As my portraits of Saint’s, Sages and Swamis continues, the focus will be on authentic spiritual Masters. Selections will be taken from various parts of the world, though most will be from India as that ancient land produced the most Saints and Sages.
Some of these mystic beings may be associated with different religious creeds, with followers and devotees performing rituals related to that faith system. All of the Saints I highlight, however, transcended religious belief systems, having realized that all religions are one at their core.
I am sketching those Masters born after 1826, the year the first photograph was taken. (The first few blogs now have photos added post facto).
Along with the words, the advent of photography- (which literally means: ‘light drawing’)-allows us to glimpse their presence and soul quality. Images transmit the living light of the Saint or Sage in a mysterious way.
The old cliché, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is an understatement in the case of Saints and Sages. When we commune with photos of Saints & Sages, we are transported to the natural state, which is timeless. Authenticity resonates, fear fades, and remembrance of what we really are exudes forth. Realizing this Living Reality is our true purpose. Gazing and meditating with photos of Saints & Sages brings forth an intimate and eternal connection along with assurance of immortality. Doubts are removed, faith deepened, creating an impenetrable contentment and bliss that far exceeds any earthly pleasure.
Saint Ramakrishna (1836-1886), was only photographed a few times. The last photo taken, two years before the Master’s passing, has an interesting story. One of his devotees wanted to take a portrait photo and a photographer came but Ramakrishna did not consent to it. One of Ramakrishna’s intimate disciples arrived and heard what was happening:
“Wait a bit.” He said. “I shall put everything straight.” He took Ramakrishna to a veranda and began talking of God. Ramakrishna went into meditative absorption and lost all contact with his body and the outside world. (This portrait is shared at the bottom).
Many great Saints and Sages from different Ages will not be included in my blogs, if they were born before the advent of photography. I will only be profiling Saints and Sages who lived in the last 200 years for their life stories and lasting messages are better authenticated.
Nearly 30 years ago, I came across the “Gospel of Ramakrishna” an English translation of a diary kept by one of Ramakrishna’s householder devotees. At over 1000 pages, it unveils intimate conversations and details through a divine gift of remembrance and has brought to life one of the greatest Saints who ever walked the earth. And yet, I could not read but a few pages until many years later.
I was not ready.
The necessary stripping and humbling had not taken place. When I finally took up the book, it deepened and expanded my own quest for Reality. Like a magician’s wand tapped on the chest, my heart’s devotion was unfurled like a giant sail during a multi-month immersion in Master’s teachings.
As a child Ramakrishna loved to be in spiritual plays. Once at age 7, he was given the part of Shiva, a name for the Lord Himself, and as he stepped onto the stage ecstatic devotion and love overwhelmed him. Tears ran down his face and he just stood there, fully absorbed in the divine presence. Later that year his father died. No longer did he play childhood games, instead Ramakrishna began associating with pilgrims and wandering holy men.
In his 20’s, Ramakrisha, as is the case with many Saints, underwent enormous purification during his quest for God. He endured a raging fire sent from the Almighty to burn up the last vestiges of his personality.
His earnestness and sincerity to realize God was put to the ultimate test, as he later said:
“… I was perfectly unmindful of the cleaning of the body…hair grew matted…the body would because stiff and motionless like a stork in meditation…birds taking it to be inert substance, came and freely perched on the head and pecked into the matted hair in search of food…an ordinary man couldn’t have borne a quarter of that tremendous fervor…my eyes lost the power of winking….I would shed tears but then, suddenly, I’d be filled with ecstasy. I saw my body didn’t matter…always the refrain, ‘Divine Mother come to me, show Yourself was on my lips….’”
During these periods, often he had attendants that helped him, lest he not eat or take care of his bodily needs.
Ramakrishna taught in parables, with stories like:
“There was once a farmer to whom an only son was born when he was rather advanced in age. As the child grew up, his parents became very fond of him. One day the farmer was out working in the fields…he found out his child had died. His wife wept bitterly but the farmer’s eyes remained dry. Sadly the wife said: ‘Such a son as ours has passed away but you do not shed even one tear.’ After a long pause the farmer said to his wife: ‘Do you know why I am not crying? Last night I dreamt I had become a king, and father of seven princes. These princes were beautiful and as well virtuous…Suddenly I woke up. Now I have been wondering whether I should weep for those seven children or this one boy.’”
After sharing through parable, Ramakrishna summarized.
“To the wise one, the waking state is no more real than the dream state. God alone is the Doer. Everything happens by His Will…”
Later he would add: “When one of thinks of God day and night they behold Him everywhere. It is like a man seeing flames on all sides after he has gazed fixedly at one flame for some time…”
Ramakrishna’s other way of teaching was devotional songs, through music, singing and dancing. The lyrics of the songs always spoke of the love of God, such as:
“Immerse yourself for evermore, O mind. In Him who is pure Knowledge and pure Bliss. Oh, when will dawn for me that day of blessedness, when He who is all Good, all Beauty and all Truth will light the inmost shrine of my heart…”
While singing and dancing, Ramakrishna would often fall into deep meditative absorption for long periods. All those in attendance will be pulled into rapt silence.
Ramakrishna professed the way of supreme devotion, what is known as bhakti, as the simplest way to realize God.
He might have remained an obscure Saint if not for fact that his principle disciple, Swami Vivekananda, traveled to America for the Parliament of World Religion in 1893 and founded Ramakrishna Mission, whose main purpose is to spiritually uplift and improve social conditions.
The Ramakrishna Mission founded hundreds of charitable organizations, educational centers, hospitals, health clinics, orphanages, homes for the elderly, mobile dispensaries and disaster relief centers all over the world.
The Mission’s centerpiece is the Indian Philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, with the ideals of Wisdom, Love, Devotion and Service- as their cornerstones.
All work is dedicated to God.
Photo: Ramakrishna (age 48, two years before his passing)