‘He is I and I am He’: Sri Ramakrishna and the Ideal of God-Realisation

— Swami Vireshananda —

What is the goal of philosophy and religion? We find different views in Eastern and Western civilisations regarding this. The goals of Western philosophy are said to be truth, rational necessity, and being good, while that of the East, especially Indian philosophy, is the realisation or Darshana of the eternal Truth. It is the first and primary goal of Indian philosophy. The general character of realisation is to transcend the distinction bet­ween subject and object and experience unity with the Reality or God. The remarkable factor is that all the systems of Indian philosophy subordinate their differences to this ultimate realisation of the Truth.1

In the religious traditions of non-Indian origin, the doctrinal beliefs are of importance in comparison with the mystical experience. Though we find several mystics in these traditions, they do not form their mainstream as the religious authority is predominant and often subjugates mysticism. In contrast, almost all Indian religious traditions relegate doctrines and beliefs to an effectual perception of the Divine in a transcendental state.

The ideal of God-realisation was upheld as the goal of every philosophy and religion in modern times by one great spiritual personage. He grasped the essence of both Eastern and Western thoughts and came out with a bold declaration that God-realisation is the only goal of human life and everything else is not only non-essential but is an obstacle in the pathway to God. This equivocal and wholehearted dedication to the cause of God-realisation is the hallmark of his life and teachings. Sri Ramakrishna, whom we are referring to, through this, became the crucible into which all the differences in various philosophies and religions merged. Also, he declared with the authority of his realisations that all religions are equally valid paths to God-realisation.

Ideal of India

God-realisation has been the ideal of the Indian nation from time immemorial. While Vedic sages engaged themselves in discovering the divinity behind natural phenomena, the Upanishads boldly proclaimed the spiritual unity of both microcosm and macrocosm. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad gives an illustration of a realised soul by the name Vamadeva, who, on discovering ‘I am Brahman’, became one with the whole existence and said: ‘It is I who had become Manu and the Sun.’ 2 In the same Upanishad, the renunciates, who take to the life of begging mendicants, giving up all kinds of desires upon Self-Realisation, are extolled to be of superior status. Kena Upanishad urges that one should realise the truth even in this birth:

इह चेदवेदीदथ सत्यमस्ति न चेदिहावेदीन्महती विनष्टिः । भूतेषु भूतेषु विचित्य धीराः प्रेत्यास्माल्लोकादमृता भवन्ति ॥ If one has realised here, then there is truth; if he has not realised here, then there is great destruction. The wise ones, having realised (Brahman) in all beings, and having turned away from this world, become immortal.3

Sri Ramakrishna exhibits the tremendous spiritual zeal, ingenuity, and adventurous nature of the Upanishadic sages in his life. He, not unlike them, wholeheartedly took upon himself the challenge of inquiry into Reality through one-pointed commitment and dedication, undergoing systematic and logical means of sadhana.That is why Romain Rolland, a French savant, introduces Sri Ramakrishna in his book as: ‘The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.’4

Sri Ramakrishna personifies in his life all that is glorious in the lives of great devotees belonging to the Puranic age and the Bhakti Movement period. His intense love for God and yearning to realise Him has no parallel in modern times. Through the realisation of various aspects of Godhead, the Master heralded the ancient ideal of God-realisation even in this scientific age and proved the efficacy of spiritual practices by assuring humanity that realisation of God is not only feasible in human birth but should be the only goal one should strive for in one’s life.

Universal Ideal

Christianity has produced many exemplary mystics, mainly monks and nuns, who lived a life dedicated exclusively to God. Their only object of desire was God as we find in a saying of Blessed Charles de Foucauld: ‘As soon as I believed there was a God, I understood I could do nothing else but live for him, my religious vocation dates from the same moment as my faith: God is so great. There is such a difference between God and everything that is not.’ 5 These mystics merged their whole being in the experience of God, which gave them unalloyed bliss and consolation. St. Theresa of Avila says to this effect: ‘For the storms, like a wave, pass quickly. And the fair weather returns because the presence of the Lord they experience makes them soon forget everything.’ 6 Above all, Lord Jesus Christ himself, the adoring divinity of these mystics, is the epitome of love of God and service of God in man.

Sri Ramakrishna’s life is filled with the same kind of divine presence and love of God as found in Christian mystics. This has been glorified by Romain Rolland when he says:

And in the life of Ramakrishna, the Man-God, I am about to relate the life of this Jacob’s ladder, whereon the twofold unbroken line of the Divine in man ascends and descends between heaven and earth. …

Ramakrishna is the younger brother of our Christ. … It is always the same Man—the Son of Man, the Eternal, Our Son, Our God reborn. With each return, he reveals himself a little more fully, and more enriched by     the Universe. 7

The Sufi saints of the Muslim tradition found the fulfilment of their lives in loving God and being one with Him. The famous Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi says: ‘Remember God so much that you are forgotten. Let the caller and the called disappear; be lost in the Call.’ 8<./sup> The union with God, that Rumi speaks of, is truly an Advaitic nondual experience. Zain Hashmi, another Sufi saint, also echoes the same sentiment: ‘And when your soul, the flame, the spark, meets with the divine fuel that is so pure and so strong, it results in immense enlightenment: the enlightenment of God. Light upon light.’ 9 This is the type of God- realisation that the Sufi saints experienced in their transcendental states and revealed them to the external world through their enchanting words.

Sri Ramakrishna through his Advaitic experience brought back the great tradition of non-dual experience enshrined and enriched by great Sufi saints of the past. Though he was able to immerse himself in the loftiest experience of Brahman, he later, remained in the state of ‘Bhāva Mukha’, where he would freely roam about through the absolute as well as relative planes. It is in this condition that he tasted the bliss of both Nitya, the eternal absolute aspect of Reality, and Leela, the playful aspect of Reality that we see in the form of this transient world.

What Is God-Realisation?

In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, M, the chronicler, asks Sri Ramakrishna: ‘Sir, what is the meaning of the Realization of God? What do you mean by God-vision? How does one attain it?’ 10 Sri Ramakrishna gives a succinct answer to this question saying that a man of realisation ‘sees nothing but God everywhere when one loves Him with great intensity’. We also find several descriptions of God-realisation given by the Master in the Gospel:

One characteristic of God-realization is that the activities of a man with such realization graduall away. … All doubts disappear after the realization of God…. He becomes free from worry… After the realization of God, He (God) is seen in all beings. But His greater manifestation is in man (ibid., 308, 311,321).

What happens after God-realisation? Sri Ramakrishna says that one obtains an inner vision in that state and realises that God alone has become the universe and all living beings. This state is called Vijñāna. The supremely perfect souls like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, not only realise God but also develop an intimate relationship with Him and talk with Him all the time. According to Sri Ramakrishna, this is the last limit of realisation.

Necessity of God-Realisation

Sri Ramakrishna emphatically says that without the realisation of God, everything is futile. This is the great secret. It does not matter whether the body lives or dies after the realisation. Sri Ramakrishna is of the opinion that renouncing everything and practising spiritual discipline for the realisation of God is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita.

Sri Ramakrishna also emphasises that the state of God-realisation is the only real state: ‘It is the realization that God alone is the real and eternal substance and that all else is unreal, transitory, impermanent. And you must cultivate intense zeal for God. You must feel love for Him and be attracted to Him’ (ibid., 140).

One must become mad with love for God to realise God. When one attains ecstatic love of God, one attains such a blissful state that no happiness of the world can come anywhere near it. God-realisation is the only precious thing to aspire for in this life. Sri Ramakrishna draws attention to this fact in his characteristic style: ‘One cannot get true feeling about God from the study of books. This feeling is something very different from book-learning. Books, scriptures, and science appear as mere dirt and straw after the realization of God’ (ibid., 645–46).

Sri Ramakrishna—The Seer of God

Sri Ramakrishna is the embodiment of the ideal of God-realisation. His accounts of his own realisations can be found throughout the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He reveals the essence of his realisations to the devotees as follows: ‘No one else is here, and you are my own people. Let me tell you something. I have come to the final realization that God is the Whole and I am a part of Him, that God is the Master and I am His servant. Furthermore, I think every now and then that He is I and I am He’ (ibid., 572).

Another very important realisation the Master had is that God dwells in all beings. He recounts this experience:

Do you know what I see right now? I see that it is God Himself who has become all this. It seems to me that men and other living beings are made of leather, and that it is God Himself who, dwelling inside these leather cases, moves the hands, the feet, the heads. I had a similar vision once before, when I saw houses, gardens, roads, men, cattle—all made of One Substance; it was as if they were all made of wax (ibid., 941–  42).

The direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were the first-hand witnesses of their Master absorbed in divine consciousness born out of God-realisation. Swami Abhedananda says in this regard: ‘Watching his God- intoxicated state we were amazed. We felt that the Master was in communion with the Divine Mother, that he was talking to her, and that the Mother was answering his questions. We realized that Sri Ramakrishna was not a human being. He was God.’ 11 Swami Turiyananda gives profound philosophical exegesis of Sri Ramakrishna’s realisations:

The Master used to experience a state beyond all thought and idea. That state transcends name and form, words and mind. There exists only One without a second, beyond the realm of Prakriti [that is, beyond   relativity]. Where is the doctrine of superimposition or the doctrine of no creation in that realm of oneness? And yet again, all doctrines—whether of superimposition, or of creation, or of no creation, or of   transformation, etc.—originate from him. 12

Ideal for the Modern Age

The past two decades of the 21st century turned out to be the churning point in human history. The old value system is steadily crumbling down leading to a chaotic condition in several fields of human activity. The emerging new scenario is transforming a human being into a victim of an unbridled and unguided technological onslaught. Such an individual, unable to cope with the rapid changes taking place around him or her, is choking without an everlasting ideal that makes human life purposeful and meaningful. The modern human has become like one travelling in great seas in a rudderless vessel unable to find significance or permanency in any endeavour he or she undertakes. The technology, instead of strengthening human’s innate traits, is weakening them further pushing towards an insipid and dry life full of anxiety and despair. The political and social conditions equally are contributing to the distrust and hatred among nations, races, and members of different communities and religions. In all, the age-old tribalism is again raising its ugly head bringing out the worst of human tendencies.

The spiritual ideal of God-realisation alone can give new hope and light to humanity suffering from domineering pleasure-seeking propensity fuelled by ever-increasing means and modes of physical comfort and enjoyment. Sri Ramakrishna is the perfect and immaculate embodiment of this lofty ideal. He incarnated on this earth to remove the misgivings prevalent in modern times about religion and spirituality. He re-established true religion washing away all kinds of cobwebs of superstitions and unnecessary paraphernalia, revealing its real glory in the form of God-realisation. Through this, he showed that the spiritual ideal of God-realisation is the only panacea for the ills the modern society is infested with. The countless spiritual seekers, who have trodden this path, have found fulfilment and blessedness in their lives. Their numbers are growing day by day with the dissemination of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings far and wide throughout the world.


Sri Ramakrishna spearheaded a new spiritual awakening in the modern era in which emphasis was on the realisation of the Divine. His was a non-sectarian, all-inclusive movement with only one concern at the centre of all other details: ‘How to attain God?’ He instilled an intense desire to see God in the hearts of his numerous followers—especially among the young bubbling disciples—who later became the edifice of his universal mission. Sri Ramakrishna gave a new orientation to the age-old call of Vedic seers to the whole humanity to experience God, who is the substratum of the whole existence. He represents the eternal longing of every human being from the time unknown to be one with the Divine, the repository of immortal bliss, pure existence, pure knowledge, and everlasting freedom. Sri Ramakrishna’s ideal of God-realisation is not an individual pursuit but a perfect expression of the collective spiritual aspiration of the whole of humankind. It is because Sri Ramakrishna represents the spiritual consciousness of all of us.

References 1 See Edgar Sheffield Brightman, ‘Goals of Philosophy and Religion, East and West’, Philosophy East and West (University of Hawai’i Press), 1/4 (January 1952), 6–17, (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1396992) 2 See Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.10. 3 Kena Upanishad, 2.5. 4 Romain Rolland, The Life of Ramakrishna, trans. E F Malcolm-Smith (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), xxii. 5 See <lt;https://www.dosp.org/our-faith/saints/saint-quotes/> 6 Ibid. 7 Romain Rolland, The Life of Ramakrishna, xx, 3. 8 See <lt;https://www.azquotes.com/quote/ 678947> 9 See <lthttps://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/sufi> 10 M., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2004), 114. 11 Swami Chetanananda, Ramakrishna as We Saw Him (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), 219. 12 Ibid., 212–13.

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