Letter from Aswini Kumar to M.
Sri Ramakrishna with Aswini Kumar and other devotees Keshab Sen (1881), Devendranath Tagore, Achalananda, Shivanath, Hriday, Narendra, and Girish
Beloved brother M.,
I received the fourth part of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita sent by you on the day of Kojagar Purnima, and finished reading it today, the second day of the lunar month. Blessed you are. You have showered nectar on the whole country.
Some time ago you wanted to know what conversations I had with Thakur. I shall try to tell you about them. But I am not as lucky as M., to be able to write down the day, the date, the position of planets, of my visits with him, and to account for all the words that poured from his holy lips. I write what I remember. It is possible that I mistake the date of one conversation with another. Besides, I don’t remember everything.
The first time I met Thakur was probably during the autumn holidays of 1881. Keshab Babu was expected on that day. I went to Dakshineswar by boat. When I reached the ghat, I asked someone where the Paramahamsa was. Pointing to the northern verandah, to a person resting against a bolster, he said, “He’s the Paramahamsa.” Seeing him clad in a black-bordered cloth and resting against a bolster, I said to myself, “What kind of a paramahamsa is that?” But then I saw that he was half leaning against the big pillow with his hands holding his drawn-up knees. I said to myself, He doesn’t know how to rest against a pillow like a gentleman. So maybe he is the paramahamsa.” I saw a gentleman sitting to his right very near the pillow and was told that he was Rajendra Mitra, who later became the Assistant Secretary of the Bengal Government. There were many others sitting on his right. In a few minutes he said to Rajendra, “See if Keshab is coming.” Only a short time before someone had come to tell him that Keshab was not there. Hearing a sound, he again said, “Just go see. Check again.” This time too a person came back and said, “No.” The Paramahamsa laughed and said, “Leaves rustle in the wind and Radha says, ‘Here comes my beloved!’ You know, Keshab has been doing this for a long time: he is coming; no, he hasn’t come.”
After some time, as evening approached, Keshab arrived with his group. He bowed low before Thakur and touched his forehead to the ground. Thakur did the same. When he raised his head, he was in samadhi. He said, “You have brought all the residents of Calcutta, as if I’m going to deliver a lecture. But I won’t be able to do that. Do it yourself if you like. I can’t do all that.”
With a divine smile on his face, in the same state, he said, “I shall eat, I shall drink, I shall stay at your house. I shall eat, sleep, and defecate at your house. But I can’t give lectures.” Keshab Sen gazed at him and was filled with emotion. He said again and again, “Ah, ah me.”
Seeing this state of Thakur I thought, Is he pretending? I’ve never seen anything like this before. And you know what faith I have.
After coming down from samadhi, he said to Keshab, “Keshab, one day I went to your place and heard you say: ‘Having dived into the river of God’s love, we will reach the sea of Sat-chit-ananda.’ Then I looked up [to where Keshab’s wife and other ladies were sitting] and said to myself: ‘Then what will happen to them?’ You are householders. How will you fall so suddenly into the sea of Sat-chit-ananda? You are like a mongoose with a brick tied to its tail. Hearing just a little noise, it climbs up into its niche, but how can it stay there? That brick pulls it and it falls down to the ground. You householders can practice a little meditation and so on, but the brick of a wife and children will pull you down to earth again. You may dive into the river of love for a while, but you’ll soon come up again. It will continue like this. How can you dive for good?’’
Keshab said: “Isn’t it possible for a householder? What about Maharshi Devendranath Tagore?”
The Paramahamsa Deva repeated “Devendranath Tagore, Devendra, Devendra” twice or thrice, bowed to him a few times, and said, “You know, there was a person who used to celebrate the worship of Durga and from morning till evening slaughtered goats as sacrifice to Her. Some years later there was not so much activity. Somebody asked the man, ‘Sir, why is there no longer great hustle and bustle of sacrifice at your house?’ He replied, ‘I’ve lost my teeth, you see.’ Devendra now practices meditation and contemplation. That is natural. But there is no doubt he’s a good man.
“Look here, as long as a man is under the spell of maya, he’s like a green coconut. A piece of its shell comes off with the meat. But when delusion is gone, the shell and kernel become separated. Then they can easily be separated; the kernel sounds like a dry ball inside. When he is free from delusion, the soul and the body of a man become separate; there is no identification with the body.
“It is the ‘I’ that is the cause of all trouble. Will this rascal ‘I’ not go? In a dilapidated house an ashwattha tree sprouts. Even if you cut it down and throw it away, another branch shoots up the next day. It is the same with this ‘I.’ Wash the bowl an onion has been kept in any number of times. Can you ever get rid of its smell?”
While talking, he said to Keshab Sen, “Well, Keshab, your Calcutta gentlemen say there is no God. One of them is climbing up a staircase. He takes a step and as he takes another, he suddenly exclaims: ‘Oh! What happened to my side?’ and falls unconscious. His relatives call for a doctor, but before he arrives, the gentleman expires. Yet they say, ‘There is no God!’”
After an hour or an hour and a half, devotional singing began. What I saw then I feel I shall never forget, even after many lives. Everyone began to dance, even Keshab. Thakur was in the middle and the others were dancing around him. While dancing, he suddenly became motionless, absorbed in samadhi. He remained in this state for quite some time. After I saw him and heard his words, I felt, yes, he is truly a paramahamsa.
One day, perhaps in 1883, I took a number of young men from Srerampore to see him. Looking at them Thakur said “What has brought them here?”
I: “To see you.”
Thakur: “What is there to see in me? Let them look at the buildings and temples.”
I: “They have not come to see the buildings. They have come to see you.”
Thakur: “Then they’re flints – there is fire in them. You may keep a flint in water for a thousand years, but the moment it is struck, it will generate fire. These young men must be the same. As for me, you may strike hard, but no fire will come out.”
We all laughed to hear these last words. I don’t exactly remember any other conversation that day. But there was some talk that the shell of “I-ness” does not disappear, and about the renunciation of “lust and greed.”
Yet another day that I visited him, after I had saluted him and sat down, he said, “Can you bring me some of that stuff that fizzes when you uncork it – a bit sour, but a little sweet?” I said, “Lemon soda?”
Thakur said, “Do bring some.” I remember bringing him a bottle.
As far as I can recall we were alone. I asked him many questions.
I: “Do you believe in the distinction of caste?”
Thakur: “How can I say I do? I ate curry at Keshab Sen’s house. But listen to what happened one day. Somebody with a long beard brought me some ice. I didn’t feel at all like eating it. But later, when another person brought ice from the same man, I ate it with gusto. You see, the distinction of caste falls off by itself, just like fronds fall from coconut and palm trees when they grow. Caste distinction also falls like this. Don’t pull them off; let them fall off by themselves.”
I asked: “What do you think of Keshab Babu?”
Thakur: “I say, brother, he is a saintly man.”
I: “And Trailokya Babu?”
Thakur: “He is a good man, sings very well.”
I: “Shivanath Babu?”
Thakur: “A good man, but he argues.”
I: “What is the difference between a Hindu and a Brahmo?”
He said: “There is no particular difference. In a serenade one person continues to play a particular note while another plays various melodies. One of the melodies is, ‘My Radha is sulking.’ Brahmos play just one note – the Formless. Hindus produce melodies of various kinds.
“Water and ice – one is without form, the other with form. That which is water becomes ice when it is cold. With the heat of knowledge, ice melts into water. In the cold of devotion, water turns into ice.
“The Reality is one and the same. Different people give It different names. It is like this: there are four ghats on the four sides of a pond. Some people take water from one and say they are taking jal. Those taking water at another place may say they are taking pani. At the third place they call it water, and at the fourth, they call it aqua. But it is the same water.”
When I told him that I had met Achalananda Tirthavadhuta in Barisal, he said, “The same Ramkumar of Kotrang?”
I: “Yes, sir.”
Thakur: “Well, what do you think of him?”
I: “I liked him.”
Thakur: “Well, do you like him better than you like me?”
I: “How can you be compared with him? He is a pundit, a learned man. Are you a pundit, a jnani?”
Hearing this, he was speechless; he remained silent. After a minute or so, I said, “He may be a pundit, but you are fun, full of joy. There is a lot of fun in your company.”
At this he smiled and said, “Well said. You are right.”
He asked me, “Have you seen my panchavati?”
I answered, “Yes, sir.”
He told me a little about what he used to do there. He told me about the various spiritual disciplines he had practiced, and also about Nangta (the Naked one, Totapuri). I asked him, “How can I realize God?”
He: “You see, brother, He is pulling us the way a magnet pulls iron. But if mud covers the iron, it can’t be pulled. When it is washed clean by weeping (for Him), you will immediately stick to Him.”
I was recording Thakur’s statements as I listened to him. He said, “Look here, it is not enough just to shout, ‘Hemp, hemp!’ Get some hemp, grind it in water, and then drink it.” Then he said to me, “Since you live a householder’s life, live a little inebriated. Let that glow continue even when you’re engaged in work. You won’t be able to be like Sukadeva who lay naked with intoxication.
“Since you’re going to live in the world, you should write out a general power of attorney and give it to God. He will do whatever is necessary. Live like a maidservant in a rich household. How much she loves the children of her master! She bathes them, washes them, and feeds them as if they were her own. But she knows in her heart that they are not hers. As soon as her services come to an end, all contact is lost.
“Just as you rub your hands with oil before cutting open a jackfruit, cover yourself with the oil that will not allow you to become entangled in the world and affected by it.”
All this time that we were talking, we were seated on the floor. Now he got up on his cot and lay on his back. He said to me, “Fan me.”
I began to fan him. He remained quiet. After some time he said, “It is very hot, brother. Moisten the fan with water.” I said, “Oh, you are fond of good living too, I see!” He smiled and said, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” I said, “Very well, then have as much as you want.” The pleasure I had that day being near him I cannot express.
The last time I visited him – a day you mentioned in the third volume (Section XVI) – I went with the headmaster of my school. It was just after he had passed his B. A. You met him the other day. As soon as Sri Ramakrishna saw him, he said, “Where have you found him? He’s a very fine fellow!”
Then he said: “Brother, you’re a lawyer. You are very clever! Can you give me some of your cleverness? Your father came here the other day. He was here for three days.”
I asked: “How did you find him?”
He said: “He’s a good man, but sometimes he talks nonsense.”
I said: “Knock off some of his nonsense the next time you see him.”
He smiled a little. I said, “Please give me some special instruction.”
He said: “Do you know Hriday (Hriday Mukhopadhyay)?”
I said: “Your nephew? I only know him by name.”
Thakur: “Hriday used to say, ‘Uncle, don’t say everything you have to say all at once. Why should you repeat the same things over and over again?’ I said, ‘What does it matter to you, you rascal? These are my words. I may repeat them a million times. What is that to you?’”
I smiled and said: “Quite right, quite right.”
After some time he sat down and, repeating, ‘Om, Om,’ he began to sing:
Dive deep, dive deep, O my mind, into the ocean of beauty….
Singing a couplet or two, and repeating, “Dive, dive,” he himself dived deep.
The samadhi over, he began to pace up and down. He was wearing a dhoti. With both hands, he pulled it up to his waist. One end of it trailed on the ground, the other hung loose. My companion and I began to nudge each other and whisper, “He’s wearing his dhoti nicely!” But in a little while he said, “Away, away, you rag of a cloth!” He threw it away and began pacing up and down naked. Bringing an umbrella and a walking stick from the northern side of the room, he asked, “Are these yours – this umbrella and the walking stick?” I replied, “No, sir,” and he immediately said, “I already knew that. Just by looking at an umbrella and walking stick I can judge a man. Surely these belong to that fellow who swallowed my words without understanding them.’’
After a while he sat on the northern end of his cot facing west, still naked. He asked me, “Do you consider me uncivilized?”
I said: “No, you’re very civilized. Why do you ask?”
Thakur: “Well, Shivanath and others like him think of me as uncivilized. When they come, I have to somehow wrap myself in this dhoti. Do you know Girish Ghosh?”
I: “Which Girish Ghosh? The one who runs a theatre?”
I: “I’ve never seen him, but I know his name.”
Thakur: “He is a good man.”
I: “I hear he drinks. Does he?”
Thakur: “Let him. Let him. How long will he continue? Do you know Narendra?”
I: “No, sir.”
Thakur: “I’d like you to meet him. He’s passed his B.A. and hasn’t married.”
I: “Very well. I shall meet him.”
Thakur: “Today there will be a kirtan at Ram Dutta’s house. You will meet him there. Please go there this evening.”
I: “All right.”
Thakur: “Will you go? You must definitely go.”
I: “Would I disobey your order? I will certainly go.”
He showed us the pictures in his room. Then he asked me, “Is a picture of the Buddha available?”
I: “I hear it’s available.”
Thakur: “Bring me one.”
I: “All right, I’ll bring one the next time I come.”
I never saw him after that day. I was not lucky enough to sit at his feet again.
That evening I went to Ram Babu’s house where I met Narendra. Thakur was sitting in a room, resting against a bolster, with Narendra on his right. I was in front of them. He asked Narendra to talk to me.
Narendra said, “I have a bad headache today. I don’t feel like talking.”
I said, “Never mind. We’ll talk another day.”
That talk we had in Almora in the month of May or June of 1897.
Thakur’s wish had to be fulfilled, though it took twelve years. Oh, what a happy time those few days in Almora with Swami Vivekananda were. Sometimes it was in his house, at other times in mine. And one day I was with him alone on a hilltop. I didn’t see him again after this meeting. It was to fulfill Thakur’s wish that I was able to meet him that time.
Sri Ramakrishna also I saw only four or five times. But even during that short time, I felt we were as close as if we had been classmates. How frankly we talked! The moment I left him, I said to myself, Oh my God, what a man I’ve been with! Whatever I saw, whatever I got from him during these few days has sweetened my entire life. With enormous care I have treasured that soft smile, that showering of divine words in my heart. Brother, it is the inexhaustible wealth of a poor person. A grain of bliss flowing from that smile has brought gladness even to distant America. Thinking of this, I am overwhelmed again and again. If it is so with me, how fortunate you are!
. The full moon day of Lakshmi Puja.
. Community singing of hymns.