When he was a Vice President of the Order, Swami Atmasthananda Maharaj once came to Rajkot. He was usually accommodated in a room upstairs. But for this visit arrangements had been made to accommodate him in a new room in the ground floor which was particularly prepared to receive him. There was also a waiting room just nearby where he could meet the devotees. But when he came and understood that he was being accommodated in a different room, he refused to enter it. He declared that he would stay only in that room upstairs. The incharge swami and others tried to convince him that this arrangement was done for his convenience. But Maharaj was firm. He wanted to stay only in that upstairs room. So, that room was quickly prepared to accommodate him. All the swamis were wondering why Maharaj was so adamant. Later, Maharaj told his sevaks, “I know all the incoveniences of staying in this room upstairs. I have to climb up and down so many times. But in this room Vireswaranandaji, Gambhiranandaji and other great senior swamis have stayed. Wherever these great swamis stay that place becomes holy. Their vibrations are here.” This gave us a new perception about a place. Vibrations are more important than conveniences.
— Swami Nikhileswarananda
No compromise with principles
Atmasthanandaji Maharaj took charge of Rajkot Ashrama from Swami Bhuteshanandaji in 1966. While taking charge he asked what were the important things he should focus on. Bhuteshanandaji had started collecting funds for building a new temple at the cost of rupees 3 lakhs. He told Atmasthanandaji to complete this temple project. As Gujarat is known for its big temples, Atmasthanandaji decided that the temple of Sri Ramakrishna too should be of a grand dimension. He changed the plans and the temple construction estimate became 12 lakh rupees (when the temple was completed it cost more than 45 lakhs). It was a very big amount in those days.
Maharaj started collecting funds for the temple. Simultaneously, he undertook many relief activities. He wanted the temple to be a replica of Belur Math. Architects from Ahmedabad were hired. A newly joined brahmachari who had done Structural Engineering from USA was put in charge of the construction. This brahmachari collected the original plan of Belur Math from the company who had constructed it. Meanwhile, Maharaj wanted the general public of Rajkot to participate in the temple construction. So he printed one rupee coupons and sent the devotees, sadhus and brahmacharis across the city to sell them and collect funds.
At such a time one day a person came with 5 lakh rupees and said he wanted to donate it. The Ashrama had collected in 2-3 years only about 2 lakhs. So Maharaj was very happy to get 5 lakhs in one stroke. The man had come with cash. Maharaj asked a swami to count it. After the counting Maharaj asked the man in whose name the receipt was to be issued. But the man said “No, I don’t want any receipt.” Maharaj replied “No, no. Without issuing a receipt we cannot accept any money.” The money was immediately returned to the man. No compromise with principles. (Similar incident: Truthfulness and faith)
— Swami Nikhileswarananda
With Sri Ramakrishna in the Temple
Atmasthanandaji Maharaj was in-charge of our Pre-probationers’ Training Centre (PPTC). He ensured that we would get up at 3:40 A.M. during summer and at 4:00 A.M. during winter and attend the morning mangalarati. He was very particular that sadhus and brahmacharins attend both mangalarati and sandhyarati in the main temple. He would say, “Master’s living presence can be felt very tangibly at the Main temple. Praying and meditating in the main temple both in the early morning and evening in the presence of our loving Thakur will solve all our problems ensuring the spiritual well-being of our holy Order.” Maharaj was the General Secretary of the Order from 1992 to 1997. During this period, he would attend evening arati at the main temple without fail. He would be found seated on his asana well before the commencement of arati. He would say, “Thakur is the centre of our life. Sadhan-bhajan and selfless work must go hand in hand to receive Thakur’s grace.” He was also very particular that we followed the routine strictly.
— Swami Satyeshananda
Who owns the ashrama?
Atmasthanandaji Maharaj had the strong conviction that Sri Ramakrishna is present in every ashrama of our Order. Many senior swamis — including one who had worked with him for several years at the Headquarters — told me that one thing about Maharaj was very much certain: He had a deep faith in Sri Ramakrishna. After joining the Order, I asked Maharaj how I could connect every activity of the ashrama with Sri Ramakrishna. It was relatively easy to do so when I was worshipping in the temple; but when it came to work like checking and replying emails in computer, I was finding it difficult to connect.
He then asked me, “Do you own the ashrama?” “No”, I replied. “Does the Swami in-charge own it?” I thought for a moment and again said, “No”. “Then, who owns it?” “Sri Ramakrishna”, I replied. “That is the answer to your question”, he said. There was such a directness in his answer that it at once touched my heart and head.
— Swami Ishadhyanananda
It was perhaps in the year 1995 when Atmasthanandaji Maharaj was the General Secretary of the Order. I was in the Order for nearly two decades and was all along serving at the Mission Headquarters where I constantly interacted with the senior-most swamis of the Order. I was quite free with them. This kind of freeness often not only removes fear, it also induces a kind of brazenness in our behaviour. I had a free approach to Maharaj. One day we were discussing something and Maharaj said something which was absolutely wrong. Immediately I corrected him. Maharaj just looked at me for some time and then said, “You see, we have become old. If we say something, even if it is not correct, can you not just tolerate? Should you correct us immediately?” That day I felt so ashamed of myself. It was not necessary for me to have corrected him so curtly. I could have very gently pointed out a little later that Maharaj was not correct. But, because of my impetuous nature, I went to correct him at once. Once again it was a great lesson as to how to deal with very senior swamis. A little mistake here and there in mundane matters is hardly of any consequence. What one should be really correct at is in monastic vows and virtues.
— Swami Shantatmananda
Swami Sarvapriyananda (the present Minister-incharge of the Vedanta Society, New York) and I joined the Order at our Deogarh centre. On one occasion, we were sent by Swami Suvirananda Maharaj (the then Secretary of Deoghar Ashrama and presently the General Secretary of our Order) to Belur Math on some official purpose. Swami Atmasthananda Maharaj who was then the General Secretary, instead of sending us back to our centre after our work was over, asked us to stay in Belur Math for at least two weeks. When we were about to take leave of him after two weeks, Maharaj told us with great feeling, “Do you know, why I detained you here? Because, here your Ishta is tangibly residing, Mother Ganga is here and moreover your guru is still here in Belur Math in his physical body. All these taken together is Belur Math. Belur Math does not mean some buildings. Moreover, even today you will get many sadhus here who are leading pure lives and have seen God. Living in this holy atmosphere, you will feel that subtle vibration which will be immensely beneficial for your sadhu life.” We were simply overwhelmed, by Maharaj’s concern for us.
— Swami Tattwasarananda
Song of the Sannyasin
One night, Atmasthanandaji Maharaj asked us to recite from memory Swami Vivekananda’s poem ‘Song of the Sannyasin’. When we couldn’t do it, Maharaj flew into a rage and shouted at us, “I will send all of you back home if you don’t commit it to memory. I don’t want you here wasting Sri Sri Thakur’s food and resources.” I still remember that particular night. The whole night, all of us were trying to memorise that poem. Maharaj would say that this poem contains highest spiritual ideals necessary for leading a pure and noble life, and is a powerhouse of inspiration for both monastics and householders. While Swamiji has presented his deep thoughts in wonderful English, the Bengali translation by Swami Shuddhanandaji, the Kannada translation by Sri Kuvempu and translations into other vernacular languages are also very good and powerful. Even now, every day I try to recollect the verses from ‘Song of the Sannyasin’ and derive great inspiration, strength and guidance by reciting it.
— Swami Satyeshananda