"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | January 2005  





     Where the Heart Is




     Swami Satyaswarupananda







     'Anyone who has sincerely called upon God even once must come here,' Sri Ramakrishna announced one day at Dakshineswar with the assurance of a piper confident of the musical web that his magical flute can weave. And if Sri Krishna's legendary flute continues to bewitch men and women to this day as it did in the ancient groves of Vrindaban, the charm of Sri Ramakrishna's words have proved no less mesmeric. The immense popularity of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) bears ample testimony to this fact. For the earnest spiritual aspirant seeking a sense of direction in the vast expanse of the spiritual realm, Sri Ramakrishna's words come as a whiff of fresh air. The profundity and subtlety of the spiritual world, as also its radiance, is laid open to access by Sri Ramakrishna through his simple Bengali patois-colloquial, yet so expressive. In his discourse, complex philosophical problems, existential paradoxes and ethical dilemmas are all resolved through illuminating metaphors and apt similes. For instance, he tells us that in the wall that stands barring our vision of the transcendent the avatara is the metaphorical 'hole'. It is only through this 'hole' that we can realistically visualize the divine play of the Spirit. Again, when we find him talking to the Divine Mother in a way as natural as any of our across-the-table talks, we are keen to know what we need to do to participate in those conversations. Pat comes the reply, 'Have intense longing for God', and this aspiration is then likened to the disciple's gasping for breath on being forcibly dunked in a pond by a guru keen on driving home his point.

     With a felicitous turn of phrase or ingenious coinage of compounds pregnant with meaning, Sri Ramakrishna provides striking insights into human nature as well as timeless spiritual verities. 'Gita repeated ten times over reveals its essence: t(y)agi, the renunciant.' This is one example of Sri Ramakrishna's delightful play upon words. However, the levels of meaning and the philosophical implications enfolded in this simple sentence are truly manifold. Issues of study, of repetitive japa and its potentials, of meanings and essentials are all involved therein, as are grammatical nuances. 'Kamini-kanchana', 'lust and lucre' or, literally, 'woman and gold', is a recurrent expression in Sri Ramakrishna's narrative. It has remained a highly debated term (especially in the translation), a fact that testifies to the truth of Sri Ramakrishna's assertion that kamini-kanchana alone is maya. Then there are expressions like 'Yato mat tato path; As many faiths so many paths' and 'Shiva jnane jiva-seva; Service to man as Shiva', that have attained aphoristic status in spiritual discourse. Parables, the hallmark of prophets, constitute a literary genre that is considered particularly difficult to construct. Sri Ramakrishna is a master of the parable. Folk wisdom, Puranic legends, personal anecdotes and everyday events - he weaves them all together into a rich narrative, at once enlightening and entertaining.

     His room at Dakshineswar is a veritable 'mart of joy'. Singing, dancing and spiritual talk alternate in never-ending succession. Divine inspiration is in the very air. Sri Ramakrishna dislikes long faces. His witticisms set his disciples rolling with side-splitting laughter.

     In sum, his magnetism is irresistible. Young or old, man or woman, lettered or otherwise, one is simply left spellbound once within Sri Ramakrishna's magic circle.

     Yet Sri Ramakrishna is a hard taskmaster. He is the proverbial money changer who would carefully test all his coins. Counterfeits simply cannot pass muster. If you are not a genuine aspirant you can't enter the magic circle; and very few seem to enjoy that privilege. Nor can you be complacent once you are granted entry. If you are invited by him to stay overnight at Dakshineswar you are sure to be roused in the middle of your sleep and instructed to meditate; and during the day you have only to take a false step to be rapped on your knuckles by the ever-watchful Master. Worse still, he could leave you to fend for yourself if your 'unripe I' becomes too assertive. Spiritual life can then appear hard and thankless.

     Again, the splendour of Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual achievements can blind us to their incredible immensity. A revered monk of the Ramakrishna Order once pointed out that the representation of Sri Ramakrishna's samadhi in the Kathamrita has proved highly misleading; not because the portrayal is not veridical, but the ease with which Sri Ramakrishna enters into deep samadhi and emerges therefrom with wonderful insights obscures the rarity of samadhi (of a high order) as a phenomenon.



                                    ~ ~ ~


     Sri Ramakrishna is the mythical piper, but when Narendra sings he is himself transported into ecstasy, his physical form left transfixed in samadhi. Evidently, Narendra can hypnotize even the magician. Small wonder then that men and women from all sections of society should be captivated by the magnetism of his personality and the power of his message when he eventually burst forth on the global scene as Swami Vivekananda. His message to the West and his plan of action for India have proved to be perennial in their inspiration. For the youth of India Swamiji is an ideal to be looked up to, if difficult to emulate. His multifaceted personality and many-sided genius make him easy to identify with. If you are keen on football, Swamiji will tell you that it is probably better for you than poring over the Gita. You need not be a linguist to be fascinated by the charm and power of his language, both English and Bengali-'phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythm like the march of Handel choruses'. For the musician, singer or artist, Swamiji is a veritable muse (genders, of course, are not relevant here), and for those seeking a philosophy to live by Swamiji offers a religion that is 'simple, popular, and at the same time meets the requirements of the highest minds'. If his exhortatory march from Colombo to Almora was electrifying in its effect, the record of these Indian speeches continues to enthuse Indian youth with the spirit of renunciation and service.

     It is difficult to hear Swamiji's call and not respond. One cannot help but identify with his great passion for the uplift of the masses and service of the poor and afflicted. If Swamiji's heart wept for the masses we surely cannot let those teardrops go in vain.

     Yet, can we really measure up to this call? Do we have the muscles of iron, the nerves of steel, and the heart akin to the thunderbolt that Swamiji demands of us in order to accomplish his Herculean mission? Do we possess that purity, patience and perseverance necessary to succeed against overwhelming odds? Do we have hearts that can feel, minds that can think pragmatically and hands that can execute plans?



                                   *          *          *



     A non-descript rickshaw-puller walked into the bookstall of a Ramakrishna Mission institution and asked for a freshly released, bulky Bengali volume on Sri Sarada Devi (Shatarupe Sarada). He was rather downcast to learn that the book was priced much higher than the amount that he had with him, that being all of his day's earnings. The monk in charge of the stall turned curious and inquired what he wished to do with the book and if he could at all read the book. The rickshaw-puller's reply was revealing. He had seen a copy of the book with one of his passengers. The face on the cover had reminded him of his own mother. He could not read, but his son could, and he would read out to him about Mother.

     Equally fascinating is Murugan's story that has received some publicity recently (see Vedanta Kesari, April 2004, 32-4). Convicted of murder at the young age of seventeen and serving a life sentence along with his father and brother, he was driven to despair over the sufferings of his mother and sisters. He was contemplating suicide when he was given a book on the life and teachings of Sri Sarada Devi by a fellow inmate. He browsed through a few pages rather disinterestedly when his attention was drawn to the following words of Holy Mother: 'Do not be afraid. Human birth is full of suffering. Hold on to the name of God and wade through the sufferings. Even the gods, holy men, avataras and saints will have to go through suffering if they take human birth. They have to go through physical and mental tortures for others, to absolve others of their sins.'

     Reading this passage over and over again Murugan realized the insignificance of his sufferings in comparison with those of many other people, even those who were great and saintly. In his own words, 'I felt as though a burden was lifted from me, a feeling of lightness spread within me, and I felt that Mother herself had consoled me. I gave up the idea of suicide that very night. I started confronting my suffering and depression face to face, and started chanting the name of Sri Ramakrishna. Slowly I felt a sense of peace engulfing me; I felt Mother's grace and blessings surrounding me'. By his own admission, Murugan is now a transformed man. Mother's message has taught him to open up his heart in prayer and thus attain peace of mind and clarity of thought. To put Mother's personal example of service into practice he now takes classes on the Bhagavadgita, Thiruvasagam (a Tamil scriptural text), and the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji for his fellow inmates who look upon him as a venerable teacher helping them out of their own agony and suffering. Mother's call to avoid looking at others' faults and to 'make the whole world one's own' has induced an attitudinal change that has brought him closer to many of the other inmates.

     These anecdotes will not appear out of the ordinary to those familiar with the life of Holy Mother, although they are relatively recent events. But they do carry a strong message of hope. Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual brilliance can dazzle us into blindness and sap our intrepidity (Arjuna's condition in Chapter 11 of the Gita may be recalled for a rather unequal comparison). On the other hand, we can hardly match up to Swamiji's expectations. But with Mother, we can find our spiritual feet. It is in the nature of mothers to provide their children with physical and emotional support. But the Mother Divine strikes a deeper chord by awakening the spiritual heart of her children. Our rickshaw-puller would give all of his day's earnings to know about Mother, and the transformed Murugan would make any mother proud. 'To live for others,' says Murugan, 'is the Mother's heart. After all, it is the heart of the Almighty.' Mother is resident where the heart is.



International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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