Has Sri Krishna made a mistake!
I joined the Ramakrishna Order at Trissur Ashrama in 1973. Though I was from Karnataka, the main reason for joining there was the presence of Swami Ishwaranandaji who was leading a retired life there.
A few months after joining, one afternoon I approached Ishwaranandaji with a doubt. In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna says मामनसु्मर युध्य च “Think of me at all times and fight.” This confused me. We are told to concentrate on one thing at a time. But here Sri Krishna is asking us to do two things at the same time. After presenting my doubt before Maharaj, I also foolishly declared, “It seems there is a mistake”.
Ishwaranandaji looked at me with eyes wide open, smiled and said, “Ooh! Krishna has made a mistake!?”
Embarrassed, I haltingly replied “No, no, maharaj, I mean…. I do not understand how it is possible”
Pointing to the small hall where he was sitting, maharaj asked me “It is not clean. Can you clean it?”
“Yes, Swamiji. When shall I do it?” I asked.
“Now, if you are free.”
I went out thinking Maharaj might have been displeased with my foolish remark and hence did not answer my question. I came back with a broom, mopping cloth and a small bucket and soon cleaned the room. In the meantime, Maharaj had gone out for a walk.
Similarly, I cleaned the room the next two days. On the fourth day, when I was cleaning the small hall, Ishwaranandaji was walking in the corridor outside the room. Soon, I noticed that every time he came near the hall, he paused at the door for a few seconds, without entering the hall. Though I didn’t turn around to look at him, I felt, that on walking every round across the corridor, he was observing me cleaning the hall. This made me a little self-conscious of my work and I gave more attention to cleaning even the window sill, the table top and legs, etc. The next day, i.e., the fifth day, the same thing played out, Maharaj would pause at the door every now and then and I also cleaned with full attention. But as I finished cleaning that day, Maharaj came inside, looked around and asked, “Yesterday and today I have noticed, there is a difference in the level of cleaning. The window sills are cleaner, all the corners are cleaner, the table is cleaner. What happened?”
I then replied, “Maharaj, I felt that you were watching me every time you came walking this side of the corridor. So, I put more effort and attention in cleaning.”
“I was walking outside, did I come in and stand in front of you, watching you cleaning?” asked revered Maharaj.
“Though you were not here in the hall looking at me or visible to me, there was a feeling in me that you were observing me cleaning,’’ I replied.
With a gentle smile, Ishwaranandaji said, “Yes. Similarly, remember that God is always watching you, even though He may not be visible to your eyes. If you have this feeling that He is watching, your work also becomes perfect. Remembrance and work can go together. That is the meaning of ‘Think of me at all times and fight.’ Do you understand now the words of Sri Krishna?”
A new light flashed in my intelligence.
Then he asked me “Do you know the story of Kanakadasa and the banana?”
Though I knew it, I wanted to hear the story from him, and so replied, “What is it? Tell me Maharaj.”
Then he related the well-known story. Kanakadasa, a shepherd, was a great devotee of Sri Krishna. He was accepted as a disciple by Sri Vyasaraya Swami. The other orthodox disciples did not like their guru giving so much attention and love to the lower-caste man. To show them the greatness of Kanaka, once Vyasaraya Swami gave them all a banana each and asked them to eat it secretly at a place where nobody would see them. The next day, Kanaka came back with the banana. While the other disciples were laughing at him, the guru asked Kanaka to explain the matter. Then Kanaka replied, “I could not eat the banana in secret because, everywhere, and at all times, my Krishna is watching me.”
After narrating the story, Ishwaranandaji told me, “Remember, God is always watching you, even when you are asleep.”
— Swami Jitakamananda
Offer all actions to Sri Ramakrishna
It was 1974-75. I was reading Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga, and there was a discussion among the brahmacharis about Karma and bondage. Swamiji explains in the book how the law of Karma works. One Karma leads to another, and it also affects the mind and our personality. Then the fruits of action lead to another birth. It appeared to me like a vicious cycle. How to come out of it?
Swami Ishwarananadji was sitting in an easy chair. I approached him and expressed my thoughts. How to come out of this cycle of Karma?
After looking at me for a few seconds, Maharaj said, “Do one thing. Before going to bed, mentally take a handful of flowers and offer it at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna as an offering of fruit of all your actions of the day.”
A nice idea. But how can a mere mental offering destroy Karma phala?. I was expecting something profound from Maharaj. I felt the answer was very simple. I was not satisfied with this simple method.
So I asked again, “What after that?”
He replied gravely, “Do it, and you will understand.”
I thought for a minute and again asked, “Maharaj, while doing puja, we offer only the good flowers and good fruits to God. Similarly, should I offer only my good deeds?”
“No, no. Offer all your actions, both good and bad. If you keep bad deeds to yourself, you will not be able to digest it,” Maharaj earnestly replied.
He then said, “Listen to this story from Mahabharata.”
“After performing the Rajasuya Yajna, the priests came to Yudhistirah and told him “the yajnam has come to an end, only one thing is pending; it is yajna phala samarpanam to the Yajamana, or offering the fruits of the sacrifice to the owner who performed it. If you kindly come with us we will complete that ritual”. Then Yudhistirah thought a while and replied, ‘No, not me. Our grandfather Bhishma is present. He is the senior most in our family. He should receive the fruits of the Yajnam.’ When they all went to Bhishma Pithamaha with this request, he declined saying, ‘No, I’m not fit to receive it.’ ‘Then how will this Yajnam be completed’ asked Yudhistirah. Then Bhishma replied, ‘Only one person has the capacity to accept Yajna Phalam in this world and that is Sri Krishna.’ During Rajasuya Yajna, Sri Krishna was given t h e r e s p o n s i b i l i t y o f receiving the guests and looking after their needs. Now Yudhistirah and others went to Sri Krishna and explained the whole matter and begged him to come and save the situation. Sri Krishna then smilingly accepted the Yajna Phalam.”
Narrating this story, Swami Ishwaranandaji told me “Good actions are like golden chains, and bad actions are like iron chains. If you want to come out of the entanglement of both the chains, then offer the fruits of all your actions, good and bad, to the Lord. Only He has the power to accept everything.”
Next day during his walk, Swami Ishwaranandaji came and stood next to me and said, “Yesterday, you asked me ‘What after that?’ If you offer all your actions every day to the Lord, then after some time there will awaken in you an inner perception that you are not the doer of action, God is the doer, you are only Nimitta, an instrument in the hands of God. Your ego will then become a ‘ripe ego: thereby you will be free from bondage’”
— Swami Jitakamananda
Sri Mannath Padmanabhan, the founder of the Nair Service Society and the great social reformer of the State, said of Ishwaranandaji: “When I first met Swami Iswaranandaji, I sat in front of him without his asking. When I met him for the second time, I sat before him when asked to do so. But, when I met him for the third time, I couldn’t sit before him even after he asked me to do so!”
— Sri Sudarsanam Sukumaran Master
The scene was Poonkunnam Ashram, Thrissur. A discussion was in progress. One of the speakers vehemently criticised the sannyasis in general. All the sannyasis present in the hall left the place in silent protest, except Ishwaranandaji, who continued to remain unperturbed till the end. Later, when he was questioned about it, his disarming answer was, “Just as I have my right and freedom to maintain and preserve my ideology, he too has the same right and freedom for his ideology.”
— Sri Sudarsanam Sukumaran Master
An atheist in the ashrama!
Once an atheist came to the Ashram and began arguing with Maharaj, denying the existence of God and criticising sannyasis. Without the slightest resentment, Maharaj politely asked him to stay for a couple of days in the Ashram. He stayed for three days and all these days Maharaj found time to interact with him. When he was leaving the man prostrated before Maharaj! He was transformed.
— Sri Sudarsanam Sukumaran Master
Brahman and the Avatara
Even as a young boy, Iswaranandaji was in close contact with Swami Nirmalanandaji. In later years while reminiscing about this association, Iswaranandaji said, “Once when we were together in the office of Prabudha Keralam (Malayalam monthly magazine of the Order) in Trivandrum, I asked Nirmalanandaji whether Sri Ramakrishna was really an avatara. Nirmalanandaji replied, ‘Swami Vivekananda was the avatara. Sri Ramakrishna is the Absolute Truth, the Absolute Principle and the Absolute Splendour, which has occasioned the advent of that avatara.’ After saying so, he kept quiet for some time and tears trickled down his eyes.”
— A Sannyasi