Bhagavan Ramakrishna resided for a few months in a large and beautiful garden at Cossipur, about two miles north of Calcutta. Here he was constantly surrounded by his most beloved sannyasin disciples and by those women disciples who were especially devoted to him.
The sannyasin disciples were twelve in number. [**] Most of them were young men of noble families and were graduates of the University at Calcutta. They had left their homes and [412} relatives for his sake. Their one aim in life was to serve their master, the living God on earth and the Incarnation of Divinity in a human form. The love of Sri Ramakrishna captivated their hearts and souls. Indeed these earnest and sincere disciples were the pillars on which the Divine Manifestation was about to build the structure of his universal mission. The illness which the bhagavan had assumed on his physical form was the means by which he gathered his beloved ones around him and gave them the opportunity to nurse and wait on their Divine Master. They sacrificed their personal comfort on the altar of true devotion and served their Lord with whole heart and soul day after day and night after night. Their devotion was unique and unparalleled in the religious history of modern India. It was these young disciples who afterwards became the world-renowned Swamis of the Order of Sri Ramakrishna. There were also householder disciples, like Suresh, Balaram, Girish, Ram, Mahendra and others, who used to come frequently to see Ramakrishna and to serve him by supplying the household with all necessary things. [413}
Ramakrishna occupied the large room on the second floor of the beautiful house situated in the centre of the spacious garden. He was seated on his bed, which was spread on the floor, and was surrounded by his sannyasin and householder disciples. Conversation arose concerning sannyas (Renunciation) and a householder's life, and Girish asked: Bhagavan, which is right to renounce the world with a view to avoid worldly cares and suffering or to worship God living with one's family?
To live in the world or to renounce it. Bhagavan referred to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita and said: He who lives with his family but is unattached to the relations and things of the world, who performs his duties without seeking the results of his works, attains to God in the same manner as one who has renounced the world after realizing that earthly relations and objects are transitory and unreal. Those who renounce the world merely to avoid worldly cares and suffering belong to the lowest class of sannyasins. He who has attained to God living in the world is like the man who resides in a [414} crystal palace and sees everything of the outside as well as of the inside of the palace.
Girish: Bhagavan, why is it that mind after reaching a very high plane comes down to the world?
Fickleness of the mind. Bhagavan: It is natural with the mind of one who lives in the world. Sometimes it is on a high plane and sometimes on a low. Sometimes there is a great upheaval of devotional feeling, then again it subsides, because the attraction of lust and wealth is very strong. A devotee who lives in the world may meditate on God and repeat his holy Name, but again his mind is attracted by the power of lust and wealth, just as a fly sometimes lights on the most delicious sweetmeat and sometimes relishes the taste of filth or of a rotten carcass.
A true sannyasin. It is different, however, with those who have renounced the world. They have detached their mind entirely from lust and wealth and have fixed it on the Supreme. They constantly drink the nectar of divine love. The mind of a true sannyasin does not care for anything other than the Supreme. He leaves the place where worldly talk prevails. He listens to discourses about [415} the highest spiritual Truth alone. A true sannyasin does not speak of worldly matters, he utters no word which has not bearing on the spiritual Ideal. A bee sits on flowers only to drink honey. He does not care for any other object. Then, referring to Rakhal (Swami Brahmananda), who had a wife and a child before he renounced the world, Ramakrishna said: Rakhal and others like him have now understood which is good and which is evil, which is real and which is unreal. They have realised that earthly relations are transitory and ephemeral. They will never again be attached to the world. They are like eels which live in the mud but remain untouched by it.
Girish: I do not understand all that. You have the power to make everyone unattached to the world and free from bondage. You have the power to make everyone perfect whether a sannyasin or a householder. When the Malaya breeze blows it can transform all trees into sandalwood trees.
The worthy will become perfect. Bhagavan: But pithless trees like the banana- and the cotton-tree are not transformed into sandalwood. Similarly those who are worthy will become perfect. Worldliness means attachment to [416} lust and wealth. Many worldly people consider wealth as their heart's blood. But if you take too much care of wealth, perhaps one day it will go entirely out of your possession. In our country farmers build earthen embankments round their fields. Those who do not leave open any passage for water and take too much care of their embankments, invariably have theirs washed off first by the tremendous current of the water; but those who keep one side open, find that their fields become enriched with alluvial deposits and more fertile in the end. They make the best use of their riches who spend them in the service of the Lord and of holy sages. They reap good fruits of their wealth who give freely to the poor and needy and for the good of humanity.
The bhagavan continued: I cannot use any object that is given to me by physicians and medical practitioners who live on the painful diseases of other people. However, it is different with those physicians who are kindhearted, charitable and unselfish.
Taught his disciples renunciation. To destroy the pride and egotism of his disciples, Sri Ramakrishna told them to wear the [417} seamless ochre robe of the sannyasin and to take up the begging-bowl. Being himself a perfect sannyasin, he loved to see his disciples following him in the path of renunciation. On different occasions he sent them out, as Buddha and Sankara had done with their disciples, to beg food from door to door. One morning he called certain among his beloved ones, Narendra, Sarat, Jogen, Niranjan, Kali, and asked them whether they could go forth with the sannyasin's begging-bowl and beg uncooked food for him. It was indeed a great blow to the caste pride as well as to the sense of self-respect of these young disciples. Obeying the master's wish, however, they took the begging-bowl in their hands, walked from door to door in the neighbourhood, collected various articles of food, brought them before their Master and offered them at his holy feet. Bhagavan Ramakrishna, blessed them and rejoiced at their sincere and earnest devotion. This was the manner in which the bhagavan initiated his disciples in the life of absolute renunciation. [418}
Meaning of his illness. One evening Sri Ramakrishna was attended by his faithful servants Sashi (Ramakrishnananda) and Kali (Abhedananda), who were waiting on him. The bhagavan opened his mouth and inspired them by saying: The illness of my body is caused by the sins of those who come and touch my feet. I purify the sinners by taking their sins on myself and suffering for them. He who was Rama, who was Krishna, Buddha, Christ and Chaitanya has now become Ramakrishna. Blessed are those who know this truth. My Divine Mother has shown me that the photograph of this body will be kept on altars and be worshipped in different houses as the pictures of other avataras are worshipped. My Divine Mother has also shown me that I shall have to come back again and that my next incarnation will be in the West.
Narendra (Vivekananda) had extreme longing for the realisation of Brahman the Absolute. One day Bhagavan Ramakrishna, addressing Narendra in the presence of other [419} disciples, said: I hold the key of the chest which contains the treasure of the highest realisation. I shall not unlock that chest until you have finished my work which I wish you to do.
Cure of his illness. Pandit Sashadhar came one day to pay his respects to Bhagavan Ramakrishna. Seeing his illness, he asked him: Bhagavan, why do you not concentrate your mind on the diseased part and thus cure yourself?
The bhagavan replied: How can I fix my mind, which I have given to God, on this cage of flesh and blood?
Sashadhar said: Why do you not pray to your Divine Mother for cure of your illness?
The bhagavan answered: When I think of my Mother the physical body vanishes and I am entirely out of it, so it is impossible for me to pray for anything concerning the body.
Hearing this, Sashadhar bowed at his holy feet and asked his blessing.
The news of Sri Ramakrishna's illness spread like wild-fire among all those who had known [420} him or heard of his divine personality. Hundreds of people came every day to see him and to pay reverent homage to him. Some came to receive his blessing, some to kiss the dust of his Holy Feet, some to hear a few words uttered by him, and others to clear the doubts of their minds. Among these were a few more devoted ones, like Hari, Gangadhar, Sarada, Tulsi, who afterwards joined the [Ramakrishna Monastic] Order and were known as Turiyananda, Akhandananda, Trigunatita, and Nirmalananda. Bhagavan Ramakrishna received them all with equal kindness and was ever ready to help them.
His love for humanity. Although his physical body was weakened and exhausted, still his desire to help mankind was so great that he often exclaimed: "I would give twenty thousand bodies like this if by that I could help one single soul in the path of righteousness and God-consciousness!"
Dr. Sircar and other physicians gave strict orders to the sannyasin disciples to allow no one to come near the bhagavan, as he needed absolute rest and must have no excitement of any kind. The sannyasin disciples followed this advice to the letter and would not allow even the householder disciples to come near him or touch his holy body. But Sri Ramakrishna [421} could not bear this bondage. He burst into tears when he heard of this restriction. His heart melted with divine love and he declared that his suffering was infinitely less than that of the worldly people who were groaning under the burden of their worldly cares and anxieties and who had no one to lift them above this mundane existence. His love for humanity was so great that, disregarding his bodily welfare, he called everyone near to him in the same manner as Jesus the Christ called all those who were heavily laden and who sought for peace and rest.
Many a time the bhagavan declared before his beloved sannyasin children: Divine Mother is working through this form. She has kept it so long because her work is not yet finished.
His oneness with all. When he could scarcely speak or swallow any food, the bhagavan said: I am now speaking and eating through so many mouths. I am the soul of all individual souls. I have infinite mouths, infinite heads, infinite hands and feet. My pure form is spiritual. It is absolute Existence, Intelligence and Bliss condensed, as it were. It has neither birth nor death, neither sorrow, disease nor suffering. It is immortal and perfect. I [422} see the indivisible Absolute Brahman (Sat-chit-ananda) within me as well as all around me. You are all like my own parts. The Infinite Brahman is manifesting itself through so many human forms. Human bodies are like pillow-cases of different shapes and various colours, but the cotton wool of the internal Spirit is one. When jiva (ego) enters into that Spirit and becomes one with it, there is neither pain nor suffering. I am the Infinite Spirit covered by a human skin which has a wound somewhere near the throat. Mind affects the body and is in turn affected by the body. When the body is ill, that illness reacts on the mind. When one is burned by hot water one says: "This water has burned me," but the truth is that heat burns and not the water. All pain is in the body, all disease is in the body, but the Spirit is above pain and beyond the reach of disease.
Purpose of his illness. My illness is to teach mankind how to think of the Spirit and how to live in God-consciousness even when there is extreme pain in the body; when the body is suffering from the agony of pain and starvation, when there is no remedy within human power, even then the Mother shows that Spirit is the [423} master of the body. My illness is to set an example of absolute mastery of the Spirit over matter in this age of materialism and scepticism. My Divine Mother has brought this illness on this body to convince the sceptics of the present age that Atman is divine, that God-consciousness is as true and practical today as it was in the Vedic period, that when one reaches perfection, freedom from all bondage is attained. My Divine Mother has shown through her child what is meant by the various kinds of yoga and how people of this age can attain to it. She has also shown that all scriptures are true, that all religions are like paths which lead to the same common goal of the one infinite Divinity. All of my religious practices, yoga practices, devotional exercises have been for the good of others and not for my own good. My Mother has set through this form a living example in this age.
"Whoever will practise one-sixteenth part of what I have said and done will surely attain to God-consciousness in this life."
❖ He thought so himself.