Sunday, April 26, 2009

Visiting the Ramakrishna Temple of Dhaka

Hand of Rama Krishna1.
"Can you weep for Him with intense longing of heart? Men shed a jugful of tears for the sake of their children, for their wives, or for money. But who weeps for God? So long as the child remains engrossed with its toys, the mother looks after her cooking and other household duties. But when the child no longer relishes the toys, it throws them aside and yells for its mother. Then the mother takes the rice-pot down from the hearth, runs in haste, and takes the child in her arms. (Like that cry out for God and thus you shall attain).

You have been born in this world as a human being to worship God; therefore try to acquire love for His Lotus Feet. Why do you trouble yourself to know a hundred other things? What will you gain by discussing philosophy? Look here, one ounce of liquor is enough to intoxicate you. What is the use of your trying to find out how many gallons of liquor there are in the tavern?"

- from the sayings of Ramakrishna

2.
Sri Sri Ramakrishna (February 18, 1836 - August 16, 1886) was a remarkable mysticsaint of Bengal, may God be well pleased with him. For his profound divine wisdom, his spiritual title was the Great Swan (Paramahamsa). He truly was a living example of one whom the sufis call majdhub (God-intoxicated one) of 19th century and still today remains as one of the most celebrated saint.

Born in a simple Brahmin Vaishnava family in rural Bengal, he became priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, dedicated to goddess Kali, which had the influence of the main strands of Bengali bhakti tradition. His first spiritual teacher was an ascetic woman skilled in Tantra and Vaishnava bhakti. Later an Advaita Vedantin ascetic taught him non-dual meditation, and according to Ramakrishna, he experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi under his guidance. Ramakrishna also experimented with other religions, notably Islam and Christianity, and said that they all lead to the same God.

3.
I have always felt a great spiritual affinity with Ramakrishna. His great inclusiveness and compassionate love for all faith traditions resonate always and its easy to fall in love with this simple minded yet God intoxicated mystic. One of his remarkable 'Christ like' ability was to speak of highest wisdom using the simplest parables of daily life. Whenever I pick up the Gospel of Ramakrishna (Kathamrita) I instantly fall in love with his words again and again. Its more so perhaps because he is from my native land, he spoke the same language as my mother tongue and embodied the inclusive spiritual nature of this fertile land that have made ample room for multiplicity of spiritual traditions. As a genuine mystic Ramakrishna truly believed at his core that the infinitely expansive Door of Divine Mother welcomes all and excludes none no matter in what form the children of Divine Mother worship and adore Her.

There are many missions established by Ramakrishna and his disciples across India as well as in my native country Bangladesh. Each of this mission not only work as a place for teaching of higher truth but also deeply engaged in wholesome educational and social work. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit Dhaka Ramakrishna Mission located at the junction of Old and New Dhaka.


Even though the mission ground is part of the chaotic city landscape, yet once one enter the compound the energy is quite different, specially surrounding the temple located inside. The library of the mission is also a beautiful resource. I was surprised to find some very good sufi books collected along with books of hindu tradition. It was heart warming to see that the students of Ramakrishna haven't forgotten their master's love for the sufi path.

The interconnectedness of language and that which is conveyed as sacred is a favorite subject of mine. While reading and glancing few books from the mission library on hinduism, what occurred to me is that the spirituality embodied and expressed in the language of the land is far more powerful than spirituality that is foreign and imported. What I mean needs some explanation perhaps.

The hindu tradition (which again is not a monolithic faith, but truly a collection of different streams) - which is native, which nourished and developed in organic way with hundreds and thousand of years from this very land and its people and their experience. Whereas Islam is a relatively new religion, came to this part of the world (Bengal) only about close to or less than one thousand years, by the hands of the saints of Peria (not Arabia, something of note as the mood of spirituality of the two places are quite different). The haqiqa described in the higher teaching of Hinduism if read in the native language for people in this land then is much more accessible to heart and mind than to read in foreign terms. Whenever I read hindu text, the haqiqa (non-dualistic teachings) described there using hindu terminology is never foreign to me, someone born in muslim faith and not familiar with hinduism as such. This speaks for the power of native spirituality, the wisdom tradition of the land and its accessibility to the people of that land. The same principle is applicable for any other native faith tradition and people of that land, whether be in native indian of North America or celtic tradition of North-West Europe.

As the sun was set, I went to visit the temple to pay my respect to Sri Sri Ramakrishna. The temple is quite beautifully surrounded by a peaceful aura and inside is a simple statue of Sri Ramakrishna himself sitting in his familiar lotus posture. There is nothing excess there, except the overflowing devotion. It was time for evening invocation and the devotees sang devotional chant. The students of the mission also gathered in their simple white clothes. It was wonderful to see the young ones in motionless and sitting meditative. Such a rare scene for our time. After a while I came out to enjoy the summer breeze at the garden of the temple, so were multitude of people as well.

Before I decided to leave the mission I came back to the temple (or rather the temple attracted me again) for the last time and found that a devotee is singing with a blissful voice full of devotion a song from Rabindranath Tagore:
"Shukhe Amae Rakhbe Keno,
Rakho Tomar Kole
Jaak na Shukh Jole."

I weak translation is something like this:
'What am I to do with my selfish pleasures,
rather keep me in Your divine lap.
Let all else pass away.'

'Ah! this song is so perfect', I said to myself, specially in remembrance of Ramakrishna who all his life adorned God as Divine Mother. As the devotee finished his song accompanied by harmonium, I watched him as he paid his homage with a beautiful bow to the statue of the Ramakrishna which is there with a great presence to remind the presence of God, in Whom Ramakrishna passed almost his entire life intoxicated and perfumed of the divine fragrance.

4.
Lex Hixon's book on Ramakrishna, The Great Swan is one of the best on this great personality and a spiritual classic of our time.

In review of The Great Swan Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote: "This religious classic by Lex Hixon celebrates the life and work of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), the God-intoxicated sage of Bengal. He states that this is not a conventional biography but a workbook for those on the mystic path. Using extensive quotations from Ramakrishna's lectures, conversations, and parables, the author invites us to "swim in this refreshing, surprising current of love and wisdom." For Hixon, "the Great Swan," as he calls Ramakrishna, is a fully awakened being, "an Einstein of the planetary civilization of the near future." Wherever you turn in this edifying work, you will find fresh images of spiritual meaning."

> Read here an excerpt from the book.

5.
Two friends went into an orchard. One of them possessing much worldly wisdom, immediately began to count the mango trees there and the number of mangoes each tree bore, and to estimate what might be the approximate value of the whole orchard. His companion went to the owner, made friends with him, and then, quietly going into a tree, began at his host's desire to pluck the fruits and eat them. Whom do you consider to be the wiser of the two? Eat mangoes. It will satisfy your hunger. What is the good of counting the trees and leaves and making calculations? The vain man of intellect busies himself with finding out the 'why' and 'wherefore' of creation, while the humble man of wisdom makes friends with the Creator and enjoys His gift of supreme bliss.

- Story by Ramakrishna


# Resources:
. Video Documentary. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Swami Vivekananda (Vedanta Society)
. Video: Memory of Ramakrishna: From Belur Math to Dakshineshwar
. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
. Brief Bio of Ramakrishna
. Ramakrishna: Sufi and Islamic Mysticism
. Ramakrishna: The Man and the Power
. Quotes by Ramakrishna
. Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Dhaka Pin It Now!

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