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Sri Ramakrishna and His Lay Devotees
Sri Krishna has vividly proclaimed two things in the Gita, 1) whenever there is decline in dharma (righteous way of living and keeping God realization as the aim in life), the Almighty incarnates as avatara, God-Incarnate, and 2) the mission of avatara is to re-establish dharma in that epoch. Sri Ramakrishna in this era, as the 'Man of God', re-established these eternal truths based on his real life realization of divinity. The teachings and experiences of such man of God remain obscure and lose their import unless a few disciples and devotees accompany and join him in his 'mission'.
In 1836, when Sri Ramakrishna came to the world, scientific discoveries and inventions of 19th century, attempt to introduce modern methods in education, progressive impact of materialism, and contempt of religion on the basis of 'reason' created confusion in the minds of thousands of educated youths. That there is a larger dimension to human consciousness was not thought of. The only aim was to treat and accept sense-pleasure as the highest goal in life. The truth that realization or manifestation of Divine Consciousness is the natural and logical culmination of human endeavour was about to be forgotten in the din and bustle of modernism.
This is probably the meaning of decline of 'dharma' talked of in the Gita. To make people aware of the true aim in life, and enlighten the masses about the true meaning of religion, Sri Ramakrishna came to earth. 'As the lotus blooms, so come bees around it to taste the nectar.' Similarly, when spiritual dimensions in Sri Ramakrishna's life were fully realized the breeze containing the nectar of his divine ecstasies spread all around. Many devotees in and around Calcutta were attracted to the divine exuberance of this man of God. From different directions many feet converged on to his small room at Dakshineswar.
Like musk deer these visitors were unaware of the hidden light of God in their hearts. The touch of Master Magician brought forth the divine spark in these men and women to surface. Some of them took to monastic life, while others became householder devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. The word 'householder devotees' since then instills a sense of pride in his followers.
The Householders Get Attracted
A few of his close relatives like Hriday; Rani Rasmani (who constructed the famous Temple of Kali at Dakshineswar), and her son in law Mathuranath Biswas were the first to be associated with Sri Ramakrishna. In later life Sambhu Charan Mallik, Ram Chandra Dutta, Manomohan, Surendra, Kedar, Girish Ghosh, Mahendranath Gutpa (M), Durgacharan Nag, Balaram Bose, Hazra, and many more came in close contact with him during his life at Dakshineswar.
His visitors at Dakshineswar were impressed by his one-pointed Godward zeal. Their shaky faith in scriptures and Indian religious traditions tried to find stabilizing support in the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. Many of the visitors were married, engaged in earning money, and leading a worldly life, but his unsurpassed cordiality and humility attracted them towards him. His teachings and sayings convinced the devotees that God should always come first before worldly concerns. Human life becomes drudgery, boring and painful if materialistic longing is the goal, but the same life becomes meaningful, joyous and inspiring - 'anada dhama', if spirituality is the goal. Leading God centered life each one of them played an important role in the divine drama of Sri Ramakrishna.
A Few Examples
1. Sambhu Charan Mallik was one of the caretakers of Sri Ramakrishna. He was a true devotee and a karma yogi. The divine association with Sri Ramakrishna opened up a new spiritual path in his life. With the grace and influence of Sri Ramakrishna his faith reached the height of glorious fulfillment. Sambhu wanted to serve the people and the society through building charitable dispensaries and hospitals. He often pleaded with Sri Ramakrishna to bless him so that all his wealth and money could be put to the service of downtrodden and needy. Idea of social welfare had taken hold of Sambhu's mind!
However, Sri Ramakrishna did not want to keep his devotee at the plane of social service alone; he wanted Sambhu to realize the higher spiritual truths as well. Therefore, by way of mild rebuke Sri Ramakrishna once said to him, "Suppose God appears before you; then will you ask Him to build hospitals and dispensaries for you?"
Riches may be of great value for us, but to Him all wealth is as useless as lumps of mud. Through Sambhu Charan Mallik, Sri Ramakrishna now advises us all, "Don't go out of your way to look for such works. Undertake only those works that present themselves to you and are of pressing necessity - and those also in a spirit of detachment." Real aim in life is realization of God. Selfless work is difficult in this age, and at most can be a means to the end of seeking God. Sooner one is freed from the bondage of duties and responsibilities, better are the chances to seek the Divine.
2. Nag Mahashaya (Durga Charan Nag) was personification of humility and modesty. This most humble and inconspicuous devotee of Sri Ramakrishna was de facto sannyasin leading the life as a householder! He was a practicing homeopath, the art that he in later life dedicated freely for the benefit of needy patients free of cost. He was prompt in reaching the sick irrespective of caste or socio-economic considerations. His selfless service has no parallel amongst the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna.
In their first meeting Sri Ramakrishna advised Nag Mahashaya to live in the world like a 'mud-fish' that lives in the mud but is not affected by it. This non-attachment to worldly duties and responsibilities is the key to success on the path of spirituality. As with many other devotees, Nag Mahashaya was also fortunate to serve Sri Thakur and experience higher state of consciousness through divine touch of Sri Ramakrishna.
The fire of renunciation was constantly aglow in the heart of Nag Mahashaya. Like Ram Chandra Dutta he also wanted to take to life of sanyasa (monk), but Sri Ramakrishna advised him to remain as the shining example of householder devotee for the others. 'Like king Janaka remain a householder and teach others the true meaning and ideal of a householder devotee.'
Thus started the real life of total faith, dedication, devotion, and renunciation. We can see in his life the true meaning of simplicity and frugality. Like a Rishi, his food, shelter, and clothing were bare minimum and simplest possible. He desired dry and tasteless food lest he should get attached to sense of taste! Accumulation of money was seen as water entering the boat that was sure to sink it. A single extra rupee was felt as a burden. The life, thus, became full of austerity, modesty, and simplicity.
3. Ardent nonbeliever in God, Ramachandra Dutta, developed unparalleled faith and devotion towards Sri Ramakrishna. Doctor by calling, this highly educated young man met Sri Ramakrishna in the year 1879 and remained his true household follower till his last breath. Leaving all glamour of name and fame, money and comfort he served Sri Ramakrishna during his illness with great devotion and reverence. In the later part of life he even gave up all thought of concern and care of his children and wife telling the inquirer 'He is there to take care'!
4. The journey on spiritual path of Mahendra Nath Gupta, 'M', who chronicled his life, sayings, and experiences as 'The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna', is unique in more than one ways. This noble teacher and head master of one of the schools run by Iswarchandra Vidyasagar visited the garden temple out of curiosity and boredom carrying with him vague, ill-defined concepts about God. First three visits and he was a changed person, who gave up all idea of logic and reasoning and accepted Sri Ramakrishna as the final authority on scriptures and religion. 'M' believed Sri Ramakrishna to be the living embodiment of Vedas! He later chronicled the daily life of his Master at the suggestion of Sri Ramakrishna himself and became immortal as far as rendering the important aspects of true life story of Sri Ramakrishna is concerned. Virtues like humility, modesty, and obedience were incorporated in the life of 'M' that still inspires many a devotee.
5. The story of Girish Chandra Ghosh, the great pioneer in dramatist of his time, is moving narration of liberation of fallen soul at the magic touch of a saint. Born as a rebel against God, a drunkard, and of loose character, Girish suffered great tragedies in his life in the form of death of his wife and daughters. Circumstances lead him to the holy and affectionate company of Sri Ramakrishna. He many a times inflicted insults and used harsh words for Sri Ramakrishna, but in spite of all this Sri Ramakrishna bestowed such a loving attitude towards him that Girish believed and proclaimed him to be an avatar. Girish maintained that God personified alone could digest such kind of distasteful and obnoxious behavior of his devotees.
Unwittingly, the relationship established between Sri Ramakrishna and these householder devotees was of pure friendship, and not overtly of a teacher and the disciple. But the friendship had tacit undertones of underlying resolve: That the relationship would strive to reach and thrive on perfection through worship and prayers, contemplation and meditation, discrimination and renunciation. Through this it was envisaged that the flights of fancy in every realm of thought and action, whether related to nature or art, mundane family or personal life, habits or addictions must lead to the royal path of spirituality and God realization. Both the devotees and Sri Ramakrishna were one in this regard; it did not matter whether one was touching the heavenly heights of the spiritual sky and the others were yet learning to fly.
For instance, it did not matter for Sri Ramakrishna whether Surendra and Girish Ghosh were addicted to alcohol; what he saw in them was the desire to become free. He encouraged Surendra to remember and 'offer' first drops of alcohol to The Mother and then drink the same for himself. This offering of even alcohol to the Mother was an act of purification and faith, of sublimating base compulsion to divine act. We know, subsequently, how difficult it became for these two devotees to continue drinking in later life; they gave it up!
Sri Ramakrishna used to guide everyone from his or her level of understanding of God to a higher level, as if 'from lower truth to higher truth', as Swami Vivekananda would say. The devotees saw fulfillment of their spiritual aspirations and goals in the life and words of Sri Ramakrishna. They understood that all worldly activities were, in fact, misdirected efforts to realize one's true spiritual nature. The ignorance that 'we are and mind', however, prevented manifestation of this divinity. To overcome this limitation regular spiritual practice i. e. individual efforts must be supplemented with the Grace of God. Sri Ramakrishna generously bestowed and continues to betow his Grace on his householder devotees.
C S Shah
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