Read an Excerpt
From the chapter, "Master and Disciple", that documents one of the initial conversations between M, the chronicler of The Gospel, and the Master, Sri Ramakrishna.
M had yet to learn the distinction between knowledge and ignorance. Up to this time he had thought that one got knowledge from books and schools. Later on he gave up this false idea. He was taught that to know God is knowledge, and not to know Him, ignorance. When Sri Ramakrishna exclaimed, "And you are a jnani!" M's ego was again badly shocked.
MASTER: "Well, do you believe in God with form or without form?"
M, rather surprised, said to himself: "How can one believe in God without form when one believes in God with form? And if one believes in God without form, how can one believe that God has a form? Can these two contradictory ideas be true at the same time? Can a white liquid like milk be black?"
M: "Sir, I like to think of God as formless."
MASTER: "Very good. It is enough to have faith in either aspect. You believe in God without form; that is quite all right. But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form. But hold fast to your own conviction."
The assertion that both are equally true amazed M; he had never learnt this from his books. Thus his ego received a third blow; but since it was not yet completely crushed, he came forward to argue with the Master a little more.
M: "Sir, suppose one believes in God with form. Certainly He is not the clay image!"
MASTER (interrupting): "But why clay? It is an image of Spirit."
M could not quite understand the meaning of this "image of Spirit." "But, sir," he said to the Master, "one should explain to those who worship the clay image that it is not God, and that, while worshipping it, they should have God in view and not the clay image. One should not worship clay."
MASTER (sharply): "That's the one hobby of you Calcutta people - giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others?
"He who is the Lord of the Universe will teach everyone. He alone will teach us, who has created this universe; who has made the sun and moon, men and beasts, and all other beings; who has provided means for their sustenance; who has given children parents and endowed them with love to bring them up. The Lord has done so many things - will He not show people the way to worship Him? If they need teaching, then He will be the Teacher. He is our Inner Guide.
"Suppose there is an error in worshipping the clay image; doesn't God know that through it He alone is being invoked? He will be pleased with that very worship. Why should you get a headache over it? You had better try for knowledge and devotion yourself."
This time M felt that his ego was completely crushed. He now said to himself: "Yes, he has spoken the truth. What need is there for me to teach others? Have I known God? Do I really love Him? How true is the proverb: I haven't room enough for myself in my bed, and I am inviting a friend to share it with me! I know nothing about God, yet I am trying to teach others. What a shame! How foolish I am! This is not mathematics or history or literature, that one can teach it to others. No, this is the deep mystery of God. What he says appeals to me."
This was M's first argument with the Master, and happily his last.
MASTER: "You were talking of worshipping the clay image. Even if the image is made of clay, there is need for that kind of worship. God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge."
"The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares various dishes from it - pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so on - to suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.
"Do you understand me?"
M (humbly): "Yes, sir. How, sir, may I fix my mind on God?"
MASTER: "Repeat God's name and sing His glories, and now and then visit God's devotees and holy men. The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities; it is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult, in the beginning, unless one practises meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around; otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle."
"There are three ways of meditating: think of God while doing your duties, or meditate on Him in a secluded corner of your house, or contemplate Him in a wood. And you should always discriminate between the Real, and the unreal: God alone is real, the Eternal Substance; all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind."
M (humbly): "How ought we to live the world?"
MASTER: "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.
"A maidservant in the house of a rich man performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village. She brings up her master's children as if they were her own. She even speaks of them as 'my Rama' or 'my Hari.' But in her own mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all.
"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."