ANTECEDENTS AND HIS
FIRST VISIT TO
The Vedas and other scriptures say that a knower of Brahman becomes all-knowing. This saying of the scriptures is proved to be wholly true when we notice the present behaviour of the Master firmly established in the knowledge of Brahman. For not only did he now become directly acquainted with both the Absolute and its relative aspect, with Brahman and Its power Maya and rising far above all doubts and impurities was abiding in a state of everlasting bliss; but, ever feeling his oneness with the universal Mother in Bhavamukha, he could understand any hidden mystery of the realm of Maya any moment he wished to know. Maya could no more conceal Her nature from his mind’s eye, possessed of subtle vision. And it was naturally so; for, both Bhavamukha and the universal Mind of Isvara, the Lord of Maya, in which the ideation of the universe remains sometimes manifested and sometimes unmanifested, are one and the same thing; all the ideas arising in the universal Mind appear clearly before one who has crossed the limit of his little I-ness and has become identified with the universal I. The Master could know the events of all the previous births of his devotees before they had come to him, only because he had reached that state. He could know the particular Lila of the universal Mind for the manifestation of which he had assumed his present body. He also knew that some very high class Sadhakas were born by the will of God to participate in that sport. He further understood who among those would help him more or less in the manifestation of that play and who would simply enjoy the benefit arising out of it and attain the acme of their lives. Knowing that the time of their coming was near at hand, he was waiting for them with great eagerness. How could one be regarded except as an all-knowing one, who lived within the realm of Maya and knew all Her secrets?
When one thinks of the first meeting of Swami Vivekananda with the Master, one comes to understand how eagerly the Master, established in the divine state, waited for his marked devotees, as he saw the time of their arrival drawing near. Swami Brahmananda said that Surendranath Mitra of Simla in Calcutta came to Dakshineswar at almost the same time with him. Surendra was much attracted towards the Master at his very first visit. Drawn closer and closer to him within a short time, he took him home and celebrated a joyous festival. No good singer being available for the occasion, Surendra affectionately invited Narendra, the son of Viswanath Datta, his neighbour, to join the festival and treat the audience, specially the Master, to devotional songs. The first meeting of the Master and Vivekananda, the chief playmate in his divine sport, came to pass that way. It was probably the month of November 1881. Narendra, then eighteen years old, was preparing for the F.A. examination of the Calcutta University.
Swami Brahmananda said that they clearly felt that the Master was very much attracted towards Narendra as soon as he saw him that day; for, he first called Surendra and then Ramachandra to him, collected all possible particulars about the youthful singer of sweet voice and asked them to take him once to Dakshineswar. Again, when the singing was over, he himself came to the young man and, studying carefully his physiognomy, spoke a word or two to him and invited him to come soon to Dakshineswar some day.
The F.A. examination of the Calcutta University was over a few weeks after the said event. At the request of a respectable gentleman of the city, Narendra’s father was arranging to give his son in marriage to the former’s daughter. As the bride was somewhat dark in complexion, her father agreed to give a dowry of ten thousand rupees.1 But as Narendra objected strongly, the marriage could not take place. Ramchandra, a close relative of Narendranath’s father, had been brought up in their house and was then a physician in Calcutta. When he came to know that Narendra had declined the marriage for the sake of pursuing spiritual enlightenment, he said to him, “If you have a real desire to realize God, then come to the Master at Dakshineswar instead of visiting the Brahmo Samaj and other places.” One day at this time, Surendra too invited him to accompany him to Dakshineswar in his carriage. Narendra consented and with two or three friends accompanied Surendra to Dakshineswar.
The Master told us briefly in the course of a conversation what thoughts came to his mind when he saw Narendra on that occasion. He said:
“Naren entered this room on the first day through the western door (facing the Ganga). I noticed that he took no care of his body; the hair of his head and his dress were not at all trim; unlike others, he had no desire at all for any external object; he was, as it were, unattached to anything. His eyes indicated that a major part of his mind was perforce drawn ever inward. When I saw all these, I wondered, ‘Is it ever possible that such a great spiritual aspirant possessing a superabundance of Sattva, should live in Calcutta, the home of worldly people?’
“There was a mattress spread on the floor; I asked him to sit down. He sat down near the jar of Ganga water. A few acquaintances of his also came with him that day. I felt that their nature was just like that of ordinary worldly people and was quite opposite to his. Their attention was directed to enjoyment only.
“On inquiry, I came to know that he had learnt two or three Bengali songs only. I asked him to sing them He began singing the Brahmo song, “O mind, come, let us go home.”2 As if in meditation, he sang it with the whole of his mind and heart. When I heard it, I could not control myself and was in ecstasy.
“Afterwards, when he left, there was such an eagerness in the heart, all the twenty-four hours of the day, to see him that it cannot be expressed in words. I felt such pain from time to time that it seemed as if some one was wringing my heart like a wet towel. Unable to control myself, I then went running to the Tamarisk trees in the north of the garden, where people do not generally go, and wept loudly saying, ‘O my child, come, I cannot do without seeing you.’ It was only after weeping a little thus that I could control myself. This happened continually for six months. My mind sometimes felt uneasy for some of the other boys too who came here. But it can be said that that was nothing compared to my feelings in Naren’s case.”
We came to know afterwards from a reliable source that the Master concealed much of the extraordinary emotions that arose in his mind when he saw Narendra for the first time at Dakshineswar and spoke to us of it with reserve. In the course of conversation regarding that occasion, one day Narendranath said to us:
“I finished singing. Immediately afterwards the Master suddenly stood up and taking me by the hand, led me to the northern verandah. It was winter; so to protect the room against the north wind the open spaces between the pillars of the verandah were covered by mat screens. Therefore, when one entered the verandah and closed the door of the room, one could not be seen by any person within or without the room As soon as he entered the verandah the Master closed the door of the room I thought he might perhaps give me some instruction in private. But what he said and did was beyond imagination. He suddenly caught hold of my hand and shed profuse tears of joy. Addressing me affectionately like one already familiar, he said: ‘Is it proper that you should come so late? Should you not have once thought how I was waiting for you? Hearing continually the idle talk of worldly people, my ears are about to be scorched. Not having any one to whom to communicate my innermost feelings, I am about to burst. ’ And so he went on raving and weeping. The next moment he stood before me with folded palms and, showing me the regard due to a god, went on saying, ‘I know, my lord, you are that ancient Rishi Nara, a part of Narayana, who has incarnated himself this time, to remove the miseries and sufferings of humanity.’
“I was absolutely nonplussed and thought, “Whom have I come to see? He is, I see, completely insane; why should he otherwise speak in this strain to me who am really the son of Viswanath Datta? However, I kept silent and the wonderful madman went on speaking whatever he liked. The next moment he asked me to wait there and entered the room and bringing some butter, candy and Sandesh, began to feed me with his own hand. He never gave ear to my repeated requests to give me these, so that I might partake of them with my companions, saying, ‘They will take them later. You take these yourself.’ Saying so he fed me with all the sweets before he could rest content. He then caught hold of my hand and said, ‘Promise, you will soon come to me again and all alone.’ Unable to evade that earnest request of his I had to say, ‘I will’ and then I entered the room with him and sat down beside my companions.
“I went on observing him closely and could find no trace of madness in his deportment, conversation or behaviour towards others. Impressed by his fine talk and ecstasy, I thought that he was truly a man of renunciation who had given up his all for God and practised personally what he Said. ‘God can be Seen and spoken with, just as I am seeing you and speaking with you; but who wants to do so? People grieve and shed potfuls of tears at the death of their wives and sons and behave in the same way for the sake of money or property; but who does so because he cannot realize God? If any one is really equally anxious to see Him and calls on Him, He certainly reveals Himself to him’ When I heard these words of his, the impression grew on me that it was not mere poetry or imagination couched in fine figures of speech that he was expressing like other preachers of religion, but that he was speaking that of which he had an immediate knowledge which he had actually got by really renouncing everything and calling on God with all his mind. Trying to harmonize these words with his behaviour towards me a little while previously, I remembered the examples of the monomaniacs mentioned by Abercrombie and other English philosophers and came to the sure conclusion that he belonged to that class. Although I came to that conclusion, I could not forget the greatness of his wonderful renunciation for God. Speechless, I thought, ‘Well, he may be mad, but it is indeed a rare soul alone in the world who could undertake such renunciation. Yes, mad, but how pure! and what renunciation! He is truly worthy of respect, reverence and worship by the human heart.’ Thinking thus, I bowed down at his feet, took leave of him and returned to Calcutta that day.”
As the reader will naturally have the curiosity to know the antecedents of one the sight of whom roused such extraordinary emotions in the Master’s mind, we shall now relate them briefly.
Narendra did not then spend his time in the acquisition of knowledge and in learning music only, but engaged himself in observing perfect continence and in practising severe austerity under the impulsion of a religious temper. A strict vegetarian, he spent his nights lying on the bare ground or on a bed consisting of one blanket only. His mother’s mother had a rented house near his ancestral one. He generally lived in a room on the first floor over the outer apartment of that house ever since he appeared for the Entrance examination. When it was inconvenient to stay there for some reason or other, he hired a room near that house, lived separately, away from his relatives and family and engaged himself in accomplishing his object, viz., the realization of God. His large-hearted father and other members of the family thought that he was living separately only because he found it rather inconvenient to study at home on account of various kinds of distractions and disorders arising from too many persons living together there.
Narendra was then frequenting the Brahmo Samaj and becoming a believer in the existence of the formless Brahman with attributes, and began spending much time in meditation on Him. He could not remain satisfied, like other people, by simply becoming convinced of the existence of the formless
Brahman with the help of inference and reasoning. Led by the spiritual tendencies of his past lives, his heart was incessantly telling him that if God really exists, He will never keep His own nature concealed from an eagerly seeking human heart, that He certainly had laid down the means to realize Him, and that life will become a burden and a drudgery if it is not a quest for the realization of God. He, we distinctly remember, said to us once:
“As soon as I went to bed, two ideas appeared before me every night since I had reached my youth. One vision presented me as a person of endless wealth and property, innumerable servants and dependants, high rank and dignity, great pomp and power, and I thought that I was seated at the head of those who were called big men in the world. I felt I certainly had that power in me. Again, the next moment, I felt as if I had renounced everything of the world and, putting on a loin cloth, eating whatever was available without effort and spending nights under trees and depending on God’s will only, I was leading my life. I felt I could live the life of the Rishis and the Munis if I would. These two pictures, according to which I could mould my life in two different ways, thus arose in my mind. But the latter would grip the mind in the end. I thought that it was in this way alone that man could attain real bliss and that I would follow this path and not the other. Brooding on the happiness of such a life, my mind would then merge in the contemplation of God and I would fall asleep. It is a matter of astonishment that it happened so every night, for a long time.”
Even at that young age Narendra found out, without any external aid that meditation was the best method for the realization of God. This bespeaks the greatness of his past impressions. When he was about four or five years old, he used to buy in the market small images of Sita-Rama, Siva and other gods and goddesses, brought them home and adorning them with ornaments of flowers, sat motionless before them with his eyes shut in imitation of meditation and sometimes would look to see if, in the meantime, his matted hair, hanging from his head, had entered the earth like the aerial roots of some trees. For, he had heard from the old ladies of the household that Munis and Rishis sat in meditation for such a long time that their matted hair grew long, came down and entered the earth that way. His revered mother said that one day he entered a secluded part of the house with a boy named Hari, a neighbour, without the knowledge of the household and sat thus for so long a time in imitation of meditation, that the whole household ran about thinking that the boy had wandered away from home and lost his way. Afterwards, seeing that part of the house barred from within, someone broke into it and saw that he was then sitting motionless. His was no doubt a childish imagination, but it clearly shows what wonderful impressions he was born with. Anyway, no one of his relatives knew that he used to practise meditation every day at the time we are speaking of. For, he barred his room and sat for meditation after all the household had gone to bed. He would sometimes be so much absorbed in it that the whole night would pass away before he came back to normal consciousness.
Narendra’s tendency to meditate was greatly enhanced on account of an event that took place about this time. One day he went with his friends to see the revered Acharya Maharshi Devendranath of the Adi Brahmo Samaj. On that occasion the Maharshi lovingly made the young men sit near him, gave much good instruction and requested them to practise meditation on God every day. Addressing Narendra he said that day, “The characteristics of a Yogi are manifested in you; if you practise meditation, you will soon experience the results recorded in the Yoga scriptures.” Narendra had reverence for the Maharshi even before for his pure character. Therefore, there is no doubt, that, on his advice, he applied his mind to the practice of meditation with greater zeal than before.
The signs of a many-sided genius were perceptible in Narendra from his childhood. He got by heart all the aphorisms of the Sanskrit grammar book named Mugdhabodha. Placing him on his lap every evening, an old relative of his taught him the names of his forefathers, hymns to gods and goddesses and the aphorisms of the said grammar. At the age of six he was able to learn by heart the whole of the Ramayana done to music. If it was sung anywhere in that quarter, he was sure to be present there. One day at a certain place near by, a singer of that epic, while singing a part of the musical composition, could not recall a certain passage; Narendra immediately repeated that portion for him and got a kind reception and some sweets from him At that time while he was listening to the reading of the Ramayana, Narendra looked round to see whether according to Hanuman’s promise, he, the great hero and servant of Ramachandra, was present. His strong memory was manifest like that of a Srutidhara — he retained whatever he had heard but once; and once set in his memory, it was there ever afterwards. This was why his method of learning his lessons from his childhood was not like that of other boys. When he was admitted into the school, a tutor was engaged for him to help him in learning his daily lessons. Narendra said, “When he came to our house, I brought my English and Bengali books to him and showing to him which books and which parts of them were to be learnt that day, I lay or sat freely. The teacher repeated twice or thrice the spelling, pronunciation, meaning, etc., of the words of those portions of the books as if he was himself learning his own lesson and went away. That was sufficient for me to learn them” When he grew up, he would begin to master the text books only two or three months before the examination. At other times he spent his time in reading other books of his choice. Thus, before appearing for the Entrance examination, he had read practically all the important books in English and Bengali literature and many books on history. But, as a result of adopting this method he sometimes had to labour hard immediately before his examinations. One day he said to us in connection with what we have narrated before, “I found just two or three days before the Entrance examination that the pages of Euclid had not been turned over at all. I then sat up the whole night to study it; I mastered all the four books on the subject in twenty-four hours and appeared at the examination.” It is needless to say that he could do so only because he had a robust body and an extraordinary memory by the will of God.
When it is said that Narendra spent his time in reading books other than his text books, let no one think that he read novels and plays only and wasted his time. At certain particular times a great inclination to study books on particular subjects arose in his mind. He then mastered all the books he could collect on that subject. For example, in 1879, the year of his Entrance examination, he felt an urge for reading the important available books on Indian history and read Marshman, Elphin-stone, etc. During his study for the F.A. examination, he mastered one by one all the available books on Logic in English, such as those by Whitley, Jevons, Mill; and when he was reading for the B.A. examination he had a great desire to study the histories of England and other European countries both ancient and modern, and books of Western philosophy. Similar was his passion for other branches of learning.
As a result of reading of a vast number of books, Narendra’s power of rapid reading was developed to an extraordinary degree from the time of his appearing for the Entrance examination. He said, “Since then, when I took up a book, I did not find it necessary to plod through it line by line in order to understand the author. I could grasp the point by reading the first and the last lines of a paragraph. Gradually that power became developed and it was not necessary to read the paragraphs also in the aforesaid way. Sometimes I read the first and the last lines of each page and the content was known. Again, when the author was explaining a particular point of view with arguments in any part of his book, I could understand his whole chain of reasoning by merely reading the beginning of his arguments.”
At that time Narendra became very fond of argumentation as the result of much study and deep thinking. But he never indulged in sophistry. He always used to support only that which he knew to be true in his heart of hearts. But, if any one expressed before him an idea or opinion contrary to what he knew as true, he could never listen to it passively. He would bring to bear upon the topic a formidable array of arguments and silence the opponent in no time. Rare were the persons who did not bend their heads before his reasoning. It goes without saying that his defeated opponents did not view him with a friendly eye. Hearing but a few words of the opponent, he could understand the trend of the arguments in support of his position and he would be ready with his reply beforehand. Asked how he could find such fine arguments ever ready to defeat his opponent, he once said, “How many new thoughts are there in the world? If those few thoughts are known together with the reasons for and against them, no necessity for further thinking ever arises and the man is always ready with the replies. For, whatever reason the opponent might adduce in favour of his position, it cannot but be one or the other of those few. Rare indeed are the persons who can give to the world new ideas and thoughts on any subject.”
Born with a keen intellect, an extraordinary memory and the power of deep thinking, Narendra could master everything in a very short time, and hence had no lack of leisure for recreation and sports and games as well as for enjoying the pleasure of the company of his friends. Seeing him thus spending much time in mirth and merriment people thought he did not attend to his studies at all. Trying to imitate him in these matters, many boys actually spoiled their career as students.
Narendra had as great a love for the practice of all kinds of physical exercises as for the acquisition of knowledge. When he was a child, his father bought a pony for him. As a result, he became a good horseman as he grew older. He learnt almost all those arts — gymnastics, wrestling, boxing, stick and sword play, exercises with clubs, swimming, etc., that improved his bodily strength and gave him skill and agility. In those days general competitions were held in these arts and the successful persons were awarded prizes in the Hindu Fair established by Navagopal Mitra. Narendra was sometimes seen amongst these competitors.
From his childhood, Nature had equipped him with indomitable courage and love for his friends. These qualities helped him very much by making him the foremost in all the groups he entered and a leader in his student-life and afterwards. Once when he was but eight, he went with his friends to Metiaburuz to the south of Calcutta to see the Zoological gardens of Wazid Ali, the former Nawab of Lucknow. The boys raised subscriptions from among themselves and hired a boat at the Chandpalghat for their trips to and fro. On their way back, one of them became sick and vomited in the boat. The Muslim boatman became very angry and when the boat reached the Chandpalghat, told them that he would not allow any one of them to get down, if they did not clean the boat. The boys asked him to have it cleaned by some one and were ready to pay for the labour; but he did not agree. Then there arose an altercation and gradually there was going to be a free fight between the two parties. All the boatmen that were there came together and were ready to beat the boys. The latter did not know what they should do. Narendra was the youngest of them all. In the confusion that arose on account of the altercation with the boatmen, he gave them the slip and got down from the boat. Seeing how very young he was the boatmen did not prevent him from doing so. When he stood on the bank he saw that the affair was gradually growing to be serious. When he was considering how he could save his friends, he saw two English soldiers going for a walk. Narendra walked up to them at a brisk pace, saluted them and caught hold of their hands. Although his knowledge of English was quite rudimentary, he somehow explained the affair to them in a few words and signs as he went on pulling them towards the place of occurrence. The two soliders, charmed with the behaviour of this young boy of pleasing looks, took kindly to him. They came with quick steps to where the boat was, understood the situation, and raising the canes in their hands, commanded the boatmen to let go the boys. Seeing that they were white soldiers of the army, all the boatmen moved away to their own boats. Narendra’s friends heaved a sigh of relief. The soldiers were pleased with Narendra’s free and fearless behaviour and invited him to go to the theatre with them. Narendra, however, declined the invitation with thanks and bade them good-bye.
There are other events also of his boyhood which prove his great courage. It will not be out of place to mention one or two here. Narendra was ten or twelve, when Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, visited India. A gigantic man-of-war of the British Navy, the Syrapis (Serapis), came to Calcutta at that time and many people of Calcutta were granted permits to go on board to see the inside of that ship. Desirous of seeing it along with his friends, the boy Narendranath went to the office at Chowringhee with an application for getting a permit; but he saw that the gate-keeper did not allow any one except very respectable people to go in. Standing close by and trying to invent some means to see the English officer, he began to observe those who returned with permits from the office. He saw that all of them went to a verandah on the second floor of that office. Narendra thought that it was perhaps the place where the English officer was receiving applications and issuing permits. Searching some other passage leading to that place, he found that in one corner on the side of the house there was a narrow flight of iron stairs for the use of the servants of the English officer, leading to the room behind the said verandah. Knowing full well that there was a great probability of his being ill-treated if any one happened to see him, he took courage in both hands and went up to the second floor by that flight of stairs. Entering the verandah through the officer’s room, he saw that applicants were crowding round him and he was incessantly signing permits with his head bent over a table. He stood behind all of them and getting the permit at the right time, saluted the officer and came out of the office by the front staircase like all others.
At that time, there was a club on the Cornwallis street for the purpose of teaching physical exercise to the boys of Simla in Calcutta. It was Navagopal Mitra, the founder of the Hindu Fair, who had established it. As it was very near Narendra’s house, he went there every day with his friends and practised physical exercise. As they had been acquainted with Navagopal Babu, a neighbour, for some time previously, he put them in charge of the management of the club. One day, the boys failed, in spite of great efforts, to erect a heavy wooden frame for a trapeze. A crowd assembled on the road to see the boys do it, but no one was ready to help them. Seeing a stout English sailor standing in the crowd, Narendra requested him to help them He gladly agreed and joined the boys. The boys then began to pull up the head of the frame by means of a rope and the sailor was helping them in making its two legs enter slowly into the sockets. The work was going on well when the rope gave way and the wooden frame fell back on the ground. And one of its legs suddenly went up and struck the sailor on the head. He fell unconscious. Seeing the sailor unconscious and his wound bleeding profusely, every one concluded that he was dead and, afraid of the Police, fled howsoever they could. Narendra and one or two of his close friends only stayed on there and applied their minds to inventing some means to bring the sailor to life. Narendra tore a part of his own cloth, soaked it in water, bandaged the wound and went on sprinkling water on the sailor’s face and fanning him. When he regained consciousness, he was carried into the school building, the Training Academy building, close by. Word was then sent to Navagopal Babu to come soon with a doctor. The doctor came, examined the sailor and said, “The wound is not serious; he will require a week’s nursing to come round.” He recovered within that period, thanks to Narendra’s nursing and good arrangement for medicine, diet, etc. Raising a small subscription from a few respectable gentlemen of that quarter, Narendra gave the sailor some provision for his journey and bade him good-bye. We have heard of many other events indicative of Narendra’s coolness in the face of dangers during his boyhood.
Narendra was truthful from his boyhood. When he reached his youth that zeal for telling the truth increased a hundredfold. He said, “I never terrified children by speaking of hobgoblins as I was afraid of uttering a falsehood and scolded all whom I saw doing it. As the result of English education and my frequenting the Brahmo Samaj, the devotion to verbal expression of truth increased so much then.”
Narendra was always in smiles because he was born with a robust frame, a keen intellect, a wonderful memory and a pure heart. He engaged himself in all kinds of gymnastics with an abandon, learnt dancing, and music both vocal and instrumental without any hesitation, and joined his friends in all sorts of mirth and merriment with a gusto; but all this only so long as they did not overstep the limits of morality. Unable to understand the cause of that cheerfulness of his, superficial observers very often counted it a defect of his character. But the spirited Narendra took no notice of people’s praise or blame. His proud head and heart never condescended to disprove their false calumniation.
All his life it was natural with Narendra to be kind to the poor. In his childhood, whenever a beggar came to the house, he gave him whatever he wanted, even valuable clothes, utensils, etc. The family scolded him when they came to know of it and took the articles back from the beggars paying them money. When this had happened a few times, one day his mother kept the boy confined in a room on the first floor of the house. At that time a beggar came and prayed loudly for alms and Narendra threw down to him through a window a few pieces of his mother’s precious clothes.
His mother used to say, “Narendra had a great foible even from his childhood. If he was angry at any time for any reason, he lost himself altogether and would shatter furniture etc., to pieces and scatter them in all directions. I prayed to Visvanatha at Kasi for a son and vowed Him offerings if one should be born, and He perhaps sent me one of His demons. Otherwise why should he behave like a demon when angry?” She, however, discovered a wonderful remedy for that anger of the child. When she found that he could by no means be quietened, she remembered Viswanatha and poured one or two jarfuls of water over his head; and the wonder of it was that the boy’s anger would at once vanish. Shortly after he had met the Master at Dakshineswar, one day Narendranath said to us, “I might not have gained anything else by this practice of religion; but it is certain that I have gained control over my terrible anger by His grace. Formerly I used to lose all control over myself in rage and be seized with repentance afterwards. But now if anyone does me a great harm or even beats me severely, I don’t become so very angry.”
Rarely are people seen in the world with equally well-developed heads and hearts. Those who have these surely make a mark in society. Again, those who manifest their own uniqueness in the spiritual world are also seen to possess a finely developed power of imagination from their childhood. This becomes clear when we study Narendra’s life. The reader will easily understand, if one or two examples are given.
At one time Narendra’s father stayed for some time at Raipur in Central India on .some business. Knowing that he would have to live there for a long time, he had his family brought to that place shortly afterwards. The charge of taking them was entrusted to Narendra. He was then fourteen or fifteen only. The place was not then connected by railway. So one had to travel by bullock cart for more than a fortnight through dense forests full of beasts of prey. Although he had to suffer many physical hardships, he did not feel it at all on account of the wonderful beauty of the forest regions which he enjoyed. His heart was altogether charmed when he was directly acquainted for the first time with the boundless power and endless love of Him who had adorned the earth with such incomparable robes and ornaments. He said, “What I saw and felt when going through the forest has for ever remained firmly imprinted in my memory, particularly a certain event of one day. We had to travel by the foot of the Vindhya mountains of high peaks on that day. The peaks of the ranges on both sides of the road rose very high in the sky; bending under the weight of fruits and flowers, various kinds of trees and creepers produced wonderful beauty on the sides of the mountains; birds of various colours flying from arbour to arbour or down on the ground in search of food, filled the quarters with sweet notes. I saw all these and felt an extraordinary peace in my mind. The slowly moving bullock carts arrived at a place where two mountain peaks, coming forward as in love, locked themselves up in an embrace over the narrow forest path. Observing carefully below the meeting points I saw that there was a very big cleft from the crest to the foot of the mountain on one side of the path and filling that cleft, there was hanging in it an enormous honey-comb, the result of the bees’ labour for ages. Filled with wonder, as I was pondering over the beginning and the end of that kingdom of bees, my mind became so much absorbed in the thought of the infinite power of God, the controller of the three worlds, that I completely lost my consciousness of the external world for some time. I do not remember how long I was lying in the bullock cart in that condition. When I regained normal consciousness, I found that we had crossed that place and come far away. As I was alone in the cart, no one could know anything about it.” It was perhaps the first time when, with the help of a strong power of imagination he entered the closed region of deep meditation and was completely merged in it.
We shall give here a brief account of Narendra’s forefathers and bring the present chapter to a close. The Datta family of Simla, divided into many branches, was one of the ancient families of Calcutta. This family was the foremost amongst the middle class Kayasthas in wealth, social position, and learning. Narendra’s great-grandfather, Rammohan Datta, an advocate, earned enough money, maintained a large family and was held in esteem by his friends and particularly by his neighbours at Gaurmohan Mukerjee’s Lane in Simla where, in his own house, he spent the full length of his life. Durgacharan, his son, inherited enormous wealth from his father, but developed dispassion for the world at an early age and embraced the life of an itinerant monk. Durgacharan, it is said, was devoted to monks and holy men from his boyhood. That inclination of his kept him engaged in the study of the scriptures from his youth and made him a good scholar in a short time. Though married, Durgacharan had no attachment to the world. He used to spend much time in the company of holy men in his own garden. Swami Vivekananda said that his grandfather Durgacharan left his family for ever shortly after begetting a child, as the scriptures enjoin. Though he left his family and went away, Durgacharan twice met his wife and relatives by the will of Providence. His son Viswanath was then two or three years old. His wife and relatives came to Kasi perhaps in search of him and stayed there for some time. As railways had not been constructed then, people of respectable families used to come by boat to Kasi, the abode of the universal Lord. Durgacharan’s wife too accompanied the party. At one place on her way, the child Viswanath fell into the waters of the Ganga. His mother saw it first and immediately jumped into the water. The unconscious mother was lifted into the boat with great effort, when she was seen to have firmly clasped the arm of her young child. It was thus that the unbounded love of the mother saved the life of the child.
In Kasi, Durgacharan’s wife went daily to visit Lord Visvesvara. One day, when the road was slippery on account of a shower, she slipped and fell in front of the holy temple. A casual passer-by, a monk, saw this and went up to her with a rapid step and lifting her carefully, made her sit on the step of the door of the temple and was examining whether she was hurt in any part of the body. But the moment the two pairs of eyes met, Durgacharan and his wife recognized each other. And the monk Durgacharan, without looking at her for a second time, disappeared from there.
It is a convention that a monk should visit his birth-place which, according to the scriptures, is “superior even to heaven” twelve years after he embraces the life of an itinerant monk. Durgacharan, therefore, came once to Calcutta after twelve years and stayed in the house of a former friend of his whom he requested earnestly to see that the news of his coming did not reach his relatives. His friend, a worldly man, disregarded the request of Durgacharan and communicated the news secretly to his relatives. They came in a party and took Durgacharan home almost by force. He went home, it is true, but without speaking with any one, sat silent and motionless like a log of wood in a corner of the house with his eyes shut. It is said that he sat there three days and three nights continuously without changing his seat. His relatives were afraid that he might fast unto death and kept the door of the room open as before. It was seen on the morrow that the monk Durgacharan had disappeared unnoticed.
Acquiring great learning in Persian and English, Viswanath, the son of Durgacharan, became an attorney of the Calcutta High Court. He was generous and loving to his friends. Although he earned a good deal, he could leave nothing behind. It was perhaps a quality which he inherited from his father that he could not be economical: Viswanath’s nature differed greatly indeed from that of an ordinary man of the world in many respects. For example, thoughts of the morrow never disturbed him; he helped people without any discrimination whether they were deserving or not; he was extremely affectionate to his relatives and yet he could remain free from anxiety without having any news of them for a long time when he was living away from them.
Viswanath was intelligent and of ready understanding. He had great love for music and other fine arts. Swami Vivekananda said that his father had a sweet voice and could sing beautifully Nidhu Babu’s Tappa3 without learning music systematically. Contrary to the general impression of the age, he regarded music as a harmless pastime and made his eldest son Narendranath learn it with the same care and attention as he was prosecuting his studies. His wife Bhuvaneswari too could perfectly master devotional songs with their tune, cadence, etc., which she had heard sung but once by the Vaishnava beggars and the beggars of the night.
Viswanath had a great love for reading the Bible and lyrics of the Persian poet Hafez. A chapter or two from the Holy Bible dealing with the life of the sweet and glorious Jesus were among his daily readings. He sometimes read to his wife, sons, and others a little of these and of the love lyrics of Hafez. He admired and adopted some Muslim manners and customs while he lived for some time in places like Lucknow, Lahore, etc., and they stuck to him for life. It is perhaps due to this that the custom of taking Pollau daily was introduced into his family.
Viswanath was as grave and serious as he was witty and humorous. If any one of his sons or daughters did anything wrong, he did not scold them severely but made it known to his or her friends in such a way that he or she was ashamed and never did it again. The reader will understand this from an event we are going to mention here as an example. One day his eldest son, Narendra, had an altercation with his mother over a certain matter and spoke to her one or two harsh words. Instead of scolding him at all for it, Viswanath wrote with a piece of charcoal in big letters on the door of the room in which Narendra received his companions that Naren Babu had used such and such words towards his mother. Whenever Narendra and his friends were about to enter that room their eyes fell on those words; and Narendra looked small for a long time because of his own misbehaviour.
Viswanath maintained a large family which included distant relatives. He was prodigal in supplying them with food etc. Living on his bounty, some of his distant relatives led idle lives while some others went further and relieved the tedium of their lives by having recourse to strong drinks and other intoxicants. When he grew up, Narendra very often complained that his father had been generous to a fault towards those persons. Viswanath gravely replied, “It is not now, my boy, that you can imagine how full of misery this human life is. When you come to understand it, you will view with a forgiving eye these miserable souls who use intoxicants to snatch a momentary relief from this too bitter a life.”
Viswanath had many sons and daughters. All of them were endowed with innumerable good qualities. But most of the daughters died young. Narendranath was very dear to his parents as he was born after the birth of three or four of his sisters. His father died suddenly of heart-failure, when he was preparing for the B.A. examination in the winter of 1883. This sudden death of the over-generous Viswanath left the family penniless.
We have heard much of the greatness of Narendra’s mother Sri Bhuvaneswari. She combined in herself great physical beauty and devotion to deities. Her cleverness and intelligence were shown to advantage by her able management of the very big family of her husband, placed solely on her shoulders. She managed it so easily and efficiently that it gave her enough time for knitting and other artistic pursuits. Her education was extremely limited, not going beyond the reading of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and some other religious books; but she learnt orally many things from her husband, sons, and others so well that in conversation she was taken to be highly educated. Her memory and her power of retention were indeed great. She could repeat a thing when she had heard it only once and remembered very old sayings and events as if they were of the day before. Fallen on bad days after her husband’s death, she was put on her mettle and showed wonderful patience, calmness, frugality and adaptability to sudden change of circumstances. The lady who spent a thousand rupees monthly to manage her household affairs, had now only thirty rupees a month to maintain herself and her sons and daughters with. But she was never for a day seen to be dejected. She managed every affair of her family with that meagre income in such a way that those who saw it took her monthly expenditure to be much higher. One shudders indeed to think of the terrible condition into which Bhuvaneswari fell at the sudden death of her husband. There was no certain income with which to meet the needs of her family; and yet she had to maintain her old mother, sons and daughters brought up in opulence, and meet the expenses for the education of her children. Her relatives who had been enabled to earn a decent living by her husband’s generosity and influence, now found an opportunity to their liking and, far from helping her, were even determined to deprive her of her just possessions. Her eldest son Narendranath, possessed of many good qualities, failed to find a job in spite of his best efforts in various ways; and losing all attraction for the world, he was getting ready to renounce it for ever. One naturally feels respect and reverence for Sri Bhuvaneswari when one thinks of the manner in which she performed her duties even in that terrible condition. When we discuss the close relationship of Narendranath with the Master, we shall have to revert again to the topic of the straitened circumstances of the family during this period. Therefore, instead of giving a further detailed description of it here, let us now tell the reader of Narendra’s coming to Dakshineswar for the second time.