The Universal Motherhood
I am thankful to the organisers of today's Meeting for inviting me to speak on "The Universal Motherhood", which is indeed a very interesting topic especially in these days when we have lost the universal values of Motherhood.
Before I deal with the subject at length, we should all know what is exactly meant by the word, 'Universal'. Any quality or aspect, which can be made applicable to the people or things of the entire world, is called 'universal'. Of course the physical phenomenon that exists in the world is universal. But if we are to view the world from our mental horizon, differences arise. And if we still go a step further and view this world from the spiritual point of view, still the differences exist in terms of spiritual attitudes and practices while spiritual truths being the same or 'universal'.
The great spiritual beings that appear on the world scene from time to time like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Guru Nanak, Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother Sarada Devi have a universal appeal in their life and teachings.
Among them, the uniqueness of Holy Mother Sarada Devi, the Divine Consort of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna, is exemplified by her own lifestyle. Through her own life and by her utterances, she demonstrated what the 'universal motherhood' actually implies. In fact her teachings mostly contained in her living itself. She virtually lived as a universal Mother. She was a spiritual phenomenon as it were dawned upon the firmament of the world in the 19th century and lived through the first part of the 20th century. The most important facet of the Holy Mother's character is her motherhood.
Sarada Devi did not have any children born out of her physical body and yet she is called 'Universal Mother'. How?
To answer this, let me hurriedly narrate her life story in a few minutes..
The Holy Mother came to establish the ideal of universal motherhood. This is because, only if man and woman live in an orderly way in the world, can they be useful to the house, family, country and the entire human family. If otherwise, misery is inevitable. That is how Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother came together.
Through her life and expression, the Holy Mother demonstrated to the world what a motherly love means. This is not the selfish, limited and truncated love of an ordinary worldly mother for her children. This is to love all equally as one's own children. The extension of unselfish love beyond the family, region and nation as taught and demonstrated by the Holy Mother virtually points to the universal aspect of Motherhood. For the Holy Mother, everybody is her child, whether it is Radhu her niece or Amjad the dacoit or Sharadananda, the Sannyasin disciple of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna or anybody else, and she did not discriminate him or her as good or bad children. Her love was so pure and unselfish that it crossed the limits of caste, creed, region, colour and sex. This is the power of love of the Holy Mother for all beings in the world, which has thus become universalized. Every person who came in contact with her during her lifetime admitted feeling the warmth of love of her mother-heart. During the last about 20 years of her life she virtually deified the role of a mother as the highest ideal of any modern women in the world. In fact, the modern western woman nowadays is fighting for women's liberation as if she is chained without any freedom and under the domination of man. The Holy Mother showed her the way for the liberation of the soul. Soul is sexless. Liberation of soul is worth trying in life rather than mere women's lib. or anything else. Most of the women of today are groping in darkness. They don't know the power of love that can conquer the whole world. And universal motherhood extending the love to one and all is the only way and a potent instrument to conquer the world. This, the Holy Mother has amply demonstrated in her lifetime. Yes, it is true that the Holy Mother did not have children from her physical body. But her Divine Consort, Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna once proclaimed that 'a time will come when so many children will call her 'Mother' '. This indeed came true, and everybody even today calls her as Holy Mother only. Thus the Holy Mother by her power of Love established Universal Motherhood. She herself proclaimed once "I am the mother of the wicked even as I am the mother of the virtuous. I am the mother of all, not only of all men and women, but also even of animals, birds and insects. I am the real mother. …. Never fear. Whenever you are in distress, just say to yourself, 'I have a mother.' This is indeed a great assurance and re- assurance to the world that the Holy Mother has given.
The ideal of 'God of all' has been exemplified in the lives of Krishna, Christ and others. But the ideal of 'Mother of all' pronounced by Holy Mother is a startlingly new phenomenon in the world. How many types of relationships an ordinary individual has to enter into every day – as father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, master or servant, doctor or patient, shopkeeper or customer, and so on! But has ever a woman demonstrated perfect equanimity and same-sighted motherhood for all creatures of the universe, as did the Holy Mother? Rarely can one ever find her likeness even in the whole history of religion and spirituality.
Thus, when we turn to the life of Sri Sarada Devi, we find that she was nothing else but the Mother of All. It is well known that she did not care for any other attitude and never wanted anyone to look upon her in any other way except as 'Mother'.
It was this divine and universal Motherhood of God that the Holy Mother revealed in her artless statement: 'If any child of mine gets covered with dust or dirt, I myself have to wash him and take him on my lap.' She had totally transcended all the polarities of life – virtue and vice, good and bad, knowledge and ignorance, purity and impurity. She had no need to undergo any austere discipline to attain this, for it was natural to her. She is the fullest manifestation of Mother-Power. An Avtar like Sri Ramakrishna may accept certain people and reject certain others. But the Mother accepts all – including those rejected by the Avatar. She is ever ready to take anyone onto her lap. There is no need of fear of punishment from her; she gives only protection and indulgence to everyone.
Mother-Power is eternal and universal. Differences in birth and caste do not affect its universality. On the contrary, it mellows the harshness of contemporary social rules and customs. The flow of Mother's love breaks down all walls of separation. On her lap, Swami Saradananda the Sannyasin and Amjad the dacoit were alike, like two sons. In her arms, Gopal's mother and the mad-aunt, and at her feet, the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda and the drunkard Padmabinode, were all equal.
Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna was very particular about purity in personal conduct and could not bear the company of immoral persons. Once he noticed a woman who had led a rather loose life in her youth frequenting the room where the Holy Mother stayed. He asked the Mother: 'Why is that woman here? She is a public woman. Why talk with her?' The Mother simply said, 'She now talks only of God. What is the harm in that?' She continued to allow the unfortunate woman to visit her as before. Can a mother reject her child who has sought the refuge of her lap! There are numerous such touching incidents in her life.
One such incident of Holy Mother's compassion is this. A woman of ill repute came and begged Holy Mother that she would take Sri Ramakrishna's food to his room. 'Please give that to me, mother, give that to me!' Immediately Mother gave it to her. Sri Ramakrishna complained to Mother later: ' what's this you have know her? She is immoral. How can I now eat what has been defiled by her?' 'I know all that,' says Holy Mother, 'but, do please take this tonight.' The Master said: 'Promise that you won't hand it over to anybody else hereafter.' Holy Mother replied with folded hands: 'That I cannot, Master! I shall certainly bring your food myself, but if any one begs me by calling me " Mother", I shall not be able to contain myself. Besides, you are not my Master alone, you are for all.' Such a compassionate mother, such a forgiving mother, such a loving mother to whom everyone can go without the least hesitation is the Holy Mother.
Adi Sankaracharya at one place said, "There can be a bad son, but there can never be a bad mother'. A mother may scold or punish, but never curse her children. It is only her love that gives the mother the authority to punish her children. If and when she punishes, it is only for the child's good. This is the inherent right of Universal Motherhood.
The Holy Mother's love was in fact a disinterested motherly love for all. There was uniqueness in her motherly love as it embraced all. She considered all people, whether they are in the East or in the West, as her own children and gave the same treatment and extended her great love and affection whenever anybody called on her. There are innumerable instances where she accepted, and treated as her own children, the saints and the sinners, the wicked and the virtuous, the rich and the poor, householders and monks, alike. She even responded like an affectionate mother to the piteous cries of birds and animals. She was so utterly motherly that all who came to her felt that she loved them more than their own mothers. Many actually saw their mothers in her. Similarly, due to the abundance of motherhood in the Holy Mother, it is very easy to see in her our own mother and through her, we can reach all the mothers of the world. We can clearly see that this motherhood radiates even today from her pictures. We can say that even now she lives in subtle form in her portrait, a look at which after a day's toil can soothe high-strung nerves in a moment and fill the heart with instant peace and bliss. Let us all remember that we all have a mother in the Holy Mother whose benign gaze is always protecting us.
The Holy Mother had an unrestrained compassion for all. Her all-embracing love and compassion was not confined to the people of India alone. Her great heart knew no geographical barriers, and in its universal embrace, included all people of all nations, races and cultures. In those days of freedom struggle, especially when Indians had a hateful attitude towards the British, she once expressed that the British too were her children and had equal love for them. She made this remark in spite of the fact that quite a number of her disciples were engaged in anti-government and even revolutionary activities.
When Swami Vivekananda's western disciples – Mrs. Ole Bull, Miss MacLeod, Sister Nivedita and Sister Christine – came to Kolkata, the Holy Mother immediately accepted them as her own daughters and made them feel at home in their new environment and ate with them. Thus, her love knew no inequality or discrimination. Incidentally, at the request of Mrs. Ole Bull at that time, the Holy Mother allowed her photo to be taken at Nivedita's Bose Para house. The Holy Mother at first did not agree to the proposal. But when Mrs. Ole Bull said, 'Mother, I will take it to America and worship it', she could not refuse her daughter's sincere wish. This photo, which is now being worshipped everywhere, was the first photo ever taken of the Holy Mother. Josephine MacLeod was overwhelmed by the Mother's love. She used to say, 'Sarada Devi is endowed with divine insight', and 'Sarada Devi is the Madonna, Mother Mary, of this new religious community.'
Holy Mother's love was not restricted to human beings alone; it embraced all living beings. She felt herself to be the Mother also of lowly creatures – cats, parrots, cows and all – not in a metaphorical sense, not in an artificial way. It was natural and spontaneous with her, like the air that she breathed. She could not bear to see even a cat ill-treated. Her niece Radhu had a pet cat, which used to remain at the Mother's feet free of all fear. She would keep apart one cup of milk for it every day. The cat, however, used to surreptitiously enter into the kitchen and eat things stealthily. For this, some of the disciples of the Mother would occasionally strike the cat, which pained Mother very much. She would say, 'Stealing is its inborn nature, my son. Who will feed it with love and care?' Once while leaving for kolkata, she told brahmachari Jnan: 'Look, Jnan, don't beat the cat; I dwell in the cat also.'
In the eyes of the Holy Mother everything in the universe had its inherent value and dignity in the divine plan. Once a woman was sweeping the courtyard at Jayarambati. After she finished, she threw aside her broom somewhat carelessly. The Mother saw it and pointed out to her the need for regarding all work with care and alertness. Being herself the Fount of Shakti, she saw everything as a manifestation of that Divine Power.
The Holy Mother treated the disciples of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna as her own children. After the passing away of their Master (Sri Ramakrishna) , his disciples came together one by one – Naren, Rakhal, Sharat, Sashi, Latu, Yogin, Baburam and others. The Holy Mother was to them an unfailing source of strength, and they rallied round her as their center. Right from their early days at Dakshineswar the Mother used to regard them as her own children. She always kept a watchful eye upon them, and her protective influence was felt by every one of them. It was only natural that they all looked upon her as their own true Mother. For, right from the beginning they had firm conviction that the Holy Mother was not an ordinary woman, but the helpmate of Sri Ramakrishna in his mission on earth. For them she was the Divine Mother Herself who had assumed the human form. Once, in a letter to a devotee of Bangalore, Swami Ramakrishnananda (Sashi Maharaj) wrote: "You should never lose this very rare and unexpected opportunity to worship the Motherhood of God in her (the Holy Mother). She is your real Mother….It is so fortunate you are to have the Mother of the Universe at your very door!"
The unique feature of Holy Mother's love demonstrated through her Universal Motherhood was that it was without attachment. No doubt her outward behavior showed that she was too much attached emotionally. People around were in fact commenting on her attachment towards her niece Radhu. But she chose to give up the attachment whenever she wanted.
Many a time the Holy Mother's love was expressed through her ceaseless service. Even in her old age she used to do loving service to her disciples as well as all the devotees coming to her for succor and blessing. Like all women in the households, she used to sweep the floor, cook the meals, wash the plates, and nurse the sick and so on. But this service was different from the service done by other women. While rendering any service the Holy Mother could feel the presence of God in the people and the objects she was serving. Thus she demonstrated to the world that the worship of God lies in the service to mankind.
The Holy Mother's motherly love and affection crossed all barriers of language; colour, creed and sex and thus she had lots of children from all corners of the globe belonging to many religions outside the Hindu fold. She thus endeared herself to all by her universal love and affection.
The Holy Mother had great concern for the welfare of all and not a few around her. She used to express deep concern whenever she noticed that somebody was suffering on account of something or the other.
Even in her last message the Holy Mother said, "Nobody is a stranger, my child, the whole world is your own." If the love, which the Holy Mother bestowed on humanity as a whole, is given a practical shape by all of us, the entire world becomes our own; there will not be anybody who is left without love. A virtual happiness of Heaven can be created on earth. This sort of unconditional love of a mother extended beyond the portals of the family and region and even the State, will solve many of the problems that modern society is facing today. If we can practise this pure and unselfish love in our day-to-day dealings with others, we can overlook the faults, nay, even the evils perpetrated by some of our fellow beings out of ignorance and thus establish a loving relationship with them sooner or later.
The Holy Mother demonstrated the value of 'simple living and high thinking' in her own lifetime. If a mother can put into practice this oft-repeated proverb of simple living and high thinking, her children later may learn from her and be happy and profited in later years. If the mother herself becomes egoistic and ostentatious, what can her children learn? The Holy Mother gave the secret of happiness in life by her simple living. This is also one of the aspects of universal motherhood.
Catholicity and liberal attitude towards all whom the Holy Mother always treated as her children is an important aspect of universal motherhood.
Besides her pure and unselfish love of a mother, the Holy Mother had a great concern for the problems of others. Whenever she found anybody suffering for lack of food, she used to express great concern and do whatever she could to relieve the suffering with a loving attitude. She solved many problems, spiritual and mundane, which the people were facing in those days. She firmly believed that problems arise because of some misunderstandings and lack of communication and faith in each other. They can be solved by frankly talking to the parties concerned with love and without any selfishness behind and with a certain accommodation on both sides. We are to find solutions according to the circumstances at a particular time. The Holy Mother herself had encountered many problems of living while staying in Nahabat. But with patience and perseverance and positive understanding she smilingly went through the difficult daily routine. When she was going to Sri Ramakrishna for the first time after her marriage, she was walking her way to Dakshineswar. She lost her way through the forest and suddenly she was confronted by a robber. The Holy Mother at once understood the situation and adjusted herself to the circumstances and shedding off any fear whatsoever, she established a relationship with the robber and said: "Father, I am your daughter Sarada. My companions left me behind. Perhaps I am going in the wrong direction. Your son-in-law lives at the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar. I am going to him. Please take me there. He will certainly appreciate your kindness and show you proper courtesy." See how she adapted herself to the situation and endeared herself to that robber adopting him as her father. The robber, confronted strangely in this manner, along with his wife gladly escorted her to Dakshineswar as a 'responsible' father. There are innumerable instances where the Holy Mother solved others' problems whether they are physical problems or mental problems or even spiritual problems, fully applying her positive and liberal approach to the problems with an attitude of catholicity expressing her Divine Motherhood, which is universal.
Through the medium of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, the Universal Divine Mother-Power has been expressed itself in a unique, unprecedented and unheard-of way on this earth this time. In Sri Ramakrishna's life we notice daily spiritual treats, daily fiestas of bliss, daily celebrations of spiritual sadhana, daily feasts of spiritual realization. What do we see in Holy Mother's life? Whether it is at Balaram Bose's house or Cossipore Garden House, wherever we see her, we find her appearing as an ordinary mortal, with a very down-to-earth conduct and a natural life in every way. There is no expression of insensibility anywhere in her. There is no need to ask other people to understand her. It is all so simple and unassuming in Holy Mother. But though she appears ordinary, what do we see behind the superficial veil of ordinariness in her life? Behind the ordinary externals is the female personality of universal motherhood, which we call Devi, Jagadamba, Jagat Janani, the Mother of the Universe, the Originator of everything, expressing herself through the ordinary day-to-day events and occurrences. Thus the Holy Mother is someone who is beyond all imagination, representing the Universal Motherhood. If we meditate upon her life and teachings, I am sure we can fully comprehend what is Universal Motherhood. Thank you.