According to Vedanta, the ultimate spiritual Reality is self-existent and self-effulgent. It transcends all names and forms, but takes on forms for the sake of devotees. Sri Ramakrishna compares the formless Reality to the water of the ocean and God with form to blocks of ice in that water. Just as water freezes at places in the ocean due to intense cold, so the formless spiritual Reality assumes divine forms due to the cooling influence of the devotee's love.
As sincere seekers keen on making progress in the realm of the Spirit, we need to understand an important point. The formless aspect of God may seem intellectually more satisfying than God with form; yet if we are body-conscious and are swayed by desires, we will find the way of devotion to a divine form more beneficial than the way of Knowledge involving the formless God. Says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (12.5-6): "The task of those whose minds are set on the Unmanifest (the indefinable and incomprehensible Absolute) is more difficult; for the ideal of the Unmanifest is hard to attain for those who are conscious of their bodies and attached to them. But those who consecrate all their actions to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme Goal, and who worship Me, meditating on Me with single-minded concentration-to them whose minds are thus absorbed in Me, verily I become before long the Saviour from the death-fraught ocean of the world."
Sri Ramakrishna emphasized the way of devotion because it is more suited to the present age: "To follow jnanayoga in this age is very difficult. First, a man's life depends entirely on food. Second, he has a short span of life. Third, he can by no means get rid of body-consciousness; and the Knowledge of Brahman is impossible without the destruction of body-consciousness. The Jnani says: 'I am Brahman; I am not the body. I am beyond hunger and thirst, disease and grief, birth and death, pleasure and pain.' How can you be a Jnani if you are conscious of disease, grief, pain, pleasure, and the like? A thorn enters your flesh, blood flows from the wound, and you suffer very badly from the pain; but nevertheless, if you are a Jnani you must be able to say: 'Why, there is no thorn in my flesh at all. Nothing is the matter with me.' Therefore bhaktiyoga is prescribed for this age. By following this path one comes to God more easily than by following the [other paths]."
Until the right time comes, however, God remains just a three-letter word to many people and they remain impervious to spiritual teachings. According to Sri Ramakrishna, as long as we have not had our share of enjoyment in the world, our mind does not turn toward God. Again, God is in no great hurry to wean us from sense enjoyment and direct our minds to Him. As Sri Ramakrishna says, the mother is busy with her cooking, and the child remains happy playing with its toys. When the child no longer wants the toys, throws them away, and cries for its mother, she comes running, takes it on her lap and begins to nurse it. Similarly, when we develop dispassion for sense objects and yearn for God, the source of supreme Bliss, He quickly responds to our prayer.
(To be continued)