Steadfastness in the practice of knowledge
the most important spiritual qualities is steadfastness in the practice of
Ramakrishna says: "Do you know what ignorance means? It is the feeling:
'This is my house; these are my relatives; I am the doer; and the household
affairs go on smoothly because I manage them.' But to feel, 'I am the
servant of God, His devotee, His son' - that is a good attitude.
many things is ajnana, ignorance. To know only one thing is Jnana, Knowledge
- the realization that God alone is real and that He dwells in all.
forget Him but remember that all men must one day walk down the same path.
We stay in the world only a couple of days."
Knowledge means that God alone is real and all else is temporary. Knowledge
means that the goal of life is the realization of God. Knowledge means that
this world is only a temporary place. Knowledge is to remember God always
and to keep the mind calm, balanced and rational, and to practice
discrimination between the Real and the unreal.
is treading the path of knowledge strives to remember that he is a child or
a servant or a devotee of God.
be the circumstances of life a devotee forges ahead with his practice.
Through regular practice he achieves steadfastness.
Steadfastness of knowledge is a sure sign of spiritual progress.
The Trial of
famous Pandava brothers, whose story is celebrated in the great Hindu epic,
the Mahabharata, were born in the land of Kuru in northern India about 1500
B.C. These brothers were named Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and
Sahadeva. Nakula and Sahadeva were twins, and they were stepbrothers of the
During the period when the Pandavas were exiles from their
kingdom for twelve years through the stratagems of their royal cousins, they
once found themselves lost in the depths of the forest of Dwaitavana. Seeing
how tired and thirsty all were, Yudhishthira, the eldest brother, asked
Nakula to climb a tree and look about to discover if water were nearby. When
Nakula returned to report that he had seen trees which usually grow near
water and that he had heard the cry of cranes, Yudhishthira commanded him to
go quickly to the spot he had noted and to bring back water in his quivers.
Bowing to Yudhishthira, Nakula hastened away and soon came to a lake of
cool, transparent water, but as he stooped to drink, a voice from the sky
said, "O son of Madri, do not drink! I control this water, and until you
answer my questions, you may not drink it nor carry any of it away."
However, Nakula was too thirsty to give heed to the voice. He greedily
drank, and drinking, fell dead.
Yudhishthira, puzzled by Nakula's prolonged
absence, sent his twin, Sahadeva, to find out what had happened. When
Sahadeva also failed to return, the king said to Arjuna, "You are always our
help in time of distress; go, bring back your brothers and a supply of
Arjuna took his weapons and went to the lake. There, beside the
water, he found his two brothers lying dead. Filled with anguish, he raised
his bow and looked about for the enemy who had wrought this tragedy; but not
seeing anyone in the vicinity and being overcome with fatigue and thirst, he
bent down to drink from the crystal water. At that moment the voice spoke to
him, saying, "Do not drink. This water is mine, and you must answer my
questions before touching it."
Disdainful of the warning, Arjuna of mighty
strength, who could draw the bow equally well with either hand, drank - and
fell dead beside his brothers.
Meanwhile the two remaining Pandavas became
concerned about the strange disappearance of the others, and Yudhishthira
bade Bhima go in search of them. When Bhima reached the lake and found them
dead, his heart almost burst with grief. He thought, "This evil deed must be
revenged, but first I must quench my thirst." At once came the voice from
the sky, warning him not to drink. But he also disregarded it and, having
drunk, fell dead.
Left alone, Yudhishthira was oppressed with an ominous
sense of grief, and went towards the part of the forest into which his
brothers one by one, had disappeared. No human sound came to him, but the
bright eyes of beasts peered from stumps and bushes. The air was alive with
the hum of bees and the cadence of bird voices. Amid the lush beauty of the
forest lay the shimmering lake, adorned with lotus flowers. Near it
Yudhishthira found his four brothers dead.
With a supreme effort Yudhishthira controlled his emotion. Then he said to himself, "Who has been
guilty of slaying these warriors? I find no wounds upon their bodies;
neither do I see footprints nor evidence of combat. Each of these four was
filled with an unvanquishable power. Who could have conquered them except
that great being, Death, who at the right time carries off everyone?"
Yudhishthira plunged into the lake, but at that instant the voice from the
sky said, "Wait, Yudhishthira. Do not drink of this water. It is I who have
put your brothers under the control of death. If you drink without answering
my questions, you will be the fifth to die!"
Yudhishthira lifted his head,
saying, "Who are you? What god are you? Though my brothers were veritable
mountains of power, they have been slain without a chance to defend
The voice answered, "All hail to you, O Yudhishthira! I am a
yaksha, and it was I who destroyed your mighty brothers. Now, behold me!"
Yudhishthira, turning towards the sound of the voice, saw on a tree above
him the huge figure of the yaksha, whose horrible, unnatural eyes were
staring at him. Ablaze like fire, the creature croaked, "I warned your
brothers not to drink from this lake, but they disobeyed me, and so I slew
them. O son of Kunti, if you will first answer my questions, you may drink
and take away all the water you wish."
Yudhishthira replied, "Believe me, O
yaksha, I do not want what belongs to you. Ask what you will. I shall answer
to the best of my ability."
The yaksha croaked his satisfaction. With an
unwavering gaze fixed upon the king, he enquired, "Tell me, what makes one
learned? What produces an exalted state? What is like a companion? And how
does one become wise?"
"Verily," said Yudhishthira, "by the study of the
Vedas one becomes learned. Asceticism produces an exalted state. A steady
intelligence is like a companion. Service to the old makes one wise." "What
is the sole support of virtue? What of renown? What of heaven? And what of
"Liberality is the sole foundation of virtue; charity of renown;
truth of heaven; and good conduct of happiness."
"Of praiseworthy things, is
one better than all others? What kind of wealth is best to acquire? What is
the best of all gains? What happiness is the greatest?"
most laudable. Wealth of mind, through the possession of Vedic knowledge, is
best for man to acquire. Of all gains, health is most important. Contentment
supersedes all other kinds of happiness."
"What is the greatest virtue in
the world? What religion always bears fruit? What is that which, if
controlled, leads men out of misery? With whom does friendship never break?"
"The greatest virtue is avoidance of cruelty. The religion of the three
Vedas always bears fruit. A controlled mind cannot promote misery, nor can
friendship among the good ever be broken."
"What, if renounced, makes one
agreeable? What should one renounce to avoid misery? What should one
renounce to become wealthy? By renouncing what quality is one happy?"
renounced makes a man gracious, and wrath overcome leads to no regrets.
Desire abandoned makes one wealthy, and avarice forsaken makes a man happy."
"With what is the world covered? What prevents a thing from discovering
itself? Why are friends forsaken? What prevents one from reaching heaven?"
"The world is enveloped in ignorance, and darkness prevents a thing from
discovering itself. Avarice separates friends. Because association with
things of the world is strong, men fail to reach heaven."
"What is the
characteristic of asceticism? What is the nature of true restraint? What do
you say is forgiveness? And how do you describe shyness?"
remain firmly fixed in one's own religion is true asceticism. Real restraint
lies in control of the mind. To endure enmity is forgiveness. And refraining
from all unworthy acts is shyness."
"How do you define knowledge, tranquillity,
mercy and simplicity?"
"True knowledge is realization of Divinity. True
tranquillity is that of the mind. Mercy consists in wishing happiness to
all. And simplicity is equanimity of mind and heart."
"What is the most
invincible enemy of man? What is an incurable disease? What difference
exists between honesty and dishonesty?"
"Anger is an invincible enemy.
Covetousness is the disease most difficult to cure. He who is honest desires
the well-being of all; he who is dishonest is unmerciful."
"Tell me of
ignorance and pride, and also of idleness and grief."
"The absence of
religious knowledge is ignorance. Regarding oneself too highly is pride.
Idleness lies in not discharging one's duties. And grief is sustained by
"What do the sages mean by steadiness? Can you tell me of
patience? What is a real ablution? What is charity?"
"Steadiness consists in
remaining in one's own religion. True patience means the subjugation of the
senses. Real ablution is to wash the mind clean of all impurities. Charity
is the desire to protect all creatures."
"Who should be regarded as learned?
Who should be called an atheist? What man is ignorant? Define desire and
name its source. Also, define envy."
"He who is versed in spiritual
knowledge is learned. An ignorant man is called an atheist. An atheist is
ignorant. Desire consists in longing for worldly objects. Envy is nothing
but grief of the heart."
"What is gained by one who speaks graciously? What
is gained by the exercise of discrimination? Is there virtue in the
possession of many friends? Is there profit for the man of virtue?"
speaks graciously is well liked by all. Acting with good judgement, a man
obtains what he seeks. He who has many friends lives happily. The virtuous
attain to a most excellent state, here and hereafter."
"What is most
"Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of
death, yet those who are left behind expect to remain here permanently. What
can be more strange than this?"
"What is the path?"
"Argument leads to no
certain conclusion. The shrutis (Vedas) differ from one another. There is
not one rishi (sage) whose opinion is not different from that of the others.
The truth about religion and duty is deeply hidden. Therefore the path is
the path which the great ones have trod."
The yaksha was pleased. he said,
"O Yudhishthira, you have answered every question correctly, but tell me two
things more. Who can be called a man, and what man possesses every kind of
Yudhishthira replied: "If one does meritorious deeds, the report of
which reaches heaven and earth, so long as that report continues, he is
called a man. The man unaffected by the pairs of opposites (such as pleasure
and pain, heat and cold), to whom all conditions are alike, is truly rich."
"Well said!" cried the
yaksha. "Truth stamps your speech. Therefore one of
your brothers may be restored to life. Which one shall it be?"
hesitation Yudhishthira asked for the revival of Nakula.
"Why ask for the
life of a stepbrother?" croaked the yaksha. "Is not Bhima, whose strength is
that of ten thousand elephants, dear to you? Is not Arjuna of mighty arm
your chief aid?"
Yudhishthira answered: "Always it has been my way to follow
the dharma, to make every choice in the interests of righteousness. He who
sacrifices dharma is himself destroyed, and he who preserves it is himself
preserved. My father had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Of the children of
Kunti, I am still alive, but with Nakula and Sahadeva dead, Madri has no
living son. It is my wish to look upon the wives of my father with equal
eye, to show no distinction between them. A son should be restored to Madri,
that both Kunti and Madri may have a child. Therefore, let Nakula be
"O noble Yudhishthira, I bow to you! cried the delighted yaksha.
"Since you have preferred righteousness to mere personal benefit, I say -
let all your brothers live once more!"
No sooner were the words spoken than
the four brothers of Yudhishthira rose joyfully from the ground, as if
nothing had happened to them.
"Who art thou?" asked Yudhishthira,
The yaksha said: "My son, know that I am Dharma, the lord of
righteousness. Great is my strength. Fame, modesty, self-control, truth,
purity, simplicity, steadiness, charity, asceticism and chastity are my very
being. By the cultivation of non-cruelty, impartiality, asceticism and
humility, a man can reach me. By good fortune you have made much progress
towards me, and therefore I came here to test your merit. Well pleased I am
with the results, O virtuous one! Ask any boon you please, and it shall be
Yudhishthira knelt before Dharma and replied: "It is enough that I
have beheld thee, eternal god of gods as thou art! Nevertheless, whatever
thou wilt confer upon me, I shall receive gladly and gratefully. May I,
then, O lord, always conquer covetousness, folly and anger! May my mind be
ever devoted to charity, truth and austerities!"
Dharma said: "By your very
nature, O Pandava, you are endowed with these qualities, yet since you ask
in such humility and with such grace, I grant that you may realize them in
Reprinted from The Voice of India, 1945
Leaves of an Ashrama:
Existence as a Game of Blindman's Buff
many others nourished on Christian thought, I always resented the doctrine
of Original Sin. If God were the repository of all virtue, how could it be
that his creatures could be possessed of a depraved nature? Taking myself as
an example, I quite admitted that there were unworthy motives in me that I
could not cope with, but there was another quality also, capable of
generosity, sacrifice, and even at times of what Wordsworth called
"intimations of immortality". How could I accept the idea that I as a human
being was fundamentally perverted?
Moreover, Original Sin could be absolved
only by a profound act of repentance on my part and a reciprocal movement of
mercy on God's. It made no sense to repent for what St. Augustine called
man's "total moral disability" if I had not been responsible for its
acquisition in the first place; for the theory proclaimed that man was not
merely depraved, but congenitally depraved.
Who would deign to solicit grace
from a Divine Being who had arranged matters like that?
Of course St. Paul
was right in finding man's will to separation from God monstrous, and in
advancing such a strong term as Original Sin to explain it. But as I became
familiar with Vedantic teaching, I realised that promoting the doctrine of
Original Sin should be seen as an unsophisticated effort to deal with the
problem of avidya - ignorance. The Apostle's proposition should not be taken
so literally. The dogma of Original Sin was a crude attempt to resolve the
puzzle of ego and its horrid product: man's unremitting preoccupation with
me and mine.
Vedanta's explanation was far more enlightened, and so was the
remedy. Man is seen not as evil, but as essentially perfect, except
temporarily suffering from wrong sight. This positive view makes a great
deal of difference. It offers therapy founded on better psychology; it bids
man work courageously for his own improvement; it replaces
self-recrimination with the exercise of discernment and effort.
the Vedantic outlook gives point and spice to life. I cannot visualise
spending my years agonising over innate wretchedness, but I can see myself
as a conscientious learner, steadily trying to vanquish ego and become
right-sighted. Indeed, how else to fill up a lifetime? The efforts I have
already made show me that results are possible and will reward the struggle.
I am not the creature of primordial selfishness that I was. I can view the
passing scene and my inner reactions to it with heightened detachment. I can
oftener see through the screen of maya and perceive who I really am.
more difference: the doctrine of Original Sin gives no convincing
explanation for "Why are we here?" but Vedanta's avidya theory furnishes a
plausible reason - to play the game of learning to catch up maya, a kind of
supernatural blindman's buff. Eyes temporarily bandaged for the sport of
tagging the opponent, whipping off the bandage - and finding that there was
no blind man and no opponent. Why are we here? For the fun of discovering
that there is not only no "here", there never was any "we" either.
Mantra, Guru, and Avatar (contd.)
Vivekananda spoke about the symbol Om. Om is the oldest mantra in the world.
Like the Gayatri mantra, Om has been repeated for thousands of years. But
the Gayatri is a very long mantra. Swamiji says that Om is the first sound,
or the complete sound. He gave a sort of etymological explanation for this:
Om is composed of the sounds A-U-M. When "A" is pronounced, the mouth is
open. When "U" is pronounced the tongue is controlled, and the mouth is
slightly open. When "M" is pronounced, the lips are sealed. These are the
three possible positions of the tongue by the manipulation of which all the
sounds are produced, including the cawing of the crow. So Patanjali's Yoga
Sutra says that if you want to know the language of the birds, if you
concentrate on this mantra you can understand their language. I don't know
whether any modern scientists have tried this method! The whole idea is that
these are the three positions of the tongue that produce all the basic
sounds. So Om represents the basic sound, and all the other sounds are
combinations of these. Thousands of people, even now, repeat Om -
practically all the sects of Hinduism and Buddhism add Om to their mantras.
That's why Swami Vivekananda specially recommended it. Every sect has
developed its own specialized mantras, but Om is the universal type of
mantra, and other divine names and aspects are normally added to it
according to the spiritual school of thought.
There is an extreme view that
if you take any name of the Lord, if you feel it is the Lord's name, you
will get the result. There is a famous story in a later part of the Ramayana
about its writer, Valmiki. Earlier, Valmiki was very sinful. He was a
highway robber at one time. Then he came in touch with Narada, and he was
changed into a saint. Valmiki had been committing robberies, but he had good
karmas. According to the Hindus, you have got certain karmas. Karmas are the
effects of your previous actions in this life, or in previous lives. Some of
the karmas are operative now, due to association. Say you have got a musical
talent, but you associate with cricket players. The musical karma will not
develop, but will remain dormant. If you move into a circle of musicians, it
will again come up. If the karma is very strong, it may assert itself.
Otherwise association affects it. Valmiki had very good karmas; they were
ripe for fruition. So Narada, a great teacher, came along the highway.
Valmiki wanted to beat him up to get his things. Narada said, "Wait. You
should not kill me. Killing brings in sin. Who will share this sin?" Now in
ancient days, everybody believed that in killing there is sin. Otherwise
Valmiki could not have taken the advice. "For whom are you committing such
sins?" asked Narada. "For my wife and parents and children, to maintain my
family." replied Valmiki. "Will they share your sin?" asked Narada. "Sure,"
said Valmiki. "All right," said Narada, "go home and ask your parents and
your children and your wife whether they will share in your sin, which will
be effective later." Valmiki replied, "Oh, you want to get away!" Narada
said, "Then tie me up." So, on the suggestion of Narada, Valmiki tied him to
a tree, and went home. He was very sure that everybody would share the sin
because for them he was killing people to get money. So he went and asked
his father and his mother. They said, "We have brought you up, and we are
now old. Now it is your duty to look after us. Why should we share your sin?
How you support us is not our business." Then he went to his children, and
they said, "We are not grown up, why should we share the sin? That is your
business." Then he went to his wife. She said, "You have married me. It is
your duty to take care of me. Why should I share your sin? How you get your
money is not my problem." Valmiki felt very dejected, and very
disillusioned, and came back to Narada and said, "No, nobody is willing to
share. How to get out of this sin?" By that time, he was feeling the
pressure of the sin. Then Narada gave him a mantra. But Valmiki was so
sinful that he could not repeat the name of Rama, which is a good mantra.
Nowadays we are not so sinful, because we can pronounce every word! But
Valmiki was very sinful. He could not repeat it. So Narada had to reverse
the word - 'Rama' becomes 'mara'. "All right," said Narada, "repeat mara."
That Valmiki could do. As you quickly repeat mara, mara, mara it becomes
Rama, Rama, Rama. (Mara eventually became a holy mantra, because it was
repeated by Valmiki, who later became a saint.) According to one theory,
every word is a representation of God. The Tantrikas believe that every
letter is a form of the Divine Mother. Any word can be a mantra, but
normally a good word is better.
So a mantra is a name of God or a holy
formula. It can be picked up from a book, but it acquires more power if it
comes through a holy man, or another devotee who practises it. It becomes
even more powerful if it comes through a succession of teachers. It becomes
still more powerful if that person is an illumined soul, and most powerful
if the person is an avatar. As Swami Vivekananda said, fire is kindled from
one fire to another fire. So the major idea is that if I have a desire to
think of the Lord, or live a spiritual life, the mantra should come from a
live person, who himself practises it, and whose life is more or less free
from defects. That person is called a guru.
The guru idea has been very much
stressed in some circles. Many people ask about absolute surrender to the
guru, which is, of course a scriptural injunction. Sri Ramakrishna was asked
this question. He said that God is the guru, really. Satchitananda is the
guru. The Lord sits in your heart and prompts you. In another context he
said that one's mind becomes the guru after some time. When the mind becomes
more and more purified, you know what is good for you, what is proper for
you, even if you don't do it. Gradually, the spiritual mind prompts you.
Then, of course, there is the live guru, who transmits the power of the
mantra. Through the mantra the spiritual power comes. The special power has
been released by a great teacher, an avatar. So really, the guru is a sort
of conduit of the spiritual energy released by the avatar.
Now comes the
consideration of the avatar. If we are to meditate on a form of God, how do
we decide on which form to meditate? The avatars like Buddha, Rama, Krishna,
and Ramakrishna have replaced, in most cases, the ancient deities of the
scriptures. The avatar is a special manifestation of God. There are two
ideas regarding the avatar. One is that when virtue declines and vice
prevails on Earth, God becomes incarnate. The other is that when many
spiritually aspiring souls pine for the Lord, he specially manifests
himself. Both ideas are valid. It is said of Chaitanya that because he was
called down by Advaitacharya, he came. Sri Ramakrishna said that because of
the call of Vivekananda, this divine manifestation has occurred for the good
of the world. The idea is that God incarnates himself specially for the good
of the people. But he assumes a little defect, as it were. The avatar is the
stage next to God. Brahman is there, the impersonal Absolute, the Ultimate.
God is a personalized aspect of the Absolute, which creates, sustains, and
destroys the universe. Next are the deities, which are more or less
identified with God. Then there is the avatar, who manifests himself in
human form and releases a special spiritual energy. The major religions of
the world are really the gifts of these avatars. Sometimes they are called
avatars, and sometimes they are called great teachers. They sometimes
declare themselves to be avatars, but very few people recognize them when
they are alive. As time passes on, their influence goes on increasing. That
is one of the signs of an avatar. Otherwise, anybody could say, "I am the
avatar." Or, a person could say, "I am an illumined soul." Who is to
question it? These experiences are one's own. At one time, when I was in
Berkeley, there were said to be as many as eleven avatars in the Berkeley
area. Someone merely claiming to be an avatar is not enough! There are
certain qualities that an avatar or an illumined soul should manifest,
normally. Some external manifestations will be there. Through this, we can
judge whether a person is sincere. The avatar has been described by
Ramakrishna as an aperture in a wall. Through that aperture you can see the
vast world outside. So through the avatar you can see the vast expanse of
the Divine, which is incomprehensible to the limited mind. God by his nature
is infinite, and the limited mind cannot completely grasp him; he can be
more easily grasped through an avatar or a great teacher. So the avatar is
specially recommended for this purpose. He, by his spiritual practice,
releases special spiritual energy. Whoever thinks of him becomes the
inheritor of that property. The writer of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
often used to say that as you think of the avatar, of the great teacher, you
become his inheritor. As a son inherits his father's property, similarly,
you inherit the avatar's property by declaring yourself to be his child.
These five ideas which I have described - dhyana, japa, mantra, guru, and
avatar - are directly applicable in our day to day spiritual living. All
these concepts were to be found in the Upanishads, or in the earlier books,
but it was the Tantra tradition which popularized these ideas by stressing
them. The Tantrikas believed in five tattvas, categories of thought, or five
elements: guru, mantra, dhyana, manasa, and Deva. The idea of the guru is
especially a tantrik one. The idea of the mantra was given by the Mimamsakas,
but the Tantrikas placed special stress on the mantra. Japa was specially
boosted by the Tantrikas, and also by the Vaishnavas. Dhyana was a special
technique of the yogis, but again this was adopted by the Tantra Sastra. The
idea of the avatar was not included, but there was the idea of manasa tattva.
A Deva, a deity, could be replaced by the avatar. Tantra is said to be as
old as the Vedas. It focused more on the practical aspects of spiritual
life. Later, all of the sects adopted dhyana, japa, mantra, guru, and avatar
into their own systems. All of these things are available in every sect
So these are the five things by which a person normally builds up
his spiritual life. We require dhyana, meditation, for concentrating the
mind, and becoming one-pointed in our thinking. To bring in meditation, we
require a deity on whom to meditate. A deity is normally provided by the
avatar, the great teacher, or a deity of the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.
To keep the mind in the thought of the Lord, we go on repeating the divine
name, practicing japa, so the mind remains in that thought longer. That name
is called the mantra. And then, when the mind is fully absorbed in that
thought, deeper meditation, dhyana, comes, and then the glory of the avatar,
or God, gets manifested. The person's spiritual life unfolds. Sri
Ramakrishna often used to say that of all the spiritual disciplines, the
essential disciplines are dhyana and japa. The other disciplines are all
effective, but these two are easy and direct. To perform worship, you
require your own home or surroundings, but you can meditate and repeat the
mantra anywhere. That is why these are the practices often recommended in
Ramakrishna with Birds and Animals
Lord's grace recognises no distinction between human beings and birds and
animals. His love flows equally to all. Mrs Kabita Banerjee of Jaipur
(Rajasthan) describes various incidents from Sri Ramakrishna's life in which
birds and animals had their share of participation in his divine lila.
title of this article may appear somewhat intriguing. 'What had Sri
Ramakrishna to do with birds and animals?' - it may be asked. Let us
remember that the Godman comes not only for human beings but for all
creatures including animals whom man - himself only 'a rational animal' - is
pleased to designate, with an air of superiority, as 'members of the lower
species'. The latter too, however 'low' they may be, play an important part
in his divine play, and are the fortunate recipients of his grace.
is not new, for we already encounter it in our religious tradition. The Puranas speak of God who incarnated Himself as a fish (matsya-avatara), a
boar (varaha-avatara), a tortoise (kurma-avatara) etc. In the Mahabharata,
the Supreme Being in the form of a Swan enlightens Yudhishthira on the goal
and purpose of life. It should not surprise us that birds and animals - in
fact, the whole of creation - responded to His divine call when He came down
on earth this time as Sri Ramakrishna.
Let us begin with Thakur's Hanuman-bhava.
We trace its beginning from his very childhood. We all know from the
Ramayana about the special and sacred relationship between Lord Rama and his
devoted servant, Hanuman. Sri Ramakrishna, whose family deity was Rama, was
familiar from his childhood with the wonderful exploits of Hanuman. When Sri
Ramakrishna was barely five years old, his mother went to Mayapur, a village
near Kamarpukur, to visit her brother. She took the child Gadadhar, as Sri
Ramakrishna was then called, along with her. On the way, while crossing the
fields, they were confronted with a horde of black-faced monkeys.
Surprisingly enough, instead of being afraid of them, the little boy rushed
forward and started playing joyfully with them. The monkeys, usually of an
aggressive nature, took to him in a most friendly way and began playing with
him as though he were one of their own.
As a young boy, Gadai used to tell
stories from the Ramayana to the villagers assembled at the house of Madhu
Jugi in Kamarpukur. A monkey came there one day and sat on a tree nearby,
listening to the narration. When it was over, he got down and, coming close
to the divine boy-narrator, touched his feet. Gadai blessed him by touching
his head with the sacred book!
Still later, when he grew up into the
peerless devotee of the Divine Mother Kali, Sri Ramakrishna undertook
rigorous spiritual disciplines of various types. After their successful
completion, his health broke down. In order to regain health, he went from Dakshineswar to Kamarpukur and thence to Sihore, in response to the
invitation of his nephew, Hriday, who hailed from that place. There, one
day, he expressed a desire to eat the curry of fresh, green pumpkin. His
nephews searched almost all over the village for it but in vain, for it was
not the season for pumpkins. At last they saw a solitary one growing on a
creeper over the roof of a hut belonging to a village woman. She refused to
give it to them saying that it was still unripe. Disappointed, they turned
round to go. Imagine their surprise when a 'Hanuman' arrived on the scene
and, plucking the pumpkin, placed it near Hriday who joyfully picked it up
and took it home. Mysterious indeed are the ways of the Almighty.
also recall Thakur's Hanuman Sadhana (dasya bhava). He became so absorbed in
the Hanuman-consciousness that he even emulated the monkey-god in climbing
trees and jumping about from place to place and whole-heartedly invoking the
blessings of Raghuvira. We learn that during that period there was a small
tail-like growth at the lower extremity of his spinal cord! Such was his
total identification with Hanuman at this time.
Like Sri Krishna, Sri
Ramakrishna too had a great fondness for cows and calves. In the early days
at Kamarpukur, he used to play with them and feed them with his tiny, pretty
hands, and how the cattle used to love it! He also played with his friends
while taking the cows to pasture, which was reminiscent of his earlier
incarnation as Bal-gopala, or child-cowherd (Sri Krishna).
involving a fish highlights Thakur's grace bestowed on a saranagata, one who
surrendered to him. One pleasant day during his stay at Sihore, there was a
slight drizzle. He walked near a pond with Rajaram by his side and stood
watching the fish move about in large numbers. They were so close at hand
and so numerous that Thakur asked Rajaram to catch some if he wanted, but
when Rajaram bent down, one big fish suddenly darted forward and began to
roll at Thakur's holy feet, as though imploring for mercy. Sri Ramakrishna
was deeply touched by this display of saranagati (self-surrender) on its
part and, patting it gently, said: 'Go, no harm will come to you.' He thus
conferred on the fish his divine protection, abhaya dana. Subsequently, not
only the big fish, which was probably the leader of the rest, but the entire
shoal swam away safely into deeper waters.
We learn from the life of the
Great Master that he had acquired unusual yogic powers, including the
ability to understand the language of birds and animals. He could follow
their conversation and once even disclosed to the astonished villagers that
a crow-couple were talking about the weather and the impending rainfall.
Birds would come and perch on his head because, during his prolonged and
intensive meditation, his body became motionless and apparently inert, like
the trunk of a tree, and his hair grew long and became matted due to lack of
proper attention for a long time.
We also know how, as a child of six, Gadadhar went into deep samadhi at the very sight of a flock of snow-white
cranes flying in beautiful formation against the background of dark
overhanging clouds that presaged the onset of monsoon rain.
In later life,
after he had attained the vision of the Great Goddess of Dakshineswar, he
was one day persuaded by his devotees to visit the zoo in Calcutta. The
first animal he came across was the lion, and no sooner had he set eyes on
it than he merged into deep samadhi because the lion reminded him of the
Divine Mother as Simhavahini. He was carried home in that ecstatic state.
Nothing more was seen at the zoo.
Again, there is the well-known incident of
his feeding a cat with the sacred offering meant for the Divine Mother,
because in his lofty state of cosmic consciousness he saw the same caitanya-sakti, power of consciousness, pervading all creation, as much in
the hungy cat that was mewing as in the image of Mother Kali in the temple!
During his illness, when he was staying at the Kasipur garden-house, another
cat became very fond of him and began to stay on the premises with her
kittens. Thakur was filled with compassion for her as well as the little
ones, because they looked quite underfed. He asked one of his devotees,
Navagopal Ghosh's wife, whether she could take them home and look after
them. Needless to say, the devotee very gladly agreed, not only because the
request came from the Master - which was itself no small privilege! - but
because, as she confided later, she was quite fond of cats. Obviously Thakur
had assigned the task to the right person. She took the cat and her kittens
home and took great care of them till the very end, regarding them as
precious mementos given by the Master.
Alas! If only these blessed creatures
- the birds and animals that came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna - had some
means of disclosing the nature of their experiences to us, what valuable
glimpses into the hitherto unknown aspects of his divine life and lila would
we have gained!
Reprinted from Vedanta
The Art of Living in
The Meaning of Holy Mother's Last
Sri Umesh C.Gulati
present millennium has opened a new chapter in the history of world
civilization. Never in recorded human experience have people from all over
the world lived in so much anxiety, fear and insecurity, as at the present
time. It is during such times, says the Bhagavad-Gita, a great saint or
incarnation is born, or the teachings of a former such incarnation get
renewed significance, to rekindle the divine wisdom in the hearts of
humanity, to pull it from the path of death and destruction, and to lead it
on to the path of peace and understanding. The present essay attempts to
provide the meaning of the last message of Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, an
incarnation of this age, which, we believe, is essential for the moral
uplift of humanity and peaceful inter-personal and international relations.
Just five days before her death a devotee, called Annapurna's mother, asked
the Holy Mother, "Mother, what will be our lot?" Very tenderly the Mother
said, "You have seen the Master [Sri Ramakrishna}. What fear can there be
for you?" Then stopping for a moment she added, "But one thing I tell you -
if you want peace, my daughter, don't find fault with others, but find fault
rather with yourself. Learn to make the world your own. Nobody is a
stranger, my dear; the [whole] world is your own." What a wonderful
prescription for the ills of our world!
In order to appreciate the meaning
and significance of the Mother's last message, we should try to understand
the causes of the conflicts and violence that have affected every society.
One of the causes, we believe, is the utter lack of knowledge as to who we
are, what is our real nature and how we are related to one another.
According to Vedanta, our essence is the Self (Atman in Sanskrit), which is
immortal and infinite, and is of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and
Bliss Absolute. This world is seen as an ocean of Existence (bhava sagar in
Sanskrit), with all the creatures of different names and forms, as waves
within it. Some waves are big, while the others are small, but they belong
to, or exist in, the same ocean. Similarly, the self is of the nature of
Consciousness, which is always singular; it doesn't have any plural. It
follows that the Self in one body is the Self of all, and we are essentially
one; the world of multiplicity is just an appearance. Bliss then is the
natural state of the Self, since conflict occurs in duality. Unity in
diversity, therefore, is the universal law of our existence. In the real
world, however, there is glorification of this apparent world of senses and
sense objects. People identify themselves with their body and mind, and
therefore consider themselves separate from one another. Therein lies the
cause of disintegration in our society. Even when we enter into
relationships, seldom are they right relationships based on what we actually
are. Many among us make images of ourselves, and people around us; others do
the same. It's our mind that creates these images or profiles, and if the
mind is in turmoil, and filled with our own pride and prejudices, the
profiles that we generate of others will be faulty.
Since the reality is
different from our perception of it, based on the image we have created, we
find fault with others. But whom does this exercise hurt? It has been well
said that as we think, so we become. So, finding faults in others and
dwelling on them will only hurt us. The Holy Mother once said, "The mind is
everything. Does anything happen to another if you enumerate his faults? It
only injures you." Can we look at someone without any judgment, without any
choice, and without reference to any prior profiling of that person? Putting
the question differently, can we go to a mango orchard and just eat the
mangoes and not care to count the number of trees in the garden? If we can,
how happy and peaceful we will feel. In one of his most animated lectures in
London on October 27, 1897, Swami Vivekananda said: "Who enjoys the picture,
the seller or the seer? [The reader may like to substitute a football game
for the picture, and Manchester United and Chelsea fans for the seller.] The
seller is busy with his accounts, computing what his gain will be, how much
profit he will realise on the picture. His mind is full of that. He is
looking at the hammer, and watching the bids. He is intent on hearing how
fast the bids are rising. That man is enjoying the picture most, who has
gone there without any intention of buying or selling. He looks at the
picture and enjoys it." [In the case of a football game, those fans that are
not affiliated with either of the teams will enjoy the game most].
disinterested observer watching a game is happier than the rival fans
because he is only absorbed in observing the game, forgetting himself in it
and becoming one with it. It is only then that one attains infinite joy and
happiness. Therefore the Mother's instruction implies that we should stop
making images or profiles of others, comparing them or analysing them, for
this sets a barrier in creating right understanding between two persons, or
even two nations, and without understanding there is no relationship. In the
Bhagavad-Gita (12.17), Sri Krishna says: "He is dear to Me who neither runs
after the pleasant nor away from the painful, neither grieves nor desires,
but lets things come and go as they happen." That is the correct description
of a person who deals with people without pre-judging them, and therefore
enjoys the presence of the Lord's love. On the other hand, if we build a
relationship on what is pleasing to us, on physical and emotional
attraction, we will be building it on quicksand for if there is anything
sure about physical attraction, it is that it has to change. Physical
attraction, in other words, is a sensation; love is a relationship. If we
want to build relationship and have peace of mind, we should build it not on
what changes, but on that which endures. What endures is the Self, the
source of all happiness, the bliss absolute.
Not finding faults and not
making images might sound like negative values on which to build healthy
relationships. So, putting it more positively, the secret of right
understanding and right relationship lies in the art of listening. To be
able to really listen, one should abandon all one's prejudices and
preferences. Unfortunately most of us listen to the voices of the image that
we have made of others than keeps us from understanding them. "Understanding
comes through being aware of what is. To know exactly what is, the real, the
actual, without interpreting it, without condemning or justifying it, is
surely the beginning of wisdom." Wisdom then is the fruit that manifests
naturally when one earnestly follows the Mother's instruction of "not
finding faults." In the Gita such a person is called "one of steady wisdom",
and all relationships of such a person are built on the foundation of love
Before leaving this "not finding faults" part of our
discussion, a few concluding remarks are in order. As was pointed out
before, unity of existence is the universal law, and each one of us is
connected with each other. This has far reaching implications. Suppose we
find fault with our spouse, our parents or our children, and make demands on
them, which they cannot possibly fulfil because they are based on the images
we have made of them. As a result, we get angry and upset. They in turn vent
their frustrations on neighbours, classmates or colleagues at the workplace,
and on and on it goes until this fault-finding and resulting anger and
frustration engulf the relationship between nations. This scenario is not as
far-fetched as one might think. We don't realise how very responsible each
one of us is, in recreating the environment of violence and insecurity in
the world. Instead we depend upon institutional responses for the solution
of these and other social problems, as if governments can stop all this
strife that originates in our minds. Governments thrive on dividing people,
perfecting and trading weapons of destruction, breeding fear everywhere, and
creating an arms race. Their guiding principle is to serve their
self-interest, not create relationships. The Mother is beckoning us that we
must become the change that we seek, and stop finding fault with others; we
can take our destiny into our own hands.
The Holy Mother's second part of
the first instruction, "rather find fault with yourself", is equally, if not
more, important. This requires us to turn our attention inside to our own
hearts, which is not easy, as the senses have the tendency to go outward.
What do we find if we do have the will to turn our attention inside? We will
see that many of the faults that we see in others are in us too. It is said
that someone asked Charles Darwin, the famous author of the theory of
evolution, who had asserted that human beings and apes had a common
ancestry, whether there was still anything unique about the human being. He
answered, "Man is the only animal that blushes." That is, human beings are
the only creatures capable of recognising the gap between the potential and
the actual, and of being embarrassed by that gap. The Holy Mother too
realised that no-one is perfect. As Rabbi Kushner has put it, "The person
who knows his flaws all too well is open to God's love and God's presence
because he realises he is not god. In the words of authors Ernest Kurtz and
Katherine Ketcham, 'Imperfection is the wound that lets God in.'" And God
gets in, through the guise of His divine graces of forgiveness, forbearance,
In fact once one succeeds in turning one's attention from
finding others' faults to one's own faults, faults take to their heels. It's
just like a child who is about to do some mischief but stops doing so when
it discovers that its mother is watching. The following incident from the
life of Swami Vivekananda during his itinerant days in Northern India around
1891, beautifully illustrates the point we have just made:
after visiting the temple of Mother Durga [in Varanasi], the Swami was
passing through a place where there were a large tank of water on one side
and a high wall on the other. Here he was surrounded by a large troop of
monkeys... They howled and shrieked and clutched at his feet as he strode.
As they pressed closer, he began to run; but the faster he ran, the faster
came the monkeys, and they began to bite at him. When it seemed impossible,
he heard an old sannyasi calling out to him:"Face the brutes". The words
brought him to his senses. He turned and boldly faced the irate monkeys. As
soon as he did that, they turned back and fled.'
You see, our faults are
like monkeys; once we become aware of them they run away. In fact, some
years later in a New York lecture he said: "If we are ever to gain freedom,
it must be by conquering nature [both external and internal], never by
running away. Cowards never win victories. We have to fight fear and
troubles and ignorance if we expect them to flee before us."
For that reason
the Holy Mother wanted us to live consciously, not compulsively. We must
watch our thoughts and speech carefully, so that they are in harmony. It's
this attribute, joining our thoughts with our words, that purifies us of our
vices and faults, that brings us closer to the Lord, our own Self, seated in
the core of our hearts. The Holy Mother once said, "In the fullness of
spiritual realisation, a person finds that God who resides in his heart
resides in the hearts of all. This realisation makes one truly humble." The
same is true when we find that the faults that we saw in others exist in us
too; our ego is crushed. This will make us very humble. With the dawn of
humility goes the last fortress, pride, which keeps us from seeing the Lord
face to face. It is said that once Sri Radha asked Sri Krishna: "What do you
see in your flute, which you don't see in me that you always keep it with
your lips?". Sri Krishna turned the flute upside down and showed it to Sri
Radha; there was nothing in there to see! The moral of this anecdote is that
when one has emptied oneself of the ego, the Self shines in its own glory.
The Bible expresses the same sentiment: "Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth." (Matthew: 5.5) So, earnestly practising the art of
"finding our own faults" is the key to self-realisation.
The second part of
the Mother's message is nothing but a corollary of the first one: "Learn to
make the world your own. Nobody is a stranger, my dear; the [whole] world is
your own." Once we become adept in not finding faults, and perfect the art
of listening that it entails, our whole personality changes. As mentioned
before, we realise the Self, which is the source of infinite joy, and
identify ourselves with all humanity, nay, with all creation. Then who will
be stranger to whom? Duality melts into oneness, which is our true nature.
It is interesting to note that forty years before Annapurna's mother asked
the Holy Mother how to have peace of mind, M., which is the pen name of
Mahendranath Gupta, one of the brilliant disciples and chronicler of
conversations of Sri Ramakrishna with his disciples and devotees, asked the
Master a similar question: 'How ought we to live in the world?' Here are Sri
'Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live
with all - with wife and children, father and mother - and serve them. Treat
them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that
they do not belong to you... If you enter the world without first
cultivating love for God, you will be entangled more and more. You will be
overwhelmed with its danger, its grief, its sorrows. And the more you think
of worldly things, the more you will be attached to them... First secure the
oil of divine love, and then set your hands to the duties of the world. But
one must go into solitude to attain this divine love... Further, by
meditating on God in solitude the mind acquires knowledge, dispassion, and
devotion. But the very same mind goes downward if it dwells in the world. In
the world there is only one thought: 'woman and gold' [lust and greed]...
Together with this, you must practice discrimination [between the Real and
In the few lines of instructions, Sri Ramakrishna had used the
words, "God" or "divine love" five times. For the Master, the purpose of our
life is to realise God. He emphasized the importance of practising
detachment, renunciation and discrimination, without which one cannot
realise God. M asked another question:"Under what conditions does one see
God?" The Master said: "Cry to the Lord with an intensely yearning heart and
you will certainly see Him. People shed a whole jug of tears for wife and
children. They swim in tears for money. But who weeps for God? Cry to Him
with a real cry." He further said, "The point is, to love God even as the
mother loves her child, the chaste wife her husband, and the worldly man his
wealth. Add together these three forces of love, these three powers of
attraction, and give it all to God. Then you will certainly see Him."
follows that anyone earnestly following the necessary spiritual practices
the Master had suggested, will certainly realise God and his or her affinity
with one and all, erasing any sense of separateness from one another that
lies at the root of divisions in a society. In the face of such a
well-rounded scheme of spiritual discipline from the Master, doesn't the
Holy Mother's prescription for peace seem rather simplistic? No, not only is
Mother's prescription for peace not simplistic, but also it is consistent
with the spiritual discipline that the Master has laid down for humanity. As
we saw in the above paragraphs, to succeed in not finding fault with others
requires the abandoning of our deeply ingrained habits of making images of
other people, refraining from judging them by our standards, and practising
the art of listening to others without prejudice. All this requires great
humility, forbearance and fortitude, qualities that, as we pointed out
before, allow one to attain Self-knowledge. He or she then, says the Gita,
"is fully delighted in the Self by the Self." For that person no desirable
object from outside has any appeal; and renunciation is natural and
spontaneous. In that sense, the Holy Mother's last message of not finding
faults reinforces the master's stress on practising dispassion and
discrimination for Self-realisation. More importantly, it provides another
dimension not only to the Master's teaching for attaining Self-knowledge,
but also to achieving healthy inter-personal and international relations.
Respect as Service
was an ancient monastery, now fallen on evil days. It had had a glorious
past, but now the institution had been reduced to only five monks and their
abbot - all rather old and inclined to be ill-tempered. The buildings had
fallen into disrepair, and the grounds around the monastery, which had once
been so inviting, now gave out an air of neglect. No new postulants were in
prospect and, worst of all, the old-timers who lived there were bored with
each other and given to mutual faultfinding. They were not capable of making
themselves happy, let alone of serving each other or anyone else.
going to happen to us?' the abbot asked himself every day. 'What is going to
happen to our dear institution once so fair?' He was often in despair.
abbot had a friend, a rabbi, reputed to be a wise man, who lived not far
away. Having no one to share his despair with, and feeling particularly
lonely in his trouble, the abbot decided to meet this acquaintance and talk
to him. The two met in the small hermitage at a far corner of the monastery
grounds. Each had brought food and drink, so they shared a friendly dinner.
After the meal the two sat back and talked. They established a feeling of
fellowship which felt good to the abbot. Then he poured out his worries
about the deterioration of the monastery and asked the rabbi what he thought
could be done. The rabbi entered into himself silently for some time, then
finally spoke. His message was cryptic and short but had to satisfy the
abbot. It consisted of one sentence. It was all that he would say. It was
this: 'There is a great holy man amongst you.'
When the abbot returned to
the monastery the monks wanted to know where he had been and what he had
done. He decided to tell them. 'I had an evening of fellowship with the old
rabbi,' he said. 'I told him about the conditions in our monastery and my
worries about its bleak future.'
'And what did he advise?' they asked.
didn't advise anything. His only reply was: "There is a great holy man
The monks, very much interested, glanced from one to the other
and pressed the abbot to tell more. 'And did he tell which of us this holy
man is?' they asked.
'No, that is all that he would say.'
The brothers were
astonished. 'A great holy man amongst us!' They looked around wonderingly.
'Who could it be ? Could it be Brother James?' Brother James looked at
Brother John. 'Is it Brother John ? Perhaps it is Brother Peter?' 'Is it X,
is it Y, is it Z?' So on around and around the group.
A tremendous respect
developed among them, for how else but with esteem could one treat a brother
who might be the great holy man? Showing respect was the service they
accorded to one another, and this in turn had its effect on each. A vigorous
example of respect as service.
Gradually the atmosphere of the monastery
began to change. There was a new joy and lightness. Visitors coming for the
Sunday service in the chapel felt it, were impressed with the climate, and
some stayed to picnic on the grounds - as had been the custom long before -
after the service. They also offered help to beautify the surroundings and
repair the buildings. Among the visitors there were some young men who were
so attracted by the prevalent feeling that they asked if they might become
novices. Gradually the monastery regained the glory of its past.
from Vedanta Kesari, 1992.
Bride of the Sun
high on the barren Castilian plateau in central Spain and encircled by
forbidding medieval walls, the town of Avila seemed to grow up out of the
lifeless soil. It was said that en Avila, santos y cantos... 'in Avila,
saints and stones' - for there wasn't much else immediately visible: saints,
because the many churches, monasteries and convents bore their names and
honoured their memory; stones, because the austere-looking town was
constructed of them. Indeed, it had a fortified appearance, and even the
gothic cathedral looked more like a fortress than a place of worship. 'Avila
of the Knights and Liegemen' had been for centuries a frontline post in the
struggle of the Christians against the Moors. The struggle had ended in 1492
when, after eight centuries, the Moors had finally been driven out from the
peninsula; but it had left as a legacy a spirit of strength, determination,
fortitude, and a high code of honour.
Don Alonso de Cepeda held a position
of respect in this small but proud town. Though of Jewish descent, he was a
Christian and, like many of the Christianised Jews in Spain, he was a
moderately wealthy man. His first wife passed away after giving him three
children. In 1509 he married again, this time the beautiful and well-born
Do-a Beatriz de Ahumada, and on March 28, 1515, with the first glimmers of
dawn, Do-a Beatriz gave birth to her third child. The baby girl was given
the name Teresa. (It was then the custom in Spain that some children take
the name of their father's line, and some, their mother's; thus, Teresa
became 'Teresa de Ahumada') Soon little Teresa became her father's
favourite; and indeed, there was an irresistible charm about her which won
the hearts of all.
Her parents were not only very pious, but Don Alonso was
also devoted to learning, his home boasting books on religion, philosophy
and other subjects. He was determined that his children should learn to
spell at a tender age, and be able to read by the age of seven. Thus it was
that little Teresa was soon able to read the lives of saints together with
her favourite sibling, Rodrigo, the elder brother closest to her in age. She
was fascinated by the word 'eternal' which appeared over and over. 'It means
for ever, ' her mother explained. Teresa would indulge her sense of the
mysterious by repeating again and again, 'for ever-ever-ever, Rodrigo!'
she read the lives of women martyr-saints, she would think how easily they
had purchased heaven: by patiently suffering just a short period of torture,
these martyrs had won the right to enter heaven, for ever and ever! Nothing
seemed so wonderful to her childish imagination as the glorious life in
heaven as described in these books.
'What if we should go to the land of the
Moors, Rodrigo, to be martyred? Then we too should be taken up into heaven
to live for ever in glory with the angels and saints!' La ni-a, 'the little
one', was not so much inspired with the love of God; she was enamoured of
the thought that she would be clothed in golden raiment by the angels.
not so easy Teresita! You don't know what a stoning is like!'
it only takes a little determination. On our way we'll beg our bread, and
once we reach the land of the Moors, they'll behead us. It'll all be over in
a moment. Just remember the rewards we'll get in heaven!' That settled it,
for what were Rodrigo's common sense and age worth when pitted against the
persuasive powers of la ni-a?
At daybreak the six-year-old Teresa and her
ten-year-old brother sneaked silently out of the house, their only provision
a few pieces of bread tied up in a napkin at the end of a stick. First they
went to the hermitage of Lazarus and prayed before the Virgin Mary's image
for Her blessings. Then, totally innocent of geography, they passed through
the city gates and took the road towards Salamanca, thinking that the land
of the Moors couldn't be too far. But there the truants were met by their
Uncle Francisco who hurried them home, where Do-a Beatriz and the other
children were in tears as the servants dragged the well in an effort to find
the missing ones.
Rodrigo suddenly forgot his pledge to die at the hands of
the Moors and began to fear an imminent spanking. 'I told you we shouldn't,
'O Rodrigo! How could I know?'
Foiled in her quest for martyrdom,
Teresa turned to the hermit-saints. With the help of Rodrigo she would build
hermitages in the garden by piling up stones, but they would immediately
tumble down again, or she and other little girls would transform the
courtyard into a convent and play nuns, la ni-a no doubt being the prioress.
This sort of play was quite natural, for in the Spain of those days, only
two doors were open to women - marriage with its consequent total submission
to a husband, or the convent.
Trained by the example of her compassionate
father, Teresa would give tiny alms. From her pious mother she acquired a
love to go off by herself to say her many daily prayers, especially the
rosary. Thus all her childhood instincts were moulded in purity and
As she grew a little bigger,
la ni-a picked up another liking from
her mother. The beautiful but frail Do-a Beatriz, though only in her late
twenties, was suffering the fate of many wives of that period - exhaustion
from repeated pregnancies; so could she be blamed for trying to find a
little relief and entertainment by reading tales of chivalry? Now as Teresa
would come and sit alone by her mother, Do-a Beatriz would still talk to her
of the saints and the Mother of God; but she also began to speak of her
favourite hero whose glories were related in the latest novel she was
reading, for Do-a Beatriz, who lived almost as a recluse those days, loved
to share with the appreciative Teresa all her private enthusiasms -
'private', because the austere Don Alonso would not have tolerated the
reading of romances in his house for a moment; so the submissive Do-a
Beatriz kept her books hidden.
Teresa was a girl of high spirits, and these
stories began to catch her imagination. Hearing of the love between a knight
and a lady she would ask, 'And they loved each other for ever and ever?'
'Yes, for ever,' the well-intentioned mother replied.
Then, in 1528, at the
age of thirty-three, Do-a Beatriz passed away, leaving behind seven sons and
two daughters of her own, besides the now grown-up children of Don Alonso's
first wife. She died so peacefully that she seemed to be but sleeping. Her
will read, 'I bequeath my soul to Almighty God who created and redeemed it
with His precious blood. I bequeath my body to the earth from which He
Teresa found herself alone in a world from which her mother
had protected her. She went at once to the hermitage of Lazarus, knelt
before the picture of Mary the Mother of God, and with tears asked Her to
take the place of her earthly mother.
Now the thirteen-year-old girl
suddenly became aware of her natural graces, which were considerable. She
found that the heads of young men turned irresistibly as she passed by, and
she felt a confusion of joy and shame. Had she not been initiated into the
chivalric romances, she perhaps would have avoided this dangerous pleasure
of flaunting her beauty, but as it was, she was now no longer happy unless
she had a new novel. The martyrs and hermits of her childhood were replaced
by Amadis de Gaule and other heroic knights. Inspired by these new ideals,
she began to feel such pleasure in hearing people praise her beauty that she
took great pains with her clothes and jewellery, hair and hands.
had always tried to prevent outsiders from entering his home, in order to
keep his children away from impure influences. Only his brother Francisco's
children were allowed entrance. Among these cousins of Teresa, there was one
girl a little older than her who was so frivolous that Do-a Beatriz had
tried to prevent even her from entering the compound. Now that Do-a Beatriz
had passed away, no one was successful in keeping this girl out, and soon
she became the great favourite of Teresa, who was bubbling over with the joy
and excitement of blossoming womanhood. The girl began to fritter away
Teresa's time with her idle chatter, and Teresa herself began to engage more
and more readily in frivolities.
There was another cousin, a young man
somewhat older than Teresa, who soon took a liking to her, and Teresa was
not indifferent to him. (At that time cousin-marriage was permitted in
Spain.) Abetted by the servants and encouraged by the frivolous girl-cousin,
their affair developed secretly. For la ni-a's part, even in dream she
couldn't do anything dishonourable; she had a twofold instinct for purity:
purity of the body and purity of reputation. She merely loved to be loved.
Though their relationship never went beyond sweet conversation, the danger
was always present. She fell further and further from the good instincts of
Luckily, three months after this affair began, she was sent
to a convent. Her elder half-sister Maria had just been married, and there
was no responsible woman left in the house to watch over la ni-a. Besides,
Don Alonso was beginning to worry about his sixteen-year-old Teresita's
inventive and fiery spirit; though he could believe no evil of this his
favourite child, he thought it safer to give her care to the Augustine
convent, Our Lady of Grace.
Our Lady of Grace, located outside the walls of
Avila, enjoyed great prestige. Girls of well-to-do families were sent there
for their education, which consisted more in the practice of virtue, the
deepening of their religious faith, and learning to manage a home, than it
did in formal book-learning.
For the first week there, Teresa was most
unhappy; not so much from being in a convent, but because of wounded honour:
she was afraid that others knew of her vanity. However, she herself had
already tired of frivolities; so after a week she was happier than she had
been outside. Here also she soon became the favourite of all; and in the
company of these devout nuns, the good instincts nurtured in her childhood
returned to protect and guide her. Still, the spirited girl had an intense
aversion to the idea of becoming a nun herself.
At home she had become an
excellent cook, skilled at embroidery, a stunning dancer, and had even
written a chivalric novel which was praised highly by all her relatives and
friends; but here at the convent she found something she could not do: weep
for God; and she felt jealous to see the nuns were doing so. This sense of
lack began to act as an acid to corrode her inordinate self-satisfaction.
There was one very devout nun in charge of all the young girls studying at
the convent. She even slept with the girls; and though strict, she commanded
the love of them all. This nun, Sister Maria, took a special interest in
Teresa: perhaps she saw something of solid worth in this girl of charm and
talent. Teresa, her defences somewhat weakened now, responded to Sister
Maria's affectionate care. She began to pray that God show her in what state
she might serve Him best, though at the same time she hoped that it wouldn't
be in a convent! Didn't people in Avila say, 'Teresa de Ahumada? She'll
marry whomsoever she likes'? - for she was perfect in every way. Yet she
disliked the idea of lifelong slavery to a husband even more than enclosure
in a convent, for now that she was away from her cousins, she found that
human love was not 'for ever and ever' after all. Thus this pretty and
charming young girl found herself trapped. The hand of Time was pushing her
forward towards only two doors, both of which looked forbidding:
imprisonment in a convent, or slavery to a husband.
Gradually her resistance
was further weakened, so that after passing over a year at the convent, she
was reconciled somewhat to becoming a nun. These Augustinians, however,
frightened her with their austere way of life; so she decided that if she
finally did enter a convent, it would be the Carmelite Convent of the
Incarnation outside Avila, where a close friend now lived and where the life
was a bit more accommodating.
While she was still vacillating between the
possibilities of marriage and the nun's veil, she fell ill and was taken
home by her father. After recovering somewhat, she was sent for recuperation
to her older sister Maria's in the countryside. On her way, Teresa stopped
at the house of her uncle, Don Pedro, a virtuous widower who spent his time
in the practice of devotions, acts of charity and reading good books, and
whose conversation was about God and the vanity of the world. He must have
been pleased with Teresa, as everyone who ever met her was. Perhaps in an
effort to give a good turn to her youthful enthusiasm, he asked her to read
to him. Though she wasn't keen to do so, she smiled and took from him a big
volume - the letters of St. Jerome, one of those Christian writers who
excelled at scaring people out of their wits. As she read aloud, she was
impressed again and again with the message, 'All is vanity, all is nothing,
all things pass away.' This thought, which she had vaguely sensed in her
early childhood, now reverberated through her mind and nerves. She was also
moved by the not-so-noble fear of hell which St. Jerome inspired in her. And
she began to think that, had she died during her recent illness, that's
exactly where she would have ended up! This fear of hell determined her to
force herself into a convent.
After recuperating in the countryside, she
returned to Avila. Once again she was the life of Don Alonso's home, but
within her the words still resounded, 'all is nothing.' She told her father
that she wanted to take the nun's veil. The pious gentleman was shocked. He
loved God and the Church, but must he sacrifice the heart of his heart, his
beloved Teresa, the very sight of whom filled him with joy? No, she must
wait until after his death, then she could do as she pleased.
the type to be so easily dissuaded. Just as she had once talked the older
Rodrigo into going with her to seek martyrdom, so she now inspired her
younger brother Antonio with a desire for the religious life. In the fall of
1536, at the age of twenty-one, Teresa set out before dawn with the
fourteen-year-old Antonio, much as she had left with Rodrigo for the land of
the Moors. But there was a difference: as she silently shut the door of the
house behind her, careful not to let anyone know what she was about, her
heart was filled with deepest misery instead of the excitement of adventure:
as yet she had no love for God to subdue her love for father and kinsfolk.
She was leaving because she knew she must, and her sense of honour was so
strong that once she had told her father and friends that she had decided to
do something, nothing could turn her back - her reading of the tales of
chivalry had not been for nothing. As the door shut to, she felt as though
all her bones were crushed. Only the innocent little Antonio's presence
forced her to pull herself together, for her code of honour would not allow
any show of weakness in front of a younger one. She had made Avila's motto
her own: Antes quebrar que doblar, to break oneself rather than yield, to
die rather than give up.
Antonio escorted her to the Convent of the
Incarnation, outside the town walls, and then proceeded to the Dominican
convent to become a friar preacher. As the Incarnation doors were bolted
behind her, Teresa reassured herself that 'all is nothing'. Inside, her
friend and the other nuns were there to greet her. (To be continued)
Reprinted from Prabuddha Bharata, 1980.
The Vedanta Way to Peace
by Swami Adiswarananda
Published 2004 by Skylight Paths
Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont,
USA ISBN 1-59473-034-2
Adiswarananda begins this new explanation of and approach to Vedanta
philosophy by addressing the question of its relevance in today's world. He
suggests that the emphasis of our society on science and technology has
caused a sense of crisis, causing many to seek solace in fanatical
movements. He goes on to prove that the principles of Vedanta are scientific
because they are verifiable and repeatable. He explains that "the human
individual is essentially a soul that uses its body and mind as instruments
to gain experience," and spends the next chapter explaining the Vedantic
view of the human condition in all its complexity.
The next section
addresses the question of faith or reason. He tells us that "philosophy
relies solely on reason, which tends to develop a mechanical outlook on
reality. Vedanta, on the other hand, relies neither on scripture, nor on
reason, nor on personal experience, nor on the alliance of the three. The
transformation of character is the only proof it accepts."
chapters include: Mastering the Restless Mind, Self-Expression or Self
Control? and The Mood for Meditation, ending with Liberation of the Soul.
The ninth of the twelve chapters deals with Four Steps Towards the Goal.
Here Swami Adiswarananda suggests the four steps towards the goal of direct
two hundred pages, plus extensive notes and glossary, this is a most concise
and yet comprehensive introduction to Vedanta philosophy for either complete
beginners to the subject or those who know something but wish to understand
more. There are quotations from various scriptures scattered throughout the
book and a page of Credits which includes references to most of the texts
used. In short, a most complete reference book on Vedanta.