The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – Book Review

The holy book The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, was originally Written in Bengali by “Ma-” (Mahendranath Gupta) and translated to English by Swami Nikhilananda.

The Gospel is a virtual source book for all facets of Hinduism, a treasure trove of spiritual knowledge, accessible to all, expounded in the most simple language comprehensible to one and all. It is no wonder this voluminous collection of extensive teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, recorded more than a century and a quarter ago, is still being read spellbound by earnest spiritual speakers across the globe, cutting across all religious barriers.

Who is Sri Ramakrishna?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was one of the greatest spiritual masters of Hinduism, who lived at Dakshineswar (near Kolkotta, India). Considered to be Divine Avatar (God’s incarnation in human form), Sri Ramakrishna, who hardly had a rudimentary primary education turned out to be a spiritual volcano, who through his all consuming devotion on divine mother Kali, had a vision of her. He spent 12 years in intense spiritual practices in various paths of Hinduism and attained God realization/ self realization/ Nirvikalpa Samadhi/ Atma sakshatkar. 


He is a rare spiritual personality, who personally engaged himself in practicing the various paths of attainment of the Supreme divine bliss that Hinduism presents as suited to people of different tastes, capacities of intake and mindset. He practiced the path of Bhakthi (devotion), Gnyana (the path of Self Inquiry) and Tantra(Kundalini Yoga) at varying times by undergoing intense practice and attained the ultimate divine experience in each path. Despite being a realized person himself, he opted to be under the guidance of specific Gurus who were masters in their specific paths to guide him procedurally in those paths.

He also practiced the disciplines of Islam and Christianity for a while and attained divine experience through these religions too. By the strength of his experience, he confirmed that the ultimate truth and experience of God attained by following various paths is one and the same. This virtually unlettered person turned out to be a great exponent in explaining the intricacies of Hinduism in all its facets and tenets, which even learned pundits cannot fathom.

He declared that every Religion, every sub-sect and every method of practice is ultimately intended to take man to this highest goal in life. And he declared “As many faiths, so many paths” purely by the strength of his own experiences.

His prime disciple, Swami Vivekananda later founded Sri Ramakrishna Math and Mission and spread spirituality and selfless service, with the able assistance from his master’s other Sanyasi (relinquished) disciples.

Who is Ma- , Mahendranath Gupta?

Sri Ma- Mahendranath Gupta fondly called Master Mahasaya. He is an apostle and evangelist of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

A school teacher by profession, Mahendra Nath Gupta was a house-holder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who was destined to end up at the Feet of his Master in a time of utter mental turmoil. He was associated with Sri Ramakrishna for a period of about 5 years till his master’s death, and he was divine-commissioned to be the authentic recorder of Sri Ramakrishna’s profound teachings.

Ma-, after every meeting with his Master, recorded his conversations in his diary with details of date, people present, topics and summary of the discussions that took place and a brief descriptions of the place and scenario. After his masters passing away, Ma- wrote those diary notes into elaborate publications, spanning over 5 volumes in his mother tongue Bengali. The Bengali gospel was titled “Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrut” At first it was published in 1897 as a small booklet. It received lots of attention and appreciation from the Master’s devotees. Later, it became his life mission. He was engaged in this massive task till the end of his life.  “Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrith” was published by him in 5 volumes one after the other in 1902,1904, 1098,1910 and 1932. The last volume got published only shortly after Ma’s death in 1932, but before that Ma- had finished complete proof reading of the book and he was ready to depart, having fulfilled his life’s mission.

Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrit 5 parts.

The greatness of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Perhaps in the history of religious teachers, it is the first time that the spiritual teachings of a great master have been recorded with such a precision and truthfulness. The conversations will bring before the reader’s mind an intimate picture of the Master’s eventful life from March 1882 to April 24, 1886. With vivid description of the scenario, the moods and the nature of the people present, the song and the dance made, the utterances of the master in his native simplicity and rustic beauty have been brought out by Ma- in a wonderful way in the book.

Sri Ramakrishna could expound the deep religious truths of Hinduism that eluded comprehension to the greatest scholars in the simplistic way, with down to earth examples. As one reads the Gospel, one could see that Dvaita (Duality), advaita (Non-duality), Visishtadvaita (Qualified non-duality), Bhakti Yoga (Path of devotion), Karma Yoga (path of selfless work), Gnyana yoga (path of self-inquiry), Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantric practice, the concept of Avatar, God with Form, God without form, Kundalini yoga, the various Samadhis all the facets of Hinduism have been wonderfully explained by Sri Ramakrishna. It could be treated as one source book of Hinduism which can be read and understood by any earnest follower of Hinduism with out need for an any intellectual interpretation.

The book starts with Ma-‘s first visit to Dakshineshwar to meet the master.  He gets captivated by Sri Ramakrishna’s simplicity, loving words and the divinity that he radiates. He soon makes a second visit; the master starts asking more personal details about Ma-. He finds Ma- to be possessing physical features indicative of spiritual substance in him. Ma- starts asking questions and he gets answers that hit him point blank with utter straightforwardness and simplicity that could shatter his ego. He becomes like a ‘peacock fed with a little opium’. Lured by the addictive power of the opium, the peacock starts coming again and again to Sri Ramakrishna to partake the feed!

The greatness of the Gospel not only lies in the substance of the master’s profound teachings but also on the wonderful narrative skills of Ma-. When you read the Gospel, you would feel like getting transported back to those times, to be at the places where Sri Ramakrishna lived, sang, danced, froze in Samadhi, traveled, visited, ate and jovially chitchatted with his devotees unleashing his childlike guilelessness and spontaneous humor.  You would meet his closest devotees who became great spiritual monks and other prominent devotees of Ramakrishna in future. You would feel like being present along with them, sitting  in front of the master, partaking his prasad, singing with him, laughing with him and dancing with him in divine ecstasy.

When you read and re-read the Gospel, you will understand Bhagavad Gita better. Your doubts in Upanishad statements will get cleared. What you had judged as foolish idiosyncrasies of Hinduism earlier would become quite meaningful. The book has the potential to transform a common religious person to a spiritual aspirant. If you are a non-Hindu, you would get wonder-struck at the greatness of Sanatana Dharma. If you are a Christian, you will start understanding the Bible better; your reverence on Jesus Christ will increase. If you are a Muslim and studied the Gospel in all earnestness, you will finally understand why it is so important to segregate ‘the sugar from the sand’ in religious scriptures.

Swami Nikhilananda

The English Version

Swami Nikhilananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, for the benefit of English speaking readers took up the monumental work of translation of the Gospel into English  and completed it in the year 1942 and was first published by Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York.

About his effort, Swami Nikhilananda says:

I have made a literal translation, omitting only a few pages of no particular interest to English-speaking readers. Often literary grace has been sacrificed for the sake of literal translation. No translation can do full justice to the original. This difficulty is all the more felt in the present work, whose contents are of a deep mystical nature and describe the inner experiences of a great seer. Human language is an altogether inadequate vehicle to express supersensuous perception.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – First edition Year: 1942

He wants the readers of the Gospel (particularly from West, who are not too familiar with Hinduism) to keep in mind the following: “But these words were not the product of intellectual cogitation; they were rooted in direct experience. Hence, to students of religion, psychology, and physical science, these experiences of the Master are of immense value for the understanding of religious phenomena in general. No doubt Sri Ramakrishna was a Hindu of the Hindus; yet his experiences transcended the limits of the dogmas and creeds of Hinduism. Mystics of religions other than Hinduism will find in Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences a corroboration of the experiences of their own prophets and seers. And this is very important today for the resuscitation of religious values. The skeptical reader may pass by the supernatural experiences; he will yet find in the book enough material to provoke his serious thought and solve many of his spiritual problems.”

The Gospel is also available (translated from original Bengali version) in all major languages of India. One of the earliest translation of the book was done in Tamil and the book is titled “Sri Ramakrishnarin Amutha mozhigaL” (ஸ்ரீ ராமகிருஷ்ணரின் அமுதமொழிகள்) in 3 volumes, available from Sri Ramakrishna Math,Chennai.

If you want to buy The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna online, here is the link: https://istore.chennaimath.org/product/the-gospel-of-sri-ramakrishna-royal-edition/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Prayer in Hinduism – Vedic Prayer Chamakam – Sri Ramakrishna’s different prayers

Prayer is the way of communication with God. In the path of Bhakti (devotion) in Hinduism, prayer is one of the essential and natural acts.

God is omnipresent and omnipotent; He is the creator, the protector and the destroyer. Hindus believe that the very sustenance of the human beings on the earth simply depends on the will of God and “nothing ever moves without His moving”.

People are bound to the world and its innumerable attractions; every one’s life runs on wants, needs, ambitions and greed. Atheists depend on their ego and their perceived self-righteousness in chasing, acquiring and enjoying their needs and wants. On the other hand, theists, with the strong belief that it is God who is the sole provider, pray to God to grant their needs and wants and at times extend their prayers to satiate their greed and unjustified ambitions too.

In the 4 Vedas, a prominent segment of the contents is devoted to rituals and prayers that are meant to invoke Gods to grace the populace with essentials as well as wealth and riches. There are plenty of prayers seeking good rains, bountiful crops, welfare of cattle, healthy offspring, punishing of enemies, elimination of diseases and so on. The following famous vedic chanting called Chamakam is of this category and is chanted popularly. This chanting is popular for its sonic beauty and the postive vibrations it produces in the ambiance (Click the picture to listen).

Many “homams” (rituals conducted in procedurally in front of fire as per norms given in Vedas) are performed even today by householders as well as religious institutions and temples praying for God’s grace to lead happy worldly life.

Prayers are done on one side for seeking boons; on the other side, prayers are made to ward off sufferings.

Hinduism preaches karma or action and Hindus believe in the dictum “what thy sow, thy shall reap”. All your actions – good or bad, will have their repercussions and the occurrence of the repercussions transcend time and births. But great masters in Hinduism strongly advocate that karma is not self-propelling and whatever fruits or punishments to your past karmas are executed only by the will of God. In other words, God has the powers to reward you, to punish you less even for heinous crimes or can condone your sins – if only he is happy with you.

That’s precisely where prayers come in handy. When you suffer, pray to God for relief and succor. When you are in trouble and feel lost and directionless in life, pray to seek God’s guidance. Prayer helps to subdue your egotism. Prayer helps you to express your helplessness and seek the help of the higher force.

However, praying God for goodies and worldly riches is always discouraged by great saints and sages in Hinduism. Worldly pleasures have pains always attached at the back. When you pray for pleasures and get them, you have to invariably suffer the pains that come attached to them.

Another point of view is that when you pray for a specific want, YOU think that it will do good to you. This way your egotism deceives you that you know what is better for you rather than the higher force that is going to grant that boon! This way, one who prays to God for a specific want, in reality, undermines the glory and greatness of God.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa reiterates that the only thing one ought to pray to God is pure devotion at the lotus feet of God and NOTHING else. Some sages greatly emphasize the efficacy of prayer in getting rid of your bad qualities. If at all you pray, pray for removing your pride, your greed, your envy, your lust, your anger, your hatred and so on. Pray to purify yourself.

“Saranagati” (total surrender to God) is one excellent qualification that Hinduism recommends; when your dependence on God becomes total, at that exalted state, there is no need for any prayer at all. The individual has no personal needs and preferences; he accepts the fact that it is not he who knows what is right or wrong for him, but it’s God who knows best. Whatever God wills is absolutely the right thing and he will accept everything as God’s holy prasad.

Let us end this article with a few typical prayers uttered by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa:

  • O mother, I am just a machine; you are the operator. I am the house; you are the dweller. I am the chariot, you are the charioteer. I do as you make me do; I talk as you make me talk; I am not; I am not. It’s you; it’s you”
  • “O mother, here is your virtue; here is your vice. Take both and grant me pure love for you. Here is your knowledge; here is your ignorance. Take both and give me pure love for you. Here is your purity; here is your impurity. Take both and give me pure love for you. Here is your dharma and here is your adharma. Take both and give me pure love for you”
  • “Mother, I don’t want name and fame; I don’t want the eight occult powers; I don’t want a hundred occult powers. O Mother, I have no desire for creature comforts. Please mother, grant me the pure devotion that I may have pure love for thy lotus feet“.

[Source of Sri Ramakrishna’s prayers: “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” – by Ma]

How to see God – Part 1

Most of people have faith in the existence of God and trust that the creation and sustenance of the cosmos is under the command of that supreme power. Can that God be seen? 

Hinduism permits worship of God with name and form. Hinduism offers a variety of God forms suited to the taste and temperament of the worshiper, and the various forms, in reality represent one Supreme God. At the same time, Hinduism accepts God, at its ultimate reality, as one beyond name, form and attributes, beyond description, as Para Brahman.

Since God is attributed with name and form, can you see God in one of His glorious forms that Hindus worship? If, on the other hand,  God is perceived to be formless, can you in some way unequivocally feel His presence? If you are a Christian and you believe that Jesus is the son of God and believe his words that the father and the son are one, can you see Jesus?

Sri Ramakrishna “Yes, my son. I have seen God just as I am seeing you…”

“Have You Seen God?” : Vivekananda’s Poser to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

For the 19 year old Narendra (later, the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda) this question – can one really see God – was an ever-nagging one at his heart. Whenever he got a chance to meet any saint, monk or any holy person he was never hesitant to put forth his question point blank: “Have you seen God?”

At Dakshineswar Temple (Kolkotta, India), as he was seated in front of the seemingly madman-like middle-aged Brahmin saint – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (some time in the year 1885) he put forth the same question: “Swami, have you seen God?”

For the first time in his life, Narendra got the straight-forward answer from Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes. I see him just as I see you here, only in a much more intense sense.” He continued: “God can be realized. One can see and talk to him as I am seeing and talking to you. But who cares? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for him, he surely manifests himself”.

That impressed Narendra at once.

In the above conversation, Sri Ramakrishna throws an important clue as to why people are not able to see God. It is their attachment towards the world, their beloved ones, money and wealth.

Hinduism states that God is Satchidananda — Existance-Knowledge-bliss. Seeing God gives unequivocal bliss — million times more pleasurable than sexual pleasure, according to Sri Ramakrishna. To acquire such a bliss, the effort one has to put and the sacrifice one has to make are also the greatest.

Sacrifice – in Worldly Pursuit and Godly Pursuit

Take a simple worldly pursuit for example. A girl wants to become a celebrity model. Think of the extent of sacrifice she has to make and the rigor she has to undergo to achieve her goal. She can’t eat what she loves; sometimes she may have to go starving; she has to do her exercises very regularly which may prove to be tough and taxing; she has to spend hours over hours in putting up and removing make-up, in her haircare, skincare, etc.

Assuming that she becomes a super-model and a world renowned celebrity one day, does the status give her permanent happiness and bliss? She had to toil a lot to maintain her figure; As she ages, she has compete with upcoming and much younger models and perhaps lose out in competition one day; she may fade away one fine day from the limelight and exit the halls of fame. Later at life, she may even regret having wasted her youth in an unworthy and transient pursuit.

If such an ephemeral pursuit itself involves so much of sacrifice and hard work, think of the Godly pursuit, which Hinduism says is the greatest goal and the very purpose of life.

Sri Ramakrishna prescribes three things as essential for having a God vision. One is sacrifice, the second is yearning and the third, divine grace.

Need for Sacrifice for God Vision

The quest for having vision of God involves a two-fold sacrifice. First comes sacrificing of all sensual pleasures and the desire for money. “Kamini-Kanchana”. This ‘twin’ is the most oft-quoted one by Sri Ramakrishna. It means woman (sexual pleasure) and gold (money). (It is needless to say that in case of a woman seeking God, she has to shun her sexual yearning for a man). Kamini-Kanchana in a nutshell represents Maya at its gross.

Even if one were to get free from the clutches of this duo, the next one is too subtle to identify and get rid of. It is egotism. It is an uphill task to get rid of ego-centric cravings for recognition and fame, to dominate and control others, to do charity, to teach knowledge to the world and so on.

Need for Yearning for Seeing God

Added to these two greatest sacrifices, one has to have an intense yearning to see God. What is the extent of intensiveness needed in this yearning?

Sri Ramakrishna gives the benchmark: If one’s yearning to have vision of God is as intense as a miser’s love for his wealth plus a mother’s love for her child plus a chaste woman’s love for her husband — when the force of yearning existing in all these three are added together, then one can have the vision of God.

Another frequent example by Sri Ramakrishna is this:

Once a disciple asked his Guru: “Sir, how can I see God?”. The guru took the disciple chest deep into the river and suddenly pushed his head into the water. Though the disciple struggled to get out, the Guru did not loosen his grip for a while. Then he released his grip. The disciple swung his head out of water and was panting heavily. The guru asked him “How did you feel?” “Oh! I was so desperate to get my breath. I though I would die!” The Guru now replied to the disciple’s original question: “If you long for God the same way you longed to get your breath, then you will get a vision of God!”.

Which one is more important? Yearning for God or sacrifice? Sri Ramakrishna says that if the yearning for God is intense, then the sacrifices automatically follow suit. One who is desperate for God will lose attraction on anything else. Sri Ramakrishna says that the Path of love for God (“Bhakthi marga”) is best suited for the majority of aspirants.

Lord Krishna appearing before Surdas to hear his devotional singing

For some aspirants, sacrifice and yearning for God may progress hand in hand. For some, sacrifice may precede the arrival of intense love on God.

When the search for God takes sufficient momentum, at that point one gets his Guru who will guide him in the right path to achieve his goal.

 

 

 

 

Worshiping God with name and form is an accepted practice in Hinduism. When a devotee longs to see his God at the exclusion of everything else, God grants his vision. 

When an earnest seeker leaves behind all his cravings for sensual pleasures and other worldly pursuits, single-mindedly yearns for his only goal in life, namely to attain God, and his yearning is so intense as though he is gasping for air to breathe, he gets his divine vision, by the grace of God.

Lord Rama with his consorts giving darshan to Saint poet Thyagaraja

In Hinduism, God is attributed with name and form. The one and only God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, whom the Upanishads call the Brahman, who transcends all name and forms but who is the in-dweller in all the names and forms of His creation, will present himself as the personal God of the earnest seeker.

Some Popular God Forms in Hinduism and the idea of Personal God

Hinduism offers multiple God forms to suit the varying tastes and temperaments of the worshiper. ThusVaishnavites (the worshipers of Lord Vishnu, the God of protection) worship him as Narayana in his glorious form, lying reclined in his bed of 5-headed snake Adisesha, at his abode Vaikuntha, with his divine consort Lakshmi. He is also worshiped in standing posture. Vishnu is also worshiped in any of his popular forms of Avatar — Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and so on.

Likewise, a saivite ( worshiper of Lord Shiva, the destroyer) may worship him in his glorious form wearing tiger skin at the waist, smearing ash all over his body, carrying a trishul at his hand and a snake adoring his neck. Or Shiva can also be worshiped in his form as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer or as Artanari, with half of his body taken up by his wife Shakti.

There are also devotees who worship Shakti (or Kali) as their personal God, who is considered the universal divine mother.

Likewise there are several options of God forms (refer An introduction to the various Gods in Hinduism) available to a Hindu to worship God in a form most lovable and dear to him. Though this may be baffling to non-Hindus, great Hindu masters however declare that this is one of the greatest practical benefits of Hindu theology. “When you see your father’s photo, you think of your father” says Ramakrishna. Your father is quite dear to you, though he could be a total stranger to a third person.The “form” of your father is quite useful to you in your remembrance of him and in your mental communication of your love towards him.

Your relationship with your father is thus personal and it is dear to your heart. In the same way, in Hinduism a worshiper of God establishes an Ishta, a specific God form that he can love and establish a personal relationship.

If we extend this concept to Christianity, then from a Hindu angle, Jesus, the son of the father in heaven and who is none other than the father, is the ishta of Christians. By loving Jesus, by worshiping him and by surrendering to him, they communicate with God.

Loving The Personal God all Out – Nishtha Bhakti

The earnest seeker loves his personal God with a single pointed, unwavering devotion. He treats his personal God virtually as the one and only true form of representation of the all pervading God, presenting Himself easy, amenable and available for his adoration and worship. He is not really concerned with questions or doubts as to whether God, who is considered omniscient, omnipotent, infinite and beyond the reach of mind and intellect, can truly be restricted to the single name and form that he personally adores.

A true devotee and lover of God, having such a mindset, has no use for intellectual analysis about God. Hinduism actually encourages this single pointed devotion (Ishta Nishtha) as one of the best ways of relating to God. “What is needed is a child-like faith” ascertains Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

This single-pointed love (nishtha) on the personal God (Ishta) can get gloriously narrowed down to much further and finer levels too. A devotee of say, Lord Krishna, might be simply overwhelmed by the enchanting form of Krishna as a small cowherd boy and may get enthralled to read about Krishna’s divine plays and childhood pranks.

His love for God in Krishna’s form could be restricted to “Bala Krishna” (boy Krishna) only and he may not find any joy in imagining his God as a grown up Lord Krishna who is such a mighty personality that delivered the great spiritual discourse Bhagavat Gita to his companion Arjuna.

Pure Love For God (Prema) – The Need Before Vision

When such a highly focused love on a personal God turns to a passion, the devotee forgets everything else, even the basic human instinct to take care of his own physical body; Such a state of love on God is called “Prema Bhakti.”

When Prema Bhakti arrives, the time becomes ripe for him to get a divine vision of his personal God in all His glorious form that can render the devotee speechless with wonder. Ramakrishna says, “Prema is the rope by which you can tether God, as it were. Whenever you want to see him, you have to merely pull the rope. Whenever you call him, He will appear before you.”

Pure Mind, Pure Intellect and Pure Atman

When a devotee’s words, thoughts and actions are entirely filled with his love of his personal God, his mind is no longer an ordinary mind; his intellect is no longer an ordinary intellect. His mind is the purest of the minds; his intellect is the purest of the intellects. “Such a pure mind and the pure intellect are one and the same as the pure Atman residing inside him,” says Ramakrishna.

“When a devotee of Rama always thinks of Rama at the exclusion anything else, he himself becomes “Ramamaya (embodiment of Rama),” Ramakrishna adds. At the heightened spiritual state when the devotee becomes purity personified, what is left with him is pure Atman, which is nothing else than Rama for a Rama devotee. And this is the vision of the personal God that the devotee gets.

A non-believer may ask at this juncture: Is there any history of any such “seer of Rama”, to cite an example? Yes. there are several Hindus saints who have had the vision of Rama. One of the most recent saints whom we can recall here is Papa Ramadas, of Anandashram. We shall see his experience elaborated in another hub in this series.

Can God be Seen with Physical Eyes?

At another occasion, Ramakrishna says, “God cannot be seen with the physical eyes. When a devotee is filled with Prema, he gets a “love-body” and also organs made of prema (love) – love eyes, love ears and so on. It is with this “love eye” that one sees God… It is like a person having jaundice seeing everything yellow… One who thinks of God day and night beholds him everywhere.”

Ramakrishna – One Who has Seen God in Various Forms

Ramakrishna himself is a standing example of a person who had vision of his personal God Kali (the universal divine mother) . We shall see in the next part of this series, Ramakrishna’s ecstatic experience of his very first divine vision of Mother Kali, explained in his own words.

Though Ramakrishna is a living embodiment of divine love of his personal God, he is unique in his experience in having the visions of many other popular God forms of Hinduism like Shiva, (avatars) Rama, Sita, Krishna, Radha and Gouranga.

He has experimented with all other sects of Hinduism where God is perceived as formless and had the unifying experience of Advaita (non-duality) also in a meditative condition called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He practiced other religious faiths too and had a vision of Jesus Christ and also experienced Allah at his heart.

In the next part of this series, we shall see Ramakrishna’s experience in getting the vision of his beloved God Mother Kali.

More Questions and Doubts about Having God Vision

For those who are not Hindus and for those who are new to the above concepts, there may be several questions and doubts like:

  • Vision of God means what? In what form? Suppose one is a Christian, can he have a vision of Jesus?
  • What if one does not believe in God with form?
  • What happens to the famous non-dualistic philosophy of Hinduism where it is stated that there is no difference between individual soul and supreme soul? Where do those who believe it fit in?
  • What other disciplines should one practice? Where do formal worship, repeating God’s holy name (Japa), meditation etc fit in?
  • Some say, attain God by serving the humanity. Why do they say so?

Based on the teachings and the shared experiences of great masters like Sri Ramakrishna, we shall delve deep into the subject further in the following:

How to see God? Part -2

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the significance of Kalpatharu Day (January 1st, the New Year Day)

Sri Ma-(Mahendranath Gupta) The author of ‘Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrutham’ (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)

The year 1885 was coming to an end. For the ardent devotees of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, it was a year of pain and pleasure mixed together. Painful because their Master was suffering acutely owing to the cancer in his throat. The devotees had decided earlier to shift him from his abode at Dhakshnineswar Temple to Calcutta, initially for a brief period at Shyampukur and now to a palatial bungalow at Cossipore for the sake of better treatment and the convenience of attending to him all the 24 hours. Sri Ramakrishna’s young disciples as well as elderly householders took turns to be with him, attend to his needs and get blessed by his divine company.

By virtue of being in his company, their pleasures too were immeasurable. That was the remarkable divine play of an Avatar. Despite his severe pain in his throat, Sri Ramakrishna was continuously immersed in God; Despite his difficulty to speak, he could not help avoiding talking incessantly about spirituality; bhajans (devotional singing) were going on as usual in his company and the joy he radiated was infectious.

His food intake was dwindling dangerously. He could not consume anything better than porridge made of rava. His physique was gradually getting reduced to a skeleton. Like a child he would be worried too much about his health at times. He would writhe in unbearable pain and his pain will radiate as mental agony onto his devotees and attendants. Suddenly he would get immersed in deep Samadhi(remaining immersed in God consciousness) and a serene bliss would radiate from his face, the pain and agony he was suffering a moment earlier vanishing all of a sudden.

December 23, 1885, Mahendranath Gupta (Ma- The Author of Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) was conversing with him.

Master: “Well, How long will it take for me to recover from this illness?”

Ma: “Perhaps 5 to 6 months”. Sri Ramakrishna becomes impatient like a child and Ma consoles him.

Master:”Can you explain one thing? How is that in spite of all these visions, all the ecstasy and Samadhi, I am so ill?”

Ma: “Your suffering is no doubt great; but it has a deep meaning. A change is coming to your mind. It is being directed towards formless aspect of God. Even your “ego of knowledge” is vanishing”

Master: “That is right. My teaching of others is coming to an end. I cannot give any more instruction. I see that everything is Rama Himself. And sometimes I say to my self “who shall I teach?” You see, because I am living in a rented house, many kinds of devotees are coming here. Hope I shall not have to put up a signboardannouncing my lectures!”

(The Master and Ma- laugh)

Ma: “There is yet another purpose in this illness. It is the final sifting of disciples. The devotees have achieved in these few days what they could not realize in five years of tapasya (penance). Their love and devotion are growing by leaps and bounds!”

Master: “That may be true”
..
.Sri Ramakrishna went into Samadhi; regaining consciousness, he said: “I saw everything passing from form to formlessness. . Well, this tendency of mine towards the formless in only a sign of MY NEARING DISSOLUTION; Isn’t it so?”

Ma: (wonderingly) “It may be”
. . . .

It was January 1st, 1886 NEW YEAR DAY 

On this day, Sri Ramakrishna was free from the pain and suffering from the wounds in his throat. He looked refreshed and enthusiastic. After noon- 3 PM. Sri Ramakrishna felt inclined to take a walk at the gardens of the mansion and he walked down from his room in the first floor. Being a holiday, there were about thirty devotees, some resting under the trees in the garden and some engaged in the daily chores at the house. Some devotees who were with him upstairs accompanied him as he came down to walk.

Girish Gosh, Ram, Atul and such devotees who were resting in the garden engaged in conversation, were surprised to see Sri Ramakrishna coming down walking in the garden. They immediately rushed to him and prostrated before him.

Suddenly Sri Ramakrishna asked Girish Gosh, “Well, Girish, you are going around and proclaiming to every body that I am an avatar! What is the wondrous stuff that you have noticed in me?”

Girish, unperturbed by such a point blank question from Sri Ramakrishna, knelt before him, folded his hands and uttered in a quivering voice “My master, your glories that even Valmiki and Vyasa could not aptly and fully describe, how do you expect this ignorant idiot to explain?”

The words that came from Girish’s mouth carrying his deepest emotions in his heart seemed to have melted the heart of Sri Ramakrishna. He said “What’s more that I shall say, I bless you all. Be illumined!”(” Tomader ki ar boli ? Ami tomader sakalke ashirvad kori. Tomader sakaler Chaitanya hok“), saying this, Sri Ramakrishna attained Bhava Samadhi. The moment every one heard these words, they felt emotionally surcharged. It looked as though they lost their mental balance by the ecstasy. Forgetting that they should not touch Sri Ramakrishna at his samadhi state, every fell onto his feet and touched his toes and took the dust on their heads. One by one they did the same.

Sri Ramakrishna touched the heads of every one of them and blessed them. His spiritually surcharged touch by his hand created electrifying effect on every one of them. Some started laughing; some started crying; some sat down then and there in meditation. Some called out others to come and immediately get the share of the unexpected flow of divine grace from Sri Ramakrishna.

Sri Ramakrishna gradually attained outer consciousness and returned to his room. Those who got his divine touch that day understood that Sri Ramakrishna passed on his grace to them without really bothering about who is meritorious and who is not to receive his blessings. The emotionally surcharged devotees immediately shared with others the experiences they got by the touch of Sri Ramakrishna. Some said they felt unfathomable bliss, some saw a flash of divine light, some got the vision of their personal Gods. Every one felt that the bliss of the experience was indescribable.

After this incidence, Sri Ramakrishna felt a severe burning sensation all over his body. He asked for Ganges water and sprinkled it all over his body. It is normally interpreted that the Master acquired to himself the sins of those whom he touched that day.

* * * * * *
Post Script:

1) Sri Ramakrishna passed away 8 months later on 16th August 1886.

2) It is the Tradition for the followers of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to celebrate January 1st as Kalpatharu Day (Kalpatharu: The wish-fulfilling tree). On Jaunary first, between 3 to 4 PM, Sri Ramakrishna Temples (in all Sri Ramakrishna Mutts) will be kept open and ardent followers of Sri Ramakrishna will undertake meditation during this auspicious period. Many devotees feel that an unusual sense of peace could be experienced during this meditating period.

Sources:
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – RK Math Chennai
Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna (Tamil) – RK Math Chennai
A short life of Ma – Sri Ma Trust

“Verily, verily I say to you, that if you think on me, you will inherit my wealth, just as a son inherits the wealth of his father. And my wealth is Gyana (Spiritual Knowledge) and Bhakthi (Devotion) , Viveha (Discrimination) and Vairagya (Dispassion), shanthi and Anandam (peace and happiness) , prema and samadhi (intense love and realization of God)” – Sri Ramakrishna’s words of blessings to his intimate disciples – Ma

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on Trigunas – Sattwa Rajas and Tamas

Sri Ramakrishna, a divine avatar in the 19th century, whose conversations on Hinduism have been extensively recorded in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, has spoken very widely about “trigunas.”

Triguna means thee qualities, comprising of satva (purity and holiness), rajas(action and drive) and tamas(laziness and inertia). (To understand more about Trigunas, please read: Trigunas – Sattwa, Tamas and Rajas – The ancient Hindu Psychology) first.

Sri Ramakrishna says “God can be reached through satva guna. Rajas and Tamas separate us from God. Some compare sattwa to white color; rajas to red color and tamas to black,”

Sri Ramakrishna – He has elaborated a lot about Trigunas

 

Characteristics of People With Trigunas

Ramakrishna explains: “Pride, sleep and excessive eating are some of the identities of people of tamas. People with rajas engage themselves in many activities. Their dress will be pompous and shiny; their houses will display grandeur and be cleanly maintained; they will hang the portrait of the ‘queen’ (queen Victoria of British empire – it was the period when India was under British Rule)”

On the other hand, Ramakrishna says that, “People of sattwa guna will be soft and calm. They will earn just to have enough meals to live; they will not go out to sing praise on the rich to get money; their houses will not be properly maintained and may look unkempt. They will not bother about dressing impressively. They will not run around in hunt of name and fame.”

Play of Trigunas in Devotion to God

People’s gunas will be exposed in their attitude towards worship of God and in the practice of religious austerities too. Ramakrishna’s described his observation about devotees as follows:

Rajasic worship of God?

“The rajasic devotees  would wear silk clothes at the time of worship. They will wear a rosary made of ‘rudraksha’ around the neck and the rosary will have golden beads interspersed between rudraksha seeds. If someone visits their Puja Room, they will proudly take the visitor to show them around. Come this side; here are more to see; the floor is made of white marble; the ‘mantap’ (wooden enclosure where the God’s image is placed) has excellent carvings,” they will explain. They will donate to charities in a way visible to all.

 

 

As regards people of Sattwa guna, their contemplation about God, their acts of charity and their meditation will all be done secretively without the knowledge of others. They will sit inside the mosquito net and meditate. Others may think, “this man must have had poor sleep last night; that’s why he is sleeping so late.”

Ramakrishna says, “Sattwa is the last step in the stairs. By the next step, one can reach the roof. Once sattwa is in full measure, there won’t be much of delay to getGod’s vision. A little more progress will make one attain God.”

Trigunas – The Three Thieves

“The trigunas keep man under their spell; If sattwa is present, it drags rajas with it; If rajas is present, it drags tamas with it; All the three gunas are like thieves.

“Tamas destroys; rajas binds and sattwa releases one from bondage; but still, sattwa by itself cannot take you to Godliness, it can only show the way to God,” says Ramakrishna

He explains this concept of trigunas through the following story:

Once a rich man was traveling though a forest. Midway, he was suddenly surrounded by three thieves and they relieved him of all his possessions. Then one of the thieves said, “What’s the point in leaving him as such? Let’s kill him;” so saying, he advanced towards the rich man with his weapon. At that moment, the second thief intervened and said, “No. There is no use killing him; let us bind him thoroughly so that he cannot go and complain to the police.” So saying, he bound the man with a rope and all the thieves left the place.

After a while, the third thief returned to the place alone. He came near the rich man and said, “I am really sorry about the shabby treatment we have done to you. I will release you right now.”

So saying, he unbound the rich man, took him along showing the way through the winding paths of the jungle; finally they reached the outskirts of the forest and the highway was now visible. The thief said to the rich man “See, this is the road you can take now to reach your home.”

The rich man was moved. He said, “I am so grateful to you; won’t you please accompany me to my house? Our family will be very much pleased.” The thief replied: “I can’t come there. I will get caught by the police.” Saying so, he bidgoodbye to the man.

Ramakrishna explains that in the above parable, the thief who wanted to kill the rich man represents tamo guna. Tamas destroys. The second thief is rajas. It binds. It binds people to activities and make them forget God. The third thief is sattwa. It shows the way to reach God. Qualities like devotion, compassion, charity etc come from Satta. The rich man’s “own house” is the “Parabrahman.” One cannot attain the knowledge of the Brahman without transcending the three gunas.”

Active Engagement in Charity Work – Rajas or Satva?

During his meeting with Easwara Chandra Vidyasagar ( a great and well renowned scholar and philanthropist who lived during Ramakrishna’s period), Ramakrishna explained it this way: “Sir, what you are doing are acts of Sattwic karma; your rajas has its origins in sattwa. Out of sattwa comes compassion; even if your activities are based on compassion, activity by its very nature is rajasic. So, I would say, your activities are “rajasic sattwa;” so, they are harmless.”

Triguna and little children

When one studies the life of Ramakrishna, it is possible to understand how he himself lead a life of divinity, by transcending the trigunas. Ramakrishna used to frequently state that little children are divine because they too are beyond the fetters of Triguna. Only when a child grows, the three qualities start establishing their dominance on the character permanently. Sri Ramakrishna had a very keen eye to observe the behavior of children and he used to give very vivid and practical explanation of children’s behavior and how they are not bound by Trigunas.

We shall study further what Sri Ramakrishna says about Triguna and the behavior of children in the subsequent article.

Why is Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa revered as a great saint?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was not just a saint, but an Avatara Purusha. To his closest devotees, he had revealed that he was an avatar. There are so many aspects of him that make him great and we shall briefly see some of them here:

  • He was one of the great contributors to the revival of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) , which was precariously eclipsed by Western (Christian) influence due to the British Raj prevalent during his time (1836–1886).
  • He was one standing example to prove that every facet of Hinduism — be the path of Bhakti (including worship of multiple God forms), the path of Gnyana (ending up in Advaita Philosophy), the path (Pathanchali) Yoga (practices in meditation ending in Nirvikalpa Samadhi), the path of Kundalini Yoga (from Tantra) etc are all valid and true, by undergoing intense spiritual practices and experiencing Ultimate Truth in every path.
  • During his period, the path of Tantra, which was highly secretive was being practiced by some people for wrong purposes. Tantra involved spiritual practices involving experimentation in intimate man-woman relationship as a means to attain union of Soul and God and many of its rituals looked rather very extreme, dirty and abhorrent. Sri Ramakrishna was bold enough to even tread this path (guided by a senior lady Guru Bhairavi Brahmani) and was successful experiencing the highest state, by undergoing all the rigorous practices.Based on this experience, he could declare that even Tantra was a valid path to attain God; but he did not recommend it as a practice to his disciples, warning that there are more chances of falling rather than rising in that path for most people.
  • By his basic mindset, he was a Shakta (worshiper of Divine Mother, Shakti – Kali). At his earliest sadhana periods, he did intense tapas to get a darshan of Bhavatarini Kali (at Dakshineswar Temple) and got Her darshan. Devi merged in Him. He practiced Vaishnavism and had visions of Sri Rama, Devi Sita, Lord Krishna, Radha, Hanuman and many such God forms. He realised that all these God forms are verily inside Him.
  • Having tasted experience in God through various paths of Hinduism, he tried Islam and Christianity too and practicing and meditating on these paths, he realized that those paths also lead to God.
  • With such a varied experience behind him, he declared “As many faiths, so many paths”. He was a Vaishnava amidst devotees of Vishnu; he was a Shakta amidst devotees of Devi; he was a Christian amidst worshipers of Jesus. He was a Gnyani amidst Advaitis. He was a Yogi amidst yogis. People from every walk of life and every sect of religion who were blessed to come across him felt he was their own. Amidst all the paths, he proposed the path of Bakthi to one’s own Ishta (personal God) as the easiest and best way to attain God suited for majority of people.
  • He declared that kamini and kanchana (sex and gold) are the two greatest impediments for any spiritual seeker to attain God. He was emphatic and forthright that without relinquishing both, no spiritual attainment is ever possible.
  • He had no education beyond some primary schooling. This unassuming Brahmin was a simpleton to the core. He only spoke rustic Bengali. He could not touch money with his hand. He could not carry anything with him for tomorrow’s use.
  • He married when he was 24 years old and Saradadevi was 5 years old at that time. When Saradadevi came to live with him at Dakshineshwar, he declared to her that she was no different from the Divine Mother at the temple. Their life was a wonderful example to the world that a husband-wife relationship of the highest caliber was indeed possible without sex between them.
  • He spoke about God and spirituality all the time. Whatever he spoke was of the simplest and most easily comprehensible knowledge of the Supreme. What Pundits and scholars could not understand by reading Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, they could get clarification and clarity from this rustic Poojari who did not study Sanskrit.
  • After 12 years of intense sadhanas in so many paths, he was ready to teach the world. He cried to divine mother to send qualified and eager aspirants who are yearning for divine knowledge. And young and educated aspirants started coming. During his living time, hardly three dozen people knew that he was a Mahatma/ Avatara par excellence.
  • It was his divine scheme that all his teachings and all his spiritual wealth was meant to be distributed to the outer world after his death (that happened due to his throat cancer when he was 50).
  • Lead by Swami Vivekananda, 16 of his young disciples left worldly life and took up Sanyas and lead a life of intense austerities after his death. Sarada Devi gave them emotional and spiritual support. Initiated by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math came up much later after his death.
  • Selfless service was one of the activities of Sri Ramakrishna Math. The inspiration for this came to Swami Vivekananda from Sri Ramakrishna who declared that as every human being is verily a form of God, we can serve God by serving them.
  • All his precious teachings of spirituality in the simplest language was destined to be given to the world after his death by his house Holder devotee Sri Ma- (Mahendra Nath Gupta). His Bengali book Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamritam (later in English The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) became a source book of Hinduism for every ordinary person to read, grasp and practice.