Ramakrishna - The Spiritual Ideal for the Age
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.
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.
niranjanam nityam anantarupam bhaktanukampa-dhrtavigraham
paramesanndyam tarn ramakrsnnam sirasa namamah,
One who is blemishless, eternal, and of limitless forms;
indeed, out of compassion for devotees assumed a form;
is an incarnation of the Lord; who is the adorable Supreme
Sri Ramakrishna, who is such, we salute with our heads (bowed
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Was Sri Ramakrishna?
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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,
tadrg eva bhavati;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!