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.
Now where does this leave us? How and when can this kalpataru grace descend in our own lives? We are told that divine grace is unconditional. Nevertheless, in our heart of hearts we do feel that without some sort of readiness to receive the grace, we make ourselves unfit for it. At least that is what the experience of Vaikunthanath Sannyal shows. He was among those fortunate few who received the kalpataru grace in 1886.
When Vaikunthanath approached the Master and begged for his grace, the Master said that he had already given him what he had wanted. “But please make me understand that I have received it,” he pleaded and, on being touched by the Master, a great revolution took place in his mind. Wherever Vaikunthanath looked, he beheld the figure of the Master lit up with a gracious smile. The experience continued unabated for some days. He found it impossible to carry on his work in the office and to attend to other duties. He even began to doubt his sanity and prayed to the Master, “O Lord, I am not able to contain this mental state. Please bring this to an end.” His prayer was answered; the vision and the mental state subsided gradually.
This shows that the receptacle should be strong enough to hold the divine grace. Unless the mind becomes sufficiently pure and is purged of desires, it is not possible to receive the grace and, if received—as in the case of Vaikunthanath—it is not possible to retain it. Even Sri Krishna had to withdraw his divine cosmic form (viśvarūpa) from the frightened Arjuna, and Ramakrishna had to restrain himself from giving the highest realization to Narendranath on the latter’s first visit to him. Thus preparing oneself to receive the grace is the first and foremost duty of spiritual seekers. To the extent they are able to do it, they come nearer to this special kalpataru. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the kalpataru moves nearer to them?
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.