Sri Ramakrishna and Narendra (Swami Vivekananda)
Vivekananda in America and in Europe
It is the day following the Rathayatra, 1885, Sankranti of the month of Ashada. This morning Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna is sitting with the devotees in Balaram’s house talking about Narendra’s (Swami Vivekananda’s) great qualities.
Great qualities of Narendra – ‘a prince among men’
“Narendra belongs to a very high plane – the realm of the Absolute. He has a manly nature. Many devotees come here, but none can equal him.
“Now and then I sit down and consider the devotees. They are like lotuses: some with ten petals, others with sixteen petals and some others with a hundred petals. But among lotuses Narendra is a thousand-petalled lotus.
“The others may be a brass pot or a jug – but Narendra is a barrel.
“Compared to ponds and tanks, Narendra is a big lake like the Haldarpukur.
“Among fish, he is a big red-eyed carp. Others are different kinds of small fish – minnows and other small fish.
“He is a very large container – he can hold many things. He is a bamboo with a big space inside.
“Narendra is not under the control of anything. He is above attachment and sense enjoyments. He is a male pigeon. If you hold a male pigeon’s beak, it will pull it back – a female pigeon doesn’t resist.”
First realize God – when you receive the commandment you may preach
Three years ago, in 1882, Narendra came to visit Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar with a couple of Brahmo friends. He stayed there for the night. At dawn, Thakur said, “Go and meditate in the Panchavati.” A short time later, Thakur went there and saw that Narendra was meditating with his friends at the foot of the Panchavati. When the meditation was over, Thakur said to him, “Look, the aim of life is to realize God. You should meditate and think on Him privately in a solitary spot and with a yearning heart. And you should pray and weep, saying, ‘Lord, reveal Thyself to me!’”
About the welfare work of the Brahmo Samaj and other religious sects – like the education of women, establishing schools and lecturing – he said, “First realize God, both the formless God and God with form. He who is beyond speech and mind assumes a form for the sake of devotees – appears and talks to them. After attaining His vision and getting His commandment, then one should take to humanitarian work. It is said in a song: No deity has been installed in the temple, yet Podo blows a conchshell as if arati is being performed. So somebody scolds him, saying:
O Podo, Madhava has not been installed in your temple.
You have unnecessarily created confusion by blowing the conch.
Eleven bats live here day and night.
“If you wish to install Madhava in the temple of your heart, if you wish to realize God, what is the use of only blowing the conch shell? Purify your heart first. When the heart is purified, the Lord will come and sit upon the pure seat. When there are bat droppings, Madhava cannot be brought here. The eleven bats are the eleven sense organs.
“First dive deep. Dive and pick up the jewels. Other work will come later. First install Madhava. Then if you feel like it, you can deliver lectures.
“Nobody likes to dive. No one practices spiritual disciplines – devotion is missing, discrimination and non-attachment are absent. After learning a few words, people start lecturing.
“It’s difficult to teach people. If someone receives His command after realizing God, only then can he instruct.”
Pundit Shashadhar met Sri Ramakrishna in Calcutta on the Rathayatra day in 1884. Narendra was there. Sri Ramakrishna said to the pundit, “You lecture for the benefit of people. That is good. But my dear, without receiving a command from God, instructions are useless. People will listen to your lectures for two days and then forget about them. There were people who used to ease themselves on the bank of Haldarpukur. Others berated them with foul language, but they continued. At last, when the government put up a notice, it stopped. In the same way teaching is useless if you haven’t received a command from God.”
That’s why, taking the instruction of his guru, Narendra renounced the world and carried out austerities secretly in solitude. Later, after strengthening himself, he took up the difficult task of teaching humanity.
When Sri Ramakrishna was lying ill at Cossipore in 1886, he wrote on a piece of paper: “Naren will instruct mankind.”
Swami Vivekananda sent a letter to the residents of Madras from America. In it he said he was a servant of Sri Ramakrishna and was becoming his messenger; he was propagating Thakur’s message to the whole world:
“It was your generous appreciation of him whose message to India and to the whole world, I, the most unworthy of His servants, had the privilege to bear, it was your innate spiritual instinct which saw in him and his message the first murmurs of that tidal wave of spirituality which is destined at no distant future to break upon India in all its irresistible power”… (Reply to the Madras Address)
In his third lecture in Madras, he said, “Whatever of significance I have said is all the Paramahamsa’s. And if I have told you anything with no substance, it is all mine.”
“Let me conclude by saying that if in my life I have told one word of truth, it was his and his alone; and if I have told you many things which were not true, correct and beneficial to the human race, it was all mine and on me is the responsibility.” (Third lecture, Madras.)
When he was welcomed in Radhakanta’s house in Calcutta, he said that the power of Sri Ramakrishna was manifest around the world. O Indians, meditate on Him and you will achieve greatness in every type of activity. He said:
“If this nation wants to rise, it will have to rally enthusiastically round his name. It does not matter who preaches Ramakrishna Paramahamsa; whether I or you or anybody else. But him I place before you and it is for you to judge, and for the good of our race, for the good of our nation, to judge now what you shall do with His great ideal of life.
Within ten years of his passing away His Power had encircled the globe. Judge him not through me. I am only a weak instrument. His character was so great that I or any of his disciples, if we spent hundreds of lives, could do no justice to a millionth part of what he really was!”
While talking about his gurudeva, Swami Vivekananda would be completely beside himself. Blessed be his love and devotion to his guru!
The work of spreading Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings by Narendra
Realization of God
Sri Ramakrishna’s first teaching was that you have to realize God. Religion does not mean memorizing the doctrines of a religion or quoting verses. God-realization comes to the devotee who calls on Him with a yearning heart – whether in this life or another. I remember what he said one day at the Kali temple in Dakshineswar.
The Paramahamsa was talking to Mahima Chakravarti of Cossipore (on Sunday, 26 October 1884).
Sri Ramakrishna (to Mahimacharan and other devotees): “How long will you study scriptures? What is the use of only reasoning? First you have to try to realize Him. What will you know by reading books? As long as you are at a distance from the marketplace, you only hear the hustle and bustle. When you reach it, you find it very different. Then you see and hear clearly: ‘Take these potatoes, pay me for them.’
“You don’t get the right feeling from books. There is a great difference. When you realize God, scriptures and science all seem like straw and dry grass.
“What you need is to know the rich man. Why are you anxious to know how many houses, gardens, and company shares he has? Somehow or other get introduced to the owner – whether or not you have to scale the fence to do so. Then if he wishes he will tell you himself about his houses, gardens and company shares. Once you’re introduced to the proprietor, his servants and his guards will all salute you.” (All laugh.)
Devotee: “But then how can you manage to get acquainted with the proprietor?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “You have to work for it – practice spiritual disciplines. It won’t do to just sit and say that God exists. You have to reach Him somehow. Call on Him in solitude and pray, ‘Reveal Yourself to me!’ Weep with a longing heart. You roam around madly for ‘lust and greed’ – be a little mad for Him too. Let people say that so-and-so is mad for God. In whatever way you can, call on Him in solitude for a few days – renounce all else. What is the use of just sitting there and saying, ‘He exists?’ There are big fish in the Haldarpukur. Can you get one by just sitting on its bank? Prepare some bait and offer it to the fish. Gradually, one will come out of the deep water, making ripples on the surface. Then you will feel joy. You might be able to have a little glimpse of it jumping out of the water. When you see it, you feel even more joy.”
Swamiji said exactly the same thing at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, i.e. the aim of religion is God-realization, to see God:
“The Hindu does not want to live upon words and theories. He must see God and that alone can destroy all doubts. So the best proof a Hindu sage gives about the soul, about God, is I have seen the soul; I have seen God … the whole struggle in their system is a constant struggle to become perfect, to become divine, to reach God and see God; and their reaching God, seeing God, becoming perfect even ‘as the Father in Heaven is perfect’, constitutes the religion of the Hindus.” Lectures on Hinduism (Parliament of Religions, Chicago)
Swamiji lectured at many places in America and he said the same thing everywhere. In a place known as Hartford, he said:
“The next idea that I want to bring to you is that religion does not consist in doctrines or dogmas… The end of all religions is the realization of God in the soul. Ideals and methods may differ but that is the central point. That is the realization of God, something behind this world of sense – this world of eternal eating and drinking and talking non-sense – this world of eternal shadows and selfishness. There is that beyond all books, beyond all creeds, beyond the varieties of this world and that is the realization of God within you. A man may believe in all the churches in the world, he may carry on his head all the sacred books ever written, he may baptize himself in all the rivers of the earth; still if he has no perception of God I would class him with the rankest atheist.”
Swamiji said in his book Raja Yoga that people nowadays do not believe that God can be realized. They say, ‘Yes, rishis and great spiritual personalities like Christ may have realized the Self. But that doesn’t happen these days.’ Swamiji says that one certainly can realize the Self. Practice concentration of mind; you will certainly find Him within your heart:
“The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls and what they saw they preached. Only there is this difference that by most of these religions, especially in modern times, a peculiar claim is made, namely, that these experiences are impossible at the present day; they were only possible with a few men, who were the first founders of the religion and subsequently bore their names. At the present time these experiences have become obsolete and therefore we have now to take religion on belief, this I entirely deny. Uniformity is the rigorous law of nature; what once happened can happen always.” (Raja-yoga: Introduction)
On 9 January, 1896 Swamiji lectured in New York on the Ideal of Universal Religion. That is to say, the religion where you can find the followers of the path of knowledge or devotion or action unite. While ending his lecture he said: The aim of all religions is God-realization. He also said: knowledge, action, devotion – these are all different paths, different ways – but the goal is the same, the realization of God. He said:
“Then again all these various yogas (work or worship, psychic control or philosophy) have to be carried out into practice; theories will not do. We have to meditate upon it, realise it until it becomes our whole life. Religion is realization, not talk nor doctrine nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging. It is not an intellectual assent. By intellectual assent we can come to a hundred sorts of foolish things and change them next day, but this being and becoming is what Religion is.”
In a letter he wrote to the residents of Madras he said: The specialty of the Hindu religion is realizing God. The chief ideal of the Vedas is realization of God. This is what distinguishes the Hindu religion from others:
“The one idea which distinguishes the Hindu religion from every other in the world, the one idea to express that which the sages almost exhaust the vocabulary of the Sanskrit language, is that man must realize God… Thus to realize God, Brahman, as the Dvaitins (dualists) say, or to become Brahman as the Advaitins say – is the aim and end of the whole teachings of the Vedas.”
Swamiji lectured in London on 29 October 1896. His subject was God-realization. In this lecture he read from the Kathopanishad and mentioned the story of Nachiketa. Nachiketa wanted to see God. He wanted to acquire the knowledge of Brahman. Yama, the King of Death, said, “Brother, if you want to know God, you will have to rid yourself of attachment and the desire for enjoyment. You cannot attain union with God if there is desire for enjoyment. By loving something insubstantial [avastu], you cannot attain the substantial [vastu].” Swamiji said, “According to me, everybody is an atheist. With the help of a rigmarole of words, I harp on religion. If you see God only once, you will gain real faith.
“We are all atheist and yet we try to fight the man who tries to confess it. We are all in the dark; religion is to us mere intellectual talk. We consider a man religious who can talk well. But this not religion… Religion comes when that actual realization in our own souls begins. That will be the dawn of religion. Then will real faith begin.”
Sri Ramakrishna and Narendra. Harmony of religions
Narendra and other educated young men were surprised to see Sri Ramakrishna’s love and reverence for all religions. The paramahamsa would frankly say that there is truth in all religions. And he would add: All religions are true – you can reach God through every religion. One day, the Kojagar Lakshmi Puja day (27 October 1882), Keshab Sen went by steamer to see Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar and took Thakur back to Calcutta. They talked about many things on the way – the same conversation as the one on 13 August, a few months ago. I am quoting from my diary their talk about the harmony of religions.
Kedarnath Chatterji organized a great festival at the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar. After the celebration, about three or four o’clock, many talked on the southern verandah.
Sri Ramakrishna (to the devotees): “As many religions, so many paths. Every religion is true. It’s like going to Kalighat by different paths. Religion is not God. One can reach God following different creeds.
“Rivers come from different directions – but they all end in the ocean. They all become one there.
“You can climb to the roof by different means. You can go up by brick steps, a wooden ladder, a spiral staircase, even a rope. But you have to hold onto only one. You can’t put your foot on two or three different kinds of steps and reach the roof. But when you have reached it, you can come down by using any means, and again go up.
“So at first a person must follow only one religion. When God is realized, he can come and go by any religious path. When he is among Hindus, everybody thinks he is a Hindu. When he is with Muslims, all think he is a Muslim. And when he is with Christians, they all think he is a Christian.
“The followers of all religions call upon the same one Person. Some call Him Ishvara, some Rama, some Hari and others Allah or Brahman. These are different names, but the Reality is the same.
“A pond has four landing steps. Hindus take water from one of them and call it jal; from another, Muslims take water and call it pani; Christians at yet another spot call it water; and then there are some people who call it aqua. (All laugh.) It’s the same thing – water. But the names are different. What is the use in quarreling? Everybody is calling upon the one, the same, God, and everybody will go to Him.”
A Devotee (to Sri Ramakrishna): “Is there anything false in another religion?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Which religion is without error? Everybody says his watch gives the correct time. But no watch is absolutely correct. All watches have to be set right from time to time by comparing them with the sun.
“What religion has no error? But even if there is an error and you call on Him sincerely with a yearning heart, God will certainly listen to you.
“Just imagine a father with many sons, small and big. Not all of them can say, ‘Father.’ One says, ‘Baba’, another says, ‘Ba.’ Yet another one says just, ‘Pa.’ Will the father be angry with the ones who can’t pronounce baba? (All laugh.) No, the father will still love them all equally.
“People think that their religion is true, that they have understood what God is, but these people have not understood. They think they are calling on Him correctly, but they’re not. They think that God grants them His grace but not others. Such people don’t understand that God is the father and mother of all. If they are sincere, He will be compassionate to all.”
What the religion of love is, he explained many times. But how many people have been able to comprehend it? How much could even Keshab Sen understand? Swami Vivekananda, having been initiated into this fiery formula of love, was able to propagate it in the world. Sri Ramakrishna again and again advised not taking recourse to dogmatism. To say that my religion is true and yours is false is dogmatism. And it is the basis of all trouble. Swamiji spoke of this at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago: how much killing, shedding of blood, and violence have taken place in the name of Christianity, Islam and other religions:
“Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often, and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.” Lecture on Hinduism, (Chicago, Parliament of Religions).
In another lecture Swamiji said, “All religions are true,” and tried to explain it through scientific reasoning.
“If anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of these religions and destruction of the others, to him I say, Brother, yours is an impossible hope. Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.
“The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become earth or the air or the water? No, it becomes a plant, it assimilates the air, the earth and the water, converts them into plant substance and grows a plant.
“Similar in the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve its own individuality and grow according to its own law of growth.”
In America Swamiji lectured on the Hindu religion at the Brooklyn Ethical Society. Dr. Lewis Janes chaired this meeting. Here too, Swamiji’s first words were on the harmony of religions. He said that it is not possible that the religion of a particular person is true and those of all others are false. To say that only my religion is true is a kind of disease. We all have five fingers. If one person has six, we will have to say that he is different.”
“Truth has always been universal. If I alone were to have six fingers on my hand while all of you have only five, you would not think that my hand was the true intent of nature, but rather that it was abnormal and diseased. Just so with religion. If one creed alone were to be true and all others untrue, you would have again to say that, that religion is diseased. If one religion is true, all others must be true. Thus the Hindu religion is your property as well as mine.” (Lecture at Brooklyn Ethical Society)
When Swamiji spoke to thousands at his first lecture at the Chicago Parliament of Religions, six thousand were fascinated and stood up to give him a standing ovation. He said:
“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to tell you that I belong to a religion into whose sacred language, the Sanskrit, the word ‘exclusion’ is untranslatable.”
Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra, Karma Yoga and Patriotism
Sri Ramakrishna used to always say, “‘Me and mine,’ this is just ignorance. ‘You and yours,’ is knowledge.” One day, a great festival was being celebrated in the courtyard of Suresh Mitra, on Sunday, 15 June 1884. Sri Ramakrishna and many devotees, including many Brahmo devotees, were there. Thakur said to Pratap Chandra Majumdar and other devotees, “Look, ‘me and mine’ – this alone is ignorance. Everybody says that the Kali Temple was built by Rani Rasmani – nobody says that God built it. So-and-so founded the Brahmo Samaj – that’s what people say. Nobody says that it came about by the will of God. ‘I have done it’ – this is ignorance. ‘O God, nothing at all is mine, this Kali Temple is not mine, the Samaj is not mine, all these belong to you; wife, son and family, none of these are mine, they are all yours.’ These are the words of spiritual wisdom.”
“Saying, ‘Mine! Mine,’ and getting attached to all those things are maya. Loving everybody is compassion. I love only the members of the Brahmo Samaj is maya. To love all people of the country, the followers of all religions, comes from compassion, love of God. Maya binds a man and makes him forget God, but compassion moves him to realize God. Sukadeva and Narada had compassion.”
Thakur said, “To love only your compatriots is maya. To love people of all countries and all religions comes from compassion, love of God.” Then why did Swami Vivekananda concern himself so much with his own country?
Swamiji said one day at the Chicago Parliament of Religions that he went there to beg for money for his poor countrymen, but he found it very difficult. It is very difficult to collect money from Christians for people who are not Christian.
“The crying evil in the East is not religion, they have religion enough, but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats;…
“I came here to seek aid for my impoverished people and fully realized how difficult it was to get help for heathens from Christians in the Christian land.” Speech before the Parliament of Religions (Chicago Tribune).
One of the chief disciples of Swamiji, Sister Nivedita (Miss Margaret Noble) said that when Swamiji was living in Chicago, he would shower a lot of love on any Indian he met, whatever religion he belonged to – Hindu, Parsee or Muslim. He would take his countrymen to the prosperous home where he was staying as a guest. The hosts took care of them generously. They knew very well that if they didn’t, Swamiji would surely leave their homes and go somewhere else.
“At Chicago any Indian man attending the great world Bazaar, rich or poor, high or low, Hindu, Mohammaden, Parsee, what not, might at any moment be brought by him to his hosts for hospitality and entertainment and they well knew that any failure of kindness on their part to the least of these would immediately have lost them his presence.”
Swamiji constantly pondered how to rid his countrymen from the pangs of poverty, how to educate them correctly, how to help them grow spiritually. But he was as anxious for the African Negroes as he was for his own countrymen. Sister Nivedita said that when Swamiji was traveling in the southern United States, some refused to receive him, thinking that he was a coloured man, a negro. But when they found out that he was a Hindu monk, the well-known Swami Vivekananda, they took him home with great regard and served him. They said to him, “When we asked if you were an African, why did you leave without saying anything?”
Swamiji said, “But why? Isn’t the African Negro my brother?”– in other words, “Are my countrymen different from men anywhere in the world?” You should love a negro the same way you love a countryman. But because one always lives with his own countrymen, service to them comes first. This is called service without attachment.
It is also called karma yoga. Everybody works, but work without expectation of any reward is very difficult. Without renouncing everything, without meditating on God in solitude for a long time, it’s not possible to help one’s country. Don’t say, ‘My country,’ for that is maya. Whoever lives there are Yours (God’s), so want to serve them. It is Your command, that’s the reason to serve one’s country. ‘It is Your work,’ I am your servant – that’s why I observe this vow. Whether I succeed or not. You [God] care about it – it is not for my own name or fame, it is to bring to light Your glory.”
What is real patriotism? It was to teach its ideal to humanity that Swamiji took this earnest vow. Those who have a home and family, those who have never longed for God, who, hearing the word renunciation only smile, those whose minds are always on ‘lust and greed’ and for name and fame in this world, those who are struck dumb to hear that the ideal of human life is to realize God – how can such people accept this high and lofty ideal of benefiting their country? Though Swamiji used to weep for his, he always remembered with it that in this transitory world only God is real and everything else is unreal. When he returned from the foreign land, Swamiji went to Almora to see the Himalayas. The residents of Almora worshipped him as the very presence of God. When he saw the very high peaks of Nagadhiraj Deva Atma Himgiri, he became absorbed with emotion. He said, “Today I am seeing that holy land of renunciation in the holy Uttarakhand, where rishis meditated on God day and night after renouncing the hubbub of the world. It was from their lips that the Vedic verses poured. Oh, when will such a day come to me? I do have the desire to continue some work, but coming to this holy land again after so long, I am losing those desires. Now I wish to sit down alone and spend my last days in meditation on the lotus feet of Hari, merged in deep samadhi.
“It is the hope of my life to end my days somewhere within this Father of Mountains, where Rishis lived – where philosophy was born.” (Speech at Almora.)
On seeing the Himalayas, one’s desire for work is lost. Only one idea comes to mind, the renunciation of work.
“As peak after peak of this Father of Mountains began to appear before my sight, all those propensities to work, that ferment that had been going on in my brain for years seemed to quiet down and mind reverted to that one eternal theme which the Himalayas always teach us, that one theme which is reverberating in the very atmosphere of the place, the one theme, the murmur, of which I hear even now in the rushing whirlpools of its rivers – renunciation.”
Upon achieving this renunciation, this detachment, a person becomes fearless – all other things involve fear.
sarvaà vastu bhayänvitaà bhuvi nåëäà vairägyameväbhayam
“Everything in this life is fraught with fear.
It is renunciation that makes one fearless.”
When you come here, you lose the feeling of sectarianism – quarrels and arguments concerning religion disappear. Only one supreme truth becomes established in the mind – that the only thing needed in life is the worship of God – all else is illusion.
Only God is the reality, all else unreal. Or, a bee doesn’t buzz anymore when it sits on a lotus flower.
“Strong souls will be attracted to this Father of Mountains in time to come, when all this fight between sects and all those differences in dogmas will not be remembered any more, and quarrels between your religion and my religion will have vanished altogether, when mankind will understand that there is but one Eternal Religion and that is the perception of the Divine within and the rest is mere froth; such ardent souls will come here, knowing that the world is but Vanity, knowing that everything is useless except the worship of the Lord and the Lord alone.” (Speech at Almora.)
Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “Tie the knowledge of Advaita (non-dualism) to the end of your cloth and go anywhere you like.” Swami Vivekananda engaged himself in work with the knot of Advaita tied to the end of his cloth. For the sannyasin, what are home, wealth, strangers and one’s own family, homeland or foreign lands? Yajnavalkya said to Maitreyi, “Without realizing God, what use is wealth and education? Maitreyi, first know Him and then anything else.” Swamiji propagated this very idea to the world. He said, “O, people of the world, first renounce sense pleasures and worship God in solitude. After this, you can do whatever you like. It will not cause any harm. Serve your country or, if you like, raise a family. There is no harm in any of these when you understand that He resides in all, that there is nothing else but He, that the world and your country are not without Him. After you have realized God, you will see that it is He alone who dwells in the world.” Rishi Vaishishtha Deva said to Ramachandra, “Rama, what you say, that you want to renounce the world – just reason it out with me. If God is outside the world, then renounce it.” Ramachandra had realized the Atman (Self), so he kept silent. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “First know how to use a dagger before you take it in your hand.” Swami Vivekananda explained who a real karma yogi is. What good can he do for his country? Swamiji knew that there were other great things to do besides helping the poor with money. The main thing is to help them know God. After that comes learning, then the gift of life, then clothing and feeding the poor. How long can you end the miseries of the world? Sri Ramakrishna asked Krishnadas Pal, “Well, what is the aim of life?” Krishnadas said, “In my opinion it is to do good to the world, to remove misery from the world.” Thakur was irritated and responded, “You have the intelligence of the son of a widow! Why, how much can you save the world from its trials and tribulations? Is the world so small? Do you know that there are crabs in the Ganges in the rainy season? In the same way, there are innumerable universes. He who is the Master of this universe takes care of all of them. The goal of life is to know Him first. Then you may take up anything you like.” Swamiji also said somewhere:
“Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can remove our miseries forever, and other knowledge satisfies wants only for a time… He who gives spiritual knowledge in the greatest benefactor of mankind… Next to spiritual help (Brahmajnana) comes intellectual help (Vidyadana), the gift of secular knowledge. This is far higher than the giving of food and clothes; the next gift is the gift of life, and the fourth, the gift of food. Karmayoga (New York), My plan of Campaign (Madras).
God-realization is the aim of life and it is the main interest in this country. First this, and then anything else. Politics shouldn’t be talked about in the beginning. First meditate on God with a concentrated mind and see Him in your heart. Having realized Him, you’ll be able to do good to your motherland because then your mind will be detached. You can’t serve your country by thinking, “my country.” It is the God in all that you can serve. Then you will not see any difference between your country and foreign countries. Then you will be able to truly see how you can do good to others. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “Those who play the game of chess can’t understand the right moves as well as unattached onlookers. They can suggest much better moves.” This is because an unattached person needs nothing for himself. An unattached person who is free from attachment and malice, who is a spiritual personality, who is liberated in this very life, who has practiced spiritual disciplines for a long time and attained Him doesn’t like anything else.”
And having gained which, he thinks that there is no greater gain than that, wherein established he is not shaken even by the heaviest affliction. (Bhagavata Gita 6:22)
For this reason, the politics and the social code of Hindus are all religious regulations. Manu, Yajnavalkya, Prashar and other great saints are the authors of these religious texts. They had no need of anything. Even so, having received the command of God they composed these scriptures for householders. Remaining unattached they suggested the right move in the chess game. For this reason, there is no possibility of any error in what they said due to place, time or character.
Swami Vivekananda was also a karma yogi. Remaining unattached, he took the vow of service to others. That is why he was so valuable a worker. Remaining detached, he did good for this country, the way the sages of yore worked incessantly for the good of humanity. May we be able to follow his footsteps on this path of religion without selfish desire. But how difficult a thing it is. First we have to attain the lotus feet of Lord Hari. We have to practice renunciation and austere spiritual effort like Vivekananda. Only then may we be eligible.
Blessed are you, the all-renouncing personality. You have truly followed in the footsteps of your guru. You have truly practiced the great mantra of your gurudeva: first attain God, and then anything else. You understood that if you don’t believe in God, this world is only a dreamlike magic show. That is why you renounced everything and devoted yourself to spiritual practice. When you saw that He is the life of all, when you saw that there is nothing but Him, then you put your mind on the world, O Mahayogin! You entered again the region of work for the service of Hari imminent in all. Thus all Hindus, Muslims, Christians, foreigners, wealthy, poor, all men and women became a part of your limitless love – you gave them all the embrace of ecstatic love. Overwhelmed with deep dispassion, leaving behind the mother who gave you birth, with tears flowing from your eyes, you put on the ochre robe and left. Later, to acknowledge her maternal love and to fulfill her desire, you came back to see that mother. You worked like Narada and Janaka to educate humanity.
Sri Ramakrishna, Narendra, Keshab Sen and worship of God with form
Is God with form or without form?
One day Keshab Chandra Sen, accompanied by his disciples, came to the Kali temple at Dakshineswar to visit Sri Ramakrishna. Thakur talked with him about God without form for some time. The paramahamsa said to him, “I don’t think of Kali as an image of clay or stone. She is Spirit. That which is Brahman is also Kali. When not acting, it is Brahman; when creating, preserving or destroying, it is Kali. Kali – that is, She who romances time. Time, that is, Brahman.” The following conversation took place that day:
Sri Ramakrishna (to Keshab): “Do you know what it’s like? Think of Sat-chit-ananda [Existence-Consciousness-Bliss] as an ocean – without any shore or limit. Due to the coolness of devotion, water freezes into ice at different places – into different forms. In other words, at times God reveals Himself as a form for the sake of his devotee. And when the sun of the knowledge of the Absolute rises, the ice melts – that is, one goes into samadhi and realizes that God is the only reality and the world is an illusion. All forms disappear. Then it’s not possible to say in words what He is. You can’t catch Him with your mind, reason or ego.
“A person who knows one thing properly can also know another. He who knows God without form can also know God with form. A person who hasn’t gone to the neighborhood can’t know where Shyampukur and Telipara are. Not everybody is able to worship God without form. So there’s a great need for worship of God with form.”
Explaining further, the paramahamsa says: “A mother has five sons. She has cooked fish in different ways to suit the digestion of her children. For one, she has made fish pulao. And for the son who has bad digestion, she has made fish soup – whatever suits the different boys.
“In this country people worship God with form. Christian missionaries from America and Europe brand Indians as uncivilized. They say that Indians are idol worshipers, that they are in miserable condition.”
Swami Vivekananda explained for the first time in America the significance of God with form. He said, “Indians do not worship idols.”
“At the very outset I may tell you there is no polytheism in India. In every temple if one stands by and listens, he will find the worshippers applying all the attributes of God to these images.” (Lectures on Hinduism, Chicago)
Swamiji explained with the help of psychology that nothing except God with form comes to mind when one begins to think of God. He said:
“Why does a Christian go to Church? Why is the Cross holy? Why is the face turned toward the sky in prayers? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are there so many images in the minds of Protestants when they pray? My brethren, we can no more think about anything without a material image than we can live without breathing. Omnipresence to almost the whole world means nothing. Has God a superficial area? If not, then when we repeat the word we think of the extended earth; that is all.” (Lectures on Hinduism, Chicago)
Swamiji also said, “The worship of God with form and the formless God depends on the worshiper. The worship of God with form is not sinful or illusory. It is a truth of the lower order.
“If a man can realize his divine nature easily with the help of an image, is it right to call it a sin? Nor even when he has passed that stage, should he call it an error. To the Hindu, man is not traveling from error to truth, but from lower to higher truth.”
Swamiji said that there could not be one rule for everybody. The Lord is one, but He appears in various forms before His different kinds of devotees. The Hindu understands this.
“Unity is variety in the plan of nature and the Hindu has recognized it. Other religions lay down certain fixed dogmas and try to force society to adopt them; they place before society one kind of coat which must fit Jack and John and Henry, all alike. If it does not fit John and Henry, he must go without a coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the Absolute can be realized, thought of, or stated only through the Relative.”
Sri Ramakrishna, Brahmo Samaj, Narendra and the Doctrine of Sin
Swamiji’s spiritual preceptor, Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, used to say, “By repeating the name of God and meditating on Him sincerely, sin vanishes. It’s like a mountain of cotton that burns away instantly with the touch of fire. Or, imagine a group of birds perched on a tree. If you clap your hands, they fly away.”
One day Thakur was talking with Keshab Babu.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Keshab): “It is the mind that binds, and then again it is the mind that liberates. I am liberated. Whether I live a worldly life or in a forest, how can I be bound? I am a child of God, the son of the King of kings. Who can bind me? If a snake bites, its venom dries up immediately if you say emphatically, ‘No venom, no venom.’ Similarly, by saying repeatedly and firmly, ‘I am not bound, no, I am not bound. I am free.’ You in fact become that, you become free.
“Somebody gave me a book of the Christians, the Bible. I asked him to read out loud. It was full of nothing but sin and sin only. The person who says again and again, ‘I am bound, I am bound,’ in the end is indeed bound. The one who says day and night, ‘I am a sinner, I am a sinner,’ does become a sinner.
“A person should have such faith in the name of God as to say, ‘since I have taken His name, can sin possibly reside in me?’ What bondage is there then? What sin? Krishnakishore was an orthodox Hindu brahmin who observed all the rules of conduct. He went to Vrindavan. One day there he felt thirsty. Approaching a well, he saw a person standing at it. He said to him, ‘Brother, can you give me some water to drink? Which caste do you belong to?’ The man said, ‘Maharaj, I belong to the low caste of cobblers.’ Krishnakishore said, ‘Just repeat the name of Shiva and draw me some water.’
“When you repeat the name of the Lord, it purifies both the body and the mind. Why just talk about sin and hell? Say once, ‘I shall never again do the evil I have committed today’ and have faith in His name.”
Swamiji also spoke to Christians about this sinism. What sin? You are the children of Immortal Bliss! Your priests talk day and night of the fire of hell. Don’t listen to them.
“Ye are the children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings, Ye divinities on earth – sinners! It is a sin to call a man so. Come up, O lions! and shake off the delusion that you are sheep! You are souls immortal, spirits free and blest and eternal, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant; not you the servant of matter.” (Lecture on Hinduism – Chicago)
Swamiji was asked to speak in Hartford in America. The American Consul here, Mr. Paterson, was present there and chaired the meeting. Swamiji again talked about the Christian doctrine of sin. If it is dark in the house, what good will it do to just to say, “Dark, dark!” You have to bring light.
“Shall we advise men to kneel down and cry – O miserable sinner that I am! No, rather let us remind them of their divine nature … If the room is dark, do you go about striking your breast and crying, ‘It is dark?’ No, the only way to get in light is to strike a light and then the darkness goes. The only way to realise the Light above you is to strike the spiritual light within you and darkness of impurity and sin will flee away. Think of your higher Self, not of your lower.”
Swamiji had heard a fable from the Paramahamsa Deva. He told the same story. A tigress attacked a herd of goats. She was pregnant and ready to deliver. When she jumped, a cub was born, but she died. The cub began to grow up with the goats, eating grass with them and bleating baa, baa like them. In due course, it grew up. One day a tiger attacked the flock of goats. It was surprised to see a tiger eating grass and crying baa baa, and also running away like a goat when it saw the tiger. It caught hold of the grown cub and brought it to a water pond. “You are also a tiger. Why do you eat grass and bleat? Look how I am eating meat. You eat it too. Look in the water and see that your face looks just like mine.” The young tiger saw it and also had a taste of meat.
Sri Ramakrishna, Vijay, Keshab, Narendra and the renunciation of ‘lust and greed’ – renunciation
One day Sri Ramakrishna was talking to Vijaykrishna Goswami at the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar.
Sri Ramakrishna (to Vijay): “A person can’t teach people without renouncing ‘lust and greed.’ Keshab Sen couldn’t do it. Just see what happened at last. If, living in ‘lust and greed,’ you say that the world is transitory, that only God is eternal, many will not accept your words. You have treacle with you but you’re saying to others, ‘Don’t eat treacle’. That’s why, after giving it a lot of thought, Chaitanya Deva renounced the world. If he hadn’t, no one could have been saved.”
Vijay: “True sir, Chaitanya Deva said, ‘It was to get rid of a cough that medicine from peepal seeds was prepared. But it brought more trouble instead. The cough increased.’ Many people of Navadvip began to make fun: ‘Pundit Nimai is having a great time, brother. He has a beautiful wife. He has a great reputation, and no want of money. He is in great shape.’”
Sri Ramakrishna: “If Keshab had renounced, he would have been able to do great work. If there is a scar on a goat’s body, God doesn’t accept it, it can’t be offered to the deity. Unless a person has renounced, he doesn’t have the authority to teach. How many people are going to listen to a person who is a householder?”
Swami Vivekananda renounced ‘lust and greed.’ That’s why he had the capacity to teach people about God. Vivekananda is foremost amongst scholars of Vedanta, English and Philosophy. He is an extraordinary lecturer. Is this his only greatness? Sri Ramakrishna will answer this question. Addressing the devotees at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple in 1882, the paramahamsa said about Swami Vivekananda:
“You see this boy? He’s different here, a restless boy. But when he sits near his father, he’s quiet like a bugbear.
And when he plays in the courtyard, he’s quite another person. These boys belong to the class of the ever-perfect. They are never bound in the world. At quite an early age, their spiritual consciousness is roused and they turn towards God. They come to the world to teach people. Nothing in the world attracts them – they are never attracted by ‘lust and greed’.
In the Vedas there is mention of the homa bird that lives high in the sky. It lays its eggs in the sky. When an egg starts falling, it hatches as it falls. And as the young one falls, its eyes open and its feathers begin to grow. As soon as it opens its eyes, it becomes aware that it is falling and will soon be dashed to pieces when it hits the ground. It turns and flies straight up to its mother high above.
Vivekananda is this homa bird. He has one aim in life: to go to his mother in full flight before his body has touched the ground – that is, to take to the path of God before coming in contact with the world. Sri Ramakrishna said to Vidyasagar, “Learning! What will mere scholarship do for you? A vulture soars high up in the sky, but its gaze is fixed on the charnel pits below where the carcasses of dead animals are thrown. A scholar can recite many verses fluently – but where does his mind dwell? If his mind dwells on the lotus feet of the Lord, I respect him. But if it dwells on ‘lust and greed,’ I consider him dry straw.”
Swami Vivekananda is not only a scholar, he is a sadhu, a highly elevated soul. It is not for his learning alone that the English and Americans waited on him like servants. They followed him as being a man of a different class. People are interested in honour, wealth, sense pleasures, learning and so forth – but he had just one aim: God-realization. In the song of the sannyasin, he himself says, “A sannyasin must renounce lust and greed.”
Truth never comes where lust
and fame and greed
of gain reside. No man who
thinks of woman
As his wife can ever perfect be.
Nor he who owns however little,
nor he –
Whom anger chains
Can ever pass
Through Maya’s gates,
So give these up, sannyasin bold, Say –
“Om Tat Sat Om!”
– Song of the Sannyasin.
In America, there was no want of temptation for him. His fame was worldwide, and extremely beautiful and well-educated women of high class families would come to talk to him and serve him. He had such an attractive power that many of those (ladies) wanted to marry him. An heiress came to him one day and said, “Swami, I have surrendered my all and myself to you.” Swamiji said in reply, “Gentle lady, I am a sannyasin. I cannot marry. All women are like my mother to me.” Blessed hero! You are the genuine disciple of the gurudeva! The mud of the earth has truly not touched your body. The stain of ‘lust and greed’ has not touched you at all. You did not flee from the kingdom of temptation, but living in it, staying in the land of riches, you advanced on the path to God. You did not want to spend your days like a common man. You left this mortal world as a living example of divinity.
Sri Ramakrishna, Karma Yoga, Narendra and service of God in the poor (selfless work)
The paramahamsa used to say, “Everybody has to do his duty. Knowledge, devotion and work without attachment – these are the three paths to attainment of God.” The Gita says: Both a sadhu and a householder first have to work without expectation of any reward according to the instructions of the guru in order to purify their minds. To think ‘I am the doer’ is ignorance; that wealth, people, work and activities – these are mine – is also ignorance. The Gita says: Knowing yourself not to be the doer, surrender the reward of your work to God and then perform whatever work you do. The Gita further says: Some people, even after attaining spiritual perfection, receive the divine command to work, like Janaka and others. This is the karma yoga that the Gita teaches. Sri Ramakrishna said the same thing.
So karma yoga is a very difficult path. Without practicing spiritual disciplines in seclusion for a sufficiently long period of time, one cannot work without attachment. During the time of spiritual disciplines, the guru’s direction is essential. It is a period of immaturity, so one can easily fall prey to unforeseen attachment. He may think that he is serving selflessly and practicing charity without attachment solely in the name of God, but in reality he may be doing so to gain the admiration of the world. He does not understand this. It is very difficult for an individual with hearth and home and family to learn to work for others without any motive, to understand nishkama karma, non-attachment.
But if an all-renouncing – a renunciate of ‘lust and greed’ – and perfected person works selflessly, people can easily understand and imitate him.
Swami Vivekananda renounced ‘lust and greed’. He practiced spiritual disciplines in seclusion according to the instructions of his guru for a long time, and he perfected himself. Thus he was truly eligible to practice karma yoga. But he was a sannyasin. If he had wanted to, he could have lived with devotion and knowledge alone, like a rishi, or like his master, Paramahamsa Deva. But his life was not merely to serve as an example of renunciation. It was also to show people how to live unattached in the middle of the things that worldly people own. Like Narada, Sukadeva and Janaka, Swamiji has also shown this to the multitudes. Like a sannyasin, he considered wealth and name and fame the droppings of a crow – in other words, he did not indulge in them himself – yet he showed how to use them in the service of others by teaching as well as by practice. The money he collected from his friends in America and other foreign lands, he spent only for the good of humanity. He established monasteries at different places, such as Belur Math near Calcutta, Mayavati near Almora, at Kashi and at Madras. He served famine-stricken people in Dinajpur, Vaidyanath, Kishangarh, Dakshineswar and other places. He established orphanages during times of famine for boys and girls without parents. He established an orphanage at Kishangarh in Rajputana. An orphanage still exists near Murshidabad (Bhavda) in the village of Sargachhi. He established a seva-ashrama for the sick sadhus of Kankhal, near Hardwar. During the plague he sent relief for patients suffering from the epidemic that entailed a good deal of expenditure. He would sit alone, crying for the poor and the destitute, and he would say to his friends, “Alas, how they are suffering! They don’t even have time to think of God.”
All work except what the guru teaches is a cause for bondage. He was a sannyasin. What need did he have to work?
Who sows must reap, they say,
and, cause must bring
The sure effect. Good good;
bad bad; and none
Escape the law. But whoso
wears a form
Must wear the chain. Too true,
but far beyond
Both name and form is Atman,
Know thou art that, Sannyasin bold!
Say “Om Tat Sat Om.”
– The Song of the Sannyasin.
God made him do all this work to teach mankind. Now both sannyasins and householders will learn how to develop love and to work without attachment, such as practicing spiritual disciplines in solitude for a period of time, according to the instructions of the guru. Then they will be able to do charitable work like Swamiji did. Swamiji’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna, used to say, “If you oil your hands before opening a jackfruit, its milky juice will not stick to them.” In other words, by practicing spiritual disciplines in solitude and attaining love for God, worldly work can be accomplished in a detached way. By contemplating Swami Vivekananda’s life, one can glimpse what spiritual discipline in solitude is and what work for the instruction of humanity is.
All the works of Swami Vivekananda were for the instruction of humanity.
[By performing prescribed activities King Janaka and others certainly realized complete perfection; likewise you should perform [work] as well for the sake of benefiting the welfare of the world.] (Gita 3:20)
It has been mentioned in the Gita that karma yoga is extremely difficult. Janaka and others attained spiritual perfection through work. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “Janaka had practiced a lot of difficult austerities in seclusion, in the forest, before that.” That is why sadhus take to the path of knowledge and love of God and practice spiritual disciplines far from the noise and bustle of the world. Only a very competent person like Swami Vivekananda, a hero, is able to practice this karma yoga. How many saintly persons of this class are on earth, those who experience God and yet work in the world unattached? How many religious teachers do you see going around actively engaged in the service of individual souls, intoxicated with the love of God, with no stain of ‘lust and greed’?
Swamiji quoted the Gita in explaining the karma yoga of the Vedanta on 10 November 1896 in London:
“Curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield where Krishna teaches the philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of that, eternal calmness. And this idea is called the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of the Vedanta.” (Practical Vedanta – London)
In the lecture Swamiji talked about the feeling of a sannyasin while performing karma yoga (calmness in the midst of activity). Swamiji tried to work without love or hate. He could do this only because of the quality of his spiritual practice and his experience of God. Such calmness is not possible without being spiritually perfect or an incarnation like Sri Krishna.
Sri Ramakrishna’s and Swami Vivekananda’s instructions regarding spiritual disciplines with women (vamachara)
One day Swami Vivekananda went to the Dakshineswar Temple to see Sri Ramakrishna. Bhavanath and Baburam were there. It was 29 September 1884. Narendra raised the subject of the Ghoshpara and Panchanami. He asked, “How do they practice spiritual disciplines with a woman as a partner?”
Thakur said to Narendra, “It’s not for you to hear such things. The Kartabhaja, the Ghoshpara, the Panchanami and the Bhairava-Bhairavi cannot practice spiritual disciplines correctly – they experience a downfall. All these paths are dirty – they’re not good. It is only good to take a pure path. They took me to a Bhairava circle in Kashi. There were Bhairava–Bhairavi couples. I was asked to drink wine. I said, ‘Mother, I cannot touch wine.’ They began drinking. I thought they would now practice japa and meditation. But they didn’t. Instead, after drinking wine, they began to dance.”
He further said to Narendra, “Do you know that I have the ‘mother-child feeling,’ the filial attitude? The attitude of a child to a mother is very pure – there’s no danger in it. To look upon God as wife, ‘the hero-attitude,’ is very difficult – it can’t be practiced correctly – a man experiences a downfall. You are my own, so I say to you, ‘My last realization is this: He is full, and I am just a part of Him; He is the Lord, and I am His servant. And sometimes I think, I am He and He is I; love is the essence.’”
Another day, 9 September 1883, Thakur said to the devotees at Dakshineswar, “I have the attitude of a child. Achalananda sometimes came and stayed here. He would drink a lot of wine. Since I didn’t approve of spiritual practice with women, he said, ‘Why don’t you approve of the hero-attitude? It’s prescribed in the Tantra. Can you deny Shiva’s direction? He (Shiva) talked about the attitude of the hero as well as the attitude of a child.’
“I said, ‘I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. I have the attitude of a child.’
“There (in Thakur’s village) I noticed Bhagi Tailin [an oil-woman] in the Kartabhaja group. They have the same discipline, with a woman as a partner – and a woman cannot practice religious discipline without a man. They call the man the Krishna of Love. He asks three times, ‘Have you found Krishna?’ And the woman also answers three times, ‘I have found Krishna.’”
On another day, 23 March 1884, Sri Ramakrishna said to Rakhal, Ram and some other devotees, “Vaishnavcharan belonged to the Kartabhaja sect. When I went to that part of the country, to Shyambazar, I said to him, ‘I don’t like this. I have the attitude of a child with its mother.’ I noticed that they talk big and perform adultery. These people don’t like to worship the image of God – they prefer a living person. Many of them follow Radhatantra – the principles of the earth, fire, water, air and ether – excreta, urine, semen, sperm etc. are the principles of all these. It is a very bad practice – it’s like entering a house through the latrine.”
In accordance with Thakur’s teaching, Swami Vivekananda also found fault with the practice of spiritual disciplines with women. He said, “Almost everywhere in India, particularly in Bengal, many people practice it secretly and quote the Vamachara Tantra as their justification. It is best to give this up and teach the boys the Upanishads, the Gita and so on.”
On his return from abroad, Swami Vivekananda delivered a very important lecture on Vedanta which carried a deep inner significance. He gave this lecture in the temple of Radhakanta Deva in Sobhabazar. In it he ran down the practice of spiritual practice with women as partners, saying:
“Give up this filthy Vamachara that is killing your country. You have not seen the other parts of India. When I see how much the Vamachara has entered our society, I find it a most disgraceful place with all its boast of culture. These Vamachara sects are honeycombing our society in Bengal. Those who come out in the daytime and preach most loudly about achara, it is they who carry on the most horrible debauchery at night, and are backed by the most dreadful books. They are ordered by the books to do these things. You who are of Bengal know it. The Bengali shastras are the Vamachara Tantras. They are published by the cartload, and you poison the minds of your children with them instead of teaching them your shrutis. Fathers of Calcutta, do you not feel ashamed that such horrible stuff as these Vamachara Tantras, with translations too, should be put into the hands of your boys and girls, and their minds poisoned, and that they should be brought up with the idea that these are the shastras of the Hindus? If you are ashamed, take them away from your children and let them read the true shastras, the Vedas, the Gita, the Upanishads.” (Reply to Calcutta address at Shovabazar.)
One day when Sri Ramakrishna was lying ill at the Cossipore Garden house (in 1886), he sent for Narendra and said to him “Son, see that nobody drinks wine here. It’s not good to drink wine in the name of religion. I have seen that it has done nothing good where people have done so.”
Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and the doctrine of incarnation of God
One day Sri Ramakrishna was sitting with Baburam and other devotees at the Dakshineswar Temple – 7 March 1885, the time about 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.
The devotees were gently stroking Thakur’s feet. He smiled a little to a devotee and said, “There’s a lot of meaning in this service (stroking of the feet).”
Then putting his hand on his heart, he said, “If there’s anything inside here, you will be rid of ignorance and illusion in no time (by stroking the feet).”
Suddenly Sri Ramakrishna became very serious, as though he were going to divulge a secret: “There is no outsider here. I’m telling you a secret. The other day I saw Sat-chit-ananda come out from inside me and take a form. It said, ‘I do incarnate from age to age.’ I saw the fullest manifestation, but with the glorious quality of sattva.”
The devotees listened to these words without saying anything. Some of them were remembering the great words of Sri Krishna in the Gita:
[Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata, and rise in unrighteousness, I manifest Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age.] (Bhagavad Gita 4:7-8)
On another day, 1 September 1885, the birthday of Sri Krishna, Janmashtami day, Narendra and other devotees had come to Dakshineswar. Girish Ghosh and a couple of his friends had arrived by carriage. He was crying. Sri Ramakrishna patted him affectionately.
Lifting his head and folding his hands, Girish had said, “You yourself are the Supreme Brahman. If that is not so, everything is illusion. I regret that I have not been able to serve you. Grant me, O Lord, that I may serve you for a year.”
When he sang hymns of praise again and again to Sri Ramakrishna as the Lord, Thakur said, “Shame! You must not say such things; a devotee cannot be treated like a Krishna. You may think as you please – a guru is the Lord Himself – but it is wrong to speak of such things.”
Girish again praised Thakur, “Lord, give me purity so my mind will not have the least sinful thought.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “You are already pure. You have such faith and devotion to God.”
One day, on the day of throwing color (dol yatra), the 1st of March 1885, Narendra and other devotees had arrived. It is on this day that Thakur instructed Narendra on renunciation and said, “Son, you will not succeed without renouncing ‘lust and greed.’ Only God is eternal; everything else is transitory.” As he talked, he was filled with emotion, his look full of compassion and affection. Consumed with feeling, he sang:
Afraid am I to speak a word to you; equally afraid am I not to speak.
The fear that arises in my mind is that I may lose you, yes, be robbed of you, my wealth, my treasure!
I teach you the mantra (holy name) that is to bring you to Your Beloved.
Now ready yourself to receive it, which enables us to steer the ship safely to land.
It was as if Sri Ramakrishna was afraid Narendra might go to someone else – be no longer his – that he might enter worldly life later on. He said, “I know the sacred mantra I have given you is the only mantra for you. I have given you the mantra for the highest ideal of life – renouncing all and taking refuge in God.” Narendra looked at Sri Ramakrishna with eyes full of tears.
That same day Thakur said to Narendra, “Did anything that Girish say agree with your own ideas?”
Narendra: “I didn’t say anything. It’s he who says he has the faith that you are an incarnation of God. I didn’t say anything.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Such firm faith! Did you notice?”
After a few days Thakur and Narendra talked about the incarnation of God. Thakur says, “Well, some people say I’m an incarnation of God. What do you think?”
Narendra said, “I won’t say anything about what others think. I will only speak when I understand myself, when I begin to believe it myself.”
One day when Thakur was restless in the Cossipore garden house because of the pain from the cancer, when he could not even swallow rice gruel, Narendra, sitting near him, thought to himself, “If, in such a pain as this, he says that he is an incarnation of God, I will believe it.” The same moment Thakur said, “He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, has manifested Himself in the form of Ramakrishna for the sake of His devotees.” Hearing it, Narendra was speechless.
After Thakur passed away, Narendra embraced sannyasa and devoted himself to austere spiritual practices. Then all Thakur’s great statements about incarnation became enshrined in his heart more firmly. He began to explain this truth more clearly in his native land and abroad.
When Swamiji was in America he wrote in English the book Bhakti Yoga, basing it on the Narada Sutras and other such books. He says in it, too, that incarnations of God awaken the spiritual consciousness of people by their mere touch. By their touch even the wicked become great saints. “Even a person of the vilest conduct who worships me and depends on me entirely should be considered holy, for he is truly resolved.” God Himself comes to us as an incarnation. If we want to realize God, we will see Him in an incarnation. We cannot help but worship him.
“Higher and nobler than all ordinary ones, are another set of teachers, the Avataras of Ishvara, in the world. They can transmit spirituality with a touch, even with a mere wish. The lowest and the most degraded characters become in one second saints at their command. They are the teachers of all teachers, the highest manifestation of God through man. We cannot see God except through them. We cannot help worshipping them; and indeed they are the only ones whom we are bound to worship. (Bhakti Yoga)
He also says: As long as we are in the human body and worship God, we cannot help but worship an incarnation. Talk as long as you want, but you cannot think of God except as a human being. What you say about the nature of God with your little intelligence is nonsense. Whatever you say, it will have little value – it will be mere froth.
“As long as we are men, we must worship Him in man and as man. Talk as you may, try as you may, you cannot think of God except as a man. You may deliver great intellectual discourses on God and on all things under the sun, become great rationalists and prove to your satisfaction that all these accounts of the Avatars of God as man are nonsense; but let us come for a moment to practical common sense. What is there behind this kind of remarkable intellect? Zero, nothing, simply so much froth. When next you hear a man delivering a great intellectual lecture against this worship of the Avatar of God, get hold of him and ask him what his idea of God is, what he understands by ‘Omnipotence,’ ‘Omnipresence’ and all similar terms beyond the spelling of the words. He really means nothing by them; he cannot formulate as their meaning any idea unaffected by his own human nature; he is no better off in this matter than the man in the street who has not read a single book.” (Bhakti Yoga)
Swamiji went to America again in 1899. In 1900 he gave a lecture in Los Angeles in the state of California on Christ the Messenger. Swamiji said, you will have to see God in the incarnation (in the Son). We may have God within us but there is greater manifestation of Him in His incarnation. There are vibrations of light everywhere, but all darkness is dispelled when big lamps are lit.
“It has been said by the same Messenger (Christ), ‘None, hath seen God, but they have seen the son’ and that is true. And where to see God but in the Son? It is true that you and I and the poorest of us, the meanest even, embody that God – even reflect that God. The vibration of light is everywhere, Omnipresent; but we have to strike the light of the lamp before we can see the light. The Omnipresent God of the universe cannot be seen until He is reflected by these giant lamps of the earth; the Prophets, the Man-Gods, the Incarnation, the embodiments of God.” (Christ, the Messenger)
Swamiji also said, “You may imagine the real nature of God as much as you can, but you will find that your imagined God is far below that of an incarnation of God. What harm is there in worshipping these God-men? No, there is no harm in worshipping them. Not only that, if you wish to worship God you will have to worship an incarnation. You are human beings, so there is no way but to worship God in a human being.”
“Take one of these great Messengers of light, compare his character with the highest ideal of God that you have ever formed, and you will find that your God falls short of the ideal, and that the character of the prophet exceeds your conception. You cannot form a higher ideal of God than what the actually embodied have practically realized and set before us as an example. Is it wrong, therefore, to worship these as a God? Is it a sin to fall at the feet of these man-Gods and worship them as the only divine beings in the world? If they are really, actually, higher than all our conceptions of God, what harm is there in worshipping them? Not only is there no harm; but it is the only possible and positive way of worship.” (Christ, the Messenger)
Signs of an incarnation – Jesus Christ
What do incarnations of God come to proclaim? Sri Ramakrishna said to Narendra, “Son, it will not do to not give up ‘lust and greed.’ Only God is real – nothing else lasts.” Swamiji also said to the Americans:
“We see in the life of Christ the first watchword, ‘Not this life, but something higher!’ No faith in this world and all its belongings! It is evanescent; it goes!”
Jesus had renounced ‘lust and greed’. He knew that the soul is neither male nor female. An incarnation of God does not look for money, name and fame, pleasure, sense satisfactions – none of these. For him, “me” and “mine” have no meaning. The feelings “I am the doer, this house is mine, this is my family etc.” are all illusions born of ignorance.
“We still have fondness for ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ We want property, money, wealth. Woe unto us; let us confess; and not put to shame that great Teacher of humanity! He (Jesus) had no family ties. But do you think that that man had any physical ideas in him? Do you think that this mass of Light, this God and Not-man, came down to earth to be the brother of animals? And yet they make him preach all sorts, even of low sexual things. He had none! He was a soul! Nothing but a soul, just working, as it were, in a body for the good of humanity; and that was all his relation to the body. Oh, nor that! In the soul there is neither man, nor woman. No, no. The disembodied soul has no relationship to animal, no relationship to the body. The ideal may be high; away beyond us. Never mind; it is the Ideal. Let us confess it so – that we cannot approach it yet.” (Christ, the Messenger)
And he also said to the Americans, “What else does an incarnation say? You see me, but you cannot see God? But He and I are one. He is known by the pure mind within the heart.”
“Thou hast seen me and not seen the Father? I and my Father are one! The kingdom of Heaven is within you! If I am pure enough I will also find in the heart of my heart, I and my Father are one. That was what Jesus of Nazareth said.” (Christ, the Messenger)
In this lecture at another place, Swamiji said, “An incarnation assumes a body in every age to establish religion. He comes down like Christ at different times and places. Just by wanting to, he can pardon our sins – he can liberate us (vicarious atonement). May we worship them always.”
“Let us, therefore, find God not only in Jesus of Nazareth, but in all the great ones that have preceded him, in all that came after him, and all that are yet to come. Our worship is unbounded and free. They are all manifestations of the same infinite God. They are all pure and unselfish; they struggled and gave up their lives for us, poor human beings. They all and each of them bore vicarious atonement for every one of us and also for all that are to come hereafter.” (Christ, the Messenger)
Jnana Yoga and Swami Vivekananda
Swamiji would advise people to talk about Vedanta, but he would also point out difficulties associated with discussion. When Thakur talked to Pundit Shashadhar in Thanthania in 1884, Narendra and many other devotees were there.
Thakur had said, “The path of knowledge is very difficult to practice in this age. Life depends on food, and this requires hard work – but life is short. And it is impossible to get rid of body-consciousness. On the other hand, until you can get rid of body-consciousness completely, you can’t attain the knowledge of the Absolute. A man of knowledge says, ‘I myself am that Brahman. I am not the body – I am beyond hunger, thirst, disease, sorrow, birth, death, happiness, pain, and so on.’ So if you have disease, sorrow, happiness, pain, how can you be a knower of the Absolute? It’s just as if your hand is cut by thorns and is bleeding profusely and is very painful, but you say, ‘Why my hand has not been cut, there is nothing wrong with me.’
“So the path of devotion is for this age. It is easier to reach God by it than by other paths. You can reach God by jnana yoga or karma yoga or other paths, but they are all difficult paths.”
Thakur also said, “Whatever work remains complete has to be done selflessly. When the mind is purified by selfless work without expecting any reward, a person develops love and devotion for God. God is realized by such devotion.”
Swamiji said, “As long as there is body-consciousness, the realization that ‘I am He’ [So ‘ham] cannot be had. In other words, when one is rid of all desires, when one has completely renounced everything, one attains union with God [samadhi]. Only by attaining samadhi, does one attain the knowledge of the Absolute. Bhakti yoga is natural and sweet.”
“Jnana yoga is grand, it is high philosophy; and almost every human being thinks curiously enough that he can surely do everything required of him by philosophy. But it is really very difficult to live truly the life of philosophy. We are often apt to run into great dangers in trying to guide our life by philosophy. This world may be said to be divided between persons of demonic nature who think the caretaking of the body to be the be-all and end-all of existence, and persons of godly nature, who realize that the body is simply a means to an end, and instrument intended for the culture of the soul. The devil can and indeed does quote the scriptures for his own purpose, and thus the way of knowledge often appears to offer justification to what the bad man does as much as it offers inducements to what the good man does. This is the great danger in jnana yoga. But bhakti yoga is natural, sweet and gentle; the bhakta does not take such high flights as the jnana yogi, and therefore he is not apt to have such big falls.” (Bhakti Yoga)
Is Sri Ramakrishna an incarnation? Swamiji’s faith
Swamiji delivered a lecture on the sages of India. In it he said several things about incarnations of God. He talked about Sri Ramachandra, Sri Krishna, the Buddha, Ramanuja, Shankaracharya, Chaitanya Deva, and about their lives. When righteousness declines and lack of religion rises, sages appear from age to age to save the good and destroy wickedness. The Lord says so in the Gita. Swamiji elucidated it:
“Whenever virtue subsides and irreligion prevails I create myself for the protection of the good and for the destruction of all immorality I come from time to time.” (The Sages of India)
And then he said, “Sri Krishna harmonised religions in the Gita.”
“In the Gita we already hear the distant sound of the conflicts of seers, and the Lord comes in the middle to harmonise them all. He, the great preacher of Harmony, the greatest Teacher of Harmony, Lord Krishna himself.
“Sri Krishna also said in the Gita, ‘Women, Vaishya, shudra, all will attain supreme liberation, not to speak of brahmins and kshatriyas.’”
The Buddha is the deity of the destitute – sarvabhütasthamätmänaà [gétä 6-29]. He showed from his work that God resides in all elements. The disciples of the Buddha did not believe in the Atman or the individual soul. So Shankaracharya again propagated the religion of the Vedas. He began to explain the tenets of Advaita and the qualified non-dualism of Ramanuja. After him, Chaitanya Deva incarnated to teach love and devotion. Shankara and Ramanuja distinguished between the castes, but Chaitanya Deva didn’t. What castes can there be for devotees?
Next Swamiji spoke of Sri Ramakrishna: In him Shankaracharya’s power of knowledge and the intense love of Chaitanya manifested together in the same person. Then Sri Krishna’s harmony of religions was spoken of again, followed by the cry of one who wept like Buddha Deva for the poor, the aggrieved and the sinful. It is as if none of these incarnations was a full manifestation. Sri Ramakrishna was the fulfillment of all the sages.
“The one (Sankara) had a great head, the other (Chaitanya) a large heart, and the time was ripe for one to be born, the embodiment of both head and heart; the time was ripe for one to be born who in one body would have the brilliant intellect of Sankara and the wonderfully expansive, infinite heart of Chaitanya; ‘One who would see in every sect the same spirit working, the same God; one who would see God in every being, one whose heart would weep for the poor, for the weak, for the out-caste, for the down-trodden, for everyone in this world, inside India or outside India; and at the same time whose grand brilliant intellect, would conceive of such noble thoughts as would harmonise all conflicting sects, not only in India but outside of India, and bring a marvelous harmony, the universal Religion of head and heart, into existence.
“Such a man was born, and I had the good fortune to sit at his feet for years. The time was ripe, it was necessary that such a man should be born, and he came; and the most wonderful part of it was that his life’s work was just near a city which was full of western thought, a city which had run mad after these occidental ideas, a city which had become more Europeanised than any other city in India. There he lived without any book-learning whatsoever; this great intellect never learnt even to write his own name, but the most brilliant graduates of our University found in him an intellectual giant. He was a strange man, this Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. It is a long, long story, and I have no time to tell anything about him tonight. Let me now only mention the great Sri Ramakrishna, the fulfillment of the Indian sages, the sages for the time, one whose teaching is just now at the present time most beneficial. And mark the Divine power working behind the man. The son of a poor priest, born in a out-of-the-way village, unknown and unthought of, today is worshipped literally by thousands in Europe and America. And tomorrow will be worshipped by thousands more. Who knows the plans of the Lord! Now my brothers, if you do not see the hand, the fingers of Providence, it is because you are blind, born blind indeed.” (The Sages of India)
Swamiji continued, “The divine words of the Vedas which the sages had heard on the bank of the Saraswati, those words which once reverberated in the ears of the great yogis and austere hermits practicing austerities on the peaks of the great Himalayas; or the words which, taking the shape of the fast flowing river containing all within itself, encompassing the names of Sri Krishna, Sri Buddha Deva, and Sri Chaitanya, entered this mortal world. Those very words are heard again today. Their great message will reach all places in a short period of time – India to begin with, and then everywhere to the length and breadth of the world. These words are gaining power every day from a new power. These divine words have been heard before many times in earlier ages, but what we hear today is the summation of them all.”
“Once more the wheel is turning up, once more vibrations have been set in motion from India, which are destined at no distant day to reach the farthest limits of the earth. One voice has spoken, whose echoes are rolling on and gathering strength every day, a voice even mightier than those which have preceded it, for it is the summation of them all. Once more the voice, that spoke to the sages on the banks of the Saraswati, the voice whose echoes reverberated from peak to peak of the ‘Father of Mountains’ and descended upon the plains through Krishna, Buddha and Chaitanya, in all-carrying floods has spoken again. Once more the doors have opened. Enter ye into the realms of light, the gates have been opened wide once more.” (Reply to Khetri address)
Swamiji said further, “If I have spoken the truth even once, know that it is all Sri Ramakrishna’s, and if I have said anything imperfect, those which are not”
“Only let me say now that if I have told you one word of Truth, it was his and his alone; and if I have told you any things which were not true, were not correct, which were not beneficial to the human race, they were all mine, and on me is the responsibility.”
This is how Swami Vivekananda announced the advent of the incarnation Sri Ramakrishna in different places in India. Wherever a Math has been established, Sri Ramakrishna is worshipped daily. In all these places at the time of arati, the hymn composed by Swamiji is sung accompanied by musical instruments. In this hymn Swamiji addresses Sri Ramakrishna as attributeless, with attributes, perfect and Lord of the universe. And he called him the pilot to steer one across the ocean of the world. “You have come as a human being to liberate us from the bonds of the world, to help us to attain union with God. It is by your grace that I have attained samadhi. You have made me renounce ‘lust and greed’. O refuge of devotees, give me devotion to your lotus feet. Your lotus feet are my supreme treasure. If I have them, the ocean of the world appears like a pit made by cow’s feet.”
Hymn to Sri Ramakrishna composed by Swamiji
Breaker of this world’s chain,
We adore you, whom all men love;
spotless, taking man’s form,
O purifier, you are
Above the gunas three.
Knowledge divine, not flesh;
You whom the cosmos wears,
A diamond, at its heart.
Let us look deep in your eyes –
They are bright with the wisdom of God,
That can wake us from Maya’s spell.
Let us hold fast to your feet
Treading the waves of the world
To safety. O drunk with love,
God-drunken lover, in you
all paths of all yogas meet.
Lord of the worlds, you are ours,
Who were born a child of our time,
Easy of access to me.
O merciful, if we take
Any hold upon God in our prayer,
It is by your grace alone,
Since all your austerities
Were practiced for our sake.
How great was your sacrifice;
Freely choosing your birth
In this prison, our Iron Age,
Perfect, whom lust could not taint
Nor passion nor gold draw near;
O master of all who renounce,
Fill our hearts full of love for you.
You have finished with fear and with doubt,
Standing firm in the vision of God:
Refuge to all who have cast
Fame, fortune, and friends away
Without question, you shelter us,
And the world’s great sea in its wrath
Seems shrunk to the puddle that fills
A hoof-print in the clay.
Speech cannot hold you, nor mind,
Yet without you we think not, nor speak.
Love, who is partial to none,
We are equal before your sight.
Taker away of our pain,
We salute you, though we are blind;
Come to the heart’s black cave
And illumine, O light of the Light!
He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, is now Ramakrishna
Swamiji heard these great words from Sri Ramakrishna in the Cossipore garden house. Remembering them on his return to Calcutta from abroad, Swamiji composed a hymn at Belur Math. In it he said, “He who was the friend of the humble, the poor, the destitute, the beloved of Janki (Sita), the incarnation of knowledge and devotion, Sri Ramachandra – and He who blew the sweet, solemn notes of the Gita at Kurukshetra as Sri Krishna – has now manifested as the renowned person Sri Ramakrishna.
Om namo bhagavate Ramakrishnaye
He who was Sri Rama, whose stream of love flowed with compelling might to even the Chandala (the outcast); O, he who was ever engaged in doing good to the world though by nature he was above it, whose renown is unequalled in the three worlds, Sita’s beloved, whose body of knowledge supreme was covered by sweet devotion in the form of Sita;
He who quelled the terrible uproar at the battle (Kurukshetra), who removed terrible night of ignorance born of nature (of Arjuna), and who roared out like a lion the sweet and peaceful Gita; that renowned soul is born now as Sri Ramakrishna.
And another hymn is sung at evening worship at Belur Math, Kashi, Madras, Dhaka and at all other Maths.
In this hymn Swamiji says, “O friend of the lowly, you possess [the three] attributes and yet you are beyond the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. Since I do not worship your lotus feet day and night, I therefore take refuge in you. I repeat your name with my lips, I talk of spiritual wisdom – but I do not realize anything. Therefore I take refuge in you. One conquers death by meditating on your lotus feet – so I take refuge in you. O, friend of the humble! You are the one thing worth aspiring to in this world. I take refuge in you – tvameva çaraëam mama dénabandho.”
You are to be adored, you are truth unchanging, you are Lord of the gunas. In my weakness I have failed, O taker-away of delusion to worship your blessed lotus feet earnestly and unceasingly.
Therefore I claim sanctuary in you, O friend of the lowly.
This evil dream called life can be dispelled by love, adoration, and understanding;
These three can bring us quickly to our goal: the truth of Brahman.
But, alas, though I speak these words with my lips, they find no answer in my heart.
Therefore I claim sanctuary in you, O friend of the lowly.
O Ramakrishna, you are the path that leads to truth.
If a man offers you his heart, he soon overcomes the world and finds fullness in eternal life;
For your feet still the waves of death and bring immortality into the world of mortals.
Therefore I take sanctuary in you, O friend of the lowly.
Lord, your name, the name Ramakrishna, is goodness and purity itself; graciously it awakens us from our delusion.
He who chants your name will become a saint, though he be a sinner.
You are the refuge of us all. I have no other refuge but you.
Therefore I take sanctuary in you, O friend of the lowly.
After the arati was over, Swamiji taught how to offer salutations to Sri Ramakrishna. In this he says that Thakur is the greatest of all incarnations:
Om, salutations to you, Ramakrishna, the foundation of virtue and the embodiment of all religion, the most universal of incarnations.
. Pona, kathi vatta.
. Sanatana Dharma.
. Jesus Christ would tell his devotees: ‘Blessed are the pure in spirit, for they shall see God.’
. Full moon day of the bright fortnight of Aswin, the nightlong puja of Lakshmi.
. The same is mentioned in an English book: Max Muller’s Hibbert Lectures. Max Muller also explained it with the same metaphor, that it is not right to hate those who worship gods and goddesses.
. “When Vivekananda addressed the audience as sisters and brothers of America, there arose a peal of applause that lasted for several minutes.” (Dr. Barrow’s Report) “But eloquent as were many of the brief speeches, no one expressed so well the spirit of the Parliament of Religions and its limitations as the Hindu monk… He is an orator by divine right.” (New York Critique, 1893).
. Karma sannyasa.
.Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Volume 3; Lectures from Colombo to Almora; Address of Welcome at Almora and Reply.
. Randi putti buddhi: low intelligence, having grown up flattering others and by other such means.
. It is from the Akhyayika Sankhyadarshan – Section on Akhyayika.
 In other words, propagation of name of Hari at Navadwip.
. Swami Vivekananda was then studying in the Assembly General College. He was nineteen or twenty years old. At the time his home was near the College in Shimulia. His father’s name was Viswanath Dutta; he was an attorney in the High Court. The boy’s childhood name was Narendra. He passed his B.A. from the College. Mr. Hastie was the principal. He had brothers and sisters. Swamiji was born on Monday, Pausha Sankranti, 1269 (B.Y.), 1863 A.D., time 6:30–33 am, 6 minutes before the sunrise. His died at the age of 39 years 5 months and 24 days.
. Home of service.
. Good behavior.
. The Vedas.
. Sacred scripture.
. Left his own dham.
. Srimad Bhagavad Gita, 9:30 – Even if the vilest sinner worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should be regarded a saint; for, he has rightly resolved. (He is positive in his belief that there is nothing like devoted worship of God).
. om sthäpakäaya ca dharmasya sarvadharmasvarüpiëe,
avatäravariñöhäya rämakåñëäya te namaù.
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