Ramakrishna bhava Ganga
It was 1935. Grand preparations were going on for Sri Ramakrishna’s Centenary Celebration. One day I went to visit the ‘Holy Mother’s house’, the Udbodhan, in Calcutta. Swami Arupananda (Rashbehari Maharaj) who had been an attendant of the Holy Mother, had come from Varanasi, and I was to take him to the Eye doctor in the afternoon. That same afternoon Swami Madhavanandaji (Nirmal Maharaj), then Assistant Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, came from Belur Math to the Udbodhan with a file of legal documents. He went upstairs and after saluting the Mother in the shrine, came quickly down again. Then we three started along Baghbazar street. Both the swamis were disciples of the Holy Mother; and their conversation began thus:
Swami Arupananda: Brother Nirmal, where are you going this afternoon with these files?
Swami Madhavananda: Rashbehari-da,* I am going to the house of an attorney. I will have to consult him because we are going to acquire some land on the western side of the Belur Math.
Rashbehari Maharaj became silent and then gravely said: Brother, do you remember when we came, what we saw? And those who are coming now, what do they see?
S. M: Everything is in man’s destiny.
S. A: (in an indrawn way): When we came we observed a tremendous current of japa, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines flowing in our Order. Do you remember?
S. M: Of course I do. By the impetus of that spiritual current we are moving even now.
S. A: Now the present generation is seeing tables, chairs, typewriters, accounts, and files. Can you tell me what force will guide them?
S. M: Then let me tell you, Rashbehari-da, that he who has brought them will guide them. We never say, follow us! We tried to learn from the lives of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and they instructed us to work for Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) and Swamiji (Vivekananda); and thus we jumped into their work. I know very well Thakur and Swamiji are at our back—they are seeing everything—and they will see till the end.
S. A: What will happen to this present generation who did not witness the holy lives of the direct disciples and did not get any instruction from them? What will be the fate of this present generation who are only working and working?
S. M: Rashbehari-da, did we ask this present generation to join the monastery? They have come after reading the literature of Thakur and Swamiji, and hearing about them. They have come because of their attraction, and they love their ideal. So they want to dedicate their lives to that noble cause. What a greatness they have! They will not have to learn from seeing our lives; their passionate love for their ideal will guide them.
Both were silent. I listened to the sound of their footsteps. After a while Swami Madhavanandaji again broke the silence:
S. M: Rashbehari-da, the water of the Ganga at Gangotri (source of the Ganga), Hrishikesh and Hardwar is crystal clear, but that at Dakshineswar and Belur is muddy and dirty, and moreover so many things are floating on it. It does not mean that the mother Ganga has lost her purifying power!
We reached Shyambazar.** A bus was about to leave. Swami Madhavanandaji quickly jumped on the footboard of the bus and, holding the hand-rail, said: Good bye, Rashbehari-da.
We moved towards our Doctor’s clinic. Rashbehari Maharaj, after a long silence, said: Did you notice—what a genius! The Ganga at Belur may not be crystal clear as at Hardwar and Hrishikesh, but she does not lose an iota of her purifying power.
* The Bengali suffix ‘da’ means ‘elder brother’. ** A busy section of Northern Kolkata, about a kilometer from Udbodhan.
— Swami Niramayananda
Work is worship
In 1957 Swami Madhavanandaji, then the General Secretary of the Order, came to Delhi centre for the opening of the new Temple. I was then a brahmachari in that ashrama. Swami Ranganathanandaji was the head of the centre. After the Temple Opening, Swami Jitananda (Dinabandhu) who had received sannyasa the previous year, approached Madhavanandaji and complained, “I am looking after the construction activities in the ashrama for the last nine years without any respite. Now again there is a proposal of my being sent to Vrindavan centre for similar work. Every morning during the last nine years I could do just the minimum japa and the whole day I was involved in construction work. In this manner, I have wasted nine years of my life. Therefore, please give me two years of leave so that I can go for tapasya.” Swami Madhavanandaji said immediately, “Granted your request. But then your thinking that you have wasted nine years of monastic life is not correct. You have worked for the Sangha. Therefore, you have served Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji. So the years of your hard work are not lost but have been your worship of Sri Ramakrishna.” The complaining swami understood that work in our Sangha is worship of Sri Ramakrishna.
— Swami Gautamananda
He, not we
Swami Madhavanandaji was in Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, New York for his medical treatment. Swami Nikhilananda was in charge of that centre. During Madhavanandaji’s stay, the local devotees brought many varieties of food item for Maharaj and the other swamis. While eating, Nikhilananda commented one day, “See Maharaj, because of your august visit here we are also getting all these special eatables.” With a smile Madhavanandaji replied, “Look, I am reminded of a story from the Bible. Jesus was being taken into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s back as per custom. Many people garlanded Jesus and he in turn put those garlands around the donkey’s neck. The donkey felt very happy at the great attention it was receiving and thought they were showing so much respect to him. It therefore slowed down its walking to receive more of their attention. But what did it receive? It received a few beatings from the rider to go forward and quicker.” Narrating this Madhavanandaji said, “Even so, the special food we are receiving are all for Sri Ramakrishna and his glory, not for you and me. We need not be vain in thinking otherwise.”
— Swami Gautamananda
We are merely trustees
I was then at Patna ashrama. A neighbour constructed his house very close to the ashrama boundary violating the local corporation rule without paying any heed to ashrama’s request and even kept a window facing the ashrama guest house. He started a private hostel for youth and working people, which caused much inconvenience for the lady devotees while passing through that way. But he came to his senses when he was told that a boundary wall would be raised just on the boundary line, which would make the house devoid of light. He pleaded with the ashrama authorities to leave at least 2-feet distance from the boundary line and the asharama’s Management Committee acceded to his requirement. And thus the boundary wall was raised. On an occasion Swami Madhavanandaji visited the ashrama and noticing the wall he asked me, “Whose land have you given away in this way? Who has authorised you to give away that piece of ashrama’s land?” I kept quiet. When the members of the Managing Committee of the ashrama came to meet him, Maharaj put to them the same question. One of the members, who was previously a high-ranking government official argued saying, “You are sadhus. Why are you speaking in this manner for this small piece of land?” Then, in a stern voice Maharaj replied, “We are not the kind of sadhus you think. People have trusted us and given us the land for a specific purpose. We have no right to deviate even an inch. We are merely trustees. We will become traitors if we don’t use a thing for the purpose for which we have accepted it.”
— Swami Jnanatmananda
The mantra is enough
Immediately after Swami Madhavanandaji initiated me, I sat in a hall to meditate; after initiation we had to meditate in the hall till the others were initiated. While meditating so, my experience was very unique. Next day when I told this to Maharaj, he immediately said, “Too much of emotionalism is not good; there should be a balance of rationality and emotionalism.” And then after a pause, waving his hand very forcibly, three times he uttered, “Don’t be emotional! Don’t be emotional! Don’t be emotional!” And then there was silence for the moment. Again very lovingly he said, “Have faith in the mantra and God. All will be done by this mantra itself. Meditation is difficult but with japam, meditation will automatically take place. You will see God but not with these eyes. For that you will get another eyes, the eyes of knowledge.”
— Swami Shashankananda
Once in a conversation with Swami Madhavananda Maharaj, who was then General secretary of the Order, a swami asked, “Maharaj, we sometimes take some actions which we are not supposed to do and it is not possible to disclose these things to anyone. If you come to know about those actions, you will not forgive me. But I continue to feel very sad and guilty. What are we supposed to do in such situations?”
The swami asked, “If I tell this to Mother, will she forgive me?”
Madhavanandaji then said emphatically, “Why has she become a Mother if she can’t forgive Her children? Else she could have been an aunt!”
— Swami Medhasananda
On the eve of the birth centenary celebration of Holy Mother, I was looking after the publication department of Advaita Ashrama. At that time, work was underway to publish the book Great Women of India. Madhavanandaji Maharaj put in extraordinary efforts in editing the book. To seek his editorial directions, I had to occasionally go to Belur Math. One day it was past evening when I reached Belur Math. Approaching his room, I found the door closed. He was preparing to sit for his evening meditation. But he sensed that someone was waiting outside and enquired accordingly. When I responded with my name he switched on the light and asked me to come into his room. The moment I stepped in, Maharaj said, “Whenever you need to meet me, come straight in. To me, Thakur’s work and meditation are identical.” No sooner did I hear this my mind was lit up with the meaning of that great mantra of Swamiji ‘Work is Worship’. This mantra assumed a form, as it were, in the life of Swami Madhavanandaji. In course of his discourses and advice to the sannyasis, he would often say with emphasis, “Should we forget Swamiji’s message: Work is Worship?’ While saying this, Madhavanandaji would put a great stress on the word ‘is’. Indeed, his great conviction and realisation would shine through in the pronunciation of ‘is’.
— Swami Nirjarananda
Personify rather than publish
Once various places of our country were inundated in a devastating flood. Several voluntary organisations of the country plunged into the relief work. The Ramakrishna Mission too was doing the relief work in the flooded areas. While the newspapers daily published the detailed relief activities of other organisations, the coverage of the relief activities of Ramakrishna Mission was indeed meagre. One day some swamis told Swami Madhavananda Maharaj who was then the General Secretary of the Order, in a somewhat complaining tone, “Maharaj, we are not doing any less relief work than other organisations. But our relief work is not receiving publicity in the newspapers.” After listening to them, Maharaj said, “Well, do one thing. Please collect the detailed information of the daily activities of the sannyasis of our Order – even such information as how long they are meditating etc. Everything will be published.” Those who came to complain felt very ashamed and left silently. Loath to self-advertisement, he was likewise not supportive of wide publicity of the activities of the Order.
“Calm and silent and steady work, and no newspaper humbug, no name-making, you must always remember.” Is not the above incident a reflection of these words of Swamiji?
— Swami Krishnatmananda
Destiny of divine deeds
Once one swami asked Swami Madhavanandaji, “If while doing ‘relief work’ one passes away even before one has realised God – what would happen to such a soul?” In reply Madhavanandaji immediately said in a voice ringing with conviction, “It is my firm belief that Sri Ramakrishna will hold the hand of such a person and take him with him.”
— Swami Nirjarananda
A lesson in Titiksha
Sometime in January 1962, after his brain tumour operation, Swami Madhavananda Maharaj was just back from America. Arrangements for his stay were made in the ground floor of the same building where he was to later stay as the President. One morning, after finishing his japam when he was offering pranam to Ganga, as was his wont, he fell from the bed. The new monastic attendant was of a little diffident nature. He heard a sound and saw that Maharaj was not on the bed. Meanwhile as I came out of Swamiji’s temple after offering pranam, the attendant told me what had happened. Going inside I saw Maharaj was wedged in a small space on the ground between the window and the bed, and he was doing japam. I asked, “What happened Maharaj?” Pat came the reply, “I fell down, and I cannot get up.” I exclaimed, “Your attendant would have come if you had but called him.” Maharaj replied, “He would anyway come after sometime – I’m now doing japam.” Sadhus rushed in after hearing the news. When he was helped to get up, it was found that his collar bone had fractured. With such intense pain, he was doing japam!
— Swami Mitrananda