Lessons From The Gospel: Part 2
| Part 3
Lessons From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Part 1
As an act of divine dispensation, Mr. Mahendra Nath Gupta, 'M' for short, happened to meet Sri Ramakrishna in the year 1882. 'M' was head master in a reputed school run by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. His sharp memory and devotion helped him in meticulous recording of many incidences, events, and sayings in the life of his Master for the benefit of posterity. He chronicled many wonderful events and sayings of Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar; the account that was later published as 'The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna'. The book is translated in many languages around the world. It contains life, teachings and sayings of The Master between the period 1882 and 1886. Although it is not easy to portray "the man who was the consummation of two thousand years of spiritual life of three hundred million people", a brief account is given below as far as my understanding of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna goes.
Lessons From First Two Visits of 'M'
Mahendra Nath Gupta, 'M' for short, met Sri Ramakrishna in the spring of 1882. One day, with his friend Sidhu, 'M' visited Dakshineswar Kali temple out of curiosity. It was a Sunday evening in the month of February when the duo reached the garden temple. The atmosphere was calm and serene. They reached the living room of Sri Ramakrishna, which was filled with the devotees sitting around the Master. Like a legendary storyteller Sukdeva, Sri Ramakrishna was engrossed in telling the devotees how the simple mention of God should bring tears to the eyes, tears of love and adoration. 'M' listened to the nectar like words of Sri Ramakrishna, which described the state of a true devotee of God as a 'state beyond'. "The rituals and formality then automatically drop off, and instead, just utterance of Holy name was sufficient to call on the Lord." The piety and serenity overpowered 'M' like no event in his life had.
'M' stood there speechless and looked on as Sri Ramakrishna was saying: "When, hearing the name of Hari or Rama once, you shed tears and your hair stands on end, then you may know for certain that you do not have to perform such devotions as the sandhya (evening prayers) any more... Rituals and worships drop down of their own, and then just repeating the name of the deity is enough as sadhana."
'M' was highly impressed by the serenity, piety, and god-intoxicated state of Sri Ramakrishna. It was not easy for an educated man influenced by upcoming western culture to imagine such a simple and illiterate man talking only of God and nothing else. That evening in the late and silent hours 'M' walked back to his home muttering: 'who is this serene-looking man who is drawing me back to him?'
'M' paid the next visit to temple garden at Dakshineswar on one morning when Sri Ramakrishna was having shave. This time Sri Ramakrishna inquired about M's family and educational background etc. As M told that he is head master at such and such school, immediately Sri Ramakrishna could relate him with the most popular religious social movement, Brahmo Samaj, of that time headed by Keshab Chandra Sen. Keshab Chandra Sen was a great scholar, orator, leader, and visionary. He was trying to envision and establish a syncretic/synthetic religion with amalgamation of the best principles in Christianity and Hinduism. However, his Brahmo Samaj was against idol/image worship. Their faith was in 'saguna nirakara' aspect of God - God without form but with benevolent attributes -, if one may say so. Quite a few bright and young college students came under the influence of this seemingly new, progressive, and liberal reformist religious movement.
Thus, Sri Ramakrishna put a question to 'M' about the health of Keshab Chandra Sen, "Well, how is Keshab now? He was very ill." Sri Ramakrishna had great love and respect for all those socially prominent persons who tried to revive spirituality in their own various ways, and had religious bent of mind. Sri Ramakrishna maintained that such men of action and leadership manifest some divine power of God. This simplicity and modesty of Sri Ramakrishna is unique in the realm of spiritual history, where the most gifted saint himself never hesitated to visit and honor all those manifesting a little bit power of the Divine. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna told 'M' that he had vowed to offer Mother coconut and sugar when Keshab recovered!
Then the discussion drifted to M's family and married life. Sri Ramakrishna showed displeasure when M said he was married and had children. Initially M could not understand the reason of displeasure on the part of Sri Ramakrishna, however, later he realized that it was difficult for the householder to reach God. Although, grihastha bhakta (householder devotee) can definitely realize God, there are many limitations for the married person in this attempt. Kamini and kanchana, lust and gold, are natural allies of a married person that hinder the smoothness of the path leading to God. Thus, we see here the basic tilt of Sri Ramakrishna towards early enrollment (!) to the task of God Realization. Unmarried sannyasins have the best and easiest way to God/Self Realization, if I may say so.
However, not to discourage 'M' further, Sri Ramakrishna asked him a question: "Tell me, now, what kind of person is your wife? Has she spiritual attributes, or is she under the power of avidya (ignorance)?"
Not realizing the deep meaning behind this apparently simple question, 'M' relied routinely, "She is all right. But I am afraid she is ignorant."
Our common understanding of knowledge and ignorance is related to school/college education, and thus we speak of vidya - knowledge - and avidya - ignorance - based on whether the person is educated or not. For us, knowledge always means secular knowledge and information, and thus a degree holder, a lawyer, a doctor, or a scholar becomes Jnani for us! And one not educated becomes ignorant for us. However, for Sri Ramakrishna every word, every idea, every concept, everything was to be considered in relation to God. In his childhood itself Sri Ramakrishna was wise enough to tell his elder brother, 'I do not want this bread earning education; I seek that Divine Knowledge by knowing which nothing remains to be known!' For such a person knowledge and ignorance has only one meaning: Have you knowledge of God? If yes, you a Jnani! If not, you are ignorant, even though one might have read all the books on art and science, religion and scriptures!
As said in the Gita, chapter XIII/11, Sri Ramakrishna wanted to say: "Fixity in the knowledge of Self, observing everywhere the object of true Knowledge i.e. God, all this is declared to be true Knowledge (wisdom); what is contrary to this is ignorance."
Therefore, Sri Ramakrishna severely admonished 'M', "Ah! You say your wife is ignorant, but you are a Jnani, man of knowledge!" Thus, realizing that true knowledge is knowledge of God, 'M' understood that he is also as ignorant as his illiterate wife as far as realm of God is concerned!
C. S. Shah