4.8 APPENDIX - THE HUMAN ASPECT OF THE MASTER1
Many people speak many things about the divine nature of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna. At the root of many people’s faith, submission and reverence, is found, on inquiry, their admiration for his superhuman powers of Yoga. In reply to the question, “Why do you respect him?” the person interrogated generally says that Sri Ramakrishna could see events happening at great distances from the Dakshineswar temple on the Ganga; that he sometimes cured severe physical diseases by his touch; that he always had communication with gods and goddesses and that his words were so infallible that any word coming out of his mouth, though seemingly unlikely to correspond to facts, would change and control the events of external nature. For example, the speaker might continue, it may be said that even a person condemned to death by the court was saved from sure death and was specially honoured instead, only because the Master bestowed a little of his grace and blessing on him; or that a white flower was produced on a tree which invariably produced red flowers only; and so on.
Or, he might say that Sri Ramakrishna could know others’ thoughts; that his keen insight could fathom the thoughts, constitution and even the inclinations of the mind of every man by piercing the gross covering of his body and that at the mere touch of his delicate hand, there appeared before the eyes of the devotees of even restless minds the forms of their chosen Ideals and they experienced deep meditation; and in the case of some particularly fit persons, the gate to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi opened.
Again, some would say, “We don’t know why we revere him Ah, what a wonderfully perfect ideal of knowledge and devotion we saw in him! We do not see it even in the ideal persons worshipped by the world, who are mentioned in such books as the Vedas and the Puranas, not to speak of living or known human beings. To our eyes, compared with him, these seem to be of little splendour. We are unable, to say whether it is a hallucination of our mind; but our eyes have become dazzled with that bright effulgence and our minds merged for ever in his love; they do not turn back even if we try to convince them Knowledge, inference and reasoning have all been set at rest. We can say only this:
“I am Thy servant birth after birth, O Sea of mercy; I don’t know Thy destination. And mine? I don’t know it either. And who wants to know it? I have by Thy command done away with everything — enjoyment, salvation, devotion, Japa, Sadhana, etc. The only thing that remains is a desire to know Thee; take me beyond that also, O Lord.”2
It is therefore clear that, if we leave out the cases of the few last mentioned persons, all other people have devotion to, faith in and reliance on him on account of his gross external powers or subtle mental powers only. Men of gross intellect think that, if they revere him, their diseases etc., will be cured or, at the time of their danger or difficulty, external events will be regulated in their favour. It does not take one long to see that this current of selfishness is flowing in their minds though they do not plainly admit it.
The people of the second class, who have a somewhat subtle intellect, revere him only because they will attain powers of clairvoyance etc., and live in places like Goloka by being counted among his followers, the principal or the subordinate ones. Or, if they are a little more advanced intellectually, they think they will attain Samadhi and become liberated from the bondage of birth, old age, etc. It is easily understood that their own self-interest is at the root of this faith too.
Although we have had many such examples of Sri Ramakrishna’s divine powers and although we have no doubt that devotion offered to him even with the motive of fulfilling one’s own desired objects is productive of endless good, a discussion on these subjects is not our aim. Our aim is, on the contrary, an attempt to draw a picture of his human traits.
Devotion with a motive — devotion for removing any kind of want of the devotees — prevents them from ascending to the highest step of the knowledge of truth. Selfishness always produces fear, which again soon makes man weak. The attainment of man’s self-interest increases egoism and, sometimes, idleness in his mind and veils his vision. Therefore, he cannot see the real truth. This is why Sri Ramakrishna used to keep a special eye on the circle of his devotees so that the said defect might not creep into them Whenever he came to know that any new mental powers, clairvoyance and the like, had been manifested in some of his disciples as a result of their practice of meditation etc., he forbade them from such practice for some time, lest egoism should arise in their minds and make them lose sight of the aim of God-realization. We witnessed this many times. We heard him say over and over again that to possess those powers was not the aim of human life. But weak man does not proceed to do anything or revere any one without calculating his profit and loss and, instead of learning renunciation from the life of Sri Ramakrishna, who was a glowing picture of that quality, resorts to that great life for the fulfilment of his own enjoyment. He thinks that Sri Ramakrishna’s extraordinary austerities, his renunciation, his unusual love for truth, his childlike simplicity, his reliance on God — all these were practised for the fulfilment of his (the devotee’s) enjoyment, as it were. Human weakness is the only reason for this attitude. Therefore, a discussion of the human traits of Sri Ramakrishna will be of great benefit to us.
It is well known in all the religious books of all peoples that even a little, of devotion, if practised rightly, makes the devotee similar to the object of his worship. The oozing of blood from the hands and feet of the devotee whose mind was absorbed in the figure of Jesus on the cross, the great burning sensation in the body of Sri Chaitanya and his occasional corpse-like states due to his identification with the pain of separation from God felt by Srimati, the motionless posture of the Buddhist devotee for a very long time before the motionless figure of Buddha in meditation — all these and other similar events point to this fact. We have seen with our own eyes also that the love towards a particular man has made the lover, slowly and without his knowledge, similar to the object of his love; his external gestures, his deportment and the currents of his thoughts also have changed and become similar to those of the object of his love. If the love and devotion to Sri Ramakrishna also do not daily make our life, at least a little, similar to his, it should be understood that the said love and devotion are not worth the name.
There may arise the question, “Can then every one of us become a Paramahamsa Ramakrishna? Has it ever been seen in the world that one man has become completely similar to another?” Although they cannot be exactly similar, they, we reply, can surely be like things cast in the same mould. The life of each great soul in the spiritual world is like a special mould. Cast in those moulds the successive generations of their disciples have been preserving those different moulds till today. Man’s power is small; a whole life’s effort is not enough for him to become like any one of those prototypes. If, fortunately, any one is ever formed really similar to any one of the models, we call him a perfect soul and revere him as such. All the physical and mental actions — speech, thought, deportment, etc., — of a perfected man become similar to those of the great soul, the founder of the faith. The mind and body of the former become fully developed instruments for containing, preserving and imparting to others that great power, the first manifestation of which in the latter had earlier astonished the world. Different people have thus been preserving from time immemorial the spiritual powers transmitted by different great personalities.
The great souls that lead wonderful unprecedented lives in the realm of spirituality and thus leave new moulds behind are even today worshipped by the world as incarnations of God. Incarnations discover new religious doctrines, new paths. They impart the power of spirituality to others by a mere touch. Their energy is never directed to the glamour of lust and gold in this transitory world. It becomes clear by a study of their lives that they are born to show us the path to God-realization. To secure their own enjoyment or their own liberation has never been the aim of their lives. But their sympathy with the sorrows of others and their love for them have urged them on to action and led to the discovery of the path leading to the removal of the sorrows and miseries of others.
We were not let into the secret of the holy lives of the persons known as incarnations, such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Sankara, Chaitanya and others till we had the blessing of seeing the divine form of Sri Ramakrishna. We laboured under the misconception that the record of the uncommon events in their lives were later additions by disciples, with the ulterior motive of adding to their own number. And the incarnations themselves, we inferred, were queer, imaginary beings beyond the ken of the civilized world. Or, when it was at all conceded that God could assume forms and incarnate Himself, it could not be believed that human traits like those in us were present in those incarnations also. It could not be easily conceived that their bodies could be subject to diseases, that pain and pleasure were present in their minds and that a fight between God and Satan could ever have gone on in them as in us, ordinary mortals. We have come to know this truth through the holy contact of Sri Ramakrishna. We have all read or heard of the wonderful harmony of divine and human traits in the persons of incarnations. But, before we met Sri Ramakrishna, we thought that there could be no harmony, in any man, of childlike simplicity and austere manhood. Many say that it is only his simplicity of a five-year-old boy that attracts them. A helpless boy, ignorant of worldly ways, is an object of love on the part of all people, who are naturally prompt to protect him. Such a feeling arose in the minds of men to see Sri Ramakrishna, though he was advanced in age. They were thereby charmed and attracted towards him. This is no doubt true to a certain extent; but our idea is that it was not this trait alone that attracted people in general. But as we see that the feelings of faith and devotion arose in the minds of the visitors simultaneously with love and delight, it seems that the mighty power within, veiled with a covering of childlike simplicities, delicate like a flower, was the cause of that attraction. Describing the superhuman character of Sri Ramachandra, the king of Ayodhya, the famous poet3 of India wrote:
“Who can know the minds of superhuman souls, harder than adamant but softer than flowers?”
The same remark applies to Sri Ramakrishna too.
The childlike nature Sri Ramakrishna is a novel thing. Although fathomless faith, unbounded simplicity, and an infinite love of truth were always manifested in his mind, worldly-minded people saw in it nothing but foolishness and a lack of worldly wisdom He had a deep faith in the words of all people, specially of those who assume external emblems of religion. The ideas current in the country and his own village contributed a great deal to the manifestation of that wonderful trait in him.
A vast stretch of land extends over many square miles covered by green paddy plants, lending the appearance of a green sea or, in the absence of those plants, appearing in its true grey but presenting the same sweep of a sea; it is studded over, as by groups of islands, by small cottages of peasants, neat and clean, and made of earth, under the shade of clusters of bamboos and trees like the banyan, date, mango, peepul, etc. Here and there are deep big tanks of blue waters like the Haldarpukur surrounded by rows of tall palm trees, covered with deeper blue leaves and abounding in rosy lotuses with the humming bees around them A few small but famous temples of stone or brick are there where deities like “Old Siva” are installed; yonder lie the ruins of the fort Mandaran; closer on the outskirts lie the ancient crematoria with the bones of the village forbears lying scattered here and there. Just beside them there are the pastures, covered with green grass; farther still are the dense mango grove and the noted meandering streamlet, and the ever crowded long public road from Burdwan to Puri, which encircles more than half of the village; this is Kamarpukur, the birth-place of Sri Ramakrishna.
The Vaishnava religion, founded by Sri Chaitanya and his disciples, is prevalent there. The peasants sing the songs composed by the Vaishnava poets while working. In the evening when the day’s work is done, they drown their fatigue in the bliss derived from these songs. A simple poetic faith lies at the root of this religion; for such faith and religion as of this village, situated far away from the rough waves of the competitive struggle for existence, a boy’s heart is a very favourable field. But the childlike behaviour of the boy Ramakrishna was regarded as wonderful in this respect too. Everybody was surprised to see the sublimity of his aim and his one-pointedness thereto, even if they failed to understand his extraordinary actions. Hearing from the mouths of the expounders of the Puranas that a man uttering the name of Rama becomes purified, this boy reflected, “Why then does the expounder himself require even now purification by ablution etc.?” Or, listening only once to a drama, he knew all the parts by heart and sometimes acted the drama with his friends in the mango grove. Seeing and hearing the wonderful acting and music, the wayfarer, on his way to another village, was charmed and forgot to continue his journey. The boy’s cleverness manifested itself in other ways too, in making images, in painting the pictures of deities, in mimicry, in music and Sankirtan, in getting by heart the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and other scriptures on hearing their recitals, and in the deep apprehension of the beauty of Nature. He was, we have heard from him, in ecstasy for the first time on seeing a flight of snow-white cranes against the background of deep black rain-bearing clouds. He was then six or seven years old.
To become absorbed in the mood that came to him, was the special characteristic of this boy’s mind. Pointing to the courtyard of the house of a merchant, the neighbours tell even now how the person who was to act as Siva in the “Conversation between Siva and Parvati”, became suddenly ill and was unable to act his part; how every one requested Ramakrishna to put on Siva’s dress and act the part; but how, putting on that dress, he was so deeply absorbed in that mood that he lost all normal consciousness for a long time. The restlessness of mind proper to a boy, it is evident, did not touch him, though he was indeed a boy in age. Whenever he was attracted by anything through his eyes or ears, its picture was so firmly imprinted in his mind that it was impossible for this boy to be at rest without mastering it wholly and expressing it in a novel form.
Coming in contact with the external world, his senses developed quickly and had not to depend on books and pictures. The radical principle of his life was this, namely, “I’ll understand truth, but only after having subjected it to close scrutiny. If it stands the test, I’ll reduce it to practice. And I’ll not look down upon anything of the world if it is not untrue.” At the dawn of his youth, Ramakrishna, who possessed such a wonderful memory and intellect, was sent to a school for education; but that peculiar childlike nature of his did not come to an end. He thought, “What purpose will it all serve — this hard study, this sitting up late at night, this rumination of the glosses and commentaries? Will this help me in attaining the truth?” Pointing to the teacher of the school, who was a finished product of that kind of education, his mind said, “You also will become like him, clever at ascribing ingenious meanings to simple words; you also will manage somehow your worldly affairs like him with some money, received as farewell presents earned by flattering the rich, and you also will read the truths recorded in the scriptures and teach them to others, but, ‘like an ass carrying sandal wood’, will not be able to realize them in life.” His discriminating intellect told him, “There is no need for that breadwinning education which enables one to ‘bundle up rice and plantain.’ Go rather for that supreme education which will enable you to realize the whole truth, the hidden mystery of human life.” Ramakrishna gave up going to school, and applied his mind to the worship of the blissful image of the Devi; but where was peace even in that? His mind said, “Is it true that She is the universal Mother, the embodiment of bliss or but a stone image? Is it true that She accepts leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, etc., offered to Her with devotion? Is it true that a gracious glance of Hers liberates man from all kinds of bondage and endows him with divine knowledge? Or, is it a superstition of the human mind, augmented by fond imagination and tradition of ages that has produced this unreal shadowy figure? And has man thus been deceiving himself from time immemorial?” His mind became extremely eager to solve that great problem and, side by side, the sprout of intense detachment grew slowly and imperceptibly in that simple mind. His marriage took place, but without solving that problem how was it possible for him to enjoy worldly pleasures? His mind always remained engrossed in attempting the solution of that problem in various ways; and marriage, worldly affairs, worldly thoughts, earning money, enjoyment and even the extremely necessary eating, drinking, walking and sleeping were all reduced to a useless memory. The childlike nature of Sri Ramakrishna, which, became the object of ridicule for the worldly-wise at far off Kamarpukur, became much more developed in the Dakshineswar temple and was regarded as insanity, more contemptible to that worldly wisdom But was there any incoherence and aimlessness in it? “I’ll have the immediate knowledge of the Reality beyond the senses, I’ll touch It and taste It in the fullest measure” — was not this the special characteristic of that insanity? That adamantine determination of the mind, that unconquerable perseverance, that crystal-clear sincerity and that one-pointedness of purpose which produced a novel beauty in the boy Ramakrishna at Kamarpukur, now constituted the insanity of Ramakrishna! What an unprecedented event!
A violent storm went on raging unabated in his mind for twelve long years. Tossed violently by the waves of doubt and disbelief, the life’s tiny boat of Sri Ramakrishna was perilously near sinking. But that heroic heart never gave way, was not frightened at the sure prospect of immediate death. It went forward along its own path with only one thing to support and sustain it — the love of the divine and faith in it. The clamour in the world produced by lust and gold, and what people call good and bad, merit and demerit, vice and virtue, were all left far below; and the mighty waves of Bhava took him up above the petty squabbles of a humdrum life. This extraordinary surge of endless emotions and the practice of severe penances shattered Sri Ramakrishna’s strong body and mind but gave them new forms and new beauties. It was thus that the fully developed instrument for containing and imparting great truths, and the Mahabhava, the supreme love of God, were made ready.
Will you, O man, be able to comprehend the story of this wonderful heroism? In your gross eyes the weight and worth of a thing are determined by bulk or quantity. How can you have an idea of that power which, discarding the slightest tinge of selfishness, uproots egoism so thoroughly as to render it impossible for the body and mind to be even engaged in any kind of selfish effort, however small? The hands of Sri Ramakrishna used to become stiff and benumbed on consciously or unconsciously touching any metal — to grab it was out of the question! He lost his way when he was coming along the path always familiar to him if he took, knowingly or unknowingly, even very trifling things like leaves, flowers, etc., without the permission of the owner, and had to turn back. If he tied a knot, his respiration remained suspended till he untied it and the outgoing breath would not come out in spite of much effort. His organ of generation would shrink, like the limbs of a tortoise, instantaneously if his body was touched by any lewd woman. Where will human eyes — accustomed to looking to selfinterest only from birth — have the vision of those purest mental states, whose manifestations these physical changes were? Can even our wildest flight of imagination enter into the purest realm of those ideas? We have learnt from our birth how to hide our impure ideas within and show ourselves off as purity itself. How many of us will entertain a scruple in concealing truth if we can become rich or famous by deceit? Take again, courage. Although we may not be bold enough to give ten blows for one or to run up towards and seize a cannon vomiting fire and to give up our life for the fulfilment of our own interests, we appreciate and feel proud to hear of such deeds. But, can we appreciate and feel the glow of that courage by whose promptings Sri Ramakrishna renounced the enjoyments of the earth and heaven and risked even his mind and body for the sake of a thing beyond the senses, unknown and unfamiliar to the world? If you can, O heroic reader, you have attained the immortality held in veneration by ourselves and others.
No one had the power to understand how deep were the meanings of his very trifling words and actions, unless they were explained by himself. One day he explained to us why he mentioned names of familiar persons or things or touched them as soon as his ecstasy came to a close, or why he named some article of food and said that he would eat or drink it. He said, “The minds of people in general roam in the nerve centres of the anus, of the organ of generation and of the navel only. A little purified, that, mind sometimes ascends to the centre in the heart and, having the vision of light or luminous figures, enjoys bliss. When the mind gets deeply habituated and sticks steadfastly to one ideal to the exclusion of all others it goes up to the centre in the throat and it becomes almost impossible for it to talk of any thing except that ideal on which it dwells ever more. Even when the mind has ascended there, it may go down to the lower centres and altogether forget that devotedness. But if somehow or other, with the help of extremely exceptional one-pointedness, it can reach the centre between the eyebrows, it goes into Samadhi and enjoys a bliss, compared with which the enjoyment of the objects of senses in the lower centres seems to it to be contemptible; all fear of falling from there vanishes for ever. There the light of the supreme Self with a little veiling is manifested to it. Although there remains just a little separation from it, a good knowledge of the nondual supreme Self is obtained as soon as the mind ascends there. The moment this centre is crossed, the knowledge of difference and non-difference vanishes altogether and the mind is established in the perfect knowledge of non-duality. My mind comes as far down as the centre in the throat and that too for your education. But it has somehow to be kept down by force even there. As it has remained for six months in the full knowledge of Oneness, it has a natural inclination in that direction. If the mind is not tied to trifling desires — I’ll do this, I will, eat that; I’ll see this person, I’ll go to that place, and so on — it becomes very difficult to bring it down. And, if it does not come down, everything — talking, walking, eating, keeping the body alive and the like — becomes impossible. This is why, at the very time of going into ecstasy, I entertain such trifling desires as ‘I’ll smoke, I’ll go to that place, etc’; but even then, the mind comes down that much only, when those desires are mentioned again and again.”
The author of the Panchadasi says, “A man does not like to change, after attaining Samadhi, the circumstances or environments in which he was before attaining it. For, all things or states, except the reality of Brahman, seem absolutely hollow to him.” Some indications to prove how the life of Sri Ramakrishna was lived before the aforesaid current of the love of God began to flow, were obtained in his ordinary day to day actions at Dakshineswar. We proceed to give a few of them here.
It was his habit to keep his body, clothes, beddings, etc., very clean. He himself loved to keep things in their proper places and taught others to do so; he felt annoyed if anyone did otherwise. At the time of going to any place he enquired whether his towel, the small bag, etc., had all been taken without any omission and also at the time of returning from there, he reminded the disciple who was with him, lest he should forget to take everything with him. He used to be anxious to do a thing at the exact time. When he had said he would do a thing, he would do it. He did not receive a thing from the hand of anyone except the person from whom, he said, he would take it, lest he should be guilty of falsehood. Even if such insistence produced any amount of inconvenience for a long time, he would put up with it. When he saw anyone using a torn piece of cloth, umbrella, foot-wear, etc., Sri Ramakrishna gave him instruction to buy a new one if he was able to do so, and if not, he himself would sometimes buy one for him He used to say, “Fortune frowns at a man who uses such things and he loses grace.” Words indicative of pride or egoism would never come out from his holy mouth. When he had to speak of his own idea or opinion, he pointed at his own body and used the words, “the idea of this place”, “the opinion of this place”, and the like. He used to observe minutely the conformation of all the features and limbs of the disciple’s body, such as, the eyes, the face, the hands and the feet, as well as his actions, his deportment, eating, drinking, walking and sleeping, — he could by so doing accurately ascertain the course of his mental faculties, the degree of his development and the like, so that we never found him wrong on such matters, in our very intimate dealings with him
Many say that each of those who went to Sri Ramakrishna thought that Sri Ramakrishna loved him more than he did all others. The deep sympathy that he had with the weal and woe of each one’s life was, it seems to us, the only cause of it. Although sympathy and love are two different things, the external characteristics of the latter are not very different from those of the former. It was, therefore, not impossible that sympathy was taken for love. It was an innate characteristic of Sri Ramakrishna’s mind to become absorbed in each thing at the time of thinking of it. Owing to this, he could exactly know the state of each disciple’s mind and could rightly prescribe whatever was necessary for the improvement of that state. In the course of describing Sri Ramakrishna’s childlike nature we have tried to show how fully he learnt from his childhood the use of his eyes and other senses. It was this education which stood him in good stead in moulding human characters. He had a special eye on his disciples so that they might also learn the use of their senses regarding everything everywhere. He daily taught them to have recourse to reason before performing any action. We heard him say again and again that it was reason alone which would reveal the merits and demerits of things and make the mind go forward towards true renunciation. He had never any liking for a person of a narrow intellect or of one devoid of it. Every one heard him say, “You should be a devotee, it is true, but why should you, therefore, be a fool?” Or, “Don’t be one-idea’d; that is not the attitude of this place; the attitude of this place is, ‘I’ll eat (fish) in different preparations, as soup, pungent, sour and so on’.” It was “one-sided” intellect that he called a dull and drab attitude. “How monotonous!” were his words of scolding to the disciple who could not feel delight in any but a particular aspect of the divine Lord. He used these words of scolding in such a way that the disciple had to hide his face for shame. It was undoubtedly under the impulse of this liberal, universal idea that he became engaged in practising all the modes of Sadhana of all faiths and was able to discover the grand truth, “As many faiths, so many paths.”
The flower blossomed. Mad to taste the honey, the bees from this country and abroad came flying from all quarters. The full-blown lotus, its heart perfectly uncovered by the touch of the sun’s rays, was equally generous and did not spare its store to make them fully contented. Has the world ever before had the taste of the immortal honey of spirituality which Sri Ramakrishna gave it — Sri Ramakrishna, who was altogether innocent of Western education and whose life was built on the pattern of the eternal religion of India, regarded by moderners as superstition? Has the world ever before witnessed the play of that great power of spirituality which Sri Ramakrishna accumulated and imparted to his disciples, and under the forceful impulse of which the people, in spite of the light of modern science, are realizing that religion is an object of immediate knowledge, something living and moving that can be experienced; and are perceiving that an under-current of a universal, eternal and unchangeable religion has been flowing in the hearts of all the different religions and is vivifying them all? Have the words of hope and assurance been ever before proclaimed to the world, that man, travelling from truth to truth, like the wind from flower to flower, is slowly and gradually proceeding towards an immutable non-dual Truth and will some day realize without fail that endless and boundless Truth beyond mind and speech? The “one-sided” attitude of the religious world, which the teachers of religion like Krishna, Buddha, Sankara, Ramanuja, Chaitanya and others of India and Jesus, Mohammad and others of countries abroad could not remove, was completely destroyed in his own life by that illiterate Brahmin boy who succeeded in establishing a true harmony between the apparently contradictory doctrines of various religions and thus achieved a grand impossible feat. Has any one ever seen such a picture? Is it possible to ascertain the place of this god-man in the spiritual world? We dare not try. We can say this much, that the lifeless India has become much purified and awakened by the touch of his feet; that it is destined to occupy a place of glory amongst the nations of the world; that hope and blessing will emanate from it to the world around; that it has raised man above gods and has made him worthy of being worshipped by them for the privilege of his investment with a human body; and that the world has witnessed in Swami Vivekananda only the beginning of the display of the wonderful Power which has been awakened by Sri Ramakrishna.