Samvit Excerpts - September 2000

From the Ramakrishna Movement to the Sarada Movement

The author,
Pravrajika Shraddhaprana
is the third President of Sri Sarada Math and the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Dakshineswar, Kolkata. This is an abridged version of the discourse given on the 2nd of April 2000 during her visit to Delhi.

IN EVERY age, certain words suddenly become very popular. One such is the word 'movement' which has come to be very commonly used in our times. When referring to the message of Sri Ramakrishna, people frequently say the 'Ramakrishna Movement'. If you ask them what exactly they mean by it, very few are really able to explain. They usually echo Swami Vivekananda's words, for he said not once but again and again that in this age Sri Ramakrishna had come to harmonize all religions which have plunged the world in violence and bloodshed. Despite knowing that each religion has the same goal, the followers of different religions have constantly experienced a kind of jealousy towards each other, a definite rivalry and even enmity. But when Sri Ramakrishna came, he came silently and having experienced the basic unity of all religions, he showed that there was a way to put an end to all this conflict.

Sri Ramakrishna was born in a very poor family in a remote village in Bengal. The nearest railway station was more than twenty kilometres away. Yet, can we say that the Ramakrishna Movement started with his birth or was it later, after he completed his twelve years of austere sadhana within the city of Calcutta? It is strange that many people thought that he was not a learned man. Many have even described him as being illiterate because according to them, the only suitable method of receiving knowledge is by acquiring degrees through schools and colleges. We have forgotten that there are people who can know more by going deep into their own inner selves, through meditation. This is called prajna. It is knowledge arising out of our inner self, not through our eyes and ears alone. This was the knowledge of which Sri Ramakrishna was an adept.

Can it be said that the Ramakrishna Movement started at the time that distinguished people like Keshab Chandra Sen and many others who were highly respected leaders of began to recognize Sri Ramakrishna for what he was? About Keshab Chandra Sen, Sri Ramakrishna often pointed out humorously that he had shaken hands with Queen Victoria. In those days, it was one thing to hear about Queen Victoria, one thing to see her, but quite another thing to shake hands with her. Many other distinguished people also came to meet him and went back with questions in their minds. They wondered at this simple, seemingly half-mad person who uttered words which surpassed even the truths revealed in the Vedas. In the famous biography, Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master, written by Swami Saradananda who had known him intimately. who had stayed with him and been trained by him, we learn that whatever Sri Ramakrishna said conveyed the truths revealed in the Vedas and Vedanta. Many of the truths which are not very clear to the ordinary person in the scriptures, were made intelligible through the life lived by Sri Ramakrishna. We have heard again and again from his disciples and their books that speeches or lectures will not take one far on the path of progress. What is necessary is to actually live the life. This is true for all and not only for monastic members who have renounced the world. Did Sri Ramakrishna come for the very few monastic members only, whether in the East or in the West? It cannot be.

Swami Vivekananda has clarified these points through his lectures and intimate conversations with his disciples. The Ramakrishna Movement started, according to him, when people from Calcutta came to Sri Ramakrishna and began listening to his words. To my mind, the movement should be called - don't be surprised - the Sarada Movement! Sri Ramakrishna did what other incarnations before him had done. He showed how life should be lived and in this way influenced hundreds and thousands of people. He brought a new meaning, a unique significance to religion by trying to correct the defects of dogmatism and fanaticism which had entered into it.

Sarada Devi, Calcutta, 1905

Women were coming to the forefront during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I am not considering this from the point of view of the feminist movement. That is a different thing. Women have always been the mainstay of the family even without making any demands on others, least of all the demand for equality. It is true nevertheless that no nation has lifted the ideal of womanhood so high and again trampled upon the dignity of women to such an extent as India. Yet, despite difficult circumstances, the best part of our civilization has been handed down to us by women, by mothers.

Sri Ramakrishna's father passed away when he was hardly seven years old. As he grew up, his mother and brothers all saw that this boy was different from others. He knew nothing but God and his whole life was given to God-realization. When they felt that his different sadhanas were perhaps taking him to the brink of madness, they thought that marriage might prove to be the solution, a solution which mothers continue to think of even today in order to instil a sense of responsibility in their children. However, his mother was afraid that he might not agree. But strangely enough, he not only agreed, he even told his mother the exact village and house where she should go and where she would find the chosen bride. The marriage took place between the then twenty-four year old Ramakrishna and his six year old bride! This may appear surprising to us today but it was a fairly natural event in accordance with the tradition of the time.

Sri Ramakrishna was born in 1836, Sarada Devi in 1853 and Swami Vivekananda in 1863. They silently brought in a spiritual revolution. The marriage took place in 1859, but again, according to the tradition of the time, the young girl returned to her parent's home where she was to stay till she came of age. As she grew older, she heard rumours that her husband had gone mad and she felt that it was her duty to stay with him and look after him in that state. She went to him in Dakshineswar where he was living at the time. He welcomed her with simple and affectionate words and expressed regret at the fact that Mathur Babu, who had been attending to his every need till then, was now no more. Still, he arranged for her to stay in the Nahabat, a tiny room within the temple premises. Was that then the moment of the imperceptible beginning of the Sarada Movement? Sri Ramakrishna did not reject the young Sarada. nor did he renounce her. In fact, she was not simply allowed to come and join him but she was genuinely welcomed.

The next important event we know of in the life of Sarada Devi is the 'Shodoshi Puja' of the Tantrik sadhanas which Sri Ramakrishna performed by worshipping his wife, invoking the primal energy of Adya Shakti, the Tripura Sundari. not in the form of a stone or clay or metal image but in the body of Sarada Devi herself. When he completed his worship late in the night he offered the results of all his sadhanas at her feet. What was the meaning of this offering? He meant to convey to her that the fruits of his sadhana had been earned for the welfare of the world. He knew that he would not live long and he now wanted to invoke this strength, this power to do spiritual good to the whole world and communicate it to this simple and sincere village girl. That was the second important event which justifies my calling the present movement the Sarada Movement.

Much later, in Cossipore, Sri Ramakrishna knew that he was very ill and that his body was not going to last long. He called Sarada Devi to him and told her that he often saw visions in which he moved about among white-skinned people. On another occasion he told her that he himself had been able to do very little and that it was she who would have to do much more. This actually proved to be true when we compare the fact that while Sri Ramakrishna made just a small number of disciples, Sarada Devi made thousands of disciples and influenced others who were not disciples but who followed or understood her message.

When Sri Ramakrishna passed away and Swamiji went as a parivrajaka, a wandering monk, throughout the country, it was he who, for the first time, told his brother disciples that they had not yet understood the power of Sarada Devi. He told them that in this age, it was Sarada Devi who was needed more than Sri Ramakrishna. Swamiji has made this generation conscious of the power she was imbued with, which would actually influence the whole world. In spite of the fact that she usually remained veiled, the dignity of her presence was such that whoever came to her felt that hers was a presence which could not be easily ignored. The strength and forbearance of her character can be judged from an incident relating to her fourth visit to Dakshineswar when she came with her mother hoping to be allowed to stay with her husband. However, at that time, it was his nephew Hriday who was totally in command of Sri Ramakrishna's physical well-being and actions. He refused to allow her to stay and Sri Ramakrishna also kept silent. Sarada Devi then went quietly to the Kali temple, bowed down to Mother Kali and said to Her, 'Mother. I am going now; only if You bring me again will I return.' And she did return to take care of Sri Ramakrishna when he was not keeping well.

Later, she took the whole Movement into her hands. Swamiji wrote in a letter to his brother disciples. 'Do you not remember when a few of us were moving like orphans, begging from door to door, abused and ignored and looked down upon by all, then only one person understood the mission for which we were giving our lives. She understood the mission, the message of Sri Ramakrishna. She was a woman and she is Sarada Devi.' Thereafter. if there was any problem, and there were indeed many problems, they all rushed to her for a solution. Why did they put so much trust in her? Because they found that her words were like an echo of the words of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna uttered pure Vedanta in the simplest language. And Sarada Devi's language was even simpler. She would say. 'He who is in you, who is in me, who is in the lowest of the low in caste, is the same; none but the same.' Sri Ramakrishna's Vedanta was always being repeated by her.

She never made any distinction and initiated all who asked, even when she was told that they were not of good character. Once, while Swami Madhavananda was the President of the Order, a gentleman seeking initiation wrote him a letter relating the earlier part of his life which had nothing commendable about it. Swami Madhavananda's secretary suggested that the gentleman be asked to come for an interview before it was decided whether he should receive initiation or not. Swami Madhavananda replied promptly, `Mother never took my interview. Had she done so, I doubt whether I would have received her grace or not. And had she been taking interviews then how few would have got her grace. So, there is no need for an interview. Give him a date and ask him to come for initiation.' So in many things, small and big, we find the whole Order, right from the time of Swami Brahmananda, looking up to her.

Once a monk who was somewhat disturbed by the disobedience of his servant, slapped him. When Sarada Devi learnt of it, she said, 'What a monk! First he keeps a servant, and then he thinks he can slap him!' On another occasion, a lady mentioned that if such and such a person were to come to Udbodhan, where Sarada Devi was staying, she would not come there again. When Sarada Devi learnt about it, she said, 'Let her not come if she does not want to, but for anybody who is repentant for any wrong she has done and now wants to take refuge in Sri Ramakrishna, the doors are always open, whether others come or not.' All are the same when they come before God expecting spiritual grace. This was the tradition that she started.

Recently, the very last initiation that our previous President, Mokshaprana Mataji, gave took place in a village in far-off Burdwan where the residents were mostly from the lower castes. One of the boys belonged to the lowest among the low castes and his parents were hesitant to allow him to go lest the other participants be offended. But Mataji refused to start till the boy was fetched. Once he was brought, she said, 'Now all of you have come, so I will start.'

We have been made conscious of the Sarada Movement from no less a person than the eighth President of the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Vishuddhananda who was a disciple of Sarada Devi. I remember once he said to me, and he has repeated this several times thereafter. Do you know, now the Sri Ramakrishna Age is over and the Sarada Age has come. Now Sri Ramakrishna is lying down on the ground like Shiva and Sarada Devi, like Kali, is standing and dancing upon him.' Everywhere an awareness, an awakening is coming among women. Surprisingly enough, a great deal of the spiritual awareness in the West is coming more through Sarada Devi than through Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda.

Sarada Devi, Jayrambati, 1913

The greatest wonder of the Sarada Movement is the fact that when there was no precedent of an independent women's Math run by women themselves, in India's long history, Sri Sarada Math came into existence, with Sarada Devi as its guiding star. I do not mean to say by this that Sri Ramakrishna is nowhere in the picture. That is not possible. But, as I have said, Sri Ramakrishna is there, like Shiva, looking at Kali. Sarada Devi will be active now and Sri Ramakrishna will remain comparatively silent. He will move silently, through her.

Sarada Devi guided the destiny of the Ramakrishna Math though from a distance. A servant had been dismissed from the Belur Math for some misdemeanour by Swamiji. When the servant went to Sarada Devi and wept at his plight, she sent him back to the Math with Swami Premananda who happened to be there and said, `Take this servant back to the Belur Math. You have become a monk, what do you know about the suffering of a family in a distant village? You seem to forget what will happen to them.' Naturally, there was no question of disobeying her command.

In another incident, some people of very loose character wanted initiation. Swami Brahmananda at the Belur Math did not dare to give it to them. Instead, they were sent to Sarada Devi at Jayrambati. She was astonished and said, 'How is it that my own son has sent me these men?' Nevertheless, she asked them to stay in Jayrambati for three days, because by staying for three days and three nights in a pure place, a place of pilgrimage like Varanasi or Vrindavan, people become purified and then they may be initiated. When Sri Ramakrishna's disciples learnt of this, they were full of remorse and said. 'The poison that we could not digest can be digested by Mother alone. She has the power to do what we did not dare to attempt.'

When we say that the Sarada Age has come, we also know that with it comes a thousand times greater responsibility for us mothers. It is always mothers who have sacrificed, whether willingly or otherwise. It is on the foundation of their sacrifices that this civilization stands, that society becomes strong, that a family learns its true meaning and significance. The time has come now for India to regain its old excellence in the spiritual, social and ethical spheres. In order to achieve this the greatest responsibility will have to be taken by mothers today and by those who are to be mothers tomorrow. By mothers I do not necessarily mean those who give birth to children, but I use the word in the meaning of matribhava, the motherly trait towards all, the capacity to look upon all children as our own, just as Sarada Devi did, for to her everybody was her own.

From the Ramakrishna Movement, we have entered into the Sarada Movement, and that means that we have to follow the highest path in our lives. We have to remember that our goal is to realize God. The motto of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission stands upon two pillars 'Atmano-mokshartham' and 'Jagat-hitaya.' All persons, whether householders or monastics must remember that they have this one goal, that is to come out of this circle of birth and death. Everybody wishes that one day the drama should end and the curtain should fall never to be raised again.

We are proud to be in this Sarada Age, proud to be a part of this Sarada Movement. It was a great day when the women's Math was started in 1954. It was the fulfilment of the acceptance of Sarada Devi by Sri Ramakrishna, as his 'Saha-Dharmini', his co-partner. It was she who looked after the welfare not only of Sri Ramakrishna but also of all his disciples and all those connected with the Ramakrishna Movement. The Movement was maintained, sustained, supported and strengthened by her, just as Sri Ramakrishna had said she must do. Her own last words of advice were that if we want peace of mind, we should not find fault with others. We should rather see our own faults and learn to make the whole world our own. 'No one is a stranger', she, said, 'the whole world is your own.'

I feel that just now Sarada Devi is blessing us all and reminding us of our duty, of our responsibility to future generations. The world needs mothers today, mothers like Sarada Devi. who did not want anything for herself. Today we need mothers who will inspire their children to become great scholars, great technicians, and great engineers. But they should inspire them, at the same time, to work for their motherland. There is no harm if our children go away to other lands. They should get to know the world which has now become a small place, and they should take the best that is available to them there. But should not some of them come back to the motherland? Maybe they will not earn as much wealth or have as good prospects as those available to them in other lands, but should they not be initiated by their mothers into some kind of sacrifice? With this expectation, with this prayer to Sarada Devi, I appeal to both mothers and fathers among you that you should once more make India proud by sacrificing for Truth.

God is one's very 'Own'. It is the eternal relationship. One realizes Him in proportion to the intensity of one's feeling for Him. Always remember that somebody is protecting you.

If you want peace of mind, do not look for faults in others. Rather look out to discover your own weaknesses. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one here is an alien or a stranger, my child. The whole world is your own