Sri Ramakrishna would often extol before his devotees the power of single-minded devotion. To illustrate the nature of such devotees he used to narrate an incident from the Mahabharata.

The Pandavas, who emerged victorious in Kurukshetra, performed a Rajsuya sacrifice considered to be the biggest and most difficult of sacrifices. The kings from different parts of the world were invited. The kings placed Yudhishthira on the royal throne and bowed before him in homage.

King Vibhishana had also come from Lanka to attend the sacrifice. His single-minded devotion to Sri Ramachandra, the incarnation of Narayana or Bhagavan Vishnu, was well-known. When his turn came to bow before Yudhishthira, he refused to do so saying that he bows only before Narayana. Nobody could convince him about the necessity to bow down before Yudhishthira and show him due honour and respect.

Finally, Lord Krishna came forward to solve the problem. He himself bowed down to Yudhishthira. King Vibhishana knew that Lord Krishna was Narayana himself and seeing him prostrate before Yudhishthira, he also prostrated, crown and all, before him.

Such is the nature of unswerving and single-minded devotion. Sri Ramakrishna would explain to his devotees that at the beginning of one’s spiritual life, it is extremely necessary to have single-minded devotion for one’s chosen ideal to progress in spiritual life. He would say that when a plant is young, it has to be hedged around and protected as otherwise sheep and cattle would eat away the plant. But, once it grows into a big tree, even elephants can be tied to its trunk, because by that time its roots would have gone deep into the ground giving tremendous stability and strength to the tree. Similarly, after one is established in spiritual life, one can expose oneself to other spiritual influences. But, in the initial stages of one’s spiritual life one should be very steadfast in holding on to one’s chosen ideal.

Published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 29th Jun 2013