Sri Ramakrishna and Bankim
Sri Ramakrishna and devotees sing joyfully at Adharlal Sen’s house – conversation with Bankim Chandra Chatterji
Today is Saturday, 6 December 1884, 22nd of Agrahayana, the fourth day of the dark fortnight and Thakur has come to Adhar’s house. He has arrived on the day of the pushya constellation of stars.
Adhar is a great devotee. A deputy magistrate, he is twenty-nine or thirty years old. Thakur is very fond of him and Adhar is very devoted to him. Almost every day, after working the whole day at his office, he goes home to wash his face and hands and then goes to see Sri Ramakrishna. His home is in Benetola in Sobhabazar. From there he goes by carriage to visit Thakur at the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar. He spends two and a half rupees every time to hire a carriage, for the sole joy of seeing Thakur – it is often not possible for him to hear Thakur speak. Reaching Dakshineswar, he would lie prostrate to salute Thakur, and after exchanging polite enquiries, would go to the Kali Temple. Then he would rest on a mat spread on the floor. Thakur himself would ask him to rest. Because of the hard work he had done all day, Adhar would be so tired that he would soon fall asleep. At nine or ten in the evening they would wake him up. He would get up and salute Thakur and then again board the carriage to return home.
Adhar would often take Thakur to his home in Sobhabazar. These occasions would be a kind of celebration. Adhar thoroughly enjoyed himself in Thakur’s company and in the company of the devotees and he fed them with various refreshments to their great pleasure.
One day when Thakur went there Adhar said, “You haven’t been here for a long time. The house seems gloomy, even as if it had a smell. But see how nice it looks now, and how fragrant it has become. I prayed to God for a long time today – my eyes even began to water.” Thakur said, “My dear, is that true?” He looked at Adhar affectionately and began to smile.
They are going to celebrate today as well. Thakur and the devotees are filled with joy because wherever Thakur is present, there will be no other talk than of God. There are many devotees and also some newcomers. Adhar has invited several deputy magistrates who will meet Thakur and give their opinion as to whether or not Thakur is a genuine saint.
Sri Ramakrishna smiles when he talks with the devotees. Adhar comes in with a number of his friends and sits near Thakur.
Adhar (to Thakur, pointing to Bankim): “Sir, he is a very learned man. He has written many books. He has come to see you. His name is Bankim Babu.”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “Bankim! For whose feelings have you become bankim [bent]?”
Bankim (smiling): “Well, sir, it’s because of the kicks. (All laugh.) I am bent because of the kicks of our foreign bosses.”
Bankim and Radha-Krishna – the two-in-one explained
Sri Ramakrishna: “No, my dear. You are bent like Sri Krishna, out of love for Srimati (Radha). Some people explain Krishna’s pose as ‘thrice bent in love for Radha’. Do you know why he is black and is only fourteen spans of a hand – so short? As long as God is far away, He appears dark, just like ocean water looks blue from a distance. But it is not dark when you go near it and take some in your palm – then it is transparent. The sun, seen from a distance, looks very small, but it is not small if you go near it. When you know God’s real and true nature, He is no longer dark. But this is experienced only in samadhi. As long as ‘I and you’ endures, names and form also exist. It is all God’s play. As long as ‘I and you’ persist, God is manifest in different forms.
“Sri Krishna is Purusha [pure Consciousness] and Radha is Primal Energy, Shakti, its dynamic aspect. They represent different aspects of the same Reality. What is the significance of the dual image? That Purusha and Prakriti are one and the same – they are not separate. Purusha cannot live without Prakriti, and Prakriti cannot exist without Purusha. Talk of one and you have to recognize the other. It’s like fire and its power to burn – you can’t think of fire without its power to burn. And you can’t think of burning power without fire. So in this dual image the gaze of Sri Krishna is on Radha, and that of Radha on Krishna. Srimati’s complexion is white, like lightening, and she wears blue clothes. She also wears a blue jewel. She has anklets on her feet and Sri Krishna also wears them. In other words, the union of Purusha and Prakriti conform both internally and externally.”
When this conversation is over, Bankim and Adhar’s other friends began to whisper to each other in English.
Sri Ramakrishna (laughing, to Bankim): “My dear, what are you talking about in English?” (All laugh.)
Adhar: “Just your explanation of Krishna’s form.”
Sri Ramakrishna (laughing, to all): “I’m laughing at a story that’s come to my mind. Listen. A gentleman went for a haircut. The barber inadvertently nicked him. The gentleman shouted, ‘Damn!’ The barber didn’t know the meaning of damn. He put down the razor and the rest of his equipment and rolled up his sleeves (it was winter). He said, ‘You have called me damn. Tell me what it means.’ The gentleman said, ‘Please go on with your shave. It doesn’t mean much. But do it a little more carefully.’ But the barber was not the man to leave it alone. He said, ‘If damn means good, I am damn, my father is damn and my fourteen generations of ancestors are damn. (All laugh.) And if it means bad, then you are damn, your father is damn and your fourteen generations of ancestors are damn.’ (All laugh.) Not only damn once but damn, damn, damn and damn!”
Sri Ramakrishna and the work of preaching
When their laughter has abated, Bankim begins the conversation again.
Bankim: “Sir, why don’t you preach?”
Sri Ramakrishna (smiling): “Preaching! It comes from pride. Man is an imperfect creature. Only the one who has created the moon and the sun and is lighting up the world can preach. Is it an ordinary thing? Until He manifests Himself and commands you, preaching is not possible. Why? Unless there is God’s command, people go on talking nonsense. Some listen to you for a couple of days but forget – it’s only a short-lived fancy and nothing else. As long as you talk people will say, ‘Oh, how nicely he speaks.’ But when you stop, there’s nothing left.
“As long as fire is under the milk pot, the milk will boil and make a gurgling sound. Pull out the firewood and the milk is as it was before. Only it’s deflated.
“A person should add to his power by spiritual effort. Without it, preaching is not possible. ‘You have no place to sleep and you call out: O Shankara, come here and lie down and sleep with me!’ (Laughter.)
“People used to defecate daily on the bank of Haldarpukur in the countryside and others would hurl insults at them the next morning. It did not end in spite of their insults. At last the people petitioned the Company (Government), which put up a notice, ‘Defecation and urination are prohibited here. If you do, you will be prosecuted.’ It all stopped, immediately – no more trouble. It was the Company’s order – everybody had to obey.
“Similarly, preaching is only possible and people able to be taught only if God reveals himself to you and gives you the command to preach. Without it, who will come listen to you?”
Everybody listens intently and with concentration to Thakur’s words.
Bankim and the other world
Life after Death – argument from analogy
Sri Ramakrishna (to Bankim): “Well, you are a very learned man and you have written so many books. What do you say: what is the duty of man? What will go with us when we die? Is there a hereafter?”
Bankim: “Hereafter! What is that?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes, after attaining knowledge, you don’t have to go to another world – there is no rebirth. But until you attain knowledge, until you realize God, you will have to return to this world – there is no release. The hereafter will exist for you that long. But when you attain knowledge, when you realize God, you are liberated and don’t have to be reborn in this world. Boiled paddy will not sprout and grow into a plant. If somebody is boiled in the fire of knowledge, he can no longer take part in the game of creation – he cannot lead a worldly life – he is not attracted by ‘lust and greed.’ What can boiled paddy yield in a field?”
Bankim (laughing): “Sir, even weeds are useless.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “But a man of knowledge is not a useless plant in this sense: a person who has realized God has gained the fruit of immortality, not a gourd. He isn’t born again – whether on earth, on the region of the sun, or on the region of the moon. He doesn’t have to go anywhere.
“All analogies have only one point of reference. You are a learned man. Haven’t you studied logic? When you say a person is ‘terrible like a lion’, it doesn’t mean he has a terrifying tail or a bone in its mouth. (All laugh.)
“I said the same thing to Keshab Sen. Keshab asked whether or not there was a hereafter. I didn’t talk either of this life or another. I said, ‘A potter puts his clay pots in the sun to dry. A few of them are baked, the others are unbaked. Sometimes cows or other animals walk on them. If the baked pots are broken, the potter throws them away. But if the unbaked ones break, he picks them up and mixes them with water again and fashions new pots on his wheel. They’re not thrown away.’ So I said to Keshab Sen, ‘As long as the pots are unbaked, the potter won’t throw them away. As long as a person doesn’t attain knowledge, realize God, the potter will put him on his wheel again. He won’t let him go.’ In other words, he will have to be reborn on this earth again – no deliverance for him. A person is liberated only when he realizes God. Only then will the potter let him go – because he is no longer of any use for Maya’s creation. A jnani goes beyond maya. What purpose can he serve again in the world of maya?
“But He keeps some in the world of maya to instruct others. A jnani lives in the world taking refuge in vidya maya. God Himself keeps him there to work for Him – for example, Sukadeva or Shankaracharya.
(To Bankim) “Well, what do you say? What is man’s duty?”
Bankim (laughing): “Since you ask, it is eating, sleeping and procreating.”
Sri Ramakrishna (irritated): “What! You are a scoundrel! What you do day and night is coming out of your mouth. A man belches what he eats: if he eats radish, he belches radish, or he belches coconut if he eats coconut. You live day and night in the midst of ‘lust and greed,’ so that’s what you’re belching out. If you only think of worldly things, you develop the nature of a revenue record-keeper – you become dishonest. By thinking of God, a person becomes trustworthy. Nobody who has attained God will say such a thing.”
Bankim – mere learning and ‘lust and greed’
(To Bankim) “What is the use of being learned if you don’t think about God, if you have no discrimination and dispassion? How can learning help if the mind is on ‘lust and greed’?
“Kites and the vultures soar high, but their sight is fixed on charnel pits. A pundit reads many books and can quote many scriptures or has written books. But he is only attached to his wife and thinks money and fame is the secret of life. What kind of pundit is he? What is a pundit without God on his mind?
“Some people think that people who talk about God are crazy, that it is a disease of the brain. How clever we are, they say, how we enjoy ourselves with money, fame and sense enjoyments! A crow also thinks it’s very clever but when it wakes up in the morning, it eats the excreta of others and then dies. See, how active a crow is. Very clever! (All laugh.)
“But those who meditate on God and pray day and night to be rid of attachment to worldly things and their love for ‘lust and gold,’ those who feel that sense pleasures are bitter, who like nothing but the nectar of the lotus feet of Hari, have the nature of swans. Put milk and water before a swan and it will drink the milk and leave the water. And have you seen the gait of a swan? It walks straight, in one direction. The movement of a pure-minded devotee is directed only towards God. He wants nothing else, he likes nothing else. (To Bankim, sweetly) “Please don’t mind my words.”
Bankim: “I’m not here only to hear pleasant words.”
Sri Ramakrishna and service to others
Sri Ramakrishna (to Bankim): “Maya is nothing but thinking that ‘lust and gold’ is the essence. It keeps you from thinking of or seeing God. After having one or two children, you should live with your wife like a brother and only talk to her about God. In this way the minds of both will go towards Him, and the wife will be a help in his spiritual life. You can’t enjoy the bliss of God without first getting rid of animal tendencies. You should pray to God to rid you of these inclinations and you must pray with yearning. He is the controller of our hearts and will surely listen if the prayer is earnest.
“As for gold! Sitting on the bank of the Ganges at the foot of the Panchavati, I threw money away into the water saying, Money is clay, clay is money.”
Bankim: “Money is clay! Sir, if you have some money, you can give it to the poor! If money is clay, you can’t practice compassion or charity.”
Bankim, doing welfare of the world and ‘giving up work’
Sri Ramakrishna (to Bankim): “Compassion! Charity! What ability do you have to do good to others? A man tries to be so clever and runs here and there [doing so many things], but when he sleeps he doesn’t even know if somebody is urinating in his mouth! Where is his pride, ego and arrogance then?
“A sannyasin must renounce ‘lust and gold’. He cannot accept them. A person doesn’t swallow his own spittle. If a sannyasin gives anybody anything, he doesn’t keep it in his mind that he did it. Compassion comes from God. What compassion can a man practice? All charity is by the will of Rama. A genuine sannyasin renounces both internally and externally. Not only does he refuse to eat gur [raw sugar], he won’t even keep it near him. If he himself should have it and ask others not to take it, nobody would listen to him.
“A householder needs money for his wife and children. He should save it to feed them. Only birds and sannyasins don’t hoard. But when a bird has fledglings, it brings food for them in its beak – it also has to save. That’s why householders need money – they have to support their families.
“If a householder is pure, he works without attachment. He offers the fruit of his actions – profit, loss, happiness and pain – to God. And he prays day and night for love of God. He has no other desire. This is called work without desire for results, work without attachment. A sannyasin also has to work without expectation of any result. But a sannyasin doesn’t engage in worldly activities like a householder.
“If a man of the world gives in charity without expectation of any reward, he does it for his own good, not for the good of others. Lord Hari dwells in all, so it is a way of serving Him. By serving Hari, one serves oneself – it is not by doing good for others. It is service to Lord Hari in all creatures – not merely in human beings, but also service to Him in birds and beasts. If a person doesn’t expect name and fame or heaven after death or any return from those he serves, it is genuine work without desire or attachment. Working like this, without expectation of any reward, brings good to himself. This is known as karma yoga, renunciation of work. It is also a path for God-realization. But it is very difficult – it is not for the age of Kali.
“So I say that the man who works unattached in this way shows compassion, gives away in charity, and does good only to himself. It is God who does good to others, brings benefit to others – God who has created the moon and the sun, the father and the mother, fruits and flowers, paddy and creatures. The love that you see in parents is His love – He has endowed them with it for the preservation of living beings. The kindness that you see in a kind heart is His, which He has given to protect the helpless. Whether you show kindness or not, He will get His work done through some medium. His work is never stopped.
“What, then, is man’s duty? What else but to take refuge in Him and to pray earnestly to Him that He be attained, be realized.”
Only God is real and all else is illusion
“Sambhu said, ‘I want to build many dispensaries and hospitals. They will be a great help to the poor.’ I said, ‘Yes, it wouldn’t be bad if you could do it without attachment. But it’s very difficult to remain unattached without sincere love and devotion for God. Besides, if you involve yourself in a lot of different jobs, attachment creeps in from somewhere, you don’t know from where. You think you’re working unmindful of reward, but you may have a desire for recognition hidden from you – the desire for fame. Also, a person forgets God in the middle of too many engagements.’ I also said, ‘Sambhu, I ask you this: If God were to manifest Himself to you, would you want Him to give you dispensaries and hospitals?’ A person doesn’t desire anything else after attaining Him – after tasting candy syrup, who likes molasses?
“Those who enjoy building hospitals and dispensaries are good people, but they belong to a different class. A person who is a true devotee wants nothing but God. If he happens to fall into too much work, he prays earnestly, ‘O God, be gracious enough to reduce my work. If there weren’t so much work, my mind would be thinking of you every day. It is being wasted now – now it’s only involved in thinking of worldly things.’ A person who has pure love belongs to a different class. Only God is real, everything else is an illusion. Without realizing this, pure love can’t be attained. The world is transitory – a matter of two days. Only He who runs it is real, eternal. Pure love and devotion cannot be attained until this is realized.
“Janaka and others performed work by the command of God.”
First science or God?
Sri Ramakrishna (to Bankim): “Some people think it isn’t possible to realize God without reading books or studying scriptures. They think you should first know the world and the living beings and study science. (All laugh.) They say that without understanding God’s creation, God can’t be known. What do you say? God first, or science?”
Bankim: “Yes, a person has to have an adequate knowledge of the world first. How can God be known without some knowledge of the world? You should educate yourself first and then acquire knowledge of Him.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “You people say this. But one must know God first, and then His creation. After attaining God, you will know everything you need to know.
“If you can somehow manage a meeting with Jadu Mallick, then, if you want, you can know how many houses, how many shares, how many gardens he has. Jadu Mallick himself will tell you. But if you haven’t been introduced to him and talked to him, and his doorkeeper doesn’t let you in, how can you know about his houses, his company shares and gardens? Knowing him, you know everything. But then you don’t care to know ordinary things. The Vedas say this. Until you see a person you can talk about his virtues, but when he’s face to face with you, this talk stops. You become engrossed talking to him and don’t need to talk about anything else.
“First God-realization, then His creation and anything else. Valmiki was given Rama’s mantra to repeat, but he was asked to repeat ‘mara’, ‘mara.’ ‘Ma’ means God and ‘ra’ the world. First God then the world – by knowing the one, you know all. If you put fifty zeros after the figure “1”, it becomes a very big number. But if you put the figure “1” after the zeros, it has no value. It is by having the digit “1” that you have many – first one, then many; first God, then the world and His creation.
“First you need to know God. Why do you talk so much about the world, creation, science and so on? You need to eat mangoes. What need is there for you to know how many hundreds of mango trees there are in the garden, how many thousands of branches, how many millions of leaves? You have come to eat mangoes – eat them and leave. A man has come to this world to attain God. It’s not good to forget this and give the mind to so many other things. You have come to eat mangoes. Eat and forget everything else.”
Bankim: “But where can I get mangoes?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Pray to Him with yearning. If you are sincere, He will surely listen. He may give you holy company – someone may tell you what to do to enable you to find God.”
Bankim: “Who? Guru? He takes the better mangoes himself and gives us the inferior ones.” (Laughter.)
Sri Ramakrishna: “Why, my dear? It’s what a person can digest – not everybody can digest fried rice and kalia [a meat preparation]. Fish is brought in the house. The mother doesn’t serve fried rice and kalia to all her sons. She gives fish soup to one with a weak digestion. Does this mean the mother has less love for him?”
Way to attain God – yearning and faith like a child’s
“You have to have faith in the words of the guru. The guru himself is Sat-chit-ananda, Sat-chit-ananda alone is the guru. By having faith in his words, by believing like a child, a person attains God. What faith a child has! His mother says, ‘This is your elder brother,’ immediately the child believes him to be his elder brother – full faith, absolutely one hundred twenty-five percent faith. The boy may be the son of a brahmin and the ‘elder brother’ a carpenter’s or a potter’s son. If the mother says, ‘There is a hobgoblin in that room,’ the boy absolutely believes that there is a hobgoblin in the room. The faith of a child. You have to have this kind of faith in the words of the guru. God can’t be realized by cleverness or by a calculating or reasoning mind. You have to have faith and a simple mind – hypocrisy cannot help you. He is very near a guileless person and very far from an insincere one.
“You have to have such yearning for God as a child has when it doesn’t find his mother. He doesn’t forget her even if you offer him sandesh or other sweets. There is no way to pacify him and he insists, ‘No, I want to go to my mother!’ Ah! What a state, a child mad for its mother and crying, ‘Mother, Mother!’ There’s no way to make it forget its mother. The person who finds all joys of the world tasteless, who doesn’t care for money, name, fame, physical comforts and sense enjoyments – it is only to the person who wants none of these, who sincerely calls for his mother with pangs of separation, that the mother leaves behind all her work and comes running.
“Such longing! Whatever path – whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Shakta, Brahmo – whichever path you take, the basic condition is yearning of this kind. He is the inner controller of the heart. There is no harm falling into a wrong path if you have yearning. He Himself will put you back on the right path.
“Besides, there are short-comings in all paths. Everybody thinks his own watch gives the right time, but nobody’s watch is perfect. But that does not stop anyone’s work. If there is yearning, holy company comes to help you correct your watch.”
. Nilkanta mani.
. A grove of 5 sacred trees that Sri Ramakrishna planted at Rasmani’s Kali Temple garden. It was at the foot of one that he practiced many spiritual disciplines. The panchavati is a very secluded spot that brings divine inspiration to the mind effortlessly.
. Nishkama karma.
. tasmin vijïäte sarvamidaà vijïätaà bhavati|
. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all other things shall be added unto you – Jesus.
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