Bhagavadgita is the repository of spiritual, ethical and social values that enrich the life of a person. They make one’s life meaningful and fruitful and enable one to spiritually evolve, leading to the ultimate beatitude called Moksha or Liberation which is considered to be the ultimate goal of every human being in the Indian tradition. Sri Krishna, apart from giving a detailed enumeration of these perennial values, has given illustrations of how these ideals are manifested in a perfect soul called by different names such as sthitaprajña, (the person of steady wisdom in 2nd chapter), bhakta (an ideal devotee in 12th chapter), jñani (the person who has attained ultimate knowledge in 13th chapter) and triguṇātīta (one who has transcended sattva, rajas and tamas, the constituents of prakriti, the inert Nature in 14th chapter) in the Bhagavadgita.
Every spiritual aspirant, who studies the Gita and is striving to put its life-giving principles into practice, dreams of manifesting them in his or her life. To make this happen, one needs a living illustration of a great spiritual personage whose life has literally become the embodiment of the universal values Gita teaches. We find several such great personalities in Indian history and derive inspiration from them to emulate them in adopting the wonderful spiritual virtues Bhagavadgita teaches.
However, the life of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, stands apart in the galaxy of such spiritual stalwarts manifesting the Gita ideals. She was a village woman, having no formal education at all. She lived the simple unassuming life of a householder, burdening herself with various mundane responsibilities. Yet, living in this ordinary external setting, she exhibited such extraordinary divine traits that made her one of the great exemplars in the spiritual realm. Hence, it is not at all surprising that she also manifests in her personality all of the lofty ideals the Bhagavadgita upholds in its sublime teachings.
‘To be happy with whatever comes in life’ is one of the virtues extolled in the Gita. ‘Whatever comes in life’ may correspond to material objects, pleasures and comforts, different social and family circumstances, natural happenings, different works that we may have to do or various types of personalities we come across in our life. In most of the cases, the above would not come up to our expectations. This is one of the major causes of our unhappiness in life. We should learn to accept whatever we come across in life with equanimity of mind. This is the only way to live in this world joyfully.
Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, was the embodiment of this great virtue. The first requisite for such a mature and balanced behaviour is the peaceful mind purified by constant repetition of the name of God and incessant meditation on God. The Holy Mother had that inner abundance of tranquillity that was reflected in her reaction to every circumstance she had to face in her life and also her response to every person she had to interact with. Sri Sarada Devi was a treasure house of spirituality and so, it was natural for her to exhibit this wonderful quality in her life.
Holy Mother, though living very near to the Master’s room in Dakshineshwar, had the occasion to see him only once in day when she would carry food to him. Once she could not meet Sri Ramakrishna for nearly two months. Holy Mother was not perturbed by this. It is said that she would tell her mind: ‘O Mind! What virtuous deed have you done to get the privilege of seeing the Master every day!’ The Mother lived in such a small room in Nahabat, opposite Sri Ramakrishna’s room, that a person could hardly squeeze inside it. The Mother lived in that room for more than fourteen years without complaining even once. It was not only her living room, but also the kitchen, where she would prepare food for Sri Ramakrishna and sometimes for the disciples who visited him. In the night, Mother would sleep in that very room. All these inconveniences never troubled her mind even for a moment. She was always ready to serve the Master in every way. This is one of the authentic illustrations of the Gita ideal yadṛichchhā-lābha-santuṣhṭo; to remain happy with whatever comes in life.
Yogaḥ Karmasu Kauśalam2
One of the well-known verses in the Gita says that Yoga is the art of doing every work skillfully (Gita, 2.50). Sri Shankaracharya explains that a person who has an evenness of mind casts off both puṇya (merit) and pāpa (demerit) through mental purity and knowledge. Such a person performs all one’s actions keeping the mind equanimous in both success and failure. This is termed Yoga in this context.
In the life of Sri Sarada Devi, we find this ideal manifested in its true sense. It is astonishing to observe the daily routine of the Holy Mother, who would manage a number of tasks in a tranquil manner, unaffected by the external circumstances. She had been trained in this manner from her younger days itself by none other than Sri Ramakrishna. Hence it had become natural for her to transform everything she did into Yoga.
Apart from that, the Holy Mother had surrendered her heart and soul to Sri Ramakrishna. Whatever she would engage in was but the worship of Sri Ramakrishna, which she would dedicate to him in all earnestness. Once Swami Parameshwarananda requested Mother to allow him to go for austerity on the pretext that it was not good for a monk to be in the midst of multitude of works. Mother reminded him that whatever work a monk is engaged in is but service to Sri Ramakrishna and hence, is a part of one’s sadhana or spiritual practice. She also instructed Swami Shantananda in Varanasi to continue with the spiritual practices while doing service to the Master.
Sri Sarada Devi is the embodiment of another Gita ideal, that is, to be free of attachment, fear and anger. This she could achieve successfully due to her complete spiritual identification with Sri Ramakrishna (Ramakrishna gata prāṇā), enunciated in the Gita as madbhāvamāgatāh (Ibid.), one who is completely identified with God. This is the primary cause of Mother becoming free from propensities like attachment, fear and anger, that normal people are afflicted with.
Vīta-rāga: Complete detachment is one special trait we find throughout Holy Mother’s life. We find all the characteristics of ‘sthitaprajña’ (person of steady mind) in her personality. She lived the life of a nun even while engaged in all kinds of household chores. Sri Krishna says: ‘askta buddhih sarvatra⁴; one has to maintain a detached state of mind in all circumstances’. This state of mind in which there will be no rāga or attachment is termed vairāgya, dispassion, in Indian tradition.
Even as a child, Sarada was busy from morning to evening with various household chores. Also, she would look after her younger siblings. However, what is remarkable in Sarada Devi is the total nonexistence of restlessness generally found in young children. It is the attachment and aversion that give rise to agitation in one’s mind. Holy Mother was completely free from such impatience of mind even from her childhood.
It is Sri Ramakrishna who ignited dispassion in young Sarada’s mind. His spiritual training transformed her into an embodiment of dispassion towards worldly life. Lakshmi Didi, a relative of the Sri Ramakrishna says in this context that Thakur [Sri Ramakrishna] would explain the impermanency of ordinary household life to the Holy Mother and insist that dispassion and love of God are the only essence in one’s life.
Holy Mother’s dispassion was tested to its utmost level when she lived with the families of her brothers in Jayarambati. She would freely blend with all the members of her family and actively respond in times of grief and happiness. However, she lived in an entirely heavenly world altogether. She would often tell her disciples that it is the desire that is the cause of all troubles. ‘How one can have bondage if one does not have desire? I am in the midst of all these things. However, I am not attached to them in the least; not even a little bit.’
Holy Mother was said to be very much attached to Radharani, her niece. However, her biographers identify this so-called ‘bondage’ to be an instrument Mother used to come down to the normal plane from her natural state of transcendence into the divine realm so that she could continue with her spiritual ministry uninterruptedly. This is very much evident in the last days of the Holy Mother when she despised the company of the Radharani. Every attempt by the close circle of disciples and devotees of the Holy Mother to draw her mind towards Radhu failed, as she had totally dissociated her mind from Radhu.
Vīta-bhaya: Sri Sarada Devi is the personification of Divine power (Shakti). In her life, she acted in all circumstances with fearlessness, indomitable courage, and confidence. Even when she was young, she had to hear caustic comments from the villagers that she was the wife of a madman. The young Sarada was not perturbed by these silly remarks and retained her courage even in this moment of crisis. Another instance we find is when she was on her way to Dakshnineshwar on foot, she encountered a dacoit and his wife who were by nature cruel. The fearless Sarada addressed them as father and mother, and her sincere emotions from the heart melted the couple’s hearts, leading them to genuinely consider themselves her father and mother. Also, we find an astonishing incident that happened in Kamarpukur in which a mad devotee called Harish troubled her and the soft and shy-natured Sarada Devi showed him her real nature as Kali, the terrible. It shows that the Holy Mother’s natural bashful mood was only her exterior covering to become an illustration for humanity. She was, intrinsically, the incarnation of Supreme Goddess, the substratum of the entire universal power.
Vīta-krodha: The Bhagavadgita gives a psychological explanation of how anger is ignited in a person. It is the desires that are obstructed and unfulfilled that explode in the form of anger in our psyche. The Holy Mother, as the Gita itself says, had burned up all kinds of desires in the fire of knowledge (jnānāgni sarvakarmāṇi bhasmasāt kurute arjuna)(Gita 4.37). Hence, there was no reason for her to exhibit anger at all, as she had developed perfect equanimity in her mind due to intense dispassion.
Forbearance is a great virtue manifested in the life of Sri Sarada Devi. Her life in Jayarambati was extremely stressful. Her younger brothers and their family members gave her all kinds of troubles is a well-known fact to all readers of her biography. Despite this, the Mother remained calm and unperturbed throughout her stay in Jayarambati.
The Holy Mother seemed very much attached to Radhu, her niece. Radhu, however, was growing up to be increasingly restless, impatient, and even mad. One day, overpowered by anger, she threw a piece of brinjal on the back of the Mother, who was hurt by that. What the Holy Mother did was to rush to the shrine of Sri Ramakrishna and pray to the Master to forgive Radhu.
Bhagavadgita describes a Yogi to be free of defects of mind like desire, anger, greediness, infatuation, egotism, and the like. The Holy Mother being the embodiment of immaculate purity (pavitram charitam), had no trace of such evil propensities. In her Dakshineshwar days, on looking at a beautiful moon in the sky, she prayed to God: ‘O Lord, even the most beautiful moon has stains on its surface. However, let me not have any blemishes in my mind.’ It can also be said that purity and Sri Sarada Devi are somewhat synonyms per se.
The main reason for such perfect purity is the complete absence of ahaṁkāra, ego and mamākāra, possessiveness that leads to impurity of mind with desires of various kinds in a common person. Externally, Holy Mother lived with her family members, but she was completely detached in her mind. She herself would say to her devotees: ‘You see me in the midst of all these things. But I am not at all attached to them in the least.’
Holy Mother was the embodiment vairāgya or dispassion. Her love towards her devotee-children was not the type of love we find in the world, which is selfish and gives one untold suffering. Mother’s love was not centred on a single person as she was showering immaculate motherly love towards everyone who had come to her. Through this, we can also determine how her so-called ‘family bondage’ is entirely different from that of ordinary people. Though she was in the midst of family entanglement, she never was attached to it. This is the ideal Bhagavadgita presents before us to be practised by one and all.
Harmony of Yogas
The Holy Mother is also a great illustrator of the harmony of Yogas beautifully articulated in Bhagavadgita. Some of the virtues in this regard depicted in the Gita have been manifested in an exemplary way in the life of the Holy Mother.
The Gita instructs one to work incessantly—niyatam kuru karma tvam (Gita 3.8). This is what Sri Sarada Devi practised and instructed others throughout her life. She would always tell monks to work continuously for Sri Ramakrishna as it would keep them away from unnecessary evil thoughts. The striking thing we find in her life is her unrelenting commitment to work to be performed as the service of the Master. Even as a young girl, the Mother would be engaged in various daily chores from morning to dusk. Later, she was always busy with the Master’s service in Dakshineshwar and still later, while in Jayarambati, she would personally serve her devotee-children to the utmost. Even when she became old, she did not refrain from working continuously, though there were others to help her.
At the same time, we find all the characteristics of a jñāni in the Mother. Gita says,
कर्मण्यकर्म य: पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म य: ।
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्त: कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ॥
He who finds inaction in action, and action in inaction, he is the wise one among men; he is engaged in Yoga and is a performer of all actions (Gita 4.18).
In Holy Mother’s life, this Gita ideal of Jnanayoga was practised in letter and spirit. The Holy Mother lived a life which was beyond the dualities of action and inaction. She would find the perfect peace and tranquillity of a knower of Brahman, even while engaged in a number of daily chores. At the same time, she did intense meditation and often rose to the highest state of samadhi. It is the art of living a dynamic mental and spiritual life in the midst of inaction.
Another ideal of the Jnanayoga as depicted in the Bhagavadgita is to transform all actions into brahma-karma (Gita 4.24), in which all the actions and instruments used in the actions are seen as embodiments of Divine Consciousness. For the Holy Mother, there was no distinction between sacred and secular actions as all of them were dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna without the least trace of ego of agencyship. These traits are described in the Gita as matparama (doing all actions with God as purpose) and matkarma (doing all works with the idea that they are all God’s works)(Gita 11.55).
The other two Yogas enumerated in Bhagavadgita are Dhyanayoga and Bhaktiyoga. We find numerous incidents in the life of the Holy Mother, where she lost the awareness of the external world and had attained the state of samadhi. Her adeptness in meditation had not come to light in her lifetime and even afterwards for many years. Her whole mind would dwell on Sri Ramakrishna and she had no separate individuality, being united with the consciousness of Sri Ramakrishna. This is the perfect illustration of the application of the teaching of Sri Krishna when he says :
मय्यावेश्य मनो ये मां नित्ययुक्ता उपासते ।
श्रद्धया परयोपेतास्ते मे युक्ततमा मता: ॥
Those who meditate on Me by fixing their minds on Me with steadfast devotion and being endowed with supreme faith—they are considered to be the most perfect Yogis according to Me (Gita 12.2).
The Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, in every way, is the ‘most Perfect Yogi’ as enunciated by the Bhagavadgita.
- Bhagavadgita 4.22.
- Ibid., 2.50.
- Ibid., 4.10.
- Ibid., 18.49.
- Ibid., 6.28.