Sri Ramakrishna, the prophet of Dakshineswar, was born in the year 1836. Through a life of intense spiritual practice, great revelation, and heartfelt compassion, he profoundly affected the people around him. Through his unfailing insistence of God realization as the be-all and end-all of life, Sri Ramakrishna inspired his disciples with a new vision of life's goal and meaning.
To him, love of God and realization of the Divine must find expression through acts of loving kindness and service to others – as manifestations of God. Nowhere was this found manifested to a greater degree than in the life of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother. Not only was she the master's partner in his life work, but she was also the sacred place wherein he worshipped the Divine Mother. So she stands revealed today, a great Goddess ready to receive all her children alike with a mother's heart, suffused with a love and compassion that embraces with equal warmth the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the saint and the sinner, the householder and the monastic. She shows the way to live a peaceful and spiritual life amid even the most trying worldly circumstances. Each of Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual children has something to offer. The Master was a mighty spring, his disciples so many powerful streams carrying his message forward.
Here is an account of the life of one monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and companion of Sri Sarada Devi. Her name was Mataji Gauri Mata Puri Devi, also known as Gauri Ma. During Gauri Ma's stay at Dakshineswar, the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, gave her the ocher cloth that Indian monks and nuns wear. He have her a new name for the new life: Gauriananda.
Commissioned by Sri Ramakrishna to help relieve the plight of women, to attend to their miseries and afflictions, she did not rest content with her own salvation or self-realization. She understood the real position of women and the tragic gulf between what they were and what they should be. The Master opened her eyes to their problems. Sunk in ignorance, dependence, and misery, deprived of all rights, kept down by grinding superstitions and obsolete social practices, they were to be her special field of work.
Sri Ramakrishna knew his agent. He knew that for the service of women, such service as he wanted, Mataji Gauri Ma would be invaluable. Her purity of body and mind, her determination in doing what she knew needed to be done. her courage, and her deep religious faith made her singularly fitted for the Master's work. To accomplish the Master's will, Gauri Ma selected a plot of land in northern Calcutta. Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, personally visited the site and expressed her satisfaction. Here Gauri Ma started an ideal institution, named after and dedicated to Sri Sarada Devi. The Sri Saradeshwari Ashram was established in 1895 and was based on the life and ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, having Sri Sarada Devi as the central spiritual inspiration.
The Holy Mother was glad that Sri Saradeshwari Ashram was close to her Calcutta residence. Gauri Ma would call on Mother frequently, whenever she needed advice. The Holy Mother graced the ashram on occasions and was a source of great joy and inspiration to the residents of the ashram. Their love and regard for Holy Mother, their devotional spirit, their plain and simple living and high principles pleased the Holy Mother greatly. She appreciated Gauri Ma's plan of work. The ashram was very dear to her – to the extent that she said. those who render any small service to the ashram "had already bought their seats in Vaikunta [Heaven]."
Since 1895 the ashram as a convent has made it possible for many women to lead dedicated spiritual lives. Over two hundred nuns presently live at three centers, the headquarters at 26 Gauri Mata Sarani, Calcutta, India, 70004, and branch centers at Navadwip and Giridih. Each center has a free girls' school, boarding for students, and accommodations for women, whether as guests or women in need. Classes are mostly taken by the sannyasinis and brahmacharinis. The administration of the institution is entirely in the hands of women. At the base is the Matrisangha, comprising the sannyasinis of the order, and at the apex are the trustees, appointed under the trust established by the revered Gauri Mata. The trustees are assisted by an executive committee and an advisory board, the membership of which is held by men and women.
Swami Vivekananda wrote,
There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing. Hence, in the Ramakrishna incarnation, the acceptance of woman as the Guru, hence his practicing in the women's garb and attitude, hence too his preaching the Motherhood of women as the representations of the Divine Mother. Hence it is my first endeavor to start a math (convent) for women. This math shall be the origin of Gargis and Maitreyis and women of even higher attainments than these... (Letters of Swami Vivekananda)
After returning from his first visit to the West, Swami Vivekananda told Gauri Ma. "I have talked to the Western people about you and shall take you there." Unfortunately, this never happened during her lifetime. In a way, though, the Swami's wish to bring her to the West is now fulfilled with the establishment of Mothers Trust/Mothers Place. The nuns of Mothers Trust/Mothers Place receive their inspiration and formal vows from the mataji of Sri Saradeshwari Ashram, who was a direct disciple and companion of Gauri Ma from age four.
It was Swami Bhashyananda's wish that this book of the life and teachings of Sannyasini Gauri Ma should be published. He understood that many knew about Swami Vivekananda but not about Mataji Gauri Ma. He felt that Western devotees needed to know her life and that women especially needed her as a monastic role model, exemplifying the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi. His wish was that her life would vivify – alongside Swami Vivekananda's – and bring balance to the Vedanta movement in the West.
Swami Bhashyananda inspired devotees to read and meditate on Gauri Ma's life, for Gauri Ma was to be the inspiration behind what he saw manifesting in Ganges, Michigan – an ashram for women dedicated to the worship of God in the social service of women and children in transition. Mothers Trust/Mothers Place has become such a place with support coming from men and women alike.
With love and reverence, we offer this book at the holy feet of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi, and we dedicate it with love and appreciation to Swami Bhashyananda in this year, 1994, the year of the centenary celebrations commemorating the founding of Sri Saradeshwari Ashram.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.