‘As I grow older’, said Swami Vivekananda, ‘I find that I look more and more for greatness in little things. I want to know what a great man eats and wears, and how he speaks to his servants [and so on]. ‘This book presents an intimate picture of Swami Yatiswarananda, one such spiritually great man in the Order of Monks founded by Swami Vivekananda—the Ramakrishna Order (popularly known as Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission). This volume does this by putting together the reminiscences of monks, initiated lay devotees or even casual visitors or people who heard his lectures as well as some of the personal letters and instructions he wrote or gave and other related material. It is an attempt to document a gem in the rich spiritual tradition of the Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
Swami Yatiswarananda (1889-1966), a senior monk an former Vice-president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, was a well known spiritual figure in the Neo-Vedanta movement. Besides seven years of pioneering work in spreading Vedanta in the U.S.A., he served successively as the President of Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama in Bombay, Madras and Bangalore. Known in his premonastic life as Suresh Chandra Bhattacharya, the Swami was an initiated disciple of Swami Brahmananda (the great direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishn), and was widely respected for his high spiritual attainments, Yogic insight and mature wisdom. He advocated and lived a well-harmonized spiritual life with meditation as the keynote, and love and service as the main melody. He was a source of inspiration not only to his monastic and lay disciples, but also to a large number of other people in India and abroad to whom he endeared himself by his selfless love and gracious manners.
'Without an unbroken chain of discipleship-guru- parampara-nothing can be done ... Nothing, I say, can be done without the chain of discipleship, that is, the power that is transmitted from the Guru to the disciple, and from him to his disciple, and so on,' wrote Swami Vivekananda (Complete Works, 6.265) to his brother-disciples in 1894.
The guruparampara that Swamiji refers to began with the advent of Sri Ramakrishna. The divine Light that shone in the form of Sri Ramakrishna lighted many lamps before merging back into its Source in 1886. In turn, these bright lamps, blazing with the Light of divine realisation and love, lighted many other lamps-thus establishing a spiritual tradition (parampara) that continues to guide and nurture the spiritual aspirations of millions the world over. One such light from this spiritual tradition of Sri Ramakrishna was revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji Maharaj (1889-1966), an eminent monk and Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Order. This book contains reminiscences of the Swami by monks and lay devotees. Long overdue, this publication is an earnest attempt to give an idea of the spiritual treasure and realisation enshrined in this spiritual tradition of the Ramakrishna Order.
Swami Vivekananda also remarked (Complete Works, 6.262): 'My name should not be made prominent; it is my ideas that I want to see realised. The disciples of all the prophets have always inextricably mixed up the ideas of the Master with the person, and at last killed the ideas for the person. The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna must guard against doing the same thing. Work for the idea, not the person.'
Taking a cue from this, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have generally desisted from publishing books on the lives and teachings of the great monks who enriched its spiritual tradition. Indeed, one of the important aspects of the spiritual ministrations of the Ramakrishna Order is that it is impersonal, yet deeply intimate. This book provides a glimpse of this impersonal-personal character of the guruparampara in the Ramakrishna Order, where the emphasis has always been on the divine personalities of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Yatiswarananda was the President of Sri Rama- krishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, from 1926 to 1933-before he left for preaching Vedanta in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and later in America. He returned to India in 1950. The following extract from the Publisher's Note to Meditation and Spiritual Life is a befitting introduction to Swami Yatiswarananda.
'Swami Yatiswarananda was well known during his lifetime as an illumined soul, an eminently capable spiritual director, a most affable and gentle personality endowed with a deep understanding of human problems and great love and sympathy for all people. A much respected senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and later on its Vice-President, the Swami was one among the foremost disciples of Swami Brahmananda, the great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.'
Most of these reminiscences of Swami Yatiswarananda are being published in the present form nearly 48 years after his demise. They are a valuable source of spiritual insights and practical suggestions for spiritual aspirants. We are thankful to all the contributors, who responded to our request and shared their personal and sacred memories. Some of these reminiscences were collected from earlier publications that featured them. We thank all the publishing agencies for their kind permission to reproduce these reminiscences.
A book of reminiscences is bound to have repetition of incidents and facts. While one might view them as repetitions, one cannot help appreciating the varied ways in which these are stated and viewed. Each reiteration lends a new shade of meaning to a 'known fact', placing it in a newer and vastly different context and setting. Moreover, although they might look 'repeated', they have a sacred value for the person who recalls them with deep nostalgia and respectful feelings. Hence, we have made little effort in removing these references and have instead retained them as recalled by various contributors.
The book has been divided into six sections including his letters and stray writings and has three appendices.
A number of pictures have been included in the book. A good number of these have been provided by Mr John Manetta (an initiated disciple of Swami Yatiswaranandaji from Greece) who years ago scanned the original pictures preserved at Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, and gave us the soft copies. These include most of the pictures of Swami Yatiswaranandaji taken in Europe and America (in western attire) and India. Some of the pictures have been given by monks and devotees from their personal collection.
This book has a number of pictures of Swami Yatiswaranandaji in western clothes. The following will help the readers see things in perspective: It has been the practice with most monks of the Ramakrishna Order in our centres in the West to use western attire especially during travel. This has been the practice since Swami Vivekananda's visit to the US. This helps them blend with the people instead of being an object of attention. However, they wear their ochre robes when they are in their centres, performing their daily activities, which include conducting worship and giving lectures and classes.
In order to provide an idea of Swami Yatiswaranandaji' s style of speaking and voice, recordings of his lectures delivered in various places are provided in the CD enclosed in the back inner flap of the book jacket (in the second volume).
Mr John Manetta provided us the audio recordings of Swami Yatiswaranan'daji given in the enclosed CD. While at Bangalore, in 1979, he received from Swami Purushottamananda, tape-recorder reels of Swami Yatiswaranandaji's 16 lectures (including one recording of his chanting of Sanskrit verses), to convert them to audio cassettes for the Math. He carefully preserved those all these years and finally transferred them to a CD in 2004 (after some improvements).
Swami Raghuramananda of Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore, coordinated with the sound engineers at the well-known Prabhat Studio in Bangalore to further enhance the sound quality of the recordings. These recordings, we may mention here, were done by various monks and devotees with whatever recording machines available with them. As most of these audio files are NOT studio recordings and were done while a lecture was in progress, there are variations in the quality of the sound and -clarity of recordings. Some of the recordings are quite clear but some are not. Despite our best efforts, the enclosed CD (in MP3 format) has certain shortcomings which a listener should bear in mind.
It would be appropriate to mention here that soon after Swami Yatiswaranandaji's demise, a few books on his life, teachings and reminiscences were published from Kolkata in 1969. These were Divine Light-A Collection About Swami Yatiswarananda (English, pages 270) and Amritasya Putra (Bengali, pages 418), both published by 'Srimat Swami Yatiswarananda Study Circle', 11, D. S. Road (Charu Market), Calcutta-33. Many of the articles included in this volume have been taken from these two books. We gratefully acknowledge this initial but significant work done by devoted monks and devotees some 45 years ago.
Our thanks are also to Sri Sarada Sevika Mandali, Bangalore, for their consent for including their publication, Letters and Prayers, in this volume.
This book is the result of the collective work (which included culling out from old publications, obtaining fresh writings, interviewing, transcribing, and, at times, translating into English, as well as editing) done over four years by a number of monks and devotees who took it up as a labour of love and reverence for Swami Yatiswaranandaji.
The Editorial Team consisted of Swami Atmashraddhananda (Editor, The Vedanta Kesari, the English monthly of the Ramakrishna Order published by this Math), Sri S. Sudarshan (a close devotee from Bangalore), Sri Vijaya Kumar (a long- standing devotee from Mysore) and Swami Yuktatmananda (Head, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre of New York, USA).
We acknowledge with gratitude the help received from the following:
Sri K R Sridhara Murthi, Mr John Manetta (Greece), Sri Radha Krishna (USA), Sri Sugata Bose (Kolkata), Sri B. Narayana Swamy (Bangalore), Smt. Prasannakshi (Mysore), Swami Atmajnananda (Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai), Swami Parahitananda (Sri Ramakrishna-Saradashrama, Ponnampet), Swami Atmeshananda (Vedanta Society, Australia), Swami Yatatmananda (Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Salem), Swami Sattwasthananda (Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh), Swami Satyaswarupananda and Swami Shrutisiddhananda (both from Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi), Swami Yukteshananda (Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore), late Sri N. Prabhakara (Bangalore), Dr S. Viswanath (Bangalore), Dr TGK Murty (Bangalore) and Mr Tirthankar Banerjee (USA), among others.
Our thanks also to the team of volunteers at the Vedanta Kesari Office for their help in proofreading the text and in other matters concerning the book.
Swami Purushottamananda's reminiscences were posthumously culled out from his various private talks and public speeches by the following monastics of the Ramakrishna Order: Swamis Vedatitananda, Tadyuktananda, Viseshananda, Mahamedhananda, Muktivratananda, Tadvratananda, and Brahmacharis Bhudevachaitanya and Siddharthachaitanya.
We also thank all those who came forward to subsidize the book by their generous contributions. Their kind help not only improved the quality of production but also made the book more affordable to the reader.
Sometime back the Chennai Math brought out a similar book on Swami Tapasyanandaji, another Vice President of the Order. On the occasion of Swami Yatiswaranandaji's 12Sth birth year, we are now glad to place this book before our readers. We are sure it will fulfil a long-felt need and serve as a lasting source of inspiration to all spiritual aspirants and, in particular, devotees of the Ramakrishna Order.
As a child I had the rare privilege of receiving the blessings of revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji Maharaj (hereafter referred to as Revered Maharaj) and spending some memorable time in his holy company.
Both my parents, my father late Sri Amarendra Nath Mukherjee and my mother Srimati Uma Mukherjee were blessed with initiation by Revered Maharaj. Along with them, there were many instances when my sister and I were fortunate to be in the presence of Revered Maharaj. I was about four years old when I first had his Darshan and not yet twelve when he left his mortal body. In between were many moments which remain fresh in my memory after all these years. This reminiscence contains many instances which I remember rather clearly and it also contains descriptions of events which I have heard time and again from my parents.
Arrival at Bangalore
Sometime around 1953, my father came to admire the Ramakrishna ideology. He started frequenting a Ramakrishna Ashrama in a place called Sinthi (near Dum Dum and the Calcutta airport). He was then employed as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer in the Indian Airlines. The visits to the Ashrama soon became regular and frequent and he gradually came in close contact with the monks at the Ashrama. After about four years, my father received a new job offer in the Civil Aviation Department of the Government of India. His first posting, however, was to Bangalore. This made him very sad because taking up the new job would mean living away from his parents and family.
When he shared this feeling with the monastic head of the Sinthi Ashrama, the monk immediately replied: 'You are very fortunate; you will have the opportunity of having the holy company of Swami Yatiswaranandaji-a great monk of our order. Make full use of this opportunity!' Soon thereafter we moved to Bangalore.
My earliest memory of Bangalore is that of going to the Ashrama in Basavanagudi with my father; either with him on his bicycle or in a tonga (horse-drawn carriage), driving through a long quiet road with tall trees on both sides. I would, sometimes, sit with my father in the lecture hall where Revered Maharaj gave his spiritual discourses in English. Although, I did not understand anything that he said, the memory of his serene presence still lingers.
I was particularly fond of the evening Arati vesper service and the Ramanama Sankirtan, where I could join in the singing. On one such occasion as we were about to enter the temple just before the evening service, a Brahmachari stopped us saying 'Children below 8 years are not allowed inside the temple during the arati.' This came as a surprise to us because I had earlier been allowed on many occasions. My father, then asked the Brahmachari whether he would let us in if we had the permission from Revered Maharaj. When he said 'Yes', we went together to the office of Revered Maharaj to seek his permission. Maharaj heard my father patiently and then with a smile replied: 'If I permit you won't I have to permit everyone else?' My father immediately understood and the two of us went back to the temple and sat in the corridor that runs around the temple hall and joined in the singing.
As the Arati service was going on, we noticed that Revered Maharaj came towards the temple. He walked past us saying nothing. The next time when we were readying ourselves to be seated in the same spot in the corridor, the same Brahmachari came to us and told my father: 'It is alright, both of you can be seated inside.' We were never stopped again.
How My Parents Got Initiated
Within a month or two of my father's association with the Bangalore Ashrama, Revered Maharaj had asked him to talk to Somnath Maharaj and fix a date for an interview. My father then did not have any inkling of what it meant. About a year and half later he felt the urge to receive initiation from Revered Maharaj. One evening he went to the Ashrama to request Maharaj about the initiation. He was late in reaching and Maharaj had already sat for his evening meditation. He waited till almost, dinner time when Maharaj came out and heard him. My father wanted initiation just for himself which surprised Maharaj. When he asked him, 'Why? What about Uma (my mother)?', my father replied: 'Maharaj, she is perhaps not ready for it yet.' Pat came the reply: 'How do you know?' and my father had nothing to say. Maharaj, then, instructed that an interview be arranged for my mother.
My mother had a one-on-one talk with Revered Maharaj. On the day of the interview-even my father was not present. Revered Maharaj asked her what she thought of Sri Ramakrishna and she poured her heart out telling him of her devotion for Sri Ramakrishna. She felt as if time stood still and had no idea that almost one hour had passed in conversation. At the end Revered Maharaj suggested that both of them should receive their initiation together. Soon, they were blessed with initiation.
A few days later, one evening, just before sunset, as my father stood next to him, Revered Maharaj gripped his upper arm firmly and suddenly said in Bengali:
'Samsare Thakte Gale, Jhar-jhapta Ashbei Ashbe; Kintu Namer Shekol Dhore Thakle, Bhasye Niyee Jete Parbe Na, Parbe Na.'
['When you live a householder's life, storms and turmoil are bound to come; but if you hold on to the chain of the Holy Name it will never be able to sweep you off your feet. Never, never!']
He spoke the last words [parbe na parbe na], 'Never, Never', in a sing-song voice and my father was overwhelmed by the power and conviction of those words.
From Bangalore to Dum Dum
Soon, our days at Bangalore came to an end, when my father was transferred to Calcutta. As a parting advice Revered Maharaj told him that he should make it a practice of reading a few pages from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, every night, before bed- time. He even suggested that he should read it aloud so that all members of the family including the children could listen. On his first visit to Calcutta after our Bangalore departure, when we met Revered Maharaj he asked my father whether he was reading as he had advised. Unfortunately, my father had not yet purchased the books and Maharaj was not pleased to learn this. When the same lapse was discovered even on his second visit, Revered Maharaj had to severely scold my father. 'How can you hope to make progress in spiritual life if you do not listen to what I say?' he said with obvious annoyance.
The scolding did the trick and my father soon bought the first two volumes of the Gospel in Bengali and started reading to us from the book every night at bedtime. He continued this practice for many years. I and my family too continue with this practice as regularly as we can even today. This simple habit has resulted in a lifelong love and reverence for the Gospel in all the members of our family.
In Calcutta, we lived in a place called Dum Dum very near the airport. Every time Revered Maharaj visited Calcutta we would meet him at the airport, both, to receive him and see him off. It did not matter at what time of the day the flight was. At the airport, there would be very few visitors and we would have the opportunity of having personal talks with Revered Maharaj. He would make it a point to bring a few large bars of Cadbury's chocolate for, us, children. After we offered our Pranam, he would ask Somnath Maharaj to bring them out and distribute them to us! Sometimes, when there were other visitors, we broke the chocolates into small bits and distributed them to everyone as Prasad and we could see that Revered Maharaj appreciated this very much.
A couple of years after moving to Calcutta, my mother was diagnosed with a serious lung-infection. Doctors were not sure whether it was tubercular and all were worried. When Maharaj came to know of this, he wrote to my mother: 'Follow the instructions of the doctor meticulously. All will be well by the grace of Thakur.' My mother did, indeed, follow these instructions faithfully. She used to be mortally scared of injections but the treatment required her to take injections almost every day for several months. She underwent the ordeal only because Revered Maharaj had advised her to do so. The infection did not turn out to be tubercular and my mother recovered completely after a prolonged treatment.
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