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Article on Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda’s meeting with Pavhari Baba Swamiji says, “Worship your Guru as God. But do not obey him blindly. Love him, but think for yourself. No blind belief can save you. The Real Guru is not in the body. He is not the physical man. When faith in the external guru is strong, then the Guru of all gurus within speaks. There is no greater guru than your own mind. When this mind has been purified by prayer and contemplation, it will direct you from within. Even in your daily duties, this inner guru will guide you and will continue to help you until you reach the goal.” Our Real Guru is within us - our own purified mind. The external guru is a means of awakening this Real Guru within ourselves. The external guru is of two categories: Deeksha Guru & Sheeksha Guru. Sheeksha Guru is also called Upa Guru. Since every sadhaka has only one mantra, consequently, he has only one Deeksha guru. However, there may come any number of Sheeksha gurus in his life, each teaching something very valuable, helping that soul to progress towards its destiny. In fact, we find that the role of the Sheeksha guru has been vital in the lives of spiritual aspirants. Suppose we ask, is the Deeksha-guru more important to us in our spiritual life than the Sheeksha-guru, or is it the vice-versa? We find the answer in Swamiji‟s above-quoted statement, that that is a moot question, because, the most important guru is our Real Guru and he is within us, our Eternal Guru. Swami Vivekananda‟s Guru was Sri Ramakrishna. But, sometime after Sri Ramakrishna‟s Mahasamadhi, we find Swamiji eager to go to Ghazipur, meet Pavhari Baba and get initiated by him into Hatha Yoga & Raja Yogic practices. In other words, Swamiji was found seeking for another Guru! How are we to understand this incident? Swamiji once told Sister Nivedita, “I don‟t like to go out to see the scenery and enjoy the landscape. But if there is a genuine man, I can travel across the globe just to go and see him!” With a similar sentiment, he went to Ghazipur in 1890 to meet Pavhari Baba. Pavhari Baba was a Brahmin. He was born near Varanasi. His uncle stayed in Ghazipur. This uncle belonged to Sri Ramanuja‟s sect. He was a naishthika Brahmacharin. He had an Ashrama. Out of his many nephews, he chose Pavhari Baba as his successor. Pavhari Baba was a student of Vyakarana (Sanskrit Grammar), Nyaya (Hindu logic) and Vishishthadvaita Vedanta. He was an active boy and played practical jokes on his fellow students. His uncle‟s death was a turning point in his life. He was grieved to the core of his heart. He had loved him very dearly. Now he resolved to supply this gap with a vision that can never change - a vision of God. When he was quite young, he traveled far and wide and stayed in South India and Bengal for a long time to study scriptures of Ramanuja and Chaitanya. On Girnar Mountain in Kathiawar, he was initiated into Raja Yoga. After this, he came to Varanasi, where he became a disciple of a monk who practiced Advaita Vedanta. When he returned to Ghazipur, he started living in a hole dug in the Ashrama on the high banks of the river

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Article on Swami Vivekananda

Ganga. Such holes are common habitats of yogis. A hole thus dug provides an environment that has stable temperature and is soundless. Certain peculiarities developed in him after this change of habitat. He began a process of awful dietary disciplines. He conducted worship of his Ishta Sri Ramachandra, cooked and offered good dishes – he was a very good cook – and distributed it among the poor. His daily diet comprised of a few neem leaves and a few pieces of red pepper. He reduced his work and increased his meditation. Days and months he would sit in that cave and meditate. It was thought he would live on air. Hence his name became „Pavhari Baba’, which literally means „Aireater‟. Once, for five years at a stretch, he did not come out. People thought he was dead. But then one day, he came out and gave a good feast to a large number of sadhus. When not meditating, he would live in a room above this cave. He would receive visitors, but would talk to them from behind the door. He would perform any number of yajnas. When Swamiji met him, he was in this state. Swamiji writes: “I associated with him for sometime. I lived in a garden house near his Ashrama. People said that the garden house was haunted. But as you know, I am a sort of a demon myself and don‟t have much fear of ghosts. I liked Pavhari Baba very much and he too came to love me very dearly. A great sage indeed! Very wonderful! A towering representation of Bhakti & Yoga in this atheistic age! An embodiment of humility! He never replies directly to any questions; begins his replies with „what does this servant know?‟ or „it is my good fortune‟, etc and keeps on multiplying such expressions. But as the talking goes on, fire comes out, i.e. resignation and a wonderful devotion to Guru. He has amazing titiksha and unparalleled humility…he had only one eye. He was tall and rather fleshy. He looked much younger than his real age. His voice was the sweetest I had ever heard. He led a silent life, a living witness to Yoga, a living example of purity, humility and love.” One day, as usual, people saw the smoke of yajna coming out of the chimney. But they smelt burning flesh. Breaking open the door, they found he had smeared his body with ghee and offered his body as oblation! Having seen that his last moment had arrived, he must have done this, not wishing to trouble others, even after his death. This happened in June 1898. Apart from the above sketch of Pavhari Baba given by Swamiji, what was Swamiji‟s estimation of the Baba? He writes, “In religion, we have the man of intense thought, of great activity in bringing help to others, men of boldness and daring self realization, neb of meekness and humility. Pavhari Baba was an example of wonderful humility and intense self realization.” Why did Swamiji go to Pavhari Baba? We can find at least three reasons in Swamiji‟s letters and conversations: 1. Swamiji writes, “I did not learn any art for making this weak body strong, even though with Sri Ramakrishna for so many years. I had heard Pavhari Baba knew the science of Hatha Yoga. I wanted to learn this Hatha Yoga from him and strengthen my body.”

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Article on Swami Vivekananda

Why did Swamiji want to strengthen his body? What was wrong? Around that time, he was suffering from acute diarrhea. There were many lemon trees in the garden house where Swamiji stayed. He would eat plenty of lemons and slowly his digestion power got restored. He was also suffering from lumbago. He could not sit down for long, nor could he sleep. It troubled him greatly. Further, he had a pain in the groin. And at the tender age of 19, he had developed Diabetes. So it is natural that the young Swamiji wanted to learn Hatha Yoga and strengthen his body. Hatha Yoga is a systematic process of making the body immune to diseases and aging. 2. Swamiji again writes, “Our Bengal is the land of Bhakti and Jnana, where Yoga is not even talked of. What little there is (of Yoga) are the queer breathing exercises which are nothing but a kind of gymnastics. In order to learn Raja Yoga, I am staying here.” It is obvious that he wants to learn Raja Yoga so that he could introduce it to Bengal. 3. Swamiji says to Sharat Chandra Chakraborty, “Even though I find it difficult to meet Pavhari Baba and have his company, no trouble taken for the sake of such a great soul can ever go unrewarded. Unless one is face to face with the life of such men, faith in the scriptures does not grow in all its real intensity.” A question may be asked here: Why did Swamiji want to introduce Raja Yoga into Bengal? Bengal was the land of Bhakti & Jnana. Was there anything wrong with Bhakti & Jnana that he wanted to introduce Raja yoga into Bengal? Yes. The Bhakti schools of Bengal at that time were highly corrupted. They were lacking in purity. Great and pure souls like Bhagavan Das Babaji were an exception. Similarly, Jnana in Bengal at that period meant endless argumentation, hair-splitting discussions. And that was what masses in Bengal understood by religion at that time. Swamiji wanted to correct these by introducing the science behind Bhakti & Jnana, i.e. Raja Yoga into Bengal. Behind this noble urge of Swamiji lay a very deep and great cause. We get a hint about this from a letter written to Pramadadas Mitra from Ghazipur. “What shall I say about the condition of my mind! Oh! It is as if the hell-fire is burning there day and night! Nothing could I do yet! I feel quite helpless as to what to do! Oh! What can I do? Who will see deep down my mind? …Bless me that I may have the most unflinching patience and perseverance.” A very strange letter, indeed! Swamiji had got everything from Sri Ramakrishna. Even the highest Nirvikalpa Samadhi! Why was he feeling helpless now? When a person like Swamiji experiences pain, it is not like you and I experiencing pain. It is as if the pain of millions of persons spread across a thousand years is expressing itself in one heart, says Swami Ashokananda in one of his lectures.

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Article on Swami Vivekananda

The reason for Swamiji‟s helplessness could be inferred by analyzing his life integrally. In Kashipur, Sri Ramakrishna, on his deathbed, had charged Swamiji to do something for the spiritual upliftment of the masses. Swamiji therefore had a great burden on his shoulders. Sri Ramakrishna had no doubt charged him with this mission, but he had given no details as to what exactly had to be done. So Swamiji was now intensely searching for a means – a method – by which the greatest benefit would come to the maximum number of people. A fierce struggle was raging in his heart. A great churning was going on in his mind regarding what was the need of the common man, and what should be given to them to solve their existential misery, and uplift them spiritually. He must have taken a stock of the existing religious practices of Bengal and must have been appalled at the rot that had crept into them. In the course of this churning, he must have at one point decided that Raja Yoga would be the means of rejuvenation of Religion and Society. Hence he must have come to Pavhari Baba. For wasn‟t the Baba the greatest practicing Yogi of that period? But we know that Swamiji did not prescribe Raja Yoga as the universal praxis for the masses. Nor did he study Raja Yoga or Hatha Yoga for that matter, under the Baba, as was his initial plan. What was wrong with the choice of Raja Yoga as the modern means of upliftment of mankind? We can think of at least two reasons for this change of plan: 1. Sri Ramakrishna‟s ideas were too large, too comprehensive for all of it to fit into Raja Yoga. And if the vehicle is unable to carry the message in toto, it could not be the one meant for the purpose. 2. Swamiji‟s „education‟, if it can be called that, was incomplete. Hence he himself must have felt that his choice was wrong. What do we mean by this? Sister Nivedita says, “Shastras, his Guru Sri Ramakrishna and his motherland – these three factors comprised his education.” Swamiji left Baranagore Math sometime in June 1888 and toured a dew places like Varanasi, Vaidyanath and Vrindavan before coming to Ghazipur. He had not yet seen India and studied her needs. Nor had he seen the West and studied its needs. Hence his provisional prescription on Raja Yoga as the modern means of mass upliftment fell short of reality. It is very interesting to note how Sri Ramakrishna corrected Swamiji in this case. On the night before Swamiji‟s Deeksha into Raja Yoga, when he was lying on his cot, Sri Ramakrishna appeared before Swamiji in a vision, and stood on the right side of his bed. No words were exchanged. Each is looking deep into the other‟s eyes and this went on for two or three hours. In Swamiji‟s own mind, the truth flashed - Sri Ramakrishna did not approve of it. Good. He dropped the idea. But a couple of days later, again he felt that the vision was only his mind playing the fool on him and so again resolved to take Deeksha. But again the same vision occurred. In fact this recurred many times and hence Swamiji dropped the idea once and for all.

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Article on Swami Vivekananda

This vision had a profound impact on Swamiji. He later composed a poem, „A song I sing to you‟, based on this vision and its contents. He clearly saw Sri Ramakrishna as the fulfillment of all spiritual aspirations. One who had come under Sri Ramakrishna‟s grace stood in need of no other spiritual help. He wrote to Pramadadas Mitra after this – “I won‟t go to any big person any longer; they divert one from his highest purpose – my mood is „Dwell, O mind, within yourself; enter no other‟s home.‟ I have understood that Sri Ramakrishna has no equal. The perfection we see in him is unprecedented. The world has never seen anything like his unconditional kindness, his intense sympathy for man in bondage. He is indeed an Avatar as he himself declared. He can be worshipped. Not one prayer of mine did he refuse. Millions of my offences he has forgiven. Not even my parents gave me such love. There is no exaggeration in all this. It is the bare truth. In times of great danger and temptation, I prayed „O God, save me‟, but no response came. But he came to know of my problems through his powers of insight into human hearts and lifted me up, though I would object, after bringing me into his presence.” Swamiji‟s brother-disciples misunderstood his going to Pavhari Baba. They felt he had lost faith in their Guru. Swami Premananda, one of them, came to Ghazipur to take him back to Baranagore. Swamiji severely scolded him and sent him away. In a letter to Swami Akhandananda (another brother-disciple), Swamiji clarifies, “My motto is to learn to recognize good, no matter where I may come across it.” Just like the Avadhuta of Srimad Bhagavatam. The Avadhuta learned from any and everything around him, because his inner Guru was awakened. Swamiji continues, “You may all think I may lose my devotion to Sri Ramakrishna. It is lunacy and the height of bigotry to think so. For, I have realized that all gurus are one, fragments and radiations of God who is the Universal Guru.” His intense hunger for knowledge gave him an open mind and a receptive mind. Though he learnt neither Hatha Yoga nor Raja Yoga, his visit to Pavhari Baba did not go waste. He says about the various things he learnt from the Baba: “I asked him why he did not come out and help the world. At first, with his natural humility and humor, he joked away my query. But later on in a serious mood, he said, „Do you think that physical help is the only help possible? Is it not possible that one mind can help other minds even without the activity of the body?‟ On another occasion, I asked him, „Why do you need to perform so many yajnas, austerities, etc? They are all meant for beginners.‟ He said, „Why do you take for granted that everybody performs karma for his own good? Can‟t one perform karma for others?‟ He showed an entire absorption at the time in the task in hand, however trivial. He would give the same amount of care and attention to cleaning a copper vessel as to worship of Ramachandra. I learnt the secret of work from him – Means should be loved and cared for as if it were the End itself.” Swamiji later developed a complete system of ethics and morality, which he based on two pillars – first, that from the Vedanta view point, I and my brother are one; and second, this idea about means and the end that he learnt from Pavhari Baba.

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Article on Swami Vivekananda

Let us recall again what Swamiji says about the guru. Swamiji says, “Worship your Guru as god. But do not obey him blindly. Love him, but think for yourself. No blind belief can save you. The Real Guru is not in the body. He is not the physical man. When faith in the external guru is strong, then the Guru of all gurus within speaks. There is no greater guru than your own mind. When this mind as been purified by prayer and contemplation, it will direct you from within. Even in your daily duties, this inner guru will guide you and will continue to help you until you reach the goal.” We have thus seen the state of Swamiji‟s mind when he went to Ghazipur, the wonderful events that took place at Ghazipur, we learnt about Swamiji‟s idea of guru and his ability to learn lessons from everything, everywhere. ********************

(Swami Vedatitananda)
Principal Ramakrishna Mission School Aalo (Along), West Siang District Arunachal Pradesh – 791 001 Reference: 1. Swami Vivekananda’s letter to: a. Pramadadas Mitra dated 21st Jan 1890, 31st Jan 1890, 4th Feb 1890, 7th Feb 1890, 13th Feb 1890, 3rd Mar 1890 & 31st Mar 1890. b. Swami Akhandananda dated Mar 1890. c. Swami Sharadananda dated 6th June 1890. 2. Swami Vivekananda’s talks with Sharat Chandra Chakraborty. 3. Sister Nivedita’s introduction entitled ‘Our Master & his message’ to the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.

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