With Devotees at Dakshineswar Temple
Talk on Vedanta
Sri Ramakrishna is with the devotees at the Dakshineswar temple. It is Sunday, 19 August 1883, the first day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana. Only a short time ago the sanai was played during the worship while food was offered to the deities. The doors of the temple have been shut. Sri Ramakrishna has taken a rest after his midday meal and is now sitting on the smaller cot in his room. It is noon. M. enters and bows to him. After a while Sri Ramakrishna begins to talk to him about Vedanta.
Belief of Vedantists – talk about Krishnakishore
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “Listen, the Ashtavakra Samhita talks about Self-knowledge. The knowers of the Self say ‘So ‘ham’; that is, ‘I am that Paramatman (the highest Self).’ This is the view of the sannyasins of the Vedantic school. But it is not suited for householders. They feel they perform all actions and duties themselves, so how can they say, ‘I am that Paramatman beyond all action?’ According to Vedantists, the Self has no attachment to anything. Pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, none of these can harm the Self. But they do afflict those who identify themselves with their bodies. Smoke soils a wall, but it cannot affect space. Krishnakishore used to talk like a jnani and say, ‘I am kha,’ that is, like space – but then he’s a real devotee and can say that. It is not appropriate for others.”
Vice and virtue – maya or compassion
“But to cherish the idea ‘I am free’ is very good. If you say again and again, ‘I am free, I am free,’ you become free. On the other hand, if you constantly say, ‘I am bound, I am bound,’ you indeed become bound. He who repeats ‘I am a sinner, I am a sinner,’ that wretch is sure to have a fall. Rather, one should say, ‘I have chanted the name of God, what evil can befall me, what bondage?’
(To M.) “Look here, my mind is upset. Hriday has written me a letter saying he is very ill. Is my concern maya or daya (compassion)?”
What can M. say? He remains silent.
Sri Ramakrishna: “Do you know what maya is? Love toward your relatives: toward father and mother, brother and sister, wife and son, nephew and niece – that is maya. But daya means love for all created beings. Well, what is it in my case – maya or daya? Hriday has done so much for me, served me so well. He has cleaned my excrement with his own hands. But he was equally hard on me at the end. He became so harsh that once I went to the embankment to throw myself into the Ganges to drown. But he has done a lot for me. If he could get some money, my mind would be at rest. But whom can I ask for it? I don’t want to ask any of the gentlemen who come to see me.”
Clay image of the Divine Mother – vision of the Divine Mother Mrinmayi in Vishnupur
At two or three o’clock in the afternoon the great devotees Adhar Sen and Balaram Bose arrive. They prostrate before Sri Ramakrishna and sit down, asking him how he is. Sri Ramakrishna says, “Well, my body is all right, but my mind is a little disturbed.”
He does not mention anything about Hriday’s trouble.
The conversation turns to Goddess Simhavahini in the house of the Mallicks of Burrabazar.
Sri Ramakrishna: “I went to see Simhavahini at the house of the Mallicks in Chashadhopa Para. The family lives in a dilapidated house in straightened circumstances, with pigeon droppings here, moss there, and lime and sand plaster crumbling off the walls. The prosperity that I have seen in the houses of other Mallicks was not in this one. (To M.) Tell me, what does this mean? Please tell me.”
M. remains silent.
“Do you know what? Everyone must reap the consequences of his past actions. One has to accept that there are tendencies from past births and the fruits of these actions are now being played out.
(To M.) “And in that dilapidated house, I saw the face of Simhavahini beaming with glory. You have to believe in the divine presence in an image of the Deity.
“Once I went to Vishnupur. The king has a beautiful temple there. There is an image of the Divine Mother called Mrinmayi. There are several lakes near the temple: Krishna-bandh, Lal-bandh and so on. Now tell me why I smelled the ointment used by women for their hair. I didn’t know at the time that women devotees offer the goddess this ointment when they go to have Her darshan. I went into bhava samadhi near the lake, before I had seen the image. In that ecstatic state I had the vision of Mrinmayi from the waist up.”
Pleasure and pain of the devotee – stories of the Bhagavata and Mahabharata
By this time some other devotees have arrived. The conversation turns to the coup and war in Kabul. One of them says, “Yakub Khan has been deposed.” Addressing the Paramahamsa, he says, “Sir, Yakub Khan is a great devotee.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “The fact is that pleasure and pain are the characteristics of embodiment. In Kavi Kankan’s Chandi it is said that Kaluvir was sent to jail and stones were placed on his chest, though Kaluvir was a highly favoured child of the Divine Mother, Bhagavati. When one takes on a body, pleasure and pain come with it.
“Srimanta was a great devotee. And the Divine Mother had great affection for his mother, Khullana. Yet Srimanta suffered so much. He was taken to the cremation ground to be cut into pieces!
“A woodcutter was another great devotee. The Divine Mother granted him Her vision. She loved him immensely and bestowed on him much grace. Yet the woodcutter was not freed from work. He still had to earn his living by cutting wood. Devaki had the vision of the four-armed Lord Vishnu holding conch, discus, mace, and lotus, but her imprisonment did not end.”
M.: “Why speak only of ending the imprisonment? This body is the source of all the trouble. It would have been better for her to be freed from the body.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “The fact is that one reaps the fruit of those past actions which are producing results in this life. One has to remain in the body until the results of those past actions wear out. Once a blind man had a dip in the Ganges. He was freed from all his sins, but his blindness was not cured. (All laugh.) It was the fruit of actions in his past life, so he had to bear it.”
Mani: “The arrow once shot is no longer under one’s control.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Whatever the pleasure and pain of the body may be, a devotee’s spiritual knowledge, the wealth of his love and devotion for God, endures. This treasure is never lost. Just see what calamities the Pandavas suffered! But they never once, in all their troubles, lost their spiritual consciousness. Where can you find such men of knowledge and devotion?”
In samadhi – arrival of the Captain and Narendra
Just then, Narendra and Vishwanath Upadhyaya arrive. Vishwanath is the emissary of the king of Nepal and the representative of that kingdom. Thakur calls him Captain. Narendra is twenty-two years old and is studying for his B.A. He comes to Sri Ramakrishna at times, particularly on Sundays.
They salute Sri Ramakrishna and sit down. The Paramahamsa Deva asks Narendra to sing. A tanpura (stringed instrument) is hanging on the western wall of the room. Now, all eyes turn toward the singer while the banya and the tabla are being tuned. They are all anxious for the singing to start.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Narendra): “Listen, this one doesn’t sound as good as it did before.”
Captain: “It’s filled to the brim, so there’s no sound. (All laugh.) Like a pitcher filled to the brim with water.”
Sri Ramakrishna (to Captain): “But what about Narada and sages like him?”
Captain: “They spoke because they were moved by the sufferings of others.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes. Narada and Sukadeva came down from samadhi out of compassion. They spoke for the good of others.”
Narendra begins to sing:
Truth, goodness, and beauty shine in the temple of my heart.
When will dawn that day when my mind, gazing on Him raptly, will dive deep into the ocean of that beauty divine?
When, O Lord, will infinite knowledge illumine my heart,
And this restless mind, made dumbfounded, take shelter at Your feet?
When, O Friend of my soul, will this mind be surrendered at the feet of the King of kings,
Where it will find peace and goodness without equal? Only there will the goal of my life be attained!
Where else can I find the grace of heavenly bliss while in this very body, in this very life?
O Lord, at the sight of Your pure, unblemished form, at the sight of Your radiance, the darkness of sin will flee, even as darkness is dispelled by light.
Just as the chakor frolics in delight at the rising of the moon,
So too does bliss, like embodied nectar, well up in my heart as I, O Lord, become intoxicated with Your light.
O, Friend of the lowly, fulfil my desire and light in my heart a blazing faith, as bright and steady as the polestar.
Then shall I remain immersed both night and day in the joy of love, forgetting myself in the finding of You.
But when will dawn such a day?
When Sri Ramakrishna hears the words ‘bliss, like embodied nectar,’ he goes into deep samadhi. He sits with his hands folded, facing the east. His body erect, he dives deep into the ocean of beauty – the All-Blissful Mother. He has lost all external consciousness. One cannot even tell if he is breathing. He is still and unblinking, sitting like an image drawn on canvas, gone from this kingdom.
Ways to attain Sat-chit-ananda – difference between a man of knowledge and a devotee
Sri Ramakrishna’s samadhi comes to an end. When he was in samadhi, Narendra had left the room and gone to the eastern verandah where Hazra was sitting on a blanket with a rosary in his hand. Narendra and he had begun to talk. By now Sri Ramakrishna’s room is full of devotees. He looks around at them when his samadhi is over. He finds that Narendra is not there. The tanpura is lying on the floor. All the devotees gaze at him with curiosity.
Sri Ramakrishna: “He has lit the fire. Now it does not matter whether he stays or goes. (To Captain and the others) Give your mind to the Being of bliss and consciousness and you will also feel joy. The bliss of God-consciousness is always there, it is only hidden by a veil. The less you are attached to the senses, the more the mind will go towards God.”
Captain: “The more you proceed toward Calcutta, the farther you go from Kashi; and the more you proceed toward Kashi, the farther you will be from your home.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “The more Radha advances toward Krishna, the more she smells the sweet fragrance of his body. The more one advances towards God, the more one gains fervour and loving devotion to Him. The more a river advances to the sea, the more one sees its ebb and flow.
“The Ganges flows only in one direction within a man of knowledge. For him everything is like a dream. He always dwells in his own true Self. Within a devotee the Ganges does not flow only in one direction; it has its ebb and flow tides. The devotee laughs and weeps, sings and dances. The devotee wants to enjoy God. Sometimes he swims; sometimes he dives; other times he rises – just as a piece of ice floats up and down in water.” (Laughter.)
Sat-chit-ananda and Sat-chit-anandamayi – Brahman and Primal Power are inseparable
“The jnani wants to know Brahman, but the devotee wants the Almighty Lord possessed of the six kinds of spiritual wealth. The fact is, Brahman and Shakti are inseparable. He who is Sat-chit-ananda is Himself Sat-chit-anandamayi. For example, take a jewel and its lustre. When you talk of the lustre of a jewel, you think of the jewel – and when you talk of the jewel, you think of its lustre. Without knowing the jewel, you cannot know its lustre. Without knowing the lustre of a jewel, you cannot know what the jewel is.
“There is but one. Sat-chit-ananda is associated with different adjuncts because of differing manifestations of power. God has many forms – ‘Thou art He, O Mother.’ Where there is action (of creation, preservation, and dissolution), there is Shakti (Power). It is water, whether it is still or has ripples and bubbles over its surface. The same Sat-chit-ananda is Himself the Primal Power who brings about creation, preservation, and dissolution. When Captain is not working, he is still Captain, and when he is worshiping, he is the same being. When Captain goes to the Governor General, he is still the same – he is only assuming a particular role.”
Captain: “Quite right, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “I said the same to Keshab Sen.”
Captain: “Keshab is deficient. He is self-willed; he is a gentleman, not a sadhu.”
Sri Ramakrishna (to the devotees): “Captain doesn’t want me to visit Keshab.”
Captain: “Sir, I can’t do anything about your going.”
Sri Ramakrishna (irritated): “You can go to the Governor General for money but I can’t go to Keshab Sen! He meditates on God and chants His name. You yourself say that one God has become all living beings and the universe, ‘Ishwara maya jiva jagat.’ ”
With Narendra – synthesis of Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga
Saying this, Thakur leaves the room abruptly and goes to the northeast verandah. Captain and the other devotees wait for him to return. M., however, accompanies him to the verandah, where Narendra is talking with Hazra. Sri Ramakrishna knows that Hazra, who is given to dry reasoning, says, “The world is like a dream; all worship and offerings are mental delusions. One’s only aim is to meditate on one’s own true Self: ‘I am That.’”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “Well, what are you talking about?”
Narendra (smiling): “We’re talking about all kinds of things. We’ve been talking a long time.”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “But pure knowledge and pure devotion are the same. Pure devotion takes you to the same place that pure knowledge does. But the path of devotion is smooth and easy.”
Narendra (quoting a song): “‘I have no need to reason. Mother, grant that I may be mad with Your love!’ (To M.) Look, I’ve read Hamilton. He wrote, ‘A learned ignorance is the end of philosophy and the beginning of religion’”.
Sri Ramakrishna (to M.): “What does that mean, brother?”
Narendra: “When one completes the study of philosophy, one becomes a ‘learned fool.’ Then he begins to talk on religion. His religion starts then.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Thank you, Thank you!” (Laughter.)
Chanting the name of God as evening approaches – many qualities of Narendra
After some time, seeing the evening draw nigh, most of the people depart. Narendra also leaves.
It is getting late, almost evening. The temple lighting attendants are arranging for light all around. Two priests of the Kali and the Vishnu Temples are standing waist-deep in the Ganges to purify themselves, body and soul, before they perform the evening arati and offer the evening meal to the deities. Young men of Dakshineswar village, some with walking sticks, some with friends, have come out for a stroll in the garden. They walk along the embankment to enjoy the pure evening breeze made fragrant with flowers and to watch the slightly undulating breast of the fast-flowing Ganges in this month of Shravana. Some, perhaps more reflective than others, are strolling through the solitary panchavati. Sri Ramakrishna stands on the western verandah watching the Ganges for a while.
By the time darkness has fallen, the lamp men have lighted all the lamps. A maidservant comes to Sri Ramakrishna’s room, lights his lamp, and burns incense.
In the meantime arati has begun in the twelve Shiva temples. Soon after, it begins in the temples of Vishnu and Kali. Cymbals, gongs, and bells begin to ring in sweet solemnity, as the murmuring Ganges flows close by.
It is the first day of the dark fortnight of the month of Shravana. In a short time the moon appears. The big courtyard and the tops of the trees in the garden are bathed by rays of moonlight as is the water of the Ganges flowing so joyfully.
When evening falls, Sri Ramakrishna bows to the Mother of the Universe and chants ‘Haribol,’ clapping his hands. In his room are images of many gods and goddesses: of Dhruva, Prahlada, King Rama, Mother Kali, and Radha-Krishna. He bows down to all the deities, repeating their names, and then he says, “Brahman-Atman-Bhagavan, Bhagavata-Bhakta-Bhagavan, Brahman-Shakti, Shakti-Brahman; Veda, Purana, Tantra, Gita, Gayatri. My only refuge, my only refuge. Not I, not I, but You, only You. I am just the instrument, You are the Being who uses the instrument,” and so on.
After repeating these divine names, Sri Ramakrishna meditates on the Divine Mother, his hands folded. Some of the devotees walk on the bank of the river. Soon after arati is over, they come, one by one, and assemble in the Paramahamsa’s room. He is sitting on the bed. M., Adhar, Kishori and others are sitting in front of him on the floor.
Sri Ramakrishna (to the devotees): “Narendra, Bhavanath, and Rakhal are ever-perfect souls. They belong to the class of the ishvarakoti. Teaching them is not necessary. For example, Narendra doesn’t care for anybody. He was with me in Captain’s carriage. When Captain asked him to take a comfortable seat, he didn’t even look at him. He is independent even of me. And he doesn’t say what he knows lest I tell others in his presence that he is very learned. He has no delusion, no attachment – free from bondage. He is very talented in so many things – vocal and instrumental music, reading and writing. At the same time he has control over his senses. He says that he won’t marry. There is a great affinity between Narendra and Bhavanath – as between husband and wife. Narendra doesn’t come here very often. That is good. I become overwhelmed if I see him too often.”
. A double-reed wind instrument, similar to an oboe.
. Bhoga arati.
. Hriday served Sri Ramakrishna for almost twenty-three years at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, until the day of Snana Yatra Festival (the ceremony of Jagannath’s going out in procession for a bath) in 1881.
. The Divine Mother seated on a lion.
. Prarabdha karma.
. Avirbhava – manifestation, visible presence.
. Prarabdha karma.
. A semi-circular percussion instrument played along with tabla.
. Purna kumbha.
. Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram: Absolute Truth, Absolute Good, and Absolute Beauty, which are one.
. A red-legged partridge.
. All-Knowing, All-Intelligent and All-Blissful Mother of the Universe.
. Sri Ramakrishna actually used these English words.
. Eternally free and perfect souls.