In her life was found a wonderful mixture of the human and the divine. Apart from her spiritual power, the mere human aspects of her life were enough to make her an exemplary character in the eyes of the world. She was indeed the final word in the perfection of Indian womanhood. Her actions always showed the highest dignity and greatest magnanimity. Not even through mistake could she associate herself with anything small or narrow. Even in her ordinary dealings she was head and shoulders above all others in refinement and broadness of outlook. Her life was always a model for others to follow, and it was difficult to find the least trace of imperfection in her actions and behaviour.
But the most dominant trait in her character, overshadowing every other feature, was her motherly love. She might be anything else, but everybody found in her a mother—only her love was stronger than that of one's own mother. Many young men who had lost their mothers early in life, and did not know what a mother's love was, had their loss more than compensated when they came in touch with her. Many, after finding a mother in her, did not hanker after anything else in this life or in the life to come. Her love was enough to give them security here and salvation hereafter. They did not even care to know of her spiritual powers. They did not care to see the highest of the Himalayan peaks when they felt themselves sufficiently blessed by touching the foot of that great mountain. There was something in her attitude which soon disarmed all fear and awe. While she was giving initiation, perhaps the disciple was struck with awe and overwhelmed with a feeling of reverence; but once the initiation was over, when she would feed him with sweets just like his own mother, he would at once be just as free with her as he was at his own home. There were instances when she gave her own clothes or blankets to young disciples for their use. Perhaps these disciples would think it sacrilegious to use things which the Mother had used. But her spontaneous motherly attitude would at once remove any such feelings. Does a son hesitate to use anything which his mother gives him? At Jayrambati she would cook for the devotees, wash their plates and cleanse the place they ate. Devotees would sometimes come from a distance, and after staying only two or three days with her would feel so much drawn to her that they would shed tears while leaving the place. Sometimes as they departed the Mother would watch them, as far as they could be seen, with eyes moistened with the tears of a mother's love. Once a young monk who stayed with her went out on some business. It was almost evening when he returned. But the Mother would not take her meal before he came. How could a mother take her food when the son had not had his!1 When the disciple saw this, he was overwhelmed with emotion. Even one's own mother is not always so considerate! She was the mother of all. Every soul born of the womb of a woman would find in her a mother. Her love knew no distinction of caste, creed or geographical boundaries. People from the East and West, from the South and the North would come to her to receive her blessings. She might not even be able to speak their language. But the unspoken language of her love was more than enough for them—they would feel blessed.
When Sister Nivedita came to India, Swami Vivekananda was a bit anxious about how to make a place for her in Hindu society. But the Holy Mother accommodated her in her own room. It took tremendous courage and extreme broad-mindedness on the part of the Mother, for if the news reached her relations she might have to face social persecution. Was it not remarkable, even for herself, that although she belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family and lacked modern education, she could allow an European lady to stay with her? And that too, in the last century at a time when Hindu society was uncompromising in its rigidity as regards social rules!
Though she belonged to an old world, as it were, hers was an extremely modern mind. Seeing this trait in her, Sister Nivedita very aptly remarked, 'Is she the last of an old order or the beginning of a new?' Many a non-Bengali or nonIndian devotee would go to the Holy Mother, but so great was the breadth of her innate culture that everyone would feel quite at home with her. Once while listening to Easter music at Sister Nivedita's place she became so absorbed that one wondered how, without knowing any western language, she could enter so much into the spirit of the resurrection hymns. Similarly, when the English marriage ritual was being described to her once, her face lit up with joy as she heard the marriage vow, 'For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health—till death us do part,' and she exclaimed, 'Oh, the dharmi words! the righteous words!'
Her mental penetration was so very keen and her common sense so strong that even in things supposedly outside her sphere she could give a very sound opinion. During the first World War, a disciple told the Mother how President Wilson was trying to ensure the peace of the whole world and prevent war in the future. The Mother's quiet remark was, 'They all speak through the lips and not from the heart.' Once a disciple was telling her of the many facilities of life which the British rule had given to India. Her reply, however, was, 'But is it not a fact that the poverty of the people is increasing more and more?'
Sometimes people belonging to inferior castes would come to her at Jayrambati, but her same-sighted attitude towards them would always be unchanged. Only, she would see that they observed the usual caste restrictions in the presence of others, as otherwise there could be a sensation in the village where orthodoxy prevailed.
A coolie-woman came to her one evening with some vegetables sent by a devotee, and had to stop for the night at the house. The woman had fever at night and vomited. Next morning before others awakened the Holy Mother washed the soiled bedding so that the poor woman might not be scolded by anyone.
A Mohammedan, engaged as a labourer, was one day taking a meal in her house. He sat on the verandah of the house. Nalini, a niece of the Mother, was serving him. Owing to caste prejudices Nalini remained at a distance and began to throw the food on the plate of the man. At this the Holy Mother reprimanded her niece and herself served him the meal. After he had finished, the Mother cleansed the spot where he had taken his food. Nalini was shocked and exclaimed: 'What are you doing? Will you not lose caste by this?'
In Calcutta, Radhu fell ill, and two famous physicians treated her. The Holy Mother directed Radhu to take the dust of the feet of the physicians as a mark of respect, though they belonged to a lower caste.
Instances are not uncommon when people of extremely low caste received initiation from her and afterwards sat for their meals in her own room and Mother herself washed their plates. According to social custom it would be considered sinful for them to receive such services from a brahmin. Under ordinary circumstances they themselves would not have stood that. But they felt that she was their very mother, and so what harm if she rendered them such services! It was but natural.
She felt very intensely the poverty and suffering of people in general. She would take great interest in the social service activities of the Rama-krishna Mission. If a monk came to her with a complaint that such work interfered with his meditative life, she would pay no attention to him. 'These are also the Master's works,' she would say. While at Jayrambati she would take a sympathetic interest in the affairs of all the neighbours and was a source of great strength to them. Her compassion and timely help would lighten their burden of sufferings.
Though kindness itself, she was not slow to show indignation when occasion demanded it. When two young women, one of whom was an expectant mother, were made on political suspicion to walk a long distance by the local police and the news reached the Holy Mother, she got extremely upset. 'Is this due to Government orders or the over-zeal of the police officials? Were there no men near by to rescue the poor girls?'she said, greatly agitated in mind. Afterwards she was glad to hear that the women were released.
Even persons who had gone astray did not fail to receive her love and blessings, sometimes even inspite of the meek protests of other devotees. Once she bluntly said, 'If my son rolls in the dust, even then he is my child.' On another occasion she said, 'I am as much the mother of the good as of the bad.' Once a woman who felt guilty of moral turpitude came to see her in Calcutta but dared not enter her room. The Mother understood the whole thing. She herself brought her into her room, caressed her and gave her initiation. 'What if you have done anything wrong? When you are repentant your guilt has been washed away,' said the Mother to give her courage and consolation. The life of the woman was afterwards transformed.
Although many erring persons received a mother's love from her, her love would not give them the freedom to err. The slightest error in conduct would receive her notice. She might not always express it, but if it was needed, the delinquent was sure to get a reprimand from her. The sannyasin who developed pride because of his ochre robe, or the householder who showed scant courtesy to a monk because he was much younger in age, would equally get a warning from her about the dangers that lay ahead. If necessary she could be very stern too. If a person thought that taking shelter under her love, he could afford to do anything he liked, he was mistaken. Occasion would come when she would even order such a person to leave the place immediately. Of course, such occasions were very very rare.
A disciple might feel that her love was a sufficient guarantee against the ills of the present and the future life. But how much the Mother had to think for those whose responsibility she had taken! Even in her old age and even in her illness, she would be found to devote much time to prayer and meditation. When asked what was the necessity for her to do any spiritual practice, she would reply she was doing that on behalf of those who had taken refuge in her. No wonder if some disciples, after once getting her affection, felt no necessity of undergoing any spiritual practice at all. Did she not herself say,'If you touch water knowingly or unknowingly, are you not sure to get wet?' She herself once said to a woman disciple in reply to her question as to how she should look upon her, 'It is enough if you think of me even as your mother.' Sometimes her motherly heart could not bear that a disciple should undergo much physical suffering in practising hard tapasya. She would always warn the young aspirant against excess in such things. But at the same time she knew how to rouse to activity an indolent person who had imagined that spiritual progress was compatible with a life of ease.
Earlier, Saradamani's mother had felt sad that her daughter had been given in marriage to one who was half mad, as it were, and who did not lead a worldly life, so that her Sarada would not know what it was to be called 'mother' by her children. At this Sri Ramakrishna told her: 'Dear mother-in-law, you need not feel sorry. Your daughter will have so many children that she will afterwards be tired of being called mother.' His prophetic words came to be so true! We do not know whether the Holy Mother was ever tired of her children. But it is a fact that no mother under the sun had so many children as she had to address her as mother. And how great was their affection for her! A devotee actually said to her one day, 'You have got many sons like me, but I have got no mother like you.'