Swami Turiyananda’s life in brief
(1863 - 1922)
A few people, there are, who appear to live in this world, but do not really belong here. Swami Turiyananda was one of them. Born in a religious family, of Brahmana parents, on the 3rd of January 1863 (just nine days earlier to the advent of Swami Vivekananda), Harinath Chattopadhyaya -- that was his premonastic name -- was given to much orthodox observances even in his younger days. An innate desire for liberation in this very life, kindled by the study of Vedantic works brought him to Sri Ramakrishna. The Master through his deep spiritual insight and all-encompassing love, quickly won his heart. Not only that, he soon discovered and destroyed two unhealthy trends in his personality -- abhorrence of womankind and excessive reliance on self-effort. After accepting the monastic robes and vows, Harinath became `Swami Turiyananda'. His orthodox mental makeup made him undertake long and arduous journeys as an itinerant monk, and practise severe austerities as also study of the scriptures. Though he had great love and respect for Swami Vivekananda, he was at first averse to active missionary work. But, Swamiji's love melted his heart. He accompanied Swamiji to the United States and worked there for about three years. The Shanti Ashrama in California was practically his creation. After returning to India he spent his days mostly in austerity and in training the younger generation of monks. His burning spirit of renunciation, deep faith in the Divine Mother, and insight into the intricacies of the scriptures left an indelible impression on everyone that came into contact with him. His fortitude and the control he could exercise over his body were astonishing. He left the body on the 21st July 1922.
Never pride yourself on your having gained control over the passions. If you do, they will at once raise their heads. Ever pray to Him, `O Lord, save me from them'.
Nothing short of complete self-surrender to Him will do. You call Him the Inner Controller (Antharyamin), omniscient, omnipresent, and yet you are afraid to surrender yourself to Him!
Never expect anything from anyone. But always give. Otherwise a sense of dryness will overtake you. But you must not give your mind to anyone. That you must give only to God.
Work done in the spirit of service can lead one as surely to the goal as meditation and japa.
CONVERSATIONS WITH SWAMI TURIYANANDA
The spiritual talks published below took place at Almora in the Himalayas during the summer of 1915 in the ashrama which Swami Turiyananda had established in cooperation with his brother-disciple, Swami Shivananda. During the course of these conversations, Swami Turiyananda describes the early days at Dakshineswar with his master, Sri Ramakrishna, leaving a fascinating record of the training of an illumined soul by this God-man of India. His memories of life with his brother-disciples at Baranagore, under Swami Vivekananda’s leadership, give a glimpse of the disciplines and struggles that formed the basis of the young Ramakrishna Order. Above all, Swami Turiyananada’s teachings in the pages that follow contain practical counsel on many aspects of religious life of interest to every spiritual seeker.
Swami Turiyananda spent most of his life in austere spiritual practices. In 1899, he came to the United States where he taught Vedanta for three years, first in New York, later on the West Coast. By the example of his spirituality he greatly influenced the lives of many spiritual aspirants both in America and India. He was regarded by Sri Ramakrishna as the perfect embodiment of that renunciation which is taught in the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Shivananda, some of whose talks are included below, was also a man of the highest spiritual realizations. He later became the second President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
July 4, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “One must have the inner conviction that whatever happens in this world happens by His will. Success and failure come by His will. The achievements of so many clever people in this world have come to naught! Everything is His will! Do you think the Ramakrishna Mission will last forever? It will degenerate in time, and the Lord will have to incarnate again."
“Sri Ramakrishna did not have much regard for people who were immersed in sex. He used to say that they had lost all substance.The Master used to keep everything in his room in perfect order. Every object had its proper place so that even in darkness he could find what he wanted. An orderly mind is as necessary as external order.”
“Prejudiced people will listen only to one side of a story. Swamiji had an open mind. He would take every point of view into account. He had a generous and forgiving heart.”
July 5, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Repression is bad. Let the mind wander wherever it pleases. Let it experience. At long last it will tire and return to God. If you repress it, its cravings will grow strong. But keep watch over your mind and intellect. Try to unite them with the Lord.”
DISCIPLE: “Why doesn’t the mind have a natural tendency toward the divine?”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Everybody wants this to happen spontaneously. The mind will long for God in time. But first struggle; be watchful. Later on your mind will become your guru.
“That which is good and pure in you is God. That which is evil in you is your ego. The more you think of him, the more he will increase and you will decrease. Some people are secretive. They raise a wall around themselves. That is bad. Without being sincere and open-hearted nobody can find God.”
July 6, 1915.
It was morning. A devotee had written a letter asking the following question: “Is it possible for a person in the world to attain samadhi?”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “The worldly man engages himself in sexual intercourse. That, indeed, is his bliss of samadhi! If he doesn’t, his wife thinks she is losing her husband. Such is the world! She will beat the children and go around with a long face. Seeing all this disturbance, what can the poor man do?
“What a troublesome world this is! How sex creates one bondage after another! But again, there are women who are aids to their husbands’ spiritual progress. Such women are born as parts of the Divine Mother.
“There are spiritual families in this world although they are very rare—the family of Balaram Bose, for instance. Every one of his people is conscious that God comes first. What is worldly life? To be attached to the world and its objects. Spiritual life in the world means keeping the mind in God and performing one’s duties without attachment.”
July 7, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “ ‘He is the doer, I am His instrument.’ The more you become established in this idea and renounce the thought of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ the greater will be your attainment of peace.”
July 9, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “The personal God, that is to say, God with attributes, through his maya [power] first created Brahma. From this first-begotten son down to the stone, all are within maya, although the expression of power differs. The personal God and the impersonal Brahman are not two but present different aspects of one and the same Reality, just as a snake presents different aspects when lying still or crawling.”
“Some Vedantists consider the personal God also within maya. They do not believe in worshipping him or in his saving power. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that those who accept only the impersonal aspect are very one-sided.”
DISCIPLE: “My concept of God is very vague.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “It is not possible to have a clear conception of God all at once. Listen to our words. Reflect on them. Then one day in a flash of illumination you will realize for yourself the truth you have been hearing about. We also had to pass through some doubts regarding our ideas of God. Studying the scriptures, we became more confused. Then Sri Ramakrishna taught us the truth which we later experienced for ourselves in a burst of realization. Now we are established in it.”
“When we studied the scriptures we thought that the attainment of nirvana was the supreme ideal. Afterwards, when we came to Sri Ramakrishna, I was struck dumb when I heard the Master chastise us for holding this ideal. He called it low. But I had great faith in his words. So I proceeded and later realized the truth of his teaching.”
“The love of God that comes after samadhi, after realizing God’s true nature, is devotion mixed with knowledge. There is a higher state than this in which pure devotion and true faith arise spontaneously. This state is beyond the faculty of reasoning.”
July 18, 1915.
During the reading of a lecture by Swamiji I was watching Swami Turiyananda. Tears of ecstasy were rolling down his cheeks. After a while he began to talk: “You are all highly educated boys. You have renounced the world. But what are you doing? Days, months, and years pass by, while you are idling away your time. Where is that yearning for God? Don’t you remember how Sri Ramakrishna used to weep, ‘O Mother, another day is gone and still I have not seen you’? You have become dry! You have lost your spirit! ‘Who is dead-while-living? One who does not long for the truth of God.’ Swamiji once said ‘At the age of twenty-nine I finished everything.’”
“But why should I blame you? You follow our example. We are not struggling hard. We say that we have become old and diabetic. Nonsense! These are our excuses. What we have seen in Swamiji! During his last days, when he was hardly able to breathe, he would still roar: “Arise! Awake!’ But we are giving excuses.”
“The body will surely die. Let it die while working for the good of mankind. What is the truth? Rousing the divinity within yourselves and in others. Knowing that to be true, wake up, struggle, forget everything else! Struggle now or never! But I can see that you have a desire for name and fame. That won’t do. Because you have university degrees you want to be somebody in the Order. You have not yet learned to be instruments in the hands of the Lord. Do you think everybody can be a Vivekananda?”
July 24, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “C. is restless. Why doesn’t he go to Maharaj [Swami Brahmananda] in Bhadrak? It seems he is waiting for Maharaj’s return to the monastery. Maharaj hides his spiritual power. He won’t let himself be caught easily. But if you surrender yourself completely to him surely he will reveal God to you. He has that power. He is the embodiment of devotion. Since his boyhood his life was molded by Sri Ramakrishna himself. He is his eternal companion. You have read that in M.’s Gospel. C. should go to Maharaj and open his heart to him. Then Maharaj would be interested in him. But C. stays away. What can anybody do about it? If he really longs for the truth of God, let him have the benefit of Maharaj’s holy company for some time. Then he may go wherever he pleases and pray and meditate.”
DISCIPLE: “C. wanted to know if he should go and practice austerities in Uttarkasi.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Yes, that’s good! I give him permission. If you wish, you also may go. Live by the bank of the Ganges and weep for the Divine Mother. Pray to her: ‘Mother, I don’t want anything but you.’ Prepare your mind now to live a contemplative life. Work and preaching will come later.”
July 25, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Has it been revealed to you what the purpose of this human birth is? Sri Ramakrishna’s life is an example for us. The Master had the vision of the living Mother of the Universe and entered into an intimate relationship with her. He surrendered himself to her. But once the Master told us, like a child, that he did not always obey her.”
“If you want to catch fish, first you must throw bait into the water. Then you will see the tail of a fish, the fish will swallow the bait, and gradually you will haul it in.
Afterwards you make fish curry, eat, and are satisfied.”
“D. has written that he is unhappy. You see, he wants to be somebody. He doesn’t want to work under another’s direction. But let him first be worthy of leadership. Why is he unhappy? It’s his own fault. Why doesn’t he struggle to follow the ideal? He has read the teachings. Let him practice them. What else? What is spiritual attainment—growing two horns and a tail? No, no! We understand the whole situation. He is unhappy because he does not want to work under somebody else.”
DISCIPLE: “No, sir, he is just asking your help because he has not had any spiritual experiences.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “What kind of help does he want? There must be self-effort. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘Struggle a little! Then the guru will help you further.’ From our own experience we can confirm that if you move one step toward God, he will take ten steps toward you.”
DISCIPLE: “But if the Master wished, couldn’t he transform and elevate anyone’s consciousness?”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Yes, he could, but only of those who had some substance in them. The Master used to say about some people, ‘They won’t achieve much in this life.’ Unless there is self-effort, nothing can be accomplished. The illumined souls show us the path. Isn’t that a great help? But we have to walk it. If you open your hearts to us we can show you the path, because we have walked the path.”
DISCIPLE: “We don’t understand our own minds.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “We can help you there. But you must have the desire to control your minds.”
“Once a king came to a holy man and said: ‘Holy sir, please help me control my mind. I am so immersed in worldliness!’ The holy man replied: ‘Know this world to be ephemeral. See its worthlessness, and your mind will become detached from it.’ Then the holy man held on to a pillar and asked the king to release him. The king answered: ‘Why don’t you just let it go?’ Then he understood.”
“The plate of food is set before you, but you keep your mouth closed. Do we have to force the food down your throats? This lethargy is a disease of the mind! You may ask, ‘Does not the Lord do everything for his devotee?’ The point is, first become a devotee, then he will do everything for you. But devotion is not to be had so easily. You have to surrender yourself completely to him. If you can’t do that, weep before him and say, ‘Lord, I have no devotion. I have not found you.’ People shed jugfuls of tears for riches. Learn to weep for him! Unless you do, why should God do anything for you? He does not care if you don’t care. If you can feel restless for God, know that he is very near. Then you don’t have to wait long for his vision. Analyze your mind! Find out if you really want him!”
“E. has some self-control. He controls his lust. But he does not spend his time in prayer and meditation. He does not direct his mind toward God. Therefore his passions found expression in other channels.”
“Sri Ramakrishna once told me to increase my lust. I was shocked. Then the Master explained: ‘What is lust? It the desire for fulfillment. Desire fulfillment in Him and intensify that desire!’ Then the lust for flesh left me.”
“F. did not practice meditation or japam. He believed only in work. Yes, he gave me personal service. But what of that? You may be sure that through the Lord’s grace I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone to serve me. But what could I do? Kedar Baba left him with me. I often told F.: ‘Why do you live like this? Work, any servant can do for four rupees a month!’ At first I tried my best to bring him out, but I failed. He did not open his heart to me and continued to live within his own shell.”
“Generally, the tendency of people is to try to display their good side and to hide their shortcomings. Those who can confess their faults openly before others overcome them quickly. But it is not so easy to admit one’s defects. Know that those who do so have some substance in them. G. was very frank. He used to speak openly of his faults and so got rid of them.”
“Try to make everyone your own, and they will be your own. Be like a little child. If someone tells a child that a certain person is his brother, he will believe it. The more you approach the Lord, the more sincere and openhearted you will be. Our Master was the embodiment of frankness.”
Swami Turiyananda wrote to the boy who had complained that he was unhappy. The substance of his letter follows: “If you are unhappy because you have not found God, then the more you intensify this unhappiness the more grace you will find descending upon you. But if you are sad for any other reason, shun that unhappiness with great care because it will be an obstacle in your path."
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Those who worship the Lord only in a picture are just ordinary devotees. But those who see him in all beings are the best of devotees.”
“Sri Ramakrishna once told Swami Abhedananda: ‘There is a class of holy men who meditate in a cave. When they have realized their true nature, they give up their bodies.’ But that kind of ideal is not of this place. Such holy men consider everything as maya and completely renounce it, even the vidyamaya [that which leads toward God]. One who has realized the personal God can also realize the impersonal if he or she chooses. For that person also the ‘knots of the heart are rent asunder’ and he or she knows the true nature of the Atman. But the devotees of the personal God do not want nirvana. They are not afraid of living in the world for the good of others.”
“In the dice game of pasha the inferior players protect their pieces and try to end the game quickly. But the experienced players are not afraid. When they are in a position to win, they hold back for the fun of prolonging the game. The Master considered nirvana a lower ideal. He made us realize that there is a higher goal than gaining salvation for oneself.”
Swami Turiyananda mentioned a certain individual who used to criticize the conduct of others. He remarked “Always finding fault! He never sees the good in anyone, which shows that his mind is very impure.”
“A devotee feels sometimes that the Lord is pleased with him and at other times that he is displeased with him.”
“Sri Ramakrishna used to say that he could not even look at an egotistic man.”
July 29, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Why should you not attain God? Surely you will, else why did you come here? Weep before him! Don’t let him rest! Pray to him: ‘You are the Inner Ruler, and you know my heart. Don’t you see that I want you? Reveal yourself to me!’ But how many can do that?”
July 30, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “One day Sri Ramakrishna talked about his disease. He was asked if he felt pain in his throat. The Master answered: ‘What foolishness! The body does not become spiritual. It is the mind that becomes holy!’”
“One may have Spartan fortitude, be able to bear physical suffering patiently, and may hide their suffering. That is nothing. But when one knows that the pain is of the body, not of the Atman, ‘then he keeps his mind detached from disease and suffering and he lives immersed in the consciousness of God.’”
“Repression of passions is bad. Unless the mind is directed toward a high ideal, they will find expression through other channels. Place your mind in God, then all evil will fall away by itself. That is what is meant by self-control; it arises from devotion to the Lord. Feel that you are a child of God! Why should his child be lustful? Or take the attitude: ‘I am pure! I am awakened! I am free!’”
“To stand on your own feet means to stand in union with God, to find your strength in Him—not in the little self who is a university graduate!”
“Ishwarakotis or ever-free souls are those who do not merge in nirvana but live as eternal companions of God. Generally, people try to exhibit their good side. They want to made a good impression instead of trying to be good themselves. The first thing we learned from Sri Ramakrishna was to pay no attention to the opinion of others. He used to say: ‘Spit on public opinion! Look toward God and try to please him!’ Swamiji was like that.”
While he was cutting up vegetables, Swami Turiyananda remarked: “Work is worship. Every action must be done perfectly like a sacrificial rite. It is only when actions are performed in this spirit that character is formed. But is it so easy to build character?”
“When I was a young boy, I noticed how my older brothers changed in character after they married. They lost their nobility. Women make men worldly; that is why I hated them. When I came to Sri Ramakrishna, he helped me overcome that feeling.”
“Vishnu [a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna] used to meditate very deeply, but as soon as the Master touched him, he would wake up and gaze at him. Nityagopal [a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna] used to live in ecstasy all the time. The Master used to tell him: ‘Don’t be so intense! You have to keep your mind down enough to live with other people.’ Nityagopal attained a very high state. His body would become luminous. It seemed that he had no tamas [lethargy] in him. In his company I learned forbearance. We used to pass the whole night meditating and chanting the Lord’s name—sometimes in Beadon Square Gardens, in the College Square, in some other park of Calcutta, or at Kalighat. The Master used to say that Nityagopal had attained the state of paramahamsa [the highest state of consciousness]. I tell you frankly that at any time I can raise myself to that state and forget the world.”
“People are always seeking advantages for themselves. For hundreds of births they look for their own comfort. What is liberation? It is to be free from this self-seeking.”
“Is it so easy to live a pure life in God? One has to live very carefully. Keep your eyes wide open! Learn forbearance! If somebody harms you, do not retaliate or hold any resentment. You are saved if only you can keep your mind engaged in lofty thought.”
We read some portions from the life of Sri Chaitanya [great Bengali saint of the 16th century]. Swami Turiyananda commented on his intense longing for Sri Krishna and his attainment of union with him: “That kind of madness for God is possible only in a divine incarnation, not in an ordinary man. What pangs of separation from him, what yearning Sri Chaitanya suffered! As if he would die without the vision of God! Sri Chaitanya is the full incarnation of divine love. Ah, Sri Chaitanya! Lord! Lord!”
August 20, 1915.
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Mind, intellect, and ego are in flux. One must learn to transcend them. Go beyond, and live as the witness! In the relative plane, one who has knowledge also has ignorance, one who is good also is evil. One must transcend both ignorance and knowledge.”
“Meditation begins when the meditator, the process of meditation, and the object of meditation have become one. When japam has become automatic, that is to say, when a part of the mind continually repeats His name, then you are progressing in japam. The important thing is to forget the ego.”
“The mind that becomes elated also is subject to depression. Don’t identify yourself with either! Go beyond! In the game of hide-and-seek the children are ‘safe’ when they touch the granny. Touch the granny—that is to say, somehow touch the feet of the Lord. Then you are no longer subject to the opposites of life”
“One by one a man adds adjuncts to himself. He becomes the father of a son. The son grows up, marries, and the man has a daughter-in-law, and so forth. He forgets what he really is. There is a saying that with seven imitations the original is lost. When you free yourselves from all adjuncts and meditate on your true nature, then you realize that you have always been Brahman. This world, this maya, is created by the waves of your own mind.”
“At one time I had the vivid and direct experience that every footstep of mine was taken through the power of the Lord and that I had no ego left. I lived in that state for some time.”
“Don’t expect anything from anyone! Learn to be the giver! Otherwise you will become self-centered. That is the teaching in the family of Ramakrishna. I have seen so-called holy men who thought that they had become detached from the world and would have nothing to do with others. They were dry.”
“‘O my mind, dwell within yourself! Do not roam without!’ Assimilate this spirit! Give your mind to God alone! That is why you have become monks. Weep before Him and pray: ‘Lord, may I love you wholeheartedly!’ Sri Ramakrishna used to teach us: ‘Work with your hands, but let your mind remain at His feet.’”
SWAMI SHIVANANDA: “Organized group living usually fosters tendencies toward sectarianism, institutionalism, and rivalry in leadership. Then all spirituality is lost. But where a strong spiritual current flows, such tendencies of degeneration cannot develop any more than scum can grow on a flowing river. You see, we keep ourselves aloof from everything. Maharaj [Swami Brahmananda] also keeps himself detached.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Do you know why I was so successful in America? Swamiji spoke highly of me to some of the people there, and so naturally they had faith in me. When someone believes in you, you must live in such a way as to increase that person’s faith. Otherwise, disastrous results may follow.”
“You have to transcend both good and evil. However pure the mind becomes, you are not safe until you have transcended the mind itself. The sword must touch the touchstone before it turns into gold. Know that your true nature is beyond both good and evil.”
“The personal God is not the end. He is still an aspect. One has to go beyond all aspects. True devotion comes after union with God. In the plane of relativity, one who is pure in heart is also impure.”
“The Lord is not partial. His grace falls equally upon saint and sinner just as rain falls equally on all the land. But only the ground which is cultivated reaps a good harvest. If you ask why some feel His grace and others do not, the only answer is ignorance. And there is no answer to the why of ignorance.”
“If somebody claims that he is God’s favorite, he bases this attitude on his perception of the Lord’s grace. But that is not the universal experience.”
“There is also the theory that the Lord keeps some in bondage and gives liberation to others. Who can understand the mystery? Only those who see the one Brahman everywhere, they also sees his grace in everything, even in great disaster.”
“Another theory maintains that all blessings come from God, and all evil and suffering are the results of one's karma. This attitude is helpful in ultimately freeing oneself from ego.”
“Don’t hide anything from us! Know that just by being clever you cannot find the truth of God. The crow thinks he is very clever, but he eats worms. We see everything so clearly that sometimes we shrink from our own insight.”
“Don’t you see how rotten this world is! How rare is selflessness! Selfishness and self-advertisement are rampant everywhere! How little of the mind is given to God and how much of it to the world and its objects! Unless you have dispassion toward the world, you cannot attain knowledge or devotion. But remember, it is also true that the world is real because God is real.”
“If somebody hurts you and you retaliate, you hurt yourself more. You become as evil as that person. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘He who curses another and holds resentments cannot attain liberation.’”
DISCIPLE: “Some people believe that unless you live in a group, envy, anger and jealousy remain hidden within you. One realizes that one has these passions when one lives in a group.”
SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Why so? Why analyze and see the evil? Move toward the Lord! Through his grace you will be freed from all passions.”
“See the attitude of man! How he looks upon woman. He sees in her only an object to gratify his lust. He wants to possess here completely—body, mind, and heart. What ignorance! Man does not realize that the woman also is an individual just as he is. She also has a right to her own free will. It is gross selfishness to want to possess her and to think of her as an object of enjoyment. It brings great suffering in its wake. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘Lust and greed are at the root of worldliness.’”