Thursday 7 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 2

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

For those of us who see the Ramakrishna Movement as a budding world religious movement, it is helpful to look at the history of Buddhism and Christianity to understand a little of the present and future of our own movement. At the beginning of these two traditions, we see that the life and thought and practice of the nascent movement centred around the human aspect of the Teacher for one or two centuries after the Teacher's passing. We also see that, though the disciples and their disciples knew that the Teacher was no ordinary saint, most didn't understand the full historical significance of the Teacher's life and message. Much of the early work of forming the movement went into codifying and studying and understanding the basic life and teachings, in an effort to be true to the historical Person.

In Christianity, for instance, you see a tension between St Paul and the direct disciples after the death of Jesus. St Paul never saw Jesus, except in vision, and yet he was the one who understood the historical importance—the world importance of Jesus. The apostles who had known Jesus, knew him to be divine, but didn't know what that meant to the world at large. They still thought of themselves as a Jewish sect devoted to their great Teacher, not as a world movement. In his epistles, Paul repeatedly insists that they have a universal treasure that must be opened to the larger world outside of Jewish society, with its strict tribal identity and cultural laws.

The same is observed in the beginnings of our own religious movement, the Ramakrishna Movement. The disciples of the Great Teacher thought of him as they had known him: a Human-Divine Being. They remembered his words, his beatific smile, his jokes and laughter, his unfathomable love, the ecstasy they witnessed in him multiple times a day, and the ecstasy that they felt in his presence. They also knew and experienced him to be a living, present reality even after his mahasamadhi, guiding them still, drawing them towards himself, revealing to them more and more of the Infinite and Its infinite Manifestations, even after their own liberation.

Their disciples and their disciples' disciples 'grew up' hearing about Sri Ramakrishna with an immediacy that made a profound impression. Even a latecomer like the present author had the great blessing of meeting someone who had known and served Sri Ramakrishna, and whose marriage was arranged by him, and also the great blessing of knowing five people who had seen Swamiji. And thus the historical person remains very much in the fore, even as people recognise that the Teacher has entered a new phase of being: his body is gone but he remains—still living, a tangible Reality, active in the lives of devotees.

The tension seen between St Paul and the other disciples of Christ was seen between Swamiji and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, monastic and lay. Swamiji spent years convincing the other disciples that Sri Ramakrishna and his mission were far larger than anything they had conceived, sometimes uncer-emoniously smashing their limited conceptions. Thankfully, Sri Ramakrishna had established such a deep bond between Narendra and the other disciples, that the tension was contained by this bond of love.

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

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