May Kalpataru grace your life! 

Roberto Jahn

The 137th anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna’s self-revelation is marked by the Kalpataru  festival of the Ramakrishna Order. On January 1, 1886, he changed into a Kalpataru tree  and revealed his true identity as an Avatar. He rewarded his followers by dispersing love  and compassion as he entered trance and transformed into the wish-fulfilling tree of the  

celestial world. ”I bless you all. May up all be illumined!” Intoxication, tranquillity, and  complete immersion in God’s bliss were among the states of joy that devotees who tasted  that highest divine love experienced. On January 1st, even today, Sri Ramakrishna is  thought to answer the prayers of his devotees. 

Ramakrishna, the Interreligious Avatar 

A growing number of people around the world see Ramakrishna (1836-1886) as the  avatar who saved Hinduism and turned the Vedanta tradition into a religion without  borders.  

His ‘Harmony of Religions’ as it is known in the Ramakrishna tradition, has become a  particularly significant and urgent issue for all people because religious conflicts and  communal strife have taken on severe proportions in present-day India.   More than a  century ago the mystic brought the world the ancient Vedic notion that all faiths lead to  the same eternal truth.  Pravrajika Vrajaprana: “Ramakrishna made the Vedanta  universal in its application and equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all  religious backgrounds”. However, many critics attempt to confine Ramakrishna’s  viewpoints to a single philosophical school, such as Tantra, Advaita, or Viśiṣṭādvaita. In  contrast, Swami Medhananda (Ayon Maharaj) is of the opinion that “Vijñāna Vedanta” is  the most accurate way to describe Ramakrishna’s “resolutely nonsectarian worldview— rooted in his own mystical experience of vijñāna (perennial knowledge)—that  harmonizes conflicting religious faiths, sectarian philosophies, and spiritual disciplines”.  Like the Rig Veda says: “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” – Truth is One, the wise speak  off it differently. 

What exactly is an avatar? A virtual character created on the internet? My virtual self? The term Avatara is derived from the Sanskrit ‘ava’ (down) and ‘tr’ (to cross), that which  is passed down or descends. Indian traditions see an avatar as a beacon of light in the  world, one who,  in Swami Vivekananda’s words,  has the mission to change the destiny  of people.  An avatar is someone who has the fullest and highest God-realization.  A  “descent” of the divine principle, fully or partially, in a human form, an embodiment of  the Ultimate Truth , Brahman.  As far as I understand,  Brahman reveals itself through  avatars and can assume any form -whether divine, human, animal, hybrid forms, or even  vegetal.  In different places and ages. Both temporarily and permanently.  Buddha, Jesus,  Krishna, Lao-tse, Tulasi, Hanuman, Garuda,  Ramakrishna, and Saraada Devi,  are all  considered examples of avatars of different quality categories of consciousness. 

I should mention though that some Hindu schools of thought like Avaitins and members  of the Arya Samaj,  do not believe in avatars and also do not acknowledge at all the claim  that Ramakrishna is a divine embodiment. Additionally, the Vedas and Upanishads  didn’t elaborate much on the idea of an avatar. Nevertheless, at the time of the making of  the great Histories [ithasas], it was believed that God could descend to earth, and this was established in basic form in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna explains to Arjuna how he,  Vishnu, descends to the world: 

I have been born many times, Arjuna, and many times hast thou been born. But I remember my past lives, and thou hast forgotten thine. Although I am unborn, everlasting, I am the Lord of all, I come to my realm of nature and through my wondrous power, I am born. When righteousness is weak and faints and unrighteousness exults in pride, then my Spirit arises on earth. For the salvation of those who are good, for the destruction of evil in men, for the fulfillment of the kingdom of righteousness, I come in the world in the ages that pass. He who knows my birth as God and who knows my sacrifice, when he leaves his mortal body, goes no more from death to death, but he in truth comes to me.” (Bhagavad-Gita: 4: 5-9) 

The spread of the “avatara” doctrine in numerous Hindu traditions was greatly inspired  by this text.  It is believed by bhakti traditions in particular,  that gurus, saints, and  elevated bhaktas often manifest the divine during periods of dharma decline. “The idea of the avatar reassures us that we are not alone in our spiritual process. Just as  we strive upward, to ascend to our highest ideal, the highest divinity also descends to  meet us, with an outstretched hand to lift us from the ocean of rebirth–the torment of  delusion and suffering–and raise us to the level of divinity by the grace of God,” as Jeffery  Long points out when he discussed the concept of avatars at the Washington Vedanta  Society in 2018.    

Embodiment and Incarnation. Two views.  

Hindu and Christian ideas about the sending of celestial energy to illumine an earthly  being are strikingly similar in many aspects. 

Both the Hindu embodiment and Christian incarnation promise liberation to humanity. According to Hindu belief, the embodied God may aid humanity in developing positive  dharma, reducing the number of future rebirths, or providing self-realisation to  devotees, so they become free of the cycle of samsara. 

Christian Incarnation belief offers humanity complete salvation through the forgiveness  of sins and the promise of eternal life with God in his kingdom.  

Both the Christian Incarnation and Hindu avatars, in significant ways, demonstrate  God’s active participation in the world and underscore the value of love.  The avatar idea  places a strong emphasis on “bhakti,” or selfless devotion to the ‘Ishtadevata’, the chosen  deity of the devotee, as shown in ritual, singing, and prayer, tender and compassionate  acts of love, and ethical and decent living. In Hindu thought, the avatar remains divine  even while being human. While in the Christian ‘Incarnation’ God visibly moved in with  the material world to help us overcome the illusion of separation (John 1:14). The  Incarnation (becoming fully flesh) is both human and divine at the same time. The major distinction is that Hinduism perceives an endless manifestation of avatars,  but Christians see the Incarnation as a singular event.  

The Wishing Tree 

In Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, the Kalpataru tree is a revered, wish granting symbol of devotional service. According to environmentalist Dr. Nanditha  Krishna, it is a common subject in art and has even been adapted as an Islamic art motif.  Since all spiritual ways lead to the same Ultimate Truth if they are followed with whole hearted devotion, this tree with its enormous trunks and leafy branches bearing a variety of fruits is a wonderfully appropriate symbol of Ramakrishna’s trans-religious  message. 

The only disciple present at the time Ramakrishna turned into the wish-fulfilling tree  was Swami Saradananda. Later, Saradananda said that “Kalpataru Day” is a bit  misleading because the mythical Kalpataru tree (God), who grants wishes, grants  anything, good or bad. Despite Swami Saradananda’s protests, this day continued to be  celebrated within the Ramakrishna order. So can we ask God for anything? The Christian  viewpoint is that praying and asking God for favors is not childish. They believe that if  we love and serve one another as God like Christ has loved and served us all, God would  bless us with rewards because we live as people after his own heart!  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be  done for you (John 15:7).  Christians believe God gives us carte blanche in answering our  prayers if we pray in faith!   Just like Krishna says to Arjuna in the final chapter of  the Bhagavad Gita, Verse 18.66, “… surrender completely to my will (with faith and  loving devotion). I shall liberate you. Do not fear!” When virtuous desires are satisfied,  the mind expands, Sri Ramakrishna reassured his followers: “Pray to God. He is full of  compassion. Will He not listen to the words of His devotee? He is the Kalpataru. You will  get whatever you desire from Him.  But you must remember another thing. God knows  our inner feeling. A man gets the fulfillment of the desire he cherishes while practicing  sadhana. As one thinks, so one receives!” 

Love and Devotion 

Blessed are those with faith and devotion in their hearts. Sri Ramakrishna taught that spiritual life is the essential core of all religions and serves as an illustrative  example of a man after God’s own heart.  

“Do you know what the truth is? God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times, and countries. “Yata mat tata path”, As many faiths as many  paths, but a path is by no means God Himself.  One can only reach God if one follows any  of the paths with complete devotion”. Ramakrishna makes it quite obvious that Bhakti is  an integral component of all spiritual paths, not just a stepping stone to Jnana.  The  Utimate Truth according to Ramakrishna, is both personal and impersonal and is  referred to by various names in various religions. Similar to how water forms into ice, so  under the cooling influence of Bhakta’s love, the transcendent appears as the lovable  God. Underlined once more in his Gospel: ‘The bliss of worship and communion with  God is the true wine, the wine of ecstatic love. The goal of human life is to love God, the  only thing that matters is Bhakti.” In all of his teachings, Ramakrishna emphasizes the  necessity of having a heart that is eager to achieve an intensely personal relationship  with God. ‘It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God with form or in God without  form. You may or may not believe that God incarnates as a human being. But you will  realize God if you have that longing. Then, God, Himself will let you know what He is  like!” The Ultimate Truth will be revealed by him when you love and reach out to him. 

Essentially, in my opinion, Ramakrishna always remained a bhakta who taught that the  goal of life is loving devotion to God. 

He believed that in order to advance from ignorance to the epitome of human  potential—the understanding of one’s own divinity—we should aim our emotions  toward God. Ramakrishna served as the Avatar via which God himself came to teach seekers how to cultivate greater loving awareness. Just fall in love with God, surrender,   and find His everlasting love. “I never feel like proclaiming, “I am Brahman,” as he  expressed it. “Thou art my Lord, and I am Thy servant,” I declare. Every deed of selfless  love, devotion, and surrender is merely a step toward divine grace. Our sense of  buoyancy comes from this flow of bhakti, and as a result, our ego will gradually diminish  our true nature as Supreme Consciousness. 

To conclude this article, I would like to go back to the Kalpataru tree’s significance.  Swami Chetanananda puts the matter incisively “God does not become the kalpataru  only on one day; God is always the kalpataru. If we meditate daily on this Lila of the  Master, then he will appear before us every day as the kalpataru.”  As Sri Ramakrishna puts it, devotion toward an  avatar (God) is sufficient for apavarga, spiritual liberation. 

May you enjoy the bliss of God! 

________________________

References: 

Vrajaprana, Pravrajika., 1999. Vedanta: A Simple Introduction. Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press.  Bassuk, D.E.,  1987. Incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press  International. 

Martin, Jerry L.  2022, Religions without borders, Routledge New York 

Ayon Maharaj, 2017, God Is Infinite, and the Paths to God Are Infinite, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda  University 

Swami Chetanananda, 2018, See God with open Eyes, Vedanta Society of St Louis 

Swami Bhajanananda, 2008, Harmony of Religions, RKM Institute of Culture, Kolkata Krishna, N., 2017, Hinduism and Nature, Penguin Books, India 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kripa_(philosophy) 

https://ramakrishna.org/formsofdevotion1.html 

https://medium.com/@longjd/the-idea-of-the-avatar-ramakrishna-buddha-christ-94e69773a17 http://www.vivekananda.net/BooksOnSwami/Gospel/25.html


Roberto Jahn lives in Spain. Earlier he lived in USA,  Surinaam and Holland.  He is a student of Advaita Vedanta.

Roberto is Rooms Katholiek, Vedantin en een voorstander van interreligieuze dialoog. Hij woont in Spanje. Daarvoor woonde hij in Suriname, de Verenigde Staten en in Nederland.