Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886)

Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna belongs to the series of great spiritual personalities—saints and prophets of exceptional calibre—who appeared at critical points of Indian history, such as Krishna, Buddha, Shankara, Nanak, Chaitanya, who each fulfilled a great demand of the age in which they were born.

The nineteenth century saw India faced with a great crisis. With the British conquest of India came the invasion of Western civilization upon the country. Awed by the material power of the conquering nation, Indians hailed everything Western as a thing to be welcomed. In the meanwhile Christianity—one of the greatest proselytizing religions of the world—began to work silently for a thorough cultural conquest of the land. At this psychological moment appeared Sri Ramakrishna, the embodiment of the spirit of India's culture and religion. He opened the eyes of the Indians to the beauty, grandeur, and strength of Hinduism at a time when their faith in it had greatly slackened. His life stood as a bulwark against those alien forces which attempted to undermine the spirit of Indian civilization

Today, Sri Ramakrishna is revered as a saint in much of India and his prophetic call for harmonious religious plurarlism, voiced in the 19th century—some 125 years ago —has urgent relevance in the current troubled period of world history.

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Born at Kamarpukur, an out-of the- way village, onehundred and four kilometers north-west of Calcutta, Ramakrishna had no education beyond the rudimentary stage. He had spurned modern education, characteristically giving it the appellation, 'bread-winning education'. At the age of seventeen, he was brought by his elder brother to the newly built temple of Mother Kali at Dakshineswar, two miles from Belur on the other bank of the Ganga. Here, at this temple. he spent the greater part of his life, engrossed in various spiritual practices, not only of Hinduism, with its multifarious religious disciplines, but of Christianity and Islam, too. Every spiritual practice of his culminated in realizing the truths taught by each religion. His spiritual realizations and intuitional perceptions enabled him to pour forth in simple dialogues the truths he had realized to numerous seekers who thronged round him. His devotees included the young and the old, men and women, commoner and the elite of Calcutta. He could, on the strength of his own realizations, assure his disciples with authority:

  • that God could be realized as palpably as sense-data, or even more so;

  • that God-realization was the supreme goal of life;

  • that all religions were true;

  • that they were all different paths to the ultimate Reality; and

  • that all souls were the divine, and that service to them meant service to God.

Words of Sri Ramakrishna

  • I see people who talk about religion constantly quarrelling with one another. Hindus, Mussalmans, Brahmos, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, Shaivas, all quarrel with one another. They haven't the intelligence to understand that He who is called Krishna is also Shiva and the Primal Shakti, and that it is He, again, who is called Jesus and Allah. "There is only one Rama and He has a thousand names.". Truth is one; it is only called by different names. All people are seeking the same Truth; the disagreement is due to differences in climate, temperament, and names. Everyone is going toward God. They will all realise Him if they have sincerity and longing of heart.

  • You see many stars in the sky at night, but not when the sun rises. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the heavens during the day? Friends, similarly you cannot see God because of your ignorance, but say not that there is no God.

  • Be not a traitor in your thoughts. Be sincere. Act according to your thoughts and you shall surely succeed. Pray with a sincere and simple heart, and your prayers will be heard.

  • Whoever wants God intensely, finds Him. Go and verify it in your own life.

  • Satchidananda alone is the Guru. If a man in the form of a guru awakens spiritual consciousness in you, then know for certain that it is God the Absolute who has assumed that human form for your sake. The guru is like a companion who leads you by the hand. After realising God, one loses the distinction between the guru and the disciple. The relationship between them remains as long as the disciple does not see God.

  • There are pearls in the deep sea, but one must hazard all to find them. If diving once does not bring you pearls, you need not therefore conclude that the sea is without them. Dive again and again. You are sure to be rewarded in the end. So is it with the finding of the Lord in this world. If your first attempt proves fruitless, do not lose heart. Persevere in your efforts. You are sure to realise Him at last.

  • You may try thousands of times, but nothing can be achieved without God's grace. One cannot see God without His grace. Is it an easy thing to receive grace? One must altogether renounce egotism; one cannot see God as long as one feels, 'I am the doer.'

  • Unalloyed love of God is the essential thing. All else is unreal.

  • One should feel a yearning for God like the yearning of a person who has lost his or her job and is wandering from one office to another in search of work.

  • It is the unwavering conviction of the jnani that Brahman alone is real and the world illusory. All these names and forms are illusory, like a dream. What Brahman is cannot be described. One cannot even say that Brahman is a Person. This is the opinion of the jnanis, the followers of Vedanta philosophy. But the bhaktas accept all the states of consciousness. They take the waking state to be real also. They don't think the world to be illusory, like a dream. They say that the universe is a manifestation of God's power and glory. God has created all these — sky, stars, moon, sun, mountains, ocean, men, and animals. They constitute His glory. He is within us, in our hearts. Again, He is outside. The most advanced devotees say that He Himself has become all this — the twenty-four cosmic principles, the universe, and all living beings. The devotee of God wants to eat the sugar, and not to become the sugar.

  • But the Reality is one and the same; the difference is only in name. He who is Brahman is verily Atman, and again, He is the Bhagavan. He is Brahman to the followers of the path of knowledge, Paramatman to the yogis, and the Bhagavan to the lovers of God.

  • Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence, as it were, of the bhakta's love, the water is frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the Sun of Knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God's forms. What He is cannot be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his I any more.

  • The Vedas speak of seven planes where the mind can dwell. When the mind is immersed in worldliness it dwells in the three lower planes… The fourth plane of the mind is at the heart. When the mind dwells there, one has the first glimpse of spiritual consciousness. One sees light all around. Such a man, perceiving the divine light, becomes speechless with wonder and says: "Ah! What is this? What is this" His mind does not go downward to the objects of the world. The fifth plane of the mind is at the throat. When the mind reaches this, the aspirant becomes free form all ignorance and illusion… The sixth plane is at the forehead. When the mind dwells there, the aspirant sees the form of God day and night. But even then a little trace of ego remains. In the top of the head is the seventh plane. When the mind rises there, one goes into samadhi. (Paraphrased: Then there is the direct perception of Brahman.)… Generally the body does not remain alive after the attainment of samadhi… After the well is dug one generally throws away the spade and basket. But some keep them in order to help their neighbours. The great souls who retain their bodies after samadhi feel compassion for the suffering of others. They are not so selfish as to be satisfied with their own illumination.

  • He who is attributeless also has attributes. He who is Brahman is also Shakti. When thought of as inactive, He is called Brahman, and when thought of as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer, He is called the Primordial Energy, Kali.

  • Brahman and Shakti are identical, like fire and its power to burn. When we talk of fire we automatically mean also its power to burn. Again, the fire's power to burn implies the fire itself. If you accept the one you must accept the other.

  • A man cannot live on the roof a long time. He comes down again. Those who realise Brahman in samadhi come down also and find that it is Brahman that has become the universe and its living beings… The ego does not vanish altogether. The man coming down from samadhi perceives that it is Brahman that has become the ego, the universe, and all living beings. This is known as vijnana.

  • There are three classes of devotees. The lowest one says, "God is up there," and he points to heaven. The mediocre devotee says that God dwells in the heart as the "Inner Controller". But the highest devotee says: "God alone has become everything. All things that we perceive are so many forms of God."

  • Is it possible to understand God's action and His motive? He creates, He preserves, and He destroys. Can we ever understand why He destroys? I say to the Divine Mother: "O Mother, I do not need to understand. Please give me love for Thy Lotus Feet.". The aim of human life is to attain bhakti. As for other things, the Mother knows best. I have come to the garden to eat mangoes. What is the use of my calculating the number of trees, branches, and leaves? I only eat the mangoes; I don't need to know the number of trees and leaves.

  • One who has only a mild spirit of renunciation says, "Well, all will happen in the course of time; let me now simply repeat God's name.". But a man possessed of a strong spirit of renunciation feels restless for God, as a mother feels for her child. A man of strong renunciation seeks nothing but God. He regards the world as a deep well and feels as if the were going to be drowned in it.

  • How is it ever possible for one man to liberate another from the bondage of the world? God alone, the Creator of this world-bewitching maya, can save men from maya. There is no other refuge but that great Teacher, Satchidananda. How is it ever possible for men who have not realised God or received His command, and who are not strengthened with divine strength, to save others from the prison-house of the world?

  • One day as I was passing the Panchavati on my way to the pine-grove, I heard a bullfrog croaking. I thought it must have been seized by a snake. After some time, as I was coming back, I could still hear its terrified croaking. I looked to see what was the matter, and found that a water snake had seized it. The snake could neither swallow it nor give it up. So there was no end to the frog's suffering. I thought that had it been seized by a cobra it would have been silenced after three croaks at most. As it was only a water snake, both of them had to go through this agony. A man's ego is destroyed after three croaks, as it were, if he gets into the clutches of a real teacher. But if the teacher in an unripe one, then both the teacher and the disciple undergo endless suffering. The disciple cannot get rid either of his ego or of the shackles of the world. If a disciple falls into the clutches of an incompetent teacher, he doesn't attain liberation.

  • What are you to do when you are placed in the world? Give up everything to Him, resign yourself to Him, and there will be no more trouble for you. Then you will come to know that everything is done by His will.

  • Different people call on [God] by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it 'jal', others at another place and call it 'pani', and still others at a third place and call it 'water'. The Hindus call it 'jal', the Christians 'water', and the Moslems 'pani'. But it is one and the same thing.

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