When young Saroj Bhattacharya became a member of the Library run in a small centre in Berhampur by the Sargachhi Ashrama, he slowly came into close contact with the swamis of the Ashrama. His orthodox Brahmin family considered the Ashrama as unorthodox, and so when Saroj partook prasad on some festival in the Ashrama, his grandfather ordained as expiation a bath in Ganga and 1008 times japa of Gayatri mantra! But by the will of Sri Ramakrishna, the boy shifted to Berhampur centre while studying in class 9 and after his studies became a teacher in the Sargachhi Ashrama’s school. He received mantra-diksha from Swami Virajanandaji and joined the Order and received sannyasa-diksha Swami Shankaranandaji in 1959. His entire working life was in the service of Sargachhi Ashrama.
Life Lessons from Swami Anamayananda
Why were you stopping me from worship?
I had just joined the Ramakrishna Order at the Sargachhi Ashrama. There was a big courtyard in front of the building where I was staying. One Saturday afternoon I saw Swami Anamayanandaji, popularly known as Saroj Maharaj, sweeping this courtyard with a broom stick. He was then the Assistant Secretary of the centre. Those days the ashram suffered from lack of resources and hence there were very few workers. So, Maharaj himself was sweeping the courtyard. I was a novice and thought that it was my duty to take the broom from him and clean the area myself. He heard my proposal and asked, “Why shall I give you my broom?” But as I was persistently requesting him to let me help him sweep the area, he said, “If you really want to help me, bring another broom and sweep. I am not going to part with my broom.” I did accordingly. Later on, while having puffed rice, Maharaj said, “If any day you see me worshipping in the shrine, will you force me to get up and do the worship by yourself?” I replied, “No. why should I do so? I will help you as much as I can – by preparing the offering or arranging the flowers.” Maharaj said, “You people go on uttering Swamiji’s words – ‘Work is worship!’ I was not sweeping, I was worshipping. Why were you trying to deprive me of my chance to worship?’ Thus began my basic training! Henceforth every Saturday, I used to sweep the courtyard along with him.
— Swami Devarajananda
For the brotherhood
Once, during Monks Conference, Swami Virajananda Maharaj told that the easiest way to develop brotherhood among the sannyasis is to lend a helping hand at times of need. The sadhu who has lots of work in his hand, should be helped by other sadhus. We have very often seen Saroj Maharaj following this advice. I started teaching in the school and at the same time I also had to do the entire work in the shrine single-handedly, as there were no brahmacharis at that time. Sometimes at night, I would be too tired to wash the shrine vessels. Next morning, I used to find that Saroj Maharaj had already washed the vessels and had gone out to collect the flowers. It became his habit to help others in whichever way possible – silently and gladly! His helping nature extended to all the workers in various departments, because he was thorough in every single work of the ashram!
— Swami Devarajananda
Keep your doors open
In the initial days of my joining the Order, I had duty in Saroj Maharaj’s office. One morning, during our working hours, a local gentleman arrived and started narrating his personal problems to Saroj Maharaj. After a little while, Saroj Maharaj told him, “See, this is your family problem. We cannot interfere in this.” Still, the gentleman went on with his tales of woe for an hour. Saroj Maharaj silently heard him out. Then the gentleman told him, “Maharaj, you have already told me that you cannot help out. Yet, I am feeling free and relieved by pouring out my problems to you.” After his departure, foolish and immature that I was, I told Maharaj, “The gentleman wasted so much time! When he knew that you couldn’t help out, there was no point in his wasting your time. You didn’t do right in indulging him thus!” Without getting irritated at my audacity, Saroj Maharaj gently said, “Didn’t you hear the last words of the gentleman? It is true that I was not in a position to help him. But I was able to lighten his mental burden by hearing him out. In this way I was able to serve him. And our motto is to serve people. We must find out in which way we can serve them. I will clear up the backlog work in my free time.”
Years later, when I was posted as the Principal of Probationers’ Training Centre, Swami Bhuteshananda Maharaj echoed this same attitude of service. He told me, “Keep your doors open at all times. The brahmacharis have many issues. Somebody must be there to hear them out. Ensure that they can approach you any time.”
— Swami Devarajananda
Support through opposition!
Although I was much younger to Saroj Maharaj, he was so friendly that I never hesitated to speak with him on various matters. As the Head Master of the school, I used to make plans to improve the standard of studies and discipline of the school. Strangely, Saroj Maharaj always used to oppose my plans. Initially I thought that Saroj Maharaj was against any progressive measures and hence, he was opposing my suggestions. At the same time, his arguments would make me think deeply. I would make certain changes in my plans. The result would be beneficial for all! One day, Saroj Maharaj himself made it clear. He told me, “I am not opposing your plans for the sake of obstructing your ideas. Whenever you try to implement something new, you have to face opposition from the students, teachers and parents. I just spread before you their likely questions so that you may make the necessary alterations and face their opposition with ready and rational answers. Your vision is one-sided. You have to consider their perspective as well. I am asking questions on their behalf so that your plan becomes wholesome.” This was another dimension of his love!
— Swami Devarajananda
Accepting a scolding
Swami Anamayananda Maharaj succeeded Swami Sukhadananda Maharaj as the Secretary of Sargachhi Ashrama. Once Sukhadanandaji was scolding Anamyanandaji in a very harsh manner. Though Sukhadanandaji was not at fault, he kept quiet without uttering a single word in his defence. I was then a student in the Ashrama’s school studying in 9th or 10th class. I was a witness to this severe scolding. Anamayanandaji was also my teacher in the school. So, later I asked him why he remained silent and accepted the scolding when he had done nothing wrong. Maharaj then gave me a wonderful piece of advice which I try to follow even today. He told me, “Nitya, when some senior person, be he a sadhu or a householder rebukes, don’t enter into any argument with him. If you do so, he will become more annoyed and angry and you will continue to be scolded left and right. This will only make the situation more complicated. On the other hand, if you remain silent without any protest the person who is scolding you, will get tired of doing so and will himself gradually cool down.” Much later I was able to connect this advice with Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s teaching: “There is no virtue equal to fortitude and no treasure equal to contentment.”
— Prof. Nityaniranjan Kundu