[Published in Vicharasetu – October 1991. The author Ma Gurupriya was then ‘Ratnadeepa’]
The Lord and His Devotees – the Twofold Satsang
When I experienced the bliss of my Lord’s pure love, the mind wanted to remain immersed in His thoughts more and more. Till then my spiritual routine consisted of japa and meditation, reading and introspection. On a shelf in the wall I had placed Baba’s and Swamiji’s photos together with those of Sri Ramakrishna Deva, Sarada Maa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother of Pondicherry. Everyday I used to light incense sticks and prostrate in front of the pictures. But, for meditation and japa I had neither any fixed place to sit nor any fixed timing, although almost throughout the day I was given to introspection and self-analysis.
My Lord now grew in me a desire to be regular in spiritual routine, and to have some devotional practices too. I wanted to have a fixed place to sit – in front of a sort of ‘pooja-shrine’ at one corner of the room – a shrine where I would sit alone reading or introspecting, doing japa or meditation. If not anything, I would sit there quietly thinking about Him. And, I wanted to sit there very regularly and frequently.
The mere imagination of sitting in front of the shrine offering flowers, lighting lamp, pasting sandal, etc. used to bring a sublime feeling in me, a touch of His divinity and purity. I aspired to turn all my thoughts towards Him and read, talk or hear about Him continuously. Very naturally, the mind craved more and more to be in the company of devotees whose mind revelled in His thoughts. I longed to meet them, listen to them or simply observe them. I wanted to know about their saadhana and their thoughts in order to get a touch of the devotion and sraddhaa they were blessed with. Any interaction with devotees or reading about saadhakas made me very happy and inspired. I used to get drenched in bhakti and love.
There was an excellent library in the college where I was teaching. I used to hunt for books reading which the mind would be inspired – it would experience purity, sublimity and expansion. I longed to read stories and biographies of devotees, which infused in me the touch of simple love and devotion towards Lord. One day, I came across a book: “Sri Sri Ramakrishna Leelaprasanga” – a detailed biography of Sri Ramakrishna, written by Swami Saradananda (Sarat Maharaj, one of Sri Ramakrishna Deva’s sannyasin disciples, later the secretary of Ramakrishna Math and mission). I got completely absorbed in this book which gave me a vivid chronological picture of Sri Ramakrishna Deva’s life – his mumukshutva, saadhana and siddhi; his later life with devotees and disciples; his last days when the young disciples (who later became Sannyasins) renounced their home to look after him day and night.
Although I was reading “Sri Ramakrishna Kathaamrita” (recorded by Sri M) regularly, I was not aware of all these details till I came across this ‘Leelaprasanga’. Through this book, my Lord bestowed on me a new identity – that of a person aspiring to be a devotee. Slowly He made clear to me what the word ‘devotion’ means, and I understood it to be that sublime feeling that washed away all impurities, keeping a single loving thought in the mind – that of His. It was that sublime sense of belonging to the Lord, which made me feel that He was my very own, the surest refuge, and my best friend. The very remembrance of the word ‘bhakti’ started generating in me an unwavering surrender and love towards Him, making His Company more and more ‘living’ and wholesome. I felt like an innocent child always huddled by the mother, having no worries or fear.
The ‘Gospel’ and ‘Leela-prasanga’ made me float in a sea of ananda. I was touched by the closeness and intimacy Sri Ramakrishna Deva had for Mother Kali. I was inspired by his love and devotion that was so natural but so elevating. Being a Bengali I was born and brought up with a culture of worshiping Durga and Kaali calling them Mother. However, the ‘mother aspect’ I used to find only in Maa Durga – in her serene but powerful face, in her beautiful merciful eyes – the perfect matri-moorti radiating love and bliss! About Maa Kaali, I never had much of an attraction. I rather felt a bit scared, perhaps because of her frightening appearance. Whenever I visited Kaali Temples, I felt shaky thinking that she would get annoyed with me because I was not having bhakti for Her.
Reading about Sri Ramakrishna Deva’s emotions, this fear of mine got dissolved. Instead, there grew the same emotions as I had for Maa Durga. Sri Ramakrishna’s child-like behaviour with Maa Kaali revealed to me that she is also a loving Mother underneath her bheeshana-roopa (fierce appearance). She too waits with stretched arms to give protection and shelter, to give love and solace. The difference between these two forms of the Mother – so to say, amongst all forms of the Goddess – dissolved and the mind started prostrating at the lotus-feet of the One Universal Mother. I sought refuge in those loving arms with the firm belief that if I fell or stumbled, she would surely lift me up. Wiping off the dust from my body and tears from my eyes, she would hold my hand to lead me ahead. She would never disown me under any situation and would be forgiving even if I committed serious mistakes.
Many years later, I came across a verse and was thrilled to find how our Seers have expressed all the emotions that transpire in human mind:
jagadamba vicitram-atra kim paripoorna-karunasti cen-mayi |
aparadha-paramparavrtam na hi mata samupekshate sutam ||
Dakshineswar Kaali Temple (where Sri Ramakrishna lived) and Belur Math (Sri Ramakrishna Math founded by Swami Vivekananda) started attracting me strongly. I had been to these two shrines on the two banks of Ganga even in my childhood; but the attitude now was entirely different. Earlier it was only visiting a temple. The same place now I looked forward to visit because there lived once a Saint, a Mahaapurusha, who did intense saadhana and attained siddhi; who had been talking to God and of God in the closest terms.
I had read in the ‘Gospel’ about the Satsangs which used to be held in Sri Ramakrishna Deva’s room. Mentally I had become a regular participant in the Satsangs that took place there years back. The room appeared to be charged with austerity, devotion and purity even now.
My fondness and attraction towards Ramakrishna Deva, Sarada Maa and their disciples grew everyday. There was a restlessness to know more about them – their saadhana, the difficulties they faced and many subtle behavioural notes and excellences. I started buying books on them and in quick succession read the lives of Sarada Maa, Swami Vivekananda and some other Sannyasin disciples and also the collection of their letters, writings and sayings.
I was particularly impressed by the life of Sarada Maa – her simplicity, her unwavering faith in her Lord Sri Ramakrishna Deva and unquestioning surrender to his wishes effacing her own preferences completely, and above all, her all-embracing love for the devotees of her Lord. This love, which she so naturally showered on everybody, was a great lesson, inspiration and guidance for me. In all events of her life I found her love to be shining most – an embodiment of Universal Motherhood, always loving and forgiving! In many difficult situations of my life, I have been helped immensely by reading or remembering her words and attitude.
Also, I was greatly inspired by the lives of Swami Vivekananda and his brother-disciples. I wondered what made them renounce home at such an early age, what was the strength and inspiration behind their determination to undergo such austerity and hardships, and especially, what made their co-existence possible, enduring all difficulties even when their Guru was no more in body to bring them under the common shade of his love and affection!
The later events in the lives of these young souls revealed to me a great truth – it was the love and bhakti for their Master that kept them unified in spite of all differences and difficulties. Supreme devotion and love towards the Master generated strong bond of love and integrity amongst themselves.
I have always held precious the relationship between the Guru and the Sishya, knowing that it is greater and loftier than any other relationship in the world. I wished that my relationship with my Guru should be such that I would give myself completely to his wishes and depend solely on him for each and every little thought of mine. Whenever I ruminated over the incidents that pictured Ramakrishna Deva’s love for his disciples, I had a sublime feeling of getting drenched in my Guru’s love. Whenever I came across incidents depicting the disciples’ selfless love and surrender to their Master, I used to remain absorbed in a sublime non-expectant surrender to my Guru and also spontaneous love for his devotees.
While writing these pages, very often I discuss with Swamiji and Aroopji whatever I have written. This time, after narrating this much to Swamiji, I mentioned: “While reading about any great Saint, we have always found that we not only develop Sraddha towards the Saint, we also grow a great devotion towards our own Guru, experiencing a purity, elevation and enrichment.”
Swamiji said: “Yes. There are two complementary processes – reading about God’s glories and reading about the devotees’ life-stories. The former produces exhilaration and one-pointed-ness while the latter provides functional inspiration, clarity and confidence. Whenever one reads biographies of Saints or saadhakas, one should be appreciative and admiring, and not questioning and critical. When we simply appreciate and adore the qualities found in them, we too start acquiring those qualities naturally. Similarly, one should not compare between Gurus or Sishyas. Simple admiration of the noble and sublime qualities expressed through any such relationship will naturally generate sublime feelings in our heart.”
Exactly that was happening to me. On one hand, the stories and glory of Sri Krishna in Sreemad Bhaagavatam were giving me exhilaration and emotional enrichment, developing an intense love for little Gopala – my ‘Poshaa’. On the other hand, the constant association of Ramakrishna Deva and his disciples was providing me inspiration and deeper insight into the subtleties of saadhana. Through the mental association with these holy lives of surrender and dedication, my Lord made me take bath in the purifying cool waters of the river of devotion, generating in me more and more fervour, sincerity, and above all, love and bhakti towards my own Guru.
The Real Pilgrimage (Teerthayatra)
While I was being led through this devotional phase of my saadhana, my Lord gave me an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Sri Amaranath, the unique cave-shrine of Himalaya where the Siva-linga is naturally formed of ice by freezing of water dripping from one corner of the cave. Situated in the most enchanting snow-clad range of Himalayas, Amarnath is considered to be one of the most difficult and also most beautiful pilgrim centres.
I have always found Aroopji having a strong attraction for the Himalayas. He would often talk of trekking to Amarnath. I never had any attraction for such difficult pilgrimage earlier. But now, as the mind got immersed in devotion, I started growing an eagerness to visit Amarnath. The word Teerthayatra (pilgrimage) appeared with new meaning setting a ripple in my mind. I was getting lost in a serene quietude thinking of the devotees, Saints and Seers visiting these places from time immemorial, taking up the austere trek through nature’s desolate vastness – in search of the Unknown!
I had visited quite a few holy places but never before I was blessed with such calmness, vastness and nearness to God. This was a unique experience. Nature with its matchless beauty had captured our hearts right from Srinagar and Pahalgam, the starting point of the trek. The lonely path winding through the hills, the tall trees stretching their arms aspiring to reach the sky, the taller mountains beyond with shining snow-clad peaks and the overwhelming silence of the place reminded us constantly of Lord’s serenity and vastness. As I gazed higher up to the sky, I saw my Lord’s smiling face – He was waiting for me to reach Him.
I do not remember what exactly my thoughts were when the trek began, but this much I remember that I was constantly thinking of my Lord bringing Him very near to my heart and surrendering myself to His loving hands – while walking, while taking rest on the roadside stones, or while trying to sleep at night in the open tents. After three days’ trek, we had the darshan of Sri Amarnath on the Gurupoornima day. It had been snowing the previous night and the tents were covered with snow. Early morning when we started from Seshnag, it was a wonderful sight! As far as the eyes could reach, it was all white, broken only by a black winding line of moving pilgrims – like ants crawling, one behind the other.
This is Teerthayatra ! This is the way thousands and thousands of devotees since ages have been trekking to reach their Lord! Today I too am one of them. Lord Himself has dragged me on to this path. This wonderful scene charged my mind with the thought of man’s eternal pilgrimage to the Lord within! This realization together with the chanting of mantra filled my eyes with tears of ānanda and gratitude.
Throughout the whole long journey I was full with mantra-japa. The body was becoming cold. There were enough occasions to make the mind fearful – the frightening depths alongside the narrow winding pass, the dangerous gorges with loose stones rolling down from the top, the uncertain glacial and snowy region where the path was primarily determined by the leading horses, often at the cost of their lives! To add to these, all of us (we were four – Aroopji, his parents and myself) got scattered from one another. I found myself chanting my mantra, holding on to it firmly. I knew nothing except my Lord’s ‘face’. Deeply absorbed in the chanting I was moving ahead.
When I reached the cave and sat on the steps, my mind became blank. There was no hurry for darshan. Slowly I got up and washed my hands and face in the ice-cold waters of Amar-Ganga, the charming stream flowing down from the cave. Then I entered the cave. And there stood the Sivalinga of ice reaching the ceiling of the cave about 16ft high! I stood there motionless – how long I do not know. The eyes closed by themselves. I was seeing within: “Santa Siva-moorti – prasanna-gambheera” smiling at me, the purifying Ganga flowing down His locks. The mantra “Namah Sivaaya” was coming from within spontaneously. It was a memorable experience. I felt, my Lord in the form of Siva had been waiting all these days for me and I had reached my destination. I felt like standing there for ages.
How long I stood there I do not know. With the eyes closed, barefoot on ice, I was absorbed in my Lord’s ‘embrace’. It was only when my mother-in-law asked me to light incense sticks that I became aware of the surroundings. I looked at the linga and spoke silently: “I came and stood before You; I saw You with my eyes. Then You made me see Yourself within me. Bless that I keep on seeing You within.”
While climbing down I realized that I had neither prostrated nor done pradakshina. I had not even touched the linga. But I had no sense of loss, I was full with my darshan and bhaava.
Before we started for this pilgrimage, I had received Swamiji’s blessings through a letter in which he had written: “I must see, at least hear, that you are cheerful and contented. To be happy, to feel delight, one needs only the animate body and the mind and viveka. Even the external agencies bestow contentment only through the mind. A mindless body cannot feel delight. Ascribe delight then to the mind, as its property and quality. Having the mind intact how dare you disown delightfulness? Think and try. That is the real climb, the real pilgrimage – Teerthayatra.”
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