Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Great Know When Death Comes Calling


Swami Vivekananda, born on 12th Jan 1863, who founded the Sri Ramakrishna Mission and took the message and meaning of our Sanathana Dharma to the Western world, had once prophesized that he would not live beyond forty years. As early as in August 1901, he had written a letter to a disciple Mary Hale “I am a dying man; I have no time to fool about—I now do nothing except try to eat and sleep and nurse my body the rest of the time”. Knowing that he was ill, his disciples had come pouring in from the far corners of the world towards the last two months of his life. They were all individually received, encouraged and asked to go back and devote their time with the work of the Mission. He used to tell them “How often does a leader ruin his disciples by remaining always with them. When men are once trained, it is essential that the leader leaves them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves” .On another occasion he had said similar words “Plants always remain small under the shadow of a big tree” About two months before his death, he wrote to his disciple Miss McLeod: “I am somewhat better, but of course far from what I expected. A great idea of quite has come upon me. I am going to retire for good—no more work for me”

His Guru, the saint Ramakrishna, had said that Vivekanananda, his mission completed, would refuse to live with his physical body and would merge for ever into ‘Samadhi’ from which there was no return, if once he realized who he was. A brother monk one day asked him casually: “Do you know who you are?” “Yes, I know!” came the shocking answer. The monk quickly dropped the subject.

It was known among the Swamiji’s disciples that he had received the Grace of God to will his death at a time determined by him [Iccha Marani as it is called in Sanskrit]. So, one day when Vivekananda asked for the Bengali almanac—Sri Ramakrishna before him had similarly asked for one—there was apprehension about his death. It was felt that the Swamiji was trying to make up his mind to decide which would be the best day for him to depart from the earthly scene. As a matter of fact, just three days before his death, Vivekananda pointed out to Swami Premananda a particular spot in the Belur Math premises where hw wished his body to be cremated.[ It is a practice in the Ramakrishna Math to cremate the bodies of Sanyasins]

2nd July 1902, two days before the death of the Swamiji, happened to be Ekadashi when the Swamiji fasted. His English disciple Sister Nivedita called on him for some advice. He referred her to the other monks in the Math and insisted on his serving her with the morning meal. When she had finished her meal, Indian style, he insisted pouring water on her hands and dry them with a towel. When Sister Nivedita remonstrated “Swamiji, It is I who should be doing these things to you, not you to me”, Vivekananda replied ‘Jesus washed the feet of his disciples”. Later, Sister Nivedita recorded that she almost felt like saying “But that was the last time” but that the words froze her lips.

Finally came the D-Day Friday 4th July 1902. Vivekananda rose very early, went to the room alone, shut the windows and door, contrary to his habit and meditated for nearly three hours. As he came out of the room he was heard to sing a hymn in praise of Goddess Kali. Then, Swami Premananda heard him almost in a whisper, as if in soliloquy, saying “If there was another Vivekananda, he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done! And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!” Then he expressed a desire to worship Goddess Kali and asked them to get ready with the necessary materials for the Pooja. Next, he asked Swami Premananda to read a passage from the Yajurveda with the commentary of a well-known scholar. After finishing his meal along with the other monks, he gave Sanskrit tuition to the Brahmacharins around. He was so active that there was no way in which anyone could have guessed that the end was so near. In the afternoon he invited Swami Premananda to join him on a long walk during which he unfolded his plans to start a Vedic College in the Math premises. The walk had mellowed him. Back in the Math, he spoke emotionally about the rise and fall of nations. “India is immortal” he told the monks “if she persists her search for God. But if she gives in for politics and social conflicts, she will die”

Then Vivekananda spoke to each of the assembly in turn. That was a moment of tenderness to one and all. Soon the Math bell rang the seven o’ clock call for evening worship. Quietly he went to his room for meditation. He asked one of his disciples to open all windows and fan his head. Without a word he laid down and silence enveloped the whole room. Minutes passed and not a word was uttered. It was presumed that either he was sleeping or gone into Samadhi. In any event it was not for the disciple to break the silence either by word or deed.

At the end of an hour or so, Vivekananda’s hands trembled a little and he took a deep breath. There followed a shattering silence. Swami Nikhilananda in his official biography
Writes :“His eyes became fixed in the centre of his eyebrows, his face assumed a divine expression and all was over”. This great ecstasy took place at about ten minutes past nine at night. The pulse had stopped. Thinking that Swamiji was in Samadhi, one of the monks whispered into his ear the name of his Guru Sri Ramakrishna but Swamiji’s body was immobile. Immediately a doctor was summoned who gave artificial respiration. But the man who had rejuvenated the entire nation could not be rejuvenated by artificial respiration. Swami Vivekananda had attained Mahasamadhi. He was 39 years, 5months and 24 days old, thus fulfilling his prophecy he had made earlier that he would not live beyond 40 years.

Sister Nivedita, the anointed spiritual daughter of Swami Vivekananda, cried and cried and was inconsolable. Suddenly she saw a cloth used by Swami Vivekananda and wanted to take it and keep it as a memento. However she changed her mind that asking for that cloth would be unbecoming of her and therefore kept quite. This cloth was also taken along with the body for cremation. However when she went to the crematorium and was standing in front of the dead body which was consumed to flames, there was a sudden breeze and a half-burnt piece of that particular cloth, which she wanted to collect and preserve, blew towards her feet. She rushed towards the burning pyre and picked up the sacred relic from the burning pyre with great reverence. It was a benediction. Sometime later she sent the memento to Swamiji’s another pet disciple Josephine MacLeod who preserved it.
Created: Friday, October 5, 2007


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