Dag Hammarskjold – ‘Markings’

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‘Markings’ is Dag Hammarskjold’s private journal. It was found in his New York apartment on a bedside table. This journal was written in Swedish and the title on the front page was ‘Vagmarken’, which translated into English means ‘Trail Marks’. In one of his journal entries, Hammarskjold provides an interpretation of the origin and intention of his writing. He said: ‘These notes? – They were signposts you begin to set up after you had reached a point where you needed them, a fixed point that was on no account to be lost sight of’. Dusen explains, “The figure is from Hammarskjold’s experience in climbing…They were recorded to provide guidance for the author should he pass that way again.”(1) Hammarskjold also described his journal as “a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God.”(2) When publishing the English translation of this journal, the title ‘Trail Marks’ was modified to ‘Markings’. Markings was published in 1963, first in Swedish and a year later in English.

Markings contain a little over six hundred individual ‘notes’, These notes are of varying length, anywhere from a single phrase to a page and a half at most. Most of these notes were written in prose and some in blank verse. Towards the end of the journal the form of the notes was similar to that of the Japanese haiku. Commenting on the nature of these notes Dusen writes,” the collection in its entirety treating of the whole gamut of themes which claimed his interest – from delight in natural beauty and excitement in hazardous sport to merciless scrutiny of interior motives, from caustic exposure of unreality and hypocrisy in others’ conduct to unflinching confession of his own inconsistency and self-concern, from direct comment upon events of world import to a charming ‘Elegy’ on the death of a pet monkey. And yet, with all the wide sweep and variety of these meditations, they are held in unity by two dominant objectives: the achievement of absolute self-honesty and of a life-commanding faith.”(3) According to Roger these notes “revealed a person whom scarcely anyone had known: a religious seeker taking his lead from Albert Schweitzer for ethics and from medieval Christian mystics for the conduct and direction of inner life. He proved to be Pascal-like in his critique of self and society, Montaigne-like in his questioning, Augustine-like in his need and willingness to chronicle his hard journey.”(4)

Sometime in 1925 as a student of Uppsala University, Hammarskjold got into the habit of writing down brief notes often in prose and sometimes in the form of poetic free verse. These notes were written with the intension of going back to them in future and reflecting on them. Even in his early twenties when he was highly successful as a student, the thoughts he expressed in these private notes were that of an earnest spiritual seeker trying to fathom the depths of his own existence and his true mission in life. For instance a couple of his earliest entries are as follows:
“Smiling, sincere, incorruptible –
His body disciplined and limber.
A man who had become what he could,
And was what he was –
Ready at any moment to gather everything
Into one simple sacrifice”.
*
“Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I –
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.”
*
“At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I’s. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one – which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I”.
*

Later in life when he was working at the United Nations Hammarskjold travelled all over the world from the Middle East to Far East to Africa. In his travels he met people who were deep thinkers and intellectuals of high caliber. It is through these interactions that he was introduced to the culture, literature and spirituality of these non-Western nations. This immensely broadened his spiritual views. He was influenced by early Chinese classics, Buddhism, the Bhagavad Gita, Judaism, and Sufi poets such as Rumi. These influences are reflected in some of his journal entries.

On days that were of importance to him in his private life such as his own birthday (July 29), Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, and Whitsunday, year-end and New Year, Hammarskjold turned to inner reflection and this he expressed in his journal notes. For instance on New Year’s Eve for the year 1950 he quotes a line from the final stanza of a Swedish hymn:
‘How vain the worldling’s pomp and show,
How brief his joys and pleasures!
The night approaches now, and lo!
We leave all earthly treasures.’

Then in the year 1953, probably on New Year ’s Day, Hammarskjold once again quotes from a Swedish hymn:
‘For all that has been – Thanks!
To all that shall be – Yes!’

It also becomes clear from the journal that during Hammarskjold‘s time both in Swedish government service and his service at the UN, the journal entries were a direct reaction to specific events in his public career. An entry in Markings sometime in 1952 reads, “‘Only he deserves power who everyday justifies it’. This was a concern that remained with Hammarskjold, recurring in still richer form in 1955, some two years into his service as secretary-general: ‘Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated’”.(5)

Of Hammarskjold‘s ‘Markings’ Dusen draws a breathtakingly insightful conclusion, “Indeed, beyond its astonishing intrinsic worth, just here lies the marvel of this work – that reflections on life and destiny, fate and faith, which would merit enduring recognition had they issued from monastic retreat and prolonged meditation, were, in fact, hammered out during the contemporary world’s most urgent business… Hammarskjold himself declares the secret: ‘In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action’.(7)His life is the proof. His ‘Road Marks’ are the evidence.”(6)

References:

1) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 33
2) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 8
3) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 32
4) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. Xi
5) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 82
6) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 37
7) Markings, p 122, year end, 1955

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Dag Hammarskjold – Background

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Dag Hammarskjold came from one of the oldest and well-known families in Sweden who for more than three centuries provided the nation with civil servants and soldiers, many of whom attained high rank. Dag’s father, Hjalmar Hammarskjold, was the Prime Minister of Sweden, through the tense war years, from 1914 to 1917.

The Hammarskjold family lived for more than a quarter of a century in a massive Castle in the city of Uppsala. Dag lived with his parents in this castle from the age of two through his student days at Uppsala University. In the fall of 1930, when his father retired, he moved with his parents to an apartment in Stockholm.

For young Dag the massive ancient castle of the Vasas was a wonderful playroom where mysterious passages ran between massive walls; in the towers were circular banquet-rooms and, at other places there were dark dungeons. Dag often led his young friends on thrilling explorations into the winding passages of the fortress. But it was the grounds and the gardens of the castle that became young Dag’s botanical-zoological workshop. “Beginning to learn the Latin names of plants by the age of six, as one of his brothers admiringly reported, he became a clear-eyed explorer of all things that grew or padded, hopped or crawled within sight of the castle.” (1). Often Dag spent his time collecting animals from ditches and making cages for larvae & feeding them greenery. Because of this habit of taking care of larvae, his mother, Agnes, fondly started calling him “my little larva”.

Of his father and mother once Dag wrote to a friend, “Where the one was light, the other was warmth.”(2). Dag’s father, Hjalmar, contributed immensely towards his development as a political leader and a social thinker. It was from his father that Dag learnt an exacting and unflinching devotion to duty, love for his country, sympathy for small nations, and dedication to the realization of an international order based on justice. His mother Agnes “surely gave Dag the internal basis for a caring emotional life, for sharing with others the good and the bad, for daring to view the human condition with the mind and heart of faith.”(3) Of his mother Dag once said, ‘…She had the qualities I admire most: she was courageous and good.’(4). Reflecting on his relation with his mother many of Dag’s friends have admiringly said, “In all her charitable interests and activities, her son Dag was a loyal, though sometimes amused, companion and lieutenant. ‘Every Sunday he accompanied her to church, and he would patiently wait while she chatted with friends or acquaintances she chanced to meet in the street, whether the Archbishop or a poor shoemaker whom she had recently rescued from bankruptcy’. And he ‘accompanied her on her visits to people in distress’. In European society of that day there was often the ‘stay-at-home daughter’ who remained to look after her parents, which prompted one of Dag Hammarskjold’s oldest and most admiring friends to suggest: ‘Dag was the Hammarskjold family’s stay-at-home daughter. The fantastic thing is that at the same time he could be a boy with the others, pass exams as brilliantly as he did and make a great career’.(5)

Dag was very devoted to his parents. When he was in Stockholm, in spite of mounting and increasingly demanding responsibilities as Under-Secretary of the Finance Ministry and Chairman of the Bank of Sweden, “it was his (Dag Hammarskjold’s) unfailing practice unless prevented by special circumstances to leave the Ministry in good time to dine with his parents, stay on for an hour of conversation, and then be back at his desk by nine and work on in solitude until near daybreak. And, in later years when he was much in Paris at the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, again unless held there by urgent tasks, he regularly took a late Friday afternoon plane to Stockholm for a weekend visit with his father, then in his late eighties.(6) He often brought a fresh bouquet of flowers to his mother.

Dag was an exceptionally brilliant student both at school and at the university. At the age of seventeen he matriculated from Uppsala University and completed his B.A. in two years majoring in history of literature, philosophy, French and political economy. Dag’s intellectual interests were not just limited to academic disciplines. “A wide acquaintance with both classical and modern literature which was to broaden and deepen across the years had its foundation in student days. He read Joseph Conrad, Thomas Wolfe, Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann, among others. And ‘he tried to make his fellow students appreciate Emily Dickinson and Katherine Mansfield’”.(7)

Many of Dag’s university contemporaries and friends have fond memories of him. . Jon Soderblom describes him as ‘not only the most gifted in his class, but a good comrade who remained unswervingly loyal to his friends all his life. As a boy, he was completely natural, an amusing playmate and an entertaining friend’. ..’He was a rather strong boy, outstanding in gymnastics, and while he didn’t take part in our escapades we liked him’, reports another school companion.(8) A writer and close friend of Hammarskjold, Sven Stolpe, writes, “…to a person of any observation it was clear that he carried an inner world within him, to whose echoes he listened eagerly, but about which he seldom found opportunity to speak…I noted in my diary that I had met an exceptional young man, a character of unusual integrity and brilliant understanding, as well as chivalrous, courteous and serious. Never before in Sweden had I encountered a young man of these qualities.(9)

Henrik Klackenberg, a colleague of Hammarskjold at the foreign ministry, says, “I remember chiefly his moral stature and incorruptible justice, his integrity and whole-hearted commitment, and his never-failing sense of responsibility vis-avis the task. Yet emphasis on these traits should not suggest an eternal, forbidding morality. On the contrary he had devastating charm. His colleagues readily became his personal friends. But least of all in the portrait of Dag Hammarskjold should one lose sight of the gentle considerate, somewhat diffident friendliness.”(10)

Hammarskjold’s boss at the Ministry of Finance, Ernst Wigforss, observed, “His ability to convey in a clear and concentrated way the essential of a message made it a pleasure to follow his presentation of reports – if you were alert and interested enough to follow him. But it was as with the study of mathematical truths. If you hadn’t understood the preceding part, there wasn’t a great deal to be enjoyed in the continuation… The balanced judgment, the balance between different aspects of a great natural talent, is possibly the greatest impression I keep from many years of cooperation with Dag Hammarskjold.”(11)

References:

1) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 29
2) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 19
3) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 28
4) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 18
5) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 17
6) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 19
7) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 23
8) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 24
9) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD A Spiritual Portrait, Sven Stolpe, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966, Pg. 33
10) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 51
11) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 47

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Dag Hammarskjold – an exceptional man highly gifted

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Dag Hammarskjold was the second Secretary-general of the United Nations. He served as Secretary-general for more than eight years (1953-61). A few months after he joined the United Nations as the Secretary-general, while speaking to an audience in New York, he said, “We cannot mold the world as masters of a material thing… But we can influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing.” All through his life even in the midst of a brilliantly illustrious career where he was engaged at the highest level of diplomacy in world affairs, in Hammarskjold there was this deep, silent inner space where dwelled the seeker of truth, the student of peace probing the fundamental questions of human identity and the ‘maturity of mind’. It is from this large inner world of his where “new thoughts and glints of possibility could knock around freely and find a pattern that led on”(7) that Hammarskjold drew inspiration and strength to not only understand but also find solutions in highly trying and difficult circumstances. Manuel Frohlich rightly pointed to the two sides of Hammarskjold’s legacy – ‘the externally focused statesmanship and the internally directed inquiry into human being.’ (1)

Dag Hammarskjold’s academic career was amazingly brilliant. At the young age of thirty he was not only the chairman of the Governors of the Bank of Sweden but also the Under-Secretary of the Swedish Ministry of Finance. His work at the Swedish Ministry of Finance was extremely demanding. He worked at the Ministry for almost ten years before he accepted his position at the UN as Secretary-General (Hammarskjold was forty-seven years old). At the Ministry he had the opportunity to develop the necessary self-discipline that helped him enormously, in undertaking the huge responsibility at the UN. Commenting on Hammarskjold’s work at the Ministry of Finance one of his friend Sture Petren wrote: “Thus, for long periods, Hammarskjold was able to manage with very little sleep, he was able to absorb at breakneck speed the content of documents and books and possessed the gift of retaining the overall view of the principle lines in a large complex of problems while seizing on isolated details of it. He was however, also able to screen off what occupied him at a given moment, so that at that time this emerged for him as of paramount importance. Taken together, these traits endowed Hammarskjold with a crushing efficiency, a concomitant of which, however, was a certain disinclination to delegate work to others. The mode of life Hammarskjold had developed also required, apart from unfailing health, the absence of family life. On the other hand, he became the natural center in the circle of his closest collaborators, whose society he sought also for his scant leisure time and to whom he became, by the radiation of his personality and the multiplicity of his interests, a superior and friend of rare inspiration and stimulus. Also in his relations to staff in general, he was an esteemed and even loved boss by virtue of his natural kindness and personal interest.” (2)

Hammarskjold wrote and spoke fluently English, French and German. He was a man whose cultural interests were wide-ranging. He was highly knowledgeable in the history, literature and culture of more than six nations. He was “an ardent and highly literate connoisseur of drama and music, painting and sculpture, both classical and contemporary, himself a poet and translator of poetry, a lover and interpreter of Nature, a mountaineer, withal ‘the best of comrades’, all his life surrounded by admiring companions of the most diverse types and outlooks and cosmopolitan interests – in sum, a Renaissance man at mid-twentieth centuary.”(3)

Hammarskjold had an intellect that was razor sharp, a mind that was ferocious & courageous and his political judgment was acute. With these grand qualities of the mind Hammarskjold, even though highly successful, was not content as a Swedish civil servant. So the opportunity to serve as the Secretary-General at the United Nations came to him as a blessing and at the same time he realized it was a heavy burden (for there were moments when he asked himself does he have to accept this responsibility). Nevertheless he accepted his new responsibility cheerfully. In the year of his death he wrote in his diary ‘Markings’ regarding the moment he accepted his responsibility at the United Nations – “From that moment stems the certainty that existence is meaningful and that therefore my life, in submission, has a goal. From that moment I have known what it means ‘not to look back’, to ‘take no thought for the morrow.’”(4)

When he was at the UN, Hammarskjold became a deeply admired public figure. He had “lightning-like” capacity to understanding difficult and complex situations and also had the foresight to see how these situations would evolve. “He was passionate about the search for peace and justice, passionate about creating dialogue among adversaries, passionate about crafting durable solutions to prevent what the UN Charter calls “the scourge of war.” But he spoke and wrote with deliberately dispassionate intelligence in his public role as chief servant of the Charter and the UN member nations.”(5)

In his book on Hammarskjold, Roger Lipsey writes, “..Hammarskjold was, for me, a model of virtue. I was inspired by his attack on life, his attack on himself, his need to clarify and ready himself to serve without self-serving. His example decisively confirmed values that had touched me from other sources as well. If there was to be some whole, and something like a whole view, he was part of it. After reading ‘Markings’, I could not forget him.”(6)

References:
1) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 3
2) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 22
3) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, Henry P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 4
4) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 23
5) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 9
6) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. xiii
7) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. xiii

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By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

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When the Civil War broke out in the April of 1861, Walt Whitman was staying in New York and Brooklyn, writing some extended newspaper pieces about the history of Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Daily Standard. He began visiting wounded soldiers, who were moved to New York hospitals. Later he went to Washington, D.C., where he spent countless long nights in the poorly ventilated wards nursing thousands of injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate, in the makeshift hospitals.

Based on his experience of a real battle that Walt Whitman wrote his powerful Civil War poems. Following is one of those Civil war poems that he wrote when he was at one of the army camps.

By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

By the bivouac’s fitful flame,
A Procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and
slow – but first I note,
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous
thoughts,
Of life and death, of home and the past and loved, and of
those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground,
By the bivouac’s fitful flame.

In this poem the poet describes how one night when sitting in front of an army camp fire his mind calms down and becomes introspective. His thinking is slow, deliberate and reflective. He describes his thoughts as “A Procession winding around me”. During these quite moments Whiteman reflects on life and death, of home and loved ones. He found this experience “solemn and sweet”. It was the surroundings, the poet found himself in, that invoked this sublime experience.

Whitman also wants the reader to participate in this meditative experience he was having. So he deliberately gives details of the scene around him in the following lines:

“The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)”

On reading the above lines and visualizing the scene ones’ own thinking slows down and one does get a certain measure of the experience the poet is having just like when a teacher of meditation leads you into a quiet, sublime meditation.

In an age where the media through its trends almost prevents one from thinking as individuals, it is these poems that help us to step out of this mass culture and, quoting Edward Hirsch, “put us in touch with ourselves”. Indeed, in this poem of Walt Whitman there is luminosity in his thinking and inspiration in his writing.

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The Golden Age

I am reading a book about the Golden Age of Atlantis [1]. It is a picture of Heaven on Earth, a world with no conflict, but a society where willing individuals see and feel the underlying unity of the universe. There are some sections I skim through (it does have quite a new age vibe) But, the interesting thing about the book was the depiction of a golden age, where people were predominantly spiritual and the prevailing culture was one of connection to God, the Ultimate Source in every aspect of life.

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Whether it is true or just the writers imagination, is perhaps not important. The idea of a golden age – a world where spiritual oneness and peace are the predominant qualities of the world does touch at an inner core of our being. The hope of every soul must be to someday live through a golden age, where real spirituality is natural, spontaneous and all-pervasive.

The current world situation is certainly a far cry from any golden age – though it is often said the night is darkest before the dawn.

I feel optimism and belief in a better world are not just building castles in the sky. Optimism and faith in the divine potential of man and the world are an important foundation for creating this future golden age.

The Golden Age will rapidly blossom
In the hearts of those
Who most devotedly love God
And at the same time
Shall not remain detached
From His earth-family.

Sri Chinmoy

References

[1] Discover Atlantis – Diana Cooper

Personal meditation techniques

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My meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy gave many different meditation techniques, but also suggested that the real secret of meditation was – not just mastering technique – but our heart’s inner cry. If we are satisfied with what we have in the material world, then our meditation will not be very deep. However, if we feel a deep inner cry for peace and joy, then whatever technique we use we will be able to make faster progress.

Nevertheless, these are some techniques which I find helpful and use in my own meditation.

Mantra

During the day, when the outer world is a little more restless, I like to repeat a mantra. I use ‘Supreme’ which is a term Sri Chinmoy uses to describe God in his ever transcending aspect. By repeating the mantra Supreme, I feel it is both meditation and invocation. I try to repeat the mantra in the heart, to try and awaken the heart chakra. It is often recommended to count a certain number of mantras 500, 600, 700. However, although I often use mantra beads, I don’t tend to count. I start off relatively fast, but try to repeat the mantra more soulfully and with more awareness. For me the goal is not to achieve a certain number, but to say more soulfully and without any mental distraction.

Heart

Trying to meditate in the mind is difficult because the nature of the mind is to produce thoughts. If we can move away from the mind to the heart, then we are in a better place to meditate. Whatever technique of meditation, I usually try to be in the heart; there is a good spiritual energy there. If you really concentrate on the heart, you can start to feel your sense of being shift – from the head to the heart.
Continue Reading →

Inner peace and Facebook likes

When I was at university 1994-97, none of my friends had a mobile phone or internet access. If you wanted to meet up with a friend, you would walk down to the other end of the corridor and knock on their door. I have to admit it was sometimes a little inconvenient, you could knock on their door, and no-one was there; but I seem to remember we had a good time!

From a spiritual perspective, how does social media and browsing of the internet influence our meditation and spiritual practise? Is it a harmless side-show or does it make it harder to achieve real peace of mind?

Like anything it can depend on how we use it, and also the inclinations of the user. A disciplined use of a work account a few times a week – is very different to those who find themselves spending hours everyday.

The influence of modern technology is definitely an interesting challenge for modern seekers. I now make a living from an economics website and regularly use email. However I constantly find myself (most weeks!) making New Year’s Resolutions to try and limit the time I waste on the internet. I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat either. Continue Reading →

Stories from the life of Turiyananda

“Spirituality tells the seeker not to live in the hoary past, not to live in the remote future, but to live in the immediacy of today, in the eternal Now. This eternal Now embodies man the aspiring seed and God the all-nourishing Fruit.”

~ Sri Chinmoy.(8)

Swami Turiyananda was one of the sixteen direct sannyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. His pre-monastic name was Harinath and people usually called him Hari. He was about eighteen years old when he came to visit Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. When Sri Ramakrishna saw him for the first time, the Great Master immediately recognized the spiritual potential of Harinath and from then on took personal interest in his spiritual development. Hari’s spiritual training under Sri Ramakrishna lasted for six years till the Master passed away. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda, Hari and a small group of young men who were also closely associated with the Master renounced the world and became monks. Hari became Swami Turiyananda. It is said, of all the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, just like St. Francis of Assisi, even from his boyhood Turiyananda treated his body with great indifference.

When he was only three years old his mother died and when he was twelve years old his father passed away. He was looked after by his elder brother and his wife. His sister-in-law in particular treated him like her own son and looked after him with great love and affection. Throughout his life Turiyananda was very grateful to her. At school Hari was a very good student but his real interest was spirituality and sports. Even from that young age, in order to practice spirituality in the real sense of the term, he was leading a life of continence in thought, word and deed. In order to keep his mind pure he reduced his sleep and spent many hours in meditation. Reflecting on this period of his life Turiyananda later said, “I do not think I ever slept longer than three or four hours at night. The first part of the night I passed in meditation. Then I decided that sleep was an obstacle. So I used to sit up and watch the train of my thoughts. As a result my mind began to discriminate continuously between the eternal and the non-eternal. Then I could sleep no more. I thought within myself, “Am I losing my mind?” I began to pray that I might sleep. But within me was a current of joy, as if someone were saying, “But don’t you want to discriminate like this?”…”(1)

After he became a monk Turiyananda wanted to spend his time living in solitude, meditating intensively, studying the scriptures and visiting holy places. Like a true monk he wanted to depend on God for food and shelter. Keeping this in mind he left the monastery in Calcutta and travelling by foot he went to the Himalayas. On the way he visited many holy places. Thus he spent many years as a wandering monk. If he liked a place and its quite surroundings he would settle there for a few months and spend his time in meditation and study of the scriptures. . ‘During that period,’ he later recalled, ‘my mind always stayed on a high level. There was a constant stream of God consciousness, unbroken like the flow of oil from one vessel to another. I used to get up at dawn, finish my ablutions, and sit for meditation. After meditating for some hours, I started reading the scriptures. Then it was time to go out to collect food, which was done very quickly. Next came some rest, after which I meditated until evening. No other thoughts were allowed to enter the mind. During that period I committed to memory eight of the principal Upanishads, all except the two longer ones. Whenever I found an Upanishadic verse which particularly appealed to me, I used to meditate on it. Oh, what a joy this produced! I cannot describe it…Whenever I concentrated on a verse, I used to get new and fresh interpretations.’(2)

Turiyananda was an ascetic to the extreme yet he was very sympathetic to others, he was an intellectual who had mastered many Indian scriptures in Sanskrit and the Bible but his heart was full of tender devotion. Even though he was brought up in an orthodox Hindu culture yet he had a very modern outlook. One winter when he was in New York, he and a student of his were walking on a street covered with snow. They came across a large pond where they saw boys and girls skating on the ice. The kids were calling and shouting and pursuing each other in great fun. Seeing this Turiyananda remarked to his student, “That’s why you people are so healthy and strong. Look at the girls skating with the boys. What freedom! Wish it were so in my country. So innocent and pure! It is a sight for the gods to behold…”(3)

At Swami Vivekananda’s request Turiyananda came to America to assist him in his work. The first western monk of the Sri Ramakrishna order, Swami Atulananda, says of Turiyananda when he saw him for the first time, “The Indian atmosphere still seemed to hover about him, as he was far from being Americanized. He represented India as the old students pictured her – the land of simplicity, meditation, and spirituality. Gentle, cheerful, meditative, little concerned about the things of this world, Swami Turiyananda made a deep impression on the minds of those who took Vedanta most seriously – not merely as a philosophy to satisfy the intellect alone, but also as a practical guidance in their spiritual life.”(4)

Stories from Turiyananda’s life

As a young boy, when Turiyananda was at school he was always reading and practicing Vedanta. He constantly tried to remember that he was the Atman (soul) and not the body. He would wake up early in the morning around 3.30 A.M. and go to take a bath in the Ganges river that flowed near his home. One day when he was taking his morning bath in the river an event occurred which strengthened him in his developing spiritual ideals. Recounting this incident Turiyananda later said, “…One day I was to bathe as usual and I was in the river. I saw an object floating in the water. It was still dark, so that I could not distinguish it. Some people on the shore, however, recognized the object as a crocodile. They shouted, “Come out quickly! That is a crocodile coming towards you!” Instinctively I rushed to the shore. But as soon as I got out, I thought to myself, “What are you doing? You are repeating day and night, Soham! Soham! I am He! I am He! And now all of a sudden you forget your ideal (you are the soul) and think you are the body! Shame on you!” I thought, Shiva, Shiva! That is true.” And immediately I went back. The crocodile never bothered to come near me. I bathed as usual. But I noticed I was hurrying to get through my bath quickly. Then I said to myself: “No I shall not hurry; I shall take my bath as usual.” And so I did.’(5)

Once while in the Himalayan region called Tihiri-Garhwal, Turiyananda was living in a thatched hut that had a broken door. One night he heard the villagers cry, “Tiger! Tigrt!” He immediately put some bricks behind the door to protect himself. Just then he remembered a passage from the Taittiriya Upanishad that declares that even at the command of Brahman the god of death does his duty like a slave. His awareness of the Atman awakened, and defeated the body idea. He kicked the piles of brick away from the entrance, and meditation. Fortunately, the tiger did not show up.(6)

Once when Turiyananda was wondering in the northern part of India he happened to enter a city called Mathura. In this city of Mathura there happened to be a noble minded rich merchant who took upon himself the task of feeding wandering monks who came to his city. Turiyananda came to know of this merchant and being hungry went to his house hoping to get some good food to eat. He was provided with a nice meal. After Turiyananda had his meal the merchant approached him and asked him, “Will you please tell me how I can develop dispassion?” At this Turiyananda smiled and said, “You are asking me this question. Do you think I would have come to eat here if I really had dispassion?”(7)

References:

1) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 5, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
2) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 47, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
3) With the Swamis in America & India, Sw. Atulananda, Pg. 51, Advaita Ashrama, 1988.
4) With the Swamis in America & India, Sw. Atulananda, Pg. 38, Advaita Ashrama, 1988.
5) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 7, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
6) God lived with them, Sw. Chetananda, Pg. 368, Vedanta Society USA, 1997.
7) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 39, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
8) Everest Aspiration, Sri Chinmoy, Pg. 38, Aum Publication, 1987.

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