5.11 THE MASTER MOVED TO CALCUTTA
The pain in the throat of the Master increased after his taking part in the Panihati festival. There had been showers of rain from time to time that day. The doctors expostulated with the devotees that the disease had increased because he had spent a long time with his body and feet exposed to the rains. They said that it would be a serious matter if such irregularity happened again. Consequently, the devotees were determined to be careful thereafter. The boyish Master put the whole blame for the escapade of that day on the shoulders of Ramchandra Datta and a few other elderly devotees and said, “Could I have gone to Panihati if they had forbidden me a little more emphatically?” Although he was not a professional doctor, Ram Babu had studied in the Campbell Medical School and taken a diploma in medicine. As he was a lover of the Vaishnava faith, he had rather encouraged the Master to go to Panihati. He was, therefore, regarded as deserving the greater part of the blame on that account. One day a friend of ours came to Dakshineswar at that time and found the Master sitting quietly on his small bedstead with an unguent on his throat. He said, “I saw in the Master’s face the exact picture of that gloomy expression which a boy bears, when he is prevented by way of punishment from doing something and is kept confined in one place. I saluted him and asked what the matter was. He showed me the plaster on his throat and said, ‘Just see; the pain has increased and the doctor has forbidden me to speak much.’ ‘Ah sir,’ said I, ‘you, I am told, went to Panihati the other day; this is perhaps why the pain has increased.’ He said like a boy with a wounded feeling of love, ‘Yes, just see, there was water above, water below, rain in the sky and mud on the roads and Ram took me there and made me dance the whole day before we returned! He has passed an examination and is a doctor; would I have gone there if he had forbidden strongly?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, Ram is quite wrong. Anyway, what’s done is done; please be careful for a few days and it will be cured.’ He was pleased to be told so and said, ‘Can one, however, do without speaking at all? Just see, what a great distance you have come from; and I should not speak a word with you! Is it possible?’ I said, ‘I am full of joy even to see you; you need not speak to me. I shall not feel worried; when you are cured we shall hear many things from you again.’ But he did not lend an ear to these words of mine. He forgot the doctor’s prohibition, his own suffering and all other things and began talking with me as before.”
The month of Ashar passed. For more than a month he had been undergoing treatment and the pain did not show any sign of abatement. Though he felt it less at other times, the pain increased during the full moon and new moon days and the eleventh days of both the fortnights of the lunar month. It was absolutely impossible for him at that time to swallow any kind of solid, food or vegetable. The Master, therefore, took on those days milk with a little rice or coarse flour of wheat boiled in milk only. Doctors examined him and diagnosed that he had contracted the clergyman’s throat; “that is, his organ of speech had been too much exercised in giving religious instruction to people day and night, and his throat was about to develop a sore. It is recorded in medical books that the clergy generally contract the disease. Doctors prescribed medicine, diet, etc., after diagnosing the disease. Although the Master completely followed most of the prescription, it was violated in respect of two points. Unable to control himself on account of his deep love of God and infinite compassion for the people parched by the heat of worldly misery, he could not avoid entering into ecstasy, nor could he cease talking to them As soon as there arose a talk about God, he, now as before, lost the consciousness of his body and entered info ecstasy; and when people, blinded by the darkness of ignorance and overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, came to him in search of the right path, eagerly hankering after peace, he would lose himself in compassion for them and would instruct and bless them.
Many men who thirsted for religion came to the Master now. Besides the earlier devotees, new persons numbering five or six were daily seen to knock at his door, thirsting for spirituality. It had become a daily occurrence ever since Kesav had come to Dakshineswar in the year A.D. 1875. Therefore, for the past eleven years, the Master was often led away by his zeal for teaching the people who came athirst, and was not able to keep regular hours for daily bath, meals and rest. Besides he had very little sleep owing to the impulsion of the Mahabhava. At the time, when we were staying with him at Dakshineswar, we saw on very many occasions that he got up shortly after he went to bed at 11 p.m. and strolled in an ecstatic mood; he now opened the western door, now the northern, and went out; again, though sometimes lying quietly on his bed, he was fully awake. He left his bed three or four times during the night and yet he rose daily as soon as it was 4 a.m., waited for the light of the dawn, remembering, thinking on, and singing the glories of the divine Lord and would then wake us. Is it therefore surprising that his body should have got worn out on account of his sleeplessness at night and his excessive labour in giving religious instruction to many people during the day?
Although the Master did not tell any one that his body was getting too tired and exhausted, we had an inkling of it in his loving quarrels with the Universal Mother but could not completely understand it. One of us went to Dakshineswar one day shortly before he fell ill and saw that, seated on his small bedstead in an ecstatic mood, he was addressing someone and saying, “Thou bringest all worthless people here. One seer of milk adulterated with five seers of water! My eyes are red and swollen and my bones reduced to powder with pushing wet fuel into the fire and by constant blowing through my mouth. I cannot do so much. If it is Thy pleasure, do it Thyself. Bring good people here — those who will attain spiritual awakening with a word or two only,” On another occasion he said to the devotees who were with him, “I was saying to Mother today, ‘Give a little power to these few — Vijay, Girish, Kedar, Ram and “Master” (M., the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), so that the new people may come here after their angularities have been some what rounded by them’, Regarding the rendering of assistance in educating the people, he said to a woman devotee at one time, “Pour water yourself and let me prepare mud.” When he saw at Dakshineswar, that the crowd of people thirsting for religion were on the increase, the Master in ecstasy said to the divine Mother just a few days after he first felt the pain in his throat, “Shouldst Thou bring so many people? Thou hast produced a veritable crowd; I don’t find time to bathe and take my meal. It is only a drum, and with holes in it (meaning his own body), how long can it last if it is played on day and night?”
By the end of the year A.D, 1884 the general talk about the Master’s extraordinary doctrine, love, ecstasy and ambrosial words spread so much amongst the people of Calcutta, that they were daily pouring into Dakshineswar to have the privilege of seeing him; and having come once, most of them repeated their visits over and over again. But it is difficult to give an estimate of how many people came to him before the Master had the disease of the throat in the month of July 1885. For, there was never an opportunity for all of them to come together at one place on the same day. And this was good in a way. The inner circle of the devotees of the Master were already feeling a great joy over the swelling of the number of his devotees as they thought that their object of worship was becoming the object of worship of the whole country and that the most beloved of them was being loved by all. This joy of theirs should have been converted into fear and dejection; for, had they not heard the Master repeat time and again, “When many people will regard (me) as God and love and respect this (me), it (the body) will immediately disappear”?
The Master gave us from time to time many hints about the time of his passing away. But, blinded by his love, we did not then pay heed to his words though we heard them uttered somewhat explicitly; nor could we comprehend their import though we understood them literally. All then had but one idea in their minds, viz., how all their friends and relatives could enjoy through the Master’s grace the peace which they themselves were enjoying. Therefore, the fear that he might pass away never crossed their minds. The Master had said to the Holy Mother four or five years before he had the throat disease: “When I shall take food out of anybody’s and everybody’s hand, pass nights in Calcutta, and give a portion of my food to anyone else first and then take the rest myself, know that the time of my passing away is fast approaching.” The course of events was actually turning out to be as predicted, even some time before he contracted the disease in his throat. Invited to the houses of people in various places in Calcutta, the Master was now taking all kinds of food, except boiled rice, out of the hand of anybody and everybody. He accidentally spent nights also at Balaram Babu’s house now and then. As Narendra was ill with dyspepsia and did not come to the Master at Dakshineswar for many days, thinking that there could be no arrangement about his diet there, one day the Master had him brought in the morning, fed him early with a part of the rice and soup cooked for him, and took the rest himself. The Holy Mother objected to this and expressed a desire that she should cook for the Master again, when he said, “My mind did not shrink from giving a portion of the food first to Naren. So there will be no harm in that. You need not cook again.” The Holy Mother said later, “Although the Master said so, I felt uneasy on remembering his words spoken long ago.”
Although his body became exhausted on account of excessive strain in teaching people, the zeal of his mind in this respect was never seen to wane. As soon as a fit person arrived, he could know his fitness in his heart of hearts and, losing himself in the infusion of a divine power, would either instruct him or touch him and thus open for him the path to spiritual progress. It would happen like this. The newcomer’s spiritual mood would evoke a response from the Master’s mind throwing into the background all other moods of his for some time. He would then see with his divine vision how far that person had gone towards perfection and why he could go no farther; next he would remove all obstacles on that person’s path and make him ascend to higher planes of consciousness. He thus always served the Jivas as Siva till the last moment of his life and slaked the thirst of the divine desire of men, women and children acquired during many lives and bathed them in the supreme Light of the abode of absolute fearlessness — a gift described by the scriptures as the highest.
We always saw clearly a power in the Master of detecting the hidden ideas and the past impressions in the minds of people. This can be said to be a good proof of the fact that physical health or illness never touched his mind. But, although he knew completely the mystery of other people’s minds, he never divulged it to any one with a view to showing off his extraordinary power. He let any one know only that fragment of his power which would do good to him and point out a higher path to him, or, in the case of a fortunate few, make their faith in the Master himself firm and unshakable. We give here an ordinary example of it for the benefit of the reader.
Hearing that the pain in the Master’s throat had increased, one of our acquaintances, a lady, was about to go to see him in the month of August in the year 1885. Another lady of the locality came to know of it and said to her, “There is nothing else in the house today to send to the Master through you; will you please take with you a potful of milk?” The former refused and said, “There is no lack of good milk at Dakshineswar and there is, I know, an arrangement to provide him with milk; moreover, it will be very inconvenient to carry it. Milk, therefore, need not be taken.”
On reaching Dakshineswar, she saw that it was not possible for the Master to take any diet except milk mixed with rice on account of the pain in his throat, and that the Holy Mother was very anxious as the milk-woman could not, for some reason, give the daily quota of milk. She repented of her not bringing the milk from Calcutta and, inquiring whether milk was sold anywhere in the village came to know that there was not far from the temple a woman of upper India, known as Mrs. Pande, who had a cow and sold milk. She went to her house but was told that all her milk had been sold except about three ounces, which she had boiled and kept with her. When she said that she required it very badly, the milk-woman sold it to her. When she came with the milk, the Master took his rice boiled with it that day. When the Master got up to wash his mouth after he had taken his food, she poured water into his hand. Afterwards, calling her to a secluded place, he said to her with affection, “I feel much pain in my throat; will you please utter the Mantra you know to cure diseases and pass your hand once over the throat?” Hearing these words, the lady was amazed for some time. She then passed her hand over the Master’s throat as desired by him, and then, coming to the Holy Mother, she said, “How could he know that I knew the Mantra? Knowing that it was a Mantra that made one especially succeed in accomplishing acts done with motives, I had learnt it long ago from a woman belonging to the Ghoshpara community. Realizing afterwards that the only aim of life was to call on God without any motive, I abandoned it. I had told everything of my life to the Master except my initiation in the Mantra of the Kartabhaja sect, lest he should hate me for it. How could he know it? “Informed thus, the Holy Mother smiled and said affectionately, ”He can know everything. But he never hates anyone for doing anything sincerely with a good motive. You need not be afraid. I also had been initiated in that Mantra before I came here and told him of it; he said, “There has been no harm done in your being initiated in the Mantra; now offer it at the lotus feet of your chosen Ideal.”
Some time passed, but the pain in the Master’s throat was seen gradually to increase. The devotees thought again and again but could come to no decision, when an event came to pass suddenly and showed them clearly what they should do. A lady of Baghbazar invited the devotees that day to supper at her house. She had a great desire to bring the Master but, knowing that he was ill, gave up that hope almost completely. Nevertheless, thinking that he might once take a drive somehow and come for some time, she requested a devotee to go to him at Dakshineswar. As that person did not return even when it was past 9 a.m., she made the guests sit for their meal without further delay, when he came and said that the pharynx of the Master bled that day and so he could not come. Those present, Narendra, Ram, Girish, Devendra, Mahendra and others were very anxious and, as the result of their consultation, they came to the conclusion that a house in Calcutta should be hired, and the Master brought there immediately for treatment. Seeing Narendra dejected at the time of taking food, a young man asked him the reason for it, to which he replied, “He, with whom we are so happy, is perhaps going to pass away this time. I have known from reading medical books and questioning doctor friends that this kind of throat disease gradually develops into cancer. Hearing of the bleeding today I suspect the disease to be that; the medicine for this disease has not yet been discovered.”
When, next morning, a few elderly devotees went to Dakshineswar and requested the Master to move to Calcutta for treatment there, he agreed. All knew the Master’s love of the Ganga, and so when they found that the river was visible from the roof of a small house at Durgacharan Mukherjee’s street in Baghbazar, the devotees hired it and brought him to Calcutta shortly afterwards. But when the Master, who was habituated to living in the open atmosphere of the spacious garden of the Kali temple, entered that small house, he found it impossible for him to live there, and walked immediately to Balaram Basu’s house on Ramakanta Basu street. Balaram received him lovingly and requested him to stay there until a suitable house was available. He agreed to it.
The search for a suitable house was going on. Thinking that it was not proper to waste time, the devotees in the meantime called the well-known physicians of Calcutta and secured their opinions about the Master’s disease. Gangaprasad, Gopimohan, Dwarikanath, Navagopal and some others were called that day. They examined the Master and diagnosed that he had contracted the incurable disease called Rohini, the inflammatory affection of the throat. While he was leaving, Gangaprasad, questioned privately by a devotee, said, “Rohini is what the Western doctors call cancer; although there is a treatment of the disease prescribed in the books, it has been ascertained to be incurable.” Seeing that no hope was held out by the physicians and knowing that too much drugging never agreed with the Master’s constitution, the devotees thought it desirable to have him treated according to homoeopathy. In about a week, the parlour of Gokulchandra Bhattacharya, situated on the Shyampukur street, was hired for the Master to live in and he was placed for some time under the treatment of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, the famous doctor of Calcutta.
The news of the Master’s coming to Calcutta spread from mouth to mouth all over the city. Coming in batches to see the Master, many known and unknown people made the house of Balaram ring with joy as on a festive occasion. Although he remained silent from time to time to conform to the doctor’s advice and the plaintive prayers of the devotees, he talked to them on religion with such zeal and energy that it seemed that he had come there for that purpose only, — that he had come for some time to the doors of those who could not go up to Dakshineswar, in order to give them the light of spirituality. Every day during that week from early morning to the time of his midday meal and from that time, with a rest of about two hours, to the time of taking his night meal and going to bed, he solved the complicated problems of the spiritual lives of many people, attracted many persons to the path of spirituality through discussions on various topics regarding God, and entering into deep realms of ecstasy when listening to music, devotional songs, etc., filled to overflowing the hearts of many individuals thirsting after religion, with a flood of peace and bliss. None of us had the good fortune to be present there at all times on all days. The owner of the house also had many a time to be busy elsewhere making various arrangements about the Master and the devotees. It is therefore almost impossible to have a detailed description of that week. So we shall stop with mentioning one event only, to explain to the reader how the Master passed those few days in the house of Balaram
We were studying at the college then. So, we had leisure enough to see the Master only once or twice a week. We came to Balaram’s house one afternoon and found the hall on the first floor packed to capacity with people, when Girish and Kalipada commenced singing with great zeal:
“O Nitai, hold me!
Today my heart feels an unknown sensation, as it were.”
Entering the room with great difficulty, we saw the Master, who was in ecstasy, seated in the western extremity of the room facing the east. We saw his lips adorned with a wonderful smile of bliss and graciousness, his right leg raised and stretched, one person who sat before him, holding that leg of the Master very lovingly and carefully on his breast. That man had his eyes shut and cheeks and breast flooded with tears. All were motionless in the room which was filled with a divine presence, but the song went on:
“Today my heart feels an unknown
sensation, as it were.
Hold me, O Nitai!
I am now being carried away by the waves That rose in the river of love.
As Nitai, distributes the name of Hari.
(O Nitai) I have written the bond with my own hand,
To which the ‘eight friends’1 are witnesses.
How can I pay off my debt to the creditor of love?
For all my accumulated wealth has run out.
And still the debt remains unpaid.
Now I am going to be auctioned on account of that debt of love.”
The song came to an end. The Master had partial consciousness some time later and said to the person before him, “Say Sri Krishna Chaitanya, — say Sri Krishna Chaitanya, — say Sri Krishna Chaitanya.” Thus making him utter that name thrice consecutively, the Master regained his normal consciousness shortly afterwards and began talking to others. On inquiry, we came to know that the name of that person was Nityagopal Goswami, that he was a professor of a college at Dacca and that, hearing the news of the Master’s illness, he had come to see him The Goswami was as great a devotee as he was good-looking.