Stories – Part 1

 I WAS PRACTICALLY BROUGHT up in the theater. Ever since I was a little girl I worked on the stage with Girish Chandra Ghosh and heard from him about Sri Ramakrishna. There was a photograph of Sri Ramakrishna in every theater with which Girish Babu was connected, and the actors and actresses used to bow down to the Master’s photograph before they appeared on the stage. I think this has now become a custom in every Bengali theater. Many a time I wanted to visit the Belur Math. Once I asked Girish Babu if he would let me attend a particular celebration. I recall his answer perfectly. He said: “Not yet. When the Lord wills, you will go.” And so, in spite of my wish, I did not then visit the monastery.

My first visit to the Belur Math took place many years later (about 1916). 1 was then depressed and restless; life seemed unbearable to me. I began to seek out places of pilgrimage. In this unhappy state of mind I finally went to the Belur Math. Binodini, the finest actress of Bengal at the time, was with me. When I was seven years old she introduced me to the theater; and again it was she who introduced me to the monastery. It was past noon when we came to the Math. Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda) had finished his midday meal and was about to go to his room to rest. At that moment we arrived and prostrated before him. Maharaj said: “Hello Binode! Hello Tara! So you have come! You are too late; we have already finished our lunch. You should have let us know that you were coming.” We could see how worried he was about us. He immediately ordered fruit to be brought, which had been offered to the Lord. And arrangements were made to fry luchis for us. We went first to the shrine, then had our prasad, and afterward were shown around the Math by a swami. Maharaj did not have his rest that day.

We were brought up to revere holy men. But along with respect and faith I felt much fear of them. I was impure-a fallen woman. And so when I touched the holy feet of Maharaj I did it with great hesitancy, afraid to offend him. But his sweet words, his solicitude and love dispelled all my fear. Maharaj asked me: “Why don’t you come here often?” I replied: “I was afraid to come to the Math.” Maharaj said with great earnestness: “Fear? You are coming to Sri Ramakrishna. What fear can there be? We all of us are his children. Don’t be afraid! Whenever you wish, come here. Daughter, the Lord does not care about externals; he sees our inmost heart. There should be no fear in approaching him.” Swami Premananda was there at the time. He also was very gracious to us. He remarked: “The Lord welcomes everybody.” I had tea at the monastery in the afternoon and then returned home. When I said good-bye to Maharaj he told me: “Come here often. You were inconvenienced today. Come another time and take the regular prasad.” This was my first visit to Maharaj-and this was the first time in my life I received genuine love.

A few days later, Maharaj went to the theater to see the play Ramanuja. [Tara took the part of Ramanuja, the famous philosopher, as a young boy.] After the performance I took the dust of Maharaj’s feet. Maharaj blessed me and said: “Very good! May you grow in devotion!” The days passed. I was restless as before burning within. I could find no refuge, no peace anywhere. Everything seemed empty, empty! I started on a pilgrimage to Puri, longing to see Lord Jagannath (the image of the Lord of the Universe in the famous temple). On my way I stopped at an inn at Bhubaneswar. There I learned that Maharaj was then staying at the Bhubaneswar monastery. So I went to visit him. He welcomed me with the same solicitude and affection as before. He said: “Oh, you look so tired! Why did you come in this hot sun? Where do you take your meals? From tomorrow on come to the Math for prasad every day. What do you like to eat? Well, daughter, of course you realize that we are monks and can’t provide a feast, and delicacies can’t be had in this little town.”

In this vein Maharaj spoke to me. I was surprised. What kind of a holy man was this? A worldly man would not feel such concern for his sons and daughters. Who was I? Where was my place in society? Down-down below! I had nothing to expect from the world but hatred and indifference. I had no friend, no relative. This big world seemed to me like a stranger’s house. Nobody talked to me without a selfish motive; nobody looked at me without a selfish desire. There was none in this world whom I could call my own. Until today! Swami Brahmananda, the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna, the all-renouncing monk, revered and respected by all-that is Maharaj. And with what undeserved care and affection he made me his own! I never saw my father; he died before I was born. I thought to myself. “Is this what a father’s affection is like? Or is this something greater?”

I could not hold back my tears. My lifelong sorrow melted as the tears fell from my eyes, and I realized: Here is my refuge. Here is someone to whom I am not a sinner; I am not an outcast. I am the daughter of Maharaj. He who has none is Maharaj’s own. He is my Maharaj-my father, my heaven, my peace, my God. What peace I found! Maharaj said many things I can’t remember them all. But what I remember is my treasure in this life. He said:

“Daughter, you know what suffering there is in this world. Don’t think that we have not experienced any suffering. When I came to Sri Ramakrishna I was a young boy. I was practicing spiritual disciplines, but my mind was not always tranquil. I was restless, and there was the attraction of the world. At times I thought that my life was in vain, for I found no peace. “

One day I was thinking along these lines. I decided that I would run away and not even say goodbye to the Master-when suddenly I found him standing before me. He said: “What are you worrying about’?” He placed his hand on my head and blessed me. Where was suffering then? What bliss, what bliss! I burst out: “Father, my suffering is great! I cannot bear any more! I run restlessly here and there. Take away this suffering of mine as Sri Ramakrishna took away yours!” In a tender, affectionate voice Maharaj said: “Call on Sri Ramakrishna. He was born for this purpose. You have nothing to fear. Chant his name. For a few days it will be difficult; then he will do everything for you. Have no more fear. You will realize great bliss. You will know what fun life can be.”

We had read in books how Sri Chaitanya and Nityananda came to earth to save the fallen ones. Today I have had such an experience for myself-the infinite grace of Maharaj-as if Maharaj had come for sinners like me. “There is nothing to fear, daughter. What fear can there be for the Lord’s children?” What words of hope! What consolation! Maharaj seems to be extending his arms to us, saying: “Come all ye fallen ones! Come all ye who are suffering! Take refuge in the Lord! He is! Have no fear!” May it please the Lord that I will never forget, not even in death, these words of consolation!

taken from ‘The Eternal Companion’ by Swami Prabhavananda