IN THE BOMBAY PRESIDENCY
In Ahmedabad, of historic memories, after wandering about several days and living on alms, the Swami was finally received as a guest at the house of Mr. Lai Shankar Uinia Shankar, one of the Sub-Judges of the Alunedabad District. During his stay there he visited the many places of historic interest both in the city proper and its environs. In olden times Alunedabad was the capital of the Sultans of Gujarat, and one of the handsomest cities in Hindusthan. The Swami enjoyed particularly the beautiful Jain temples, as well as the evidence of Mohammedan culture, as shown by the glorious mosques and tombs. Here he was able to add to his knowledge of Jainism, for there were many Jain scholars living there. After a few days, he journeyed oil to Wadhwan.
From Wadhwan the Swami proceeded next to Liinbdi. This is the chief town of the cotton-producing State of that name. In this State, lie begged his way from door to door, sleeping wherever he could find shelter, and living as chance dictated. On arriving in the city he made enquiries and learned that there was a place where Sadhus lived. It was somewhat isolated, but the Sadhus welcomed him warmly and urged him to stay with them as long as he wished. Fired and worn out and starved after his long marches, he accepted the invitation. He had not the slightest idea of the character of the place. What; was his horror to find, after he had been in the house for a few days, that the inmates belonged to a degenerate sect of sex-worshippers. He could hear the prayers and incantations of women as well as of men in the adjoining room. His first thought was to leave the place at once; but to his bewilderment he found that he was locked in, and a guard had been set to prevent his escape. The high-priest of the sect summoned him and said, “You are a Sadhu with a magnetic personality; evidently you have practised Brahmacharya for years. Now you must give us the fruit of your long austerity. We shall break your Brahma-diarya in order to perform a special Sadhana and thereby we shall be enabled to acquire certain psychic powers.” In spite of his terror, the Swami kept his presence of mind, betraying no anxiety and seemingly taking the matter as a jest. Amongst the Swami’s devotees was a boy who used to come frequently to see him. To him the Swami entrusted a note to the Thakorc Salieb in which he explained his predicament and asked for help. The boy hurried to the palace and managed to deliver the note to the Thakore Salieb himself. The Prince immediately sent some of his guards to the Swami’s rescue, and thereafter at the Prince’s solicitation the Swami took up his residence in the palace. While in Limbdi, the Swami held many discussions in Sanskrit with the local Pandits. His Holiness the late Shankaracharya of Govardhan Math, Puri, bore witness to this, and was astonished at his learning and at his wonderful toleration. After a short stay in Limbdi, he left for Junagad with many recommendations to the friends of the Prince there and elsewhere. The Prince entreated him to be very cautious in his solitary wanderings. The Swami himself after his terrible experience decided to use great circumspection in choosing his lodgings and to exercise discrimination with regard to persons with whom he might come in contact.
With the recommendations from the Thakore Saheb of Limbdi, the Swami visited Bhavnagar and Sihore on his w’ay to Junagad. Arriving at Junagad, he became the guest of the Dcwan of that State, Babu Haridas Viliaridas. who was so charmed with his company that every evening he, wdth all the State officials, used to meet the Swami and converse with him till late at night.
In his talks at Junagad the Swami spoke of Jesus Christ and then in a spirit of patriotism revealed to his devotees the whole character of the great influence which Hinduism had exercised on the Western religious imagination and showed how Central and Western Asia was the scene of the international exchange of ideas. He showed them the historic values of their own culture and the invaluable worth of the Hindu experience in the propagation of spiritual ideas throughout the world. Pie also told them the life-history of the Man of Dakshineswar, illustrating it with innumerable sayings of the Master. It was thus that the people of the distant province came to know of Shri Ramakrishna and appreciate his teachings.
Interested as lie always was in ancient monuments and mins, the Swami found ample scope for study here. Because of Mount Girnar, a few utiles from the city. Junagad is not only a place of historic interest, but a place of pilgrimage as well. For here are many temples sacred to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. There are also many beautiful mosques and tombs. Of Hindu ruins, the caves called the Kliapra Khodia. used at various times as a monastery by different orders of monks, were probably the most interesting. The Swami visited them all, but was chiefly interested in Mount Girnar, which is sacred to all creeds of India. Consumed with a yearning to perform Sadhanas, he sought out a solitary cave in which to practise meditation. At the end of some days he returned to his friends with renewed mental energy. Soon after, he felt that lie must move on. And so taking leave of his friends at Junagad. he went to Bliooj with letters of introduction to high officials there from the Dewan of Junagad.
It might seem inconsistent to some that a man of stern renunciation like the Swami spent so much of his time in the palaces of the Princes of India and with their Dewans. Many even severely criticised him for doing so ; others asked him why he did so. The Swami replied that his intention was to influence the Maharajas and turn their attention to the religious life, thereby insuring the performance of their Swadharma, that is, government for the good of the people whose custodians they were. Upon these Princes depended not only the welfare and contentment, but the advancement as well of the governed. They alone could inaugurate liberal reforms, improved methods of education, and charitable and philanthropic institutions in their territories. “If I can win over to my cause those in whose power are wealth and the administration of the affairs of thousands, niv mission will be accomplished all the sooner; by influencing one Maharaja alone I can indirectly benefit thousands of people.” With this intention he would occasionally give up the purely Parivrajaka life to reside in some palace. One day lie would be seen walking in the gardens of some Prince, or driving with him in his carriage : perhaps the next day would find him alone and afoot on the dusty roads, on his wav to some poor devotee’s house.
At Bhooj, he stayed with the Dewan. The latter spoke to a disciple who visited him several years later of the Swami’s prodigious intellect, most gracious personality, and wonderful power of presenting the most abstruse thoughts in such a simple way. that all who met him were fascinated. With the Dewan he held long discussions, as he had done with the Prime Minister of Junagad. about the industrial, agricultural and economic problems of the land and the need for the spread of education among the masses. The Swami was introduced to the Maharaja of Cutch by the Dewan, and had long talks with him, which made a great impression upon the Prince.
As usual, the Swami paid visits to the various sacred places of pilgrimage in the vicinity, mingling with the pilgrims and Sannyasins, and gaining much knowledge and experience. From Bhooj he returned to Junagad, rested there for a few days, and then he was off again to Verawal and Patau Somnath, popularly known as Prablias. Vcrawal’s title to fame is its anticjiiitv ; Patan Somnath’s lies in its great ruined temple. Three times it was destroyed, and three times rebuilt. It is said that in olden times ten thousand villages were held by the temple as its endowment, and that three hundred musicians were attached to it. The Swami paused at this great ruin and pondered over the greatness which was India’s in the past. The very dust for miles about is sacred to the spiritual Hindu, for, as the story goes, it was here that the Yadavas – the clan to which Shri Krishna belonged – slew one another, and their extensive kingdom was brought to ruin by Shri Krishna’s divine will. After this he himself, knowing that his time was come, left his body as he sat in Yoga under the spreading branch of an ancient tree ; it was the arrow of an aboriginal, who mistook him for a deer, that killed him.
The Swami visited the Soinnath temple, the Suraj Mandir and the new temple of Somnath built by Rani Ahalyabai of Indore, and took his bath at the confluence of the three rivers. At Prabhas he again met the Maharaja of Clutch and had many long conversations with him. The Prince was deeply impressed by his magnetic personality and was astonished at his vast knowledge. He used to say, “Swamiji, as after reading many books the head becomes dazed, even so after hearing your discourses my brain gets dizzy. How will you utilise all this talent? You will never rest until you have done wonderful things!”
After a short time he returned to Junagad, which seems to have become the centre from which he made a number of side trips through Kathiawar and to Gutcli. Leaving Junagad a third time he now came to Porbandar with a letter of introduction to the Prime Minister. Porbandar is held to be the site of the ancient city of Sudaniapuri, known to the readers of the Bhagavata. In this place the Swami visited the ancient temple of Sudania. He was cordially welcomed by the Dcwan, Pandit Shankar Pandurang, who was the administrator of the State during the minority of the Prince. The Dewan was a great Vedic scholar and was at that time translating the Vedas. Struck with the SwamPs scholarship, he often asked his help to explain some of the more abstruse passages of the Vedas, which the Swami did with his usual lucidity. At the request of the Dewan he stayed at Porbandar for eleven months to help him with his book. Both worked constantly, the Swami becoming more and more interested as he perceived the greatness of the thought contained therein. He finished the reading of the Mahabhashya, the great commentary’ of Patanjali on Panini’s grammar, and took up the study of French, at the instance of the Pandit who said, ‘*It will be of use to you, Swamiji! “
As he came to understand the Swami better and to appreciate his intellectual power and the breadth and originality of his ideas, Pandit Shankar Pandurang said, “Swamiji, I am afraid you cannot do much in this country. Few will appre-date you here. You ought to go to the West where people will understand you and your worth. Surely you can throw a great light upon Western culture by preaching the Sanatana Dharma!” The Swami was glad to hear these words, for they coincided with his own secret thoughts, which were as yet vague, although he had already expressed them to Mr. C. H. Pandva at Junagad.
During this period, the Swami was exceedingly restless. He was beginning to understand to some extent the truth of the Master’s words that he had power enough in him to revolutionise the world! Wherever he travelled and at all the courts he visited, the Pandits and the Princes found in him the same terrible restlessness to do some work for his country, some time, somewhere! The idea uppermost in his mind was the spiritual redemption of India. He saw the limitations of orthodoxy as well as the dread blunders of reform. Everywhere lie found petty jealousies, animosity and lack of unity. He saw India, potentially supreme, glorious beyond words and rich with Hindu and Aryan culture, being degraded by the stupid activities of the so-called “leaders” – demagogues preaching reforms which they were unable to incorporate into their own lives, and blinded by the glare of an extraneous culture and its ephemeral power, trying to throw overboard without reflection the whole cargo of the race’s experience. He confided to those who loved and admired him that the time had come for a new order of things. To the Ruling Chiefs and their Prime Ministers he announced this message. And they, recognising that he was a genius and a man of realisation gifted with an irresistible personality, listened to his words. He felt that to raise India in the estimation of the civilised world he must first preach the glories of the Sanatana Dharma to the West. The more he studied the Vedas and pondered over the philosophies which the Aryan Rishis had thought out, the surer he was that India was in very truth the Mother of Religions, the cradle of civilisation and the fountain-head of spirituality.
When the Swami was at Porbandar a curious thing happened. Swami Trigunatita had been for some time making the round of pilgrimages afoot and had just then come from Gujarat to Porbandar, and was staying witli some other wandering Sannyasins. The monks desired to make the pilgrimage to Hinglaj, but it was an arduous journey of many miles, and they were weary and footsore ; so they thought of travelling to Karachi by steamer and thence to Hinglaj by camel. But they had no money. They were at a loss as to what to do, when one of the group said, “There is a learned Paramahamsa stopping with the Dewan of Porbandar. He speaks English fluently and is accounted a great scholar. Let Swami Trigu-natita go and interview him. Perhaps the Mahatma will intercede with the Dewan for us so that our expenses may be paid.” Trigunatita set out at the head of the little company for the palace. It so happened that at that hour the Swami was pacing the parapeted roof of the palace and saw the group of Sadhus at a distance on their way to the palace. Seeing Trigunatita in the group he was surprised, but assuming an air of indifference, he went to his room on the ground floor to receive his brother-disciple. Trigunatita was exceedingly glad to meet the beloved Leader so unexpectedly. But the Swami sternly rebuked him for following him about. Trigunatita protested that he had not the slightest idea that he was in Porbandar, that he and his friends had come to the palace solely to beg the passage money to Hinglaj. The Swami was able to arrange this and dismissed Trigunatita with a warning never to seek him again. The Swami broke from his associates at Porbandar, and next went as a wandering monk to Dwaraka, holy with innumerable memories and legends of Shri Krishna. But of its glories nothing remains at the present day. Now the ocean roars in tumult over the place where once stood a great capital of which Shri Krishna was the reigning prince. Gazing out upon the ocean, waves of agony rose in the Swami’s mind at the thought that nothing remained but ruins of that Greater India. He sat on the shore and yearned ardently to fathom the contents of the future years. Then rising as from a dream, he betook himself to the monastery founded by Shri Shankard-charya, known as the Sdradd Math, where he was received by the Mahanta, and was assigned a room. There in the silence of his cell in the ruined city of the Yadavas he saw a great light as it were – the bright Future of India.
He next journeyed on to Mandvi, where he met Akhanda-nanda, who had been following him from Delhi. The tw
His next stage was the dominions of the Gaekwar of Baroda. He stayed at the capital for a short time, as the guest of Dewan Bahadur Manibhai J., the late minister of Baroda, a man of innate piety and nobility of character. From there he passed into Khandwa in Central India. In the course of his wanderings in the town he came across the residence of one Babu Maridas Chatterjec, a pleader. This gentleman found the Swami standing at his door w’hen he returned from the Court. At First he took him to be an ordinary Sadhu, but was soon made aware during his conversation with the monk that he was the most learned man lie had ever met. Naturally, he invited him to stay at his house, and treated him as a member of the family. He remained here for about three weeks, paying a flying visit up-country to Indore. The Bengali settlement and many persons of the city met the Swami, and all were impressed with his knowledge of the scriptures and English literature. Says the Swami’s host: “There was not
the least trace of affectation in his conversation. His elevated thought and noble sentiments flowed in the choicest language in an easy and natural way. He had an earnestness about him which made him look as one inspired.”
The host asked the Swami to give a public lecture. The Swami was half-inclined to do so, but said that as he had never lectured before in public he had no experience of how to modulate his voice on the platform. Nevertheless, he did not mind trying if it were possible to get a sympathetic audience, with the Deputy Commissioner to preside. But as the conditions proposed were not practicable in a backward place like Khandwa, the idea had to be abandoned.
During his stay there. Babu Madhav Chandra Ranerjee, the Civil Judge, gave a dinner to the Bengali residents in honour of the Swami. The Swami took with him some of the Upani-shads. with the intention of expounding them before and after the dinner. When the guests arrived, he read some of the very intricate and abstruse passages, explaining them in such a way that a child could understand. Among the guests was Babu Pyarilal Ganguly, a pleader and a Sanskrit scholar, who was inclined to play the role of a critic. But when he heard the illuminating replies and comments of the Swami, he was completely disarmed and after the reading said to Haridas Babu that the Swami’s very appearance denoted greatness. When this remark was communicated to the Swami by Haridas Babu, a remarkable glow illumined his countenance, and he said, “Well, I myself do not know : but my Guru used to say the same thing about me, only in more glowing terms.”
Here at Khandwa one gets the first glimpse of his serious intention to be present at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. Somewhere, it might have been Junagad or at Porbandar, he had heard of the great religious convention that was to be held sometime in the following year. He said to Haridas Babu, “If someone can help me with the passage money, all will be well, and I shall go.”
Before he left Khandwa, Haridas Babu’s brother gave him a letter of introduction to Seth Ramdls Chhabildas, a noted Barrister of Bombay. Leaving many friends and admirers in Khandwa and promising to return sometime, he left for
Bombay and arrived there about the last week ot July, loy. He was met by Mr. Chhabildas, and it was at his house that he lived during his stay. One day the Swami went to see a noted politician of Bombay, who showed him a Calcutta newspaper containing an account of the controversy about the Age of Consent Bill. The Swami hung his head in shame when he read that the bill was opposed by the educated section of the Bengali community, and bitterly criticised the iniquitous practice of early marriage.
The Swami remained in Bombay for several weeks, after which he moved on to Poona. Here he was the guest for several days of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the renowned scholar and patriot, with whom the Swami had many interesting conversations on various topics. Hearing that the Thakore Saheb of Limbdi was then at Mahabaleswar, he went there to see the Prince. The Thakore Saheb, who had been initiated by him, pleaded with him saying, “Swamiji, do come with me to Limbdi and remain there for good! ” But the Swami declined the invitation saying, “Not now, Your Highness! For I have a work to do! I cannot rest now. But if ever I live the life of retirement it shall be with you! ” He could not however carry out this intention, for he entered Mahasamadhi in the midst of his work.
The Swami next visited the Maharaja of Kolhapur, to whom he had a note from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. The Rani of Kolhapur became much devoted to the Swami and was fortunate enough to have the Swami accept a new Gerua cloth. The Khangi Karbhari, a high state official of Kolhapur, gave the Swami a letter of introduction to a Mahratta gentleman of Belgaum. One morning at about 6 o’clock in 1892, the Swami went to Belgaum. We give below some reminiscences (slightly abridged) of the Swami by Prof. G. S. Bhate, M.A., the son of this Mahratta host at Belgaum.
. . . The Swami was rather striking in appearance and appeared to be even at first sight somewhat out of the common run of men. But neither my father nor any one else in the family or even in our small town was prepared to find in our guest the remarkable man that he turned out to be.
“From the very first day of the Swami’s stay, occurred little incidents which led us to revise our ideas about him. In the first place, though he wore clothes of the familiar SannyAsin’s colour, he appeared to be dressed somewhat different from his brother SannyAsius. He used to wear a banyan. Instead ol the Danda he carried a long stick, resembling a walking stick. His kit consisted of the usual gourd, a pocket, copy of the Gita and one or two books. . . . Wc were not accustomed to a SannyAsin using the English language as a medium of conversation, wearing a banyan instead of sitting hare bodied, and showing a versatility of intellect and variety of information which would have done credit to an accomplished man of the world. . . . The first day after the meal the Swami asked for a betel-nut and PAn. Then either the same day or the day after, he wanted some chewing tobacco. One can imagine the horror which such demands from a SannyAsin, who is supposed to have gone beyond these small creature comforts, would inspire. From his own admissions wc learned that lie was not a Brahmin and yet he was a Sannyasin : that he was a Sannyasin and vet craved for things which only householders are supposed to want. This was really very upsetting to our preconceived notions, and yet he succeeded in making us accept the situation and to see that there was really nothing wrong in a Sannyasin wanting PAn and SupAri or chewing tobacco. The explanation lie gave of his craving disarmed us completely. He said that ho had been a gay young man, a graduate of the Calcutta University, and that his life before he met Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had been very worldly. As a result of the teaching of his Guru he had changed his outlook on life, bill some things he found it impossible to get rid of, and he let them remain as being of no great consequence. When he was asked whether he was a vegetarian or meat-eater, he said that as he belonged not to the ordinary order of SannyAsins but to the order of the Paramahamsas, he had no option in the matter. The Paramahamsa, by the rules of that order, was bound to eat whatever was offered ; when there was no offering he had to go without food. Further a Paramahamsa was not precluded from accepting food from any human being irrespective of his religious beliefs. When asked whether he would accept food from non-Hindus, he told us that, he had often taken food from Mohammedans.
“The Swami appeared to be very well grounded in the old Pandit method of studying Sanskrit. At the time of his arrival, I was learning the AshtAdhyAyi (of Panini) by rote, and to my great surprise, his memory, even in quoting from the portions of the AshtAdhyAyi which I had been painfully trying to remember, was much superior to mine. If I remember aright, when my father wanted me to repeat the portions that I had been preparing, I made some slips, which to my confusion the Swami, smiling, corrected. The effect of this was almost overwhelming as far as my feelings towards him were concerned. . . .
“For a day or two after his arrival my father was busy in trying to take the measure of his guest. Soon he came to the conclusion that the guest was not only above the ordinary, but was an extraordinary personality. He gathered a few of his personal friends together, to sec wliat their opinion would be. They agreed that it was worth-while to gather together the local leaders and learned men to meet and argue with the Swami. What struck us most in the crowded gatherings which began to be held every day after the presence of the Swami became known in Belgauin, was the unfailing good humour which the Swami preserved even in heated arguments. He was quick enough at retort, but there was never any sting in it. One day we had a rather amusing illustration of the Swami’s coolness in debate. There was at that time in Belgaum an executive Engineer who was the best informed man in our town. He was one of the not uncommon typo of Hindu whose external life was most orthodox but who was at heart a sceptic with a strong leaning towards science. He felt that religion or belief in religion was a custom which had gained sanction only through practice through the ages. With these views he found the Swami rather a formidable opponent, armed with larger experience, more philosophy and more science, than he could muster. Naturally, he lost his temper in argument, and was discourteous, if not positively rude, to the Swami. My father protested, hut the Swami smilingly intervened, saying that he did not mind. . . . Though the Swami soon got the best of the argument with all, his aim was not so much to be victorious as to create the feeling that the time had come to demonstrate to the country and to the whole world that, the Hindu religion was not dying and to preach to the world the priceless truth contained in the Vedanta. … He complained that the Vedanta had been treaied as the possession of a sect rather than the perennial source of universal inspiration that it really was.”
From the diary of the Subdivisional Forest Officer, Babu Haripada Mitra, with whom the Swami stayed for nine days, we get the following interesting impressions of the Swami:
“It is the late evening of Tuesday, the 18th of October, 1892. A stout young SannyAsin of cheerful countenance came to see me with a friend of mine, a lawyer. Looking at him, I saw a calm figure, with eyes flashing like lightning, clean-shaven, garbed in a Gerus Alkhalla, and with a Gerua turban on the head, and Mahratta sandals on the feet. He was most prepossessing. I was at once attracted to him. At that time I believed every SannyAsin to be a cheat, and was a sceptic in matters of religion and God. My first thought was that this man must have come to beg something or to ask me to take him into my house because it did not suit him to live with a Mahratta. When I entered into conversation with him, I was surprised to find that he was a thousand times superior to me in every respect, and that he: asked for nothing! I begged him to come to live with me, but he said, ‘I am quite happy with the Mahratta ; if I should leave after seeing a Bengali, he might be hurt. Besides, the whole family treats me with great love. But I will think about it and let you know later on.* However, he promised to take breakfast with me the next morning.”
The next morning Haripada Babu waited for a long time ; when the Swami did not come, he went to the Mahratta’s house to escort the Swami to his home. He was surprised to find there a large crowd of many leading Vakils, educated men, Pandits and prominent citizens asking the Swami questions. Saluting him he took his seat among them and was amazed at the ready replies which the Swami gave in English, Hindi, Bengali, and Sanskrit without pausing.
When the visitors left, the Swami said to Haripada Babu, “I hope you will excuse me for not keeping the appointment. You see, I could not go without hurting many people’s feelings.” On his again pressing the Swami to come and live in his house, the Swami said, “I shall go if you can make my host agree to your proposal.” After much persuasion the Mahratta friend agreed to it. The Swami’s belongings at this time consisted of a Kamandalu, a book wrapped in Gerui cloth and a book on French music which he was studying.
Three days in Haripada Babu’s house passed in constant talk and discussion on religious matters with many educated gentlemen of the town. During this short time many of the doubts which had obsessed the mind of his host for years were dispelled. On the fourth day the Swami said that it was high time for him to be on the move again, for “Sannyasins,” he remarked, “should not stay more than three days in a city, and one day in a village. If one stays for long in one place, attachment grows. We Sannyasins should keep at a distance all the things that bind one to Maya.” But the host protested, and the Swami consented to stay a few days more.
. One day, the Swami related to his host many incidents of his wanderer’s life after he had taken the vow not to touch money. As the tale unfolded Haripada Babu thought, “What pain and trouble and hardship have been his!” But the Swami regarded them lightly as of no importance. He related how in one place he was very hungry and was given a food so hot with chillis that the burning sensation in the mouth and stomach did not subside for a long time. Again, he was driven away with the remark that there was no place for Sadhus and thieves! He also related how he was for a time under the sharp eye of detectives who watched his doings and movements. These were to him huge jokes, “the play of the Mother!”
His host found the Swami well-read not only in religious and philosophical books, but in secular ones as well. To his surprise he heard him quote at considerable length from the Pickwick Papers. Thinking it very strange that a Sadhu should be so familiar with secular literature, he asked the Swami how often he had read it, and was astonished to learn that he had read it only twice. In answer to the question as to how he could have memorised it in only two readings, the Swami answered that when he read anything he concentrated his entire attention upon it. “The power of mind arises from control of the forces of the body. The idea is to conserve and transform the physical into mental and spiritual energies. The great danger lies in spending the forces of the body in wanton and reckless pleasures, and thus losing the retentive faculties of the mind.” “Whatever you do, devote your whole mind, heart and soul to it. I once met a great Sannyasin, who cleansed his brass cooking utensils, making them shine like gold, with as much care and attention as he bestowed on his worship and meditation.”
“Swamiji was,” says his host, “a real teacher. Sitting before him was not like doing so before an austere school master. He was often merry in conversation, full of gaiety, fun and laughter even while imparting the highest instruction. The next moment he would solve abstruse questions with such seriousness and gravity that he filled every one with awe. Persons of various natures came to see him, some on account of his great intellect, some to test his learning, some from personal motives, others for instruction, still others because he himself was so interesting, others, again, because they desired to spend the time free from the troubles and vexations of worldly life. Everyone had free access to him and was cordially received. It was wonderful to see the Swamiji grasp the intentions and fathom the characters of those who came. No one could conceal anything from his penetrating eye. He seemed to read their inmost thoughts! There was a young man who often came to him thinking of becoming a Sfuiliu, so that he might escape the troubles of preparing himself for the ensuing University examination. But Swamiji on seeing the boy at once understood him and said with a smile, ‘Come to me to become a Sadhu after you have secured the M.A. degree, for it is easier to do so than to lead the life of the Sannyftsin.’ It was simply wonderful how Swamiji charmed our hearts. I shall never forget the lessons which he imparted while sitting under a sandal tree in the courtyard of my house.”
At this time Haripada Babu was given to dosing himself with various medicines. The Swami advised him against it, saying that most diseases were purely of a nervous character and could be eradicated by vigorous and radically different states of mind. “And what is the use of thinking of disease always?” added the Swami. “Keep cheerful; live a righteous life ; think elevating thoughts ; be merry, but never indulge in pleasures which tax the body or which cause you to repent; then all will be well. And as regards death, what does it matter if people like you and me die? That will not make the earth deviate from its axis! We should never consider ourselves so important as to think that the world cannot go on without us! ” From that day Haripada Babu gave up the habit.
Haripada Babu used to get irritated when reprimanded at the office by his superiors (who were English), though he had a coveted position and was drawing a handsome salary. When the Swami heard this he said, “You have yourself taken this service for the sake of money and are duly paid for it. Why should you trouble your mind about such small things and add to your miseries by thinking continually, ‘Oh, in what bondage am I placed!’ No one is keeping you in bondage. You are quite at liberty to resign if you choose. Why should you constantly carp at your superiors? If you feel your present position helpless, do not blame them, blame yourself! Do you think they care a straw whether you resign or not? There are hundreds of others to take your place. Your business is to concern yourself solely with your duties and responsibilities. Be good yourself and the whole world will appear good to you, and you will see only the good in others. We see in the external world the same image which we carry in our hearts. Give up the habit of fault-finding, and you will be surprised to find how gradually those against whom you have a grudge will change their entire attitude towards you. All our mental states are reflected in the conduct of others towards us.” These words of the Swami made an indelible impression on the listener, and he turned over a new leaf.
Haripada Babu had been studying the Bhagavad-Gita by himself, but was unable to grasp its teachings and gave it up, thinking that there was no practical value in it. But on the Swami’s reading and explaining some portions of it to him, he realised what a wonderful book the Gita was. He grasped its spirit and relationship to daily life. But it was not alone the Gita that he came to appreciate under the Swami’s kind instruction, but also the works of Thomas Carlyle and the novels of Jules Verne.
“I had never found in anybody such intense patriotism as was his. One evening, reading in a newspaper that a man had died in Calcutta from starvation, the Swami was overcome with sorrow. On asking the cause of his grief, he told me what he had read, and said, ‘It is not surprising that in Western countries, in spite of their organised charitable institutions and charity-funds, many people die every year from the same cause – the neglect of society. But in our country, where righteousness has always been upheld, every beggar receives something, if only a handful of rice ; and so we do not often have people dying of starvation, except when there is a famine. This is the first time I ever heard of anyone dying of starvation.* ‘But, Swamiji,’ I rejoined, ‘is it not a waste of money to give alms to beggars? My English education leads me to believe that instead of really benefiting them it only degrades their nature, for with the pice given to them they get the means to indulge in such bad habits as smoking Ganja (hemp) and so on. Instead, it is far better to contribute something towards organised charity.’ Then the Swami said with great intensity, ‘Why should you worry your head about what a beggar does with a pice or two you give him? Is it not better for persons like you who can afford it, to give him something than to drive him to steal? Suppose he spends the trifle on hemp, that affects only him ; but when he resorts to stealing or something worse it affects the whole of society.* ‘*
In his talks with Haripada Mitra he anticipated many of the mature views on life which he expressed publicly later on. Even at that time one finds him advocating reform with regard to early marriage, advising all, especially young men, to take a bold stand against this custom, which was enervating Hindu society. Writes Haripada Babu in his diary:
“Speaking of the Sannyasa Ashrama lie remarked that it was best for a man to practise the control of his mind during his life as a student or as a householder before taking to the life of a wandering monk. ‘Otherwise,’ he said, ‘when the first glow of enthusiasm fades out, the man is likelv to consort with those hemp-smoking, idle vagabonds who in the guise of Sadhus parade the country.* …. I said to him, ‘Swamiji, if according to your advice I give up anger and pride and look upon all with an equal eye, then my servants and suliordinates will be rude and disobedient to me, and even my relatives will not let me live in peace!’ He replied. ‘Be like the snake of Shri Ramakrishna’s parable! At first the terror of the village, the snake met a Sadhu who spoke to him of his evil ways. The snake repented and the Sadhu gave him a certain Mantra to meditate upon and advised him to practise non-resistance. The snake retired to a solitary nook and did as he was told. It so happened that, the Sannyfisin in his wanderings passed by this same village some time later. What was his surprise when he saw the snake half-dead, as the result, of violent beatings and maltreatment. He asked the snake how he had come to such a pass, to be met with the reply that by following the religious life lie bad become harmless, and that those who had formerly feared him now pelted him with stones and beat him mercilessly. Then the Guru said, ‘My Child, 1 asked you not to harm anyone, but I did not forbid you to hiss.’ So the snake did as he was bidden, and ever afterwards, though he injured none, none dared injure him.’ And applying this parable the Swami told me that, though it is necessary to appear worldly before worldly people, one’s heart should always he given over to the Lord and the mind kept under firm control.
“The Swami used to say, ‘Religion results from direct perception! Put in a homely way, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Try to realise religion, otherwise you will gain nothing.’ Quoting the Lord Buddha he said, ‘Argument is as a desert and as a wilderness wherein one loses his way and comes to grief. Realisation is everything.’ It was not his habit to answer the same question in the same manner, citing the same illustration. Whenever the same question arose he made of it a new subject as it were. One never felt bored at hearing him, hut always wished to hear more and more.”
All those who heard the Swami speak at Belgaum were struck with his knowledge of the physical sciences. It was that knowledge which he used to furnish his discourses with scientific parallels. He also showed to them that the aim of religion and the purpose of science were one and the same – Truth – which is always one. From religion he would go on to the discussion of sociological questions, telling with sorrow in his voice of the sad condition of the villagers who, not knowing sanitary laws and the principles of hygiene, used the same ponds for drinking, bathing and cleaning purposes. “What brains can you expect of such people?” the Swami would exclaim in despair.
During the discussions in Bclgaum he often became impatient with those who were fanatical and did not care to follow the drift of his thought. Sometimes they were obstreperous, and then he would blaze away at them. He was like a thunderbolt. He spoke the truth. He spoke boldly. He did not mince matters. Speaking of those who hold to their own views fanatically and ignorantly, the Swami told the following story: “There was once a king who hearing that the prince of a neighbouring territory was advancing upon his capital to lay siege to it. held a council, calling all the people for advice as to how to defend the country from the enemy. The engineers advised the building of a high earthen mound with a huge trench all around the capital; the carpenters proposed the construction of a wooden wall ; the shoe-makers suggested that the same wall be built of leather, for ‘there is nothing like leather,’ they said. But the blacksmiths shouted out that they were all wrong, and that the wall should be built of iron. And then came in the lawyers with the argument that the best way to defend the State was to tell the enemy in a legal way that they were in the wrong and out of court in attempting to confiscate another’s property. Finally came the priests, who laughed them all to scorn, saying, ‘You are all talking like lunatics! First of all the gods must be propitiated with sacrifices, and then only can we be invincible.’ Instead of defending their kingdom they argued and fought among themselves. Meanwhile the enemy advanced, stormed and sacked the city. Even so are men.”
One day, when he and his host were alone, the Swami told of his intention to sail for America to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. His host was delighted, and carried
away with enthusiasm,proposed then and there to raise a subscription in the city for this purpose;but the Swami,for reasons best known to himself,objected to the proposal.
It so happened that some time before the Swami came to Belgaum, Haripada Babu’s wife had expressed a desire to him to be initiated by a Guru. He had replied, “You should choose one upon whom I could look with veneration, otherwise you will neither be happy nor reap any benefit thereby. If we meet any really holy man, both you and I will take initiation from him.” The wife had agreed to this. Now7 Haripada Babu asked her if she would like to be the Swami’s disciple. She had thought of this many times but was afraid the Swami would not accept her. So she said to her husband that she would consider herself blessed if the Swami would agree. Haripada Babu said, “We must try anyway. If we let this opportunity pass, we may never find the like of him again.” When Haripada Babu spoke to the Swami about the matter, the Swami protested, “It is very difficult to be a Guru. A Guru has to take on himself the sins of his disciple. Besides, I am a Sannyasin. I want to free myself of all bondages and not add new ones. Moreover, the disciple should see the Guru at least three times before initiation.” But Haripada Babu was not to be put off. Finding them determined, the Swami finally initiated them.