Saturday January 18, 2020

Ramakrishna in the words of Swami Vivekananda


By Nithin Sridhar

“If there has ever been a word of truth, a word of spirituality that I have spoken anywhere in the world, I owe it to my Master; only the mistakes are mine.”

– Swami Vivekananda

During the funeral of Ramakrishna
During the funeral of Ramakrishna

One twenty nine years ago, India had lost one of its greatest spiritual sons. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa- the sage, devotee, yogi who was considered by many as the very incarnation of God, left his body on 16-August-1886.

Ramakrishna and his teachings had profound influence on not only his disciples like Swami Vivekananda who lived with him, but also on many generations of people around the world who have come after him.

Even today, his influence and teachings are visible everywhere around us.

On this 129th death anniversary of a great master, we should ponder over his life and his teachings. There is no better source to know about Ramakrishna than through the words of his most renowned disciple, Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda delivered two lectures in New York and England in 1901 about his Master. These lectures were later published in the form of a book “My Master”.

While describing about conditions of the household in which Ramakrishna was born, Swami Vivekananda described how a typical Brahmin household full of austerity and asceticism practiced charity in spite of extreme poverty.

About Ramakrishna’s parents, Vivekananda says: Very poor they were and yet many a time, the mother would starve herself a whole day to help a poor man.”

Vivekananda further calls his master as being “a peculiar child from very babyhood,” and adds that the master remembered everything about his past and was aware of his life’s purpose from childhood itself.

Ramakrishna’s father died when he was quite young and then Ramakrishna was sent to school. But, says Vivekananda, within a short time of starting his studies, Ramakrishna was “convinced that the aim of all secular learning was mere material advancement, and he resolved to give up study and devote himself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge.”

He further adds that Ramakrishna was later forced to become a priest at a temple in Calcutta due to extreme poverty.

When Ramakrishna stood in front of the image of “Blissful Mother” Kali, his mind was filled with questions about her.

Swami Vivekananda says:Day after day he would weep and say: ‘Mother, is it true that Thou exists or is it all poetry? Is the Blissful Mother an imagination of the poets and misguided people, or is there such a reality?’….. This thought which was uppermost in his mind gained in strength every day until he could think of nothing else.”

The idea, the desire to find the truth about the Mother, became so intense that Ramakrishna could no longer concentrate on his worship. He was forced to go into a nearby forest, where he lost all thoughts about his own self or about his bodily needs like food. As days passed, he would weep that one more day had passed and the Mother did not reveal herself to him.

As days, weeks and months passed, Ramakrishna began to see visions and slowly he was able to unlock various mysteries of nature. During this time, says Vivekananda, a woman saint (actually Bhairavi Brahmani) came to see Ramakrishna and addressed him thus: “My son, blessed is the son upon whom such madness comes. The whole universe is mad…. Blessed is the man who is mad after God. Such men are very few.”

She then stayed with Ramakrishna for many years and taught him various aspects of Yoga and other practices. Later another Sanyasin (renunciant) (Totapuri), taught Vedanta to Ramakrishna and initiated him into the order of Sannyassins.

Regarding the spiritual practices of various religions that Ramakrishna undertook, Swami Vivekananda says:He went to the various sects existing in our country that were available to him, and whatever he took up he went into it with his whole heart…..Thus from actual experience, he came to know that the goal of every religion is the same, that each is trying to teach the same thing, the difference being largely in method, and still more in language. At the core, all sects and all religions have the same aim.

Speaking about how Ramakrishna overcame the distinction of gender, Vivekananda says: “He began to think that he was a woman, he dressed like a woman, spoke like a woman, gave up occupations of men….until year after year of this discipline, his mind changed, and he entirely forgot the idea of sex; all thought vanished and the whole view of life underwent a transformation>”

Ramakrishna viewed every woman as the very embodiment of Divine Mother. Swami Vivekananda narrated how he had seen Ramakrishna prostrating at the feet of those women whom society would not touch, and weep at her feet saying: “Mother, in one form Thou art in the street, and in another form Thou art the universe, I salute Thee, Mother, I salute Thee.”

Such was the equanimity and mental purity of Ramakrishna. Treating all women as mother was not just something to be read and preached. It was not just a metaphor for him. He realized the reality and lived it.

Speaking about the compassion and equal-sightedness that Ramakrishna had towards everyone, Swami Vivekananda said: “For years I lived with that man, but never did I hear those lips utter one word of condemnation for any sect. He had same sympathy for all of them; he had found the harmony between them…..He condemned no one, but saw the good in all.”

Swami Vivekananda considered Ramakrishna as a “triumphant example, a living realization of the complete conquest of lust and desire for money.” Vivekananda then says that the first part of his master’s life was spent in acquiring spirituality and the last part, in distributing them.

He adds: “His (Ramakrishna’s) intense love for mankind could not refuse help to the humblest of the thousands who sought his aid.”

Though, Ramakrishna developed a “vital throat disorder”, he did not stop speaking to and giving guidance to those who came to see him. Finally, one day (i.e. on 16-August-1886), he decided to cast away his body, and “repeating the most sacred word of the Vedas, he entered into Samadhi and passed away.”

Regarding the teachings and message of Ramakrishna to mankind, Swami Vivekananda says: Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas, or sects, or churches or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man which is spirituality, and the more that this is developed in a man, the more powerful is he for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them.

Show by your lives that religion does not mean words, nor names, nor sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those who have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of mankind. They alone are the powers of light.”

This message of Ramakrishna, if understood and practiced, has the power to end all strife that the world is witnessing and elevate humanity to spiritual emancipation. Let us all ponder on the death anniversary of Ramakrishna.

images (3)
Swami Vivekananda

Next Story

Bhagavad Gita: From despondency to Yoga



By Gaurav Sharma

In the midst of the serpentine armies, the warriors blow their conch-shells. At the grand setting, Arjuna, the finest archer, asks Krishna, his friend and guide to chariot him between the two armies.

Arjuna has an eagle-eye view of the battlefield. Overwhelmed by the stack of relatives and teachers rallying against him, Arjuna is stricken with grief and despondency at the thought of fighting his kith and kin.


He lays down his famed Gandiva bow and begins arguing against the futility of war before Krishna. The stage is set for an epic dialogue to quell man’s eternal dilemma, the delusions of mind.

The despondency of Arjuna represents the perpetual conflicts, recurring contradictions and precarious predicaments that each one of us experiences but chooses only to contemplate and introspect when beset with psychological upheavals and mental breakdowns.

The moments of inner turmoil or the moral dilemmas erupting on the screen of the mind, in fact, act as an impetus for traversing the path and the goal of Yoga.

Multitudinal Yoga

The word Yoga is interpreted in myriad ways. The popular conception of Yoga as merely a series of bodily postures, techniques of meditation and art of breath control is rather fallacious.

Yoga means “to unite”, or “to join”. Panini, the 6th Century Sanskrit grammarian says the term Yoga is derived from either of the two roots– Yujir (to yoke) or Yuj samadhu (to concentrate).

According to Ved Vyasa, the first commentator on the Yoga-Sutras, Yoga means Samadhi (concentration). Those who are practicing the art of concentration are said to be yogis or yoginis.

Etymologically, combining or uniting implies the existence of more than one element. In this case, it indicates duality. This is the reason why yoga is most commonly used as a compound word, such as bhakti-yoga, gyana-yoga, raja-yoga, karma-yoga….., pointing towards union through devotion, knowledge, meditation and action respectively.

Some practitioners contend that aforementioned prefixes before yoga connote the substratum of Yoga, a series of progressive steps which form a ladder towards moksha or liberation. Yet, others believe that Yoga, in the compound form, is a means to achieve the ends that are the prefixes of bhakti, gyana and karma.

For moralists, Yoga incorporates ethical concepts directed towards leading a ‘sagely’ introspective life. The Tantriks see it as a way to enter other bodies and the Mahayana Buddhists view it as pure cognition, keen perception and discerning intellect.

According to Vivekananda, (the Vedantin), Yoga assumes a broader concept that includes the aforementioned prefixes (bhakti, gyana, karma..) as a means to achieving the end of Yoga itself. Yoga is both the means and the end. Yoga is the goal of Yoga.

Then there are others who view Yoga as an expansion of consciousness. Paramhamsa Yogananda, the post-Vivekananda yoga-guru used the term kriya-yoga to define the means to attain communion.

Kriya (literally meaning action) represents spontaneous bodily action arising from the flow of energy (kundalini). Kundalini is graphically represented as a coiled-up snake, denoting the tied-up bundle of energy within the human body.

Patanjali (1)
Patanjali in his Kundalini form

Symbolic meaning

The characters of Bhagavad Gita are also symbolic of our daily struggles.

For instance, Arjuna’s unwillingness to fight the battle with his own relatives refers to our own indecisiveness in discerning right from wrong. His doubts and delusions are compared to demons by Krishna. The scathing remark “do not succumb to such degrading impotence”, warns us of the pitfalls of choosing not to act.

Yet, everyday we choose to be a passive observer, a silent watcher of the evils of society that happen right beneath our eyes. Performance of our duties and abiding by our essential nature (Dharma) makes imminent and practical sense, yet we choose to lie in a sea of inactivity.

There is even a psychological underpinning to every character and name in the Gita. When the blind king Dhritarashta inquires from Sanjaya: Tell me Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and my sons do when they assembled on the field of Kurukshetra?, it is an allusion to the fact that our blind mind (Dhritrashtra) should take instructions from the divine insight (Sanjaya)

The mind or manas is under a deluge of sensory activities whereas the Buddhi (intellect) is the doorway to truth. Amidst the opposing forces, the Ego or ahamkara, as represented by grandsire Bhishma is pulled into a tug of war, impeding the journey towards communion.

A vivid analogy describes this field of activity, the tug of war, in its most fulfilling form:

“The body is the chariot pulled by the five horses (sensory organs) towards different sense objects. The mind is the reign of the horses which receives impulses and sends relay from/to the charioteer. Intelligence is the charioteer that controls and guides the horses.”

Uncontrolled senses as represented in Kathopanishad

Ensconced behind the web of words and concepts lies a treasure trove of wisdom. The right approach awaits its deciphering, one that defines the goal of life. Further delving into the mysteries of life through Bhagavad Gita’s lens in the next article.