in this issue ...
Pearls of Wisdom
Sri Ramakrishna and Family life
Lay Disciples XI -Kalipada Ghosh
Remembering Holy Mother
Pearls of Wisdom
Kapilopadesam – XXX
Translated by Swami Tapasyananda
(continued from last issue)
The Lord Kapila said: When the aspirant’s mind is free from outward-going tendencies and is well-controlled and peaceful, he should meditate on the form of the Lord with eyes partially closed (as if gazing at the tip of the nose). Let the aspirant meditate, until his mind is steadied, on the total form of the Lord as described here. The Lord’s face resembles a lotus flower in full bloom. His eyes bear a light reddish tinge like the inside of the red lotus. His body resembles a blue lotus in colour. He sports the discuss, conch and mace in His hands.. (to be continued)
Srimad bhagavatam III.28.12-13 2
Genetically and materially we inherit from our family ancestors. Genetically we derive some characteristics and materially we receive property and other things. We are also part of our national heritage. Apart from this, is there any other inheritance? Yes, there is, the important spiritual legacy. Important because all other bequests are impermanent whereas spiritual legacy is the lasting one – it leads us to the life eternal. Other things come and go but not the spiritual wealth. It cannot be lost. From teachers to their disciples it is successively transmitted. The greater the teacher the higher is the spiritual power handed down. An ordinary saint is able to inspire few people and his influence remains limited to a particular region. The power of a great teacher leaps across the seas and the mountains and reaches the corners of the globe. How true this is in the case of Sri Ramakrishna! Sri Ramakrishna said all his spiritual wealth would go to his children. So millions of his devotees are heirs to a priceless heritage. Sri Ramakrishna lived such an exalted life that had never before been witnessed either in India or elsewhere. With him came Sri Sarada Devi, his spiritual consort. Her boundless motherly love and purity embraced all living beings. There was also a flash of thunderbolt in the form of Swami Vivekananda who took the message of the divinity of each soul to the far corners of the world. The monastic disciples of the Master each one of them was a great sage. Their biographies remind us of the Upanishadic seers. So also are the thrilling and awe-inspiring life-stories of his householder disciples both men and women. We have never before seen such a galaxy of illumined souls. In them one finds the vindication of all scriptural truths. We are fortunate as children of Sri Ramakrishna to inherit this spiritual treasure.
Sri Ramakrishna & Family Life
Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual contribution to the family life is immense. He has brought trouble-torn householders lasting peace, happiness and equipoise. Living in the midst of common family problems and miseries he demonstrated before the world the highest ideal of married life. He did not live in a cave or a forest or in a secluded hermitage. He lived in a room in a temple so also his spiritual consort Sarada Devi in another small room. That single room was his home for nearly twenty-six years. Every month he received a small sum from the temple authorities for the maintenance of his family. Thus leading outwardly an ordinary life he awakened extraordinary God consciousness in the minds of innumerable householders.
Family life is the basis and centre of the human society. The health and strength of society depends on the quality of its family life. The character of human beings is shaped more in a family atmosphere than in schools and colleges. Because parents are the first teachers and their examples form the initial influence. Academic life takes care of the enrichment of the brain and training of the mind. Life at home nurtures the heart and emotional intelligence. Both aspects are vital for the evolution of an individual as well as for the human progress. Life in this world is evolving and trying to reach the higher dimensions. Evolution is not horizontal but vertical. We ascend to the unknown heights from one lower rung to another higher rung. Human beings travel from lower truths to higher truths. Family plays a major role in this evolution. Ignore or undermine it the fabric of society collapses. So a householder has an important function in the plan of nature.
Therefore the Vedas extol his vital part in the total wellbeing of the world. Sri Shankara in his introduction to the Gita says: “The dharma (virtuous life) revealed in the Vedas is of two kinds – one characterized by active life (Pravritti) and the other by life of renunciation (Nivritti). This dharma is meant for the stability of the world and is the direct means to both material and spiritual welfare of living beings.” This Vedic dictum applies to all different stages of life. Householder is the one who generates wealth by his hard work, intelligence and initiative. Wealth is necessary for the wellbeing of all. Without it society cannot move. If the householder acquires riches, hundreds of others will be supported. Charitable organizations, welfare societies and all other institutions are sustained by it. Even monasteries big or small have to depend on the support of householders.
Poverty is a curse. It saps all energy, enthusiasm and higher aspirations of human beings. If a man is worried about his daily bread he cannot do any good to others. Material prosperity is only a means and not an end. It sets free people from the constant struggle for survival. But if it becomes an end then it becomes a curse. It unleashes all the animal instincts in man. Eat, drink and enjoy only such hedonistic ideas will prevail. Satisfaction of the physical cravings and no other higher ideal will dictate life. The purpose of evolution is to lift animal to man and man to divine. Here spiritual wisdom steps in. Secular life without spirituality is blind and spirituality without secular life is lame. Therefore the emphasis of the Vedas on both – from the stage of an active life one must move onto the life of spirituality. Our eternal soul is encased in an impermanent physical body. This covering of matter or the body is not everything. It has to be well looked after, taken care of but it should not become an object of worship. It should help us to discover the immortal soul inside. To enable to achieve this lofty goal the Vedas have divided human life into four stages.
1. Brahmacharya – the stage of a student,
2. Garhastya – the stage of a householder,
3. Vanaprastha – the stage of a retired person and
4. Sannyasa – the stage of a monk.
During the period of studentship, a pupil is required to remain a celibate, acquire knowledge and noble virtues. After this period the student is free to enter the second stage of a householder and contribute his share to society and nation. A householder earns money by honest means, raises his children and supports elderly and disabled. Part of his wealth is given in charity and for noble causes. He is the basis and support of society. It is the duty of the parents to create a happy and peaceful atmosphere at home. Children are products of physical and psychological atmosphere of home. They absorb everything, good and bad, and their behaviour reflects it. Therefore Jung, a famous psychologist said, “If children go wrong I do not punish them, rather I would punish their parents.” Getting children is easy but raising 5 them in a healthy, loving environment with good qualities is an uphill task. Therefore the duty of a householder is not easy. So family life is not merely for enjoying pleasures but also to suffer pains. If a child’s behaviour is bad its cause can be traced to family and parents. When parents themselves are ignorant of what is right or wrong, good or bad, what value can they impart to their children? Is it not an irony that the parents have to undergo training in parenting? Noble children are born in noble families. As Swami Vivekananda said, “The child is the man involved and the man is the child evolved.” (Complete Works Vol II Page 228).
Therefore the Vedas insist on leading a pure, truthful and a life of devotion. Without spiritual basis family life becomes shallow and shaky. It is a rudderless boat drifting without any direction in the sea of the world. The stage of the householder is not permanent. After fulfilling all his duties and obligations a person feels that he has approached the evening of his life. This is the third stage of retirement. He remembers his spiritual goal and prepares himself for it. During this phase he slowly withdraws his mind from the world and family bonds. It is the stage of gradual detachment. If he wishes he could become a monk and live the rest of his life in a monastery. There is also another class of monks who embrace monastic life after finishing their formal studies. Their goal is spiritual enlightenment. With the passage of time the ideals lose their brightness and importance. It is seen that in place of self-restraint comes self indulgence; self-centeredness replaces collective well-being and in place of spirituality enters hedonism. The world and its pleasures become the God of life. It is the sign of a morally sinking society. To arrest its further decay and to put it on a solid ground a morally and spiritually perfect colossus arose in the form of Sri Ramakrishna. He was a sublime example of a householder and a monk. Is it a wonder that the monks meditate upon him and householders worship him as their deity? Sri Ramakrishna chose to remain a householder with a profound purpose.
Householders are the pillar of society and the future of it depends on their virtuous progeny. Therefore Sri Ramakrishna said whatever was done by him was meant for all. It was in order to teach others by his own example the lofty ideal of marriage he led a householder’s life. Married life is a journey towards the goal of Self-realization. Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother set before the world the highest example of married life. Spirituality gives insights, purifies the home environment. In its turn it benefits all members of the family. Sri Ramakrishna assures that God realization is possible for all. It is not the exclusive right of anyone. What is required is earnestness and sincere efforts.
Swami Yogananda, as a young man was forced to marry. He was so disheartened by it that he stopped visiting Sri Ramakrishna. The Master heard about his marriage and was anxious to see him. On some pretext he made Yogananda to come to him. The Master said to him, “What if you are married? Haven’t I too been married? If you want to live a family life and realize God at the same time, bring your wife here once. I will make both of you fit for that.” Later Sri Ramakrishna transformed the mind of his wife. Sri Ramakrishna did not encourage his house-holder disciples to give up family life and become monks. He wanted them to earn their living by honest means and maintain their families. He did not like any disruption in family life. Sri Ramakrishna had deep compassion for the householder devotees. He knew their weaknesses, attraction towards worldly pleasures and also their terrible sufferings. Their struggle, misery and pain moved him very much. Day and night he worked to bring some peace to them and turn little by little their minds towards God. The following incident shows how greatly he was concerned for those who were scorched by the family worries.Once at Dakshineshwar a devotee did not behave well and Swami Adbhutananda, who was present there, got angry and scolded him harshly. The Master observed everything. When the devotee left, the Master told Adbhutananda, “It is not good to speak harshly to those who come here. They are tormented with worldly problems. If they come here and are scolded for their shortcomings, where will they go? Never say anything to cause pain to another. Tomorrow, you go to him and apologize.”
Sometimes Sri Ramakrishna would take the dust of the devotee’s place after a religious gathering and devotional singing and smear it on his body. When devotees tried to stop him he would explain, “Look, this place has been sanctified by the presence of devotees, by spiritual talk and devotional singing. The very dust of this place has become pure by the footprints of the devotees.” Sri Ramakrishna accepted everyone who came to him. He would not let them go. He gently destroyed the past impressions and habits and cast their lives into new spiritual mould. Thus he led them to eternal peace. He visited devotees’ homes frequently and through his spiritual power lifted their minds to the higher states. Wherever he went devotees would flock around him. His very presence flooded them with bliss. He always talked of devotion and God and how to see Him. Other than spiritual matter he did not talk of anything else. He even went to their homes uninvited, unasked. Insults, humiliations and disregard did not deter him to do good to the suffering people. Illustrating this point he said, “There are three classes of physicians: superior, mediocre and inferior. The inferior physician feels the patient’s pulse, merely asks him to take medicine and goes away. He doesn’t bother to find out whether the patient has followed his directions. The mediocre physician gently tries to persuade the patient to take medicine. But the superior physician follows a different method. If he finds the patient stubbornly refusing to swallow the medicine, he presses the patient’s chest with his knee and forces the medicine down his throat. ”(Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna page 867). Like physicians, he explained, “There are three classes of religious teachers. The inferior teacher is content to give spiritual instructions and does not bother about the student. The mediocre teacher explains the teaching again and again for the good of the student and persuades him to follow it. The teachers of the highest class even exert force to direct the mind of the pupil towards God.”
Sri Ramakrishna belonged to the rare highest class of teachers. He was not content with simply imparting spiritual advice and keeping silent. Day and night he thought of and watched over his householder devotees. He forced them to remember God and meditate upon Him. Unwilling devotees tried in many ways to escape but could not. The worldly disease is not ordinary, it requires an extraordinary divine physician. The chronic sickness is the result of many past lives. It cannot be cured so easily. The Master knew it and the devotees did not. That was the reason for his relentless efforts. For this purpose only, to cure our earthly disease, he took the human form. Therefore he has been called ‘Bhavaroga Vaidya’, a divine physician to heal worldly sickness. If God cannot help us then who else can? Is it not His Maya which has hypnotized living beings? He alone has the power to dehypnotize the eager souls. Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife and Holy Mother throughout her life worshipped him. Without having any physical relationship between them they maintained unbelievable sweet and loving spiritual relationship with each other. Both of them demonstrated the highest ideal of married life. They were poor and did not have any possessions. Yet with all their relatives, friends and devotees they lived happily. One need not be wealthy to be happy. People think if they possess more things they will be more happy. But it is a myth. Physical pleasure is fleeting and ends in misery.
People usually grumble that it is impossible to follow the highest example of Sri Ramakrishna. The ideal should always be high. So that we can make some efforts to move towards it. It is better to struggle than to make no attempts. Otherwise we feel the life in which we are mired is all in all. Seeing Sri Ramakrishna and Mother’s lives we know it is not so. Here lies an opportunity for us to climb higher. Swami Vivekananda said, “The ideal may be far beyond us. But never mind keep the ideal. Let us confess that is our ideal, but we cannot approach it yet.” (Complete works Vol IV – 145). “If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I am sure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand.” (Vol II – 152). Sri Ramakrishna advised householders to follow three things:
1. Chant the name of God.
2. Keep holy company.
3. Now and then spend a few days in solitude.
1. God’s name washes away the impurities of the body and mind. The mind has accumulated these impure thoughts from the past many lives. The powerful weapon to fight these disturbing thoughts is to repeat the name of God. Sri Ramakrishna said, “The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga.” When a devotee said to Sri Ramakrishna, “I am drowned in worldliness. Kindly tell me how I may get out of it.” “Do not worry, remember me once a day if you can do nothing else,” replied the Master.
2. In the beginning it is very beneficial to live in the company of pure-minded people or devotees. Their company always keeps the flame of spirituality burning. Sri Ramakrishna tells our mind is like a white cloth. In whatever colour we dip it in, it takes that colour. People with whom we frequently associate influence and colour our minds. Sri Ramakrishna once complained to the Divine Mother, “Mother why you bring such a crowd here? I find no time even to bathe or eat. Please give little power to these devotees to talk about God.” Many of his householder disciples inspired thousands of people.
3. People suffer from many worries, anxieties and tension. They are beset with one or the other trouble. There is no respite. It is difficult to maintain mental stability and also to continue spiritual practice in such a disturbed home atmosphere. Petty problems become mountain high and fears appear insurmountable. As company influences the mind so also place has an impact. A quiet, holy place has a soothing effect on our nerves and mind. In solitude the restless mind becomes calm and quiet. It becomes introspective to look at its own problems objectively. It is conducive for meditation. Therefore now and then retiring into solitude produces immense benefit to those who lead a busy and hectic life.
Sri Ramakrishna has set in motion a tidal wave of spirituality in the world. No one knows through his grace how many householder devotees, men and women, have attained liberation. That tremendous divine power is still active. Today in millions of homes or in Mission temples people spend some time in repeating God’s name and doing meditation. They know God is not far off but very near, in their own heart. Sri Ramakrishna has imprinted the fact that God is our very own. If saints and sages have seen Him we too can see Him. There is no need to retire to forest or caves, wherever we are we can meditate upon God. He demonstrated to the modern world through his householder devotees that a person could lead a married life and at the same time have the highest spiritual experience. There is no place where God is not. This great teacher has kindled tremendous hope in the hearts of householders as well as monks.
Lay Disciples - XI
“Can you give me some wine,” asked the man shamelessly to the Paramahamsa in the temple of Dakshineswar. It was surely a most insulting request to make to a holy man in a holy place. But strangely the Paramahamsa was not angered or displeased. His Mother Kali had sent one more player to the game. He glanced at the tall, well-built person of brown complexion, with large eyes and confident look and smiled. Here was one given to enjoy the pleasures of the world to the fullest. He replied: “Yes, I can give you some wine. But the wine I have is so intoxicating that you may not be able to bear it.” “Grand. Is it real British wine? Let me have some to wet my throat.” “No, it is not British wine. It is completely home made. If a person tastes this wine even once, all other drinks will be tasteless for ever. But not everyone can stand it. Are you ready for such a wine?” The man hesitated for a while, then replied, “Give me that wine which will make me intoxicated the whole of my life.” The Paramahamsa touched him and the man started to weep and kept on weeping in spite of attempts by others to calm him. Thus began an extraordinary relationship between Kalipada Ghosh, worldly, passionate and given to enjoyment and Sri Ramakrishna, godly, austere, and prone to ecstasy at the merest hint of divine inspiration.
He tormented his wife
Among the first words the Master said to him was, “Here is a man who has come here after tormenting his wife for twelve years.” Kalipada was startled. How did the Master know about him? He remained silent. Mere curiosity had made him accompany his friend Girish Chandra Ghosh to the temple, one afternoon late in 1884. He had begun to notice the change taking place in his friend since his encounter with a so called Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. His normally cynical and critical friend, mutually sharing a similar zest for the ‘good things of life’, had shown an uncharacteristic eagerness to visit this holy man, and had pulled him along. Sri Ramakrishna, on the other hand, recognised with an insight born of his realisation, that the man before him was that wayward person about whom a woman had approached him for consolation some years earlier. Krishnapriyangini, the wife of Kalipada Ghosh, had one day arrived at the Dakshineswar Temple to offer prayers to Mother Kali to mend the ways of her husband. Given to bad company, drinking and other unsavoury activities, Kalipada neglected his wife and family. All her attempts to change him and make him face his responsibilities had been in vain. In desperation she had resorted to divine help. Hearing of the presence of a holy man, she went to see him after offering her prayers at the temple. She unburdened her heart to him and asked, “Can you give me a charm to rectify his ways?”
Loath to use occult power and at the same time sympathetic to her predicament, the Master said, “There is a woman who dwells in the Nahabat over there. Her power is greater than mine. Go to her and tell everything without reserve. She will give you some remedy.” The Holy Mother had just completed her worship when Krishnapriyangini entered and gave her tale of woe as well as the Master’s advice to her. Surprised at first, she understood the Master’s playful attempt, and sent back the lady to him telling her that the Master knew more. Like this poor Krishnapriyangini went from one to the other three times. Finally taking pity on her, the Holy Mother took one of the bilva leaves used for her worship, wrote the Master’s name on it and gave it to her saying, “Take this with you my child. It will fulfil your desire. Continue chanting the Lord’s name.” As she took leave of the Master he too reassured her Krishnapriyangini saying, “Don’t worry. Your husband belongs to this place.” And with faith in their words the poor lady had silently undergone her vigil these many years waiting patiently for the blessed day when her husband’s redemption would dawn. Saying nothing to the remark made by the Master at their first meeting, Kalipada joined the devotees who sat listening to his words of wisdom. In the course of his talk, the Master casually mentioned that Rakhal’s (the future Swami Brahmananda) father, a wealthy man of the world, believed that he had won three law suits because his son was protected by Ramakrishna. After the talk, Kalipada took his leave without even saluting the Master.
When he reached home surprising news awaited him. That day he was to have presented himself at court to face three law suits, but had not done so being sure of defeat. But here was news that he had won all his cases. Was it pure coincidence or did the grace of the Saint have anything to do with it? Why did he mention those cases in his talk? Kalipada felt a strange attraction for this holy man. He regretted his rude behaviour at leave taking.
Successful man of the world
Kalipada Ghosh was born in 1849 in Calcutta to a pious family devoted to Mother Kali. His father was a trader in jute, but the business was not affluent. As a boy Kalipada was full of energy with many interests, ranging from music and singing to drama and even cooking. He was a stubborn boy but was willing to submit himself to those he adored, a trait he carried into manhood. Due to the family’s poverty, his father was forced to take him out of school while in the eighth grade and find him a job as a shop assistant in the British paper firm of Messrs. John Dickinson and Company. Being uneducated his career prospects thus appeared unimpressive. But his innate intelligence, diligence and dedication soon captured the attention of his superiors and with time Kalipada rose to a high position in the Company. His importance can be gauged from the fact that the watermark of the papers printed by the Company carried his bust as an imprint.
The successful Kalipada soon made the acquaintance of Girish Chandra Ghosh and the two became quite close to each other. They had a similarity of tastes and temperaments. Kalipada began living a life devoted to satisfying his baser instincts such as drinking and debauchery, to the neglect of his wife and family. The constant endeavours of his pious wife to correct him occasionally brought about a change of heart and he resorted to religious rituals to soothe his guilty conscience. But to no avail. The pull of the senses soon overpowered his resolutions and he fell back into his old habits. Thus did his dark impulses plunge him inevitably along a path of social and spiritual ruin. But strangely his very friendship with his equally bohemian friend Girish became the instrument of his redemption. It was Girish who had first come under the spell of the Master. And it was Girish who had persuaded and taken Kalipada to the Master. So what was once looked upon by some as bad company became ultimately the cause of his salvation. Strange are the ways of providence.
Since his visit Kalipada could not forget the benign countenance of Sri Ramakrishna. His heart was restless for another sight of the sage. He felt drawn by some inexplicable power back to Dakshineswar. And so one afternoon soon after the first visit we find him again arriving alone by boat at Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna welcomed him as one of his own and expressed a wish to go to Calcutta. Offering to take the Master in his own boat, they boarded the boat together with the Master’s boy attendant Latu (Swami Adbhutananda) and set off for Calcutta. On the way the next scene of the Master’s Lila took place. During their journey Kalipada poured out his heart to the Master. He revealed that he was, contrary to his outer behaviour, a devotee of the Divine Mother, that he had been seeking a true teacher to whom he could surrender to but had found none until now. Then to the surprise of the Master and Latu, Kalipada, then and there in the boat knelt down and holding the Master’s feet with both hands said, “You are my Guru. Please save this sinner’s life.” Averse to being called a Guru by one and all, the Master replied, “Oh no! Chant the name of the Lord. You will get liberation.” But Kalipada did not relent. Clasping the Master’s feet more firmly he lamented, “Sir, I am a wicked man and a drunkard. My activities leave no time to chant the Lord’s name. Kindly save this ruffian who is undisciplined and unrighteous.” Going into ecstasy the Master asked him to stretch out his tongue and then wrote something on it with his finger. “Henceforth this tongue will chant the name of the Lord by itself.” A sense of peace and joy never experienced before engulfed Kalipada. Reaching Calcutta the Master blessed him further by visiting his house. The Lord, the scriptures say, is an ocean of mercy who looks not at the past life of those who surrender to Him but into their heart to see the sincerity of their motive and the intensity of their desire to change for the better and bestows His grace accordingly.
The Touch of the Philosopher’s Stone
It is said in mythology that the touch of the Philosopher’s Stone transforms base metal into pure gold. So too did the pure touch and influence of the Master. Kalipada from this meeting with the Master began to lead a more disciplined life. But well-entrenched habits die hard. On many occasions he would give in to his desires and fall back on his old ways, to his subsequent remorse and disgust at his weakness. But as often as he fell he would pick himself up and continue his march towards perfection. Many of his colleagues thought that the change that had come upon him was too good to be true. But Kalipada persevered and the Master in turn had faith in his disciple. Like Girish the Master allowed him many liberties denied to others. For the Master was no ordinary teacher giving the same lesson to all students. Far from moral admonishments, the Master, knowing the sincerity of his heart, coaxed him through encouragement to bring out his dormant positive qualities. This love of the Master which overlooked his weaknesses acted as a natural corrective whenever Kalipada’s will wavered in the face of temptation. So liberal was the Master that Kalipada himself smilingly remarked, “Ours is a grand teacher! We are not asked to practise meditation and other disciplines.” But he now felt that his mind was naturally drawn to the Master. What then is meditation if not the constant dwelling on a holy idea? His devotion and renunciation blossomed under these circumstances until the time came one day (18 October 1885) when the Master himself spoke of him to his devotees as follows, “Kalipada has given up drinking altogether.” Much later in life, Kalipada would publicly say, “Though I indulged in revelry like Jagai and Madhai, the Master blessed me as his own”, in reference to the two ruffians who became devotees of Sri Chaitanya.
Prelude to Self-Revelation
Towards the end of September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna was moved to Shyampukur in Calcutta so that he could get better treatment for his severe throat disease. However, the first residence rented for the Master was not to his liking and he left to stay at Balaram’s house. Kalipada then found a more suitable place for the Master’s stay. He took great pains to ensure that the house was as comfortable as possible by procuring the necessary household articles and even went to the extent of hanging up pictures of gods and goddesses on the walls. Here the young future monastic disciples of the Master set themselves up as his gate keepers restricting access to the Master by the public, believing that the Master’s illness was aggravated by too much talking and by the touch of impure people. Kalipada on the other hand believed that the Master’s illness was a pretext to serve some higher purpose. One day an uncommon sight met them. Here was Kalipada come to see the Master accompanied by a young European gentleman with a feminine look. The boys hesitated to stop them, for was not Kalipada a beloved disciple of the Master? Going up to Ramakrishna’s room the visitor revealed ‘himself’ to the Master as the actress Binodini. Binodini had mentally surrendered herself to the Master when he went to see Girish’s play Chaitanyalila in September 1884. The Master laughed at the enterprising trick of Kalipada and heartily blessed Binodini for her devotion to him.
It was again Kalipada who made the arrangements for the worship of the Divine Mother in the Master’s room in Shyampukur on Kali Puja day on 6 November 1885. The Master himself had given instructions for the worship. After offering the articles for worship to the Divine Mother, the Master sat still without continuing the worship. It then struck Ramchandra Dutta and Girish that the Master was giving them the opportunity to worship Him as the Divine Mother. Girish immediately offered a garland at the Master’s feet saying ‘Victory to Sri Ramakrishna’. The Master went into Samadhi and his hands assumed the divine postures of bestowing fearlessness and boons. All the devotees present including Kalipada offered flowers at his feet. This act was the first of many small incidents that led to its culmination on 1 January 1886 when the Master fully revealed himself as a divine incarnation. On 11 December 1885 the Master was moved to Cossipore Garden house as the air in the outskirts of the city was better. Here, even before the eventful Kalpataru Day of 1 January 1886, the Master’s grace towards Kalipada overflowed. It was the morning of 23 December 1885. Touching Kalipada’s chest he said, “May your inner spirit be awakened.” Then stroking his chin affectionately the Master continued, “Whoever has sincerely called on God or performed his daily religious devotions will certainly come here.”
The Master left his mortal form in the early hours of 16 August 1886. Kalipada was shattered with grief. He had all along believed that the Master’s disease was a divine pretext. This was the moment for his faith to waver. He shut himself up in his room and meditated on the Master. After a few days he emerged tranquil and ready to face the world, his faith intact and strong. Swami Prabhananda surmises in his ‘First Meetings’ that he must have had some spiritual experience that had cleared his doubts. His devotion now found expression in the numerous songs he composed on Sri Ramakrishna. He continued the public celebration of the Master’s birthday (which he had helped to organise even during the Master’s lifetime) even when he was posted outside Calcutta by his employers, for example celebrating it on a grand scale in Bombay and Trivandrum. He helped the fledgling monastery at Baranagore continuing his support even after he was posted to Bombay. During their itinerant days the sannyasin disciples of the Master found a ready and joyful host in Kalipada whenever they happened to be in Bombay. On account of his generosity and courage Narendra had aptly called him ‘Dana Kali’, a name having the dual meaning generous as also demon-like in courage. Fully convinced that the Master was the door to liberation, he lent his assistance to Ramchandra Dutta to spread the Master’s name and took upon himself the management of Ramchandra’s Yogodyan Ashram in Kankurgacchi (where part of the Master’s cremated remains were kept) upon the latter’s demise. So convinced was he that the Master was behind every one of his successes that he displayed the Master’s photograph not only in his home but in all the offices of the firm he was employed in. So spiritual did he become that others marvelled at his transformation. His spiritual growth can be gauged from the following incident. One day a rogue struck him. But the stout Kalipada, who could have easily beaten him up did not retaliate, even when his friends urged him to take revenge. “Was it the ruffian who struck me? Being a servant of Ramakrishna who can beat me? It is Ramakrishna himself who hit me.”
Lead me by the hand
It was the night of 28 June 1905. Kalipada lay ill at his home in Calcutta. Swami Premananda had come from Belur Math to be at the side of this householder disciple whom the Master had called ‘his own’. Suddenly the Swami saw Kalipada’s face light up. He stretched out his hand as if to someone in front of him and breathed his last. Hearing of this incident Swami Adbhutananda remarked, “Sri Ramakrishna came for him at the moment of his death. Baburam (Swami Premananda) clearly perceived it. All the promises of the Master are being fulfilled.” Many years earlier, in the very presence of Latu, Kalipada had requested the Master thus, “When I leave the world I shall see terrible darkness all around and be filled with terror. You must lead me by the hand holding a lantern in the other. I shall always be with you then.” “All right, your wish will be fulfilled,” the Master had replied. Kalipada’s life is one more testimony to the truth that an incarnation is the physical manifestation of Divine Grace. By a touch or a word, the incarnation imparts spirituality and transforms the character of even those considered hopeless by society. Kalipada’s life story gives the assurance that there is hope for all that no one need to despair because of his past. With faith and perseverance all can surely succeed in the spiritual quest.
1. ‘First Meetings with Sri Ramakrishna’ by Swami Prabhananda
2. ‘They Lived With God’ by Swami Chetanananda
On a pilgrimage to North India a few years ago, we were in Gaya, a place holy to both Hindus and Buddhists. Temple visits over, we were looking for some vegetarian food and were directed to a small thatched hut. As we sat down for a frugal meal, the owner of the shop, a South Indian Brahmin in his late fifties, pointed to an emaciated cow munching old newspapers and other rubbish discarded on the road and remarked with a liberal dose of sarcasm, “Look, there is our gomata (mother cow). We are supposed to worship her. But the owner of this cow lets her out in the morning and collects her at sunset. And next morning he will expect torrents of milk!”
Recent travellers to the region report somewhat better facilities, such as an airport and hotels in Gaya. Even more visible and rapid development should follow if the ambitious plans to revive the past glory of Nalanda University as an icon of Asian renaissance and a multi-discipline international seat of learning bear fruit. The challenges ahead are massive, but if the interest and enthusiasm displayed recently by many Asian nations are translated into reality, Nalanda, 110km from Gaya, could well turn out to be a shining example of cooperation and friendship between Asian nations. Though the idea of reviving or redeveloping Nalanda was raised in the late 1990’s, it gained momentum only early last year after Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s President, took the initiative.
As a follow-up, a well-attended international symposium titled “Reviving Buddhist cultural links” was held in Singapore. The delegates watched Dr. Abdul Kalam in a live videocast from New Delhi spelling out his vision of the new Nalanda. He said that as a model for evolving a happy, prosperous and peaceful society, it will consist of three components: education with a value system, religion transforming into spirituality and economic development for societal transformation. Speaking at the conference, Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo, one of the prime movers of the project, emphasized that it was not about religion, but “Buddhist values and philosophy which have become an integral part of East Asian civilization.” This focus was timely because some Buddhist circles were expressing concern that the new university might evolve into a secular framework. For example, the view expressed by Prof. Tavivat Pantarigvivat of Thailand’s Mahidol University was that Nalanda should be developed as a world religious university with a Buddhist focus and propagate compassion towards other religions.
A US$150 million project to develop Nalanda was unfolded at the Singapore conference. Wider, and more ambitious, plans include the redevelopment of the region including Bodh Gaya, where the Lord Buddha attained nirvana, giving an impetus to the growth of not only Buddhist, but international, tourism. An international committee being formed will be charged with raising the needed finance. Expectations are that Japan will be a substantial contributor followed by China and South Korea. Buddhist nations such as Thailand and Cambodia are also expected to chip in. A legal framework for the Nalanda project was provided in April this year when the Bihar State Assembly passed the University of Nalanda Bill unanimously, perhaps a rare gesture for an Indian legislature. The Bill states that that the international university would strive to create “a world free of war, terror and violence.” During the debate of the Bill, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told the assembly that the government planned to develop two hundred villages around the university like in the days of yore. “At least two hundred villages used to be attached to Nalanda university. We plan the same for the proposed university to create a near-original ambience and to benefit the local population,” he said.
Meanwhile the authorities in India have approached Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) seeking recognition of Nalanda as a World Heritage site. The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya was declared a world heritage site in 2003. The proposed group of international consultants for setting up the university is also being formed. At least two names have been announced: Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Meghnad Desai, a British businessman of Indian origin. Experts from Singapore, Japan and other countries are expected to join the group.
According to a detailed project report submitted to the state government, in the first phase the university will offer only postgraduate research, doctoral and post-doctoral degrees. It also suggests offering undergraduate courses in specific areas. It envisages enrolment of 1100 students from India and abroad in the first year, the enrolment going up to more than 4500 by the fifth year. The faculty will have Indian and international academic members with a faculty-student ratio of 1:10. The university, spread over 500 acres (200ha), will impart courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects. In its heydays Nalanda, which in Sanskrit means ‘Giver of knowledge’, was home to more than 10,000 students and 2000 teachers. Though Buddhist studies predominated, students were trained in fine arts, medicine and mathematics.
What was Nalanda like in its heydays? The university seems to have developed during the Gupta period (320-620 AD) and the Gupta kings contributed greatly to the construction of various colleges within the complex. Among the earliest records is one of the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien who visited the place at the beginning of the fifth century. He mentions a stupa, believed to have been the one Emperor Ashoka erected. Fa Hien makes no mention of any monastic complex, which seems to indicate that the great university complex which Nalanda eventually became famous for, had not yet developed. By the time Huan Ziang (Xuan Zang) arrived some two hundred years later, the university was flourishing and well known throughout the Buddhist world. Huan Ziang stayed in Nalanda for five years from 635 to 640 AD out of a total of 17 years he spent in India. Another Chinese pilgrim, I Tsing visted the place around 865AD and stayed there for ten years.
According to Huan Ziang’s notes, there were at the time 8500 students and more than 1500 teachers in attendance, They were considered the cream of the crop. He says, “The monks, numbering several thousand, are men of the highest ability and talent. Their distinction is very great at the present time, and there are many hundreds whose fame has rapidly spread through distant regions. Their conduct is pure and unblamable. They follow with sincerity the precepts of the moral law. He says that Buddhist studies, both from the Therevada and Mahayana, dominated the curriculum but medicine, astronomy, philosophy, art and other secular subjects were also taught. In addition to ordained monks lay persons also studied at Nalanda, some of them preparing for ordination. Sanskrit was the dominant language although numerous other languages were in use by both students and teachers alike. Huan Ziang’s contribution to Sino-Indian cultural understanding is sought to be immortalised through a building at the site now being constructed by artisans from China. The university had at least three libraries with a wide selection of books. The Chinese pilgrim Tao Hsi alone contributed more than 400 volumes in Chinese to the libraries.
Among the distinguished alumni of Nalanda are Nagarjuna, considered an authority on Mahayana Buddhism, Dharmakriti, Chandragomi (playwright and poet), the illustrious Dharmapala and Padmasambhava, who was among those instrumental in the spread of Buddhism to Tibet. At the beginning of the 1990’s, Turkish Muslim armies invaded India. In 1193, Mohammad Bakhtyar and his armies swept across the Gangetic plain destroying all Buddhist temples and institutions he found and killing all Buddhist monks who fell into his hands. Nalanda was almost completely plundered, but a few monks who had managed to survive the onslaught returned and attempted to revive the institution. A second attack by Islamic forces completely destroyed what was once a flourishing institution. Nalanda had to wait till the fag end of the twentieth century to witness attempts towards a revival.
(Continued from last issue)
On the way to Vishvamitra’s ashrama, Rama, struck by the natural beauty of a mountain covered with lush jungle, inquired if this was their destination where they were to confront and kill the rakshasas (demons) who were desecrating their sage’s yaga. Rama was only too eager to do battle with them. Vishvamitra explained that that indeed was the place and narrated to Rama and Lakshmana the long, rich history of that place. It was here that Narayana, the Lord of the lords, the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, had performed tapas and was reincarnated as Vamana. This spot became known as Siddhashrama. Mahabali, the son of Virochana and grandson of Prahlada, had become supremely powerful after he had defeated all the devas and even Indra. He was performing a yaga once to confirm his position as lord of the three worlds, when Agni approached Narayana at this very ashrama to appeal for help to protect Indra and the devas from Mahabali. In the meantime, Kashyapa and Aditi of whom all the gods were offsprings, were longing for a son and prayed fervently to Narayana to grant them their wish. Kashyapa pleaded that Lord Narayana be born as a son of Aditi to remove the misery of the devas.
Lord Narayana acceded to this emotional appeal and was born to Aditi as the Lord in human form. He was of such small stature that he was called Vamana. While Mahabali was performing his yaga, the young boy Vamana went to the yajnasala to make a request. Mahabali, stunned by the divine good looks of the young Brahmin asked what he wished for. Vamana replied, “…I want very little but I will ask only if you assure me that I will be granted my wish.” To this Mahabali replied, “My treasury, my granary, my army, my entire kingdom, all these are at your disposal. Ask of me anything you please and it is yours.” Vamana then answered that for his simple life his needs were few. All that he desired was a small piece of land which could be covered by his three paces. Mahabali was amused by the strange innocent request of this young brahmachari and looking at his small feet said, “So be it; pace and take it.”
However, Shukracharya, the preceptor of Mahabali and all the Asuras, attempted to stop the king from granting this wish. He warned Mahabali that this was no ordinary being but Narayana himself and that granting the wish would only benefit the devas. But Mahabali would not listen, for his generosity was well known. Furthermore, he considered himself to be blessed if the Lord himself requested something from him. With that, the king and his wife poured water into the outstretched right palm of Vamana and gave away ‘three paces of land’. As soon as the water touched his palms and the wish had been granted, Vamana assumed his godly form, Visvarupa. With his first pace, he covered the whole world and with his second the heavens. When there was no room for his third step, Mahabali offered his bowed head and Vamana placed his foot there.
With that Lord Narayana reinstated Indra in his kingdom Vishvamitra explained that the jungle which Rama had spotted was where Narayana and later Kashyapa had performed tapas and where the Lord was reincarnated as Vamana. This place was a Siddhashrama where everyone’s wishes were fulfilled and so Vishvamitra had chosen it as his ashrama. The rakshasas came here and disrupted his yaga. They had to be destroyed. Rama agreed. After a short journey, Vishvamitra and the two princes reached the ashrama and were cordially greeted by the rishis. After a short rest, Rama requested Vishvamitra to begin his yaga immediately and assured him that there would be no interruptions. Vishvamitra took his initiation rites or Diksha at night and the princes slept peacefully.
Early next morning, the princes went to Vishvamitra to find out when they could expect to face the rakshasas so that they could be well prepared. Vishvamitra, under a vow of silence, did not reply, but the rishis told the princes that the yaga would last for six days and they would have to be vigilant for the entire period. Armed and alert, Rama and Lakshmana patrolled the yajnasala for five days and nights without any incidents. On the final day, Rama advised Lakshmana to be more alert and to expect the two rakshasas to finally appear. As he spoke, there was a loud noise followed by the billowing of flames from the sacrificial fire. The sun was obliterated and the sky suddenly darkened. Rama knew the rakshasas had appeared. He saw Maricha and Subahu and their cohorts preparing to cast filth on the sacrificial fire. Furious, Rama released the weapon called Manavastra, aimed at Maricha’s chest. The astra wrapped him up in an impregnable force and flung him into the sea a hundred miles away, but did not destroy him. Then Rama released the Agneyastra (the weapon presided over by fire), aimed at Subahu’s chest and killed him instantly. With the Vayavastra (presided over by the god of wind), Rama destroyed the whole horde of rakshasas that had blanketed the sky like a huge black cloud. The yaga was safe. Vishvamitra and the rishis were very pleased. Vishvamitra summoned the two princes and expressed his gratitude to them for enabling him to complete his yaga. He said, “This ashrama has through you become again a scene of success, Siddhashrama.”
1. Ramayana by Kamala Subramaniam
2. Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari
Remembering Holy Mother
Teachers at Sarada Kindergarten put aside their textbooks and, literally, took to the stage on 26 November 2006 to reminisce and pay tribute to their divine guide and preceptor. It was part of the programme to celebrate the 154th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and to share with the children some of her relevant teachings through the medium of drama.
Still from the drama
Teachers who enacted the drama
Highlights of the Mother’s life (born 22 December 1853) were presented to the inquisitive children. Among them were Sri Ramakrishna’s advice on matters both spiritual and secular. Sri Ramakrishna was a man of perfection and he was equally perfect in the training of his young wife. From ordinary household duties to high spiritual values, nothing was left out. And Sri Sarada Devi absorbed all the teachings with absolute attention and devotion. All her life she practised equanimity without fear or favour. She would treat the poor and downtrodden devotees with the same consideration and respect as she would the very aristocratic visitors. An often quoted statement of the Holy Mother is: “I don’t see any difference between Amjad and Sarat.” The significance of this is that Amjad was a local criminal with many brushes with the police while Sarat was Swami Saradananda, her devoted caretaker. Shortly before her Mahasamadhi on 21 July 1920, she had this advice of universal significance. “If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child, the whole world is your own.”
When the new Universal Temple was consecrated in Belgaum three years ago, the headline in this magazine was ‘Belgaum Grows.’ (Nirvana, July 2004). Indeed, Belgaum is growing. A residence in Belgaum, hallowed by Swami Vivekananda’s stay for three days, has now become part of the Ramakrishna Mission complex. The entire building, formerly known as Mr. Bhate’s house, has been handed over to the Mission by Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Sevashrama, a private spiritual organization. The new premises will now become the Town Centre of the Belgaum Ashrama and will be used to expand its activities.. The handing over ceremony was held on 3 February 2007 in the presence of many dignitaries who were involved in the activities of the Sevashrama, sadhus and a large number of devotees.
Handing over ceremony
Swami Raghaveshananda, Head of the Belgaum centre is on the left
Swamiji at Mr. Bhate’s house
Swami Vivekananda arrived in Belgaum from Kolhapur on 15 October 1892 during his ‘padayatra’ (journey on foot) throughout India during his parivrajaka days. He had carried an introduction to Mr. Bhate (full name not available) from his close friend in Kolhapur and stayed at his house for three days. Mr. Bhate’s son, Prof. G.S. Bhate has written the following about the Swami’s visit. “The Swami was rather striking in appearance and appeared to be even at first sight somewhat out of the common run of men. But neither my father nor anyone else in the family or even in our own small town was prepared to find in our guest the remarkable man that he turned out to be.” Prof. Bhate refers to the many unconventional ways of the Swami: “We were not accustomed to a Swami using the English language as a medium of conversation. “The first day after the meal the Swami asked for betel-nut and Pan (betel-leaf). Then either the same day or the day after, he wanted some chewing tobacco. One can imagine the horror which such demands from a sannyasi, who is supposed to have gone beyond these small creature comforts, would inspire…This was really upsetting to our preconceived notions, and yet he succeeded in making us accept the situation and to see that there was really nothing wrong in a sannyasi wanting Pan and Supari or chewing tobacco. The explanation he gave disarmed us completely. He said he was a lively young man, a graduate of the Calcutta University, and that his life before he met Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had been very worldly. “As a result of the teaching of his Guru he had changed his outlook on life, but some things he found impossible to get rid of, and he let them remain as being of no great consequence.”
From The Life of Swami Vivekananda – Vol.1
A heritage building in Calcutta where Sister Nivedita lived for thirteen years about a hundred years ago will soon be restored to the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission. The building at Bosepara Lane at Baghbazar, now occupied by various tenants, is being acquired by the West Bengal government following a personal initiative by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He acted promptly on a request by the Ramakrishna Mission to have the building acquired. Once the legal formalities are completed, the building will be handed over to the Sarada Mission for development. Born Margaret Elizabeth Noble in Ireland in 1867, both her grandfather and father were preachers. She had spiritual inclinations from childhood. Educated at a Church school and later at the Halifax College run by Congregationalist Church, she became disenchanted with the Christian doctrines. As she recalled later, “I love Jesus with my whole heart for the self-sacrifices He always willingly underwent…But after the age of eighteen I began to harbour doubts as to the truth of the Christian doctrines. Many of them began to seem to me false and incompatible with Truth. These doubts grew stronger and stronger.” Then for three years she plunged into the study of the Buddhist doctrine. “I became more and more convinced that the salvation he preached was decidedly more consistent with the Truth than the preachings of the Christian religion.” The turning point for Margaret Noble came when she met Swami Vivekananda during his visit to England in late 1895 where he delivered several lectures. She was deeply impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, his intellectual prowess and above all his character. She mentally decided that the Guru she had been waiting for had finally arrived. In turn the Swami was struck by the Irish woman’s love for India and her serious and sincere approach to religion and spirituality. Swamiji had been deeply troubled by the pitiable condition of Indian women and wanted to do something for their upliftment. He cried out for some women in India to take the lead, but there were no takers. He turned to Margaret Noble and requested her to come to India and work for the welfare of Indian women. She responded to the call of her Guru. She took the Indian name of Nivedita, the dedicated, which aptly described her attitude to the challenges facing her. She worked in the social, educational and in other fields with great energy and resolve to raise the status of the women of her adopted country. The Sister Nivedita Girls’ School in Calcutta is but one of the standing tributes to her manifold services. She passed away on 13 October 1911 in Darjeeling. In her reverential memory a Samadhi (memorial) was raised later over the sacred spot where she was cremated, proclaiming, “Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India.”