About Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, whose 183rd birth anniversary was observed on February 18, Romain Rolland wrote, "Ramakrishna was a rare combination of individuality and universality, personality and impersonality. His words and examples have been echoed in the hearts of the Western men and women. His soul animates modern India." Christopher Isherwood termed his advent as a phenomenon, exceptional and mysterious, in the history of humanity.
He was a prominent figure in 19th century renaissance of Bengal. He brought about tremendous socio-cultural transformation with his religious liberalism, divine humanism and all-embracing largeness of vision at a time when Western materialism was very fast engulfing the entire gamut of Indian life with loss of traditional ethics and values. In spite of being illiterate, he spoke from the wisdom of his heart and depth of profound realization, which attracted eminent intellectuals to him.
The same has now been spread all over the world by the Ramakrishna Mission, which stands for selfless service to suffering humanity, human fraternity, spiritual universalism, religious harmonization, women's empowerment, removal of communalism, and selective acceptance from the West together with revival of ancient orientalism.
Born in a remote village Kamarpukur in Hooghly district of undivided Bengal in 1836 he was brought to Kolkata for earning livelihood. Despite being a petty temple priest in Dakshineswar, out of intense metaphysical quest he adventured into the realm of Spirit and attained cosmic consciousness with indomitable spiritual aspiration with his sublimated mind free from all worldly attachments and full of longing for God.
Thereafter, under guidance of Totapuri with incredible rapidity he delved into the non-dual Absolute, sitting motionless for three consecutive days. With intense curiosity he wanted to know the truth of other major religions as well not as bookish knowledge but as a matter of direct experience, as spirituality does not concern intellectual knowing but becoming and identifying with being beyond body-mind externals.
He was curious to know the essence of mystic Sufism and Islam, and started living and practicing Islam under the guidance of a fakir. During that time he dressed himself like a Muslim and followed the Islamic rituals in every detail leaving aside his earlier practice. The truth of Islam was flashed before him. He experienced and believed in its greatness. He meditated deeply on Jesus Christ continuously till Christ appeared in a vision and induced the essence of Christianity in him.
In the same way the truth of the Buddhism was also revealed to him. Thus he experienced identical realization of truth through various religions and consequently proclaimed that every religion concerning the ultimate truth is an alternative way to realization. God is limitless and called by different names in different religions and innumerable are the ways to attain Him.
Rabindranath Tagore paid homage to this unique aspect of Sri Ramakrishna in a poem written in Bengali, "Diverse courses of worship from varied springs of fulfillment have mingled in your meditation. The manifold realization of the joy of the Infinite has given form to a shrine of unity in your life, where from far and near arrive salutations to which I join mine own."
Keshab Sen first introduced his astounding esoteric life to the intellectuals through an article in Indian Mirror. Michael Madhusudan and Bankimchandra met him. His discourse with Vidyasagar is highly illuminating. He blessed actress Binodini for awakening into consciousness after enjoying her acting when such females used to be despised, and transformed the life of dramaist Girishchandra to be an exemplary devotee.
Sri Ramakrishna advised everybody to follow his own traditional path as the best way to reach the final destination, provided he is honest, sincere and have true longing for God. Instead of conventional concept of religious toleration he advocated acceptance and appreciation of every religion as one of the diverse ways to realization in God's plenty and infinite variety. One must appreciate religious diversity leaving aside narrow fanaticism or dogmatism.
When a highly educated visitor said, "I am inclined to think of God as formless Spirit." Sri Ramakrishna readily approved, "Well, stick to your conviction. But never think that this alone is true. God with form is just as true as God without form. Attracted by the soothing devotion of the devotees the Absolute manifests as solid ice but before the sun of wisdom the same evaporates away into formless air.
He is limitless and is not bound by time, space, causality and attributes." The Unknown and Unknowable can be glimpsed by penetrating diverse layers of existence. The Almighty is mighty enough to manifest before the devotee according to his grasping ability. He harmonized apparently dissimilar beliefs in the context of massive unity behind the apparent diversity.
He said, "Different people call on [God] by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it 'jal', others at another place and call it 'pani', and still others at a third place and call it 'water'. The Hindus call it 'jal', the Christians 'water', and the Moslems 'pani'. But it is one and the same thing."
"One can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope; so too, diverse are the ways of approaching God, and each religion in the world shows one of the ways. . . . A truely religious man should think that other religions are also so many paths leading to the Truth. One should always maintain an attitude of respect towards other religions."
He never approved stereotyped living merely after worldly pursuits. He was unwavering in assertion that sole purpose of life is God-realization and everything else ends in futility and pain. Until and unless the flame of desire is extinguished we can never get permanent peace. Life without divine aspiration is utterly sterile. Intense yearning is the key to realization which can be cultivated by association with saints of all religions, discriminative analysis and soulful prayer to God.
Upward destination towards divine leaves the domain of doing and possessing far behind and results in inward renunciation. Significantly, Sri Ramakrishna was not an ascetic but a householder despite absolute renunciation of sense-gratification and possessiveness. Non-attachment is an essential state of mind for spiritual realization which develops alongside love for God.
But human ego survives on earthly desires and downward gravitational pull. Delusive ego is so deceptive that we cannot recognize our most intimate enemy lying within. As long as we are anchored in the ego every effort for spiritual progress gets defeated.
The best course is to surrender to the Almighty and live like a dead leaf to be driven by divine will. Surrender is a unique state of mind arising out of sincere understanding of the incapability of the ego and realization of the loving care and omnipotence of God. As long as ignorance prevails the world is full of suffering, but before spiritual wisdom it appears as cosmic drama or divine play for joy.
The great master passed away on 16th August 1886, but his universal message has been carried forward by a few ascetic disciples who formed grand monastery in his name under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda all over the world. The most vital message of Sri Ramakrishna is that every religion is a way to God and every way of worship reaches Him who is our nearest of the near and dearest of the dear.
Let all religions and nations live in harmony and peace and flourish like diverse flowers in the garden of God and let each separate note sweeten the symphony of the cosmic music of the supreme One without a second.
Arnold Toynbee rightly said, ""Sri Ramakrishna's message was unique in being expressed in action. Religion is not just a matter for study, it is something that has to be experienced and to be lived, and this is the field in which Sri Ramakrishna manifested his uniqueness. His religious activity and experience were, in fact, comprehensive."
The writer is a columnist
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