When the sun sinks behind the western skyline, when shadows thicken and merge in the enveloping gloom, when from the horizon the carpet of stillness spreads across the twilit world, a simple ritual is performed in scores of ashramas and in thousands of homes in adoration of a being known to the world as Sri Ramakrishna. In a special room or corner of a room set apart for his unseen presence, incense is burnt and lights are waved, and often there is group singing of songs and hymns of praise and supplication.
Every one of us has probably felt the beneficial influence of silence. Even the busiest people need to have breaks of silence in their work. Silence seems to be a necessary factor in our lives, yet we do not always realize the implications of the quietness we unconsciously seek and enjoy when we take a walk in a solitary meadow or in a forest or on a mountain. These quiet recreations may not occur very often, but when they do we cannot forget the spell that such solitary communion with nature leaves upon us.
In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, M[ahendranath Gupta] records a Sunday afternoon with some visitors to Dakshineswar in the winter of 1883. One of the visitors was well versed in the shastras [the sacred Hindu scriptures], and the conversation caused M. to fall into a pensive mood. Having some knowledge of Vedanta, he later asked Sri Ramakrishna, “Is the world unreal?”
In ancient days, long, long, ago, a sage of the Upanishads declared: “I have known that supreme Being who is beyond the ocean of infinite darkness, by knowing whom only one can conquer death. There is no other way.” Perhaps that is the earliest document still in existence of a person who came face to face with the ultimate reality.
In India, when a disciple comes to a teacher, the teacher tries first of all to give the student a firm faith in himself or herself, and a feeling that weakness and cowardice and failure have no part in their true nature. Almost the first words that Sri Krishna says to his disciple in the second book of the Bhagavad Gita are: "What is this weakness? It is beneath you. . . . Shake off this cowardice, Arjuna. Stand up!