Swami Hariharananda Aranya is little known outside the close circle of his disciples. He did not care for public encomiums nor did he ever try to bring others to his way of thinking. Despite his profound knowledge, wisdom and versatility, he never came to limelight. This was due to his inherent aversion to publicity. He took his cue from Samkhya and Yoga system of philosophy and underwent rigorous spiritual practice to attain realisation of Self.
The realisation of Self by Yoga has been acclaimed as the religion of highest merit (Parma Dharma). True knowledge (Rita Jnana) of Self or Atman is an essential pre-requisite for His realisation. Samkhya gives us that knowledge. True knowledge inspires the yogin with confidence and begets in his heart a reverence coupled with devotion (Bhakti) for the desired object i.e. Atman or Self. From Samkhya we also learn that Atman reveals Himself to that devotee who is engrossed in meditation of Him in a one-pointed mind. Our mind is never at rest. It is always fluctuating. Yoga Sastra prescribes various Yogic methods whereby our mind can be pacified and made one-pointed. A yogin who has taken the vow of absolute truth and abstinence and is determined to tread the path of renunciation (Nivritti Marga), must be well versed in Samkhya and Yoga. Now-a-days such a Samkhya yogin is rarely met with. We know of two such yogins. Swami Hariharananda Aranya and his great disciple Swami Dharmamegha Aranya who flourished in the 20th century.
The revered Acharya Swamiji was born in a well-to-do family of Bengal in 1869. He was a younger contemporary of Swami Vivekananda, and was intimately known to Bholananda Giri Maharaj of Haridwar.
From a very early age he showed signs of otherworldliness. He kept himself aloof from wealth and luxury, pomp and grandeur. The formal school and college education had no fascination for him. He was more interested in Bhagavat Gita than in anything else. One thought was upper-most in his mind – How to attain salvation? How to transcend the cycle of births? Devotion of the Swamiji to truth was proverbial. He would not accept anything that was not based on reason. It was at this time, when he was quite young that he was initiated into the cult of renunciation (Nivritti Dharma). Immediately after this he renounced the world, broke all ties with his family and became a Sannyasi.
He went to Benaras to make a deep study of all the ancient scriptures bearing on religion of Salvation (Moksa Dharma). Having equipped himself with the knowledge that he required, he resolved to undergo vigorous spiritual practice in one of the caves of Barabar Hills situated near Gaya. Brahmananda Bharati, the biographer of Lokenath Baba, who was at that time residing in Benaras, made a passing reference in his book to the young Swami Hariharananda Aranya, proceeding towards the Barabar Hills near Gaya, to live the life of an ascetic in one of the caves.
His life in the Barabar caves is best described by his great disciple, Dharmamegha Aranya:
“Swamiji passed his early monastic life (1892-1898) in the caves of Barabar hills in Bihar, where his earthly resources consisted only of a blanket, a thick cotton sheet, a single piece of dhoti, a napkin and a wooden Kamandulu (water-pot). In those days that solitary mountainous region was the home of wild animals. So dangerous was this place that even 30 years thereafter, shepherds used to leave that hilly pasture-ground with their flock and return home long before sunset. But Swamiji never took any special steps for his safety, he had only a cloth-screen at the entrance to the cave to keep out the wind and the rain. There was no provision for a light to mitigate the darkness of the night.”
“The nearest habitation was about two miles from the cave. A devout and generous villager provided Swamiji with the means of his subsistence, which was brought to him once every noon. In the absence of utensils, that frugal meal was deposited on a partially level block of stone, …the sparkling waters of a nearby mountainous spring satisfied his thirst”.
Most of the caves, carved out of granite boulders date back to the age of Emperor Ashoka whose inscriptions can still be seen in some of them.
Various causes forced him to leave the caves. He spent some years at Tribeni in Bengal and several years at Haridwar, Rishikesh and Kurseong – all in the Himalayas. His last years were spent at Madhupur in the state of Bihar (Now in state of Jharkhand) where he lived like a hermit in a dwelling house containing a built-up cave. The only means of contact at that time between him and his disciples was through a window opening on a big hall.
The last 21 years of his life were spent in that solitary residence. It was a sort of a self-imposed solitary confinement. During this period his health gradually deteriorated. Towards, end of 21 years of his residence in that house he became completely blind. Realising that his body was no longer of any use to him , he did not hesitate to relinquish it. He passed away on 5 Baisakh, 1354 (bengali calendar) or 18th April, 1947 (gregorian calendar). Close to the house in which he had so long resided, a grave was dug and his sacred body was buried there. “There was another interdiction,” writes Dharmamegha Aranya, “and that was about building any monument over the place of his interment.” This noble sentiment would “leave a far deeper and more hallowed impression on the heart of all, than any material edifice.”
Revered Swamiji wrote several books, the product of his meditation and realisation, in Sanskrit and Bengali. Patanjal Yogadarshan, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali is his magnum opus. It contains a Bengali translation of Vysabhasya with Swamiji’s elaborate commentary. It was first published in 1911. Later revised and enlarged editions were published by the University of Calcutta. The University accepted it as a standard work of reference in Indian philosophy. It bears the stamp of his erudition, versatility and penetrating intellect. The dissertation is particularly enriched by his knowledge of the ultimate reality acquired by him through rigorous spiritual exercise.
Detecting a similarity between the preachings of the ancient Rishis and the teachings of Gautama Buddha he concluded that Buddhism as preached by Gautama Buddha was, to a large extent, based on the fundamental tenets of Samkhya-Yoga doctrine of Kapila. To be sure he delved deep into the Buddhist scriptures in manuscripts made available to him from different parts of India, Tibet and Srilanka. For that purpose he learnt the Pali language and acquired proficiency in it. He translated some of the Buddhist texts into Bengali. Of them, “Dhammapada” and “Boddhicharyavatara” of Santidev deserve mention.
J.N.Farquahar in his book, “The Religious Quest of India”, wrote, “Samkhya Sannyasins are so rare that it is of interest to know that as early as 1912 a learned Samkhya-Yogi named Hariharananda was alive and teaching in Calcutta”.
He has assured us that if we sincerely try to observe some of the injuctions of the religions of renunciation (Nivritti Dharma), our efforts will not be thrown away; they will be stored up in the form of latencies and bear fruit in time.
Swamiji deserves our sincerest gratitude for having revived and rehabilitated a religious system universal in its appeal and acceptable to all irrespective of caste, colour or creed – which had long gone into oblivion in the land of its origin.
(…taken from the book “Way to Eternal Peace”)