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3 January 1863
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Died||21 July 1922
Turiyananda or "Hari Maharaj" as he was popularly known as, was a direct monastic disciple of Ramakrishna, the 19th-century saint and mystic from Bengal. He was one of the earliest missionary to be sent by his leader and brother disciple Vivekananda to United States of America to preach the universal message of Vedanta to the western audience from 1899–1902. He established the Shanti Ashrama in California, United States. He was a foremost monk of the Ramakrishna Mission. He died in Varanasi, India.
Swami Turiyananda was born as Harinath Chattopadhyay in an affluent Bengali middle-class family in Calcutta on 3 January 1863. His father, Chandranath Chattopadhay, an orthodox Brahmin who lived in the Bagbazar area of Calcutta, was well respected by the people. He had three sons and three daughters, and the youngest was Harinath. Harinath lost his parents at a very young age and was brought up by his eldest brother Mahendranath. His mother Prasannamayi died while trying to save young Harinath from a wild jackal when he was three years old. His father died when he was just twelve years old. In school, Hari paid close attention to all his studies, but his special interest lay in religion and athletics. His ambition was to lead an austere life observing all the orthodox rules and traditions. After finishing his studies in the Bengali Institution, Hari went to the General Assembly School (now Scottish Church Collegiate School), run by Christian missionaries. He could not pursue his study beyond school leaving examination. At a very young age he was inclined towards study of philosophy and scriptures like Gita, Upanishads and works of Shankaracharya. He was attracted towards the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and strove sincerely to live up to that ideal:251 One of the notable incidents depicting his adherence to the principles of Vedanta was his fearlessness. One day when he was taking a bath in the Ganges, he saw a crocodile approaching him. Despite warning from passers by he did not turn back and instead faced the crocodile, as according to the principles of Vedanta same impersonal divinity is manifested in all living organisms and therefore one soul should not be afraid of another.
Influence of Sri Ramakrishna
Harinath first came to meet Sri Ramakrishna, when he was about fourteen years old, when the later had come to visit a neighbour's house. Harinath went to Dakshineswar temple two or three years later (c.a 1880) and became devoted to Sri Ramakrishna. Harinath's favourite books was Rama Gita, an Advaita treatise.:253 Sri Ramakrishna taught Harinath to look upon women as the manifestation of divine mother instead of avoiding them as obstructions to spiritual pursuits.:253 The master had a very high opinion of his disciple. Sri Ramakrishna said about Harinath, He comes of that trascendent region whence name and form are manufactured.:255 Hari Maharaj's opinion about his Guru was that the bliss he had got in the company of his master more than compensated for all his sufferings in his life. Ramakrishna also taught him to overcome lust and desire and various other spiritual disciplines. Gradually under his influence Harinath transformed into a devotee instead of being a steadfast monist.
Relationship with Swami Vivekananda
During the five or six years he was with Sri Ramakrishna, Hari had many opportunities to meet the other disciples of the Master. Early in this period he met Narendranath Dutta (more familiarly called Naren), who later became Swami Vivekananda who was his close friend and who from the very beginning had made a very deep impression on his mind. Naren too developed a great liking for him and called him brother Hari, or Haribhai. Both lived in Calcutta and often came to see Sri Ramakrishna together. This relationship lasted till the end. When Swami Vivekananda implored Swami Turiyananda to come to America to teach the message of Vedanta, at first he refused, but then his love and respect for the leader prevailed and he set off on his mission. Swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter from America in 1895, Whenever I think of the wonderful renunciation of Hari, his steadiness of intellect and forbearance, I get a new access to strength.:260
After the death of his master, Hari, went to Shillong in Assam for about 6 months. Afterwards he returned to Calcutta and stayed with his brother disciples in the "Baranagar Math". In 1887 he took Sannyasa or the pledge of renunciation and took the name of Turiyananda (Turiya – transcendental, Ananda – bliss). He then left the monastery and travelled by foot all the way to Himalayas. While leading a contemplative life there he was united with Swami Vivekananda and several other brother disciples in Rajpur. Then they together travelled to Rishikesh. Afterwards Swami Vivekananda left his brother monks and Swami Turiyananda, along with Swami Brahmananda travelled further north into the Himalayas. During these wandering days he survived on barest of necessities even in the extreme cold weather. He visited the holy shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath and stayed for sometime in Srinagar (Garhwal).:258Later he met Swami Vivekananda in Bombay and Mt. Abu when the later was preparing to depart for America in 1893. During his travels in Punjab he heard about Swami Vivekananda's success in "Chicago Parliament of religions". Swami Turiyananda came back to Ramakrishna Math in Alambazar before Vivekananda's arrival in India. At "Alambazar Math" Swami Turiyananda himself took upon the task of training the young recruits to Ramakrishna order. He began to take public classes in Vedanta in Calcutta.
In 1899 when Swami Vivekananda started for America the second time he requested Swami Turiyananda to accompany him to preach the universal message of Vedanta. At first the later refused as he was averse to preaching and active life. But finally he relented. He reached New York via England in August 1899. He worked at first in the Vedanta Society of New York and took up additional work at Mont claire. His main interest was in character building based upon principles of Vedanta and this he strived to achieve with a group of young students in Shanti Ashrama, a Vedanta retreat in the San Antonio valley of California, which was set up in an isolated area, far away from any human habitation. From New York, Swami Turiyananda first went to Los Angeles and became quite popular there. From there he went to San Francisco and worked with students from Vedanta society of San Francisco. He finally established the Shanti Ashrama with about a dozen students. In Shanti Ashrama the group had to face many hardships and hurdles because of the remote and uninhabited nature of the place. However this experience was a life changing to many of his students, one of whom wrote, To think of Swami Turiyananda is an act of purification of mind, to remember his life, an impulse to new endeavour:266 To many of his students Swami Turiyananda was a living example of Vedanta. Swami Turiyananda had a very strenuous life in Shanti Ashrama and his health broke down. He therefore came back to India in 1902 and heard the tragic news of passing away of Swami Vivekananda on 4 July 1902.
Life of an Ascetic
After the death of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Turiyananda left the newly built Belur Math and went to Vrindaban and Uttarkashi. He built an Ashrama in Almora together with Swami Shivananda, another brother disciple. He later developed diabetes and was operated upon for a curbuncle sans any chloroform. The last three years of his life was spent in Ramakrishna Mission Sevashram in Varanasi, where he died on 21 July 1922.
Character and legacy
One of the hallmarks of the character of Swami Turiyananda was his fearlessness in the face of everything. Once when he was being harassed by the British police in North India, a high ranking police officer asked him whether he was afraid of police and he responded, I do not even fear death, why should I fear any human being. Afterwards the same police officer became an admirer and devotee.:272 His method of teaching was through conversation with quotations from holy scriptures. His comment on his method of answering questions was, There are two ways of answering a question, one is to answer from intellect, the other is to answer from within, I always try to answer from within . Even though he himself was not actively involved in any philanthropic activity of Ramakrishna Mission, he always had a very regard for it. He used to say, If one serves the sick and distressed in the right spirit in one single day one can get the highest realisation. He felt for the masses and encouraged philanthropy and work for the poor and distressed. Swami Turiyananda did not care much for public work and organisation. He was for the few, not for big crowds. His work was based upon individual character building. He preferred an inward, meditative and contemplative life. He seemed to be of the opinion that with organisation the spiritual work is apt to suffer. "Lectures," he used to say, "are to reach the public, but the real work can be done only through close personal contact. Both are necessary."
- "Troubles exist as long as we live in the domain of thought. There is no peace until we transcend thought itself. When one kills the mind, the senses come under control. What does it mean to kill the mind? It is to detach it from sense objects. The enlightened person has their senses under perfect control."
- " As long as one expects happiness, one stays restless. But the enlightened soul 'knows bliss in the Atman [the Self within] and wants nothing else. Cravings torment the heart; he renounces cravings. I call such a person illumined.' Craving for happiness brings suffering in its wake."
- "God and mammon cannot be served at the same time. Those who try to compromise are still very much attached to the world. If you want to realize God, renounce all worldliness."
- "Why should you care about public opinion? Good people never criticize others. It is only the wicked who speak ill of their fellow men. Ignore them! The idea of doing good to other people! First help yourself! The illumined souls alone are the true benefactors of this world. They know what is good for mankind. Having attained knowledge, they work for others."
- "You must struggle to meditate and to become deeply absorbed in Him. Try to develop intense devotion to God throughout your life."
- "To preach religion is to give something tangible. it is not like teaching a class from the pages of a book. Religion is something that is transmitted. Hence, before you can give you have to earn."
- "Can God be attained by a little cursory study or meditation? One must have intense yearning for the Lord! Life must seem unbearable without his vision!"
- " Be always sincere, and be yourself. Be true! Have no axe to grind, go always straight for the goal and be strong.
- "Have you seen people play chess? The players sometimes overlook a move because their minds are set on winning the game. But the looker-on will see the move, because his mind is calm, not disturbed by the desire to win. We become ambitious, and thus lose clearness of vision. Ambition sweeps us along, and all prudence is thrown to the winds. Our desires make us blind."