How so? Rather than chronicle his life and teachings, of which many thousands of pages have been written, I’ll relate a few important points.
Ramakrishna’s notable fans
First is that he was revered in his own time. Living in the Bengal area in Northeastern India from 1836 until his death in 1886, Ramakrishna’s teachings were extolled by none other than the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, a contemporary.
Gandhi called him “a living embodiment of godliness.”
And Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India from 1947 to 1964 claimed that Ramakrishna, “…drew our attention to the higher things of life and of the spirit.”
High praise from, arguably, the two most influential Indians of the last 100 years.
Perhaps most important was Ramakrishna’s claim that the world’s sundry religions, including Christianity and Islam, were “so many paths to reach one and the same goal.” This endorsement of the basic unity of religions was remarkable at the time, and still is over 150 years later.
For a full account of his life, I recommend Sri Ramakrishna, The Face Of Silence.
So, what about this prayer Mickey brought up in his talk? Someone asked Ramakrishna if there was a meaningful prayer. This was his response:
“Yes, there is.Give me the strength to let go of myself so every single moment of my life I can get closer to you.”
What does Ramakrishna mean by this? The most basic reading is he’s saying that if we let go of ourselves, we’ll get closer to God.
What would Ramakrishna’s version of ‘letting go of ourselves’ be? Letting go of our desires, our fears, petty jealousies, feelings of superiority, or inferiority, needing to prove ourselves right and others wrong, and the like.
But if this were so easy, we wouldn’t need to pray for it. Nor would we ask for the ‘strength’ that is required to let go of ourselves. Why do we need strength to accomplish this?
BECAUSE IT’S UNBELIEVABLY HARD!
We all know this. Stopping ourselves from walking around all day, every day, asking “What do I want now? What do I want now? What do I want now?” is not easy. Nor is keeping our cool when somebody talks about what a great guy Donald Trump is — or Joe Biden, if you’re on the other side on that one.
But letting go, according to this great sage, brings the highest reward there is: Closeness to God. What’s so great about getting closer to God?
Without diving into all of the complexities the G-word carries with it, let’s go with closeness to God means closeness to our true selves. This gets real deep real quick, but most spiritual traditions, one way or another, profess that the true self/consciousness within all of us is God.
As Meher Baba, another great Indian saint, said:
“Man minus mind equals God.”
The mind being that illusory self that Ramakrishna urges us to let go of.
Pinpointing the absolute truth of any of this is impossible for we mortals living on the earthly plane. Which is fine with me.
So I say we put our energies toward something we can effect. That something is the biggest takeaway for me in all of my perusing and musing on the profound matters of spirituality. It’s what Ramakrishna, Meher Baba, Mickey Singer and the great sages of humanity have taught.
And it is this:
Letting go of ourselves is the paramount work of a human life.