REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
Sri Ramakrishna did not allow everybody to practice the nondual aspect of meditation. What good is it to proclaim that you are one with the Absolute unless the universe has vanished from your consciousness? Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “You may say that there is no thorn, but put your hand out — the thorn will prick, and your hand will bleed.” But with regard to Swamiji, Sri Ramakrishna said, “If Naren says that there is no thorn, there is no thorn; and if he puts out his hand no thorn would prick it, because he has experienced his unity with Brahman.” When Swamiji used to say, “I am He,” he said so from his direct perception of the Absolute. His mind was not identified with his physical self.
At the Baranagore Monastery we used to study scriptures and philosophy a lot. Swami Abhedananda particularly engaged himself in much study. Swamiji did too and also meditated many hours. We all practiced great austerities. Sri Ramakrishna made us do it. Then we attained the bliss of liberation while living through the Master’s grace. Free as the air we have lived — depending on none, feeling no lack, without cravings, fearless! Yes, we know the joy of liberation! We used to wander from place to place, depending entirely on the Lord. We would beg for alms when we were very hungry. Wherever it got dark we made our home. What freedom!
Swami Abhedananda used to avoid all types of work. He would shut himself in a room and engage himself in study and meditation. He used to say that he did not wish to work. Sometimes he would observe complete silence and not talk for days on end. Some of us used to be angry with him for that. But Swamiji said: “You people are jealous! You can’t bear that somebody is doing something to improve himself. He is not lazily idling his time away. What if he doesn’t work! Never mind, you don’t have to work either! I’ll do everything!”
Swamiji said at one time: “As long as you have been born on this earth, leave an impression on it.” At the Baranagore Math he remarked: “Our names will be recorded in history!” Swami Yogananda and some other brother-disciples made fun of him. Swamiji retorted: “You will see if I am right or not! Vedanta is the only religion convincing to all. If you don’t listen to me, I will go to the quarter of the untouchables and teach them Vedanta!”
In one of his letters Swamiji wrote: “When I go for alms, I give people something in return.” Give and take — that is the motto for a monk. Monks who live only for themselves and don’t even practice spiritual disciplines are impostors.
We have seen Swamiji meditate the whole night, then early in the morning he would take his bath; and people did not know anything about his austerities. I never saw Swamiji sitting idly; he either studied or conversed on God or meditated.
One day Swami Shivananda sang a devotional song to Sri Krishna. While listening, I began to weep and went into ecstasy, and Swamiji did too.
Ah, what a wonderful spirit of self-surrender Swamiji had! When he was seriously ill at Rishikesh and we, his brother-disciples, were watching over him, sad at heart, he said: “Mother, if it is your will, let me die.”
“What is known as the nondual Brahman in the Upanishads is a ray of light from His Body.” [A Vaishnava saying.] This is sectarianism. Swamiji used to make fun of this kind of attitude.
“A doer of good never comes to grief.” The spiritual struggles that you undergo are never in vain. Even if you do not attain the highest in this life, you carry your spiritual gain with you to the next life. Don’t you see that there are people who from childhood are devoted to God and live without worldly cravings? On the other hand, there are some who may be learned but live like worms in filth. Without the control of lust nothing can be achieved. Look at Swamiji! What was his power? He was free from lust. He lived among beautiful women, yet there was dispassion in his heart.”
While we were in Meerut with Swamiji, a number of devotees came to visit us. Swamiji asked me to speak to them. Although they were householders, I stressed the ideal of renunciation and dispassion. After they left, Swamiji said to me: “Brother Hari, do you think everybody is like you? Can everyone let the Divine Mother dwell constantly within the lotus of his heart? Let these people keep forgetful a little while longer and enjoy life.”
Swamiji once said, “At the age of twenty-nine I finished everything.”
Swamiji used to quote the Bible: “My God is a jealous God.” If you are attached to anything or anyone else and do not renounce all for him, you cannot find him.”
Do you know why I was so successful in America? Swamiji spoke highly of me to some of the people there, and so naturally they had faith in me. When someone believes in you, you must live in such a way as to increase that person’s faith. Otherwise, disastrous results may follow.
Whenever Swamiji used the pronoun “I,” he was identified with Brahman and used the word from the nondualistic standpoint.
Whenever Swamiji used the pronoun “I,” he was referring the universal Self. When we say “I,” we are identified with the little self — with the body, mind, and senses. Hence we should think of ourselves as servants and devotees of the Lord. The very utterance of the word “I,” would take Swamiji beyond body, mind, and senses. This was his normal state of consciousness. But this mood, “I am he,” is not possible for us. So we have to say, “Thou and Thou alone,” in order that we may forget the little self and be united with the universal Self.
There are some great souls who live in that indivisible, changeless Time. To them this whole universe appears momentary and unreal. Swamiji dwelt in that state much of the time. But you see, we normally live on this relative plane. Maya is such that though you drive it away, it comes back.
What we have seen in Swamiji! During his last days, when he was hardly able to breathe, he would still roar: “Arise! Awake!”
To live the ideal life is our only purpose. The truth of the Upanishads is to be attained. The Truth is, and it must be realized in one’s own Self. Swamiji did that. Of course, the one Truth is perceived in many ways, according to the capacity of the individual.
Swamiji surely has not merged himself in eternal union with Brahman. He is an ever-free soul. He will be born again and again to do the work of the Lord.
The Master told Swamiji: “Whenever you begin to sing, the Mother wakes up and listens to your song.”
Weak-minded people cannot control their spiritual emotions; their nerves become overstimulated. But those who have a strong body and strong nerves control their emotions. When Swamiji’s spiritual emotions were aroused, outwardly he would be calm.
One day, in Madras at the Castle Kernan, Swamiji was singing a hymn to Sri Rama. After a while his gaze became fixed, he went into ecstasy, and tears of joy began to flow.
Swamiji was not only a knower of Brahman but he was a great yogi. His spiritual powers were obtained through yoga. Was anyone more perfect than he in meditation?
Prejudiced people will listen only to one side of a story. Swamiji had an open mind. He would take every point of view into account. He had a generous and forgiving heart.
The first thing we learned from Sri Ramakrishna was to pay no attention to the opinion of others. He used to say: “Spit on public opinion! Look toward God and try to please him!” Swamiji was like that.
Sometimes we saw Swamiji doing every detail for himself. But there are others who only talk about such things; they never lift a finger. How difficult it is to recognize the ego and to control it!
When I returned from the West, the news of Swamiji’s death was such a great shock that I felt I should also die. I left everything, went straight to Vrindaban, and stayed there for three years. Krishnalal [Swami Dhirananda] was with me. I disciplined him a lot, which directed his mind toward worship and meditation. What is meditation? It is to erase all cravings from the heart. Generally, people seek their own advantage — what they can get out of life. To renounce that is liberation.
Swamiji at one time told me: “Live the ideal life. The Divine Mother has shown me that by doing so you will accomplish a hundred times more good than I.” I didn’t believe it. But then in all seriousness I plunged into the Lord’s work and the work succeeded. If I had not associated with great souls like Swamiji and others, what would I have been but perhaps a wandering monk? I would have had some sort of realization, no doubt, but not what I have today.
Swamiji gave us a higher ideal than realization for oneself; it is to expand the consciousness until you see yourself in all beings, and all beings in yourself.
Swamiji was an example of loyalty to his guru. There was power in Swamiji’s words because his heart and lips were one. He always held firmly to the truth.
Courtesy: Frank Parlato Jr.