Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
In early 1885 Ramakrishna Paramahamsa began to suffer pain in the throat. Initially it was diagnosed as clergyman’s throat, which is associated with inflammation of the vocal cords due to over exertion. He was staying at Shyampukur house those days but as months passed it became apparent that there was something seriously wrong with the Master’s throat. In a few months it became clear that the Master was suffering from cancer of the throat and by the beginning of December it was apparent to all that this cancer was not curable. Ramakrishna would need a miracle to overcome this cancer. Everybody wanted Ramakrishna Paramhansa to go back to Dakshineswar Kali Temple, where Ramakrishna through His love for Maa Kali and Her oneness with Him, had become a Perfect Master. Everybody was convinced that Maa Kali in the form of Maa Bhavatarini would release the Master from His suffering by curing Him of the illness. Maa Bhavatarini Kali, stands for ‘The One who liberates from the ocean of existence and maya’ and Ramakrishna’s disciples were certain that Maa Kali would release the Master from His suffering. For some reason Ramakrishna was not very convinced with the idea of going back to Dakshineswar. Though His love for the Goddess and especially in the form of Dakshineswar Kali was known by all those who knew of Ramakrishna, He was reluctant of going back there.
I have realized that there are some Masters who are very attached to a particular place. Like Baba Sai of Shirdi was to Dwarka Mai. He was reluctant to leave Dwarka Mai ever. He had to be forced to sleep every alternate night at Chavdi. And here was Ramakrishna Paramhansa who had experienced the heights of spiritual ecstasy and oneness with the Goddess in this Kali Temple who was reluctant to go back. The reason according to me is simple. Baba Sai had the eternal fire burning in Dwarka Mai. For Sufis and Yogis, their personal fire has a direct connect with the Master. The Master derives comfort, solace, strength as well as communicates with the Fire Energy. For Them to leave the Fire is like leaving behind a loved family member. It’s no longer just Fire. But for Masters, an idol or a room or a place or a seat does not hold the same intense relationship as They don’t derive anything from four walls, or a cot, or an idol; in fact the room, four walls, cot, idol derive life, vibrancy, energy from the Master’s presence. Thus for Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Goddess Kali, was always with and within Him and not confided to Dakshineswar.
Anyway, the disciples insisted and the Master decided to let them talk to the authorities, which meant a talk with Trailokya, the manager of the Temple, for his permission to let Ramakrishna come back to the Kali Temple. Trailokya avoided meeting them and when he did meet the disciples he refused to give permission to the Master to return. He was clear that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa would never be given permission to come back to Dakshineswar.
Ramakrishna all His life had been mistreated by many. Most of the staff of the Kali Maa’s Temple, thought of Him as a mad man or somebody not to be taken seriously and this was not restricted to outsiders; sometimes even His close devotees showed a certain lack of respect towards the Master. This could be because Ramakrishna was so completely absorbed in Maa Kali that He would become like a child or behave very childlike. For most people they want a Master to behave and live according to their limited perceptions.
Thus on December 11th, 1885, Ramakrishna was relocated to Cossipore, a northern suburb of Kolkota, to a house which had a large beautiful garden and it was here that the Master left His body after eight months of intense pain, suffering, elation, trance, spiritual Oneness and companionship. Ramakrishna had sixteen disciples of which twelve stayed with Him while the other four visited regularly and performed their spiritual duties from their respective homes. The Master wanted not one more than sixteen disciples. He had innumerable devotees but those who were closest to Him; those who were allowed to serve Him, live with Him, be with Him, were sixteen and in their narration of the eight months that they spent with the Master, they described it as constant crucifixion but also the most ecstatic and exultant experience of the soul.
Sarada Devi, also known as The Holy Mother, wife of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, along with the Master’s niece, Lakshmi Devi, and few other women devotees, took over the kitchen. Money was always an issue. Till the Master was in the body, the householders who were devotees of the Master would take care of the expense but once the Master left the body, the sixteen disciples really had to go through a grueling time. That we will talk about later.
As months passed Ramakrishna’s illness gained strength. Once the pain was so unbearable and there was hemorrhaging from the throat wound. In intense pain, Ramakrishna told the doctor to cure Him of His disease but soon thereafter when a little better, He began to talk about the Goddess, the pain forgotten. He had been advised time and again not to strain his vocal cords by talking with those around Him but He would continuously talk about the greatness and the love of the Goddess. Once He said that the Divine Mother would soon put an end to His body but nobody wanted to accept the fact that the Master would leave the body. They all were convinced that Mother Kali would cure their Master, just as the Master had healed so many through Her Grace.
One day Pundit Shashadhar told Ramakrishna that the scriptures had made it clear that if an evolved soul focused His or Her mind on any illness or problem, the illness could be cured and the problem no matter how grave could be resolved. The Master replied that for Him to focus on His illness in order to cure Himself of it, He would have to divert His mind away from The Divine Mother. How could He take His mind away from The Divine Mother and focus on this cage of flesh? When Narendra who later on came to be known as Swami Vivekananda pleaded that if not for anybody else, at least for the sake of the disciples’ sake the Master should cure Himself, Ramakrishna replied that He did not for a moment want to suffer or enjoy the suffering and that He wanted to be healed but it all depended on the Holy Mother and Her wish was all that which mattered and nothing more. But all insisted, most of all Narendra, so eventually Ramakrishna agreed to ask Maa Kali whether He should pray for His health or if She will consent curing Him. A few hours later He called everybody and informed them that He had told the Mother that He was in severe pain and because of the pain He could not swallow a morsel of food and pleaded with the Mother to bless Him that He could at least eat a little. The Master halted and then continued that the Goddess showed Him, all His disciples and told Him that wasn’t He eating through the mouths of His disciples? Wasn’t that enough? The Master looked at His disciples and told them that He had never felt more ashamed and could not speak anything further to the Goddess.
Once seated with His disciples the Master whispered that if His body had a little more time so many souls would have been helped on the Path but the Goddess knew best. He was convinced that He was not worldly wise and the world would take advantage of His innocence and thus through His innocence He would grant the rare gift of spirituality to even those who were not ready. He then sighed and said that nobody would truly understand Him and that if one had a physical body, then pain was inevitable.
Sometimes the pain would get so intense that He would tell Himself and tell His mind to forget the pain, forget the body, forget the sickness and remain solely focused on the Divine Mother and be merged in the bliss of that union.
Seeing Him suffer so greatly, Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, went to a Shiva Temple and in Her prayer She was told to be prepared for the inevitable. The Master would leave His body soon and this illness would be the excuse for Him to leave the body. But no matter what Ramakrishna not once stopped focusing on His disciples. He would continuously teach them, talk about the Goddess, guide them, even though He went through great suffering doing so. He not once listened to the advice of the doctors that the best thing for Him was to speak as little as possible.
But His disciples took care of Him with great devotion. In His last days, Ramakrishna wanted to spit in a vessel. The vessel was not in the room so Latu, one of His disciples told his Master to spit into his cupped palms. He insisted and the Master did so and with tears in His eyes He told Latu, ‘your love is so wonderful’. The Master then whispered that seeing Latu’s love and devotion, He wished He had a little more time in the body but alas the body was plagued with cancer that prevented Him from living longer in the body while Latu’s love was so intense that it didn’t allow the Master to leave His body. What a strange dilemma. Latu sighed and told Ramakrishna, ‘Oh Master I am your servant’.
The Master whenever He needed anything to be bought from the market would always call Mahasaya or M. to go and bring it. He would always tell M. to bargain and get whatever was wanted at the cheapest possible cost. He would insist that M. should go to at least ten shops and bargain and get from whoever sold the item at the cheapest price. Once the Master was asked as to why was only M. sent for such tasks and Ramakrishna replied that when M. bought anything he didn’t think he was doing seva to the Master. He bought it as though he was buying it for himself. When you love somebody dearly the feeling of seva is removed. You don’t think you are serving your Master. The Master and you have become one and what you think would be the best for yourself would be the best for your Master too.
It was the same M. who after the Master left His body, took a bit of the ashes of his Master’s body and put it into his mouth. All the other disciples were surprised as to why would M. swallow the ashes of their Master and M. said that till the Master was in the body each of them considered that the Master was external. They could afford to be careless or not very particular with every thought, word or deed. But now that He was no longer present physically, they would have to consider that the Master resided only within and thus they could no longer afford to be careless about anything anymore and that is why he consumed a little of the Master’s ashes, so that the Master blesses him to always live by the Master’s words and he to eventually attain such purity so as to merge with the Master.
A short time before Ramakrishna left His body, M.’s wife had come to visit the Master. M. and his wife had just lost their beloved son to an illness. The Master was aware how grief stricken the mother was who had just lost her child. Though in great pain Himself, He took great care of her and made sure she spent time with Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother. The Master was aware how much M. and his wife suffered due to the loss of their child and did all He could do to make her feel consoled and comforted. Many questioned as to why did the Master not save M.’s child? He had saved so many from death? But not once did M. ever question his Master about the same. Ramakrishna was very clear that destiny had to play its part. If He could intervene He would but if an individual’s karmic blueprint made it mandatory for an individual to go through a certain experience, He would respect what was laid down in the karmic journey. For Him, nothing came before the plans of the Goddess. He could request Her but if She was firm on something, He would never ever try to reason with Her or make Her change Her mind. It did not matter to Him what those around Him or with Him thought about Him. Nothing came before the Mother’s Will. He believed that once you attain true love for The One, nothing exists but The One. He was very clear that bhakti (devotion) pales before bhava (selfless true love). He often would tell His disciples that once you are in the human body suffering is inevitable. According to Him, even the incarnations of God had to suffer terribly and thus all incarnations of Gods would eventually pray to the Divine Mother, the Primal Energy. Even Lord Rama wept bitterly and helplessly when He lost His beloved Sita. Thus even incarnations of Gods weren’t spared of suffering.
He often would say that may He never have to come back to earth again but then in the next breath He would say, even if there is one person who needed Him He would come down again and again just for that one individual to help that soul grow and merge with The Goddess. Ramakrishna believed that eventually it all depended on the individual as to how each one went about the pain he or she was enveloped in. If we turned our mind to pain, to slander, to hate, we shall be caged with hurt, sorrow, pain. If we turned our mind to our Goddess, God, Guru, we shall rise about the pettiness that surrounds us and bask in the glory of The One. I know it is difficult, but when you look at it realistically, it all depends on each one of us. Thus, though He was in gripping pain and agony, He always turned His attention to the Divine Mother. It was not that the pain disappeared but He detached Himself from the body and focused only on the Spirit within. He expected this attitude from His disciples and thus whether He was in the body or had left His physical cage, His disciples suffered immensely and it appeared as though the Master did nothing to assuage their pain and discomfort.
When somebody asked Him as to why people suffered and why did God do nothing to salvage them from the pain, He would often reply, till the last days, that it was impossible to truly understand the reasoning of The One. The One who preserves also destroys and we shall never understand why S(H)e destroys but why bother trying to understand the motives of The One, why not seek divine love for The One and to live a life of devotion and seva. The Divine Mother knows always what is best for each one of us. He would say that when in a garden filled with mango trees, why bother about how many trees are there and how many branches each tree has and how many leaves are there on each branch. Just enjoy eating the mangoes.
He would often narrate a story of a weaver who lived a life leaving each moment to the wisdom of Lord Rama. One day the weaver was kidnapped by thieves and the weaver was forced to carry a bundle of stolen jewels. He had no option so chanting Lord Rama’s Name he did as was told. The police chased the robbers and they managed to escape and the weaver did not run away and he was the only one left behind with the bundle of jewels. The police mistook him for one of the thieves and he was presented in the Court of Law. The judge asked him to speak up to what had transpired and the poor weaver, every other sentence, would say, ‘by the will of Lord Rama’ this happened, ‘by the will of Lord Rama’ that happened. The judge realized that this man was innocent and released him. When his well-wishers asked him as to what had transpired, he told them, ‘by the will of Lord Rama’ the court had found him innocent. Ramakrishna would insist that though this weaver seemed to be an ordinary mortal in reality to be able to live with such kind of faith and love and surrender elevated him to a very high spiritual standing as the weaver truly lived the philosophy of ‘by the will of Lord Rama’. This is what Ramakrishna wanted every one of His disciples and devotees to live by, ‘by the will of the Divine Mother’.
During those months when His body slowly deteriorated, due to the cancer and the lack of food as He could not eat more than a morsel due to the tremendous pain, He never stopped helping those who came to meet Him on the path of spiritual growth.
His love for Swami Vivekananda was known to one and all. Everybody was clear that Narendra was the chosen one who would have to lead the disciples once the Master dropped His body. Narendra, who was an extremely educated person, would still doubt the spiritual greatness of his Master, as he thought through his mind and logic rather than bhakti and bhav. Narendra wanted to experience the state of realization and feel the kind of selfless love and peace all the other disciples felt and lived with. Something was blocking Narendra from taking that final leap. During the last few weeks of Ramakrishna being in the physical body, one day He called Narendra and asked him what was it that he truly wanted. Narendra wanted to experience the state of realization and Samadhi even if meant for a few days but mainly he sought liberation. Ramakrishna wanted Narendra to go all over the world and preach the word of God but Narendra insisted that he would do no such thing, not till he was not liberated and realized and Ramakrishna told him that whether he wanted it or not ‘ Your very bones will teach the world’. And this is what transpired soon after the Master left His physical body.
Then one day Narendra while in meditation felt as though somebody had lit a lamp which burnt at the back of his head. He experienced the state of Samadhi. He remained in that state for a while and when he regained consciousness he realized that apart from his face and head he could not see the remaining of his body. Narendra understandably freaked out and another disciple went rushing to see what the fuss was all about. He tried to convince Narendra that his body was very much present and visible to him but Narendra in great agitation insisted that he couldn’t see his body. The disciple, some say it was Gopal, went rushing to the Master who was lying down on His cot, and told Him what was transpiring with Narendra and the Master smiled and said ‘ let him stay that way for some time more, he has troubled me for a long time’.
When Narendra gained complete consciousness he went to meet his Master and Ramakrishna revealed that though Narendra had been revealed the treasure by the Divine Mother, Ramakrishna would keep everything under lock and key and only after Narendra had performed all the duties in the world set out by Ramakrishna would Narendra again experience this state of Samadhi. This is exactly what took place.
Days later when again alone with the Master Narendra went into the state of Samadhi. When he came back to consciousness he found Ramakrishna silently weeping. He told Narendra that now He had given him everything He possessed and now He was just a poor fakir who possessed nothing.
Slowly the cancer spread to His lungs and now apart from being unable to eat He found it difficult to breathe. He would tell those seated with Him to make Him lie down and then unable to breath He would ask to be made seated. Narendra observed the suffering of His Master and a small doubt entered his mind whether Ramakrishna could still be the incarnation of the Lord. The Master immediately looked at him and softly inquired as to why such a doubt. ‘One who is Rama, one who is Krishna, is the same Rama and Krishna who has incarnated as Ramakrishna’. A few days before He left His body, He told Sarada Devi whether She would do something for Him. When She asked as to what, the Master told Her that He would leave the body in a few days and that She should not grieve that He was no more in the physical body and that She must completely forget about the past and the life They had lived together and only live in the moment. The Holy Mother lived for thirty four years in the body after the Master took Samadhi. It is said that when Ramakrishna left His body, the Holy Mother did not cry out that Her husband was no more. Instead She cried ‘my Master is no more’.
On 16th August 1886, early morning Ramakrishna Paramahamsa entered the state of Samadhi and left His physical body.
When the Holy Mother was about to remove Her bangles which is the custom of all widows during those days, Ramakrishna materialized in front of Her and insisted that She should not remove the bangles and told Her that ‘death is walking from one room to another. Can the fire ever get corrupted? Don’t remove your bangles’.
After He left His body His disciples went through a harrowing time. They had no food to eat. The householder devotees stopped all funding, assuming that the Master was no more, thus why both with funding His disciples. So Ramakrishna came in the dream of the affluent householder devotees and insisted that His disciples be taken care of. It was then agreed by the affluent devotees to sponsor for the stay and food of the sixteen disciples for a year and after that they should be able to manage for themselves. Thus even after dropping His body the love a Master has for the nearest and dearest never ceases.
Be blessed always.
https://www.ramakrishnavivekan- anda.info/gospel/introduction/- last_days.htm
TSwami Chetananda is the Minister-in-charge of the Vedanta Society of St. Louis, USA. He is well-known for his numerous books in Bengali and English particularly God Lived With Them and They Lived With God. His recent English translation of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Leelaprasanga titled Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play has received wide acclaim.
https://www.boldsky.co- m/yoga-spirituality/spiritual– masters/sri-ramakrishna/last-d- ays-throat-cancer-241109.html
P- ravrajika Shuddhatmaprana in Purushottama, a souvenir publication by Sri Ramakrishna Sarada Sangha, Kolkata, in celebration of the 175th birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna.
https://aknandy.wo- rdpress.com/2016/12/05/the-las- t-days-of-ramakrishna-paramaha- msa/
http://www.srinannagaru.co- m/books/SriRamakrishnaParamaha- msa.pdf
https://www.speakingtre- e.in/blog/a-rare-conversation– between-ramkrishna-paramahansa- -swami-vivekananda
https://pras- hantb.wordpress.com/2011/03/02- /an-episode-from-life-of-sri-r- amakrishna-paramhansa/
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha