Ramakrishna’s Love and the Re-Enlightenment of the West

July 14, 2019
I am writing today full of inspiration and love, and feeling the full majesty of the path to awakening. I am also feeling the deep responsibility that we have to move the ball further up the field for the benefit of all beings on this planet.

It is natural in the work that I do to cycle between periods of extreme elation, and periods of anxiety and insecurity. Of course, neither experience ultimately matters. Both are simply energetic movements in a nervous system that flows ceaselessly from a mysterious source of pure conscious awareness and blissful Self-recognition.

Still we are all human, and if we prefer the experience of joy when we can get it.

So today I send you a short essay to share the source of my joy in the hopes that some of the wonder that has gripped my soul can be shared with you.

In the late nineteenth century, the great Indian sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa lived and taught in Kolkata. This divinely inspired being lived with his wife in a modest home. There, in his Temple Garden, the great mystic taught to all that came to visit him.

Shifting effortlessly from profound spiritual discourse to fits of ecstatic dancing and singing, the great master was a tornado of embodied wisdom and unbridled love. Those around him were held spellbound by the ferocity and the sweetness of the sacred revelation that were constantly on display.

The Great Swan, as he is sometimes called, loved everyone that came to him with a wide open heart that knew no limits, but there were some who captured the master's heart with an irrevocable grip.

One of these was a young man only twenty years of age whose name was Narenda. Narenda’s deeply awakened nature was recognized immediately by Ramakrishna the first time the young man visited the Garden Temple.

Narenda was a student at the time he met the older teacher. In his studies, he was reading the poems of the English Romantic poet Wordsworth. Narenda's English teacher was discussing how Wordsworth would enter states of ecstatic rapture and how those states were the true source of his poetry.

One day, this teacher also mentioned that there was a man in Kolkata who was said to enter such ecstatic states. Narenda immediately decided to go and visit this man.

Sitting himself down in front of the great teacher, Narenda asked the same question he had asked of every supposedly awakened being he could find. “Can you know God directly, and have you made that direct contact yourself?”

In the past, Narenda had always received answers that were peppered with nervous qualification. These answers always amounted to a reply of “Yes, but”, and always left Narenda dissatisfied with his heart still yearning for more.

Upon hearing the young man’s question, Ramakrishna said simply and unhesitatingly, “Of course my dear.” And then he continued, “Divine Reality can be experienced much more fully and directly than we are perceiving and understanding each other at this moment.”

The young man had found the teacher he had been searching for, and the teacher had found a cosmic love.

Over time, the two would see each other often. They would sit in the rapture of shared God-Intoxication. Peering into each other's eyes and seeing the vast reaches of the unending inner cosmos. Their love was so deep that some in their circles even wondered about it.

This particular love story has a magnificent ending. You see, the young Narenda in time would become a great teacher himself. And he would eventually make a long and arduous journey to America without a penny to his name.

The young man arrived in America with a new name, Swami Vivekananda, and spoke at the first Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago in 1893.

Eastern spiritual teachings had already been known in America for decades, at least since Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau started reading the first English translations of the Upanishads, but never before had such a deeply awakened master of the East visited there in person.

The presentation that the great Vivekananda gave to the members of the Parliament of the World’s Religions is the stuff of legend. He spoke with such poise and grace, effortlessly explaining the most sublime spiritual truths while displaying the learned qualities of a truly sophisticated man.

The audience was intoxicated by this man dressed in strange robes who had traveled so far with no money to address them. The doors between the enlightenment of the East and the West were ripped wide open and neither world would ever be the same again.


Hearing a story like this reminds me of why I love what I do. Teaching for me is never only about transferring knowledge or information, even though that is part of the process. It is not even about offering instruction for practice that can bring new openings to awareness, as important as they may be.

In the end, this is about shared communion with the ultimate reality. It is about finding each other and then sitting in the wordless intoxication of knowing that you know what I know, even though that knowing can’t ultimately be grasped by the mind.

There is no better reason to lead retreats than to create opportunities for this depth of contact and for the gifts that contact can bring forth into the world.

I hope to see you on a retreat someday.

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