"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATASri Ramakrishna: The Significance of His Advent  




               Sri Ramakrishna: The Significance of His Advent



                Swami Sandarshanananda





     The world is now wearing an unsightly look, reeking of an imminent calamity. The sacrilege committed by the self-serving everywhere is unbounded; its purging seems impossible. Among the animals, tyranny of the strong over the weak is instinctive. Unfortunately, it seems to be the case with the intelligent Homo sapiens too. Might and money seem to rule the roost. The two have melted into a dubious one to perpetrate the mischief. The richer we are, the larger is our influence. Throwing a piece before the hapless, we draw him to owe allegiance to us; if he chooses to remain wayward, we take umbrage at him and lead him to face dire consequences. Prowess of the penny is the peril of the day. As it is true for individuals, so is it true for nations.


     This lamentable condition earnestly bids us to wake up to our senses immediately. While pride and pleasure have on the one hand reduced a few of us into brutes, penury and privation on the other have turned a majority of us cynical. It is, in fine, the crisis of our character that has relegated us to the dungeon of distress. To change the prevailing circumstances is indeed difficult, but not absurd, given the right intention for its accomplishment. We ought to realize the fact that the world will not change unless we change ourselves.


     Needless to mention, due to globalization our fates are inextricably linked with each other. Accordingly, sharing is said to be the key to a healthy society. But can it be effective without a thorough change in the attitude of man? Is it not ridiculous to expect brotherly behaviour between man and man before his spiritual regeneration? Why should one feel for others if one harbours no sense of belonging to them? Addressing basic queries such as these could perhaps pave the path of peace for us.


     Talking of the inner transformation we have to simultaneously think about an effective stimulus for its achievement. There is hardly any room for argument regarding the truth that, despite numerous sedulous attempts to obliterate it or use it for evil purposes, religion has not lost an iota of its importance yet. Undoubtedly, it is still the only means to do good to humanity, for religion is essentially ingrained in man and it alone rekindles all auspicious qualities in him, when he makes it the summum bonum of his life. It is the great milch cow that has given many kicks, but never mind, it gives a great deal of milk. The milkman does not mind the kick of the cow which gives much milk. (1)


     Paradoxically, although man could ill afford to dispense with religion, he has nevertheless failed to comprehend that religion is, in fact, one and universal; only its manifestations are many and variable; its core is immutable and eternal as it is primarily concerned only with the Absolute, or God. The story of human civilization is a procession of rise and fall of events with the progress of time. And religion is all the time beside them, remaining in peoples constitution, occasionally unfolding itself, bringing out the propitious in every sphere of human endeavour. But sometimes when it is deeply buried under the rubble of arrant materialism, its physical appearance before us is urgently necessitated, and the most practical way of its happening is the arising in a human form of what we call an incarnation of God. Being man, maybe he then behaves like any other person, but he lives the life of Religion Eternal, demonstrating its intricacies in his own character, which conspicuously sets Him apart from the common run of men.


     Ironically, because of our ignorance our inane selves are seldom aware of his august presence in our midst, though we require him the most. He is there in front of us in blood and flesh and incessantly working to lay the foundation for a revolution to be perpetuated for centuries, evolving a spiritual metamorphosis in the world.


     The significance of the advent of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna in modern times becomes intelligible only if it is considered in this light. While he was living with us sometime ago, we were not bothered about him. Now that we are in trouble and are in search of a mooring to lay anchor, we are beginning to learn the implications of his contributions. He was so long a gift unopened, as it were.


     Man today is tired of the rat race and the persecutions of gross sectarianism. The hard slogs of genuflections and homilies from the pulpits have bored him intolerably. It is Sri Ramakrishna who has first shown that religion is intense love of God and its surge washes out all discriminations. Smitten with its intensity man is able to transcend all human limitations. Barriers of colour, clime and creed no more pose vicious distinctions before him. To him then the Lord is the Source of all beings and we, His children, have a common identity in His existence. This simple but profound message of Sri Ramakrishna is the panacea for all human sufferings since it bears no stigma of fanaticism and lopsidedness.



     The Preceptor

     Sri Krishna is compared to the milkman who milks the cows of supreme Knowledge (the Upanishads) for the benefit of the wise and Arjuna, the calf. (2) Being His able disciple, Arjuna manifests the best in him and works like a medium to carry the Bhagavadgita to the world at large for its spiritual nourishment. The relationship between Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda is somewhat similar. When the existence of God was critically questioned in the nineteenth century, Sri Ramakrishna made God palpable to Swamiji so surely as to make him his follower for life. Since then Swamiji did not waver from that position till he breathed his last. Swamiji asked Sri Ramakrishna if he had seen God. Pat came the reply, Yes, I see Him just as I see you, only in a much intenser sense. God can be realised. One can see and talk with Him as I am doing with you. (3) These words he spoke with extraordinary aplomb. It diminished all confusions in Swamiji and he was sure that religion is direct perception of God. In 1896, while interpreting religion in a logical and scientific language to an enlightened audience in America, he said, It is a vision, an inspiration, a plunge into the unknown and unknowable, making the unknowable more than known, for it can never be known (emphasis added). (4) But it took almost a quixotic effort for Sri Ramakrishna to tame the bull in Vivekananda. Once tamed, his loyalty to him was total, as indicated by his confession later: I love that Brahmin priest [Sri Ramakrishna] intensely, and therefore, love whatever he used to love, whatever he used to regard! (7.413-4)


     On the eve of taking his sannyasa vows, Swamiji was torn between his obligation towards his mother and younger brothers and to his guru. He wrote in a letter to Haridas Viharidas Desai from Chicago on 29 January 1894, So on the one hand, my vision of the future of Indian religion and that of the whole world, my love for the millions of beings sinking down and down for ages with nobody to help them, nay, nobody with even a thought for them; on the other hand, making those who are nearest and dearest to me miserable; I choose the former. (8.297-8) Swamiji was grateful that he had the good fortune to sit at Sri Ramakrishnas feet for years. He observed that Sri Ramakrishna would see in every sect the same spirit working, the same God; one who would see God in every being, one whose heart would weep for the poor, for the weak, for the outcast, for the downtrodden, for everyone in this world, inside India or outside India; and at the same time whose grand brilliant intellect would conceive of such noble thoughts as would harmonise all conflicting sects, not only in India but outside of India, and bring a marvellous harmony, the universal religion of head and heart into existence. (3.267)


     Sri Ramakrishna makes a clean breast of the fact that a particular religion is not a straitjacket that must fit all and sundry in the same manner, irrespective of their individualities. The only purpose of religion is realization of God. And there may be innumerable ways to serve this purpose. As one kind of food cannot be suitable for all, so also one single faith cannot be equally useful for all, though the aim of all faiths is to win love of God, which is the ultimate unifying factor among their followers in the one universal perspective of Religion. Any deliberate attempt to bind it in the stringent laws of rituals and practices is a sham. He, therefore, professed varieties of religious experiences by dint of his own spiritual attainment. He said that he would like to taste the love of God in as many ways as possible. His one constant prayer to the Lord was that he should not be made a plastic saint.



     The Precept

     Laden with such teachings, the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is a treasure trove to many all over the world, cutting across the boundaries of countries and creeds. That relentless flood of passion for God with continuous flow of scenes is never to be found in any other book of its kind. The slightest suggestion or hint regarding Him from any aspirant, whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim, was enough to transport Sri Ramakrishna to the realm of God in blissful ecstasy. Vivid descriptions of such day-to-day happenings from his life have made the Gospel a precious document.


     The lucre fetched by technological advancement has made man arrogant and restless. The cause of his moroseness is his restive mind engrossed in the lust for pelf and power. He has consciously put their chain upon himself and has missed thus the freedom of thought. The crusading mind of Sri Ramakrishna revolted against their atrocity and forsook the tinsel of modern society. His conscience was clear:


     Just because this proving that man is not a machine is the essence of all religious thought, it is impossible to think it in the routine mechanical way. It is the tendency to bring everything down to the level of a machine that has given the West its wonderful prosperity. And it is this which has driven away all religion from its doors. Even the little that is left, the West has reduced to a systematic drill. (8.302)


     Sri Ramakrishna was left disgruntled, though unscathed by the deep agony inflicted by extravagant epicureanism. He abandoned bread-winning education to show that academic exercise is not absolutely necessary to be happy in life. Rather, if it is pursued with an ambition in view, it multiplies desires and strengthens the ego. In the demeanour of a poor villager with a veneer of rusticity, he exhibited that living a simple life surrendering to God was the only means for happiness and tranquillity. Poised at the farthest end from the formal study of scriptures and metaphysics, he exerted an undeniable appeal on the educated clique around him who were believed to have been responsible for the Indian renaissance. To stay indifferent in the face of the irresistible lure of the spiritual opulence of his character was difficult for them. What is the harm in recognizing a personality such as his who proved himself to be nonpareil among his peers, as our pathfinder who never did or thought anything unholy, whose intellect only through intuition stands head and shoulders above all the other prophets, because they were all one-sided? It was he that brought first to the world this idea of truth not in but of every religion, which is gaining ground all over the world, and that without the help of science or philosophy or any other acquirement. (8.299)


     The concept of the divinity of man propounded by Sri Ramakrishna was an illustrious landmark in the history of mankind. It has altered the long-nurtured concept of man the sinner. He argues, if we are the children of the Lord, and if He happens to be immortal Bliss and Holiness per se, where is there space for us to be sad and sinful? Light and darkness cannot reside together; one replaces the other. One who takes refuge in the Lord and whose mind is absorbed in His glory can never nurse impious thoughts. He practises what he preaches and reaches its acme, showing that in him the man was all dead and only God remained; he actually could not see sin, he was literally of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. (7.85; emphasis added)


     Polytheism and idol worship would not perturb Sri Ramakrishna the least. Contrarily, they were grist to his mill as he was keen on realizing God through different methods of spiritual practice. If God was infinite, infinite were the ways to reach Him was his conviction. Why should he then be short of anything? So, resorting to the essence of all the major religions, apparently conflicting, he realized God, and in the process confirmed that devotion to God is central to all religions; short of that religion is nonsense. All quarrels are over the chaff leaving the grain, which is available in all faiths. Dualism, qualified non-dualism and pure non-dualism, he professed, were not contradictory, but complementary to each other. Adopting these moods from time to time like a psychic amphibian, he used to float between them with ease and brilliance. Watching him day in and day out, Swami Vivekananda arrived at the following conclusion:


     Such a unique personality, such a synthesis of the utmost of Jnana, Yoga, Bhakti and Karma, has never before appeared among mankind. The life of Sri Ramakrishna proves that the greatest breadth, the highest catholicity and the utmost intensity can exist side by side in the same individual, and that society also can be constructed like that, for society is nothing but an aggregate of individuals.



     He is the true disciple and follower of Sri Ramakrishna, whose character is perfect and all-sided like this. The formation of such a perfect character is the ideal of this age, and everyone should strive for that alone. (7.412)


     Gradually but perceptibly, it is dawning on the probing minds of people of all walks of life from all parts of the world that Sri Ramakrishna gave in one single life the remedies of all human maladies, for the present and for centuries ahead. In that respect he is more modern than the most modern man of our times and, eventually, is the most indispensable spiritual leader for us. Evidence of this fact is traceable to the works of minds susceptible to the compelling spell he is unobtrusively casting everywhere. For instance, introducing himself as a Christian who finds himself just as much at home in the Indian spiritual sphere as he does in his inherited Catholic faith, the German author Hans Torwesten writes introducing his book Ramakrishna and Christ:


     For most Christians, Ramakrishna - if they know him at all - is fortunately not a red rag to a bull. Christians have written almost always with approval about him and about the Ramakrishna Mission founded by his disciple Swami Vivekananda. When his picture was placed on the altar one evening in an English Dominican friary during a retreat in which Hindus as well as Catholics and Protestants participated and an Indian Swami celebrated a short Arati service before it, none of the Christians stood up to tear down the picture. It even happens that a Benedictine monk hangs up a large picture of Ramakrishna in his study and this not in India, as a gesture of tolerance, but in Germany, in the very depths of the Western World. One at once asks oneself what such a monk can see in Ramakrishna - a sage, a Hindu Saint Francis or even a revelation of God - only of course on a more modest scale than the revelation of God in Christ. (5)


     Torwesten then describes Ramakrishna as a phenomenon which has always been approached with a certain warmth of feeling and sympathy though a serious encounter with him has been avoided, because in some way he is too close to Christians. And the alluded apprehension is understandable because of Sri Ramakrishnas all-consuming spiritual eminence.


     Sri Ramakrishna repudiated book learning, but was taught by nature itself, so his learning was not partial. His knowledge was complete. His penetrating insight was able to perceive our weaknesses and, thereby, provide their treatments. He worshipped God as the Mother of the universe. He was a child in Her lap; he was never separate from Her. Hence his whole being was obviously saturated with the sentiment of God the Mother. He was aware that the world was Her divine play and we are all caught in its mesh, a make-believe of unreality as reality. Winning Her affection we have somehow to wiggle ourselves free from the hook of Her inscrutable charm.


     That is what is practically displayed by Sri Ramakrishna. The tenor of his life demonstrated that to surrender to God totally is to be entirely independent of the flux of mundane affairs. He had proved that The ideal man is he who, in the midst of the greatest silence and solitude, finds the intensest activity, and in the midst of the intensest activity, finds the silence and solitude of the desert. (6) The complexity of our life has made us too self-conscious and lonely in spite of our coexistence with our dear ones. The frustration of this loneliness is the root of our sufferings as it is taking us away from God. Sri Ramakrishna has shown us how to be at rest being alone with God in the midst of the din and bustle of the world. The blissful state of Aloneness in the company of the Divine Mother, as he enjoyed without break, only can save us from the predicament of this mire. We must know for sure that the love of God is the only recipe that can make our life delectable and meaningful; in its absence everything on earth is dull and deplorable.


     Swamiji punctiliously performed the task of teaching the universal religion as entrusted by his Master. His allegiance to him was exemplary. In the course of a lecture delivered after returning from America, he publicly pronounced with extreme humility: let me say now that if I have told you one word of truth, it was his and his alone, and if I have told you many things which were not true, which were not correct, which were not beneficial to the human race, they were all mine, and on me is the responsibility. (3.268)




     Of all the persons who came in close contact with Sri Ramakrishna, Swamiji was the one whom he considered the most competent bearer of his message, for he alone could judge its importance for posterity. He says, He is the method, that wonderful unconscious method! He lived that great life; and I read the meaning. Never a word of condemnation for any! (8.267)


     The problem is with our endless cravings. Sri Ramakrishna says the hassle will be over once the desires in our hearts are extinguished for good. The culture of self-aggrandizement has induced us into the worst kind of contest and jealousy. In the strain of his voice Swamiji therefore says, The Lord has hidden Himself best, and His work is best; so he who hides himself best, accomplishes most. (7.15)


     Should we require assistance to earn solace, to be away from the inferno of worldly suffering, we must not hesitate to pick up the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna lying at our elbow. We will know from it how to put God in the middle of our existence in order to convert our life into a pleasure hut. In this connection, the book Sri Ramakrishna: A Prophet for the New Age by Richard Schiffman also commends itself for useful reading. The author concludes his work saying about Sri Ramakrishna:


     The Baul [a pastoral folk singer of Bengal] had come and gone. But his band would continue to dance their way through nearly half of the twentieth century. Through most of the nations of the earth, through India, through the alien lands of Europe and America and the Far East, they would dance their heady dance - unsung, unknown perhaps to the great mass of men, but not without sowing the flaming seeds of Love on the winds of the dark age of untruth.(7)


     Sri Ramakrishna is the spiritual paradigm for the new era and Swamiji is the spearhead of the movement initiated by him. They have shown a silver lining of hope, in the midst of the chaos, of a seeming grey future of mankind. The earlier we fall in line with their direction, the better it is for us.




     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 7.44.

     2. Bhagavadgita, Dhyana, 4.

     3. Swami Gambhirananda, History of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1983), 16.

     4. CW, 3.1.

     5. Hans Torwesten, Ramakrishna and Christ (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1999), xi.

     6. CW, 1.34.

     7. Richard Schiffman, Sri Ramakrishna: A Prophet for the New Age (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1994), 228.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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