August 7, 2015
We were happy that by the grace of God and Mother Nature, we had completed four excellent days of pilgrimage and everything had worked out much better than we had expected. Everyone had a good night of sleep in the Hyatt Hotel after the long day journey to Jayrambati and Kamarpukur. At the breakfast tables the next morning, no one looked tired, including the children. The joyful noise of greeting each other filled the breakfast room. After breakfast everyone was ready for another day.
In the morning, we first went to Baranagar Math and then to Cossipore Garden House. But, I will talk about the Cossipore Garden house first because in the sequence of events, the events at Cossipore Garden House happened first. Also, It was because of the events at the Cossipore Garden House that the Baranagar Math came into being.
Cossipore Garden House:
Sri Ramakrishna’s illness brought his disciples together during his stay in the Shyampukur House. Sri Ramakrishna’s stay at the Cossipore Garden House:
(1) Molded Narendra’s (Swami Vivekananda’s) spiritual personality and made him the leader of all younger disciples
(2) Intensified the spiritual loving bondage among the younger disciples
(3) The younger disciples’ renunciation became stronger under the leadership of Narendra
(4) Set up the foundation of a great spiritual movement, later shaped as the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, to uplift and guide millions of people in spirituality in India and all over the world, and to help millions of poor and neglected people by providing for them means for their living, medicine, and education. Thus, the Cossipore Garden House is of great historical importance.
Sri Ramakrishna moved to the Cossipore Garden house on December 11, 1885 and lived there until he passed away on August 16, 1886. Sri Ramakrishna liked it here much more than the Shyampukur house. The Cossipore Garden House was quiet, had beautiful garden full of various flowers, fruits and vegetables. There was also a bricked garden path decorated by beautiful flowers and convenient facilities.
The house had four rooms on the ground level. Holy Mother was very happy to see that she could stay in one of these four rooms and could serve Sri Ramakrishna. She was also happy to find more freedom in moving around compared to the Shyampukur house.
Younger devotees and other attendants were able to use one spacious room on the ground floor, while another room was used as their bedroom. Sri Ramakrishna stayed in one of the two rooms upstairs. The second room upstairs was used by Sri Ramakrishna for bathing and also by some attendants who would stay overnight to take care of Sri Ramakrishna’s needs.
Narendra as a guide to the younger devotees:
Narendra encouraged younger devotees to stay at the Cossipore Garden House and serve their Master (Sri Ramakrishna). The parents of the younger disciples were not happy about this. But, because of their love for their Master and Narendra’s encouragement, they did not listen to their parents. While they were not serving Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra kept them engaged in meditation, devotional singing, study and discussion of the scriptures and spiritual conversations. Sri Ramakrishna’s pure and unselfish love and Narendra’s spiritually uplifting company and love developed a strong bondage among them and this helped them later to renounce everything to realize God and to do unselfish service to humanity.
Taking care of the expenses and other needs:
The rent for the house was Rs. 80 per month, which was considered very high in those days. Sri Ramakrishna was worried about the devotees. How would they be able to pay such a steep rent? But a devotee, Surendranath Mitra, came forward and agreed to pay the whole rent. Other householder devotees shared the other expenses including that for food and other things. Latu Maharaj took care of the physical needs of Sri Ramakrishna. Once all these things were settled, Sri Ramakrishna was relieved from these earthly worries.
Dispute and Girish Chandra Ghosh’s Solution:
One incident is noteworthy. The young disciples of Sri Ramakrishna took the responsibility of serving the Master–buying groceries, almost every day reporting to doctors, running errands, and helping Holy Mother. The householder disciples saw that the expenditure was increasing. A few of them accused the young disciples for their carelessness and asked them to maintain an account book properly. The young disciples were hurt and decided not to take any more money from the householders. When the situation became tense, Girish Chandra Ghosh came up with a solution. In front of everyone, he burnt the account book! Then, he told the householder disciples to give whatever they could and he would make up for the deficit. He told the young disciples not to worry and assured them that if needed, he would sell his house to pay for the expenses.
Initially, Sri Ramakrishna’s health improved a little, but later on his health deteriorated. His robust body began to break down, becoming emaciated as a skeleton. Yet, his mind remained in high spiritual realm and he continued to guide Narendra and others in their spiritual path.
Transformation of Kalipad Ghosh:
Kalipada Ghosh was born in 1849 in Calcutta to a pious family devoted to Mother Kali. As a boy Kalipada was full of energy and had many interests–ranging from music and singing to drama and even cooking. Due to the family’s poverty, his father was forced to take him out of school when he was in the eighth grade and found him a job as a shop assistant in the British paper firm of Messrs. John Dickinson and Company. Uneducated, his career prospects thus appeared unimpressive. However, his innate intelligence, diligence, and dedication soon captured the attention of his superiors, and with time Kalipada rose to a high position at the paper firm. His importance can be gauged from the fact that the watermark of the papers printed by the firm carried his bust as an imprint. As a result of falling into bad company, he developed a drinking habit, and began to mistreat his family.
He was a close friend of Girish Chadra Ghosh. By seeing a great transformation in Girish Chandra Ghosh as a result of the company and grace of Sri Ramakrishna, Kalipad had a desire to be blessed by the Master.
On December 23, 1885, Sri Ramakrishna, being in a spiritual mood, touched Kalipad’s chest and said, ‘May your inner spirit be awakened.’ Then, stroking Kalipad’s chin, he said, ‘Whoever has sincerely called on God or performed his daily religious devotions will certainly come here (meaning to him).’ The Master’s blessing and unrestrained love that day made Kalipad a new person. He gave up his bad habit of drinking and all interest in worldly things.
Holy Mother Narrate an Incident:
“I was once climbing the steps, carrying a big bowl of milk. I felt dizzy and fell down. The entire milk spilt on the ground. One of my ankles was badly sprained. Naren and Baburam ran there and took care of me. There was a great inflammation of the foot. The Master heard of the incident…..I had then a ring on my nose. The Master touched his nose and made a sign of ring by making a circle with his finger and said, “Baburam, can you put her in a basket and carry her on your shoulder to this room?” Naren and Baburam were convulsed with side-splitting laughter. Thus he used to joke with them. After three days the swelling subsided. Then they helped me to go upstairs with his meals.”
Yogin-ma narrated one incident about Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna:
“One day Holy Mother carried the Master’s food to his room, which was on the upper floor. The Master asked her, ‘Do you know how to play asta-kaste?’
Holy Mother said, ‘No.’
Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘If one can pair two checkers, the opponent cannot take them. Likewise, one should unite oneself with the Chosen Deity and thus be rid of fear. Otherwise, a ripe checker (one that is near the goal), if it is still single can be turned back. If a person can move in this world with the Chosen Deity, like a paired checkers, he will be saved.’
As Holy Mother listened she continued with a small household task in which she had been engaged. Suddenly the Master said jokingly, ‘Are you listening to me or not?’ Holy Mother was embarrassed.”
Molding Spiritual Character of Narendra:
Sri Ramakrishna told Narendra, “The Divine Mother has brought you into the world by force to do Her work.”
On another occasion Sri Ramakrishna told Narendra, “I leave them (the young disciples) in your care. Love them intensely and see that they practice spiritual disciplines even after my death, and that they do not return home.”
Burning of Desires:
Swami Saradananda wrote this incident in his book, “Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play.” One night Narendra could not sleep. He found Gopal and couple of young devotees awake. He asked them to go for a walk with him in the garden. As they walked Narendra said, “The Master’s disease is extremely serious. May be he has decided to give up his body. Make your best effort to achieve spiritual enlightenment through service to him, and prayer and meditation while there is yet time. If you do otherwise, there will be no end to your repentance after he passed away. We waste our time with the foolish thought that we shall pray to God after finishing this duty, or practice spiritual disciplines after doing that. Thus, we entangle ourselves in a net of desires. Those terrible desires lead to destruction-death. Shun those desires! Uproot them!”
He then sat under a tree and asked all to collect twigs lying around so that they could set a friendly fire (Dhoony). He said that at this moment all the sadhus (renounced people) set up a dhoony and meditate. Narendra told them to burn all their desires in this dhoony fire. The younger devotees did this and they actually felt that their desires had been burnt and experienced a wonderful bliss within. Around 4:00 a.m. they went to their beds.
During this time, Narendra was experiencing great turmoil in his personal life. He had to study law to support his mother and siblings and had to fight in court against his own relatives who were trying to take away their ancestral house. In spite of all that, Narendra kept his spiritual level high and helped the younger disciples to do the same.
Narendra’s Spiritual Power and the Master’s scolding:
One night, on March 1886, Narendra asked his brother disciple Kali to touch his right knee, and then entered into deep meditation. Kali’s hand began to tremble; he felt a kind of electric shock. Afterwards Sri Ramakrishna rebuked Narendra for frittering away spiritual powers before accumulating them in sufficient measure. He told Narendra that he had injured Kali’s spiritual growth. After talking to Kali, Sri Ramakrishna found that the damage was not serious.
Narendra’s Desire for Samadhi & Sri Ramakrishna’s Guidance:
At the Cossipore Garden House, Narendra’s longing for the vision of God knew no limit. One day, he asked Sri Ramakrishna for a boon to remain merged in Samadhi (complete absorption in God). He wanted to mediate for three or four days at a stretch, interrupting his meditation now and then only for a bite of food to preserve the body. Sri Ramakrishna said, “You are a fool. There is a stage higher than that. It is you who sing: ‘O Lord! Thou art all that exists.” Sri Ramakrishna wanted him to see God in all beings and to serve them with the spirit of worship.
One day, Narendra was meditating under a tree with Girish Chandra Gosh at the Cossipore Garden House. The place was infested with mosquitoes. Girish tried in vain to concentrate. Casting his eyes on Narendra, he saw that Narendra was absorbed in meditation even though his body was covered by a blanket of insects.
Once, Narendra spent an entire night walking in the garden loudly repeating Rama’s name.
Narendra had special affection for Lord Buddha. One day, he suddenly felt an intense desire to visit Bodh-Gaya, the place where Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment. He left Cossipore with Kali and Tarak, two of his brother disciples. After they meditated for long hours under the Bo-tree where Lord Buddha had attained enlightenment, Narendra was overwhelmed by emotions and wept profusely. He embraced Tarak and told him that he had felt the presence of Lord Buddha and he had seen how Buddha’s noble life and teachings had influenced India. When Narendra came back and talked to the Master, he realized that Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings were even more appropriate for the present-time.
On another occasion when Narendra repeated his desire for uninterrupted Samadhi, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Shame on you! You are asking for such an insignificant thing. I thought that you would be like a big banyan tree, and that thousands of people would rest in your shade. But, now I see that you are seeking your own liberation.” Realizing the greatness of Sri Ramakrishna’s heart, Narendra shed profuse tears.
One day the master, unable to speak even in a whisper, wrote on a piece of paper: “Narendra will teach others.” Narendra protested. Sri Ramakrishna said, “But, you must. Your very bones will do it.”
One day while absorbed in meditation, Narendra felt only his head and not the rest of his body. He asked Gopal where his body was. Gopal was afraid that Narendra was dying. He went upstairs to Sri Ramakrishna and told him everything. Sri Ramakrishna said, “Let him stay in that state for a while; he has teased me long enough for it (Samadhi).” After a long time, Narendra regained his normal state. After that, when he entered Sri Ramakrishna’s room, Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “Now the Mother has shown you everything. But, this realization, like the jewel locked in a box, will be hidden away from you and kept in my custody. I will keep the key with me. Only after you have fulfilled your mission on this earth will the box be unlocked, and you will know everything as you have known.”
A short while before Sri Ramakrishna passed away, he called Narendra to his room and asked him to sit by his bedside. Then he intently looked at Narendra and went into deep meditation. Narendra felt a subtle force, resembling an electric current, entering his body. He gradually lost his consciousness. After some time he regained normal consciousness and found that Sri Ramakrishna was weeping. Sri Ramakrishna said, “O Naren! Today I have given you everything I possess. Now I am no more than a fakir, a penniless beggar. By the power I have transmitted to you, you will accomplish great things in the world, and not until then will you return to the source whence you have come.”
Sri Ramakrishna’s Highest State:
Because of his throat cancer, Sri Ramakrishna could not eat anything. Narendra asked Sri Ramakrishna to pray to Mother Kali so that he could eat some food. Sri Ramakrishna told Narendra that he could not do this; he had never asked Mother Kali for any worldly favor. Narendra told him his devotees want his body to be alive, so he had to ask Mother Kali on behalf of his devotees and not for himself. Sri Ramakrishna could not refuse his beloved disciple’s request. A little later in a sad voice Sri Ramakrishna told Narendra, “Yes, I told Mother Kali that I could not swallow any food on account of the sore in my throat, and asked Her to do something about it. But the Mother said, pointing to you all, ‘Why, are you not eating enough through all these mouths?’ I felt so humiliated that I could not utter any word.” This was the highest example of realizing “Oneness of Existence”.
Caring for young disciples:
Once, a few young devotees decided that they would tap a date palm in the garden and drink its fresh juice. Before the young devotees approached the date tree, Sri Ramakrishna swiftly got out from his bed and ran downstairs to the tree. Holy Mother was surprised to see Sri Ramakrishna doing this since he could hardly walk in the room. When Sri Ramakrishna returned Holy Mother asked the reason for him going downstairs. Sri Ramakrishna said that there was a cobra living under the date tree. He went there and asked the cobra to leave the garden. He made sure that the cobra left before the young devotees went near the tree.
January 1st Incident:
On January 1, 1886 the Master felt better and expressed a desire to walk in the garden for a while. Because of the holiday, the householder devotees began arriving at the Cossipore Garden House after midday–individually and in groups. The Master came down around 3:00 p.m. There were more than 30 people talking among themselves inside the house and sitting under the trees in the garden. When they saw Sri Ramakrishna coming down, they all stood reverently and then bowed down to him.
Before anyone had spoken a word, the Master addressed Girish Chandra Ghosh, asking him, “Girish, what have you seen and understood (about me) that makes you say all these things (that Sri Ramakrishna is an Incarnation of God) to everyone and everywhere?” Girish Chandra Ghosh knelt down at the Master’s feet. Then with folded hands he looked at Sri Ramakrishna and said in a voice choked with emotion: “What more can I say of Him? Even the sages, Vyas and Valmiki, could find no words to measure His glory!” Girish Chandra Ghosh’s sincere faith expressed in those words touched the heart of the Master. While looking at Girish he said: “What more can I tell you? I bless you all. May you all be illumined!” Sri Ramakrishna went into ecstasy.
The selfless and profound blessing touched the devotees deep within their hearts, and with great joy they said, “Victory to Sri Ramakrishna!” One by one they bowed down to Sri Ramakrishna and he in return blessed all of them with his divine touch. The devotees felt that they were spiritually uplifted by his blessings.
The householder devotees felt that on that day (January 1, 1886) the Master became “Kalpataru” (wish fulfilling tree). The monastic disciples who were busy cleaning up Sri Ramakrishna’s bed and room felt that on that day the Master manifested his divine nature and made everyone fearless.
Incarnation of God:
Two days before Sri Ramakrishna left his body, Narendra was standing by his bedside. A thought flashed in the mind of Narendra, ‘Was the Master really an Incarnation of God?’ He told himself that in this excruciating pain of the throat cancer, if the Master declared himself as an Incarnation of God, then only would he would believe it. Sri Ramakrishna read his mind and said, “O my Naren, are you still not convinced? He who in the past was born as Rama and Krishna is now living in this body as Ramakrishna-but not from the standpoint of your Vedanata.”
Holy Mother’s Austerities for Sri Ramakrishna:
Since Sri Ramakrishna’s health was deteriorating quickly, Holy Mother decided to seek divine help. She went to the famous Tarakeswar Shiva Temple with Sri Ramakrishna’s niece and a maidservant.
Holy Mother described her experience in her own words, “I went to Tarkeswar and lay myself down before Lord Shiva without food and drink for two days. I prayed and kept vigil, but got no response from the Lord. On second night I was startled by a sound – a cracking sound as if someone were striking a heap of baked earthen pots with a heavy cudgel. I got up and this thought came to my mind: “Who is one’s husband? Who are your relatives? For whose sake am I about to give up my life? All my attachments were completely cut asunder, and my mind was filled with renunciation. I groped my way through the darkness to the back of the temple, where the holy water offered to Shiva was accumulated in a basin. I splashed that water on my eyes and face and drank it. My throat was dry because I had been fasting. I felt refreshed. Next day, I returned to Cossipore. The moment the Master saw me, he asked, “Well, did you get anything?” Then flexing his right thumb, he said, “Nothing is real. Isn’t that so?””
Last Instructions to Holy Mother:
(1) How to live: A few days before his passing, Sri Ramakrishna told Holy Mother, “Let me tell you something. Do not stretch out your hand to anyone, even for a penny. You will not lack simple food and clothes. If you hold your hand out to anyone, remember, you will sell him your head also. If it is absolutely necessary, you may beg your food, but never live in anyone else’s house. Devotees may welcome you in their houses with great respect and affection, but never allow your hut in Kamarpukur to fall into despair.
Please stay in Kamarpukur. Grow some spinach and eat that spinach with rice. Chant name of God.”
(2) You have to do many things: One day Holy Mother knew that there is something in Sri Ramakrishna’s mind. She asked, “Please tell me what is in your mind?”
He pointed to his body and said, “Wouldn’t you do anything? Must this person (meaning himself) have to do everything?”
Holy Mother said, “But, what can I do? I am a mere woman.”
Sri Ramakrishna said, “No, no. You have to do many things.”
(3) Siddha Mantras: One day, Sri Ramakrishna taught Holy Mother eight mantras and said, “These are all siddha mantras (mantras for attaining illumination). Please teach these mantras to those who come to you for initiation. Those who receive one of these mantras will have the vision of their Chosen Deities during their life time or at least at the time of death. Later many people will come to you for initiation.”
Last Minutes of Sri Ramakrishna:
On August 15, 1886, Holy Mother had some bad omens. She recalled: “On that day everything was topsy-turvy beginning in the morning. I was cooking ‘khichuri’ for the Master’s disciples and it burnt at the bottom. I served the top portion to them and we ate at the bottom portion. After my bath, I hung my red-bordered sari outside to dry in the sun and someone stole it. I tried to lift the earthen water jar and it slipped from my hand and broke into pieces.” We can understand Holy Mother’s state of mind during that time.
At the end of the day when Holy Mother and Lakshmi went to Sri Ramakrishna’s room, he said in a feeble voice: “I am glad you are here. I feel as if I am going to a faraway country across water-very far away.” Holy Mother burst into tears. The Master consoled her, saying: “Why should you feel troubled? You will live as you are living now. They (meaning Narendra and others) will do for you as they are doing for me. Look after Lakshmi and keep her with you.”
At midnight he summoned Naren to his bedside and gave him the last instructions. The disciples stood around him. On August 16, 1886, at two minutes past one in the early morning, Sri Ramakrishna uttered three times, in a ringing voice, the name of his beloved Mother Kali and gave up his body.
After the cremation ceremony when Holy Mother was putting on the signs of a Hindu widow, Sri Ramakrishna appeared to her and said, “I am not dead. I have just moved from one room to another.”
Beginning of Ramakrishna Order of Monks:
Every year during “Makar Sankrinti” (an auspicious day for Hindu when sun is in a certain position -usually it is around January 14th) monks and pilgrims from all over India go to Gangasagar, the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal, for a holy bath. A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna known as “Elder Gopal” (Senior Gopal) wanted to acquire virtue by offering clothes to holy people on this day. He bought 12 pieces of ochre clothes and 12 rosaries for this purpose. When Sri Ramakrishna heard this, he told Senior Gopal: “You will attain a thousand times more virtue if you offer these to my children (the young disciples who wanted to renounce the world)…Where else will you find such all-renouncing monks?”
Senior Gopal was convinced. On January 12, 1886 (Makar Sankranti) senior Gopal gave 12 ochre clothes and rosaries to Sri Ramakrishna, who after blessing them, distributed them to the 11 young disciples, namely Narendra, Rakhal, Niranjan, Baburam, Shashi, Sharat, Kali, Jogin, Latu, Tarak, and Gopal. He kept the 12th set for Girish Chandra Ghosh. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna initiated these eleven young disciples into monastic life, and thus himself laid the foundation of the future Ramakrishna Order of the monks.
In order to have an experience of being monks, Sri Ramakrishna asked young disciples to go out and beg for their food from houses as the traditional monks did. It was tough for these youngsters who were born in upper or middle class families and had never begged for anything. Narendra and a couple of youngsters decide to follow the command of Sri Ramakrishna. First, they went to Holy Mother and begged their food. Holy Mother was taken by surprise and then she gave them handful of cooked rice. When they begged for food outside the Cossipore Garden House, they had mixed responses. Some gave food with reverence while some became angry on them for begging. Thus, in all possible ways, Sri Ramakrishna trained them to be monks.
(Thanks to Arundhathi Johri and Kanna Pichappan for writing the original report, Nisha Parikh for editing this post and Deba Uncle for providing the necessary information needed to write this post.)