(Translated from Bengali )
[Place: The rented Math Premises at Belur. Year: 1898, November.]
It is two or three days since Swamiji has returned from Kashmir. His health is indifferent. When the disciple came to the Math, Swami Brahmananda said, “Since returning from Kashmir, Swamiji does not speak to anybody, he sits in one place rapt in thought; you go to him and by conversation try to draw his mind a little towards worldly objects.”
The disciple coming to Swamiji’s room in the upper storey found him sitting as if immersed in deep mediation. There was no smile on his face, his brilliant eyes had no outward look, as if intent on seeing something within. Seeing the disciple, he only said, “You have come, my son? Please take your seat”, and lapsed into silence. The disciple seeing the inside of his left eye reddened asked, “How is it that your eye is red?” “That is nothing”, said Swamiji and was again silent. When even after along time Swamiji did not speak, the disciple was a little troubled at heart and touching his feet said, “Won’t you relate to me what things you have seen at Amarnath?” By the disciple’s touching his feet, the tensity of his mood was broken a little, as if his attention was diverted a little outwards. He said, “Since visiting Amarnath, I feel as if Shiva is sitting on my head for twenty-four hours and would not come down.” The disciple heard it with speechless wonder.
Swamiji: I underwent great religious austerities at Amarnath and then in the temple of Kshir Bhavâni. Go and prepare me some tobacco, I will relate everything to you.
The disciple joyfully obeyed the order. Swamiji slowly smoking began to say, “On the way to Amarnath, I made a very steep ascent on the mountain. Pilgrims do not generally travel by that path. But the determination came upon me that I must go by that path, and so I did. The labour of the strenuous ascent has told on my body. The cold there is so biting that you feel it like pin-pricks.”
Disciple: I have heard that it is the custom to visit the image of Amarnath naked; is it so?
Swamiji: Yes, I entered the cave with only my Kaupina on and my body smeared with holy ash; I did not then feel any cold or heat. But when I came out of the temple, I was benumbed by the cold.
Disciple: Did you see the holy pigeons? I have heard, in that cold no living creatures are found to live, but a flight of pigeons from some unknown place frequents the place occasionally.
Swamiji: Yes, I saw three or four white pigeons; whether they live in the cave or the neighboring hills, I could not ascertain.
Disciple: Sir, I have heard people say that the sight of pigeons on coming out of the temple indicates that one has really been blessed with the vision of Shiva.
Swamiji: I have heard that the sight of the pigeons brings to fruition whatever desires one may have.
Then Swamiji said that on the way back he returned to Srinagar by the common route by which the pilgrims return. A few days after returning to Srinagar, he went to visit Kshir Bhavani Devi and staying there for seven days worshipped the Devi and made Homa to her with offerings of Kshira (condensed milk). Every day he used to worship the Devi with a maund of Kshira as offering. One day, while worshipping, the thought arose in Swamiji’s mind: “Mother Bhavani has been manifesting Her Presence here for untold years. The Mohammedans came and destroyed her temple, yet the people of the place did nothing to protect Her. Alas, if I were then living I could never have borne it silently.” When, thinking in this strain, his mind was much oppressed with sorrow and anguish, he distinctly heard the voice of the Mother saying, “It was according to My desire that the Mohammedans destroyed this temple. It is My desire that I should live in a dilapidated temple, otherwise, can I not immediately erect a seven-storeyed temple of gold here if I like? What can you do? Shall I protect you or shall you protect me!” Swamiji said, “Since hearing that divine voice, I cherish no more plans. The idea of building Maths etc. I have given up; as Mother wills, so it will be.” The disciple, speechless with wonder, began to think, “Did he not one day tell me that whatever I saw and heard was but the echo of the Atman within me, that there was nothing outside?” — and fearlessly spoke it out also — “Sir, you used to say that Divine Voices are the echo of our inward thoughts and feelings.” Swamiji gravely said, “Whether it be internal or external, if you actually hear with your ears such a disembodied voice, as I have done, can you deny it and call it false? Divine Voices are actually heard, just as you and I are talking.”
The disciple, without controverting accepted Swamiji’s words, for his words always carried conviction.
He then brought up the subject of departed spirits, and said, “Sir, these ghosts and departed spirits we hear about — which the Shastras also amply corroborate — are all these true or not?
Swamiji: Certainly they are true. Whatever you don’t see, are they all false for that? Beyond your sight, millions of universes are revolving at great distances. Because you do not see them, are they non-existent for that? But then, do not put your mind on these subjects of ghosts and spirits. Your mental attitude towards them should be one of indifference. You duty is to realise the Atman within this body. When you realise the Atman, ghosts and spirits will be your slaves.
Disciple: But sir, I think that, if one sees them, it strengthens one’s belief in the hereafter, and dispels all doubts about it.
Swamiji: You are heroes; do you mean to say that even you shall have to strengthen your belief in the hereafter by seeing ghosts and spirits! You have read so many sciences and scriptures — have mastered so many secrets of this infinite universe — even with such knowledge, you have to acquire the knowledge of the Atman by seeing ghosts and spirits! What a shame!
Disciple: Well, sir, have you ever seen ghosts and spirits?
Swamiji narrated that a certain deceased relative of his used to come to him as a disembodied spirit. Sometimes it used to bring him information about distant events. But on verification, some of its information was not found to be correct. Afterwards at a certain place of pilgrimage Swamiji prayed for it mentally, wishing it might be released — since then he did not see it again.
The disciple then questioned Swamiji if Shrâddha or other obsequial ceremonies appeased the departed spirits in any way. Swamiji replied, “That is not impossible.” On the disciple’s asking for the grounds of that belief Swamiji said, “I will explain the subject to you at length some day. There are irrefutable arguments to prove that the Shrâddha ceremony appeases the departed beings. Today I don’t feel well. I shall explain it to you another day.” But the disciple did not get another opportunity to ask that question to Swamiji.