Swami Satchitananda: years 1912-191613 min read

The year 1910 brought upon me colossal misfortune and economic difficulties, and the burden of supporting my good and dear mother and my younger brothers fell on my shoulders. I was at that time an itinerant preacher of Sanatana Dharma with no fixed income and indifferent to material gain, but I suspended my preaching and accepted a post as a clerk in a government office in Moradabad. I felt most miserable. When I received word that Shri Swami Satchitanandaji had appeared and was staying in a temple outside the city, I went there with my gifts and placed them at his holy feet. He said most sweetly: “Hariji, trials and misfortunes should be met with fortitude and patience; they are passing. The mind should meet whatever comes, whether pleasant or unpleasant, in a spirit of equanimity and devotion to the Lord.” I attended upon the holy man morning and evening. As he loved obscurity, few people were attracted towards him. He lived on alms and gave private discourses to those who came to listen to him. I found a haven of peace in his holy company. I think one of the greatest misfortunes a man has to bear is the loss of congenial and holy society. When one is thrown into the midst of mediocrity where the conversation is centred on desire and aversion, the spirit of an aspirant feels highly harassed. The visit of the holy Swami made me feel alive, and my burden was very much lightened.

Swami Satchitanandaji stayed in Moradabad for about ten days and then left for the Ganges. When I took leave of him there were tears in my eyes, and I felt like a fish deprived of water. He said: “Hariji, misfortune can be made an ally instead of an enemy. I know you are out of your element in the society of Moradabad, but God is ever with you and you can ever commune with Him and study your Gita. May Shri Dada bless you!” He slowly disappeared in the green and waving fields, and I stood in tears, my eyes following his shadow.

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In the year 1912 I begged Shri Swami Satchitanandaji to give me his holy sight. My letter reached him at Rishikesha where he was staying in a cave in the Svarga Ashrama. I traced him there and offered him daily a jug of milk which I brought from a hill dairy. He gave me his company for a few hours, and we walked in the forest of Tapovana in the vicinity of Lakshmana Jhula. His conversation was all on the subject of liberation-in- this-life (jivanmukti). Peace radiated from him as the rays of light from a diamond. He visited Swami Mangalnathji, who had a few walks with him. It was very unusual for Swami Mangalnathji to walk with anybody as he loved solitude more than anything else. He also saw Swami Dhanirajgiri, a renowned scholar and holy man of the Rishikesha of that time. Apart from this Swami Satchitanandaji avoided notice in Rishikesha, and I was his only visitor. He passed most of his time on the bank of the Ganges in a solitary spot near the cave he was living in, merged in divine contemplation and reading the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. He used to take his meal once a day at the free kitchen of the Kshetra.

Once or twice he took me for a long walk, and we climbed to the top of the neighbouring hill and sat down, looking at the world from that height. On one such occasion he said: “Hariji, I have lately read some utterances of the Indian Swamis in America. I am not satisfied. Their knowledge of Vedanta is very shallow and is mixed up with mundane practices. They are not doing any harm to anybody, but ever since the visit of Swami Rama Tirtha to that country there has been no real missionary of Vedanta outside India.”

I begged the Swami to go to America and offered to act as his interpreter. Pundit Baijnath was always willing to provide for his personal expenses. He was silent for a while and then said: “No, Hariji, I love solitude. Neither am I a public speaker, nor do I like crowds of people to follow me or to listen to me. I think you are the right man to go and preach Vedanta in the West. Are you willing?” I told him of the desire of Shri Dada Bhagavan that I should carry the message of the holy Rishis to the West but explained my incompetence to do so on moral grounds. The Swami smiled faintly at my remarks and observed: “Your statement speaks of your adequacy as a preacher. None of us is perfect, and there are few in the world like Shri Dada, Swami Rama Tirtha and Swami Nirbhayanandaji, but as long as you are not a slave to fame and do not crave personal distinction and attention, you are fit to be a server of truth in the West.” He placed his hand on my head and continued: “My son, the holy Rishis will bless you and the higher spiritual influence will touch your soul as long as you adhere to Advaita for its own sake.” I bowed down to his feet in silence and shed a few tears of gratitude for the spiritual love and blessings he had given me.

Shortly afterwards Swami Satchitanandaji departed from Rishikesha as he desired to go back to the plains. I stayed behind and passed a few days in silence, meditating on what he had said to me.

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The disciples of Swami Nirbhayanandaji Sarasvati had established a memorial ashrama to his guru Swami Krishna- nandaji Sarasvati at Hathras, by the side of an artificial lake in a quiet wood. There was a hall for lecturing and teaching and three rooms for residence. One summer Pundit Baijnath invited Swami Satchitanandaji and a few of his intimate friends to visit this ashrama, where we stayed for about a week. The early morning was devoted to private meditation and adoration, and at about ten o’clock we met in the lecture hall where the Swami gave a colloquial discourse on the highest Advaita teaching which was punctuated with humorous stories. Then we dispersed and walked in the woods. I often accompanied the Swami and Pundit Baijnath on these walks and listened to his explanation of verses from the Vivekachudamani. There was great other-worldliness in his company, yet there was also humour. He was fond of poetry and often quoted from poems in Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit. The local disciples of Swami Nirbhayanan- daji came every morning to the discourses and to informal gatherings in the evening. Musical parties were held at which they sang the songs of their guru to the accompaniment of Indian instruments, and some of the older disciples recited personal reminiscences of Swami Nirbhayanandaji, to which Pundit Baijnath and others listened with great attention. The atmosphere was most peaceful, and these days cannot easily be forgotten.

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Pundit Baijnath had himself founded an ashrama on the outskirts of his native town of Barot, some thirty miles from Meerut. He named it Nirbhaya Ashrama in honour of his guru and endowed it as a charitable trust. It was a simple building containing a hall, a meditation room, a library and a few rooms furnished with mats, for the use of wandering monks. There were also two or three aged Swamis who dwelt there permanently and were well looked after. Swami Satchitanandaji often stayed at Nirbhaya Ashrama, where I visited him and attended his discourses. Pundit Baijnath was in Meerut during the week engaged in his practice of law, but he passed his weekends in the ashrama and looked after the comfort of its inmates.

A few yards from the ashrama there was a canal, which carried water from the Ganges to irrigate the surrounding fields, and in the summer the Swami and his fellow disciples sat by the side of this canal and watched the tranquil flow of the holy water. The first world war had broken out, and the country was agitated as to its outcome. The Swami did not encourage a discussion of the war, saying: “Let us give our spiritual quota of peace to all”. One day the conversation turned to the theme of whether an Adhyatma Yogi should apply for knowledge of truth anywhere. Swami Satchitanandaji interrupted and said: “Yes, anywhere where truth is available. There was a Sadhu who wanted to buy a copy of a lexicon, but under some false impression he went to the shop of a seller of roasted grain. The shopkeeper said: ‘Swamiji, I am not a bookseller; I only deal in parched grain. Apply to a bookseller if you want a book.’ The same thing is true in the case of truth. Apply for truth where it is available, to the teachers of Advaita, to the holy acharyas of old, to the scholars of Shri Shankara and his philosophy, but not to the dualists, or the lovers of the marvellous.” It was very valuable advice which the holy Swami gave.

Every afternoon at about four o’clock the inmates of the Nirbhaya Ashrama used to gather on the roof, which had been sprinkled with cold water. A cooling summer drink was served, which everybody enjoyed. It was made with delicious almonds, aniseed, melon seeds and other vegetable ingredients, added to milk and sugar. Then Swami Satchitanandaji gave a discourse, which was most uplifting. Addressing me as ‘Hariji’, he used to ask me to read a few verses from the Bhagavad Gita, and then he gave a conversational discourse on them, often quoting from the Aparokshanubhuti. He used to expound the Gita according to the commentary of Shri Swami Shankarananda, one of the early scholars of the Advaita school. He introduced this commentary to me, and I found it very useful. The language is simple Sanskrit, and it is entirely based on the pure Advaita of Shri Shankara. Sometimes he spoke very profoundly on the preparation for jivanmukti. He was a good scholar of the works of Shri Sureshvara, which he studied in the Gujarati language.

Most of the time Swami Satchitanandaji was merged in the contemplation of the identity of his empirical self with the cosmic Self. Though he talked, took his evening bath and afterwards allowed his devoted disciples to massage his feet, it was clear that he was hardly conscious of his physical environment. When he was outwardly silent, the inner voice of “I am He” (So’ham) was singing from his soul; when he spoke, it was of Brahman, jivanmukti and holy Shankaracharya. The only other person of whom he ever spoke, and it was with the greatest reverence, was his guru Shri Swami Nirbhayanandaji Sarasvati. He referred to him as Maharaj and quoted his verses in support of the Vedantic statements he made, referring to him as often as to the Bhagavad Gita. He described the personal behaviour of his guru with eloquence, expressed in devotion and the utmost peace.

As we were meeting one evening in the roof-garden, an elderly sannyasin of about sixty appeared and said: “I have heard of a sannyasin who gives teachings here.” Swami Satchitanandaji welcomed him and offered him a seat of honour. That day the subject of the discourse was the mind (antahkarana) of a knower of truth (jnani). The Swami said: “The first thing an aspirant has to realise is that his Self is the subject of the mind. This is the first step in detachment or disidentification. Then one must practise virtue, serenity, contentment, renunciation, devotion to one’s guru and to God and study of the Bhagavad Gita. These are the means by which the element of purity (sattva) in the constitution of the mind is increased, and in this way the intellect becomes transparent and reflects the Lord behind it in all clearness. This is an essential part of Adhyatma Yoga. But remember that no mind can be wholly purified, just as even the mind of a Napoleon or an Aurangzeb is not entirely passionate (rajasic) or lethargic (tamasic). It is vain to look for a wholly purified mind; as such, it cannot exist. The final stage of self development is to realise one’s complete disidentification from the mind and to treat the thoughts, whether they be passionate, lethargic or pure, in the same spirit of detachment. This is the equimindedness (samata) of the Bhagavad Gita. After all the mind is not the Self, and the Self is not the mind. It is the individual self (jiva) which can control the mind, but the real Self is above the mind.” The sannyasin did not seem to understand these teachings. He looked disturbed and said that perhaps they were not orthodox enough for him. He left the meeting, and as I saw him off he asked: “How many of the books of your Swami have been published in Bombay?” I replied: “None. He is not a writer.” The sannyasin looked at me sadly and said: “Then he is not a mahatma; he is not well-known.” I offered a salutation to the man and he departed.

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One evening, under the calm starlight, as we finished our devotion at the Nirbhaya Ashrama, Swami Satchitanandaji called me to sit near him and said: “Hariji, no mind is perfect, but it is Yogic so long as it is devoted to the guru and to God and to the selfless service of Adhyatma Yoga. It is not Yogic so long as we think that things should happen according to our individual wishes and ambitions. Hariji, death in life is the principle I have practised. My holy guru Shri Nirbhayanandaji used to stress this, and you know that Shri Dada Bhagavan lived according to it. Pundit Baijnath thinks that Japan, being a new country and already having affiliations with Indian philosophy through Buddhism, will be a good field for you in which to practise the propagation of Advaita. The light of the holy Rishis will shine through you. Do not fear opposition, do not mind indifference, do not court appreciation; but just like Swami Rama Tirtha scatter the seeds in a humble way. I am of the same opinion as Pundit Baijnath and Shri Dada, who used to see a great future for Asia if Japan were really spiritualised. But remember that the pioneer work is more difficult than helping in work already established. Think well, my son, and decide what you will do.” I bowed to his holy feet and retired to my cell for meditation and study. Thus closed a very important day in my associationship with Swami Satchitanandaji.

One of my last days at Nirbhaya Ashrama was in the summer of 1916. When all the others had left after the evening meeting and I was quite alone with the Swami, I said: “I am ready; I will obey your commands. How shall I ever repay the kindness of Pundit Baijnath?” Swami Satchitanandaji smiled and said: “Hariji, Pundit Baijnath has devoted all his wealth and property to the public good. He has no children and has made adequate provision for his two wives. You need not worry about him. Book your passage!”

I had an interview with Pundit Baijnath the following day. He wrote to the district magistrate in Moradabad asking him to help in getting me a passport and to Thomas Cook and Sons in Delhi to make arrangements for my passage. I was still willing and half unwilling. The thought of leaving India, the holy Ganges and the Himalayas weighed very heavily on my mind; but I had given my word to Shri Swami Satchitanandaji.

I went to Moradabad the following day and spent the time there in quiet meditation.

The free kitchen of the Kshetra was  The Baba Kala Kamli Wala charitable institution .