by Nancy Pope Mayorga | The Spiritual Athlete

ONE OF THE deep-rooted Hindu ideas most alien to Western minds is the idea of worshipping God as Mother, worship known as Shakti, whose logic, nevertheless, is inescapable. For it is based on the following dualistic principal: Brahman is impersonal, inactive; Divine Mother is creative, sustaining, and destructive. God has to be beyond change and activity. Yet, here is the world and it cannot be ignored; hence Mother, God’s power, the producer and sustainer of this phenomenal universe. It is a profound idea, which was pondered over, used, and refined through the long, slow Indian centuries and reached a radiant flowering in the last century in Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar.

For this idea of Shakti, Ramakrishna was a remarkable bridge, not only between the ancient and the modern, not only between legend and logic, but more important for us, between Eastern and Western psychology. From his days as a young boy, crying to the Mother and rubbing his face despairingly in the dust, feeding a cat in the temple with holy food because he saw the Mother in it, to his later days as the rational, illumined teacher, psychologist supreme, he spanned in one life­ time those great rolling centuries, and gave us in simple and universal language the essence of their matured wisdom. This is what he said:

When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive – neither operating nor preserving nor destroying- I call Him Brahman or Purusha or the superpersonal God. When I think of Him as active – creating, preserving and destroying – I call Him Shakti [Divine Mother] or maya or prakriti, the personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The superpersonal and the personal are the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its luster, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.

The principal seat of Shakti worship is the north­ eastern part of India – Bengal, Assam, and Behar. And one of the most famous, prolific, and inspired worship­ pers of the Divine Mother was the Bengali singer of hymns, Ramprasad (1718-1775). Readers of M’s Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna know what a great inspiration the life of Ramprasad was to Ramakrishna in his early spiritual struggles. At every kirtan, at every gathering of devotees, some song of Ramprasad’s was sung. Again and again, Ramakrishna, calling on the Mother with tears, reminded her, “You revealed Yourself to Ramprasad. Why not to me?”

BORN at Kumarhati, Ramprasad was given a good education. His father was a physician who expected that his son would follow the same career. The boy showed great promise in his early school years; but after studying medicine for a while, found himself disinclined to be a doctor. Then his father suggested he study languages, Sanskrit, Persian, and Hindi, to prepare himself for a business career; but it soon became apparent that the boy’s mind yearned only for the religious life. It was thought that marriage might cure this disease; and so he was married and soon had a family of four children, a responsibility which fell heavily upon his conscience and for which, temperamentally, he was very poorly equipped. Like many saints, he was a failure at practical life;

but it can be said of him what cannot be said of all saints, that he had an understanding wife. Sarvani stood by him, and struggled to make ends meet, till finally he managed to get a job in Calcutta as a bookkeeper and accountant for the manager of an estate. But he was incorrigible, and instead of keeping accounts he wrote hymns to the Divine Mother on the pages of the ledger. This was reported by his immediate superior to the manager, who came in annoyance to see for himself. Ramprasad had written a plea to the Divine Mother that he didn’t want that job as bookkeeper, but “appoint me your treasurer, Mother, and trust me. I will be your servant without pay. I want only the dust of your feet.” To his employer there was something so moving about these lines that tears came to his eyes. In Ramprasad he recognized a great soul, and agreed with him that there was something more to life than keeping books. He said, “Go home. Seek your Divine Mother, and my family will pay you an allowance the rest of your life.”

The man’s name was Vakulachandra Ghosal and deserves to be remembered; for in giving Ramprasad his freedom to sing, he made a gift to the world of many beautiful songs sung today by rich and poor alike, by villagers of Bengal, by coolies, by holy men, by school boys. And those dying on the banks of the Ganges often ask to hear a song by Ramprasad.

His patron did something else for him – he introduced him to the Krishnagar Court, where he rose in favor with the rajah and won the title of “Entertainer of Poets.” Here, among men of his own intellectual level, he seemed to have found himself. There was even a good-humored running feud between him and a rival poet, Aju Goswami, who was a materialist, a wit, and clever in poking fun at Ramprasad up on his transcendental level. To Ramprasad the world was a “mere framework of illusion,” but his less ascetic friend insisted it was a “very mansion of mirth; here I can eat, here drink, and make merry.” “Free me from the net of maya,” prayed the saint; but Aju begged mischievously, “Bind me in your wide chains.” “Dive deep, oh mind,” Ramprasad sang, and Aju came right back with his doggerel, “Oh mind, dive not! Just go floating … ” They both seemed to have enjoyed this exchange.

With his family’s material wants taken care of, Ramprasad plunged into severe spiritual practices. During this period of his life, he wrote his most beautiful and pathetic poems of pleading, with their endless complaints that the Divine Mother had not shown herself to him. “In what way have I offended?” he asks. “Unendurable has become my lot, and all day I sit and weep.” And, “When the child weeps, uttering the dear name of the mother, then the mother takes it on her lap. Through­ out the whole world I see this come to pass. I alone am excepted.”

Finally, out of his faithfulness and his agony, he received the vision. The Divine Mother appeared to him in a garden near his home. It is said that the physical appearance of Ramprasad became transformed; and a divine glow which everyone could see, came from his body. Miracles began to happen of which he spoke in his poems. Once he was tying up a hedge and his little daughter was on the other side passing the cord to him as he passed it through to her. After a while, the child grew tired of the work and ran off to play, but Ramprasad never knew, for someone else kept up the work from the other side until the job was finished. When the little girl came back, she was astonished to find the work done and confessed that she had not been there for a long time. Ramprasad was dumbfounded and could only conclude that the Divine Mother Herself had been helping him.

On another occasion, on his way to the Ganges to bathe, Ramprasad met a very beautiful young woman who asked him to sing for her. He requested her to wait a few minutes, but when he got back to his house she had gone, leaving a note for him in the family chapel. She said she was Kali [Divine Mother] and she commanded him to go to Benares to sing for her. Twice he started and twice fell ill on the road, but the second time he saw Kali in a vision telling him to never mind, that the journey was not necessary. In joy over this vision, he composed a song about the futility of pilgrim­ ages. “The lotus feet of Kali are places of pilgrimage enough for me. Deep in my heart’s center meditating upon them, I float in an ocean of bliss … What care I for going to Benares? See, around my neck as a garland I have bound the name of Kali.”

IT was Ramprasad’s peculiar habit and pleasure to wade into the Ganges up to his neck, then stand and let his songs to the Divine Mother pour spontaneously out over the water. Boats on the river would stop, and people would gather on the shore to listen to him.

What did they hear? They heard a language they understood, earthy and colloquial, full of puns. For example, he said, punning on his own name. “Prasad has offered his prasad.” They heard illustrations drawn from their own familiar rural life, racy, salty, and sometimes vulgar. To us today he gives a fascinating, authentic look at the thought and customs of that time and place. He spoke of his mind as a “bad farmer.” Speaking of rebirth, he compared himself to a “blindfolded ox that grinds the oil,” bound to the log of the world, turning round incessantly. He described the six passions as “crocodiles haunting the bathing ghat” or as robbers leaping over the low mud wall of his courtyard. Very often he thought of death when his friends would leave him, “bones and ashes on the burning ground.” And in an oft-quoted reproof to his soul about its fear of dying, he said scornfully, “Thou, a snake, fearing frogs!”

Sometimes it must have been a stirring sound over the surface of the Ganges, for many of his verses ring with vitality and enthusiasm:


Jagadamba’s watchmen go out into the dread, black night!
Jagadamba’s watchmen!
“Victory! Victory to Kali!” they cry,
And clapping their hands and striking upon their cheeks, They shout, “Barn! Barn!”


But when he touches the ground of the Universal Mother, it is then his poetry springs up to divine heights. When he talks directly and sweetly to Mother, he reaches our hearts. “Let us have a word or two about the problem of suffering. Let us talk about suffering, Mother, let me express my mind.” “Present art Thou within my lotus-heart. Spurn me not at the last, Mother, me who have found refuge at Thy feet.” And, “In the world’s play, what was to be has been. Now at eventide, taking your child to your bosom, go home.”

Like many a great saint, Ramprasad seemed to have been aware of his approaching death. His last songs are almost all about the subject of death. They are vigorous and assured. There is no fear in them. “Death the thief is close behind thee. Awake, my mind, and slumber not.” “Herald of Death, get hence! I can be the death of Death, if I remember the Almighty Mother’s power.”

His last day was the last day of the annual celebration of Kali puja. Ramprasad, so the story goes, followed the clay image of Kali as it was taken to be immersed in the Ganges. Standing up to his neck in the water, he sang his final song, “My mind is firm, and my gift well made. Mother, my Mother, my all is finished.” And soaring with the song, his pure and rejoicing soul left his body.

Nancy Pope Mayorga


Come, let us go for a walk, 0 mind, to Kali, the wish- fulfilling Tree,

And there beneath it gather the four fruits of life. Of your two wives, Dispassion and Worldliness,

Bring along Dispassion only, on your way to the Tree, And ask her son Discrimination about the Truth.


When will you learn to lie, 0 mind, in the abode of Blessedness,

With Cleanliness and Defilement on either side of you? Only when you have found the way

To keep these wives contentedly under a single roof, Will you behold the matchless form of Mother Shyama.


Ego and Ignorance, your parents, instantly banish from your sight,

And should Delusion seek to drag you to its hole, Manfully cling to the pillar of Patience.

Tie to the post of Unconcern the goats of Vice and Virtue,

Killing them with the sword of Knowledge if they rebel.


With the children of Worldliness, your first wife, plead from a goodly distance,

And, if they will not listen, drown them in Wisdom’s sea. Says Ramprasad: If you do as I say,

You can submit a good account, 0 mind, to the King of Death,

And I shall be well pleased with you and call you my darling.


In the world’s busy market-place, 0 Shyama, Thou art flying kites;

High up they soar on the wind of hope, held fast by maya’s string.

Their frames are human skeletons, their sails of the three gunas made;

But all their curious workmanship is merely for ornament.

Upon the kite-strings Thou has rubbed the manja paste of worldliness,

So as to make each straining strand all the more sharp and strong.

Out of a hundred thousand kites, at best but one or two break free,

And Thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands, 0 Mother, watching them!

On favoring winds, says Ramprasad, the kites set loose will speedily

Be borne away to the Infinite, across the sea of the world.


Taking the name of Kali, dive deep down, 0 mind, Into the heart’s fathomless depths,

Where many a precious gem lies hid.

But never believe the bed of the ocean bare of gems

If in the first few dives you fail; With firm resolve and self-control

Dive deep and make your way to Mother Kali’s realm.


Down in the ocean depths of heavenly wisdom lie The wondrous pearls of Peace, 0 mind;

And you yourself can gather them,

If you have but pure love and follow the scriptures’ rule. Within those ocean depths, as well,

Six alligators lurk- lust, anger, and the rest­ Swimming about in search of prey.

Smear yourself with the turmeric of discrimination; The very smell of it will shield you from their jaws.


Upon the ocean bed lie strewn Unnumbered pearls and precious gems;

Plunge in, says Ramprasad, and gather up handfuls there!


I drink from no ordinary wine, but Wine of Everlasting Bliss,

As I repeat my Mother Kali’s name;

It so intoxicates my mind that people take me to be drunk! First my guru gives molasses for the making of the Wine; My longing is the ferment to transform it.

Knowledge, the maker of the Wine, prepares it for me then;

And when it is done, my mind imbibes it from the bottle of the mantra,

Taking the Mother’s name to make it pure.

Drink of this Wine, says Ramprasad, and the four fruits of life are yours.


Mother, this is the grief that sorely grieves my heart,

That even with You for Mother, and though I am wide awake,

There should be robbery in my house.

Many and many a time I vow to call on You,

Yet when the time for prayer comes round, I have forgotten.

Now I see it is all Your trick.


As You have never given, so You receive naught;

Am I to blame for this, 0 Mother? Had You but given, Surely then You had received;

Out of Your own gifts I should have given to You. Glory and shame, bitter and sweet, are Yours alone; This world is nothing but Your play.

Then why,0 Blissful One do You cause a rift in it?

Says Ramprasad: You have bestowed on me this mind, And with a knowing wink of Your eye

Bidden it, at the same time, to go and enjoy the world, And so I wander here forlorn through Your creation, Blasted, as it were, by someone’s evil glance,

Taking the bitter for the sweet, Taking the unreal for the Real.


0 mind, you do not know how to farm! Fallow lies the field of your life.

If you had only worked it well, How rich a harvest you might reap! Hedge it about with Kali’s name

If you would keep your harvest safe; This is the stoutest hedge of all,

For Death himself cannot come near it.


Sooner or later will dawn the day

When you must forfeit your precious field; Gather, 0 mind, what fruit you may.

Sow for your seed the holy name

Of God that your guru has given to you, Faithfully watering it with love;

And if you should find the task too hard, Call upon Ramprasad for help.


How are you trying, 0 my mind, to know the nature of God?

You are groping like a madman locked in a dark room. He is grasped through ecstatic love; how can you fathom

Him without it?

Only through affirmation, never negation, can you know Him;

Neither through Veda nor through Tantra nor the six darsanas.


It is in love’s elixir only that He delights, 0 mind;

He dwells in the body’s innermost depths, in Everlasting Joy.

And, for that love, the mighty yogis practise yoga from age to age;

When love awakes, the Lord, like a magnet, draws to Him the soul.


He it is, says Ramprasad, that I approach as Mother;

But must I give away the secret, here in the market-place?

From the hints I have given, 0 mind, guess what that Being is!


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