Master moved to Cossipore — Predicting his passing away — The coming of devotees — Master’s love for devotees — Significance of the Master’s illness — Different classes of devotees — The great visions — Five suppliers of the Master’s needs — Master’s foreseeing of the coming of devotees — Master and Narendra — Narendra’s yearning for God — His intense dispassion — Devotees’ detachment from the world — Brahman is beyond the gunas — Brahman and maya — Wicked ego and spiritualized ego — No liberation for Divine Incarnations — Master’s great suffering — His vision of unity — Master about himself — Master teaches Narendra Brahmajnana — “Ego of Knowledge” — Narendra and M.
Wednesday December 23, 1885
ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, Sri Ramakrishna was moved to a beautiful house at Cossipore, a suburb of Calcutta. The house was situated in a garden covering about five acres of land and abounding in fruit-trees and flowering plants. Here the final curtain fell on the Master’s life.
At Cossipore he set himself with redoubled energy to the completion of the work of spiritual ministration he had begun long before at Dakshineswar. Realizing that the end of his physical life was approaching, he gave away his spiritual treasures without stint to one and all. He was like one of those fruit-sellers who bring their fruit to the market-place, bargain at first about the prices, but then toward sunset, when the market is about to close, give away the fruit indiscriminately. Here his disciples saw the greatest manifestation of his spiritual powers. Here they saw the fulfilment of his prophecies about his own end: “I shall make the whole thing public before I go.” “When people in large numbers come to know and whisper about the greatness of this body, then the Mother will take it back.” “The devotees will be sifted into inner and outer circles toward the end.” And so on. Here he predicted that a band of young disciples, with Narendranath as their leader, would in due course renounce the world and devote themselves to the realisation of God and the service of humanity.
The main building at Cossipore had two storeys, with three rooms below and two above. The Master occupied the central hall of the upper storey; a small room to the left was used at night by his attendants. To the right of the hall was an open balcony where Sri Ramakrishna sometimes sat or walked. On the ground floor, a hall just below the Master’s and a small room to the right of it were used by the devotees, and a small room to the extreme left was occupied by the Holy Mother. In the garden compound were some outbuildings, two reservoirs, and pleasant walks. Sri Ramakrishna breathed more freely in the open air of the new place.
Almost all the devotees had gathered by this time. They had started coming to him in 1881. By the end of 1884 Sarat and Sashi had become known to the Master, and since their college examinations in the middle, of 1885 they had been visiting him almost daily. Girish Ghosh had first met the Master in September 1884 at the Star Theatre. Since the beginning of the following December he had been a constant visitor. And it was during the latter part of December 1884 that Sarada Prasanna first visited the Master at the Dakshineswar temple. Subodh and Kshirode first visited him in August 1885.
The young devotees had taken up their quarters at the garden house to tend Sri Ramakrishna, although many of them visited their own homes every now and then. The householders came to see the Master almost every day, and some of them occasionally spent the night.
On the morning of December 23 Sri Ramakrishna gave unrestrained expression to his love for the devotees. He said to Niranjan, “You are my father: I shall sit on your lap.” Touching Kalipada’s chest, he said, “May your inner spirit be awakened!” He stroked Kalipada’s chin affectionately and said, “Whoever has sincerely called on God or performed his daily religious devotions will certainly come here.” In the morning two ladies received his special blessing. In a state of samadhi he touched their hearts with his feet. They shed tears of joy. One of them said to him, weeping, “You are so kind!” His love this day really broke all bounds. He wanted to bless Gopal of Sinthi and said to a devotee, “Bring Gopal here.”
It was evening. Sri Ramakrishna was absorbed in contemplation of the Mother of the Universe. After a while he began to talk very softly with some of the devotees. Kali, Chunilal, M., Navagopal, Sashi, Niranjan, and a few others were present.
MASTER (to M.): “Buy a stool for me. What will it cost?”
M: “Between two and three rupees.”
MASTER: “If a small wooden seat costs only twelve annas, why should you have to pay so much for a stool?”
M: “Perhaps it won’t cost so much.”
MASTER: “Tomorrow is Thursday. The latter part of the afternoon is inauspicious. Can’t you come before three o’clock?”
M: “Yes, sir. I shall.”
MASTER: “Well, can you tell how long it will take me to recover from this illness?”
M: “It has been aggravated a little and will take some days.”
MASTER: “How long?”
M: “Perhaps five to six months.”
Hearing this, Sri Ramakrishna became impatient, like a child, and said: “So long? What do you mean?”
M: “I mean, sir, for complete recovery.”
MASTER: “Oh, that! I am relieved. Can you explain one thing? How is it that in spite of all these visions, all this ecstasy and samadhi, I am so ill?”
M: “Your suffering is no doubt great; but it has a deep meaning.”
MASTER: “What is it?”
M: “A change is coming over your mind. It is being directed toward the formless aspect of God. Even your ‘ego of Knowledge’ is vanishing.”
MASTER: “That is true. My teaching of others is coming to an end. I cannot give any more instruction. I see that everything is Rama Himself. And sometimes I say to myself, ‘Whom shall I teach?’ You see, because I am living in a rented house many kinds of devotees are coming here. I hope I shall not have to put up a ‘signboard’, like Shashadhar or Krishnaprasanna Sen,1 announcing my lectures.” (The Master and M. laugh.)
M: “There is yet another purpose in this illness. It is the final sifting of disciples. The devotees have achieved in these few days what they could not have realised by five years’ tapasya. Their love and devotion are growing by leaps and bounds.”
MASTER: “That may be true; but Niranjan went back home. (To Niranjan) Please tell me how you feel.”
NIRANJAN: “Formerly I loved you, no doubt, but now it is impossible for me to live without you.”
M: “One day I found out how great these young men were.”
M: “Sir, one day I stood in a corner of the house at Syampukur and watched the devotees. I clearly saw that every one of them had made his way here through almost insurmountable obstacles and given himself over to your service.”
As Sri Ramakrishna listened to these words he became abstracted. He was silent a few moments. Presently he went into samadhi.
Regaining consciousness of the outer world, he said to M.: “I saw everything passing from form to formlessness. I want to tell you all the things I saw, but I cannot. Well, this tendency of mine toward the formless is only a sign of my nearing dissolution. Isn’t that so?”
M. (wonderingly): “It may be.”
MASTER: “Even now I am seeing the Formless Indivisible Satchidananda — just like that. . . . But I have suppressed my feelings with great difficulty.
“What you said about the sifting of disciples was right: this illness is showing who belong to the inner circle and who to the outer. Those who are living here, renouncing the world, belong to the inner circle; and those who pay occasional visits and ask, ‘How are you, sir?’ belong to the outer circle.
“Didn’t you notice Bhavanath? The other day he came to Syampukur dressed as a bridegroom and asked me, ‘How are you?’ I haven’t seen him since. I show him love for Narendra’s sake, but he is not in my thought any more.
(To M.) “When God assumes a human body for the sake of His devotees, many of His devotees accompany Him to this earth. Some of them belong to the inner circle, some to the outer circle, and some become the suppliers of His physical needs.
“I experienced one of my first ecstasies when I was ten or eleven years old, as I was going through a meadow to the shrine of Visalakshi. What a vision! I became completely unconscious of the outer world.
“I was twenty-two or twenty-three when the Divine Mother one day asked me in the Kali temple, ‘Do you want to be Akshara?’ I didn’t know what the word meant. I asked Haladhari about it. He said, ‘Kshara means jiva, living being; Akshara means Paramatman, the Supreme Soul.’
“At the hour of the evening worship in the Kali temple I would climb to the roof of the kuthi and cry out: ‘O devotees, where are you all? Come to me soon! I shall die of the company of worldly people!’ I told all this to the ‘Englishmen’. They said it was all an illusion of my mind. ‘Perhaps it is’, I said to myself, and became calm. But now it is all coming true; the devotees are coming.
“The Divine Mother also showed me in a vision the five suppliers of my needs; first, Mathur Babu, and second, Sambhu Mallick, whom I had not then met. I had a vision of a fair-skinned man with a cap on his head. Many days later, when I first met Sambhu, I recalled that vision; I realised that it was he whom I had seen in that ecstatic state. I haven’t yet found out the three other suppliers of my wants. But they were all of a fair complexion. Surendra looks like one of them.
“When I attained this state of God-Consciousness, a person exactly resembling myself thoroughly shook my Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nerves. He licked with his tongue each of the lotuses of the six centres, and those drooping lotuses at once turned their faces upward. And at last the Sahasrara lotus became full-blown.
“The Divine Mother used to reveal to me the nature of the devotees before their coming. I saw with these two eyes — not in a trance — the kirtan party of Chaitanya going from the banyan-tree to the bakul-tree in the Panchavati. I saw Balaram in the procession and also, I think, yourself [meaning M.]. Chuni’s spiritual consciousness and yours, too, have been awakened by frequent visits to me. In a vision I saw that Sashi and Sarat had been among the followers of Christ.
“Under the banyan-tree in the Panchavati I had a vision of a child. Hriday said to me, ‘Then a son will soon be born to you.’ I said to him: ‘But I regard all women as mother. How can I have a son?’ That child is Rakhal.
“I said to the Divine Mother, ‘O Mother, since You have placed me in this condition, provide me with a rich man.’ That is why Mathur served me for fourteen years.(From 1858 to 1871.) And in how many different ways! At my request he arranged a special store-room for the sadhus. He provided me with carriage and palanquin. And whatever I asked him to give to anyone, he gave. The Brahmani2 identified him with Prataprudra.3
“Vijay had a vision of this form [meaning himself]. How do you account for it? Vijay said to me, ‘I touched it exactly as I am touching you now.’
“Latu counted thirty-one devotees in all. That’s not many. But a few more are becoming devotees through Vijay and Kedar.
“It was revealed to me in a vision that during my last days I should have to live on pudding. During my present illness my wife was one day feeding me with pudding. I burst into tears and said, ‘Is this my living on pudding near the end, and so painfully?'”
Monday, January 4, 1886
It was the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of the moon. At four o’clock in the afternoon Sri Ramakrishna was sitting in his room. He told M. that Ram Chatterji had come from the Kali temple at Dakshineswar to inquire about his health. He asked M. whether it was now very cold at the temple garden.
Narendra arrived. Now and then the Master looked at him and smiled. It appeared to M. that that day the Master’s love for his beloved disciple was boundless. He indicated to M. by a sign that Narendra had wept. Then he remained quiet. Again he indicated that Narendra had cried all the way from home.
No one spoke. Narendra broke the silence.
NARENDRA: “I have been thinking of going there today.”
NARENDRA: “To Dakshineswar. I intend to light a fire under the bel-tree and meditate.”
MASTER: “No, the authorities of the powder-magazine will not allow it. The, Panchavati is a nice place. Many sadhus have practised japa and meditation there. But it is very cold there. The place is dark, too.”
Again for a few moments all sat in silence.
MASTER (to Narendra, smiling): “Won’t you continue your studies?”
NARENDRA (looking at the Master and M.): “I shall feel greatly relieved if I find a medicine that will make me forget all I have studied.”
The elder Copal, who was also in the room, said, “I shall accompany Narendra.”
Kalipada Ghosh had brought a box of grapes for Sri Ramakrishna; it lay beside the Master. The Master gave Narendra a few and poured the rest on the floor for the devotees to pick up.
It was evening. Narendra was sitting in a room downstairs. He was smoking and describing to M. the yearning of his soul. No one else was with them.
NARENDRA: “I was meditating here last Saturday when suddenly I felt a peculiar sensation in my heart.”
M: “It was the awakening of the Kundalini.”
NARENDRA: “Probably it was. I clearly perceived the Ida and the Pingala nerves. I asked Hazra to feel my chest. Yesterday I saw him [meaning the Master] upstairs and told him about it. I said to him: ‘All the others have had their realisation; please give me some. All have succeeded; shall I alone remain unsatisfied?'”
M: “What did he say to you?”
NARENDRA: “He said: ‘Why don’t you settle your family affairs first and then come to me? You will get everything. What do you want?’ I replied, ‘It is my desire to remain absorbed in samadhi continually for three or four days, only once in a while coming down to the sense plane to eat a little food,’ Thereupon he said to me: ‘You are a very small-minded person. There is a State higher even than that. “All that exists art Thou” — it is you who sing that song.'”
M: “Yes, he always says that after coming down from samadhi one sees that it is God Himself who has become the universe, the living beings, and all that exists. The Isvarakotis alone can attain that state. An ordinary man can at the most attain samadhi; but he cannot come down from that state.”
NARENDRA: “He [the Master] said: ‘Settle your family affairs and then come to me. You will attain a state higher than samadhi.’ I went home this morning. My people scolded me, saying: ‘Why do you wander about like a vagabond? Your law examination is near at hand and you are not paying any attention to your studies. You wander about aimlessly.'”
M: “Did your mother say anything?”
NARENDRA: “No. She was very eager to feed me. She gave me venison. I ate a little, though I didn’t feel like eating meat.”
M: “And then?”
NARENDRA: “I went to my study at my grandmother’s. As I tried to read I was seized with a great fear, as if studying were a terrible thing. My heart struggled within me. I burst into tears: I never wept so bitterly in my life. I left my books and ran away. I ran along the streets. My shoes slipped from my feet — I didn’t know where. I ran past a haystack and got hay all over me. I kept on running along the road to Cossipore.”
Narendra remained silent a few minutes and then resumed.
NARENDRA: “Since reading the Vivekachudamani I have felt very much depressed. In it Sankaracharya says that only through great tapasya and good fortune does one acquire these three things: a human birth, the desire for liberation, and refuge with a great soul. I said to myself: ‘I have surely gained all these three. As a result of great tapasya I have been born a human being; through great tapasya, again, I have the desire for liberation; and through great tapasya I have secured the companionship of such a great soul.'”
NARENDRA: “I have no more taste for the world. I do not relish the company of those who live in the world — of course, with the exception of one or two devotees.”
Narendra became silent again. A fire of intense renunciation was burning within him. His soul was restless tor the vision of God. He resumed the conversation.
NARENDRA (to M.): “You have found peace, but my soul is restless. You are blessed indeed.”
M. did not reply, but sat in silence. He said to himself, “Sri Ramakrishna said that one must pant and pine for God; only then may one have the vision of Him.”
Immediately after dusk M. went upstairs. He found Sri Ramakrishna asleep.
It was about nine o’clock in the evening. Niranjan and Sashi were sitting near the Master. He was awake. Every now and then he talked of Narendra.
MASTER: “How wonderful Narendra’s state of mind is! You see, this very Narendra did not believe in the forms of God. And now you see how his soul is panting for God! You know that story of the man who asked his guru how God could be realised. The guru said to him: ‘Come with me. I shall show you how one can realise God.’ Saying this, he took the disciple to a lake and held his head under the water. After a short time he released the disciple and asked him, ‘How did you feel?’ ‘I was dying for a breath of air!’ said the disciple.
“When the soul longs and yearns for God like that, then you will know that you do not have long to wait for His vision. The rosy colour on the eastern horizon shows that the sun will soon rise.”
This day Sri Ramakrishna’s illness was worse. In spite of much suffering he said many things about Narendra — though mostly by means of signs.
At night Narendra left for Dakshineswar. It was very dark, being the night of the new moon. He was accompanied by one or two devotees. M. spent the night at the Cossipore garden. He dreamt that he was seated in an assembly of sannyasis.
Tuesday, January 5, 1886
Sri Ramakrishna was sitting on his bed and talking to M. No one else was in the room. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
MASTER: “If Kshirode makes a pilgrimage to Gangasagar, then please buy a blanket for him.”
M: “Yes, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna was silent a few minutes. Then he continued.
MASTER: “Well, can you tell me what is happening to these youngsters? Some are running off to Puri and some to Gangasagar. All have renounced their homes. Look at Narendra! When a man is seized with the spirit of intense renunciation, he regards the world as a deep well and his relatives as venomous cobras.”
M: “Yes, sir. Life in the world is full of suffering.”
MASTER: “Yes, it is the suffering of hell — and that from the very moment of birth! Don’t you see what a trouble one’s wife and children are?”
M: “Yes, sir. You yourself said: ‘These youngsters (The Master had meant his young disciples.) have no relationship whatsoever with the world. They owe nothing to the world, nor do they expect anything from it. It is the sense of obligation that entangles a man in the world.'”
MASTER: “Don’t you see how Niranjan is? His attitude toward the world is this: ‘Here, take what is thine, and give me what is mine.’ That is all. He has no further relationship with the world. There is nothing to pull him from behind.
“‘Woman and gold’ alone is the world. Don’t you see that if you have money you want to lay it by?”
M. burst out laughing. Sri Ramakrishna also laughed.
M: “One thinks a great deal before taking the money out. (Both laugh.)
But once you said at Dakshineswar that it is quite different if one is able to live in the world free from the three gunas.”
MASTER: “Yes — like a child!”
M: “Yes, sir. But it is exceedingly difficult; it requires tremendous power.”
Sri Ramakrishna remained silent.
M: “Yesterday they went to Dakshineswar to meditate. I had a dream.”
MASTER: “What did you dream?”
M: “I dreamt that Narendra and some others had become sannyasis. They were sitting around a lighted fire. I too was there. They were smoking tobacco and blowing out puffs of smoke. I told them that I could smell hemp.”4
MASTER: “Mental renunciation is the essential thing. That, too, makes one a sannyasi.”
Sri Ramakrishna kept silent a few minutes and then went on.
MASTER: “But one must set fire to one’s desires. Then alone can one succeed.”
M: “You said to the pundit of the Marwaris from Burrabazar that you had the desire for bhakti. Isn’t the desire for bhakti to be counted as a desire?”
MASTER: “No, just as hinche greens are not to be counted as greens. Hinche restrains the secretion of bile.
“Well, all my joy, all my ecstasy — where are they now?”
M: “Perhaps you are now in the state of mind that the Gita describes as beyond the three gunas. Sattva, rajas, and tamas are performing their own functions, and you yourself are unattached — unattached even to sattva.”
MASTER: “Yes, the Divine Mother has put me into the state of a child. Tell me, won’t the body live through this illness?”
The Master and M. became silent. Narendra entered the room. He was going home to settle his family affairs.
Since his father’s death Narendra had been in great distress about his mother and brothers. Now and then they had been threatened with starvation. Narendra was the family’s only hope: they expected him to earn money and feed them. But Narendra could not appear for his law examination; he was passing through a state of intense renunciation. He was going to Calcutta that day to make some provision for the family. A friend had agreed to lend him one hundred rupees. That would take care of the family for three months.
NARENDRA: “I am going home. (To M.) I shall visit Mahimacharan on the way. Will you come with me?”
M. did not want to go. Looking at M., Sri Ramakrishna asked Narendra, “Why?”
NARENDRA: “I am going that way; so I shall stop at Mahima’s place and have a chat with him.”
Sri Ramakrishna looked at Narendra intently.
NARENDRA: “A friend who comes here said he would lend me a hundred rupees. That will take care of the family for three months. I am going home to make that arrangement.”
Sri Ramakrishna remained silent and looked at M.
M. (to Narendra): “No, you go ahead. I shall go later.”
Thursday, March 11, 1886
It was eight o’clock in the evening. Sri Ramakrishna was in the big hall on the second floor. Narendra, Sashi, M., Sarat, and the elder Gopal were in the room. Sri Ramakrishna was lying down. Sarat stood by his bed and fanned him. The Master was speaking about his illness.
MASTER: “If some of you go to Dakshineswar and see Bholanath, he will give you a medicinal oil and also tell you how to apply it.”
THE ELDER GOPAL: “Then we shall go for the oil tomorrow morning.”
M: “If someone goes this evening he can bring the oil.”
SASHI: “I can go.”
MASTER (pointing to Sarat): “He may go.”
After a time Sarat set out for Dakshineswar to get the oil from Bholanath.
The devotees, sitting around Sri Ramakrishna’s bed, were silent. Suddenly the Master sat up. He spoke to Narendranath.
MASTER: “Brahman is without taint. The three gunas are in Brahman, but It is Itself untainted by them.
“You may find both good and bad smells in the air; but the air itself is unaffected.
“Sankaracharya was going along a street in Benares. An outcaste carrying a load of meat suddenly touched him. ‘What!’ said Sankara. ‘You have touched me!’ ‘Revered sir,’ said the outcaste, ‘I have not touched you nor have you touched me. The Atman is above all contamination, and you are that Pure Atman.’
“Of Brahman and maya, the jnani rejects maya.
“Maya is like a veil. You see, I hold this towel between you and the lamp. You no longer see the light of the lamp.”
Sri Ramakrishna put the towel between himself and the devotees.
MASTER: “Now you cannot see my face any more. As Ramprasad said, ‘Raise the curtain, and behold!’
“The bhakta, however, does not ignore maya. He worships Mahamaya. Taking refuge in Her, he says: ‘O Mother, please stand aside from my path. Only if You step out of my way shall I have the Knowledge of Brahman.’ The jnanis explain away all three states — waking, dream, and deep sleep. But the bhaktas accept them all. As long as there is the ego, everything else exists. So long as the ‘I’ exists, the bhakta sees that it is God who has become maya, the universe, the living beings, and the twenty-four cosmic principles.”
Narendra and the other devotees sat silently listening.
MASTER: “But the theory of maya is dry. (To Narendra) Repeat what I said.”
NARENDRA: “Maya is dry.”
Sri Ramakrishna affectionately stroked Narendra’s face and hands, and said: “Your face and hands show that you are a bhakta. But the jnani has different features; they are dry.
“Even after attaining jnana, the jnani can live in the world, retaining vidyamaya, that is to say, bhakti, compassion, renunciation, and such virtues. This serves him two purposes: first, the teaching of men, and second, the enjoyment of divine bliss. If a jnani remains silent, merged in samadhi, then men’s hearts will not be illumined. Therefore Sankaracharya kept the ‘ego of Knowledge’. And further, a jnani lives as a devotee, in the company of bhaktas, in order to enjoy and drink deep of the Bliss of God.
“The ‘ego of Knowledge’ and the ‘ego of Devotion’ can do no harm; it is the ‘wicked I’ that is harmful. After realizing God a man becomes like a child. There is no harm in the ‘ego of a child’. It is like the reflection of a face in a mirror: the reflection cannot call names. Or it is like a burnt rope, which appears to be a rope but disappears at the slightest puff. The ego that has been burnt in the fire of Knowledge cannot injure anybody. It is an ego only in name.
“Returning to the relative plane after reaching the Absolute is like coming back to this shore of a river after going to the other side. Such a return to the relative plane is for the teaching of men and for enjoyment — participation in the divine sport in the world.”
Sri Ramakrishna was talking in a very low voice. Addressing the devotees, he said: “The body is so ill, but the mind is free from avidyamaya. Let me tell you, there is no thought in my mind of Ramlal or home or wife. But I have been worrying about Purna, that kayastha boy. I am not in the least anxious about the others.
“It is God alone who has kept this vidyamaya in me, for the good of men, for the welfare of the devotees.
“But if one retains vidyamaya one comes back to this world. The Avatars keep this vidyamaya. So long as a man has even the slightest desire, he must be born again and again. When he gets rid of all desires, then he is liberated. But the bhaktas do not seek liberation.
“If a person dies in Benares he attains liberation; he is not born again. Liberation is the goal of the jnanis.”
NARENDRA: “The other day we went to visit Mahimacharan.”
MASTER (smiling): “Well?”
NARENDRA: “I have never before met such a dry jnani.”
MASTER (smiling): “What was the matter?”
NARENDRA: “He asked us to sing. Gangadhar sang:
Radha is restored to life by hearing her Krishna’s name.
She looks about; in front of her she sees a tamala tree.
“On hearing this song, Mahimacharan said: ‘Why such songs here? I don’t care for love and all that nonsense. Besides, I live here with my wife and children. Why all these songs here?'”
MASTER (to M.): “Do you see how afraid he is?”
Sunday, March 14, 1886
Sri Ramakrishna sat facing the north in the large room upstairs. It was evening. He was very ill. Narendra and Rakhal were gently massaging his feet. M; sat near by. The Master, by a sign, asked him, too, to stroke his feet. M. obeyed.
The previous Sunday the devotees had observed Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday with worship and prayer. His birthday the year before had been observed at Dakshineswar with great pomp; but this year, on account of his illness, the devotees were very sad and there was no festivity at all.
The Holy Mother busied herself day and night in the Master’s service. Among the young disciples, Narendra, Rakhal, Niranjan, Sarat, Sashi, Baburam, Jogin, Latu, and Kali had been staying with him at the garden house. The older devotees visited him daily, and some of them occasionally spent the night there.
That day Sri Ramakrishna was feeling very ill. At midnight the moonlight flooded the garden, but it could wake no response in the devotees’ hearts. They were drowned in a sea of grief. They felt that they were living in a beautiful city besieged by a hostile army. Perfect silence reigned everywhere. Nature was still, except for the gentle rustling of the leaves at the touch of the south wind. Sri Ramakrishna lay awake. One or two devotees sat near him in silence. At times he seemed to doze.
M. was seated by his side. Sri Ramakrishna asked him by a sign to come nearer. The sight of his suffering was unbearable. In a very soft voice and with, great difficulty he said to M.:
“I have gone on suffering so much for fear of making you all weep. But if you all say: ‘Oh, there is so much suffering! Let the body die’, then I may give up the body.”
These words pierced the devotees’ hearts. And he who was their father, mother, and protector had uttered these words! What could they say? All sat in silence. Some thought, “Is this another crucifixion — the sacrifice of the body for the sake of the devotees?”
It was the dead of night. Sri Ramakrishna’s illness was taking a turn for the worse. The devotees wondered what was to be done. One of them left for Calcutta. That very night Girish came to the garden house with two physicians, Upendra and Navagopal.
The devotees sat near the Master. He felt a little better and said to them: “The illness is of the body. That is as it should be; I see that the body is made of the five elements.”
Turning to Girish, he said: “I am seeing many forms of God. Among them I find this one also [meaning his own form].”
Monday, March 15, 1886
About seven o’clock in the morning Sri Ramakrishna felt a little better. He talked to the devotees, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes by signs. Narendra, Rakhal, Latu, M., Gopal of Sinthi, and others were in the room. They sat speechless and looked grave, thinking of the Master’s suffering of the previous night.
MASTER (to the devotees): “Do you know what I see right now? I see that it is God Himself who has become all this. It seems to me that men and other living beings are made of leather, and that it is God Himself who, dwelling inside these leather cases, moves the hands, the feet, the heads. I had a similar vision once before, when I saw houses, gardens, roads, men, cattle — all made of One Substance; it was as if they were all made of wax.
“I see that it is God Himself who has become the block, the executioner, and the victim for the sacrifice.”
As he describes this staggering experience, in which he realises in full the identity of all within the One Being, he is overwhelmed with emotion and exclaims, “Ah! What a vision!”
Immediately Sri Ramakrishna goes into samadhi. He completely forgets his body and the outer world. The devotees are bewildered. Not knowing what to do, they sit still.
Presently the Master regains partial consciousness of the world and says: “Now I have no pain at all. I am my old self again.”
The devotees are amazed to watch this state of the Master, beyond pleasure and pain, weal and woe.
He casts his glance on Latu and says: “There is Loto. He bends his head, resting it on the palm of his hand. I see that it is God Himself who rests His head on His hand.”
Sri Ramakrishna looks at the devotees and his love for them wells up in a thousand streams. Like a mother showing her tenderness to her children he touches the faces and chins of Rakhal and Narendra.
A few minutes later he says to M., “If the body were to be preserved a few days more, many people would have their spirituality awakened.”
He pauses a few minutes.
“But this is not to be. This time the body will not be preserved.”
The devotees eagerly await the Master’s next words.
“Such is not the will of God. This time the body will not be preserved, lest, finding me guileless and foolish, people should take advantage of me, and lest I, guileless and foolish as I am, should give away everything to everybody. In this Kaliyuga, you see, people are averse to meditation and japa.”
RAKHAL (tenderly): “Please speak to God that He may preserve your body some time more.”
MASTER: “That depends on God’s will.”
NARENDRA: “Your will and God’s will have become one.”
Sri Ramakrishna remains silent. He appears to be thinking about something.
MASTER (to Narendra, Rakhal, and the others): “And nothing will happen if I speak to God. Now I see that I and the Mother have become one. For fear of her sister-in-law, Radha said to Krishna, ‘Please dwell in my heart.’ But when, later on; she became very eager for a vision of Krishna — so eager that her heart pined and panted for her Beloved — He would not come out.”
RAKHAL (in a low voice, to the devotees): “He is referring to God’s Incarnation as Gauranga.”5
The devotees sit silently in the room. Sri Ramakrishna looks at them tenderly. Then he places his hand on his heart. He is about to speak.
MASTER (to Narendra and the others): “There are two persons in this. One, the Divine Mother—”
He pauses. The devotees eagerly look at him to hear what he will say next.
MASTER: “Yes, one is She. And the other is Her devotee. It is the devotee who broke his arm, and it is the devotee who is now ill. Do you understand?”
The devotees sit without uttering a word.
MASTER: “Alas! To whom shall I say all this? Who will understand me?”
Pausing a few moments, He says:
“God becomes man, an Avatar, and comes to earth with His devotees. And the devotees leave the world with Him.”
RAKHAL: “Therefore we pray that you may not go away and leave us behind.”
Sri Ramakrishna smiles and says:
“A band of minstrels suddenly appears, dances, and sings, and it departs in the same sudden manner. They come and they return, but none recognizes them.”
The Master and the devotees smile.
After a few minutes he says:
“Suffering is inevitable when one assumes a human body.
“Every now and then I say to myself, ‘May I not have to come back to earth again!’ But there is something else. After enjoying sumptuous feasts outside, one does not relish cheap home cooking.
“Besides, this assuming of a human body is for the sake of the devotees.”
Sri Ramakrishna looks at Narendra very tenderly.
MASTER (to Narendra): “An outcaste was carrying a load of meat. Sankaracharya, after bathing in the Ganges, was passing by. Suddenly the outcaste touched him. Sankara said sharply: ‘What! You touched me!’ ‘Revered sir,’ he replied, ‘I have not touched you nor have you touched me. Reason with me: Are you the body, the mind, or the buddhi? Analyse what you are. You are the Pure Atman, unattached and free, unaffected by the three gunas — sattva, rajas, and tamas.’
“Do you know what Brahman is like? It is like air. Good and bad smells are carried by the air, but the air itself is unaffected.”
NARENDRA: “Yes, sir.”
MASTER: “He is beyond the gunas and maya — beyond both the ‘maya of knowledge’ and the ‘maya of ignorance’. ‘Woman and gold’ is the ‘maya of ignorance’. Knowledge, renunciation, devotion, and other spiritual qualities are the splendours of the ‘maya of knowledge’. Sankaracharya kept this ‘maya of knowledge’; and that you and these others feel concerned about me is also due to this ‘maya of knowledge’.
“Following the ‘maya of knowledge’ step by step, one attains the Knowledge of Brahman. This ‘maya of knowledge’ may be likened to the last few steps of the stairs. Next is the roof. Some, even after reaching the roof, go up and down the stairs; that is to say, some, even after realizing God, retain the ‘ego of Knowledge’. They retain this in order to teach others, taste divine bliss, and sport with the devotees of God.”
NARENDRA: “Some people get angry with me when I speak of renunciation.”
MASTER (in a whisper): “Renunciation is necessary.
(Pointing to his different limbs) “If one thing is placed upon another, you must remove the one to get the other. Can you get the second thing without removing the first?”
NARENDRA: “True, sir.”
MASTER (in a whisper, to Narendra): “When one sees everything filled with God alone, does one see anything else?”
NARENDRA: “Must one renounce the world?”
MASTER: “Didn’t I say just now: ‘When one sees everything filled with God alone, does one see anything else?’ Does one then see any such thing as the world?
“I mean mental renunciation. Not one of those who have come here is a worldly person. Some of them had a slight desire — for instance, a fancy for woman. (Rakhal and M. smile.) And that desire has been fulfilled.”
The Master looks at Narendra tenderly and becomes filled with love. Looking, at the devotees, he says, “Grand!”
With a smile Narendra asks the Master, “What is grand?”
MASTER (smiling): “I see that preparations are going on for a grand renunciation.”
Narendra and the devotees look silently at the Master. Rakhal resumes the conversation.
RAKHAL (smiling, to the Master): “Narendra is now beginning to understand you rather well.”
Sri Ramakrishna laughs and says: “Yes, that is so. I see that many others, too, are beginning to understand. (To M.) Isn’t that so?”
M: “Yes, sir.”
Sri Ramakrishna turns his eyes to Narendra and M. and by a sign of his finger draws the attention of the devotees to them. He first points out Narendra and then M. Rakhal understands the Master’s hint and says to him with a smile, “Don’t you mean that Narendra has the attitude of a hero, and he [meaning M.] that of a handmaid of God?”
Sri Ramakrishna laughs.
NARENDRA (smiling, to Rakhal): “He [meaning M.] doesn’t talk much and is bashful. Is that why you say he is a handmaid of God?”
MASTER (smiling, to Narendra): “Well, what do you think of me?”
NARENDRA: “You are a hero, a handmaid of God, and everything else.”
These words fill Sri Ramakrishna with divine emotion. He places his hand on his heart and is about to say something.
He says to Narendra and the other devotees:
“I see that all things — everything that exists — have come from this.”
He asks Narendra by a sign, “What did you understand?”
NARENDRA: “All created objects have come from you.”
The Master’s face beams with joy. He says to Rakhal, “Did you hear what” he said?”
Sri Ramakrishna asks Narendra to sing. Narendra intones a hymn. His mind is full of renunciation. He sings:
Unsteady is water on the lotus petal;
Just as unsteady is the life of man.
One moment with a sadhu is the boat
That takes one across the ocean of this world. . . .
Narendra has hardly finished one or two lines, when Sri Ramakrishna says to him by a sign: “What are you singing? That is a very insignificant attitude, a very commonplace thing.”
Now Narendra sings about the love of Krishna, impersonating one of His handmaids:
How strange, O friend, are the rules of life and death!
The Youth of Braja has fled away,
And this poor maid of Braja soon will die.
Madhava is in love with other maids
More beautiful than I.
Alas! He has forgotten the milkman’s artless daughter.
Who would ever have guessed, dear friend, that He,
A Lover so tender, so divine,
Could be a beggar simply for outward charm!
I was a fool not to have seen it before;
But carried away by His beauty,
I yearned alone to hold His two feet to my breast.
Now I shall drown myself in the Jamuna’s stream,
Or take a draught of poison, friend!
Or I shall bind a creeper round my neck,
Or hang myself from a young tamala tree;
Or, failing all of these,
Destroy my wretched self by chanting Krishna’s name.
Sri Ramakrishna and the devotees are greatly moved by the song. The Master and Rakhal shed tears of love. Narendra is intoxicated with the love of the gopis of Braja for their Sweetheart, Sri Krishna, and sings:
O Krishna! Beloved! You are mine.
What shall I say to You, O Lord?
What shall I ever say to You?
Only a woman am I,
And never fortune’s favourite;
I do not know what to say.
You are the mirror for the hand,
And You are the flower for the hair.
O Friend, I shall make a flower of You
And wear You in my hair;
Under my braids I shall hide You, Friend!
No one will see You there.
You are the betel-leaf for the lips,
The sweet collyrium for the eyes;
O Friend, with You I shall stain my lips,
With You I shall paint my eyes.
You are the sandal-paste for the body;
You are the necklace for the neck.
I shall anoint myself with You,
My fragrant Sandal-paste,
And soothe my body and my soul.
I shall wear You, my lovely Necklace,
Here about my neck,
And You will lie upon my bosom,
Close to my throbbing heart.
You are the Treasure in my body;
You are the Dweller in my house.
You are to me, O Lord,
What wings are to the flying bird,
What water is to the fish.
- ^Shashadhar and Krishnaprasanna were two well-known Hindu preachers, contemporaries of Sri Ramakrishna.
- ^The brahmin woman who was one of the Master’s spiritual teachers.
- ^A king of Orissa and a devoted follower of Chaitanyadeva, whom he served with the utmost love and faithfulness.
- ^Many wandering sannyasis smoke Indian hemp.
- ^According to the Bengal school of Vaishnavism Sri Krishna wanted to taste and enjoy His own sweetness as Radha did. But this could not be done to the fullest extent unless Krishna were infatuated with Himself, as Radha had been. Accordingly He assumed a form in which all the aspects of the Krishna of Vrindavan and those of Radha coexisted; and in this aspect Krishna enjoyed His own charm and sweetness. This form is known as Sri Gauranga, who was a blending of Radha and Krishna.