Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The saint of saints

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The saint of saints
Reviewed by
Kuldip Dhiman

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: The Sadhaka of Dakshineswar
By Amiya P. Sen.
Penguin/Viking. Pages 178. Rs 325.

THERE are many paths to God realisation, such as the path of bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge), karma (action), etc., and Hinduism does not favour any particular path. The idea is the seeker ought to choose the path according to his own nature and disposition. The irony is that the follower of one particular path often finds other paths worthless or even harmful, that is because he just cannot appreciate the other viewpoint. And this is the cause of all the religious strife the world over.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa tried several avenues one by one, but his path was mainly that of bhakti. "Rather than progress in a linear fashion, Ramakrishna's preferences seem to have alternated between dualism and non-dualism. Even after he ascended to the state of nirvikalpa samadhi, the highest state of mystic realisation known to an Advaitin, Ramakrishna chose to return to the state of bhakti-bhava." This quote is from Amiya P. Sen's Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: The Sadhaka of Dakshineswar, a very well researched and lucidly written book.

Sen begins with a very informative preface, which gives a background to the religious and social milieu of the 19th-century Bengal. Religious atmosphere was rich and varied, although with the coming of Western ideas through the East India Company, many young educated people began to regard Hinduism as being nothing but superstition. And from the same lot, there were others who defended Hinduism resolutely. At such a time, we see the rise of Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, better known as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who would have a tremendous impact on people of India, especially Bengal.

Sen says, "Looking back, Ramakrishna does appear to have contributed substantially to the renewed interest n Hinduism, but this itself is due to the fact that, in the1870s and 1880s, he was easily the first prototype of a modern saint and guru."

While the follower of the path of knowledge depends upon pure contemplation, and the follower of action depends upon work without attachment, the follower of bhakti marga depends upon unconditional love towards his personal deity. The devotee often gets so ecstatic that he might begin to dance wildly or might get into a trance when the emotions become too strong to control. Though all paths are beneficial, the path of devotion has a certain edge. The author says Ramakrishna believed that although the path of devotion is not superior to the path of knowledge, it is like the woman who can be freely admitted to the inner chambers whereas jnana, as the self-conscious male, has first to establish his bona fides before being allowed in.

The book vividly captures the vibrant life of one of the most influential saints of India. We get insights into his relationship with his wife, brother, well-wishers, and his disciples, the most famous of thembeing Swami Vivekananda. Sen writes with the objectivity of an academic and that is what sets this book apart from many others on the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.


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