PagesHinduism & Quantum Physics
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Surendra Nath Mittra
There is a saying, Sin and mercury cannot be digested. They come to light either today or tomorrow. When a person does something wrong his conscience begins to bite him and a mist of shame covers his face. At that time it is extremely difficult to stop the momentum of his bad tendencies . He loses discrimination, self-esteem, and even his family members do not trust him. He slowly becomes isolated from others and leads a lonely life, himself a victim of his own evil actions. When compunction is aroused, he broods, laments, and cries in solitude. Some people, then, out of desperation, try to take their lives. Others go to a holy person and surrender themselves to him. Surendra Nath Mittra tried both.
Surendra seemed to be a typical young man of his day open minded, carefree, and indifferent to religion. He was handsome and well built. As a commercial agent of the Dost company, a large British firm in Calcutta, he had a well paying job. He was married but had no children. Most of his friends were of the bohemian type, and like them, he often got drunk and was promiscuous. At the same time, however, he was frank, outspoken, large hearted, and extremely generous. Surendra was born probably in 1850 and met Sri Ramakrishna when he was thirty.
Although Surendra was quite affluent, his licentious conduct was ruining his mental peace. He even thought of killing himself with poison. One day during this period, a Bhairavi (a Tantric nun) of imposing appearance accosted him in passing, saying, My son, God alone is true and everything else is false. These words touched Surendras heart and gave him strength to rouse himself from his hell of mental agony.
Ram Chandra Datta was a neighbour of Surendras, and he knew about his mental anguish. Ram had been visiting the Master at Dakshineshwar for some time, and, wanting to help Surendra, he asked him many times to accompany him. But Surendra always refused. He said: Look, it is very good that you respect him, but why should you take me there? I shall be a misfit there like a crane among swans. I have seen enough of that. [Note: Surendra was making a pun on the word Hamsa, which means either a swan or the soul. The word Param-hansa, means a sannyasin of a high order, or, sarcastically, a great swan].
Ram was hurt by this sarcastic remark about his guru, but he did not give up. After much persuasion Surendra finally said: 'All right, I shall go, but if that holy man of yours is a fake, I shall twist his ears. Such was the attitude with which Surendra approached Sri Ramakrishna.
It was probably in the middle of 1880 when Surendra first went to Dakshineshwar with Ram and Manomohan. That day the Masters room was full of devotees. Surendra was determined to preserve his critical attitude, so he sat down without showing any sign of respect to Sri Ramakrishna.
The Master was saying: Why does a man behave like a young monkey and not like a kitten? The monkey has to cling to its mother by its own efforts as she moves around. But the kitten just goes on mewing until its mother comes and picks it up by the scruff of its neck. The young monkey sometimes loses its hold on its mother; then it falls and is badly hurt. But the kitten is in no such danger, because the mother herself carries it from place to place. Thats the difference between trying to do something for yourself and giving yourself up to the will of God.
The Masters words made a deep impression on Surendra, and this meeting became a turning point in his life. I behave like a young monkey, he thought, and thats the cause of all my troubles. From now on I will be satisfied with any condition the Divine Mother puts me in. He then felt great relief and inner strength. When he was about to leave, the Master said to him, Be sure to come again. Surendra had by this time been humbled, and he willingly bowed down to the Master. On the way home he said to his companions: Ah, how he turned the tables on me! It was he who twisted my ears! How could I have dreamed that there could be such a man? He read my innermost thoughts. Now at last I feel that my life has some meaning.
From the very first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna, Surendra became extremely devoted to him and went to Dakshineshwar almost every Sunday. His friends were amazed to see the change in him and his yearning for God. But this did not mean that Surendra immediately gave up his old bad habits. He would still visit houses of ill fame from time to time, and then he would be so ashamed of himself that he would stay away from the master, pretending to be busy at work. When someone reported to the Master what Surendra had really been doing, Sri Ramakrishna did not seem to be at all worried or shocked. Oh yes, he said: Surendra still has some desires. Let him enjoy them for a while longer. He will become pure soon enough.
Surendra heard from a friend what the Master had said about him, and he was bold enough to return to Dakshineshwar the following Sunday. Since he was a little hesitant to sit in front of the Master, he took his seat in a corner of the room. Sri Ramakrishna affectionately called him: Why dont you come and sit near me? Why do you sit aloof, like a thief? Surendra obeyed. Then, in an ecstatic mood, the Master said: Well, when a man goes to a bad place, why doesnt he take the Divine Mother with him? She would protect him from many evil actions.
Surendra was probably the only one there who understood for whom the Master had made that remark. His conscience was stinging him like hornets. The Master continued: A little manliness is necessary for everyone. At this Surendra thought to himself: But that is my disease. Lord save me from it.
The Master suddenly turned to him and said: I do not mean that struggle for pleasure which only debases a man, and which lower animals have. I mean the manliness of a great hero like Arjuna- to be able to stick to an ideal to the last breath of ones life! Surendra was afraid that the Master might expose his faults before the group of devotees, but Sri Ramakrishna stopped there and said nothing further. This advice greatly helped Surendra to fight against his passions.
Surendra was very devoted to the Divine Mother Kali. He set up a shrine to her in his home and worshipped her with much love. One day the Master said to Surendra: The devotee of the Divine Mother attains dharma (righteousness) and moksha (liberation). He enjoys artha (wealth) and kama (fulfillment of desires) as well. Once I saw you in a vision as the child of the Divine Mother. You have both yoga and bhoga (enjoyment); otherwise your countenance would look dry.
Although Surendra had now diverted his energies to spiritual practices, he could not stop his drinking habit. Ramachandra did not like the idea that one of Sri Ramakrishnas devotees was a drunkard. He thought the Masters reputation would be tarnished if this became known. But whenever he tried to talk to Surendra about it, he was rebuffed. Surendra was a worshipper of shakti, so to him it was not a sin to drink liquor. One day he said to Ram: Why are you so bothered about it? The Master would certainly warn me if he thought that it was bad for me. He knows all about it.
Very well said Ram, then lets go and visit him today. He will surely tell you to give it up.
Surendra agreed to this, but he asked Ram not to bring up the subject. He said: 'If the Master refers to it of his own accord and tell me to stop, then I promise I will stop.
Both of them arrived at Dakshineshwar and found the master sitting under the Bakul tree in an exalted mood. As soon as they greeted the Master, he said to Surendra: Well, Suresh, why, when you are drinking wine, do you have to think of it as ordinary wine? Offer it first to Mother Kali and then drink it as her prasad. Only you must be careful not to get drunk. Dont let yourself stumble or your mind wander. At first you will feel only the kind of excitement you usually feel, but that will soon lead to spiritual joy. Both Ram and Surendra were astonished.
The Master never asked Surendra to give up drinking altogether, but thenceforth he could not drink at parties or whenever he felt like it. Following the Masters advice, he offered a little wine to the goddess every evening before drinking it himself. Curiously enough, this action filled him with devotion. After a while he began to cry plaintively like a child for the Divine Mother, and wanted to talk only of her. He would often become absorbed in deep meditation. Sri Ramakrishnas subtle spiritual influence gradually transformed Surendra, and the bad effects of wine could not harm him anymore.
What happens when God holds a person? First, his sensitive ego is crushed and he becomes humble; second, he does not enjoy irresistible attraction for God and holy company. It was obvious that the Master had taken responsibility for Surendra. He knew that Surendra was a gem covered with worldly mud. A little washing removed the mud, and he then took Surendra into his inner circle. The Master never scolded Surendra for his bad habits. By pouring out his love and affection on his disciple, he conquered his heart.
One day while Surendra was meditating in his shrine, an idea came to him. He decided to test Sri Ramakrishnas divinity. He thought if the Master would appear before him in the shrine, he would consider him to be an avatar. Strangely enough, Surendra clearly saw the Master three times in the shrine. All his doubts were dissolved.
Surendra had a very responsible position in his office, but from time to time he would feel an overwhelming desire to leave everything and go to the Master. One day he left his office to go to Dakshineshwar even though he had not finished his work. When he arrived he found that Sri Ramakrishna was preparing to go to Calcutta. Seeing Surendra, the Master said: It is good that you have come. I was anxious about you and was going to Calcutta to see you. Surendra was amazed and delighted to know that Sri Ramakrishna had been thinking about him. If you were going out to see me, then please come to my house. The Master agreed and went with Surendra to bless his house.
Surendras love for the Master grew deeper and deeper. The Master also loved Surendra dearly. Swami Saradananda wrote in Sri Ramakrishna, The Great Master: The Divine Mother showed him (the Master) that four suppliers of provisions for him had been sent to the world Surendra Nath Mittra, whom the Master called Surendra and sometimes Suresh, was, he said, a "half supplier" . And Surendra used to make arrangements for the food and bedding for those devotees who spent nights with the Master at Dakshineshwar to serve him.
There is a saying: If you have money, give in charity. If you dont, repeat your mantram. Sri Ramakrishna appreciated Surendras large hearted nature. On February 22, 1885, M. recorded the following conversation in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:
Master (to Surendra): Come here every now and then. Nagta used to say that the brass pot must be polished every day otherwise it gets stained. One should constantly live in the company of holy men.
The renunciation of "woman and gold" is for sannyasis (monks). It is not for you. Now and then you should go into solitude and call on God with a yearning heart. Your renunciation should be mental .
For you, as Chaitanya said, the disciplines to be practised are kindness to living beings, service to the devotees, and chanting the name of God.
Why do I say all this to you? You work in a merchants office. I say this to you because you have many duties to perform there.
You tell lies at the office. Then why do I eat the food you offer me? Because you give your money in charity, you give away more than you earn. "The seed of the melon is bigger than the fruit", as the saying goes.
I cannot eat anything offered by miserly people. Their wealth is squandered in these ways: first litigation; second, thieves and robbers; third, physicians; fourth, their wicked childrens extravagance. It is like that
The devotees listened with great attention to Sri Ramakrishnas words.
Surendra: I cannot meditate well. I repeat the Divine Mothers name now and then. Lying in bed, I repeat her name and fall asleep.
Master: That is enough. You remember her, dont you?
Surendra observed that some of Sri Ramakrishnas disciples were practising spiritual disciplines under his guidance at Dakshineshwar. Naturally the desire to do likewise came to him. After informing the Master about his plan, he came one day to Dakshineshwar with a bed and other personal things and spent a couple of nights there. This greatly upset his wife, however. She said to him, You may go anywhere you like during the daytime, but at night you must not leave home. Although Surendras wife prevented him from spending nights at Dakshineshwar, his mind was crying for God. His body was at home, but his mind was with the Master.
It is not easy to become the disciple of an Incarnation of God such Sri Ramakrishna. The way such great teachers discipline their followers is often difficult to understand. Sometimes it is through love, sometimes through indifference, and sometimes through harshness. The lives of these teachers are established in truth, and they preach the truth, which is God himself. Therefore they always insist that their disciples be steadfast in truth. Once Surendra told the Master about a pilgrimage he had just taken.
Surendra: We were there (at Vrindaban) during the holidays. Visitors were continually pestered for money. The priests and others asked for it continually. We told them that we were going to leave for Calcutta the next day, but we fled from Vrindaban that very night.
Master: What is that? Shame! You said you would leave the place the next day and ran away that very day. What a shame!
Surendra (Embarassed): Here and there we saw the babajis (Vaishnava holy men) in the woods practising spiritual discipline in solitude.
Master: Did you give them anything?
Surendra: No, sir.
Master: That was not proper of you. One should give something to monks and devotees. Those who have the means should help such persons when they meet them.
Surendra was rich, aristocratic, and extremely sensitive. M. described how one day in 1881 the Master crushed Surendras ego at his own home:
Surendra approached the Master with a garland and wanted to put it around his neck. But the master took it in his hand and threw it aside. Surendras pride was wounded and his eyes filled with tears. He went to the west porch and sat with Ram, Manomohan, and the others. In a voice choked with sadness he said: I am really angry. How can a poor Brahmin know the value of a thing like that? I spent a lot of money for that garland, and he refused to accept it. I was unable to control my anger and said that the other garlands were to be given away to the devotees. Now I realize it was all my fault. God cannot be bought with money; he cannot be possessed by a vain person. I have really been vain. Why should he accept my worship? I dont feel like living any more. Tears streamed down his cheeks and over his chest.
In the meantime Trailokya was singing inside the room. The Master began to dance in an ecstasy of joy. He put around his neck the garland that he had thrown aside; holding it with one hand, he swung it with the other as he danced and sang. Now Surendras joy was unbounded. The Master had accepted his offering. Surendra said to himself, God crushes ones pride, no doubt, but he is also the cherished treasure of the humble and lowly.
When the kirtan (devotional singing) was over, everyone sat around the Master and became engaged in pleasant conversation. Sri Ramakrishna said to Surendra, Wont you give me something to eat? Then he went into the inner apartments, where the ladies saluted him. After the meal Sri Ramakrishna left for Dakshineshwar.
On another occasion, on April 15, 1883, Surendra invited the Master and the devotees to attend a festival to the Divine Mother Annapurna in his home. The courtyard had been covered with a beautiful carpet, over which was spread a white linen sheet. Bolsters were placed here and there. The Master was asked to lean against one of them, but he pushed it away, since they were mostly used by rich, aristocratic people for comfort. Sri Ramakrishna practised what he taught. He said to the devotees: To lean against a bolster! You see, it is very difficult to give up vanity. You may discriminate, saying that the ego is nothing at all, but still it comes, nobody knows from where Perhaps you are frightened in a dream; you shake off sleep and are wide-awake, but still you feel your heart palpitating. Egotism is exactly like that. You may drive it away, but still it appears from somewhere. Then you look sullen and say: 'What! I have not been shown proper respect!
One day in January 1882, Kedar, one of Sri Ramakrishnas devotees, pointed to Surendra, Ram, and Manomohan and said to the Master: Sir, when you have graciously given shelter to these souls, why do you put them into more trials and tribulations? Please be merciful to them so that they may be saved forever.
The Master replied: What can I do? What power do I have? If the Mother wills, she can do so.
With total indifference he walked away and sat down in the Panchavati. It was evening. Surendra could not bear such indifference from his beloved Master. He went to Sri Ramakrishna and began to cry. He confessed all of his moral lapses and sought the Masters help. Sri Ramakrishna saw that these tears of repentance had washed away the impurities from Surendras mind. He blessed him, saying, May the blissful Mother make your life blissful.
Just as a fresh breeze clears away the stuffiness of a room, so also the presence of a holy person removes the worldly atmosphere from a house. It is a common custom in India to invite a holy person to ones home and feed him. Whenever Surendra had an opportunity he invited the Master to his home or to his garden house at Kankurgachi, which was right next to Rams. Surendras Calcutta home gradually became one of Sri Ramakrishnas parlours, where he would meet the calcutta devotees. Once the Master came there unexpectedly. Surendra was not at home then, and the cab fare had to be paid. He would have taken care of it if he had been there. The Master said to the devotees: Why dont you ask the ladies to pay the fare? They certainly know that their master visits us at Dakshineshwar. I am not a stranger to them. This guileless remark made the devotees laugh.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna records two visits made by Sri Ramakrishna to Surendras garden house one on December 26, 1883, and the other on June 15, 1884. On the first occasion he met a monk there and had some refreshments. On the second occasion Surendra arranged a festival and invited many people. It was a grand affair, and the Master went into deep samadhi (state of super-consciousness deep meditation) several times during the devotional singing. Surendra loved to give joy to others in this way. That day the Master said: "What a nice disposition he (Surendra) has now! He is very outspoken; he isnt afraid to speak the truth. He is unstinting in his liberality. No one that goes to him for help comes away empty handed".
An avatars words, actions, and behaviour are inscrutable to ordinary human beings, because they are divine. M. described what happened when the festival was over: After resting a little the Master was ready to leave for Dakshineshwar. He was thinking of Surendras welfare. He visited the different rooms, softly chanting the holy name of God. Suddenly he stood still and said: I didnt eat any luchi (fried bread) at mealtime. Bring me a little now. He ate only a crumb and said: There is much meaning in my asking for the luchi. If I should remember that I had not eaten any at Surendras house, then I should want to come back for it. This is the way the avatar plays with his devotees. Sometimes he is the magnet and the devotee is the needle and at other times the devotee is the magnet and he is the needle.
Surendra was one of the important householder disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Not only was he one of the Masters suppliers, but he also had many firsts to his credit. In 1881 Surendra inaugurated the birthday festival of Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar. The first two years he bore all the expenses himself, but from the third year other devotee shared them with him. It was through Surendra that Swami Vivekananda first met Sri Ramakrishna in November 1881 at Surendras Calcutta home. Again, it was Surendra who first took Vivekananda to Dakshineshwar.
Surendra also had the first oil painting of Sri Ramakrishna made. In it the Master is pointing out to Keshab Chandra Sen the harmony of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other religions. When Keshab saw the picture, he said: 'Blessed is the man who conceived the idea. Sri Ramakrishna also saw the painting and observed: Yes, it contains everything. This is the ideal of modern times.
On December 10, 1881, Surendra took the Master to the studio of the Bengal Photographers in Radhabazar, Calcutta, as Sri Ramakrishna had expressed an interest in the mechanics of photography. The photographer explained his art and showed him how glass covered with silver nitrate takes an image. Later the Master used this example to illustrate how one can retain the impression of God if ones mind is stained with devotion. While they were there, Surendra had the photographer take a picture of the Master. As Sri Ramakrishna was being photographed he went into samadhi. This studio portrait was the second of the three photographs taken of the Master while he was living.
Sri Ramakrishna had to move from Dakshineshwar to Shyampukur, Calcutta, in September 1885, for his cancer treatment. About that same time Surendra got permission from the Master to perform the worship of Mother Durga in his house, a celebration previously held every year but discontinued after some mishaps had occurred. His brothers were apprehensive and superstitious about holding the worship, but Surendra was determined to carry it out anyway by himself. His only regret was that the Master could not come because of his illness. At the time of the Sandhi Puja (an auspicious period between the second and third days of the worship), the Master entered into deep samadhi in his room in the presence of his disciples and Dr. Sarkar.
About a half an hour later he returned to outer consciousness and said: I saw a luminous path open up between here and Surendras house. Through Surendras devotion the Mother was manifest in the image there and her third eye was emitting a divine light. The usual series of lamps were burning before her, and Surendra, sitting in the courtyard, was weeping piteously and calling, "Mother, Mother". All of you go to his house now. He will feel much comforted to see you. Accordingly, Swami Vivekananda and other devotees went to Surendras house and were amazed to find that the Masters vision had corresponded to the external events in every detail.
Gradually Sri Ramakrishnas condition grew worse, so the doctors advised the devotees to move him out of the city, since the polluted air of Calcutta was harming him. A garden house was found in Cosssipore, but the rent was eighty rupees a month, a large amount in those days. When Sri Ramakrishna heard this he called Surendra to him and said: Look, Surendra, these devotees are mostly poor clerks and have large families to maintain. How can they pay the high rent of the garden? Please bear the whole of it yourself. Surendra gladly agreed. Moreover, he contributed for other expenses as well, and now and then bought things, such as straw screens for the windows of the Masters room to reduce the sun and heat coming in.
Surendra was now a wholly changed person. M. several times described his devotion and divine intoxication. On April 13, 1886, the first day of the Bengali year, M. wrote:
It was eight oclock in the evening. Sri Ramakrishna sat on his bed. A few devotees sat on the floor in front of him. Surendra arrived from his office. He carried in his hands four oranges and two garlands of flowers. Now he looked at the Master and now at the devotees. He unburdened his heart to Sri Ramakrishna.
Surendra (looking at M. and the others): I have come after finishing my office work. I thought, "What is the good of standing on two boats at the same time?" So I finished my duties first and then came here. Today is the first day of the year; it is also Tuesday, an auspicious day to worship the Divine Mother. But I didnt go to Kalighat. I said to myself, "It will be enough if I see him who is Kali herself, and who has rightly understood Kali".
Sri Ramakrishna smiled.
Surendra: 'It is said that a man should bring fruit and flowers when visiting his guru or a holy man. So I have brought these (to the Master) I am spending all this money for you. God alone knows my heart. Some people feel grieved to give away a penny, and there are people who spend a thousand rupees without feeling any hesitation. God sees the inner love of a devotee and accepts his offering.
Sri Ramakrishna said to Surendra, by a nod, that he was right.
Surendra: I couldnt come here yesterday. It was the last day of the year. But I decorated your picture with flowers.
Sri Ramakrishna said to M. by a sign: Ah, what devotion!
On April 17, 1886, M. wrote:
It was about nine oclock in the evening. Surendra and a few other devotees entered Sri Ramakrishnas room and offered him garlands of flowers.
Sri Ramakrishna put Surendras garland on his own neck. All sat quietly. Suddenly the Master made a sign to Surendra to come near him. When the disciple came near the bed, Sri Ramakrishna took the garland from his neck and put it around Surendra's neck. Surendra saluted the Master. Sri Ramakrishna asked him, by a sign, to rub his feet. Surendra gave them a gentle massage.
Several devotees were sitting on the bank of the reservoir in the garden singing to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. The music was over. Surendra was almost in an ecstatic mood.
Sri Ramakrishna passed away on August 16, 1886, at the Cossipore garden house. Some of his young disciples had to return to their homes against their wishes, while others had no place to go. They were like orphans. One evening, early in September, while Surendra was meditating in his shrine, Sri Ramakrishna appeared to him and said: "What are you doing here? My boys are roaming about without a place to live. Attend to that before anything else". Immediately Surendra rushed to Swami Vivekanandas house and said to some of the disciples: "Brothers, where will you go? Let us rent a house. You will live there and make it our Masters shrine; and we householders shall come there for consolation. How can we pass all our days and nights with our wives and children in the world? I used to spend a sum of money for the Master at Cossipore. I shall gladly give it now for your expenses".
Accordingly a house was rented at Baranagore, near the Ganga, at eleven Rupees a month. Surendra paid the rent and provided food and other necessities for the monastic disciples of the Master. M. mentioned in the Gospel: Surendra was indeed a blessed soul. It was he who laid the foundation of the great Order later associated with Sri Ramakrishnas name. His devotion and sacrifice made it possible for those earnest souls to renounce the world for the realisation of God.
Surendra did not live long, however. He died of dropsy on May 25, 1890, at the age of
forty. When he was seriously ill, Swami Adbhutananda went to see him. Surendra at that
time offered them five hundred rupees to build a shrine for the Master, but Swami
Ramakrishnananda told him: Wait, until your health is better. Later we shall talk
about it. But Surendra never recovered. Before his death, though, he set aside one
thousand rupees to be used for purchasing land near the Ganga for a monastery dedicated to
the Master. Because of the great love the monastic disciples had for Surendra, they
decided to keep this money for something special. When Belur Math was built, this money
was used to purchase the marble flooring for the original shrine room where Sri
Ramakrishna was installed to do good to humanity.