Conversations with Swami Turiyananda – Part 5

Recorded by Swami Raghavananda and translated by Swami Prabhavananda

This is the final installment of the spiritual talks of Swami Turiyananda (1863-1922). They were witnessed and recorded by Swami Raghavananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order who died in June, 1957. These conversations were held most likely in 1915 in the Order’s Almora ashrama in the Himalayas. They are translated from the original Bengali by Swami Prabhavananda and were originally published in the July – August, 1958 issue of Vedanta and the West magazine.

Swami Turiyananda was such an austere soul that Sri Ramakrishna, his spiritual teacher, looked upon him as the embodiment of that renunciation which is taught in the Bhagavad Gita. When Swami Vivekananda was about to come to America on his second visit in 1899, he requested Swami Turiyananda to accompany him and assist him in his work in this country. At first Turiyananda, inclined toward a life of meditation exclusively, was averse to embarking upon public preaching. When all arguments failed, Swami Vivekananda embraced his brother-disciple and pleaded: “Hari-bhai, I am laying my life down inch by inch. Won’t you help a little?” This settled the matter. Swami Turiyananda came to the United States, where he established the first Vedanta retreat—the Shanti Ashrama, in the San Antone Valley of Central California. Several persons, who visited the site of this retreat fifty years later, have reported that a wonderful spiritual atmosphere still pervades the place where for two years Swami Turiyananda lived and inspired a group of students to devote themselves exclusively to the ideal of God-realization.

Ujjvala (Ida Ansell), a disciple of Swami Turiyananda who followed him to the Shanti Ashrama, has given several instances of the Swami’s individual lessons and instructions that would come spontaneously at any time of the day.

One time Ujjvala prepared to take notes of Swami Turiyananda’s class talks, sharpening a pencil with a dull knife. The result was a jagged, unsymmetrical point. Just then the Swami walked by, picked up the pencil, and remarked: “That is a sample of your work!” With the same knife he carefully whittled the jagged wood to a smooth sharp point. Handing the pencil back to Ujjvala, he said: “Make every act an act of worship. Whatever you do, do as an offering to the Divine Mother, and do it as perfectly as you can.”

Another day Ujjvala was weeping because she could not persuade the other students to comply with the Swami’s wishes for stricter observance of economy.

“Swami, they simply won’t understand!” she sobbed.

“Never mind, you did your best; that is enough,” he consoled. Then he added, “If I wept every time they don’t understand, I should be weeping all the time!”

Ujjvala said that Swami Turiyananda was able to perceive the state of one’s mind instantly. One morning he came when she was a little discouraged. “Whether you know it or not,” he thundered, “you are the Mother’s child! Then, gently, “But if you know it, you lose all fear, all doubts vanish, and all the knots of the heart are rent asunder.”

One afternoon, Swami Turiyananda and Ujjvala just happened to meet. He asked her: “Ujjvala, are you deep or shallow? Do you live and die in words, or do you live and die in principles?” Before she could think of an answer, he added: “In matters of opinion, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand firm as a rock.” And Ujjvala later commented: “That was all, but he had given me in a moment guidance for a lifetime.”

Read Part 4.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “Swamiji used to say: ‘The mind has to be made malleable like clay. Just as clay sticks wherever you throw it, so the mind must be made to dwell upon whatever object you concentrate it.’”

“While I was in the Jagannath temple at Puri I suddenly heard a strange sound, and an ecstatic feeling filled my heart. I felt like walking on air. The noise was like thunder, and from within it came a sweet sound—and something more which I cannot describe. I felt another power drawing my mind, and I became absorbed. Then I realized that I had heard what is known as anahata, the unstruck sound.”

“Sri Ramakrishna used to appear like a drunkard when he talked to the Divine Mother: ‘Do not give me the knowledge of Brahman, Mother! I don’t want it! I spit on it!’ I was an extreme Vedantist at that time and his words shocked me profoundly. I thought to myself: ‘My goodness! What can be greater than the knowledge of Brahman?”

“The causal bliss is our wine. Drinking wine in the ordinary sense is a bad habit. Man will do anything under its spell.”

“There are two creators: one is God, the other is man. God creates this world. This is the universal creation, and man is recreating it with his individual attitude. For instance, God has created woman, and man looks upon woman with different attitudes—as mother, or wife, or daughter. It is not possible to live in this creation without a particular attitude toward it. You may say, ‘Why, I can remain indifferent to any object in this creation.’ But is not indifference also a particular attitude?”

“There are two viewpoints regarding injury that may be done to use by others. If somebody harms us, the right attitude is to think that this is the effect of our own past karma. Why create new karma by reacting to it? The other attitude is that of the worldly man: ‘I must retaliate, otherwise you will do me greater harm in the future.”

“The nature of an illumined soul becomes like that of a child. There is no ulterior motive behind his actions. He is content to remain wherever he is but again, if somebody invites him to go somewhere, he goes. His bondage to the world is broken. But worldly men are stubborn. They must have their own way.”

“At one time I traveled toward the river Narmada alone. I did not keep any money with me. Wherever I got tired, I used to stay and rest. But on my travels I always had some particular place of pilgrimage as my destination. I was very happy and peaceful at that time—completely forgetful of the world. I had no other aim but to realize God. I used to pass my time in study or meditation. Then Swamiji called me back to Meerut where he was staying. Again we met in Delhi—about seven of us. Maharaj asked me to go to Jwalaji, so I went there with him. Then I went to Bombay via Karachi, where I met Swamiji again.”

“I have had great blessing: I have had good health; the Lord purified my mind; and I had great forbearance.”

“Rama was recognized as a divine incarnation only by a few seers like Vasishta. There is a story that Rama once approached several sages, who were knowers of Brahman. They said: ‘Who is Rama? We only know the Rama who delights the heart—the Atman—and that is what we meditate upon.’ Rama simply smiled and went away.”

“Know that all forms of God are the forms of your Chosen Ideal.”

“Swamiji surely has not merged himself in eternal union with Brahman. He is an ever-free soul. He will be born again and again to do the work of the Lord.”

“Those who have attained illumination or are highly advanced spiritually—in what state do they exist after death? Endowed with knowledge and devotion they live in the company of God and enjoy his bliss. In the world, for instance, a powerful man has his associates with him. In the same way, the devotees live in the company of the Lord. Wherever the Lord is, there are also his devotees.”

“But then, what about union with Brahman? There is the eternal union with Brahman, and there is also the divine play of the personal God. It is just like the ocean—underneath a few feet of water the ocean is one, calm, deep, and unrippled; while the waves are playing on the surface.”

“Shiva, Shiva, Shiva! By worship of Shiva one can attain to lofty spiritual heights. But if it is not done properly, one may lose one’s mind.”

“A man in Benares used to worship Kala Bhairava, an attendant of Shiva. He was about to lose his sanity when Swami Shivananda advised him to worship Shakti [the Mother aspect of God] along with Kala Bhairava. And thus he became well. One should worship Shakti along with Shiva.”

“There was a bind man in Etwah. He was a great devotee of Shiva and the Divine Mother. His one desire was to go to Benares and see Shiva in the Vishwanath temple. At that time there was no train or other transportation to Benares. And since the man was blind, how could he make the pilgrimage on foot? He used to sing songs to Shiva and express his great sorrow at not being able to go to Benares. One day he did regain his eyesight. With great joy in his heart he went to Benares and saw the Lord of the Universe in his temple.”

“Once a singer came to Sri Ramakrishna. He sang one song about Shiva after another. The Master went into samadhi at the very first song and remained in that state of consciousness for a long time. Seeing him absorbed like this, we thought we should ask the singer to stop. Suddenly the Master woke up form his samadhi, and said to the singer: ‘Oh, I can’t stand any more! Sing songs of the Divine Mother!’ As the Master listened to the songs about the Mother, his mind returned to the relative plane. Later he remarked that he had been in a very high state of consciousness.”

“Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘When I see a man and his wife seated together, sometimes I feel, “Ah, how deluded they are!” At other times I think, “There is Lord Shiva with Mother Parvati.’”

“I like the rainy season very much. I like to walk in the rain all by myself. Also, I like to meditate while it is raining. Rain is conducive to yoga.”

One day we were looking at the sunset. Swami Turiyananda remarked: “Blessed are our mind and intellect that they see in this sunset the glory of the Lord.”

“When I first met Sri Ramakrishna and saw his spiritual moods—his devotion and his samadhi—I knew I had found someone who lived the ideal. I felt as if I had come home at last, and I thought, ‘If there is anything to be attained in life, it is God.’ We must attain to such love for the Lord that there is not even any consciousness of one’s body left.”

“The truth that you hear about is to be assimilated. Be pure as snow, and let your faith be as firm as a rock!”

“One day I saw Sri Ramakrishna wave a fan before Mother Kali in her temple. He was singing:

Awake, O Mother!
Long hast thou been sleeping
In Thy primal abode
In the lotus of the muladhara.
Awake, O Mother!
Perform Thy own true function:
Pierce the six centers of the spirit
And unite Thyself with the great Lord Shiva
In the thousand-petalled lotus
In the center of the brain.
Thus, Mother, wipe out my sorrow,
Thou who art purest consciousness.

“The Master told Swamiji: ‘Whenever you begin to sing, the Mother wakes up and listens to your song.’ ”

“Weak-minded people cannot control their spiritual emotions; their nerves become overstimulated. But those who have a strong body and strong nerves control their emotions. When Swamiji’s spiritual emotions were aroused, outwardly he would be calm.”

“One day, in Madras at the Castle Karnan, Swamiji was singing a hymn to Sri Rama. After a while his gaze became fixed, he went into ecstasy, and tears of joy began to flow.

* * *

When I first arrived at the Advaita Ashrama in Benares, I saw Maharaj [Swami Brahmananda], Baburam Maharaj [Swami Premananda], and Swami Turiyananda seated together. At noon I went to visit Hari Maharaj [Turiyananda]. It was a Saturday.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “When one attains the vision of God one grows neither horns nor a tail. The inner nature becomes transformed, the inner vision changes; outwardly everything remains the same.’

“Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘I am not asking those boys to renounce the world, but let them live in the world with divine knowledge. First let them discriminate between truth and untruth, between the eternal and the non-eternal; then let them live in the world.’ ”

SWAMI TURIYANANDA mentioned Swami X—and remarked: “He has some desire to do the work of the Lord. But Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘First earn something, let it accrue in value, and then spend.’ ”

Another day we went to visit the Kedarnath temple. After the worship we sat for meditation in the portico.

SWAMI TURIYANANDA: “One can become absorbed in meditation easily here because many have meditated in this place.”

“As long as we can keep our gaze fixed on the Lord, we shall be walking on air, as it were. No thorn can prick our feet.”

“When a man like Swamiji says, ‘I am Brahman,’ he is immediately freed from physical consciousness, and when we say, ‘I am Brahman,’ we immediately feel weighed down by two hundred pounds of flesh.”

“When I was ready to do the Lord’s work, there came the call from Swamiji.”

“One has to be as deep as the ocean, and calm—neither elated nor depressed.”

“ ‘In one form the Lord hurts me and in another form that same Lord nurses me.’ One must learn to see His hand in happiness and in misery. But this is possible only for those who have traveled the whole path and reached the goal. You must walk the whole path. Do not fall by the wayside.”

“Occult powers belong to the realm of prakriti [primordial nature]. They have nothing to do with the Atman. Through the practice of austerities and concentration powers are gained. They have nothing to do with the knowledge of God. There are two opinions in the matter: One is that with knowledge powers arise. The other opinion is that they may or may not arise. A knower of God understands that all actions are performed by prakriti. ‘I’ [the Atman] am unconcerned. Happiness and misery are experienced in the body. ‘I’ am beyond. The gunas [attributes of Nature] are working on the gunas. The Atman is beyond action. The knower of God sees inaction in action. In his case inaction is not laziness. Laziness is tamas [lethargy]. These truths are taught in the Gita.”

“Swamiji was not only a knower of Brahman but he was a great yogi. His spiritual powers were obtained through yoga. Was anyone more perfect than he in meditation?”

“There are evil tendencies in the mind, but we have to rise above them. We must keep our minds fixed in God. Struggle, struggle! Realize something! See Him, attain Him! Then do as you please. If a monk thinks he has to be somebody and becomes self-centered, he is in great spiritual danger. Renounce the ego! Fix your gaze on the Lord!”

“Sri Ramakrishna used to scold anybody who was careless. Carelessness is a defect of character. The Master was never slow in anything, but at the same time he did not like to hurry or bustle.”

“Once I got a thorn in my leg, and the leg became infected. I suffered unbearable pain, became angry at the Lord, and chided him. Then I repented, thinking that I had no forbearance. At Ujjain, where I was practicing austerities alone, I fell very sick and became delirious. But never in my life did I feel that I was helpless.”

“When I was your age I had a very strong will. I was detached; suffering, misery, and disease could not approach me. How many days I passed lying under a tree, and the mind never craved pleasure or comfort! Freedom, freedom—that was my watchword! My ideal was to delight in the Self—to be desireless, to be free from possession, free from the law of karma. When your body is young and your mind is strong, it is then that you have to struggle. When you are old you cannot accomplish anything”

“I used to be opposed to reading books or newspapers; then Swamiji told me to be up-to-date.”

“It is fanaticism to think that we have nothing to learn from the West. We must stand firm in our own culture and at the same time learn from others. Read the Mahabharata and you will find that in India in ancient times people had the same virtues that they presently have in the West; now they are forgotten. We have to learn these same virtues again. The feeling that we have nothing to learn from others and can isolate ourselves has arisen from weakness. Swamiji used to say: ‘Our downfall is due to isolation.’ ”

“How Socrates drank the hemlock with a calm, peaceful mind! There is no death to the soul! How can one overcome the fear of death? Only when one has some sort of spiritual realization. Then he knows that he is not the body, and that the body is subject to birth, growth, and death. Life can be compared to the burning wick of an oil lamp: it dies every moment. Life is another name for death. You lose one body and get another, as it is taught in the Gita:

Worn-out garments
Are shed by the body:
Worn-out bodies
Are shed by the dweller
Within the body.
New bodies are donned
By the dweller, like garments.

“ ‘A network of words is like a dense forest which causes the mind to wander hither and thither. Therefore, those who know this truth should struggle hard to experience Brahman.’ [Shankara]. But does this mean that there is no need for study? Surely study helps to clear the understanding and to keep the mind engaged in good thoughts. Otherwise the world will be a lazy people’s club! Those who have realized God do not have to study any longer. But those who have not yet had the vision of God—they must study.”

“Sri Ramakrishna used to tell a parable about a man who had received a letter from his village home asking him to send certain things to his kinsmen. ‘How long does one care for such a letter? So long as one does not know the contents. Once he knows the contents, the next step is to put forth the necessary effort to procure the articles. Then the letter can be thrown away. Similarly, the sacred books tell us only the way to God, the means for the realization of God. That being known, the next step is to work one’s way to the goal. Realization is the goal.’ How the Master in the deepest way solved the problems of spiritual life!”

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Conversations with Swami Turiyananda – Part 5