Strange Experiences in the Spiritual Life
"Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He will bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:5)
I came back to Calcutta as a changed man, with a practical experience of God. People were deeply interested in me. I had no sacred thread now. One day a man asked, "Who are you?” I quite understood why he asked me this question; but I answered that I was just a man. He replied, "Yes, but what kind of a man? What is your caste?" Somewhat harshly I said to him, "I have no caste. I am an ordinary person." Many thought that I was in the C.I.D. Department of Police, so they had nothing to do with me. But after some time they knew by my life that I was not what they had thought me to be. Later, I could freely move with them.
One day I went across the river in a boat to visit a Hindu Mission I found many Sanyasis there. They were dressed like Sanyasis with shaven head and saffron robe. I noticed to my surprise and sorrow that they were smoking heavily, using sweet-scented tobacco. They drank only coconut-milk and had rich and fattening foods. As 1 ate with them at their invitation at tea-time, I was amazed at the abundance of sweetmeats, fruits and other good things. Their explanation of this was really interesting. They said that they had now attained such a high stage of spirituality that nothing taken into the body could affect them. Smoking and tobacco could not affect their spirituality. A man of about seventy, who was indulging in all these things, replied that he had become "Brahman" himself; so nothing could affect him. When I told him my own experience about God he replied that I was merely under an illusion. The Power that I said was other than myself was according to him, "Brahman" only It was "Maya" which made me feel all these things.
Like a silly sheep, I came under his influence and began to try to become "Brahman" myself, as be had said. Now, I did not care for anything in the world. People began to respect me and to address me as Baba. I would go to the garden on the riverbank where Ramakrishna Paramhansa used to sit and meditate. With a rupee in one hand earth in the other, I would repeat, "Money, earth" meaning both were of the same value to me. Ramakrishna Paramhansa had become my ideal. I began to meditate before Kali, thinking this deity to be the Brahman. Instead of self-realization of Brahman, confusion arose in my groping struggling mind. I began to be careless about my food and rest. I began to artificially control my senses and physical functions. Along with this, the practice of Yoga also affected my health greatly. One morning as I was getting up, I fell down unconscious. I couldn't sit up or lift my head. For sometime, I lost my memory and couldn't write or think. I had a nervous breakdown. The doctor said that if I could get past the first seventy-two hours, I would get over the attack, but that I would never get back to the normal use of my brain again. During these years, my father had no idea what changes were taking place in my life. He had never got over the disappointment and angry feeling caused by my giving up my lucrative business.
However, after some time, his anger gradually grew into love for me. In a terrible condition of health, I returned to Dacca. When my father saw me, he embraced and kissed me. I was also filled with love and reverence for him. My friends, relatives, and neighbours soon gathered to see how I looked as a religious man. Our family physician strictly told me to have absolute rest. Nutritious foods and tonics soon made me feel much better In a few months I began to read write, and talk to people as before. In the city of Dacca and places around there, I became known as a great religious teacher.
No child, boy or girl, was allowed to take part in Krishna-worship without first having been initiated by the Guru. We were a Vaishnava Brahmin family and each family had had Gurus from certain Vaishnava Brahmin families. It did not matter even if he did not have knowledge, experience or even good moral character. To become a full-fledged religious man, I had to accept my family-Guru. A last, tradition again proved stronger than judgment and reason. I accepted him as my Guru. From that day as prescribed in Vaishnava scriptures, I began to worship Radha and Krishna. Days went by smoothly. Wife and I seemed to be very happy and contented. Guru belonged to the sect called Sahajiya. He wanted me to become a member of the same sect. For my daily reading in the morning he gave me a book which described the dallyings of Krishna with the maidens of Vrindaban. How was it possible after reading this book to rise completely above the idea of sex? 1 became sick of it. On the fourth day I went to my Guru, threw the book at him, and apologized for not being able to follow his instructions.
One day a Sanyasi came to have some "Prasad' (food offered to idols) When we sat together to share this food, we had a very interesting conversation about Guru. He was a Vaishnava but a reformer. To propagate his sect and its teaching he wanted one faithful and clever Vaishnava. From Calcutta he came all the way to Dacca in search of me. Out of this conversation there arose many questions. Now I was interested in this reformed Vaishnavism. I began to read the scriptures containing the life and teachings of Chaitanya. As I read, one sentence stood out before me. It said, "One wh6 surrenders to God can not own anything." This struck me forcibly. I still had two life insurance policies in the Sun Life Insurance Company. That very day, I sent them to the head office to surrender.
Gradually I became more and more interested in this Sanyasi and what he taught, and decided to go and live with him in his monastery. However, I told him that I would carry on my own customs and regulations about my food. I used to eat only the food which was offered to Krishna. I did not drink pipe-water, and I did not like the food cooked in this water. I would eat no meat, no cauliflower, no vegetable and grain having a red color. People respected these excellent qualities in me and it gave me a peculiar joy to be thus highly praised. I was full of pride.
When I went to this reformed Vaishnava monastery in Calcutta, the inmates were carefully instructed about my strict rules. They outwardly observed all of them but secretly ignored them. All inmates looked like Brahmins wearing sacred threads, although by caste they were not. It was too late for me to do anything as I had already accepted their teaching and way. The main purpose of this Ashram was to train men to go and propagate the teaching of Chaitanya. All were equal here. All newcomers must be initiated by the Guru in order to get salvation and become a member of the Ashram.
Though I became a follower of this school of thought, I was not initiated by the Guru and had no place among its members; so I went back home and resumed my customary religious practices. At this time my wife developed a very severe case of rheumatism. All her joints became swollen and so painful that I would have to lift her bodily for all the necessary functions. But, a strong call came to go out and preach this new truth. I naturally hesitated to leave my wife in such a condition but the Gita gave me strength and comfort with a verse, the meaning of which is, "One who sincerely and earnestly is attached to me will be taken care of and his every need met."
I went to my wife's physician and suggested that he should tell her that she was getting on very well and that she could safely let me go out to preach. I went to a place about two hundred miles east of Dacca. After three months of touring and preaching I arrived back at Puri and then sent my address home. One day I had a letter from home stating that my wife was well and up and could cook her own food. That was very comforting news for me. I had staked everything on that verse in the Gita. I was busy about my Lord's work and He took care of us. When I came back to Dacca, I began to preach the doctrines of the Math. I exposed the rottenness of the so-called religious leaders and stirred the whole place. Their disciples became less in numbers and their profit was less. They decided to beat me to death to get rid of me. I continued to go about alone, confident that God would take care of me. The vigorous asceticisrn and discipline ruined my health again. My digestive system failed me and I became so weak that I could not walk.
Still I would not accept proper treatment until one day death seemed to stare me in the face. Then I called a doctor. I had trouble in my stomach but he examined my chest. A frown came over his face as if he had found something radically wrong. I said to him, "Doctor, I have trouble in my stomach, not in my chest, but if there is something really serious, please, don't tell me now until I feel better!" He went away without saying a word about it but I was troubled. A young man, named Ganguli, had been betrothed to my daughter. He had left his stethoscope in my room. He was a medical student in the National Medical college. I picked it up and for the first time listened to the beatings of my own heart. As I was taking my pulse, my son-in-law-to-be came in. I told him everything. "How many heart-beats per minute did you count", He asked. I said, "Thirty". "Thirty only", he enquired. His countenance fell at once. "What is your pulse?" I asked. He replied that his was seventy-five. Asked to explain the reason of such a low beat, he replied that if it fell below that the heart might stop.
Silence ensued. A few beats less and it was all over for me. 'Death'! Separation from wife, home and everything precious to me. I began to think and think. Once a strong body, built up through gymnastics and wrestling had become a wreck. I had swung hack and forth between two extremes of enjoyment and abstinence, and this was the result. I was tortured by the thought that soon my body would be reduced to a handful of ashes. I thought I am like a watch that gives no dependable time but still goes on ticking. We send it for repairs to a watch company. Then why not send this watch in the form of a body to that Great Jeweller from whom it came. I cried out to God asking forgiveness for thus misusing my body which He had given me.
A ray of light seemed to dawn for me. I decided to give this useless watch into the hands of its Maker. Silent tears rolled again. A heavy burden was removed from my breast. I never knew when my wife and son-in-law went out of the room. I had been too weak to sit up alone. But now to my surprise I could sit up, get up, and even walk out of the house. I felt the invisible support of a Strong Hand and walked out to a Krishna-temple about a hundred yards. For many days I had never walked so much.
My family was horrified to find the bed empty. Where is the helpless and dying man? They searched all over the house but in vain. At last my son-in-law to be found me loitering in the temple-yard, but stood transfixed as though seeing a ghost. He took me home on a false pretext that a dear friend was waiting for me. Then the whole household stood about me in wonder. They thought there had come that final resurgence often seen in a dying man. I assured them that I was not going to die I was a new Atul now and I belonged to God. They must now believe that the former Atul who was sick is dead. No one understood my words. From that time a marked improvement took place and my appetite slowly returned. My strength came back and after two months I was ready for work again.
A call came then from the Math in Calcutta to go there and devote my life to the cause of God through their mission. I decided to go and said “good-bye” to my loved ones. This time my wife could not help crying. I consoled her.
Now I was under the strict regulations of the Math and I should never have anything to do with my loved ones. Now I was a life-member of this Math. I lost all desire to worship idols because I felt advanced far enough to believe that God was in every person and everywhere. Preaching was the most important part of my training. The chief topic of preaching was that all men are equal before God.
Every devotee of Krishna has the inherent right to become a Guru. Every soul by nature is a Vaishnava etc. We condemned the matter of making the initiation-ceremony a money-taking business. We vigorously condemned the practice of taxing all pilgrims lot. the privilege of seeing the idol in a temple. We had to quote from the Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas to sustain our arguments. Consequently I had to study all such books with great diligence. I had to write tracts on all these subjects to be distributed far and wide. We were beaten many times for all this and at times our lives were really in danger. We preached against evils prevalent amongst many of the so-called Vaishnava Gurus. So they united against us and began to beat us. But nothing could stop the Math from preaching the truth. I published several tracts giving spiritual support to my revolutionary ideas on this subject, namely "The Guru, His Life and Practice". I soon became a well-known figure in religious circles.
The next main feature of our work was to build Maths in other places, especially places of pilgrimage and to preach there. It was necessary to have money for this. A verse from a Vaishnava scripture says that one can use any means in raising money for God. I became a No. I money-raiser. I had not the slightest hesitation in lying outrageously. For instance, I would go about with a group of four or five assistants, dressed like sadhus. I might be dressed in any fashion to suit the occasion. We would take our position before the shops of rich merchants and I would say in an authoritative tone, "Do you know who has come to your shop? Do you know who this man is, standing next to me? He is a very famous saint. He is a double M.A. He is the son of a rich landlord. He has a beautiful young wife at home. For the sake of sacred religion, he has left all; while you sit here comfortably making money. salvation has come to your door today. Give some help and get some blessing." After hearing all this the merchant would loosen his purse and give a generous contribution for our Math. I had not the slightest pang for my lies. I used to consol myself saying that tile man, who had neither mind nor time to practice religion, would lay merit by helping such a cause. Secondly, the money went to build and maintain the Maths. We had no personal profit from it, so we could do anything to get it for religion. For us, the end justified the means. Soon I was made Goswami because of my efficiency in raising funds and my proficiency in the knowledge of the Hindu scriptures and for the strictness of my life of self-denial and giving up all worldly ties. My name now became Bhakti Vijay Goswami.
The years went on I was satisfied with my great work and high position in the Math. I thought that my wife, home and daughters had no place in my life any more. But all of a sudden in I924, my wife came to my mind as though she were right there. It was daytime. The feeling of separation was almost unbearable. I did everything I could to keep from packing up and going home. All these preachings and writings l did and the rules which I had been observing were of no use We had been taught that when such temptations came, we were to take our beds at once and while counting these, were to repeat the name of Krishna. I did this, but in vain. Then I went to my sacred books for some help but got none. This disillusioning experience led me to ask some questions such as, "After all these austerities what have I found? Have I found the Great Physician in search of whom I had left home and given up everything? Have I been healed from my fear I began to take a review of my life all over. It was like a large sheet of paper on which was written my religious experiences, successes and failures, my sacrifices, asceticism, austerities, observances5 study and knowledge of the scriptures. I read this over and over again and counted the cost I had paid. The most important thing was missing. There was neither system nor conclusion in it. The story was still unfinished . I must write more and complete it. But what? My resources were exhausted. My name had been changed and so my external appearance, but my character and nature were still the same. The old, proud, selfish, helpless and frightened Atul was still here. Seeing the futility of all the untold sacrifices, I began to weep like a small child. I was like a boatman who had rowed hard in his boat all night only to find in the morning that he had not weighed the anchor. Seeing progress was nothing more than the splashing sound of my oars. My labors were lost. The other side was very far off. Who was there? Who could help me across safely? This last and best Guru has failed. All these years I had been deceiving myself and others. How cruel I had been to my wife and father and others and neglected them like a coward ! Would God forgive me for the great injustices I had done to them ?
My father was nearing death. He had sent me a money order, and many registered letters and had thrown them into the waste-paper basket Unopened. He died with my name on his lips. Everything in this review seemed to mock me saying "Atul, you think you have saved the souls of many devotees but what about your own Soul?" When I told my roommates of my feelings, they said, 'Bhaktivijai, you have really attained perfection. We would be happy to attain in ten births what you have done in such a short time." They were unable to understand my torture because they had not reviewed and checked their own lives. They reported my condition to the head of the monastery, who at once came and honored my humility, and said that I was nearing perfection and that I should not give up hope but continue to follow the same way. He blessed me and said that God would soon bless me. Thus consoled, I went on for another two years until 1926, when I was appointed as the editor of an English weekly published by the Math.
My editorials attracted many people. These writings were effective because of my detailed study of the scriptures. My Guru praised my work highly. He had long been thinking of carrying the message of Chaitanya to the materialistic West. All unanimously voted that I should go to the Western countries to preach. The news of this decision reached me just as I was correcting the proof of the message from Chaitanya which said, "My name shall be preached in all the cities and villages of the world." Everybody congratulated me on my new appointment.