Sri Ramakrishna

ramakrishna1Sri Krish­na pro­claims in the Bha­gavad-Gita, “When­ev­er virtue sub­sides and vice pre­vails, I come for the pro­tec­tion of the good; for the destruc­tion of immoral­i­ty I am com­ing from time to time.” In the present age, it is Sri Rama­kri­shna (1836–1886) who came to put the old prin­ci­ples of the Vedas and Upan­ishads in the lan­guage of today, thus reliev­ing the humankind of sor­row and suf­fer­ing, and show­ing the way for Self-illu­mi­na­tion.

Sri Rama­kri­shna saw God in every­thing and admon­ished peo­ple who called them­selves as sin­ners. ‘If you keep repeat­ing that you are a sin­ner, sin­ner you will become; if you say that you are a child of God, divine and fear­less you will become.’ That is why he remind­ed every­one of one’s divine nature, become aware of it and reclaim one’s her­itage. Accord­ing to him only by real­iz­ing God, who is Bliss Absolute, can human­i­ty achieve the great­est hap­pi­ness and end all sor­rows that afflict it.

Is the goal of real­iz­ing God prac­ti­cal? Can one real­ize or see God? Sri Ramakrishna’s answer was an emphat­ic yes. He said that God could be expe­ri­enced; one can talk to Him, and put one’s demand before Him. His pre­scrip­tion to real­ize God was to renounce woman and gold (kama and kan­chan), and yearn for God instead. He used the words woman and gold, metaphor­i­cal­ly; they didn’t reflect his true atti­tude toward women, which was very rev­er­en­tial. In fact, he wor­shiped his own wife as god­dess Shodashi, and saw all women, young or old, as man­i­fes­ta­tions of Divine Moth­er.

Holy Moth­er Sri Sara­da Devi once said that renun­ci­a­tion was Master’s ulti­mate mes­sage. But the Mas­ter pre­scribed dif­fer­ent degrees of renun­ci­a­tion for his monas­tic and house­hold­er dis­ci­ples. For the for­mer, he said that monk must prac­tice both out­ward and men­tal renun­ci­a­tion. But for the house­hold­er dis­ci­ples, he pre­scribed only men­tal renun­ci­a­tion because they had duties toward their par­ents, spous­es, and chil­dren. He advised them to live in the world like a maid­ser­vant, who out­ward­ly calls her master’s sons as her sons, but whose mind is on her own chil­dren in a dis­tant vil­lage from where she came. He fur­ther told them to seek holy com­pa­ny and go into soli­tude to prac­tice med­i­ta­tion.

His teach­ings were based on his own expe­ri­ences. Mon­ey, name, and fame did not attract him, so much so that even if some­one offered mon­ey to him to improve his liv­ing con­di­tions, he would get annoyed with him. His only pas­sion since his ear­ly child­hood was to real­ize God. He dropped out of school because “what shall I do with a mere bread-win­ning edu­ca­tion? I would rather acquire that wis­dom which will illu­mine my heart and give me sat­is­fac­tion forever.”Though the Mas­ter didn’t have any for­mal edu­ca­tion in sec­u­lar or sacred lit­er­a­ture, yet the most bril­liant and learned peo­ple of the time found in him an intel­lec­tu­al giant. Among the many peo­ple used to keep spell­bound for hours were Vidya Sagar, Brah­mo Samaj leader Prat­ap Chan­dra Sen, Dr. Mahin­dranath Sarkar, Bankim Chan­dra Chat­ter­erji, Girish Ghosh, and Mahen­dranath Gup­ta. The last two were his house­hold dis­ci­ples, and Mahin­dranath Gup­ta was also the chron­i­cler of the Gospel of Sri Rama­kri­shna with a pseu­do name of M.

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Like ancient sages and rishis, he spoke in para­bles or in con­tra­dic­tions. He once told Vidya Sagar: all scrip­tures like the Vedas, Vedan­ta, Puranas, etc. have been defiled by the tongue of man because they have been uttered through his mouth; only Brah­man has nev­er been so defiled because no one has been able to say what Brah­man is. Vidya Sagar, a great schol­ar in his own right, remarked: ‘I have nev­er heard such an apt descrip­tion of Brah­man!’ To rein­force his point the Mas­ter gave anoth­er para­ble: A salt doll went into an ocean to mea­sure its depth. But no soon­er did it enter the ocean than it melt­ed away. Who could then tell the ocean’s depth?

One of the impor­tant fea­tures of his teach­ings is the har­mo­ny of reli­gions. Rig Veda says: Truth is one; sages call Him by var­i­ous names. The Mas­ter said the same thing: as many faiths, so many paths. But he didn’t say out of any sen­ti­men­tal rea­son but from his own real­iza­tions. He was the only per­son in the reli­gious his­to­ry of the world who prac­ticed not only the reli­gions of var­i­ous Hin­du sects but also prac­ticed both Islam and Chris­tian­i­ty. It is this that makes his asser­tion that all reli­gions lead to the same Truth so authen­tic and cred­i­ble.

Again, some said that God is Imper­son­al, while oth­ers said that God is Per­son­al. Sri Rama­kri­shna said that God is both Imper­son­al and Per­son­al. Said he:

Infi­nite is God and infi­nite are his expres­sions. He, who lives con­tin­u­ous­ly in the con­scious­ness of God, and in this alone, knows him in his true being. He knows his infi­nite expres­sions, his var­i­ous aspects. He knows him as imper­son­al no less than as per­son­al.

He once told M. that God is not only with­out form, but it has also a form. But one should hold onto one’s own faith and not crit­i­cize oth­ers. To bring home this idea he illus­trat­ed it with the fol­low­ing para­ble:

Brah­man, absolute exis­tence, knowl­edge, and bliss, may be com­pared to an infi­nite ocean, with­out begin­ning or end. As through intense cold, some por­tions of the water of the ocean freeze into ice and the form­less water appears as hav­ing form, so through intense love of the devo­tee, the form­less, absolute, infi­nite Exis­tence man­i­fests him­self before him as hav­ing form and per­son­al­i­ty. But forms and aspects dis­ap­pear before the man who reach­es the high­est samad­hi, who attains the height of non­d­u­al­is­tic phi­los­o­phy, the Vedan­ta.

About his Mas­ter, Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda said after his return from the West: ‘…if I told you one word of truth, it was his and his alone, and if I have told you many things which were not true, which were not cor­rect, which were not ben­e­fi­cial to the human race, they were all mine, and on me is the respon­si­bil­i­ty.’ Tru­ly while Sri Rama­kri­shna was a form with­out voice, his dis­ci­ple Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda was the voice with­out form.