I wrote this for an E-Symposium conducted by Vedanta Kesari, a spiritual monthly magazine published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai. It is published in the December 2011 issue of the magazine.
The Joy of Spiritual Living
When I was a small boy, my mother used to tell me several stories from Hindu mythology. There were a lot of stories like the story of Dhruva, where God appears before the devotee. One day I asked my mother if we pray to God, will God appear before us? She replied, ‘That used to happen only in ancient times. This is Kali Yuga. God does not appear before devotees in Kali Yuga.’ This reply made me very unhappy.
If only my mother had known about Sri Ramakrishna’s life, her answer would have been very different. Sri Ramakrishna lived in the suburbs of a bustling city in modern times. His life was full of spiritual experiences, visions and the constant company of God. The life of Sri Ramakrishna has a strong, fresh stamp of validity of the number of stories in the mythology of various religions of the world where God appears before devotees in the form that they chose to worship.
Worldly people give so much reality to the lower goals of life based on pleasure and possessions. This blocks the mind from seeing the reality of higher goals like service and spirituality, devotion and knowledge, God and Truth.
To devotees, on the other hand, God is more real than the world. The world borrows its reality from God. Life itself has a meaning only because it involves God. Again, the relationship with God spans many lives. The worldly relationships are ephemeral. Grounded on the eternal and all-pervasive God, the devotee is able to face the ups and downs of material life with great ease. His life is one of joy and freedom.
Mukti is translated as ‘freedom’. Freedom from what? Some people define it as freedom from repeated cycle of lives. That would be an escapist’s answer. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have said that they are ready to take a thousand lives to help one man. Sri Krishna defines a free-while-livingman (jivanmukta) as the one who is free from worldly attachments and is free from sorrow. The very opening of the teachings of Gita is an assertion ‘na anushocanti panditaah’—‘Wise men don’t grieve.’
In the words of Sri Ramakrishna, worldly attachment is nothing but lust and greed. When we read the life of Sri Ramakrishna we see how his freedom from lust and greed has just thrown open the doors of the spirit converting his presence into a mart of joy. Here, in his wonderful life, is the culmination of all the ideas of morality, religion and philosophy.
The advent of Sri Ramakrishna is the starting of a new chapter in the book of religion and spirituality in the world. The message is the same—the eternal message of the Vedas and the Gita. It is put into a language that we can understand. It is cast into a mould that we can follow. It is told in a way that we can appreciate. And practice.