Sri Ramakrishna was living at Shampukur at the request of his householder disciples, who had hired a house for him there.
It was about half-past five in the afternoon of a day in October. Vivekananda, Brahmananda, Ramakrishnananda, Saradananda, Abhedananda and other disciples were with Sri Ramakrishna. The great national festival Durgapuja had been celebrated only a few days back but it was difficult for the disciples to take part in the festivities with their whole heart. How could they rejoice when their master was suffering from a serious malady? Their one thought was to serve him, to nurse him, to attend to his smallest wants day and night This devoted and unparalleled service of the master led the way for the younger disciples (Vivekananda and others) to the great [380} renunciation of the world of which Bhagavan Sri was the ideal example. Through their intense love for the master they left their homes and sacrificed the duties and pleasures of life that they might give their whole soul to his service.
Notwithstanding his illness, hundreds of people came every day to pay reverential homage to him. They were eager to receive his blessing and to sit in his presence if only for a few minutes; for his presence brought peace and celestial happiness in the hearts and souls of all. Who had ever seen such unbounded compassion? He was anxious for the welfare of all those who came to him and was ever ready to help them by removing their doubts and opening their spiritual eyes. This was the time when bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna showed to the world that he was not a man of this earth, but an embodiment of Infinite Love Divine.
His charm and fascination were so great that everyone who came into his presence would lose the consciousness of time and place. Even men like Dr. Sircar [**], who was the busiest physician [381} in Calcutta and who usually spent a few moments only with each patient, would remain with the bhagavan hours together and sometimes the whole day. He had just now been paying Sri Ramakrishna a long visit. Rising to go, he said to the bhagavan, who was conversing with Syam Babu: [**] "Now that you have Syam Babu to talk to, I will bid you good-bye."
Sri Ramakrishna: Wouldn't you like to hear some songs?
Doctor: I should like it very much; but your feelings will be too much worked on and you will go off into a state of ecstasy.
The doctor took his seat once more, and Vivekananda sang to the accompaniment of instruments: [382}
GOD AND HIS WORKS
Sri Ramakrishna (to Vivekananda): What does the doctor say?
Vivekananda: Sir, the doctor is afraid lest this singing bring on ecstasy (bhava-samâdhi).
Sri Ramakrishna (to the doctor, with folded hands): No, oh no; why should my feelings be worked on? I am very well.
But as soon as these words were uttered, the bhagavan, who was already losing sense-consciousness, went into deep samâdhi. His body became motionless. The eyes moved not. He sat speechless like a veritable figure of wood or stone. All sense-consciousness had ceased to be. The mind, the principle of personal identity, the heart, had all stepped out of their wonted course towards that One Object, the Mother of the Universe. [384} Again did Vivekananda pour forth with his sweet, charming voice melody after melody. He sang:
THE LORD, MY HUSBAND
Vivekananda sang again:
THE ECSTATIC LOVE OF GOD
Sri Ramakrishna had a special liking for this hymn from the Hindustani of Zaffir, the Sufi poet:
In the middle of the songs Sri Ramakrishna had come to himself again. The music was hushed. Then followed conversation with the bhagavan, [388} which was always charming alike to the learned and the illiterate, to the old and the young, to men and women, to the great and the lowly. The whole company sat mute and looked in silence on his Divine face. Was there any trace now of that serious illness from which he was suffering? Joy alone was there, and radiance of celestial glory. Turning to the doctor, Sri Ramakrishna began:
Three obstacles in the way of perfection. Give up shyness, doctor. One should not be shy in repeating before others the name of the Lord, or in dancing with joy while chanting his sweet name. Do not care what people may say. There is a proverb: "Three obstacles lie in the way of perfection, shyness, contempt and fear." The shy man thinks: "I, who am so important, how can I dance in the name of the Lord? What will other great people say if they hear of it?" They may say: "What a shame! The poor doctor has lost his head! He has danced while chanting the name of the Lord!" Give up all such foolish ideas.
Doctor: That is not my line at all. I do not care what people say.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): On the contrary, [389} you do care very much.
True knowledge and ignorance. Go beyond knowledge and ignorance, then you will realise God. Knowledge of diversity is ignorance. The egotism bred of erudition proceeds from ignorance. That knowledge by which we know that God exists everywhere is true knowledge. But to know him intimately is realisation (vijnana).
Realisation. Suppose your foot is pierced with a thorn, you require a second thorn to take it out. When the first thorn is taken out you throw both away. So in order to get rid of the thorn of ignorance you must bring the thorn of knowledge. Then you must throw away both ignorance and knowledge to attain to the complete realisation of God, the Absolute, for the Absolute is above and beyond knowledge as well as ignorance. Lakshman once said to his Divine Brother: "Rama, is it not strange that a God-knowing man like Vashishta Deva should have wept for the loss of his sons and would not be comforted?"
Knowledge is relative. On this Rama replied: "He who has knowledge has also some ignorance. He who has knowledge of one object has also the knowledge of many objects. He who has the knowledge of light has also the [390} knowledge of darkness, but Brahman the Absolute is beyond knowledge and ignorance and above virtue and vice merit and demerit, purity and impurity."
Syam Babu: Sir, may I ask what remains after both thorns are thrown away?
The Absolute Brahman. Sri Ramakrishna: What remains is the Absolute, called in the Vedas Nityasuddha-bodharupam (the unchangeable, the absolutely pure source of all knowledge). But how shall I explain it to you? Suppose someone asks you what is the taste of ghee (clarified butter) like? Is it possible to define it? The utmost that you can say is that it is precisely like the taste of ghee. A young girl once asked a friend: "Your husband is come: tell me what sort of joy you feel when you meet him?" Thereupon the married friend replied: "My dear, you will know everything when you have got a husband of your own; how can I explain it to you?"
In the puranas we are told that the Mother of the Universe incarnated herself as the daughter of the presiding god of the Himalayas. Just after she was born, the king of the mountains was blessed with a vision of the various manifestations of the Omnipotent Mother. [391} Then he said: "Mother! Let me see Brahman there is so much about in the Vedas." Then the child incarnate said: "Father if you wish to see the Absolute Brahman you must associate with the holy sages who have renounced everything. What the Absolute Brahman is cannot be expressed in words." The tantra has well said: "All things with the sole exception of God the Absolute, have become defiled like leavings of food." The idea is that the sacred scriptures of the world having been read and recited with the aid of the tongue have got defiled like food thrown out of the mouth. The Absolute Brahman, however, no one has ever been able to describe by word of mouth. Therefore it is said that the Absolute is not defiled by the mouth. Again, who can express in words the blissful joy that one experiences in the company of the Lord and in communion with the Absolute Sat-Chit-Ananda. He alone knows who has been blessed with such realisation.
Addressing the doctor, Sri Ramakrishna continued: True knowledge does not come until egotism is entirely gone.
Egotism and knowledge. "When shall I be free?" When "I" shall cease to be. The sense of "I" and "mine" is [392} ignorance. The sense of "You" and "Your" is knowledge. A true bhakta says: "Lord! You are the doer, you have created everything, I am nothing but an instrument in your hands. I do only whatever you make me do. All this is your wealth, your glory. Your is the Universe, your, the family, your the relatives. Nothing belongs to me, I am your servant. Your is to command and mine is to serve you with my whole heart and soul."[Prayer of a true bhakta.
Egotism. Egotism comes to all those who have studied a few books and have acquired a little learning. I had a talk with Tagore [**] about the nature of God. He said to me: "I know all about it." I replied: "He who has been to Delhi does not go about telling others 'I have been to Delhi' and so on. He who is a true gentleman does not boast of being a gentleman."
Syam Babu: Sir, Tagore has great respect for you.
Vanity. Sri Ramakrishna: My dear sir, shall I tell you of the vanity of the sweeper-woman in the temple at Dakshineswara? She had a few ornaments [393} on her person and she was so vain that whenever she walked along the road, if she found anyone near she would shout: "Get out of my way! Get out of my way!" What shall I say about the vanity of wealthy people of higher castes!
A devotee: If God is the one actor in the universe, then where do good and evil, virtue and vice come from? Do they exist by his will?
The Lord untouched by good and evil. Sri Ramakrishna: In this world of relativity, good and evil, virtue and vice, exist, but they do not touch the Lord. God is unattached to them like the wind which is unaffected by the good or bad odor which it carries. His creation is of dual nature, consisting of good and evil, real and unreal. As among trees there are some which bear good fruits, others poisonous, so among human beings there are good men and wicked, sinful men. Wicked people have their place in the world. Do you not see that wicked people are necessary to govern the law-breakers and evil-doers of a community?
Syam Babu: Sir, we are told on the one hand that man is punished for his sins, and on the other that God is the sole actor, all creatures [394} being humble instruments in his hands. How shall we reconcile these two things?
Calculating intellect. Sri Ramakrishna: You talk like a gold merchant weighing things with his delicate balance.
Vivekananda: What the bhagavan means to say is that you are talking like one who has a calculating intellect.
Sri Ramakrishna: I say, Podo, eat these mangoes! What is the use of counting how many mango-trees there are in the garden, how many thousands of branches, how many millions of leaves, and so on? You are here to eat the mangoes. Eat them and go away. (To Syam Babu) You have come into this world to realise God by means of religious works. Your first effort should be to acquire love (bhakti) for the lotus feet of the Almighty. Why do you trouble yourself with other things? What will you gain by discussing philosophy? Do you not see that, four ounces of wine are quite enough to intoxicate you? Why do you then inquire how many barrels of wine there are in the wine-shop? Of what use is such vain calculation?
Doctor: God's wine, again, is beyond all measure. The supply can never be exhausted.
Lay cares on God. Sri Ramakrishna (to Syam Babu): Furthermore, [395} why do you not execute a power of attorney in favour of the Lord? Let all your cares and responsibilities rest on him. If anyone trusts an honest man, will that man do any wrong? God alone knows whether he will punish sinful acts or not.
Doctor: He alone knows what is in his mind. How can man surmise it? He is beyond all human calculation.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Syam Babu): You people of Calcutta always find fault with divine justice. You often complain that God is partial because he makes one happy and another unhappy. You foolish people see in God the same nature as your own. Hem used to come to Dakshineswara with his friends. Whenever he saw me he would say: "Sir, there is only one thing worth having in this world and that is honour, is it not so?" Very few understand that the end of human life is to attain God.
Subtle body. Syam Babu: Sir, is it possible for anyone to show the subtle body? Can anyone show that the subtle body goes out of the gross body?
Sri Ramakrishna: Those who are true bhaktas will not care to show you all this. They do not care in the least whether fools will respect [396} them or not. They do not seek the favour of rich people.
Syam Babu: Well, Sir, what is the difference between the gross body and the subtle body?
Sri Ramakrishna: This physical body made of gross elements is called the gross body. Manas (mind), the buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (egoism) and chitta, all these are in the subtle body. The inner body which feels the joy of the Lord and divine ecstasy is called karana sarira (causal body). The tantras call it Bhagavat-tanu, or the body derived from the Divine Mother. Beyond these is the mahakarana, the first Great Cause. It is the fourth state. It cannot be expressed by words.
The importance of practice. What is the use of hearing all this? Practise and you will know. You repeat the words "siddhi, siddhi" (hemp-leaves). Will that make you drunk? No, you must swallow some. There are threads of various numbers, No. 40, No. 41, and so on; but you do not know one number from another unless you are in the trade. It is by no means hard for those in the trade to know a particular number from that of another number. That being so, I say, practise a little. That done, it will be easy for you to have correct ideas as to [397} the gross body, the subtle body, the karana (the causal body made of joy) and the mahakarana (the Great Cause or the Unconditioned).
When you pray, ask for bhakti, devotion to his Lotus Feet. After Ahalya [**] was made free from the curse called down on her by her husband, Rama Chandra said: "Ask for a boon from me." Ahalya replied: "Rama, if you will give me a boon, grant that my mind may ever will be on your feet, beautiful like the lotus. I may be born among swine, but that will not matter."
Prayer for bhakti. For my part, I pray for love (bhakti) alone to my Divine Mother. Putting flowers on her lotus feet, with folded hands I prayed: "Mother, here is ignorance, here is knowledge. Oh, take them; I don't want them. Grant that I may have pure love alone. Here is cleanliness (of the mind and body), here is uncleanliness; what shall I do with them? Let me have pure love alone. [398} Oh! Here is sin, here is merit; I want neither the one nor the other. Let me have pure love alone. Here is good, here is evil. Oh! Take them; I don't want them. Let me have pure love alone. Here are good works, here are bad works. Oh, place me above them; I don't want them. Grant that I may have pure love alone."
Dual existence. If you take the fruit of good works, like charity, you must take the fruit of bad works also. If you take the fruit of merit, you must take the fruit of sin also. Knowledge of the One (jnana) implies knowledge of the many (Ajnana). Taking cleanliness, you cannot get rid of its opposite, uncleanliness. Thus a knowledge of light implies a knowledge of darkness, its opposite. A knowledge of unity implies a knowledge of diversity.
Animal food and vegetarianism. Blessed is the man who loves God! What matters it if he eats the flesh of swine? On the other hand, if a man lives on vegetables but is attached to the world and does not love God, what good shall he gain?
(To Syam Babu) To live the life of a householder is by no means wrong. But take care [399}
Work with the mind fixed on God. that you work without attachment, with your mind always pointing to the Feet of the Lord. Suppose a person has a carbuncle on the back. Now this man talks as usual. Perhaps he attends to his daily work. But pain constantly puts him in mind of the carbuncle. In the same way, although you are in the world, you should turn your mind constantly to God. A woman carrying on an intrigue with a lover thinks of this lover all the time that she is attending to her household duties. Live in the world like such a woman, doing your many duties with your soul secretly yearning for the Lord.
Theosophy. Syam Babu: Sir, what do you think of Theosophy?
Sri Ramakrishna: The long and the short of the matter is that people who make disciples belong to an inferior order of men. Again, those who seek for powers also belong to an inferior class, such powers, for example, as the power of getting across the Ganges or the power of reporting here what a person is talking about in a far country, and other psychic powers. It is by no means easy for such people to get pure bhakti (love) for the Lord. [400}
Syam Babu: But, Sir, the Theosophists seek to put Hinduism once more on a firm basis.
Sri Ramakrishna: That may be. I am not well posted as to their views or doings.
Syam Babu: Questions like the following are dealt with in Theosophy. What region is the soul bound for after death the lunar sphere or the stellar mansions?
Sri Ramakrishna: I dare say. But let me give you an idea of my way of thinking. Somebody put it to Hanuman, the great lover of God, "What day of the lunar fortnight is it?" Hanuman replied: "My dear sir, excuse me. I know nothing about the days of the week, the day of the lunar fortnight, or the stars telling of the destiny on a particular day. That is not my concern. I meditate on Rama and on Rama alone."
Syam Babu: Sir, the Theosophists believe in Mahatmas. May I ask whether you hold that Mahatmas are real beings?
Sri Ramakrishna: If you care to take my word for truth, I say "Yes." But will you be good enough to let these matters alone? Come when I am better. Do but put faith in my words and I shall see that you find peace. Don't you observe that I don't take either money [401} or clothes or any other thing? In some theatrical representations well-to-do visitors are expected to encourage the actors by gifts of money during the performance. Here people are not called on to make such gifts. This is why so many come here.
(To the Doctor) What I have to say to you is this but do not take offence! You have had enough of the things of the world, money, fame, lectures, and so on. Now give your mind a little to God, and come here now and then. It is good to listen to words relating to God. Such words enlighten the soul and turn it to the Lord.
A short while after the doctor stood up to say good-bye. But just then Girish came in, and the doctor was so glad to see him that he took his seat again. Girish, stepping forward, saluted the bhagavan and kissed the dust of his hallowed feet. The doctor watched all this in silence.
Doctor: So long as I was here, Girish Babu was not good enough to come. He must come just as I am about to go.
There was then a talk about the Science Association and the lectures delivered there. Girish took an interest in these lectures. [402}
Sri Ramakrishna (to the Doctor): Will you take me some day to the Association?
Doctor: My dear Sir, once you are there, you would lose all sense-consciousness at the sight of the glorious and wonderful works of God, of the intelligence shown in these works and the adaptation of the means to the end.
Sri Ramakrishna: Oh indeed!
Worship of the spiritual preceptor. Doctor (to Girish): Do everything else, but pray do not worship him as God. By doing so, you are only bringing ruin on such a holy man.
Girish: Sir, there is, I fear, no help for it. He who has enabled me to get across this terrible sea of the world and the no less terrible sea of scepticism how else shall I serve such a person? There is nothing in him I cannot worship.
Doctor: I myself hold that all men are equal. As to this holy man, do you think I cannot salute and kiss the dust of his feet? Look here! (The doctor saluted and kissed the dust of the bhagavan's feet.)
Girish: Oh, sir, the angels in heaven are saying: "Blessed, blessed be this auspicious moment!"
Doctor: You seem to think that saluting [403} anyone's feet is something like a marvel! You do not see that I can do the same in the case of everybody. (To a gentleman seated near) Now, sir, oblige me by allowing me to salute your feet. (To another) And you, sir. (To a third) And you, sir. (The doctor saluted the feet of many.)
Vivekananda (to the doctor): Sir, we look on the bhagavan as a person who is like God. Let me make my idea clear to you. There is a point somewhere between the vegetable creation and the animal creation where it is difficult to say whether a particular thing is a vegetable or an animal. Much in the same way there is a point somewhere between the man-world and the God-world where you cannot say with certainty whether a person is a human being or God.
Doctor: Well, my friend, matters relating to God cannot be explained by analogy.
Vivekananda: I say, not God, but Godlike man.
Doctor: You should not give vent to feelings of reverence like that. Speaking for myself, no ne has been able, I am sorry to say, to judge my inward feelings. My best friends often regard me as stern and cruel. Even you, my [404} good friends, may beat me some day with shoes and turn me out.
Sri Ramakrishna (to the doctor): Do not say that, doctor. These people love you so much! They watch and look for you like ladies come together in the bride-chamber looking for the coming bridegroom.
Girish: Everyone here has the greatest respect for you.
Doctor (sorrowfully): My son even my wife looks on me as hard-hearted, and for the simple reason that I am by nature loath to show my feelings.
Girish: In that case, sir, don't you think it would be better to throw open the door of your mind, at least out of pity for your friends? You well see that your friends do not understand you.
Doctor: Shall I say it? Well, my feelings are worked up even more than yours. (To Vivekananda) I shed tears in solitude.
Doctor (to Sri Ramakrishna): Sir, may I say that it is not good that you allow people to touch your feet with their body while you are in samâdhi?
Sri Ramakrishna: You do not mean that I am conscious of this? [405}
Doctor: You feel that it is not a right thing to do, don't you?
Sri Ramakrishna: What shall I say as regards the state of my mind during samâdhi? After the samâdhi is over I often go so far as to ask myself: May not this be the cause of the disease that I have got? The thing is, the thought of God makes me mad. All this is the result of Divine madness. There is no help for it.
Doctor (to the disciples): He expresses regret for what he does. He feels that the act is wrong.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Girish): You have great penetration. You explain it all to him, won't you?
Girish (to the doctor): Sir, you are quite mistaken. He is by no means sorry that his feet touch the persons of the devotees. No, it is not that. His body is pure, sinless; it is purity itself. He is good enough, in his anxiety for their spiritual welfare, to allow his hallowed feet to touch the bodies of the devotees. As a result of his taking their sins on himself, his own body, he thinks, may be suffering from disease. Think of your own case. You were once taken ill, so you have told us, as the [406} result of hard study. Well, didn't you at that time express regret that you had sat up reading until very late at night? Does that prove that reading until the late hours of the night is bad? The bhagavan may be sorry from the point of view of the patient; he is by no means sorry from the point of view of a Teacher from God anxious for the welfare of humanity.
Doctor (somewhat disconcerted): I confess I am beaten. Now give me the dust of your feet. (To Vivekananda) This matter apart, I must admit the acuteness of Girish's intellectual powers.
Vivekananda (to the doctor): You may view the question in another way. You sometimes devote your life to the task of making a scientific discovery, and then you do not look to your body, your health or anything. Now the knowledge of God is the grandest of all sciences; is it not natural that the bhagavan has risked his health for this end, and, it may be, sacrificed it? We offer to him worship equal to Divine worship.
The doctor then saluted the bhagavan and took his leave. At that moment Bijoy entered and prostrated himself at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna. [407} He had been making pilgrimages to various holy places, and Mahima said to him: Sir, you have just returned from a pilgrimage; you have seen many things, kindly tell us about them.
Pilgrimage useless. Bijoy: What shall I say? I see now that here I find everything. To go on pilgrimages is useless travelling. There are some places where you will find one-sixteenth, or at the utmost one-fourth, of what you see here. In the bhagavan I find everything in full complement. I have not found anyone who possesses anything more than our Bhagavan.
Ramakrishna (to Vivekananda): Look what a wonderful change has taken place in Bijoy. His character has become entirely different, as if the milk has been boiled and thickened. By seeing the neck and forehead I can recognize the state of paramahamsa.
Mahima (to Bijoy): Sir, you take very little food, don't you?
Bijoy: Yes, I believe I do. (To Ramakrishna) Revered Sir, hearing of your illness I have come to see you.
Bijoy kept silent for a while and then said, [408} No one can understand your perfection unless you give the power.
Ramakrishna: Kedar said to me that when he went to other places he starved, but that here he always found food in abundance.
Bijoy (clasping his hands before Ramakrishna): Lord, I know you now. I understand your glory. You need not tell me of it.
Thereupon Ramakrishna went into samâdhi. When he returned, he said: "If that be so, let it be so."
Bijoy: Yes, Lord, now I know you.
Saying this, Bijoy prostrated himself before Ramakrishna and pressed to his breast the hallowed feet of the Lord. Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, again losing all sense-consciousness, entered into God-consciousness and remained motionless like a carven image. Seeing this wonderful sight, some of the devotees shed tears of joy and happiness while others kneeled and began to pray to the bhagavan. Each one fixed his eyes on Sri Ramakrishna and, according to the innermost feeling of his heart, realised his ideal in him. Some saw in him the Ideal Devotee, while others recognised the Divine Incarnation in a human form. Mahima, with tears of joy in his eyes chanted: "Behold, [409} behold, the embodiment of Divine Love!" And after a few minutes, as if catching a glimpse of the Absolute Brahman in Ramakrishna, he exclaimed: "Infinite Existence, Intelligence and Love, beyond Unity and Diversity!"
Avatara. After remaining in this state for a long time, Bhagavan Ramakrishna came down once more on the human plane and said: God incarnates himself in a human form. It is true that he dwells everywhere, in all living creatures, but the desires of the human soul cannot be fulfilled except by an avatara or Divine Incarnation. The human being longs to see him, touch him, be with him and enjoy his Divine company. In order to fulfill such desires, the Incarnation of God is necessary.
When an avatara or Divine Incarnation descends, however, the people at large do not know it. It is known only to a few chosen disciples. Can everyone comprehend the indivisible Absolute Brahman, Existence-Intelligence-Bliss Absolute?
Rama. When the Supreme Lord incarnated himself as Rama, only twelve sages knew it. The other saints and sages knew him as the prince of the Raja Dasaratha. But those twelve sages prayed to him, saying: [410} "Rama, you are the indivisible Existence-Intelligence-Bliss Absolute. You have incarnated in this human form. By your own power of Maya you appear as a human being, but in reality you are the Lord of the universe."