Sri Sarada Devi (1853–1920), reverently called Holy Mother by devotees throughout the world, was married to Sri Ramakrishna, one of the greatest saints of India of modern India. But the couple never consummated their marriage, and Sri Sarada Devi remained a nun, disciple and Ramakrishna’s spiritual successor. After the passing away of the Master in 1886, Sarada Devi said that she lived so long “to demonstrate to the world the Motherhood of God,” which she really did by giving her unconditional love to one and all. She once said: “ I am the mother of the wicked as I am the mother of the virtuous. When you are in distress, just say to yourself, ‘I have a mother.’”
If, as the Holy Mother once said, renunciation of “me” and “mine,” and greed and lust is Sri Ramakrishna’s special message for this age, then love is her own gospel. Her mother-heart excluded no one but embraced Hindus and Muslims, saints and sinners, and the people of all races. She served Amjad, a Muslim and a convicted thief, as she served her other devotees. In fact, she once said that “Amjad is as much my son as Sarat [Swami Saradananda],” one of Sri Ramakrishna’s direct disciples and her caretaker till her death.
Mother also gave refuge to the fallen women whom society had cast away and had nowhere to go. She forgave them for their past sins and even gave them initiation. Besides, she was ever ready to voice against the abuse of women by their husbands. Once she heard the screams of a woman in a street outside Udbodhan, her residence in Kolkatta. On coming to the balcony from the second floor to find the cause, she saw that a young man was beating his wife for not preparing his meal on time. Mother, otherwise very bashful, spoke very loudly at the man, “Are you going to kill my daughter?” The man got afraid and retreated.
In the organizational structure of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Holy Mother didn’t have any official role, yet she was its undisputed leader. Once Swami Vivekananda fired one servant because he stole something. The poor man came to Mother’s house in Kolkata and explained to her the reason for his transgression. Mother got him restored on the plea that monks and servants couldn’t be judged by the same moral standards. At another occasion, a Brahmachari was expelled from Belur Math for being quarrelsome. He came to the Mother for help, and she intervened on his behalf too. When he went back to the Math with the Mother’s letter, Swami Shivananda jokingly said, ‘so you went to the High Court!’ Truly, she was indeed the one-person High Court of the Ramakrishna Order.
Although the Holy Mother gave no discourses, and seldom talked to her male disciples directly, she showed by her own example that cooking and cleaning dishes, serving all those who were under her care, if done with the right attitude, attention and devotion, were equally worthwhile activities in the realization of God. Once a woman came to receive some spiritual instruction from her. But the Holy Mother kept busy in her household activities. At last, the woman said, ‘Mother I came to get some spiritual instruction. But it seems that you are too busy to even speak to me.’ The Mother replied, ‘Have I not been giving you spiritual instruction?’
Holy Mother’s understanding of some of the subtle philosophical points of the Master’s teachings was superb. When Swami Vivekananda came back from the West, some of his western disciples too came with him. These westerners were of non-dualistic (Advaita) Vedanta temperament. For such people, the Swami had established an Ashrama at Mayavati in the Himalayas. In the shrine of that Ashrama, no picture of the Master was placed, nor was there any ritual worship, as is done at other places. But one Brahmachari didn’t like that and placed Sri Ramakrishna’s picture there. Swami Vivekananda saw that and reprimanded the Brahmachari. On returning to Kolkata, the latter complained to the Holy Mother about the incident. Instead of being shown appreciation, the Mother, too, reprimanded him and said, ‘the Master indeed was an Advaitist.’
Her last statement also, made to a devotee before her death, eloquently summed up not only her own life of silent loving service but also how she wanted us to live. “But let me tell you one thing. If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child, the whole world is your own.”
What a profound statement! Sri Ramakrishna used to say that a white cloth takes the color of the dye in which it is soaked. So, if we soak our mind in the dye of others’ faults, it will become tainted with those very faults that we see in others. Mother counseled her devotees to look inside their own selves. By doing so, they would discover that some of the faults they see in others are in them too. That will make them humble, forgiving, sympathetic and understanding. She also counseled everyone to regularly practice spiritual disciplines like prayers, repetition of God’s name, and meditation. That will keep the mind pure and focused.
Her other advice was not to look upon others as strangers. Our real nature is Atman, but by falsely identifying ourselves with our body and mind, creates separateness. So Mother wanted us to become aware of our divine nature, see God in everything, and become one with all. If we did that we won’t be strangers to one another, rather become a community of brothers and sisters, interconnected and interdependent, and living in harmony and peace.