In Ramakrishna’s life there is a story. A man called Totapuri, a very famous saint of those days, came to Ramakrishna’s ashram near Calcutta in Dakshineshwar. It was known that Totapuri walked on water. And it must be true because it is not a two-thousand-year-old history, it was just at the end of the past century. There are still people who have seen Ramakrishna and Totapuri alive. I have met those people, and they say that Totapuri was a man of miracles, but that Ramakrishna reduced him to nothing.
They were sitting on the bank of the Ganges and Totapuri just challenged Ramakrishna, “Come on, why not have a little walk on the Ganges?”
Now, poor Ramakrishna was not a man of miracles. He said, “That’s a good idea, but I have disciples who have better ideas. Just look up.” They both looked up. On the cloud, one of Ramakrishna’s disciples was sitting. Ramakrishna said, “My people travel on clouds, they don’t walk on water.”
Totapuri was amazed, but he was more amazed when Ramakrishna said, “That was just a projection. There was nobody on the cloud. It was just my deep projection, the way a film is projected onto the screen. I can project any idea through my eyes, forcibly, onto any screen. That cloud, that white cloud, functioned as a screen. There was nobody, and we don’t do stupid things like that. And I would like to ask how many years it took to learn the art of walking on water?”
Totapuri said, “It was an arduous discipline. I had to go to Tibet to learn it. For thirty years I was under arduous training, and then finally I succeeded.
Ramakrishna laughed madly. He said, “You are crazy. When I want to go to the other side of the Ganges, I just tell the boatman.” Anyway, in those days, just one paise – one rupee consists of one hundred paise – just one paise was enough. And even that was not taken from Ramakrishna; no boatman would take from such a beautiful man, so pure, so innocent. So he said, “At the most, what you have learned in thirty years is worth one paise, and thirty years is a long time.
“And what is the point of it all? Even if you walk on water or sit on a cloud, how does it make you more peaceful, more silent, more aware, more meditative? In what way do you achieve godliness by walking on water? It is sheer stupidity. You wasted your thirty years. And you wanted to brag about it. Forget all that you have learned and start from scratch, because I can see you are just as fast asleep and ignorant as anybody else. You have just learned a few tricks. Those tricks don’t bring any transformation, but they bring millions of people to worship you.”
Many saints in India have confessed to me that they do certain kinds of tricks just to attract people, so that those people can be made religious. I used to tell them, “From the very beginning, you are cheating them. You yourself are becoming irreligious.
“And they are not coming there to become religious in the first place, they are just coming to see the tricks. Any magician in the street is doing those things that you are doing. Magicians are doing even better things on the street corners. In the whole day perhaps they may gather five rupees. How can you think that you have attained to some spirituality just by attracting a crowd? And the crowd is going to be of wrong people.”