At the Cossipore garden was played the last act of the Master's life on the physical plane. On the eve of his exit from the arena of the world, the Master showed himself at his highest, and making Narendra Nath the fit instrument for the propagation of his ideas, entrusted to him the charge of his flock. The pathos and sublimity of this closing scene can only be felt, not described.
Soon after coming, the boys divided among themselves the task of cooking, marketing and other household duties. The Holy Mother had the charge of preparing the food as well as of feeding the Master. Narendra was the leader of the young disciples. When they were not occupied in the service of the Master, he would bring them together and engage them in meditation, study, discussion, or songs. Thus busied they were always in a delightful atmosphere, and time passed unnoticed. Though the number of these sacrificing youths did not exceed twelve, yet every one of them, by the consecration of his life to the service of the Guru, appeared a tower of strength.
When through the united effort of the older and younger devotees the treatment and nursing of the Master were going on smoothly, Narendra one night called some of these young boys to his side and said: 'The Master's disease is very serious. Perhaps he intends to lay down his body. Strive your best for spiritual upliftment through service unto him along with prayer and meditation while yet there is time. After his passing there will be no end to your repentance. We are wasting time in the foolish thought that we shall pray to God after finishing this or that business at hand. We are fastening more chains of desire on ourselves, and desires mean death. We must root them out at once.' It was a cold starry night, and perfect stillness reigned everywhere. Narendra's introspective mind caught the contagion of the hour and felt disposed to meditate. He sat under a tree, and seeing a stack of dry grass and twigs near by, said: 'Set fire to that. At this hour the monks light their meditation fire. Let us do the same and burn up our desires.' The fire was lighted. The young devotees put the faggots into the fire and made a holocaust of their desires at the same time. The very thought filled their hearts with unspeakable joy. They actually felt that their minds were being purged and that they were coming closer to God.
At this time occurred an event of great importance; showing the Master's wonderful love for his devotees and his extraordinary spiritual power. It was the 1st of January 1886. Sri Rama-krishna felt much better and wished to take a walk in the garden. lt was about three in the afternoon. As it was a holiday, about thirty lay disciples were present, some in the hall and others under the trees. When Sri Ramakrishna came down, those in the hall saluted him and followed him at a distance as he walked slowly towards the gate. Girish, Ram, Atul, and some others also came and saluted the Master. Sri Ramakrishna suddenly said to Girish, 'Well, Girish, what have you found in me that you proclaim me before all as an Incarnation?' Girish, not at all taken aback by the question, knelt before him with folded hands and said in a voice shaken with emotion, 'What can an insignificant creature like me say about One whose glory even sages like Vyasa and Valmiki could not measure?' Hearing these words, spoken with the greatest intensity, Sri Ramakrishna was deeply moved and said: 'What more shall I say? I bless you all! Be illumined!' Saying this he fell into a state of semi-consciousness. The devotees heard these solemn words and became mad with joy. Overwhelmed with emotion they moved forward to take the dust of his feet and saluted him. At this manifestation of devotion, Sri Ramakrishna's mercy overstepped its bounds and he touched them all, one by one, with appropriate blessings. This powerful touch revolutionized their minds, and the devotees, so blessed by the Master, had wonderful spiritual experiences. They, upon coming down from that state of spiritual exaltation, realized that the Master was showering his grace upon all without distinction.
Sri Ramakrishna, knowing his end to be very near, was busy preparing his chief disciple, Narendra Nath, for the great task which was later to be his. One day the Master expressly commissioned him to look after the young devotees, saying, 'I leave them in your care. See that they practise spiritual exercises and do not return home.' He was thus silently training them for the monastic life; and one day he asked Narendra and other young men to beg their food in the streets. They all went out with begging bowls in hand. The Master was overjoyed to think that before long these young men, clad in the ochre robe of the Sannyasin, would go out into the world, begging their food from door to door, and confer upon humanity the highest blessings of religion. One day Gopal Senior expressed his desire to the Master to distribute ochre cloths and Rudraksha rosaries among Sannyasins. Pointing to his young disciples, Sri Ramakrishna answered, 'You won't find better monks than these anywhere. Give your clothes and things to them.' Gopal placed a bundle of ochre clothes before the Master, who distributed them among his young disciples. One evening the Master made them go through a ceremony and permitted them to receive food from the houses of all irrespective of caste. Thus it was that the disciples were initiated into the monastic order by the Master himself, and the foundation of the future Ramakrishna Order was laid.
We have seen Narendra Nath's aspirations for the highest Truth and his struggle to attain it. One evening, as he was meditating, it came to him quite unexpectedly. At first he felt as if a light had been placed behind his head. Then he passed beyond all relativity and was lost in the Absolute. He had attained the Nirvikalpa Samadhi! When he gained a little consciousness of the world, he felt only his head, but not his body. He cried out, 'Ah, where is my body?' Hearing his voice Gopal Senior came into the room. Naren repeated the query. 'Here it is, Naren,' answered Gopal. When that failed to convince Naren, Gopal was terrified and hastened to inform the Master. The latter only said, 'Let him stay in that state for a while! He has teased me long enough for it!' After a long time Narendra came to the consciousness of the physical world and found his brother disciples clustered about him. An ineffable peace bathed his soul. When he came to the Master, the latter said: 'Now the Mother has shown you all. But this realization of yours shall be locked up for the present, and the key will remain with me. When you will have finished doing Mother's work, this treasure will again be yours.'
In the meanwhile Sri Ramakrishna was sinking daily; his body was worn to a skeleton, and his diet was reduced to a minimum. All this grieved the devotees. They knew now that they were going to lose the great mainstay of their lives. When the pain was excruciating, the Master would only whisper with a smile, 'Let the body and its pain take care of each other, thou, my mind, be always in bliss!' One night he whispered to Mahendra, 'I am bearing all this cheerfully, because otherwise you would be weeping. If you all will say that it is better that the body should go rather than suffer this torture, I am willing.' The devotees, however, begged him to ask the Divine Mother to make his body last; but he gazed at them tenderly and said, 'How can I ask Her for anything when my will is entirely merged in Hers?' He consoled them by saying 'He (the Lord) comes with His devotees as a man—as an Incarnation. The devotees again return with Him. A band of minstrels appear before a house. They sing and dance, and go away as suddenly as they came, nobody knows them!'
In spite of failing strength the Master continued his spiritual work. One day he initiated Narendra with the name of Rama, which he said, was his own Ishta Mantra. It produced a miraculous effect. Narendra was filled with bliss, and in the intoxication of it went round and round the house uttering the name of Rama. He was in such an exalted mood that none dared approach him. After this had gone on for hours the other disciples grew alarmed and reported it to Sri Ramakrishna, who simply said, 'Let him be. He will recover in due course.' But it was four o'clock before Narendra regained normal consciousness.
About eight or nine days before his passing, Sri Ramakrishna asked Yogin to read to him from the Bengali almanac the dates from the twenty-fifth Shravana (9th August) onwards. Yogin read until he came to the last day of the month. The Master then made a sign that he did not want to hear any more. Four or five days after this, the Master called Narendra to his side. There was nobody else in the room. He made Narendra sit before him and gazing at him fell into Samadhi. Narendra felt a subtle force like an electric shock penetrating his body. Gradually he too lost outward consciousness. He did not remember how long he sat there. When he came to normal consciousness, he found Sri Ramakrishna in tears. The Master said to him, 'Today I have given you all and have become a Fakir ! Through this power you will do immense good to the world, and then only shall you go back.' In this way Sri Ramakrishna passed on his powers to Narendra; henceforth the Master and the disciple became one soul.
A couple of days later the idea entered Narendra's mind of testing Sri Ramakrishna's statement that he was an Incarnation. He said to himself, 'If in the midst of this dreadful physical pain he can declare his Godhead, then I shall believe him.' Strange to say, the moment this thought came to him, Sri Ramakrishna summoning all his energy said distinctly, 'He who was Rama and Krishna, is now Ramakrishna in this body—but not in your Vedantic sense!' Narendra was stricken with shame and remorse for having doubted the Master even after so many revelations.
At last the eventful day arrived—a day of intense grief for the devotees. It was Sunday, August 15, 1886, the last day of Shravana. The Master's suffering was at its highest. The devotees wept in grief. They stood by the bed-side of the Master. In the evening he suddenly fell into Samadhi. The body became stiff. There was something about this Samadhi which struck Shashi as unusual, and he began to weep. After midnight Sri Ramakrishna regained consciousness. The Master in a clear voice uttered thrice the name of Kali and gently lay down. Suddenly at two minutes past one, a thrill passed through the Master's body, making the hair stand on end. The eyes became fixed on the tip of the nose and the face was lit up with a smile. The Master entered into Mahasamadhi. Thus in the early hours of Monday, the 16th of August 1886, Sri Ramakrishna departed from the world, leaving behind a host of grief-stricken devotees and admirers.
At five p.m. the sacred body was brought down and laid on a cot. It was dressed in ochre cloth and decorated with sandal-paste and flowers. An hour later, the body was carried to the burning ghat at Cossipore, to the accompaniment of devotional music. Spectators shed tears as they saw the solemn procession pass. The body was placed on the funeral pyre, and within a couple of hours everything was finished.
A calm resignation came to the devotees as they prepared to leave the cremation ground, for they all realized the Master's eternal presence within. He, their Lord, was the same in the disembodied state as in the physical life. According to his own words, he had passed from one chamber to another, that was all. They put the sacred relics of the Master's body into an urn and returned to the Cossipore garden, shouting 'Victory to Bhagavan Ramakrishna.'