Sri Ramakrishna’s first monastery – dispassion and spiritual practices of Narendra and other devotees
Baranagore Math. Narendra and other devotees have gathered together after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna. Surendra’s holy desire has made it possible to provide a home for them in Baranagore. It is now transformed into a monastery. Gurudeva Sri Ramakrishna is daily served and worshipped in a shrine. Narendra and other devotees have resolved not to return to worldly life. They say, “How can we return home when he [meaning Sri Ramakrishna] asked us to renounce ‘lust and greed’?” Sashi has taken up the responsibility of the daily worship of Thakur. Narendra is looking after his brother disciples, who look to him for guidance. Narendra has said, “We will have to practice spiritual disciplines, or it will not be possible to realize God.” He, with his brother disciples, have taken up the practice of a variety of spiritual disciplines. They have initiated themselves into various austerities described in the Vedas, the Puranas and the Tantras to rid the mind of any kind of backsliding in the future. In practicing spiritual disciplines, they sometimes sit alone under a tree, at other times singly in the cremation ground, and at times on the bank of the Ganges. They spend the day in repetition of the Name and in meditation, sometimes in the monastery in the meditation room. At times, they join together in joyfully dancing and singing hymns. Everybody, Narendra in particular, yearns to realize God. Sometimes he says, “Shall I starve myself to death to see God? By what means can I attain Him?”
Latu, Tarak and the Elder Gopal did not have homes to return to. Surendra rented the first monastery in their name, saying, “Brothers, establish Thakur’s shrine here and we will all visit you from time to time for peace and solace.” Fired with the spirit of dispassion, the young devotees soon moved in, never to return home.
Narendra, Rakhal, Niranjan, Baburam, Sarat, Sashi and Kali were the first to stay there. Subodh and Prasanna joined them after a few days. Jogin and Latu were in Vrindavan, but they joined a year later. Gangadhar frequently visited the monastery. He could not live without seeing Narendra. He introduced the arati hymn, ‘Jai Shiva Omkara’ to the monastery. From time to time the brothers of the monastery also sang the victory chant, ‘Victory to the Guru.’ It was taught to them by Gangadhar as well, when he returned from Tibet. Two other devotees of Thakur, Hari and Tulsi, used to visit the monastery regularly to see Narendra and the others. After a few days they, too, stayed.
Reminiscences of Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna’s love for him
Friday, 25 March 1887. M. has come with Devendra to see the brothers of the monastery. M. often comes to see them and sometimes even stays overnight. He came last Saturday and stayed for three days – Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The brothers of the monastery, particularly Narendra, are charged with an intense spirit of dispassion. That is why M. eagerly comes to see them so frequently.
It is late in the evening. M. will stay at the monastery tonight.
After dusk, Sashi lights a lamp in the shrine and burns incense, repeating the sweet name of the Lord. Taking the same incense, he goes to all the rooms of the monastery and offers his obeisance to all the images in each room.
Sashi now performs arati. Folding their hands, the brothers of the monastery, M. and Devendra watch it and sing the arati hymn with him: Victory to Shiva Shankara, victory to Shiva Shankara! To Brahma, Vishnu and Sadashiva! Redeem, redeem, redeem, Mahadeva!
Narendra and M. are engaged in conversation. Narendra is telling M. his reminiscences of meetings with Thakur. Narendra is now 24 years and two months old.
Narendra — When I started visiting him, one day in ecstasy he said to me, ‘So you have come!’
“I said to myself, ‘How wonderful! He acts as though he has known me a long time.’ Then he asked me, ‘Do you see a light?’
“I replied, ‘Yes, sir. Before I sleep, I sense a special light revolving near my forehead.’ ”
M. — Do you still see it?
Narendra — I used to see it frequently. Once in Jadu Mallick’s dining room, Sri Ramakrishna touched me and said something to himself. I lost outer-consciousness. I remained in that intoxication for a month.
“Hearing that I was going to marry, he held the feet of the Mother of the Universe and wept. After weeping for a long time, he said, ‘Mother, give a turn to this situation. Don’t let Narendra sink!’
“When my father passed away, my mother and brothers didn’t have enough to eat. During that time, one day I went to see him with Annada Guha.
“He said to Annada Guha, ‘Narendra has lost his father. He is in great trouble. It would be good if his friends helped him with money now.’
“I was upset with him. After Annada Guha left, I asked him, ‘Why did you say all that to him?’ Thus rebuked, he began to weep and said, ‘Oh, for you I can beg from door to door!’
“He conquered us by showering his love and affection.”
M. — There is not the slightest doubt about it. His love was unconditional.
Narendra — One day when I was alone with him, he told me something – there was no one else present. Please don’t tell this to anybody else.
M. — No, I won’t. What did he say?
Narendra — He said, ‘I cannot resort to occult powers. Let me do it through you. What do you say?’ I told him, ‘No. This cannot be done.’
“I used to contradict what he would say. You must have heard this from him yourself. He used to have visions of divine forms and I would say to him, ‘All these are hallucinations.’
“He told me, ‘Oh, I used to shout from the rooftop of the Kuthi, “Where are all you devotees? Come to me! I am about to die without seeing you people!” The Divine Mother had told me that the devotees would come. See, everything She said is turning out to be true.’
“What could I say then? I just kept quiet.”
Narendra is the abode of Indivisible – Narendra’s ego
“One day he [meaning Sri Ramakrishna] closed the door to his room and told Devendra Babu and Girish about me, saying, ‘If I tell him his true nature, he will quit his mortal frame.’ ”
M. — Yes, I heard that. He said it to us, too, a number of times. Didn’t you once enter into such a state when you were staying in the Cossipore Garden house?
Narendra — In the state I experienced, I had no body; I could only see my face. Thakur was in the room upstairs – I had the experience on the ground floor. I began to weep and said, ‘What has happened to me?’ The Elder Gopal went upstairs and told Thakur that I was weeping.
“When I saw him, he said, ‘Now you have known, but I am keeping the key.’ I asked what had happened to me.
“Glancing at the other devotees, he said, ‘When he comes to know of his real Self, he will not keep his body. I am keeping him in ignorance.’
“One day he said, ‘You can see Krishna in your heart if you want.’ I said, ‘I know no Krishna or anyone like him.’ (Narendra and M. laugh.)
“And then there is something peculiar. When I see some people or objects, sometimes I feel as if I have known them for many past lives – as if they are my acquaintances. When I went to Sarat’s house on Amherst Street, I said to him, ‘I feel as though I have known this house completely. The passages in the house and the rooms, I feel that I have known for many days.’
“If I did something of my own free will, he (Thakur) would never say anything to me. Did you know that I was a member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj?”
M. — Yes, I knew it.
Narendra — He knew that girls also used to visit the Brahmo Samaj. A man cannot meditate when there are girls around, so he would criticize such a practice. But he would not say anything to me.
“But one day he said, ‘Don’t tell Rakhal that you are a member of the Samaj. He will then want to become a member too.’ ”
M. — You have greater will power. That is why he didn’t forbid you.
Narendra — I have attained this state of mind after having faced so many trials and tribulations! Master Mahashay, you haven’t had to face such troubles in life. I now think that without facing trials and tribulations, one cannot resign oneself [to the will of God], attain absolute dependence on God.
“But how soft and lacking in ego you are! What humility! Would you please tell me how I can have humility?”
M. — About your ego, Thakur said, ‘Whose ego is it after all?’
Narendra — What does that mean?
M. — A gopi friend of Radhika told her, ‘You have become proud. That’s why you were rude to Krishna.’ Another gopi friend said, ‘Yes, it is true that Radhika is proud. But what is she proud of? She is proud that Krishna is her Lord. Krishna himself gave this pride to her.’ This is what Thakur meant – that the Lord Himself has given you this ego so He can get a lot of work done through you.
Narendra — But I shout repeatedly from every corner that I have no troubles.
M. (smiling) — Yes, please shout to your heart’s content. (Both of them laugh.)
Now the conversation turns to other devotees – to Vijay Goswami and others.
Narendra — He said about Vijay Goswami, ‘He is knocking at the door.’
M. — In other words, he has not been able to enter the room yet.
“But Vijay Goswami said to Thakur at Shyampukur, ‘I saw you in Dhaka in this form, in this very body.’
“You were there when he said this.”
Narendra — Devendra Babu and Ram Babu will both renounce the world – they are trying very hard. Ram Babu says privately that he will give up the world after two years.
M. — After two years? After making provision for his sons and daughters perhaps.
Narendra — He might rent out his house and buy a small one for himself. Others will arrange his daughter’s marriage and so forth.
M. — Isn’t Gopal in a nice state of mind?
Narendra — What do you mean?
M. — He goes into such deep ecstasy – while chanting the name of God, the hair on his body stands on end and he sheds tears of joy.
Narendra — Does one become great by going into ecstasy?
“How much greater personalities are Kali, Sarat, Sashi and Sarada compared to Gopal! How great is their renunciation! Gopal does not accept him (Sri Ramakrishna), does he?”
M. — Even he [meaning Sri Ramakrishna] said that Gopal didn’t belong to his intimate circle of devotees. But I noticed that he had great love and devotion for Thakur.
Narendra — What did you notice?
M. — On my first visit to Dakshineswar, after the devotees had left Thakur’s room, I saw Gopal when I came out of the room. With folded hands he was kneeling on the red brick-dust path before Thakur, who was standing there. The moon was shining brightly. It was on the red brick-dust path to the north of the northern veranda of Thakur’s room. No one else was there. It seemed to me that Gopal had taken refuge and Thakur was reassuring him.
Narendra — I didn’t see it.
M. — Thakur used to say now and then, ‘Gopal is in the state of a paramahamsa.’ But I also remember well that Thakur forbade him to visit women devotees. He cautioned him a number of times about this.
Narendra — Well, he told me, ‘If Gopal is in the state of a paramahamsa, why does he keep money with him?’ He also said, ‘He doesn’t belong to my inner circle of devotees. They who are my own will regularly visit me.’
“That is why he used to be cross with Babu. He was in the constant company of Gopal and didn’t visit Thakur frequently enough.
“He told me, ‘Gopal has attained spiritual perfection – perfection achieved suddenly. However, he doesn’t belong to this intimate circle. Had he been my own, why did I not weep in yearning to see him?’ Some people are claiming him as an incarnation of Nityananda. But Thakur said on several occasions, ‘I am indeed Advaita, Chaitanya and Nityananda – all three in one receptacle.’ ”
Thakur instructs Narendra to teach mankind
Two devotees are sitting in Kali Tapasvi’s room in the monastery. One of them is a householder, the other a monk. They are the same age – twenty-four or twenty-five. They are talking when M. arrives. He plans to stay in the monastery for three days.
Friday, 8 April, Good Friday. Time about eight o’clock. M. enters the room and then goes to Thakur’s shrine to pay his obeisance. Later, he meets Narendra, Rakhal and other devotees. Then he comes and sits in this room, talking to both the devotees and listening to their conversation. The householder devotee has the desire to renounce family life. The brother of the monastery is trying to dissuade him.
The Devotee who has Renounced — Please finish the little karma that remains to be done. If you attend to it for a little while, it will end.
“A person was told that he would go to hell. He asked a friend what hell was like. The friend got a piece of chalk and began to draw hell on the ground. As soon as he had finished drawing it, the fellow rolled over it and said, ‘I have now reaped my actions of living in hell.’
The Householder Devotee — I don’t like worldly life. Oh, how happy you are here!
The Devotee who has Renounced — Why do you talk so much about it? Go out and enjoy the world to your fill.
Sashi performs worship in Thakur’s shrine after nine o’clock.
It is about eleven o’clock. The brothers of the monastery return, after a dip in the Ganges. They put on clean cloths and enter the shrine one by one to pay obeisance to Thakur and to meditate.
After food has been offered to Thakur, the brothers of the monastery sit down to eat it. M. eats with them.
It is now twilight. Arati is performed after incense is burnt. Rakhal, Sashi, the Elder Gopal and Harish are sitting in the ‘Demons’ room’. M. is also there. Rakhal asks that great care be taken while keeping Thakur’s food.
Rakhal (to Sashi and the others) — One day I took my meal before Thakur ate. Looking at me, he said, ‘I can’t even look at your face! Why did you do such a thing?’ I began to cry.
The Elder Gopal — Once at Cossipore I breathed heavily on his food. He said, ‘This food cannot be eaten.’
M. is pacing the verandah upstairs with Narendra. They are talking about a number of things.
Narendra says, “You know very well that I didn’t accept anything.”
M. — Are you talking about the forms of God?
Narendra — In the beginning I didn’t accept many of the things he said. One day he said to me, ‘Then why do you come here?’
“I told him, ‘I come here to see you, not to listen to your words.’ ”
M. — What did he say?
Narendra — He was very happy.
The next day, Saturday, 9 April 1887. After offering food to Thakur, the brothers of the monastery eat and then rest awhile. Narendra and M. sit along together under a tree in the garden to the west of the monastery and talk. Narendra tells M. the story of his meeting Thakur. Narendra is twenty-four, M. is thirty-two.
M. — You remember your first meeting with him very well, don’t you?
Narendra — Yes. I met him in his room at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. I sang these two songs that day –
O my mind, return to Your abode.
Why are you wandering aimlessly in a foreign land – this world – in the guise of a foreigner?
Entangling yourself in the love and affection of strangers, why are you forgetting your near and dear One?
Take the path to Reality and light the lamp of intense love for God for a moment.
Preserve sacred wealth carefully and secretly.
The robbers – greed and infatuation – can rob you of your wealth.
The company of sadhus and the Name are like an inn on the road. Take rest there when you tire on the way.
If you lose your way, ask the residents of the inn for the directions.
If, on the path, you come across an image of fear, call on the King with your heart and soul.
On that path, the King wields great authority. Even Yama (God of death) fears His regime.
Will my life end in vain? O Lord, day and night I fervently gaze down the path of hope.
You are the Lord of the three worlds. And I am a beggar and an orphan.
How can I say to You to come and reside in my heart?
I keep the doors of the cottage of my heart open at all times.
Pray, come here once and bring peace to it.
M. — What did Thakur say after hearing the song?
Narendra — He went into an ecstatic mood. He asked Ram Babu and others, ‘Who is this boy? He sang so beautifully!’ Thakur asked me to come again.
M. — Where did you meet him the next time?
Narendra — At Rajmohan’s house. And then again at Dakshineswar. When he saw me on that visit, he began to chant a hymn of praise for me, absorbed in ecstasy. Finishing it, he said, ‘Narayana, You have come down in this body for me!’
“But please don’t tell this to anybody.”
M. — What else did he say?
Narendra — He said, “You have come down in a human body for my sake. I had said to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, how can I go down to earth? With whom shall I talk? Mother, how can I live on earth without associating with pure devotees who have renounced ‘lust and greed’?’ ” He also said, “You came here and woke me up one night. You said to me, ‘I have come.’ ” I knew nothing of the sort. I was in deep sleep in my Calcutta house.
M. — In other words, you were present as well as absent at the same time – like the Lord is both with form and formless.
Narendra — But please don’t tell this to anyone.
Thakur directs Narendra to teach mankind
Narendra — He transmitted spiritual power to me at Cossipore.
M. — Is that when you used to meditate under the tree before a lighted fire – at the Cossipore garden house?
Narendra — Yes. I asked Kali to hold my hand for awhile. Kali said, ‘What a shock traveled through my body when I touched you!’
“Promise that you won’t tell this to anybody. Let it remain between us.”
M. — There is a special reason for transmitting power to you. You will accomplish great work. One day he wrote on a piece of paper, ‘Naren will teach humanity.’
Narendra — But I told him that I would do no such thing.
“He said, ‘Your very bones will do it.’ He made me responsible for Sarat. He has now developed great yearning for God. His kundalini has awakened.”
M. — May dead leaves not now choke It. Thakur used to say – you perhaps remember – that fish make holes in the lake to rest in. When dead leaves accumulate in them, the fish can’t stay there.
Narendra, the Abode of Indivisible
Narendra — He used to call me Narayana.
M. — I know he called you Narayana.
Narendra — During his illness, he would not let me pour water for washing his hands after evacuation.
“At Cossipore, he said, ‘The key is with me. He will give up his body when he comes to know his real Self.’ ”
M. — Wasn’t that the day you went into that state?
Narendra — At the time I felt I had no body, that I only had a face. I was studying law at home to prepare for my examination. Suddenly it came to me, why was I doing all that?
M. — Was Thakur at Cossipore then?
Narendra — Yes. I came out of the house like a crazy person. He asked what I wanted. I said, ‘I would like to remain in samadhi.’ He said to me, ‘You are a man of very low intelligence! There is something beyond samadhi. Samadhi is much lower.’
M. — Yes, he would say, ‘Vijnana is higher than jnana’ – like going up and down a ladder after reaching the roof.
Narendra — Kali talks of jnana all the time. I scold him, saying, ‘Why talk about knowledge? First let your love and devotion for God ripen and mature.’
M. — Please tell me what else he said about you.
Narendra — He had such great faith in my words that when I said to him, ‘The forms of gods and goddesses that you see are all hallucinations,’ he went to the Divine Mother and asked Her, ‘Mother, Narendra said all these things. Are they all delusions of the mind?’ Afterwards he told me, ‘The Divine Mother has said that all of them are true.’
“He said – perhaps you can remember – ‘Hearing you sing, (placing his hand on his heart) what is here inside begins to steadily listen to it – like a snake hissing and raising its hood when it hears the snake charmer.’
“But Master Mahashay, though he said so many nice things about me, what have I attained spiritually?”
M. — You are now dressed as Shiva, so you don’t have to touch money. Do you remember Thakur’s tale?
Narendra — Please tell me.
M. — A quick-change artist was playing the role of Shiva in someone’s house. The master of the house where he went offered him a rupee. He didn’t accept it. He went home, removed Shiva’s dress, and came back to ask for the rupee. The family asked him, ‘Why didn’t you accept it before?’ He said, ‘I was then playing the role of Shiva – a sannyasin – I couldn’t touch money.’
Hearing this, Narendra laughed for a long time.
M. — You are now in the role of a physician. The whole responsibility is on your shoulders. You have to make men of all the brothers of the monastery.
Narendra — The spiritual disciplines that we practice are in accordance with his teachings. How strange that Ram Babu should taunt us about them. He says, ‘We have seen him. What need is there to practice more spiritual disciplines now?’
M. — Let everyone act according to his belief.
Narendra — But he (Thakur) asked us to carry out spiritual practices.
Now Narendra talks more of Thakur’s love.
Narendra — How much he pleaded with the Divine Mother for me! We had nothing to eat – after the death of my father. We were passing through extremely tough times in the house. At that time he prayed to the Divine Mother to give me money.
M. — I know. You told me about that.
Narendra — We didn’t get the money. Thakur said, ‘The Divine Mother says that coarse grain and cloth can be arranged – only rice and lentils can be granted.’
“He entertained so much love for me – yet if an impure idea came to my mind, he would immediately know about it. When I used to wander about with Annada, I sometimes associated with impure people. Then, when I went to see him, he would not take food from my hand. His hand would rise a little to take it and then stop. During his illness his hand reached close to his mouth, but not farther than that. He then said, ‘You have not yet attained.’
“Many times I become skeptical about the existence of God. At Baburam’s house, I felt that nothing exists – that no God, or anything like Him, exists.”
M. — Thakur would say that he, too, used to have such moods at times.
Both of them are silent. M. says, “Blessed you all are! You think about Him day and night.” Narendra replied, “But I can’t see Him! I don’t yet have the desire to give up my body!”
It is evening. Niranjan has returned from holy Puri dham a few moments ago. The brothers of the monastery and M. express joy to see him. He begins to tell them about his visit to Puri. Niranjan is 25 or 26 years old. After the evening worship, some of them are meditating. Since Niranjan has returned, many of them go and sit in the bigger room (the room of the Demons) to talk. At nine in the evening, Sashi offers food to Sri Thakur and puts him to bed.
The brothers of the monastery sit for their evening meal with Niranjan. They have chapati, a vegetable and some zaggery for their dinner. And then they have a little prasad of farina pudding.
 Victory to Shiva Omkara
 Nirvikalpa samadhi
 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,’ or the ‘demons’ room’
 Form, taste, smell, sound and touch
 Earth, water, fire, air and ether
 Control of the mind
 Self-restraint. Patanjali cites five yamas or restrains. They are: (1) abstinence from injury in any form; (2) truthfulness; (3) continence; (4) non-stealing and non-covetousness; and (5) abstinence from possessiveness, accepting only what is absolutely necessary (ahimsa, satya, brahmacharya, asteya, aparigraha).
 Spiritual energy lying dormant at the base of the spine
 Nirvikalpa Samadhi
 Place of pilgrimage
 Flat whole wheat bread