Swami Subodhananda

An introduction | The life story | His teachings

An introduction

Monastic Name: Swami Subodhananda

Pre-Monastic Name: Subodh Chandra Ghosh

November 1867
Born on 8 November 1867 to Krishnadas Gosh and Nayantata Devi – both devout Hindus. His family owned the Siddheswari Kali Temple of Thanthania. (When Sri Ramakrishna first came to Kolkata in 1852, he often visited this temple as he stayed nearby)

August 1885
Heard of Sri Ramakrishna from his father, who promised to take the entire family to Dakshineswar on some holiday. However, he could wait no longer, and went off with a friend to visit him, even without knowing where Dakshineswar (where Sri Ramakrishna lived) was located. The Master told Subodh that he knew he would come, and that he belonged to ‘this place’.

1886 onwards
Was extremely devoted to Sri Sarada Devi (Holy Mother), and would visit her every day when she was in Kolkata. Went to Jayrambati and Kamarpukur (birth places of Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna) when Holy Mother was there, and then went on pilgrimages, spending his days in austerity and travelling. Travelled to Varanasi, Omkarnath, Dwaraka, Pushkar, Himalayas, Gaya, and many other places.

January 1887
Took final monastic vows with other brother disciples by performing the traditional viraja homa in front of the Master’s picture.

12 June 1897
According to Swami Vivekananda’s (Swamiji) instructions, all brother disciples gave weekly lectures at the Alambazar Monastery. Swami Subodhananda was persuaded with great coaxing, but before he could speak a word, the building began to vibrate and rock and trees crashed down outside: this was the devastating earthquake of 1897! Later Swamiji humorously said “Well. … you have made an earth-shaking speech!”

1899 onwards
Lived at the Belur Monastery except for a few travels to East Bengal, Almota, Mayavati, and other places in the Himalayas, Assam etc. At Belur he worked, trained and initiated. He was among the first group of trustees of Belur Math appointed by Swami Vivekananda in 1901.

1899 and 1908
Served the afflicted in the plague epidemic in Kolkata with money, food, and medicines, and later the famine-stricken people in Chilka – Orissa by collecting and distributing food and materials for them.

After great reluctance, began to initiate people on Holy Mother and Master’s instructions. Visited East Bengal in 1924 and 1925, and initiated a lot of people there also.

December 1932
Passed away on Friday, 2 December 1932, with a smile on his face.

The night before he passed away he said, “My last prayer is that the blessings of the Master be always on the Order.”

Compiled from various sources

The life story

The early name of Swami Subodhananda was Subodh Chandra Ghosh. He was born in Calcutta on 8th November 1867 and belonged to the family of Shankar Ghosh, who owned the famous Kali temple at Kalitata (Thanthania), Calcutta.

He got from his father a copy of the Bengali book, the Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna by Suresh Chandra Datta. He so much impressed with its contents that he became very eager to see Sri Ramakrishna. His father told him to wait till some holiday when he could conveniently take him to Dakshineshwar. But Subodh was impatient of any delay. So one day in the middle of 12884, he stole away from the house and along with a friend started on foot for Dakshineshwar. There he was received very affectionately by the Master, who caught hold of his hand and made him sit on his bed. Subodh felt reluctant to sit on the bed of a holy person, but the Master disarmed all his fears by treating him as if he were his close relation.

From his very boyhood Subodh was very frank, open-minded, and straightforward in his talk. These characteristics could be seen in him throughout his whole life. What he felt, he would say clearly without mincing matters. One day the Master asked Subodh, “What do you think of me?” The boy unhesitatingly replied, “Many persons say many things about you. I won’t believe in them unless I myself find clear proofs.” As he began to come closer and closer in touch with Sri Ramakrishna, the conviction gradually dawned on him that the Master was a great Saviour. So when one day the Master asked Subodh to practice meditation, he replied, “I won’t be able to do that. If I am to do it why did I come to you? I had better go to some other Guru.” Sri Ramakrishna understood the depth of the feeling of the boy and simply smiled.

Gradually the attraction of young Subodh for the Master grew stronger and stronger, and some time after the passing away of the Master, he left his parental homestead and joined the monastic order organised by Swami Vivekananda at Baranagore. His monastic name was Swami Subodhananda. But because he was young in age and simple in nature, Swami Vivekananda would lovingly call him “Khoka”, meaning child, by which name he was also called by his brother disciples. He was afterwards known as “Khoka Maharaj” (Child Swami).

When Swamiji, after his return from the West, appealed to his brother-disciples to work for the spread of the Master’s message and the good of humanity instead of living in seclusion, Subodhananda was one of those who placed themselves under his lead. After that he worked in various capacities for the cause of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.

Swami Subodhananda was one of the first group of trustees of the Belur Math appointed by Swamiji in 1901, and was afterwards elected Treasurer of the Ramakrishna Mission. His love for Swamiji was next to that for the Master. Swamiji also had great affection for him. Sometimes when Swamiji would become serious and none of his Gurubhais dared approach him, it was left to “Khoka” to go and break his seriousness.

Swami Subodhananda was child like in his simplicity and singularly unassuming in his behaviour. It is said in the Bible, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” But rare are the persons who can combine in their lives the unsophisticated simplicity of a child with the high wisdom of a sage. One could see this wonderful combination in Swami Subodhananda.

Khoka Maharaj was easy of access, and everybody would feel very free with him. Many, on coming in contact with him, would feel his love so much that they would altogether forget the wide gulf of difference that marked their spiritual life and his. Yet he made no conscious attempt to hide the spiritual height to which he belonged. This great unostentatiousness was part and parcel of his very being. It was remarkably strange that he could mix so freely with one and all – with people of all ages and denominations – and make them his own. Many are the persons who, though not religiously minded, were drawn to him simply by his love and were afterwards spiritually benefited.

His spiritual life was marked by as great a directness as his external life was remarkable for its simplicity. He had no philosophical problems of his own to solve. The Ultimate Reality was a fact to him. When he would talk to God, one felt that here was a man to whom God was a greater reality than earthly relatives. He once said, “God can be realised much more tangibly than a man feels the presence of the companion with whom he is walking.” The form of his personal worship was singularly free from ritualistic observances. While entering the shrine, he was not obsessed by any awe or wonder, but would act as if he was going to a very near relation; and while performing worship he would not care to recite memorised texts. His relationship with God was just as free and natural as human relationship. He realised the goodness of God, and so he was always optimistic in his views. For this reason his words would always bring cheer and strength to weary or despondent souls. Intellectual snobs or philosophical pedants were bewildered to see the conviction with which he talked on problems which they had not been able to solve, all their pride and self-conceit notwithstanding.

Towards the end, he suffered from various physical ailments, but his spiritual conviction was never shaken. While he was on his death-bed he said, “When I think of Him, I become forgetful of all physical sufferings.” During this time, the Upanishads used to be read out to him. While listening, he would warm up and of his own accord talk of various deep spiritual truths. On one such occasion he said, “The world with all its enjoyments seems like a heap of ashes. The mind feels no attraction at all these things.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

His teachings

Keep yourself occupied day and night with good thoughts and good talks. Whenever you find a little leisure in the course of your daily domestic works, never forget to think of Him. Read good books which help such remembrance. If one calls on the Lord, no matter when or under what circumstances, it will never go in vain. For instance, when a cultivator sows his seeds, no matter whether it is placed in the ground straight or upside down, it shoots up all the same.

All that we see around will cease to exist some day or other, God’s name alone will survive. And anyone who will think of God, and repeat His name, will have everything intact – here and hereafter. His name is true for ever.

One can hear of good things from anybody. As a man can pick up a valuable gem even from a dirty place, similarly can one hear anything about God that appeals to him, it does not matter who the speaker is. “Even a pariah is a saint if he has devotion for God.”

Dedicate your life to good work. God blesses all good action. Never mind now He keeps you – be it in happiness or sorrow. If you are to give your whole mind to anybody, it must be to God alone. Go on doing good works without caring whether men praise or blame. Your ideal must be God and good works.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995