Sri Ramakrishna is Invited to Calcutta
Thakur’s auspicious visit to the house of Ishan Mukherji
The sweet sound of the morning arati is heard in the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The waving of lights is accompanied by a morning symphony of sanai and other musical instruments. Thakur stands up and repeats God’s name in his sweet voice. He salutes the pictures of the gods and goddesses in the room one by one. Then he goes to the circular verandah to the west of his room to have darshan of the holy Ganges and offers his obeisance to it. Some devotees are staying with him. Finishing their morning ablutions, they enter one by one to salute Sri Ramakrishna.
Rakhal is living with Thakur these days. Baburam arrived the previous evening. Mani has been staying with Thakur for the last fourteen days.
It is Thursday, 27 December 1883, the 13th lunar day of the dark fortnight of the month of Agrahayana. Having completed his bath very early in the morning, Thakur is preparing to go to Calcutta.
He calls out to Mani, “I have been invited to Ishan’s house today. Baburam will come with me. You come too.”
Mani prepares to go with him.
It is winter. The carriage in which Thakur will travel stops near the nahabat at 8:00 o’clock. All the trees are flowering and the Ganges flows by in front. Joy seems to emanate from all directions. Sri Ramakrishna stands close to the pictures of the deities in his room and salutes them. Repeating the name of the Mother, he gets into the carriage for the journey. With him are Baburam and Mani. They have brought a warm cloth to cover Thakur’s body, a warm cap to cover his head and ears, and a little bag of spices. Being winter, they will dress Thakur in warm clothes for the evening.
Thakur is smiling. He enjoys himself throughout the trip. At 9:00 o’clock the carriage enters Calcutta and reaches the road crossing the Machhua Bazaar that passes through Shyambazar. Mani knows the location of Ishan’s house. Taking a turn at the street crossing, he asks the coachman to stop when they reach Ishan’s house.
Ishan and his relatives come out to joyfully welcome Thakur. He is taken to the lower parlour where he sits down with the devotees.
After polite enquiries, Thakur talks to Shrish, Ishan’s son. Shrish, having passed his M.A., L.L.B. examinations, is working as an attorney in Alipur. He secured first position at the University as a result of his Entrance and F.A. examinations – he scored at the top of all the candidates. He is now about thirty years old. His humility matches his scholarship: outwardly he seems to know nothing. He folds his hands to salute Thakur. Mani introduces Shrish to him, saying that a man of such calm disposition is hard to find.
Panacea for the bonds of action and sinful actions – Karma Yoga
Sri Ramakrishna (to Shrish) — What are you doing these days?
Shrish — Sir, I practice law in Alipur.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Mani) — For such a man to be a lawyer! (To Shrish) Do you have any question to ask?
“How does one live in the world without attachment?”
Shrish — Sir, one has to do so many unrighteous acts working in the world. Some actions are evil, others are righteous. Are they the result of our past actions that we are impelled to perform them?
Sri Ramakrishna — How long must one perform actions? As long as one does not realize God. One gains everything when one has attained Him. Then one goes beyond virtue and vice.
“When the fruit appears, the flower drops off. It is for making the fruit that the flower appears.
“How long must one perform sandhya and other rituals? As long as the hair on the body does not stand on end and the eyes do not fill with tears while repeating the name of God. Both these states are the signs of God-realization; they indicate pure love and devotion.
“Having realized God, one goes beyond virtue and vice.”
Says Prasad: I bow my head before both desire and enjoyment,
And having solved the mystery that Kali is the same as the Absolute, I have given up righteousness and unrighteousness.
“The nearer you approach God, the more He lessens your work. When the daughter-in-law in a household conceives, her mother-in-law gradually decreases her work. As soon as she reaches the ninth month of pregnancy, she ceases to work. When the baby is born, she only busies herself playing with it and enjoying herself with it.”
Shrish — It is very difficult to proceed toward God while living a householder’s life.
Instructions to a householder – yoga of practice and spiritual discipline in a solitary place
Sri Ramakrishna — Why, what about the yoga of practice? In the countryside [Kamarpukur], the women of carpenter families sell flattened rice. Let me tell you how alert they are when they attend to their work. The pestle of the husking-machine falls constantly into the mortar. With one hand, the woman pushes paddy into the mortar and with the other, suckles a baby in her lap. In the meantime, a customer arrives and she attends to the sale while the pestle goes on pounding the paddy in the mortar. She says to the customer, ‘Look, you owe me so much money. Pay me and you can take your stuff.’
“Just see, she attends to all these things at the same time: suckling the child, pushing the paddy into the mortar while the pestle is pounding it, separating flattened rice from the powdered husk and taking it out of the mortar – and then talking to the buyer. This is what is known as the yoga of practice. Fifteen annas of her mind are tied to the falling pestle of the husking-machine lest it should pound her hand. With one anna of her mind she suckles the baby and attends to the buyer. Similarly, those who lead a family life, a householder’s life, must give fifteen annas of the mind to God. Otherwise, they will face complete ruination and fall into the hands of Death. One must attend to worldly duties with one anna of the mind.
“One can lead a family life after attaining knowledge. But one must first attain it. If you keep the milk of your mind in the water of the world, it will get mixed with water. You must first turn the milk of your mind into curd by placing it in a solitary nook and churn it to take out the butter. Then you can put it in the water of the world.
“It is enough if that much is done. Spiritual practice is needed. It is essential that an aspirant live in solitude in the initial stages of practice. When an Ashwattha tree is only a plant, it must be fenced, otherwise a goat or a cow may eat it. But when it grows a thick trunk, the fence can be removed. Then even if an elephant is tied to it, no harm can be done to the tree.
“So in the early stage of spiritual life, one must go away and live in solitude from time to time. Spiritual discipline is needed. One wants to eat rice. Is it possible to get cooked rice by just saying there is fire in the wood and rice is cooked over this fire? Fire is produced when one rubs one piece of wood against another.
“One becomes intoxicated and feels joy when one eats hemp. Does one become intoxicated and feel joy, if one doesn’t eat it, if one does nothing but mutter, ‘Hemp, hemp’?”
God-realization is the aim of life – worldly and spiritual knowledge – drinking milk
“However much one may have studied books, it is all futile unless one has love and devotion for God, unless one has the desire to realize Him. A mere pundit without discrimination and non-attachment has his attention fixed on ‘lust and greed’. A vulture soars high in the sky but its eyes remain fixed on the charnel pits where carcasses of animals are burnt.
“The knowledge which leads one to the realization of God is real knowledge. All else is futile.
“Well, what is your idea of God?”
Shrish — I have only understood this much – that there is an All-knowing Person, by seeing whose creation one can know how much wisdom He has. Just take this illustration – what skill God shows to save the lives of fish and other aquatic creatures in a cold country! The colder it is, the more the water contracts. But how wonderful! A little before it turns into ice, the water becomes lighter and expands. Thus fish can survive in the coldest of seasons in the water of a lake. The whole of the upper layer turns into ice, but underneath the water remains liquid. If a very cold wind blows, it only affects the upper surface of ice. The water below it remains warm.
Sri Ramakrishna — That God exists may be known by looking at the universe. But it is one thing to hear about Him, another to see Him, and yet another to talk to Him. Some have heard of milk, others have seen it, and yet others have drunk it. One is happy to see milk, one becomes strong and nourished by drinking it. One attains peace only when one sees God; one feels bliss and becomes strengthened only by talking to Him.
Desire for salvation and yearning for God depends on the right time
Shrish — I don’t get time to call on God.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — It is true that unless the time is ripe, nothing comes to pass. A boy said to his mother before going to sleep, ‘Mother, please wake me up when I feel the call of nature.’ The mother said, ‘Son, its pressure will wake you up. I don’t have to wake you.’
“God has already decided what each one shall receive. A mother-in-law used to give a certain amount of rice to her daughters-in-law, measuring it with an earthen cup. The girls did not get enough rice. One day, to the great joy of the girls, the cup broke. The mother-in-law then said, ‘You may dance and shout, my children, but I can measure the amount very well with the palm of my hand.’ ”
Give your power of attorney to the Lord
(To Shrish) “What else can you do? Surrender everything at His feet and give Him the general power of attorney. Let Him do what He considers best for you. If you place your responsibility on a great man, he will never do you any harm.
“Of course, spiritual practice is needed. But there are two kinds of spiritual aspirants. One has the nature of a young monkey, and the other the nature of a kitten. A young monkey somehow manages to cling to its mother. Likewise, some aspirants think that in order to attain God, they have to repeat the Name so many times, meditate for a certain period, and perform a certain amount of penance. This kind of aspirant tries to hold God by his own effort.
“On the other hand, the kitten itself cannot hold onto its mother. All it does is lie where it is and mew to call its mother – let the mother do what she likes. The mother cat sometimes puts it on a bed – or she may put it next to a woodpile. The mother will put it in her mouth and place it anywhere she likes. The kitten doesn’t know how to hold its mother. Likewise, there are some aspirants who do not calculate how much spiritual practice they do: how many times to repeat the Name, how long to meditate, and so on. They only weep and call upon Him with great yearning. Hearing their cries, God cannot stay away, but appears before them to grant His vision.”
It is already late. The master of the house is preparing food for Thakur, so he is very busy. He goes inside the house to look after the meal preparation and to make other arrangements.
It is time to eat, so Thakur is a bit concerned. He walks up and down the room. But he still wears a smile on his face. Now and then he talks to Keshab, the musician.
God is the Doer – yet man is responsible for his own actions
Keshab, the musician — So God is both the ‘instrument’ and the ‘cause’. Duryodhana said, ‘Oh Krishna! I act as You, seated within my heart, make me act.’
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — Yes, it is He who makes us do everything. He indeed is the Doer; man is only an instrument.
“But this, too, is true: one has to reap the fruit of one’s actions. Eat red chilies and you will feel a burning in your stomach. It is God who has ordained that eating red chilies should give the burning sensation. If you do an evil deed, you will bear the result.
“But he who has attained God, who has gained the Lord’s vision, can commit no sin. An expert musician cannot sing a false note. An expert musician sings only the correct notes of the octave: do, re, mi, fa.”
The meal is ready to be served. Thakur goes inside the house, accompanied by the devotees, and takes his seat. Several varieties of dishes and many delicious sweets have been prepared in the house of this brahmin devotee.
It is about three o’clock. After eating, Sri Ramakrishna comes back to Ishan’s parlour and sits down. Shrish and M. sit close to him. Thakur resumes his conversation with Shrish.
Sri Ramakrishna — What is your attitude? Is it the attitude of Soham, or of the Master and the servant?
Is jnana yoga or bhakti yoga for the householder?
“The attitude of the Master and servant is very good for householders. One must act. How can one have the attitude ‘I am He’ in that state? He who says, ‘I am He’ considers the world a dream, his body and mind also a dream, even his I-ness a dream. That is why, with this attitude, he is unable to perform worldly duties. For him the attitude of a servant of the Lord is very good.
“Hanuman had the attitude of a servant. Hanuman said to Rama, ‘Rama, sometimes I consider You to be the Whole and myself a portion of That, that You are the Master and I am Your servant. But when I attain the knowledge of the Highest Truth, I realize that You are none other than I, and I none other than You.’
“When you have attained the highest Knowledge, you may have the attitude of Soham – but it is an attitude far removed from the ordinary man’s experience.”
Shrish — True, sir. With the feeling of being the servant of God, a man is free from all anxieties and worries. He is fully dependent on the Lord. A dog is very devoted to its master, so it lives in peace by surrendering itself completely to him.
God is with form as well as without form – great importance of Name
Sri Ramakrishna — Well, which do you like – God with form or the formless God? Do you know the truth? He who is formless also takes a form. To a devotee, He appears as a form. It is like a boundless expanse of water, a mighty ocean, without any shore or bank. Some of the water is frozen into ice at some places – the water turns into ice due to extreme cold. Similarly, a devotee has the vision of God with form with the cooling influence of his love and devotion for Him. And when the sun rises, the ice melts and becomes the same water as before. Similarly, when a devotee treads the path of Self-knowledge, or the path of discrimination, he does not see the aspect of God with form any longer. Then all is formless. When the sun of Self-knowledge rises, the ice of God’s form melts away.
“But see, the Being who is formless has Himself taken up a form.”
It is dusk. Thakur rises to return to Dakshineswar. He stands and talks to Ishan on an open porch south of the parlour. Someone remarks that repeating God’s Name does not always seem to bear fruit.
Ishan says, “What do you mean? Though the seed of the Ashwattha tree is tiny, it contains within it a very big tree. It is only that the tree is not visible for a long time.”
Sri Ramakrishna — Yes, yes. It takes a long time to see the effect.
Ishan is an unattached householder – state of a paramahamsa
Ishan’s house is located east of the house of his father-in-law, Kshetranath Chatterji. There is a path connecting the houses. Thakur stands at the gate of the Chatterji house. Ishan comes with his family to see him off by carriage.
Thakur says to Ishan, “You are living in the household like a mud fish. It lives in the mud of a pond, but the mud doesn’t stain its body.”
“There are both knowledge and ignorance in this world of maya. Whom do I call a paramahamsa? He who, like a swan, can take the milk from a mixture of water and milk by separating the water from the milk; he who, like an ant, can take the sugar from a mixture of sugar and sand, leaving aside the sand.”
Sri Ramakrishna and the harmony of religions – sin does not affect an Ishvarakoti
It is twilight. Thakur has arrived at the house of his devotee, Ramchandra Dutta. After visiting him, he will go back to Dakshineswar.
A lamp is lit in the parlour where Thakur is sitting with his devotees. He is talking with Mahendra Goswami. Goswami lives in the same neighborhood. Thakur is fond of him. When he visits Ram, the Goswami usually comes to see him.
Goswami (laughing) — Hara [Shiva] and Parvati are our Father and Mother.
Sri Ramakrishna (laughing) — Thank you. Yes, Father and Mother!
Goswami — Besides, to criticize anybody, especially for a Vaishnava, is a sin – it is a Vaishnava transgression. All sins can be forgiven – but not this transgression.
Sri Ramakrishna — Not everybody is touched by sin. The Ishvarakoti is not affected by sin. For example, an incarnation of God like Chaitanyadeva.
“If a boy holds his father’s hand while he walks on the balk of a field, he can fall into the ditch. But if the father holds the boy’s hand, he can never fall.
“Listen, I asked the Mother for pure love and devotion. I said to the Mother, ‘Here is Your righteousness, here is Your unrighteousness. Take them and grant me pure love and devotion. Here is Your purity and also Your impurity, only grant me pure love. Mother, here is Your vice and here is your virtue, only grant me pure love and devotion.’ ”
Goswami — Yes, sir.
Sri Ramakrishna — You should pay respect to all religions. But there is something called single-minded devotion. You may salute everybody, but when you love someone with your heart and soul, it is known as single-minded devotion.
“Hanuman liked no other form than that of Rama.
“The milkmaids had such single-minded devotion that they didn’t want to see Krishna of Dwaraka with a turban on his head.
“A wife renders service to her husband’s younger and elder brothers, like washing their feet and setting places for them to eat. But the way she serves her husband, she serves nobody else. She has a special relationship with her husband.”
Ram treats Thakur with sweets and other refreshments.
Thakur is ready to start for Dakshineswar. He takes the shawl and cap from M. The cap covering his ears is made of baize. Thakur gets into the carriage with the devotees. Ram and other devotees help him sit down. M. also climbs into the carriage to return to Dakshineswar.
 Roshan chowki
 Seeing, experiencing; paying respect to a holy place or person by a ceremonial visit; also the blessing or purification felt in the presence of holiness
 Abhyasa Yoga
 Sixteen annas make one Rupee, one complement
 He called him Hrishikesh
 Purna; perfect
 Tattva jnana
 Eternally free and perfect souls, born on earth for the good of mankind, with at least some of the characteristics of an avatar
 Worshippers of Vishnu
 Worshippers of Shakti
 Sri Ramakrishna said ‘Thank You’ in English
 Nishtha bhakti