5.9 THE CIRCLE OF DEVOTEES OF THE MASTER AND NARENDRANATH
All those devotees of the Master mentioned before, whose coming to Dakshineswar he had seen in his Yogic visions, arrived there before the close of 1884. For, Purna came to him in the beginning of 1885. After bestowing his grace on him he said, “With Purna’s coming, the coming of that class of devotees whom I saw in visions is completed. No one else of this class will come hereafter.”
Again, many of the above mentioned class of devotees came to the Master during the period between the middle of 1883 and that of 1884. Narendra was then struggling against dire poverty to maintain his family; and Rakhal had gone to Vrindavan for some time. To the devotees beside him the Master would say regarding the coming of some one of those devotees even before he came, “One belonging to this place is coming today from this direction (pointing to a particular direction).’ Or as soon as one came, he would receive him lovingly and say, “You are a person belonging to this place.” In the case of a few fortunate ones, he felt special attraction and became eager to see and feed them and have a religious talk with them in seclusion. He would observe the nature and past impressions of one and introduce him to another devotee who had come before and had similar impressions, so that the former might have the opportunity of spending his leisure in religious discussion with the latter. Again, he would visit the houses of some such devotees unasked and would please their guardians with good conversation so that they might not forbid their wards to visit him now and then, thus clearing their way to come to him
3. Inspired with the divine mood the Master touched, initiated or dealt otherwise with the devotees according to each one’s fitness
As soon as, or shortly after, such a devotee came, he called him aside and asked him to meditate and then he touched under the influence of divine inspiration certain parts of his body such as chest, tongue, etc. On account of this divine touch, the devotee’s mind would become indrawn and lose consciousness partially or wholly. And the past accumulated religious impressions of the devotee would become suddenly active and engage him deeply in the realisation of God. Consequently, on account of that touch, one would have the vision of a divine light or of the luminous figure of a god or goddess, another would be in deep meditation or feel a bliss never experienced before, a third would have the knots of his heart suddenly loosened and removed and experience an intense eagerness for God-realization; a fourth would be inspired with spiritual emotions and enter into Savikalpa Samadhi, and a rare one would get a foretaste of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. There was no limit to the number of persons who came to him and thus had the vision of luminous figures. We heard from the Master himself that Tarak one day thus experienced a great eagerness and a wailing welling up in his mind, as a result of which all the knots of his heart were loosened. Owing to that effectual touch, junior Naren entered into ecstasy during his meditation on the formless God. But the experience of a foretaste of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi on account of that touch was seen in the life of Narendranath alone. Besides touching the devotees in that way, the Master initiated some of them in Mantras. At the time of initiation he did not examine the horoscopes of the disciples nor did he perform worship etc., like ordinary preceptors. But observing with the help of his Yogic vision their impressions accumulated during the past lives, he pointed out their Mantras saying, “This is your Mantra.” We have heard from him that he bestowed his grace in that way on Niranjan, Tejchandra, Vaikuntha and some others. He did not initiate any one in a Sakta or a Vaishnava Mantra merely because that person was born in a Sakta or a Vaishnava family. After a careful scrutiny of the inner tendencies he would sometimes initiate a Sakti or Vishnu worshipper with a Vishnu or Sakti Mantra. It is therefore evident that he observed every one’s tendency and prescribed everything accordingly.
It is recorded in the scriptures that great souls can, by their will or touch, impart spiritual power to others and turn the course of their minds to higher channels. Even the lives of prostitutes, lecherous persons and other perpetrators of sinful actions have thus been changed by the influence of great souls, not to speak of those of the disciples of their inner circles. The manifestation of that power is seen more or less in the life of each of the great souls such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Chaitanya who have all along been worshipped as incarnations in the world. But of what avail is it that it is so written in the scriptures? Having no direct knowledge of the extraordinary actions of the personages of that class for a very long time, the world totally lost its faith in them Even the faith in God is very often regarded nowadays as a sign of mental weakness born of superstition, and even more so the faith in His incarnations. It was very necessary in the modern age for an extraordinary person like the Master to be born in this world in order to remove that lack of faith from the minds of men in general and make them spiritual. Seeing the manifestation of that power in him, we are now coming to have faith in the similar powers of the great souls of the past. Even if one may not accept the Master as an incarnation of God, one cannot, when one sees that power in him, deny that he was an extraordinary person belonging to the same class as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Chaitanya and other great souls.
Among those devotees whom the Master had known before they actually came there, were people of various ages, classes and spiritual moods, such as the young and the old, householders and monks, worshippers of God with form and of God without form In spite of all these differences, there was one common point observable in them all. Each one of them had an unshakable faith in and singleminded devotion to his own path of Sadhana and the chosen Ideal and was ever ready to undergo any amount of sacrifice for the realization of God. The Master tied one and all to himself with the cord of his love and guarded everybody’s particular spiritual mood and behaved towards him in a way that made him think that he, although an expert in all religious doctrines, had greater love for the path along which the devotee himself was proceeding. There was no limit to the disciples’ love and devotion to the Master on account of that impression of theirs. Again, as soon as they transcended the narrow circles of sectarianism etc., one by one, and came to possess liberal views by virtue of his company and under the influence of his instruction and teaching, they were astonished and charmed to see this perfection. We mention here, by way of an example, an ordinary event.
Balaram Basu of Baghbazar was born in a Vaishnava family and was himself a great follower of that faith. Living in the world, he was untouched by it, and though possessing great wealth he never had pride in his heart. He used to spend four or five hours in worship and religious study every morning and was so careful in observing the virtue of non-injury that he never hurt even insects, birds, etc., for any reason whatever. As soon as the Master saw him for the first time, he received him lovingly, as if he was already familiar with him The Master said, “He is a devotee of the inner circle of the great lord Sri Chaitanya. He belongs to this place (meaning himself). I witnessed in ecstasy how the great lord Chaitanya together with the revered souls, Advaita and Nityananda, brought about a flood of Hari’s name in the country and inebriated a number of men, women and children by means of Sankirtan sung by a wonderful party, in which I saw him (Balaram).”
Keeping the Master’s company, Balaram underwent wonderful transformations as he went forward in the spiritual realm with a rapid step. Going beyond the limit of external worship and other kinds of ritualistic devotion enjoined by the scriptures, he could, in a short time, live in the world completely reliant on God and able to discriminate the real from the unreal. Offering his all — his own life, wife, son, wealth, etc., at His lotus feet and living like a servant of His in His world, ever ready to carry out His commands, Balaram came to have only one aim in life, namely, to live in the holy company of the Master as much as possible. He could not remain satisfied with himself enjoying the peace born of the grace of the Master, but busied himself with making suitable arrangements for his friends and relatives to come in contact with the Master and to enjoy the bliss derived therefrom Many people thus felt blessed to have the Master as their refuge on account of Balaram’s eagerness.
Like his external worship, Balaram’s opinion about the observance of the virtue of non-injury also got changed in a short time. Before that time, he never used to hurt even mosquitoes etc., though they distracted his mind at the time of worship. It would, he thought, destroy his piety altogether. Now, one day during this time, the thought suddenly crossed his mind that religion consisted in making the infinitely distracted mind concentrated on God, and not in always engaging oneself in saving the lives of mosquitoes, insects, birds, etc. Therefore, if the mind could be helped to concentrate on Hari for a short time by the killing of a few mosquitoes, that act should, far from being considered irreligious, be regarded as highly beneficial to man’s end in life. Balaram said, “The long-standing eagerness of the mind to observe the virtue of non-injury got a rude shock at that thought; but the mind, assailed by doubts, found it difficult to be swayed by the new thought. I, therefore, started for Dakshineswar to consult the Master about it. On my way I went on thinking the matter over, ‘Did I ever see him kill mosquitoes etc., like others?’ I could not remember such an act; as far as I could see, he was more devoted to the observance of the vow of non-injury than I. I recollected that, when one day he saw a man treading a field, green with newly grown grass, he felt as if the man was stamping on his breast and became restless with pain — the Power and Consciousness giving vitality to the field of grass and pervading it through and through, appeared so clearly to him! The decision forced itself upon me that it was quite unnecessary to ask him the question and that it was my mind that was playing me false. Let me, however, go and see him, the mind will then become purified, I thought.
“I reached Dakshineswar and came to the door of the Master’s room But, before I entered it, I was astounded to see from a distance what he was doing. I saw him bringing out bugs from his own bed and killing them! As soon as I approached, and bowed down to him, he said, ‘There are many bugs breeding in the pillow. They bite me day and night, produce distraction of the mind and disturb sleep. I am, therefore, killing them.’ There was no need to ask a question. My mind became free from doubt on hearing his words and seeing his action. But, astonished, I thought, ‘I have been coming to him at all hours and without notice for the last two or three years; I came in the day-time and returned at night; I came at dusk and took leave only when the night had advanced more than three hours. I came and went thus three or four times every week. But never did I happen to see him do such an act. How could it be? The solution is this. I was convinced that my spiritual mood would have suffered had I seen him do so before; I would have lost faith in him. The supremely compassionate Master, therefore, never acted thus in my presence.”
Besides the devotees whom the Master had seen in visions before, many men and women came to Dakshineswar during this time to see him and have peace. He received these also affectionately and blessed them, some by instruction and others by a touch in a state of divine inspiration. As time thus passed on, the Master’s circle of devotees grew wider with him for the centre of attraction. He took greater care to mould the spiritual lives of the boys and unmarried young men who were among them He pointed out the reason for this on many occasions: “The perfect realization of God can never be attained if one does not apply one’s whole mind to it. The boys have with them their whole minds which have not become distracted by wife, sons, wealth, honour, fame and other worldly objects. If they try now, they can offer their whole minds to God and be blessed with His vision. That is why I have a greater zeal in guiding them on the path of spiritual realization.” Whenever the Master found an opportunity, he took each of them to a secluded place and instructed him in the higher methods of spiritual realization, such as Yoga, meditation, etc., and advised him to practise perfect continence by not entering into matrimony. He pointed out also to him his own Object of worship according to his fitness and taught him his own spiritual relation of Santa, Dasya or any other mood, which, when properly established between him and his chosen Ideal, would easily take him forward on the path of progress.
Let not any man think that Sri Ramakrishna had less grace on and compassion for house-holder devotees when he hears of his greater zeal in teaching the boys. He did not ask them to practise and study the higher spiritual truths, only because he knew that many of them had no time or capacity to do so. But he guided them constantly so that they might gradually diminish their lust or desire for gold and have the ideal of their lives achieved in due course by realizing God through the path of devotion. He taught them first of all to live in God’s world and not in their own and, while doing their duties, to give up all attachment, all sense of “mine”, like servants working in the houses of the rich. The Master encouraged them to observe continence according to their capacity. “Husband and wife”, he observed, “should offer their minds to God and live in the world like brother and sister when one or two children are born.” Besides, he directed them always to tread the path of truth and move with all in a simple, artless way; to give up luxury and remain contented with “plain food and clothing” only, fixing their gaze steadfastly on God; and to remember and think on God daily at the two junctures of the day and night and perform worship and Japa and sing Kirtan. He advised those householders who were unable to practise even that, to sit in a secluded place at dusk and take the name of Hari while clapping their hands. He advised them also to congregate with their relatives and friends and sing the name of God. At the time of giving instruction to men and women in general, he was heard to say, “Devotion according to Narada, is the only path in the Kaliyuga; people will be saved if they but sing loudly the name of God. People of the Kaliyuga depend on food for their life; they are shortlived and of meagre powers; that is why such an easy path to the realization of God has been prescribed for them” Again, sometimes he would say, (lest they should lose heart by hearing of Yoga, meditation, etc., the difficult paths of Sadhana), “A man who has turned a monk must, of course, call on the divine Lord. For, it is for this very purpose that he has renounced all the duties of the world. What credit or uniqueness is there in his doing so? But God becomes highly pleased with one who remembers Him even once while he carries the very heavy load of duties towards father, mother, wife, son and others in the world. God thinks, ‘It is no small credit on the part of this man that he can turn to Me even for a short while, in spite of so heavy a burden lying on his shoulders. This man is indeed a hero among devotees’.”
Words fail us to express how high a station the Master gave to Narendra even among the especial devotees seen by him in visions, let alone the ordinary class of devotees, the newcomers. Pointing but some amongst the devotees previously seen in visions, he said, “They are Isvarakotis, in other words, they have been born in this world to accomplish a particular work of the divine Lord.” Comparing Narendra with those few men, one day he said to us, “Naren is a lotus of a thousand petals, while the other few are lotuses no doubt, but of ten, fifteen or at most twenty petals only.” He said on another occasion, “So many men have come here; but no one else like Naren has come.” It was also seen that no one could so correctly understand and express as Narendra did the import of the Master’s words and the extraordinary actions of his wonderful life. Hearing the Master’s words from Narendra even at that time, we were astonished and were led to think, “Ah! We also heard these words from the Master but could not understand that they had such deep meaning.” We mention here one such case as an example.
Some time in 1884, a friend of ours came to Dakshineswar and found the Master sitting in his room surrounded by devotees. Narendra also was present there. Various spiritual talks, interspersed with merriment, were going on. There arose the topic of the Vaishnava religion in the course or the conversation and, explaining briefly the essence of that doctrine to all, the Master said, “That doctrine teaches that one should always be careful to observe three things, namely, a taste for God’s name, kindness to all beings and the worship of Vaishnavas. God is what the name is; knowing the nondifference between the name and the possessor of the name, one should always take His name with love and devotion; knowing the identity of the devotee and the Divine, of the Vaishnava and Krishna, one should always respect, worship and salute holy men, the devotees; and one should have the conviction in one’s heart that the whole universe belongs to Krishna; therefore, compassion for all beings is what one should practise.” No sooner had he uttered the words, “compassion for all beings”, than he suddenly went into ecstasy. Regaining partial normal consciousness in a short time, he continued, ”Talk of compassion for beings! Will you, all little animals, bestow compassion on beings? You wretch, who are you to bestow it? No, no; not compassion to Jivas but service to them as Siva.”
All went on listening to those words of the Master spoken in that ecstatic mood; but none could detect and understand their hidden import at that time. It was Narendranath alone who, coming out of the room at the end of the Master’s ecstasy said, “Ah, What a wonderful light have I got today from the Master’s words! In synthesizing the Vedantic knowledge, which was generally regarded as dry, austere and even cruel, with sweet devotion to the Lord, what a new mellowed means of experiencing the Truth has he revealed today! In order to attain the non-dual knowledge, we have been told so long, one should have to renounce the world and the company of men altogether and retire to the forest and mercilessly uproot and throw away love, devotion and other soft and tender emotions from the heart. Formerly when the aspirant tried to attain that knowledge in the old way, he regarded the whole universe and each person in it as obstacles to the path of religion and contracting therefore a hatred for them, he more often than not went astray. But, from what the Master in ecstasy said today, it is gathered that the Vedanta of the forest can be brought to human habitation and that it can be applied in practice to the work-a-day world. Let man do everything he is doing; there is no harm in that; it is sufficient for him, first, to be fully convinced that it is God who exists, manifested before him as the universe and all the beings in it. Those, with whom he comes in contact every moment of his life, whom he loves, respects and honours, and to whom his sympathy and kindness flow, are all His parts, are all He Himself. If he can thus look upon all the persons of the world as Siva, how can there be an occasion for him to regard himself as superior to them or cherish anger and hatred for them or an arrogant attitude towards them, yes, or to be even kind to them? Thus serving the Jivas as Siva, he will have his heart purified and be convinced in a short time that he himself is also a part of God, the eternally pure, awake and free, and bliss Absolute.
“We get a great light on the path of devotion too from these words of the Master. Until he sees God in all beings, the aspirant has not the remotest chance of realizing true transcendental devotion. If the devout aspirant serves the Jivas as Siva or Narayana, he, it is superfluous to say, will see God in all, attain true devotion and have the aim of his life fulfilled in a short time. Those aspirants who adopt the path of action or that of concentration for the realization of God, will also get much light from these words. For, as embodied beings can never rest for a moment without doing work, it goes without saying that it is only the work of the service of Jivas as Siva that should be performed, and action done in that spirit will enable them to reach the goal sooner than otherwise. If the divine Lord ever grants me an opportunity, I’ll proclaim everywhere in the world this wonderful truth I have heard today. I will preach this truth to the learned and the ignorant, to the rich and the poor, to the Brahmins and the Chandalas.”
The extraordinary Master always entered the realm of ecstasy in this way and constantly brought wonderful light regarding knowledge, love, Yoga and Karma to illumine the path of human life. But unfortunate as we were, we could not then comprehend the implication of his words. It was the supremely intelligent Narendranath who understood those divine words as far as it was humanly possible and expressed from time to time their sublime significance to our amazement.