CONTACT WITH SOME NOTABLES
Sri Ramakrishna would find delight in meeting the leaders of thought and other prominent men of his time and in studying the spiritual condition of their life. In 1875 he saw Keshab Chandra Sen, who was the greatest figure of the Brahmo movement of the time. Hearing of his piety, Sri Ramakrishna wished to meet him. He had seen him meditating long ago at the Adi Brahmo Samaj and had remarked that of all the boys there he was the only one whose meditation was successful.
One afternoon Sri Ramakrishna accompanied by Hriday went to see Keshab, who was then staying with some of his followers in a place not very far from Dakshineswar. Keshab and the other Brahmos at first found nothing remarkable about him. Finally Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘I hear that you have seen God, so I have come to hear about it.’ The ensuing conversation held Keshab and his followers under its spell. Sri Ramakrishna then sang a song of Kali the Mother with his usual fervour, in the course of which he fell into Samadhi. Hriday brought his uncle Backto ordinary consciousness by chanting the sacred word Om in his ears. Sri Ramakrishna’s face was beaming with a divine radiance. A torrent of inspiring words flowed, which went straight to the hearts of the listeners. He spoke of the innumerable manifestations of one and the same infinite God, illustrating it by the following parables:
‘Some blind men happened to come across an elephant. Someone told them what it was and asked them to describe it as it seemed to them. The one who touched the leg said, “The elephant is like a column.” The second one said, “The elephant is like a winnowing fan” – he had felt one of its ears. Similarly, those who had touched its trunk or belly gave different opinions. So with God, everyone conceives Him according to his experience.
‘A man who had seen a chameleon under a tree returned and said, “I have seen a beautiful red chameleon under the tree.” Another said, “I was there before you. The chameleon is not red, but green. I have seen it with my own eyes.” A third said, “I too know it well. I saw it before either of you, and it was neither red nor green, but – and I saw it with my own eyes – it was blue.” Others declared it was yellow, or grey, and so on. Soon they began to quarrel among themselves as to who was correct. A man passing by asked what the trouble was. When he was told the cause of quarrel, he said, “I live under that very tree, and I know the chameleon well. All of you are right, every one. The chameleon is sometimes green, sometimes blue, it is all colours by turn; and sometimes it is absolutely colourless.”‘
He ridiculed the attempt of the human mind to fathom the nature of God by comparing it to an ant that desired to carry a whole sugar hill in its mouth. The inspiring words of the Master so impressed Keshab that he felt like a child before this man of realization and listened to him with the utmost reverence. Henceforward he with some of his devotees began to visit the Master frequently, and long hours were spent in spiritual discussion. Sri Ramakrishna also sometimes visited Keshab in Calcutta. Nagendra Nath Gupta, an eye-witness and formerly editor of the Tribune, gives an interesting account of one of such meetings of the two remarkable personages. ‘By Keshab’s express desire,’ he writes, ‘I accompanied him on one occasion when he went to see the Paramahamsa at Dakshineswar. The meeting did not take place in the precincts of the temple. Keshab with a small party including myself went by river in a small steam-yacht belonging to Maharaja Nripendra Narayan Bhup of Cooch Behar, Keshab’s son-inlow. At Dakshineswar, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, accompanied by his nephew, Hriday, boarded the launch, which resumed its way up-stream.
Ramakrishna and Keshab sat on the deck on the bare boards, cross-legged and facing each other. They sat close to each other, and as Ramakrishna grew animated and earnest, he drew still closer to Keshab until his knees and thighs rested on Keshab’s lap. I sat next to them, almost touching Keshab. The Paramahamsa stayed in the boat for about eight hours, and except for the few minutes during which he remained in Samadhi he never ceased speaking. From that day to this I have never heard another man speak as he spoke. There was no discussion at all. During all those eight hours Keshab, the brilliant orator and accomplished scholar, scarcely spoke a dozen sentences. All that he did was to put a question at long intervals or to ask for an explanation. The only speaker was Ramakrishna and his words flowed in a steady stream even as the Ganga rippled and flowed underneath us. We heard nothing but that gentle, earnest voice; we saw nothing but that ascetic, lean figure before us, with the half-closed eyes and the hands folded on the lap. The moving lips uttered the simplest words, but what could soar higher or plumb deeper than those thoughts! Every thought was a revelation, every parable, every imagery, every simile was a marvel. He spoke of the human face and its various indications of character, he spoke of his own experiences of many forms of devotion, he described the perennial ecstasy of the communion of the Spirit, and when he spoke of the formless (Nirakara) Brahman, he passed into Samadhi, a trance in which his face radiated with beatific ecstasy.’
The other leading Brahmos of the time including Pratap Chandra Majumdar, Pandit Vijay Krishna Goswami, Pandit Shivnath Shastri, and Trailokya Nath Sanyal, profited a great deal by their intimate association with Sri Ramakrishna. This contact opened as well a suitable avenue for Sri Ramakrishna to study the mentality of the educated community of Bengal, from which afterwards came the chief instruments for the propagation of his ideas. It was in fact the Brahmos who first gave him an idea of the way the wind was blowing. He saw that they were more influenced by the philosophers of the West than by the seers and prophets of India. Hence they found the greatest difficulty in accepting wholly the ancient truths of the Hindu religion. But Sri Ramakrishna was not at all dismayed by this state of things. Behind this too he saw the hand of God. So, with undiminished love he told the Brahmos all about his realizations and gave out the essence of his teachings, such as the necessity of renunciation, the sincere pursuit of one’s own course of discipline, faith in God, the performance of one’s duties in the world without thought of results, and discrimination between right and wrong. From that time Sri Ramakrishna had an intimate association also with other notables of the time such as Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Pandit Shashadhar Tarkachudamani, Kristodas Pal, Rajendra Lal Mitra, Aswini Kumar Dutt, and the like. Through them the message of the Master reached a wider circle of people, who now began to flock to him in large numbers for spiritual comfort and guidance.