Sri Rāmakrishna continually conversed with the Divine Mother. To him, she was a living entity. He saw her, spoke to her just as a child speaks with its mother, had childish fights with her even! The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is an unparalleled book mainly because it faithfully records innumerable incidents from the daily life of this ‘Greatest of Avatāras’.
One of the purposes of an incarnation of God is to provide spiritual aspirants with mental and emotional props for their spiritual practices. Sādhana involves imagination. Purely fictitious imagination lacks power to engage us for long. Hence, an Avatāra provides us with situations, which we can use in our imagination. It is something similar to role-playing employed by teachers of history and literature. Avatāra energizes the spiritual environment of an epoch by providing situations for role-playing. In fact, this is the reason art, literature, poetry and music gets immense inspiration from the life of an Avatara.
The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is a very rich source of material for such imageries. Pure Consciousness assumed the form and personality of Sri Rāmakrishna and enacted innumerable human situations with his devotees. Some of these have been recorded in this book. We need to read those incidents. Then we need to put ourselves in the role of one of those devotees with whom Sri Rāmakrishna interacts, as described in this book. This creates a mood in us. We need to dwell in that mood for some time. This will form the content of our meditation. This kind of meditation is called ‘Līla Dhyāna’. This is one of the most powerful tools available for a spiritual aspirant. In fact, Swami Vivekānanda points out that real meditation comes only by a sustained process of systematic imagination.
We cannot start our spiritual practice with meditation. It is not possible. This is because, meditation is the 7th step in a graded process of spiritual practice. It is preceded by a process called Dhārana. When the mind is limited and confined within a certain set of ideas, imageries, feelings and physical settings, it is called Dhārana. Try it out. Try to keep the mind confined to a certain set of ideas! It is almost impossible to do so beyond a few seconds in the beginning. Practice however enables us to do this for a few minutes. The greatest help in establishing Dhārana is imagination, says Swami Vivekānanda.
The Vedāntic conception of the world is that it is nothing but imagination. There is a wonderful line of logical arguments to establish this conception. We need not go into that argument here. But, what follows from that conception is that our conception of our bondage is but imagination; and that our conception of spiritual practices to break free from that bondage is also imagination! So, one set of imagination will cure another set of imagination. Among the imaginations that cure us of our delusion, the greatest imagination is that of the Personal God, proclaims Swāmi Vivekānanda. By Personal God is meant God with a name, form and a personality. With such God, we can interact, as persons. With the Impersonal God, how can we, as persons, interact?
Here, we may ask: If God is but imagination, then, where is truth in God, or efficacy in thinking about and meditating on God? Swāmi Yatīshwarananda points out that imagination can be of both the Real and the fictitious or Unreal; and imagination of God is actually imagination about the Real. Therefore, thinking about God is really beneficial for our spiritual growth. Persons who are experts in this field have discovered that God, although an imagination in the final analysis, serves a great purpose in the evolution of the human soul. In fact, Swāmi Vivekānanda says categorically, that the Personal God can indeed be molded according to the imagination of each person.
Meditation occurs only when the object of meditation is clearly visualized. When we say clearly visualized, what we mean is that the object has to be visualized as living. In order to achieve this state of visualization, we need to hone the skill of imagination. Swāmi Vivekānanda says, “The same faculty that we employ in dreams and thoughts, namely, imagination, will also be the means by which we arrive at Truth. When the imagination is very powerful, the object becomes visualized.” 
One important milestone in our spiritual practices is to bring alive the personality of Sri Rāmakrishna alive in our mind. The photograph of Sri Rāmakrishna is just a starting point. None of us have seen him when he lived. Hence, the photograph might be just a two dimensional picture for most of us to begin with. Gradually, we need to attach our feelings with that picture. The person, whose picture we see in the photograph, has to become living in our mind. That is why we need to weld that picture with the graphic instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, and invest them with our feelings. And we need to do this repeatedly, for a few minutes every day, for many years. The result will be truly amazing. For, our mind is indeed a most wonderful instrument.
As we noted earlier, the life of an Avatāra provides us with innumerable situations which can serve as effective imageries for sharpening our faculty of imagination. As a sample, we give below some incidents recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, which can be used in our daily practices by devotees of the Rāmakrishna Order.
- Make him stainless: When it was dusk he returned to his room and sat down on the small couch. Soon he went into Samādhi and in that state began to talk to the Divine Mother. He said: “Mother, what is all this row about? Shall I go there? I shall go if You take me.” The Master was to go to a devotee’s house. Was it for this that he was asking the Divine Mother’s permission? Again he spoke to her, perhaps praying about an intimate disciple: “Mother, please make him stainless.”
I put myself in the role of a devotee present in that room. (It would be helpful if we have visited that room in the Dakshineswar Temple complex. Else, we can at least look at the Pictorial Biography of Sri Rāmakrishna where a good photograph of that room is given. This helps our imagination greatly.)
I can further imagine that I am that blessed devotee about whom Sri Rāmakrishna is praying to the Divine Mother. Sri Rāmakrishna himself is praying to the Mother of the Universe that I be made stainless! Can you imagine the efficacy of that prayer?
What happens when I become stainless? Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna himself explains what this means: Weeping, I said to Her: “O Mother, protect me! Please make me stainless. Please see that my mind is not diverted from the Real to the unreal.”
So, as a result of imagining that I am that devotee, regarding whom Sri Rāmakrishna supplicates to the Divine Mother that I be made stainless, my mind will get focused on the Real. This quality, my mind will start developing, as I progress with this imagination for an extended period of time.
- Draw him to Thee: The evening worship began in the temples. The Master was seated on the small couch in his room, absorbed in meditation. He went into an ecstatic mood and said a little later: “Mother, please draw him to Thee. He is so modest and humble! He has been visiting Thee.” 
Sri Rāmakrishna went into Samādhi. His body was motionless. He remained in that state a long time. Gradually he came down to the consciousness of the outer world. Still in a spiritual mood, he began to talk, sometimes addressing the devotees, sometimes the Divine Mother. “Mother, please attract him to Thee.” 
Just observe how Sri Rāmakrishna identifies some simple qualities in someone and recommends him to the Divine Mother! I need to put myself in the place of that devotee for whom Sri Rāmakrishna is putting in a strong recommendation! What are the qualities of that devotee? He is modest, humble and visits Sri Rāmakrishna often.
I imagine that I have these qualities in me; I sit before Sri Rāmakrishna as he sits on the small couch in an ecstatic mood. Then I imagine that he makes the request to the Divine Mother regarding me.
He doesn’t stop with just that one prayer. He knows that I really do not have those qualities such as modesty, humility, regularity and punctuality. Hence he further prays to the Divine Mother on my behalf, “Mother, please attract him to Thee.”
Who knew that the Divine Mother could attract people to herself, and that she actually did such a thing! Anyway, I am fortunate that Sri Rāmakrishna is himself praying on my behalf! I stay in that mood of feeling fortunate for some time.
- Now and then: The evening worship was over in the temples. The Master returned to his room and sat on the couch, absorbed in meditation on the Divine Mother. M. sat on the floor. There was no one else in the room. The Master was in Samādhi. He began to come gradually down to the normal plane. His mind was still filled with the consciousness of the Divine Mother. In that state he was speaking to Her like a small child making importunate demands on his mother…The Master was weeping and praying to the Mother in a voice choked with emotion. He prayed to Her with tearful eyes for the welfare of the devotees: “Mother, may those who come to You have all their desires fulfilled! But please don’t make them give up everything at once, Mother. Well, You may do whatever You like in the end. If You keep them in the world, Mother, then please reveal Yourself to them now and then. Otherwise, how will they live? How will they be encouraged if they don’t see You once in a while? But You may do whatever You like in the end.” 
I imagine the ambience in the room when Sri Rāmakrishna is in Samādhi. There is a palpable pressure on my entire being. My own breathing has slowed down perceptibly. I look intensely at him. He is not breathing. His face has an unbelievable glow, eyes half-opened and transfixed, focused on nothing in particular. I remain in this incredible atmosphere for some time.
Then he starts coming down to the normal plane. The return to normalcy is not fast. It is haltering. Clear changes are visible in his personality with each step he takes towards becoming normal.
Then I imagine him making an amazing prayer to the Divine Mother. I imagine I too am one of the devotees for whom that unprecedented prayer was made!
- Human relations: Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting on the small couch in his room. Rākhāl, M., and, several other devotees were present. The Master, in a happy mood, became engaged in conversation with a fair complexioned young man: “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.” 
I am the young man to whom Sri Rāmakrishna is speaking. Rākhāl, M and some others too are in the room and looking on. I am the center of attention of the Greatest of Avatāras! Those eyes are riveting; extreme concern for my well-being is oozing out of those eyes. That voice is the sweetest I can ever imagine.
And what is he saying to me? “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.”
Whatever be the situation we are in, we live among other people. A large number of our problems in life arise due to lack of proper understanding among ourselves. A sweet relation between us creates a social homeostasis, allowing us to concentrate our time and energies on our spiritual practices.
Recall the words of Jesus in the Bible: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” “How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye.”
- The divine touch-1: Sri Rāmakrishna then went to Adhar’s house. M., Rākhāl, and other devotees were present. He sat down, still in an ecstatic mood. The Master said to Adhar, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” With these words he touched Adhar’s tongue with his finger and wrote something on it.
I put myself in the place of Adhar. Sri Rāmakrishna has come to my room. I see that he is still in a semi-conscious state. A beautiful smile is playing on his lips. he sits down on a chair in my room.
Once I am able to imagine this scene clearly, I then imagine him telling me, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” I had been chanting his name. I have just finished doing Japa of my Ishta mantra. He now tells me that he is not a human being like me, but a divine being. He is a deity. I, however, see him to be just like me, a human being, but, he himself tells me this. I recall Swāmi Vivekānanda mentioning in the Math Rules, “The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form.” This is what Swamiji meant. Even as I hear Sri Rāmakrishna tell me these words, I immediately become aware that I do not understand what he means. What does he mean he is a divine being? I do not understand anything other than a human being.
That is when he suddenly gets up, comes towards me, presses my cheeks whereby my mouth opens and I instinctively throw out my tongue. He writes something on my tongue with his finger (I can’t make out which finger he uses). I am in a haze. But that touch was magical! I feel a tremendous joy welling up within me. I remain in that state for some time.
- The divine touch-2: It was evening and the worship in the temples was over. Mahimācharan, Rākhāl, and M. were in the room. Adhar sat on the floor with the devotees. The Master said to him, “Please stroke here gently.” Adhar sat on the end of the couch and gently stroked Sri Rāmakrishna’s feet.
I again put myself in Adhar’s place. I am sitting on the floor in Sri Rāmakrishna’s room.
He is reclining on his small couch, with his head and upper back resting on a cylindrical bolster. His feet are pointed towards me, while his head is slightly turned to his right side, and hence he is able to see me. There is the sweet scent of incense in the room.
All of a sudden, he asks me to stroke his feet gently.
I get up, go to his couch, sit down on the edge of his couch, and start pressing his feet. I first press his right foot, from the knee-cap down to his ankle. Then I switch to his left foot. I notice that he has very little hair on his legs. The color of the skin on his legs is uniform. There is very little flesh in his calves. The bones are easily felt. When I go on pressing like this, I hear his breathing, which is even; he seems to be drifting into a light sleep. I continue pressing his feet for some time.
- Our real identity: Master (To M., pointing to Baburām): “You see, my own people have become strangers; Rāmlal and my other relatives seem to be foreigners. And strangers have become my own. Don’t you notice how I tell Baburām to go and wash his face? The devotees have become relatives.” 
- Complete your studies: Again for a few moments all sat in silence. Master (to Narendra, smiling): “Won’t you continue your studies?” 
It was dusk. Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting in his room, absorbed in contemplation of the Divine Mother. Now and then he was chanting her name. Rākhāl, Adhar, M., and several other devotees were with him. Master to M: “Tell me, does Baburām intend to continue his studies? I said to him, ‘Continue your studies to set an example to others.’ After Sitā had been set free, Bibhīshana refused to become king of Ceylon. Rāma said to him: ‘You should become king to open the eyes of the ignorant. Otherwise they will ask you what you have gained as a result of serving me. They will be pleased to see you acquire the kingdom.’” 
Students can very nicely identify with this imagery.
A Swāmi of our Order used to tell us when we were young, that the first thing a boy does when he comes in contact with Rāmakrishna Mission is lose interest in his academic studies! A strong tradition seems to have been set by the direct disciples themselves, it seems.
Young boys however do face a real conflict within, between engaging themselves in spiritual practices such as Japa, dhyāna, adhyayana, etc. and completing their school and college studies. This conflict can be resolved by using this powerful visual and auditory imagery.
- Brahmacharya in married life: Master: “Bhavanāth is married; but he spends the whole night in spiritual conversation with his wife. The couple passes their time talking of God alone: I said to him, ‘Have a little fun with your wife now and then.’ ‘What?’ he retorted angrily. ‘Shall we too indulge in frivolity?’” 
This is an essential imagery for married persons, who have a strong urge to practice Sādhana. All these words are uttered by Sri Rāmakrishna. We need to dwell on the sense of approval in his tone when he is telling these words. Sri Rāmakrishna is very happy, it is apparent in his voice, when he reproduces Bhavanāth’s angry retort, “Shall we too indulge in frivolity?”
Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna had told us that husband and wife should live like brother and sister after the birth of a couple of children. Here we have Bhavanāth demonstrating that teaching in reality. What was Bhavanāth’s state of mind when Sri Rāmakrishna teased him about having a little fun with his wife? We need to dwell on that incredible state of Bhavanāth’s mind. How did he get to develop such a state of mind?
We find the hint in another scene in the Gospel:
In the afternoon Bhavanāth arrived. Rākhāl, M., Harish, and other devotees were in the room. Master (to Bhavanāth): “To love an Incarnation of God – that is enough.”
We should imagine Sri Rāmakrishna telling us these words. “To love and Incarnation of God – that is enough.” Enough for what? And enough for whom? Loving an Avatāra is enough for all of us, married or monastic; for our spiritual growth.
Sri Rāmakrishna is revealing a great secret here. When he spoke such secrets, the entire atmosphere in that room would become intense! Our entire soul recognizes the value of those words. We must love Sri Rāmakrishna. That is enough for us.
 “Meditation, you know, comes by a process of imagination.” Complete Works: Vol-4: Lectures and Discourses: Meditation
 “When the Chitta, or mind-stuff, is confined and limited to a certain place it is Dharana. This Dharana is of various sorts, and along with it, it is better to have a little play of the imagination.”: Complete Works: Vol-1: Raja-Yoga: Ch-VI: Pratyahara and Dharana
 “Some imaginations help to break the bondage of the rest. The whole universe is imagination, but one set of imaginations will cure another set. Those that tell us that there is sin and sorrow and death in the world are terrible. But the other set — thou art holy, there is God, there is no pain —these are good, and help to break the bondage of the others. The highest imagination that can break all the links of the chain is that of the Personal God.”: Complete Works: Vol-5: Notes from Lectures and Discourses: On Bhakti-Yoga
 What is the immediate goal? To get in touch with the Reality. Whatever we call real draws our whole being. So it is most essential for us to have a clear conception of what Reality is. The goal and the path must be real. Even our imaginations must be about the Real. Meditation & Spiritual Life: Pg: 644
 In the same man the mother sees a son, while the wife at the same time sees differently with different results. The wicked see in God wickedness. The virtuous see in Him virtue. He admits of all forms. He can be moulded according to the imagination of each person. Water assumes various shapes in various vessels. But water is in all of them. Hence all religions are true.: Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras, 1892-93
 Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Lessons On Raja-Yoga
 Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 283
 Ibid: Pg: 895
 Ibid: Pg: 160
 Ibid: Pg: 741
 Ibid: Pg: 381
 Ibid: Pg: 428
 New Testament: John 4:20
 Ibid: John 4:21
 Ibid: Matthew 7:4
 Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 273
 Ibid: Pg: 387
 Ibid: Pg: 380
 Ibid: Pg: 935
 Ibid: Pg: 458
 Ibid: Pp: 715-716
 Ibid: Pg: 356