Where Ramakrishna lived. Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna lived for many years in Rani Rashmoni's celebrated Temple garden on the eastern bank of the Ganges in the village of Dakshineswara about four miles north of Calcutta. This temple with the garden attached was dedicated by its foundress (Rani Rashmoni) to the Divine Mother (Kali). In the northwest corner of the spacious temple-compound is a small room which faces on the west the waters of the sacred river Ganges. This room with its holy surroundings was consecrated [22} as the dwelling-place for many years of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, whose Divine Presence made the spot holier and more sacred. It was from this retired corner that the rays of his Divine glory, emanating from his God-intoxicated soul, dazzled the eyes of the seekers after Truth and attracted them to him as a blazing fire attracts moths from all quarters. Hundreds of educated men and women were drawn towards this superhuman personality to listen with the deepest reverence to the words of wisdom uttered by one who had realized God and who lived in constant communion with the Divine Mother of the universe.
Mahendra's visit to the Temple. One Sunday in the month of March, 1882, Mahendra, hearing from a friend about this Divine Man, was so deeply impressed that he came to the temple garden to pay Him a respectful visit. It was the day of a special religious festival and people had gathered in great numbers in Sri Ramakrishna's room and on the veranda. The bhagavan was seated on a raised platform, and on the floor around Him were Kedar, Suresh, Ram, Manmohan, Bijoy, and many other devotees. They gazed up into His radiant face and drank the nectar of the living words of divine wisdom [23} that fell from his hallowed lips. With a smiling face Sri Ramakrishna was speaking to them of the power of the Lord's Holy Name and true bhakti [devotedness] as the means of attaining God-vision. Addressing Bijoy, [**] he asked: What do you say is the means of attaining to God?
Power of the Lord's Holy Name. Bijoy: Bhagavan, by the repetition of his Holy Name. In this age the Holy Name of the Lord has saving powers. Bhagavan: Yes, the Holy Name has saving powers, but there must be earnest longing with it. Without earnest longing of the heart no one can see God by mere repetition of his Name. One may repeat his Name, but if one's mind be attached to lust and wealth, that will not help much. When a man is bitten by a scorpion or a tarantula, mere repetition of a mantram will not do; a special remedy is necessary.
Bijoy: If that be the case, Bhagavan, then how did Ajamila, [*+] who was the greatest of [24} sinners and committed all sorts of crimes, obtain salvation by repeating the name of the Lord at the time of his death?
Ramakrishna: Perhaps in his previous incarnations Ajamila was righteous and performed a great many good deeds. Besides, it is said that he practised asceticism later in this life. It may also be said that at the last moment of his life the repetition of the Holy Name purified his heart and therefore he attained salvation. When an elephant is washed, immediately he throws dust and dirt over himself; but if he is kept in a clean stall after his bath, then he cannot cover himself with dirt. By the power of the Holy Name a man may be purified, but he may once more commit sinful acts because his mind is weak. He cannot promise that he will never sin again. The water of the Ganges may wash away past sins, but there is a saying that sins perch on the top of trees. When a man comes out of the Ganges and stands under a tree, the sins drop over his shoulders and seize upon him; these old sins ride him, as it were. Therefore, repeat the Holy Name of the Lord, [25} but at the same time pray to Him that you may have true love and devotion for Him, and that your love for wealth, fame and the pleasures of the body may decrease because they are transitory, they last only until to-morrow.
All religions lead to God. When there is true devotion and love, one can reach God by any of the sectarian religions. The Vaishnavas, the worshippers of Krishna, will attain God in the same way as the Saktas, the worshippers of the Divine Mother or the followers of Vedanta. Those who belong to the Brahmo-Samaj, [**] the Mahometans and Christians, will also realize God through their respective religions. If you follow any of these paths with intense devotion, you will reach Him. If there be any mistake in the path chosen, He will correct the mistake in the long run. The man who wishes to see Jagannath [*+] may go towards the South instead of [26} towards the North, but some one will sooner or later direct him in the right way and he will surely visit Jagannath in the end. The one thing necessary for realization is whole-hearted and whole-souled devotion to God.
Many names of one God. Vaishnavas, Mahometans, Christians and Hindus are all longing for the same God; but they do not know that He who is Krishna is also Shiva, Divine Mother, Christ and Allah. God is one, but He has many names. The Substance is one, but is worshipped under different names according to the time, place and nationality of His worshippers. All the different Scriptures of the world speak of the same God. He who is described in the Vedas as Absolute Existence-Intelligence-Bliss or Brahman, is also described in the Tantras [**] as Shiva, in the Puranas [*+] as Krishna, in the Koran as Allah, and in the Bible as Christ. Yet [27} the various sects quarrel with one another. The worshippers of Krishna, for instance, say that nothing can be achieved without worshipping Krishna; those who are devoted to the Divine Mother think that the worship of the Divine Mother is the only way to salvation.
Bigotry is not right. Similarly, the Christians say that no one can reach heaven except through Christ; He is the only way and Christianity is the only religion, all other religions are false. This is narrow-mindedness. "My religion is true while that of others is false," this kind of belief is not right. It is not our business to correct the errors of other religions. He who has created the world will correct them in time. Our duty is in some way or other to realize Him. God can be reached through many paths; each of these sectarian religions points out a path which ultimately leads to Divinity. Yes; all religions, are paths, but the paths are not God. I have seen all sects and all paths. I do not care for them any more. People belonging to these sects quarrel so much! After trying all religions, I have realized that God is the Whole and I am His part; that He is the Lord and I am His servant; again I realize, He is I; I am He. [28}
God Personal and Impersonal. People dispute among themselves, saying: "God is personal, with form. He cannot be impersonal and formless," like the Vaishnavas who find fault with those who worship the Impersonal Brahman. When realization comes, then all these questions are settled. He who has seen God can tell exactly what He is like. As Kavira [**] said: "God with form is my Mother, God without form is my Father. Whom shall I blame, whom shall I praise? The balance is even." He is with form, yet He is formless. He is personal, yet He is impersonal, and who can say what other aspects He may have!
Parable of the elephant and the blind men. Four blind men went to see an elephant. One touched a leg of the elephant and said: "The elephant is like a pillar." The second touched the trunk and said: "The elephant is like a thick club." The third touched the belly and said: "The [29} elephant is like a huge jar." The fourth touched the ears and said: "The elephant is like a big winnowing-basket." Then they began to dispute among themselves as to the figure of the elephant. A passer-by, seeing them thus quarrelling, asked them what it was about. They told him everything and begged him to settle the dispute. The man replied: "None of you has seen the elephant. The elephant is not like a pillar, its legs are like pillars. It is not like a big water-jar, its belly is like a water-jar. It is not like a winnowing-basket, its ears are like winnowing-baskets. It is not like a stout club, its trunk is like a club. The elephant is like the combination of all these." In the same manner do those sectarians quarrel who have seen only one aspect of the Deity. He alone who has seen God in all His aspects can settle all disputes.
Parable of the chameleon. Again: Two persons were hotly disputing as to the colour of a chameleon. One said: "The chameleon on that palm-tree is of a red colour." The other, contradicting him, replied: "You are mistaken, the chameleon is not red but blue." Not being able to settle the matter by argument, both went to the person who always lived under [30} that tree and had watched the chameleon in all its phases of colour. One of them asked him: "Sir, is not the chameleon on that tree red?" The person replied: "Yes, sir." The other disputant said: "What do you say? It is not red, it is blue." The person again humbly replied: "Yes, sir." The person knew that the chameleon is an animal which constantly changes colour; thus it was that he said "yes" to both these conflicting statements. The Sat-chit-ananda (the Absolute Existence-Intelligence-Bliss) likewise has many forms. The devotee who has seen God in one aspect only, knows Him in that aspect alone. But he who has seen Him in manifold aspects is alone in a position to say with authority: "All these forms are of one God and God is multiform." He is formless and with form, and many are His forms which no one knows.
Different aspects of Divinity. God is not only personal and with form but He can take the form of Krishna, Christ or any other Incarnation. It is true that He manifests Himself in infinite forms to fulfil the desires of His devotees. It is also true that He is formless Indivisible Existence-Intelligence-Bliss Absolute.
Relation between God Personal and Impersonal. The Vedas have described Him to be both [31} personal, with form and attributes, and impersonal, beyond all form and attributes. Do you know how this is? He is like the infinite ocean of Absolute Existence-Intelligence-Bliss. As in the ocean intense cold will freeze a portion of the water into ice which may float in various forms on the water, similarly intense devotion (Bhakti) may condense a portion of Divinity and make it appear in different forms. The Personal God with form exists for the sake of His Bhaktas (dualistic devotees). When the sun of wisdom rises, the block of ice melts and becomes water once more; above, below, and on every side the Infinite Being pervades. Therefore there is a prayer in the Scriptures: "O Lord, Thou art personal with form. Thou art also impersonal and formless. Thou hast manifested Thyself in a human form and hast lived in our midst, but in the Vedas Thou art described as beyond speech and mind, Unspeakable, Imperceptible and Unthinkable." But it can be said that for a certain class of Bhaktas He is eternally personal and always with form. There are places where the ice never melts, it becomes crystallized. [32} Kedar: [**] Bhagavan, it is also said in the Scriptures: "O Lord, Thou art beyond speech and mind, but I have described Thy Personal form only, do Thou forgive me for this offense."
Bhagavan: Yes, God is with form and also formless. No one can say positively that He is so much and no more. To a devotee (Bhakta, or lover of God) the Lord appears as a Personal Being with form, but to one who has attained to the state of selfless Samadhi through the path of discrimination and knowledge He is the formless, Impersonal and Absolute Brahman.
Evening at the Temple. Night had fallen and the priests were moving the lights before the shrines to the accompaniment of bells, cymbals, and drums. From the southern end of the garden was wafted the sweet music played by the Temple musicians upon flutes and other instruments the music being carried far over the Ganges until it was lost. The breeze blowing from the south was gentle and fragrant with the sweet odour of many flowers. The moon was rising and the garden was soon bathed in [33} its soft silvery light. It seemed as if nature as well as man was rejoicing and holding herself in readiness for the sacred ceremony of the Arati (evening service).
One by one the disciples began to take their leave. Mahendra [**] and his friend, who had been visiting the different temples, now wended their way back through the grand quadrangle to Sri Ramakrishna's chamber. Coming up to the door of the room, they noticed that it was closed. Near the door stood a maid-servant named Brinda. Mahendra spoke to her, saying: Well, my good woman, is the Holy Man in?
Brinda: Yes, He is in His room.
Mahendra: I suppose He has many books to read and study?
Brinda: Oh dear no; not a single one. Everything, even the highest truths, is spoken by His tongue. His words are all inspired. [34} Mahendra: Indeed! Is He now going through the evening service? May we go in? Will you kindly tell Him of our anxiety to see Him?
Brinda: Why, you may go in, my. children. Go in and take your seats before Him.
Thereupon they entered the room. No other people were there. Bhagavan Sri was alone, seated as in the afternoon on the platform beside His bed. Incense was burning and the doors were closed. Mahendra saluted the Bhagavan with folded hands. A mat was pointed out on the floor. At His word Mahendra and his friend took their seats upon it. The Bhagavan asked him: What is your name? Where do you live? What are you? What has brought you to Barahanagore? [**} Mahendra answered each of these questions, but he noticed that in the course of the conversation Sri Ramakrishna's mind was fixed upon some other object, on which He was meditating. He was only half-conscious of the physical plane and His attitude resembled that of a man quietly seated rod in hand, intent on catching fish. When the float trembles and the fish bites, the man eagerly looks at the float, [35} grasping the rod with all his strength. He does not talk to anyone, but his whole mind is fixed upon the float. Such was the Bhagavan's concentration at this moment. Mahendra learned afterwards that this was the state of Samadhi or God-consciousness which invariably came over Him every day during the evening service. Very often in this state He would become absolutely unconscious of the external world. Mahendra, observing His abstraction, said to Sri Ramakrishna: I am afraid, Bhagavan, that you would prefer to go through the evening service (Sandhya) alone. In that case we will not disturb you any more, but will call some other time.
Sri Ramakrishna replied: Oh no, you need not be in a hurry.
But he was silent again for a time. He then opened his lips and said: Sandhya? Evening service? It is not that.
A short while after, Mahendra saluted the Bhagavan, who in turn bade him good-bye, saying, "Come again."