There were some devotees who at first would not give much importance to the Holy Mother. 'Sri Ramakrishna might have been a great saint, but his wife did not necessarily share his greatness' was their critical attitude. But gradually as the spiritual personality of the Holy Mother began to unfold, these people had to change their opinions, and their indifference was transformed into great reverence.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say that the sergeant's lamp keeps the sergeant himself in darkness but throws light outside. So to her relations, though the Holy Mother was not worth much more than the worldly advantages she could offer, her spiritual influence spread far and wide. People from all quarters would come to her for solace, guidance, spiritual instruction and initiation. Sri Ramakrishna knew that she would have to do this work in continuation of what he had started, so he gave her special training in that direction. He taught her some mantras—seeds of spiritual growth—made living by his sadhana which she might give to her future disciples. These she gave unreservedly. While Sri Rama-krishna himself would be very particular in choosing a disciple, the Holy Mother, prompted by her motherly heart, could hardly refuse anyone the favour. Swami Premananda, an intimate disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once remarked: 'The poison which we cannot assimilate, we send to the Holy Mother.' He meant that the people whom they could not control or reform were sent by them to the Holy Mother. And invariably they would turn over a new leaf after receiving her blessings.
For a real guru, to give initiation means receiving the sins of the disciple on himself. The Holy Mother was conscious of this. She had to pay dearly for making innumerable disciples by accepting physical suffering and ailments. But she could not resist the desire to help others. An attendant once argued with the Holy Mother about the desirability of her not giving initiation, as that brought disease on her. At this she remarked, 'Did the Master come only to eat rasagolla (a kind of Bengal sweet)?' Thereby she meant that she also was not born simply to enjoy the sweet things of life.
It was not for nothing that people flocked to her. Innumerable are the persons who got infinite strength from a single utterance from her lips.
Many are the lives which by her influence she saved from a moral crash or a spiritual downfall. She knew how to be equal to the occasion. Outwardly her mode of life was almost similar to that of other women in the village; there was not much to distinguish her. But at times she would rise to her spiritual height, to the wonder and amazement of the people concerned. 'One who has got blessings from me need not worry about final liberation,' 'I and the Master are one.' 'If you meditate on me and remember me, that will be enough.'—Utterances like these would come from her lips when a disciple was found wavering or in distress. Such utterances seemed all the more wonderful when one remembers that she was humility itself and that there was not the least trace of egotism in her. In talks and conversations with her one would always get the impression that she felt she was nothing—the Master was everything. Her unassuming behaviour was so very natural and spontaneous that at times those who were with her felt as if she was no more than a child, even in her advanced age when thousands of people looked to her for guidance, not only in the perplexing situations of this life, but also to solve the problems of the eternal life.
A jewel has different values for different persons. What place the Holy Mother occupied in the spiritual sphere was difficult for ordinary persons to judge. A faint glimpse of that could be had when one saw the attitude to her of some who were undoubtedly known as spiritual geniuses. Vivekananda was emboldened to cross the ocean and go to the West to preach only when he got the blessings of the Holy Mother. Her blessings were enough, he thought, to jump into the uncertainty of whatever might await him in strange lands and still stranger conditions. Swami Brahmananda, one of the most towering personalities of the Ramakrishna Order and the first President of the Ramakrishna Mission, when approaching the Holy Mother, would shake with emotion and behave just like a simple and innocent child. Swami Saradananda, who was the guiding figure behind the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, sincerely felt that the Holy Mother might substitute any other man in his place and that man would be able to do exactly the work he was doing—if not more efficiently. Her blessings were the source of all strength to him. This devotion of the great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna was not merely a form of reverence shown to the wife of their Guru; they literally looked upon her as the manifestation of the Divine Mother incarnate and at times actually worshipped her as such. Swami Brahmananda, who had a great reputation for controlling his spiritual sentiment, once on the occasion of the Durga Puja festival worshipped her with flowers and sacred leaves as one does the Divine Mother. Swami Saradananda would offer similar worship to her on special days reserved for the worship of the Divine Mother. The remarkable thing was that the Holy Mother was the same unassuming person when she received worship from such persons as when she would undergo the drudgery of duties at her parental home at Jayrambati. A woman devotee once remarked: 'How wonderful are the powers of the Holy Mother! When thousands of persons are literally worshipping her, she is completely unattached to the honours that are being showered on her. This is not possible for any human being. It is enough proof of her divinity.'
Though she had little book-learning, her power to solve the intricate problems of spiritual life was remarkable. Her solutions would always go straight to the heart of the questioner and give him sustenance throughout his whole life.
Why there is so much suffering in God's world is a problem which agitates the mind of every devotee. When the Holy Mother was approached with that question, her answer was: 'Creation means a mixture of happiness and misery. Misery is the symbol of God's compassion. Besides, none suffers for all time. Every action brings its inevitable result, and as such the turn for happiness will surely come.'
'Was there any use in repeating God's name if one did not have love for Him?' asked a disciple. 'If you fall into water, whether willingly or unwillingly, your cloth will get wet all the same, will it not?' was her answer that immediately quietened him.
Why does one not experience God-absorption, though one is constantly repeating God's name—is a problem that perplexes a spiritual aspirant occasionally. When the Holy Mother was asked that question, her practical advice was: 'It will come, by and by. But do not give up japa even if the mind is unwilling and unsteady. You must go on with the repetition of the name and you will find that the mind is gradually getting steadier, like a flame in calm air. Any movement in the air disturbs the steady burning of a flame; even so the presence of any thought or desire makes the mind unsteady. The mantra must be correctly repeated. As incorrect utterance delays progress.'
'But, then, a single utterance of the Lord's name is as effective as a million repetitions if you do it with a steady, concentrated mind. What is the use of repeating the mantra a million times with an absent mind? You must do it whole-heartedly. Then only can you deserve his grace,' was her answer to a similar question on another occasion.
'God's grace is shed on all just as the sun's light is for all. Then what is the use of spiritual practice?'—asked a devotee trying by logical argument to prove the uselessness of sadhana. 'Food-stuffs are there. The one who will cook them earlier will eat earlier; one who does not at all like to cook will go hungry,' was her simple answer forthcoming.
'We see innumerable creations of God. Were they created one by one or otherwise?' was the question that arose in the mind of a young disciple, and he put it to the Mother in childlike innocence. 'God is not like a painter who draws the eyes, face, nose of every figure. No, He does not work that way. He has a unique power. By his mere will the universe comes into being and at his wish it goes to naught. All the things of the universe have been created all at once and not one by one,' was her answer to that difficult philosophical problem.
Among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Girish Chandra Ghosh had argumentative powers and a combative nature only second to those of Swami Vivekananda. Seized by an impulsive desire to embrace sannyasa, he once went to the Holy Mother at Jayrambati to ask for her permission. With all his natural vehemence he began to argue with the Mother to obtain her approval for his resolve. But she withstood all his arguments and with her quiet answers completely broke his resolution. Her insight into the spiritual nature of persons was very unerring. An important member of the Ramakrishna Order went to her for initiation when young. For a long he had been worshipping a particular deity as his Chosen Ideal but the Mother gave him a different Ideal. When he said that he had for a long time been worshipping another Ideal, she replied quietly: 'No, that is not the Ideal for you. Follow what I have given.' And in a short time the disciple found her words to be true. The same disciple, some time later, suffered from brain-fag as he had strained too much in spiritual practices. As a remedy he tried various things, consulted many physicians, but to no effect. The senior monks of the Order were concerned about his problem but could not give any effective help. He soon went to Jayrambati to the Holy Mother. When he narrated the details of his case, she shuddered to hear of the method which he followed in his meditation. Ah, it was dangerous for him! She corrected his method of meditation, and he was all right in no time.
It was not for nothing that Holy Mother's word was the final word in everything spiritual and secular concerning the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Her advice, her decision, a mere wish of hers, was like a sacred injunction from on high to the monks and devotees of the Order. This attitude of theirs only deepened as time passed.