M (the author, a disciple): Sir, ‘what is the meaning of the realization of God? What do you mean by God-vision? How does on attain it?’
A. Master (Sri Ramakrishna) : According to the Vaisnavas the aspirants and the seers of God may be divided into different groups. These are the prvartaka, the sadhaka, the siddha and the siddha of the siddha. He who has just set foot on the path may be called a pravartaka. He may be called a sadhaka who has for some time been practicing spiritual disciplines, such as worship, japa, meditation and the chanting of God’s names and glories. He may be called a siddha who has known from his inner experience that God exists. An analogy is given in the Vedanta to explain this. The master of the house is asleep in a dark room. Someone is groping in the darkness to find him. He touches the couch and says, ‘no, it is not he’. He touches the window and says, ‘no, it is not he’. He touches the door and says, ‘no, it is not he’. This is known in the Vedanta as the process of ‘Neti, neti”, ‘Not this, not this”. At last his hand touches the master’s body and he exclaims, ‘Here he is!’ In other words, he is now conscious of the ‘existence’ of the master. He has found him, but he doesn’t yet know him intimately.
There is another type, known as the siddha of the siddha, the ‘supremely perfect’. It is quite a different thing when one talks to the master intimately, when one knows God very intimately through love and devotion. A siddha has undoubtedly attained God, but the ‘supremely perfect’ has known God very intimately.
B. But in order to realize God, one must assume of these attitudes, santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya or madhur.santa, the serene attitude. The rishis of olden times had this attitude toward Go. They did not desire any worldly enjoyment. It is like the single minded devotion of a wife to her husband. She knows that her husband is the embodiment of beauty and love, a veritable madan (god of love).
Dasya, the attitude of a servant toward his master. (Hanuman had this attitude toward Rama. He felt the strength of a lion when he worked for Rama). A wife feels this mood also she serves her husband with all her heart and soul. A mother also has a little of this attitude, (as Yasoda had toward Krishna).
Sakhya, the attitude of friendship. Friends say to one another ‘Come here and sit near me”(Sridama and other friends sometimes fed Krishna with fruit, part of which they had already eaten, and sometimes climbed on His shoulders).
atsalya, the attitude of a mother toward her child. (This was Yasoda’s attitude toward Krishna).The wife, too, has a little of this. She feeds her husband with her very life-blood, a it were. The mother feels happy only when the child has eaten to his heart’s content. (Yasoda would roam about with butter in her hand, in order to feed Krishna).
Madhur, the attitude of a woman toward her paramour. (Radha had this attitude toward Krishna). The wife also feels it for her husband. This attitude includes all the other four.
(pp. 114-15, dated August 14, 1882)
I came across this text recently, while reading the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a journal of conversations, events and descriptions, through which a disciple, referred to as M, allows us to follow not only the thoughts but also the contexts and relationships in which these thoughts were articulated. Ramakrishna was a great mystic, and to this day is one of India’s best known spiritual luminaries. He is the spiritual figurehead of the Ramakrishna order, to which Swami Atmapriyananda belongs, and I offer this text which comes from his tradition, with the hope that he can further amplify upon the text as needed.
I was struck by this text’s relevance to our project in two ways. First, it allows us to focus on the question of what exactly do we mean when we speak of entering the spiritual life. Second, it takes our discussion from the point of entry to an exploration of the drive that allows us to move along the spiritual path. I have divided the section accordingly into A and B. In part B I added parentheses to the various references of stories from Hindu scriptures, that Ramakrishna uses to illustrate his point. I had initially removed these stories, so as to make the text stand out beyond the Hindu context, but then felt it would be better to deal with the possible difficulty of a reader not understanding the references simply by bracketing them.
Part A makes us aware of different levels of the spiritual life. Knowledge of God and love of God are the two features that characterize the spiritual life in its entirety. The most obvious place to identify as the entry into the spiritual life is where someone “has just set foot on the path”. However, the use of the metaphor (path) does not clarify what that means. Is this the religious life as practiced broadly? Is it a more focused quest? Is it an expression of intentionality, with the intent of reaching further along?
A second point that might be identified as entering is the point at which the aspirant has found the master. From this perspective, entry into the spiritual life would be entry into the spiritual reality, now recognized as real, with some degree of recognition of the master. I note that some of our contributions, such as that of Ruben Habito, have understood our theme in this sense, namely the point of entry into the spiritual reality, recognized consciously.
Both these points are followed by other stages leading further along. The initial point of entry is followed by various religious practices, including worship and various techniques of meditation. Is the whole scope of the religious life included here? If so, then setting the foot on the path really is the most rudimentary expression of intent.
The recognition of the master is followed by deepening of relationship through love and devotion, so that God is known intimately.
Intimate knowledge of God is thus the goal. The various stages leading up to it define either entry points or important stations along the way.
Part B makes us aware that moving along the path is a function of the attitude that we bring to the process. It seems that entry into the spiritual life is not sufficient in and of itself. Even the rituals and meditations, mentioned in the second stage, will not suffice for purposes of advancement along the spiritual path. Rather, advancement requires some basic drive, an attitude that allows one to move along the path. Simplified, Ramakrishna offers us focused intentionality, service, friendship, maternal care and erotic love as the models that drive us along the way, with the latter emerging as the most powerful. If the choice of categories is not obvious, the Hindu tales brought by Ramakrishna may do much to account for the choice of categories. These categories invite reflection and contribution from other traditions, concerning what might be the drives that enable us to move along the spiritual path.