1. The extraordinary experiences of Narendra in his early life:
(a) He saw a light before falling asleep

Narendranath, we said, was born with wonderful good impressions. This fact accounts for a number of unusual experiences he used to have even before he visited the Master. We narrate here a few of them as examples. Narendra said, “I used to see all my life a wonderful point of light between my eyebrows, as soon as I shut my eyes in order to go to sleep, and I used to observe attentively its various changes. So that it might be convenient to see it, I used to lie on my bed in the way people bow down touching the ground with their foreheads. The extraordinary point kept changing its colours and increasing in size, became gradually converted into the form of a ball and, bursting at last, covered my body from head to foot with white liquid light. As soon as that happened, I lost consciousness and fell asleep. I believed that all people went to sleep that way. I was long under that impression. When I grew up and began to practise meditation, that point of light used to come before me, first of all, as soon as I closed my eyes and concentrated my mind on it. In those days I daily practised meditation with a few friends according to the instruction of Maharshi Devendranath. We talked among ourselves about the nature of visions and experiences each of us had. At that time I came to know from what they said that they never had the vision of such light and that none of them went to sleep in that way.

(b) Sometimes, coming to a certain place or in contact with some thing or person, he used to feel he had already known them

“Again, since my childhood, it happened sometimes that when I saw a thing, place or person, I had the impression that I was very familiar with it or him; I thought I had seen it or him somewhere before. I tried to recollect, but failed. But that could never convince me that I had not seen them before. This happened very often. Perhaps I was in the company of friends in some place and there was a discussion on a certain subject; at that time someone made a remark and immediately I remembered, ‘Ah! I have had talks on this subject with them in this house long before and this person made the same remark at that time also.’ I tried to recollect, but could not make out when and where I had talked thus with them. When I came to know of the doctrine of rebirth, I thought I might perhaps have been acquainted with those places and persons during a previous life and that a partial recollection of them sometimes came to my mind in that manner. I was afterwards convinced that such a conclusion on the subject was not reasonable. Now1 it appears to me that before I was born I somehow, as on a cinematographic film, saw those persons with whom I was to be familiar in this life and a memory of these arose in my mind from time to time after I was born.”

2. Narendra’s direct experience of the Master’s divine powers. His reflection on and wonder at them

Hearing of the pure life and of the ecstasy of the Master from many people2 Narendranath came to see him. He never imagined even in a dream that when he saw him, he would undergo any mental change or wonderful experience. But he did undergo. The experiences he had had before seemed to be commonplace and trifling compared with those extraordinary ones he had on the two days of his second and third visits to the Master. His uncommon intelligence had to accept defeat when he tried to fathom the depth of the Master’s personality — the knotty problem eluded solution. For, he could find not an iota of reason to doubt that it was through the inscrutable divine power of the Master that he had had those wonderful experiences. And the more he mused on it, the greater grew his amazement.

3. How great was Narendra’s fitness for spirituality

One is simply flabbergasted when one thinks of the wonderful experience Narendra had during his second visit to the Master. Such an experience, according to the scriptures, occurs in the life of an ordinary person as the result of long practice of penance and renunciation; and when it appears somehow, the man is beside himself with joy to feel the manifestation of God in the Guru, and entirely surrenders himself to him. It is no small surprise that Narendra did not do so; and it is clear from this how great his fitness was for the spiritual world. He did not altogether lose himself, only because he ranked very high in regard to spiritual fitness. And it was because of this uncommon fitness of his that he could restrain himself so wonderfully. What was more, he engaged himself for a very long time in testing the extraordinary character and behaviour of the Master and in ascertaining their cause. But, although he could check himself and did not completely surrender to the Master, it is an undeniable fact that he was greatly attracted towards him.

4. How far the Master was attracted to Narendra

The Master on his part felt a strong attraction for Narendra from the day they met. Possessed of the immediate knowledge of Brahman, the high-minded Guru became restless owing to an anxious eagerness to pour all the realizations of his spiritual life into the mind of the very worthy disciple, as soon as he met him. That profound eagerness cannot be measured. That unmotivated restlessness, free from the slightest tinge of selfishness, occurs in fulfilment of the divine will in the minds of the Gurus who are perfectly poised and contented in the Self alone. It is under such inspiration that the great souls, the teachers of the world, the moment they see perfectly fit disciples, make them reach the safe haven of the knowledge of Brahman, and the shackles of desires of those disciples fall off, their life’s goal is attained and perfection reached.3

5. The Master’s attempt to give Narendra the knowledge of Brahman on the very first day

There is no doubt that the Master felt strongly inclined to induct Narendra at once into ecstasy, thus making him a knower of Brahman on the very first day he came alone to Dakshineswar. For when, three or four years after this, Narendra surrendered completely to the Master and was again and again praying to him to grant him Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the Master would allude to this event and say jestingly to him in our presence, “Why, did you not then say that you had your parents to serve?” “Look here”, said he at other times, “a man died and became a ghost. He lived alone for a long time and sorely felt the need of a companion. He ran in search of one whenever he heard that a man had met with an accident and died, for on such an occasion the man turns into a ghost. But the dead man, he would invariably find much to his chagrin, would be saved from turning into a ghost either by the touch of the water of the Ganga or by some other purifying agency. So he had to return every time quite disconsolate and was forced to live a lonely life. The poor fellow’s want of companion was never satisfied. I am also exactly in that position. I thought, when I saw you, ‘This time perhaps I shall have a companion.’ But you too said that you had your parents. So I could not have a companion.” Thus would the Master mention that day’s event and very often jest with Narendra.

6. The difference between Narendra’s wonderful experiences of the first and of the second day

Noting the terrible fear gripping Narendra’s mind when he was at the point of attaining Samadhi, the Master ceased making further efforts. But it raised doubts in the Master’s mind. He doubted the truth of the visions and experiences he had had about Narendra some time previously. This is, we guess, the reason why he overwhelmed him with his power, when Narendra came to Dakshineswar for the third time, and knew from him many secrets of his life. His anxiety was removed only when he found Narendra’s answers to his questions tallying exactly with his own visions. This proves that Narendra did not have the same kind of ecstasy at Dakshineswar on both the days.

7. The Master’s apprehension about Narendra

After the test the Master was free from anxiety in a way; but some apprehension was still lurking in his mind. For, Narendra, the Master saw, had in him in full measure eighteen qualities or manifestations of power, the possession of one or two of which enables a man to acquire extraordinary fame and influence in the world. It would lead to an undesirable contrary result, he thought, if Narendra failed to direct them properly into the spiritual channel by realizing the ultimate truth about God, man and the world. If that happened, Narendra would found a new sect or religion and be famous in the world like other spiritual leaders or prophets. But in that case, it would not be possible for him first to realize himself and then to disseminate the grand catholic truth of the spiritual world, the realization and propagation of which were the crying needs of the modern age, and the world would thus be deprived of its greatest blessing. Therefore, there arose then a great ardent desire in the Master’s heart that Narendra should follow him in all respects and, like him, have the immediate knowledge of the grand spiritual truths ready to reveal themselves. The Master used to say, “Just as water-weeds are seen to grow in pools, small ponds, etc., where there is no current of water, so, sects confined within narrow circles arise whenever in the spiritual world man remains contented with partial truths, regarding them as the whole.” One is surprised to think in how many ways the Master tried to make Narendra a fit recipient of the perfect truth lest, possessed of extraordinary intelligence and mental qualities as he was, he should go astray and form a sect of his own.

8. The reason of the Master’s extraordinary attraction for Narendra

This strange strong attraction of the Master for Narendra, which he had from their very first meeting, did not abate and assume a natural state till he was convinced that there was no more possibility of Narendra going astray in the manner mentioned above. A little reflection on this phenomenon clearly shows that some of its causes were rooted in the Master’s extraordinary visions about Narendra, and others in the fear lest, coming under the influence of the modern age, he should willingly take upon himself some such bondage as the desire for a wife, wealth or fame, and fail even partially to fulfil the ultimate aim of his great life.

9. This attraction was but natural and inevitable

As a result of the Master’s long period of penance and renunciation, his limited individual consciousness disappeared and he became eternally identified in consciousness with the Cause of the universe and felt the Lord’s work of doing good to humanity as his own. He came to know through the power of this knowledge that it was the will of the benign all-pervading Person that the very great work of removing the causes of the decline of religion in the modern age should be accomplished with his body and mind as the instruments. And it was through the power of the same knowledge that he knew that Narendra was not born to secure some puny little selfish end of his own, but, out of intense love for God, he had come down on earth to help him in the work of doing good to humanity. Is it, therefore, surprising that he should regard the selfless, eternally free Narendra as supremely his own and be strongly attracted towards him? Strange though it might appear to superficial observers, to penetrating eyes this attraction of the Master for Narendra was quite natural and inevitable.

10. The Master’s love for Narendra was not of the worldly type

It is beyond our power to give an indication of how intensely the Master regarded Narendranath as his own and how deeply he loved him from the day he met him first. The reasons that prompt worldly people to regard others as their own and bestow their love on them were conspicuous by their absence in this case. But it never fell to our lot to see anywhere else even an iota of the joy or anxiety felt by the Master owing to his union with or separation from Narendra. We had never before an idea that man could love man so selflessly. When we saw the Master’s wonderful love for Narendra, we were convinced that the world was sure to witness the day when man would realize the manifestation of God in man and feel blessed by pouring out truly selfless love on that manifestation.

11. Swami Premananda’s testimony to that love

Swami Premananda came for the first time to the Master shortly after Narendra had come to be with him. For some reason Narendra could not come to Dakshineswar for about a week or so. Premananda was simply amazed to see the Master’s agonizing pain of separation from Narendra and used to describe it to us on many occasions.

12. Swami Premananda came for the first time to Dakshineswar and found the Master’s solicitude for Narendra

He said, “Swami Brahmananda and I went to the Hatkhola ghat to take a boat, when I saw Ramdayal Babu there. Knowing that he was also going to Dakshineswar, we got into a boat together, and it was almost dusk when we reached Rani Rasmani’s Kali temple. We came to the Master’s room and were told that he had gone to the temple to pay obeisance to the Mother of the universe. Asking us to stay there, Swami Brahmananda went towards the temple to bring him I saw him holding the Master very carefully and coming with him, saying, ‘Steps, go up here, down here.’ I had already heard that the Master used to become overwhelmed with emotions and lose normal consciousness. Therefore, I knew that he was in ecstasy when I saw him thus coming, reeling like a drunken man. Entering the room in that state, he sat on the small bedstead. Coming shortly afterwards to the normal state, he asked me a few questions about me and my relations and began to examine the features of my face, hands, feet, etc. He held in his hand for some time my forearm from the elbow to the fingers to feel its weight and then said, ‘Nice’. He alone knew what he understood by that. Then he asked Ramdayal Babu about Narendra’s health. Hearing that he was all right, the Master said, ‘It is long since he came here. I should very much like to see him. Please ask him to come once.’

13. What Premananda thought when he saw the terrible anxiety of the Master throughout the night

“A few hours were delightfully spent in religious talks. We took our meal at 10 p.m. and lay down in the verandah to the east of the Master’s room and to the north of the courtyard. Beds were arranged for the Master and Swami Brahmananda in the room. Scarcely had an hour passed, when he came out from his room, with his cloth under his arm-pit, to our bedside and, addressing Ramdayal Babu, said affectionately, ‘Are you sleeping?’ Both of us sat up hurriedly on our beds and said, ‘No sir’. The Master said, ‘Look here, as I have not seen Narendra for a long time, I feel as if my whole soul is being forcibly wrung like a wet towel; please ask him to come once and see me. He is a person of pure Sattva, he is Narayana Himself; I cannot have peace of mind if I don’t see him now and then.’ Ramdayal Babu had been frequenting Dakshineswar for some time past. The boy-like nature of the Master was not, therefore, unknown to him Seeing that boy-like behaviour of the Master, he knew that he was in ecstasy. He tried to console him saying that he would see Narendra as soon as it was morning and ask him to come, and similar other things. But that mood of the Master was not at all alleviated that night. Knowing that we were having no rest, he would retire to his room now and then for some time. But the next moment he would forget this and come to us again and begin to speak of Narendra’s good qualities, expressing pathetically the terrible anguish of his mind on account of Narendra’s long absence. Seeing that terrible pang of separation of his, I was astonished and thought, ‘How wonderful is his love! And how hard-hearted that person must be for whom his longing is so devastating and behaviour so pathetic!’ The night passed that way. In the morning we went to the temple and paid our obeisance to the divine Mother. Then bowing down at the feet of the Master, we took leave of him and returned to Calcutta.”

14. What Vaikunthanath said of the Master’s love for Narendra

At one time in the year 1883, a friend4 of ours came to Dakshineswar and saw the Master extremely anxious, because Narendranath had not come for a long time. He says, “The Master’s mind became full of Narendra, as it were: he spoke of nothing else but Narendra’s good qualities. ‘Look here,’ said he addressing me, ‘Narendra is a man of pure Sattva; he, I have seen, is one of the four5 belonging to the “Abode of the Indivisible” and one of the “Seven Rishis”6. There is no limit to his good qualities.’ Saying so, the Master became much worried and was shedding incessant tears like a mother separated from her child. Afterwards, seeing that he was by no means able to control himself and considering what we should think of that behaviour of his, he went with a rapid step to the verandah to the north of his room. Weeping bitterly for some time he, we heard, sobbed out these words with a choked voice: ‘Ah! I cannot do without seeing him!’ Controlling himself a little after some time, he came into the room and sat down beside us, saying pathetically and sorrowfully, ‘I wept so much, but Narendra did not come; the longing to see him has produced a terrible anguish as if my heart was wrung; but he does not at all realize the intensity of the attraction I feel for him ’ Saying so he became worried again and went out of the room Returning to the room a little later, he said, ‘What will they think to see that I, a man of such advanced age, am weeping and panting so much for him? You are amongst the people who are my own; I don’t feel ashamed in your presence. But, what will others think when they see it? But I can by no means control myself.’ We were speechless to see the Master’s love for Narendra. We thought Narendra must be a godlike person. Why otherwise was the Master so much attracted towards him? We then said consoling him, ‘Ah, it is very wrong of him, sir; he knows you feel so much pain on account of his absence and still he does not come.’ Shortly after this event, one day he introduced me to Narendra. I saw that the Master was as delighted when united with Narendra as he was worried when separated from him. We went later to Dakshineswar on the Master’s birthday. The devotees that day adorned him beautifully — dressed him up in new attire, flower-garlands, sandal-paste, etc. Kirtan was being sung in new verandah to the east of his room, near the garden. Surrounded by the devotees, the Master listened to it, now entering into ecstasy, now making the Kirtan interesting by interposing extempore a line or two. But he could not enjoy the bliss fully on account of the absence of Narendra. He looked around from time to time and said to us, ‘Narendra, I see, has not come.’ At about noon Narendra came and bowed down at his feet in the assembly of the devotees. As soon as the Master saw him, he jumped up, sat on his shoulders and went into ecstasy. Afterwards coming to the normal state, he engaged himself in conversing with and feeding him. He listened to the Kirtan no more that day.”

15. Although an especial object of the Master’s love, Narendra remained unmoved; this demonstrates his uncommon fitness for spirituality

One is surprised to think of the love that is rarely to be found even amongst the gods, of which Narendra was the recipient when he came to the Master. One clearly understands how strong his love for truth was, when one finds that in spite of that unusual ceaseless shower of selfless love, he remained firm and unmoved and went forward to test the Master at every step so that he might attain the wholly unalloyed truth. Surprising as it was, the other side, namely, the Master’s magnanimity and absence of egoism, was no less amazing. When one finds that, instead of feeling wounded on account of that unbecoming mood of Narendra’s, he submitted himself gladly to be so tested in order that the disciple might have the satisfaction of realizing spiritual truths thoroughly investigated by himself, one’s surprise simply transcends all limits. Thus the more we study the relation of the Master with Narendra, the more are we charmed to see the eagerness, on the part of the one, to accept all things only after testing them and, on that of the other, to bring home high spiritual truths to the disciple by submitting to the tests. We shall then understand how a true Guru teaches a highly qualified disciple by keeping intact his spiritual attitudes and how at last he occupies for ever a place of high regard and reverence in the heart of the disciple.

  1. ^Narendra told us of this extraordinary experience of his soon after we became acquainted with him. But he came to this latter conclusion only during the last part of his life.
  2. ^When he came to Dakshineswar, Narendra, we said before, was about to appear for the F.A. examination from the General Assembly’s Institution, Calcutta. The liberal minded scholar, Mr. Hastie, was then the principal of the college. Narendranath had great regard for this English gentleman for his many-sided genius, pure life and his loving behaviour towards the students. One day as the professor of literature fell suddenly ill, Mr. Hastie came to teach literature to the F.A. students. In the course of a discussion on the poems of Wordsworth he made mention of the poet’s going into a trance when he (the poet) experienced the beauty of Nature. As the students did not understand what a trance was, he explained it to them properly and at last said, “That state is produced by purity of mind and its concentration on one particular object. A person fit for such a state is rarely seen. I have seen Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar attain that state among contemporaries. You will understand it if you go and see once that state of his.” Hearing thus of the Master for the first time from Mr. Hastie, Narendra saw the Master first at Surendra’s house. Again, as he frequented the Brahmo Samaj, he might have heard of him there also.
  3. ^This is known in the scriptures as the Sambhavi initiation, (Vide IV.4.51)
  4. ^Vaikunthanath Sannyal.
  5. ^Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumara. — Tr.
  6. ^Sana, Sanatkumara, Sanat-sujata, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Kapila. — Tr.