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Sri Ramakrishna’s meeting with Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar in Calcutta
It is Saturday, 5 August 1882, the sixth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Shravana. It is about four o’clock in the afternoon.
Sri Ramakrishna is going to Badurbagan by carriage on the main road in Calcutta to visit Vidyasagar at his house. Bhavanath, Hazra and M. accompany him.
Sri Ramakrishna was born in Kamarpukur, a village in the Hooghly district situated near Beersingh, Vidyasagar’s the native village. Since childhood, Sri Ramakrishna has heard of Vidyasagar’s acts of charity. In the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar, he learned of his scholarship and compassionate nature. M. is a teacher in Vidyasagar’s school. Learning this, Thakur asked him, “Will you take me to see Vidyasagar? I would like very much to meet him.” M. spoke to Vidyasagar, who was delighted and asked M. to come on Saturday at four o’clock. Vidyasagar had asked him, “What kind of a paramahamsa is he? Does he wear gerua?” M. had replied, “No sir, he is a unique person. He wears a red-bordered dhoti and a short coat, a shirt and varnished slippers. He lives in a room in Rasmani’s Kali Temple. He sleeps on a wooden cot with only a bedspread and a mosquito net. Outwardly there is no sign of holiness, but inwardly he knows nothing but the Lord. Day and night he meditates on Him.”
The carriage starts from the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Having crossed the bridge, it soon reaches Amherst Street through Shyambazar. When the devotees tell Thakur that the carriage is nearing Badurbagan, Thakur begins to talk like a child full of joy. However, there is a sudden change in his mood as the carriage reaches Amherst Street. It seems to be a prelude to his going into divine ecstasy.
As the carriage approaches Rammohan Roy’s garden house, M. hasn’t noticed the change in Thakur’s mood. Hurriedly he exclaims, “This is Rammohan Roy’s house.” Thakur is annoyed and says, “Such things don’t appeal to me now. I don’t care about them.” He is passing into divine ecstasy.
The carriage stops at the gate to Vidyasagar’s house. It is a two-story building of British taste. The building sits in the middle of the plot and has a wall on all four sides. The gate and the front door are on the western side of the house, the gate to the south of the door. Between the western wall and the two-storied building are flowering trees and plants. One climbs upstairs after passing through the western ground floor room. Vidyasagar is on the upper floor. At the top of the staircase is a room on the north, to its east a hall. Vidyasagar’s bedroom is to the southeast of the hall. There is another room on the south. All the rooms are full of precious books. Most of the books are beautifully bound and artistically arranged in bookshelves that line the wall. On the eastern side of the hall are a few chairs and a table. Vidyasagar sits there facing west when he works. When he has visitors, they also sit around the table. There is stationery visible – paper, pen, inkpot, blotting paper, several letters, a bound cashbook, files, and a few books Vidyasagar is reading. Exactly to the south of the wooden divan is a bedstead where he sleeps.
What is written on the letters lying on the table under the paperweight? Perhaps a widow has written, “My minor child is without a father. There is nobody to take care of him. You will have to look after him.” Someone else might have written, “You went to Kharmata, so we didn’t get our monthly allowance. This caused us great distress.” Another poor person may have written, “I have been admitted to your school on a full scholarship, but I have no means to buy books.” Yet another person might write, “My family hasn’t the means to feed itself. Kindly arrange a job for me.” A teacher from the school perhaps has written, “My sister has lost her husband and her whole burden has fallen on my shoulders. My salary is too meagre to meet expenses.” Yet another has perhaps written from a foreign country, “I am in trouble here. You are a friend of the poor. Kindly send me some money and save me from impending distress.” And yet another has written, “Settlement must be made on such-and-such date. Kindly come on this day and settle the dispute.”
Thakur descends from the carriage. M. leads him to the house. Walking through flowering trees on the way to the house, Thakur touches the buttons of his shirt and asks M. in a childlike manner, “My shirt is unbuttoned. Is there any harm in it?” He is dressed in a broadcloth shirt and a red-bordered dhoti with one end over his shoulder. He has varnished slippers on his feet. M. says, “Please don’t worry about it. You will not offend anyone. You needn’t button your shirt.” Just as a child feels reassured after an explanation, Thakur’s mind is at peace.
Having climbed the staircase, Thakur enters the first room with the devotees (the room just to the north). Vidyasagar is seated at the north end of the room facing south. In front of him is a long rectangular polished table. On the east side of the table is a bench with a back. A number of chairs have been placed to the south and west of the table. Vidyasagar is talking to some of his friends.
As Thakur enters, Vidyasagar stands up to greet him. Thakur stands near the eastern edge of the table facing west with his right hand on the table. Behind him is the bench. He looks at Vidyasagar as though he were a former acquaintance. He laughs in ecstasy.
Vidyasagar must be sixty-two or sixty-three years old. He is sixteen or seventeen years older than Sri Ramakrishna. He is clad in a white-bordered dhoti, a short-sleeved flannel shirt, and is wearing slippers. He has an Orissa-cut hairstyle. His gleaming white false teeth show when he talks. Short in stature, Vidyasagar has a very large head and a broad forehead. He is a brahmin, so he wears a holy thread around his neck.
Vidyasagar is a man of many facets. One of his great loves is of learning. One day he actually began to weep when he said to M, “How much I wanted to continue my studies! But it was not to be. I was so entangled in worldly affairs, I didn’t have time.’
A second love is for all beings. Vidyasagar is an ocean of compassion. Seeing a calf deprived of its mother’s milk, he could not drink milk for many years – not until his health declined considerably. He does not travel in a carriage, because the horse pulling it cannot speak of its burden. One day he saw a workman lying on the road struck by cholera, his basket lying near. He picked the man up, brought him home, and nursed him.
A third love is independence. Because of a disagreement with his proprietors, Vidyasagar resigned from the post of Principal of the Sanskrit College.
His fourth characteristic is that he does not care for social decorum. He loved a teacher. At the time of his daughter’s marriage, Vidyasagar went to the feast with a gift of cloth under his arm.
A fifth love is devotion to his mother. She had said to him, “Iswar, if you don’t come to the marriage of your brother, I will feel very bad.” On strength of will, Vidyasagar walked on foot all the way from Calcutta to his village of Beersingh. On the way he had to cross the Damodar river and there was no boat available, so he swam across. He presented himself before his mother, dripping wet, the very night of the marriage. He said, “Mother, here I am!”
Vidyasagar’s adoration of Sri Ramakrishna – their conversation
Entering into an ecstatic mood, Thakur stands quiet for quite some time. To control his ecstasy, he now and then says, “I want a drink of water.” The boys of the household, relatives and friends of Vidyasagar, quickly gather around.
Thakur is about to sit on the bench, still absorbed in ecstasy. A boy of seventeen or eighteen is already sitting there. He has come to Vidyasagar to ask help with his studies. In such a spiritual mood, with the insight of a rishi, Thakur is able to understand what the boy is thinking. He moves away a little and says, in ecstasy, “Mother, this boy has great attachment to worldly life, your world of ignorance. This boy belongs to the world of ignorance.”
Does Thakur mean that it is ironic for the boy to study to make money instead of to acquire the knowledge of Brahman?
Vidyasagar anxiously asks somebody to bring water. He asks M., “Will he take some refreshments?” M. replies, “Yes sir, please bring something.” Vidyasagar leaves hurriedly and returns with numerous sweets. He says, “These are from Burdwan.” Some of them are offered to Thakur. Hazra and Bhavanath also take some. When M. is offered them, Vidyasagar says, “He is a child of this house. There is no formality with him.” Thakur speaks of a particular young man who has been sitting in front of him. He says, “This boy possesses good sattvic qualities. Inwardly he is full of pith and marrow. He is like the Phalgu river with a bed which appears dried up – but dig a little and you find an active current of water underneath.”
After taking some sweets, Thakur talks with Vidyasagar, a smile playing on his face. Soon the whole room is full of people. Some are seated, others stand.
Sri Ramakrishna — Today I have come to the ocean. Until now I have come across canals, lakes, and rivers. Now I see the ocean. (All laugh.) [Thakur is referring to the literal meaning of Vidyasagar, which is the ‘ocean of knowledge’.]
Vidyasagar (laughing) — Then, sir, you are welcome to take some salt water. (Laughter.)
Sri Ramakrishna — No, my dear sir, you are surely not the salt ocean. You are not the ocean of avidya. You are the ocean of vidya, the ocean of milk! (All laugh.)
Vidyasagar — Sir, you may say so if you like.
Thakur speaks while Vidyasagar remains silent.
Sattvic actions of Vidyasagar – “You, too, are a perfected man”
“Your actions are sattvic by nature. It is the rajas of sattva. Sattva makes one do works of compassion. When a work is done out of compassion, though it is rajasic, it is the rajas of sattva. There is no harm in it. Shukadeva and others were compassionate in order to teach humanity – to teach about God to humanity. It is good that you are giving food and education. These charitable acts lead to God-realization if undertaken selflessly. They who act to earn a name or religious merit are not selfless in their actions. But you deserve to be called a perfect man.”
Vidyasagar — How is that, sir?
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — Potatoes and rice aren’t tender until they’re siddha (well-boiled). Your kindness for others has made you soft and tender of heart. (Laughter.)
Vidyasagar (laughing) — But kalai pulse when siddha (well-boiled), gets harder! Is that not so? (Everybody laughs.)
Sri Ramakrishna — Well, you are no such thing. You are not a mere pundit – dry and hard and good for nothing. A vulture soars high in the sky, but its eyes are fixed on the charnel-pits where the carcasses of animals are burned. They who are pundits due to learning are scholars in name – but they are attached to ‘lust and gold’ – they look for decomposed corpses, just like a vulture. Fondness for the world is avidya; compassion, devotion, love of God, non-attachment, are the wealth of vidya.
Vidyasagar listens to Thakur silently. Everyone gazes fixedly at the blissful personage and drinks the nectar of his words.
Sri Ramakrishna – jnana yoga and Vedanta
Vidyasagar is a very learned man. When he was a student in the Sanskrit College, he was at the top of his class. He secured first position and won a gold medal and a scholarship. Gradually he reached the position of Principal of the Sanskrit College. He was a specialist in Sanskrit grammar and poetic literature. He learned English by resolute self-effort.
Vidyasagar did not instruct anyone in religion. He had studied philosophy but when M. once asked him what he thought of Hindu philosophy, he replied, “I think that what they wanted to explain, they were unable to explain.” However, he would perform all Hindu rituals, such as funeral ceremonies. He wore the sacred thread around his neck and whenever he wrote a letter in Bengali, he wrote as a letterhead: “Sri Sri Hari Sharanam” (Lord, I take refuge in You).
Another day Vidyasagar had told M. his idea about God. He said, “He cannot be known. So what is our duty? In my opinion it is to conduct ourselves in such a way that if others followed us, the earth would become heaven. Everyone must try to do good to the world.”
While talking of vidya and avidya, Thakur speaks of the knowledge of Brahman. Vidyasagar, a very learned man who has studied the six Hindu systems of philosophy, has perhaps concluded that it is impossible to know anything about God.
Sri Ramakrishna — Brahman is beyond vidya and avidya. He transcends maya.
Problem of evil – Brahman is unattached – pain and sorrow only relevant to the embodied soul
“There are both vidya maya and avidya maya in the world. There are jnana and bhakti – as well as ‘lust and greed’. There is righteousness, and there is unrighteousness; there is good as well as evil. But Brahman is not concerned with all these. Good and bad belong to embodied beings, as does righteousness and unrighteousness. God is not affected by them.
“It is like the light of a lamp. You may read the Bhagavata with the help of that light. You can also forge a document with criminal intent in the same light. In both cases the lamp remains unaffected.
“The sun sheds light on the good as well as on the wicked.
“You may then ask, how do you explain sorrow, sin, restlessness and the like? The answer is that they only concern embodied beings. Brahman is above and beyond them. There is poison in the fangs of a snake, but the poison doesn’t affect it – though when the snake bites a creature, it dies.”
Brahman is indescribable and impossible to verbalize (the unknown and the unknowable)
“What Brahman is cannot be described. Everything – the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras and the six systems of philosophy – has been defiled, like the leavings of food. For when one reads the scriptures, one must use the vocal organs and this causes them to be in touch with the mouth, so to speak. Thus they have all been defiled, like the leavings of food. The one exception is Brahman. No one in this world has yet been able to give proper and adequate expression to God the Absolute.”
Vidyasagar (to his friends) — Oh, this is beautiful. I must say I have learned something today.
Sri Ramakrishna — A man had two sons. He placed both of them under the care of a preceptor to acquire the knowledge of Brahman. After many years both of them returned from the guru’s house and saluted their father. The father wished to see how deeply they had understood the knowledge of Brahman (jnana). He asked the elder son, ‘Son, you have studied the scriptures. Tell me what God the Absolute is.’ The elder son quoted several verses from the Vedas to explain the nature of Brahman. His father remained silent. When the father put the question to his younger son, the boy hung his head and sat quite mute. He uttered not a word. The father said happily, ‘Son, you indeed have understood a little about God the Absolute. What Brahman is cannot be expressed in words.’
“Man thinks that he has known God. An ant came to a mountain of sugar. It ate one particle of sugar and was filled. It took another particle and, as it went its way, it thought that the next time it would take the whole mountain home. Such, alas, is the condition of insignificant man. Men don’t know that Brahman is beyond mind and speech.
“Who can know God, however great that man may be? Shukadeva and other holy sages were at best ants of the larger sort (big black ants). They might have been able to carry eight or ten grains of sugar in their mouths.”
Brahman is indeed Sat-chit-ananda – Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Brahmajnana
“Do you know how the Vedas and the Puranas have expressed God? If a person asks a man what he has seen after he has been to the ocean, he exclaims, ‘Ha! Oh, what I saw! What a disturbance! What waves!’ It is the same in the case of Brahman. The Vedas say, ‘He is Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, the image of Bliss.’ Shukadeva and other rishis, standing on the shore of the ocean of Brahman, saw and touched Him. According to some, these people did not go into the ocean, for no one can return after going into it.
“One attains Brahmajnana in the state of samadhi – one has the vision of Brahman. In that state the process of thinking completely stops; one is struck dumb. Nobody has the power to explain Brahman in words.
“A salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean. (All laugh). But it could provide no information. As soon as it went into the ocean, it dissolved. Who could give the report?”
A person asks, “Does a man who has attained Brahmajnana, having become established in samadhi, remain ever-silent?”
Sri Ramakrishna (to Vidyasagar) — Shankaracharya retained his ‘I of knowledge’ to impart instruction to mankind. The man who has the vision of Brahman becomes silent. One reasons only as long as one has not seen Him. Clarified butter in a pan set over fire makes a sizzling sound as long as the water in it has not dried up. When it is well heated, it produces no sound. However, when you throw unbaked flour cake in it, it again begins to make a sizzling sound. When the cake is sufficiently cooked, the butter no longer makes a sound. In the same way a man comes down from samadhi to impart instruction to mankind, and then he talks.
“A bee buzzes as long as it doesn’t sit on a flower. But when it settles down on the flower and begins to drink honey, it becomes silent. Intoxicated by drinking honey, it may again buzz.
“When you lower a pitcher into a pool of water, it produces a gurgling sound. But when the pitcher is full, there is no sound. (All laugh.) When water is poured from this pitcher again into another, one again hears a gurgling sound.” (Laughter.)
Jnana and vijnana – reconciliation of Non-dualism, Qualified non-dualism and Dualism
Sri Ramakrishna — The rishis attained Brahmajnana. But if you have the slightest desire for worldly things, you cannot attain the knowledge of Brahman. What an effort the rishis made! They would leave their ashram in the morning to meditate and contemplate on God alone throughout the day. And then they ate only roots and fruit at night when they returned to their ashram. They would guard themselves from seeing, hearing, and touching other worldly things. Only then did they realize Brahman as their own inner Self.
“In the age of Kali, life is dependent on food and one cannot rid oneself of body-consciousness. It’s not right in this state of mind to say, ‘Soham.’ One attends to worldly affairs and then says, ‘I am Brahman’ – this is not right. They who cannot rid themselves of worldly matters, they who cannot free themselves from the idea of ‘I-ness’, should keep the I-ness of the ‘servant I,’ or the ‘devotee I’. One can also attain Him by the path of love and devotion for God.
“The jnani gets rid of his worldly identity by saying, ‘Not this, not this,’ and thus attains the knowledge of Brahman. It is like one who reaches the roof by leaving one step after another behind. But the vijnani has a special contact with Him and sees more than the jnani. He sees that the steps are made of the same material as the roof – bricks, brick dust and lime. He sees that He who has realized Brahman by saying, ‘Not this, not this’, has Himself become the living beings and the universe. The vijnani sees that He who is attributeless is also with attributes.
“A man cannot stay on the roof a long time. He comes down from the roof. They who have attained samadhi and had the vision of Brahman see when they come down that He Himself has become all living beings and the universe. Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti – one cannot stay long at ti [the highest note]. One cannot rid one’s self of I-ness. On coming down from samadhi, one sees that He is me, and that He has become the entire universe and its living beings. This is vijnana.
“The path of the jnani is one way to attain God. The path of knowledge combined with devotion is another way. So also is there the path of devotion (bhakti). The path of Jnana Yoga is as true as the path of Bhakti Yoga. One can reach God through various paths. But as long as one retains the ego, it is easier and more straightforward to follow the path of love and devotion.
“The vijnani sees that Brahman is immovable and actionless, like Mount Sumeru. The entire universe is made of His three gunas – of sattva, rajas and tamas – but He is unattached to them.
“The vijnani sees that He who is Brahman is also Bhagavan. He who is beyond attributes is also the Lord of six supernatural powers. His powers are the world and its living beings, the mind and intellect, love, dispassion and divine knowledge. (Laughing) What kind of gentleman has no hearth and home, who might even have been forced to sell it? (Laughter.) The Lord possesses the six supernatural powers. Had God no dispassion, who would accept Him?” (General laughter.)
God is present in all as all-pervading power – but there is special manifestation of His power in some
“See how wonderful the world is! How many different things there are in this universe: the sun, the moon and the planets! How many kinds of creatures there are: big, small, good and bad! Some have more power, others less.”
Vidyasagar — Has God given more power to some and less to others?
Sri Ramakrishna — He dwells in all beings as the all-pervading Power. He is present even in an ant. But there is a special manifestation of His power in some. If that were not true, how could one man defeat ten, while another person tries to run away from even one? Why do people have regard for you? Have you grown two horns? (Laughter.) Compared to others, you have more compassion and learning. This is why they have regard for you and come to see you. Don’t you agree?
Mere learning and book learning are in vain – love and devotion for God is the one thing needful
Sri Ramakrishna — Mere learning is of no avail. It is for finding the means for attaining Him and knowing Him that one reads books. A sadhu had a book with him. Somebody asked him what it was about. The sadhu opened it and on every page was written, ‘Om, Rama’. Nothing else.
“What is the message of the Gita? What you hear when you say the word ten times. By repeating it ten times, Gita becomes ‘tyagi’. And this is what the Gita teaches: Oh man, giving up everything, strive to realize God. Whether one is a sadhu or a householder, one must get rid of all attachments in the mind.
“Chaitanyadeva, in the course of his pilgrimage through South India, came across a person reading the Gita. Another man sat a little away from him, listening and shedding tears. How bitterly he was weeping! Chaitanyadeva asked him, ‘Do you understand all this?’ He replied, ‘No, Master, I do not understand these verses.’ The former then asked why he was in tears. The devotee said, ‘I see Arjuna’s chariot; in it the Lord and Arjuna are talking. This is what fills my eyes with tears of joy and love.’
The secret of dualism
Sri Ramakrishna — Why does the vijnani practice love and devotion to God? The answer is that one cannot get rid of I-ness. Though one’s ego disappears in the state of samadhi, it reappears. The ego of an ordinary man does not leave him. Cut the Ashwattha plant and the next day you will see it sprout again. (All laugh.)
“Even after attaining knowledge, I-ness reappears, nobody knows from where. You see a tiger in a dream. Even when you wake up, you find your heart still racing. All of man’s trouble is due to this I-ness. The bullock bellows, ‘Hamba, hamba’ (I, I). That is why it undergoes such tribulation. It is yoked to the plough, its body is exposed to the sun and rain, and then a butcher slaughters it. After that, shoes are made with its skin. Moreover, it is used to make drums and it is beaten mercilessly. (Laughter.)
“Even then, it is not spared. Last of all, strings are made with its intestines and the carder makes bows to card cotton. Then it no longer says, ‘I, I.’ Instead it says ‘Tuhu Tuhu’ (you, you). It is only when it says ‘You, you’ that it is spared. ‘Oh Lord, I am Your servant, You are my Master. I am your son, you are my Mother.’
“Rama asked Hanuman, ‘With what attitude do you look on me?’ Hanuman replied, ‘Rama, when I have the feeling of ‘I’, I look upon you as the whole and myself as your part; you are the Master and I your servant. And Rama, when I attain the knowledge of the Absolute, I see that You are I and I am You.’
“The idea of Master and servant is good. The ego won’t vanish, so let the rascal remain a ‘servant I’.”
Instruction to Vidyasagar: I and mine are ignorance
“I and mine: these are both born of ignorance. My house, my money, my learning, all these are my riches – this feeling is a result of ignorance. Oh Lord, You are the doer and all these belong to You – house, family, sons, children, acquaintances, and friends. Such a feeling arises from knowledge.
“One must always remember death. Death will be the end of everything. You have come here to perform some actions, the way villagers come to Calcutta from their village to work. If a visitor comes to a rich man’s garden, the keeper of the garden says, ‘This is our garden and this our pond.’ But if the proprietor dismisses the keeper because of some error he has committed, he is not entitled to take away even his mango-wood box – it is sent to him through the gatekeeper. (Laughter.)
“God laughs on two occasions. One, when a physician says to the mother of his patient, ‘Mother, you needn’t fear. I will cure your son.’ The Lord says to Himself, ‘I am taking his life and this fellow says that he is going to save him.’ The physician thinks that he is the doer. He doesn’t know that it is God alone who is the doer. The Lord also laughs when two brothers divide land between themselves, measuring it with a cord and saying ‘This side is mine and that yours.’ God laughs, saying to Himself, ‘This world, the whole universe, is Mine, but these fellows say: this plot of land is mine and that is yours.’ ”
The way: faith, love and devotion for God
“Can He be known by reasoning? Be His servant, take refuge in Him and call upon Him.
(Smiling, to Vidyasagar) “Well, what is your attitude?”
Vidyasagar smiles gently. He says, “I will tell you one day when we are alone.” (All laugh.)
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — He cannot be known by learning and reasoning.
Saying this, Thakur begins to sing, intoxicated with divine love.
God is unknowable and limitless
Is there anybody who knows Kali, She who is the consort of Kala? Even the six schools of philosophy do not reveal Her.
A yogi meditates on Her at the Muladhara and Sahasrara.
A goose and a gander go around in this wilderness of lotuses and sport with each other. They are Kala and His consort.
My Divine Mother is the most beloved of Shiva, even as Sita is the most beloved of Rama.
She appears in Her majesty in each ghat as an individual, just as She pleases. She is Ichhamai.
It is Mahakala that knows the greatness of my Divine Mother – greatness, which is hidden from the view of ordinary beings. Who else can know Her?
My Divine Mother gives birth to the Universe – now think of Her greatness!
Says Prasad [the psalmist]: ‘To think that one can know Her is to think that one can swim across the mighty ocean. People can only laugh at the idea.’
I understand this well enough with my mind; alas, my heart does not. It is a dwarf aspiring to reach the moon.
“See, Mother Kali’s womb contains the entire universe. How can you know Her greatness? And then it says, ‘Even the six schools of philosophy do not reveal Her.’ You cannot attain Her by scholarship.”
The omnipotence of faith – faith in the Lord and the vilest sin
“You need to have faith, love and devotion for the Lord. Listen to this – how powerful is faith! A person wanted to go across the sea from Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]. Bibhishana said, ‘Take this and take care that it is tied to the end of your cloth. This will enable you to walk across the ocean in safety. But mind, never try to open it to look at it, for you will go under the water the moment you open it.’ This fellow walked the ocean for some time in perfect safety. Such is the omnipotence of faith. However, after crossing a part of the way, he began to wonder what precious thing Bibhishana had tied to the end of his cloth that could take him across the water. Thinking this, he opened the knot of cloth and found only the name of ‘Rama’ written on a leaf. He said to himself: Oh, just this! Thinking this, he sank into the water.
“They say that Hanuman had so much faith in the name of Rama that he was able to leap over the sea by virtue of his faith. On the other hand, Rama had to build a bridge to cross it [from the Indian mainland to Sri Lanka].
“If you have faith in Him, even if you commit a sin or the vilest crime, there is no danger.”
Saying this, Sri Ramakrishna assumes the attitude of a devotee and, intoxicated with divine fervour, begins to sing of the great importance of faith –
O Divine Mother, if I die with the name of Durga on my lips,
I shall see, O Shankari, how could You not redeem me?
If I kill a cow, or a brahmin, or destroy a child in the womb;
If I indulge in drinking wine and the like, or kill a woman,
For all these sins I care not the least,
As I can raise myself to the exalted position of Brahman.
End of life is to love the Lord
Sri Ramakrishna — Faith and bhakti! One can attain Him easily through love and devotion. He can be grasped through the ecstasy of love.
Saying this, Sri Ramakrishna begins to sing another song –
O my mind! What are you doing to realize that Being? You are groping about like a mad man in a dark room!
He can be grasped only through ecstatic love; it is impossible to grasp Him otherwise.
Do try your best to bring under your control the moon, which is the doorkeeper at the house (the Microcosm).
In a house are various rooms, among them a vault where the Divine treasure is kept hidden.
Once the moon is under your control, you may, secretly like a thief, work your way to the treasure in the vault and make it your own.
But when the moon is beyond your control and it is daybreak, the treasure in the vault is hidden from you.
Go to the six schools of philosophy. You will not find that Being there! Nor in the Tantras or the Vedas!
That Being is fond of the sweet syrup of love and dwells within as everlasting joy.
With a view to that love a great yogi practices, one decade after another, meditation for reunion with the Universal Soul.
Once this love springs up in his [the yogi’s] heart, he draws the Supreme Being near, much as the loadstone draws the iron.
Says Prasad: ‘The Being whom I call my Mother and try to realize, shall I tell Her real name?
Would that not be breaking my (sacred) cooking-pot in the courtyard of the house (or in the market-place) before the eyes of an unfeeling multitude? Guess, O my mind, who that Being is, by the hints I have given.’
Thakur in the state of samadhi
As he is singing, Thakur goes into samadhi. His hands are folded, his body is erect and motionless, his eyes unblinking. He sits on the same bench facing west, his legs stretched out. Full of curiosity, everyone watches his wondrous state.
Thakur now returns to normal consciousness. Heaving a deep sigh, he smiles and says, “Feeling and devotion mean to love Him. He who is Brahman I call the Mother.”
“Ramprasad asks the mind to guess by a hint. He asks you to understand that He who is called Brahman in the Vedas is addressed by him as the Mother. He who is without attributes also has attributes. He who is Brahman is indeed Shakti. When I see Him inactive, I call Him Brahman; and when I think of Him creating, preserving and destroying, I call Him the Primal Power, or Kali.
“Brahman and His Power are inseparable. Example, fire and its burning power. Mention fire, and its power to burn comes to mind. Mention the power to burn, and fire comes to mind. When you accept one, you have accepted the other as well.
“That Being is addressed as the Mother – isn’t the Mother a great object of love? If you are able to love the Lord, you will attain Him. Divine feeling, faith, love and devotion are needed! Listen to this song –
The way: faith in the beginning followed by love and devotion
By meditating on Him, you attain the state of divine feeling.
One gains according to one’s feeling – this is the fundamental truth.
If the mind can dip into the reservoir of the nectar of Kali’s feet,
Worship, oblations, sacrifices and other Vedic rites are of no avail.
“ ‘The mind can dip’ means to love Him intensely. ‘The reservoir of nectar’ is the lake of immortality. Man does not die when he drowns there. He becomes immortal. Some think that by thinking of God too much, one loses one’s sanity. That is not so. He is the lake of immortality. The Vedas have declared Him to be ‘immortal’. When one plunges into this lake, one does not die but instead becomes immortal.”
Karma Yoga and selfless work – helping the world
Sri Ramakrishna and the European ideal of work
“Worship, oblations, sacrifices and such Vedic rites are of no use whatever. When you develop love for Him, all these actions of worship are mostly unnecessary. As long as there is a lack of breeze, there is the need of a fan. But if the southern wind blows, the fan may be put aside. What need is a fan then?
“All the activities you are performing are good. But if you can give up the idea that you are the doer, if you can perform these actions in a selfless way, it would be very good. By performing work in a selfless manner, one gradually develops love and devotion for God. And by continuing to do work without expectation of any reward, one realizes Him.
“However, the more you develop love and devotion for Him, the less work you will have to perform. When the daughter-in-law of the household is in the family way, her mother-in-law reduces her duties. The nearer she approaches her delivery, the less are the duties she is given by her mother-in-law. In the last month of pregnancy, she is given no work lest the childbirth be in jeopardy. (Laughter.) All the work you have undertaken is good. Performing work without any expectation of reward purifies the mind and increases your love for God. It is only by loving Him that you can realize Him. It is not man who does good to the world, it is God Himself who does it. He has created the sun and the moon; He has given affection to the hearts of parents; He has given compassion to the great; He has given devotion to sadhus and devotees. He who works without any selfish desire does good to himself.”
The aim of selfless work is God-realization
“There is gold buried within your heart, but you do not yet know it. It is covered by a little mud. Once you discover it, all other activities will be lessened. When the daughter-in-law has given birth to a child, she is busy with it; she busies herself with the baby alone. Her mother-in-law doesn’t let her do household chores. (All laugh.)
“Go forward. A woodcutter went to cut wood. A brahmachari said to him, ‘Go forward.’ And he saw sandalwood trees when he did. After a few days he remembered that the brahmachari had asked him to go forward, he didn’t say to stop at the sandalwood trees. As he went on, he came across a silver mine. And after a few days, when he went still further, he came across a gold mine. Still further, he found diamonds and gems. Gaining all these, he became very wealthy.
“Work without expectation of any reward develops love for God within. Then one attains Him by His grace. One can see the Lord, one can talk to Him the way I am talking to you.” (All laugh.)
Sri Ramakrishna, the ocean of motiveless grace
Everybody is listening to Sri Ramakrishna, still and silent, as though the Goddess Saraswati herself were seated on his tongue and addressing Vidyasagar for the good of humanity. It is 9:00 p.m. Thakur will leave now.
Sri Ramakrishna (laughing to Vidyasagar) — I needn’t have said all this, for you know it. It is only that you are not aware of it. (Laughter.) In the treasure of the Lord of the ocean are many jewels. But the presiding God of the sea is not aware of them.
Vidyasagar (laughing) — You may say so.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — Again you will find that some gentlemen do not even know the names of their domestic servants. (Everybody laughs.) These gentlemen are too important to be on terms of familiarity with the valuables of the house.
Hearing this conversation, everyone is very happy. They are all silent for some time. Addressing Vidyasagar, he speaks again.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — Come to the garden once, Rasmani’s garden. It’s a charming place. So grand! So beautiful!
Vidyasagar — Certainly. You have been so kind to come. Is it not my duty, too, to pay you a visit?
Sri Ramakrishna — Visit to me! Oh, for shame, for shame!
Vidyasagar — But why? Please explain to me.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — We are but fishing boats, small and light and able to travel canals and marshes and also big rivers. But you are a big ship! Who knows but that you may run against a sandbank if you venture there! (All laugh.)
Vidyasagar smiles but says nothing. Thakur laughs.
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling) — But even ships can navigate there at this time.
Vidyasagar (smiling) — Yes, it is the rainy season. (All laugh.)
M. (to himself) — It is the season of the rains of new love. During a new love affair, one does not distinguish between honour and disgrace.
Thakur rises to leave, along with his devotees. Vidyasagar also stands with his relatives and friends. He will see Thakur off in the carriage.
Why does Sri Ramakrishna stand there? He is repeating the seed mantra on his fingers. While doing this, he becomes absorbed in ecstasy – the ocean of motiveless grace as he is. Perhaps he is praying to the Mother for the spiritual welfare of the saintly Vidyasagar before leaving him.
Thakur and the devotees now go downstairs, one of them holding his hand. Vidyasagar leads with his group of friends. He has a lamp in his hand and shows the way. It is the sixth day of the dark fortnight in the lunar month of Shravana. The moon is not yet in the sky. All walk toward the gate through the dark garden in the dim light of the lamp.
Sri Ramakrishna and the devotees reach the gate, where they are struck by a beautiful sight. They see before them a bearded man of fair complexion, 36 or 37 years old, in Bengali dress, a white turban that Sikhs wear, clad in a dhoti, long shirt and socks, but no shoulder cloth. They see that as he comes into the presence of Sri Ramakrishna, he lies prostrate before him with his turban on his head. When he rises, Thakur says, “Oh it’s you, Balaram! So late at night?”
Balaram (smiling) — I came a long time ago and have been waiting here.
Sri Ramakrishna — Why didn’t you come in?
Balaram — Sir, everybody was listening to you. I didn’t want to disturb you by going inside. (Saying this, Balaram laughs.)
Thakur gets into the carriage, along with the devotees.
Vidyasagar (sweetly to M.) — Shall I pay the carriage fare?
M. — You needn’t worry. It has already been taken care of.
Vidyasagar and the others salute Thakur.
The carriage begins to roll north. Its destination is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Those he leaves stand gazing at the carriage even now. They seem to be wondering who this saintly man is who has such an intense love for God and who visits the homes of ordinary beings, telling them that the aim of life is to love God.
 Ochre-colored cloth of a sannyasin
 The lower part of the head is shaved
 On the ceremony of taking the last meal by a Hindu bride on the night immediately preceding the wedding day
 Ignorance which leads one away from God
 True knowledge leading Godward
 The word siddha either means ‘well-boiled’ or a ‘perfect man’; hence, Thakur’s pun
 Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute
 Transcendental knowledge of God
 I am He
 Man of knowledge
 God the Absolute
 The Personal God
 One who has given up the world for the sake of God – riches, honours, work with attachment, sensual pleasures etc.
 Spirit of Eternity
 Muladhara is the first lotus with four petals and is the root of the Sushumna in the spine. The Kundalini is coiled up at the Muladhara lotus.
 Sahasrara is the lotus of a thousand petals which is the goal of the spiritual energy (Shakti) awakened by the yogi at the Muladhara. When the Shakti reaches the Sahasrara and becomes united with Shiva or Brahman, the result is samadhi, Brahmajnana.
 Finite being
 She has Her own way in everything
 Giver of all good
 Love, devotion, prayerfulness and self-surrender
 Religious philosophy identified with the worship of Shakti for the attainment of the Godhead
 Brahman of the Vedanta both Saguna and Nirguna, Personal-Impersonal
 Nishkama karma
 Nishkama karma
 Goddess of knowledge and learning
 Mula mantra
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