Antaranga:: Swami Advaitananda

advaitanandaThe advent of Sri Ramakrishna was a phenomenon of extraordinary mystery and wonder. As a large ship leaves an immense wake long after it has passed, the reverberations of the Kali avatar’s appearance is, to this very day, continually unfolding.

One means of understanding Sri Ramakrishna is to examine the lives of his direct disciples. Each of the disciples is a window of insight into the Great Master. Having been transformed by being in the blessed company of Sri Ramakrishna, they are each unique exemplars of spiritual character and attainment whose very lives contain inherent teachings.  Swami Advaitananda was a direct disciple whose life story offers particularly relevant teachings.

There are times in life when one may feel that all is lost. While caught in the depths of despair it seems that renewal will never take place. Swami Advaitananda, whose pre-monastic name was Gopal Chandra Ghosh, experienced such a dark night of the soul when at the age of fifty-five his wife died. His grief was unbearable. Concerned, his friend, Dr. Mahendra Pal, a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, suggested that perhaps a visit to Dakshineswar might be helpful.

At this first visit Sri Ramakrishna was somewhat distant and Gopal did not feel at all moved in the company of the Master.  Mahendra suggested that perhaps Gopal was being tested and insisted he go for another visit.  At this second visit Sri Ramakrishna reached deep into the heart of Gopal, speaking of God, the impermanence of the world and the need to renounce the unreal. These teachings deeply touched Gopal and he quickly returned for a third visit.

Like a cloth that is dipped in dye over and over again and becomes saturated with color, the heart of Gopal, previously dry and barren, became filled with the presence of God upon repeated visits with Sri Ramakrishna. As Gopal expressed it, “The Master possessed me. I would think of him day and night. The pain of separation gave me chest pain. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t forget his face.”

The despair and emptiness of his life after the death of his wife gave way to a life rich in spiritual devotion and knowledge. The freedom from family ties that was previously a source of despair was now a blessing and Gopal moved to Dakshineswar to serve the Master with unswerving devotion. Gopal was actually older than Sri Ramakrishna, and the younger disciples affectionately referred to him as Gopalda, or elder brother. He would often play the tabla when Narendra sang in the Master’s room.

Sri Ramakrishna was often unmindful of the world, yet he insisted on great attention to detail regarding worldly matters. Gopal was very organized and methodical in carrying out tasks as well as neat and orderly in his personal habits. This pleased Sri Ramakrishna very much.

Once a doctor prescribed the juice of three lemons to help Sri Ramakrishna’s stomach pain. Gopal was given the task of buying the three lemons. He actually returned with around twice that amount. The Master accepted only three, and insisted that the others be returned. This devotion to truth and speech in action, as well as doing things efficiently and carefully made a deep impression on Gopal.

Gopal once acquired some ocher cloths and rosaries. He asked the Master if he could offer them to some monks. Sri Ramakrishna said that his brother disciples were the finest monks to be found and that he should give the cloths and rosaries to them. Sri Ramakrishna distributed these to the disciples, including Gopal himself. In this auspicious moment can be seen as the planting of the seed of the future Ramakrishna Order.

There is a well-known story of the time when Naren lost consciousness and went into Nirvikalpa Samadhi, eventually opening his eyes and crying, “Where’s my body!” It was Gopal who ran to Sri  Ramakrishna to apprise him of the situation. The Master replied, “He’s been bothering me for that experience long enough. Leave him be for a while.”

Gopal once asked Sri Ramakrishna if he could go on pilgrimage to visit holy places. Sri Ramakrishna replied that there is no need to travel and that one must know the Lord in one’s own heart; knowledge comes when one can see the Lord sitting in the heart of everyone.

Gopal began to serve Holy Mother as well and was one of the few who were allowed to speak to her directly.  During the Master’s final illness, the doctor would prescribe special foods for Sri Ramakrishna. Gopal would be the one who would relay this information to Holy Mother .

At Cossipore, during the Master’s final days, Gopal served devotedly and diligently. He witnessed Sri Ramakrishna withdrawing his mind from his illness and remaining in a state of bliss. In a well-known story from the days in Cossipore, Gopal once brushed against the Master and trembled with bliss. Sri Ramakrishna looked up and said, “You rascal, you found my secret!”