By Swami Bhajanananda
Swami Bhajanananda was the editor of Prabuddha Bharata from 1979 through 1986, and has contributed many articles to various Vedanta journals. Swami Bhajanananda is an Assistant-Secretary and Trustee of the Ramakrishna Order. This four-part article was published in two parts in Prabuddha Bharata, in March and April of 1982.
Sri Ramakrishna was not a mere ideal man or a world teacher, but was a unique being endowed with the supra-human attributes of the Divine Person. Even during his lifetime he had become an object of worship, and several great scholars, spiritual adepts and religious leaders had considered him an avatar. Today he is being worshipped by millions of people belonging to all strata of society, casts, creeds and nationalities. And this universal acceptance is not the result of organized proselytization but a spontaneous product of the intuition of the human soul for things divine. It was this natural conviction that prompted Western savants like Max Muller and Romain Rolland to become his admirers. Introducing Sri Ramakrishna to his Western readers, Romain Rolland wrote, “Allowing for differences of county and of time, Ramakrishna is the younger brother of our Christ.” This kind of extraordinary charisma cannot be explained only on the basis of the humanity of Sri Ramakrishna.
Another evidence of the supernatural in Sri Ramakrishna comes from the Master’s inborn spiritual traits and extraordinary experiences. The vast range of his experiences, which included not only all the ideals of Hinduism but also the ideals of other religions, is unprecedented. No less astonishing is the rapidity with which he touched the peak of every type of religious experience, to attain anyone of which an ordinary saint or sage usually takes a lifetime.
Yet another evidence of the supra-human dimension of Sri Ramakrishna’s personality lies in the great spiritual power he wielded. Transformation of character is a difficult process. More difficult is the transformation of consciousness or spiritual awakening. Both take years to achieve. But Sri Ramakrishna could bring these changes in a very short time. He could raise the consciousness of people to a higher plane by a touch, a look or a mere wish. A measure of the Master’s spiritual power may be gathered from the large number of great souls whom he awakened, illumined and guided. Only a super-human divine Center can keep in orbital circulation a galaxy of such first-magnitude spiritual stars as Vivekananda, Brahmananda and Nag Mahashaya.
Every saint and sage is not an avatar. According to Swami Vivekananda, an avatar is born only once in five hundred years or so. An avatar is not a passive being who only enjoys the worship of his devotees. He is a special manifestation of the Divine who is endowed with supreme powers and shoulders super-human responsibilities for universal welfare out of boundless love and compassion for suffering humanity. In order to understand the avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna, it is necessary to study the characteristic features and functions of an avatar and how far they are fulfilled in Sri Ramakrishna. Owing to limitations of space it is possible only to mention briefly some of these here.
Furthermore, the avatar gives a tremendous boost to the spiritual evolution of mankind. The birth of an incarnation is marked by the signs of spiritual awakening all over the world. Swami Vivekananda has said that in this age Sri Ramakrishna has awakened the cosmic kundalini by his fervent prayers.
An adorable form alone is not enough to attract people to God. They need divine lilas stories or myths. The lila or divine myth of one particular age becomes inadequate in a subsequent age. With the birth of a new avatar starts a new lila. Through his lila the incarnation teaches people how to put into practice the new ideals of the age he himself has developed.
Those who make a reverent study of the life of Sri Ramakrishna and meditate upon him with devotion alone understand how the above mentioned characteristics of the avatar were fulfilled in his unique personality and life.
Though the great prophets of the world have in common the traits and functions mentioned above, each one of them is a unique and special manifestation of the Divine. What are the unique features of the avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna? The most obvious of these are its modernity and authenticity. The life he lived was not much different from that of the average modern Indian. The events of his life are not lost in the haze of legend and history, but have been meticulously recorded. Another unique feature is his message of all-round harmony. But the most distinctive feature of his personality is that it embodied the spiritual consciousness of all other earlier incarnations. So great is the plasticity of his divine mold that Sri Ramakrishna could appear as different gods and goddesses as he did to many of his disciples, and as he still continues to do to the members of his far-flung spiritual family. To try to understand this unique phenomenon is to forget the limitations of the human mind.
We have seen that Sri Ramakrishna’s personality has individual, universal and divine dimensions. The Ramakrishna ideal stands for the ideal man of the age, the world teacher and the deity. It is this composite ideal that Swami Vivekananda has placed before mankind as its goal and way. In a letter dated 25 September, 1894, Swamiji has with deep humility and fervid conviction invited the whole world to partake of the nectar of knowledge, bliss and immortality that this ideal stands for. “That nectar which has been obtained by churning the infinite ocean of the Vedas, into which Brahma, Visnu, Siva and other gods have poured their strength, which is charged with the life-essence of the avataras—Gods incarnate on earth—Sri Ramakrishna holds that nectar in his person, in its fullest measure!”
The future of mankind may depend upon the way it responds to this call.