Translation of the Kannada booklet ‘Pavitrata svarupini Sharada Maate’ by Swami Purushottamananda
“O Lord! Even the moon has dark spots; make my mind spotless. O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.”
This historic prayer welled up from the heart of Sri Sharada Devi. A prayer filled with a white-hot passion that she had to be absolutely pure in every possible way. When did she make this prayer? When she was at the prime of her youth! Those were the days when she lived in the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar, where she used to serve and nurse her husband Sri Ramakrishna. Simultaneously she also performed Japa-Dhyana-Tapas and other spiritual practices under the direction of Sri Ramakrishna. That was the time an endless stream of people came every day to meet Sri Ramakrishna, to listen to his amazing words, and to enjoy his heavenly singing. All those devotees, especially those who came from afar, had to be fed. So, Sri Sharada Devi had to cook and serve food for all such people. Then, there were the intimate disciples, and the special guests. It was Sri Ramakrishna’s habit to treat them in a very special way. And that again meant that Sri Sharada Devi would have to take care of their feeding in a special way. So, over and above the regular menu, Sri Sharada Devi would have to prepare special delicacies on a daily basis! All this meant that Sri Sharada Devi had absolutely no leisure time at all. For instance, on an average, Sri Sharada Devi had to prepare chapattis out of 7-8 pounds of wheat flour daily! But Sri Sharada Devi would do all that phenomenal amount of work joyfully, with love, with an uncommon efficiency, and in the spirit of spiritual practice. In the midst of all that phenomenal amount of work, she would relentlessly pray to the Lord in her own mind. Japa and prayer would constantly flow from her heart like the perennial river Ganga, on whose banks stood her room. On full moon nights, she would pray with tears in her eyes, “O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.”
In this unique prayer of Sri Sharada Devi, we clearly see that Sri Sharada Devi’s conception of Purity has reached its very zenith. When we study her marvelous life, we can feel the divine fragrance of Purity wafting out of every fiber of her personality. Was not it because she was so immaculate that the Paragon of Incarnations, Sri Ramakrishna, chose her to be his better half?
A question may arise here: ‘Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi were husband and wife; how can we then call her the embodiment of Purity? Or what do we mean when we still call her the embodiment of Purity?’
True. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi were a married couple. But we cannot forget the fact that there was absolutely no trace of physical intimacy between them. That means, their relation was something that had transcended the physical realm; their relation was something that was based on one looking upon the other as the spiritual Self in oneself; it was the divine relation that exists between a Guru and his disciple. By leading such a unique kind of married life, we can say that Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi have revealed for humanity a whole new set of values within the institution of marriage. If we have to understand this phenomenon, we will have to study deeply the unique and unprecedented details of their married life.
First of all, Sri Ramakrishna was a perfected soul who had achieved the goal of all kinds of spiritual practices extant in the vast ocean called Hinduism. He had achieved Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He was established in the direct experience of Brahman. Tota Puri, his Guru who had helped him achieve that pinnacle of spiritual experiences had once told him, “He who has rooted himself in Renunciation, Dispassion, Discernment and knowledge – which arise from the direct experience of Brahman – even though living with and sleeping next to his wife, will still be established in Brahman. He who can still perceive the distinction between the two sexes, even though he be a very advanced spiritual aspirant, is still very far away from the direct experience of Brahman.”
When Sri Sharada Devi came to Dakshineshwar and started living there, Sri Ramakrishna looked upon the situation as an ideal situation for testing the depth of his own spiritual experiences. He saw that living in intimate contact with his young wife was the acid test of his purity of mind, of his knowledge and dispassion, which had resulted from his being established in the knowledge of Brahman. Fine. He now allowed his wife to serve him personally to her heart’s content. Not just that; he even allowed her to live in his own room and share his bed with him.
One day, looking at his youthful wife who was sleeping next to him, he told his own mind, ‘O mind, look at this; this is what is called a female body. The whole world is mad after this. The world considers this as the supreme object of sense enjoyment. But if you start enjoying this, you will forever get trapped in body consciousness; you will never be able to perceive God who is Truth-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. Now, you tell me, O mind, be not a hypocrite! Don’t desire one thing within you and utter something else outside. Tell me truly, do you want this sense pleasure or do you desire God? If you wish to enjoy a female body, then look here, it is right here next to you. You are free to enjoy it.’
Thinking in this way, he was just about to touch the body of his wife, when all of a sudden his mind retreated with such intensity from his senses that he entered into a very deep Samadhi! That entire night, his mind did not come down from that supernal state to his senses. The next day, his mind had to be brought back to his senses after chanting the name of God repeatedly in his ears.
Even in our wildest imagination, we cannot conceive of attempting such a trial by fire! Of course, Sri Ramakrishna tested his own dispassion and knowledge by means of this unprecedented exercise; and he came out in flying colors. But, what might have been the feelings in the mind of Sri Sharada Devi who lived in such close intimacy with her husband during those days? Could she have secretly hankered for becoming a mother, which would have been quite natural in a girl of her age? Well, it was nothing of the kind! There was not the least trace of such thoughts in her mind. Reminiscing about those wonderful days she spent with her husband, she later said, “It is impossible to describe the exalted state in which Sri Ramakrishna lived during those days. Overcome with divine bliss, he would sometimes laugh, and sometimes weep. And quite often he would remain immersed in Samadhi. Sometimes, his body would seem totally devoid of any sign of life! There were times when he would spend the entire night in such a seemingly lifeless state! …”
Human history has not heard of such a thing as this! Husband and wife, maintaining perfect sexual abstinence, even while living together, is something unique in the known history of humankind. On the one hand, it is incredible that Sri Ramakrishna lived in his own Self even while sleeping next to his lawfully wedded wife; and on the other, it is equally amazing that Sri Sharada Devi completely dissolved her own individuality and identified herself totally with her husband’s spiritual ideal. In fact, Sri Sharada Devi’s achievement seems to be the greater of the two because, if she had so wished, she had every right to drag her husband down to the level of normal human co-habitation; and she too could have become a biological mother like every other married woman in this world. But, such was not the mind of Sri Sharada Devi. There was no chance of her relating to her husband as other women do. She was pure enough to sympathize and participate equally in the highest ideals that her husband had espoused. There was not even a trace of sensuality in her own heart. So much so that even when once her husband himself raised this issue in discussion with her, her own ideal of personal purity did not quaver! Once Sri Ramakrishna asked his wife, ‘Look here; you are my lawfully wedded wife; you have a right over me, over my body. Now tell me, do you have any wish to drag me down to a sensual life that is concomitant with marriage?’ Immediately came back Sri Sharada Devi’s reply, ‘Why would I ever do that? I have come here to assist you in your spiritual endeavors.’
What an answer! Only from a person of Sri Sharada Devi’s stature could come such a reply! There was no un-natural-ness in that reply, no artifice. They weren’t words said in order to please someone either. It was the direct outpouring of the heart that was filled through and through with the purity of the Self! She was therefore not just the legally wedded wife of Sri Ramakrishna. She was also a full-fledged partner in her husband’s unprecedented spiritual endeavors! Hence she was capable of saying, “I have come here to assist you in your spiritual endeavors.” We notice an important feature here: Sri Sharada Devi didn’t arrive in Sri Ramakrishna’s life merely to participate in his spiritual life; she was going to assist him in his spiritual efforts! What does ‘assist’ mean in this context? It means nothing short of ‘Giving a shoulder to the Greatest among Incarnations in his mission’! What is that mission? Eradicating the sensuality, removing ignorance about one’s own true nature and overcoming indiscretion; for sensuality, ignorance and indiscretion are destroying mankind; leading mankind towards God – such is the scope of the mission of an Incarnation! Which ordinary woman indeed can ‘assist’ an Incarnation of God in His divine mission on Earth? None other than the Mother of the Universe, the Primal Energy embodied! Seen in this light, we understand that Sri Sharada Devi’s purity was not something that she had achieved by means of her efforts. Rather, Purity itself had embodied as Sri Sharada Devi. The more we meditate on this incredible fact, the more will our heart be purified and so much more will our personality become exalted.
We have seen that Sri Ramakrishna asked his wife ‘do you have any wish to drag me down to a sensual life that is concomitant with marriage?’ He did this in order to understand his wife’s mind. In a similar way, Sri Sharada Devi also had once questioned Sri Ramakrishna. It is an interesting incident. Sri Sharada Devi had come to Dakshineshwar and had started living with him. Sri Ramakrishna was lying down on his cot one afternoon. The youthful Sri Sharada Devi was massaging his legs. What a romantic situation, indeed! All of a sudden, Sri Ramakrishna was asked by his young wife, ‘How do I look to your eyes now?’
A beautiful and youthful wife is questioning her young husband, ‘How do I look to your eyes now?’ The answer that Sri Ramakrishna gave to this question is something that will remain un-paralleled in the spiritual history of humankind. He replied, ‘the Divine Mother who is worshipped in the Temple (Goddess Bhavatarini of Dakshineshwar), the lady who lives in the Nahabat (his own biological mother Chandramani Devi), and you who are now pressing my legs – all are the manifestations of the same Divine Mother of the Universe. Truly I tell you, whenever I see you, I see clearly that it is the Divine Mother of the Universe that has assumed your form to be with me.’
What an answer, indeed! These words will certainly stupefy the masses that are immersed in the mire of sensuality! Sri Ramakrishna is equating his lawfully wedded wife with the woman who gave birth to him, and the Deity worshipped in the Temple! These were not calculated words aimed at projecting a manufactured image of oneself. These are sincere words coming straight from the heart of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna’s entire life is established in utter truthfulness. The spiritual ideals that manifested in his life can be understood only if we study his life and message with an unbiased mind, and if we are capable of understanding his life against the background of the truths revealed in our holy scriptures. Only then will we understand the true value of his extremely exalted life. Against the backdrop of this awareness of Sri Ramakrishna’s unique position in human history, we will realize that it is entirely Sri Sharada Devi’s credit that she assisted Sri Ramakrishna in manifesting an unprecedented ideal of marriage! Even though co-habiting with his wife, he was able to transcend the pull of the senses and remain established in his inner Self. This was a unique achievement of Sri Ramakrishna. And Sri Sharada Devi had an equal share in this achievement of his!
Sri Ramakrishna himself praised Sri Sharada Devi’s contribution towards his manifesting the ideal of marriage, ‘If she weren’t so pure, who knows, perhaps my own self-control might have succumbed to the natural temptation of a wife’s conjugal call. After my marriage, I had prayed sincerely to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, remove the least trace of sensuality in my wife’s mind’. Later on, when I lived together with her, I realized that the Divine Mother had more than answered my prayer.’
What a marvelous phenomenon we see here! The prayer uttered by Sri Ramakrishna here in Dakshineshwar was bringing about changes in the personality of Sri Sharada Devi in far away Jayrambati. By the intense power of his mind, he was sharing the fruits of his severe spiritual practices with his better half! This is the only way we can infer these developments, discounting the possibility of a coincidence. We have to understand that by his intense prayer, Sri Sharada Devi was absorbing the results of his spiritual practices, although she was at that time, living quite far away from him.
Similarly, it was because Sri Sharada Devi was completely immersed in meditation on her husband, as it were, that she was able to meet him on his own exalted spiritual state of mind. Her own mind and heart – they were immaculate! Therefore Sri Ramakrishna was able to pour out the fruits of his spiritual practices into her even from afar. Quite often, we are unable to make the person sitting right in front of us grasp the subtle truths of spiritual life! If the mind is impure, it is impossible to grasp spiritual truths. And here we see that Sri Sharada Devi was able to grasp the finest strands of feelings arising from the mind and heart of Sri Ramakrishna, notwithstanding the enormous geographical distance separating them. What a wonder this is, indeed! If this isn’t a grand testimony to her great spiritual capability, what else is? It was for this reason that later on, while living with her husband, she was able to say, ‘I have come to assist you in your mission’.
One can’t help but raise a question here: We have seen how Sri Ramakrishna prayed to the Divine Mother, and how he wholeheartedly praised the purity of his wife. But, was there ever any real danger of his losing self-control in the face of a seduction from his youthful wife? Was he not a perfected person, who had quenched all his physical and psychological hungers, established in the bliss of his own Self? Moreover, should another person pray for the purity of a soul such as Sri Sharada Devi? Purity has itself incarnated as Sri Sharada Devi! Well, there was no way Sri Ramakrishna’s self-control could have broken down; and no one else need have prayed for Sri Sharada Devi’s purity. This divine couple had to manifest a unique ideal for humanity. That ideal had to be made intelligible for the common masses. Only the spouse can vouch for the character of the husband, or the purity of the wife. Therefore, Sri Sharada Devi elaborates the unprecedented renunciation of her husband, and Sri Ramakrishna sings praises of his wife’s immaculate purity.
Until now, we have seen the empyrean heights to which this divine couple raised the standards of their married life. This is just one aspect of purity. Sexual continence alone is not the measure of purity. Unchaste thoughts, possessive thoughts and feelings within one’s own mind, selfishness in one’s own heart – all these too degrade one’s personality. One may safely conclude that selfishness is indeed the supreme impurity. But, when we study how Sri Sharada Devi was able to remain pure in each of these aspects, we can’t but marvel at the wonderfully ideal life she led; we can’t help but feel our own minds and hearts imbuing a little of her immaculate purity.
Sri Sharada Devi’s external life was extremely simple, uneventful. To the superficial eye, it appears as the life of a simple, rustic village woman. This is because she did not stand out of the pale of a normal family life in order to manifest her spiritual radiance. Instead, she lived with all her innumerable relatives, engaged in the various household chores incumbent on such life, and seemingly experienced all the blows of the mundane world – but in a supremely unattached manner! Therefore, to the untrained eye, there is no way one could discern the least bit of spiritual grandeur in her life. More so, when we see the way she doted on the daughter of her youngest brother, Radhi, we feel as if Sri Sharada Devi too was just like any other normal woman – swayed by possessiveness and emotional attachment.
Radhi was Sri Sharada Devi’s ‘Yogamaya’. ‘Yogamaya’ is a term depicting a person who is used by a spiritually perfected soul to prevent one’s mind from getting merged in the Absolute. Sri Ramakrishna himself revealed this fact to Sri Sharada Devi once in a spiritual vision. After the passing away of her husband, Sri Sharada Devi had lost the will to continue living. Sri Ramakrishna appeared in a spiritual vision then. He showed her Radhi, with instructions to hold on to her as a prop. Thus she could keep her mind down from getting merged in the Absolute, for the welfare of mankind. Therefore she held on to Radhi with great force. But how will others know all this elaborate arrangement in Sri Sharada Devi’s life! On the one hand, people did perceive Light in all her actions and words. Not just that, they also witnessed her exalted state of mind – her unmatched devotion during her daily worship, her intense meditations followed by Samadhi, etc. But, they also saw that the same Sri Sharada Devi always kept the utterly mischievous and restless Radhi with her and wouldn’t let her go out of her sight. These two dimensions of Sri Sharada Devi’s personality were irreconcilable for the common mind. This is no doubt an enigma to most people. An illusion, however, is not the real picture. Nevertheless, people couldn’t penetrate beyond the obvious. The superficial observer had no other way but to believe that what they saw about Sri Sharada Devi was the only fact. She was just like any other normal woman, extremely possessive, overly involved with the mundane details of her family. Therefore, there were many who felt sorry for Sri Sharada Devi seeing the hopeless condition she was in because of her “attachment” to Radhi. Who indeed could imagine that she could do away with everything and everyone in a moment’s notice!
Why speak of the common people who misunderstood Sri Sharada Devi’s actual state of mind like this! Even Yogin Ma, herself an advanced spiritual aspirant, and a constant companion to Sri Sharada Devi, suffered from the same doubt! She felt, ‘Sri Ramakrishna was such a beacon of renunciation, a perfectly unattached person. But now, after his demise, Sri Sharada Devi, his wife, one who is supposed to uphold his ideals for all of us, is behaving exactly like a run-of-the-mill worldly woman! Day and night, she is immersed in her own brothers, her sisters-in-law, their children. I am unable to understand this strange phenomenon…’ A few days after Yogin Ma started getting this doubt, she was meditating on the banks of the River Ganges. She had a vision of Sri Ramakrishna. He pointed towards the Ganges and told her, “Look over there”. Yogin Ma saw; the corpse of a newborn baby was floating by on the waters of the Ganges. The umbilical cord was still attached to the baby’s belly button and it looked really horrifying. It was a sight to fill any person with disgust and nausea. Sri Ramakrishna said, “Did you see? However, does this make the River Ganges any less pure? Can anything, in fact, make the River Ganges impure? Look upon her [Sri Sharada Devi] too in the same light. Don’t ever entertain any doubt in this issue. Know for sure, she and this [pointing to himself] are identical.”
What an amazing vision indeed! Sri Ramakrishna himself is testifying that Sri Sharada Devi is eternally pure, capable of purifying everything in the world, never ever becoming impure herself in the process! It is therefore that Swami Abhedananda sang, “Pavitram charitam yasyaaha, pavitram jeevanam tathaa, pavitrata svarupinyai, tasyai kurmo namo namaha.”
Subsequent to this amazing vision, Yogin Ma never again had any doubt about Sri Sharada Devi’s dispassion and purity.
It is not that Sri Sharada Devi was unaware of her own purity. But, she was of an extremely shy nature. Humility and self-effacement were natural in her personality. She therefore seldom spoke about herself. Moreover, she always strove to suppress her divine brilliance and so that she could live amongst the common folk as one of them. However, there were some rare occasions when she would reveal her real nature in front of some very intimate disciples. Or, on much rarer occasions, in order to dispel the thick layer of ignorance and doubts, she would reticently talk about her real nature. Those rare utterances are priceless jewels for devotees!
Once, a devotee, being unable to see Sri Sharada Devi’s attachment to Radhi, and greatly troubled in his mind, asked her directly, “Mother, why are you so attached to her? Just like any other worldly woman, you too keep on chanting your niece’s name ‘Radhi, Radhi’! Your entire attention seems to be on that girl. You don’t give any attention towards many devotees who come to meet you. Is this kind of possessiveness healthy?”
Questions such as this were nothing new to Sri Sharada Devi. Generally, in such circumstances, she was wont to reply, “What can I do, my son? After all, am I not a woman? Is not it natural for us to have some kind of attachment towards children born in our families?” By replying like that, she would evade the issue. But on that day, she replied to that devotee quite animatedly, “Yes, but show me one more [person] who is an equal [to me]; can you? Show me just one more woman who is my equal, if not better, I challenge you! Look here, the truth is, when a person meditates on the Lord, the mind becomes extremely pure, and also extremely intense. Whatever such a mind deals with, it brings the same intensity that it brings to its meditation on the Lord! Then, it seems just like normal, worldly attachment. That’s all. You will see a reflection of a lightning streak on a glass pane but not on bamboo sleet.”
Just look at this answer! The more we meditate on these words, the more we learn the nuances of spirituality, its ramifications in everyday life, and the depth of Sri Sharada Devi’s personality. Is not it amazing how Sri Sharada Devi herself said, ‘Show me just one more woman who is my equal, if not better, I challenge you!’? She must have had a very clear conception about her real nature, about who she really was, in order to make such a statement. Truly, it is impossible to show one more woman like her; because she was not of this world! She was the Mother of the Universe Incarnate! Who indeed can be the equal of the Mother of the Universe! She is declaring in these words that she, the Mother of the Universe, has incarnated on Earth as a woman in order to show the way out to her children. Moreover, what indeed was the nature of Sri Sharada Devi’s mind? It was a mind that had identified itself with the Lord by constantly meditating on the Divine. By such meditation and subsequent identification, it had become a channel of the Lord’s infinite power! The level of concentration achievable by such a mind is beyond imagination for common folk like us; such a mind achieves identification with whatever it fancies to land upon. To a superficial observer, such identification will seem very similar to the ‘attachment’ that is the bane of common folk like us all. But, in reality, that mind does not get attached to anything at all. It can detach itself with the same force with which it attaches itself to any object. Such is the nature of a pure mind. It can renounce with the same ease with which it can accept, without the least impression being made on the mind itself in either case.
On another occasion, when a similar discussion came up with another devotee, she spoke about her real nature in these words: “Look, they all say – I am immersed in the thought of Radhi, that I am overly attached to her. But the truth is, if I had not got attached to this girl, how could I have brought my mind down? I would not have been able to live in this body after Sri Ramakrishna’s demise. It is Sri Ramakrishna himself who has preserved this body for fulfilling his mission on earth, don’t you see that? Is not it Sri Ramakrishna himself who has made my mind to get attached, as it were, to Radhi, for achieving his own ends? Mark my words, the moment I remove my mind away from Radhi, this body will fall off.” Later on she elaborated, “You see me constantly thinking about Radhi, even worrying about her; all this is but an illusion. This is a ruse I have worked up in order to continue living in this body, that’s all.”
True. She herself had woven an elaborate web of illusion centered on Radhi. This was necessary because, just as her spiritual practices were to be an object lesson to humanity, her daily work-a-day life too was supposed to be a similar object lesion for all of us. But, if one did not have a conception of her real personality, if one did not live in close contact with her, and if one went by just the superficial observation of her external actions, there was no way one could gauge her exalted spiritual stature. We may recall an interesting incident that occurred when she was in Kashi to support this argument.
One day, some ladies residing in Kashi came to see Sri Sharada Devi. Perhaps they must have imagined that they would be going to some kind of a forest hermitage and be seeing an old, emaciated saint like the popular depiction of the woman saint Shabari. But what they saw instead was Sri Sharada Devi, an old woman, just as innumerable other old grandmothers, engrossed in combing the hair of her brothers’ children, putting on clothes on the children and such other mundane household activities. As if that jarring scene weren’t enough, they found Sri Sharada Devi instructing Golap Ma to stitch her torn clothes so that she could use them again! The visiting women who saw all this, were terrible disappointed, if not shocked. They found that the much acclaimed Sri Sharada Devi was but another worldly woman, engrossed in her own little family. They had come with the desire to absorb something of the other world from Sri Sharada Devi, but they found that here too, it was the same world that they lived in! One of the women couldn’t take it and blurted out, “Mother, what is this we see here? You too are engrossed as deeply inside Maya as we are!” Sri Sharada Devi replied in her characteristic calmness, “How can I help it, my child? I myself am Maya!” She certainly had the gift of repartee. She was able to evade the issue by this kind of quick reply, which was characteristic of her. But none of those visiting women were able to grasp the depth of Sri Sharada Devi’s words.
“I myself am Mahamaya” said Sri Sharada Devi! Isn’t she hinting at her divine personality through this utterance? The reason the Lord incarnates as a human being is to show that even though one is born as a human being, it is possible to raise oneself to divinity in this very life. But, most people discount the divine incarnation as just a normal human being, just as one of themselves, seeing that the incarnation too eats, drinks and lives like all of us. Forget the issue of imitating the incarnation and raising oneself to divinity thereby, they fail to see anything beyond the human there! Such was the case with those women visitors in Kashi too. How indeed should they realize that in order to show householders the way to divinity, Sri Sharada Devi herself is living like one of them, performing all the activities that any other ordinary woman would normally do in the course of the day? It is possible to manifest divinity even while living as a householder. That was the reason Sri Sharada Devi immersed herself in household activities. But, how should those Kashi women know this truth?
It is indeed very difficult to realize that Sri Sharada Devi was totally different from an ordinary woman, because seemingly she too lived the life of an ordinary woman, experiencing all the joys and sorrows of an ordinary householder’s life. Moreover, in all probabilities, one may get a valid doubt regarding Sri Sharada Devi which is – if she was indeed Purity incarnate, how then could she suffer bodily diseases and experience mental sorrows? Although superficially, she seems to be no different from anyone of us, there is a hell and heaven difference between our own experiences and the experiences of Sri Sharada Devi. While we all suffer the consequences of our own actions, Sri Sharada Devi took on the results of others’ misdeeds. Hence she suffered. She was the Mantra Deeksha Guru of innumerable devotees. She had also blessed some with Brahmacharya Deeksha and Sannyasa Deeksha too. Not only that, devotees would pester her and obtain various kinds of assurances and blessings from her, which were all given even when they were undeserving of such divine grace. As a consequence of all this, her immaculate body had to suffer diseases. Even Sri Ramakrishna himself had to suffer so much! His was an ‘Apaapaviddha Sharira’. That means, it was a body which had not entertained even so much as one single wave of sensuality during its lifetime! Not just that, it was the body of a divine incarnation. It was composed of the elements of Pure Sattva alone! Yet, he had to undergo innumerable bodily sufferings. He would not give mantra Deeksha to anyone and everyone. He would accept a person as his disciple only after thorough testing. Even while accepting someone as a devotee, he was extremely cautious. Despite all such precautions, his supremely pure body had to undergo terrible suffering! If such is the case with Sri Ramakrishna, we can easily imagine Sri Sharada Devi’s condition. She positioned herself in the seat of ‘Mother of All’ and bestowed her unconditioned grace on anyone that approached her. The prince and the pauper, the learned scholar and the illiterate fool, the sinner and the debauched – she bestowed her unquestioning, unconditioned motherly love equally on everyone. Such was her personality. If she had to digest the sins of all and sundry like that, imagine the voracious power, the white heat of her purity! How incredible must have been her spiritual power!
Secondly, living with her worldly minded relatives was itself a source of terrible suffering for her. Unlike Sri Ramakrishna, she did not confine herself to the company of spiritual aspirants and devotees alone. Hers was the burden of radiating the soothing rays of her innate spirituality even while living as a householder, and accepting the problems and sufferings of a family that was not even her own. It may not be easy to exactly understand her situation without a very strong imagination. In this regard, Sri Sharada Devi herself once told a lady devotee, “Know that this body of mine is the body of a Goddess. I wonder how much more suffering this delicate body can sustain. Is it possible for an ordinary human body to undergo so much suffering, ever?” Seen from this context, we will now be able to understand why Sri Ramakrishna had compared Sri Sharada Devi to the eternally purifying River Ganges. Indeed, how apt is that comparison! Elsewhere she once said, “I haven’t committed a single impure deed since my childhood. Moreover, when I was just five years old, I got married to Sri Ramakrishna. I came in contact with that supremely pure personality. If such is the case, can you tell me why I suffer so much? Yes, it is true that I was but a child then. But, what of it? His pure hands had touched me. Great sinners attained liberation by his mere touch! But, I continue to undergo all this suffering. Am I worse than all those great sinners then? Is my illusion about my own real nature so enduring that I still have to suffer like this?…No, that is not the case. Day and night, my mind desires to fly away to the highest realms of spirituality. But out of compassion for mankind, I have forcefully kept my mind on this bodily plane.”
The scriptures say that God incarnates as man in order to destroy the wicked, and protect the righteous people, and thereby establish righteousness in society. But what do we see in the life of Sri Sharada Devi? She no doubt protects the righteous people; but, she also removes the sins of the sinners by vicariously suffering on their behalf, and lifts them up too! Such seems to be her life’s goal. Here lies Sri Sharada Devi’s specialty! If she were just another devoted wife, and had lived a supremely pure life, there would have been nothing unique in her personality; for India has produced quite a good number of such pure women. And she would have been just one of that group, rare, but just one more of them. All such pure women are even today held before us as ideals. But, Sri Sharada Devi has brought down the highest ideal of personal purity to the reach of the common man! Here lies her uniqueness. Once a devotee asked her with great sincerity, “Mother, if touching us and accepting our salutations brings you so much physical suffering, wouldn’t it be wise to avoid it all together?” Sri Sharada Devi replied, “No, my son. Don’t say that. We have come for just that. If we do not accept the sins of others, if we do not digest the sins of others, tell me, who else will do that? Who else will bear the burden of sinners?”
History has not witnessed compassion of this order, we may safely conclude! From these words of Sri Sharada Devi, we can understand that she has bequeathed the fruits of her immaculate purity to the entire human race. We can also see here the supreme compassion of the Mother of the Universe breaking all bounds and embracing everyone in its motherly protection. Whenever we see the photograph of the embodiment of purity, Sri Sharada Devi, we have to recall statements such as these that she herself has made. We may then be able to have some conception of the grandeur of her divine personality. The way she has bestowed the fruits of her immaculate purity to humanity is unprecedented in human history. She herself once said, “When impure thoughts assail your mind, tell yourself, ‘I am her [i.e. Sri Sharada Devi’s] son; can I entertain such thoughts?’ You will yourself then see how strength and peace fill your mind.”
Sri Sharada Devi has taken great pains to raise the purity level of the entire mankind. Truly speaking, her whole life has been the greatest teaching towards that end. Studying her life is in itself a great spiritual practice on our part. Raja Yoga has a sutra ‘Veetaraga vishayam va chittam’. It means, if the mind gets too restless, then meditating on the mind of a person who has overcome all impurity, calms our mind. A person who has overcome all impurity means one who has transcended selfishness, likes and dislikes, and all sensuality. When we meditate on the supremely pure personality of Sri Sharada Devi, we will find that our own mind becomes calm and pure.
Sri Sharada Devi’s words go a long way in our efforts to keep our mind and heart pure. Seeing others’ faults makes our minds tainted and distracts our intellect and judgement. But it seems to be natural to human nature to see and point out others’ faults. Because of the enthusiasm we have for seeing others’ faults, we lose track of identifying and repairing what is amiss in our own personalities. How can an externalized mind that is habituated to see others’ fault, turn within and identify its own faults? Then, there is the other issue; supposing we do recognize our own faults; do they disappear by merely identifying and recognizing that they are there in us? You may or may not know that there is a snake in the room; in either case, the danger from the snake’s presence is imminent. Similarly, the mind that is impure because of the innumerable faults lying within it can never be at peace. Suppose there is some dirt on some part of our body. The moment you realize it is there, don’t you feel restless to remove it immediately? How much more so must it be when we realize that there is some dirt inside our mind? An impure mind can never be peaceful. A mind that has no peace, how can it be joyful? When there is no peace and joy, the human mind tends to become more and more externalized. Then that mind tries to gain some semblance of peace, some trickle of joy by pointing out the faults of others. But what happens consequently is that his own fund of faults keeps on increasing, and peace and joy keep on receding. He thus gets caught in a vicious circle. In order to lift us out of this vicious circle, Sri Sharada Devi teaches us to raise ourselves to a high level of purity. When the mind and heart are filled with purity, peace and happiness automatically arise within us. Sri Sharada Devi says, “Let me tell you something; if you want peace, do not find fault in others. If at all you want to find faults, find your own faults, faults that fill your own personality. Learn to make the whole world your own. There is no other person here. This whole world is but you yourself.”
Truly, this faultfinding nature is the bane of humanity. One can’t help but wonder how and why such a detrimental feature developed in man’s personality, for it certainly does not seem to be doing him any good, individually or collectively. Perhaps this is one of Mahamaya’s tools by which she confounds man with her illusion! Whatever it be, we may discern at least one plausible reason. Man always tries to hide his own faults and weaknesses. He feels that when he loudly points out others’ faults and drawbacks, the attention of the world will be drawn away from his own faults and drawbacks, and perhaps the world may even consider him free of those faults and weaknesses. Thus there seems to some evolutionary reason for this trait in man’s personality. However, over and above this natural instinct in us, if we further develop this habit of finding out only others’ faults and hone that ability, how can we ever become pure and perfect? Sri Sharada Devi says, “It is not possible for a man to find out someone else’s faults without first making his own mind impure with that fault. What indeed is the utility of meditating on others’ faults? That will merely destroy your own mind and will achieve nothing else.”
Once some lady-devotees approached Sri Sharada Devi and complained to her about one of her disciples. It was not a false accusation. There was substantial evidence for their complaint. But Sri Sharada Devi did not give much importance to the complaint and dismissed the women by saying a couple of platitudes, mainly to calm them down. How could she encourage such behavior? After the women left, she explained to one of her disciples, “My son, I am incapable of both seeing faults in others, and of listening to someone complain about such things. Seeing faults in others seems to be a natural trait in people. I too used to do the same once upon a time. Then, I beseeched Sri Ramakrishna with tears in my eyes, ‘O Lord, I am fed up with seeing faults in others. I can’t do it anymore.’ After praying like this, I overcame that habit. When I was in Vrindavan, I stood before the Lord Banke-Bihari Krishna and prayed to him with folded hands, ‘O Krishna, your body may be crooked in three places, but your mind is extremely flawless. Remove all crookedness from my mind and make it like yours.’”
It is not necessary to mention that the Lord answered her prayer literally. But then, we may have to accept the fact that she was naturally inclined to not seeing others’ faults, but was inherently inclined to observe only the positives in other people right from her childhood. We come across innumerable instances in her life to support our premise. She once said to Yogin Ma, “Don’t ever try to see faults in others; your own eyes will become impure thereby!”
What a world of advice is pregnant in these few words.
Spiritual aspirants in general and orthodox people in particular, who want to become pure face an obstacle with respect to ritualistic cleanliness and un-cleanliness. They tend to get too harsh on themselves. Every little thing seems to make them impure. They are never clean enough. That is how they feel. What is even more terrible is that this doubt of self-impurity gnaws deep within their heart. This whole issue of ritualistic cleanliness is indeed a deeply tangled web. It is very difficult to extricate oneself from it. Generally, this problem is more pervasive among the so-called higher castes in India. The lower castes do not seem to be bothered at all with such self-apprehensions. Nothing seems to be dirty enough for these people. The oversensitivity regarding cleanliness in the former and the extreme laxity of the same in the latter – both are two extremes. Having assumed a human body, Sri Sharada Devi is teaching humanity how it can direct its mind Godward by avoiding all such peculiarities. She does not do this purely pedantically; she herself lives like one of us, in our midst, experiencing all the highs and lows of our mundane lives and then she shows the way out. She herself was extremely pure even to her very marrow. Hence her words carry an authority. They sear their way into our heart and transforms us. She once said, “The desire for cleanliness can become an obsession in some cases. It is then nothing less than a mental disease. What started out as a desire for the higher life ends up becoming a mania. Such a mind never feels clean enough. Such a mind does not become pure easily. The more such a mind attempts to purify itself, the more the mania increases.”
One such devotee used to frequent Sri Sharada Devi. Addressing her, Sri Sharada Devi once said, “Look here. Don’t break your head over trivia. If you continue like this, obsessing over cleanliness, you will forget God.” What then is the way out? Sri Sharada Devi points that out too: “Remember God and do what you feel is right. Don’t listen to everything that others tell you regarding what is clean and what is un-clean.”
What a practical advice! Just see how apt this is for an obsessive person. To dedicate oneself wholly to God, and to remain immersed in His presence – isn’t that the end and aim of being and becoming clean? However, if one does not have a sense of proportion, then, this issue of cleanliness could easily become a dangerous obsession. It would drive us far away from the goal. Sri Sharada Devi advises us to be wary of such a deviation. Cleanliness is indeed necessary. Serious thought has to be certainly given in that direction. ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, as the famous adage says. Sri Sharada Devi herself used to advise her devotees and disciples “While you perform the worship of God, you must be clean; you must be very cautious in this regard; you must not scratch your hands, legs or face.” The science of spiritual life, ‘Raja Yoga’ also specifies cleanliness as a sine-qua-non for making oneself fit for the higher life of meditation. So, no right-thinking person can underestimate the importance of cleanliness in spiritual life. Nevertheless we shouldn’t get stuck in the thick of thin things. We ought not to lose sight of the forest by obsessing with the trees. Similarly, neurotic obsession with cleanliness is something that right thinking people will certainly avoid!
The behavior of people pathologically obsessed with cleanliness is very strange. There are times when these ‘cleanliness freaks’ take their mania to such limits that those around them feel repulsed by them. There was one such in Sri Sharada Devi’s family. Her name was Nalini. She was Sri Sharada Devi’s brother Prasanna’s daughter. It is not that Sri Sharada Devi did not try to lift her above her helpless condition. But Nalini was obstinately ‘devoted’ to her habits! One day, at a very odd hour, she came in draped in a wet cloth. Sri Sharada Devi saw this as asked her, “Why did you take a bath at this odd hour?” She replied, “What can I do? A crow urinated on my saree. So I had to take a bath.” Sri Sharada Devi was both surprised and deeply pained listening to this helpless reply from Nalini. She said, “What nonsense is this! I am now an old woman. All these years, I have never heard of a crow passing urine! Perhaps, one needs to have committed unspeakable sins through many births in order to have a mind so completely obsessed with impurity and un-cleanliness! This is not just about ritualistic purity. This is sheer madness masquerading as ritualistic cleanliness, I tell you. That is the reason one does not feel clean even after bathing a dozen times a day. Look here; the intensity of this mania grows in direct proportion to the attention we give to it. There is no end to it if we keep on nurturing it like this.” On another occasion, Sri Sharada Devi said to Nalini, “Our own mind is the root cause of everything. All this cleanliness and un-cleanliness lie in our own mind.” There is one more statement she said on another occasion, “One whose mind is pure, finds cleanliness everywhere.”
There is an incredible incident in Sri Sharada Devi’s life related to this topic of manic ritualistic cleanliness. This is not just an interesting incident, but it also clearly shows us that Sri Sharada Devi was indeed Purity Incarnate. It was around 9.30pm one night. We must remember that 9.30pm is late night in eastern India. The sun sets earlier in eastern India. Around that time, a stray dog came in touch with the lady who used to cook for Sri Sharada Devi’s household. She was a typical Brahmin lady, extremely fastidious about ritualistic cleanliness. Since a dog touched her, shouldn’t she now take a bath in order to become clean again? But it was already late night. Moreover, it was winter. But, this lady had no other option but to go and take a dip in the lake nearby. Sri Sharada Devi came to know about this and said with concern, “Why take a bath in this cold winter night? Wash your hand and feet and wear a clean saree. That should suffice.” The cook asked, “Oh, if only that would suffice! How can I become clean by merely washing my hand and feet?” Sri Sharada Devi replied, “Alright; then take a sip of the holy Ganges water.” But that manic Brahmin lady did not feel that even the holy Ganges water was not pure enough to make her clean again after touching a dog. Then, Sri Sharada Devi said, “Fine; then touch me.”
These words worked like magic! Immediately she touched Sri Sharada Devi. Instantly she felt that she had indeed become clean again. At least for the moment, she was freed from the clutches of her cleanliness mania. Here was a Brahmin lady who believed that even the holy Ganges water was not pure enough to cleanse her, and she felt that touching Sri Sharada Devi made her clean! Is not this incredible! On the other hand Sri Sharada Devi said, ‘Fine, then touch me’ when she saw that none of the stock cleansing practices would suffice in this lady’s case. Is not this even more incredible! We understand here that Sri Sharada Devi had the clearest conception of her own purity. It is for this very reason that Swami Abhedananda sang about her, ‘Pavitram charitam yasyaaha, pavitram jeevanam tathaa, pavitrata svarupinyai, tasyai kurmo namo namaha ’ – ‘She whose personality is pure, she whose life is pure, to such a paragon of purity, we offer our repeated salutations.’
This is a most exquisite eulogy, which is today used a prayer; it also reveals a great truth. The veracity of this eulogy will be confirmed by anyone who studies the life and message of Sri Sharada Devi. Her divine bashfulness, uncommon wisdom, perfect self-control in her words and actions, incredible detachment, brilliant spiritual awareness, the terrible austerities such as ‘Pancha-tapa’ that she performed – if we study all these aspects of Sri Sharada Devi critically, we get a glimpse of her true personality.
Meditation on the Lord is the path shown to us by the ancient Rishis for purifying our mind and heart, thereby evolving ourselves spiritually. We have to meditate on the ever-pure Lord of the Universe and thereby cleanse ourselves of the dirt of ignorance that we smeared ourselves with, over innumerable lives. Taittiriya Upanishad has a wonderful prayer:
Tam tvaa bhaga pravishani svaha. Sa maa bhaga pravisha svaha. Tasmin sahasrashakhe. Ni bhagaham tvayi mrige svaha.
‘O adorable One, may I enter into you, such as you are. O venerable One, you, such as you are, enter into me. O adorable One, who are greatly diversified, may I purify my sins in you.’
The beginner in spiritual life may find it difficult to conceive of the ever-pure Lord; it will be difficult to conceive and meditate on the Lord, as the ever-pure One. But we need not worry. It is the inherent divine Power of the same ever-pure Lord that has incarnated as the Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi. We have to sincerely study her life, and think about it repeatedly. By doing that, our mind will be able to enter into the personality that was Sri Sharada Devi. When we are thus able to dwell on her immaculate personality, we will cleanse ourselves of all impurities; our entire personality will become apotheosized.
An essay on Purity
Pavitra [Pure], Parishuddha [Pristine], Chitta Shuddhi [Mental purity], Shuddha Antahkarana [Mental purity], Shuddha Hridaya [Pure heart], Manas Shuddhi [Mental purity] – these are Sanskrit terms common to most spiritual aspirants in India. These terms occupy pride of place in the vocabulary of spiritual aspirants. Merely by uttering these words, don’t we feel a certain sense of cleanliness in our minds? Or, these terms also have a reverse psychological effect too. That is, when we utter these words, we may start recalling all the depraved things that we have done in our lives, and we may start shriveling in fear! But this much is true – the purity that arises from an impeccable life is a rarity in this world today. It is a very rare quality and a priceless acquisition too. The purity that was in Emperor Ambarisha was capable of pacifying the terrible anger of the Sage Durvasa. The immaculate purity of Savitri was capable of wrenching her husband Satyavan from Lord Yama, the god of death! The incredibly powerful King Ravana couldn’t so much as even touch Mother Sita who was imprisoned in his own Palace Garden, could he? The power of immaculate Purity is infinite. Its glory is unbounded!
If this is so, then what is purity? We need to understand the concept of purity in all its various aspects and about all its different ramifications. The Sanskrit word for purity is ‘Pavitra’. Etymologically, this Sanskrit word is declined as follows: ‘Pavi’ means sin or impurity; ‘Tra’ means to go beyond. Therefore, the word purity means achieving inner cleanliness through performing good works by which you overcome old sins and don’t allow for committing fresh sins. When one cleanses one’s mind of all its sins, along with the mind, the entire personality becomes purified, becomes clear like a crystal. Crystal is a transparent material. Similarly, a pure mind becomes transparent. If an object is kept on one side of a crystal, it is clearly visible from the other side. This is because, there is no dirt in the medium. In a similar way, a mind that is free from lust, anger, deceit, hypocrisy, duplicity, etc. is able to project the divine spark that lies inside every living being. That is the reason all spiritual aspirants strive day and night for just one thing – purification of their mind and heart. Sri Sharada Devi is today worshipped and eulogized by not just innumerable devotees all over the world, but also by thousands of monks and celibates as ‘Pavitram charitam yasyaaha…’ When Sri Sharada Devi was in the prime of her youth, what was the prayer that welled up from the bottom of her heart? “O Lord! Even the moon has dark spots; make my mind spotless. O Lord! Make my mind as pure as those rays of light from the moon.”
What again were the words of praise that Sri Ramakrishna, her husband, said about her? “If she weren’t so pure, who knows, perhaps my own self-control might have succumbed to the natural temptation of a wife’s conjugal call.”
When we observe all these incidents, a question arises in our minds, ‘Well, then, is the married life also a path to achieving purity?’ The answer is simple: The life of righteous marriage is neither an obstacle to purity, nor is it a hindrance, as is commonly understood today. Sri Ramakrishna-Sri Sharada Devi came to reveal before humanity, the total picture of Purity, one of the great ideals sought after by man. Today, when we look at the rampant westernization of Indian society, because of which the common Indian is degrading himself into unimagined perversions and sensual depravities, don’t we see the necessity of holding up before the Indian society a burning example of Purity? If the utter disregard for law and order in society continues to grow amidst the burgeoning population, we ought to dispassionately see where this will all lead us to in the near future. What sort of a land indeed is our country? It is the veritable repository of all spiritual ideals ever known to mankind! Man has realized the highest spiritual ideals in this pure and blessed land. Hence, it is the duty of India to disseminate all over the world the ideal of Purity.
Bhagavad Gita says, ‘Na hi jnanena sadrisham pavitram iha vidyate’ There is nothing comparable to Knowledge that can purify us. What does that mean? Man sins because he is ignorant; he doesn’t know, hence he commits mistakes. Ignorance is thus the root cause of sin. Man is unaware of the fact that he is ever-pure, ever-awakened, ever-free. What does it mean when we say that man is unaware of this fact? Doesn’t it mean he is ignorant? Due to this pervasive ignorance, man tries to find happiness by resorting to all sorts of wrong and devious means. This further intensifies his ignorance! Again, due to his dense ignorance, he indulges in yet more sins. Not only does he himself commit sins, he actively drags others too into his sinful activities. What is sad in this state of affairs is that he himself is blissfully unaware that he is drowning into a great abyss. His own conscience would have become so feeble. Why would it have become so feeble? Ignorance! Hence Bhagavad Gita proclaimed, ‘If man ever wants to rid himself of all his sins and become pure, he has to resort to Knowledge; there is no other way.’ Who can bring knowledge to this ignorant man? It is the knowing ones alone that can do that. But, unfortunately, such knowing ones are very rare. Nevertheless, we will have to find out at least one such knowing one, approach him, meet him again and again. We will have to approach him till our dense ignorance melts away and knowledge of our own true nature dawns in us. Katha Up says: ‘Utthishtata jagrata prapya varaan nibodhata’ Arise, awake, approach the knowing ones and learn about your true nature from them.
The Upanishad may have certainly directed man to do this. But, ignorance does not allow man to approach the knowing ones and learn from them. The strangle hold of ignorance over man is enormous! The gravitational pull of ignorance over man is so much more powerful that the uplifting attraction of the Guru! Swami Vivekananda was able to discern this terrible fact regarding human nature and said, “If the mountain does not go to Mohammad, then Mohammad will have to go to the mountain. Similarly, the knowing ones will have to go the common people, live amidst them, move from town to town, village to village and bring them to the Light that they experience. This is because, the dense covering of ignorance in the minds and hearts of people is not something that will get dispelled easily! Hence the Pure ones, the Knowing ones, instead of merely enjoying their own Bliss, should decide to move among the common people.”
Swami Vivekananda himself did not have the mind to do so, in the beginning of his life. His desire was to go to the Himalayas and remain immersed in the Bliss of his Self. But Sri Ramakrishna’s directive brought him out to bring the life-giving Light of the Eternal Religion not only among his own countrymen, but also among the foreign ones. Today, the rays of that Light are lighting up the minds and hearts of thousands of people and making them pure and whole.
Swami Vivekananda preached religion to people of all mentalities and attitudes; he preached the Four major paths of spiritual growth, the Four Yogas; he preached the synthesis of the four yogas; he also preached Practical Vedanta to the common people of the present age. At last, he summarized all his preaching in the following few words: “Try to be pure and unselfish – that is the whole of Religion”. Christ had said something similar too: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for, they shall see God.”
Purifying the heart is the single important teaching that all incarnations of God and saints and sages have emphasized upon. When we read and hear all that, a question starts forming in our mind – what does it mean to be pure? Although this question has a simple answer, this is a topic that calls for a detailed deliberation. Anyway, briefly, the answer to this question will be as follows:
- Bhava Shuddhi: (Purification of feelings, thoughts and imagination): We have to be careful to ensure that all the feelings that arise in our heart, all the thoughts that come to our mind, all our imaginations are exalted, pure and beneficial to us. This is because, our words and our actions, which are the most important aspects of our personality, are directly based on the feelings, thoughts and imaginations we entertain. Hence, immediate and urgent attention needs to be drawn towards purification of feelings, thoughts and imagination. This brings forth another question: ‘Without our consent, without our volition, involuntarily, gross feelings and base thoughts arise in our restless mind. What can we do about it?’ The first answer is ‘Don’t be afraid about your helplessness’. ‘By constantly keeping the company of the right kind of people, constantly studying the right kind of literature, and sincerely praying to our Ishta who lives within us and constantly observes our mind, we can lift up our mind to whatever heights we wish’ is the final answer!
- Vak Shuddhi: (Purification of our speech): As we proceed in purifying our mind as mentioned above, our tendency to gossip and talk meaninglessly reduces. Only useful and necessary words come out of our mouth. And, those words will carry weight.
But we should note one thing here. If our words have to be pure and wholesome, purification of our feelings, thoughts and imagination alone will not suffice. We need to get trained by the right kind of people and we must have developed the habit of deep study of the right kind of literature. This effort bears a two-fold result: Firstly our language becomes beautiful, meaningful and clear. We will then be able to express our experiences and thoughts very clearly, without any ambiguity. Secondly, our thinking processes become enriched by the fund of language skills we come to possess. Wild feelings, diverse and erratic thinking are harmful to our mental health, nor do they help us in our efforts at inner purification. They only lead us to a state of impurity!
The inner workings of the mind and heart are projected out through our words. Hence special care has to be given to purification of the mind and heart. Our words reflect our feelings and thoughts. Hence special care has to be given to purification of the mind and heart.
We must always remember that purification of our speech, and purification of our feelings, thoughts and imagination lend the distinct fragrance of purity to our entire personality.
- Kriya Shuddhi: (Purification of our actions): Aren’t all the actions we perform day-in and day-out, but a reflection of our state of mind? The actions of a person derive directly from the power of knowledge a person possesses and the power of will that he has developed. Hence our actions, more specifically, the quality of our actions, depend entirely upon our brain-power and will-power. Every act of ours should be:
The great secret is that if a person keeps on working like this, his personality becomes pure over a period of time. If one works efficiently, his personal capabilities increase. If one works systematically, the restlessness of mind gets calm. If one performs only useful work, his heart gets filled with a sense of satisfaction and contentment. His mind and heart gradually get transformed into a formidable instrument of power, raising one to the heights of purity.
Thus, purity in our personality can be achieved by gradually working towards Bhava-Shuddhi, Vak-Shuddhi and Kriya-Shuddhi. But that is not the end. There is a state that is the pinnacle of Purity. The direct perception of God requires that highest level of Purity in our personality. Swami Yatishwaranandaji used to say that the means of attaining to that highest level of purity is to pray intensely to God. God is the basis of Purity and the repository of Purity that we wish to achieve. True. We have to overcome every obstacle and temptation by praying to God who is the root of Purity. There is no other way, in fact! We have to embrace purity and make it our very nature. In this regard, the life of Sri Sharada Devi throws a new light on us. We just have to make up our mind to study very deeply her entire life, with this end in view; that’s all. Indeed, a price worth paying for the infinite returns in store for our efforts!
Purity – a deliberation
The utility and necessity of purity, in rising to the heights of spiritual unfoldemnt from the stage of worldliness, can never be over-emphasized. But this world is the realm of sensuality. In this realm of sensuality, there are very few people who even know that there is such a blessed state called ‘Purity’. When such is the case, how many indeed will know or appreciate the utility of purity? Moreover, the rare few that do get to hear about this blessed state of purity generally become afraid that purity will adversely affect their married life. Hence they avoid any further inquiry into this most wonderful state that any person could raise oneself to! But then, this is a gross misconception. If you think about it a little, you will yourself realize that this line of thinking – that purity will destroy marital life – is flawed. For instance, look at this popular sloka:
Ahalya Draupadi Sita Taara Mandodari tatha!
Panchakanya smarennityam mahapaataka naashanam!!
“Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Taara and Mandodari – if you remember these five maidens every day, all your sins will be atoned for.”
Please note that these five women have been called ‘Maidens’ [Kanya] here. And it is commonly known that these five were all married women. Moreover, the lives of all these five too were more than a deviation from what is generally considered the normal life of a married woman! Despite all these, it is said that if you remember them every day, you will overcome all your sins. What does ‘overcome all your sins’ mean? Does not it mean that you will become pure? Therefore it clearly means that living a life of unbroken chastity alone is not the meaning of purity!
If this is so, then what is purity? We need to understand the concept of purity in all its various aspects and about all its different ramifications. The Sanskrit word for purity is ‘Pavitra’. Etymologically, this Sanskrit word is declined as follows: ‘Pavi’ means sin or impurity; ‘Tra’ means to go beyond. Therefore, the word purity means achieving inner cleanliness through performing good works by which you overcome old sins and don’t allow for committing fresh sins.
We need to understand what constitutes sin in this context. Which acts are sinful, and which are not? No man who commits a sin has a sense that he is sinning. Since he does not have that sense, he commits sins after sins. Now, the trouble is, if you think properly, it is impossible to classify which acts are sinful and which are virtuous. Such a classification is indeed a moral dilemma. But that act, after doing which, your mind gets peace, balance and joy, is certainly a noble act, a virtuous act. Similarly, that act, after doing which, your mind gets disturbed and gets thrown into choppy waves, is undoubtedly a sinful act, an evil act! A sinful act, whether small or big, does not leave the doer’s mind in peace. Just utter a harmless lie, and see the reaction on yourself. Your mind will go on experiencing some sort of disturbance and won’t be in peace! Now, some may point out that habitual, serial liars exist, who go on with their lives happily! But, we ask such persons, are they really able to peep inside the minds of those inveterate liars?
Let alone fibbing; there are many who indulge in hundreds of other sinful acts such as cheating, hypocrisy, treachery, robbery, etc. Is not it clear to you that such people are far, far away from the supreme ideal, the exalting ideal of purity?
But, we need to think and analyze about one important issue in this context. Generally when we say ‘Purity’, the ideal of perfect chastity comes to mind. Or one thinks of ‘sexual’ purity. This is a pervasive tendency. In India, especially, this is so pervasive that even the learned persons who are legally wedded to each other and are good, cultured people in every respect, confess that sometimes they feel a sense of guilt when they hear the word ‘Purity’. They confess that often they feel that there is some sort of ‘impurity’ in them. In order to realize that a scripturally enjoined, legally married life is absolutely no obstacle to leading a pure life, we ought to see some of the pure couples that still exist in our society. Their behavior, attitudes, demeanor and dealings must be observed. Then we will experience the cool, soothing effect that their purity has on our hearts!
Yet another incredible fact is that purity is not the monopoly of only the elite of the society, or only the academically educated people of society. Here and there, even in the lower strata of society, we come across glowing examples that diffuse the sweet, enchanting fragrance of purity in the morass of this world! Perhaps we could quote some such instances. But, much better than reading about them will be the impact we feel if we approach them and seeing with our own eyes these ‘salt of the earth’. That would be more useful, more beneficial and much more meaningful. But, we may broach one serious issue for consideration here, that is worthy of our attention. Just recall the innumerable saints and sages and prophets, of various levels of spiritual achievements and contributions, who blessed this world with their purifying impact; did they all fall from the sky? Or did they just enter this world from another dimension, passing through a membrane? Didn’t they all take birth in some blessed household or the other? The couples that gave birth to these saints and seers and prophets, what were they if not pure?!
A subtler aspect of the same issue is there. If married people can indeed lead a life of the highest purity, what status are we to ascribe to the purity seen in the life of unbroken celibacy?
It is extremely difficult to answer this question. This is indeed a very tricky question. Even after practicing celibacy, if the personality is filled with egotism and arrogance; even after practicing celibacy, if the personality shows glaring weaknesses like infatuation and jealousy; even after practicing celibacy, if the personality entertains base desires like hankering for name and fame; who indeed would call such a celibate person as pure? Not only that. Sri Ramakrishna’s monastic disciple Swami Brahmananda says that there are many so-called pure people, who develop a peculiar arrogance by feeling ‘I am pure; I live a pure life; I am heads and shoulders above all these worldly, married people’! A strange ‘holier-than-thou’ complex is developed in such people. This egotism, this arrogance arising out of purity is very subtle and very intense. Hence removing it also is very, very difficult. The spiritual growth of such people gets arrested, says Swami Brahmananda. When you see all this, don’t you realize that in order to reach the pinnacle of purity, something more than the practice of Brahmacharya is needed? Even though Ashwattama practiced unbroken celibacy and was the only son of the greatest Guru of Archery Dronacharya, why is he not hailed as the ideal of purity? On the other hand, don’t we find millions worshipping in various ways and benefitting from it, even today, Hanuman, who was not even a full-fledged human being, but only a simian?
Truly speaking, purity is something that is associated with the inner personality. That means, unless we are able to see the inner person, we won’t be able to determine if the person is really pure or impure. However, society has evolved a certain arrangement, involving a dress code, mores and habits of social behavior, etc. that is generally associated with purity. As a result, we find many people today, without the least bit of true inner austerity, parading as saints and holy men! Similarly, don’t we see any number of monks today, donning the holy saffron robe without, but utterly lacking dispassion and renunciation within? There is any number of such tigers lurking around us today in sheep’s skin. Don’t we also see the ever-growing hordes of loyal, devoted followers of such charlatans? We may call those devotees as naïve or rank idiots, but one thing we have to admit. These hypocrites have been most successful in pulling it off as paragons of purity! Therefore the masses have to wake up and realize that purity is not associated with dress or a particular color of the dress or any kind of social mores. Purity does not come with any mask either. Once during a conversation, a ‘fallen’ monk’s reference came up and Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi said, “When I see this entire charade, I feel that my white cloth is so much better!” You see, the ‘fallen’ monk used to wear saffron robes and still indulge in all sorts of immoral escapades. The saffron robe is to be worn by a person who has completely eschewed all immoral activities. Thus, if a person wears the saffron robe, it is assumed that he is incapable of any immorality whatsoever. The white robe is however not bound by any such limitation. People who wear it may be strictly moral, or may indulge in any kind of immorality. What Holy Mother meant by the above statement is that it is better to wear the ordinary white clothes and lead a pure life than wear the cloth symbolic of purity and simultaneously indulge in immoral acts! Truly, a child-like naturalness, bereft of any hypocrisy, bereft of any masks, ought to be the truest symbol of purity in society. All other masks and symbols run the risk of becoming poisonous in the hands of the hypocrites! The innocence arising out of naturalness alone is divine! What does it avail if a person wears the clothes symbolizing monasticism and saintliness if his arrogance and egotism does not reduce, if his hunger for name and fame is not quenched, and if he is secretly nourishing his petty jealousies! When people see such charades and complain as is happening right now in society, well, there is truth in their anger. But by the grace of the Lord, here and there, we still find monks of the highest caliber, truly exalted monks with pristine personalities. It is true that there are still men of the most genuine dispassion in this society. it is true that there are still men of the highest spiritual realizations in this very society. Let their blessings be upon us. May their blessings purify us and protect us.
Consolation to aspirants
It does not take long for a person to skid from the narrow path of perfection, slip from a position of purity and become a ‘fallen’ man. Jesus Christ said, “He that looks at another woman with lustful eyes has already committed adultery in his mind.” What a terrifying statement this is! The divine incarnation of the permissive west, the land filled to the brim with sensuality, to utter such words! Does not it simply chill your spine?!
But, all divine incarnations, prophets and saints have uttered statements of similar nature regarding character building and protecting one’s purity. They have all prescribed the strictest rules in this regard. Even though that is the case, spiritual aspirants of this present world find it very, very difficult to maintain such high, uncompromising standards of purity. This is mostly because of the influence of the times we live in today. Realizing this ground reality, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi gave the greatest consolation to struggling aspirants of today. She said, “In Kali Yuga [i.e. in today’s world], mental sins will be pardoned.” These words were uttered by one who is recognized and worshipped all over the world as the Divine Mother Incarnate! Out of her great mother-heart, unable to see the nerve-wracking struggle of her children to attain true purity, she gave this great assurance. She found that her children, even though living with the greatest care and following the strictest rules, would sometimes commit a small, inadvertent lapse in their minds. And as a consequence of that mental lapse, their own guilt [for no one else would even come to know of it, most of the times] would condemn them as ‘fallen’! In order to protect her children from such a despicable situation, she uttered these words. And what a consolation! She has saved so many genuine aspirants from such a precarious condition!
But a word of caution is necessary here. Thinking that the Holy Mother has given us such a blanket assurance, it will be our ruin if we go on indulging in all sorts of depravities inside our minds! We have to keep in mind the sense in which she has given this assurance. When we are progressing along the path prescribed by the Guru with great sincerity, and trying to lead a pure life, by chance, if the mind wavers once or twice from the ideal, we don’t have to lose heart. That lapse will be pardoned. Using this pardon, pick yourself up, hitch yourself to the ideal again and proceed ahead along your path with great sincerity. That is the sense in which this statement of the Holy Mother has to be understood.
Purity of vision
It was the year 1961. A year back I had joined the Ramakrishna Ashrama, Bangalore, as a Brahmacharin. Most Revered Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj was the President of the Ashrama. He was my Guru. This background is necessary to set the incident I am going to narrate now.
One day, afternoon, around 1.30 pm. It is needless to mention that we had all finished our lunch by then. By that time, a couple arrived at the Ashrama. I recall they were a Bengali couple. They were initiated devotees of Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj. So, I duly informed him of their arrival. When he came out of his room and spoke to them, he learnt that they hadn’t had their lunch yet. Swamiji asked me if any food was still left in the kitchen. I said “Yes”. I was able to readily answer in the affirmative because I was the Bhandari in the Ashrama then. [Bhandari means the inmate who looks after the cooking and serving in the Ashrama.] I led to guests to the dining hall. I laid their plates and served them the dishes. Revered Swamiji too had come along. He too sat on the floor in front of them and was speaking to them. It was summer. The dining hall used to have innumerable house-flies during summer. Revered Swamiji asked me to fetch him a hand fan. I did. He started fanning the couple with his own hands. While driving away the flies, once in a while, he would fan the couple too, since it was quite hot. I said, “Swamiji, kindly give me the fan. I will fan them.” But he didn’t give it to me. He himself went on fanning them. They finished their lunch. After speaking to him for some more time, the couple left, blessed by their Guru.
By this time, my mind was slowly going into turmoil. I couldn’t help but think in this way: ‘This is such a great monk. Moreover he is a Guru who initiates aspirants into the spiritual path. Why did he sit in front of that couple and fan them while they had lunch? Why did he have to drive away the flies himself? What could this mean?’ This question started tormenting me. Since I had grown up in a traditional household of South India, this doubt along with some other associated questions arose in my mind. But I still didn’t have the courage to openly ask them to him. But, there was in fact no need for me to ask them, after all! Revered Swamiji himself made a statement at that juncture. He merely uttered, ‘Veritable Lakshmi and Narayana!’ That was it. Not one more word came out of his mouth. Is not that enough? What more can words convey?
It’s been over 40 years since these words fell out of Revered Swamiji’s mouth. But, their impact has grown to gigantic proportions in my mind now, and is still growing! That couple was not just a man and woman! Not even a husband and wife, as the cultured people say! Veritable God and Goddess! Was not this the paradigm of the ancient Rishis?
What a pure vision, indeed!
The journey towards Purity
Let’s not speak of the millions of uncultured people of the world. But, today, in most parts of the world, especially in India, when a boy and a girl attain a certain age, there is a wonderful arrangement to legally wed them into a couple, making them a household, aiding them to sink their roots into the family life. This wonderful social arrangement of marriage is there mainly to maintain and nurture the purity of personality! Not only that, when they have children, in order to ensure that right from the beginning, these kids can enter into the life-long path of self-purification, the kids are taught to call the woman who bore them as ‘Mother’, and the man who sired them as ‘Father’. Gradually, an attempt is made to divinize this relationship by developing an outlook of ‘Maatridevobhava’ and ‘Pitridevobhava’. [These are injunctions to the kids that say: ‘Look upon your own mother as a divine being’, and ‘look upon your own father as a divine being’.]
In this way, when a young man and a lady get married, they are called husband and wife. When kids are born, they are called father and mother. Later on, for their kids, they become god and goddess! Now, let us pause for a moment and reflect. Where does impurity enter here? How can something so pure come to be seen as impure? The natural coupling of the male and female of the human species is elevated to the purity of marriage by legal sanction, and then apotheosized upon child-bearing! The foresight and clarity of thought of the Rishis that formulated such a technique for uplifting the entire society is not only uncommon, but is amazing and extraordinary!
These Rishis further taught us that the food we eat is Brahman, and called it ‘Prasada’ [sacrament]. Social get-togethers and parties were called ‘Santarpana’, ‘Samaaradhana’ and ‘Dasoha’. While get-togethers and parties serve social purposes only, looking upon them as Santarpana or Samaaradhana or Dasoha transmutes into a spiritual activity. Santarpana means ‘Worthy offering to society’; Samaaradhana means ‘Congregational worship’; Dasoha means ‘Congregation of devotees’. The ritual for coming of age, the social rite of passage into adulthood was called ‘Brahmopadesha’. They made arrangement for Gayatri Mantra Diksha [initiation into the Gayatri Mantra] for the child so that right from childhood, it could conserve its energy and develop a personality filled with purity and strength of character, and manifest incredible intellectual prowess. They taught us that marriage was to be called ‘Mangala’ [auspicious]. The traditional ornament that is to be worn by a married woman signifying her marital status was to be called ‘Maangalya’ [The symbol of that which is auspicious. In some parts of India, it is a gold medal; in some other parts, it is a silver toe-ring, etc]. The gross act of procreating offspring was purified and apotheosized into an act of repaying the debt to our forefathers. They enjoined that kids ought to be named after gods and goddesses, or divine qualities, or divine ideals, so that, when parents call out for their kids with inherent love and affection, there would be a parallel remembrance of higher ideas. Further, with a view to purify and spiritualize the conjugal life of husband and wife, they enjoined various religious activities, holy vows, fasts and vigils. To enable the blossoming of the highest purity within this precinct of a married life, they decreed that the husband ought to follow the ideal of ‘Ekapatnivrata’, and the wife ought to correspondingly stick to the ideal of ‘Pativratadharma’. Thus, by gradual means, the husband and wife were trained to see the divine in each other, realize their own greatness and achieve life fulfillment. These Rishis who envisioned such a graded path for uplifting every willing person in the society up to the empyrean heights of the highest purity, and thereby to life fulfillment, are worthy of our eternal gratitude! We offer our heartfelt salutations to these Rishis, these Seraphs, these Gurus, again and again!
Now, these same Rishis, these same Seraphs, these same Gurus also discovered the strait and narrow path of Absolute Brahmacharya, the most rigorous and austere spiritual Sadhana that leads to the realization of Brahman, the greatest achievement possible for humans. They opened it up, and then sat patiently for willing and capable aspirants to take up the challenge!
Translated by Swami Vedatitananda & Edited by Swami Gunottarananda