5.13b THE VOW OF SERVICE AT KASIPUR
The Master, we have said before, came from Shyampukur to the Kasipur garden on the penultimate day of Agrahayan, inasmuch as custom forbade making a journey to a new place in the month of Paush. The residential house in the garden was more spacious and more secluded than the Shayampukur house which was situated on a road filled throughout the waking hours with the din and noise of the people of the city. In whatever direction one might cast one’s look in this Kasipur house, one’s eyes were soothed with the green leaves of trees, the bright colours of flowers and the blue and dark-blue hues of the new and old grass in the lawns. Although the beauty of this garden, compared with the wonderful natural beauty of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar, was not worth mentioning, it appeared to the Master to be pleasant after a continuous stay of about four months at Calcutta. As soon as he entered the garden he felt the cheering effect of the open air. Joyously observing everything around, he slowly proceeded towards the main building. As he entered the spacious room on the first floor chosen for him, he was drawn out by the beauty around and came out to the southern side and taking his stand on the terrace of the first storey, enjoyed the beauty of the garden for some time. The Holy Mother too, it was evident, was very pleased, seeing that she would not have to live here cribbed and cabined as in the Shyampukur house and yet would have the opportunity of serving the Master. It is therefore superfluous to say that the joy of the attendants knew no bounds when both of them were so very pleased with the garden house.
A few days passed in removing inconveniences, big and small, that came to the notice of the attendants. Narendranath thought over them and easily came to understand that more men and money would be required now than ever, if those who had taken upon themselves voluntarily the charge of the Master’s service, were also to live at that garden house situated far away from the doctors’ houses and clinics. It was evident that unless all matters were thrashed out duly and steps taken from the beginning, difficulties would naturally crop up in the way of their service to the Master. Balaram, Surendra, Ram, Girish, Mahendra and others, who had all along been thinking of the financial side of the matter, found out after due deliberation the ways and means of meeting the expenditure. But as regards the question of men, Narendranath himself would have to think it out as before. He would, therefore, have to spend the greater part of his time at the Kasipur garden. If he did not show the way, many of the young devotees could not do so lest they should incur the displeasure of their guardians or their studies should suffer. For, during the Master’s stay at Shyampukur, they used to go home to take their food and come back to engage themselves in his service, which would be impossible for them to do on account of the long distance between Kasipur and Calcutta.
Narendra was preparing for his Law examination (B.L.) that year. Although it was absolutely necessary for him to stay in Calcutta for his studies and for looking after the suit pending before the High Court regarding the partition of his ancestral property necessitated by the enmity of his kinsmen, he dismissed that idea completely from his mind in order to serve the Guru and decided that he should bring his law books to the Kasipur garden and read them at leisure, if at all possible. Thus, we see that Narendranath’s desire to prepare for the Law examination and also to serve the Master was till then firm in his mind. For, having no alternative before him, he had decided that he should pass the Law examination and by a few years’ hard labour earn money sufficient for bare maintenance of his mother and brothers and having made arrangements for them, he should retire from the world and devote himself entirely to the Sadhana of God. But, alas many of us do make such good resolves; but how many succeed? Many of us calculate that we might allow ourselves to be carried so far by the currents of worldliness and then show our inner strength by veering round and swimming against them on to the safe haven of righteousness, and start working accordingly. But how many of us can save ourselves from being caught in the whirlpool and succeed in reaching the shore? Narendranath was the foremost of the first class, spiritual aspirants and received the infinite grace of the Master; what about this resolve of his? Is it also destined, by coming in collision with the world, to be similarly upset and destroyed, and assume a different form in future? Be patient1, O reader, we shall soon see how and by what path the infallible power of the Master’s will made Narendranath reach the Goal.
We have been so far speaking of what the devotees were doing for the service of the Master. The question may now be asked conveniently, “Did the Master now depend on the devotees for everything without thinking about himself at all? Can we expect such indifference on the part of the Master who, we saw, at Dakshineswar kept a keen eye on the small daily affairs of all concerned and on the worldly and spiritual conditions of each devotee on the one hand, and was having at the same time continual immediate experiences of the truths beyond the Vedas and the Vedantas on the other?” It has to be said in reply that he depended wholly and solely even now, as before, on the Mother of the universe and had his eyes steadfastly fixed on Her alone, from whom he expected all aid and that, whatever service, in amount and kind, he accepted from each devotee, he had known beforehand, was so ordained by the divine Mother Herself and for their own good. The more we proceed to tell the story of the Master’s life, the more shall we be acquainted with this important fact.
Again, he used to undo the arrangements made by the devotees but not to his liking, sometimes with their knowledge and sometimes without it when he knew they would feel pained thereby. He, for example, called Balaram to him at the time of his coming to Calcutta for treatment and said, Look here, it is quite against my liking that the people should arrange my daily meals by subscription, for, I have never lived so. You may ask how I was doing so at the Kali temple at Dakshineswar inasmuch as the authorities of the temple were all living separately and were jointly carrying on the worship of the temple and therefore they might be said to have maintained me by subscription; in reply it may be said that I had not to maintain myself by subscription; for, it had been, arranged ever since the time of Rasmani that the monthly pay of seven rupees I used to get when I performed the worship should be given to me together with the Prasada of the deities as long as I lived there. It may, therefore, be said that I lived in a way on a pension2 there. So, please pay personally the expenses for my food as long as I am outside Dakshineswar for treatment.” Thus, again, when the garden house at Kasipur was hired for him, he came to know that the monthly rent of that house was a big amount (namely, eighty rupees) and was wondering how his devotees who had to maintain their big families, and many with some difficulty, could possibly bear the expense. He, at last, called to him Surendranath, his devotee, a superintendent of the Dost Company, and said, “Look here, Surendra, they are all petty clerks or so, and have to maintain their families with difficulty, how can they raise so much money by subscription? Therefore, please pay the whole amount of the rent yourself.” Surendra folded his hands and gladly agreed, saying, “As you command.” One day the Master was telling us that, owing to weakness, it would soon be difficult for him to go out for answering calls of nature. The young devotee Latu3 felt pained to hear those words of the Master on that occasion; he made him as well as us smile even in that state of sorrow when with folded hands he chimed in sweet broken Bengali, “Sir, here I am, your sweeper.” Thus did the Master make things convenient for the devotees by introducing appropriate re-arrangement of his service.
Good arrangements about everything were being gradually made and all the young devotees, more than the number strictly required for the service, came one afer another. Narendra kept them engaged in meditation, devotional exercises, studies, holy conversations, discussions on scriptural topics, etc., in such a way that they did not feel how days slipped by, so absorbed were they in the great joy of all these. The pure, selfless love of the Master on the one hand, and the wonderful spirit of the friendship of Narendra and his noble company on the other, united together to bind them in such a sweet and tender yet hard and unbreakable bond, that they actually began to consider one another to be much more intimately related than the people of the same family, so much so, that if any one had unluckily to go home on some very urgent business on a certain day, he would invariably come back the same evening or the next morning. Although not more than twelve4 in number, all of them who remained there to the end of the Master’s mortal life and completed their vow of service by renouncing the world, loved their Guru as dearly as their lives and were wonderfully dexterous in all manner of work.
One day the Master came downstairs, a few days afer he had come to Kasipur, and strolled for a short time along the garden path round the house. The devotees were happy to see it and hoped that he would soon be strong and regain his health if only he could do so every day. But he felt weak the following day, either on account of his catching a chill, owing to the contact with the cold air outside or for some other reason, and could not take a stroll for some time to come. The chill of course passed away in two or three days, but his weakness continued. The doctors, therefore, prescribed for him decoction of kid meat. When he took it that weakness decreased to a great extent in a few days and he felt healthier than before. His health seemed thus improved for about a fortnight since he came there. One day Dr. Mahendralal also came at this time to see him and was glad to notice the change.
The young attendants had to go to Calcutta every day to tell the doctor about the Master’s health and bring meat for his diet. Both of these duties were left at first in charge of one man. That gave rise to great inconvenience; so it was decided that thenceforth two persons should go to Calcutta for those two urgent items of work. If there were any other necessity for going to Calcutta, a third man besides them would go. Moreover, the young devotees began to do all the duties by turns, such as keeping clean the house, going daily to Baranagar to make purchases from the market, rendering personal service to the Master day and night, and so on. Narendranath engaged himself in superintending every action of theirs and in doing whatever work came up suddenly by chance.
The Holy Mother, however, was in charge of preparing the Master’s diet as before. When any special food was prescribed for the Master, the details of the method of preparing it were learnt from the doctor. And one or two devotees like brother Gopal with whom she did not observe purdah and spoke freely, would go and explain to her the method of cooking it. Besides preparing the diet, the Holy Mother personally used to carry the food to the Master twice daily, once a little before midday and the second time shortly after sunset. She would be waiting in the room till the Master finished his meal, when she took back the cups and plates. Lakshmi Devi, the niece of the Master, was brought to Kasipur to help the Holy Mother in cooking and other work and keep her company. Over and above that, some of those women devotees who visited the Master often at Dakshineswar came here at intervals and stayed with the Holy Mother for a few hours and some times for a day or two. Thus in a week everything was running smoothly.
The householder devotees also were not free from anxiety at that time. They gathered together either in Ram’s or Girish’s house to decide the maximum service, personal or pecuniary, they could render to their beloved Master. They knew that they could not spare the same time or amount of money every month; hence they had to meet once or twice a month to take decisions beforehand.
Most of the young devotees did not go home even for a short time till everything began to move in an orderly manner. Those who had unavoidably to go returned in a few hours and sent word home somehow, that they would not be able to go home regularly and live there as usual till the Master had regained his health. It needs no mention that no guardian, when he came to know this, approved of this readily. But what could the guardians do? The brains of the boys had been spoilt, as they put it. They thought that more harm than good might befall them, if they tried to interfere directly. So they allowed the boys to go their own ways, trying all the time to win them over slowly through indirect pressure and persuasion. When both the classes of the devotees, the householders and the Brahmacharins, joined heartily and with determination in the great vow of service to the Master, and everything was going on smoothly like a machine, Narendranath was free from anxiety and, having the time to think about himself, made up his mind to go home soon for a day or two. He made it known to us all at night and went to bed; but he had no sleep. He got up in a short time. Seeing Gopal and one or two others of us awake, he said, “Come, let us go and stroll in the garden and have a smoke.” He said, while walking, “The Master is suffering from a fell disease; who can say if he has not made up his mind to give up his body? While there is time yet, let us make as much of spiritual progress as we can by service, meditation, devotional exercises, etc.; otherwise when he passes away, there will be no limit to our repentance. Postponing calling on the Lord till desires are fulfilled? This is exactly how our days are passing and we are getting more and more entangled in the net of desires. It is these desires only that lead to destruction and death. So let us give up desires; yes, let’s give them all up.”
The winter night of the month of Paush was drowsing in utter silence. The infinite blue above was looking steadfastly at the earth with a hundred thousand starry eyes; below, the ground under the garden trees was now dry on account of the powerful rays of the sun and well cleaned and fit to sit on. Narendra’s mind inclined to dispassion and detachment and, accustomed to meditation, felt, as it were, within it that external silence and was merging in itself. Instead of walking any more he sat down under a tree. Shortly afterwards he saw a dry heap of grass and broken branches of trees and said, “Set fire to it. Holy men light Dhunis under trees at this time. Let us also light a Dhuni and burn up our desires within.” A fire was lighted. We pulled along similar heaps of dry fuel lying on all sides and offered them as oblations to that fire, thinking, all the while, that we were offering the desires of our minds as oblations and felt a wonderful bliss. We felt as if all the worldly desires were burnt up and our minds became pure and serene and we were approaching God. We thought, “Ah, why did we not do this before? It has given us so much bliss!” We then resolved to light such Dhunis whenever opportunities should occur. When two or three hours elapsed in that way and no more fuel could be found, we extinguished the fire, returned to our places and went to bed again. It was then past four in the morning. Those who could not join us in lighting the Dhuni felt sorry when they woke up at day-break and heard of it. They were grieved at not being called. Narendranath said by way of consolation to them, “We did not do it according to plan and did not know that we would have so much joy. We shall gather together from now on and light a Dhuni whenever we find time. We need not worry on that account.”
Narendra went away to Calcutta in the morning as settled before, and returned to Kasipur in a day with a few law books in his hand.