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Repeating God's name


The Blessed Lord said:
Among sacrifices I am the sacrifice
of silent repetition (Japa)

The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10, verse 25.

Click on underscored words to open paragraph

Japa By Sri Ramana Maharshi

The Secret of the Mala: (Rosary)
The Significance of the number 108
The Significance of the number 9

Single-minded Devotion  (The story of Gopaler-ma)
It is hard to believe how the infinite God actually assumes a
finite human form and plays with human beings. But this play
was actually enacted in the life of a woman devotee of
Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

One way to approach God, according to traditional Hinduism,
is by practising any one of five dualistic attitudes, or modes.
These attitudes, or modes, are manifested in the relationship
between the devotee and God, and they are:

Santa Bhava
The peace and stillness felt in the presence of God

Dasya Bhava
The attitude of a servant towards his Master

Sakhya Bhava
The attitude of a friend towards a Friend

Vatsalya Bhava
The attitude of a parent towards a Child

Madhura Bhava
The attitude of a lover towards the Beloved.


The Teachings of  Sri Ramana Maharshi

Japa   (Repetition of God's name)

By Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman

By David Godman

A Mantra is a word or phrase, which has been given to a disciple by a Guru, usually as part of an initiation rite. If the Guru has accumulated spiritual power as a result of his realisation or meditation, some of this power is transmitted in the Mantra. If the disciple repeats the word continuously, the power of the Guru is invoked in such a way that it helps the disciple to progress towards the goal of self-realisation. Sri Ramana Maharshi accepted the validity of this approach but he very rarely gave out Mantras himself and he never used them as part of an initiation ceremony. He did, on the other hand, speak highly of the practice of Nama-Japa (the continuous repetition of God’s name) and he often advocated it as a useful aid for those who were following the path of surrender.

Surrender to God or the Self could be effectively practised by being aware at all times that there is no individual ‘I’ acting and thinking; only a ‘higher power’ which is responsible for all the activities of the world. Sri Ramana Maharshi recommended Japa as an effective way of cultivating this attitude since it replaces an awareness of the individual and the world with a constant awareness of this higher power.

In its early stages the repetition of the name of God is only an exercise in concentration and meditation, but with continued practice a stage is reached in which the repetition proceeds effortlessly, automatically and continuously. This stage is not reached by concentration alone but only by completely surrendering to the deity whose name is being repeated: ‘To use the name of God one must call upon Him with yearning and unreservedly surrender oneself to Him. Only after such surrender is the name of God constantly with the man’.

When Sri Ramana Maharshi talked about this advanced stage of Japa there was an almost mystical dimension to his ideas. He would speak of the identity of the name of God with the Self and sometimes he would even say that when the Self is realised the name of God reappears itself effortlessly and continuously in the Heart.

This ultimate stage is only reached after the practice of Japa merges into the practice of self-attention. Sri Ramana Maharshi usually illustrated the necessity of this transition by quoting from the words of Namdev, a fourteenth century Maharashtra saint: ‘The all-pervading nature of the Name can only be understood when one recognises one’s own ‘I’. When one’s own name is not recognised, it is impossible to get the all-pervading Name’. This quotation comes from a short work by Namdev entitled ‘The Philosophy of the Divine Name’ and the full text is given in one of Sri Raman’s answers below. Sri Ramana first discovered it in 1937 and for the last thirteen years of his life he kept a copy of it on a small bookshelf by his bed. He frequently read it out when visitors asked him about the nature and usefulness of Japa and from the number of times he spoke of it with approval it is reasonable to assume that he fully endorsed its contents.

Question: My practice has been a continuous Japa (continuous repetition) of the name of God with the incoming breath and the name of Sai Baba with the outgoing breath. Simultaneously with this I see the form of Baba always. Even in Bhagavan, I see Baba. Now, should I continue this or change the method, as something from within says that if I stick to the name and form, I shall never go above name and form? But I can’t understand what further to do after giving up name and form. Will Bhagavan enlighten me on this point?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: You may continue in your present method. When the Japa becomes continuous, all other thoughts cease and one is in one’s real nature, which is Japa or Dhyana (meditation or contemplation). We turn our mind outwards on things of the world and are therefore not aware of our real nature being always Japa. When the conscious effort of Japa or Dhyana, as we call it, we prevent our mind from thinking of other things, then what remains is our real nature, which is Japa.

So long as you think you are name and form, you can’t escape name and form in Japa also. When you realise you are not name and form, then name and form will drop of themselves. No other effort is necessary. Japa or Dhyana will naturally and as a matter of course lead to it. What is now regarded as the means, Japa, will then be found to be the goal. Name and God are not different. This is clearly shown in the teachings of Namdev:

  1. The Name permeates densely the sky and the lowest regions and the entire universe. Who can tell to what depths in the nether regions and to what height in the heavens it extends. The ignorant undergo the 84 lakhs (8.4 million) of species of births, not knowing the essence of things. Namdev says the Name is immortal. Forms are innumerable, but the Name is all that.
  2. The Name itself is Form. There is no distinction between Name and Form. God became manifest and assumed Name and Form. Hence the Name the Vedas established. Beware there is no Mantra beyond the Name. Those who say otherwise are ignorant. Namdev says the Name is Keshava (God) Himself. This is known only to the loving devotees of the Lord.
  3. The all pervading nature of the Name can only be understood when one recognises one’s own ‘I’. When one’s own name is not recognised, it is impossible to get the all-pervading Name. When one knows oneself, then one finds the Name everywhere. To see the Name as different from the Named creates illusion. Namdev says, ‘Ask the Saints’.
  4. No one can realise the Name by practice of knowledge, meditation or austerity. Surrender yourself first at the feet of the Guru and learn to know that ‘I’ myself is that Name. After finding the source of that ‘I’ merge your individuality in that oneness which is self-existent and devoid of all duality. That which pervades beyond dvaita (duality) and dvaitatita (that which is beyond duality), that Name has come into the three worlds. The Name is Parabrahman itself where there is no action arising out of duality.

The same idea is also found in the Bible: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God’.

Question: So the true name of God will ultimately be revealed by Self-enquiry?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Since you yourself are the form of the Japa, if you know your own nature by enquiring who you are, what a wonder it will be! The Japa which was previously going on with effort will then continue untiringly and effortlessly in the Heart.

Question: How long should I do Japa for? Should I also concentrate on an image of God at the same time?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Japa is more important than external form. It must be done until it becomes natural. It starts with effort and is continued until it proceeds of itself. When natural it is called realisation.

Japa may be done even while engaged in other work. That which is, is the one reality. It may be represented by a form, a japa, mantra, vichara (‘I’ thought), or any kind of attempt to reach reality. All Bhakti (devotion), vichara and japa are only different forms of our efforts to keep out the unreality. The unreality is an obsession at present but our true nature is reality. We are wrongly persisting in unreality, that is, attachment to thoughts and worldly activities. Cessation of these will reveal the truth. Our attempts are directed towards keeping them out and this is done by thinking of the reality only. Although it is our true nature it looks as if we are thinking of it while doing these practices. What we do really amounts to the removal of obstacles for the revelation of our true being.

Question: Are our attempts sure to succeed?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Realisation is our nature. It is nothing new to be gained. What is new cannot be eternal. Therefore there is no need for doubting whether one could lose or gain the Self.

Question: Is it good to do japa when we know that enquiry into the Self is the real thing?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: All methods are good since they will lead to the enquiry eventually. Japa is our real nature. When we realise the Self then japa goes on without effort. What is the means at one stage becomes the goal at another. When effortless constant japa goes on, it is realisation.

Questioner: I am not learned in the scriptures and I find the method of self-enquiry too hard for me. I am a woman with seven children and a lot of household cares and it leaves me little time for meditation. I request Bhagavan to give me some simpler and easier method.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: No learning or knowledge of scriptures is necessary to know the Self, as no man requires a mirror to see himself. All knowledge is required only to be given up eventually as not-self. Nor is household work or cares with children necessarily an obstacle. If you can do nothing more at least continue saying ‘I, I’ to yourself mentally as advised in ‘Who am I?’. If one incessantly thinks ‘I I’, it will lead to that state (the Self). Continue to repeat it whatever work you may be doing, whether you are sitting, standing or walking. ‘I’ is the name of God. It is the first and greatest of all mantras. Even Om (AUM) is second to it.

Question: For controlling the mind, which of the two is better, performing japa of the ajapa (unspoken) mantra or Omkar (the sound of Om)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: What is your idea of unspoken and involuntary japa (ajapa)? Will it be ajapa if you go on repeating with the mouth ‘Soham, Soham’ (I am He, I am He)?Ajapa really means to know that japa which goes on involuntarily without being uttered through the mouth. Without knowing this real meaning people think that it means repeating with the mouth the words ‘Soham, Soham’ hundreds of thousands of times, counting them on the fingers or on a string of beads.

Before beginning a japa breath control is prescribed. That means, first do Pranayama (regulating of breath) and then begin repeating the mantra. Pranayama means first closing the mouth, doesn’t it? If, by stopping the breath, the five elements in the body are bound down and controlled, what remains is the real Self. That Self will by itself be repeating always ‘aham, aham’ (‘I, I’). That is japa. Knowing this, how could that which is repeated by mouth be japa? The vision of the real Self which performs japa of its own accord involuntarily and in a never ending stream, like the flowing down continuously of oil, is ajapa, Gayatri and everything.

If you know who it is that is doing japa you will know what japa is. If you search and try to find out who it is that is doing japa, that japa itself becomes the Self.

Question: Is there no benefit at all in doing japa with the mouth?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Who said there is no benefit? Such japa will be the means for Chitta Shuddhi (purifying the mind). As the japa is done repeatedly the effort ripens and sooner or later leads to the right path. Good or bad, whatever is done never goes to waste. Only the differences and the merits and demerits of each will have to be told, looking to the stage of development of the person concerned.

Question: Is not mental japa better than oral japa?

Sri Ramana Maharshi : Oral japa consists of sounds. The sounds arise from thoughts, for one must think before one expresses the thoughts in words. The thoughts form the mind. Therefore mental japa is better than oral japa.

Question: Should we not contemplate the japa and repeat it orally also?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: When the japa becomes mental, where is the need for the sound?

Japa becoming mental, becomes contemplation. Dhyana, contemplation and mental japa are the same. When thoughts cease to be promiscuous and one thought persists to the exclusion of all others, it is said to be contemplation. The object of japa or dhyana is the exclusion of several thoughts and confining oneself to one single thought. Then that thought too vanishes into its source – absolute consciousness, the Self. The mind engages in japa and then sinks into its own source.

Questioner: The mind is said to be from the brain.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Where is the brain? It is in the body. I say that the body itself is a projection of the mind. You speak of the brain when you think of the body. It is the mind, which creates the body, the brain in it and also ascertains that the brain is its seat.

Question: Sri Bhagavan has said that the japa must be traced to its source. Is it not the mind that is meant?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: All these are only the workings of the mind. Japa helps to fix the mind on a single thought. All other thoughts are first subordinated until they disappear. When it becomes mental it is called dhyana. Dhyana is your true nature. It is however called dhyana because it is made with effort. Effort is necessary so long as thoughts are promiscuous. Because you are with other thoughts, you call the continuity of a single thought meditation or dhyana. If that dhyana becomes effortless it will be found to be your real nature.

Question: People give some names to God and say that the name is sacred and that repetitions of the name bestow merit on the individual. Can it be true?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Why not? You bear a name to which you answer. But your body was not born with that name written on it, nor did it say to anyone that it bore such and such a name. And yet a name is given to you and you answer to that name, because you have identified yourself with the name. Therefore the name signified something and it is not a mere fiction. Similarly, God’s name is effective. Repetition of the name is remembrance of what it signifies. Hence its merit.

Questioner: While making japa for an hour or more I fall into a state like sleep. On waking up I recollect that my japa has been interrupted. So I try again.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘Like sleep’, that is right. It is the natural state. Because you are now associated with the ego, you consider that the natural state is something which interrupts your work. So you must have the experience repeated until you realise that it is your natural state. You will then find that japa is extraneous but still it will go on automatically. Your present doubt is due to that false identity, namely of identifying yourself with the mind that does the japa. Japa means clinging to one thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts. That is its purpose. It leads to dhyana which ends in Self-realisation or jnana (knowledge).

Question: How should I carry on japa?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: One should not use the name of God mechanically and superficially without the feeling of devotion.

Question: So mechanical repetition is unproductive?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Acute disease will not be cured merely by repeating the name of the medicine but only by drinking the medicine. Similarly, the bonds of birth and death will not cease merely by doing many repetitions of Mahavakyas such as ‘I am Siva’. Instead of wandering about repeating ‘I am the supreme’, abide as the supreme yourself. The misery of birth and death will not cease by vocally repeating countless times ‘I am that’, but only by abiding as that.

Question: Can anyone get any benefit by repeating sacred syllables (mantras) picked up casually?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: No. He must be competent and initiated in such mantras. This is illustrated by the story of the king and his minister. A king visited his premier in his residence. There he was told that the premier was engaged in repetition of sacred syllables. The king waited for him, and on meeting him, asked what the mantra was. The premier said that it was the holiest of all, Gayatri (mantra). The king desired to be initiated by the premier but the premier confessed his inability to initiate him. Therefore the king learned it from someone else, and, meeting the minister later, he repeated the Gayatri and wanted to know if it was right. The minister said that the mantra was correct, but it was not proper for him to say it. When pressed for an explanation, the minister called to a page close by and ordered him to take hold of (arrest) the king. The order was not obeyed. The order was often repeated, and still not obeyed. The king flew into a rage and ordered the same man to hold the minister, and it was immediately done. The minister laughed and said that the incident was the explanation required by the king. ‘How?’ asked the king. The minister replied, ‘The order was the same and the executor also, but the authority was different. When I ordered, the effect was nil, whereas, when you ordered, there was immediate effect. Similarly with mantras.

Question: I am taught that mantra japa is very potent in practice.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Self is the greatest of all mantras – it goes on automatically and eternally. If you are not aware of this internal mantra, you should take to it consciously as japa, which is attended with effort, to ward off all other thoughts. By constant attention to it, you will eventually become aware of the internal mantra, which is the state of realisation and is effortless. Firmness in this awareness will keep you continually and effortlessly in the current, however much you may be engaged in other activities.

By repetition of mantras, the mind gets controlled. Then the mantra becomes one with the mind and also with the prana (the energy that sustains the body).

When the syllables of the mantra becomes one with the prana, it is termed dhyana, and when dhyana becomes deep and firm it leads to Sahaja Sthiti (the natural state).

Questioner: I have received a mantra. People frighten me by saying that it may have unforeseen results if repeated. It is only Pranava (Om). So I seek advice. May I repeat it? I have considerable faith in it.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Certainly, it should be repeated with faith.

Question: Will it do by itself, or can you kindly give me any further instructions?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The object of mantra japa is to realise that the same japa is already going on in oneself even without effort. The oral japa becomes mental and the mental japa finally reveals itself as being eternal. That mantra is the person’s real nature. That is also the state of realisation.

Question: Can the bliss of Samadhi be gained thus?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: The japa becomes mental and finally reveals itself as the Self. That is Samadhi.

The Secret of the Mala:(Rosary)

By Sri Radhakrishnan Srimali
Abridged and paraphrased by Sri Dharam Ramkissoon
From ‘The Jyoti’ magazine
Published by the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa

The Japa-Mala occupies a special position in Mantra-Sadhana (the spiritual disciplines consisting of repeating sacred syllables), because it is through the Mala itself that Japa is most effective. Firstly, the Mala is used to keep count of Japa or the repetition of sacred syllables. Secondly, during Sadhana, the mind as always, through its very nature, tends to wander. It is through the Mala, that the wandering mind can be quickly recollected or brought back to the thought of the deity or object of meditation.

Faith and reverence are the essentials of Upasana or worship. It will not be out of place to maintain this reverential attitude towards the Mala itself. It should not be used carelessly or kept in an unclean place or touched by the feet or left hand. Even though it is a lifeless object, it is an instrument through which God is remembered and an aid in spiritual upliftment. Therefore it should be regarded with reverence.

The scriptures say that the merit that accrues from repeating God’s name is multiplied 8 times when done on the segments of the fingers; 10,000 times when done on a Mala of precious stones or crystals; 100,000 times when done on a Lotus-Mala; but infinitely when done on a Rudraksha-Mala.

Ways of Doing Japa:
Japa may be done in three ways.

They are:





This involves the doing of Japa on the fingers and can be done on the fingertips. The second and more effective way recommended in the scriptures is by doing Japa on the segments of the fingers. One of the important rules to observe when doing this type of Japa is to keep the fingers together and not separate.


This involves the doing of Japa using the alphabet of the Sanskrit language. Detailed instructions for this type of Japa are given in the ‘Sanat Kumara Tantra’.


This is the most recommended and the most common way of doing Japa when a Mala (or Rosary) made of beads threaded together is used. The beads used are of various types. Malas are made of Rudraksh seeds, stems of the Tulasi (Basil) plant, shells, lotus plants, gold, precious stones, pearls, crystals etc.

Different types of Malas are used for different purposes. A Lotus-Mala is used to destroy enemies. A Kusa-Mala is used to destroy sins. A Silver-Mala is used to fulfil desires etc.

Different sects tend to use different types of Malas. The Shaktas, Shaivites and Smartas use the Rudraksha-Mala. The Vaishnavites use the Tulasi-Mala. The Ganapatis may use the ivory-Mala.

One complete Mala of any of the above three categories involves the repetition of the Mantra 108 times. The 109th bead called the Meru or summit acts as the guide. An important rule is not to cross over the Meru on completion of a Mala but retract and do the next Mala commencing at the point of finishing the previous Mala. Thus we work back and forth from the Meru. An important interpretation of this rule is that the Meru represents the Guru or Preceptor whose importance in any spiritual discipline is unsurpassed, and he should not be crossed in any circumstance.

The Significance of the Figure 108

One complete Mala consists of 108 repetitions. Various reasons are given with regard to the significance of this number. Some of the main reasons are:

It has been established that man takes 10 800 breaths during a period of twelve hours. Therefore, in a period of 24 hours, one takes 21 600 breaths. One half of this time may be allowed for sleeping, eating or other essential activities. The remainder of the time should be spent in the thought of God. The merit of taking God’s name is multiplied 100 times when done on a Mala. Therefore, 108 Mantras done on a Mala is equivalent to the taking of God’s name 10 800 times.

There are 27 Nakshatras or Heavenly Bodies that regulate our destinies. Each Nakshatra enters 4 phases or Charans in the course of an astrological day or Tithi. Therefore all the Nakshatras pass through 108 Charans (27 x 4 = 108) during any Tithi.

The Shastras (scriptures) say that the Brahman (God) is symbolically represented by the figure 9. The three figures in the number 108 add up to nine (1 + 0 + 8 = 9). The figure 9 itself when multiplied by any other figure and the digits of the answer when added up will provide the answer as exactly 9.


9 x 28 = 252 (2 + 5+ 2 = 9)

9 x 1855 = 16 695 (1 + 6+ 6 + 9 + 5 = 27) (2 + 7 = 9)

9 x 1368 = 12 312 (1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 =9)

4.The different stages of creation are all linked to the figure 9 as will be seen by adding up each of the following figures:

A Kaliyuga consists of 432 000 human years>

A Dwaparyuga consists of 864 000 human years

A Tretayuga consists of 1 296 000 human years

A Satayuga consists of 1 728 000 human years

A Mahayuga consists of 4 320 000 human years

A celestial year in Brahma’s life consists of 3 110 400 000 000 human years

Brahma’s lifespan consists of 311 040 000 000 000 human years.

The digits of each of the above figures when added up or the digits of those answers when added up will produce the figure 9. The figure nine has therefore been taken by Hindus to represent Brahman or Infinity.

Holy Mother on Japa

Sri Sarada Devi, Wife of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
By Swami Nikhilananda

Holy mother gave a high place to Japa and meditation in the practice of daily devotions. Japa purifies the mind, creates inner calmness, and leads to meditation. Meditation is a difficult discipline, especially for beginners. The Mother used to say that it is more arduous to concentrate the mind on the Chosen Ideal than to dig the earth with a spade. Without acquiring mental purity one cannot properly meditate. Japa should be combined with meditation. There is a saying that as the plant is hidden in the tiny seed, so also is the Lord hidden in His name.
The Mother used to say: “When a pure soul performs Japa, he feels as if the holy name bubbles up spontaneously from within himself. He does not have to make an effort to repeat the name.”

A few of her statements regarding the efficacy of Japa and meditation are given below:

“As wind removes a cloud, so does the name of God disperse the cloud of worldliness.”

“The mind will be steadied of itself if aspirants repeat God’s name fifteen or twenty thousand times a day. I myself have experienced it. Let them first practise; if they fail, then let them complain. One should practise Japa with devotion, but this they do not do. They will not do anything; they only complain, saying, ‘Why don’t I succeed?’”

“No doubt you must do your duties. This keeps your mind in good condition. But it is also necessary to practise Japa, meditation, and prayer. One must practise these at least in the morning and evening. Such practice acts like the rudder of a boat. When a man sits in the evening for prayer, he can reflect on the good and bad things he has done in the course of the day. Then he should compare his present mental state with that of the previous day. Next, while performing Japa, he should meditate on his Chosen Ideal. In meditation he should firstly think of the face of the Ideal, and then meditate on the entire body from the feet upward. Unless you practise meditation morning and evening, along with your work, how can you know whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong?”

“The natural tendency of the mind is to run this way or that. Through Japa it is directed to God. While repeating God’s name, if one sees His form and becomes absorbed in it, then the Japa stops.”

Devotee: “Why is it that the mind does not become steady? When I try to think of God I find it drawn to worldly objects.”

Mother: “It is wrong if the mind is drawn to worldly objects. By ‘worldly objects’ I mean money, family, and so on. But it is natural for the mind to think of the work in which one is engaged. If meditation is not possible, repeat God’s name. If a meditative mood comes, well and good; but by no means force your mind to meditate. Real meditation is spontaneous.”

The Holy Mother taught that regularity should be observed in the practice of Japa and meditation. It is true that there are certain auspicious moments when the mind becomes easily collected. But no one can say when the auspicious moment will come. It comes so suddenly that one has no hint of it beforehand. Therefore one should be regular about spiritual practice, no matter how busy one may be with one’s duties.

Single-minded Devotion


The Blessed Lord said:
Through single-minded devotion, however,
I can be seen in this form (with four arms),
known in essence and entered into, O Arjuna.
-The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11, verse 54.

A Real Life Divine Drama

Single-minded Devotion

Gopaler-Ma (Aghoremani Devi)
From ‘They Lived With God’
By Swami Chetanananda
Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati

It is hard to believe how the infinite God actually assumes a finite human form and plays with human beings. But this play was actually enacted in the life of a woman devotee of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

She was known as Gopaler-ma, or ‘Gopala’s mother. Gopala, or cowherd boy is an epithet of the child Krishna. Gopaler-ma’s given name was Aghoremani Devi, but she came to be called Gopaler-ma because of her fervent devotion to the infant Krishna, which culminated in Lord Krishna appearing before her as a child of seemingly solid physical form. Aghoremani attained this high mystic experience by living a life of austerity and renunciation, and through her steadfast love for her Chosen Deity, Gopala.

One way to approach God, according to traditional Hinduism, is by practising any one of five dualistic attitudes, or modes. These attitudes, or modes, are manifested in the relationship between the devotee and God, and they are:

  1. Shanta Bhava, the peace and stillness felt in the presence of God
  2. Dasya Bhava, the attitude of a servant towards his Master
  3. Sakhya Bhava, the attitude of a friend towards a Friend
  4. Vatsalya Bhava, the attitude of a parent towards a Child
  5. Madhura Bhava, the attitude of a lover towards the Beloved.

The idea behind this classification is to help the spiritual aspirant intensify his relationship with God according to his own inner nature. This is a natural path to God-realization. Gopaler-ma attained her vision of God through the practice of Vatsalya Bhava, the attitude of a mother towards her child.

Aghoremani Devi was born of a Brahmin family about the year 1822 at Kamarhati, a northern suburb of Calcutta. Following the social custom of child marriage, she was married at the age of nine. Her wedding was the first and last time she saw her husband, for he died before the marriage was consummated, leaving her a widow of fourteen years of age. However, she was initiated into spiritual life by her husband’s family guru and, with the child Krishna as her Chosen Deity, she was given the ‘Gopala Mantram’. Since a Hindu Brahmin widow does not remarry, the love and energy that Aghoremani would have given her husband and children were diverted towards her beloved Gopala. It was Divine Providence that her one-pointed devotion was to make her a saint instead of a faithful housewife.

After the death of her parents she went to live at the temple garden of Govinda Datta at Kamarhati, where her brother was the priest of the Radha-Krishna temple. It was a large estate, located on the bank of the Ganga (Ganges river). Govinda’s widow, the owner and manager of the temple, was a very pious woman who lived like a nun. She practised severe austerities, such as sleeping on the floor, bathing three times and eating one meal a day, and observing religious vows, daily worship, japam, and meditation. She was looking for a companion, and through her priest she found Aghoremani, who had a similar nature and spiritual inclination. Aghoremani was also very happy to have the opportunity to live in a solitary, holy place on the bank of the Ganga.

Aghoremani was short but well built, with a tawny complexion and a face that shone with the glow of purity. It is an ancient custom in India for monastics and orthodox widows to shave their heads because they do not care for external beauty, and, following their example, Aghoremani shaved her head. In later years she donned the ochre cloth, the traditional garb of the renunciant.

By selling her jewellery and husband’s property Aghoremani received about five hundred Rupees, which she invested in securities and left in her landlady’s care. With the three or four Rupees a month interest earned on this investment, she had to manage her living. Sometimes the landlady helped her, but from time to time Aghoremani was forced to draw on her capital.

Spiritual life is not a matter of show. The more hidden it is, the stronger and more fruitful it becomes; the more it is expressed, the weaker and more superficial it becomes. For this reason mystics like to remain hidden. Aghoremani, like other mystics, was a person of few words, and she led a quiet, contemplative life in the temple garden of Kamarhati.

Many years later Sister Nivedita described her surroundings:

"How beautiful was the Ganga, as the little boat crept on and on! And how beautiful seemed the long flight of steps rising out of the water, and leading up, through its lofty bathing-ghat, past the terraced lawn, to the cloister-like veranda on the right, where, in a little room, built probably in the first place for some servant of the great house at its side, Gopaler-ma had lived and told her beads for many a year …. Her own little room was absolutely without comfort. Her bed was of stone, and her floor of stone, and the piece of matting she offered her guests to sit on, had to be taken down from a shelf and unrolled. The handful of parched rice and sugar candy that formed her only store, and were all that she could give in hospitality, were taken from an earthen pot that hung from the roof by a few cords. But the place was spotlessly clean, washed constantly by Ganga-water of her own sturdy carrying. And in a niche near her hand lay an old copy of the Ramayana, and her great horn spectacles, and the little white bag containing her beads. On those beads, Gopaler-ma had become a saint! Hour after hour, day after day, for how many years, had she sat day and night absorbed in them!"

The tiny room, where Gopaler-ma spent the greater portion of her life, was at the southwest corner of the building. It had three windows on the southern side through which she could see the Ganga. Inside the room were large earthen pots containing rice, lentils, spices, and other things, which she purchased in quantities to last for six months. Fresh vegetables were bought once a week at the local market. She kept her few articles of clothing in a tin trunk, and her cooking pots and pans were neatly stacked in one corner. Both her inner life and her outer life were well organized. This is a sign of a yogi.

The scriptures say that the practices of an illumined soul are meant for spiritual aspirants to emulate. Gopaler-ma’s life, devoid of comfort and luxury, and filled with intense longing for Gopala, demonstrates how essential austerity and concentration are to realization. Thus it is both important and helpful for seekers of God to know such details as the daily routine, behaviour, habits, and mode of life of an illumined soul.

Gopaler-ma arose at two o’clock in the morning, washed her face and hands, and then started her japam (recitation of God’s name or mantra), which continued until eight o’clock. Next, she cleaned the Radha-Krishna temple, washed the worship vessels, picked flowers, and made garlands and sandal paste. She was neat, clean, and meticulous. She would bathe twice a day, mornings in the Ganga and evenings in the pond. After bathing in the Ganga, she meditated for some time under a vilwa tree in the temple garden. Next, she collected dry wood and leaves for her cooking fire. She usually cooked rice, dal, bitter squash, and potato. Her food offering to Baby Gopala was worth seeing. She would place a wooden seat on the floor for Gopala and offer cooked food on a banana leaf-plate, which she set before him. Afterwards she would partake of the prasad and then rest for a while. She practised japam again until evening, when she would attend the vesper service of Radha-Krishna and listen to devotional singing. Her supper was always very simple, usually consisting of a few offered coconut balls and a little milk. Again she would start her japam, which continued until midnight. With rare exception, she followed this routine daily for over thirty years – from 1852 to 1883. Perhaps the only break of any consequence in her routine came when she went on a pilgrimage with her landlady to Gaya, Varanasi, Allahabad, Mathura, and Vrindaban.

Swami Ramakrishnananda mentioned an incident, which happened shortly before Gopaler-ma met Sri Ramakrishna:

"One day she was cooking as usual, but the fire would not burn, the wood was heavy with moisture, and there was an adverse wind which blew the smoke into her eyes. Finally when the bit of rice and curry was done and she was about to pour it out on the leaf, the adverse wind blew away the leaf. Then she began to scold God for making everything so bad for Gopala. As she was talking, a little boy brought back the leaf, held it out flat on the ground until she had put the food on it and then disappeared. She began to feed her Gopala, but suddenly she began to ask herself who that little boy was and she realized that it was Gopala himself. From that moment she became mad. All day and night she kept crying, ‘Where is my Gopala? Where is my Gopala?’ She could not sleep or eat. Only at night would she prepare a little food for Gopala, and everyone thought she had really become mad."

By the 1880s Sri Ramakrishna’s name had begun to spread, and it was in the fall of 1884 that Gopaler-ma first went to Dakshineshwar, along with her landlady and another woman, to seek an audience with the holy man. As Kamarhati and Dakshineshwar are both on the Ganga, they went the three miles by boat. Sri Ramakrishna received them cordially, gave them some advice on devotion, and sang a few songs. He asked them to come again, and graciously, in turn, the landlady invited Sri Ramakrishna to visit her temple garden at Kamarhati. He accepted the invitation.

Only a jeweller understands the value of a jewel. Sri Ramakrishna recognized the spiritual magnitude of both Gopaler-ma and the landlady, and praising them in his sweet manner, he said: ‘Ah! What a beautiful expression on their faces! They are floating in the ocean of bliss and devotion. Their eyes are soaked with divine love’.

On another occasion Sri Ramakrishna commented about Gopaler-ma, ‘During Krishna’s incarnation she was a fruit-seller of Vrindaban, and she would feed Gopala the sweet fruits’.

After her first visit Gopaler-ma felt an irresistible attraction for Sri Ramakrishna, and she noticed a change in her life. Off and on she would think about Sri Ramakrishna, ‘He is a nice man and a real devotee’. She decided to see him again.

A few days later, while she was practising japam, her desire to see him (Sri Ramakrishna) was

so intense that she immediately left for Dakshineshwar by herself. It is an ancient custom that one should not visit God or a holy person empty-handed, so on her way she bought two pennies worth of stale sweets, which was all that she could afford. She was confident that he would not eat them, since so many people brought better offerings every day. But no sooner had she arrived at Dakshineshwar than Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘Oh, you have come! Give me what you have brought for me’.

She was embarrassed, but she reluctantly handed over the stale sweets to him. Like a hungry boy he started to eat them with great relish and said to her: ‘Why do you spend money for sweets? Prepare some sweet coconut balls, and when you visit this place bring one or two of them with you. Or you may bring a little of the ordinary dishes that you cook yourself. I want to eat your cooking."

That day Sri Ramakrishna did not talk about God or religion. He only enquired about this food or that food. As Gopaler-ma later related:

"I thought, ‘what a strange monk. He talks only about food. I am a poor widow. Where shall I get so many delicacies for him? Enough! I shall not come back again.’ But as soon I crossed the gate of Dakshineshwar garden, I felt he was, as it were, pulling me back. I could not proceed further. I had a hard time persuading the mind, and at last I returned to Kamarhati."

A few days later she came to Dakshineshwar on foot, carrying some ordinary curry that she had cooked for Sri Ramakrishna. He relished it and said: "What a delicacy! It is like nectar". Tears rolled down Gopaler-ma’s cheeks. She thought the Master appreciated her humble offering only because she was poor.

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During the next three or four months Gopaler-ma visited Dakshineshwar several times, always carrying some plain food for the Master. Invariably he asked her to bring some new food on her next visit. Sometimes she would think in disgust: ‘O Gopala, is this the outcome of my prayer? You have brought me to a holy man who only asks for food. I shall not come back again’.

But as soon as she returned to Kamarhati, she would again feel that irresistible attraction, and her mind would long to see the Master.

At the invitation of Govinda Datta’s widow, Sri Ramakrishna went to visit the temple garden of Kamarhati. He attended the worship service of Radha-Krishna and sang many devotional songs. The landlady and others there were very much impressed, seeing the Master’s ecstasy during the kirtan (singing the glory of God). After taking some prasad he returned to Dakshineshwar.

It was the spring of 1885. One morning at three o’clock Gopaler-ma, as usual, started to practise her japam. After finishing the japam she began pranayama and was about to offer the result of the japam to her Chosen Deity when she noticed that Sri Ramakrishna was seated at her left with his right fist clenched. Startled, she wondered: ‘What is this? How did he come here at this odd hour?’

As she later described: "I looked at him in amazement and thought, ‘How did he come here? Meanwhile Gopala (as she called Sri Ramakrishna) kept on smiling sweetly. As I took courage and grasped his left hand, Sri Ramakrishna’s form disappeared and in place of it appeared the real Gopala- a big child of ten months old. His beauty and look beggar description! He crawled towards me and, raising one hand, said: ‘Mother give butter’. This overwhelming experience bewildered me. I cried out so loudly that if there had been men around they would have assembled there. With tearful eyes I said, ‘My son, I am a poor, helpless widow. What shall I feed you? Where shall I get butter and cream, my child?’ But Gopala did not listen to me. ‘Give me something to eat’, he kept on saying. What could I do? Sobbing, I got up and brought some dry coconut balls from the hanging basket. Placing them in his hand, I said, ‘Gopala, my darling, I offer you this wretched thing, but don’t give me such a poor thing in return’.

I could not perform japam at all that day. Gopala sat on my lap, snatched away my rosary, jumped on my shoulders, and moved around the room. At daybreak I rushed to Dakshineshwar like a crazy woman. Gopala also accompanied me, resting his head on my shoulder. I distinctly saw Gopala’s two tiny, rosy feet hanging over my bosom."

When Gopaler-ma arrived at Dakshineshwar, a woman devotee was present. Her words vividly describe that meeting with the Master:

"I was then cleaning the Master’s room. It was seven or half past seven in the morning. In the meantime I heard somebody calling, ‘Gopala. Gopala’ from outside. The voice was familiar to me. I looked and it was Gopaler-ma. She entered through the eastern door like an intoxicated person, with dishevelled hair, staring eyes, and the end of her cloth trailing on the ground. She was completely oblivious of her surroundings. Sri Ramakrishna was then seated on his small cot.

I was dumbfounded seeing Gopaler-ma in that condition. The Master, in the meantime, entered into an ecstatic mood. Gopaler-ma sat beside him and he, like a child, sat on her lap. Tears were flowing profusely from her eyes. She fed the Master with cream, butter, and sweets that she had brought with her. I was astounded, for never before had I seen the Master touching a woman in a state of ecstasy…. After sometime the Master regained his normal consciousness and went back to his cot. But Gopaler-ma could not control her exuberant emotion. In a rapturous mood she began to dance around the room, repeating, ‘Brahma is dancing and Vishnu is dancing’. Watching her ecstasy the Master said to me with a smile, ‘Look, she is engulfed in bliss. Her mind is now in the abode of Gopala’."

Gopaler-ma’s ecstasy was boundless. Her vision, conversation, and play with her beloved Gopala continued: ‘Here is Gopala in my arms… Now he enters into you (pointing to Sri Ramakrishna)… There, he comes out again… Come, my child, come to your wretched mother’. Thus she became convinced that Sri Ramakrishna was none other than her Gopala.

Only a mystic understands the language and behaviour of another mystic. Sri Ramakrishna was happy to see her ecstasy, but then, in order to calm her, he began to stroke her chest and feed her with delicacies. Even while eating, Gopaler-ma said in an ecstatic mood: ‘Gopala, my darling, your wretched mother has led a life of dire poverty. She had to make her living by spinning and selling sacred thread. Is that why you are taking special care of her today?’ From this time on Aghoremani Devi was known as Gopaler-ma.

Gopaler-ma stayed the whole day at Dakshineshwar, and then, before evening, Sri Ramakrishna sent her back to Kamarhati. The same baby Gopala went with her, nestled in her arms. When she reached her room, she started to tell her beads as before, but it became impossible. Her Chosen Deity, for whom she had practised japam and meditation all her life, was now pestering her, demanding this and that, as he played in front of her. When she went to bed, Gopala was by her side. She had a hard bed without a pillow and he began to grumble. At last she cradled his head on her left arm and said: ‘My child, sleep tonight in this way. Tomorrow I shall go to Calcutta and ask the daughter of the landlady to make a soft pillow for you’.

The next morning she went to the garden to collect dry wood for cooking. Gopala also accompanied her and helped her. Then, as she was cooking, the naughty child began to play tricks on her. She tried to control him, sometimes with sweet words, and sometimes through scolding.

Modern man. Inclined to be sceptical and scientific, has great difficulty in accepting as real such experiences as Gopaler-ma’s. However, from the traditional Hindu point of view, there are much finer states of consciousness than the one in which we experience the sense world, and this has been substantiated again and again by the experiences of saints and seers. When the mind is pure and saturated with Spirit, such high states of consciousness are possible. Gopaler-ma meditated on her beloved Gopala so much that her mind became very pure. As a result, she entered the super-conscious realm, and wherever her eyes fell, she saw Gopala. In this realm of mystical experience, verbal expression, mental cognition, and intellectual reasoning do not function. The only consciousness is the direct consciousness of God.

A few days later Gopaler-ma went to Dakshineshwar to visit the Master. After greeting him she went to the nahabat, or concert room, where Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual consort, known as Holy Mother, lived. It was Gopaler-ma’s habit to practise japam whenever she had time and opportunity. While she was doing japam in the concert room, Sri Ramakrishna came there and said: ‘Why do you practise so much japam now? You have plenty of visions!’

Gopaler-ma replied: ‘Shall I not practise japam any more? Have I attained everything?’

‘Yes, you have attained everything’.


‘Yes, everything’.

‘What do you say? Have I really accomplished everything?’

‘Yes. You have. It is no longer necessary for you to practise japam and austerity for yourself, but if you wish, you may continue those disciplines (pointing to himself) for the welfare of this body.’

Thus assured by Sri Ramakrishna three times, she said: ‘All right. Whatever I do henceforth will be for you.’

Her visions and play with Gopala continued for two months. During this time she was always in an ecstatic mood. She had to force herself to continue her daily routine of bathing, cooking, eating, japam, and meditation. Gradually her divine intoxication subsided; yet she continued to have several visions of Gopala a day. Since she had become convinced that Sri Ramakrishna and Gopala were one and the same, she had fewer visions of the form of Gopala and more of Sri Ramakrishna while meditating, with the voice of Gopala instructing her through him. She went to Sri Ramakrishna one day and said to him, crying: ‘Gopala, what have you done to me? Did I do anything wrong? Why do I not see you in the form of Gopala as before?’

Sri Ramakrishna consoled her, saying: ‘In this Kali yuga if one has visions continuously, one’s body does not last long. It survives only twenty-one days and then drops off like a dry leaf.’

Since Gopaler-ma had experienced the bliss of constant divine inebriation, it was difficult for her to live without it. She had no interest in mundane things. Just a worldly person is always restless for worldly objects, in the same way her heart was restless for the continuous vision of Gopala. She felt a pain in her chest and thought it was due to the pressure of gas. But Sri Ramakrishna told her: ‘It is not gas. It is caused by your spiritual energy. How will you pass your time if it goes away? Let it be with you. When you feel too much pain, please eat something’.

Sri Ramakrishna used to receive gifts of sweets, and rock candy from various people, but he could not eat all of it. There were some business people who would offer gifts to him believing that such offerings to a holy man would bring them prosperity. This type of food invariably contaminates the mind of the eater. Consequently, the only devotees Sri Ramakrishna would give these things to were Swami Vivekananda and Gopaler-ma. He knew that the minds of these two great souls were in such a high realm that they could never be affected by eating such food.

One day Gopaler-ma came to see the Master with some women devotees. Pointing to her, he said to those present: ‘Ah, there is nothing inside this body but God. He fills it through and through’. Then the Master fed Gopaler-ma with various delicacies and gave her some food that he had received from several Calcutta business people. At this, Gopaler-ma said, ‘Why are you so fond of feeding me?’

Sri Ramakrishna replied: ‘You have also fed me with so many things in the past’.

‘In the past? When?’ she asked.

‘In your previous life,’ he said.

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During the car festival of Lord Jagannath in 1885, Sri Ramakrishna went to Balaram Basu’s house in Calcutta. Balaram had invited many devotees for the celebration. While he was there the Master spoke highly of the God-intoxicated state and visions of Gopaler-ma, and at his behest, Balaram sent a man to bring her. Just before her arrival the Master was talking to the devotees when suddenly he went into ecstasy. His body assumed the pose of Gopala, crawling on both knees, one hand resting on the ground, the other raised, and the face turned up as if he were expecting someone. Gopaler-ma arrived then and found Sri Ramakrishna in the posture of her Chosen Deity. The devotees were amazed, seeing that divine sight.

‘Truly speaking, I don’t care for this stiff posture,’ she said. ‘My Gopala should laugh and play, walk and run. But what is this? He has become stiff like a log. I don’t like to see this sort of Gopala!’

It was a striking feature in Sri Ramakrishna’s life that whenever any mood would come over him he would be fully identified with it. Even in his last years, when he would sing, dance, or make gestures like a woman or a child, people were amazed, seeing their precision and spontaneity. His voice was sweet and melodious, and his movements were natural, simple, and beautiful. There was not an iota of insincerity or display in his behaviour and action.

Sri Ramakrishna stayed in Calcutta for a few days and then left for Dakshineshwar by boat. Some of the devotees, including Gopaler-ma, accompanied him. Balaram’s family had lovingly given Gopaler-ma some necessary items of clothing and utensils in a bundle, which she was carrying on the boat. The Master came to know from other devotees what was in the bundle. Immediately he became grave, and without directly referring to the items, he began to speak about renunciation. He said: ‘Only a man of renunciation realizes God. The devotee who is simply satisfied with another man’s hospitality and returns empty-handed, sits very close to God.’ He did not say a single word to her, but he kept looking at her bundle. Gopaler-ma understood.

The Master always watched over his devotees so that they might not deviate from the path of non-attachment. He could be as soft as a flower, and again as strong as a thunderbolt. His superhuman love conquered the hearts of the devotees; so a little indifference from him would give them unbearable pain. Gopaler-ma was stung with remorse and thought of throwing the bundle away. But she kept it, and when she reached Dakshineshwar she related everything to Holy Mother. She was ready to give all the items away, but Holy Mother stopped her and said: ‘Let the Master say what he wants. There is no one to give you gifts, and moreover, you have been given some things which you need.’ Nevertheless Gopaler-ma gave some of the things away. Then she cooked some curries for the Master and carried the tray of food to him. Seeing her repentance, he behaved with her in his usual manner. She returned to Kamarhati feeling much relieved.

After God-realization the illumined soul is carried along by the momentum of his past karma, but he ceases to be affected by it. He behaves like a witness, completely unattached to the world. He continues his daily routine, and he helps other people towards realization. Gopaler-ma also followed her old routine. But from time to time she would visit the Master, and whatever visions she had during meditation she would relate to him. Once he said to her, ‘One should not disclose one’s visions to others, because it stops further visions.’

One day, however, Gopaler-ma and Swami Vivekananda (then called Narendranath) chanced to be present at Dakshineshwar at the same time. Gopaler-ma was uneducated, unsophisticated, simple, and a devout worshipper of God with form; Narendranath, on the other hand, was learned, sophisticated, intelligent, and a staunch believer in the formless God. As a member of the Brahmo Samaj, he looked down on worship of God with form. Sri Ramakrishna had a tremendous sense of humour, so he engaged these two devotees, with their opposing points of view, in a discussion by requesting Gopaler-ma to relate her visions to Narendranath.

‘But will there not be harm in telling them?’ she asked. Assured by him that it would be all right, she related all her visions in detail to Narendranath with overwhelming joy and tears.

Devotion is contagious. Narendranath, in spite of his manly exterior and faith in rationalism, could not control his tears. His heart was filled with love and religious fervour. The old lady now and then interrupted her story to say: ‘my son, you are learned and intelligent, and I am a poor, illiterate widow. I don’t understand anything. Please tell me, are these visions true?’

‘Yes, Mother, whatever you have seen is all true,’ Narendranath assured her.

On another day Gopaler-ma invited Sri Ramakrishna for lunch at Kamarhati. This time the Master went by boat with Rakhal, a young disciple who later became Swami Brahmananda. She received them cordially, and after they had enjoyed the delicacies she had cooked for them, they went to a room upstairs, which had been arranged for their rest. Rakhal fell asleep immediately, but the Master was wide-awake. Presently a foul odour permeated the room, and he saw two hideous looking ghosts with skeletal-like forms. They said to him humbly: ‘Why are you here? Please go away from this place. Seeing you, we are in unbearable pain.’

The Divine presence was no doubt the cause of their pain, either because it reminded them of their own pitiable condition, or because evil spirits cannot bear that Presence.

Sri Ramakrishna immediately arose and gathered up his small spice bag and towel. In the mean time Rakhal woke up and asked, ‘Master, where are you going?’

‘I shall tell you later,’ said Sri Ramakrishna. They both went downstairs to Gopaler-ma, saying good-bye to her, and left on the boat. The Master then told the whole story to Rakhal, explaining that he did not say anything to Gopaler-ma because she was staying there alone. At any rate, she knew that ghosts frequented the area, and Sri Ramakrishna knew that her spirituality protected her from their presence.

‘One who has steadfast devotion to truthfulness realizes the God of Truth,’ said Sri Ramakrishna. His own life was based on truth, and whatever he said invariably came true. One day Gopaler-ma cooked for the Master at Dakshineshwar. When he found that the rice was not properly boiled, he indignantly said: ‘Can I eat this rice? I shall not take rice out of her hand anymore.’ People thought that the Master had only warned her to be careful in the future. But shortly afterwards it so happened that cancer developed in his throat, and from then on he could only eat thin porridge and liquids.

As the illness grew worse, Sri Ramakrishna was moved from Dakshineshwar to Calcutta, and then to Cossipore (a northern suburb of Calcutta) for treatment. Gopaler-ma now and then would come to serve him. One day the Master expressed a desire to eat a special kind of thick milk pudding. Yogindra, a young disciple, was sent to Calcutta to buy the pudding from the market. On the way, however, he stopped at the house of Balaram Basu, and when the women devotees heard about his errand, they asked him to wait and let them cook it. They meant well, reasoning that the homemade food would be of a better quality than the market food. Yogindra agreed. But when he returned with the pudding and told the Master the reason for his delay, the Master scolded him: ‘I wanted to eat the market pudding, and you were told to buy it. Why did you go to the devotee’s house and give them trouble over it? Besides, this pudding is very rich and hard to digest. I will not eat it.’

Indeed, he did not touch it, but he asked Holy Mother to give the pudding to Gopaler-ma. As he explained: ‘This is given by the devotees. Gopala dwells in her heart. Her eating it will be the same as my eating it.’

After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Gopaler-ma was grief-stricken and for a long time lived in seclusion. After a while, however, repeated visions of the Master consoled her bereaved heart. Once she went to attend the Car Festival of Jagannath in Mahesh, on the other side of the Ganga. There she had the cosmic vision of the Lord. She saw her beloved Gopala not only in the image of Jagannath in the chariot, but also in the pilgrims who were pulling the chariot. ‘I was then not myself,’ she said. ‘I danced and laughed and created a commotion there.’

Occasionally she would visit Sri Ramakrishna’s monastic disciples at the Baranagore monastery. At their request she would cook a couple of dishes and offer them to the Master.

The human mind is a mysterious phenomenon. In general, people are not happy because their minds are always craving worldly comforts and luxuries. The mind becomes impure when it is involved with mundane things, and it becomes pure when it becomes desireless. The impure mind suffers, and the pure mind enjoys bliss. It is very difficult to give the mind to God if it is preoccupied with many worldly possessions. Gopaler-ma’s mind, however, was always God-centred. Just as the needle of the compass always points to the north, so also her mind was always directed towards God. Mercilessly she would drive away all distracting thoughts. Swami Ramakrishnananda related the following incident:

"One day, after Sri Ramakrishna had passed away, some of his disciples went to see her and found her room full of mosquitoes and other troublesome creatures. Although she did not appear to mind them and kept on repeating the Name of the Lord, it distressed them to see her in such discomfort, so the next day one of the disciples brought her a mosquito curtain. That night when she sat down to repeat the Name, she found her mind constantly wandering to the curtain, thinking whether a cockroach or a rat might not be eating off a corner of it. Seeing this she said: ‘What! This wretched curtain thus to take my mind away from my Gopala!’ And without ado she made it up into a bundle and sat down again to her devotions with the mosquitoes all about her.

The next morning we were just getting up at the Math when Gopaler-ma appeared. She had walked all the way (at least five miles) and must have started at three o’clock. She laid the bundle down.

‘What is it?’ someone asked.

‘It is the curtain you gave me yesterday. It takes my mind away from God. I don’t want it,’ was her answer; and nothing could persuade her to take it back.

One day in 1887 Gopaler-ma came to Balaram’s house in Calcutta. A number of devotees were also there who were aware of her high spiritual experiences, and they began to ask her some questions. She said to them: ‘Look, I am an old, illiterate woman. What do I know about the scriptures? Why don’t you ask Sharat, Yogin, and Tarak?’

But they persisted, so finally she said: ‘Wait, let me ask Gopala. O Gopala, I don’t understand what they are talking about. Why don’t you answer their questions? Hello, Gopala says this…’

In this way Gopaler-ma answered the abstruse questions of the devotees. They were amazed. That remarkable question and answer session ended abruptly, however, when Gopaler-ma suddenly said: ‘O Gopala, why are you going away? Will you not answer their questions anymore?’ but Gopala had left.

In 1897 Swami Vivekananda returned to India from his first visit to the West. Later he sent three of his Western disciples, Sister Nivedita, Mrs. Ole Bull, and Miss Josephine MacLeod, to Kamarhati to meet Gopaler-ma. She received them cordially and kissed them. As she had no other furniture in her room, they sat on her bed. She then served them some puffed rice and sweet coconut balls and shared some of her spiritual experiences with them. When they returned to Calcutta, Swami Vivekananda said: ‘Ah! This is the old India that you have seen, the India of prayers and tears, of vigils and fasts, that is passing away.’

Once two women devotees came to Swami Vivekananda at Balaram’s house requesting initiation, but he sent them to Gopaler-ma. She was reluctant, however, and said to Swamijee: ‘My son, what do I know about initiation? I am a poor widow.’

Swamijee replied with a smile: ‘Are you an ordinary person? You have attained perfection through japam. If you cannot give initiation then who can? Let me tell you, why don’t you give your own Ishtha mantram to them? It will serve their purpose. Moreover, what will you do with your mantram anymore?’

Gopaler-ma initiated the women but was unwilling to accept any gift or offering from them. When she was persuaded, she followed the custom and accepted two Rupees from them so that the disciples might not be hurt. She had no greed or desire for worldly objects. Her simple instruction was:

‘Listen, offer your body and mind to God. Initiation is not an insignificant thing. Do not leave your seat without repeating ten thousand japam in each sitting. While practising spiritual discipline disconnect yourself from the thoughts of the world. Start your japam at 3 o’clock in the morning so that no body is aware of it; and again practise in the evening.’

She had immense love for the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. When the news of Swami Vivekananda’s passing away reached Kamarhati, she was in her room. She cried out in pain, ‘Ah, Naren is gone?’ She felt dizzy, saw darkness all around and fell to the floor, fracturing her right elbow.

Gopaler-ma was then living there by herself, although the place was known for being haunted. During the time that the landlady lived there, a guard looked after the place, but since no one was there now to help her, Swami Saradananda appointed a gardener and sent a woman to take care of her broken arm. Seeing the attendant, Gopaler-ma said: ‘Why have you come here? You will have to face a lot of hardship. My Gopala takes care of me. Where will you sleep? You must find a room. They are all under lock and key, so you will have to ask the priest to open one for you. Let me tell you frankly at the outset that there are some evil spirits around. Whenever you hear any strange noise, repeat your mantram wholeheartedly.’

At night the attendant slept opposite Gopaler-ma’s room, and she heard the sound of heavy, hurried footsteps coming from the roof and a rapping noise through the window. It was quite a test for her.

Gopaler-ma had to face many such ordeals during her long stay in the garden house by herself. She never felt lonely, however, for her beloved Gopala was with her day and night. Moreover, she did not care for a companion because it might interfere with her visions. As she had very little body-consciousness, she was reluctant to take personal service from others. Independence is happiness and dependence is misery. She practised this Vedantic teaching in her life.

In 1903 Gopaler-ma became seriously ill. Swami Brahmananda then sent one of his young disciples to nurse her. The boy brought fruits and vegetables for her and slept in the corner of her room. He awoke very early in the morning, however, when he heard Gopaler-ma talking with someone: ‘Wait, wait! Even the birds have not yet sung. Let the morning come, my sweet darling, and I shall take you for a bath in the Ganga.’

Later the young disciple said: ‘No one else lives in your room. With whom were you talking this morning?’

‘Don’t you know that Gopala lives with me? I was trying to control his naughtiness,’ she replied.

As her health grew worse, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna arranged for her to be moved to Balaram’s house in Calcutta. But Sister Nivedita expressed a desire to serve this saintly woman, so Gopaler-ma was taken to her residence. A cook was appointed, and Kusum, one of Gopaler-ma’s disciples, attended to her personal needs. In return Gopaler-ma gave Nivedita maternal affection and support. Her presence in the house created an atmosphere of spiritual serenity.

‘I feel thrilled’, Nivedita wrote in a letter at that time, ‘when I am with Gopaler-ma. The words of Saint Elizabeth sound in my ears, "What is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should visit me?" For I believe that in Gopaler-ma is sainthood as great as that of a paramahansa – a soul fully free. I feel that if I can only worship her enough, blessings will descend on all whom I love, through her. Could more be said?’

To see God in everything is the culmination of Vedantic experience. Gopaler-ma had a pet cat in whom she used to see Gopala. One day it was lying peacefully on Nivedita’s lap when Kusum came and pushed it away. Immediately Gopaler-ma cried out: ‘What have you done? What have you done? Gopala is going away – he is gone.’

Those who carry the Lord in their hearts always enjoy festivity. They never get bored or pass a single dull moment. The body of Gopaler-ma was deteriorating day by day, but her mind was floating in bliss. When Holy Mother went to see her, Gopaler-ma sighed: ‘Gopala, you have come. Look, you have sat on my lap all these days; now you take me on your lap.’ Holy Mother took Gopaler-ma’s head on her lap and caressed her affectionately.

The end came on July 8, 1906. Gopaler-ma was carried to the Ganga, where she breathed her last at dawn, touching the holy water of the river. A monk bent over her and whispered in her ear the words that the Hindu loves to hear in his last hour: ‘Om Ganga Narayana! Om Ganga Narayana Brahma!’

Thus the curtain fell on the divine drama of Gopaler-ma. The monks went to her room and found her two most precious possessions, the rosary, which had passed through her fingers millions and millions of times, and a picture of Sri Ramakrishna, who had appeared before her as Gopala. Nivedita took the rosary, and the picture was sent to Belur Math, where it still rests on the altar of Holy Mother’s temple.

Once being asked for some advice from a disciple, Gopaler-ma said: ‘Ask advice from Gopala. He is within you. No one can give better advice than he. This is the truth. Cry with a longing heart and you will reach Him.’
The words emanated from Sri Ramakrishna's holy lips and kept carefully unalloyed by M. are translated word for word from Bengali to English.
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The Blessed Lord said:

Neither by study of the Vedas nor by penance, nor again by charity, nor even by ritual can I be seen in this form (with four arms) as you have seen Me.
The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11, verse 53
The Blessed Lord said:

Arjuna, he who performs all his duties for My sake, depends on Me, is devoted to Me; has no attachment, and free from malice towards all beings, reaches Me.
The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11, verse 55



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