Sri Ramakrishna and His Quest for Divine Union

In the religious history of the world, except for scattered incidents, no detailed account is available of the spiritual disciplines and practices of those aspiring to unite with God. No details are known of the alternating waves of pain and pleasure, hope and despair suffered in their indomitable search. No connections are traceable between the incidents of childhood and wondrous actions of a realised adult life.

THAKUR: SRI RAMAKRISHNA: A BIOGRAPHY Rajiv Mehrotra

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However, one possible theory could be that devotees needed to suppress facts of human weakness not conducive to the lives of superhuman incarnations who should, they believed, at all times display perfect universal love and tolerance . . . But then, as Sri Ramakrishna said later, ‘Shape cannot be given to an ornament of pure gold, it must contain some alloy.’

Yet, this was only a foretaste of the intense experiences to come. His first glimpse of the Divine Mother made him more eager for Her uninterrupted vision. He wanted to see Her both while he was meditating deeply and with eyes open. But he felt that the Mother was playing a game of hide and seek with him which intensified both his joy and suffering. While he wept bitterly when he was separated from Her, he used to fall into a trance and cheer up immensely when he found Her again. During this period of spiritual practice he underwent many uncommon experiences. When he sat to meditate, he could hear strange clicking sounds in the joints of his legs, as if someone were locking his meditation. He heard the same sounds again, this time unlocking them and leaving them free to move about. He also saw flashes floating before his eyes, or a sea of deep mist with luminous waves around him.

At times he beheld the Mother rising from the sea of translucent mist and felt Her breath and heard Her voice. While worshipping in the temple he sometimes became exalted, sometimes remained as motionless as a stone and sometimes almost collapsed from excessive emotion. Many of this actions, contrary to all tradition, seemed sacrilegious to the devotees. Often, Ramakrishna took a flower and touched it to his own head, body and feet, and then offered it to the Goddess. At other moments he sang to himself addressing the Divine Mother:

Here is thy knowledge Mother, and here is thy ignorance. Here is thy good, and here thy evil. Here is thy vice and here thy virtue. Here is thy fame and here they calumny. Grant me pure devotion at thy lotus feet and show thyself to me. O Devi, pure Consciousness, manifested in all sciences from which endless forms of conceptual knowledge arise. You exist as all female forms of the world; you alone pervade the universe. you are incomparable and beyond words. Who can describe your numberless qualities merely by reciting hymns to you?

This seemingly bizarre behaviour caused immense turmoil in the minds of the devotees. While some called him mad, some were the opinion that he was possessed and yet others thought his behaviour absolutely blasphemous.

One day Sri Ramakrishna fed a cat the food that was to be offered to Kali. This was too much for the manager of the temple garden, who considered himself responsible for the proper conduct of worship. He immediately reported Ramakrishna’s insane behaviour to Mathur Babu.

Sri Ramakrishna fed a cat the food that was to be offered to Kali. This was too much for the manager of the temple garden, who considered himself responsible for the proper conduct of worship. He immediately reported Ramakrishna’s insane behaviour to Mathur Babu.

Sri Ramakrishna later described the incident:

The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kali temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of consciousness – the image, the altar, and even the marble floor was Consciousness. I found everything inside the room soaked as it were, in bliss – the Bliss of God. I saw a wicked man in front of the Kali temple; but in him also I saw the power of the Divine Mother vibrating. That is why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that the Divine Mother was to be found everywhere and in everything – even the cat. Although the manager of the temple garden wrote to Mathur Babu, complaining that I fed the cat with the offering intended for the Mother, Mathur Babu had an insight into the state of my mind. Therefore, be wrote back to the manager saying: ‘Let him do whatever he likes. You must not say anything to him. He is in sadhana. It seems he will awaken the spirit of the Mother in her stone image. The installation of Devi has answered its purpose.’ 

This controversial priest of Kali, whose behaviour was almost beyond human comprehension, had, unknown even to himself, since he had no teachers to guide him, entered a new phase of his life, one characterised by what Hindus call sadhana, Christians call the mystical union and Buddhists call nirvana.

It is said that there are two paths to sadhana: the path of discrimination and the path of devotion. Discrimination is rational – it thinks, it rejects things that are impermanent, neti, neti, neti (not this): I am not my house, I am not my money, I am not my body, I am not my mind . . . until by a process of elimination the aspirant comes to that which is permanent and therefore, real. The path of knowledge has a concept of the Ultimate Ideal from the beginning, and goes forward consciously towards it.

The devotee, on the other hand, travels forward with faith, ignorant of where he will ultimately arrive. He accepts all: ‘You are this and that and also this.’ Thereby reminding himself that Brahman exists in all things. He does not worship the thing, but the Reality within the thing.

This was Ramakrishna’s route.

A literal man, needing to experience everything himself, he was finding his own way, blundering through the dense undergrowth of his mind, the high altitudes of his soul. With unflinching faith and intense yearning he prayed to the Mother of the Universe for realisation, surrendering himself totally to Her wishes.

Very often Ramakrishna, in his state of utter desperation, cried out to the Mother and said:

Yet another day gone by, Mother . . . what is life worth if I cannot see you?
I have suffered for so long. Are you just a chunk of stone?
Or is there a divine Consciousness within? Ah Mother, sometimes I doubt you exist. Am I a fool to believe there exists a Consciousness of which this stone is only a representation? Mother, you have shown yourself to other devotees. Why won’t you show yourself to me?

He would also plead:

Why won’t you grant my prayer?
I’ve been praying to you for so long.
I cannot go on without a glimpse of you Mother,
I would rather die.

Ultimately, however, Ramakrishna’s persistence was rewarded, and he came to the culmination of his ‘dark night of the soul’. He described this experience later, thus:

Then it was as if houses, doors, temples – everything vanished. And there was nothing. I saw an infinite shoreless sea of light, a sea that was Consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves coming towards me, raging and storming at great speed. Then they were on me and engulfed me and I sank into the depth of infinity.

From Thakur – Sri Ramakrishna, a Biography, © 2009 by Rajiv Mehrotra, published by Hay House.