LIFE AND TEACHING OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA PARAMAHAMSA AND SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
SRI RAMAKRISHNA PARAMAHAMSA
Sri Ramakrishna, in his life, proved the truth of religion and the reality of God. When a near- skeptical, but an earnest young man, Narendranath Datta asked Sri Ramakrishna, “Have you seen God, Sir? Sri Ramakrishna readily replied,” Yes, I see him just as much as I see you here now, but much more intensely”. Later Sri Ramakrishna revealed also the vision and experience of God to Narendranath, who later became Swami Vivekananda, the champion of the religious faith the world over.
Sri Ramakrishna proved that all religions are true, that they are but different pathways to God and that Religion does not lie in mere faith, but in realization, in the realization of God.
Sri Ramakrishna proved to be a mighty uplifting spiritual force to a world blinded by materialism. He was also an embodiment and symbol of Indian culture and spirituality. He opened the eyes of Hindus to the beauty, grandeur and strength of Hinduism at a time when their faith was greatly shaken up and the country was getting sunk into a morass of moral and spiritual decline due to influx of Western culture and civilization into the country.
Sri Ramakrishna rescued not only Hinduism from a dire calamity, but also helped, as it were, to resuscitate all the faiths, and stemmed the rising tide of skepticism and religious unbelief overtaking the world in the daze of material progress, due to phenomenal advance of Science.
Sri Ramakrishna is most rightly revered as Paramahamsa – the one, who with his discriminatory vision, discerns the soul apart from and distinct within the body, the spirit behind the matter, and God behind the appearance of the world, and reveals himself in God only, just as a swan is said to be able to separate milk from water and drink and enjoy the milk only.
Scriptures of all the faiths find their vindication and fulfilment in Sri Ramakrishna, although he never read any of them. He was an embodiment of enlightened wisdom of all the scriptures. His life was a holy confluence of the three streams of Vairagya (Renunciation), Bhakti and Jnana: the sacred Triveni Sangam.
HIS BIRTH AND BOYHOOD
At Kamarpukar, through the benevolence of one of his friends, he got half an acre of land to cultivate. The one time opulent family was now forced to manage with the poor income from this tiny patch of land, yet contentedly and with their faith unshaken in their Lord Sri Rama. The Kamarpukur village, being situated on the road leading to Puri Jagannath gave Khudiram the opportunity of always having the holy Satsang of Vaishnavite pilgrims, monks and ascetics, who halted in the Dharmasalas of Kamarpukur on their way to Puri. This enriched him spiritually immensely.
One day, while returning from a neighbouring village, Khudiram came into possession of the emblem of his tutelary deity Raghuvir, in a paddy field. This gave him great joy, for he felt that God Himself appeared to be seeking him. Installing the holy idol in his shrine, he and his wife started worshipping it with intense devotion.
Khudiram had one son by name Ramkumar and also one daughter at that time. In course of time, Ramkumar became quite proficient in Hindu lore, and was able to relieve to a certain extent his father’s burden, earning something. This gave Khudiram also time and opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. This pilgrimage made him name the second son born to him later as Rameshwar, taking the child as the blessing of Lord Siva of Rameswaram.
About eleven years later, i.e. in 1835, Khudiram went on another pilgrimage – this time to Gaya. Here, after the performance of the sacred rites (oblations to the forefathers), he had a strange vision at night. He dreamt he was in the temple of Gadadhar Vishnu, Where his forefathers were feasting on the sacred offerings he had made. Suddenly a flood of celestial light also filled the holy precincts of the shrine and the spirits of the departed fell on their knees to pay homage to a divine Presence seated on the throne.
The Effluent One, seated on the throne, beckoned to Khudiram who, going near, prostrated himself before Him and heard the luminous person saying, “I am well pleased at your sincere devotion, Khudiram! I shall be born in your cottage, accepting you as my father.” Khudiram awoke with his heart throbbing with joy. He understood that the divine Being would bless his house in some way. About the same time Chandra Devi was also having strange visions at Kamarpukur. One of those visions was: while standing along with Dhani (the village blacksmith woman) before the temple of Lord Shiva adjacent to her house, Chandra Devi saw a bright beam of divine effulgence dart from the image of Lord Shiva and enter her.
In the early hours of the morning of February 18, 1836, Chandra Devi gave birth to another boy whom the world was to know afterwards as Sri Ramakrishna who was to usher in the renaissance of the Hindu religion. Learned astrologers of the village predicted a most glorious future for the child who was indeed most charming, his body shining with a golden luster. The child was named Gadadhar, after the God of Gaya, because the child was verify His blessings only.
Gadai, as the child used to be lovingly called, became a great favourite of the people of the village with his sweet looks. He was also a very precocious child and began to exhibit a remarkable and brilliant intelligence. He was very quick in learning and committing to memory various Hindu hymns. He was put into the village school where he made good progress but showed great distaste for mathematics; presumably he was to manifest and dwell on the infinite had an instinctive distaste for finite numbers. Most of the time he would devote himself to the study of the Indian epics and the lives and preachings of spiritual heroes. These made a deep impact and impression on him and as years passed, his religious feelings were more and more roused and he would lose himself in meditation and go into a trance. Soon, it was found that not only religious subjects but just beautiful sceneries or some touching incident was enough to make him lose himself into a trance. Sri Ramakrishna narrated one such childhood incident in later years to his disciples in the following way:
“One day, in the month of Ashadha (around June-July), when I was six or seven years old, I was walking along a narrow path separating the paddy fields, eating some puffed rice which I was carrying in a basket. Looking up at the sky, I saw a beautiful somber thunder-cloud. As it spread rapidly enveloping the whole sky, a flock of snow-white cranes flew overhead in front of it. It presented such a beautiful contrast that my mind wandered to far off regions, lost to outward senses and I fell down and the puffed rice got scattered in all directions. Some people found me in that plight and carried me home in their hands. That was the first time I completely lost consciousness in ecstasy.”
Another instance was when he was playing the role of Siva in the village dramatic performance on a Shivarathri night. He fell into a deep trance at the sight of his own make up as Lord Siva, and it was with great difficulty that he could be brought back to the plane of normal consciousness. A loving thought of God, or a glimpse of beauty of Nature revealing the handwork of God, was enough to trigger him off into a trance.
In the year 1843, Khudiram died and the entire burden of the family fell upon the shoulders of Ramkumar, the eldest son. The death of Khudiram brought a great change in the mind of Gadadhar who now began to feel poignantly the loss of his affectionate father. Thereafter he began to frequently go to the neighbouring mango grove or the cremation ground and pass long hours there absorbed in thought. But he did not forget his duties to loving mother. He became less exacting in his importunities and tried every means to lessen the burden of his mother’s grief and infuse into her melancholy life whatever little joy and consolation he could.
Gadadhar soon would found a new source of pleasure, that was in the company of wandering monks, who on their way to Puri, used to stop at the Dharmasalas of the village. He began spending most of his time in their company, listening to their discussions on spiritual matters. One day, Chandra – Devi was startled to find her darling boy with his whole body smeared with ashes and wearing saffron coloured cloth round his waist with a long stick in one hand and Kamandalu in another, looking like a real Bala Sanyasi. His mother, instead of being amused, cried out in anxiety and fear, ”My dear child! Who made you a Sanyasi? Where are you going? How can I live without you?” And clasping him tightly in her embrace, she burst out into sobs. He began consoling his mother, saying,” Ma, I have not become a Sanyasi. I just wanted to give you some fun and amusement and show you how I would look in the dress of a Sanyasi.” However, the mother extracted a promise from him that he would not take to Sanyasa nor leave home anytime in his life, without her permission. This explains why Sri Ramakrishna got himself married in his life while we find that the many disciples he had later, became Sanyasis in their lives. (Sri Ramakrishna’s marriage of course was spiritual companionship – not as man and wife in the ordinary and worldly sense. Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife, Sarada Devi, as embodiment of Shakti or the divine mother Kali Herself, and she too indeed lived like a Mother to him.)
When Gadadhar was nine years old, he was invested with the holy thread ‘ Gayatri Upadesh’. With this man becomes reborn into spiritual life and becomes a Brahmin, which means, that he begins on the path towards realization of Brahmin. One curious incident, however, happened at the time of the thread ceremony. Instead of taking his first alms, Bhiksha, from his mother as per tradition, he accepted it from Dhani, the Blacksmith woman who had tended him with great love during his infancy. Having no child of her own, she used to love him as her own son. Gadadhar also wanted to show his love towards her and give her joy, although the alms taken from her meant contravention of the time –honoured custom in a Brahmin family. True love and devotion were more important to him than social conventions: “Caste does not lie in birth but in the qualities of the heart”.
Gadadhar‘s one hobby at that time, apart from his spiritual obsession, was to enact dramas on Puranic themes. With his friends, he used to hold performances in the neighbouring mango orchard on the outskirts of the village. His most popular theme was featuring Krishna’s Leelas. With his fair complexion and flowing hair, wearing a garland about his neck and holding the flute at his lips, Gadadhar would often play the role of Krishna. At times, the whole mango grove would ring and resound with loud Sankeertans which the boys sang in chorus. And often, overwhelmed with the emotion and sentiment associated with these themes, he would frequently fall into trances, Sri Ramakrishna would explain about this experience to his friends.” Do you know what happened? When I intensively think of God in my heart, I feel His Presence there. There I feel as if He draws me lovingly within. Then I begin to lose my outward consciousness and feel immense peace and joy inside. “But this other worldly attitude of the boy caused a great of anxiety to his mother and elder brothers. People used to think that Sri Ramakrishna was suffering from epileptic disease.
However misfortune soon overtook the family. The wife of Ramkumar died leaving an infant son behind to be taken care of by the aged grandmother. Ramkumar’s meager earnings also were inadequate for the maintenance of the home, which forced the family incur growing debts. Ramkumar decided to go to Calcutta for making a better earning so that the family may get over its financial difficulties. He opened a Sanskrit school in a central part of the city. In the village, Rameshwar was managing the house hold. Gadadhar was drifting off more and more in to his spiritual pursuits, ignoring his school studies and his aversion to academic education becoming more and more pronounced. It seemed to have already drawn on his mind that he was destined to fulfil some other great mission in life, though he did not know what exactly it was going to be. Any way the realisation of God seemed to him to be the only goal worth pursuing. The bonds of love for his aging and poor mother, however prevented him from running away from home in his quest.
At Calcutta also, Gadadhar did not take any greater interest in his school studies. He, however, would take all interest in the puja performance as priest in the houses of people, which he was entrusted with by his brother. His simplicity, integrity, winning manners and devotion impressed and attracted everyone, and very soon there developed a circle of friends and admirers around him, all belonging to respectable families.
When Ramkumar once admonished Gadadhar sternly for not taking his studies seriously, he spiritedly replied,” Brother, what shall I do with a mere bread- winning education? I would rather acquire that wisdom which will illumine my heart, and with which I will be satisfied forever.” Ramkumar was puzzled to hear this straight and decisive reply. Failing to prevail upon Gadadhar to pursue his studies, he resigned matters to the will of Raghuvir, their family deity.
Ramkumar took over the priesthood of this temple when the temple was consecrated on May 31, 1855. In a few days, Gadadhar also began to live with his brother in the sacred temple garden of Dakshineshwar with its calm and congenial atmosphere, where the former felt quite at home and found greater opportunities to pursue his spiritual practices. This actually marks the beginning of the many splendorous chapters in Sri Ramakrishna’s life and in the religious renaissance of India.
It was at this time that Hriday, a young man destined to be a close companion of Sri Ramakrishna for the next twenty – five years and who attended upon the latter most faithfully and diligently especially during the stormy days of his Sadhana, appeared on the scene. He was the nephew of Gadadhar, and his arrival delighted the latter very much.
Soon the eyes of Mathura Nath Biswas (Mathur Babu), the son in law of Rani Rasmani, fell on young Gadadhar whom he persuaded to take charge of decorating the image of Kali with flowers, leaves and sandal paste in the morning, and costly jewellery and clothes in the evening. Thus entrusted with the work most suited to his temperament, Gadadhar gave himself heart and soul to these tasks, beside losing himself in singing devotional songs to the Mother at other times.
Shortly after his appointment in the kali temple, an incident occurred which enhanced the worth of Sri Ramakrishna in the eyes of Rani Rasmani and Mathur Babu. One day, the priest of the Radha Krishna temple, while taking the image of Krishna to the retiring room, suddenly slipped and fell down, and in that process, one leg of the image was broken. All the pundits advised that the idol be thrown away into the Ganga and a new one to be installed in its place, since tradition did not permit the worship of a broken idol. But Sri Ramakrishna intervened and said that this was ridiculous. “If the son in law of the Rani fractured his leg, would she discard him and accept another person in his place? Would she not rather arrange for the treatment? And why not do the same thing here? Therefore, let the image be repaired and worshipped as before.” he said. Sri Ramakrishna himself undertook to repair the image and did it so adroitly that even the most careful scrutiny did not reveal where the break occurred. The Rani and Mathur were so happy and felt greatly relieved at this. After this, Sri Ramakrishna was himself made the priest of the Radha Krishna temple.
Ramkumar then got Sri Ramakrishna initiated by one Kenaram Bhattacharya, a person well versed in the elaborate ritualistic temple worship of Kali, so that he( Sri Ramakrishna) could be entrusted with the sole charge of worship in the temple and thereby Ramkumar would get some relief himself, especially in view of his failing health. A little later Ramkumar died, which came as a great shock to Sri Ramakrishna as well as a revelation to him about the transitoriness of life in the world. His desire to realize the imperishable, to gain a lasting glimpse of the Reality then became very intense and all consuming.
The idol of Kali was not a mere stone image to Sri Ramakrishna but the living Mother Herself. Although She is believed to combine in Herself both the terrible as well as the benign aspects- the destructive as well as the creative aspects in Nature- for him, however, She was purely the affectionate Mother: the repository of all blessedness and power, sweet, tender and full of motherly solicitude, one who, with loving care protects Her devotees from harm. He offered a whole – souled devotion to Her, regarding Her as the only true guide in darkness and confusion. It was a total dedication, of body, mind and soul in the worship.
VISION OF THE MOTHER
“I was then suffering from excruciating pain because I had not been blessed with the vision of the Mother. I felt as if my heart was being squeezed like a wet towel. I was overpowered by a great restlessness and a fear that it might not be longer; life did not seem worth living. Suddenly my eyes fell on the sword which was kept in the Mother’s temple. I jumped upon it like a mad man and seized it for ending my life, when suddenly the blessed Mother revealed Herself to me and I fell unconscious on the floor. What exactly happened after that or how that day or the next passed, I do not know, but within me there was a steady flow of unalloyed bliss altogether new, and I felt presence of the divine Mother.”
One day Rani Rasmani happened to be there in the temple at the time of worship. She requested him to sing some prayer songs on the mother. Slowly the music arose, springing from the depths of his heart and like a fountain of heavenly bliss, bathed his whole being with ecstasy. After a time, the Rani became absent-minded, thinking about some law suit of hers pending in her court. Sri Ramakrishna suddenly stopped singing and gave her a sharp rebuke for defiling the holy precincts with worldly thoughts and desires. The Rani realised how omni- conscious and all knowing like the mother, Sri Ramakrishna had become.
HATHA YOGA PRACTICES
VISION OF SRI RAMA
SRI RAMAKRISHNA’S MARRIAGE WITH SARADA DEVI
Sri Ramakrishna was then 25 years of age and his mother and brother Rameshwar thought that he should be got married, believing that would be the best means to get him interested in wordly life. They began searching for a suitable bride for him, but who would offer his daughter to a mad chap’? They were getting dejected and depressed. Moved by their anxiety and worry, Sri Ramakrishna said,” Why are you trying here and there? Go to Jayarambati and there you will find a bride reserved by Providence for me in the house of Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay.”
When they enquired at Jayrambati, about 3 miles from Kamarpukar, this hint proved to be true. A girl was there, about six years of age. The parents of the girl readily agreed to offer to Sri Ramakrishna and the marriage was duly performed. The bride returned to her parents after the marriage. Sri Ramakrishna stayed for a year and a half at the village and then came back to Dakshineshwar. For six years thereafter, he continued his Sadhana. During this time, he developed a great revulsion for money and for caste distinctions. The spirit of renunciation had totally overtaken him.
BRAHMANI BHAIRAVI AND TANTRIC PRACTICES OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA
Bhairavi was well versed in Vaishnava and Tantric literature and their spiritual practices. Her intense Sadhana bestowed on her wonderful realization; She was looking for a suitable aspirant to whom she could pass on all her attainments. Sri Ramakrishna too confided to her all his experiences. He began loving her as his mother and accepted her as his spiritual guide. She guided him through the most severe Tantric Sadhana and perfected him on that path.
JUDGEMENT ON SRI RAMAKRISHNA
RAM LALA (THE CHILD – GOD RAMA) COMES SEEKING SRI RAMAKRISHNA
One day Jatadhari came to Sri Ramakrishna weeping and said,” time has come for me to leave from here but Rama Lala tells me that he will not come with me and will stay behind with you. I shall thus be leaving him with you although it is so painful for me to part from him as he is my very life, yet I am consoled that he is happy in your company.” Saying this, Jatadhari left carrying with himself his mere physical frame of body and leaving his very heart and dear Ram Lala behind with Sri Ramakrishna.
VISION OF KRISHNA
VISION OF THE IMPERSONAL GOD HEAD (VEDANTA REALIZATION)
The soul after a final struggle leaps over the last barrier of relative existence, shatters its prison of matter and merges in the infinite glory of Brahman. This is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest flight of Advaitic philosophy. Sri Ramakrishna, no doubt, was the fittest person for this experience. Now the time seemed to have become ripe for this. An itinerant monk called Totapuri came to Dakshineswar. He was a great Jnana Yogi, adapt not only in the philosophy of Advaita but also in its practical realization. He asked Sri Ramakrishna,” Would you like to learn Vedanta?” Sri Ramakrishna replied,” I don’t know. It all depends on the Mother. Only if She approves of it, I will study it.” Totapuri then said,” All right, go and ask Her.” Sri Ramakrishna went into the temple and consulted the Goddess who was a living divine Mother for him. The Mother told him,” Yes, my child, go and learn from him; it is for this purpose I brought him to you.” Sri Ramakrishna returned to Totapuri with a beaming countenance and communicated to him Mother’s permission. Accordingly, Totapuri initiated him, with appropriate ceremonies, into the teachings of Vedanta in all its subtlety and depth.
Ramakrishna was asked to fix his mind firmly on the Absolute after piercing through the maze of name and form and diving into the Atman, the Self. Sri Ramakrishna had no difficulty in withdrawing the mind from all other objects except one, the all- too familiar form of the blissful Mother. Totapuri presses on a point between the eye brows with a piece of glass and asked Sri Ramakrishna to concentrate on the point. Sri Ramakrishna later said,” I again sat to meditate and as soon as the gracious form of the divine Mother appeared before me, I used my discrimination as a sword and severed the form in to two, after which there was no obstruction to my mind and it immediately soared beyond the relative plane and I lost myself in Samadhi.
To the astonishment of Totapuri, on the very first day of the practice, Sri Ramakrishna straight away went into Nirvikalpa Samadhi and remained in that state, dead to the world, for three days. Totapuri was wonderstruck and exclaimed,” Is it really true? Is it possible that this man has attained in the course of a single day that which it took me forty years of strenuous practice to achieve? Great God, it is nothing short of a miracle!” Thereafter, Totapuri chose to remain at Dakshineshwar for eleven months to make this exceptional pupil perfect in the Advaitic Sadhana.
Totapuri had believed that Sri Ramakrishna’s praying to the divine Mother was superstition. But circumstances and actual experience later compelled him to change his mind and believe in the existence of the divine Mother. He realised that Brahman and Sakthi are one and the same – two aspects of the same Entity.
After Totapuri left, Sri Ramakrishna remained in a state of absolute identity with Brahman, far above all subjective and objective experiences, for six months at a stretch. Hriday would force a little food and water down Sri Ramakrishna’s mouth occasionally; this kept the physical body above. At last, Mother commanded him, “Remain on the threshold of relative consciousness for the sake of humanity,” and his mind then gradually came down to a lower level and he gained body consciousness.
PRACTICE OF OTHER RELIGIONS- VISIONS OF MOHAMMED, CHRIST
Several years later, he had a similar realization of Christianity. It so happened that once he was looking attentively at the picture of Madonna with the divine child, reflecting on the wonderful life of Christ, when he felt as though the picture became animated and that rays of light emanated from the figures of Mary and Christ and entered into his heart. For three days, he continued to have visions of the Christian church, of Christian devotees, prayers, etc. On the fourth day, as he was walking in the Panchavati, he saw Christ approach and embrace him and then entering into his being. Sri Ramakrishna exclaimed,” Ah this is Christ, the Master Yogi, the embodiment of love who poured out his heart’s blood for the redemption of Mankind and suffered agonies for its sake!”
Sri Ramakrishna used to offer his worship to Buddha also, who is believed to be an incarnation of God by the Hindus. He said about Buddha.”There is not the least doubt about Lord Buddha being an Incarnation of Vishnu. There is no difference between his doctrines and those of the Vedic Jnana Kanda (Upanishadic teaching).”
In his room he also kept a small idol of Tirthankara Mahavira, before which he used to burn incense, morning and evening.
On the Sikh Gurus, Sri Ramakrishna used to say that they were all incarnations of the saintly king Janaka.
About the three systems of Indian Vedanta philosophy – Dwaita, Visishtadvaita and Advaita- he used to say that they are but different stages in man’s progress towards the goal and that they are not contradictory; instead, they are complementary to each other, being suited to different mental outlooks and different stages of psychological development of men.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say to his disciples later:
“The tank has several ghats and Hindus draw water in pitchers and call it Jal; at another, Mohammedans draw water in leather bags and call it pani; and at a third, Christians call it water. Can we imagine that the water is not Jal but only pani or water? How absurd? The substance is One with different names and everyone is seeking the same Substance.
Every religion of the world is such a ghat. Go direct with a sincere and earnest heart to any one of these ghats and you will reach the water of eternal Bliss. But say not your religion is better that that of another.
Different creeds are seeking different paths to reach the same God. Diverse are the ways that lead to the temple of Mother Kali at Kali ghat in Calcutta. Similarly, various are the paths that take men to then House of the Lord. Every religion is but one such path.
The mind and intellect can comprehend and put in terms of language, the range of thought upto Visishtadvaita and no further. In perfection, the Absolute and the Manifestation are seen to be equally real. The Lord’s Name, His Abode and He Himself are found to be composed of one spiritual substance. Everything is spiritual, the variance being only in form.
The Advaita is the last word in realization. It is something to be felt in Samadhi, for it transcends mind and speech.”
Sri Ramakrishna now became convinced that his extraordinary spiritual struggles and realizations were not for himself, but to usher in a new era of spiritual unfoldment and to show mankind how to overcome the obstacles on the way to realization of the truth about God, the supreme Creator and His creation.
MOTHER SARADA DEVI
In 1872, in her 18th year, Sarada Devi came to Dakshineshwar to join her ‘husband’. She actually used to stay with Sri Ramakrishna‘s mother in a nearby room.
Two months after Sarada Devi’s arrival, Sri Ramakrishna celebrated the shodasi Puja for Goddess Kali. To the surprise and wonder of all, he asked Sarada Devi to occupy the seat which was decorated and decked with flowers for the Goddess, and he bowed down and prostrated before Sarada Devi as if she were the Mother Kali Herself. He worshipped her with flowers and all the customary Puja offerings. Both the mother and Sri Ramakrishna bowed again at her feet and said in a resonant voice, “Oh, Jaganmatha! Oh, Jagat Jananee. Today, I offer at your feet the Sadhana done by me all these years. Distribute it ‘to your children’ who are going to flock to you in hundreds and thousands, not before long. Distribute it to all lavishly.”
Sarada Devi was the visible representation of the blissful Mother for Sri Ramakrishna as well as to all others.
SRI RAMAKRISHNA’S PILGRIMAGE – RANI RASMANI AND MATHUR BABU’S BLESSED END.
A few months later, Rani Rasmani died. It was night time when the end came, A big oil lamp was burning in the room. ”Put out the lights! Put out the lights!,” said Rani Rasmani. “Don’t you see Mother Bhavatarini is coming and flooding our whole house with her light? Come in Ma! Come in Ma! Come in Ma!”, so saying Rani Rasmani merged her being into that of the Divine Mother. A smile of peace lit her face, indicating that Rani Rasmani had not ‘died’ but had actually woken up into eternal existence of Divine Mother’s Bliss. After the Rani’s passing away, Mathur Babu was in sole charge of her properties and the temples. He also took on the task of taking care of Sri Ramakrishna and his health.
Four years before Sarada Devi came to Dakshineswar, Mathur Babu started on a pilgrimage, persuading Sri Ramakrishna also to accompany him.
Sri Ramakrishna was very much touched at the misery and poverty of the people he saw on his way. At Deogarh in Odisha state, he told Mathur Babu to feed the whole village sumptuously and distribute to all of them clothes which involved considerable expense. Athough Mathur Babu was reluctant to do this at first, he had to yield as Sri Ramakrishna was so stubborn and determined about it. Sri Ramakrishna had declared that all those people were ‘Daridra narayanas’ and should be lovingly looked after, and which process was indeed true worship of God. He said he would stay back there and would not follow further, if the village people were not fed and given clothes.
As they approached Varanasi by boat across the river Ganga, the city of Siva appeared to him to be made of gold, as if it were’ a condensed mass of spirituality’. While their boat was passing up the Manikaranika Ghat, lo! He saw lord Mahadev uttering the ‘Holy Mantra’ in to the ears Goddess Parvati approached and helped it to rise Heavenwards. This vision so exactly tallies with what was stated in Skanda Purana about persons dying in Kasi and getting Satgadi or Salvation.
The pilgrim party visited Mathura and Vrindavan, rich with countless sweet memories of Sri Krishna. Sri Ramakrishna was in an effable spiritual and ecstatic mood during the fortnight they were in there.
The party had planned to visit Gaya also but Sri Ramakrishna himself dissuaded Mathur Babu in this matter. He thought that if he once visited that sacred place, his mind would leave the physical plane for ever. He had heard of his father’s vision at Gaya and felt that his mind would get permanently absorbed and merged in God there, if visited it. He had already been convinced that he was to be an instrument of the Mother for fulfilling the mission of redemption of the people. The party, therefore, returned to Calcutta without visiting Gaya.
It was now Sixteen years since Mathur Babu first met Sri Ramakrishna; contact with the latter had brought in a complete spiritual metamorphosis in the former. In July, 1871, he fell seriously ill, and was taken to Kalighat. That day Sri Ramakrishna fell into a deep trance which lasted for two or three hours. As he came out of the trance at about 5 pm.. he called out to Hriday saying that Mathur’s soul had merged in the Divine Mother. Late in the night, news reached Dakshineshwar that Mathur Babu had died exactly at 5’ o clock that evening…. Blessed was Mathur Babu to have had such a close contact with Sri Ramakrishna during the most eventful epoch of the latter’s life, and, like his mother in law, he too was redeemed by his devotion to Sri Ramakrishna and the Mother.
HIS DISCIPLES- VIVEKANANDA AND OTHERS
THE CLOSING SCENE
In 1885, as the Prarabhda Karma also had to run out its course, he developed pain in the throat. It took a serious turn; he was taken to Calcutta to a spacious Garden house at Cossipore. His disciples, Narendra Nath and others and mother Sarada Devi were attending on him constantly. Sri Ramakrishna knew that his end on the physical plane was drawing near. He made Narendra Nath his spiritual heir and entrusted all the other disciples to his care. He blessed each one of them. He initiated Narendra with the Mantra of Rama Nama. It produced a miraculous effect upon Narendra Nath; he instantly went into divine ecstasy.
A few days before Sri Ramakrishna took Samadhi, he called Narendra to his side. There was nobody else in the room. He made Narendra sit before him and gazing at him fell into Samadhi. Narendra felt a subtle force like an electric shock penetrating into his body. Gradually, he too lost consciousness, he found Sri Ramakrishna in tears. The Master said to him, “ Today I have given all my powers to you and have become a Fakir myself! Through this power, you will do immense good to the world.” In this way, Sri Ramakrishna passed on all his spiritual treasures to Narendra to keep the torch alight for the good of mankind.
A couple of days later, seeing the Master ‘suffering’, a doubt crept into Narendra’s mind whether he was really divine. Strange to say, the moment this thought came to him, Sri Ramakrishna muttered out distinctly,” He who was Rama and who was Krishna is now Sri Ramakrishna in this body, not just in Vedantic sense, but in reality.” Narendra was over taken by remorse for having doubted the Master even after so many revelations.
On Sunday, the 15th August, 1886, in the evening the Master went into Samadhi. After midnight, he regained consciousness and uttered in a clear voice the name of Kali three times. Suddenly, at two minutes past one, his eyes became fixed on the tip of his nose, the face lighting up with a smile; and the Master entered Maha Samadhi.
Thus, the curtain drops on one of the most glorious chapters in the spiritual history of India. As Vivekananda put it, “The books are only theories, but he was the realization; this man had in fifty one years lived five thousand years of national spiritual life and so raised himself as an object – lesson for all future generations to come.”
Sri Ramakrishna’s life represents the entire orbit of Hinduism, not just a segment of it, such as Theism or Vedanta… He was a Jnani as well as a Bhakta. To him, God was both Personal and Impersonal. He laid equal emphasis on both the householders’s life as well as that of the Sanyasin with its renunciation and Yoga. And he held that all religions were branches of the same tree. He demonstrated the liberating power of religion if it is properly practiced.
Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual light continues to shine even to this day, and it will continue to shine forever. Let us cherish his teachings and make an earnest effort to live upto them.
“Do your duties, but keep your mind on God. If you participate in worldly matters without first cultivating love for God, you will become entangled more and more. Before opening a jack fruit, one rubs the hands with oil. This keeps the fingers from becoming sticky with the Jack fruit’s juice milk.”
“You see many stars at night in the sky but find them not when the sun rises; Can you say that there are no stars in the heavens during the day? So, oh man, because you behold not God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.”
“Pray to Him in any way you will. He is sure to hear you, for He hears even the football of an ant.”
This mighty task needed a dynamic personality and it rightly fell upon his favorite disciple, Narendra Nath, later to be known as Vivekananda. It was he who broadcast the basic truths of Vedanta, as realized in the experience of Sri Ramakrishna; he brought home to the minds of the people that if only ancient Vedanta was reinterpreted in the light of Sri Ramakrishna’s unique spiritual experience and applied to modern life, it would enable India to solve all problems with which she was afflicted. It would rise once more to deliver a message to mankind. While he lectured the truths of Vedanta in America and Europe, he also passionately urged the people of India to put those truths into practice, stressing too that religion does not rest in mere faith but in its practice, in the realization of the truth which it upholds. Religion is, realizing and experiencing of the Truth i.e. God.
Vivekananda always exhorted that the most practical form which Vedanta should take immediately was the uplift of the masses and relief of their sufferings. This is Vedanta and religion in practice. The ideal society, according to him, was that which combined the spiritual culture of India with the secular culture and social justice and freedom of the West. Towards this objective he founded the Sri Ramakrishna Mission in India, combining spiritual and service activities. This mission has a remarkable and excellent record of rendering of service to the people from its very inception. As he preached that Vedanta is a catholic and universal philosophy and way of life, he opened several Vedantic centres in America, Europe and other foreign lands too. Vivekananda, indeed, was one of the greatest men born in India and was a great savant of the Indian culture.
Vishwanath was lawyer practicing at the Calcutta High Court. He was also a scholarly person. Bhuvaneshwari Devi was a deeply religious lady. She had only daughters; and therefore, asked a relation of hers at Varanasi to make religious offerings to Lord Visveswara praying for the birth of a son to her. Soon thereafter, Siva appeared in her dream and said that He Himself would take birth as her son.
In his early childhood, Naren was given to much fun and frolic and yet had great attraction and inclination for spiritual matters. He was fond of worshipping and meditating on the images of Rama, Sita and Siva etc. The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata, which his mother told him, left an indelible impression on his young mind. He was a handsome child with leonine majesty and regal bearing; he was also extremely kind-hearted, and used to give away in charity anything that came to his hand whenever the poor and needy came for alms. There was also a spontaneous attraction and reverence in his mind for the wandering monks and holy people. But having a very inquiring mind, he always demanded rational and convincing arguments and answers for every proposition. Thus he showed great qualities of both the head and heart even from childhood.
THE RESTLESS YOUTH
Vivekananda too earnestly tried to understand Brahmoism but the more he delved into it, the more he felt that as there was something vitally lacking, something missing in it. He used to put questions to the Brahmo elders in all earnestness and sincerity to properly understand things, but none of them could give convincing and satisfactory answers to his questions, especially about the existence of God. This only accentuated his spiritual restlessness.
At this time, he remembered the words of his professor, William Hastie, during one of his lectures, on Wordsworth’s poem, the Excursion, in which the ecstatic experience of the poet was described. Professor Hastie had said,” Such an experience is the result of purity of mind and concentration on some particular object and it is rare indeed particularly in these days. I have seen only one person who has experienced that blessed state of mind, and he is Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. You too can understand for yourself if you go there.” Fateful words indeed were these!
HIS CONFRONTATION WITH THE GOD MAN SRI RAMAKRISHNA AND HIS DISCIPLESHIP UNDER HIM
No sooner had they met, Narendranath put straight away this question to Sri Ramakrishna,” Sir, have you seen God?”. It was the same question he had previously asked many other popular religious leaders but had drawn a blank each time. But now instantly came Sri Ramakrishna’s reply. “Yes, I see Him just as I see you here, even more intensely.” He further went on,” God can be realized and one can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wives and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him, He surely manifests Himself. “In the transparent sincerity of Sri Ramakrishna’s face, Narendranath could realize the absolute truth of his words. He had found at last one who could assure him from his own experience that God existed, that all the scriptures were not fictitious fabrications but were pure statements and affirmation of an eternal and universal truth called God. His doubts were totally dispelled at this meeting with his destined Guru.
The disciple’s training had begun on a positive note. In his second interview, he was made to perceive very vividly the spiritual powers of the saint. Narendranth has recorded for us what exactly happened.
“Muttering something to himself, with his eyes fixed on me, he slowly drew nearer me. I thought he might do something queer. But in the twinkling of an eye, he placed his right foot on my body. The touch at once gave rise to a novel experience within me. With my eyes open, I saw that the walls and everything in the room whirled rapidly and vanished into nought, and the whole universe together with my individually was about to merge in an all- encompassing mysterious void! I was terribly frightened and thought that I was facing death, for the loss of individuality meant nothing short of that. Unable to control myself, I cried out, What is this you are doing to me? I have my parents at home. He laughed at this and striking my chest, All right, let it rest now. Everything will have to come at its own time. The wonder of it was that no sooner had he said this, that strange experience of mine vanished. I was myself again and everything within and without the room, became again as it had been before. All this happened in less time than it takes me to narrate it, but it revolutionized my mind.”
This was the mystic touch that ultimately changed Narendranath, a near agnostic into Swami Vivekananda, the world famous monk who roused the slumbering the fire of religion in millions of hearts in the East and the West before he died an early death in his 40th year.
During his five or six years of discipleship, Narendranath met his Master once or twice every week and often stayed with him for some days. And from week to week his illumination grew, till it culminated in his master looking upon him as his spiritual heir. In the early stages NARENDRA ridiculed many ideas of the master because they were so different from the teachings of Brahmo Samaj, of which he was then a member. But he found that here was a man, himself an infallible proof of whatever he talked. Narendranath realised that he had to shift himself from the Intellectual plane to which he was accustomed as a university student to the spiritual plane in which the Master- lived and moved.
Narendranath’s knowledge of Western philosophy was no doubt of great use to him in later years in expounding Vedanta. But first and foremost, he felt, he had to acquire spiritual experience of which Vedanta is but only an intellectual exposition. And of this experience the Master himself gave him a glimpse. But it rested upon him to develop it till it became fully of his own.
Narendranath’s father passed away suddenly and the family was shaken up. Although his father had been earning well, it turned out that the family was left nearly penniless on his death, and even the family sustenance became difficult. Naren was almost starving, often concealing his pangs of hunger and telling a lie to the mother that he dined at some friend’s house. So that others in the home could have a few more morsels of his share and appease their hunger a little more.
Once or twice, Narendra tried to pray to Mother Kali in the Dakshineswar temple for the alleviation of the family’s distress; this was approved even by the Master himself. But he found that although he was in dire for money to keep the kitchen fire burning, yet, standing before Her, he could not ask the Mother for earthly wealth. He could pray only for Knowledge and devotion when it came to asking Her.
Narendranath’s surrender to the Master lifted him spiritually, from doubt to certainity; his ego was effaced and he was mellowed down completely, fully conquered by the Master’s love, which he also reciprocated in full measure.
With Sri Ramakrishna’s illness and his removal to Cossipore on the outskirts of Calcutta for treatment, began Narendranath’s final training under the Guru. It was a time remarkable for the intense spiritual fire which burned within the heart of Naren and which expressed itself through various intense practices. The Master utilized this opportunity to bring his other young disciples also under the leadership of Narendra. And when Narendra prayed that he might be blessed with nirvikalpa samadhi, which is regarded as the highest spiritual experience, the Master admonished him in a fury of saying,” Shame on you! I thought You would grow like a huge banyan tree sheltering thousands from the scorching misery of the world. But now, I see you seek your own liberation. “ All the same he conceded that Narendra had the much coveted realization, after which the Master, however, said that “the key “ to this would thenceforth remain in his (Sri Ramakrishna’s) keeping and “the door” would not be opened till Narendra had finished the task for which he had taken birth. Three or four days before is Samadhi, Ramakrsihna transmitted to Narendra all his own power and told him,” By the force of the power transmitted by me, great things will be done by you; only after that will you go back to whence you came.
Taking Sanyasa – From the prison cell of individuality to the freedom of universality
After the passing away of the Master on 16th August, 1886 many young disciples gathered together in an old dilapidated house at Baranagar in North Kolkata, under the leadership of Narendranath, where, while practicing spiritual exercises and in the midst of intense austerities, the foundation of the Sri Ramakrishna brotherhood was laid. It was during these days that Narendranath, along with many of his brother disciples went to Antpur and there, on Christmas eve(1886), sitting round a huge fire in the open, took the vow of sanyasa. They also took new names, appropriate to the monks where Narendranath emerged as Swami Vivekananda.
Their sadhana continued till 1890, Vivekananda preparing the band of his companions for their mighty task so that each might go into the world and spread Sri Ramakrishna’s message. During this period, they would also go out as itinerant monks to nearby places for brief periods.
In July, 1890, therefore, Vivekananda took leave of Mother Sarada Devi, who was the spiritual guide of the young monks after the Master’s passing away and set out as a parivrajaka. For about five years, he wandered all over India, mostly on foot. During these wanderings, he had to often face starvation and walk along through deserts and forests and sometimes he stood in imminent peril to his life. But undaunted by hardships and dangers, he led the life of a true Sanyasin – one day begging for his food from door to door in obscure villages and on another day, being the honored guest of a Maharajah or a Dewan: one day observing the squalid poverty of millions of miserable hut-dwellers and another day watching the luxury of princes in their palaces. He now saw and understood the unity of India amidst all her diversity of races and sects, languages, customs and manners. He studied the weaknesses as well as the strength of his countrymen and gathered a fund of experience, which he used to great advantage when later he entered the world stage as a great teacher and organizer. It was this abject poverty of the masses which he had seen during these wanderings made him to set his mission– to uplift the life of the poor through spiritual.
During these peregrinations, he met many leading personalities of the time; Some of the Princes were also drawn to him and became his friends and disciples. One of them was Maharajah Ajit Singh of Khetri, who became his ardent disciple.
A small anecdote but of great significance and which is a message for all, relates to his sojourn at Alwar. He was invited by the minister to the royal court. The young Maharajah of Alwar had Western education and, therefore, held all “modern notions” and a skeptical attitude. He, therefore, contemptuously asked,” Swami, you talk of God. Do you believe in the stone Gods in the temples? “Vivekananda replied,” Yes, certainly,” The Maharajah said again,” But how can God be a thing made of stone?” Swami turned to the minister and said,” Please take down that picture of the Maharajah from the wall and give it to me.” When the minister did that, Swami Vivekananda said to him, “Now spit on it, it is not Maharajah.” The minister said,”Oh no, how can I?” Vivekananda then turned to the Maharajah, and said,”Do you see my point now?. The stone is like a portrait, a symbol – a sacred symbol of God, the Ultimate Reality.”
At Mount Abu, he was invited to the house of a Muslim. The latter was hesitant to offer him food, wondering whether he would accept food from a non – Hindu. Swami at once gauged his thoughts and said,” For me all castes and creeds are the same and all are my own brethren.”
At Poona, he stayed with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great national leader.
The Maharajah of Mysore showed him great respect and offered him financial support to enable him to go to the West to propound the universal principles of Vedanta among the people there. From Mysore he went to Trivandrum and Kanyakumari.
AT THE FEET OF THE MOTHER KANYAKUMARI – AND THE REVELATION OF HIS MISSION
“At Cape Comorin, sitting at Mother Kumari’s temple on the last bit of Indian rock, I hit upon a plan. We are so many sanyasins wandering about and teaching the people metaphysics- it is all madness. Did not our Master say,” An empty stomach is no good for religion?” That these poor people are leading the life of brutes is simply due to ignorance. Suppose some dedicated sanyasins bent on doing good to others, go from village to village disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the conditions of all, down to the chandala, through oral teaching and by means of maps, cameras,globes and such other accessories – can’t they bring forth good in time? We, as a nation, have lost our individuality and that is the cause of all the mischief and misery in India. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and uplift the masses.”
Thus it was at Kanyakumari that Swami Vivekananda consecrated himself to the service of India, particularly to the service of her starving, oppressed, outcast millions; it was here that he was transformed into a patriot-monk in whose religion the uplift of the Indian masses formed as integral part as meditation or the practice of yoga or the study of the Veda. In other words, it was at Kanyakumari that he realised what his Master had fore-seen – that he(Vivekananda) has a great mission to fulfill in his life. It was here that the idea sprouted in his mind that he should visit America, raise funds there to build schools, hospitals and other utilitarian Institutes in India, thus starting an active programme for ameliorating the conditions of the people. This idea gained momentum when the Raja of Ramnad suggested that he should attend the newly announced Chicago Parliament of Religions.
When he was in Madras, many enthusiastic young men became his followers and raised money, persuading him to take up the visit to America. But he still was not certain whether Mother Sarada Devi would bless him in this errand of his; but at this juncture, he had a symbolic dream in which the Master appeared, started walking over the sea and beckoning to him to follow. Simulataneously, Mother Sarada Devi also got a dream wherein the Master appeared and asked her to bless Vivekananda and send him abroad on the mission.
The Rajah of Khetri then invited him and made all arrangements for his voyage.
ON TO THE WORLD STAGE
He travelled via China, Japan and Canton and reached Chicago about the middle of July. In Canton he visited some Buddhist monasteries, while in Japan he noted with admiration the industrial progress and cleanliness of the people. Seeing Chicago, so dazzling with riches and with the inventive genius of the West, he was puzzled like a child. To his disappointment, he learnt that the Parliament of Religions would not be held until September and that no one could be a delegate without credentials. He felt lost but resigning himself to the will of Providence, went to Boston which was less expensive than Chicago. In the train, he happened to become acquainted with one Miss Katherine Sanborn, who invited him to be her guest at Boston. Through her, he came to know Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University, who was overawed by Vivekananda’s depth of knowledge and versatility in philosophy. The Professor gave him a letter of introduction to the Chairman of the Parliament of Religions, paying the tribute: “Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together” The professor also told Vivekananda that “to ask for your credentials is like asking the sun if he has permission to shine!”
Vivekananda returned to Chicago a couple of days before the opening of the Parliament of Religions, but found to his dismay that he had lost the address of the Committee which was providing hospitality for the oriental delegates. It was the locality of German speaking people and he could not make himself understood by anybody. Tired, he rested for the night in a huge box in the railway freight yard. Next morning, he started out, searching for somebody who could help him out of his difficulty. But help for a coloured man was not readily available; exhausted by a fruitless search, he sat down on the roadside, resigning himself to the divine will. Suddenly, a lady of regal appearance emerged from the fashionable house opposite, approached him and offered him help. This was Mrs. George W. Hale, whose house was to later become almost the permanent address of Vivekananda, while he was in the U.S.A.; the Hale family members had become his devoted followers.
The Parliament of Religions opened on 11th September, 1893. The spacious hall of the Art Institute was packed with nearly 7000 people representing the acme of culture of the country. On the platform, every organised religion from all corners of the world had its representatives. Vivekananda could, of course, be counted as a delegate for Hinduism, but, in fact, as it later turned out, he was standing for something more profound than any one sect; he was standing for the ancient Indian doctrine of the universality of spiritual Truth. Vivekananda had never addressed such a huge and distinguished gathering. He felt extremely nervous, but when his turn came, he mentally bowed down to Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning and then began his speech with the words, “Sisters and Brothers of America!” Immediately there was a thunderous applause from the vast audience; it lasted for full two minutes. Seven thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something which they could not clearly define. He, however, continued,” It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I greet you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.”
All subsequent speeches of the Swami at the Parliament were listened to with great respect and appreciation, because they all had the same key-note of universality.
On some occasions, he spoke of the abject poverty conditions in India. “The crying evil in the East is not want of religion, but want of bread. They ask us for bread but we give them stones. It is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. He asked the Christians of America, who were so fond of sending missionaries abroad to save the soul of heathens, why they did not try to save bodies of these people from starvation.”
In the address at the final session on 27th September, the Swami rose once again to declare clearly that.” the unity of religions of which so much had been said in the Parliament was not to be attained by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of others. “Do I wish that the Christian would become a Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or a Buddhist becomes a Christian? God forbid. The Christian is not to become a Hindu nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each religion must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve its individuality and grow according to its law of growth.”
Swami Vivekananda stayed in America for about three years after his Chicago success and continued giving discourses day in and day out. He had come to America to speak for his native land and tell America about India’s poverty and appeal to them for their help. But he also imparted an important message to the entire West. He asked his listeners to forsake their materialism and learn from the ancient spirituality of the Hindus.
What he was working for was an exchange of values. He recognized great virtues in the West energy, initiative and courage, which he somehow found lacking in India.
In his Vedantic lectures he would always say,” God is in each one of us; see no difference between an ant and an angel.” In other words, each one of us was born to re-discover his own divine nature. His favourite story was that of a lion who imagined himself to be a sheep, until another lion showed him his reflection in a pool. “And you are lions”, he would tell his hearers. “You are pure, infinite and perfect souls. He, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, is your own self.” He spoke little about the cults of Hinduism in which devotion to Rama, Kali, Vishnu, Krishna, etc., is practiced by various sects. It was only occasionally that he would refer to his own personal cult and reveal that he had a Master who was a Divine incarnation and had lived till ten years ago. His restraint in glorifying Sri Ramakrishna in the West was explained by him by the words,” If I had preached the personality of Sri Ramakrishna, I might have converted half the world, but that would have been short-lived. So, I preached Sri Ramakrishna’s principles. If people accept the principles, they will eventually accept the personality.”
He paid a short visit of three months to England too and found that the response to his message there was also equally great. Here, he met the great savant Max muller. He then wanted to consolidate his work in America and organized the Vedanta Society of New York, which is a non- sectarian body with the aim of preaching Vedanta and applying the universal principles as basic to all religions. He wrote books on Raja yoga and Jnana Yoga. He toured Europe also. He gathered around him a number of ardent disciples wherever he went, notable among them being Capt. Sevier and his wife and Miss Margaret Noble who is better known as Sister Nivedita. Now his own motherland was calling him and was eager in its own right to receive his message. So, from London, he started for India towards the end of 1896.
TRIUMPHANT RETURN HOME
At Madras, he delivered five public lectures, each of which was a clarion call to throw away weakness and superstition and rise to build a new India. He emphasized that in India the keynote of the whole music of national life was religion, a religion which preached the “Spiritual oneness of the whole universe.” When that was strengthened, everything else would take care of itself. He did not spare his criticism however; castigating his countrymen for aping the West, for their blind adherence to old superstitions and their caste prejudices and so on.
Vivekananda arrived in Calcutta on 20th February. His native city gave him a grand welcome, and here he paid a touching tribute to his Master. “If there has been anything achieved by me, by thoughts or words or deeds, if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has helped anyone in the world, I lay no claim for it. It was His…If this nation wants to rise, take my word for it, it will have to rally round His name.”
BIRTH OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA MISSION
HIS VISION OF AMARNATH – THE LORD OF SNOWS
After Amarnath, he went to the holy shrine of Kshir Bhavani Mata near Srinagar. This also proved to be another memorable experience for him. He then became full of the Mother.
During this period, Swami constantly inspired the Sanyasins and Brahmacharis at the Math towards a life of intense spirituality and service for one’s own emanicipation and the good of one’s fellowmen –“ Atmano Mokshartham Jagat hitaya cha,” as he put it. Meanwhile his health deteriorated considerably due to restless obsession with the work of the Math. As he was being pressed to visit America again by his disciples there, he set out once more on a second voyage.
AROUND THE WORLD AGAIN
In fact, the future must be shaped by a proper fusion of the two ideals. Then, there will be neither East nor West, but one humanity.”
Towards the attainment of such integration, he was constantly toiling. He set up Shanti Ashram in Northern California, which he placed under the charge of Swami Turiyananda, and also Vedanta Centre at San Francisco.
Though the spiritual flame was fully ablaze, yet the oil in the physical frame was running out; Vivekananda knew his end was approaching and he wrote to Miss McDonald, “My boat is nearing the calm harbour from which it is never more to be driven out.”
On 1st August, 1900, he arrived at Paris, to participate in the Congress of the History of Religions. He toured some of the countries of Europe, then Turkey and finally came to Egypt. There, he had a premonition of Capt. Sevier’s death. He rushed back to India and reached Belur Math on 9th December, 1900, surprising his brother monks who greatly rejoiced over his unexpected return.
THE JOURNEY’S END
Returning to Belur, he stayed there for seven weeks and then left for East Bengal and Assam. His Mother, who had expressed an earnest desire to visit the holy places there, went with him. “This is the one great wish of a Hindu widow”, he wrote to Mrs. Bull. “I have brought only misery to my people. I am trying to fulfill this one wish of hers.”
After return, Swami tried to lead a little restful life at the monastery. He would roam about the Math grounds, sometimes clad in a loin cloth, or he would supervise the cooking, or sit with the monks, singing devotional songs. His spiritual advice to whoever came to him continued in abated. But he freed himself from all formal duties by executing a Deed of Trust in favour of his brother disciples, transferring to them all the properties including the Belur Math, which had been so far held in his name. One day he arranged for feeding of the santhal coolies who were working at the Math. They had never tasted such delicacies and such a sumptuous feast in their lives. They were immensely happy. The Swami said to them, “You are Narayanas, manifestations of God, today I have offered food to Narayana. He told his disciples later “I found them the veritable embodiments of God-such simplicity, such sincere guileless love I had seen nowhere else. Sometimes I feel a desire to sell this Math and everything and distribute the money to the poor and destitute.”
The sunset of his life was approaching. On 4th of July,1902, he meditated from 8 to 11 in the morning, rather unusually in the afternoon he went out for a walk. In the evening, he retired to his room and spent an hour in meditation. Then, he lay down quietly and after sometime took two deep breaths and passed into Eternal Rest- His work seemed to have been completed and the Master seemed to have given him back the promised “key” to the Treasure of the Absolute.
He had once said in London, “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the world shall know that it is one with God.” Only the mortal body he had cast out, but his immortal self continues to illumine the world.
“The abstract Advaitha must be lived. It must become like a poetic expression in everyday life: out of the hopelessly bewildering Yogism must come the most scientific and practical psychology-all this must be put in so simple form that a child may grasp it. That is my life’s work. The Lord knows how far I have succeeded,” Vivekananda used to say.
Surely, he has succeeded in this to a very large extent. “If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative”, said Tagore. “I have gone through his works very thoroughly and after having gone through them, the love that I had for my country became a thousand-fold”, said Mahatma Gandhi.