The Holy Mother

By Swami Bhuteshananda

Swami Bhuteshananda, former President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, was a disciple of Swami Saradananda. This article was taken from Sarada Devi: The Great Wonder.

It is very difficult to speak about the Holy Mother. As a matter of fact, when we were young people in the Order we never spoke publicly about the Holy Mother, nor was even her picture shown to outside world except to those who were very close devotees. We wanted to keep the Mother exclusively within our hearts. We wanted to keep her away from public gaze thinking that the public would not understand her and she would not herself like to come into the limelight.

As we knew her, she was extremely shy. Even when appearing before her devotees, she used to conceal herself within the folds of a thick sheet of cloth, and the devotees could hardly see anything of her except a portion of her feet. That was how the Holy Mother was even in the midst of her devotees. Therefore, naturally, we felt great hesitation in exposing her to the public. But Sri Ramakrishna viewed it otherwise. Sri Ramakrishna himself kept her hidden in the beginning, so much so that during the day time the Mother would not come out of the house, the Nahabat or the concert building—a small structure which was then aptly called a “cage.”

She kept herself “imprisoned,” as it were, in that small room for the whole day and would come out only for her bath very early in the morning when it was all dark and nobody was there near about. After her bath she would sit for meditation for long hours and then engage herself in serving Sri Ramakrishna by preparing his food etc., and serving the devotees also who used to come and stay with the Master.

However great her longing might have been to enjoy the spiritual companionship of the Master and the disciples, she could not do it physically, though the music etc., would be going on just at a stone’s throw on the other side of the road, a small garden path where the Master used to have kirtan with the devotees. She could not have a glimpse of what was going on there except through a small hole in the partition made with bamboo mat around that concert room.

Sri Ramakrishna knew it and sometimes used to make fun of it. One day he said, “O Ramlal, see, the hole is becoming bigger.” The little hole was there and in order to have a better view, perhaps the Mother had made it a little bigger.

The Mother was very shy and Sri Ramakrishna also in the beginning did not advise her to be otherwise. Even the devotees would not meet the Mother except a fortunate few like Latu (Swami Adbhutananda). When anybody wanted to say something to her, he would just do so from outside and if the Mother was to give a reply, she would do that through somebody as an intermediary, and not directly. Such was the shyness of the Mother!

Once the manager of the temple said “We hear that the wife of Sri Ramakrishna stays here in the concert room, but we have never seen her though we are constantly staying in the same place.” They had no occasion to see her. As I mentioned, very early in the morning when it was absolutely dark she would come out, have her bath and then get inside her room and remain there for the whole day.

Later on the restriction was a little relaxed and she was permitted to carry food for the Master at noon and in the evening. That was the only opportunity she used to have for meeting the Master and that too was for a few minutes. Otherwise there was no occasion. What kind of training it was that the Master was giving her!

The Mother was the first disciple that Sri Ramakrishna had. She was the first disciple whom he began to teach not only things spiritual but even how to conduct herself in the world, with other people, as for instance, how the household is to be managed, how to behave among the people, how to organize while on a journey, etc. He would say: “While going by boat you should board last after seeing whether everything has been put there and come out last after seeing that everything has been taken from there.”

Likewise he would teach her how different types of people had to be treated. It is said that the Master would tell her how an oil lamp was to be trimmed so that there be the minimum consumption of oil. From worldly wisdom to the highest spiritual knowledge everything would come within the purview of his teaching. Sri Ramakrishna taught her what kind of mantra was necessary for bringing him down from a particular state of samadhi. That way she became familiar with the different types of spiritual ecstasies. Sri Ramakrishna also taught her how she should help him come down from the state of samadhi, how to behave with the boy disciples, how to look after them and all such codes of conduct.

What was the idea behind it? Was it simply that he thought it his duty as a husband to educate his wife? No, Sri Ramakrishna did not do anything which did not have a deeper meaning for an individual, but he did everything which would contribute to the ultimate good of the world. That has been the decision of the great observers of his life who have discovered that every act of his was for the good of humanity.

Even the ordinary things that he did had a deeper meaning than what was there on the surface. “Can you say why I married?” That was the question he put before his boy disciples. Naturally, nobody could say definitely why he married. Then he himself gave the answer. Sometimes he said, “You see, one has to go through all the samskaras. Marriage is supposed to be one of them.” At another time he mentioned just humorously, “If I had not married, who would give me this kind of food that would suit my stomach?” He did not have good digestion. So his food had to be prepared with the utmost care and only the Mother knew how to do it. Swami Saradananda, the author of Sri Ramakrishna–The Great Master has discussed this point in his biography of the Master as follows:

To our understanding it means that Sri Ramakrishna wanted to hold before the world an example as to how married life is to be lived so that it can lead to God-realization. It had to be taught not only through verbal instructions but an illustration was needed and such an illustration was his own life with the Holy Mother.

That is how the relation between the Master and the Holy Mother has got to be understood from the very beginning. She was a disciple who was taught everything by the Master.

As the Holy Mother was extremely shy, Sri Ramakrishna did not in the beginning make any effort to break that spell of shyness on her part, yet later on it was he again who sent some of the disciples to her on various occasions. The disciples sometimes wanted to ask some spiritual questions and he would direct them to the Holy Mother saying, “You ask her.” That was in the beginning unusual, but gradually this method was followed by the Master more systematically.

Why? What was the idea? The idea was, as Sri Ramakrishna mentioned, “You do not know she is Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. She has come to give wisdom and knowledge to the world. Now her role has to be played and she should get over her shyness and must be prepared for the role she is destined to play.” Very often he used to say, “She is purity incarnate.” In various ways he mentioned about the purity of the Mother: “If she was not as pure as that, who knows whether I could have remained pure throughout!” That is the highest compliment that perhaps anybody can give to a dutiful wife like Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother.

In this way the Mother was being prepared for the role she was destined to play. Once somebody had given five rupees to Sri Ramakrishna. He could not take the money, so he told the Holy Mother, “Well, will you accept that money? I cannot keep it.” Then the Mother said, “How can that be? If I keep that money, it will be spent for your service only. So, it is as good as your accepting it. You are so much respected because of your extreme renunciation. My acceptance of that money will mean making compromise with your vow of renunciation.” Sri Ramakrishna appreciated her reaction and admired her for her wisdom.

The Mother was very practical in her judgment. One day Sri Ramakrishna was going to attend a celebration where there would be a huge gathering, devotional singing, dancing and rejoicing. Sri Ramakrishna was eager to attend that function and boats were arranged to take the Master and the disciples there. Somebody suggested, “Will not the Holy Mother accompany us?” Sri Ramakrishna replied, “Please ask her.” Then somebody went and asked the Mother who said, “No.”

Later on somebody asked the Mother, “Why did you say ‘No’? Why did you miss such a golden opportunity of seeing Sri Ramakrishna in ecstasy in the midst of the huge gathering of devotees? It was a grand sight. Why didyou not go?” The Mother replied, “You see, when Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) wanted me to be be asked, that means he wanted me to decide. If it was his intention that I should go, he would have said, ‘Certainly she would come!’ But instead of that he wanted me to be asked. From that I understood that it was not his intention that I should go. So I said ‘No.’” Sri Ramakrishna commented after hearing this, “You see, how wise she is! If she had gone there—if she would have seen me in ecstasy—she would have been troubled and people would make adverse comments. So she acted very wisely by not going there.” This was how Thakur used to test the Mother at every step.

On one occasion Sri Ramakrishna put this question to her: “Have you come to drag me to the world?’” The Mother replied, “Why? Why should I do that? I have come to serve you and help you progress in your path by serving you, by looking after your needs. Why should I drag you to the world?” Sri Ramakrishna was very happy. He was satisfied that the destiny of the Holy Mother would be rightly fulfilled as it was the will of the Divine Mother.

Gradually, when Sri Ramakrishna was having more and more devotees who were earnest seekers of God, the Mother also was gradually unfolding her spiritual nature and her shyness also was gradually disappearing. Sri Ramakrishna wanted her to be more actively engaged in the act of regeneration of the world. That was the task for which Sri Ramakrishna had come.

As I mentioned earlier, Sri Ramakrishna used to send the earnest devotees to the Holy Mother for her advice. One day he remonstrated that Mother was feeding the devotees as a worldly mother and told her, “You gave Baburam so many chapatis. He ate so much. How can he meditate? At night he must have less food. So don’t give so much food to the boy. That will ruin his spiritual career. Who will then be responsible for his spiritual progress?” The Mother with all politeness and foresight said, “Thakur, I shall be responsible for that. Please don’t worry on this account. Moreover, feeding is a mother’s job. That is my domain and please don’t interfere in it.”

Thakur was not annoyed; he was very happy. That was exactly the role he wanted the Mother to play. That divine motherhood was unfolding itself in the Mother gradually. That was the intention of Sri Ramakrishna and that was the will of the Divine Mother. Once Sri Ramakrishna told Holy Mother. “Don’t you see that the people of Calcutta are squirming like worms in filth? Will you not help me do something for them?” In the beginning the Mother used to say. “What can I do? I am merely a woman.” Sri Ramakrishna would not be satisfied with such an answer, but would remonstrate, “You must help me in this work for regeneration of the people. You must help me. Be my associate in bringing about a change in these people.” And gradually she was also coming up to that stage.

One thing you will notice: In the case of avataras (incarnations of God), throughout the history of all the avataras, in all the puranas, there is not a single instance where the consorts of the avataras became so actively associated with the work of the spiritual uplift of the people—nowhere. There are good many instances of a very dutiful wife of an avatara and so forth. But never will you find a consort of an avatara contributing so much towards the great work of regeneration of mankind. It is unique in history. There is no second illustration of such a combination. The Mother came as an associate of Sri Ramakrishna. That is how he related to her, that is how she behaved right up to the end.

She was the mother to all the devotees. She was full of affection and was deeply concerned about the well-being of the devotees. And how free she later on became with the “children”! On the one side the simplicity and shyness and on the other a wonderful sagacity and love for the children! The Mother was prepared to do every kind of service for them. The disciples felt that the Mother was their real mother. And the Mother used to have the same sentiment towards her devotees—absolutely no difference in any way.

As their mother she had to meet all sorts of demands from the children. They were often extremely demanding. Some would say, “Mother must prepare my food, then only I shall eat.” The Mother was ready to do that. Some said, “Mother must feed me with her own hand, then only I shall eat.” The Mother was ready for that also.

Once a person in a drunken state was singing aloud at dead of night, “O merciful mother, wake up and open your cottage door.”Swami Saradananda, who was ever vigilant in serving her, remonstrated with the singer: “Please go away, don’t disturb the Mother. She had a busy day, and you have come here at such a time in this drunken condition and you want Mother to appear?” But the Mother was not to be stopped like that. She opened the window and the drunken man had her darshan. Then he began to sing: “Carefully keep the Mother in your heart; the Mother! The worthy Mother! O, my mind, you see the Mother yourself alone and none else would see.” Then he changed that last line into “Let not my friend see you”—by “friend’”he meant Swami Saradananda. That was the Mother, kind to the drunkard also. Some people are good, but some are drunkards and some are with questionable character.

Some devotees would protest: “Mother, if such people come here, our prestige will be lowered.” But the Mother would reply: “Yes, my boy, you say so. But do you forget that I am a mother? Suppose, a child is dirty with mud and filth, what will the mother do? Will she throw the child away or clean the child and take it into her arms? So is it not my duty as a mother to clean my children and take them in my arms?” So, she was the mother, there was absolutely no difference between a saint and a sinner in her eyes as a mother.

It so happened that there was one Muslim in Jayrambati named Amzad, a dacoit (robber). As such he would sometimes get into jail and whenever he was out, he would go to see the Mother and the Mother would receive him affectionately and feed him well. Sometimes others would object to such treatment to him. Once it so happened that Amzad was to be fed in the Mother’s house. It was a brahmin house and in Bengal the difference in the social status of a brahmin and that of a Muslim was very great, so much so that a Muslim was not allowed even to ascend the steps of a brahmin house.

So when Amzad was to be fed, the people in the Mother’s household thought he was to be fed in the courtyard and not on the verandah as was done for others. But the Mother wanted that Amzad should be fed on the verandah. One of the ladies of the household, who was serving Amzad, was just throwing the food on to his plate from a distance. The Mother got annoyed and said, “Stop serving! I shall do it myself. Is thatthe way to serve? Can anybody eat if you serve like that?” The Mother with all tenderness began serving food just as a loving mother would serve her son. Not only that. When Amzad had finished his food and left that place, the Mother herself cleaned his plates, which no Hindu lady would do, what to speak of a brahmin lady!

Seeing the Mother doing this one of the ladies in the house remonstrated, “Mother, what are you doing—cleaning the plate of a Muslim and a scoundrel at that?” The Mother said, “However that may be, he is my son. He is as much dear to me as Sharat.”(She meant Swami Saradananda who had devoted his life for the service of the Ramakrishna Order and had looked after her comforts right up to the last days of her physical existence.)

That was the Mother—all loving, without any distinction whatsoever between the good and the bad, between the saint and the sinner. All were equally her children. If you study her life closely, you will find uniqueness in everything of what she said or did. No particular mention has been made here regarding the supernatural powers which she had in abundance. She was capable of hiding these to the extreme so that nobody could have any glimpse of it. Some devotees mentioned, “With difficulty, we can somehow understand Thakur, but never the Holy Mother.” Thakur would frequently get into ecstasy (samadhi), but the Mother controlled even that. It was very rare for anybody to see the Mother in samadhi. She was all along the Mother to everybody looking after the needs of her children.

Once Golap-Ma, one of her two companions (who were always with her—Golap-Ma and Jogin-Ma) saw the Mother in ecstasy which was a rare sight. After she came down from that state, Golap-Ma said, “Mother, you say you don’t have samadhi, but today I saw you in that state.” The Mother said, “No, no, never mention that. It is not samadhi. Don’t speak about it. Don’t make any noise about it. Keep quiet.” It is rather surprising that she did not like her spiritual experiences to be talked about in public. The reason for such concealment on her part seems to be that if people knew about her great spiritual eminence they could not have accepted her as their mother. One of the hymns states: “You bind our minds to you with the bond of affection, change our vices into virtues for no reason, for whatsoever you take pity on our impure souls and take us up in your arms.”

This is the strange characteristic of the Holy Mother. Her children were always restrained from the evil path because whenever they thought of her as their affectionate mother, they could never think of going astray. That was how she effected reforms, not by remonstration, not by scolding, not by any punishment. It was simply her abounding love that transformed people. May we realize her ever flowing love towards us even though we may be totally unworthy of it.

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The Holy Mother