Sri Ramakrishna, while discussing about spiritual life with the devotees, would often enlighten them about experiences as one advances in spiritual life. He would say that the farther you advance the more you would observe that there are deeper and deeper layers of understanding and experience. Referring to another well-known parable of his, he would say that going even beyond the sandalwood forest, the woodcutter, who dared to advance, discovered the mines of silver, gold and precious stones.

At the same time, he was aware of the difficulties of the people of the world in this regard. If the people bound to worldly duties venture to go too far ahead then the bottom would drop out of their world. In this connection, he would quote an incident concerning Shri Keshav Chandra Sen, the celebrated Brahmo leader. One day the latter was conducting a religious service. He said, “O God, may we all sink and disappear in the river of bhakti.” When the worship was over, Sri Ramakrishna told him, “Look here. How can you disappear in the river of bhakti? If you do so, what will happen to those seated behind the screen (referring to the ladies who used to remain hidden from the normal view of the men folk, particularly the visitors)?”

Sri Ramakrishna continued that he told Keshav to sink now and then in the river of bhakti and come back again to the dry land. What he meant was that Keshav could practise spiritual disciplines in a measured manner so that he could discharge his worldly duties at the same time. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna would caution that while it is extremely necessary and important to struggle hard to progress in spiritual life, one should understand one’s own position and circumstances in life and proceed cautiously. If the people immersed in worldly duties try drastic measures, the result would be disastrous. Spiritual striving involves careful and judicious preparation before diving deep.

Published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 1st Jun 2013