26 June 2010

In the World, Not Of It

From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Wednesday, June 25, 1884

    MASTER: ...."What is the use of making pilgrimages if you can attain love of God remaining where you are? I have been to Benares and noticed the same trees there as here. The same green tamarind-leaves!
    "Pilgrimage becomes futile if it does not enable you to attain love of God. Love of God is the one essential and necessary thing. Do you know the meaning of 'kites' and 'vultures'? There are many people who talk big and who say that they have performed most of the duties enjoined in the scriptures. But with all that their minds are engrossed in worldliness and deeply preoccupied with money, riches, name, fame, creature comforts, and such things."
    The Master was about to take his leave. The pundit and his friends bowed low before him.
    It was not yet dusk, and Sri Ramakrishna returned to Ishan's house with the devotees. The Master took his seat in the drawing-room with Ishan and his sons, a pundit, and a few devotees.
    MASTER (smiling, to Ishan): "I said to Pundit Shashadhar: 'You have hardly set your foot on the tree, and yet you aspire to lay hold of a big bunch of fruit. First of all practise some spiritual discipline; then you may teach others.'"
    ISHAN: "Every preacher thinks that he enlightens others. The glow-worm also may think that it illuminates the world. Imagining this to be the glow-worm's feeling, someone said to it: 'O glow-worm, how can you bring light to the world? You only reveal the intensity of the darkness.'"
    MASTER: (with a smile): "But Shashadahr is not just a scholar. He also has a little discrimination and dispassion."
    The Master was about to leave for Dakshineswar. Ishan and the other devotees stood around him while he gave Ishan various words of advice.
    MASTER: "A devotee who can call on God while living a householder's life is a hero indeed. God thinks: 'He who has renounced the world for My sake will surely pray to Me; he must serve Me. Is there anything very remarkable about it? People will cry shame on him if he fails to do so. But he is blessed indeed who prays to Me in the midst of his worldly duties. He is trying to find Me, overcoming a great obstacle – pushing away, as it were, a huge block of stone weighing a ton. Such a man is a real hero.'
    "Live in the world like an ant. The world contains a mixture of truth and untruth, sugar and sand. Be an ant and take the sugar.
    "Again, the world is a mixture of milk and water, the bliss of God-Consciousness and the pleasure of sense enjoyment. Be a swan and drink the milk, leaving the water aside.

(Pages 307-309)

Here Sri Ramakrishna makes two very good points about the search for God (the journey without distance):

1. God is everywhere. One does not need to visit some holy place, some temple or church, or make some grand physical journey to commune with God. All that matters is love. "Love of God is the one essential and necessary thing." People can make grand gestures of visiting holy sites to pray and yet have it all just be a show to win fame and recognition, whereas someone who is filled with the love of God can find God while going for a walk in the woods or helping a poor beggar on the streets.

2. One does not need to renounce the world to find God. Indeed, it is a truly great feat to find God while retaining one's worldly duties. Anyone can sell their possessions, become a monk, and meditate for twelve hours a day. That's no challenge at all. What is really difficult is to take the time to practice while not renouncing the world. Turning everyday activities into opportunities for consciousness growth, such as washing the dishes, maintaining ethical practices at work, and helping your aging parents. As Jesus said, be in the world but not of it (John 17: 14-16, though the exact phrase does not appear in the text, it is a nice, concise summary). You have a greater opportunity to grow in compassion and to see the universal love of God that permeates everyone by completing your duties in the world while remembering that you are not this little, limited, physical body born of the world.
A good example of this is Lahiri Mahasaya, the householder-yogi who reintroduced the lost art of Kriya Yoga to the world.