THE FIERY ORDEAL
IT is in the stress of circumstances that a truly great man reveals the strength of his character. Imagine the reaction of a lifelong ascetic when he is suddenly confronted with his young wife, who has come with the definite purpose of meeting him and, possibly, of asserting her claim over him. If he were a stern ascetic, he would shun her; if not, he would gradually succumb to her influence. Sri Rama-krishna did neither. His reactions had a uniqueness of their own. It has already been mentioned that he received her cordially, but what followed was even more remarkable. He decided to avail himself of his wife’s presence at Dakshineswar to do two things – firstly, to fulfil his foremost duty to her as a husband, namely, to educate her in the high ideals of life for which he stood, and secondly, to subject his own mind to a crucial test in point of samesightedness and freedom from lower instincts. Of these, the first was a long and. subtle process of spiritual education, which will be described elsewhere. As for the second, Sri Ramakrishna, on meeting his wife, remembered the precious advice
he had been given by his master, Totapuri, when he knew that his disciple was married. A wife, he said, presented no danger to one, if one were really established in Brahman. He whose mental purity was based upon a strong sense of distinction between the sexes, was no doubt a good aspirant, but the realization of Brahman was still far away from him. For a true seer of Brahman would see no difference between man and woman, and his purity of behaviour would be based, not on a sense of moral conflict, but on this supersensuous perception of unity. So Sri Ramakrishna felt that the presence of his wife at Dakshineswar was for him an opportunity to test his own attainment in this respect. He was a radical by temperament, and when an idea entered his mind, he felt he must carry it out at once. So unlike an ordinary ascetic he allowed his wife to be by his side and serve him to her heart’s content. Not only that, for about six months of her stay at Dakshineswar, he permitted her even to sleep with him.
This was, indeed, a fiery ordeal for any youthful ascetic, but not for Sri Ramakrishna. His discriminating mind could not be caught in any worldly snare. The nature of this test and the reactions of his mind to it are best described in the eloquent words of Swami Saradananda, the disciple and biographer of Sri Ramakrishna. He writes : ” One day, seeing the Holy Mother sleeping by his side, the Master discriminated within himself: * O mind* this is what the world calls the body of a woman. Men wistfully run after it. But one who goes after it remains enmeshed in body-consciousness, and cannot attain God. Now, O my mind, be not insincere – say not one thing outside and have another idea in the heart. Tell me, do you want this woman’s body, or do you want the Lord ? If the first, here it is in front of you, and you are free to have it.’ Discriminating in this way, he was •about to touch the Holy Mother, when his mind recoiled so violently that he was absorbed in Samadhi for the whole night! Next morning the name of the Lord had to be uttered long in his ears before his mind came to the sense plane.”
This will give one an idea of the kind of conjugal life that the Holy Mother had with her saintly husband. To complete the picture of it, another incident quite characteristic of Sri Ramakrishna may be mentioned here. One day his youthful wife was massaging his feet. She put him a straight question. “‘ How do you look upon me?” she asked. And Sri Ramakrishna replied, ” The Mother who is the Deity in the temple, the mother who gave birth to me and now resides in the Nahabat – -even she is now massaging my feet. I look upon you in that light – as the embodiment of Motherhood.” These are, indeed, puzzling words for the sense-bound mind of man, but they were only a commonplace in the mouth of Sri Ramakrishna, the true worshipper of the Universal Mother.
There have been people who have expressed sympathy for the Holy Mother on account of what they consider the barrenness of her married life. For did not the very greatness of her husband stand in the way of her experiencing the substance of matrimonial life, and what is more, the greatest privilege of a woman, namely, motherhood ? Indeed, her own mother, Syamasundari Devi, seems to have felt in this way at one time, and remarked in the hearing of Sri Ramakrishna, ” My Sarada has been married to a lunatic. She has not known family life. She has no children. She will never know the happiness of being addressed as ‘ mother Y’ At this Sri Ramakrishna remarked, ” Well, mother, you need not worry about that. Your daughter will have so many children that she will be tired of being addressed day and night as ‘ Mother ‘
But the remarkable fact about this phase of the Holy Mother’s life is that, unlike her sympathisers, she herself never felt aggrieved on this account. In later times it was with a feeling of exaltation that she would refer to those blessed days she had spent with the Master. She used to say : “The divine state in which the Master used to be absorbed, passes all description. In ecstatic moods he would smile or weep, or at times remain perfectly still in deep Samadhi. This would sometimes continue throughout the night. In that divine presence my whole body would tremble with awe, and I would anxiously await the dawn. For I knew nothing of ecstasy in those days. One night his Samadhi continued for a very long time* Greatly frightened, I sent for Hriday. He came and began to repeat the name of the Lord in the Master’s ears. When he had done this for a little while, external consciousness reappeared. After this incident, he came to know of my difficulty, and taught me the appropriate divine names that should be uttered in the ear in particular states of Samadhi. Thenceforth my fear was much lessened, as he would invariably come to earthly consciousness on the utterance of the particular divine names. But even after this, I sometimes kept awake whole nights, as there was no knowing when he would fall into Samadhi. By degrees he came to know of my difficulty. He learnt that even after the lapse of a considerable length of time I could not adjust myself to his Samadhi temperament. So he asked me to sleep separately at the Nahabat.”
Indeed, the attitude of pity which some feel for the Holy Mother for what they consider her enforced virginhood in married life, is based upon a total ignorance of her exalted spiritual state. If she chose, it was perhaps open to her to have drawn Sri Ramakrishna to the ordinary level of life. But she was constituted otherwise. ” Do you want to drag me down into Maya ? ” Sri Ramakrishna asked her once in the early days of his association with her at Dakshineswar. ” Why should I do that ? ” came the prompt reply, ” I have come only to help you in the path of religious life”1
A noble answer, indeed! Only a woman of immaculate purity of mind could have given it. There was no artifice in it, no hypocritical intention to please anybody. It was the spontaneous expression of her nature, of the lofty ideal of life that had unconsciously become hers as much as her husband’s.
In fact the world at large has not yet recognized the important part played by the Holy Mother in fulfilling this aspect of Sri Ramakrishna’s life. Often there is a tendency to attribute this unique feature of their married life entirely to the saintly character of Sri Ramakrishna. But it is forgotten that at least an equal share of the credit for this is due. to the Holy Mother. For such an ideal could be translated into life only because she was his match in point of purity, and co-operated with him whole-heartedly in the fulfilment of the ideal.
Sri Ramakrishna himself was the first to appreciate her exalted spiritual state and to recognize the immense value of her contribution to his religious life. ” Had she not been so pure,” he said to his disciples in later times, ” who knows whether I might not have lost my self-control from her inducements ? After marriage I prayed to the Divine Mother, ‘ O Mother, remove even the least taint of carnality from the mind of my wife’ When I lived with her,
I understood that the Mother had really granted my prayer.”
1 The Holy Mother spoke of this to Yogin-Ma.
This admission of Sri Ramakrishna, especially in the light of his conduct towards the Holy Mother soon after her arrival at Dakshineswar, is full of import. It gives us a glimpse of the spiritual evolution of the Holy Mother during the days when the Master was performing austerities at Dakshineswar. Does the above prayer of the Master signify an affirmation of mind by which he made her in spirit the participant of his memorable religious practices ? Did it establish an unconscious spiritual link between the two individuals, so that in spite of distance and years of separation* the one could draw the sap of holiness that the other was accumulating in the solitude of the Dakshineswar temple-garden ? The spiritual fitness that the Master recognized in the Holy Mother on her unexpected appearance at Dakshineswar justifies such an inference. Besides, the Master’s own words reveal the subtle unseen relation that existed between him and his chief disciples. ” The devotees are like Kalmi greens,” he said. ” If one end of it is pulled, the whole group of shoots connected with it must come out.”
The same fact is further confirmed by the remarkable form of worship that Sri Ramakrishna performed as the culmination of his spiritual practices. In that rite he placed the Holy Mother on the pedestal of the Deity and worshipped her as the great Mother of the universe. It looks as if her association with him in this final act of his austerities is the conclusion of a long process of soul culture beginning with the prayer at the time of his marriage, which, strangely enough, coincides approximately with the commencement of his austerities.
The next chapter will describe in more detail this great act of worship that Sri Ramakrishna performed with the Holy Mother as the symbol of the Deity.