BHAGAVÂN SRÎ RÂMAKRISHNA PARAMAHAMSA
Srî Râmakrishna (1) is regarded by His devotees as a Divine Incarnation (Avatâra). In a song written by Svâmî Vivekânanda and chanted in the Râmakrishna Temples, Srî Râmakrishna is celebrated as Avatâra varishtha, i. e. "The Best of the Avatâras". In the regular Pûjâ, Srî Râmakrishna is worshipped as Sarvadevadevîsvarûpa : "One Whose Nature is that of all the Gods and Goddesses".
That, which may be just meaningless for the world in general, is much more than "faith" for S'rî Râmakrishna's devotees, who know by personal experience the uplifting energy emanating by His living Presence in the Shrines of His Order and in the Shrine of their Heart. They know His response to their prayers; they know the purifying effect of worshipping Him; they know He is the Saviour.
There is no sectarianism in all that. As the Bhagavân Himself has taught:
"The Avatâra is always one and the same. Having plunged into the ocean of life, the one God rises up at one point and is known as Krishna, and when, after another plunge, He rises up at another point, He is known as Christ" (2).
He has plunged once again, and is nowadays known as Râmakrishna.
There is not much to add to something that can be best told and heard in the Silence that is the blessed background of confident prayer and adoring meditation. And it is not easy to understand the fact, the nature, the meaning of an Avatâra. But Swâmî Tapasyânanda has written something (3) that can throw much light on the subject:
"The Incarnation concept can be understood as an expression of the Anugraha-S'akti (redeeming aspect or Ams'a) of Mahâvishnu through a Kalâ (a perfected individuality ever associated with the Lord's work of redemption). An Incarnation becomes significant to man only when it is an expression of the Divine through humanity and one can see in Him both God and man. In some conspicuous examples like the Krishna Incarnation, Divinity predominates and humanity is a thin veil only, for which reason He is called Pûrnâvatâra (Full Avatâra) and Bhagavân Svayam (the Lord Himself). ...But there are other Incarnations, like Rama, in whom humanity and divinity are equally matched ...
With the Ams'a-Kalâ doctrine of Incarnation, unified under the idea of Aves'âvatâra (4), the Bhâgavata conception of Mahâvishnu is complete. He is the ultimate source of creation, revelation and redemption. Through Brahmâ ... He creates, and through Him He also reveals the Veda, the Word of power and wisdom, while His redeeming aspect (Anugraha S'akti) comes as the Lîlâvatâra from age to age for resuscitating the eternal spiritual law and providing the Souls with various means of salvation through the contemplation of His activities and teachings. The Lîlâvatâra, as an Ams'a-Kalâ or Aves'a, may be described as the Transcendental manifesting through a perfect Person who is one with God in consciousness but keeps up a distinctive individuality for the purpose of world redemption. And if we conceive that perfect Person to be the same eternally (5), then He becomes the very embodiment of God's power and the distinction between the two becomes inconsequential.
Unless some such doctrine is accepted, it is impossible to understand the statements of some of the great ... Incarnations like Sri Krishna and Sri Ramakrishna. "Many have been the births undergone by Me as also by you. I remember them all, but you do not", says Sri Krishna. "The same One who appeared as Rama and Krishna has now appeared as Ramakrishna ...", says Sri Ramakrishna. These statemens can be understood only as meaning that the same Divine Personality, one with God in consciousness ..., appears from age to age as the Divine Incarnation, the embodiment of the redeeming power of God. A Lîlâvatâra is therefore both God and Man. It is God approaching man through humanity, so that even ordinary people ... can have communion with Him ..."
(1) Very concisely, the meaning of the titles given to Srî Râmakrishna is the following. Bhagavân: "glorious, divine, holy, the Lord Himself". S'rî: "splendour, beauty, plenty, dignity, majesty, excellence"; used as a honorific prefix to names of deities or eminent persons; S'rî is also Lakshmî, Vishnu's divine Consort, hence a name of the Divine Mother, the Compassion aspect of God. Paramahamsa (litterally "Supreme Swan" - the swan being the symbol of the Soul in the Vedas and the Purânas) is the title given to ascetics of the highest order. The very name "Râmakrishna" has a deep theological significance. Râma and Krishna are the names of two Avatâras, so that "Ramakrishna" can be taken to mean the synthesis of all the Avatâras. Râma ("blissful") is also an epithet of Vishnu in the Vishnusahasranâmam (394) and according to the commentary of S'rî S'ankarâcârya it means Brahman, the eternally Blissful One. In the Bhagavadgîtâ, Krishna is God Himself, described as the Self abiding in every creature and the loving Friend of all beings. Thus "Bhagavân S'rî Râmakrishna Paramahamsa" is a mighty collection of divine Names.
(2) Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, An Exhaustive Collection (Sri Ramakrishna Math), No. 705.
(3) Bhakti Ratnavali, or A Necklace of Devotial Gems - An Anthology from the Bhagavata by Vishnu Puri - English Translation, Introduction and Commentary by Swami Tapasyananda (Sri Ramakrishna Math). The passage quoted (slightly adapted) is from the General Introduction.
(4) God's living Presence in a perfected human being.
(5) Known as Christòs in the Gnostic Tradition (*).
Om sarvâni bhûtâni vis'antu saukhyam,
sarvâni bhûtâni bhajantu s'ântim,
sarvâni bhûtâni, ayi râmakrsna,
Om s'ântih s'ântih s'ântih.
harih om tat sat.
(*) For which please see our twin website.
(**) "O Râmakrishna! Let all beings be safe. Let all beings be peaceful. Let all beings be full of bliss! Om, Peace, Peace, Peace! God alone is true! Let everything be dedicated to Srî Râmakrishna!"
(From Thousand Glories of Sri Ramakrishna - S'rîrâmakrsnasahasranâmastotram - Sanskrit by T.A. Bandarkar, M.A. & P. Bandhyopadhyay, M.A.; Engl. translation by Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan (Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai).