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The Gentle Radiance of a Luminous Lamp

Kuvempu

Kuvempu is the acronym of Kuppali Venkatappa Puttappa, the greatest literary figure of the twentieth century Karnataka. He was born on the 29th of December 1904 and was the uncrowned monarch of the Kannada literary world till he passed away on the 11th of November 1994. He received the highest literary award of the country--the Jnanapeeth Award and was conferred the title Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. He was greatly devoted to Sri Ramakrishna and was an ardent admirer of the Ramakrishna Mission. Initiated by Revered Swami Shivanandaji Maharaj, known as Mahapurush Maharaj, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Kuvempu was deeply imbued with the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, and spread the message of the Master and his disciple, Swami Vivekananda, all over Karnataka. His biographies of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda in Kannada are literary masterpieces.

When Sri Kuvempu was requested to write a foreword to the Kannada translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (titled Sri Ramakrishna Vachana Veda), he undertook the task with great devotion. His literary and spiritual tribute is an offering to the deity of his heart.

Sri Kuvempu's foreword has been translated into English by his intimate student Dr. Prabhu Shankara, the well-known Kannada litterateur, who has been helped in this arduous endeavour by an eminent scholar, Sri S. Srinivasachar. The Introduction was written in 1954, when the complete Kannada version of The Gospel was first published. 2004-05 is being observed by the Govt. of Karnataka as Kuvempu's birth centenary year.

 


'This boundless, all-embracing idea had been lying inherent, but so long concealed, in the Religion eternal and its scriptures and now rediscovered, it is being broadcast to humanity in a triumphant voice.'

'Sri Bhagavan Ramakrishna is the reformed and remodelled manifestation of all the past great epoch-makers in religion.'

'Of that power, which at the very first impulse has roused distant echoes from all the four quarters of the globe, conceive in your mind the manifestation of its fullness.' (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 6:185-186)

Thus proclaimed the saintly voice of Swami Vivekananda, half a century ago, immediately after his Guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa attained Mahasamadhi. It was the hour when the world was echoing and re-echoing the divine name of Sri Ramakrishna, the God-man of Dakshineswar. The world is a witness to the phenomenon of the prophetic words of his disciple acquiring validity and acceptability, day by day, amongst people, at home and abroad. The divine message of Sri Ramakrishna has attained the status of a philosophic dictum. His celestial aura is encompassing the entire world. Myriads of lives are blossoming in the sunshine of his life and teachings; countless hearts are radiating celestial rays of bliss and peace due to the blessings of the Master. Attracted by the nectar of his teachings many troubled souls and seekers after truth are undertaking pilgrimages to Dakshineswar, where the Master has spent several years in religious practices and spent a number of years imparting spiritual knowledge. The story of the saint's life and teachings is being published in far off places across continents in the native language of its populace. The new mantra coined by and given currency to by Swami Vivekananda—âtmano mokshârtham jagaddhitâya cha, meaning 'for the emancipation of one's own soul and the good of the world'—has brought into being a unique spiritual and service organisation, the Ramakrishna Mission. The Mission has been encompassing slowly and silently all people across the world with its maternal warmth.

Both its style of functioning and its policies are unique. In it there is no fear of any kind and it abounds in love for all. As a matter of principle the Ramakrishna Mission does not believe in proselytisation. The firm conviction of the Mission is that all religions are paths, that ultimately lead their votaries to God. It does not seek, like other religions, to increase its number of followers with social or political motives. Its aim is the diffusion of Dharma—an umbrella term for good and noble living. An important feature of the Mission is that, unlike the religions that proselytise, it does not fund its branches. It is a matter of common knowledge that the governments and the headquarters of other converting religions are pouring huge sums of money and are helping their proselytising activities. A branch of the Ramakrishna Mission either at home or abroad is established by the express desire of the people around, who should finance all its activities. It exists at the will of the people and exits quietly if they so desire. The mother organisation never tries to rejuvenate any of its branches artificially by extending its financial support. These principles governing the Ramakrishna Mission have been the mainstay for its branches which are thriving quite naturally, without giving room for fear, doubt or conflict in the hearts of their votaries and admirers.

Among those who were mainly responsible for spreading the name and message of Sri Ramakrishna throughout the world, two towering personalities stand out conspicuously. One is Swami Vivekananda the renowned monk and another, who preferred to remain anonymous or at best was known by the first letter of his name, M. While the former blazes like the sun, the latter is like an oil lamp which shines in every niche of the homes of the rich and the poor. The latter's light does not dazzle our eyes. It is unobtrusive, but at the same time sheds its cool and comforting light over the cottages and mansions alike. It is like the proverbial flower, which is content to hide behind the leaves, but is known all around by its fragrance.

After his triumphal address at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, until the last days of his life Swami Vivekananda proclaimed from countless platforms in his inimitable heroic voice the message of harmony of religions as realised by his great Master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and popularised the Master's name. His own writings, lectures, and letters add up to several volumes and have illumined the minds of millions of people. They have been translated from their original English into many languages of the world and also into many Indian languages, and have now become the proud possession of the entire world.

It was professor Max Muller, the famous German scholar, who wrote the first short biography of Sri Ramakrishna. He had, by then, brought Indian philosophy to the attention of the west. Max Muller had learnt much about Sri Ramakrishna's life and teachings directly from the very lips of Swami Vivekananda. Several years later the great French writer Romain Rolland, known for the catholicity of his outlook wrote and published the biographies of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. He surprised the world by the uniqueness of his style and the great insight he had into the spiritual splendour of the subjects of his biographies. Prior to that Sri Swami Saradananda, who was one of the very close disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, had written, in Bengali, an exhaustive biography of his Master in an epic style and had discussed in his work the significance of his Master's teachings. But the real source book for the life and conversations of Sri Ramakrishna has been the faithful recordings by Sri Mahendra Nath Gupta, who preferred to be known only as 'M'. His record remains an incomparable masterpiece, a prodigy of simplicity, catering to the spiritual needs of the learned and the not-so-learned at the same time. As one reads through it one feels that Sri Ramakrishna himself has incarnated as the Gospel, as meticulously recorded by 'M'. The world does not yet seem to realise the magnitude of its debt to 'M' for the great service he has rendered to humanity by diligently recording the conversations of the God-man of Dakshineswar. To put it in a nutshell, 'M's work is as great as the founding of the Ramakrishna Mission by Swami Vivekananda.

Nay, it is greater than that. It is reported that Swami Vivekananda, while pacing up and down the precincts of the Belur Math once remarked, 'The power that has been invoked into the Mission will flow uninterrupted for five hundred years.' It is my feeling that this magnum opus of 'M' will last as long as humanity survives and till it continues to aspire after divinity. Time may reduce buildings to rubble or disintegrate institutions but Saraswati, the muse of wisdom is immortal!

Mahendra Nath Gupta is the real name of 'M', who has been, of late, gaining limelight. Known as Master Mahashay in his native Bengal, his is now virtually a household name. He received modern education at the Calcutta University and joined the Brahmo Movement in the fashion of the educated youth of his days. Later on he opted to be a teacher in a school. He was no exception to the influence—good and bad—that English education had exercised on the Indian youth of his times. The same divine power that attracted Narendra Nath Dutta—later Swami Vivekananda—to the God-intoxi- cated devotee of Bhavatarini at Dakshineswar, namely Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, drew Mahendra Nath Gupta also to the Paramahamsa's intimate circle. But the dramatic moments that transpired between Narendra and Sri Ramakrishna during their initial encounters did not happen in the case of 'M'. However, on closer scrutiny, 'M's first visit to Sri Ramakrishna, as detailed by 'M' himself reveals how Ramakrishna looked forward to the arrival of 'M' as eagerly as he did in the case of Narendra. The Paramahamsa needed Narendra to explode on the world with his powerful personality as a prelude to the acceptance of the message of Sri Ramakrishna. And so was Mahendra Nath Gupta, of a benign nature, was direly needed to record the world-transforming divine utterances of Sri Ramakrishna in his own language, and to also record the day-to-day occurrences comprising the lighter and exalted moods of the Master in great detail. He was to nurture them all in the cradle of his memory, with motherly care, so that it could in turn nourish the world in later years. Interestingly the pages of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna also contain intimations of 'M's past lives revealed by Sri Ramakrishna as though to prove that he, the great incarnation, had brought 'M', the divine chronicler of his utterances, along with him. Gupta, the surname of 'M' literally means 'secret', and in consonance with this meaning, he recorded all that he witnessed or heard from the Master without making his work known to the public, and he himself remained anonymous, as though he was born to do this ministry. Having fulfilled his mission, he quietly discarded his mortal coil. How can the world adequately express its gratitude to him?

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is a veritable temple on one's palm, a veritable hermitage on one's palm, a veritable place of pilgrimage on one's palm. But unlike a temple or a place of pilgrimage, there is no chance of its getting polluted. Nor is there any chance of its getting dilapidated like the structure of a temple. The home that houses this Gospel will itself become a temple. The hand that holds it will be holding the very lotus feet of the Lord. The tongue on which its letters roll will be savouring nectar itself. The Gospel is the repository of bliss; it is the ocean of peace; it is the manna of divine knowledge. It is the friend that stands by you in the hour of trial; it is the Guru that at the moment of overwhelming joy counsels humility and devotion, and makes you feel that you are an offering at the Lord's feet. It is the torch that shows your way in darkness; it is the staff to lean upon while trudging on an uneven path. It is the pole star that guides you when you are lost in wilderness. It is the quintessence of the Vedas and the Upanishads. After reading it even the most ordinary literate need not feel jealous of any scholar; nor does he feel inferior to any scholar of eminence. On the other hand, he feels that by the grace of God none is more blessed than himself; he attains peace and fulfilment. He acquires the vastness of the sky, the height of the highest of mountains, and the dignity of the ocean. Never before had God incarnated in such an approachable form, nor had the voice of the Lord shaped itself into a book that could be read and understood by the most ordinary of men and women.

'M's masterpiece has already been translated into many languages and is still being translated into many more. Swami Nikhilananda has rendered it into English with the title The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and it has been published for the first time in the United States of America. It has achieved great popularity. Countless people have read the English rendering and felt blessed. Many intellectuals, poets, and philosophers have been making incessant pilgrimage to this Ganga. The people of Karnataka are not lagging behind in this spiritual adventure.

The first part of 'M's Kathamrita was translated into Kannada several years ago and was published under the title Sri Ramakrishna Vachanamrita by the Ramakrishna Ashrama at Bangalore. But the translation was not considered up to the mark. 'M' has recorded the words of the Master as he pronounced them. Conversations, usually, are not carried on in a literary style. The language used is colloquial. It has no tinge of literary artificiality. While reading it, one feels that one is sitting close to Sri Ramakrishna and listening to him. In the midst of profound spiritual discourses, one also listens to jokes and anecdotes that cause side-splitting laughter—and all these in simple spoken Bengali language. Therefore the present Kannada translation is intended to maintain the flavour of the simplicity of the original spoken language, avoiding as much as possible literary sophistication of expression.

The title given to the present translation is Sri Ramakrishna Vachana Veda. Since the new christening is done by the writer of the foreword, an explanation is warranted.

'Veda' means eternal knowledge. It is ancient. It is said that the Vedas are not authored by any human being. It was there even before man appeared on this earth. It will continue to exist even after his extinction. It was there even before the world came into being and will be there long after the world is dissolved. When the Veda manifests itself in the world, it does so through a human agency. Such a human being is a conduit through which it flows but he is not the creator of it. We call such a person a rishi, a poet, a seer and so on. Viewed in this light, the Vedas are not the name of a book or compendium of sayings uttered long ago. To the vast compendium of the Vedas, newer and newer chapters keep on acceding age after age. Such accretions include even the modern scientific explorations, and they too are accorded a place of honour. The Vedas go on extending as newer realisations and achievements occur. Who can ever foretell what wonders are awaiting revelation in the sublime world of the Vedas at the appropriate time? Let alone the subtle world of spiritual experiences, even in the grosser world we are witness to wonders that are materialising—wonders that even science had not dreamt of! However, since the Vedas that are beyond our comprehension are infinite, the Vedas that will materialise before us are also bound to be infinite. In the light of this, where is any impropriety in calling the rich compendium of the utterances of Sri Ramakrishna, a man of perfection, a rishi and a great incarnation, the Veda? Incidentally, this Veda accomplishes what the old Vedas have failed to achieve—namely penetrating such hovels, which were, according to some people, beneath their dignity to enter. This Vachana Veda will emancipate the common masses immersed in superstition from the confines fabricated by the priestly class. This Vachana Veda will free them from the shackles of religious slavery, rid them of their inferiority complex, and illumine their minds. It will ultimately lead us all to spiritual liberation.

Our constitution has termed our independent India 'a secular state'. The word 'secular' denotes something which is non-religious, far-removed from sectarianism, and even atheistic (lokâyata). How ironical it is to call India secular in the above sense of the term! What do you mean by calling this land of righteousness, punya bhoomi secular? This India— whose genius, sense of duty, national character, and all the rest have their very being in religion according to Swami Vivekananda, to be labelled secular! This India, for whose freedom Mahatma Gandhi toiled and laid his life—Gandhi whose words and deeds were
anchored in spirituality—to be labelled non-religious! Maybe one can transplant the Himalayas elsewhere, perhaps one can even flatten it by atomic explosions, but none can ever change the spiritual character of Indian heritage nor was it envisaged by the architects of our constitution. The purpose of calling our country secular is to proclaim unequivocally that administration in the country is aimed at providing equal status for all religions and sects in terms of rights and responsibilities. The term ‘secular’ therefore does not mean a denial of religion, nor establishing an atheistic state, uprooting all religions. It would be fitting to call India ‘a country of harmony’. This vision of harmony of religions was gifted to India, nay to the whole world, by Sri Ramakrishna, long before this country gained independence. Such a vision of harmony had its genesis in the saint’s personal experience. The wisdom and validity of this idea can be grasped by one and all. This idea of harmony of religions may sound revolutionary but it does not militate against India’s tradition. Vachana Veda is truly the modern ‘Veda’. Expressed in simple colloquial language, it is indeed a presentation of his vision of universality and harmony. The Vachana Veda, like a wild forest fire will scorch barbaric practices like religious conversion, extolling one’s own religion by defaming other religions, and artificially increasing the numbers of their following for political gains. If the tree of Indian constitution has to bear fruits, there is no way it can do other than to nourish it with energising ideas embedded in the Vachana Veda. Sri Ramakrishna Vachana Veda will form a religious constitution, a companion to our political constitution!
About quarter of a century ago, one evening, the present writer had the unique opportunity of meeting the compiler of the Vachana Veda, Sri Mahendra Nath Gupta, in the company of Sri Swami Siddheswarananda at the former’s residence in Kolkata. ‘M’ got me to recite a poem of mine composed in Kannada on Sri Ramakrishna. Delighted by listening to it, with much affection he asked me to get it translated into Bengali and send it to him. I had promised to do so but did not do that in time. In the meanwhile ‘M’ had discarded his mortal coils.
I now seek to keep up the promise by offering that prayerful poem as an invocation to the Kannada translation of his unique work—Kathamrita. May the principle of harmony and integral vision of Sri Ramakrishna, the embodiment of harmony of religions invoked in this poem lead us to spiritual fulfilment.
When the blue firmament of India was veiled in darkness,
When our countrymen had forgotten their goal of life
and were immersed in slumber deep,
O, Paramahamsa you appeared on the horizon
like the rising sun.

All paths lead to the same mansion divine—
Thus you discerned through yogas supreme
and preached to the human kind
That no distinction exists among the creeds of the Muslims,
and of Hindus or of Buddhists
For they are one and the same—thus did you preach.
To those who were walking in the pathless darkness of illusion,
You were the beacon light that illumined their paths;
And to those who were about to be drowned
in the fierce ocean of birth and death
You have been the boat of immortality
to row them ashore.
You are like the Himalayas, your feet firmly
rooted in the earth
And your head held high in the skies,
you are the every abode of peace.
Your heart is the shoreless ocean
where afloat are the moon-like boats of varied sects and creeds.
Chirst and Mohammad, Rama and Krishna,
Zorathustra and Gautama, the Buddha
The Vedas and the Quoran, the Bible and the Talmud
Temples and Churches, Mosques, and places of worship of fire
Kashi and Mecca have all confluenced in you!
Oh, the supreme yogi of the temple at
Dakshineswar,
One who has realised his Self and is worshipped
by Vivekananda of universal fame,
Save the mortals by bestowing the strength of soul on them,
And let the hearts of those that meditate on you
become the sanctum sanctorum where you dwell!

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