— Swami Vireshananda —
Nectarine words of compassion
Spirituality in Indian tradition is interwoven with daily life. Many spiritual aspirants call themselves religious. They read scriptures and holy books daily; practise Japa and meditation and develop faith in God. However, they feel the dilemma when applying spiritual principles to counter and solve the challenges that they face in their day-to-day life. The reason is simple: they are clueless in determining whether the noble principles enshrined in the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and other scriptures would be able to give a lasting solution to the teething complications of mundane life.
The Upanishads are brimming with the idea of the unity of existence while the Gita teaches us how to live a meaningful life in the light of eternal principles. The spiritual goal they reveal is delightful to think of and understand, while the path they teach is inspiring to follow. However, many a time, we are incapacitated to make use of them to bring about a qualitative transformation in our life. The noble ideas we read and deliberate upon may not be so useful to us as solutions to the challenges and complexities of our family, profession, and individual life. As a result, the spiritual practices and the study of scriptures become so mechanical that they do not give any meaning and semblance of happiness to our lives.
The root of the problem lies here: We are unable to embrace spiritual principles as an invariable component of our life and do our daily chores in the light of the enlightening ideas that we have read and contemplated upon. Nor do we know or are trained in the technique of adopting them to find a way out of our daily problems.
The teachings of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi will be of immense benefit to us in this circumstance. They have three distinct characteristics: 1. They are practical in every sense, 2. They are realistic in their outlook, 3. They are compassionate to the apprehensions of an ordinary person. Her teachings are informal and intimate, and so, appeal to everyone, the ignorant as well as the learned.
Sri Sarada Devi herself went through trials and tribulations of life and swallowed bitterness of strained circumstances in her life. Her words, therefore, are not merely academic or theoretical, but are the actual results of her ennobling wisdom and maturity. They are ambrosial as they bring solace and comfort to grieved hearts and at the same time, sagacious to give a lasting panacea to underlying problems of life. She does not use technical words to impress the listeners, nor does she quote any scripture to engage us in polemics. Her teachings, bereft of ambiguity and artificiality, soothe our sorrowful hearts; offer pertinent meaning to the difficulties we undergo, and assure effective and practical solutions to them.
Other noteworthy features of Holy Mother’s teachings are her modesty and absence of ego as a teacher. She is like a granny or mother in the family, bestowing comforting advice to the young ones, which is the result of her years of experience and ensuing wisdom. That is why the teachings of the Holy Mother become very intimate and valuable to us. Whenever we read them, we will be transported to the pristine divine ambience of Jayrambati and experience her loving presence, as a child does regarding its mother. We feel then as if we are sitting at the feet of Sri Sarada Devi in front of her small hut and cosily listening to her with rapt attention.
The Meaning of Life
Regarding the meaning of life, Holy Mother begins her explanation philosophically and says that the world is the Lord’s—He created it for His own play and we are mere pawns in His game. In the next instant, she points out the actuality of life that we suffer because of our own actions and so, it is unfair to blame anyone for it. Hence, it is imperative that instead of blaming others for such sufferings, we should pray to the Lord and try to bear them with forbearance under all circumstances.
Another question that quivers our faith quite often is: ‘If God is the father and mother of all, then why does he make us sin?’ The Mother says that though God alone has become all these objects, animate and inanimate, all beings act and suffer according to their past karma and innate tendencies in the relative world. This answer is significant. Here the Mother holds on to the philosophical view of the all-pervasiveness of God, yet emphasises that in the empirical level, it is karma, the actions and their results, that directs the destiny of all living beings. This is in perfect agreement with the Vedantic idea—though nonduality is the ultimate Reality in the absolute sense, it is karma that is responsible for suffering in the realm of avidya, ignorance.
Now arises the problem of good and evil. What is good? What is evil? Where do they come from? These are some of the critical questions that spirituality and philosophy have tried to answer from time immemorial. According to the Holy Mother, it is all according to God’s will. ‘It is God alone who expresses His will through the actions of man.’ Even a blade of grass cannot stir without the will of God. In simple parlance, she says: ‘When a creature falls on good times, his thoughts turn to prayer; when he falls on troubled times, all is evil’ (ibid.). Hence, she counsels that one must bear with everything because it is all due to cause and effect, according to one’s karma. What is the way out of this vicious circle of karma? Good karma can counteract the effects of previous bad karma. Hence, there is no need to despair. All we should do is surrender ourselves totally at the Lord’s feet, because it is He alone who does everything for us.
What is conspicuous in the above teachings is Holy Mother’s pragmatic approach. Rather than harping on philosophical exegesis, she gives prominence to the duties that one should undertake at present to make one’s life fruitful and meaningful. Here we come across some more wonderful traits of her teachings: simple elucidation of abstract principles, practical approach, and a down to earth viewpoint.
Art of Living
The meaning of life will always remain a mystery that is beyond our comprehension. However, living with an ideal need not be beyond our reach. Hence, Sri Sarada Devi gives much importance to the latter than the former in her conversations. While stating the fact that the mundane life is full of misery, she also teaches how to reduce the intensity of such suffering.
The methods of attenuating the grief of everyday life are clearly spelt out in her talks. They are: 1. Faith and devotion towards the Supreme Lord, 2. Surrendering our will to the Lord, 3. Repeating the name of God with devotion, and 4. Selfless service to others. The Holy Mother says that forbearance is a great virtue to be embraced in order to reduce the burden of suffering. According to her, there is no other effective method than this to assuage the misery. This is also an indication of a mature and enlightened person. Though Holy Mother outwardly covers herself in the veil of simplicity, she understands the complexities of life more than anyone else. This is evident in her following teaching: ‘One must be patient like the earth. What iniquities are being committed on her! Yet she quietly endures them all. … There is no treasure equal to contentment and no virtue equal to fortitude’ (5).
However, we should not assume that the Mother is passive in her outlook towards life. She states that the miseries are like water flowing under a bridge. As they do come, they are bound to go. Happiness and miseries—all have origin in God and hence, miseries are also due to God’s grace. The only sensible way for us is to endure them patiently remembering God always.
Importance of Sadhana
As we have seen, miseries are inevitable in one’s life. The best way is to develop equanimity of mind in all circumstances. Sri Sarada Devi teaches that this is the very essential aspect of sadhana in spiritual life. She presents the essence of Vedanta in one of her conversations: ‘The whole world is a dream; even this (waking state) is a dream. … What you dream last night does not exist now. … These earthly ties are transitory. Today they seem to be-all and end-all of life, and tomorrow they vanish. … Everything, husband, wife or even the body is only illusory. These are the shackles of illusion. … Your real tie is with God (22, 23).
Adding to this, Holy Mother advises that one should have a true [intimate] relationship only with God giving up worldly attachments because selfish love and attachment towards human beings always lead to suffering. ‘He is blessed, indeed, who can love God alone. There is no suffering in loving God’ (23). She says in clear terms: ‘Always do your duty to others, but love you must give to God alone. Worldly love always brings in its wake untold misery’ (24).
We must also cultivate renunciation along with detachment, which is taught above. When a disciple confesses that it is difficult to practise it, Holy Mother encourages him saying: ‘Yes, (but) you will acquire it slowly. You make some progress in this life, a little more in the next and so on’ (25). She also stresses the importance of discernment between the real and the unreal and says that whatever attracts one’s mind is to be regarded as transient and so, one should give all attention towards God alone. The discernment requires control of the mind. As Holy Mother puts it, everything depends on one’s mind. She says: ‘The mind of the aspirant should be gracious to him. … My child, this mind is just like a wild elephant. It races with the wind. Therefore, one should discriminate all the time. One should work hard for the realization of God’ (27).
Japa and Meditation
The agitation of the mind makes discernment impossible for an ordinary aspirant. The remedy Holy Mother suggests is the practice of Japa and meditation. She assures: ‘Don’t worry! Restlessness is the nature of the mind as it is of the eyes and ears. Practise regularly. The name of God is more powerful than the senses.’ However, the disquiet mind does not allow an aspirant to engage in spiritual practices. The Holy Mother teaches three means to achieve steadiness of mind: unshaken willpower, continuous effort, and shraddha—the blending of faith, confidence, respect, and a positive mindset. Even then, one cannot be sure of having control over the mind. Holy Mother says in this context: ‘Whenever the mind goes after anything other than God, consider that as transient and surrender the mind at the sacred feet of the Lord’ (28).
Spiritual life is but an uninterrupted and conscious struggle with the mind, which represents one’s lower nature (prakriti). Sri Sarada Devi is always ready to help us out in this life-long tug of war. A devotee approaches her with a grievance that she finds no result even after prolonged spiritual practice. The Mother advises her that during spiritual practice, much of the problems do not come from outside. They are mostly mind-born. The best way is to remember Sri Ramakrishna and meditate on Him. One must continue with sadhana patiently and need not give attention to whether the mind is cleansed of impurities or not, which will happen in due course.
Holy Mother never compromises with the practice of Japa and meditation. It acts as a rudder to a boat. One must at least sit down once in the morning and again in the evening for this purpose. The repetition of the Mantra or the name of God purifies the body and mind. When a devotee asks the Holy Mother, ‘Mother, what is the secret [of sadhana]?’, she points to a small timepiece in a niche and says: ‘As that timepiece is ticking, so also go on repeating God’s Name. That will bring you everything. Nothing more need be done’ (39).
The Holy Mother explains the purpose of Japa and meditation in simple terms. The natural tendency of the mind is to run hither and thither. Through the means of Japa and meditation, it is attracted towards God. ‘While repeating the name of God, if one sees His form and becomes absorbed in Him, one’s Japa stops. One gets everything when one succeeds in meditation’ (44).
Sri Sarada Devi, in this manner, enables us to become determined intellectually and also pragmatic in applying spiritual principles in our life. Even then, our inherent weakness leads us into a disheartened state and pushes us into samsara, the endless transmigratory existence. Such desperate souls are much larger in number when compared to those who are more fortunate. In Indian tradition, the Guru or the spiritual teacher is considered to be one who showers compassionate blessings on such distressed mortals.
In this perspective, we discover another dimension of Sri Sarada Devi’s divine personality, being the kind-hearted refuge of the afflicted and destitute. Swami Abhedananda puts it succinctly in his hymn on the Holy Mother:
प्रकृतिं परमामभयां वरदां
नररूपधरां जनतापहराम् ।
शरणागत सेवक तोषकरीं
प्रणमामि परां जननीं जगताम् ॥
To the Divine Shakti (Power) embodied in a human form, to the giver of boons and the asylum to those afflicted with fears, to the redresser of human miseries and the generator of joy in the hearts of devotees, to Thee my salutations! O Supreme Being, Mother of the worlds!
The Holy Mother welcomes one and all to her tutelage irrespective of their being virtuous or sinners. She lends a helping hand to them to make them feel that they have a mother, who would look after their spiritual needs. Everyone becomes her child and receives unbound love, compassion, and spiritual guidance. This way, she is the ‘Mother of All’ in its true spirit. Also, Holy Mother would like each of her children to look upon her as one’s own mother. Once Girish Chandra Ghosh asked Holy Mother: ‘What sort of Mother are you?’ She replied at once: ‘Your real Mother; not just the wife of your Guru, not an adopted mother, not a vague mother. Your real Mother’ (142).
Sri Sarada Devi once said that she had done much more in her life than what it requires to make life really an exemplary one. While she is the living illustration of Vedantic ideals, her teachings are the essence of all scriptures. She spent her last days in Kolkata suffering from old-age ailments. Even at that juncture, she advised a grieving lady devotee: ‘But I tell you one thing—if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather, see your own faults. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; this whole world is your own’ (93). This is well-known as the last message of the Holy Mother, not only because it is given just a few days before her passing away, but also for its all-inclusiveness and effectual method of practising Advaita, non-duality, in daily life.
Sri Ramakrishna would say: ‘Keep the knowledge of Advaita in your pocket, and then act as you like in the world.’ That means one should engage in daily life holding on to the principle of Advaita. The last message of the Holy Mother teaches how to apply this idea in our regular activities. In this message, Holy Mother presents the Advaita ideal as a universal outlook of seeing everyone as divine, transcending all barriers of caste, creed, race, and nationality. Through this, she also liberates Advaita, an integrated idea of the unity of existence, from dogmatism and orthodoxy.
Sri Sarada Devi’s teachings beautifully blend the ‘ideal’ and ‘practice’ of spiritual life, and also harmonise the ‘theory’ and ‘practicality’ of noble principles. We also discover through the prism of her teachings, a perfect amalgamation of the ‘divine’ and ‘human’ aspects of her personality. Holy Mother instructs us in the role of a teacher and simultaneously reveals her motherly love and concern. Her unpretentious teachings have no parallel in the spiritual literature of the world due to these unique traits.
Holy Mother is a liberating spiritual force as she releases us from the clutches of dos and don’ts, superstitions as well as mind-blogging exegesis and logic, guiding us on the royal path towards God. She conquers our heart with her sweet words, benign look, and pure heart, being an impeccable embodiment of spiritual ideal and human values. Sri Sarada Devi is an unending ocean of divine love and affection, abiding in which, our trivialities would disappear; our egos would subsume, and our miseries would be washed away. What else should we dream of achieving in this life?
 Swami Vireshwarananda, Teachings of Sri Sarada Devi, The Holy Mother (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2009), 7.
 Swami Nikhilananda, Life of Sri Ramakrishna (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2015), 464.