Glimpses of Holy Lives
from the previous issue)
'Seek God Alone'
Keshavananda was a prominent
figure in Kankhal. The swami was a man of vast erudition who
could count kings and princes among his disciples. Naturally
he was influential and had, even in those days, established
a prestigious school in the town. All this, however, had been
achieved at a cost: the swami had neglected his spiritual
life. Moreover, now nearing old age, he had begun to suffer
from diabetes. His youth spent in vain pursuits, Keshavananda
was compelled to ask himself: 'What have I done with my life?'
Though a great pundit, he had failed to get his priorities
Filled with deep regret,
Keshavananda approached Mathuradasji for advice. But then,
saints are not known for sweet words; they tell it like it
is. Keshavananda was thought to be highly 'successful' and
'popular'. Mathuradasji couldn't care less what he was. He
rebuked the swami unsparingly: 'A sannyasin's life ought to
be a living demonstration of the unreality of the world and
the reality of the Spirit. But your conduct has been a travesty
of monastic ideals. All you have done is painted yourself
in ashes and gone about in ochre robes. You have posed as
a world-renouncing sannyasin, but have never lived a sannyasin's
life. You may be learned, respected, rich, powerful. So what?
Take it from me - you will repent every single action of yours.
You have eaten poison with your own hands!' Keshavananda left
in a sad, sombre mood, but he had learnt his lesson: A monk
must seek God alone; everything else is fraught with danger.
Stunning a Thousand
There used to be a grand
festival at Kankhal Sevashrama in those days on the anniversary
of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna's birthday. All the sadhus of
Hardwar would be invited to a feast, after which there would
be a public meeting where mahants of different akharas
delivered learned speeches in Hindi and Sanskrit. As can be
imagined, on occasions like that the Sevashrama would be alive
and buzzing with excitement.
One such meeting was
about to begin, when the noise suddenly died down: Mathuradasji
had arrived. He went straight to his easy chair without so
much as a glance at the distinguished guests. Sitting there,
he observed how the whole ashrama was decorated with buntings
and garlands. But they did not interest him. He began to fidget
in his seat and seemed to be looking for something. Evidently,
he was missing his hookah. Mahendranath had anticipated this.
He had purposely removed the hookah from its usual place,
because he thought it might hurt the sadhus' sensibilities
if Mathuradasji started smoking in their presence.
Anyway, the moment Mathuradasji
entered the Sevashrama, the sadhus fell silent - like a class
of noisy children when their master enters the classroom.
That was the effect of his spirituality! One ray of light
from the Goddess of Wisdom stuns a thousand scholars, says
Sri Ramakrishna. So long as Mathuradasji remained seated in
his easy chair, there was an uneasy silence. Then he got up
to leave. When requested to have his meal at the Sevashrama
that day, he simply said he was not hungry and went away just
as he had come.
One hot summer day, just
before noon, Mahendranath and some Sevashrama workers were
going to the Ganga for a bath. On the way they met Mathuradasji,
who was coming from the direction of the river. He was walking
briskly, perspiration running down his body. Seeing how dirty
he looked, Mahendranath's companions surrounded him and said,
'Mathuradasji, your body is so covered with dirt! Come along
with us; we will give you a nice bath today.' As they were
coaxing Mathuradasji to go with them, a clutch of curious
onlookers began to gather. Averse to making a scene in the
streets, Mahendranath tried to cajole Mathuradasji: 'Come
with us, sir, please. Let us hurry. It is almost noon.' Perhaps
he should have been less insistent, because Mathuradasji suddenly
became serious. Looking at Mahendranath squarely, he said,
'No, you don't have to go to the Ganga. You don't need to
bathe in the river.' 'Why not?' persisted Mahendranath. 'Ganga
is Brahman on earth, Brahman in liquid form. A bath in the
Ganga purifies us.' Mathuradasji cut him off sharply: 'Stop
prattling "Ganga, Ganga". What is so special about
the Ganga? Ganga water and my urine are the same. Know Satchidananda;
everything else is false!'
The words appalled Mahendranath.
He had great devotion for the holy river. But Mathuradasji
had spoken with such intensity - undoubtedly from a very high
plane - that he was at a loss how to respond. He stared at
Mathuradasji in amazement. For a few moments the crowd stood
in shocked silence; then it quickly dispersed. Mathuradasji
went his way, and Mahendranath and his friends wended their
way to the river.
Mahendranath walked slowly,
ruminating: 'Hardwar is one of our holiest places. Lord Shiva
and Mother Ganga are its presiding deities. People come here
from all over the country to worship them. How could Mathuradasji
have uttered such words? Yet, who else could have said it?
Had it been anybody else, he would have been chased through
the streets and stoned. But when a real saint speaks, people
listen. For saints are the voice of God. Mathuradasji has
seen the one Reality behind this changing world. That is why
he speaks with the authority of a knower of Brahman.'
an earlier incident when Mathuradasji had silenced a group
of self-important pundits with these very words: 'Know Satchidananda!'
Taking him to be an ordinary sadhu, they had criticized him
for smoking - and that from a meat-eating Bengali's hookah.
Their criticism had implied that Mathuradasji had fallen from
his position as a sadhu, since he did not observe the rules
enjoined on monastics. That day Mathuradasji had shed his
childlike demeanour. 'Who is a sadhu? Who is a brahmin? Who
is a Bengali? Who is a Punjabi? Tell me, sirs!' he challenged
them. As the pundits gaped at each other, out came the words
with surprising force: 'Know Satchidananda! That alone is
real - everything else is illusory!'
That is the last word
in Advaitic realization: our universe, our egos - even the
idea of God - are but illusions; Brahman alone is real.
'All I Know is Satchidananda'
It was rare to find Mathuradasji
in the above-described moods. A man who always sees God is
sometimes like an inert thing, sometimes like a ghoul, sometimes
like a child and sometimes like a madman, says Sri Ramakrishna.
Mathuradasji's natural disposition was that of a sweet-natured
boy. A devotee once asked him, 'Sir, how did you attain such
a high state? You must have performed severe austerities,
practised a lot of meditation.' 'What state are you talking
about?' said Mathuradasji. 'I don't know anything. I only
roam the streets.' 'At least you are a sadhu. Which order
of the Dashanamis do you belong to? They say your monastic
name is Shivpuri.' 'No, I am not a sadhu. Who told you my
name is Shivpuri? My name is Mathuradas. Nor do I belong to
any order; I don't believe in this order or that. All I know
is Satchidananda!' ~