Ramakrishna: His life and sayings
Final Conclusion, Tat tvamasi.
Then follows the final conclusion that these two Selfs are one and the same, only reached by different methods. Man is man phenomenally, the world is world phenomenally, the gods of the world are gods phenomenally, but in full reality all are the Godhead, call it Âtman or Brahman, metamorphosed and hidden for a time by Avidyâ or Nescience, but always recoverable by Vidyâ or by the Vedânta-philosophy.
These ideas in a more or less popular form seem to pervade the Hindu mind from the earliest to the latest date. They are taught in the schools, but even without the schools they seem to be imbibed with the mother's milk. They are often exaggerated and caricatured so as to become repulsive to a European mind, but in their purity and simplicity they contain an amount of truth which can no longer be safely neglected by any student, whether of philosophy or religion. It can no longer be put aside as merely curious, or disposed of as mystic, without a definition of what is meant by mystic, and without an argument that everything that is called mystic has really nothing to do with either religion or philosophy. That it may lead to dangerous consequences no one would deny, but the same may be said of almost every religion and every philosophy, if carried to its last consequences. I have already drawn attention to the false reasoning, that because good works cannot secure salvation, therefore bad works also are indifferent or harmless. Good works, according to the Vedânta, certainly do not lead straight to salvation, but
they represent the first essential step that leads on to salvation, while evil deeds form a barrier that keeps a man from making even the first step in his progress towards knowledge and beatitude. That a Saint cannot sin, or that Sciens non peccat, has been held true not in India only, but it is easily seen in what sense this is either true or false, whether in India or at home. It cannot be deeply enough impressed on the minds of the modern apostles of Râmakrishna that nothing would be more likely to lower their master and their own work in the eyes of serious people than the slightest moral laxity on their part, or a defence of any such laxity on the ground that a Gñânin, a Knower, is above morality. It is one thing to say that such a man cannot sin because his passions are completely subdued, another that if he should from any defect of knowledge lapse from his passionless and perfect state it could not be imputed to him as sin. I confess there is a little uncertainty on that point even among ancient authorities, but we know as yet far too little of the classical Vedântic writings to speak with confidence on such a point. There are too many passages in which strict morality is enjoined as a sine qua non for Vedântic freedom to allow any one to use a few doubtful passages in defence of immorality. When we have first learnt all that can be learnt from the Vedânta, it will be time to begin to criticise it, or, if possible, to improve it. We study the systems of Plato and Aristotle, of Spinoza and Kant, not as containing the full and perfect truth, cut and dry, but as helping us on towards the truth. Every one of these contains partial
truths which might easily be proved to lead to dangerous consequences. What is necessary to us at present, more than at any previous time, is a historical study of all philosophy, that of India not excluded, in its genetic or dialectic development, so that we may not be swayed by every philosophical breeze that announces itself as new, though it has been discussed again and again before, and, it may be, far more thoroughly than by its most recent advocates. It will hereafter sound almost incredible that in our time the philosophical public should have been startled by the idea of evolution as a philosophical novelty, nay, that there should have been an angry contest as to who was really the first discoverer of what has been discussed again and again during the last two thousand years. What is parinâma, if not evolution, the evolution advocated by Râmânuga, but rejected by Samkara. That the illustration of this evolutionary process of the world, as given in our time, should stand incomparably higher than anything attempted from Râmânuga down to Herder, who would deny? But to the historian of philosophy the idea is one thing, its illustration of it quite another. It is most unfair to represent a man like Darwin, who was the most eminent observer of nature, as a philosopher, an abstract philosopher; the very thing which he himself would have most strongly deprecated.
At present, however, I am not concerned with Indian philosophy, pure et simple, but with its effects on the popular mind of India, as shown by one of its recent representatives, Râmakrishna. He himself distinguishes very clearly between philosophy or Gñâna (knowledge) and
devotion or Bhakti, and he himself was a Bhakta, a worshipper 1 or lover of the deity, much more than a Gñânin or a knower. It was in order to show the background from which Râmakrishna emerges, and the lights and shades of the atmosphere in which he moved, that I thought it useful to add a short sketch of Vedântic thought. Râmakrishna was in no sense of the word an original thinker, the discoverer of a new idea or the propounder of any new view of the world. But he saw many things which others had not seen, he recognised the Divine Presence where it was least suspected, he was a poet, an enthusiast, or, if you like, a dreamer of dreams. But such dreams also have a right to exist, and have a claim on our attention and sympathy. Râmakrishna never composed a philosophical treatise; he simply poured out short sayings, and the people came to listen to them, whether the speaker was at the time in full possession of his faculties, or in a dream, or in a trance. From all we can learn, it is quite clear that he had, by a powerful control of his breath, and by long continued ascetic exercises, arrived at such a pitch of nervous excitability that he could at any moment faint away or fall into a state of unconsciousness, the so-called Samâdhi. This Samâdhi may be looked at, however, from
two points, as either purely physical or as psychical. From an ordinary Samâdhi a man may recover as one recovers from a fainting fit, but the true Samâdhi consists in losing oneself or finding oneself entirely in the Supreme Spirit. From this Samâdhi there is no return, because there is nothing left that can return. A few men only who have reached it, are enabled to return from it by means of a small remnant of their Ego, and through the efficacy of their wish to become the instructors and saviours of mankind. Something very like Samâdhi is the state of deep dreamless sleep, during which the soul is supposed to be with Brahman for a time, but able to return. This deep, unconscious sleep is one of the four states, waking, sleeping with dreams, sleeping without dreams, and dying. With Râmakrishna it often happened that when he had fallen into this deep sleep, he remained in it so long that his friends were afraid he would never return to consciousness, and so it was at last at the time of his death. He had fallen into a trance, and he never awoke, but even death could lay hold of his body and his breath only; his Self, no longer his, had recovered its Brahmahood, had become what it had always been and always will be, the Âtman, the Highest Self, in all its glory, freed from all the clouds of appearances, and independent of individuality, personality, and of the whole phenomenal world.
94:1 This difference between Bhakti, devotion, and Gñâna, knowledge, is fully treated by Kishori Lal Sarkar in his interesting little book, The Hindu System of Religious Science and Art, or the Revelations of Rationalism and Emotionalism, Calcutta, 1898. 'Gñâna,' the author says, 'sees with a telescopic, Bhakti with a microscopic eye. Gñâna perceives the essence, Bhakti feels the sweetness. Gñâna discovers the Supreme Intelligence, Bhakti reciprocates the Supreme Loving Will.'
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.