Not a V.I.P
I remember an incident that happened in 1957 in Bombay. I was then a brahmachari at the Bombay Ashrama. Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj had come there for a month’s stay. Mr. Chou En-lai, the then Prime Minister of the Peoples’ Republic of China came to Bombay. Maharaj desired to go and see the public reception being given to him at Malabar Hill. He wanted to take me with him as a guide. The Head Swami of the Bombay Ashrama said that he could easily secure a special invitation for him to sit in the V.I.P. enclosure. But Maharaj would have nothing of it; he wanted to just look at the whole affair being one among the crowd. So we went to Malabar Hill, along with another aged swami. There were scores of young men in the crowd. Revered Maharaj, the aged swami and I were standing amidst the crowd at a higher point and watching the procession. Some young men were even resting their hands on Maharaj’s shoulders to gain a better view of the procession. In spite of that, Maharaj preferred to be among the commoners than being among the elite.
Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj was then the General Secretary of the Math and the Mission. I was just a brahmachari initiated into the vows of brahmacharya. One summer afternoon I n Feb 1897 Panduranga Prabhu was a 4-5 years old boy, when sitting on his father’s lap he saw Swami Vivekananda at Castle Kernan (now Vivekananda house) in Madras and also received a lozenge from him. He later did his graduation from Presidency College, Madras and then joined the Order at Madras Math in 1916. He received mantra-diksha from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and sannyasa-diksha from Swami Brahmanandaji in 1920. He was General Secretary of the Order for 7 years and then served for 19 long years as the 10th President of the Order from February 1966. He attained mahasamadhi on 13 March 1985 at the age of 93. Vireswaranandaji streamlined the functioning of the branch centres of the Order, gave shape to rural development projects, initiated youth conferences, and translated important scriptures into English. I came from Narendrapur centre, travelling on a bus, to meet Maharaj. I had with me a letter sent by the Secretary of Narendrapur. I was drenched in sweat. Maharaj was working at a table adjoining the western wall of his room on the first floor. As soon as I offered pranams and handed him the envelope, he took a look at me and with great concern said: “Sit, sit. Sit on that chair.” I sat in the chair with some hesitation. He asked, “When did you start?”
I answered him. He left his work and stood up. There was a small almirah adjoining the eastern side of the room. From an earthen pot he took some water in a tumbler and added a few spoons of sugar in it. Then squatting on the floor, he started preparing sharbat (a sweet beverage) using the tumbler and a mediumsized glass. In the meantime, he called an office boy, gave him some money from the drawer and told him to buy some ice from Belur Bazar. I thought that to beat the scorching heat, Maharaj wanted to drink some cold sharbat. I took this as an opportunity to render him a little service. So I went forward to make the sharbat. But he didn’t allow me. Seeing my restlessness to serve, he ordered: “Sit quietly.” What to do! I sat quietly. He prepared the sharbat and kept it in the almirah. Then he talked with me on this and that for a while, and then gave his attention to his desk work. As soon as the office boy returned, he asked him to wash the ice in the tap water downstairs. Then Maharaj placed the ice in the glass and poured some sharbat on it from the tumbler. I thought that he would now drink it. But Lo! He came forward, held the glass in front of me and said: “Take it.” I was startled. He was the General Secretary! The highest administrator! And I was but a young novice of yesterday!
— Swami Prabhananda
One day Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj entered Janasiksha Mandira [a unit of Saradapitha, a branch centre just adjacent to Belur Math] through the rear gate and asked me: “I am told that you show 16mm films using a projector. Is it so?” I replied, “Yes, Maharaj.” He then questioned, “Do you know how to remove footage from a film and splice it again?” When I said yes, he took out a film reel and said, “Well, you shall have to do a job for me.”
Let me mention in this connection that Sri Sarada Math [a monastery for sannyasinis] was established at Dakshineswar on 2 December 1954. Swami Shankarananda Maharaj, the then President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission consecrated Sarada Math as part of the efforts to fulfil Swami Vivekananda’s great vision of women upliftment. Swami Vishuddhanandaji, Swami Madhavanandaji, Swami Vireswaranandaji and many other sannyasis attended the ceremony which was filmed; and it was this film reel that Maharaj had brought with him.
Maharaj then told me: “Run the film on the projector and remove the portions that I point out” Accordingly when I projected the film, he asked me cut out those parts where he was seen. I was adept at doing this job and hence had no problems in completing the task. He was very happy to see the edited version of the film. Maharaj was very much averse to seeking self-publicity and he preferred to do Thakur’s work staying in the background. Pleased with my work, he asked in a most natural manner, “Hey, won’t you serve me some tea?” I replied, “Certainly, Maharaj.” “I knew that he loved to have very hot tea in small quantities, and so arranged for the same. Sipping the tea, he spoke with me so informally that I was hardly aware of the fact that he was one of the Assistant Secretaries of the entire Order and I was just a newly joined brahmachari. In this way, he made me his own on the very first occasion.
In the presence of the living God
One day, Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj returned to Belur Math after a long tour. The flight was delayed, and when he reached Belur Math it was 1:30 in the morning. But he did not go to his room. Instead he sat on a chair outside the temple and waited for darshan of Sri Ramakrishna. It appeared as if he was waiting to inform Sri Ramakrishna about his visits to various places. It was like a person waiting to inform the head of the family about his travel experiences. The temple opened at 4:00 in the morning. Maharaj then had a lingering darshan of Sri Ramakrishna and only then did he go to his room.
— Swami Kamalatmananda
Be silent when Thakur rests
In 1981, I was in the second year at the Brahmacharis Training Centre in Belur Math. Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj was slightly indisposed then. I had the blessed fortune of reading to him passages from books of his choice when he took rest after noon Prasad. So far as I can recall, a book I read to him was Dharma Prasange Swami Brahmananda. He enjoyed listening to my readings from this book.
One afternoon, during these reading sessions, he suddenly said, “Afternoon is the resting time for Sri Sri Thakur. There should be absolute silence everywhere in the Math. It is imperative on all of us that we make no noise. But there is so much sound from doors. It disturbs Sri Sri Thakur in his rest.” His exact words still ring in my ears, “Why do you bang the door?” I felt so embarrassed by this rebuke. Maharaj was reminding me of the importance of silence in our life.
— Swami Puratanananda
What is Karma Yoga?
Once Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj had come to Ramakrishna Ashrama, Gwalior, to give mantra-diksha to the devotees. To attend on him I had accompanied Swami Atmanandaji. One day finding an opportunity I told him, “Maharaj, we, sadhus and brahmacharis work with unselfish motive. Hence, all our actions automatically become Yoga. We don’t need any other spiritual discipline. Even Swami Vivekananda has said that by performing selfless service one can attain Mukti.” Revered Maharaj very firmly replied, “No.” I pointed out, “Swamiji has said that Karma Yoga leads to Mukti.” Then Maharaj asked, “Do you know what Karma Yoga is?” After a pause, he himself answered, “Conscious and constant remembrance of God while working.” This instruction is like a light house in our life.
— Swami Satyarupananda
Excellence in work
Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj used a chair, the back-rest of which had a pattern of square grooves carved on wood. One day while we were present in his room, a brahmachari was dusting the furniture in Maharaj’s room. He casually wiped the chair with a piece of cloth. Seeing that Maharaj said: “Wait.” He then took a thin stick, wrapped a piece of cloth around the tip of the stick and proceeded to clean each square groove in the chequered pattern by inserting the tip of the stick into the groove and wiping it clean from inside. He did not say a word of admonishment but amply demonstrated how any work ought to be performed with meticulous care.
— Swami Sumangalananda
In the early days of his monastic life when Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj was at the Advaita Ashrama he had to write the addresses on hundreds of letters every day. In the evening he had to go on foot to the Post Office to dispatch them. Asked whether he found this job monotonous and dry, he would reply, “Why should I? In our country most of the cities and towns are named after various names of God. Whenever I wrote an address I thought I was repeating and meditating on a particular name of God.”
— Swami Varananda
Importance of clarity
Once Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj wanted to know something, but I could not give a definite answer. I said, “Maharaj, it seems to me….” Irritated, Maharaj said, “Never say, ‘It seems’, or ‘I think so’ and all such vague words. Either say, ‘I know’ or ‘I don’t know.’ I am going to make a decision based on your words. If what you say is wrong, my decision will be wrong.” I learned a good lesson.
— Swami Chetanananda
Queen of Bethlehem
One day we heard that Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj had asked all the brahmacharis from the Training Centre for Brahmacharis to go to his quarters after eleven at night. We became a bit anxious, “What’s the matter? Why such summons from Maharaj so late at night and so urgently?” In the Training Centre the 10:30 P.M. bell signals bedtime. Being hurriedly woken up, we all went to Maharaj’s living quarters. Swami Bodhatmananda, our Principal, who was also anxious, came with us.
When we reached the entrance of Maharaj’s quarters, we saw him standing at the entrance with a mischievous smile on his face. His smiling countenance relieved us from all our worries. A particular type of flower had bloomed, which looked very nice and had a sweet fragrance. It belonged to the Cactus family and had a very high sounding name ‘Queen of Bethlehem’. It opens its petals at around 10 o’clock at night and closes at early dawn. If one wants to see it, that was the time for doing so. Maharaj liked this flower very much and wanted the brahmacharis to see it as well. He himself ushered us towards the flower to explain its uniqueness. We rejoiced at his joy; moreover, we had an extra bonus: his darshan and pranams at an unusual hour.
— Swami Purnananda
Lesson in Obedience
When I was serving as a volunteer in one of our ashramas (now in Chattisgarh), Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj who had come to give mantra-diksha, asked me to switch on the fan. I saw it was in speed one. I thought it was not enough and increased it to speed three. After some time, Maharaj called me and asked, “What did I tell you?” “You told me to switch on the fan.” “Did I tell you to increase the speed of the fan?” “No, Maharaj.” “See, if you do not obey small instructions properly, you will also not obey higher instructions properly. Sometimes you will take liberty in spiritual instructions too and come to grief.” Through a small incident Maharaj taught me the importance of obedience.
— Swami Nikhileswarananda
This incident happened in Silchar. On the day before their initiation the devotees as usual had gathered before Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj for his instructions. There were almost 300 aspirants that day and their numbers too had tallied with that of those present. But before anybody spoke, Maharaj suddenly said, “If any one of you has received initiation from any other place then he/she must leave.’ There was no response to this. Maharaj repeated his command more sternly but even then no one got up to leave. When there was no response even on the third such instruction, Maharaj called his secretary, Swami Prameyanandaji and told him, “Tell them that no one will receive initiation.” Prameyanandaji Maharaj then appealed to the gathering with folded hands, “Why are you spoiling the chances of others? Please leave if any of you have already received initiation.” Soon a middle-aged lady got up and left. Maharaj subsequently initiated all the others. Later it was learnt from the lady that she had earlier received initiation from two other places. She was curious to find out what the initiation ceremony was like here and so applied for initiation and had provided false information in her application. Although she had hoodwinked everyone else, she could not escape the supra-sensual piercing sight of Maharaj.
— Swami Sumangalananda
Belur Math: The Dynamo of spirituality
Swami Vireswarananda Maharaj would passionately exhort all spiritual aspirants to derive spiritual benefit and inspiration from Belur Math’s atmosphere. He would say “Remember Belur Math first, then other centres. You may have to work in other places for a long time, you may not have stayed longer here, but remember that all the inspiration that other centres have got is from this place. This is the place which radiates spirituality, which radiates the message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. So try to come and stay here even for a short time when work permits. That will inspire you and give you tremendous energy to work with greater zeal when you go back.” Again, he would tell the sadhus, “Whenever your battery runs low, come here and get it charged at Belur Math. This is a spiritual dynamo and from here the spiritual power is, as it were, distributed throughout the world and because you are far away from this dynamo, your battery runs down. Therefore, come here and get it charged. This atmosphere is so full of spirituality that your mere coming here will fill you with inspiration, and you will derive spiritual uplift automatically, as it were.”
It may not be possible to frequently physically visit holy places like Belur Math, Joyrambati, Kamarpukur etc. But we can visit them daily mentally in the heart of our being, spend quality time in the presence of our Eternal Parents and derive spiritual succour.
— Swami Satyeshananda