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Swami Rama Tirtha (1873-1906)
Swami Rama Tirtha, previously known as Gossain Tirtha Rama, was born in 1873, at Murariwala, a village in the district of Gujranwala, Punjab, India. His mother passed away when he was but a few days old and he was brought up by his elder brother, Gossain Gurudas.
As a child, Rama was very fond of listening to recitations from the holy scriptures and attending Kathas. He often put questions to holy men and even offered explanations. He was very intelligent and loved solitude.
Rama was barely ten years old when his father got him married. His father left him under the care of his friend, Bhakta Dhana Rama, a man of great purity and simplicity of life. Rama regarded him as his Guru, and offered to him his body and soul in deep devotion. His surrender to his Guru was so complete that he never did anything without first consulting him. He wrote numerous loving letters to him.
Rama was a brilliant student, especially in mathematics. After completing his degree, he served for a while as Professor of Mathematics in the Forman Christian College. It was at this stage that his spiritual life began to blossom. He began to read the Gita and became a great devotee of Lord Krishna. His intense longing gave him a vision of Sri Krishna. He used to deliver lectures on Bhakti under the auspices of the Sanatana Dharma Sabha of Lahore.
Rama Tirtha commenced his spiritual life as a Bhakta of God and then turned to Vedanta, studying under the inspiration of Sri Madhava Tirtha of the Dwaraka Math.
A great impetus was given to his spiritual life by Swami Vivekananda, whom he saw for the first time at Lahore. The sight of the great Swami as a Sannyasin kindled in him the longing to don the ochre robe.
His passion for the vision of the all-pervading Lord began to grow more and more. He longed and pined for oneness with God. Indifferent to food and clothes, he was always filled with ecstatic joy. Tears would often flow in a limpid stream down his cheeks. It was not long before he had the vision he yearned for, and thereafter he lived, moved and had his being in God.
Swami Rama was a living Vedantin. He saw and felt God in all names and forms. His beautiful words are often addressed to the trees, rivers and mountains.
Rama soon resigned his post and left for the forest. His wife and two children and a few others accompanied him to the Himalayas. Owing to ill-health, his wife later returned with one of her sons. The other was left at Tehri for his schooling there.
Rama Tirtha took Sannyas a few days before the passing of Swami Vivekananda. Swami Madhava Tirtha had already allowed him to take Sannyas whenever he wished.
A few years later he returned to the plains to preach. The effect of his presence was marvellous. His infectious joy and his bird-like warbling of Om enchanted everyone.
Swami Rama's burning desire to spread the message of Vedanta made him leave the shores of India for Japan. He went with his disciple Swami Narayana. After a successful visit to Tokyo, he departed for the U.S.A. He spent about a year and a half in San Francisco under the hospitality of Dr Albert Hiller. He gained a large following and started many societies, one of them being the Hermetic Brotherhood, dedicated to the study of Vedanta. His charming personality had a great impact on the Americans. Devout Americans even looked upon him as the living Christ
On his return to India, Swami Rama continued to lecture in the plains, but his health began to break down. He went back to the Himalayas and settled at Vasishtha Ashram. He gave up his body in the Ganges on 17 October, 1906, when he was only thirty-three.
The Rama Tirtha Publication League has brought out most of the writings of this great saint of India. They are given in several volumes, entitled, In the Woods of God-realisation. His inspiring writings show us that he saw his Beloved Lord in all names and forms. In many of his poems he sings the glory of nature.
Swami Rama Tirtha's biography above has been reproduced from Swami Sivananda's "Yoga Lessons for Children (Vol. 7)", published by the Divine Life Society of South Africa.
More on Swami Rama Tirtha's life and teachings from Swami Sivananda's Life of Saints.
Swami Rama Tirtha, a direct descendant of Gosain Tulsi Das, the immortal author of the widely read Hindi Ramayan, was born in 1873, at Muraliwala, in the district of Gujranwala, Punjab.
Rama Tirtha was a very bright student, a genius possessing unusual intelligence, contemplative nature and an intrinsic love of mathematics and solitude. He topped the list in B.A. and took his M.A. degree in Mathematics, a subject in which he was exceptionally bright.
For two years, Rama Tirtha was a Professor of Mathematics in the Lahore Foreman Christian College, and he acted as a Reader for a short time in the Lahore Oriental College.
In the year 1900, Rama Tirtha went to the forest and soon became a Sannyasin. He went to America and Japan and thrilled the Americans and the Japanese with his inspiring and soul-elevating speeches. In Egypt he was accorded a hearty welcome by the Mohammedans, to whom he delivered a lecture in Persian in their mosque. Rama Tirtha was ever cheerful and brilliant with eyes beaming with divine lustre and joy. He was perfectly at home in Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit literature.
Rama Tirtha was a great ascetic and an enlightened mystic. He practised Yoga on the banks of the river Ravi. Later he lived in the forests of Brahmapuri, on the banks of the river Ganges, five miles away from Rishikesh and attained Self-realisation.
Today Rama Tirtha is not present amongst us in his mortal coil, but he is truly ever alive, eternal and imperishable, ever shining as a beacon-star in the spiritual firmament of the world. He had the highest realisation of the Satchidananda as the all-inclusive Bliss-supreme. The ancient sages and modern saints have proved this ineffable nature of the Supreme, not by logical proofs of perception and knowledge, but by actual experience of it which cannot be communicated to others for want of means. And Swami Rama Tirtha was one among such Experiencers of the Ultimate Bliss.
Under the holy guidance of Sri R.S. Narayana Swami, a direct disciple of Swami Rama Tirtha, the Ramatirtha Publication League was established at Lucknow. Every lover and admirer of Sri Rama Tirtha’s soul-inspiring teachings owes a deep debt of gratitude to Sri Narayana Swamiji and the League for taking immense pains in making Rama Tirtha’s works available to the world.
Sri Swami Rama Tirtha is one of the brightest jewels of India’s genius. Rama belongs to that prophetic group of inspired seers who rang up the curtain of Indian Renaissance and ushered in the era of a strongly positive, aggressive and all-conquering spirituality. His advent into Bharatavarsha was potent with a great significance to man in modern times.
From Rama India has inherited the dual gems of Vedantic boldness and spiritual patriotism. The spiritual patriotism of Rama is something unique and grand. Every son of India should absorb it and make it his own. Swami Rama emphatically declared that if you must have intense and real patriotism, then you must deify the Motherland, behold Bharatavarsha as the living Goddess. "If you must realise unity with God, realise first your unity with the Whole Nation. Let this intense feeling of identity with every creature within this land be throbbing in every fibre of your frame" said Rama, "Let every son of India stand for the Whole, seeing that the Whole of India is embodied in every son. When streams, stones and trees are personified and sacrificed to in India, why not sanctify, deify the great Mother that cradles you and nourishes you? Through Prana-pratishtha you vitalize an idol of stone or an effigy of clay. How much more worthwhile would it be to call forth the inherent glory and evoke fire and life in the Deity that is Mother India?". Thus, to Rama, the national Dharma of love to the motherland was a spiritual Dharma of Virat Prem. Let every Indian today fervently take this legacy into his heart. By this act show your real appreciation of the great seer; show your gratitude to the great seer. Thus can you glorify his life and his teachings.
The highest realisation of patriotism, Rama believed, lay in fully identifying yourself with the land of your birth. Remember his words: "Tune yourself in love with your country and people". Be a spiritual soldier. Lay down your life in the interest of your land abnegating the little ego, and having thus loved the country, feel anything and the country will feel with you. March and the country will follow. This, indeed, is practical Vedanta.
Rama Tirtha infused in the minds of people a new joy, a happy conviction that it was not for nothing that we lived in a miserable earth, and that we did not, after a long struggle in the sea of life, reach a waterless desert where our sorrows would be repeated. He lived practical philosophy, and through that showed to the world that it was possible to rejoice in the bliss of the Self even in this very life, and that everyone could partake of this bliss if one sincerely strived for it.
Swami Rama was an exemplary figure in the field of Vedantic life. He was a practical, bold Vedantin. He lived a dynamic life in the spirit of the Self. Very high were his ideals, sublime were his views, and perennial and spontaneous was his love. He was Divinity personified and love-incarnate. He is ever alive as a dynamic soul-force, ever shedding the spiritual effulgence in the heart of every seeker after Truth. His teachings are inspiring, elevating and illuminating—a fountain of his intuitive experiences.
The teachings of Rama Tirtha are peculiarly direct and forceful. They are unique. Rama Tirtha did not teach any particular Yoga or Sadhana or propound any abstract philosophical theory. He taught the actual living of Vedanta, of Yoga and Sadhana. This he taught by his own personal example. In himself he embodied an exposition of illumined living. Thus Rama Tirtha’s very personality itself preached and taught as much as any of the innumerable discourses and lectures he delivered to crowded audiences from platforms that ranged from Tokyo to Toronto.
To the West, Swami Rama appeared not merely as a wise man of the East but as the Wisdom of the East come in tangible form. Rama Tirtha was a blissful being inebriated with the ecstasy of Spiritual Consciousness. And his bliss was infectious. His glance flashed forth Vedanta. His smile radiated the joy of the Spirit. Vedanta streamed forth in his inspired utterance and in his whole life; every action, gesture and movement vibrated with the thrill of Vedantic Consciousness.
Rama Tirtha demonstrated how Vedanta might be lived. His life was an expression of the supreme art of living life in all its richness of vision and fullness of joy. Rama Tirtha presented Vedanta not so much as a knowing and a realising, as a becoming and a being. It was Swami Rama Tirtha’s unique distinction that he expounded Vedanta as a supreme yet simple art of living. He did not try to take people to Vedanta, but he took Vedanta to the common man. Swami Rama Tirtha took Vedanta into the quiet homes, into the busy offices, into the crowded streets and into the noisy markets of the western world.
Both to the East and to the West, therefore, Swami Rama’s life has been a boon and a blessing. For India, he vivified Vedanta with the vitality of his own inspired life and shining example. He shook India out of fantasy, superstition and misconception; he shocked America to wakefulness and an awareness of the intrinsic worth of the practicality of Atmic living. He revealed how the central secret of all lofty activity lay in attunement with the Divine Law of oneness, harmony and bliss.
To rise above the petty self and act impersonally—this was the key to divine living. His call to his countrymen was: "May you wake up to your oneness with Life, Light and Love (Sat-Chit-Ananda) and immediately the Central Bliss will commence springing forth from you in the shape of happy heroic work and both wisdom and virtue. This is inspired life, this is your birthright".
To the Americans Rama taught the way of perfect morality and total abstinence. Keeping the body in active struggle and the mind in rest and loving abstinence means salvation from sin and sorrow, right here in this very life. Active realisation of at-one-ment with the All allows us a life of balanced recklessness. This sums up Rama’s message to the land of the Dollar.
In short, Swami Rama’s thrilling life is a flashing example of rare Prem and a divine spontaneity. Listen! Here Rama’s voice whispers: "You have simply to shine as the Soul of All, as the Source of Light, as the Spring of Delight, O Blessed One! And energy, life activity will naturally begin to radiate from you. The flower blooms, and lo! fragrance begins to emanate of itself". Awake India! Respond to this call of Rama. Realise the Bliss that is Yourself. Come now, live the life in the Atman. From this moment let Rama enter into your heart and animate your actions and inspire your actions and inspire your very life! May his Divine Spirit vivify and raise India to her pristine glory and Vedantic grandeur! Live in Om!
Last Updated: Thu Dec 2, 1999
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