HER SPIRITUAL MINISTRY
THE ultimate spiritual Principle is often described as a harmony of contradictions. Thus the Upani-shads indicate It as permanence behind the impermanent, as unity in multiplicity, as sentiency amidst the insentient. It is the cause of the world, but the world neither exhausts nor contaminates It. Everything subsists in It, but not It in them. Multiplicity has its basis in It, but it fails to destroy Its unity, just as the poison in the fangs of a snake does not affect the snake itself.
The life of every great spiritual personage is an approximation to this cosmic mystery. The true spiritual type marks, as it were, the borderland between humanity and Divinity. Or rather it is Divinity manifesting Itself through the frailties of humanity – God playing the game of hide and seek through the curtain of human personality, now appearing only as man, and the next moment revealing something of His transcendent glory. Such personages are in the world, but not of it.
There seem to be two phases in the character and activities of such personages, intertwined no doubt,
but sufficiently distinguishable by the stress that the one or the other receives according to time and circumstances. On the one side they look quite human and their activities resemble those of worldly men. But unaffected by this aspect, there exists in them another strand so different from anything in the common run of men, carrying with it a sanctifying influence that dissipates the darkness of ignorance from those who come in contact with them. In spite of the apparent conflict between these two phases of life, they coexist in perfect harmony in such great men, adding significance to their lives from the view points of pure spiritual aspirants as well as of those who are in quest of worldly ideals. Such has been the case with some of the great incarnations like Rama and Krishna mentioned in Hindu Scriptures.
In the life of the Holy Mother too this analysis holds good. In the latter part of her life, as depicted in the ‘Conversations ‘ comprising the second part, she is seen surrounded by two distinct types of people – her relatives on the one hand and her disciples on the other. Both these groups approached her with quite different motives, the first to gain whatever material advantages they could from her, and the second to serve her and benefit spiritually by her contact. In the preceding chapter her dealings with her relatives have been considered and in the present one her relation to those who went to her for spiritual illumination will be dealt with. It is, however, pertinent to inquire how she could fulfil both these apparently incongruous duties without detriment to either. Could it be that there were two water-tight compartments in her personality, so that the spiritual side could remain uncontaminated by worldly dealings ? Ultimately this is a riddle which shades off into the mystery of the Deity – the question how He manifests Himself as the world and yet retains His pristine purity. From the analytical point of view, which alone ordinary persons are capable of at their level of thought, some sort of compartmental theory is the only understandable course. There are many utterances of the Holy Mother herself which lend support to the application of this theory to her case. For she is known to have made such statements as the following: ” The vision of God is in the palm of my hand. 1 can have it whenever I want “; ” In the midst of worldly activities, whenever I desire, I understand with a flash that all this is nothing but a play of Mahamaya ” ; “Don’t regard me as your relative ; I can leave this body at once if I so desire ” ; ” No one will be able to know my real nature so long as I am alive”
But in the case of the Holy Mother, however different these two aspects of her mental life may be in their functioning, one finds an underlying unity in their essence in so far as both of them are the expressions of the great principle of motherhood of which her whole life is a revelation. In our review of her domestic life, we have shown how the impelling force behind even her worldly attachments was her sense of motherhood, – a form of love that only gives but never thinks of any return, nay, gives even when any return takes the shape of ingratitude and persecution – and how for this reason, even her worldly love bordered on pure spirituality. In her role as a spiritual teacher, too, it is the very same principle of motherhood that is illustrated, perhaps through a medium that reveals the true quality of it, with greater directness.
According to Hindu religious ideals, the relation between the disciple and the Guru (spiritual preceptor) is the most intimate and sacred. The disciple is expected to see in the Guru a channel through which divine mercy manifests itself for his redemption, and as such put implicit faith in his words and obey his commands without questioning. This exalted conception of the Guru entertained by the disciple makes the work of the former a very responsible one. He must be a man of great spiritual attainments, should know the purport of the Scriptures, and must be guided only by love and mercy for suffering humanity in the matter of accepting anyone as a disciple. There must be absolutely no commercial motive. He may, no doubt, accept whatever gifts a disciple offers in love and reverence, but they should never be an incentive to his spiritual ministry. He must be more like a parent – only much nobler than any parent we come across ordinarily in the world – interested mainly in giving to the loved one, not in receiving any corresponding advantage from him.
Such being the conception of the Guru among the Hindus, there have been few so qualified as the Holy Mother for discharging the onerous responsibilities connected with it. By virtue of her long preparation for this work under Sri Ramakrishna, the direct command he had given her to continue his spiritual mission, and her great spiritual attainments, she was eminently fitted to play the role of a Guru. Besides these qualifications, it was her inherent quality of motherhood, which blossomed to its full proportions about this period, – rendering her so selfless, forgiving, kind and anxious to serve – that distinguished her among the great spiritual teachers of the world.
The idea will be clear if one remembers her own words on the responsibilities she undertook when she initiated anybody as a disciple. ” The power of the Guru is transmitted through the Mantra to the disciple,” she said once ; ” that is why the Guru at the time of initiation takes on himself the sins of the disciple and suffers so much from physical maladies. It is extremely difficult to be a Guru; for he has to take the responsibilities for the disciple’s sins. He is affected by them A good disciple, however, helps the teacher. Some disciples make quick progress, and some do it slowly. It depends on the tendencies of the mind acquired by one’s past deeds.
That is why Rakhal (Swami Brahmananda) hesitates about giving initiation. He said to me, ‘ Mother, as soon as I initiate a disciple, I feel physically ill. The very mention of the Mantra makes me feel feverish.
Probably for the above reason, Swami Brahmananda used to be very sparing in the matter of giving initiation. Hence the vast majority of devotees who sought initiation were sent to the Holy Mother. For, as far as she was concerned, her motherly love and tenderness for all never allowed any such consideration of personal suffering to stand in the way of giving refuge to those who went to her. Referring to this quality of the Holy Mother, Swami Prema-nanda once said, ” We are sending to the Holy Mother the poison we could not ourselves take. She is giving refuge to everybody, accepting the sins of all, and digesting the same’
It was her conviction that the great physical sufferings that she had to undergo in life due to illness, were of a vicarious nature, being the effects of the sins she had taken from her disciples. An unsympathetic critic will, of course, pronounce this statement to be a mere rationalization. But there are other incontrovertible facts of her life which show that such powers were present in her. As in the case of the Master, the utter purity of her life, both physical and mental, had endowed her organism with an extreme sensitiveness to anything that was unholy and sinful. Thus it was noticed that when certain people, evidently with sinful propensities, proceeded to touch her feet, the feet would shrink Backeven against her will, as if by reflex action. Often her disciples saw how she suffered from a burning sensation due to the indiscriminate touch of people. In 1916, when she attended the Durga Puja at the Belur Math, people without number prostrated themselves before her and touched her feet. A little later, Yogin-Ma saw her washing her feet again and again with the Ganges water. She remonstrated with her, saying, ” Mother, what is it that you are doing ? You will catch cold’ To this the Holy Mother replied, ‘”Well, Yogin, how can I explain it to you? Some people touch my feet, and that refreshes me wonderfully. Again there are others whose touch gives me a terrible burning sensation. I feel it like the sting of a wasp. Only by applying the Ganges water do I get some relief,”Another disciple records a striking example of this phenomenon at Jayrambati. The disciple who was then attending on her had gone out. On returning, he found the Mother lying on a straw mat in the verandah. Seeing the disciple, she said to him, “A rather elderly man came here with L – . Seeing him from a distance, I entered my room and sat on my bed. He was very anxious to salute me by touching the feet. Though I protested and shrank back, he touched my feet by force, as it were. From that time I am almost at the point of death through an unbearable pain in the feet and the stomach. I washed my feet three or four times; still I cannot get rid of this burning sensation. Had you been here, you would have understood it by a sign from me and forbidden him to touch my feet.”
In Calcutta also disciples often noticed such occurrences, especially on certain holidays when the general public was allowed to salute her. But when she spoke of her suffering to any, she would add, ” But don’t tell it to Sarat (Swami Sarada-nanda). Then he will stop people from coming.” So compassionate was she that in spite of her suffering she did not like to deprive others of the satisfaction and relief they derived from her contact.
In the light of this indubitable fact it is intelligible how she could vicariously suffer for her disciples. Indeed, prompted by that motherly love for all, she considered it her proud privilege to suffer for others. When at Koalpara a disciple once hesitated to touch her feet, thinking it would cause her suffering, she said, ” No, my child, we are born for this purpose. If we do not accept others’ sins and sorrows and do not assimilate these, who else will do so ? Who else will bear the responsibilities of the sinners and the afflicted ? ” During her last illness, when her body had become very much emaciated and she could no longer get up without being helped, her monastic disciples were speaking amongst themselves about her extreme suffering. One of them said, ” If the Mother recovers this time, we shall not allow her to give initiation any more. She is suffering so much because of taking upon herself the sins of so many types of people.” On hearing this, the Holy Mother smiled and said, ” Why do you say so ? Do you think that the Master came only to take Rasagollas 1 ? “
Urged by this maternal love, she used to initiate people regardless of the immediate condition of her health. Ill or well, when anybody went to her in a suppliant mood, her tendency was to satisfy him without any thought of her own convenience. Once she was suffering from malaria at Jayrambati, and at the order of Swami Saradananda her attendants were not allowing any one to approach her for initiation. A devotee from Barisal arrived, eager to see the Mother, but the disciples would not let him into her presence. This led to an altercation, hearing which the Mother came to the door and asked the disciple why he was not letting the gentleman in. On being told of Swami Sarada-nanda’s prohibition, she said sharply, ” Who is Sarat to prohibit? I am born for this purpose. Eat something today. I shall initiate you tomorrow.” For the devotee had gone there with the determination that he would eat only after initiation.
On another occasion, she was at Calcutta, just convalescing after severe illness. No devotee was admitted into her presence then, but an exception
1 Rasagollas arc a kind of high class sweets of Bengal. Her meaning was, that it was not to enjoy life but to work for the Uood of others that Sri Ratnakrishna and she were born.
was made in the case of a devoted Parsi young man coming from far away. This young man as it was natural, asked her for her blessings. At once she said to the disciple attending on her ” Shall I initiate him?” The disciple raised objections and said “How can you do it in the present state of your health ? What will Sarat Maharaj say if he hears of it? ” The Mother then asked the disciple to go and ask Swami Saradananda about it. The Swami however, replied, ” What shall I say ? If the Mother desires to have a Parsi disciple, let her have one. There is no use telling her anything against her wish.” On going back, the disciple found that she had already made the necessary arrangements for initiation. Later on she expressed great satisfaction at this young man’s spiritual potentialities.
Thus under the influence of maternal love, she gave initiation to one and all who went to her for blessings. Often she felt that many were unworthy but her grace was so abounding that she would generally brush aside all considerations of fitness. As she said once to a disciple, ” My child, several among those who come here are up to anything in life. No type of sin has been left undone by them. But when they come here and address me as mother, I forget everything and they get more than they deserve.”
On account of this extreme liberality and motherly eagerness to serve, the circle of her initiated disciples was very large. Evidently the majority of these received initiation, not because of any special merit or qualification of theirs, but only through the Mother’s infinite kindness. So they were not seen to develop into outstanding spiritual personalities. Bearing this in mind, Yogin-Ma one day said to her humorously, ” Look at the Master’s disciples. Each one of them is a spiritual giant. But what about your disciples, Mother ? ” To this the Holy Mother replied, ” Is it to be wondered at ? He picked out the best types, and with what care he selected them ! And towards me he has pushed all this small fry, coming in their hundreds like ants ! Don’t compare my disciples with his.” Further she spoke thus to a disciple, regarding the significance of her initiation:
Whatever I have to give, I have given at the time of initiation. If you want peace immediately, practise the spiritual disciplines prescribed. Otherwise you will achieve it only after the fall of the body.”
Some of the disciples attending on her felt that this liberality of hers in the matter of initiation was not quite desirable. Once one of them questioned her thus : ” Mother, you give initiation to so many people, but you can’t keep all of them in mind. You don’t even give a thought to what is happening to them. A Guru has to look after the spiritual un-foldment of the disciple. So it is better that you initiate only as many as you can remember.” To this her reply was, ” But, my child, the Master never forbade me to do so. He had instructed me on many things, could he not have told me something about this as well ? I give the responsibility of my disciples to the Master. Every day I pray to him saying, ‘Please look after the disciples wherever they may be,’ Further I received these Mantras from the Master himself. Through these one is sure to achieve perfection.’
But it is known for certain that she did concern herself with the spiritual welfare of her disciples in a more active sense. Daily she used to do Japa in very large numbers, and from her own words one understands that this was for the sake of her disciples. During her last illness, though she could not sit up for meditation, she was none the less seen to do Japa. It was also noticed that she would wake up at 2 a.m. Observing this, a disciple asked whether she was not sleeping well at night. Her reply was, ” How can I, my child ? All these children come to me with great longing and take initiation, but most of them do not practise Japa regularly. Why regularly ? They do not do anything at all. But since I have taken their responsibility, should I not see to their welfare ? Therefore I do Japa for their sake, and pray to the Master constantly, saying, ‘ O Lord, awaken their consciousness. Give them liberation. There is a great deal of suffering in this world. May they not be born again ! ” Another striking example of her solicitude for the welfare of all her spiritual children is to be found in her conduct at the time of the Sandhi Puja during the worship of the Goddess Durga in a certain year The devotees who were in her company offered pink lotuses at her feet. Thereupon she called a disciple and said, ” Bring more flowers. Offer them in the name of Rakhai, Tarak, Sarat, Khoka, Yogin and Golap, as also in the name of all my children whom I may or may not remember.” And as the disciple carried out her instruction, she looked for a long time steadily at the Master’s picture with folded hands and said, ” May all be blessed here and hereafter ! “
Among the hundreds of people who approached her for initiation, there were very few whom she refused. Their number may not be mere than a dozen. And in these cases it is impossible to say what exactly guided her decision. Probably it was due to a feeling that these people sought initiation from her only with a view to avoiding payments to their family Gurus ; for there were instances when she insisted as a condition of her giving initiation, that the disciples would continue, or even enhance, the financial contribution to their family Gurus and show them the same respect as before. Or her refusal might have been by way of test, which these unfortunate souls failed to stand. For we know from the following instance that she considered tests of this kind to be legitimate on the part of a spiritual teacher. A young man, placed in very poor circumstances, went twice or thrice to Jayrambati for initiation, but could not unfortunately succeed owing to the Holy Mother’s illness. So he wrote complaining, ” Please do not refuse me any more. It is with great difficulty that I go over there. I want to know whether the next time I come, I shall get initiation or not.” In reply the Holy Mother said to a disciple, ” A person, whoever he may be, must go Backif I am not well. Even if I am well, I cannot invite people to take initiation. People get facilities and opportunities according to their past Karma. A person comes here several times, but does not get the opportunity to see me, either because I am ill or for some other reason. It is his bad luck. What shall I do? You may say that it means a great deal of expense for him, and everybody does not have money. But a Guru may turn away a person seeking to be a disciple, time after time. He who is really eager for the blessing of the Guru, however, will come to him even by begging. The truth is this: He who is really anxious to cross the ocean of the world will somehow break his bonds. No one can entangle him. Financial difficulties, awaiting a reply, the fear of going Backwith unfulfilled desire – -these are mere excuses”
Her motherly love was expressed not only through the liberality with which she gave initiation to spiritual aspirants, but also through the extreme tenderness, sweetness and forbearance that characterized her dealings with the devotees in her everyday life. The consciousness of universal motherhood was so powerfully operative in her that there were cases of devotees, who had lost their mothers in early days, finding even the very physical likeness of their mothers in her. It may be a subjective experience, but still it is significant in so far as the very subjectivity of it centred round her. While such experiences fell only to the lot of a few, almost everyone who went to her felt that they received from her such love and attention as equalled or even surpassed what their earthly mothers were capable of. Thus when devotees went to her at Jayrambati, she would, so long as she was in health, herself cook for them, serve them, and even insist on removing their leavings. When they protested against such action on her part, or against her serving them on their arrival by fanning and washing their feet, she would silence them by the effective reply, given in a tone of utmost sincerity and with overflowing feeling, ” What after all have I done for you? Am I not your mother? Is it not the privilege of a mother to serve her child in every way – even to clean its dirt with her own hand ? ” There was absolutely no exaggeration in this expression of motherly sentiment. For even this extreme form of service she is known to have performed at Calcutta, when the baby of a lady devotee soiled a carpet in her room. She insisted on cleaning the carpet herself, despite the protests of the devotee who felt greatly embarrassed by her action.
At Jayrambati it was not unusual to see her go from door to door in the early morning for some milk, maybe to feed a sick devotee or to prepare tea for another who found it impossible to begin his day without a cup of that beverage. When any devotee fell ill, she nursed him with as much solicitude as a mother would do. At Jayrambati a young disciple who suffered from itch in the hands was fed by her day after day with her own hand. Sometimes in expectation of the arrival of some beloved disciple, she would preserve for him the cakes or sweets prepared in the house on the previous day. For to feed the devotees was her greatest delight. She would not allow anyone who went to her during meal time to go without food, so much so that it was a constant cause of complaint to Golap-Ma, who did the housekeeping in her Calcutta residence, that she was always required to provide meals for people without any previous notice. Golap-Ma would complain to her, ” You entertain here anybody and everybody who comes to you, calling ‘ mother ‘ mother ! And to devotees who went to her at times other than meal time, she would give sweets, fruits, water and at least two rolls of betel. Though they were trifles, she would give these things with such great affection and warmth that the recipients’ hearts would be filled with joy and they would feel great attraction for her. Whenever a devotee took any offering to her, be it even common things like betel leaves, she would express heartfelt delight at it irrespective of all consideration of its value. When any dainty came to her, she was in the habit of reserving it for the devotees, and seldom partook of it herself. Thus the special sweets, for instance, sent to Jayrambati for her by Swami Saradananda, would be reserved for distribution among the devotees, both morning and evening. Of all such presents, one part would go to Simhavahini, another to Dharma Thakur, another for some other deities, yet another to neighbours and relatives, and the rest to the devotees – for herself she would hardly reserve anything. She was the mother of all, and her nature was to give never to preserve anything for herself.
Once a disciple attending on her had to go out to a neighbouring village on business and could return only late in the afternoon. As he had not taken his meal, the Holy Mother too did not take her food at the usual time and waited for his return. The disciple on arrival remonstrated with her for fasting when her health was so bad. But her reply was, ” You have not taken your meal; and how could I ? ” The disciple concerned felt that such loving solicitude could not be expected even of one’s own mother.
When the devotees went to her village home at Jayrambati, she always insisted on their staying there and taking rest for at least two or three days. For she would say, ” People have to stand so much hardship to come over here. It is easy to visit Gaya or Banaras, but not this place.” Often the number of such devotees would go up to ten or twelve, and they would be arriving at her house at all odd hours, sometimes even at midnight. To feed and maintain all of them was too much a drain on her slender resources. Yet she was all warmth and cordiality when they went to her, and she personally looked after all their comforts both as regards food and accommodation. The one cause of worry for her was that in that out-of-the-way village she could not give any delicacies to the devotees, and so she was very particular about keeping some specially preserved food for their use. And when any devotee took leave of her, it was always a moment of sorrow for her, as it is for any mother at the time of parting from her child. She would, on such occasions, follow them for some distance, and sometimes with eyes wistful and moistened with tears, watch till they were out of sight. While staying in Calcutta in rented houses on the banks of the Ganges, there have been occasions when at dusk she would stand outside the house in rain, only to watch a devotee who had just taken leave of her, crossing the river in a boat. Thus every detail of her conduct towards devotees was impressed with the tinge of her motherly love.
Not only in acts of love and tenderness but even in the way in which she stood the importunities and indiscreet conduct on the part of devotees, she showed herself to be more than a mother to them. In the last few years of her life the number of people who used to visit her in Calcutta was so large that it was a great strain on her to meet them all. It is said that when she got tired with this rush of people in the city, she went to her village home, but even there she had no rest as her relatives pressed her with their never-ending demands for pecuniary help. Besides, knowing that at Jayrambati one had greater access to her than in the city, many devotees from Calcutta would go over there, some of them arriving at odd hours, even at midnight, without any consideration of problems of accommodation and food, of which she was very particular.
Reference has already been made to the great physical suffering that the Holy Mother had to stand owing to the touch of impure souls. Besides this, on holidays and festive occasions hundreds of people came and offered flowers and cloth at her feet by way of worship, while she was required to sit for hours like an image to accept them. In Calcutta, many devotees who sought her, especially women, went for the fulfilment of their worldly desires, maybe to ask her blessings so that they might have a child, or have some illness cured, or have their financial condition improved. The Mother used to listen patiently to the tales of woe and suffering that even such people brought to her, and it is said that many suppliants of this type also had their desires fulfilled through her blessings.
But the most troublesome devotees were those whose religious fervour was in excess of their common sense. One or two examples of this kind are worth mentioning in order to show how much
torment she had to suffer at their hands. One day at the Udbodhan Office, the Holy Mother had just finished her daily worship, when a devotee carrying some flowers in his hand came to see her. At the sight of the stranger she wrapped herself with a sheet and sat down on her bedstead, with her feet resting on the floor. The devotee offered the flowers at her feet and saluted her. Then he sat in front of her and began to do breathing exercises ! As the other inmates of the house were busy with their work, there was no one by her side at that time. The devotee continued his breathing exercises, and the Holy Mother, sitting in that position with her whole body covered up, began to feel uncomfortable. Just then Golap-Ma happened to come. She understood the whole situation. She roused the man from his meditation and rebuked him sharply, saying, ” Do you think that you are before a wooden image and would awaken life in it by your breathing exercises ? Have you no sense ? Don’t you see the Mother is feeling warm ? “
Another day a devotee, while saluting the Holy Mother, forcibly struck his head against her big toe. It hurt her very much and she uttered a cry of pain. Those who were by her side asked the person why he did so, and his reply was that he had purposely pained her, so that she might remember him on account of that pain !
One can estimate from the account given above what an amount of patience and forbearance was
required to stand all this eccentricity of the devotees. There was nothing she had to gain from them. Nor had she the least interest in being lionized by society. All the worship and praise that the devotees bestowed on her produced no impression on her mind. In these respects she was a true follower of Sri Ramakrishna, for whom money was no consideration in judging one’s personal worth, and honour and publicity matters of utmost abhorrence. Thus pure maternal love, irrespective of all considerations of the worth or fitness of the objects towards which it was directed, was the only motive-force behind her long and arduous work as a spiritual teacher.
It is now necessary to deal with another subject connected with the Holy Mother’s spiritual ministry, namely, her ways of imparting instruction to disciples and guiding them in their spiritual life. One of the most remarkable features of this phase of her life was her catholicity. It is definitely known that she never imposed the ideal of Sri Ramakrishna on anyone, although she recognized the value of a true understanding of him in the spiritual growth of her disciples. Before she gave a Mantra to a disciple, she generally consulted the religious traditions of his family, whether it was Vaishnava, Saiva or Sakta, as also his own spiritual inclinations. There were cases of disciples who pleaded ignorance regarding the religious traditions of their family, denied preference for any form of the Deity, and gave her the entire responsibility of selecting an ideal for them. In the case of others, it was not always that she acted according to their traditions or inclinations. She would also meditate and see whether the intuition of her mind coincided with what they apparently thought to be their path. It is said that when, at the time of initiation, she made her mind passive and withdrew into the depths of her being, the Mantra suited to the disciple’s spiritual evolution would flash in her mind. If the disciple was pure and possessed true spiritual aspiration, the Mantra appeared to her with the utmost quickness. In the case of others it took a little time.
In these moments of introspection she often saw the spiritual future of the disciples. A remarkable instance of this from the life of a well-known monk of the Ramakrishna Order may be mentioned here. He took initiation from the Holy Mother when he was a college student and had no idea of becoming a monk. After initiation it is customary to present some fruits, flowers, cloth and money to the teacher according to one’s capacity. The disciple concerned placed before her some fruits and flowers with a rupee. She then said that she did not accept any money as gift from monks. The disciple reminded her that he was not a monk but a student who lived a worldly life. Still she did not accept it on the same ground as before. Thrice the disciple reminded her, and every time she gave the same answer. A few years after, this disciple actually became a member of the Ramakrishna Order. Evidently she divined his future at the time of initiation.
In case her intuition showed her that the family tradition or the apparent inclination of a disciple was not in the proper line of his spiritual evolution, she did not hesitate to put him on the right track, though it might be entirely new to him for the time being. We may cite here an example of this, too, from the life of another distinguished monk of the Ramakrishna Order. When he took initiation from the Holy Mother, he had already been repeating a Mantra and was deriving much peace and bliss from it. He found, however, that the ideal and the instructions she gave him at the time of initiation were totally different from what he was till then following with so much benefit. He felt rather bewildered on account of this and communicated his feelings to the Holy Mother. But to this she said in reply, “This is better.” These few words of the Mother had a miraculous effect on the disciple. He felt an immediate transformation in the spiritual attitude he was cultivating. The feeling of hesitancy to accept the Mantra given by the Mother disappeared altogether, and he felt there was perfect harmony between the new ideal and his spiritual past. This experience convinced the disciple of the value of a true Guru – of how such a teacher could set an aspirant on the right track and appease the conflicts and struggles within his mind.
Another incident from the life of the same disciple reveals the great competency of the Holy Mother as a teacher of men. This disciple was once seized with an intense spirit of renunciation and yearning for God, subsequent to the demise of a great spiritual luminary of the Ramakrishna Order, whom he respected very much. Thenceforth, he spent about a year and a half in an Ashram far from the haunts of men, observing silence and devoting fourteen hours a day to Japa and meditation. This strenuous discipline ultimately told on his nerves. Gradually he felt as if his mind was refusing to work, and began to experience a sense of vacancy in the brain. He, therefore, gave up the practice of meditation for a time and devoted himself to scriptural studies. By this change he did not feel any relief as far as the condition of the brain was concerned. So he left for Calcutta, where the senior Swamis of the Belur Math put him on nourishing diet and had him treated by a renowned Ayurvedic physician. Even this did him no good. It struck him just then that he should consult the Holy Mother. She was then in her village. He, therefore, went to Jayrambati and explained to her his condition. When she heard of the nature of the meditation he had been doing, she shuddered and told him that he was following methods of meditation which one should adopt only in the highest stage of spiritual practice. She then gave him some simple directions for meditation, and by following these he soon felt his nerves getting soothed and his complaints all disappearing. This incident shows how this simple, uneducated and unostentatious lady knew all the profound secrets of spiritual life and was ready to help her disciples when they got stranded on the spiritual path.
It has been noted before that she never forced the ideal of Sri Ramakrishna on anyone. But she seems to have held the view that in the case of those who took initiation from her, spiritual advancement would be accelerated if they accepted the true spiritual identity of Sri Ramakrishna. Once an old man went to the Holy Mother with the notion that Sri Ramakrishna was a saintly person, and that the Holy Mother, being his spiritual consort, would have some of his powers. He had no idea about Sri Rama-krishna’s being a divine incarnation. When he was Brought in for initiation, the Holy Mother at once •understood his mentality and called out to Yogin-Ma, ” O Yogin, this man does not accept the Master. What am I to do?” Yogin-Ma said in reply, ” Initiate him. The Mantra you give will never be fruitless.” He was given initiation, and it was noticed that through her grace he became a great devotee of Sri Ramakrishna in a short time.
Her attitude in this respect may be explained this way. The spiritual progress of those whom she initiated was guided not merely by their effort but also by the connection they established with Sri Ramakrishna through her. The great austerities performed by the Master were not for his own sake but for the good of the world at large. For it is not within the power of ordinary human beings, with their many weaknesses and limitations, to strive independently and escape from the hands of Maya. They require the help of a redeeming power to supplement their little strength. In the spiritual energy generated by Sri Ramakrishna’s austerities lies that reserve of power which aspirants can make use of for their upliftmcnt. But it is only by acceptinghim whole-heartedly that they can get into touch with the spiritual energy accumulated by him. Otherwise they would be excluding themselves from it.
In a few cases she is known to have diverted the tendencies of people from evil ways by an effort of her will. Thus she cured a disciple, who was an inveterate drunkard, of his bad habit; changed the mind of a girl who was trying to seduce a young man; and converted to the path of holy living a young wife who was heading towards ruin in a fit of revenge against her husband who had taken to an exclusively religious life against her will. But she did not effect such conversions very often. When some disciples asked her for an explanation of this, contrasting it with the example of Sri Ramakrishna who had effected many such striking cases of conversion, her reply was that it was not given to her to do so, as her spiritual ministry was to be long and extensive. In effecting such conversion one had to spend on a few the spiritual energy that was meant for the many. According to her the earthly life of the Master was cut short because of the tremendous amount of spiritual energy he had to spend on men of exceptionally evil dispositions.
There arc many devotees of the Holy Mother who claim to have had experiences of a highly mystical type in the course of their relationship with her. Some had seen her in dream as a Goddess in human form, though they never had occasion to see even a picture of hers before. Others had received either full or partial Mantra and spiritual instruction from her in dream, and at the time of their initiation were astonished to find that the Mantra she gave them in the waking state tallied exactly with what they had got in dream. Still others claim that they were rescued from great dangers during critical situations in their lives by the help she rendered them either in dream or in the waking state. As most of these experiences are of a subjective nature and the persons concerned are not men of note, the general reader may not be interested in the citation of such instances.
But one example of such mystic experience is worth recording, because it relates to Girish Chandra Ghosh, who was a first-rate genius and ranks among the greatest dramatists of India and of the world. Now, Girish Chandra was among the staunchest of Sri Ramakrishna’s householder devotees. But like many others among them, he did not at first think very highly of the Holy Mother’s spiritual greatness Some years after Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away, he went on a visit to Jayrambati along with some of the monastic disciples of the Master. That was the first occasion when Girish was taken to the Holy Mother’s presence. After prostrating himself before her. he looked at her once, and immediately withdrew from there and sat in the outhouse in a very serious and introspective mood. His companions were astonished at this transformation of Girish. At last Swami Niranjanananda approached him and asked him the reason for it. Girish thereupon wanted him to inquire of the Holy Mother, whether she was not the person who had appeared to him in dream in his nineteenth year. In reply the Holy Mother sent him the information that she was. Then Girish gave out the story to his fellow-disciples. At the age of nineteen he was suffering from a severe illness. The doctors had given him up for lost. In that condition he dreamt one night that the whole sky was lit with a celestial effulgence. It gradually proceeded towards him and assumed the form of a Goddess. Girish, it must be remembered, was in those days a rank atheist. The Goddess approached him and said, ” Well, my child, you are suffering terribly. Aren’t you ? ” Then she put something into his mouth, resembling the consecrated food of the Puri temple, and vanished. After that Girish gradually recovered from his illness. He had often tried to make out who that figure might have been, but could get no definite clue. So he had surmised that it must have been the figure of his mother whom he had lost in his early childhood. But the day on which he saw the Holy Mother, he was surprised to notice the likeness of that Goddess in her. Thenceforth he looked upon the Holy Mother with great reverence, and used to say that through the grace of Niranjan (Swami Niranjana-nanda) he had recovered his ‘ mother ‘.
Whatever might be the significance of these uncommon experiences, the Holy Mother, as we have seen, was most simple and human in her everyday life, without the least touch of mysteriousness or occultism about her. Excepting the wisdom she manifested, there was nothing out of the way about her. Her tendency was always to encourage the disciples to seek for knowledge, devotion and dis-passion, and not to be always waiting for visions and occult phenomena. According to her, if psychic experiences came, it was well and good. But, as she once said to a disciple who felt sorry for not having, had any vision, these experiences were not of much consequence. They were only by-products of the spiritual life. Its essence was in something else. As to her conception of true spiritual evolution, she once said in her simple and yet expressive way ” What else docs one obtain by the realization of God ? Does one grow a pair of horns ? No. One’s mind becomes pure, and through the pure mind, knowledge and illumination are awakened.”
Even in her manner of initiation she was very unconventional, reducing ritual and ceremonial to the very minimum. Generally she initiated people after her morning worship. But in exceptional circumstances, she discarded even this rule and initiated them at any hour and under any condition. Once she initiated a person during the period of mourning, considered to be a time of defilement, saying ” There is no connection between the spirit and the body. The talk of defilement due to death is meaningless.” Sometimes she is known to have given initiation in the verandah or under the eaves of her house. A young devotee who was a police suspect, because of alleged implication in the nationalistic movement, and could not therefore be accommodated in her house at Jayrambati, was initiated by her, sitting on straw for a seat in the midst of an open meadow. Once she initiated a man in the compound of a railway station, an umbrella serving as the roof and the rain water collected in the depression made by a cow’s hoof as the water for purificatory purposes.
Generally initiation by her took only a very short time. On this point Swami Saradananda was once questioned by a disciple, as to how it was that the Holy Mother took only two or three minutes to initiate a disciple, while he took about half an hour. To this the Swami replied that the very touch or will of the Holy Mother was sufficient assurance that the disciple had been surrendered to, and accepted by, the Master, whereas in his case some time must be spent in meditation before he received that assurance.
Besides giving Mantra to people, the Holy Mother also used to give the vows of Brahmacharya <celibacy practised by a novice) and Sannyasa (renunciation of the world) to the members of the Ramakrishna Order. In such cases, what she used to do was to convey to the disciples the inner spirit for which these institutions stood, and symbolize her having done this by giving the Btahmacharin’s dress or the Sannyasin’s ochre cloth to the disciples. She would then ask them to go to Swami Brahmananda and perform the appropriate ceremonies with the chanting of holy texts.
Thus she had a very large number of disciples both monastic and lay. She would often seem to be very tender and specially considerate to the latter class, seeing that they had to face innumerable worries and difficulties in the world. Her heart, so full of motherly sympathy, could not help doing so. She also told certain householder devotees, perhaps to appease some conflict of ideals in their mind, ” Is the ochre robe everything ? You will attain spiritual realization without all this. What is the need of taking the ochre cloth ? ” She would also refer sometimes to how for some the ochre robe became only a source of vanity, and say that it would be far better to be like herself, wearing the white dress of the householder but observing Sannyasa in practice. There were also occasions when she asked unmarried young men to marry and settle down in life with the remark, ” Why can’t one lead a good life if one is married? The mind alone is everything. Did not the Master marry me ? “
This has led some to think that the Holy Mother stood more for the ideal of the householder than for
that of the monk. This, however, is a hasty conclusion. For, Sri Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother have, by the many-sidedness of their lives, set the ideals for men and women of all countries and in all stations of life. Still it may not be wrong to state that, more than in the life of the Master or any of his disciples one finds in the Holy Mother the fulfilment of the ideal of inner Sannyasa – of being in the world but not of it. But that is not to say that she minimized the importance of the ideal of Sannyasa. We have seen how, when she went on pilgrimage she vistcd the great Sannyasins in those places. Once while she was staying at Kamarpukur, perhaps on the second occasion after the Master’s passing, a Sannyasin visited the village. She built a hut for him, gave all necessaries for his daily food, and went to salute him every morning. In later days when Sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Order visited her she would ask Radhu and other nieces of hers to salute them. Once a householder devotee quarrelled with a monk and used harsh words. The Holy Mother advised Him never to do so, but always show respect to monks ; for, she said. ” One word or one thought of a monk may injure a householder.” She once snubbed her niece I’Salini very severely for speaking slightingly of the monks. One day while a monastic disciple was sitting before the Holy Mother a woman devotee passed that way, touching the back of the disciple with the corner of her cloth through carelessness. At this the Mother said very sharply, ” What have you done ? He is a monk and you have touched him with the edge of your cloth ! You must be respectful to him. Take the dust of his feet,’ Another day a much-respected lady devotee of the Master had some exchange of hot words with a Brahmacharin at the Udbodhan Office and went away in anger, saying, ” If he stays in this house, I cannot remain here.” When it was reported to the Holy Mother, she was not at all sympathetic towards the lady devotee’s attitude and said, ” Who is she ? A householder ! She should not have taken offence with a monk in that manner. Let her go away if she pleases. The monks have renounced everything for my sake and are staying here.” She would often remark to her disciples, “Ah! with whom shall I live if there are no self-renouncing Sannyasins about me ? “
The following incident is also a striking illustration of her deep regard for the monastic ideal and the appreciation she had of its value in developing the spiritual life of certain types of aspirants : A young disciple of hers, having made up his mind to adopt the monastic life, went to her for permission to do so. At first she tried to dissuade him from that course and cross-questioned him with a view to knowing his real intentions. But on being convinced of his earnestness, she said, ” What is there in the worldly life ? What an inordinate attachment people have for it ? See how out of one so many come out, and how one’s attention and energies are all
dissipated. Is it possible for a person placed under such conditions to attain to spiritual greatness? Have you not seen crabs ? The mother crab peeps out of her hole again and again, and then goes down. It struggles hard repeatedly to free itself, but fails. And why ? Because of her attraction for her numerous progeny living in the hole. This attraction drags her into the hole in spite of all her efforts. Such is the case of those who are immersed in worldly life,’ In fact, the Holy Mother respected both the ideals – that of the Sannyasin and that of the householder – but disliked the vanities of the followers of either. Renunciation, wdiether accompanied by the garb or not, was the essential thing. Provided that was present, both the ideals took one to the highest goal. But, as the section on ” Conversations ” will show, she always encouraged a person to lead a celibate life, if she found him fit for it. In the case of girls, too, she would recommend celibacy to such of them as were drawn to the ideal of complete renunciation. One day a devotee requested the Holy Mother to order her daughter to marry. But the Holy Mother replied, ” Is it not a misery to remain in lifelong slavery to another and always dance to his tune ? ” She said that though there was some risk in being a celibate, still, if one was not inclined to lead a married life, one should not be forced into it and subjected to lifelong worldiiness. Such cases she characterized as intolerable oppression. But in the case of those for whose spiritual evolution she found the married life more suited, she certainly recommended that course, without creating any conflict of ideals in their mind. She would say to them, ” Do you not see everything in this world in couples – two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet and so on ? So also the male and female principles ? ” ; or ” Everything is in the mind. Don’t you see that the Master married me ? “
In the matter of social relationship, however, she always insisted that the householder must show due regard to the Sannyasin, and herself set the example in that respect.