Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on Rishis

Hindu spiritual literature talks about many types of Rishis, Rajarshi, Devarshi and Brahmarshi. Rajarshi means a king who is also a rishi. Devarshi means a god like rishi. What does Brahmarshi mean? Apparently a Brahmarshi is even higher than Rajarshi and Devarshi.

(To Vijay) “You have both — yoga and bhoga. King Janaka also had yoga and bhoga. Therefore he is called a rajarshi, both king and seer. Narada was a devarshi, and Sukadeva a brahmarshi. Yes, Sukadeva was a brahmarshi. He was not a mere jnani; he was the very embodiment of Jnana, Divine Knowledge. Whom do I call a jnani? A man who has attained Knowledge and has done so after much effort. Sukadeva was the very image of Knowledge, in other words, a form of concentrated Knowledge. He attained Knowledge spontaneously, without any labour.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Chapter 29, The Durga Puja Festival, September 26, 1884

Is it possible for a jiva to become a rishi?

The answer is yes but it requires intense spiritual discipline.

“Some members of the Brahmo Samaj said to me: ‘Sir, our attitude toward the world is that of King Janaka. Like him, we want to enjoy the world in a detached spirit.’ I said to them: To live in the world in a detached spirit is very difficult. By merely saying so you cannot be a King Janaka. How much austerity Janaka practised! How long he remained in one posture, with head down and feet up! You don’t have to practise these extreme disciplines. But you need sadhana; you should live in solitude. You may lead the life of a householder after having attained divine knowledge and love in solitude. Milk turns into curd only when it is not disturbed. The curd does not set if the milk is often moved from place to place or is too much disturbed.’

“On account of his detachment from the world Janaka was also known as the ‘Videha’, that is, one free from consciousness of the body. Though living in the world, he moved about as a jivanmukta, a free soul living in a body. But for most people freedom from body-consciousness is something very far off. Intense spiritual discipline is necessary.

“Janaka was a great hero. He fenced with two swords, the one of knowledge and the other of work.

“You may ask, ‘Is there any difference between the realizations of two jnanis, one a householder and the other a monk?’ The reply is that the two belong to one class. Both of them are jnanis, they have the same experience. But a householder jnani has reason to fear. He cannot altogether get rid of his fear as long as he is to live in the midst of ‘woman and gold’. If you constantly live in a room full of soot, you are sure to soil your body, be it ever so little, no matter how clever you may be.

“After extracting the butter, it you keep it in a new pot, then there is no chance of its getting spoiled. But if you keep the butter in a pot where curd has been kept, well, then it is doubtful whether it will keep its flavour. (Laughter.)

“When they parch rice, a few grains jump out of the frying-pan to the ground. These are white, like mallika flowers, without the slightest stain on them. But the grains that remain in the pan are also good, though not as immaculate as the fresh mallika flower. They are a little stained. In the same way, if a monk who has renounced the world attains divine wisdom, he appears as spotless as the white flower; but one who stays in the frying-pan of the world after attaining Knowledge may get a little blemish. (All laugh.)

“Once a bhairavi came to King Janaka’s court. At the sight of the woman, the king bent his head and cast his eyes to the ground. At this the bhairavi said, ‘O Janaka, even now you are afraid of a woman!’ Through Perfect Knowledge a man becomes like a child five years old; he does not know the distinction between a man and a woman.

“Although a jnani living in the world may have a little blemish, yet this does not injure him. The moon undoubtedly has dark spots, but these do not obstruct its light.

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Chapter 45, Sri Ramakrishna at Syampukur, October 22, 1885

Can anybody teach spiritual matters?

It requires accumulation of spiritual power to be able to teach others. Rishis have such power.

“After realizing God, some souls perform work in order to teach men. Janaka, Narada, and others like them, belong to this group. But one must possess power in order to be able to teach others. The sages of old were busy attaining knowledge for themselves. But teachers like Narada went about doing good to others. They were real heroes.

“A worthless stick floating on the water sinks under the weight of a bird; but a heavy and substantial log floating on the water can support a cow, a man, or even an elephant. A steamboat not only crosses the water itself but carries many human beings with it. Teachers like Narada may be compared to the heavy log of wood or the steamboat.

“One man, after eating a tasty morsel, removes every trace of it by wiping his face carefully with a towel, lest anyone should know. (All laugh.) Another, again, having got a mango, not only enjoys it himself but shares it with others.

“Even after having attained Perfect Knowledge, teachers like Narada retained love of God in their minds for the welfare of others.

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Chapter 45, Sri Ramakrishna at Syampukur, October 22, 1885

How can Rishis teach when they are supposed to have gone beyond ego?

“Even after attaining jnana, the jnani can live in the world, retaining vidyamaya, that is to say, bhakti, compassion, renunciation, and such virtues. This serves him two purposes: first, the teaching of men, and second, the enjoyment of divine bliss. If a jnani remains silent, merged in samadhi, then men’s hearts will not be illumined. Therefore Sankaracharya kept the ‘ego of Knowledge’. And further, a jnani lives as a devotee, in the company of bhaktas, in order to enjoy and drink deep of the Bliss of God.

“The ‘ego of Knowledge’ and the ‘ego of Devotion‘ can do no harm; it is the ‘wicked I’ that is harmful. After realizing God a man becomes like a child. There is no harm in the ‘ego of a child’. It is like the reflection of a face in a mirror: the reflection cannot call names. Or it is like a burnt rope, which appears to be a rope but disappears at the slightest puff. The ego that has been burnt in the fire of Knowledge cannot injure anybody. It is an ego only in name.

“Returning to the relative plane after reaching the Absolute is like coming back to this shore of a river after going to the other side. Such a return to the relative plane is for the teaching of men and for enjoyment — participation in the divine sport in the world.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, chapter 49, Master at Cossipore, March 11, 1886


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2 Replies to “Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on Rishis”

  1. This is an excellent coverage of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings on Rishis.
    It can be understood from reading it that a Sadhaka who undertakes duties of ruling over regions and people (such as a king, while pursuing the acquisition of Jnana, can at best be come and be regarded as a Rajarshi. Similarly immortals who make such pursuits can become Devarshis. A Jnani who has no interest in earthly and material pursuits and is thus totally detached , irrespective of his birth, has the scope of being or becoming a brahmarshi. Thus Suka, son of Vedavyasa, who from infancy was totally immersed in contemplation of param brahma and had no tendency for any kind of attachment to any thing material can be considered a brahmarshi. Vibhavas of the Infinite do descend among the mortals to teach, guide and help in showing the path of Mukti to them and they are also brahmarshis too. In the story of Vishvaamitra the Rajarshi finding himself powerless to ‘defeat the Brahmarshi Vasishtha, we should not commit the mistake of thinking that the Brahmarshi status of Vasishtha was because of birth. It was because of qualities acquired entirely through sadhana. To emulate him Vishvaamitra did have to do penance in several penance cycles interrupted by traps which tested his control over his senses.

  2. The apaurusheya riks of the Vedas are associated with the names of various Rishis. The apauresheya nature of Vedas should itself tell us that these rishis who were directly in contact with the parama principle were Brahmarishis. They kept in touch with other aspirants of Vedic knowledge and knowledge spread through other Rishis. Knowledge/ Truth exists always (vidyate) and is therefore known as Vidya. Vedas too vidyante, they exist. The quiet existence of Truth becomes useful to the seeker Rishis doing sadhana for it, only when they start knowing it (Jna is to know), which is why it is called Jnana. Disciples of the sages sat near them and listened to them (upa + nishad)and became Jnanis too. While full engagement with the Truth meant detachment from all earthly activity, the Rishis starting from the Vedic ones understood the desirability of spreading the Truth of the Vedas to many persons. While excellent riddance from karmic balance enabled some disciples to be fit for such education from birth, others were trained in sadhanas to get rid of such baggage and the knowledge community has spread and has been maintaining significant strength through the ages. There are Rishis and potential Rishis in our midst. Persons in whom the thirst for Jnana is foremost. A good aspirant finds an Acharya soon enough and is able to start his sadhana which can take a long time, because detachment does not come easily.

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