The story of the glimpses which I caught of this part of the Swami’s life would be singularly incomplete, if it contained no mention of his worship of the Mother. Spiritually speaking, I have always felt that there were two elements in his consciousness.
Undoubtedly he was born a Brahmajnani, as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa so frequently insisted. When he was only eight years old, sitting at his play, he had developed the power of entering Samadhi. The religious ideas towards which he naturally gravitated, were highly abstract and philosophical, the very reverse of those which are commonly referred to as ‘idolatrous.’ In his youth, and presumably when he had already been some time under the influence of Sri Ramakrishna, he became a formal member of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. In England and America he was never known to preach anything that depended on a special form. The realisation of Brahman was his only imperative, the Advaita philosophy his only system of doctrine, the Vedas and Upanishads his sole scriptural authority.
And yet, side by side with this, it is also true that in India the word “Mother” was forever on his lips. He spoke of Her, as we of one deeply familiar in the household life. He was constantly preoccupied with Her. Like other children, he was not always good. Sometimes he would be naughty and rebellious. But always to Her. Never did he attribute to any other, the good or evil that befell.
On a certain solemn occasion, he entrusted to a disciple a prayer to Her that in his own life had acted as a veritable charm. “And mind!” he added suddenly, turning with what was almost fierceness upon the receiver, “make Her listen to you, when you say it! None of that cringing to Mother! Remember!”
Every now and then he would break out with some new fragment of description. The right hand raised in blessing, the left holding the sword, – ”Her curse is blessing!” would be the sudden exclamation that ended a long reverie. Or becoming half-lyric in the intensity of his feeling, “Deep in the heart of hearts of Her own, flashes the blood-red knife of Kali. Worshippers of the Mother are they from their birth, in Her incarnation of the sword!”
From him was gathered, in such moments as these, almost every line and syllable of a certain short psalm, called the ‘Voice of the Mother,’ which I wrote and published about this time. “I worship the Terrible!” he was continually saying, – and once, “It is a mistake to hold that with all men pleasure is the motive. Quite as many are born to seek after pain. Let us worship the Terror for Its own sake.”
He had a whole-hearted contempt for what he regarded as squeamishness or mawkishness. He wasted few words on me, when I came to him with my difficulties about animal sacrifice in the temple. He made no reference, as he might have done, to the fact that most of us, loudly as we may attack this, have no hesitation in offering animal sacrifice to ourselves. He offered no argument, as he easily might have done, regarding the degradation of the butcher and the slaughter-house, under the modern system.
‘Why not a little blood, to complete the picture?” was his only direct reply to my objections. And it was with considerable difficulty that I elicited from him, and from another disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, sitting near, the actual facts of the more austere side of Kali-worship, that side which has transcended the sacrifice of others.
He told me however that he had never tolerated the blood-offering commonly made to the “demons who attend on Kali.” This was simple devil-worship, and he had no place for it. His own effort being constantly to banish fear and weakness from his own consciousness and to learn to recognise THE MOTHER as instinctively in evil, terror, sorrow, and annihilation, as in that which makes for sweetness and joy, it followed that the one thing he could not away with was any sort of watering-down of the great conception.
“Fools!” he exclaimed once, – as he dwelt in quiet talk on “the worship of the Terrible”, on “becoming one with the Terrible” – “Fools! they put a garland of flowers round Thy neck, and then start back in terror, and call Thee ‘the Merciful’!” And as he spoke, the underlying egoism of worship that is devoted to the kind God, to Providence, the consoling Divinity, without a heart for God in the earthquake, or God in the volcano, overwhelmed the listener. One saw that such worship was at bottom, as the Hindu calls it, merely ‘shop-keeping,’ and one realised the infinitely greater boldness and truth of the teaching that God manifests through evil as well as through good. One saw that the true attitude for the mind and will that are not to be baffled by the personal self, was in fact the determination, in the stern words of the Swami Vivekananda, ‘to seek death not life, to hurl oneself upon the sword’s point, to become one with the Terrible for evermore!’
It would have been altogether inconsistent with the Swami’s idea of freedom, to have sought to impose his own conceptions on a disciple. But everything in my past life as an educationist had contributed to impress on me now the necessity of taking on the Indian consciousness, and the personal perplexity associated with the memory of the pilgrimage to Amarnath was a witness not to be forgotten to the strong place which Indian systems of worship held in that consciousness.
I set myself therefore to enter into Kali worship, as one would set oneself to learn a new language, or take birth deliberately, perhaps, in a new race. To this fact I owe it that I was able to understand as much as I did of our Master’s life and thought. Step by step, glimpse after glimpse, I began to comprehend a little. And in matters religious, he was, without knowing it, a born educator. He never checked a struggling thought. Being with him one day when an image of Kali was brought in, and noticing some passing expression, I suddenly said “Perhaps, Swamiji, Kali is the Vision of Siva! Is She?” He looked at me for a moment. “Well! Well! Express it in your own way,” he said gently, “Express it in your own way!”
Another day he was going with me to visit the old Maharishi Devendra Nath Tagore, in the seclusion of his home in Jorasanko, and before we started, he questioned me about a death-scene at which I had been present the night before. I told him eagerly of the sudden realisation that had come to me, that religions were only languages, and we must speak to a man in his own language. His whole face lighted up at the thought. “Yes!” he exclaimed, ‘And Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was the only man who taught that! He was the only man who ever had the courage to say that we must speak to all men in their own language!”
Yet there came a day when he found it necessary to lay down with unmistakeable clearness his own position in the matter of Mother-worship. I was about to lecture at the Kalighat, and he came to instruct me that if any foreign friends should wish to be present, they were to remove their shoes, and sit on the floor, like the rest of the audience. In that Presence no exceptions were to be made. I was myself to be responsible for this.*
After saying all this, however, he lingered before going, and then, making a shy reference to Colonel Hay’s poem of the ‘Guardian Angels’, he said, “That is precisely my position about Brahman and the gods! I believe in Brahman and the gods, and not in anything else!”
He was evidently afraid that my intellectual difficulty would lie where his own must have done, in the incompatibility of the exaltation of one definite scheme of worship with the highest Vedantic theory of Brahman. He did not understand that to us who stood about him, he was himself the reconciliation of these opposites, and the witness to the truth of each. Following up this train of thought, therefore, he dropped into a mood of half-soliloquy, and sat for a while talking disjointedly, answering questions, trying to make himself clear, yet always half-absorbed in something within, as if held by some spell he could not break.
* In no temple anywhere, ought there to be any exception. No one has any respect for a man who cannot stand for the dignity and sacredness of his own place of worship. – N.
“How I used to hate Kali!” he said, ”And all Her ways! That was the ground of my six years’ fight, – that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last! Ramakrishna Paramahamsa dedicated me to Her, and now I believe that She guides me in every little thing I do, and does with me what She will!……Yet I fought so long! I loved him, you see, and that was what held me. I saw his marvellous purity……I felt his wonderful love……His greatness had not dawned on me then. All that came afterwards, when I had given in. At that time I thought him a brain-sick baby, always seeing visions and the rest. I hated it. And then I too had to accept Her!”
“No, the thing that made me do it is a secret that will die with me. I had great misfortunes at that time……It was an opportunity……She made a slave of me. Those were the very words – ‘a slave of you.’ And Ramakrishna Paramahamsa made me over to Her……Strange! He lived only two years after doing that, and most of the time he was suffering. Not more than six months did he keep his own health and brightness.
“Guru Nanak was like that, you know, looking for the one disciple to whom he would give his power. And he passed over all his own family, – his children were as nothing to him, till he came upon the boy to whom he gave it, and then he could die.
“The future, you say, will call Ramakrishna Paramahamsa an Incarnation of Kali? Yes, I think there’s no doubt that She worked up the body of Ramakrishna for Her own ends.”
“You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power That thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Kali, and Mother……And I believe in Brahman too……But is it not always like that? Is it not the multitude of cells in the body that make up the personality, the many brain-centres, not the one, that produce consciousness?……Unity in complexity! Just so! And why should it be different with Brahman? It is Brahman. It is the One. And yet – and yet – it is the gods too!”
Similarly, he had returned from a pilgrimage in Kashmir saying “These gods are not merely symbols! They are the forms that the bhaktas1 have seen!” And it is told of Sri Ramakrishna that he would sometimes speak, coming out of samadhi, of the past experience of that soul that dwelt within him, – “He who came as Rama, as Krishna, as Jesus dwells here” – and then would add playfully, turning to his chief disciple, “But not in your Vedanta sense, Noren!’
Thus we are admitted to a glimpse of the struggle that goes on in great souls, for the correlation and mutual adjustment of the different realisations of different times. On the one side the Mother, on the other side Brahman. We are reminded of the Swami’s own words, heard long ago, “The impersonal God, seen through the mists of sense, is personal.” In truth it might well be that the two ideas could not be reconciled. Both conceptions could not be equally true at the same time. It is clear enough that in the end, as a subjective realisation, either the Mother must become Brahman, or Brahman the Mother. One of the two must melt into the other, the question of which, in any particular case, depending on the destiny and the past of the worshipping soul.
For my own part, the conversation I have related marked an epoch. Ever since it took place,I have thought I saw in my Master’s attitude a certain element of one who carried for another a trust confided to him.
He would always, when asked to explain the image of Kali, speak of it as the book of experience, in which the soul turns page after page, only to find that there is nothing in it, after all. And this, to my own mind, is the final explanation. Kali the Mother is to be the worship of the Indian future. In Her name will her sons find it possible to sound many experiences to their depths. And yet, in the end, their hearts will return to the ancient wisdom, and each man will know, when his hour comes, that all his life was but as a dream.
Who does not remember the Veda-like words of the Gita? – “Not, verily, by avoiding action, can a man rise to this inaction!” May we not, similarly, know for a certainty that not without going through this experience can we reach the realisation at the end? Through the Mother to Brahman, through new life and knowledge, and many changes, through the struggles, the victories, and the defeats of the immediate future, to that safe haven of the soul where all is One, and all is peace? As I look more and more closely into the life of that great Teacher whom I have followed, I see each day with growing-clearness, how he himself was turning the pages of the book of experience, and that it was only when he had come to the last word that he could lie back like a weary child, in the arms of his Mother, to be wrapped away at last into the Supreme Revelation, knowing that ‘all this was but a dream!’