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Sri Ramakrishna with his Disciples at the Temple

The bhagavan was in his room seated in his usual place on the small platform beside his bed. It was Sunday and the room was filled with a large number of devotees. Among them was a young college student only nineteen years of age named Narendra, who afterwards became the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda. Everyone noticed even at that time that he was a sincere and earnest seeker after Truth and that his mind was above all worldly concerns. His eyes were shining with spiritual light, his face was aglow with innocence and simplicity, and his words were full of spiritual power. The bhagavan was discoursing on worldly people who ridicule the worshippers of God. Especially addressing Narendra, he asked: What do you say, Narendra? Worldly [37} men will speak all manner of things against godly people, but they should act like the elephant. When an elephant passes through a public road, dogs run after him and bark at him; but the elephant turns a deaf ear to their barking and goes on his own way. Suppose, my boy, people should speak ill of you behind your back, what would you think of them?

Narendra: I would look on them as a lot of barking dogs.

God dwells in all. The bhagavan laughed and said: No, my friend, do not go so far as that. You should love everyone; no one is a stranger; God dwells in all beings; without him nothing can exist. When Prahlada [**] realized him, the Lord asked him to crave a boon. Prahlada replied: "When I have seen you, what other boon do I need?" The Lord asked him again. He then prayed: "If you wish to grant me a boon, forgive those who have persecuted me." Prahlada meant that by persecuting him they had persecuted the Lord dwelling within him. Know that God resides in all things animate and inanimate. Hence everything is an object of worship, be [38} it men, beasts or birds, plants or minerals In our relation with men all that we can do is to take heed to ourselves that we mix with good people and avoid bad company. It is true, however, that God resides in bad people also, yes, even in a tiger; but surely it does not follow that we should embrace a tiger. It may be asked: Why should we run away from a tiger when God is dwelling in that form? To this the answer is that God abiding in our hearts directs us to run away from the tiger. Why should we not obey his will?

Parable of the disciple and the mad elephant. In a certain forest there lived a sage who had a number of disciples. He taught his disciples the truth: "God dwells in all things. Knowing this, you should bend your knee before every object." One day a disciple went out into the forest for wood. On his way he saw a man riding a mad elephant and shouting: "Get out of the way, get out of the way! This is a mad elephant." The disciple, instead of running away, remembered his master's teaching and began to reason: "God is in the elephant as well as in me. God cannot be hurt by God, so why should I run away?" Thus thinking, he stood where he was and saluted the elephant [39} as he came nearer. The driver (Mahout) kept on shouting: "Get out of the way!" but the disciple would not move, until he was snatched up by the mad elephant and dashed to one side. The poor boy, bruised and bleeding, lay on the ground unconscious. The sage, hearing of the accident, came with his other disciples to carry him home. When after some time the unfortunate pupil recovered consciousness, he described what had happened. The sage replied: My boy, it is true that God is manifest in everything. But if he is in the elephant, is he not equally manifest in the driver (Mahoot)? Tell me why you did not pay heed to the warning of the driver?

God in everything. The bhagavan continued: In the sacred scriptures it is written, "God dwells in water"; but some water can be used for divine service, or for drinking purposes, some for bathing or washing, while dirty water cannot be touched even. In the same manner, although God resides in all human beings, still there are good men and bad men, there are lovers of God and those who do not love God. We should recognize Divinity in all, but we should not mix with bad people or with those who do not love God. Our relation with [40} them must not be very close. It is wise to avoid the company of such people.

Narendra: [**] What attitude should we hold when wicked people come to disturb our peace or do actually offend us?

Bhagavan: A person living in society should have a little Tamas (the spirit of resisting evil) Resistance of evil for purposes of self-protection. But this is necessary only for outward show, its object being to prevent the wicked from doing harm to you. At the same time you should not do actual injury to another on the ground that he has done injury to you.

Parable of the snake and the holy man. There was a large venomous snake in a field. No one dared to go that way. One day a holy man (Mahatma) passed by that road and the serpent ran after the sage to bite him. But when the snake approached the holy man, he lost all his ferocity and was overpowered by the gentleness of the Yogi. Seeing him, the sage said: "Well, my friend, think you to bite me?" The snake was abashed and made no reply. At this the sage continued: "Hearken, friend; do not injure anyone in future." The snake bowed and nodded [41} assent. The sage went his way, and the snake entered his hole and thenceforward began to live a life of innocence, without attempting to harm anyone. In a few days all the neighborhood concluded that the snake had lost his venom and was no longer dangerous; so everyone began to tease him. They pelted him with stones or dragged him mercilessly by the tail, and there was no end to his troubles. Fortunately the sage again passed that way, and seeing the bruised and battered condition of the snake, was very much moved and inquired the cause. "Holy Sir," the snake replied, "this is because I do not injure anyone after your advice. But alas! they are so merciless!" The sage smilingly said: "My friend, I simply advised you not to bite anyone; but I did not tell you not to frighten others. Although you should not bite any living creature, still you should keep people at a distance by hissing at them." And Sri Ramakrishna added: There is no harm in "Hissing" at wicked men and at your enemies, showing that you can protect yourself and know how to resist evil. Only you must be careful not to pour your venom into the blood of your enemy. Resist not evil by causing evil in return. [42}

Love for all. One of the devotees present said: But when a person is annoyed with me, Bhagavan, I feel unhappy. I feel that I have not been able to love everyone equally.

Ramakrishna: When you feel that way, you should have a talk with that person and try to make peace with him. If you fail after such attempts, then you need not give it further thought. Take refuge with the Lord. Think on him. Do not let your mind be disturbed by any other thing.

Devotee: Christ and Chaitanya have both taught us to love all mankind.

A true devotee always calm. Ramakrishna: You should love everyone because God dwells in all beings. But to wicked people you should bow down at a distance. (To Bijoy, smiling) Is it true that people blame you because you mix with those who believe in a Personal God with form? A true devotee of God should possess absolute calmness and never be disturbed by the opinions of others. Like a blacksmith's anvil, he will endure all blows and persecutions. and yet remain firm in his faith and always the same.

Company of the wicked. Wicked people may say many things about you and blame you; but if you long for God, you should endure with patience. [43} One can think on God even dwelling in the midst of wicked people. The sages of ancient times, who lived in forests, could meditate on God although surrounded by tigers, hears, and other wild beasts. The nature of the wicked is like that of a tiger or bear. They attack the innocent and injure them. You should he especially cautious in coming in contact with the following: First, the wealthy. A person who possesses wealth and many attendants can easily do harm to another if he so desires. You should be very guarded in speaking with him; sometimes it may even be necessary to agree with him in his opinion. Second, a dog. When a dog barks at you, you must not run, but talk to him and quiet him. Third a bull. When a bull chases you, you should always pacify him by talking to him. Fourth a drunkard. If you make him angry, he will call you names and swear at you. You should address him as a dear relative, then he will be happy and obliging.

When wicked people come to see me, I am very careful. The character of some of them is like that of a snake. They may bite you unawares. It may take a long time and much discrimination to recover from the effects of [44} that bite. Or you may get so angry at them that you will wish to take revenge. It is necessary, however, to keep occasionally the company of holy men. Through such association right discrimination will come.

Four classes of individual souls. There are four classes of jivas, or individual souls: First, baddha, the bound; second, mumukshu, the seeker after freedom; third, mukta, the emancipated; and fourth, nitya-mukta, the eternally free. This world is like a net, the soul is the fish, and the Lord of the phenomenal world is the fisherman. When a fisherman draws in his net, some of the fish try to escape by rending the net, that is, they struggle for freedom. So are the souls of the second class, the Mumukshus, the seekers after freedom. But among the fish that struggle, only a few escape. Similarly, a few souls only attain to freedom and they belong to the third class, the Muktas. There are some fish, however, that are naturally cautious and never fall into the net. Such are the souls of the fourth class, the Nitya-muktas, who are never caught in the net of the phenomenal world, but who remain eternally free, like Narada [**] and others like him. Most of the fish, [45} however, fall into the net and have not the sense to know that they are going to die there. When caught, they try to run away and hide in the mud at the bottom by swimming with the net. They make no effort to get out of the net, but go deeper and deeper into the mud. These may be compared to the souls who are bound fast in the world. They are caught in the net, but they delude themselves by thinking that they are happy. They remain attached to worldliness. They plunge into the mire of worldly evils and are content, while those who are seeking after freedom or who are emancipated do not like worldliness and do not care for sense-pleasures.

Bound souls.. Those who are thus caught in the net of the world are the baddha, or bound souls. No one can awaken them. They do not come to their senses even after receiving blow on blow of misery, sorrow and indescribable suffering. The camel loves thorny bushes, and although his mouth bleeds when he eats them, still he does not cease to love them dearly and no one can keep him away from them. The bound souls may meet with great grief and misfortune, but after a few days they are just as they were before. The wife [46} may die or become unchaste, the man will marry again; his son may die, he will be extremely sorrowful, but he will soon forget him. The mother of the boy may be overwhelmed with grief for a short time, but in a few days she will once more be concerned for her personal appearance and will deck herself with jewels and finery. Such worldly people may be left paupers after marrying their sons and daughters, yet they will still beget children every year. They may lose their fortune by a lawsuit, but they will again go to the courts. They may not be able to support their children, to educate, feed, clothe, or house them properly, still they will continue to have more. They are like the snake with a musk-rat in its mouth. As the snake cannot swallow the rat because of its strong odor, neither can it throw it out because of its own bent teeth, so these bound souls, baddhas, although they may occasionally feel that the world is unreal, can neither give it up nor can they fix their minds on the Reality of the universe. I once saw a relative of Keshab Chunder Sen, who was quite old, still playing cards as if the time for meditating on God had not come for him.

There is another sign of a baddha, or worldly [47} soul. If you remove him from the world and put him in a better place, he will pine away and die. He will work like a slave to support his family, and he will not hesitate to tell lies, to deceive or to flatter in order to earn his livelihood. He looks on those who worship God or who meditate on the Lord of the universe as insane. He never finds time or opportunity to think of spiritual subjects. Even at the hour of death he will think and talk of worldly things. Whatever thought is strongest in the minds of worldly people comes out at the time of death. If they become delirious, they rave of nothing but material objects. They may go to places of worship, but so long as their minds are attached to the world, worldly thoughts will rise at the last moment. As a parrot may be taught to utter the Lord's Holy Name, but when attacked by a cat, screams and gives its natural cry; so they may repeat the Holy Name of the Lord, but when attacked by death, the natural tendency of their minds will predominate.

What you think you shall become. It is said in the Bhagavad Gita that the future is determined by the thought that is uppermost at the moment of death, and in the Purana there is a story that King Bharata was born as a deer [48} because when he died, his mind was fixed on the thought of a deer. He who passes away thinking of God and meditating on him, does not come back to this world.

A devotee: Bhagavan, will a man who thinks of God, but who does not meditate on him at the time of death, be born again?

Concentration and meditation. Sri Ramakrishna: An ordinary soul who has no faith in God may think of him for a time, but easily forgets him again and becomes attached to the world. If, however, he concentrates his mind on God at the last moment of his life, his heart and soul become purified and remain so even after death. People suffer on so much because they have no faith and in God. In order to be able to think meditation. of God at the time of death we must prepare our mind by constant practice. The practice of meditation on God will create a tendency of mind to think of him spontaneously even at the last moment.

Dispassion. A devotee: Bhagavan, what condition of mind is necessary for a worldly person to attain to freedom?

Ramakrishna: If by the Grace of the Lord strong dispassion for worldly things arises in his mind, then such a person becomes free from [49} all earthly attachment. What is this strong dispassion? Let me tell you. Ordinary dispassion makes the mind think of the Lord occasionally, but there is no longing in the heart. Strong dispassion, on the contrary, makes the mind dwell constantly on the Lord with the same intense longing as a mother feels for her only child. He who has strong dispassion does not want anything but the Lord. He looks at the world as a deep well and is always fearful lest he may fall into it. Earthly relations seem to him very distant. He does not seek their company. His whole heart and soul yearn for God. He does not think of his family, nor does he think of the morrow. He also possesses great spiritual force.

Parable of the farmer and the canal. Let me explain this to you by a parable: In a certain place there had been a long drought. The farmers were irrigating their fields by canals, bringing water from a long distance. One farmer had great determination and force of character. One morning he made up his mind that he would continue to dig his canal until he had connected it with the river and brought the water to his field. He was so busy digging that he lost account of time. The hour for luncheon came [50} and passed. His wife called him to come home, wash and eat. "The luncheon is getting cold. Leave your work until tomorrow," she urged. At first he paid no heed to her words, but when she repeated her request, he bade her go home and not disturb him anymore. "You have no sense," he said, "with this terrible drought we cannot grow anything. There will be no food for the children, the whole family will die of starvation. I have resolved that this very day I shall bring the water of the river to my field; then I shall think of washing and eating." Hearing this, his wife ran home, The farmer worked hard the whole day and toward evening he joined the canal to the river and sat on one side with great delight as he saw the stream of water running into his field. His mind was then peaceful and happy. He went home and called his wife, saying: "Now give me a little oil and fill my pipe," and he washed, ate a hearty dinner and enjoyed a sound sleep. This kind of determination and firmness of purpose must be at the back of strong dispassion. Another farmer who was trying to bring water to his field was likewise called by his wife at the hour of the noonday meal. "It is getting late, come home, and wash [51} and eat," she said, and at once he dropped his spade and replied: "My dear, when you ask me to go, I must go." So his field remained dry. As a farmer cannot irrigate his field, so a devotee cannot attain to God without firm determination.

When God is attained through such strong dispassion, all worldly attachment fades away. A householder may then live with his family, but he becomes unattached and there is no more danger for him. If there be two magnets, one very large and the other very small, which do you suppose will attract a piece of iron? The larger one of course. God is the greatest magnet. Compared to him the attraction of the world is small and powerless.

A devotee: Bhagavan, why are we so bound to the world that we cannot see God?

Sense of "I" Ramakrishna: The sense of "I" in us is the greatest obstacle in the path of God-vision. It covers the Truth. When "I" is dead, all troubles cease. If by the mercy of the Lord one realizes "I am a non-doer," instantly that man becomes emancipated in this life. This sense of "I" is like a thick cloud. As a small cloud can hide the glorious sun, so this cloud of "I" hides the glory of the Eternal [52} Sun. If the cloud is dispersed by the mercy of a Guru, or spiritual master, the glory of Infinite becomes visible. When Rama, the Divine Incarnation in a human form, was walking in the forest, Lakshmana (the individual soul), who was at a short distance, could not see him because Sita or Maya, or the sense of "I," was standing between. Look at me. I cover my face with this handkerchief and you cannot see me; still my face is there. So God is the nearest of all, but because of the sense of "I" you do not see him. The soul in its true nature is absolute Existence, Intelligence and Bliss, but on account of Maya or the sense of "I," it has forgotten its real Self and has become entangled' in the meshes of the various limitations of mind and body.

Money is power. Each attribute limits the soul and modifies its nature. He who dresses smartly will naturally sing love-songs, play cards and carry a cane, and such things will appeal to him. If you have a pencil in your hand, you will unconsciously scribble on anything; such is the power of the pencil. Money has great power. When a man becomes wealthy his nature is entirely changed. He is a different being. A poor Brahmin, for instance, [53} used to come here. He was very humble. He lived on the other side of the Ganges. One day as I was landing from a boat, I saw him sitting at the riverside. Seeing me, he shouted in a disrespectful tone, "Hello! is it you, my good fellow?" Immediately I understood by his manner that he had got hold of some money, otherwise he would not dare to address me thus. A toad had a Rupee in its hole. An elephant was coming that way and passed over the hole. The toad was very angry; it came out and was about to kick the elephant, saying: "How dare you pass over me?" Such is the power of wealth! It makes one so egotistic.

Seven stages of spiritual evolution. This sense of "I," however, vanishes at the approach of Divine wisdom, which leads to superconsciousness (Samâdhi) and eventually to God-consciousness. But it is very difficult to acquire this Divine wisdom. It is said in the Vedas that when the mind reaches the seventh stage of the spiritual evolution, the soul enters into Samâdhi and instantly its sense of "I" disappears. The mind naturally dwells in the first three stages, the realm of worldly tendencies and animal propensities, and becomes attached to lust and [54} wealth. When the mind dwells in the purified heart, spiritual light is perceived by the soul. At that time the soul exclaims: "What is this! What is this!" When it rises near the throat and remains there, the devotee loves to hear and speak of God. When the mind rises still higher, near the space between the eyebrows, it beholds the vision of the Infinite Being, whose nature is absolute Existence-Intelligence-Bliss. The soul then desires to touch and embrace that Being, but fails. As a light within a lantern can be seen but cannot be touched from outside, so the soul beholds the vision but cannot lay hold on it. cannot enter into it, cannot become one with it. In the seventh stage, however, the mind is bereft of the sense of "I," enters into God-consciousness and realizes its oneness with the Infinite.

Difference between soul and God. Devotee: Bhagavan, what happens after reaching the seventh stage when Divine wisdom comes? What does the man see?

Ramakrishna: It cannot be described by words. In the seventh stage when the mind goes into its causal form, Samâdhi comes and what happens then no one can tell. This sense of "I" which makes one worldly [55} and attached to lust and wealth is the cause of bondage. The difference between the Supreme and the individual soul is created by this sense of "I" which stands between. If you hold a stick on the surface of a stream, the water will appear to be divided into two parts, but in reality the water is one. It appears as two because of the stick. The sense of "I" may be compared to this stick. Remove this limiting adjunct and the current will be one and unbroken. What is this sense of "I" which clings to man? That which says: "I am this, I am that. I possess so much wealth. I am great and powerful; who is greater than I?" If a thief has stolen ten rupees and been detected, the owner takes his money first, then beats him, then hands him over to the police and finally puts him in jail.

The worldly "I." The worldly "I" says: "Doesn't he know that he stole ten Rupees which belonged to me? How dared he?"

Difficult to be rid of "I." Devotee: Bhagavan, if we cannot get rid of worldliness except by losing the sense of "I" in Samâdhi, is it not better to follow the path of wisdom which leads to Samâdhi, since in the path of devotion the sense of "I" still remains? [56}

Ramakrishna: Very few can get rid of the sense of "I" through Samâdhi. It generally clings to us. We may discriminate a thousand times, but the sense of "I" is bound to return again and again. You may cut the branches of a fig-tree today, but tomorrow you will see that new twigs are sprouting. If this sense of "I" will not leave, then let it stay as the servant of God. "O God! you are my Lord, I am your servant!" [Servant "I" of a Bhakta.] Think in this way: "I am his servant, I am his Bhakta, devotee." There is no harm in this kind of "I." Sweet things cause dyspepsia and acidity, but crystallized sugar-candy is harmless. The path of wisdom is very difficult. It cannot be followed so long as the sense of "I" is connected with the body. In this age the consciousness of the body and the sense of "I" cannot be overcome easily. But in the path of devotion, through prayer and the repetition of his Holy Name with extreme longing, God can be reached without fail.

Devotee: Bhagavan, do you teach us to renounce the worldly "I" and not the sense of the servant "I"?

Ramakrishna: Yes, the servant "I" or "I am the servant of God," "I am his devotee," [57} this egoism is not bad but on the contrary it helps us to realize God.

Devotee: Bhagavan, does he who has the sense of the servant "I" possess passion and anger?

Ramakrishna: If this attitude of a servant be genuine and perfect, then passion and anger will drop off leaving only a scar in the mind. This "I" of a bhakta or devotee does no harm to any living creature. It is like a sword which, after touching the Philosopher's Stone, is turned to gold. The sword retains the same form but it cannot cut or injure anyone. The dry leaves of the cocoanut-tree drop off in the wind, leaving a mark on the trunk; that mark proves that there was a leaf there at one time. Similarly, the scar of the sense of "I" remains in the mind of one who has realized God, but his whole nature is transformed into that of an innocent child.

A child's "I". The child's sense of "I" is not attached to worldly objects. He may like a thing at one moment, but the next moment he may dislike it. You can take from him an object of great value by giving him a doll worth a penny. To a child everyone is equal, there is none greater or smaller. Therefore a child has no sense of caste or creed. If his [58} mother says: "He is your brother," however low his caste may he, the child will sit with him and eat with him without feeling dislike or difference of any kind.

True devotion and love. Some Bhaktas after attaining to Samâdhi or God-consciousness, when they return, retain the sense of "I" as "I am his servant, I am his devotee." They do not lose the sense of "I" entirely but keep a small portion of it to repeat the Holy Name of the Lord, to sing his praises, to love and serve him. Again, those who constantly practise this sense of "servant I" eventually reach the Supreme Lord. This is the path of Bhakti or devotion. But true devotion is very rare. True devotion leads to intense love for God; and when that intense love comes, the Divine Being is not very far. In that intense love the sense of worldliness is wiped out entirely and the whole heart and soul rest on nothing but the Lord of the universe. Some are born with this intense love for God; it is natural with them. Its expression is to be found even in their childhood. At that tender age even, they cry for God. There are many examples of such born Bhaktas like Prahlada and others. Ordinary devotion which is confined by scriptural [59} laws of sacrifice and worship is preparatory. As in hot weather one fans oneself for a breath of air so long as the breeze is not blowing, but when the breeze springs up, the fan is no longer needed; so when the breeze of intense love begins to blow in the soul, all devotional exercises like repetition of the Name of the Lord, sacrifice, prayers and asceticism become unnecessary. Devotion without intense love is the sign of unripe Bhakti. When it ripens, it leads into Divine Love, which is perfect and which brings the highest realization.

A disciple: Bhagavan, how can God be realized?

Pure heart. Ramakrishna: God can be realized by the purified heart alone. Ordinarily the mind is stained with worldliness.

God is like a magnet. The mind may be compared to a needle. If a needle be covered with thick mud, it is not attracted by the magnet; but when the mud is washed off, the magnet attracts it.

Power of repentance. Similarly, when the mind is covered with the mud of worldliness, it does not feel the attraction of the Lord; but whosoever repents, saying: "O Lord, I shall never again commit such an act," and sheds tears of true repentance, washes off [60} all impurities and the magnet of the Lord then attracts the needle of the mind. Instantly superconsciousness comes and is followed by God-vision.

The mercy of the Lord. A man may make thousands of attempts, but nothing can be accomplished without the mercy of the Lord. Without his mercy no one can see him. Nor is it an easy thing to obtain his mercy. The egotistic sense of "I" which says: "I am the doer," must be abandoned entirely before the Divine mercy can be felt. So long as there is a steward in charge of the storehouse, if any come to the master and beg him, saying: "Master, wilt you not come to the storehouse and give me this thing?" he will reply: "The steward is there, what need have I to go?" In like manner, so long as the ego thinks of himself as the "doer" and the master of the storehouse of the heart, the Real Master does not enter there. The mercy of the Lord is the surest way to God-vision. He is the sun of wisdom.

God, the Sun of Wisdom. A single ray of this Eternal Sun illumines this world, and by that light we are conscious of ourselves and of one another and we acquire various kinds of knowledge. If he turns that light towards his [61}own face, then he becomes visible to his Bhakta or devotee.

Illustration of a bull's-eye lantern. In the night the watchman goes from place to place holding in his hand the bull's-eye lantern. By its light he sees everyone's face and people see each other, but no one can see him. If any one wishes to see the watchman, he must beg him to turn the light towards himself. Similarly, he who wishes to see the Lord must pray to him thus: "O Lord, in your mercy do you turn the light of your wisdom towards your own face that I may behold you." If there be no light in a house, that is the sign of extreme poverty. Therefore one must light the lamp of wisdom within the heart. "O mind, why don't you see the face of the Divine Mother by lighting the lamp of wisdom in the chamber of the soul!"


  • 37:* See note on page 128.

  • 40:* Narendra was a Sannyasin disciple of Ramakrishna. He was afterwards known as the Swami Vivekananda.

  • 44:* See note on page 168.


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