Holy Mother was the wife of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), now
regarded in India and abroad as a rare manifestation of divinity in modern times. She was
his constant companion during the most eventful period of his life and a witness of his
spiritual experiences. Sri Ramakrishna himself moulded her life and assigned her place in
the carrying out of his mission after his death.
Outwardly Holy Mother lived as an average Hindu woman, devoting
herself to the faithful discharge of her household duties, often unpleasant and
frustrating. Inwardly she practiced total non-attachment and remained undisturbed by what
happened in the physical world. Never did her mind deviate from contact with God. Thus she
has become, today, a model for both householders and world-renouncing monks.
I deem it necessary to point out here two important features of her teachings and
personality which may help the general reader, especially anyone unfamiliar with the
background of Hindu culture, to respond sympathetically to her life. First, Holy Mother,
when instructing her disciples, often asked them to regard Sri Ramakrishna as God
incarnate. She accepted other Divine Incarnations, too, but looked upon Sri Ramakrishna,
on account of his unceasing absorption in God, his total renunciation, and his acceptance
of different faiths as valid ways to the realization of God, as the one suited to our
present age. In her own experience she realized her husband's divinity. Therefore it was
natural for her to speak of him as a visible symbol of the Godhead. But she was by no
means dogmatic or exclusive. In teaching seekers who cherished other spiritual ideals, she
always deepened their faith in these.
Second, Holy Mother is often described in this book by such
epithets as the Mother of the Universe and the Divine Power These are not mere sentimental
expressions on the part of her devotees, but have a philosophical significance. According
to Vedanta philosophy, Brahman, or Ultimate Reality, is inactive It is not, Itself,
involved in the activities of creation, preservation, and dissolution. These are carried
on by Its inscrutable energy, called maya or Sakti. Brahman and Sakti are inseparable,
like fire and its power to burn or a gem and its lustre. The two names are given to one
and the same Reality according to Its two different functions. The whole universe of the
living and non-living is the projection of this divine energy, which, like an earthly
mother, produces creatures from its womb and then nourishes them. This energy, again,
finally withdraws the created beings into the Godhead, thus liberating them from the
bondage of the world. The Hindus therefore regard it as the Mother and Saviour of all.
Though this energy is present in all creatures, to a Hindu it resembles a woman more than
a man. Undoubtedly all women are channels of Sakti, but a woman totally undefiled by
worldliness becomes its most potent channel. Holy Mother was such a woman. Thus she too
has been described as the Saviour or the Divine Mother of the Universe. She looked on all
children born of a woman's womb as her own.
There are several books published in India, both in English and in
local vernaculars, about the life and teachings of Holy Mother. I have freely borrowed
facts and ideas from some of them, and hereby express my indebtedness to the authors Swami
Gambhirananda's book, published in English and in Bengali by the Sri Ramakrishna Math,
Madras, and the Udbodhan, Calcutta, respectively, contains authenticated facts.
Manadasankar Das Gupta's Bengali life analyses these facts admirably The life of Holy
Mother by Swami Tapasyananda and Swami Nikhilananda, in English, also published by the Sri
Ramakrishna Math, Madras, gives in addition a number of Holy Mother's Conversations. I
have included in the present book some of my own reminiscences.
In order to indicate Holy Mother's place in the history and
development of Indian womanhood, I have devoted the introductory chapter to a discussion
of some of the great women of India. A glossary has been added to explain terms unfamiliar
in the West.
Mr. James Holsaert has edited the entire manuscript with
painstaking care and given many valuable suggestions to make the book more easily
understandable, especially to Western readers. Swami Atmaghanananda, besides editing the
manuscript, has worked hard in looking after many mechanical details in order to prepare
it for the press. Mr. Joseph Campbell, too, has revised the manuscript and made helpful
suggestions. I am grateful to all of them. Though I have accepted many suggestions from
the editors, I take full responsibility for the reflections and interpretations in
this book. The manuscript has had to be typed several times. Mr. and Mrs. Harold Knapik,
Mabel Colloredo-Mansfeld, and Dorothy Kruger cheerfully performed this chore. I am
grateful to them also. The publication of this volume has been made possible through the
generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Chester F. Carlson, and I express to them, as well, my deep
Holy Mother's life and teachings have a direct bearing on the present human
situation. Physical scientists, and professional philosophers influenced by the scientific
method of reason and experimentation are preoccupied to discover the laws which explain
and control life and nature. They are revealing various dimensions of reality which tell
us about man and the world and also how to utilize this knowledge for man's physical
welfare There is a growing number of thoughtful people who regard intellectual knowledge,
unillumined by spiritual insight, as inadequate to satisfy the deep yearning of the soul.
They look to religion for inner peace. But unfortunately most of the religions, as
practiced today, are cluttered with dogmas and creeds that conceal the truth. Men want a
guide with direct experience of the true nature of the Godhead, the world, and the soul.
Only thus can his words and actions become imbued with love and compassion. Moreover, this
experience, if it is to transform men's lower nature and lead to the welfare of all, must
be ex pressed in simple words. Perceptive readers may find in Holy Mother's life the
fulfillment of these conditions. They will also find one who, instead of luxuriating in
the enjoyment of inner peace, worked till the last moment of her life to transmit that
peace to others.
This book, I believe, will be a source of inspiration to the
growing number of Sri Ramakrishna's devotees and admirers among English-speaking people.
Slowly Holy Mother's influence will infiltrate the general thought current of the world
and give an impetus to spiritual seekers everywhere, irrespective of their religious
Thousand Island Park, N. Y.
July 21, 1961
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