IN THE SETTING OF DOMESTIC LIFE
IN the latter part of her life, whenever the Holy Mother left Calcutta for the village, she spent her time mostly in her parental home at JayrambatL and not at Kamarpukur. Indeed, since her return from the latter place after about nine months’ stay, her visits to it were few and far between. No doubt, throughout her life she held Kamarpukur in great esteem as being the Master’s birth-place, and she was very enthusiastic over the idea of building a temple there in his memory. She also considered herself to be a native of that village always. For example, when, in the course of the performance of religious rites at Banaras, the priests asked the name of her village, she gave it as Kamarpukur, The Master had once said to her, ” One may beg food from others, but still one must not live at another’s house. Don’t pull down your humble cottage at Kamarpukur, however great might be the respect with which the devotees receive you in their homes.” And true to the Master’s advice, all through her life she bore the expenses of repairing and maintaining the cottage at Kamar-pukur that had come down to her through him.
In spite of all this, Kamarpukur ceased to be her main rural home. Between April 1888, the date of her return to Calcutta at the invitation of devotees, and 1897, she is known to have visited Kamarpukur ten times,1 and from this last date onwards she does not seem to have visited it at all. There were probably several reasons for her shifting from Kamarpukur. To some enquiries of later days, she said that Kamarpukur being too closely associated with the Master, it pained her to stay there in his absence. To a young devotee who attended on her, she said: ” After the Master’s passing away I moved about here and there for some time. Then I went to live at Kamarpukur. But my relatives (meaning the nephews Ramlal and others) seemed to be indifferent towards me. The people of the village too were a high-handed lot. So my mother took me to Jayrambati and did not allow me to live at Kamarpukur any more.”
While loneliness and indifference of relatives formed the immediate cause of her gravitating towards Jayrambati, there was another reason for her permanent shifting to that place after 1897, till her demise in 1920. That was the domestic situation in her parental home and her intimate connection with the loves and fortunes of the members of that family. We have already seen that the Holy Mother’s parental family consisted of her mother Syamasundari Devi and her four younger brothers – Prasanna Kumar, Barada Prasad, Kali Kumar and Abhay Charan. Being the eldest of Syamasundari’s children, the Holy Mother had to do much with the nursing and upbringing of these brothers of hers, and therefore there was naturally a strong tie of affection uniting her with them. None of these brothers had any of the great spiritual qualities that distinguished the Holy Mother, but were just men of the world, and some of them probably represented an extreme type of them. Moreover none of them prospered in life.
The good sister that she was, the Holy Mother was interested in the welfare of these brothers, and they, too, realizing the warm feeling that she had towards them, always leaned upon her even after they were grown up men. And, as it frequently happens when people are not sufficiently well off in life, they tried their best to realize their sister’s love in terms of rupees, annas and pics, especially in her later days when her devoted disciples began to send her money to make her comfortable. There was, therefore, a regular rivalry among her brothers and their families in the matter of extracting the best they could from her, even to the extent of causing her worry and annoyance. But with that remarkable patience for which she was noted, she bore it all without a murmur, and did whatever she could for their worldly welfare. Moreover, whenever she was in Jayrambati, she practically looked into the whole internal management of their household. She would not allow her aged mother to do any work, and the wives of her brothers were at first too young to take up any serious responsibility. Thus she boiled and husked their paddy, cooked food for them, and sometimes even looked after their children. In fact she exerted herself so much for their welfare that Girish Ghosh once remarked that these brothers of the Holy Mother must have performed tremendous austerities in their previous birth to have merited so much attention from their divine sister.
After the death of Syamasundari Devi in 1906, the Holy Mother became practically the mistress of the family. But she found that with the growth of their families, the brothers were developing their own separate interests to the neglect of the common family, and that this was leading to endless bickerings and quarrels among them. Finally, as the only way to restore peace, she asked Swami Saradananda to come over to her village and arrange for the partition of their ancestral properties. It was on 23rd March, 1909 that the Swami arrived at Jayrambati on this work. To arbitrate at a partition is never a pleasant duty for any one, much less for a highly spiritual personage like the Swami. But he considered it both a privilege and a blessing to be of service to the Holy Mother and to carry out any of her commands. Possessed as he was of great powers of mental detachment, he spent much of his time in talking about the Master and in editing Swami Vivekananda’s Jnana Yoga, while attending simultaneously to the demarking of landed properties and mediating in the bitter quarrels that arose in the course of partition among the ‘ uncles ‘, as the Holy Mother’s brothers were called by the devotees. For example, all the documents were in the custody of ‘uncle ‘ Kali. ‘Uncle ‘ Prasanna, however, thought that he had an equal right to be their custodian, and in the course of a sitting of the parties concerned in the partition, tried to snatch them away from his brother’s hands. This resulted in a scuffle between them, and Swami Saradananda had to come between them before they would separate and resume their seats. Under the able arbitration of the Swami, the bickerings of the parties were finally silenced and the partition of all the properties, including houses and lands, was effected. The Holy Mother was at that time asked where she would like to stay at Jayrambati after the partition. Her reply was: ” The Master used to say, ‘ Rats make holes and thus provide places for snakes to live in.’ I shall stay a few days with Prasanna, a few days with Kali and so on.” In fact, until a new cottage with a thatched roof and mud walls was built for her in 1915, she used to stay mostly with
Prasanna Kumar, the eldest of the brothers. She -did so because this brother had by his first wife two young daughters, Nalini and Maku, and his second wife was too young to bring them up. The Holy Mother took up the responsibility of these two young girls, and in later days one found them always in the group of relatives who formed her train when she moved from one place to another.
Partition, however, did not stop the rivalries among the brothers. For the Holy Mother was to them a common property still, and they indulged in mutual recrimination over real or supposed attempts that one or the other was making to derive pecuniary advantages from her. The way in which they worried her and her reactions to their conduct will be best illustrated by a few incidents recorded by her disciples.
On one occasion the Holy Mother arrived at Jayrambati with some disciples. One of them said to her, ” Mother, did you notice how your brothers behaved towards you ? They did not even send a man to receive you when you returned to the village.” The Mother thereupon said to one of her brothers, ” Why did you not send a man to help me cross the river ? My children (referring to the disciples) accompanied me. You did not go yourself, nor did you send a man.” The brother replied,
Sister, I did not do so for fear of Kali (the next brother). He might complain that I was trying to win you over to my side. Do I not know what a priceless treasure you are ? But I am helpless. Please bless me that I may have you as my sister in my future births. I do not want anything else.” To this the Mother replied, ” Do you think that I shall be born again in your family ? I have had enough of it this time. To be your sister again ! My father was a great devotee of Rama, and my mother was compassion incarnate. Therefore I was born in this family’
Once, disgusted with the brothers’ endless demands for money, the Holy Mother remarked, ” They always ask only for money. Did they ever ask, even unknowingly, for devotion and knowledge ? “
One day at about 10 a.m. she was seated at the edge of the outer verandah of her house. Suddenly her two brothers, Kali and Barada, began to quarrel about a hedge put up by the former and were soon about to come to blows. The Holy Mother, unable to witness the quarrel any longer, went herself to pacify them. She was much agitated. Now she would blame one, and now she would restrain the other. After a while a disciple of hers and some others intervened, and the brothers entered their respective homes, still abusing each other. The Mother also went into her house. She was still in an agitated mood, but as soon as she took her seat, she burst into laughter and said, ” What an illusion Mahamaya has created ! Here is this infinite world, and what one calls one’s own possession will be left behind at death. It is a wonder that men cannot see this simple truth.” So saying she laughed again, the laughter continuing for some time.
Among the brothers of the Holy Mother the most brilliant one, in fact the hope of the family, was Abhay Charan, but in the end it so happened that owing to him she came to be burdened with responsibilities of a very taxing and onerous nature. We have already seen that Abhay Charan qualified himself as a medical practitioner. Unfortunately, soon after his obtaining the degree he died of cholera in 1899, leaving behind his widow, Surabala, who was expecting to be a mother. On his death-bed he said to the Holy Mother, ” Hereafter you look after them ” (meaning his wife and the child that was to be born). Abhay was the youngest and most beloved of the Holy Mother’s brothers. His unexpected death left her very sad, but the fate of his wife gradually began to cause her greater anxiety. For, the terrible calamity that befall her unhinged the mind of poor Surabala. In February, 1900, while she was still in that state of mind, she gave birth to a daughter who was given the name of Radharani and came to be more familiarly called as Radhu or Radhi. The loss of her husband, the strain of motherhood, and to add to these, fright caused by an attempted burglary in their house about this time, all together made poor Surabala utterly insane. The question of bringing up the new-born babe became a serious problem for the family. Remembering the words of her dying brother and seeing also the utterly helpless condition of his wife and baby, the Holy Mother felt the new responsibility as her own. She made arrangements for a nurse to assist the insane lady in rearing up the baby and came Backto Calcutta, but she could get no peace of mind thinking of the possible harm that might befall Radhu from the neglect and eccentricity of her mother. “One evening”, she said, “I was worshipping in the shrine, when suddenly a veil was lifted before my vision like a curtain on the stage. I saw that in our country home Radhu was being subjected to great suffering. She was being given a few grains of puffed rice for her food. She was eating them as she rolled in the dust in the open courtyard. Radhu’s mother tied her arm with threads of red, blue and other colours, just like a lunatic. I saw that other children in the family wore woll taken care of. At this condition of Radhu, I felt choked like a person whose head is pressed under water. I clearly felt that such would be her fate if I should not take care of her.”
This, as the Holy Mother said later on, was the moment when Mahamaya, the great world-illusionist, seized her in her clutches ; for from that time onwards Radhu became for her a source of passionate attachment, a veritable obsession in life, until towards her last days she cut this bond of affection by the power of her own discriminative faculty.
After the vision of Radhu’s misery, the Holy Mother went to Jayrambati at once and took direct charge of her. Since then she never allowed Radhu to be parted from her. As her disciples noticed, she could not relish food without Radhu, and she felt her sleep disturbed unless Radhu was by her side. So strong was the bond of affection with which she came to be tied to this girl all of a sudden. In fact, she assumed the role of her mother, and Radhu, too, came to look upon her as such, her own mother being addressed by her as Neri-Ma.
In course of time Radhu and her mother became the greatest source of trouble and worry to the Holy Mother. The amount of trouble and anxiety to which both these subjected her 1 would have driven even the fondest of earthly mothers to desperation and indifference. Surabala, Radhu’s mother, was in the first place jealous of the Holy Mother; for she found her only daughter loving the Holy Mother more than herself. Her insane imagination, therefore, discovered various evil motives in the Holy Mother’s love of Radhu, and with these in mind, she would abuse her in season and out of season before others. Whenever the Holy Mother put Radhu under medical treatment for her frequently recurring ailments, Surabala charged her with attempting to kill her daughter with drugs. Once, in an outburst of temper, she attacked the
1 In the ‘ Conversations ‘ forming the second part of this, book, plenty of instances of this will be found.
Holy Mother with a thick fire-brand from the oven, and only the timely intervention of some disciples saved her from serious injury. On another occasion Surabala fancied that her son-in-law had been drowned and created a row in the family. Once she went with Radhu’s ornaments to a greedy relative, who, taking advantage of her helpless condition, deprived her of all the valuables, so that the Holy Mother had to intercede, and with great difficulty restore them to her. When the persecutions of this mad woman became unbearable, the Holy Mother would remark, ” Perhaps I worshipped Siva with Vilva leaves having thorns. Therefore I have got this thorn in life
Only on one point there was method in Surabala’s madness and that was in respect of her belief that all money or other property that came to the Holy Mother would ultimately go to Radhu. So, it is said, when the Udbodhan Office was built as the Mother’s Calcutta residence, she was very much delighted. Nothing pained her and upset her so much as seeing the Holy Mother make presents to others. Thus once at Banaras she severely reproached her for her liberality, whereupon the Holy Mother said to her, ” My nature is that of a child. Can I calculate so much ? I give to him who seeks”
If Radhu’s mother was a thorn on the Holy Mother’s side, her daughter was no less so. As she grew up, she proved herself to be weak in both body and mind. Physically she was always ailing and mentally she was a moron. Indeed, there was a simplicity about her then as well as in her more mature years, but that was no compensation for her utter lack of understanding and discrimination. Obstinate, petulant, eccentric and intractable, she could not in the least be rectified by all the love and attention that the Holy Mother bestowed on her. Realizing this, the Holy Mother remarked sorrowfully one day, ‘ See how much I am entangled with Radhu! How well has Gaurdasi trained her girl, and I have created a monkey ! ” Radhu did, indeed, love the Holy Mother very much, but for one of her temperament and level of understanding, love only meant sanction for taking extreme liberties in one’s dealings with the object of love. Thus she disobeyed the Holy Mother, flouted her before others, got irritated with her for no reason whatever, abused and cursed her unsparingly, threw objects at her recklessly, and spoke and did things that would exhaust the patience of any other human being.
In June, 1911, the Holy Mother arranged for Radhu’s marriage. But even long after the marriage Radhu would not go to her husband’s house. So both she and her husband would stay mostly in the Mother’s household. Even though she was now quite grown up, she continued to be of the same nature as before, and her behaviour towards the Holy Mother in no way improved. In fact, a few years later, when she was an expectant mother, she was almost on the verge of insanity. Her insolence and intractability were now at their zenith, and her general health too was in a very precarious condition. It was a very anxious time for the Holy Mother. She adopted every measure, both medical and occult, for the safety of Radhu before and after delivery. She came out safe through the ordeal but that did not in any way improve matters. For she continued to be ailing in both body and mind, and the Holy Mother had, with the utmost difficulty, to find enough money for her care and treatment. Her own health was fast declining and she was approaching her end, but yet it was now that she was called upon to face what was perhaps the most anxious and worrying situation in her life. The following pages from a disciple’s diary will amply illustrate it and show her reactions to the same :
” Radhu’s baby was now six months old, but still Radhu could not stand up because of weakness. She could only crawl about. Further, she became addicted to taking opium. The Holy Mother too was of late not keeping well, and was having occasional attacks of fever. She had been trying to wean Radhu from her opium habit. But Radhu was very insistent. That morning the Holy Mother was dressing vegetables, when Radhu came for opium. The Holy Mother understood it and said to her, Radhi, you have had enough of this. Why don’t you stand up ? It is impossible for me to take care of you any longer. For your sake I have lost my devotion and everything. Can you tell me how I can possibly meet all your expenses ? ‘ At these words Radhu became very angry. She took from the vegetable basket a big egg-plant and threw it with great force at the Holy Mother. It struck her with a thud and she curved her Backin pain. Immediately a swelling appeared on that spot. She looked at the photograph of the Master with folded hands and said, ‘ Lord, please forgive her misdemeanour ; for she is senseless.’ Then she took the dust of her own feet, put it on the head of Radhu and said, ‘ Radhi, the Master did not even once utter a word of remonstrance towards this body, and you afflict it so much. How can you understand where my place is? You think nothing of me, because I live with you all At these words Radhu burst into tears.
” A few days before, a devotee from Bangalore had spent some days with the Holy Mother at Koalpara. He gave her a good sum of money for Radhu’s expenses, and while leaving Koalpara said to her, ‘ Mother, whenever you need money for your expenses, please inform me without the slightest hesitation/ At Jayrambati her expenses increased a great deal. Swami Saradananda had written to her that, as he had to procure money from here and there, he found it difficult to send her monthly expenses regularly. At this the Holy Mother said to the disciple, ‘ I think Sarat has not much money to spare. Otherwise he won’t write like that. The other day, the devotee from Bangalore promised to send money. But how can I write to him for it ? Shall I not be able to fulfil the last injunction of the Master? Look here, Radhi, I am going to lose everything for your sake ! The Master said to me, ” Well, don’t stretch out your hand to anybody even for a pice. You shall never lack simple food and clothing. If you beg a person even for a pice, remember, you will be selling your head to him.’
Radhu and her mother always formed an inseparable part of the Holy Mother’s retinue, whether she was in Calcutta or Javrambati. Besides, there were also the daughters of Prasanna Kumar – Nalini and Maku, – of whom the former was unhappily married and the latter had a husband who was too poor to maintain her. They, too, therefore depended on the Holy Mother and mostly stayed with her. These girls, together with some of the young sons of her brothers, who always preferred their kind aunt to their own mothers, also formed a part of her household and often moved with her from Jayram-bati to Calcutta and back. And, of course, when she was in the village, there were also her brothers, who, though loving, were always bent upon extracting whatever they could from her. It was in such a domestic context that the Holy Mother found herself in the latter part of her life. The ‘ Conversations which form the second part of this book
give a realistic picture of her calm, innocent and dignified personality as it appeared against this distracting background, and show also how, placed in such a situation, she none the less proved a source of spiritual inspiration to hundreds of people who looked to her for guidance and counsel.
It may not be out of place now to consider certain possible questions that may arise in the reader’s mind with reference to the Holy Mother’s domestic life described above. According to Indian traditions of ascetic life, a spiritual personage, whether man or woman, is supposed to snap the bond of that special love and affection that one ordinarily has for one’s kith and kin. This being so, what justification can be offered for the Holy Mother having maintained her family connections till the end ? Even if that is in any sense justifiable, how is one to reconcile her spiritual greatness with the intense attachment that she evinced in her love of Radhu ? For a spiritual person is supposed to have no attachment to anything in this world. Questions of this kind are sure to arise in one’s mind when one studies the domestic relations of the Holy Mother. It is therefore necessary to examine them in detail and find out their true significance.
In the first place, the Indian tradition that requires one to snap one’s connection with one’s family and circle of relatives is applicable only in the case of Sannyasins (monks) – men who take to the fourth order of life with the usual Vedic rituals.
Now the Holy Mother did not belong to the monastic order, although her life was an object-lesson in the essential principles of monastic life, namely, purity and renunciation. Her spiritual life was a natural growth, without the least influence of any kind of institutionalism. Like any other woman, she grew up in her parental home amidst many relatives, came later to associate with her husband’s family, discharged her duties to all without any consideration of self, and by virtue of her own endowments and contact with her divine husband, advanced spiritually in the midst of her domestic environment. In other words, there was in her case no break between domestic life and spiritual life, and thus she felt no conflict between the ethics of the house and that of spiritual life. As a member of the family all through life, she did but perform one of her prime duties when she tried to be of some help to her poor relatives.
But even in the discharge of her domestic functions, her conduct had a remarkable feature that elevates even her worldly activity to the borderland of the highest ideal of spiritual ethics. There is no worldly love without some expectation of return. Only, in the mother’s love for the offspring, perhaps, there is a large element of pure disinterestedness. But even here considerations of deriving benefits from children in future often play an important part. Thus, to love a person when that person can offer nothing in return, is itself extremely rare in this world; it is much more so when the object of love gives only kicks and abuses in return for the endless troubles and worries. A given example of love may look apparently worldly from an examination of its setting, but if in point of disinterestedness and self-abnegation it fulfils the condition mentioned last, then one cannot help admiring it as a very high achievement of the human spirit, however alien it may be to the code of morality followed by a mere ascetic. For a new quality, utterly absent in worldly love, has emerged in it, and by virtue of that quality it brings out all that is greatest and noblest in human nature.
The love of the Holy Mother for her relatives, it must be admitted, was of this order, even if one considers it to be of the worldly species because of its domestic associations. She had no direct responsibility for any of these relatives. Out of sheer goodness or a sense of pity she wanted to be of some service to them. Nor was there the least trace of any selfish consideration in her love. There was nothing she could expect from her brothers either in this life or in the next; much less from the eccentric Radhu or her insane mother. Extreme worry and torment were her only reward for all her solicitude. But even in the midst of it all, she went on with the discharge of her self-imposed responsibilities – calm, forgiving, sweet, loving, dignified and never forgetting the true principles of spiritual life. Her example in this respect sets before us the highest ideal of maternal love, which forms the basic virtue of domestic ethics and the one force that assures the stability of home life. For, in all other phases of love too, these elements of utter forgiveness and unselfish service, so characteristic of maternal love, are present in however small a degree, and it is by virtue of this alone that they become helpful in the domestication and, ultimately, in the spiritualization of the animal man. Therefore the home life of the Holy Mother, wherein we get a remarkable manifestation of unadulterated maternal love, becomes an integral part of her mission, and adds to the significance of her life to the vast majority of mankind. As she was immaculately pure and unselfish in the midst of all these worldly concerns, her domestic situation, which appears as a blemish to the ascetic code of ethics, only goes to enhance the spiritual worth and the ethical significance of her life.
The Holy Mother’s intense attachment to Radhu requires also to be considered separately from her relation to the rest of her family; for, besides the ethical significance we have referred to above, it had also a spiritual purpose to serve in the fulfilment of her life’s mission. We have already seen how, after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother’s mind used to dwell at a high spiritual level. The only purpose of life in the world which her pure and desireless mind had recognized till then was the service of the Master, and after he terminated his earthly existence, she found nothing in this world to live for. Now, a mind without desires of any kind cannot for long function through the body. Just like gold, which requires to be mixed with a certain percentage of baser metal before it can be made into ornaments, the mind too must have a modicum of worldly desires if it is to work on the physical plane. Otherwise it would be absorbed perpetually in Samadhi, and the body, in the absence of its proper upkeep, would soon disintegrate. Therefore in the life of Sri Ramakrishna we find that with the definite purpose of keeping the mind on the physical plane, he used to create by an effort of the will such harmless desires as love of association with pure souls or longing to partake of some particular sweetmeat. Now in the case of the Holy Mother, too, in the absence of any worldly tie after the Master’s passing away, there was a strong inclination to give up the body and seek perpetual union with the Divine. As Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma, her companions, noticed, the phenomenon of Samadhi became more and more frequent with her, and if she were left without any worldly distraction, there was every possibility of her giving up the body early in life. But she had a particular mission to fulfil in continuation of the Master’s life-work, and her body had, therefore, to be preserved until the time for her work was ripe. The appearance of Radhu on the horizon of her life provided her with that element of worldly attachment necessary for the continuance of the body. In other words, love of Radhu was the mental ballast which held her consciousness at the physical level and thus helped her to minister to the spiritual needs of countless men and women.
This is not a mere fancy of her devotees, nor a theory improvised as an explanation of some unpleasant facts. It was the conviction she herself had arrived at on the strength of some very striking visions, partly premonitory in character. To quote her own words on the point: ” How the Master has entangled me through Radhu! . . . After the
passing away of the Master, I did not at all relish anything in life. I became utterly indifferent to worldly things and kept on praying, ‘ What shall I achieve by remaining in this world? ‘ At that time I saw a girl ten or twelve years old, walking in front of me dressed in a red cloth. The Master pointed her out to me and said, ‘ Cling to her as a support. Many children (disciples) will come to you,’ The next moment he disappeared. I did not see the girl any more. Later on I was seated in this very place (her house at Jayrambati). At that time Radhu’s mother was stark mad. She was dragging some rags pressed under her arm, and Radhu crawled behind her weeping. Seeing this, I felt a peculiar sensation in my heart. At once I ran to Radhu and took her in my arms. I said to myself, ‘ Well, if I do not look after this child, who else will take care of her? She has no father, and her mother is that insane woman,’ No sooner had I taken the child in my arms, than I saw the Master. He said,” This is that girl. Cling to her as your support. She is Yoga-maya, the illusive power.’ “
Indeed, even when the Holy Mother was alive, some of her intimate followers felt the contradiction between her deep attachment to Radhu and her position in life as a spiritual teacher. A disciple who felt this doubt in his mind, once asked her plainly, ” Mother, why are you so much attached ? Day and night you dote on Radhu like one entangled in worldliness.” The disciple had put the same question to her before, and she had replied with her characteristic humility, “You see, we are women ; it is our nature to love our children.” But on this occasion she became excited and said, ” Where will you find another like me? Try to find one. You see, those who meditate intensely on the highest Reality become very subtle and pure in mind. Whatever they think with that mind, they think very intensely.2 Therefore it appears to others like attachment. When lightning flashes, it is reflected in glass panes alone, not in wooden shutters.”
Once Yogin-Ma also felt a similar doubt about the Holy Mother. She thought, ” The Master was a man of such renunciation, and we see the Holy Mother behaving like a perfectly worldly person. Day and night she is restless about her brothers, nephews and nieces. I don’t understand it.” Shortly after this doubt had arisen in her mind, she was one day meditating on the banks of the Ganges, when she saw in a vision the Master standing before her and saying, ” Look there! Don’t you see something floating on the Ganges ? ” She saw a new-born baby, entangled in its entrails, being carried along by the current. The Master then said to her, ” Can anything ever make the Ganges impure ? Can anything defile its waters ? Regard her (the Holy Mother) too in the same way. Never have any doubt about her. Know that she and this (referring to himself) are identical.”
On these explanations of the Holy Mother’s attachments, a critical mind may remark that, however good they may be in themselves, they are too subjective, and that, being of the nature of rationalization, they will be convincing only to her followers. The question will, therefore, be raised
1 According to Hindu belief the Ganges is holy under all conditions, however dirty and polluted it may appear from outside. There is also a chemical property inherent in the water of the Ganges, corresponding to tins religious belief about it. One can keep its water even from the Hoogly near Calcutta, where it is most polluted, lor any number of years ; it will never get spoiled like ordinary water. Pilgrims who carry Ganges water to their homes keep it for years. Chemical examination of the Ganges water has shown that it has the property of destroying various germs in a short time.
whether there are more objective considerations, distinguishing the Holy Mother’s attachment from those of ordinary worldly people. The answer is, there are several such considerations, which we state in brief below :
(1) The disciples of the Holy Mother, who went to her with spiritual motives, no doubt, found her in the entanglements described in this chapter, but they found also that by association with her they themselves got rid of their worldly attachments and attained peace of mind. Several of them became monks, leaving hearth and home. How could this capacity of hers to infuse a spirit of renunciation into others be explained if we equate her attachment with the worldly attachment of ordinary people ?
(2) In the case of worldly attachment we find that in proportion to one’s love for a particular object, one’s capacity to love others diminishes. Not only that, in pursuing the interests of such narrow and selfish love one often becomes greedy, calculating and callous to the interests of others. In the Holy Mother there was not the slightest trace of these. Renunciation, liberality and a childlike simplicity were second nature with her all through life. In fact her relatives complained that she was too liberal with her possessions without any consideration for the future. And every one who moved closely with her found that while she doted on Radhu on the one hand, she also showed, on the other, an infinite capacity to shower sweet love and maternal tenderness on her disciples and devotees. As the ‘Conversations ‘ in the second part amply show, no one could move with her without feeling that she was one’s own mother and much more. In fact her heart was broad as the ocean itself. The salt existing throughout the ocean may be a little concentrated in some particular area, but the very vastness of the ocean assures us that because of this concentration there is no diminution of its salinity elsewhere. So also the element of love permeating her limitless heart remained unaffected by the little concentration of it with reference to certain persons brought about by the special conditions of her life. In this respect the Holy Mother’s attachments stand in striking contrast to the worldly attachments of ordinary people.
(3) Attachments always increase in intensity as one goes on cultivating them, and those who arc subject to them gradually lose that power of will by which one could cut these bondages of the heart. In other words, attachment generally destroys the power of detachment. This is the rule with all worldly-minded persons. In contrast to this, the truly spiritual person possesses both the power of attachment and detachment in an equal measure. His pure mind, whenever it takes up an undertaking, pursues it with the whole of its energy, and so also it can drop it without the least concern when circumstances require it to do so. The Holy Mother too possessed this power of detachment in a remarkable degree. Two instances will illustrate the point.
The child of Maku, a niece of the Holy Mother, died of diphtheria at Jayrambati. In the interest of Radhu’s health, the Holy Mother was then staying at the Koalpara Ashrama, situated about six miles from Jayrambati. Ncra, as this child of Maku was called, was a favourite of the Holy Mother. She had made every possible arrangement for his proper treatment and nursing and was daily sending several messengers to report about his health. Finally, one afternoon the news of his death reached the Mother’s ears. She was disconsolate and began to lament like an ordinary person. By and by it was dusk, the time for Aratrika 3 in the shrine. Because of the grief-stricken mood of the Holy Mother, none of the inmates of the Ashrama was disposed to do the worship. The Mother herself now got up, saying it was already late for Aratrika. Her sobbing stopped, and in a perfectly composed manner she did the worship and all the other evening duties of hers like the distribution of Prasad. For the rest of the evening she was found to be in a perfectly normal mood, and, but for a few references to the excellent qualities of the child, she showed no sign of grief at all. This capacity to switch the mind from a paroxysm of grief to perfect composure is unthinkable in cases of real worldly attachment.
A still more striking example of her power of detachment is noticeable in her attitude towards Radhu during her last days. We have seen how for several years she had been doting on Radhu with an intensity of attachment that is unparalleled in worldly life. But she would say now and then, ” You see, my doting on Radhu is a delusion that I have superimposed upon myself”, or ” My mind does not dwell on Radhu in the slightest degree. I force it on her.
I pray to the Master, saying, ‘ O Lord, please divert my mind a little to Radhu. Otherwise who will look after her? ‘ ” The truth of these oft-repeated statements of hers regarding her control even over this very intense form of attachment, was proved when she was on her death-bed. Generally the last days of a person’s life, when he is fast sinking, are the times when his worldly attachments and desires express themselves with the greatest force. But in the Holy Mother’s case we find that at this critical time she detached her mind completely from Radhu.1 Worldly people generally like their beloved ones to be by them during their last moments. But the Holy Mother, who could not til! then sleep without Radhu by her side, asked her attendants again and again to send Radhu and her cousins Backto Jayrambati. Even when their little children approached her bed, she would ask them to be taken away from her,
1 For interesting details on this subject, see chap. XIX.
saying that she had once for all detached her mind from them, and that their presence by her side was even repugnant to her.1
These considerations are enough to make one pause and think, in place of jumping at any hasty conclusion regarding the worldly relationship of the Holy Mother. The more one ponders over it, the more is one struck with wonder at the strange synthesis of human interest and divine grandeur in her life. To the common man and woman this aspect of the Holy Mother’s life has an added interest and appeal. For faced as they are with similar domestic problems, they would recognize in her a fellow-sharer of the woes of life and an exemplar of the way in which one should face them. Is it possible for one with domestic responsibilities to practise devotional life ? That is a question which comes to all spiritually inclined persons who have worldly duties and responsibilities to fulfil. The Holy Mother’s life is both a
1 To impress still more clearly the difference between the Holy Mother’s attitude of mind and true worldly attachment, we draw the reader’s attention to the Puranic story of the pious king Bharata. In his last days the king was living the life of a recluse, renouncing his kingdom and spending his whole time in the contemplation of the Divine. But his mind gradually got attached to a young deer which had been rescued by him from danger and was being brought up as his pet. In spite of years spent in holy living, the attachment tor the deer manifested itself in all its intensity during his last moments, and he died with his mind full of anxious thoughts about its future welfare. Consequently he had to be reborn m lower levels of existence. The utter purity, non-attachment and spiritual grandeur of the Holy Mother shine vividly by the side of this example.
striking and hope-inspiring answer to this question. Her worldly relationships constitute, as it were, the foil against which the brilliance of her spirituality gains an added significance.
The Holy Mother visited Kamarpukur subsequently on the following occasions: End of October. 1890; in February and in July to October, 1891; in July 1892 ; in January and in July, 1893; in May, 1895; in November, 1895 to January, 1896; in May and in September-October of 1897.
This was true of Sri Ramakrishna also. Whenever he thought of doing a thing, he would be restless until he accomplished it. In his love of young disciples like Swami Vivcka-nanda, there was an intensity unknown in worldly love. When be was separated from them for long, he felt that his heart was being squeezed like a wet towel.
This is a form of service done at particular hours of the day, especially at dusk, the chief feature of which consists in the waving of lighted wicks and camphor before the Deity.