The next chapter of Swamiji's life was revealed slowly, as news of his travels and of his new mission reached the ashram. One evening in satsang one of the sannyasins in training asked Swami Niranjan, 'please tell us about Swamiji's life after renouncing the role of guru and mission. How did he become a Paramahamsa?' Swami Niranjan sat quietly for a few moments and then he began to speak.
'Sannyasa does not end with initiation or putting on geru robes. It is an ongoing process of achieving harmony, perfection and cosmic unity. In the course of his life, a Paramahamsa who is sincere in his quest has to go through different and intense kinds of sadhana, which can take any form according to the instructions of his guru. The sadhana of a Paramahamsa is never written down. It is a tradition that passes from mind to mind, not like yogic sadhanas which are described from yama and niyama to samadhi. These yogic sadhanas are defined for ordinary people like us. However, as the evolution of mind, consciousness and perception takes place, and as we exhaust the samskaras and karmas and open ourselves up to experience the higher qualities and realities of nature, then the sadhana and lifestyle has to undergo a change.'
'Why is it,' asked one of the students, 'that most of the sannyasins today do not attain the state of Paramahamsa?' Many brilliant sannyasins,' replied Swami Niranjan, 'like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda and others living in the world today, could not make the transition from vairagya sannyasa to Paramahamsa sannyasa despite their attainments and knowledge, because of their karmas. The story of Swami Vivekananda is an example. He experienced the vision of God with one touch from Ramakrishna. But despite having that vision, he had to come back and live like an ordinary person and struggle for money, disciples and mission.
'In Swamiji's life the transition happened as a natural process, although it was totally unexpected. Even in the early days of the ashram, from 1963-65, he used to say, 'The ashram is not my life, yoga is not my goal; they are but means to enter into the next stage.' So, finally when Swamiji heard the inner call and received the instructions from his ishta devata, he left.
'For one year, he toured all the traditional teerthasthanas, sacred places, and eventually reached Rishikesh, where he stayed for a few weeks, not as a guru but as a disciple. At first his guru bhais, Swami Chidananda, Swami Krishnananda and Swami Madhavananda, did not recognise him. Some of Swamiji's disciples were living there and they also did not recognise him. He moved about incognito, changing his role and vision of life, from guru back to sadhaka and disciple.'
'What were the different teerthasthanas to which Swamiji travelled?' asked one of the swamis. 'Was there any significance in this?'
'Yes, there was,' replied Swami Niranjan. 'When Swamiji was wandering throughout India for nine years, after leaving his guru's mission, he visited all the teerthasthanas. At that time he made a promise that when his life's work was completed, he would again return to surrender himself fully. Therefore, after leaving Munger, he began this pilgrimage. At times, he used to send us short accounts of his travels, which were later published in our magazines, so that all those who had known him could follow his journey.
'In September 1988, he visited the temple of Lord Vishwanath in Kashi, then Vindyavasini and Sankat Mochan. Afterwards he bathed in the Sangam at Allahabad. In Kathmandu he offered his obeisance to Pashupatinath, and then proceeded to Vaishnav Devi. Afterwards he took a dip in Brahma kund in Haridwar. Then he had darshan of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badri Vishal. Finally, he came to Sivanandashram in Rishikesh.
'In October, he visited Vasukinath near Deoghar where he had a vision of a hooded serpent coiled around his neck and he heard the clear instruction, "Become a chakravarti." Then he went to Kamakhya where he performed the Navaratri Anushthana and on Dashami he worshipped Devi, the incarnate Kanya (virgin), and performed the ritual of washing her feet. Afterwards he stayed for a few days in Calcutta. Here at Kalighat he had darshan of Kali, the destroyer of Kala (time) and destiny.
'In November, he proceeded to Jagannath Puri where he sat amidst the grove of trees in the temple precincts for hours and transcended himself. From there he went to Khajuraho, a tribute paid to Lord Shiva by the Chandela Dynasty, Here he experienced the temple depiction's as a sublime prayer to the cosmic process of creation, revealing every aspect of life as a means to reach God. Next he visited Chitrakoot, the site where Sri Rama played his leela with Sita and Lakshman. It was here, at the ghat of Chitrakoot, when all the saints gathered to watch Sant Tulsidas grinding chandan paste to anoint a tilak on his ishta devata, Sri Rama, that the Lord revealed himself in person. Afterwards he went on to Maihar, where he made the long, steep climb up to the shrine of Sharada Devi, and offered his salutations to the goddess of knowledge, music and the arts.
'In December, he visited Amarkantak, 'the forest of the immortals', where tapasvis, rishis and munis have practised sadhana from time immemorial. Here he had a dip in the Narmada Udgam and at Kapil Dhara, where the icy cold Narmada falls freely. Then he proceeded to the eternally sanctified city of Ujjain. There he performed bhasma abhishek on Mahakaleshwar, the swayambhu jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva. Then he proceeded to Kala Bhairava where he offered all his spiritual intoxication, saying that this was all that he had left to give.
'From Ujjain, in mid December, he proceeded to Omkareshwar, the sacred Om shaped island on the banks of the Narmada. Here, in a cave overlooking the Narmada, Adi Shankaracharya received diksha from Guru Govinda Pada and later performed the miracle of absorbing Narmada in his kamandala, transforming faith into a living experience. Standing inside the cave with folded hands, he heard a voice from within saying, "What do you seek? Ask and it shall be yours." In an outburst of Sanskrit he replied, "Digvijay- No; Immortality- not possible; Prosperity- had plenty; Moksha- it is in me. I have come here merely to fulfil my promise which I made to you years ago, to return when my work is over." Then he followed a secret passage which led from the cave to the Garbha where he had darshan of the jyotirlinga of Omkareshwar, which he experienced as eternally luminescent in sahasrara. Afterwards, he went to Datia and visited the Pitambari Peeth of Shakti, where he had stayed for four days with his third tantric guru during his parivrajaka life.
'In early January 1989, he was in Vrajor Mathura where he enacted the whole playful leela of Krishna with Radha. He also visited Brindavan, Gokul and Barsana. It was here too that he had darshan of the great saint, Devraha Baba. Afterwards, he went to the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad and took part in two snan parvas or bathing festivals, that of Makar Sankranti on January 14th and Somavati Amavasya on February 6th. The charged waters of the Sangam electrified his whole body and he could easily feel the truth of the saying that a bath here gives man rebirth in this very life itself. This year was especially auspicious as Somavati Amavasya took place after 172 years.
'I had gone to be with him for this momentous occasion and to have darshan of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati Devi. During the day we jostled with millions of devotees from every culture, race and creed, all with just one thought in mind, to bathe at Prayag. This gave us the unique vision of witnessing faith in motion, and we could easily conceive the idea of that faith which is a dynamic principle and has been known to move mountains.
'In mid January, he went to Datia for three weeks to perform the anushthana of Tripura Sundari who is enshrined at the Pithambari Peeth. In February, he returned to the Kumbh for a second bath and then went on to Katni, where he made the sankalpa to throw off the mantle of guru and take up the life of a parivrajaka. From Katni, he went to Dwarka, the land where Krishna migrated from Mathura with the entire Vrishni clan. Then he proceeded to Somnath, one of the Dwadash jyotirlingas, having a history which fades into legend. It is said that this temple was originally constructed by Somraj, the moon god, himself.
'In March, he visited the town of Shirdi which resonates with the spiritual vibrations of the great saint, Sai Baba. There he had darshan of the samadhi and sat at the eternally lit dhuni of Baba. In early April, he had darshan of the jyotirlinga of Mahabaleshwar, which is said to be the source of five rivers: Savitri, Krishna, Venya, Koyen and Gayatri. He spent many hours walking through the forests of Mahabaleshwar which are beautiful but sinister and few dare to venture there.
'In mid April, he proceeded to Nasik and Trayambakeshwar, where the river Godavari originates. It was in Panchavati that Sri Rama spent eleven years in exile. Then he had darshan of the jyotir lingam of Lord Trayambakeshwar, which is unique on account of three lingas emerging out of a single stone. Here he conducted a special pooja with chants of Rudrashtakam. Later he did parikrama of the mandir and had darshan of many mahatmas residing there.
'In early May, he travelled to Bhimashankar which was a journey back to nature. Surrounded by lush green forests, unspoiled by modern civilisation, is the jyotir linga of Bhimashankar. The temple itself is very ancient and, unlike other teerthas where one has to ascend to worship the deity, here the devotee has to descend a flight of steps before having darshan of the jyotir linga. It was here that Lord Shiva rested after slaying the demon Tripurasura.
'From Bhimashankar, he went to Ghushmeshwar, named after a bhakta called Ghushma. The jyotir linga there was a boon which Ghushma received from Shiva for her unflinching devotion. It is also known as Shivalaya because Shiva promised her that he would be eternally present there. This temple is situated near the famed Ellora caves which he visited after many years.
'In mid May, he went to Nathdwara, the seat of the Vallabha Sampradaya, renowned for the rites and rituals adopted by the Pushti Margis. In Nathdwara, he actually had the feeling of being in the presence of Lord Krishna. A little further down from Nathdwara is Kankroli, another important seat of the Pushti Margi sect, where he had darshan of the image of Dwarkadheesh. There, he sat for hours in the temple precincts amidst the singing of Krishna bhajans in the local dialect. From here, he visited the temple of Eklingi which houses images of almost every deity. The main deity is a four-faced image of Shiva emerging from a black marble shiva lingam. To enter the garbha griha, he was given a special robe by the pujari and he had personal darshan of Eklingi Maharaj.
'From Eklingi, he went to Pushkar, which is said to be the guru of all teerthas. No pilgrimage is complete without a visit here. The only Brahma temple in India is found here. After a dip in the Pushkar lake and in the Agastya kund, he had darshan of Brahmaji and conducted a special pooja in this beautiful temple. From Pushkar, he went to Ajmer where he offered a chadar to the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Thousands come to this place, forgetting their caste and religion. Here, filled with devotion and faith, he practised japa and dhyana.
'Afterwards, he went to Mount Abu. There in the majestic Jain temple of Dilwara, he meditated in front of the large image of Lord Mahavir, and was inspired to further walk the path of self discovery, filled with renunciation (tyagabhava). There also he had darshan of the cave where Dattatreya performed austerities. Many years ago, during his wanderings, he had stayed here and he felt that his future was being directed by Lord Dattatreya.
'In June, he terminated his pilgrimage with a visit to Rishikesh, Gangotri and Badrinath. I accompanied him on this trip. Many saints and mahatmas met Swamiji and he bathed in the icy cold waters of the Gangotri and the steaming hot water of Tapt kund at Badrinath. He also had darshan of Saraswati Udgam at Manas, where she emerges with full force out of the mountain, which was a sight to behold.'
'At what point during this spiritual journey,' asked one sannyasin, 'did Swamiji's future become clear?' 'After his yatra of the teerthasthanas,' Swami Niranjan replied, 'Swamiji went to Trayambakeshwar for chaturmas. He decided to spend the monsoon months in the place of his ishta devata, Lord Mrityunjaya. He had been invited by the Mahant of the Juna Akhara to stay at Neel Parbat, which is itself a jagrat and siddha place. He chose to stay in a small 8' by 8' room of the gaushala (cowshed) at the base of the hill for two months and perform his sadhana.
'It was here in Trayambakeshwar many years ago that his first mission was revealed to him. It was here too that he had made a promise or sankalpa to return and seek further instructions, after renouncing all his achievements in the propagation of yoga. Soon after his arrival in Trayambakeshwar, Swamiji went to the temple and renounced his geru cloth and watch. Placing them in a bundle near the Shivalingam, he said, "These are my clothes and my wealth. You gave them to me for a purpose and I have fulfilled that. Now I am returning everything to you."
'After this he stayed alone on Neel Parbat surrounded by the Brahma Giri hills, meditating and awaiting his next command. On Guru Poornima at midnight there was a cyclonic storm and the command was clear. "Perfect the unbroken awareness of your guru mantra with every breath and beat of the heart. That is your mission now."
'His mission was clear, but still the question, "Where to fulfil it?" was haunting his mind. Many places were offered, a beautiful cave at Gangotri on the bank of the Ganga, a kutiya at Kedarnath, but he had reserved his decision until the direction was made clear to him from within. Then on 8th September, he woke up at midnight. The sky was quiet; the translucent rays of Ashtami were shining through the small window of his kutiya. He found himself enveloped by a strange light and again the command was clear; "Go to my cremation ground, the smashan bhoomi."
'That morning, one Swami arrived from Munger and the first instruction Swamiji gave was to find the place for him. He gave a glimpse of what he had seen and described the setting and topography. The swami left barely three hours after arrival in search of the place of his description. On September 12th, Swamiji's sannyasa initiation day, he was informed that the exact setting in Lord Shiva's smashan bhoomi for his further mission had been located. That evening he performed Poornahuti for the fulfilment of his prayers and the revelation of a divine place and a clear cut path, just as BSY and Ganga Darshan had been revealed to him 25 years before in the same place by the same Lord Mrityunjaya.'
Om Namo Narayan
O Lord Mrityunjaya.
I have worshipped you
as Kaal Bhairava with one tattwa
as Kaamakshi with five tattwas
as Vishnu with flowers, fruits, water and milk.
In many forms, in many ways and in many places I have worshipped whatever form you have revealed to me as your own image. And now, at your burial ground
I will worship you with every breath.
This I promise.