Lessons From The Gospel: Part 1
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Lessons From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Part 3
Lessons From The Third Visit
On one of the subsequent Sundays 'M' reached Dakshineswar where he met with a few devotees of Sri Ramakrishna; Narendranath (later Swami Vivekananda) was one of them.
The room was filled with a few devotees and the Master was sitting on a small couch. The discussion was about worldly people, their mental inclinations and mental make up, etc. 'M' was still new to such gathering and knew no one in the gathering, so he sat in one corner of the room.
It is our common experience in our initial involvement with spiritual group that other people, including our close relatives, discourage us to join and take to the path of spirituality. Spirituality is seen as 'renunciation' and there is always a fear in our family members that influence of the teachings of sadhu (e.g. Sri Ramakrishna) might influence us to leave the house and go to forest! Secondly, other people see spirituality as religion of the weak and escapists. They feel that taking to the path of spirituality means accepting defeat in this world full of challenges. Thus, they scoff at you, discourage you, and say all bad things about religion and spirituality. They try to prove how religion is useless in the present age of science and rationality where 'reason' is the word to be honored.
How to live in the world
Sri Ramakrishna knew all such deviant criticism of spiritual aspirants by common man. Therefore, Sri Ramakrishna was talking about how to deal with such people. He asked Narendranath:
"How do you feel about it? Worldly people say all kinds of things about the spiritually minded. But look here! When an elephant moves along the street small animals may bark at it; but the elephant doesn't even look back at them. If people speak ill of you, what will you think of them?"
To this Narendranath replied with characteristic boldness and carefree manner: "I shall think that dogs are barking at me."
Master (smiling) said: "Oh, no! You mustn't go that far, my child!" (All in the room laugh with amusement) God dwells in every being, but one should not mix with bad people. God is even in tiger; but one cannot embrace the tiger on that account! Now the question would be asked: "Why run away from a tiger, which is also manifestation of God?" The answer is that those who tell you to run away are also God!!! And these people telling you to run away have achieved somewhat higher heights in the spiritual matters. Therefore, one should listen to more experienced and wiser man. Our mind also has two aspects; one higher the other lower. By discrimination we shall be able to listen and hear to the faint voice of reason and wisdom. Then our decisions do not go wrong and hurdles are minimized.
Here we see how Sri Ramakrishna wants his devotees to go slowly and steadily to counter negative tendencies both in people around us and within us. Acute emotions, knee jerk reactions, and megalomania are counterproductive in the initial stages in the life of a sadhaka. Secondly, what we think to be correct might be lower truth at the ebst; for there may be higher truth that we might not grasp in such quick and thoughtless reactions. Therefore, Sri Ramakrishna tells a story to drive this point home.
In the outskirts of a village a teacher was encamping with his disciples. The wise man taught his disciples about existence of God in all beings; be they insentient or sentient. One of the disciples took this teaching with great seriousness and used to behave as per this teaching.
One day the teacher sent this sadhaka to the village to fetch necessary food and things for the yajna etc. The simple minded sadhaka purchased the necessary items and while returning heard the shouts of 'run away, run away; a mad elephant is coming.' Everyone around him took to their heels and took shelter here and there. But this disciple reasoned, ' my gurudev has told me that God exists in this elephant also, so why should I run away?' he did not move from the path of the mad elephant was thrown down by the animal. Seriously hurt, the disciple lay unconscious on the ground.
Soon the news reached the camp in the jungle, and the teacher and fellow sadhakas rushed to the rescue of this hurt brahmacharin. With treatment and mantra power the teacher brought the disciple to consciousness and inquired: "Did you not hear the warning of mahout to run away?"
The defiant disciple replied: "But, sir! Why, you yourself told me that Narayana also resided in elephant!"
With great amusement and in most meaningful way the teacher said: "Yes, my dear child, Narayana resides in elephant also; but it resides with greater manifestation in mahout as well. You should have listened to him with more alacrity! Then you would not have to this state."
It is said that it took three full days for Swami Vivekananda to explain the meaning of this parable. Therefore, I do not try to explain it any further.
Listening to these wise words of Sri Ramakrishna, one devotee asked: "Sir, if a wicked man is about harm, or actually does so, should we keep quiet then?" To this Sri Ramakrishna answered: "A man living in society should make a show of tamas to protect himself from evil-minded people. But he should not harm anybody in anticipation of harm likely to be done to him."
Householder must hiss at wicked people; they must frighten the evil-minded persons lest they should harm the householders. But never inject the venom into them. One must not injure others. Like the snake in the parable, householder should hiss but not bite.
The talk drifted to diversity in the nature of persons in this world. Some people are devoted to God, while others are bound to the worldly pleasures alone. Sri Ramakrishna told about four classes of people:
1) Those bound by the fetters of the world (baddha jiva);
2) Those seekers after liberation (mumukshu);
3) The liberated (siddha); and,
4) The ever free (nitya siddha)
Describing each group, Sri Ramakrishna said about the bound souls, "They never think of God, but instead indulge in idle gossip, foolish talk, and useless work. In spare time they play cards!" (Today we can say 'in leisure time they see TV, go to movie, or restaurant and waste time, energy and money').
A devotee was startled to listen to this accurate description of bound soul. Most of us fall under this category, if I may say so! The devotee was highly concerned and asked to the Master: "Sir, is there no help, then, for such worldly person?"
Reassuring the frightened devotee, the kind-hearted and compassionate Sri Ramakrishna answered: "Certainly, there is. From time to time one should live in the company of holy men, sing glories of the lord, and take His name." An attempt should also be made to meditate in corner of the room or in a lonely place.
Question of Faith
But the most important advice Sri Ramakrishna gave here was to pray to and have faith in God. "O God, I don't know anything about Bhakti, Jnana, or Yoga. I do not know about rituals and worship. Be Graceful and grant me love and faith in You." However, prayer should have firm foundation of faith. Elaborating the glory and importance of faith, Sri Ramakrishna talked at length about shraddha of Hanuman and Vibhishana towards Rama. Faith has tremendous power. Faith in God can clear off even the most heinous sins; only thing we have to pray: 'O Lord, I will not repeat such an action, and the devotee need not be afraid of anything.'
What is this faith or shraddha? It is a great asset for a devotee or a bhakta. A Jnani may doubt everything, but a devotee of God holds on to immense faith in the greatness and power of his/her Ishta. Come what may, my Ishta Devata (chosen ideal/deity) is capable of saving me from all dangers, this total belief is faith.
Some maintain that faith gets firmly established only after realization of God, but I feel by faith here Sri Ramakrishna means having firm belief in the existence of God. This God for Bhakta is attributes of purity, piety, grandeur, power, and grace.
When we say we have faith in Sri Ramakrishna, we actually mean we are sure about his realizations and knowledge of God. Thus, I would say, faith is belief in someone else's knowledge. We are sure and we believe that Sri Ramakrishna talked with Mother Kali, he experienced God in all the aspects, and we therefore, also should attempt to seek at least a glimpse of Divinity. This action to realize God on the basis of belief in the knowledge of Sri Ramakrishna is called faith or shraddha.
C. S. Shah