Ramakrishna: His life and sayings
Râmakrishna's Influence on Keshub Chunder Sen.
A more painful misunderstanding has arisen with regard to the exact relationship between Râmakrishna and Keshub Chunder Sen. A disciple may mean many things, but Keshub Chunder Sen was never chary in giving credit where credit was due, and he was the last man to withhold the name of master and teacher from Râmakrishna or any one else from whom he had received inspiration, encouragement, or instruction. 'Whoever he may be,' he writes, 'I desire to learn from him. If I see an ordinary minstrel, I love to learn at his feet. If an ascetic comes, I consider that a lac of rupees has come to my house. I learn much by hearing his hymns. . . . I can clearly perceive that when-ever a saint takes leave of me he pours into my heart his virtues. To some extent I become like him--I am a born disciple.' On the other hand, no one repudiated the title of Master or Guru more emphatically than Râmakrishna. A relative of Keshub Chunder Sen, however, who evidently completely misapprehended what was implied by the influence which I said that Râmakrishna had exercised on Keshub Chunder Sen, Mozoomdar, and others as his disciples, is very anxious to establish the priority of Keshub Chunder Sen, as if there could be priority in philosophical or religious truth. 'It was Keshub Chunder,' he tells us, 'who brought Râmakrishna out of obscurity.' That may be so, but how often have disciples been instrumental in bringing out their master? He then continues to bring charges against Râmakrishna, which may be true or not, but have nothing
to do with the true relation between Keshub and Râmakrishna. If, as we are told, he did not show sufficient moral abhorrence of prostitutes, he does not stand quite alone in this among the founders of religion. If he did not 'honour the principle of teetotalism according to Western notions,' no one, as far as I know, has ever accused him of any excess in drinking. Such bickerings and cavillings would have been most distasteful both to Keshub Chunder Sen and to Râmakrishna. Both had no words but words of praise and love for each other, and it was a great pity that their mutual relation should have been treated in a jealous spirit, and thereby totally misrepresented. I can under-stand that in India, where the relation between Guru and Sishya is a very peculiar and very definite one, one of Keshub Chunder Sen's relatives should have objected to Râmakrishna being represented as the Guru of Keshub. Keshub had no real Guru, nor was he a Brahman by birth like Râmakrishna. But that he learnt from Râmakrishna he, as well as Mozoomdar, has repeatedly admitted. As to myself, I can only say that Keshub Chunder Sen's memory is quite safe in my hands, perhaps safer than in those of his relatives. I stood up for him when his nearest friends forsook him and turned against him. If my words could possibly have been misunderstood in India, I gladly state that neither did Râmakrishna act as Guru or Keshub Chunder Sen as Sishya. The only thing that interested me was whether the influence exercised by the former on the latter might possibly account for certain, as yet unexplained, phases in the later spiritual development of Keshub Chunder Sen.
[paragraph continues] It would be a real help in judging of Keshub Chunder Sen if we knew that--to quote the words of Mozoomdar--' his association with Râmakrishna developed the conception of the Motherhood of God'; or, again, that 'the strange selectivism of Râmakrishna suggested to Keshub's appreciative mind the thought of broadening the spiritual structure of his own movement.' Whether toward the end of his life Keshub became mystic and ecstatic in his utterances, and whether his concept of the Godhead as the Divine Mother was inspired by Râmakrishna, I gladly leave to others to decide. By whatever terms these words mystic and ecstatic may be, if translated into Bengâli, in English they mean exactly that spirit which pervades many of the utterances of the so-called New Dispensation, and which was so severely, and far too severely, animadverted on by many of Keshub's European admirers. Mystic has no such terrible meaning in English as its corresponding term seems to have in Bengâli. People always seem to imagine that mystic has something to do with mist. Thus the late B. R. Rajam Iyer wrote in the Prabuddha Bharata, p. 123:
The Vedânta will certainly be mysticism if it seek to make a man live without food, enable him to preserve his life as long as he pleases, or get stiff like a corpse, dead entirely to the world, though an obscure spark of life may yet linger in the system. The Vedânta will be mysticism if it seek to enable man to work wonderful feats, as flying in the air, leaving the body at will, and wandering in space unobstructed like a ghost, or entering into the bodies of others, and possessing them like spirits, and doing similar things
of an unnatural character. The Vedânta will certainly be mysticism if it seek to make a man read the thoughts of others, and lay him in an eternal trance, when he would be more dead than alive, both with reference to himself and to others.' I quote these words partly to show the misapplication of the term mysticism, for all this should not be called mysticism, but fraud and jugglery; and partly to show what the Vedânta is not, and certainly never was, in the eyes of Keshub Chunder Sen or Râmakrishna. It was in order to express my conviction that some later phases in Keshub's so-called New Dispensation were not essential to his simple original teaching, that I tried to trace them back to their different sources. If some of Râmakrishna's followers have made capital out of these remarks, surely such local jealousies and backbitings may safely be ignored. An honest under-standing between East and West, which was one of Keshub's highest ideals, cannot be furthered by the somewhat childish misunderstandings of Keshub's self-constituted advocates. Keshub himself would have been the last person to approve of the spirit that pervades his friend's passionate, though, I trust, well-intentioned advocacy.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.