It was the abiding confidence of Sri Rama-krishna in the integrity of Naren’s character as also the Master’s selfless love for him that conquered his powerful heart. With the growing intimacy with the Master, Naren’s tendency to resist lessened and eventually led to complete self-surrender. Afterwards Naren often said, ‘Sri Ramakrishna was the only person who, ever since he had met me, believed in me uniformly throughout – even my mother and brothers did not do so. It was his unflinching trust and love for me that bound me to him for ever. He alone knew how to love another.’
With the ever increasing desire for illumination, the studies for the Law examination became a torment to Narendra Nath. His buoyant imagination which had already caught fire from the flame of his Master’s spiritual life now refused to be satisfied with worldly aspirations. His soul wanted freedom from the galling fetters of existence. Very often, for the relaxation of his mental tension, he would run away from the stifling atmosphere of his home and take shelter at the feet of the Master in the holy temple-garden of Dakshineswar. The inner aspirations of Naren’s soul were fully visible to the spiritually illumined vision of Sri Ramakrishna, who with infinite love and patience began to train him. Naren, his gifted disciple, was also astute enough to rise to his lofty teaching, and with his brilliant intellect and fiery enthusiasm was able to follow in life whatever practical suggestion and words of wisdom fell from the lips of the Master. He was also the readiest among the disciples in arriving at the true spirit of the Master’s pregnant gospel. One instance will suffice. One day, some time during the year 1884, Sri Ramakrishna was seated in his room at Dakshineswar surrounded by his disciples. The conversation drifted to the Vaishnava religion. The Master gave the gist of the belief of some of its followers and finished saying, ‘This religion enjoins upon its followers the practice of three things: relish for the name of God, compassion for all living creatures and service to the Vaishnavas – the devotees of the Lord.’ Hardly had he uttered these words when he fell into Samadhi. After a while he came to a semi-conscious state of mind and said to himself: ‘Compassion for creatures! Compassion for creatures! Thou fool! An insignificant worm crawling on earth, thou to show compassion to others! Who art thou to show compassion? No, it cannot be. It is not compassion for others, but rather service to man, recognizing him to be the veritable manifestation of God!’
Everyone present there, no doubt, heard those words of Sri Ramakrishna, but none but Naren could gauge their meaning. When Naren left the room he said to others, ‘What a strange light have I discovered in those wonderful words of the Master! How beautifully has he reconciled the ideal of Bhakti (devotion) with the knowledge the Vedanta (non-dualism). I have understood from these words of wisdom that the ideal of Vedanta lived by the recluse outside the pale of society can be practised even from hearth and home and applied to all our daily schemes of life. Whatever may be the vocation of a man, let him understand and realize that it is God alone who has manifested Himself as the world and created beings. He is both immanent and transcendent. It is He who had become all diverse creatures, objects of our love, and yet He is beyond all these. Such realization of Divinity in humanity leaves no room for egotism. By realizing it, a man cannot have any j ealousy or ?pity ? for any other being. Service of man, knowing him to be the manifestation of God, purifies the heart; and, in no time, such an aspirant realizes himself as part and parcel of God – Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. However, if it be the will of the Lord, the day will soon come when I shall proclaim this grand truth before the world at large. I shall make it the common property of all, the wise and the fool, the rich and the poor, the Brahmin and the pariah.’ In the fullness of time this high-souled desire of Narendra Nath came to be fulfilled to the letter and spirit. He proclaimed unto humanity this splendid ideal of service, based on knowledge, which he received as a sacred legacy from his Master in the serene peace of Dakshineswar.
It was in the middle of 1885 that Sri Rama-krishna showed the first symptom of throat trouble which ultimately ended in the fatal cancer. He was at first lodged in a house at Shyampukur for treatment and afterwards removed to a garden-house at Cossipore. The Master, knowing that he was approaching the end of his mortal existence, was eager to kindle in the heart of his chief disciples a burning desire for the realization of God. He not only imparted his spiritual instructions to his disciples, but he gave them likewise the stimulus and the strength to follow those teachings. His own life, the force of his utterances, the ease with which he entered into the highest Samadhi and his constant communion with the Divine – all these were a source of perennial inspiration to these young souls.
At the Cossipore garden Sri Ramakrishna was practically alone with his young disciples. Having given up their homes for the time at the urgent desire of Naren, they dedicated themselves in loving and devoted service to the Master. Naren was to them a constant source of inspiration. During their leisure periods, he would gather them together, and the time was spent in study, music, conversation, and discussions of the divine traits of their Master’s character. Naren was the leader in every respect.
As the end of the Master came nearer, Narendra Nath’s passionate desire for the realization of God increased and intensified. The Master would often send Naren and other disciples to meditate; and Naren, in the intensity of his meditations, became blessed with many rare spiritual experiences. The Master had already initiated him into various paths of spiritual discipline and was preparing him to be the head of the group of young monks who were to consecrate their lives in the near future to carrying out his mission. One day the Master expressly commissioned him to look after the young devotees, saying, ‘I leave them to your care. See that they practise spiritual exercises even after my passing away and that they do not return home.’ Another day, in preparation for the prospective monastic life, the Master commanded the young boys to beg their food from door to door as monks do. The food which they collected in this manner was cooked in the garden and offered to the Master, who was overjoyed. The Master knew that soon these young boys would put on the ochre robe of renunciation and go forth in quest of God, begging what food was necessary from householders. The Master himself initiated them as monks – thus fulfilling their heart’s desire.
Now we come to the greatest moment of Naren’s Sadhana, the very crest and glory of his spiritual realizations. Naren was pining for a vision of the Absolute. He prayed to feel Divinity. To lose the ‘I’ in the vastness of Consciousness which is beyond thought – was Narendra Nath’s intense desire. Long did he pray to Sri Ramakrishna for this realization. One evening, however, it came unexpectedly. As he was meditating, he lost all body-consciousness and his mind plunged into the superconscious state. It was a state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
Referring to this incident Sri Ramakrishna said afterwards, ‘I have prayed that the Divine Mother may keep this realization of the Absolute veiled from Naren. There is much work to be done by him. But this veil is so very thin that it may give way at any time.’ It was because of Naren’s intense desire to realize the Absolute Brahman that Sri Ramakrishna decided to give that experience to him. But the Master had no intention of permitting him to stay there, since much work was waiting for Narendra Nath. Three or four days before his passing away, Sri Ramakrishna called Naren near and actually commissioned him for future work.
It was on August 16, 1886, that Sri Ramakrishna passed away leaving his disciples in deep gloom. After the death of the Master, Naren began to organize these disciples into a monastic brotherhood. He went to the homes of those boys who had resumed their studies, and, by a whirlwind of enthusiasm, tried to induce them to return to Baranagore where the first monastery of the Ramakrishna Order was started. Once at the monastery, they could not resist the spiritual impetus of Naren’s songs and thrilling conversations. One by one the young disciples joined together and ultimately banded themselves into a holy brotherhood under the inspiring leadership of Narendra Nath. The boys were now in the midst of extreme privations. They were so determined in their desire to follow the injunctions of the Master that, forgetting sleep, they spent night after night in prayer and spiritual exercises. Naren always spurred them on to burning renunciation and intense devotion. Hours were also consumed in the study of philosophy, both Eastern and Western, to intensify their struggle for the realization of the highest Truth. All who came within the sphere of their influence were also caught up in their spirit of God-intoxication. With the delight of a martyr these monks practised the severest of spiritual austerities, and the world had no meaning for them at that time. Some time during this period they performed the sacred Viraja ceremony and formally took the vows of lifelong celibacy and poverty, dedicating their lives to the realization of God. The old names were changed for new ones to complete their severance from their earlier life and its associations.