Antaranga: Swami Turiyananda

Swami TuriyanandaSwami Turiyananda met Sri Ramakrishna in his early teens and was instantly regarded by the master as a yogi and the embodiment of renunciation. He appears in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as Hariprasad, his pre-monastic name.

After passing his school examinations he decided not to go to college but to devote himself to meditation and the study of Advaita Vedanta. He frequently visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar and began to concentrate more and more on spiritual practices. He spent many days and nights in Dakshineswar with Sri Ramakrishna, training in the art of intense meditation.  He was among the inner circle who served Sri Ramakrishna during his last days at Cossipore.  Six years at Dakshineswar had convinced Hari that Sri Ramakrishna was a divine incarnation. When the Master fell sick, he could not believe that disease had really overcome him. He was convinced that this was a play of the Lord.

One day, towards the end of his life, when Sri Ramakrishna was lying in bed suffering from cancer of the throat, Hari approached and asked: “Sir, how are you?” The Master replied: “Oh, I am in great pain. I cannot eat anything, and there is an unbearable burning in my throat.”  Hari knew that the Upanishads declare that the play of the Atman is unreal. The Atman never experiences any illness or suffering. A man of realization is always the same and the Master was such a man. The more Sri Ramakrishna complained, the clearer it was to Hari that his teacher was testing him.  Finally, Hari could control himself no longer and burst out: “Sir, whatever you may say, I see you as an infinite ocean of bliss.” At this Sri Ramakrishna said with a smile: “This rascal has found me out!” When the Master left the world, Hari had gained all he needed from his guru — instructions and experiences of the highest kind, leaving no possibility of doubt about their reality.

After the Master’s passing, Hari joined his brother disciples in starting the Baranagar Math, and taking sannyasa, he assumed the name Turiyananda, or “transcendental bliss”. After three years he left the monastery and spent his time wandering India, doing tapasya at different places, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of his brother monks.

Swami Vivekananda used to say that Swami Turiyananda was the living embodiment of Vedanta. Indeed, he was a blazing fire of spirituality, and whoever was blessed to come under his guidance and direction saw their spiritual lives transformed.

Swamiji asked Swami Turiyananda to assist Swami Abhedananda in the growth of the New York Vedanta Society. Swamiji told his New York students that “In me you have seen the expression of Kshatriya power; I am going to send to you one who is the embodiment of Brahminical qualities, who represents what a Brahmin or the highest spiritual evolution of man is.”

Swamiji had told Swami Turiyananda to forget India and to plunge into this new work with no other thought but to do the Master’s will. He felt from moment to moment that the Divine Mother was behind him, was leading him and guiding him. He had no other thought but to do God’s will. The students were quickly drawn to the swami’s devotion and strength and he quickly developed a devoted following.

Swami Turiyananda took charge of the meditation class, conducted the children’s class and gave talks to the students. During the absence of Swami Abhedananda, he gave lectures at the Vedanta headquarters. He represented India as the students pictured her — the land of simplicity, of meditation, and of spirituality. Gentle, cheerful, meditative, little concerned about the things of this world, he made a deep impression on the minds of those who took Vedanta most seriously — not as a philosophy to satisfy the intellect alone, but also as a practical guidance in their spiritual life.

He soon began to give lectures in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, although lecturing was not his preferred method of teaching. His real teaching work was done in classes and with individuals, particularly through his letters.

When Swami Vivekananda was in California, a Los Angeles devotee realized the need for a Vedanta retreat and gave Swamiji a piece of property in California for that purpose. Swami Turiyananda arrived in San Francisco in July of 1900, and with twelve Vedanta students set out for the land. Shanti Ashrama, as he named it, became his headquarters for the next two years. Fifteen months of his stay in California he spent there teaching, meditating, and chanting.

It was his life, his example that impressed and drew all to him. He was a living embodiment of a man of realization, a man who lived what he taught.  In a world of turmoil and striving, and worldly ambitions, he was someone who was at peace with himself, who lived a life dedicated to God and the service of humanity — a man who attracted through love; who conquered through love. To serve and study with Swami Turiyananda was an act of purification of the mind.

As one of his devotees wrote of that time, “At the Shanti Ashrama characters were changed, lives were changed. The very atmosphere of the place began to breathe a different spirit. It was as if the minds of the students, variously constituted as they were, gradually came under the spell of a new charm. Natural tendencies and ambitions seemed to be transformed, seemed to be replaced by one single ambition, to realize the Truth, even in this life. In the Shanti Ashrama we realized the value of association with the wise. And even today so many years later, the students of Swami Turiyananda look upon him as their true Guru, as the one who helped them to cross more safely this ocean of life. His memory is, and always will be, sacred to them. And the Shanti Ashrama, to these early students, will always remain a place of pilgrimage, a place of holy atmosphere and sacred recollections.”


Some teachings of Swami Turiyananda:

What is Mother, and where is She?” a young student asked.

”She is everything and everywhere,” the Swami replied. She permeates nature. She is nature. But talk won’t do. You must lift the veil.”
“How, Swami?”
“Through meditation,” the Swami replied. Then with great emphasis he replied, “Meditate, meditate, meditate! What are you doing? You are frittering away your life. Think deeply, pray to Mother, go beneath the semblance of things and see the One Reality in all. You are a young man; now is the time. Don’t let this opportunity slip by. Realization is for the young, the strong, the energetic. Have one aim in life, namely, to know Mother. Renounce, renounce, give up the world. There is no liberation without renunciation.

“Be yourself,” he used to say, “and be strong. Realization is only for the strong, the pure, the upright. Remember that you are the Atman. That gives the greatest strength and courage. Be brave; break through the bondage of Maya. Be like the lion; don’t tremble at anything.

Swamiji has taught you that every soul is potentially Divine. Realize your own divinity, then you will realize that all souls are Divine. A cloud obscures the sun. We say, “there is no sun.” But the sun always shines. So the cloud of ignorance makes us believe that we are weak human beings. But the sun of Atman is always shining. Remove the cloud of ignorance and the Atman will reveal itself in your heart. When you realize that, then you are a man. Otherwise you are not different from beasts. And when asked, how this can be realized, he answered, “Through meditation. Meditation is the key that opens the door to Truth. Meditate, meditate! Meditate till light flashes into your mind, and the Atman stands self-revealed. Not by talk, not by study, but by meditation Truth alone is known.

Be strong, my dear boy! Don’t give in to anything whatever. It is not good to be weak; the weak must go to the wall. This is the law of the world. But what have you to do with the world any more? Mother’s child, good or bad, weak or strong, you have no other to look up to but Mother! Others, who do not know, may think of temporal help. But you can never think that way, I am sure!

Sri Ramakrishna is the concrete embodiment of the Vedantic Truth. Because in his life he manifested in full all the subtle truths that we read in the Vedanta philosophy. Pray for unflinching love and devotion and you will have everything.

There is no world outside. It is what we project outside. But how difficult it is to understand this, and how much more difficult to remember it always, even after understanding it. We feel unhappy when we make ourselves small. We feel miserable when we think of ourselves as finite. That is the bane. Yet we forget and are in the whirlpool of Maya once again. But thanks to the grace of Mother, we remember it again soon. “There is no happiness in that which is finite; that which is finite is perishable. That which is universal is Blissfulness itself.” Know the universal! That is thy real Self. May we never lose sight of this, our real Self, which is the Self of all, our dear Mother, whose children we are.

Bibliography and suggested readings:

Swami Turiyananda (A Direct Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna) – by Swami Ritajananda

Spiritual Treasures: Letters of Swami Turiyanada – by Swami Turiyanada and Swami Chetananada

They Lived with God: Life Stories of Some Devotees of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Chetananada

With the Swamis in American and India by Swami Atulananda and Pravrajika Brahmaprana