A Holy Woman of Modern India

By Swami Aseshananda

Swami Aseshananda, a disciple of Holy Mother, was Swami Saradananda’s personal secretary for many years. He was the head of the Vedanta Society of Portland from 1955 to 1996 when he passed away. This article was published in the November-December 1954 issue of Vedanta and the West #110.

Swami Vivekananda had prophesied that as a result of the advent of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, India would see “many an exalted woman, more exalted than Gargi and Maitreyi of the Vedic times.” Perhaps Swamiji had Yogin Ma and Golap Ma in mind when he made this prediction. These two outstanding women disciples of Ramakrishna served the Holy Mother faithfully for more than thirty years. When she passed away in 1920, her two companions were in their seventies. They were lodged at the Udbodhan Office, Holy Mother’s residence in Calcutta.

As the attendant of Swami Saradananda, who had been Holy Mother’s principal caretaker, I lived at the Udbodhan House for five years and had the blessing of Yogin Ma’s and Golap Ma’s holy company. What impressed me most about them was their regularity in spiritual practice. They were living examples of saintliness, and we loved and respected them for their devotion, deep spirituality, and humility.

I remember an incident concerning Yogin Ma, whose life we shall consider in this article. One day I was writing letters in Swami Saradananda’s room when Yogin Ma entered. Accidentally her foot touched my robe. She immediately folded her palms and saluted me. I protested, “The touch of your foot is a blessing, Yogin Ma. Please don’t feel embarrassed!” In answer she said, “You are a monk. Your ochre robe is the symbol of renunciation. It is this renunciation that made Sri Ramakrishna great; you are following in his footsteps. A little cobra is as poisonous as a big cobra!” Her words expressed her profound respect for the monastic ideal and made me realize what a great responsibility lies behind the wearing of the monk’s robe.

Yogin Ma was born in Calcutta on January 16, 1851. Her father, Prasanna Kumar Mitra, was a successful and well-to-do physician. He had sponsored the building of a temple dedicated to Shiva. Yogin Ma grew up carefree and happy. Her parents fulfilled their favorite daughter’s every wish. In school she proved to have an exceptionally keen memory and later became well versed in scriptural lore.

Yogin Ma was given in marriage to Ambika Charan Biswas, the adopted son of a prosperous and devout family of Khardaha. Unfortunately Ambika Charan soon squandered his wealth and became an inveterate drunkard. Yogin Ma, who had stood by her husband and tried in all possible ways to persuade him to lead a respectable life, finally, with her daughter Ganu, took shelter in her paternal home.

Disappointment and adversity awakened Yogin Ma’s spiritual consciousness, and she yearned for a teacher to guide her to God-realization. At last she met Sri Ramakrishna. It happened this way.

In l883, Sri Ramakrishna came to Balaram Bose’s house in Calcutta. Yogin Ma and Balaram were distantly related. Balaram, an intimate disciple of the Master, invited her, thinking that a meeting with Sri Ramakrishna might help her in her mental crisis. When Yogin Ma arrived, she saw Sri Ramakrishna staggering like a drunkard in a state of divine ecstasy. Yogin Ma completely misunderstood the Master’s mood. She thought he was one of the Shakti followers who use wine as an article of worship and become intoxicated. She was sorely disappointed. But this did not deter her from visiting Dakshineswar in order to make certain whether her judgment of Sri Ramakrishna had been correct. The Master received her cordially and spoke to her about highly spiritual matters. Yogin Ma realized how foolish she had been to mistake Sri Ramakrishna’s behavior in a spiritual mood as that of a drunkard. She took refuge at his feet and asked his forgiveness. Later she said, “the ideal of purity, which I cherished in my inmost heart, was not only reflected in Sri Ramakrishna’s character, but surpassed by far all my conceptions.”

Sri Ramakrishna initiated Yogin Ma with a mantram and asked her to repeat it regularly every day. He told her “Mechanical repetition of the mantram will not produce the desired result. You must visualize the form of your Chosen Ideal. If you find that difficult, you may think of this form (himself). Believe me, there is no difference between this form and that of your chosen Ideal. The root of everything is faith. If you have faith, you will surely reach the goal in this very life.”

We find two predominant aspects in Yogin Ma’s personality at this period—that of a worshiper of God, and of a companion and friend of the Holy Mother.

Sri Ramakrishna’s instructions made a deep impression on Yogin Ma, and she immediately engaged herself in spiritual disciplines. Yogin Ma was a woman of strong determination. Whatever she undertook, she carried through to perfection. She did not regard life in Calcutta favorable to her spiritual practices; she wanted to be alone, away from the bustle of the noisy city. So she asked Sir Ramakrishna’s permission to go to Brindaban. The Master assented. He was ill at the time, and the disease became aggravated. The news of his death reached Yogin Ma at Brindaban and left her stunned and bewildered. Shortly afterwards, Sri Sarada Devi arrived at this holy city, and the two grief-stricken women spent their days in mourning. One day they had a wonderful vision of Sri Ramakrishna. He told them not to weep for him any longer and assured them that his death was just like passing from one room to another.

Although the vision of the Master was a consolation to Yogin Ma, his death left a great void in her life. In order to fill this void she began to spend longer hours in meditation, sometimes at Holy Mother’s residence, sometimes in the famous Krishna temple built by Balaram Bose’s family at Brindaban.

One evening Yogin Ma went along to Lala Babu’s temple. After the vesper service she sat for meditation. Her mind became absorbed in God, and she remained in that state for a long time. When the temple priest was about to close the doors for the night, his eyes fell on Yogin Ma. He asked her repeatedly to leave, but there was no response. She had lost all consciousness of the external world. After a while Swami Yogananada arrived. He had been sent by Holy Mother who had become worried by Yogin Ma’s long absence. The Swami, finding her in bhava samadhi, chanted the name of Sri Ramakrishna in her ear and finally brought her back to a lower plane. Later Yogin Ma told about her experience: “At that time I did not know whether the world existed or not. I forgot that I had a body. Wherever I looked I saw my Chosen Ideal. He was within. He was without. He was everywhere. I was apparently unconscious, but inwardly there was awareness and intense joy. This state lasted for three days.”

After spending several months in Holy Mother’s company at Brindaban, Yogin Ma returned to Calcutta to take care of her aged mother to whom she was very devoted. Sri Ramakrishna had once come to her house with his devotees. In the room which he had sanctified by his presence she installed a shrine with an image of Baby Krishna. She learnt the ritualistic procedures and worshipped the divine child with great devotion. Later she spoke highly of the value of ritual as an open door to profound religious realizations, based on her personal experience. While performing the worship she used to have divine visions.

The sudden death of her only daughter, who left three children, was a great shock to Yogin Ma. She intensified her spiritual practices and spent long hours in ritualistic worship. She used to take only one meal a day in the late afternoon, consisting of the food offered to the Deity. She longed fervently for continuos absorption in God. But the Lord ruled otherwise. In her own words, “One day, after finishing my worship, I began to meditate. I thought of remaining in that state as long as I could, without food or rest. A couple of hours passed. All of a sudden I saw two handsome little boys, who threw their arms around me and then, patting me on the shoulder, said smilingly, ‘Do you recognize us?’ I said, ‘Of course, you are heroic Balaram (Krishna’s brother) and sweet Krishna.’ Then the little Krishna said, ‘We won’t stay with you any longer. We have to go. You won’t remember us after some time.’ I asked imploringly, ‘Why? What is the reason?’ Then Krishna with his mischievous look pointed out my grandchildren and said, ‘On their account.’ Actually after that vision . . . my mind came back to the world and I thought, ‘If I don’t take care of these children, who will look after them? They have no father, no mother, no one in this wide world!’ ”

With Swami Saradananda’s help, Yogin Ma arranged for the proper education of her three grandchildren. Though preoccupied with domestic duties, she did not lose her mental poise. She had once asked Sri Ramakrishna how she should live in the world and remembered his answer. “Don’t worry. Resign yourself to the Lord. Be like a dry, fallen leaf; let the wind blow it wherever it pleases. Likewise accept whatever comes to your lot, good or bad, pleasure or pain. Know for certain that in the end everything will turn out for good.” These words of the Master comforted Yogin Ma whenever she had to face a trying situation. Above all, she believed that Sri Ramakrishna’s blessings would enable her to overcome all difficulties. She used to say about the Master. “Sometimes when I was with him, I would feel that he was not a man but one of us (women). Although it is natural for us to feel a certain shyness before men, we had no such feeling in Sri Ramakrishna’s presence. If perchance that feeling would arise, it would disappear immediately, and we would be free to open our hearts to him. We used to speak to him about very intimate things without any scruple or hesitation. And how kind, how affectionate the Master was to us! When strangers, casually reading the life of Ramakrishna, sometimes jump to the conclusion that he did not like women, we simply laugh . . .”

It was Ramakrishna who had introduced Yogin Ma to Holy Mother. Both women were of the same age. A relationship of deep mutual love had developed between them even before Ramakrishna’s death, and Yogin Ma used to go to Dakshineswar every week and spend the night in Holy Mother’s room.

Once Holy Mother had to go to Jayrambati, her native village, on important business. A boat was hired for that purpose. Yogin Ma bid the Holy Mother good-bye. From the bank of the Ganges she wistfully watched the boat disappear out of sight and then returned to the Mother’s room. Seeing it empty, she was overwhelmed with grief. Sri Ramakrishna was just then coming from the Panchavati and found Yogin Ma weeping bitterly. In order to console her he called her to his room and told her of his experiences during the days of his spiritual discipline. When Holy Mother returned to Dakshineswar more than a year later, Sri Ramakrishna said to her, “That girl with the large eyes loves you very much. She went into your room after you had gone, and cried and cried for you.”

Sarada Devi lived a silent, unobtrusive life. Her greatness was known only to a few, Swami Premananda wrote in one of his letters: “Holy Mother, although she has accepted human form, is divine. She has taken this body in order to free mankind from sorrow and suffering. In some respects she seems to me greater than Ramakrishna. What an amount of self-control we have seen in her! Sri Ramakrishna would try, but could not control his samadhi. It would express itself outwardly. But Holy Mother used to be absorbed in samadhi repeatedly during the course of the day, but she would not let anybody know of it. Being the source of all power, she has power even over the external manifestation of samadhi.”

In rare moments, however, Sarada Devi revealed her high spiritual state to her intimate companions. Yogin Ma witnessed one of these occasions. One day she went to see her at Dakshineswar. At that period Yogin Ma doubted Holy Mother’s spirituality compared to the Master’s, because there were no visible signs of her ecstasies. In order to teach Yogin Ma, Holy Mother said to her, “You all have attained bhava samadhi, but nothing has happened to me. Would you tell Sri Ramakrishna about it?” Yogin Ma did as she was told; but the Master kept silent. Yogin Ma returned to the Holy Mother. She found her seated on her prayer mat, performing the worship. She was in an exalted mood. Sometimes she laughed, sometimes she cried, sometimes she remained motionless. Yogin Ma was surprised to see her ecstasy. When the Mother came down to the normal plane, Yogin Ma asked her, “You complain that you do not experience samadhi, but what is all this?” Holy Mother smiled.

Another time when, in spite of her close association with Sri Sarada Devi, a doubt regarding Holy Mother’s spiritual greatness arose in Yogin Ma’s mind, Sri Ramakrishna appeared to her in vision and asked her not to doubt the Holy Mother. He told her, “Know for certain that she and this (meaning himself) are one and the same.” After that experience, Yogin Ma had unshakable faith in Sri Sarada Devi.

At Brindaban, Yogin Ma saw that the Holy Mother could go into samadhi at the slightest suggestion. Her absorption was particularly deep while she was initiating Swami Yogananda. She was brought back to normal consciousness only with great difficulty. Yogin Ma played the part of an intermediary in this initiation. For three days during meditation Holy Mother had seen Sri Ramakrishna appearing before her and asking her to give a mantram to Swami Yogananada. She spoke about her visions to Yogin Ma, who told the Swami that Holy Mother would be willing to initiate him if he would ask her. Swami Yogananda, too, had some spiritual experiences confirming Mother’s visions. At the time of initiation, Holy Mother’s behavior resembled Sri Ramakrishna’s, she was so identified with him in her mood. Discarding her usual shyness, she accepted sweets and fruit from Swami Yogananda’s hand. She was in such an exalted state that Swami Yogananda was afraid she might give up her body in samadhi.

Yogin Ma saw in the person of the Holy Mother two aspects—the image of the Divine Mother herself and that of a little girl of five, quite innocent of worldly affairs. She never considered any sacrifice too great for Holy Mother’s comfort and happiness. When the human aspect predominated in Yogin Ma’s mind, her attitude toward Sri Sarada Devi was maternal and protective. Holy Mother, on the other hand, looked upon her companion as her beloved daughter and friend, and showered her blessings on her. Yogin Ma was endowed with good common sense. This made her an invaluable friend and adviser, and Mother would consult her on all important matters and accept her suggestions without reservation.

Once an elderly man approached Holy Mother for initiation. Mother was so compassionate that she never refused anyone who came to her for her blessings, regardless of the worthiness of the recipient. She considered herself an instrument of Sri Ramakrishna, and laid all the homage the world paid her at his feet. When this gentleman sat by Holy Mother’s side for initiation, she asked him a few questions. From his replies she gathered that he was skeptical about Ramakrishna’s divinity. Anxiously, Mother called Yogin Ma, who hurried to the shrine, and asked her, “Yogen, what shall I do? This person does not accept the Master.” Yogin Ma promptly replied, “Well, Mother, it does not matter. The mantram you will give him has the power to change him in time. Don’t worry. Initiate him.” Holy Mother followed her companion’s advice, and Yogin Ma’s prediction came true. After a short while the man became a devotee.

Yogin Ma’s whole life was spent in intensive spiritual disciplines. Along with the Holy Mother she observed the rigorous austerity of repeating the name of the Lord from sunrise to sunset, seated on a prayer mat, encircled by fire on four sides with the sun blazing overhead. Holy Mother praised Yogin Ma to the devotees. She told them, “You will benefit by discussing her spiritual practices and following her example.”

Toward the end of her life, Yogin Ma took the final monastic vows according to the Vedic tradition from Swami Saradananda. Swami Premananda was also present at the ceremony. She renounced all desires in the sacred fire, which is the symbol of Brahman, and relived the ancient ideal which enjoins, “Not by wealth, nor by work, nor by progeny, but by renunciation alone is immortality reached.”

During her last days, Yogin Ma would go into samadhi again and again, repeating the name of Krishna. Swami Saradananda, who was taking care of Yogin Ma, recalled Sri Ramakrishna’s prophecy about her. The Master had compared her to a thousand-petaled lotus which, unlike an ordinary flower, takes a longer time to open and blossom. He had predicted that Yogin Ma would gain the highest spiritual realization at the time of death. She passed away in 1924, at the Udbodhan House, at the age of seventy-three.

When the end was approaching, Swami Saradananda asked me to chant from the Bhagavad-Gita. According to his instruction I recited the second chapter. When I came to the following verse, I felt how beautifully the words expressed Yogin Ma’s own spiritual attainment:

This is the state of enlightenment in Brahman:
A man does not fall back from it
Into delusion.
Even at the moment of death
He is alive in that enlightenment:
Brahman and he are one.

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A Holy Woman of Modern India