GREATNESS is but another word for interpretation. We feel the very presence of some persons as if it were the translation of poems from a foreign tongue. Every profound truth waits for the life that shall be all its voice, and when that is found it comes within the reach of multitudes to whom it would have remained inaccessible.
But we cannot find truth in a word, unless it is illumined by our own experience. That statement which we have lived but have not spoken, even to ourselves, when uttered by another's lips, we hail as revelation. And that alone. What we have ourselves once said seems commonplace, and that which is too far above we do not understand.
So it happens that the interpreter, the poet, must be for ever telling to the world those things of which it has already won heart-knowledge. This is the sign that we demand always from the messenger--that he speak of a common memory. And to him who does this we listen gladly, believing that life will yet
bring the significance of those words of his that do not, for the nonce, explain themselves to us.
Highest of all the poets stands the saint. His task is not to take the brilliant patches of love, and sorrow and heroism, and fit them into jewelled settings for the admiration of the many. He takes the whole of life, all the grey, sombre stuff of which it is chiefly made, and the blackest and the brightest with this, and throws on the whole a new light, till even in the eyes of those who suffer it, life is made beautiful. The dramatist deals only with dramatic motives, but to him all is dramatic. The petty needs of childhood are no less related to the World-Heart than the passion by which Othello slays Desdemona.
But that new tune to which he sets the old song of living has to be caught in snatches from the people, a note here and a cadence there. The mother crooning her babe to rest, or wailing beside it in its last long sleep; the man panting for his adversary, or finding himself inadequate
to the protection of those he loves; the peasant guiding the plough with patient strength, the child-folk playing in the sunlight, all these have whispered him in the ear, and taught him the whole of their mystic lore.
It is not then the voice of the prophet, but the great heart of the vulgar, that brings a new religious intuition to the birth. All that violence and gesticulation that repel us, are but the dim experimental utterance of an impulse not yet fully conscious of itself.
It is when the idea has been elaborated in this way by the imagination and conscience of the myriads, that there arises a man who seems to embody it in his own person. And he is hailed as Master and Teacher by all, because he interprets their own lives, and speaks the words that already they were struggling to express. He is the crest of the wave, but all these are the wave itself.
Born thus of his nation's life, and speaking straight to its heart was
[paragraph continues] Ram Prasad, the great Bengali poet of the Motherhood of God. Not a century has passed since a crowd stood with him by the Ganges-side, listening to his recital of his own finest work. As he pronounced the last words the old man exclaimed, "It is achieved," and on the moment died. It was not death. It was translation. And the people feel that it happened yesterday.
He had begun life as a book-keeper, and no doubt tried, when he remembered them, to perform his duties faithfully. But when at the end of a week his employer called for his books, he found on the first page a sonnet beginning--"Mother! make me thine accountant. I shall never prove defaulter," and verses scribbled all over the accounts. One cry, "Mother! Mother!" rang through every line, and as the Hindu does not live who cannot understand a religious freak, his genius was recognised at once. A small pension was settled on him, and he was set free from wage earning for the rest of his life.
The result is a collection of folk-songs, full of the sentiment of Kali-worship, left to the memories of his people. Many it is to be feared, remain about the villages of Bengal, unrecorded to this day. But they are so integral a part of the life that there is good reason to trust that they will never be lost.
In after days, Ram Prasad became famous. Drifting down the Ganges one summer day, his little boat encountered the royal barge of Surajah Dowlah, the brilliant young governor of Bengal, and he was ordered to come on board and sing. The poet tuned his vina, and racked his brain for songs in the grand old classic style, fine enough to suit the presence. But the Mohammedan would have none of them--"Sing me your own songs--About the Mother!" he commanded graciously, and his subject was only too glad to obey.
No flattery could touch a nature so unapproachable in its simplicity. For in these writings we have perhaps alone in literature, the
spectacle of a great poet, whose genius is spent in realising; the emotions of a child. William Blake, in our own poetry, strikes the note that is nearest his, and Blake is by no means his peer.
Robert Burns in his splendid indifference to rank, and Whitman in his glorification of common things, have points of kinship with him. But to such a radiant white-heat of child-likeness, it would be impossible to find a perfect counterpart. His years do nothing to spoil this quality. They only serve to give him self-confidence and poise. Like a child he is now grave, now gay, sometimes petulant, sometimes despairing. But in the child all this is purposeless: in Ram Prasad there is a deep intensity of purpose. Every sentence he has uttered is designed to sing the glory of his Mother.
For all his simplicity, however, our author is not to be understood without an effort. Nor need this surprise us. It takes the whole history of Rome and Florence to
make the Divina Commedia comprehensible. In fact we can never understand any poet without some knowledge of the culture that produced him, and what is true of Dante may be expected to prove still more applicable to one who is removed from us by oceans and continents, as well as by the complex civilising centuries.
Indeed it may be questioned whether the apparent artlessness of Oriental expression is not always somewhat misleading. Into four lines of landscape, we are told, the Chino-Japanese can slip the whole theory of his national existence, without ever a European suspecting double purpose; and much the same is the case with the Hindu. A wealth of such associations goes for instance to the appreciation of the great line describing the mountain-forests against the snow,--"They make eternal sati on the body of Mahadev."
What is said of the Japanese artist is pre-eminently true of Ram Prasad, only it is in the broken toys
and April shower and sunshine of a child's moods that he hides the mysteries of the universe.
Apart from his passion of devotion to the Divine Motherhood, there is a whole conception of life in his mind which is unfamiliar to us. The East takes such an utterance as "the pure in heart shall see God" very literally. It places the ideal existence, not in salvation--or in the condition of being delivered from sinfulness--but in this very power of direct perception of the Divine.
It seems to the Asiatic mind that the body is an actual hindrance to cognition. It is not that meaning is conveyed by language, but that mind is drawn near to mind. In unskilled speech, words may serve only to conceal thought, but in the most skilled they cannot do more than suggest it. Nerves do not create suffering, for the joy and sorrow that we share in imagination can be far keener than our own. And so this convention, of sight--sound--touch--taste--smell, under
which we become aware of the not-myself, is merely a formula which deadens the Real for us till we are strong enough to bear it; and we must stay in the body, or return to it, till we have in some way mastered these conditions.
When limitation is broken, however, when every dim stratum and substratum of our being has become conscious, and the whole consciousness is gathered up into the single tremendous act of knowledge,--not the conventionalised, formulated awareness of the senses, but direct absolute knowledge,--what is it claimed that we perceive? That which came before as many, as seeing and hearing and the rest, is known now to be One, and that One--God.
And so it happens that the great goal of Eastern religion is known as Mukti or Nirvana, or Freedom. The man in whom this perception is perfected is liberated from conditions--he may subject himself to them at will, but he is not bound by them. He has left the sleep of
ignorance behind him, and is for ever awake. Says Ram Prasad:--
My sleep is broken. Shall I sleep any more?
Call it what you will--I am awake--
Hush! I have given back sleep unto Him whose it was.
Sleep have I put to sleep for ever.
The music has entered the instrument,
And of that mode I have learnt a song.
Ah! that music is playing ever before me,
For concentration is the great teacher thereof.
Prasad speaks--Understand, O Soul, these words of Wisdom."
But the great burden of his verses is the Mother. And in calling upon Her he becomes the ideal child. It is curious to reflect how a century and a half ago, almost a hundred years before the birth of childhood into European art, a great Indian singer and saint should have been deep in observation of the little ones--studying them, and
sharing every feeling, almost without knowing it himself.
Once, indeed, he seems to justify himself--
Tho’ the mother beat him,
The child cries 'Mother, O Mother!'
And clings still tighter to her garment.
True I cannot see Thee,
Yet am I not a lost child!
I still cry 'Mother, Mother!'
But indignant pride gives way to secret despair, mingled with an angry impatience. God must be dead--no living mother could so long resist a baby's cries. He will hold a funeral in effigy, and retire from the world for ever.
I am going to the banks of the Ganges,
To burn the grass image of my Mother,
And then I'll go and live in Benares."
When the question of his going
on pilgrimage, however, is seriously mooted, he makes a reply of wonderful beauty and profundity. Naughty as he is, he does not want to go, and is willing to support himself with reasons. Doubt leads to doubt and a frown culminates in a supreme defiance:--
The books say, man dying in Benares
I believe it. Siva has said it.
But the root of all is devotion
And freedom is her slave.
What good is there even in Nirvana?
Mixing water with water--!
See I do not care to become sugar,
I want to eat sugar!"
What a flash is in those last two lines The shrewd mother-wit of a peasant joins with the insight of a great poet, not only to express the finest of fine emotions--the joy of being the inferior, but to hint in the same words, at the secret of existence.
Quaint beyond quaintness is the
song of the kite-flying. To the child mind it is quite natural that its mother should play with its toys. All mothers do so. And now Kali becomes the playmate. Her toy is the Indian kite, of which the string is covered with powdered glass that it may cut through others. But the boy forgets his game, so completely is it She that fascinates him. He breaks away and looks on with grave joy at Her, while his lips involuntarily frame a song. It is the game of life, that is played before him; the kite released is the soul, gone to freedom; and still the Mother laughs and plays on, as if She knew not that all these were shadows:--
Again he is making a mystery out of nothing, playing hide and seek, as babies love to do.
"The name of Her whom I call my Mother, shall I tell that secret to the world?" he says (lit. "Shall I break the pot before the market?") "Even then who knows Her? Lo, the six philosophies were not able to find out Kali!"
That is almost the only simile in which he ceases to be a child, when he adjures himself to "Dive deep, O soul, taking the name of Kali!" into that ocean of beauty from which he is to bring up the lustrous pearl.
So much then for the art-form in which this worship of tender appeal has been enshrined. To the Hindu mind the poet's familiarity with his Mother makes him not only dear and great, but infinitely devout. It proves, as did the repartee of S. Theresa, that God is more real to him than the objects and persons that we see about us daily. Is it not true that a soul so close to the Divine might well have been that child who was taken on Christ's knee when He said:--"Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
It is not as the interpreter of man's love to God, but as the great Incarnation of the spirit of the Mother towards Her children, that we pass on and kneel at the feet of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Here is one who has but lately gone out from amongst us. Less than twenty years ago he was teaching in the Temple-Garden of Dukineshwar, near Calcutta. And so large loomed the Divine through him, that many of those who knew and loved him then, speak his name to this day with bated breath, calling him, "Our Lord."
For in the case of Ramakrishna, innumerable prayers and unheard-of austerities had culminated in a realisation so profound that there was scarcely a memory of selfhood left. The man who lived and moved before his disciples was a mere shell, that could not fail to act as the indwelling motherhood willed. He never used, it is said, the expression "I" and "mine," preferring "He who dwells here" (indicating His
own heart), or usually "My holy Mother."
That his original phyisque must have been extraordinary, we can infer, since it stood the strain under which his religious yearning hurried it, for fifty-three years. But far more wonderful was the complexity and many sidedness of character and of development, that made him feel the perplexities of every heart as if they were his own. His was, probably, the one really universal mind of modern times. Yet the whole was wrought to such a unity that the peace of it tills to this day the little chamber where he dwelt, and abides like a mighty presence under the great tree of meditation. That little room, how poor, even to meanness, it looked when I last saw it!
It was night, and a tiny lamp--a cup of oil with a floating wick--illumined the exquisite purity of bed-linen and the fresh flowers placed by faithful hands before the Master's picture. The lamp was lifted, and the long shadows seemed
to come down, from some dim upper abode, and prostrate themselves in worship. All was as he had used it, the lounge beside the bed, a huge water jar in one corner, a few religious pictures on the walls and nothing more. Outside the heavy rain of June fell steadily, and below the terrace the Ganges moaned and hastened on. I have seen it in other moods--seen it when the oleanders nodded and whispered to the roses on the terrace, when the great mango groves behind were full of blossoms, and the clang of the bells for evening worship broke the silence to make the place like a smile at time of prayer. And I have seen it in the terror of an Indian noon, full of coolness and flower fragrance. But never did it look so poor as that June night, and never was poverty made so beautiful.
Here great scholars and potentates have been proud to be received--"And they seemed," said one who was often present, "like children before our Lord!
He, at least knew nothing of the difference made by wealth and learning in the world. He dismissed the most important man of his district with a frown from his presence because he stood upon his riches and his name; he would leave companies of distinguished persons to themselves; and he would spend hours listening to the confidences of an anxious woman about her home, or in the instruction of some nameless lad. Yet his touch fell on none lightly. A great preacher, known to the West as to the East, changed his teaching when he knew him, in this new thought of the Motherhood of God. And many of the strongest men in India to-day, sat at his feet in their boy-hood. An unlettered peasant, from the Brahmins of the villages, scarcely able to read and write he seemed, yet if original thought and wide reading are enough, he was a profound scholar. For he had a remarkable ear and memory that made him retain the sounds of the Sanskrit perfectly, with the translation,
and as a vast quantity of literature was read and recited to him from time to time, he had acquired in this way an uncommonly large store.
In those years of which we are now speaking, the last twenty of his life, he was a great light, known as a saint throughout Bengal, the North-West Provinces and Nepal, and much visited, in the informal Eastern way. Men felt themselves in his presence to be dealing with forces that they could not gauge, drawing on wisdom which they were unable to fathom. As if he were great music, they touched there the state that mighty music hints at, and went away saner, sweeter, stronger to their daily tasks.
Yet all this time his real inner life was lived amongst that group of young men who had foresworn the common motives of existence, to call themselves his disciples. He was rarely without one or two in immediate attendance, and many were with him day and night for weeks and months together.
Some were mere boys, and it was fitting that laughter and frolic should make a large part of the life together. Their Master was never sad. A gentle gaiety seemed the very air he breathed, broken indeed by the constant trance of rapture, and by the wonderful inspiration of his mood afterwards. "When it is night to all beings, then is the man of self-control awake: when all beings are awake, then is the night of the man of knowledge," he would chant, waking them during the dark hours to come out and meditate in the starlight, while many a day was spent swinging on the elephant creeper that his own hands had planted, amidst laughter and picnicking in the garden. The stream of days flowed on, without apparent plan or purpose,--yet all unnoticed a few leading ideas were being insisted on; a story here and there was building up the knowledge of that tremendous struggle through which he had attained to peace; they were watching him deal with men and things: above all, they
were bathing in that Ocean of the Real to which his presence was a perpetual access.
And is not this the wisest of all teaching, to make sure of essentials, and leave the minds of the instructed to work out their own results, like the young plant growing up from seed? For we may be sure of one thing,--the order that is imposed upon us may become geometrical, but only the order that we create ourselves can become organic. It was the old Indian ideal of a university, to live in the forest with the Master and realise the meaning of culture in the touch of his personality.
These men to whom Ramakrishna Paramahamsa entrusted the mission and teaching of his "Divine Mother"--for he never dreamt of them as his own,--were chiefly graduates from the neighbouring colleges, many of them deeply tinged with the Western reaction which was the temper of that day. The distance between them and Christianity was shorter than would
now seem possible. They were touched by its evidence of purity and enthusiasm for humanity, and full of a very genuine love for the New Testament. Occidental influences had stirred them to ideas of patriotism otherwise foreign to the Hindu temperament. They were looking for great things from the adoption of a more European taste and style of living. Above all, they had conceived the idea that India was being ruined by idolatry, and that the one thing incumbent on them was to do what in them lay, to sweep away every image and relic of degraded superstition, and to work for her emancipation from caste, from the zenana system, and from whatever else had till now been considered her distinctive institutions.
Speaking broadly, many of the finest minds of the Indian universities of that time felt thus, and these young disciples of Ramakrishna were among their following.
Suddenly they found themselves face to face with this ascetic saint of
the old orthodox Hindu pattern. Gentle, without solemnity or affectation, full of humour, living in his garden almost nude, knowing little of the English save on hearsay, as a queer folk from overseas, the old man held them by a spell they could neither analyse nor break.
His perfect sincerity and gigantic purity made themselves felt even by youth, but against his intellect some made a desperate resistance. Long, long after, one of them said, "I was always looking for something that would prove him to be holy! It took me six years to understand that he was not holy, because he had become holiness itself!"
He was glad to hear all they could tell him of the Bible. Christianity was in the air in those days, and he had loved Christ and worshipped Him long before they came to him; but he bated no jot of his own devotion to Kali. "As sugar," he said, "is made into various figures of birds and beasts, so one sweet Mother Divine is worshipped in various climes and ages under
various name and forms. Different creeds are but different paths to reach the Supreme."
The ritual of Kali-worship is the only existing provision in India for animal sacrifice. This means something entirely different from the Jewish notion of propitiation. There is no idea whatever of making compensation for sin: the whole intention is to offer meat-food first to the Mother, for Her use and blessing. No meat is eaten by the orthodox Hindu without being consecrated in this way, whether he be otherwise a Kali-worshipper or not. But the Anglicised portion of the community, while consuming vastly more animal food than their conservative brethren, take great exception to these preliminaries, and have perhaps concentrated on this particular creed in consequence, all the horror with which idolatry as a whole inspires them. These were the associations of the disciples with Her whom their Master called his "Divine Mother."
But it was not Kali only: there
was not a symbol in India that he had not worshipped and did not love; not a worshipper, by whatever rite, whose special need he had not felt in his own nature, and borne till it was satisfied; not a prayer, or ecstasy, or vision that he did not reverence and understand, giving it its true place in a growing knowledge.
His was in fact the most perfect religious culture that the mind can conceive. The doctrine that "different creeds are but different paths to reach God," propounded in a general way, was not new in India. But taught as this man taught it, with his strong contention that it was the actual duty of men to follow their own faith, for the world gained by many-centredness; with his intense conviction "in whatsoever name or form you desire to know God, in that very name and form you will see Him;" with his assurance that rites and ceremonies contain religious experience, as the husk contains the germ; and above all, with that love that said
of every faith, "Bow down and adore where others kneel, for where so many have worshipped, the Lord will manifest Himself."--it was unique in the world's history.
To those who have learnt even a little of the authenticity of the religious consciousness, it is not difficult to see intellectually that creeds may bear to each other the relation of contemporary languages, all expressive of that one consciousness. But Ramakrishna in the garden of the Kali-temple, was a direct embodiment of the impulse to speak to each in his own language and tell him how to reach the goal. In this man's love there was no limitation anywhere. Let one be sincere, and neither race, nor history, nor stage of developement could cut him off. Each who came to him had his own place given to him, and kept it. His longing was for the salvation of every soul in a whole world. A universe from which one, most insignificant, was missing, could not have seemed perfect in his eyes.
Love such as this carries all hearts at last. Only such love deserves the name of God the Mother.
He was entirely abandoned to this great passion. There was nothing in him that remembered anything else. In the long years of self-discipline he had knelt to worship the very lowest, doing menial service for them with his own hands; in the last days of his life when he lay dying of cancer in the throat and speech was agony, he would insist on teaching all who came to him for help.
This was the secret that his disciples learnt by degrees. But on the outside, how free from display it was!
The old man sits chatting quietly with his boys. Now, with a twinkle of the eyes, he gives worldly advice to one--"Raise the hood (alluding to the cobra), but do not bite!" Again in a deeper moment, "There are thirty-six letter in the alphabet, and three of them, say 'suffer.'" (Bengali has three s’s, which are so pronounced).
Everything taught its lesson, even the folklore of the district, and the quaint superstitions of the un-educated. In Ramakrishna's eyes, doubtless, much of human learning was on a level at bottom with the legend of the philosopher's stone; but let a man see to it that he touched the feet of God, and what ever was his would become pure gold. Little incidents that occurred would all become the text of some remark, often of great profundity. Even a half-cooked vegetable would furnish a metaphor, it was like the aspirant who, falling short of perfection, is not yet all humility and tenderness. The bell, whose distinct strokes could be heard from the neighbouring temple die away into a long common vibration would remind him that God is both with form and without form too, and He is that which transcends form and formlessness.
There was wit too. All the saintliness in the world would not prevent a laugh at the man who was so indifferent to worldly interests
that he permitted his wife to limit his charities.
And then, even as he talked with them, something would stir him deeper. A great light would cone on his face, and he would pass, as they, awed, sat and watched, into the state of divine ecstasy, the inner vision of the Mother.
So, day by day, unutterable love and burning renunciation were woven into the texture of their lives, till one exclaimed, "It was not what he taught us, but that life that we lived with him! And that can never he told!"
At last came a summer night towards the time of full moon, when his disciples gathered round him, perceiving him to be passing into that beatitude from which there would be no return.
Even at that moment he rose suddenly to answer a thought in the mind of one. And then he left them, while one, whose music he had loved, chanted over him the name of God.
Later, in the dark, came a
woman, sitting at his feet crying softly, and calling him "Mother." It was that disciple who had been his wife.
During their after lives, when the boys had become men, and had begun to carry the message of their great Teacher far and near, they found that nothing he had given them was more precious than the story of his own early struggle and attainment. With the outer circumstances of his boyhood they were familiar, having mixed freely with his relatives and village neighbours, whenever these chose to visit Dukineshwar.
India is probably the one country in the world where a man can he awake to the meaning of his life from his infancy without having a whole growth of superstitions become heart of his heart at the same time. No doubt superstition is there, but it is possible for it to drop away imperceptibly as, to use Ramakrishna's own expression, the dried petals drop from the ripening fruit.
In this sense he seems to have been awake from the beginning. He had inherited the long-garnered knowledge of his race, that religion is no matter of belief but of experience. The worship of the Great God of Getting-on disgusted him; and he longed to attain the sweetness of Divine Union even in boyhood. With all this, he kept caste strictly, and without thought of personal comfort.
At twenty years of age, however, all these elements became absorbed in one supreme desire. Pressure of many circumstances had assigned to him the duty of acting as assistant priest in the Kali-temple at Dukineshwar. We must think how it would work on a strongly religious temperament to find itself set apart for the service of God. We must remember also that the utterances of Ram Prasad and many another devotee of Kali were part of the common language of the country. It was as if his chosen way were pointed out to him. It was only for him now to traverse it.
His duty was to swing lights and flowers before the image, in the beautiful arooti ceremony.
But his whole nature had gone down in passionate yearning for the Mother Herself. One question, "Is this real? Is this real?" rang eternally in his ears. And he could not perform even this simple task efficiently. Sometimes he would swing the lights all day, sometimes he would forget them altogether, lost in a maze of agonised supplication.
The tale went about that he was mad, and as, everywhere, people will try by a dose of this world to drive out the other, his relations decided that the distraction of a wedding would give him his only chance of a cure. It was in this way that he was married to a little girl who long afterwards carne to him and became one of the greatest of his disciples.
But a wedding-feast proved no mitigation of a struggle so tremendous, so overwhelmingly actual, and he had to be released from his stint
of work. No doubt he would have been dismissed also from the garden but that the owners of the temple had recognised his genius and protected him.
The associations of this new period cluster thick round a great banyan-tree, and a wooden hut that once stood near it. The tree stands in the wilder part of the garden, close to the river, in perfect seclusion. Five stems grow together, and round the entwined trunk is built a terraced seat of brickwork. At the north-western corner a great bough of the Bo species has grown down across the bench, and tradition says that this covers the exact spot in which realisation was achieved. Be this as it may, the place was the scene of continuous meditation and austerity for many years. Not that the asceticism seems to have been pre-meditated. It would appear rather to have been the inevitable result of something deeper. Ramakrishna did not forbid himself to sleep or eat, he was unable to do
either. He did not force himself to neglect his person, he entirely forgot it.
Driven on by his own nature, impelled from within by that irresistible necessity that had called him into being, without one rest or relaxation, for twelve long years at least, he persisted in that inner warfare. Then, at last, the goal was attained. The Mother revealed Herself. From that moment his personality was that of a little child, satisfied that he was in Her arms.
. . . . . .
He had discovered a great secret, when he would break a disposition, he would reduce it to a concrete instance, and battle with it there. It was so that he had night after night performed that act of cleansing that was to rid him of social pride.
Now as he came slowly back to life out of the rapture of Eternal Union, having perceived the whole of Nature as himself, he yet, with his quickened senses, saw many elements in human life for which he had not actually traced the path.
[paragraph continues] And so, one by one, he took these as questions on the simplest plane. Beginning with that worship of Krishna which is related to his own as the Catholic Church to the Protestant, he made himself in all ways one with it. He ate and dressed and talked like the lovers of Hari,--and he ended by identifying devotion to Krishna with the love of Kali. So it was with Mohammedanism, and so with Christianity. Amongst his race, the Musselman is abhorred, and the dead are regarded as unclean. Yet he lived in a Mohammedan burial-ground till his end was achieved. It was not he who did these things. It was that Great Love that he felt within and called his Mother. He was not humble, but he seemed to have forgotten that Ramakrishna had ever been.
Then came the strangest phase of all. He would realise God as a woman! It was the flowering point of a certain tender chivalry that had always marked him, and makes his life the true emancipation of Indian
women. His method, here and always, was the same,--to forget his own past and cause it to be forgotten. So he made every detail of their lives his own, and went to visit his wife in her village home, that he might find his friends entirely amongst her acquaintances and share every joy and sorrow of their hearts. Till at last he satisfied himself that the secret victory could also be attained in the straight path of womanhood.
And herein surely lies the gist of his life. As a mother's love justifies the existence of all her children, however unsympathetically they be judged by others, so he, the embodiment of the World-Mother, would take up whole areas of living and assert the place of each in the complete harmony of life.
And is it not a great doctrine,--that every man's cottage-door stands open on some high-road to the Infinite? Is it not immeasurably consoling, this cry of "No more idolatry! No more condemnation!" but to every man where he stands,
using the means that lies to his hand--"Fix thine heart upon the Lord thy God, and let thine eyes look right on!"
It was as a seal upon this teaching that whoever came to Ramakrishna afterwards went away with profound courage. For the Master put his finger always upon the core of strength, and even his limitations became as wings upon the feet to the man so touched.
So with social customs and public movements, he destroyed no institutions: he did everything to make men and women strong in them. His friendship was given unhesitatingly to the leaders of reforming sects, and as readily to the despised artists of the theatre, while at the same time he was worshipped by the orthodox.
And yet he appeared quite unconscious of what he did. He seemed to act on divine instinct, like a child, and like a child, to be always superbly right. He was content to live, and leave to others to explain. Long ago, in early
manhood, it had been no desire to become a teacher, but the longing to find the Real, that had driven him forth on the supreme quest. Now, it was because he would satisfy his unspeakable yearning over men and women that he tried, every path to find God. Had one been left untrodden, his own soul would have gone seeking still. He never became the director of any, for in after life, it is said, he could not even imagine himself a teacher. He scattered his knowledge broadcast, and each took what he would.
We learn in him that greatness, and harmony, and beauty are all results. Our concern is not with them, but with those more elemental matters of simplicity and sincerity and whole-hearted devotion that lie close to us.
He is a witness to the world that the old Indian wisdom was not in vain. It is of course true that in no other country could he have occurred. But it is not true that he expresses the mind of India alone, or even chiefly. For in him meet
the feeling and thought of all mankind, and he, Ramakrishna, the devotee of Kali, represents Humanity.