Sarada Devi

by Ray Berry | The Spiritual Athlete

SARADA  DEVI  was born  in  the small village  of Jayrambati in Bengal, India in December, 1853. She was the oldest of seven children in a large family. She said of her own parents, “My father was very orthodox and would not accept gifts from other people. He liked smoking and as he smoked he would accost passers-by in a friendly way and say, ‘sit down brother and have a smoke’, and he would prepare the pipe for them. And how kind my mother was. She would feed people and take care of them as if they were her own children.” From an early age she showed a marked desire to help others – working around the home and in the fields and helping with the younger children. The old people of the village would reminisce that from her young days, Sarada was as diligent in her work as she was intelligent, quiet, and peaceful. She never had to be asked to do any work. Of her own accord and with great resourcefulness she always did what had to be done.

Even at a young age Sarada was devoted to the Mother Goddess and at times could be found absorbed in meditation while performing the worship of Kali or Lakshmi. Once during a worship ceremony, a neighbor found young Sarada lost in meditation before the deity. He carefully observed her for a long time, but he could not distinguish as to who was the deity and who was the child. He left the place with some trepidation.

Later in life she said about herself, “As a young girl I saw another girl of my age always accompanying me, helping in my work, and frolicking with me, but she disappeared at the approach of other people. This continued till I was ten or eleven years old.”

You may ask why one should dwell so much on her childhood. There is no question that there was a very potent manifestation of divinity during these early years. Her mother, in later years, remembering her daughter’s growing up and the remarkable events that occurred then, asked Sarada, “My child, I wonder who you really are? How can I recognize you, my daughter!” The daughter brushed this respect aside with apparent dislike, “Who am I? Who can I be? Have I grown four arms like a goddess? If so, why should I have come to you?”

AT the age of five Sarada was married to Sri Ramakrishna who was then twenty-three years old, and who himself had suggested Sarada for his bride. She had very little contact with Sri Ramakrishna, who was engaged in intense spiritual practices at the Dakshineswar temple near Calcutta, until she herself travelled to Dakshineswar to be with him at the age of eighteen.

Sri Ramakrishna had already taken monastic vows from a samyasin who had told him, “That man is really established in God whose discrimination, detachment, and realization remain intact even in the presence of his wife.”

Upon her arrival at the temple, Sri Ramakrishna’s first words to Sarada were, “Ah! You are here at last! That’s well done.” Sarada, happy at last to be with her husband, was overjoyed to serve him and learn from him. Sri Ramakrishna proceeded to instruct her in practical matters ranging from worldly affairs, house­ hold duties, and relationships with others, to spiritual matters like religious music, worship, and meditation. It was not long before he asked Sarada, “Well, my dear, have you come to drag me down to the worldly level?” She replied, “No. Why should I drag you to worldly ways? I have come to help you in your chosen path.” And one night she asked him while massaging his feet, “How do you regard me?” He replied, “The same Mother that is in this Kali temple, and who gave birth to this body, is now massaging my feet. Truly do I see you as a veritable form of the Blissful Mother!”

They were extremely close in mind and spirit. However, there was no sexual relationship. Husband and wife were also monk and nun. When a married couple lives in this way, something extremely remarkable happens. The highest realizations were being put into practice in their everyday life. Sri Ramakrishna saw the Divine Mother in all women. He actually performed the worship of the Mother in his wife. Sarada Devi experienced the mystical union of her Self with her husband’s Self. They lived accordingly.

Sri Ramakrishna later said, “Would it have been possible to live side by side with her without her undemanding nature? If she had not been as pure as she really was, if she had lost self-control, then who can say if I too might not have lost my self-control? My prayer to the Divine Mother that she remove even a trace of lust from Sarada’s mind was literally fulfilled.”

Sarada’s days at Dakshineswar were spent hidden away from the public gaze- cooking for visitors, taking care of her elderly mother-in-law, and performing her japa (repetition of the Lord’s name) and meditation. The manager of the temple, when asked about her said, “I have heard that she is here, but I have never seen her.” One day she told her young niece, “What a lot of work I did when I was your age! … And yet in spite of all those chores, I repeated my mantra (the name of the Lord) a hundred thousand times every day.” Along with this japa and meditation, she would pray to God with tears in her eyes, “Even the moon has its stains – may my mind have no stains at all.”

And of course, with all of this practice there came deep spiritual experiences. Yet Sarada kept these hidden from even her closest companions. One day she asked her closest friend, Yogin-Ma, to intercede with Sri Ramakrishna so that she could have a little of spiritual ecstasy. In her innocence, Yogin-Ma broached the subject with him, but he became grave and remained silent. On returning to Sarada’s room, she found the door ajar. Sarada was meditating, and Yogin-Ma saw her by turns laughing and then weeping – the tears streaming down; and then the next moment she lost all consciousness and was in samadhi. Yogin-Ma shut the door and left. When she returned, she accosted Sarada with these words, “How so, Mother? You don’t have ecstasies?” Sarada smiled bashfully to cover up her embarrassment. Of these times she later said, “I always felt as if a pitcher of bliss were placed in my heart.”

EVERY so often Sarada would return to her village home. Many interesting and telling events happened during these visits.

While returning on foot to Dakshineswar from her village Sarada fell behind her companions who were hurrying to cross a large plain that was notorious for its fearsome robbers. Suddenly she was accosted by a tall, rough man with a cudgel on his shoulder who growled at her in a menacing tone, “Who is standing there and where are you going?”

She answered meekly, “I am heading east.”

The robber replied, “You are going the wrong way.” Sarada stood still as the robber approached. As he looked at her face his mood changed, and he said gently, “Don’t be afraid, my wife is with me. She is coming now.”

She spoke to the robber confidingly, “Father, my friends went ahead and I am lost. Your son-in-law lives at the Kali temple at Dakshineswar. I am going there. Please go with me to him.” Then when the robber’s wife arrived, she clasped her hand trustingly and said, “Moth­ er, I am your daughter Sarada. I am terribly afraid. It is my good fortune that you have come.”

The robber and his wife took her to the nearest village, bought her some simple food, and put her to bed at a country inn. The robber stood watch all night. The next day they caught up with Sarada’s companions, and the party set off for Dakshineswar. When the robber and his wife finally parted from the group, Sarada and her adopted parents began to weep.

The robber and his wife visited Dakshineswar sever­ al times. Sarada said, “Though my adopted father was honest and good, I believe he was a highwayman.” She asked them once why they were so kind to her. They replied, “You are no ordinary human being. We saw you as Mother Kali.”

“How is that? What did you see?” she countered.

But they confidently said, “No, Mother, we saw you as Kali. You hide that form from us because we are sinners.”

She indifferently replied, “You may say so, but really I know nothing about it.”

Although Sarada was extremely shy, soft-spoken, and mild mannered, she could assume a very strong and stem aspect that proved itself effective. This incident occurred at Kamarpukur. Sri Ramakrishna’s village, many years later. Harish, a disciple of his who was mentally deranged, was chasing Sarada around the court­ yard. One cannot help but think that his intentions were not honorable. The Mother said, “I ran out of energy and breath. I was forced to assume my real nature [that of Bagala, the terrific aspect of the Divine Mother]. I stopped running and turned to face Harish. When he came up to me with that crazed look in his eyes, I threw him to the ground, put my knee on his chest, pulled out his tongue, and slapped his face till he came to his senses.”

But some of the most revealing incidents of her village life centered around her relationship with some Muslim families that lived nearby Jayrambati. These Muslims had for years been involved with the silk trade. When the British introduced cheap cloth woven in English mills, the local silk industry declined and was virtually destroyed. These people fell on hard times, and in many cases they resorted to stealing and robbery to fend off their poverty and near-starvation. They were a terror to Jayrambati and other neighboring villages.

Some of these men were hired to do some work on Mother’s house, to the consternation of the other villagers.

One day one of them brought some plantains for the worship. A local woman saw this and objected saying, “He’s a thief, Mother. Should those things be offered for the worship?” The Mother undaunted by this interference, gave him some sweets and fried rice. When he had gone, she rebuked this woman with these words, “I know who is good and who is not. To err is human, but few know how to lift up a man.”

Amzad, another of the brigands, was a recipient of Mother’s unconditional grace. One day she invited him for a meal. A niece of her’s was serving his food from a distance, throwing it at Amzad’s plate from fear of losing her caste. Mother chided her, “How can one eat when the food is offered with such scorn? Let me serve him.” And when Mother removed Amzad’s plate and this niece called out, “Aunt, you have lost your caste!” The Mother scolded her, “Keep quiet. Amzad is my son just as Sarat is.” Sarat was a monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, much loved by Mother. She added, “I am the Mother of all, the good and the bad.”

Once Mother was lying ill with fever and Amzad tottered into the compound. He was emaciated, his clothes in tatters, and he was supporting himself by a staff. He peered over the bamboo screen, and suddenly Mother turned and endearingly said, “Is that you Amzad my dear? Please come in.” They immediately entered into an intimate conversation on mundane matters. Amzad stayed the day with Mother and had a bath and a full meal. He left in the evening with a bag of tidbits, some oil for his hair, and a vial of medicine to help him sleep. If anything had to be done for Mother, and word was sent to him, Amzad responded. As if by magic, he could procure difficult items for her. But he could not free himself from his thieving and robbery. Once after a long absence he showed up at Mother’s with some gourds for offering. She was delighted to see him and asked, “Where have you been all these days?” Amzad explained that he had been arrested for cattle rustling and put in jail. Unperturbed by the answer Mother sighed, “Ah me! I was really worried about you.”

Such was the unconditional love of the Mother, and because of this love, Jayrambati remained free of the depredations of these people. Gradually the villagers realized the situation, and one was heard to remark, “Even desperadoes become devotees through the grace of Mother.”

THE march of events continued with Sarada living mainly at the temple garden at Dakshineswar, sharing her joy and work with her companions and the women devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. Occasionally she would visit Jayrambati. Sri Ramakrishna, who was approaching his fiftieth year, encouraged Sarada to help others along the spiritual path and minister to their inner needs. Once he said to her, “Well, my dear, won’t you do anything? Must I do everything single-handedly?” To which she replied, “I am a woman, what can I do?” But the Master replied, “No, you will have much to do.”

Sri Ramakrishna died in August of 1886. Sarada Devi was thirty-two years old. The grief of his passing was shattering to the mind and the senses. But Sarada had several visions of the Master who impressed upon her that he had, as it were, just passed from one room to another. This gave her the strength to overcome her grief and the will to plunge deeply into a period of intense spiritual practice.

The Master had told her that after his death she should retire to Kamarpukur, his village, ask no one for anything, depending on the Divine Mother for her wants, and to become absorbed in her spiritual practice, repeating the name of the Lord. This was a time of great physical privation, loneliness, and uncertainty. But it was also a time of great spiritual accomplishment and far-reaching realizations.

Sarada emerged from this quiet period of sadhana to become a remarkable example of what the spiritual life can produce. And this spiritual nature shone warmly and brightly throughout her life.

In the year 1897 she shifted her country residence from Kamarpukar to her village, Jayrambati. In 1908 a house called the Udbodhan was built for her in Calcutta. It was at these two places that the role of teacher really manifested itself and where she ministered to her many devotees until her death in 1920.

At the Udbodhan hundreds of people would line up to see her everyday. The line would extend into the street and around the block, and on special days of worship to the Divine Mother, the flowers offered to her would have to be removed in heaps to make way for more that were yet to be offered. Yet through all this she remained the same simple, loving, self-effacing Mother.

How many could digest this open adulation and still maintain a cool head, warm heart, and humility that permeated her entire life? One day a disciple seeing her doing ordinary household tasks complained to her, “Mother, why do you work so hard here?” And she answered, “My child it is good to be active. Please bless me that I may serve others as long as I live.”

SHORTLY after Sri Ramakrishna’s death, his disciples, under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda, banded together and formed the Ramakrishna Order, an order of monks. In 1898 Belur Math, a piece of property on the Ganges north of Calcutta, was purchased as the order’s headquarters. One day Mother was taken there to inspect and bless the grounds. She had previously hoped that these young men, whom she considered her own children, would have their own monastery. She was delighted with the place and said, “Now my children finally have a place to lay their heads.” Although she never assumed the role of head of the order, these disciples of the Master deferred to her in all important matters, and her word was taken as final in these decisions. Swami Brahmananda, the president of the order, was asked by a junior monk, who was a disciple of Sarada Devi, a question about his spiritual practice. Brahmananda, who was a powerhouse of spirituality himself, deferred to her. He said, “Mother will be com­ ing in a few days. It’s better that you put this question to her directly. My solution may be different from hers.”

She. herself, gave sannyasa (monastic initiation)

to many young men. It was her firm conviction that one who renounced the world for God was really blessed. And yet to one, who found he had to leave the order and had come to say farewell, she said with tears in her eyes, “Never forget me, I know that you will not, but still I say so. Believe me I shall ever be with you, do not harbor any fear.”

Then there were those whom she encouraged to marry and live the lives of devout householders. To one who said, “Mother I won’t marry.” She replied with a smile, “How so my son? All things in this world are arranged in pairs, and just so are husband and wife. Why be afraid?”

The Mother also gave her approval to women who were ready to renounce the world. To a mother who tried to dissuade her daughter from the life of a nun she wrote, “How much does a woman suffer her whole life as a slave to her husband, always catering to his whims. Let her renounce!”

The giving of sannyasa was only a small part of her ministrations. Mother came into contact with an untold number of devotees, and many of them received initiation from her. These included men and women, monks and nuns, and children. It was a rare, unfortunate person who could not receive her grace. She herself said, “If anyone addresses me as Mother, I cannot tum him away.”

Swami Premananda, who managed Belur Math, had this to say, “Who has understood Holy Mother? She does not reveal the slightest trace of her power. But what great power she possesses. The poison we dare not swallow, we pass on to her, and she gives shelter to all.”

Mother carried on a constant mental japa. Her attendant who noticed that even in bed she was doing japa late one night asked her, “Are you not asleep?” The Mother replied, “What can I do my son? The children come and eagerly entreat me for initiation. They take the mantra and return home. But nobody does any japa regularly. Some don’t do it at all. Should I not look after them? That is why I do japa. This world is full of troubles and tribulations. May they never have to come back again.”

To people who came to her for guidance Mother reiterated again and again, “The aim of life is to realize God and remain immersed in contemplation of Him. God alone is real and everything else is false.” To most of these she held up the ideal of Sri Ramakrishna’s life.

She said, “He who prays to the Master has nothing to fear. Through this constant prayer one obtains ecstatic love. This love is the essence of spiritual life.”

But she was never narrow or dogmatic. She said to a disciple, “God exists everywhere and at all times. Are people not realizing God in other countries? Holy men are born on earth to show people the way to God. They teach differently. There are many paths leading to the same goal. Therefore, the teachings of all the saints are true. Realization of God does not mean anything peculiar or abnormal. It enables a man to discriminate between the real and the unreal, deepens a man’s knowledge and consciousness, and enables him to pass beyond life and death. In the course of time God and His forms disappear after the awakening of knowledge. Then there remains only the Mother. One finally sees that Mother alone exists, pervading the whole universe.”

One touching incident that reveals the Mother’s compassionate nature is the story of Padmabinode. He was returning from the theater late at night. While passing by the Udbodhan, her Calcutta residence, he was under the influence of alcohol, and he called out for his friend Swami Saradananda, who was her caretaker. No one in the house responded to his call for fear of waking her. Finding that he was being ignored, he sang out in a plaintive voice:

Waken, Mother! Throw open your door. I cannot find my way through the dark; My heart is afraid.

How often I have called out your name, Yet, kindly Mother,

How strangely you are acting today! 

Soundly you are sleeping in your room, Leaving your poor child alone outside. I am all skin and bones from crying, “Mother, 0 Mother!”

With proper tone, pitch, and mode, using All the three gamuts,

I call so loud, and still you sleep on.

Is it because I was lost in play That you shun me now?

Look on me kindly, and I shall not Go playing again.

To whom can I run, leaving your side? Who but my Mother will bear the load Of this wretched child?

As he sang with all his soul, the Mother opened her window. Noticing this he called up to her, “Mother, so you have awakened. Have you heard your son’s call? Please accept my salutation.” He prostrated in the dust of the street and then sang:

Cherish my precious Mother Syama Tenderly within O mind.

May you and I alone behold Her Letting no one else intrude.

The next day Mother remarked, “Did you notice his firm conviction?” And when her attendant complained about the disturbance of the Mother’s sleep she countered, “I cannot control myself  when  he  calls on me in that way.”

SISTER Nivedita, who was an English disciple of Swami Vivekananda, and did much educational work with women in India, and was closely associated with the Mother for many years, wrote these telling words about her:

In her one sees realized that wisdom and sweetness to which the simplest of women may attain. And yet to myself the stateliness of her courtesy and her great open mind are almost as wonderful as her saintlihood. I have never known her to hesitate in giving utterance to large and generous judgment, however new and complex might be the question put before her. Her life is one long stillness of prayer . . . she rises to the height of every situation. Is she tortured by the perversity of any about her? The only sign is a strange and quiet intensity that comes upon her. Does one carry to her some perplexity beyond her ken? With unerring intuition she goes straight to the heart of the matter, and sets the questioner in the true attitude to the difficulty.

Swami Shivananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and the second president of the Ramakrishna Order, wrote in a letter in the early 1920’s:

Holy Mother is not an ordinary woman, not a spiritual aspirant, not just a perfect person. She is eternally perfect, a partial manifestation of the Primordial Energy. If that Mother of the Universe, through her love that knows no reason, has touched a devotee with her blessed hand, his spiritual consciousness has either been awakened or will be so; this is my unshakeable conviction.

Holy Mother assumed a human body to awaken the womanhood of the entire world. Don’t you see, since her advent, what an amazing awakening has set in among the women of the world? They are now resolved to build up their lives gracefully and advance in all directions. A very surprising renaissance is swaying women in the fields of spirituality, politics, science, literature, etc. And more will come. This is the play of the Divine Power. Ordinary mortals cannot understand this mystery.

Early in the morning of Tuesday, July 21, 1920 Holy Mother passed away. Her last words of instruction to a disciple sitting at her bedside were:

Let me tell you something. My child, if you want peace, then do not look into anybody’s faults. Look into your own faults. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.

by Ray Berry


The world is the Lord’s. He created it for His own play. We are mere pawns in the game. We suffer as a result of our own actions; it is unfair to blame anybody for it.

Give up this dry discussion. Who has been able to know God by reasoning. Reasoning does not disappear as long as one has not attained to perfect knowledge.

If one can regard God as one’s own and call on Him without seeing Him, that is God’s grace.

If one calls upon Him repeatedly, He becomes compassionate; and so a devoted attachment comes into being. This love for love’s sake should be hidden from all eyes.

The body means the existence of desire, otherwise it would not have existed. It all ends when one no longer has any desires.

In one word, one should desire of God desirelessness. For desire alone is at the root of all suffering. It is the cause of repeated births and deaths. It is the obstacle in the way of liberation.

However spiritual a man may be, he must pay the tax for the use of the body to the last farthing. But the difference between a great soul and an ordinary man is this: the latter weeps while leaving this body, whereas the former laughs. Death seems to him a mere play.

This attachment to the body, the identification of the self with the body, must go. What is this body, my darling? It is nothing but three pounds of ashes when it is cremated. Why so much vanity about it?

The happiness of the world is transitory. The less you become attached to the world, the more you enjoy peace of mind.

My child, this mind is just like a wild elephant. It races with the wind. Therefore one should discriminate all the time. One should work hard for the realization of God.

Disciple: “I have been practising religious disciplines, but it appears that the impurities of the mind are not growing less.”

Mother: “You have rolled different threads on a reel – red, black, and white. While unrolling you will see them all exactly in the same way.”

Can anyone altogether destroy lust? A little of it remains as long as one has the body. But it can be subdued, as a snake can be subdued by charmed dust.

He who has a pure mind sees everything pure.

The mind keeps well when engaged in work. And yet japa, meditation, and prayer are specially needed. You must at least sit down once in the morning and again in the evening. That acts as a rudder to a boat.

As wind removes the cloud, so the Name of God destroys the cloud of worldliness.

Do you know the significance of japa and other spiritual practices? By these, the power of the sense organs is subdued.

See what a tiny seed is the Name of God. From it in time come divine moods, devotion, love, and spiritual consummation.

In time the mind itself becomes the guru. To pray to God and meditate on Him for two minutes with full concentration is better than doing so for long hours without it.

Devotee: “Mother what is the secret?”

Mother, pointing to a small timepiece in a niche, said: “As that timepiece is ticking, so also go on repeating God’s Name. That will bring you everything. Nothing more need be done.”

Just see the power of habit. By the law of habit man attains realization by continuous practise of japa.

Without regular practice nothing can be attained.

Spiritual practices are meant to keep the mind steady at the feet of God; to keep it immersed in His thought, repeat His Name.

Spiritual progress becomes easier if husband and wife agree in their views regarding spiritual practices.

I cannot see others’ faults. I am simply not made that way. There are enough people always ready to criticise others. Surely the world will not come to an end if I refrain from doing so.

I am the Mother of the wicked, as I am the Mother of the virtuous. Never fear. Whenever you are in distress, just say to yourself, “I have a Mother.”

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