Sri Ramakrishna did not have a set of teachings for all. He was not of the opinion that one size fits all. His teachings to householders were different compared to what he preached to people who wished for renunciation of the world and society. By householders, I mean people who live in a family and have their own duties. People living in families have their own duties: towards their parents; their spouses, their kids; their relatives and friends; and towards society.
Sri Ramakrishna taught different things to different people. What he spoke about as duties for householders were not meant for people who already renounced the world or those planning to renounce their worldly duties in the path of seeking God and Truth. He would not talk same things in front of men and women or householders and monks. The teachings would be different.
I would like to add here that whatever Sri Ramakrishna taught was not a product of deep study. Sri Ramakrishna never got to study all the Indian and foreign scriptures. Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings were his own experiences and whatever the God Mother placed on his tongue. It was solely out of what he discovered during the heavy austerities that he practiced during his lifetime. Sri Ramakrishna was just like a child of five to six years old, a Paramhamsa who had his mind fixed on God always, and from there, his words came naturally and were noted down by his devotees as his teachings.
Most of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings also came when he was in “bhava” (trance) with little consciousness of the external world. He would go into trance at the slightest praise of God in different forms. He was the one who realized God as Mother, as Jesus, as Prophet Mohammad, as Buddha and lots more. He has had visions of all these great people and arrived at the conclusion that all forms of God are one.
Coming back to his teachings for monks, or people who renounced the world or were planning to renounce the world, his greatest words for them were to ‘stay away from lust and avoid women as far as possible’. Though he insisted on the company of holy men for all and despite the fact that there have been women monks also, he was of the opinion that people who renounced the world, the sanyasis, were not to keep company with women and avoid them completely.
The sanyasi (the term I will use henceforth to refer to people who renounced the world or were planning to renounce the world) should be clean in thoughts and actions. The problem with sanyasi getting into discourses with women – even without any passion – he said was dangerous.
He wanted the sanyasis to renounce women to an extent that he prohibited them from looking at images of women. This, he said because he thought that though a sanyasi might not think of woman (even if she was a chaste sanyasi), the subconscious mind may get attracted. He himself was looked after for months by a sannyasin named Brahmani who treated him as her child. But she was a guru as she taught him Tantra knowledge. He always looked upon her as his Mother Kali, the divine Mother who manifests herself in all beings – living or non-living.
A sanyasi is forbidden by Sri Ramakrishna from even looking at images of women as he believed the subconscious mind may fall for the woman and create lust-like passions without the conscious knowledge of the sanyasi, the person who renounced or is planning to renounce the world. The subconscious mind may then let out the passion through a dream or something while the sanyasi was sleeping and had no control over his body. We all know that while sleeping, only the subconscious mind has control of the body, and dreams affect it. So there may be a discharge of semen that would not be a good thing for sanyasi.
Though Sri Ramakrishna said discharge of semen during sleep is not an issue, it still makes the sanyasi lose a part of his austerities. I do not know how to put it in exact words, but the master used to say that by controlling passions such as lust, one can draw more prana and thereby more Ojas can be obtained. Prana and Ojas are both means of obtaining Nirvana and hence the need to protect the body from a discharge of semen – even in sleep. That is why he asked sanyasis to keep away from women, no matter how chaste a sanyasi’s feelings might be. He was afraid that constant interactions with women or even looking at images of women would not be in favor of the sanyasis.
He also used to say that controlling lust results in the creation and building up of a divine organ that improves mental strength, especially one that helps in concentration so that one can concentrate completely on God and God only. That divine organ, created through celibacy and abstinence, would give them greater power in remembering and recalling things. This organ would be so powerful that one could also get information about his or her previous births.
Further, the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna to sanyasis, the people who renounce the world were to renounce it at once. If anyone is planning to renounce the world, he or she should do it at once instead of going bit by bit.
He told a story where a woman was nagging her husband that he is good for nothing because her neighbor was giving away things one by one to renounce the world. These things included his many wives. At this, the husband, who was about to go to the bathroom for a bath, said that it is not the proper way to renunciation and that he will show her how people should renounce the world. He left home instantly, with the towel on his shoulder and without packing anything. He simply left without settling or providing anything for his family. I do not know what happened to the wife later, but the message of the story was that if you wish to renounce the world, renounce it at once and not in bits. This sums up the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna on renunciation of worldly affairs.
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