Sri Ramakrishna’s Steamer Trip with Keshab Chandra Sen In Joy and Conversation
Thakur Sri Ramakrishna – in samadhi
Today is the day of the Kojagar Lakshmi Puja, Friday, 27 October 1882. Thakur is seated in his room at the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar, talking with Vijay Goswami and Haralal. Someone comes in to tell him that Keshab Sen has come in a steamer and is waiting for him at the ghat.
Keshab’s disciples salute Sri Ramakrishna and say, “Sir, the steamer has arrived. Please come for a little excursion. Keshab Sen is on board and has sent us to invite you.”
It is 4 o’clock when Thakur boards the steamer from a smaller boat. Vijay accompanies him. As Sri Ramakrishna steps aboard, he loses outer consciousness and goes into samadhi.
M., who had boarded the steamer at 3 o’clock in Calcutta, looks at Thakur in samadhi. He is very eager to witness the meeting between Thakur and Keshab, to observe their joy and to hear their conversation.
By his saintly character and eloquence, Keshab has captivated the minds of many young Bengali men like M. Regarding Keshab as their own, many have given him their heart’s love. Keshab is British-educated and well versed in English philosophy and literature. He has often described the worship of gods and goddesses as idolatry. It is rather strange that such a man looks upon Sri Ramakrishna with reverence and admiration and visits him occasionally. M. and others are curious to find on what common ground they agree. Though Thakur believes in the formless God, he also holds that God is with form. He meditates on Brahman, but at the same time worships gods and goddesses with flowers, incense, and other offerings. Then again, diving deep in intense love for God, he sings and dances. He sits on his bed, which is covered with a bedspread. He wears a red-bordered dhoti, shirt, socks, and shoes, but he is not a householder. His prevailing mood is entirely that of a sannyasin, hence people call him a Paramahamsa. On the other hand, Keshab believes in God without form, has a wife and children, and lives the life of a householder, delivering lectures in English, publishing a paper, and attending to worldly affairs.
Toward the east are a cement ghat and the chandni, the portal of the temple. On either side of the chandni stands a row of twelve Shiva temples, six on the right and six on the left. On the canvas of the blue autumn sky are visible the pinnacle of the temple of Bhavatarini and to the north, the top of the trees of the panchavati and the willowgrove. Near the bakultala is a music pavilion and to the south of the Kali Temple is another music pavilion. Between them are garden paths and rows of flowering plants. The blue of the sky is reflected in the holy waters of the Ganges and a serene atmosphere prevails. The same serenity is in the hearts of the Brahmo devotees. Above is the beautiful, dark blue, infinite sky; in front, the beautiful temple; and below, the holy water of the Ganges.
On the banks of the sacred river Aryan rishis have meditated on God since ancient times. Now again a special Great Soul has come, an incarnation of the Eternal Religion. It is not the fortune of most men to observe such a sight. Seeing such a great soul in samadhi, who would not but feel the stirring of love for God? Whose stone-like heart would not melt?
väsäàsi jérëäni yathä vihäya naväni gåhëäti naro ‘paräëi |
tathä çaréräëi vihäya jérëäni anyäni saàyäti naväni dehé ||
[As a man, having cast away old garments, puts on new ones, so, having cast away worn-out bodies, the soul enters into new ones.]
– Bhagavad Gita 2:22
In samadhi – the imperishable Atman – Pavhari Baba
The boat has come alongside the steamer. There is a big crowd, all eager to see Sri Ramakrishna. Keshab is very anxious that Thakur be brought safely aboard the steamer. With great difficulty he is brought back to normal consciousness and taken inside the cabin. He is still in divine ecstasy and leans on a devotee as he walks. As he enters the cabin, his feet move without his awareness. Keshab and the other devotees salute him, but he has no sense-consciousness. Inside the cabin are some chairs and a table. Thakur is made to sit on a chair. Keshab sits on another, and Vijay also has taken a seat. Other devotees sit wherever they find a place, even on the bare floor. Many don’t find a place but peer in from outside. Thakur, after sitting down, again goes into samadhi, absolutely devoid of outer consciousness. All eyes are on him. Keshab sees that so many people are in the cabin that Thakur might need more air. As the air in the room is stuffy because of the crowd of people, Keshab opens the windows.
Keshab is also a little embarrassed to see Vijay, who had left the Brahmo Samaj and joined the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj instead. Vijay spoke against many of Keshab’s activities, such as the early marriage of his daughter. Keshab leaves his seat to open a window of the cabin.
The Brahmo devotees look fixedly at Sri Ramakrishna. He comes down from samadhi but is still fully absorbed in divine fervour. He speaks in a voice that is hardly audible, “Mother, why have You brought me here? Shall I be able to save them from their prison?”
Does Thakur look upon men of the world as though they are in prison, unable to come out, unable to see the light outside? All of them are bound hand and foot by worldly affairs. They only see the things that are within their prison and think the aim of life is only to enjoy physical comfort, worldly work, “lust and greed.” Is it for this reason that Thakur says, “Mother, why have You brought me here? Shall I be able to free them from their prison?”
Thakur gradually regains outer consciousness. Nil Madhava of Ghazipur and a Brahmo devotee begin to talk about Pavhari Baba.
Brahmo devotee (to Thakur): “Sir, they have all seen Pavhari Baba. He lives in Ghazipur. He is another holy man like yourself.”
Even now Thakur is not in a position to speak. He smiles gently.
Brahmo devotee (to Thakur): “Sir, Pavhari Baba has your photograph in his room.”
Thakur smiles and says, pointing to his body, “This pillow case!”
yat säìkhyaiù präpyate sthänaà tadyogair api gamyate|
ekaà säìkhyaà ca yogaà ca yaù paçyati sa paçyati ||
[The state reached by the jnani is also attained by the yogi. He indeed sees rightly who sees that jnana and yoga are one.]
– Bhagavad Gita 5:5
Harmony of jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, and karma yoga
The pillow and its pillow case – the soul and the body. Is Thakur saying that the body is perishable, that it won’t last, that only the soul within the body is imperishable? So what is the use of having a photograph of the body? The body is transitory. Why have regard for it? Rather, it is right to worship only the antaryamin, God who is present within the human heart.
Thakur has returned partially to the normal state of consciousness. He says, “But there is one thing. The heart of the devotee is His dwelling place. It may be that God is manifest in all things, but He is manifest in a special sense in the heart of a devotee of God. For example, a landlord can be seen any place on his estate. Still, people say that he is usually seen in a particular drawing room. The heart of the devotee is the Lord’s drawing room.” (All rejoice.)
One Lord with different names – the jnani, the yogi, and the devotee
“The same Being whom jnanis call Brahman (the Absolute) is called Atman (Universal Soul) by yogis and Bhagavan (Personal God with divine attributes) by devotees.
“A brahmin is one and the same person. When he worships, he is called a priest; when employed in the kitchen, he is called a brahmin cook. The jnani holds to jnana yoga by reasoning, ‘Not this, not this.’ That is, Brahman is neither this nor that, neither the individual soul nor the external world. When, as a result of this reasoning, the mind becomes steady, it vanishes, and one goes into samadhi. Then one attains brahmajnana. The knower of Brahman truly realizes that Brahman is real and the world unreal; names and forms are all but dreams. What Brahman is cannot be expressed in words, nor can He be said to be a person.
“Jnanis say the same as the Vedantists. But devotees accept all the states of consciousness. They look upon the waking state as real, and they do not consider the external world a dream. Devotees say that this world is the glory of God. The sky, the stars, the sun, the moon, the mountains, the ocean, men, birds, and beasts – all are created by God. These are His ‘riches.’ He is both within the core of the heart and He is without. The superior devotee says, ‘God Himself has become the twenty-four categories – living beings and the universe.’ The devotee does not want to become sugar, but to taste it. (All laugh.)
“Do you know how a devotee feels? ‘Oh Lord, You are the Master, I am Your servant. You are my Mother, I am Your child. And again, You are both my Mother and Father. You are the whole, I am Your part.’ The devotee doesn’t like to say, ‘I am Brahman.’
“The yogi seeks to see the Paramatman. His aim is union of the embodied soul with the Supreme Self. The yogi withdraws his mind from worldly objects and tries to fix it on the Paramatman. So to begin with, he meditates on Him in solitude, in a fixed posture, with a concentrated mind.
“But It is one and the same Substance. The difference is only in name. He who is Brahman is Himself the Atman and also God. He is the Brahman of the Brahmajnani, the Paramatman of the yogi, and the Lord of the devotee.”
tvameva sükçmä tvaà sthülä vyaktävyaktasva- rüpiëé|
niräkäräpi säkärä kastvaà veditum arhati||
[You are the subtle and You are the gross; You, O Mother, are manifest as well as unmanifest. You are both with form and formless. Who has the capacity to know You?]
– Mahanirvana Tantra 4:15
Harmony of Veda and Tantra – glory of the Primordial Power
The steamer is on its way to Calcutta. Those who are having the darshan of Sri Ramakrishna and listening to his nectar-like words in the cabin are not even conscious of the movement of the steamer. Does a bee buzz when it rests on a flower?
Dakshineswar, with its beautiful Kali temple, has slowly vanished from sight. As the steamer plows through the holy waters of the Ganges that reflect the blue firmament above, the waves are broken into crests of foam, making a rushing sound. But the murmurs of the waves are now lost on the ears of the devotees. Spellbound, they gaze at the smiling, joyful, sweet face and loving eyes of this wonderful yogi. They see in him an all-renouncing and loving vairagi intoxicated with love for God and knowing nothing other than God. In the meantime Sri Ramakrishna talks to them.
Sri Ramakrishna: “The followers of non-dualistic Vedanta say that creation, preservation, dissolution, living beings, and the world are all playful manifestations of Shakti (the Divine Power). If you reason it out, you will find that they are all illusory, like dreams. Brahman alone is the Reality, all else is unreal. Shakti is also like a dream, unreal.
“But you may reason a thousand times and you will not go beyond the jurisdiction of Shakti without attaining the state of samadhi. ‘I am meditating,’ ‘I am thinking’ – all this is within the jurisdiction of Shakti.
“That’s why Brahman and Shakti are inseparable. Belief in one implies belief in the other – like fire and its burning power. If you consider fire, you must consider its burning power. Fire cannot be thought of apart from its burning power, nor can its burning power be thought of apart from the fire. The sun’s rays cannot be conceived of apart from the sun, nor can the sun be conceived of apart from its rays.
“What is milk like? Well, it is something white. Its whiteness cannot be conceived of apart from the milk, nor can the milk be conceived of apart from its whiteness.
“Thus, Shakti cannot be thought of apart from Brahman, nor can Brahman be thought of apart from Shakti. Nitya (the Absolute) and lila (the relative phenomenal world) cannot be thought of apart from each other.
“The Primordial Divine Energy creates, preserves, and dissolves. She is known as Kali (the Mother of the universe). Kali is Brahman and Brahman is Kali, one and the same substance. When She is inactive – neither creating, nor preserving, nor destroying – I call her Brahman. When She performs all these activities, I call Her Kali, I call Her Shakti. But the Being is the same, only the names and forms are different. For example – jal, water, and pani. A reservoir may have three or four ghats. At one ghat Hindus drink water and they call it jal. At another ghat Muslims drink water and they call it pani. At another ghat the English drink water and call it water. These three are one and the same. Only the names are different. Some call Him Allah, some God, some Brahman, some Kali, again some call Him Rama, Hari, Jesus, and Durga.”
Keshab: “Please tell us in what different ways Kali manifests Herself.”
Talk with Keshab – Mahakali and mode of creation
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “She plays in various ways. She Herself is Mahakali (the Goddess, unconditioned, Absolute, without form), Nityakali (the everlasting Goddess), Shmasanakali (Goddess of the cremation ground), Rakshakali (the Goddess that blesses and is ready to preserve) and Shyamakali (the Mother of dark blue complexion, the consort of Shiva, the God of eternity and infinity). The Tantras speak of Mahakali and Nityakali. When there was no creation, no moon, no sun, no planets, no earth – nothing but deep darkness – then there was only the formless Divine Mother Mahakali living with Mahakala.
“Shyamakali has a very tender heart. She is the bestower of fearlessness. She is worshiped in households. In times of epidemics, famine, earth-quakes, drought, and floods, you should worship Rakshakali. Shmasanakali has the form of destruction. She lives in the midst of dead bodies, jackals, and dakinis and yoginis in cremation grounds. Streams of blood pour from Her mouth. She wears a garland of skulls around Her neck, and at her waist She wears a girdle of human hands. At the time of the total dissolution of the world, the Mother preserves all the seeds of creation, just as the mistress of the house has a hodgepodge pot in which she keeps things of all kinds. (Keshab and the others laugh.)
(Smiling) “Yes, my friend, the mistress of the house does have such a pot in her possession. In it she keeps sea-foam in a solid state, small packets containing the seeds of cucumber, pumpkin, gourd, and so on. All types of seeds are kept carefully. She brings them out when needed. In the same way the Divine Mother keeps all the seeds at the time of the dissolution of the world. After the creation, the Primordial Divine Energy lives very much in the world. Giving birth to the world, She lives within it. The Vedas talk of the Urnanabhi – the spider and its web. The spider creates a web out of itself and then lives in that same web. The Lord is both the container and the contents of the world.”
Kali is Brahman – with form and without form
“Is Kali dark? She seems to be of dark complexion because She is far off. When you know Her, She does not appear dark.
“The sky appears to be blue because of distance. When seen up close, it has no colour. Sea water appears blue from a distance. When you go near it and take some in the palm of your hand, it has no colour.”
Saying this, drunk with the wine of divine love, Sri Ramakrishna begins to sing a song:
Infinite is the garment that She wears! She illumines the lotus of the heart!
tribhir guëamayair bhävair ebhiù sarvam idaà jagat|
mohitaà näbhijänäti mäm ebhyaù paramavyayam ||
[Deluded by the three gunas, this world does not know Me, who am beyond them and immutable.]
– Bhagavad Gita 7:13
Why does this world exist?
Sri Ramakrishna (to Keshab and others): “She is the creator of both bondage and liberation. Due to Her maya (illusion), worldly man is bound with the chains of ‘lust and greed.’ And then he is liberated by Her mercy and grace. She is the Being who takes bound souls across the sea of the world by removing their fetters.”
Saying this, Thakur sings a song by Ramprasad in a voice sweeter than the gods of the heavens who sing the glories of the Most High:
In the world’s bustling marketplace, O Shyama, You fly kites that soar on the wind of hope, held fast by maya’s string,
Kites made of bone, nerve, and skin, all fashioned from the gunas three. How intricate is their workmanship!
With worldliness have You imbued their strings, rubbed with a paste of powdered glass to make them sharp and strong.
Among a hundred thousand kites only one or two break free. And then, O Mother, how you laugh and clap your hands!
Says Ramprasad, A kite set free will swiftly ride the favouring wind across this world’s ocean and soon alight on the other shore.
“The Mother is always in Her sportive mood. This world is Her sport. She has Her own way and She is full of joy. She liberates only one among millions.”
A Brahmo devotee: “Sir, She can free everyone if She so desires. Why has She bound us with the chains of the world?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “It is Her pleasure! It is Her desire to sport with all this. If a player touches the “granny” (in the game of hide and seek), he no longer has to run about. If all the players touch her, how will the game continue? If everyone should touch the “granny,” she would be unhappy. The “granny” is happy for the game to continue. That’s why She (the Mother of the Universe) is happy and claps Her hands when She cuts the string of one or two kites (bound souls) out of a hundred thousand. (All laugh.)
“With a wink of Her eye, She has directed the mind to go and enjoy the world. How can it be the fault of the mind? Again, by Her grace, when She turns that mind from the clutches of worldliness, one is liberated. Then the mind goes to Her lotus feet.”
Thakur sings, assuming the position of a man of the world, expressing his complaint to the Divine Mother:
This is the grief that weighs on my heart: though You, my Mother, are here and I am wide awake, thieves of passion rob my house.
Time and again I resolve to repeat Your holy name, yet at the proper hour forget. Now I understand: this is all Your trick!
As You have not given, so have You not received. Am I to blame? Had You but given, surely You would have received. Out of Your own gifts would I have given to You.
Glory and infamy, the bitter and the sweet – all these are Yours. O Mother, ever immersed in your own sweet bliss, why do you break my tender feelings?
Says Ramprasad, You have given me this mind and turned it, with a wink, to seek enjoyment in the world. And so I wander, as if cursed by an evil eye, taking the bitter for the sweet and the unreal for the real.
“Baffled by Her delusion, man has become worldly. Ramprasad says, ‘You have given me this mind and have turned it, with a wink, to seek enjoyment in the world.’”
Instruction about karma yoga – the world and selfless work
A Brahmo devotee: “Sir, isn’t it possible to realize God without renouncing everything?”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “Of course. Why do you have to renounce everything? You are fine and happy as you are. You are all right at ‘do, re, mi’ (lower notes of the musical scale). (All laugh.) Do you know the game of nax (a game of cards)? I have been ‘burnt.’ I have scored too many times, so I am out of the game. You are very clever. Some of you are at ten points, some at six, and others at five (out of the seventeen needed to win). You didn’t score more, so you have not been ‘burnt’ like me. The game is going on nicely! (Everybody laughs.)
“Truly, I tell you, there is nothing wrong in living as a householder, as you are. However, you have to fix your mind on God. Otherwise, it won’t do. Do your work with one hand and hold onto God with the other. When you finish your work, you will hold God with both hands.
“It is the mind that matters. If the mind is bound, you are bound; if the mind is free, you are free. The mind gets dyed in the colour into which it is dipped. It is just like a laundered white cloth. You can dip it in any colour – red, blue, or green. It gets the colour you dip it into. Just see, if you study a little English, you start speaking English in spite of yourself: Foot-fut, it-mit. (All laugh.) And also putting on shoes (English boots), whistling and singing – all these actions follow. If a pundit studies Sanskrit, he starts quoting slokas. If the mind is kept in bad company, it adopts the same style of conversation and thoughts. If you keep it in the company of devotees, and if you meditate on God, then talk about God will follow.
“It is, indeed, the mind that matters. You have a wife on one side and a child on the other. The attraction for the wife is of one kind, the affection for the child is another. But the mind is the same.”
sarvadharmän parityajya mäm ekaà çaraëaà vraja|
ahaà tvä sarvapäpebhyo mokñyayiñyämi mä çucaù||
[Relinquishing all duties, take refuge in Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sins; grieve not.]
– Bhagavad Gita 18:66
Instruction to Brahmos – Christianity, Brahmo Samaj, and the concept of sin
Sri Ramakrishna (to Brahmo devotees): “It is the mind that binds and it is the mind that liberates. I am a free soul, I may live in the household or in the forest, there is no bondage for me. I am a child of the Lord, the son of the King of Kings; who will bind me then? When bitten by a snake, if you say with conviction, ‘There is no poison!’ you are rid of the venom. In the same way, if you say emphatically, ‘I am not bound, I am free!’ you become so. You become liberated.”
The earlier story of his life – Sri Ramakrishna listens to the Bible – Krishnakishore’s faith
“Someone gave me a book on Christianity. I asked him to read it to me. It contained sin and sin alone. (To Keshab) Your Brahmo Samaj also speaks of sin and sin alone. One who constantly says, ‘I am bound, I am bound,’ that rascal really becomes bound! He who repeats day and night, ‘I am a sinner, I am a sinner,’ does become a sinner.
“One should have such faith in the name of God that one feels: ‘I have chanted His name. How can I still be a sinner? What sin is there for me? What bondage for me?’ Krishna kishore is a pious Hindu, a brahmin who worships the Lord with single-minded devotion. Once he went to Vrindavan. Walking around one day, he felt thirsty. He came to a well where a man was standing. He said to the man, ‘Brother, will you please give me some water? Of what caste are you?’ The man replied, ‘Revered sir, I belong to a low caste – a cobbler.’ Krishna kishore said, ‘Just say “Shiva” and then draw water for me.’
“By chanting the name of God, both the body and mind become pure.
“Why talk of sin and hell? Just say but once, ‘I shall not repeat the wrongs I have done,’ and have faith in His name.”
Thakur, overwhelmed with love, sings of the power of God’s name.
Mother, can I but die with Durga’s name upon my lips,
I shall see, O Shankari, how in the end You cannot refuse to rescue me?
“I prayed to my Divine Mother for pure love of God. Holding flowers in my hands I offered them at Her lotus feet and said, ‘O Mother, take Your sin and Your merit, and grant that I may have only pure love for You. Take Your knowledge and take Your ignorance, and grant me pure love for You. Here is Your purity, and here Your impurity; grant me pure love. Take Your righteousness and Your un-righteousness, and grant me pure love.’”
(To the Brahmo devotees) “Listen to a song by Ramprasad.”
Come, O mind, let us go for a walk to Kali, the wish-fulfilling tree, and gather there the four fruits of life.
Of your two wives, Desire and Dispassion, take only Dispassion along, and ask her eldest son, Discrimination, for the truth about Reality.
When will you lie down happily between your wives, Purity and Defilement? When you see no difference between these two, then shall you see the Divine Mother Kali.
Drive out your parents, Ego and Ignorance, and should Delusion attempt to drag you into its pit, hold fast to the post of Patience.
Tie the goats of Virtue and Vice to the post of Unconcern, and should they become unruly, kill them both with the sword of knowledge.
Admonish, O mind, the children of your first wife, Desire, and tell them to keep their distance. Should they not obey you, then drown them in the sea of knowledge.
Ramprasad says: If you can do this, you will render a proper account to the Lord of Death, and I shall be pleased to call you my dear one, a mind after my own heart.
“Why should God-realization not be possible while living in a household? King Janaka realized God. This world is a ‘structure of dreams,’ Ramprasad said. After attaining love and devotion at His lotus feet:
The world is indeed a source of joy, so let me eat, drink, and be merry!
Was King Janaka in any way below a holy man who has given up the world?
Oh no, he was loyal to both matter and Spirit, having realized God while he drank his cup of milk. (All laugh.)
Brahmo Samaj and King Janaka – the way of the household – to live in solitude and discrimination
“But one cannot become King Janaka all at once. King Janaka performed austerity in solitude for a long time. Even while living in the family, one must go into solitude at times. It’s good if one can cry for God even for three days in solitude, away from home. But even if a man goes into solitude for a day when he gets the opportunity, and thinks of Him, that too is good. People shed pitchers full of tears for wife and children, but who cries for God, tell me? One should go into solitude at times and perform spiritual practices to realize God. In the beginning there are many difficulties in making the mind steady while attending to all the duties of the world. The mind, in the initial stage, is like a young tree on the footpath; it may be eaten by goats or cows. A fence is needed to protect it. When, however, the trunk grows big and strong, no fence is needed. Then even an elephant tied to the trunk will not harm it.
“Take the disease of typhoid. There is a pot of water and tamarind pickles in the room where a patient is lying. If you want to cure this patient, you’ll have to remove him from the room. A worldly man is a typhoid patient, worldly things are pots of water, and the desire for sense enjoyments is his thirst. The mouth begins to water at the mere thought of tamarind pickles. They should not be placed near the patient. Such things are present in the household – the company of a woman and so on. That is why living in solitude is necessary for a cure.
“One can enter family life after attaining discrimination and dispassion. In the ocean of the world are the crocodiles of passion – anger and so forth. If you enter the water after smearing your body with turmeric, you need not fear the crocodiles. Discrimination and non-attachment are the turmeric. Knowledge of what is real and what is unreal is known as discrimination. God alone is real and eternal. All else is unreal, transitory, lasting just a few days. One must realize this and develop love for God, attachment to God, devotion to Him. The gopis had such an attraction for Krishna. Here is a song:”
The way – love for God – attachment, or attraction like that of gopis
Listen! The flute plays in yonder wood.
There I must go, where Krishna awaits me on the path.
Tell me, dear friends, will you not come along?
To you, my friends, Krishna is but a mere name, an empty name,
But to me He is an ache in my heart.
You hear His flute with only your ears, but I hear it playing in my heart:
Krishna’s flute that beckons, “Come, O Radha!
Without you there is no beauty in the grove.”
Singing this song with tears in his eyes, Thakur says to Keshab and the other devotees, “You may or may not accept Radha and Krishna, but make their feelings of attraction and attachment your own. Who has such yearning for God? Make an effort. Only when you yearn for God, will you realize Him.”
saàniyamyendriyagrämaà sarvatra samabuddha- yaù |
te präpnuvanti mäm eva sarvabhütahite ratäù ||
[Having restrained the multitude of senses, even-minded in everything, rejoicing in the welfare of all beings, they indeed come to Me.]
– Bhagavad Gita 12:4
Steamer trip with Keshab Sen – engaged in the welfare of all beings
It is ebb tide and the steamer is progressing rapidly toward Calcutta. The captain has given orders to go a little farther down the river to the Botanical Gardens on the other side of the bridge. How far the steamer has gone is not known to many, they have been listening to Sri Ramakrishna’s words with such rapt attention. They have no idea of time.
They are all eating puffed rice with coconut that they have kept in the folds of their cloths. It is a festivity of joy. Keshab had arranged for the puffed rice. At this moment Thakur sees that Vijay and Keshab are not at ease in each other’s company. Now he will make them compromise, as if they are two innocent boys. He is engaged in the welfare of all beings.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Keshab): “Look, Vijay is here. Your disputes and differences are like battles between Rama and Shiva. (Laughter.) Shiva is Rama’s guru. They had a fight, and then they made up. But the fighting and gibberish between Shiva’s ghosts and Rama’s monkeys has no end! (Loud laughter.)
“You are the same flesh and blood. Yet, you know, such things can’t be avoided. Lava and Kusha (Rama’s sons) fought a war with their father. And, you know, a mother and her daughter observe Tuesday’s fast and prayers separately. It’s as if the good fortune of the mother and the daughter were different. In fact, the mother’s Tuesday observance brings good fortune to the daughter, just as her daughter’s separate observance does for her mother. In the same way, Keshab has a samaj (religious society) of his own and Vijay thinks he must have a separate samaj. (Laughter.) Still, it is necessary. You may ask, ‘When the Lord Himself enacts His sport why is there need for Jatila and Kutila?’ Without troublemakers like Jatila and Kutila, the sport doesn’t develop. (All laugh.) And without Jatila and Kutila, there is no fun. (Loud laughter.)
“Ramanuja was a believer in the doctrine of Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism). His guru believed in Advaitavada (non-dualism). In the end they had differences. The guru and the disciple started criticising each other’s views. This happens quite often, even though people are our own flesh and blood.”
pitäsi lokasya caräcarasya tvam asya püjyaçca gurur garéyän |
na tvatsamo ‘sty abhyadhikaù kuto ‘nyo lokatraye ‘py apratimaprabhäva ||
[You are the Father of the moving and the unmoving universe. You are adored by this world, You are the revered Guru. In the three worlds there is none who can surpass you. You, O Being of incomparable power!]
– Bhagavad Gita 11:43
Advice to Keshab – gurudom and Brahmo Samaj – Sat-chit-ananda alone is Guru
All are rejoicing. Thakur says to Keshab: “You do not examine the nature of your disciples before accepting them. That’s why they break away like this.
“Men are the same in appearance, but they differ in nature. In some, sattvaguna dominates, in others rajoguna, and again in others tamoguna. Puli (a kind of stuffed sweet) may all have the same look. But some contain sweetened condensed milk, some the kernel of coconut sweetened by treacle or sugar, and some have kalai pulse boiled without any sweetening added. (All laugh.)
“Do you know what I think about it? I go on eating and drinking, and the Divine Mother knows all. There are three words that prick me – guru, doer, and father.
“There is only one Guru, who is Sat-chit-ananda. It is Sat-chit-ananda alone who teaches. For my part, I feel like a child. You can find lakhs of men as gurus. Everyone wants to be a guru. Who wants to be a disciple?
“Teaching mankind is very difficult. It is only when God manifests and gives a commission that it is possible. Narada, Sukadeva, and others received that command to teach. Sankaracharya also was commissioned by God. If you are not commissioned, who will listen to you? You know the minds of Calcutta people. So long as there is fire, the milk continues to boil. As soon as the fire is withdrawn, it stops boiling. The people of Calcutta are so impatient. For need of water, they start digging a well, but give up when they find a few rocks. Then they start digging at another place. If they find sand there, they become discouraged and look once again for another place to dig. This is what they do.
“Again, it’s not enough to imagine that you have received God’s command. Such an idea is quite mistaken. God actually appears before you and speaks to you. Only then do you receive the command. What a weight such words carry then! They can move a mountain. Mere lecturing? People will listen for a few days and then forget. They won’t act on the instruction.”
Earlier story of his life – ecstatic vision of Haldarpukur
“In the countryside (at Thakur’s native village) is a pond called Haldarpukur. People used to defecate on its bank every morning. Others would shout abuse, yet the same thing would happen the next day. The defecation didn’t stop. People then ap-proached the Company (Municipality). They, in turn, sent out an official to put up a notice that said, ‘Do not relieve yourself here.’ The nuisance stopped immediately. (Everybody laughs.)
“To teach others, a person must have the badge of authority. Without it, the teaching is ridiculous. We do not teach ourselves, but go preach to others instead! It is like the blind leading the blind. (Laughter.) It brings more harm than good. Only when you have seen God can you see through other people and understand what diseases of the soul they have been stricken with. Only then can you instruct them.”
Clouded by egotism one thinks that he is the doer
“You must have a direct command from God. Otherwise, it will only be self-assertion to say, ‘I teach mankind.’ Self-assertion is the offspring of ignorance. Out of ignorance one feels, ‘I am the doer.’ One becomes a jivanmukta only by realizing, ‘God is the sole actor in the three worlds. I am a mere instrument in His hands.’ All troubles, all want of peace, come from the notion, ‘I am the doer, I am a free agent.’”
tasmäd asaktaù satataà käryaà karma samäcara |
asakto hyäcarankarma param äpnoti püruñaù ||
[Therefore, constantly perform your own duties without attachment; for by doing duties without attachment, man verily obtains the Supreme.]
– Bhagavad Gita 3:19
The steamer trip – instruction to Keshab and other Brahmo devotees on karma yoga
Sri Ramakrishna (to Keshab and the other devotees): “You talk of doing good to the world. I ask you, is the world so small? Who are you to do good to the world? Attain God by performing spiritual practices. Attain Him. He will give you power. Only then will you be able to do good to others; otherwise not.”
A devotee: “Should we give up all work until we realize God?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “No, why should you give up work? You will have to do all this: meditate on God, chant His names and glories, and perform your daily devotions.”
A Brahmo devotee: “But what about worldly work? Worldly affairs?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes, you should attend to that too, as much as is necessary to run the household. But you must cry in a lonely corner and pray to God so that you do all these works selflessly. And you should pray, ‘O Lord, please lessen my worldly work, because O Lord, I see that when I am engrossed in too much work, I forget You. I think that I’m doing the work in a selfless way, but it turns out to be with a motive. A desire for name and fame can crop up when I increase my giving in charity and distributing free meals.’”
The earlier story of his life – talk on activities such as charity with Sambhu Mallick
“Sambhu Mallick brought up the topic of hospitals, dispensaries, schools, roads, and reservoirs. I said to him, ‘You should do only that which comes your way and which appears to be of pressing necessity – this too in the spirit of not expecting any reward. Don’t seek more work. If you do, you will lose sight of God. Say you go to the Kalighat Temple and busy yourself in distributing alms – but you miss the darshan of Kali! (Laughter.) First of all, have the darshan of Kali, even if you have to push your way through to reach Her. Afterwards you may or may not practice charity. If you like, give as much as you can. After all, work is meant for realizing God. That’s why I said to Sambhu, ‘Suppose the Lord appears before you, what will you say to Him? “Please build a number of hospitals and dispensaries?”’ (Laughter.) A devotee never asks for such things. Instead he says, ‘Lord, grant me a place at Your lotus feet, always keep me with You, grant me pure love and devotion to Your lotus feet.’
“Karma yoga is very hard indeed. The rituals laid down in the sacred books are very hard to practice in the Kaliyuga. Life is dependent on food. Too much work is not possible. It will all be over for the patient suffering from fever if he’s given a slow-acting treatment as prescribed by an old-fashioned Hindu physician – he cannot last long. These days he needs the fast-acting fever mixture of D. Gupta. In the Kaliyuga one should practice Bhakti Yoga, chanting the Lord’s name and His glories, and prayer. Indeed, Bhakti Yoga is the law of this age. (To the Brahmo devotees) You Brahmos also practice Bhakti Yoga. You repeat the name of God and chant the glories of the Divine Mother. You are indeed blessed! Your path is really fine. You are not Vedantists. You don’t say, ‘The world is like a dream.’ You are not such brahmajnanis; you are devotees. You believe that God is a person. This is very fine. You are devotees. You will certainly attain God when you call upon Him with a yearning heart.”
Surendra’s house – with Narendra and others
The steamer has now returned to the Kayalaghat (Calcutta). All prepare to land. Coming out of the cabin, they see that the full moon of Kojagar (the month of Aswin) is shining brightly. The bosom of the Ganges sparkles in the moonlight. A carriage is called for Sri Ramakrishna. In a little while he enters it with M. and some other devotees. Nandalal, Keshab’s nephew, also gets in. He will accompany Thakur for some distance.
When they all are seated in the carriage, Thakur asks, “Where is he?” meaning Keshab. Soon Keshab appears alone, smiling. He asks who is accompanying Thakur. After everyone is seated in the carriage, Keshab prostrates on the ground and takes the dust of Thakur’s feet. Thakur bids him an affectionate goodbye. The carriage rolls along the beautiful main thoroughfare of the English neighbourhood. Lighted mansions adorning both sides of the road seem as if they are in repose in the mellow, serene rays of the full moon. Near the main gates are gaslights. In almost every home English ladies are singing to the accompaniment of the harmonium or piano. Thakur smiles joyfully as he passes. Suddenly he says, “I’m feeling thirsty. What can be done?” What to do! Nandalal stops the carriage near the India Club, goes upstairs to get water, and brings back a full glass tumbler. Thakur asks sweetly, “Has the tumbler been well washed?” Nandalal says, “Yes, it has.” Thakur drinks the water from the tumbler.
Thakur has the nature of a child. When the carriage starts again, he puts his head out of the window to look at the people and the horses and carriages in the moonlight. He is happy to see them all.
Nandalal gets down at Calootola. Thakur’s carriage stops in Shimuliya Street at Suresh Mitra’s house. Thakur calls him Surendra. He is a great devotee of Thakur’s.
But Surendra is not at home. He has gone to his new garden house. The members of the household open a room on the ground floor for the guests. The carriage fare needs to be paid. Who will pay it? Had Surendra been there, he would have paid it. Thakur says to a devotee, “Ask the ladies of the house for the fare. Don’t they know that their men are frequent visitors?”
Narendra lives nearby. Thakur sends for him. Meanwhile, Thakur is led to a room on the second story. The floor of the room is covered by a sheet, and a few bolsters are lying on it. On the wall is an oil painting in which Thakur is showing Keshab the harmony of all religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, as well as Vaishnava, Shakta, and Shaiva sects. Surendra had had it painted.
Sitting there, Thakur talks happily. As Narendra enters, it is as if Thakur’s joy is doubled. He says, “I went on a steamer trip with Keshab Sen. Vijay was there and also all these people.” Pointing to M. he adds, “You may ask him how I told Vijay and Keshab about ‘Tuesday’ for the mother and the daughter and that God’s sport is not nourished without Jatila and Kutila – all these things. (To M.) Was this not so?”
M.: “Yes, sir.”
It is getting dark, but Surendra has not yet come back. Thakur must return to Dakshineswar and cannot wait any longer. It is 10.30 at night. The road is bathed in moonlight.
A carriage arrives and Thakur gets in. Narendra and M. salute him and return to their homes in Calcutta.
. Kojagar Lakshmi Puja: the full-moon night of the dark fortnight of Aswin. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is worshiped in North India on Diwali night. In Bengal Lakshmi is worshiped fifteen days prior to Diwali. On Diwali, the festival of lights, people worship Kali in Bengal.
. Sanatana Dharma.
. Knowledge of the Absolute.
. The twenty-four categories or cosmic principles enunciated in the Samkhya Philosophy are: mahat, cosmic intelligence; buddhi, the discriminating faculty; ahamkara, the sense of ego; manas/mind-stuff/chitta, the recording faculty; five organs of sense-perception (hearing, touch, sight, taste, smell); five organs of action (hands, feet, speech, organ of excretion, organ of generation); five tanmatras (sound-potential, touch-potential, sight-potential, taste-potential, smell-potential), the finer materials of the gross elements which, combining and recombining produce the five gross elements (ether/akasha/space, air, fire, water, and earth).
. The aspirant who seeks union with God through raja yoga, the path of meditation.
. The seeker of union.
. One who is dispassionate for everything but God.
. Adya Shakti.
. The spirits of destruction.
. Nishkama karma.
. For complete song see Section I, Chapter VII of this book.
. Four fruits: Dharma (good works), artha (wealth), kama (desires), moksha (liberation).
. Viveka and vairagya.
. Shyam, of dark blue complexion.
. Troublemakers who disturb the peace.
. Qualities that lead Godward.
. Qualities that incline one to multiply work and duty.
. Qualities that cause ignorance and laziness and turn the mind away from God.
. Ahamkär vimüòhätmä kartäham iti manyate| Bhagavad Gita 3:27.
. A patent medicine.