by Life Positive: At the age of sixteen, Sri Ramakrishna shifted from his village to Calcutta to work as a priest in theKali temple at Dakshineswar. It was here that he attained enlightenment after an agonizing craving to see the Divine Mother face to face that went to the extent of suicide. Later, the saint described his tumultuous experience thus: “House, walls, doors, the temple-all disappeared into nothingness. Then I saw an ocean of light, limitless, living, conscious, blissful. From all sides waves of light, with a roaring sound, rushed towards me and engulfed and drowned me, and I lost awareness of outward things.”
From this point on, Sri Ramakrishna proceeded under various spiritual guides to experience the whole gamut of mystical experiences described in Hindu scriptures. He had the same experiences even when he adopted the spiritual practices of Islam and Christianity. After his death in 1886, Sri Ramakrishna was introduced to the world by his illustrious disciple and founder of the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Vivekananda.
“There is only one God. Call him by any name and worship him in any aspect that pleases you, you are sure to see him”—more than a century after his death, Sri Ramakrishna’s words remain as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MAYA
Sri Ramakrishna was seated with his devotees in the drawing-room of Prankrishna Mukherji’s house in Calcutta. A number of neighbors and other friends of Prankrishna had been invited to meet Sri Ramakrishna. They were all eager to hear his words.
Master: “God and his glory. This universe is his glory. People see his glory and forget everything. They do not seek god, whose glory is this world. All seek to enjoy ‘woman and gold’ (kaminikanchan). But there is too much misery and worry in that. This world is like the whirlpool of the Visalakshi (a stream near Sri Ramakrishna’s birth place). Once a boat gets into it there is no hope of its rescue. Again, the world is like a thorny bush: you have hardly freed yourself from one set of thorns before you found yourself entangled in another. Once you enter a labyrinth you find it difficult to get out. Living in the world, a man becomes seared, as it were.”
A devotee: “Then what is the way, sir?”
Master: “Prayer and the company of holy men. You cannot get rid of an ailment without the help of a physician. But it is not enough to be in the company of religious people only for a day. You should constantly seek it, for the disease has become chronic. Again, you can’t understand the pulse rightly unless you live with a physician. Moving with him constantly, you learn to distinguish between the pulse of phlegm and the pulse of bile.”
Devotee: “What is the good of holy men?”
Master: “It begets yearning for god. It begets love of god. Nothing whatsoever is achieved in spiritual life without yearning. By constantly living in the company of holy men, the soul becomes restless for god. This yearning is like the state of mind of a man who has someone ill in the family. His mind is in a state of perpetual restlessness, thinking how the sick person may be cured. Or again, one should feel a yearning for god like the yearning of a man who has lost his job and is wandering from one office to another in search of work. If he is rejected at a certain place that has no vacancy, he goes there again the next day and inquires: ‘Is there any vacancy today?’
“There is another way: earnestly praying to god. God is our very own. We should say to Him: ‘Oh god, what is Thy nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to me; for why else hast Thou created me?’ Some Sikh devotee once said to me: ‘God is full of compassion.’ I said: ‘Why should we call Him compassionate? He is our creator. What is there to be wondered at if he is kind to us? Parents bring up their children. Do you call that an act of kindness? They must act that way.’ Therefore, we should force our demands on god. He is our father and mother, isn’t he? If the son demands his patrimony and gives up food and drink in order to enforce his demand, then the parent hands his share over to him three years before the legal time. Or when the child demands some piece from his mother, and says over and over again: ‘Mother, give me a couple of pieces I beg you on my knees!’-then the mother, seeing his earnestness, and unable to bear it any more, tosses the money at him.
“There is another benefit from holy company. It helps one cultivate discrimination between the real and the unreal. God alone is real, that is to say, the eternal substance, and the world is unreal, that is to say, transitory. As soon as a man finds his mind wandering away to unreal, he should apply discrimination. The moment an elephant stretches out its trunk to eat a plantain-tree in a neighbor’s garden, it gets a good blow from the iron goad of the driver.”
A neighbor: “Why does a man have sinful tendencies?”
Master: “In god’s creation there are all sorts of things. It is he who gives us good tendencies, and it is he who gives us evil tendencies.”
Neighbor: “In that case, we aren’t responsible for any of our sins, are we?”
Master: “Sin begets its own result. That is god’s law. Won’t you burn your tongue if you chew a chili? One may not realize this in youth. I have looked into the hearth in the kitchen of the Kali temple when logs are being burnt. At first the wet wood burns rather well. It doesn’t seem then that it contains much moisture. But when the wood is sufficiently burnt, all the moisture runs back to one end. At last water squirts from the fuel and puts out the fire. So one should be careful about anger, passion and greed. Take, for instance, the case of Hanuman. In a fit of anger he burnt Lanka. At last he remembered that Sita was living in the ashoka grove. Then he began to tremble lest the fire should injure her.”
Neighbor: “Why has god created wicked people?”
Master: “That is his will, his play. In his maya (cosmic play) there exists avidya (ignorance) as well as vidya (knowledge). Darkness is needed too. It reveals all the more the glory of light. There is no doubt that anger, lust and greed are evils. Why, then, has God created them? In order to create saints. A man becomes a saint by conquering the senses. Is there anything impossible for a man who has subdued his passions? He can even realize God, through His grace. Again, see how His whole play of creation is perpetuated through lust.
“Wicked people are needed too. At one time the tenants of an estate became unruly. The landlord had to send Golak Choudhary, who was a ruffian. He was such a harsh administrator that the tenants trembled at the mention of his name. “There is a need for everything. Once Sita said to her husband: ‘Rama, it would be grand if every house in Ayodhya were a mansion! I find many houses old and dilapidated.’ ‘But, my dear’, said Rama, ‘if all the houses were beautiful, what would the masons do?’ God has created all kinds of things. He has created good trees, poisonous plants and weeds as well. Among the animals there are good, bad, and all kinds of creatures.”
Neighbor: “Sir, is it ever possible to realize god while leading the life of a householder?”
Master: “Certainly. But one should weep for God. When the impurities of the mind are thus washed away, one realizes God. The mind is like a needle covered with mud, and God is like a magnet. The needle cannot be united with the magnet unless it is free from mud. Tears wash away the mud, which is nothing but lust, anger, greed and other evil tendencies, and the inclination to worldly enjoyments as well. As soon as the mud is washed away, the magnet attracts the needle, that is to say, man realizes god. Only the pure in heart see god. A fever patient has an excess of the watery element in his system. What can quinine do for him unless that is removed? Why shouldn’t one realize god while living in the world? But, as I said, one must live in holy company, pray to god, weeping for His grace, and now and then go into solitude. Unless the plants on a footpath are protected at first by fences, they are destroyed by cattle.”
Neighbor: “Then householders, too, will have the vision of God, won’t they?”
Master: “Everybody will surely be liberated. But one should follow the instructions of the guru; if one follows a devious path, one will suffer in trying to retrace one’s steps. It takes a long time to achieve liberation. A man may fail to obtain it in a life. Sages like Janaka performed worldly duties. They performed them, bearing god in their minds, as a dancing-girl dances, keeping jars or trays on her head. Haven’t you seen how women walk, talking and laughing while carrying water-pitchers on their heads?”
Neighbor: “You referred to the instructions of the guru. How shall we find him?”
Master: “Anyone and everyone cannot be a guru. A huge timber floats on the water and can carry many animals as well. But a piece of worthless wood sinks if a single man sits on it and drowns him. In every age god incarnates Himself as the guru, to teach humanity. What is knowledge? And what is the nature of this ego? ‘God alone is the Doer, and none else’—that is knowledge. I am not the doer; I am a mere instrument in his hand. Therefore I say: ‘O Mother, thou art the operator and I am the machine. Thou art the Indweller and I am the house. Thou art the driver and I am the carriage. I move only as thou movest me. I do only as thou makest me do. I speak only as thou makest me speak. Not I, but thou.'” Excerpted from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna Vol. I with the permission of Ramakrishna Mission.