Guru’s Powerful Humility Sri Ramakrishna


Guru’s Powerful Humility

Essence of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa


This article by Shri Nitin Kumar.


It is a little known fact that actors in Bengali theatre, prior
to entering the stage, bow down before the image of an unshaved,
rustic-looking, middle-aged man, who is now unofficially the
patron deity of all dramatic performance in the region. It
becomes all the more intriguing when we realize that the
gentleman in question was an unlettered individual who was never
formally related to theatre and saw only a few plays during his
own lifetime.


The story of how this came to be about begins on February 28,
1844, with the birth of a boy named Girish at Calcutta. Girish
lost his mother when he was eleven and his father at fourteen.
>From his boyhood, he was a voracious reader but left school since
he found the formal atmosphere detrimental to the process of
learning. Without the restraining hand of a loving guardian,
Girish’s life drifted into drunkenness, debauchery, waywardness
and obstinacy. He had to earn his living through a succession of
office jobs, which he found thoroughly boring. His spare time was
devoted to the theatre, both as playwright and performer. He was,
in fact, a bohemian artist. An early marriage proved unable to
stabilize his lifestyle and his wife passed away when he was
thirty. Thus did he lose his mother in childhood, father in
boyhood and wife in early manhood.

For the next fifteen years he worked in various capacities in
different offices. He continued to indulge his appetites but also
remained devoted to writing and acting. In his late thirties, he
had already begun to be recognized as the father of modern
Bengali drama. He was single-handedly revitalizing the revival of
theatre by producing a vast body of dramatic work in the Bengali
language, and at the same time was molding the first generation
of actors and actresses by leading from the front; in fact, such
was his versatility that he often played two or three roles in
the same play. In 1883, the Star Theatre was opened in Calcutta
with his money; this later developed into an active center for
the evolution of Bengali drama.

In Girish’s case, talent and licentiousness gradually achieved a
state of peaceful co-existence. He himself sized up his
personality as follows: ‘from my early boyhood I was molded in a
different way. I never learned to walk a straight path. I always
preferred a crooked way. From childhood it had been my nature to
do the very thing I was forbidden to do.’



The course of Girish’s tumultuous life continued till he read one
day about a holy personality who was living in the famous shrine
of Goddess Kali (Dakshineshwar) near Calcutta.


A skeptical Girish, without ever having met the sage, concluded
that he was probably a fake. However, soon after he heard that
the guru would be visiting his neighborhood and decided to see
him firsthand. It was nearing sunset when Girish reached the
place, and lamps were being brought into the room. Yet the
ascetic kept asking, “Is it evening?” This confirmed Girish’s
earlier opinion, ‘what pretentious play-acting, it is dusk,
lights are burning in front of him, yet he cannot tell whether it
is evening or not’ thus murmuring under his breath and not
recognizing the saint’s super conscious stage, he left the
premises. Thus was the first impression of Girish Chandra Ghosh,
the father of modern Bengali theatre, regarding Sri Ramakrishna,
the beloved saint and priest of one of India’s most renowned Kali


Some years later, Girish saw the holy man again, at the house of
a common acquaintance. In his own words: ‘after reaching there, I
found that the sage had already arrived and a dancing girl was
seated by his side and singing devotional hymns. Quite a large
gathering had assembled in the room. Suddenly my eyes were opened
to a new vision by the holy man’s conduct. I used to think that
those who consider themselves param-yogis or gurus do not speak
with anybody. They do not salute anybody. If strongly urged they
allow others to serve them. But his behavior was quite different.
With the utmost humility he was showing respect to everybody by
bowing his head on the ground. An old friend of mine, pointing at
him, said sarcastically: “The dancing girl seems to have a
previous intimacy with him. That’s why he is laughing and joking
with her.” But I did not like these insinuations. Just then,
another of my friends said, “I have had enough of this, let’s
go.”‘ Girish went with him. He had half wanted to stay, but was
too embarrassed to admit this, even to himself.

Lessons in Humility

Only a few days after this, on September 21, 1884, the saint and
some of his devotees visited the Star Theatre, to see a play
based on the life of the great Vaishnava devotee Shri Chaitanya,
authored and directed by Girish. The latter reminisced: ‘I was
strolling in the outer compound of the theatre one day when a
disciple of Sri Ramakrishna came up to me and said: “The guru has
come to see the play. If you will allow him a free pass, well and
good. Otherwise we will buy a ticket for him.” I replied: “He
will not have to purchase the ticket. But others will have to.”
Saying this, I proceeded to greet him. I found him alighting from
the carriage and entering the compound of the theatre. I wanted
to salute him, but before I could do so he saluted me. I returned
his greeting. He saluted me again. I bowed my head and he did the
same to me. I thought this might continue forever, so I let him
perform the last salute (which I answered mentally) and led him
upstairs to his seat in the box.’

This was Girish’s third meeting with Ramakrishna; but his
intellect continued to refuse to accept another human being as a
guru. This is how he reasoned: ‘after all, the guru is a man. The
disciple also is a man. Why should one man stand before another
with folded palms and follow him like a slave? But time after
time in the presence of Sri Ramakrishna my pride crumbled into
dust. Meeting me at the theatre, he had first saluted me. How
could my pride remain in the presence of such a humble man? The
memory of his humility created an indelible impression on my

Three days later, Girish was sitting on the porch of a friend’s
house when he saw Ramakrishna approaching along the street: ‘No
sooner had I turned my eyes towards him than he saluted me. I
returned it. He continued on his way. For no accountable reason
my heart felt drawn towards him by an invisible string. I felt a
strong urge to follow him. Just then, a person brought to me a
message from him and said: “Sri Ramakrishna is calling you.” I
went. He was seated with a number of devotees around him. As soon
as I sat down I asked the following question:

“What is a guru?”

“A guru is like the matchmaker who arranges for the union of the
bride with his bridegroom. Likewise a guru prepares for the
meeting of the individual soul with his beloved, the Divine
Spirit.”  Actually, Sri Ramakrishna did not use the word
matchmaker, but a slang expression, which left a more forceful
impression. Then he said: “You need not worry, your guru has
already been chosen.”

Girish, however, was a complex personality: a mixture of shyness,
aggression, humility and arrogance. Although in one corner of his
heart he did believe that Ramakrishna was the guru who he had
hoped for, another part of his old self revolted against the
idea. On December 14th of the same year, the playwright was in
his dressing room when a devotee came up to inform him of
Ramakrishna’s arrival. “All right,” Girish said rather haughtily,
“take him to the box and give him a seat.”

“But won’t you come and receive him personally?” The devotee asked.

“What does he need me for? ” said the annoyed Girish.
Nevertheless, he followed the disciple downstairs. At the sight
of Ramakrishna’s peaceful countenance Girish’s mood changed. He
not only escorted the saint upstairs but also bowed down before
him and touched his feet. Later Girish said: ‘seeing his serene
and radiant face, my stony heart melted. I rebuked myself in
shame, and that guilt still haunts my memory. To think that I had
refused to greet this sweet and gentle soul! Then I conducted him
upstairs. There I saluted him touching his feet. Even now I do
not understand the reason, but at that moment a radical change
came over me and I was a different man.’

The Transforming Power of Faith

‘Soon he started conversing with me. He spoke of several things
while I listened longingly. I felt a spiritual current passing,
as it were, through my body from foot to head and head to foot.
All of a sudden Sri Ramakrishna lost outer consciousness and went
into ecstasy, and in that mood he started talking with a young
devotee. Many years earlier I had heard some slandering remarks
against him, made by a very wicked man. I remembered those words,
and at that moment his ecstasy broke and his mood changed.
Pointing towards me, he said, “There is some crookedness in your
heart.” I thought, ‘Yes indeed. Plenty of it – of various kinds.”
But I was at loss to understand which kind he was particularly
referring to. I asked, “How shall I get rid of it?” “Have faith,”
Shri Ramakrishna replied.


On another occasion when Ramakrishna offered Girish a spiritual
discourse, the latter stopped him short saying: “I won’t listen
to any advice. I have written cartloads of it myself. It doesn’t
help. Do something that will transform my life.” Girish had a
writer’s skepticism about the authority of the written word.
Ramakrishna was highly pleased to hear his view and asked a
disciple to sing a particular song whose words went like this:
“Go into solitude and shut yourself in a cave. Peace is not
there. Peace is where faith is, for faith is the root of all.” At
that moment Girish felt himself cleansed of all impurities and
doubts: ‘my arrogant head bowed low at his feet. In him I had
found my sanctuary and all my fear was gone.’

Girish’s faith however required constant strengthening; years of
suffering and torment had damaged it severely. In a later meeting
he again directed the question to Ramakrishna:

“Will the crookedness of my heart go?”

“Yes it will go.”

Girish repeated the question and received the same reply. The
process was replayed twice until one of the other disciples
reprimanded Girish: “Enough. He has already answered you. Why do
you bother him again?” The theatre veteran turned towards the
devotee to rebuke him since no one who dared criticize him ever
escaped the lash of his tongue. But he controlled himself
thinking: ‘my friend is right. He who does not believe when told
once will not believe even if he is told a hundred times.’

Venerating with Poison

One night, while Girish was in a brothel with two of his friends,
he felt a sudden desire to see Ramakrishna. Despite the lateness
of the hour he and his friends hired a carriage to Dakshineshwar.
They were very drunk and everyone was asleep. But when the three
tipsily staggered into Ramakrishna’s room, he received them
joyfully. Going into ecstasy, he grasped both of Girish’s hands
and began to sing and dance with him. The dramatist thus
described his feelings: ‘here is a man whose love embraces all –
even a wicked man like me, whose own family would condemn me in
this state. Surely, this holy man, respected by the righteous, is
also the savior of the fallen.’

Girish, however, was not always so pleasant when drunk. Once at
the theatre he publicly abused Ramakrishna, using the coarsest
and most brutal words. All those present were shocked and advised
the sage to sever all links with the playwright.

It is interesting to read what Girish himself says about this incident:

‘Although I had come to regard Sri Ramakrishna as my very own,
the scars of past impressions were not so easily healed. One day,
under the influence of liquor, I began to abuse him in most
unutterable language. The devotees of the master grew furious and
were about to punish me, but he restrained them. Abuse continued
to flow from my lips in a torrent. Sri Ramakrishna kept quiet and
silently returned to Dakshineshwar. There was no remorse in my
heart. As a spoiled child may carelessly berate his father, so
did I abuse him without any fear of punishment. Soon my behavior
became common gossip, and I began to realize my mistake. But at
the same time I had so much faith in his love, which I felt to be
infinite, that I did not for a moment fear that Sri Ramakrishna
could ever desert me.’

A common friend reminded Ramakrishna of the story of the serpent
Kaliya, who, while battling Krishna, spewed enormous quantities
of venom and said: “Lord you have given me only poison, where
shall I get the nectar to worship you?” Similarly, Girish too had
worshipped Ramakrishna with abuse, which was in accordance with
his nature.


Ramakrishna smiled and immediately asked for a carriage to go to
Girish’s house, where he found the latter repentant. Seeing the
guru, Girish was overwhelmed. He said, “Master if you had not
come today, I would have concluded that you had not attained that
supreme state of knowledge where praise and blame are equal, and
that you could not be called a truly illumined soul.” On another
occasion Ramakrishna had told Girish: “You utter many abusive and
vulgar words; but that doesn’t matter. It’s better for these
things to come out. There are some people who fall ill on account
of blood poisoning; the more the poisoned blood finds an outlet,
the better it is for them. You too will be purer by the day. In
fact, people will marvel at you.”

Binding Through Freedom

One night, Girish drank himself into unconsciousness at the house
of a prostitute. In the morning, he hastened to visit
Ramakrishna. He was full of remorse but had not neglected to
bring a bottle of wine with him in the carriage. On arriving at
Dakshineshwar, he wept repentantly and embraced Ramakrishna’s
feet. Then, suddenly, he felt in urgent need of drink, and
discovered, to his dismay, that the carriage had already driven
off. But presently a smiling Ramakrishna produced not only the
bottle, but Girish’s shoes and scarf as well; he had privately
asked a devotee to bring them from the carriage before it left.
Girish could not control himself; he drank shamelessly before
them all – and, having done so, was again remorseful. “Drink to
your heart’s content” Ramakrishna told him, “It won’t be for much
longer.” Girish said later that this was the beginning his
abstention from intoxicating drinks. But the abstention was
gradual; and this was certainly not the last time that Girish was
drunk in his guru’s presence. Sri Ramakrishna never forbade
Girish to drink because he knew that it takes time to change
deep-rooted habits. Yet the silent influence of the guru’s love
worked wonders. In the playwright’s own words: ‘from my early
childhood it had been my nature to do the very thing that I was
forbidden to do. But Sri Ramakrishna was a unique teacher. Never
for a moment did he restrict me, and that worked a miracle in my
life. He literally accepted my sins and left my soul free. If any
of his devotees would speak of sin and sinfulness, he would
rebuke him saying, “Stop that. Why talk of sin? He who repeatedly
says, ‘I am a worm, I am a worm,’ becomes a worm. He, who thinks,
‘I am free,’ becomes free. Always have that positive attitude
that you are free, and no sin will cling to you.”‘

The Power of Attorney

One day Girish finally surrendered himself at the feet of
Ramakrishna and asked him for instruction. “Do just what you are
doing now,” said the guru. “Hold on to god with one hand and to
the material world with the other. Think of god once in the
morning and once in the evening, no matter how much work you have
pending.” Girish agreed that this sounded simple enough. But he
then reflected on his disorganized life, so much on the mercy of
impulses and emergencies and realized that he did not even have
fixed hours for eating and sleeping; how then could he promise to
remember god? Making a false commitment was out of the question.

Ramakrishna, as if reading his mind said: “Very well, then
remember god just before you eat or sleep. No matter what time of
the day it is.” Girish however, couldn’t even make this simple
promise, the fact being that any kind of self-discipline was
repugnant to him. “In that case,” said Ramakrishna, “give me your
power of attorney. From this moment on, I’ll take full
responsibility for you. You won’t have to do anything at all.”

Girish was overjoyed. This is what he had been wanting all the
time; to be rid of responsibility and guilt forever. He readily
agreed to the suggestion and thought to himself, ‘now will I be
as free as air.’ He was however mistaken – as he soon found out.
By consenting, he had turned himself into Ramakrishna’s slave.
Whenever Girish indulged himself, he was forced to think of the
tremendous moral burden he would be placing on his guru. In fact,
he found it hard to not constantly think of Sri Ramakrishna
before performing any action.

The Garlic Container

One day he went to a brothel intending to spend the night there.
At midnight however, he experienced an unbearable burning
sensation all over his body and had to immediately leave the
place to return home. Girish was reminded of the time when
Ramakrishna had compared him to a cup of garlic paste. Though
such a container may be washed an umpteen number of times, it is
not possible to get rid of the smell altogether. “Will my smell
go?” Girish had enquired. “Yes it will. All offensive odor
vanishes when the vessel is heated in a blazing fire.” Was this
the same heat that was tormenting him now? So wondered the

In later years he would tell young devotees that the way of
complete self-surrender was actually much harder than the way of
self-reliance and effort: “Look at me, I’m not even free to
breathe, Sri Ramakrishna has taken full possession of my heart
and bound it with his love.”

The Guru as Mother (In Girish’s Own Words)

‘One day, when I arrived at Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna was
just finishing his noonday meal. He offered me his dessert, but
as I was about to eat it, he said: “Wait. Let me feed you
myself.” Then he put the pudding into my mouth with his own
fingers, and I ate as hungrily and unself-consciously as a small
baby. I forgot that I was an adult. I felt like a child whose
mother was feeding him. But now when I remember how these lips of
mine had touched many impure lips, and how my guru had fed me,
touching them with his holy hand, I am overwhelmed with emotion
and say to myself: “Did this actually happen? Or was it only a
dream?” I heard from a fellow devotee that Sri Ramakrishna saw me
as a little baby in a divine vision. And from then, whenever I
was with him, I would actually feel like a child.’

Here it is also relevant to observe that though Girish had the
company of his mother till the age of eleven, he only had a
limited interaction with her. This restriction was due to an
innate fear on the part of the parent that if she came near her
children she would lose them; blaming herself for the many such
bereavements she had already suffered before Girish.

The Vision of Bhairava

Long before he had met the dramatist, Sri Ramakrishna had a
vision, which he described as follows: ‘One day, when I was
meditating in the Kali temple, I saw a naked boy skipping into
the temple. He had a tuft of hair on the crown of his head, and
was carrying a flask of wine under his left arm and a vessel of
nectar in his right. “Who are you?” I asked. “I am Bhairava,” he
replied. On my asking the reason for his coming, he answered, “To
do your work.” Years later when Girish came to me I recognized
that Bhairava in him.’

In fact, Ramakrishna had often chided his disciples who derided
Girish’s enchantment with the bottle, saying, “What harm can
alcohol possibly cause to someone who embodies Bhairava himself?
None other than our beloved Mother Kali can ever judge or
restrain him. We, who are her mere servants, may not even dare to
do so. Girish is not a hypocrite, he is the same, inside and
outside.” The analogy with Bhairava is both apt and instructive.
Bhairava was generated from the wrath of Shiva, when the latter
was forced to listen to the vain boastings of another deity
(Brahma). Having such provocative origins, holding within himself
a simmering potential, Bhairava is thus visualized in Indian
thought as an ambivalent, excitable and dangerous character,
reflecting the emotions aroused at his birth, and even today is
worshipped with offerings of alcohol in many shrines across India.


The bonding through sharing of food was further strengthened when
one day Girish went to the house of a friend, who too was a
devotee of Ramakrishna. He found the host cleaning rice. Now, the
latter was a rich landlord with many servants, but nevertheless
he was performing this unaccustomed job himself. Girish was
amazed and enquired of the reason. The householder replied: ” The
master is coming today, and he will have his lunch here. So I am
cleaning the rice myself.”

Girish was touched by this extraordinary devotion. He reflected
on his own ability to be of such service to Ramakrishna. He
returned home and lay on the bed thinking, ‘Indeed, god comes to
the home of those who have devotion like my friend. I am a
wretched drunkard. There is no one here who can receive the
master in the proper manner and feed him.’ Just then there was a
knock on his door. Startled he jumped up. In front of him stood
the master. “Girish I am hungry, could you give me something to
eat?”  There was no food in the house. Asking Sri Ramakrishna to
wait, he rushed to a restaurant nearby and brought home some
fried bread and potato curry. The food, coarse and hard, was much
different from what the frail guru’s constitution permitted.
Nevertheless, he relished it with visible joy and delight.

A Unique Solution

As time progressed and age took over Ramakrishna, his health
began to deteriorate. On the advise of doctors he was moved
outside the city where the air was felt to be better.


An arrangement was made whereby the householder disciples
contributed money for his treatment, food and rent. The younger,
unmarried devotees, who later would establish the Ramakrishna
Mission, managed the household, including the nursing and
shopping. After a while however, some of the householders felt
that the expenditure was getting out of hand and demanded that a
strict accounting system be maintained. The youngsters felt
offended and decided not to accept any more money from them. When
the situation reached a flashpoint, Girish came forward with a
solution. He simply set fire to the account book in front of
everybody. Then he told the householders to each contribute
according to his means and that he would make up the shortfall.
To the unmarried monks he said: “Don’t worry. I shall sell my
house if the need arises and spend every bit of the money for the
master.” Whatever might have been the fate of Ramakrishna’s
physical well being, one thing was certain – Girish’s healing was
complete – and he later remarked in humor: ‘Had I known that
there was such a huge pit in which to throw one’s sins, I would
have committed many more.’ It was this transformed soul who began
the practice of paying homage to Sri Ramakrishna before the
commencement of a theatrical performance.

This article by Shri Nitin Kumar.


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