by Babaji Bob Kindler
In order to make the truths of existence known to embodied beings in need of relief from suffering, who are searching for fulfillment or seeking eternal life, the great beings who have blessed this earth have often taken recourse to stories based upon incidents of everyday life. Such was the case with Jesus, Lord Buddha, Mohammed, Sri Krishna and others of divine descent and it is no different in this day and time with regard to the advent of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. From the flowers of the field to castles in the air, from the ancient Aswattha tree to the famous lamp unto thyself, stories, anecdotes, parables, allegories, metaphors, analogies and other means of expression have attended and graced the language of the enlightened from time out of mind. Thus does the sometimes abstruse and often obscure nature of Truth get rendered in such a fashion as to become comprehensible to collective consciousness.
Contrary to popular opinion and conventional wisdom, Truth is not simple. It would be more in keeping with its rarified atmosphere to call it simply profound. It rings with an inner vibration that is undeniable even to spiritually unawakened individuals, yet its hoary heights, difficult of ascent, are left unscaled and remain unreachable to most. With regards to Its attainment, people of today are more likely to react to It rather than realize It, reject It rather than respond to It, for Truth is the most acidic substance known to mankind. If perceived in Its nondual form and adhered to as an eternal principle, the whole of one’s life will change radically and human nature will never be the same again. But most people seek security, not spirituality, and desire prosperity, not peace, and they get what they want.
To those multitudes who prefer their lives laced with pleasure and profit, lined with comfort and compromise and laden with worldliness and worry, the search for Truth will necessarily and unfortunately take minor precedence. But for they who desire to penetrate the malaise of Maya, searching for the reason for and essence of their existence, a healthy resolve and firm commitment to Truth is indispensible. In the following six selections from an unpublished book in progress, the nature of Reality along with some of Its essential facets is explored in stories from Sri Ramakrishna’s vast collection, complete with commentaries that reveal beneficial and often hidden meanings.
In the first, “The Deceptively Easy Ascent,” both the approach to and attainment of Nondual Reality is illustrated by the fact that, though the rooftop is easy to gaze upon, it is another matter to climb up and abide there. The second selection, “The Commotion of Devotion,” demonstrates the transformation of human nature which occurs when the steamship of divine love sails up the river of the spiritually awakened and internally sensitive mind. In “The Untouchable Untouchable,” we are reminded that God is both taintless and easy to forget, even for great luminaries, emphasizing the need to remain aware of the all-pervasiveness of Reality and be sensitive to Its expressions here on earth. One never knows when one will be tested. Then, how vast is Ultimate Reality? Really unfathomable, as “Sounding the Depths of Brahman” illustrates, a story about a day at the beach and all the subtle and profound implications of getting there. In the last two offerings, we are reminded to live in the world but keep our minds focused upon Reality, and if that be too difficult, to rely upon God with form to guide us.
“The roof is clearly visible but it is very difficult to reach it.”
Pithy statements such as this require and deserve complete and intense scrutiny. In one short sentence, the Great Master reveals the presence of nondual Reality and intimates how to reach It, all in the simplest of language.
As we walk about the neighborhood, the roofs of various dwelling places are easy to see. It takes very little effort to make them out. Yet, if one wanted to stand on the roof of one of these houses it would take considerable effort, planning and resourcefulness to make it possible. In the same way, the truth of indivisible Reality is not hard to comprehend. Anyone with common sense, a bit of devotion and a little intellectual development can understand that the Supreme Being is beyond the limitations of this physical universe. It is also obvious to the likes of these that the Eternal One has fashioned the world of becoming and has also entered this arena as the overseer of the process of creation, preservation and dissolution.
To realize and dwell in the atmosphere of Truth, however, where God is always found, is an intense and exacting task. Only those who take spiritual life seriously accept this challenge. Though God dwells here in this universe, He does so as its subtle and sublime foundation, as its transparent substratum, not as its many objects and forms. Ever detached and crystal pure, the essence of Reality does not become involved in actions and deeds but only guides them from a witness perspective, teaching beings through their very own self-actualized and personally motivated process. Therefore, to experience the absolute bliss and freedom of that highest of states, one must necessarily become Godlike and develop mature detachment and Witness Consciousness as well. In order to accomplish this, spiritual discipline must be taken up and sustained while self-surrender and immersion into Reality must be achieved. This is a far cry from a mere affirmation of God’s presence. This reveals the difference between belief and faith. In short, it is one thing to realize that there is a Self and an entirely different thing to realize the Self.
What would it take to reach the roof of a particular house? Initially, one would have to have a reason for doing so. Perhaps to catch the view, to inspect the construction or because of an interest in purchasing a home. Whatever the reason, one must first ask the owner for permission to climb up there. That being accomplished, a plan of action that is both safe and sound would have to be adopted. That, in turn, would entail the gathering of tools and aids and the advice of an expert along the way. Finally, some safety devices that would save one from slipping and falling would be helpful.
In attempting to scale the heights of nondual Truth, the above list is no less essential or applicable. Our reason for wanting to ascend into the lofty region of ultimate realization is a timely and divinely motivated awakening that calls us to uncover the reason for our existence. In keeping with this call, we soon develop a strong spiritually-based desire to “possess the entire landscape of inner awareness,” as Ramprasad, the poet/sage of Bengal, so beautifully sings. With regards to permission, we must first invoke the presence of the Divine Mother within us, for every structure in the Universe belongs to Her. As the Great Master states, “If you want freedom from the limitations of relativity then propitiate the Mahashakti — the Divine Mother of the Universe.”
If assent for this ascent is forthcoming from Her, an agent of Truth called Guru — a universal principle manifesting through certain refined and purified individuals — comes to us as Her emissary with a tried and true technique and begins to tell us how to proceed. This guide reveals to us the sacred scriptures, the quintessential mountaineer’s manual for spiritual aspirants. This precious reflector of God’s light also advises us about the acquisition of certain essential attributes we must have in order to make the journey easier and more possible and points out both the accessible and inaccessible routes used or rejected in the past by experienced climbers. The guru’s advice proves invaluable as we encounter and assault the steep and precarious preliminary levels of refined awareness along the precipitous climb.
When personal experiences, gathered along the way, become fully developed and utilized, we find that these act as ropes, pulleys and other safety devices which save us time and time again from potentially dangerous falls. The welcome company of a few other adept workmen, called holy company, also protects us and provides beneficial aid along the ascent. In the end, when success has been achieved, the view prompts profound inspiration. Thus, scaling the roof of nondual Awareness, that which is apparently easy of access but also subtly deceptive and difficult, becomes possible and attainable through self-effort and Grace.
“An outcast, carrying a load of meat one day, passed by Sri Shankaracharya and accidentally brushed against him. ‘You have touched me,’ said Shankaracharya sharply. ‘Sir,’ said the outcast, ‘please reason with me. I have neither touched you nor have you touched me, for you are not the body or the mind but are instead pure Consciousness alone.”
With this well-known story from the auspicious life of the great nondualist, Shankaracharya, Sri Ramakrishna reminds us of our true nature and about the finite mind’s penchant for forgetfulness of this verity.
As was told in prior centuries, Sri Shankaracharya, who though the very soul of loving compassion to all living things, nevertheless reacted with aversion to a member of the lowest caste while going about the business of everyday existence. This challenge occurs to many people during their lives and has been recorded in the lives of other great luminaries as well. For Shankara, it was made all the more problematic by the fact that this “untouchable” was carrying a load of meat, deemed impure to orthodox Hindus who are decidedly vegetarian.
God, however, does not judge what is pure and what is impure and quite often places in our way that object, thing or experience that will remove our bad habits and limited mental concepts. “One cannot realize God without getting rid of attachment to the five fetters,” the Great Master has often said — tendencies such as fear, pride, shame, aversion and secrecy. These act as bonds which attach us to old and unwholesome ways of thinking and acting. They restrict the acquisition of such healthy attributes as sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and concern for the suffering of others. No authentic spiritual life is complete or mature without the likes of such qualities and progress in spiritual life can often be gauged by how one responds and modifies behavior patterns in the heat of such experiences.
Such was the case with the great Advaitist, Shankaracharya, who is said to have stopped dead in his tracks and stared in wonder at what the chandala said to him. Realizing that God dwells in all beings is not merely a fine statement that gets repeated for the sake of mere remembrance. Nor is it just the grand assertion of the idealist and optimist. It is an irrefutable fact that needs to be implemented and tested in everyday life. One’s inner substance gets revealed by such acid tests. Shankara passed this test, as did others of his kind, for he saluted the man and remained humbled and amazed that God could appear so profoundly through the mind and body of a simple worker. The lesson is one for all times and is brought forward for our contemplation once again by the Great Master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
“A large steamer going up the Ganges is hardly noticed at the time of passing, but after a few minutes a terrific commotion ensues as waves hit the banks.”
The famous temple of Dakshineswar lies along the banks of the Hooghly River in Calcutta. As a young man, Sri Ramakrishna became the priest of the Kali Temple there. He must have had occasion to witness the passing of the bigger ferries tracing their course up and down the river at high tide and so noticed the phenomena described above. The experience put Him in mind of the effects of divine love on the human mind, life and body, an experience that He had further occasion to feel profoundly in His own life.
One point must be noticed with regard to this observation. Though the experience of divine love may sound delightful, it is actually very intense. The down-pouring or up-rushing of intensified devotion can play havoc on the human body and nervous system. To be a party to this powerful surge is often gained at the cost of health and longer life. Even the mind can hardly bear this pure love which is so unlike anything else it has ever experienced. In some cases, appetite decreases, the body becomes weak and irregular, sleep eludes one, interest in the things and concerns of the world disappears and the mind can think of nothing but Reality in Its various phases. This “commotion on the banks” of the body/mind mechanism changes the shoreline of thought and action as well. Unable to understand this transformation of the inner person, families disown, friends abandon, career and occupation vanish and the world in general is ready to commit one to a sanitarium. Of course, none of this matters to the divine lover who, like a shooting star coursing through the spiritual firmament, lights up the world with its loveliness before it expires in ecstasy, absorbed into a greater light within.
“As long as there is the roar of the waves, there is the ocean. One finds it by following the sound. Similarly, if the Reality symbolized by the primordial sound of Om is followed, one reaches Brahman.”
Om, the “sound Brahman,” is the word of God, a sound symbol that represents Divine Reality. It is the “Unstruck Sound” that is ideally suited for the revelation of Brahman by way of what is transcendent and beyond all modes of manifestation. When a spiritual aspirant perceives this most subtle of vibrations in deep meditation, close attention must be paid, for, as Sri Ramakrishna states above, the vision of Brahman is close at hand.
Imagine it is a peaceful day and you are walking over seemingly endless stretches of sand, heading for the beach which is yet some distance away, beyond the dunes. The vast reaches of sand surrounding you bespeaks of some special presence that is awe-inspiring, so a certain anticipation already fills the air. In addition to this, there is a trace of salt air aroma on the wind and this drives you on toward your desired destination.
As the sand dunes begin to thin out and the sky expands before you, seagulls make their appearance, adding validity to the fact that the ocean is just ahead, possibly over the next rise. Finally, a sound is heard, distant at first, but becoming progressively louder as your steps take you over the few remaining hills of sand. Then, with the sound practically roaring in your ears, you burst upon the scene and there in front of your astonished gaze is the boundless expanse of water in all its glory and beauty. Waves are breaking over miles of sand bars, people are sitting about or swimming and children are playing on the abundant beaches that lay before you. The sound of the ocean surrounds you on all sides and washes over you with wonderful healing effects.
This little imaginative trip to the seashore is a fitting simile for meditation and its antecedent experiences leading to one-pointed absorption in Brahman. For the meditator who is patient and persistent, the subtle vibration of Om, or Aum, heralds the advent of a rare and unusual condition of heightened awareness. It brings in its train a series of other spiritual states culminating eventually in nondual immersion into the Source of all Existence. Nor does the lack of the appearance of this primal sound of pure Awareness mean that no spiritual progress is being made along the path of meditation. Other meditators may perceive visions or internal lights. Some may make their connection into nondual Awareness through the stuff of pure intellect, immersing in profound Wisdom energy. For others, an absolute silence of profound peace may herald a deeper condition of consciousness. In short, there are various signs of awakening and multiple approaches for the different spiritual aspirants and seekers after Ultimate Reality.
For the one who perceives this silent sound, however, emanating at first from the region of the navel and growing more prevalent in the heart, throat, crown of the head and the two minor chakras at the temples near the ears, a well-outlined path to the Source of existence becomes accessible. By focusing the mind’s attention in one-pointed fashion on this subtle emanation from the heart of Brahman, not only does the presence of the Divine Being become obvious, one’s entire life becomes transformed. God’s word, the first principle of creation, contains all the secrets of existence, the principles of origin and dissolution including That which is beyond both.
“Women in northwest India walk along the road with big jugs of water on their heads but do not spill a drop."
Experts and adepts of life learn to “squeeze the most juice out of their orange,” as Swami Vivekananda has stated. In other words, the weights of the world are easily borne by them while their minds remain fixed on the most important matters. Like the women of India who bear huge jugs of water on their heads, yet walk along oblivious of the weight and speaking all the while about their children, husbands and jewelry, the devotees of God tend to all the many concerns of everyday life with grace and ease while thinking and speaking only of God. This is the natural way to get the most out of life.
Mature beings, called luminaries, are even more adept at living. They “do not spill a drop,” as it were. Their words and actions will last thousands of years and contain longevity. In cases such as these, Brahman infills heart and mind, lending infinite strength and boundless grace to every thought and action. Though fully available to the world and its suffering and striving beings, they nevertheless remain transparent to the world and impervious to its many vicissitudes and impurities. Though bearing weights that would crush others, these great ones work diligently but accomplish all work with detachment. About them, the scriptures state:
“There is an infinite field stretching as far as the eye can see and beyond, but it is blocked by a large wall. In that wall there is a hole.”
This story, though obvious in its meaning to those who are familiar with Hindu stories, still warrants explanation. There is a field, a wall and the main object of the story, a hole in that wall. The import is as follows. Brahman, the Absolute, is the infinite stretch of landscape, spreading farther than the eye can see, or in this case, as the mind can comprehend. The wall is Maya, the obscuring and distorting power that limits, deludes and confuses living beings.
The meaning thus far is clear. Brahman is infinite, is everywhere and underlies everything. Due to an unexplainable power inherent in It called Maya, Its vast expanse gets apparently divided. Thus does the Absolute transform, as it were, into the relative, Its nameless, formless Essence metamorphosing into conceptualization and matter. Though unbelievable, Maya makes it possible somehow.
There is a hole in this impenetrable wall of Maya, however, a wall that none can cross over by themselves. This, of course, is Ishvara, the Lord or Divine Mother assuming an embodied condition to assist beings in transcending their delusion in order to see clearly once again. Struggling with this world of illusions and appearances, living beings wander, as it were, up and down the entire expanse of this miraculous wall of Maya with its many twists and turns and various hypnotic and colorful patterns. There is no way of seeing through it except this one.
The Lord and Divine Mother of the Universe, Shiva and Shakti, called Ishvara and Ishvari in this rendering, in Their mercy and compassion for embodied beings, force an opening in the wall of Maya from time to time, allowing beings a mind-transforming glimpse of the Ultimate Reality that lies beyond the universe, transcendent of nature and its multitudes of mystifying configurations and alluring appearances. However, this opening in the fabric of Maya does not exist for long in any given time or age. When this Divine Couple withdraws, an age of darkness ensues and beings are hard put to make any sense out of the confusion and chaos that follows. Nor do they recognize the divinity dwelling within themselves or in others at that time. This is a great mystery, but one that Ishvara makes sense out of. The Avatar, a manifestation of Ishvara, rends a hole in the wall of Maya, then, and affords aspirants a glimpse of Reality.