Friday, August 28, 2009

Ramakrishna and Devotion to Christ

Rare photos of Ramakrishna, patron saint of all religious pluralists. He once had a vision of the divine master of Nazareth who walked towards him and then mysteriously passed through his being. At that moment, Ramakrishna's ecstatic passionate devotion to the goddess Mother Kali was replaced with limitless passionate devotion to the crucified Christ of Christianity, an event of such stupendous spiritual significance that it left the Indian master disoriented for days. Gradually, however, his newfound devotion to Jesus began to fade and was replaced by his original spiritual connection to Mother Kali, the locus of his true vocation. The implications of this experience for any of us who experience devotion to a 'Divine Master' are very great. Ramakrishna was to say that of the many paths to true enlightenment, selfless social service and devotion to the poor (the way of a Gandhi), meditation and pure intuition (the way of a Buddha) and devotion to a human 'divine master' (the central way of Christian devotion), the later path was the easiest for most human beings and the most effective. I refer the reader to Larry Hurtado's great biblical study of early Christian devotion, Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly, the early Christians experienced a call to devotion to Jesus as in some sense 'divine', which they struggled to reconcile with their Jewish monotheism, a call that caused them immense difficulties with their Jewish co-religionists and saw them expelled from the synagogues. However, I would suggest that the practitioners of this early experience lacked a point of comparison with Indian religion where such devotion is commonplace. What occurred in Israel 2000 years ago, was the birth of a devotional religion that was without precedent within Israel, but not without precedent within Asia. The message of Christianity is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. A human being had been chosen by vocation to image the divine for one sector of humanity and this was to have immense significance for the future of Western culture. From devotion to the codification of absolute, unique god-like status of the prophet from Nazareth was a very long step. I recommend When Jesus Became God, by Richard E. Rubenstein for a quick overview of the process, but one which does not do justice to all of the theological subtleties. As to the soteriological significance of Jesus' death and Resurrection, a mystery of such profoundity it is almost irreverent to comment on it in a blog post, I refer to an ancient Tibetan saying:

The solitary hermit, through the annihilation of his (or her) ego, becomes a center of boundless compassion flooding itself upon the world.

This saying testifies to an ancient intuition found in all major spiritual religions of the mysterious efficacy of 'redemptive suffering', that somehow we are all intimately connected on the deepest spiritual level and that the sacrificial opening of the heart of a great spiritual master floods the entire human race with 'grace and forgiveness.' Though this is an oversimplification of a profound mystery (for the sake of economy in a blog reflection), I would suggest that this would be a more appropriate pluralistic interpretation for the profound Christian intuition of the redemptive efficacy of Jesus' paschal mystery. We need to be constantly reminded that all dogmatic statements arise out of the need for reflection on prior charismatic experiences of grace. Those who are closest to the master will feel the spiritual impact of his or her death most deeply, but it is only a rigid form of mythologizing that asserts that only the sacrificial suffering and death of one's own spiritual master has exclusive, universal salvivic power for the human race. Nonetheless, with the death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, we are in the presence of a mystery of such profoundity that it is best to step back and pause in silence, humility and respect.

Here is the video on Ramakrishna, with a beautiful prayer in his honor written by his disciple, Vivekananda. You will note that Vivekananda makes assertions about his master that Christianity traditionally reserves for the Lord Jesus Christ.

He was considered an avatar or incarnation of God by many of his disciples, and is considered as such by many of his devotees today. (Wikipedia)