According to Sri Ramakrishna, it is God himself who sports about in the human body. He would say that if God can be worshipped through a clay image, why not through a man. To illustrate this idea he used to narrate an incident from the Ramayana.

Once a ship in which a merchant was travelling was wrecked. He was thrown into the waters of the ocean. Somehow, he managed to float and reach the shores of Sri Lanka where Vibhishana was the king of the demons. The coastguards of Sri Lanka captured this merchant and took him to Vibhishana, the ruler. The merchant was trembling with fear, apprehending his immediate destruction and death. But at the very sight of him, Vibhishana was overwhelmed with joy. The merchant immediately reminded him of his object of adoration, Sri Rama. He exclaimed, “He looks exactly like my Rama, the same human form!” He gave huge gifts of royal robes, jewels and other articles to the merchant. He fed him to his heart’s content and worshipped him. He forced him to stay with him for some days and finally, in spite of being the king of the land, accompanied him to the seashore and put him on another vessel to ensure that he reached his destination safely.

Sri Ramakrishna would exclaim that when he first heard this story he was overwhelmed with joy and went into a trance. The idea is, God is everywhere. He resides in the hearts of all beings and is more recognisable in the human beings. Although people take elaborate pains to worship the images and deities in temples, they care very little for the God in human form. It is one of the extraordinary contributions of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda tradition that has brought a about change in the mindset or outlook. In this tradition, again and again, it is emphasised that it is more important to worship the God in man rather than the God in the temple.

Published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 9th Feb 2013

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