M.’s first visit to the Master — Formalities and essentials of religion — Second visit — Master’s love for Keshab — Sri Ramakrishna on M.’s marriage — God with and without form — God and the clay image — God the only real teacher — Need of holy company — Meditation in solitude — God and worldly duties — Practice of discrimination — How to see God — Longing and yearning — Third visit — Narendra — How the spiritually minded should look upon the worldly — God in every being — Parable of the “elephant God”— How to deal with the wicked — Parable of the snake — Four classes of men — Redeeming power of faith — Parable of the homa bird — Master praises Narendra — Fourth visit — The peacock and the opium — Hanuman’s devotion to Rama.
IT WAS ON A SUNDAY in spring, a few days after Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday, that M. met him the first time. Sri Ramakrishna lived at the Kalibari, the temple garden of Mother Kali, on the bank or the Ganges at Dakshineswar.
M., being at leisure on Sundays, had gone with his friend Sidhu to visit several gardens at Baranagore. As they were walking in Prasanna Bannerji’s garden, Sidhu said: “There is a charming place on the bank of the Ganges where a paramahamsa lives. Should you like to go there?” M. assented and they started immediately for the Dakshineswar temple garden. They arrived at the main gate at dusk and went straight to Sri Ramakrishna’s room. And there they found him seated on a wooden couch, facing the east. With a smile on his face he was talking of God. The room was full of people, all seated on the floor, drinking in his words in deep silence.
M. stood there speechless and looked on. It was as if he were standing where all the holy places met and as if Sukadeva himself were speaking the word of God, or as it Sri Chaitanya were singing the name and glories of the Lord in Puri with Ramananda, Swarup, and the other devotees.
Sri Ramakrishna said: “When, hearing the name of Hari or Rama once, you shed tears and your hair stands on end, then you may know for certain that you do not have to perform such devotions as the sandhya any more. Then only will you have a right to renounce rituals; or rather, rituals will drop away of themselves. Then it will be enough it you repeat only the name of Rama or Hari, or even simply Om.” Continuing, he said, “The sandhya merges in the Gayatri, and the Gayatri merges in Om.”
M. looked around him with wonder and said to himself: “What a beautiful place! What a charming man! How beautiful his words are! I have no wish to move from this spot,” After a few minutes he thought, “Let me see the place first; then I’ll come back here and sit down.”
As he left the room with Sidhu, he heard the sweet music of the evening service arising in the temple from gong, bell, drum, and cymbal. He could hear music from the nahabat, too, at the south end of the garden. The sounds travelled over the Ganges, floating away and losing themselves in the distance. A soft spring wind was blowing, laden with the fragrance of flowers; the moon had just appeared. It was as if nature and man together were preparing for the evening worship. M. and Sidhu visited the twelve Siva temples, the Radhakanta temple, and the temple of Bhavatarini. And as M. watched the services before the images his heart was filled with joy.
On the way back to Sri Ramakrishna’s room the two friends talked. Sidhu told M. that the temple garden had been founded by Rani Rasmani. He said that God was worshipped there daily as Kali, Krishna, and Siva, and that within the gates many sadhus and beggars were fed. When they reached Sri Ramakrishna’s door again, they found it shut, and Brinde, the maid, standing outside. M., who had been trained in English manners and would not enter a room without permission, asked her, “Is the holy man in?” Brinde replied, “Yes, he’s in the room.”
M: “How long has he lived here?”
BRINDE: “Oh, he has been here a long time.”
M: “Does he read many books?”
BRINDE: “Books? Oh, dear no! They’re all on his tongue.”
M. had just finished his studies in college. It amazed him to hear that Sri Ramakrishna read no books.
M: “Perhaps it is time for his evening worship. May we go into the room? Will you tell him we are anxious to see him?”
BRINDE: “Go right in, children. Go in and sit down.”
Entering the room, they found Sri Ramakrishna alone, seated on the wooden couch. Incense had just been burnt and all the doors were shut. As he entered, M. with folded hands saluted the Master. Then, at the Master’s bidding, he and Sidhu sat on the floor. Sri Ramakrishna asked them: “Where do you live? What is your occupation? Why have you come to Baranagore?” M. answered the questions, but he noticed that now and then the Master seemed to become absent-minded. Later he learnt that this mood is called bhava, ecstasy. It is like the state of the angler who has been sitting with his rod: the fish comes and swallows the bait, and the float begins to tremble; the angler is on the alert; he grips the rod and watches the float steadily and eagerly; he will not speak to anyone. Such was the state of Sri Ramakrishna’s mind. Later M. heard, and himself noticed, that Sri Ramakrishna would often go into this mood after dusk, sometimes becoming totally unconscious of the outer world.
M: “Perhaps you want to perform your evening worship. In that case may we take our leave?”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA (still in ecstasy): “No — evening worship? No, it is not exactly that.”
After a little conversation M. saluted the Master and took his leave. “Come again”, Sri Ramakrishna said.
On his way home M. began to wonder: “Who is this serene-looking man who is drawing me back to him? Is it possible for a man to be great without being a scholar? How wonderful it is! I should like to see him again. He himself said, ‘Come again.’ I shall go tomorrow or the day after.”
M.’s second visit to Sri Ramakrishna took place on the southeast verandah at eight o’clock in the morning. The Master was about to be shaved, the barber having just arrived. As the cold season still lingered he had put on a moleskin shawl bordered with red. Seeing M., the Master said: “So you have come. That’s good. Sit down here.” He was smiling. He stammered a little when he spoke.
SRI RAMAKRISHNA (to M.): “Where do you live?”
M: “In Calcutta, sir.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA: “Where are you staying here?”
M: “I am at Baranagore at my older sister’s — Ishan Kaviraj’s house.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA: “Oh, at Ishan’s? Well, how is Keshab now? He was very ill.”
M: “Indeed, I have heard so too, but I believe he is well now.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA: “I made a vow to worship the Mother with green coconut and sugar on Keshab’s recovery. Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I would wake up and cry before Her: ‘Mother, please make Keshab well again. If Keshab doesn’t live, whom shall I talk with when I go to Calcutta?’ And so it was that I resolved to offer Her the green coconut and sugar.
“Tell me, do you know of a certain Mr. Cook who has come to Calcutta? Is it true that he is giving lectures? Once Keshab took me on a steamer, and this Mr. Cook, too, was in the party.”
M: “Yes, sir, I have heard something like that; but I have never been to his lectures. I don’t know much about him.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA: “Pratap’s brother came here. He stayed a few days. He had nothing to do and said he wanted to live here. I came to know that he had left his wife and children with his father-in-law. He has a whole brood of them! So I took him to task. Just fancy! He is the father of so many children! Will people from the neighbourhood feed them and bring them up? He isn’t even ashamed that someone else is feeding his wife and children, and that they have been left at his father-in-law’s house. I scolded him very hard and asked him to look for a job. Then he was willing to leave here.
“Are you married?”
M: “Yes, sir.”
SRI RAMAKRISHNA (with a shudder): “Oh, Ramlal!’ (A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, and a priest in the Kali temple.) Alas, he is married!”
Like one guilty of a terrible offence, M. sat motionless; his eyes fixed on the ground. He thought, “Is it such a wicked thing to get married?”
The Master continued, “Have you any children?”
M. this time could hear the beating of his own-heart. He whispered in a trembling voice, “Yes, sir, I have children.”
Very sadly Sri Ramakrishna said, “Ah me! He even has children!”
Thus rebuked M. sat speechless. His pride had received a blow. After a few minutes Sri Ramakrishna looked at him kindly and said affectionately; “You see, you have certain good signs. I know them by looking at a person’s forehead, his eyes, and so on. Tell me, now, what kind of person is your wife? Has she spiritual attributes, or is she under the power of avidya?”
M: “She is all right. But I am afraid she is ignorant.”
MASTER (with evident displeasure): “And you are a man of knowledge!”
M. had yet to learn the distinction between knowledge and ignorance. Up to this time his conception had been that one got knowledge from books and schools. Later on he gave up this false conception. He was taught that to know God is knowledge, and not to know Him, ignorance. When Sri Ramakrishna exclaimed, “And you are a man of knowledge!”, M.’s ego was again badly shocked.
MASTER: “Well, do you believe in God with form or without form?”
M., rather surprised, said to himself: “How can one believe in God without form when one believes in God with form? And if one believes in God without form, how can one believe that God has a form? Can these two contradictory ideas be true at the same time? Can a white liquid like milk be black?”
M: “Sir, I like to think of God as formless.”
MASTER: “Very good. It is enough to have faith in either aspect. You believe in God without form; that is quite all right. But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form. But hold fast to your own conviction.”
The assertion that both are equally true amazed M.; he had never learnt this from his books. Thus his ego received a third blow; but since it was not yet completely crushed, he came forward to argue with the Master a little more.
M: “Sir, suppose one believes in God with form. Certainly He is not the clay image!”
MASTER (interrupting): “But why clay? It is an image of Spirit.”
M. could not quite understand the significance of this “image of Spirit”. “But, sir,” he said to the Master, “one should explain to those who worship the clay image that it is not God, and that, while worshipping it, they should have God in view and not the clay image. One should not worship clay.”
MASTER (sharply): “That’s the one hobby of you Calcutta people — giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others?
“He who is the Lord of the Universe will teach everyone. He alone teaches us, who has created this universe; who has made the sun and moon”, men and beasts, and all other beings; who has provided means for their sustenance; who has given children parents and endowed them with love to bring them up. The Lord has done so many things — will He not show people the way to worship Him? If they need teaching, then He will be the Teacher. He is our Inner Guide.
“Suppose there is an error in worshipping the clay image; doesn’t God know that through it He alone is being invoked? He will be pleased with that very worship. Why should you get a headache over it? You had better try for knowledge and devotion yourself.”
This time M. felt that his ego was completely crushed. He now said to himself: “Yes, he has spoken the truth. What need is there for me to teach others? Have I known God? Do I really love Him? ‘I haven’t room enough for myself in my bed, and I am inviting my friend to share it with me!’ I know nothing about God, yet I am trying to teach others. What a shame! How foolish I am! This is not mathematics or history or literature, that one can teach it to others. No, this is the deep mystery of God; What he says appeals to me.
This was M.’s first argument with the Master, and happily his last. MASTER: “You were talking of worshipping the clay image. Even if the image is made of clay, there is need for that sort of worship. God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge.
“The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares various dishes from it — pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so on — to suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.
“Do you understand me?”
M. (humbly’): “Yes, sir. How, sir, may we fix our minds on God?”
MASTER: “Repeat God’s name and sing His glories, and keep holy company; and now and then visit God’s devotees and holy men. The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities; it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practises meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle.
“To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest. And you should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.”
M. (humbly): “How ought we to live in the world?”
MASTER: “Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live with all — with wife and children, father and mother — and serve them. Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you.
A maidservant in the house of a rich man performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village. She brings up her master’s children as if they were her own. She even speaks of them as ‘my Rama’ or ‘my Hari’. But in her own mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all.
The tortoise moves about in the water. But can you guess where her thoughts are? There on the bank, where her eggs are lying. Do all your duties in the world, but keep your mind on God.
If you enter the world without first cultivating love for God, you will be entangled more and more. You will be overwhelmed with its danger, its grief its sorrows. And the more you think of worldly things, the more you will be attached to them.
“First rub your hands with oil and then break open the jack-fruit; otherwise they will be smeared with its sticky milk. First secure the oil of divine love, and then set your hands to the duties of the world.
“But one must go into solitude to attain this divine love. To get butter from milk you must let it set into curd in a secluded spot: if it is too much disturbed, milk won’t turn into curd. Next, you must put aside all other duties, sit in a quiet spot, and churn the curd. Only then do you get butter.
“Further, by meditating on God in solitude the mind acquires knowledge, dispassion, and devotion. But the very same mind goes downward if it dwells in the world. In the world there is only one thought: ‘woman and gold’.1
“The world is water and the mind milk. If you pour milk into water they become one; you cannot find the pure milk any more. But turn the milk into curd and churn it into butter. Then, when that butter is placed in water, it will float. So, practise spiritual discipline in solitude and obtain the butter of knowledge and love. Even if you keep that butter in the water of the world the two will not mix. The butter will float.
“Together with this, you must practise discrimination. ‘Woman and gold’ is impermanent. God is the only Eternal Substance. What does a man get with money? Food, clothes, and a dwelling-place — nothing more. You cannot realise God with its help. Therefore money can never be the goal of life. That is the process of discrimination. Do you understand?”
M: “Yes, sir. I recently read a Sanskrit play called Prabodha Chandrodaya. It deals with discrimination.”
MASTER: “Yes, discrimination about objects. Consider — what is there in money or in a beautiful body? Discriminate and you will find that even the body of a beautiful woman consists of bones, flesh, fat, and other disagreeable things. Why should a man give up God and direct his attention to such things? Why should a man forget God for their sake?”
M: “Is it possible to see God?”
MASTER: “Yes, certainly. Living in solitude now and then, repeating God’s name and singing His glories, and discriminating between the Real and the unreal — these are the means to employ to see Him.”
M: “Under what conditions does one see God?”
MASTER: “Cry to the Lord with an intensely yearning heart and you will certainly see Him. People shed a whole jug of tears for wife and children. They swim in tears for money. But who weeps for God? Cry to Him with a real cry.”
The Master sang:
Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind!
And how can She hold Herself from you?
How can Syama stay away?
How can your Mother Kali hold Herself away?
O mind, if you are in earnest, bring Her an offering
Of bel-leaves and hibiscus flowers;
Lay at Her feet your offering
And with it mingle the fragrant sandal-paste of Love.
Continuing, he said: “Longing is like the rosy dawn. After the dawn out comes the sun. Longing is followed by the vision of God.
“God reveals Himself to a devotee who feels drawn to Him by the combined force of these three attractions: the attraction of worldly possessions for the worldly man, the child’s attraction for its mother, and the husband’s attraction for the chaste wife. If one feels drawn to Him by the combined force of these three attractions, then through it one can attain Him.
“The point is, to love God even as the mother loves her child, the chaste wife her husband, and the worldly man his wealth. Add together these three forces of love, these three powers of attraction, and give it all to God. Then you will certainly see Him.
“It is necessary to pray to Him with a longing heart. The kitten knows only how to call its mother, crying, ‘Mew, mew!’ It remains satisfied wherever its mother puts it. And the mother cat puts the kitten sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes on the floor, and sometimes on the bed. When it suffers it cries only, ‘Mew, mew!’ That’s all it knows. But as soon as the mother hears this cry, wherever she may be, she comes to the kitten.”
It was Sunday afternoon when M. came on his third visit to the Master. He had been profoundly impressed by his first two visits to this wonderful man. He had been thinking of the Master constantly, and of the utterly simple way he explained the deep truths of the spiritual life. Never before had he met such a man.
Sri Ramakrishna was sitting on the small couch. The room was filled with devotees,2 who had taken advantage of the holiday to come to see the Master. M. had not yet become acquainted with any of them; so he took his seat in a corner. The Master smiled as he talked with the devotees.
He addressed his words particularly to a young man of nineteen, named Narendranath, (Subsequently world-famous as Swami Vivekananda.) who was a college student and frequented the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. His eyes were bright, his words were full of spirit, and he had the look of a lover of God.
M. guessed that the conversation was about worldly men, who look down on those who aspire to spiritual things. The Master was talking about the great number of such people in the world, and about how to deal with them.
MASTER (to Narendra): “How do you feel about it? Worldly people say all kinds of things about the spiritually minded. But look here! When an elephant moves along the street, any number of curs and other small animals may bark and cry after it; but the elephant doesn’t even look back at them. If people speak ill of you, what will you think of them?”
NARENDRA: “I shall think that dogs are barking at me.”
MASTER (smiling): “Oh, no! You mustn’t go that far, my child! (Laughter.) God dwells in all beings. But you may be intimate only with good people; you must keep away from the evil-minded. God is even in the tiger; but you cannot embrace the tiger on that account. (Laughter.) You may say, ‘Why run away from a tiger, which is also a manifestation of God?’ The answer to that is: ‘Those who tell you to run away are also manifestations of God — and why shouldn’t you listen to them?’
“Let me tell you a story. In a forest there lived a holy man who had many disciples. One day he taught them to see God in all beings and, knowing this, to bow low before them all. A disciple went to the forest to gather wood for the sacrificial fire. Suddenly he heard an outcry: ‘Get out of the way! A mad elephant is coming!’ All but the disciple of the holy man took to their heels. He reasoned that the elephant was also God in another form. Then why should he run away from it? He stood still, bowed before the animal, and began to sing its praises. The mahut of the elephant was shouting: ‘Run away! Run away!’ But the disciple didn’t move. The animal seized him with its trunk, cast him to one side, and went on its way. Hurt and bruised, the disciple lay unconscious on the ground. Hearing what had happened, his teacher and his brother disciples came to him and carried him to the hermitage. With the help of some medicine he soon regained consciousness. Someone asked him, ‘You knew the elephant was coming — why didn’t you leave the place?’ ‘But’, he said, ‘our teacher has told us that God Himself has taken all these forms, of animals as well as men. Therefore, thinking it was only the elephant God that was coming, I didn’t run away.’ At this the teacher said: ‘Yes, my child, it is true that the elephant God was coming; but the mahut God forbade you to stay there. Since all are manifestations of God, why didn’t you trust the mahut’s words? You should have heeded the words of the mahut God.’ (Laughter.) “It is said in the scriptures that water is a form of God. But some water is fit to be used for worship, some water tor washing the face, and some only for washing plates or dirty linen. This last sort cannot be used for drinking or for a holy purpose. In like manner, God undoubtedly dwells in the hearts of all — holy and unholy, righteous and unrighteous; but a man should not have dealings with the unholy, the wicked, the impure. He must not be intimate with them. With some of them he may exchange words, but with others he shouldn’t go even that far. He should keep aloof from such people.”
A DEVOTEE: “Sir, if a wicked man is about to do harm, or actually does so, should we keep quiet then?”
MASTER; “A man living in society should make a show of tamas to protect himself from evil-minded people. But he should not harm anybody in anticipation of harm likely to be done him.
“Listen to a story. Some cowherd boys used to tend their cows in a meadow where a terrible poisonous snake lived. Everyone was on the alert for fear of it. One day a brahmachari was going along the meadow. The boys ran to him and said; ‘Revered sir, please don’t go that way. A venomous snake lives over there.’ ‘What of it, my good children?’ said the brahmachari. ‘I am not afraid of the snake. I know some mantras.’ So saying, he continued on his way along the meadow. But the cowherd boys, being afraid, did not accompany him. In the mean time the snake moved swiftly toward him with upraised hood. As soon as it came near, he recited a mantra, and the snake lay at his feet like an earthworm. The brahmachari said: ‘Look here. Why do you go about doing harm? Come, I will give you a holy word. By repeating it you will learn to love God. Ultimately you will realise Him and so get rid of your violent nature.’ Saying this, he taught the snake a holy word and initiated him into spiritual life. The snake bowed before the teacher and said, ‘Revered sir, how shall I practise spiritual discipline?’ ‘Repeat that sacred word’, said the teacher, ‘and do no harm to anybody.’ As he was about to depart, the brahmachari said, ‘I shall see you again.’
“Some days passed and the cowherd boys noticed that the snake would not bite. They threw stones at it. Still it showed no anger; it behaved as if it were an earthworm. One day one of the boys came close to it, caught it by the tail, and, whirling it round and round, dashed it again and again on the ground and threw it away. The snake vomited blood and became unconscious. It was stunned. It could not move. So, thinking it dead, the boys went their way.
“Late at night the snake regained consciousness. Slowly and with great difficulty it dragged itself into its hole; its bones were broken and it could scarcely move. Many days passed. The snake became a mere skeleton covered with a skin. Now and then, at night, it would come out in search of food. For fear of the boys it would not leave its hole during the day-time. Since receiving the sacred word from the teacher, it had given up doing harm to others. It maintained its life on dirt, leaves, or the fruit that dropped from the trees.
“About a year later the brahmachari came that way again and asked after the snake. The cowherd boys told him that it was dead. But he couldn’t believe them. He knew that the snake would not die before attaining the fruit of the holy word with which it had been initiated. He found his way to the place and, searching here and there, called it by the name he had given it. Hearing the teacher’s voice, it came out of its hole and bowed before him with great reverence. ‘How are you?’ asked the brahmachari. ‘I am well, sir’, replied the snake. ‘But’, the teacher asked, ‘why are you so thin?’ The snake replied: ‘Revered sir, you ordered me not to harm anybody. So I have been living only on leaves and fruit. Perhaps that has made me thinner.’
“The snake had developed the quality of sattva; it could not be angry with anyone. It had totally forgotten that the cowherd boys had almost killed it.
“The brahmachari said: ‘It can’t be mere want of food that has reduced you to this state. There must be some other reason. Think a little.’ Then the snake remembered that the boys had dashed it against the ground. It said: ‘Yes, revered sir, now I remember. The boys one day dashed me violently against the ground. They are ignorant, after all. They didn’t realise what a great change had come over my mind. How could they know I wouldn’t bite or harm anyone?’ The brahmachari exclaimed: ‘What a shame! You are such a fool! You don’t know how to protect yourself. I asked you not to bite, but I didn’t forbid you to hiss. Why didn’t you scare them by hissing?’
“So you must hiss at wicked people. You must frighten them lest they should do you harm. But never inject your venom into them. One must not injure others.
“In this creation of God there is a variety of things: men, animals, trees, plants. Among the animals some are good, some bad. There are ferocious animals like the tiger. Some trees bear fruit sweet as nectar, and others bear fruit that is poisonous. Likewise, among human beings, there are the good and the wicked, the holy and the unholy. There are some who are devoted to God, and others who are attached to the world.
“Men may be divided into four classes: those bound by the fetters of the world, the seekers after liberation, the liberated, and the ever-free.
“Among the ever-free we may count sages like Narada. They live in the world for the good of others, to teach men spiritual truth.
“Those in bondage are sunk in worldliness and forgetful of God. Not even by mistake do they think of God.
“The seekers after liberation want to free themselves from attachment to the world. Some of them succeed and others do not.
“The liberated souls, such as the sadhus and mahatmas, are not entangled in the world, in ‘woman and gold’. Their minds are free from worldliness. Besides, they always meditate on the Lotus Feet of God.
“Suppose a net has been cast into a lake to catch fish. Some fish are so clever that they are never caught in the net. They are like the ever-free. But most of the fish are entangled in the net. Some of them try to free themselves from it, and they are like those who seek liberation. But not all the fish that struggle succeed; A very few do jump out of the net, making a big splash in the water. Then the fishermen shout, ‘Look! There goes a big one!’ But most of the fish caught in the net cannot escape, nor do they make any effort to get out. On the contrary, they burrow into the mud with the net in their mouths and lie there quietly, thinking, ‘We need not fear any more; we are quite safe here.’ But the poor things do not know that the fishermen will drag them out with the net. These are like the men bound to the world.
“The bound souls are tied to the world by the fetters of ‘woman and gold’. They are bound hand and-foot. Thinking that ‘woman and gold’ will make them happy and give them security, they do not realise that it will lead them to annihilation. When a man thus bound to the world is about to die, his wife asks, ‘You are about to go; but what have you done for me?’ Again, such is his attachment to the things of the world that, when he sees the lamp burning brightly, he says: ‘Dim the light. Too much oil is being used.’ And he is on his death-bed!
“The bound souls never think of God. If they get any leisure they indulge in idle gossip and foolish talk, or they engage in fruitless work. If you ask one of them the reason, he answers, ‘Oh, I cannot keep still; so I am making a hedge,’ When time hangs heavy on their hands they perhaps start playing cards.”
There was deep silence in the room.
A DEVOTEE: “Sir, is there no help, then, for such a worldly person?”
MASTER: “Certainly there is. From time to time he should live in the company of holy men, and from time to time go into solitude to meditate on God. Furthermore, he should practise discrimination and pray to God, ‘Give me faith and devotion.’ Once a person has faith he has achieved everything. There is nothing greater than faith.
(To Kedar) “You must have heard about the tremendous power of faith. It is said in the Purana that Rama, who was God Himself — the embodiment of Absolute Brahman — had to build a bridge to cross the sea to Ceylon. But Hanuman, trusting in Rama’s name, cleared the sea in one jump and reached the other side. He had no need of a bridge. (All laugh.) “Once a man was about to cross the sea. Bibhishana wrote Rama’s name on a leaf, tied it in a corner of the man’s wearing-cloth, and said to him: ‘Don’t be afraid. Have faith and walk on the water. But look here — the moment you lose faith you will be drowned.’ The man was walking easily on the water. Suddenly he had an intense desire to see what was tied in his cloth. He opened it and found only a leaf with the name of Rama written on it. ‘What is this?’ he thought. ‘Just the name of Rama!’ As soon as doubt entered his mind he sank under the water.
“If a man has faith in God, then even if he has committed the most heinous sins — such as killing a cow, a brahmin, or a woman — he will certainly be saved through his faith. Let him only say to God, ‘O Lord,! will not repeat such an action’, and he need not be afraid of anything.”
When he had said this, the Master sang:
If only I can pass away repeating Durga’s name,
How canst Thou then, O Blessed One,
Withhold from me deliverance,
Wretched though I may be?
I may have stolen a drink of wine, or killed a child unborn,
Or slain a woman or a cow,
Or even caused a brahmin’s death;
But, though it all be true,
Nothing of this can make me feel the least uneasiness;
For through the power of Thy sweet name
My wretched soul may still aspire
Even to Brahmanhood.
Pointing to Narendra, the Master said: “You all see this boy. He behaves that way here. A naughty boy seems very gentle when with his father. But he is quite another person when he plays in the chandni. Narendra and people of his type belong to the class of the ever-free. They are never entangled in the world. When they grow a little older they feel the awakening of inner consciousness and go directly toward God. They come to the world only to teach others. They never care for anything of the world. They are never attached to ‘woman and gold’.
“The Vedas speak of the homa bird. It lives high up in the sky and there it lays its egg. As soon as the egg is laid it begins to fall; but it is so high up that it continues to fall for many days. As it falls it hatches, and the chick falls. As the chick falls its eyes open; it grows wings. As soon as its eyes open, it realises that it is falling and will be dashed to pieces on touching the earth. Then it at once shoots up toward the mother bird high in the sky.”
At this point Narendra left the room. Kedar, Prankrishna, M., and many others remained.
MASTER: “You see, Narendra excels in singing, playing on instruments, study, and everything. The other day he had a discussion with Kedar and tore his arguments to shreds. (All laugh.)
(To M.) “Is there any book in English on reasoning?”
M: “Yes, sir, there is. It is called Logic.”
MASTER: “Tell me what it says.”
M. was a little embarrassed. He said: “One part of the book deals with deduction from the general to the particular. For example: All men are mortal. Scholars are men. Therefore scholars are mortal. Another part deals with the method of reasoning from the particular to the general. For example: This crow is black. That crow is black. The crows we see everywhere are black. Therefore all crows are black. But there may be a fallacy in a conclusion arrived at in this way; for on inquiry one may find a white crow in some country. There is another illustration: If there is rain, there is or has been a cloud. Therefore rain comes from a cloud. Still another example: This man has thirty-two teeth. That man has thirty-two teeth. All the men we see have thirty-two teeth. Therefore men have thirty-two teeth. English logic deals with such inductions and deductions.”
Sri Ramakrishna barely heard these words. While listening he became absent-minded. So the conversation did not proceed far.
When the meeting broke up, the devotees sauntered in the temple garden. M. went in the direction of the Panchavati. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon. After a while he returned to the Master’s room. There, on the small north verandah, he witnessed an amazing sight.
Sri Ramakrishna was standing still, surrounded by a few devotees, and Narendra was singing. M. had never heard anyone except the Master sing so sweetly. When he looked at Sri Ramakrishna he was struck with wonder; for the Master stood motionless, with eyes transfixed. He seemed not even to breathe. A devotee told M. that the Master was in samadhi. M. had never before seen or heard of such a thing. Silent with wonder, he thought: “Is it possible for a man to be so oblivious of the outer world in the consciousness of God? How deep his faith and devotion must be to bring about such a state!”
Narendra was singing:
Meditate, O my mind, on the Lord Hari,
The Stainless One, Pure Spirit through and through.
How peerless is the Light that in Him shines!
How soul-bewitching is His wondrous form!
How dear is He to all His devotees!
Ever more beauteous in fresh-blossoming love
That shames the splendour of a million moons,
Like lightning gleams the glory of His form,
Raising erect the hair for very joy.
The Master shuddered when this last line was sung. His hair stood on end, and tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. Now and then his lips parted in a smile. Was he seeing the peerless beauty of God, “that shames the splendour of a million moons”? Was this the vision of God, the Essence of Spirit? How much austerity and discipline, how much faith and devotion, must be necessary for such a vision!
The song went on:
Worship His feet in the lotus of your heart;
With mind serene and eyes made radiant
With heavenly love, behold that matchless sight.
Again that bewitching smile. The body motionless as before, the eyes half shut, as if beholding a strange inner vision.
The song drew to a close. Narendra sang the last lines:
Caught in the spell of His love’s ecstasy,
Immerse yourself for evermore, O mind,
In Him who is Pure Knowledge and Pure Bliss.
The sight of the samadhi, and the divine bliss he had witnessed, left an indelible impression on M.’s mind. He returned home deeply moved. Now and then he could hear within himself the echo of those soul-intoxicating lines:
Immerse yourself for evermore, O mind,
In Him who is Pure Knowledge and Pure Bliss.
The next day, too, was a holiday for M. He arrived at Dakshineswar at three o’clock in the afternoon. Sri Ramakrishna was in his room; Narendra, Bhavanath, and a few other devotees were sitting on a mat spread on the floor. They were all young men of nineteen or twenty. Seated on the small couch, Sri Ramakrishna was talking with them and smiling.
No sooner had M. entered the room than the Master laughed aloud and said to the boys, “There! He has come again.” They all joined in the laughter. M. bowed low before him and took a seat. Before this he had saluted the Master with folded hands, like one with an English education. But that day he learnt to fall down at his feet in orthodox Hindu fashion.
Presently the Master explained the cause of his laughter to the devotees. He said: “A man once fed a peacock with a pill of opium at four o’clock in the afternoon. The next day, exactly at that time, the peacock came back. It had felt the intoxication of the drug and returned just in time to have another dose.” (All laugh.) M. thought this a very apt illustration. Even at home he had been unable to banish the thought of Sri Ramakrishna for a moment. His mind was constantly at Dakshineswar and he had counted the minutes until he should go again.
In the mean time the Master was having great fun with the boys, treating them as if they were his most intimate friends. Peals of side-splitting laughter filled the room, as if it were a mart of joy. The whole thing was a revelation to M. He thought: “Didn’t I see him only yesterday intoxicated with God? Wasn’t he swimming then in the Ocean of Divine Love — a sight I had never seen before? And today the same person is behaving like an ordinary man! Wasn’t it he who scolded me on the first day of my coming here? Didn’t he admonish me, saying, ‘And you are a man of knowledge!’? Wasn’t it he who said to me that God with form is as true as God without form? Didn’t he tell me that God alone is real and all else illusory? Wasn’t it he who advised me to live in the world unattached, like a maidservant in a rich man’s house?”
Sri Ramakrishna was having great fun with the young devotees; now and then he glanced at M. He noticed that M. sat in silence. The Master said to Ramlal: “You see, he is a little advanced in years, and therefore somewhat serious. He sits quiet while the youngsters are making merry.” M. was then about twenty-eight years old.
The conversation drifted to Hanuman, whose picture hung on the wall in the Master’s room.
Sri Ramakrishna said: “Just imagine Hanuman’s state of mind. He didn’t care for money, honour, creature comforts, or anything else. He longed only for God. When he was running away with the heavenly weapon that had been secreted in the crystal pillar, Mandodari began to tempt him with various fruits so that he might come down and drop the weapon.3 But he couldn’t be tricked so easily. In reply to her persuasions he sang this song:
Am I in need of fruit?
I have the Fruit that makes this life
Fruitful indeed. Within my heart
The Tree of Rama grows,
Bearing salvation for its fruit.
Under the Wish-fulfilling Tree
Of Rama do I sit at ease,
Plucking whatever fruit I will.
But if you speak of fruit —
No beggar, I, for common fruit.
Behold, I go,
Leaving a bitter fruit for you.”
As Sri Ramakrishna was singing the song he went into samadhi. Again the half-closed eyes and motionless body that one sees in his photograph. Just a minute before, the devotees had been making merry in his company. Now all eyes were riveted on him. Thus for the second time M. saw the Master in samadhi.
After a long time the Master came back to ordinary consciousness. His face lighted up with a smile, and his body relaxed; his senses began to function in a normal way. He shed tears of joy as he repeated the holy name of Rama. M. wondered whether this very saint was the person who a few minutes earlier had been behaving like a child of five.
The Master said to Narendra and M., “I should like to hear you speak and argue in English.” They both laughed. But they continued to talk in their mother tongue. It was impossible for M. to argue any more before the Master. Though Sri Ramakrishna insisted, they did not talk in English.
At five o’clock in the afternoon all the devotees except Narendra and M. took leave of the Master. As M. was walking in the temple garden, he suddenly came upon the Master talking to Narendra on the bank of the goose-pond. Sri Ramakrishna said to Narendra: “Look here. Come a little more often. You are a new-comer. On first, acquaintance people visit each other quite often, as is the case with a lover and his sweetheart. (Narendra and M. laugh.) So please come, won’t you?”
Narendra, a member of the Brahmo Samaj, was very particular about his promises. He said with a smile, “Yes, sir, I shall try.”
As they were returning to the Master’s room, Sri Ramakrishna said to M.: “When peasants go to market to buy bullocks for their ploughs, they can easily tell the good from the bad by touching their tails. On being touched there, some meekly lie down on the ground. The peasants recognize that these are without mettle and so reject them. They select only those bullocks that frisk about and show spirit when their tails are touched. Narendra is like a bullock of this latter class. He is full of spirit within.”
The Master smiled as he said this, and continued: “There are some people who have no grit whatever. They are like flattened rice soaked in milk — soft and mushy. No inner strength!”
It was dusk. The Master was meditating on God. He said to M.: “Go and talk to Narendra. Then tell me what you think of him.”
Evening worship was over in the temples. M. met Narendra on the bank of the Ganges and they began to converse. Narendra told M. about his studying in college, his being a member of the Brahmo Samaj, and so on.
It was now late in the evening and time for M.’s departure; but he felt reluctant to go and instead went in search of Sri Ramakrishna. He had been fascinated by the Master’s singing and wanted to hear more. At last he found the Master pacing alone in the natmandir in front of the Kali temple. A lamp was burning in the temple on either side of the image of the Divine Mother. The single lamp in the spacious natmandir blended light and darkness into a kind of mystic twilight, in which the figure of the Master could be dimly seen.
M. had been enchanted by the Master’s sweet music. With some hesitation he asked him whether there would be any more singing that evening. “No, not tonight”, said Sri Ramakrishna after a little reflection. Then, as if remembering something, he added: “But I’m going soon to Balaram Bose’s house in Calcutta. Come there and you’ll hear me sing.” M. agreed to go.
MASTER: “Do you know Balaram Bose?”
M: “No, sir. I don’t.”
MASTER: “He lives in Bosepara.”
M: “Well, sir, I shall find him.”
As Sri Ramakrishna walked up and down the hall with M., he said to him: “Let me ask you something. What do you think of me?”
M. remained silent. Again Sri Ramakrishna asked: “What do you think of me? How many annas of knowledge of God have I?”
M: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘annas’. But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation, and catholicity anywhere.”
The Master laughed.
M. bowed low before him and took his leave. He had gone as far as the main gate of the temple garden when he suddenly remembered something and came back to Sri Ramakrishna, who was still in the natmandir. In the dim light the Master, all alone, was pacing the hall, rejoicing in the Self — as the lion lives and roams alone in the forest.
In silent wonder M. surveyed that great soul.
MASTER (to M.): “What makes you come back?”
M: “Perhaps the house you asked me to go to belongs to a rich man. They may not let me in. I think I had better not go. I would rather meet you here.”
MASTER: “Oh, no! Why should you think that? Just mention my name. Say that you want to see me; then someone will take you to me.”
M. nodded his assent and, after saluting the Master, took his leave.
- ^The term “woman and gold”, which has been used throughout in a collective sense, occurs again and again in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna to designate the chief impediments to spiritual progress. This favourite expression of the Master, “kaminikanchan”, has often been misconstrued. By it he meant only “lust and greed”, the baneful influence of which retards the aspirant’s spiritual growth. He used the word “kamini”, or “woman”, as a concrete term for the sex instinct when addressing his man devotees. He advised women, on the other hand, to shun “man”. “Kanchan”, or “gold”, symbolizes greed, which is the other obstacle to spiritual life.
Sri Ramakrishna never taught his disciples to hate any woman, or womankind in general. This can be seen clearly by going through all his teachings under this head and judging them collectively. The Master looked on all women as so many images of the Divine Mother of the Universe. He paid the highest homage to womankind by accepting a woman as his guide while practising the very profound spiritual disciplines of Tantra. His wife, known and revered as the Holy Mother, was his constant companion and first disciple. At the end of his spiritual practice he literally worshipped his wife as the embodiment of the Goddess Kali, the Divine Mother. After his passing away the Holy Mother became the spiritual guide not only of a large number of householders, but also of many monastic members of the Ramakrishna Order.
- ^The word is generally used in the text to denote one devoted to God, a worshipper of the Personal God, or a follower of the path of love. A devotee of Sri Ramakrishna is one who is devoted to Sri Ramakrishna and follows his teachings.
The word “disciple”, when used in connexion with Sri Ramakrishna, refers to one who had been initiated into spiritual life by Sri Ramakrishna and who regarded him as his guru.
- ^The story referred to here is told in the Ramayana. Ravana had received a boon as a result of which he could be killed only by a particular celestial weapon. This weapon was concealed in a crystal pillar in his palace. One day Hanuman, in the guise of an ordinary monkey, came to the palace and broke the pillar. As he was running away with the weapon, he was tempted with fruit by Mandodari, Ravana’s wife, so that he might give back the weapon. He soon assumed his own form and sang the song given in the text.