1. The Master’s words about Narendra’s greatness

The Master’s keen insight readily detected from the beginning that Narendra’s pure mind and heart were always actuated by high ideals, in whatever work they were seen engaged at any time. This was why the daily behaviour of the Master with Narendra had a rare delicacy about it. The Master, who himself observed many rules regarding eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, etc., as well as meditating, counting the beads, etc., in order to encourage his devotees to do likewise, lest their devotion should suffer, used to say unhesitatingly again and again in the presence of all, that no harm would befall Narendra if he did not observe those rules. “Narendra is eternally perfect”; “He is perfect in meditation”; “The fire of knowledge, ever ablaze in him, reduces to ashes all blemishes pertaining to food1; his mind, therefore, will not be tarnished or distracted even if he takes whatever he likes at any place and from any person”; “He daily cuts to pieces Maya’s bondages with the sword of knowledge; Mahamaya, therefore, fails to bring him under Her control”. Ah, how profuse were the Master’s expressions of praise for Narendra, which kept us mute with surprise!

2. The Master gave Narendra the food brought by the Marwari devotees

The Marwari devotees came to pay their obeisance to the Master and made presents to him of various articles of food, such as candy, nuts, almonds, various pistachios, etc. The Master himself took nothing of these; neither did he give them to any one of the devotees that were there with him He said, “They (the Marwaris) do not know at all how to make gifts without a motive; at the time of offering even a roll of betel to a holy man, they attach to it prayers for the fulfilment of a large number of desires; this does a good deal of harm to one’s devotion when one takes food given by such persons.” The question, therefore, arose what should be done with the things given by them. The Master said, “Go and give them to Narendra. He will not be hurt if he takes them”

3. Narendra’s devotion would not be affected by eating those things

Narendra one day took his meal in a hotel and came and said to the Master, “Sir, today I have eaten in the hotel what all people call forbidden food.” He knew that Narendra said so, not because he wanted to get credit for his act, but in order that the Master might be fore-warned, if, on the score of Narendra’s act, he had any objection to touch him or use the utensils like water-pots, cups, etc., that were there in his room. Out came the reply from the Master, “No blemish will touch you on that account; if anyone eats pork and beef but keeps his mind fixed on the divine Lord, it is like taking the sacred Havishya; on the other hand, if anyone eats greens and vegetables but is immersed in worldly desires, it is not in any respect better than eating pork and beef. I don’t consider it wrong on your part — this taking of forbidden food; but had any one of them (pointing to all others) come and told me so, I could not have even touched him.”

4. Narendra made progress on account to the Master’s love for him and surrendered himself to him

It is almost impossible to explain exactly to the reader the love, praise and liberty in all matters that Narendra had from the Master since they met for the first time. It is doubtful whether a parallel to this behaviour in which the teacher leads a large-minded disciple with so much reverence for his internal powers, can be found anywhere in the whole spiritual history of the world. The Master could not remain satisfied without speaking out all his innermost thoughts to Narendra; he wished to consult him on all matters. He made those persons who came to him argue against him and thus tested the strength of their faith and intellect. He never requested him to accept anything as true without thoroughly testing it. This behaviour of the Master, it is superfluous to say, increased a hundredfold in a very short time Narendra’s devotion, reverence and self-confidence, his capacity for personal endeavour and love of truth. This infinite confidence and love of the Master surrounded Narendra on all sides like an impregnable wall and protected him from all kinds of temptations and mean conduct without his knowledge, thus letting him indulge in his natural love of unbounded freedom Narendra’s love for the Master grew so deep and intense that he surrendered himself to him for all eternity within a year of his first meeting him But did he then know how far the current of the Master’s selfless love carried him forward towards the goal of life? Perhaps not. Blissfully filled and contented as his heart was with a heavenly joy never felt before, Narendra was yet to know how unique and unattainable a thing it was — a thing coveted even by the gods. For, with his experience of the extremely selfish and hard-hearted world, he had no object with which to compare this rare love. It will not be out of place here to give a few examples to make this clear to the reader.

5. The Master made Sri M. argue with Narendra

Sri M., the author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, had the good fortune of meeting the Master at Dakshineswar in the month of March of the year 1882, a few months afer Narendra had come to him. He himself has recorded in that book how he had the opportunity of coming to the Master a few times at short intervals as he was then living at Baranagar and how a few ironical remarks of the Master removed his pride of learning and converted him for ever into a humble scholar. Narendra said, “One day at that time I spent a night with the Master at Dakshineswar. I was sitting quiet for some time under the Panchavati, when the Master suddenly came there and catching hold of my hand, said smiling, ‘Your intellect and learning will be examined today. You have passed two and a half examinations only; a teacher who has passed three and a half2 has come today. Come, let me see how you fare in conversation with him’ Willy-nilly, I had to go with the Master. When I reached his room and was introduced to M., I began to talk with him on various subjects. Having thus engaged us in a talk the Master sat silent and went on listening to our words and observing us. Afterwards, when Sri M. took leave and went away, he said, ‘What matters it, even if he has passed those examinations? The teacher is womanish in character — shy. He cannot talk with emphasis.’ Thus pitting me against others, the Master enjoyed the fun.”

6. Kedarnath Chattopadhyaya, the devotee

Kedarnath Chattopadhyaya was one of the lay devotees of the Master. He, it seems, used to visit the Master for some time before Narendra came to Dakshineswar. As he was employed at Dacca in East Bengal, he could not often come to the Master except during vacations, like that of the autumn worship of the Mother of the universe. Kedar was a devotee and Sadhaka and engaged himself in the practice of the spiritual moods and attitudes described in the Vaishnava scriptures. He shed tears when he heard devotional songs etc. The Master, therefore, praised him before all. Seeing Kedar’s faith and devotion, many people of Dacca developed great respect and reverence for him Many, again, tried to mould their spiritual lives according to his instructions. When too many people began to come to the Master, he sometimes got tired of discussing religious topics with all; and we are told, one day, when he was in ecstasy, he prayed to the divine Mother, “Mother, I cannot talk so much; give a little power to Kedar, Ram, Girish and Vijay3, so that people may go to them first, learn a little, and at last come here (to me) to have their spiritual awakening in a word or two.” But this was long afterwards.

7. Kedar’s power of reasoning. He was introduced to Narendra

Taking leave for some time from his duties, Kedar came to Calcutta and had the opportunity of visiting the Master now and then. Having that Sadhaka and devotee by his side, the Master was delighted and started talking with him on religious topics and introduced other devotees to him One day Narendra came to the Master during that period and saw Kedar with him While he was singing devotional songs at the Master’s request, Narendra observed Kedar entering into ecstasy. Afterwards, the Master set Narendra to reason with Kedar. Kedar was a good debater in his own way, and used sarcastic words now and then to point out the unreasonableness of the words of the opponent. The words with which he silenced his opponent one day were much liked by the Master. If any one raised similar questions before him (the Master), he very often said that Kedar had given such and such a reply to such a question. That day the opponent raised the question, “If God is actually merciful, why has He created so much pain and misery, suppression and oppression? Why do thousands of people die of starvation during famines from time to time?” Kedar replied, “I was unfortunately not invited by the Lord to attend the meeting in which He, in spite of His being merciful, decided to keep going pain and misery, tyranny and oppression in His creation. How then, can I know the reason?” But Kedar had to be silenced that day in the presence of all by Narendra’s keen intellect.

8. Asked by the Master, Narendra gave his own opinion about Kedar

The Master asked Narendra after Kedar left, “Well, how did you find him? Have you noticed his great devotion to the Lord? He shed tears at the very mention of the Lord’s name. One whose eyes pour forth streams of tears at the name of Hari, is a person liberated in life; Kedar is splendid — isn’t he?” The immaculate and vigorous Narendra hated from the bottom of his heart those persons who, having a male body, assumed a womanish attitude, be it for the sake of religion or for any other reason. That a man should approach God and find relief in weeping instead of confirming his own determination and perseverance, always appeared to him to be an insult to his manliness. Although entirely dependent on God, a man, he opined, should always remain a man and should surrender himself to Him like a man. Therefore, unable to approve whole-heartedly those words of the Master, he said, “But, sir, how can I know it? You know people’s nature, it is for you to say it. Otherwise, simply by seeing a man weeping and wailing, one can never know if he is good or bad. If a man gazes at a point intensely for some time, the lachrymal ducts and glands are strained and tears flow. Again, most of those who weep singing or listening to songs describing Srimati’s separation from Sri Krishna, do so, there is no doubt, by remembering their own separation from their wives or by ideally placing themselves in that condition. People like me, perfectly unacquainted with that condition, will not easily feel inclined like others to weep even when listening to Mathur-kirtan4, noted for its pathos.” Thus, when asked, Narendra always gave his independent opinions fearlessly to the Master on matters he knew to be true. The Master too was always pleased with this, and was never displeased. For, the Master who knew people’s hearts, certainly felt that Narendra, to whom truth was life, had not on his conscience the slightest burden of a trifling fib, or, as the Master would himself put it, “He had kept the inner chamber of his mind clear of dubious expressions.”

9. Narendra scolded Rakhal for worshipping God with form. Rakhal was afraid. They were reconciled by the Master

Narendra had joined the Brahmo Samaj shortly before he met the Master. He had then signed the pledge of the Brahmo Samaj to the effect that he would believe in the only God who is one and formless, and worship, and meditate on Him alone. But the idea of becoming a ritualistic Brahmo by adopting the social usages and customs prevalent in the Samaj, never crossed his mind. Rakhal had been known to Narendra before and used to spend much time with him. It was not a matter of surprise that, charmed with the loving behaviour of Narendra, Rakhal who possessed the soft gentle nature of a child reposed trust in him and was regulated in all matters by his strong will-power. Therefore, advised by Narendra, he also signed that pledge of the Brahmo Samaj then. Rakhal met the Master shortly afterwards, and, instructed by him, the dormant love for the worship of God with forms was once more awakened in Rakhal’s heart. Narendra began visiting the Master a few months later and was highly pleased to see Rakhal there. Rakhal, he found a few days afterwards, went with the Master to the temple and bowed down to the images of the deities. The truthful Narendra was chagrined at that, and reminding Rakhal of his former pledge, reproved him thus: “You have been guilty of false conduct inasmuch as you have signed the pledge of the Brahmo Samaj and yet go to the temple and bow down to the deities.” The gentle-natured Rakhal remained silent when his friend spoke those words and was afraid and hesitant to meet him since then. Knowing afterwards the reason why Rakhal behaved in that manner, the Master explained the matter in sweet words and convincingly to Narendra and said to him affectionately, “Look here, don’t blame Rakhal any more; he shrinks from you; he has now faith in God with form; so, what can he do? Can every one have the conception of the formless God from the very beginning?” Narendra also desisted from blaming Rakhal since then.

10. The Master attempted to lead Narendra to the doctrine of non-dualism. Narendra’s protests

The Master understood that Narendra was a highly qualified person in the domain of spirituality and tried to infuse into him the belief in the truth of non-dualism from the very first day he met him. He used to give him books like the Ashtavakra Samhita to read as soon as he came to Dakshineswar. But books like these then appeared to be blasphemous and atheistic in the eyes of Narendra, engaged in the dualistic mode of worship of the formless Brahman with attributes. As soon as he had read a little at the request of the Master, he blurted out, “What is the difference between this and atheism? Should the created Jiva think of himself as the Creator? What can be more sinful than this? What ideas can be more unreasonable than saying, ‘I am God, you are God, all things that are born and die are God.’ The brains of the Rishis and Munis, the authors of such books, must have been deranged; how otherwise, could they have written such things?” The Master smiled to hear these words of the plainspeaking Narendra, but, instead of suddenly attacking his spiritual attitude, he said, “You may not accept them now; but why do you condemn the Munis and Rishis because of that? And why do you put a limit to the nature of God? Go on calling on Him who is Truth itself and then believe that to be His true nature in which He will reveal Himself to you.” But Narendra did not give ear to these words of the Master. For, whatever was not established by reason then appeared to him to be untrue and it was his nature to stand against all kinds of untruth. He, therefore, did not hesitate to adduce reasons against the doctrine of non-dualism to many besides the Master and use even sarcastic words from time to time.

11. Pratapchandra Hazra

A person named Pratapchandra Hazra used to live in the garden at Dakshineswar at that time. Pratap’s worldly circumstances were not now affluent as before. Therefore, in spite of his attempts at spiritual attainments, a desire for money very often got the upper hand in his mind. But keeping it secret to himself he would speak of high selfless service to the Lord and try to gain praise thereby. Calculation of loss and gain at every step became so natural to him that even at the time of practising religion he could not forgo it; and the idea of attaining some miraculous power by means of Japa, austerities, etc., with which he could satisfy his desire for money, seemed sometimes to creep into his mind. The Master knew that attitude of his mind from the very first day and advised him to call on God giving up all ulterior motives. But the weak-minded Hazra did not only disobey his advice, but, under the urge of pride, delusion and self-interest, preached, whenever he had leisure, to those who came to see the Master, that he too was not a lesser Sadhu. But along with this, he seemed to have in his mind a little real desire of becoming honest. This was evident from the fact that although the Master knew of this conduct of his and although he sometimes scolded him sharply for it, he did not drive him away from there once for all. But he warned some of us against mixing much with him, saying, “That fellow, Hazra, has a great calculating mind; don’t give ear to him.”

12. Narendra was pleased with Hazra’s intellectual capacity

With other good and bad qualities, Hazra had a sceptical temperament. Compared with other persons of similar education, he was quite intelligent. Therefore, he could understand a little of the discussion on the doctrines of the Western agnostic philosophers carried on by English-educated persons like Narendra. The intelligent Narendra was, therefore, pleased with him and spent at his convenience an hour or two in conversation with Hazra whenever he came to Dakshineswar. Hazra, of course, had to bend his head before Narendra’s keen intellect. He listened with great attention to Narendra’s words and sometimes prepared a smoke for him Seeing that attitude of Narendra towards Hazra, many of us said jokingly, “Mr. Hazra is Narendra’s ‘ferend’ (friend).”

13. How the Master behaved during Narendra’s visits to Dakshineswar

The Master happened very often to go into ecstasy as soon as he saw Narendra come to Dakshineswar. Afterwards, when he regained partial consciousness, he quite joyfully used to have long spiritual talks with him. At those times he tried through words and deeds to infuse high spiritual truths into his mind. Now and then he would feel like hearing devotional songs but as soon as he heard the very sweet voice of Narendra, he would enter into ecstasy once more. But Narendra’s songs would not stop on that account. He became absorbed and went on singing songs, one after another, for a few hours. When the Master regained partial consciousness, he sometimes requested Narendra to sing a particular song. But he would not be fully satisfied till at last he had heard from Narendra the song, “Thou art whatever there is.” Afterwards some time was spent in talking about various hidden truths of the non-dual doctrine, such as the difference between Jiva and Isvara, the real nature of Jiva and Brahman and so on and so forth. Thus there was a strong surge of bliss whenever Narendra came to Dakshineswar.

14. Narendra joined Hazra in ridiculing the truth of non-dualism. The Master touched Narendra in a mood of spiritual inebriation

One day the Master told Narendra many things indicating the oneness of Jiva and Brahman of the non-dual philosophy. Narendra heard those words, undoubtedly with attention, but could not comprehend them and went to Hazra at the end of the Master’s talk. Smoking and discussing those things again with Hazra, he said, “Can it ever be possible that the water-pot is God, the cup is God, whatever we see and all of us are God?” Hazra also joined Narendra in ridiculing the idea and both of them burst into laughter. The Master was till then in the state of partial consciousness. Hearing Narendra laugh, he came out of his room like a boy with his cloth in his arm-pit and, coming to them smiling, said affectionately, “What are you both talking about?” He then touched Narendra and went into ecstasy.

15. As a result, Narendra had a wonderful experience

Narendra said to us afterwards, “There was a complete revolution in the state of my mind in a moment at the wonderful touch of the Master. I was aghast to see actually that there was nothing in the whole universe except God. But I remained silent in spite of seeing it, wondering how long that state would last. But that inebriation did not at all diminish that day. I returned home; it was all the same there; it seemed to me that all that I saw was He. I sat for my meal when I saw that all — food, plate, the one who was serving as well as I myself — were nothing but He. I took a mouthful or two and sat quiet. My mother’s affectionate words — ‘Why do you sit quiet; why don’t you eat?’ — brought me to consciousness and I began eating again. Thus, I had that experience at the time of eating or drinking, sitting or lying, going to the college or taking a stroll. I was always overwhelmed with a sort of indescribable intoxication. When I walked along the streets and saw a carriage coming along before me, I did not feel inclined, as at other times, to move away lest it should collide with me. For, I thought, ‘I am also that and nothing but that.’ My hands and feet always remained insensible at that time. I felt no satisfaction whatever when I took my food. It seemed to me as if someone else was eating the meal. Sometimes I lay down while eating and got up in a short time to continue eating. On some days I thus ate much more than the usual quantity of food. But that did not bring about any disease. My mother was afraid and said, ‘You, I find, are internally suffering from a terrible disease.’ Again she sometimes said, ‘He will live no more.’ When that overwhelming intoxication diminished a little, the world appeared to me to be a dream. Going for a walk on the bank of the Hedua tank, I knocked my head against the iron railings round it to see whether what I saw were dream-rails or actual ones. On account of the insensibility of my hands and feet I was afraid that I might be going to have paralysis. I could not escape that terrible intoxicating mood and overwhelming condition for some time. When I came to the normal state, I thought that that was the indication of non-dual knowledge. So what is written in the scriptures about it is by no means untrue. Since then I could never doubt the truth of non-duality.”

16. The result of the author’s conversation with Narendra on one occasion

On another occasion we heard of another wonderful event also from Narendra. He mentioned it to us in the winter of 1884 when we had become very familiar with him. But we infer that the event occurred at this time. Therefore we narrate it to the reader here. We remember that we went to Narendra’s house at Gaur Mohan Mukherjee’s Street in Simla, a little before midday on that occasion and were with him till eleven at night. Swami Ramakrishnananda also was with us that day. The heavenly attraction that we felt for Narendra since we had first met one another, became multiplied a thousand times that day by the dispensation of Providence. The only opinion that we entertained about the Master before was that he was a perfected man, that is, a person who had known God. But that day the words of Narendra about the Master penetrated into our hearts and shed a new light on our minds. The extraordinary events, like those recorded in the biographies of great souls, the teachers of the world, such as the holy and glorious Jesus, Chaitanya and others, which we had read about and had been disbelieving so long, were, we understood that day, taking place daily in the Master’s life. He granted devotion to those who had taken refuge in him, by a touch or by untying at will the knots of their past impressions. He made them enter into ecstasy and realize divine Bliss. Or he changed the course of their lives into spiritual channels in such a way that the realization of God followed very soon and they were blessed for all eternity. Narendra, we remember, took us for a walk at dusk that day to the banks of the Hedua tank while relating the divine experiences he had had in his life by the grace of the Master. Immersed in his self, he remained silent for some time and at last there burst out in a song sung in his charming voice the wonderful bliss of his heart:

“Gora Ray distributes the wealth of love.
Nitai Chand calls ‘come, come’;
Come, O you, who long to have it.
Jarfuls of love are being poured out,
Yet it does not get exhausted.
Santipur is being flooded and Nadia is swept off.
Nadia is swept off by the current of Gora’s love.”

17. Narendra mentioned a wonderful incident

The song came to an end. In a soliloquy, as it were, Narendra said gently, “He is actually distributing love. Gora Ray is bestowing love, devotion, divine knowledge, liberation and whatever else one may desire, on whomsoever he likes. Oh, the wonderful power! (He sat silent and motionless for a while.) I was lying on my bed at night with the door of my room bolted from within, when he suddenly attracted me and took me — the one that lives within this body — to Dakshineswar. Giving a great deal of instruction to me and talking on various subjects, he allowed me to return. He can do anything he likes; this Gora Ray of Dakshineswar can do anything.”

18. Entering the author’s house Narendra had a unique experience

The darkness of dusk had intensified into a jet-black night. We could not see each other; nor was it necessary. For, the glowing mass of Narendra’s spiritual emotion had entered deep into our heart and produced such an intoxication in our mind that even its frame, the body, was actually reeling and the real world existing so long had, as it were, receded to a realm of dream. Moreover, the truth that under the impulse of pure, unalloyed grace the infinite God appears to be finite as a human being, sets in motion the wheel of religion destroying the bondage of the past impressions of thousands of Jivas — the truth which, according to the majority of the people of the world, is but a fib of the imagination — then stood revealed to us in its living, blazing form How time slid away we did not know. But suddenly we heard the clock strike nine. I was reluctantly thinking of taking leave of Narendra, when he said, “Come, let us go. I’ll accompany you for a short distance.” As we were going, similar interesting topics were started and we became soon absorbed in them It occurred to us when we reached home near Champatala, that it was foolish on our part to have let Narendra come so far. Therefore, inviting him to the house, we asked him to take a little refreshment, which done, we accompanied him up to his house, and returned. I remember distinctly another incident of that day. As soon as he entered our house, Narendra stood motionless saying, “I feel I have seen this house before. I find everything here is all known to me; all the rooms and the ways leading to them are all fully known to me. Oh, how strange and wonderful!” The reader might remember that we described before in another place that Narendra had such experiences in his life from time to time and what he said about the cause of such phenomena. So we do not repeat them here.

  1. ^The Hindu believes that each article of food that he takes builds not only his physical being, but also his moral and spiritual being, by increasing or decreasing the lethargy, energy and keenness of the mind and the sense-organs — Tr.
  2. ^Narendra was then studying for his B.A. examination and Sri M. had passed that examination and was studying law (B.L.). The Master put these facts in that way.
  3. ^Kedarnath Chattopadhyaya, Ramchandra Datta, Girishchandra Ghosh and Vijaykrishna Goswami.
  4. ^Describing the intense pang of separation of the Gopis of Vrindavan at the departure of Krishna to Mathura. — Tr.