Born at Thrissur in the state of Cochin (Kerala) in 1898, son of the second Crown Prince of Cochin state. Graduated from Presidency College, Madras, initiated by Swami Brahmananda (1917). Joined the Order at the Madras Math (1920) and served in the editorial department of the Vedanta Kesari. Ordained into sannyasa by Swami Shivananda (1924). Head of the Madras Math for sometime, founded the Mysore Ashrama. While serving the Bangalore Math as Head, posted to France (1937). Learned the French language and founded Centre Vedantique Ramacrichna at Paris, moving it to its permanent location at Gretz on the Seine in March 1948. The Ashrama registered in 1953, Gopal Maharaj died there on 2.4.1957 at the age of 59. Works: Meditation according to Yoga-Vedanta, Some Aspects of Vedanta Philosophy.
Who won the bout?
When I (Swami Siddheswarananda) was at the Madras monastery I had heard about Swami Vijnananandaji, one of the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. In 1922 I went to Belur Math. As a young sannyasi and coming from South India, with just a basic understanding of Bengali language, I waited impatiently for an opportunity to listen to Vijnananandaji tell his reminiscences of Sri Ramakrishna. Soon I had the opportunity … [and] I asked him, “Maharaj, would you be so kind as to talk about Sri Ramakrishna?”
He answered after some silence, “I’m going to ask you a question. How do you think of Sri Ramakrishna?”
“I think he is a Divine Incarnation”, I replied.
“My poor boy, is that all that you think of him? So, don’t you see that it is he who sends the incarnations, that he is the Divine Mother Herself?” Seeing me embarrassed, he did not ask me any further questions.
He then told us this reminiscence. “One day when I went to Dakshineswar, I saw him walking back and forth in the veranda. He had a very happy air and when he saw me, he imitated the gestures of a wrestler and asked me, ‘Do you want to wrestle a little with me?’ I too felt playful, but at the same time I said to myself, ‘How puny he looks and I am so big and strong, while he is so tiny and fragile!’ I went forward towards him and in a few movements I had him pinned to the wall, thus asserting my victory.”
Swami Vijnananandaji became grave and silent. The atmosphere created by this silence was extraordinary. Only those who have been in contact with great spiritual personalities can understand the power of such a silence. I had the impression that he was about to speak again. His monastic attendant signalled to me, however, not to ask any more questions at the moment. Several minutes went by in this way.
Then, Vijnananandaji turned towards me and asked, “In your opinion, who won this fight?”
“You won, Maharaj. There is no doubt about that.”
“Idiot! You haven’t understood anything. It is he who conquered me.’’
“How is that, Maharaj?” “Don’t you see, then, that I have become his slave? When I fought with him, he took into himself all my strength.”
Then, in a few words, he taught us how we should do japa: “When you repeat his name, imagine that you are grappling with him as I did. Let all your strength be absorbed in his name. It is in this way that he will grasp you and there will no more be you, but he, your Master.”
There is no difference between the Lord and his name, and the power of the divine name can overcome the influences of avidya, ignorance. We suppose that it is we who act, but grace can dispel that illusion. What do we notice, ordinarily, in the course of our spiritual practices? That we are lacking in love, in faith, or even in the simple faculty of concentration. Under such circumstances, we don’t make any progress. Many thoughts, like parasites, impose themselves upon us. We must pit the thought of the Lord, completely concentrated on his name, against the vagaries of our mind. It matters little if the influence of God appears too feeble in us compared to what is resisting him. Let us enter into the Divine play that Sri Ramakrishna had offered to Swami Vijnananandaji. The Lord, in struggling against our wayward thoughts is going to bring together in him their scattered forces and absorb their energy just as he, from that moment, lives in us.
(Collected and translated from French by Swami Yogeshananda and published in Prabuddha Bharata, Oct 2018)