November 2019

Scholars on Sri Ramakrishna



Can a connection between the scientific and mystical framesof reference be established over and beyond a certainmetaphysical parallelism? The answer lies perhaps in the factthat Indian mysticism, at least as far as its leading representativesare concerned, has evolved as much in the past hundred yearsas the science of physics itself, in a direction that points towardan inevitable convergence of the two. From its modernawakening with Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda,Eastern mysticism has begun to adapt its revelations to theentirely different cultural framework provided by science andtechnology, without in any way sacrificing what is valid in itstraditional understanding of the phenomenon itself. The truedeparture occurred with the life and writings of Sri Aurobindowho began to wield India’s traditional metaphysics to theconcept of a modified and purposeful Evolution—quite adeparture for the offspring of a culture that had consistentlyignored the spiritual significance of time and history.


‘The further you go towards the East,’ Sri Ramakrishna wasfond of saying, ‘the further you go away from the West.’ This isone of those apparently childish remarks, which we meet with sooften among the writings and recorded sayings of religiousteachers. But it is an apparent childishness that masks a realprofundity. Within this absurd little tautology there lies, in a stateof living, seminal latency, a whole metaphysic, a completeprogramme of action. It is, of course, the same philosophy andthe same way of life as were referred to by Jesus in those sayingsabout the impossibility of serving two masters, and the necessityof seeking first the kingdom of God and waiting for all the rest tobe added. Egoism and alter-egoism (or the idolatrous service of individuals, groups, and causes with which we identify ourselvesso that their success flatters our own ego) cut us off from theknowledge and experience of reality….Egoism and alter-egoism advise us to remain firmlyensconced in the West, looking after our own human affairs. Butif we do this, our affairs will end by going to pot…. Whereas if we ignore the counsels of egoism and alter-egoism, andresolutely march toward the divine East, we shall create forourselves the possibility of receiving the grace of enlightenmentand, at the same time, we shall find that existence in our physical,Western home is a great deal more satisfactory than it was whenwe devoted our attention primarily to the improvement of ourhuman lot.


Sri Ramakrishna’s message was unique in being expressed in action. The message itself was the perennial message of Hinduism…. In the Hindu view, each of the higher religions is atrue vision and a right way, and all of them alike areindispensable to mankind, because each gives a differentglimpse of the same truth, and each leads by a different route tothe same goal of human endeavours. Each, therefore, has aspecial spiritual value of its own which is not to be found in anyof the others.To know this is good, but it is not enough. Religion is not justa matter for study ; it is something that has to be experienced andto be lived, and this is the field in which Sri Ramakrishnamanifested his uniqueness. He practised successively almost

every form of Indian religion and philosophy, and he went on topractise Islam and Christianity as well. His religious activity andexperience were, in fact, comprehensive to a degree that hadperhaps never before been attained by any other religiousgenius, in India or elsewhere. His devotion to God in thepersonal form of the Great Mother did not prevent him fromattaining the state of ‘contentless consciousness’— an absoluteunion with absolute spiritual Reality.Sri Ramakrishna made his appearance and delivered hismessage at the time and the place at which he and his messagewere needed. This message could hardly have been deliveredby anyone who had not been brought up in the Hindu religioustradition. Sri Ramakrishna was born in Bengal in 1836. He wasborn into a world that, in his lifetime, was, for the first time, beingunited on a literally world-wide scale. Today we are still living inthis transitional chapter of the world’s history, but it is alreadybecoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginningwill have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race. In the present age, the world hasbeen united on the material plane by Western technology. Butthis Western skill has not only ‘annihilated distance’ ; it hasarmed the peoples of the world with weapons of devastatingpower at a time when they have been brought to point-blankrange of each other without yet having learnt to know and loveeach other. At this supremely dangerous moment in humanhistory, the only way of salvation for mankind is an Indian way.The Emperor Ashoka’s and the Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna’s testimony to the harmonyof religions ; here we have the attitude and the spirit that canmake it possible for the human race to grow together into asingle family—and, in the Atomic Age, this is the only alternativeto destroying ourselves.

In the Atomic Age the whole human race has a utilitarianmotive for following this Indian way. No utilitarian motive couldbe stronger or more respectable in itself. The survival of thehuman race is at stake. Yet even the strongest and mostrespectable utilitarian motive is only a secondary reason fortaking Ramakrishna’s and Gandhi’s and Ashoka’s teaching toheart and acting on it. The primary reason is that this teaching isright—and is right because it flows from a true vision of spiritual reality.