Visionaries….

There is a beautiful story of a blind Indian Saint, who falls into a dry well. He remains there for several days, calling out to his Lord, Krishna. Krishna comes with Radha to him, and after divinely restoring his vision, rescues him from the well. Krishna then asks the saint as to what boon he would like. Replies the saint, “Please take back this vision, Krishna, and give me back my blindness, since, after being blessed with your vision, I do not want to see anything else in life”

Sant Surdas, (1479 – 1586) was this saint, who was known for his devotional songs of Lord Krishna. He is credited to have written more than a lakh songs out of which only less than 10,000 songs are still preserved in various folklore and temple plays. His name, signifying the ‘‘dasa” of  melody, was given to him in his later years. In Childhood, he was simply called, “Sur”. He suffered a great deal in childhood because of his blindness, which made him realize that the love of this world was unreal as compared to the love of God.

He took Shri Vallabharachary as his Guru when the latter was passing the river Yamuna, who instructed him to sing “Bhagavad Lila”, songs about the Lord. Surdas then started to live in Vrindavan with his guru, who initiated him to his own religious order, and later made him the official singer at Srinath temple in Govardhan.

Sant Surdas profoundly influenced the Bhakti movement in India during those days. Surdas’s songs find a place in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. His greatest work was Sur Sagar, a collectionof more than a lakh songs ON GOD.

What a phenomenal achievement for a blind boy from Mathura! Even though he was blind, certainly, he was a visionary, who clearly SAW GOD.

There are many more such visionaries, who, even when blind physically,could see the INVISIBLE GOD.

Sant Gulabrao Maharaj, known as Pradnyachakshu Madhuradwaitcharya Gulabrao, (1881 – 1915) became blind when he was a mere child of nine months. But he became such a distinguished scholar and saint who could see the future effortlessly. In Sanskrit, Pradnya means intelligence,and chakshu means “eyesight”. Even though he was blind, he has written more than 25,000 stanzas of poetry and has authored more than 130books on various subjects.

Another saint, St Lucy, (283-304)  is the Patron saint of Blindness of the early Roman Catholics. Legend has it that Lucy was put to unimaginable torture because of  her devotion to Christ. During her torture, her eyes were gouged out, which was restored by God to reward her devotion. The Church has named Lucy the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. St.Lucy’s courage under very trying circumstances is undoubtedly the greatest triumph of her devotion to Christ.

Another Saint from Belgium, (near Brussels) Saint Alice (1204-1250) is also venerated as the Patron Saint of the Blind and Paralyzed. She was afflicted with leprosy and was confined away from society, where she suffered intensely and became blind. Legend has it that the Lord appeared to her in a vision and cured her. She later founded a separate order of the nuns.

Didymus the Blind (313 – 398) was a well known person figuring in manyof the historical stories of his time. He was a famous  Coptic Church theologian of Alexandria. And yet, he was able to learn and master many sciences which require eyesight, such as geometry. Didymus is associated with many works of the Bible.

Yet another very famous and recent Christian Saint is Therese Neuman,(1898 – 1962) the stigmatist. In 1918, she became blind, and later was miraculously cured.  She has changed millions of people through her miracles.

Therese Neuman is mentioned in the spiritual classic, “Autobiography of a Yogi” of  Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda. In the same book, there is a story of a blind disciple of  Sri Sri Lahiri Mahasaya – Ramu, who gets his physical vision miraculously, after chanting Lord Rama’s name as directed by his great guru.

Even when blind, these saints were having full spiritual vision, that they can be rightly called, the “visionaries”

Spiritual Locomotives….

“Little Mother, Thy son will be a Yogi. As a Spiritual Engine, he will carry many souls to God’s Kingdom” was how Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, (one of India’s greatest saints) reportedly blessed Sri Paramahansa Yogananda when he was a small child, when his mother had carried him to Benares for the blessings of the great guru. The prophesy came more than true when Sri Paramahansa Yogananda later went to America and captured the hearts of millions of people around the world with his classic, “The Autobiography of a Yogi” where he reveals, perhaps for the first time in the history of such yogis, the intricacies of the search for God and Truth. The book, written in first person,  with an eye for detail, is a veritable account of one of the most moving, personal, true stories of a person in search of God and truth. The book itself reads like a long train journey, with many saints in each compartment.

In his quest for God and true Godmen and Godwomen, Mukunda Lal Ghosh, who later became Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, met with quite a few great souls, such as Mahendranath Gupta, also known as “M”, the author of `The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’, the Tiger Swami, Yogini Giri Bala, Anandamoyi Ma, Therese Neuman, the stigmatist, Mahatma Gandhi, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, etc. His guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri Maharaj, trained him for his role of spreading the sacred teachings in the west.

Sri Paramahansa Yogananda’s father, Sri Bagabati Charan Ghosh, was a high official in the then Bengal Nagpur Railway, and thus, the comparison of Sri Paramahansa Yogananda to a train engine well established the monumental work that he would do later in life.

Sri Paramahansa Yogananda himself, describes his various train journeys in his autobiography. In some of the chapters, the narration is so telling, it is as if we are actually traveling with the author in the train!

Apart from the author’s train journeys, there is an interesting incident told in the “Autobiography of a Yogi”, of Abhoya, a woman disciple of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, who, on arriving at Howrah station, finds the train to Benares already moving out of the platform. Not willing to wait for another train, in her anxiety, she mentally sends an urgent prayer to her guru, which is miraculously answered. The wheels continue to move but the train does not. Engineers and others climb down to witness this strange phenomenon. Only when she and her husband board the train, does the train start moving. And when later she meets Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, he tells her, “How you love to bother me! As if you could not have come here by the next train!”

Another devotee, Shri Hitalal Sarkar, who later became a renowned disciple of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, came to the Howrah station, not knowing where to go in search of his guru. At the booking counter, as he was not able to explain where he wanted to go – and the clerk simply gave him a ticket to Benares. He then entrained for Benares, just like that, not knowing who or where his Guru was. He was led by circumstance (or divine grace?) to the home of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya, who treated him as if he was expecting him.

It seems trains have played a significant role in the lives of many saints, like when Sri Ramana Maharishi left his home during his early age, he chose to go by train to Villupuram from Madurai by the metre gauge train and it is said that on the train, he was met by a mysterious Maulvi (muslim ascetic) who helped him on his journey with some information that made his journey to Tiruvannamalai, possible.

Again, it is said that Swami Vivekananda, during his travels across the Indian subcontinent, would travel by train only if somebody bought him his ticket. Otherwise, he traveled on foot. Most of the time he starved, during his journeys –  Once it so happened that a fellow traveler on a train was eating a good meal, by the side of Swami Vivekananda, and even refused to acknowledge his presence. Even though Swami Vivekananda was hungry, he kept quiet. The haughty co-traveller, after eating, taunted Swami Vivekananda, saying that the Swamiji was an idler and who will feed him? – Just then, as if in answer to that taunt, a sweetmeat seller offered Swamiji some eatables and told that Sri Rama had introduced Swamiji to him in a dream! The haughty co-traveller was ashamed when he saw all this. It is a well known fact that when Swami Vivekananda returned from America to Indian shores, he was given a royal welcome. It is said that his historic train journey from Ramnad to Madras in the then Madras Province, drew unparalleled crowds along the track. Who could refuse to acknowledge the beacon of light from India, who rode the world of spirituality like a colossus, with the inaugural words, “Brothers and Sisters of America”?  The train journey of Swamiji was stopped at many places by enthusiastic Indians, who wanted to see the turbaned hero of India.

Legend has it that in 1909, Sri Shirdi Sai Baba materialized himself as a fakir in two different places and gave directions to a couple, the husband, Ramachandra Borkar, at Dhond, and the wife, Chandra Bai Borkar, at Khurudwadi and helped them find each other.

Once a judge of Gwalior went to Shirdi, during the First World War time. He was accompanied by Rege, another devotee of Sri Sai Baba. When they were traveling from Gwalior to Manmad, at a station called Mhow, all the passengers were asked to get down and make way for troops. Both the devotees prayed to Baba for help. After some time, the commander of the troops came and told that it was too small for the troops and the passengers were asked to board back! When they reached Shirdi the next day, Baba is said to have remarked that the judge was constantly calling him throughout the night, and that he had to tell the commander to let his children travel in the train instead of the troops.

Innumerable stories of Sri Shirdi Sai Baba are there, where he has performed many miracles involving train journeys at distant places, all the while sitting in Shirdi.

It is not just spiritualism that travelled on trains. Patriotism too, did. Abraham Lincoln, wrote his famous Gettysburg speech, sitting in his coach in the train.

Again, it would only be right to say that the Indian Freedom Movement actually began with a train journey in South Africa that carried Mahatma Gandhi.

It is well known that Mahatma Gandhi traveled widely across the Indian subcontinent by train. And two stories relating to the Father of the nation stand out for me : Once, one of his shoes (or sandal) slipped from his feet and fell out of the train, on the track  – he immediately took off the other one and threw it as close as possible to the first, so that the finder of the shoes will have a pair, and can use it, and not be left with just one shoe. At Madurai, during September 1921, when Mahatma Gandhi was traveling by train, he was pained when he saw that the majority of the population was not having enough clothing. During his stay at Madurai, he left wearing his usual dress and started wearing only the dhoti, a simple dress that characterized the simplicity of the Father of the Nation….

Trains have a distinct semblance to the journey of life itself, and that is why they are so powerfully appealing to children and elders alike…