Finding wisdom for our everyday lives in the words of one of India's greatest saints
(more about Sri Ramakrishna)

From Big Targets to Small

A marksman learns to shoot by first taking aim at large objects; the better he gets, the easier it becomes to hit smaller things. So when the mind has been trained to fix on images with form, it becomes easier to fix it upon images having no form.

See the notes to "A Bell Rings With and Without Form."

From a Scrawl to a Fine Hand

A boy begins to learn writing by drawing big scrawls, before he can master a finer hand. So we must learn concentration of the mind by fixing it first on forms; and when we have attained success at that, we can more easily fix it upon the formless.


See the notes to "A Bell Rings With and Without Form."

A Bell Rings With and Without Form

While a bell is being rung, the repeated "ding-dongs" can be distinguished from each other. But when we stop ringing the bell, then we can only hear an indistinguishable sound.

In the first case, we can easily distinguish one note from the other, as if each distinct note had a certain shape; but in the second, the continued and unbroken sound is as though formless.

Like the sound of the bell, God is both with and without form.


This is the first of several sayings about God being with form and without form.

This is a standard distinction in Indian thought, "Saguna Brahman" being God With Attributes, and "Nirguna Brahman" being God Without Attributes.

Sri Ramakrishna affirms that thinking of God in either way is acceptable, but seems to assert that seeing God With Attributes is provisional, immature; and seeing God Without Attributes is the superior way.

Still, looking back at the previous saying, we can feel assured that either way, God will be pleased.

The Humble Gift

A landlord may be very rich, but nevertheless, when a poor farmer brings a humble gift to him with a loving heart, he accepts it with the greatest pleasure and satisfaction.


Do you remember giving gifts to your mother when you were a child? No matter how ill-made, the gift was praised.

Many of us feel unworthy to approach God, feeling that our "gifts" are not enough. Sri Ramakrishna here affirms that God will be pleased, no matter how small the gift.

The Wishing Tree

A man was sitting in the shade of a Wishing Tree.

First, he wished to be a king, and in an instant he was a king.

The next moment he wished to have a charming woman, and the woman was instantly by his side.

But then he thought to himself, "What if a tiger came and devoured me?" and alas! in an instant he was in the jaws of a tiger!

God is like that Wishing Tree: whoever thinks in God's presence that he is destitute and poor will remain so; but the one who believes that the Lord fulfils all his needs, will receive everything from Him.


The "Wishing Tree" is the Kalpa-vriksha, a standard item in Indian mythology (and many others).

Like many such "magic" items, however, it has a hidden danger; "be careful what you wish for..."

There are traces here of the so-called "Law of Attraction," but I suspect that Sri Ramakrishna would have found many modern statements of the LOA shallow and self-serving.

God in Us

As a plunger in a syringe, God dwells in the body. He is in the body, and yet apart from it.

As fishes playing in a pond covered over with reeds cannot be seen from outside, so God plays in the heart invisibly, hidden from human view by Maya.


I have joined together two sayings.

Maya is "illusion," the illusion that prevents us from seeing the reality of things.

This reminds me of Blake's famous saying:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

God is the Snake and the Thief

God says, "I am the snake that bites and the charmer that heals; I am the judge that condemns and the executioner that whips."

God tells the thief to go and steal, and at the same time warns the householder against the thief.


I have combined two short sayings here.

The first half reminds me of a James Taylor song, "New Hymn," in which he refers to God as "source of all we hope or dread: sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan," and Blake's "The Tyger," in which he asks, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"

In the second, we see God as agent on both sides of every struggle, giving the lie to the "God is on our side" war cry.

Together, these two give us a much bigger picture of God than the one most of us grew up with.