by Anuraga

While looking ahead to the continuing effect of his mission, Swami Vivekananda once said, “even if I perish out of this plane, my message will be sounded through these dear lips and the world will hear it.”  These words were referring to Swami Abhedananda, one of the more profound and enigmatic of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

abhedananadabookSwami Abhedananda was born in Calcutta on October 2, 1866 to parents who were spiritual devotees. His parents named him “Kaliprasad,” meaning grace of the Divine Mother Kali. His serious and studious manner impressed everyone along with his wisdom and breadth of learning. While becoming well-versed in his school studies he simultaneously read and contemplated the Hindu scriptures as well as Western philosophy and began to become restless to find a teacher who could guide him in the art of meditation. Through an acquaintance, he was led to Dakshineswar to meet Sri Ramakrishna. He bowed down to Ramakrishna, placing his head at his feet and the moment he did, Kaliprasad’s yearning came to an end and he became full of peace and calm. The Master told Kali that in his previous life he had been a great Yogi and that this would be his last lifetime. The two spoke for a long time about many things and when Kaliprasad left to return home his mind was no longer what it was before. His entire inner world had now undergone a luminous transmutation. His smouldering spirituality was now set ablaze by the Master and this spiritual fire consumed all the limitations and differentiations in his mind. Unlike Naren, he had immediate and unquestioning faith and devotion towards Sri Ramakrishna.

One by one, the young boys who were later to become the inner circle came into contact with Sri Ramakrishna. After the passing away of the Master the young disciples, who were at first unsure about what to do next, began serious discussion amongst themselves about the mission and teachings of the Master. Led by Narendra, a great spirit began to infuse each of them and the atmosphere around them grew with vitality and power. A shelter would be needed for them to gather and a small building at Baranagore was soon rented by one of the householders for the use of the young disciples. As an acorn carries within it the potential to grow as a tree, the monastery at Baranagore began to take shape as the nucleus of the future Ramakrishna Math and Mission which was later to sweep throughout the world.

Shortly after forming the monastery, Kaliprasad, along with the other disciples took the vows of lifelong celibacy and poverty dedicating their lives to the realization of God. Naren gave them new names and Kaliprasad was initiated and reborn with the name “Abhedananda,” which means the bliss of knowledge of the Absolute. Indeed, once while teaching Kaliprasad meditation, Sri Ramakrishna had recited the lines, “do thou enter into the sanctuary of the blessedness, so that you may transcend duality between purity and impurity; when the two extremities converge at a point, you will realize The Divine Mother.”

Nicknamed “Kali Vedanti” by his brother monks in honor of his great propensity towards sacred study, the Swami spent his days deep in spiritual study, discussion, and debate, often dispensing teachings to learned scholars visiting the monastery. His was not a dry intellectual study however. To a visiting monk he once said, “One has to believe in the Vedas which alone contain the truths experienced by the sages and seers of old who went beyond the range of duality and perceived unity. Take it from me that religion is a matter of experience, and not an intellectual understanding. One must practice it in order to understand it.”

Swami Abhedananda was also drawn to practice great austerity and sacrifice which earned him the additional nickname “Kali Tapasvi.” This inner strength kept him in good stead as he began a ten year period of pilgrimage throughout the length and breadth of India. He began walking alone, penniless and barefooted. He often stopped for long periods of solitary study and meditation. Wherever he went, he left the impression of an erudite monk possessing a fine talent for debating and discourse on spiritual matters. His serenity and stately bearing attracted many religious minded people to him, and all regarded this wandering monk with utmost reverence. During these ten years he took a vow never to touch money and it was only a tremendous faith in the Master that gave him the confidence to go on without plan or provision for the next day.

It was towards the end of this period of pilgrimage that Swami Vivekananda made his great entrance onto the world stage at the Chicago Parliament of Religions. In 1896 Swami Vivekananda called upon him to come to England to preach Vedanta. After arriving in the West Swami Abhedananda soon realized the vast importance to Swami Vivekananda’s work and also the responsibility being thrust upon him. The first time Swamiji asked him to speak publicly Swami Abhedananda protested:

“But I have never lectured. It is impossible for me.”

Swamiji responded, “Did I know anything about lecturing when I stood on the platform of the Parliament of Religions? Whatever I have achieved, was all by the Grace of the Master. Have faith in him and you will blossom as a fine preacher.”

In short order, Swami Abhedananda became respected as a man of profound intellect as well as a powerful and compelling speaker, giving thousands of lectures in Europe and later in America where he led the New York Vedanta Society. He lectured on all aspects of yoga philosophy and gave classes in scripture while guiding his disciples as their teacher and guru. He ably and effectively carried the torch lit by Swami Vivekananda and profoundly influenced and expanded the spread and impact of Vedanta in the West.

After 25 years of ministry in the West he felt called to pilgrimage again and at the age of 56 began a barefoot trek to Kashmir and Tibet. One of his aims was to visit the Hemis Monastery which was reputed to have a manuscript on the unknown life of Jesus. He found a translated copy about the travels of Jesus in Tibet which are described in the book ‘Swami Abhedananda’s Journey Into Kashmir & Tibet.’

The latter part of his life was devoted to starting Vedanta centers in Darjeeling and Calcutta. By 1937, the last year of his life, he was loved and venerated as the last living direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. In March 1937 he attended a celebration of the birth centenary of Sri Ramakrishna. He concluded a soul stirring speech with the following words:

“The days of prophecy have passed before our eyes. The manifestation of the divine powers of One who is worshiped today by thousands as the latest Incarnation of Divinity, we have witnessed with our eyes. Blessed are they who have seen Him and have touched His holy feet. May the glory of Sri Ramakrishna be felt by all nations of the earth; may his Divine powers be manifested in the earnest and sincere souls of His devotees of all countries and all ages to come — this is the constant prayer of this spiritual child and humble servant of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna.”

 For a biography of Swami Abhedananda, read A Spiritual Biography by Moni Bagchi.

Some books by Swami Abhedananda:
Journey to Kashmir and Tibet
Doctrine of Karma: A Study in Philosophy and Practice of Work
Yoga Psychology