The Tree of Knowledge
Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa Jayanti
Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa Jayanti, which falls on the second day of Phalgun Shukla Paksh every year, is celebrated with great joy and happiness across India in early March, especially at the headquarters Belur Math and all the branches of the Ramakrishna Mission. Large numbers of people belonging to different religions, as also non-Indians, come together to pay their homage to him. This year we celebrated the 178th birthday anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna on 13th March.
Ramakrishna Paramhansa was an incomparable saint, whose teachings have influenced many lives across the globe to this day, becoming more and more distinct as the effects of his God-centered life impacts our contemporary human culture. He was born in 1836 at Kamarpukur in West Bengal, about 70 miles from Kolkata. During his short life span of 50 years, he exercised a profound spiritual influence. He taught that there is one supreme power of Almighty whether he is Bhagavan of Hindus or Allah of Muslims, Jesus of Christians or Guruji of Sikhs. That absolute power remains one and only one, only the name differs from religion to religion.
Message of Sri Ramakrishna
The message of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world, which he gave through his life and through his recorded conversations, may be briefly stated as follows:
The goal of human life is the realization of the Ultimate Reality which alone can give man supreme fulfilment and everlasting peace. This is the essence of all religions; The Ultimate Reality is one, but it is personal as well as impersonal, and is indicated by different names (such as God, Ishwar, etc) in different religions. The Ultimate Reality can be realized through various paths taught in world religions. All religions are true in so far as they lead to the same ultimate goal; purity of mind is an essential condition for the attainment of the Ultimate Reality; real purity is freedom from lust and greed. External observances are only of secondary importance. Through spiritual practices man can overcome his negative tendencies, and divine grace can redeem even the worst sinner. Therefore one should not brood over past mistakes, but should develop a positive outlook on life by depending on God; God realization is possible for all.
The householders need not renounce the world, but they should pray sincerely, practise discrimination between the Eternal and the temporal and remain unattached. God listens to sincere prayer. Intense longing (vyakulata) is the secret of success in spiritual life; God dwells in all people but the manifestation of this inner Divinity varies from person to person. In saintly people there is greater manifestation of God. Women are special manifestations of the Divine Mother of the Universe, and so are to be treated with respect. Since God dwells in all people, helping the needy should be done not out of compassion (which is an attitude of condescension) but as humble service to God. Egoism, caused by ignorance, is the root-cause of all suffering. Life is an expression of the spontaneous creativity (lila) of God. Pleasure and pain, success and failure, etc., are to be borne with patience, and one should surrender oneself to God’s will under all circumstances.
Contributions of Sri Ramakrishna to World Culture
Spiritual Ideal: One of the important contributions of Sri Ramakrishna is the reestablishment of the ideal of God realization in the modern world. In a world in which people’s faith in traditional religions has been considerably reduced by the relentless attack of the forces of atheism, materialism and scientific thinking, Sri Ramakrishna established the possibility of having direct experience of transcendent Reality. His life has enabled thousands of people to gain or regain faith in God and in the eternal verities of religion. As Mahatma Gandhi has stated: “His (Ramakrishna’s) life enables us to see God face to face. No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion.”
Harmony of Religions: Sri Ramakrishna, however, is more well known all over the world as the Prophet of Harmony of religions. He recognized differences among religions but showed that, in spite of these differences, all religions lead to the same ultimate goal, and hence they are all valid and true. This view is nowadays known as ‘Pluralism’: Sri Ramakrishna is its primary originator. The uniqueness of Sri Ramakrishna’s view is that it was based, not on speculation, but on direct experience gained through actual practice.
Since conflicts among religions and the rise of religious fundamentalism are a major threat to the peace, prosperity and progress of humanity, Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of harmony of religions has immense importance in the modern world. In this regard, the distinguished British historian Arnold Toynbee has written: ‘… Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna’s testimony to the harmony of religions: here we have the attitude and the spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family – and in the Atomic Age, this is the only alternative to destroying ourselves.’
Boost to moral life: Sri Ramakrishna’s emphasis on truthfulness and renunciation of lust and greed has given a great boost to moral life in modern times. He also cleansed religious life of immoral practices, external pomp, miracle mongering, etc.
Divinization of love: Sri Ramakrishna elevated love from the level of emotions to the level of the unity of all Selves in God. Although the principle of oneness of the Supreme Self and its immanence in all beings is a central point in the Upanishads, it was seldom applied in practical life. Sri Ramakrishna saw the Divine in his wife, in his disciples, in others, even in fallen women, and treated them all with respect. The famous dictum of the New Testament, ‘God is Love’, found its verification in Sri Ramakrishna. Divinization of love and human relationships is another contribution of Sri Ramakrishna which has immense significance for the welfare of humanity.
Some sayings of Sri Ramakrishna
– He is born in vain who, having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realize God in this very life.
– You see many stars in the sky at night, but not when the sun rises. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the heavens during the day? O man, because you cannot find God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.
– One cannot have the vision of God as long as one has these three – shame, hatred, and fear.
– Be not a traitor in your thoughts. Be sincere; act according to your thoughts; and you shall surely succeed. Pray with a sincere and simple heart, and your prayers will be heard.
– Do not let worldly thoughts and anxieties disturb your mind. Do everything that is necessary in the proper time, and let your mind be always fixed on God. You should remember that the heart of the devotee is the abode of God. He dwells, no doubt, in all beings, but He especially manifests Himself in the heart of the devotee. The heart of the devotee is the drawing room of God.
– Pure knowledge and pure love are one and the same thing. Both lead the aspirants to the same goal. The path of love is much easier.
– Who is the best devotee of God? It is he who sees, after the realization of Brahman, that God alone has become all living beings, the universe, and the twenty-four cosmic principles. One must discriminate at first, saying ‘Not this, not this’, and reach the roof. After that one realizes that the steps are made of the same materials as the roof, namely, brick, lime, and brick-dust. The devotee realizes that it is Brahman alone that has become all these — the living beings, the universe, and so on.
– Live in the world like a waterfowl. The water clings to the bird, but the bird shakes it off. Live in the world like a mudfish. The fish lives in the mud, but its skin is always bright and shiny.
– I tell you the truth: there is nothing wrong in your being in the world. But you must direct your mind toward God; otherwise you will not succeed. Do your duty with one hand and with the other hold to God. After the duty is over you will hold to God with both hands.
– The breeze of His grace is blowing day and night over your head. Unfurl the sails of your boat (mind), if you want to make rapid progress through the ocean of life.
– One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga. Clap your hands while repeating God’s name, and the birds of your sins will fly away.
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