The scene shifts from the burning-ghat to the Ramakrishna monastery at Baranagore after a few days’ sojourn at Cossipore, where the boys stayed until the lease expired. The young disciples are now seen garbed in the ochre robes of the monk and grouped together as the Brotherhood of Shri Ramakrishna, with Narendra as the leader. The relics of the Master are now reposed in the monastery in a room set apart for the purpose, where religious services before the picture of Shri Ramakrishna are conducted. The boys faced the direst poverty, but it had no terrors for them. So rapt were they in their desire to follow the injunctions of the Master that, forgetting sleep, they spent night after night in prayer and spiritual exercises. Naren spurred them on to burning renunciation and intense devotion. After passing through the travail of a new birth, after answering the challenges of internal and external nature, these young-disciples emerged as apostles of a new Dispensation.
Narendra Nath’s pathway to the place where he became the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda was not an easy one. He had to face starvation and intense physical as well as mental agony, and undergo the pain of martyrdom before he gained acknowledgment from the world. The boy who acquired spiritual power and realisation became the saint and the prophet who distributed the fruits of realisation and translated personal power into impersonal service. Naren, the disciple, became Swami Vivekananda — the teacher. He who sat at the feet of Shri Ramakrishna is now the master of numerous devotees and disciples. He, who as the disciple of Shri Ramakrishna sought for spiritual illumination, becomes himself the focus of a contagious spirituality. Narendra Nath is transformed into the monk Vivekananda and the spirit of Shri Ramakrishna pervades him. And yet, as the few following chapters will show, this was not the work of a day or a month. It was a gradual process.
There was no miracle in it. The story is intensely human and of the greatest interest to all seekers after Truth.
From now on, one is ushered into a world where the untiring energy of the great soul of Swami Vivekananda is made manifest through a tremendous will, which builds and expands his life-work to vast spiritual proportions. Here we see suffering and the meeting with and overcoming of difficulties. One is brought face to face with a powerful, fiery and yet most human personality whose presence is suggestive of the great peace beyond the strife of life. There is laughter and sweet human sentiment as well, for he enjoyed life and was filled with a joyous sense of humour and fun and light-heartedness. In his heart he was always the boy of Dakshineswar. But one never knew when some revelation of the supreme illumination of his thought and the great depth of his spirituality, some sudden transition from fun to spiritual illumination, from the heights of thought to the joyousness of laughter, would come. And yet he was always the monk, the prophet, the teacher. It was as if his soul was constantly with God, and his thought and love always in the service of man.
The death of Mahapurushas, whilst productive of great sorrow, creates a great urge towards the attainment of the highest ideals. So it was with the devotees and disciples after the passing of Shri Ramakrishna. They were overwhelmed with a powerful desire to attain the most exalted consciousness, and they found themselves strengthened by the knowledge that the work of the Man of Dakshineswar was not to end with the death of the body; that it was to express itself in an eternal flow of spiritual life and knowledge of the Indestructible. And the channels of this flow were to be the hearts of the devotees and the souls of these young men who at the touch of the Master felt the utter evanescence of the world. After his Mahasamadhi, the disciples were at first too bewildered to know what to do. The passing of the Master, though long expected in a sense, was yet unexpected in another; and their grief knew no bounds.
Meanwhile there was still a fortnight before the agreement for the house at Cossipore would expire. Tarak, Latu and Gopal Senior had already given up their homes and were living there. The other young men came daily to spend most of the time in meditation, song and conversation. The topic was only one — their great Master. Here in this very house in which he had lived, they recalled over and over again his last days and the memorable days of Dakshineswar; here Naren entertained them with thrilling tales of the Master’s life, and his mission and teachings, until they were filled with ecstasy. A great spirit idled the whole place and throbbed with wonderful vitality and power.
Another experience that Naren could never forget was his vision of Shri Ramakrishna the week after his death. One night Naren and a brother-disciple named Harish were standing beside the little pond of the garden-house of Cossipore, talking, no doubt, of that loss of which their hearts at the moment were so full. It was about eight o’clock. Suddenly, as they stood there, Naren saw a shining form covered with cloth coming slowly towards them up the drive from the gate. Could it be the Master? He kept quiet, fearing that he was a victim of a hallucination, when suddenly he heard his companion say in a hoarse whisper, “What is that?’’ At this, Naren called loudly,“Who is there?” At the sound of his voice, others came hurriedly from the house to see what was happening. But they were too late; when the phantom came to a thick jasmine bush within ten yards of where the two were standing, it vanished. Lanterns were brought out, and every nook and comer of the garden was searched, but nothing could be found. The vision left a profound impression on Naren. It may be mentioned here that after the passing of the Master, the Holy Mother, following the custom of Hindu widows, was about to remove her bracelets and put on the insignia of widowhood, when Shri Ramakrishna suddenly appeared before her and forbade her to do so. “I am not dead,” he said. After that vision the Holy Mother to the last day of her life wore gold bracelets on her wrists and used to wear a red-bordered cloth. On other occasions too, she was blessed with similar visions of the Master.
Following the cremation of the Master's body, his ashes had been gathered together and placed in a copper receptacle.This was kept in the room the Master had occupied during his last illness. It was agreed between the householder devotees and the young disciples that the ashes would be kept at the Cossipore garden-house and then removed to a place on the bank of the Ganga. But owing to lack of money they could not purchase the plot of land, and the householders headed by Ram Chandra Datta, Devendra Nath Mazumdar and Nityagopal demanded the ashes in order to bury them in a retreat built by Ram Babu at Kankurgachhi, a suburb of Calcutta. The boys refused and a dispute arose, characterised by much intensity of feeling and high words. Of the boys, Shashi and Niranjanhad constituted themselves guardians and protectors of the Master’s relics. They were giants, the one in resolution, the other in appearance, and they held themselves ready to stand their ground at any cost. In this dilemma, Naren was appealed to. He said, ‘‘Brothers, be reasonable! Let it not be said that the disciples of Shri Ramakrislina fought over his remains! Let them have the ashes! Let us mould our lives according to our Master’s teachings. If we are true to his ideals, if we live up to them, we have done more than merely worshipping the relics.” Accordingly a day was appointed to give the ashes tothe householders. But on the eve of this occasion Narendra bethought himself, ‘‘But certainly they cannot have the whole of the Master’s relics. We shall give them only the ashes!” And to his brother-disciples he said, ‘‘Please bring the copperpot.” They did so, and at Naren’s command opened the receptacle and took out the bigger bones.1 Naren and hisbrother-disciples then swallowed a minute portion of the relics and as a result had deep meditation that night. The householder devotees, unaware of what had happened, received the receptacle containing the ashes from the disciples, who taking turns carried it on their heads to Kankurgachhi, where it was buried with proper ceremonies. Shashi’s eyes were filled withtears as he saw the ground stamped down over the Master’s ashes; afterwards he said, “It seemed as if they were hammering and crushing the very heart out of us.” Later an altar and a temple were erected upon this spot, which came to be known as the Yogodyan, or the Retreat of Yoga, and every year a celebration is held in honour of Shri Ramakrishna. The relics which the monks retained were sealed in an urn which was kept at Balaram Babu’s house in Calcutta. The Holy Mother, shortly after, set out on a pilgrimage for Vrindaban and took the pot with her. Daily she performed her rites of worship before it, feeling there in the presence of the Master. Portions of the relics were sent to Hardwar and other sacred places tobe consigned to the Ganga according to the custom of the Hindus. A year later on her return she gave the urn of relics to Narendra Nath.
When the monks removed to Baranagore from Cossipore they took with them, not only the Master’s relics, but also his bedding, clothes, furniture and the utensils which had been used in serving him, as valuable treasures; in all their subsequent moves these have gone with them. To this day they arebeing preserved by the monks of the Order with a religious devotion. The monastery was located at Baranagore from theyear 1886 to 1892. From 1892 to 1897 the monastery was at Alambazar in the neighbourhood of Dakshineswar. Thence it was removed to the garden-house of Nilambar Mukherjee on thebank of the Ganga, exactly across the river from the suburb, Baranagore. Now it is established permanently a short distance up the Ganga — which the Master loved so much — in Belur. the beautiful and spacious premises secured by Swami Vivekananda for his fellow-monks. And it was he who carried the urn containing the relics on his head from the garden-house of Nilambar Babu, and as he placed it in the BelurMath he said with tears in his eyes, “Now I have placed the Master here. He will remain here permanently.” He wept as he remembered the memorable words of the Master uttered some years ago at the Cossipore garden during his last illness, “Wheresoever you choose to put me, there I shall gladly abide.”
To return to the time when the Cossipore house had to be given up. Naturally the question arose, what was to become of the young disciples who were planning to embrace the monastic life? A few of them, Tarak, Latu and Gopal Senior, had already given up their homes and relatives. Latu and Yogin had accompanied the Holy Mother to Vrindaban, whither Tarak soon followed. Naren was determined that the young boys should renounce the world at once. Some of thehouseholders out of their love for the lads thought: “How will they get on? We cannot leave them to wander about like ordinary Sadhus. They are still boys with bright prospects before them. Let them return to their homes. That is the wisest course; it will make them as well as their relatives happy.” Others clearly saw that it was impossible for them to do so, imbued as they were with Shri Ramakrishna’s ideal of stern renunciation. In the days before the passing of the Master, several of the young men, even while serving him, were studying in the university, and their parents and guardians, naturally eager to get them back to the world, urged upon them the necessity of continuing their studies. The pressure was very strong and some of the boys returned to their homes to finish their course and to please their families. But those who were determined not to go back, how and where were they to live? They had no means and no place to go to. At this time, Surendra Nath Mitra, the lay devotee who had borne the major part of the expenses of the Masters illness, had a strange vision. One evening, Shri Ramakrishna appeared to him and asked him to aid the boys in their sad plight. He went at once to them and said, “Brothers, where will you go? Let me rent a house where you may stay together, and where we householders may find a temporary refuge from the worries of the world. I used to give a little towards the expenses of the Cossipore garden-house. I will gladly continue that help, and you will thus be enabled to hire a house and live very simple.” Naren was overcome with emotion.
Narendra Nath went in search of quarters to house the monks. After a vigorous search a house was found at Baranagore, midway between Dakshineswar and Calcutta. It was a dreary, deserted place, sadly in need of repairs, very old, and with the reputation of being haunted. It was two stories in height; the lower story was the resort of lizards and snakes.The gateway had long since tumbled down. The verandah which flanked the front part of the upper story showed signs of decay; the main room where the monks lived was in a most dilapidated state. Indeed, nobody else would have lived there. To the east of the house was another one which had been used as a chapel; to the west was a jungle-like garden overgrown with weeds and undergrowth; at the back was a pond covered with green scum which was a breeding place for mosquitoes. The whole place was weird. This dreary retreat was chosen because of its cheapness holy, and its nearness to the Ganga and the Cossipore burning-ghat where the body of the Master had been consigned to flames. The monks were glad to escape the turmoil of city life to the solitude where their meditations had few or no interruptions. The house was rented at Rs 10/- month. Tarak, who returned from Vrindaban and Gopal Senior occupied the new quarters alone first. Some of the others had gone back for the moment to their respective homes. A few were on pilgrimage. Rakhal was in Monghyr. Kali, Yogin, and Latu were in Vrindaban with the Holy Mother. Naren was compelled go home at times, for felt that he must arrange his affairs before finally setting out on high road of monasticism never to return. A case was pending in the court involving home, and Naren as eldest family had to be present at hearings. But in common with all young men he visited Baranagore frequently, spending most nights and a large part of the days there.
That all these boys eventually formed themselves into the Ramakrishna Brotherhood was largely the work of Naren. When his family matters were settled and he saw his way clear tofollow the monastic life, he went to the homes of those boys who had resumed their studies and in a very whirlwind of enthusiasm tried to induce them to return to Baranagore. He would argue with them for hours, in his efforts to persuade them to come with him to the monastery, never stopping until he had gained his point. Once at the monastery they could not resist the spiritual impetus of Naren’s songs and thrilling conversations. He would talk of the departed Master and his life of renunciation with such vividness of language and such intensity of spirit that none could withstand him.
Narendra Nath was like a spiritual lion, and his brother-disciples looked upon him as their leader, not only because the Master had taught them to do so and his personality unconsciously dominated their every inmost thought and desire, but because he seemed to be the mouthpiece of the Master; and yet Naren was their brother and comrade. Their love for him almost amounted to reverence. The Master’s words concerning him were constantly in their minds. Did they in their zeal for realisation disobey him and run to excess in the practice of austerities, all that he would say was, ‘‘Did not the Master himself give all of you into my charge?” They could not escape the magnetism of his personality. His face, his speech, his eyes, the manner in which he walked, the way in which heshowed his confidence in them, and cheered and spurred themon, even his methods of admonishing them, made him seem the spirit of the Master incarnate as it were.
About this time an incident occurred which clinched the resolve of the boys in their resolution to renounce the world. A few months after coming to Baranagore, they received an invitation, which was readily accepted, from Baburam’s mother to make a short visit to Antpur, his native village. They were most cordially received. Here the light of their combined spiritual fire blazed up into a tremendous conflagration. Narendra’s religious enthusiasm added fuel to the flame; it seemed as if the spirit of the Master was speaking and working through him. He was intensely possessed by the living vision of theSannyasin’s life and would cry out, “Let man-making be the goal of our lives! Let us make this our only Sadhana! Away with vain learning! Let not the glamour of the world captivate our minds even for a moment! Realisation of God is the one and the sole thing in life! That is what Shri Ramakrishna’s life represented! We must realise God!” The boys inspiredby these thoughts and fired by a oneness of purpose became aware of a sense of unity — a feeling that they were all inseparably connected by some wonderful spiritual power, making them brothers; and during their stay at Antpur they seemed to grow into one body, one mind and one soul. The days passed in meditation, song and prayer. The Master was the sole topic of conversation. His name was always on their lips and in their thought. Upon all alike there seemed to descend a great spirit of renunciation, a desire to take the Sannyasin’s vow, each in the presence of the others. The monastic spirit seemed to be intensified in their hearts, both for their own liberationas well as for the good of the world. And every disciple saw in his brother-disciples a world of spiritual force; and that vision intensified the love amongst them. This was bound to be, for the spirit which was the Master’s was destined to be perpetuated, not singly or isolatedly as in the ordinary case of Guru and disciple, but organised in a definite form.
Thus at Antpur, in the still hours, great things were happening in subtle ways, knitting the brothers together in indissoluble close bonds. All this found expression one night before a huge Dhuni in the compound of the house made holy with their prayers. It was late in the evening when the monks2 gathered together before the fire of huge logs. Overhead was the canopy of the Indian sky, and all around ineffable peace. The meditation lasted a long time. When a break was made Naren began to tell the story of the Lord Jesus, beginning with the wondrous mystery of his birth through his death on to the resurrection. Through the eloquence of Narendra, the boys were admitted into that apostolic world wherein Paul had preached the gospel of the Arisen Christ and spread Christianity far and wide. Naren made his plea to them to become Christs themselves, to aid in the redemption of the world; to realise God and to deny themselves as the Lord Jesus had done. Standing there before the Dhuni, with the flames lighting up their countenances and with the crackling of the wood the sole disturbance of their thought, they took the vows of Sannyasa before God and one another. The very air seemed to vibrate with their ecstatic fervour. Strangely, the monks discovered afterwards that it was Christmas Eve! Before returning to Baranagore they went on pilgrimage to the famous temple of Tarakeswar Shiva to worship the Lord of Monks.
After returning Sharad and Shashi immediately renounced, and joined the Baranagore monastery. Then Rakhal, Niranjan.Baburam and Kali came, followed by Subodh and Sarada Prasanna, the latter having passed his First Arts Examination that very year. Gangadhar who could never bear any separation from his beloved Naren was a frequent visitor to the monastery. After his return from a pilgrimage to Tibet he joined the Order. Hari as also Tulsi frequent visitors to the monastery, ultimately became members. With the exception of short trips here and there, for three years, until he became the itinerant monk, Narendra was always with them, guiding and inspiring them. Yogin and Latu who had been staying at Vrindaban with the Holy Mother, joined the little group at Baranagore after their return to Calcutta. Thus in the course of one year, the Baranagore monastery was filled with the young men who had caught their inspiration from the Master.
And what a life they led! Unwilling to beg, they lived on what chance would bring. They vied with one another in doing the household tasks, even the most menial ones. Many were the days when there was nothing to eat but the spiritual discourses, meditation and singing went on as though their bodies did not exist. Their only clothes were the Kaupin (loincloth) and a few Gerua pieces; a mat on the floor sufficed for their bed; a few pictures of saints and gods and goddesses, the Japamala or beads and a Tanpura (stringed musical instrument) hung from the walls. Their whole library consisted of about a hundred books in all. There was only one piece of cloth and a Chaddar to be worn about the shoulders, which were common property and were hung upon a line so that whosoever had to leave the premises might have wherewith to be clothed respectably. Surendra Nath Mitra, or Suresh Babu as he was called by the community, was the ministering angel of the monastery and looked after the bodily needs of the monks. The small sum which he at first gave being insufficient for their needs he increased it. Not satisfied with this, he kept himself secretly informed as to the conditions in the Math, and often sent extra money or provisions to alleviate their extreme poverty.
Sometimes, however, there were visitors of quite a different nature. These were the guardians and relatives of the young monks, who came hoping to induce them to return to theworldly life. They would implore, weep, threaten, but of no avail; the monks were inexorable. Their renunciation was complete and final. Not even the thought of their mothers was allowed to stand in the way of their realisation of God. They flatly refused to recognise the authority of the guardians and took refuge in silence when they would say, “Naren is the root of all this evil. The boys had returned home and had renewed their studies when he came and upset all our plans.”
That was life indeed at Baranagore, ecstasy surpassing ecstasy. Often times Sankirtana (religious songs sung in chorus) would begin in the morning and continue till evening with no thought of food or rest. In their burning desire for God-vision Prayopaveshana (meditation without interruption with such disregard of the body that death ensues) did not seem extreme.
The best description of the days at Baranagore comes from the lips of Naren himself. Many years after the greatest triumph of his career, a disciple asked him, “Maharaj, how did you maintain yourselves at that time?” The Swami’s mind travelled back across the years, his whole face took on an expression, half-sad, half-glorious, as old memories flitted across his mind. Of a sudden he turned upon the disciple with, “What a silly question! We were Sannyasins, don’t you see? We never thought of the morrow. We used to live on what chance brought.Suresh Babu and Balaram Babu have passed away. Were they alive they would dance with joy at the sight of this Math!” Continuing, he remarked, “You have heard of Suresh Babu’s name, I dare say! Know him to be the source of this Math.
It was he who helped to found the Baranagore Math. It was Suresh Mitra who supplied our needs! Who can equal himin piety and faith, my boys?” Musingly, he went on, “There were days at the Baranagore Math when we had nothing to eat. If there was rice, salt was lacking. Some days, that was all we had, but nobody cared. Leaves of the Bimba creeper boiled, salt and rice — this was our diet for months! Come what would, we were indifferent. We were being carried on in a strong tide of religious practices and meditation. Oh, what days! Demons would have run away at the sight of such austerities to saynothing of men! Ask Rakhal, Shashi and others; they will tell you. The more circumstances are against you, the more manifest becomes your inner power. Do you understand?” It was only to his disciples in whom he desired to kindle the same fire of devotion and renunciation that he was so frank; with others he was intensely reticent about those days.
Swami Sadananda, an early disciple of the Leader, speaking in later times of these days as they were lived by his Guru, said,“During these years Swamiji would work twenty-four hours at a time. He was like a lunatic, in his activity. Early in themorning, whilst it was still dark he would rise and call theothers, singing, ‘Awake! Arise, all ye who would drink of thedivine nectar!’ And long after midnight he and the othermonks would still be sitting on the roof of the monastery building, singing canticles of praise. The neighbours expostulated, but of no avail. And the musical voice of Swamiji would lead the chanting of the names of ‘Sita-Rama’ or of ‘Radha-Krishna.’ Those were strenuous days. There was no time for rest. Outsiders came and went. Pandits argued and discussed. But he, the Swami, was never for one moment idle, never dull.”
In the Baranagore monastery, hours would be consumed in the study of philosophy. The theories of Kant, Hegel, Milland Spencer were discussed by the devotees; even the atheists and materialists received their share of attention. Besides philosophy, religion, theology, history, sociology, literature, art and science were touched upon. If the talk was whether God existed or not, Naren would prove with the backing of logic and reason that God was a myth. Again he would be equally convincing in his argument that God was the only reality in the universe. The Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta — every one in its turn was matched against the others, and their points of agreement and difference were brought out with rigorous analytical acumen. The Vedanta was compared with the Buddhistic philosophy and vice versa. Occasionally Christian missionaries would come to the Math to argue with the monks. After defeating them at every point Narendra would expound to them the greatness of Christ.
Often he would develop most original lines of thought, illustrative of the historical import of Shri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings and their influence upon the present generations of Hindus. He would show how that life was destined to alter their theological outlook by giving them a true understanding of the Hindu ideals of worship. Narendra’s voice was the delight of the monks. It made them recall the Master’s words spoken several years before, “As the snake remains spellbound with its hood up on hearing the sweet music of the flute, so does He who is in the heart, the Antaryami, when Naren sings! ”
Together with meditation, song and study, the young monks observed all the religious festivals, and it is interesting to seehow they celebrated the first Shivaratri, the Night of Shiva, at the Baranagore Math. They began the day by singing a song of the glories of Shiva which had just been composed by Naren. The twenty-four hours of the day were spent in fasting, praying and worshipping. During the night, at stated intervals — their bodies covered with ashes — they danced clapping their hands,and lifted their voices in song, calling on, “Hara! Hara! Mahadeva!” or “Shiva Guru! Shiva Guru!” in a classic and continuous chant. At the close of the night, during the early hours of the morning the Homa fire was lighted and oblations made in the names of all gods and goddesses and Incarnations of all nations. The spiritual atmosphere at Baranagore was wonderful in these days. Everyone marvelled at the austerities of Naren and his brother monks. Even yet, one can hear it said, “It is impossible for ordinary men to bear such rigorous hardships and practise such Tapasya as they did.” And yet they themselves were never quite satisfied with their spiritual progress and in their sorrow in not realising God would sigh, “Oh, wonderful were Shri Ramakrishna’s renunciation, and intense longing for God; We are not able to attain even one-sixteenth part of what he taught! ”
Though covered with the outward veneer of Jnana, Naren was all Bhakti within. One day, he said to a young brother-disciple who was mentally disturbed because of the futility of his attempts to realise God, “Have you not read the Gita? God is residing in the hearts of all creatures. He is, as it were, revolving the wheel of life to which we are tied. You are more insignificant than even the crawling worm. Can you really know God? Try to think for a minute of the real nature of man. Of these innumerable stars, every one is a solar system. We see only one solar system and know only an infinitesimal fraction of that. The earth compared with the sun is like a small ball and man is but an insect moving on its surface.” Then he burst into a song in which he resigned himself to God and besought His aid to steer clear of the pitfalls and temptations of the world. Again he said to his brother-disciple, “take refuge in God. Resign yourself completely at His feet. Don’t you rememberthe words of Shri Ramakrishna? God is like a hill of sugar. You are an ant. One grain of sugar is sufficient for you. Yet you want to carry home the entire hill. Shukadeva was at the most a bigger ant. Therefore I would say to Kali, ‘Do you want to measure God by your foot-rule?’ God is the infinite ocean of mercy! He will shower His grace on you. Pray to Him, ‘Protect us always, O Lord, by Thy benign mercy. From the unreallead us to the Real, from darkness lead us unto Light, from death lead us to Immortality!’” “How should one pray toGod?” the brother-disciple asked. “Why,” Naren replied, “only you need to repeat His Name. That is what the Master told us.” Then the boy said, “Now you say that God exists, and in another mood you tell us that according to Charvaka and other philosophers the world was not created by any extraneous agency, that it has evolved of itself.” Naren said, “But have you not read chemistry? Hydrogen and oxygen do unite to form water etc., but not without the intervention of the human hand or some intelligence. Everybody admits that there must be an Intelligent Force guiding all these combinations, an Omniscient Being directing this phenomenal universe.” “But how can we know that He is merciful?” Narendra said, “‘Your benign face the Vedas say. John Stuart Mill echoes this. He must be an ocean of mercy who has infused one little spark of mercy into the human heart. The Master used to say, ‘Faith is the one essential thing. God is very near us. You only require faith to realise this.” Then the young disciple said good-humouredly, “Sometimes you say that God does not exist. Now you are telling us that He does. You cannot be veracious in your statement when you change your opinions so often.” Naren replied, “I shall never change these words: We do not have faith in God so long as we are assailed by egotism and desire. Some sort of desire always persists.” Then overwhelmed with emotion, he began to sing, “He is the merciful parent always giving shelter to those who take refuge in Him.” All the songs that followed spoke of devotion and divine fervour.
And in those days everyone was filled with the spirit of the Master. There was not a day in which his personality was not most realistically felt. And for these disciples there was neither day nor night, neither hours nor moments, for they dwelt in a state of ecstasy. Indeed they were mad, mad for God-vision. And all sorts of spiritual experiences were theirs. Some would sit motionless for hours plunged in meditation, whilst others sang themselves into devotional rapture. The nights of some were spent at the burning-ghat deeply absorbed in Japa and meditation. There were still others who would tell their beads all day and all night or sit night after night before a Dhuni in their determination to realise God.
Naren was as intense as the rest, but his sense of responsibility for them caused him to watch them with a vigilant eye, and when he found any of them practising austerities that were too severe, he would say, “Do you think you are all going to be Ramakrishna Paramahamsas? That will never be. A Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is born only once in an age!”
The Master seemed to be alive and enthroned in the tabernacle of the Math to those devotees. Besides the daily worship before his image in which Mantras were recited, lights waved, incense burned and gongs beaten in joyous adoration, offerings of the purest food obtainable were made. Particularly impressive were the twilight hours, the time of Aratrika (eveningservice), when the monks lifted their voices in unison in thesoul-inspiring verse which was adapted from the hymn chanted at that hour in Varanasi at the temple of Vishwanath.
Jaya Shiva Omkara! Bhaja
Brahma, Vishnu, Sadashiva!
Hara, Hara. Hara, Mahadeva!
It was Shashi, who became known afterwards as Swami Ramakrishnananda, who spent himself in constant spiritual service of the Master. He was the “mother” of the Math, theself-constituted guardian of the rest in practical matters, literally routing them out of their meditations to attend to their ordinary duties. Though he was himself inclined to deep meditation and fervent prayer, he compelled himself to remember their wants, to force them to bathe or to take their scanty meals. Narendra Nath recalling these blessed days to a disciple, many years later,said, “O, what a steadfastness to the ideal did we ever find in Shashi! He was a mother to us. It was he who managed about our food. We used to get up at three o’clock in the morning. Then all of us, some after bathing, would go to the worship-room and be lost in Japa and meditation! There were times when the meditation lasted to four or five o’clock in the afternoon. Shashi would be waiting with our dinner; if necessary, he would, by sheer force, drag us out of our meditation. Who cared then if the world existed or not!”
The spirit of true Sannyasa was upon all. And Naren would say in protest to a householder’s argument, “What! Even if we do not see God, shall we return to the life of the senses? Shall we degrade our higher natures?” There were times when Naren would cry out, “Of what value are my realisalions! I have seen the Mantra in letters of gold and shining with effulgence! Many times have I seen the Form of Kali and of other aspects of the Personal God! But, where, oh,where is Peace! I am dissatisfied with everything. Everything, even talking to devotees has become distasteful to me. It seems that there is no such thing as God. Let me starve to death if I cannot realise the Truth.” Was this discontent caused by the memory of his Nirvikalpa Samadhi in Cossipore? No wonder he was dissatisfied with Forms. Had he not experienced the Formless! One of the householder devotees wrote of him at this time in his diary, “Today Narendra has put on a new Gerua cloth. How fascinating he appears! His face is full of the fire of wisdom, and yet how it is mellowed with divine love! Blessed are those monks who think day and night of nothing but God!”
And the Baranagore monastery — what worlds of spirituality and insight does it: call to mind! To the devotees of Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda the word “Baranagore” is synonymous with “Spiritual Sadhana.” If the garden of Dakshineswar was literally saturated with the divine presence and blessedness thereof, the monastery of Baranagore was none theless so, for there these young men who had sat at the feet of Shri Ramakrishna developed, in a great measure, their strength and holiness. All who came within the sphere of their influence were caught up in their spirit of Godintoxication. Every one of these young men whom Shri Ramakrishna had made his very own, represented a phase of manifestation of the Master himself. With the delight of the martyr they practised the severest of spiritual austerities, calling his name until their voices gave way and they sank deep into meditation. The world had no meaning for them. They were aware only of God, and in those days there was lighted a fire of the spirit which nothing can extinguish. Already has it swept across even to foreign lands, spreading as it goes, the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna.