"As oil in a sesamum seeds, as butter in cream, as water in riverbeds, as fire in friction sticks, so is the Self seized in one's own soul if one looks for Him with truthfulness and austerity." - Svetasvatara Upanishad I.15












PRABUDDHA BHARATA Sri Sarada Devi: The Universal Mother  





               Sri Sarada Devi: The Universal Mother



                   Swami Sarvagatananda




     This is a very special occasion for all of us to think about Holy Mother: what she was, what she means to us now. It is rather difficult to picture her because our knowledge about her is only second-hand: we get a glimpse of her from writings on her by swamis, by others who saw her and by those who had heard about her from still others. You will be surprised and perhaps shocked to know that not many in the beginning were inclined to go to Holy Mother because they could not really see her, since she was always veiled and never spoke anything about philosophy, religion and the like. Not many could grasp the greatness of Holy Mother: they thought she was great because she was Sri Ramakrishnas wife.



     Coming down from Divinity to Human Level


     The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that it is rather easy to get into an ecstatic mood, raise our consciousness, dwell in that highest divine realm and be lost to the outside world. But, having had the highest spiritual experience, it is very difficult to come down to the human level and work like anyone else, without betraying any traces of having had that ecstatic experience. That was the uniqueness of Holy Mother.



     Her Life Was Her Sermon


     I am sure many of you know about an incident from Buddhas life. There was a hall where he addressed his monks and other disciples. One day, on entering the hall, he surveyed it in a moment to see if everyone was present. One monk was absent. And Buddha asked the others, What about him? Well, sir, he is sick. Hes staying in his room, was the reply. Is there anyone to serve him? Buddha asked. No, sir.


     Buddha got up, slowly walked up to the sick monks place, took a towel, soaked it in water, squeezed it and washed him and served him. When the monk was asleep, Buddha came out. The other monks were waiting for him. Buddha was about to go away without a word. Some monks asked him, Sir, what about the sermon?


     I rendered the sermon, he said. That is it. I rendered the sermon. That, again, was Holy Mother. To serve others is very difficult. We can talk, we can explain things, but, with that full awareness inside, to behave just like an ordinary human being is practically impossible. That is why many could not understand her in the beginning. The more they lived with her, the more they began to understand how it was possible for a human being to serve others as she did. She was daughter to her parents, wife to Sri Ramakrishna and spiritual guide and teacher to many, but more than all this, she was a mother, unique in every way.



     Our Real Mother


     She lived true to her pronouncement I am the Mother of all. Anybody, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, high class or low class, known or unknown - all received from her that wonderful love and affection. That is one important thing I discover in her life. Anybody could go and feel, Here is someone who is my very own. Day or night, people visited her. Slowly her name spread, and more people started coming. Without exception all felt that she was heavenly. That is why I say she is holy and she is motherly. Everyone had that kind of feeling - monks, devotees, the Western disciples of Swami Vivekananda who accompanied him to India, and those who visited India after his passing way. Their common refrain was, She is our real mother.



     Motherly, Compassionate and Forgiving



     We could love others like a mother for a day, or maybe for some days, but throughout our life? That is very difficult. Even when she was sick, she was ready to help anyone. In the Chandi we read about the glory of the Divine Mother: Ya devi sarvabhuteshu matrirupena samsthitha; Ya devi sarvabhuteshu dayarupena samsthita; Ya devi sarvabhuteshu kshantirupena samsthita; Namastasyai. Namastasyai. Namastasyai namo namah. (Salutations to the Divine Mother, who dwells in all beings as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness.)


     God as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness - all this we hear about. Well, maybe we also try to imagine. Until we see a person translating these things into action, we dont really understand. Holy Mother was such a person. She was not only motherly to everyone, but also compassionate and forgiving.


     There is not one but many incidents in her life to illustrate how people received her blessings. Of all those who received her grace, that Muslim robber comes to my mind again and again, the one who went to jail many times. He was not allowed to even reach and see her. One day he climbed the wall and jumped into the place just to have a glimpse of Mother when she was sick. As he stood before her, she asked, Baba, where were you all these days? Oh, I did some robbery and then I was caught and was put in the jail. Just the other day they released me, he said. And she made him sit there and served him.


     A devotee once asked her, Mother, why do you waste so much time for him?


     Because he is lost.


     Do you know he robbed such and such a place the other day?


     What else can he do? They have lost their jobs. (They used to work in a silk industry. Due to an unfortunate competition, that industry was dead. And all those workers, very strong Muslims, had nothing to do. Therefore, they took to robbing others.) If you give him some work he will certainly do that. When there is no work, how does he maintain his family? So robbing has become his profession. And therefore he comes here. I cannot say no to him. Look, Mother did not take it very badly!



     Whatever Was Hers Was for Others



     Imagine, if any robber comes from jail and walks into your house, how would you feel? Mother felt at home with him, not once, but many times. There are so many such incidents in her life. In the Bhagavadgita there is a nice saying from Sri Krishna: Four types of persons worship me: those who are in distress, those who seek material benefits, those who are seekers of truth and those who know me (jnanis).1 All these people worship the Lord. Now, we all do it. All religions have this kind of approach. It is easy to go to a shrine or a chapel and sit down and say, Oh, God and submit our petition to Him. And then, maybe our prayer is sanctioned or maybe not, but we live on faith and hope. With Mother, it is not like that. You go with all these things to her, someone sitting before you in flesh and blood. And whatever you want, you ask her.


     It is easy to pray to a deity and expect that something will happen after some time. Here it is not like that. To a living person you say this and get the things done. That I call impossible in this world, but she did it. People used to go to her for many things. If she had what they wanted, she immediately gave them that. Otherwise, she made them sit, procured the thing and gave it. She never denied anyone anything. Where do you have another like her?


     Once it so happened that somebody came to her clad in a small length of cloth. Mother had no money to purchase cloths. Somebody had given her a new cloth. It was on the clothesline, washed, dry and ready to wear. She immediately brought it, folded it and gave it to the person. If she had anything, it belonged to people. She was always concerned about others. She was a nurse, maid, motherall in one. And she served everyone, day or night.



     Service with a Difference



     A family came to her one day, travelling a long distance by bullock cart. One of them had malaria. Jayrambati was a very bad place for the disease. The patient was shivering and didnt know what to do. They were to go away right after seeing Mother and receiving her blessings. But he had to stay back. Now, how to provide for all of them in the house? Those who were helping Mother said, Let them go to the next village and stay in such and such a place.


     But I cant send them out, said Mother. Mind that, that night she cooked for them, served them, and served especially that diseased man. She brought some ingredients, prepared some kind of paste of them, poured some milk into it and gave it to him. Next morning, she sent him back in a bullock cart. And she herself was sick for a few days.


     It was not once, but it happened many times. People came there quite healthy, but since that area was not conducive to good health, they fell sick. And she was there on the spot to serve them. Hes my child, she used to say. I shall do what I can for him or her. This is what I call really impossible. What is important is, she served others not just in a human way, but with a spiritual background, with total identification with them.



     She Made Everyone Her Own


     Make everybody your own, nobody is a stranger, the world is yours - Mother did not say that from imagination or for the good of the world. She was like that: she made everybody her own - no distinction.


     In those days of the beginning of the twentieth century, caste restrictions in society were rigid, particularly with regard to Muslims and untouchables. Orthodox people never allowed them inside their house. Mother not only allowed them inside, but served them food, cleaned the area herself because others refused to do it. They would tell her, You are a brahmin; you should not touch those things. She removed the leavings and cleaned the place after her children ate. Somebody said, You will lose your caste. I have no caste, she said. What caste? Being unorthodox in that orthodox area and keeping her head high at the same time was very difficult. She served everyone and made them feel that she was their mother.



     Her Spiritual Ministry



     And this is only the empirical side of her personality. To speak of her spiritual service: People come to her with so many doubts, with so many images in their mind, and told her their problems. Mother gave them spiritual instructions suitable and natural to each according to his stage in life.

And she was not particular about any place for initiating people. They could meet her anywhere: at the railway station or at the roadside adjacent to the fields. Wherever she was, that place was holy. And there she welcomed them, instructed them, guided them and bade them farewell. One needed just to say, Mother, please instruct me, and she was ready. As a spiritual guide, she observed no restriction. Her refrain was, They have come all the way; I need to help them.



     Awe-inspiring Spiritual Greatness


     In her spiritual service she stands above many people. Many of the later seniors of the Ramakrishna Order were her disciples. Once, when two disciples of Swamiji came to meet him, he said, Go to Mother. Receive her blessings first and then come here. Swamiji had been to the Western world and conquered the hearts and minds of many people. When he went to Holy Mother, he was just like a humble soul: standing before her, waiting for her orders. Others could not understand Mothers greatness, but Swamiji did. Other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna could not imagine how great she was. One day, Swami Vijnanananda, a brother disciple of Vivekananda, went to make prostrations before Mother. He saluted her briefly from a distance and came away. Swamiji said, Come here, you dont know whom you are approaching. Is that the way to salute her? And Swamiji showed him how to salute her by prostrating full length before her. Just do like that. You will be blessed, I tell you, he said. And mind that, the person was another disciple of Ramakrishna.


     On another occasion, I heard, Swami Brahmananda went to see her. He washed his hands three or four times with Ganga water, sprinkled it on his body and stood shivering before her. He returned after a quick prostration. That was because her spiritual stature was so high. We could perhaps understand Sri Ramakrishnas stature, because it was evident and could be felt. But Mothers was absolutely concealed. Therefore, they were awed of her. Her one word was law and obeyed as an order in the entire Ramakrishna Order. So thoughtful, so wise was her intuitive counsel. She could say things straight to even great swamis like Brahmananda and Vivekananda, and, on occasion, to even Sri Ramakrishna if she felt that her motherhood was questioned. She was the only one who could say no to Sri Ramakrishna, because she had that motherly feeling: for the sake of my children, it must be done, it must be so - no discrimination.



     An Exemplar, Not an Instructor


     She never encouraged any narrowness in the administration of the Ramakrishna Order. If someone wanted to do something that might not have universal approval and said, Our custom tells us to do this, she would say, No, this Order belongs to the whole world. You should do everything in such a way that everyone will have a place here. She did not approve of political affiliations either. The Ramakrishna Order is one place where none should feel isolated. She was so broad, so universal and so calm and sublime at the same time. This combination is very difficult. It is the highest spiritual achievement. And again, coming down to the lowest level of humankind and behaving with them without losing her spiritual stature is something very difficult. What you find in her teachings, she followed it all exactly. That is why I say she is an exemplar, not an instructor. She never talked about things. She did them and observing her, people learnt from her.


     Once a lady came to her from a long distance to get some instruction from her. Mother said, Come in. And she was talking to Mother and Mother was doing her job, cooking and keeping things ready. Mother, wont you please tell me something? Mother replied, Dont you see me?



     Universal Motherly Love


     To many of us religion means rituals, going to a shrine, a chapel and bowing down many times. No doubt, they have their rewards. But do you feel for people? Do you care for them? Do you love them? Do you identify yourself with others? That is real religion.


     You all know, after the Last Supper, Jesus Christ spelt out the essence of Christianity. As I love you, you love one another. As I serve you, you serve one another. To love and serve was the theme of Holy Mothers life. She loved and served others and ministered to their needs. None ever went away from her without being satisfied. That is what is called a universal motherly attitude.



     Silent Service


     Somebody asked me the other day, mentioning a great soul who is highly honoured. Dont you see, swami ? Well, for me it is easy to understand, I said.




     I have known another person who was steeped in spirituality, but kept herself busy serving people; serving them herself, not through somebody.

That person is Holy Mother. Her whole life is nothing but the expression of that motherly attitude. Even when she was a little girl in Jayrambati, everybody thought she was a grown-up girl. She was just five or six years old. She felt for everyone, carried things from her house and gave them. Her parents never objected. When she grew up and came to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar, then again the same thing. Not only did she serve Sri Ramakrishna, but she served all people who came there. And mind you, all that silently. The man who was in charge of the temple said one day, Yes, some people say she is here, but I have never seen her. Absolutely silent service, unseen by others - that is not easy.


     All these monks and disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had experienced her service. When Sri Ramakrishna said, Dont feed them too much, she said, No, leave that to me. You give them spiritual instructions, but the question of their health is my concern. I know who needs what and how much. And she did not even mind what Ramakrishna said. She did her things in her own motherly way. Some need more, some less. You cannot make a rule: only two chapatis for everyone. Sri Ramakrishna made a rule, you know, that monks should only take two chapatis at night, nothing more. But mother used to serve them two, three or four, according to their need and capacity. Ramakrishna could say nothing more. She was a mother to everyone from the very beginning. See that holiness and motherly attitude, a beautiful combination in one soul. And her spiritual illumination! Concealing all that and serving others was something natural to her.


     I remember an incident in the life of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Once, I think an American gentleman went to see him. Someone told the visitor, You go to that hall; Maharshi is there. He entered the hall and found many people cutting vegetables. And he asked someone, I would like to see the great Ramana Maharshi. Will you please lead me to him? And Maharshi was sitting right there peeling potatoes. He looked at him and said, Sit down. He pushed a few potatoes before the visitor. Come on, take them and start peeling them. To Maharshi, spiritual life was not something separate from secular life. Life is One. Come, join us, he said. The visitor could not understand. Here is a man to meet whom people come from all parts of the world. Was he standing there, giving lectures? No, he was just like anyone else.


     And Mother was just like that throughout her life. We have seen many great saints going to different places and performing some austerities, but Mother, never. One attitude purified her completely: I am the Mother of all.


     One of her disciples once told us, You need not do anything. Just be unselfish, dont seek anything and be motherly to all. You will see a miracle happening in your own life. Purity of heart is a big thing, practically impossible in this world. You can have that purity only through two things: unselfishness and love, as a mother loves her children.


     Not me, but Thou. Develop this attitude and you dont need to believe in any God, said a disciple of Swamiji. And Swamiji himself says in his Karma Yoga:


     Although a man has not studied a single system of philosophy, although he does not believe in any God, and never has believed, although he has not prayed even once in his whole life, if the simple power of good actions has brought him to that state where he is ready to give up his life and all else for others, he has arrived at the same point to which the religious man will come through his prayers and the philosopher through his knowledge. (2)

And Mother translated that into action throughout her life. Unselfishness and service; to love and serve: Swamiji made that the motto of the Ramakrishna Order. It is based on Mothers life and actions. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased really worships Shiva, he proclaimed. (3) To me, Holy Mother is the most holy, the most motherly.


     May we follow in her footsteps; may we gain some purity that comes out of that love and service, and gain some kind of illumination in this very life - that is my prayer.






     1. Bhagavadgita, 7.16.

     2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.86.

     3. CW, 3.142.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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