Sri Ramakrishna?s Physician Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar ? His Life and Thoughts
|ADVAITA ASHRAM KOLKATA
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In this way a taste for science will soon be disseminated among the general community and science will then count her votaries by thousands and hundreds of thousands, instead of scarcely, as now, by units. And then India of her own accord, unaided and unsolicited, will equip and send out scientific expedition, as civilized governments under pressure are now doing. No part of the world requiring exploration will be without explorers from India. Not a single phenomenon can occur, either in the heavens above or in the earth below which can be predicted beforehand and the observation of which might be of scientific interest and importance, which India will not sent her scientific men to observe and record. Is this a dream? Yes, it is; but it is one of those dreams which can be willed into a reality. Give me money and I can show you that, though yet a dream, it can be made as much a reality as anything in nature.
Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar was a leading Homoeopath of Kolkata during the second half of the nineteenth century. He was also blessed by providence to be Sri Ramakrishna’s doctor after Sri Ramakrishna developed cancer of the throat. A biography of the Doctor in Bengali, Sri Rama- krishner Doctor Mahendralal Sarkar, by Dr. Jaladhikumar Sarkar, was published in 1990. Swami Ranganathananda, the thirteenth President of the Ramakrishna Order, had expressed his earnest wish to bring out an English rendering of this biography. So we are happy to be able to place the present work before the public, thereby fulfilling the wish of Swami Ranganathananda ji and also paying homage to the blessed memory of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar. In this book, readers will get a glimpse into Dr. Sarkar’s multifaceted personality and also into the intimate relationship he enjoyed with Sri Ramakrishna. Part one of this book (except the last chapter in that part, “Tributes to Dr. Sarkar”) is a translation of the abovementioned Bengali biography of the Doctor, which has been lucidly rendered by Prof M. Sivaramkrishna. We are grateful to him for the same.
Part Two of the book is comprised of Dr. Sarkar’s thoughts, which were compiled by Swami Shuddhidananda. He carefully edited the book and also added the chapter “Tributes to Dr. Sarkar” in Part one. We are thankful to him for the same.
This book has many areas of significance for all those interested in enriching their awareness of the unique phenomenon known to the world as Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master. His divine play included many “characters” ‘of diverse hues. One of them was Mahendralal Sarkar, Sri Ramakrishna’s Doctor. He treated the Master for cancer during the Master’s stay at the Cossipore Garden House. The details of the encounter between the two found in this book reveal some highly significant aspects of both.
Dr. Sarkar was initially a medical doctor in allopathic medicine; later he became a Homeopath. But he was more than this: he was one of the most pioneering figures in the advancement of science in India. As Partha Ghose says:
...in the late nineteenth century . . . Calcutta could boast of an alert community of local Indian scientists.... The pioneer in this field was the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), set up in January 1876 by Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, a physician of rare vision.
Though the learned Doctor was thus a votary of scientific temper, he was receptive to areas of spirituality which transcend it. But, though an earnest believer of God, he was a person whose faith was unconventional. F or instance, he could not accept that God assumed a human form. The perception of Divine Incarnation seemed to him highly debatable. Similarly, he had serious reservations about image worship. Nevertheless, in a disarmingly paradoxical. way, he used to pray to God before administering medicines to the patients. In short, Dr. Sarkar was averse not to spiritual phenomena as such but sceptical about some of its manifest (largely dualistic and ritualistic) forms.
The scientific temper is rooted basically in a sense of wonder and curiosity. It is this quality which, in spite of its inherent limits, made the Doctor find the Great Master a puzzle, a riddle that eluded his own frames of reference. Perhaps, the Doctor’s disproportionate bias to science and all that it implied amused Sri Ramakrishna. But then it was the curiosity behind that made l)r. Sarkar open and remarkably receptive. For instance, when he saw the Master in samadhi, he was “dumb—founded." Then “...he checked [the Masters] pulse and felt no throbbing. Ile then put the stethoscope to the Masters heart and did not get a heartbeat. Next Dr. Sarkar touched the Masters eyeballs with his finger but still the Master's outer consciousness did not return.” I One can regard this as a striking instance of adherence to truth as he saw it. Similarly the Doctor admits that, “lf he [the Master] had studied books he could not have acquired so much knowledge? And yet the analogy he chooses is, almost predictably from science. “Faraday)” the Doctor says, “communed with nature; that is why he was able to discover many scientific truths. He could never have known so much from the mere study of books. Mathematical formulas only throw the brain into confusion and bar the path of original inquiry.
lt is true, in spite of all this, and even after his association with Sri Ramakrishna, these aspects remained as inalienable contours of the Doctor’s psyche. Of course, it is equally true that Sri Ramakrishna’s teaching is meant not only to tone down limiting tendencies, but also, alongside, to give a turn and extend these so that the so—called limitations become strengths. The Masters “method” is unconditional, non judgmental love, and it works miracles. We can say that the concerned person receives an impetus so that he or she gradually “graduates” into the spirit of surrender.
Consequently, the Doctor is gently led to think in a different way about areas which he was already familiar with: fondness for bhajans, the gift for composition of devotional hymns, etc. As M. tells us: ‘Although Dr. Sarkar was a very busy physician, he would spend a long time — sometimes six or seven hours — in Sri Ramakrishna’s company. He had great love for the Master and looked on the devotees as his own kith and kin.” Aren’t these traits basic to any spiritual path?
But as we observe in the second part of this book, Dr. Sarkar had unlimited faith in the other dimensions of human intelligence. With typical renaissance spirit, he says: “...there does not appear to be any limit whatever to the ever—expanding intelligence of man, to its insatiable thirst alter knowledge, and, when means are properly applied to the acquisition of knowledge, and, by its aid, to the mastery over nature.”
Similarly, it is heartening to notice that Dr. Sarkar does not regard science as a threat to other human aspirations. With a tremendous conviction he affirms: “I do not believe that man’s higher nature has suffered in the least from the advance of science.” And, almost anticipating Einstein, he says, "I cannot believe that faith is blind and religion is irrational.... ” Indeed, science and religion, embodying the highest aspirations of human consciousness “stand enthroned," says Dr. Sarkar, “on their conjoint platform.
Moreover, like Swami Vivekananda, Dr. Sarkar saw science and its application as integrators on a global level. “We cannot remain unconcerned with the lost prestige of our country” and “the chief determining factor of progress is now and will always remain science.” Though the unabashed optimism regarding science is part of the first flush of scientific advancement, there is no doubt that the Great Master’s Doctor spent his prodigious energies to make the vision of a concrete national forum for scientific research come true. And we who come later continue to reap the benefits of that visionary’s uniquely pioneering efforts in this regard.
Above all, as already noted, the Great Master played a crucial, decisive role in unobtrusively but effectively giving a thrust to the “good" Doctor’s spiritual intelligence (as it is being called today), which, apparently, seemed to have played a second fiddle to his empirical intelligence. The Master brought a fullness to the Doctors consciousness something which goes beyond but subsumes science.
It is my great privilege to be associated with this book. In this regard, I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Swami Bodhasaranandaji and Swami Shuddhidanandaji. Shuddhidanandaji alerted me to aspects of Dr. Sarkar’s achievement for which mere thanking is not enough.
|Part One - Life of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar
|Childhood and Student Days
|Contemporary Medical Treatment and Society
|His Medical Practice and Conversion to Homoeopathy
|Establishment of the Science Association
|Recognition of Mahendralal
|Coming into Contact with Sri Ramakrishna
|The Doctor’s Daily Life and Character
|Tributes to Dr. Sarkar
|Part Two -Thoughts of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar
|Thoughts of Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar
|Appendix – Our Creed
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