May your parents be Gods unto you
According to the Hindu tradition, children start their day offering pranams to their parents by touching their feet. The parents, in turn, bless their children by placing their hands on their heads or kissing them on the forehead.
Swami Lokeswaranandaji told us that his father used to start his day by offering pranams to his parents. Once he had to go on a week-long trip. His father had passed away by then and his mother was alive. Realising that he would not be able to offer his daily pranams to his mother while on tour, Lokeswaranandaji’s father chalked out a plan. He collected some wet earth, took an impression of his mother’s toes on it, wrapped it in plastic cover and put it in his tour bag. During the tour he would take out a piece of clay from the plastic cover, mix it in a glass of water and drink it while paying mental obeisance to his mother. Such was devotion to parents in the older generation.
— Swami Somatmananda
Surrendering to the Lord
I first came in touch with Swami Lokeswarananda Maharaj in June-July 1947 when I joined as a brahmachari at the Students’ Home of the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Pathuriaghata, Calcutta. Maharaj was the Secretary of the ashrama. Later, how this ashrama was shifted to Narendrapur and developed into a big educational complex, comprising institutions of residential school and college education, technical education and training for the blind, mass education and departments of rural welfare and development, etc., is an amazing story of his imagination, initiative and tireless efforts.
It was 1952 or so. Among other duties I had to look after the cash and accounts of the ashrama. Maharaj’s standing instruction was that I should inform him sufficiently in advance before any upcoming big expenditure, for it was not easy to arrange for money at a short notice. Accordingly, probably in the month of July, I informed him that in the following week, food grains had to be purchased from the ration shop and it would cost around Rs. 1400/-. But the cash and bank balance was very meagre. It was not sufficient even for the daily purchases of vegetables etc.
Maharaj asked me to check my accounts book and see whether there was, among the regular donors, any big donor/ donors whose contribution for the year fell due at the time. Evidently he thought of approaching him or them for contribution. In those days, big donors or subscribers who were a handful of benevolent friends would regularly donate Rs.360/- per year to meet the maintenance cost of one student, worked out at the rate of Rs. 30/- per month. I examined the account books and informed him that there was no such donor. However, there was one gentleman who used to pay yearly Rs. 360/- on his behalf and another Rs. 360/- on behalf of one of his close relatives. That donor made these donations in September/October every year. Maharaj then telephoned the gentleman and expressed his wish to visit him at his residence. The gentleman cordially responded and said, “Maharaj, I was also thinking of you for some time. Please do come.” So Maharaj went to his home. After Maharaj returned, I learnt the gist of their conversation.
The gentleman said, “Maharaj, I am shortly going to England for a long time on an advanced study programme. It is good that before I leave Calcutta I could meet you today.” Maharaj felt disappointed at heart. He thought that the gentleman would himself require a big amount for his foreign trip. Under such embarrassing circumstances how could he now raise the topic of his donation to the ashrama. But presently the gentleman said, “For this trip a lot of expenditure is being incurred, but I shall feel bad if I cannot now give some amount to the ashrama.” Maharaj then said, “You need not worry. When you will return, you will earn more and will be able to contribute more in future.” But the gentleman replied, “No Maharaj, I shall really feel very bad if I cannot now give some amount to the ashrama. So let me do something.” He took out his cheque book and handed over to Maharaj a cheque for Rs. 1400/- which was roughly the amount of his and his relative’s contribution for two years. On his return Maharaj gave me the cheque and narrated quietly his feeling of how Sri Ramakrishna himself was running the institution using him and us as his instruments. This was not a solitary incident. Several times he encountered such situations when his prayer to and faith in Sri Ramkrishna saved him and the institution. Swami Vivekananda has said that if we have love, sympathy and deep feeling for other’s sufferings, and if we are pure and sincere to the backbone and pray to the Lord for help, help is bound to come. By seeing Lokeswarananda Maharaj’s life we are led to believe that Swamiji’s words are perfectly true.
— Swami Mumukshananda
I was then working at the Office of the Students’ Home. It was the time of admitting new boys. Applicants were many and only a few could be selected. I drafted a cryptic reply to those who were not selected for admission. My draft reply for a guardian was something like this: ‘Sorry to let you know that your ward was not selected for admission etc.’ Lokeswarananda Maharaj called me to his side and said endearingly, “See, the gentleman applied to us with great hopes. He will be certainly very aggrieved getting the news that his son or ward has not been selected. Can we not write a little politer letter so that he may feel that we have sympathy for him although we are unable to help him in the matter of his ward’s admission?” Then he rewrote the letter. He wrote something like this: ‘Dear Sri………, We could have been very happy if we could concede to your request and admit your ward. But owing to extreme shortage of accommodation we are sorry to let you know that your ward has not been selected. Please excuse us for this inability’, etc, etc.
— Swami Mumukshananda
I always looked forward to interact with Swami Lokeswarananda Maharaj. But there was a danger! He would enquire: “What are you reading?’’ That is to know if I was up-to-date with the recent publications. I’m talking of 1987-88 and I was serving in our higher secondary school in Purulia Ashrama in West Bengal. Internet had not come yet, and everything was limited to books. So, whenever I visited Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark, where Maharaj served as its Secretary, I always came prepared after referring some books.
Swapan Bandopadhay and Shaktiprasad Mishra were teachers in our school. We three were ex-students of Narendrapur Asharama. I used to discuss with them before making a visit to Maharaj. However, I could not always manage to read some books. Shakti-da found a way out. He would make cut-outs of the book reviews in the newspapers and tell me to go through them before a visit, so that based on those reviews I could say something if Maharaj asked. And he would definitely ask. When I mentioned the names of one or two books, he would further inquire, where in the book I was reading, for he would have finished them by then. So there was no chance of a loose reply.
Once I visited Golpark. As I met him, Maharaj told, “Take rest for 1-2 days here. You seem to be overburdened— take rest.” Then came the inevitable query, “Which book have you read?” I had not read any book. So, I expected some scolding. Instead, Maharaj made an insightful statement. He said, “See, you are working in a school and dealing with students, who are youth and are building up their lives. As a teacher you will not do justice towards them if you are not conversant with current books. Also, you will thwart your self-development. So you should keep yourself engaged with studies. Go through the books and keep yourself updated. You should do it. The students, with whom you have to stay, will notice if you are in touch with studies. And you have to study to develop close connection with them. Why should you connect with them? Because, it is through this connection that you will impart to them something beyond the syllabus. That is love for an ideal. At this age, the boys try to embrace it, cling to it. By observing you they will try to understand Sri Ramakrishna. Your life and conduct, the scope of your learning and depth of your knowledge, the broadness and warmth of your thoughts should animate them, inspire them. This is precisely why you should keep yourself updated.
— Swami Shivapradananda
1961, Narendrapur Ashrama. One day I went to Lokeshwarananda Maharaj, when a student who had failed the exams came there weeping and shivering. Maharaj asked him with great concern, “Tell me what has happened; tell me.” “I have failed the exams, Maharaj,” he replied. He feared Maharaj might scold him that he was good for nothing and ask him to leave the ashrama. But Maharaj began to comfort him saying, “You have failed an exam, why bother so much? Why are you getting unnerved? This is trifling and incidental in life. You have so much work to do and you will do it. This is a trivial matter; it can happen to anyone. Maybe your health was not good. Sometimes the mind does not get focused; perhaps we did not provide you with better teachers and so the subject appeared tough. I am telling you, that you will surely do well in the next attempt, maybe a thousand times better. Had you passed this year, it would have been just an ordinary success. You will perform so well next time that you will get seat in any university you want for your M.A. Work hard. To break down so much for this matter! Go and play. Enjoy your time. Hey (calling someone) give him something to eat. (After it was served) Eat, eat! Don’t be so morose, it pains me.”
— Dr. Prashanta Giri
Seeing behind the deed
At Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur, the rule of law implemented by Swami Lokeswaranandaji was the rule of love. One night as I was returning to the hostel through the vast acres of property, barely populated, I saw a man stealing jackfruits and caught him red-handed. We took away the jackfruits and kept him captive. We eagerly waited for the morning when we could present the thief before Lokeswarananda Maharaj and boast of our bravery. We secretly wished that Maharaj would hand him over to us and we could thrash him properly. When we brought the thief with all the stolen jackfruits before Maharaj, he said, “Since you have brought him to me, I should give the judgment, isn’t it? So, you please go.” We had to come out; but we decided to hide and see what Maharaj would do.
We heard him asking the thief, “Do you have a family?” “I have my wife and sons, Maharaj.” “And what is the means of your livelihood?” “Maharaj, I am a daily-wage labourer. But when there is no work available, I struggle to run the family.” At this reply, we could see a deep strain of pain on Maharaj’s face. He then asked, “What will you do with these few jackfruits?” “I will sell them and with whatever little money I get I will buy some provisions for the family.”
Maharaj stood up, and sent him off with some money along with all the jackfruits and something else which we could not make out. He also said, “Whenever you are in need, come to me. But do not steal.”
Seeing this, I walked up to Maharaj and asked, “What did you do Maharaj?” He replied, “Did you not hear that he struggles to feed his family? What suffering!” Maharaj’s expression revealed his intense sadness.
— Dr. Prashanta Giri