[Published in Vicharasetu – December 1990. The author Ma Gurupriya was then ‘Ratnadeepa’]
‘Sidhyasiddhyoh samo bhootvaa…’
My Lord through his Grace made me ascend yet another step. As He made me understand that there is no essential difference between spiritual and non-spiritual activities, as he made me realize that “All work is His work”, he also revealed to me that the mind should ultimately rise above saadhana and non-saadhana, above moksha (liberation) and bandhana (bondage). This understanding was essential, as my intense desire to attain Self-realization had put me into a severe crisis. I had grown so much of impatience and tension because of the desire that the mind suffered from agony and agitation.
My Lord made me understand that although initially the aspiration to proceed towards the goal is indispensable and it must grow stronger and stronger, in no way should the urge itself become an obsession and hindrance. One must learn to be as natural as possible in this regard also.
The Growth of Aspiration
This desire for Self-realization did not grow to such intensity all of a sudden. It grew slowly over the years – overwhelming all worldly desires. My Lord led me through various stages of saadhana holding my hand, imparting the lessons and right understanding at each step.
Initially, when I stepped into the spiritual path, I understood that as a seeker one must have a wholesome aspiration to reach the goal, which I imagined to be a state of constant peace and happiness. I thought, one must have a wholesome seeking for whatever is the truth, for right understanding and right vision, for divinity. This I believed to be the purpose of human life.
By then I had already started writing to Baba. On the eve of my first birthday after I started correspondence with him, I wrote to Baba: “For the first time I feel a sense of blessedness for having been born. Now I know that there is a definite purpose, a higher aim behind human birth – to seek God or Truth. I pray to reach the goal. Please place your hands mentally on my head and bless me.”
I would not have received a better gift from any body in life which my friend from Calcutta had given me – the knowledge and touch of a spiritual life, the vision of a path of seeking, the idea of Guru and initiation, and above all, bringing Baba to my life. At the same time he had introduced me to the philosophy and teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondicherry.
He gave me a few booklets based on the teachings and sayings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The booklets were on different aspects of saadhana, like Self-perfection, Aspiration, Surrender and Grace, Prayer and Meditation, Nature, Happiness and Peace, Work, Food, Education… and so many others. I also acquired some other books published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
These books became my closest companion. They helped me keep the flame of aspiration burning constantly in my mind and inspired me to grow in sincerity and love for Truth – including the truth in speech and thought. These books also grew in me a love for right understanding, right vision and comprehensive outlook, guiding almost each and every action. The books on Self-perfection specially helped in developing a keenness to find out imperfections in me and bring about corrections and improvements.
At the same time I was drinking deep the nectarine compositions of ‘Shantiniketan’ – a compilation of Tagore’s morning lectures based on Upanishads, delivered to the students at Shantiniketan. I was also reading regularly the Bhagavadgeeta, ‘Ramakrishna Kathaamrita’ and ‘In Tune with the Infinite’ (by Ralph Waldo Trine) – a very inspiring book which Baba had asked me to read.
On one hand it was the spiritual literature and correspondence with Baba and my friend, while on the other it was the songs of Tagore and Atul Prasad Sen, that were fusing into my being, effecting a sublime transformation. Our teacher Sri Sudhir Chanda used to teach us beautiful songs of Rabindranath Tagore, on ‘Pooja’, ‘Prakriti’ and ‘Prema’ – full of surrender and love for the Creator, the Lord of this wonderful creation. The literature and the songs had a sublime influence on my mind drawing it close to my Lord, the Indweller. The mind came to know for certain that one must surrender to the Divine Master and be like a child in the mother’s bosom – having no worries, shedding all preferences, prejudices, likes and dislikes. The mind now constantly aspired to surrender at the feet of the Lord and be purified to the core, feeling deeply that the Lord would protect and show the right path.
Soon I started visiting Sri Aurobindo Society in Delhi. It was in one of the Government quarters on Baba Kharag Singh Marg. In the next quarter lived Sri Verma, the secretary of the Society. Many afternoons I would suddenly stop my research work in the University and proceed for the Society. Those days, busses were infrequent and irregular in Delhi, and the nearest point from which I could get a bus was at about 20 minutes walk from the Society. The place was quite lonely and the streets of Delhi were not at all safe for women! Now I wonder how I had been going there alone in the evening. The sense of surrender and the growing closeness with the Indweller used to make me feel fearless and airy – as if I had wings! I used to talk to the Lord and walk.
The society had very few visitors in the afternoon and mostly I was the only one. I had to get from Sri Verma the key for the meditation hall, which was my main attraction there. Even now I can feel the serene atmosphere of the spacious and sublime hall where I have spent many afternoons. Sri and Sreemati Verma were very affectionate and ever ready to help. They gave me a cassette player and a few cassettes of Mother’s music and Mother’s talk to listen to sitting in the meditation hall. I used to sit for long hours in solitude listening to the divine music.
One day they gave me a new cassette which, they said, contained some Sanskrit slokas. It was simply wonderful! It touched me to the core. I never knew about these slokas; also I knew not that Sanskrit slokas can be chanted in such blissful manner and that the chanting could produce such sublime effect. It was the Guru stotras chanted by some devotee.
Ever since I came to know of Baba and started writing to him, ever since Baba asked me to pray to the Lord for initiation, I had been praying to my unseen Guru trying to surrender myself completely at his Lotus-feet. Now, the repeated sound of the words “Tasmai Sree Gurave Namah” made me absolutely motionless. As if the growing aspiration in me found expression through these verses! Tears rolled down my cheek. The mind remained fixed on the Lotus-feet.
I played the cassette again and again until I learnt all the verses. With my limited knowledge of Sanskrit I was doubtful whether I was picking up the words correctly. I kept on chanting these verses mentally and also loudly, getting merged in their sublimity. Often, while chanting, the voice would choke, the mind craving for the company of the Lord.
A few months later just a few days before my marriage I went to Ramakrishna mission of Delhi along with my parents and brothers. Apart from visiting the holy place, another purpose was to acquire a copy of the Bhagavadgeeta which my mother wished me to hold during my marriage ceremony. This mission was perhaps the first spiritual centre I had visited during my school days and here was my first encounter with Sannyasins. I can even now breathe the soft, sacred fragrance in the prayer hall where stood the divine statue of Sri Ramakrishna Dev amidst deep silence and peace. This hall had attracted and impressed me right from the beginning; I was also impressed by the ochre-robed Sannyasins. I looked at them in admiration thinking that they have left everything – their home, parents and all the near and dear ones – to attain God.
This Ramakrishna Mission of Delhi did play a significant role in my life. Every year on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, the mission used to hold recitation competition for the school children. Passages from Swami Vivekananda’s talks and teachings used to be selected for recitation. Miss Kamala Sengupta, the principal of our school (Lady Irwin School), was very much dedicated and enthusiastic about exposing all her children to the culture of our land, Fine Arts, Science, Literature, Sports and even to Nature and its beauty. Before the recitation competitions, our teachers used to take special care to teach the students the art of recitation. We used to recite with a lot of feeling and fervour. The introduction to Vivekananda’s literature through these competitions had grown in us a love for the nation and our culture, and an eagerness for acquiring virtues.
Now, the visit to the Mission just a few days before my marriage was in a way quite significant. As we approached the sales counter I saw a book – a collection of Sanskrit verses – ‘Stava Kusumaanjali’ (‘Altar Flowers’, in English), with Bengali translation. When I opened the book I was wonder struck – all the verses of ‘Guru-stotra’ that I had been chanting, were there! I bought the book and went through the meaning of each and every word. I started chanting the verses with greater joy and emotion, prostrating at Sree Guru’s feet with each utterance of ‘Tasmai Sree Gurave Namah’.
At the Feet of Baba
My long waiting for Baba’s darsan was soon over. Within six days of my marriage I was at His feet. I was accompanied by Aroop – Baba’s disciple, my friend from Calcutta – to whom I got married according to Baba’s wish and suggestion. The next day, Baba blessed me with deekshaa. For seven long months, according to Baba’s direction I had been praying to the Lord for initiation. Finally, the prayer was granted.
Before meeting Baba, I used to think that on meeting him first I would keep my head on his feet and shed tears relieving the heaviness of my heart – just as I did in my vision the night I had heard about him. But never did such a moment come – I felt so much owned and loved, so secure and peaceful, in Baba’s company that all my questions, doubts and anxieties got dissolved in his presence, leaving only a tranquility. While chanting Guru-stotras, I used to foster a desire of chanting these verses sitting at Baba’s feet. But somehow this could never materialize during my five years’ association with Baba. Several years later in 1984, at Jamshedpur, I chanted these verses sitting at the feet of Swamiji – to whose spiritual care Baba had handed me over during his last days.
Seeking Strengthened through Gaarhasthya
For a spiritual seeker, the marriage and family-life generally becomes a hindrance. But, my Lord strengthened my seeking by marrying me to one who had been a spiritual seeker right from childhood – sincere in his saadhana and knowing no other aim or purpose in life than to know the Self. For my growth and progress in spiritual path, I owe a great deal to my husband. He, by his unwavering aspiration for Truth, by his deep understanding and clarity, has always helped and inspired me like a Guru – to proceed forward overcoming many a spiritual crisis.
The fact that our marriage was decided and settled by Baba, that it was his wish, had always given us a special impetus to grow in each other’s company towards the spiritual goal. Our understanding of the married life was that we must be complimentary and helpful to each other in pursuing the spiritual path, in improving ourselves, in becoming more and more pure and perfect.
For this, we were ready to accept any comment or criticism from each other. “Instead of being argumentative and intolerant, we must look into our own defects and try to improve,” – was our firm resolve. This attitude helped us overcome many of our shortcomings and obstinacy. The process continues even now – there is no end to one’s improvement and corrections.
In spite of all the resolution, sincerity and aspiration for a harmonious relationship, sometimes we used to differ and also be quite obstinate about it. Once we raised this point before Swamiji when we met him in Delhi. His advice was singular and very effective. He said: “Look upon the partner as your child. It is the parent who with parental love can forgive and accommodate any behaviour of the child”. This advice proved to be most effective not only for interactions between us, but also in dealing with others. Much of bitterness, irritation and annoyance can be avoided when a parental attitude is fostered towards others. This has been a great lesson and I have been growing with it ever since.
The marriage between two spiritual seekers or aspirants can really become complementary and helpful for their saadhana. The growth becomes all the more smooth and easy when both have allegiance and devotion to the same Guru. The central pivot around which our married and household life started and revolved was Baba, our Guru. Later on, five years after our marriage, when Baba left his body handing me over to the spiritual care of Swamiji, both Swamiji and Baba merged into that pivot.
When I look back I find it was this pivot to which we had always looked up throughout our life, seeking advice, guidance and support. We had started our journey through Gaarhasthyaasrama (householder life) keeping Baba as our anchor, close to our heart. All our thoughts and actions, decisions and doubts, successes and failures, we shared with him, opening ourselves completely to his grace. He moved with us permeated throughout our being, providing inspiration, shade and succour.
People seek advice from parents, elders and friends. For us all such advice was secondary. Baba’s advice had become the foremost in our life and living. We considered him the only person to whom we could turn to in all situations. We believed that he would know the best for us. I remember, even in trivial matters like slight difference of opinion in ourselves, it was Baba’s face that I used to remember silently. Even now, when I try to narrate all these feelings, my eyes become full with tears of gratitude, my whole being gets enlivened by the nectarine love with which Baba had embraced us.
Before marriage, Baba had written to me: "Brahmacharya, Gaarhasthya, Vaanaprastha, Sannyaasa – proceed step by step. Presently I want you to enter Gaarhasthya.” When we entered Gaarhasthya he kept on giving us advice so that we can carry on not only as noble householders but also as ardent spiritual seekers even in the midst of various domestic and social responsibilities, ties and distractions.
When we first set up our household, Baba had written a series of letters that helped us foster the right attitude in the new phase of our life. He advised us to stay a little away from the congested centre of the city and wrote: “All facilities will come to your door. Hawkers and others will arrive at the right time with the articles you need. Those who seek God sincerely with all mind and heart, God gives them everything according to their need. When we receive help from somebody, we fail to realize that it is but God’s help we receive through men. Those who remember that this world moves harmoniously according to God’s wish and grace, their prayers get fulfilled.”
He wrote in another letter: “Everything is God’s gift. When we enjoy with the knowledge that the objects enjoyed are given by God, then attachment to the objects slowly gets transformed into love for god.”
When my parents in law came from Jamshedpur to stay with us in our newly set-up house in Calcutta, Baba sent his timely message – “Your parents are coming. Get ready to receive them and serve them as living gods. Heaven and hell – both are man’s own creation. I would like you to live in heaven.”
And in most of his letters, there used to feature one advice – perhaps to safeguard against any impatience about spiritual fruition – “Don’t do anything suddenly. Patience bears fruit. Why not wait and see? Everything will be all right. All roads lead to Rome. Maa bhaih (Have no fear)!”