Tributes to Nag Mahashay
“”He is verily a blazing fire!”
“”I have travelled far in different parts of the globe, but nowhere could I meet a great soul like Nag Mahashay.”
“”Only by seeing Nag Mahashay can one understand to what spiritual height a man can attain through the Grace of our Lord. In self-control and renunciation he is by far our superior.”
“”It is due to the appearance of such great souls that spirituality is still present in India. Blessed indeed is Nag Mahashay.”
“”By constant beating, Nag Mahashay had the head of his ego completely broken. It was unable to raise its hood any more.”
Girish Chandra Ghosh
“”If a man be sincere and if really all idea of egotism has vanished from him, he attains to the state of Nag Mahashay. The earth becomes consecrated by the very touch of the feet of such great men.”
Girish Chandra Ghosh
“”Mahamaya fell into a great difficulty in trying to ensnare two persons: Naren and Nag Mahashay. As She tried to capture Naren, he became bigger and bigger and at last so big that all Her fetters fell short and She had to give up Her task as hopeless. And when She attempted Her trick on Nag Mahashay, he began to make himself smaller and smaller and at last reduced himself to such a degree of smallness that he easily escaped through the meshes of Her snares.”
Girish Chandra Ghosh
I will tell you a few anecdotes about a God-intoxicated man who was devotion incarnate, humility incarnate and surrender incarnate. His name was Durga Charan Nag, but he is known as Nag Mahashay.
This seeker happened to be one of the foremost disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. According to many, he was insane in every sense of the term, but according to the Truth-seekers and God-lovers, he was a radiant example of purity, simplicity, sympathy and oneness-heart.
The first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna
Although Nag Mahashay came from a small village in East Bengal, he was living in Calcutta. There he studied traditional medicine and later homeopathy. He had a friend named Suresh, who used to meditate on the formless aspect of God, while Nag Mahashay always wanted to pray to the embodied God, the God with form. These two friends were dearer than the dearest. At the same time, since their views were diametrically opposite, they used to argue far into the night. But they never arrived at a conclusion or solution to their different beliefs.
One day Suresh said to Nag Mahashay, “I believe in the impersonal aspect of God and you believe in the personal aspect of God. Since you are so deeply interested in the personal God, I would like to bring you to see someone who has either realised God or who has attained to a very, very lofty state of consciousness. He is living just near Calcutta, at Dakshineshwar.”
So Suresh and Nag Mahashay went to see Sri Ramakrishna for the first time. When they entered Sri Ramakrishna’s room, Suresh just folded his hands and greeted the Master. Unfortunately, humility was sadly lacking. Nag Mahashay behaved in an altogether different way. At the very sight of Sri Ramakrishna, he fell prostrate before the Master and wanted to take the dust of his feet. But Sri Ramakrishna withdrew his legs and did not allow Nag Mahashay to touch his feet.
The poor fellow was cut to the quick. He said to himself, “I am not worthy of touching his feet. He knows how impure I am. He has realised God; he is a man of infinite compassion. For him not to allow me to touch his feet means that my entire being is all impurity. Now I have to make myself pure in my thought, in my speech and in each action. In everything that I undertake, I have to be pure, pure, pure. Then I am sure one day he will allow me to touch his feet.”
Although Nag Mahashay was extremely sad that he was not allowed to touch Sri Ramakrishna’s feet, in a matter of a few minutes he found that his sadness was replaced by a feeling of tremendous love and admiration for Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna asked the two friends a few questions and then asked them to go and meditate in the Panchavati, where he had attained his own spiritual perfection. They meditated there for half an hour and returned to Sri Ramakrishna, who then showed them all the temples at Dakshineshwar. They saw the twelve temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the temple to Lord Vishnu. Finally, they came to Mother Kali’s temple.
Sri Ramakrishna fell down at the Feet of Mother Kali’s statue and with utmost devotion he started worshipping the Mother. Nag Mahashay saw that the Master had entered into a state of divine ecstasy. Nag Mahashay also showed tremendous devotion to the Mother, but his friend only observed everything in silence.
Afterwards they all returned to Sri Ramakrishna’s room. He gave them something very simple to eat and said, “Come back again.”
Performing service for the Master
A few days later, Nag Mahashay came back alone. Sri Ramakrishna asked Nag Mahashay to fan him because it was a hot day. Nag Mahashay was so thrilled that the Master had asked him to perform this service. Then Sri Ramakrishna asked Nag Mahashay what he did for a living. Nag Mahashay explained that he had studied to be a doctor, but he had to give it up owing to financial problems. He then studied and got his degree in homeopathy, which is less expensive.
Married not once, but twice
Next Sri Ramakrishna asked Nag Mahashay whether he was married. Nag Mahashay replied, “Master, not once, but twice!”
Sri Ramakrishna asked, “Why? Why?”
The disciple explained, “The first time, it was to a young girl of eleven, and then she died in a year or two. I was so happy and relieved. It was all against my will to be married. To please my father I did it. Then I was so happy that God took her. My father wanted me to marry a second time. Again, it was dead against my will. I fought and fought to be allowed to remain free from worldly bondage. Day and night we argued. I pleaded with my father. I said, ‘I want to be spiritual. I want to give my life to God. Already you brought bondage into my life once. Now God, out of His boundless Compassion, has removed this bondage. Why must I suffer again?’
“But my father would not listen. He wanted grandchildren. He felt that if I did not continue his lineage, then Heaven’s door would be closed to him; God would not be pleased with him. He said to me, ‘Do you want to prove that I am a liar? I have already selected a bride for you and I have given her family my word that you will marry her. I have promised them.’
“When I did not respond, my father became very angry. He said, ‘I am cursing you. You will never be successful in any sphere of life.’ But I would not give in. I said to him, ‘No harm, I am ready. I accept your curse. I am not going to get married again.’
“Then one day it happened that I came home from work and I found my father in his room weeping bitterly. I asked him the reason for his sorrow. He only said, ‘You have to know why I am crying.’
“I knew that I could not prolong my father’s misery any longer. I said to him, ‘I do know why you are crying. I wish to tell you that I am giving up my religion; I am giving up my spirituality; I am giving up God to please you, since that is what will make you happy. It is up to God whether He forgives me or not. I cannot bear to see you weeping. You have shown me infinite affection since my very birth. How can I displease you? I will get married.’
“My father was extremely surprised and delighted and he made arrangements for my second marriage. My wife is now living in my native village. She is taking care of my father.”
Sri Ramakrishna’s compassionate reply
After hearing Nag Mahashay’s life story, Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “There is no harm in what you have done by marrying a second time to please your father. One can easily pray to God while living a householder’s life.”
“How can it be possible?” asked the disciple. “How can a householder’s life and God go together?”
The Master said, “It is quite possible. In your case, I can clearly see that you will be able to do it.”
“Please tell me how!” begged the disciple.
Sri Ramakrishna then told him, “Kindly try to be in the company of sadhus, religious people, as often as possible.”
“How can I find them? Where will I find them?” asked Nag Mahashay.
Sri Ramakrishna replied, “You do not have to go and find them. They will come to you. I am sure that wherever you are, they are bound to come to you. Religious people, sadhus and mendicants, will all flock to you.”
Sri Ramakrishna’s words proved to be absolutely true. From far and wide, spiritual people used to come and visit Nag Mahashay in his little village home.
Maintaining the loftiest height
Nag Mahashay asked Sri Ramakrishna, “Now that I have pleased my father by getting married, do I have to please my father again by having children?”
Sri Ramakrishna told him, “No, you have pleased him enough. You do not have to have children.”
The disciple said, “Then I shall practise celibacy.”
So Nag Mahashay would not go near his wife. He used to feel shy and he would avoid her. Many, many nights he used to climb up a tree and spend the whole night there because he was afraid of temptation. He said, “This is the only way I can conquer temptation.”
The Western world or the modern-day world may laugh at Nag Mahashay, but he was fully convinced that by protecting himself from temptation in this way, he would be able to climb up to the loftier than the loftiest height in his spiritual life.
The kind-hearted homeopath
Nag Mahashay had a very big heart, so he used to give homeopathic medicines to the poor without charging them any fee. Everybody was deeply appreciative of his kind-heartedness except his own father. His father used to scold him and insult him, even in front of Nag Mahashay’s wife.
Once it happened that a very poor man developed a high fever and all kinds of ailments. Nag Mahashay went to his house to help him. He found the man shivering violently and so he took off his own shawl and wrapped it around the man. Then he gave the man some homeopathic medicine and massaged him with utmost love and concern. He spent two or three hours in this poor man’s home. His fee for house calls was only three rupees, but in this case, as in many others, he did not even ask the man to pay him.
When Nag Mahashay returned home, he was shivering because he no longer had his shawl. His father insulted him mercilessly because of his impractical attitude. His father said, “What are you doing? You give free food; you give free medicine. Now you are giving your own clothes! You do not keep enough money to support yourself or your wife.”
His father used to buy new shawls for Nag Mahashay — only to have them given away by his son. The father finally said, “It is a hopeless case! Only God can take care of you. My earthly reason is of no avail.”
Nag Mahashay’s wife did not share her father-in-law’s attitude. Like her husband, she too had a very big heart and she felt very sad when her father-in-law insulted her husband. She knew that her husband was not an ordinary man but a great God-seeker.
The foolish, quack homeopath
A certain gentleman who was extremely wealthy developed a serious disease. Even the doctors in the hospital could not cure him. Finally, the rich man’s friends pointed out, by way of joke, that there was only one doctor in the city whom he had not consulted: the foolish, quack homeopath. Although they were joking, the rich man said, “Since I am heading towards the other world, it cannot do any harm for me to try him.”
So he sent for Nag Mahashay, who came and gave him a remedy. In two or three days, it became obvious that the patient was improving, and in a month’s time he was completely cured. The rich man wanted to give Nag Mahashay 300 rupees, but Nag Mahashay said, “You have already paid my fee of 20 rupees. Why should I take this?”
The rich man insisted, “But 300 rupees is nothing for me. You have saved my life and I want to show you my gratitude.”
Then Nag Mahashay’s father began insulting him, as usual, and tried to force him to take the money.
Finally, in front of everyone, Nag Mahashay started shedding tears. Looking up with folded hands, he prayed aloud, “O God, You have really forsaken me. If I become rich, then I will not think of You. This is just a tricky plan to test me. If I take the money, I will no longer think of You. Only by remaining poor will I be able to think of You at every moment. No, I will not accept this money under any circumstances.”
In spite of his father’s unceasing insults, Nag Mahashay remained firm in his refusal to accept the 300 rupees.
The Master’s suffering
When Sri Ramakrishna’s days were numbered and he was lying ill at Cossipore, some of the disciples could not bear the agony of their Master’s passing. Even Naren went away for a few days to console himself. Nag Mahashay also stopped coming. He was sulking because he knew that the Master had the capacity to cure himself but he was not using this capacity. He said, “It seems that the Master wants to suffer. What can I do? I do not want to see him suffering like this.” So he stayed away.
One day Sri Ramakrishna said to Nag Mahashay’s friend Suresh, “Ask your doctor-friend to come and see me. He has not been here for a long time.”
So Nag Mahashay went to Cossipore. Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “Now, Doctor, cure me!”
Nag Mahashay immediately wanted to use medicine and so forth. He even thought of trying to draw the disease from Sri Ramakrishna’s body into his own.
But Sri Ramakrishna read his mind and said, “Oh no, you have the capacity to cure me, but Mother does not want me to be cured.” He only wanted his doctor-disciple to come and visit him before he left this world.
The Master’s impossible request
Some people took Nag Mahashay to be a lunatic of the first degree, but his devotion to Sri Ramakrishna was most exemplary. He felt that if Sri Ramakrishna said something, it would definitely prove to be true.
Only five or six days before Sri Ramakrishna left the body, he wanted to eat a particular fruit called ‘amalaki’. Indian doctors give utmost importance to that fruit. It is almost like a cure-all. It is quite small in size. I used to like it so much; it quenches your thirst.
When Sri Ramakrishna expressed his desire to eat amalaki, the fruit was out of season. The disciples who were present told Sri Ramakrishna that it was useless to even look for it because it was out of season. But Nag Mahashay said, “Since Master has said it, definitely somewhere it will be available. Whatever he says cannot be false.”
So, without informing anybody, Nag Mahashay left the room and for three days he was wandering here and there without any food or sleep searching for amalaki. At last he did find the fruit and he brought it to Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna was so delighted and excited. He took the fruit personally from Nag Mahashay and said, “What a beautiful amalaki it is!”
Fanatical devotion or true devotion?
After taking the fruit, Sri Ramakrishna said to Nag Mahashay, “You are thirsty. You are hungry. I want you to go and eat.” Sri Ramakrishna asked Shashi, another one of his disciples, to prepare some food for Nag Mahashay.
Nag Mahashay listened to his Master and went downstairs. Then he realised that it was Ekadasi — the eleventh day of the new moon, which is a day of fasting. So Nag Mahashay would not touch any food.
Shashi went and reported to Sri Ramakrishna, “He is not going to eat today.”
Sri Ramakrishna said, “Go and ask him the reason why he does not want to eat.”
After a few moments, Shashi came back and said to Sri Ramakrishna, “He is telling me that today is Ekadasi. He will eat only if the food is blessed by you.”
“Then bring it, bring it,” said Sri Ramakrishna. “I will bless it.”
So Shashi held the banana leaf plate with the food before Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramakrishna took a little from each dish and touched it with his tongue to sanctify it. Nag Mahashay was so happy that his Master had blessed the food. He took it as prasad and ate voraciously. When he had finished the meal, he also ate the banana leaf on which it had been served. His spiritual brothers said to him, “What are you doing? How can you eat a banana leaf?”
Nag Mahashay replied, “Why not? It has the same taste. The Master touched it. To me, it is as delicious as the food itself.”
After that time, whenever the disciples served Nag Mahashay prasad on leaves, they used to watch him very carefully. As soon as he had finished eating, they used to snatch away the banana leaf before he could eat it. Or they used to give him his food deliberately on a proper plate so that he could not devour the plate. And whenever they offered him any fruit, they used to take out the seeds and pits so that he would not eat them also. For, if anything was given to him as prasad, he would not leave any portion of it because he felt it was a blessingful gift from his Master.
No other disciple of Sri Ramakrishna had that kind of devotion. You may call it fanatical devotion, but I call it true devotion.
The Hunger strike
On August 16th, 1886, Sri Ramakrishna left the body. Everybody was swimming in a sea of tears. Naren had to accept his leadership of his spiritual brothers because it was dictated by Sri Ramakrishna himself. After coming back from the cremation ground, Nag Mahashay went home and lay down, covering himself with a blanket. He would not take any food. He said, “What is the use of keeping this body? Master has left the body and my own God-realisation is still a far cry. I do not need this body any more. I shall fast unto death.”
Mahatma Gandhi did this kind of thing from time to time for political reasons. He would say to Nehru or other leaders, “If you do not listen to me, I will die. I will refuse to eat.”
Nag Mahashay’s action was in a different mode. It was purely on a spiritual level, so it was something infinitely higher and deeper, although it borders on craziness. Sri Ramakrishna would not have asked him to do this. Sri Ramakrishna would have definitely told Nag Mahashay that after his passing he must eat. But Nag Mahashay’s sincere, genuine devotion was always mixed with so-called outer craziness.
For about four days, Nag Mahashay took neither food nor drink. News reached Naren and he went with Gangadhar and Hari, two of Sri Ramakrishna’s other disciples, to see Nag Mahashay. They found him living in utter poverty. His room was untidy; his hair was dishevelled and his clothes were not washed. He was lying down on a cot which was half broken.
Naren said to him, “Today we have come here to eat. You must feed us.”
Then Nag Mahashay got up and went to the market. He bought food and prepared a meal for his fellow brothers. Naren said, “Now here we are three, so we will need four plates altogether.”
“Oh no,” said Nag Mahashay, “I am not going to eat.”
“All right,” said Naren, “then we shall eat. We are hungry. You give us three plates.”
The three guests ate and then Naren again pleaded with Nag Mahashay, “Now you eat, you eat.”
Again the disciple said, “I am not going to eat. I have not realised God, so why should I feed this body? I cannot bear the loss of the Master.”
Then Naren announced, “If you do not take your food, I am not going to leave your house. Here I will stay permanently.”
So poor Nag Mahashay was compelled to break his fast and eat.
Do not criticise the Master
One day Nag Mahashay went to his father-in-law’s place. There was a guest there who was inwardly quite spiritual, although outwardly he used to make fun of spiritual people. This guest began criticising Sri Ramakrishna, saying that Sri Ramakrishna was crazy and his realisation was not authentic.
Nag Mahashay could not restrain himself. He said to this gentleman, “If you utter one more word, I shall throw you out of this place!”
The man was quite tall and stout. Physically he was much stronger than Nag Mahashay. Once more he began criticising Sri Ramakrishna mercilessly. Nag Mahashay grabbed a pair of sandals and started thrashing the guest. He said, “I begged you to leave this place, but you would not go. You dared to speak ill of my Master. This is what you deserve!”
Needless to say, the gentleman beat a hasty retreat.
When Girish Chandra Ghosh came to hear of this incident, he said to Nag Mahashay, “You never wear sandals. Where then did you get a pair of sandals to beat this poor fellow?”
“I simply removed them from his own feet,” replied Nag Mahashay.
“Nag Mahashay is verily a hooded Naga!” was Girish’s comment.
There were two ways Sri Ramakrishna used to advise his disciples to deal with somebody who was criticising their Master. If that person was physically, vitally and mentally stronger than the disciple, he used to tell the disciple to think of the person as an insect, not as a human being. In Bengali, lok means human being and pok means insect, so you can easily substitute pok for lok. Sri Ramakrishna would say, “Just think of them as pok. Then you will not have to take them seriously.” 1
But if somebody who was physically, vitally and mentally weak began criticising the Master, Sri Ramakrishna would say to his disciples, “How do you allow yourselves to keep quiet at that time? If somebody speaks ill of your Master, it is the greatest sin for you to hear it. Do you not read the shastras?”
In our Indian scriptures, it is written that if you hear somebody speaking ill of your Master and you do not rise to his defence, then you are committing the greatest sin.
God alone knows which one is the right attitude. In my own case, I have told my disciples that if somebody speaks ill of me, they must never take the side of physical violence-never, never! Of all the Himalayan blunders you can make, physical violence is absolutely the worst. Only pray to the Supreme to illumine that person. Let each human being take his own time to realise the Truth.
GNM 14,7. Note: ‘Nag’ means ‘snake’. ‘Mahashay’ means ‘esteemed sir’.
Believe it or not, Nag Mahashay did not take a bath for twenty-five years! He used to get migraine headaches when he would bathe. He was a doctor, but he could not cure himself, and other doctors were unable to cure him. So he had to stop bathing altogether. He used to wash his face and hands only.
Everything in Nag Mahashay’s case was extreme. He was unbalanced in many aspects of life, but his purer than the purest devotion can never be questioned. He had the devotion-magnet. If one has that type of devotion, one has no time to think of the rest of the world — who is good, who is bad and so on. When you have true devotion, like Nag Mahashay, you try to see the divinity in each and every individual. By seeing the good qualities in others, you can go very high and deep. By seeing the imperfections in others, we only increase our own imperfections enormously.
There was a spiritual Master who also lived in East Bengal. He used to examine the disciples of other Masters to see how much faith they had in their own Master. Once Nag Mahashay went to see this particular Master. This Master was really genuine, but he decided to examine the devotion of this particular disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.
The Master said to him, “Why do you not have any proper clothes? Why do you not bathe? Why are you so untidy? Can you not see yourself? Is this the sign of a spiritual man — living in poverty and remaining dirty and filthy?”
Poor Nag Mahashay could not say anything because this was such a great spiritual Master. He knew that Naren and others did not behave the way he himself behaved. They were properly dressed and so forth. He hung his head low.
Then the Master said to him, “I know whose disciple you are. You are Sri Ramakrishna’s disciple. So what can you expect! He was insane and you are also behaving like him. Like Master, like disciple. It is easy to see that you are Ramakrishna’s disciple.”
There were many devotees of this Master present, but they all knew that he was teasing. Nag Mahashay was so sad and upset. He did not dare to say or do anything outwardly, but he took an oath that he would never visit that Master again.
The Master was so happy that Nag Mahashay would not come back any more. He told his disciples, “Now I know he is extremely devoted to Sri Ramakrishna. His love for him is genuine.”
Thakur is calling
When Nag Mahashay’s days were numbered, he asked one of his disciples to consult the Indian Almanac to select a very auspicious day for his departure. The disciple did not understand that Nag Mahashay was referring to his final departure from this earth. They selected an auspicious day and then Nag Mahashay said, “With your permission, I shall start on that day.”
In a flash, the disciple realised that Nag Mahashay was talking about his passing and the disciple began crying and crying. He said, “How can you leave us? We will be motherless and fatherless.” All the disciples joined in. They were completely heartbroken.
Who was there to console the disciples? Nag Mahashay’s wife. She told them, “Do not cry for him. Thakur is calling him. His body is here, but his soul, heart and mind are already with Thakur. He will be happy with Thakur. Let us be happy in his happiness.”
(Sri Chinmoy, A God-intoxicated man: Nag Mahashay, Agni Press, 1997)
Part II: Questions and answers
Question: If Nag Mahashay was so devoted, why did he not realise God?
Sri Chinmoy: Nag Mahashay was like a runner who is running very, very fast. He was running infinitely faster than many others. Next to him, others were crawling by comparison. But the distance to God-realisation is very long. It is not a fixed distance, like the marathon. After 26 miles, the marathon will be over. But the distance to God-realisation is so far, so far. Only by God’s Grace can you go there.
Again, Nag Mahashay will reach the goal long before others because of his speed. When Bill Rodgers is finishing a marathon, I am only at the halfway mark. Similarly, Nag Mahashay will arrive at the goal with his lightning speed.
Each spiritual Master has a few extremely devoted disciples. But the Master will never say, “If you can make unconditional surrender for five years or ten years, you will realise God.” It is a matter of God’s choice Hour. We can prepare the ground, like a farmer who ploughs the paddy field and plants the seeds. But only at God’s choice Hour will He come and stand in front of us in Person to offer us our God-realisation.