Dylan Grant's Reviews > Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Ramakrishna
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it was amazing
bookshelves: spiritual, hindu, favourite, nonfiction

This massive philosophical and spiritual tome with gold-trimmed pages has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost two years. A spiritual mentor of mine recommended it to me a long time ago. I attempted to read it in bits and pieces many times, but quickly realized that this extraordinary book is of the kind that demands your full attention. I am a busy person, so it took me a long time for the day to dawn when I would finally have enough time and mental energy to read The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna in it's entirety.

First, some explanation as to what exactly this book is. Sri Ramakrishna didn't write this book, because he was illiterate. His disciple Mahashaya (known by his pen name "M") wrote this book. It's essentially a series of transcripts of conversations Ramakrishna had with his disciples and other people. Who is Ramakrishna? He is a great spiritual guru of India, unique among the plethora of India's gurus because of the intensity and constancy of his spiritual experiences. Ramakrishna would be drunk with divine ecstasy and be rendered immobile or child-like, unable to function in daily life. His critics said that Ramakrishna was just insane, but his followers were convinced he was nothing short of a divine avatar or a reincarnation of Chaitanya (a famous Bhakti saint from ancient India).

Regardless of what one thinks of Ramakrishna, his impact on the world is undeniable. Ramakrishna taught the unity of all religions. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and all of its various denominations, Sikhism, etc are all just so many paths to God, which He creates to benefit different people in different times. The Christian kneels before Christ, the Shaivite kneels before Shiva, the Muslim kneels before Allah, and Ramakrishna says they all kneel before the very same God who has merely decided to take different forms to suit different people and also for His own good pleasure. This teaching helped to end violence between Hindus and Muslims in India. This idea of Ramakrishna's is ubiquitous among New Age crowds and open-minded spiritual people now, but at the time it was quite shocking.

Swami Vivekananda, a figure instrumental in bringing Yoga to the west, was a disciple of Ramakrishna, also.

So regardless of rather or not Ramakrishna's constant visions and ecstasies were his spiritual glory revealing itself or a bizarre mental illness, to be able to read his words is truly a blessing.

There are three things any reader should know about this book before they read it. The first is that even though it is very long, and the book does follow Ramakrishna's life from when he began teaching to his death of throat cancer and the founding of the monastic order that followed his death, one can pick it up at any page at any time and start reading. Mahashaya recorded a TON of conversations had with his Guru, and because different people would ask Ramakrishna the same questions there are certain parts of the book that kind of repeat themselves. This isn't a bad thing because A) Ramakrishna's humble wisdom never gets boring and B) The human mind is recalcitrant and needs wisdom to be hammered into it by being repeated over and over and over again.

The second thing you should know is that Ramakrishna central message, besides the unity of all religions, was renunciation. Ramakrishna said that only the mind freed from worldliness (which for him meant greed and sexual desire) could reach the highest spiritual states. It is possible for one to reach enlightenment even whilst living the life of a householder with a big family, but it is very difficult. Really, the parts of the book where he goes on about the necessity of renunciation are my favourites. If earthly desires are like red-hot flames then Ramakrishna's words are like cool rain that extinguish those fires and leaves only peace in their wake. Reading this book is a very sobering experience. You don't carry your riches with you when you die, and the desires of the flesh are inherently unsatisfactory.

The third thing you should know is that this book is full of songs translated from Bengali and Sanskrit into english. The rhythm and rhymes of these songs is lost as the translator preferred clarity of meaning over style.

There are lots of things I love about this book, and one of them is that Ramakrishna, being an illiterate Bengali country boy of sagely wisdom, is always profound but simple at the same time. His metaphors, parables, etc are always rustic and often humorous but the meaning is always very powerful. The other thing I love about it is that Ramakrishna's disciples would often debate and argue with each other, and the answers to these questions they would debate over remain unresolved as Ramakrishna simply admitted that he didn't know and that metaphysical speculations weren't necessarily an aid in spiritual development. So for example, Girish Ghosh (one of Ramakrishna's disciples) debates with Vivekananda over rather or not a soul can ever reach a state like Krishna's. A very young Vivekananda says that one can eventually do it through enough merit, but Girish Ghosh says it's impossible because Krishna is an avatar of God and therefore a unique soul that cannot be matched. Ramakrishna says that loving God is like being in a garden full of mangoes. You are just supposed to eat the mangoes and enjoy them, there is no point in counting how many mangoes there are. In other words, cultivating devotion for God is more important than abstract metaphysical questions.

Even though I have spent more than a month diving in this ocean of wisdom, I have no doubt there are many pearls of insight I have yet to find. I look forward to returning to this utterly sublime book that shot to the top of my favourite books I've ever read list before I was even done reading it.

Oh, and Aldous Huxley's forward is awesome, and it's clear he sincerely has reverence for Ramakrishna and his teachings and isn't trying to adulterate them to make money. Swami Nikhilananda's short biography of the early years of Ramakrishna's life that follows the forward is also excellent.

The only flaw (THERE IS ALWAYS A FLAW) is the title. It shouldn't be called the "Gospel" of Sri Ramakrishna, because that makes it sound like it is trying to compete with christianity when that is nearly the opposite of what it is trying to do. The original title of M's book translated literally into english is "The Nectarine Words of Sri Ramakrishna". That's a more accurate and more unique title. Why did the publishers decide to change it? It's a mystery to me. But that's the way the Wheel of Samsara rolls: there is always a flaw. If there weren't any flaws we would already be in the Heavenly Realms and wouldn't appreciate it. We have to overcome this earthly plane before we can transcend it to a higher one and be able to appreciate flawlessness.

Aum.
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Reading Progress

December 15, 2014 – Started Reading
December 15, 2014 – Shelved
February 9, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 25, 2015 –
page 50
4.71%
May 27, 2015 –
page 115
10.83%
May 28, 2015 –
page 145
13.65%
June 1, 2015 –
page 210
19.77% "Finishing this behemoth of a book is one of my goals for the summer. Not only is this golden tome massive in size, it is also very dense because of the depth of its philosophical and spiritual content sand as such demands to be read very slowly so that one does not miss anything."
June 2, 2015 –
page 230
21.66%
June 2, 2015 –
page 230
21.66%
June 2, 2015 –
page 238
22.41%
June 5, 2015 –
page 273
25.71%
June 5, 2015 –
page 338
31.83%
June 8, 2015 –
page 360
33.9%
June 8, 2015 –
page 383
36.06%
June 11, 2015 –
page 400
37.66%
June 14, 2015 –
page 472
44.44%
June 16, 2015 –
page 493
46.42%
June 17, 2015 –
page 512
48.21%
June 17, 2015 –
page 532
50.09%
June 18, 2015 –
page 545
51.32%
June 18, 2015 –
page 553
52.07%
June 19, 2015 –
page 578
54.43%
June 22, 2015 –
page 605
56.97%
June 23, 2015 –
page 621
58.47%
June 23, 2015 –
page 621
58.47%
June 24, 2015 –
page 677
63.75%
June 28, 2015 –
page 709
66.76%
June 28, 2015 –
page 709
66.76%
June 30, 2015 –
page 742
69.87%
June 30, 2015 –
page 742
69.87%
July 2, 2015 –
page 800
75.33%
July 4, 2015 –
page 850
80.04%
July 5, 2015 –
page 900
84.75%
July 7, 2015 –
page 968
91.15%
July 8, 2015 – Finished Reading
October 23, 2015 – Shelved as: spiritual
October 23, 2015 – Shelved as: hindu
October 23, 2015 – Shelved as: favourite
January 10, 2016 – Shelved as: nonfiction

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Celeste (new)

Celeste Wikkerink Everything you wrote is wonderful and makes me want to read this one day. But THERE IS ALWAYS A FLAW. The flaw you found only works for the translation. In the original language, are you suggesting it is perfect and that as the reader you would automatically be in the Heavenly Realms? And who is to say that we would not appreciate flawlessness in the Heavenly Realms?


Dylan Grant Celeste wrote: "Everything you wrote is wonderful and makes me want to read this one day. But THERE IS ALWAYS A FLAW. The flaw you found only works for the translation. In the original language, are you suggesting..."

Very clever to have noticed that flaw!

Perhaps to read this book in the original Bengali and Sanskrit would be truly heavenly, haha. I know my other biggest problem with reading it, which I didn't mention in the review I don't think, is that the songs they sing have no rhythm due to the translation.

I think that the reason we suffer on the Earthly Realm (experiencing loss, physical pain, etc) is to get us to eventually long for the painless and lossless heavenly realm. If we were just born in a state of heavenliness we wouldn't be able to appreciate it as much if we had not been born into earthliness.


message 3: by Celeste (new)

Celeste Wikkerink Dylan wrote: "Celeste wrote: "Everything you wrote is wonderful and makes me want to read this one day. But THERE IS ALWAYS A FLAW. The flaw you found only works for the translation. In the original language, ar..."

I think you did mention that, but isn't it better to keep the sense rather than the rhythm in some cases when translating? Of course I don't know what would be best in this case, but I remember when we read Dante's Inferno we both thought the efforts to keep the rhyme through the translation were overrated and made the book more difficult to read.
I agree completely with your second paragraph, but what I was meaning was that I think because of the suffering and imperfection we experience in the earthly realm, the perfectness and painlessness of the heavenly realm will be much more appreciated. But of course there is no way to know.


Dylan Grant "what I was meaning was that I think because of the suffering and imperfection we experience in the earthly realm, the perfectness and painlessness of the heavenly realm will be much more appreciated" - That's what I was getting at.


message 5: by Celeste (new)

Celeste Wikkerink Dylan wrote: ""what I was meaning was that I think because of the suffering and imperfection we experience in the earthly realm, the perfectness and painlessness of the heavenly realm will be much more appreciat..."

ooohhh mesees


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