‘My Mother! Who is My Mother?’ — Sri Ramakrishna and His ‘Mother’

— Swami Vireshananda —

Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual endeavour was centred on ‘Mother’—the Divine Mother, whom he considered to be ‘all in all’ in his life. It is the Mother, who operated (Yantri) the machine (Yantra) named Sri Ramakrishna. His personality had two dimensions—one is ‘himself’ and another is ‘his Mother’. The Mother is the essence of his being, his mind and heart being completely immersed in Her. He had no other desire other than acting according to Mother’s will; he had no goal in his life other than what was shown to him by the Mother.

Mother is Consciousness

In his first vision in Kali temple, Divine Mother revealed to Sri Ramakrishna that it was She who had become everything and that ‘everything’ is full of consciousness. ‘The image was Consciousness, the water was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water vessels were Consciousness, the doorsill was Consciousness, the marble floor was Consciousness—all was Consciousness.’[1] Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi, which extolls the glory of the Divine Mother, also says:

चितिरूपेण या कृत्स्नमेतद् व्याप्य स्थिता जगत् ।

नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः॥

Salutations again and again to Her who, pervading the entire world, abides in the form of consciousness.[2]

That Consciousness is Sat-Chit-Ānanda, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss. Sri Ramakrishna found everything in the room soaked in the bliss of that Reality. It dawned to him that it is the Divine Mother, whom he was now experiencing as the bliss of pure Consciousness. This is significant both mystically as well as philosophically. It is this extraordinary phenomenon that inspired the Master to declare the truth: That which is Shyāmā is also Brahman; Brahman is Shakti and Shakti is Brahman.

One should also take notice of the fact that the Master experienced supreme unalloyed bliss in that state. It is in consonance with the Upanishadic statement: ‘Ānandam brahmaṇo vidvān, na bibheti kutaścaneti; (the enlightened man) is not afraid of anything after realising the Bliss of Brahman.’[3]

Mother is Everything

The Divine Mother, whom Sri Ramakrishna realised in the form of consciousness, was not restricted to any place or time. He says: ‘I clearly perceived that the Divine Mother Herself had become everything—even the cat.’[4] He visualised the power of the Divine Mother vibrating even in a wicked man who was standing in front of the Kali Temple. The Chandogya Upanishad explains this immanent nature of Reality in glowing terms: ‘Sarvam khalvidam brahma tajjalāniti śānta upāsīta; all this is Brahman; (this world) is born from, dissolves in, and exists in That. Therefore, one should meditate by becoming calm.’[5]

Once, Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘The Mother reveals to me that She Herself has become everything. One day I was coming from the pine-grove toward the Panchavati. A dog followed me. I stood still for a while near the Panchavati. The thought came to my mind that the Mother might say something to me through that dog.’[6]

Sri Ramakrishna also realised that the whole world is but a manifestation of the Divine Mother. He would say: ‘It is the Divine Mother who exists in the form of the universe and pervades everything as Consciousness.’[7] It is a clear testimony of the instruction in the Ishavasya Upanishad: ‘Īśā vāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yatkiñca jagatyāṁ jagat; all this—whatsoever moves on the earth—should be covered by the Lord.’[8] We find a similar idea in Devi Mahatmyam also:

आधारभूता जगतस्त्वमेका

        महीस्वरूपेण यतः स्थितासि ।

अपां स्वरूपस्थितया त्वयैत-

        दाप्यायते कृत्स्नमलङ्घ्यवीर्ये ॥

You are the sole substratum of the world, because you subsist in the form of the earth. By you, who exist in the shape of water, all this (universe) is gratified, O Devi of inviolable valour![9]

Mother is Ādyāshakti, the Primordial Energy

Sri Ramakrishna’s first vision at Kali temple impelled him to come out with a philosophical proclamation which he expressed in his conversations with devotees on several occasions in various forms. The first part of that is the idea that the Divine Mother is the Ādyāshakti, the Primal Energy of the entire universe. The second part is the idea that He who is Brahman is also the Ādyāshakti. In other words, Reality has two dimensions: it is static in the form of pure consciousness and dynamic in the form of primal energy. The word Brahman indicates the first aspect, while Ādyāshakti indicates the second aspect.

According to the Master, Reality can be categorised into male and female principles also. If one is aware of the male principle, one cannot ignore the female principle. Sri Ramakrishna gives the rationale behind this in his characteristic style: ‘He who is aware of the father must also think of the Mother. He who knows darkness also knows light. He who knows night also knows the day. He who knows happiness also knows misery. You understand this, don’t you?’[10]

Sri Ramakrishna further explains that when inactive, the Reality is called Brahman, the Purusha. It is called Shakti or Prakriti when engaged in creation, preservation, and destruction. ‘He who is Purusha is also Prakriti. Both are embodiments of Bliss.’[11] The Master also tells us that he would like to address Shakti as the Mother. He questions himself: ‘My Mother! Who is my Mother?[12] He answers that She is the Mother of the Universe, who creates and preserves the world, who always protects Her children, and who grants whatever they desire: dharma, artha, kāma, and moksha.

We find the same idea expressed in a beautiful form in the Devi Mahatmyam:

त्वं वैष्णवीशक्तिरनन्तवीर्या

विश्वस्य बीजं परमासि माया ।

You are the power of Vishnu and have endless valour. You are the primaeval Maya, which is the source of the universe.[13]

Sri Shankaracharya also corroborates Sri Rama­krishna’s view in his Saundarya Lahari hymn:

शिवः शक्त्या युक्तो यदि भवति शक्तः प्रभवितुं

न चेदेवं देवो न खलु कुशलः स्पन्दितुमपि ।

United with Shakti, Shiva is endowed with the power to create the universe. Otherwise, He is incapable even of movement.[14]

The Shakti, the primal energy is the root of the universe. It has two aspects: Vidyā and Avidyā. It is Avidyā which deludes and conjures up the desire for lust and gold. Vidyā begets devotion, kindness, wisdom, and love, which leads to God.

Sri Ramakrishna’s explanation of the Divine Mother Kali is also interesting. The Reality which is called Brahman has another name: Kāla, Time. All things come into being and disappear in Time. ‘That which sports with Kāla is called Kāli. She is the Primal Energy. Kāla and Kāli, Brahman and Shakti, are indivisible.’[15] Sri Ramakrishna explains this abstract idea allegorically. He raises the question: ‘Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion?’[16] She appears black only because she is viewed from a distance. But when intimately known, she is no longer so. Sri Ramakrishna gives an example to this effect. The sky appears blue from a distance. But when we look at it close by, we will find that it has no colour.

After speaking thus about the Divine Mother Kali, the Master, intoxicated with divine love, burst into a song composed by Kamalakanta, a poet-saint of Bengal:

Is Kali, my Mother, really black?

The Naked One, of blackest hue,

Lights the Lotus of the Heart.[17]

The Master gives several beautiful illustrations to prove the point that Brahman and Shakti are the same. Sri Krishna and Radha are not different. This is the meaning of conjoined images of Radha and Krishna. To denote this union, Sri Krishna wears a pearl in His nose while Radha wears a blue stone in Hers. Radha is bright as the pearl being fair in colour while Sri Krishna is blue which is the colour of Radha’s stone. In another place, Sri Ramakrishna gives the example of images of Shiva and Kali. Kali stands on the bosom of Shiva; Shiva lies on the ground like a corpse. He also gives the illustration of fire, sun, and milk. We cannot think of fire without its power to burn, nor can we think of the power to burn without fire. Similarly, one cannot conceive the sun’s rays without the sun, nor can one conceive of the sun without its rays. In the same way, one cannot think of milk without the whiteness, nor can one think of the whiteness without the milk.

Divine Play of the Mother

Sri Ramakrishna also asserts that even if one deliberates with reason all through one’s life, one cannot go beyond the jurisdiction of Shakti, unless one is established in samadhi, where one realises that Brahman alone is the Reality, and all else is unreal. At that time, it dawns on one that even the Shakti is unsubstantial, like a dream. Everything is happening in the dominion of Shakti. Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘Even when you say, “I am meditating”, or “I am contemplating”, still you are moving in the realm of Shakti, within Its power.’[18]

The Mother plays in different ways. Accordingly, she is mentioned as Mahā-Kāli, Nitya-Kāli, Shmashāna-Kāli, Rakshā-Kāli, and Shyāmā-Kāli in the Tantras. Who is Mahā-Kāli? Sri Ramakrishna elucidates: ‘When there was neither creation, nor the sun, the moon, the planets and the earth, and when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the formless one, Mahā-Kāli was one with Mahā-Kāla, the absolute.’[19] Shyāmā-Kāli is the tender aspect of the Divine Mother worshipped in the households. She dispenses boons and is the dispeller of fear. Rakshā-Kāli is the protector, in whom the people take refuge in times of epidemic, famine, earthquake, drought, and flood. Shmashāna-Kāli is the embodiment of the power of destruction. She is supposed to reside in the cremation ground. She represents the terrible aspect of the Divine Mother.

Sri Ramakrishna says that it is Divine Mother, who garners the seeds for the next creation after the completion of a great cycle (kalpa). He gives an interesting illustration towards it. The elderly mistress of the house keeps different articles for the household like sea-foam, blue pills, small bundles of seeds of cucumber, pumpkin, gourd, and so on for future use in a hotchpotch pot. In the same way, the Divine Mother, who is the embodiment of Brahman, gathers seeds for the next creation.

After the creation, the Divine Mother dwells in the universe itself in the form of primal power (Shakti). It is She who brings out the phenomenal world. Also, She pervades in and through Her creation. Sri Ramakrishna, in this context, cites the well-known illustration from the Mundaka Upanishad, which says: ‘Yathorṇanābhiḥ sṛjate gṛhṇate ca; as a spider spreads out and withdraws (its thread).’[20] The Master explains that the spider brings the web out of itself and then remains in it. In the same way, Divine Mother is both the container of the universe and also what is contained in it. The Devi Mahatmyam says in this context:

सृष्टिस्थितिविनाशानां शक्तिभूते सनातनि ।

गुणाश्रये गुणमये नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ॥

Salutation to you, O Narayani, you have the power of creation, sustentation, and destruction, and are eternal. You are the substratum and the embodiment of three Gunas.[21]

What are bondage and liberation? According to Sri Ramakrishna, both are Her making. It is Her bewitching Maya, which makes worldly people entangled with lust and gold. And again, it is through Her grace, they attain liberation. She is called the saviour, as she removes the bondage that binds one to this world.

What is the play of Mother? She is creating, preserving, and destroying in play, as it were. This power is called Kali. The Divine Mother is always playful and sportive. The whole universe is but Her play. She is self-willed and full of bliss. Sri Ramakrishna says that God created the world in play, as it were, and this is called Mahāmāyā, the Great illusion. It is the Divine Mother, who is none other than the cosmic power itself, who has bound us with the shackles of illusion.

Divine Mother as Non-Dual Reality

Sri Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences and his utterances on the Divine Mother prove the fact that the Master always regarded Divine Mother as Brahmamayi—the non-dual Reality. She represents the phenomenal as well as the absolute aspect of Reality. Hence there is no room for duality at all. Through this, Sri Ramakrishna not only upholds the mystical insights of great poet-saints of Bengal like Ramprasad and Kamalakanta but also substantiates the theological and philosophical teachings of scriptures like Upanishads and Chandi or Devi Mahatmyam. This all-embracing integral idea of the Master not only accommodates but also validates divergent views on the Divine Mother in different philosophical systems like Vedanta and Tantra.

In his pursuit of the true nature of the Divine Mother, Sri Ramakrishna followed the ancient Vedic method of elevating every manifestation of divinity to the highest pedestal of all-pervading ultimate Reality. In this way, the Master brought into life the age-old Vedic tradition of recognising and worshipping divinity in all forms of existence, whether it is living or non-living. In this sense, Sri Ramakrishna is the true progeny of Sanātana Dharma, the eternal Vedic religion.

Sri Ramakrishna worshipped Divine Mother transforming the holy image (mrinmayi) in Dakshineshwar temple into one brimming with pure consciousness (chinmayi). Is it not amazing that the Divine Mother revealed Herself to him in the form of blissful Consciousness itself in his first vision? Afterwards, Divine Mother became the guiding light of Sri Ramakrishna’s entire life, which constituted his superhuman efforts to realise God in various aspects and his spiritual mission to broadcast his ennobling ideas to all earnest spiritual seekers. This wonderful spiritual journey culminated in the true understanding that the Divine Mother is genuinely of the nature of ultimate Reality called Brahman (Brahmamayi).

It is factual in every sense that all of Sri Ramakrishna’s extraordinary accomplishments are but doings of the inscrutable power of the Divine Mother. It is the Mother of the universe, who fulfilled Her objectives through the humble person of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Sri Ramakrishna himself is one of the splendid manifestations of the Divine Mother. The grandest truth we derive from studying the Master’s life is that ‘He’ and ‘His Mother’ are truly one and the same!


[1] M., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2004), 345.

[2] Devi Mahatmyam, 5.78–80.

[3] Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.8.5.

[4] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, 346.

[5] Chandogya Upanishad, 3.14.1.

[6] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, 293.

[7] Ibid., 382.

[8] Isha Upanishad, 1.

[9] Devi Mahatmyam, 11.4.

[10] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, 321.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Devi Mahatmyam,11.5.

[14] Saundarya Lahari, 1.

[15] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, 585.

[16] Ibid., 135.

[17] Ibid., 136.

[18] Ibid., 134.

[19] Ibid., 135.

[20] Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.7.

[21] Devi Mahatmyam, 11.11.

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