Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai

Sri Sarada Devi: The Universal Mother – Part 1

Source from An article by Swami Sarvagatananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – December 2004

Swami Sarvagatananda

This is a very special occasion for all of us to think about Holy Mother: what she was, what she means to us now. It is rather difficult to picture her because our knowledge about her is only second-hand: we get a glimpse of her from writings on her by swamis, by others who saw her and by those who had heard about her from still others. You will be surprised and perhaps shocked to know that not many in the beginning were inclined to go to Holy Mother because they could not really see her, since she was always veiled and never spoke anything about philosophy, religion and the like. Not many could grasp the greatness of Holy Mother: they thought she was great because she was Sri Ramakrishna’s wife.

Coming down from Divinity to Human Level

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that it is rather easy to get into an ecstatic mood, raise our consciousness, dwell in that highest divine realm and be lost to the outside world. But, having had the highest spiritual experience, it is very difficult to come down to the human level and work like anyone else, without betraying any traces of having had that ecstatic experience. That was the uniqueness of Holy Mother.

Her Life Was Her Sermon

I am sure many of you know about an incident from Buddha’s life. There was a hall where he addressed his monks and other disciples. One day, on entering the hall, he surveyed it in a moment to see if everyone was present. One monk was absent. And Buddha asked the others, ‘What about him?’ ‘Well, sir, he is sick. He’s staying in his room,’ was the reply. ‘Is there anyone to serve him?’ Buddha asked. ‘No, sir.’

Buddha got up, slowly walked up to the sick monk’s place, took a towel, soaked it in water, squeezed it and washed him and served him. When the monk was asleep, Buddha came out. The other monks were waiting for him. Buddha was about to go away without a word. Some monks asked him, ‘Sir, what about the sermon?’

‘I rendered the sermon,’ he said. That is it. ‘I rendered the sermon.’ That, again, was Holy Mother. To serve others is very difficult. We can talk, we can explain things, but, with that full awareness inside, to behave just like an ordinary human being is practically impossible. That is why many could not understand her in the beginning. The more they lived with her, the more they began to understand how it was possible for a human being to serve others as she did. She was daughter to her parents, wife to Sri Ramakrishna and spiritual guide and teacher to many, but more than all this, she was a mother, unique in every way.

Our Real Mother

She lived true to her pronouncement ‘I am the Mother of all.’ Anybody, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, high class or low class, known or unknown – all received from her that wonderful love and affection. That is one important thing I discover in her life. Anybody could go and feel, ‘Here is someone who is my very own.’ Day or night, people visited her. Slowly her name spread, and more people started coming. Without exception all felt that she was heavenly. That is why I say she is holy and she is motherly. Everyone had that kind of feeling – monks, devotees, the Western disciples of Swami Vivekananda who accompanied him to India, and those who visited India after his passing way. Their common refrain was, ‘She is our real mother.’

Motherly, Compassionate and Forgiving

We could love others like a mother for a day, or maybe for some days, but throughout our life? That is very difficult. Even when she was sick, she was ready to help anyone. In the Chandi we read about the glory of the Divine Mother: ‘Ya devi sarvabhuteshu matrirupena samsthitha; … Ya devi sarvabhuteshu dayarupena samsthita; … Ya devi sarvabhuteshu kshantirupena samsthita; Namastasyai. Namastasyai. Namastasyai namo namah.’ (’Salutations to the Divine Mother, who dwells in all beings as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness.’)

God as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness – all this we hear about. Well, maybe we also try to imagine. Until we see a person translating these things into action, we don’t really understand. Holy Mother was such a person. She was not only motherly to everyone, but also compassionate and forgiving.

There is not one but many incidents in her life to illustrate how people received her blessings. Of all those who received her grace, that Muslim robber comes to my mind again and again, the one who went to jail many times. He was not allowed to even reach and see her. One day he climbed the wall and jumped into the place just to have a glimpse of Mother when she was sick. As he stood before her, she asked, ‘Baba, where were you all these days?’ ‘Oh, I did some robbery and then I was caught and was put in the jail. Just the other day they released me,’ he said. And she made him sit there and served him.

A devotee once asked her, ‘Mother, why do you waste so much time for him?’

‘Because he is lost.’

‘Do you know he robbed such and such a place the other day?’

‘What else can he do? They have lost their jobs.’ (They used to work in a silk industry. Due to an unfortunate competition, that industry was dead. And all those workers, very strong Muslims, had nothing to do. Therefore, they took to robbing others.) ‘If you give him some work he will certainly do that. When there is no work, how does he maintain his family? So robbing has become his profession. And therefore he comes here. I cannot say no to him.’ Look, Mother did not take it very badly!

Whatever Was Hers Was for Others

Imagine, if any robber comes from jail and walks into your house, how would you feel? Mother felt at home with him, not once, but many times. There are so many such incidents in her life. In the Bhagavadgita there is a nice saying from Sri Krishna: ‘Four types of persons worship me: those who are in distress, those who seek material benefits, those who are seekers of truth and those who know me (jnanis).’1 All these people worship the Lord. Now, we all do it. All religions have this kind of approach. It is easy to go to a shrine or a chapel and sit down and say, ‘Oh, God …’ and submit our petition to Him. And then, maybe our prayer is sanctioned or maybe not, but we live on faith and hope. With Mother, it is not like that. You go with all these things to her, someone sitting before you in flesh and blood. And whatever you want, you ask her.

It is easy to pray to a deity and expect that something will happen after some time. Here it is not like that. To a living person you say this and get the things done. That I call impossible in this world, but she did it. People used to go to her for many things. If she had what they wanted, she immediately gave them that. Otherwise, she made them sit, procured the thing and gave it. She never denied anyone anything. Where do you have another like her?

Once it so happened that somebody came to her clad in a small length of cloth. Mother had no money to purchase cloths. Somebody had given her a new cloth. It was on the clothesline, washed, dry and ready to wear. She immediately brought it, folded it and gave it to the person. If she had anything, it belonged to people. She was always concerned about others. She was a nurse, maid, mother—all in one. And she served everyone, day or night.

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Sri Ramakrishna – The Spiritual Ideal for the Age

Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj

The life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna are very meaningful to people today. Although no one may ever understand his life fully, we can gain much by trying to practise his teachings. Two of the most prominent are: the need of Self-Realization, or God-Realization, which enables us to see God in all; and the need for accepting all the religions paths as valid ways and approaches to God.

 Swami Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj , President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, emphasizes the practical importance of these teachings of Sri Ramakrishna in this highly illuminating talk. We regret we could not ascertain the place and year in which this was delivered. Source: Prabuddha Bharata – Vol. 100, November 1995

 Friends,

The subject for this evening is “Yuga-dharma-sthapaka Sri Ramakrishna“, that is, “Sri Ramakrishna as the Establisher of the Spiritual Ideal for the Age“.

 Even when he was just a little child, Sri Ramakrishna spontaneously attained God-realization of a very high order. We do not know where he got this knowledge, this realization; it was not from any kind of sadhana, as we understand the word. Sri Ramakrishna gave some hint about this, but never elaborated the point. He said, “Incarnations are born with full Realization. They are like plants that flower after the fruits have come”. The life of Sri Ramakrishna was like that. That was the peculiarity with which he was endowed from the very beginning – from his boyhood. He did not stop there. His sadhana, regular practice, began a little later, when he had a tremendous urge for God-realization. But, as we have seen, he had already had a spiritual experience of the highest order, even before adolescence. So why should he want to practise sadhana for the God realization he had already attained? The only answer is: This is a unique life that we have before us. This Sri Ramakrishna has to be understood from two different angles of understanding. One angle tells us that he is the perfect manifestation of the highest Reality. Seen from the other angle, he is just an ordinary person like us who practises sadhana to realize the Supreme Reality. These two go side by side. We see this not only in Sri Ramakrishna, but in other great prophets and Incarnations also. Every Incarnation is born with spiritual Knowledge. But that Knowledge has to be manifested, at least for the sake of others, by some prescribed methods. And Sri Ramakrishna practised those methods.

Other Incarnations also practised sadhana. Sri Krishna went to his guru’s home to learn the scriptures, and engage in sadhana. Sri Ramachandra did the same thing. Every teacher, every Incarnation has to do that. Why do they do this? Because they have to demonstrate to the world how God-realization is to be attained, step by step, up to the last stage. That has to be actually demonstrated through their own lives. Without this demonstration the purpose of the Incarnation becomes unfulfilled. If they remain at the highest stage, always immersed in Brahman, that does not help us. We have to be helped by a person who comes down to our level and shows us the way, step by step, to the highest goal. Swami Saradanandaji has stated in “Sri Ramakrisna Lilaprasanga” (“Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master”) that every event in the life of Sri Ramakrishna has a deep meaning for us. His was not simply a life lived in isolation. It was a life that was to be the beacon light for us, so that we can have our path lighted and gradually reach the highest goal.

Swami Vivekananda said that even the Vedas and the Vedanta will have to be understood in the light of Sri Ramakrishna, in the light of his teachings. His life is the light by means of which we will be able to read the meaning of the scriptures. The scriptures contain much wisdom no doubt, but they remain unintelligible to us unless we see them interpreted through the lives of these Incarnations. They make the scriptures living. As Sri Ramakrishna himself has stated, our scriptures are a mixture of sand and sugar. You have to find out where the sugar is and where the sand is, then you can reject the sand and take the sugar. In other words, Truth is mixed with some unnecessary things. It needs some husk, as it were, something to protect it from being diluted or misinterpreted.

Brahman has been so often elaborately described by the scriptures, but do we really understand It? If we study the scriptures, where do we finally end up? We too often become either agnostic or utterly bewildered. We do not know where we are. That is why the scriptures themselves warn us again and again: Nanudhyayad bahun sabdan, vaco viglapanami hi tat – “Do not read the scriptures too much; that will only make your ideas clouded.” Your mind will be clouded unless you have some sure guide who can tell you how to study the scriptures. All true Knowledge has to be received through an Enlightened Soul. A light has to be kindled by another light. An Enlightened Soul alone can enlighten others. Otherwise the scriptures remain sealed books. You do not know how to open the seal and learn the contents. This is true for scriptures of all religions, not only here. The key to their meaning is held by these Great Souls.

 Sri Ramakrishna wanted to receive all Knowledge direct from the Divine Mother, to whom he always had easy access. Unfortunately it is not so with us. Still, we know that we must acquire direct Knowledge by some means. If the Divine Mother or the Mother of the Universe is not within our reach, we at least have the advantage of the Incarnations of God. It is through them that we can learn the true meaning of the scriptures. That is why Swami Vivekananda said that the Vedas and the Vedanta will have to be understood through the light of Sri Ramakrishna, his life and teachings.

Who Was Sri Ramakrishna?

 The more we study his life, the more we feel we are incompetent to gauge him. Even Arjuna, when he was given that Supreme Knowledge, the Visvarupa, when he saw God in His fullness, became frightened and said to Sri Krishna, “I took you to be an ordinary man and behaved with you like a friend, and therefore 1 must have treated you disrespectfully. Please forgive me.” Those were the words of Arjuna, who was the closest associate of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. In the same way, when we look at the people who were very close to Sri Ramakrishna, what was their estimate of him? Swami Vivekananda, the greatest exponent of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the closest and foremost disciple, says, “I am afraid to speak of my guru, because when I try to do that, I may only distort the picture, I am incompetent to gauge him, so I am afraid. I do not feel sufficiently gifted to elaborate on that point.” If Swami Vivekananda spoke in that way, what can the other disciples say? They all felt the same way – that Sri Ramakrishna was so great that their understanding of him was very incomplete. That was Sri Ramakrishna.

So it is no wonder that we today cannot completely understand Sri Ramakrishna. He has so many facets, so many different aspects, that we get bewildered when we try to understand him. He not only realized in a systematic way the different paths leading to God-realization that are involved in Hinduism, he followed the Christian method and the Muslim method. And after completing all theses sadhanas, he said, on the bedrock of his personal experience, that these are all different paths leading to the same goal. Let us remember that this was not an intellectual generalization, but the experience that he had through the performance of the disciplines of the various religions.

We find glimpses of this kind of essential oneness of religions in the Vedas: Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti – “Truth is One, wise men speak of It in various ways.” In the Gita and the Upanishads we find the same thing. Still, Sri Ramakrishna’s kind of practical experience through the paths of different religions has not been mentioned anywhere in our ancient scriptures. That is a new thing you find in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. Perhaps it was necessary in this Age for this experience to be demonstrated to the world, so that people can know that there is an inner harmony, or Oneness in the different faiths that seem to be contradictory and conflicting. This is what is very necessary today when there is so much strife in the name of religion. Sri Ramakrishna wants us all to understand that God can never be exhausted in any one religion. You can never describe him and say that God is this and this alone and nothing more. Nonetheless, Sri Ramakrishna taught that you must have faith in and stay on your own path or you can never progress, though you must never think that your religion is the only path. It is just a path, that is all.

Religion in Practice

 When religion becomes a very important factor in our life naturally it will show its effect in every walk of our life, every aspect of our personality. That was another teaching of Sri Ramakrishna. If you are religious you must show it through your whole being. If you behave in one way and believe in another way, that means you are a hypocrite. For example, if you say everything is Brahman and then make a big distinction between man and man, you are only showing your ignorance. Sri Ramakrishna saw God everywhere, not merely theoretically but as a matter of direct experience. One day he was meditating with closed eyes. Then he opened his eyes and told the devotees,”I was trying to meditate with closed eyes. 1 did not like it, because it implies that God is there only when I close my eyes. But when my eyes are open is He not there? Whether I open my eyes or I close my eyes, God is always there.” If we have this kind of God-realization, it will show in the way we behave with others. It will show whether or not we are looking upon the world as a manifestation of Divinity. Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘”f you can worship God in a stone or clay image, can you not worship Him in a human being?” Man is such a great manifestation of Consciousness, of Chaitanya, he is perhaps the best image we can have of God.

Still, Sri Ramakrishna never decried any kind of worship. He believed in all paths. But at the same time he knew what is good for the world and what is not. So he prescribed only such things as are conducive to the well-being of the whole world at all times. Sri Ramakrishna never limited the paths of God-realization, neither did Swamiji, who said, “I shall be happy when every man has a religion of his own.” There are a multiplicity of religions and a multiplicity of ideals. That does not matter. That need not bewilder us. I can see God only through my own eyes, therefore my God-realization is bound to be different from yours. As we proceed nearer and nearer to the Goal our ideas become clearer and clearer and ultimately when we reach the Goal, all descriptions cease. Yato vaco nivartante aprapya manasa saha – That Goal is one which words cannot express and the mind cannot reach, Sri Ramakrishna says, Brahman is one thing that has never been made ucchista, that is, has never been defiled by man. We go further and further and when we reach the Goal we stop. That is what Sri Ramakrishna says beautifully: “Our thought there ceases to be a stream of thinking, a meditation. It merges in the Knowledge Itself, the all-pervading Knowledge.” That is what has to be remembered.

Swamiji was once asked by Sri Ramakrishna, “What is your aim in life?” Swamiji said, “My aim in life is to remain merged in samadhi. Only occasionally I may come out of it and have a little food and again go deep into samadhi.” Sri Ramakrishna did not approve. He said, “I thought you were greater than that. Why don’t you become like a banyan tree which spreads its branches everywhere so that tired pilgrims can come and rest under its shade. You have to be the solace to everybody. Instead of that you want to remain satisfied with the bliss of samadhi!” Sri Ramakrishna himself had a tendency to remain in samadhi, which he resisted. Once when he was about to merge into samadhi, he pleaded with the Divine Mother saying, “Mother, don’t make me oblivious of my surroundings. I want to speak to the devotees. 1 don’t want to be merged into samadhi.” Why? Sri Ramakrishna did not have any kind of worldly vasanas – any kind of desire for earthly things, but he had that one desire to be helpful to others, to help people reach the highest Goal, so that they could then enable others to free themselves. That was the great desire that Sri Ramakrishna had which kept him in his body.

It is said that some sort of desire is necessary to keep the soul bound to the body. What desire did Sri Ramakrishna have? He had only this one desire, “I want to help others attain Self-realization.”

Sarvabhutesu yah pasyed
bhagavadbhavamatmanah;
Bhutani bhagavatyatmany-
esa bhagavatottamah.

     He is the supreme Bhagavata, the devotee, who realizes his Self in all beings, and all beings in his Self, and Cod residing in all beings, and all beings residing in God.   (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.2.45)

 He who attains this kind of Knowledge is the highest devotee. When the highest is achieved, we see God manifest everywhere. That is why Swamiji says, Sarvabhute seyi premamoy – that Supreme God of love is present in all beings, therefore we should worship Him there. Perhaps we must live in solitude in the beginning for some time, but we should remember that that is only a stage of preparation. When you have reached the goal, your existence will merge with the Supreme which is everywhere. In the Upanishads it is said,

Yathodakam suddhe suddham
asiktam tadrg eva bhavati;
Evammuner vijanata
atma bhavati gautama.

     Just as a drop of pure water, when it falls into pure water, becomes one with that water and loses its individuality, in the same manner when you have God-realization of the highest order, you become one with Brahman.                 (Katha-Upanishad, 2.1.15)

 You become identified with the entire world in heart and soul in every way. That sort of realization is not merely a theory; it is not merely a scriptural statement, it is a knowledge that has to be attained, that has to be made your own, that has to be realized. It will show in your behaviour. As Swamiji says, our doom was sealed on that day when we made the distinction between the vyavahara and paramartha, that is, between our behaviour and our commitment to the highest truth. If our behaviour is not consistent with the Truth we proclaim, we will end up cheating ourselves, we will remain sealed within the shell of our ideas, and they will never find manifestation in our life. That is no realization at all. True realization will make us one with the entire universe. Our behaviour will be shaped accordingly.

 That is what you find in the unique teaching and life of Sri Ramakrishna. That is why he protested when somebody praised charity to others, that jiva-daya. Sri Ramakrishna protested. No! Who are you to show charity to others? You have to serve God in every being. That is a great teaching which we should follow in the Modern Age. We should know that nobody can reach the goal in isolation. The whole world is waiting to be shown this truth, that each person’s well-being depends on the well-being of others. Others’ well-being and my well-being cannot be separated. My liberation and the liberation of the world should go together. If we follow this teaching we can solve many of the problems besetting modern society.

 We are trying to bring about a new way of thinking and behaving so that we can live – individuals and nations – in peace with one another. We know how our efforts are being frustrated because, though we have tried many things, we are still far from that goal. Why? Because we have not tried to change ourselves in the way that is necessary in order to have that sort of unity with the entire world. Unity that is not merely a word in the scriptures, but a way of life for us, must be rooted in the realization of the highest Truth, which is all-pervading.

 May Sri Ramakrishna help us reach that goal. May his life be a light to us, and through our devotion to him, may we have this great realization!

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Overcoming Obstacles in Spiritual Life – Part 1

      Swami Yatiswarananda (1889 – 1966) was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda. He spent seven years teaching Vedanta in Europe, where he founded an ashram in Switzerland, though he lectured on Vedanta from Madrid to Warsaw. He left Europe as the second World War forced a closure to the European Vedanta work. The swami then spent ten years teaching Vedanta in the United States, returning to India to head several Centers, eventually becoming Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Yatiswarananda was famed for his meditative life and spiritual attainment. His book, Meditation and Spiritual Life, a compilation of his class talks, is considered one of the finest compendiums on spiritual life. The article below was taken from the Jan-Feb 1959 Vedanta in the West.

What Are the Obstacles?

     In spiritual life, we use the word “obstacles” with reference to both the inner and the outer world, to physical and subtle objects, and to conditions and situations which stand in the way of our spiritual progress.

In general, there are obstacles of various kinds producing misery, or duhkha of various types. In the Sankhya Sutras, Kapila mentions duhkhas of three types: adhyatmika or that caused within ourselves—in the body by illness and unhealthy living, and the mind by evil desires, anger, greed, folly, pride, envy, etc.: adhibhautika or that caused by other living beings such as beasts, thieves, and evil-minded persons; and the adhidaivika or the misery brought about by natural phenomena such as extremes of temperature, floods and storms, earthquakes, pestilences , etc. These may act as hindrances to spiritual life. And we are affected by our troubles all the more when we are not well inwardly.

     We are all born with subtle impressions and tendencies brought from previous lives and we also acquire new ones in our present life. While good tendencies help, evil ones obstruct our spiritual progress.

There are different kinds of obstacles, and we come across them in the different stages of our spiritual life. Spiritual life is like a stream and should move towards the ocean of Sat-Chit-Ananda or Infinite Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, call it Godhead, Brahman, the Lord, Allah, or Tao, as you please. Sometimes the spiritual current does not move at all; sometimes it moves for a time and stops; sometimes it tends to move in wrong directions. The task in our spiritual life is to make this current move; move in the right direction and move steadily till the goal is reached.

Obstacles Are Inevitable but Can Be Overcome

     This is the ideal. But in actual life, there is no such thing as movement in a straight line. There are ups and downs, breaks or stops, in the movement. Obstacles continue to confront us till we have known God’s grace and attain the peace and blessedness that come from divine realization. Until then, however, we have to persist steadily in our spiritual practices; we have to continue the struggle however insurmountable the obstacles may seem for the time being.

     This is a matter of actual experience for many spiritual aspirants. A young man was once asked about this spiritual progress by Swami Brahmananda, his teacher. He said, “Not very well, Maharaj; my mind is restless. I have no taste for spiritual practices yet. There seems to be an obstacle inside me. I feel so unhappy. I must have been born with evil tendencies and these stand in the way of my spiritual progress.” To this the Swami replied: “My boy, you must not talk like that. Try to practice japa (chanting the Lord’s name) at dead of night; if that is not possible, do it during the early hours of the morning. . . . Waste no more of your valuable time. Lose yourself in prayer and meditation; otherwise, how can the door to spiritual truth be opened? . . . The aspirant should first learn about the spiritual path from some great soul and then follow it methodically. If the person proceeds haphazardly he or she cannot make much progress, and if the person gives up entirely, the effort to begin again will be twice as difficult. But no effort is wasted. Lust, greed, anger, all gradually leave one who practices spiritual disciplines.”

     When the young man said, “My mind is restless,” he was not speaking of ordinary restlessness and unhappiness. Having made some substantial progress in spiritual life, he found inner obstacles standing in the way and these were making further advance difficult. The question may be asked, how do I know the mind of the young man? I know it because the young man was none other than myself.

     There is restlessness and restlessness – that of the worldly man hankering for the pleasures of the world; and of the spiritual seeker yearning for progress, wanting to move from a lower plan of consciousness to a higher one.

Spiritual life is a twofold movement, one of which may be represented as vertical and the other as horizontal. We have to rise higher and higher and also expand more and more in our consciousness.

     Most of us may not care to rise to a higher plane. We fool ourselves by thinking that we are all right where we are. We are like Pluto’s men in the cave who took the shadows to be real and were quite satisfied with the life of darkness they lived. We are quite contented with our life in the cellar.

     But some of us want to come out into the light and rise to a higher plane with the help of the spiritual current, which may be likened to the elevator which takes people from one floor to another. The spiritual current, when properly roused, takes us from one center of consciousness, or chakra, to another. Sometimes we want to get into the elevator but the door does not open; this is one of the obstacles. The door opens and we get into the box but the box does not move – this is another kind of obstacle. A third one is, we move up but the door does not open. The fourth is the door opens, we get out on the floor, move about for a time, but are not able to find our way back to the elevator when we want to rise higher. Something of this kind happened to me when I spoke to Swami Brahmananda of some obstacles standing in the way of my spiritual progress.

     But these obstacles can be overcome. We can undergo spiritual practices, unfold the inner eye, discover the “secret stairs” and move up higher and higher.

Co-existence of Obstacles and Helps

     Let us not, however, imagine that life is only full of obstacles. If we come across many obstacles and hindrances, we get also many helps and aids both within us and without. It is essential that we have a correct idea, a balanced estimate, of our conditions and environments.

     Never should we weaken ourselves by thinking too much of our shortcomings only. If we have evil tendencies, we also have good ones – even more of the good than the evil. If we have within us such enemies of spiritual life as egotism, sensuality, greed, and anger, we have also such friends as selflessness, self-control, charity, and compassion.

     A great help to our moral and spiritual life is the remembering of the supreme truth that we are the Atman. We are the souls eternally in touch with the Oversoul, just as a wave is in constant touch with, and is supported by, the ocean, just as a ray of light is in touch with the infinite light.

     And we must beware of morbid theologians who think only in terms of sin, who always speak of humanity as a bundle of sin. There is a story of a new clergyman who started talking too much of sin. One of the congregation congratulated him, “We never knew what sin was until you came!” What a compliment!

     All our spiritual teachers tell us that there are two opposite types of ideas working in our lives, the good and the pleasant – sreyas and preyas. We find in the Katha Upanishad: “The good is one thing; the pleasant another. Both these, serving different needs, present themselves to humanity. It goes well with the person who, of the two, takes the good; but one who chooses the pleasant misses the end. . . . Both the good and the pleasant come to humanity. The calm one examines them well and discriminates. The calm one prefers the good to the pleasant, but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.”

     Maya, the power that has projected this phenomenal world, itself has two aspects, vidya and avidya, which may be compared to the centripetal and centrifugal forces. Vidya is that current which leads us Godward; it manifests itself as discrimination, nonattachment, devotion, and love for God. Avidya leads us to worldliness and expresses itself as the various passions – desire for wealth, worldly ambition, work with attachment, cruelty, etc. Avidya darkens the understanding and binds the soul. Vidya tends to help us towards Self-realization and freedom. Let us choose the path of good and become purer in body and mind. This purity is essential for our spiritual growth and brings us in touch with the cosmic spiritual forces which the devotee calls the grace of God.

Conditions for Spiritual Unfoldment

     It is necessary for us to have a clear conception of spiritual unfoldment and its relation to cosmic existence and cosmic forces. Let us try to understand its secret through the illustration of a seed. If the seed is planted in the proper bed and is kept in touch with nature – with earth, water, heat, air, and space – it grows into a plant and finally develops into a mighty tree. The seed must be kept in close touch with nature and also in the proper condition internally, for only then can it profit by earth, water, etc.

     The microcosm develops properly when it is in tune with the macrocosm. This is true in spiritual life also. The individual must be in tune with the cosmos. If we look within ourselves, we find that our body is a part of the ocean of matter and that cosmic energy is flowing through it and sustaining it. Our individual mind is a part of the cosmic mind, and our individual soul is a part of the cosmic soul. In order to keep the body in good health, we must follow the physical laws. When the body is kept in good condition, it remains in touch with the cosmic forces, which again help the body to maintain good health.

     To keep the mind in good health, we must follow the moral laws which stand for harmony and purity. This keeps the mind in contact with the cosmic mind and so in good health. Similarly our soul must also be in a fit condition, in a state of purity and harmony, so that it may remain in direct touch with the cosmic spiritual forces. It is then that the cosmic will or the divine grace flows through the soul and assures its progress.

     Proper food, moral practices, and spiritual exercises remove the obstacles in body, mind, and ego, keep us in tune with the cosmic will and fit to receive divine grace. Divine grace comes to us at first in the form of spiritual yearning and striving. As we become purer and purer, we come more and more in direct contact with the cosmic spiritual current.

     In spiritual life, there must be tremendous effort, but is must not be of the egocentric type. All our practices must be carried out in a spirit of prayer, self-surrender, and dedication to the Divine. In our outlook, habits, and ways of thinking, there must be a revolution. Spiritual life, if properly lived, must lead us from the egocentric to the cosmocentric position.

Relation Between Divine Grace and Self-Effort

     What we term self-effort and divine grace supplement each other. We cannot have the one without the other. Without intense and unremitting striving on our part, we can never experience divine grace. Mere prayer without corresponding effort will not bear fruit. It will be just like the man who, finding his house on fire, started praying for rain instead of trying to put the fire out through means available then and there. The proper thing is to do all we can and also to pray.

     A little girl’s brother used to set a trap to catch birds. Thinking this was wrong and cruel, she became very sad and wept. After some time, the mother found her happy and cheerful and was curious to know how such a change had come about. “Mommy,” the girl explained, “First I prayed that my brother may be a better boy, then I prayed that no more birds may fall into the trap, and then . . .” she added triumphantly, “I went out and kicked the old trap to pieces.” So prayer is to be combined with self-effort to break old unethical habits and form new good ones.

     Blinded by their own narrow ideas, theologians make too much of a mystery about divine grace, which they say can be attained only by following their own pet doctrines and dogmas. But the enlightened ones speak in a different language. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” says Christ in the greatest beatitude uttered by him. This is also the ancient teaching of the sages of India: “The resplendent and pure Self, whom pure and sinless souls, free from evil or impurities, have realized as residing in the body, can be attained by truthfulness, concentration, true knowledge, and perfect chastity.”

     The Supreme Reality, or God, is like the sun. It reflects itself on the pure mind. With the help of an illuminating conversation between a devotee and Sri Sarada Devi – the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, also known as the Holy Mother—we can clearly understand the connection between spiritual practice and divine grace.

Devotee: “Mother, how does one realize God? Worship, japa, meditation – do these help one?” Mother: “None of these can help.” Devotee: “Then how does one attain to the wisdom of God?”

     Mother: “It is only through his grace. But one must practice meditation and japa. That removes the impurities of the mind. One must practice spiritual disciplines such as worship, and so forth. As one gets the fragrance of a flower by handling it, as one gets the fragrance of sandalwood by rubbing it against a stone, in the same way one gets spiritual awakening by constantly thinking of God. But you can realize him right now if you become free from desire.”

     The mind has become soiled by worldliness. Spiritual practices remove the impurities, and then just as the clear mirror reflects the shining sun in all its glory, the Divine Spirit is revealed clearly in the purified mind in a spontaneous way.

     Here, one point must be plainly understood. The purity attained through spiritual disciplines may be of a very high order, but it is not perfect. The spiritual seeker is established in perfect purity only after divine realization, when objects of temptation become unreal, and the Supreme Spirit remains the only reality. That is why Sri Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Sense objects recede from the abstinent person, but the taste for them lingers still; with the realization of the Supreme Spirit, even the taste disappears.”

     It is necessary for us to understand the relation of spiritual practice to divine grace and the important part they play in our lives in removing our inner obstacles. Then only can we feel enthusiastic about the disciplines, which we ordinarily undergo in a haphazard way.

     Once a disciple asked the Holy Mother about the utility of spiritual practice. She replied: “Through these spiritual disciplines, the ties of past karma are cut asunder. By these disciplines the turbulence of the sense-organs is subdued.”

     Devotee: “Can action ever cancel action?”

     Mother: “Why not? If you do a good action, that will counteract your past evil action. Past sins can be counteracted by meditation, japa, and spiritual thought.”

     It is a matter of experience that to the extent we succeed in making our mind pure through moral and spiritual struggle, we feel the flow of divine grace. Swami Brahmananda used to tell us: “To obtain God’s grace is the most important aid in spiritual life. The breeze of his grace is always blowing. Just unfurl your sail.” This means that we should keep ourselves open to the divine grace – the cosmic spiritual current – by attaining purity through the performance of regular spiritual practice.

Spiritual Life – The Preparation for Receiving Divine Grace

     All our spiritual teachers declare unanimously that the soul in its essential nature is pure spirit. Owing to ignorance, the spirit forgets itself and becomes identified with the ego, with the mind and the senses, with attachment and aversion, with the sense objects, with the body and its functions – all products of ignorance. The Atman puts on the masks of the causal body, the subtle body, and the gross body. It is the masks that become impure, not the Atman. The ego, the mind, and the body may be defiled but the spirit ever remains pure, enlightened, and free.

     An illustration of Sri Ramakrishna helps us to understand this better. The body is like a vessel, the mind is like the water in it. Brahman is like the sun that is reflected in the water. The water may be impure and disturbed, but the light of the sun ever remains shining and pure. The Katha Upanishad declares: “As the sun, which forms the eye of the universe, is never defiled by the external impurities seen by the eyes, so the one Self that resides in all beings is never touched by the evils of the world.”

     No impurity can affect our primary nature, which ever remains pure. It is our second nature that becomes impure, and it can and should be purified. Spiritual life is the cleansing of this second nature of ours, the cleansing of the masks – the coverings of the ego, the mind, and the body. So there is certainly hope for every one of us. It is rightly said that even as every saint has a past, so has every sinner a future.

     In the Bhagavad-Gita, Sri Krishna gives this categorical assurance: “Even the most sinful amongst people, if that person worships me, the Supreme Spirit, with unswerving devotion, must be regarded as virtuous, for that person has resolved rightly. Soon the person becomes righteous and attains eternal peace. Proclaim it boldly that my devotee is never destroyed.” “Giving up all other duties, take refuge in me alone. I will free you from all sins; grieve not.” The Lord himself removes all obstacles for the devotee who has completely surrendered to him.

The Transforming Power of Divine Grace

     A glorious illustration of how a most sinful person can become righteous and attain the highest illumination and peace through the grace of the Supreme Spirit is seen in the life of Girish Chandra Ghosh, the famous actor-dramatist and a great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. According to his own statement, there was no sin that Girish did not commit. At one time he considered religion a fraud. Later, however, a great change came over him and there grew a deep yearning for spiritual light and peace. It was then that he was drawn to Sri Ramakrishna. Gradually his mind became purified, though he had to go a long way. Once the following conversation took place:

Girish: “Sir, please bless me.”
Master: “Have faith in the Divine Mother, and you will attain everything.”
Girish: “But I am a sinner.”
Master: “The wretch who constantly harps on sin becomes a sinner.”
Girish: “Sir, the very ground where I sit becomes unholy.”
Master: “How can you say that? Suppose a light is brought into a room that had been dark a thousand years, does it illumine the room little by little, or in a flash?”
Girish: “I have no sincerity; please grant it to me.”
Master: “All right, you have faith.”

     Young Narendra, who later became Swami Vivekananda, was very friendly with Girish and was warned by the Master not to associate with him too much: “Girish is like a cup in which garlic is kept. You may wash it a thousand times but can never get rid of the smell altogether.” Girish heard this and felt offended. He asked the Master if the “garlic smell” would go at all. The Master assured him, “All the smell disappears when a blazing fire is lighted; if you heat the cup in the fire you will get rid of the smell,” and he declared that people would be astounded at the marvelous change that would come over Girish. The garlic smell did disappear in due course, and he became wonderfully transformed.

     Directed by the Master, Girish followed the path of absolute self-surrender to the divine will – a path very few can follow. He would not promise to undergo even the simplest spiritual discipline, and was very happy when Sri Ramakrishna asked him to give “the power of attorney” and promised to assume all responsibility for his spiritual life.

     Girish at that time thought that the path of self-surrender was the easiest but later on realized what a most exacting thing it was. He had to practice self-surrender every moment! As a result of this, however, he felt continually the presence of the Lord, and became a man of God. The Lord had removed all his vices – his obstacles in the spiritual path – and filled his soul with his loving, divine presence.

     The last time some of us saw Girish, he told us: “As I move my hand, I feel that it is not I but the Lord who is moving it.” His eyes and face were radiant with the glow of his inner illumination and unbounded love for the Lord. This is one of the most sublime illustrations of transformation brought about the divine grace, which flows into the spiritual seeker as he strives to his utmost.

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Sri Sarada Devi: The Universal Mother

Source from An article by Swami Sarvagatananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – December 2004

This is a very special occasion for all of us to think about Holy Mother: what she was, what she means to us now. It is rather difficult to picture her because our knowledge about her is only second-hand: we get a glimpse of her from writings on her by swamis, by others who saw her and by those who had heard about her from still others. You will be surprised and perhaps shocked to know that not many in the beginning were inclined to go to Holy Mother because they could not really see her, since she was always veiled and never spoke anything about philosophy, religion and the like. Not many could grasp the greatness of Holy Mother: they thought she was great because she was Sri Ramakrishna’s wife.

Coming down from Divinity to Human Level

     The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that it is rather easy to get into an ecstatic mood, raise our consciousness, dwell in that highest divine realm and be lost to the outside world. But, having had the highest spiritual experience, it is very difficult to come down to the human level and work like anyone else, without betraying any traces of having had that ecstatic experience. That was the uniqueness of Holy Mother.

Her Life Was Her Sermon

     I am sure many of you know about an incident from Buddha’s life. There was a hall where he addressed his monks and other disciples. One day, on entering the hall, he surveyed it in a moment to see if everyone was present. One monk was absent. And Buddha asked the others, ‘What about him?’ ‘Well, sir, he is sick. He’s staying in his room,’ was the reply. ‘Is there anyone to serve him?’ Buddha asked. ‘No, sir.’

     Buddha got up, slowly walked up to the sick monk’s place, took a towel, soaked it in water, squeezed it and washed him and served him. When the monk was asleep, Buddha came out. The other monks were waiting for him. Buddha was about to go away without a word. Some monks asked him, ‘Sir, what about the sermon?’

     ‘I rendered the sermon,’ he said. That is it. ‘I rendered the sermon.’ That, again, was Holy Mother. To serve others is very difficult. We can talk, we can explain things, but, with that full awareness inside, to behave just like an ordinary human being is practically impossible. That is why many could not understand her in the beginning. The more they lived with her, the more they began to understand how it was possible for a human being to serve others as she did. She was daughter to her parents, wife to Sri Ramakrishna and spiritual guide and teacher to many, but more than all this, she was a mother, unique in every way.

Our Real Mother

     She lived true to her pronouncement ‘I am the Mother of all.’ Anybody, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, high class or low class, known or unknown – all received from her that wonderful love and affection. That is one important thing I discover in her life. Anybody could go and feel, ‘Here is someone who is my very own.’ Day or night, people visited her. Slowly her name spread, and more people started coming. Without exception all felt that she was heavenly. That is why I say she is holy and she is motherly. Everyone had that kind of feeling – monks, devotees, the Western disciples of Swami Vivekananda who accompanied him to India, and those who visited India after his passing way. Their common refrain was, ‘She is our real mother.’

Motherly, Compassionate and Forgiving

     We could love others like a mother for a day, or maybe for some days, but throughout our life? That is very difficult. Even when she was sick, she was ready to help anyone. In the Chandi we read about the glory of the Divine Mother: ‘Ya devi sarvabhuteshu matrirupena samsthitha; … Ya devi sarvabhuteshu dayarupena samsthita; … Ya devi sarvabhuteshu kshantirupena samsthita; Namastasyai. Namastasyai. Namastasyai namo namah.’ (’Salutations to the Divine Mother, who dwells in all beings as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness.’)

     God as mother, as compassion, as forgiveness – all this we hear about. Well, maybe we also try to imagine. Until we see a person translating these things into action, we don’t really understand. Holy Mother was such a person. She was not only motherly to everyone, but also compassionate and forgiving.

     There is not one but many incidents in her life to illustrate how people received her blessings. Of all those who received her grace, that Muslim robber comes to my mind again and again, the one who went to jail many times. He was not allowed to even reach and see her. One day he climbed the wall and jumped into the place just to have a glimpse of Mother when she was sick. As he stood before her, she asked, ‘Baba, where were you all these days?’ ‘Oh, I did some robbery and then I was caught and was put in the jail. Just the other day they released me,’ he said. And she made him sit there and served him.

     A devotee once asked her, ‘Mother, why do you waste so much time for him?’

     ‘Because he is lost.’

     ‘Do you know he robbed such and such a place the other day?’

     ‘What else can he do? They have lost their jobs.’ (They used to work in a silk industry. Due to an unfortunate competition, that industry was dead. And all those workers, very strong Muslims, had nothing to do. Therefore, they took to robbing others.) ‘If you give him some work he will certainly do that. When there is no work, how does he maintain his family? So robbing has become his profession. And therefore he comes here. I cannot say no to him.’ Look, Mother did not take it very badly!

Whatever Was Hers Was for Others

     Imagine, if any robber comes from jail and walks into your house, how would you feel? Mother felt at home with him, not once, but many times. There are so many such incidents in her life. In the Bhagavadgita there is a nice saying from Sri Krishna: ‘Four types of persons worship me: those who are in distress, those who seek material benefits, those who are seekers of truth and those who know me (jnanis).’1 All these people worship the Lord. Now, we all do it. All religions have this kind of approach. It is easy to go to a shrine or a chapel and sit down and say, ‘Oh, God …’ and submit our petition to Him. And then, maybe our prayer is sanctioned or maybe not, but we live on faith and hope. With Mother, it is not like that. You go with all these things to her, someone sitting before you in flesh and blood. And whatever you want, you ask her.

     It is easy to pray to a deity and expect that something will happen after some time. Here it is not like that. To a living person you say this and get the things done. That I call impossible in this world, but she did it. People used to go to her for many things. If she had what they wanted, she immediately gave them that. Otherwise, she made them sit, procured the thing and gave it. She never denied anyone anything. Where do you have another like her?

     Once it so happened that somebody came to her clad in a small length of cloth. Mother had no money to purchase cloths. Somebody had given her a new cloth. It was on the clothesline, washed, dry and ready to wear. She immediately brought it, folded it and gave it to the person. If she had anything, it belonged to people. She was always concerned about others. She was a nurse, maid, mother—all in one. And she served everyone, day or night.

Service with a Difference

     A family came to her one day, travelling a long distance by bullock cart. One of them had malaria. Jayrambati was a very bad place for the disease. The patient was shivering and didn’t know what to do. They were to go away right after seeing Mother and receiving her blessings. But he had to stay back. Now, how to provide for all of them in the house? Those who were helping Mother said, ‘Let them go to the next village and stay in such and such a place.’

     ‘But I can’t send them out,’ said Mother. Mind that, that night she cooked for them, served them, and served especially that diseased man. She brought some ingredients, prepared some kind of paste of them, poured some milk into it and gave it to him. Next morning, she sent him back in a bullock cart. And she herself was sick for a few days.

     It was not once, but it happened many times. People came there quite healthy, but since that area was not conducive to good health, they fell sick. And she was there on the spot to serve them. ‘He’s my child,’ she used to say. ‘I shall do what I can for him or her.’ This is what I call really impossible. What is important is, she served others not just in a human way, but with a spiritual background, with total identification with them.

She Made Everyone Her Own

     ‘Make everybody your own, nobody is a stranger, the world is yours’ – Mother did not say that from imagination or for the good of the world. She was like that: she made everybody her own – no distinction.

     In those days of the beginning of the twentieth century, caste restrictions in society were rigid, particularly with regard to Muslims and untouchables. Orthodox people never allowed them inside their house. Mother not only allowed them inside, but served them food, cleaned the area herself because others refused to do it. They would tell her, ‘You are a brahmin; you should not touch those things.’ She removed the leavings and cleaned the place after her children ate. Somebody said, ‘You will lose your caste.’ ‘I have no caste,’ she said. What caste? Being unorthodox in that orthodox area and keeping her head high at the same time was very difficult. She served everyone and made them feel that she was their mother.

Her Spiritual Ministry

     And this is only the empirical side of her personality. To speak of her spiritual service: People come to her with so many doubts, with so many images in their mind, and told her their problems. Mother gave them spiritual instructions suitable and natural to each according to his stage in life.

And she was not particular about any place for initiating people. They could meet her anywhere: at the railway station or at the roadside adjacent to the fields. Wherever she was, that place was holy. And there she welcomed them, instructed them, guided them and bade them farewell. One needed just to say, ‘Mother, please instruct me’, and she was ready. As a spiritual guide, she observed no restriction. Her refrain was, ‘They have come all the way; I need to help them.’

Awe-inspiring Spiritual Greatness

     In her spiritual service she stands above many people. Many of the later seniors of the Ramakrishna Order were her disciples. Once, when two disciples of Swamiji came to meet him, he said, ‘Go to Mother. Receive her blessings first and then come here.’ Swamiji had been to the Western world and conquered the hearts and minds of many people. When he went to Holy Mother, he was just like a humble soul: standing before her, waiting for her orders. Others could not understand Mother’s greatness, but Swamiji did. Other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna could not imagine how great she was. One day, Swami Vijnanananda, a brother disciple of Vivekananda, went to make prostrations before Mother. He saluted her briefly from a distance and came away. Swamiji said, ‘Come here, you don’t know whom you are approaching. Is that the way to salute her?’ And Swamiji showed him how to salute her by prostrating full length before her. ‘Just do like that. You will be blessed, I tell you,’ he said. And mind that, the person was another disciple of Ramakrishna.

     On another occasion, I heard, Swami Brahmananda went to see her. He washed his hands three or four times with Ganga water, sprinkled it on his body and stood shivering before her. He returned after a quick prostration. That was because her spiritual stature was so high. We could perhaps understand Sri Ramakrishna’s stature, because it was evident and could be felt. But Mother’s was absolutely concealed. Therefore, they were awed of her. Her one word was law and obeyed as an order in the entire Ramakrishna Order. So thoughtful, so wise was her intuitive counsel. She could say things straight to even great swamis like Brahmananda and Vivekananda, and, on occasion, to even Sri Ramakrishna if she felt that her motherhood was questioned. She was the only one who could say no to Sri Ramakrishna, because she had that motherly feeling: for the sake of my children, it must be done, it must be so – no discrimination.

An Exemplar, Not an Instructor

     She never encouraged any narrowness in the administration of the Ramakrishna Order. If someone wanted to do something that might not have universal approval and said, ‘Our custom tells us to do this’, she would say, ‘No, this Order belongs to the whole world. You should do everything in such a way that everyone will have a place here.’ She did not approve of political affiliations either. The Ramakrishna Order is one place where none should feel isolated. She was so broad, so universal and so calm and sublime at the same time. This combination is very difficult. It is the highest spiritual achievement. And again, coming down to the lowest level of humankind and behaving with them without losing her spiritual stature is something very difficult. What you find in her teachings, she followed it all exactly. That is why I say she is an exemplar, not an instructor. She never talked about things. She did them and observing her, people learnt from her.

     Once a lady came to her from a long distance to get some instruction from her. Mother said, ‘Come in.’ And she was talking to Mother and Mother was doing her job, cooking and keeping things ready. ‘Mother, won’t you please tell me something?’ Mother replied, ‘Don’t you see me?’

Universal Motherly Love

     To many of us religion means rituals, going to a shrine, a chapel and bowing down many times. No doubt, they have their rewards. But do you feel for people? Do you care for them? Do you love them? Do you identify yourself with others? That is real religion.

     You all know, after the Last Supper, Jesus Christ spelt out the essence of Christianity. ‘As I love you, you love one another. As I serve you, you serve one another.’ To love and serve was the theme of Holy Mother’s life. She loved and served others and ministered to their needs. None ever went away from her without being satisfied. That is what is called a universal motherly attitude.

Silent Service

     Somebody asked me the other day, mentioning a great soul who is highly honoured. ‘Don’t you see, swami …?’ ‘Well, for me it is easy to understand,’ I said.

     ‘How?’

     ‘I have known another person who was steeped in spirituality, but kept herself busy serving people; serving them herself, not through somebody.’

That person is Holy Mother. Her whole life is nothing but the expression of that motherly attitude. Even when she was a little girl in Jayrambati, everybody thought she was a grown-up girl. She was just five or six years old. She felt for everyone, carried things from her house and gave them. Her parents never objected. When she grew up and came to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar, then again the same thing. Not only did she serve Sri Ramakrishna, but she served all people who came there. And mind you, all that silently. The man who was in charge of the temple said one day, ‘Yes, some people say she is here, but I have never seen her.’ Absolutely silent service, unseen by others – that is not easy.

     All these monks and disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had experienced her service. When Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘Don’t feed them too much’, she said, ‘No, leave that to me. You give them spiritual instructions, but the question of their health is my concern. I know who needs what and how much.’ And she did not even mind what Ramakrishna said. She did her things in her own motherly way. Some need more, some less. You cannot make a rule: only two chapatis for everyone. Sri Ramakrishna made a rule, you know, that monks should only take two chapatis at night, nothing more. But mother used to serve them two, three or four, according to their need and capacity. Ramakrishna could say nothing more. She was a mother to everyone from the very beginning. See that holiness and motherly attitude, a beautiful combination in one soul. And her spiritual illumination! Concealing all that and serving others was something natural to her.

     I remember an incident in the life of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Once, I think an American gentleman went to see him. Someone told the visitor, ‘You go to that hall; Maharshi is there.’ He entered the hall and found many people cutting vegetables. And he asked someone, ‘I would like to see the great Ramana Maharshi. Will you please lead me to him?’ And Maharshi was sitting right there peeling potatoes. He looked at him and said, ‘Sit down.’ He pushed a few potatoes before the visitor. ‘Come on, take them and start peeling them.’ To Maharshi, spiritual life was not something separate from secular life. Life is One. ‘Come, join us,’ he said. The visitor could not understand. Here is a man to meet whom people come from all parts of the world. Was he standing there, giving lectures? No, he was just like anyone else.

     And Mother was just like that throughout her life. We have seen many great saints going to different places and performing some austerities, but Mother, never. One attitude purified her completely: ‘I am the Mother of all.’

     One of her disciples once told us, ‘You need not do anything. Just be unselfish, don’t seek anything and be motherly to all. You will see a miracle happening in your own life.‘ Purity of heart is a big thing, practically impossible in this world. You can have that purity only through two things: unselfishness and love, as a mother loves her children.

     ‘Not me, but Thou.’ Develop this attitude and you don’t need to believe in any God, said a disciple of Swamiji. And Swamiji himself says in his ‘Karma Yoga’:

     Although a man has not studied a single system of philosophy, although he does not believe in any God, and never has believed, although he has not prayed even once in his whole life, if the simple power of good actions has brought him to that state where he is ready to give up his life and all else for others, he has arrived at the same point to which the religious man will come through his prayers and the philosopher through his knowledge.

And Mother translated that into action throughout her life. Unselfishness and service; to love and serve: Swamiji made that the motto of the Ramakrishna Order. It is based on Mother’s life and actions. ‘He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased really worships Shiva,’ he proclaimed. (3) To me, Holy Mother is the most holy, the most motherly.

     May we follow in her footsteps; may we gain some purity that comes out of that love and service, and gain some kind of illumination in this very life – that is my prayer.

References

1. Bhagavadgita, 7.16.
2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.86.
3. CW, 3.142.

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Essentials of Meditative Life – 1

God in All
From the Book Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatiswarananda

The Path before us

First of all, it is essential on our part to hold before us the spiritual ideal clearly. According to the ancient school of thought known as the Sankhya, there are only two types of entities — the Purusha or the soul which is of the nature of pure consciousness, and the Prakriti or Nature. Vedanta calls the soul of man, the Atman and says that all souls are parts of an infinite, all-pervading supreme Spirit called Paramatman or Brahman. Hence Self-realization in Vedanta means God-realization. Those of us who believe in the existence of the Atman or the soul and the Paramatman, the Soul of our souls, aspire to have our union with Him, within us and in all beings. Realization of the all-pervading Divine is the goal of our spiritual life. When as students, we approached the great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, they placed before us the ideal of Self-realization. But by Self-realization they did not mean anything exclusive. They told us clearly that the more you approach your higher Self, the more you experience the supreme Spirit and the more you feel He is manifest in all. And then what follows is, you feel like serving the Lord in all. But, before that, we must try to follow the spiritual path through prayer and worship, get some clear conception of one’s own soul and the nature of the Deity who dwells in everyone. Now, since this is the ideal, the question arises: What path should we follow? And here too they placed before us the twofold ideal of salvation and service. Work and worship should go hand in hand. Work is to be performed in the spirit of serving the Lord who dwells in all beings. We perform activities of various kinds, but we do not know how to do it, how to perform our duties, how to engage ourselves in various activities for our spiritual benefit. Work has to be done at first in a spirit of duty. Duty must be performed under all circumstances and then, as we advance, we feel we have to offer all the fruits of our work to the supreme Spirit who is the presiding deity of all forms of activities. Then there comes a time when we ask; why should we work? The answer too then wells up within us: for pleasing the Lord. And there may yet come a time when we feel the divine presence permeating and interpenetrating us. Then we just become channels for the flow of divine power—the divine power that works for the good of mankind.

Be spiritually hungry

Just as work is to be done in the proper spirit, so also worship is to be performed in the right manner. All of us have to perform work of some kind or other. Work is compulsory, but the trouble is, worship is optional! Most of us do not feel inclined to do any worship, or Japa [repetition of holy name] or meditation, and that is the pity of it. If we are hungry spiritually, we would like to take spiritual food. We feed our bodies; we should feed the body with good healthy food. We feed our minds through our studies — the ideas should be good. Similarly we should feed the soul. How to do it? Through the practice of worship, Japa, meditation. There is a parable of Sri Ramakrishna: A child was going to bed and said, ‘Mummy, if I feel hungry, please wake me up,’ and the mother said, ‘I need not do that. Your hunger itself will wake you up.’ There comes a time in the course of the evolution of the soul when we become spiritually hungry and wake up from our age-long slumber. But then, mere waking up is not enough. We must be up and doing. I am reminded of a remarkable saying of the Holy Mother. She said, ‘The room may contain different kinds of food-stuff, but one must cook them. He who cooks earlier gets his meals earlier too.’ Many of us are lazy, we do not want to cook at the proper time; may be, we want to cook but late in the evening; and some are so lazy that they would rather starve than cook their food! Naturally, they cannot get much out of spiritual life and they feel miserable.

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Reminiscences of Swami Yatiswaranandaji Maharaj by Swami Bhajanananda

Source: Swami Yatiswarananda As we knew him – Vol 1

First Instruction

I had the blessing of meeting revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji (hereafter ‘Maharaj’) for the first time in the last week of December 1958. I was introduced to him by revered Swami Agamanandaji Maharaj, who was a disciple of revered Swami Brahmanandaji Maharaj and one of the great men Kerala produced in modern times. A few days later, Maharaj blessed me with MantraDìksha (spiritual initiation). A distinctive feature of Maharaj’s initiation was the unique technique of meditation that he taught. This meditation is a movement from the Formless aspect of God to the form of the Istha-devata. It is a process of connecting the centre of one’s consciousness to Divine Consciousness. The soul and the Deity are two aspects of an infinitude of Divine Consciousness: this awareness was what Maharaj attempted to communicate through initiation.

As I understood in later years, spiritual initiation has three main functions. In the first place, the aspirant receives a Mantra from the Guru. A Mantra is a special kind of linguistic formula which has (as stated by Patañjali in his Yoga Sutras I.29 and II.44) the intrinsic power to remove obstacles on the spiritual path, awaken spiritual consciousness and reveal the Chosen Deity. Secondly, through the initiation the spiritual aspirant learns a particular technique of meditation developed by the Guru. This enables him to stick to a definite spiritual path, and steadfastness in one path is very much necessary to attain success in spiritual life. Lastly, spiritual initiation admits a seeker into a spiritual community. What this implies in the Ramakrishna Movement is that the soul of the seeker gets plugged into the powerful spiritual current generated by Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother and the disciples of the Master.

In my first meeting with Maharaj I expressed my wish to join the Order, but he did not show much interest in it. When I met him next year, I again expressed my wish to become a monk of the Order. This time he was pleased to see my determination.

On that occasion he gave me three instructions:

‘Hereafter you learn to look upon yourself as the Atman, the inner Spirit. In monastic life the thought of woman would come, but in the Atman there is no gender. Always identify yourself with the Atman.’ ‘If you think it is wrong to do something, don’t do it.’

‘When you get problems and difficulties, what will you do? Take them all to Sri Ramakrishna. Pray to him intensely. He will always protect and guide you.’

These three instructions gave me lifelong guidance.

Early Days with Maharaj in Bangalore

Revered Swami Yatiswaranandaji had been the President of Ramakrishna Ashrama, Bangalore, from 1951. In those days the Ashrama was very calm and quiet, full of trees, and looked like a Tapovan, a forest hermitage.

When I joined Bangalore Ashrama in mid-1961, Maharaj was away on a visit to Singapore and Rangoon. While going through the old issues of the Order’s journal Vedanta Kesari in the library, I came across the notes of class talks given by Maharaj in Germany and Switzerland from 1933 to 1939. I started copying those notes, and wrote to Maharaj about what I was doing. In reply he wrote: ‘We have an idea of bringing out another book on practical spirituality. The work you are doing now may be of help in the preparation of the book in future.’ Maharaj’s wish and blessing was fulfilled nineteen years later when the book Meditation and Spiritual Life was published in 1979. The notes I had prepared formed the nucleus of this book.

Living with an illumined soul like Revered Yatiswara-nandaji Maharaj is a continual process of liberal education. The benefits of gurukulavâsa, living with the guru, which was the system of education followed in ancient India, can be understood only by those who have had the blessed opportunity for it. Maharaj kept a watchful eye on the lives of the monastic inmates of the Ashrama, and corrected us whenever we erred or failed to measure up to monastic ideals. He was not only a teacher but was also like a fond mother, sincerely concerned about our all-round welfare.

Maharaj did not encourage what is known as ‘personality cult’. Owing to his sweet and loving nature, he was adored by his disciples and many others. But he wanted all their adoration to be directed towards God. He wanted that Sri Ramakrishna should be the object of all love and adoration, and everyone else was to be loved through Him and for his sake: this was a basic teaching and attitude of Swami Yatiswaranandaji.

Power of Selfless Service

The first duty assigned to me after Maharaj returned to Bangalore from Burma and Singapore was that of ‘Bhandari’, looking after the kitchen and dining hall. In those days this service involved a lot of work as there was no other help except the cook. Before joining the Order I used to spend several hours in contemplative life, but now I could manage to get hardly two or three hours. As a result of the conflict between work and meditation a kind of discontent began to grow in my mind. I did not tell anybody about it, but Maharaj seemed to have sensed it.

Every day he used to come to the kitchen at about ten in the morning to inform the Bhandari about the number of guests expected to have noon Prasad that day. One day I was sitting in the kitchen dressing vegetables when he came to the door. After telling me about the number of guests for noon Prasad, he stood there for a few minutes more and said, ‘You see, when you do selfless work for Guru Maharaj (Sri Ramakrishna) some Power will come and lift you up.’ He then left the place without saying anything more.

The next few days I thought deeply about the significance of Maharaj’s forceful utterance. It gradually dawned upon me that I had set too much store by meditation, and that the amount of time I spent on meditation was not directly proportional to the spiritual progress that I had attained. Selfless work is generally regarded as a long-drawn-out process of purification of mind. Maharaj’s statement that selfless service opened the door to Divine Power revealed to me a new vista or dimension of spirituality, which is a basic principle in the ideology of the Ramakrishna Movement. It actually unifies the two ideals of the motto, ‘For one’s own liberation and for the welfare of the world.’ As enunciated by revered Swami Tapasyanandaji Maharaj, all the activities of Ramakrishna Math and Mission are based on the faith that the Avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna has opened a new pathway to Mukti: whoever performs any work as service to Sri Ramakrishna and surrenders the fruit of his actions to Him will, by His grace, become spiritually uplifted and will eventually attain liberation. What the contemplatives, as for instance, the monks of certain Buddhist sects who are said to practice twelve hours of meditation every day, attain through hours of contemplation, may be attained by a person who renders selfless service to suffering people as worship of Sri Ramakrishna with the aim of attaining purity of mind and spiritual elevation.

Building up One’s Spiritual Life

Everyone is born with certain inherent tendencies. It so happened that from boyhood I had a desire to live in a cave in the Himalayas, and used to read avidly books and articles on travels in the Himalayas. This desire persisted even after joining the Order. I never told anybody about it, but Maharaj seemed to have sensed it. One night when I went to his room to fill his thermos with hot water, he asked me to sit down on a chair near him. He then talked to me for nearly an hour and a half. The first thing he told me was: ‘If you think of a wandering life now itself, you will only become a vagabond. Live in one place and build up your spiritual life.’

Maharaj then narrated the experiences he had when he practised tapasya on the banks of the rivers Kaveri and Tamraparni and on the seashore at Tiruchendur—all in Tamil Nadu. The Prasad given from temples to pilgrims was his food. In Shiva temples only plain rice used to be given to pilgrims. After living on plain rice for one or two months he felt as if ‘every cell in my body called for nourishment.’ He talked to the priests, and they gave him chutney-pudi (dal powder mixed with spices) and buttermilk. The reason for his narrating all this to me was to impress upon my mind the fact that remaining in one Ashrama and building up my spiritual life was far more important than leading a wandering life.

Some of the other important points in his talk are given below in his own words.

  1. It is good to learn different kinds of work so that you can serve the Order in different ways.
  2. Too much introversion and too much extroversion are to be given up. Mingle with all people freely without losing your inner composure and remembrance of God. You don’t have to indulge in gossip; talk to people about what you gain from spiritual life. Maharaj said: ‘When I was in Madras I did all kinds of work, but I avoided talking to people. Raja Maharaj noticed this, and asked me, “I say, why you don’t talk with people?” I replied, “Maharaj, what shall I talk about?” “Why, what you learn through your studies, through your spiritual practices, speak of that.”’
  3. The joy and calmness you feel in meditation must be brought to bear in your work also. Maintaining an undercurrent of thought of God during work is as important as doing meditation at stated hours. All your work must be done as service to Sri Ramakrishna. ‘I don’t do anything other than service to the Lord,’ he said with great emphasis.
  4. Our ideal is Âtmano mokshârtham, jagad hitâya ca. If you think, ‘Let me realize God first and then serve others’, it will never happen. As Raja Maharaj has taught, work and worship must go hand in hand. Our ideal should be, ‘I want to realize God along with others. I want to share my life with others.’ Very often, in the name of doing spiritual practices, we think too much of ourselves, become too much self-centred. Think of the welfare of others. Referring to the life of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Maharaj said, ‘I have seen Mahapurush Maharaj, Baburam Maharaj, Khoka Maharaj and other disciples of Thakur; they had no other thought but the welfare of others. From morning till night they worked for others. They all laid their lives for the Sangha. You should also do the same.’
  5. I told Maharaj, ‘I am not much bothered about work. But I feel unhappy to think that even after so many years I haven’t attained much progress in spiritual life.’ Maharaj replied, ‘Don’t try to be a saint overnight. Leave everything to Guru Maharaj. Let Him do whatever He pleases. You must have more faith in Sri Ramakrishna.’
  6. Maharaj then spoke about the vision he had had before going to Europe in 1933. A letter had come from Germany requesting the authorities of Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math, to send a Vedanta teacher to Germany, and the Trustees chose Swami Yatiswaranandaji. But Maharaj was reluctant to go. The Nazis under Hitler were coming to power in Germany and the whole of Europe was in a state of unrest. Revered Mahapurush Maharaj wrote to Yatiswaranandaji advising him to accept the proposal, but the letter got stuck in the postbox and was therefore not delivered. Unable to decide, Yatiswaranandaji Maharaj went on praying to Sri Ramakrishna. After a few days when he woke up early in the morning, he saw Light coming from all directions and entering him, and he felt an Infinite Presence. He then realized Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) was everywhere and his going to Europe was His will. He decided to agree to go to Germany. That day itself the postman delivered revered Mahapurush Maharaj’s letter to him.

I was listening spellbound to Maharaj’s talk. When he ended, it was 11 o’clock at night, I knelt down in humble submission, and he blessed me by placing his holy hands on my head.

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The Five Commandments of Sri Ramakrishna – Concluding Part

Swami Dayatmananda

Swami Dayatmananda is the current Center Leader of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, UK. The following article is reproduced from the Vedanta magazine published by the Vedanta Society of UK – Jan-Feb 2002 Issue. The first part of this article can be viewed at: http://www.chennaimath.org/the-five-commandments-of-sri-ramakrishna-part-1-12701

How to love God and surrender to Him whom we have never seen is a question that often arises in our mind. To some such query of a devotee Swami Adbhutananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, replied: “It does not matter if you do not know Him. You know His Name. Just take His Name, and you will progress spiritually. What do they do in an office? Without having seen or known the officer, one sends an application addressed to his name. Similarly send your application to God, and you will receive His grace.” The answer was characteristic of Swami Adbhutananda, temperamentally a man of simplicity and faith. Though a simple answer, it satisfied the inquirer, for it carried the strength that is in the words of a man of realisation. This assertion of the Swami, however, is corroborated by the scriptures, where the Divine Name has been considered identical with the Deity it signifies. It is not merely a combination of letters. It is both the means and the goal. Words, especially the syllable Om, have been designated as Brahman by the Vedas. All scriptures glorify Holy Names. Every religious discipline prescribes the Name of God for repetition. Its efficacy is recognized by all faiths. Theistic religions specially recommend it to their votaries. In Hinduism even the Advaita system of philosophy, which does not recognize the ultimate separate existence of a personal God, appreciates the value of the repetition of God’s Names as a purifying act.

In the theistic faiths, however, its place is significantly important. Of all the systems it is the Vaishnavite School of Sri Chaitanya, which has laid particular stress on the Divine Name and has raised its repetition to the status of an independent spiritual practice. Sri Chaitanya, the founder of Bengali Vaishnavism, has himself composed a few verses singing the glory of the Name which forms a cardinal doctrine of his system. In the first verse of his Sikshastaka, he speaks about the nature of Name and the efficacy of its repetition:

Chant the name of the Lord and His Glory unceasingly,
That the mirror of the heart may be wiped clean,
And quench that mighty forest fire, Worldly lust, raging furiously within.
Oh Name, stream down in moonlight on the lotus heart,
Opening its cup to knowledge of Thyself.
Oh self, drown deep in the waves of His bliss,
Chanting His Name continually,
Tasting His nectar at every step,
Bathing in His Name, that bath for weary souls.

He also says that the Lord’s Name is to be always sung by one who is humbler than even a blade of grass, with more endurance than that of a tree and who, being himself devoid of conceit, bestows honour on others. Man seeks refuge in God’s name also when he is confronted with difficult situations or involved in crises. Innumerable stories are extant which go to illustrate this fact. When Draupadi was being subjected to insult and humiliation in the court of the Kauravas it was Krishna’s name that saved her honour. When Radha, the cowherdess of Vrndavana, was asked, as a test of her chastity, to bring water in a multi-holed pitcher it was with the name of the Lord that she came off more glorious than ever, out of this fiery ordeal. The great hero of the Ramayana, whom Tulsidas calls the `jewel in the great garland of Ramayana’, Hanuman, crossed the ocean to Lanka merely by taking the name of Rama.

Though it is said that chanting or repeating the name of God is enough it must be understood rightly. Undoubtedly there is an inherent power in the name of God. Even if one chants it mechanically it will save one in course of time. In fact many aspirants do japa only mechanically. There is little or no intensity or feeling in it. That is why little progress is seen in their lives.

Concerning this a great poet-saint, Kabir, has warned us against the complacency and self-satisfaction that may be indulged in by the mere mechanical repetition of the name. He says:
“The remembrance of God is not achieved
By the revolving of beads in the hand,
By the rolling of the tongue in the mouth,
Or, by the wandering of the mind in all quarters.”

Yet there is hope even for those who take God’s name mechanically:
Disciple: “Is it of any use to be merely repeating His Name without intense devotion?”
Holy Mother: “Whether you jump into water or are pushed into it, your cloth will get drenched. Is it not so? Repeat the Name of God, whether your mind is concentrated or not. It will be good for you if you can repeat the Name of God for a fixed number of times daily.” However it would be far more profitable if one chants the name of God with faith, love and longing.

Sri Ramakrishna emphasizes intense yearning:
Goswami: “Sir, the chanting of God’s name is enough. The scriptures emphasize the sanctity of God’s name for the Kaliyuga.”
Master: “Yes, there is no doubt about the sanctity of God’s name. But can a mere name achieve anything, without the yearning love of the devotee behind it? One should feel great restlessness of soul for the vision of God. Suppose a man repeats the name of God mechanically, while his mind is absorbed in `lust and gold’, can he achieve anything? “Therefore I say, chant the name of God, and with it pray to Him that you may have love for Him. Pray to God that your attachment to such transitory things as wealth, name, and creature comforts may become less and less every day.”

The scriptures and saints tell us that there is a tremendous joy in God’s name, for God is of the nature of Bliss; He is Satchidananda. A beginner, however, does not experience any joy. On the contrary he may feel only dryness. It is not the fault of God’s name. The fault lies in the mind of the devotee. As long as the mind has not turned away from worldly delights it is not possible to taste divine bliss. One must try to develop discrimination and dispassion for the world. Only when the mind is purified of worldly dross does one begin to taste the joy of divine name. One must pray to God with yearning for getting rid of desires and for getting delight in His name:
Devotee: “How can I take delight in God’s name?”
Master: “Pray to God with a yearning heart that you may take delight in His name. He will certainly fulfil your heart’s desire.” So saying, Sri Ramakrishna sang a song in his sweet voice, pleading with the Divine Mother to show Her grace to suffering men.
Then he said: “Even for Thy holy name I have no taste. A typhoid patient has very little chance of recovery if he loses all taste for food; but his life need not be despaired of if he enjoys food even a little, that is why one should cultivate a taste for God’s name. Any name will do Durga, Krishna, or Siva. Then if, through the chanting of the name, one’s attachment to God grows day by day, and joy fills the soul, one has nothing to fear. The delirium will certainly disappear; the grace of God will certainly descend.”

Utmost caution and guidance are required to chant the Name effectively. When one chants it with due regard and propriety, said Swami Vivekananda once, one can have both devotion and knowledge through it. We have to impress on our minds that purity of thought and sincerity of purpose are the essential conditions one has to achieve and develop in the religious life if it is to be expeditiously fruitful. An aspirant must practise self-control. He has to avoid all slips in ethical life and should live a life of discipline. These are the sine qua non of the higher life, and it is well-known that nothing will happen if spiritual disciplines are practised perfunctorily. When that purity of purpose and sincerity in sadhana is achieved and when one tries in secret and in solitude and with single-minded devotion to repeat the name of God, His vision will come and thedevotee will get absorbed in Him. This chanting of God’s name must form a regular habit.

Sri Ramakrishna says:
“And one must always chant the name and glories of God and pray to Him. An old metal pot must be scrubbed every day. What is the use of cleaning it only once? Further, one must practise discrimination and renunciation; one must be conscious of the unreality of the world.”

“One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga (iron age). The practice of yoga is not possible in this age, for the life of a man depends on food. Clap your hands while repeating God’s name, and the birds of your sin will fly away.”

A devotee asked, “Mother, what is the secret?” Holy Mother pointed to a small clock in a niche and said, “As that timepiece is ticking, so also go on repeating God’s Name. That will bring you everything. Nothing more need be done. While performing Japa, take the Name of God with utmost love, sincerity, and self-surrender. Before commencing your meditation daily, first think of your utter helplessness in this world and then slowly begin the practice of Sadhana as directed by your Guru.”

The Master: “Ecstatic devotion develops in taking the Name of the Lord, eyes overflow tears of joy, words are choked in the mouth, and all the hairs of the body stand erect thrilled with joy.
Devotee: But I do not find delight in His name. 

The Master: Then pray with a yearning heart that He may teach you to relish His name. Undoubtedly He will grant your prayer. . . . I say, “Find joy in his name.” Durga, Krishna, Siva any name will do. And if you daily feel a greater attraction for taking His name and a greater joy in it, you need fear no more. The delirium must get cured, and His grace will surely descend on you.”

Japa means repeating the name of the Lord silently, sitting in a quiet place. If one continues the repetition with concentration and devotion, one is sure to be blessed with Divine visions ultimately one is sure to have God-realisation. Suppose a big log of wood is immersed in the Ganges with one end attached to a chain, which is fixed on the bank. Following the chain, link by link, you can gradually dive into the water and trace your way to it. In the same manner, if you become absorbed in the repetition of His holy name, you will eventually realise Him.”

According to Vaishnavism the Divine Name must be taken without committing ten faults. These are:
(1) disparaging genuine devotees,
(2) regarding God as absolutely different from His Names, Form, Qualities, etc.,
(3) showing disrespect for one’s spiritual preceptor,
(4) speaking too lightly or contemptuously of the sacred scriptures,
(5) considering the glory of the Divine Name mentioned in the scriptures as mere eulogy,
(6) considering the Divine Name as imaginary,
(7) committing sins repeatedly and intentionally on the strength of the Divine Name,
(8) regarding the repetition of the Divine Name as equal to other spiritual practices,
(9) imparting it to unworthy persons, 
(10) wanting taste for the chanting or hearing of the Divine Name even after listening to its excellencies. 
These faults however will be rectified by chanting the Divine Name itself. As Padmapurana puts it: The sins of those who commit offence to the Divine Name is remedied by the Name alone. And it bears the desired fruit if taken constantly. If one chants the name of God sincerely with faith, feeling, and yearning, and takes care to avoid the faults mentioned above, one is sure to progress in spiritual life, obtain His grace and attain Him in time.

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The Five Commandments of Sri Ramakrishna – Part 1

Swami Dayatmananda

Swami Dayatmananda is the current Center Leader of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, UK. The following article is reproduced from the Vedanta magazine published by the Vedanta Society of UK – Jan-Feb 2002 Issue

M. (humbly): “Yes, sir. How, sir, may we fix our minds on God?”
Master:
(1) “Repeat God’s name and sing His glories, and
(2) keep holy company; and now and then visit God’s devotees and holy men. The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities;
(3) it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practises meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle. “To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest.
(4) And you should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.”
M. (humbly): “How ought we to live in the world?”
Master: (5) “Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live with all with wife and children, father and mother and serve them. Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you.”

On his second visit M. received the above five commandments from Sri Ramakrishna. M. practised them to perfection all his life and taught them to devotees who used to visit him. These five commandments are of supreme importance for those who wish to progress in spiritual life. All aspirants, especially the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, must remember and assess their spiritual progress in the light of these commandments. If followed faithfully they are sure to lead to the highest realisation. To the extent the devotees are able to practise them, to that extent they are progressing in the realm of God.

The first of these commandments is to repeat God’s name and sing His glories. Religious lore is replete with the praises of the power and glory of God’s name. Of all the spiritual practices, taking the name of God is the easiest. Sri Chaitanya was a prophet who preached the glory of God’s name. Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna all have unequivocally emphasized the need for repetition of the name of God. A host of saints all over the world have advocated repeating the name of God. Many became saints solely through the repetition of God’s name. The name and the named are one; God and His name are one. The Master said: “God and His name are identical; that is the reason Radha said that. There is no difference between Rama and His holy name.” The name of God purifies and uplifts one who takes it; it washes away all sins and impurities. Indeed there are devotees who maintain that the name of God is even greater than God Himself. Through the power of God’s name one can reach the highest realisation. Throughout his life Sri Ramakrishna himself repeated the name of his sweet Divine Mother even after attaining Nirvikalpa samadhi.

Sri Jagadananda Pandita, a Vaishnava saint, wrote in verse a book called Prema-vivarta (On the Glory of Divine Love), where he distinguishes different methods of taking God’s name uttering, repeating, chanting and singing. But the best practice, he says, is singing the Divine Name, for that requires the services of many sense-organs. Bhakti-rasamrtasindhu of Rupa Goswami recognises sixty-four forms of devotion. Of these there are five main forms. They are: keeping the company of devotees, singing the Divine Name, hearing the scriptures, staying in a holy place, and serving the Deity with devotion. According to Vaishnava tradition the important sadhanas are three: kindness to all beings, taste for God’s Name, and service to fellow devotees. Caitanya-caritamrta considers the chanting of the Divine Name as the best way of promoting devotion. God’s name is within the reach of all. Even illiterate people can attain God by the power of His name. Amongst the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, there was a lonely widow known as Gopala’s Mother, who lived in a room beside the Ganges and spent her time in repeating the name of Gopala. Her life-long remembrance of God was rewarded in old age by the constant vision of Gopala, the Divine Child, who lived with her night and day for two months. She is to this day loved and honoured by the disciples and devotees ofthe Ramakrishna Order. The glory of the Divine Name bears no comparison. As the Adi purana puts it: “There is no knowledge like Name, no vow like Name, no meditation like Name, no fruit like Name.”

Chanting of the Lord’s name does not go in vain. It must bear its benign result. It is like the philosopher’s stone converting all baser metal into gold. It is like the magic wand of the magician performing unbelievable and unthought of miracles; it transforms man’s life for ever. Name is both the means and the end. To take God’s name lovingly and to see Him are the same. To the votary of the Divine Name, it manifests itself as the Form, Quality and Sport of the Lord. The Form of the Lord is identical with His Name. Devotees say the Name is even greater than Form. Evidences of this can be seen in the lives of Rama and Krishna. While Sri Rama had to construct a bridge to cross the ocean, Hanuman crossed it with the strength of Rama’s Name. When Sri Krishna was put on the balance against His Name written on a Tulasi leaf, he was found to be lighter. The essence of all scriptures is God’s name. Once a sadhu who had remarkable faith in the name of God came to Dakshineswar. He carried with him a book in which the solitary word “Om Rama” was written in big letters in red ink. He worshipped this book daily with flowers and sometimes opened and read it. Sri Ramakrishna became curious to know what was written in the book. The monk showed him the book and said to him: “What is the use of reading a large number of books? For it is from the one divine Lord that the Vedas and Puranas have come; He and His name are not separate. . . That is why His name is my only companion”

Sri Ramakrishna himself was a great advocate of using the name of God. He said: “Chant His name and purify your body and mind. Purify your tongue by singing God’s holy name.” Holy Mother said: “The Mantra purifies the body. Man becomes pure by repeating the Mantra of God. … It is said, `The human teacher utters the Mantra into the ear; but God breathes the spirit into the soul.’ “As wind removes the cloud, so the Name of God destroys the cloud of worldliness.” Once a devotee showed to Holy Mother a tiny banyan seed and said to her, “Look, Mother, it is tinier even than the tiniest seed we know. From this will spring a giant tree! How strange!” “Indeed, it will,” Mother replied. “See what a tiny seed is the Name of God. From it in time come divine moods, devotion, love, and spiritual consummation. “Very powerful indeed is the Lord’s name. It may not bring about an immediate result, but it must one day bear fruit, just as we find that a seed left long ago on the cornice of a building at last reaches the ground, germinates, grows into a tree, and bears fruit, perhaps when the building cracks and is demolished. Knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, in whatever state of mind a man utters God’s name, he acquires the merit of such utterance. A man who voluntarily goes to a river and bathes therein gets the benefit of the bath: so does he also who has been pushed into the waterby another, or who, when sleeping soundly, has water thrown upon him. “There is a great power in the seed of God’s name. It destroys ignorance. A seed is tender, and the sprout soft; still it pierces the hard ground. The ground breaks and makes way for the sprout.” The best thing for people whose minds are attracted by sense-objects is to cultivate the dualistic attitude and chant loudly the name of the Lord as mentioned in NaradaPancharatra (a work on devotion). “Through the path of devotion the subtle senses come readily and naturally under control. Carnal pleasures become more and more insipid as Divine love grows in your heart.”

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Gadadhar’s (Sri Ramakrishana) Divine Bhava on Sivaratri

sriramakrishnaOn the Sivaratri night, consecrated to the worship of Siva, a dramatic performance was arranged at Kamarpukur. The principal actor, who was to play the part of Siva, suddenly fell ill, and Gadadhar was persuaded to act in his place. While friends were dressing him for the role of Siva – smearing his body with ashes, matting his locks, placing a trident in his hand and a string of rudrakasa beads around his neck – the boy appeared to become absentminded.

He approached the stage with slow and measured step, supported by his friends.

He looked the living image of Siva. The audience loudly applauded what it took to be his skill as an actor, but it was soon discovered that he was really lost in meditation. His countenance was radiant and tears flowed from his eyes. He was lost to the outer world. The effect of this scene on the audience was tremendous. The people felt blessed as by a vision of Siva Himself. The performance had to be stopped, and the boy’s mood lasted till the following morning.

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At the Cossipore Garden-House on the night of Maha Sivaratri

Source: Life of Swami Vivekananda Volume 1 [Page:166]
Cossipore and the Passing Away Of the Master

Early picture of The Cossipore Garden HouseNaren (later Swami Vivekananda) was becoming aware of the spiritual power within him. There were moments when he, as it were, touched divinity and became almost physically conscious of Reality by the spiritual transmutation of the internal faculties of sense. His thought became a sweeping power. On one occasion he displayed it. It was on Shivaratri (the Night of Shiva) in March 1886. Naren was seated with three or four brother-disciples in a room in the compound of the Cossipore garden-house. They had fasted the whole day and intended to spend the night in meditation, worship and prayer. A mild shower of rain fell in the evening and the starlit sky was in parts fleeced with clouds. After finishing the worship, Japa and meditation proper to the first quarter of the night, Naren was resting and conversing with others, sitting on the worshipper’s seat. One of the brother disciples went out to prepare a smoke for him and another went to the main residence on a piece of work. Just then a feeling of divine power came to Naren. He wanted to test it out that night, and said to Kali (later Swami Abhedananda) who was sitting close to him, “Just touch me after a while.” When the brother disciple who had gone to prepare tobacco entered the room, he saw Naren sitting motionless in meditation and Kali, with his eyes shut, touching Naren’s right knee with his right hand. He noticed that Kali’s hand was trembling. After a minute or two Naren opened his eyes and said, “That is enough. How did you feel?” Kali answered, “I felt a shock as though from an electric battery. My hand was shaking all the while.” The brother disciple asked Kali, “Was your hand trembling because you were touching Naren?” Kali answered, “Yes, I could not keep it steady, though I tried.”

A little later the young men applied themselves to the worship and meditation proper to the second quarter of the night. Kali entered into deep meditation at that time. He was never seen to enter into such deep meditation before. His whole body became stiff, with his neck and head inclined slightly forward. Consciousness of the outer world seemed to have completely left him for some time. Everyone present thought that he was having such meditation as a result of having touched Naren a little while previously. Naren also noticed that state and indicated it to a companion by a sign.

After the last quarter’s worship was over at four in the morning, Shashi came to the worship – room and said to Naren, “The Master wants you.” Naren went upstairs with Shashi to the Master. No sooner had the Master seen Naren than he said, “What is this? Spending with hardly anything accumulated! Allow it first to accumulate sufficiently in yourself; then you will know where and how to spend it. Mother Herself will teach you. Don’t you see what harm you have done to him by injecting your attitude of mind into him? He has been progressing till now with a particular mental attitude, the whole of which has now been destroyed, like a miscarriage during the sixth month of pregnancy. What’s done is done. Don’t act so thoughtlessly from now on. The boy, however, is lucky that greater harm has not befallen him.” Naren said afterwards, “I was completely flabbergasted. The Master was able to know whatever we did at the time of worship. What else could I do but keep silent when he scolded me like that!”

Swami Abhedananda (Kali) narrates this same incident in his autobiography. The gist of his account is as follows:

On the Shivaratri night, when Naren and I were meditating, Naren’s body suddenly began to shake. He asked me to put my hand on his thigh and see if I felt anything. When I put my hand there, I felt as though I had touched an electric battery, and as though a magnetic current were causing a violent tremor in his body. Gradually this current became so strong that my hand too began to shake. Naren did not infuse any power into me on this occasion; he only thought that he could do so. In order to disabuse Narendra of this illusion the Master said to him later, “This is the time to gain power, not to spend it”

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