Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar
The Kali Temple and garden
Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar Kali Temple – chandni (portal) and the twelve Shiva temples – brick courtyard and the Vishnu temple – Sri Sri Bhavatarini Mother Kali – natmandir (the music pavilion) – the store, the pantry, the guest house and the place of sacrifice – the office rooms – Sri Ramakrishna’s room – nahabat, bakultala and panchavati – jhautala, beltala and kuthi – ghat for washing utensils, Gazitala, the main gate and the back gate – Hanspukur, stable, cowshed, and flower garden – the verandah of Sri Ramakrishna’s room, the “Abode of Joy.”
It is Sunday. The devotees have a day off from work, so they are coming in great numbers to the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar to see the Paramahamsa Deva, Sri Ramakrishna. His door is open to all. Thakur talks freely with all the visitors: sadhus, paramahamsas, Hindus, Christians, Brahmos, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, men and women – they all visit him. Blessed you are, Rani Rasmani! It is because of your virtue that such a beautiful temple has come into being. Besides, there is a living image! People are able to come here to meet and worship a great spiritual personality.
The chandni and the twelve Shiva temples
The Kali Temple is located about five miles north of Calcutta on the bank of the Ganges. Arriving by boat and climbing toward the east up a broad staircase, one enters the Kali Temple. It is at this very ghat that Sri Ramakrishna takes his bath. Just up from the staircase is the chandni. Watchmen of the temple live there. Their cots, mango-wood chests, and one or two jugs and such things are lying around. When the gentlemen of the neighbourhood come to the temple garden to take their bath in the Ganges, some of them sit here and gossip while they have an oil massage. Some of the sadhus, fakirs, and Vaishnavas who come to have prasad from the guest house wait here for the bell announcing the food offerings. At times a bhairavi (woman worshiper of the Mother), dressed in ochre cloth and holding a trident in her hand, is seated here. She, too, will go to the guest house for food when the bell rings. The chandni is situated in the center of the twelve Shiva temples – six temples to the north and six to the south. People passing by in boats, seeing the twelve temples from a distance, exclaim, “That is the temple garden of Rani Rasmani!”
The brick courtyard and the Vishnu temple
There is a cemented brick courtyard to the east of the chandni, and then the twelve Shiva temples. In the center of the courtyard are two temples facing each other. To the north is the temple of Radhakanta. Directly south of it is the temple of Mother Kali. In the Radhakanta Temple, the images of Radha and Krishna face west. One enters up a flight of stairs. The floor of this temple is paved with marble, and a chandelier hangs in its vestibule. Not in use now, it is protected by a red linen cloth. A watchman keeps vigil in the temple, and canvas screens protect the deities from the midday sun in the western sky. Passages left open between the rows of columns in the vestibule are covered by screens. Toward the southeast corner is a pitcher of Ganges water, and near the threshold of the door is a vessel containing holy water. Devotees bow down before the deities and then take a few drops of the water. Inside the temple the statues of Radha and Krishna sit on a raised seat. Sri Ramakrishna’s first duties as priest in 1857 and 1858 were at this temple.
Sri Sri Bhavatarini Mother Kali
In the southern temple is the beautiful stone image of Kali, the Divine Mother. She is called the Saviour of the World. The floor of the temple is paved in black and white marble. Steps ascend to a raised platform on which there is a silver lotus of a thousand petals. On this lotus Shiva lies on His back, His head to the south and feet to the north. The image of Shiva is made of white marble. On His breast stands the stone image of the very beautiful three-eyed Shyama Kali. She is dressed in a Benares sari and decorated with jewels of many kinds. On Her lotus feet are tinkling anklets, ornaments, red china roses, and bel leaves. One of the anklets is called panjeb and is worn by women of the west (Punjab and Uttar Pradesh). This ornament was procured by Mathur Babu at the special desire of Sri Ramakrishna. The Mother’s arms are adorned with broad bangles and armlets made of gold. Her lower arm wears the bracelets known as “coconut flowers,” paincha, bauti, and bala. On Her upper arms She wears armlets called tarr, tabiz, and baju. The last one has a pendant attached to it.
Around Her neck the Divine Mother wears a golden cheke, a pearl necklace of seven strings, a golden necklace of thirty-two strings, a “chain of stars,” and a golden garland made of human skulls. On Her head She wears a crown. Her ears are adorned with kanbala and kanpash, golden earrings that look like flowers, and also round golden earrings and the “golden fish.” She wears a pearl nose ring. The three-eyed Goddess holds a decapitated human head and a sword in Her upper and lower left hands. Her upper right hand makes the sign of fearlessness and the lower offers boons. Around Her waist She wears a garland of human arms, as well as golden waist-chains called neem fruit and komarpata.
In the northeast corner of the temple is a beautiful bed where the Mother rests. On a side wall hangs a chamara with which Sri Ramakrishna fanned Her. On a lotus stand on the altar is water in a silver water glass. Rows of vessels that hold water for Mother to drink are on the steps. On a silver lotus seat to the northwest is a lion made of eight metals. Images of an iguana and a trident are to the east. Toward the southwest of the platform is a vixen, to the south is a black stone bull, and to the northeast is a swan. On one of the steps leading to the platform is an image of Narayana on a small silver throne. On one side of him is an image of Ramlala, the boy Ramachandra, made of eight metals, which the Paramahamsa Devaobtained from a holy man. There is also an emblem of Shiva, as well as some other gods.
The Divine Mother faces south. Directly in front of Her, to the south of the platform, is a pitcher. After puja this pitcher is dabbed with vermilion, covered with various kinds of flowers, and decorated with flower garlands. On another wall is a copper pitcher filled with water to wash the Mother’s face. Above, in the temple canopy behind the image, a beautiful piece of Benares silk hangs. Adding to the beauty of the image are silver columns on the four sides of the platform with a costly canopy spread over them.
The temple is of medium size. Some of the gates of the vestibule are protected by strong doors. A guard sits near one of the doors. Nearby is a small vessel containing holy water. The top of the temple is adorned with nine pinnacles. Four of the pinnacles rise from the lower corners of the roof, four from the middle, and above them one pinnacle rises from the center peak. It is now broken. The Paramahamsa Deva performed puja in this shrine as well as in the shrine of Radhakanta.
The Natmandir (the theatrical hall)
In front of Kali’s shrine – that is, to the south – is a beautiful and spacious natmandir on which Shiva and his attendants, Nandi and Bhringi, are depicted.
Before entering the Mother’s temple, Sri Ramakrishna would fold his hands and bow to Shiva, as though entering the temple after taking His permission. Two rows of high columns stand north-south of the natmandir with a roof over them. To the east and west of the row of columns are two portions of the natmandir. During festivals, especially on Kali Puja day, theatrical performances are performed in the natmandir. It was there that Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rasmani, at the request of Sri Ramakrishna, carried out a donation to the poor called “the ceremony of the mound of grain.” It was here that Sri Ramakrishna worshiped Bhairavi.
Store, pantry, guest house, and place of sacrifice
To the west of the courtyard are the twelve Shiva temples, and on the three other sides are single-storied rooms. The rooms to the east include the storeroom, a room for keeping luchis (fried bread), a room for the food offerings for Vishnu, a room for preparing fruit and other offerings, and a room for cooking the offerings for the Divine Mother, as well as the guest house for feeding guests. If guests and visiting sadhus do not eat here, they must go to the office of the steward of the temple for permission to take rations from the store. To the south of the natmandir is the place of sacrifice.
Food prepared for Vishnu’s shrine is vegetarian, but not so for Kali. There is a separate kitchen for preparing food for Her. In front of the kitchen of the Divine Mother, maidservants cut fish with big knives. On the dark night of the month a goat is sacrificed. The food offering is over before noon. In the meantime beggars, sadhus, and guests take plates made of sal leaves from the guest house and sit down in rows. Brahmins are allotted a separate corner and the brahmins working here have different seats as well. Prasad for the steward is sent to his room. The descendents of the founder of the temple, Rani Rasmani, stay in the kuthi when they visit the temple; their prasad is taken to them there.
In the row of rooms on the south side of the courtyard are offices and the residences of officials. The steward and clerks stay here, and the storekeeper, maidservants, men servants, priests, cooks, brahmin cooks, and gate keepers are generally found walking in and out. Some of these rooms, which contain property of the temple, such as carpets and tents, are locked. Some of the rooms are used as storerooms on the birthday celebrations of the Paramahamsadeva. The cooking for this great celebration is done on the ground to the south.
There is another row of single-storied rooms to the north of the courtyard. In its center is the main gate. As in the chandni, here, too, gatekeepers keep watch. Shoes must be taken off before entering both places.
Sri Ramakrishna’s room
In the northwest corner of the courtyard, just north of the twelve Shiva temples, is Sri Ramakrishna’s room. Due west of his room is a semicircular verandah. It was from here, facing west, that Sri Ramakrishna often watched the Ganges. Next to this verandah is a path, and to its west, a flower garden and terrace, alongside which flows the pure, sweet, melodious waters of the Ganges, the symbol of all pilgrimages.
Nahabat (the music pavilion), bakultala and panchavati
Just north of the Paramahamsa Deva’s room is a rectangular verandah. To its north is a garden path and flower garden. And beyond that is the nahabat (the music pavilion). The revered mother of Sri Ramakrishna and later the Holy Mother lived in the lower room. Next to the nahabat are the grove of bakul trees and river ghat where the women of the neighborhood take their bath. It was at this ghat that the venerable mother of the Paramahamsa Deva breathed her last, with the lower half of her body immersed in the holy waters of the Ganges.
A little north of the bakultala is the panchavati (a grove of five trees). It was in the panchavati that the Paramahamsa Deva practiced many religious austerities. He would often stroll around the area with his devotees. At times, deep at night, he would rise and go there. This grove consists of five trees: the bata (Indian fig), peepal, neem, amalaki, and bel trees which Thakur himself planted. On returning from Vrindavan, Sri Ramakrishna scattered the dust of that holy place at the panchavati. Directly east of it, Sri Ramakrishna had a thatched hut built. It was here that he meditated and practiced many austerities. This hut has since been replaced by a room made of brick.
In the center of the panchavati are a banyan tree and a peepal tree which have grown together and now appear as one. Being very old, the tree has many holes in it, which have become the living places of many birds and animals. Below it is a brick-built circular platform with steps. Seated on the northwestern side of the platform, Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna carried out many devotional exercises. With great yearning he called upon God like a cow cries for its calf. Now, across the hallowed seat, a branch of the peepal tree has fallen, though it has not completely broken away from the parent bata tree. It seems to say that no great man worthy to sit on that platform has yet been born again.
Jhautala, beltala, and kuthi
A little north of the panchavati is a railing made of iron wire. On the other side of it is the jhautala, where rows and rows of willow trees stand. A short distance east from the jhautala is the beltala. Here, too, the Paramahamsa Deva practiced many difficult austerities. Beyond the jhautala and the beltala is a high wall and just north of it is the government magazine.
Going north from the main gate of the courtyard, one comes to the two-storied kuthi. Whenever Rani Rasmani and her son-in-law, Mathur Babu, and other members of the family visited the temple, they would stay at the kuthi. During their lifetime, the Paramahamsa Deva lived in a western room on the ground floor. A path from this room leads to the bakultala ghat, from where there is a splendid view of the Ganges.
Ghat for washing utensils, gazitala, and gates
Going east on the path between the main gate of the courtyard and the kuthi is a fine reservoir with a specially built, paved ghat. This ghat, which borders the east side of Mother Kali’s temple, is used for washing utensils. A short distance north from the main gate path is another ghat, to the side of which is a tree called gazitala. A little further east on this path is another gate. It is the main exit from the garden. People from Alambazar or Calcutta visit the temple through this gate. People from Dakshineswar come in through the back gate. There, too, a watchman is stationed. When the Paramahamsa Deva used to return to the Kali Temple from Calcutta at midnight, the watchman at this gate would unlock it. The Paramahamsa Deva would call him to his room and give him luchis, sweets, and other items of prasad.
Hanspukur, stable, cow sheds, and lower garden
To the east of the panchavati is another reservoir called the Hanspukur (Goose Tank). At its northeast corner are a stable and a cow shed. East of the cow shed is the back gate. It leads to the village of Dakshineswar. It is used by priests and temple officials and their families who live in Dakshineswar.
There is a flower-bordered path along the Ganges running north from the southern extremity of the garden to the bakultala and the panchavati. An east-west path from the south of the kuthi is also flanked by flowers. From the gazitala to the cow barn, the stretch of land to the east of the kuthi and the Hanspukur also has flowering plants of different species, fruit trees, and another reservoir.
Very early in the morning when the eastern sky is turning red, one can hear the sweet sounds of the morning arati and morning music played on the sanai. At this time flowers from Mother Kali’s flower garden are plucked for worship. On the bank of the Ganges in front of the panchavati are vilva trees and fragrant beds of pagoda flowers. Sri Ramakrishna was very fond of tulips, madhavi (myrtle), and gulachi flowers. He brought a madhavi creeper from Vrindavan and planted it here. On the eastern bank of the Hanspukur and the kuthi are champak plants and at a little distance are plants of jhumka, hibiscus, roses, and kanchan (gold flower). Aparajita grows on hedges, and close by are jasmine and shafalika flowers. Along the western wall beside the twelve Shiva temples are red and white oleander, roses, and both large and small jasmine. Interspersed are datura, which provide large and fragrant white blossoms used in the worship of Shiva. At intervals there are basil plants growing on high brick-built platforms. To the south of the nahabat are larger jasmine, gardenia, and roses. Not far from the brick-built ghat are lotus oleander and the cuckoo-eyed. Near the Paramahamsa Deva’s room are a couple of coxcomb, and close by are double jasmine, gardenia, roses, tulips, white and red oleanders, double hibiscus, and Chinese hibiscus.
Sri Ramakrishna used to gather flowers for worship himself. One day when he was plucking the leaves of a bel tree in front of the panchavati, a small portion of the bark of the tree came off. He felt as if the one who lives within all things had received a severe pain. Thenceforth, he could no longer pluck bel leaves. Another day when he was walking around picking flowers, he was suddenly aware that the various flowering plants were but so many bouquets adoring the great image of Shiva. Shiva was thus being worshiped day and night. Henceforth, he ceased to pick flowers.
Verandah of Thakur Sri Ramakrishna’s room
Two adjoining verandahs extend east and south from Sri Ramakrishna’s room. It was in the south wing of these verandahs which faced the courtyard that Sri Ramakrishna often sat with the devotees. There he would talk to them about God and sing devotional songs with them. In the northern wing, devotees also gathered to celebrate his birthday and to sing hymns with him. At times he would take prasad with them there. It was also on this verandah that Keshab Chandra Sen visited him and would talk for long hours like a disciple. They would enjoy themselves with puffed rice, coconut, luchis, and sweets. It was here, also, that Sri Ramakrishna went into samadhi at the sight of Narendra.
The Abode of Joy
The Kali Temple has become the Abode of Joy. Radhakanta, Bhavatarini, and Mahadeva are worshiped here daily. Offerings for worship are made and guests served. On one side the sacred view of the Bhagirathi (the Ganges) stretches far into the distance; on the other is a unique and varied flower garden that charms everyone with its abundant fragrance and beauty. As well, there is the God-man, intoxicated day and night with love for God. And there is the perennial festival of the ever-joyful Divine Mother. Music emanates from the nahabat at the sacred time of the dawn arati and again when worship starts about nine in the morning. At noon it sounds after the food offering, when the deities retire to rest. It is again played at four o’clock when they rise after their rest. Music is heard again from the nahabat at the time of evening arati and last of all, at nine at night, when, after the evening offerings of food, the deities go to bed.
Tava kathämåtaà taptajévanaà kavibhir éòitaà kalmañäpaham |
çravaëamaìgalaà çrémad ätataà bhuvi gåëanti te bhüridä janä ||
[The nectar of Your story revives the parched soul of man. Poets (men of knowledge) praise it. It wipes away our sins. To hear it is, in itself, auspicious. It is pervasive, limitless, and beautiful. Only those who have been generous in their past lives understand it.]
– Srimad Bhagavata X:31:9
The first meeting – month of February 1882
The Kali Temple at Dakshineswar on the bank of the Ganges. It is springtime in February 1882. On Thurs-day, 23 February, one day after his birthday, Sri Ramakrishna went for a cruise on a steamer with Keshab Sen and Joseph Cook. It is now a few days later, and evening is approaching. M. comes to Sri Ramakrishna’s room. It is his first visit.
He sees a roomful of people seated motionless, drinking in the nectar of his words. Thakur is seated on his bed, facing east and talking about God with a smiling face. The devotees are sitting before him on the floor.
When does renunciation of work take place?
M. looks in and is speechless. He wonders if it is Sukadeva telling the story of the Lord and if at that spot all the places of pilgrimage have gathered together. Or is it Sri Chaitanya sitting in the holy land of Puri singing the names and glories of Bhagavan with Ramananda, Swarup, and other devotees seated before him?
Sri Ramakrishna is saying, “When your hair stands on end just at the name of Hari or Rama, and tears flow from your eyes, know for certain that sandhya and other daily observances are no longer necessary. They are over for you. You have then gained the right to give up work. Indeed, karmas fall off of their own accord. In that state mere repetition of the name of Rama or Hari, or the Omkara is enough.” And he adds, “Sandhya ends in Gayatri and Gayatri in Om.”
M. has walked here, from garden to garden, with Sidhu from Baranagore. It is Sunday, 26 February, 15th Phalgun, a holiday, and he has come out for a walk. A little earlier he was strolling in Prasanna Bannerji’s garden. It was there that Sidhu said, “There is a beautiful garden on the bank of the Ganges. Would you like to see it? A Paramahamsa lives there.”
Entering the garden through the main gate, M. and Sidhu come directly to Sri Ramakrishna’s room. M. is speechless as he watches. He thinks, how charming this place is, how charming this man is, how sweet is his talk – I don’t feel like leaving. After a while he says to himself, But let me first look around and see where I have come. I will then come back and sit down.
As he comes out of the room with Sidhu, the sweet sound of arati begins with cymbals, bells, and drums all sounding in unison. Music comes from the nahabat on the southern side of the garden. Floating over the bosom of the Ganges, it seems to fade somewhere far, far away. The spring breeze is gentle and fragrant with the sweet smell of many flowers. In the spreading moonlight, preparation for the arati of the deities is taking place all around. Watching the arati in the twelve Shiva temples and in the temples of Radhakanta and Bhavatarini, M. is filled with supreme joy. Sidhu says, “This is Rasmani’s temple. Here the gods are worshiped every day from morning till evening. Many holy guests and the poor come here.”
After passing through a grand brick quadrangle, they emerge from the Bhavatarini Kali Temple, talking. When they reach Sri Ramakrishna’s room, the door is closed. Incense was burnt a little while before.
Having been educated in English ways, M. cannot enter a room that is closed. The maidservant, Vrinde, is standing at the door. M. asks, “Is the holy man in the room now?”
Vrinde: “Yes, he is inside.”
M.: “How long has he been here?”
Vrinde: “Oh, many, many years!”
M.: “Well, does he read many books?”
Vrinde: “Oh dear, books and things like that are all on his tongue!”
M. is fresh from college. He is very surprised to hear that Sri Ramakrishna does not read books.
M.: “Well, perhaps he is now performing evening devotions. Can we enter the room? Will you please tell him about us?”
Vrinde: “Why, go in, my children. Go inside and sit down.”
Thereupon they enter the room and see that no one else is there. Sri Ramakrishna is seated alone on the bedstead. Incense is burning and all the doors are closed. M. folds his hands in greeting as he enters the room. At the bidding of Sri Ramakrishna, M. and Sidhu sit on the floor. Thakur asks, “Where do you live? What do you do? What has brought you to Baranagore?” M. answers all his questions, but he notices that in the course of conversation, Thakur’s mind wanders away to something on which he is meditating. Later, M. hears that this is called bhava samadhi. It is like a man sitting with a fishing rod in his hand, waiting to catch a fish. The fish comes and begins to bite at the bait and the float trembles. The man is all attention. He grasps the rod and looks at the float with a concentrated mind, talking to no one. Sri Ramakrishna’s state is exactly like this. Later, M. hears and sees that Thakur goes into this state after his devotions. At times, he loses all external consciousness.
M.: “You will now perform your evening worship. Perhaps we should leave.”
Sri Ramakrishna (in ecstasy): “No evening worship. No, it is not that.”
After some conversation, M. salutes Thakur and takes his leave.
Thakur says, “Come again.”
On his way home, M. wonders to himself, Who may this god-man be? How is it that my soul longs to see him again? Can a man be great without reading books? How strange that I feel like visiting him again. He said, “Come again.” I shall come tomorrow or the day after, in the morning.
akhaëòamaëòaläkäraà vyäptaà yena caräcaram |
tatpadaà darçitaà yena tasmai çré gurave namaù ||
[Salutations to the guru who has made it possible to realize Him who pervades this entire universe of the moving and unmoving.]
– Vishveshwara Tantra 2
Second meeting and conversation between the guru and the disciple
The second meeting is at eight o’clock in the morning. Thakur is going to have a shave. The winter cold still lingers, so he wears a moleskin shawl hemmed with muslin. Seeing M., he says, “So you have come! Good. Sit here.”
They are on the southeast verandah with the barber. Thakur sits for a shave and talks to M. He wears the shawl, and slippers on his feet. He is smiling. He stammers a little when he talks.
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “Well, where do you live?”
M.: “In Calcutta, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Who have you come to see who lives around here?”
M.: “I came to Baranagore to visit my elder sister at Ishan Kaviraj’s house.”
Keshab Chandra – Sri Ramakrishna weeps before the Divine Mother
Sri Ramakrishna: “Well, how is Keshab these days? He was seriously ill.”
M.: “I also heard that. I hope he is well now.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “I made a vow to offer a green coconut and sugar to the Divine Mother for Keshab’s recovery. Sometimes I used to wake up at midnight and cry to Her, saying, ‘O Mother, please let Keshab get well! If he doesn’t live, whom shall I talk to when I go to Calcutta?’ That’s why I vowed to offer green coconut and sugar.
“A Mr. Cook came here. Does he lecture? Keshab took me on board a steamer. Mr. Cook was there.”
M.: “Yes, I did hear of him, but I haven’t attended any of his lectures. I don’t know much about him.”
Household and the duty of a father
Sri Ramakrishna: “Pratap’s brother came here and stayed for some days. He had no work to do. He said that he wanted to stay here. He had left his wife, son, and daughter in the care of his father-in-law. He has many children. I took him to task. Look, he has so many children! Should they be fed and looked after by neighbours? He’s not ashamed for somebody else to take care of his family and that they are a burden to his father-in-law! I scolded him rather severely and told him to look for work. After that he left here.”
ajïänatimirändhasya jïänäïjanaçaläkayä |
cakçur unmélitaà yena tasmai çré gurave namaù ||
[Salutations to the Guru who, with the collyrium stick of knowledge, has opened the eyes of one blinded by the disease of ignorance.]
– Vishveshwara Tantra 3
M. is reprimanded – his egotism is crushed
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “Are you married?”
M.: “Yes, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna (startled): “I say, Ramlal! Ah me, he has already taken a wife.”
M. is confused and sits speechless, hanging his head as though he were guilty of a serious offence. He thinks to himself, Is marrying so bad?
Thakur then asks, “Have you any children?”
M. can hear the beating of his own heart. He says fearfully, “Yes sir, I have children.”
Thakur rebukes M. all the more, saying, “Alas, you have children too!”
M. is stunned by the blow. His egotism is being crushed.
After a while Sri Ramakrishna looks at him kindly and speaks affectionately, ‘‘See, you have some good signs. I can tell by looking at a person’s eyes and forehead.
“Well, what kind of wife do you have? Is she vidyashakti or avidyashakti?”
What is jnana? – image worship
M.: “Sir, she is good, but ignorant.”
Sri Ramakrishna (sharply): “And you are wise!”
What jnana is and what ajnana is, M. does not know. Until now he has only known that a jnani is one who has received an education and can read books. This false notion was afterwards destroyed when he learned that to know God is jnana and not to know Him is ajnana. Thakur had said, “Do you think you have attained wisdom?” M.’s egotism again received a hard blow.
Sri Ramakrishna: “Well, do you believe in God with form or without form?”
M. (confused, to himself), Is it possible to have faith in the formless God and believe at the same time that He is with form? How can it be that while believing God to be with form, one can think of Him as formless? Can the two contradictory states coexist in the same substance? Can white things like milk also be black?
M.: “I like the formless God.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “That’s all right. Having faith in either of the two points of view is enough. To think of God as formless is quite right. Even so, don’t think that only this idea is true and all others are false. Know this: that the formless God is true and so is God with form. You must hold to that which you believe.”
Hearing again and again that both ideas are true, M. is speechless. Never has he read such a thing in any of his books. His egotism has been crushed for a third time, but it is not yet completely knocked out. So he advances with his reasoning a little further.
M.: “Well sir, let one believe that God is with form, but surely He is not an earthen image.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “My dear sir, why earthen? It is the image of spirit!”
M. does not understand the significance of the “image of spirit.” He says, “Well, should one not make it clear to those who worship images that God is not the image and that while worshiping, they should keep God in view and not worship the clay?”
Lecture and Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna (sharply): “It is fashionable for Calcutta people to lecture and bring others to light! How to bring light to themselves, they do not know. Who are you to teach others? The Lord of the Universe will teach – He who has made this universe of moon, sun, seasons, human beings, and beasts. He who has provided food for men and beasts, and parents to rear and love their young ones – He Himself will teach. He has made all this; will He not provide for it, too? If there is a need to know, God Himself will surely make it understood. He is the inner controller. You say it is wrong to worship a clay image. Does He not know that He Himself is being called upon? He is pleased with this very worship! Why should you have a headache over it? Only seek for yourself, that you may gain knowledge and develop love and devotion.”
This time M.’s egotism is completely crushed. He says to himself, What he says is certainly true. Why do I need to go around preaching to others? Have I myself known God? Have I developed love and devotion for Him? It is like the proverb says: “Bidding my friend Shankara to lie down on my bed when there is no bed for myself to lie on.” Knowing nothing, listening to no one, and yet going out to preach to others! It would be shameful, indeed great folly. Is this mathematics or history or literature that you can teach to others? It is the science of God! Whatever he says fully appeals to me.
This was M.’s first and last attempt to argue with Thakur.
Sri Ramakrishna: “You were talking of worshiping clay images. Even if made of clay, there is need for this kind of worship. God Himself has provided various methods of worship. He who has created the universe has provided different forms to suit people with different understanding. A mother provides food so that her children get what agrees with each.
“Say a mother has five children and she has fish to cook. She makes different dishes out of it to suit each of her children. Pulao with fish for one, fish with sour tamarind for another, charchari for yet another, and fried fish for still another – she prepares exactly what they like, exactly what agrees with their stomachs. Understand?”
M.: “Yes, sir.”
saàsärärëavaghore yaù karëadhärasvarüpakaù|
namo ‘stu rämakåñëäya tasmai çré gurave namaù||
[Salutations to Sri Ramakrishna, salutations to that Guru who is the pilot to take one across the deep sea of the world.]
– Vishveshwara Tantra 3
How to gain love and devotion for God
M.: “How may one fix the mind on God?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “By chanting His names and glories without ceasing. And keeping the company of the holy. One must frequently go to God’s devotees, or sadhus. The mind doesn’t fix itself on God while living day and night in the midst of worldly activities and family life. So one must go into solitude now and then to meditate on God. In the first stage it is very hard to fix the mind on God without frequently going into solitude.
“When a plant is young, it needs a fence around it. Without the fence, goats and cows devour it.
“The mind, a solitary corner, and the forest are the places to meditate. And you must always have good thoughts in your mind. God alone is real, the eternal substance, and all else is unreal, transitory. Discriminating in this way, you will shake off attachment to the perishable things of the world.”
M. (humbly): “How to live in the household?”
Sannyasa in the household – the way – Sadhana in solitude
Sri Ramakrishna: “Do all your duties, but keep your mind fixed on God. Wife, son, father, and mother – live with them all and serve them as if they are your own, but know in your heart that they are really not yours.
“A rich man’s maidservant attends to all her duties, but her mind is always on her own home in the village. She nurses her master’s children as if they were her own; she calls out, ‘My Rama, my Hari,’ but all the while she knows full well they are not hers.
“A tortoise moves around in water, but do you know where its mind dwells? On the bank of the river, on dry land where its eggs are laid. Attend to all your worldly work, but take care that your mind rests in God.
“If you enter the world before you have acquired love and devotion for God, you will surely become entangled more and more. Misfortune, grief, and other ills of the world will make you lose your mental balance. The more you think of worldly matters, the more attachment will come.
“Rub your hands with oil before you break a jackfruit; otherwise, its milky juice will stick to your hands. First acquire the oil of love for God, and then engage in the affairs of the world.
“But to acquire love for God, solitude is needed. If you want to make butter, the curds have to be set in a quiet corner. The curds will not set if they are disturbed. You have to sit in a quiet place, giving up all other work, and churn the curds. Only then can you get butter.
“By giving your mind to God in solitude, you gain spiritual knowledge, dispassion, and love for Him. But if you give the same mind to the world, it becomes coarse. In the world there is nothing but thoughts of ‘lust and greed.’
“The world is like water, and the mind like milk. If milk is poured into water, it will get mixed with the water and become one with it. You will not be able to get pure milk, however much you try. But if the milk is turned into curds, the butter that is made from it will then float on water. So first get the butter of spiritual knowledge and love for God by practicing spiritual disciplines in a solitary place. This butter, when put in the water of the world, will not mix with it. It will float on its surface.
“Along with this, the practice of discrimination is necessary. ‘Lust and greed’ are transitory; God is the only reality. What does money give? It gives us food, clothes, and a place to live – that much, no more. It does not help us to attain God. So money cannot be the end of life. This is the process of discrimination. Do you see this?”
M.: “Yes, sir. I have recently read about discrimination in Prabodha Chandrodaya [a Sanskrit play].”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes, discrimination. Just think, what is there in money or in a beautiful body? Think about it: the body of a beautiful woman only consists of bones, flesh, fat, urine, and excreta. Why does a man give his mind to such things and lose sight of God? Why does he forget God?”
How to see God
M.: “Sir, can God be seen?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes. There is no doubt about it. Going into solitude from time to time, chanting His name and glories, practicing discrimination – these are what you have to do.”
M.: “What state of mind leads to God-realization?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Cry with a deep yearning in your heart and you will see God. People shed pitchers full of tears for wife and children, they weep streams of tears for money, but who cries for God? Call out to God with a longing and yearning heart. Saying this, Thakur sings:
Cry out with yearning, O mind, and see how
Mother Shyama can withhold Herself from you!
How can Shyama stay away? How can Kali remain away?
O mind, if you are in earnest, bring bel leaves and red hibiscus flowers,
Touched with the sandal paste of devotion, and offer them at Her feet.
“A yearning heart brings the dawn; soon after, the sun is visible. After longing comes God-vision.
“You can see God if you have these three attachments combined: the attachment of a worldly man to things of the world, the attachment of a mother to her child, and the attachment of a chaste wife to her husband. If these three attachments are united, their combined power makes it possible to see God.
“The real thing is that you must love God the way a mother loves her son, a chaste wife her husband, and a worldly man the things of the world. When your love for God has the combined intensity of all these three, you will see Him.
“One should call upon God with a yearning heart. A kitten knows only how to cry out to its mother, ‘Mew, mew.’ Wherever the mother puts it, it remains, whether in the kitchen, on the floor, or on the bed. When it feels hurt, it simply cries ‘mew, mew’ and knows nothing else. Wherever the mother may be, she comes when she hears its mewing.”
sarvabhütastham ätmänaà sarvabhütäni cätmani |
ékñate yogayuktätmä sarvatra samadarçanaù ||
[His mind being harmonized by yoga, he sees himself in all beings and all beings in himself; he sees the same in all.]
– Bhagavad Gita 6:29
Third meeting – Narendranath, Bhavanath, and M.
M. was then staying at his sister’s house in Baranagore. Ever since he met Sri Ramakrishna, he had been constantly thinking of him. The same joyful image always appeared before his eyes as he remembered Thakur’s words, sweet as nectar. He wondered to himself, How has this poor brahmin learned all these deep truths? M. had never before seen anyone explain all these things so clearly. Day and night he wondered, When shall I go and see him again?
Not long after this, at four o’clock on Sunday, 5 March, M. reaches the garden of Dakshineswar with Nepal Babu of Baranagore. He finds Sri Ramakrishna in the same room, seated on the smaller bed. The room is filled with devotees since on Sunday, they have time to come see him. M. does not yet know any of them. He takes a seat on one side of the group and watches Thakur talk to the devotees with a smile on his face.
Addressing a young man of nineteen, Thakur speaks to him joyfully about a number of things. The young man is Narendra. He is a college student who often visits the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. His words are full of spirit. His eyes are bright with the look of a devotee.
M. sees that the subject of the talk is the conduct of worldly men attached to the pleasures of the world, and people who ridicule those who seek God and religion. Also how many wicked people there are in the world and how to deal with them. Such is the topic of conversation.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Narendra): “What do you say, Narendra? Worldly men say all sorts of things. But see, when an elephant walks by, many animals roar and howl and bark, but the elephant doesn’t even look at them. If someone condemns you, what will you think of him?”
Narendra: “I’ll think that dogs are barking at me.”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “No, my child, you mustn’t go that far. Know that God is in all things. But you must mix with the good and keep a distance from the bad. God is present even in a tiger, but surely you can’t hug him for that reason. (Laughter.) If you say, ‘The tiger is also God, why should I run away?’ the answer is, ‘He who says, “Run away!” is also God. Why should you not listen to him?
“Listen to a story:
“A sadhu lived in a forest. He had a number of disciples. He had taught them, ‘Narayana is in all things. Knowing this, offer salutations to all.’ One day a disciple went out to collect firewood for the sacrificial fire. Suddenly there was a shout, ‘Run! Run away wherever you can! A mad elephant is coming!’ Everyone ran except this disciple. He reasoned, There is Narayana in the elephant, too, so why should I run away? Thinking this, he stood still and saluted the elephant. He started to offer prayers. The mahut (elephant driver) shouted, ‘Run away, run away!’ Still the disciple did not move. Finally the elephant came and seized him with its trunk. It threw him on the ground, and then went on its way. The disciple, cut and bruised, lay unconscious on the ground.
“Hearing what had happened, his guru and brother disciples came and carried him back to the ashrama and applied medications. After some time, when he came to, one of them asked, ‘Why didn’t you move away when you heard that a mad elephant was coming?’ He answered, ‘Because our master told us that Narayana Himself is present in all living creatures. Seeing the elephant coming as Narayana, I did not leave.’ His guru replied, ‘My son, indeed it is true that the elephant as Narayana was coming – but, my child, Narayana as the mahut warned you! If everybody is Narayana, why did you not listen to the mahut Narayana? You should have listened to the driver’s words.’
“The scriptures say, ‘Apo Narayana (water is God).’ But some water is used for worship of God and some only for washing the face, mouth, hands, and clothes. The latter water cannot be used for drinking or for worship. Similarly, Narayana is in the hearts of the unholy as well as the holy, in the hearts of devotees and non-devotees. But one cannot have dealings with the unholy and wicked or be close to them. With some, one may only have a nodding acquaintance, while with others, even that is not possible. One must live apart from such people.”
A devotee: “Sir, when a bad person tries to harm us or actually does so, should we do nothing?”
The household and spirit of resisting evil
Sri Ramakrishna: “When you live in the world, to protect yourself from bad people, you must make a show of tamas. But it isn’t right to harm anyone just because you think he may harm you.
“A cowherd boy used to graze his cattle in a field where a terribly venomous snake lived. Everybody was very cautious because of the danger. One day a brahmachari was passing through the field. The cowherd boys ran up to him and said, ‘Revered sir, please don’t go this way. There is a terribly venomous snake here.’ The holy man said, ‘Child, never mind. I’m not afraid of it. I know a mantra to ward off this danger.’ Saying this, he went into the field. Out of fear, no cowherd boy accompanied him. And here came the snake with its hood raised, moving swiftly. But as it came near, the holy man uttered the mantra and lo! the snake fell at his feet like an earthworm. ‘Well,’ he asked, ‘why do you go around harming others? Come here. I’ll give you a mantra to repeat so you’ll develop love for God. Then your desire to harm others will leave you.’ Saying this, he gave the mantra to the snake. The snake bowed before the guru and asked, ‘Sir, please tell me what spiritual practice I should carry out.’ The guru said, ‘Repeat this mantra and don’t harm anyone. I will come again.’ Then he left.
“Some days passed and the cowherd boys noticed that the snake no longer tried to bite them. Even when they threw stones at it, it did not react – it had become like an earthworm. One day one of the boys went to it and caught hold of its tail. He whirled it around and around and dashed it several times on the ground. The snake vomited blood and fell unconscious. It could not move. The boys thought it was dead, so they left.
‘‘Late that night, the snake regained consciousness and slowly dragged itself with great difficulty into its hole. Its body was broken and it had no strength to move. After a few days, when it was reduced to a mere skeleton, the snake came out of its hole during the night to look for food. Being afraid of the boys, it did not come out during the day. After its initiation with the mantra, it ceased to harm anyone. It lived as well as it could on leaves and fruits fallen on the ground.
‘‘After almost a year had passed, the brahmachari came that way again. He looked around for the snake, but the cowherd boys said it was dead. The brahmachari found that hard to believe. He knew that the snake had received a mantra, so death was out of the question before it had seen God. He searched where he had seen it last and called out for it by the name he had given it. Hearing the voice of its guru, the snake came out of its hole and bowed down reverently before him. The man asked, ‘How are you?’ The snake replied, ‘I’m quite well, sir.’ Again he asked, ‘But why are you so weak?’ The snake said, ‘Holy sir, you asked me not to harm anybody. So I live on leaves and fruit. Perhaps this is the reason why I have grown weak.’ The snake had developed the quality of sattva, you see. That’s why it didn’t get angry with anyone. It had forgotten that the boys had tried to kill it. The holy man said, ‘Lack of food alone could not have brought you to this pass. Surely there is something else. Just think about it.’ The snake then remembered that the boys had once whirled it around and around and dashed it on the ground, so it said, ‘Holy sir, now I remember. One day the cowherd boys threw me violently on the ground, but they didn’t know what change had come over my mind. How could they know that I wasn’t going to bite them or do any harm?’ The holy man said, ‘Fie! You are so stupid! You don’t even know how to save yourself! What I forbade was your biting. I didn’t ask you not to hiss! Why didn’t you frighten them away by hissing?’
“You should hiss at bad people to frighten them so they don’t harm you. But you must not inject poison into others and injure them.”
Are all men equal? Their natures differ
“In the Lord’s creation there are different types of creatures and plants. Among animals, there are bad as well as good. There are beasts like tigers that kill others. Among trees, some bring forth fruit as sweet as nectar, but others yield poisonous fruit. In the same way, there are good men and bad men, holy and unholy, men attached to the world, and also devotees.
“People can be divided into four classes: those bound to the world, seekers after liberation, the liberated, and the ever-free.
“The ever-free, like Narada and others, are those who live in the world for the good of mankind, to teach truth to others.
“Bound souls are attached to worldly things. They forget God and never give a thought to Him.
“Seekers after liberation struggle for liberation. But only some of them attain it.
“The liberated are not attached to ‘lust and greed’ – for example, sadhus and great spiritual personalities. There is no attachment to worldly things in their minds. They always meditate on the lotus feet of God.
“Suppose a net is cast into water. Some of the fish are too clever to be caught in the net. They can be likened to ever-free souls. However, most of the fish get caught. Of these, some try to escape. They are like the seekers after liberation. But not all the fish can escape. Only a few are able to leap out of the net. The boys then shout, ‘Look! A big fish has escaped!’ But most of the fish caught in the net don’t escape – they don’t even try to. What is more, they hold the net in their mouths and lie quietly, trying to hide themselves in the mud at the bottom. They think, We are quite safe now; there is no danger. They don’t know that the fishermen will haul them up with a jerk and throw them out on the river bank. They may be compared to worldly men.”
Worldly men – bound in fetters
“Worldly men remain bound to ‘lust and greed.’ Although they are bound hand and foot, they still think they can find happiness and security in the world, in ‘lust and gold.’ They don’t know that they will only die there. When a worldly man is on his deathbed, his wife says to him, ‘You are departing. What have you done for me?’ Besides, the influence of maya is such that, seeing a lamp burning for a long time, a bound man says, ‘Too much oil is being used! Lower the wick!’ And here he is, lying on his deathbed!
“A worldly man doesn’t think of God. Even when he has leisure, he either indulges in empty talk or engages himself in useless activities. He says, ‘I’m not able to sit idle, so I’ll plant a hedge.’ When time hangs heavy, he might even start playing cards.” (All laugh.)
yo mäm ajam anädià ca vetti lokamaheçvaram |
asaàmüòhaù sa martyeñu sarvapäpaiù pramu- cyate||
[He who knows Me as unborn and beginningless, the great Lord of the worlds, is no more deluded among mortals and is freed from all evils.]
– Bhagavad Gita 10:3
The way – faith
A devotee: “Sir, is there no way out for such a worldly man?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Certainly there’s a way. To now and then seek the company of holy men, and at times to meditate on God in solitude. And you should practice discrimination and pray to God: ‘Grant me love and faith!’
“Once you acquire faith, your work is done. There is nothing higher than faith.
(To Kedar) “You have heard how powerful faith is. The Purana says that Ramachandra, the perfect incarnation of Brahman and Narayana, had to build a bridge to reach Lanka. But Hanuman had such great faith in the name of Rama that, taking Rama’s name, he was able to jump across the sea. He had no need for a bridge. (All laugh.)
“Bibhishana wrote Rama’s name on a leaf and tied it in the folds of the cloth of a man who wanted to cross the sea. Bibhishana said to him, ‘Fear not. Have faith and walk across the sea. But mind you, as soon as you lose your faith, you will drown.’ The man walked easily onto the water, but he was seized with intense curiosity to see what was tied in the folds of his cloth. He untied it and saw that it was just the name of Rama written on a leaf. He said to himself, ‘What! Just the name of Rama?’ In the instant that he lost faith, he sank.
“One who has faith in God can be saved from the vilest of sins, no matter what he may have done – killed a cow, a brahmin, or a woman. Let him only say, ‘I shall not do so again.’ Then he need not be afraid of anything.”
Saying this, Thakur sings:
Mother, can I but die with Durga’s name upon my lips,
I shall see, O Shankari, how in the end you cannot refuse to rescue me.
Should I have killed a Brahmin or a cow, or destroyed a child in the womb, or indulged in drink, or slain a woman,
For all those heinous deeds I care not in the least; still may I aspire to Brahman.
Narendra – the homa bird
“You all see this boy. He acts one way here. When a naughty boy is in the presence of his father, he behaves meekly, as if there were a goblin present. But when he plays in the chandni, he is quite different. A boy like this belongs to the class of the ever-perfect. They never become attached to the world. When they are a little older, they feel an awakening within the heart and move directly towards God. They come to the world to teach mankind. They have no love for the things of the world. Their minds never go toward ‘lust and greed.’
“A bird called homa is mentioned in the Vedas. It lives high up in the sky. There it lays an egg, and the egg begins to fall. But it is so high up that it goes on falling for days. During the fall, a young chick breaks out of the shell with its eyes open and its wings ready for flight. When it sees the earth fast approaching, to avoid being smashed on the ground, it suddenly swoops upward toward its mother high above.”
Narendra rises and leaves. Kedar, Prankrishna, M., and many others remain in the room.
Sri Ramakrishna: “You see, Narendra excels in everything – singing, playing musical instruments, reading, and writing. The other day he had a discussion with Kedar. He just destroyed Kedar’s arguments. (Thakur and all the others laugh.) (To M.) Is there a book in English on reasoning?”
M.: “Yes, sir. It’s called logic in English.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Well, give me some idea of it.”
M. now finds himself in a difficult situation. He says, “One part of logic is reasoning from the general proposition to a particular. For example: All men will die. Pundits are men. So pundits will die.
“Another part deals with reasoning from a particular illustration or event to a general proposition. Such as: This crow is black; that crow is black; all the crows I see are black; hence, all crows are black.
“But to arrive at a conclusion in such a way is open to fallacy. When you’re looking for crows, you might find a white one somewhere. Another illustration is: Where there is rain, there must be clouds. The general proposition is that rain comes from clouds. Yet another illustration is: This man has thirty-two teeth. That man has the same number. Everybody we see has thirty-two teeth. Thus all men have thirty-two teeth.
“There are such general propositions in English logic.”
Sri Ramakrishna listened to it all but, since his mind was elsewhere, there was no further talk on the subject.
çrutivipratipannä te yadä sthäsyati niçcalä |
samädhävacaläbuddhis tadä yogam aväpsyasi ||
[When your intellect, perplexed by what you have heard, has become poised and firmly fixed in the Self; then you shall attain yoga.]
– Bhagavad Gita 2:53
The meeting ends. The devotees walk around here and there. M. strolls around the panchavati and other places. Returning to Sri Ramakrishna’s room about five o’clock, he comes upon a strange sight on the small verandah north of the room:
Sri Ramakrishna is standing still. Narendra is singing a hymn, and devotees are standing around. M. is charmed with the song. Other than Thakur’s, never and nowhere has he heard such a sweet voice. As he looks at Thakur, he becomes speechless. Thakur is standing motionless, his eyes unmoving. It is difficult to say whether or not he is breathing. When asked, a devotee tells him that this state is known as samadhi (superconscious awareness).
M. has never seen or heard of anything like this. He wonders to himself, Is it possible that the thought of God can make one lose outer-consciousness? How great must one’s love and faith be to enter into such a state!
The song is as follows:
Meditate, O my mind, on the Lord Hari,
The essence of consciousness, free from all impurity.
Without equal is His glory, enchanting is His form!
How beloved is He in the hearts of His devotees.
The fresh beauty of newly awakened love
Casts into shade the effulgence of a million moons!
His glory flashes like lightning,
And His devotees’ hair stands on end in sheer delight.
Sri Ramakrishna is deeply touched when this line of the hymn is chanted. The hair on his body stands on end. His eyes swim with tears of joy. Now and then he smiles, as though he were seeing something. What vision of unequaled beauty might he be enjoying that would put into shade the effulgence of a million moons? Is this what is called the vision of God? What must the intensity of spiritual discipline and austerities be, how much love and faith must one have, to bring about such a vision!
The song goes on:
With a mind made pure and eyes sparkling with love,
Worship His holy feet in the lotus of your heart,
And gaze upon the peerless beauty of His beloved form.
That bewitching smile once more! His body becomes motionless in the same manner. Eyes fixed, it seems as if he is beholding a strange inner vision, seeing which he is swimming in supreme joy.
The song comes to an end. Narendra sings:
Spellbound in love divine, O mind, be ever immersed in Him, the fount of consciousness and love’s sweet bliss.
Carrying in his heart this unique picture of samadhi and the bliss of love, M. leaves for home. Intoxicating sweet music bubbles up from time to time in his heart:
Spellbound in love divine, O mind, be ever immersed in Him, the fount of consciousness and love’s sweet bliss.
yaà labdhvä cäparaà läbhaà manyate nädhikaà tataù |
yasmin sthito na duùkhena guruëäpi vicälyate ||
[And having gained which, he thinks there is no greater gain than that, therein established he is not shaken by even the profoundest affliction.]
Bhagavad Gita 6:22
Fourth visit – joy and fun with Narendra, Bhavanath, and others
The next day, 6 March, is also a holiday. M. has come again at three o’clock in the afternoon. Sri Ramakrishna is sitting on the smaller bed in his room. A mat is spread on the floor, on which Narendra, Bhavanath, and two other devotees are sitting. Some are young men, nineteen or twenty years old. A smile plays on Thakur’s face as he talks happily with the devotees.
Seeing M. enter the room, Thakur laughs loudly and says to the devotees, “Look, he’s here again!” They all join him in laughter. M. comes in and salutes Sri Ramakrishna, prostrating himself on the floor. Then he takes a seat. He had formerly saluted Thakur with folded hands, in the manner of English-educated people, but today he has learned to salute by lying face-down before him. As he sits down, Sri Ramakrishna tells Narendra and the other disciples what has made him laugh.
“Listen, some opium was given to a peacock at four o’clock in the afternoon. The next day the same peacock arrived punctually at four in the afternoon. It had become an opium addict, so it came at the same time for another dose.” (All laugh.)
M. thinks to himself, He is right. I go back home, but my mind, day and night, is fixed on him, thinking, When shall I see him? When shall I see him? It’s as if someone has pulled me here. I can’t go anywhere else; even if I want to, I have to come here.
While M. is thinking this, Thakur amuses himself with the young men as if he were their age. Peals of laughter begin to fill the room, making it a centre of joy.
M. is speechless as he looks at this unique character. He says to himself, Is this the same person I saw yesterday in samadhi, absorbed in a bliss of divine love that I have never seen before? Is this the same man behaving like an ordinary person today? Is it he who scolded me on my first visit, teaching me that God with form and the formless God are both true? Didn’t he tell me that God alone is real and all else in the world is transitory? Didn’t he advise me to live in the world like a maidservant?
Thakur Sri Ramakrishna is having great fun and glances at M. every now and then. He sees M. sitting in silence. Addressing Ramlal, he says, “You see, he’s a little older, therefore somewhat serious. These people are laughing and having fun, but he sits quietly.” M. was then about twenty-seven years old.
During the conversation, they talk of Hanuman, the great devotee. There is a picture of Hanuman on the wall of Thakur’s room. Thakur says, “Just think of Hanuman’s state of mind! He wanted neither wealth nor honour nor bodily comforts. He longed only for God. When he was running away with the Brahmastra (a heavenly weapon of Brahma) taken from the crystalline pillar, Mandodari showed him many kinds of fruit. She thought that, tempted by fruit, he might climb down and drop the weapon. But Hanuman could not be tricked. He sang:
Do I want for any fruits?
The fruit that makes my life fruitful, that I have,
For in my heart is planted the tree that bears the fruit of liberation – Sri Rama.
Sitting beneath Sri Rama’s wish-fulfilling tree, whatever fruit I desire is mine.
But the fruit of which you speak, my friend – for that common fruit I bargain not.
I depart, leaving to you the bitter fruit of your deeds.
Singing this song, Thakur again goes into samadhi. Again his body is motionless, his eyes are fixed, and he sits still. He is seated the same as in the photograph. Only a moment ago the devotees were laughing and having fun; now they all gaze silently at him in this unique state. It is the second time that M. has observed Thakur in the state of samadhi. After some time a change comes: his body is relaxed and a smile plays on his face. His senses begin to function again in the normal way. Shedding tears of joy from the corners of his eyes, he repeats the name, “Rama! Rama!”
M. says to himself, Is this the same great saint who was having such fun with the boys? Then he acted like a five-year-old child.
Returning to his normal state of mind, Thakur behaves like an ordinary man again. He says to M. and Narendra, “I would like to hear both of you talk in English. Question and reason among yourselves.”
M. and Narendra both laugh at his words. They talk a little, but in Bengali. It is not possible for M. to argue any more in front of Thakur. His entire tendency to argue has been erased by Thakur’s grace. How can he argue now? Thakur presses them once again, but talk in English does not come about.
tvam akñaraà paramaà veditavyaà tvam asya viçvasya paraà nidhänam |
tvam avyayaù çäçvatadharmagoptä sanätanas tvaà puruño mato me ||
[You are the imperishable, the Supreme Being to be realized. You are the great resting place of this universe; You are the imperishable guardian of the eternal dharma. I deem You to be the ancient Purusha.]
– Bhagavad Gita 11:18
With his intimate disciples – ‘Who am I?’
It is five o’clock. Many devotees have gone, each one to his own home. Only M. and Narendra have remained. Narendra goes to the Hanspukur and the jhautala with a pitcher for washing. M. walks on the path around the temple. After a while, he goes toward the Hanspukur near the kuthi. He finds Sri Ramakrishna standing on the steps of the staircase south of the tank. Narendra has washed his face and stands with the pitcher in his hands. Thakur is saying, “Look, you must come here more often. You are a newcomer, you see. After the first acquaintance, people meet more often, like a newly wedded husband. (Narendra and M. laugh.) Won’t you come?” Narendra belongs to the Brahmo Samaj. He laughs and says, “Yes sir, I will try.”
They all go back to Thakur’s room by way of the kuthi path. Near the kuthi, Thakur says to M., “You know, peasants go to market to buy bullocks. They know a good bullock from a bad one easily. They touch the tail. Some bullocks lie down on the ground as soon as their tails are touched. Peasants don’t buy such bullocks. They choose only those who spring up with a start as soon as their tails are touched. Narendra is a bullock of the latter class. There is a lot of mettle in him.” Saying this, Thakur smiles and adds, “But there are so many who are soft, like puffed rice soaked in milk – no strength within, no grit. Soft and slippery.”
It is dusk. Thakur is meditating on God. He says to M., “Go and talk to Narendra and tell me what sort of boy he is.”
The arati is over. After quite some time, M. meets Narendra west of the chandni. They talk for a while. Narendra says, “I belong to the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. I am a college student,” and so forth.
When night falls, M. decides to leave. Something, however, seems to hold him back, so when he leaves Narendra, he looks around for Sri Ramakrishna. Thakur’s songs have charmed his heart and mind. He longs to hear him sing again. At last, he finds him alone, pacing up and down the natmandir in front of Mother Kali’s temple. There are brilliant lights burning on both sides of the Mother in Her temple. The vast natmandir, however, has only one light, and it is rather dim, blending light and darkness.
M. is beside himself, spellbound like a snake, when he hears Thakur’s songs. He asks Thakur humbly, “Will there be any more songs today?”
Thakur thinks for a moment and says, “No, there will be no more singing today.” As he says this, it seems as if he is reminded of something and says immediately, “But you can do this. I’m going to Balaram’s house in Calcutta. Come there. There you will have songs.”
M.: “All right, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “You know him, Balaram Bose?”
M.: “No, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Balaram Bose. His house is in Bosepara.”
M.: “Very well, sir. I will find it.”
Sri Ramakrishna (as he walks in the natmandir with M.): “Well, let me ask you something: what do you think of me?”
M. remains silent.
Thakur says again, “What do you feel? How many annas of knowledge do I have?”
M.: “Annas! I don’t understand. But never have I seen anywhere such knowledge, such love for God, such faith, such dispassion, and such universality.”
Thakur Sri Ramakrishna laughs.
After this conversation, M. bows and takes his leave.
He comes to the main gate but, remembering something, returns immediately. He goes to Sri Ramakrishna in the natmandir. Thakur is still walking up and down in that dim light – alone, with no companion, like a lion, the king of beasts, who walks alone in the forest. Atmarama, the lion rejoices in being alone, in moving around companionless. M. stands, speechless, and again looks at the great man.
Sri Ramakrishna: “You’ve come back.”
M.: “Sir, they may not let me enter the rich man’s house. So I think I won’t go there. It is here that I’ll come to see you.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “No, my dear sir, why not? You can mention my name. Say that you want to see me. Someone there will surely lead you to me.”
Saying, “As you please,” M. bows down again and leaves.
. Wandering monks.
. One belonging to the highest order of knowers of Brahman.
. Member of the Brahmo Samaj.
. Hindus who worship God as the Primal Divine Energy.
. Hindus who follow the path of devotion and worship God as the Preserver (Vishnu), or divine incarnation such as Rama and Krishna.
. Offered food.
. Gujai, panchem, panjeb, and chutaki.
. A fan made of the white hair from the tail of the yak called Chamari.
. God the Preserver.
. The beloved Lord.
. Daily service morning, noon, and evening, as laid down for the twice-born.
. Om, the Vedic symbol for the Supreme Being.
. The ancient Vedic mantra (sacred text) that the brahmins and other twice-born Hindus repeat everyday while meditating on the Supreme Being.
. Siddheswar Majumdar. His home is in north Baranagore.
. Waving of lights before sacred images along with singing of hymns.
. Sadhu maharaj.
. God-consciousness, ecstasy.
. Ramlal, nephew of Sri Ramakrishna and the priest of Kali Temple.
. Vidyashakti, the power of spiritual wisdom, leading to God and light; Avidyashakti is its opposite, keeping one immersed in ignorance, darkness, and bondage.
. A highly spiced fish dish of rice and meat boiled in clarified butter.
- Dry fish with spiced vegetables soaked in oil.
. Vairagya; non-attachment.
. Later Swami Vivekananda.
. Anna – sixteen annas make one rupee.
. Vairagya; non-attachment.
. Rejoicing in the Self within.