Ram Chandra Datta
From the book:
‘They Lived With God’
Faith and devotion are two important milestones on the path towards God. Faith removes worry, anxiety, and fear, while devotion makes life smooth and joyous. Human life becomes very painful and burdensome if a person has no one to trust and love. Spiritual seekers, who put their trust in God and love him wholeheartedly, surrender themselves to him, and as a result God, the Eternal Father, takes care of them. Just as children enjoy a carefree life in their own homes, so spiritual seekers live happily in this world. Truly, God provides whatever his devotees need.
Rama Chandra Datta, a householder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, had unflinching faith in the Master and his love and devotion for him was exuberant. He used to say that any place Sri Ramakrishna visited even for a day became a holy place, and that whoever came to the Master and served him once was blessed. Ram further asserted the horse carriage which Sri Ramakrishna took to visit the Calcutta devotees, along with its coachman and horses, were all sanctified by the touch of the Master.
Ram’s attitude was considered extreme by many, and once someone sarcastically remarked: ‘ If that is true then what is there to fear? So many people have seen Sri Ramakrishna on the street and so many coachmen have driven him. Do you think all these people will get liberation?’ Ram Chandra’s face turned red, and he vehemently replied: ‘Go and take the dust of the feet of the sweeper of Dakshineshwar who saw the Master. This will make your life pure and blessed.’
Ram Chandra Datta was born in Calcutta on October 30, 1851. His father, Nrisimha Prasad Datta, was devoted to Krishna, and his mother, Tulasimani, was known for her piety and kindness. All of these good qualities Ram imbibed from his parents. When he was two and a half years old his mother died and some women relatives in their home looked after him. Ram’s favourite pastime when he was young was to worship Krishna. Sometimes he would arrange a festival and invite playmates with whom he would share prasad. Other times he would dress himself as a gopi (woman devotee of Krishna) and dance in front of the deity. Ram also liked to visit a hermitage near his home where he came in contact with monks of different orders. These monks loved the young boy for his devotion and religious fervour.
From his boyhood Ram was very bold and straightforward about his convictions, and no one could persuade him to act contrary to them. When he was ten years old, he visited the home of a relative who lived about twenty-five miles from Calcutta. This relative knew that Ram was a strict vegetarian, but in spite of this he served Ram a non-vegetarian meal and tried to persuade him to eat it. Ram became furious and immediately left the house. He did not have any money to buy a train ticket, but a generous person bought one for him so that he could return home. Even in the later part of his life, in spite of his education in science, he remained firm in his convictions. Once a doctor prescribed meat soup for his ailing wife, but Ram would not approve of it. He said, ‘Let my wife die but I won’t allow meat to enter my house.’ Fortunately his wife recovered without the soup.
Eventually Ram’s father remarried, but Ram did not get along with his stepmother. Shortly after this, Ram’s father was forced to sell the parental home due to financial difficulties, and Ram moved to a relative’s home. Although Ram suffered various kinds of hardships in his early life, he persevered in his education. He studied at the General Assembly’s Institution and later was admitted to the Campbell Medical School in Calcutta. Sometime after his graduation he was appointed as an assistant to the Government Quinine Examiner. He also married about this time. Later, when he became financially solvent, he bought a house for his family at Simla, in the central part of Calcutta.
Ram was deeply interested in science and studied chemistry under his English supervisor with great diligence. Having learned this subject thoroughly, Ram extracted from an indigenous medicinal plant an antidote for blood dysentery. This drug was approved by the government and was recommended by leading doctors. As a result, Ram’s fame spread and he was appointed a member of the Chemist Association of England. He was also promoted to the post of Government Chemical Examiner and was asked to teach the military medical students at the Calcutta Medical College.
Ram’s great enthusiasm for science and modern knowledge made him an inspiring lecturer to the students, but it also made him an atheist. In his own words: ‘In those days we did not believe in God. We considered that everything happens, changes, or dissolves by the force of nature. We were rank materialists, and we held the view that eating, sleeping, and creature comforts were the summum bommum of life.’ Ram was fond of debating with others about God and religion and found great satisfaction in defeating his opponents. This ardour for atheism lasted five years.
Grief is an eye opener, which forces a person to face the harsh realities of life. The death of his young daughter was a terrible shock to Ram, and a great change came over his life. On the Kali Puja evening, sometime after his daughter’s death, he went up to the roof of his house and observed the houses of Calcutta glittering with lights. Above, the dark, clear sky was studded with twinkling stars. His grief-stricken heart seemed to be searching for something meaningful in that panorama of nature. All of a sudden he noticed some clouds passing overhead driven by the wind. They quickly disappeared. Ram asked himself: ‘Where do they come from and where do they go? Does God exist? If so, can he be seen?’
He started to visit different religious leaders of the Brahmo, Christian, and Hindu faiths, but no one could answer his questions about God and religion. During this time Ram’s family guru came to his house and wanted to initiate him. Ram was forthright. He said: ‘Sir, I don’t believe in God. Moreover, I have terrible doubts about his existence. Can you tell me the way to realize God?’ The guru kept quiet. He did not know what to say.
‘The great inquiry’ began to possess Ram. He became more and more determined to have his doubts removed and to satisfy his hunger for God. He studied many religious books but could find no satisfactory answers to his questions. At last he came to know about Sri Ramakrishna from the writings of Keshab Chandra Sen, a Brahmo leader of Calcutta.
On November 13, 1879, Ram went by boat to Dakshineshwar with Gopal Chandra Mittra and a cousin, Manomohan Mittra. As soon as they reached the Dakshineshwar temple garden, they enquired about Sri Ramakrishna and were directed to his room. But when they reached there they found that the door was shut, and their Western education made them hesitate to call out or knock. Just then Sri Ramakrishna opened the door himself from the inside and asked them to come in. Ram noticed that Sri Ramakrishna did not look like the traditional ochre-clad monk with matted hair and ash-smeared body. On the contrary, the Master was the embodiment of simplicity.
Sri Ramakrishna saluted them as Narayana, and asked them to sit down. Then he smiled at Ram and said: ‘Hello, are you not a doctor? (pointing to Hriday) he is suffering from fever. Could you check his pulse?’ Ram was astonished that Sri Ramakrishna knew that he was a doctor. After examining Hriday, Ram reported that his body temperature was normal.
From the very beginning Sri Ramakrishna made Ram his own and would often inquire about his personal life and mental conflicts. Ram felt greatly attracted to the Master and started to visit him every Sunday, returning home in the evening. Soon Ram felt bold enough to ask the questions that had been haunting him.
Ram: ‘Does God exist? How can one see God?’
Sri Ramakrishna: ‘God really exists. You do not see any stars during the day, but that does not mean that the stars do not exist. There is butter in milk, but can anyone know it merely by sight? In order to get the butter you must churn the milk in a cool place before sunrise. If you want to catch fish in a pond, you have to learn the art of fishing from those who know it, and then you must sit patiently with a fishing rod, throwing the line into the water. Gradually the fish will grab your bait. Then, as soon as the float sinks, you can pull the fish to the shore. Similarly, you cannot realise God by a mere wish. Have faith in the instructions of a holy man. Make your mind like a fishing rod and your prana, or life force, like a hook. Your devotion and japam are like the bait. Eventually you will be blessed by the vision of God.’
Ram had recently been connected with the Brahmo Samaj, whose members did not believe in a God with form, so he was wondering how, one could see a formless God
The Master read his mind and said: ‘Yes, God can be seen. Can God, whose creation is so beautiful and enchanting, be imperceptible?’
Ram: ‘Is it possible to realize God in this life?’
Sri Ramakrishna: ‘You get what you desire. Faith alone is the key to success’. Then he sang a song:
As is a man’s meditation, so is his feeling of love;
The Master continued: ‘The more you advance in one direction, the more you leave behind the opposite direction. If you move ten steps towards the east, you move ten steps away from the west.’
Ram: ‘But one must have tangible proof. Unless we have direct experience of God, how can our weak and doubting minds have faith in his existence?’
Sri Ramakrishna: ‘A typhoid patient in a delirious state clamours to take gallons of water and heaps of rice. But the physician pays no heed to these entreaties, nor does he prescribe medicine at the patient’s dictation. He knows what he is doing.’
Ram was very much moved and impressed with Sri Ramakrishna’s simple, convincing answers. He would become so intoxicated listening to these divine discourses that he would be reluctant to return home. He would forget all about the world, his family, and his duties.
Yet in spite of Ram’s close contact with the Master, his mind was not content. His doubts persistently clung to him, even though his longing for God increased more and more. One night he dreamed that he took his bath in a familiar pond, and that Sri Ramakrishna then initiated him with a sacred mantram and asked him to repeat it one hundred times ever day after his bath. As soon as Ram woke up he felt that his whole body was pulsating with bliss. The next morning he rushed to Dakshineshwar and related his dream to the Master.
At this Sri Ramakrishna joyfully said: ‘He who receives divine blessings in a dream is sure to attain liberation.’
Although Ram heard these hopeful words of the Master, his mind was not satisfied with a holy dream. He was very sceptical, and to him a dream was just a fantasy. His mind again started to waver. He found no pleasure in worldly enjoyments, yet he was not convinced about the existence of God. A few days passed this way. Then one morning as Ram was standing at the corner of College Square in Calcutta, explaining his mental conflicts to a friend, a tall stranger approached Ram and whispered to him: ‘Why are you so anxious? Have patience.’ Ram was stunned. After a few moments he turned to see who this person was who had consoled him with these welcome words, but the person had vanished. Although both Ram and his friend had seen and heard the man, now they could not find him anywhere. Ram felt that it had not been an illusion but a direct message from God. Later he related this incident to Sri Ramakrishna who smiled and said: ‘Yes, you will see many such things as that’.
Gradually Ram began to get a taste of divine bliss because of his holy association with the Master, and worldly pleasures became more and more insipid to him. He expressed to the Master his desire to become a monk, but Sri Ramakrishna dissuaded him, saying: ‘Nothing should be done on the spur of the moment. God alone knows what he means to do through a particular person. Where will your wife and children be if you leave the world? You must not try to upset the arrangement God has made for you. Everything will come in time.’ This simple advice satisfied Ram temporarily, but later he raised the subject again. At this Sri Ramakrishna became stern: ‘What will you gain by renouncing the world? Living a family life is like living in a fort. It is easier to fight an enemy from inside a fort than from outside. You will be in a position to renounce the world when you can bestow three-fourths of your mind to God, but not before that.’
Ram was silenced. He resolved then to be an ideal householder devotee of God.
Soon after Ram met Sri Ramakrishna, he started to read Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, an authoritative biography of Sri Chaitanya, written in Bengali. The more Ram read about that God-intoxicated life, the more he felt that Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Chaitanya were the same person. But again he would have doubts. Once, at the request of the master, Ram spent a night at Dakshineshwar. When he was alone with the Master, he started looking at him in wonder.
‘What are you looking at?’ asked Sri Ramakrishna.
‘I am looking at you.’
‘’What do you think of me?’
‘I consider you to be Chaitanya.’
Sri Ramakrishna was silent for a moment and then said: ‘Well, Bhairavi Brahmani used to say the same thing.’
As the days went by Ram saw more and more of Sri Ramakrishna’s extraordinary spiritual powers, and his scepticism was replaced by faith. One day on the way to Dakshineshwar, Ram bought some Jilipis, a sweet which the Master liked very much. While crossing a bridge a little boy begged for one of them. Ram tried at first to ignore him, but then he thought that perhaps the boy was God in disguise and he gave a piece to him. After arriving at Dakshineshwar, Ram put the sweets in the Master’s room and spent the day there. In the afternoon Sri Ramakrishna asked for some refreshments and Ram immediately placed the jilipis in front of him. Sri Ramakrishna touched them and looked up. He then broke a few and, shaking his head, expressed his unwillingness to eat them. After this he washed his hands. Ram was mortified. He could not understand why the Master had refused his sweets. He was so upset that he threw the Jilipis away and returned home. After a few days Ram came to Dakshineshwar again and the Master said to him: ‘When you bring something for me, don’t give any of it to anyone else beforehand. I can’t take anything without offering it to God, and I can’t offer anything to Him that has been defiled by being offered to someone else first.’ This incident convinced Ram that the Master was omniscient.
Doubt is a terrible disease, and a doubting soul suffers very much. But it is hard to uproot doubt from the mind completely. Every spiritual seeker has to pass through this ‘dark night of the soul.’ In spite of all that Ram had seen and heard, his old doubts and scepticism reappeared, making him restless and miserable. The world seemed to him like a desert. He went to the Master to tell him his sad tale and to seek consolation as before, but this time the Master cut him short with a curt reply: ‘What can I do? It all depends on the will of God.’
‘Sir, all these days I have been looking to you for help. Now if you treat me like this what shall I do?’
‘I don’t owe you anything. If you like, you may come. If not, don’t.’
The Master’s shock treatment immediately threw Ram into deep despair. His first impulse was to put an end to his life by drowning himself in the Ganga (Ganges river), but as he left the room he thought: ‘Why should I commit suicide? I have heard that the name of the Lord is greater and more powerful than the Lord himself. And the Master said that it was my good luck to have had initiation in a dream. I shall test the efficacy of that mantram today.’
He lay down on the northern verandah of Sri Ramakrishna’s room and began to repeat that mantram silently. At dead of night the Master suddenly came out of his room, sat down near Ram, and gave him some advice. Ram was very happy. The Master emphasized that Ram should serve the devotees of God, and that this would give him joy and peace. Then the Master returned to his room.
Quite often the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna would arrange festivals in their homes and invite the Master and other devotees to come. At these gatherings the Master would talk about God and sing and dance in ecstasy, filling the whole house with an intense atmosphere of spirituality. The host generally bore all the expenses of the feast, including paying the carriage fare of the Master and sometimes hiring a musician. Now Ram was known for his miserliness, and when he started to calculate the expenses involved, he hesitated to invite the Master and the devotees. But when Sri Ramakrishna set a date to visit his home, he had a change of heart and gladly began to make the necessary preparations.
On Saturday, June 2, 1886, the full moon day of the Bengali month of Vaisakh, Sri Ramakrishna came to Ram’s house. Ram felt so blessed on this occasion that later he would arrange a festival every year to celebrate that auspicious day. After this Ram invited the Master to his house many times and became so expert in festival management that other devotees would consult him before inviting the Master to their homes. Slowly the Master uprooted Ram’s miserliness and made him a generous devotee.
The day after Sri Ramakrishna’s first visit to Ram’s house (June 3, 1883), Ram went to Dakshineshwar and received various spiritual instructions from the Master. At ten o’clock that night Ram took leave of the Master and went out. It was dark and cloudy. While he was still on the verandah he noticed that the Master was coming out of his room. Sri Ramakrishna suddenly came up to Ram and asked: ‘Well, what do you want?’
Ram was utterly amazed. He felt as if his whole body was charged with electricity. Although he realised that Sri Ramakrishna was standing in front of him like a kalpataru (wish fulfilling tree), ready to grant any boon that he wanted, he was at a loss to know what to ask for from the Master. In the presence of Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual magnitude, he felt how petty it would be to ask for wealth or supernatural powers. Finally, overwhelmed with emotion, Ram replied: ‘I don’t know what to ask for. You decide for me.’
‘Give me back the mantram I gave you in a dream,’ said Sri Ramakrishna as he entered samadhi. Immediately Ram prostrated himself before the Master and offered the mantram mentally at his feet like a flower. Sri Ramakrishna touched Ram’s head with his right foot and Ram also lost outward consciousness. He did not know how long they stayed in that state. Gradually the Master came back to the normal plane of consciousness and took his foot away. Ram stood up.
‘If you wish to see anything,’ said the Master to Ram, ‘look at me.’
Ram looked and saw that Sri Ramakrishna had taken the form of his chosen Deity, the form of God that was dearest to his heart.
Then Sri Ramakrishna told him: ‘You do not need to practise any more spiritual disciplines. Just come here and see me now and then, and bring with you a pice (penny) worth of something as present.’
After this Ram was free of all his restlessness. Moreover, his experience convinced him that Sri Ramakrishna was an incarnation of God. Once, in Dakshineshwar, the exuberant Ram expressed his belief to the great devotee, Girish Chandra Ghosh: ‘Do you understand, Brother Girish? This time all three – Sri Chaitanya, Nityananda, and Advaita – are united in the form of Sri Ramakrishna. Love, devotion, and knowledge are equally manifested in this present Incarnation.’
A true disciple carries out to the letter his teacher’s instructions, proving thereby his love for his teacher. The Master had said, ‘Those who serve the devotees, serve me.’ Ram strictly observed this commandment of the Master, serving the followers of Sri Ramakrishna with great devotion until the end of his life. He used to say, ‘He who calls on Sri Ramakrishna is my nearest relative.’ His wife, Krishnapreyasi, who was also very devout, cheerfully helped her husband in his spiritual path. Ram, furthermore, had heard the Master cautioning the devotees about money: ‘Just as water under a bridge is constantly flowing and as a result it never becomes stagnant and foul, so also the money earned by a real devotee should be spent for a noble cause rather than be accumulated. The desire for accumulation breeds the poison of attachment.’ Ram, therefore, did not save his earnings, but spent money freely for the good of others, especially for the poor, the needy, and the afflicted. He helped many students financially, even to the extent of providing free board and lodging in his own home. But Ram’s main interest was in arranging kirtan (devotional singing) every evening in his home and feeding the thirty or so participants.
Spiritual life is not always smooth. Ram and the devotees would become absorbed in their singing until late hours of the night, but this naturally caused much disturbance and Ram’s neighbours began to complain. Ram then decided to buy a secluded garden house where he could hold kirtans and practise spiritual disciplines. When he informed the Master of his intention, Sri Ramakrishna advised him, ‘Buy such a solitary garden house that if a hundred murders were committed there no one would know of it.’ Accordingly, in the middle of 1883 Ram purchased a garden house at Kankurgachi, an eastern suburb of Calcutta.
After a few months the Master said to Ram: ‘How is it that you have not yet taken me to the new garden you have purchased for holding kirtan? Let us go one day to your garden to see what it is like.’ Ram was exuberant. Immediately he arranged everything for the Master’s visit. On Wednesday, December 26, 1883, M. recorded in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:
Sri Ramakrishna, accompanied by Manilal Mallik, M., and several other devotees, was in a carriage on his way to Ram’s new garden….
Master (to Manilal): ‘In order to meditate on God, one should try at first to think of Him as free from upadhis (limitations). God is beyond upadhis. He is beyond speech and mind. But it is very difficult to achieve perfection in this form of meditation.
But it is easy to meditate on an Incarnation – God born as man. Yes, God in man. The body is a mere covering. It is like a lantern with a light burning inside, or like a glass case in which one sees precious things.’
Arriving at the garden, the Master got out of the carriage and accompanied Ram and the other devotees to the sacred Tulsi-grove. Standing near it, he said: ‘How nice! It is a fine place. You can easily meditate on God here.’
Sri Ramakrishna sat down in the house, which stood to the south of the lake. Ram offered him a plate of fruit and sweets which he enjoyed with the devotees. After a short time he went around the garden.
In sacred memory of Sri Ramakrishna’s visit to the garden and because he had mentioned it as an ideal place for meditation, Ram named the place ‘Yogodyana’ (garden for practising yoga). Ram gave the mango tree the name Ramakrishna-bhog’ (delight to Ramakrishna), and to the lake where the Master had washed his hands and feet he gave the name ‘Ramakrishna-kunda.’ In the northeast corner of the garden Ram planted a Panchavati (a grove of five trees) at the Master’s suggestion. After the passing away of the Master, his relics were enshrined on the spot near the Tulsi-grove where the Master had bowed down. A temple was later erected there.
Even during his boyhood, Ram was strong, sensitive, assertive, and manly. He was a leader in the local gymnasium, the theatre club, and other social organizations, and people respected him for his character and integrity. Knowing Ram’s faculty for leadership, Sri Ramakrishna called him ‘Captain’, and he also sometimes consulted with him.
Once Girish Ghosh, while in a drunken state, humiliated the Master. The devotees were furious with Girish. But when Sri Ramakrishna told Ram about it, Ram defended Girish, suggesting to the Master that Girish was like the serpent Kaliya who had nothing to offer Sri Krishna but its venom. Immediately the Master forgot the affront and went with Ram to Girish’s house to forgive him.
Ram was free and frank with the Master, but he was also very outspoken and easily piqued. Once Adhar Sen arranged a recital of the Chandi at his house in Calcutta and invited the Master and many of the devotees. Ram, somehow, was overlooked. He became very upset when he heard about it and complained to the Master. But Sri Ramakrishna replied: ‘Suppose he didn’t invite you to his house. Why such a fuss about going to a place where the name of the Lord was sung? One may go unasked to participate in religious music. One doesn’t have to be invited.’
The Master had a wonderful sense of humour and would sometimes remove the seriousness of a situation or the misunderstandings of the devotees through a joke or by teasing them. On one occasion Ram was trying to prove the superiority of the Master in his presence. While Ram, with all his vigour, was denouncing the Brahmos, the Master said to him: ‘Now tell me why my arm was hurt. Stand up and deliver a lecture on that.’ Everyone laughed. Another time (September 28, 1884), the Master in a deep spiritual mood was talking to the devotees at Ram’s house. But Ram did not hear the talk because he was busy making arrangements to feed the devotees on the roof.
When he finally came downstairs the Master asked him, ‘Where have you been?’
‘I was upstairs, sir.’
Immediately the Master reminded him to be humble: ‘Isn’t it better to stay down below than to be high up? Water accumulates in low land but flows down from a high mound.’
On Sundays and holidays many devotees would visit the Master at Dakshineshwar and ask him questions about spiritual life. Ram had a desire to preserve the Master’s words so he always carried a pencil and paper with him. While Sri Ramakrishna was answering the devotee’s questions, Ram would write down what he was saying. Seeing Ram’s enthusiasm and sincerity, the Master one day said to him: ‘Why do you take so much trouble? Later your mind will be your guru and will give you the proper guidance whenever you are faced with life’s problems.’ After receiving this blessing from the master, Ram stopped taking notes.
When a flower blooms, bees come on their own accord. In the later part of the 1870s people began to hear more and more about Sri Ramakrishna, and in the 1880s many newcomers came. Forgetting his body, the Master helped the seekers of God. But one day at Dakshineshwar he complained to the Divine Mother like a child: ‘How is it that you are bringing such a crowd here. I find no time even to bathe or eat. (Pointing to his own body) this is but a perforated drum, and if you beat it day and night, how long will it last?’ Then on another occasion, he prayed to the Mother: ‘Please give a little power to Vijay, Girish, Kedar, Ram, and Mahendra (M.), so that they may to a certain extent, prepare the newcomers before they come to me.’ Thus Ram was commissioned to teach by the Master. About this same time Ram also received permission from the Master to give a lecture at the Konnagar Hari Sabha on ‘What is True Religion?’
In May 1885 Ram compiled some of Sri Ramakrishna’s important teachings that he had noted down and brought them out in a Bengali book entitled Tattvasara. A few of the devotees, however, objected to this and even reported it to the Master. Sri Ramakrishna called Ram aside one day and said: ‘Look here, some devotees informed me that you were publishing a book. What have you written?’ Ram replied that he had collected some of his (Sri Ramakrishna’s) teachings and put them together in a book. Ram then read some of it to the Master, who said: ‘Oh, you have written those teachings? Very good. Listen, if you think that you have written them you will get very little response from others; but if you think that the Lord is working through you then it will be in great demand.’
Sri Ramakrishna further cautioned Ram: ‘Do not publish my biography now. If you do, my body will not last long.’ Ram obeyed, but after the Master had passed away he wrote the first biography, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansadever Jivanvrittanta. Later he enlarged Tattvasara and published it as Tattva-Prakashika (The Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna). He also began to publish a Bengali magazine, Tattvamanjari, in order to spread the Master’s teachings.
In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna moved to Shyampukur, in the northern section of Calcutta, for his cancer treatment. Ram took an active part in the arrangements that were made for the Master’s care. As the day of the Kali Puja approached, the Master expressed a desire to celebrate the occasion with a worship of the Divine Mother and asked the devotees to collect the necessary materials. Accordingly, they procured flowers, fruits, sweets, sandal paste, incense, and candles. When the auspicious time came they placed them in front of the Master, thinking that he would perform the worship. There was no image. The devotees sat around the Master silently waiting, but he remained absorbed in meditation. All of a sudden the thought came to Ram’s mind: ‘It is needless for the Master to perform the worship. We shall worship him.’ Ram whispered this idea to Girish, who responded: ‘What did you say? Is the Master waiting to accept our worship?’ Immediately Girish took some flowers and offered them to the Master, saying, ‘Victory to Sri Ramakrishna! Victory to Mother!’ The hair of the Master’s body stood on end and he entered into samadhi. His face was radiant with a divine smile. The rest of the devotees also offered flowers to the Master and were blessed.
The stuffy, polluted atmosphere of Calcutta aggravated Sri Ramakrishna’s illness. In accordance with the doctor’s advice, the devotees moved him to a garden house in Cossipore, a northern suburb of Calcutta. Ram, as usual, took the managerial role there and also contributed money towards the Master’s living expenses according to his means. One day, hearing that the Master needed a tongue scraper, Ram bought a silver one and presented it to him. But the Master would not accept it, saying: ‘What have you done? Take it away. Please buy a one-pice brass tongue scraper for me.’ Sri Ramakrishna was very much against luxury. Ram remembered this and later followed the Master’s example.<> On January 1, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna went into an extraordinary spiritual mood and blessed many devotees, saying: ‘Be illumined.’ Ram was one of those present on that occasion. Later he celebrated that day every year as ‘Kalpataru Day’ (Wish-Fulfilling Day) at his garden house.
Sri Ramakrishna passed away on August 16, 1886, at the Cossipore garden house. After his cremation the major part of his sacred relics was preserved and worshipped by his young disciples who later became monks. The remaining portion was installed at the Kankurgachi Yogodyana on Janmashtami (the birth anniversary of Sri Krishna, which fell that year a week after the Master’s passing away). Ram took the initiative and immediately arranged for regular worship of the relics. Since then Janmashtami has been observed every year as the main festival day at Yogodhyana.
It is noteworthy that Ram was the first person to publish a biography of Sri Ramakrishna, to build a temple for the worship of the Master’s relics, and to preach publicly that Sri Ramakrishna was an Avatar. His burning faith, devotion, renunciation, erudition, and his power to convince people made him an ideal evangelist. And more important, he had the blessings of his guru, Sri Ramakrishna. From 1893 to 1897, he gave eighteen lectures on Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings at the Star, City, and Minerva Theatres. They created a sensation in Calcutta. At first some of Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees objected to these lectures, but Ram would not listen to them. On Good Friday, 1893, he began a series of lectures, the first of which was ‘Is Ramakrishna Paramhansa an Avatar?’ Ram substantiated his view through scriptural quotations, reasoning, empirical evidence, and incidents from his own personal experience.
Ram realized that people would not listen to his lectures on Sri Ramakrishna, who was the embodiment of renunciation and purity, if he himself did not renounce lust and greed. True religion, according to Sri Ramakrishna, is in uniting the mind and speech, and Ram sincerely endeavoured to translate the Master’s teachings into his own life. Though he held a good position in his office, he was never proud of it, and he never allowed himself to crave for a higher position or for worldly objects. About food and clothing, he followed the simple path. In spite of the many duties connected with his job and his family, Ram’s mind was always on the Master and the Kankurgachi Yogodyana.
He lived with his wife and children at their Simla home, but he used to visit Kankurgachi every day. Later he moved to Yogodyana and took care of the worship service, gardening, and cleaning by himself. Sri Ramakrishna had taught his disciples, ‘If you desire to live in the world unattached, you should first practise devotional disciplines in solitude for sometime.’
God tests his devotees in many ways. A real lover of God is he who can overcome all temptations. Once a Calcutta merchant imported four shiploads of kerosene oil from England. Before marketing the oil, however, he had to bring a sample to Ram for chemical analysis. Ram tested the sample three times and found that it was short by three points, so he would not approve the kerosene for marketing. The merchant was deeply distressed, for it meant the loss of millions of rupees. He offered Ram a bribe of forty thousand rupees to approve the merchandise, but Ram refused to accept the money and told the merchant that he could never write a false certificate. Although Ram received many such offers in his life, he never deviated from the truth.
Ram’s surrender to the Master was phenomenal. During the later part of his life someone asked him why he had not saved some money for his wife and children. He replied: ‘If I had wanted I could easily have saved a lot of money, but I never felt that I was maintaining my family. I know the Lord provides everything for my wife and children, and after my death he will continue to do so.’ When one of Ram’s young daughters died on December 7, 1886. from burns suffered in an accident, he endured that terrible grief, and to those who came to offer consolation, he said: ‘The Lord gave me that daughter and He took her away. Why should I lament?’
Ordinarily, when people get together, they love to chat, gossip, or criticise others. But to Ram worldly conversation was like deadly poison, and he would not allow anyone in his presence to talk about anything other than the Master or spiritual life. When he would talk about Sri Ramakrishna his face would beam with joy and tears would flow from his eyes. His faith and devotion were palpable. He had some initiated disciples and he changed quite a few lives through his spiritual power. Every Sunday Ram and his followers would sing kirtan and dance barefoot through the streets of Calcutta. Through the grace of his guru, Ram tasted the bliss of God and eagerly shared it with each and all.
Ram’s strenuous ascetic life at Yogodyana eventually affected his health. In 1898 he had a severe attack of dysentery, which, along with his diabetes, and a painful carbuncle, made it necessary for him to move back to his Simla residence for treatment. His wife, friends, and disciples devotedly served him, and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were able to visit him more easily. One day Swami Vivekananda came to see him. It was a wonderful meeting of these two great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. While they were talking about their old days with the Master, Ram had to go to the bathroom. Since there was no one else present, Swami Vivekananda helped him put on his slippers. Seeing Swami Vivekananda’s humility, tears came to Ram’s eyes and he said: ‘Bille (Swami Vivekananda’s family nickname), I thought that after travelling to America and becoming famous you would have forgotten us. But now I see that you are my same little brother Bille.’ (Ram Chandra Datta and Swami Vivekananda were cousins.)
In spite of the best available treatment and care, Ram’s physical condition deteriorated. He developed heart disease and experienced severe breathing difficulty, which led to chronic asthma. He would pass sleepless nights chanting the name of the Master. After a month and a half at his Calcutta residence he had a premonition that he would not live long. He asked his wife and family to send him back to Yogodyana so that he could die in that holy place where Sri Ramakrishna’s relics had been installed, but they were reluctant to let him go. Ram finally ordered a palanquin and left for Kankurgachi with his disciples. When he arrived there he said: ‘I have come here to have my final rest near my guru, Sri Ramakrishna.’ He lived only five more days.
On January 17, 1899, at 10:45 p.m., Ram breathed his last. His body was cremated on the bank of the Ganga and the relics were placed next to Sri Ramakrishna’s temple at Yogodyana. Before he passed away he told his disciples: ‘When I die please bury a little of the ashes of my body at the entrance to Yogodyana. Whoever enters this place will walk over my head, and thus I shall get the touch of the Master’s devotees’ feet forever.’
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.