From Revelation to Transformation

After Sri Ramakrishna passed away, his monastic disciples travelled around India practicing severe austerities. During this period, Vijaykrishna Goswami, one of Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees, met Swami Brahmananda, one of the monastic disciples, in the holy city of Vrindaban.

One day Vijay asked him: “The Master gave you all that is covetable in spiritual life: visions and samadhi [super conscious state]. Why then do you still practice so much austerity?” Brahmananda humbly answered: “The experiences and visions I got by his grace, I am now trying to attain as my permanent possession.” [1]


What do we do after the revelation? This is the question that we all need to ask ourselves. Once we have received a blessing from God, what do we do next? How do we make use of our blessings to deepen and sanctify our lives?

An experience of illumination and Self-realization is a gift of God’s grace. Following such a Divine encounter, we need to integrate that which was given into our being. We need to do the spiritual work of transforming ourselves.

For a moment, God expands our vessel so we can receive His light, but then our vessel contracts again, and we have to work to expand it on our own. At Sinai, God descended on the Mountain. After Sinai, we need to ascend up to God.

Sri Ramakrishna, used to say: “If a man once tastes that bliss, he runs after it ever afterwards.” He would tell a story about a peacock to illustrate his point.

“A man once fed a peacock with a pill of opium at four o’clock in the afternoon. The next day, exactly at that time, the peacock came back. It had felt the intoxication of the drug and returned just in time to have another dose.” [2]

We tend to think of the moment of illumination as the climax of the spiritual life, but like the birth of a child after nine months of pregnancy, our encounter with God is only the beginning of the story. In fact, the purpose of the encounter is to prepare us for the great work which lies ahead. Once we have tasted the bliss of God’s blessings, we will strive to keep on tasting the Divine Nectar. We will be willing to undergo the difficult disciplines that are needed to experience that joy again.

To turn the blessing that we receive into a path and a mission takes time. It does not happen in a moment. We need to be patient. We need to have faith. Instead, we are impatient and expect immediate results. We would like to become realized beings by a magic touch. We want Divine vision without developing Divine sight.

When Swami Brahmananda’s disciples would complain to him about their lack of progress, he would remind them that acquiring God realization is not an easy matter. It demands tremendous personal effort, a strong sense of determination and a great deal of patient perseverance. A broader perspective is needed, in order to succeed:

“Is self-surrender possible in a day? When that is achieved everything is achieved. One must struggle hard for it. Existence is eternal. The span of man’s life is at the most a hundred years…

“Life, eternal life, is before you! What matters it, if you devote a few lives to the service of God, even supposing they are in vain? But I tell you, this cannot be. You will see for yourself to what great spiritual heights you will soar…” [3]

Sinai was a spiritual wedding, with the Torah serving as the marriage contract between God and His holy nation of Israel. After experiencing God’s living presence, the Israelites should have been asking themselves: how do we now fulfill our part of the contract? How do we become a kingdom of priests?

The Israelites, however, did not draw on the inspiration of that transcendent experience to transform their lives. They thought that merely turning up was enough. If they had begun to work on themselves when Moses ascended the mountain, they would have never made the Golden Calf.

When Moses went up the mountain for forty days, the Children of Israel started to become restless. As the days went by, the immediacy of the revelation experience faded away. The Israelites then began to doubt the truth of what they had experienced. Eventually, they lost their faith in God and Moses.

In Exodus 19: 5-6, God commands the Children of Israel: “V’ata, im shamoa tishmau bekoli” – Now, therefore, if you will hearken unto My voice…you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. The Hasidic Master, Shlomo of Radamsk, explains that in this verse God is telling us that one of the keys to becoming a holy nation is to keep His voice alive within us. The Divine voice needs to become a tangible reality for us. We need to hold on to the taste of spiritual bliss.

Like the peacock in Ramakrishna’s story, we fulfill this Divine command by returning daily to the inner place where we have met with God. We commune with Him in love and devotion. We bring God’s presence into our every conversation. We make Him part of everything that we say and do.

An encounter with God is more than just an experience; it is a direct contact with God’s Eternal Truth. It is a Divine–human meeting that opens up a door to new understanding and higher awareness. It is a heighted state of consciousness which stimulates further evolution and spiritual growth.

The Midrash recounts that after Jacob had his dream about the celestial ladder, his vision became the point of reference for the whole of existence. It was the spiritual metaphor that he taught to everyone who came to him. It was the light that guided his footsteps through life.

The vision of the ladder inspired him. It expanded his consciousness and gave him a new perspective on reality. Thereafter, Jacob saw life as a ladder stretching from earth up to the heavens, with humanity struggling to ascend upward on its spiritual rungs.

This is the reason that we are commanded to see ourselves every day as if we are standing at Sinai. We are meant to continually receive the Torah each day anew. We are supposed to re-experience the moment of the revelation all of the time.

According to the tradition, a tzaddik or enlightened soul is considered to be a living Torah. This appellation is due not only to the greatness of his learning, but also because, like Swami Brahmananda, he has made God’s Word his own.

When we make the Torah our own, its words permeate every aspect of our being. It becomes part of the way in which we see and approach life. The Torah becomes the vehicle for our self-transformation. It becomes our instrument for changing the world.

Copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick

 

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Swami Chetananda, God Lived with Them, p. 88-9
  2. ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda, p. 757 and p. 90
  3. Swami Prabhavananda, The Eternal Companion, p. 199 and p. 214