Sri Ramakrishna with Devotees at the Shyampukur House
Sri Ramakrishna with Girish, M., the Younger Naren, Kali, Sarat, Rakhal, Doctor Sarkar, and other devotees
The next day is Monday, 26 October 1885, the 11th of Kartik, the third day of the dark fortnight of Aswin. Sri Ramakrishna is staying in the same house at Shyampukur in Calcutta for treatment.
Doctor Sarkar, his physician, visits almost every day, though devotees go to him regularly to report Thakur’s condition.
It is the autumn season. The Saradiya Durga Puja was celebrated a few days ago. Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees observed it with mixed joy and sadness, for their gurudeva has been suffering seriously for the last three months with cancer of the throat. Hearing that it is incurable, the unfortunate devotees shed tears in solitude. Some of them are living at the Shyampukur house in order to nurse Sri Ramakrishna, which they are doing with their hearts and souls. Through such service, Narendra and other unmarried young disciples filled with dispassion are learning to climb the steps of the renunciation of ‘lust and greed.’
Despite Sri Ramakrishna’s severe pain, crowds still come for his darshan. They feel peace and joy when they see him. He is an ocean of motiveless grace, and there is no end to his compassion. He talks to them all, anxious about their welfare. Finally, the doctors – particularly Doctor Sarkar – tell him not to speak at all. But the doctor himself, who stays there for six or seven hours at a time, says, “You should not talk to anybody else, but you can talk to me.”
The doctor is simply enchanted with the nectar of Sri Ramakrishna’s words. That is why he stays for such long periods.
M. will go to the doctor at ten o’clock to report Sri Ramakrishna’s condition. He speaks to Sri Ramakrishna before going.
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “I have much less pain. I feel much better. Is it because of the medicine? Should I take that medicine?”
M.: “I’m going to the doctor. I’ll tell him everything. He will prescribe what is best.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “You know, Purna hasn’t been here for two or three days. I’m worried.”
M.: “Kali, why don’t you go ask Purna to come?”
Kali: “I’ll leave immediately.”
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “The doctor’s son is a very good boy. Please ask him to come.”
Conversation between M. and the doctor
Reaching the doctor’s house, M. finds him sitting with two or three friends.
Doctor (to M.): “I was talking about you just a minute ago. You said you would come at ten o’clock. I’ve been waiting here for an hour and a half. I was wondering what happened and how he was doing.
(To a friend) “Brother, please sing that song.”
The friend sings:
Sing, as long as you live, the name and glories of Him whose splendour illumines the universe,
Whose boundless love streams like nectar, bringing joy to all.
The thought of His compassion brings a thrill, the hair stands on end. What words can express Him, whose grace instantly ends all sorrows!
“On every side – above, below, in water and sky – where is His limit, where is His end?” his seekers forever ask.
He is the abode of consciousness, the great transformer, stainless and pure, the ever-wakeful eye,
whose vision leaves not a trace of sorrow.
Doctor (to M.): “Isn’t it a beautiful song? Particularly the line, ‘“Where is His limit, where is His end?” his seekers forever ask.’”
M.: “Yes sir, it is indeed very beautiful, a beautiful conception of the Infinite.”
Doctor (affectionately): “It is quite late. Have you eaten? I finish my meal by ten o’clock and then go out to give consultations. I don’t feel well if I go to work without eating. Listen, I have been thinking of inviting you all to a feast.”
M.: “That would be fine, sir.”
Doctor: “Well, where should it be, here or there? Whatever you prefer.”
M.: “Sir, whether it is here or there, everyone will enjoy it.”
Now the topic of conversation turns to Mother Kali.
Doctor: “Kali is just a Santhal woman.” (M. laughs loudly.)
M.: “Sir, where did you get that?”
The doctor: “I heard something like that somewhere.” (M. laughs.)
The previous day Vijaykrishna and some other devotees had experienced ecstasy. The doctor was present. The conversation turns to it.
Doctor: “I saw it. But is it good to have so much emotion?”
M.: “Paramahamsa Deva says that an excess of ecstasy that comes by meditation on God does not harm you, even if it is very deep. He says, ‘The light of a gem soothes the body. It does not burn it.’”
Doctor: “But the lustre of a gem is only reflected light.”
M.: “He also says, ‘By drowning in the sea of immortality, one does not die. God is the lake of immortality. Diving into it does no harm. In fact, he becomes immortal – provided he has faith in God.’”
Doctor: “Yes, of course.”
Doctor Sarkar gets into his carriage. After examining three or four other patients, he will go see the Paramahamsa Deva. On the way, he talks to M. about different things, beginning with [Mahima] Chakravarty’s egotism.
M.: “He visits Sri Ramakrishna. Even if he has a little ego, it will fall off in a few days. A person’s pride vanishes when he sits near him. It gets crushed. The reason is that he has no egotism. Pride takes flight before a very humble man. Just see what a great person Vidyasagar is. What modesty and humility he showed Thakur. The Paramahamsa Deva went to see him in his Badurbagan house. It was nine in the evening when he said goodbye. Vidyasagar himself carried a light to show the way from the library to the carriage. And he stood there with folded hands till the carriage left.”
Doctor: “Well, what does Vidyasagar think of him?”
M.: “He showed him great respect that day. But I think from what he said afterward that he doesn’t like what the Vaishnavas call ecstasy. His views are like yours.”
Doctor: “I don’t like folding hands or touching somebody’s feet with my head. There’s no difference between the head and the foot, but if you consider feet different, then go ahead and do it.”
M.: “You don’t like ecstasy or anything like that. The Paramahamsa sometimes calls you a deep soul. Perhaps you remember yesterday he told you that when an elephant goes into a small pond, it makes a big splash, but when it goes into a lake, there’s hardly any movement in the water. When the elephant of emotion enters into a deep soul, it can’t affect him in any way. He says that you are a deep soul.”
Doctor: “I don’t deserve the compliment. After all, what is ecstasy? It’s a feeling. And then there are other feelings too. If love of God and other feelings are deep, some can control them, others cannot.”
M.: “Some explain ecstasy this way, others don’t. But sir, ecstasy or love of God is unique. I saw Stebbing’s book on Darwinism in your library. Stebbing says that whether or not the human mind is the result of evolution or is a special creation of God, it is equally wonderful. He illustrated it with the theory of light. Whether or not you know the wave theory of light, light in either case is wonderful.”
Doctor: “Yes. And did you see that Stebbing accepts Darwinism as well as God?”
They again talk of Sri Ramakrishna.
Doctor: “I see that he is a worshiper of Kali.”
M.: “What he means by Kali is different. What the Vedas call the Supreme Brahman (Parabrahman), he calls Kali. What the Muslims call Allah or the Christians God, he calls Kali. He doesn’t see many gods – he sees only one. What ancient knowers of the Absolute called Brahman, what yogis call Atman, or devotees call Bhagavan, he calls Kali.
“We have heard this from him: A person had a tub of dye. Anybody who wanted his cloth dyed would go to him. The dyer would ask which colour the fellow wanted. If the latter said green, he would dip the cloth in the tub and return it to him, saying, ‘Here is your cloth dyed green.’ If another asked him for red, he would dye his cloth in the same tub and say, ‘Here is your cloth dyed red.’ He would dye the cloth green, blue, yellow – all colours in the same tub. Seeing this amazing spectacle, a person said to him, ‘Sir, do you know what colour I want? Please give me the colour of the dye in your tub.’ It is the same with Sri Ramakrishna – he has all the attitudes in him. People of all religions find peace and joy in him. Who can comprehend what his feeling is or its depth?”
Doctor: “All things to all men! But this isn’t right, even if St. Paul says it.”
M.: “Who can fathom his state of mind? We have heard from him that unless you trade in thread, you can’t distinguish thread number 40 from thread number 41. Unless you are a painter, you can’t appreciate another painter’s art. The experience of a saint is very deep. Unless you become like Christ, you can’t truly understand Christ. Perhaps the Paramahamsa Deva’s state of realization is the same as what Christ meant when he said: ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’”
Doctor: “How have you arranged to look after him in his illness?”
M.: “At present an older devotee is supervising his nursing every day. Some days it is Girish Babu, some days Ram Babu, some days Balaram Babu, some days Suresh Babu, some days Navagopal, and on other days Kali Babu. It is this way.”
With devotees – what can mere learning do?
While they are talking, the doctor’s carriage stops before the Shyampukur House where Thakur is staying. It is one o’clock. Thakur is sitting in a room on the first floor, where many devotees, including Girish Ghosh, the Younger Naren, and Sarat sit in front of him. They are all gazing at the great, ever-joyful yogi. They are sitting spellbound like snakes before a charmer, or like the escorts of a bridegroom reveling in a marriage procession. The doctor and M. come in, salute him, and sit down.
Seeing the doctor, Sri Ramakrishna laughs and says, “I’m feeling much better today.”
In due course there is conversation on God.
The earlier story – Doctor Ramnarayan – conversation with Bankim
Sri Ramakrishna: “What use is mere learning without discrimination and dispassion? I go into a strange mood when I think of the lotus feet of the Lord. Then the cloth I wear on my body drops. And I feel a strange sensation move up from my feet to my head. Then everything appears to me as mere straw. When I see that a pundit is without discrimination and has no love for God, he appears to me just like a dry piece of straw.
“Doctor Ramnarayan was reasoning with me when I suddenly went into that mood. I said to him, ‘What are you saying? What can you understand of Him with your reason? Or what can you understand of His creation? You have the simple mind of a weaver!’ Seeing me in that state of mind, he began to cry and stroke my feet.”
Doctor: “You see, Doctor Ramnarayan is a Hindu. Besides, he believes in sandal paste and flowers. He is an orthodox Hindu.”
M. (to himself): The doctor said earlier that he had nothing to do with gongs and conch-shells.
Sri Ramakrishna (to doctor): “Bankim is one of your pundits. I met him once. I asked him, ‘What is the duty of man?’ He replied, ‘Eating, sleeping and procreating.’ When I heard him say this, he fell in my estimation. I said, ‘What are you saying? How low can you get? Whatever you think day and night, whatever you do all the time, comes out of your mouth. When you eat radish, you belch radish.’ Then we had a long conversation about God. There was devotional music, and I danced. Then Bankim said, ‘Sir, please visit my house once.’ I replied, ‘If God wills.’ Then he said, ‘You will find devotees there too.’ I laughed and said, ‘My dear, what kind of devotees do you have there? Are they like those who cried, ‘Gopal, Gopal?’”
Doctor: “‘Gopal, Gopal!’ What does that mean?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “A goldsmith had a shop. He was a great devotee – a true Vaishnava with beads around his neck, holy marks on his forehead, and a rosary in his hand. Everybody would go to that shop, thinking that he was such a great devotee that he wouldn’t cheat them. Seeing a party of customers, one of his craftsmen would say, ‘Keshab, Keshab.’ After a while another would recite the name, ‘Gopal, Gopal.’ After some time, a third would say ‘Hari, Hari!’ And finally one would utter ‘Har-Har.’ Hearing so many names of God in the course of work, the customer would naturally say to himself, ‘This goldsmith is a man of very high character.’ But do you know the truth? The fellow who said, ‘Keshab, Keshab,’ meant to ask, ‘What are they like?’ The one who said, ‘Gopal, Gopal,’ would mean that he had assessed them and found them to be a herd of cows. (Laughter.) The one who said, ‘Hari, Hari’ meant, if they were just a herd of cows, should we rob them? (Laughter.) And he who said, ‘Har, Har’ would mean, ‘Yes, yes, do, since they are a herd of cows.’ (Laughter.)
“I went somewhere with Mathur Babu, and a number of pundits came to argue with me – me, a fool! (All laugh.) Seeing me in that strange mood, and after having talked with me, they said, ‘Sir, all that we have read, all our knowledge and scholarship, has turned to spittle after talking to you. We now understand that when God’s grace is granted, there is no lack of spiritual knowledge. A fool becomes wise, and the dumb begin to speak.’ That’s why I say that no one becomes learned just by reading books.”
Earlier story – first instance of samadhi – manifestation of Saraswati seated in the throat of a fool
“Yes, when you receive His grace, can there be any lack of knowledge? Look, I am a fool, I know nothing. Then who speaks all this? The storehouse of this knowledge is inexhaustible. One day in Kamarpukur I saw them weighing heaps of paddy. As they did, they chanted, ‘Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram.’ One person was weighing and the other was pushing the heap of paddy toward him as the first heap dwindled. It is the same in my case when I talk. Before I finish, my Divine Mother pushes more from Her inexhaustible store of knowledge.
‘‘During my boyhood God manifested Himself in me. I was eleven and I was going across a field when I saw something above. They say I was completely unconscious, not aware of anything. I have become a different person since then. I began to see another person within me. When I went to worship the deity, my hand, instead of going to the deity, would come to my head and I would offer flowers to it. The young man who was living with me would not come near me. He said, ‘I see a strange light in your face. I’m afraid to come near you.’’’
Free will or God’s will
yanträrüòhäni mäyayä ||
[All beings revolve by His Maya, as though mounted on a machine.]
– Bhagavad Gita 18:61
Sri Ramakrishna: “I am a fool, I know nothing. So who, then, says all this? I say, ‘Mother, I am a machine, You are the operator; I am the house, You are the indweller; I am the chariot, You are the charioteer; I do what You make me do; I speak as You make me speak; I move as You make me move. Not I, not I. You, only You.’ She is ever victorious. I am merely an instrument. When Radha was carrying a pitcher with a thousand holes and not a drop of water leaked out of it, everybody began to praise her, saying that such a faithful wife is rarely found. Then Radha said, ‘Why do you praise me? Instead you should say, “Victory to Krishna, victory to Krishna!” I am merely His maidservant.’ In that same mood I once put my foot on Vijay’s chest. Though I have such great respect for him, I put my foot on his chest! What would you say to that?”
Doctor: “You should be careful now.”
Sri Ramakrishna (folding his hands): “How can I help it? When that mood comes over me, I become unaware of everything. I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Doctor: “You must be careful. It’s no use just to fold your hands with humility.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Can I do anything myself in that mood? What do you think of that state? If you think it is pretence, I would say that all your science is less than worthless.”
Doctor: “Sir, if I think that, why do I come so often? Look, I neglect my work to come here. I miss visits with many patients while I stay here for six or seven hours!”
I will not fight – the Bhagavad Gita – only God is the doer, Arjuna an instrument
Sri Ramakrishna: “I said to Mathur Babu, ‘Don’t think that I feel blessed because an important man like you believes me and respects me.’ You may respect me or not, but the fact is that a mere man can do nothing. Only God makes one respect another. Before God’s power, man is a mere straw.”
Doctor: “Do you think I respect you because some fisherman believes you? I have respect and regard for you as a man.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Am I asking you to respect me, brother?”
Girish Ghosh: “Does he ask you to have respect for him?”
Doctor (to Sri Ramakrishna): “Are you saying that it is all God’s will?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “What else am I saying? What can a man do before the will of God? Arjuna said in the battle of Kurukshetra, ‘I won’t fight this battle, I won’t kill my relatives.’ Sri Krishna said, ‘Arjuna, you will have to fight. Your nature will compel you.’ Sri Krishna revealed everything to him – that everyone had already been slain. Some Sikhs that came to the temple said that even the leaf of an Ashwattha tree trembles by the will of God, that not a single leaf can flutter without His will.”
Liberty or necessity – influence of motives
Doctor: “If it is the will of God, why do you chatter? Why do you talk so much to give spiritual knowledge to others?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “He makes me talk, so I talk. I am an instrument, He is the operator of the instrument.”
Doctor: “You say that you are the instrument. It’s all right to say that. Or be quiet knowing that everything is God.”
Girish: “Say what you like, brother. But it is He who makes us act. Can anyone take a single step against the Almighty’s will?”
Doctor: “But He Himself has given us free will. If I like, I can meditate on God, and if I don’t like, I don’t have to.”
Girish: “If you meditate on God or do any other good work, you do it because you like to. It’s not you who do these things, but your liking them that makes you do them.”
Doctor: “Why? I do them as duties.”
Girish: “That’s because you like to do your duty.”
Doctor: “Suppose a child is being burned. I go to save it out of a sense of duty.”
Girish: “You feel happy you are able to save the child. That’s why you rush into the fire. It’s the positive feeling that makes you go. You take opium in the expectation of enjoying spicy food later.” (All laugh.)
Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower are the threefold impulse to action
Sri Ramakrishna: “You have to have some kind of faith to take up any work. You think of your objective and take pleasure from that. Only then will you do the work. Suppose there is a metal jar full of gold coins buried in the ground. First you have to know about it, know it’s there. When you think of the jar, you feel pleasure. Then you begin to dig into the earth. As you dig, you hear a metallic sound, which makes you happy. Then the side of the jar becomes visible and you are happier still. In this way your happiness gradually increases. Standing on the verandah of the temple, I have seen sadhus preparing to smoke hemp and anticipating the joy.”
Doctor: “But fire emits both heat and light. You are able to see in the light, but the heat burns your feet. When you do your duty, it’s not just that you get pleasure out of it – it also can bring trouble.”
M. (to Girish): “When your stomach is filled with food, your back can bear the load. There is pleasure even in trouble.”
Girish (to the doctor): “Duty is dry.”
Doctor: “Why so?”
Girish: “Then it must be juicy.” (All laugh.)
M.: “Very good! Beautiful! You take a bitter pill in the hope of something spicy later on.”
Girish (to the doctor): “You must feel that duty is pleasant. Why else would you do it?”
Doctor: “Because my mind is inclined that way.”
M. (to Girish): “Your nature pulls you to it. (Laughter.) If it is the inclination of your nature, where does free will come in?”
Doctor: “I don’t say that a person is absolutely free. A cow tied to a post is free only as far as the rope allows. The pull of the rope…”
Sri Ramakrishna and free will
Sri Ramakrishna: “Jadu Mallick also gave this illustration. (To the Younger Naren) Is it in some English book?
(To the doctor) “Look, it is God who does everything. ‘He is the operator and I am the instrument.’ If you can have this faith, you will become liberated in this very life. ‘You (God) do Your own work, but people say they are doing it.’ Do you know how it is? There is a beautiful illustration in the Vedanta. Rice is being cooked in a pot. Potatoes and eggplant have been put in with it. After a while the potatoes and eggplant begin to jump up and down as though they were proud of themselves – ‘I am moving, I am jumping up and down!’ When young children see it, they think that the potatoes, rice, and eggplant are alive and jumping up and down. But their elders, who know better, explain that the potatoes, eggplant, and rice are not animate; they don’t jump up and down by themselves. The moment you remove the burning log from under them, they stop moving. ‘I am the doer’ – this pride of man is the result of ignorance. People are powerful only by God’s power. Everything becomes quiet when you pull that burning log out from under. Marionettes dance beautifully when their strings are in the hands of a puppeteer, but the moment the strings fall from his hands, they can’t move.
‘‘As long as you have not seen God, as long as you haven’t touched the philosopher’s stone, you remain under the delusion that you are the doer – that you are doing right or doing wrong. This awareness persists. The feeling of distinction is God’s maya and is necessary to run His world of illusion. But by taking refuge in the maya of knowledge, by taking the road of truth, you can realize Him. He who realizes God, who gets His vision, he alone can cross over His maya. ‘God alone is the doer; I do nothing’: someone who has this faith becomes liberated in this very life. I said that to Keshab Sen.”
Girish (to the doctor): “Free will, how do you know it exists?”
Doctor: “Not by reason. I feel it.”
Girish: “But I and others feel it otherwise.” (All laugh.)
Doctor: “There are two elements to duty. One, I go to work out of a sense of duty. Two, I find pleasure in it. But initially I don’t perform duty in the hope of pleasure. When I was a child, I noticed that the priest was very worried to see ants on the sandesh to be offered. The thought of the sweets gave him no pleasure. (Smiling) Instead, he felt worried.”
M. (to himself): “It is very difficult to say whether one feels pleasure while doing a duty or thinking of it afterward. Where is free will if action is impelled by pleasure?”
Spontaneous love of God – earlier story of his life: Sri Ramakrishna’s attitude of being a servant of God
Sri Ramakrishna: “What he (the doctor) is talking about is called devotion without any selfish motive: I don’t want anything from Mahendra Sarkar. I want nothing, but I like to see him. This actually is called selfless love. If I derive a little pleasure out of it, how can I help that?
“Ahalya said, ‘Rama, I don’t mind even being born a pig, but I wish for pure love and devotion at Your lotus feet. I want nothing else.’
“Narada went to see Sri Ramachandra at Ayodhya to remind him that he was to slay Ravana. Seeing Sita and Rama, he began to chant their praises. Delighted with his devotion, Ramachandra said, ‘Narada, I am pleased with your chants; please ask for a boon.’ Narada said, ‘Rama, if you must grant me a boon, please grant that I may have pure love and devotion for your lotus feet. And may your world-bewitching maya not enchant me.’ Rama said, ‘Ask for another boon.’ Narada replied, ‘I want nothing more. I only want pure love for Your lotus feet.’
“It is the same with him (the doctor). He only wants to see God. He doesn’t want wealth, honour, and physical comforts. He wants nothing at all. This is called pure love and devotion.
“It does give some pleasure, but it’s not the pleasure of the senses. It’s the pleasure of devotion to God and ecstatic love. Sambhu Mallick once said when I went to visit him, ‘You come here because you feel happy talking to me.’ Yes, there is that bit of happiness.
“But there is a state higher than this, when one wanders around aimlessly like a child, perhaps just to catch a grasshopper.
(To the devotees) “Do you understand his (the doctor’s) attitude? It is a prayer: ‘O God, grant me the right inclination so that I won’t be tempted to do wrong.’
“I also felt this state. It is called the attitude of a servant. I used to cry, ‘Mother, Mother’ so desperately that people would gather around me. When I was in this state, someone brought a prostitute to my room to tempt me and cure me of my madness. She was a beautiful woman with pretty eyes. I ran out of the room crying, ‘Mother, Mother.’ Shouting for Haladhari, I said, ‘Brother, come and see who has entered my room!’ I told him and others about the woman. In this state I used to weep, crying, ‘Mother, Mother, save me! Mother, purify me so that my mind doesn’t go from truth to untruth!’ (To the doctor) This attitude of yours is good. It is the attitude of a devotee, the attitude of a servant of God.”
Doing good to mankind – ordinary people – selfless work and purity of character
“If someone is pure in character, he thinks only of God. He likes nothing else. Some people are born with pure sattva because of their past actions. By striving to act selflessly, one finally attains pure sattva. When sattva is mixed with rajas, the mind is diverted. Then one is possessed by the vanity of doing good to the world – but it’s very difficult for an ordinary person to do good to the world. However, there is no harm in working selflessly to do good. It’s very good for a person to try to work in this way, but it isn’t possible for everybody. It’s very difficult. Of course everybody has to work; only a few can give up work altogether. Pure sattva is found in only a very few. But when a person works selflessly, the quality of sattva mixed with rajas gradually turns into pure sattva.
“It’s only when one has developed pure sattva that he realizes God, through His grace.
“An ordinary person can’t understand the state of pure sattva. Hem once said to me, ‘Well, my dear priest, isn’t the aim of life to earn name and fame in the world? Don’t you think so?’”
. Purna Chandra is 14 or 15 years old.
. Santhal, an aboriginal tribe of India.
. Gambhir atman.
. Used in ritualistic worship.
. Bankim Chandra Chatterji is a resident of the Benetola area of Calcutta, a deputy magistrate, and a great devotee. Sri Ramakrishna met him at Adhar Sen’s house, and this was their only meeting. Bankim was also the celebrated Bengali author of Vande Mataram.
. Goddess of knowledge.
. Doctor Sarkar is referring here to Mathur Babu (Sejo Babu). He was a fisherman by caste.
. Bhagavad Gita 18:59.
. mayäivaite nihatäù pürvam eva nimittamätraà bhava savyasäcin| Bhagavad Gita 11:33. [By Me they have already been destroyed; be you, O skilled archer, a mere instrument!]
. Bhagavad Gita 18:18.
. Ahetuki bhakti.
. Bhakti bhava.
. Prarabdha karma.
 . Nishkama karma