( Part I is here. )
Now we shall turn to the second obstacle in the spiritual path, viz. wealth, and see how he met this impediment. We have already pointed out how categorically he refused to acquire what he termed a ‘breadwinning education’, that is to say, an education that will give wealth, name and fame. He never gave a thought to these things. Not only that, when wealth was offered to him, he would feel extremely uncomfortable; for he had banished from his mind all thought about wealth, discarding it as of no more value than a clod of earth: “By reasoning he came to the sure conclusion, that a person who had made the realization of Brahman the only goal of his life could not derive any help whatsoever from gold any more than from a lump of earth. Therefore, repeating again and again, ‘Rupee is earth and earth is rupee’ he threw them both into the Ganges.” By following this discipline this idea was so firmly engraved in his mind that any suggestion of possession would raise, as it were, a storm in his mind.
Once Mathur wanted to make some provision for the Master’s maintenance. On making the proposal Sri Ramakrishna seems to have thundered: “Do you want to make me a worldly man?”10 “Among the many who came to visit Sri Ramakrishna there was a rich Marwari gentleman named Lakshmi Narayan, who held the Master in great esteem.” We shall narrate here the circumstances as we find in the biography: “One day Lakshmi Narayan noticed a soiled coverlet on the Master’s bed and at once offered to deposit in the bank in his name a sum of ten thousand rupees, so that his needs might always be supplied. The proposal was so painful to Sri Ramakrishna that he besought him with folded hands never to mention the subject again. Finding all his importunities futile, the Marwari next approached Hriday and pressed him to accept the money in the name of the Holy Mother, who would thereby be enabled to look to the Master’s comforts. When this was made known to the Master, he again objected, saying that even in that case the money would be practically his, and he could not bear the idea of having any possessions. The generous man still insisted. Finding argument of no avail Sri Ramakrishna cried out in anguish: ‘O Mother, why dost Thus bring such people here, who want to estrange me from Thee?’ At this pathetic appeal the gentleman desisted. Referring to this incident the Master afterwards remarked, ‘At the offers of Mathur and Lakshmi Narayan I felt as if somebody was sawing through my skull!’”
Sri Ramakrishna’s renunciation was thorough as well as total. He could not entertain the idea of possession even of things trivial. His nervous system recoiled at the very idea of hoarding. We can understand this better if we give here an example. “The Master was fond of chewing certain spices now and then, especially after meals. One day after he had taken his meal at the room where Sri Sarada Devi the Holy Mother stayed in Dakshineswar, she gave him some spices in a packet of paper and asked him to take them to his room. The Master started for his room but felt confused. He walked straight to the embankment and was about to fall into the river. Sarada Devi did not know what to do. She was too bashful to go out in the public and restrain him. Suddenly she saw a priest of the temple and asked him to call Hriday, who saved the Master from the imminent catastrophe. Evidently, to Sri Ramakrishna, the carrying of a small packet of spices was an act of hoarding.”
The very touch of metal which symbolises money would cause excruciating pain to him. One day, after his last illness had begun, a great physician named Bhagavan Rudra was called in. The physician was told all about the Master’s illness. Sri Ramakrishna then began to talk with the doctor. “Well, what do you think of this? When I touch a coin my hand gets twisted; my breathing stops. Further, if I tie a knot in the corner of my cloth, I cannot breathe. My breathing stops until the knot is untied,” said the Master. “He asked a devotee to bring a rupee. When Sri Ramakrishna held it in his hand, the hand began to writhe with pain. The Master’s breathing also stopped. After the coin had been taken away, he breathed deeply three times and his hands relaxed.”
Even an unconscious touch of money would produce the same result as we shall see in the following incident of his life. “One day when the Master was absent in Calcutta, Narendra came to Dakshineswar. Finding there was no one in his room, a desire arose in his mind to test the Master’s renunciation of wealth. So he secretly placed a rupee under the bed and went to the Panchavati for meditation. After a time Sri Ramakrishna returned. No sooner had he touched the bed than he started back in great pain. Wondering, he was looking around, when Narendra came in and watched him silently. An attendant examined the bed, and the presence of the rupee was disclosed.”
Having thus observed the Master for many years how he practised renunciation, not only from the conscious plane but even in the unconscious, Swami Vivekananda in his Bengali hymn to the Master describes him as Tyagīśvara, supreme among the renouncers.
We shall conclude by what the Holy Mother said of the unique feature of Sri Ramakrishna’s life. “One day a disciple asked her about the special message of Sri Ramakrishna. Was it not the harmony of religions that he experienced and taught? The Mother replied: ‘My child, what you say about the harmony of religion is true. But it never occurred to me that he had practised the disciplines of different faiths with the definite idea of preaching this harmony. Day and night the Master remained overwhelmed with divine rapture. He enjoyed God’s sport by following the paths of the Vaishnavas, Christians, Mussulmans, and the rest. But it seems to me, my child, that the chief characteristic of the Master’s sādhanā was his renunciation. Has anyone ever seen such natural renunciation? Renunciation is his great ornament.’