( 1854 -1934 )
Birth and Early Life
Tarak Nath Ghoshal, the name by which Swami Shivananda was known in his pre-monastic life, was born in Barasat, Bengal on16 December 1854. His father, Ram Kanai Ghoshal, was a legal adviser for Rani Rasmani estate and came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna even during the latter’s Sadhana period. When Sri Ramakrishna was suffering from intense burning sensations, which no medicine could cure, Ram Kanai suggested him to wear the Ishta Kavacha, an amulet with the Lord’s holy name, on his arm. As a result of this Sri Ramakrishna was instantly cured.
Beginning of Monastic Life
Tarak showed signs of religious mindedness, even in his boyhood. He was then inclined to meditation and the desire to comprehend the mystery of the universe weighed upon his young mind. He, like the many other youths of the time, came under the influence of Keshab Chandra Sen, from whose writings came to know about Sri Ramakrishna for the first time.
About this time he went to Delhi. At Delhi, while discussing religious matters with a friend, the latter said that real Samadhi was a rare thing, but he knew of one who had experienced that state. He mentioned the name of Sri Ramakrishna. This aroused longing, in the religious mind of Tarak, to see Sri Ramakrishna and he was waiting for that opportunity.
Tarak met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time when the latter came on a visit to Ramchandra Dutta‘s house, one day in 1882. Here, he found Sri Ramakrishna in a semi-conscious state, talking to an eager audience. Tarak was anxious to know about Samadhi, and strangely, Sri Ramakrishna was speaking on that very subject. Tarak could grasp only a few words, but they charmed him beyond measure. He was getting drawn towards Sri Ramakrishna. Next Saturday, Tarak went to Dakshineswar to see Sri Ramakrishna. It was evening when he reached Dakshineswar. In the course of the conversation that followed, Sri Ramakrishna asked Tarak if he believed in God with or without form. Due to the training, he had received in the Brahmo Samaj he said he believes in God without form. “But,” replied Sri Ramakrishna, “you cannot deny the Divine Sakti also.” Then the Master took Tarak to the Kali temple where evening vesper service was going on. Sri Ramakrishna prostrated himself before the Divine Mother. Tarak at first hesitated to do that, for, according to him, the image was nothing but stone. But soon a thought crossed his mind that if God is all-pervasive then, He should also be present in the stone image. He bowed down before the image, and gradually began to believe more and more in the Divine Mother.
One day, Sri Ramakrishna called Tarak aside and wrote something on his tongue which threw the boy at once into the depths of meditation, and he became oblivious of the external world. In his great longing to know God, one day Tarak shed profuse tears standing before the Kali temple, and when he returned, the Master said, “God favours those who can weep for him.” He had many wonderful spiritual experiences, some of which elicited admiration from the Master.
After the passing away of the Master, Tarak left the world and joined the monastery at Baranagore. There along with others, he passed his days in meditation and austerity. The Master had left his mortal coil, which was unbearable for the disciples. They felt a great void and wanted to fill it up by realizing the living presence of the Master through intense Sadhana. Sometimes, they would think that living in a monastery with there brother monks was also bondage. They would yearn to be alone depending on nothing but God. So they would leave the monastery and wander alone from place to place away from those who knew them.
In 1893, when Swami Vivekananda was in America, Swami Shivananda, in course of his wanderings came to Almora. There he met Mr E. T. Sturdy, an Englishman. It was from him that Mr Sturdy heard of Swami Vivekananda and his activities in America. When Mr Sturdy returned to London, he invited Swami Vivekananda there and arranged for his preaching Vedanta in England.
When Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897, Swami Shivananda went to Madras to receive him. In the same year, at the express request of Swami Vivekananda, he went to preach in Ceylon, where he stayed for about a year. In Ceylon, he would hold classes on Raja Yoga and the Gita, which became popular with the local gentry as well as with some Europeans. One of his students, Mrs Pickett, to whom he gave the name of Hari Priya, was trained by him and thus enabling her to teach Vedanta to the Europeans. Afterwards, she went to Australia and New Zealand at the direction of the Swami and succeeded in attracting interested students in both countries.
In 1900, when Swami Vivekananda paid a visit to the Ashrama at Mayavati, Swami Shivananda accompanied him. While returning, Swami Vivekananda requested him to leave them at Pilibhit and try to collect funds for the maintenance and improvement of the Belur Math. He complied to the request and raised some money. Sometime before the passing away of Swami Vivekananda, the Raja of Bhinga handed over Rs. 500 to start an Ashrama. Swami Shivananda, at the earnest request of Swami Vivekananda, started the Advaita Ashrama at Benares with the amount given by the Raja. Swami Shivananda performed intense Sadhana, at the Benares Ashrama. He would hardly go out of the Ashrama. The life in this Ashrama was most rigorous, and those who lived with him had to follow strict discipline. During this time Swami Saradananda, the then Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission would press him hard to try to collect funds for the local ‘Home of Service,’ and say jocosely, “Will mere meditation bring money ?” But Swami Shivananda was not in a mood to attend to other works.
At the Helm of the Sangha
Swami Shivananda was one of the trustees of the Belur Math and a member of the Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Mission. When Swami Premananda passed away in 1918, he was practically in charge of the Belur Math, looking after the spiritual needs and training of the monastic members.
In 1922, after the Mahasamadhi of Swami Brahmananda, he was made the president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
In 1926, the first Convention of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission was held under his presidentship to review the past work of the Mission and also to devise methods as to how to direct its future activities.
Swami Shivananda passed away on 20 February 1934. About a year back, he had a stroke of apoplexy which invalidated him completely. The immediate cause of his death was, however, influenza! Bronco-pneumonia, from which he suffered for three or four days. At the time of death, he was about 80.