by Jayanti (Pamela Hoye)
Sri Sarada Devi managed a household, cooked, cleaned, and was surrounded by family members who caused her no end of trouble. Due to the death of her younger brother and insanity of her sister-in-law, she assumed the lifelong care of her niece, Radhu. We can identify with such a life. It inspires faith that Mother truly understands our struggles. When she speaks of patience and forbearance, we can listen and learn because her life reflects our own. And if we pay close attention to her actions, we discover that patience and forbearance do not mean resigning oneself to less than expected. Rather they represent Mother’s positive embrace of the world around her. Knowing this world was not the whole of Reality, she was able to accept it without making demands. For this same reason, whenever necessary, she possessed the strength to withstand unreasonable demands on her. Mother’s day-to-day example gives us a glimpse of Truth by showing us a different way to approach and embrace life, as well as how to let it go.
Radhu was in Mother’s constant care well into her adulthood. Yet a change was observed as Mother approached death. While she received other visitors despite the objection of those attending her during her final days, Mother refused even to look at her niece and forbade her to enter the room. Sri Sarada Devi is described as being a mother-heart of compassion. What caused such seemingly uncar- ing and paradoxical behavior? Mother gives a clue. She tells us that after Sri Ramakrishna’s death, he appeared to her and placed a child in her arms. “This is your yogamaya,” he told her. After the Master had left the body, Sri Sarada Devi’s naturally high plane of existence lost its moorings within the world. The Master was now free. Likewise, Mother longed to be free from the bonds of physical life. Yet Sri Ramakrishna had left Mother behind for a reason. She had work to do. Something was needed to draw her mind back to the world. Mother recognized Radhu as the child Sri Ramakrishna had placed in her arms.
Radhu, Mother’s niece, her thread of union with this world, was certainly not the pleasant, ideal, loving child we would expect to be associated with Mother. A willful child and unstable adult, Radhu was a constant source of aggravation and trouble. It is recorded that she was even physically abusive to Mother. We expect our life will one day be perfect and carefree, and often resent anyone or anything which “spoils” our dream. Surely Sri Sarada Devi deserves the life we seek for ourselves?
Yet Mother did not reject Radhu out of disappointment or bitterness. When her life was drawing to an end, she withdrew from the one thread of attachment which held her mind in the world. She knew her work was finished and that she had remained behind solely to help others understand that life offers us so much more than a pleasant, happy existence. We cling to our worldly attachments because we have forgotten our true nature. Gradually, through disenchanting blows, we come to want more from life. We expand our horizon to seek what is enduring. How much longer would our spiritual journey be if Mother offered us only pleasant experiences, if her life did not mirror our own?
This world is alluring, after all. Consider the story of Vishnu who, having incarnated as a pig and finished his mission, found it quite pleasant to remain a pig. Not until Shiva came to pierce Vishnu’s pig body did the Lord emerge laughing. Being a pig was divine play to him!
Like Vishnu, Mother knew her true identity. As she herself put it: a realized soul laughs upon leaving the body, while we weep, being ignorant of our true nature. Until it was time for her to leave the world, Mother remained bound for our sake through her attachment to Radhu. She did so in a way consistent with Truth, without hint or suggestion that life founded on worldly attachments is meant to be ideal.
And Radhu? What did she know of her role is this divine play? The full extent is not known. Yet, one incident is revealing. After Mother’s death Radhu was watched over by the swamis of the Ramakrishna Order. She remained difficult all her life. Thus, when it was discovered she had Teberculoesis, incurable in those days, it was decided to keep Radhu in Benaras. By dying in the holy city, the swamis thought, Radhu would be assured of liberation. They had not told Radhu of her illness. Yet, with surprising insight, she protested and insisted they return home to Jayrambati. “Do you think I do not know what you are trying to do?” she asked them. “This is not necessary. Take me home to die in Jayrambati. My Aunt has done everything for me.”