[Speech delivered in the 109th Birthday Anniversary of Bhagavan Shri Ramakrishna at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, on 19 March 1944.]
As a man, as an individual, you and I are all confronted with all the responsibilities of life. Being placed in the midst of the complexities of society how can we ennoble ourselves, how can we raise ourselves from the position of stagnation and from this life of misery and decadence as we now find ourselves in? How is life again to become a beacon light for us to take us over to the goal of all lives which is the destiny of all humanity? From this purely practical, individualistic standpoint I shall try to place before you a few lessons that I have learnt from Shri Ramakrishna’s great life.
The first lesson that Shri Ramakrishna teaches us all is that man lives and has his being in God; ordinarily we feel that we are living in this material world, enjoying all the sense objects, but truly man’s life is deeply rooted to some Divine principle, and the more he feels so, the better for him. Shri Ramakrishna, if anything, was a God-intoxicated man. His whole life was saturated with that one consciousness, the Divine consciousness, and he repeatedly told us that the goal of human life is God-realization. Whether he wills or not, man perforce by the law of his being, must realize God. But by God do you suppose or think that he meant as if some ultra-cosmic being sat in some ethereal region manipulating the affairs of the world? No. By God he meant the Divine consciousness of life that is all-pervasive, that is pulsating in every living creature; even the lowliest of the lowly is instilled with that Divine instinct. You know of the wonderful vision he had. Once he went to worship mother Kali. What is that he saw there? The whole temple, the shrine, the Divine image, the utensils and vessels, and even a little cat that was there in the room, were all saturated with that Divine instinct, – with that Divine principle Chaitanya. He went into the garden. He saw the wonderful vision that even the blade of grass under his feet was instinct with that Chaitanya. There was not even a grain of sand that was devoid of that wonderful Divine consciousness; and from that day onward he gave up external worship. He began to feel as he used to say, ‘As a fish lives in the midst of water, so I feel that all human beings are like fish living in the Chit Samudra, in the ocean of Chaitanya, the ocean of the Divine Being.’ So that is the first lesson that he asks us to learn from his life and from his teachings, that every man must begin to feel from the moment he hears of Shri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings that God is not in some ultra-cosmic region; God is not only in the temple or Church or Mosque, but He is in man and around him. ‘I am like a cup immersed in water. Inside is the Divine Essence, and outside is that same Divine Principle.’
Of course, we have first of all to start with faith, with belief in his great teachings. But if you are sceptic, if you are in doubt about the teachings of his life, like a student of science, you must be prepared to do the experimentation. As the adage goes, the test of the pudding is in the eating; so you have to taste and test whether this is true or not. Thousands of saints and sages have verified this truth by their life; and so you, too, should go and verify; and here are Shri Ramakrishna and his disciples who showed to the world that in this practical world, conscious world, it is possible to realize this. And so have faith, have courage, and proceed on.
The next idea naturally arises — an idea which we all feel in our heart of hearts — is how to realize it and what is the consequence of that realization. Are we not all seeking peace? Are we not all seeking light and knowledge? The search of the human soul is peace, wisdom, and knowledge, and our Shrutis say that the nature, Svarupa, of God is this: He is Ananda-svarupa and Jnana-svarupa; and the realization of God means attainment of infinite peace, infinite bliss, infinite knowledge. There is only one way to reach that goal to satisfy the eternal quest of our soul. The only way to realize this is to feel that there is Divinity in our soul and that our soul is potentially Divine. Humanly speaking, we had our birth and we may die. Physically speaking, we may have our limitations, we may have our shortcomings, we may have our weakness. But when we try to study the question from this standpoint of Ultimate Reality, all this appear to be mere delusions or dreams. If we begin to feel that the truth of our life lies in our Divinity, that the soul is deeply rooted in the Divine consciousness, then a peculiar strength will arise in our heart and we will feel that we are able to move the world. Such a great power will surge in our heart: we will feel that we are able to do what even the mightiest of the mighty could do or has done in the past. That self-consciousness, and self-respect will be raised in our soul. In India today particularly we Indians need this very great message. We are today living crushed under foreign heels. We are suffering innumerable sufferings and miseries because we have lost that self-respect. We have lost the spirit of self-reliance. So we have allowed ourselves to become beggars or productive machines to be exploited to the utmost extent. The other day in Bengal why did millions of people die of starvation when the whole of India bore the insult calmly? Why, I ask, did not the blood boil? Because the spirit of self-respect has been banished from the Indian heart and so we bore meekly the insults like living corpses — yes, we have become like living corpses. That is why we could not move to rectify that wrong as we ought to have done. The reasons are want of self-respect and self-reliance and absence of the feeling of the Divinity of the soul. So you see, friends, the greatest need of ours today is to revive in us that feeling of Divinity of the soul, that reliance in the infinite potentiality of the soul. When will we be able to feel that? If we try, if we make a real effort to do what we think best and what ought to be done, then we can do it. That is the second lesson that w€ learn from Shri Ramakrishna. The moment Shri Ramakrishna found out that the realization of God is the greatest thing to be achieved in life, is the only worthy achievement, he sacrificed everything, hearth and home, joys of life and the pleasures of senses; even his physical body he was ready to sacrifice for the sake of realization of this goal. So that iron determination, that strong will, is necessary. That is one thing that Shri Ramakrishna has taught to the modern generation.
How to make the will strong? Implement the strongest weapon that man can possess for the achievement of the glories of life. If we want to reach, to rise to, the pinnacle of human glory, we must make our will strong; and as modern psychologists say, making the will strong is developing the consciousness that we are able to realize our wishes, our desires, if we want to. First, there arises the desire, and then the desire is transformed into will: when the desire is supported by the conviction that it is possible for us to realize what we desire, the realization soon follows. We desire to have Swaraj for instance. We desire that we could banish all our miseries and wants from our society. Should this desire be transformed into will and should we know that we can realize this desire, we can banish all miseries. And here is Shri Ramakrishna teaching us the lesson that it is possible to realize what we desire. When the desire becomes strong and is added to the conviction of the spirituality of the soul, the infinite Divinity of the soul, it is transformed into the conviction that it is possible to realize the end desired. Desire is then changed into will. This will is strengthened by concentration or Dhyana. You know that sometimes we Indians are even called men of weak will, and we all see that we are like Duryodhana saying, ‘I know what is right, but I cannot do it. I know what is wrong, but I cannot refrain from doing it.’ That is, therefore, the test of a weak will –knowing what is right, we cannot do it; and knowing what is wrong, we cannot help doing it. But this weakness can be removed by one way, the way of Dhyana, meditation, concentration, pinning the mind to the goal. If we can concentrate our minds upon the goal, bringing all the forces of mind to be fixed upon that one single point, then we will see how day by day our will becomes strengthened with all powers. Your will will become so strong as to cleave through huge mountain-like obstacles. Do not we see the example of Mahatma Gandhi? A small shrivelled man, see how he can move the whole world! Why? Because of his strong will. If you ask me, Wherein lies the greatness of Mahatma Gandhi? I would at once say, character and strength of will, manifestation of the strength of his will. If you have a will, it must express itself in character. So a strong will is necessary. That is the second point that we learn from Shri Ramakrishna. We know how when he wanted to achieve his ideal he used to become mad with that idea of the realization of that ideal.
You know, however, that will can never remain strong without purity and without truth. And that is another thing that Shri Ramakrishna showed us during his lifetime; life has to be pure, cleansed of all sensual yearnings pure of all faults and also it has to be sincere. Unless life is purified of its impurities, unless man purifies his mind and thought from all desires, will can never become strong, character can never become developed. So in order to purify the mind, the mind has to be fixed upon God-consciousness. There are two psychological methods of purifying the mind. Suppose you are accustomed to speaking lies. If you say, I will not speak lies, you will not escape from speaking lies. That is the negative way. But just try the positive way. Speak the truth, and the lying habit will disappear. So if you try to purify your mind by throwing away one after another the impurities from your thoughts, you will not succeed. Fix your mind upon God-consciousness and all the impurities of the mind will dissolve away. That is another practical and positive lesson which we learn from Shri Ramakrishna: purify your mind through God-consciousness.
The fourth lesson which is equally important is truthfulness. Be true because God is Truth, and if you put faith in truth, nothing call daunt you and nothing will fail you. So, friends, these are the most practical points that we gain from his life. Of course there are various other aspects. But these four are the most important in brief. If we follow these, every man and child, whether he be in a humble position in life or on a high pedestal of social estimation, in every station of life, he will be benefited by it. It does not require expense, it does not require any study even, not much of education, but only will and desire; and the desire can be developed into will. If we follow these four chief lessons from Shri Ramakrishna’s life, then not only will we improve the position of our entire national life, we will also change the face of the world. Today some of the speakers told you the world is torn by strifes and hatred and miseries of life and man has been the worst sinner against humanity, and they are thinking of post-war peace. But so long as man lives in the animal world, so long as man counts upon the material values of life, truly that permanent peace, which is a Divine Principle, which is a spiritual entity can never be realized. True and permanent peace, as the Puranas say, is possible when this world is inhabited by one race, Brahmanas, and all become Brahmanas. Then only there call be permanent peace. And who is a true Brahmana? One who is a tapodhana, one whose life is spent in tapas, in self-mortification and self-reliance. When everyone tries to subjugate the lower physical self in love and manifest the Divine Self, then we will be strong: then there will be no war so say our Puranic sages. When you see the same tapas permeating everywhere, when we see the same tapas speaking through so many mouths, then there is no chance of any hatred, no chance of any grief or misery. Then all are united by love. And this is another great lesson that we learn from Shri Ramakrishna’s life.
His life was a perpetual spring of love and perennial fountain of kripa, of mercy, and of love. Everyone is drawn to him by that unspeakable, undefinable force of attraction that is love, because God is love. That is the surest test of a man of God-realization. A man of God-realization becomes the embodiment of love. The more you approach God, the more the Divine Light unfolds Itself within your heart, the more your heart will be filled with love for all. Swami Vivekananda, just before going to America, when asked by someone while he was at Bombay, ‘What is your opinion of religion now?’ said, ‘Well, I don’t know what is your religion, nor do I care to know what you mean by religion, but one thing I must say, and that is this, I feel, I feel, I feel for all.’ That feeling for all is the crucial test of spirituality; and the more spiritual you become, the more ennobled you become, the more enlightened with that light you become, the more your heart will be filled with love. Then you would feel for all; and that is the permanent basis of peace.
From our archives – Published in Prabuddha Bharata, July 1944
Swami Sharvananda, an eminent scholar and orator, was largely responsible for the start of many of the Ramakrishna Order centres. He was also one of the earliest to visit New Delhi and encourage a group of devotees to form a society, which later went on to develop into the Ramakrishna Mission centre at Delhi.
Swami Sharvananda’s speech on ‘Some Practical Aspects of Ramakrishna’s Life’ is timely and full of practical hints which are worth preserving.