IN THE WORLD AND
BY THE MASTER
NARENDRA spent his time in seclusion, in studies and the practice of austerity, and in frequenting Dakshineswar. Planning his future, Narendra’s father employed him at that time to learn the profession of an attorney as a junior to Nimai Charan Basu, the well-known attorney of Calcutta. With a view to making his son live a worldly life, Viswanath then began searching for a suitable bride. But that hope of his was being delayed as Narendra had a great objection to marriage and the father himself could not find out a bride to his own liking.
The Master sometimes happened to go to Narendra’s study at Ramtanu Basu’s Lane and give him various instructions regarding Sadhana, devotional exercises, etc. At that time he always encouraged him to observe continence and warned him against foolishly binding himself down to matrimony at the plaintive request of his parents. The Master said to him, “As the result of observing continuous continence for twelve years, man has his retentive nerve opened. His intellect can then penetrate into the subtlest things and comprehend them; it is with the help of that intellect only that God can be realized; it is only to such a pure intellect that He reveals Himself.”
At that time there arose an impression in the minds of the ladies of the house that Narendra was unwilling to marry owing to his close relation with the Master. Narendra said, “One day when the Master came to my study room and was giving me the instruction to observe lifelong continence, my grandmother overheard everything and informed my parents of it. They began making great efforts from that day on to marry me lest I should become a monk by moving with Sadhus. But of what avail was all that? All their efforts against the strong will of the Master failed. Even when everything was settled, the marriage negotiations broke off in a few cases on account of the difference of opinion between the twoparties about trifling things.”
Although Narendra’s frequent visits to the Master at Dakshineswar were not to the liking of any one of his household, no one ventured to make any remark about it to him For, Narendra, the dearest son of his parents, paid no heed from his childhood to the restraints set by any one on his conduct and took the liberty of behaving as he liked in everything. All the household knew that if they tried to prevent the keenly intelligent Narendra from doing anything in the manner people prevent a boy or a weak-minded young man, it was probable that a contrary result would follow. Narendra, therefore, went on visiting the Master at Dakshineswar as before.
The sweet memory of the days Narendra spent with the Master at Dakshineswar during this period filled his mind with infinite joy throughout his life. He said, “It is difficult to explain to others how blissfully I spent my days with the Master. There is no limit to our astonishment when we think of how, through play, merriment and other ordinary daily activities, he gave us high exalted spiritual education and moulded our lives without our knowledge. Just as a powerful wrestler, at the time of teaching a boy, keeps his skill in reserve and displays only a part his power, as suits the purpose of teaching the boy, produces self-confidence in him sometimes by defeating him seemingly with great effort, and sometimes allowing himself to be defeated by him; so, on many occasions the Master assumed that attitude in dealing with us at that time. He always saw, ‘a whole sea in a drop of water’, as they say. Having had in ecstasy the immediate knowledge of the fully developed tree, laden with fruits and flowers, which the seed of spirituality hidden in our hearts would assume in future, he would praise and encourage us in every way and at all times. And observing very carefully each of our actions, he kept us under restraint by giving us instruction lest we should get entangled among desires and fail to reach the fruition of our lives. But we could not know at all that he observed us so minutely and controlled us so effectively. That was an extraordinary skill which the Master displayed in teaching us and moulding our lives. We felt that the mind, although getting a little concentrated at the time of meditation, could not dive deeper for want of a proper object; we asked him what we should do, when he told us what he himself had done in similar circumstances and suggested various useful methods. When I sat for meditation during the last part of the night, the mind, I remember, became distracted and deflected from the object of meditation on account of the noise produced by the whistling sound of the Jute Mills of Alambazar; when I referred the matter to him, he advised me to concentrate my mind upon the sound of the whistle itself and I derived much benefit from that. On another occasion I apprised him of my difficulty in forgetting the body and concentrating the mind on the goal and sought his advice. He mentioned the words addressed to him by Sri Tota Puri at the time of his Sadhana of Vedantic Samadhi, and sharply pierced my forehead between the eyebrows with the tip of his nail, saying, ‘Concentrate your mind upon that pain.’ And actually I found that the pain produced by that cut could be kept uniformly in the mind as long as I liked; and I completely forgot even the existence of all the other parts of the body, let alone the risk of the mind being distracted by them The secluded Panchavati, the place of the Master’s Sadhana, was very well suited for our meditation and other spiritual exercises. Why speak of spiritual exercises alone? We spent much time there in play and merriment also. At those time the Master too joined us as far as possible and added to our happiness. There we ran about, climbed trees and sitting in the swing formed by the Madhavi creeper as strong as cable, swung freely and merrily; and sometimes we picnicked, cooking our meals ourselves. Seeing that I cooked with my own hand on the first day of the picnic, the Master himself took that cooked rice and other preparations. I knew that he could not take cooked rice out of the hands of people other than Brahmins; I was going to arrange for him the offered food of the temple. But he prevented me from doing so and said, ‘Nothing will happen to me if I take food cooked by a person of pure Sattva, like you.’ I raised repeated objections, but he did take the rice cooked by me that day without paying attention to my remonstrances.”
A devout person of pleasant looks named Bhavanath Chattopadhyaya had come to the Master at Dakshineswar some time previously, become acquainted with Narendra and contracted friendship with him. Bhavanath became dear to the Master on account of his faith, devotion, humility and simplicity. Seeing his tender nature which was that of a woman and his uncommon love for Narendra, the Master sometimes said jokingly, “You were perhaps the life-companion of Narendra in a previous birth.” Bhavanath lived at Baranagar and whenever there was an opportunity, took Narendra to his house and fed him Satkari Lahiri, Bhavanath’s neighbour, was very well acquainted with Narendra; and Dasarathi Sannyal was Narendra’s class-mate and friend. Whenever Narendra was available, they spent days and nights with him So, now and then, when on a visit to Dakshineswar or sometimes when specially invited by them, Narendra used to spend a few hours or a day or two with these Baranagar friends of his.
A great change came in the course of events in the life of Narendra, early in the year 1884, some time before the result of the B.A. Examination was out. His father, Viswanath had had a nervous breakdown some time previously on account of over-work. One night at about 10 p.m., he suddenly died of heart-failure. Invited by his Baranagar friends, Narendra had gone to them in the afternoon of that day and occupied himself in singing devotional songs till about eleven at night. He then lay in the same room after taking his meal with them and was talking on different topics. His friend Hemali came at about 2 a.m and broke that terrible news to him and started with him immediately for Calcutta.
Narendra returned home and performed the obsequies of his father. On making inquiries afterwards, he came to know that their worldly circumstances were extremely deplorable. Instead of leaving some property, his father had left behind him only a debt, having spent more than what he had earned. Their relatives had improved their worldly circumstances with the help of Narendra’s father and, now finding the opportunity, turned inimical and even plotted to eject the family from their home. It might well be said that there was in fact no income for the family and yet five or six persons had somehow to be maintained. Brought up thoroughly in comfort and happiness, Narendra did not know what he should do and was going from place to place in search of a job. When an unfavourable period occurs in one’s life, even a hundred efforts on the part of one prove utterly futile. Narendra met with frustration everywhere.
Three or four months elapsed, one after another, after the death of his father. But the sky of Narendra’s life was as overcast with clouds as ever, with no trace of a silver lining anywhere. Nor was there a distant gleam of hope of a bright future. It is doubtful if he ever waded through such darkness again in his life. Talking of this period, he said sometimes to us:
“I went about hither and thither in search of a job even before the period of mourning was over. Suffering from lack of food, I was going barefooted from office to office with an application for a job in my hand in the blazing midday sun. Sympathizing with me in my sorrow, some of my very intimate friends would be with me some days, but on other days they could not be. But I was disappointed everywhere. From that very first worldly experience of mine I felt keenly that selfless sympathy was very rare in this world — there was no place here for the weak and the poor. Those who deemed it a piece of good fortune to be able to help me only a day or two previously, now found an opportunity to do the contrary and made a wry face at me and, although able, were reluctant to help me. When I had such experiences, the world very often seemed to me to have been created by a demon. One day, at that time, when I was going from place to place in the sun, my sole, I remember, got blistered. Extremely fatigued, I had to sit down in the shade of the Ochterloney Monument in the Maidan. A friend or two were with me that day or met me there by chance. One of them, I remember distinctly, sang by way of consoling me:
‘Here blows the wind, the breath of Brahman, His grace palpable ..’
“When I heard the song I felt as if he was inflicting severe blows on my head. Remembering the sheer helpless condition of my mother and brothers, I burst out in resentment, despair and disappointment, ‘Shut up. Those who are in the lap of luxury and do not know what the pinch of hunger means and those whose nearest and dearest ones are not starving and going naked — to such people, in the midst of the fullest enjoyment of life, such flights of imagination appear sweet and pleasing. I also had such days and felt similarly, but now, confronted with stern reality, all these sentiments seem to be a terrible mockery.’
“Maybe, the friend was highly offended to hear those words of mine. But how could he understand what a severe grinding poverty it was that had drawn those words out of my mouth? On leaving my bed in the morning and making secret enquiries I found on some days that there was no food sufficient for all the household and, as there was no money in my pocket, I went out telling mother, ‘I have an invitation to lunch with a friend of mine.’ During those occasions, on some days I took very little food and on others went without any food at all, so that others might have their fill. I was too proud to speak out these things to any one in the family or outside. Rich friends took me to their houses or gardens now as before and requested me to add to their pleasure with music, etc. Unable to avoid them, I sometimes went with them and entertained them. But I did not feel inclined to express to them the feeling in my mind. They too never made enquiries of their own accord. A rare few of them asked me affectionately now and then, ‘Why do you look so dejected and weak today? Please tell us that.’ One only came to know of my condition from others without my knowledge and, sending money to mother with anonymous letters from time to time, has put me under an eternal debt.
“Knowing of my poverty, some of those boyhood friends of mine, who had lost their character in youth and were earning some money by dishonest means, found now an opportunity and tried to drag me into their company. Those among them, however, who had met with a sudden change of circumstances like me and adopted detestable means of earning their livelihood, actually felt, I found, pained for my sake. Mahamaya1 too, did not lag behind. She also found it a good opportunity to tempt me. A wealthy woman had had an evil design on me for a long time. Thinking that it was an opportune moment, she sent word proposing that I might accept her property with herself and put an end to my poverty. She had to be rejected with bitter contempt and sternness. When another woman came to allure me in that way, I said to her, ‘Ah, my child, how innumerable are the deeds you perpetrated so long for the satisfaction of this worthless body of yours! Death is very near at hand; have you made any provision for that time? Give up low-mindedness and call on the divine Lord.’
“In spite of all my trials, my faith in the existence of God did not vanish so long for all that pain and misery, nor did I doubt that ‘God is good’. I used to wake up from sleep in the morning, remember the Lord and leave my bed taking His name. Then with firm determination and hope I used to go from place to place in search of some means of earning money. One day I was leaving my bed as usual calling on the Lord, when my mother heard my words from the adjacent room and suddenly said, ‘Stop, lad; you have been constantly repeating the name of the divine Lord ever since your childhood, — and your divine Lord has left nothing undone!’ The words hurt me terribly. Cut to the quick, I pondered, ‘Does God actually exist? If so, does He hear the plaintive prayer of man? Why is there then no response to so much of prayer which I proffer to Him? Whence is so much of evil in the creation of a benign Creator? Why is there so much of calamity in the kingdom of one who is all bliss? Vidyasagar, pained at the suffering of others asked himself at one time, why, if God were all goodness and all bliss, lakhs of people fell into the terrible jaws of famine and died for want of a morsel of rice. That query resounded in my ears with the reverberation of the bitterest mockery. My heart was pierced through by a feeling of wounded love; and doubt in the existence of God assailed me.
“It was against my nature to do something and conceal it from others. Never from my childhood could I conceal, out of fear or from any other motive, even the least shade of thought, let alone my actions. Was it, therefore, surprising that I should now go aggressively forward to prove to the people that God did not exist and even if He did, there was no need to call on Him, for it was futile to do so? Consequently, a rumour soon spread that I had become an atheist and was mixing with people of bad character, and did not shrink from drinking and even from frequenting houses of ill-fame. Consequently, my heart, which had never been too docile from childhood, became steeled all the more on account of that false calumny. Even unasked, I was publicly telling one and all that not only had I no objection to anybody’s drinking wine or going to a brothel with a view to forgetting his hard lot in this world of pain and misery if he could feel happy thereby, but that I would myself do likewise the very day I was perfectly convinced of becoming happy for a moment like them by doing so and I would not retract my steps for fear of anybody.
“News travels from ear to ear. It did not take long for these words of mine to get variously distorted and reach the Master’s ears at Dakshineswar and those of his devotees in Calcutta. Some came to see me with a view to ascertaining the real state I was in, and they let me know by hints and suggestions that they were ready to believe something at least, if not all, of what they had heard. On knowing that they could regard me so low, I became terribly wounded at heart and proved that it was a great weakness to believe in God for fear of being punished. And quoting Hume, Mill, Bain, Comte and other Western philosophers, I started a fierce argumentation with them to prove that there was no evidence of the existence of God. Consequently, they went away, as I came to know afterwards, far more convinced of my fall than ever before. I was happy to know that and I thought that the Master would hear of it from them and would perhaps believe it too. The moment this thought crossed my mind, my heart was filled with a tragic wounded feeling. I came to the conclusion that there was no harm if he did so, inasmuch as people’s opinions, good and bad, were worth so little. Later, however, I was surprised to hear that the Master had heard of it all from them but had not expressed himself either way at first; but when afterwards Bhavanath wept and said to him, ‘Sir, it was beyond even our dream that such would be Narendra’s lot’, he excitedly said, ‘Silence! you fellows! He, Mother has told me, can never be such; if you mention it again to me I’ll not be able to put up with your presence.’
“But of what avail was it to indulge in atheism on account of pride and egoism? The extraordinary experiences that I had from my childhood, more especially those I had had after my meeting the Master, arose in bright colours in my mind the next moment and I thought, ‘God certainly exists and the means to realize Him also certainly exists; otherwise what is life for, what is it worth? That path has to be searched out however great the pain and misery the search might entail.’ Time glided by and the mind wavered and doubted and peace receded farther than ever. My worldly want showed no sign of abatement.
“The rainy season followed the summer. The same search for a job continued as before. One day, drenched in rain and having had no food for the whole day, I was returning home at night with tired legs and with my mind more weary than the body; the exhaustion was so great that, unable to proceed a single step further, I lay like a log of wood on the open verandah of a nearby house. I cannot say whether I lost consciousness altogether for some time; but I remember that thoughts and pictures of various colours, one after another, arose and vanished of themselves in my mind. I had no power to drive them away or to concentrate on one particular thought. I suddenly felt as if within my mind many screens were raised one after another by some providential power and saw in the innermost recesses of my heart the solutions of the problems which so long had baffled my intellect and distracted my mind; — the problems such as ‘Why are there malign forces in the creation of the Benign? Where is the harmony between the stern justice and the infinite mercy of God?’ I was beside myself with joy.
Afterwards, when I resumed my walk home, I found that there was not an iota of fatigue in my body and that my mind was filled with infinite strength and peace. The day was then about to break.
“I became absolutely indifferent to the praise or blame of the world. And, firmly convinced that I was not born to earn money, serve the family and spend time in worldly enjoyment like people in general, I was secretly getting ready to renounce the world like my grandfather. When the day for starting on my itineracy was fixed, I heard the news that the Master would come to a devotee’s house at Calcutta that day. I thought this was very good; I would see the Guru before I renounced home for ever. As soon as I met the Master, he importunately said to me, ‘You must come to Dakshineswar with me today.’ I offered various excuses, but he was inexorable. I had to drive with him There was not much talk in the carriage. After reaching Dakshineswar I sat with others in his room for some time, when the Master entered into ecstasy. In a moment he came suddenly to me and, taking my hand in his, began singing as tears flowed:
‘I am afraid to speak
And am equally afraid not to speak.
The doubt rises in my mind
Lest I should lose you
(Ah my Rai2, lest I should lose you)’
“I long kept back the surge of the strong emotions of my mind but could no more check their force. My breast too was flooded with tears like that of the Master. I was quite sure that the Master knew everything. All the others were astonished to see that behaviour of ours. Some asked the Master the reason for this after he came back to the normal state when he smiled and answered, ‘It is something between ourselves.’ Afterwards, sending away all others, he called me to him at night and said, ‘I know, you have come to the world for Mother’s work; you can never live a worldly life. But remain in your family for my sake as long as I live.’ Saying so, the Master immediately began shedding tears again with his voice choked with emotion!
“I took leave of the Master and returned home the next day. And immediately, a hundred thoughts about the family occupied my mind. I now began going from place to place as before and made various kinds of efforts. I worked in the office of an attorney, and translated a few books, as a result of which I earned a little money, and the household was being managed somehow. But these were all temporary jobs; and in the absence of any permanent work no smooth arrangement for the maintenance of mother and brothers could be made. I remembered a little later that God would grant the Master’s prayers. I must make him pray for me so that the suffering of my mother and brothers for want of food and clothing might be removed; he would never refuse to do so for my sake. I hurried to Dakshineswar and asked persistently that he must pray to the Mother that the pecuniary difficulty of my mother and brothers might be removed. The Master said to me affectionately, ‘My child, I cannot say such words, you know. Why don’t you yourself pray? You don’t accept the Mother; that is why you suffer so much.’ I replied, ‘I have no knowledge of the Mother; please pray to Mother yourself for my sake. Pray you must; I will not leave you unless you do so.’ The Master said with affection, ‘I prayed to Mother many times indeed to remove your sufferings. But as you do not accept Mother, She does not grant the prayer. Well, today is Tuesday, a day especially sacred to Mother. Mother will, I say, grant you whatever you ask for. Go to the temple tonight and bowing down to Her, pray for a boon. My affectionate Mother is the Power of Brahman; She is pure Consciousness embodied. She has given birth to the universe according to Her will; what can She not do which She wills?’
“A firm faith arose in my mind that all the sufferings would certainly come to an end as soon as I prayed to the Mother, inasmuch as the Master had said so. I waited for the night in great expectancy. The night arrived at last. Three hours of the night had elapsed when the Master asked me to go to the holy temple. As I was going, a sort of profound inebriation possessed me; I was reeling. A firm conviction gripped me that I would actually see Mother and hear Her words. I forgot all other things, and became completely merged in that thought alone. Coming into the temple, I saw that Mother was actually pure Consciousness, was actually living and was really the fountain-head of infinite love and beauty. My heart swelled with loving devotion; and, beside myself with bliss, I made repeated salutations to Her, praying, ‘Mother, grant me discrimination, grant me detachment, grant me divine knowledge and devotion, ordain that I may always have an unobstructed vision of you: ’ My heart was flooded with peace. The whole universe completely disappeared and Mother alone remained filling my heart.
“No sooner had I returned to the Master than he asked, ‘Did you pray to Mother for the removal of your worldly wants?’ Startled at his question, I said, ‘No, sir; I forgot to do so. So, what should I do now?’ He said, ‘Go quickly again and pray to Her.’ I started for the temple once more and, coming to Mother’s presence, became inebriated again. I forgot everything, bowed down to Her repeatedly and prayed for the realization of divine knowledge and devotion before I came back. The Master smiled and said, ‘Well, did you tell Her this time?’ I was startled again and said,. ‘No, sir; hardly had I seen Mother when I forgot everything on account of the influence of an indescribable divine Power and prayed for Knowledge and devotion only. What’s to be done now?’ The Master said, ‘Silly boy, could you not control yourself a little and make that prayer? Go once more if you can, and tell Her those words. Quick!’ I started a third time; but as soon as I entered the temple a formidable sense of shame occupied my heart. I thought, ‘What a trifling thing have I come to ask of Mother! It is, as the Master often says, just like the folly of asking a king, having received his grace, for gourds and pumpkins. Ah, how low is my intellect!’ Overpowered with shame and aversion I bowed down to Her over and over again saying, ‘I don’t want anything else, Mother, do grant me divine knowledge and devotion only.’ When I came out from the temple, it occurred to me that it was certainly the play of the Master, otherwise how was it that I could not speak the words though I came to pray to Her as many as three times? Then I insisted that he must ensure for my mother and brothers freedom from lack of food and clothing, saying, ‘It is certainly you who made me intoxicated that way.’ He said affectionately to me, ‘My child, I can never offer such a prayer for anyone; it does not indeed come out of my mouth. You would, I told you, get from Mother whatever you wanted. But you could not ask Her for it; you are not meant for worldly happiness. What am I to do?’ I said, ‘That won’t do, Sir. You must utter the prayer for my sake; it is my firm conviction that they will be free from all sufferings if you only say so.’ As I kept on persisting, he said, ‘Well, they will never be in want of plain food and clothing’.”
What has been said above is, it is superfluous to say, an important event in the life of Narendranath. The hidden meaning of the Motherhood of God and of His worship in symbols and images had not been comprehended by him so long. Before this he had looked upon the images of the deities installed in the temples with contempt, never with love and respect. The whole mystery of such worship now became clear to his mind and made his spiritual life fuller and richer. The Master felt an unspeakable joy on account of that. The reader will understand this when we mention what a friend3 of ours saw and heard at Dakshineswar when he came on the morrow. He said:
“I became acquainted with one Tarapada Ghosh, as he and I served in the same office. Narendranath was a great friend of Tarapada. Therefore, I saw Narendra sometimes in that office. Besides, one day Tarapada told me in the course of conversation that Paramahamsa Deva loved Narendra dearly. Still I did not try to get acquainted with Narendra. One day at noon I came to Dakshineswar and saw the Master sitting alone in his room and Narendra sleeping on one side, outside the room. The Master’s face was beaming with delight. No sooner had I approached and bowed down to him than he pointed to Narendra and said, ‘Look here; that boy is very good; his name is Narendra; he had not accepted the divine Mother before, it was only last night that he did. He was in straitened circumstances. I, therefore, advised him to ask Mother for money; he however could not ask Her for it; he said he “felt ashamed”. Coming back from the temple he asked me to teach him a song addressed to Mother. I taught him the song,4 “Mother, Thou art the saviour.” He sang that song the whole night. So, he is sleeping now. (Smiling with joy) Narendra has accepted Kali; it is very good; is that not so?’ Seeing that he was happy like a child on account of that, I said, ‘Yes, sir; it is very good.’ A little afterwards he smiled and said again, ‘Narendra has accepted Mother; it is very good; what do you say?’ He thus expressed his joy, saying it over and over again.
“Narendra came and sat beside the Master in the room at about four in the afternoon, when he awoke. It seemed that Narendra would now take leave of him and return to Calcutta. But the Master entered into ecstasy as soon as he saw him and touching Narendra’s body with his, sat almost on his lap, saying, ‘What I see is that this (his body) I am and this (Narendra’s body) too, I am. Truly I say, I see no difference. Just as the water of the Ganga seems to be divided into two parts when a stick is placed on it, but actually there are no divisions; one whole mass of water exists; so it is here. Do you understand it? What exists but Mother? What do you say?’ Speaking thus he suddenly said, ‘I’ll smoke.’ I hurried to prepare a smoke for him and gave him the Hookah. Smoking a puff or two, he returned the Hookah and saying, ‘I will smoke with the bowl’, took it in his hands and began smoking. Smoking three or four puffs, he held it near Narendra’s mouth and said, ‘Just have a puff, a puff through my hands.’ Narendra shrank, at which the Master said, ‘What ignorance! Are you and I different? This am I, that also am I.’ Saying so, he held both his hands again in front of Narendra’s mouth with a view to making him smoke. Thus compelled, Narendra smoked two or three puffs with his mouth through the Master’s hands and then stopped. Seeing him stop smoking, the Master himself was again going to smoke. Narendra said hurriedly, ‘Sir, wash your hands and then smoke.’ But the Master paid no heed to the words. He said, ‘You wretch, you are awfully conscious of differences’, and smoked with his hands that had been touched by Narendra’s lips and spoke many things in that ecstatic mood. The Master regarded all things of which a portion had been given to any one else, as practically touched by the mouth, i.e., polluted and could not take them Seeing him act in that way towards Narendra that day, I was aghast and thought how near to his heart Narendra was.
“Our talks went on till it was 8 p.m. when we saw the Master’s ecstasy came to an end. Then we took leave of him and walked back to Calcutta. Afterwards on many occasions we heard Narendra say, “Ever since our first meeting, it was Master alone, and no one else, not even my own mother and brothers who always had uniform faith in me. That faith and that love of his have bound me to him for ever. It was the Master alone who knew how to love and he did love, while others of the world but feign love for the satisfaction of their self-interest.”