Sri Ramakrishna and His Gospel(Post No.8103)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8103

Date uploaded in London – – – 4 June 2020   

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Sri Ramakrishna and His Gospel

R. Nanjappa

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DON’T STEAL RAGS!

There is an interesting story about a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba. He was desirous of reading Jnaneshwari, the acclaimed Marathi commentary of Bhagavad Gita by the Maharashtrian Saint Jnaneshwar (13th Century).  He read the Gita,  but whenever he attempted to read Jnaneshwari, he faced some obstruction or evil thoughts and he could not proceed. On a visit to Shirdi, a fellow devotee  asked him of his own whether he was reading Jnaneshwari daily! Our man told him of his difficulties. The devotee advised him that he should take a copy of the book, give it to Baba and upon receiving it from Baba’s hands should start reading it. But our man felt it was unnecessary; Baba knew his mind and heart, so why should he resort to this, he thought.

Then he met another devotee, and asked him how he had secured the blessings and grace of Baba. He said that he would approach Baba directly after the Aarti and make his request. As they were thus talking, in the Masjid which was fully crowded, Baba asked our man to come and sit near him with a calm mind. Then Baba charged him with having stolen his rags, and abused him severely! Our friend was nonplussed. He retired to the resting place and was engaged in discussing this incident with two friends, when Baba sent for him and told him that he (Baba) was sitting there ready to give him silken shawl, then why was he intent on stealing the rags! Our man understood: he should approach Baba directly, not seek advice from just anyone!


Approach Teachings of Sages with Care!


This is something we have to remember in studying the life and teachings of the Sages and Saints.

Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo are the three pre-eminent Sages of our times. In studying their teachings we have to observe due care. 

Of course, we have to exercise due care in approaching the teachings of any past or ancient sage. In most cases, their exact or own words have not come to us ( eg. Buddha). In some cases we do not know whether they wrote all the works which circulate in their name (eg. Sankaracharya). In cases like Tirumular, the words have inner meanings which are clear only to an initiate. Our Upanishads are not linear or logical like the ordinary literary language, and cannot be approached in a literal manner. So, one has to be cautious in approaching the teachings of any sage.

There are so may books on these Sages, we should know what to read to gain correct understanding.

Sri Ramakrishna was a born teacher and was eager to explain spiritual and religious truths to his devotees. Though not ‘schooled’, he was highly learned and proficient in our lore. Above all, he was a ‘realised’ person and ‘knew’. So his teachings had their direct impact on the right people, like seeds falling on well-prepared soil. But he never wrote anything down. All his teachings were given orally, and to specific persons or groups- never in general, as lectures. They were actually not in the form of formal teachings, but conversations, quite informal and spontaneous, addressed to specific persons on definite purpose,  and in the local patois which alone Sri Ramakrishna knew and employed.

Mahendranath Gupta

Born14 July 1854, Kolkata, India

Died4 June 1932, Kolkata, India

PHENOMENON OF MAHENDRANATH GUPTA

But there is an extraordinary phenomenon associated with the recording of his teachings. Mahendranath Gupta, a house holder, learned school teacher, was his devotee during the last four and a half years of the Sage’s life on earth. He was in the habit of writing his diary daily even from his school days, recording things that happened daily. He was blessed with a graphic memory. When he came to Sri Ramakrishna, he started taking notes of all that he personally observed and heard. He did not record anything on hearsay. He would record where they met, who were present, how they were seated or placed, what each one did or said, what Sri Ramakrishna said, etc. He kept this record in Bengali, his mother tongue and the language spoken by Sri Ramakrishna! So his exact words and expressions were captured. There are many incidents to show that Sri Ramakrishna intended this to happen this way. Sri Ramakrishna did not allow any other devotee to take any notes; when one or two others attempted, he clearly told them that it was not their work!

After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing in 1886, Gupta dedicated his entire life to live and expound the teaching of Sri Ramakrishna. ( We get some glimpses of his life in Paul Brunton’s  book , ‘A Search in Secret India’, where he talks of Master Mahashay) He brought out the diary in the form of a Bengali book ‘Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita’. He did not want to draw any attention to himself, so merely called himself ‘M’, ‘ a disciple of the Master’. But he took many years to complete that. He completed correcting  the proof of the last chapter of the last part, the night before he died, on 4 June, 1932.  3 June was Phalaharini Kali Puja day! Thus was the Gospel work completed on a day auspicious to Divine Mother.

How The Gospel came about:

Regarding how he wrote it, he himself said:

I wrote everything from memory after I returned home. Some times I had to keep awake the whole night. Some times I would keep on writing the events of one sitting for seven days, recollect the songs that were sung and the order in which they were sung, and the samadhi and so on. Many a time I did not feel satisfied with my description of the events; I would then plunge myself in deep meditation…..Then the correct image would arise……That is why in spite of the big gap in the physical sense, the story remains so fresh  and life like in my mind as if it happened just now….

This is the wonder the reader experiences even today:  as we read the Gospel, the scene rolls out before our mind’s eye. We feel the events are taking place just now, we are present there! This cannot be described in   mere words. This is the power of the Truth behind it.

This was  translated into English under the title ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ by Swami Nikhilananda in the US  in 1942,  and was edited by Miss Margaret Woodrow Wilson 

 (President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter) and Joseph Campbell. Swami Vivekananda had read some early chapters before he passed away and went into raptures, at the authentic way it recalled every small incident, mood, word,etc. Later on, all those who had been present and witnessed those incidents, like Holy Mother Sarada Devi  were equally thrilled by it. Such is the authenticity of the chronicle. It brings  Sri Ramakrishna before our eyes.

In his ‘Foreword’, Aldous Huxley too has gone into raptures:

” ‘M’ produced a book unique, so far as my knowledge goes, in the literature of hagiography……. Never have the small events of a contemplative’s daily life been described with such a wealth of  intimate detail. Never have the casual  and unstudied utterances of a great religious teacher been set down with so minute a fidelity……..To read through these conversations in which mystical doctrine alternates with an unfamiliar kind of humour, and where discussions of the oddest aspects of Hindu mythology give place to the most profound and subtle utterances about the nature of Ultimate Reality, is in itself a liberal education in humility, tolerance and suspense of judgement.”

So far Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita  in Bengali and the Gospel in English have been the only authentic source of the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. No one has been able to add a jot to it in any manner. Those who read it in the original Bengali are indeed fortunate; the rest of us have to be satisfied with translations. The translation in my own tongue,Tamil, appears unsatisfactory to me; I do not know about the other Indian language translations. But the English translation is superb, including the rendering of the original Bengali songs, thanks to John Moffitt Jr.

 But as it happens in the life of every saint, subsequent interpreters, commentators, translators, ‘learned’ scholars have only added their own imagination and prejudices to the subject, and made even simple things sound complicated.

Sri Ramakrishna’s Times

Sri Ramakrishna appeared on the scene in Calcutta which was then the capital of British India, at a time when  Bengalees were taking to English education on a large scale, had developed doubts about our religion, were attracted to reform, and generally abandoning their age old ‘dharma’ and taking to secular ways.  Sri Ramakrishna was born in 1836- the year in which Macaulay’s scheme of education was introduced in India! After  simple days in village during his childhood and boyhood, when he did not show any interest in ‘bread-winning education’, he came to Calcutta around 1855 to assist his elder brother in his priestly duties and eventually settled as the priest of the newly founded Kali temple at Dakshineswar.  Here he had a series of direct personal encounters with his Deity, understood her as the Mother of the World. With her guidance, he followed the ways of every sect of Hinduism, as also of Islam ( Sufi) and Christ and realised the inherent truth of all faiths. By 1872, all his experiments were over and he emerged as a natural teacher. It is remarkable that people heard about him and flocked to the temple where he was living, he did not go out at all, except to visit devotees in and around Calcutta. It is more remarkable that it was mainly the educated class which heard about him and came to him. Sri Ramakrishna used to refer to them jokingly as ‘Englishmen’, saying they indulged in words like ‘that, but, it, put’-the few English words he uttered!  It was even more remarkable that Narendranath Datta, later Swami Vivekananada, heard about him from an Englishman, a professor in College!

The Kathamritam

Sri Ramakrishna  spoke in simple language, used common examples drawn from his rural  days, from day to day life to illustrate the points. His teaching was very simple and direct: God alone is True, every thing else unreal. But this unreality is the show or ‘lila’ of God.  It is like the magician and his magic. God is the magician, the world his magic. In the end the magician alone will remain. So we have to catch hold of the reality, and work in the world,take part in the lila. The best way for our age is to be a simple devotee, developing a personal attitude of intimacy with God. As people go to the same river to drink water but call it by different names like water, aqua, pani, jal.  etc, so people approach the same God but call Him by different names. There is no sense in fighting over the names. He taught that the ancient religion founded by the Rishis would alone endure. He taught that our scriptures were true and still valid.


Sri Ramakrishna did not teach any philosophy. He expounded all the traditional Indian philosophies, and the various methods of practice. But his only advice was for people to have simple faith in God and work sincerely for His Grace. For him personally, God was the Mother. But he did not advocate any specific philosophy or theology. He did not found a new sect. He said the traditional ways of the Hindus were all valid, but all were not suited for our age. For our age, the most suitable path is simple devotion, Bhakti, as laid down by Narada. Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teaching were highly influenced by  Ramayana , Srimad Bhagavatam, and the lore of Divine Mother.

But our ‘learned’ people will not be happy with simple solutions. How can an organisation grow without some dogma, some ritual,some mystification, some special claims? So, these have developed around Sri Ramakrishna also. But if I love you, I don’t have to love your dog also! Those who want to learn about Sri Ramakrishna and his life and teaching need only one source and one resource: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. We need not steal or collect rags!

There is no other book like this in religious literature. This is the indispensable primer for all religious aspirants in the modern age.

Note:

1. The word KATHAMRITAM in the title of the Bengali original is a very happy choice, taken from the famous Gopika Gitam episode of Srimad Bhagavatam, that ultimate gospel of all devotees. In a moment of anguish of separation from Lord Krishna the Gopis of  Brindavan sing in group:

   Tava kathamritam tapta jivanam      
                Kavi bhiriditham kalmashapaham
   Shravana mangalam shrimadatatam
               Bhuvi grunanti te bhurida jana
                                          10.31.9

” The nectar of Thy excellences revives the scorched spirit of man. It purifies the sinner, while holy men live on it. To hear it is itself auspicious  and peace-generating.  They are the real gift-makers who spread Thy name far and wide. O Lord! Tarry not to come before our vision.”

                   From the translation of Swami Tapasyananda,

                               Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.

2. In the Narada Bhakti Sutras, Sage Narada states that Bhakti itself is ‘amrutasvarupa’ ( Sutra 3). He holds up the Gopis as the supreme exemplars of Bhakti. ( ‘yatha vrajagopikanam’ Sutra 21) Sri Ramakrishna stressed that in our Kali Age, the way of devotion shown by Narada is the proper way. How apt that this “Kathamritam” taken from the Gopika Gitam should form  the title of the Gospel in Bengali! Sri Mahendranath Gupta was a blessed soul!

3. There is a very remarkable incident which shows the Divine hand in bringing out the Kathamritam. Once ‘M’ was travelling in the tram in Calcutta carrying his notebooks which contained his diary entries. While alighting at the destination, he forgot his notebooks and left them in the tram. On reaching home, he realised that the notebooks were missing. He retraced his steps to the stop where he had alighted. He had torn and thrown away the tram ticket.He collected the torn pieces from the ground, put them together and got the ticket number. He then approached the manager of the tram depot. He was able to locate the tram with the aid of that ticket number and could contact the tram conductor. The conductor had noticed the notebooks, and on seeing the name ‘Jayarambati’ ( the place of the Holy Mother) written on it, had carefully kept them! Thus were the lost notebooks recovered! Holy Mother’s name had helped recovery!

4. Once when M expressed desire to renounce the world, Sri Ramakrishna told him that he could not do that since he had “Mother’s work” to do. Whenever Sri Ramakrishna spoke anything particularly important, he would ask M whether he had understood it and ask him to repeat it! Thus Sri Ramakrishna was ensuring that M had the correct understanding of his words! M completed the work of the Gospel on 3 June 1932, which was Phalaharini Kali Puja day- thus was the Mother’s work completed on a day auspicious to Her!

tags – Gospel, Sri Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta   

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