The Personal – Impersonal God

Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarvadharma svarupine;

Avatara varishtaya Ramakrishnaya te namaha!

Honorable Sri Ramendranath Mahakal, Judicial Magistrate, Alipore Court, Honourable Minister Sri Rabindranath Bhattacharya, Respected Sri Shirshendu Mukherjee, Chief Guest of the occasion, my very dear Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Special Guest of the occasion, other dignitaries on the stage, and dear devotees:

I am very happy to be here at the Jagatpur Anandamayee Kalimaata Mandir on its 11th Annual Foundation Day. Actually I am not supposed to be here today. Revered Swami Suviranandaji Maharaj, who is Asst General Secretary of Ramakrishna Mission was scheduled to come. Due to some pressing emergency, he is unable to come today. I am just filling in. He will come here on the 13th evening. Please come again on Friday to listen to Revered Maharaj.

I had requested both Rangalal & Manas Ghosh not to invite me to speak here. I have a very limited vocabulary in Bengali. Hence I cannot speak effectively. But, then, we just heard two most wonderful speeches by Justice Mahakal and Sheikh Rehman. I feel I have to say a few things, although my Bengali will seem to be like that of a primary school child. We have been hearing a couple of words repeatedly till now – Dharma Sabha & Dharma Samanvaya – Religious seminar & Harmony of Religions.

Let me tell you that this word especially, Harmony of Religions, is a new word. It didn’t exist until 100 years ago. In another Kali Temple, very similar to this, at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna conducted a unique experiment. I say it was unique because such a thing hadn’t occurred before and may not happen ever again. Sri Ramakrishna found out from his own personal experience that all religions are true. This was a paradigm altering discovery.

Once Sister Nivedita asked Swami Vivekananda, “So, you say that the future will call Sri Ramakrishna an incarnation of Kali?” She asked this because Swamiji would say that often, in very personal circles. He seldom openly preached that Sri Ramakrishna was an incarnation of God. So, in reply to this question by the Sister, Swamiji said, “Undoubtedly, that is so. Mother Kali worked up the body of Sri Ramakrishna for Her own ends.” We must appreciate the two people who are discussing here. Sister Nivedita and Swami Vivekananda, two of the most rational people who have lived in this world; both of them are saying that Sri Ramakrishna was the incarnation of Kali. A person doesn’t become an incarnation of God by some other people believing that it is so. Swamiji, especially was not the kind of person who would believe something willy-nilly. Unless a thing weren’t a fact, he wouldn’t care a damn.

In Dakshineswar, one day, a young boy named Rakhal was massaging Sri Ramakrishna’s feet. No sooner had he begun massaging Sri Ramakrishna’s feet than he saw Kali enter the room in the form of a small girl, seven or eight years of age. She circled the cot on which Sri Ramakrishna laid, a couple of times, and then merged into him. Jokingly, Sri Ramakrishna said to Rakhal, “Do you see? The results of serving a holy man are instant!” But, this spiritual vision clearly shows that Sri Ramakrishna is an incarnation of Kali. Mother Kali created his body and mind, consecrated it, and entered into it to work out Her own divine mission.

Mathurnath Biswas was the owner of the Dakshineswar Temple. One day, he was sitting on the porch of his residence within the Temple complex, called Kuthi Bungalow. A little far away, Sri Ramakrishna was walking up and down on the veranda of his own room. Mathur saw something amazing. When Sri Ramakrishna was walking towards the Ganga, he saw Sri Ramakrishna as Mother Kali. When he walked the other side, he saw him as Lord Shiva. This was not just once. Repeatedly Mathur saw this, and this vision completely changed his perception of the young priest who was under his employment. This vision also speaks clearly about who Sri Ramakrishna actually was.

It was Kali Puja day in Nov 1885. Sri Ramakrishna asked all puja items to be arranged in his room in Shyampukur. He was suffering from throat cancer and hence had moved to Shyampukur to recuperate. The devotees had arranged everything, but Puja didn’t start at the time it was to begin. In fact, there was no idol or photo even. Sri Ramakrishna and the devotees just sat in the room. The devotees had assumed that Sri Ramakrishna would perform the puja, but he just sat still. Suddenly, Girish Chandra Ghosh, who too was one of the devotees assembled there, realized that they actually had no need of an idol. For, Sri Ramakrishna was himself there. He took some flowers and offered them to Sri Ramakrishna’s feet. Many other devotees too followed suit. Each took some flowers and offered them to his feet uttering their own mantras. An amazing transformation occurred in Sri Ramakrishna. The hair on his body stood on end. His face became effulgent and divine smile started playing on his lips. His hands assumed the posture that Mother Kali has – one hand offering boons and the other showering the freedom of fearlessness. The devotees started shouting ‘Jai Maa’. Then Sri Ramakrishna went into deep Samadhi. After sometime, he regained partial consciousness. He then ate some of the offered fruits and sweets. The whole night was spent in singing Kali kirtans. This event impressed on the minds of the devotees present that Sri Ramakrishna was none other than Mother Kali.

One day, Sri Ramakrishna’s wife, Sri Sarada Devi, was massaging his feet. All of a sudden she asked him, “How do you look upon me?” Immediately he replied, “The Mother whom I worship in the Temple, the mother who lives in the Nahabat, who gave birth to me, and you who are massaging my feet now, are all non-different.” He looked upon Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi as Mother Kali in flesh and blood. And indeed, she was really so. When she was a young wife, living in her husband’s house in Kamarpukur, she had to go to the nearby Haldarpukur tank for her bath before sunrise. She was young and was afraid of going alone in the darkness. Most amazingly, every day, she was accompanied by eight little girls who would appear exactly at her bath time, take her to the Tank, have bath with her, bring her back home, and disappear! This happened as long as she was in Kamarpukur. We read in the scriptures that the Divine Mother is always accompanied by the eight companions, the ‘Ashta Nayikas’, and we see it was so in Holy Mother’s life too.

Once, Shivaram, a relative of Holy Mother was accompanying her on a journey back to Jairambati. Suddenly, Shivaram stopped in his tracks. Holy Mother asked him why he wasn’t moving. He said, “Mother, tell me who you really are. Only then will I move.” She said, “Don’t be silly. I am your aunt. Now come on, or we will be late.” But the boy did not budge. Finally, Holy Mother said, “Fine, people sometimes say I am Kali.” He was still not satisfied. He persisted. “That won’t do. Tell me; are you really Mother Kali in flesh & blood?” Seeing that this impasse wouldn’t end, Holy Mother admitted, “Yes. I am Mother Kali.” This is her own confession!

Mother Kali has two aspects – the benign aspect and the terrible aspect. In Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, we generally see the benign aspect manifested. However, if she were really Kali incarnate, shouldn’t she have a terrible aspect too? Well, we do see that aspect too of the gentle Holy Mother. It happened in Kamarpukur after the Mahasamadhi of Sri Ramakrishna. She lived on her own in her husband’s house. Sri Ramakrishna has a devotee named Harish, who was mentally deranged. He had come to Kamarpukur at that time and would irritate the Holy Mother often. One day, he started chasing her around. She ran away for some time from him, but after a while she confronted him. She felled him down, sat on his chest, pulled his tongue out of this mouth and slapped him repeatedly! After this terrible incident, Harish sobered down a lot and became almost normal. But, imagine someone as gentle and bashful as the Holy Mother behaving in this terrible fashion! In the scriptures, we find the description of a terrible aspect of the Divine Mother named Bagala Devi, who in similar fashion destroyed a demon. Here we see that in Holy Mother, for, she was indeed the Mother Kali incarnate. When she recalled this incident many years later, she herself confessed, “I then assumed my real nature and trounced him thus.”

There was a very revered monk in our Order called Swami Ashokananda. He was from Sylhet and his name was Yogesh Chandra. When he was still living at home, when he had not yet become a monk, one day he was meditating on Mother Durga. After a while, he saw that the Mother’s image in his mind got replaced by that of Swami Vivekananda! Moreover, he clearly felt as though a pitcher was being emptied into his heart. Later on, he conveyed this experience to Swami Brahmananda & Shivananda, both of whom confirmed that it was a kind of Diksha that he had got. Swami Vivekananda had initiated him in this manner. So, when Swami Ashokananda meditated on Mother Durga, Mother assumed the form of Swamiji and initiated him!

I am a little confused here. I don’t know whether you are or not, but I certainly am. What exactly is happening here? First we saw that Mother Kali incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna. We find a person no less than Swami Vivekananda himself substantiating this belief. Then, we saw that Holy Mother too was Mother Kali. Then, from Ashokanandaji’s life we find that Swami Vivekananda himself was none other than Mother Kali! How can one Goddess appear as three different people? Something doesn’t seem to be right in these deliberations, isn’t it?

Let me read a little from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and see if that can solve our confusion. Sri Ramakrishna says, “Mother Kali plays in different ways. It is She alone who is known as Mahakali, Nityakali, Smasanakali, Rakshakali, and Syamakali. Mahakali and Nityakali are mentioned in the Tantra philosophy. When there were neither the creation, nor the sun, the moon, the planets, and the earth and when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the Formless One, Mahakali, the Great Power, was one with Mahakala, the Absolute…No one can say with finality that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless, and again He has forms. For the Bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the Jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream…Kabir used to say, ‘The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.’…God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most. His love for the devotee knows no bounds. It is written in the Purana that God assumed the form of Rama for His heroic devotee, Hanuman…”

So, what Sri Ramakrishna is trying to say here is that divinity has both form and is formless. It is the same divinity that appears in different forms (to suit the mentality of the devotee) and as devoid of all form, as pure consciousness (again to suit the mentality of a different kind of devotees). Thus, it is one and the same divinity that the Jews, Muslims and some Hindus worship as Yehowah, Allah and Nirakara Brahman. And that same divinity assumes the myriad forms of Kali, Shiva, Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, etc depending on the spiritual inclination of the devotee. When the heart is purified, the devotee understands this truth. Well, this is not just the truth, but it is also a great scam played by God! If we understand this fact, of the oneness of all gods and goddesses, our life becomes blessed. Our life becomes a great symphony of spiritual experiences. Our interactions with others become sweet and meaningful. If we don’t understand this fact, our life becomes a hell. We become unable to look at people who do not like the same form of God that we do. Our life becomes one unending fight over trivialities. All joy vanishes.

Imagine the situation of a dog in a house. The master of the house may come wearing any form. The dog doesn’t get fooled. It recognizes its master, no matter what dress or make-up or hat or shoes he wears. We call ourselves devotees, but we are worse than a dog! God likes to assume innumerable forms and we are simply unable to recognize divinity in any other form than the one we like! How pathetic!

There was once a man who had a pet dog. He had to go out on a business tour for a couple of days. He kept sufficient dog food in his room, locked the dog inside the room and went away. When he returned, he found that the dog had died. He saw shards of glass lying around and the dog had wounds on its face at neck. He immediately understood what had happened. He remarked sadly, “Ah! You fool! If only you had wagged your tail, you would have been alive now!” Do you see what happened here? There was a looking glass in that room. The dog saw its own reflection in the mirror and thought that it was another dog in its territory. It gnashed its teeth and barked. The reflection did likewise. The dog hurled itself repeatedly at its ‘enemy’. The glass broke, pierced its body. It bled and died! If the dog had instead wagged its tail, the reflection too would have wagged its tail. It would have got a ‘friend’ instead of an ‘enemy’! Similar is our interaction with others in this world. Just a little while ago, Mujibur Rehman said that we all need to know more about each other’s’ religion and traditions. How true! If only we know what the other man believes and how he behaves, we will be able to accommodate him; likewise with him about me. I tell you from my personal experience. I have been in places where I did not speak a word of their language and they didn’t know a word of what I spoke. Yet, no one attacked me or killed me yet! I found friends everywhere.

Harmony of religions is possible in this very life. I am not even speaking from the experiential basis from which Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda speaks. I am speaking from a purely humanistic, common-sense point of view. It is possible at the personal level, for you, for me. I do not know if it will ever be possible on a mass scale. But, by linear logic, if it is possible in individuals, there is no reason why it should not be possible on a mass scale. Until such time as our intellect expands and we understand the rationale behind the various religions, until such time as our consciousness expands and we perceive the truth in other religions, let common-sense prevail and guide our actions. With this wish, I once again thank the organizers of this programme, especially Honorable Minister Sri Rabindranath Bhattacharya for having allowed me to participate in this programme. Thank you all.

Om shantih, shantih, shantihi!

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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