Swami Yogananda

Monastic Name : Swami Yogananda
[1861 - 1899]

 

Yogindra Nath Choudhury At the time when Shri Ramakrishna was attracting devotees - old and young - to the temple-garden at Dakshineswar, a young man in his teens, belonging to a neighbouring family, used to visit the garden of Rani Rasmani. He had read of Shri Ramakrishna in the literature of the Brahmo Samaj, but his aristocracy and rural prejudice stood in the way of any personal acquaintance. One day he had a desire for a flower. A man was passing by. The boy took him for a gardener and asked him to pluck the flower for him. The man obliged. Another day the boy saw many people seated in a room in front of that gardener and listening to his discourse. Was this then the Ramakrishna of whom Keshab wrote so eloquently? The boy went nearer but stood outside. At this time the Master asked someone to bring all those who were outside within the room. The man found only a boy and brought him inside and offered him a seat. When the conversation ended and all went away, the Master came to the boy and very lovingly made inquiries about him. The name of the boy was Yogindra Nath Chaudhury. The Master was delighted to know that the boy was the son of Nabin Chandra Chaudhury, his old acquaintance. The Chaudhurys were once very aristocratic and prosperous, but Yogin's parents had become poor. His father was a very orthodox Brahmin and performed many religious festivals. Shri Ramakrishna, during the period of his spiritual striving, had sometimes attended these festivals, and was thus known to the family.


Yogin was born in the year 1861. From his boyhood he was of a contemplative temperament. Even while at play with his companions, he would suddenly grow pensive, stop play and look listlessly at the azure sky. He would feel that he did not belong to this earth, that he had come from somewhere in some other plane of existence and that those who were near about him were not really his kith and kin. He was simple in his habits and never hankered after any luxury. He was a bit reserved and taciturn by nature. This prevented his friends from being very free with him. But he commanded love and even respect from all. After he was invested with the sacred thread, he spent much of his time in meditation and worship, in which he now and then became deeply absorbed.


Yogin was about sixteen or seventeen when he met Shri Ramakrishna for the first time. He was then studying for the Entrance Examination. At the very first meeting the Master recognised the spiritual potentiality of the boy and advised him to come to him now and then. Yogin was charmed with the warmth and cordiality with which he was received, and he began to repeat his visits as often as he could.


Yogin thought that his continuance of studies was useless, for he had no worldly ambition. But just to help his parents, who were in straitened circumstances, he went to Kanpur in search of some job. He tried for a few months, but could not get any employment. So he devoted his ample leisure to meditation and spiritual practices. He shunned company and liked to live alone with his thoughts. He spoke as little as possible. His movements and behaviour were unusual. The uncle of Yogin with whom he stayed at Kanpur, got alarmed lest he should go out of his mind. He wrote to the father of Yogin all about him and suggested marriage as the only remedy, for that might create in him an interest in worldly things.


Yogin was too gentle to be able to resist the wishes of his parents - specially of his mother, and in spite of himself he consented to marry. His parents wrongly thought that marriage would wean his mind from other-worldliness. But the effect was just the reverse. The fact that his resolve of living a celibate life had been frustrated, weighed so heavily on his mind that he felt miserable over it. He became moody and brooded day and night over his mistake. He did not even like to show his face to the Master, who had a high expectation about his spiritual future and would be sorely disappointed to learn that he had falsified all his hopes through a momentary weakness.


But the dead weight was lifted by Shri Ramakrishna's words - "What harm if you have married? Marriage will never be an obstacle to your spiritual life. Hundreds of marriages will never interfere with your spiritual progress if God is gracious. One day bring your wife here. I shall so change her mind that instead of obstacle, she will be a great help to you."


Yogin grew spiritually under the keen care of the Master. Afterwards when Shri Ramakrishna fell ill and was under medical treatment at Cossipore, he was one of those disciples who laboured day and night in attending to the needs and comfort of their beloved Master. Long strain on this account told upon the none too strong health of Yogin, but the devoted disciple worked undauntedly.


It soon became apparent that no amount of care on the part of the disciples could arrest the progress of the Master's disease. His life was despaired of. One day he called Yogin and asked him to read out to him a certain portion of the Bengali almanac, date by date. When Yogin had reached a certain date and read it, Shri Ramakrishna told him to stop. It was the date on which the Master passed away.


The Mahasamadhi of Shri Ramakrishna threw all into deep gloom. To recover from this shock the Holy Mother went to Vrindaban with Yogin, Kali, Latu, Golap-Ma, Lakshmi nevi, and Nikunja nevi (wife of "M"). At the end of a year the Holy Mother returned to Calcutta. After staying there for a fortnight, Yogin, who now became Swami Yogananda, escorted the Holy Mother to Kamarpukur, from where he went out for Tapasya. When in the middle of 1888, the Holy Mother came to live in Nilambar Babu's garden-house at Belur, Swami Yogananda also returned to attend on her. His service to the Holy Mother was wonderful. In looking after the comfort of the Holy Mother, he threw all personal considerations to the wind, for, did he not see the living presence of the Master in her? Then to serve her with all devotion and care, he thought, was his best religion. Whenever the Holy Mother left her village home for other places, Swami Yogananda used to be on attendance almost invariably. Thus, in November 1888, he was with her at Puri, where along with Swami Brahmananda and others, they stayed till the beginning of the next year. It is definitely known that he was with her at Ghushuri, near Belur, in 1890; at Nilambar Babu's house at Belur in 1893; at Kailwar in 1894; at a rented house at Sarkarbari Lane, Calcutta, in 1896; and at another rented house at Bosepara Lane, Calcutta, in 1897. Most of the intermediate periods in the early years he spent in Tapasya at various places till his health compelled him to give up the practice and stay permanently in Calcutta. It is not possible to give a full account of his days of spiritual practice; for not much has been preserved. Some time in 1891, he went to Varanasi where he lived in a solitary garden-house absorbed in spiritual practices. It is said that during this period, he would grudge the time he spent even for taking meals. He would beg some day some pieces of bread for his food, and for the following three or four days these pieces, soaked in water, would constitute his only meal. During this time there was a great riot in Varanasi, but he commanded such respect in the vicinity that rioters of both sides would not even disturb him. But the hardship which he was undergoing was too much for his constitution, which broke down completely. He never regained his normal health. From Varanasi he returned to the Math at Baranagore. He was still ailing. But his bright, smiling face belied his illness. Who could imagine that he was ill when he would be seen engaged whole-heartedly in fun and merry-making with his beloved brother-disciples ! When the Holy Mother came to Calcutta, Swami Yogananda again became her attendant. He spent about a year in devoted service to the Holy Mother. After that he stayed chiefly at the house of Balaram Bose in Calcutta. He was now a permanently sick person - a victim of intestinal ailments. But he was the source of much attraction. So great was his amiability, that whoever would come into contact with him would be charmed with him. One would at once feel at home with him. Some young men who got the opportunity of mixing with him at this time afterwards joined the Ramakrishna Order and became monks.


From 1895 to 1897, Swami Yogananda organised public celebrations of the birthday anniversary of Shri Ramakrishna on a large scale at Dakshineswar. And in 1898, he organised a similar celebration at Belur. The success of these celebrations, against tremendous odds, was due to the great influence Swami Yogananda had over men - specially of the younger generation. The organising ability of Swami Yogananda was evidenced also, when a grand reception was given to Swami Vivekananda in 1897, on his return from America. Swami Yogananda was the moving spirit behind it. When Swami Vivekananda, after his return from the West, told his brother-disciples about his proposal to start an organisation, Swami Yogananda was the person to raise a protest. His contention was that Shri Ramakrishna wanted all to devote their time and energy exclusively to spiritual practices, but that Swamiji, deviating from the Master's teachings, was starting an organisation on his own initiative. This provoked the great Swami too much and made him unconsciously reveal a part of his inner life. Swamiji feelingly said that he (meaning himself) was too insignificant to improve upon the teachings of that spiritual giant - Shri Ramakrishna. If Shri Ramakrishna wanted, he could create hundreds of Vivekanandas from a handful of dust, but that he had made Swamiji simply a tool for carrying out his mission, and Swami Vivekananda had no will but that of the Master. Such astounding faith had the effect of winning over Swami Yogananda immediately. When the Ramakrishna Mission was actually started, Swami Yogananda became its Vice-President.


Swami Yogananda's health was becoming worse every day, and his suffering soon came to an end. On March 28, 1899, he passed away. He was the first among the monastic disciples of the Master to enter Mahasamadhi.


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