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Life of Ramakrishna and its Relevance

In human evolutionary process, intellectual growth is not uniform; it varies from place to place and from individual to individual. This applies to physical, emotional, and spiritual growth as well. Every community or society provides men and women of unique characters in different fields of human endeavour, applicable to both what we call good and bad departments of life. This is true in the fields of science, art, literature, and culture also. Over a period of time the creative impulse of many people culminates into the birth of a great scientist, or a writer, or an artist. It is, as if, the sum total of efforts of the millions intuitively decorates itself into a supreme artist or a scientist. We may name Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and similar great persons in such categories.

Spiritual saints and mystics, prophets and incarnations are no exceptions to this rule. The path that leads to supreme Beauty, Ethics, or Truth throws up illustrious souls in the field of devotion, selfless work, yoga, and philosophy. Jesus, Buddha, Rama, Krishna, Shankara, Chaitannya, are a few examples. Many mystics, saints, and prophets of every religion must also be included. Again these great persons are to be seen as the culmination of efforts of millions of people in their respective fields of spiritual disciplines. Every period in human history is full of ordinary persons who meditate, pray, worship, study, or do selfless service for the human welfare. The evolutionary process adds up such noble desires into a 'unit' in the form of a saint or a prophet who is the ideal representative of that quality.

In such an ocean of spirituality a huge wave in the form of Sri Ramakrishna was visible from 1836 to 1886. In fact, taking into consideration his immense contribution to the growth of universal spirit, we can identify him with the ocean itself! And over its surface arose many waves and ripples in the form of his great disciples (including Swami Vivekananda) who established temples of human welfare and fulfillment as Ramakrishna Mission and Vedanta Societies.

Life of Sri Ramakrishna

The life of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) was a study of methods to achieve higher level of human excellence. It showed humanity the direction and path in which the future evolution should be directed for the progress in human consciousness. This he did by performing various experiments, as a scientist in the field of physics or chemistry would do.

1. First he showed that by self-effort and intense yearning one can concentrate the mind to realize a particular form of divine consciousness. This one form of divinity for him was Ma Kali. His chosen ideal could have been different, and indeed it would be different for people of various places and cultures.

There could be no denial of the fact that it is possible to elevate consciousness to a higher plane. This Sri Ramakrishna accomplished on his own without any help of a guru or a teacher. Moreover, he neither had formal education nor did he study scriptural texts to account for this success in his spiritual achievements. For all practical purposes, intense desire and unshakable faith to reach the Truth of Divinity in the stone image of Mother Kali led him to undertake severe austerities and experimentation. Kali Herself became his teacher and guide. The fact of divinity in every living and non-living being soon personified as duality of 'divine object' in the form of Kali and the 'divine subject' in the form of Sri Ramakrishna.

Sri Ramakrishna reached the second stage of dualistic consciousness when he started seeing presence of Kali in other beings and objects as well. Thus, a cat and various objects used in the worship in the temple were seen to shine with Divine effulgence and pervading with presence of Mother Kali. This forced him to worship and feed a cat as Mother Herself! Later, he was unable to pluck flowers and leaves for puja (worship), for they were seen as the adoration of cosmic form of Divine Shiva. Thus, he obtained the knowledge of first principle of Vedanta i.e. every being is Divine. (This may be labeled as qualified monism.) Spiritual discipline in the form of intense concentration of mind and one-pointed zeal to know the truth led Sri Ramakrishna to this wonderful realization and experience. His knowledge was thus based on direct perception and no amount of diversion or contrary arguments could disturb the same.

2. The next stage in Sri Ramakrishna's life was to reach the same Truth by other means as well. For this he took help of spiritual Teacher -Bhairavi Brahmani. The ascetic nun, experienced in the techniques of Tantras and Bhakti traditions, tenderly guided Sri Ramakrishna, the novice, on the spiritual path. Her motherly love and concern as a teacher saw Sri Ramakrishna climb one spiritual step after the other with the rapidity about which there is no parallel. He performed intricate and even 'maligned' sadhanas of sixty-four Tantras and reached the same stage of dualistic consciousness of seeing Mother in both living and non-living beings.

Moreover, he proved Puranas (mythologies) to be true, which were about to be rejected as imaginary stories by the 'intellectuals and scientifically oriented minds' influenced by British education system. He played with baby Rama in the waters of Ganges; becoming Radha, he experienced pangs of separation from Sri Krishna; Mother Sita presented him with the most beatific smile; and sadhana of servant attitude of Hanuman brought out monkey-like physical and psychological changes in his body and mind. The list is very long and exhaustive. These great achievements and experiments for proving the validity of not only Indian scriptures but also mythologies is a unique contribution of Sri Ramakrishna in the field of spirituality. He proved, for the good of humanity in general and for the 'scientific-minded' Indian youths in particular, that their ancient literature is not a figment of imagination, but is in fact based on facts and truths.

Not satisfied with Hindu paths of realization alone, Sri Ramakrishna undertook sadhana of Muslim and Christian religions as well. After getting initiated into these religious faiths, he attained the same higher level of consciousness and realized the truths of respective religions, prophets and incarnations. He found that all religions took the aspirant to the same destination; there was no difference in the final experience. The entire world for Sri Ramakrishna was now a manifestation of Ma Kali, which he called 'Her Play' or 'Lila'. Imbibed with broadness of divine vision, natural love, and respect for all beings Sri Ramakrishna saw 'Narayana or Kali' in every human being. For him there were no drunkards, prostitutes, or wretched persons anymore. Such equanimity of vision is the final culmination of all spiritual knowledge.

3. As the last spiritual discipline, which was to prove unity of existence and would go beyond dualism, Sri Ramakrishna undertook sadhana of Advaita Vedanta under the Teachership of Tota Puri. This great Yogi who had realized the highest Truth of unity of Atman and Brahman came to Sri Ramakrishna at the 'behest of Ma Kali' as Sri Ramakrishna would put it. The guru encouraged Ramakrishna to go beyond dualism, even to 'annihilate the idea of Mother Kali' from his consciousness. Reluctantly, though, taking as an ordained directive from the Mother, Sri Ramakrishna with the power of discrimination and renunciation went beyond Her Form, his most coveted landmark or 'picnic spot' on the spiritual path.

This was the highest level of discrimination and renunciation. The resultant nondual experience where 'there is no pleasure or pain, where one does not taste the sweetness of sugar but becomes sugar itself' was not possible even for Sri Ramakrishna to describe in words: From where even the mind with speech returns empty-handed. The result was acquisition of such knowledge that lifts a human being to the level of Brahman, and does not require certification from any else. It also emphasizes the fact that one cannot become what one already is not, or one becomes That what one already Is! Thus, Sri Ramakrishna showed mankind its true divine nature.

What next! For most souls who merge with Absolute there is no 'coming back'. Unique and rare is the tradition of a few who live as 'free souls' (Jeevan Mukta) to which Sri Ramakrishna belonged. This highest possible stage in human evolution was telescoped into his short span of fifty years. As Romain Rolland puts it, "The man whose image I evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of spiritual life of three hundred million people."

Relevance Today

It is not easily accepted or appreciated that the achievements of Sri Ramakrishna were desirable stages in the realm of higher knowledge and consciousness. Fulfillment of cravings of senses and mental faculties is widely accepted as correct or rational human development, for it apparently takes humanity to comfort and pleasure. Although science starts as a search for the highest truth, soon our 'genetic selfishness' puts a break in its progress. The reason for this is that, the method of science seeks knowledge on the basis, and with the help, of senses alone, and this is sure to prove inadequate! Science denies the reality of transcendental truth. Therefore, it is not possible for 'reason' to understand the ways of 'intuition'. Similarly science fails to recognize super-sensory truths even when such truths present themselves to scientists during their arduous and sincere study and research.

Life of Sri Ramakrishna helps us overcome this dilemma. It establishes the need for, and the methodology of, spiritual way of life. He lays down new foundation for the system of acquiring higher knowledge that Swami Yatiswarananda called 'the laws of spiritual life.'

Sri Ramakrishna proved that whatever we take to be real for the time being affects our whole personality, thoughts, emotions and actions. Our whole being responds to this reality. Science takes material world to be real and hence the inferences drawn are always in doubt, for the real nature of material world is illusory. By discrimination between real and unreal, and renouncing the unreal, the knowledge of higher reality comes to the mind. This is called spiritual awakening, although there is nothing esoteric or secret about it. It is a normal quest for knowledge. Spiritual awakening is the transformation of one's consciousness, which means moving from a lower center to a higher center of consciousness. The more our consciousness expands, the more we see the Divine in all people and the more spiritual we become.

Question of Utility

The question asked of us is the question of 'utility'. What good spiritual visions and experiences, and what benefit the state of samadhi have to offer to us? The saints restore our faith in the validity of seeking higher knowledge through practice of spirituality. The science of values, which these states and disciplines emphasis and bring to forefront may not be of any consequences to the scientists of physics or chemistry. But it cannot be denied that the life of spiritual scientist is the gold standard for value oriented life. Love and compassion, altruism and generosity, which physical science also tries to establish, albeit without success, are natural attributes of state of samadhi and meditative excellence. More importantly, additionally, we become convinced about the purpose of human birth i.e. to seek divine level of consciousness.

Need for Refreshing the Knowledge

Over period of time, however, the life-invigorating message of such saints gets diluted, nay even distorted, and people again get diverted to narrow-mindedness. Modern biologists blame this process on 'selfishness of genes'.

"...We are machines created by our genes. Like Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. ...A prominent quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour..." Therefore, although we cannot expect morality based on evolution 'let us at least try to teach (ourselves) generosity and altruism.'

The saints come to teach these values to us. And hence the cycle is repeated. Prayers and meditation, work and worship, scriptural study and devotion continue to prosper and produce another noble soul who leads humanity to higher goal and ideal. Place of Sri Ramakrishna, as the 'Prophet for Modern Age' cannot be overemphasized in this respect!
C S Shah