In this age of ours, when cart-loads of books are turned out by your commercialized publishing houses-books which entertain, bore or debase, but seldom instruct and much less inspire-the ‘Life of M. and Shri Ramakrishna Kathamrita’s comes as a refreshing shower on a parched desert. “…the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna recorded by M. will remain a perennial spring of inspiration and enlightenment to spiritual aspirants at all levels of evolution in all climes.” - from the Foreword to this book.
-A faithful, realistic but reverential, account for those who attach importance to spiritual values especially emphasized in the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.
In his own words M. was ‘an insignificant person’, who had ‘lived by the side of an ocean’ (of spirituality) and kept with him ‘a few pitchers of the sea water’. When a visitor came, he ‘entertained him by that’. He would speak of nothing else but his Master’s words.
An ideal householder living the life of Spirit, like the lotus in a pond; ‘the Vyasa Deva of Sri Ramakrishna Lila’.
Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, Hindi,
-Complete in 5 parts.
Shri Ma Darshan, Bengali in 16 Vol.
Shri Ma Darshan, Hindi, first 5 parts
M., The Apostle and The Evangelist, 5 vols. In English
Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita Centenary Memorial
A Short Life of M.
These books record the teachings of self-realised sages on Indian culture, spiritual life, self-knowledge, God-realisation and the practice of different paths in yoga-suited to the need of modern times-a study of which has enabled many men and women in India, and of foreign lands, to qualify for everlasting peace and eternal bliss.
‘Life of M. and Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita’, is a publication that all persons who attach importance to spiritual values, and especially those whose interest in this subject has been generated through the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, would welcome with utmost eagerness and warmth. For, in this age of ours, when cart-loads of books are turned out by your commercialise publishing houses - books which entertain, bore or debase, but seldom instruct and much less inspire - the ‘Life of M. and Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita’s comes as a refreshing shower on a parched desert. Sri Ramakrishna’s life has been described by Mahatma Gandhi as a life that ‘enables us to see God face to face.’ In making this precious heritage of the Master’s life available to mankind through a faithful and realistic account of an important phase of it, when the fully blossomed flower of the Master’s genius was attracting large numbers of spiritual seekers like swarms of honey-seeking bees, Mahendra Nath Gupta, under the pen name of M., has done to mankind a service of a magnitude which few other authors can equal or excel.
There are no doubt detailed biographies of the Master which give an elaborate account of his life and many of his precious teachings, But what makes the Gospel unique is the detailed and meticulously accurate reports of his day to day dealings with devotees and his lively conversations with them, which enable us to have communion with the inspiring personality of the Master through the contemplation of the scenes depicted and the spoken words recorded therein. In fact the original idea of M. in recording these talks in his diary was chiefly to help himself do this kind of contemplation. Its publication in later times has fortunately extended the sphere of its usefulness to devotees for all time. Diary-keeping was a habit of M., from his very boyhood, and it looks as if he was brought by a wise Providence into this world to play this important part in the life-drama of the great Incarnation. His service of Sri Ramakrishna in this respect reminds one of what Vyasa did to Sri Krishna by recording the Bhagavad Gita.
It is doubtful in any world teacher’s words have come down to mankind with such faithfulness as Sri Ramakrishna’s thanks to M. recording them. In the case of most world-teachers, their teachings were recorded decades, in some cases centuries, after their life time. Few of them had, among their followers and disciples, such educated and enlightened recorders as M. Moreover the accounts of he life and teachings of many of them have come to us through poets and panegyrists, with the idealization, distortion and inaccuracy inherent in such transmissions. No transmission of any message through a human agency can in fact avoid some interference by subjective elements, but it can be minimized if the transmitter is well qualified and the version is based on proper records. M. had both these requisites. A prominent religious leader once approached M. and expressed his doubt about the accuracy of his Gospel, as he could not imagine how such a voluminous work could be produced from memory. M.’s reaction was to throw before him some three or four morocco-bound volumes of the diary that he had kept, on the basis of which he had reproduced the words of the Master. He was no doubt aided also by his powerful memory illumined by concentrated meditation.
The versatility of the contents of the Gospel consists in its simplicity combined with profundity. It is said of scriptures as also of great literary compositions that they are like pieces of sugar cane. If a piece of it is given to a baby he will get some juice he will get much more of the juice. And if these pieces are put in a crushing mill, still more juice can be extracted. In the same way every scripture will yield more and more meaning according to the capacity and application of a votary. This is true also of the Gospel, with one notable difference, however, most of the scriptures at first frighten a beginner, making him feel that it is beyond his capacity to understand, and only by repeated application can he begin to appreciate them a little. But with the Gospel it is otherwise. Its charm is like love at first sight. Any one with even a little interest in spiritual values will be captivated by it at the very first contact; and as he goes on with its study day by day, he will get more and more of the inebriating spiritual manna it is replete with.
The wonderful manner in which complicated spiritual and ethical problems are solved in simple words and charming parables is one of its unique features. Swami Vivekananda once said that on any of the Master’s sayings he could give lessons for three day-so profound they were in significance. The challenge was put to the test by a devotee who asked him to expound the implications of the Master’s parable of the Elephant Narayana and the Advaita Guru’s disciple. The Swami brought into his exposition the vexed question of man’s free will in relation to the supremacy of Iswara’s will, and engaged himself for several hours in expounding the relevance of the Master’s saying on this problem, in attacking which the philosophical acumen of many a thinker has got blunted.
It was because of this balancing of simplicity with profundity that the Gospel has attracted aspirants at various levels of spiritual evolution and intellectual understanding. In the scenario depicted in the Gospel we find simple devotees, hardheaded metaphysicians, zealous reformers, old men, young college students, learned Pandits - all hearing the Master with one pointed attention and evident elation of spirit. Both pious householders and enquiring young men who later became sannyasins, are found among the audience sitting at his feet. There are those who hold that he Gospel is mainly meant for householders and Bhaktas. But then is it not strange that Narendra, Rakhal, Baburam, Hari, Sarat, Sasi and other young men who embraced the life of Sannyasa afterwards figure in the Gospel as sitting with animated interest to hear those talks? Like the refrain in a musical note, the teachings in the Gospel are punctuated all through by the exhortation to renounce ‘Kamini-Kanchana’. If this is not for Sannyasins, for whom is it meant? As for teachings on the Advaita philosophy, the Gospel contains much of it, though it may differ form the hair-splitting and desiccated brand of Advaita expounded by Pandits. Bhakti and Jnana, adoration and discrimination are like the obverse and the reverse of the same coin in the Master’s teachings. The Bhagavata Purana claims that its teachings are like a rice ball which will give devotion, renunciation and knowledge at a single gulp. So are the Gospel teachings capable of generating simultaneously these three spiritual values, which are really not three but one. In fine, like the Upanishads, the Gita, the Bible, the Bhagavata and other scriptures, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna recorded by M. will remain a perennial spring of inspiration and enlightenment to spiritual aspirants at all levels of evolution in all climes.
Brahmachari Bhairava Chaitanya of the Belur Math arrived at the Morton School at about 9 o'clock on Monday, 2 June 1924. He was collecting materil for the lives of Sri Ramakrishan's close disciples. His interview with M.,however, did not elicit much information about his antecedents, for he had different ideas on such biographical details. What is the use of such details?" he asked and added, 'the mind of man said Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna), 'was always full of trash'. On the top of it to add all this! What's the use? Please write only of my contact with Thakur's life. All else is useless- without substance.........If you ask me which is the greatest event of my life, I say, it is my meeting the Paramahamsa Deva......."
However, when pressed, M. revealed the following facts about his past life-
Born on Friday, the 14th July 1854.
Son of Sri Madhusudan, working in the High Court (at Calcutta).
Studied at the Hare school and the Presidency College in Calcutta.
Had darshana of Thakur in 1882 when he was about 28 years old.
He had been in his sister's house for three or four days in Baranagore when he went to the Dakshineswar temple to see Thakur.
Kaviraj Ishanchandra Majumdar was the name of his sister's husband. He knew Thakur and used to visit him. He was one of the Thakur's physicians.
The 'Kathamrita' 'is the history of mind and soul'. If one looks for it in the Kathamrita,' one will surely find it all in that book. It is the life of one who talked to God night and day, sometimes in the presence of a crowd filling a whole room. One who revealed himself saying: Satchidananda has come down in this very body ..... Well, the Kathamrita contains everything - the whole life - the unfolding of mind and soul.
He was present in all these scenes. How the mind was influenced by all these scenes and conversations has been recorded in this book.
M. used to visit Brahmo Samaj during his school and college days.
M. also gave the following further details about his early contact with Sri Ramakrishna -
'Thakur said to me, 'You have the sans1caras. That's why 1 like you.' He would not let me go anywhere else. I had only been visiting him for a year but it was a very close contact.. .. "
During the period when M. was visiting Sri Ramakrishna, he was working regularly as the headmaster of Vidyasagar's school in Shyam Bazar. Before this he had worked as the headmaster of the Narnail school for eight or nine months.
M. would not give more details. 'Read the Kainamrita; he exhorted. However, at last he offered the following further information:
"My father passed away in 1889, after Thakur had departed. My mother had passed away earlier, in 1880." M. thought for a while and then added: "I had unwavering faith in god and goddesses." He then talked of the aunt (the aunt of Baba Charan Das, a vaishnava Babaji). Said he, "What the auntie said was right. Watching his aunt bowing to the Tulasi plant, the young Charan Das asked her, 'What is all this you are doing, auntie?' The auntie was lighting a lamp in her Ttilasi grove. She replied, 'What else can I do, son? I am an ignorant woman. This alone is my refuge. Bless me, dear, that my mind remains tied down to this Tulasi spot.' Later on. the nephew, having to face trials of life. said. 'Ultimately what my auntie had said was right'."
In the Preface to Vol. XV of Sri Ma Darshan. its author Swami Nityatmanand says ".....and there is another wish which has remained unfulfilled: the writing of a biography of M. on the basis of the fifteen volumes of Sri Ma Darshan and the five volumes of the Kathamrita" The author could not fulfil this wish in his lifetime. for soon after writing the above words. he fell seriously ill and never recovered. He breathed his last in 1975.
It was to fulfll this desire of Swamiji. Founder of 'Sri Ma Trust', that the Trust itself undertook to bring out 'A Short Life of M.' in 1977. howsoever inadequately. The present volume is a considerably enlarged version. under a new title. The author of this work craves the indulgence of the reader who may find some repetitions. or other literary flaws. which have possibly crept in because of his limitations.
May Thakur's grace be on all! May they have pure selfless love at the Lord's holy feet! This message of blessings we have ourselves received recently from the old revered sadhu, Swami Sardeshanandaji, the 'boy servant of the Holy Mother' from Vrindaban on the Vijaya '87 day in the following words:
Very glad to learn that you are going to publish Sri M.'s (bigger) life. (I) pray to the Divine Mother to give you all firm faith, pure love and devotion at Her Lotus feet, and also pray (for) every success for this great work you have taken in hand. My blessings with hearty love and prayerful wishes to you ... .'
The incarnation of God as man is the most mysterious and wonderful of phenomena. That the infinite Lord who dwells at the heart of each particle of matter and each point of space, changeless through all the changes worked by time, can indeed embody Himself in a changeful and finite human form on earth is unimaginable, but it happens. But then, the Avatara-phenomenon involves much more than the one human form with which God clothes His divinity. For an Avatara is not born and raised in a glass case where all can observe and admire him as a lovely exhibit, as something different and separate from the world around. He is born into an environment prepared for his divine play and peopled with his “inner circle” of spiritual companions and helpmates. Were the Avatara kept isolated like a tiger in the cage, his infinite love and knowledge and power and being would never become manifest. As the tiger’s grandeur is seen only when he stalks his prey, and defends his young in the wild, so the Avatara’s bouindless glory is made visible only when he lives and moves among men and interacts with the world. As the fire latent in the match-head becomes manifest only by striking it, so a Godman needs an environment to strike against in order to reveal his luminous nature.
In the case of Sri Ramakrishna, how would we ever understand him were it not for Narendra and Pratap Chandra Hazra, Holy Mother and Brinde the maidservant, Nag Mahashay and Girish Ghosh? Because he interacted with devotees and worldly people, with animals and plants and the very earth itself we can learn what Divine Love and Compassion really mean, what Spiritual Knowledge and Power are like. Otherwise these words would remain empty abstractions, not the tangible realities they become when exemplified in the Avatara’s daily life.
Among those who helped to reveal the innate greatness of Sri Ramakrishna, a high place must be accorded to Mahendranath Gupta or Master Mahashay. As Sri Ramakrishna’s name will be remembered with reverence for as long as the world is inhabited by human beings, so will the name of Master Mahashay for the part he played in revealing Sri Ramakrishna to the world.
There are several roles which Master Mahashay played in the Ramakrishna-lila. The most widely known, of course, is his role as author of the Bengali Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Kathamrita or, in English translation, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Along with Swami Saradananda’s Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master, the Gospel is the most valuable record we have of Sri Ramakrishna’s earthly existence. The former is a full and detailed interpretative biography by one of the Master’s sannyasin disciples. The Gospel, however, is a record of the day-to-day life and conversations of Sri Ramakrishna during the last four and a half years of his physical life. It is primarily in the Gospel that we can see Sri Ramakrishna even now as he once lived and moved at Dakshineswar and in Calcutta. It is there alone that we can still hear his words exactly as he once spoke them, within the original setting and context of his daily life. Those of us who were born too late to sit at the Master’s feet at Dakshineswar, are nevertheless taken there in spirit by Master Mahashay, or M. as he is more familiarly known; for to read the Gospel with devotion is to sit among the devotees on the floor of the Master’s room at Dakshineswar or in Calcutta, and to listen to the words and songs and to see the dance and Samadhi of Sri Ramakrishna. As such, the Gospel is unique in world literature, for never before have an Avatara’s words and actions been caught with such beauty, naturalness, and yet exactitude. The blessings of the whole world will ever rest on the head of M. for this gift of life.
But this was not his only contribution to the Ramakrishnalila. A second was the fact of his being a receptacle of the Avatara’s transforming grace, thus demonstrating the unique power of the Avatara. In reading this Life you will learn how the young Mahendra had come to look upon suicide as the only remedy for his despair when he first chanced to meet Sri Ramakrishna in 1882, and how the grace of the Avatara lifted him out of despair and transformed him into a great saint.
But the significance of this transformation did not end with the life of Mahendra. It is a distinguishing feature of an Incarnation that his every action contains a vicarious element’s that is, his actions are not performed for the benefit of a limited circle of followers, but extend in significance to all men. Thus when Sri Ramakrishna brought the doubting Narendra to accept the truth of his spiritual realizations, the significance of this conversion did not end with Narendra but had vast repercussions affecting men in general. Narendra was representative of the modern, scientific, skeptical mentality which is prone to disbelief in spiritual reality. So in a not just figurative sense, the conversion of Narendra will prove in time to be the conversion of modern humanity; it was a vicarious conversion for the welfare of all men.
Similarly, when Mahendra was lifted out of despair into the luminous bliss of sainthood, the significance of this act of the Avatara’s grace did not end there. Along with Mahendra, modern man has been vicariously lifted out of the despair caused by materialism, religious disbelief, the complexities and tensions of modern society. The transformation of Mahendra was our transformation, as it will surely be revealed by the passage of time. It may seem just a possibility now, but time will prove its reality. Therefore we cannot be indifferent to the lifestory of the Avatara and his companions: even unconsciously we perceive something of overselves there. Having gone through this Life, you will return to the Gospel with new eyes, watching the gradual transformation of Mahendra at the hands of Sri Ramakrishna, and perceiving therein your own transformation.
A third role played by M. was that of an ideal householder, exemplifying Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on how a lover of God should live in the world. it is often said that among Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees, Nag Mahashay exemplified the ideal householder; but it is not so widely recognized that M. also demonstrated in his long life the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna on how a householder should live in the world. The glory of Nag Mahashay is that he was never touched by the world; thus he stands before us as an ideal of unsullied perfection. but the value of M.’s life is that he began as one of us, as a man who was plunged in suicidal despair, who had a family and a job; the fact that in spite of this he rose to such wonderful saintliness, is cause for hope to all householder devotees. If Nag Mahashay holds before us the ideal in all its perfection, Master Mahashay is one whom we can identify with and feel close to, one who inspires us with courage.
When M. visited Sri Ramakrishna for the second time, he asked the Master, “How ought we to live in the world?” Sri Ramakrishna gave him a beautiful, detailed replay which everyone who has read the Gospel will remember. What is not so well known is just how deeply the advice penetrated M.’s heart. From this Short Life you will come to learn how, in his later life, M. would sometimes get up at night and carry his bedding to the open veranda of the Senate Hall of the Calcutta University to spend the night among the waifs of the city, in order to get over the idea of home and family. And there are many other moving examples of how he lived in the household with the inner spirit of sannyasa.
There is another aspect to M.’s role as an ideal householder. One day Swami Vivekananda said to Saratchandra Chakravarty” “Have no fear, my son. You are not like ordinary worldly men - neither householder, nor exactly sannyasin, but quite a new type.” If the Swami was indeed a true prophet, then we can safely predict that in time many will follow this new way, and they will surely look back on M. as one who set for them an ideal. For he followed a middle course which avoided the extremes of worldliness and monasticism, a spiritually fruitful path which can be followed by sincere aspirants who want more than the life of an ordinary householder yet who, for any number of reasons, cannot or do not wish to formally renounce the world as sannyasins. In effect, by being an ideal householder, M. pointed out the way to this new type of man who is neither exactly householder nor sannyasin.
This “new type of man”, at the same time, has much in common with a very ancient type - the Vedic rishi. Indeed, it has been said that Sri Ramakrishna came to revive the Vedic spirit and attitude an attitude of simple faith and adoration, of reverence towards nature and openness to truth in all its aspects. M. played an important part in this revival, for in his life was find the ideal of the Vedic rishi relived in modern times. Like the rishis of old, he neither took sannyasa nor lived the worldly life, but remained totally detached within the household. He had a reverential attitude towards all life, towards all existence, and was a lifelong seeker of truth in all its aspects. When we see him at Mihijam, living in a secluded thatched cottage, with devotees gathered round him to hear his exposition of the Bhagavata, we cannot but be reminded of an ancient rishi in his forest hermitage.
So M. was at once an ideal householder, forerunner of a new type of man, and reviver of the ancient rishi ideal.
The fourth role which M. played was that of apostle who dedicated his life to spreading the ideas of his Master. One day the Divine Mother said to Sri Ramakrishna about him: “This bhakta will remain in the household. He will read out the Bhagavata to humanity scalded by the burning fire of worldliness.” During Sri Ramakrishna’s lifetime, M. wanted to take sannyasa. When one day he told the Master so, the latter silenced him once for all with the words: “Let nobody think that if he does not do the Mother’s work, it would remain undone. The Mother can turn even a straw into a teacher - when something goes out of order the engineer can always replace it,” meaning that M. should consider it his good fortune that the Mother had chosen him to lead the way for householders.
Thus, M, did not set himself up as a teacher of men on his own authority, but was placed in the role by the Divine Mother and Sri Ramakrishna. And his active apostleship began even during the lifetime of the Master. On the one hand, M. brought many of his students - like Sarada, later Swami Trigunatitananda - to the feet of the Master; and on the other hand, Sri Ramakrishna asked certain of his devotees - like young Subodh, later Swami Subodhananda - to visit M. But this was only the beginning. In later life an ever-swelling stream of devotees came to have darshan and learn from the rishi-like M. Many of an earlier generation of monks of the Ramakrishna Order owed their monastic vocation to M.’s inspiration.
What was the secret of this attraction? In M.’s own words which were spoken during the lifetime of the Master: “I am an insignificant person. But I live by the side of an ocean and keep with me a few pitchers of sea-water. When a visitor comes, I entertain him with that. What else can I speak of but his words?” The ocean by the side of which he lived was Sri Ramakrishna. One is tempted to disagree with him when he calls himself an “insignificant person”.
But no, that was his strength and his greatness. He made himself insignificant so that, similar to St. Paul, he could say, I live, no longer I but Ramakrishna lives in me. World-weary souls coming to him in later years found not Mahendranath Gupta but an inlet into the luminous ocean of the Avatara. And there they found Life and Peace.
Yet again we must say that he was not insignificant, for one living on the shore of an ocean partakes of the nature of the ocean: its vastness is reflected in his objectless gaze, its immeasurable depths in the calmness of his demeanour; the sea breeze plays in his hair; the saltwater stains his clothes; the sea’s agelessness silvers his beard; its infinite moods play in the twinkle of his eyes, its waves in the rhythm of his gait, the roar of its surf in his laughter, its profoundity in his words. In time Master Mahashay became thoroughly identified with the ocean of Sri Ramakrishna through love.
M. was the author of the Gospel. He was a living demonstration of the Avatara’s transforming race. He was an ideal householder, who revived the Vedic rishi ideal and who was at the same time the forerunner of a new type of man. He was a divinely appointed apostle of the Avatara who brought, and continues to bring through his writings and life’s example countless souls within the orbit of Sri Ramakrishna’s influence.
As Swami Vivekananda once said in reply to the charge that he had taught Vedanta and not Ramakrishna while in the West: “Well, if I talked to them about Sri Ramakrishna they would at once reply, ‘We have our Jesus Christ, what more have you to of Vedanta and the Vedantic ideal of God-realization. Naturally they would inquire, ‘Who is the man who has realized this ideal in this age?” Now, as the message of Vedanta spreads over the world, people are beginning to ask; and more and more find their answer in Sri Ramakrishna. Then, as they begin to read the Gospel, they also naturally come to ask, who was the wonderful man who recorded this remarkable book? This Life of M. gives an enchanting answer.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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