few days after this some of the young disciples headed by Narendra Nath went to Antpur, the birth-place of Baburam (Swami Premananda), in the district of Hooghly. There one evening, round a sacred fire, the disciples sat and spent the whole night in vigils, and under the inspiration of Narendra Nath they all took the vows of Sannyasa before God and one another. Sarat also was in the party, and after returning from Antpur, he permanently joined the monastery at Baranagore.
THE CALL OF SANNYASA
When the parents of Sarat came to know of the decision Sarat had made, they one day came to Baranagore. This time not to dissuade but to give him the complete liberty to follow the line of action he had chosen. When he could not be dissuaded, the parents thought, it was better to help him with their prayers and blessings in the noble path he had taken to. Sarat Chandra was glad beyond measure. He thought that the blessings and good wishes of his parents were a shield and protection against all difficulties of monastic life.
At Baranagore they all passed strenuous days devoting themselves to hard Tapasya. Consideration of food and drink was nothing, the thought of realising the Highest Beatitude was everything with these young monks. The whole day and even long parts of the night would be spent in study, meditation or discussion about spiritual matters. Now and then when it was dead of night Narendra Nath and Sarat Chandra would secretly go out to the place where the body of Sri Ramakrishna was cremated, or to some such spot, and practise meditation. They would come Backbefore others woke up from sleep. Sometimes they would spend the whole night in spiritual practices. Narendra Nath often spoke highly of Sarat’s meditation and spiritual fervour. At times Sarat Chandra would go to Dakshineswar and sitting under the Panchavati, where Sri Ramakrishna had so many spiritual experiences, practised Sadhana.
Though so much inclined towards meditative life Sarat Chandra was ever ready to respond to the call of work. Sweeping the rooms, cleansing dishes and utensils, preparing food – in all these works Sarat Chandra was in the forefront. And with his innate spirit of service he was sure to be found near the sick-bed if any of the Gurubhais fell ill.
Sarat Chandra had a good musical voice. Under the guidance of Narendra Nath he further developed the art of singing. His voice was so sweet that from a distance his songs would be mistaken as being sung by a lady. This fact led to an interesting incident in the monastery. One night Sarat Chandra was singing. This created a curiosity in the mind of some neighbours as to how a female voice could be heard from a monastery at such an hour. Led by suspicion they scaled the walls and came to the hall where songs were going on. When they saw what a devotional atmosphere was created there by the singing of a young monk, they felt ashamed of their suspicion and one actually apologised.
With such a good voice, when Sarat Chandra would recite Sanskrit hymns or read the Chandi with his faultless pronunciation, the bystanders would feel lifted up to a higher plane of existence. Afterwards, even in advanced age, when, on the occasion of the birthday of Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda, he would sing one or two songs out of overflowing love and devotion, those who had the privilege of listening to him would feel a sort of ecstatic joy.
When the young disciples ceremonially took the vow of Sannyasa, after performing the sacred Viraja Homa, and changed their family names, Sarat Chandra became Swami Saradananda. We do not know whether there is any special significance in the name he took, but, as we shall afterwards see, his devotion and service to the Holy Mother – whose name was Saradamani – was unique.
Soon the monks began to feel the longing for a life of complete freedom – to wander from one sacred place to another and to practise Tapasya wherever the place would be suitable, all alone, depending on God and God only for help, support and protection. They wanted to test their faith in God by forsaking the shelter of even the Baranagore monastery. So Sarada-nanda went to Puri and practised Tapasya at various places for some months. After returning to Baranagore he started on pilgrimage – this time towards Northern India.
He visited Benares, Ayodhya and came to Rishikesh via Hardwar. At Rishikesh he passed some months in Tapasya – depending for his food on Bhiksha (alms given to monks). He greatly enjoyed the life at Rishikesh – the place was so suitable for spiritual practices. In the summer of 1890 with Swami Turiyananda and another Gurubhai he started for Kedamath and Badrinarayan via Gangotri. This pilgrimage was full of thrilling experiences for them. Some days they had to go without food, some days without shelter. There were occasions when their very life was in risk. But Swami Sarada-nanda was calm under all circumstances. Even on such a difficult journey he was not slow in doing acts of utmost sacrifice. It is said that once on the way they were climbing a very steep hill. The two Gurubhais were ahead, Swami Saradananda was behind. They had each a stick in their hands with which they could somehow manage to keep their balance. The climb was so dangerous that to lose foothold meant sure death. As Swami Saradananda was going up slowly, he found a party coming behind in which there was an old woman. She found it hard to climb as she was without a stick. Swami Saradananda quietly handed his stick to the old lady – following the historic example, ” Thy need is greater than mine.” Afterwards only by much questioning could his Gurubhais elicit from Swami Saradananda what had happened to his stick. When they heard of the incident, they were struck dumb. Such a sacrifice when life itself was in danger 1
Swami Saradananda had been fascinated by the solemn grandeur of Kedar but they could not stay there more than a night because of the extreme cold. But it had been a moon-lit night. Swami Saradananda came out at dead of night once to see the beauty around. What he saw was beyond description. He wrote in a letter, “As soon as I came out, I met with a wonderful sight. The surrounding peaks seemed flooded with silvery moonlight. The snow ranges threw bright reflections of light….There was dead silence all round – not a breath of sound could be heard except the heavy rush of the waters of the holy Mandakini flowing hear by. I have never seen such a beautiful but terrible place.” He had wanted to pass some time in Tapasya at Badrinarayan, but had had to return after a stay of few days, as he was to follow the programme of the party.
After visiting Kedamath, Tunganath and Badrinarayan, Swami Saradananda came to Almora in July, 1890, and became the guest of Lala Badrinath Sha, a devotee whose house always remained open for the children of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Saradananda wrote to Swami Vivekananda and Swami Akhandananda to meet him at Almora. As a matter of fact he was waiting for them since it could not be known when they would meet as they were then itinerant monks. Towards August, 1890, the Swamis came to Almora, and the three together started for Garhwal. During this time Swami Vivekananda proposed that they should keep their whereabouts secret from their friends. So none would write letters. After seeing various places in the Garhwal State, as they arrived at Tehri, the capital of the State, Swami Akhandananda fell ill. As there was no good doctor there, he was taken to Dehra Dun by his two Gurubhais. On the way, at Raj pur near Mussoorie, they met Swami Turiyananda unexpectedly. Swami Turiyananda had separated from Swami Saradananda on the way to Kedar-nath and come here for Tapasya. It was such a pleasant surprise to meet him again. When Swami Akhandananda was a bit better, he was sent to Allahabad, and Swamis Vivekananda, Turiyananda and Saradananda went to Rishi-kesh. There Swami Vivekananda left the party to wander alone. While staying at Rishikesh Swami Saradananda heard that Swami Brahma-nanda was practising Tapasya at Kankhal near
Hardwar. Swamis Saradananda and Turiya-nanda went to Kankhal to meet him there. Swami Brahmananda was the spiritual child of Sri Ramakrishna. He was always held in high esteem and love by all the children of Sri Ramakrishna. So they were glad beyond measure to see him again. Here they learned that Swami Vivekananda was at Meerut. The party went to Meerut to have the pleasure of seeing their leader. At Meerut they all lived together for a few months before they came to Delhi. At Delhi Swami Vivekananda left them again to wander alone. After this, for a period, Swami Vivekananda practically remained obscured from his Gurubhais, except for a chance meeting with one or two of them. It was only after six years that Swami Saradananda met him again, when Swami Vivekananda had become world famous and Swami Saradananda had to go to London at his bidding as a preacher of Vedanta.
From Delhi Swami Saradananda came to Benares visiting holy places like Muttra, Vrinda-van, Allahabad, etc., on the way. At Benares Swami Saradananda stayed for some time practising intense meditation.
Here an earnest devotee in search of a Guru, met him and was so much impressed by him that he afterwards took Sannyasa from him. He then became Swami Sachchidananda and was remarkable for his steadfast devotion to Swami Saradananda. In the summer of 1891, Swami Abhedananda met Swami Saradananda at Benares, and the two Gurubtiais accompanied by the above-mentioned devotee made a ceremonial circuit on foot, as is the practice with orthodox pilgrims, round the sacred area of the city covering about forty square miles. This caused them so much hardship that all the three were attacked with severe fever. Some time after they had recovered from fever Swami Sarada-nanda got blood dysentery, which compelled him to return to the monastery at Baranagore in September, 1891.
At Baranagore with better facilities for medical* care, Swami Saradananda completely recovered. Then he started for Jayrambati to see the Holy Mother, who was considered ‘by the children of Sri Ramakrishna to be the visible representation of the Master on earth. At Jayrambati Swami Saradananda had a very happy time – spending the hours in spiritual practices and enjoying the blessed company of the Holy Mother. But he got malaria here and suffered for a long time even after returning to Baranagore.
The monastery at Baranagore was transferred to Alambazar in 1892. As Alambazar was very close to Dakshineswar, the old memories of Dakshineswar days came very strongly to Swami Saradananda, and he passed some time there practising Tapasya at the Panchavati and for his food depending on begging.
PREACHING VEDANTA IN THE WEST
The Brotherhood at Alambazar for a long time knew nothing about their leader Swami Viveka-nanda. When the news of the success of a Hindu monk reached the shores of India, the young monks thought that it must be he. For who could have so much dynamic spiritual power if not he whom the Master charged with the mission to supply food to the spiritually hungry world? Soon their surmise was confirmed into belief. Letters came from their beloved Naren, who had appeared before the world as Swami Viveka-nanda. ” Naren ” had changed his name from place to place during his wandering days in India *in order to hide his personality, and Swami Vivekananda was the name which he had assumed last. When his work in the West made headway, Swami Vivekananda was in need of an assistant, and the choice fell upon Swami Sarada-nanda. So when Swami Vivekananda came to London for the second time in 1896, a pleasant surprise greeted him – for Swami Saradananda had already arrived there on the first of April. How great was their joy to meet again after such a long time ! Swami Vivekananda learned from him the details about the monastery at Alam-bazar and his Gurubhais. They were glad now that the mission of the Master was on the way to fulfilment.
Swami Saradananda delivered a few lectures in London, but he was soon sent to New York, where the Vedanta Society had already been established. The sweet and gentle personality of the Swami and his masterly exposition of Hinduism at once drew a large number of Americans to him. Soon after his arrival in America he was invited to be one of the teachers at the Greenacre Conference of Comparative Religions, where he began his work with a lecture on Vedanta and classes on the Yoga System. At the close of the Conference, the Swami was invited to lecture in Brooklyn, New York and Boston. At the Brooklyn Ethical Association he lectured on the Ethical Ideals of the Hindus. Everywhere he made friends and won the love and esteem of earnest followers. Swami Vivekananda was greatly delighted to hear of the success of his Gurubhai through newspaper cuttings sent to him. His dignity of bearing, gentle courtesy, the readiness to meet questions of all kinds, and, above all, the spiritual height from which he could talk, won for him a large number of friends, admirers and devotees. Swami Saradananda afterwards settled down in New York to carry on the Vedanta movement in a regular and organised way. There was no doubt that he was making an impression among some of the best people in New York and its environs as the reports of his work at this time testify.
After returning to India Swami Vivekananda started the Society which has since become the present Ramakrishna Mission. For this as well as for organising the monastery at Belur, the Swami wanted an able hand. Swami Saradananda was known for his calm judgment, infinite patience and extremely loving heart – the very qualities needed for organising a new institution. So he was called Back- just at a time when he was at the height of usefulness.
Swami Saradananda sailed on January 12, 1898, and reached Calcutta early in February visiting London, Paris, Rome, etc., on the way. In London he met his old friends, in Paris he was impressed with the artistic aspect in French life, in Rome he saw with great interest the Vatican Library and the sculpture gallery. He also visited the famous St. Peter’s Cathedral again. It is said that while visiting it the first time on his way from India to London two years before, he fell into an ecstasy and became oblivious of his surroundings. Does this experience confirm the remark of the Master that he had been a companion of Jesus in a previous incarnation ?
THE SECRETARY OF THE RAMAKRISHNA MATH AND MISSION
After his arrival at the Math Swami Saradananda gave himself up to his duties with great devotion. His Western experience with the Indian background of spirituality made him wonderfully fitted for the task. He was soon made the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, an office which he held for thirty years till his last day.
On his return from America Swami Saradananda gave a series of lectures on the Religion of Vedanta, in Albert Hall, which were highly appreciated by the Calcutta public. He also subsequently gave a series of highly interesting lectures in a conversational style on the Vedas and the Gita, which were very popular. Some of these lectures have since been published in book form and are remarkable for their lucidity of thought, penetrating vision and spiritual drive. He spoke not so much from the intellect – though their intellectual value was superb – but from the depth of his spiritual realisation; and as such his words were highly inspiring.
The activities of the Swami were manifold, and they began to widen more and more in scope as time rolled on and the organisation grew in importance and extensity. Even when the organisation became so large that its various problems, sometimes of complex nature, were almost beyond the limit of one single hand to tackle, Swami Saradananda stood like a rock – calm and quiet – guiding its destiny with unflinching dependence on the Master. Seeing this, the Holy Mother used to say: ”Sarat is holding the Sangha, just as the mythical hydra-headed Vasuki is holding the earth on its hoods.” That this was literally true would not be doubted by anyone who had an intimate knowledge of the activities of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and the heavy burden Swami Saradananda had to bear. It is said that one day at Dakshineswar Sri Ramakrishna in a state of ecstasy had sat on the lap of young Sarat and said afterwards, ” I was testing how much burden he could bear.” Yes, the burden Swami Saradananda bore in his long period of secretaryship was almost superhuman.
In 1899 when plague broke out in Calcutta in an epidemic form, the monks of the Ramakrishna Order organised relief. They not only nursed the sick and the infected without the slightest consideration of personal safety, but also organised sanitation and did much to remove the panic. Of this work, Swami Saradananda bore a great part of the brunt.
After a few months, Swami Saradananda started for Kashmir on receipt of a wire from Swami Vivekananda who was ill there. On the way Swami Saradananda met with an accident which nearly cost him his life. Between Rawalpindi and Srinagar the horse of the coach by which he was travelling suddenly took fright and started down an abyss about four to five thousand feet deep. When the coach reached half the depth it struck against a tree, which gave Swami Saradananda an opportunity to get out. Just then a boulder fell from above and crushed the horse to death. Swami Saradananda thus escaped very miraculously. What was more surprising was that Swami Saradananda did not lose his equanimity even at such a critical hour. When asked as to what he felt at that time he would say that his mind was steady like the compass of a balance and watching dispassionately the whole situation.
Similar calmness had been seen in him when, on his voyage to London, in the Mediterranean his ship had been overtaken by a cyclone. Everybody in the ship was restless, running up and down in despair of life. Many gave vent to their fear in cries. But Swami Saradananda was the silent spectator of the whole scene – so calm and so detached!
On another occasion he was crossing the Ganges in a country-boat on his way from Calcutta to Belur. A devotee also accompanied him. A severe gale arose and the boat was almost sinking amidst dashing waves. But Swami Saradananda was calmly smoking a hookah. This calmness so much exasperated the devotee that he threw the pipe into the Ganges. To this not very unpardonable fury of the devotee he answered only with a kindly smile.
No wonder that with such an almost superhuman strength of mind the Swami could do the onerous duties of the Secretary of the Rama-krishna Math and Mission for long years without the thought of rest or leave and without the least complaint or murmur. When anybody would come to him with a problem which defied all human solution, the most he would say was, “The Master will set everything right. Be at rest.” It was this implicit faith in the ultimate goodness of the Divine Will that was the secret of his equanimity of mind under all circumstances.
After he had met Swami Vivekananda in Srinagar, he made all arrangements for his medical care. When the Swami felt a little better, he was sent to Calcutta via Lahore, and Swami Saradananda became the guide of some Western disciples in their pilgrimage to a number of sacred places before he returned to the Math.
Swami Saradananda along with Swami Turiya-nanda started for Guzrat in February, 1899, for preaching and collecting funds for the Math. They started on February 7, and visiting Cawn-pore, Agra, Jeypore, Ahmedabad, Limbdi, Junagad, Bhavnagar, etc., returned to the Math in early May on receiving a wire from Swami Vivekananda who planned to start for the West again. In this tour the Swami had to lecture both in English and Hindi. About one of his lectures in Kathiawar, an eyewitness says: “The Swami Saradananda’s lecture on ‘The Essence of the Vedas’ made a deep impression upon all the people of Bhavnagar, Kathiawar…. His noble figure, his majestic voice, the fire and grandeur of his eloquence, gave him a power to inculcate into the minds of his audience the Vedanta doctrine far better than any other teacher of Vedantism I have known.”
After Swami Vivekananda had sailed for the West, greater responsibility fell on the shoulders of Swami Saradananda as regards the work of the organisation. He now devoted greater attention to the training of young monks and novitiates and was particular that they should get sufficient facility for study and spiritual practices. At this time he introduced the system that there should be vigil the whole night in the shrine – one or other monk should be constantly there in meditation and prayer. In this matter he himself led the way. He introduced other methods also for building up the spiritual life of young aspirants. He himself at this period would occasionally make Japa from sunrise to sunset.
There was call from different directions on the time and energy of the Swami. He had to go out to lecture, to hold conversazione, to attend to correspondence and organise the growing activities of the Mission. But never in his whole life was he found wanting when there was the call of duty. Outwardly he was calm, quiet and very taciturn, but within him was an unfailing dynamo of energy, as it were.
In December of this year he went on pressing invitation to Dacca, Narayangunge and Barisal. In both places his presence created a great stir. In Barisal he stayed for eight days. Here he delivered three public lectures, but day and night he had to talk with crowds of eager souls who would come to him to solve their spiritual problems. His lectures were attended by overwhelming crowds, and created a great spiritual enthusiasm in the whole town. Sri jut Aswini Kumar Datta, the great devotee and leader of Barisal, was beside himself with joy to have a Gurubhai of Swami Vivekananda and a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna in his town. Aswini Kumar had come in personal touch with the Master and his chief disciple; so when he found Swami Saradananda near, he was engaged in unending talks with him. It was at the house of Aswini Kumar that Swami Saradananda spent most of his time receiving visitors and discussing various problems with them. The influence of the enthusiasm created in the minds of the devotees by the visit of Swami Saradananda lasted for a long time. He returned to the Math at Belur in January, 1900. *
At this period Swami Saradananda felt interested in Tantrikism. He wanted to practise the Tantrika form of Sadhana. There was a great opportunity also for that. Ishwar Chandra Chakravarty, father of Sasi and uncle of Swami Saradananda, was a great Tantrika Sadhaka with a degree of actual realisation in that line. Swami Saradananda under his guidance, performed the Tantrika ceremony known as Pumabhisheka, and became engaged in the spiritual practices prescribed in the Tantra literature. Bom in an orthodox Brahmin family, himself an adept in ritualisms, Swami Saradananda now devoted himself heart and soul to Tantrika practices. That a soul like the Swami should make rapid progress in any form of Sadhana is without any doubt. The goal of Tantrika Sadhana is the realisation of the Divine Mother in all. That he succeeded in realising it can be guessed from what he wrote in the dedication of his beautiful Bengali book – Bkarate Shakti Puja (Mother Worship in India). He writes: “The book is dedicated with great devotion to those by whose grace the author has been blessed with the realisation of the special manifestation of the Divine Mother in every woman on earth.” The book is the outcome not only of his clear thinking, but also of his direct realisation. That such an abstruse theme could be written in such a popular style indicates his great mastery of the subject.
Swami Vivekananda returned unexpectedly to Belur in December, 1900, after his second visit to the West. He was greatly pleased to see the way in which the Math and Mission were being managed, and spoke very highly of the organising ability of Swami Saradananda.
Swami Vivekananda on returning to India this time was not keeping very well. Partly due to this and partly perhaps due to the fact that he wanted to see his work progress as much as possible during his lifetime, he was now and then very severe in his dealings. During such moods even his Gurubhais, including those for whom he had the highest love and respect, would not dare approach him. But Swami Saradananda was the only exception. His deep calmness could freeze anybody’s anger and his mind would remain unruffled under any situation. Seeing this trait in him, Swami Vivekananda used to say jocosely, ” Sarat’s is the blood of a fish, it will never warm up.” Many instances are told as regards the great self-control of Swami Saradananda. Once while the monastery was still at Alambazar, Swami Saradananda went to the shrine and found that this so sacred place had been made dirty by the footprints of the cook. This was almost sacrilegious and beyond what even Swami Saradananda could stand. He very sharply called the cook to him. The poor man came trembling with fear to face, as he thought, an outburst. But immediately the Swami took possession of himself and said, “No, there is nothing, you may go.” The patience and power of forgiveness of Swami Saradananda were limitless. There were many instances in which the
Swami brought round a recalcitrant only by his love and tolerance. Around him lived persons, doing useful work, who were unmanageable anywhere else. Swami Saradananda believed in the infinite potentiality and possibility of every soul, and his belief was unshakable. That was the reason why he would remain absolutely indifferent to the apparent fault or weakness of a person.
Swami Vivekananda passed away in July, 1902. The passing away of the leader was a great blow to his Gurubhais. Ever since the Mahasamadhi of the Master, they had all implicitly followed the lead of beloved Naren. Now they were helpless and hopelessly bewildered. Nobody knew what would be the future of the organisation he had started. But the work for which he had so greatly laboured and died must be continued as a token of love and respect to him. Swami Brahmananda as the President and Swami Saradananda as the Secretary shouldered the increased responsibility – now that the leader was no more in physical body – with calm resignation and firm faith in the mission of the Master; and both of them continued these functions till their dying moments. Both of them nurtured the infant institution with their heart’s blood, as it were, and the public see in the present Rama-krishna Math and Mission, the monumental expression of the love of these two great souls to their leader. Swami Brahmananda was so much respected by his Gurubhais, that the very idea that anybody else should become President during his lifetime seemed nothing short of sacrilegious to them. And after the passing away of Swami Brahmananda, when there was a proposal of making Swami Saradananda President, he rejected it on the ground that the beloved leader had made him the Secretary while he was alive and so he must continue in that duty.
After the passing away of the leader Swami Saradananda, having so much devotion to Swami Vivekananda and his cause, began to work with greater earnestness and love. From Swami Brahmananda would come the guidance and inspiration, and it was Swami Saradananda who would bear the brunt of day-to-day work. Where-ever there was any difficulty, he was sure to put his shoulder to the wheel. Hard labour, the strain of meeting difficult situations, the worry of having added responsibility – nothing could daunt this strong spirit. Yet outwardly there was not the slightest indication that he had any difficult time. The Himalayan calmness of his soul no storm could ruffle.
Swami Turiyananda, who was working in San Francisco, on hearing of the illness of Swami Vivekananda, had started for India. So immediately after the passing away of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Trigunatita was sent to America. He had been doing very good work as Editor, manager and organiser of the Udbodhan, a Bengali magazine started under the inspiration of Swarai Vivekananda. After the Swami had left the work, the magazine was in a critical condition – financially and otherwise. Some even made the proposal to do away with the magazine. But Swami Saradananda came forward and personally took up the whole responsibility. He would write articles for it, try to raise subscriptions and donations for it and supervise the whole management. Gradually the financial condition of the magazine improved, the paper increased in popularity, and some funds also accumulated as surplus.
Now the Swami thought that the Udbodhan should have a house of its own. There was need also for a house for the Holy Mother to stay in when she came to Calcutta. So the Swami planned to build a house where downstairs there should be the Udbodhan Office, and upstairs would be the shrine and the residence of the Holy Mother. Specially the second reason so much appealed to the Swami, that he started the work by borrowing money on his personal responsibility in spite of strong opposition from many quarters.
This was a blessing in disguise. To repay the loan Swami Saradananda began to write Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga – life of the Master – which has become a classic in Bengali literature. Through this book, the reading public get an authentic and critical biography of Sri Ramakrishna. The book is sublime in diction, highly elevating in thought, very rational in outlook and extremely critical in arriving at facts. The book forms a class by itself and has achieved a supreme task – that of translating the superconscious into the language of the conscious. One wonders that the Bengali language had so much potentiality ! The book is not only a biography, but it has been supplying spiritual sustenance to thousands of readers.
Yet, for this great achievement the Swami would not accept the least credit. He would say that the Master had made him the instrument to write this book. The book is in five parts, but still incomplete. When hard pressed to complete the book, the Swami would only say with his usual economy of words, ” If the Master wills, he will have it done.” He himself was perfectly passive in the matter.
One’s admiration for the Swami increases a thousandfold, if one knows the circumstances under which such an important book was written. The house in which he lived was crowded. The Holy Mother was staying upstairs, and there was a stream of devotees coming at all hours of the day. There was the exacting duty of the secretaryship of the Ramakrishna Mission, and for this also he had to receive people and give audience. Under such a situation the Swami would be found absorbed writing this book – giving a shape to his love and devotion to the Master and the Holy Mother in black and white – oblivious of the surroundings or any other thing in the world. And so methodical he was 1 Even under such distracting circumstances, he was an example of method and orderliness. There was no rush and hurry about him. Everything must be done with proper care, and in the most perfect way. Nothing was a trifle with him.
Every act was worship. To watch him was to know how every act could be transformed into worship – literally as it were. Not a breath he would take without knowing that it was a worship of the Most High.
The “Udbodhan Office” was removed to the new building towards the end of 1908 and the Holy Mother first came to this house on May 23, 1909. And what was his joy when the Mother came and stayed at the house ! The devotion of Swami Saradananda to the Holy Mother was wonderful. Her word was more than law to him – it was the Divine Mother’s command, and there was nothing which he could not do to fulfil her least wish. To him she was actually the manifestation of the Divine Mother in human form, and he would make no distinction between her and the Master. He could conceive of no better worship than to serve her with whole-souled devotion. Such was his devotion to her that anyone coming from her village home received the utmost consideration from him. Even a dog of Jayrambati, the birth-place of the Holy Mother, was a privileged being in his consideration. Sometimes people would take advantage of this attitude of the Swami, and he would have to pay very heavily for this – but he saw everything in a different light.
In 1909 a situation arose which showed how courageous this quiet-looking Swami was. Two of those accused in the Manicktola Bomb Case – Devavrata Bose and Sachindra Nath Sen – came to join the Ramakrishna Order giving up their political activities. Both of them were known as firebrand revolutionaries. To accept them was to invite the wrath of the police and the Government. But to refuse admission to a sincere spiritual aspirant, simply because of his past conduct, was a sheer act of cowardice. Swami Saradananda accepted them and some other young men – political suspects – as members of the Order – though there was strong opposition from all sides. For this action the Swami had to face considerable difficulty too. But the Swami saw the Police Chief and other high officials in Calcutta and stood guarantee for these young men. Devavrata afterwards worked as a successful Editor of the Udbodhan for three years and as President of the Advaita Ashrama, Maya-vati, for six years before he died in 1918. But for the bold protection given by the Swami, the life of these young men would perhaps have taken a different direction.
Similar trouble on political grounds occurred some years later. In the Administration Report of the Government of Bengal there was the insinuation that the writings of Swami Viveka-nanda were the source of inspiration behind the revolutionaiy activities in Bengal. Following close upon this publication, Lord Carmichael, the then Governor of Bengal, in his durbar speech at Dacca in 1916 made some remarks with reference to the Ramakrishna Mission, which had disastrous effect on its activities. A great panic prevailed about the future of the Mission. At this time Swami Brahmananda was away in
South India, so Swami Saradananda had to bear the main brunt. Though indisposed at that time, he submitted a memorial to the Government, saw the Governor and other high officials and removed all misconception from their minds about the Mission activities. As a result of this Lord Carmichael wrote a letter to the Swami in which among other things he said: “I read with great interest the memorial which the Mission authorities submitted to me some time ago. I regret very much to hear that words used by me at the durbar in December last regarding the Mission should have led in any way to the curtailment of the good religious, social and educational work the Mission has done and is doing. As you I know realise, my object was not to condemn the Ramakrishna Mission and its members. I know the character of the Mission’s work is entirely non-political, and I have heard nothing but good of its work of social service for the people.”
Henceforward the police did not give any trouble even to those political suspects who had joined the Order.
However much he might try to ignore it, Swami Saradananda was passing through a great strain. As a result he was not keeping well. Amongst other things he got rheumatism, for which the doctors advised a change at Puri where sea bathing would do him good. The Swami went to Puri in March, 1913, and returned in July. There also he did not stop his regular work. Throughout his stay at Puri he made it a rule to go to the temple of Jagannath every morning. During the Car Festival it was a sight for the gods to see a fat person like the Swami holding the rope of the Car and pulling it with such great enthusiasm and perhaps the highest devotion.
At Puri an incident happened which indicated the inborn courtesy and dignity of the Swami. Swami Saradananda with his party put up at ” Sasi-niketan,” a house belonging to the great devotee, the late Balaram Bose. One evening, the Swami on returning to the house after his evening walk, found it had been taken possession of by the Raja of Bundi. This was due to the mistake of a priest-guide of the temple. The Swami could easily have asked the Raja to vacate the house. But to save the Raja as well as the guide from embarrassment the Swami agreed to remove to another house temporarily. Not knowing the real situation, the Private Secretary of the Raja at first showed some hauteur. But the reply and attitude of the Swami so much overpowered him, that he soon took the dust of the feet of the Swami as a mark of respect and veneration.
In 1913 there was a great flood in Burdwan. The Ramakrishna Mission started relief. Whenever there was flood or famine the Swami would take personal interest in the relief operation. He would make arrangement for raising funds and see that proper workers went to the field for work. For this he had to face considerable difficulties now and then, but difficulty had no terror for the Swami. This relief lasted for many months.
The next year the Swami was attacked with some kidney troubles. The pain was severe, but he bore that with wonderful fortitude. At that time the Holy Mother stayed upstairs. Lest she should become worried, the Swami would hardly give out that he had been suffering from any pain. Fortunately after a few days he came round.
In 1916 the Swami went on a pilgrimage to Gaya, Benares, Vrindavan, Muttra and Allahabad and returned to Calcutta in May after an absence of two months.
In 1917 Swami Premananda, the beloved disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, fell ill of Kala-Azar. He stayed at the house of Balaram Bose in Calcutta, and Swami Saradananda supervised all arrangements that were made for his treatment. Soon he had to rush to Puri, because Swami Turiyananda, another of his brother-disciples, was seriously ill there. Whenever anybody in the Math would be ill, Swami Saradananda was sure to be by his bedside. If he could not make time to attend the case personally, he would make all arrangements for his treatment. But if any emergency would arise, the Swami was the person to meet that. A patient does not like to take injection, Swami Saradananda would go there. Sometimes at his very presence the patient would change his mind. A patient was clamouring for a food which would be injurious for him, the Swami, in words of extreme love and sympathy, would say he would get the food he wanted, but after some days. The patient like a child would agree. There were instances when even in his busy life he passed the whole night by sick-bed when the patient was difficult to manage. He might be an elderly Sannyasin, he might be a young Brahtna-charin, Swami Saradananda was equally anxious for all in times of illness. Nay, his sympathy was not limited to the members of the Order alone. Sometimes he would go on night duty to the houses of devotees. Once a devotee fell ill of smallpox and was lying uncared for in a cottage on the Ganges. When the Swami heard of this he immediately went there and after careful nursing for a few days cured the patient. Once a pthisis patient in the house of a devotee needed attendance. Swami Saradananda went there and with utmost sympathy attended the case.
When he became old, he could not personally attend the patients. But the same love and sympathy were there. He would not hesitate in the least even to risk his life in such cases. Once in his old days when he could not go out except by car, Swami Saradananda walked out alone at noon. Feeling anxious as to where he could go and at such an odd hour, his attendant followed him. Soon he attracted the notice of the Swami, who at first asked him not to come, but at the latter’s earnest appeal allowed him to follow. The Swami went to a hotel and entering a room upstairs sat by the side of a patient. It was not difficult for the Swami’s attendant to understand that it was a case of pthisis, and that the patient was on his death-bed. The Swami began to caress the patient lovingly, talking all the while in words of greatest sympathy. The patient was careless – as he talked sputum fell on all sides. Now he got up, cut some fruits and offered them to the Swami. He was not accustomed to take anything at that hour, so he refused. But as the patient insisted, the Swami ate those fruits unhesitatingly. As the attendant watched the whole scene, he was shuddering lest the Swami should catch the infection. While returning, the attendant took the liberty of blaming the Swami for eating there and under such circumstances. The Swami at first remained quiet, and afterwards said, “The Master used to say, it will not do you any harm if you take food offered with love and devotion.” The attendant did not fail to perceive that the real fact was, the Swami was so sensitive lest he should wound the feelings of a dying patient.
In the month of February, 1920, Swami Saradananda had learnt that the Holy Mother was seriously ill at Jayrambati. Immediately he made all arrangements to bring her to Calcutta. For five months she was kept at the Udbodhan House, and Swami Saradananda did all that was humanly possible for her recovery. The best doctors were called in, the best attendants were engaged, every medical advice was followed with scrupulous care. And day and night went the earnest prayer from his devoted heart to Heaven for her recovery. A man of supreme self-possession and self-control – one who could control his feelings to the amazement of all – Swami Saradananda now betrayed his constant anxiety like a helpless child. But nothing could avert the inevitable – divine dispensation prevailed against human efforts. The Mother passed away from the physical arena of activities after a protracted illness of six months.
Two years later there came the turn of another – that of Swami Brahmananda. Swami Brahmananda, who had been the President of the Rama-krishna Math and Mission and held such a unique position in the Order commanding not only love but also unparalleled respect even from his Gurubhais, passed away. This was a shock which unnerved Swami Saradananda completely. Swami Saradananda had worked as the chief executive, but in times of difficulty the source of all guidance and inspiration had been Swami Brahmananda. He was not to all appearances in active work, but he was the moving spirit behind all activities in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. So, shortly after the passing away of the Holy Mother, when Swami Brahmananda also entered into Mahasamadhi, Swami Saradananda was altogether broken in heart.
There were other deaths too. Gurubhais were passing away one by one, devotees were being called away to the Master by turns. The Swami began to feel lonely in this world. He lost all zest for work. Gradually he began to withdraw his mind from work and to devote greater and greater time to meditation. Those who watched him could easily see that he was preparing for the final exit. During the last few years he would spend long hours in meditation, and in regard to work, giving only directions.
At this time one task which received his most serious attention was the construction of a temple at Jayrambati in sacred memory of the Holy Mother. He would supply money and supervising hands for the work and keep himself acquainted with the minutest details of the construction. He would openly say that after the completion of the temple he would retire from all work. The beautiful temple – emblem of Swami Saradananda’s devotion to the Holy Mother – was dedicated on April 19, 1923. What was the joy of the Swami on that day! A very large number of monks and devotees assembled at Jayrambati and the little village was humming* with new life. There was an air of festivity all round. Swami Saradananda supervised every detail of the celebration. A large number of persons were fed every day. Worship was done with punctilious care. Everybody felt, as it were, the living presence of the Holy Mother in that round of joy and festivity. Swami Saradananda became like a Kalpataru. He not only supplied the materials for this celebation but, after the dedication ceremony was over, he also began to give spiritual initiation to whoever came. To-day he made no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. He was ready to give himself away fully. When somebody reasoned with him that it might be too great a strain for his health, as he was giving initiation till late in the day, the Swami showed the utmost displeasure. To-day he must give all he had.
Another very important work which the Swami did and which will go down to history was the holding of the Ramakrishna Mission Convention at Belur Math in 1926. It was mainly a meeting of the monks of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission centres – about one hundred in number, sprinkled over the whole of India as well as outside India – in order to compare notes and devise future plan of work. Though not keeping very well he took great interest in it and worked very hard to make it a success.
Perhaps he wanted to see that the institution for which he had spent his whole life was on a firm basis before he took final leave from the world. In the Address of Welcome that he delivered at the first session of the Convention he surveyed the past of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in a sweep, very frankly depicted the present position and warned the members against the dangers and pitfalls that were lurking in the future. Every new movement passes through three stages – opposition, acceptance and decline. There is great opposition when a new movement is started. If it has the strength to stand the opposition, the public accepts it and showers praise and admiration. Then comes the real danger for the movement. For the members are prone to relax their efforts and be off their guard. “For, security brings a relaxation of spirits and energy, and a sudden growth of extensity quickly lessens the intensity and unity of purpose that were found among the promoters of the movement.” The whole speech was full of fire and vigour. It was like a veteran General’s charge to his present army and future unknown soldiers.
“Yea, the Master and His chosen leader have done wonderful work to help poor India and other more fortunate countries through you 1 But still greater works remain yet to be accomplished, and the Master and the Swami will do it all in time, even through you, if you keep close to their purity and singleness of purpose, their sacrifice and self-surrender for all that is good, true and noble, and follow their footsteps with that meek and humble spirit with which you have followed them. For, if we come forward to do their work in any other spirit and think too much of ourselves because we have been chosen and allowed to do their work thus far, we shall find to our great regret that we have been hopelessly rejected and that others have been chosen instead to take our places. Aye, remember the fate of the ‘ Chosen Israel,’ when thinking themselves secure in their vanity and self-conceit they heeded not the Master and His warning that ‘ The Lord can raise His Chosen people from stocks and stones.’ Remember also the records of history about the fate of some of our once powerful sects in India.
“Therefore, wonderful as it is to think of the wide extension that our Mission has attained in the past quarter of a century, it requires us to consider seriously the question, whether or not we have gained this at the cost of that intense spirit of sacrifice and love for the Ideal, which inspired us at the beginning – whether or not the work that we did at first, for the love and glory of the Ideal, has turned into slavery and bondage, through undue attachment on our part to name, fame, power and position. Yes, the time is ripe for consideration and settlement of such momentous questions – for the separation of husks from the grains, of dross from the pure metal.
“The present Convention gives you the opportunity. It affords you the rare privilege of meeting many of your senior co-workers and elders to profit by their experiences, of discussing and settling future plans of work with them for the welfare of the Mission as a whole, and for warding off the dangers and evils that threaten to overtake all institutions at this critical stage of their acceptance by the public. Join it with all sincerity and openness with a view to make a thorough and sifting inquiry of the whole work to find out if we have swerved from our glorious Ideal in our struggle to keep up to the demands of this unique extension. Hold fast to the Ideal, for the Ideal has in it the stored up energy, the Kundalini behind every movement – and judge yourselves and others by its effulgent light.”
In this fiery message – his invaluable legacy to the Order, he did, as it were, the self-examination for the whole Mission.
As it was physically impossible for the Swami to cope with the demands of the growing organisation single-handed, at the end of the Convention he appointed a Working Committee which should deal with day-to.-day works.
After the Convention the Swami virtually retired from active work, devoting more and more time to meditation. One who for so long had thought of the minutest details of the far-flung organisation, had planned for sending speedy relief to wherever there was epidemic or flood or famine or any calamity, would now be found self-absorbed – his mind indrawn. With his ill health, finding him devoted so much to meditation and spiritual practices, the doctors got alarmed and raised objections. And after all what was the necessity of any further spiritual practices for a soul like Swami Saradananda! But to all protestations the Swami would give simply a loving smile.
Swami Saradananda’s health was getting worse and worse. But such was his consideration for others that he would hardly give out all he was suffering. He gave strict instructions to his attendants that they should not give information about his health to others, lest they should get worried and anxious. He had been suffering from various ailments. But nobody knew that the end was so near.
It was Saturday, August 6, 1927. Swami Saradananda as usual sat in his meditation early in the morning. Generally he would be meditating till past noon. But to-day he got up earlier and went to the shrine. He remained in the shrine for about twenty-five minutes – an unusually long period. He went inside the shrine and after a short period returned to the door. Again he entered, stood for a few moments near the portrait of the Holy Mother and returned.
These he did several times. When he finally came out, a great serenity shone through his face. He followed his other routines of the day as usual. In the evening when Aratrika (the Evening Service) was going on in the shrine, he remained absorbed in thought in his own room. After the Aratrika was over, he raised both his hands in a bowing posture. After that an attendant came with some papers. As the Swami stood up to put them inside a chest of drawers, he felt uneasy, his head reeled, as it were. He asked the attendant to prepare some medicine and instructed him to keep the news secret lest it should create unnecessary alarm. These were the last words he spoke, and he lay down on the bed.
It was a case of apoplexy. Many doctors were called in. Different kinds of treatment were tried. But he did not regain his normal consciousness. The Udbodhan House was day and night crowded with monks, devotees and admirers, with anxious look and worried appearance. From different parts of India monks and devotees began to pour into Calcutta and thronged at that house to have a last look at the Swami. The Swami passed away at two in the morning of August 19. A pillar of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission was gone and a great luminary became invisible to mortal eyes.
Swami Saradananda was the living embodiment of the ideal of the Gita in the modem age.
To see him was to know how a man can be ” Sthitaprajna ” – steadfast in wisdom – as taught in the Gita. He was alike in heat and cold, praise and blame, nay, his life was tuned to such a high level that he was beyond the reach of such things. In him was exemplified the Gita-illustra-tion of the ocean which remains unaffected by any amount of water flowing into or from it. He was just as undisturbed by material things as that. In spite of all his activities, one could tangibly see that his was the case of a Yogi “whose happiness is within, whose relaxation is within, and whose light is within.”
He harmonised in his life Jnana, JCarma, Bhakti and Yoga, and it was difficult to find out which was less predominant in him. Every one of these four paths reached the highest perfection in him, as it were. As a Karma-Yogi he was unparalleled. When he would go to the temple of Vishwanath at Benares and with a prayerful look touch the Image, or when at Puri, throbbing with emotion, he would be looking at Jagannath, bystanders could not turn their eyes away from him and even a hard-boiled unbeliever, seeing those scenes, would catch some spirit of devotion from him. In discussing religious matters with him, one would find him so very rational in outlook, that one would feel drawn to him in spite of oneself. About the intricacies of the workings of the mind and the experiences in meditation he would talk with such a clear grasp that the questioner would feel that here was one who was talking from direct realisation, and with one or two words from him all his doubts and difficulties would vanish.
We find Swami Saradananda mainly in two r61es – as the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and as a spiritual personality.
As the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission he falsified the current belief that Indians lack the power of organisation. When death snatched away Swami Saradananda there was a network of Ramakrishna Math and Mission centres and associate branches throughout the length and breadth of India, and there were many centres abroad. Yet, it was the work of only thirty years. Besides the regular work of these centres, every year there were organised relief works in which thousands of persons would partake. And all these were done with scrupulous care and almost religious perfection.
One wonders what was the secret of this? Well, Swami Saradananda’s personality worked all this miracle. He was so much in the love and esteem of the workers that his slightest desire was fulfilled with utmost veneration. And this love and esteem was the effect of the Swami’s extreme solicitude for their welfare and his unreserved confidence in them. It was very difficult to prejudice him against anybody. And his confidence and trust were never betrayed. He was very democratic in attitude and always kept an open mind. Even to the words of a boy he would listen with great attention and patience. When at any time he found that he had committed a mistake, he would not hesitate to acknowledge it immediately. Once he took a young monk to task for a supposed fault. Afterwards when the Swami knew that the monk was not really at fault, he felt so sorry that he tenderly apologised. This incident, showing the magnanimity of the Swami, created a sensation in the Mission. Though wielding so much power, he had not the slightest love of power in him. He was humility itself. He felt that anyone might know better than he. He considered himself simply an instrument in the hands of the Master and a servant of the leader – Swami Viveka-nanda. His idea was that everyone was striving after Ultimate Freedom, and that that hankering expressed itself in the love of freedom in daily actions. So the Swami would disturb the freedom of individuals as little as possible. Above all, his own example of doing things with religious devotion and without the slightest trace of egotism gave inspiration to others to do likewise. Once a young monk told him that he did not feel confident enough for the new duty that was given to him. The Swami’s reply was: “This is good in one respect. You will not have to work from egotism. You will have to pray to the Lord to make you fit for the task.” Behind everything he did or said there was a very prayerful attitude. All these characteristics made his work a stupendous success. His words were obeyed with greater attention than those of any dictator the world has seen, but his was a rule of tender love.
It must not, however, be forgotten that the secret of his power and influence was his spiritual personality. It was only because spiritually he belonged to a very, very high plane that he could love one and all so unselfishly, remain unmoved in all circumstances and keep his faith in humanity under all trials. It is difficult to gauge the spiritual depth of a person from outside, especially of a soul like Swami Saradananda who would overpower a person by his very presence. This much we know that hundreds of persons would come and look up to him for spiritual solace when they became weary of the world or tom with conflict and affliction. And whoever came in touch with him could not help being nobler and spiritually richer. There is not the slightest exaggeration in this statement as those who have experienced it will testify. Records in his personal diary show that he had communion with the Divine Mother on many occasions, but more than that people would tangibly feel that here was one whose will was completely identified with the will of God. It was because of this perhaps that one or two words from his lips would remove a heavy burden from many a weary heart. Once an attendant, who felt the touch of his love so much that often he could dare to take liberty with him, asked him what he had attained spiritually. The Swami only replied, “Did we cut grass* at Dakshineswar?” At another time quiet inadvertently he gave out to this attendant that whatever he had written in
Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga about spiritual things, he had experienced directly in his own life. And in that book he has at places delineated the highest experiences of spiritual life. To outsiders the only test of a spiritual genius is that he can radiate great peace and blessedness. This the Swami always did to an unusual degree. That is why people would daily flock to the Udbodhan House just to bow to him or even only to see him. After the Holy Mother was no more in physical body, hundreds of women devotees would turn to him for spiritual sustenance. His natural respect for ail women as the manifestation of the Divine Mother on earth made him specially fitted for this task.
But with all his spiritual attainment, the Swami was quite modern in outlook. Those who did not believe or had no interest in religion, would find joy in mixing with him as a very cultured man. He was in touch with all modem thoughts and movements. This aspect of his life drew many to him, who would afterwards be gradually struck with his spiritual side.
He had the great capacity to hide any external manifestation of his spiritual powers. Many who did not bother much with spiritual problems found him living like a common human being, though they could not analyse what it was in him that drew them so irresistibly to him.
His playful conduct with children was a sight interesting to enjoy. How he could bring himself down to their level and play jokes and have fun with them to their great delight was an object of wonder to many. He became just like a child in the company of children.
His courteous behaviour became proverbial. When in the West, where courtesy has taken the place of religion, as it were, the Swami was highly admired for his refined manners. He lived in the West for a short period only, but afterwards whenever any Westerner came in touch with him, the person would feel quite at home with him and invariably be impressed with his deportment.
His love and sympathy and consideration for all have become a byword in the monastic organization he built up. Instances of his kindness are cherished in memory as a sacred treasure. Himself ever ready to serve others, he would hardly like to take service from anyone. Even when disabled because of age and illness, he would only take the most needed service from his attendants. Apart from physical service, he was so very considerate towards the feelings of others. Thoughtlessness is said to be the worst form of selfishness. Sometimes it is worse than even physical violence. Hardly any word had escaped from his lips during his whole life which could hurt the feelings of others.
These and many other qualities would have made him a power even if he had hot taken orders. But in Swami Saradananda, the monk and the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, these were only added facets of beauty in character. He was a spiritual genius first, and any other thing afterwards. The spiritual side of his life towered above anything else. He was a disciple of the Master and the Master’s life was reflected in him. He lived, moved and had his being in him. Swami Vivekananda once said to his Gurubhais, ” Don’t preach the personality of Sri Rama-krishna, just live such a life that it will itself be preaching him.” Well, Swami Saradananda lived such a life.