HOS

The Gospel of Sri RamakrishnaThe Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, written by “M”, translated by Swami Nikhilananda.

It is hard to overstate my love for this book. Along with being the first gift my wife gave me soon after we met, it also contains everything I adore about religion, and articulates all that I ever hope to express about the interaction between different religions and the variety of their practices.

The following is only a sampling of my favorite sayings and sections. While it is tempting to organize the quotations even more than I have, the spoken nature of Ramakrishna’s teachings are worth reading in a more scattered, natural way, rather than in anything pretending systemization. And as they are based on his spoken teachings, the book (and therefore these notes) is filled with repetitions and retellings of the same stories, the same points. Chapter and page numbers are given after each quotation.

The entirety is available online here and here, and in print from the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center here. And since I associate Ramakrishna with both my favorite passages from Zen Buddhism and the Christian Desert Fathers, a Word document of those passages from all three traditions can be downloaded here.

(1) Ritual, Faith, Practice & Experience

(2) Other Religions

(3) Effort

(4) The Varieties of Worldly Life

(5) The Limitations of Knowledge and Reason

(6) Beyond Knowledge and Reason

1. Ritual, Faith, Practice & Experience

When, hearing the name of Hari or Rāma once, you shed tears and your hair stands on end, then you may know for certain that you do not have to perform such devotions as the sandhya any more. Then only will you have a right to renounce rituals; or rather, rituals will drop away of themselves. Then it will be enough if you repeat only the name of Rāma or Hari, or even simply Om. (1; 77)

“If a man has faith in God, then even if he has committed the most heinous sins – such as killing a cow, a brahmin, or a woman – he will certainly be saved through his faith. Let him only say to God, “O Lord, I Will not repeat such an action”, and he need not be afraid of anything.” (1, 87)

The goal of human life is to love God. (2, 94)

Of little use are worship, oblations, or sacrifice.

If a man comes to love God, he need not trouble himself much about these activities. One needs a fan only as long as there is no breeze. The fan may be laid aside if the southern breeze blows. Then what need is there of a fan? (3, 108)

After a man has attained samādhi all his actions drop away. All devotional activities, such as worship, japa, and the like, as well as all worldly duties, cease to exist for such a person. At the beginning there is much ado about work. As a man makes progress toward God, the outer display of his work becomes less and less—so much so that he cannot even sing the name and glories of God. (To Shivanath) As long as you were not here at the meeting, people talked a great deal about you and discussed your virtues. But no sooner did you arrive here than all that stopped. Now the very sight of you makes everyone happy. People now simply say, “Ah! Here is Shivanath Babu.” All other talk about you has stopped. (6, 151)

“Will you tell me one thing? Why did you harp so much on sin? By repeating a hundred times, “I am a sinner”, one verily becomes a sinner. One should have such faith as to be able to say, “What? I have taken the name of God; how can I be a sinner?” God is our Father and Mother. Tell Him, “O Lord, I have committed sins, but I won’t repeat them.” Chant His name and purify your body and mind. Purify your tongue by singing God’s holy name.” (6, 159)

The more you advance toward God, the less you will see of His glories and grandeur. The aspirant at first has a vision of the Goddess with ten arms; there is a great display of power in that image. The next vision is that of the Deity with two arms; there are no longer ten arms holding various weapons and missiles. Then the aspirant has a vision of Gopala, in which there is no trace of power. It is the form of a tender child. Beyond that there are other visions also. The aspirant then sees only Light. (7, 177)

The nearer you come to God, the more you feel peace. Peace, peace, peace—supreme peace! The nearer you come to the Ganges, the more you feel its coolness. You will feel completely soothed when you plunge into the river. (7, 178)

Once a tigress attacked a flock of goats. As she sprang on her prey, she gave birth to a cub and died. The cub grew up in the company of the goats. The goats ate grass and the cub followed their example. They bleated; the cub bleated too. Gradually it grew to be a big tiger. One day another tiger attacked the same flock. It was amazed to see the grass-eating tiger. Running after it, the wild tiger at last seized it, whereupon the grass-eating tiger began to bleat. The wild tiger dragged it to the water and said: “Look at your face in the water. It is just like mine. Here is a little meat. Eat it.” Saying this, it thrust some meat into its mouth. But the grass-eating tiger would not swallow it and began to bleat again. Gradually, however, it got the taste for blood and came to relish the meat. Then the wild tiger said: “Now you see there is no difference between you and me. Come along and follow me into the forest.” (11, 232-3)

Before you came here, you didn’t know who you were. Now you will know. It is God who, as the guru, makes one know.

Nangta told the story of the tigress and the herd of goats. Once a tigress attacked a herd of goats. A hunter saw her from a distance and killed her.  The tigress was pregnant and gave birth to a cub as she expired.  The cub began to grow in the company of the goats.  At first it was nursed by the she-goats, and later on, as it grew bigger, it began to eat grass and bleat like the goats.  Gradually the cub became a big tiger; but still it ate grass and bleated.  When attached by other animals, it would run away, like the goats.  One day a fierce-looking tiger attacked the herd.  It was amazed to see a tiger in the herd eating grass and running away with the goats at its approach.  It left the goats and caught hold of the grass-eating tiger, which began to bleat and tried to run away.  But the fierce tiger dragged it to the water and said: “Now look at your face in the water.  You see, you have the pot-face of a tiger; it is exactly like mine.” Next it pressed a piece of meat into its mouth.  At first the grass-eating tiger refused to eat the meat.  Then it got the taste of the meat and relished it.  At last the fierce tiger said to the grass-eater: “What a disgrace! You lived with goats and ate grass like them!” And the other was really ashamed of itself.

Eating grass is like enjoying “woman and gold”. To bleat and run away like a goat is to behave like an ordinary man.  Going away with the new tiger is like taking shelter with the guru, who awakens one’s spiritual consciousness, and recognizing him alone as one’s relative.  To see one’s face rightly is to know one’s real Self.” (17, 359-60)

Why should I go to Ganga or Gaya, to Kasi, Kanchi, or Prabhas,
So long as I can breathe my last with Kali”s name upon my lips? (11, 251)


Do you understand the views of teachers like him? According to them, one must first practise spiritual discipline: self-restraint, self-control, forbearance, and the like. Their aim is to attain Nirvāna. They are followers of Vedānta. They constantly discriminate, saying, “Brahman alone is real, and the world illusory.” But this is an extremely difficult path. If the world is illusory, then you too are illusory. The teacher who gives the instruction is equally illusory. His words, too, are as illusory as a dream.

But this experience is beyond the reach of the ordinary man. Do you know what it is like? If you burn camphor nothing remains. When wood is burnt at least a little ash is left. Finally, after the last analysis, the devotee goes into samādhi. Then he knows nothing whatsoever of “I”, “you”, or the universe. (12, 266)

The only purpose of life is to realize God. (12, 273)

Have faith in the name of God. Then you won’t need even to go to holy places. (13, 292)

A guru said to his disciple, “It is Rāma alone who resides in all bodies.” The disciple was a man of great faith. One day a dog snatched a piece of bread from him and started to run away. He ran after the dog, with a jar of butter in his hand, and cried again and again: “O Rāma, stand still a minute. That bread hasn’t been buttered.” (13, 293)

The saying, “One cannot have the vision of God as long as one has these three—shame, hatred, and fear,” is very true. (14, 315)

When a flood comes from the ocean, all the land is deep under water. Before the flood, the boat could have reached the ocean only by following the winding course of the river. But after the flood, one can row straight to the ocean. One need not take a roundabout course. After the harvest has been reaped, one need not take the roundabout course along the balk of the field. One can cross the field at any point. (15, 320)

“How long do small girls play with their dolls? As long as they are not married and do not live with their husbands. After marriage they put the dolls away in a box. What further need is there of worshipping the image after the vision of God?” (16, 337)

That was why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that the Divine Mother Herself had become everything-even the cat. The manager of the temple garden wrote to Mathur Babu saying that I was feeding the cat with the offering intended for the Divine Mother. But Mathur Babu had insight into the state of my mind. He wrote back to the manager: “Let him do whatever he likes. You must not say anything to him.” (16, 346)

Everything can be realized simply through love of God. If one is able to love God, one does not lack anything. Kartika and Ganesa were seated near Bhagavati, who had a necklace of gems around Her neck. The Divine Mother said to them, “I will present this necklace to him who is the first to go around the universe.” Thereupon Kartika, without losing a moment, set out on the peacock, his carrier. Ganesa, on the other hand, in a leisurely fashion went around the Divine Mother and prostrated himself before Her. He knew that She contained within Herself the entire universe. The Divine Mother was pleased with him and put the necklace around his neck. After a long while Kartika returned and found his brother seated there with the necklace on. (18, 376-77)

How can one expect to attain God without renunciation? Suppose one thing is placed upon another; how can you get the second without removing the first? (18, 379)

What need is there of penance if God is worshipped with love?
What is the use of penance if God is not worshipped with love?
What need is there of penance if God is seen within and without?
What is the use of penance if God is not seen within and without? (19, 388-9)

MANILAL (to the Master): “Well, what is the rule for concentration? Where should one concentrate?”

MASTER: “The heart is a splendid place. One can meditate there or in the Sahasrara. These are rules for meditation given in the scriptures. But you may meditate wherever you like. Every place is filled with Brahman-Consciousness. Is there any place where it does not exist? Narayana, in Vali’s presence, covered with two steps the heavens, the earth, and the interspaces. Is there then any place left uncovered by God? A dirty place is as holy as the bank of the Ganges. It is said that the whole creation is the Virat, the Universal Form of God. (20, 403)

The realization of God is enough for me. What does it matter if I don’t know Sanskrit? The grace of God falls alike on all His children, learned and illiterate―whoever longs for Him. The father has the same love for all his children. Suppose a father has five children. One calls him “Baba”, some “Ba”, and some “Pa”. These last cannot pronounce the whole word. Does the father love those who address him as “Baba” more than those who call him “Pa”? The father knows that these last are simply too young to say “Baba” correctly. (20, 407)

First of all you must discriminate, following the method of “Neti, neti”: “He is not the five elements, nor the sense-organs, nor the mind, nor the intelligence, nor the ego. He is beyond all these cosmic principles.” You want to climb to the roof; then you must eliminate and leave behind all the steps one by one. The steps are by no means the roof. But after reaching the roof you find that the steps are made of the same materials―brick, lime, and brick-dust―as the roof. It is the Supreme Brahman that has become the universe and its living beings and the twenty-four cosmic principles. That which is Ātman has become the five elements. You may ask why the earth is so hard, if it has come out of Ātman? All is possible through the will of God. (21, 417-8)

One cannot completely get rid of the six passions: lust, anger, greed, and the like. Therefore one should direct them to God. If you must have desire and greed, then you should desire love of God and be greedy to attain Him. If you must be conceited and egotistic, then feel conceited and egotistic thinking that you are the servant of God, the child of God. (22, 428)

One should keep pictures of holy men in one’s room. That constantly quickens divine ideas. (22, 431)

MASTER (to the elder Gopal and the other devotees): “As long as a man feels that God is ‘there’, he is ignorant. But he attains Knowledge when he feels that God is ‘here’…. What a man seeks is very near him. Still he wanders about from place to place.”

RAM: “Sir, I now realize why a guru asks some of his disciples to visit the four principal holy places of the country. Once having wandered about, the disciple discovers that it is the same here as there. Then he returns to the guru. All this wandering is only to create faith in the guru”s words.” [???]

The aim of life is the attainment of God. (23, 453)

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 are here. The same green tamarind-leaves! (24, 469)

The Bauls from Shibpur began to sing to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument. A line in the first song was: We are sinners: redeem us, O merciful Lord!

MASTER (to the devotees): “It is the attitude of a beginner to worship God out of fear. Please sing about God-realization-songs expressing divine joy.

(To Rākhāl ) “How well they sang that song the other day at Nabin Niyogi’s house: “Be drunk, O mind, be drunk with the Wine of Heavenly Bliss”! While singing religious songs one should not constantly refer to one’s worries. One should rather feel joyous and ecstatic as one chants God’s name. (26, 501)

PRIYA: “But the mind is not under my control.”

MASTER: “How is that? There is such a thing as abhyiisayoga, yoga through practice. Keep up the practice and you will find that your mind will follow in whatever direction you lead it. The mind is like a white cloth just returned from the laundry. It will be red if you dip it in red dye and blue if you dip it in blue. It will have whatever colour you dip it in. (28, 539)

There is a sādhu in Hrishikesh who gets up early in the morning and stands near a great waterfall. He looks at it the whole day and says to God: “Ah, You have done well! Well done! How amazing!” He doesn’t practise any other form of japa or austerity. At night he returns to his hut. (30, 586)

Be firm in one ideal—either in God with form or in the formless God. Then alone will you realize God; otherwise not. With firm and unwavering belief the followers of God with form will realize Him, as will those who speak of Him as formless. You may eat a cake with icing either straight or sidewise; it will taste sweet either way. (All laugh.) (32, 624)

SUB-JUDGE: “Sir, I am a sinner. How can I say that God dwells in me?”

MASTER: “That’s the one trouble with you Brahmos. With you it is always sin and sin! That’s the Christian view, isn’t it? Once a man gave me a Bible. A part of it was read to me, and it was full of that one thing—sin and sin! One must have such faith that one can say: “I have uttered the name of God; I have repeated the name of Rāma or Hari. How can I be a sinner?” One must have faith in the glory of God’s name.” (32, 627)

They say that when you plunge into the holy waters of the Ganges your sins perch on a tree on the bank. No sooner do you come out of the water after the bath than the sins jump back on your shoulders. (All laugh.) A man must prepare the way beforehand, so that he may think of God in the hour of death. The way lies through constant practice. If a man practises meditation on God, he will remember God even on the last day of his life. (32, 632)

VIJAY: “What remains if one renounces both dharma and adharma?”

MASTER: “Pure love of God. I prayed to the Divine Mother: “O Mother; here, take Thy dharma; here, take Thy adharma; and give me pure love for Thee. Here, take Thy virtue; here, take Thy vice; and give me pure love for Thee. Here, take Thy knowledge; here, take Thy ignorance; and give me pure love for Thee.” You see, I didn’t ask even for knowledge or public recognition. When one renounces both dharma and adharma, there remains only pure love of God-love that is stainless, motiveless, and that one feels only for the sake of love.” (32, 634)

A man must work. Only then can he see God. One day, in an exalted mood, I had a vision of the Haldārpukur. I saw a low-caste villager drawing water after pushing aside the green scum. Now and then he took up the water in the palm of his hand and examined it. In that vision it was revealed to me that the water cannot be seen without pushing aside the green scum that covers it; that is to say, one cannot develop love of God or obtain His vision without work. Work means meditation, japa, and the like. The chanting of God’s name and glories is work too. You may also include charity, sacrifice, and so on. (33, 645)

What then is man’s duty? What else can it be? It is just to take refuge in God and to pray to Him with a yearning heart for His vision. (34, 671)

GIRISH: “Please bless me, sir.”

MASTER: “Have faith in the Divine Mother and you will attain every thing.”

GIRISH: “But I am a sinner.”

MASTER: “The wretch who constantly harps on sin becomes a sinner.”

GIRISH: “Sir, the very ground where I used to sit would become unholy.”

MASTER: “How can you say that? Suppose a light is brought into a room that has been dark a thousand years; does it illumine the room little by little, or all in a flash?”

GIRISH: “Then you have blessed me.”

MASTER: “If you sincerely believe it. What more shall I say? I eat and drink and chant the name of God.”

GIRISH: “I have no sincerity. Please give it to me.”

MASTER: “I? Sages like Nārada and Sukadeva could have done that.”

GIRISH: “I don’t see Nārada and Sukadeva. But you are here before me.”

MASTER (smiling): “All right. You have faith.” (35, 679)

One speaks as one thinks. If a man thinks of worldly things day and night, and deals with people hypocritically, then his words are coloured by his thoughts. If one eats radish, one belches radish. Instead of talking about “shopkeeping”, he should rather have said, “A man should act as if he were the doer, knowing very well that he is really not the doer.” The other day a man was singing here. The song contained words like “profit” and “loss”. I stopped him. If one contemplates a particular subject day and night, one cannot talk of anything else. (35, 686)

All troubles come to an end when the ego dies. (39, 758)

The truth is that you cannot attain God if you have even a trace of desire. (40, 769)

There are different views. All these views are but so many paths to reach the same goal. But everyone believes that his view alone is right, that his watch alone keeps correct time. (39, 748)

NARENDRA: “It is enough to have faith in God. I don’t care about what He is doing or what He hangs from. Infinite is the universe; infinite are the Incarnations.”

As Sri Ramakrishna heard the words, “Infinite is the universe; infinite are the Incarnations”, he said with folded hands, “Ah!” (40, 773)

Why should a man cherish love of God in his heart? How else will he live? How else will he spend his days? (42, 811)

If one has faith one has everything. (45, 849)

During my boyhood God manifested Himself in me. I was then eleven years old. One day, while I was walking across a paddy field, I saw something. Later on I came to know from people that I had been unconscious, and my body totally motionless. Since that day I have been an altogether different man. I began to see another person within me. When I used to conduct the worship in the temple, my hand, instead of going toward the Deity, would very often come toward my head, and I would put flowers there. A young man who was then staying with me did not dare approach me. He would say: “I see a light on your face. I am afraid to come very near you.” (47, 890)

I don’t want liberation; I want love of God! (48, 914)

“When the mind is united with God, one sees Him very near, in one’s own heart. But you must remember one thing. The more you realize this unity, the farther your mind is withdrawn from worldly things. There is the story of Vilwamangal in the Bhaktamala. He used to visit a prostitute. One night he was very late in going to her house. He had been detained at home by the sraddha ceremony of his father and mother. In his hands he was carrying the food offered in the ceremony, to feed his mistress. His whole soul was so set upon the woman that he was not at all conscious of his movements. He didn’t even know how he was walking. There was a yogi seated on the path, meditating on God with eyes closed. Vilwamangal stepped on him. The yogi became angry, and cried out: “What? Are you blind? I have been thinking of God, and you step on my body!” “I beg your pardon,” said Vilwamangal, “but may I ask you something? I have been unconscious, thinking of a prostitute, and you are conscious of the outer world though thinking of God. What kind of meditation is that?” In the end Vilwamangal renounced the world and went away in order to worship God. He said to the prostitute: “You are my guru. You have taught me how one should yearn for God.” He addressed the prostitute as his mother and gave her up.” (48, 916-7)

How wonderful Narendra’s state of mind is! You see, this very Narendra did not believe in the forms of God. And now you see how his soul is panting for God! You know that story of the man who asked his guru how God could be realized. The guru said to him: “Come with me. I shall show you how one can realize God.” Saying this, he took the disciple to a lake and held his head under the water. After a short time he released the disciple and asked him, “How did you feel?” “I was dying for a breath of air!” said the disciple.

When the soul longs and yearns for God like that, then you will know that you do not have long to wait for His vision. The rosy colour on the eastern horizon shows that the sun will soon rise.” (49, 937)

The Master had once said to M., “It becomes difficult for me to give up the body, when I realize that after my death you will wander about weeping for me.” (52, 975)

Faith is the one essential thing. God exists. He is very near us. Through faith alone one sees him. (52, 999)

When I lived at Kamarpukur, Hriday’s son, a child four or five years old, used to spend the whole day with me. He played with his toys and almost forgot everything else. But no sooner did evening come than he would say, “I want to go to my mother.” I would try to cajole him in various ways and would say, “Here, I’ll give you a pigeon.” But he wouldn’t be consoled with such things; he would weep and cry, “I want to go to my mother.” He didn’t enjoy playing any more. I myself wept to see his state.

One should cry for God that way, like a child. That is what it means to be restless for God. One doesn’t enjoy play or food any longer. After one’s experiences of the world are over, one feels this restlessness and weeps for God.”  (Appendix A, 1011)

2. Other Religions
God can be realized through all paths. It is like your coming to Dakshineswar by carriage, by boat, by steamer, or on foot. You have chosen the way according to your convenience and taste; but the destination is the same. Some of you have arrived earlier than others; but all have arrived. (Appendix A, 1010)

I see people who talk about religion constantly quarrelling with one another. Hindus, Mussalmans, Brahmos, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, Saivas, all quarrel with one another. They haven’t the intelligence to understand that He who is called Krishna is also Shiva and the Primal Śakti, and that it is He, again, who is called Jesus and Allah. There is only one Rāma and He has a thousand names.

You should undoubtedly bow before all views. But there is a thing called unswerving devotion to one ideal. True, you should salute everyone. But you must love one ideal with your whole soul. That is unswerving devotion. (18, 371)

A man can reach God if he follows one path rightly. Then he can learn about all the other paths. It is like reaching the roof by some means or other. Then one is able to climb down by the wooden or stone stairs, by a bamboo pole, or even by a rope. (18, 374)

M: “Sir, I like to think of God as formless.”

MASTER: “Very good. It is enough to have faith in either aspect. You believe in God without form; that is quite all right. But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form. But hold fast to your own conviction.” (1; 80)

You were talking of worshipping the clay image. Even if the image is made of clay, there is need for that sort of worship. God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge.

The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares various dishes from it—pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so onto suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.

Do you understand me? (1, 81)

Sri Ramakrishna was talking to Kāli, the Divine Mother of the Universe. He said: “Mother, everyone says, “My watch alone is right.” The Christians, the Brahmos, the Hindus, the Mussalmans, all say, “My religion alone is true.” But, Mother, the fact is that nobody’s watch is right. Who can truly understand Thee? But if a man prays to Thee with a yearning heart, he can reach Thee, through Thy grace, by any path. Mother, show me some time how the Christians pray to Thee in their churches. But Mother, what will people say if I go in? Suppose they make a fuss! Suppose they don’t allow me to enter the Kāli temple again! Well then, show me the Christian worship from the door of the church.” (2, 93-4)

God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole.

You may say that there are many errors and superstitions in another religion. I should reply: Suppose there are. Every religion has errors. Everyone thinks that his watch alone gives the correct time. It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul. Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as “Baba” or “Papa”, but the babies can at best call him “Ba” or “Pa”. Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father. Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many. (4, 111-12)

It is like water, called in different languages by different names, such as “jal”, “pani”, and so forth. There are three or four ghats on a lake. The Hindus, who drink water at one place, call it “jal”. The Mussalmans at another place call it “pani”. And the English at a third place call it “water”. All three denote one and the same thing, the difference being in the name only. In the same way, some address   the Reality as “Allah”, some as “God”, some as “Brahman”, some as “Kāli”, and others by such names as “Rama”, “Jesus”, “Durga”, “Hari.” (5, 135)

It is not good to feel that one’s own religion alone is true and all others are false. God is one only, and not two. Different people call on Him by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Śiva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it “jal”, others at another place and call it “pani”, and still others at a third place and call it “water”. The Hindus call it “jal”, the Christians “water”, and the Mussalmans “pani”. But it is one and the same thing. Opinions are but paths. Each religion is only a path leading to God, as rivers come from different directions and ultimately become one in the one ocean. (12, 264-5)

Once someone gave me a book of the Christians. I asked him to read it to me. It talked about nothing but sin. (To Keshab) Sin is the only thing one hears of at your Brahmo Samaj, too. The wretch who constantly says, “I am bound, I am bound” only succeeds in being bound. He who says day and night, “I am a sinner, I am a sinner” verily becomes a sinner.

One should have such burning faith in God that one can say: “What? I have repeated the name of God, and can sin still cling to me? How can I be a sinner any more? How can I be in bondage any more?”

If a man repeats the name of God, his body, mind, and everything become pure. Why should one talk only about sin and hell, and such things? Say but once, “O Lord, I have undoubtedly done wicked things, but I won’t repeat them.” And have faith in His name. (5, 138)

All trouble and botheration come to an end when the “I” dies. You may indulge in thousands of reasoning, but still the “I” doesn’t disappear. For people like you and me, it is good to have the feeling, “I am a lover of God.”

The Saguna Brahman is meant for the bhaktas. In other words, a bhakta believes that God has attributes and reveals Himself to men as a Person, assuming forms. It is He who listens to our prayers. The prayers that you utter are directed to Him alone. You are bhaktas, not jnanis or Vedantists. It doesn’t matter whether you accept God with form or not. It is enough to feel that God is a Person who listens to our prayers, who creates, preserves, and destroys the universe, and who is endowed with infinite power.

It is easier to attain God by following the path of devotion. (6, 149)

Listen to a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red colour on a certain tree. The second man replied: “When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green.” Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow. Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue, and so forth and so on. At last they started quarrelling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied: “Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. It is a chameleon. And sometimes it has no colour at all. Now it has a colour, and now it has none.”

In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects. God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colours, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no colour at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile argument. (6, 149-50)

“One should not think, “My religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.” God can be realized by means of all paths. It is enough to have sincere yearning for God. Infinite are the paths and infinite the opinions. (6, 158)

If you asked me which form of God you should meditate upon, I should say: Fix your attention on that form which appeals to you most; but know for certain that all forms are the forms of one God alone. (8, 184)

With sincerity and earnestness one can realize God through all religions. The Vaishnavas will realize God, and so will the Saktas, the Vedantists, and the Brahmos. The Mussalmans and Christians will realize Him too. All will certainly realize God if they are earnest and sincere.

Some people indulge in quarrels, saying, “One cannot attain anything unless one worships our Krishna”, or, “Nothing can be gained without the worship of Kāli, our Divine Mother”, or, “One cannot be saved without accepting the Christian religion.” This is pure dogmatism. The dogmatist says, “My religion alone is true, and the religions of others are false.” This is a bad attitude. God can be reached by different paths. (8, 191)

“You do not accept God with form. That is all right. The image is not meant for you. For you it is good to deepen your feeling toward your own Ideal. From the worshippers of the Personal God you should learn their yearning—for instance, Sri Krishna’s attraction for Radha. You should learn from the worshippers of the Personal God their love for their Chosen Ideal. When the believers in the Personal God worship the images of Kāli and Durga, with what feeling they cry from the depths of their souls, “Mother! O Mother!” How much they love the Deity! You should accept that feeling. You don’t have to accept the image.” (10, 216)

Yes, all one’s confusion comes to an end if one only realizes that it is God who manifests Himself as the atheist and the believer, the good and the bad, the real and the unreal; that it is He who is present in waking and in sleep; and that He is beyond all these. (11, 236)

Besides, it is a sin to criticize anyone, especially a devotee of God. All sins may be forgiven, but not the sin of criticizing a devotee. (18, 371)

Truth is one; only It is called by different names. All people are seeking the same Truth; the variance is due to climate, temperament, and name. A lake has many ghats. From one Ghat the Hindus take water in jars and call it “jal”. From another Ghat the Mussalmans take water in leather bags and call it “pani”. From a third the Christians take the same thing and call it “water”. (All laugh.) Suppose someone says that the thing is not “jal” but “pani”, or that it is not “pani” but “water”, or that it is not “water” but “jal”. It would indeed be ridiculous. But this very thing is at the root of the friction among sects, their misunderstandings and quarrels. This is why people injure and kill one another, and shed blood, in the name of religion. But this is not good. Everyone is going toward God. They will all realize Him if they have sincerity and longing of heart. (21, 423)

You must know that there are different tastes. There are also different powers of digestion. God has made different religions and creeds to suit different aspirants. By no means are all fit for the Knowledge of Brahman. Therefore the worship of God with form has been provided.

The mother brings home a fish for her children. She curries part of the fish, part she fries, and with another part she makes pilau. By no means all can digest the pilau. So she makes fish soup for those who have weak stomachs. Further, some want pickled or fried fish. There are different temperaments. There are differences in the capacity to comprehend. (25, 486)

He is indeed a real man who has harmonized everything. Most people are one-sided. But I find that all opinions point to the One. All views—the Sakta, the Vaishnava, the Vedānta—have that One for their centre. He who is formless is, again, endowed with form. It is He who appears in different forms: The attributeless Brahman is my Father. God with attributes is my Mother. Whom shall I blame? Whom shall I praise? The two pans of the scales are equally heavy. (25, 490)

You see how many opinions there are about God. Each opinion is a path. There are innumerable opinions and innumerable paths leading to God…. You must stick to one path with all your strength. A man can reach the roof of a house by stone stairs or a ladder or a rope-ladder or a rope or even by a bamboo pole. But he cannot reach the roof if he sets foot now on one and now on another. He should firmly follow one path. Likewise, in order to realize God a man must follow one path with all his strength.

But you must regard other views as so many paths leading to God. You should not feel that your path is the only right path and that other paths are wrong. You mustn’t bear malice toward others. (27, 514)

It is by the will of God that different religions and opinions have come into existence. God gives to different people what they can digest. The mother does not give fish pilau to all her children. All cannot digest it; so she prepares simple fish soup for some. Everyone cherishes his own special ideal and follows his own nature. (28, 540)

“But I say that we are all calling on the same God. Jealousy and malice need not be. Some say that God is formless, and some that God has form. I say, let one man meditate on God with form if he believes in form, and let another meditate on the formless Deity if he does not believe in form. What I mean is that dogmatism is not good. It is not good to feel that my religion alone is true and other religions are false. The correct attitude is this: My religion is right, but I do not know whether other religions are right or wrong, true or false. I say this because one cannot know the true nature of God unless one realizes Him. Kabir used to say: “God with form is my Mother, the Formless is my Father. Which shall I blame? Which shall I praise? The two pans of the scales are equally heavy.”

Hindus, Mussalmans, Christians, Saktas, Saivas, Vaishnavas, the Brahmajnanis of the time of the rishis, and you, the Brahmajnanis of modern times, all seek the same object. A mother prepares dishes to suit the stomachs of her children. Suppose a mother has five children and a fish is bought for the family. She doesn’t cook pilau or kalia for all of them. All have not the same power of digestion; so she prepares a simple stew for some. But she loves all her children equally.

Do you know my attitude? I love all the preparations of fish. I have a womanly nature (all laugh). I feel myself at home with every dish-fried fish, fish cooked with turmeric powder, pickled fish. And further, I equally relish rich preparations like fish-head, kalia, and pilau. (all laugh)

Do you know what the truth is? God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion. Suppose there are errors in the religion that one has accepted; if one is sincere and earnest, then God Himself will correct those errors. Suppose a man has set out with a sincere desire to visit Jagannath at Puri and by mistake has gone north instead of south; then certainly someone meeting him on the way will tell him: “My good fellow, don’t go that way. Go to the south.” And the man will reach Jagannath sooner or later.

If there are errors in other religions, that is none of our business. God, to whom the world belongs, takes care of that. Our duty is somehow to visit Jagannath. (To the Brahmos) The view you hold is good indeed. You describe God as formless. That is fine. One may eat a cake with icing, either straight or sidewise. It will taste sweet either way.
But dogmatism is not good. You have no doubt heard the story of the chameleon. A man entered a wood and saw a chameleon on a tree. He reported to his friends, “I have seen a red lizard.” He was firmly convinced that it was nothing but red. Another person, after visiting the tree, said, “I have seen a green lizard.” He was firmly convinced that it was nothing but green. But the man who lived under the tree said: “What both of you have said is true. But the fact is that the creature is sometimes red, sometimes green, sometimes yellow, and sometimes has no colour at all.” (29, 558-559)

One must accept everything: God with form and God without form. While meditating in the Kāli temple I noticed Ramani, a prostitute. I said, “Mother, I see that Thou art in that form too.” Therefore I say one must accept everything. One does not know when or how God will reveal Himself. (29, 577)

I keep men’s own ideals intact. I ask a Vaishnava to hold to his Vaishnava attitude and a Sakta to his. But this also I say to them “Never feel that your path alone is right and that the paths of others a wrong and full of errors. Hindus, Mussalmans, and Christians are going to the same destination by different paths. A man can realize God by following his own path if his prayer is sincere. (30, 596)

When you mix with people outside your Samaj, love them all. When in their company be one of them. Don’t harbour malice toward them. Don’t turn up your nose in hatred and say: “Oh, this man believes in God with form and not in the formless God. That man believes in the formless God and not in God with form. This man is a Christian. This man is a Hindu. And this man is a Musslman.” It is God alone who makes people see things in different ways. Know that people have different natures. Realize this and mix with them as much as you can. And love all. But enter your own inner chamber to enjoy peace and bliss. (32, 637)

Once a man went into a wood and saw a beautiful creature on a tree. Later he told a friend about it and said, “Brother, on a certain tree in the wood I saw a red-coloured creature.” The friend answered: “I have seen it too. Why do you call it red? It is green.” A third man said: “Oh, no, no! Why do you call it green? It is yellow.” Then other persons began to describe the animal variously as violet, blue, or black. Soon they were quarrelling about the colour. At last they went to the tree and found a man sitting under it. In answer to their questions he said: “I live under this tree and know the creature very well. What each of you has said about it is true. Sometimes it is red, sometimes green, sometimes yellow, sometimes blue, and so forth and so on. Again, sometimes I see that it has no colour whatsoever.”

Only he who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature. He alone knows that God reveals Himself in different forms and different ways that He has attributes and, again, has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can assume various colours and that sometimes it remains colourless. Others, not knowing the whole truth, quarrel among themselves and suffer. (45, 859)

3. Effort

Cry to the Lord with an intensely yearning heart and you will certainly see Him. People shed a whole jug of tears for wife and children. They swim in tears for money. But who weeps for God? Cry to Him with a real cry. (1, 83)

Longing is like the rosy dawn. After the dawn out comes the sun. Longing is followed by the vision of God. (1, 83)

Nothing whatsoever is achieved in spiritual life without yearning. By constant living in the company of holy men, the soul becomes restless for God. This yearning is like the state of mind of a man who has someone ill in the family. His mind is in a state of perpetual restlessness, thinking how the sick person may be cured. Or again, one should feel a yearning for God like the yearning of a man who has lost his job and is wandering from one office to another in search of work. If he is rejected at a certain place which has no vacancy, he goes there again the next day and inquires, “Is there an vacancy today?” (2, 96)

Anger and lust cannot be destroyed. Turn them toward God. If you must feel desire and temptation, then desire to realize God, feel tempted by Him. Discriminate and turn the passions away from worldly objects. When the elephant is about to devour a plaintain-tree in someone’s garden, the mahut strikes it with his iron-tipped goad. (6, 162)

You practised so many austerities, but people expect to realize God in a moment! Can a man build a wall simply by moving his finger around his home? (11, 238)

What yearning! What love! Radha possessed not only one hundred per cent of divine love, but one hundred and twenty-five per cent. This is what it means to be intoxicated with ecstatic love of God. The sum and substance of the whole matter is that a man must love God, must be restless for Him. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God with form or in God without form. You may or may not believe that God incarnates Himself as man. But you will realize Him if you have that yearning. Then He Himself will let you know what He is like. If you must be mad, why should you be mad for the things of the world? If you must be mad, be mad for God alone. (23, 449)

A man asked, “Why don’t I see God?” I said to him, as the idea came to my mind: “You want to catch a big fish. First make arrangements for it. Throw spiced bait into the water. Get a line and a rod. At the smell of the bait the fish will come from the deep water. By the movement of the water you will know that a big fish has come.

“You want to eat butter. But what will you achieve by simply repeating that there is butter in milk? You have to work hard for it. Only thus can you separate butter from milk. Can one see God by merely repeating, “God exists”? One needs sādhanā. (31, 608)

He who has no compassion is no man. (32, 628)

It is very hard to cultivate discrimination and dispassion. It is not easy to get rid of the idea, “I am the master and all these are mine.” (35, 681)

Everyone wants to be a teacher, but a disciple is hard to find. (41, 794)

One cannot attain divine knowledge till one gets rid of pride. (46, 874)

4. The Varieties of Worldly Life
MASTER (to Narendra): “How do you feel about it? Worldly people say all kinds of things about the spiritually minded. But look here! When an elephant moves along the street, any number of curs and other small animals may bark and cry after it; but the elephant doesn’t even look back at them. If people speak ill of you, what will you think of them?”

NARENDRA: “I shall think that dogs are barking at me.”

MASTER (Smiling): “Oh, no! You mustn’t go that far, my child! (Laughter). God dwells in all beings. But you may be intimate only with good people; you must keep away from the evil-minded. God is even in the tiger; but you cannot embrace the tiger on that account. (Laughter). You may say, “Why run away from a tiger, which is also a manifestation of God?” The answer to that is: “Those who tell you to run away are also manifestations of God—and why shouldn’t you listen to them?” (1, 84)

Let me tell you a story. In a forest there lived a holy man who had many disciples. One day he taught them to see God in all beings and, knowing this, to bow low before them all. A disciple went to the forest to gather wood for the sacrificial fire. Suddenly he heard an outcry: “Get out of the way! A mad elephant is coming!” All but the disciple of the holy man took to their heels. He reasoned that the elephant was also God in another form. Then why should he run away from it? He stood still, bowed before the animal, and began to sing its praises. The mahut of the elephant was shouting: “Run away! Run away!” But the disciple didn’t move. The animal seized him with its trunk, cast him to one side, and went on its way. Hurt and bruised, the disciple lay unconscious on the ground. Hearing what had happened, his teacher and his brother disciples came to him and carried him to the hermitage. With the help of some medicine he soon regained consciousness. Someone asked him, “You knew the elephant was coming—why didn’t you leave the place?” “But”, he said, “our teacher has told us that God Himself has taken all these forms, of animals as well as men. Therefore, thinking it was only the elephant God that was coming, I didn’t run away.” At this the teacher said: “Yes, my child, it is true that the elephant God was coming; but the mahut God forbade you to stay there. Since all are manifestations of God, why didn’t you trust the mahut’s words? You should have heeded the words of the mahut God.” (Laughter) (1, 84)

A DEVOTEE: “Sir, is there no help, then, for such a worldly person?”

MASTER: “Certainly there is. From time to time he should live in the company of holy men, and from time to time go into solitude to meditate on God. Furthermore, he should practise discrimination and pray to God, “Give me faith and devotion.” Once a person has faith he has achieved everything. There is nothing greater than faith.”  (1, 87)

Why shouldn’t one realize God while living in the world? (2, 98)

Everybody will surely be liberated. But one should follow the instructions of the guru; if one follows a devious path, one will suffer in trying to retrace one”s steps. It takes a long time to achieve liberation. A man may fail to obtain it in this life. Perhaps he will realize God only after many births. Sages like Janaka performed worldly duties. They performed them, bearing God in their minds, as a dancing-girl dances, keeping jars or trays on her head. Haven”t you seen how the women in northwest India walk, talking and laughing while carrying water-pitchers on their beads? (2, 98)

A man cannot live on the roof a long time. He comes down again. Those who realize Brahman in samādhi come down also and find that it is Brahman that has become the universe and its living beings. In the musical scale there are the notes sa, re ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni; but one cannot keep one’s voice on “ni” a long time. The ego does not vanish altogether. The man coming down from samādhi perceives that it is Brahman that has become the ego, the universe, and all living beings. This is known as vijnāna. (3, 104)

Again, the worldly man is like a snake trying to swallow a mole. The snake can neither swallow the mole nor give it up. The bound soul may have realized that there is no substance to the world—that the world is like a hog plum, only stone and skin—but still he cannot give it up and turn his mind to God.

I once met a relative of Keshab Sen, fifty years old. He was playing cards. As if the time had not yet come for him to think of God! (7, 165)

A frog had a rupee, which he kept in his hole. One day an elephant was going over the hole, and the frog, coming out in a fit of anger, raised his foot, as if to kick the elephant, and said, “How dare you walk over my head?” Such is the pride that money begets! (7, 169)

He who has realized God does not look upon a woman with the eye of lust; so he is not afraid of her. He perceives clearly that women are but so many aspects of the Divine Mother. He worships them all as the Mother Herself. (7, 168)

When one has such love and attachment for God, one doesn’t feel the attraction of maya to wife, children, relatives, and friends. One retains only compassion for them. To such a man the world appears a strange land, a place where he has merely to perform his duties. It is like a man’s having his real home in the country, but coming to Calcutta for work; he has to rent a house in Calcutta for the sake of his duties. When one develops love of God, one completely gets rid of one’s attachment to the world and worldly wisdom.

One cannot see God if one has even the slightest trace of worldliness. Match-sticks, if damp, won’t strike fire though you rub a thousand of them against the match-box. You only waste a heap of sticks. The mind soaked in worldliness is such a damp match-stick. (7, 173)

Bound souls, worldly people, are like silk-worms. The worms can cut through their cocoons if they want, but having woven the cocoons themselves, they are too much attached to them to leave them. And so they die there. (9, 206)

Once Hriday brought a bull-calf here. I saw, one day, that he had tied it with a rope in the garden, so that it might graze there. I asked him, “Hriday, why do you tie the calf there every day?” “Uncle,” he said, “I am going to send this calf to our village. When it grows strong I shall yoke it to the plough.” As soon as I heard these words I was stunned to think: “How inscrutable is the play of the divine maya! Kamarpukur and Sihore are so far away from Calcutta! This poor calf must go all that way. Then it will grow, and at length it will be yoked to the plough. This is indeed the world! This is indeed maya!”  I fell down unconscious. Only after a long time did I regain consciousness. (12, 270)

“Why should you say such things? This world may be a “frame work of illusion”, but it is also said that it is a “mansion of mirth”. Let the body remain. One can also turn this world into a mansion of mirth.” (14, 298)

It is narrated in the Bhagavata that the Avadhuta had twenty-four gurus, one of whom was a kite. In a certain place the fishermen were catching fish. A kite swooped down and snatched a fish. At the sight of the fish, about a thousand crows chased the kite and made a great noise with their cawing. Whichever way the kite flew with the fish, the crows followed it. The kite flew to the south and the crows followed it there. The kite flew to the north and still the crows followed after it. The kite went east and west, but with the same result. As the kite began to fly about in confusion, lo, the fish dropped from its mouth. The crows at once let the kite alone and flew after the fish. Thus relieved of its worries, the kite sat on the branch of a tree and thought: “That wretched fish was at the root of all my troubles. I have now got  rid of it and therefore I am at peace.” (14, 314)

I find a change, coming over me. Years ago Vaishnavcharan said to me, “One attains Perfect Knowledge when one sees God in man.” Now I see that it is God alone who is moving about in various forms: as a holy man, as a cheat, as a villain. Therefore I say, “Narayana in the guise of the Sādhu, Narayana in the guise of the cheat, Narayana in the guise of the villain, Narayana in the guise of the lecher. (21, 419)

Therefore I say that, whatever you may do, you will find better and better things if only you go forward. You may feel a little ecstasy as the result of japa, but don’t conclude from this that you have achieved everything in spiritual life. Work is by no means the goal of life. Go forward, and then you will be able to perform unselfish work. But again I say that it is most difficult to perform unselfish work. Therefore with love and longing in your heart pray to God: “O God, grant me devotion at Thy Lotus Feet and reduce my worldly duties. Please grant me the boon that the few duties I must do may be done in a detached spirit.” If you go still farther you will realize God. (23, 454)

I tell people that there is nothing wrong in the life of the world. But they must live in the world as a maidservant lives in her master’s house. Referring to her master’s house, she says, “That is our house.” But her real home is perhaps in a far-away village. Pointing out her master’s house to others, she says, no doubt, “This is our house”, but in her heart she knows very well that it doesn’t belong to her and that her own house is in a faraway village. She brings up her master’s son and says, “My Hari has grown very naughty”, or “My Hari doesn’t like sweets.” Though she repeats, “My Hari” with her lips, yet she knows in her heart that Hari doesn’t belong to her, that he is her master’s son.

Thus I say to those who visit me: “Why don’t you live in the world? There is no harm in that. But always keep your mind, on God. Know for certain that house, family and property are not yours. They are God’s. Your real  home is in God.” Also I ask them to pray always with a longing heart for love of God’s Lotus Feet. (23, 456-7)

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.

Live in the world like a waterfowl. The water clings to the bird, but the bird shakes it off. Live in the world like a mudfish. The fish lives in the mud, but its skin is always bright and shiny.

The world is indeed a mixture of truth and make-believe. Discard the make-believe and take the truth.” (24, 472)

A man should do his worldly duties with only twenty-five per cent of his mind, devoting the rest to God. (27, 523)

NILKANTHA: “Revered sir, I am entangled in worldliness.”

MASTER (smiling): “God has kept you in the world for the sake of others. There are eight fetters. One cannot get rid of them all. God keeps one or two so that a man may live in the world and teach others. You have organized this theatrical company. How many people are being benefited by seeing your bhakti! If you give up everything, then where will these musicians go? (30, 598)

PUNDIT (smiling): “Revered sir, I feel a spirit of total renunciation when I am here. I feel like going away, giving up the world.”

MASTER: “No, no! Why should you give up? Give up mentally. Live unattached in the world.” (31, 610)

But I have not got rid of all desires. I have the desire for love of God. (32, 638)

A man should have faith in the words of his guru. He doesn’t have to look into his guru’s character. “Though my guru visits the grog-shop, still he is the Embodiment of Eternal Bliss.”

A man who used to give recitals of the Chandi and the Bhagavata once said, “A broomstick is itself unclean, but it cleans dirty places.” (33, 658)

If a householder is a genuine devotee he performs his duties without attachment; he surrenders the fruit of his work to God—his gain or loss, his pleasure or pain—and day and night he prays for devotion and for nothing else. This is called motiveless work, the performance of duty without attachment. A sannyāsi, too, must do all his work in that spirit of detachment; but he has no worldly duties to attend to, like a householder.

If a householder gives in charity in a spirit of detachment, he is really doing good to himself and not to others. It is God alone that he serves—God, who dwells in all beings; and when he serves God, he is really doing good to himself and not to others. If a man thus serves God through all beings, not through men alone but through animals and other living beings as well; if he doesn’t seek name and fame, or heaven after death; if he doesn’t seek any return from those he serves; if he can carry on his work of service in this spirit-then he performs truly selfless work, work without attachment. Through such selfless work he does good to himself. This is called karma yoga. This too is a way to realize God. But it is very difficult, and not suited to the Kaliyuga. (34, 670-1)

These youngsters have no relationship whatsoever with the world. They owe nothing to the world, nor do they expect anything from it. It is the sense of obligation that entangles a man in the world. (49, 937)

You say that God wants everybody to lead a worldly life. But why don’t you see it as God’s will when your wife and children die? Why don’t you see His will in poverty, when you haven’t a morsel to eat? (Appendix A, 1013)

It is very difficult to do one’s duty in the world. If you whirl round too fast you feel giddy and faint; but there is no such fear if you hold on to a post. Do your duty, but do not forget God.

You may ask, “If worldly life is so difficult, then what is the way?” The way is constant practice. At Kamarpukur I have seen the women of the carpenter families flattening rice with a husking-machine. They are always fearful of the pestle’s smashing their fingers; and at the same time they go on nursing their children and bargaining with customers. They say to the customers, “Pay us what you owe before you leave.” (Appendix A, 1014)

5. The Limitations of Knowledge and Reason

As long as a man argues about God, he has not realized Him. You two were arguing. I didn’t like it.

How long does one hear noise and uproar in a house where a big feast is being given? So long as the guests are not seated for the meal. As soon as food is served and people begin to eat, three quarters of the noise disappears. (All laugh.) When the dessert is served there is still less noise. But when the guests eat the last course, buttermilk, then one hears nothing but the sound “soop, sup”. When the meal is over, the guests retire to sleep and all is quiet.

The nearer you approach to God, the less you reason and argue. When you attain Him, then all sounds—all reasoning and disputing—come to an end. Then you go into samādhi-sleep—into communion with God in silence.” (38, 735)


Mere pundits are like diseased fruit that becomes hard and will not ripen at all. Such fruit has neither the freshness of green fruit nor the flavour of ripe. Vultures soar very high in the sky, but their eyes are fixed on rotten carrion on the ground. The book-learned are reputed to be wise, but they are attached to “woman and gold”. Like the vultures, they are in search of carrion. They are attached to the world of ignorance. Compassion, love of God, and renunciation are the glories of true knowledge. (3, 101)

There is nothing in mere scholarship. The object of study is to find means of knowing God and realizing Him. A holy man had a book. When asked what it contained, he opened it and showed that on all the pages were written the words “Om Rama”, and nothing else. (3, 104)

Chaitanyadeva set out on a pilgrimage to southern India. One day he saw a man reading the Gita. Another man, seated at a distance, was listening and weeping. His eyes were swimming in tears. Chaitanyadeva asked him, “Do you understand all this?” The man said, No, revered sir, I don’t understand a word of the text.” “Then why are you crying?” asked Chaitanya. The devotee said: “I see Arjuna’s chariot before me. I see Lord Krishna and Arjuna seated in front of it, talking. I see this and I weep.” (3, 105)

“Bhakti is the one essential thing. Who can ever know God through reasoning? I want love of God. What do I care about knowing His infinite glories? One bottle of wine makes me drunk. What do I care about knowing how many gallons there are in the grog-shop? One jar of water is enough to quench my thirst. I don’t need to know the amount of water there is on earth.” (6, 157)

God cannot be realized without guilelessness. (7, 176)

What is there in mere scholarship? God can be attained by crying to Him with a longing heart. There is no need to know many things. (7, 180)

Mere dry reasoning—I spit on it! I have no use for it! (12, 272)

Who can ever know God? I don’t even try. I only call on Him as Mother. Let Mother do whatever She likes. I shall know Her if it is Her will; but I shall be happy to remain ignorant if She wills otherwise. My nature is that of a kitten. It only cries, “Mew, mew!” The rest it leaves to its mother. The mother cat puts the kitten sometimes in the kitchen and sometimes on the master’s bed. The young child wants only his mother. He doesn’t know how wealthy his mother is, and he doesn’t even want to know. He knows only, “I have a mother; why should I worry?” Even the child of the maidservant knows that he has a mother. If he quarrels with the son of the master, he says: “I shall tell my mother. I have a mother.” My attitude, too, is that of a child. (14, 299)

NEIGHBOUR: “Who can know God?”

MASTER: “Right. Who can really know Him? But as for us, it is enough to know as much of Him as we need. What need have I of a whole well of water? One jar is more than enough for me. An ant went to a sugar hill. Did it need the entire hill? A grain or two of sugar was more than enough.” (15, 329)

That is very good. But the characteristic of a man of Perfect Knowledge is that he doesn’t keep a single book with  him. He carries all his Knowledge on the tip of his tongue. There’s the instance of Sukadeva. Books—I mean the scriptures—contain a mixture of sand and sugar. The sādhu takes the sugar, leaving aside the sand. He takes only the essence. (16, 342)

Once several men were crossing the Ganges in a boat. One of them, a pundit, was making a great display of his erudition, saying that he had studied various books—the Vedas, the Vedānta, and the six systems of philosophy. He asked a fellow passenger, “Do you know the Vedānta?” “No, revered sir.” “The Samkhya and the Patanjala?” “No, revered sir.” “Have you read no philosophy whatsoever?” “No, revered sir.” The pundit was talking in this vain way and the passenger sitting in silence, when a great storm arose and the boat was about to sink. The passenger said to the pundit, “Sir, can you swim?” “No”, replied the pundit. The passenger said, “I don’t know the Samkhya or the Patanjala, but I can swim.”

MASTER (smiling): “What will a man gain by knowing many scriptures? The one thing needful is to know how to cross the river of the world. God alone is real, and all else illusory. (19, 392)

On attaining Knowledge he becomes conscious that God dwells in all beings. Suppose a man has a thorn in the sole of his foot. He gets another thorn and takes out the first one. In other words, he removes the thorn of ajnāna, ignorance, by means of the thorn of jnāna, knowledge. But on attaining vijnāna, he discards both thorns, knowledge and ignorance. Then he talks intimately with God day and night. It is no mere vision of God. (20, 404)

Let me tell you something. You are a learned and intelligent and serious-minded soul. Keshab and you were like the two brothers, Gaur and Nitai. You have had enough of lectures, arguments, quarrels, discussions, and dissensions. Can such things interest you any more? Now gather your whole mind and direct it to God. Plunge deep into God. (23, 454-5)

SHRISH: “God exists and He alone does everything. But the attributes we ascribe to Him are not the right ones. How can a man conceive of Him? His nature is infinite.”

MASTER: “What need is there of your counting the number of trees and branches in an orchard? You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Do that and be happy. The aim of human birth is to love God. Realize that love and be at peace.

“Suppose you have entered a tavern for a drink. Is it necessary for you to know how many gallons of wine there are in the tavern? One glass is enough for you. What need is there of your knowing the infinite qualities of God? You may discriminate for millions of years about God’s attributes and still you will not know them.” (24, 463)

Better than reading is hearing, and better than hearing is seeing. One understands the scriptures better by hearing them from the lips of the guru or of a holy man. Then one doesn’t have to think about their non-essential part.

Hanuman said: “Brother, I don’t know much about the phase of the moon or the position of the stars. I just contemplate Rāma.”

But seeing is far better than hearing. Then all doubts disappear. It is true that many things are recorded in the scriptures; but all these are useless without the direct realization of God, without devotion to His Lotus Feet, without purity of heart. The almanac forecasts the rainfall of the year. But not a drop of water will you get by squeezing the almanac. No, not even one drop.

How long should one reason about the texts of the scriptures? So long as one does not have direct realization of God. How long does the bee buzz about? As long as it is not sitting on a flower. No sooner does it light on a flower and begin to sip honey than it keeps quiet. (25, 476)

There are some who do not care to know the splendours of God. What do I care about knowing how many gallons of wine there are in the tavern? One bottle is enough for me. Why should I desire the knowledge of God’s splendours? I am intoxicated with the little wine I have swallowed. (25, 476)

What good is there in reading a whole lot of scriptures? What good is there in the study of philosophy? What is the use of talking big? In order to learn archery one should first aim at a banana tree, then at a reed, then at a wick, and last at a flying bird. At the beginning one should concentrate on God with form. (25, 484)

The harmful effect of the study of the scriptures is that it encourages reasoning and arguing. (25, 484)

PUNDIT : “In expounding religion one has to use a great many words.”

MASTER: “While preaching, eliminate the “head and tail”, that is to say, emphasize only the essentials.” (25, 485)

The important thing is somehow to cultivate devotion to God and love for Him. What is the use of knowing many things? It is enough to cultivate love of God by following any of the paths. When you have this love, you are sure to attain God. Afterwards, if it is necessary, God will explain everything to you and tell you about the other paths as well. It is enough for you to develop love of God. You have no need of many opinions and discussions. You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Enjoy them to your heart’s content. You don’t need to count the branches and leaves on the trees. It is wise to follow the attitude of Hanuman: “I do not know the day of the week, the phase of the moon, or the position of the stars; I only contemplate Rāma.” (26, 506)

(To Hazra) “If there is knowledge of one, there is also knowledge of many. What will you achieve by mere study of the scriptures? The scriptures contain a mixture of sand and sugar, as it were. It is extremely difficult to separate the sugar from the sand. Therefore one should learn the essence of the scriptures from the teacher or from a sādhu. Afterwards what does one care for books?

(To the devotees) “Gather all the information and then plunge in. Suppose a pot has dropped in a certain part of a lake. Locate the spot and dive there.

“One should learn the essence of the scriptures from the guru and then practise sadhana. If one rightly follows spiritual discipline, then one directly sees God. The discipline is said to be rightly followed only when one plunges in. What will a man gain by merely reasoning about the words of the scriptures? Ah, the fools! They reason themselves to death over information about the path. They never take the plunge. What a pity! (28, 543)

After the realization of God, how far below lie the Vedas, the Vedānta, the Purana, the Tantra! (28, 544)

One cannot realize God without the faith that knows no guile, the simple faith of a child. (29, 568)

It is one thing to learn about God from the scriptures, and quite another to see Him. The scriptures only give hints. Therefore to read a great many scriptures is not necessary. It is much better to pray to God in solitude. (30, 587)

You may speak of the scriptures, of philosophy, of Vedānta; but you will not find God in any of these. You will never succeed in realizing God unless your soul becomes restless for Him. (31, 607)

Can one find God in the sacred books? By reading the scriptures one may feel at the most that God exists. But God does not reveal Himself to a man unless he himself dives deep. Only after such a plunge, after the revelation of God through His grace, is one’s doubt destroyed. You may read scriptures by the thousands and recite thousands of texts; but unless you plunge into God with yearning of heart, you will not comprehend Him. By mere scholarship you may fool man, but not God. (32, 625)

How much of the scriptures can you read? What will you gain by mere reasoning? Try to realize God before anything else. Have faith in the guru’s words, and work. If you have no guru, then pray to God with a longing heart. He will let you know what He is like.

What will you learn of God from books? As long as you are at a distance from the market-place you hear only an indistinct roar. But it is quite different when you are actually there. Then you hear and see everything distinctly. You hear people saying: “Here are your potatoes. Take them and give me the money.” From a distance you hear only the rumbling noise of the ocean. Go near it and you will see many boats sailing about, birds flying, and waves rolling.

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. (33, 645-6)

If you can somehow get yourself introduced to Jadu Mallick, then you will be able to learn, if you want to, the number of his houses and gardens and the amount of his money invested in government securities. Jadu Mallick himself will tell you all about them. But if you haven’t met him and if you are stopped by his door-keepers when you try to enter his house, then how will you get the correct information about his houses, gardens, and government securities? When you know God you know all else; but then you don’t care to know small things. The same thing is stated in the Vedas. You talk about the virtues of a person as long as you haven’t seen him, but no sooner does he appear before you than all such talk stops. You are beside yourself with joy simply to be with him. You feel overwhelmed by simply conversing with him. You don’t talk about his virtues any more. (34, 672)

The one thing you need is to realize God. Why do you bother so much about the world, creation, “science”, and all that? Your business is to eat mangoes. What need have you to know how many hundreds of trees there are in the orchard, how many thousands of branches, and how many millions of leaves? You have come to the garden to eat mangoes. Go and eat them. Man is born in this world to realize God; it is not good to forget that and divert the mind to other things. You have come to eat mangoes. Eat the mangoes and be happy. (34, 672)

Let me tell you this: really and truly I don’t feel sorry in the least that I haven’t read the Vedānta  or the other scriptures. I know that the essence of the Vedānta is that  Brahman alone is real and the world illusory. And what is the essence of the Gitā? It is what you get by repeating the word ten times. Then it is reversed into, “Tagi”, which refers to renunciation. The pupil should hear the essence of the scriptures from the guru; then he should practise austerity and devotions. A man needs the letter he has received from home as long as he has not learnt its contents. After reading it, however, he sets out to get the thing he has been asked to send. Likewise, what need is there of the scriptures if you know their essence? The next thing is the practice of spiritual discipline.” (36, 694)

I see. You think as the intellectuals do: one reaps the results of one’ actions. Give up these ideas. The effect of karma wears away if one takes refuge in God. I prayed to the Divine Mother with flowers in my hand: “Here, Mother, take Thy sin; here, take Thy virtue. I don’ want either of these; give me only real bhakti. Here, Mother, take Thy good; here, take Thy bad. I don’t want any of Thy good or bad; give me only real bhakti. Here, Mother, take Thy dharma; here, take Thy adharma. I don’t want any of Thy dharma or adharma; give me only real bhakti. Here, Mother, take Thy knowledge; here, take Thy ignorance. I don’t want any of Thy knowledge or ignorance; give me only real bhakti. Here, Mother, take Thy purity; here, take Thy impurity. Give me only real bhakti.” (43, 817)

What will you achieve by quoting from books? The pundits recite verses and do nothing else.

“What will you gain by merely repeating “siddhi”? You will not be intoxicated even by gargling with a solution of siddhi. It must go into your stomach; not until then will you be intoxicated. One cannot comprehend what I am saying unless one prays to God in solitude, all by oneself, with a longing heart. (44, 844)

Many people think they cannot have knowledge or understanding of God without reading books. But hearing is better than reading, and seeing is better than hearing. Hearing about Benares is different from reading about it; but seeing Benares is different from either hearing or reading. (45, 863)

NARENDRA: NARENDRA: “I did not believe in anything.”

M:” You mean the forms of God?”

NARENDRA: “At first I did not accept most of what the Master said. One day he asked me, “Then why do you come here?” I replied, “I come here to see you, not to listen to you.”

M: “What did he say to that?”

NARENDRA: “He was very much pleased.” (52, 984)

Why do you write about me in your paper? You cannot make a man great by writing about him in books and magazines. If God makes a man great, then everybody knows about him even though he lives in a forest. When flowers bloom in the deep woods, the bees find them, but the flies do not. What can man do? Don’t look up to him. Man is but a worm. The tongue that praises you today will abuse you tomorrow. I don’t want name and fame. May I always remain the humblest of the humble and the lowliest of the lowly!” (Appendix A, 1020)

6. Beyond Knowledge and Reason

Go beyond knowledge and ignorance; only then can you realize God. To know many things is ignorance. Pride of scholarship is also ignorance. The unwavering conviction that God alone dwells in all beings is Jnāna, knowledge. To know Him intimately is vijnāna, a richer Knowledge. If a thorn gets into your foot, a second thorn is needed to take it out. When it is out both thorns are thrown away. You have to procure the thorn of knowledge to remove the thorn of ignorance; then you must set aside both knowledge and ignorance. God is beyond both knowledge and ignorance. Once Lakshmana said to Rāma, “Brother, how amazing it is that such a wise man as Vasishtha wept bitterly at the death of his sons!” Rāma said: “Brother, he who has knowledge must also have ignorance. He who has knowledge of one thing must also have knowledge of many things. He who is aware of light is also aware of darkness.” Brahman is beyond knowledge and ignorance, virtue and vice, merit and demerit, cleanliness and uncleanliness. (47, 899)

One man may read the Bhagavata by the light of a lamp, and another may commit a forgery by that very light; but the lamp is unaffected. The sun sheds its light on the wicked as well as on the virtuous. (3, 102)

Bhishma was none other than one of the eight Vasus, but even he shed tears on his bed of arrows. He said: “How astonishing! God Himself is the companion of the Pandava brothers, and still there is no end to their troubles and sorrows!” Who can ever understand the ways of God? (8, 183)

The paramahamsa realizes that all these—good and bad, virtue and vice, real and unreal-are only the glories of God’s maya. But these are very deep thoughts. One realizing this cannot keep an organization together or anything like that. (11, 250)

MASTER: “The inferior devotee says, “God exists, but He is very far off, up there in heaven.” The mediocre devotee says, “God exists in all beings as life and consciousness.” The superior devotee says: “It is God Himself who has become everything; whatever I see is only a form of God. It is He alone who has become maya, the universe, and all living beings. Nothing exists but God.” (12, 265)

But there are signs that a man has had the vision of God. A man who has seen God sometimes behaves like a madman: he laughs, weeps, dances, and sings. Sometimes he behaves like a child, a child five years old—guileless, generous, without vanity, unattached to anything, not under the control of any of the gunas, always blissful. Sometimes he behaves like a ghoul: he doesn’t differentiate between things pure and things impure; he sees no difference between things clean and things unclean. And sometimes he is like an inert thing, staring vacantly: he cannot do any work; he cannot strive for anything. (12, 265)

Thus pleasure and pain are inevitable when the soul accepts a body. (13, 275)

You ask why? Brahman doesn’t act in consultation with others. It is Brahman’s pleasure. Brahman is self-willed. Why should we try to know the reason for Brahman’s acting this way or that? You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Eat the mangoes. What is the good of calculating how many trees there are in the orchard, how many thousands of branches, and how many millions of leaves? One cannot realize Truth by futile arguments and reasoning. (25, 496)

But you must remember one thing. One cannot see God sporting as man unless one has had the vision of Him. Do you know the sign of one who has God-vision? Such a man acquires the nature of a child. Why a child? Because God is like a child. So he who sees God becomes like a child. (35, 688)

Who can comprehend everything about God? It is not given to man to know any aspect of God, great or small. And what need is there to know everything about God? It is enough if we only realize Him. And we see God Himself if we but see His Incarnation. Suppose a person goes to the Ganges and touches its water. He will then say, “Yes, I have seen and touched the Ganges.” To say this it is not necessary for him to touch the whole length of the river from Hardwar to Gangasagar. (38, 725-6)

I prayed to the Divine Mother only for love. I offered flowers at Her Lotus Feet and said with folded hands: “O Mother, here is Thy ignorance and here is Thy knowledge; take them both and give me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy holiness and here is Thy unholiness; take them both and give me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy virtue and here is Thy sin; here is Thy good and here is Thy evil; take them all and give me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy dharma and here is Thy adharma; take them both and give me only pure love for Thee.” (47, 902)

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8 thoughts on “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Favorite Passages)

  1. I so love this. I also have an old, worn copy of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. I’ve been reading it for 27 years. I’m no longer drawn to ashram life, but the universal truths contained in these pages will forever be a lodestone for me, pointing out true (spiritual) north, beyond the confines of any particular religion. Thanks for following me, so I could discover your thoughtful blog today.

  2. Thank you, Samuel. I received a copy of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna many years ago (still the best gift I’ve ever received), after only hearing rumors of it from people like Joseph Campbell, and it remains the best book of its kind that I know: repetitions of the same stories, day to day conversations, quiet wisdom, and even a good bit of humor. I read through it initially in a white heat, but kept coming back to it, and realized first that I wanted a pocket version of its best passages for myself, but also that it needed to be distilled for those who would never wade through the entire thing. I’m glad it’s also useful for old fans of the book too. Whether in the face of fundamentalism in India or America, there nothing like Ramakrishna’s simple and clear parables.

  3. Shri Ramakrisha revealed Universal Truth in such ordinary and lay man’s words.
    More amazing is the fact that they have remained alive and found place in the heart of devotees of Truth like this Author.
    May this message of peace and harmony keep propagating through such efforts.

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