Our Fall 2009 issue will be devoted to the Motherhood of God, which is especially celebrated in the autumn and early winter season, beginning with Durga Puja and continuing through the birthday of Sri Sarada Devi.
In the early days of the Ramakrishna Movement, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was still living. At that time very little was written about her, and it was difficult to obtain her photograph. The emphasis was almost entirely on Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. This began to change with the observance of the Holy Mother Centenary in 1953-54. People, especially women, came forward to celebrate her life in a way that surprised the leaders of the movement. Sri Sarada Math, the women’s monastic organization, was founded at that time. Since then, writings about her and pictures of her have become more and more available, and she has become as popular and revered as Sri Ramakrishna. New lay organizations have sprung up in which she is the primary figure.
Question: Why do you think Mother Sri Sarada Devi has become increasingly prominent and popular? What does she mean to you?
Response by Stafford Smith
An increasing popular interest in Holy Mother verifies the historical progression foreseen a century ago by Swamis Vivekananda and Shivananda. Swamiji wrote that “people will not understand her now, but they will gradually… There will be no salvation of the world without the Divine Power…. Mother has been born to revive this wonderful Shakti…Without the grace of Shakti nothing will be accomplished…What do I find in America and Europe? The worship of Shakti, the worship of Power. Yet they worship Her ignorantly, through sense gratification. Imagine then what a lot of good they will achieve when they worship Her with purity, looking on Her as their Mother!”
To this Mahapurush Maharaj added: “Primordial Energy had incarnated Herself as Mother in order to awaken the women of the world. Her advent was followed by an unprecedented awakening of the women of the world. They are now resolved to build up their lives in all-round gracefulness and to advance in all directions. Not much has been achieved yet, for this is just the beginning….There is remarkable activation among women in the spheres of spiritual pursuits, politics, science, the arts, literature, etc. And more is to come. This is the play of Divine Power, the mysterious significance of which is beyond the conception of ordinary mortals.”
Taking these predictive statements at face value, what do they imply? First, with the advent of Holy Mother there was a subtle shift in the world dynamic away from the masculine pole and toward the feminine. Second, in its initial stages this shift has occurred beneath the surface of conscious awareness and has not depended in any major way upon public recognition of Holy Mother’s significance. But, third, with the momentum of time the force of Holy Mother’s advent will increasingly manifest within public awareness.
A century later it appears that in the West we are just starting to move into the third stage outlined above: Sri Sarada Devi is now beginning to be known and appreciated beyond the small circle of serious Vedanta devotees. And while this should produce elation among Vedanta enthusiasts, in the short term it may also generate discomfort. This is because worship of Holy Mother could suddenly break out of the familiar forms and organizational boundaries to which we have all become accustomed. We may be forced to recognize that Holy Mother is no longer the exclusive possession of the Vedanta societies but, indeed, belongs to everyone equally.
A variation on this theme is already being experienced as an emerging interest, especially among women devotees, in studying and worshiping Holy Mother within settings operated and directed by female monastics. Over time this may result in a more equal institutional balance between Vedanta programs run by monks and and those run by nuns. This should be welcomed as a natural expression of the feminine awakening so eloquently described above by Mahapurush Maharaj. The totality of Vedanta energy will be increased, not merely shifted from one place to another.
On a broader level the emergence of Holy Mother to greater prominence within the general cultural awareness should eventually impact the direction of feminism itself. During the initial phase, when Holy Mother remained a hidden force, the specific content of feminist thought was free to wander in every direction. Now as Sri Sarada Devi’s message of purity, unselfishness and nurturing service becomes more widely known, it should moderate those tendencies toward an aggressive narcissism that characterized elements of early feminism.
The other side of the coin is that as Sarada Devi becomes a more public entity there will be efforts to reshape her image into forms compatible with contemporary popular values. To some degree this is already beginning to occur. One now occasionally encounters paintings and drawings that depict Holy Mother as a more conventionally glamorous individual, and the incidents of her life are combed meticulously for hidden expressions of a god-like power more in keeping with our normal expectations. The profound and unwavering humility of Sri Sarada Devi is so completely at odds with the ingrained egoistic structure of modern society that it seems beyond the capacity of many minds to even imagine its possibility.
Finally, on the grandest scale one must consider that perhaps Sri Sarada Devi incarnated not just for the redemption of individual souls but for the salvation of the planet itself. As every critical parameter of our biosphere approaches either exhaustion or a state of irreversible degradation, the physical survival of humanity itself increasingly will come under siege. The impending choice is between passively accepting a status quo that leads inexorably to catastrophic environmental collapse or imposing dictatorial levels of institutional control in a last desperate attempt to engineer avoidance of a global calamity. This unhappy dilemma can be escaped only if there is a fundamental restructuring of internal human values to a higher level of integration, away from a selfish, heedless and often immoral exploitation of people and resources and toward a compassionate nurturing of life. Perhaps an earthly incarnation of the Divine Mother of the Universe is truly the only force powerful enough to awaken us from our fearful and self-absorbed collective stupor and divert us from a cataclysmic course onto a life-sustaining path.