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Ramakrishna, His Life and Sayings
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Pages (PDF): 141
Publication Date: 1899
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A collection of sayings and short fables from Ramakrishna, a Bengali Hindu mystic who lived in the 19th century. The book also includes chapters about Ramakrishna himself; covering his life, his language, and the Vedanta philosophy, among other things.
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THE name of Râmakrishna has lately been so often mentioned in Indian, American, and English newspapers that a fuller account of his life and doctrine seemed to me likely to be welcome, not only to the many who take an interest in the intellectual and moral state of India, but to the few also to whom the growth of philosophy and religion, whether at home or abroad, can never be a matter of indifference. I have therefore tried to collect as much information as I could about this lately-deceased Indian Saint (died in 1886), partly from his own devoted disciples, partly from Indian newspapers, journals, and books in which the principal events of his life were chronicled, and his moral and religious teaching described and discussed, whether in a friendly or unfriendly spirit.
Whatever may be said about the aberrations of the Indian ascetics to whom Râmakrishna belonged, there are certainly some of them who deserve our interest, nay even our warmest sympathy. The tortures which some of them, who hardly deserve to be called Samnyâsins, for they are not much better than jugglers or Hatha yogins, inflict on themselves, the ascetic methods by which they try to subdue and annihilate their passions, and bring themselves to a state of extreme nervous exaltation accompanied by trances or fainting fits of long duration, are well known to all who have lived in India and have become acquainted there not only with Rajahs and Maharajahs, but with all the various elements that constitute the complicated system of Indian society. Though some of the stories told of these martyrs of the flesh and of the spirit may be exaggerated, enough remains of real facts to rouse at all events our curiosity. When some of the true Samnyâsins, however, devote their thoughts and meditations to philosophical and religious problems, their utterances, which sway large multitudes that gather round them in their own country, cannot fail to engage our attention and sympathy, particularly if, as in the case of Râmakrishna, their doctrines are being spread by zealous advocates not only in India, but in America also, nay even in England.
We need not fear that the Samnyâsins of India will ever find followers or imitators in Europe, nor would it be at all desirable that they should, not even for the sake of Psychic Research, or for experiments in Physico-psychological Laboratories. But apart from that, a better knowledge of the teachings of one of them seems certainly desirable, whether for the statesmen who have to deal with the various classes of Indian society, or for the missionaries who are anxious to understand and to influence the inhabitants of that country, or lastly for the students of philosophy and religion who ought to know how the most ancient philosophy of the world, the Vedânta, is taught at the present day by the Bhaktas, that is the friends and devoted lovers of God,' and continues to exercise its powerful influence, not only on a few philosophers, but on the large masses of what has always been called a country of philosophers. A country permeated by such thoughts as were uttered by Râmakrishna cannot possibly be looked upon as a country of ignorant idolaters to be converted by the same methods which are applicable to the races of Central Africa.
As the Vedânta forms the background of the sayings of Râmakrishna, I thought it useful to add a short sketch of some of the most characteristic doctrines of that philosophy. Without it, many readers would hardly be able to understand the ideals of Râmakrishna and his disciples.
I am quite aware that some of his sayings may sound strange to our ears, nay even offensive. Thus the conception of the Deity as the Divine Mother is apt to startle us, but we can understand what Râmakrishna really meant by it, when we read his saying (No. 89):
'Why does the God-lover find such pleasure in addressing the Deity as Mother? Because the child is more free with its mother, and consequently she is dearer to the child than any one else.'
Sometimes the language which these Hindu devotees use of the Deity must appear to us too familiar, nay even irreverent. They themselves seem to be aware of this and say in excuse: 'A true devotee who has drunk deep of Divine Love is like a veritable drunkard, and, as such, cannot always observe the rules of propriety' (104).
'What is the strength of a devotee? He is a child of God, and tears are his greatest strength' (92).
Unless we remember that harem means originally no more than a sacred and guarded place, the following saying will certainly jar on our ears:
'The Knowledge of God may be likened to a man, while the Love of God is like a woman. Knowledge has entry only up to the outer rooms of God, but no one can enter into the inner mysteries of God save a lover, for a woman has access even into the harem of the Almighty' (172).
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