Sri Ramakrishna at Devotees’ Homes in Calcutta
Sri Ramakrishna at Balaram’s house
Sri Ramakrishna is sitting in Balaram’s parlour with the devotees. It is about three o’clock in the afternoon. He is smiling. Binode, Rakhal, M. and a few others are sitting near him. The Younger Naren arrives.
It is Tuesday, 28 July 1885, the first lunar day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashada. Thakur had come to Balaram’s house in the morning and had taken his midday meal there with the devotees. Sri Jagannath Deva is the deity worshipped at Balaram’s house, so Thakur says that the food at Balaram’s house is very pure.
Narayan and some other devotees had told Sri Ramakrishna that there were several pictures of gods and goddesses at Nanda Bose’s house. Thakur is going there this afternoon to see the pictures. A brahmin woman devoted to Sri Ramakrishna lives near Nanda Bose’s house. The brahmin woman, deeply afflicted with sorrow at the death of her daughter, occasionally visits him at Dakshineswar. She has invited Thakur with intense longing to visit her house. Thakur will visit her, as well as the home of Ganu’s mother, another devotee.
Whenever Thakur comes to Balaram’s house, he sends word to the young boy devotees to come there to see him. He sends the message through other devotees. Once the Younger Naren said to Sri Ramakrishna, “I am so busy with work, I can’t always come to see you. I have to study for my examinations.” When the Younger Naren arrives, Thakur talks to him.
Sri Ramakrishna (to the Younger Naren) — I didn’t send for you today.
The Younger Naren (laughing) — What can be done about it now?
Sri Ramakrishna — I don’t want your studies to suffer. You should come to see me when you are free.
Thakur says this as though he were annoyed with a loved one.
The palanquin has arrived. Thakur will now go to Nanda Bose’s house.
Chanting the name of the Lord, he gets into the palanquin. He is wearing black, varnished slippers and a red-bordered dhoti. He has no shawl. Mani places the slippers on one side of the palanquin and walks along with it on foot. Paresh soon joins him.
The palanquin enters the gate of Nanda Bose’s house. Crossing its spacious courtyard, the palanquin stops in front of the residence.
Some members of the family come and salute Thakur. Thakur asks M. to give him the slippers. Then he gets out of the palanquin and goes to the hall on the upper floor. It is a very spacious room. Pictures of gods and goddesses hang on all sides.
The master of the house and his brother, Pasupati, talk with Thakur. After some time the devotees who had followed the palanquin join them in the hall. Atul, Girish’s brother, is there, as well as Prasanna’s father, who is a frequent visitor to Nanda’s house.
Sri Ramakrishna’s gracious visit to the house of Nanda Bose
Sri Ramakrishna gets up to look at the pictures of gods and goddesses. M. and many other devotees stand around him. Pasupati, Nanda’s brother, accompanies him and explains the pictures.
Thakur first sees the picture of Vishnu with four arms. As soon as he sees it, he is overwhelmed with divine ecstasy. He had been standing, but now he sits down. He remains absorbed in this spiritual mood for some time.
The second picture is of the gracious and loving Lord of the devotees, Sri Ramachandra.
Sri Rama, placing his hand on Hanuman’s head, is blessing him. Hanuman’s eyes are fixed on Sri Rama’s lotus feet. Sri Ramakrishna gazes at this image for a long time. Full of divine emotion, he says, “Ah! Ah!”
The third picture is of Sri Krishna standing with a flute to his lips under the kadamba tree.
The fourth picture is of Vamana with an umbrella over his head, going to Bali’s yajna. Sri Ramakrishna utters, “Vamana,” and then fixes his eyes on him.
Having seen the picture of Narasimha, Thakur looks at one of Sri Krishna in the cow pasture. He is tending his cows with his cowherd friends on the bank of the Jamuna at Vrindavan.
Mani exclaims, “Oh, a very nice picture!”
Seeing the seventh picture, Thakur says, “Dhumavati.” The eighth is of Shorashi; the ninth of Bhuvaneshvari; the tenth of Tara and the eleventh of Kali. Thakur says, “All these pictures depict the terrible aspects of the Divine Mother. They should not be kept at home, but if they are, they should be worshipped. You are very fortunate to be able to keep them in your house.”
Looking at the picture of Mother Annapurna, Thakur says in an ecstatic mood, “Grand! Grand!”
The next painting is of Radha dressed as a king. She is seated on a throne in the nikunja grove surrounded by her milkmaid friends [as attendants]. Sri Krishna is standing at the gate of the grove dressed as a gatekeeper.
Then there is a picture of the festival in which Sri Krishna is swung in a cradle. Thakur looks at the next for a long time – it is the image of Saraswati inside a glass case. The goddess is holding a vina and singing raga and ragini in ecstasy.
Having seen the pictures, Thakur goes back to the master of the house and says to him, “We have had such joy today. Grand! You are a real and devout Hindu. Instead of keeping English pictures, you have these. How surprising!”
Nanda Bose is seated. He says respectfully to Thakur, “Please sit down. Why are you standing?”
Sri Ramakrishna (sitting) — These are very important pictures. You are a real Hindu.
Nanda Bose — I have European pictures too.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — But they are different. You haven’t the same attitude toward European pictures.
A picture of Keshab Sen’s Navavidhan is hanging on one wall of the room. Suresh Mitra had had it painted. He is one of Thakur’s beloved disciples. In this picture the Paramahamsa Deva is showing Keshab the followers of different religions going toward God on different paths – the difference is only in paths.
Sri Ramakrishna — Ah! This picture was painted for Surendra.
Prasanna’s Father (smiling) — You, too, are in the picture.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — It is a unique portrait; it contains all the beliefs. It is an ideal for modern times.
While speaking, Thakur is suddenly becoming absorbed in divine ecstasy. He talks to the Mother of the Universe.
After awhile he says, as if intoxicated, “I am not unconscious.” Looking around the house, he says, “It is a big building. But what is in it? Bricks, wood and clay.”
In a few minutes he says, “I am so happy to see all these pictures of gods and goddesses.” Then he adds, “Images of the terrible aspects of the Divine Mother – Kali, or Tara (the consort of Shiva who lives in the cremation ground among corpses) – should not be kept in a household. If you do, they must be worshipped.”
Pasupati (smiling) — It will be as long as He wills it.
Sri Ramakrishna — Of course that’s true. But it is good to keep the mind on God. It is not good to forget Him.
Nanda Bose — But one does not want to think of Him!
Sri Ramakrishna — One thinks of Him by His grace.
Nanda Bose — But God does not seem to grant His grace. Does He have the power to bestow grace?
Is God indeed the doer – or is the work itself God?
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — I see, you think like the pundits do – one reaps the fruit of one’s actions. Give up this idea. By taking refuge in the Lord, one’s duties and karmas cease to exist. Taking flowers in my hand, I used to say to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, here is Your sin and here Your holy deeds. I want neither; pray grant me pure love and devotion. Here is Your good and here Your evil. I want neither good nor evil; pray grant me pure love and devotion. Here is Your righteousness, here Your unrighteousness. I want neither of them; pray grant me pure love and devotion. Here is Your Knowledge, here is Your ignorance. I want neither knowledge nor ignorance; pray grant me pure love and devotion. Here is Your purity, here Your impurity. Pray grant me pure love and devotion.’
Nanda Bose — Can God change the law?
Sri Ramakrishna — What do you mean? He is the Lord of all – He can do anything and everything. He who has made the law can change it.
Does awakening come when one has done away with worldly enjoyments, or is it by His grace?
“But you can talk that way. Since you crave worldly enjoyments, you may say so. There is a view that a man doesn’t attain spiritual awakening until his desire for worldly enjoyments is over. But what is there to enjoy? The pleasures of ‘lust and greed’ are momentary – this moment they exist and the next moment they disappear. What is there in ‘lust and greed’? Its enjoyment is like eating a hog-plum that is all stone and rind. Eat it and you get colic. The moment you swallow sweet sandesh, it is gone.”
Is God partial? Why is there ignorance? It is His sweet will
Nanda Bose is silent for a few minutes. Then he says, “Oh yes! People no doubt talk that way. But is God partial? If one can succeed by His grace, it is obvious that He is partial.”
Sri Ramakrishna — God Himself has become everything. He Himself has become living beings, the universe – everything. When one attains Absolute Knowledge one realizes this. He has become the mind, the intellect, the body – and the twenty-four cosmic principles. To whom, then, can He be partial?
Nanda Bose — Why has He taken so many forms? Why is there knowledge in one place and ignorance in another?
Sri Ramakrishna — It is His sweet will.
Atul — Kedar (Chatterji) said something nice. Somebody asked him, ‘Why did God create the world?’ He replied, ‘I was not present at the meeting in which He planned His creation.’ (All laugh.)
Sri Ramakrishna — It is God’s will.
Saying this, Thakur sings –
All is Your will, O Mother Tara! You have Your own way in doing everything!
You do Your works, O Mother! People, however, say that they do it.
You bind the elephant in the mud, and You make the lame cross the hills.
To some You grant the seat of Brahman, and others You take down,
I am the instrument, You are the operator; I am the dwelling, You are the dweller within.
I am the chariot, You are the Charioteer; I move as You make me move.
I speak as You make me speak.
“She is the All-Blissful Mother. She creates, preserves and dissolves in Her sport. There are numberless beings, but only one or two of them attain salvation – that alone makes Her happy. ‘She claps and laughs when She sees one or two kites out of millions breaking free of their strings.’ Likewise, some people are being entangled in the world and some are being liberated.
“In the sea of the world, so many boats, O mind, sail, while others sink.”
Nanda Bose — That is Her sweet will. But what about us, who are suffering so much?
Sri Ramakrishna — Do ‘you’ really exist? It is She who has become everything. As long as one does not know Her, one goes on repeating, ‘I, I.’
“Everyone will know Her – everyone will indeed be liberated. Some people get their meal in the morning, others at midday and yet others in the evening – but no one will remain hungry. Indeed, everyone will realize his own true nature.”
Pasupati — True, sir. It seems that He Himself has become everything.
Sri Ramakrishna — Just try to find out what you are. Are you bones and flesh, or blood, or the intestines? Looking for ‘I’, you find ‘You’ – in other words, there is nothing inside you but God’s power. There is no ‘I’, only ‘You’. You have so much wealth, but you have no egotism. It is not possible to get rid of ‘I’ altogether. So if the ‘I’ does not vanish, let the rascal remain as the servant of God. (All laugh.) It is good to have the pride of being a devotee of God, or His son, or the servant of God. The ‘I’ which is attached to ‘lust and greed’ is the ‘unripe I’. One must renounce such an ego.
Hearing such a clear elucidation of egoism, the master of the house and the others are delighted.
Pride of wealth and self-forgetfulness
Sri Ramakrishna — There are two signs of a person who has attained spiritual knowledge. First, he has no pride; second, he develops a serene attitude. You have both these signs, so you must have received the grace of God.
“When one has too much wealth, one forgets God. That is the nature of wealth. Jadu Mallick has become very wealthy. He doesn’t talk much about God these days. Earlier he used to speak so nicely about the Lord.
“ ‘Lust and greed’ are a kind of intoxicant. When one is drunk, one fails to recognize one’s own maternal and paternal uncles. One may even say to them, ‘Cursed be your family…’ A drunkard can’t distinguish between his superiors and inferiors.”
Nanda Bose — That is true.
Theosophy – salvation through momentary communion with God – practicing pure love and devotion
Pasupati — Sir, what do you think about Spiritualism and Theosophy? And about the solar world and the lunar world and the world of planets?
Sri Ramakrishna — I don’t know, my dear. But why worry about all these calculations? Eat mangoes. What is the use of knowing how many mango trees, how many branches, how many millions of leaves are in the garden? I have come to the garden to eat mangoes. Let me eat and go.
“A man has no desire to know all these useless details when he develops spiritual awakening, when he knows God. In delirium what nonsense one speaks: ‘I shall eat five seers of cooked rice. I shall drink a pitcher of water.’ The physician says to such a patient, ‘Yes, yes, you want all this. All right, you may eat it.’ Saying which, the physician goes on with his smoke. But he listens to the patient when he is no longer delirious.”
Pasupati — Our delirium might last forever!
Sri Ramakrishna — Why? Fix your mind on God. You will attain spiritual awakening.
Pasupati (smiling) — Our communion with God is momentary – no longer than the time it takes to smoke. (All laugh.)
Sri Ramakrishna — So what. Even a momentary communion with God gives liberation.
“Ahalya said, ‘Rama, may I be born as the offspring of a pig, or any other being, but pray grant that I may fix my mind at Thy lotus feet and develop pure love and devotion for Thee.’
“Narada said, ‘Rama, I want no other boon from You. Only grant pure love and devotion. And may I never be enchanted by Your world-bewitching maya. Pray, bless me.’ When one sincerely prays to Him, one can fix one’s mind on Him – then one does develop pure love and devotion at His lotus feet.”
Sin and the after-life – thought of God at the time of death – King Bharata
“ ‘Shall we ever get rid of our delirium? What will happen to us? We are sinners’ – one must give up such ideas. (To Nanda Bose) Let there be this faith: Since I have called on the name of Rama, how can there be any sin in me?”
Nanda Bose — Does an after-life exist? Is one punished for one’s sins?
Sri Ramakrishna — Why don’t you eat mangoes! What need do you have to calculate all these things – does an after-life exist or not? What use is it to talk about such things?
“Please eat mangoes. ‘Mango,’ or love and devotion for God, is the one thing essential.”
Nanda Bose — Where are mango trees? Where can I get them?
Sri Ramakrishna — Trees? He exists as the eternal and infinite Brahman. He does exist, He is permanent. The fact is that He is the wish-fulfilling tree of heaven.
O my mind, pick up the four fruits from under the wish-fulfilling tree of Kali.
“You must go to the wish-fulfilling tree and pray to it. Then alone can you obtain the fruit – then only will the fruit fall to the ground. You can then gather it and bring it with you. The four fruits are: righteousness, economic security, fulfillment of legitimate desires and liberation.
“Jnanis seek the fruit of liberation and devotees want love and devotion for God – love for God that wells up unbidden out of the depths of the immortal soul. They are not interested in righteousness, economic security and fulfillment of desires.
“You ask about the after-life. According to the Gita, one becomes what one thinks of at the hour of death. King Bharata quit his mortal frame remorsefully repeating, ‘Deer, deer’ because he was grieving over his pet deer. So he was born as a deer in the next birth. For this reason, day and night one should practice repetition of the Name, meditation, worship and other spiritual exercises. Only then, by virtue of practice, will one think of the Lord at the hour of death. That is how one attains the real nature of God after death.
“Keshab Sen also asked me about the after-life. I said to him too, ‘What need have you for all these calculations?’ And I added, ‘As long as one does not realize God, one has to repeatedly come to this world.’ A potter dries his earthen pots and lids by putting them in the sun. If they are trampled by goats or sheep, he throws away the baked and broken pots. However, he mixes the unbaked ones with more clay and moulds them again into new vessels on the potter’s wheel.”
Sri Ramakrishna and his blessings on a householder – signs of rajas
The master of the house has shown no sign of offering refreshments to Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna himself mentions it, saying –
“Let’s have something to eat. I said to Jadu’s mother the other day, ‘Look here, please offer me something to eat.’ Otherwise, it brings harm to the family.”
The master of the house orders some sweets. Thakur eats them. Nanda Bose and the others look intently at him. They notice how Sri Ramakrishna conducts himself.
Sri Ramakrishna now wishes to wash his hands. The sweets had been on a plate placed on a sheet on the carpet, so he could not wash his hands on it. A servant brings a brass bowl for him to use.
The brass bowl is a sign of rajas. Thakur exclaims, “Please take it away.” The master of the house says to him, “Please wash your hands.”
Thakur is preoccupied with some other thought. He asks, “What? Do I have to wash my hands?”
Thakur rises and goes to the southern verandah. He asks Mani to pour water on his hands. Mani does so from a pitcher with a spout. Sri Ramakrishna dries his hand with his own cloth and returns to his seat. Some betel leaves have been brought on a platter for the gentleman guests. Thakur does not take it when a betel leaf from this platter, which had already been offered to the other guests, is offered to him.
Offering food ritualistically to one’s ideal deity – love and devotion for God mixed with knowledge, and pure love
Nanda Bose (to Sri Ramakrishna) — May I ask you something?
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — What?
Nanda Bose — Why didn’t you take the betel leaf? Everything else went fine, but you seemed unreasonable about that.
Sri Ramakrishna — I take food only after offering it to God.
Nanda Bose —But it would have been eaten by God!
Sri Ramakrishna — The path of jnana is one and the path of love and devotion for God another. The school of jnana evaluates everything by applying the knowledge of Brahman. In the path of love and devotion, one differentiates a little.
Nanda Bose — But you did not act correctly.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — That is my own particular attitude. What you say is also right.
Thakur is cautioning the master of the house about flatterers.
Sri Ramakrishna — Here is one particular caution. Your courtier friends hover around you for their own selfish ends. (To Prasanna’s father) Do you live here?
Prasanna’s Father — No sir, I live in the neighbourhood. Would you care for a smoke?
Sri Ramakrishna (humbly) — No, you may smoke. I don’t feel like smoking.
Nanda Bose has a very big house. That is why Thakur says to him, “Jadu’s house is not this big. I told him so the other day.”
Nanda Basu — He has built a new house at Jorashanko.
Thakur now encourages Nanda Bose.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Nanda Bose) — It is not a small matter that, though living in the world, you have kept your mind on God. Those who have renounced the world do have to call on God – what bravery is there in that? He indeed is blessed who calls on Him though living in the world. Such a person has to remove a twenty maund stone to be able to find something.
“One should take recourse to a particular attitude when calling upon God. Hanuman had the attitude of bhakti mixed with knowledge, Narada had pure love and devotion for God.
“Rama asked Hanuman, ‘Hanuman, what is your attitude when you worship me?’ Hanuman said, ‘Sometimes I see that You are the whole and I a part of You. At other times, I see that You are the Master and I am Your servant. And Rama, when I have the knowledge of Absolute Truth, I see that You are I and I am You.’
“Rama said to Narada, ‘Please ask me for a boon.’ Narada said, ‘Rama, please grant only that I may have pure love and devotion for Your lotus feet and that I may never be enchanted by Your world-bewitching maya.’ ”
Thakur now wishes to leave.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Nanda Bose) — According to the Gita, the person who is recognized as great by the world has a special power of God in him. You have divine power.
Nanda Bose — All people are endowed with equal power.
Sri Ramakrishna (irritated) — All of you people have just this one thing to say! Can all people have equal power? Though it is the same Omnipresent God who is present in every being, the manifestation of His powers are different in different beings.
“Vidyasagar also said the same thing, ‘Has God given more power to some and less to others?’ I said in reply, ‘If there was no difference between power in different people, why should we come to see you? Have you grown two horns on your head?’ ”
Thakur now rises, as do the devotees. Pasupati gets up and accompanies them to the door.
 Golap-ma (Golap Sundari Devi), a companion and friend of Holy Mother
 Vamana, the dwarf – an incarnation of Vishnu
 God incarnated as half lion and half man to protect Prahlada
 Vinapani, the goddess of learning and music
 A stringed musical instrument
 An Indian musical mode
 The name by which Thakur addressed Suresh Mitra
 Purna jnana
 Dharma, artha, kama and moksha
 The jnani believes in Oneness of God in all objects and does not distinguish between holy and unholy