By Swami Tathagatananda
Vedanta Society of New York, 2011. 186 pages, paperback,
Review by Pravrajika Shuddhatmaprana
Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely
According to Pillai Lokacharya (1264-1327 CE), a renowned teacher of the Srivaishnava tradition of South India, the Lord manifests four special qualities to help devotees take refuge in Him. These are: affection (vatsalya); lordliness, or ownership (svamitva); friendship, or affability (saushilya); and accessibility (saulabhya).
Commenting on this, Manavala Mamuni (1370-1443 CE) says that vatsalya, affection, is like the attitude of a mother cow towards her calf. She not only nourishes the calf, but also guards it from all danger. It is a self-forgetting, protective love. Svamitva, lordliness or ownership, is the quality manifested when the Lord lays claim to a soul, whether the soul wants Him or not. Here the Lord is the ‘Hound of Heaven’ from whom we can never escape. Saushilya, that is, friendship or affability, is probably the Lord’s most endearing quality. It refers to the Lord’s ability to interact with devotees in a loving and personal way. And saulabhya, accessibility, refers to how the Lord makes Himself visible in a form so that He is accessible to the devotees and they can take refuge in Him. This He does not only out of His great compassion and infinite love for us, but also out of His love of play.
For devotees of God, these are the qualities that are most important, for these are the qualities that our minds turn to again and again. They are, in fact, what we like to meditate on. In the lives of Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, and Swamiji, their great compassion was a major characteristic of their relationship with people. Again, we find many examples of their vatsalya, svamitva, saushilya, and saulabhya. All these stories are extremely appealing. We relish them, we talk about them to others, and they come to our mind when we meditate on them. These are just the kind of stories that are given in Swami Tathagatananda’s new book, Some Inspiring Illustrations of Shri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swamiji, and Their Love, published by The Vedanta Society of New York.
For example, once a young man named Manmatha, who was a wrestler and neighborhood ruffian, was hired by a devotee’s brother to intimidate Ramakrishna so that he would not visit their home again. But on seeing the Master, Manmatha understood he was a holy person and fell at Ramakrishna’s feet, weeping. Ramakrishna then invited him to come some day to Dakshineswar to meet him. Manmatha visited Ramakrishna twice and was blessed by him so much that his life was completely transformed. He then spent the rest of his short life in calling on the Lord day and night, crying from the depth of his heart, “Priyanath! Priyanath!” —that is, “O my Beloved One!”
Most of us know the story of Rasik, the sweeper of the Dakshineswar temple who was blessed by Ramakrishna. But many of us do not know that there is a similar story about Bhartabhari, the gardener of the temple, who had an amazing vision one night of Ramakrishna. These stories, and many others like them of Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swamiji, are presented in this wonderful book, along with Swami Tathagatananda’s moving commentary.
Once a monk came to Swami Shivananda, and at the latter’s inquiry, he said he was studying the Upanishads. Swami Shivananda then told the monk: “Can you read our lives? Our lives are the Upanishads. You will find there [within our lives] the essence of the scriptures.” If the lives of these holy ones are the Upanishads, then incidents from their lives such as those recounted in this book are the Upanishad Vidyas—that is, the special teachings of the Upanishads that are to be meditated on. That, it seems, is what this book is meant for. If we sincerely meditate on the many incidents included in this book, then, for sure, our hearts will expand and love will grow within us.
We are deeply indebted to Swami Tathagatananda for presenting the devotees of Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swamiji with this publication. It is beautifully produced, with a gorgeous cover. And it is just the kind of book that one likes to keep in a pocket or purse to refer to again and again—and to remind us again and again of how much we have to be grateful for.
PRAVRAJIKA SHUDDHATMAPRANA is a nun of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, now posted at Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely in New York. She has been active as an editor in the Ramakrishna Order’s publication work, and has also written many articles and two books: The Divine World of the Alvars and Indian Saints and Mystics.