The Mother Divine
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(Part 1 of 2)
By Swami Vivekananda

I was born in Bengal and became a monk and a celibate by choice. At my birth my father had a horoscope taken of my life, but would never tell me what it was. Some years ago, I visited my home. My father having died, I came across the chart among some papers in my mother’s possession and saw from it that I was destined to become a wanderer on the face of the earth.

I had a deep interest in religion and philosophy from my childhood. And our books teach renunciation as the highest ideal to which man can aspire. It only needed the meeting with a great teacher, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, to kindle in me the final determination to follow the path he himself had trod, as in him I found my highest ideal realised.

In the Order to which I belong we are called Sanyasis. The word means “A man who has renounced”. This is a very, very, very ancient Order. Even Buddha, who lived 560 years before Christ, belonged to that order. So ancient! You find it mentioned away back in the Vedas, the oldest book in the world.
The Order is not a Church and the people who join the Order are not priests. There is an absolute difference between the priests and the Sanyasis.

The Sanyasis don’t possess property, and they do not marry. There is the bond between the teacher and the taught. That is peculiar to India. The teacher is not a man who comes to teach me and I pay him so much and there it ends. In India it is really like an adoption. The teacher is more than my own father, and I am truly his child, his son in every respect. I owe him obedience and reverence first, before my own father even, because the father gave me this body, but he (the teacher) showed me the way to Salvation. He is greater than father.

And we carry this love, this respect for our teacher all our lives. Sometimes the teacher may be a young man and the disciple a very old man.

Now, I happened to get an old man to teach me, and he was very peculiar. He did not go much for intellectual scholarship, scarcely studied books, but when he was a boy, he was seized with a tremendous idea of getting truth direct. First, he tried by studying his own religion. Then he got the idea that he must get the truth of other religions, and with that idea he joined all the sects, one after another. For the time being, he did exactly what they told him to do, lived with the devotees of these different sects in turn, until interpenetrated with the particular ideal of that sect. After a few years he would go to another sect. When he had gone through all that, he came to the conclusion that they were all good. He had no criticism to offer to anyone, they are all so many paths leading to the same goal. And then he said, “That is a Glorious thing that there should be so many paths because if there were only one path perhaps it would suit only an individual man. The more the number of paths the more the chance for every one of us to know the truth. If I cannot be taught in one language, I will try another, and so on.” Thus, his benediction was for every religion.

I remember vividly my first visit to him. It was at the temple garden at Dakshineshwar in his own room. That day I sang two songs. He went into Samadhi. He said to Ram Babu, “Who is this boy? How well he sings!” He asked me to come again.

Well, I sang the song, but shortly after, he suddenly rose and taking me by the hand led me to the northern verandah, shutting the door behind him. It was locked from the outside; so, we were alone. I thought he would give me some private instructions. But to my utter surprise he began to shed profuse tears of joy as he held my hand, and addressing me most tenderly as one long familiar to him, said “Ah, you come so late! How could you be so unkind as to keep me waiting so long! My ears are well-night burnt listening to the profane talks of worldly people. Oh, how I yearn to unburden my mind to one who can appreciate my innermost experience!”.

Thus, he went on amid sobs. The next moment he stood before me with folded hands and began to address me, “Lord, I know that you are that ancient Sage, Nara, the Incarnation of Narayana – born on earth to remove the miseries of Mankind” and so on!

I was altogether taken aback by his conduct. “Who is this man whom I have come to see?” I thought, “he must be stark mad. Why. I am but the son of Vishwanatha Dutta and yet he dares to address me thus!” But I kept quiet allowing him to go on. Presently he went back to his room, and bringing some sweets, sugar-candy and butter, began to feed me with his own hands. In vain did I say again and again, “Please give the sweets to me. I shall share them with my friends!” He simply said, “They may have some afterwards,” and desisted only after I had eaten all. Then he seized me by the hand and said, “Promise that you will come alone to me at an early date.” At his importunity I had to say “Yes”, and returned with him to my friends.

I sat and watched him. There was nothing wrong in his words, movements or behaviour towards others. Rather from his spiritual words and ecstatic states, he seemed to be a man of genuine renunciation, and there was a marked consistency between his words and life. He used the simplest language, and I thought, “Can this man be a great teacher?” I crept near him and asked him the question which I had asked so often, – “Have you seen God Sir?” "Yes, I see him just as I see you here, only in a much intense sense.” “God can be realised”, he went on. “One can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him, He surely manifests Himself.” That impressed me at once. For the first time I found a man who dared to say that he had seen God, that religion was a reality to be felt, to be sensed in an infinitely more intense way than we can sense the world. As I heard these things from his lips, I could not but believe that he was saying them not like an ordinary preacher but from the depths of his own realisations. But I could not reconcile his words with his strange conduct with me. So, I concluded that he must be a monomaniac. Yet I could not help acknowledging the magnitude of his renunciation. “He may be a madman,” I thought, “but only the fortunate few can have that renunciation. Even if insane, this man is the holiest of the holy, a true Saint and for that alone he deserves the reverential homage of mankind!” With such conflicting thoughts I bowed before him and begged his leave to return to Calcutta.

I went to see him next at Rajamohan’s house. The third visit was at Dakshineshwar again. During that visit he went into Samadhi, and began to praise me as if I were God. He said to me, “O Narayana, you have assumed this body for my sake! I asked the Divine Mother, Mother, unless I enjoy the company of some genuine devotees completely free from 'Woman and Gold' how, shall I live on earth?” Then he said to me “You came to see me at night, woke me up and said, Here I am!”
But I did not know anything of this. I was sound asleep in our Calcutta house.

I did not realise then that the temple garden of Dakshineshwar was so far from Calcutta, as on the previous occasion I had gone there in a carriage. The road seemed to be so long as to be almost endless. However, I reached the garden somehow, and went straight to Sri Ramkrishna’s room. I found him sitting alone on the bedstead. He was glad to see me and calling me affectionately to his side, made me sit beside him on his bed. But the next moment I found him overcome with a sort of emotion. Muttering something to himself, with his eyes fixed on me, he slowly drew near me. I thought he might do something queer as on the previous occasion. But in the twinkling of an eye be placed his right foot on my body. The touch at once gave rise to a novel experience within me. With my eyes open I saw that the walls and everything in the room, whirled rapidly and vanished into naught and the whole Universe together with my individuality was about to merge in an all-encompassing mysterious void! I was terribly frightened and thought that I was facing death, for the loss of individuality meant nothing short of that. Unable to control myself I cried out,” What is it that you are doing to me, – I have my parents at home.” He laughed at this and stroking my chest said, “All right, let it rest now. Everything will come in time.” The wonder of it was that no sooner he had said this than that strange experience of mine vanished. I was myself again and found everything within and without the room as it had been before.

All this happened in less time than it takes me to narrate it, but it revolutionised my mind. Amazed I thought, “What could it possibly be? It came and went at the mere wish of this wonderful man I began to question if it were mesmerism or hypnotism. But that was not likely, for these acted only on weak minds, and I prided myself on being just the reverse. I had not as yet surrendered myself, to the stronger personality of the man; rather I had taken him to be a monomaniac. So, to what might this sudden transformation of mine be due?

I could not come to any conclusion. It was an enigma, I thought, which I had better not attempt to solve. I was determined, however, to be on my guard and not to give him another chance to exert similar influence over me.

The next moment I thought how can a man who shatters to pieces a resolute and strong mind like mine be dismissed as a lunatic? Yet that was just the conclusion at which one would arrive from his effusiveness on our first meeting, unless he was an Incarnation of God, which was indeed a far cry. So, I was in dilemma about the real nature of my experience, as well as the truth about this wonderful man, who was obviously pure and simple as a child. My rationalistic mind received an unpleasant rebuff at this failure in judging the true state of things. But I was determined to fathom this mystery somehow.
Thoughts like these occupied my mind during the whole of that day. But he became quite other men after that incident, and as on the previous occasion treated me with great kindness and cordiality. His behaviour towards me was like that of a man who meets an old friend or relative after a long separation. He seemed not to be satisfied with entertaining and taking all possible care of me. This remarkably loving treatment drew me all the more to him. At last, finding that the day was coming to a close, I asked his leave to go. He seemed very much dejected at this and gave me his permission only after I had promised to come again at my earliest convenience.

One day in the temple garden of Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna touched me over the heart, and first of all I began to see that the houses, rooms, doors, windows, verandahs, the trees, the sun, the moon, all were flying off, shattering to pieces as it were, reduced to atoms and molecules, and ultimately became merged in the Akasha. Gradually again, the Akasha also vanished, and after that my consciousness of the ego with it, what happened next, I do not recollect. I was at first frightened. Coming from that state, again I began to see the houses, doors, windows, verandahs, and other things. On another occasion I had exactly the same realisation by the side of a lake in America.

A derangement of the brain! How can you call it so, when it comes neither as the result of delirium from any disease nor as an illusion produced by various sorts of queer breathing exercises, – but when it comes to a normal man in full possession of his health and wits? Then again, this experience is in perfect harmony with the Vedas. It also coincides with the words of realisation of the inspired Rishis and Acharyas of old. Do you take me, at last, to be a crack-brained man?

Know [that] this knowledge of oneness is what the Shastras speak of as realisation of the Brahman, by knowing which, one gets rid of fear, and the shackles of birth and death break for ever. Having once realised that supreme bliss, one is no more overwhelmed by pleasure and pain of this world.
That supreme bliss fully exists in all, from Brahman down to the blade of grass. Being again and again entangled in the intricate maze of delusion and hard hit by sorrows and afflictions, the eye will turn of itself to one’s own real nature, the inner self. It is owing to the presence of this desire for bliss in the heart, that man, getting hard shocks, one after another, turns his eyes inwards – to his own self. A time is sure to come to everyone, without exception, when he will do so, to one it may be in this life, to another, after thousands of incarnations.

Seeing that the Master gave no thought to himself on account of me, I did not hesitate on occasion to use harsh words about his blind love for me. I used to warn him, saying that if he constantly thought of me, he would become like me, even as King Bharata of the old legend, who so doted upon his pet deer that even at the time of death he was unable to think of anything else, and as a result, was born as a deer in his next life. At these words, the Master, so simple was he, became very nervous, and said, “What you say is quite true. What is to become of me, for I cannot bear to be separated from you?” Dejected, he went to the Kali temple. In a few minutes he returned smiling and said, “You rogue, I shall not listen to you anymore. Mother says that I love you because I see the Lord in you, and the day I no longer do so, I shall not be able to bear even the sight of you.” With this short but emphatic statement he dismissed once for all everything that I had ever said to him on the subject.

One day he said to me, “You can see Krishna in your heart if you want.” I replied, “I don’t believe in Krishna or any such nonsense!”. Once I said to him, “The form of God and things like that which you see in your visions are all figments of your imagination”. He had so much faith in my words that he went to the Divine Mother in the Temple and told Her what I had said to him. He asked Her, “Are these hallucinations then?” Afterwards he said to me, “Mother told me that all these are real”.

Again, he said to me, “When you sing. He who dwells here (touching his heart) like a snake, hisses as it were, and then spreading the hood, quietly hold himself steady and listens to your music”
He has no doubt said many things about me.

And how can Sri Ramakrishna’s words prove false?

We (Sri Ramakrishna and I) talked of our revealed book, the Vedas, of the Bible, of the Quran and of the revealed books in general. At the close of our talk this good man asked me to go to the shelf and take up a book. It was a book which, among other things, contained a forecast of the rainfall during the year. The sage said, “Read that”. And I read out the quantity of rain that was to fall. He said, “Now take the book and squeeze it”. I did so and he said, “Why my boy, note drop of water comes out. Until the water comes out it is all a book. So, until your religion makes you realise God, it is useless. He who studies books only for religion reminds one of the fables of the ass which carried a heavy load of sugar on its back but did not know the sweetness of it.”

I did not believe in anything. At first, I did not accept most of what the Master said. One day he asked me, “Then, why do you come here?” I replied, “I come here to see you, not to listen to you”. He was very much pleased.

One day when I was alone with him, he said something to me. Nobody else was present. He said, “It is not possible for me to exercise occult powers, but I shall do so through you. What do you say?” “No”, I replied “you can’t do that!”

I used to laugh at his words. I told him that his vision of God was all hallucination of his mind.
He said to me, “I used to climb to the roof of the Kuthi and cry, “O, Devotees where are you all? come to me; O! Devotees, I am about to die. I shall certainly die if I do not see you. And the Divine Mother told me, ‘The devotees will come’. You see everything is turning out to be true.” What else could I say? I kept quiet.

I used to follow my own whim in everything I did. The Master never interfered. I became a member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj.

The master knew that women attended the meeting of the Brahmo Samaj. A man cannot meditate with women sitting in front of him, therefore he criticised the meditation of the Brahmo Samaj. But he didn’t object to my going there. But one day he said to me, “Don’t tell Rakhal about your being a member of the Brahmo Samaj, or he too will feel like becoming one.”

When I found that the master did not bestow that kind of grace on them (my friends) which he had done on me by accepting me and instructing me in religion, I used to ask him importunately to bestow it on them. On account of boyish frivolity, I became ready on many occasions to argue with him. I said, “Why Sir, God is indeed never so partial that He will bestow His grace on some and not on others. Why should you then not accept them as you have done me? Is it not certain that one can attain spirituality and realise God if one wills and makes an effort just as one can become a learned Pandit if he puts forth an effort? The Master replied, “What can I do my child? Mother shows me that there is the beastly mental attitude of a bull in them they cannot realise spirituality in this life. What can I do? And what is it you say? Can anyone become what one wishes to in this life by mere will and effort?” But who lent an ear to the Master’s words then? I said, “What do you say, Sir? Can’t one become what one wishes to, if one wills and makes efforts? Surely one can. I cannot believe what you say about it.” At that also the Master said the same thing, “Whether you believe it or not, Mother shows me that.” I never accepted then what he said. But the more time passed on, the more did I understand from experience that what the master said was right, and what I thought was wrong.

One day as soon as I went to Dakshineshwar, the Master gave me those books (on non-dualism) to read, which he forbade others to. Amongst other books, a copy of Ashtavakra Samhita was in his room. When the master found anyone reading that book, he would forbid him to do so and would give him instead such books as “Mukti and how to attain it,” “The Bhagavat Gita,” or some Purana. But scarcely had I gone to him when he took out the book and asked me to read it. Or, he would ask me to read some part of Adhyatma Ramayana which was full of non-dualistic ideas. I said, and sometimes in an outspoken way, “What is the use of reading this book? It is a sin even to think That I am God’: the book teaches the same blasphemy. It should be burnt”. The Master smiled and said, “Do I ask you to read it to yourself? I ask you to read a little to me. Please do it. That being the case, you will not have to think that you are God”. So, I had to read a little for him at his request.

This magic touch of the Master that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind. I was stupefied to find that really there was nothing in the Universe but God! I saw it quite clearly but kept silent to see if the idea would last. But the impression did not abate in the course of the day. I returned home, “but there too everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything the food, the plate, the person who served and even myself was nothing but That. I ate a morsel or two and sat still. I was startled by my mother’s words, “Why do you sit still? – finish your meal,” and I began to eat again. But all the while whether eating or lying down or going to college, I had the same experience and felt myself always in a sort of comatose state. While walking in the streets, I noticed cabs plying, but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way. I felt that the cabs and myself were of one stuff. There was no sensation in my limbs which I thought were getting paralysed. I, did not relish eating, and felt as if somebody else was eating. Sometimes I lay down during a meal and after a few minutes got up and again began to eat. The result was that on some days I would take too much, but it did me no harm. My mother became alarmed and said that there must be something wrong with me. She was afraid that I might not live long. When the above state altered a little, the world began to appear to me as a dream. While walking in Cornwallis Square, I would strike my head against the iron railings to see if they were real or only a dream. This state of thing continued for some days. When I became normal again, I realised that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita State. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita Philosophy.
For the first time I found a man who dared to say that he saw God, that religion was a reality, to be felt, to be sensed in an infinitely more intense way than we can sense the world. I began to go to that man, day after day; and I actually saw that religion could be given. One touch, one glance, can change a whole life. I have read about Buddha and Christ and Mohammed, about all those different luminaries of ancient times; how they would stand up and say, “Be thou whole,” and the man became whole. I now find it to be true and when I myself saw this man, all scepticism was brushed aside. It could be done and my master used to say, “Religion can be given and taken more tangibly, more really than anything else in the world.”
The second idea that I learned from my master, and which is perhaps the most vital, is the wonderful truth that the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic; they are but various phases of one Eternal Religion; that one Eternal Religion, as applied to different planes of existence is applied to the opinions of various minds and various races.

Devotion as taught by Narada, he used to preach to the masses, those who were incapable of any higher training. He used generally to teach dualism. As a rule, he never taught Advaitism. But he taught it to me. I had been a Dualist before.

Sri Ramakrishna once told me that not one in twenty million in this world believe in God. I asked him why, and he told me “Suppose there is a thief in this room and he gets to know that there is a mass of gold in the next room, and only a very thin partition between the rooms, what will be the condition of that thief”? I answered, “He will not be able to sleep at all. His brain will be actively thinking of some means of getting at the gold and he will think of nothing else”. Then he replied “Do you believe that a man could believe in God and not go mad to get Him? If a man sincerely believes that there is that immense, infinite mine of bliss, and that it can be reached, would not that man go mad in his struggles to reach it? Strong faith in God and the consequent eagerness to reach Him constitute Sraddha.”

One day at that time I spent a night with the Master at Dakshineshwar. 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 half has come today. Come, let me see how you fare in conversation with him”. I had to go with the Master. When I reached his room and was introduced to M. (Mahendra Nath Gupta) 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, putting me against others, the Master enjoyed the fun.

I might not have gained anything else by this practice of religion (shortly after I had met the Master), but it is certain that I have gained control over my terrible anger by His grace. Formerly I used to lose all control over myself in rage and was seized with repentance afterwards. But, now if anyone does me a great harm or even beats me severely, I don’t become so very angry.

One day during one of my early visits, the Master in an ecstatic mood said to me, “You have come!” “How amazing”, I said to myself, “it is as if he had known me for a long time”. Then he said to me, “Do you ever see light”? I replied, “Yes, Sir, before I fall asleep, I feel something like a light revolving near my forehead.”
I used to see it frequently. In Jadu Mallick’s garden house the Master one day touched me and murmured something to himself. I became unconscious. The effects of the touch lingered with me a month like an intoxication

When he heard that a proposal had been made about my marriage, he wept, holding the feet of the image of Kali. With tears in his eyes he prayed to the Divine Mother, “O Mother! please upset the whole thing, don’t let Narendra be drowned”.

One day grandmother overheard my Master speaking in my room about the efficacy of a celibate life. She told of this to my parents. They became greatly concerned lest I should renounce the world, and were increasingly anxious that I should marry. My mother was especially fearful lest that I should leave the family to take upon myself the vows of a monastic life. She often spoke of the matter to me, but I would give a casual reply. But all their planning for my marriage were frustrated by the strong will of the Master. On one occasion all negotiations of marriage were settled, when a petty difference of opinion arose and the engagement was broken.

It is impossible to give others any idea of the ineffable joy we derived from the presence of the Master. It is really beyond our understanding how he could train us, without our knowing it, through fun and play, and thus mould our spiritual life. As the master wrestler proceeds with great caution and restraint with the beginner, now overpowering him in the struggle with great difficulty as it were, again allowing himself to be defeated to strengthen the pupil’s self-confidence—in exactly the same manner did Sri Ramakrishna handle us. Realizing that the Atman, the source of infinite strength, exists in every individual, pigmy though he might be, he was able to see the potential giant in all. He could clearly discern the latent spiritual power which would in the fullness of time manifest itself. Holding up that bright picture to view, he would speak highly of us and encourage us. Again, he would warn us lest we should obstruct this future consummation by becoming entangled in worldly desires, and moreover, he would keep us under control by carefully observing even the minute details of our life. All this was done silently and unobtrusively. That was the secret of his training of the disciples and of his moulding of their lives.

(The concluding part of this article will be published in the next issue of The Mother)