Devotees would often open their hearts before Sri Ramakrishna and plead their helplessness to get over their ajnana or ignorance.
One of the most powerful tools for destroying ignorance that comes in the way of spiritual realization is the study and true comprehension of the message of the scriptures. But ordinary people, especially those who have newly taken to the life of sadhana, cannot do this very easily. They need the help or guidance of a spiritually illumined soul. Such teachers are different from even those who have a good grasp of the meaning of the scriptures through their intellect. Even among the knowers of scriptures, a special place is reserved for those teachers or Gurus who transmit the supreme knowledge of scriptures to the disciples using their powerful and illumined minds. Such a transformation awakens tremendous love and devotion in the disciple and also bestows him with a rare insight of the true meaning of scriptures.
Sri Ramakrishna would illustrate this idea using a beautiful example. He would say that suppose someone wants to know about the famous place of pilgrimage, Varanasi. He goes on inquiring about Varanasi to everyone he knows. Hearing about it from however great a scholar whose knowledge in turn is from the books, and is not based on experience, can in no way convey the right impression about Varanasi on the curious mind. On the other hand, if he hears the description from someone who had actually visited the place and knows its holy atmosphere, the impression would be totally different and would inspire the listener to undertake such a pilgrimage.
In fact, the immortal Katha Upanishad warns about the dangers of learning from a Guru who is not enlightened. It says, it is like a blind leading another blind and both fall into the well of darkness and perish. Hence, in spiritual life only an illumined Guru can be a true or real guide to a spiritual aspirant.
(“Benares (Varanasi, India) – 1922” by Original uploader was Daderot at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)
– by Swami Shantatmananda, published in the Sunday Guardian, 27th Sep 2014