( 1872 - 1938 )
Birth and Early Life
Sudhir Chandra Chakravarthy, the name by which Swami Suddhananda was known before he took the monastic vows, belonged to that early group of young men who, inspired by the soul-stirring teachings of Swami Vivekananda, renounced the world and joined the Ramakrishna order. He was born in 1872 A.D. His ancestral house was on Serpentine Lane in Kolkata (then Calcutta), and his father, Ashutosh Chakravarthy was a pious and generous Brahmin. His younger brother Sushilchandra, also became a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, and came to be known as Swami Prakashananda.
Even as a young boy, Sudhir Chandra was naturally attracted to religion. He regularly read and discussed religious books with his friends. He was also a brilliant student. After passing the Matriculation examination with scholarship, he joined City College for further studies. Soon his spiritual life gathered strength and he eagerly started searching for a definite path. His spiritual hunger was intensified by the company of his friends, some of who too became Monks of the Ramakrishna Order.
Beginning of Monastic Life
An innate tilt towards spirituality inclined him to the study of scriptures and the practice of various kinds of religious exercises. This natural bent for holiness and purity deepened with years till at last a divine nostalgia seized him, which urged him to seek the company of holy men and finally brought him in contact with the followers and devotees of Sri Ramakrishna at Baranagore and Kankurgachhi as early as 1890. Though a brilliant student of the university, before whom lay a promising academic career, the studies lost all flavour for him while he was preparing for the Degree Course. He gave them up soon and gravitated more and more towards the study and practice of spirituality at home.
In 1897 when Swami Vivekananda returned from the west he came into close contact with the Swami and immediately joined the Order. He was initiated in that very year by the Swamiji. He accompanied his Master in his tour in Western India. He also went on a pilgrimage to Mansarovar in Tibet. During his travels with the Master as well as at the Math he had great opportunities to feel the Master’s personality and imbibe his ideas and message. He was dearly loved by the Swami, who would often very affectionately style him as Khoka (child). The Master not only had love for the disciple but also had great faith in his qualities and entrusted him with works of utmost importance for the realization and propagation of his ideas.
He was the Swami’s amanuensis in drawing up the original rules and regulations of the Order and at the instruction of the Master held classes with a view to introducing his mates and other new recruits to a knowledge of the scriptures. The early diary of the Math, which will always remain an invaluable document, owes its existence largely to his efforts. His services in connection with the translation of almost all the English works of Swami Vivekananda into Bengali, which he discharged in a most creditable manner, constitutes one of his most tangible contributions to the country and the Order. Today we can realize to some extent how valuable these works have been in spreading the virilise to some extent how valuable these works have been in spreading the virile message of Swami Vivekananda to the remotest corners of the province of Bengal, how they have inspired and vitalized new movements, and how they have helped many to form the supreme resolution of their lives.
At the Helm of the Sangha
Under most trying conditions which would have scared away many a stout heart, he assisted Swami Trigunatitananda in editing the Udbodhan, the Bengali organ of the Ramakrishna Order, when it was started in 1899. Subsequently, he became its editor and ably conducted it for about ten years. He became a trustee of the Ramakrishna Math in 1908 and afterwards joint Secretary of the Mission. In 1927 he succeeded Swami Saradananda, the first Secretary of the Mission and held that office till 1934. After the passing away of Swami Akhandananda, he became the Vice-president of the Order in March 1937 and became President in May last on the demise of Swami Vijnanananda.
For some years Swami Suddhananda was also closely associated with the Vivekananda Society of Calcutta and the Dacca branch of the Ramakrishna Mission, into both of which he infused a new life by his untiring efforts. He had travelled widely in India and possessed intimate knowledge of the working of most of the centres of the Ramakrishna Order. Wherever he went his artless simplicity and integrity would remove all barriers, and all the inmates of the centre from the most senior ones to the young would confide to him their intimate problems, wants, and difficulties. Besides, his habit of clear thinking and scrutiny, as well as his gifted memory, always made him a most trustworthy and rich storehouse of information.
Rare and excellent virtues found a company in him in a most tricking manner. He was an erudite scholar, a clear speaker, a forceful writer, an able teacher, a precise thinker and, above all, a holy person of transparent purity, simplicity and integrity. Deeply versed in the scriptures, his mastery of the principal Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahma Sutras was especially remarkable. And in this respect, it is not easy to find out his equal. Since the passing away of Swami Vivekananda, he was in a great measure responsible for the ideological aspect of the training of the young members of the Order, and numerous persons had their introduction to the scriptures and the spirit of Swamiji through him. As a teacher, he had his uniqueness. He would himself seek out students and organize them into a class. To-day there are very few in the Order, who have not been privileged to read something or other with him.
His intellectual qualities as a man of learning an accomplishment stood out in bold relief. It was a delight to discuss and study with him. He would pursue a word or a passage until it yielded up its last shred of meaning and stood bereft of all obscurities. It was the furthest from him to gloss over anything, and everything he taught was praise, definite, and clear as daylight. The long habit of accurate thinking and intellectual honesty gave him a wonderful insight into the obscure import of words and passages, he would never be drawn astray even for a while from the questions at issue and be lost in a tangle of vain discussions.
Outwardly one may miss in his life what is ordinarily understood to be Tapasya or religious austerities. He passed most of his days in the whirlpool of intense activities in connection with the Order. But whoever came into touch with him realized that he exemplified in a most remarkable way the principles of Karma-Yoga preached by Swami Vivekananda and that work was worship to him. He did not so much stress the character of the work or its extensiveness, but he would lay all the emphasis he could command upon its quality and intensity. To him, the means were as great as the end. Work also revealed the other outstanding traits of his character. He was a bold fighter whose heart never quailed before personalities for the vindication of principles. Alone among his peers, he could challenge with reason combined with respect, the decisions of the elders to whom he stood in the position of a disciple. And if it is true to say that only a man free from selfish desires can discuss things with absolute dispassion and weigh arguments justly in the balance of reason without being swayed by extraneous considerations, then surely his was a mind which was purged of personal considerations of all kinds.
Simple and guileless as a child, he was straight and outspoken in his speech and manners, and far above pretences of all kinds. His outspokenness and disclaimers about personal achievements would appear shocking to some, but those who have tried to rise above shams and to be honestly religious know what precious qualities and tremendous development of character they betokened. Nothing was secret to him as nothing is private to a child, and he would lay bare his most intimate experiences and information to all and sundry. There was nothing of that reserve about him which often surrounds great persons and stands as a barrier between them and the multitude. He could be approached by all without any fear of uneasiness at all times. For this reason, there is hardly any other person whose relation to the individual members of the Order have been so intimate and far-flung. His simplicity and integrity inspired a kind of security which disarmed all fears and emboldened all to open their hearts to him, and everyone was sure to get his pangs assuaged and his troubles smoothed or solved by his nerve-failing kindness, sympathy, and counsel. His demise, therefore, removes a figure to whom one could readily turn for help and guidance in the troubled moments of one’s life.
Nature had endowed him with a powerful memory upon which things and events left almost indelible impressions. Thanks to this he could relate with minute detail incidents and happenings which lay remote in time. This gift also made him an almost living history of the order. An hour after hour he would regale his hearers with elaborate descriptions of the early history of the Math and the incidents in the lives of the great swamis who went before. Though these do not lend themselves to quantitative measurement, many members of the order realize how valuable they have been in their comprehension of the unique spirit and tradition of the institution. And to the last, he retained in the fullest measure his exceptional keenness and alertness of mind, though time left severe scars on his frail body drooping under the weight of age. His personal belongings were of the minimum and they barely met his needs. Often his devotees and admirers would present him with gifts which he would rarely use for himself. He would dispose of most of them immediately. He had an exceptionally kind heart for the poor, and there are many students and persons who are indebted to him for various kinds of help. If anybody related his need or woe to him and if it lay within his power to help him in any way, his mind could never rest at ease until he found out a means to remove the want or distress. And he never forgot such appeals of the needy. During his last illness, a blind lady who had expressed her desire to be initiated by him had to be refused as the illness proved to be serious. On the 20th of October last, as he felt slightly better after a most severe attach which nearly proved fatal, he enquired most eagerly about the lady who had to be turned away. The incident speaks for itself.
Swami Shuddhananda attained Mahasamadhi on 23 Oct 1938, at 8:40 am at Belur Math. For some time past he had been suffering from high blood pressure and since 18 Oct 1938, he was attacked with high fever attended with uremia and hiccup. The attacked proved too much for the aged body, and expert doctors’ advice and treatment were of no avail. His funeral rites were performed at the Belur Math premises.