Swami Ritajananda grew up in Mylapore, Madras and at the age of 25 joined the Order at Belur Math in 1932 and received mantra-diksha from Shivanandaji. He was given sannyasa-diksha by Swami Virajanandaji in 1940. After serving in Deoghar, Colombo, Students Home in Madras, and as editor of Ramakrishna Prabha, the Order’s Telugu magazine, he was sent in 1954 to serve in USA. In 1961, he took charge of the centre in France and served there till his mahasamadhi on 22 Jan 1994.
Lessons from Swami Ritajananda
Surely she/he will change
I first met Swami Ritajananda in 1969 when he was the head of the Centre Védantique in Gretz, France. He was quiet, self-contained and seemed (to me at least) a bit stern. I spent several happy weeks at the ashrama. Five or six years later, I spent another three weeks in Gretz. In that short interval, Swami Ritajananda seemed to have been transformed into another person altogether. It was as if a tight rose bud had suddenly fully bloomed, revealing its soft, fragrant nature. I was so shocked by the change that I asked him, “Why are you so different?” He smiled and simply said, “Sri Ramakrishna was kind to me.”
I was friends with his physician, Dr. Bourdeix, and his wife so I asked them what had happened. Dr. Bourdeix said that Swami Ritajananda seemed to have had a heart attack—his heart had stopped and they thought they had lost him. To their amazement, he regained consciousness with all his faculties intact. But in some inexplicable way, he had been transformed.
Swami Ritajananda was now as loving and indulgent as a mother with a brood of undisciplined children. Many more people now visited the ashram and stayed there for extended periods of time. Some of them could present problems. One woman in particular created a daily uproar for months together. Of all the many people I’ve known in my long life, she is certainly high on the list of difficult, demanding, impossible people. Even the saintly devotee Christa, who lived at the Center and who had routinely endured impossible, demanding people, was at her wit’s end and approached Swami Ritajananda to intervene and to ask her to leave. But Swami Ritajananda had become so much like Holy Mother that he simply said, “But don’t you see that she is just a child?”—even though the woman was at least 65. Christa was a bit ashamed by this, because she could see that yes, this woman was very difficult, but that is the way children behave. “Can’t you be patient with her?” was his final reply. And so she was and eventually the woman left on her own. One of Swami Ritajananda’s oft-repeated statements was, “Surely she/he will change.” Eventually every person would become a better, kinder human being, and he fully believed that every person was doing the best they were capable of. He always took the long and high road.
— Pravrajika Vrajaprana
It is all true
One of our Boston devotees, Nina, was a French teacher, and when she met Swami Ritajananda in the summer, she felt an indescribable attraction to him. She knew he was meant to be her guru. She went to Gretz with her husband Archie and was blessed to receive initiation from him. Swami Ritajananda said to Archie, “If you want, I can initiate you as well.” Archie replied “No, Swami, I don’t think…” And Swami Ritajananda immediately said, “No, Archie, you are right. After all, who knows? Who knows if all this is true?” Archie was hardly expecting such an openminded response from a swami, so Nina was initiated while he remained uncommitted. But the cobra had already sunk his teeth: by December Archie had to fly from Maine to Gretz, because he couldn’t stop thinking about that wonderful, loving, open-minded swami and he desperately wanted to have initiation from him. Even if he had to fly halfway across the world to do so, in the bitter cold of a French December.
Archie and Nina remained two of his most devoted disciples. Just days before Swami Ritajananda passed away, he was lying in bed, very ill, and Nina and Archie were on either side of him. Swami Ritajananda turned his head to Archie and said, “Archie, it is all true. It is all true.” And until the day he died, Archie wept every time he recounted that story. Take it from someone who has known the truth, Archie: It is all true. All true.
— Pravrajika Vrajaprana
How not to fight?
Try as I did, I could never manage to involve Swami Ritajananda in personal or vocational problems. Any complaint was turned aside blandly: “Moods change.” His policy when he was himself scolded or complained against was to remain silent. Just to sit silently until the other had run out of words. No self-defense, just silence. This response had the effect of disarming the assailant and finally forcing him to desist, defeated. The Swami thus was hard to quarrel with. Once, however, when I was really irritated about something he had done, I made up my mind to “have things out” with him. He listened in silence to my angry words and then answered calmly: “You know you are angry. So your reason is disturbed. We’ll wait a little while for the emotion to go, and then we’ll discuss the matter like the good friends we are.”
— Swami Vidyatmananda