Sri Ramakrishna's work

Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna

Book First


This is indeed the world!

Once, Hriday3 brought a bull-calf here. I saw, one day, that he had tied it with a rope in the garden4 , so that it might graze there. I asked him, “Hriday, why do you tic the calf there every day?” “Uncle” he said, “I am going to send the calf to our village. When it grows strong I shall yoke it to the plough.” As soon as I heard these words I was stunned to think: “How inscrutable is the play of the Divine Maya! Kamarpukur5 and Sihore6 are so far away from Calcutta! This poor calf must go all that way. Then it will grow, and at length it will be yoked to the plough. This is indeed the world! This is indeed Maya!” I fell unconscious. Only after a long time did I regain consciousness.

3 A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna who attended on the Master for a long time

4 Temple garden of Dakshineswar where Sri Ramakrishna lived

5 A village in Bengal, where Sri Ramakrishna was born

6 Native village of Hriday

In the forest of the world

Once, a man was going through a forest, when three robbers fell upon him and robbed him of all his possessions. One of the robbers said, “What’s the use of keeping this man alive?” So saying, he was about to kill him with his sword, when the second robber interrupted him, saying: ‘Oh, no! What is the use of killing him? Tie his hand and foot and leave him here.” The robbers bound his hands and feet and went away. After a while the third robber returned and said to the man: “Ah, I am sorry. Are you hurt? I will release you from your bonds.” After setting the man free, the thief said: “Come with me. I will take you to the public high way.” After a long time they reached the road. At this the man said: “Sir, you have been very good to me. Come with me to my house.” “Oh, no!” the robber replied. “I can’t go there. The police will know it.”

This world itself is the forest. The three robbers prowling here are Satva, rajas, and lamas. It is they that rob a man of the Knowledge of Truth. Tamas wants to destroy him. „Rajas‟ binds him to the world.

But Satva rescues him from the clutches of rajas and tamas. Under the protection of Satva, man is rescued from anger, passion and other evil effects of tamas.

Further, Satva loosens the bonds of the world. But Satva also is a robber. It cannot give man the ultimate Knowledge of Truth, though it shows him the road leading to the Supreme Abode of God. Setting him on the path, Satva tells him: “Look yonder. There is your home.” Even Satva is far away from the knowledge of Brahman.

What the worls makes of men

As a boy, at Kamarpukur, I loved Ram Mallick dearly. But afterwards, when he came here, I couldn’t touch him. Ram Mallick and I were great friends during our boyhood. We were together day and night; we slept together. At that time I was sixteen or seventeen years old. People used to say, “If one of them were a woman they would marry each other.” Both of us used to play at his house. I remember those days very well. His relatives used to come riding in palanquins. Now he has a shop at Chanak. I sent for him many a time; he came here the other day and spent two days. Ram said he had no children; he brought up his nephew, but the boy died. He told me this with a sigh; his eyes were rilled with tears; he was grief stricken for his nephew. He said further that since they had no children of their own, all his wife’s affection had been turned to the nephew. She was completely overwhelmed with grief. Ram said to her: “You are crazy. What will you gain by grieving? Do you want to go to Benares?”

You see, he called his wife crazy. Grief for the boy totally ‘diluted’ him. J found he had no stuff within him. I couldn’t touch him. (3)


When they are annoyed

You see, we don’t take any collection during the performance at our place. Jadu’s7 mother says to me, “Other sadhus always ask for money, but you do not.” Worldly people feel annoyed if they have to spend money.

A theatrical performance was being given at a certain place. A man felt a great desire to take a seat and see it. He peeped in and saw that a collection was being taken from the audience. Quietly he slipped away. Another performance was being given at some other place. He went there and, inquiring, found that no collection would be taken. There was a great rush of people. He elbowed his way through the crowd and reached the centre of the hall. There he picked out a nice seat for himself, twirled his moustaches, and sat through the performance.

7 A devotee of Sri Ramakrishna

When all teeth fell

Let me tell you a story. A man used to celebrate the Durga Puja at his house with great pomp. Goats were sacrificed from sunrise to sunset. But after a few years the sacrifice was not so imposing. Then someone said to him, “How is it, sir, that the sacrifice at your place has become such a tame affair?” “Don’t you see?” he said, “My teeth are gone now.”

There are such men indeed!

TT is not mentioned in their ‘Science’ that God can take human form; so how can they believe it? There are such men indeed!

Listen to a story. A man said to his friend, “I have just seen a house fall down with a terrific crash.” Now, the friend to whom he told this had received an English education. He said: “Just a minute. Let me look it up in the newspaper.” He read the paper but could not find the news of a house falling down with a crash. Thereupon he said to his friend: “Well, I don’t believe you. It isn’t in the paper; so it is all false.”

The jackal that won’t leave the company of a bullock

Once a jackal saw a bullock and would not give up his company. The bullock roamed about and the jackal followed him. The jackal thought: “There hang the bullock’s testicles. Sometime or other they will drop to the ground and I shall eat them.” When the bullock slept on the ground, the jackal lay down too, and when the bullock moved about, the jackal followed him. Many days passed in this way, but the bullock’s testicles still clung to his body. The jackal went away disappointed.

That also happens to flatterers. They think that the rich man will loosen his purse strings for them. But it is very difficult to get anything from him.

The plunderers who go about as religious

There was a goldsmith who kept a jewelry shop. He looked like a great devotee, a true Vaishnava, with beads round his neck, rosary in his hand, and the holy marks on his forehead. Naturally people trusted him and came to his shop on business. They thought that, being such a pious man, he would never cheat them. Whenever a party of customers entered the shop, they would hear one of his craftsmen say, ‘Kesava! Kesava!’ Another would say after a while, ‘Gopal! Gopal!’ Then a third would mutter, ‘Hari! Hari!’ Finally someone would say, ‘Hara! Hara!’ Now these are, as you know, different names of God. Hearing so much chanting of God’s names the customers naturally thought think this goldsmith must be a very superior person. But can you guess the goldsmith’s true intention? The man who said ‘Kesava! Kesava!’ meant to ask, ‘Who are these? Who are these customers?’ The man who said ‘Gopal! Gopal!’ conveyed the idea that the customers were merely a herd of cows. That was the estimate he formed of them after the exchange of a few words. The man who said ‘Hari! Hail!’ asked, ‘Since they are no better than a herd of cows, then may we rob them?” He who said ‘Hara! Hara!’ gave his assent, meaning by these words, ‘Do rob by all means, since they are mere cows!’

How they quarrel!

It is not good to say that what we ourselves think of God is the only truth and what others think is false; that because we think of God as formless, therefore He is formless and cannot have any form; that because we think of God as having form, therefore He has form and cannot be formless. Can a man really fathom God’s nature?

This kind of friction exists between the Vaishnavas and the Saktas. The Vaishnava says, ‘My Kesava is the only Saviour’, whereas the Sakta insists, ‘My Bhagavati is the only Saviour.’

Once I took Vaishnavacharan8 to Mathur Babu9 . Mathur welcomed him with great courtesy and fed him from silver plates. Now, Vaishnavacharan was a very learned Vaishnava and an orthodox devotee of his sect. They were engaged in a friendly discussion when suddenly Vaishnavacharan said, “Kesava is the only Saviour.” No sooner did Mathur hear this than his face became red with anger and he blurted out, “You rascal!” He was a Sakta. Wasn’t it natural for him to say like that? I gave Vaishnavacharan a nudge!

8 A contemporary of Sri Ramakrishna

9 The son-in-law of Rani Rasmani, the foundress of the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar, where Sri Ramakrishna lived and did his Sadhana Mathur, on the other hand, was a devotee of the Divine Mother.

A wordling is a poor exponent of the sastras

A man wanted to engage a Bhagavata pandit who could explain the Bhagavata to him. His friend said: “I know of an excellent pandit. But there is one difficulty; he does a great deal of farming. He has four ploughs and eight bullocks and is always busy with them; he has no leisure.” Thereupon the man said:

“I don’t care for a pandit who has no leisure. I am not looking for a Bhagavata scholar burdened with ploughs and bullocks. I want a pandit who can really expound the sacred book to me.”

Elder, the pumpkin cutter

You must have seen the sort of elderly man who lives in a family and is always ready, day and night, to entertain the children. He sits in the parlour and smokes the hubble-bubble. With nothing in particular to do, he leads a lazy life. Now and again he goes to the inner court and cuts a pumpkin; for since women do not cut pumpkins, they send the children to ask him to come and do it. This is the extent of his usefulness – hence his nickname, ‘Elder, the pumpkin cutter.’

He is neither a man of the world nor a devotee of God. That is not good.

There is need for everything

Wicked People are needed too.

At one time the tenants of an estate became unruly. The landlord had to send Golak Choudhury, who was a ruffian. He was such a hard administrator that the tenants trembled at the very mention of the name.

There is need for everything. Once Sita said to her husband: “Rama, it would be grand if every house in Ayodhya were a mansion! I find many houses are old and dilapidated.” “But, my dear,” said Rama, “If all the houses were beautiful ones, what would the masons do?” God has created all kinds of things. He has created good trees and poisonous plants and weeds as well. Among the animals there are good, bad, and all kinds of creatures – tigers, lions, snakes, and so on.

There are men and men

Men may be divided into four classes: those bound by the fetters of the world, the seekers after liberation, the liberated and the ever-free.

Among the ever-free we may count sages like Narada. They live in the world for the good of others, to teach men spiritual truths.

Those in bondage are sunk in worldliness and are forgetful of God. Not even by mistake do they think of God.

The seekers after liberation want to free themselves from attachment to the world. Some of them succeed and others do not.

The liberated souls, such as the Sadhus and Mahatmas, are not entangled in the world, in ‘woman and gold.’ Their minds are free from worldliness. Besides they always meditate on the Lotus Feet of God.

Suppose a net has been cast into a lake to catch fish. Some fish are so clever that they are never caught in the net. They are like the ever-free. But most of the fish are entangled in the net. Some of them try to free themselves from it, and they are like those who seek liberation. But not all the fish that straggle succeed.

A very few do jump out of the net, making a big splash in the water. Then the fishermen shout, ‘Look! There goes a big one!’ But most of the fish caught in the net cannot escape, nor do they make any effort to get out.

On the contrary, they burrow into the mud with the net in their mouths and lie there quietly, thinking, ‘We need not fear any more; we are quite safe here.’ But the poor things do not know that the fishermen will drag them out with the net. These are like the men bound to the world.


The root of all troubles

In a certain place the fishermen were catching fish. A kite swooped down and snatched a fish. At the sight of the fish, about a thousand crows chased the kite and made a great noise with their cawing. Which-ever way the kite flew with the fish, the crows followed it. The kite flew to the south and the crows followed it there. The kite flew to the north and still the crows followed after it. The kite went east and west, but with the same result. As the kite began to fly about in confusion, lo, the fish dropped from its mouth. The crows at once let the kite alone and flew after the fish. Thus relieved of its worries, the kite sat on the branch of a tree and thought: ‘That wretched fish was at the root of all my troubles. I have now got rid of it and therefore I am at peace.’

As long as a man has the fish, that is, worldly desires, he must perform actions and consequently suffer from worry, anxiety, and restlessness. No sooner does he renounce these desires than his activities fall away and he enjoys peace of soul.

All for a single piece of lion-cloth

A sadhu under the instruction of his Guru built for himself a small shed, thatched with leaves at a distance from the haunts of men. He began his devotional exercises in this hut. Now, every morning after ablution he would hang his wet cloth and the kaupina (loin-cloth) on a tree close to the hut, to dry them. One day on his return from the neighbouring village, which he would visit to beg for his daily food, he found that the rats had cut holes in his kaupina. So the next day he was obliged to go to the village for a fresh one. A few days later, the sadhu spread his loin-cloth on the roof of his hut to dry it and then went to the village to beg as usual. On his return he found that the rats had torn it into shreds. He felt much annoyed and thought within himself “Where shall I go again to beg for a rag? Whom shall I ask for one?” All the same he saw the villagers the next day and re-presented to them the mischief done by the rats. Having heard all he had to say, the villagers said, “Who will keep you supplied with cloth every day? Just do one thing—keep a cat; it will keep away the rats.” The sadhu forthwith secured a kitten in the village and carried it to his hut. From that day the rats ceased to trouble him and there was no end to his joy. The sadhu now began to tend the useful little creature with great care and feed it on the milk begged from the village. After some days, a villager said to him: “Sadhuji, you require milk every day; you can supply your want for a few days at most by begging; who will supply you with milk all the year round? Just do one thing—keep a cow. You can satisfy your own creature comforts by drinking its milk and you can also give some to your cat.” In a few days the sadhu procured a milk cow and had no occasion to beg for milk any more. By and by, the sadhu found it necessary to beg for straw for his cow. He had to visit the neighboring villages for the purpose, but the villagers said, “There are lots of uncultivated lands close to your hut; just cultivate the land and you shall not have to beg for straw for your cow.” Guided by their advice, the sadhu took to tilling the land. Gradually he had to engage some labourers and later on found it necessary to build barns to store the crop in. Thus he became, in course of time, a sort of landlord. And, at last he had to take a wife to look after his big household. He now passed his days just like a busy householder.

After some time, his Guru came to see him. Finding himself surrounded by goods and chattels, the Guru felt puzzled and enquired of a servant, “An ascetic used to live here in a hut; can you tell me where he has removed himself?” The servant did not know what to say in reply. So the Guru ventured to enter into the house, where he met his disciple. The Guru said to him, “My son, what is all this?” The disciple, in great shame fell at the feet of his Guru and said, “My Lord, all for a single piece of loin-cloth!”

The tiger that lurks behind worldly joys

God is like the wish-yielding tree of the celestial world (Kalpataru), which gives whatever one asks of it. So, one should be careful to give up all worldly desires when one’s mind has been purified by religious exercises.

Just listen to a story: A certain traveler came to a large plain in the course of his travels. As he had been walking in the sun for many hours, he was thoroughly exhausted and heavily perspiring; so he sat down in the shade of a tree to rest a little. Presently he began to think what a comfort it would be if he could but get a soft bed there to sleep on. He was not aware that he was sitting under the celestial tree. As soon as the above thought rose in his mind, he found a nice bed by his side. He felt much astonished, but all the same stretched himself on it. Now he thought to himself, how pleasant it would be, were a young damsel to come there and gently stroke his legs. No sooner did the thought arise in his mind than he found a young damsel sitting at his feet and stroking his legs. The traveler felt supremely happy. Presently he felt hungry and thought: “I have got whatever I have wished for; could I not then get some food?” Instantly he found various kinds of delicious food spread before him. He at once fell to eating, and having helped himself to his heart’s content, stretched himself again on his bed. He now began to revolve in his mind the events of the day. While thus occupied, he thought: “If a tiger should attack me all of a sudden!” In an instant a large tiger jumped on him and broke his neck and began to drink his blood. In this way the traveler lost his life. Such is the fate of men in general. If during your meditation you pray for men or money or worldly honors, your desires will no doubt be satisfied to some extent; but, mind you, there is the dread of the tiger behind the gifts you get. Those tigers— disease, bereavements, loss of honor and wealth etc.,—are a thousand times more terrible than the live tiger.

Tat oppressing stench of worldliness

Once, a fishwife was a guest in the house of a gardener who raised flowers. She came there with her empty basket, after selling fish in the market, and was asked to sleep in a room where flowers were kept. But, because of the fragrance of the flowers, she couldn’t get to sleep for a long time! She was restless and began to fidget about. Her hostess saw her condition and said, “Hello! Why are you tossing from side to side so restlessly?” The fishwife said: “I don’t know, friend. Perhaps the smell of the flowers has been disturbing my sleep. Can you give me my fish-basket? Perhaps that will put me to sleep.” The basket was brought to her. She sprinkled water on it and set it near her nose. Then she fell sound asleep and snored all night.

Worldly goods are not thine for ever

The steward of a certain rich man was left in charge of his master’s property. When asked by someone as to whose property it was, he used to say: “Sir, this is all my property; these houses and these gardens are all mine.” He would speak in this strain and go about with an air of vanity. One day he happened to catch fish in a pond of his master’s garden-house in contravention of his strict prohibition. As ill-luck would have it, the master came upon the scene just then, and saw what his dishonest steward was doing. Finding out the faithlessness of his servant, the master at once drove him away from his estate, disgraced and dishonored, and confiscated all his past earnings. The poor fellow could not take with him even his rickety box of utensils which was his sole private property.

Such is the punishment that overtakes false pride.

The jar of desire can never be filled up

A barber who was passing under a haunted tree, heard a voice say, “Will you accept seven jars full of gold?” The barber looked around, but could see no one. The offer of seven jars of gold, however, roused his cupidity, and he cried aloud, “Yes, I shall accept the seven jars.” At once came the reply, “Go home, I have carried the jars to your house.” The barber ran home in hot haste to verify the truth of this strange announcement. And when he entered the house, he saw the jars before him. He opened them and found them all full of gold, except the last one which was only half-full. A strong desire now arose in the barber’s mind to fill the seventh jar also for without it his happiness was incomplete. He therefore converted all his ornaments into gold coins and put them into the jar; but the mysterious vessel was, as before, unfilled. This exasperated the barber. Starving himself and his family, he saved some amount more and tried to fill the jar; but the jar remained as before. So one day he humbly requested the king to increase his pay, as his income was not sufficient to maintain himself. Now the barber was a favorite of the king, and as soon as the request was made the king doubled his pay. All this pay he saved and put into the jar, but the greedy jar showed no signs of filling. At last he began to live by begging from door to door, and his professional income and the income from begging—all went into the insatiable cavity of the mysterious jar. Months passed, and the condition of the miserable and miserly barber grew worse every day. Seeing his sad plight the king asked him one day: “Hallo! When your pay was half of what yon now get, you were happy, cheerful and contented; but with double that pay, I see you morose, care-worn and dejected. What is the matter with you? Have you got ‘the seven jars’?” The barber was taken aback by this question and replied, “Your Majesty, who has informed you of this?” The king said: “Don’t you know that these are the signs of the person to whom the Yaksha consigns the seven jars. He offered me also the same jars, but I asked him whether this money might be spent or was merely to be hoarded. No sooner had I asked this question than the Yaksha ran away without any reply. Don’t you know that no one can spend that money? It only brings with it the desire of hoarding. Go at once and return the money.” The barber was brought to his senses by this advice, and he went to the haunted tree and said, “Take back your gold, O Yaksha.” The Yaksha replied, “All right.” When the barber returned home, he found that the seven jars had vanished as mysteriously as they were brought in, and with it had vanished, his life-long savings too.

Those who do not understand the difference between what is real expenditure and what is real income, lose all they have.

Why yogi slips down from his yoga

AtKamarpukur I have seen the mongoose living in its hole up in the wall. It feels snug there. Sometimes people tie a brick to its tail; then the pull of the brick makes it come out of its hole. Every time the mongoose tries to be comfortable inside the hole, it has to come out because of the pull of the brick.

Such is the effect of brooding on worldly objects that it makes the yogi stray from the path of yoga.

Those worthless things!

Body and wealth are impermanent. Why go to take so much trouble for their sake? Just think of the plight of the Hatha yogis. Their attention is fixed on one ideal only—longevity. They do not aim at the realization of God at all. They practice such exercises as washing out the intestines, drinking milk through a tube, and the like, with that one aim in view.

There was once a goldsmith whose tongue suddenly turned up and stuck to his palate. He looked like a man in Samadhi. He became completely inert and remained so a long time. People came to worship him. After several years, his tongue suddenly returned to its natural position, and he became conscious of things as before. So he went back to his work as before. These are physical things and have nothing to do with God.

There was a man who knew eighty two postures and talked big about yoga-samadhi. But inwardly he was drawn to ‘woman and gold’. Once he found a bank-note worth several thousand rupees.

He could not resist the temptation, and swallowed it, thinking he would get it out somehow later on. The note was got out of him alright, but he was sent to jail for three years.


Court marriage and you court servitude

TT is ‘woman and gold’ that binds man and robs – *- him of his freedom. It is woman that creates the need for gold. For woman one becomes the slave of another, and so loses his freedom. Then he cannot act as he likes.

The priests in the temple of Govindaji at Jaipur were celibates at first, and at that time they had fiery natures. Once the King of Jaipur sent for them, but they didn’t obey him. They said to the messenger, “Ask the king to come to see us.” After consultation, the king and his ministers arranged marriages for them. From then on the king didn’t have to send for them.

They would come to him of themselves and say: “Your Majesty, we have come with our blessings. Here are the sacred flowers of the temple. Deign to accept them.” They came to the palace, for now they always wanted money for this thing or another—the building of a house, the rice-taking ceremony of their babies, or the rituals connected with the beginning of their children’s education.

The fall of the twelwe hunderd

There is the story of twelve hundred nedas10 and thirteen hundred nedis11. Virabhadra, the son of Nityananda Goswami had thirteen hundred ‘shaven headed’ disciples. They attained great spiritual powers. That alarmed their teacher. “My disciples have acquired great spiritual powers,” thought Virabhadra. “Whatever they say to people will come to pass. Wherever they go they may create alarming situations; for people offending them unwittingly will come to grief.” Thinking thus, Virabhadra one day called them to him and said, “See me after performing your daily devotions on the banks of the Ganges.” These disciples had such high spiritual nature that, while meditating, they would go into Samadhi and be unaware of the river water flowing over their heads during the flood-tide. Then the ebb-tide would come and still they would remain absorbed in meditation. Now, one hundred of these disciples had anticipated what their teacher would ask of them. Lest they should have to disobey his injunctions, they had quickly disappeared from the place before he summoned them. So, they did not go to Virabhadra with others. The remaining twelve hundred disciples went to the teacher after finishing their morning meditations. Virabhadra said to them:

“These thirteen hundred nuns will serve you. I ask you to marry them.” “As you please, revered sir,” they said. “But one hundred of us have gone ‘ away.” Thenceforth each of these twelve hundred disciples had a wife. Consequently they all lost their spiritual power. Their austerities did not have their original fire. The company of women robbed them of their spirituality because it destroyed their freedom.

10 Literally “Shaven headed”, indicative of absolute renunciation of ‘lust and gold’

11 Vaishnava nuns.

About the author



We are all leaves, flowers
And fruits
On the different religion-branches
Of the birthless and deathless

(Sri Chinmoy)

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