I’ve already mentioned my enjoyment of Sri Ramakrishna’s parables. Reading good literature from philosophical systems beside my own helps me return to the Bible with fresh eyes. In Ramakrishna’s case, after reading the teachings of someone who was such a thoroughgoing mystic, many mystical elements of the New Testament I hardly noticed before started jumping off the page.
This post is about Ramakrishna’s metaphors of the worshipper as a baby monkey or as a kitten.
Ramakrishna uses these cute little baby animal metaphors in different settings to make different points. First, he conjures a beautiful image of prayer. At one point in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrisha, Ramakrishna’s biographer asks him, “Under what conditions does one see God?” Ramakrishna replies:
“Cry to the Lord with an intensely yearning heart and you will certainly see Him. People shed a whole jug of tears for wife and children. They swim in tears for money. But who weeps for God? Cry to Him with a real cry.”
“It is necessary to pray to Him with a longing heart. The kitten knows only how to call its mother, crying, ‘Mew, mew!’ It remains satisfied wherever its mother puts it. And the mother cat puts the kitten sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes on the floor, and sometimes on the bed. When it suffers it cries only, ‘Mew, mew!’ That’s all it knows. But as soon as the mother hears this cry, wherever she may be; she comes to the kitten.”
In another setting, Ramakrishna uses the kitten and monkey to illustrate different levels of self-surrender to God. The teacher says:
“Surrender everything at the feet of God. What else can you do? Give Him the power of attorney. Let Him do whatever He thinks best. If you rely on a great man, he will never injure you.
“It is no doubt necessary to practise spiritual discipline; but there are two kinds of aspirants. The nature of the one kind is like that of the young monkey, and the nature of the other kind is like that of the kitten. The young monkey, with great exertion, somehow clings to its mother. Likewise, there are some aspirants who think that in order to realize God they must repeat His name a certain number of times, meditate on Him for a certain period, and practice a certain amount of austerity. An aspirant of this kind makes his own efforts to catch hold of God. But the kitten, of itself, cannot cling to its mother. It lies on the ground and cries, ‘Mew, mew!’ It leaves everything to its mother. The mother cat sometimes puts it on a bed, sometimes on the roof behind a pile of wood. She carries the kitten in her mouth hither and thither. The kitten doesn’t know how to cling to the mother. Likewise, there are some aspirants who cannot practise spiritual discipline by calculating about japa or the period of meditation. All that they do is cry to God with yearning hearts. God hears their cry and cannot keep Himself away. He reveals Himself to them.”
“There is another class of devotees. They have the nature of the young monkey. The young monkey clings to its mother with might and main. The devotees who behave like the young monkey have a slight idea of being the doer. They feel: ‘we must go to the sacred places; we must practise japa and austerity; we must perform worship with sixteen articles as prescribed by the sastras. Only then shall we be able to realize God.’ Such is their attitude.
“The aspirants of both classes are devotees of God. The farther you advance, the more you will realize that God alone has become everything. He alone does everything. He alone is the Guru and He alone is the Ishta. He alone gives us knowledge and devotion.
What’s the point, besides an excuse to post cute animal pictures? Many of us are spiritually like the little monkey. With much exertion we struggle to cling to God. But we only need to be like the kitten. When we call, he in his grace comes to us. Wherever he sticks us, we know we are alright. The Almighty is only a ‘mew’ away.
Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.), is a lawyer and former minister who blogs at BrenHughes.com and recently authored Heaven’s Muscle: Unleashing the Power of the Spirit Within You. If this post was meaningful, share it!