THE RAZOR’S EDGE
Probably you are reminded by my subject of the title of a novel written by Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge. I have no doubt that this title was borrowed from the English translation of one of the verses of the Katha Upanisad: ksurasya dhara nisita duratyaya; durgam pathastat kavayo vadanti1 The sages say that the path to the realization of the Spirit is as sharp as the edge of the razor and very difficult to tread. There are similar statements in almost every religious literature of the world, and one that occurs immediately to us is Christ’s saying, Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way.2 Of course, strait means narrow; both the path as well as the gate have been called narrow. And the reason the gate is called narrow is that in the beginning we rarely notice its existence.
Isn’t it true? If we look around ourselves, one of the most disheartening things is that there is no door to where God dwells. Whichever way we look we come across only material phenomena. When we look outside there is this universe, the object of the senses, which oftentimes bewilders us and tempts us and certainly stands as an insurmountable barrier to the realm of the Spirit. And when we look within there is this turbulent mind, continually changing in its thoughts and activities. And if we want to grasp the centre of these mental activities, which is the ego, we find it very difficult to put our finger on it. Of course, we always sense our I, and we are rarely proud of it, but even when it is behaving well or presenting a pleasant face, we feel that it could not be the Spirit or the Self which we are seeking. Everywhere, therefore, we find that there is no gate to the realm of the Spirit, no door wide open. Yet there must be a door somewhere; otherwise, how can we go beyond this world of the senses and of ordinary thought and enter into the realm of God? But that gate is so narrow that it is invisible. You really cannot see it.
And as to the path, when you have entered the gate and started along the path, you find no royal highway there. It looks like a lost trail, and you wonder whether it will lead you anywhere at all. Rightly, therefore, these expressions have been used the gate is narrow and the way itself is also narrow. I must add here that if the full story of the way had been told, it would have been said that as we proceed along that pathless path we shall gradually come upon a well-marked and very broad highway indeed, and the City of God, also, will not remain invisible; it will be seen, though it be from a very great distance, shining against the horizon. Well, that is the story. Why is it so, and how are we to tackle this present disheartening situation? These are the questions I would like to dwell upon.
No great teacher has ever told us that the way to God-realization is easy. Nor have any said that with a little effort we shall see the face of God. I know these are very discouraging statements; the tendency nowadays is to say that God is at our beck and call; all we have to do is press certain buttons, and God will come at once like a most obedient servant. In various ways things are made very alluring to us, and I must say that if you listen to a few of our lectures here, I think you will also go away with the idea that to realize God is pretty easy. But when you read our literature, you don’t get that idea. You find that all kinds of difficulties are to be overcome, and all kinds of rules and disciplines are to be observed things to be done and things to be avoided before we can expect to come to the realization of God. If you want to have a vivid understanding of what God-realization involves, I shall recommend the study of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. There is also another very large book, Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master, by one of his direct monastic disciples. Both these books originally were written in Bengali and are of course available in English translation. In the Gospel, through the conversations of the Master, and in the Great Master, through the explanations and delineations of the author, you vividly see the reality of spiritual life, spiritual struggle, and spiritual attainment, and you understand what tremendous alertness has to be observed in order to make any gain in this path.