The old saying of ‘Health is Wealth’ is something that we are taught from childhood. The importance of health is understood only when we fall sick. Each one of us knows and has experienced sickness in one way or the other. Even something as simple as a common cold can leave us complaining and irritated. Physical suffering can also leave us intellectually and emotionally drained. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was dying of throat cancer. It had advanced so much that it was difficult for him to even speak or swallow. Yet, he maintained not just his equanimity but continued to mentor and guide his disciples, especially Narendra.
Naren and his brother disciples nursed Sri Ramakrishna throughout the day and night. Naren was at this time torn between service to his Guru and the need to study for his law exams. He was also involved in the lawsuit with some of his relatives and had to be in Calcutta, but tried to spend as much time with his Guru as possible at Cossipore. Naren was a constant source of inspiration to his brother disciples. He would gather them all together and the time would be spent in study, devotional singing, and discussions about the Master. This was also the time that he was intensely hankering for the bliss of Samadhi and was having very deep spiritual experiences. Most of the other disciples had recently undergone an intense spiritual experience on Kalpataru day and Naren was also longing for it. He met the Master and told him, “It is my desire to remain absorbed in Samadhi continually for 3-4 days, only once in a while coming down to the sense plane to eat a little food.” To this Sri Ramakrishna responded, “You are a small-minded person. There is a state even higher than that. Settle your family affairs and then come to me. You will attain a state higher than Samadhi.” Ramakrishna was aware that the mission of Naren went beyond just his own moksha and that he had to be prepared to work for the betterment of entire humanity itself. Naren had to understand that he was not merely a siddha purusha (a perfected soul) but a savior of other souls. He was not only to cross the ocean of maya himself, but had to help others do so too.
Naren could also not see his Master suffering and one day he begged Sri Ramakrishna to pray to the Mother to cure him of his sickness. Ramakrishna replied, “It is easy for you to talk like that, but I can never ask for such things.” Naren said, “That will not do. You must tell the Mother about it, at least for our sake.” Sri Ramakrishna assured him that he would do so and Naren came back after a few hours asking him what had happened. The Master said, “I said to Her, pointing to my throat, ‘I cannot eat anything on account of the sore here. Please see that I am able to eat a little.’ The Mother replied, ‘Why! Are you not eating through so many mouths?’ I was so ashamed that I could not utter a single word.” Naren was startled by these words and by the complete lack of body consciousness of his Master. Naren knew that his Master was unique in his realizations and the days that he spent with him at Cossipore were both special and extraordinary. This was the time that he also practiced intense austerities and spiritual practices and continued to evolve and mature.