"As a loyal Hindu wife, I do not wish to complain of my husband. But I yearn to see him turn from his materialistic views. He delights in ridiculing the pictures of saints in my meditation room. Dear brother, I have deep faith that you can help him. Will you?"
My eldest sister Roma gazed beseechingly at me. I was paying a short visit at her Calcutta home on Girish Vidyaratna Lane. Her plea touched me, for she had exercised a profound spiritual influence over my early life, and had lovingly tried to fill the void left in the family circle by Mother's death.
"Beloved sister, of course I will do anything I can." I smiled, eager to lift the gloom plainly visible on her face, in contrast to her usual calm and cheerful expression.
Roma and I sat awhile in silent prayer for guidance. A year earlier, my sister had asked me to initiate her into Kriya Yoga, in which she was making notable progress.
An inspiration seized me. "Tomorrow," I said, "I am going to the Dakshineswar temple. Please come with me, and persuade your husband to accompany us. I feel that in the vibrations of that holy place, Divine Mother will touch his heart. But don't disclose our object in wanting him to go."
Sister agreed hopefully. Very early the next morning I was pleased to find that Roma and her husband were in readiness for the trip. As our hackney carriage rattled along Upper Circular Road toward Dakshineswar, my brother-in-law, Satish Chandra Bose, amused himself by deriding spiritual gurus of the past, present, and future. I noticed that Roma was quietly weeping.
"Sister, cheer up!" I whispered. "Don't give your husband the satisfaction of believing that we take his mockery seriously."
"Mukunda, how can you admire worthless humbugs?" Satish was saying. "A sadhu's very appearance is repulsive. He is either as thin as a skeleton, or as unholily fat as an elephant!"
I shouted with laughter. My good-natured reaction was annoying to Satish; he retired into sullen silence. As our cab entered the Dakshineswar grounds, he grinned sarcastically.
"This excursion, I suppose, is a scheme to reform me?"
As I turned away without reply, he caught my arm. "Young Mr. Monk," he said, "don't forget to make proper arrangements with the temple authorities to provide for our noon meal."
"I am going to meditate now. Do not worry about your lunch," I replied sharply. "Divine Mother will look after it."
"I don't trust Divine Mother to do a single thing for me. But I do hold you responsible for my food." Satish's tones were threatening.
I proceeded alone to the colonnaded hall which fronts the large temple of Kali, or Mother Nature. Selecting a shady spot near one of the pillars, I arranged my body in the lotus posture. Although it was only about seven o'clock, the morning sun would soon be oppressive.
The world receded as I became devotionally entranced. My mind was concentrated on Goddess Kali, whose image at Dakshineswar had been the special object of adoration by the great master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. In answer to his anguished demands, the stone image of this very temple had often taken a living form and conversed with him.
"Silent Mother with stony heart," I prayed, "Thou becamest filled with life at the request of Thy beloved devotee Ramakrishna; why dost Thou not also heed the wails of this yearning son of Thine?"
My aspiring zeal increased boundlessly, accompanied by a divine peace. Yet, when five hours had passed, and the Goddess whom I was inwardly visualizing had made no response, I felt slightly disheartened. Sometimes it is a test by God to delay the fulfillment of prayers. But He eventually appears to the persistent devotee in whatever form he holds dear. A devout Christian sees Jesus; a Hindu beholds Krishna, or the Goddess Kali, or an expanding Light if his worship takes an impersonal turn.
Reluctantly I opened my eyes, and saw that the temple doors were being locked by a priest, in conformance with a noon-hour custom. I rose from my secluded seat under the open, roofed hall, and stepped into the courtyard. Its stone floor was scorching under the midday sun; my bare feet were painfully burned.
"Divine Mother," I silently remonstrated, "Thou didst not come to me in vision, and now Thou art hidden in the temple behind closed doors. I wanted to offer a special prayer to Thee today on behalf of my brother-in-law."
My inward petition was instantly acknowledged. First, a delightful cold wave descended over my back and under my feet, banishing all discomfort. Then, to my amazement, the temple became greatly magnified. Its large door slowly opened, revealing the stone figure of Goddess Kali. Gradually it changed into a living form, smilingly nodding in greeting, thrilling me with joy indescribable. As if by a mystic syringe, the breath was withdrawn from my lungs; my body became very still, though not inert.
An ecstatic enlargement of consciousness followed. I could see clearly for several miles over the Ganges River to my left, and beyond the temple into the entire Dakshineswar precincts. The walls of all buildings glimmered transparently; through them I observed people walking to and fro over distant acres.
Though I was breathless and my body in a strangely quiet state, yet I was able to move my hands and feet freely. For several minutes I experimented in closing and opening my eyes; in either state I saw distinctly the whole Dakshineswar panorama.
Spiritual sight, x-raylike, penetrates into all matter; the divine eye is center everywhere, circumference nowhere. I realized anew, standing there in the sunny courtyard, that when man ceases to be a prodigal child of God, engrossed in a physical world indeed dream, baseless as a bubble, he reinherits his eternal realms. If "escapism" be a need of man, cramped in his narrow personality, can any escape compare with the majesty of omnipresence?
In my sacred experience at Dakshineswar, the only extraordinarily-enlarged objects were the temple and the form of the Goddess. Everything else appeared in its normal dimensions, although each was enclosed in a halo of mellow lightwhite, blue, and pastel rainbow hues. My body seemed to be of ethereal substance, ready to levitate. Fully conscious of my material surroundings, I was looking about me and taking a few steps without disturbing the continuity of the blissful vision.
Behind the temple walls I suddenly glimpsed my brother-in-law as he sat under the thorny branches of a sacred bel tree. I could effortlessly discern the course of his thoughts. Somewhat uplifted under the holy influence of Dakshineswar, his mind yet held unkind reflections about me. I turned directly to the gracious form of the Goddess.
"Divine Mother," I prayed, "wilt Thou not spiritually change my sister's husband?"
The beautiful figure, hitherto silent, spoke at last: "Thy wish is granted!"
I looked happily at Satish. As though instinctively aware that some spiritual power was at work, he rose resentfully from his seat on the ground. I saw him running behind the temple; he approached me, shaking his fist.
The all-embracing vision disappeared. No longer could I see the glorious Goddess; the towering temple was reduced to its ordinary size, minus its transparency. Again my body sweltered under the fierce rays of the sun. I jumped to the shelter of the pillared hall, where Satish pursued me angrily. I looked at my watch. It was one o'clock; the divine vision had lasted an hour.
"You little fool," my brother-in-law blurted out, "you have been sitting there cross-legged and cross-eyed for six hours. I have gone back and forth watching you. Where is my food? Now the temple is closed; you failed to notify the authorities; we are left without lunch!"
The exaltation I had felt at the Goddess' presence was still vibrant within my heart. I was emboldened to exclaim, "Divine Mother will feed us!"
Satish was beside himself with rage. "Once and for all," he shouted, "I would like to see your Divine Mother giving us food here without prior arrangements!"
His words were hardly uttered when a temple priest crossed the courtyard and joined us.
"Son," he addressed me, "I have been observing your face serenely glowing during hours of meditation. I saw the arrival of your party this morning, and felt a desire to put aside ample food for your lunch. It is against the temple rules to feed those who do not make a request beforehand, but I have made an exception for you."
I thanked him, and gazed straight into Satish's eyes. He flushed with emotion, lowering his gaze in silent repentance. When we were served a lavish meal, including out-of-season mangoes, I noticed that my brother-in-law's appetite was meager. He was bewildered, diving deep into the ocean of thought. On the return journey to Calcutta, Satish, with softened expression, occasionally glanced at me pleadingly. But he did not speak a single word after the moment the priest had appeared to invite us to lunch, as though in direct answer to Satish's challenge.
The following afternoon I visited my sister at her home. She greeted me affectionately.
"'Beloved devi,'1 he said, 'I am happy beyond expression that this reforming scheme of your brother's has wrought a transformation. I am going to undo every wrong I have done you. From tonight we will use our large bedroom only as a place of worship; your small meditation room shall be changed into our sleeping quarters. I am sincerely sorry that I have ridiculed your brother. For the shameful way I have been acting, I will punish myself by not talking to Mukunda until I have progressed in the spiritual path. Deeply I will seek the Divine Mother from now on; someday I must surely find Her!'"
Years later, I visited my brother-in-law in Delhi. I was overjoyed to perceive that he had developed highly in self-realization, and had been blessed by the vision of Divine Mother. During my stay with him, I noticed that Satish secretly spent the greater part of every night in divine meditation, though he was suffering from a serious ailment, and was engaged during the day at his office.
The thought came to me that my brother-in-law's life span would not be a long one. Roma must have read my mind.
"Dear brother," she said, "I am well, and my husband is sick. Nevertheless, I want you to know that, as a devoted Hindu wife, I am going to be the first one to die.2 It won't be long now before I pass on."
Taken aback at her ominous words, I yet realized their sting of truth. I was in America when my sister died, about a year after her prediction. My youngest brother Bishnu later gave me the details.
"Roma and Satish were in Calcutta at the time of her death," Bishnu told me. "That morning she dressed herself in her bridal finery.
"'Why this special costume?' Satish inquired.
"'This is my last day of service to you on earth,' Roma replied. A short time later she had a heart attack. As her son was rushing out for aid, she said:
"'Son, do not leave me. It is no use; I shall be gone before a doctor could arrive.' Ten minutes later, holding the feet of her husband in reverence, Roma consciously left her body, happily and without suffering.
"Satish became very reclusive after his wife's death," Bishnu continued. "One day he and I were looking at a large smiling photograph of Roma.
"'Why do you smile?' Satish suddenly exclaimed, as though his wife were present. 'You think you were clever in arranging to go before me. I shall prove that you cannot long remain away from me; soon I shall join you.'
"Although at this time Satish had fully recovered from his sickness, and was enjoying excellent health, he died without apparent cause shortly after his strange remark before the photograph."
Thus prophetically passed my dearly beloved eldest sister Roma, and her husband Satishhe who changed at Dakshineswar from an ordinary worldly man to a silent saint.
2: The Hindu wife believes it is a sign of spiritual advancement if she dies before her husband, as a proof of her loyal service to him, or "dying in harness."