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
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.