Indian scriptures and texts contain a rich fund of ideas that can help us navigate through the practical-moral labyrinth of life. Modern saints continue to illumine our minds with insightful solutions to ethical problems. No exception in this respect was Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). While being the embodiment of the effulgent light of divinity, Sri Ramakrishna had very incisive solutions to offer to some of the worldliest problems of the world. As he himself had pointed out—be simple, but not foolish.
Understanding his views on morality –
- Since life is governed by the principle of action and reaction, morality is not just an imperative, but the best strategy as well.
- “Our scriptures (sastra) have demonstrated that the ethical path (dharma) is a very subtle (sukshma) path. Every act is necessarily a mixture of good and evil. So where is the escape? When asked about how spiritually-minded people could deal with evil people in the world, Sri Ramakrishna recounted a story. Once upon a time, there lived a deadly snake in a meadow near a village. Many cows that went grazing in the meadow fell prey to its venom. Once, a sadhu, passing through the meadow, was warned of its existence. He chose to traverse the meadow nonetheless. As was usual with the snake, as soon as it saw a new passer-by, it raised its hood to attack. The sadhu immediately recited a mantra and lo behold! The snake lay at his feet, conscious, but without any vigor. The sadhu exclaimed to the snake: “Why do you go about doing harm to everybody? Come, I will give you a holy mantra and initiate you. By repeating the mantra you will have a vision of God and your violent nature will change.” The snake happily accepted the act of grace.
- Days passed, and the cowherd boys noticed that the snake was not biting anyone. They tried to poke it and see its reaction. No reaction came. One day, one of the boys lifted the snake by its tail, whirled it around and thrashed it again and again on the ground. The snake vomited blood and became unconscious. Since his guru had explicitly asked him not to harm anyone, it had eschewed violence completely.
- The sadhu visited his disciple again. Seeing it very weak and thin, he enquired into the reason. The sadhu heard the episode of the cowherd boys and learnt that his beloved disciple would not harm anybody because he had forbidden him to do so. On hearing this, the sadhu exclaimed: “But you are such a fool! I had asked you not to bite, but I did not forbid you to hiss! Why did you not hiss and protect yourself against the mischief of the boys?” After recounting this story, Sri Ramakrishna summed up the moral, saying one should always hiss at wicked people, lest they harm you; but one should never harm anyone.”
Lessons derived –
Harming others for no good reason is not an option; getting annihilated in our attempt at being good is also not an option. One has to, in certain contexts, demonstrate one’s capacity to harm—which has to be a real capacity—if it becomes a question of one’s own survival.
These insights from the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna are veritable life strategies. They show us that spirituality and foolishness are not synonymous, and that, at the same time, it is possible to live in this mad world without eschewing morality. Eternal principles should inform our ways of being and doing in this world. Spirituality makes one wise and courageous, not foolish and weak. On the other hand, a strategy that is bereft of morality is not only immoral but a bad strategy as well.
Source – VIF India
QUESTION – “One should always hiss at wicked people, but one should never harm anyone” – Sri Ramakrishna. Comment