Conversation with Devotees about the Essence of Brahman and Primal Power at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Talk on Vidyasagar and Keshab Sen
It is Sunday, the third day of the dark fortnight in the month of Ashadha, 22 July 1883. The devotees have come again to see Sri Ramakrishna. They do not generally have the leisure to come on other days of the week. Adhar, Rakhal, and M. arrived at the Kali Temple from Calcutta at about one or two in the afternoon. They came in a hired carriage. Sri Ramakrishna has taken a little rest after his midday meal. Mani Mallick and some other devotees are also there.
The temple of Radhakanta and the temple of Bhavatarini are located in the eastern part of the large courtyard of Rasmani’s Kali Temple. The twelve Shiva temples are in the western area. Directly to the north of the row of Shiva temples is Sri Ramakrishna Deva’s room. To the west of his room is a semicircular verandah. Looking west from there he watches the Ganges. Between the embankment of the Ganges and the verandah is an extensive flower garden belonging to the temple. It stretches from its southern boundary to the panchavati in the north where Sri Ramakrishna practiced austerities. On the east of the garden are two entrances. By the Paramahamsa Deva’s room are a few poinciana trees. Nearby are gardenia, kokilax, and white and red oleanders. On the inner wall of Sri Ramakrishna’s room hang pictures of gods and goddesses, among them a picture of Christ holding Peter’s hand to save him from drowning. There is also a stone image of the Buddha. Sri Ramakrishna is sitting on a wooden cot, facing north. Devotees are sitting, some on the floor, some on a mat, and others on small carpets. All of them are gazing at the great man’s blissful figure. Not far from the room, along the western side of the embankment, the holy river Ganges flows south. It is as though the strong current of the rainy season is rushing to meet the sea, glancing on the meditation room of the great saint and touching it on its way.
Mani Mallick is a Brahmo devotee, sixty or sixty-five years old. A few days ago he visited Kashi. Today he has come to see Thakur and is giving him an account of his visit.
Mani Mallick: “I met another sadhu. He said, ‘Without control over the senses, nothing can be achieved. How does it help merely to cry, ‘Lord, Lord?’”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Do you know what people like that sadhu believe? That one must first practice spiritual disciplines: tranquility (shama), self-control (dama), and forbearance (titiksha). These people strive for nirvana. They are Vedantists. They only meditate on this: ‘Brahman is real and the world illusory.’ It is an extremely difficult path. If the world is illusory, then you too are illusory. Those who say so are also illusory, and what they say is also like a dream. It is a very abstruse philosophy.
“Do you know how it is? Like burning camphor that leaves no trace. When you burn firewood, you still get an ash residue. After ultimate reasoning comes samadhi. Then there is no awareness of ‘I,’ ‘you,’ and ‘the universe.’”
Meetings with Pundit Padmalochan and Vidyasagar
“Padmalochan was a man of great spiritual knowledge. He had great respect for me, even though I repeated ‘Mother, Mother.’ Padmalochan was the court pundit of the King of Burdwan. He came to Calcutta and stayed in a garden house near Kamarhati. I felt some desire to visit the pundit, but I sent Hriday to find out if he had any vanity. I was told that the pundit had no ego. So I met him. Such a great jnani and such a pundit! Yet he began to weep when he heard me sing a song of Ramprasad’s. The satisfaction I found in talking with him, I have never found with anybody else. He said to me, ‘Give up your desire for the company of devotees. All these different people will bring your downfall.’ Once he had a written discussion with Utsavananda, Vaishnavcharan’s guru. He said to me, ‘Let me tell you about it.’ There was a discussion at a meeting about who was the greater, Shiva or Brahma. At the end of the discussion the pundits consulted Padmalochan. Padmalochan was so guileless he replied, ‘Not one of my ancestors for fourteen generations ever saw Shiva or Brahma.’ Hearing about my renunciation of ‘lust and greed,’ he said to me one day, ‘Why have you given them up? This is money and that is clay. Such a feeling of difference is the result of ignorance.’ What could I say to him? I said, ‘I don’t know, my dear! I don’t relish money and the like.’”
Charities of Vidyasagar, but gold lies buried within
“There was a pundit who was very vain. He didn’t accept God with form. But who can understand the ways of God? He revealed Himself to the pundit in the form of Primordial Power. The vision made the pundit unconscious for a long time. After regaining a little consciousness he could only utter, ‘Ka! Ka! Ka!’ (that is, Kali) – just that syllable.”
A devotee: “Sir, you have met Vidyasagar. What do you think of him?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Vidyasagar has scholarship, and he is kind, but he lacks insight. Gold lies buried within him. Had he discovered this gold, much of his external activities would have been reduced. Finally he would have given them up completely. Had he known that God resides inside, in the heart, his mind would have been directed to Him in meditation and contemplation. Some people develop dispassion after performing selfless work for a long time. Their mind goes to God, and be-comes absorbed in Him in the end.
“The kind of work Ishwar Vidyasagar does is very good. It is good to have compassion for others. There is, however, a great difference between compassion [daya] and attachment [maya]. Compassion is good; attachment is not good. Maya is love for one’s own near and dear ones – wife, son, brother, sister, brother’s son, sister’s son, father, and mother – love for these. Compassion, however, is love for all beings equally.”
guëatrayavyatiriktaà sacchidänandasvarupam |
[The real nature of Sat-chit-ananda is beyond the three gunas.]
Brahman is beyond the three gunas, beyond speech
M.: “Is compassion [daya] also bondage?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “That is a very subtle concept. Compassion comes from sattvaguna. Sattvaguna preserves, rajoguna creates, and tamoguna destroys. But Brahman is beyond the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. It is beyond nature.
“The gunas cannot really reach Brahman. They are like robbers who cannot go out in the open, afraid that they might be arrested. Sattva, rajas, and tamas – all three gunas – are robbers. Let me tell you a story:
“Once a man was going through a forest when three robbers came and caught hold of him. They robbed him of all he possessed. One of the robbers said, ‘Why keep this man alive now?’ Saying this, he stepped forward with a sword to kill him. The second robber then said, ‘No brother, what use is it to kill him? Let’s tie his hands and feet and leave him here.’ Doing so, the robbers left him and went on their way. After a while one of them returned and said, ‘Oh, you’re suffering so much! Let me free you from the bonds.’ Untying the man, he said, ‘Come with me. I‘ll take you to the main road.’ After a long time, when they reached the road, the robber said, ‘Follow this road. See, there is your house.’ The man then said to the robber, ‘Sir, you have been very kind to me. Please come with me to my house.’ The robber said, ‘No, I can’t go there. The police will come to know.’
“The world itself is a forest. In this forest sattva, rajas, and tamas are robbers. They rob a person of spiritual knowledge. Tamoguna wants to destroy him, and rajoguna binds him to the world. But sattvaguna saves him from rajas and tamas. By taking refuge in sattvaguna, one is saved from lust, anger, and other such evil effects of tamas. Besides, sattvaguna loosens the bonds of the world. But even sattvaguna is a robber. It can’t give spiritual knowledge. What it does is put you on the road to God. Putting you on the road, it says, ‘Just look, there is your home.’ But sattvaguna remains at a great distance from the knowledge of Brahman.
“What Brahman is cannot be expressed in words. He who attains Brahman cannot give information about Him. There is a saying, ‘A ship never returns once it reaches the black waters.’
“Four friends taking a walk came upon a high wall. Curious to know what was on the other side, one of the men climbed up to look. As he peeped over the wall, he exclaimed with wonder, ‘Ah! Ah!’ and he fell in. He gave no information. Each of them climbed up and cried out, ‘Ah! Ah!’ and jumped in. Who could then tell what they saw?”
Jadabharata, Dattatreya, and Sukadeva – all knowers of Brahman
“After realizing Brahman, Jadabharata and Dattatreya could give no information about It. One’s I-consciousness vanishes after passing into samadhi, after attaining the knowledge of Brahman. So Ramprasad says: ‘If you cannot attain (the knowledge of Brahman) yourself, O mind, take Ramprasad with you.’ The mind must dissolve. After that, Ramprasad, that is, the ego, must merge. Only then does one attain knowledge of Brahman.”
A devotee: “Sir, didn’t Sukadeva attain Ultimate Knowledge?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Some say that Sukadeva only saw and touched the ocean of Brahman but did not dive deep into It. That’s why he could return and impart spiritual instruction. According to others, he returned after attaining the knowledge of Brahman in order to teach mankind. He had to narrate the Bhagavata to Parikshit and also teach people in various ways. So God didn’t merge his ‘I’ altogether. His ‘I of knowledge’ was retained.”
Instruction to Keshab – organization (sectarianism) is not right
A devotee: “Can one keep an organization intact after attaining the knowledge of Brahman?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “I talked to Keshab Sen about the knowledge of Brahman. Keshab said, ‘Please elaborate further.’ I said, ‘If I talk further, you will not be able to keep your organization intact.’ ‘Then please don’t tell me any more, sir!’ Keshab replied. (All laugh.) Then I said to him,‘“I and mine” – these indicate ignorance. “I am the doer, this is my wife, that is my son, these are my possessions,” honour, respect, and so on – such feelings arise because of ignorance.’ Thereupon Keshab said, ‘Sir, if you give up the “I,” nothing whatsoever will remain!’ I said, ‘Keshab, I’m not asking you to renounce your “I” altogether. Only give up your “unripe I.” “I am the doer, this is my wife or son, I am the guru,” and so on – this pride is the “unripe I.” Give it up. Renounce it and keep the “ripe I” – “I am His servant, I am His devotee, I am not the doer, He is the doer.”’”
It is right to preach religion only when one has received God’s command
A devotee: “Can the ‘ripe I’ create an organization?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “I said to Keshab Sen, ‘I am the leader of the organization, I have made it, I impart instruction to mankind’ – this ‘I’ is the ‘unripe I.’ It is very difficult to propagate religion. Without the command of God it cannot be done. His command is needed. For example, Sukadeva received the command to narrate the story of the Bhagavata. There’s nothing wrong in preaching and instructing mankind after seeing God and having received His command. The ‘I’ of such a person is not the ‘unripe I’ – it is the ‘ripe I.’
“I asked Keshab to renounce the ‘unripe I.’ There is no harm in having the ‘I of a servant’ or the ‘I of a devotee.’
“You’re talking about your organization. Many people are leaving it. Keshab said, ‘Sir, during the last three years people from my group have returned to the other group. They spoke unkindly when they left.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you see their natures? This is what comes of making disciples indiscriminately.’”
Instruction to Keshab: accept the Primal Power
“And I said to Keshab, ‘Accept the Primal Power. Brahman and Shakti (His power) are inseparable. He who is Brahman is Himself Shakti. So long as there is body consciousness, you are conscious of duality. They are two only in name.’ Keshab later accepted Kali (Shakti).
“One day Keshab came here with his disciples. I said to him, ‘I’d like to hear you lecture.’ He delivered his lecture seated in the chandni. Then we sat at the ghat and had a long talk. I said, ‘He who is Bhagavan is Himself the devotee in another form. He Himself is also the Bhagavata (a scripture) in yet another form. You Brahmos, please say, “Bhagavata-Bhakta-Bhagavan.” Keshab said it and his disciples also repeated together, ‘Bhagavata-Bhakta-Bhagavan.’ When I said, ‘Please say, “Guru-Krishna-Vaishnava,” Keshab said, ‘Sir, not that far. If I say that, people will call me orthodox.’”
Past story of his life – Sri Ramakrishna swoons on seeing the ways of maya
“It is very difficult to go beyond the three gunas. It is not possible before God-realization. The embodied soul lives in the domain of maya. This maya doesn’t let one know God; it keeps a human being in ignorance. Hriday once brought a little calf. One day I saw that he tied it in the garden to graze. I asked him, ‘Hriday, why do you tie it there every day?’ Hriday replied, ‘Uncle, I will send this calf to the village. When it grows, it will be yoked to the plough.’ As he said these words, I became unconscious and fell down. I said to myself, ‘Such are the ways of maya!’ Kamarpukur and Sihore are so far from Calcutta! This little calf will tread so long a path! It will grow there. And later, after so many days, it will pull the plough – this is what is called the world, and this is what is called maya.
“It was after a long time that I regained consciousness.”
Sri Ramakrishna merges in samadhi day and night. How his days and nights pass! At times he talks of God or takes part in singing hymns with the devotees. At about three or four o’clock M. sees him seated on his smaller cot, lost in ecstasy. After some time he begins to talk to the Divine Mother.
Talking to the Mother, Thakur says, “Mother, why have You given him only one kala (one sixteenth part of divine power)?” He remains silent for a moment. Then he says, “I understand, Mother. This one kala will be enough for him. Only one kala will enable him to do Your work – to preach to mankind.”
Does Thakur transmit spiritual powers to his inner and intimate disciples in this way? What is it all about? Later these disciples will teach humankind. Is he making arrangements for this?
Besides M., Rakhal is also there. Thakur is still in a divine mood. He says to Rakhal, “You were angry with me. Why did I reprimand you? There was a reason for it: to make the medicine work. When disease of the spleen advances, a leaf of mansa (a medicinal herb) has to be applied.”
After a while he says, “I have seen that Hazra is like a dry piece of wood. Yet he lives here. Why? There’s a reason for this. Without Jatila and Kutila (the trouble-making mother and sister-in-law of Radha), the play does not develop.
(To M.) “You must accept the forms of God. Do you know the significance of the Divine Mother in the form of Jagaddhatri? It is She who supports the world. If She doesn’t support it, doesn’t protect it, the world will fall, it will perish. Jagaddhatri only dawns in the heart of one who can tame the elephant of the mind.”
Rakhal: “Mana-matt-kari.” (The mind is a mad elephant.)
Sri Ramakrishna: “That’s why the lion of Simhavahini (Durga, riding a lion) keeps the elephant under its control.”
At dusk arati is performed in the temple. Sri Ramakrishna chants the names of the gods and goddesses in his room. Incense has been burnt in the room. With hands folded, he is seated on the smaller cot, meditating on the Divine Mother. Govinda Mukherji of Belgharia and some of his friends enter the room, offer their salutations, and take their seats on the floor. M. and Rakhal are sitting there.
Outside the moon is shining and all of nature is still; it seems to be smiling. Inside, everyone is sitting quietly, gazing at the serene image of Sri Ramakrishna. He is absorbed in ecstasy. After a while, still in a state of ecstasy, he begins to talk.
The form of Shyama – Purusha and Prakriti – Yogamaya – Shiva and Kali, and Radha and Krishna – explanation of the forms – superior devotee – the path of reason
Sri Ramakrishna (in ecstasy): “Tell me if you have any doubt. I will explain everything to you.”
Govinda and other devotees are thoughtful.
Govinda: “Revered sir, why is Shyama dark?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “It’s because She’s at a distance. Go near and you’ll find that She has no colour. The water in a pond looks dark from a distance. Go near it, take some in your hand, and you see that it has no colour. The sky appears blue from a distance. Look at the sky near you and you see that it is colourless. The nearer you go to God, the more you will realize that He has neither name nor form. Move a little away from Mother Shyama and you will find that She is the colour blue, like grass flowers. Is Shyama Purusha or Prakriti? A devotee was performing worship. Another man came and saw the deity wearing a sacred thread. He said, ‘You have put the sacred thread round the Mother’s neck!’ The worshiper said, ‘Brother, you alone have recognized the Mother. As for me, I have never been able to know whether She is male or female. That is why I have put a sacred thread round her neck.’
“The One who is Shyama is also Brahman. The One who has form is also formless. The Being who has attributes is also without attributes. Brahman is Shakti, and Shakti is Brahman. They are inseparable – the male Sat-chit-ananda and the female Sat-chit-ananda.”
Govinda: “What is the meaning of yogamaya?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yogamaya means the union of Purusha and Prakriti. Whatever you see is the union of Purusha and Prakriti. In the image of Shiva and Kali, Kali stands on Shiva; he lies like a corpse while Kali looks down at him. All this is the union of Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is inactive, so Shiva is lying like a corpse. It is in conjunction with Purusha that Prakriti performs all Her actions. She creates, preserves, and dissolves.
“The dual image of Radha and Krishna [both Radha and Krishna in one piece] also signifies the same. Because of this union they are bent towards each other. To denote this very union, Sri Krishna wears a pearl in his nose and Radha a blue stone in hers. Radha has the fair complexion of a bright pearl, while Sri Krishna is of dark complexion. It is for this reason that Radha wears the blue stone. Furthermore, Sri Krishna’s apparel is yellow; that of Radha is blue.
“Who is the best devotee? The one who, after attaining the knowledge of Brahman, sees that God alone has become the universe and the twenty-four cosmic principles. One first reaches the roof by discriminating, ‘Not this, not this.’ Then he realizes that the steps are made of the same material as the roof – brick, lime, and brick-dust. Then he sees that Brahman Himself has become all living beings and the universe.
“Mere reasoning! I spit on it! I spit on it! It is of no use. (Thakur spits on the ground.) Why make yourself dry by reasoning? As long as you have the consciousness of ‘I’ and ‘you,’ you must have pure love and devotion at His lotus feet.
(To Govinda) “At times I say, ‘You are I, and I am You.’ And sometimes ‘You’ remains. The ‘I’ has then disappeared and is not traceable.
“It is Shakti that becomes the avatar. According to one school of thought, Rama and Krishna are but two waves of the Ocean of Bliss and Consciousness.
“After attaining the knowledge of non-duality (advaita jnana) comes spiritually awakened consciousness (chaitanya). Then one sees that God alone exists in all things as Consciousness. After this realization comes ananda (bliss). Advaita, Chaitanya, and Nityananda.”
The Lord has forms – longing for Him comes after desire for enjoyment vanishes
(To M.) “I say to you, don’t disbelieve in the forms of God. Have faith that God has forms and meditate on the form that you love most.
(To Govinda) “Do you understand? As long as the desire for enjoyment remains, so long does one not feel the yearning to know God and attain His vision. A child plays with his toys, forgetting everything else. Cajole him with sandesh, he will eat just a piece of it. When he neither likes his toy nor enjoys the sandesh, he says, ‘I want to go to my mother!’ He doesn’t need more sandesh. If a person he doesn’t know and has never seen says to him, ‘Come with me, I’ll take you to your mother,’ the child goes with him. He goes with anyone who will carry him in his arms to his mother.
“You develop yearning for God when you’re finished with the enjoyment of worldly things. Then your only concern is to attain Him. You listen to anything anyone tells you about God.”
M. (to himself), One yearns for God only when one has finished with desire for worldly enjoyment.
. Saviour of humankind, a name of the Divine Mother.
. Krishnachuda, or gulmohar.
. Benares, a place of pilgrimage.
. Nishkama karma.
 . The Personal God as Lord.
. Goddess Kali.
. The Self, the Absolute, Spirit. Pure Consciousness, the witness of the changes of Prakriti.
. Primordial Nature, composed of the gunas, the material of the universe of mind and matter.
. Only the images of male deities wear a sacred thread.
. Non-duality, Consciousness, and Eternal Bliss.