all came to him: some on foot, some by carriage, some by boat
and some by steamer; but the destination was the same: the
pujari of Kali at Dakshineswar. Whether he was a realized
soul or an advanced sadhaka, a monk or an incarnation of God
they knew not, but still they came. They came in spite of
themselves, as if under a spell.
came to him, his guru, in an utterly despondent mood, when
he was on the verge of ending his life due to clashes in his
joint family. He was told that life was too precious to end
like that over fleeting worldly relations. No, no. He did
not have to renounce worldly relations or his responsibilities.
Like an ideal householder he was to serve them all, knowing
that He alone would abide who dwelt within the heart. He alone
would give him a place of rest when all friends and relatives
have deserted him in his dying hour. How quickly did M grasp
the evanescence of the world! He also realized through his
guru’s grace that the guru himself was the ishta, the
eternal companion of his soul who had protected him during
the great storm of Ashwin! Thakur had seen M in the sankirtan
party of Chaitanya, in his incarnation as Chaitanya.
M first came to Dakshineswar he believed in God without form.
But we see that right from the first moment he was unwittingly
meditating on that ‘serene-looking man’. Even at home he was
unable to banish the thought of Thakur for a moment. On the
day he could not go to him, he mentally visualized every word,
every gesture, of this enchanter of his soul. He noted it
down in his diary. The result was the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
Through the Gospel M has recreated the Deity of his
meditation, who was to nourish beings all over the world with
spiritual food. On M’s second visit, Thakur scolded him for
criticizing those who worshipped images: ‘Who are you to teach
others?’ And yet, interestingly, it looks as if M was brought
to the world exclusively to teach the words of his divine
Master to posterity. In the proximity of Thakur new vistas
and limitless horizons opened up to M’s inner vision. He realized
that the Personal and Impersonal Gods were both two aspects
of the one Reality. He was established in the state of a jnani
and at the same time enjoyed the mellowed sweetness of bhakti.
had once wanted to bid farewell to this ‘playhouse of deception’,
but now he could not take any risk with his life. One day
while coming to Dakshineswar with Prankrishna in a boat, he
found the river a bit choppy. In spite of Prankrishna’s assurance
that they would reach safely, M insisted on being left on
the shore. He did not mind covering the remaining distance
on foot in scorching heat, but reach he must. Ah! He had seen
the Master singing and dancing intoxicated with God. Day after
day he had seen him going into samadhi. While singing the
glories of Divine Mother he was like a celestial vina. The
words that came out of his lips were as if from the Goddess
of Wisdom Herself. Enthralled, M wanted to see his divine
play till the end.
came, though he intended not to come. A literary genius and
the father of Bengal theatre, it was beyond Girish to accept
a human being as guru. Still he came to his saviour, drawn
as if by some invisible ethereal attraction. In him he found
a ‘huge pit’ where he could throw all his sins - Himalaya-high
- and was transformed so much that he was given the ochre
robe and rosary along with the would-be giant monks of the
Ramakrishna Order; so much so that he in turn became the saviour
of the women who due to abject poverty were forced to lead
immoral lives. We can’t but ‘marvel’ at his transformation.
saw in Girish a debauchee, a drunkard, a bohemian and a rebel
against God. But Thakur saw in him a man of deep faith and
a heroic devotee. He saw in him the inner divinity and sincere
love for God. Could he otherwise have delineated divine characters
so realistically, so intensely through his plays Chaitanya
Lila and Prahlada? True, he could not submit to
any set routine of spiritual practice, his timings of sleep
and food being so irregular. Nor could his free spirit be
bound to any rules. But how phenomenal was his surrender to
the will of Thakur, the slayer of hell’s dire woes, whom he
gave his power of attorney! Girish was moulded by the Great
Moulder from then on. Girish had to suffer a number of bereavements.
His two daughters, his wife and son died. He himself suffered
from terrible asthma during the last few years. To his brother
disciples he said with his usual vigour, ‘Do you think I cannot
get rid of this ordinary disease? If I roll on the ground
of Panchavati and forcefully pray to the Master, this disease
will go away. But I know the Master is all-merciful. It is
his will that I am undergoing this disease, grief, pain, and
suffering. Everything is for my good.’ (1)
knew that deep-rooted samskaras cannot be uprooted by mere
doctrines. Silently he moulded Girish through the influence
of his transcendental love. The garlic cup was heated, removing
all odour. All his ‘poisoned blood’ came out, coming into
contact with this holy man. Girish kicked all his old habits
and gave up drinking altogether. Girish had come to his saviour,
who knew him more intimately than he himself did. One ray
of Light from him illumined all the dark nooks of his mind.
Girish later said:
Ramakrishna has taken full possession of my heart and bound
it with his love. … If I have acquired any virtues, it is
not through my own efforts, but solely due to his grace.
He literally accepted my sins and left my soul free. …
this redeemer of my soul I have paid little homage. In a
drunken state I have abused him. … In my attempts to escape
all discipline I found myself disciplined without knowing
it. Such is my Guru’s grace. (2)
seed of spiritual life was sown in Narendra during his childhood
by his mother. Sitting in her lap he heard the tales of the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He was an adept
in meditation right from his childhood. He could quote passages
after passages from the two epics and worshipped Sita-Rama
with great devotion. One day their syce denounced married
life and told young Naren of the bondage it entails. This
gave a terrible blow to his devotion to Sita-Rama. Next moment
out went the image of Sita-Rama down below on the pavement.
In its place he installed an image of Shiva. What passion
for truth even at the tender age of five or six! How easily
he could break the illusion, howsoever sweet!
Naren grew he evinced a preference for intellectual pursuits.
John Stuart Mill’s Three Essays on Religion shook his
boyish faith. The study of Hume’s scepticism and Herbert Spencer’s
doctrine of the Unknowable further strengthened his unbelief.
A blazing flame of spirituality, Narendra was filled with
harrowing doubts about the ultimate Reality. Terrible conflicts
pierced his soul through and through. The great spiritual
leaders of Bengal could not satisfy the yearning of his soul.
Brahmo Samaj, a great organization, filled him with momentary
peace but it was far from giving him a remote glimpse of
Truth. He wondered if God really existed; and if He did, could
He be seen? In such restlessness of mind Narendra came to
his guru, nay, to his own Self, as it were.
Narendra came to the portal of Thakur’s room, the mist of
philosophical scepticism vanished, the doors were flung open
and he saw God face to face. We see him in the Gospel singing
‘O Lord, must all my days pass by so utterly in vain?/ … My
poor heart’s humble cottage door is standing open wide;/ Be
gracious, Lord, and enter there but once, and quench its thirst!3
But the following songs appear best to describe his feelings
when he met Thakur:
Thou hast lifted all my sorrow with vision of Thy face,/
And the magic of Thy beauty has bewitched my mind. (736)
The Sovereign of my soul has entered my lowly hut:/ The
springs of my love are welling forth on every side./ Tell
me, my Beloved! O Thou, the Lord of my heart!/ What treasure
shall I lay before Thy Lotus Feet?/ Take Thou my life, my
soul; …/ Deign to accept my all. (898-9)
now gave way to a fiery devotion to the guru, and intellectual
scorn ended in total self-surrender. Who could have extinguished
the hellfire that was burning in Narendra’s mind but he who
was the roaring of fire of spirituality himself. Who else
could slake the thirst of his soul but he who was the Ocean
of Bliss itself. Who else could pierce the veil and show him
God but he who had seen Him himself - not only seen but had
talked to Him in whispers as if He were nearer than the nearest.
Where was Narendra searching for God? Were not all the poor,
the miserable, the downtrodden Gods? In vain was he trying
to dig a well on the shore of the Ganga. Through the guru’s
grace he realized that nothing else existed but God. Not only
in the highest Brahman but even in the insignificant worm,
down to the minutest atom was the same God. Only the manifestation
differed. And He was there in the saint and the sinner, the
virtuous and the wicked, the sentient and the insentient.
Where was He not? The essence of all existence was divinity
of the Soul, only covered by the dust of ego. As soon as the
mud is removed it would shine forth in all its effulgent glory.
And it could be done by following any of the yogas: karma,
bhakti, raja or jnana. Narendra became the heir to all the
spiritual treasures of Thakur, the heir to ‘immortal Bliss’.
Exuberantly he went out into the world, east and west. He
proclaimed to all the message of his beloved Master that they
were all the sinless pure Self, ‘heirs to immortal Bliss’,
till life-breath departed from him even before he completed
forty years on earth.
Brahmo leader came to him with his followers. Influenced by
Western culture, the Brahmo movement stood for various educational
and social reforms like widow remarriage, education of women
and the abolition of caste. Brahmo Samaj declared the supremacy
of reason; it was not founded on the deep spiritual experiences
of saints. Keshab was an orator and had written books and
articles. His fame spread to the distant shores of London.
Queen Victoria herself entertained him. Yet he visited the
sage of Dakshineswar bare-chested with offerings of flowers
and fruits. He saluted the Master bowing low, touching the
ground with his forehead. He dared not open his mouth before
this unlettered priest of Kali, fearing that it would be like
trying to ‘sell needles to a blacksmith’. Fascinated, he and
other Brahmo leaders listened to various melodies sung by
Thakur as he sang now of Kali, now of Krishna or Gauranga.
He could not be monotonous like them who harped only on a
monotone of ‘I am He’ or ‘I am Brahman.’ Under the influence
of Thakur, Keshab’s devotion to the Divine Mother deepened.
Sometimes Keshab and his followers danced and sang for hours
in his company, the Master in the centre and all others dancing
around him in circles.
could the other Brahmo leaders escape the spell of Thakur’s
spiritual fervour. Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, an accomplished
Brahmo preacher in Europe and America, wrote:
a Europeanized, civilized, self-centred, semi-sceptical,
so-called educated reasoner, and he, a poor, illiterate,
unpolished, half-idolatrous, friendless Hindu devotee? Why
should I sit long hours to attend to Him? … And it is not
I only, but dozens like me, who do the same. … He worships
Shiva, he worships Kali, he worships Rama, he worships Krishna,
… yet is a faithful and most devoted meditator on the perfections
of the One Formless, Absolute, Infinite Deity. … His religion
is ecstasy, his worship means transcendental insight. …
He, by his child-like bhakti, helped to unfold it [God as
our Mother] in our minds wonderfully. (45)
them he said that the world was all hollow without any substance.
It was like pickled hog plum - all stone and little pulp.
In old age one should retire to Varanasi like Pandit Jaynarayan
or to a solitary place away from home and devote one’s time
to contemplating God and repeating His name. One should not
keep on clinging to the world making one’s grandson an excuse.
When the teeth are all gone how could one enjoy worldly pleasures?
came in spite of the resistance from their elders. They came
to get the ‘leather jacket’, the armour of bhakti; attracted
by his love, who fed them khir and other sweets with
his own hands; like a mother caressed them, touched their
chins and took them on his lap. He made them roll with laughter
by his mimicry of the funny kirtani, and the silly
prattle of the women who went to bathe in the Ganga. In his
presence it was a perpetual festivity with God. Amidst all
this fun and merrymaking, he always kept before them the goal
of God-realization. He constantly warned them of the snares
of ‘woman and gold’ and encouraged them to cultivate knowledge
came to him though they could read in the shastras all the
things they heard from him. They came to hear them from his
lips and to see a life lived according to the precepts of
the shastras, a life that was a living shastra. To them he
said that one has to purify oneself through sadhana. Who could
understand the ways of the Spirit through scholarly reasoning?
While expounding scriptures one should remove the ‘head and
tail’ and not confuse others in a maze of scriptural words
and karma kanda. Being dependent on food, life in Kali
yuga was too short to perform scriptural rites.
thought that their Divine Mother was the Empress of the universe.
She had employed that fellow Krishna to ferry men across the
ocean of the world. And, lo, their delusion was broken when
they learnt from the holy man that Krishna, Hari and the Divine
Mother were one and the same Reality. The difference lay only
in the names as jal, pani and water are the various
names for one single substance.
thought that Krishna was the Lord of all. None could go to
the other shore without taking refuge in Him. They were stunned
out of their wits to hear that the Charmer of Radha’s heart,
the Player of the flute, the Friend of the cowherd boys of
Vrindaban and the Darling of Ma Yashoda was none other than
the terrible Kali with dishevelled hair, wielding her sword
in the battlefield - Kali, whose terrible laughter fills the
quarters, Kali, under whose weight the earth trembles and
whose three great eyes roll in frenzy while destroying the
demons. Who could refute Thakur’s words?
them he said that the path of Vedantic discipline was the
path of ‘neti, neti; not this’, in which all that is
unreal is negated and renounced. Reasoning thus, the mind
merges in the eternal Brahman and the aspirant goes into samadhi.
But was it easy to realize one’s identity with Brahman? How
hard the rishis laboured to realize Brahman as their inner
Consciousness? As long as one was conscious of the body and
the objects around, one could not realize ‘I am He.’ Moreover,
as long as one was conscious of doing one’s duties, it was
not right for one to say that one was the actionless supreme
Self. He told them to give up ‘I am He’ and stick to ‘I and
Thou’ to make merry with God. Even if one has reached the
Absolute it would be best to keep oneself in the relative
to enjoy the love of God.
came. He had lost his wife, and did nothing in particular,
but was ‘taking good care of his parents, brothers and sisters’.
He said to him not to lead just a meaningless life like ‘Elder,
the pumpkin-cutter’ but to provide nourishment to the Spirit
too by reading books like Chaitanya Lila and the Bhagavata.
To Sarada Charan, who had lost his only son, he asked to take
up arms against death by chanting the name of Kali. It was
the strongest hedge where Kala himself shuddered to enter.
The disconsolate Brahmani had lost her only daughter. He filled
her with peace by telling her that the Ocean, God, alone was
real; children were like so many bubbles having a moment’s
existence. Why grieve? Why not cultivate love for the lotus
feet of God?
story is endless and can go on and on.
all came to Sri Ramakrishna: Hindus, Mussalmans, Sikhs and
Christians. To him came countless pilgrims, sages, sadhus,
fakirs, and visionaries. To slake their thirst they came to
him, who, as Romain Rolland said, ‘realized in himself the
total unity of this river of God, open to all rivers and all
streams’. To each he pointed the way to immortal Bliss according
to his own natural taste and inclination. And they are still
coming to him: people from all strata of society, from all
corners of the world. When the heart is flooded with bhakti
one may not come even on foot, by boat, by carriage or by
streamer. One can plunge straight into the waves and waves
of liquid love that are rolling on and on from the depths
of this ethereal Being.
Swami Chetanananda, They Lived with God, (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1993), 290.
Ramakrishna as We Saw Him, ed. and trans. Swami Chetnananda
(Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1993), 338.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 508.