Originally published in the 1998 Kali Mandir Puja Program.
Achieving but a moment of awareness is a constant struggle. Think of a child who sits on the back of a moving wagon watching the cracks in the road recede into the distance. Moments in time, like those swiftly passing cracks, lose their distinction as they happen. Each experience disappears into the distance, and finding a comprehensible view seems all but impossible. But once in a great while, we’re able to glimpse some truth in a moment, and hold it in our gaze long enough to be conscious of what it must be like to stop – and truly witness the Reality always present underneath life’s persistent blur.
Even then, a moment is just long enough for us to be shocked into humility, without creating a perceptual crisis that would completely disrupt our lives. And for most of us, that is about as far as our egos will permit us to stop. Oh, that vague fear! We pack up our mind and flee to a television set or a nice restaurant, anything to regain consciousness of momentum. After all, jumping off that wagon altogether – well, that’s for saints and Buddhas, right? So, we tell ourselves.
Perhaps Voltaire was on to something when he said that God is a comedian who’s performing in front of an audience that’s afraid to laugh. And that might explain why so many of us are drawn to the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna, and why we keep coming back, again and again, to places like this. For this is a tradition of ecstasy, of “profound, boisterous laughter” where one can’t turn a page of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna without finding Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) cracking a joke. He knew that there was no room in this world for fear. “Why should you be frightened? Hold fast to God. What if the world is like a forest of thorns? Put on shoes and walk on the thorns. Whom should you fear?”
This is a tradition of Divine Mother Kali, the Queen of All Moments, who dances on Lord Shiva amidst the blood, fire and corpses of the cremation ground, clenching in Her fist that flailing, fearing ego – and She is always laughing. To look upon Her is to understand that there is nothing to fear. Yet some cringe in front of Her image, or else they walk away, shaking their heads in misapprehension. If they only knew!
And for that matter, if we only knew. For this is a tradition of knowledge, and by knowledge I don’t mean the ability to recite scriptures from memory but the ability to personally experience their meaning – to have the life of Sri Ramakrishna rise up from the pages of the Gospel and open up in our own hearts and our own lives. Knowledge is surrender, the same absolute surrender taught to us by Lord Chaitanya:
Ah, how I long for the day When, in chanting Thy Name, the tears will spill down From my eyes, and my throat will refuse to utter Its prayers, choking and stammering with ecstasy…
To us tired travelers, these are hopeful words. But Sri Ramakrishna experienced this every moment, with every breath of his life. And the simple fact that he did – that gives us all the assurance we need. “Have faith,” he says. “Mother Kali will do everything for you.”
We come here to this puja to be children, Ma’s children, and to give our weary minds and wandering eyes some much-needed refreshment. As Holy Mother says, “God is one’s very own. It is the eternal relationship. One realizes Him in proportion to the intensity of one’s feeling for Him. Don’t be afraid. Always remember that somebody is protecting you.”
We continue to strive, knowing that when we’re ready, we will have finished “with doubt and fear,” all those moments will melt into eternity.