(Written to M. by Aswini Kumar Dutta, one of the saintly patriots of Bengal.)
My beloved brother M.,
Three days ago I received the fourth part of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita1 sent by you, and today I have finished reading it. You are blessed indeed. What heavenly nectar you have sprinkled all over the country! … A long time ago you wanted me to set down my conversations with the Master. Now I shall try to write them for you. But I was not born under the lucky star of an M., that I might jot down the days, the dates, and the hours of my visits with the Master and note down correctly all the words uttered by his holy lips. In this letter I am giving you as many of my experiences as I remember. Very likely I shall confuse the events of one day with another — and I have forgotten many things.
It was probably during the autumn holidays of 1881 that I met Sri Ramakrishna the first time. I arrived at Dakshineswar in a country boat and, going up the steps of the landing-ghat, asked someone where the Paramahamsa was.
“There is the Paramahamsa”, was the reply. A man was pointed out on the north verandah, which faces the garden. He was sitting reclining against a bolster. He wore a black-bordered cloth. At the sight of the bolster and the black-bordered cloth I said to myself, “What kind of paramahamsa is this?”2
Going nearer, I found him half leaning against the bolster with his hands clasped around his drawn-up knees. Then I thought: “Evidently he is not used to pillows as gentlemen are. So perhaps he is the Paramahamsa.” At his right, very near the pillow, sat a gentleman whose name, I came to know, was Rajendra Lal Mitra, later an Assistant Secretary to the Government of Bengal. A little farther off sat some others.
After a few moments the Master said to Rajendra Babu, “See whether Keshab is coming.” Evidently Keshab Sen was expected that day.
Someone walked away a few steps and, coming back, said, “No, he isn’t.”
After a brief interval, hearing a sound outside, he said, “Please look once more.”
Again someone went out and came back with the same reply. Then Sri Ramakrishna laughed and said, quoting a popular saying, “The leaves rustle outside, and Radha says, ‘Oh, here comes my Sweetheart!'” Continuing, he said: “You see, Keshab always tantalizes me like this. It is his way.”
At dusk Keshab came with his party. Keshab bowed low before the Master, touching the ground with his forehead. The Master returned his salutation in the same manner.
Shortly afterwards Sri Ramakrishna said, in a state of partial consciousness: “Look! He has brought the whole Calcutta crowd. I am supposed to deliver a lecture. I won’t do anything of the sort. Do it yourself if you like. Lecturing is none of my business.”
Still in the ecstatic mood, he said with a divine smile: “I shall eat, drink, and be merry. I shall play and sleep. But I can’t give lectures.”
As Keshab Babu watched him, he became overpowered with divine emotion. Every now and then he said, “Ah me! Ah me!”
I too watched the Master and said to myself, “Can this be pretence?” I had never seen anything like it before, and you know how deep my faith is.
Coming back from samadhi, the Master said to Keshab: “Keshab, once I went to your temple. In the course of your preaching I heard you say, ‘We shall dive into the river of devotion and go straight to the Ocean of Satchidananda.’ At once I looked up [at the gallery where Keshab’s wife and the other ladies were sitting] and thought, Then what will become of these ladies?’ You see, Keshab, you are householders. How can you reach the Ocean of Satchidananda all at once? You are like a mongoose with a brick tied to its tail. When something frightens it, it runs up the wall and sits in a niche. But how can it stay there any length of time? The brick pulls it down and it falls to the floor with a thud. You may practise a little meditation, but the weight of wife and children will pull you down. You may dive into the river of devotion, but you must come up again. You will alternately dive and come up. How can you dive and disappear once for all?”
Keshab Babu said: “Can’t a householder ever succeed? What about Maharshi Devendranath Tagore?”
Twice or thrice the Master repeated softly, “Devendranath Tagore — Devendra — Devendra” and bowed to him several times.
Then he said: “Let me tell you a story. A man used to celebrate the Durga Puja at his house with great pomp. Goats were sacrificed from sunrise to sunset. But after a few years the sacrifice was not so imposing. Then someone said to him, ‘How is it, sir, that the sacrifice at your place has become such a tame affair?’ ‘Don’t you see?’ he said. ‘My teeth are gone now.’ Devendra is now devoted to meditation and contemplation. It is only natural that he should be, at his advanced age. But no doubt he is a great man.
“You see, as long as a man is under maya’s spell, he is like a green coconut. When you scoop out the soft kernel from a green coconut, you cannot help scraping a little of the shell at the same time. But in the case of a ripe and dry coconut, the shell and kernel are separated from each other. When you shake the fruit you can feel the kernel rattling inside. The man who is freed from maya is like a ripe and dry coconut. He feels the soul to be separated from the body. They are no longer connected with each other.
“It is the ‘I’ that creates all the trouble. Won’t this wretched ego ever leave a person? You see a peepal-tree growing from the rubbish of a tumble-down house. You cut it down today, but tomorrow you find a new sprout shooting up. It is the same with the ego. You may wash seven times a cup that onions have been kept in, but the wretched smell never leaves it.”
In the course of the conversation he said to Keshab: “Well, Keshab, I understand that your Calcutta babus say that God does not exist. Is that true? A Calcutta babu wants to climb the stairs. He takes one step, but before taking the next he cries out: ‘Oh, my side! My side!’ and drops down unconscious. His relatives raise a hue and cry and send for a doctor; but before the doctor arrives the man is very likely dead. And people of such stamina say, ‘There is no God’!”
After an hour or so the kirtan began. What I saw then I shall never forget either in this life or in the lives to come. Everybody danced, Keshab included. The Master was in the centre. All danced around him in a circle. During the dancing Sri Ramakrishna suddenly stood motionless, transfixed in samadhi. A long time passed this way. After hearing his words and seeing all this, I said to myself, “Yes, a paramahamsa indeed!”
Another day, probably in 1883, I visited the Master with a few young men from Srerampore. Looking at them, he asked, “Why have they come here?”
MYSELF: “To see you.”
MASTER: “What’s there to see in me? Why don’t they look at the buildings and temples?”
MYSELF: “Sir, they haven’t come to see those things. They have come to see you.”
MASTER: “Ah! Then they must be flints. There is fire in them. You may keep a flint under water a thousand years, but the moment you strike it, sparks come out. They must be of that type. But it will be useless to try to strike fire out of me!”
At this last remark we all laughed. I do not recall now what other things he said to us that day. But it seems to me he told us about the renunciation of “woman and gold” and the impossibility of getting rid of the ego.
I visited him another day. When I bowed down to him and took a seat, he said, “Can you bring me some of that stuff — a little sour, a little sweet — that begins to fizz when you push down the cork?”
MASTER: “Why don’t you bring a bottle for me?”
I think I brought him a bottle. So far as I remember, I was alone with him that day. I asked him a few questions.
MYSELF: “Do you observe caste?”
MASTER: “How can I say yes? I ate curry at Keshab Sen’s house. Let me tell you what once happened to me. A man with a long beard (Perhaps the Master meant a Mohammedan) brought some ice here, but I didn’t feel like eating it. A little later someone brought me a piece of ice from the same man, and I ate it with great relish. You see, caste restrictions fall away of themselves. As coconut and palm trees grow up, the branches drop off of themselves. Caste conventions drop off like that. But don’t tear them off as those fools do [meaning the Brahmos].”
MYSELF “What do you think of Keshab Babu?”
MASTER “Oh, he is a saintly man.”
MYSELF “And Trailokya Babu?”
MASTER “A fine man. He sings very well.”
MYSELF “Shivanath Babu?”
MASTER “… A very good man. But he argues.”
MYSELF “What is the difference between a Hindu and a Brahmo?”
MASTER “There is not much difference. In the serenade we have here, one flutist plays a single note right along, while another plays various melodies. The Brahmos play one note, as it were; they hold to the formless aspect of God. But the Hindus bring out different melodies; that is to say, they enjoy God in His various aspects.
“The formless Deity and God with form may be likened to water and ice. The water freezes into ice. The ice melts into water through the heat of jnana. Water takes the form of ice through the cooling influence of bhakti.
“The Reality is one. People give It various names. Take the case of a lake with four landing-ghats on its four banks. People who draw water at one ghat call it ‘jal’, and those who draw it at the second gnat call it ‘pani’. At the third ghat they call it ‘water’, and at the fourth, ‘aqua’. But it is one and the same thing: water.”
I told the Master that I had met Achalananda Tirthavadhuta of Barisal.
MASTER “Isn’t that Ramkumar of Kotrang?”
MYSELF “Yes, sir.”
MASTER “How did you like him?”
MYSELF “Very much.”
MASTER “Well, whom do you like better — him or me?”
MYSELF “Oh, can there be any comparison between you two? He is a scholar, an erudite person; but are you one?”
Sri Ramakrishna was a little puzzled at my reply and became silent. A moment later I said: “He may be a scholar, but you are full of fun! There is great fun in your company.”
At this the Master laughed and said: “Well said! Well said! Right you are!”
He asked me, “Have you seen my Panchavati?”
MYSELF: “Yes, sir.”
He told me a little of what he had practised there — his various religious austerities. He also told me about Nangta.
Then I asked him, “How can I realise God?”
MASTER; “You see. He is constantly attracting us, as a magnet attracts iron. But the iron cannot come to the magnet if it is covered with dirt. When the dirt is washed away, the iron is instantly drawn to the magnet. Weep for God and the tears will wash away the dirt from your mind.”
As I was writing down his words, he remarked: “Look here. Only repeating the word ‘siddhi’ will not produce intoxication. You must actually get some hemp, rub it in water, and then drink the solution. . . .”
Later he said: “Since you are going to lead a householder’s life, create a roseate intoxication in your mind with the thought of God. You will be doing your duties, but let that pleasant intoxication remain with you. You cannot, of course, like Sukadeva, be so inebriated with the thought of God that you will lie naked and unconscious. As long as you have to live in the world, give God the power of attorney. Make over all your responsibilities to Him; let Him do as He likes. Live in the world like a maidservant in a rich man’s house. She bathes her master’s children, washes them, feeds them, and takes affectionate care of them in many ways, as if they were her own children; but in her heart she knows very well that they do not belong to her. No sooner is she dismissed than all is over; she has no more relationship with the children.
“Before breaking open the jack-fruit you should rub your hands with oil in order to protect them from the sticky juice. Likewise, protect yourself with the oil of devotion; then the world will not cling to you and you will not be affected by it.”
All this time Sri Ramakrishna was seated on the floor. Now he got up and stretched himself on his cot.
He said to me, “Fan me a little.”
I began to fan him and he was silent.
After a while he said: “Oh, it’s so hot! Why don’t you dip the fan in water?”
“Ah!” I said. “You have your fancies, too!”
The Master smiled and drawled out, “And — why — not?”
“Very well!” I said. “Have your full measure of them.”
I cannot express in words how immensely I enjoyed his company that day.
The last time I visited him — you have mentioned it in the third part of your book (Under May 23, 1885) — I had with me the headmaster of our school, who had just then graduated. You met him the other day. As soon as Sri Ramakrishna saw him, he asked me: “Where did you pick him up? He’s a fine fellow!”
Then he continued: “You are a lawyer. You are very clever. Can you give me a little of your cleverness? The other day your father came here and stayed three days.”
MYSELF “How did you find him?”
MASTER “A nice man. But now and then he talks nonsense.”
MYSELF “Please help him get over it when you see him next.”
At this Sri Ramakrishna smiled a little.
MYSELF “Please give us a few instructions.”
MASTER “Do you know Hriday?”
MYSELF “Your nephew? I know him only by name.”
MASTER “Hriday used to say to me: ‘Uncle, please don’t give out your stock of instructions all at once. Why should you repeat the same things over and over again?’ I would reply: ‘You fool, what’s that to you? These are my words and if I like I shall repeat them a hundred thousand times. You keep quiet!'”
MYSELF (smiling): “Exactly so!”
A little later he sat up on the bed. He repeated “Om” several times and began to sing a song whose first line is:
Dive deep, 0 mind, dive deep in the Ocean of God’s Beauty.
Hardly had he sung one or two lines when he himself dived deep and was lost in samadhi.
When the samadhi was over, he began to pace the room and with both hands pulled up the cloth he was wearing, till it reached his waist. One end of it was trailing on the floor and the other was hanging loose.
Nudging my companion, I whispered, “See how nicely he wears his cloth!”
A moment later he threw away the cloth, with the words: “Ugh! What a nuisance! Off with it!”
He began to pace up and down the room naked. From the northern end of the room he brought an umbrella and a stick, and asked us, “Are these yours?”
Scarcely had I replied no when he said: “I knew it. I can judge a man by his stick and umbrella. They must belong to that man who was here some time ago and swallowed a lot of my words without understanding them.”
A few minutes later he sat down, still naked, on the northern end of his cot, facing the west, and asked me, “Well, do you consider me ungentlemanly?”
MYSELF: “Of course not. You are a perfect gentleman. But why do you ask me that?”
MASTER: “You see, Shivanath and others don’t think I am a gentleman. When they come I have to wrap a cloth or something around me. Do you know Girish Ghosh?”
MYSELF “Which Girish Ghosh? The one who is in the theatre?”
MYSELF “I have never seen him. But I know him by reputation.”
MASTER “A good man.”
MYSELF “They say he drinks.”
MASTER “Let him! Let him! How long will he continue that? Do you know Narendra?”
MYSELF “No, sir.”
MASTER “I wish very much that you could meet him. He has passed the B. A. examination and is unmarried.”
MYSELF “Very well, sir. I shall meet him.”
MASTER “Today there will be a kirtan at Ram Dutta’s house. You may meet him there. Please go there this evening.”
MYSELF “All right.”
MASTER “Yes, do. Don’t forget.”
MYSELF “It is your command. Shall I not obey it? Surely I will go.”
He showed us the pictures in his room and asked me whether a picture of Buddha could be had.
MYSELF: “Very likely.”
MASTER: “Please get one for me.”
MYSELF: “Very well. I’ll bring one when I come again.” But alas, I never returned to Dakshineswar.
That evening I went to Ram Babu’s house and met Narendra. In one of the rooms the Master sat reclining against a pillow. Narendra sat at his right, and I in front.
He asked Narendra to talk with me. But Narendra said: “I have a bad headache today. I don’t feel like talking.”
I replied, “Then let us put it off till another day.”
And that came to pass in May or June of 1897, at Almora. The will of the Master had to be fulfilled, and it was fulfilled after twelve years. Ah, how happily I spent those few days with Swami Vivekananda at Almora! Sometimes at his house, sometimes at mine, and one day on the top of a hill with nobody accompanying us. I never met him after that. It was as if to fulfil the Master’s wish that we saw each other at Almora.
I saw the Master not more than four or five times; but in that short time we became so intimate that I felt as if we had been class-mates. How much liberty I took while speaking with him! But no sooner had I left his presence than it flashed on me: “Goodness gracious! Think where I have been!” What I saw and received in those few days has sweetened my whole life. That Elysian smile of his, laden with nectar, I have locked up in the secret closet of my memory. That is the unending treasure of a hapless person like myself. A thrill of joy passes through my heart when I think how a grain of the bliss shed from that laughter has been sweetening the lives of millions, even in distant America. If that be my case, you may very well understand how lucky you are.