Antaranga: M

Mahendra Nath Gupta 

Spiritual aspirants throughout time immemorial have gathered together seeking the holy company and counsel of saints and sages. Contact with such illumined beings is indeed a rare and precious opportunity. Encounters with these great beings — the words they spoke and the great deeds they performed — are rarely recorded in any great detail, and if they are, these accounts leave the listener or reader longing for richer detail and more clarity as to the lives that they led.

With the publishing of the “Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” a rare event in history has occurred. Never before have the day-to-day conversations, activities, and intimate details of a spiritual master’s life been revealed and presented in such a detailed, realistic and inspired way.

The Gospel is more than just a book. It is an invitation to enter a new world, the world of Ramakrishna, where conventional reality dissolves and the door into a new sacramental world is opened. This is a realm far beyond philosophy and theology, where the living Scripture that is the Great Master is at play, guiding and prodding his devotees, moment by moment, spontaneously creating and manifesting an atmosphere of bliss and peace for those who are graced to enter into his company.

Mahendra Nath GuptaThe author of this book, Mahendra Nath Gupta, referred to as “M.,” was present during all of the scenes related in the Gospel. His skillful and inspired rendering of the events he witnessed allow all of us, if we imbibe of the nectar contained within, to enter Ramakrishna’s room and participate in the electrifying atmosphere that the Master’s spiritual current ignited. We can sit amongst the other devotees and listen to the highest spiritual truths being related. We can hear of the day-to-day concerns of those visiting the Master and watch his many sublime divine moods manifest. We can hear him transmitting spiritual truths and share in the vast peace and well-being that emanate from him. We can laugh uproariously from his humor with the other devotees and share in the inexplicable wonder of his spontaneous samadhis.

We owe the privilege of this window into Divine Reality to “M.,” the author of this great work. In the personage of M., we have a combination of devoted love for his guru, Sri Ramakrishna, a deep receptivity and understanding of his teachings, literary skill, and an almost obsessive attention to recording the minutest detail of that which he witnessed. As he later said,

“I wrote everything from memory after I returned home. Sometimes I had to keep awake the whole night…Sometimes I would keep on writing the events of one sitting for seven days, recollect the songs that were sung, and the order in which they were sung, and the samadhi and so on…Many a time I did not feel satisfied with my description of the events; I would then immediately plunge myself in deep meditation …Then the correct image would arise…That is why in spite of the big gap in the physical sense, this story remains so fresh and lifelike in my mind as if it happened just now.”

The devotees of Ramakrishna would later attest to M.’s skill and fidelity in relaying the content and spirit of the Master’s conversations with his spiritual companions. In fact, it seemed as if M. had been destined and prepared for his role in Sri Ramakrishna’s divine play. Swami Sivananda, a direct disciple of the Master and the second President of the Ramakrishna Order, says on this topic: “Whenever there was an interesting talk, the Master would call Master Mahashay if he was not in the room, and then draw his attention to the holy words spoken. We did not know then why the Master did so. Now we can realise that this action of the Master had an important significance, for it was reserved for Master Mahashay to give to the world at large the sayings of the Master.”

Thanks to M., we get, unlike in the case of the great teachers of the past, a faithful record with date, time, exact report of conversations, description of concerned men and places, references to contemporary events and personalities, and a hundred other details of the last four years of the Master’s life (1882-’86), so that no one can doubt the historicity of the Master and his teachings at any time in the future.

M. one day read the Gospel to the Holy Mother. She was extremely pleased to hear it.  Blessing M. she said, ‘on hearing it from your lips I felt as if Thakur himself is talking all this.’ She directed M. to publish the book.

Swami Vivekananda exclaimed after reading M.’s Gospel, “Many, many thanks. It is indeed wonderful. The move is quite original, and never was the life of a Great Teacher brought before the public untarnished by the writer’s mind, as you are doing. The language also is beyond all praise, so fresh, so pointed, and withal so plain and easy. I cannot express in adequate terms how I have enjoyed them. I am really in a transport when I read them. Strange, isn’t it? Our Teacher and Lord was so original, and each one of us will have to be original or nothing. I now understand why none of us attempted His life before. It has been reserved for you, this great work. He is with you evidently.”

Who was this man who played such a vital role in the lila of Sri Ramakrishna, allowing beings worldwide and for generations to come to partake of these precious experiences and teachings?

Mahendra Nath Gupta was born in 1854 in Calcutta. The boy Mahendra was extremely good-natured and had great love for his parents. Mahendra could recall many incidents of his early childhood. For example, he went with his mother to witness the Ratha festival of Mahesh when he was five. On their return journey the boat touched the Dakshineswar ghat. M. somehow got lost and found himself alone and not finding his mother there he began to cry. At that moment somebody seeing him crying consoled and silenced him. Mahendra Nath used to say that this incident remained always uppermost in his mind. He would witness with his mental eye the bright radiance of the newly constructed and dedicated temple. He believed that he who came to console him was probably Sri Ramakrishna himself.

Mahendra Nath was inclined towards religion since his early years. At that time Keshab Chandra Sen was a famous preacher and the founder of the Brahmo Samaj. Mahendra Nath used to keep company with Keshab and at this time Keshab was his ideal.

Mahendra Nath met the Master in Dakshineswar on February 26, 1882. As Thakur saw M., he recognized him right away as a person qualified for divine knowledge.

M. was a scholar and very well read. He had studied and was familiar with the Puranas, Sanskrit scriptures and epics. He had also studied Buddhist and Jain philosophies, and the Bible, particularly the New Testament, very well. As a result of all this Mahendra Nath considered himself a scholar.

However, during his second meeting with Thakur this pride of his received a blow. With several pointed questions and remarks Sri Ramakrishna showed him the shallowness of the knowledge he had acquired and told him that real knowledge is only to know God and all the rest is ignorance. These blows received by him from Thakur’s words silenced Mahendra Nath.

As Sri Ramakrishna would say, “a big frog is silenced forever after a croak or two when it falls prey to a king cobra.” So it happened with M.

As M. wrote in the Gospel, “this was M.’s first argument with the Master, and happily his last.”

Sri Ramakrishna apparently knew from the very beginning the role that M. would play and carefully attended to M.’s spiritual progress. Should M. fall into the whirlpool of avidya (ignorance), Thakur’s desire would not be fulfilled through him so he would keep observing whether some knot was not forming within M. When he made sure that M. had become prepared, Thakur said to him in January, 1884, “Now go and live at home. Let them know you as if you are their own but be sure in your mind that you are not theirs, nor they are yours.”

Throughout his life Mahendra Nath practiced this mantra of sannyasa in household. Thakur would always say, “Be in the world but not of the world….your eyes and forehead show as if a yogi has come here while practicing austerity, as if you are an intimate companion of Chaitanya Deva…I recognized you from your reading of Chaitanya Bhagavata…….You belong to the class of the perfect by nature….You are my intimate companion. Had it not been so, how could your mind have been so much on this side even when lacking nothing worldly?”

Mahendra Nath also kept holding Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) firmly in front of his mind. He talked of nothing but Thakur. He thought of Thakur as his only refuge, his highest goal and the only goal worth attaining. Thus he had become one with Thakur.

Day and night M. would proclaim “keep company of the holy, practice spiritual discipline in solitude for some days and have faith in the words of Guru.” Those who saw him in his old age felt that here was a yogi, a rishi who was showering the love of Sri Ramakrishna on them. Morning, afternoon or evening whenever one went to him, one would see him in the company of devotees talking of love of God unceasingly. He would speak in such a touching and reverent manner and was so full of affection that it appeared to the visitors that they were listening to these words while sitting close to the Master himself.  Many young men embraced sannyasa by coming in contact with M.and found inspiration in their spiritual life. All were struck by this yogi like figure, his humility and his simplicity. Even so, M never made disciples and he never initiated anybody. He tried to literally follow each and every word of Thakur.  He was not fanatic.  In all religions he saw the ‘harmonizing image’ of Sri Ramakrishna.  He spent his whole life in spreading the nectarine words of Thakur.

In a book about M. his final moments in the body were thus described:

“It was the night of the 20th Jaishtha when Mahendra Nath fell ill after completing the writing of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, volume 5.   In the following morning at 6 o’clock on Saturday repeating the name of Sri Thakur and Mother, and with this last prayer on his lips, ‘O Gurudeva, Mother, take me in your lap.’ This highest of the yogis, left his body at the age of 78.  It was the departure of a great yogi, as if he was just asleep.

“In the cremation ground at Cossipore, the last rites on the holy body of Sri M. were performed to the right of the spot where Sri Thakur’s body was cremated.  Mahendra Nath was ever a servant of Thakur and at the end he found a place close to him.  Many intimate devotees of Sri Ramakrishna had left this world of maya before the demise of Mahendra Nath but this precious point was as if reserved by Thakur for this beloved servant and disciple of his.” [need citation for this long quote]

All of us for whom these teachings are our very life owe a great debt to M. With the writing of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna it is as if a bridge has been built between where we are and where M. used to sit and talk of and with the Great Master.

For further reading about M.:

Mahendra Nath Gupta (M.): The Recorder of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, by Swami Chetanananda

M. — The Apostle and the Evangelist, by Swami Nityatmananda

They Lived with God, by Swami Chetananda.