Sri Ramakrishna would often caution his devotees about the dangers of vanity. He would advise them to be extremely watchful. According to him even things as simple as clothing can create vanity.
He was a keen observer of man and would often draw examples from daily life to illustrate his point. He used to give a couple of examples in this regard.
He would say that even a person suffering from enlarged spleen sings Nidhu Babu’s light songs when he is dressed in a black bordered cloth. The reference here is to a Bengali proverb which means that even a sick person feels like singing when he puts on special clothes.
He would also say that men dressed in hat and suit would automatically start speaking English although it is neither their mother tongue nor are they comfortable in speaking that language. More importantly, even an unworthy person when he puts on ochre robes develops vanity.
Even the slightest sign of indifference or disrespect to him arouses his anger. Generally, monks are supposed to be beyond the considerations of respect or disrespect.
Those who are worthy of wearing ochre clothes, which stands for renunciation, are supposed to transcend all such earthly considerations. But, in case of an unworthy person, such clothes, instead of developing a sense of humility, make him vain which gives rise to anger and other passions.
Thus, Sri Ramakrishna would say that spiritual aspirants should be extremely careful and guard themselves against the dangers of vanity. Unless one gives up vanities relating to birth, education, wealth, etc, it is difficult to progress in spiritual life. One can understand God or the Ultimate Truth only if one is extremely humble and has developed a true spirit of surrender.
– by Swami Shantatmananda, published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 19th Oct 2013