Shambhu Charan Mallik

(by K. C. S. Pillai)

Source: Nirvana, April 2007. Published by Ramakrishna Mission, Singapore

The desire to acquire wealth and multiply it is a universal phenomenon. Rare is the person who bucks the trend and become munificent enough to give away his hard-earned possessions. In most such cases, however, an element of ego creeps in with the feeling, "I am giving away my precious wealth."

Shambhu Charan Mallik was, perhaps, in this predicament, but his close association with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa helped him to cleanse himself of this vain thought and attain God-realization.

Very few details are available about Shambhu's early life. He was born the son of Sanatan Mallik and lived in Calcutta. He was an agent of a British company and earned a good salary. Shambhu also had a garden house in Dakshineswar, adjacent to the Kali temple where Sri Ramakrishna spent most of his adult life. He had a reputation of being splendidly generous and supportive of charitable cases. Shambhu was married to a devout woman and both of them became ardent devotees of the Master and Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. They had no children.

Shambhu came into Sri Ramakrishna's life in the early 1870's, shortly after the passing away of Mathur Nath Biswas, the owner of the Kali temple in Dakshineswar, who had taken care of the needs of the Master for fourteen years. That was when the Master was unable to look after himself because of his advanced spiritual condition.

As Sri Ramakrishna later described the situation, "In that state of divine exaltation, I could no longer perform the worship (in the temple). Mother, I said, who will look after me? I haven't the power to take care of myself. I want to listen only to the talk about Thee. I want to feed Thy devotees. I want to give a little help to those whom I chance to meet. How that all will be possible? Mother, give me a rich man to stand by me." The prayer was answered quickly. As the Master recalls, "The Divine Mother showed me in a vision the five suppliers of my needs. First, Mathur Babu, the second, Shambhu Mallik, whom I had not then met. I had the vision of a fair-skinned man with a cap on his head...Many days later when I first met Shambhu I recalled that vision. I realized that it was he whom I had seen in that ecstatic state."

How the two met for the first time is not clear. The Master used to go for a walk every day and since Shambhu's garden house was very near the Kali temple, they used to meet and exchange views on spiritual topics. Shambhu considered himself very lucky that the Master had come to him on his own. One day he remarked to the Master with some delight, "You come here frequently. Yes, you come because you feel happy talking with me."

As he became more and more acquainted with the Master, Shambu began addressing him as 'Guruji'. Sri Ramakrishna disliked the terms guru, master and father. "These three words prick my flesh," he would say often. "There is only one Guru, and that is Satchidananda. He alone is the Teacher." Annoyed, the Master would say, "Who is the guru and who is the disciple? You are my guru." Nevertheless, Shambhu continued to address him as guru all his life.

As mentioned earlier, Shambhu's wife was also very devoted to the Master and Sri Sarada Devi. Whenever the Holy mother was in Dakshineswar, she made it a practice to take her home on Tuesdays, considered auspicious for the worship of the Divine Mother, and offer her elaborate ritual worship.

When the Holy Mother first came to Dakshineswar, she used to live in the Nahabat, a tiny room which she shared with Sri Ramakrishna's mother. When she came again, Shambhu had a small cottage built for her near the temple garden where she would be more comfortable. When she was hit by a serious attack of dysentery, Shambhu engaged one of Calcutta's top doctors to treat her.

As part of his public service, Shambhu had a charitable dispensary in his garden house. One day during his talks with Sri Ramakrishna he found out that the Master often suffered from stomach trouble caused by irregular food and impure water. Shambhu advised him to take tiny doses of opium every day, and offered to give him a small quantity from the dispensary. As they kept talking both of them forgot about this matter.

When Sri Ramakrishna was about to return to the temple, he remembered this. The Master came back, but found Shambhu busy inside the house. So he mentioned this to the supervisor of the dispensary who gave him some opium. But as he began to walk back to the temple, he was reeling and could not find his way. He felt as if somebody was pulling at his legs. He said to himself, "What is this? This is by no means the road." When he turned and walked towards Shambhu's house, he felt quite all right. He came to the conclusion that since he obtained the opium from the supervisor, rather than from Shambhu himself, was he committing a theft. He surmised that the Divine Mother was preventing him from returning to Dakshineswar. Thus reasoning, he came back to the dispensary, but found that the supervisor had already left. He threw the packet of opium into the dispensary through the window, uttering in a loud voice, "Hello, here's your opium." He started towards the temple and found his way clear.

Recalling the incident the Master later told his disciples, "Have I not completely taken refuge in the Mother? That is why Mother has taken hold of my hand. She prevented me from a single wrong step."

On another occasion, Shambhu discovered during their talks that the Master was not feeling very well.

He suggested that sweet pomegranate would help improve his health and offered him a few as he was about to return to Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna accepted the gift and started to proceed towards the Kali temple, but could not find the gate. He started roaming here and there like a drunkard. Shambu was still around and noticed the situation. He came out into the garden and escorted the Master inside. Sri Ramakrishna, explaining that if he carried anything he became confused and disoriented, returned the pomegranates to Shambhu who was amazed to hear what the Master said.

He was deeply impressed by the Master's immaculate practice of renunciation.

Citing this incident, the Master constantly advised spiritual aspirants, particularly the monastic disciples, to practise absolute renunciation. "A man cannot realize God unless he renounces everything mentally. A sadhu cannot lay things up. Birds and wandering monks do not make provision for the morrow. Such is the state of my mind that I cannot carry even clay in my hand."

Shambhu may have been the "trigger" for the Master's liaison with Christianity. Liberal in his religious outlook, Shambhu used to read from the Bible to Sri Ramakrishna in his parlour. The Master became fascinated with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This sentiment invoked in him a desire to realize God through the Christian path.

One day he was sitting in the parlour of another devotee, Jadu Mallick, also at Dakshineswar, when his eyes became fixed on a painting of Virgin Mary and Child. Watching it intently, he became gradually overwhelmed with divine emotion. The figures in the picture became life-like, and the rays of light emanating from them entered his soul.

Christ possessed his soul and he was in an ecstatic mood. For three days he did not enter the Kali temple. On the next day as he was taking a stroll he saw a tall, foreign looking man with a beautiful face and brilliant eyes walking towards him. As he wondered who it could be, a voice from within told him, 'This is Jesus Christ, the great yogi, the loving son of God.' Jesus then embraced Sri Ramakrishna and merged within his body. Thus did Sri Ramakrishna realize his identity with Jesus Christ, as he had already attained it with Mother Kali, Rama, Krishna and Brahman, and Mohammed.

Shambhu was rajasic by nature, He was always active. He earned good money and spent it liberally on philanthropic activities. Being spiritually inclined, he got acquainted with the reformist movement Brahmo Samaj and developed close relations with Keshab Chandra Sen, its leader. But when he came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna, he knew instinctively that he had found the guru he had been looking for. As time passed this love and respect developed into reverence and admiration and he looked upon Sri Ramakrishna as a teacher of the universe in human form. Himself a scholar, he was bowled out by the unlettered Master who had been blessed with knowledge of the essentials of the scriptures. Once he told Sri Ramakrishna in light vein, "I have not found a greater warrior than you in the whole world. You don't carry any weapon, sword or javelin. Yet you are the champion of peace. You have not touched the scriptures, yet how could you churn out the essence of all?"

Shambhu's philanthropic inclinations were legendary. One day he told Sri Ramakrishna. "So bless me, Sir, that I may spend all my money for good purposes such as building hospitals and dispensaries, making roads, and digging wells." The Master replied, "You think too highly of yourself. What power do you wield to do benefit to others? He who has created human beings also shoulders the burden of protecting them. You know everything, what shall I tell you? Do not desire the path of work, instead adopt the path of devotion. Put your mind on that work which will help you realize God. Faith and belief are the means to reach God. The first and foremost duty is to have the vision of the Lord, the Supreme. Afterwards, if you still feel inclined to work, just proceed."

It would seem that Shambhu used to raise this topic of surrendering his wealth often. On another occasion when he raised the question of building schools and hospitals, the Master told him, "Suppose God Himself comes before you, what will you ask from Him? Devotion or a home to serve the poor, sick and destitute? Devotion, faith and belief in the lotus feet of the Lord are the only requirements, all other things are secondary. With the help of those three attitudes, take refuge in the Lord."

On yet another occasion he told Shambhu, "Those are riches to you. What riches can you offer God? To Him these are mere dust and straw." These somewhat unsympathetic remarks, in no way, were meant to discourage social service as desired by Shambhu. The Master was making it clear that social service, per se, without spiritual dedication would only inflate one's ego and impede progress towards God-realization. With the good of Shambhu very much in his mind, the Master was charting out the right path for him which Shambhu accepted with gratification.

Although Shambhu was generous he was also discriminating. Once Hriday, the Master's nephew and attendant, asked him for some money. Shambhu's response was, "Why should I give you money? You can earn a livelihood by working. Even now you are earning something. The purpose of charity is fulfilled if one gives money to the blind or lame. "Hriday was embarrassed by this comment. He said, "Sir, please don't say that. I don't need your money. May God help me not to become blind or deaf."

During his later years Shambhu had an attack of diabetes. As time passed it became worse and he was bedridden. One day the Master went with Hriday to see him and found him quite cheerful. He had no fear of death. He told Hriday, "Hridu, I have packed my things and am ready for the journey." The Master told him not to say such ominous things. His reply was, "Please bless me that I may cast aside all these possessions and go to God." While returning to Dakshineswar the Master told Hriday, "The oil in Shambhu's lamp has run out." Shambhu passed away in 1877.

Some years later, reminiscing about Shambhu Sri Ramakrishna told his devotees, "God's devotees have nothing to fear. They are his own. He always stands by them."

In recognition of his philanthropic contributions, the authorities renamed Kamalnayan Street, where Shambhu's parental home was located, as "Shambhu Mallik's Lane."

* They Lived with God by Swami Chetanananda
* The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Mahendranath Gupta
* Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play by Swami Chetanananda
* A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna by Akshay Kumar Sen

(Vedanta and the West, Sept.-Oct. 1955)