"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 BHARATASri Ramakrishna - The Spiritual ideal for the Age  






              Sri Ramakrishna - The Spiritual Ideal for the Age




                    Swami Bhuteshananda




     The life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna are very meaningful to people today. Although no one may ever understand his life fully, we can gain much by trying to practise his teachings. Two of the most prominent are: the need of Self-Realization, or God-Realization, which enables us to see God in all; and the need for accepting all the religions paths as valid ways and approaches to God.

     Swami Bhitteshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, emphasizes the practical importance of these teachings of Sri Ramakrishna in this highly illuminating talk. We regret we could not ascertain the place and year in which this was delivered.


     Оm niranjanam nityam anantarupam bhaktanukampa-dhrtavigraham vai;

     Isavataram paramesanndyam tarn ramakrsnnam sirasa namamah,


     Оm! One who is blemishless, eternal, and of limitless forms;
     who, indeed, out of compassion for devotees assumed a form;
     who is an incarnation of the Lord; who is the adorable Supreme Lord -
     to Sri Ramakrishna, who is such, we salute with our heads (bowed down).




     I have been asked to speak in English, so excuse me for speaking in a tongue that is natural neither to me nor to you. Unfortunately I am not able to speak in the language that is spoken here, which is a deficiency which I cannot overcome, and for which I beg your pardon.

     The subject for this evening is "Yuga-dharma-sthapaka Sri Ramakrishna", that is, "Sri Ramakrishna as the Establisher of the Spiritual Ideal for the Age". I translate dharma as spiritual ideal because dharma has been used in various senses. So, yugadharma also may be very differently interpreted by different people. Sri Ramakrishna did not bother much about the various interpretations. He said, "I know nothing except God. Verily I tell you, I do not know anything except God". That is his emphatic utterance. He was not even conscious that he was going to be the teacher of the Age. Once I described him as "A Teacher Who Never Taught."

     Sri Ramakrishna never had the ego that he was a teacher. He used to say, "Three words prick me". Those words were: "teacher", "karta" (agent), and "baba" (father - in either a spiritual or earthly sense). These three terms he never accepted in reference to himself. Yet we speak of him as the establisher of the religion for this Age! It seems to be rather curious. But the whole life of Sri Ramakrishna is curious. As I told you, he never posed as a teacher. On the contrary, he said, "I am an eternal learner; as long as I live, I learn." Those were his words.

     And then just think of his humility. When somebody spoke about him in some high-sounding words he would say, "I am the humblest of the humble. I am not even worthy to be a hair of your body." This is the kind of expression we hear from him.

     Nevertheless, even when he was just a little child, he spontaneously attained God-realization of a very high order. We do not know where he got this knowledge, this realization; it was not from any kind of sadhana, as we understand the word. Sri Ramakrishna gave some hint about this, but never elaborated the point. He said, "Incarnations are born with full Realization. They are like plants that flower after the fruits have come". The life of Sri Ramakrishna was like that. That was the peculiarity with which he was endowed from the very beginning - from his boyhood. He did not stop there. His sadhana, regular practice, began a little later, when he had a tremendous urge for God-realization. But, as we have seen, he had already had a spiritual experience of the highest order, even before adolescence. So why should he want to practise sadhana for the God realization he had already attained? The only answer is: This is a unique life that we have before us. This Sri Ramakrishna has to be understood from two different angles of understanding. One angle tells us that he is the perfect manifestation of the highest Reality. Seen from the other angle, he is just an ordinary person like us who practises sadhana to realize the Supreme Reality. These two go side by side. We see this not only in Sri Ramakrishna, but in other great prophets and Incarnations also. Every Incarnation is born with spiritual Knowledge. But that Knowledge has to be manifested, at least for the sake of others, by some prescribed methods. And Sri Ramakrishna practised those methods.

     Other Incarnations also practised sadhana. Sri Krishna went to his guru's home to learn the scriptures, and engage in sadhana. Sri Ramachandra did the same thing. Every teacher, every Incarnation has to do that. Why do they do this? Because they have to demonstrate to the world how God-realization is to be attained, step by step, up to the last stage. That has to be actually demonstrated through their own lives. Without this demonstration the purpose of the Incarnation becomes unfulfilled. If they remain at the highest stage, always immersed in Brahman, that does not help us. We have to be helped by a person who comes down to our level and shows us the way, step by step, to the highest goal. Swami Saradanandaji has stated in "Sri Ramakrisna Lilaprasanga" ("Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master") that every event in the life of Sri Ramakrishna has a deep meaning for us. His was not simply a life lived in isolation. It was a life that was to be the beacon light for us, so that we can have our path lighted and gradually reach the highest goal.

     Swami Vivekananda said that even the Vedas and the Vedanta will have to be understood in the light of Sri Ramakrishna, in the light of his teachings. His life is the light by means of which we will be able to read the meaning of the scriptures. The scriptures contain much wisdom no doubt, but they remain unintelligible to us unless we see them interpreted through the lives of these Incarnations. They make the scriptures living. As Sri Ramakrishna himself has stated, our scriptures are a mixture of sand and sugar. You have to find out where the sugar is and where the sand is, then you can reject the sand and take the sugar. In other words, Truth is mixed with some unnecessary things. It needs some husk, as it were, something to protect it from being diluted or misinterpreted.

     Brahman has been so often elaborately described by the scriptures, but do we really understand It? If we study the scriptures, where do we finally end up? We too often become either agnostic or utterly bewildered. We do not know where we are. That is why the scriptures themselves warn us again and again: Nanudhyayad bahun sabdan, vaco viglapanami hi tat - "Do not read the scriptures too much; that will only make your ideas clouded." Your mind will be clouded unless you have some sure guide who can tell you how to study the scriptures. All true Knowledge has to be received through an Enlightened Soul. A light has to be kindled by another light. An Enlightened Soul alone can enlighten others. Otherwise the scriptures remain sealed books. You do not know how to open the seal and learn the contents. This is true for scriptures of all religions, not only here. The key to their meaning is held by these Great Souls.

     Sri Ramakrishna wanted to receive all Knowledge direct from the Divine Mother, to whom he always had easy access. Unfortunately it is not so with us. Still, we know that we must acquire direct Knowledge by some means. If the Divine Mother or the Mother of the Universe is not within our reach, we at least have the advantage of the Incarnations of God. It is through them that we can learn the true meaning of the scriptures. That is why Swami Vivekananda said that the Vedas and the Vedanta will have to be understood through the light of Sri Ramakrishna, his life and teachings.




     Who Was Sri Ramakrishna?




     The more we study his life, the more we feel we are incompetent to gauge him. Even Arjuna, when he was given that Supreme Knowledge, the Visvarupa, when he saw God in His fullness, became frightened and said to Sri Krishna, "I took you to be an ordinary man and behaved with you like a friend, and therefore 1 must have treated you disrespectfully. Please forgive me." Those were the words of Arjuna, who was the closest associate of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. In the same way, when we look at the people who were very close to Sri Ramakrishna, what was their estimate of him? Swami Vivekananda, the greatest exponent of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the closest and foremost disciple, says, "I am afraid to speak of my guru, because when I try to do that, I may only distort the picture, I am incompetent to gauge him, so I am afraid. I do not feel sufficiently gifted to elaborate on that point." If Swami Vivekananda spoke in that way, what can the other disciples say? They all felt the same way - that Sri Ramakrishna was so great that their understanding of him was very incomplete. That was Sri Ramakrishna.

     So it is no wonder that we today cannot completely understand Sri Ramakrishna. He has so many facets, so many different aspects, that we get bewildered when we try to understand him. He not only realized in a systematic way the different paths leading to God-realization that are involved in Hinduism, he followed the Christian method and the Muslim method. And after completing all theses sadhanas, he said, on the bedrock of his personal experience, that these are all different paths leading to the same goal. Let us remember that this was not an intellectual generalization, but the experience that he had through the performance of the disciplines of the various religions.

     We find glimpses of this kind of essential oneness of religions in the Vedas: Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti - "Truth is One, wise men speak of It in various ways." In the Gita and the Upanishads we find the same thing. Still, Sri Ramakrishna's kind of practical experience through the paths of different religions has not been mentioned anywhere in our ancient scriptures. That is a new thing you find in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. Perhaps it was necessary in this Age for this experience to be demonstrated to the world, so that people can know that there is an inner harmony, or Oneness in the different faiths that seem to be contradictory and conflicting. This is what is very necessary today when there is so much strife in the name of religion. Sri Ramakrishna wants us all to understand that God can never be exhausted in any one religion. You can never describe him and say that God is this and this alone and nothing more. Nonetheless, Sri Ramakrishna taught that you must have faith in and stay on your own path or you can never progress, though you must never think that your religion is the only path. It is just a path, that is all.




     Religion in Practice




     When religion becomes a very important factor in our life naturally it will show its effect in every walk of our life, every aspect of our personality. That was another teaching of Sri Ramakrishna. If you are religious you must show it through your whole being. If you behave in one way and believe in another way, that means you are a hypocrite. For example, if you say everything is Brahman and then make a big distinction between man and man, you are only showing your ignorance. Sri Ramakrishna saw God everywhere, not merely theoretically but as a matter of direct experience. One day he was meditating with closed eyes. Then he opened his eyes and told the devotees,"I was trying to meditate with closed eyes. 1 did not like it, because it implies that God is there only when I close my eyes. But when my eyes are open is He not there? Whether I open my eyes or I close my eyes, God is always there." If we have this kind of God-realization, it will show in the way we behave with others. It will show whether or not we are looking upon the world as a manifestation of Divinity. Sri Ramakrishna said, '"f you can worship God in a stone or clay image, can you not worship Him in a human being?" Man is such a great manifestation of Consciousness, of Chaitanya, he is perhaps the best image we can have of God.

     Still, Sri Ramakrishna never decried any kind of worship. He believed in all paths. But at the same time he knew what is good for the world and what is not. So he prescribed only such things as are conducive to the well-being of the whole world at all times. Sri Ramakrishna never limited the paths of God-realization, neither did Swamiji, who said, "I shall be happy when every man has a religion of his own." There are a multiplicity of religions and a multiplicity of ideals. That does not matter. That need not bewilder us. I can see God only through my own eyes, therefore my God-realization is bound to be different from yours. As we proceed nearer and nearer to the Goal our ideas become clearer and clearer and ultimately when we reach the Goal, all descriptions cease. Yato vaco nivartante aprapya manasa saha - That Goal is one which words cannot express and the mind cannot reach, Sri Ramakrishna says, Brahman is one thing that has never been made ucchista, that is, has never been defiled by man. We go further and further and when we reach the Goal we stop. That is what Sri Ramakrishna says beautifully: "Our thought there ceases to be a stream of thinking, a meditation. It merges in the Knowledge Itself, the all-pervading Knowledge." That is what has to be remembered.

     Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly reminds us, first, that God is the be-all and end-all, the foremost thing in our life. Why? Because without knowing Him we can never be free from ignorance. We can never be free from these unending passages through births and deaths, through all the various ills of life. This goes on until we realize God. Secondly, God-realization is possible by various methods, various ways. All these ways are capable of leading to the Goal; thus we should have respect for all of them. Thirdly, as we proceed towards God, our life is transformed in all respects. As Sri Ramakrishna has demonstrated, when we at last attain God-realization, we shall see that God is everywhere; then we cannot isolate ourselves from the many. Our freedom, our liberation, is intimately related with the liberation of others.

Swamiji was once asked by Sri Ramakrishna, "What is your aim in life?" Swamiji said, "My aim in life is to remain merged in samadhi. Only occasionally I may come out of it and have a little food and again go deep into samadhi." Sri Ramakrishna did not approve. He said, "I thought you were greater than that. Why don't you become like a banyan tree which spreads its branches everywhere so that tired pilgrims can come and rest under its shade. You have to be the solace to everybody. Instead of that you want to remain satisfied with the bliss of samadhi!" Sri Ramakrishna himself had a tendency to remain in samadhi, which he resisted. Once when he was about to merge into samadhi, he pleaded with the Divine Mother saying, "Mother, don't make me oblivious of my surroundings. I want to speak to the devotees. 1 don't want to be merged into samadhi." Why? Sri Ramakrishna did not have any kind of worldly vasanas - any kind of desire for earthly things, but he had that one desire to be helpful to others, to help people reach the highest Goal, so that they could then enable others to free themselves. That was the great desire that Sri Ramakrishna had which kept him in his body.

     It is said that some sort of desire is necessary to keep the soul bound to the body. What desire did Sri Ramakrishna have? He had only this one desire, "I want to help others attain Self-realization."


     Sarvabhutesu yah pasyed
     Bhutani bhagavatyatmany-
     esa bhagavatottamah.


     He is the supreme Bhagavata, the devotee, who realizes his Self in all beings, and all beings in his Self, and Cod residing in all beings, and all beings residing in God.
                    (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.2.45)


     He who attains this kind of Knowledge is the highest devotee. When the highest is achieved, we see God manifest everywhere. That is why Swamiji says, Sarvabhute seyi premamoy - that Supreme God of love is present in all beings, therefore we should worship Him there. Perhaps we must live in solitude in the beginning for some time, but we should remember that that is only a stage of preparation. When you have reached the goal, your existence will merge with the Supreme which is everywhere. In the Upanishads it is said,


     Yathodakam suddhe suddham
     asiktam tadrg eva bhavati;
     Evammuner vijanata
     atma bhavati gautama.


     Just as a drop of pure water, when it falls into pure water, becomes one with that water and loses its individuality, in the same manner when you have God-realization of the highest order, you become one with Brahman.
                    (Katha-Upanishad, 2.1.15)


     You become identified with the entire world in heart and soul in every way. That sort of realization is not merely a theory; it is not merely a scriptural statement, it is a knowledge that has to be attained, that has to be made your own, that has to be realized. It will show in your behaviour. As Swamiji says, our doom was sealed on that day when we made the distinction between the vyavahara and paramartha, that is, between our behaviour and our commitment to the highest truth. If our behaviour is not consistent with the Truth we proclaim, we will end up cheating ourselves, we will remain sealed within the shell of our ideas, and they will never find manifestation in our life. That is no realization at all. True realization will make us one with the entire universe. Our behaviour will be shaped accordingly.


     That is what you find in the unique teaching and life of Sri Ramakrishna. That is why he protested when somebody praised charity to others, that jiva-daya. Sri Ramakrishna protested. No! Who are you to show charity to others? You have to serve God in every being. That is a great teaching which we should follow in the Modern Age. We should know that nobody can reach the goal in isolation. The whole world is waiting to be shown this truth, that each person's well-being depends on the well-being of others. Others' well-being and my well-being cannot be separated. My liberation and the liberation of the world should go together. If we follow this teaching we can solve many of the problems besetting modern society.


     We are trying to bring about a new way of thinking and behaving so that we can live - individuals and nations - in peace with one another. We know how our efforts are being frustrated because, though we have tried many things, we are still far from that goal. Why? Because we have not tried to change ourselves in the way that is necessary in order to have that sort of unity with the entire world. Unity that is not merely a word in the scriptures, but a way of life for us, must be rooted in the realization of the highest Truth, which is all-pervading.


     May Sri Ramakrishna help us reach that goal. May his life be a light to us, and through our devotion to him, may we have this great realization!

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









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