Gradually other Brahmo leaders began to feel Sri Ramakrishna’s influence. But they were by no means uncritical admirers of the Master. They particularly disapproved of his ascetic renunciation and condemnation of “woman and gold”.1 They measured him according to their own ideals of the householder’s life. Some could not understand his samadhi and described it as a nervous malady. Yet they could not resist his magnetic personality.
Among the Brahmo leaders who knew the Master closely were Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, Vijaykrishna Goswami, Trailokyanath Sannyal, and Shivanath Shastri.
Shivanath, one day, was greatly impressed by the Master’s utter simplicity and abhorrence of praise. He was seated with Sri Ramakrishna in the latter’s room when several rich men of Calcutta arrived. The Master left the room for a few minutes. In the mean time Hriday, his nephew, began to describe his samadhi to the visitors. The last few words caught the Master’s ear as he entered the room. He said to Hriday: “What a mean-spirited fellow you must be to extol me thus before these rich men! You have seen their costly apparel and their gold watches and chains, and your object is to get from them as much money as you can. What do I care about what they think of me? (Turning to the gentlemen) No, my friends, what he has told you about me is not true. It was not love of God that made me absorbed in God and indifferent to external life. I became positively insane for some time. The sadhus who frequented this temple told me to practise many things. I tried to follow them, and the consequence was that my austerities drove me to insanity.” This is a quotation from one of Shivanath’s books. He took the Master’s words literally and failed to see their real import.
Shivanath vehemently criticized the Master for his other-worldly attitude toward his wife. He writes: “Ramakrishna was practically separated from his wife, who lived in her village home. One day when I was complaining to some friends about the virtual widowhood of his wife, he drew me to one side and whispered in my ear: ‘Why do you complain? It is no longer possible; it is all dead and gone.’ Another day as I was inveighing against this part of his teaching, and also declaring that our program of work in the Brahmo Samaj includes women, that ours is a social and domestic religion, and that we want to give education and social liberty to women, the saint became very much excited, as was his way when anything against his settled conviction was asserted — a trait we so much liked in him — and exclaimed, ‘Go, thou fool, go and perish in the pit that your women will dig for you.’ Then he glared at me and said: ‘What does a gardener do with a young plant? Does he not surround it with a fence, to protect it from goats and cattle? And when the young plant has grown up into a tree and it can no longer be injured by cattle, does he not remove the fence and let the tree grow freely?’ I replied, ‘Yes, that is the custom with gardeners.’ Then he remarked, ‘Do the same in your spiritual life; become strong, be full-grown; then you may seek them.’ To which I replied, ‘I don’t agree with you in thinking that women’s work is like that of cattle, destructive; they are our associates and helpers in our spiritual struggles and social progress’ — a view with which he could not agree, and he marked his dissent by shaking his head. Then referring to the lateness of the hour he jocularly remarked, ‘It is time for you to depart; take care, do not be late; otherwise your woman will not admit you into her room.’ This evoked hearty laughter.”
Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, the right-hand man of Keshab and an accomplished Brahmo preacher in Europe and America, bitterly criticized Sri Ramakrishna’s use of uncultured language and also his austere attitude toward his wife. But he could not escape the spell of the Master’s personality. In the course of an article about Sri Ramakrishna, Pratap wrote in the “Theistic Quarterly Review”: “What is there in common between him and me? I, a Europeanized, civilized, self-centred, semi-sceptical, so-called educated reasoner, and he, a poor, illiterate, unpolished, half-idolatrous, friendless Hindu devotee? Why should I sit long hours to attend to him, I, who have listened to Disraeli and Fawcett, Stanley and Max Muller, and a whole host of European scholars and divines? . . . And it is not I only, but dozens like me, who do the same. . . . He worships Siva, he worships Kali, he worships Rama, he worships Krishna, and is a confirmed advocate of Vedantic doctrines. . . . He is an idolater, yet is a faithful and most devoted meditator on the perfections of the One Formless, Absolute, Infinite Deity. . . . His religion is ecstasy, his worship means transcendental insight, his whole nature burns day and night with a permanent fire and fever of a strange faith and feeling. . . . So long as he is spared to us, gladly shall we sit at his feet to learn from him the sublime precepts of purity, unworldliness, spirituality, and inebriation in the love of God. . . . He, by his childlike bhakti, by his strong conceptions of an ever-ready Motherhood, helped to unfold it [God as our Mother] in our minds wonderfully. . . . By associating with him we learnt to realise better the divine attributes as scattered over the three hundred and thirty millions of deities of mythological India, the gods of the Puranas.”
The Brahmo leaders received much inspiration from their contact with Sri Ramakrishna. It broadened their religious views and kindled in their hearts the yearning for God-realisation; it made them understand and appreciate the rituals and symbols of Hindu religion, convinced them of the manifestation of God in diverse forms, and deepened their thoughts about the harmony of religions. The Master, too, was impressed by the sincerity of many of the Brahmo devotees. He told them about his own realisations and explained to them the essence of his teachings, such as the necessity of renunciation, sincerity in the pursuit of one’s own course of discipline, faith in God, the performance of one’s duties without thought of results, and discrimination between the Real and the unreal.
This contact with the educated and progressive Bengalis opened Sri Ramakrishna’s eyes to a new realm of thought. Born and brought up in a simple village, without any formal education, and taught by the orthodox holy men of India in religious life, he had had no opportunity to study the influence of modernism on the thoughts and lives of the Hindus. He could not properly estimate the result of the impact of Western education on Indian culture. He was a Hindu of the Hindus, renunciation being to him the only means to the realisation of God in life. From the Brahmos he learnt that the new generation of India made a compromise between God and the world. Educated young men were influenced more by the Western philosophers than by their own prophets. But Sri Ramakrishna was not dismayed, for he saw in this, too, the hand of God. And though he expounded to the Brahmos all his ideas about God and austere religious disciplines, yet he bade them accept from his teachings only as much as suited their tastes and temperaments.
- ^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.