WISH YOU ALL A VERY BLISSFUL AND SPIRITUALLY FRUITFUL NEW YEAR - January 1, 2022
The first day of January, besides being the New Year day, is of special significance to a Ramakrishna devotee. This is the day of the self-revelation of Sri Ramakrishna, when he became what is now popularly called the Kalpataru, “the wish-fulfilling tree.”
As the Sri Ramakrishna had granted unstinted grace to one and all on this day, some felt that he had revealed himself as the kalpataru on that day. The first of January thus came to be known as the Kalpataru Day. The Kashipur residence (which now houses a center of the Ramakrishna Order) became naturally the focus of attention. Sri Ramakrishna had stayed in the house for more than eight months and, to crown it all, had showered this special grace on the devotees on the 1st of January. Even today, devotees of Sri Ramakrishna from all over the world pour into the holy precincts of the Kashipur house to feel the living presence of the Master and to share in the spiritual legacy left behind by him. The climax is reached every year on the Kalpataru Day when thousands and thousands rush to Kashipur to recapture the “kalpataru grace” granted by the Master in 1886.
At this stage, it is imperative that we enquire into some fundamental questions: What exactly do we mean when we say that Sri Ramakrishna became the kalpataru on that occasion? Is it possible for us to derive any spiritual benefit from this incident separated from us by a distance of so many years? In other words, does the kalpataru Ramakrishna continue to shower his grace even today? And is this divine privilege extended to the devotees only on the 1st of January?
The kalpataru or kalpa-vṛkṣa is pictured in the Indian mythology as a wish-fulfilling tree. Standing under it, whatever we wish comes true; whatever we desire, we get.
Now, is Sri Ramakrishna a kalpataru of the traditional type, giving everyone whatever they desire? He doesn’t seem to be so. The kalpataru event at Kashipur clearly bears this out. Not all the people who received Sri Ramakrishna’s grace that day could be said to have had no worldly desires of any kind. Yet it was not the fulfillment of those worldly cravings that this kalpataru brought about.
What Sri Ramakrishna did was something quite different. On that day he cast off the thin human veil that covered his divine identity and filled the devotees with the strength of grace. Swami
Saradananda therefore finds it more reasonable to call the event “the self-revelation of the Master.”
If we must use the word kalpataru with regard to Sri Ramakrishna, it would be more appropriate to say that he manifested himself as a “special” kalpataru that day. There are at least two points in which this special kalpataru differs from its conventional counterpart. First of all, it does not grant us everything that we seek. It gives us only that which would ultimately lead us toward peace and fulfillment. Thus the devotees and disciples of Sri Ramakrishna did not have all their desires fulfilled that day. The desires which would hinder their Godward march were not granted by him. It was, in fact, the extermination of those desires that this kalpataru specialized in.
Secondly, the conventional kalpataru required a person to come under it and wish for something. The Ramakrishna-kalpataru did not (and does not) always wait for the person to come to him, nor was (and is) it necessary always to explicitly express one’s desires in his presence. Ramakrishna could see through people as through a glass-case and knew, without being told, what they were in need of. “If you take one step towards God, he takes ten steps towards you,” he taught. In fact, his moving out to Calcutta toward the end of his life had this primary motive. It was more for the spiritual “treatment“ of his growing number of devotees than for his own physical one.
The Kalpataru-episode at Kashipur is not an isolated event in the Master’s life. He had blessed in the same way his inner circle of intimate devotees several times at Dakshineswar. The speciality of the kalpataru episode lay in the fact that the Master chose to shower his grace for the first time on a wider circle of people. Never before had he lifted the human veil covering his divinity in so obvious a fashion before one and all.
One cannot help imagining some sort of a connection between the New Year’s day and the day of “self-revelation of the Master.” The New Year’s day is a day of joy, hope and eager expectations. Everyone hopes to have a happy, prosperous and peaceful year ahead. In many countries an effigy of the “old man” is made with the past year inscribed on it. At midnight, amidst jubilant shouts, song and dance, the “old man” is burnt. “Ring out the old, ring in the new”—they say, as the New Year is ushered in. But just a year later this New Year loses its newness and we are ready for a yet another New Year.
Can we not have a New Year that would remain “new” always? Yes, we can but not in the physical sense. A New Year that is not bound by time is conceivable only in dimensions that transcend time. From the spiritual standpoint, the “New Year” signifying a new life, a new spiritual birth, becomes all the more meaningful, because its newness is not a temporary phenomenon. All our spiritual endeavors initially are meant to hasten the coming of this “New Year.” But in order to participate in the New Year’s celebration, the “old man” of worldly desires has to be set on fire by through discernment (viveka), dispassion (vairāgya), prayer (prārthanā) and devotion to God (bhakti).
When the mind becomes sufficiently pure, the “New Year” sets in. The Ramakrishna-kalpataru then approaches us and fills our hearts with divine grace. Equipped with this strengthening grace, we are able to combat the subtle obstacles that block the path to higher levels of spiritual life. We then find no difficulty in cleansing our minds of the subtle desires and impulses that are still present in our otherwise pure mind. Thus blessed, our every succeeding moment becomes converted into a New Year day, lifting us higher and higher towards perfection and fulfillment.
And that is the significance of the Kalpataru Day celebration on the 1st of January. It is a reminder to every devotee of the unforgettable event at Kashipur and of the redeeming power of the Lord. It is also a gentle hint to a serious spiritual seeker to look beyond the physical aspects of the episode and to concentrate on its spiritual implications. It is in this sense that the bestowal of the kalpataru grace is not limited to the few devotees that had gathered at Kashipur on January 1, 1886. It is as valid and true today as it was then. And it is to recapture that mood of participation in the inspiring event at Kashipur that the 1st of January holds a special meaning to a Ramakrishna devotee.
Swami Sarvasthananda Bourne End UK