Tuesday, 29 April 2014

11. The Last Days

During the summer of 1885, Sri Ramakrishna suffered terribly because of the heat. Some devotees started bringing ice to prepare cold drinks for him. One of the young disciples, Shashi used to carry ice cubes, carefully wrapped in papers, walking all the distance from his home to Dakshineswar.

Several weeks later, Ramakrishna started to feel pain in the throat. Though, medication was prescribed, it proved futile. Soon, it was diagnosed that he was suffering from throat cancer. Though it was incurable, for better medical treatment, the doctors suggested him to move to Kolkata. Therefore, Sri Ramakrishna moved to Syampukur first, and then later to a suburb called Kasipur.

On December 11, 1885, Sri Ramakrishna shifted to the garden house of Kasipur. Here, he stayed for eight months until his Mahasamadhi. It was a two-storeyed house surrounded by flower garden and orchards. The air was cool and clean. In its secluded atmosphere, Sri Ramakrishna spent his last days with his intimate disciples.
Sarada Devi assisted by some women devotees, took charge of cooking the meals for Sri Ramakrishna and his attendants. Some of the young unmarried disciples, Narendra, Rakhal, Shashi, Baburam, Latu, Tarak, Niranjan, Yogin, Sarat, the elder Gopal, Kali and the younger Gopal came to stay with him and take care of him. The householder disciples took charge of the rental and other expenses. The doctor, who came to treat him, offered his service free of charge.

In the Kasipur garden house, Sri Ramakrishna trained his beloved disciple Narendra. He knew Narendra was the man to lead all the other disciples to carry out his message to the world. Day after day, he called Narendra to his room and instructed him. One day, he scribbled on a piece of paper: “Narendra will teach.” Narendra’s protest was futile as Ramakrishna emphasised, “Even your very bones will do it.” 

As days go on, Sri Ramakrishna could hardly speak and used gestures to communicate. At times, the pain in the throat increased and he vomited blood. Yet, despite all this, Ramakrishna did not stop giving instruction and solace to those who came to him.

One day, a scholar suggested that a yogi could cure his own illness by concentrating his mind on the affected part of the body. Therefore, Ramakrishna also could do the same. Hearing these words, Ramakrishna rebuked the scholar and added, “I have given my mind to the Divine Mother.  How can I bring down my mind to this worthless cage of flesh?” 

After the scholar left the place, the disciples tried to cajole Ramakrishna to cure his illness, at least for their sake. Finally, he agreed to pray to the Divine Mother to alleviate his pain. Then, a few hours later, he said to Narendra: “I told the Mother that because of the pain, I could not eat anything. I asked Her to make it possible for me to eat a little. The Mother pointed to all of you and said, ‘Are you not eating through all these mouths?’ I felt ashamed and kept silent.” Hearing these words, the disciples understood that there was no more hope that Ramakrishna would recover.  

It was January 1, 1886. Many of the devotees had come from Kolkata. Around afternoon, Ramakrishna came down to stroll in the garden and stood under a mango tree. Seeing Girish, he said, “Well, I heard that you are proclaiming to everyone that I am an incarnation of God. What made you say so?” Girish knelt down, and with folded hands said, “What can a worthless person like me say about the One whose glory, even sages like Vyasa and Valmiki could not measure?” Touched by this sincere word, Sri Ramakrishna said, “What more shall I say? I bless all of you. Be illumined.” These words acted like a spell. The whole place was filled with bliss and joy. All the devotees present, rushed to Sri Ramakrishna and touched his feet. Without any restriction he blessed them all and granted them spiritual experiences, according to everyone’s temperament.  

One day, Sri Ramakrishna called all his young disciples and distributed a piece of ochre cloth of the monk and a Rudraksha garland to every one. Then, he ordered them to go for begging in the fashion of traditional monks. When the young monks came with their bhiksha, Ramakrishna joyfully partook the offering.  

During the last few days of his life, Sri Ramakrishna called Narendra to his side. Looking intently at Narendra, he then went into Samadhi. Narendra felt a subtle force entering his body and he lost consciousness. When he regained his normal state of mind, he found Ramakrishna was weeping. With choked voice, Ramakrishna said: “Naren, today I have given you my all. Today I have become a fakir. With the powers that you just received, you shall do great works for the good of the world.” 

A few days later, Ramakrishna and Narendra were alone in the room. Looking at Ramakrishna’s face, Narendra thought: “If now, at the verge of death, he admits that he is an Incarnation, then, I shall believe him.” Ramakrishna, smiled and said, “Even now, do you doubt? He who was Rama, and He who was Krishna, is now in this body as Ramakrishna, but not in your Vedantic sense.”  Embarrassed for doubting Sri Ramakrishna, Naren hung his head. 

At midnight on Sunday, August 18, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna attained Mahasamadhi. His body was consigned to the flames at the bank of the Ganges. Some of the disciples, in the company of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi set out on pilgrimage. 

Two months later, the young disciples led by Narendra, started their monastery at Baranagore. Here, they worshiped the Holy Ashes of Sri Ramakrishna. Day and night, they practiced intense spiritual practices, like meditation, Japa, singing devotional songs, and studying the various religious scriptures. After many years of struggle, Narendra built a temple at the Belur Math, where the Holy Ashes were enshrined permanently. Belur Math, since then became the center for the propagation of Sri Ramakrishna’s ideals. 

 Sri Ramakrishna's Image Worshipped in Belur Math

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For more information on Sri Ramakrishna, please visit the official website of Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission - www.belurmath.org

12. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Mahendranath Gupta, or popularly known as  M. had taken down the conversations of Sri Ramakrishna (the Master) and later published it as Kathamrita in Bengali. This book was translated into English  by Swami Nikhilananda as ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’.

Some extracts from the book are given here.
God and worldly duties
M. (humbly):"How ought we to live in the world?"

MASTER: "Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God.  Live with all - with wife and children, father and mother - and serve them.  Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you. 

"A maidservant in the house of a rich man performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village.  She brings up her Master's children as if they were her own.  She even speaks of them as 'my Rāma' or 'my Hari'.  But in her own mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all.
"The tortoise moves about in the water.  But can you guess where her thoughts are? There on the bank, where her eggs are lying.  Do all your duties in the world, but keep your mind on God. 

"If you enter the world without first cultivating love for God, you will be entangled more and more.  You will be overwhelmed with its danger, its grief, and its sorrows.  And the more you think of worldly things, the more you will be attached to them. 

Respect for other faiths
(To Kedār and the other devotees) "God can be realized through all paths.  All religions are true.  The important thing is to reach the roof.  You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope.  You can also climb up by a bamboo pole. 
Many names of one God
"You may say that there are many errors and superstitions in another religion.  I should reply: Suppose there are.  Every religion has errors.  Everyone thinks that his watch alone gives the correct time.  It is enough to have yearning for God.  It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don't you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul.  Suppose a man has several sons.  The older boys address him distinctly as 'Baba' or 'Papa', but the babies can at best call him 'Ba' or 'Pa'.  Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well.  All children are the same to the father.  Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names.  They call on one Person only.  God is one, but His names are many."

Futility of mere lecturing
"What can you achieve by mere lecturing and scholarship without discrimination and dispassion? God alone is real, and all else is unreal.  God alone is substance, and all else is nonentity.  That is discrimination. 

"First of all set up God in the shrine of your heart, and then deliver lectures as much as you like.  How will the mere repetition of 'Brahma' profit you if you are not imbued with discrimination and dispassion? It is the empty sound of a conch-shell.
"There lived in a village a young man named Padmalochan.  People used to call him 'Podo', for short.  In this village there was a temple in a very dilapidated condition.  It contained no image of God.  Aśwattha and other plants sprang up on the ruins of its walls.  Bats lived inside, and the floor was covered with dust and the droppings of the bats.  The people of the village had stopped visiting the temple.  One day after dusk the villagers heard the sound of a conch-shell from the direction of the temple.  They thought perhaps someone had installed an image in the shrine and was performing the evening worship.  One of them softly opened the door and saw Padmalochan standing in a corner, blowing the conch.  No image had been set up.  The temple hadn't been swept or washed.  And filth and dirt lay everywhere.  Then he shouted to Podo: 

You have set up no image here,
Within the shrine, O fool!
Blowing the conch, you simply make
Confusion worse confounded. 
Day and night eleven bats
Scream there incessantly. 

Extracts form Purification of mind
"There is no use in merely making a noise if you want to establish the Deity in the shrine of your heart, if you want to realize God.  First of all purify the mind.  In the pure heart God takes His seat.  One cannot bring the holy image into the temple if the droppings of bats are all around.  The eleven bats are our eleven organs: five of action, five of perception, and the mind. 

"First of all invoke the Deity, and then give lectures to your heart's content.  First of all dive deep.  Plunge to the bottom and gather up the gems.  Then you may do other things.  But nobody wants to plunge.  People are without spiritual discipline and prayer, without renunciation and dispassion.  They learn a few words and immediately start to deliver lectures.  It is difficult to teach others.  Only if a man gets a command from God, after realizing Him, is he entitled to teach.”

Parable of the chameleon
"Listen to a story.  Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree.  He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red colour on a certain tree.  The second man replied: 'When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal.  But why do you call it red? It is green.' Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow.  Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on.  At last they started quarrelling among themselves.  To settle the dispute they all went to the tree.  They saw a man sitting under it.  On being asked, he replied: 'Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well.  All your descriptions are true.  Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth.  It is a chameleon.  And sometimes it has no colour at all.  Now it has a colour, and now it has none.'

"In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects.  God has attributes; then again He has none.  Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colours, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no colour at all.  It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument.

"Kabir used to say, 'The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.'

"God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most.  His love for the devotee knows no bounds.”

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For more information on Sri Ramakrishna, please visit the official website of 
Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission - http://www.belurmath.org/