Conversations with Swami Turiyananda – Part 4

Recorded by Swami Raghavananda and translated by Swami Prabhavananda

From the May – June, 1958 Vedanta and the West Magazine

Swami Turiyananda has been called an embodiment of the teachings of Vedanta. His faith in God and self-surrender to him were an inspiration to all who came within the orbit of his influence. Swami Pavitrananda, head for part of the Vedanta Society of New York, tells that the Swami had such a capacity to detach his mind from the body that on several occasions when he had to undergo operations, he was able to do so without the benefit of an anaesthetic.

Swami Turiyananda’s natural inclination was toward meditation and character-building rather than public work. His training of monastic recruits was strict or affectionate, as the case warranted. If necessary, he rebuked the novices severely. He disciplined one of them, now a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, by not talking to him for several days. On the other hand, his loving kindness is remembered by all who were privileged to associate with him.

The spiritual conversations which follow were given for the greatest part in the ashrama at Almora in the Himalayas in the year 1915. Although Swami Turiyananda addressed them to monks, who used to come to him for informal gatherings, these talks on the religious life will be of interest to all spiritual seekers, who may recognize in them the inspiration which stems from personal realization of the Divine.

Read Part 3.

January 21. SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “There are three steps to spiritual realization: hearing the truth, reasoning upon the truth, and meditation on the truth. What is hearing the truth like? It is like listening to music as the deer does, fascinated by it. He is completely unaware of the hunter aiming at him. To meditate on the truth is to become absorbed—like the legendary cockroach, which gives up its own nature and becomes a caterpillar by constantly thinking of a caterpillar.”

“Meditate! Meditate, and you will reach spiritual heights. You see, we [the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna] have attained our state through meditation. Constant meditation is going on within us; this means that the current of our minds and our will is in Him. While I am talking to you, the meditation continues. Each one of us is bound to Him. We have no life apart from the Lord. He who is earnest is sure to become united with Him.”

“I have met some holy men in my life who are very learned, but they never show their learning. Outwardly they live like ignorant men.”

“When a monk goes out for alms, he has to show some of his learning and power, like a prostitute. To live on alms is a sort of profession. And you have to accept alms as if you were like anybody else.

“How to live the life of a monk is beautifully explained by Manu in the sixth chapter of his book. One is charmed by his teachings: ‘A holy man should live outside of a village. He should only go out for alms in the afternoon. He should always chant the name of the Lord. While walking, his mind should be absorbed in a spiritual mood. He should not speak with anyone. After receiving alms he should return to his hut.’”

“A holy man is he who does not keep his senses engaged in objects; he has transcended them.”

“We are much indebted to Gopal Da [Swami Advaitananda], because we learned the secret of work from him. He was organized and concentrated in everything he did. And he was very methodical in his habits. Until his last day he regularly practiced meditation.”

January 22. About the after-life.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Immediately after death a guide comes from a certain plane to take the spirit there. Among the many spheres, there is the realm of the fathers, the realm of the gods, the realm of death, and the realm of Brahma. According to the spiritual development of an individual, the person goes to a particular realm. But you know, everything is in the mind. Take a person’s life on earth: If their heart is pure and if they are desireless, they find heaven everywhere. All planes are the same to them. ‘Gold remains gold, even if it lies in the mud.’”

“Swamiji used to say: “Even he who has seen only a spook is more spiritual than book-learned pundits.’”

“Take complete refuge in God. Call on him. Then all your worldliness will be wiped out.”

“What is after-life? There is the body, but without bones and flesh.”

January 23.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “First be well balanced and calm; then you can help others. If you are tottering yourself, how can you expect to lift others up?”

“It is not good to feel free in the sense that you think you can do whatever you please.”

“Seeking for praise is a great obstacle in spiritual life. Some people believe that it does not make any difference what they really are as long as others think well of them. They keep their faults hidden. But this is the attitude one should cultivate: ‘I must purify myself! I must be good! I don’t care what others may say about me!’”

“The Lord knows our inmost heart. Of this we must convince ourselves first and then turn our gaze toward him. Thus only does man become fearless.”

“I used to consider myself a follower of the path of knowledge. I used to study the scriptures, and think: ‘I will attain samadhi [union with God] immediately.’ After I came to Sri Ramakrishna I learned what spiritual realization means and what samadhi means.”

January 30.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Try to follow an ideal in everything. No part of our life is in vain. What is the purpose of life? It is to reach perfection. But in everything you must follow an authority. As a rational being you cannot say: ‘I eat, drink, and make merry.’ Such a life is the life of a brute.”

“‘Be a devotee, but don’t be a fool!’ You must be alert in everything. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘Look at me! The Divine Mother has placed me in such a state that I can hardly keep clothes on my body, and yet I am not forgetful.’ The Master told us: ‘He who is careless is foolish.’ In our scriptures too we read that a careless person gradually degrades himself. Always be on your toes!”

“To be a man is to be alert, conscious. If you become unconscious, then be unconscious with full consciousness [in samadhi]—like Sri Ramakrishna. He used to loose external consciousness in ecstasy when someone sang a devotional song. But even a slight mistake in the music would cause him pain and bring him back to ordinary consciousness.”

“Struggle to keep yourselves awake and watchful; then it will become a habit with you. Be alert! Discriminate between good and evil. Then go beyond good and evil.”

“There must be some ideal, standard, or criterion by which you can guide yourself. Otherwise your life will be aimless. Every day make the effort to reach your ideal.”

January 31.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “There is an indivisible, changeless Time—that is Brahman. What is known as divisible time exits only in the mind. Annihilate the mind, and time stops. The whole phenomenal universe is in the mind; everything exists for the moment—now is, then is not. But beyond these changeable phenomena there is an unchanging Witness. He is the one immutable Reality, lending an appearance of permanence to the changing phenomena.”

“There are some great souls who live in that indivisible, changeless Time. To them this whole universe appears momentary and unreal. Swamiji[Swami Vivekananda] dwelt in that state much of the time But you see, we normally live on this relative plane. Maya [the Cosmic Illusion] is such that though you drive it away, it comes back.”

“Once I was sitting on the bank of the Ganges, meditating. I lost external consciousness. It was about three o’clock in the morning when I came to. Someone said: ‘Let us go home.’ These words were like a stunning blow to me. You see, I had no home at that time, and I realized that the desire to go home had come from my own mind. Through practice of discrimination I understood that birth, lineage, race, and country are all figments of the imagination. Then I took a vow to erase all such ideas from my mind. This little incident made a deep impression on me.”

“At one period I used to bathe in the Ganges at half past three in the morning. One day I noticed something like a thick rope floating in the water; it was moving in the opposite direction of the current. I watched carefully and then saw a crocodile give a lash with its tail. I ran back to the bank. But I despised my behavior and began to consider: “What, you think you are the Atman, birthless, deathless, and now you run away from death?” After I discriminated in this manner I dived into the water and faced the crocodile. I was determined not to run away even if the crocodile should try to kill me. But from within myself a voice said: “Look here. You are not acting from knowledge of the Atman. You have not yet attained that state. You are letting yourself be guided by your willful ego. This is nothing but rashness.” You see, I was nervous at the time. If I had had the realization of the Atman, I would not have been afraid; I would have faced the crocodile calmly. But I did not run away, although I understood that I was acting impulsively and was not yet free from fear. Thus did the Lord teach me.”

“Sri Ramakrishna’s example solved all the problems of my own life. I have no problem left to solve. While I was in the West, whenever anyone asked me a question, I used to look at the person, see his problem, and the answer would immediately come to my mind.”

“At one time I liked the philosophy that everything is in a state of flux, but then I realized the fallacy of it; I felt that there must be a permanent substance to witness the changes.”

“One looks on the phenomenal universe as real unless one finds something higher. Why don’t we understand the truth that this world is unreal? Because we are attached to it.”

“I used to ponder over all these philosophies. Then I realized that love for God is the only point that matters. After studying and discussing philosophy I came to the conclusion that one-pointed devotion to the supreme Atman is the one important thing.”

“Sri Ramakrishna’s life had two aspects. You must try to understand both. If you accept only one aspect there will be misunderstanding and confusion. For instance: The Master used to give presents to musicians who played for him. When he had nothing else to offer them he gave away the very cloth he was wearing. Was not that an example of supreme renunciation? On the other hand, when that same Ramakrishna did not receive the customary food offering from the temple, he anxiously inquired about it and asked Swami Yogananda to go and get it.”

“Swami Yogananda asked: ‘Why bother?’”

“The Master rebuked him: ‘Oh yes, I know you are a man of great renunciation. You don’t care!’”

“How to reconcile these two attitudes? Of course Sri Ramakrishna did not take a morsel of that food offering himself. He had it brought for distribution among the devotees.”

“One day Sri Ramakrishna told Yogananda: ‘Be a devotee, but don’t be a fool! When you want to buy something, go to different shops, compare the prices, and take the best and the cheapest. If you save money this way, give that money to the poor.’”

“There is another instance. When Maharaj [Swami Brahmananda] found a pice that someone had lost, and showed it to the Master, the latter said: ‘Why did you take it? You don’t need it. Why would a person who doesn’t want any fish go to the fish market and haggle about prices?’”

“How can you reconcile these contradictory attitudes? One time Sri Ramakrishna apparently behaves like any other worldly man, carefully calculating about everything. Then again he exemplifies the ideal of renunciation. You see, he was a man of principle. He represented an ideal [householder or monastic] in whatever he did. And this is what I would call a perfect soul.”

“If an ordinary man gets a little renunciation, he completely loses his head. The worldly man, on the other hand, is very grasping. . . . As we associated with Sri Ramakrishna, our eyes opened. He showed us the ideal life by his own example.”

“When the Marwari devotee Lakshminarayan offered Sri Ramakrishna ten thousand rupees, the Master fell unconscious. Regaining consciousness, he told the devotee to get away from him. When Lakshminarayan suggested giving the money to Hriday [Sri Ramakrishna’s nephew, for the Master’s use] instead, the Master exclaimed: ‘Oh no! He will accept it in my name, and I can’t bear the thought of possessing money!’”

“The devotee remarked: ‘Ah, I see. You have not yet overcome the idea of acceptance and rejection.’”

“The Master simply replied: ‘No, I haven’t . . .’

“I have somebody to look after me. I know that for a fact. So I do not worry. This is neither imagination, nor poetry, nor romanticism—it is really true. I see my Protector as I see you before me. I willfully try to do wrong, but He won’t let me. He is protecting me. Can you understand this? But one must not talk about such things. Ego, ego! Vanity! Very bad!”

February 7.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Some holy people, while eating, really feel that they are offering sacrifice to Brahman [the all-pervading Spirit] in the form of the vital energy. Any other attitude is brutish. Such people feel light in body; others carry a heavy weight.”

“There are yogis who can cure any kind of physical disease. I firmly believe that if I made the attempt I could get back my youth. But that would be small-minded. You cannot keep the body forever. Everyone knows that, so why waste your energy to prolong the life span? Furthermore, everything happens by His will. Why assert yourself? It only increases your sense of ego. Great suffering is in store for the man who takes his own responsibility and does not surrender himself to God. You see, I don’t feel responsible for myself, and therefore I enjoy the fun.”

“How people worry about wealth! You boys have renounced everything. You know that the Lord supplies all the necessities of your life although you own nothing. But as a general rule, people seek the power of wealth. The divine Mother does not let them know that she alone protects—because they are attached to possessions. She shows them the play of wealth.”

“Kali Maharaj [Swami Abhedananda] at one time used to catch fish, reasoning that the Atman is immortal—it neither slays nor is slain. Learning of this, Sri Ramakrishna sent for him. He told Kali Maharaj: ‘What you are saying is true. But at your state of development, before you have realized the Atman, it is not good to discriminate in that way and kill any creature. You should know that realization of the Atman is a state of attainment beyond all logic and reason. He who attains that state feels compassion for all beings. A holy man is freed from all samskaras [tendencies of the mind], but the thought-wave of compassion stays with him to the last moment of his life. Never give up the ideal of a holy man!’”

“There are people who worship God in order to gain power—occult power, for instance. But we want the sweet and loving aspect of God. Those who seek power feed their ego—the ego, which causes all the suffering in the world.”

“Narada taught constant recollectedness of God. Let no other thought or desire enter your heart. Let the current of your mind run to God, smoothly, like oil poured from one vessel into another.”

“At one time I felt that my life was unbearable because of my sense of ego. How was I to get rid of it? By committing suicide? Of course not! But this very thought—how to overcome the sense of ego—made me restless. Then it disappeared. This was a sort of crisis that I passed through.”

“Spiritual growth is a gradual process. Practice the disciplines patiently and make them habitual in your life.”

“Manu has written that if a brahmin or a brahmachari [a novice] wakes up after sunrise, that is a sin which has to be expiated. I don’t think that I ever woke up after sunrise. For a time I practically gave up sleep altogether. I used to practice spiritual disciplines constantly and I never suffered from drowsiness.”

“This world is a bad place. But if one does not worry about himself but thinks of others and acts accordingly, one finds some meaning to this life”

“In one of his letters Swamiji wrote: ‘When I go for alms, I give people something in return.’ Give and take—that is the motto for a monk. Monks who live only for themselves and don’t even practice spiritual disciplines are impostors.”

“Sanatan Goswami, a well-known disciple of Sri Chaitanya, had admitted his defeat in a debate with a scholar and wrote a certificate to that effect. Jiva, Sanatan’s brother-disciple, defeated this scholar in turn and took the certificate away. Learning of this, Sanatan excommunicated Jiva for his egotism, and Jiva practiced austerities to purify himself. Rupa Chaitanya, another of Sri Chaitanya’s disciples, said that the duty of a devotee of God is to have compassion for all creatures. Sanatan used to take a glass of buttermilk as his sole daily food, and chanted the name of the Lord all day long. Haridas, one of his brother-disciples, would not break his fast until he had repeated the Divine Name three hundred thousand times. But you know, these were not ordinary human beings. It is not possible for average people to practice spiritual disciplines to this extent.”

“We have seen Swamiji meditate the whole night, then early in the morning he would take his bath; and people did not know anything about his austerities. I never saw Swamiji sitting idly; he either studied or conversed on God or meditated.”

“One day Swami Shivananda sang a devotional song to Sri Krishna. While listening, I began to weep and went into ecstasy, and Swamiji did too.”

“To live the ideal life is our only purpose. The truth of the Upanishads is to be attained. The Truth is, and it must be realized in one’s own Self. Swamiji did that. Of course, the one Truth is perceived in many ways, according to the capacity of the individual.”

“To be completely selfless—that is the ideal which everybody understands. Selfishness is the root of lust. Lust will decrease as you become unselfish. People become restless by thinking of themselves. The more you renounce your ego the greater will be your spiritual unfoldment. Cling to your little self and you will remain little.”

“Many people think, first let circumstances become favorable, then they will practice spiritual disciplines. But conditions will never be ideal. You must begin your spiritual struggles wherever you are and under whatever circumstances you find yourself.”

“Worship the Lord! Make it a regular routine in your life to worship him. Wake up early in the morning. First worship the Lord, sing his praises, and then only attend to your other duties.”

“There are two selves, as it were. One is impersonal, the unchanging Reality. The other is the so-called individual self, identified with many adjuncts [body, mind, senses, possessions]. It is the individual self that is born, grows old, and dies. The impersonal Self always remains the witness. As long as one is identified with the adjuncts, one cannot realize the Impersonal. Free yourself from these limitations and realize the Absolute!”

“‘The cause of human bondage is the sense of “me” and “mine.” Renounce this sense of possession and you become liberated.’”

“Sickness, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, sloth, craving for sense-pleasure, false perception, despair caused by failure to concentrate and unsteadiness in concentration: these distractions are the obstacles to knowledge.’”

“Sickness. Mental laziness: The laziness of mind and body. You don’t want to do anything. The mind is depressed. Doubt: doubt whether you will succeed or not. Lack of enthusiasm—always afraid to act. You have to be full of energy to achieve anything! Sloth. Craving for sense-pleasure: The mind does not wish to give up its distractions; it knows that they are bad and yet cannot give them up . . .”

“Ram Maharaj [a disciple of Swami Brahmananda] never gave lame excuses. Whatever work he undertook he would do with a perfectly concentrated mind. Unless one is sincere one cannot grow spiritually.”

“To be successful in work one first has to plan the work carefully and then do it. How can it succeed without organization? In every act you must keep perfectly calm. Many times in the process of performing one right action we make ten mistakes.”

“What are the effects of meditation and japam [chanting the name of the Lord]” They make the mind strong and pure. One attains sincerity of purpose. One is the same inside and outside. For several years I used to sleep only two hours a night. I never had any headaches. In the morning I used to sit for four or five hours, meditate, chant, and study at one sitting, and then do the worship, and then cook. I would eat very little and so never felt drowsy or lethargic.”


SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “One who has only attained the Impersonal and has become merged only in the Absolute, is one-sided. The Jnani [follower of the path of knowledge] is afraid of being born again, of becoming deluded again. But a real knower of Brahman, an ‘expert player,’ is not afraid. On the other hand, one who has only realized the personal aspect of God, and not that absolute Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss beyond all ideas and emotions, that person also is one-sided.”

“In one of the Puranas [narratives amplifying the scriptural truths declared in the Vedas] it is written that even when this whole universe is dissolved, the divine forms remain. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that there are places in the ocean where the ice never melts. It seems to me that this is a state in which one worships God in his eternal form after the realization of both his personal and impersonal aspects. Here the ice does not melt because the rays of the sun do no enter. We never knew of these things until we came to Sri Ramakrishna.”

DISCIPLE: “But there must be a supreme goal There must be an end to all this!”

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “He is the goal. But what is He? He is with form; He is without form; He is personal; He is impersonal—and something more. One who knows Him, knows. A person who lies under the tree in which the chameleon makes its home knows that it has more than one color.”

“‘What is known as the nondual Brahman in the Upanishads is a ray of light from His Body.’ [A Vaishnava saying.] This is sectarianism. Swamiji used to make fun of this kind of attitude.”

“In the beginning of monastic life do not accept gifts from just anyone. If you do, it is only natural that you will be influenced by that person. You will lose your independence. Who can accept gifts from others? One who feels no obligation, whose mind is not affected. One will accept the gift as coming from God himself. Of course you may accept gifts from good people, who would not interfere with your independence or try to control you.”

“How many want the truth? Very few can bear the full light of truth; most people close their eyes and try to reject it. They want a comfortable religion. We all want comfort and happiness for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t mean to say that we should court misery. But our attitude should be: Let happiness or misery come; I want the truth. How many feel this way? Only a few great souls seek truth for its own sake.”

“As a general rule, spiritual aspirants stop after having reached a certain level of growth. They remain satisfied with what they have attained and do not struggle for greater unfoldment. Only a highly spiritual soul can understand the workings of the mind. The mind plays tricks on us and deludes us in many ways. If someone points out the fallacies, we make excuses.”

“We do not realize how much self-love there is within us. To become humble—not outwardly for show, but inside, in spirit—is very difficult. One who has genuine humility is truly a man of character. Think of Sri Ramakrishna, how humble he was! When a visitor who came to the temple garden mistook him for a gardener and ordered him to pick a flower, the Master humbly fulfilled the request.”

DISCIPLE: “Should we humble ourselves before everybody?”

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Yes, see the Lord in everybody, and be humble before Him. Learn to see God in all.”

DISCIPLE: “Then one has to rise above social etiquette?”

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Forget your social etiquette! Follow the truth! The mind is so crooked Butter is mixed with buttermilk. To make the heart and the lips the same is not so easy.”

“We read page after page of scriptures. How much do we actually assimilate in our lives? Sri Ramakrishna once said to Girish Ghosh: ‘What are you talking about the knowledge of Brahman! Sukadeva only saw and touched the ocean of Knowledge. Lord Shiva drank only three handfuls of its water and became unconscious.’ Girish Ghosh clasped his head and exclaimed: ‘Say no more, sir! My brain is reeling.’ Try to understand this. Try to understand Girish Ghosh also. What a great mind he had. And how he could assimilate spiritual teaching! With us it enters one ear and goes out the other. Think of Suka! How great he was! He did not want to be born in this world because he realized that it was illusory. “And he only saw and touched the ocean of Brahman! And Lord Shiva is the God of gods. He could only sip its water three times! How true! One’s head would reel to think of it!”

In the Swami’s room everything was kept in perfect order.

Swami Turiyananda remarked: “That’s good. There is no disorder outside. In the same way, see to it that there is no confusion in your mind. Your mind must be so disciplined that you can concentrate it on a particular thought any time you wish. When your room is properly arranged, you can find any object you want even in the dark. Your mind must be organized just as well as your external life. Anything else is a weakness of character.”

“When I was young I disliked to think that I would grow old. I thought I would rather die than face old age. But later I learned to surrender myself to the higher will.”

“These days I get agitated when I talk on spiritual matters. The reason is that my nerves are not as strong as they used to be. The mind, however, remains calm. Years ago I had great powers of explaining spiritual truths. If somebody asked a question, I immediately saw the whole character of the person, the cause of their question and their motive in asking it. And my answer would come like a flood of light.”

“What is the way to overcome this world? Control your senses. Until you attain self-mastery, the problems of life remain unsolved.”

“‘A doer of good never comes to grief.’ The spiritual struggles that you undergo are never in vain. Even if you do not attain the highest in this life, you carry your spiritual gain with you to the next life. Don’t you see that there are people who from childhood are devoted to God and live without worldly cravings? On the other hand, there are some who may be learned but live like worms in filth. Without the control of lust nothing can be achieved. Look at Swamiji! What was his power? He was free from lust. He lived among beautiful women, yet there was dispassion in his heart.”

“One must rise even above spiritual emotion; one must go beyond the personal aspect of God and reach the impersonal. You have not reached the end until you have attained the Absolute. Those who worship Ramakrishna, however, easily pass from the personal to the Impersonal.”

“Everyone is doing the Lord’s work—even the ant. What is ignorance? It is not to be aware of this. This ignorance does not leave us because our sense of ego is so strong. Rid yourself of the ego, and He comes to dwell. You cannot serve both at the same time”

“In the Chandi, the Divine Mother says: ‘I abide in all mothers as mother-love. That is why mothers feed their hungry children. And it is I who feed them.’ Do you remember what Swamiji wrote to us in one of his letters? ‘Brothers, fear not. It is all His work. Who are we but His servants?’”

DISCIPLE: “Of what value is it to hear the sound OM in meditation?”

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “The mind becomes absorbed. That is all. And if you keep your mind absorbed in that sound, it becomes steady and concentrated.”

November 12.

Swami Turiyananda: “In deep sleep as well as in samadhi the objective world is not experienced. But in samadhi there is full consciousness.”

“The wish to retaliate is a very worldly desire. Look at Sri Ramakrishna—how people criticized him! Yet he bore it ungrudgingly. Forbearance must be our ideal. How long do we live in this world? Only a few days. So, why bother to avenge ourselves?”

“While we were in Meerut with Swamiji, a number of devotees came to visit us. Swamiji asked me to speak to them. Although they were householders, I stressed the ideal of renunciation and dispassion. After they left, Swamiji said to me: ‘Brother Hari, do you think everybody is like you? Can everyone let the Divine Mother dwell constantly within the lotus of his heart? Let these people keep forgetful a little while longer and enjoy life.’”

“Ignorance [avidya] is to identify the Self with the individual self. Knowledge is to identify the Self with the Atman; this is absolute truth. To identify the Self with body, mind, and senses is a relative truth. And to identify the Self with wife, children, house, etc. is complete delusion.”

“The ripe ego—the ego which considers itself to be a child of God—ultimately becomes merged in God. It becomes ‘Thou.’ The unripe ego is the great obstacle to Knowledge. Practice incessantly to keep the mind fixed in God.”

Read Part 5.

Christ the Messenger – Part 2
January 5, 2004
Conversations with Swami Turiyananda – Part 5
March 5, 2004
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Conversations with Swami Turiyananda – Part 4