Swami Vivekananda: His name & his Ideas

My name should not be made prominent; it is my ideas that I want to see realized. The disciples of all the prophets have always inextricably mixed up the ideas of the Master with the person, and at last killed the ideas for the person. The disciples of Shri Ramakrishna must guard against doing the same thing. Work for the idea, not the person. The Lord bless you.[1]

In a letter to his Madras disciple Alasinga Perumal, Swamiji wrote the above words. Why would Swamiji have written something like this? He had a horror of future generations creating a hollow, sentimental personality cult around him or his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, completely ignoring the life-transforming message they brought down as revelation from their communion with God.

Father Antony DeMello tells an amazing story that puts Swamiji’s apprehension in the correct perspective.

The hero had just returned from the deep Amazon forests. His lectures were all recorded and his journeys were mapped meticulously. All the flowers he saw were reproduced on paper, drawings made of the wild animals he encountered and the entire river was charted on a cartographer’s table. A group of young men approached him once to hear directly from him about the Amazon. He said, “Indeed I have tried my best to describe it all as clearly as I could. But how can I convey to you the intense joy, the exhilaration, the strange feelings that flooded my heart when I saw those exotic flowers & heard those night sounds in the forests & sensed the danger of being close to those wild animals & of paddling in those treacherous rapids! Go out and find out for yourselves, young men.” Those young fellows understood. They went out, found the master map, framed it, and using the pioneer’s lectures and drawings, became experts in interpreting the Amazon map. [2]

The intrepid story-teller that Father DeMello was, he tells another terrifying story, whose parallels with religious history are obvious:

After many year of labor, an inventor discovered the art of making fire. He took his tool to the snow-clad northern regions and initiated a tribe into the art – and the advantages – of making fire. The people became so absorbed in this novelty that it did not occur to them to thank the inventor who one day quietly slipped away. Being one of those rare human beings endowed with greatness, he had no desire to be remembered or revered; all he sought was the satisfaction of knowing that someone had benefitted from his discovery.

The next tribe he went to was just as eager to learn as the first. But the local priests, jealous of the stranger’s hold on the people, had him assassinated. To allay any suspicion of the crime, they had a portrait of the Great inventor enthroned upon the main altar of the temple; and a liturgy designed so that his name would be revered and his memory kept alive. The greatest care was taken that not a single rubric of the liturgy was altered or omitted. The tools for making fire were enshrined in a casket and were said to bring healing to all who laid their hands on them with faith. The High Priest himself undertook the task of compiling a life of the Inventor. This became the Holy Book in which his loving kindness was offered as an example for all to emulate. His glorious deeds were eulogized, his superhuman nature made an article of faith. The priests saw to it that the Book was handed down to future generations, while they authoritatively interpreted the meaning of his words and the significance of his holy life and death. And they ruthlessly punished with death or excommunication anyone who deviated from their doctrine. Caught up as they were in their religious tasks, the people completely forgot the art of making fire.[3]

So, it is no wonder that Swamiji felt so strongly about the dissemination of his message, even at the cost of his name. The fire his Great Master had lit had to be passed on. While previously in the lives of prophets, we saw that they had a chain of disciples, through whom, the original inspiration, the original fire, was passed down by a ‘laying on of hands’, the prophet of the present age adopted a totally different method. Look at this conversation Swamiji had with Priyanath Sinha:

I (Priyanath Sinha) asked him, “Well, Swamiji, how many disciples have you in the West?”

Swamiji: “A good many”

Priyanath Sinha: “Two or three thousand?”

Swamiji: “Maybe more than that.”

Priyanath Sinha: “Are they all initiated by you with Mantras?”

Swamiji: “Yes.”

Priyanath Sinha: “Did you give them permission to utter Pranava (Om)?”

Swamiji: “Yes.”[4]

            We must pause for a moment and realize the implications of these words of the great Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji himself distributed the immense power he had, directly among the masses, not confining it to a handful of chosen disciples. This is unprecedented in the history of mankind. Naturally the question that arises in our minds is: What has been the impact of his unprecedented act of mass-distribution of spiritual power? There has to be some visible result of this act. We are not speaking of an ordinary spiritual person here; Swamiji was a prophet of the highest order! It is impossible not to feel something of the impact of his personality upon the multitudes with whom he came in contact.

Sister Gargi presents a wonderful analysis of this issue in her magnum opus, ‘Swami Vivekananda – New Discoveries in the West’: Such people, whose lives Swamiji had touched, must, in turn, have touched the lives of others with that powerful magic, and so on, in ever-widening circles, until the impact of his thought would gradually spread on untraceable routes to every corner of the earth.

It is said that a Divine Incarnation and his apostles work on a deep level of consciousness, where they introduce, as it were, a powerful shaft of spiritual light into the collective mind of humanity; that is the very purpose of their appearance on earth, the meaning of their birth, their sadhana, and their teaching. Through their activity in human form they awaken, so to speak, the ‘cosmic  Kundalini,’ charging that state of existence called mankind with a spiritual power that will for centuries manifest itself more and more fruitfully in the world and, to a greater or lesser degree, in every individual. Swami Shivananda, one of Swamiji’s great brother disciples, would say years later: “Swami Vivekananda once said: ‘In this age the Brahma-kundalini-the Mother who is responsible for the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe has been awakened by the fervent prayers of Sri Ramakrishna. That is why we see symptoms of a great spiritual upsurge everywhere. We need have no worry this time.”

Could it not be said that Swamiji carried that tremendous power to the Western world and infused with it the deep levels of Western culture? He himself once spoke specifically of his Western work, his words recalled by another of his great brothers, Swami Saradananda: “After Swamiji returned from the West his health completely broke down. He used to say, ‘Whatever I had, I have left in that country (the West). During the lectures a power used to emanate from this body and would infuse the audience.” The thought current of the country underwent a change. That was no easy matter…I had heard that Budo Baba (Swami Satchidananda) begged Swamiji to grant him Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Swamiji said, “If I put on the loin cloth and become absorbed in spiritual practice without thinking of ways and means of maintenance, then perhaps the power to grant Nirvikalpa Samadhi may come. It has become exhausted, or lost, by giving lectures in America.”

Did not this influx of radiant power into the Western world, which is bound sooner or later to set the whole culture aglow, constitute the real significance of Swamiji’s work in England as well as in America? Yet this is but a poor attempt to understand what Swamiji did in the West. Who can really assess his accomplishment? “If there were another Vivekananda,” he was heard to say at the close of his life, “he would have understood what Vivekananda has done! And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!!”

And of his last days Swami Saradananda would write to a brother disciple, “Sometimes he would say ‘Death has come to my bedside, I have been through enough of work and play, let the world realize what contribution I have made, it will take quite a long time to understand that.’”

The coming centuries will indeed be the only other true assessor of his contribution; the rest is inference and speculation. There is, however, one thing we can say even now, and this is that throughout his mission, East and West, he gave himself heart and soul to his Master’s work, awakening everywhere man’s spiritual consciousness, setting in motion a spiritual tide that no power can stem. “Before this flood,” he prophesied, “everybody will be swept off.[5]

We raise a valid query here: Should we seek for the impact of Swamiji’s mass-distribution of spiritual power only in the spiritual development of humanity? Historians, as yet, do not recognize the contribution of spiritual power in the overall development of mankind. We have reasons to believe that every significant development in any field of human endeavor, be it the Arts, the Sciences, the Economics, the Social restructuring, ultimately springs from a spiritual impetus, unleashed by a Prophet. He that ‘hath eyes to see’, will indeed see the veracity of our claim.

We wish to present, as a case in point, the contribution of Swami Vivekananda in the paradigm altering ideas of noted physicist Albert Einstein.

It is today commonly acknowledged that Einstein presented a very original idea regarding space, time and the relationship between matter and energy (commonly known as Special Theory of Relativity) on 26th September 1905 in a paper titled ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’, which spawned whole new fields of science and technology. The concepts that Einstein developed in that paper were utterly unconventional. They arose from beyond the accepted ideas of physicists of that age. His ideas were a total break from the past. It is incredible that he was able to give solid credence to such unconventional ideas among the academic circles, making the doyens of Physics accept them as valid. It was just a couple of years before this ground-breaking presentation by Einstein that Nobel Prize winning Physicist A A Michelson said in the Ryerson Physical Laboratory, University of Chicago: “While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice. It is here that the science of measurement shows its importance – where quantitative work is more to be desired than qualitative work. An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” So, during a period when Physics had sort of tied up all its loose ends, Einstein proposed a couple of ideas that exploded the smug complacence that prevailed among the scientific avant-garde. It is extremely interesting to study the channels of idea-flow that led to this amazing presentation by Einstein.

Swami Vivekananda had met the famous scientist Nikola Tesla in America. In a letter written to his British disciple E T Sturdy, Swamiji writes[6]: “Things are growing nobly in America. As there was no hocus-pocus from the beginning, the Vedanta is drawing the attention of the highest classes in American society. Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress, has been playing ‘Iziel’ here. It is a sort of Frenchified life of Buddha, where a courtesan ‘Iziel’ wants to seduce the Buddha, under the banyan – and the Buddha preaches to her the vanity of the world, whilst she is sitting all the time in Buddha’s lap. However, all is well that ends well – the courtesan fails. Madame Bernhardt acts the courtesan. I went to see the Buddha business – and Madame spying me in the audience wanted to have an interview with me. A swell family of my acquaintance arranged the affair. There were besides Madame M. Morrel, the celebrated singer, also the great electrician Tesla. Madame is a very scholarly lady and has studied up the metaphysics a good deal. M. Morrel was being interested, but Mr. Tesla was charmed to hear about the Vedantic Prana and Akasha and the Kalpas, which according to him are the only theories modern science can entertain. Now both Akasha and Prana again are produced from the cosmic Mahat, the Universal Mind, the Brahma or Ishvara. Mr Tesla thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy. I am to go and see him next week, to get this new mathematical demonstration.

Swami Vivekananda translated some verses from Sanskrit to Nikola Tesla at this party in New York on the 13th February 1896. The verses said, in essence, that matter and energy, though apparently different, were actually the same in their fundamental nature. Physics of that time did not understand this idea. Newtonian physics held matter and energy to be fundamentally different. Swamiji then asked Tesla if he could show mathematically that what we see as matter can be reduced to potential energy. Tesla was able to grasp the implications of this amazing concept and promised to demonstrate it mathematically. He must have worked on it, but Tesla was primarily an Engineer. Hence his other projects must have diverted him from prioritizing this theoretical work. Tesla however shared that insight with his close friend Mileva Maric. Mileva was Einstein’s first wife. She collaborated with Einstein in his 1905 paper[7], and thus, through Mileva, Einstein put that amazing concept into the most famous equation E = mc2 that ever hit the fan. This equation essentially means that what we see as mass is only energy. John Dobson, an acclaimed physicist, associated closely with Sister Gargi explains this in an article[8] and adds, “That’s the information that I conveyed to Gargi (Marie Louise Burke), first by word of mouth, and then in writing, shortly before she died.

It has been our endeavor, through the ‘Topical Musings’ of the past eleven months to try and trace the development of significant ideas from the message of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. When Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji themselves did not want their name emblazoned, why should we even attempt this exercise? It would be wrong to conclude that they did not want their names popularized at all. They did not want cheap popularity. But they do wish to be known among the right audience, appreciated by the right people. We are reminded of an incident of great significance in this connection. Swami Akhandananda was the President of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He used to reside in a non-descript village called Sargacchi. One day when he was sleeping, Sri Ramakrishna literally shook him up from his sleep and shouted at him, “Hey, do the people know that I have come?” Just look at the concern Sri Ramakrishna has about the right people becoming aware of his incarnating on Earth!

The ‘Topical Musings’ is but a poor attempt to understand what Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji did for the world. Who can really assess their accomplishment? But then again, “let the world realize what contribution we have made, it will take quite a long time to understand that.” For, the ‘Voice without a form’ continues to speak to, exhort and guide us. Shall we not recognize it?


[1] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Epistles: Letter written to Alasinga Perumal from U.S.A. on 12th January, 1895

[2] Anthony de Mello: Song of the bird

[3] Anthony de Mello: Prayer of the frog: Part-1

[4] Talks with Swami Vivekananda: Pg: 465

[5] Swami Vivekananda in the West: New discoveries: Part-IV: Marie Louise Burke: Pg: 519-521

[6] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Epistles: To E T Sturdy on 13th February, 1896.

[7] Albert Einstein (1905) ‘Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper’, Annalen der Physik 17: 891

[8] http://www.sidewalkastronomers.us/id334.html: Vivekananda & the Einsteins


Sri Ramakrishna and Prayer

What is the way?

Let me start by asking a question: Sri Ramakrishna has said so many things in the Gospel pertaining to spiritual life. If we ask, what is the one spiritual practice that he has emphasized again and again for all of us, what would be your answer?

Let us take a look at the Gospel to get the answer. By far the most common question asked of Sri Ramakrishna was ‘Sir, what is the way?’ I give below a sample list of Sri Ramakrishna’s answer to this question. Let us look at the following 12 instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and analyze the answers that Sri Ramakrishna gave to different people who asked him this momentous question:

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way, sir?”

Master : “Prayer and the company of holy men.[1]

  1. A Marwari Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

 Master: “There are two ways. One is the path of discrimination; the other is that of love. Discrimination means to know the distinction between the Real and the unreal. God alone is the real and permanent Substance; all else is illusory and impermanent. The magician alone is real; his magic is illusory. This is discrimination.

Marwari Devotee: “Revered sir, you just mentioned two paths. What is the other path?”

Master: “The path of bhakti, or zealous love of God. Weep for God in solitude, with a restless soul, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? “[2]

  1. A Vaishnava goswami was seated in the room. The Master said to him: “Well, what do you say? What is the way?”

Goswami: “Sir, the chanting of God’s name is enough. The scriptures emphasize the sanctity of God’s name for the Kaliyuga.”

Master: “Yes, there is no doubt about the sanctity of God’s name. But can a mere name achieve anything, without the yearning love of the devotee behind it? One should feel great restlessness of soul for the vision of God. Suppose a man repeats the name of God mechanically, while his mind is absorbed in ‘woman and gold’. Can he achieve anything? Mere muttering of magic words doesn’t cure one of the pain of a spider or scorpion sting. One must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”[3]

  1. A Brahmo Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.”

Brahmo Devotee: “Which one is the way— love or prayer?”

Master: “First love, and then prayer.”[4]

  1. Devotee: “Now, sir, what is the way?”

Master: “It is extremely difficult to practise spiritual discipline and at the same time lead a householder’s life. There are many handicaps: disease, grief, poverty, misunderstanding with one’s wife, and disobedient, stupid, and stubborn children. I don’t have to give you a list of them. But still there is a way out. One should pray to God, going now and then into solitude, and make efforts to realize Him.” [5]

  1. A Devotee: “Then what is the way for those who have not seen God? Must they give up all the duties of the world?”

Master: “The best path for this age is bhaktiyoga, the path of bhakti prescribed by Narada : to sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’ The path of karma is extremely difficult. Therefore one should pray: ‘O God, make my duties fewer and fewer; and may I, through Thy grace, do the few duties that Thou givest me without any attachment to their results! May I have no desire to be involved in many activities!’ It is not possible to give up work altogether. Even to think or to meditate is a kind of work. As you develop love for God, your worldly activities become fewer and fewer of themselves. And you lose all interest in them. Can one who has tasted a drink made of sugar candy enjoy a drink made of ordinary molasses?”[6]

  1. A Devotee: “Sir, what is the way?”

Master: “Discrimination between the Real and the unreal. One should always discriminate to the effect that God alone is real and the world unreal. And one should pray with sincere longing[7]

  1. Mahendra: “Then what is the way?”

Master: “No salvation is possible for a man as long as he has desire, as long as he hankers for worldly things. Therefore fulfil all your desires regarding food, clothes, and sex. (Smiling) What do you say about the last one? Legitimate or illegitimate? (M. and Mahendra laugh.)

        Prior to this conversation, Sri Ramakrishna had answered Mahendra’s question, “Why does one slip from the path of Yoga?” as follows: While thinking of God the aspirant may feel a craving for material enjoyment. It is this craving that makes him slip from the path…”[8]

While Sri Ramakrishna goes on to tell Mahendra and M that the smaller, harmless desires for enjoyment can be fulfilled by the devotee, elsewhere, in other conversations, he instructs that the bigger ones, the really fundamental desires should be eliminated by prayer to God. For instance: Say to God with a guileless heart, ‘O God, reveal thyself to me.’ And weep. Pray to God, ‘O God, keep my mind away from “woman and gold”.’ And dive deep.[9] The obstacle to Yoga is “woman and gold”. Yoga is possible when the mind becomes pure…what are the spiritual disciplines that give the mind its upward direction? One learns all this by constantly living in holy company…In order to renounce, one must pray to God for the will-power to do so.[10]

  1. Trailokya: “What is the way to dry up the craving for worldly pleasure?”

Master: “Pray to the Divine Mother with a longing heart. Her vision dries up all craving for the world and completely destroys all attachment to ‘woman and gold’. It happens instantly if you think of Her as your own mother. She is by no means a godmother. She is your own mother. With a yearning heart persist in your demands on Her. The child holds to the skirt of its mother and begs a penny of her to buy a kite. Perhaps the mother is gossiping with her friends. At first she refuses to give the penny and says to the child: ‘No, you can’t have it. Your daddy has asked me not to give you money. When he comes home I’ll ask him about it. You will get into trouble if you play with a kite now.’ The child begins to cry and will not give up his demand. Then the mother says to her friends: ‘Excuse me a moment. Let me pacify this child.’ Immediately she unlocks the cash-box with a click and throws the child a penny.  “You too must force your demand on the Divine Mother. She will come to you without fail.[11]

  1. Host: “Revered sir, what is the way for us?”

Master: “Chanting the name and glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God.”[12]

  1. Musician: “Sir, what is the way to realize God?”

Master: ” Bhakti is the one essential thing…It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul. Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as ‘Baba’ or ‘Papa’, but the babies can at best call him ‘Ba’ or ‘Pa’. Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father. Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many.”[13]

  1. Girish: “What is the way for people like us?”

Master: “Bhakti is the only essential thing. Bhakti has different aspects: the sattvic, the rajasic, and the tamasic. One who has sattvic bhakti is very modest and humble. But a man with tamasic bhakti is like a highwayman in his attitude toward God. He says: ‘O God, I am chanting. Your name; how can I be a sinner? O God, You are my own Mother; You must reveal your-self to me.'”[14]

Notice how, in each case, Sri Ramakrishna adds that prayer is essential for us to achieve our spiritual goal.

There is a very interesting conversation recorded on 15th June 1884. There was a major celebration in Surendra’s house and many devotees had gathered. Sri Ramakrishna stayed there for the whole day. Around 2pm, Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, a co-worker of Keshab Chandra Sen in the Brahmo Samaj arrived and joined the celebrations. He asks Sri Ramakrishna a most interesting question: “Revered Sir, are those living with you making progress in spiritual life?” Sri Ramakrishna gives a wonderful reply, words which form the credo of all devotees of Ramakrishna Mission, so to say. He says, “I tell people that there is nothing wrong in the life of the world. But they must live in the world as a maidservant lives in her master’s house.  Referring to her master’s house, she says, ‘That is our house.’ But her real home is perhaps in a far-away village. Pointing out her master’s house to others, she says, no doubt, ‘This is our house’, but in her heart she knows very well that it doesn’t belong to her and that her own house is in a faraway village. She brings up her master’s son and says, ‘My Hari has grown very naughty’, or ‘My Hari doesn’t like sweets.’ Though she repeats, ‘My Hari’ with her lips, yet she knows in her heart that Hari doesn’t belong to her, that he is her master’s son.  Thus I say to those who visit me: ‘Why don’t you live in the world? There is no harm in that. But always keep your mind on God. Know for certain that house, family and property are not yours. They are God’s. Your real home is in God.’ Also I ask them to pray always with a longing heart for love of God’s Lotus Feet.[15]

We must refer to the authoritative book by Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play to understand the value of this most interesting conversation. Swami Saradananda writes:[16]

After he had attained perfection in various Sadhanas, the Master had many unique intuitive perceptions. Some of them were related to himself and others to spirituality in general:

  1. He is an incarnation of God.
  2. There is no liberation for him.
  3. He knew the time of his death.
  4. All religions are true: as many faiths, so many paths.
  5. Human beings adopt dualism, qualified non-dualism and non-dualism according to their temperaments.
  6. Ordinary people will progress through karma yoga
  7. A religious organization based on this catholic attitude should be founded.

Regarding the 6th perception, Swami Saradananda elaborates: The Master indicated the limits of action when he said, “The action of a sattvic person drops off automatically. He cannot work even if he tries to; the Lord does not allow him to work. It is just as when a young wife advances in pregnancy. She is given less and less work to do; and when the child is born, she gives up household work altogether and is busied exclusively with the infant. But an ordinary person must try to do his duties with detachment, depending on the Lord, like the maidservant who does everything for her master, knowing in her heart that her home is elsewhere. This is known as karma yoga. As far as possible one should take the name of the Lord and meditate on Him while discharging one’s everyday duties in an unattached way.”[17]

Prayer is thus an integral part of karma yoga, the path for the present age, as revealed by the Divine Mother of the Universe to Sri Ramakrishna. Prayer is therefore an integral part of Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission on earth. Everyone works in this world. What distinguishes work from karma yoga is prayer.

Further, there are instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna most emphatically states that prayer alone is enough for achieving one’s spiritual goal. He also very forcefully states that prayer done under certain conditions will certainly be heard by God. For instance: “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[18] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[19] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[20]

Is this prescription of prayer only for married people? For, all the instances mentioned above seem to pertain only to householders. Well, look at what Sri Ramakrishna himself said while speaking with Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani, “A devotee who can call on God while living a householder’s life is a hero indeed. God thinks: ‘He who has renounced the world for My sake will surely pray to Me. He must serve Me. Is there anything very remarkable about it? People will cry shame on him if he fails to do so. But he is blessed indeed who prays to Me in the midst of his worldly duties. He is trying to find Me, overcoming a great obstacle – pushing away, as it were, a huge block of stone weighing a ton. Such a man is a real hero.’”[21] Again while speaking with Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna said, “Though you are a householder, still you have kept your mind on God. Is that a small thing? The man who has renounced the world will pray to Him as a matter of course. Is there any credit in that? But blessed indeed is he who, while leading a householder’s life, prays to God. He is like a man who finds an object after removing a stone weighing twenty maunds.”[22] So, prayer is meant for all spiritual aspirants, monastic or married.

In fact, the tremendous feeling Sri Ramakrishna had for the married devotees is simply amazing! Just look at this particular prayer he once offered to the Divine Mother on behalf of the married devotees. It is unparalleled in all religious history! I quote from the Gospel entry for 5th Jan 1884:

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.”[23]

It seems logical to conclude that prayer is indeed the universal spiritual practice that Sri Ramakrishna prescribed for all of us. Of course, he also prescribes many other spiritual practices – meditation, discrimination, chanting the names of God, Japa, singing His glories, holy company, austerity, even purascharana, etc. But the common feature in all his prescriptions is ‘Prayer’. Sri Ramakrishna seems to hold that prayer is alone necessary and sufficient means for achieving one’s goal in spiritual life. Of course, ‘conditions apply’! But let us first of all convince ourselves of the fact that prayer has been given utmost importance by Sri Ramakrishna as a spiritual practice.

He says, “It is enough to know that everything depends on the grace of God. But one must pray to God; it will not do to remain inactive. The lawyer gives all the arguments and finishes his pleading by saying to the judge: ‘I have said all I have to say. Now the decision rests with Your Honor.’”[24]

We need not complicate this simple advice of Sri Ramakrishna by analyzing further what prayer is and how to perform it. That is what scholars and philosophers do.[25] They take a simple statement or idea and complicate it so badly that people lose interest in it. Everyone knows how to pray. Everyone knows what prayer is. Sri Ramakrishna however describes some of his own prayers, which are unique in their content.[26] It is surprising to learn that he prayed for all sorts of things. We find him praying for bodily strength even! Every now and then, he would discover some habit of thought or behavior in himself, which he wanted to get rid of. What would he do? Pray to the Divine Mother! That was his method. Again, he would develop a fancy for a particular spiritual state. His method would be to pray to the Divine Mother. For anything and everything, we find Sri Ramakrishna praying to the Divine Mother. I point this out because, in most places in the Gospel, we find Sri Ramakrishna exhorting that we must pray for knowledge, devotion and Love. But he himself had prayed for anything that he wanted, not just for knowledge, devotion and Love. So, basically, prayer is the default state of mind of a spiritual aspirant; that is what we learn from Sri Ramakrishna.

How to pray?

Everyone prays. In fact, anyone who has passed through the modern education system will automatically learn how to pray! But prayer is an art that can be developed to great heights. It is a skill in which we can become better and better. Sri Ramakrishna shows the way how this can be done. He lists out a whole set of qualities of mind and heart that embellish prayer. With each of these qualities, the efficacy of our prayer increases.

  1. Spontaneous, earnest and sincere: Prayer has to be from the heart, spontaneous. Prayer cannot be tutored. You cannot copy prayer. It has to be earnest. Earnest prayer is real prayer. Sri Ramakrishna says, “There is another way: earnestly praying to God. God is our very own. We should say to Him: ‘O God, what is Thy nature? Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must show Thyself to me; for why else hast Thou created me?’[27] “One must pray earnestly. It is said that one can realize God by directing to Him the combined intensity of three attractions, namely, the child’s attraction for the mother, the husband’s attraction for the chaste wife, and the attraction of worldly possessions for the worldly man.”[28] “(The way is) chanting the names & glories of God, living in the company of holy men, and earnestly praying to God…Pray to Rama. Meditate on Him. He will certainly provide you with everything.”[29] “He who is a real devotee of God seeks nothing but God. If he finds himself entangled in too much work, he earnestly prays, ‘Lord, be gracious and reduce my work; my mind, which should think of Thee day and night, has been wasting its power; it thinks of worldly things alone.’”[30]

Prayer has to be sincere. There has to be longing in the heart that prays. That is when prayer becomes efficacious. Sri Ramakrishna says, “A man may call on God by any name; if he is sincere in his prayer he will certainly reach Him. He will succeed if he has longing.”[31] “Let me assure you that a man can realize his Inner Self through sincere prayer.”[32] “One should pray to God with a longing heart. God certainly listens to prayer if it is sincere. There is no doubt about it.”[33] “A man can realize God by following his own path if his prayer is sincere.”[34] “One should pray to God with sincere longing. God cannot but listen to prayer if it is sincere.”[35] “What will you gain by merely repeating ‘Siddhi’[36]? You will not be intoxicated even by gargling with a solution of siddhi. It must go into your stomach; not until then will you be intoxicated. One cannot comprehend what I am saying unless one prays to God in solitude, all by oneself, with a longing heart.”[37] “You will attain God if you sing His name and glories and pray to Him with a longing heart. There is not the least doubt about it.”[38] “(The way is) one should pray with sincere longing.”[39] “The best path for this age is bhakti yoga, the path of Bhakti prescribed by Narada. To sing the name and glories of God and pray to Him with a longing heart, ‘O God, give me knowledge, give me devotion, and reveal Thyself to me!’”[40] “…with love and longing in your heart pray to God, ‘O God, grant me devotion at Thy lotus feet and reduce my worldly duties. Please grant me the boon that the few duties I must do may be done in a detached spirit.’”[41]

“One must pray to God without any selfish desire. But selfish worship, if practiced with perseverance, is gradually turned into selfless worship. Dhruva practiced tapasya to obtain his kingdom, but at last he realized God. He said, ‘Why should a man give up gold if he gets it while searching for glass beads?’”[42] “You are no doubt in the world. What if you are? You must surrender the fruit of your action to God. You must not seek any result for yourself. But mark one thing. The desire for bhakti cannot be called a desire. You may desire bhakti and pray for it.”[43] “Pray to Him with a yearning heart, and weep. That will purify your heart…Pray to Brahman with attributes, who listens to your prayers, and He Himself will give you full Knowledge of Brahman; for that which is Brahman with attributes is verily Brahman without attributes, that which is Brahman is verily Sakti. One realizes this non-duality after the attainment of Perfect Knowledge. The Divine Mother gives Her devotee Brahmajnana too…God is our Inner Controller. Pray to Him with a pure and guileless heart. He will explain everything to you. Give up egotism and take refuge in Him. You will realize everything.”[44] “Whatever path you may follow, you must pray to God with a restless heart. He is the Ruler of the soul within. He will surely listen to your prayer if it is sincere. Whether you follow the ideal of the Personal God or that of the Impersonal Truth, you will realize God alone, provided you are restless for Him. A cake with icing tastes sweet whether you eat it straight or sidewise.”[45] “Why shouldn’t one realize God while living in the world? But…one must live in holy company, pray to God, weeping for His grace, and now and then go into solitude. Unless the plants on a foot-path are protected at first by fences, they are destroyed by cattle.”[46] “Can one know God through reasoning? Be His servant, surrender yourself to Him, and then pray to Him.”[47]

Once when Sri Ramakrishna had visited the house of a devotee called Devendra, the following conversation occurred: Sri Ramakrishna said, “The mother of a certain Mallick, who belonged to a very noble family, asked me if prostitutes would ever be saved. She herself had led that kind of life; that is why she asked the question. I said: ‘Yes, they too will be saved, if only they cry to God with a yearning heart and promise not to repeat their sins.’ What will the mere chanting of Hari’s name accomplish? One must weep sincerely.”[48]

Notice three things in the series of quotations made here: first, how emphatically Sri Ramakrishna insists that God does listen to prayer, if it is sincere, direct from the heart. Second, repeatedly Sri Ramakrishna points out that God can be realized while leading a married life; well, he goes much further and includes even the morally depraved! Third, he hints at a certain order regarding prayer – first of all become the Lord’s servant, then surrender to Him, and only then pray to Him. This gradation in the practice of prayer is important to note. This takes us to the next set of instructions that Sri Ramakrishna gave on prayer.


  1. A definite relationship with God: Sri Ramakrishna reveals a great secret regarding prayer. We need to develop a definite relationship with God for our prayers to become efficacious. There is a wonderful conversation between Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani and Sri Ramakrishna recorded in the Gospel, from which I quote:

Pandit: Does God listen to our prayers?

Master: God is the Kalpataru, the Wish-fulfilling Tree. You will certainly get whatever you ask of Him. But you must pray standing near the Kalpataru. Only then will your prayer be fulfilled. (The conversation continues and then again, Sri Ramakrishna reiterates) God is the Kalpataru. One should pray standing near It. Then one will get whatever one desires.[49]

Again, during his meeting with the aristocrat of Baghbazar Nanda Bose, Sri Ramakrishna made the same statement:

Nanda: Is there no after-life? What about punishment for our sins?

Master: Why not enjoy your mangoes? What need have you to calculate about the after-life and what happens then, and things like that? Eat your mangoes. You need mangoes. You need devotion to God.

Nanda: But where is the mango-tree? Where do I get mangoes?

Master: Tree? God is the eternal and infinite Brahman. He does exist; there is no doubt about it. He is eternal. But you must remember this, that He is the Kalpataru. ‘Come, let us go for a walk, O mind, to Kali, the Wish-fulfilling Tree, and there beneath It gather the four fruits of life.’ You must go to the Kalpataru and pray. Only then will you obtain the fruits. Only then will the fruits fall from the tree. Only then will you be able to gather them.[50]

Look at this condition that Sri Ramakrishna puts for efficacy of our prayers; we need to stand near the Kalpataru; which means we need to place ourselves near God and then pray. What does this ‘standing near’ mean? Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna explains to M:

One should assume a particular attitude toward God while praying to Him – the attitude of friend or servant or son or hero. I assume the attitude of a child. To me every woman is my mother. The divine Maya, seeing this attitude in an aspirant, moves away from his path out of sheer shame. The attitude of hero is extremely difficult. The Saktas and the Bauls among the Vaishnavas follow it, but it is very hard to keep one’s spiritual life pure in that attitude. One can assume other attitudes toward God as well the attitude in which the devotee serenely contemplates God as the Creator, the attitude of service to Him, the attitude of friendship, the attitude of motherly affection, or the attitude of conjugal love. The conjugal relationship, the attitude of a woman to her husband or sweetheart, contains all the rest – serenity, service, friendship, and motherly affection. (Then he asks M) Which one of these appeals to your mind?[51]

This assuming a particular attitude towards God is what is meant by ‘standing near the Kalpataru’.

  1. Unceasing, and in secret: Sri Ramakrishna now ups the ante regarding prayer and goes one step further and exhorts that prayer ought to become continuous. Sporadic praying is but the beginning[52]. Gradually, the prayerful attitude ought to become constant in us. He uses words such as ‘always’ and ‘unceasing’ with regard to prayer. I quoted a conversation between a Brahmo devotee and Sri Ramakrishna in the beginning of this article. Let us look at that particular conversation in detail now.

A Brahmo Devotee: Sir, what is the way?

Master: Attachment to God, or, in other words, love for Him. And secondly, prayer.

Brahmo Devotee: Which one is the way – love or prayer?

Master: First love, and then prayer.

The Master sang:  Cry to your Mother Syama with a real cry, O mind! And how can She hold Herself from you? How can Syama stay away?

Continuing, the Master said: And one must always chant the name and glories of God and pray to Him. An old metal pot must be scrubbed every day. What is the use of cleaning it only once? Further, one must practice discrimination and renunciation; one must be conscious of the unreality of the world.

Brahmo: Is it good to renounce the world?

Master: Not for all. Those who have not yet come to the end of their enjoyments should not renounce the world. Can one get drunk on two annas’ worth of wine?

Brahmo: Then should they lead a worldly life?

Master: Yes, they should try to perform their duties in a detached way. Before you break the jack-fruit open, rub your hands with oil, so that the sticky milk will not smear them. The maidservant in a rich man’s house performs all her duties, but her mind dwells on her home in the country. This is an example of doing duty in a detached way. You should renounce the world only in mind. But a Sanyasi should renounce the world both inwardly and outwardly.[53]

When Sri Ramakrishna was returning to Dakshineswar after what was to be his last visit to Keshab Sen, he stopped at Jaygopal Sen’s house. Many people had gathered there. There was one neighbor of Jaygopal Sen who had an interesting conversation with Sri Ramakrishna, from which I quote:

Neighbor: You ask us, sir, to live in the world after knowing God. Can God really be known?

Master: God cannot be known by the sense-organs or by this mind, but He can be known by the pure mind, the mind that is free from worldly desires.

Neighbor: Who can know God?

Master: Right. Who can really know Him? But as for us, it is enough to know as much of Him as we need. What need have I of a whole well of water? One jar is more than enough for me. An ant went to a sugar hill. Did it need the entire hill? A grain or two of sugar was more than enough.

Neighbor: Sir, we are like typhoid patients. How can we be satisfied with one jar of water? We feel like knowing, the whole of God.

Master: That’s true. But there is also medicine for typhoid.

Neighbor: What is that medicine, sir?

Master: The company of holy men, repeating the name of God and singing His glories, and unceasing prayer. I prayed to the Divine Mother: ‘Mother, I don’t seek knowledge. Here, take Thy knowledge, take Thy ignorance. Give me only pure love for Thy Lotus Feet.’ I didn’t ask for anything else. As is the disease, so must the remedy be. The Lord says in the Gita: ‘O Arjuna, take refuge in Me. I shall deliver you from all sins.’ Take shelter at His feet: He will give you right understanding. He will take entire responsibility for you. Then you will get rid of the typhoid. Can one ever know God with such a mind as this? Can one pour four seers of milk into a one-seer pot? Can we ever know God unless He lets us know Him? Therefore I say, take shelter in God. Let Him do whatever He likes. He is self-willed. What power is there in a man?[54]

There is a marvelous conversation between some Marwari devotees and Sri Ramakrishna from which I quote:

You are merchants. You know how to improve your business gradually. Some of you start with a castor-oil factory. After making some money at that, you open a cloth shop. In the same way, one makes progress toward God. It may be that you go into solitude, now and then, and devote more time to prayer…One should always chant His name. Even while one is performing one’s duties, the mind should be left with God. Suppose I have a carbuncle on my back. I perform my duties, but the mind is drawn to the carbuncle.[55]

A closely related, but equally interesting quality Sri Ramakrishna specifies regarding prayer is secrecy! He says, “Pray to God in secret and with yearning, that you may have that passionate attachment and devotion to Him. Shed tears for Him. A man sheds a jugful of tears because his wife is sick or because he is losing money or because he is worrying about getting a job. But tell me, whoever weeps for God?’[56]

Notice how Sri Ramakrishna advices going into solitude every now and then, so that we could devote more time to prayer. This is apart from developing the habit of continuous, unceasing prayer even in the midst of our daily activities.

The reason Sri Ramakrishna exhorts us for praying unceasingly is this: If a man practices spiritual discipline before his death and if he gives up his body praying to God and meditating on Him, when will sin touch him? It is no doubt the elephant’s nature to smear his body with dust and mud, even after his bath. But he cannot do so if the mahout takes him into the stable immediately after his bath.[57] Death can catch up on us at any time. We need to face death with the Lord’s name on the top of our conscious mind. That is possible only if we have made a habit of praying ceaselessly.

What to pray for:

Again, we all know what to pray for; this knowledge is inherent in us. Or is it? There is no end to our desires. For all kinds of things, we pray. When we study the Gospel, we find that Sri Ramakrishna also has prayed for all kinds of things. But what is noteworthy is how Sri Ramakrishna emphasized that prayer is a powerful tool that should not be wasted on obtaining sundry things for ourselves. It is like using a powerful computer for only typing letters! The computer can do so much more. It can, in fact, manage the working of the entire company; while we end up only typing letters on it!

The question that comes up is this: Often we feel helpless and completely pressurized by the turn of events in our life. For instance, we have an illness, or one of our loved ones has a serious illness. We feel like praying for a cure. Or, we need a job; or need to pass an exam. Under such situations we automatically feel like praying. It might come as a surprise to you that Sri Ramakrishna endorses each of these cases!

When Sri Ramakrishna had visited Keshab Sen during his illness, Keshab’s mother had asked Sri Ramakrishna to pray for Keshab’s improvement of health. Sri Ramakrishna’s answer was quite uncharacteristic of his usual replies to such requests. He had said to Keshab’s mother, “Please pray to the Divine Mother, who is the Bestower of all bliss. She will take away your troubles.”[58] It is noteworthy that he asked Keshab’s mother to pray to God for such a mundane thing as her son’s health. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Quite often, the pressures of existence press down upon us and we feel lost. In such circumstances, it is perfectly alright to pray to God for even mundane things. Once during a conversation with Dr Mahendralal Sarkar, Sri Ramakrishna made the following observation: “Ah, what a splendid thing you said the other day! ‘We lie in the lap of God. To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ If I must pray, I shall certainly pray to Him.” The Gospel mentions that as Sri Ramakrishna said these words, his eyes filled with tears.[59] We do not find Sri Ramakrishna castigating Dr Sarkar for making such a statement as ‘To whom shall we speak about our illness if not to Him?’ In fact, Sri Ramakrishna himself supports Dr Sarkar’s sentiment by adding “If I must pray (about curing my illness), I shall certainly pray to Him.”

A few days before shifting to Shyampukur, Dr Rakhal had come to treat Sri Ramakrishna. A conversation started in Sri Ramakrishna’s Dakshineswar room and M makes the following entry in the Gospel:

A Devotee: You will soon be cured if only you say to the Divine Mother, ‘Mother, please make me well.’

Master: I cannot ask God to cure my disease. The attitude of the servant-master relationship is nowadays less strong in me. Once in a while, I say, ‘O Mother, please mend the sheath of the sword a little.’ But such prayers are also becoming less frequent. Nowadays I do not find my ‘I’; I see that it is God alone who resides in this sheath.[60]

Most of us pray for personal things such as a job. What is Sri Ramakrishna’s instruction regarding such prayers? Although, in general, Sri Ramakrishna discouraged us from praying for jobs and such things, it is not that he was totally against such prayers. If the prayer were sincere, even if it was for such a mundane thing as a job, Sri Ramakrishna approved of it! Yes, this may sound a little off-color, but there is a reference to exactly such a thing in the Gospel.

One day, Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar Sen, “Didn’t you get the job?” Adhar held the post of deputy magistrate, a government post that carried with it great prestige. He earned three hundred rupees a month. He had applied for the office of Vice-Chairman of the Calcutta Municipality. The salary attached to this office was one thousand rupees. In order to secure it, Adhar had interviewed many influential people in Calcutta.

Master (to M. and Niranjan ): Hazra said to me, ‘Please pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar, that he may secure the job.’ Adhar made the same request to me. I said to the Mother: ‘O Mother, Adhar has been visiting You. May he get the job if it pleases You.’ But at the same time I said to Her, ‘How small-minded he is! He is praying to You for things like that and not for Knowledge and Devotion.’ [61]

What a wonderful incident this is! Just observe the details and try to read between the lines here. How sympathetic to human weakness, Sri Ramakrishna is! Sri Ramakrishna says Hazra asked me to pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s promotion; later on, Adhar Sen himself asked for Sri Ramakrishna’s intervention; in both these cases, Sri Ramakrishna didn’t scold them away. He did pray to the Divine Mother for Adhar’s job! What an amazing thing! And then, an even more wonderful thing is – Sri Ramakrishna asks Adhar, “Didn’t you get the job?” You see, Sri Ramakrishna had prayed to the Mother for Adhar’s job; that prayer is certain to bear fruit; that is why he is inquiring!

But, the power of prayer would be wasted if these were all we prayed for. It is common knowledge that this world doesn’t change. We may pray for these things – good health, end of our present troubles – but soon, something new will crop up. It is an endless cycle. Hence, Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly exhorted us to pray for more lasting things. Thus we find Sri Ramakrishna generally discouraging us from praying for cure of illnesses, for a job, or for money.

So, we come back to our main question: What should we pray for? Sri Ramakrishna held prayer to be a powerful tool meant to assist us in our spiritual journey. Rest everything was important only insofar as they helped in this main objective. Look at this conversation from the Gospel:

Mahimacharan: By what kind of work can one realize God?

Master: It is not that God can be realized by this work and not by that. The vision of God depends on His grace. Still a man must work a little with longing for God in his heart. If he has longing he will receive the grace of God. To attain God a man must have certain favorable conditions: the company of holy men, discrimination, and the blessings of a real teacher. Perhaps his elder brother takes the responsibility for the family; perhaps his wife has spiritual qualities and is very virtuous; perhaps he is not married at all or entangled in worldly life. He succeeds when conditions like these are fulfilled.[62]

A study of the statements made by Sri Ramakrishna as recorded in the Gospel show us that there are two categories of things for which we should pray to God. One set of things is what we need removed from our personality. God’s intervention is needed there. The other set of things is what we need to develop in our personality. Again, God’s intervention is needed there. Both these negative and positive achievements lead to establishing the ‘favorable’ conditions that Sri Ramakrishna mentions.[63] Let us look at these two categories for which we need to pray.

Pratap Chandra Hazra is a strange character in the Gospel. He and Sri Ramakrishna had many differences of opinion. There is an interesting record in the Gospel in this regard, which clarifies our question, as to what is the aim of prayer:

Hazra entered the room and sat with the devotees on the floor. Hazra repeated now and then, “Soham! Soham!” (I am He! I am He!) To Latu and other devotees he often said, “What does one gain by worshipping God with offerings? That is merely giving Him things that are His already.” He had said this once to Narendra. The Master spoke to him about this.

Master: I explained to Latu, who the object of the devotee’s worship is.

Hazra: The devotee really prays to his own Self.

Master: What you say is a very lofty thought. The aim of spiritual discipline, of chanting God’s name and glories, is to realize just that. A man attains everything when he discovers his true Self in himself. The object of Sadhana is to realize that. That also is the purpose of assuming a human body. One needs the clay mould as long as the gold image has not been cast; but when the image is made, the mould is thrown away. The body may be given up after the realization of God. God is not only inside us; He is both inside and outside. The Divine Mother showed me in the Kali temple that everything is Chinmaya, the Embodiment of Spirit; that it is She who has become all this the image, myself, the utensils of worship, the door-sill, the marble floor. Everything is indeed Chinmaya. The aim of prayer, of spiritual discipline, of chanting the name and glories of God, is to realize just that.[64]

Thus, the one aim of prayer is to realize the divine inside and outside us.

While the overarching aim of prayer is realization of Self, Sri Ramakrishna instructs us to pray for getting rid of animal feelings and worldly attachments, for not being born again in this world, and for reducing our duties in our life so that our prayers become really efficacious.

Addressing Bankim Chandra, Sri Ramakrishna said, “…Like the swan are those who think of God, who pray day and night to get rid of their attachment to worldly things and their love for ‘woman and gold’, who do not enjoy anything except the nectar of the Lotus Feet of the Lord, and to whom worldly pleasures taste bitter…After the birth of one or two children, husband and wife should live as brother and sister and talk only of God. Then both their minds will be drawn to God, and the wife will be a help to the husband on the path of spirituality. None can taste divine bliss without giving up his animal feeling. A devotee should pray to God to help him get rid of this feeling.”[65] Elsewhere, Sri Ramakrishna says, “Do you know the significance of the Siva emblem? It is the worship of the symbols of fatherhood and motherhood. The devotee worshipping the image prays, ‘O Lord, please grant that I may not be born into this world again; that I may not have to pass again through a mother’s womb.’”[66] Another unique theme Sri Ramakrishna introduced is prayer for reducing our duties. For instance, “Now you should pray to God that your worldly duties may be reduced.”[67]

Now, this sense of duty is a bugbear with all of us; we can’t live with it, nor can we live without it. For most of us, a sense of duty is indispensable for our personal growth. Society prescribes two kinds of duty for all of us: duty that arises from our innate tendencies, and duty that entails upon us from our social obligations. Both of these have to be reduced so that more and more time can be devoted to spiritual practices prescribed by the Guru. To Shambhu Charan Mallik, Sri Ramakrishna famously said, “When you realize God, will you pray to Him, ‘O God, please grant that I may dig reservoirs, build roads, and found hospitals and dispensaries’? …Then mustn’t one perform acts of compassion, such as charity to the poor? I do not forbid it. If a man has money, he should give it to remove the sorrows and sufferings that come to his notice. In such an event the wise man says, ‘Give the poor something.’ But inwardly he feels, ‘What can I do? God alone is the Doer. I am nothing.’” [68]

Just observe the nuance here! The attitude we entertain towards the social obligations we have is most important. This prayer for reducing our worldly duties is meant to awaken this attitude in us.

Closely associated with this sense of worldly duties is the bond of marriage. Sri Ramakrishna’s advice in this regard is extremely valuable, and it is something that the present society stands direly in need of. Listen to Sri Ramakrishna’s words addressed to Dr Mahendralal Sarkar:

Master (To the doctor): The renunciation of ‘woman and gold’ is meant for the Sannyasin. He must not look even at the picture of a woman. Do you know what a woman is to a man? She is like spiced pickle. The very thought of pickle brings water to the tongue; it doesn’t have to be brought near the tongue. But this renunciation is not meant for householders like you. It is meant only for Sannyasins. You may live among women, as far as possible in a spirit of detachment. Now and then you must retire into solitude and think of God. Women must not be allowed there. You can lead an unattached life to a great extent if you have faith in God and love for Him. After the birth of one or two children a married couple should live as brother and sister. They should then constantly pray to God that their minds may not run after sense pleasures anymore and that they may not have any more children.[69]

Simultaneously with praying for removing these negatives traits from our personality, we ought to pray for bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and discrimination. The references in the Gospel for such prayers or instructions for such prayers are really numerous.[70] In fact, the main strain of Sri Ramakrishna’s instructions on prayer is to obtain these things – Bhakti, devotion, faith, pure love and Discrimination.

Whom to pray to?

The last portion of our discussion concerns whom we have to address our prayers to. The obvious answer is – God. But, we who are devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission have a much more specific mandate. We can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. When Swami Vivekananda dictated the ‘Math Rules’ to Swami Shuddhananda, he included the following observation there: The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form…this Form will last until He comes again in another gross Body. Though He is not visible to all – that He is in this Sangha and is guiding it is a fact of everybody’s experience. Otherwise such a world-wide movement could never have been set on foot in so short a time by this handful of insignificant, helpless and persecuted boys. This truth forms the basis of our assertion that as devotees of Ramakrishna Sangha, we can pray to Sri Ramakrishna. Furthermore, there are recorded instances in Sri Ramakrishna’s life which lend credence to this assertion of ours. Let us look at the following three instances to understand this:

1st incident: I quote from the Gospel:

Evening worship was over in the temples…It was now late in the evening and time for M.’s departure; but he felt reluctant to go and instead went in search of Sri Ramakrishna. He had been fascinated by the Master’s singing and wanted to hear more. At last he found the Master pacing alone in the natmandir in front of the Kali temple. A lamp was burning in the temple on either side of the image of the Divine Mother. The single lamp in the spacious natmandir blended light and darkness into a kind of mystic twilight, in which the figure of the Master could be dimly seen. M. had been enchanted by the Master’s sweet music. With some hesitation he asked him whether there would be any more singing that evening. “No, not tonight”, said Sri Ramakrishna after a little reflection. Then, as if remembering something, he added: “But I’m going soon to Balaram Bose’s house in Calcutta. Come there and you’ll hear me sing.” M. agreed to go.

Master: Do you know Balaram Bose?

M: No, sir. I don’t.

Master : He lives in Bosepara.

M: Well, sir, I shall find him.

As Sri Ramakrishna walked up and down the hall with M., he said to him: “Let me ask you something. What do you think of me?” M. remained silent. Again Sri Ramakrishna asked: “What do you think of me? How many annas of knowledge of God have I?”  M: “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘annas’. But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation, and catholicity anywhere.”  The Master laughed. M. bowed low before him and took his leave. He had gone as far as the main gate of the temple garden when he suddenly remembered something and came back to Sri Ramakrishna, who was still in the natmandir. In the dim light the Master, all alone, was pacing the hall, rejoicing in the Self — as the lion lives and roams alone in the forest.  In silent wonder M. surveyed that great soul.

Master (to M.): What makes you come back?

M: Perhaps the house you asked me to go to belongs to a rich man. They may not let me in. I think I had better not go. I would rather meet you here.

Master : Oh, no! Why should you think that? Just mention my name. Say that you want to see me; then someone will take you to me.[71]

Although this is a simple statement made by Sri Ramakrishna to M, in the context of a very particular situation, we can indeed read a whole lot of meaning into it. In fact, Swami Chetanananda makes the following observation in this regard:

‘Just mention my name – then someone will take you to me,’ is a significant, hopeful statement. He is telling not only M, but all lost and confused people of the world how to reach him. Doors will open in all directions for anyone who repeats his name – whether it is a wealthy man’s mansion, or a poor man’s cottage, or the labyrinth of the world. As a prince has free access to any room in the palace and the gatekeepers open the door for him with a salute, so Mahamaya opens the door of liberation for the disciples and devotees of an Avatar. The Avatar is the ruler of Maya.[72]

2nd incident:

On 1st January 1886 Sri Ramakrishna became the Kalpataru and blessed his devotees saying “Be illumined”. Navagopal Ghosh was not there at that time. When he came to Cossipore later on that day, Ram Chandra Dutta told him, “Hello, Sir, what are you doing? The Master has become a Kalpataru today. Please go to him right now. If you have anything to ask for, this is the right time.” Navagopal rushed to the Master and, bowing down to him, asked, “Master, what will happen to me?”

After a little pause, the Master asked, “Will you be able to practice a little Japa and Meditation?”

Navagopal replied, “I am a family man with several children. Moreover, I am very busy with my various household duties and taking care of my family members. Where is the time to practice spiritual disciplines?”

The Master kept quiet for a while and then said, “Can’t you even repeat the Lord’s name a few times regularly?”

“I don’t have time, Master.”

“All right! Will you be able to repeat my name a few times?”

“Yes, that I can do.”

Then the Master said, “That will do. You will not have to do anything else.”[73]

3rd incident:

In the life of Mathurnath Biswas, we find yet another totally unexpected aspect regarding prayer and Sri Ramakrishna. I quote from Swami Chetanananda’s book ‘They lived with God’:

Whenever Mathur was in trouble, he would go straight to Sri Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar for help. Once he ordered his guards to take part in a brutal gang fight with the guards of a rival landlord. When the news reached him that a man had been killed, Mathur came to his senses and realized that he would be prosecuted. He pleaded with the Master to save him. Sri Ramakrishna rebuked him, saying, “Rascal, you will create a row every day and come and cry, ‘Save me!’ What can I do? Go and suffer the consequences.” But at last, seeing Mathur’s deep anguish, the Master said, “Well, it will be as Mother wills.” Mathur escaped arrest.[74]

This is an amazing incident, indeed! Sri Ramakrishna is almost telling us, as it were, ‘Why don’t you inform me? Why don’t you just drop in a word? I can set things right for you!’

In this connection, we find the following observation of Swami Saradananda in Sri Ramakrishna and his Divine Play: (Mathur) also noticed that when faced with the Master’s keen insight, insincerity could not remain hidden behind its façade. If a person, after committing any sinful act – even murder – frankly and sincerely took refuge in the Master, he lovingly accepted that person and forgave all misdeeds. He endowed that person with the power to recognize and realize the higher ideal. The impossible became possible by virtue of the mysterious power that worked though the Master.[75]

We see a vivid example of this observation by Swami Saradananda in the following extract from the Gospel:

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.

Master: Mother, please attract him to Thee. I can’t worry about him anymore.

(To M) My mind is inclined a little to your brother-in-law.

(To Girish) You utter many abusive and vulgar words; but that doesn’t matter. It is better for these things to come out. There are some people who fall ill on account of blood-poisoning; the more the poisoned blood finds an outlet, the better it is for them. At the time when the upadhi of a man is being destroyed, it makes a loud noise, as it were. Wood crackles when it burns; there is no more noise when the burning is over.  You will be purer day by day. You will improve very much day by day. People will marvel at you. I may not come many more times; but that doesn’t matter. You will succeed by yourself.

The Master’s spiritual mood became very intense. Again he talked to the Divine Mother.

Master: Mother, what credit is there in making a man good who is already good? O Mother, what wilt Thou accomplish by killing one who is already dead? Only if Thou canst kill a person who is still standing erect wilt Thou show Thy glory.[76]

Just look at these words of Sri Ramakrishna! This is the power that he has unleashed amongst us by his unique life. He has unleashed the infinite power of God to work wonders in our lives! Let us have faith in this fact. Swami Vivekananda asks us pointedly to have faith in this unique achievement of Sri Ramakrishna. In an undated letter to his brother disciples written from USA in 1894, he writes: It won’t do merely to call Shri Ramakrishna an Incarnation, you must manifest power. This is also what Swami Shivanandaji meant when he said that Sri Ramakrishna had awakened the Brahma-Kundalini by his Sadhana.

Although Sri Ramakrishna has indeed unleashed this unprecedented power, there is one little thing we ought to do. And that is pray. I end this discussion by quoting a poignant extract from the Gospel, which reveals the innermost feelings of Sri Ramakrishna in this regard:

Master: That is why I say that work is necessary. It will not do to say that God exists and then idle away your time. You must reach God somehow or other. Call on Him in solitude and pray to Him, ‘O Lord! reveal Thyself to me.’ Weep for Him with a longing heart. You roam about in search of ‘woman and gold’ like a madman; now be a little mad for God. Let people say, ‘This man has lost his head for God.’ Why not renounce everything for a few days and call on God in solitude? What will you achieve by simply saying that God exists and doing nothing about it? There are big fish in the Haldarpukur; but can you catch them by merely sitting idly on the bank? Prepare some spiced bait and throw it into the lake. Then the fish will come from the deep water and you will see ripples. That will make you happy. Perhaps a fish will jump with a splash and you will get a glimpse of it. Then you will be so glad!  Milk must be turned to curd and the curd must be churned. Only then will you get butter. (To Mahima) What a nuisance! Someone must show God to a man, while he himself sits idly by all the while! Someone must extract the butter and hold it in front of his mouth! (All laugh.) What a bother! Someone else must catch the fish and give it to him! A man wanted to see the king. The king lived in the inner court of the palace, beyond seven gates. No sooner did the man pass the first gate than he exclaimed, ‘Oh, where is the king?’ But there were seven gates, and he must pass them one after another before he could see the king.[77]



[1] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 96

[2] Ibid: Pg.: 179

[3] Ibid: Pg.: 190

[4] Ibid: Pg.: 215

[5] Ibid: Pg.: 326

[6] Ibid: Pg.: 452-53

[7] Ibid: Pg.: 385

[8] Ibid: Pg.: 534

[9] Ibid: Pg.: 291-292

[10] Ibid: Pg.: 401

[11] Ibid: Pg.: 629

[12] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[13] Ibid: Pg.: 111

[14] Ibid: Pg.: 702

[15] Ibid: Pg.: 456-57

[16] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.:361

[17] Ibid: Pg.: 362

[18] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 256

[19] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[20] Ibid: Pg.: 171

[21] Ibid: Pg.: 471

[22] Ibid: Pg.: 821

[23] Ibid: Pg.: 381

[24] Ibid: Pg.: 599

[25] Sri Ramakrishna tells M: You have no need of many opinions and discussions. You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Enjoy them to your heart’s content. You don’t need to count the branches and leaves on the trees. Ibid: Pg.: 506

[26] There are innumerable instances in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna mentions how he used to pray. These prayers are unique in their content. A separate article dealing with them will be published shortly on http://www.scribd.com & https://wordpress.com/posts/vedatitananda.wordpress.com

[27] Ibid: Pg.: 96

[28] Ibid: Pg.: 244

[29] Ibid: Pg.: 640

[30] Ibid: Pg.: 671

[31] Ibid: Pg.: 306

[32] Ibid: Pg.: 256

[33] Ibid: Pg.: 257

[34] Ibid: Pg.: 596

[35] Ibid: Pg.: 703

[36] Siddhi: It is the colloquial name for Marijuana or Hemp, an intoxicant used liberally by Tantric spiritual aspirants.

[37] Ibid: Pg.:844

[38] Ibid: Pg.:171

[39] Ibid: Pg.:385

[40] Ibid: Pg.:452

[41] Ibid: Pg.:454

[42] Ibid: Pg.:379

[43] Ibid: Pg.:612

[44] Ibid: Pg.:636

[45] Ibid: Pg.:867

[46] Ibid: Pg.:98

[47] Ibid: Pg.:106: This was Sri Ramakrishna’s advice to Vidyasagar.

[48] Ibid: Pg.:740

[49] Ibid: Pg.:481

[50] Ibid: Pg.:820

[51] Ibid: Pg.:377

[52] Cf for instance Sri Ramakrishna’s advice: At dusk put aside all duties and pray to God. One is reminded of Him by darkness. At the approach of darkness one thinks: ‘I could see everything a moment ago. Who has brought about this change?’ The Mussalmans put aside all activities and say their prayers at the appointed times. Ibid: Pg.:588

[53] Ibid: Pg.:215

[54] Ibid: Pg.:328-29

[55] Ibid: Pg.:162

[56] Ibid: Pg.:627-28

[57] Ibid: Pg.:912

[58] Ibid: Pg.:323

[59] Ibid: Pg.:923

[60] Ibid: Pg.:846

[61] Ibid: Pg.:518

[62] Ibid: Pg.:646

[63] In this connection, please see the article A Devotee’s Contract on http://www.scribd.com, which is a translation of a Saturday evening Kannada lecture (sometime in the 1980s) at Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore by Rev Swami Purushottamanandaji Maharaj, titled ‘Yenagu Aane, ninagu aane’ on a wonderful song by Purandara Dasa.

[64] Ibid: Pg.:521

[65] Ibid: Pg.:670

[66] Ibid: Pg.:603

[67] Ibid: Pg.:506

[68] Ibid: Pg.:379

[69] Ibid: Pg.: 866

[70] Ibid: Pp: 612; 186; 542; 670; 190; 453; 454; 902; 299; 682; 138; 308; 324; 329; 371; 614; 547; 87; & 748

[71] Ibid: Pg.: 92

[72] How to live with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2008; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 110

[73] They lived with God; Swami Chetanananda; 2006; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata: Pg.: 245-46

[74] Ibid: Pg.: 44; Also Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 518

[75] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play; Swami Saradananda; 2003; Vedanta Society of St. Louis: Pg.: 508

[76] Cf: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Tr. Swami Nikhilananda: 2002: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras: Pg.: 741

[77] Ibid: Pg.: 646

The Personal – Impersonal God

Om sthapakaya cha dharmasya sarvadharma svarupine;

Avatara varishtaya Ramakrishnaya te namaha!

Honorable Sri Ramendranath Mahakal, Judicial Magistrate, Alipore Court, Honourable Minister Sri Rabindranath Bhattacharya, Respected Sri Shirshendu Mukherjee, Chief Guest of the occasion, my very dear Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Special Guest of the occasion, other dignitaries on the stage, and dear devotees:

I am very happy to be here at the Jagatpur Anandamayee Kalimaata Mandir on its 11th Annual Foundation Day. Actually I am not supposed to be here today. Revered Swami Suviranandaji Maharaj, who is Asst General Secretary of Ramakrishna Mission was scheduled to come. Due to some pressing emergency, he is unable to come today. I am just filling in. He will come here on the 13th evening. Please come again on Friday to listen to Revered Maharaj.

I had requested both Rangalal & Manas Ghosh not to invite me to speak here. I have a very limited vocabulary in Bengali. Hence I cannot speak effectively. But, then, we just heard two most wonderful speeches by Justice Mahakal and Sheikh Rehman. I feel I have to say a few things, although my Bengali will seem to be like that of a primary school child. We have been hearing a couple of words repeatedly till now – Dharma Sabha & Dharma Samanvaya – Religious seminar & Harmony of Religions.

Let me tell you that this word especially, Harmony of Religions, is a new word. It didn’t exist until 100 years ago. In another Kali Temple, very similar to this, at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna conducted a unique experiment. I say it was unique because such a thing hadn’t occurred before and may not happen ever again. Sri Ramakrishna found out from his own personal experience that all religions are true. This was a paradigm altering discovery.

Once Sister Nivedita asked Swami Vivekananda, “So, you say that the future will call Sri Ramakrishna an incarnation of Kali?” She asked this because Swamiji would say that often, in very personal circles. He seldom openly preached that Sri Ramakrishna was an incarnation of God. So, in reply to this question by the Sister, Swamiji said, “Undoubtedly, that is so. Mother Kali worked up the body of Sri Ramakrishna for Her own ends.” We must appreciate the two people who are discussing here. Sister Nivedita and Swami Vivekananda, two of the most rational people who have lived in this world; both of them are saying that Sri Ramakrishna was the incarnation of Kali. A person doesn’t become an incarnation of God by some other people believing that it is so. Swamiji, especially was not the kind of person who would believe something willy-nilly. Unless a thing weren’t a fact, he wouldn’t care a damn.

In Dakshineswar, one day, a young boy named Rakhal was massaging Sri Ramakrishna’s feet. No sooner had he begun massaging Sri Ramakrishna’s feet than he saw Kali enter the room in the form of a small girl, seven or eight years of age. She circled the cot on which Sri Ramakrishna laid, a couple of times, and then merged into him. Jokingly, Sri Ramakrishna said to Rakhal, “Do you see? The results of serving a holy man are instant!” But, this spiritual vision clearly shows that Sri Ramakrishna is an incarnation of Kali. Mother Kali created his body and mind, consecrated it, and entered into it to work out Her own divine mission.

Mathurnath Biswas was the owner of the Dakshineswar Temple. One day, he was sitting on the porch of his residence within the Temple complex, called Kuthi Bungalow. A little far away, Sri Ramakrishna was walking up and down on the veranda of his own room. Mathur saw something amazing. When Sri Ramakrishna was walking towards the Ganga, he saw Sri Ramakrishna as Mother Kali. When he walked the other side, he saw him as Lord Shiva. This was not just once. Repeatedly Mathur saw this, and this vision completely changed his perception of the young priest who was under his employment. This vision also speaks clearly about who Sri Ramakrishna actually was.

It was Kali Puja day in Nov 1885. Sri Ramakrishna asked all puja items to be arranged in his room in Shyampukur. He was suffering from throat cancer and hence had moved to Shyampukur to recuperate. The devotees had arranged everything, but Puja didn’t start at the time it was to begin. In fact, there was no idol or photo even. Sri Ramakrishna and the devotees just sat in the room. The devotees had assumed that Sri Ramakrishna would perform the puja, but he just sat still. Suddenly, Girish Chandra Ghosh, who too was one of the devotees assembled there, realized that they actually had no need of an idol. For, Sri Ramakrishna was himself there. He took some flowers and offered them to Sri Ramakrishna’s feet. Many other devotees too followed suit. Each took some flowers and offered them to his feet uttering their own mantras. An amazing transformation occurred in Sri Ramakrishna. The hair on his body stood on end. His face became effulgent and divine smile started playing on his lips. His hands assumed the posture that Mother Kali has – one hand offering boons and the other showering the freedom of fearlessness. The devotees started shouting ‘Jai Maa’. Then Sri Ramakrishna went into deep Samadhi. After sometime, he regained partial consciousness. He then ate some of the offered fruits and sweets. The whole night was spent in singing Kali kirtans. This event impressed on the minds of the devotees present that Sri Ramakrishna was none other than Mother Kali.

One day, Sri Ramakrishna’s wife, Sri Sarada Devi, was massaging his feet. All of a sudden she asked him, “How do you look upon me?” Immediately he replied, “The Mother whom I worship in the Temple, the mother who lives in the Nahabat, who gave birth to me, and you who are massaging my feet now, are all non-different.” He looked upon Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi as Mother Kali in flesh and blood. And indeed, she was really so. When she was a young wife, living in her husband’s house in Kamarpukur, she had to go to the nearby Haldarpukur tank for her bath before sunrise. She was young and was afraid of going alone in the darkness. Most amazingly, every day, she was accompanied by eight little girls who would appear exactly at her bath time, take her to the Tank, have bath with her, bring her back home, and disappear! This happened as long as she was in Kamarpukur. We read in the scriptures that the Divine Mother is always accompanied by the eight companions, the ‘Ashta Nayikas’, and we see it was so in Holy Mother’s life too.

Once, Shivaram, a relative of Holy Mother was accompanying her on a journey back to Jairambati. Suddenly, Shivaram stopped in his tracks. Holy Mother asked him why he wasn’t moving. He said, “Mother, tell me who you really are. Only then will I move.” She said, “Don’t be silly. I am your aunt. Now come on, or we will be late.” But the boy did not budge. Finally, Holy Mother said, “Fine, people sometimes say I am Kali.” He was still not satisfied. He persisted. “That won’t do. Tell me; are you really Mother Kali in flesh & blood?” Seeing that this impasse wouldn’t end, Holy Mother admitted, “Yes. I am Mother Kali.” This is her own confession!

Mother Kali has two aspects – the benign aspect and the terrible aspect. In Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, we generally see the benign aspect manifested. However, if she were really Kali incarnate, shouldn’t she have a terrible aspect too? Well, we do see that aspect too of the gentle Holy Mother. It happened in Kamarpukur after the Mahasamadhi of Sri Ramakrishna. She lived on her own in her husband’s house. Sri Ramakrishna has a devotee named Harish, who was mentally deranged. He had come to Kamarpukur at that time and would irritate the Holy Mother often. One day, he started chasing her around. She ran away for some time from him, but after a while she confronted him. She felled him down, sat on his chest, pulled his tongue out of this mouth and slapped him repeatedly! After this terrible incident, Harish sobered down a lot and became almost normal. But, imagine someone as gentle and bashful as the Holy Mother behaving in this terrible fashion! In the scriptures, we find the description of a terrible aspect of the Divine Mother named Bagala Devi, who in similar fashion destroyed a demon. Here we see that in Holy Mother, for, she was indeed the Mother Kali incarnate. When she recalled this incident many years later, she herself confessed, “I then assumed my real nature and trounced him thus.”

There was a very revered monk in our Order called Swami Ashokananda. He was from Sylhet and his name was Yogesh Chandra. When he was still living at home, when he had not yet become a monk, one day he was meditating on Mother Durga. After a while, he saw that the Mother’s image in his mind got replaced by that of Swami Vivekananda! Moreover, he clearly felt as though a pitcher was being emptied into his heart. Later on, he conveyed this experience to Swami Brahmananda & Shivananda, both of whom confirmed that it was a kind of Diksha that he had got. Swami Vivekananda had initiated him in this manner. So, when Swami Ashokananda meditated on Mother Durga, Mother assumed the form of Swamiji and initiated him!

I am a little confused here. I don’t know whether you are or not, but I certainly am. What exactly is happening here? First we saw that Mother Kali incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna. We find a person no less than Swami Vivekananda himself substantiating this belief. Then, we saw that Holy Mother too was Mother Kali. Then, from Ashokanandaji’s life we find that Swami Vivekananda himself was none other than Mother Kali! How can one Goddess appear as three different people? Something doesn’t seem to be right in these deliberations, isn’t it?

Let me read a little from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and see if that can solve our confusion. Sri Ramakrishna says, “Mother Kali plays in different ways. It is She alone who is known as Mahakali, Nityakali, Smasanakali, Rakshakali, and Syamakali. Mahakali and Nityakali are mentioned in the Tantra philosophy. When there were neither the creation, nor the sun, the moon, the planets, and the earth and when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the Formless One, Mahakali, the Great Power, was one with Mahakala, the Absolute…No one can say with finality that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless, and again He has forms. For the Bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the Jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream…Kabir used to say, ‘The formless Absolute is my Father, and God with form is my Mother.’…God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most. His love for the devotee knows no bounds. It is written in the Purana that God assumed the form of Rama for His heroic devotee, Hanuman…”

So, what Sri Ramakrishna is trying to say here is that divinity has both form and is formless. It is the same divinity that appears in different forms (to suit the mentality of the devotee) and as devoid of all form, as pure consciousness (again to suit the mentality of a different kind of devotees). Thus, it is one and the same divinity that the Jews, Muslims and some Hindus worship as Yehowah, Allah and Nirakara Brahman. And that same divinity assumes the myriad forms of Kali, Shiva, Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, etc depending on the spiritual inclination of the devotee. When the heart is purified, the devotee understands this truth. Well, this is not just the truth, but it is also a great scam played by God! If we understand this fact, of the oneness of all gods and goddesses, our life becomes blessed. Our life becomes a great symphony of spiritual experiences. Our interactions with others become sweet and meaningful. If we don’t understand this fact, our life becomes a hell. We become unable to look at people who do not like the same form of God that we do. Our life becomes one unending fight over trivialities. All joy vanishes.

Imagine the situation of a dog in a house. The master of the house may come wearing any form. The dog doesn’t get fooled. It recognizes its master, no matter what dress or make-up or hat or shoes he wears. We call ourselves devotees, but we are worse than a dog! God likes to assume innumerable forms and we are simply unable to recognize divinity in any other form than the one we like! How pathetic!

There was once a man who had a pet dog. He had to go out on a business tour for a couple of days. He kept sufficient dog food in his room, locked the dog inside the room and went away. When he returned, he found that the dog had died. He saw shards of glass lying around and the dog had wounds on its face at neck. He immediately understood what had happened. He remarked sadly, “Ah! You fool! If only you had wagged your tail, you would have been alive now!” Do you see what happened here? There was a looking glass in that room. The dog saw its own reflection in the mirror and thought that it was another dog in its territory. It gnashed its teeth and barked. The reflection did likewise. The dog hurled itself repeatedly at its ‘enemy’. The glass broke, pierced its body. It bled and died! If the dog had instead wagged its tail, the reflection too would have wagged its tail. It would have got a ‘friend’ instead of an ‘enemy’! Similar is our interaction with others in this world. Just a little while ago, Mujibur Rehman said that we all need to know more about each other’s’ religion and traditions. How true! If only we know what the other man believes and how he behaves, we will be able to accommodate him; likewise with him about me. I tell you from my personal experience. I have been in places where I did not speak a word of their language and they didn’t know a word of what I spoke. Yet, no one attacked me or killed me yet! I found friends everywhere.

Harmony of religions is possible in this very life. I am not even speaking from the experiential basis from which Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda speaks. I am speaking from a purely humanistic, common-sense point of view. It is possible at the personal level, for you, for me. I do not know if it will ever be possible on a mass scale. But, by linear logic, if it is possible in individuals, there is no reason why it should not be possible on a mass scale. Until such time as our intellect expands and we understand the rationale behind the various religions, until such time as our consciousness expands and we perceive the truth in other religions, let common-sense prevail and guide our actions. With this wish, I once again thank the organizers of this programme, especially Honorable Minister Sri Rabindranath Bhattacharya for having allowed me to participate in this programme. Thank you all.

Om shantih, shantih, shantihi!


The New Ideal, the New Doctrine, the New Life

In a letter[1] written to Kidi, one of his Madras disciples on 3rd March 1894 from Chicago, Swami Vivekananda writes with apostolic clarity: “Preach the new ideal, the new doctrine, the new life….

This clarity in Swamiji’s vision did not come about all of a sudden. There has been a distinct growth in his vision[2]. This article will try to understand how this happened. In doing so, we will have to re-construct the transformation of Narendranath into Swami Vivekananda. In effect we will be arriving at a much needed elaboration of these terms that Swamiji has used above.

Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual person of a rare caliber. He had innumerable spiritual visions and experiences throughout his life. Although each of those visions and experiences was important, there were a few distinct spiritual experiences that seemed to have an immediate bearing on this momentous transformation. They were:

  1. Nirvikalpa Samadhi at Cossipore Garden House in Jan 1886[3].
  2. The vision of Sri Ramakrishna for a whole month at Ghazipur in March 1890[4].
  3. The experience of the microcosm and the macrocosm at Almora in Aug 1890.[5]
  4. The experience while meditating at Cape Comorin in Dec 1892.[6]
  5. The experience of ‘Organization’ in America in 1893-94.[7]
  6. The vision of Divine Mother at Kshir-bhavani in Oct 1898.[8]

We will analyze these incidents one by one and try to re-construct how each of them helped Narendranath form a concrete picture of his mission in life, thereby transforming him into Swami Vivekananda, the great Prophet of this modern age.

The Beginning:

A university student Narendranath came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa sometime in Nov 1881. This meeting set in motion a series of transformations in the boy’s life. Sri Ramakrishna had performed unprecedented spiritual practices for 12 years at a stretch and had received some specific instructions. This was about 10 years before Naren came to him. He received a specific command from the Divine Mother saying, ‘Remain in Bhavamukha[9].’ His biographer Swami Saradananda mentions the following as the summing up of his extraordinary spiritual experiences[10]: The Master realized that as an instrument of the Divine Mother, he would have to establish a new religious order based on the universal truths revealed in his life. This was the mission that Sri Ramakrishna entrusted Naren with during his last days at Cossipore.

Sri Ramakrishna found in Naren a fit instrument through whom he could fulfil this divine mandate that he had received. So, in Cossipore, during his last days, he instructed Naren that he would hold the young men together. He would also need to do something of a permanent nature that would help the common masses to get spiritual benefit. He also infused into Naren all the spiritual powers that he had obtained through his unprecedented Sadhana.

After Sri Ramakrishna attained Mahasamadhi, Naren and the group of young sadhakas took the vows of renunciation and became monks. During his stay at Cossipore with Sri Ramakrishna, Naren had experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. This experience convinced Naren once and for all that Reality was Impersonal and that he was non-distinct from the Impersonal Reality. He was in essence all that existed. In fact, apart from what he experienced during that Samadhi, nothing else existed. An unspeakable calm descended upon him. When he met his Guru after returning from the Samadhi at Cossipore, there was genuine gratitude to his Guru, just as it has been described in innumerable Hindu scriptures. However, there was still one nagging problem that Naren faced. When he returned back to perceiving duality, post Nirvikalpa Samadhi, he considered the return as a ‘fall’[11] from the blessed state of Samadhi!

Not just that, he was also restless! This is something unheard of! Nirvikalpa Samadhi itself means that state which is devoid of all restlessness. A person who has attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi cannot become restless, ever. The memory of the experience is so overwhelming that never again does he lose his equanimity of mind. It has been traditionally believed that he who experiences Nirvikalpa Samadhi does not regain normal consciousness. He stays in that Samadhi for about three weeks and then leaves the body. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that only those rare few who had some Divine mission to fulfill would regain normal consciousness. But it was believed that under no circumstance does such a one experience restlessness! Why then was this happening? Swami Vivekananda himself stated that his mind was burning. It is quite natural that a Sadhaka who has attained to Nirvikalpa Samadhi feels he has ‘fallen’ from the blessed state when he returns to multiplicity, just as Tota Puri used to feel or any number of sadhakas in the Hindu lore have felt and recorded. But what is noteworthy here is the fact that Naren mentions specifically that his mind was agitated[12]! That is a new occurrence in the recorded spiritual history of mankind.

Raja Yoga as the Panacea:

The only reason we can adduce to this peculiar state of things is – the responsibility that Sri Ramakrishna, his Guru, had burdened his young shoulders with, was weighing too heavily on him. That was the cause of his restlessness. Added to that, he was not physically very well, either. He was suffering from diabetes and lumbago and indigestion. Swamiji’s mind was unique. That mind sought for integral solutions to problems. At the very least, he had three distinct problems at hand. [He was also trying to manage some issues related to his ancestral house, which we can discount at the moment.] Firstly, he had a weak physical constitution; second, he had to redeem his promise to his Guru of taking care of his brother disciples; third, he had to redeem his promise to his Guru about working out a scheme for spiritual development of the masses. He sought one solution that would take care of all these three problems simultaneously. What was that solution? He would learn Raja Yoga from Pavhari Baba. Using Hatha Yoga, a part of Raja Yoga, he would cure his ailments. Then, he would teach Raja Yoga to his brother disciples and form an Ashrama where they would all live together and make disciples and preach Raja Yoga. His experience of the spiritual degradation of the region where he lived, Bengal, was that the people were too sentimental[13]. They attached too much importance to the external manifestations of Bhava rather than focus on the essential characteristic of spiritual development which is formation of a strong moral character, culminating in realization of one’s true nature as Pure Consciousness. This he concluded was due to the inability of the Bengali people to see religion as a science. Thus, the masses would be benefitted as Raja Yoga is the most scientific method of spiritual development. He had almost decided to follow this path when the following incident occurred[14].

One day I reflected that I had not learnt any art for making this weak body strong, even though I had lived with Sri Ramakrishna for so many years. I had heard that Pavhari Baba knew the science of Hatha Yoga; so I thought that I would learn the practices of Hatha Yoga from him, and through them strengthen the body. You know, I have a dogged resolution, and whatever I set my heart on, I always carry out. On the eve of the day on which I was to take initiation, I was lying on a cot thinking; and just then I saw the form of Sri Ramakrishna standing on my right, looking steadfastly at me, as if very much grieved. I had dedicated myself to him, and at the thought that I was taking another Guru 1 felt much ashamed and kept looking at him. Thus perhaps two or three hours passed, but no words escaped my mouth: then he disappeared all on a sudden. Seeing Sri Ramakrishna that night my mind became upset, so I postponed the idea of initiation from Pavhari Baba for the day. After a day or two, again the idea of initiation from Pavhari Baba arose in the mind-and again at night Sri Ramakrishna appeared, as on the previous occasion. So when, for several nights in succession, I had the vision of Sri Ramakrishna, I gave up the idea of initiation altogether, thinking that since every time I resolved on it, I was having such a vision, no good, but only harm, would come of it.”

Thus it was Sri Ramakrishna who in the end triumphed. Long afterwards, the Swami composed a song in Bengali entitled “A Song I Sing to Thee” in which one finds a glimpse of this experience.

As a result of this nerve-shattering experience, Naren concluded that his decision about Raja Yoga being the solution for all his problems was wrong. He must have somehow decided that Bengal was a prototype of mankind[15], which unfortunately wasn’t the case. He needed more inputs before he could arrive at an informed decision. So now, he knew that Raja Yoga was not the solution, but again, Sri Ramakrishna did not specify what that solution would be in this vision, just as he hadn’t specified it when he had ordered Naren with the onerous responsibility of working out a path for the new ideal that Sri Ramakrishna had revealed to mankind. He now needed to observe first-hand the condition of the masses elsewhere in India. So he started wandering around the whole country, all the while trying to grasp the root of the problem that ailed this wonderful nation, with a view to finding a suitable solution thereof.

Naren establishes himself in Vijnana, the ‘New Ideal’:

During this wandering, he came to Almora, where he had yet another very intense spiritual experience. Let us see the description of this incident from ‘Vivekananda-a biography’[16]:

After visiting one or two places, Naren and Akhandananda arrived at Nainital, their destination being the sacred Badrikashrama, in the heart of the Himalayas. They decided to travel the whole way on foot, and also not to touch money. Near Almora under an old peepal tree by the side of a stream, they spent many hours in meditation.

Naren had a deep spiritual experience, which he thus jotted down in his note-book:

In the beginning was the Word, etc. The microcosm and the macrocosm are built on the same plan. Just as the individual soul is encased in a living body, so is the Universal Soul, in the living Prakriti (nature), the objective universe. Kali is embracing Siva. This is not a fancy. This covering of the one (Soul) by the other (nature) is analogous to the relation between an idea and the word expressing it. They are one and the same, and it is only by a mental abstraction that one can distinguish them. Thought is impossible without words. Therefore in the beginning was the Word, etc.

This dual aspect of the Universal Soul is eternal. So what we perceive or feel is the combination of the Eternally Formed and the Eternally Formless.

Thus Naren realized, in the depths of meditation, the oneness of the universe and man, who is a universe in miniature. He realized that, all that exists in the universe also exists in the body, and further, that the whole universe exists in the atom.

This experience was supremely vital to the transformation that we are trying to analyze here in this article. Sri Ramakrishna had revealed a new spiritual ideal for mankind. He had a name for that ideal. He called it Vijnana. It is a post-Nirvikalpa state of existence[17]. While in the rich spiritual heritage of India, every previous case of post-Nirvikalpa perception of multiplicity was considered as a ‘fall’ from beatitude, Sri Ramakrishna said for the first time that there are valid states of existence beyond Nirvikalpa Samadhi, when multiplicity is perceived, although in a totally transformed way. It was possible for a sadhakas to return from Nirvikalpa Samadhi when the Divine Mother ordains that some special work of Her’s needs to be done through that blessed soul. And this post-Nirvikalpa state was termed as Vijnana by him[18]. The particular point where the consciousness rests in such a person was termed as ‘Bhavamukha’ by him. It was this state of spiritual consciousness that he revealed to mankind as the ‘new ideal’.

The important point to note here is that post-Nirvikalpa states of consciousness can be integrated into the Sadhaka’s personality only when the sadhakas accepts the role of an active Divine Power as running this world. Reality will have to be conceptualized as Being-Will or the Personal-Impersonal. Traditional schools of thought in India had posited Reality to be either entirely Personal or entirely Impersonal. Traditionally, it has been considered that Nirvikalpa Samadhi requires that the Sadhaka mercilessly reject every object of perception. It was Sri Ramakrishna’s discovery that if the Sadhaka takes the path of negating every perception in order to attain Nirvikalpa Samadhi, then, he will be constitutionally incapable of experiencing the Vijnana state. For, he will feel that his perception of multiplicity post-Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a ‘fall’ and he will exhibit a constant urge to regain that state of monistic experience. However, if the Sadhaka attains Nirvikalpa Samadhi through the path of devotion to a personal God, as a gift from his Ishta, in other words, when the Personal God reveals the Impersonal Reality as but another aspect of Oneself, then that Sadhaka will be able to experience his post-Nirvikalpa perception of multiplicity as an extremely rich spiritual experience which has been termed as Vijnana. We can recall the incident of Tota Puri and the young Sri Ramakrishna[19] here as an apt illustration of the point we are trying to make. It is in this light that we can make sense of the fact that Sri Ramakrishna was overjoyed when Naren had come to accept the Divine Mother while the latter lived at Dakshineswar. This incident is recorded in the Divine Play as follows[20]:

This acceptance of God with form was of course a most significant event in Narendra’s life…This made the Master jubilant…The Master was seated alone in his room and Narendra was sleeping on the veranda outside. The Master was beaming with joy…he pointed to Narendra and said, ‘Look at that boy – that boy is very good. His name is Narendra. He wouldn’t accept the Divine Mother before, but last night he did. He was in need of money, so I advised him to ask Mother for it. But he couldn’t; he said he felt ashamed. When he came back from the temple, he asked me to teach him a song in praise of Mother. So I taught him, “Mother, Thou are our sole Redeemer,” and he sang it all night long. That’s why he’s sleeping now.’ And then the Master smiled with joy and said, ‘Narendra has accepted Mother Kali. That’s very good, isn’t it?’ seeing that he was as happy as a child about this, I answered, ‘Yes, sir, it is very good.’ A little later he smiled and said again, ‘Narendra has accepted the Mother. It’s very good. What do you say?’ And he kept smiling and saying that, over and over.

This experience at Almora helped Naren to completely integrate his Nirvikalpa Samadhi experience with the post-Nirvikalpa Samadhi perception of multiplicity as the blessed experience of Vijnana. Therefore this experience is by far the most important one when we consider the transformation of Naren into Swami Vivekananda. After this experience at Almora, the great responsibility that his Guru had kept on his shoulders no longer seemed to be a burden to be done with at the earliest, but as a divine play that he was participating in with great joy. No longer was there any conflict between monistic experience and the perception of multiplicity in him; it was rather a constant divine game of the One Real Existence appearing as the multiple, separate existences out of Its own sweet will. Armed with this unique vision of Unity behind multiplicity, Swamiji was able to clearly grasp the problem of India’s decadence in its entirety during his subsequent wandering over the length & breadth of this vast country. No longer did there exist any distinction such as spiritual and mundane in Swamiji’s eyes. It was all divine now. The problems were divine and the solution too would be a spiritual one. To deal with this world heroically was indeed as stern as a stance as the vow of renunciation & negation for him.

Condensed India’:

With this unique set of eyes, he now sat at the last tip of Indian rock in Cape Comorin and had yet another nerve-shattering spiritual experience. Again, the ‘Vivekananda-a biography’ records[21]:

At Cape Comorin the Swami became as excited as a child. He rushed to the temple to worship the Divine Mother. He prostrated himself before the Virgin Goddess. As he came out and looked at the sea his eyes fell on a rock. Swimming to the islet through shark-infested waters, he sat on a stone. His heart thumped with emotion. His great journey from the snow-capped Himalayas to the ‘Land’s End’ was completed. He had travelled the whole length of the Indian subcontinent, his beloved motherland, which, together with his earthly mother, was ‘superior to heaven itself.’

Sitting on the stone, he recalled what he had seen with his own eyes: the pitiable condition of the Indian masses, victims of the unscrupulous whims of their rulers, landlords, and priests. The tyranny of caste had sapped their last drop of blood. In most of the so-called leaders who shouted from the housetops for the liberation of the people, he had seen selfishness personified. And now he asked himself what his duty was in this situation. Should he regard the world as a dream and go into solitude to commune with God? He had tried this several times, but without success. He remembered that, as a sannyasin, he had taken the vow to dedicate himself to the service of God; but this God, he was convinced, was revealed through humanity. And his own service to this God must begin, therefore, with the humanity of India. ‘May I be born again and again,’ he exclaimed, ‘and suffer a thousand miseries, if only I may worship the only God in whom I believe, the sum total of all souls, and above all, my God the wicked, my God the afflicted, my God the poor of all races!’Through austerity and self-control the Swami had conserved great spiritual power. His mind had been filled with the wisdom of the East and the West. He had received in abundance Sri Ramakrishna’s blessings. He also had had many spiritual experiences of his own. He must use all of these assets, he concluded, for the service of God in man.

But what was to be the way?

The clear-eyed prophet saw that religion was the backbone of the Indian nation. India would rise through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness which had made her, at all times, the cradle of nations and the cradle of faith. He totally disagreed with foreign critics and their Indian disciples who held that religion was the cause of India’s downfall. The Swami blamed, rather, the falsehood, superstition, and hypocrisy that were practiced in the name of religion. He himself had discovered that the knowledge of God’s presence in man was the source of man’s strength and wisdom. He was determined to awaken this sleeping divinity. He knew that the Indian culture had been created and sustained by the twin ideals of renunciation and service, which formed the core of Hinduism. And he believed that if the national life could be intensified through these channels, everything else would take care of itself. The workers for India’s regeneration must renounce selfishness, jealousy, greed, and lust for power, and they must dedicate themselves to the service of the poor, the illiterate, the hungry, and the sick, seeing in them the tangible manifestations of the Godhead. People required education, food, health, and the knowledge of science and technology to raise their standard of living. The attempt to teach metaphysics to empty stomachs was sheer madness. The masses everywhere were leading the life of animals on account of ignorance and poverty; therefore these conditions should be removed. But where would the Swami find the fellow workers to help him in this gigantic task?

He wanted whole-time servants of God; workers without worldly ties or vested interests. And he wanted them by thousands. His eyes fell upon the numerous monks who had renounced the world in search of God. But alas, in present-day India most of these led unproductive lives. He would have to infuse a new spirit into them, and they in their turn would have to dedicate themselves to the service of the people. He hit upon a plan, which he revealed later in a letter to a friend. ‘Suppose,’ the Swami wrote, ‘some disinterested sannyasins, bent on doing good to others, went from village to village, disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the condition of all, down to the untouchable, through oral teaching and by means of maps, magic lanterns, globes, and other accessories — would that not bring forth good in time? All these plans I cannot write out in this brief letter. The long and short of it is that if the mountain does not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. The poor are too poor to go to schools; they will gain nothing by reading poetry and all that sort of thing. We, as a nation, have lost our individuality. We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality and raise the masses.’ Verily, the Swami, at Kanyakumari, was the patriot and prophet in one. There he became, as he declared later to a Western disciple, ‘a condensed India.’

But where were the resources to come from, to help him realize his great vision?

He himself was a sannyasin, a penniless beggar. The rich of the country talked big and did nothing. His admirers were poor. Suddenly a heroic thought entered his mind: he must approach the outside world and appeal to its conscience. But he was too proud to act like a beggar. He wanted to tell the West that the health of India and the sickness of India were the concern of the whole world. If India sank, the whole world would sink with her. For the outside world, in turn, needed India, her knowledge of the Soul and of God, her spiritual heritage, her ideal of genuine freedom through detachment and renunciation; it needed these in order to extricate itself from the sharp claws of the monster of materialism.

Then to the Swami, brooding alone and in silence on that point of rock off the tip of India, the vision came; there flashed before his mind the new continent of America, a land of optimism, great wealth, and unstinted generosity. He saw America as a country of unlimited opportunities, where people’s minds were free from the encumbrance of castes or classes. He would give the receptive Americans the ancient wisdom of India and bring back to his motherland, in exchange, the knowledge of science and technology. If he succeeded in his mission to America, he would not only enhance India’s prestige in the Occident, but create a new confidence among his own people. He recalled the earnest requests of his friends to represent India in the forthcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago. And in particular, he remembered the words of the friends in Kathiawar who had been the first to encourage him to go to the West: ‘Go and take it by storm, and then return!’

He swam back to the continent of India and started northwards again, by the eastern coast.

Thus, the nascent Vivekananda was now born! Naren had finally transformed into Vivekananda! But this Vivekananda was yet to bloom completely, for, he was to bring man everywhere to the ‘new ideal’, not just in Bengal or in India. He was yet to observe at first-hand the living condition of the man in the West. Moreover, there was one more vital experience that he lacked for giving his mission its full and final form. And that experience he got during his visit to the West.

A self-adjusting organization:

Although the recorded biographies of Swamiji do not categorize the following experience as a spiritual experience, this experience was no less vital than the Nirvikalpa Samadhi he experienced at Cossipore or the experience he had at Almora or again the experience he had at Cape Comorin. We understand this from the impact this experience had on giving a final shape to his plans.

While in the West, he was wonderstruck at the achievements that man had accomplished in this life. There was no known force of nature that the man in the West hadn’t tamed. Every aspect of human life was studied as an end in itself and truths were discovered. These truths were then put into practical use by designing processes and gadgets and principles that enriched the experience of living in this world. His vision of Vijnana through which he now perceived all these enabled him to see each of these achievements as manifestations of the Divine Power that is lodged in man. He delved deeper into those wonderful achievements and then came face to face with the grandest achievement of them all – the one achievement that had made possible all other achievements that made the world modern – the ‘Organization’. Individuals can conceive of infinite power. But groups of men can harness infinite power to do their bidding. It was this revelation that gave the final touch to the sculpture of the ‘new doctrine’ that was taking shape in his magnificent brain.

He was now able to integrate all the experiences that he had had till then and found that forming an organization would redeem him of all his responsibilities. He would form an organization of monks. The nucleus would be formed by the jewels that his own Guru had hand-crafted over a period of 6 years. This organization would engage in every sort of activity that society needed to further its own journey to manifesting the truth that Man is divine. As he expressed it so clearly[22], “A self-adjusting organization is the great need of our time.”

It was by an equally compelling series of incidents that one of his brother disciples, Swami Brahmananda, was being prepared by the Divine Mother to complement Swamiji when he would arrive at this incredible solution of forming an organization; [although I will go into that here.]

Thus, while he was still shuttling between America and Europe, he started giving a concrete shape to the unique organization that was to become Ramakrishna Math in India. What was this organization meant to achieve[23]? His Master had discovered some universal truths regarding spiritual life. His Master had commanded Swamiji to form a group of dedicated monks who would ‘live’ the life and not just philosophize or ratiocinate about it. In fact, during his Cossipore days, Sri Ramakrishna himself had laid the foundation for this group, although it was on a purely informal basis. Swamiji was now giving it a formal shape and legal status as an organization. This group was meant to safeguard the living traditions of the spiritual fire that had been kindled by Sri Ramakrishna. At any given time, this organization would testify that the ‘new ideal’ was indeed realizable by means of practicing the ‘new doctrine’, which would result in the ‘new life’. Apart from serving this vital need, this organization would also be creating a much needed space wherein the age-old, time-tested spiritual modes of life would be practiced and preserved in this modern age. Once this organization was set up, a big load was off Swamiji’s chest. However, that would not be all.

The ‘New Doctrine’:

There was one more dimension of his Master’s command that Swamiji was yet to fulfil, as we have mentioned before. And for that, he felt that his presence in India was necessary. But before he could do that, there was still the important work of giving shape to the ‘new doctrine’ that would lead man to manifesting the ‘new life’ by realizing the ‘new ideal’.

By now, he had now studied the modern man in depth. He was now in a position to configure praxis, a ‘doctrine’, which could be as vast and all-inclusive as the ideal it was meant to achieve. His unprecedented personal experience of man enabled him to generalize that man, anywhere, could be categorized under one of four types – the emotional, the rational, the mystic and the practical. What this means is this – the entire personality of man is generally seen to be dominated by one or more of these faculties in him. There are people who are predominantly governed by their emotions. There are again those who are predominantly governed by reason, and so on. Swamiji now started giving a series of lectures that delineated one path for each of these faculties, namely Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga. Further, he specified that the modern man would have to practice all these four yogas together, ‘crowd all sail, put on all head of steam[24], to use his own words, since one of the chief characteristics of the modern man was his multi-sided-ness. He gave a new name to this doctrine – ‘Practical Vedanta’.

One interesting point may be highlighted here, though. While he delineated the four major paths of spiritual practice, his original contribution has been in delineating Karma Yoga[25]. He had learnt from his Master that sincere practice of one’s allotted duties, with a selfless attitude, as an offering to God, was a safe and sure way of spiritual growth. The duties may involve activities as mundane as running a household as well as extend to large-scale socially beneficial activities such as disaster relief and national education. In short, spiritual growth does not need any new kind of activity. Any activity that you are already involved in is sufficiently potent to lead you to the ‘new ideal’, provided you are selfless. To put it in more concrete terms, one would need to practice brahmacharya and perform one’s duties. The root of all selfishness is sex-consciousness. So, a person, irrespective of his being a monk or a married man, will have to practice complete continence, and then go on performing all duties that devolve upon him in his station of life. That was more than sufficient to lead him to a complete realization of Vijnana, the ‘new ideal’ in this very life. The practice of continence involved elements of the other three yogas, thus ensuring that a synthesis of all the four yogas was put into play.

This was indeed a stroke of genius on the part of Swamiji. A ‘new ideal’ called for a new set of rituals; else, the masses wouldn’t get a hold of the doctrine that would lead to the realization of the ‘new ideal’. Instead of creating yet another set of rituals in a world already riddled with innumerable rituals that were lifeless, [for all rituals lose their potency after a certain period of time, getting disconnected from the underlying thought that should accompany them] he apotheosized the entire life of man into a ritual that would lead him to the ‘new ideal’! Thus, he was able to hew out a path from multiplicity to Vijnana directly, without negating this world in Nirvikalpa Samadhi!

‘Rejuvenation of the Motherland’:

Swamiji then returned to India and created one more organization named Ramakrishna Mission apart from Ramakrishna Math. Through this organization, he opened up avenues for monks and married people to work out the ‘new doctrine’ and achieve the ‘new ideal’. The aim and objective of this organization were to achieve the fullest manifestation of divinity everywhere on earth. This organization would enable the newbie to put the ‘new doctrine’ into practice and achieve the ‘new ideal’ while at the same time allowing the person who had already realized the ‘new ideal’ to live the ‘new life’! But the immediate objective of this organization was ‘nothing short of a rejuvenation of my motherland’!

Having set this mammoth machinery in motion, he was to move away from the scene, because the growth of the organization needed steady, soft and silent work, the kind of work his other brother-disciples could perform. While Swamiji was like the rock-cutter who places dynamite sticks and blasts huge chunks of marble from the hills at the quarry, his brother-disciples, especially Swami Brahmananda, Swami Saradananda, Swami Premananda & Swami Ramakrishnananda were like the sculptors who chisel out delicate figurines from those blocks of marble.

Divine Mother validates his decisions:

His work was to end with yet another nerve-shattering spiritual experience that he was to have at Kshir-Bhavani, which is recorded in the ‘Life of Swami Vivekananda’ as follows[26]:

…The Swami retired abruptly on September 30th to the Colored Springs of Kshir- Bhavani (or Kheer Bhavani), leaving strict instructions that no one was to follow him. It was not until October 6th that he returned. Before this famous shrine of the Mother he daily performed Homa, and worshipped Her with offerings of Kshira or Kheer (thickened milk) made from one maund of milk, rice, and almonds. He told his beads like any humble pilgrim; and, as a special Sadhana, every morning he worshipped a Brahmin pundit’s little daughter as Uma Kumari, the Divine Virgin. He began to practise the sternest austerities. It seemed as though he would tear off all the veils that had come upon his soul through years of work and thought, and again be a child before the Divine Mother. Even though Her caresses might give pain to the body they would give illumination and freedom to the soul. All thought of Leader, Worker, or Teacher was gone. He was now only the monk, in all the nakedness of pure Sannyasa.

When he returned to Srinagar, he appeared before his disciples a transfigured presence, writes Nivedita. He entered their houseboat, his hands raised in benediction; then he placed some marigolds that he had offered to the Mother, on the head of each of them. “No more ‘Hari Om!’ It is all ‘Mother’ now!” he said, sitting down. “All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it is only ‘Mother! Mother!’ I have been very wrong. Mother said to me: ‘What, even if unbelievers should enter my temples, and defile My images! What is that to you? Do you protect Me? Or do I protect you?’ So there is no more patriotism. I am only a little child!”

One day at Kshir-Bhavani he had been pondering over the ruination and desecration of the temple wrought by the Muslim invaders. Distressed at heart he thought: “How could the people have permitted such sacrilege without offering strenuous resistance! If I were here then, I would never have allowed such things. I would have laid down my life to protect the Mother.” It was then that he had heard the Mother speaking as above. The disciples sat silent, awe-inspired. They could not speak, “so tense was the spot with something that stilled thought”. “I may not tell you more now; it is not in order”, he said gently, adding, before he left, ” — but spiritually, spiritually, I was not bound down!” In his meditation on the Terrible, in the dark hours of the nights at Kshir-Bhavani, there were other visions that he confided only to one or two of his brother-disciples. They were too sacred to make known to anyone else.

At this same shrine, in the course of worship one day, the Swami was brooding with pain on the dilapidated condition of the temple. He wished in his heart that he were able to build a new one there in its place, just as he wished to build monasteries and temples elsewhere, especially a temple to Sri Ramakrishna in the new Math at Belur. He was startled in his ruminations by the voice of the Mother Herself, saying to him, “My child! If I so wish I can have innumerable temples and magnificent monastic centres. I can even this moment raise a seven-storied golden temple on this very spot.” “Since I heard that Divine Voice,” said the Swami to a disciple in Calcutta much later, “I have ceased making any more plans. Let these things be as Mother wills!”

Sister Nivedita writes[27]: He spoke of the future. There was nothing to be desired, but the life of the wanderer, in silence and nudity, on the banks of the Ganges. He would have nothing. ‘Swamiji’ was dead and gone. Who was he, that he should feel responsible for teaching the world? It was all fuss and vanity. The Mother had no need of him, but only he of Her. Even work, when one had seen this, was nothing but illusion.

Swamiji was wracked by conflicts about the correctness of the measures he had taken for fulfilling the command of his Master. Almost every decision he had taken was unprecedented – organizing Hindu monks, asking all-renouncing monks to take up responsibility for socially productive activities on a national scale, re-introducing Karma Yoga back into Hinduism a thousand years after it was completely rooted out by Shankara [although the two versions were very different]. This experience he had at Kshir-Bhavani set at rest all those inner conflicts. Although, once in a while, these conflicts were to raise their head again in his super-sensitive mind as recorded by Sister Nivedita[28], he was able to conclude that the decisions he had taken in each case was indeed the handiwork of the Great Power that runs this world and holds itself responsible for its sustenance, the same Power that had incarnated as his Master Sri Ramakrishna.

Thus, we have seen how Naren became transformed into Swami Vivekananda. That transformation was the personal aspect of the impersonal manifestation of the ‘new ideal and the new doctrine’ that we mentioned in the beginning of this article.

‘The New Life’:

Regarding the ‘new life’ that Swamiji mentions in the letter to Kidi, well, it is the unprecedented life of Sri Ramakrishna that he alludes to. It is also true that he envisaged a time when multitudes would become prophets as a consequence of their following this new doctrine and realizing this new ideal in their lives. He said[29], ‘The time is to come when prophets will walk through every street in every city in the world…The time is coming when we shall understand that to become religious means to become a prophet, that none can become religious until he or she becomes a prophet. We shall come to understand that the secret of religion is not being able to think and say all these thoughts; but, as the Vedas teach, to realize them, to realize newer and higher one than have ever been realized, to discover them, bring them to society; and the study of religion should be the training to make prophets. The schools and colleges should be training grounds for prophets. The whole universe must become prophets; and until a man becomes a prophet, religion is a mockery and a byword unto him. We must see religion, feel it, realize it in a thousand times more intense a sense than that in which we see the wall. … We have to work now so that everyone will become a prophet. There is a great work before us.


[1] Cf: Letters of Swami Vivekananda; pg: 71;

[2] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pg: 39: “But wherein lay the struggle? Whence came the frequent sense of being baffled and thwarted? Was it a growing consciousness of bodily weakness, conflicting with the growing clearness of a great purpose?”

[3] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pp: 177-179: Ch-Cossipore & the Master.

[4] Cf: ibid; pp: 233-234: Ch-Itinerant days in Northern India.

[5] Cf: ibid; pg: 250.

[6] Cf: ibid; pp: 341-44;

[7] Cf: Swami Vivekananda in the West-New Discoveries-I by Sister Gargi; pp: 155-56; Ch-In & Around Chicago.

[8] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-II; pp: 382-83

[9] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His Divine Play by Swami Saradananda; Tr-Swami Chetanananda; pg: 447

[10] Cf: ibid; pg: 362.

[11] This fall is termed as ‘Anavastitattva’; inability to hold on to a blessed state of spiritual experience. The urge then comes to constantly regain that blessed state and remain in that state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

[12] Cf: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: pg: 988; Entry on 7th May 1887: Narendra says, ‘…but I still have no peace.’ See also: Letters of Swami Vivekananda; pg-24; 26th May 1890 to Pramadadas Mitra :“I write this…in great agitation of mind”; See also: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pg 236; “What shall I say to you about the condition of my mind! Oh, it is as if hell-fire were burning there day & night!”

[13] Cf: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: pg: 982; Entry on 25th Mar 1887: Narendra says, ‘Does mere emotion make a man spiritually great?’ See also: Letters of Swami Vivekananda: pg: 26; 26th May 1890 to Pramadadas Mitra; “The condition of Bengal is pitiable. The people here cannot even dream what renunciation truly means…”; See also: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pg: 236; “Our Bengal is the land of Bhakti & Jnana. Yoga is scarcely mentioned there. What little there is, is but the queer breathing exercise of the Hatha Yoga – which is nothing but a kind of gymnastics. Therefore I am staying with this wonderful Raja Yogi…”

[14] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda by Eastern & Western Disciples-I; pp: 233-34.

[15] We say ‘prototype’ because right from the beginning, Naren had the clarity that his Master’s mission was nothing short of the spiritual regeneration of the entire country. See for instance: Life of Swami Vivekananda-I; pg: 221; “My son, I have a great mission to fulfil and I am in despair at the smallness of my capacity. I have an injunction from my Guru to carry out this mission. It is nothing less than the regeneration of my motherland. Spirituality has fallen to a ebb and starvation stalks the land. India must become dynamic and effect the conquest of the world through her spirituality.” Swamiji said this to Swami Sadananda as early as 1888.

[16] Cf: Vivekananda, a biography by Swami Nikhilananda; pg: 98.

[17] For details, please refer to Meditation & Spiritual Life: pp: 542-551; Explanation of chart on Spiritual Unfoldment.

[18] For details of this term & the term Bhavamukha, please see: Sri Ramakrishna’s thoughts on Man, World & God by Swami Tapasyananda; pp: 26-30; 159-163; See also: Sri Ramakrishna-Life & Teachings (an interpretative study) by Swami Tapasyananda; pp: 57-71

[19] Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His Divine Play: pg: 538;

[20] Cf: ibid; pg: 843-44.

[21] Cf: Vivekananda-a biography; pp: 110-114

[22] Cf: Inspired Talks: Entry on July 1st, 1895.

[23] Sister Nivedita says ‘Long ago, he had defined the mission of the Order of Ramakrishna as that of realizing and exchanging the highest ideals of the East and of the West.’: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pg: 42.

[24] Cf: Inspired Talks: Entry on 27th July 1895: “The ignorant will leads to bondage, the knowing will can free us. The will can be made strong in thousands of ways; every way is a kind of Yoga, but the systematized Yoga accomplishes the work more quickly. Bhakti, Karma, Raja, and Jnana-Yoga get over the ground more effectively. Put on all powers, philosophy, work, prayer, meditation — crowd all sail, put on all head of steam — reach the goal. The sooner, the better

[25] Some say that his ‘Raja Yoga’ too was quite original. But it will be seen that he just combined the existing schools of Patanjala Yoga with Tantra and Advaita Vedanta. This trend of seamlessly combining two or more schools of thought to produce a new path has been always present in India. For instance, one of the later Shankaracharyas combined Patanjala Yoga with Advaita Vedanta in the treatise ‘Aparokshanubhutihi’.

[26] Cf: Life of Swami Vivekananda-II; pp: 381-83;

[27] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita-I; Master as I saw him; pp: 99-100.

[28] Cf: ibid: Ch-Conflict of Ideals.

[29] Please see Complete works of Swami Vivekananda-VI; Lecture on ‘Methods & purpose of Religion’.