The man of action
In 1987, I was in our Raipur Ashrama serving in the shrine as a pujari. Swami Atmananda Maharaj was the head of the centre. He was an impressive personality both by his abilities and by his physical appearance. He was always energetic, cheerful, smiling and affectionate.
It was he who started the Ramakrishna Mission Tribal Project in the Narayanpur district. In those times Abhuj Mar, the tribal area was still untouched by modernity and men and even women remained scantily dressed.
One afternoon after lunch, Atmananda Maharaj, Swami Srikaranandaji, Sri Shyamal Mukherjee, myself and one more swamiji from outside our Order, were travelling from Raipur to Narayanpur in our medical van. The journey was joyful with everyone cracking jokes and laughing. But after some hours we reached a place called Kesh Kaal which has a steep climb and hair pin bends. As the van took steep turns at the bends, I developed vomiting sensation.
It was a medical van with a washbasin. Atmanandaji who was sitting near the wash basin seeing my condition, immediately got up and made me sit near the wash basin and also sat next to me. Very soon, I vomited more than once into the washbasin. As the van was not in use for 3 months, the water vent pipe of the wash basin was blocked and all the things I vomited stayed floating and splashing in the basin. I myself could not stand the sight of my vomit — curry leaves, tomato skin and other food stuff. I was afraid that the vomit would spill over and dirty the van. Suddenly Atmanandaji got up from his seat, pushed me to his place and sat in my place. He was wearing a half sleeve shirt. He placed his broad and big hands over the edges of the washbasin creating a dam. As the vehicle was moving, the swaying vomit matter was hitting his hands. He appeared least bothered; but I was deeply touched by his feelings and immediate response. He knew that if the vomit spilt over, it would spray all over him and the van. Sensing this possibility, I felt very uneasy. But, fortunately within a few seconds, the vent pipe got cleared and with a oozing and sucking sound all the vomit quickly went down the wash basin. And Atmanandaji started laughing. Within a few minutes, we reached the spot where we were scheduled to have tea and snacks.
Atmanandaji got up as if nothing had happened. He did not utter a word of reproach or regret. He got down and just washed his hands and was in his jovial mood again cracking jokes; he told me to take a lemon. I stood marvelling at his generous heart. The situation called for unselfish action, and he promptly did it; after that he simply moved on with a cheerful mind.
— Swami Veerabhadrananda
During the period of 1960-70, the Government of Madhya Pradesh had opened Panchayat Raj Prashikshan Kendra in all districts to train members of the Gram Panchayats and Janapada Panchayats. These centres used to be managed by different service organisations. In Raipur district the Prashikshan Kendra functioned from the campus of Sri Ramakrishna Seva Samity, Raipur (Vivekananda Ashrama). There were some rooms to lodge the trainers and a hall for conducting training programme. Some amount was also given by the government for the maintenance of this infrastructure. This incident happened when I was working there as a trainer. Once Swami Atmanandaji asked me to purchase three hinges to repair a broken window of the training centre. In those days there was no vehicle in the Ashrama and we used to go on bicycle for marketing. When I reached the market and ordered for three hinges, the shopkeeper advised me to purchase a packet of six. I did so. When Atmanandaji saw the cash memo he demanded an explanation for purchasing more number of hinges than specified. I argued that the extra pieces could be used elsewhere in the ashrama. He looked at me and said, “You see, this is government money and it should not be wasted like this. You go immediately and return the three extra hinges and bring a fresh cash memo.” I was pleasantly surprised to see the truthfulness, honesty and moral working principles of both Swami Atmanandaji in particular and the Ramakrishna Order in general. Though those were hot summer days I did as Maharaj asked me to do. People usually have no qualms in misusing, vandalizing and burning the government property but this incident deeply affected me and taught me a great lesson.
— Sri Laxminaraian Indoria
Another incident took place when I was working as the Principal of the Panchayat Raj Prashikshan Kendra. A peon of our institute had somehow made a duplicate key and used it to steal money received from the sales of Vivekananda literature. One day the man was caught red-handed. When Swami Atmanandaji was informed about this incident, he sent for me. Upon hearing the news after reaching the ashrama, I thought Maharaj would get angry with me. When I reached Maharaja’s room, he was busy writing something. I said, “Maharaj, we will remove that peon.” Without even looking towards me he said, “You will not get a man like Mahatma Gandhi to do the work. Whosoever you appoint, will have some weakness. Go and ask him how much money he has stolen and deduct that amount in small installments from his salary. Don’t stop giving him full salary.” I was surprised to see his pragmatism and magnanimous heart which could think sympathetically even for the family of a thief. I was also overwhelmed to see the difference between an ordinary man and a real sannyasi and felt privileged to have worked with such a saintly person.
— Sri Laxminaraian Indoria
Is it only a marble image?
I was then a volunteer in the Raipur Ashrama. Swami Atmanandaji was the head of the centre. One morning when I expressed my desire to join the Ramakrishna Order, he blessed me and said: “This life of sannyasa is not an easy thing. You certainly have God’s grace because you are able to hear His call. Whether you join or not, always hold on to the ideal. We must lead a God-centred, God-soaked life — this is verily the Ramakrishna ideal.” Even as we were conversing, a brahmachari who served as the pujari in the ashrama, entered the room and without any hesitation interrupted us and started speaking. He seemed to be very irritated and insistently asked for an additional fan in the shrine. When Atmanandaji in a calm and composed voice asked for the reason, he replied that there were too many mosquitoes in the shrine, which bit and disturbed him during the puja. At this Atmanandaji patiently said, “My boy, you are continuously telling that the mosquitos bite you. But it seems as if you have no thought about Sri Ramakrishna. Do you think it is only a marble image? Don’t you have the feeling that it is a living entity. Though you are doing puja for some years now, it looks like you are doing neither Karmayoga nor Bhaktiyoga! What a shame! My boy, every work in the Ashrama is Sri Ramakrishna’s puja, his seva. But you are not maintaining that spiritual and mental attitude. You are no doubt following the rituals perfectly. But as you do not have the right bhava, it has become mere work.” As I heard this, a new horizon opened in front of me!
— Swami Suvijneyananda, Ramakrishna Math, Raipur