SkyLight Illuminations Series, Andrew Harvey, series editor, SkyLight Paths Publishing, Originally recorded in Bengali by M, a disciple of the Master, Translation by Swami Nikhilananda, Selections reprinted by permission of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York
"The utterances in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna give us the essence of all spirituality and spiritual quest. They...inspire seekers of all faiths toward the supreme goal of life. Selections from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna introduces the Gospel to an ever-widening circle of spiritual seekers all over the world. The publisher, SkyLight Paths, deserves our gratitude for this valuable contribution."
It has been said that one moment in the company of an enlightened master is more valuable than a hundred years of sincere worship. Relatively few people ever get the opportunity to meet a man or woman of the highest realization. Yet so powerful is the influence of these great souls that even a written account of what it is like to be in their presence can impart to us the fragrance of their divine companionship.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is such an account. Well over a century after his death, Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) is still capturing hearts and making them long for the truth of divine life, through this classic record of his encounters with disciples and devotees. Because the full-length book is very long and sometimes daunting for newcomers, this collection of annotated excerpts is offered as an entrée into the world of this unique spiritual personality.
Sri Ramakrishna's ecstatic mystical states, the wisdom and humor of his storytelling, his childlike purity, and his expression of both the masculine and feminine energies of divine love are just a few of the qualities, reflected in this book, that make him so appealing. In particular, he is recognized worldwide for his message that all religions are paths to the truth. Of all the noteworthy spiritual leaders produced by India in the modern era, Sri Ramakrishna seems to have played a special role in heralding the movement toward harmony and tolerance in our time. Although at present the world appears engulfed in religious conflict, the seed of unity planted by Ramakrishna must eventually bear its fruit.
Sri Ramakrishna (Sri, pronounced Shree, is an honorific title) was born Gadadhar Chatterjee in a remote village of the Bengali-speaking region of eastern India now known as West Bengal. His parents were poor brahmins, the highest-ranking social group in the Hindu caste system, traditionally associated with the occupations of teacher and priest. A sensitive child with talent in devotional singing, acting in religious dramas, and making images of deities, Gadadhar received a simple village education and also learned the formal rituals of worship at a young age. At sixteen he traveled to Calcutta to assist his elder brother, Ramkumar, in his duties as a priest. Within a few years, they began serving at a large new temple complex in the nearby village of Dakshineshwar, Ramkumar becoming priest of the temple of Kali-- the great goddess known as the Divine Mother— while Gadadhar was appointed to one of the smaller shrines. When Ramkumar fell ill and died in 1856, Gadadhar assumed the role of priest to the Divine Mother. From this time, the young man's already fervent inner life began to intensify as he plunged into a quest of desperate spiritual longing that would transform him into the God-intoxicated sage revered as Ramakrishna.
He began to spend long periods in solitary meditation and sometimes neglected his formal duties while he lost himself in singing ecstatically before the temple image of Kali. In her he experienced the all-loving Mother of the Universe, despite her frightening appearance (see illustration on p. 134). A fierce black figure, her hair in wild disarray and her tongue protruding from her mouth, Kali has four arms: one hand holds a bloody sword, another a decapitated head of a demon, and the other two make gestures of blessing and reassurance to her worshippers. She wears a garland of human skulls and a girdle made of severed arms. A symbol of feminine power that energizes all masculine divinity, she stands on the corpse of her husband, Shiva. To this awesome goddess, bestower of both life and death, blessings and misfortunes, Ramakrishna wept and prayed, begging for a vision of her reality.
When his desperation reached its peak, his prayer was granted, and the Mother revealed herself as the infinite, effulgent Ocean of Bliss--the first of many visions of Divinity he was to experience. In the phase of spiritual intoxication that followed, Ramakrishna's behavior--including such sacrilegious acts as feeding a cat with food meant as an offering to the Goddess--appeared outrageous to some. Others, however, accepted his madness as evidence of his realization, for he now directly saw the presence of the Mother at play in all things.
With the idea that marriage might "cure" him, Ramakrishna was encouraged to wed, and at age twenty-three he was betrothed to a five-year-old girl of his own choosing, named Sarada. According to custom, such a marriage would be consummated when the bride reached puberty, but this was never to occur in the case of Ramakrishna and Sarada. Although she eventually came to live with her husband at Dakshineshwar, it was as his spiritual companion and disciple, and he in turn treated her as a living manifestation of the Divine Mother.
In the meantime, Ramakrishna's inner journey continued to unfold through a series of unusual spiritual experiments. In 1861 he came into contact with the first of several gurus, a woman master of Tantra under whose guidance his divine frenzy was transformed into the joyous attitude of a child delighting in the blissful play created by his Mother. It was this guru who first declared Ramakrishna to be an avatar, a direct manifestation of God in human form. Two of the signs of this status, accepted by religious authorities, were said to be his ability to remain for long periods in a state of divine absorption and the power of granting spiritual awakening through his touch.
Over the next several years, Ramakrishna worshipped the Divine under different names and forms--as the avatars of Rama and Krishna, as the formless Brahman of Vedanta philosophy, as the God of Islam, and as Jesus Christ. Through his own inner experiences of the truths taught by various sects and creeds, Ramakrishna became a living embodiment of the essence of all true religion. His life itself was his gospel of unity amid diversity.
In time Sri Ramakrishna began to attract wider public notice, and people flocked to his little room in the temple garden overlooking the Ganges River. At the feet of this humble village priest, who spoke in simple vernacular language, sat scholars of Sanskrit, Western-educated Bengali intellectuals, and wealthy landowners as well as ordinary people. The conversations recounted in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishn—recorded by one of the participants, Mahendranath Gupta (referred to in the text as "M" or Mahendra)-- took place among the Master's male devotees and disciples, but he had a devoted group of female followers as well. The streams of visitors were entranced by his homespun parables, his profound spiritual knowledge, and the awe-inspiring accounts of his visions. And now and then, as the Master drifted into the state of divine absorption known as samadhi, they simply basked in the beauty of his presence.
Sri Ramakrishna's most beloved disciple, Swami Vivekananda, once posed the question of how we are to recognize a true teacher. The Master gave this answer: "In the first place, the sun requires no torch to make it visible. We do not light a candle to see the sun. When the sun rises, we instinctively become aware of its rising; and when a teacher of men comes to help us, the soul will instinctively know that it has found the truth. Truth stands on its own evidences; it does not require any other testimony to attest it; it is self-effulgent. It penetrates into the innermost recesses of our nature, and the whole universe stands up and says, This is the Truth."
That radiant presence is here now, as you turn these pages.
A Brahmo Devotee: "Sir, has God forms or has He none?"
Master: "No one can say with finality that God is only 'this' and nothing else. He is formless,
and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani--the Vedantist, for instance--always reasons, applying the process of 'Not this, not this.' Through this discrimination he realizes, by inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He cannot describe what Brahman is.
"Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence, as it were, of the bhakta's love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel anymore that God is a Person, nor does one see God's forms. What He is cannot be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his 'I' anymore.
"If one analyzes oneself, one doesn't find any such thing as 'I'. Take an onion, for instance. First of all you peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other and you won't find anything inside.
"In that state a man no longer feels the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state—in his own Pure Consciousness—about the real nature of Brahman?
"There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. A man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the 'I', which may be likened to a salt doll, melts in the Ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest trace of distinction is left.
"As long as his self-analysis is not complete, man argues with much ado. But he becomes silent when he completes it. When the empty pitcher has been filled with water, when the water inside the pitcher becomes one with the water of the lake outside, no more sound is heard. Sound comes from the pitcher as long as the pitcher is not filled with water.
"All trouble and botheration come to an end when the 'I' dies. You may indulge in thousands of reasonings, but the 'I' doesn't disappear. For people like you and me it is good to have the feeling, 'I am a lover of God.'
Offers today's spiritual seeker an enjoyable entry into the great classic texts of the world's spiritual traditions. Each classic is presented in an accessible translation, with facing pages of guided commentary from experts, offering readers the keys they need to understand the history, context, and meaning of the text. The series enables readers of all backgrounds to experience and understand classic spiritual texts directly, and to make them a part of their lives.
Bhagavad Gita: Annotated & Explained
The Way of the Pilgrim: Annotated & Explained
The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated & Explained
Zohar: Annotated & Explained
Dhammapada: Annotated & Explained