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Sri Ramakrishna in the Hearts of Devotees
Sri Ramakrishna’s first monastery – spiritual disciplines and deep dispassion of Narendra and others
It is 7 May, 1887, the full moon day of the month of Vaishakh, Saturday afternoon. Narendra and M. are talking, seated on a bedstead on the ground floor of a house in Guruprasad Chaudhury Lane in Calcutta.
This room is Mani’s study. These days he is reading the Merchant of Venice, Comus, and Blackies’ Self-culture. He is preparing his lesson to teach students in the school.
Many months ago Sri Ramakrishna left behind devotees drowning in the shoreless sea of the world; he returned home. The affectionate ties that had bound the married and unmarried devotees together during their months of service to Sri Ramakrishna could not, however, be snapped. Though the sudden disappearance of the pilot of the boat had left its passengers in fear, they now constitute but one soul, looking on one another as their own. They cannot survive without mutual company. They find conversation with other people distasteful; they only like to talk of him. They all wonder whether or not they will ever be able to see him again. He has said: If you call on God with a yearning heart, He will hear your sincere cry and reveal Himself. He has assured them that God is bound to hear the sincere cry of their hearts. Whenever in solitude, they see the joyful image of Thakur. When they walk down a road, they weep, feeling alone and aimless. That is why Thakur said to Mani, “I feel pain in giving up the body, knowing that you people will wander around weeping on the way.’ A devotee says to himself, “He has left, but I am still here. I still have the desire to live in this perishable world. I could give up the body if I wanted. But I don’t do it.”
The young devotees had stayed at the Cossipore garden house and served Sri Ramakrishna night and day. As soon as Thakur had gone, despite their unwillingness, they returned home automatically, like mechanical dolls. Thakur never asked any of them to put on the external signs of sannyasa (of ochre cloth). Nor did he ask them to renounce their family names. They kept them for awhile after his passing away: Dutta, Ghosh, Chakravarti, Ghosal, etc. But Thakur had made them renounce the world within.
Two or three of them had no home to return to. Surendra said to them, “Brothers, where will you go? Let’s rent a residence for you where you can live. Besides, we also want some place we can go to attain peace. Without it, how can we continue day and night in our family lives? You will stay there. I used to pay, howsoever little, for the service of Thakur in the Cossipore garden house. Now that can be spent for your room and board.” For one or two months Surendra had paid thirty rupees a month. Gradually, when the other brothers joined the Math, he paid fifty or sixty rupees, still later one hundred rupees a month. The house that was hired in Baranagore cost eleven rupees a month for rent and tax. A brahmin cook had to be paid six rupees a month. Remaining expenses incurred were for rice and lentils. The Elder Gopal, Latu and Tarak had no home to return to. The Younger Gopal was first to go to the Baranagore house, carrying Thakur’s mattress (seat) and other goods from the Cossipore garden house. He was accompanied by a brahmin cook and Sashi. Sarat also stayed there the first night. Tarak was away in Vrindavan. After a few days, he returned and joined them. Narendra, Sarat, Sashi, Baburam, Niranjan and Kali used to visit it from time to time. Rakhal, Latu, Jogen and Kali were still away in Vrindavan. Kali returned after a month, Rakhal after many months, and Jogen after a year.
Before long Narendra, Rakhal, Niranjan, Sarat, Sashi, Baburam, Jogen, Kali and Latu lived at the Math. They did not return home. Then Prasanna and Subodh came to stay. They were joined later by Gangadhar and Hari.
Blessed you are, Surendra! This first Math is your handy work – it is because of your ascetic will that this ashram has come into being. Making you his instrument, Sri Ramakrishna has given physical shape to his fundamental mantra, viz. ‘renunciation of lust and greed.’ It is through such young, pure and all-renouncing souls as Narendra and the other young men that he has resuscitated the Sanatana Dharma (Eternal religion) for the good of humanity. Brother Surendra, who can forget the debt one owes you? The brothers of the Math live like motherless children waiting for you to come. Today they have paid the rent of the house and are left with nothing. They have nothing to eat. When will you come and supply their food? Who can restrain his tears when remembering your sincere love and affection?
Narendra and his companions yearn for God – their resolve to fast unto death
Narendra is talking with Mani in the same ground floor room in Calcutta. He is now the leader of the devotees. Every inmate of the Math has deep dispassion within. They are all restless to have the vision of Bhagavan.
Narendra (to Mani) — I am interested in nothing at all. Here I am talking to you, but I feel like leaving.
Narendra is silent for awhile. Then he says, “Shall I fast unto death?’
Mani — Yes, good! One does anything for Bhagavan.
Narendra — But if I am not able to control my hunger?
Mani — Then eat something and start again.
Again Narendra is silent for a few minutes.
Narendra — It seems that Bhagavan doesn’t even exist. However much I have prayed, I have gotten no response.
“I saw so many mantras whose letters were glittering like gold.
“How many times have I seen Kali’s form and so many other forms! Yet I feel no peace within.
“Will you given me six pice?”
Narendra intends to go to the Baranagore Math by carriage at Sobhabazar. He needs six pice for his fare.
In the meantime, Satu (Satkari) arrives by carriage. Satu is the same age as Narendra. He is very fond of the boys of the Math and often visits them. His home is in the vicinity of the Baranagore Math and he works in a Calcutta office. He owns a personal carriage. It is by this carriage that he has come from his office.
Narendra returns the money to Mani, saying, “Now I can go with Satu. Please give me something to eat.” Mani treats him to some snacks.
Mani gets into the same carriage with them to go to the Math. They arrive there at dusk. Mani sees how the brothers of the Math spend their days and what spiritual disciplines they practice. He visits the Math now and then to see how Sri Ramakrishna is revealing himself in the hearts of his disciples. He doesn’t find Niranjan there. The latter has only his mother alive; it is to see her that he has gone home. Baburam, Sarat and Kali are away in holy Puri. They intend to stay there for some more days and witness the Rathayatra (car festival).
Sri Ramakrishna’s world of spirituality and Narendra’s guardianship
Narendra is looking after the brothers of the Math while, for many days, Prasanna has been carrying out spiritual practices. Narendra raised the question of fasting to him too. Narendra had gone to Calcutta. Taking advantage of it, Prasanna left for some unknown destination. When he returns, Narendra hears about it. Why did Raja let him go, he wants to know. The fact is that Rakhal was not there. He had gone for a stroll from the Math to a garden in Dakshineswar. Everybody calls Rakhal Raja, Rakhal Raja (king of cowherd boys) being another name of Sri Krishna.
Narendra — When Raja returns, I shall take him to task. Why did he let Prasanna leave? (To Harish) You were lecturing standing with your feet apart; but you could not stop him.
Harish (in a very gentle voice) — Brother Tarak asked him not to go, but he did.
Narendra (to M.) — See how very difficult it is for me? Here, again, I have fallen into the world of maya. Where has that boy gone?
Rakhal has returned from the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. He had gone there with Bhavanath.
Rakhal tells Narendra that Prasanna has left a note for him. It is being read now: I am going to Vrindavan on foot. It is very difficult for me to stay here. My bhava (mood) is undergoing a change. I used to dream about my father, mother and other members of the family. Then I saw the very form of maya [of woman]. I suffered a great deal, twice. That is why I went home. And it is also the reason I am going away from home. The Paramahamsa Deva said to me, “The members of your family may say anything to you, but don’t trust them.”
Rakhal says, “Prasanna has left for these reasons. And he also said, ‘Narendra often goes home to enquire about his mother, brothers and sisters, and to fight his lawsuit. I fear that I may also wish to go home later, to follow his example.’ ”
Narendra remains silent.
Rakhal talks about going on pilgrimage. He says, “We have achieved nothing here. He [Thakur] talked to us about having the vision of Bhagavan. Have we succeeded?” Rakhal is lying down. Some of the devotees are sitting beside him, others are lying down.
Rakhal — Let’s go to the Narmada.
Narendra — How will it help to wander around? Do you think we will attain jnana by doing that?
A Devotee — Then why have we renounced the world?
Narendra — Since I haven’t been able to attain Rama, shall I establish a household with Shyam, and beget boys and girls? What are you talking about!
Saying this, Narendra gets up and leaves. Rakhal remains lying there.
After awhile Narendra returns and sits down.
One of the brothers is having a lot of fun pretending to be afflicted at not seeing the Lord. He says, ‘Oh, brother! Do please bring me a dagger. There’s no sense in living any longer! I can’t bear the pain!”
Narendra (in a grave mood) — Here it is. Stretch your hand and take it. (All laugh.)
They again talk about Prasanna.
Narendra — Even here, we are involved in maya! Why, then, embrace sannyasa?
Rakhal — A book titled, ‘Liberation and How to Attain it,’ says that it is not right for monks to live together. It talks about a city of monks.
Sashi — I don’t believe in sannyasa. There’s no place inaccessible to me. There’s no place I can’t live.
Now they talk about Bhavanath. Bhavanath’s wife has been critically ill.
Narendra (to Rakhal) – It appears that Bhavanath’s wife has survived. That is why he came so quickly to Dakshineswar for a stroll.
Now they talk about the Kankurgachi garden. Ram is going to build a temple there.
Narendra (to Rakhal) — Ram Babu has made M. one of the trustees of the garden.
M. (to Rakhal) — But I don’t know anything about it.
It is dusk. Sashi burns incense in Sri Ramakrishna’s room. Next he burns the incense before the deities in the other rooms, repeats the name in a sweet voice and bows before the deities.
The arati is being performed. The brothers of the Math and other devotees stand with folded hands and witness the arati. Bells are rung. The devotees sing together the song of the arati –
Victory to Shiva Omkar, worship Shiva Omkar,
Brahma Vishnu Sadashiva,
Hara Hara Hara Mahadeva!
Narendra has introduced this song in the arati. The same song is sung to Viswanath (Shiva) in the holy city of Kashi.
Mani feels great joy seeing the devotees in the Math.
It is eleven at night when the meal is over. Everybody lies down to sleep. They very affectionately ask Mani to lie down with them.
It is past twelve. Mani has not been able to sleep. He is saying to himself, “Everything is here – it is the same Ayodhya, only Rama is missing.” Mani rises quietly. It is full moon in the month of Vaishakh. Mani strolls alone on the bank of the Ganges. He is thinking of Sri Ramakrishna.
Narendra and other brothers of the Math in dispassion – readings from Yogavashishtha – joy of kirtan and dance
M. arrived at the Math on Saturday with the intention of staying until the following Wednesday. Today is Sunday, when the householder devotees generally visit the Math. The Yogavashishtha is normally read these days. M. has heard some text of the Yogavashishtha from Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna had prohibited taking up the attitude of Soham (as taught in the Yogavashishtha) as long as one retains body-consciousness. He had added that the right mood was to consider oneself the servant of God. M. wants to check whether or not it tallies with what the thinking of the brothers of the Math. He begins to talk about the Yogavashishtha.
M. — Well, what does Yogavashishtha say about Brahmajnana?
Rakhal — Hunger and thirst, sorrow and happiness are all maya. The way out is to annihilate the mind completely.
M. — After the mind is annihilated, what remains is Brahman. Am I right?
Rakhal — Yes.
M. — Thakur said the same thing. Nangta (Totapuri) taught him this. Well, did you read that Vashishtha asked Rama not to renounce the householder’s life?
Rakhal — Where is that? We haven’t found it yet. He didn’t accept Rama as an avatara.
The conversation goes on. Narendra, Tarak, and a devotee return from the bank of the Ganges. They wanted to go on a pleasure trip to Konnagar, but they could not get a boat. They sit down. The conversation on the Yogavashishtha continues.
Narendra (to M.) — It says very nice things. Do you know about Lila?
M. — Yes, that story is in the Yogavashishtha. I have read a little of it. Lila attained Brahmajnana. Isn’t that so?
Narendra — Yes, and the dialogue between Indra and Ahalya? The story of king Viduratha turning into a chandala (a pariah; one of the lowest classes of Hindu untouchables.)
M. — Yes, I remember them.
Narendra — How nice the description of the forest is!
Brothers of monastery take daily dip in the Ganges and perform worship of Guru
Narendra and other devotees are going for a dip in the Ganges. M. will accompany them. Since the midday sun is overhead, M. takes an umbrella with him. Saratchandra of Baranagore is also with them. He is a young householder brahmin with firm faith in religious conduct. He frequently visits the monastery. A few days ago in a mood of dispassion he had visited places of pilgrimage.
M. (to Sarat) — The sun is hot.
Narendra — This is an excuse for your umbrella. (M. laughs.)
The devotees go along the path of the monastery with thin towels on their shoulders. They take their bath at the ghat to the north of Pramanik ghat. They are all dressed in gerua. It is the twenty sixth of Vaishakh. The sun is very hot.
M. (to Narendra) — Ready for a sunstroke!
Narendra — Your body is an obstacle to developing renunciation, isn’t it? You and Deven Babu…
M. laughs and says to himself, “Is it the body alone that is an obstacle?” The devotees return to the monastery after taking their bath and, washing their feet, enter Sri Ramakrishna’s room. With great reverence they make offerings of flowers one by one at his lotus feet.
Narendra takes a little longer to enter the shrine. After bowing down to Guru Maharaj, when he tries to take some flowers in his hands, he finds the flower container empty. He exclaims, “No flowers!” There are a couple of vilwa leaves in the container. He smears the leaves with sandalwood paste and offers them to Thakur. Ringing the bell once and offering his obeisance again, he goes back to the ‘room of the danas.’
The room of the danas, the shrine and the room of Kali Tapasvi
The brothers of the monastery call themselves danas and daityas (ghosts and demons) and the room where they meet they call ‘the room of the danas’. They who practice meditation, or study religious texts in solitude live in a room to the south. Shutting the door from within, Kali stays in this room most of the time, so it is called the room of Kali Tapasvi by the brothers of the monastery. To the north of Kali Tapasvi’s room is Thakur’s shrine. To the north of it is the room where offerings are prepared for the gods and goddesses. Standing in the ‘offering room’ one can witness the arati. The devotees also have to pass through this room to offer obeisance to Thakur. To the north of the ‘offering room’ is the ‘danas’ room’. It is quite a long room. The devotees visiting the monastery are received here. To the north of the ‘danas’ room’ is a small cell. The brothers call it their dining room. The devotees eat here.
Toward the eastern corner of the ‘danas’ room’ is a courtyard where they eat during festivals. Exactly to the north of the courtyard is the kitchen.
There is a verandah to the east of Kali Tapasvi’s room and the shrine. Toward the southwestern corner of the verandah is a library of an Association of Baranagore. All these rooms are on the first floor. Between Kali Tapasvi’s room and the library is a staircase to the second level. Narendra and the brothers of the monastery sometimes use it to get to the roof in the evening. They sit there together and talk about spiritual matters. Sometimes they talk about Sri Ramakrishna, sometimes about Shankaracharya, Ramanuja or Christ and other times about Hindu and European philosophy, the Vedas, the Puranas and the Tantras.
In the ‘danas’ room’ Narendra sings the name and glories of Bhagavan in his sweet voice, rare even among gods. He gives music lessons to Sarat and his other companions. Kali takes lessons on playing the musical instruments. In this very room, filled with joy, Narendra sings kirtan with the brothers and they dance joyfully.
Narendra and propagation of religion – Dhyana Yoga and Karma Yoga
Narendra is seated in the ‘danas’ room’. Chunilal, M. and the brothers of the monastery are also there. They discuss the propagation of religion.
M. (to Narendra) — Vidyasagar says that he doesn’t talk about the Lord to anyone for fear of being caned.
Narendra — For fear of being caned?
M. — Vidyasagar says: Imagine that we are in the presence of the Lord after death. Imagine that Keshab Sen is taken into His presence by Yama (the messenger of Death). Keshab Sen has certainly committed some sin in the world. When this is proved, the Lord perhaps sentences him to twenty-five cane strokes! Then imagine that I am also taken to the Lord. I have been visiting Keshab’s Samaj. I, too, have been guilty of a number of misdeeds. So I am also sentenced to a caning. I probably say that I have done only what Keshab Sen instructed me to do. The Lord then asks the messengers to bring Keshab Sen again to his presence. Maybe when he comes before the Lord, He asks Keshab, ‘Did you preach to him? You know nothing about the Lord yourself and you preach to others. Come up, messengers, and give him twenty-five more cane lashes.’ (They all laugh.)
“So Vidyasagar says, ‘I cannot take care of myself. And on the top of it to receive lashes for others! (All laugh.) I understand nothing about the Lord, how can I lecture to others?’ ”
Narendra — How can he who has not understood this, understand other things?
M. — What other things?
Narendra — How could he who has not understood this, understand what compassion, what doing good to others, and so on, is? How has he understood school work? How did he understand that he has to establish schools for the education of boys, enter family life, marry and beget sons and daughters? How has he understood that all this is right?
“If you understand one thing rightly, you understand everything.”
M. (to himself) — True indeed. Thakur said that he who knows the Lord understands everything. He said to Vidyasagar that leading a family life, managing schools and all those things were the activities of rajas. Since Vidyasagar had compassion, Thakur told him, ‘It is the sattva of rajas. There is no harm in this rajas.’
The brothers of the monastery are relaxing after their meal. Mani and Chunilal talk to each other, sitting on the landing of the inner steps to the east of the ‘offering room’. Chunilal relates how he met Thakur for the first time in Dakshineswar. He also tells M. that, disgusted with family life, he left home once and visited places of pilgrimage. After a short time, Narendra comes and sits beside them. Now they talk about the Yogavashishtha.
Narendra (to Mani) — What about Viduratha turning into a chandala?
Mani — Are you talking of Lavan?
Narendra — Did you read it?
Mani — Yes, I read a little.
Narendra — Did you read the book here?
Mani — No, I read a little at home.
Narendra asks the Younger Gopal to bring a smoke [hubble-bubble]. The Younger Gopal is meditating.
Narendra (to the Younger Gopal) — I say, prepare a smoke. What do you mean by all this meditation? First of all karma, then meditation. (All laugh.)
To the west of the monastery building and just adjacent to it is a big plot with many plants and trees. M. is sitting alone under a tree when Prasanna appears. It is about three o’clock.
M — Where have you been all this time? We have all been worrying about you. Have you seen them? When did you come?
Prasanna — I just arrived and saw them.
M — You left a note saying, ‘I am going to Vrindavan.’ We were very worried about you. How far did you go?
Prasanna — As far as Konnagar. (Both of them laugh.)
M. — Please sit down and tell me. Where did you go first?
Prasanna — To the Kali temple in Dakshineswar. I stayed there for a night.
M (laughing) — What mood is Hazra Mahashay in these days?
Prasanna — Hazra was saying, ‘What do you think of me?’ (Both laugh.)
M. (laughing) — And what did you say?
Prasanna — I kept quiet.
M. — And then?
Prasanna — Then he asked me whether I had brought tobacco for him. (Both laugh.) He wanted me to do some work for him! (Laughter.)
M. — And where did you go next?
Prasanna — I finally went to Konnagar. I spent the night there, thinking that I would go further the next day. I asked some gentlemen if they would give me railway fare for Vrindavan.
M. — What did they say?
Prasanna — They said, ‘We can give you four annas or a rupee. But who can give you that much fare?’ (Both of them laugh.)
M. — What did you take with you?
Prasanna — A piece of dhoti and a picture of the Paramahamsa Deva. I didn’t show his picture to anybody.
The dialogue between father and son – who comes first: parents or the Lord
Sashi’s father has come. He wants to take his son away from the monastery. During the illness of Sri Ramakrishna, Sashi had nursed him single-mindedly for about nine months. He had received his B.A. degree from college and won scholarship on an entrance examination. His father is a poor brahmin, but a devout and religious man. Sashi is the eldest son of his parents and they have pinned great hopes on his earnings to alleviate their sufferings. Sashi, however, has renounced everything to attain Bhagavan. He weeps and says to his friends, “What can I do? I don’t understand anything. Alas! I have not been able to serve my parents in the least. What great hopes they had pinned on me! My mother didn’t have a single piece of jewelry to wear. How I wished I could buy jewelry for her! But I have done nothing. I feel such a great responsibility to return home, but Guru Maharaj has asked us to renounce ‘lust and greed’. So I can’t go that way.”
After Sri Ramakrishna left his mortal body, Sashi’s father thought that he would probably return home. But after staying home for a few days, he began visiting the monastery soon after it was established. And then he never returned home again. So his father visits it sometimes to bring him back, but it is impossible for him to return. Hearing that his father has come, Sashi escapes in another direction to avoid meeting him.
The father knows M. He talks to him as they stroll on the upper verandah.
The Father — Who is the leader here? It is Narendra who is at the root of all this trouble. These boys had all returned home and resumed their studies.
M. — There is no leader here. They are all equal. What could Narendra have done? Who would come here unless he himself wanted to? Have we been able to completely renounce our homes?
The Father — You have done the right thing, brother. You have kept both sides [meaning spiritual and family life]. Can’t one practice religion the way you are doing? We want Sashi to do what you are doing. Let him be here, as well as there. See how his mother is crying for him.
M. feels sad about it and does not say anything.
The Father — And why should he wander around looking for a sadhu? I can take him to a good sadhu. A sadhu visits Inder Narayana. He is a wonderful man. Let Sashi meet him.
Rakhal’s dispassion – sannyasi and woman
Rakhal and M. are pacing the verandah to the east of Kali Tapasvi’s room. They are talking of Thakur and the devotees.
Rakhal (very keenly) — Master Mahashay, come. Let’s practice sadhana.
“It is for this reason that I didn’t return home. If somebody says, ‘You have not realized the Lord, so why continue to stay?’ Narendra has a good reply to this. He says, ‘If I have not attained Rama, shall I have to establish a household with Shyam and beget children?’ Ah! Everything that Narendra says is so beautiful. You should ask him.
M. — Quite right. I see, Rakhal, that you, too, have developed great yearning for God.
Rakhal — What shall I say, Master Mahashay? At midday I felt such great longing to go to Narmada. Master Mahashay, let’s practice sadhana. We are achieving nothing without it. Look, even Shukadeva was afraid of worldly life. He fled as soon as he took birth. Vyasa Deva [his father] asked him to stay, but he wouldn’t.
M. — The Yoga Upanishad says that Shukadeva was running away from the realm of maya. Yes, the conversation between Vyasa and Shukadeva is very nice. Vyasa asked him to stay in the family and practice dharma. Shukadeva replied that the ultimate goal was the lotus of Hari’s feet. He was expressing his repulsion for family men marrying and living with a wife.
Rakhal — Many people think it’s enough not to look at a woman. What is the use of lowering your eyes when you see a woman? Last evening Narendra said beautifully, ‘As long as I have the feeling of lust, there is a woman there. When one is rid of lust, one sees no difference between a man and a woman.’
M. — Very right. Children are not conscious of the difference between a boy and a girl.
Rakhal — That is why I say that we must practice sadhana. How can one attain jnana without going beyond maya? Come on, let’s go to the hall. So many gentlemen have come from Baranagore. Let’s go and hear what Narendra is telling them.
Narendra and resignation
Narendra is in conversation. M. does not enter the room. He listens to the bits of conversation while pacing the courtyard near the hall.
Narendra is saying, “There is no place or time for performing sandhya and other ritualistic worship.”
A Gentleman — Well sir! Can one attain Him through sadhana?
Narendra — His grace is needed. The Gita says –
Ishvarah sarva bhutanam hriddese arjuna tishthati,
Bhramayan sarva bhutani yantra arudhani mayaya.
Tam eva saranam gaccha sarva bhavena bharata,
Tatprasadat param santim sthanam prapsyasi sashvatam.
(Gita 18:61, 62)
[The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, Oh Arjuna, and by His maya causes all beings to revolve as though mounted on a machine.
Seek refuge in Him alone with all your heart, Oh Bharata. By His grace you will gain Supreme Peace and the Eternal Abode.]
“Without His grace, sadhana and bhajan are of no avail. Therefore, resign to Him.”
The Gentleman — We will sometimes come and bother you.
Narendra — You may come whenever you feel like it.
“We go to the ghat in your neighbourhood for a dip in the Ganges.”
The Gentleman — We have no objection, but no one else should go there.
Narendra — If you wish, we won’t go.
Gentleman — I didn’t mean that – but if you see too many people going there, please stop going anymore.
Arati and Narendra reads from Guru Gita
The arati is being performed after dusk. The devotees fold their hands and together sing the hymn to Bhagavan, singing together, “Victory to Shiva Omkar.” After the arati the devotees go into the ‘danas’ room’. M. is seated there. Prasanna reads from the Guru Gita. Narendra enters and recites the text melodiously. He sings –
I salute the Sadguru who is the very image of the Bliss of Brahman, who is the giver of Supreme Joy and the embodiment of jnana,
He is beyond the dualities of happiness and sorrow, is like the sky, is the symbol of the dicta of the Upanishads such as Tattvamasi (You are that Brahman).
Who is one, eternal, pure, immovable, who is present in every intellect as the witness, who is beyond all moods and devoid of the three gunas.
Then he sings –
Shiva has proclaimed that there is none greater than the Guru, none better than the Guru.
Therefore, I shall only talk of the Guru, the image of Brahman.
I shall only sing His praises. I shall only meditate upon Him and offer Him my salutations again and again.
Narendra chants the Guru Gita melodiously. The minds of the devotees have settled motionless, like the flame of a lamp at a windless moment. How right Thakur was when he said, “The way the snake lies motionless, raising its hood when it hears the sweet sound of the flute, exactly like this, does He who dwells within the heart listen to Narendra.” Oh, what bhakti for the Guru of the brothers of the Math!
Sri Ramakrishna’s love and Rakhal
Rakhal is seated in Kali Tapasvi’s room. Prasanna sits close to him. M. is also there.
Rakhal has left home, renouncing his wife and child. He has deep dispassion (vairagya) within. His only thought is to go alone to the bank of the Narmada or to some other such place. Nevertheless, he advises Prasanna.
Rakhal (to Prasanna) — Why do you run from place to place? Here you have the company of sadhus. To leave it and go elsewhere! Besides, here you have the company of a man like Narendra. Where will you go from this place?
Prasanna — My parents live in Calcutta. I fear I might later be attracted by their affection. That’s why I want to flee.
Rakhal — Do our parents love us the way Guru Maharaj [meaning Sri Ramakrishna] did? What have we done for him, that we deserve such love? Why was he so anxious for the good of our body, mind and soul? What have we done for him?
M. (to himself) — Ah, how right Rakhal is! That is why he [Sri Ramakrishna] is called the ocean of motiveless grace.
Prasanna — Do you not sometimes feel like going on pilgrimage?
Rakhal — I do feel at times that I should go to the bank of the Narmada for a few days. And sometimes I think that I should go and stay in a garden somewhere and practice sadhana. I also feel a desire to perform panchatapa for three days. But I don’t want to go to a garden owned by worldly people.
Does the Lord exist?
Tarak and Prasanna are talking in the ‘danas’ room’. Tarak has lost his mother. Like Rakhal’s father, his father has married a second time. Tarak was also married, but his wife is no more. Now the monastery is Tarak’s home. Tarak, too, explains to Prasanna.
Prasanna — I have attained neither jnana nor prema. What can I hold onto?
Tarak — It maybe difficult to attain jnana, but how can you say that you have not attained prema?
Prasanna — How can it be called prema if I am not able to weep for Him? Besides, what have I realized in all these days?
Tarak — Why, you have seen the Paramahamsa! How are you not going to have jnana?
Prasanna — What jnana shall I have? Jnana means to know. What shall I know? I am not even certain that God exists!
Tarak — Well, that is true. In the jnani’s view, there is no God.
M (to himself) — Oh, what a state Prasanna is in! Thakur used to say that they who want Bhagavan fall into this state. Sometimes they feel that God exists and sometimes that He does not. I understand that Tarak is reading Buddhist philosophy these days. That is why he is saying that there is no God according to the jnani. But Thakur used to say that both the jnani and the devotee will reach the same destination.
Narendra with his brother disciple – Narendra’s innermost thoughts
The meditation room, i.e. the room of Kali Tapasvi. Narendra and Prasanna are talking to each other. Rakhal, Harish and the Younger Gopal are seated on one side of the room. The Elder Gopal is the last to arrive.
Narendra is reading the Gita and explaining the verses to Prasanna.
Ishvarah sarvabhutanam hriddese arjuna tishthati,
Bhramayan sarvabhutani yantrarudhani mayaye.
Tam eva sharanam gaccha sarva bhavena bharata,
Tatprasadat param santim sthanam prapsyasi sashvatam.
Sarvadharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja,
Aham tva sarvapapebhyo mokshayishyami ma shucah.
(Gita 18:61, 62 and 66)
[The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, oh Arjuna; and by his maya causes all beings to revolve as though mounted on a machine.
Seek refuge in Him alone with all your heart, oh Bharata. By His grace you will gain supreme peace and the eternal abode.
Renounce all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone. I shall liberate you from all sins; grieve not.]
Narendra — Note the words, ‘mounted on a machine.’ ‘By His maya, He causes all beings to revolve as though mounted on a machine.’ You want to know God. You are a mere insect, what can you know of Him? Just reflect, what is a man? It is said that the numberless stars you see are each a solar system. We are part of one solar system and even that is too big for us. This earth is just a very ordinary ball compared to the sun. And on this earth man wanders like an insect.
Narendra sings –
‘You are our Father, we Your little children’
O God, we are born in the dust of this earth and this very dust has blinded our eyes.
O Lord, we are born as infants to play in the dust. Pray, grant us fearlessness, You refuge of the weak!
If we once make a mistake, will You not lift us in your arms? Or will You go away and leave us?
O Lord, shall we lie unconscious on the earth, never to be raised? We are but little infants, a very small mind we have.
At every step, Father, we slip! Alas, why do You show us such an angry face? Why do we see such a deep frown on it?
Father, pray don’t be angry with us, such small beings. Tell us lovingly what we do wrong.
If, due to our mistake, we fall a hundred times, pray lift us each time, for we are but weaklings. What can we do?
Then he says to Prasanna, “Take refuge in Him! Resign yourself to His will and be at peace.”
Surcharged with emotion, Narendra sings this song –
Self-surrender, the way
O Lord, I am Your servant, I am Your servant! Your servant, am I!
You are the compassionate one, my compassionate one! The only compassionate one indeed.
From You I have received two pieces of bread and a loincloth.
Now grant me love and devotion (bhakti) and divine fervour so that I may sing Your name.
You are the compassionate one, showering grace, the Master You are.
This time grant Your vision to me, the fakir, by Your grace.
You are the compassionate one, showering grace; I have accepted Your name.
Kabir, your slave, has taken refuge in You, who takes across whoever takes refuge at Your feet.
“Don’t you remember what he [Sri Ramakrishna] said? ‘The Lord is a mound of sugar and you an ant. You get filled with just one grain of sugar, but you think of carrying away the whole mound to your home!’ And he said, don’t you remember, ‘Shukadeva was at the most a big black ant.’ So I tell Kali, ‘You fool! Do you want to measure the Lord with your inch-tape?’
“God is the ocean of compassion. Take refuge in Him. He will shower His grace on you. Pray to Him thus:
O Rudra, pray preserve me ever in your benevolent aspect.
Take me from illusion to reality.
Take me from the darkness of ignorance to the light of spiritual wisdom. Take me from death to Immorality.
Prasanna — What spiritual disciplines shall I practice?
Narendra — Just recite His name. Don’t you remember Thakur’s song?
God’s name, the way
O Mother Shyama, Your name is my only haven.
Am I to worship you ritually with koshakushi? Or to lecture, showing my teeth?
Your name cuts asunder the bonds of Death. Shiva with matted hair has only propagated this.
I am just a slave to that matted-haired one. What other service may I accept now?
Your name alone will bring that which is to be. Why should I worry unnecessarily?
I have made Shiva and His words the basis of my life.
We are but little infants with a very small mind.
At every step, O Father, we slip!
What is God? Is He compassionate?
Prasanna — You say that God exists. And then you also say: Charvaka and many other religions have said that the world has come into existence by itself.
Narendra — Haven’t you read chemistry? What will a mere combination do? It is like the human hand bringing oxygen, hydrogen and electricity together to form water.
“Everybody accepts the intelligent force. There is one supreme source of knowledge that runs everything.
Prasanna — How do you conclude that there is compassion in Him?
Narendra — The Vedas say, ‘That which is Your compassionate face.’
“John Stuart Mill also says the same thing. How much more compassion must He have, who has given compassion to the human being! Thakur said, ‘Faith is the basic thing.’ He dwells so close to us. Your faith will take you across.”
Saying so, Narendra sings in a sweet voice –
Faith, the way
Where are you looking for Me, O man? Here, I am so close to you.
I am not in quarrels and mishaps, nor in the knife and chopper.
Nor am I in skin nor in hair, nor in bone nor in flesh.
Nor am I in the temple or mosque, in Kashi or Kailas.
Nor am I in Ayodhya or in Dwaraka. I am only in your faith.
Nor am I in rituals or in yoga, non-attachment (vairagya) or sannyasa.
If you look for Me, I shall be with you in no time.
I have my residence outside the town, my hut is in the Lord’s shelter,
Says Kabir, ‘Listen O brother, I am in all holy men.’
As long as you have desires, you disbelieve in God
Prasanna – You sometimes say that there is no God. Then how can you say all this now? You are not consistent. You keep changing your opinion! (Everyone laughs.)
Narendra — But this one thing I will never change, that as long as you have desires, you do not believe in God. Some desire or the other always persists in man. Maybe you have the desire to study, to pass examinations, to become a learned man. A man cherishes one desire or the other.
Filled with devotion Narendra begins to sing –
I take refuge in the loving One, the supreme Father and Mother.
Victory to You, my God, victory to You, the bestower of all good.
Victory to my God, the dispeller of all calamity and sorrow, the support of the three worlds.
O Lord, You are beyond thought, infinite and immeasurable. You are beyond comparison.
O Lord, the God of the universe, omnipresent, all-pervading, the personification of true knowledge, the supreme soul; victory to You.
Victory to You, O the adorable one, the compassionate one. I bow at Your feet, at Your feet I bow.
Victory to You, my God, You are the only refuge in life and death.
What shall we ask Thee in humble submission?
Pray, grant us the right thoughts in this world and the right ones in the next. Victory, Victory to You.
Narendra sings again, exhorting his brother disciples to drink from the cup of the Bliss of the Lord. God is very near to us, like musk to the deer.
Drink from the cup, O Avadhuta, the sweet prema of the Lord. Let it intoxicate you.
You have spent your childhood in play and your youth under the control of your wife.
In old age, you fell prey to phlegm and flatulence – and you kept to bed, unable to move.
The musk lies in the lotus of the musk-deer’s navel. How to make the animal understand this?
Without a real Guru, man roams about in vain like a deer in the forest.
M. hears all these songs from the verandah.
Narendra rises. As he leaves the room, he says, “My brain is heated from talking so long.” Seeing M. on the verandah, he says, “Master Mahashay! Please take some refreshments.”
A brother of the monastery says to Narendra, “But you do say that there is no Bhagavan!” Narendra laughs.
Narendra in deep dispassion – he runs down household life
The next morning, 9 May, M. is sitting under a tree in the garden of the monastery. He is thinking: Thakur has made the brothers of the monastery renounce ‘lust and greed’. Ah, what yearning they have for the Lord! This place has become a veritable Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu), and the brothers of monastery are, as it were, Narayana. Thakur left not long ago, that is why his divine mood is almost intact.
“It is the same Ayodhya, only Rama is not here.
“Thakur has made them renounce their homes, and he has kept others in family life. Why? Is there no way out for them?”
Narendra is looking down from the upper room. He sees M. seated alone under a tree. He comes downstairs laughing and says, “Hello, M.! What are you doing?” After a short conversation, M. says to Narendra, “What a sweet voice you have! Please sing a hymn.”
Narendra hums and sings a hymn in which a devotee prays for forgiveness for his sins. The householders have forgotten the Lord. How much sin they commit during their childhood, youth and middle age! Why don’t they serve Bhagavan and meditate on Him with body, mind and speech?
I suffered immensely during my childhood. My body remained soiled with excreta and urine.
I was always longing to suck at my mother’s breast. My limbs were incapable of work.
So many insects created by Your maya stung me. I would cry day and night because of disease, forgetting You, O Shankara!
Therefore, O Shiva! Mahadeva! O Shambhu! pardon my transgressions.
Beyond youth, when I became an adult, the five poisonous snakes of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch stung me at vital points.
They destroyed my sense of discrimination and I became engaged in the sensuous pleasures of wealth, wife and off-spring.
Forgetting again to meditate on You, my heart was filled with vanity and pride.
Therefore, O Shiva! Mahadeva! O Shambhu! pardon my transgressions, do pardon me.
Now in old age my senses have lost the power of perception, the intellect its sharpness,
Afflictions, sins, diseases and bereavements have broken my body.
My mind wanders, enfeebled by illusions, infatuations and desires. It is bereft of meditation on Sri Mahadeva.
Therefore, O Shiva! Mahadeva! O Shambhu! pardon my transgressions, do pardon me.
In the morning after my bath, I never brought Ganges water to wash Your image.
I never brought vilwa leaves from the forest to worship You.
Nor did I make garlands of blooming lotuses from the pond for You, nor did I offer you incense and flowers.
Therefore, O Shiva! Mahadeva! O Shambhu! pardon my transgressions, do pardon me.
O Lord Shankara! White is Your body covered with ashes, white shine Your teeth when you smile.
A white garland of human skulls in your hand, with a white club.
White is the bull on which You ride, white earrings dangle from Your ears.
Your matted locks appear white with the foam of the Ganges and the white moon shines on Your forehead.
You who are all white, all purity, forgive me and bestow prosperity.
The recitation of the hymn is over and the conversation resumes.
Narendra — You may talk of leading an unattached life of a householder and all that, but nothing can be achieved without renouncing ‘lust and greed’. Do you abhor carnal relations with your wife? Contacting parts of her body so full of worms, phlegm, fat and foul smell?
Fools find pleasure in a body filled with filth, the home of worms, naturally smelling foul, made of flesh, blood, bone and marrow. But the wise avoid it.
“He who does not relish the teachings of Vedanta, he who doesn’t drink the wine of the story of Hari, lives his life in vain.
“Listen to this song –
Give up infatuation, give up thinking perversely, know Him and then alone you will be rid of your pain.
For the sensory pleasures of four days, you have forgotten the friend of your soul. What irony!
“There is no way but to put on the loincloth and renounce the world.”
Saying so, Narendra hums the tune and sings the five stanzas of kaupin.
He who is always engaged in the words of Vedanta, he who is content with the grains of holy begging, he who roams about with a griefless conscience; such a person, clad in a loincloth, is the only blessed one…
Continuing, Narendra says, “Why should a man become bound to worldly life? Why should he be ensnared by maya? What is the true nature of man? He is that very Sachchidananda, pure Knowledge and Bliss, the image of Shiva.
Then he chants Shankaracharya’s hymn –
Om, I am not the mind, the intellect, the ego, or the chitta. Nor I am the ear, the tongue, the nostrils, nor the eyes. I am not the sky, nor land, nor light, nor air. I am pure Knowledge and Bliss, the image of Shiva, the all-good.
Narendra chants another hymn, the eight stanzas on the glory of Sri Krishna.
O Madhusudana! I have taken refuge in you. Bestow your grace and redeem me from lust, sleep, sin, infatuation, the bondage of affection for wife and son, and the thirst for sense desires. Grant me devotion for your lotus feet.
Om, from the viewpoint of jnana, the attachment of a sickly man to the things of the world becomes feeble because of old age. But I am overwhelmed by the deep sleep of lust. Therefore, O Madhusudana, save me.
O Lord, you are my only refuge. There is no other way for me. I am stuck in the mire of sin. Therefore, O Madhusudana, save me.
I am ensnared by infatuation with wife, son and home. My desires give me no end of trouble. O Madhusudana, save this lowly man who has no shelter, who suffers trials and tribulations, who is a man without devotion.
I am tired of taking birth again and again on the long passage of this world. I don’t wish to return again to this world. Therefore, O Madhusudana, save me.
Having been born again and again, I have seen the door of the feminine genital and suffered so much in the womb. Therefore, my Lord Narayana, I take refuge in you. Liberate me from the world and save me.
I pay my obeisance to you in fear of disease and death. I have performed no good deeds. I am only guilty of evil deeds. Therefore, I am stuck in the mire of sin. O Madhusudana, save me.
Though born a thousand times, I have not fulfilled the duties of a human being. Though I made so many promises, I have not acted on them. Therefore, O Lord, I am depraved. Pray save me.
If I am born again as man or woman, grant that I may have unswerving devotion for your lotus feet. O Madhusudana save me.
M. (to himself) — What intense dispassion Narendra has! That is why all the brothers of the monastery are in this state of dispassion. Seeing them, the disciples of Thakur who are still leading a family life are inspired by the precept of renunciation of ‘lust and greed’. Ah, what a state they are in! Why has he kept some of them in worldly life? Will he find a way out for them? Will he grant them intense dispassion – or keep them in the state of forgetfulness in the world?
After their meal, Narendra and a few brother disciples have gone to Calcutta. Narendra is to return after dusk. The lawsuit about his ancestral home has not been settled yet. The brothers of the monastery cannot bear separation from him. They all await his return.
 Sarada Prasanna
 There was a king Padma by name whose queen was Lila. Lila, seeking immortality for her husband, worshipped Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. Lila received a boon from Her that the soul of her husband would remain confined in the void above in the room after her death. After the demise of her husband, Lila recalled Devi Saraswati to her mind. She manifested Herself and made Lila realize very well that the world is an illusion and that Brahman alone is the Reality. Saraswati Devi said, “Your husband, now known as Padma, was a brahmin, Vashishtha by name, in his earlier life. Only eight days ago he died. His soul is still hovering round here. At another place, he ruled a region for years as King Viduratha. All this is possible by the power of maya. In fact there is nothing like time or place. After this the queen accompanied Devi Saraswati and visited the aforesaid kingdoms of brahmin Vashishtha and king Viduratha, through the subtle body, in samadhi. By the grace of Devi Saraswati the knowledge of his previous birth came to the mind of Viduratha. Thereafter he died in battle and his soul entered the body of king Padma.
King Viduratha did not turn into a chandala. King Lavan, on the other hand, became a chandala. As a result of the magic of a magician he experienced the whole life of the chandala in a moment. The chief queen of a king, Ahalya by name, had fallen in love with a young man, Indra.
 Ochre cloth worn by a monk
 Room of the ghosts, or demons
 Real preceptor
 Practicing japa and meditation seated within five fires
 A kosha is small water container, kushi a small spoon for taking out water from it. Both are usually made of copper and are used in worship
 At dawn, noon and twilight hour
 Vrihaspati, a defiant atheist founded the Charvaka religion about 600 B.C. He professed that no living creature is immortal not even mankind. All are subject to death and therefore must live in pleasure and comfort until then.
 A hermit who worships Lord Shiva
 The loincloth of a sannyasin
 Achala bhakti
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