THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF SWAMI NIGAMANANDA SARASWATI PARAMAHAMSA DEV
Srimat Swami Nigamananda Saraswati Paramahamsa Dev
Sri Sri Nigamananda Math/Ashram
Swami Vishuddhananda Seva Pratisthan Trust
(Origin, Motivation, Organisation and Activities)
Swami Chetanananda Saraswati
President and Trustee
Sri Sri Nigamananda Math and Ashram Foundations
At - Jharboni, Post Office Amalagora 721121
Midnapur District, West Bengal, INDIA
Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda Paramahamsa Dev was born of father Bhuvanamohan Bhattacharya and mother Manikyasundari Devi, in the village Kutabpur of erstwhile East Bengal, India in the year 1880. His name at birth was Nalinikanta. Not yet well known to the world at large, he was a famous Sadguru (spiritual Master) of India, a great Tantrik, (ritualistic propitiator of Gods and Goddesses), realised Brahmajnani and Siddhayogi (an adept Yogi who experienced oneness of the individual and the universal self in Niirvikalpa samadhi), a Premik (mystic who was imbued with love of God) and, above all a theosophist or theoscientist all rolled into one. Spiritual experiences and preaching of Sri Sri Thakur were as unique as the course of events of his life as shown in the following brief narrative.
Like most other materialistic and non-believing friends, while he was a student of the high school and later on as a Land Survey Unit Supervisor in a feudal estate, though a sincere and kind humanist in heart, Nalinikanta did not believe in the existence of the soul after death. When he was barely twenty and had been married he was once astonished by the appearance of his young wife's shadow-image standing close to his office table in a room illuminated by a kerosene lamp. He was then camping at a long distance from his home where, he later knew, his wife had passed away about an hour before her appearance in the astral body. In those days theosophists in Madras, India, were calling spirits. Nalinikanta came in contact with the theosophists, but was not satisfied despite his efforts to have another astral contact with his wife through planchet calls and mediums. He was, however, consoled by a Samnyasi, Swami Purnananda Saraswati, that if he could please the universal mother Goddess she may materialise as his wife as was his desire.
In the meantime, surprisingly he received a monosyllable formula or Mantra (Word) from a Sadhu (Monk) during his dream state. Mentally repeating the Mantra with one pointed attention, seated on the cremation ground at midnight under the guidance of the then great Tantrik Master, Vamakshepa of Bengal, not only he was able to get the darshan (vision) of the divine mother, but through her grace the vision of his wife as well whenever he wished. However, he observed that the vision appeared from and disappeared into his own being. This was greatly intriguing for Nalinikanta who, then, with the permission of his Tantrik Master, set out in search of yet another spiritual Master who would be able to help him solve the mystery.
After a long and tedious travelling from place to place he finally met and chose Swami Satchidananda Saraswati of Pushkar in Rajasthan as his new Master. Swamiji (honorific title) initiated Nalinikanta into Vaidantik (based on the rules of Vedanta) Samnyas order and renamed him as Swami Nigamananda Saraswati. Under the guidance of the new Master he studied and deliberated on the Vedanta (literally the terminal portion of the Vedas: the system of Indian philosophy that deals with spiritual knowledge as a means of liberation) philosophy of the monistic school due to the great Sankaracharya and then traveled to the four corners of India as a part of his spiritual exercise. This was intended to help him discover the identity of the individual with the supreme universal self, the Parabrahman (Existence-consciousness-bliss absolute). However, his first-hand direct realisation of it was yet to come by means of meditation in Yogic Samadhi. Later, directed by his Master, he thus had to again set out in search of a Yogiguru or a Master of Yoga.
This search was as tedious, frustrating and risky as it had been earlier. Finally as luck would have it, Master Sumerdasji (who also happened to be the original Master of the theosophists round the world) was seen deliberately waiting for him under a tree within the cave of whose large trunk Nigamananda had to spend the previous night having to avoid the attack of wild animals in the dense forest of the North-Eastern Himalayan ranges in Assam. It was to Nigamananda's astonishment and delight, the new Master invited him and taught him the theory and practice of Yogic Samadhi for a few months within his cave-residence. The Master then directed him to get back to a suitable family house, eat the right kind of food and practice while remaining under good care and in solitude.
It was in Gauhati, Assam Nigamananda found the required household retreat and excellent fostering service of the housewife. Having done and practiced the preliminary cleansing processes for a few months, Nigamananda was able to soon master the Savikalpa Samadhi, the trance in which the Yogi loses his body consciousness and acquires a transcendental consciousness while his individual identity is still retained. Soon after, Nigamananda desired to experience the state of Nirvikalpa - the most advanced of Yogic Samadhis. He did enter by way of this Samadhi the all pervading state of eternal consciousness and experience the supreme state of bliss from the first hand realisation of Aham Brahmasmi (I am superconsciousness) with the total loss of duality between the individual and the universal self. But as providence would have it, he was returned into his body with the residual consciousness of "I am the Master or Guru", although he had originally resolved not to return in as much as, there appeared to be no need for it and he had not appointed any assistant to help him return.
Cultivation of Divine Love
Even having had such extreme form of yogic feat and super-human experience, it appeared that Nigamananda was still not having the ultimate fulfillment. By now he had already traversed the path to the first hand experience of the universal self but the mystery of the created world, the worships offered to personal Gods and Goddesses as if they are located in specific places known to be pilgrimage centres, may come as incarnations to the earth, and above all, the nature of ignorance of the human soul, Avidya, still remained to be unraveled. He then remembered the call of Gauri Mata, a great Siddhayogini whom he had met during his earlier trip to the Himalayas. Mataji had suggested Nigamananda to meet with her if ever he succeeded in experiencing Nirvikalapa and returning from that state. Sometime later Nigamananda met Gauri Mata who, by means of transcendental induction process, helped him experience the eternal nature of divine love-play, which is the motive behind the apparent and ephemeral creation. The mysterious divine forces at work, Nigamananda realised, sustain the creation along with the diverse biological relationships that operate between husband and wife; father, mother and the children; master and servant, and between friends etc. Despite being mundane these can be treated as quasi-divine only by one who has had the experience of the supreme reality (or Parabrahman) with that of His sporting or playful nature such that He is titled as God (or Bhagawan). The master creator multiplying Himself in the form of the created universe and then withdrawing back in succession, continues to enjoy His own divine play. Having obtained such insight into that mystery through the gracious mediation of Gauri Mata, Nigamananda came back to the Garo hills in Assam and remained engrossed in this new mode of Sadhana (known as Bhava Sadhana or practices in divine love mode) inside a hamlet. During this period he remained surcharged, day and night with bliss and ecstasy out of the experience of yet another dimension of the mystic relationship with God as taught by many earlier sages e.g. Ray Ramananda and Sri Krishna Chaitanya (Gauranga Mahaprabhu) among others. During this period of Sadhana Nigamananda frequently lost his external senses, wept and laughed and remained deeply merged in transcendental love usually of the romantic type that operates between the lover and the beloved, due to which people there-around mistook him as a lunatic:
One ever absorbed in the whimsical beloved
In reality only he is wise, my friend!
The world knows not of that intoxication
Eyes open or closed find the light everywhere,
On all sides in this universe or beyond.
(After Sharmad, the mystic)
Swami Nigamananda, once in the presence of his preceptor (principal Master) of Vedanta philosophy, Swami Satchidananda Saraswati, was publicly examined for his maturity of spiritual experience by one of the contemporary senior Shankaracharyas who was presiding as the representative Jagadguru (World Master) at the Kumbha Mela (the great congregation of monks and ascetics). Pleased with his answers, the Shankaracharya recognised him as a Paramahamsa (one established in the Parabrahman), the ultimate stage attainable by a Samnyasi. Although unbelievable it is a fact that the span of Nigamananda's checkered Sadhana career described in the foregoing was not more than four years at the end of which he had already acquired fame as Sri Sri Thakur (Godman or Master). At this stage Sri Sri Thakur was a young man aged about thirty years.
Soon afterwards he wrote and published within a short time his famous Bengali books: "Brahmacharya Sadhan, Yogiguru, Tantrikguru, Jnaniguru, Premikguru, and Vedantavivek which dealt with the fundamentals of theory and practical methods of almost all the modes of Sadhana or spiritual practice prevalent in Sanatan Dharma based on his first hand experience and not merely on textual sources. He also published Arya Darpan, a monthly magazine intended for disseminating non-sectarian spiritual knowledge among the masses who are apt to be misguided by narrow religious faith lacking in a rational basis. In his several letters written to his hundreds of disciples and in the discourses and gospels delivered to his inquisitive devotees a vast treasure of spiritual message is contained and those are also available in books published in Bengali. An English translation of his gospels has been recently published (Vide end of narrative for complete address).
Sri Sri Thakur established his well known principal Math, the Assam Bangiya Saraswat Math having the altar for the Gurubrahma (Guru the supreme) at Kokilamukh in Assam and then several Saraswat Ashrams in different zones of Bengal, of which the one known as the Dakshin Bangla Saraswat Ashram at Halisahar, 24 Parganas assumed greater importance during the later years owing to its location on the bank of the river Ganga near Calcutta and also due to the temple built on his grave within its premises. Sri Sri Thakur initiated ten of his devout disciples into Samnyas in the tradition of the Saraswati order due to the great Sankaracharya, the juniormost among whom were Swami Nirvanananda Saraswati (an erudite scholar, philosopher and writer who became famous as Anirvan later on) and Swami Prajnananda Saraswati. Swearing in Swami Prajnanandaji as the Mahanta and Trustee of the Saraswat Math and Ashram establishments, Sri Sri Thakur retired and resided in Neelachal Kuteer in Puri for several years until he cast off his physical body in November, 1935 in Calcutta.
Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda's mission was:
In order to achieve the above objectives he initiated several thousand interested men and women of all walks of life and taught them his unique spiritual practices devoid of any sectarian bias in the form of a complete package of worship, prayer and meditation. He encouraged his disciples to meet periodically in groups (Samgha) of three or more for offering prayer and worship to the Guru, exchanging spiritual experiences, chanting of "Jaiguru" (a non-sectarian Word meaning "Glory due to the Master", which he invented), reading spiritual books and dwelling on the ideas therein, devising ways and means for the management of the Math and the Ashrams and pledging to lead the life of a spiritually inspired ideal householder. He also called upon his devotees, both householders and Samnyasis, to annually meet in a conference (Bhakta-sammilani or congregation of devotees) in order to strengthen the various prayer groups, discuss the need for having the Guru in one's life, review the well-being of Samnyasis living in the Ashrams, help solve problems pertaining to them and the Ashrams as a whole, provide welfare services, such as schools, if any, for the communities and finally to organise spiritual meetings in order to hold lectures by enlightened speakers on contemporary problems of public spiritual life. All these activities are intended, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out, to help in the spiritual advancement of the disciples such that they will be able to attain peace and true happiness in life.
The doctrines of the monistic school of Vedanta philosophy due to the great Shankaracharya had been thoroughly studied earlier by Sri Sri Thakur after he was initiated as a Samnyasi of that Order. Later his experience of oneness of the individual and universal self in yoga Samadhi made him dispel all doubts and become fully realised and blissful like many others of his kind. However, unlike most others, he had to further learn the science and art, followed by the cultivation, of divine love and could experience uninterrupted ecstasy! Then alone he became qualified as an all round and perfect spiritual Master!
Sri Sri Thakur disliked to deliver speeches /discourses on public platforms. He preferred to speak to small groups of sincere devotees and wished to be a personal spiritual guide. He shunned publicity and much of a pomp and grandeur. He usually appeared an introvert and generally reticent but had a great sense of humour. He always remained merged in the supreme Brahman (all pervading reality) both in its impersonal as well as in its divine merciful aspects.
As a Sadguru Sri Sri Thakur was unique! He was able to enlighten and guide, with equal ease and efficiency, any aspirant, (whether a Tantrik ,a seeker of knowledge of the one supreme reality, a Yogi of any class, a mystic lover of God or just any simple minded seeker) with an appropriate package of practices that would benefit each class.
Sri Sri Thakur never admitted that he was God-incarnate or an "Avatar" although many of his disciples fancied to identify him as one. He stated that an incarnation is an exclusive descent of God on earth to uphold spiritual order in a region, country or even the whole world. Although he could, the Avatar ordinarily does not enlighten or guide individuals, per se. Through his agency righteousness is established and demoniac forces are destroyed at large. Sri Sri Thakur wanted that he should be treated as a Sadguru (a perfect spiritual Master, also one form of God) who, on account of his long quest over succession of births and deaths, attained to the knowledge of his Swaroop (true or potential nature, i.e., supreme universal consciousness). There is scriptural evidence to show that Gautam himself had to pass through many births before acquiring the qualities to realise the truth and become the great Buddha!
Sri Sri Thakur further pointed out that an "Avatar" does not always remain in the state of super-human consciousness so as to be able to take part in Leela i.e. divine play! As we note in the Bhagavadgeeta, Sri Krishna said,
"The fools who are ignorant of My potential overlordship deride Me." (IX - ll).
A sadguru, however, remaining , always self conscious and benign, is rarely misunderstood!
Invoking blessings of the almighty Goddess, Sri Sri Thakur assured liberation of his sincere disciples from bondage within one life, if they did so require. And even those that disregarded him would not take more than three lives: such was his kindness, sympathy and authority to help liberate the mortals from whom he demanded nothing other than pure love! Sharmad, the famous mystic describes pure love as follows:
Day and night the
flame of love smoulders within the heart,
It seems to gain energy from inside.
The tears that flow from the eyes nourish the vine of love,
And during meditation the lover assumes the form of the beloved.
And in the case of the delinquent, the same forces which once invoked in him love and attraction for the Master, would again lead him at some other point of time, may be, in another life and help him obtain salvation.
According to Sri Sri Thakur the disciple should take his Guru (a Sadguru, of course) to be the Jagadguru (or the World Master, the Purushottama) and not an ordinary human being, in tune with Lord Krishna's statement in the Bhagavadgeeta,
"He who truely knows My birth and activities to be divine is not born again but attains to Me" (IV - 9).
Also like in Patanjali's aphorism: "By contemplating on the form of one who has no attachments, concentration of mind is attained", Sri Sri Thakur advised his disciples to meditate on his physical form such that all the admirable qualities and attributes in him would get automatically transferred into their beings and fashion their souls. Further he assured that because he had, by triple modes of spiritual practice, simultaneously experienced the nature of Brahman, Paramatma (supreme universal self) and Bhagawan (Personal and universal Godhead) as the ultimate spiritual goals of the seekers, his true disciples also would simultaneously have such experience. "That," he said, "was his only expectation from his disciples and he would love to wait for the day to see that fulfilled".
Because the monistic theory of self realisation requires expanding the individual self to the status of the supreme universal self, according to Sri Sri Thakur it can be directly practiced only by the most competent among the aspirant Samyasis by means of precise intellectual inquiry, analysis and deep meditation, although the service to the Master holds the key to success in such pursuits as well. However, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that true transcendental divine love and ecstasy could be properly experienced by the most fortunate ones only after they had attained monistic realisation of the supreme as declared by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavadgeeta:
"Having realised the state of oneness with the supreme self or Parabrahman and attaining tranquillity in spirit, the aspirant neither grieves nor desires and regarding all beings as alike he attains supreme devotion to Me" (XVIII-54). (i.e. the devotee experiences supreme form of divine love)
"Through devotion he comes to know Me, what My forms are and who I am in truth and then he forthwith enters into Me"(XVIII-55). (i.e. he is now in loving union with God Whose nature he knows and which he acquires himself and hence is now fit to act as a Sadguru, as it indeed came to pass in the life of Sri Sri Thakur).
Devoid of prior attainment to such spiritual experience, practice of informal love (Premabhakti) for God by artificial means may be frustrating! However, those who already had such realisations in the past life may be able to attain to divine love quickly enough during the present life.
Unlike some other saints who recognised and preached a diversity of equally valid doctrines for self / God realisation and as many valid paths to attain to those, Sri Sri Thakur suggested the realisation of oneness of self and the supreme universal self (or Parabrahman) as the true and the highest goal of human life. And the path leading to it, in the case of most aspirants, is one of true devotion for the perfect spiritual Master (Sadguru) who initiates them. Rendering personal Service to the Master and invoking his grace through prayers, chanting and simple meditation are the chief modes of spiritual practice for them. They will thus, not only acquire non-dualistic realisation knowing, for sure, that their Master is a realised soul (Brahmajnani) and trying to live up to his teachings, but also experience bliss due to intense love for him in course of time, when they are enabled to participate in his Leela (love play) for helping others to achieve self/God realisation.
Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that the path shown by Gouranga Mahaprabhu who practiced and preached unconditional devotion and love for God was rather narrow, in as much as it was directed to Sri Krishna as the only God. In order to broad-base that path, Sri Sri Thakur suggested to take the Master as an embodiment of Sri Krishna (or any other deity whom the aspirant loved), in which case the guide himself becomes his goal.
In this way Sri Sri Thakur convincingly formulated a reconciliation of the two apparently contradictory creeds, one due to the great Shankaracharya, the founder of the monistic school of Vedanta philosophy and the other due to Gauranga Mahaprabhu who advocated the principle and practice of apparent duality between the devotee and God. After all, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that in the path of devotion and love the aspirant has to subdue or tame his ego adequately and hence he attains to the same stage as that of the monistic aspirant whose ego loses its identity on attaining to his goal. In the former case, the individuality of the devotee is reduced to a trifling, overpowered by personal god-consciousness, whereas in the latter the aspirant loses his self-consciousness in the ocean of impersonal universal consciousness.
Sri Sri Thakur was greatly tolerant towards the various prevalent spiritual doctrines or philosophies, both Indian and foreign, and considered that each one of them fulfils a purpose and fits into the grand scheme of stratified spiritual realisations. He pointed out that although the doctrine of monistic vedanta philosophy treats the supreme reality in terms of oneness of individual and universal consciousness, it does not systematically explain the structure of the material creation which, on the other hand, is done by Samkhya philosophy. But this latter does not treat the supreme reality as well. Similarly, whereas Christianity emphasises on service and surrender as means to God realisation, the Indian philosophy of Poorva Mimamsa prescribes various ritualistic actions for the attainment of personal and collective happiness despite cycles of birth and death.
By means of a Jnanachakra chart (the spheres of spiritual cosmology) which he visualized and presented in a pictorial form, Sri Sri Thakur identified different layers of human consciousness inter-woven in the microcosm (body) and the macrocosm (the universe) and pointed out the levels which the aspirants of different spiritual orders and sects may ultimately reach. In this chart he placed Sri Krishna and Sri Radha (or the Guru and Yogamaya) in the transition between the non qualified (Nirguna) Brahman and qualified (Saguna) Brahman, which he called as the Nitya or the Bhavaloka. (Yogamaya is a form of divine power, which incessantly attracts the earth-bound souls and helps them realise their true blissful nature and participate in the divine play). This concept is considered to be a unique contribution of Sri Sri Thakur towards the evolution of spiritual thoughts, based on his own insight and mystic experiences.
The address of the only English book available on the life history of Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda is given at the end of the narrative.
1) To be able to get spiritually liberated one needs the help of a liberated person (a Master Sadguru or simply Guru). In the Hindu scriptures that person is known as the Guru. Without his grace or favor none can make any progress in the path leading to liberation. Also he who has attained the ultimate reality (Paramatman or Brahman) as one and the same as himself (the Atman) is the Guru.
2) The Guru who helps in getting one liberated cannot be equated in importance to formal learning, pilgrimage or divinity. If we do not offer our deep devotion and love to Him, who else then is fit for getting our utmost respect?
3) The Guru indeed is the embodiment of the essence of what the Vedanta teaches – the individual self (the Atman) is one and the same as the cosmic self (Paramatman or Brahman).
4) A Sadguru never curses anyone. Even if He appears to be angry, that too is going to do good to the disciple. The advantage of depending on a Sadguru is unique. One doesn’t have the same advantage depending even on God because God never materializes to give instructions. The Guru in practice provides the required guidance leading the disciple to the ultimate goal.
5) The Guru and the disciple are inseparable in a way. The Guru cannot exist without being a part of a true disciple’s personality or character.
6) There are two pathways to attain spiritual liberation: one is by initiation into and observing the austerities of samnyas yoga and the other – by service rendered to a Sadguru Who has had realization of Brahman. The former is extremely arduous a path – the disciple must die in a sense even while he remains in his body. In other words, he has to loose his body consciousness. But if one unconditionally loves the Guru by way of rendering service to him sincerely, spiritual liberation may be obtained relatively easy.
7) Nothing substantial can be achieved without Guru’s grace. I (Sri Sri Thakur) have been wandering far and wide like a bird as if with its voice box mutilated but have not had God coming and helping me. But the day I was able to have the grace or the benefit of the Guru (Who is God in human form), I started making real progress.
8) The Guru, ‘the mantra’ that he gives during initiation and the disciple’s choicest divinity (or Ista) are one and the same. Unless the Guru becomes the choicest divinity the mantra received from Him looses its power.
9) Acquisition of disciples through initiation is not Guru’s profession; it is the inspiration of His heart. The Guru initiates takes care and guides the disciple hoping that one day the disciple will get spiritually enlightened.
10) The Guru is the embodiment of both the monistic (or non-dual) ideology due to the Great Shankaracharaya and love divine as preached by Sri Sri Gouranga Mahaprahbu. If the disciple submits himself to the Guru his latent characteristic attitude is bound to unfold. Spiritual life based on such a universal (non-sectarian) and sweet relationship between the Guru and the disciple can help harmonize the diverse faiths in the world.
Sometime during February-March, 1935 Sri Sri Thakur visited the Paschim Bangla Saraswat Ashram at Kharkusma located near Garbeta railway station in Midnapur district of West Bengal. By that time one of the inmates of that Ashram was Bholanath Ganguly aged about twenty-eight years engaged as a cook and Poojak (one who offers worship at the shrine) for the past four years. Sri Ganguly had hailed from the village Lashurrka in Purulia district of West Bengal, born (February, 27,1906) as the third son of late Lalmohan Ganguly, whose wife (Sharadasundari Devi) had passed away leaving Bholanath as a baby who was only two months old. The boy therefore was taken and brought up under the care of his uncle Gadadhar Mishra at Maheshpur. Bholanath could not be taught beyond the alphabets in his boyhood but he was very good at all sorts of work, viz., weaving clothes, agriculture, shopkeeping and related business. While once he was putting up physical labour for building a house for himself as a future resident and house-holder, he suddenly started wondering as to what the purpose of life was and the need for having a house and raising a family. When told that even ascetics and monks also live, though without a family in the Ashrams, he became curious to learn from them about the purpose of life. Along with a friend right away he came over to the aforesaid Ashram at Kharkusuma and joined there as an inmate so as to study the life and activities of the Ashramites on a trial basis. By and by, he learned about the life and mission of Sri Sri Thakur, the founder of the Ashram and was deeply impressed by his spiritual attainment and divine powers. Incidentally, during Sri Sri Thakur's visit to that Ashram he got the opportunity of fanning with a hand fan while standing by Sri Sri Thakur's bedside in order to put him to sleep, which was because at that place there was no electricity at that time. This was his first ever opportunity to watch Sri Sri Thakur's figure from close quarters. It was a situation of love at first sight. He thought to himself "could such radiance emit from a human body with the palms and feet displaying the hue of lotus flower'" Sri Sri Thakur's graceful and imposing stature, his gift of spiritual power and authority were unique and not comparable with any other saint he had seen or known before. Having magnetically drawn towards him he thought "blessed indeed is the spiritual seeker who could surrender himself at the feet of such a great Master!".
And lo, the next day Sri Sri Thakur himself called, nay, compelled the head of the Ashram to have Bholanath readied for getting initiated as a Brahmachari (the first stage in the life of a celibate aspirant who takes the vow to study while serving the Master). Bholanath was surprised at this news of having been chosen to get initiated by a great spiritual Master as he was feeling himself incompetent and diffident due to his lack of education and outlook. All the same, the all merciful Thakur initiated him only about eight months before finally leaving this world, converting him from Bholanath to Sri Bhola Chaitanya Brahmachari. Brahmachariji, therefore, could not get another chance to meet his revered Master alive but was guided by Swami Chidananda Maharaj who was the head of the Ashram at that time, and later on, by his own maternal aunt, who had developed some miraculous mystic divine powers following the death of her husband, Sri Gadadhar Mishra. Under very mysterious circumstances Brahmachariji had to publicly worship her as the divine mother and receive her blessings.
Later Sri Bhola Chaitanya Brahmachari having been instructed by a local mystic named Sri Nandakshepa moved into a cave where the great Rishyashringa Muni blessed him twice and helped him attain realisation of the universal self. He then continued to perform Yogic practices remaining inside the cave for several years and he continued to experience bliss due to Laya (dissolution) and Bhava (mystic divine love mode) Samadhi. Later on he attended the Kumbha Mela at Haridwaar during 1950 and walking for days together he visited the shrine of Badrinaath and beyond, up to the Vasudhara falls in the Himalayas. He then visited Brindavan, Puri and certain other places in Orissa.
Finally, he was initiated into the Samnyas order at Sri Sri Nigamananda Math in Bhubaneswar in Orissa by the late Swami Prajnananda Saraswati who was earlier presiding as the honorable Mahanta and Trustee of the Assam Bangiya Saraswat Math. Brahmachari Bhola Chaitanya was renamed as Swami Visuddhananda Saraswati after entering into the Samnyas order during 1964 at the age of 58. He, in turn, initiated number of men and women, built his principal Ashram with the Gurubrahma's altar and temple(presently known as Sri Sri Nigamananda Math) at Jharboni, (P.O.- Amalagora) close by Garbeta railway station in district Midnapur (West Bengal) and branch Ashrams at Dasapalla and Bargaon in Orissa besides the one styled as Gurudham at Ladhurka in his own paternal homestead land site.
His first disciple to be initiated into the Samnyas order was late Ma Nandarani Mukherjee who became known by the name, Mata Anandamayee Saraswati. Mataji was a spiritually enlightened woman who served her Guru sincerely and loved the devotees and disciples so dearly that she was being treated as the divine Mother and worshipped together with the Guru. Among other Samnyasi- initiates, mention may be made of Sri Gurudas Brahmachari who was converted as Swami Birajananda Saraswati who is presently the presiding Trustee of Sri Sri Nigamananda Ashram at Chhotabarua in Midnapur town in West Bengal. After initiation into Samnyas the four other disciples presently residing in his Math and Ashrams are Swami Gambhirananda Saraaswati, Swami Shuddhananda Saraswati, Swami Chetanananda Saraswati and Mata Amritamayee Saraswati.
Having taught , preached and initiated in the same manner as his revered Gurudev, Sri Sri Thakur Maharaj over almost thirty years beginning with the sixties, Swamiji breathed his last on May 2, 1995.
Swami Vishuddhananda Saraswati Maharaj had assumed popularity as a spiritually powerful Sadguru among his disciples in West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, unlike many other Samnyasi disciples engaged in spreading Sri Sri Thakur's philosophy and message and initiating aspirants, Swamiji insisted that his disciples should treat him (the initiator) as the spiritual Master and not treat Sri Sri Thakur, as such, who was no more living and who had attained the Grand Master's status (Paramguru or God) like Sri Rama or Sri Krishna.
The role of a living Guru or a Master had been highlighted by many a saint and mystic in the Hindu as well as other circles. Soamiji Maharaj of Radhasoami Satsang asserted that without a contemporary Master one cannot practice devotion:
"The object of the devotee is not
As long as he does not get a Guru of his time
All those have gone astray
who put their faith on the past Gurus
whom they have never seen with their eyes
but only have heard of their greatness
and read about them in books".
Sri Krishna also declares in the Bhagavadgeeta,
"Learn that (knowledge about God or ultimate reality ) by humble reverence (and listening to their discourses), enquiry (and mental reflection and analysis) and by service (to the men of wisdom and then practicing meditation)". (IV - 34)
Evidently this suggests going and rendering service to a living Master and practicing according to his advice.
One may argue that because in earlier ages books were not available one was directed to meet living Masters and learn from them, but why today? Noteworthy are the observations of Swami Vivekananda in this context: "This insufficiency of the book to quicken spiritual growth is the reason why although everyone of us can speak wonderfully on spiritual matters, when it comes to action and the living of a spiritual life we find ourselves so awfully deficient. To quicken this spirit the impulse must come from another living soul who is called the Guru."
Such were also the firm and declared views of Swami Vishuddhananda Saraswati Maharaj. Invoking such views of his Master Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda Saraswati, mentioned in his book "Tantrikguru", that one should get initiated by a living Master even if one obtained a Mantra while in a dream state, he convinced Chakrapani Mishra (presently Swami Chetanananda Saraswati) and made him relent to surrender to a living Master.
An important method of meditation, which he emphasised and taught to his disciples, was Ajapa or rhythmic mental repetition of the Mantra (Word) or name of God. Several saints and Masters in the past have suggested mental repetition of God's name with breathing. The western orthodox Christian spiritual literature declared that one must learn to call upon His name more often than breathing at all times in all places in every kind of occupation. Ceaseless prayer is to remember God always, whether a man is conversing, sitting down, walking, making something, or eating:
Even a moment of separation is unbearable
when we talk it is oneness talking
which indeed has become all this, not so obvious
blissful is this realisation simultaneous!
(After Sharmad, the mystic)
"Who can be able," Swamiji Maharaj asked, "to utilise or even understand such message in practical life without the help of a living Guru in whom the disciple can repose faith?".
Swamiji taught the technique of Ajapa to such of his disciples who were fit enough to receive it and was insisting that they should practice it for twenty-four hours a day or as long as practicable. He had mastered the technique himself by practicing (for a long time while he was in the cave) regulation of the breath current by fixing undivided attention on it irrespective of outward engagements after he had once observed a woman dancing with a water pot placed on her head to various tunes and rhythms. Thus having achieved success he told his aspirants how to set attention on the Mantra linked to the breathing rhythm, even when they attended to their many concerns. "How otherwise" he asked "is it possible to visualise or practice the truth in tune with Sri Krishna's commands in the Bhagavadgeeta:
At all times remember me and fight (VIII-7)
Therefore at all times, o Partha, be thou established in yoga? (VIII-27)"
1) For the disciple his initiator is the Guru. It is not proper to take once initiator’s Guru or so to say the grand Guru as one’s own Guru. Taking one’s Guru’s Guru especially the one who is no more living, as one’s own Guru offers the same benefit as that due to an impersonal God. In that case there remains little need for initiation by or affiliation to a living Guru in the first place (which however runs contrary to the prescription of time honored scriptures!).
2) One usually affiliates oneself mostly with the gross bodily form of the Guru but cannot visualize the indwelling God in Him. In the gross body of the Guru resides the divine essence (the Paramatman). As such Guru’s gross body needs also to be nurtured and protected.
3) What have you gained so long by remaining bound to the world of craving and passion? Give up attachment to material benefits and enjoyment and then see if you can get peace or not!
4) Self-surrender (to the Guru) is not easy enough. Merely expressing or thinking does not achieve it. One has to prove it in action. Have complete faith in the Guru and surrender. Then you will surely get peace.
5) Nothing is achieved by only shouting ‘Peace, Peace’! One has to go deep into one’s heart and ponder over how it can be achieved and why one doesn’t get it.
6) First realize through introspection that you are not the body but the indestructible Atman residing in it. In that spiritual light you identify the Paramatman as yourself present in all created beings. Then only violence and hatred would be gone and peace prevails.
7) Purification of mind may continue over a span of several births. However, through service rendered to the Guru, surrendering at His feet and following his instructions will expedite it. The Guru is like that extraordinary philosopher’s stone, Whose touch converts an ordinary human to a Guru Himself unlike the ordinary one that converts iron into gold.
8) Merely reciting God’s name or counting beads achieves nothing. If one can repeat the ‘mantra’ by the technique of ‘Ajapa japa’ then only one would receive the blessings of the Guru. ‘Ajapa japa’ is not supposed to be performed once or twice. One has to practice it day and night.
9) Samgha or (the session of) a prayer group of disciples and devotees is indeed the Guru’s dwelling temple. Regular attendance in the Samgha will help expedite spiritual progress of the disciple.
10) Unless one has the required ability one cannot easily know what ‘Guru shakti’ (the power of the Guru) is! Go ahead with faith – one day you will be able to attain to the ultimate truth (which is another name for God -head) and lasting peace.
During March 1966, Sri Chakrapani Mishra (who was working as a Professor and researcher in the University of Agriculture and Technology at Bhubaneswar) and his wife Smt. Arunabala Mishra were initiated by Swami Vishuddhananda Maharaj following the latter's initiation into the Samnyas order at Bhubaneswar. Sri Mishra and Smt. Mishra had been sincere devotees of Sri Sri Thakur ever since their childhood and hence this initiation intensified and consolidated their spiritual virtues, especially of Sri Mishra who had already acquired, by his earlier yogic practices, grace and blessings of Sri Sri Thakur. Sri Mishra's Gurudev proposed and wished, during the terminal years of his life, that he would pass away in peace if the former consented to enter into the Samnyas order after his retirement from worldly life and succeed him to continue the spiritual activity in the legacy of Sri Sri Thakur.
Surprisingly the succession of events and the developments that came to pass were such as if ordained by some unseen hand and three months before he laid away his mortal body, Swami Vishuddhananda Saraswati initiated both Sri Mishra and Smt. Mishra into the Samnyas order and renamed them as Swami Chetanananda Saraswati and Ma Amritamayee Saraswati, respectively.
A soil scientist, teacher and researcher (trained in the U.S) all his life, despite being a practicing spiritualist and disciple of his Master, Chetananandaji was still feeling incompetent to succeed his Master and accept the responsibilities to carry forward the spiritual legacy. This also had been the case with his Master himself who was feeling hesitant to get initiated by his own Master Sri Sri Thakur Nigamanada Saraswati. Pointing to the chain of events which brought about a complete transformation of his life due to the touch of his gracious Master and to how he was able to push ahead his Master's mission despite his seeming inability, he exhorted Swami Chetanananda Saraswati not to forget that the latter indeed is his Master's servant. The Master willing, he would get his own work going the way he desired despite the successor disciple's imperfections, like Sri Krishna asking Arjuna in the Bhagavadgeeta:
Be thou merely the occasion, O, Savyasachin (Arjuna).(XI-33)
God (in this case, the Master) decides and ordains all things and Arjuna the disciple is only to act as an instrument.
Mystic literature stressed on the fact that between the living perfect Master and the Lord there is no difference. Having acquired transcendental consciousness the great Jesus Christ therefore declared "I and my Father are one!".
Swami Chetanananda Saraswati, in his turn, confirmed, like many of his predecessors, that love for the merciful Master attracts the disciple to him. And because the Master is one form of the Lord himself, he is automatically attracted to the Lord. By His grace as well as by practicing devotion to Him, according to his instructions, he transforms himself, "Just as the water of a stream loses its identity when it is poured into the Ganges (or the ocean), just as (they say) a piece of iron turns into gold by the touch of the philosopher's stone"; similarly, the disciple turns into the master himself by the touch of the master. Such is the state of the devoted disciple who never likes to admit, although, in reality, is one with his Master.
One may quote from the statements of mystics to describe this altered state of consciousness of a true disciple: "Those eyes are very rare indeed through which pearls of tears are shed in the memory of the beloved Master". In form of poetry, the same idea is in the following:
"Can an Ocean be contained in the
Can the Master be God?
Can a man be the Lord?
They say it is imagination, let them say so".
(Sharmad, the mystic)
Swami Chetanananda Maharaj has nothing new to offer to the disciples other than what has been very admirably said and passed on by his preceding Masters to the aspirants of the present day, in general. He suggests that the aspirants should initially deliberate on and treat the material world as non-real and being guided by his Master, attempt to experience the oneness of the individual self and the universal self as one supreme reality through meditation. The Bhagavadgeeta also declares,
"For those in whom ignorance (false assumption that the world is real) is destroyed by wisdom, for them wisdom, like the sun, lights up the supreme self as the absolute reality" (V-16).
"The holy men whose sins are destroyed, whose doubts are cut asunder, whose minds are disciplined, and who rejoice in doing good to all creatures, attain to the beatitude of God"(V-25).
Then only the aspirants can regard the unreal world to be part of the supreme self that is capable of acting as knowledge, bliss and love incarnate (such as: Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, the Buddha, the Christ or a Sadguru) now tangiable to mortal devotees such as the Gopis and others who act as partners in His endless and blissful sport. Hence His realised devotees should love and serve the unreal world inasmuch as they now know it to be also divine and a marvellous sporting field for the alltime and allround Champion, commonly known as 'God'.
However, the Swamiji feels that the transitoriness of the created world would not bother one who is not yet disillusioned or frustrated attempting to experience sense-based pleasures. The Bhagavadgeeta likewise declares,
"Whatever pleasures are born of contacts (with objects) are only sources of sorrow, they have a beginning and an end, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), no wise man delights in them" (V-22).
On the other hand, the fortunate one who has been able to enjoy life to the full and considers that the highest form of enjoyment comes from meditation and making others happy through service and sacrifice, may strive to attain consummation as a Buddha.
1) Teachings (Upadesha vani) of a Sadguru constitute Goddess Saraswati – the embodiment of divine speech. Primary duty of the disciple is to recognize the power principle that resides in the Guru’s body and functions as medium of his speech. The disciple then should carefully listen to, deliberate upon His teachings and translate those into action in life.
2) It may be several births before one enjoys the benefit of self-realization. Coming to know this may discourage a disciple. However one need not lose hope. Elevation of consciousness is indeed equivalent to a new birth. During one lifetime there may be more than one such elevation steps. In the yogic literature this is known as ‘Granthibheda’ or piercing of the knot (or specific chakras in the body) leading to revelation. Through grace of the Guru the duration between births is thus shortened. One has therefore to repose faith in the Guru, which will surely lead to such up-gradation and hence the time gap between births would be minimized.
3) Some disciples feel that even after the lapse of a good length of time following initiation nothing substantial happened despite performance of meditation, ‘japa’ etc. One has to keep in mind, however, that meditation doesn’t mean sitting down with eyes closed. In such a situation all the worldly thoughts may disturb the aspirant. Meditation is an opportunity to be in intimate contact with the spirit of the Guru. True meditation cannot be possible without deep concentration of the mind, which can be achieved only when the aspirant’s focus is one whom he loves the most. Therefore a devotee has rightly prayed, “May the kind of attachment one naturally has for the material world hold good in the case of the spiritual master”.
Never get despaired by the thought that no spiritual progress is being made. With sustained practice of meditation, even if sloppily done, the Guru’s grace is bound to descend one day and confer on you the much sought after fulfillment. When that moment arrives is best known to the Guru. Depending upon the disciple’s state of mind, aptitude and resolve, the Guru will absorb him into his fold and employ him for the spiritual welfare of mankind.
4) Guru’s teachings are based on His realization of the ultimate truth – the Brahman. In order to catch their import one must develop a spirit of enquiry. Impressions carried through many births generate such a spirit. On the other hand, long standing service to the Sadguru also helps the disciple to visualize Guru’s real intentions behind His instructions.
5) It is hard to comprehend the meaning of transcendental love without having the prior realization of the individual self as the one and the same as the over self (Paramatman). The latter is not like an ordinary objective thought. The individual’s little ego must dissolve before one can comprehend what transcendental love or ‘Leela’ or ‘Bhava’ is. But the ego persists as long as attraction for sense bound pleasure and body consciousness persists.
6) What you want to get or what you are looking for must be carefully identified before the real quest can begin. Today you want something and tomorrow something else – that is how time passes away. Not knowing fully well what you really cherish, for what and for whom would you sacrifice? The so-called love for God (or attaining to God) ought to be based on spiritual knowledge. Divine love, which is acquired after attaining to such knowledge, is indeed transcendental and blissful.
7) Being in the presence of the Guru is indeed equivalent to the ‘so-called Brajabas’ – living literally in the mythical abode of ‘Braja’ (or Golokadham) belonging to Lord Sri Krishna and his companions (on this earth). Once such a notion takes firm roots, the disciple can realize that whatever happens centering round the Guru is indeed His ‘Leela’!
8) The self (Atman) resides in all creatures – in the plants, flowers, fruits, the sky, the wind, animals, birds, insects and germs and even the stationary as well as in the moving objects. Such a realization makes even the lifeless appear as sentient. This is akin to the realization of the ultimate reality.
9) An oil or kerosene lamp is burning and emitting light. Another sits there with oil, wick etc but doesn’t emit light. It needs to be kindled in order that it emits light. The power of the Guru is similar. One cannot attain to spiritual enlightenment without the kindling by means of His power.
10) Who are you? What is your real identity? If you can, identify yourself as Guru’s servant. The greatest sacrifice is to forget your formal worldly identity and redefine it in this manner. That will help you get rid of your ego, feel relaxed and be peaceful.
Following Chetananandaji's first initiation as a householder, his Master Swami Vishuddhananda Maharaj had asked him to compile the latter's life history based on his diary notes, which he did. The book (Bholara Atmasmriti) was written and published first in Oriya language and then translated into Bengali and later into English (vide end of narrative for address of publisher). Presently Swamiji in association with Ma Amritamayee Saraswati is guiding the many past and new disciples, managing the principal shrine - Sri Sri Nigamananda Math (Temple) and the Samadhi temples (later built on the graves of Swami Vishuddhananda Maharaj and Mata Anandamayee Saraswati) at Jharboni together with the branch Ashrams established or proposed (vide infra) by his Gurudev Swami Vishuddhananda Maharaaj. Round the day and the year various rituals and festivities are performed in the Math and the Ashrams. Sri Sri Guru Maharaj's birth anniversary is organised every year by rotation in different places. A number of prayer group meetings of the devotees are also arranged periodically as an ongoing activity. Participation of the disciples in all such activities as well as the practice of alms-giving (Mustibhiksha) are intended to maintain the legacy of the Master and is considered as an important step that can purify their minds and help in their spiritual advancement. This has been, in general, the standing instruction of the past Masters passed on to posterity.
In a spacious land site donated earlier to his Gurudev at Tandipur, Dist. Ganjam in Orissa, Swami Chetanananda Maharaaj has founded a new branch Ashram, Sri Sri Nigamananda Ashram early 1998, with its socio-educational wing known by the name of Swami Vishuddhananda Seva Pratisthan. This wing envisages an integrated and wholesome development of village sites such as Tandipur based on spiritual philosophy as preached by Sri Sri Thakur Nigamanandaji, and his disciple Swami Vishudhanandaji as laid down broadly in Nigamananda Ashram (Math) deed of Trust (Registered, 1984). As a part of such activity, a facility for imparting spiritually oriented education in the primary stage, a school known as Saraswat Vidya Mandir has been started since July, 1998. Community welfare to be brought about through creating facilities for formal, moral and vocational education of young children and grown-up village lads is being proposed. An orphanage, an old persons home, community prayer halls, Yoga-meditation centre for physical and mental well being are proposed to be located adjoining the hills under natural forest cover. Sri Sri Nigamananda Ashram unit has already come up and is functioning as the nerve centre for planning and implementation of the proposed programmes and associated activities (vide proposed plan outlay given below). It is proposed to replicate such efforts in the other Ashrams, including the main Math at Jharboni where a Rishi Vidyalaya of the kind Sri Sri Thakur once started in the Saraswat Math premises in Kokilamukha, Assam is being envisaged. Translation of Sri Sri Thakur's books into English is proposed to be undertaken in the near future.
Those who are interested to learn more about the life and legacy of Sri Sri Thakur or make contribution (charity) of any kind for their own well-being and for the development of the Ashrams at Tandipur and other places are requested to contact :Swami Chetanananda Saraswati, President and Trustee
The details of the books about Sri Sri Thakur and Swami Vishuddhananda Saraswati Maharaj presently available in English are as under:
Mahanta and President,
Assam Bangiya Saraswat Matha
24 - Parganas
West Bengal, India
In Quest of Myself
Lokanath Saran Panda
PO: Amalagora 721121
West Bengal, India
The Divine Universal Gospels of Sri Nigamananda
Bijoy Kumar Giri
Dr. Amitav Giri