One time Sri Ramakrishna asked M, the author of the Gospel, “Let me ask you something. What do you think of me?” M remained silent, so again Ramakrishna asked him. “What do you think of Me. How many annas of knowledge do I have?”
M relied, “I don’t understand what you mean by the word ‘annas’. But of this I am sure: I have never before seen such knowledge, ecstatic love, faith in God, renunciation and catholicity anywhere.” Later he said, “You are like a hole in a wall, through which one can see a vast expanse of meadow. It is not possible to recognize you. The more a man understands you, the more uplifted he will be.” Ramakrishna replied, “That is enough”.
I often remember this description of Sri Ramakrishna: “A hole in a wall through which a vast expand of meadow” can be seen. Chid-ghana-kaya. Consciousness made concrete, made tangible… A form behind which there is only Light, and through which we too will reach Light.
We are all Vedantins. We are all gathered here because, at the beginning and at the end of the day, we want to see God. This was the same desire that drove Naren to the feet of Sri Ramakrishna.
When I was a very young boy being raised in Jewish religious schools I was captivated by the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. It was the first time in the Bible, or the Tenach, as it is called in Hebrew, that Moses saw God in a physical form and heard his voice. The very first words from God were ones very familiar to Vedantans, “Moses, remove your shoes, you are in a holy place.”
When Moses asked humbly to know God’s name, God used another familiar Vedantic refrain. God said that He should be known as, “I Am”. In Hebrew, the words mean “existence itself”.
Here for the first time in the Bible was God presenting himself to a worthy devotee in physical form, and heat and flame were the symbols used to capture and focus the attention of a shaken and prostrate Moses.
In “Words of the Master”, compiled by Swami Brahmananda, Sri Ramakrishna says, “God with form and God without form are not two different Beings. He Who is with form is also without form.
Sri Ramakrishna continues, “To a devotee God manifests Himself in various forms. Just think of a shoreless ocean – and infinite expanse of water – no land visible in any direction; only here and there are visible blocks of ice formed by intense cold. Similarly, under the cooling influence, so to say, of the deep devotion of His worshipper, the infinite reduces Himself into the Finite and appears before him as a Being with form.
He ends by saying, “Again, as on the appearance of the sun the ice melts away, so on the appearance of the sun and bright warmth of knowledge, God with form melts away into the formless.”
The key here is that with genuine devotion, which gently cools the heart, God will manifest for the devotee in physical form. We’ve seen that not only with the appearance of avatara in their lifetimes, but also when we celebrate the Divine Mother as she appears as a living Kali, or on Shivaratram, when we witness the living presence of Shiva. Time and space are never obstacles for the Divine Presence, just as with Moses on Mount Moab, or the Gopis in Brindavan who saw and experienced Krishna exclusively, one by one, as their very own.
What a remarkable view of this world that Sri Ramakrishna has provided us. Just focus on cooling your heart with sweet devotion to the Absolute, or suffuse yourself with the warmth of pure knowledge of it, and God, as it did for Sri Ramakrishna, will manifest Its living form just for you as It has before for so many others who focus on his single one sweet instruction, “Think of Me and Me alone.”