Purna Chandra Ghosh

The highlights of his life

(This life-story has been excerpted from the book ‘They Lived With God’ by Swami Chetanananda, published by the Vedanta Society of St. Lois. To read the entire studied life, and lives of 27 other intimate disciples, please read this book. )

  1. Born either in the later part of 1871 or the early part of 1872 in a wealthy family of North Calcutta.
  1. At the age of 13, in 1885, the principal of his school – M. – the recorder of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, asked him if he wanted to see a saint like Sri Chaitanya, and took him to visit the Master.
  2. When Purna came to the Master, Mother said to him: “With this the coming of those of whom you had visions is complete. No one else of this class will come in the future”. (The name Purna literally means ‘Complete’ or ‘Full’.)
  3. He couldn’t visit the Master very often because his parents and relatives were rich aristocrats, considered it beneath their dignity for him to visit or associate with an ordinary temple priest.
  4. One night when Purna was studying alone in his room the Master sent M. to call Purna, met him at a junction near his house, and standing there, the Master fed Purna with his own hands. Purna was overwhelmed with emotion and was bound forever to the Master’s love.
  5. April 1886, visited the Master probably for the last time at Cossipore Garden House where he had shifted for his cancer treatment during his last days.
  6. At the age of 16, (1887), his parents forced him to get married.
  7. In 1907 Purna was elected secretary of Vivekananda Society of Calcutta, which had been founded in 1902, just after Swamiji’s passing away.
  8. Contributed to Brahmavadin, and English monthly started by Swami Vivekananda.
  9. Passed away on November 16, 1913.
  10. Through Purna’s life, Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated the synthesis of an ideal yogi and an ideal householder.

His relationship with Thakur

  1. On July 15, 1885, Balarama asked the Master, ‘Sir, how was it possible for Purna to know all of a sudden that the world is illusory?’ Sri Ramakrishna replied: ‘He has inherited that knowledge from his previous births. In his past lives he practiced many disciplines. It is the body alone that is small or grows big, and not the Atman. Do you know what these youngsters are like? They are like certain plants that grow fruit first and then flowers. These devotees first of all have the vision of God; next they hear about his glories and attributes; and at the last they are united with him.”
  1. In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna had to move from Dakshineswar to Calcutta for his cancer treatment. Early in the morning of October 30, 1885, Purna visited the Master secretly. When M. arrived the Master said to him, smiling: ‘Purna came this morning. He has such a nice nature!”
  2. On a number of occasions Sri Ramakrishna talked about Purna’s real nature: ‘Purna is a part of Narayana and a spiritual aspirant possessing a high degree of sattva. In this respect he may be said to occupy a place below Narendra (Vivekananda)’. Purna was born with a element of Vishnu. I worship him mentally with bel leaves, but the offering was not accepted. Then I worshipped him with tulsi leaves and sandal paste. That proved to be all right. (The leaves of the bel tree are offered to Shiva, where as tulsi leaves and sandal paste are offered to Vishnu).
  3. On August 29, 1885, the Master received a letter from Purna, in which he had written: ‘I am feeling extremely happy. Now and then I cannot sleep at night for joy.’ After hearing the letter the Master had said: ‘I feel thrilled to hear this. Even later on he will be able to keep this bliss. Let me see the letter.’ He pressed the letter in the palm of his hand and said: ‘Generally I cannot touch letters. But this is a good letter.’

Some aspects of his personality

  1. Purna was an ideal father for his children, and he performed all the duties of a householder faithfully. He educated his children well and married his daughters in good families. He was kind and generous to his younger brothers and friends. Yet, in spite of his many family responsibilities and social commitments, he maintained a high spiritual mood.
  1. Purna was calm, quiet, and unostentatious by nature, but when necessary he could be outspoken and spirited. Once two English soldiers ill-treated some local people of Simla. Purna immediately protested and challenged the soldiers. He was very patriotic and had great appreciation for the freedom fighters of India. He strongly believed that Swamiji’s life and message would inspire India’s new generation. Purna always maintained close contact with his brother disciples even when he was living at Delhi or Simla. A lifelong habit of steady enabled Purna to write well in English, and he used his talents to contribute some valuable articles for the Brahmavadin, an English monthly started by Swami Vivekananda.
  2. On one occasion when Purna was walking with a friend, he seemed to be absent-minded. The friend asked him if he had any body-consciousness or not. Touching his throat Purna replied that he had consciousness above that point but not below. This indicates that Purna was sthitaprajna, a ‘man of steady wisdom’.

More details of his life story

Most people do not realize how difficult it is for an avatar or for an illumined soul to hear a talk about mundane things. Some even experienced a painful sensation in their bodies when they have to listen to worldly talk. Because of this, these great souls long for spiritually-minded companions with whom they can communicate and share their feelings and experiences. Sri Ramakrishna had to wait nearly twenty-three years after his realization for his intimate disciples to come. When Purna came Mother said: “With this the coming of those of whom you had visions is complete. No one else of this class will come in the future”. (The name Purna literally means ‘Complete’ or ‘Full’.)

Purnachandra Gosh was one of the six direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who were designated by the Master as Ishvarakotis, that is, great souls who are eternally free from the bonds of Karma and who take birth of their own will to do good mankind. The other five Ishvarakotis were Swamis Vivekananda, Brahmananda, Premananda, Yogananda and Niranjanananda. Although Purna did not become a monk he commanded much respect from the Master’s devotees for his spirituality.

Purna was born either in the later part of 1871 or the early part of 1872 in a wealthy family of North Calcutta. Purna was a student at the Shyambazar branch of the Metropolitan Institution, a school founded by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The headmaster of this school was M., the recorder of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

One day in March 1885, M. said to Purna, ‘Would you like to see a saint like Sri Chaitanya. Purna immediately said yes. He was then just 13 years old and in the eighth grade. Purna’s relatives were a problem, however. Since they were rich aristocrats, Purna knew that they would consider it beneath their dignity for him to visit or associate with an ordinary temple priest. They were also very strict disciplinarians. For this reason M. devised a plan to take Purna to the Master secretly, during the school hours. One day he hired a carriage and they both left school for Dakshineswar. The Master immediately recognized Purna’s divine nature and treated him as one belonging to his own inner circle.

As a mother bird protects her babies by spreading her wings, so Sri Ramakrishna protected his young disciples and devotees from the temptations, trials and tribulations of life. At three o’clock in the afternoon of April 6, 1885, the Master reached Balarama’s house. It was terribly hot that day, and the Master was exhausted from the trip. Seeing M., he asked, ‘Why haven’t you brought Purna?’
M.: ‘He doesn’t like to come to a gathering of people. He is afraid you might praise him before others and his relatives might then hear about it’.
Master: ‘Yes, that’s true. I wont do it in the future. Well, how do you find Purna? Does he go into ecstatic moods?’
M.: ‘No, I have not noticed in him any outer sign of such emotion’.
Master: ‘Purna will not show his emotion outwardly; he hasn’t that kind of temperament. His other signs are good. Did you ask him what he felt after meeting me’.
M.: ‘Yes, sir, we talked about that. He has been telling me for the last four or five days that whenever he thinks of God or repeats his name, tears flow from his eyes and the hair on his body stands on end — such is his joy.’
Master: ‘Indeed! That’s all he needs’.

It is very reassuring and encouraging to hear from the Master himself about his concern and love for his disciples.

One night Purna was studying alone in his room when he suddenly noticed M. standing outside near his window. He immediately came out and M. whispered to him: ‘The Master is waiting for you at the junction of Shyampukar Street and Cornwallis Street (now Bidhan Sarani). Please come with me.’ The Master was extremely pleased to see Purna. He said: ‘I have brought a sandesh (a sweet) for you. Please eat it.’ The Master fed Purna with his own hands. Overwhelmed with emotion, Purna began to cry. The three of them went to M.’s house, where the Master gave Purna some instruction on spiritual disciplines.

How can one live in the world and at the same time keep ones mind in god? The scriptures answered this vital question thus: ‘A woman who is attached to a paramour will constantly have her mind on him, even though she is engaged in her household duties.’ Likewise, one should establish a relationship with god and constantly think of him. This is exactly what happened in Purna’s life. His parents confined him to the house, but his mind dwelt in the Master.

In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna had to move from Dakshineswar to Calcutta for his cancer treatment. Early in the morning of October 30, 1885, Purna visited the Master secretly. When M. arrived the Master said to him, smiling: ‘Purna came this morning. He has such a nice nature!”

So far as the records show, the last time Purna saw Sri Ramakrishna was at the Cossipore garden house in April 1886, a few months before the Master’s death. Purna came in a hired carriage paid for by M. After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away Purna became more withdrawn and indifferent towards the world. He sometimes visited the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, but this alarmed his parents. Fearing that Purna might also become a monk, they forced him to marry against his will. He was then only sixteen. Although he was thus engaged in his duties as a householder, whenever the devotees would come to visit him he would talk only about the Master, or he would remain silent, a reverent listener to their conversation.

In Sri Ramakrishna’s divine drama Purna’s role was in the background. He simply led the life according to the Master’s instructions. The other devotees and disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had much love and respect for him because of his extraordinary faith, reliance on god, devotion, humility, and selflessness.

In 1907 Purna was elected secretary of Vivekananda Society of Calcutta, which had been founded in 1902, just after Swamiji’s passing away. Purna visited the society regularly and meditated in the shrine along with other member. He was a great inspiration to the younger members and gave them advice like a friend. Purna had to spend several months in a year in Simla for official work. While there, he would go in the evening after office hours to a solitary place on a hill and spend sometime in meditation. People seldom saw his spiritual emotion, as he had tremendous power to hold it within. But one day a devotee was singing devotional songs at Purna’s Simla home. A friend noticed that tears were flowing from Purna’s eyes and that they remained red for a long time.

During Girish Gosh’s last illness in 1911, Purna visited him. Seeing Purna, a beloved disciple of the Master, Girish forgot his pain and suffering. Both talked about Sri Ramakrishna for sometime, and when Purna was about to leave, Girish said to him: ‘Brother, bless me so that I may remember the master with every breath. Glory to Sri Ramakrishna!’ Purna humbly replied: ‘The Master is always looking after you. Please bless us.’

Purna had a wealthy friend named Shyam Basu, who was related to Balaram Basu. Shyam Basu used to visit Purna quite often and would call him ‘Guruji.’ Although he was a sincere gentleman, his moral character was not good. One day a person mentioned Shyam Basu’s shortcomings to Purna. At this Purna replied: It is true Shyam Basu has some defects like other ordinary people, but whatever he does, he does privately without dragging others into it. Yet he possesses a noble quality that is very rare, and that is his veracity. He keeps his word, remaining ever steadfast like the Himalayas. And if he sees anyone in difficulty, he comes forward to help without passing any judgement. By the grace of the Master, Purna was free from the disease of faultfinding. Later, through Purna’s influence, Shyam Basu’s life was changed, and he became very devoted to Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

On July 13, 1885, Sri Ramakrishna has prophesied about Purna: ‘Purna is in such an exalted state that either he will very soon give up his body – the body is useless after the realization of God – or his inner nature will within a few days burst forth. He has a divine nature – the traits of a god. It makes a person less fearful of men. If you put a garland of flowers round his neck or smear his body with sandal paste or burn incense before him, he will go into samadhi; for then he will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Narayana himself dwells in his body, that it is Narayana who has assumed the body. I have come to know about it’.

The death of an earthbound soul is like a tug of war. His prana (life-force) wants to leave the body, but his unfulfilled desires want the prana to stay. Thus the struggle goes on. In Purna’s case, however, it was clearly seen he did not feel any pain at the time of his death and that his mind was soaring high during his last hours.

Kanti Gosh, Purna’s young brother, described Purna’s passing away in a letter: ‘We could not believe that he was dead. On his final day he was very calm and seemed to be immersed in samadhi. We were surprised when the doctor told us that he had died a couple of hours before. Even at that time the crown of his head was warm. I felt an atmosphere like that of a temple in his room. Another striking thing happened when his body was brought out from his room to the courtyard. At that time some large raindrops fell on his body, but not anywhere else. Moreover, it was a moonlit night.

Purna Chandra justified his name (Purna means ‘full’; Chandra means ‘moon’). He was a stainless full moon, shedding beautiful, soothing light to all, imperceptibly. He was an unattached yogi, endowed with all divine qualities. Through Purna’s life, Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated the synthesis of an ideal yogi and an ideal householder.