Renouncer and householder
Once a devotee named Rao, who always saw Maharaj engrossed in normal chores like cooking and tending cows, asked in a lighter vein, “Swamiji, what is the difference between a householder and you? We worry about our children and you worry about your cows”. Maharaj promptly replied, “Rao, there is an important difference. If tomorrow the Headquarters sends me a postcard asking me to leave to another Centre, I just take my loin-cloth and leave.” He then made a gesture of wiping his hands sideways, implying finishing with a task for good (and not even taking the dust of that place). “Can a householder walk out of his home in this way?” he asked.
— Swami Harshananda
A stray desire
One day Tyagishananda Maharaj told us, “Just see, how funny! Yesterday a stray thought crossed my mind, just a simple stray thought! It was rather chilly, and I thought: How nice it would have been if I had a shawl to cover myself with! Unbelievable as it is, today did bring a shawl. I was frightened. This was an innocent, harmless desire; what if some bad thought had come to my 105The Vedanta Kesari December 2020 PAGE SPONSOR : DR. SUBRAMANIYABHARATHIYAR R., KANCHEEPURAM mind, an evil desire, and it was fulfilled immediately! Then and there, I prayed, “No, no, O Lord! Fulfil my desires only if they are good, only if they are helpful in my spiritual development and progress. Otherwise not!’”
— Swami Kirthidananda
Accounts up to the last minute
I knew Swami Tyagishananda Maharaj quiet well as he had been my father’s colleague. As headmaster of the Vivekodayam school, Trichur, he drew a salary of Rs.125. He would take Rs.5 for his personal expenses and donate Rs.120 to the school. Once when he was writing accounts I approached him to clear a doubt. He asked me to wait. After closing the accounts book he raised his head and told me, “I am particular about keeping the accounts up to the minute. Who knows when I may pass away!”
— C.S. Ramakrishnan
Do not tempt
I joined the Ramakrishna Order at our Basavanagudi centre in Bangalore. Tyagishananda Maharaj was the head of the centre. There were no servants and we brahmacharis did all the work of the ashrama—cooking, looking after the dairy, keeping the ashrama premises clean, washing the cooking vessels, and the dining hall, and performing worship in the shrine, etc. by turns. At that time, it was my responsibility to cook, wash the vessels, and clean the dining hall. Another brahmachari was helping me in this. This bramachari had taken on himself the task of teaching a boy of six or seven the three R’s. We slowly relieved ourselves of the duty of cleaning the dining hall and washing the vessels, by entrusting it to this boy. After some days, leaving the boy alone to finish the tasks, I went to have an afternoon nap. After finishing his work, the boy, not knowing what else to do, started riding the ashrama cycle in the premises. Hearing that sound, Tyagishananda Maharaj came out of the room, woke me up, and cried out, “What is this going on? Why have you left the boy all alone like this? See what he is doing.” I most casually replied, “Oh! He is a nice boy!” Immediately Maharaj replied, “He is a nice boy, all right, but why do you make him bad by tempting him? You have no right to do that.”
The truth of it dawned on me some thirty years later, when I was in charge of the Students’ Home in Madras started in 1905 by Swami Ramakrishnananda. The institute has separate hostels – one for the senior boys, the other for the junior boys. The general rule is that the boys of the one section will not mix with the boys of the other hostel. However, as anyone who has dealt with children knows, as far as children are concerned, rules are there only to be broken. This rule was no exception.
The students found some excuse or other to circumvent this rule. One smart fellow, studying in Standard VI or VII would go to the senior hostel under the pretext of seeing late Anna N. Subramanian, who spent his day-time in a room specially reserved for him to study and write books. ‘Anna’ was the name by which people addressed him out of reverence and also affection. He was in his eighties then. This boy would go to him every day, and pretend to do little bits of service to him. Thus he gained his confidence so much so that Anna would leave the room in his hands and go out sometimes to the bathroom or toilet. But, then, Anna found things, including some coins he kept in the drawer missing now and then. He did not, however, suspect the boy. 106The Vedanta Kesari December 2020 One day, a senior boy who was crossing that way found this boy opening Anna’s drawer, he entered the room to find out what the matter was. No sooner had he entered than the boy took to his heels. The senior boy ran after him and when he finally caught him, nothing incriminatory was found on him or later in his trunk or book-safe. However, around Rs.30/-, big amount in those day, was missing from Anna’s drawer. Anna started cursing and blaming the boy. I narrated to him the incident that had happened years back at Bangalore and what Tyagishananda Maharaj had told me on that occasion: Anna had to blame himself and not the boy. Anna agreed. He said, “Yes, yes, that is correct. Mahapurush Maharaj (his guru Swami Shivanandaji) had told me the same thing – ‘Don’t put temptations before others. You yourself are to blame if someone becomes bad because of your negligence.’ All these years I did not realise the truth of what he had said. Swami Tyagishananda Maharaj has told you the same thing.”
We finally found out what was the matter. The other boys in the hostel, though poor, would buy ice-cream whenever the street ice-cream vendor passed that way out of the pocket money given to them by their parents. This boy was poorer than others, and his widowed mother could not afford to give him anything. The other boys, seeing that he had no money to purchase the ice-cream, would buy it for him, putting him to shame. So he started stealing small amounts from Anna’s room, out of which he would buy ice-cream for himself and the others, too. That restored his self-respect somewhat among his classmates, who, knowing fully well what he was doing, encouraged him in his misdeed. Who was to blame for all his crime? Anna definitely, as he himself accepted. Yet, the boy was brilliant and talented, and could entertain others by beautifully reciting the stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and other books, which he had learnt from his mother. What Tyagishananda Maharaj taught me is a great lesson for all, for all time.
— Swami Kirthidananda
Information and permission: The difference
One of the monastics, who had not yet ‘officially’ joined though residing in the ashrama, had undergone surgery at a local hospital. His mother was looking after him in the hospital. After discharge, he was taken home for recuperation. I planned to go to his home and look him up. It was morning and Tyagishananda Maharaj was pacing about in the verandah. I told him, “This evening I am going to see him at his home.” He heard what I said and just kept quiet. In the evening, as I was about to go out riding on the bicycle, I saw him again in the verandah. As a matter of courtesy, I wanted to take his permission and asked, “May I go to his place now?” Instantly came an unexpected response, “No!”
I was taken aback and said, “But, Maharaj, in the morning I informed you about it and then you didn’t say anything!” Perhaps I was trying to point out an obvious contradiction. But he gravely rejoined, “In the morning you said, ‘I am going to see him.’ It was your decision and I had nothing to say. Now you are asking ‘May I go?’, which is seeking my permission. I say ‘No’; it is not good for you.”
— Swami Sastrananda
Everything belongs to Sri Ramakrishna
Once, one of the monastic probationers wanted his visiting friend to have lunch at the ashrama. Lunch had already started and while laying the plate for the unexpected visitor, it was 107The Vedanta Kesari December 2020 PAGE SPONSOR : DR. SUBRAMANIYABHARATHIYAR R., KANCHEEPURAM found that there was no curd left to serve him also; the ‘cook’ informed accordingly. Perhaps the probationer did not like it and said, “All right, here is my portion; you can take it and give it to him.”
At this, Tyagishananda Maharaj remarked sharply, “In the ashrama, there is no ‘my’ share or ‘your’ share. It is all Sri Ramakrishna’s. Either it is there, or it is not!” He would also tell us that, as a sannyasi, “You have no right to ask for something. But you have the right to decline and say ‘no’ if offered.”
— Swami Sastrananda
Tyagishananda Maharaj did not like pretensions or showing off, whether it concerned himself or others. He did not care to be appreciated or admired by others. In fact, he took special measures to avoid such admiration. Once, Mahatma Gandhi who was travelling in South India and had come to Bangalore, had expressed a desire to meet Swami Tyagishanandaji who, in his earlier period of life, had done remarkable and pioneering work for the uplift of the ‘Harijans’ or ‘untouchables’. Tyagishanandaji went to the railway station to meet Gandhiji who was staying in the railway compartment. They had the talks as planned. But something else also happened. Just then, an Austrian lady – a painter – had also come to interview Gandhiji; but she at times kept on interrupting him, even when he was to speak. At this, Gandhiji playfully stretched his hand, held her nose between his index and middle fingers and pulling it, said, “Let me speak!” The unorthodox remedy worked. Meanwhile she was somehow greatly attracted to the appearance and personality of Tyagishanandaji. She introduced herself to him and expressed her desire to paint his portrait. It was not surprising, for he had a tall and well-built figure, a fine copperygolden complexion and flowing white hair and beard, somewhat like Tagore. She declared she would come to the ashrama next morning to do the painting and asked him to be ready. She was happy that she had now a magnificent ‘subject’ to express her painting talents.
True to the agreement, next morning, Tyagishanandaji was ‘ready’ after bath etc., and was, as usual, pacing up and down in the verandah, with his staff in hand. She also arrived as promised, and after looking up at him in a puzzled way for a while, asked, “Where is Swami so and so, whom I am to meet?” Tyagishanandaji promptly replied, “Yes, here I am!” But she was not convinced and stood for some time confused. This person says he is Swami Tyagishananda, but he is not the one whom she had met! Wherein lay the mystery? The mystery was due to the fact that early that morning Tyagishanandaji had called the barber and had a complete shave – all his silvery hair and beard had gone! And to those who did not know that, he did indeed look a different person. Even to some of us, the difference was quite striking. Anyway, when the confusion was cleared and it became confirmed that it was Swami Tyagishananda Maharaj himself, the very person whom she had met earlier, a deep disappointment came over her. No Tagorean hair and beard! She went back without doing any painting.
— Swami Sastrananda
A solid foundation
Every day Swami Tyagishananda Maharaj used to take regular classes for us monastics. While we sat at the table, he would pace up and down, explaining the texts. In some classes he purposefully dictated notes – I myself have a thousand or more pages of them – and we would be taking down. Towards the end of his life he took up the Isha Upanishad, a very brief upanishad; but in about 10 months, and after about 400 pages of notes, only 2 verses had been covered! One of us, who was more impatient than the others once complained, “Swamiji, it is going on so slowly… when will it be finished?” Sharply and gravely he replied, “So you want me to finish soon? All right, I shall rush through all the Upanishads in 3-4 months, and then you can go and boast before others that you have studied all of the Upanishads – is it not? Look here, I am not interested in that. I am interested in giving you all extensive and authentic general foundation material, by properly utilising which you can, in future, study the various scriptures yourself.” What a deep and valuable approach. Time proved the validity of his assumption in my own life at least, to a great extent.
— Swami Sastrananda
Faith in Sri Ramakrishna
One day I requested Swami Tyagishananda to permit me to collect some donations for the ensuing birthday of Sri Ramakrishna. He forbade me; so I kept quiet. After some days, one evening a jatka (horse driven cart) came to the ashrama with groceries and vegetables. A devotee was with Maharaj at that time. Maharaj asked him to enquire the details from the jatkawala (cart man). He was informed that the goods were sent by the owner of a grocery store to the ashrama. However, Swami Tyagishanandaji thought that I might have arranged it. So, he asked the devotee to go to the store and find out the truth. The owner of the store told him that the goods were his donation in kind for the birthday of Sri Ramakrishna. He did not know me. The gift was spontaneous. All were surprised. Swami Tyagishanandaji had tremendous faith in Sri Ramakrishna. He knew that the Lord was the doer and all others were only instruments.
— Swami Sastrananda