rendrath Datta was in dire straits. His father had died of a heart attack, his mother was ill, his family was bankrupt. As a top lawyer, Viswath Datta had a lucrative income. But thanks to his extreme generosity, he was also in huge debt. After his sudden demise, creditors came calling, the landlord threatened eviction while relatives turned their backs.
The year was 1884. A bright young man then preparing for his F.A. examition, rendrath had to drop all plans of studying further and began hunting for a job. He was, after all, the eldest son of the family. A huge responsibility was upon him.
Years after, he would recount his experiences of those days: “I was dying of starvation. Barefooted I went from office to office and was refused everywhere. I learnt by experience what human compassion is. This was my first contact with the realities of life; and I discovered it had no room for the weak, the poor, the deserted...”
In his darkest hour, rendrath thought of Ramakrish Paramhansa. He had become acquainted with the mystic saint three years before, arguing with him endlessly about spiritual matters from the standpoint of logic and ratiolism. Seeking solace now, he turned his steps towards his Master. Later, he would write:
“One day the idea struck me that God listened to Sri Ramakrish’s prayers. So why should I not ask him to pray for me for the removal of my pecuniary wants, a favor the Master would never deny me. I hurried to Dakshineswar and insisted on his making an appeal on behalf of my starving family.
He said, “My boy, I can’t make such demands. But why don’t you go and ask the Mother yourself? All your sufferings are due to your disregard of Her.” I said, “I do not know the Mother; you speak to Her on my behalf. You must.”
He replied tenderly, “My dear boy, I have done so again and again. But you do not accept Her, so She does not grant my prayer. All right, it is Tuesday. Go to the Kali temple tonight, prostrate yourself before the Mother and ask Her any boon you like. It shall be granted; She is Knowledge Absolute, the Inscrutable Power of Brahman and by Her mere will She has given birth to this world. Everything is in Her power to give.”
I believed every word and eagerly waited for the night. About nine o’clock, the Master commanded me to go to the temple. As I went, I was filled with a divine intoxication. My feet were unsteady. My heart was leaping in anticipation of the joy of beholding the living Goddess and hearing Her words.
Reaching the temple, as I cast my eyes upon the image, I actually found that the Divine Mother was living and conscious, full of divine love and beauty. I was caught in a surging wave of devotion and love. In an ecstasy of joy, I prostrated myself again before the Mother and prayed, “Mother, give me discrimition! Give me renunciation! Give me knowledge and devotion; grant that I may have an uninterrupted vision of Thee!”
A serene peace reigned in my soul. The world was forgotten. Only the Divine Mother shone within my heart.
As soon as I returned, Sri Ramakrish asked me if I had prayed to the Mother for the removal of my worldly wants. I was startled at this question and said, “No sir, I forgot all about it. But is there any remedy now?” “Go again,” said he, “and tell Her about your wants.”
I again set out for the temple, but at the sight of the Mother forgot my mission, bowed to Her repeatedly and prayed only for knowledge and devotion. The Master asked if I had done it the second time. I told him what had happened. He said, “How thoughtless! Couldn’t you restrain yourself enough to say those few worlds? Well, try once more and make that prayer to Her. Quick!”
I went for the third time, but on entering the temple, a terrible shame overpowered me. I thought, “What a trifle have I come to pray to the Mother for! It is like asking a gracious king for a few vegetables! What a fool I am!”. In shame and remorse, I bowed to Her respectfully and said, “Mother, I want nothing but knowledge and devotion!”
Coming out of the temple I understood that all this was due to Sri Ramakrish’s will. Otherwise how could I fail in my object three times? I came to him and said, “Sir, it is you who has cast a charm over my mind and made me forgetful. Now please grant me the boon that my people at home may no longer suffer the pinch of poverty!”
He said, “Such a prayer never comes from my lips. I asked you to pray for yourself, but you couldn’t do it. It appears that you are not destined to enjoy worldly happiness. Well, I can’t help it.”
But I wouldn’t let him go. I insisted on his granting that prayer. At last he said, “All right, your people at home will never be in want of plain food and clothing”.
His heart filly at peace, rendrath bowed down at the feet of his Master and rose as Swami Vivekanda. Material things had ceased to matter, for had he not gazed upon the face of the divine and blissful Mother, felt Her infinite love and compassion? The difficult days for his family would soon pass. As Ramakrish’s spiritual successor, Vivekanda now had a supreme mission — to take the great saint’s legacy forward. The world was waiting...