Sri Sarada Devi Biography 8 IN THE SERVICE OF THE MASTER

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Sri Sarada Devi Biography 8 IN THE SERVICE OF THE MASTERBack

CHAPTER VIII

IN THE SERVICE OF THE MASTER

IN all, the Holy Mother stayed at Dakshineswar for over thirteen years, with occasional intervals of short visits to her parental home in Jayrambati. This was a period of great inner developments in her life, a few glimpses of which have been given in the previous chapter. It now remains to give an account of what may be described as the external part of her spiritual practice, namely, her service of the Master, as also the other interesting incidents that took place during her association with him.

For the greater part of this long period, she stayed in the Nahabat, an exceedingly inconvenient place for one to stay in. It was a very small two-storeyed block, in the upper room of which lived Sri Ramakrishna’s mother during the last few years of her life. The small room on the ground floor was given to the Holy Mother to live in. To make it a fit residence for a Purdah lady, the verandah about it was covered with screens of plaited bamboo slips reaching above the head. As a consequence sunlight scarcely entered into it. Moreover, since she used to cook for the Master and his aged

mother, she was obliged to use this room as a provision store and kitchen also. Thus she sat and slept with vegetable baskets and sacks of rice and pulses about her, while above her head hung in slings the pots containing special articles of food to suit the Master’s delicate stomach. ” The room “, the Holy Mother used to say in later days, ” was so low that at first I would knock my head against the upper frame of the door. One-day, I got a cut on the head. Then I became accustomed to it. The head bent of itself as soon as I approached the door. Many stout aristocratic women of Calcutta frequently came there. They never entered the room. They would stand at the door and lean forward holding the jambs. And peeping in they would remark, addressing me, ” Ah, what a tiny room for our good girl! She is, as it were, in exile, like Sita.” 1

The Master was not blind to the difficulties of her life at the Nahabat. But he was helpless in the matter of remedying them. For death had already removed from him his ardent devotee Mathuranath, the son-in-law of Rani Rasmani and the proprietor of the temple, who used to look after all his personal needs with scrupulous attention and unstinting liberality. Mathur would have made every arrangement for the Holy Mother’s comfortable stay at Dakshineswar, had she gone there in his lifetime. But the new proprietor who succeeded him was not so close to the Master.

1 While recounting these, the Holy Mother would turn to her nieces and say, ” You won’t be able to stay in such a room, even for a day.” ” True, aunt! ” they would ejaculate, “everything is so different with you.”

Besides, there was no other place in the temple suitable for her residence. For she was very shy by temperament and could never stand the public gaze Even before the Master she appeared only veiled in her early days. Her day generally began between 3 and 4 a.m. before any human being was up. At that early hour she would finish her bath in the Ganges1 and get Backto her room unnoticed by anyone. After that she would seldom come out of the room. Even for drying her luxuriant hair, she would wait till 1 p.m. when there would be no one in the neighbourhood of the Nahabat. She would then come out, and sitting on the steps of the Nahabat, bask in the sun and dry her hair. In fact she lived so quietly and unobserved by anybody that, to quote her own words, ” The manager of the temple said, We have heard that she lives here,, but we have never seen her.’ “

This natural modesty and reserve of hers was, nodoubt, very much appreciated by the Master. About this the Holy Mother once said: ” The Master used to say, ‘ Dear Hridu (i.e. his nephew Hriday),I was extremely concerned about her when she first came here. She came from the country and

1 It is said that once, on going to the Ganges at that early hour without any light, she was about to tread on a crocodile lying on the shore. The Master, on hearing of it, advised her never to go without a lantern.

did not know about the ways of city life.1 I thought people would criticize her movements and we should all be hurt. But she is so wonderful that she has hidden herself completely from view.2 I never saw her go outside for a wash or the like.’ When I heard about his remark, I became anxious about myself. I knew that whatever idea flashed in his mind, came to happen. With great earnestness I used to pray to the Mother of the Universe,
O Mother Divine, please be gracious enough to protect my modesty.’ “

None the less the Master was very careful that continuous stay in that dark narrow room should

1She herself narrated a funny story relating to her experiences of city life, illustrating how strange the environment appeared to her. She said : ” I had never seen water taps before. I came to Calcutta one day and entered a room where there was a tap. I opened the tap. Before rhe water rushed out, there came a hissing sound, like that of a snake, out of the tap. I was terror-stricken and ran from the room. I at once came to the other ladies of the house and cried, There is a snake in that water pipe. It is hissing.’ They laughed and said, There is no snake there. Do not be afraid. The hissing sound comes from the pipe before the water rushes out. Then we laughed and laughed till our sides began to ache.”

2 This does not at all mean that the Master wanted all women to be behind the Purdah and never take part in any activity outside. In fact several of his women disciples – Lakshmi-Didi, Golap-Ma and Gauri-Ma, for instance – were somewhat masculine in their temperament, without any exaggerated sense of feminine shyness. At least one of them, Gauri-Ma, started a public educational institution for women. The Master never .asked these women to remain behind the Purdah. His idea was that the bashful and the. forward were different types and they must be allowed to grow in their own way. It is significant in this connection to note the following words of the Holy Mother on Lakshmi-Didi: ” Lakshmi (the niece and disciple of the Master) used to sing and dance before the Master imitating the professional musicians. The Master said to me, ‘ That is her attitude; but youanust not imitate her and lose your modesty.’ “

not imperil her health. In fact, after staying there for some time, she got a rheumatic pain in the legs. To quote her own words about its origin : ” I used to stand behind the screen round the verandah of the Nahabat, and hear the Master sing and see him dance in ecstasy through the holes in the screen. It was standing there long that brought on rheumatism in my legs.” As the Master knew all this, he took particular care to see that she did not injure her health. Of this the Holy Mother used to say : ” He would tell me, ‘ A wild bird, if kept within a cage day and night, gets rheumatic. So you should have a walk at times in the neighbourhood/ At noon when people generally retired after the midday meal, the Master would go to the Panchavati and see whether there was anybody in the neighbourhood. If there was none, he would tell me,’Just go out. There is none/ He would stand outside his room for a while, and I would go out of the place by the Backgate and visit the ladies of the locality near Randal’s house. After spending the rest of the day in conversation with them, I would come Backat dusk when all people generally went to the temple to attend the evening service”

Realizing the Holy Mother’s difficulties from insufficient accommodation, some of the devotees of the Master built a small cottage for her near the temple in 1874. Sambhu Mallick acquired a plot of land on lease for Rs. 250, and began constructing the cottage on it. Captain Visvanath Upadhyaya, the -agent of the Nepal Government in Calcutta, was a great devotee of the Master. As he was in charge of the Nepal Government’s timber yard in Calcutta, he offered to give all the timber necessary for the •cottage. Accordingly, three logs of wood were towed up the Ganges, but unfortunately one of these was carried away by the flood tide at night. Strangely enough, Hriday, Sri Ramakrishna’s nephew, was displeased with the Holy Mother for this, as he attributed it to her ill-luck and want of faith. When the Captain heard of the incident, he sent another log, and with it the construction of the house was completed.

The Holy Mother lived in this house for about a year. To help her and keep company with her, a maidservant was engaged. There the Holy Mother would cook the food for the Master and bring it to the temple to serve it personally to him. The Master, too, to please her as well as to see whether everything was going on well, would visit her house once in the day, and after spending a little time there, invariably come Backto the temple by dusk. One day, however, there was a break in this rule. He had gone in the evening to the Mother’s house, but owing to heavy rain he could not come back. So he had to spend the night in the house, and while the Holy Mother was serving him food, he jocularly remarked, ” Do not the priests of the Kali temple go home at night ? Iam also doing likewise, am I not ? “

About a year after, Sri Ramakrishna had a severe attack of dysentery, and in order to be by his side to nurse him, she returned to the Nahabat. Afterwards she seems to have never gone Backto her cottage. For what reason she did not do so, is not known.

The Holy Mother’s chief duty at Dakshineswar was cooking. Sri Ramakrishna had a very delicate stomach which easily got upset by any irregularity in food. The preparation of his food, therefore, had to be done with scrupulous care and attention, and it was found that only the Holy Mother could do it in just the way that suited the requirements of his health. Whenever she was away from Dakshineswar, the Master used to suffer, and he would sometimes send word to her, asking her to come Backsoon. Referring to his utter dependence on her in this respect, he once humorously remarked to somebody, ” Well, what does a ‘ wife ‘ signify in the case of one like me ? ” And he himself gave the reply with a smile, ” Don’t you see ? But for her, who would have prepared my food in just the way that suits my health ? “

In earlier days, she had to cook only for the Master and his old mother, Chandra Devi. As we have seen, Chandra Devi shifted to the Nahabat in order to be close to the Ganges. The Holy Mother was her companion and attendant. Yogin-Ma reports that even amidst her heavy duties the Holy Mother used to be so vigilant about the service of her mother-in-law that before she called out her name in full, she would rush to her side. When Yogin-Ma remonstrated with her, saying that by running in such haste she might knock her head against the doorway and hurt herself, she would reply, ” It does not matter much even if it happens so. She is my Guru, and she is also my mother. Ah, she is so old, and if I do not go to her in time, she may be put to inconvenience. That is why I run to her in such haste.”


As days went on and devotees began to gather round the Master, the volume of cooking the Holy Mother had to do, increased. For at times several devotees would stay with the Master, and they had to be fed and taken care of. From some of her recorded conversations we get a glimpse of the heavy work that fell on her. She said to a disciple: ” I used to cook for the Master. He had poor digestion. So he could not eat the food offerings from the Kali temple. I had to cook also for the devotees of the Master. Latu lived with him. Having had a difference with Ram Datta, he had come away. The Master said to me, ‘He is a nice boy ; he will knead flour for you.’1 I had to cook day and night. When Ram Datta came, he would shout after getting out of the carriage, ‘ Today

I shall have Chapatis (Indian bread) and gram Dal (a kind of soup).’ Then I would at once start cooking. I used to make Chapatis out of three or four seers of flour.1 When Rakhal lived there, I often made Khichuri for him. The Master one day asked me to cook nicely for Naren. I prepared some Mug (green gram) soup and Chapatis. When the meal was over, the Master asked Naren,’ How did you enjoy the meal ? ‘ ‘ Very well,’ he replied, ‘ but it tasted like sick diet.’ At this the Master said to me, ‘ What sort of stuff have you cooked for him ? You must prepare! for him thick gram Dal and heavy Chapatis.’ Finally I prepared those things and Naren was very pleased. Suren Mitra gave ten rupees a month for the expenses of the devotees. Gopal Senior did the marketing. Dancing, devotional music, ecstasy and Samadhi went on day and night. I made little holes in the bamboo-mat screen, so that I could watch through it.2 Standing there continually, I got this rheumatism in the end.”

1 According to Yogin-Ma, she used to make Chapatis from seven pounds of flour and betel rolls without number. Besides she would boil milk for the Master for a long time, as he liked the thick cream.

2 According to Lakshmi-Didi, the Master purposely kept the northern door of his room open, so that the Holy Mother could see all this from the Nahabat. Seeing the holes in the bamboo-mat screen becoming biggeT day by day, the Master would humorously remark to his nephew, Ramlal, ” O Ramlal, your aunt’s seclusion (Purdah) is going to be affected! ” To this Ramlal would reply, ” You alone are responsible for that. Why do you keep the northern door open in spite of my repeatedly closing it ? “

Sometimes her skill as a cook was tried to the utmost. One evening some distinguished gentlemen came to Sri Ramakrishna, and the Holy Mother had to prepare food for them. Her stock of vegetables was exhausted. She had nothing left for curry but a few cast-off leaves of cabbage and some bits of vegetables not deemed good enough for the earlier meal. She was in deep perplexity, but Gopaler-Ma, a woman disciple, assured her she couid make a delicious dish out of these remnants. ” Very well,” the Mother replied, “1 will try. If it succeeds, all the merit will go to you. If it fails, the
blame too will be yours.” She cooked it quickly and carried it to the room of the Master. Sri Rama-krishna asked in surprise where she had found the materials for so wonderful a curry. But she could not take the praise or blame – it belonged to Gopaler-Ma !

In fact, the Holy Mother’s daily programme of life at Dakshineswar was one of unremitting service and ardent practice of devotion. She would, as already stated, get up between 3 and 4 a.m., and after bathing in the Ganges, spend the morning hours in meditation and worship. For the Master used to insist on meditation both in the morning and evening.1 Then she would attend to cooking. After that, if there were

1 Sri Ramakrishna was always a hard taskmaster in matters spiritual. If on any day the Holy Mother and Lakshmi-Didi, who lived with her at the Nahabat, failed to get up at the usual time, he would, as he passed that way in the early morning, pour water into their bed from his water jug, so that they may get up and begin meditation.

no devotees near the Master, she would go to him and massage his body with oil. While the Master was engaged in his bath, she would prepare betel rolls. Then she would take the Master’s food 1 to him, and personally serve it and stand by his side as he partook of it. For she had to engage him in some light conversation, so that his meal might not be disturbed by the sudden onset of Samadhi or any such higher mood. Besides, as in feeding a little child, she often had to have recourse to various tricks in feeding the Master. For the sight of a large quantity of food on the plate would make him nervous, and he would refuse to take it, fearing it would upset his stomach. So she would hide the real quantity of rice by pressing it down into a small heap. In the same way she would take from the milkman more than the usual half a seer of milk allotted to the Master, and boil it down into the usual quantity.2 By adopting such
methods, she used to feed the Master well, and under her loving care, his health invariably improved. When such improvement became marked, he used to tell her, “Just see how I am growing fatter by taking the food cooked by you.

1 As long as his mother was alive, the Master would go to the Nahabat and have his food with her. After her passing away, his food used to be served in his room.

2 There is an interesting description she herself gave to a disciple about how she fed the Master with milk. She said, ” When the Master was ill, Ganga Prasad Sen of Kumartooly was consulted. The physician prescribed some medicine and forbade water. The Master began to ask one and all,’ Well, can I live without water ?’ He asked this question of everyone, even of a five year old child. All replied,’Yes, sir, you can.’ Can I?’he asked me. ‘ You can,’ I replied. He then said, ‘ You are to wipe the water from even washed pomegranate cells. See if you can do it.’ At that I said to him, ‘ Well, everything will be done by the grace of Mother Kali. We shall try our utmost.’ The Master made up his mind at last. He stopped drinking water and took the medicine. Every day I used to give him three to four seers of milk to drink – later -on even five to six seers. The man who milked the temple

The feeding of the Master over, she would take some tiffin and sit for making betel rolls. During

cows used to give me milk in large quantities. He would say to me, ‘ If I give all this milk to the temple, the priests will take it home after worship and give it away to anyone and everyone. But if I leave the milk here, the Master will have it.’ He used to give me up to five or six seers of milk. He was a good man, full of devotion. I used to give him sweets. I would boil it down to a seer and a half. The Master would ask me, ‘ How much milk is there ? ‘ I would say, ‘ A seer or a seer and a quarter.’ He would remark, ‘ Perhaps more. I see such thick layer.’

” One day Golap (a woman disciple) was there. He asked her, ‘ How much milk is there ? ‘ And she told the truth. ‘ Ah! so much milk,’ he exclaimed, ‘that is why I get indigestion. Call her, call her.’ I came in, and he told me of what Golap had said about the milk. I pacified him telling, ‘ Oh! Golap does not know the measurement. How can she know how much the pot contains ? ‘

” Another day he asked Golap about the milk and she said in reply, ‘ One full bowl from here and another from the Kali temple.’ At this the Master got nervous again. He sent for me, and began to ask about the exact measurement of the bowl, as to how many Paos and Chataks it contained. I replied, ‘ I do not know about Paos and Chataks. You will drink milk. Why all these enquiries about measurement ? Who knows about all these calculations? ‘ He was not satisfied. He said, ‘Can I digest all this milk ? I shall get indigestion.’ Really, that day he did get indigestion. He did not take anything that night, except a little sago water.

‘ Golap said to me afterwards, ‘ Well, Mother, you should have told me about it before. How could I know ? His whole evening meal is spoiled.’ In reply I said to her, ‘ There is no harm in telling a lie about food. Thus I coax him to eat.’ In this way he picked up his health and was almost cured of his illness.”

that time as well as afterwards, she would sing devotional songs within herself in a low humming tune, always taking care to see that no one outside heard it. At 1 p.m. she took her midday meal and rested for a while. After that till 3 p.m. she basked in the sun and dried her hair, sitting on the steps of the Nahabat. Then she would trim the lamps for the evening, have an afternoon wash, and make things ready for cooking at night. At dusk she burnt incense before the Deity and sat for meditation. Afterwards she attended to cooking, fed the Master and his mother, took her own food, and retired to bed.1

Besides attending to all these regular items of work, she had to receive quite a large number of visitors in later days. For all the women disciples of the Master used to see her at the Nahabat whenever they visited Dakshineswar, and if some of them wanted to spend a night or two with her, she had to find accommodation for them.

Though her life at Dakshineswar was thus crowded with work, she felt it in no way a burden. For to be

1 In addition to these daily duties, she used to do quite a number of odd jobs. For example, she said one day to a lady disciple: “The Master used to tell me, ‘ You must always be active. You should never be without work. For when one is idle, all sorts of bad thoughts crop up in the mind.’ One day he gave me some hemp and asked me to prepare some string suspenders with it. He said he wanted them to hang the pots of sweets etc. with, for his young disciples. I made the suspenders accordingly, and with the fibre that was left, stuffed a pillow. I used to lie down on a stiff mat under which I spread some hessian, and placed that pillow under my head. Now you see all these beds and mattresses, but at that time I used to have the same sleep as now. I don’t see any difference.”

of service to the Master was her highest delight. What pained her sometimes was that she could not get sufficient opportunity to attend on him. For example, her only chance in the course of the day to stay by the Master’s side was when she carried his meals to his room. Once she was unwittingly deprived of this privilege by Golap-Ma, a woman disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Being asked by the Master to serve his food on one occasion, Golap-Ma began to do so every day afterwards, thus usurping that cherished duty of the Holy Mother and depriving her of her only opportunity of seeing the Master at close quarters. She felt very much grieved at heart for this, but kept silent, as she was never in the habit of putting forward her own claims as against those of others. For though Sri Ramakrishna was the nearest and dearest object of her heart, her pure mind was so free from any sense of monopoly over him that she recognized the equal right of everyone else to serve him.1 It was perhaps

1 Another incident illustrating this trait of the Holy Mother was told by Golap-Ma. One day, as the Holy Mother was bringing the Master’s plate of food, she saw a lady standing near the Master’s room. She hurriedly came to her and wanted to be allowed to carry the Master’s food that day. The Holy Mother gladly handed over the plate to her. Afterwards, when the lady had .left, and the Holy Mother was fanning the Master during his meal, he told her that he found it very difficult to take that food as the woman who carried it was not pure in life. The Holy Mother admitted that she knew about it, and requested the Master to take his food somehow that day. When she was thus appealing to him, he asked her to give word that she would never hand over his food to anybody in future. At this, the Holy Mother laid aside the fan and said with folded hands, ” That I cannot; for if anyone

with reference to these days of Golap-Ma’s interference that the Holy Mother said to a disciple in later times : ” At that time I would see the Master perhaps once in two months. I used to console my mind by saying, ‘ O mind, are you so fortunate that you can see him every day ? ‘ ” Sri Ramakrishna, however, came to understand her feeling and rectified the mistake.

This sensitiveness of the Master to the feelings and difficulties of the Holy Mother, in spite of the very limited occasions of personal contact between them, is something very remarkable. It is illustrative of how true spiritual love can be thoroughly impersonal and non-physical, and yet be vigilantly operative for the welfare of the object of affection.

Here are a few more illustrations of this fact from this period of the Holy Mother’s life. Once Golap-Ma, of whom we spoke before, took to the habit of spending long hours with the Master in the evenings. Sometimes she would be with him till ten o’clock, and the Holy Mother had to watch over her food till then at the Nahabat. That was very inconvenient to her. One day Sri Rama-krishna heard her saying, “Let the cat or dog spoil her food; I cannot keep guard over it any more.” Next day he told Golap-Ma how she was

wants something of me, I feel I must grant it. But anyway I shall try my best to carry your food myself.” Sri Ramakrishna at once understood the nobility of her outlook, and said nothing more on the subject. He continued his meal, talking joyously with her on various subjects.

inconveniencing the Holy Mother by this habit, but she replied innocently,” No, the Mother loves me dearly. She calls me by my first name, as if I were her own daughter.” Sri Ramakrishna, however, corrected her.

Speaking on this point, Gauri-Ma, another woman disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, said, ” These two beings, residing only at a distance of about fifty yards, would not meet each other for long stretches of time, but in spite of it, there was much warmth between them. Once I saw how, when the mother had a headache, Sri Ramakrishna was very anxious and frequently asked Raralal, ‘ O Ramlal, why has she got headache ? ‘ “

Once, in the course of a conversation about the Master, the Holy Mother said, “” He was a man of perfect renunciation, but still he had his worry about me. One day he asked me, ‘ How much money do you need for your expenses a month ? ‘ I said, ‘Just five or six rupees will suffice.’ Next he asked me, ‘ How many Chapatis do you eat in the evening ? ‘ I almost died of shame. How could I answer that ? But as he asked me again and again, I had to reply, ‘ Five or six.”

The Master’s solicitude for her was not confined merely to her physical welfare. For in spite of his being an ascetic, he did everything in his power to bestow on her that subtle satisfaction which a woman feels on her husband showing special consideration for her personal tastes and inclinations.

It is interesting to note how he came to divine the Holy Mother’s liking for ornaments and thought it his duty to satisfy the same. To quote the Holy Mother’s own words on the point, ” He used to say, ‘ Her name is Sarada. She is the incarnation of Saraswati.1 Therefore she likes to put on some ornaments.’ Once he said to Hriday, his nephew, ‘ See how much money there is in your box.2 Have some nice gold ornaments made for her.’ He was then ill; still he spent three hundred rupees on those ornaments.3 And mind you, he himself could not touch money.” Referring to this, Sri Rama-krishna would sometimes jocularly remark, ” Oh! I have this much of relation with her ! “

The Holy Mother, no doubt, liked to put on these ornaments with which the Master presented her affectionately. But she loved him and his reputation for saintliness more than these. For one day officious Galap-Ma said to her, ” Mother, Mano-mohan’s mother says, ‘ He is a man of such great renunciation, and yet the Holy Mother wears

1 Sri Ramakrishna once said to Golap-Ma regarding the Holy Mother: ” She is the incarnation of Saraswati (the wisdom aspect of the Divine Mother). She is born to bestow knowledge on others. She has hidden her physical beauty lest people should look upon her with impure eyes and thus commit sin.”

2 Mathur Babu had made an arrangement by which Sri Ramakrishna used to get a pension of rupees seven from the temple funds. This used to be kept in a box.

3 There is a tradition according to which Sri Ramakrishna had a vision of Sita at the Panchavati. He found that she was wearing bracelets with many tiny facets like those of a diamond. It was in imitation of these that he had the golden bracelets made for the Holy Mother.

ear-rings and other gold ornaments. Does it look well?'” Next morning, when Yogin-Ma, another woman disciple of the Master, visited her, she noticed that the Mother had only a pair of gold bracelets on her wrists. She had taken off all other ornaments because of the previous day’s remarks. After much persuasion Yogin-Ma succeeded in making her put on the ear-rings and one or two ordinary ornaments. She never put on all of them any more, because immediately after, the Master fell ill.

In various other ways also did the Master try to please her and make her feel how close she was to his heart. Here are a few instances. Once at Dakshineswar there was a complexion contest, the competing parties being the Master himself and the son-in-law of a devotee. Both were noted for the brightness of their complexion.1 The Master appointed the Holy Mother to be the umpire, and then he and the other competitor walked side by side on the Panchavati ground for her to see and judge. The impartial umpire that she was, she gave her verdict in favour of the other man, whom she pronounced to be a shade fairer than the Master.

Once, while the Holy Mother was with the Master at Kamarpukur, she and one of the ladies of the family were eager to go to see the performance of some strolling players, but the Master would not let

1 In those days Sri Ramakrishna had a golden complexion. It was in later days that he became dark.

them go. When he saw how disappointed they were, he was greatly concerned and tried to console them. He himself acted out a play he had but once seen, giving the words, the songs, the music, and everything. They were so carried away by his performance that they forgot all about the one they had missed.

Another funny incident that took place at Kamarpukur may be narrated in the Mother’s own words. ” At Kamarpukur “, she said, ” Lakshmi’s mother and I used to cook. She could cook very well. One day the Master and Hriday were taking their meals together. Referring to a preparation made by Lakshmi’s mother, the Master said,

‘ O Hridu, the one who has cooked this may be compared to the physician Ramdas.’ And tasting the curry prepared by me, he said,’Ah, whoever has cooked this is Srinath Sen.* Now Ramdas was a renowned physician while Srinath Sen was only a quack. So he meant that Lakshmi’s mother was an expert and I only an amateur. At this Hriday said, ‘ What you say is true. But you can get your ” Srinath Sen ” at all times. She can render you all kinds of service, even massage your feet. You have only to send for her and she comes. But physician Ramdas takes a big fee for his visit. Besides, you cannot get him at all hours. Further, people at first consult a quack. This quack is your friend at all times.’ The Master said, ‘ That’s true, that’s true. She is always available.’ “

Amidst all this gay talk and the familiar relationship of everyday life, tile Master always maintained an attitude of perfect reverence towards the Holy Mother. He never failed to notice the core of purity and spiritual power that lay behind her veil of modesty and meekness. He looked upon her as a divine being – as a veritable embodiment of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning – born to confer ^knowledge on mankind. He knew that, being his Shakti, she would have to continue his spiritual ministry, and commissioned her to do accordingly. ” The people round about live like worms in darkness,” he said to her. “You should look after them.” In his own lifetime he asked one of his young disciples, Sarada Prasanna, who came to be known as Swami Trigunatita in later days, to take initiation from her, telling him by means of a Vaishnava couplet1 that her spiritual power was no less than his own. When the wife of Kalipada Ghose approached him for some spiritual aid to convert her husband from evil ways, the Master directed her to the Holy Mother. By the Mother’s blessing the conversion did take place, and Kalipada became one of the great lay devotees of the Master. He imparted to her all

1 The couplet that the Master sang runs:
Infinite and inscrutable is the Maya of Radha. Crores of Krishnas and crores of Ramas are brought forth, sustained and dissolved (by it).”

the great Mantras that he had made dynamic by his austerities and devout contemplation, leaving instruction with her to initiate people with these. While speaking about her way of initiation, she said in later days, ” I have received all these Mantras from the Master himself. Through these one is sure to achieve perfection.” In his last days at Cossipore, Sri Ramakrishna said to her very feelingly, ” Well, won’t you do anything ? Am I to do all ? ” To this the Holy Mother replied, ” I am a woman. What can I do ? ” But the Master said, ” No, no. You have much to do.” It was due to his vivid perception of her mission in life that he sought so much to bring her into close contact with his select devotees like Latu, Yogen, Rakhal and Narendra, besides the numerous women devotees who flocked to him. Through this close association with devotees the Master developed in her a better realization of her grave responsibilities as his spiritual counterpart and released her latent sense of motherliness towards all beings. She could therefore say, when questioned by a devotee why she survived the Master, ” You must be aware that the Master looked upon all in the world as Mother. He left me behind for demonstrating that Motherhood to the world.”

Being aware of her great spiritual powers, he was very particular to shield her from slights or insults, because he knew that, if her anger was really roused, it would have very serious consequences on those who caused it. Once Hriday showed disrespect to the Holy Mother in the presence of Sri Ramakrishna. She bore it calmly and returned to the Nahabat. Sri Ramakrishna, anxious for Hri-day’s welfare, said to him, ” Well, you often slight me. But don’t you do that with her. You may be saved if the being that resides in this body (i.e. in him) ‘raises its hood but if the being that is in her is angry, even Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesvara won’t be able to save you. “1

In his own conduct the Master was always careful to see that he did not wound her feelings or even go against her wishes when she gave positive expression to any, as it sometimes happened on questions of fundamental principles. We shall give some instances of this. In those days many devotees brought large quantities of sweets and fruits to Sri Ramakrishna. The Holy Mother, who was very generous by nature, would keep a little of it for the Master and practically none for herself, and distribute nearly the whole of it among the devotees and the children of the neighbourhood. One day the Master saw this, and interpreting it as a sign of extravagance, said to her in a complaining tone, “How can you manage, if you spend in this manner ? ” In spite of all her submissiveness to the Master, her feelings were a little wounded at these words, because they seemed to question that magnanimity

1 Hriday did not, however, profit by this instruction. The consequences of it will be seen in chap. IX.

and liberality of nature which were hers as the mother of all. So she was seen to walk away from the place with a grave face. The Master at once understood the situation, and called out rather nervously to his nephew, ” Look here, Ramlal, go and pacify your aunt. If she is angry, I shall be undone.”

To cite another instance, an old woman used to visit the Holy Mother at the Nahabat and spend long hours in conversation with her. The woman had led an unclean life. Sri Ramakrishna knew this, and told the Mother that it was not quite desirable for her to associate with her. What exactly his idea was in assuming such an attitude is difficult to say ; for he knew very well that the Holy Mother was above every possibility of corruption. Probably his idea was that it might set a bad example to his women devotees, and make them unmindful of maintaining the sanctity of the home atmosphere. Whatever that might be, his wish on this point clashed with the Holy Mother’s attitude of motherly sympathy for all, whether good or bad. So, as Yogin-Ma noticed, when in spite of the Master’s prohibition, that woman continued to visit her now and then, addressing her as ‘ Mother ‘, she would, with great maternal affection, make her sit, talk to her kindly, and give her something or other to. eat. Sri Ramakrishna noticed all this, but did not comment on it or show any annoyance. By nature he never tolerated any wrong action on the part of his devotees and his acquiescence in the Holy Mother’s conduct in this respect means that he understood the depth of her sentiment and approved of it in his heart of hearts.2

At one time a woman unknown to any of the devotees used to visit the Master. She was at first taken to be mad, but afterwards it turned out that she was a follower of the path of Madhura Bhava (conjugal relation with the Deity). One day she indiscreetly proposed to the Master that she be allowed to maintain towards him the peculiar mental attitude sanctioned by her sect. This irritated him very much, and he began to abuse her loudly. The Holy Mother was hearing all this from the Nahabat, and she blushed as a mother would do if her daughter were insulted in her presence. She at once sent Golap-Ma to fetch the woman to her, with the remark, ”Just see, even if she had said anything indiscreet, he could have sent her to me instead of abusing her in this manner.” When Golap-Ma brought the woman, the Mother received her very kindly and said to her, ” My daughter, if he feels annoyed at your presence there, you can very well come to me.”

Another instance illustrating the same point took place in connection with the feeding of young devotees, In later days several of them used to spend their nights occasionally with the Master with a view to practising meditation during the night under his guidance. Knowing that overeating would stand in the way of meditation, the Master had strictly regulated the number of Chapatis allowed to each according to his physical capacities. One day he asked Baburam (later Swami Premananda) as to how many pieces he was taking at night. On being told that he was taking five or six, the Master said it was too much, and asked him why he did so. Baburam answered that he took whatever the Holy Mother gave him. At this the Master went to the Holy Mother and said complainingly that she would spoil the spiritual prospect of those young men by overfeeding them. But the Holy Mother replied, ” Why do you worry so much because he has eaten two Chapatis more ? I shall look after their welfare. You need not find fault with them for eating.” Evidently the mother in her could not feel content without feeding her children to their satisfaction. The Master understood the point and laughed away the whole affair.

Thus the Master showed the utmost deference to the Holy Mother’s wishes on fundamental questions, and while receiving her loving service and moving with her in all frankness and childish joviality, he always maintained an attitude of profound respect towards her as his spiritual counterpart and the fulfiller of his life’s mission. This attitude was often implicit, but sometimes it expressed itself in striking little actions. One day the Holy Mother entered the Master’s room with his meal. He thought it was his niece Lakshmi and asked her in a careless way to shut the door. In doing so he used the word ‘ tui ‘ – an expression meaning ‘ thou ‘ but used only for addressing a junior or an inferior person. When the Holy Mother responded, saying that she was doing so, the Master felt very much embarrassed, and said, ” Ah ! is it you ? I thought it was Lakshmi. Please forgive me.” The Holy Mother replied that it did not matter at all, and that there was nothing wrong in his addressing her as he did Lakshmi. But the Master was not quite satisfied. Next morning he went to the Nahabat and said to the Holy Mother, ” Well, I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I was so worried because I spoke to you rudely.” Referring to this, the Holy Mother often said in later times, especially when she was worried or treated disrespectfully by some of her senseless relations, ” I was married to a husband who never addressed me as ‘ tui ‘ Ah ! how he treated me. Not even once did he tell me a harsh word or wound my feelings ! He did not strike me even with a flower ! “

The Holy Mother in turn reciprocated a hundredfold this regard and reverence that the Master showed her. This she did, not only by the loving and reverential service she rendered to him every day, but by the way in which she turned her thoughts and aspirations to the dominant note of his life.

There is no better way in which the wife of a great man can show her love and regard for her husband than by cultivating such a spontaneous and wholehearted receptivity to his ideals and thus becoming his helpmate in the fulfilment of his life’s mission. We have already seen how the Holy Mother proved herself worthy of her great husband in respect of divine love and control over the senses. To complete the picture, we may mention here another striking incident illustrating how deeply she had absorbed the Master’s ideal of renunciation. Among the Master’s devotees there was a rich Marwari merchant named Lakshminarayan. One day, finding the Master’s bed-sheet unwashed, he wanted to deposit ten thousand rupees in his name, so that from the interest of it all his personal needs might be met. The living embodiment of renunciation that he was, Sri Ramakrishna could not brook the proposal, and he requested the merchant never to mention such a thing in his presence. As a test, perhaps, the Master directed the merchant to the Holy Mother, telling him that he might give the amount to her if she had no objection to accept it. But the Holy Mother rejected the proposal, saying that if she accepted the money it would be as good as his accepting it, because all the amount will then go only to his service. It is said the Master was very much pleased with the reply.

In later days the Holy Mother always spoke of the Master as pre-eminently a teacher of renunciation.

One day a disciple said to her, ” Mother, what a unique thing our Master gave to the world! He has established the harmony of all religions.” To this the Mother replied : “My child, what you say about the harmony of religions is true. But it never seemed to me that he had practised the different religions with any definite motive of preaching the harmony of religions. Day and night he remained overwhelmed with the ecstatic thought of God. He enjoyed the sport of the Divine by practising spiritual disciplines, following the paths of the Vaishnavas, Christians, Mussalmans and the rest. But it seems to me, my child, that the special feature of the Master’s life is his renunciation. Has any one ever seen such natural renunciation ? ” As she said to another, renunciation was his ornament.

Once a niece of hers, when taken to task by her for her worldly attachment, retorted that she (the Holy Mother) had not known the value of a husband. The Holy Mother’s reply was very significant. “Yes,” she said with pride, “my husband was a naked fakir! “

One may conclude the account of the conjugal life of this holy couple by briefly recapitulating its principal features that make it an object-lesson to humanity. In the Holy Mother we find a combination of an ideal wife and disciple. Her highest delight consisted in serving her husband heart and soul without any consideration of personal difficulties. For her it was neither a slavish drudgery nor the conventional fulfilment of an obligation. Self-abnegation, modesty, submissiveness – these, no doubt, were in ample evidence in her conduct, but they were in her case the very antipodes of slavishness and conventionality in so far as they formed the expression of deepest love and remained consistent with a dignified pursuit of principles.

Her participation in her husband’s life was not confined to mere external service of him. She grasped the central principle of his life and made it a part and parcel of her own self. So well did she absorb ‘them that she ever remained a help, never a hindrance, to him in the realization of his life’s mission. As such, she won her husband’s unqualified love and respect.

And withal the most wonderful thing is that this holy couple could set so perfect an example of married love, and yet be free from the least taint of corporeal passion. In fact, it is the great lesson of their lives that in the highest specimens of humanity, love is not dependent on sex or any consideration of physical intimacy. Many a modern thinker on questions of sex-life is disposed to separate the life of love from the function of procreation and invest the former with an independent value in itself, in spite of the association one finds between them in nature. Even a Christian writer like Nicholas Berdyaev argues that to make love dependent on, or subordinate to, procreation is to transfer the principle of cattle breeding to human relation. He may or may not be right in this view. Many who hold the cultivation of holiness as the highest ideal of life might have agreed with this view if such thinkers had admitted the possibility of transcending the instinctive side of sex in a perfect union of souls. But they are particular in insisting that love between the sexes can never be perfect without physical expression. For example, Edward Carpenter remarks on this subject: ” But equally absurd is any attempt to limit (love) … to the spiritual, with a somewhat lofty contempt for the material – in which case it tends … to become too like trying to paint a picture without the use of pigments. All the phases are necessary, or at least desirable – even if … a quite complete and all-round relation is seldom realized.” 1

The conjugal life of the Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna contradicts this view and sets another norm, at least for the noblest of mankind. For those in whom consciousness is yet centred in the body, love without sex may be like painting without pigment. But there are men and women who transcend the body-consciousness and realize the Self behind it. If they happen to paint the life of love as an example for humanity, the pigment they use is not sex but the Self. The Upanishads recognize it when they say : ” It is not for the sake of the husband that the husband is loved, but it is for the

1 Edward Carpenter: The Drama of Love and Death.

sake of the Self that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the wife that the wife is loved, but it is for the sake of the Self that she is loved. It is not for the sake of the sons that the sons are loved, but it is for the sake of the Self that the sons are loved”(Brihadaranyakopanishad I, IV, 5).

A perfect example of this principle is furnished by the life of the Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna. In their case both stood for a common ideal of great sublimity, each helped to elicit the best that was in the other, and both found perfect satisfaction in mutual service, without the aid of any corporeal passion to hold them together in love and amity. If one enquires as to what constituted the cementing principle in this perfect union, one arrives at the Self, of which everything else is but a reflection.

1

Latu later on became a monastic disciple of Sri Rama-krishna, and came to be known as Swami Adbhutananda. One day he was meditating at dusk. The Master went up to him and said, “That {i.e. the Deity), on whom you are meditating, is making Chapatis in the Nahabat. Go and help her by kneading the flour.”

2

Cf. also the example of a woman taking away the plate of food for the Master from the Holy Mother’s hand, mentioned a few paragraphs above.

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