When Chennapatnam (Madras) enjoyed quietude nearly 115 years ago, the places adjoining Mylapore were only ‘grazing fields’ then.
There was a big house a little away from the recently established Ramakrishna Math. Devamata, a Christian Sister from America, was staying there. She had come to India in response to the inner awakening experienced through Swami Vivekananda’s discourses. She had understood the greatness of India, and to experience it herself, she had been associated with great personages.
There was a banyan tree in front of her house, with wide-spread branches, many bird nests, and some cavities where animals took shelter. Every time she touched the tree, the Sister would feel as though she was holding and kissing the hands of a revered nun.
In the mornings she loved sitting and meditating under the tree; and during the evenings she enjoyed reading books under it.
The Sister would watch with interest the leaves falling from the tree. It appeared to her as if her life’s bondages were dropping one by one.
Whenever the Sister was not there, the boys of the locality merrily played around the tree making a lot of noise.
Some poor people used to steal the tree’s leaves to make food plates. A lot of time had to be spent by the Sister to drive these people away.
One day the Sister was having a siesta. There was total silence. Suddenly she heard somebody calling in a hasty voice, ‘Mother! Mother!’
Sister got up alarmed.
‘What has happened and to whom? Has any child fallen from the tree? That is why I keep telling them not to climb the tree,’ she thought excitedly. The Sister ran to the front and then to the rear side. Nobody was to be seen. But it was true that she had vividly heard the voice calling, ‘Mother’.
‘Somebody has got into some problem and hence they have called me for help. Why did they hide after calling?’ she wondered.
‘O Lord Ramakrishna! Nothing untoward should have happened to anyone,’ she mentally prayed.
Reeling under this thought, it took her some time even to recognize that a man was sitting on a branch of the banyan tree.
‘Who are you, man?’ asked the Sister with her smattering of Tamil. The man on the tree ran away in fear.
‘Oh, my God! How many leaves he has plucked and dropped. If I had delayed a little, he would have made the entire tree bare! But why should the one who had come to steal shout ‘Mother’? No, that is not possible. It was not him. Why should he get caught on his own?’ she thought, as she gathered the leaves and dropped them under the tree.
‘My dear tree, I have dropped these leaves under you which are supposed to be on you. Forgive that young man,’ was Sister’s attitude as she gently stroked the trunk of the tree. The revered nun within her smiled. Then she locked the house and headed towards the Math. She walked on ‘Broadies’ road with hardly anyone around. It was a mud road, yet without smoke or dust pollution.
The Math was small. But it housed a Great Sage.
Who? He was none other than Shashi Maharaj (Swami Ramakrishnananda) who was deputed by Swami Vivekananda to the southern part of India to establish the Math. The Sister went to meet the Swami in order to get rid of the disturbance troubling her.
In the Math, Shashi Maharaj had just finished the afternoon offerings to Sri Ramakrishna; on opening the worship room, he saw the Sister.
The Swami gestured with his eyes to the Sister as though to say, ‘please come’. But the Sister felt as though she could hear that! Every movement of Shashi Maharaj reflected the benign presence of Sri Ramakrishna in that shrine. Every worship article was infused with liveliness.
The Swami came out shortly. Stout body, dark complexion, smiling face, shaven head, broad temple, and clear intellect–these are the features of Shashi Maharaj, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.
The Sister, though a Christian, prostrated before Swami. It is but natural to expect that from the one who had come to study Hinduism.
‘Swami, who could have called me “Mother”?’ she wanted to ask him. In the meantime the Swami told her in English, ‘Sister, I myself wanted to meet you.’
The Swami sat on a chair, and the Sister sat in Veerasana posture on the floor.
‘Yes, Swami. Please tell me,’ she said.
‘Sister, this morning I was reading a letter from Swami Vivekananda. In that he says, “step-by-step increasing the awareness of consciousness in inanimate objects has been the history of civilisation”.’ (Letter of Swami Vivekananda dated 1 October 1897)
‘Marvellous, Swami, excellent thought,’ exclaimed the Sister clapping her hands. She noted Swamiji’s words in shorthand.
‘You know that I am writing a biography of Acharya Sri Ramanuja in Bengali…’ began the Swami.
‘Yes, Swami. I also notice that you are gathering a lot of information from various scholars,’ said the Sister quietly.
‘The idea of Swami Vivekananda, which I read in the morning, is already in vogue in South India’s Vaishnava tradition. They distinguish all the materials of this universe into two, as Chit and Achit. Chit means that which has Awareness, Consciousness and Intelligence.
‘Sister, in Vaishnavism they do not discard any object as lifeless. They respect all objects. For them, anything and everything should remind about their Acharya. Keeping that in mind, they name even a pot used in the worship as “pot Ramanuja”. Look at their devotion…’
The call ‘Mother’, however, continued to reverberate in her mind.
‘Swami, will Chit and Achit remain ever independent? Will not Achit progress to the level of Chit?’
‘Good question. The Acharya whom I met in Sriperumpudur gave a wonderful answer to this question. If the Achit object gets into contact with Chit, it will ascend to Chit’s level.’
‘Does it mean that even the inanimate objects without consciousness will become conscious?’
‘Yes, let us take an example. The spectacles are inanimate objects. They have no intelligence of their own. But the same piece, when we wear on our eyes, which have life principle behind them, functions like our own very eyes. It brings us varieties of knowledge,’ Swami added.
‘Good point, Swami’ the Sister appreciated.
Suddenly the Swami asked the Sister with a smile, ‘Forgive me, I keep on talking. Have you come to ask me something?’
‘Yes, Swami. I had an experience today… a person was sitting on the banyan tree…’ she narrated the entire episode.
Having listened attentively to all that Sister said, the Swami replied, ‘Sister, there is manifestation of life and expression of intelligence in every object of Nature. To realize that, one needs a pure mind. For an ordinary person, this universe may look lifeless. But for one for whom the inner vision has been opened, for one who has the blessings of the Guru, he will see the entire universe pulsating with life.’
Pondering over his statement, the Sister said with a gentle smile, ‘Swami, I don’t understand.’
‘Sister, even plants are living beings, though they do not have the power of mobility. The one that appears like Achit has called you, the Chit.’ Sister looked at the Swami rather confused. He smiled and said, ‘Don’t you still understand? When you were asleep, your deeper mind was awake. It was the tree that requested you with your deeper mind to save it.’
‘Is it so? Did the tree call me?’ asked the Sister with excitement. Shashi Maharaj emphatically nodded his head. The Swami would say nothing but the truth.
‘Oh, is it what is meant by “expression of awareness in inanimate objects”?’ the Sister thought.
She was immediately reminded of an incident of Shashi Maharaj waving the hand-fan to the picture of Sri Ramakrishna for a long time on a hot summer day as he could feel his conscious presence in it.
Sister Devamata thought that the tree had sought her help due to the grace and blessings of Shashi Maharaj who had realized the ‘Chit’. Although she had not realized it herself, she was happy that the tree could nevertheless relate to her and seek her help.
What all can be accomplished through the association of saints!
Source: Speaking Flute (English)