Devotees would often visit Sri Ramakrishna to discuss about spiritual life. Sri Ramakrishna would take enormous pains to guide them and explain to them the intricacies of spiritual life. But he would always advise them that the ultimate knowledge comes from within. He used to illustrate this idea using a beautiful incident from daily life.
There was a man who was very fond of smoking. One day he went to his neighbour’s house late at night to light his charcoal. He knocked at the door for quite some time, after which the neighbour came and opened the door. He enquired as to what the matter was and what brought the visitor to his house at the dead of night. The former answered that the neighbour must be aware of his love for smoking. He did not have any fire at his house and that is how he came to his neighbour’s house to light his charcoal. Laughing aloud his neighbour said that he had taken so much trouble to come and had awakened his neighbour as well, yet in the hands of the visitor there was a lighted lamp. He asked him why he did not light his charcoal from the fire of the lighted lamp.
Thus Sri Ramakrishna would say that all our efforts to gain the ultimate knowledge are attempts similar to the person who was searching for a fire to light his charcoal. We undertake such journeys since we are not aware of the light of knowledge that is deep within us. Only after intense sadhana and search when the impurities of our heart are slowly removed, the lamp of knowledge that is within becomes visible. At that time alone we come to realize that it was all within and we were vainly searching outside. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that Satchidananda or the Divine Spirit within is the True or Ultimate Guru who enlightens our hearts and bestows the highest knowledge.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 17th Jan 2015