Vedanta and Its Universal Message.
The Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York is an accredited branch of the Ramakrishna Order of India. It was incorporated in 1933 as a non-profit religious organization under the laws of New York State. It maintains a temple in New York City and the summer cottage at Thousand Island Park, New York, in which Swami Vivekananda lived and taught in the summer of 1895. Like the other branches in the United States, South America and Europe, the Center is a self-sustaining unit that looks to the Ramakrishna Order for spiritual guidance. Its Minister, or Swami, is a monk of the Order. The Center bases its teachings on the System of Vedanta, which combines both the religion and philosophy of the Hindus, especially as explained by Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), his wife and spiritual companion Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi (1853-1920) and his disciple Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and demonstrated in their lives. Vedanta teaches that every soul is potentially divine, and that its divinity may be manifested through worship, contemplation, unselfish work, and philosophical discrimination. According to Vedanta, Truth is universal and all humankind and all existence are one. It preaches the unity of the Godhead, or ultimate Reality, and accepts every faith as a valid means for its own followers to realize the Truth.
The Center seeks to stimulate the growth of the individual's innate spirituality through lectures, discourses, publications, and individual guidance. The disciplines the Center provides are suited to individual needs and temperaments. It does not deal with the occult or the sensational and offers no easy shortcuts
Life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa:
Sri Ramakrishna, the prophet of modern India was born in the village of Kamarpukur, 70 miles west of Calcutta, on 18th February 1836, and brought up in a pious, devout and simple rural atmosphere. Gadadhar (childhood name) grew up into a healthy and restless boy, full of fun and sweet mischief. He was intelligent precocious and endowed with a prodigious memory, which enabled him to repeat, just after hearing only once. To listen to recitations of stories from Hindu mythology and the epics was his greatest delight. Painting he enjoyed, the art of moulding images of the gods and goddesses he learnt from the potters. But arithmetic was his great aversion. He was endowed with a yearning for the vision of God from his very childhood, at the age six or seven Gadadhar had his first experience of spiritual ecstasy. Neglecting his studies, he sat with wandering monks and pilgrims, and played religious dramas with his young companions. To turn his mind to a useful education, he was brought to Calcutta in his seventeenth year. Gadadhar, however, observed that the aim of all secular knowledge was mere material advancement, and he resolved to devote himself solely to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge, which would ensure eternal peace. Being insisted by his brother to studies, his reply was - "Brother, what shall I do with a mere bread-winning education? I would rather acquire that wisdom which will illumine my heart and give me satisfaction for ever".
Circumstance now so shaped themselves that within a short time he became the priest of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar. The worship of God was after his heart and he took to the duties of the new vocation with great zeal and enthusiasm. As his love for God deepened, he began either to forget or to drop the formalities of worship. Sitting before the image, he would spend hours singing the devotional songs of great devotees of the Mother. Those soul stirring songs, describing the direct vision of God, only intensified Sri Ramakrishna's longing. He felt the pangs of a child separated from its mother. Sometimes, in agony, he would rub his face against the ground and weep so bitterly that people, thinking he had lost his earthly mother, would sympathize with him in his grief. Sometimes, in moments of scepticisim, he would cry: "Are you true, Mother, or is it all fiction-mere poetry without any reality? If you do exist, why do I not see Thee? Is religion a mere fantasy and are You only a figment of man's imagination?" He began to behave in an abnormal manner, most of the time unconscious of the world. He almost gave up food; and sleep left him altogether.
But he did not have to wait very long. He has thus described his first vision of the Mother: "I felt as if my heart were being squeezed like a wet towel. I was overpowered with a great restlessness and a fear that it might not be my lot to realize Her in this life. I could not bear the separation from her any longer. Life seemed to be not worth living. Suddenly my glance fell on the sword that was kept in the Mother's temple. I determined to put an end to my life. When I jumped up like a madman and seized it, suddenly the blessed Mother revealed Herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple and everything else vanished from my sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. As far as the eye could see, the shining billows were madly rushing at me from all sides with a terrific noise, to swallow me up! I was panting for breath. I was caught in the rush and collapsed, unconscious. What was happening in the outside world I did not know; but within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother."
Ramakrishna now plunged into hard spiritual practices, and realized by following the multifarious paths of Hinduism and also through the disciplines of Christianity and Islam. Thus in various ways Sri Ramakrishna tasted the bliss of communion with God-sometimes merging himself totally in the Absolute, sometimes as a child of the Divine Mother maintaining an appearance of duality. After all these experiences he declared, 'I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps as all rivers mingle at last in the ocean. He lived rest of his life in the state called Bhavamuka, the threshold between normal consciousness and super consciousness. His visions became deeper and more intimate. He no longer had to meditate to behold the Divine Mother. Even while retaining consciousness of the outer world, he would see Her as tangibly as the temples, the trees, the river and the men around him,
While he was going through his spiritual ecstasies, rumors had reached Kamarpukur, his village home, that he had gone mad. As a remedy his mother and elder brother got him married to Sri Sarada Devi, a six years old child but what a marriage it was! Sri Ramakrishna literally worshipped her as the Divine Mother with all rituals. Once while massaging Sri Ramakrishna's feet Holy Mother asked him " how do you look upon me?" Sir Ramakrishna replied, "The Mother in the Kali Temple, is the same that gave birth to this body and now resides at the Nahabat, and she, again, is now massaging my feet. Truly do I see you as a veritable form of the blissful Divine Mother" Their union was on the spiritual plane only. Yet he taught her everything from housekeeping to the knowledge of Brahman. He instructed her in all the practices of the spiritual life. Like him she was purer than purity itself. She was chastity incarnate.
"When the Lotus blooms, bees come of their own accord," Sri Ramakrishna said. Men and women from all walks of life and of different religion came to him for spiritual solace. Whoever came with earnestness felt his unbounded love, and got spiritually uplifted by his presence and words. When God-consciousness falls short, traditions become dogmatic and oppressive and religious teachings lose their transforming power. At a time when the very foundation of religion, faith in God, was crumbling under the relentless blows of materialism and scepticisim, Sri Ramakrishna, through his burning spiritual realizations, demonstrated beyond doubt the reality of God and the validity of the time-honoured teachings of all the prophets and saviours of the past, and thus restored the falling edifice of religion on a secure foundation. Drawn by the magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna's divine personality, people flocked to him from far and near, men and women, young and old, philosophers and theologians, philanthropists and humanists, atheists and agnostics, Hindus and Brahmos, Christians and Muslims, seekers of truth of all races, creeds and castes. His small room in the Dakshineswar temple garden on the outskirts of the city of Calcutta became a veritable parliament of religions.
He passed away on the 16th August 1886. But before that he had specially trained a band of young men to carry on his spiritual mission. These young men renounced the world after his passing away, and formed the monastic Order bearing his name with the motto "For one's own salvation and also for the welfare of the world." Led by the most dynamic and brilliant of them, Swami Vivekananda, they spread his message in India and abroad.
A spiritual aspirant may live in the world but the world should not live in his mind. A boat may stay in water but water should not stay in the boat. Live like a lotus-leaf in water, or like a mud-fish in the marsh. A spiritual person lives in the material world without being obsessed with it. Milk poured into water mixes readily with it. When converted into butter, it no longer gets mixed but floats on top.
Like stars in the daylight, God is invisible. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the sky. During the day? O man! Because you cannot find God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.
Four blind men went out to 'see' an elephant. One touched the leg of the elephant and said, "The elephant is like a pillar." The second touched the trunk and said, "The elephant is like a thick club." The third touched the belly and said, "The elephant is like a big wall". The fourth touched the ears and said, "The elephant is like a big winnowing basket." Thus they began to dispute hotly among themselves as to the shape of the elephant. A passer-by, seeing them thus quarreling, said, "What is it you are disputing about?" They told him everything and asked him to arbitrate. The man said, "None of you has seen the elephant. The elephant is not like a pillar, its legs are like pillars. It is not like a winnowing basket, its ears are like winnowing baskets. It is not like a club, its trunk is like a club. The elephant is the combination of all these-legs, ears, belly, trunk and so on." In the same manner, those who quarrel about the nature of God have each seen only one aspect of the Deity.
To explain God after merely reading the scriptures is like explaining a city after seeing it on a map. A meteorological report may forecast heavy rainfall, but you cannot squeeze a single drop from the paper on which the report is written. So also many good sayings are found in holy books, but merely reading them won't make you spiritually wise.
An unbaked cake of flour sizzles loudly when put in heated oil. The more its fried, the less the noise. When it is fully fried, the noise ceases altogether. Likewise, when a man has a little knowledge, he goes about talking and preaching. A truly wise man does not make a vain display of his wisdom.
A man thickly imbedded in maya is like a piece of iron thickly imbedded in mud. Just like the iron with mud is unmoved by the power of the magnet, so also the man is unaffected by the Lord. When the mud is washed away with water, it frees the iron. Likewise, when maya is washed away with prayer, man is automatically attracted to God.
Do all your duties, but keep you mind on God. Live with all - with wife, children, Father and mother and serve them. Serve them as if they were very dear to you. But know in your heart of hearts, that they do not belong to you. There is nothing wrong in your being in the world. But you must direct your mind toward God; otherwise you will not succeed. Do your duty with one hand and with the other hold to God. After the duty is over you will hold to God with both hands.
After fourteen years of hard penance a man acquired the super natural power to walk on water. When he displayed of it, his brother rebuked him "What you have accomplished in fourteen years, ordinary men can do by paying a few pennies to the boatman.
Ceremonies and rituals are useful up to a certain point, for the growth of spiritual thoughts. However, they become useless for him who has realized the highest truth, namely, God. Just as the oyster shell that contains a precious pearl is in itself of very little value, but is essential for the growth of the pearl.
To acquire the power of concentration a person must begin by fixing the mind on a God with a form. Only then can he meditate on the Formless. Once a mind has been trained to focus on an idol, it is easy for it to focus on the Formless. A marksman learns to shoot by first aiming at big objects. As he gets more skilled in shooting, he targets smaller and smaller objects.
Love can be unselfish, samartha; reciprocal, samanjasa; or selfish, sadharana. The unselfish lover seeks only the welfare of his beloved, even at the cost of personal hardship and pain. In reciprocal love, the lover desires happiness both for self and his beloved. When love is selfish, the lover cares only for his own happiness.
Viveka and vairagya, discrimination and dispassion, are the two purifying agents in our life. Put a purifying agent like alum into a vessel of muddy water, and see how impurities settle down at the bottom, making the water clear again. Similarly, viveka and vairagya help our restless senses to settle down and clear our minds of tensions and anxieties.
A person who is fond of fishing first gathers detailed information about a pond, the type of fish it contains and the most suitable bait to catch them. He then goes to the pond with his fishing rod and bait, and waits there patiently until he gets an attractive catch. Similarly, a spiritual aspirant should first gain knowledge from scriptures and spiritual masters. He should try to seek God with the bait of faith and devotion, with his mind as the fishing rod. With unceasing patience he must wait for the fullness of time. Only then will he realize the Divine.
Once a disciple asked his Guru - When shall I see God? Then Guru took his disciple to the sea and immersed his head in water. After some time he released him and asked, "How did you feel?" "Desperate for breath", replied the devotee. On hearing the Guru said, "You shall see God when you are as desperate for Him, as you were for breath.
Vision of God is obtained when the mind is perfectly tranquil. When the sea of one's mind is agitated by the waves of desires, it cannot reflect God. A kite with a fish in its beak was chased by a large number of crows and screaming kites, pecking at it and trying to snatch away the fish. Wherever it went, the flock of birds followed it. Tired of the chase, the kite threw away the fish. Instantly the flock veered off in the direction of the fish. The kite now sat calm and undisturbed upon the branch of a tree. As long as a man does not cast aside the burden of worldly desires, he cannot be at peace with himself.
There are several bathing banks or ghats on a large river. A person goes to whichever ghat he pleases, but reaches the same water. There's no point in quarrelling over the merits of the various ghats. Every religion of the world is like a ghat, each has its own plus and minus points. And each leads to the water of Eternal Bliss. The one and the same water is called by different names in different languages. So, the one Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, is invoked by some as Allah, by some as Hari and by others as Jesus.
Two persons were hotly disputing over the color of a chameleon they had seen on a tree. One said that it was red, the other asserted it was blue. Unable to resolve their difference, they went to a man who lived under that tree and had watched the chameleon in all its phases. He knew that the chameleon constantly changes color. So he agreed with both the men. For the chameleon was red, as well as blue. Likewise, a devotee who has seen God only in one aspect knows that aspect alone. None but he who has seen him in manifold aspects can say "All these forms are of the one God, for God is multiformed." God is both formless and with form, and infinite are his forms.
Mother Sri Saradha Devi
Sri Sarada Devi, the immaculate wife of Sri Ramakrishna and helpmate in his mission, is adored as Holy Mother by many devotees around the globe. Since her passing away in 1920, she has continued to grow in the horizon of man's consciousness as a unique mother-teacher of the world, whose life and teachings have the power-potency to soothe, awaken and uphold anyone in the world, anywhere.
One fact has been quietly exploding in this distracted world of ours: and that is the creative power of Holy Mother's stupendous simple life of absolute holiness and absolute love. Nobody noticed when her power crossed the national frontiers of India and made the whole world virtually her own parlour. The secret of this power she gave away one day in a few spontaneous words. And this was practically her last message to humanity from her deathbed. She said among other things to a sorrowing devotee who was painfully conscious that the Mother would not live long: "Learn to make the whole world your own. Nobody is a stranger here, my dear. Everybody is your own" What a tremendous thing to say from one's soulful experience! These are not merely words of piety but heart-acts of realization. She literally lived in her 'own' - made world. This world has yet to work out the implication of this complete emancipation of highest philosophy and religion in the rhythm of the casual and the tenor of the commonplace.
Holy Mother knew everyone as her very own - not from a polished courtesy standpoint but because it was the fact of existence, and so in many lands people adore her above all as their very own mother. It is not a generalized, collective relationship with an impersonal personal growth. Nobody can think of the Holy Mother without getting spiritually awakened. And when so many have been meditating on her in so may countries what doubt can be there about a spiritual ministration going on in the world in the manner of dews' work in the souls of flower-buds?
Holy Mother was an unusual awakener of souls. With her disciples she served as teacher, dissolving their doubts, as mother, who through love and compassion won their hearts, and as the Divinity, who assured them of liberation. Herself nearly illiterate, through simple words she taught them that the most profound truths. Her affectionate maternal love tamed their rebellious spirits; but her great power lay in her solicitude for all. Often she said, "I am the Mother, who will look after them if not I?" She encouraged them when they were depressed because of slow spiritual progress, and she took upon herself their sins and iniquities, suffering on that account.
Holy Mother was conscious of her divine nature, but she rarely expressed this awareness. For many years Sri Ramakrishna practised great austerities and formally renounced the world, but Holy Mother lived as a simple householder, surrounded by quarrelsome and greedy relatives. As a teacher she taught that the realization of God alone is real, and everything else, impermanent. The human body so treasured by most people, survives cremations as only three pounds of ashes. Holy Mother, humility itself -- claimed that she was in no way different from other devotees of the Master. Her disciples felt awed and uplifted when she blessed them by touching their head with the same hand, which had touched the feet of God. No one went away from her with a downcast heart not even robber and prostitutes.
What is the source of the mesmerism of this name and personality? Even a slight acquaintance with her life will make us realize that this mesmerism does not proceed from any aspects of her personality, which the modern world recognizes, as significant in women. To all outward appearances the Holy Mother was just ordinary, or even less than ordinary. Rustic in simplicity, almost unlettered, and shy and modest, she was far removed from the educated, self-conscious, active type of modern women. And yet her life finds powerful responsive echoes from the hearts of all men and women, rustic and modern alike. It is evident that she has captured in her life and being the fundamental value which lies at the back of the womanliness of woman and which transcends all distinctions based on mere sex and the attractions thereof. This fact alone explains her universal appeal, representing, as she does, not a mere national or racial type, but the fulfillment of woman as woman, the realization in flesh and blood of the Eternal Feminine.