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Avatara Varishtha Sri Ramakrishna On 6th February 1898, at Navagopal Ghoshs house in Ramakrishnapore, Howrah, Swami Vivekananda was

consecrating the Marble image of Sri Ramakrishna. During that occasion, he composed extempore the famous pranama mantra: Sthapakaya cha dharmasya, sarva dharma svarupine, Avatara Varishthaya Ramakrishnaya te namaha. Avatara Varishtha means The Greatest among all incarnations! That, Swami Vivekananda, who was extremely large-hearted, catholic to the extreme, the Prophet of Universal Religion, the main propounder of Religious Harmony used such an epithet seems to militate against popular perception of the great Swami. It seems like sycophancy on the part of a star-eyed disciple towards his beloved Guru, which is quite natural in a novice. But coming as it does from no less a person than Swami Vivekananda, it must certainly mean something concrete. In the official journals and publications of the Ramakrishna Mission, many learned Swamis have written scholarly articles justifying this extreme eulogising by Swami Vivekananda. I wish to draw your special attention to the articles on this particular topic authored by Swamis Gambhirananda, Bhuteshananda, Bhajanananda and Sridharananda. For the sake of brevity, I shall give you the gist of arguments presented in the journals and publications of Ramakrishna Mission till date. The oldest argument is that while all the other Avataras proclaimed that Truth could be obtained only through them, and not through any other path, Sri Ramakrishna emphasised again and again that all paths to Truth known to mankind are valid, provided one sticks to ones chosen path sincerely. This unprecedented catholicity automatically catapults Sri Ramakrishna into the Varishtha position among Avataras. Another argument mentions that the spiritual moods, ecstasies, visions and realizations of Sri Ramakrishna have been unprecedented in history. Hence one is clearly justified in extolling him the greatest of Avataras. From the mystical standpoint, it is argued that every Avatara creates a unique sphere of consciousness where the devotees of that Avatara reside. Sri Ramakrishna has created a platform from which any of the different spheres of consciousnesses of the other Avataras can be accessed. Therefore, Sri Ramakrishna occupies the supreme place in the hierarchy of Avataras. Another school of thought contends that never before had materialism taken its hold on mankind like it has now. And when an Incarnation of God establishes spirituality in the midst of such rampant materialism, surely he must be the greatest of Avataras. Yet another school of thought claims that never before in history did God incarnate with such elaborate planning as He did in the case of Sri Ramakrishna. He even brought his own Boswell and photographer!

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One particularly strong argument states that while all the other Avataras used women for furthering their mission on Earth, they never gave women their due status. But in the case of Sri Ramakrishna, we find that he even accepted a woman Guru and proudly proclaimed that his first disciple was his own wife! And not only that, he made a woman his spiritual successor, which again is unprecedented in history. The Mundaka Upanishad gives a hierarchy of Brahmajnanis. It says that even among the knowers of Brahman, there is Brahmavid Varishtha, the Greatest among the knowers of Brahman. The exact details of how the ancient sages arrived at this gradation among the Knowers of Brahman is couched in the dense forest of cold, impersonal logic and archaic language, but it is heartening to know that even from the most ancient times, people have tried to grade the very greatest of spiritual men. In the light of the above explanations, we may have to accept that Swami Vivekananda was right in using such a superlative epithet in describing his Guru. Let me tell you a story. A Christian father was very busy spreading the name of Jesus Christ among the masses. He caught a person and gave him the basic details of Jesus life, his Immaculate Conception and resurrection and such things. After a week, when he came across the man, he asked him if he accepted Jesus as the saviour. The poor man said he wholeheartedly accepted Jesus as his saviour. The Father then asked him to name Jesus parents and the hill on which he was later crucified. The poor man was unable to answer, but he said, Father, I do not understand any of those things. Such details dont stay in my mind. But look here Father, some years ago, I was a drunken wretch; I lost everything on the horses and my family was disintegrating. Then sweet Jesus entered my life and I became a new man. Today I have a happy family. Hence I claim that Jesus Christ is my saviour. Similarly, those of us who do not understand all these details of Sri Ramakrishnas greatness from an objective standpoint, still love to repeat this pranama mantra purely because of a very personal reason. History has produced many incarnations of God Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Rama, etc. Many more may come in the future. But, none of them touched our lives in the way Sri Ramakrishna has done. They have certainly influenced many millions, who may eulogize them as the greatest Avataras. But, in your and my case, it was Sri Ramakrishna who accepted us, graciously allowed us to obtain his divine name from a true devotee, allowed us to participate in his divine mission and advance the evolution of our soul. We know in the very depth of our hearts that although we do not deserve it at all, Sri Ramakrishna has showered all this grace on us. Surely, if he is not the greatest of Avataras for us, who else is! ***************

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