Sri Swamiji was sitting at the Dhuni (fireplace). Three logs of peepal embracing each other in the form of a triangle were blazing brightly. The air was crisp and chilly, the setting sun casting a golden hue on Alakh Bara. Chirping birds were returning home, some in pairs, some in flocks. A lone dove sat perched on the wires passing right above the dhuni, as if basking in his presence, eager to hear his satsang.
Alakh Bara abounds with beautiful birds, some of them are even migratory with a tab on them. It was not so when he came, but then Sri Swamiji started inviting them. Every day grains were offered to them with the loud chanting of the mantra "Ai!" (Come, come). He has also made small houses for them and placed them in the trees, so that they are safe and secure. Sri Swamiji says birds are messengers from heaven. They bring us good tidings from above.
Just then, in the quiet stillness of the evening the melody of an ektara was heard. It is an instrument with only one string which wandering sadhus of the Bhakti Marga sometimes carry with them to play when they are singing bhajans and songs of bhakti.
It was a sadhu. He was singing Hari bhajans and, on reaching the gate of Alakh Bara, he shouted loudly from outside "Alakh Niranjan!" The sevaks at Alakh Bara were busy preparing for pooja (worship) and aarti (waving of lights) of Tulsi Mai who is the Ishta Devi of Paramahamsa Alakh Bara. In a few moments Sri Swamiji would blow the Panchajanya Dakshinamukhi Shankh, and commence Tulsi pooja.
The Panchajanya Dakshinamukhi Shankh is used only for worship because it is rare and sacred. It is called Panchajanya after one of the thousand names of Lord Krishna, who blew this shankh during the Mahabharata war. It is south faced and held with the left hand. It has a powerful sound like the roar of a lion. Sri Swamiji received the Panchajanya shankh from Lord Jagannath of Puri. He blows it twice daily; once at dawn when he bathes Tulsi, and again at dusk when he lights the lamps. A few days earlier, on Marga Seersha Poornima, Sri Swamiji had performed Tulsi Vivah, the marriage of Tulsi.
The Tulsi kalevar (sapling) is changed four times a year. On that day, amidst the chanting of Mantra, Tulsi Mai is dug out and replaced with a tender sapling who will stay for four months The previous Tulsi is then immersed in the Ganga. The Vedic tradition believes that Goddess Lakshmi resides in Tulsi.
There are stotras (vedic hymns) dedicated to Tulsi through which she is venerated and Lakshmi invoked into her, but they have to be very precise and accurate or else the plant does not sustain itself. It is also tender, sensitive and touchy. Tulsi Mai appeared at Alakh Bara on her own, she was not brought there. She manifested herself.
On hearing the call of the sadhu, Sri Swamiji called one of the sevaks and sent her to find out who was at the gate and what ha needed. He told the sevak to ask the sadhu four questions. Just as grihasthas (householders) have a formal way of greeting and introducing themselves, either with a handshake or with folded hands, in the same way a sadhu too has a laid down procedure by which his entire tradition can be known. If he is able to give the appropriate answer he is taken to be a sadhu, otherwise he is just a wanderer in sadhu garb. Oh, yes, there are many of those too! So the sevak asked the sadhu those four questions. His answers were apt and he was given what he came for.
This practice of living on bhiksha or alms is customary only for a sannyasin who is a Bahudak. In the four stages of sannyas which are Kutichak, Bahudak, Hamsa and Paramahamsa, Bahudak is the second stage. Before that is Kutichak when the sannyasin lives with the Guru serving him for a full twelve years. During that period he does everything for his Guru. He collects wood from the forest for his dhuni, chops the logs, prepares the items for his pooja or sadhana, cleans his kutiya (hut) and washes his kaupeen (loincloth). If the Guru smokes, he cleans and prepares his chillum or hookah, cuts the vegetables and cleans the vessels in preparation for cooking, if the Guru has a large institution, he does his accounting, banking, typing and all other official work. After that, when the twelve years are over, he leaves only at the aadesh (command) of the Guru and wanders freely in the world, having only the sky for his roof and the earth for his bed. He is permitted to carry only the barest items and is not allowed to stay in any place for more than three days. He is also strictly forbidden to hoard anything that is given to him in biksha and must accept only what he needs for his immediate use. During that period he can give updesh (advice) and interact with everyone, putting into use the knowledge he has acquired through Guru seva. Assessing himself, his strengths and weaknesses, as well as assimilating all that he sees and hears around him. During that period the Bahudak formulates a philosophy for himself as well as deciding what he has to do in the future in order to both serve his fellow beings and evolve spiritually.
When that becomes clear he enters the Hamsa stage, during which he can settle in one place and serve, as well as guide the people, keeping in mind his own spiritual quest for which he left his home and donned the geru robes. The last stage is Paramahamsa, when the karmas are complete and the role becomes a universal one; when the sannyasin lives in total communication with God and acts as his divine agent for fulfilling a mission.
The bahudak knocking at the gate for bhiksha made one reminisce and imagine how Sri Swamiji too must have gone for bhiksha, with meagre belongings. For he too had wandered from 1956 to 1963 after serving Swami Sivanandji for twelve years at Rishikesh on the sacred banks of the Ganga.
When his twelve years were complete, Sri Swamiji went to his Guru's kutiya to pay obeisance. It was twelve years exactly to the minute. Swami Sivanandji placed his hand on Sri Swamiji's head and in precisely five minutes initiated him into the mystic kriyas of Kriya Yoga. Sri Swamiji performed them effortlessly, in absolute spontaneity, for he had received the aadesh and blessings of his Sadguru Swami Sivanandji then gave him two geru dhotis, a jhola (bag) and 108 rupees which are still preserved at Munger. There was one more aadesh that was given from Guru to disciple, "Spread Yoga from door to door and shore to shore".
Those very words became the mission of Sri Swamiji. He wandered freely throughout the Asian subcontinent, feeling the pulse of the people. What were their needs and how best was he to fulfil the words of his Guru in that light? He travelled extensively to Afghanistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Pakistan and Baluchistan, by foot, by bullock cart, by bus, by car and even by plane if the opportunity presented itself.
His purpose was spiritual; his words according to their culture and understanding. During that period he realised one important factor on which he later based his teachings. That although his tradition was Vedanta, it was not the need of the masses. After all. "Aham Brahmasmi" cannot be realised by the common man. if that were so then we cannot call the realisation of "Aham Brahmasmi" the highest achievement that Vedanta speaks of. The realisation of "Aham Brahmasmi" unfolds along with the living experience that everything in creation, be it a goat, cow or buffalo, is reverberating with divinity. How many can claim to have had that experience? We are too caught up in the perplexities of life and cannot even realise the divinity in ourselves, let alone see it in others. It was for this reason that Sri Swamiji felt that he should talk to people in a language they could readily understand and incorporate into their lives - the language of Yoga.
During his bahudak life he also lived as a bhikshak, on alms. He had many devotees, but he did not go to them. Instead he chose to live as a beggar like those you see on the streets who don't know where their next meal is going to come from or whether they will get any food at all. There were times when he did not have food to eat for days. There were times when he was mercilessly turned away without food from the door on which he knocked. Perhaps it was not in their destiny to attain the fruits of serving a great soul.
He saw all that but it did not perturb him. in no way at all was he disturbed by it. That was the anubhava (experience) he had through insult, injury and rejection. In the Bhagavad Gita that state is described as sthita pragna, when the consciousness is stable. By the term consciousness we mean, not just the present one, but all four states of consciousness: the conscious, subconscious, unconscious and Turiya (transcendental) states. All four states in balance and harmony is called sthita pragna.
In the shastras sthita pragna is described as 'durlabh', difficult to attain, because here we are talking about balance of an area of our personality of which we have no knowledge and over which we have absolutely no control. After all, judge for yourself. In your life does a thought not disturb your behaviour and your personality? Does a situation, circumstance or event not disturb you? Yes, it does, and there's no denying that In this infirm condition where is the place of Vedanta? So, he spoke of Yoga, because Yoga too leads one to the same point of experience eventually.
One day, after being turned away from all places, faint with hunger, he started out on foot from Raigarh Town to Laxmipur. After half an hour of walking under the hot sun and dusty roads he reached Laxmipur Karchuliyan. Tired, dehydrated and dizzy with hunger he sat down under the shade of a tree. As it happened, there was a small villa just in front of the tree where he laid down to rest In that villa lived a Catholic priest who was Belgian. A short stocky man with a warm sense of humour, he welcomed Swamiji and invited him to tea and biscuits and offered him one of his Havana cigars. Sri Swamiji accepted the cigar and inhaled deeply. As if by a miracle, his headache of over three days disappeared at once. He left soon after, not asking for more.
In those days Sri Swamiji sang a lot of kirtans. He knew so many, in many languages. That too was an aadesh he had received from one of the greatest saints of this century, Shri Anandamayi Ma. While he was still in school, his maths teacher took Sri Swamiji to have darshan of Ma Anandamayi at Almorah. She singled him out at once, placed her hand on his head and said, "Sing kirtan wherever you go".
He did. All throughout his bahudak wanderings. His voice was rich and touched the core of hearts wherever he went. In the ancient Vedic scriptures it is stated that in this Kali Yuga, it is only the repetition of the Lord's name that will help you cross over from the mundane to the transcendental. Dhyana, Japa, Yagnas are prescribed for other yugas, they will not succeed in this yuga. Just kirtan with devotion is sufficient to transform the mind. Sri Swamiji realised at that very early age that kirtan was the panacea of the people.
Anandamayi Ma also told him, "You have a great destiny before you and you will surely fulfil it". Lord Dattatreya had twenty one gurus: the sun, the birds, the running brook and so forth. In the same way, there is a lesson to learn from everything in life.
Sri Swamiji says: "It is the here and now that is real, because you are experiencing it, but that does not mean that other areas of experience do not exist".
Today, you may like the circumstances you are in, but tomorrow, on account of an event you may begin to dislike it and then that experience becomes real. No, that is only superficial. It is not the state of sthita pragna. Sri Swamiji says that sthita pragna can be said to be that state where, in any type of anubhav or experience, whether it be love, fear, anger, compassion, affection, jealousy, greed, delusion, so on and so forth, the consciousness remains stable and balanced, not just the present state of consciousness but all that precedes and follows it.
He says, "It is not wrong to feel fear, anger and jealousy. It is natural, but when you feel fear why are you imbalanced by it? It is also possible to feel fear and not be affected by it. On the battlefield of Kurukshetra during the great Mahabharata war Arjun was imbalanced when he felt dejection. It was then that Lord Krishna instructed him on the state of sthita pragna and told him of the ways to attain it through Gyana, Bhakti, Karma or Raja yoga".
Two sadhus from Ayodhya arrive at the gate. Sri Swamiji had just emerged from the Vedi (altar) after completing his anusthan of Sri Ramcharitarnanas (contemplating on the auspicious life of Sri Rama) in three days. The sevak goes to the gate. The sadhus who were on their way to have the sacred bath at Ganga Sagar (the point where the Ganga merges into the ocean) on Makar Sankranti, stopped at Alakh Bara to have darshan of Sri Swamiji en route to Ganga Sagar. They gave their introduction and offered a kamandal (vessel carried by sadhu) of water from the holy Sarayu which flows through Ayodhya, the place for the birth of Rama in every Dwapar Yuga. The sevak received them and, after offering them the hospitality appropriate for sadhus, informed them darshan of Sri Swamiji would not be possible. Just then Sri Swamiji appeared from his mandap (raised platform with roof), besmeared with the bhasma he had applied on his body for Panchagni aradhana (worship). The sadhus dumbfounded at their good fortune rushed forward to prostrate at his feet. Sri Swamiji gave them updesh on kundalini and seeing their lean and thin bodies and meagre belongings offered them food, clothing and shelter for the night. Seeing their blistered and cracked feet, Sri Swamiji gave them his own shoes for the journey to Ganga Sagar. The sadhus were overwhelmed. Puwal (hay) was laid for them in Gokul and they rested there. At night they sat around the dhuni and sang Hari bhajans for long hours and spoke of the glories of Ram Katha.