Chapter 8: The Essence of Existence
Vivekananda had never thought of this. He had been to visit many wise people, wherever he had heard there was a wise man he had gone to him. But from each one he had returned empty handed because although there was much theoretical discussion, who has ever been contented with just words? If you are hungry and someone talks about food, how can you be satiated just by talking about food? Vivekananda was hungry. His interest was not the interest of a student, it was the interest of a seeker. But he had always returned empty handed from place after place. He had also come to Ramakrishna carrying this same feeling, but in his mind he also had the idea that here was an illiterate, uncultured man. When he had found nothing with the great and learned, the well educated..
He had gone to Maharishi Devendranath, Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather. He was very renowned, renowned as a great seer. He lived on a houseboat on a river, so in the middle of the night Vivekananda jumped into the river and swam across and climbed onto the houseboat that was in the middle of the river. A dark night, a moonless night.the whole boat shook. Devendranath was meditating in the solitude of the night. His eyes opened. A youth was standing in front of him soaking wet. There was a small, flickering lamp on the boat. Devendranath asked, “What do you want?”
Vivekananda said, “Does God exist?”
Devendranath was startled. Is this a time to ask? Is this the time to inquire? - at midnight, climbing onto someone’s houseboat, soaking wet, standing there in the dark asking does God exist? He hesitated a moment. This young man seemed to be mad. Seeing his hesitation, Vivekananda dived back into the river. Devendranath asked him, “Young man, are you going back? Why?”
Vivekananda said, “Your hesitation has said everything - that you don’t know either. Why did you hesitate? He who knows, he knows - even if he is asked in the middle of the night. Even waking from sleep he knows it. He who knows, knows. Your hesitation said everything. I have nothing to ask you.”
So naturally when even a wise man, a world-famous scholar like Maharishi Devendranath was not able to give him any answer, then what answer could this uncivilized villager Ramakrishna be able to give him? He was consumed by this idea.. But the situation reversed itself. He had gone to startle Ramakrishna, but he himself was startled. Ramakrishna said, “Do you want to know? Do you want to know right now? Shall I tell you now - this very moment?”
He had not come thinking of knowing right now, he was not prepared for this. He had never even considered that someone could ask this question. And before Vivekananda could say anything Ramakrishna had leapt up and pressed his foot against Vivekananda’s chest.
This is not the way of the wise people, this is the way of the ecstatic. But only the ecstatics know. They know, hence the ecstasy.
Vivekananda fell down unconscious. When he came to three hours later, Ramakrishna said, “Ask! Have you any more questions?”
It was like returning from another world! He had had a taste. He became infatuated with this illiterate priest. He began running after him. Ramakrishna had no scripture, no knowledge, no doctrine, no big degrees, nor was his name world famous. He had a small job at eighteen rupees a month performing the rituals of worship at the Dakshineshwar temple. He was a poor man, an illiterate villager; he had studied only up to the second grade. He didn’t know Sanskrit. No one else had been able to attract Vivekananda, but he became infatuated with Ramakrishna.