Autobiography of Swami Krishnananda
Swamiji felt that he should write something about his early days of such struggle and suffering. It would read like a meandering story in different phases, which would be sometimes humorous, tragic, and successful. It is here for what it is, and all should be considered as well.
- THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY
28th February, 2001
When I was about 6 years old I was sitting in the verandah of the house. I was born in a very orthodox Madhva Brahmin family. We traditionally believe in Narayana as the ultimate Reality and the goal of life. This is the Madhva principle. Suddenly I called my father who was inside and told him, "According to our family tradition, Narayana is supreme." Then I asked him, "Is Narayana all-pervading?" He said, "Yes." "In that case He is also everything." My father said, "Yes, it must be so." Then I asked him, "Where are we sitting now? Are we sitting on Narayana Himself, as Narayana is everything and is everywhere?" The father told me that I'm a small boy and I don't understand anything and should not ask such questions. There our conversation ended.
But this question to which I could not get an answer haunted me, and even today at my late age this question has not left me and is persisting for an answer. I am a Madhva Brahmin and this orthodoxy is still persisting in everything.
Though I have read practically every type of philosophy, both Eastern and Western, and no one can stand before me in philosophical arguments or religious doctrine at the present time, and therefore I am fully satisfied as regards all the philosophies and all the religions of the world, though these philosophies appear to be different from each other and religions also differ from each other, I have with my own rational capacity tried to bring them together, and to me now there is only one philosophy and one religion. I do not any more see many philosophies and many religions; they just don't exist for me. I agree with Chesterton who said: "There can be only one cosmic philosophy and one cosmic religion, and those who are believing in many philosophies and many religions are asking for many skies, many suns and many moons."
I grew up in maintaining my Madhva tradition, which makes me feel that I am a holy man born to my father who was an example of holiness and piety.
I saw my father reading some book every day before the midday meal and also another book after the meal. I asked him what he was reading. He retorted that it was not meant for me, and when I insisted, he said that it was Srimad Bhagavatam that he was reading, and Sundara Kandam of Valmiki Ramayana. He also added that the Srimad Bhagavatam is a holy book and I should not touch it as I do not know what it means. Sundara Kandam is read for the destruction of enemies and opponents, if any.
He would get up in the morning and survey the fields and the coconut trees to see how they were. Then he would come back and take bath about 9:00 or so in the morning and then start his Puja, which would last for about 4 hours. He would worship every God conceivable, the Panchadevatas as they are called. As we were all boys born to him, we had no right to ask the mother to give us food until the Puja was over. When the Puja was over he would come out, then the mother would stretch banana leaves for our food, and then we would start eating. After we washed our hands he would sit with me and teach me pronunciation of the Rigveda Samhita, and I knew by heart the whole of the Pavamana Suktam, a long thing in the ninth Mandala of the Rigveda. He also taught me Mahasaura Suktam. All these I learned from him with the Rishi, Chhandas and Devata. All these I knew by heart. When he was doing the Puja inside the room, I was sitting outside in the verandah and trying to learn by rote these Veda Mantras. If I made a mistake in the Svara (intonation) of the reading, he would only make a sound, "Hum Hum" in the middle of his Puja, which indicated that I had not pronounced properly. My Vedic knowledge is due to my father. I learned some rituals like Mahamrityumjaya Yajna and some specific Mantras from my mother's father who was an expert in these things.
At noontime when we were about to eat food, we would chant the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. One of my colleagues, some other boy, told me that the Fifteenth Chapter occurs in the Bhagavadgita, of which I knew nothing actually. When the father was out of station, I opened his Bhagavatam copy and tried to understand what it meant. When he returned from his outing I told him that I had seen the book and I understood it. He said, "Oh, you touched it, why did you touch it? It is a holy book; you cannot understand it." I said I did understand because I had knowledge of Sanskrit. He told me to read a passage and explain to him what it meant, which I did to his satisfaction. He taught me many other Mantra Suktas of the Vedas, connected practically with all the Devatas for welfare, as well as for the destruction of evils including enemies. Now comes the answer to my question, "Where do I sit when God is everywhere?" I ransacked and studied all the philosophies and all the religions. I came to know that there is only one philosophy and one religion. Those who think that there are many philosophies and many religions do not know what they are seeking.
I have learned the art of Total Thinking. For me there is only One Thought and every thought is included in it. Everyone's thought is a part of that thought. I tried to think as God would think. What would God think about his creation? Would he have loves and hatreds for some part of his creation? Loving God would mean loving the whole creation. This thought is called meditation. Now the time has come for me to enter into the Virat Purusha who is seeing me with His all eyes, through all His heads - Sahasrasirsha Purusha.
I was a poor man, financially very poor. I suffered with extreme poverty not because I had no food to eat - I had very good food in the house and that was not my problem. I left my house in search of the higher values of life. And that journey of mine to the Sivananda Ashram involved my contact with many places and many persons, in each of which I learned something noble. A Brahman called Sridhar Bhatt came to Benares by chance with only Rs. 200/- in his hand. A marriage ceremony was performed by a Pandit scrupulously and in an orthodox manner and within one hour the whole ceremony was over. At that time the Tiruvanantanpuram Kshetra that was catering food to selected people every day had an excellent cook of the Kerala type.
He was called for cooking the food to which he agreed, and the invited people for the ceremony were fed sumptuously, all in less than Rs. 200/-. When he said he was now preparing to go to Haridwar, I told him, "You may take me also." Some well-wishers came to me and told me that I should not mix up with Sadhus and Sannyasins.
He gave me half a Rupee to go from Haridwar to Rishikesh in order to reach Sivananda Ashram. This is my story. I saw Swami Sivananada in the evening at about 3:30. Some few others were also there with me but Swamiji did not utter a word; he finished his work of seeing the daily post and went away. It was on the third day he called me and settled me in the Ashram.
Swami Sivananda did not talk to me for 3 days. I felt disgusted as there was no food to eat and I did not know that anybody was eating food in the Ashram at all; I thought they would be eating some leaves. The only person who came to me on the second day perhaps was one Swami Gopalananda who, as he said, was serving Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj even in his Swargashram days. This Gopalananda brought to me on the second day a dry chapati with a little sugar on it. I am feeling grateful to him even now for the first item of food I got in this Ashram. He said, "There is vegetable also, rice also, but now it is 3:00 in the afternoon, so I cannot get anything at this time." While I am deeply grateful to Swami Gopalananda whom I can never forget because of his kind-heartedness, I was deeply concerned over my fate even on the third day when I had no indication that I could stay in this Ashram. It was in the evening of the third day when, in a disgusted mood, I was walking on the narrow strip of land on the bank of the Ganga that Swamiji saw me and beckoned me to him. That was the day of my blessedness. He called me and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I gave a childish answer with which he was not satisfied, but directed me to Bhajan Hall to do Akhanda Kirtan of the Mantra Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare . He said, "Don't go anywhere; I will see that Kings and Presidents will touch your feet," all of which I could not understand; they were just Greek and Latin. I thanked the Swamiji and, before I left, he told me to go and take food. I did not know where the food came from. He pointed out to the verandah that is now a part of the Post Office structure. I went and sat there with others who were all eating chapatis and some vegetable. Though I never ate such food, for a man like me who starved for long days, that food was like nectar. I joined the Akhanda Nama Sankirtana Yajna under a person called Tirumala Acharya who took me into the fold when he learned that Swamiji himself had sent me to him. I did the Mantra Japa in the Bhajan Hall for several days, when again Swami Sivananda called me and asked me whether I knew typing. When I said, "Yes, I know typing", he asked me for how long had I practised typing. I said that for eight months I had practised, which satisfied Swamiji very much, because a person who has done typewriting in an institute for eight months must be a very able one to assist in the daily work of Swamiji himself. He gave me some letters to which I had to give a reply, and also some manuscripts of his own handwriting that I had to type out in three copies. Swamiji's system was that when typing a manuscript it should always be in three copies, so that if it happens to be lost, at least one copy will be there out of the three; a wise method of preserving copies. Day by day Swamiji became more and more interested in me. Whenever I used to give replies directly by myself, Swamiji used to tell me, "Show it first to Sridhar Raoji and then only bring it to me." This Sridhar Raoji, incidentally, is almost the first person whom I met on the Ganga bank when I went for taking bath while he too was bathing. He was recognised in the Ashram as a great scholar in English, and so it was that all literary works were referred to him before they were finally given to Swamiji himself. This Sridhar Rao is actually Swami Chidananda who became later the President of The Divine Life Society.
For some peculiar reason we both became very great friends, constantly consulting each other in every matter. He was kind to me even when I did several foolish acts, such as wanting to leave the Ashram on a long northern path. Swami Dayananda, who joined the Ashram later, joined me in this foolish act of renouncing everything and starving on the road. But in a few days he could not continue to follow me, saying, "I cannot come with you anymore" and turned back. My fingers lost sensation and crumpled as if I was about to die. I then returned to a kind of nowhere as I had no courage to meet the Swamiji again in the Ashram. I had one cloth, a kind of lungi . A friend of the Ashram who knew me told me then, "Swami Krishnananda, this is the thing I do not like you doing. Why are you running about like a beggar? No, don't go." I had no courage to return to Swamiji and tell my foolish errand in search of God. I went rather to Swargashram where the boatmen recognised me and were wondering how I came there. Fortunately there was a bhandara that day in Swargashram kitchen and I was one of the Swamis who stretched their cloth and took some puri , but I had no liquid. One of the Swamis who was watching me had a vessel of his own and he gave me the vessel so that I may have some dhal to eat the puri . I was a well-known man in the Medical Dispensary of the Ashram and the boatmen etc. who used to come to me for ointment and such and such things were surprised to find me begging for food with one cloth. I could not see their face. I somehow walked off by some other way.
Already some Swami was in search of me and he found me at the rear end of the road, and the man told me "Swamiji wants you," and took me to Swamiji. Another friendly Swamiji had already mentioned to Swamiji, "He's a good boy; it is good if Swamiji does not talk to him in any harsh manner." When I was sheepishly standing behind Swamiji when he was doing his work in his office, he just said, "Who asked you to work? Go, take rest." Then I went up to a place that is now called the Music Hall, and at that time there was nobody staying there. Swami Chidananda (Sridhar Rao) in his kindness brought a lit-up lantern and gave it to me, saying at the same time, "How foolish, how foolish. Don't go anywhere. You can be quite happy here." This good Samaritan of people did me much good in trying to obstruct tendencies in the Ashram that were inconducive to me, and always on my side in everything. We became such friends later that we both used to go for walks along the main road leading to Lakshman Jhula. At that time we never knew each other personally, though by some instinct we were drawn to each other.
A second time I left the Ashram without informing anyone, in search of Lord Krishna, my Beloved God. I went far on the holy Badrinath road, about 20-25 kilometres distance. I had no clothing but a scanty covering of perhaps a deerskin that Swami Chidananda gave me. I slept on the bank of the Ganga, and one can imagine the cold in the night of February, which I passed in utter agony and great sorrow, for the day broke and Krishna did not come. I crawled into a nearby Sitaram Baba Kutir, where the Baba was making chapatis and matta (buttermilk). He asked me from where I came just now in the morning. I said I came from Ganga bank. He was shocked and could not believe that I could live in the cold in the night by the Ganga. "Where are you going?" he asked. I said, "I want to go to Badrinath." He said, "This is not the time to go to Badrinath which is bitterly cold in February. Go back to your place and do some good work." He gave me one well-baked chapati and some matta , patting me on my back and wanting to see my palm, where he said is written the future of my life. He added, "You are going to shine like Swami Vivekananda. Abandon this bad idea. Go back," he said. I came back to the Ashram walking, tottering, with cold, in fear of Swami Sivananda, in fear of life itself. And Swami Sivananda as usual was very cordial, because he understood me well.