By Swami Prabhananda
To understand how all this came about, we have to look back at the period between 11 December 1885 and 16 August 1886, when Sri Ramakrishna lived in the Cossipore garden house at 90 Cossipore Road, Calcutta. The Cossipore garden saw the birth of the Ramakrishna Order of Monks; for a while it also cradled the newborn monastic brotherhood. Reminding his brother-disciple Swami Brahmananda of this, Swamiji wrote on 13 July 1897, 'All our associations centre on that garden. In reality that is our first Math.' Equally significant is Holy Mother's remark: 'At the Cossipore garden the Master spent the last days of life. The place is associated with so much meditation, Samadhi and the practice of austerities. It is the place where the Master entered into Mahasamadhi. It is a place permeated with an intense spiritual vibration. One realizes God-consciousness by meditating there.' The garden-house was virtually, if not conventionally, the first monastery. Besides, here the disciples saw the Master giving away his spiritual treasures without stint to one and all. All these now remain in the bosom of the Sangha. Even apart form the spiritual values attached to the Cossipore garden, the history of this period is very important. The facts legends and forces that constitute that history need to be analyzed in order to understand the processes involved in the growth and development of the Ramakrishna Movement.
Though the Cossipore garden was hired primarily for the medical treatment and nursing of the Master it turned into a centre for the training of selected youths who were to serve in the vanguard of his noble mission. While the young disciples gave themselves to loving and devoted service of the Master, the latter here breathed the spirit of renunciation into their burgeoning, vigorous minds. He also helped them build a corporate life with a common purpose and understanding. His deep concern to this end has been aptly expressed by an eyewitness, Sarada Devi. She once observed, 'The Master had the power to die at will. He could have easily given up the body in Samadhi; but he would say, "It will be nice if I unite all these youngsters together in a close bond of love." Until then, merely a "how-do-you-do" relationship existed between them: "Naren Babu, how are you?" "Rakhal Babu, how do you do?" and so on. That is why the Master did not give up the body early, in spite of so much suffering. The Master's devotees were shifted into inner and outer circles. The Master began to focus special attention on the development of the devotees of the inner circle. Here the Master also 'predicted that a band of young disciples, with Narendra as their leader, would in due course renounce the world and devote themselves to the realization of God and the service of humanity.' He also infused into their minds the necessary drive and skill to implement his ideas. Ramakrishna gave them the desire and the fortitude to engage in a life-long struggle, not to merely talk of, but rather to live the life. Years later, on 27 January 1900, Swami Vivekananda in his talk entitled 'My life and Mission' said, 'A thousand times despondence came, but there was one thing always to keep us hopeful - the tremendous faithfulness to each other, the tremendous love between us...And that was there with us all throughout that hard time.' As the last days were approaching, the Master, with redoubled energy, set out to mould the spiritual lives of his disciples, particularly Narendra.
During this period the Master revealed his true identity to the devotees by declaring himself a Divine Incarnation. At Cossipore, his disciples saw the greatest manifestation of his spiritual powers. Although he remained merged most of the time in the ineffable bliss of communion with God, he moved forward to the actualization of his divine mission. The Master organized the world-renouncing disciples under the leadership of Narendra. The Master systematically prepared him to take up the responsibility. On Saturday, 11 February 1886, the ailing Master wrote on a piece of paper: 'Jai Radhe Premamaye. Naren siksa dibe yakhan ghare baire hak dibe. Jai Radhe.' (victory to Radha, Love personified. Naren will teach others when he will call out from within as well as outside the country.) Narendra rebelled and said, 'I won't do that!' But the Master said firmly, 'Your very bones will make you do it.'
Then, one evening in May, as Narendra was meditating, he attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi. His soul was bathed in ineffable peace. His heart was full to overflowing with joy. When he presented himself before the Master, the latter said, 'Now the Mother has shown you everything. But the realization, like the jewel locked in a box, will be hidden from you. I will keep the key with me. When you have finished doing Mother's work on earth, then the box will be unlocked, and you will know everything you did just now.'
Three or four days before the dissolution of his body, the Master mysteriously transmitted his power to Narendra. Endowed with spiritual prowess, Narendra was now being prepared to fulfill the Master's mission. Every evening the Master would call Narendra to his room; and for two or three hours, he would instruct him on various topics. J.J. Goodwin, learning of it from Swamiji or from one of his brother disciples, wrote to Mrs. Ole Bull on 23 May 1897, 'When the Paramahamsa was passing away, he called in al his disciples but Swamiji (Naren) and gave them an express command that they were always to pay every attention to Swamiji, and never to leave anything undone that could add to his health or comfort. Then sending them out and calling in Swamiji, he committed all the other disciples into his charge. Thus it was during the Cossipore period that Narendra was securely placed as the leader of the holy brotherhood.
Sri Sarada Devi had come there to nurse the ailing Master and prepare his diet. However, during this period, the Master also commissioned her to carry on the spiritual ministration he had started. Gradually, it dawned on the brotherhood that she was the embodiment of his Sakti. She, too, rose to the occasion and proved herself to be the 'Mother moulder' of the Sangha. Recognizing the significant role she had played during the formative period of the Order, swamiji in his lecture entitled 'My Life and Mission' said, 'Who would sympathize with the imaginations of a boy - imaginations that caused so much suffering to others? Who would sympathize with me? None-except one? that lady, his wife was the only one who sympathized with the idea of those boys'.
............................. from The Early History of the Ramakrishna movement Pub: Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
to be concluded...