"Religion and religion alone is the life of India, and when that goes, India will die, in spite of politics, in spite of social reforms, in spite of Kubera's wealth poured upon the head of every one of her children." - Swami Vivekananda












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | September 2004  





            A Wonder Triangle



               N. Hariharan


     A triangle is a perfect model of concord, cooperation and compatibility. The triangle collapses the moment the three sides violate the geometrical rule and go their own way. The three angles that constitute the triangle have to respect the rules of the game. The aggregate of their angles should always be equal to 180 degrees. This is a geometrical imperative. This imperative can be flouted only at the peril of endangering the triangle to the point of extinction.

     There is, however, a unique triangle that breaks this master rule and still manages to survive as a triangle. This triangle is the triangle of the life of Holy Mother. The sides of this un-mathematical triangle are wifehood, nunhood and motherhood. Nunhood flies in the face of wifehood and is incompatible with motherhood. To speak of a nun as being, at once, a wife and a mother is as ridiculous as to speak of a barren woman as having brought forth a son. The coexistence in a woman of nunhood, wifehood and motherhood at one and the same time is a factual impossibility, an arrant nonsense. But the triple-hoods admirably harmonize and protect the integrity of the unique triangle of Holy Mother's life.



     Wife and Nun in One


     How is Holy Mother able to perform the veritable feat of harmonizing the disparate triple angles and crafting out of them an impeccable triangle of life? Of the three angles that make the wonder triangle, the two angles of wifehood and nunhood are implacably hostile to each other. They are constitutionally incapable of coexistence and cooperation. If you are a wife, well, you cannot be a nun. It is as simple as that. Holy Mother knows it fully well. But she knows one more secret that is unknown to the common run of womenfolk. The mystic secret is that a wife can be a nun if the carnal element in wifehood is eliminated. By her immaculately pure life, Holy Mother proves that the essence of wifehood consists not so much in carnal indulgence as in loving service to the spouse. By stripping wifehood of the toxic element of carnality, she invests it with a spiritual dimension and harnesses it for spiritual ends. Wifehood minus carnality expresses itself in her case as a sublime life of intense penance and self-abnegating service. By her assiduous and sincere service of the Master in his spiritual expedition, by her conscious conception and adoration of him as an embodiment of the Supreme, by her uncanny knack of anticipating even the smallest need and wish of the Master and ministering to it with exemplary solicitude, and by her total self-dedication to his lofty spiritual cause and ideal, Holy Mother makes the emphatic point that she is a model wife par excellence. The remarks of Swami Tapasyanandaji in this context are very remarkable: 'To be of service to the Master was her highest delight. What pained her sometimes was that she could not get sufficient opportunity to attend on him.' (1)

     Holy Mother tellingly makes the point that she is an uncompromising nun by firmly saying no to a possible call of carnality. To the pointed question of the Master whether she had come to drag him into the ugly pit of carnality and the meshes of maya, Holy Mother said emphatically that she had come not to pull him down but to be of service to him. The apparent antinomy between wifehood and nunhood is only a fictitious one and is largely caused by the misconception that successful married life is dependent on the physical relationship between the couple. The puzzling paradox of the combination of wifehood and nunhood cannot be placed in the right perspective except by quoting in full the relevant passages from Swami Tapasyanandaji's book:

     And withal the most wonderful thing is that this holy couple could set so perfect an example of married love, and yet free from the least taint of corporeal passion. In fact, it is the great lesson of their lives that in the highest specimens of humanity, love is not dependent on sex or any consideration of physical intimacy. Many a modern thinker on questions of sex-life is disposed to separate the life of love from the function of procreation and invest the former with an independent value in itself, in spite of the association one finds between them in nature. Even a Christian writer like Nicholas Berdyaev argues that to make love dependent on, or subordinate to, procreation is to transfer the principle of cattle breeding to human relation. Many who hold the cultivation of holiness as the highest ideal of life might have agreed with this view if such thinkers had admitted the possibility of transcending the instinctive side of sex in a perfect union of souls. But they are particular in insisting that love between the sexes can never be perfect without physical expression. For example, Edward Carpenter remarks on this subject [The Dream of Love and Death]: 'But equally absurd is any attempt to limit (love) Е to the spiritual with a somewhat lofty contempt for the material-in which case it tends Е to become too like trying to paint a picture without the use of pigments. All the phases are necessary, or at least desirable-even if Е a quite complete and all-round relation is seldom realized.'

     The conjugal life of the Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna contradicts this view and sets another norm, at least for the noblest of mankind. For those in whom consciousness is yet centred in the body, love without sex may be like painting without pigment. But there are men and women who transcend the body-consciousness and realize the Self behind it. If they happen to paint the life of love as an example for humanity, the pigment they use is not sex but the Self. Е

     In their case [in the case of the Master and Holy Mother] both stood for a common ideal of great sublimity, each helped to elicit the best that was in the other, and both found perfect satisfaction in mutual service, without the aid of any corporeal passion to hold them together in love and amity. If one enquires as to what constituted the cementing principle in this perfect union, one arrives at the Self, of which everything else is but a reflection.' (64-6)


     No Offspring, yet a Mother


     We have seen that of the triple angles, it is the angle of nunhood that mainly skews the triangle. Once it falls in place, the triangle acquires sense. But the angle of motherhood, though not as incongruous as the angle of nunhood, causes its own problem of reconciliation. The problem, in its stark nakedness, is this: How can Holy Mother, a nun at the core, albeit a wife, be a mother, if by mother we mean a woman who physically produces children? True, Holy Mother has no claims to motherhood if we associate it with the physical procreation of children. But her claims to the title of Mother rest on surer foundations than the mere physical begetting of offspring. The progeny of Holy Mother are not a few countable ones born of physical union but an army of them won by her all-embracing, universal love. Regarding the unique motherhood of Holy Mother, the Master's words are prophetic. Let us hear again what Swami Tapasyanandaji says in this context:

     There have been people who have expressed sympathy for the Holy Mother on account of what they consider the barrenness of her married life. For did not the very greatness of her husband stand in the way of her experiencing the substance of matrimonial life, and what is more, the greatest privilege of a woman, namely, motherhood? Indeed, her own mother, Syamasundari Devi, seems to have felt in this way at one time, and remarked in the hearing of Sri Ramakrishna, 'My Sarada has been married to a lunatic. She has not known family life. She has no children. She will never know the happiness of being addressed as "mother".' At this Sri Ramakrishna remarked, 'Well, mother, you need not worry about that. Your daughter will have so many children that she will be tired of being addressed day and night as "Mother".' (28)

                    ~ ~ ~

     To sum up, Holy Mother's life is an absorbing saga of picturesque paradoxes. First, she is an intensely loving wife without the intimacy of physical union with her godly spouse. Second, she is a true nun without the tag of non-marriage. Third, she is a mother without any offspring in the usual sense. It is these triple paradoxes that lend an ethereal charm to her divine life. The triple paradoxes resolve themselves into an abiding reconciliation and concord, once we grasp the basic truth that her holy life, like that of her divine spouse, is fundamentally anchored in the Spirit.





1. Swami Tapasyananda, Sri Sarada Devi: The Holy Mother (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1969), 53.

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









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