Love as the Basis of Ramakrishna Monasticism

Brotherly love
Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

by Swami Bhajanananda

There are six unique features of Ramakrishna monasticism: It is centered on Ramakrishna; it introduces a new form of community life; it synthesizes the yogas; it stresses the harmony of religions; it uses work as worship; and it emphasizes love.

Love, the sixth unique feature of our monasticism, is what this essay will focus upon.

The basis of our monastic life is love. In traditional Hindu monasticism, the basis of community life is mutual convenience and common interest. In some of the big Akhadas, hundreds of monks live together. What holds them together is not love, for love is considered bondage, Maya.

In Buddhist monasticism also the basis of community life is not love. There is a popular belief that Buddha taught love. The truth is Buddha warned against priti, love, as the cause of attachment. What he preached was maître (metta in Pali), friendliness. We should be friendly to all; we should not hate or harm anybody—this was what Buddha taught.

Even in the Bhakti schools in Hinduism, love for man is regarded as an obstacle to love for God. Swami Vivekananda removed the barriers between love for man and love for God. He showed that the two types of love—human and divine—are mutually complementary, not contradictory. This view is based on the Vedantic theory of love.

Now, what is love? According to Swami Vivekananda, love is an expression of the unity of existence. Swamiji said, “This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, as it is the basis of all our ethics and morality.”

Unity of existence is of two kinds: oneness of Prana or Life, and oneness of consciousness. It is the oneness of life that finds expression in ordinary social relationships such as the love of father, mother and children, the love of friends, the love of husband and wife and so on. This kind of love is very complex, conditional and changeable. Except in a few cases, this kind of love is associated with selfishness, emotions of different kinds, and sometimes with strong instinctual drives. As such, this kind of love causes bondage and misery.

There is, however, a higher type of love, spiritual love, which is an expression of the unity of consciousness. Beyond the body, beyond the mind, there shines in everybody the luminous Atman which is ever pure, unchanging, ever free. It is the source of consciousness in us. All individual selves are the reflections of one Supreme Self, Paramatman or God. It is this oneness of pure consciousness, the one Supreme Self dwelling in all, that is the real basis of true love. This kind of higher love is pure, unselfish, unconditional, unchanging, all-fulfilling. In this supreme love, the distinctions between love for man and love for God cease to exist. This idea is conveyed in several passages in the Upanishads, especially in the Yajnavalkya Maitreyi conversation in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad.

This noble and supremely important idea remained in the books for centuries without being applied in social life for the welfare of humanity. It was Sri Ramakrishna who for the first time embodied this supreme Divine Love in his own holy person and taught it to the world through his relationships with his holy spouse and with all his disciples and acquaintances. Divinization of human love and divinization of human relationships—this is one of the great contributions of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world.

Sri Ramakrishna is the greatest lover of God and man the world has ever seen. His boundless love was transmitted by the Direct Disciples to the next generation who transmitted to the succeeding generation. This transmission of love is a living tradition in the Ramakrishna Order. It is this pure, spiritual love that is holding the whole Sangha together. This spiritual love bonds us together without causing bondage.

But this is not all; there is something more to it. In Christian monasticism also love is the basis of community life. But it is paternal love. Christianity does not have the concept of Divine Mother of the universe (Virgin Mary is the mother of only Jesus, not of others). Paternal love is exclusive; it excludes others. Maternal love is inclusive; it includes people of all religions, races and classes. This was the love that Sri Ramakrishna embodied and radiated. It was, however, fully manifested through Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Love of the Divine Mother needed a human mother to make it real and natural. She was the first woman in human history to regard herself as the Mother of all. Mother played an important role in the formation of the Ramakrishna Sangha. She nourishes, protects and sustains the whole Sangha. The love of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother is our greatest wealth. It constitutes a unique feature of Ramakrishna monasticism.

Swami Bhajanananda is a senior trustee of the Ramakrishna Math and a member of the Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Mission. This essay is a lightly edited excerpt from a talk Swami Bhajanananda delivered at the 22nd triennial Monks’ Conference of the Ramakrishna Order at Belur Math in 2005. We thank Swami for the permission to reprint it here. This and many of the other ideas developed in the speech are expanded upon in his book, “The Light of the Modern World: The Universal Significance of Sri Ramakrishna’s Avatarahood and Message.”

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