Devotees would often complain to Sri Ramakrishna that they are caught in the net of maya in this world and that they are unable to progress in spiritual life. Sri Ramakrishna in his unique and inimitable style would advise them as to how to live in this world with a spirit of detachment. To explain this idea he would draw inferences from pictures of daily life. He would talk about the mudfish. This fish is usually found in mud. It is expected that its body would be dirty and soiled by mud. But, surprisingly, its skin is shining and bright.
Sri Ramakrishna would say that a householder should live in the world like mudfish. Such a person might live under extremely trying circumstances in the world, but through the practice of detachment such a person may remain unsullied. He would also give another example. The skin of the jackfruit contains glue like thick liquid which is quite sticky. When one tries to break the jackfruit for taking out the inner kernel, the glue sticks to hands.
To avoid this people apply oil to their hands and then break the jackfruit. Sri Ramakrishna would say that participating in the world so as to get the fruits of life is not an easy job. In the process, several unpleasant experiences soil or affect people’s lives. To avoid such sufferings or to protect one from being soiled by worldly experiences, one has to apply a coating of viveka before plunging into worldly activities. Such a person is not soiled by the bad or unpleasant experiences.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that it is not possible for everyone to completely give up the world or retire and go away from such a life. If one knows how to live amidst trying circumstances with a spirit of detachment, it is possible to retain one’s spiritual outlook even while participating in the unavoidable or ordained duties of the world.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 4th Jan 2014