Dots and line
I had gone to Hyderabad ashrama as a volunteer. Swami Yatiswarananda Maharaj too had come there. One day, while strolling with him, I said I like to meditate but do not get joy in japa. Maharaj stopped, and with his walking stick placed dots in a row over the dust of the path we were walking, and said, “This is japa.” Then, with the tip of the same walking stick, he joined the dots making a continuous line and said, “This is meditation.”
— Swami Brahmeshananda
I vividly remember a touching incident of 1961. I had joined the Bangalore Ashrama a year ago. One day, after our lunch, a Bengali couple came to the Ashrama at Basavanagudi in Bangalore around 1.30 P.M. They were Swami Yatiswaranandaji’s disciples. I informed him of their arrival. He came from his room and talked to them. On learning that they had not had their lunch, he asked me, “Is there any food left?” I said, “Yes, Swamiji.” I was in charge of the kitchen.
He accompanied them to the dining hall. The guests were offered seats on the floor and I placed two plates before them and served them food. Swamiji sat before them on the floor and watched them eat. It was summer. It was hot, and some flies were hovering around. Swamiji got a hand fan from me and started fanning away the flies. Now and then, he fanned the guests too. I told him, “Swamiji, please give it to me; I will fan them.” However, he continued to fan them. After their lunch, he spoke to them briefly and they took leave of him.
By this time, I was a little confused with the question: ‘This senior Swamiji, who is a guru of many, was fanning away the flies and fanning the couple as they were having their lunch. What to make of this?’ Since I had grown up in South India, I had a few more questions, but lacked the courage to ask him. But Maharaj spontaneously said something that answered all my questions, “They are verily Lakshmi-Narayana!”
His words left an indelible impression in my mind: they were not just husband and wife, but veritably the Goddess Lakshmi and God Narayana— was this not the noble attitude of the ancient Rishis?
— Swami Purushottamananda
How to progress?
I joined the Ramakrishna Order in 1963 in New Delhi under Swami Swahanandaji, a disciple of Swami Vijnanananda Maharaj. I had the divine privilege of being with Swami Yatiswaranandaji for a few days only. He came to the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi in 1964. He was giving mantra-diksha to a larger number of devotees. It was the time of Durga Puja and I received my mantra-diksha from Maharaj on the Mahastami day, 1964. As I was the pujari, I could meet Maharaj, only at night.
After night prasad many of us would sit at his feet surrounding him. Devotees and sadhus would then pose many questions and receive concise but clear answers to their spiritual problems. One such question was, “How to progress in spiritual life?” In reply Maharaj said that three things are essential for progress in spiritual life:
- A deep and sincere desire for leading a spiritual life.
- A pure and self-controlled life.
- Constant self-awareness.
He said, “One cannot emphasise sufficiently the importance of self-awareness.” During one of his talks, one night, Maharaj explained, “One must be extremely alert and watchful (how alert one must be while driving on a busy road) of what one is doing. Most of the failures and falls we see in spiritual life are due to this one defect of being careless and non-observant. Most sadhakas lead their life half-asleep as it were. Many of us are not aware of the thoughts that are passing in the depths of our minds, the words we utter, and what and why we do what we do. When we develop the art of being aware of everything that happens in our life, I would say, we have made very good progress in spiritual life.” It is of utmost importance to be aware of everything that happens in our life.
— Swami Dayatmananda
Serve with courtesy
“First, be a gentleman if you wish to become a sadhu or holy man,” was Swami Yatiswaranandaji’s motto, and he himself lived up to it. I was then his secretary and the senior most brahmachari of the Ashrama in the Basavanagudi centre at Bengaluru; it was some status in the eyes of visiting devotees! A small group of such people came to see Maharaj one morning. He was then walking about in the open field, in front of the office-building, in which both of us resided and worked. After talking with them when he was taking leave, he called me and asked me to give them prasada. I promptly brought some pieces of offered sugar candy in a plate, and standing on the raised verandah of the building, held out the prasada so that they could come and take. Suddenly, like a bolt came a sharp scolding from Maharaj who was watching from a slight distance; a scolding which I never could expect. With a stern face, he said, “Foolish fellow! Come down and give it to them. Come down.” This scolding, to the ‘senior’ brahmachari, in front of all the devotees… what a humiliation — enough to make one run away in fury or in shame. But, somehow through the Lord’s grace, I could take it very calmly; it didn’t even rankle in my mind after the episode was over. In retrospect, I could see it was a timely shot at an ‘ego’ which perhaps needed to come down. ‘Come down! Don’t stand on a high pedestal. The devotees are to be served with great courtesy. Behave like a gentleman at least,’ was the obvious message, which dawned on me in retrospect.
— Swami Sastrananda
Importance of human relationship
I had just been given the responsibility of the bookstall in the ashrama. Since the annual celebrations were round the corner I had prepared a grand plan of decorating the bookstall for the occasion. My budget for it was Rs 25/-. It was quiet a big amount in December 1954. As the proposal was discussed in our night class [every centre of the Ramakrishna Order has a night class where the monastics gather for a reading and discussion], all the monastic brothers poohpoohed it saying that even after spending so much money the sales would not go up. Seeing me downcast, Yatiswaranandaji asked how much money I needed. On hearing me say ‘Twenty five rupees’, he immediately sanctioned it.
When I was going to his room, he suddenly turned towards me and said, with great emphasis, ‘Whenever there is a conflict between a material object and a human relationship, throw away the material object and keep the human relationship!’
— Swami Harshananda
Talking with God
It was evening. Accompanied by N., Yatiswaranandaji was going for a small stroll in the ashrama grounds (Bangalore Ashrama). They first went to the shrine. There, standing before Sri Ramakrishna, Maharaj muttered something in his native Bengali and folded his hands in respectful namaskar. After coming out of the temple, out of sheer curiosity, N. asked him what he was muttering. Not appreciating this undue inquisitiveness, Yatiswaranandaji sharply rebuked him and they continued their evening stroll. A few minutes later, Maharaj turned to N., and gently said, “Did you feel hurt by my words? You see, I was telling Sri Guru Maharaj that I am having a back-ache. Hence bending and saluting is rather painful. Please excuse me and accept my salutation, like this (in standing posture) itself. And you know, Sri Guru Maharaj smiled at me and accepted my pranams.” God was no imagination for him. And whatever is real, becomes palpable, tangible. He lived this idea.
— A Sannyasi