Monday, April 13, 2009
Yatra Yatra Mano Yati: Sri Ramakrishna, Krishnamurti and Samadhi
Samadhi is the highest spiritual experience – an experience worth waiting for birth after birth, worth striving for through lifetimes. The real purpose of all yoga, of all bhakti and of all sadhana is making this experience possible. And yet for the mind that is awakened, whether through bhava and bhakti, or through meditation or any other means, Samadhi is an everyday experience, as common as, let’s say, falling asleep and waking up, and as natural as breathing, as frequent as walking from one room into another, which is not to say that the momentousness of the experience or the immensity of its power is reduced by the frequency of its occurrence. Speaking of such awakened masters and their mental condition, our spiritual tradition says: yatra yatra mano yāti, tatra tatra samādhayah – wherever the mind goes, it finds samadhi there.
Today is my new-year day – Vishu. Traditionally Keralites open their eyes to the Vishu-kani the first thing in the morning today – flowers, fruits, vegetables and lighted lamps arranged just for that purpose. My kani for years have been my books. Early in the morning I picked up The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and began reading it at random when I came across the following.
“Oh, what a state of mind I passed through! When I first had that experience, I could not perceive the coming and going of day or night. People said I was insane.”
This is Sri Ramakrishna speaking of himself, about the times before his marriage. One of the first things that happen in India when a young man has experiences like this is for his people to conclude that he now needs a woman, and they give him a woman to cure him of his disease. And that is precisely what Sri Ramakrishna’s people did too. They got him married. The marriage, fortunately, had no negative impact on the master’s life, though. He continued to live seeing the Divine everywhere and in everything, and entering samadhis as effortlessly as we get carried away by a thought or an image into worlds of memories or fantasies.
"Oh, what an ecstatic state it was! Even the slightest suggestion would awaken my spiritual consciousness. I worshipped the 'Beautiful' in a girl fourteen years old. I saw that she was the personification of the Divine Mother. At the end of the worship I bowed before her and offered a rupee at her feet. One day I witnessed a Ramlila performance. I saw the performers to be the actual Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and Bibhishana. Then I worshipped the actors and actresses who played those parts.
"At that time I used to invite maidens here and worship them. I found them to be embodiments of the Divine Mother Herself.
"One day I saw a woman in blue standing near the bakul-tree. She was a prostitute. But she instantly kindled in me the vision of Sita. I forgot the woman. I saw that it was Sita herself on her way to meet Rama after her rescue from Ravana in Ceylon. For a long time I remained in samadhi, unconscious of the outer world.
“Another day I had gone to the Maidan in Calcutta for fresh air. A great crowd had assembled there to watch a balloon ascension. Suddenly I saw an English boy leaning against a tree. As he stood there his body was bent in three places. The vision of Krishna came before me in a flash. I went into samadhi.”
After speaking briefly of his life as a guest in a house in Janbazar in Kolkata, where he lived feeling he was a handmaid of the Mother Goddess and seeing Mother in all women, he concludes:
"Even now the slightest thing awakens God-Consciousness in me. Rakhal used to repeat the name of God half aloud. At such times I couldn't control myself. It would rouse my spiritual consciousness and overwhelm me."
Sri Ramakrishna’s biographer describes another beautiful samadhi experience of the master:
“About half past nine in the morning Prankrishna took leave of the Master. Soon afterwards a minstrel sang some devotional songs to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument. The Master was listening to the songs when Kedar Chatterji, a householder devotee, entered the room clad in his office clothes. He was a man of devotional temperament and cherished the attitude of the gopis of Vrindavan. Words about God would make him weep. The sight of Kedar awakened in the Master's mind the episode of Vrindavan in Sri Krishna's life. Intoxicated with divine love, the Master stood up and sang, addressing Kedar:
“Tell me, friend, how far is the grove
Where Krishna, my Beloved, dwells?
His fragrance reaches me even here;
But I am tired and can walk no farther. . . .
“Sri Ramakrishna assumed the attitude of Sri Radha to Krishna and went into deep samadhi while singing the song. He stood there, still as a picture on canvas, with tears of divine joy running down his cheeks.”
In his Notebooks, J. Krishnamurti, a very different kind of awakened master, as remote from bhakti as Sri Ramakrishna was close to it and as different in his sophistication as could be from the ‘unpolished’ master of Dakshineshwar, speaks of his own experiences in his Notebook.
“The immeasurable was there, filling the little space and all space; it came as gently as the breeze comes over the water but thought could not hold it and the past, time, was not capable of measuring it.”
Here is another experience: “It was a cloudy day, heavy with dark clouds; it had rained in the morning and it had turned cold. After a walk we were talking but more looking at the beauty of the earth, the houses and the dark trees. Unexpectedly, there was a flash of that unapproachable power and strength that was physically shattering. The body became frozen into immobility and one had to shut one's eyes not to go off into a faint. It was completely shattering and everything that was didn't seem to exist. …It was something indescribably great whose height and depth are unknowable.”
And again: “Early this morning, just as dawn was breaking, with not a cloud in the sky and the snowcovered mountains just visible, woke up with that feeling of impenetrable strength in one's eyes and throat; it seemed to be a palpable state, something that could never not be there. For nearly an hour it was there and the brain remained empty. It was not a thing to be caught by thought and stored up in memory to be recalled. It was there and all thought was dead.”
If Sri Ramakrishna saw the Divine Mother everywhere and in everything, it is himself that Krishnamurti sees everywhere and in everything. Just as the presence of the Mother is living and throbbing in everything for the Master of Dakshineshwar, the presence of his own Being is vivid in everything for Krishnamurti. Here is one more of Krishnamurti’s beautiful experiences which speaks of this:
“There was a little girl of ten or twelve leaning against a post in the garden; she was dirty, her hair had not been washed for many weeks, it was dusty and uncombed; her clothes were torn and unwashed too, like herself. She had a long rag around her neck and she was looking at some people who were having tea on the verandah; she looked with complete indifference, without any feeling, without any thought of what was going on; her eyes were on the group downstairs and every parrot that screeched by made no impression on her nor those soft earth-coloured doves that were so close to her. She was not hungry, she was probably a daughter of one of the servants for she seemed familiar with the place and fairly well-fed. She held herself as though she was a grown-up young lady, full of assurance and there was about her a strange aloofness.
“As you watched her against the river and the trees, you suddenly felt you were watching the tea party, without any emotion, without any thought, totally indifferent to everything and to whatever might happen. And when she walked away to that tree overlooking the river, it was you that was walking away, it was you that sat on the ground, dusty and rough; it was you who picked up the piece of stick and threw it over the bank, alone, unsmiling and never cared for. Presently you got up and wandered off around the house. And strangely, you were the doves, the squirrel that raced up the tree and that unwashed, dirty chauffeur and the river that went by, so quietly.”
Krishnamurti describes yet another of his samadhi experiences:
She was carrying a large basket on her head, holding it in place with one hand; it must have been quite heavy, but the swing of her walk was not altered by the weight. She was beautifully poised, her walk easy and rhythmical. On her arm were large metal bangles which made a slight tinkling sound, and on her feet were old, worn-out sandals. Her sari was torn and dirty with long use. She generally had several companions with her, all of them carrying baskets, but that morning she was alone on the rough road. The sun wasn't too hot yet and high up in the blue sky some vultures were moving in wide circles without a flutter of their wings. The river ran silently by the road.
“It was a very peaceful morning, and that solitary woman with the large basket on her head seemed to be the focus of beauty and grace; all things seemed to be pointing to her and accepting her as part of their own being. She was not a separate entity but part of you and me, and of that tamarind tree. She wasn't walking in front of me, but I was walking with that basket on my head. It wasn't an illusion, a thought-out, wished-for, and cultivated identification, which would be ugly beyond measure, but an experience that was natural and immediate. The few steps that separated us had vanished; time, memory, and the wide distance that thought breeds, had totally disappeared. There was only that woman, not I looking at her.”
Just as Sri Ramakrishna’s life and his Gospel are, Krishnamurti’s life and Notebook too are filled with such experiences happening every day, sometimes several times a day. Of all the numerous experiences he describes, here is my favourite, an experience that sends thrills through me every time I read it, as much for the beauty of the experience as for the beauty of his description of it.
“A single parrot was perched on a dead branch of a nearby tree; it wasn't preening itself, and it sat very still, but its eyes were moving and alert. It was of a delicate green, with a brilliant red beak and a long tail of paler green. You wanted to touch it, to feel the colour of it; but if you moved, it would fly away. Though it was completely still, a frozen green light, you could feel it was intensely alive, and it seemed to give life to the dead branch on which it sat. It was so astonishingly beautiful, it took your breath away; you hardly dared take your eyes off it, lest in a flash it be gone.
“You had seen parrots by the dozen, moving in their crazy flight, sitting along the wires, or scattered over the red fields of young, green corn. But this single bird seemed to be the focus of all life, of all beauty and perfection. There was nothing but this vivid spot of green on a dark branch against the blue sky. There were no words, no thoughts in your mind; you weren't even conscious that you weren't thinking. The intensity of it brought tears to your eyes and made you blink – and the very blinking might frighten the bird away! But it remained there unmoving, so sleek, so slender, with every feather in place.
“Only a few minutes must have passed, but those few minutes covered the day, the year and all time; in those few minutes all life was, without an end or a beginning. It is not an experience to be stored up in memory, a dead thing to be kept alive by thought, which is also dying; it is totally alive, and so cannot be found among the dead.
“Someone called from the house beyond the garden, and the dead branch was suddenly bare.”
This is precisely what the tradition means when it says: yatra yatra mano yāti, tatra tatra samādhayah. Masters like Sri Ramakrishna and J Krishnamurti, and others who have such experiences, are the proof for the statements of the scriptures and the living tradition. They convince us that such things as the timeless tradition speaks of are possible, in a world in which believing in their possibility is increasingly becoming more difficult.