Importance of sadhana
Swami Tapasyanandaji was a Trustee of the Order and hence every four months he had to go to Belur Math for the Trustees’ Meeting. In those days there was only one train – the Howrah Mail – which on the return journey reached Madras at 4:30 A.M.
Maharaj’s instruction was that nobody should go to receive him before 6:30 A.M. He insisted that no monastic should go out of the ashrama before 6:00 A.M. for that would mean missing the morning spiritual practices. So Maharaj preferred to wait at the platform for two hours till 6:30 A.M. I once still went to the railway station at 4:30 A.M. to pick him up. He chided me for missing my spiritual practices. At last, the arrangement was made that the driver alone would go to pick him up at 4:30 A.M.
— Swami Raghaveshananda
Conduct of a sannyasi
Once Swami Tapasyananda Maharaj came to meet Swami Gambhirananda Maharaj. When he was leaving after some discussion, Gambhirananda Maharaj asked me to go with him carrying a plate of sweet prasad and keep it in the Trustee Building room where he was staying. On reaching his room, Swami Tapasyanandaji saw many monastic brothers waiting to meet him; he distributed the sweets one by one to all of them. The last piece he gave to me without taking even one for himself. I then told him that I would report the incident to Gambhirananda Maharaj. Thereupon Swami Tapasyanandaji took a bit out of what he had given me and ate it. I returned to Gambhirananda Maharaj and narrated the whole incident. He simply remarked, “We did what we should do to a sannyasi and he did what a sannyasi should do.” What a wonderful perception!
— Swami Satyapriyananda
Treatise on trusteeship
To the unperceptive eye, Tapasyanandaji Maharaj appeared to be miserly; but those who knew him closely understood and appreciated his frugality. The following incident throws some light on it. There was a devotee-friend by name Sankarlinga Nadar. He knew Maharaj from his Trivandrum days. He used to come regularly every Sunday to meet Maharaj and spend some time with him. He also used to donate liberally to the Math. Nadar told me on many occasions that I should not hesitate to ask money for Maharaj’s personal expenses as well if need be. But such occasions never arose because Maharaj never spent money on himself.
One day Nadar was in Maharaj’s office. Maharaj’s new book Shankara Digvijaya had just been published. I went to his office and gave Maharaj a copy. Showing it to the devotee he remarked, “See, they have published one more book.” The devotee respectfully received it and requested Maharaj to autograph it. But Maharaj replied, “No, no, I have no right to present this to anybody. I am only a caretaker of the property of Sri Ramakrishna and not the owner. If you want a copy for yourself you will have to buy it from the sales section and then I will sign on it.” I was embarrassed. I wondered why a book costing Rs.20/- could not be given free to a donor and that too by the President of the Math. But look at Maharaj’s humility; he never considered himself the owner but only a caretaker. The devotee purchased the book. A day or two later he wrote a letter saying that he was convinced that every paisa donated to the Math was indeed being utilized properly for the particular cause for which it was given.
— Swami Raghaveshananda
Peerless commitment, peerless detachment
Once Swami Jnanadananda and I had gone to Bangalore for a book exhibition where we had put up a stall. When we returned after 10 days Tapasyananda Maharaj made a detailed enquiry of the book sales. He was keen to know which books were sold. For nearly two hours we explained everything in detail and in the end I said that there was a great demand for the English translation of Srimad Bhagvatam along with the original Sanskrit slokas. There was no such book available in the market then. And that it would be a valuable addition to our publications if Maharaj took up that work. He brushed aside my idea saying he was too old for that kind of work; he was 75 years old then. Swami Jnanadananda added that it would be very well received and the public expects such books from Ramakrishna Math. Hearing this Maharaj said that he would think it over.
After a week he called us and said that if he took up this work it would take him two years to complete it. We said, “Time is of no significance Maharaj; but we are concerned about your health.” He didn’t reply. His mind was set on it. The next day, he called me and asked me to fetch him good quality paper blank on one side (He never used fresh white paper for his work, but used to write on papers blank on one side lest Sri Ramakrishna’s money was wasted). I gave him a bundle of such papers. He summoned me again for a slate and some chalk pieces. I wondered what he would do with it. His answer astonished me; he said, “Many times the translation is not accurate; why waste paper? If I have a slate I can erase and rewrite it on paper when the translation is accurate.” He actually did so. The work progressed slowly. After a few days he called me and said, “Look, the progress of the work is very slow as I am not finding enough time, so I think I should get up by 3 in the morning and translate till 5 after which I can do my spiritual practices.”
I did not like this idea. I felt, at his age, Maharaj needed sufficient rest. But he insisted and said that if his body did not co-operate then he would not exert too much. Since I knew his nature I felt it was futile to argue with him. After a month or so he called me and said, “The electricity department has imposed ‘pay as per slabs’ on power usage. The user has to pay double the amount per unit for the units exceeding the allocated quota.” This worried him very much and he did not want to use electricity unnecessarily. I was momentarily happy when I thought that at least now Maharaj would be forced to take rest in the early morning hours. But I had a surprise in store. He asked me to get him a lantern so that in its light he could work in the early hours of the morning. I protested strongly saying it would affect his eyes. But he said that he was habituated to using the lantern as there was no electricity at home back in his school days. I had to oblige. Just imagine the scene, an elderly sannyasi sitting at a table with big books and with a lantern; all for the sake of Sri Ramakrishna’s work. Fortunately, this ordeal ended soon as the electricity board revoked the restriction of usage.
After laborious efforts, Tapasyanandaji completed the translation of the Srimad Bhagvatam into English. He called me and handed over the big manuscript bundle with childlike joy on his face. He heaved a sigh of relief when the work was complete. But what happened next was very interesting and revealed his non-attachment. He called Swami Jnanadananda and asked for an estimation of the cost to print the book. After two days he gave an estimate that came up to around Rs.2 lakhs (in those days) to bring out the book elegantly in four volumes. Tapasyanandaji called me and said, “It is futile to spend so much of Sri Ramakrishna’s money on this work.” He asked me to pack it properly and keep it aside. It was unbearable for us as we had seen him work on it for two years! We tried to convince him that it would not be a waste and that we would recover the money through the sales of the book. But he was adamant and wanted to scrap the publication of the book. At last we suggested that we would make a pre-publication offer and raise the Rs. 2 lakhs necessary for printing the book. Very reluctantly, he agreed.
— Swami Raghaveshananda
Tapasyanandaji Maharaj suffered from various ailments for more than a year prior to his demise. It was the month of May and the heat was severe. Hence the doctor suggested that an air-conditioned room be provided for Maharaj at the Math. We knew that it would be impossible to convince Maharaj to agree. However we requested a devotee to broach the subject with him. Maharaj was unwell at the time. The devotee went to him and with joined palms made the following suggestion: “Maharaj, I have a new air-conditioner at my home which is yet to be installed. It will be a great blessing for me if you use it for a month or two till you recover from your illness.” Even in his illness, Maharaj’s reply was an eye-opener for us. He said, “My dear friend, just walk behind our ashrama and you will find people living in slums. Among them there are people more aged than me. Can you provide air conditioners to all of them? I am a sannyasi and a beggar. Sri Ramakrishna, out of compassion, has provided me a room, a cot, a fan and what not. I am quite happy with whatever Sri Ramakrishna has provided.” The devotee returned with tears in his eyes admiring Maharaj’s renunciation. (Similar incident: Sri Ramakrishna’s Will)
— Swami Raghaveshananda
A petty desire was curbed.
Swami Tapasyananda Maharaj was well known for his English translation of Hindu scriptures. Among such translations, Srimad Bhagavatam was highly appreciated by eminent scholars in India and abroad.
Once some foreigners had come to meet Maharaj and they appreciated his translation and gifted him a gold-plated bookmark. It was good looking and I felt a small desire to have it. The golden bookmark was wrapped in an attractive cover on which ‘Bookmark’ was printed.
After the devotees left, Maharaj removed the paper cover and started using it. He just ignored the bookmark made of gold. I then told him, “The golden plate is the real bookmark.” But Maharaj replied, “You can use the golden one, but for me the paper page-mark will do.”
Strangely, seeing his spontaneous rejection of gold, my mind too gave up the desire for the bookmark.
— Swami Vimurtananda