It was January 1985. I was sitting with Swami Achalanandaji, a monk who was then living at the Ramakrishna Institute of Moral & Spiritual Education in Mysuru and discussing the qualities of an ideal student and that of an ideal Teacher (Guru). Swamiji was trying to explain to me Shankara’s ‘Vivekachudamani’, wherein Shankara so wonderfully describes these qualities. I felt them to be so ideal that I was left wondering if such people really existed. Suddenly Achalanandaji turned the conversation to another monk in the Ramakrishna Order, whom he said I had to meet, and who embodied this concept. He said his name was Swami Sureshananda (who was also fondly referred to by his pre-monastic name as Hari) and he was the Correspondent of the Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala at Mysuru. He told me that this was one person who lived by the Advaitic principles elucidated by Shankara and I would indeed learn a lot by just being with him.
A few days later, I went to meet Swami Sureshanandaji. I found him sitting in his office surrounded by a noisy bunch of students. He was so warm and loving that I could not relate him to the dry ‘Advaita’ that I had read about. It seemed so improbable that a man of such scholarly distinction could relate to these 15 year olds as one of them. It also struck me that this was what living the ‘Advaitic’ principles could be about. It seemed to be akin to what Sri Ramakrishna told about being the lotus leaf in the water, living in the world but being unaffected by the happenings around you. I left after introducing myself and he urged me to visit another day.
I went again a few days later and he welcomed me as though he had known me for a long time. I was so taken aback by the love and kindness that he showed me, that I was getting a little embarrassed. He took me to the dining room and personally made me coffee exactly to my liking. He sat and heard me narrate the story of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (not much in those days) and told me that I was infinitely lucky to have found someone like Swami Achalanandaji to guide me in my life and endeavour. He asked me to keep him updated of our activities and assured me of any support that we may require.
From that day on, I was magnetically drawn to him and kept visiting him as often as I could and continued to receive his love, affection and guidance. Even though he was a monk, what impressed me was his extraordinary managerial abilities and his fund raising prowess, which had made him a legend in the Ramakrishna Ashram circles. His insights helped me resolve conflicting situations and he turned out to be one of the most valued advisers of SVYM. Amongst the few who helped build SVYM to what it is today, Swami Sureshananda stands out as the most practical; as one of the few who never let our values be compromised with, yet found out workable solutions for us. Looking back now, I think I can figure out why Achalanandaji wanted me to seek out Swami Sureshananda. He was not just a monk but was several other things rolled into one. He was love personified; his heart overflowed with compassion to everyone around him; he was a humanist and an eternal optimist; an organizational behaviour expert in his own right; an intuitive manager and an inspirational leader. In simple words, he seemed to be a modern combination of both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
The last few years saw his health detoriate gradually. For many like me, watching his health and memory slip away was difficult to come to terms with. And every time I visited him, I noticed that he was struggling to recollect the several conversations that we had in the past. I took solace from the fact that he still remembered me, my name and what I did. But this too did not last long. The last few months were particularly difficult for him. Even during these times, what continued to stand out was his love, concern and sense of humour. He even managed to make his poor health into a joke. It was only once in all these years, he told me how painful his physical existence was and how saddened he was with the passing away of several of his contemporaries.
On March 8th, which is celebrated as Sri Ramakrishna Jayanthi, I went to meet him to seek his blessings and found him alone in his room. I felt privileged that he remembered me and called me out by my name very lovingly. I found it touching that he could suddenly recall my name and that he was concerned about how I was doing now after demitting all formal office in SVYM. After seeing him so cheerful and smiling, I felt happy that he would possibly live a little longer. But alas, that was not to be! He left his mortal state that very night around 10 p.m. Even in his passing away, Swami Sureshanandaji was thoughtful and concerned about others. He passed away after all the day long festivities were completed at the Ramakrishna Ashrama and the last guest was fed. And in his own way, he seemed to be letting all of us know that death is a merely an event, but life needs to go on forever.
People like Swami Sureshanandaji come along rarely. It is indeed a great fortune that many of us had the privilege of having come into contact with him. And it is because of his guidance and inspiration, that several of us, in his own words ‘turned out all right’.