Evolution of Rational Mysticism

Nimbargi Maharaj to Gurudev Ranade

By Dr. N. V. Kulkarni

 I) During the Period of Nimbargi Maharaj

Nimbargi Sampradaya – a spiritual movement that began around 1857 started by its founder, Nimbargi Maharaj,  is flourishing today at its various national and international centers.  The foundation stones of the movement are rational principles and therefore attracted many, irrespective of caste, creed, economic status, occupation, gender and age.

It advocated attainment to God-head without giving up the worldly life that one led.  To achieve this, one had to follow the spiritual path prescribed by the Sadguru – Spiritual Master (in this case by Nimbargi Maharaj).  The path consisted of meditating upon the divine name imparted to him with utmost concentration and full devotion, giving up avarice and lust for other people’s money and women.  The disciple had to perform meditation as instructed by his Spiritual Master day after day till the end of his life.  The essential idea being an attitude of complete surrender to God would be created culminating into God-vision – as a result of one’s ascending efforts in his spiritual pursuit and God’s descending grace moved by his devotion.

This meant essentially, granting of freedom to one and all in spiritual matters, irrespective of their caste, sub-caste or socio-economic background.

              A look at the background of the various disciples of Nimbargi Maharaj will elicit this.

  1. He had Lingayat disciples from Ghaniga, Banjiega, Kuruba, Melgar sub-castes
  2. Brahmin disciples
  3. Musician caste e.g. Madar Peru
  4. Muslim disciples
  5. Jain disciples
  6. Women disciples

Majority of disciples were house-holders, yet some were Brahmachari, and most came from rural backgrounds.

Nimbargi Maharaj was initiated into spiritual path at the age of 25.  Thereafter his spiritual pursuit was not ardent for six years.  After repremandment from his Guru he made a firm resolve to meditate regularly with one-pointed devotion.  He gave up his profession of dyeing and adopted the occupation of a shepherd as that was very helpful for his meditation.  He daily used to take his flock along with the flocks of other boys, request them to look after his flock and spend the whole day in soulful meditation under the shade of a tree nearby.  Thus did proceed his continuous Sadhana, day after day, month after month, and year after year, without the help and guidance of anybody.  He received guidance and inspiration from the Atman residing in his heart, for his spiritual progress.  He thus went on progressing from stage to stage for well-nigh 36 years.  He visualized the Atman, conversed with the Atman, played with the Atman and ultimately merged in the infinity of the Atman, and enjoyed the ecstatic Bliss.  He thus reached the pinnacle of spiritual elevation.

The external life of Sri Narayanrao Maharaj was quite uneventful.  But his inner spiritual life must have been replete with thrilling incidents.  But as it was a sealed book, none could know its grandeur.  Sri Maharaj never revealed it to anybody.  A few experiences only that casually slipped from his reluctant lips and picked up by his most beloved disciple Sri Bhausaheb Maharaj, have become known to us.  We are told that Sri Maharaj visualized the full form of the Atman from tip to toe, he had the vision of Pancavadana – the Lord with five faces, as well as of Brahma, Visnu and Siva, one above the other.  He had also experienced the vision of the Infinite of Nirbayalu.  He had heard and visualized supersensuous Divine Namas and hence he was supposed to have brought the Nama from Heaven.

The vast spiritual wealth that he had accumulated for during 30 years, he started distributing for universal welfare like a spiritual communist.  He made people thus aware of the highest ideal in life namely, God-Realization and also showed the path for its attainment.

We see here Prof. Ranade’s vision of one God, one World,  One humanity – that of the universal Brotherhood taking roots during Nimbargi Maharaj’s spiritual reign.

The Sampradaya also features thorough rationality which carries many facets.

  1. The devotion in the Sampradaya is not restricted or oriented to any particular deity viz Shiva, Vishnu or any other. The disciple needs to meditate on the Divine Name imparted to him by his Guru.

This name is Divinity itself, God – in posse as it reveals itself intuitively to the saint at the height of his meditation.  This name is embedded with divine power, hence its remembrance is a process of identification with God.

  1. Nimbargi Sampradaya denies categorically that one can lead a spiritual life without being moral. In other words spiritual life should be based also on moral life.  The blissful vision of the Atman should be the goal of human life.  In order to achieve this supreme ideal, it is absolutely necessary for a seeker to strictly practice the moral discipline which consists in elimination of vices and cultivation of virtues especially the central virtue of God devotion.  It is only then that he would be able to attain his cherished ideal of God-realization.  The saint of Nimbargi gives a strong note of warning that one should not be proud of one’s achievements in spiritual life also.
  2. Nimbargi Sampradaya is said to be rational. The spiritual rationality of this Sampradaya has various facets.  A few of them are considered here: Widows are not considered inauspicious in Nimbargi Sampradaya.  Liberation is a thing which is sui generis and is not dependent either on the Suklapaksha or the Krishnapaksha.  The biological processes such as births and deaths of kith and kin and menstruation do not obstruct spiritual practices.  One need not fast even during the period of eclipse if it comes in the way of God – realization and meditation.  No importance is given to dreams and miracles.  But if vastu (a kind of spiritual experience) or the Saint appears in the dream it has got some significance.

Sri Nimbargi Maharaj with great compassion, has emphatically declared: “Even though a person has brought the very sun before you, has revealed the past and future to you, don’t regard him as a realized saint.  Don’t consider such fraudulent knowledge to be self-knowledge.”

Furthermore the time – matrix viz 1857 to 1895, period in which Nimbargi Maharaj initiated his disciples, in a remote village in Karnataka, his role of doctor and advisor as depicted below attracted quite a few into his spiritual net which he was cautious enough not to caste far and wide.

  1. Doctor – advising people on the usage of herbal, ayurvedic medicines or ailments like – malaria fever, dysentery, children’s stomach problems, urine infection, वात सरली असल्यास, loss of appetite. He also told about the diet they should follow during the ailment period.
  2. He advised on legal matter’s like adoption
  3. Role of husband in the household.

In short along with spiritual welfare of the disciples, practical tips on living a healthy life necessary for spiritual endeavour was ensured.   

II) Bhausaheb Maharaj

The rationale of his Guru’s  teaching vis-à-vis God devotion being realization of God for oneself and thus to uplift the suffering humanity for its benefaction and betterment.  To Bhausaheb Maharaj, his only mission in life after leaving the  human vestige by his Guru, was to spread spiritual knowledge as ordered by his Guru.

  • To achieve the task of spreading spiritual knowledge he devised both theoretical and practical ways.
    1. Theoretically: he confessed God – realization objective in some aphorisms, very cryptic pithy and meaningful.
    2. Practical: He organized and conducted group meditation of his disciples three times during the year
      1. Datta Jayanti in the month of Margashirsha
      2. Nimbargi Maharaj’s anniversary in the month of Chaitra
  • The whole of Shravan month.
  1. The modus operandi for Shravan month was followed for the other two occasions which were of short duration. Let us see the detailed operation for the month of Shravan shortly.
  • Bhausaheb Maharaja was of such a saintly character that he did not mind people censuring or ridiculing him nor was there any break in his meditation. His spiritual power grew to such an extent that, on the one hand he felt extreme love for God, and on the other he felt extremely disgusted with the worldly life.  On one occasion when he was sitting by the side of his Guru and meditating, a certain wild bee attacked and bored deeply in his lap.  Bhausahib did not move an inch from the posture he had taken for meditation.  Many a time while he meditated outside Umadi, scorpions and serpents used to climb on his body, but he did not shake in the least.  Let there be torrents of rain and his body be completely drenched, let his body be scorched by the sun, or let there be cuts in his body on account of extreme cold, Bhausaheb was not in the least disturbed in his meditation.  For eighteen years from twelve to two every night he meditated for the spiritual good of his disciples.  His love and service to Guru increased day by day.  On every Thursday he used to go to Nimbargi in order to bow down at the feet of his Guru and serve him in every way possible including undertaking menial tasks.  He did this with great joy.
  • Bhausaheb was present when Nimbargi Maharaj passed away. He was extremely grieved at the loss.  But as he had received the orders from his Guru to spread the cause of Paramartha, he began to meditate with increased zeal throughout the day and night, and the fruit was near at hand.  With the realization of being one with Brahman, the influence of Maya on him was completely wiped out.  Bhausaheb thought of building a temple of his Guru at Inchgiri in order that it may be a centre of spiritual knowledge, and that it would help him to spread his Guru’s fame far and wide.  Moved by this noble idea he begged of Vitthala, the God of Pandharpur – ‘Let the devotion to God be on the increase.  I shall reach to your feet by covering the distance with repeated prostrations’. The vow taken by Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj was not a fiat of blind faith but revered acknowledgement of the Pandharpur Vithal who had guided Shri Nimbargi Maharaj to Siddhagiri where he would meet his spiritual teacher, to the edifice on which the whole of the Sampradaya was to be later erected.
  • As the grace of His Guru was fully upon him, and as he was meditating with full faith, the fruit was obvious and immediate. On the strength of spiritual experiences, he travelled throughout the length and breadth of Maharashtra and Karnataka awakening people to the real spiritual path.  He removed their miseries and ignorance, and so became as revered as Saint Ramadasa.  In more than one way, he was able to confer divine grace on the people.  He showed them the way to please God by being devoted to Him.  He taught them how to meditate and do the bhajans.  Accompanied by his most faithful and foremost disciple, namely, Amburao, he used to visit several places and create new and ever new centers of spiritual enlightenment.
  • He used to do meditation for nine hours a day and spend about four hours a day in bhajans and reading of spiritual literature. There was not a single exception to his activities during thirteen years according to the diaries which he maintained.  Whenever he had to go outside Inchgiri for the propagation of spiritual life, he used to meditate in advance and fulfill the requisite quota.  For spiritual purposes, all were equal to Bhausahib.  He made no distinction between a Brahmin and a non-brahmin, rich and poor or learned and illiterate.  He firmly believed that the life divine had nothing to do with caste, creed, wealth and learning, and that it would be the possession of all who put in the necessary moral and spiritual efforts by being entirely dependent on the grace of God.  He would, therefore, go with equal ease and joy to meet a king in his palace or a pauper in his thatched hut of mud.  If he found devotion anywhere that was enough for him.  We will now come to the theoretical ways adopted by him viz the aphorisms describing the objective of God-realisation.

The first two Aphorisms are –

  1. Athava to Brahma – Remembrance (of Divine Name) is Spiritual Reality.
  2. Nathava to bhavabhrama: Non-remembrance (of the Name) is a worldly

The words ‘Athava’ and ‘Nathava’ also mean knowledge and ignorance of Brahman.  When they mean knowledge and ignorance they indicate the nature of Brahman and Maya (illusion).  And when they mean remembrance and forgetfulness, they suggest the means of attunement with them.  When we remember Brahman, we actually reside in Brahman, merge in Brahman.  But how to remember Brahman?  We could imagine the form of Brahma, Visnu, Mahesa and others.  But Sri Maharaj never approved this play of imagination.  According to him, meditation on the Divine Name is alone the real remembrance of Brahman.  This Divine Name imparted by a Sadguru enshrines the Spiritual Energy in a seed form.  With the help of meditation on such a Nama – by merging the mind in it, a seeker can realize the super sensuous Divine Light, Sound etc. as well as the Bliss and Peace of the Lord.  Such is the teaching of Sri maharaj in this respect.

Now, how to intensify our meditation in order to enable it to attain this spiritual realization?  The next three Aphorisms of Sri Maharaj point out the method required for it:

  • Jnanasa mula agni : Fire is the source of Illumination – Knowledge
  1. Bhaktisa mula Virakti : Dispassion is the source of Devotion.
  2. Antahkaranasa mula mana : Mind is the source of Ego or Heart.

Soulful meditation on his Name is the only means of attaining his grace.  Hence during his worldly life, a seeker should develop devotion for the Lord through dispassion and attain the vision of God with aid of one-pointed meditation on His Name.

Earlier we have mentioned ‘practical ways’ devised by Shri Bhausaheb Maharaj for attaining God-realisation.  Coming to the detailed operation for the Shrawan month.

All those who participated used to meditate for nine hours from six in the morning to three in the afternoon.  Before coming to the hall of meditation, everyone was expected to have taken his bath.  And when all had joined at about half past five in the morning they performed the first Arati (waving of the light of camphor) of the early morning, known as the Kakada-Arati, which was supposed to dispel the slothfulness of the body and mind, and so to invoke the blessings of the Lord.  The meditation was to be done along with the ingoing and outgoing breaths in one’s own throat or in mind without any articulate or audible sound.  One may say that in this kind of meditation each individual was concerned with himself only.  But it was not so.  For, it did involve the collective aspect of meditation also.  Every one of the aspirants was expected to listen to the spiritual passages that were being read throughout the nine hours by one who was appointed for the purpose.  He was instructed to read every line, clearly, distinctly, loudly and with rhythm, so that everyone who listened to it would understand the entire meaning with ease.  As every verse was read with precise speed and pauses which were usually three or four, it afforded an opportunity both for the reader and the listener to utter mentally the Name of God three or four times during each verse.  Thus, the meditation done by everyone was neither simply intellectual, nor simply spiritual.  It was both, intellectual so far as the understanding of the passages that were read was concerned, and spiritual so far as the repeating of the Name was concerned.  And naturally, as what was read was through and through intended to have the moral bearing on the minds of the reader and the listeners, the meditation was necessarily moral and devotional.  Thus it was how the individual act of meditation became necessarily a collective performance at the same time.

This conclusion will come upon us with greater force if we take into consideration the additional duties of the reader. (1) At the end of every two hundred verses which he was expected to finish in about one hour, he was to utter loudly some such Name of God as, ‘Hari Narayana Guru Narayana’ so that all those who were in the assembly would receive an additional stimulus to become more and more devoted.  (2) He had to have an eye upon everyone of the sadhakas with the view to awakening any one of them if he was found to be dozing, by calling him by a secret name  so that he should utter in response another secret name indicating that he was full awake and not sleepy.  If no response to the first call was available the reader was to make a second call with his voice somewhat raised, but if that also failed to get any response then he was to utter the divine name ‘Govind’ loudly in chorus with all others, as this would certainly awaken the sleeping sadhaka.  (3) After every half an hour he had to announce the correct time.  (4) He had also the duty of welcoming newcomers and directing them to sit in proper places according to their position and dignity in society.  (5) After having read about fifty verses, he had to ask someone to sing such a song as would either increase the devotion or bring conviction to the devotees that their spiritual experiences are genuine.  (6) And finally, he had to remember that he was not to leave his seat for nine hours, nor to remain silent for even a few minutes, nor to show any sign of being tired, or sleepy.

Add to this meditation of nine hours, four or five hours during which there would collectively be three bhajans in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night.  Thus where the minds of all the participants are knit together through the reader to the common search of God realization, and where all of them become deeply engaged in meditation or contemplation with faith, love and regard for about thirteen or fourteen hours a day for one full month, will it be too much to say that God is amidst them?  No wonder if Bhausahib Maharaja had expressed the hope that all the participants of that unique spiritual month-long activity would enjoy perfect health, happiness, joy and peace for the balance of the year.

 III) Baba – Amburao Maharaj

He continued in the foot-steps of his Guru, the noble endeavor of spreading spiritual wisdom through Karnataka and Maharashtra.  His disciples increased day by day and learned persons were drawn to him.  To impress upon them that God realization is rooted in sound rational principles, he communicated effectively in his spiritual discourses rational mysticism, as we shall see.  It must be noted that the full fledged philosophy of Mysticism was yet to be developed by Prof. Ranade.  Even then to the mix crowd in front of him, how Baba put forth the structure of Rational Mysticism makes one agape with awe and wonder.

We will take only three illustrative examples.  One must remember all his discourses were based on the revered Dasabodha.

  1. Introspection “Self consciousness is the ultimate category of existence and is possible only through the process of introspection.” Says Prof. Ranade. Let us see how baba brought home this truth to his audience.

ऐसे बहुधा निरोपिले ! ग्रंथ गर्भी जे बोलिले !

ते अवघेची अनुवादले ! न वचे सदा !!                        Dasbodha 1.1.13

Meaning: In this material body, which covers the pure consciousness, that which is spoken (the Divine name imparted by the spiritual teacher), should not be uttered loudly by the mouth but is to be held silently in the mind.

Baba interpreted “अनुवादले” (literally translated) as the Name is repeated in this body and also the body experiences the same, and this happens while introspecting (Baba meant “by the body” that while in body, consciousness makes experience of this process.


           ब्राह्मणे बाळबोध अक्षर! धडसून करावे सुंदर !

           जे देखतांची चतुर ! समाधान पावती !!          Dasbodha 1.19.1

On this couplet Baba commented that the Name being remembered along with the breath, one should examine whether each syllable is being uttered distinctly otherwise.

  1. Spiritual experience is centrally initiated

Prof Ranade writes “… According to mystics … intuition is a faculty of supersensuous experience (spiritual experience) which is aroused in us by proper spiritual initiation and practice …  And physiologically, we might say, that the faculty of intuition is concerned with what might be called central instead of peripheral initiation.  It is not the external or outside sense  experience  that counts, it is the experience that is generated inside us in our intuitional process, that is in the process of following the path of God (by internal mediation on the Name imparted by the spiritual teacher), that matters ….”

See the wonderful way how Baba, while expanding on the verse, explained this delicate truth.

अनंत जन्मीचे पुण्य जोडे ! तरीच परमार्थ घडे !

मुख्य परमात्मा आतुडे ! अनुभवासी !!                                       Dasbodha 24.1.9

Spiritual discourses keep on telling that you require good deeds of a crore lives and they cannot be achieved during a span of one life for the simple reason that one does not desire to follow the spiritual path (aim being to enjoy the present life to the brim).  Playing pun on ‘अनंत’ (Infinite).  Baba used to continue that before whose eyes the Infinite has taken birth (that is the spiritual teacher in this case who has realized God for himself and others): from whom if one is initiated he can realize God in this life while in body.  If by one’s constant meditation his consciousness is filled with Nama, there remains no space for the Atman, who then jumps out.  Spiritual experience is generated inside.  Further Baba used to enquire “Vastu (God per se) comes out from the eyes, so do the eyes itch?”

  1. Process of Nama becoming Sabij :

जे उठती शब्दांकुर ! वदे वैखरी अपार !

जे शब्दांचे अभ्यंतर ! उकलून दावी !!                                   Dasbodha 2.1.3

“The practice of meditation on the Name gives rise to the experience of Name (by visual or audible manifestation to the speaker).  Name that is being remembered so to say gives birth to the Divine names.  These names are imparted by the spiritual teacher by uttering them in the disciples ear.  As a result one is able to delve in the meaning of any incomprehensible word.”

IV) Prof R. D. – Gurudev Ranade

In the first  Tucson Discussions and Debates held at Arizona, U.S.A. during 1995-96 on forming a ‘Science of Consciousness’, Arthur J Deikman in his paper “Intuition, Self and Spiritual Experience:  A Functional Model of Consciousness”, concludes “… the discoveries of mystical traditions be translated into the concepts and language of modern western society (our italics) so that they can be integrated with our science, and thus legitimized for our scientific culture as real, practical, functional….”

Anticipating this need as early as 1920s Prof Ranade presented his monumental work ‘A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy’ with a view “…in order that Upanishadic philosophy might be made intelligible to the Western mind, I boldly struck out the plan of presenting it according to the methods of Western thought, so as to make it understandable and appreciable by those who were trained to think according to those methods”.  It is needless to add that the book was widely acclaimed all over the Western world.

A further aim of this book was to place Mysticism on a truly philosophical basis, to make “Rational Mysticism, which has been hitherto regarded as a contradiction in terms, …” a truism.

In another world acclaimed monumental work of his “Mysticism in Maharashtra” (1933) Prof Ranade has expressed the need for the reconciliation of theism and mysticism …

As if to fulfill this need Caroline Franks Davis after long research of several years at Brasenose College, Oxford wrote her book “The Evidential Force of  Religious Experience” (2004) with “… a goal to discover the role which religious experience can legitimately play in the defense of religions doctrines …”.

That apart, let us return to Prof. Ranade.

For the sublime panorama of Prof Ranade’s rational mysticism we cannot but take refuge in quoting Prof B. R. Kulkarni at length, the adroit expositioner of Prof Ranade’s literary, philosophical and mystical monumental works.

The problem of supreme importance to mankind, according to Prof Ranade, is the problem of the existence of God and His relation to man and nature.  Unquestionably the search after God remains the highest problem even today and a philosophical justification for our spiritual life is as necessary today as it was hundreds of years ago.  Prof Ranade devoted the whole of his career to the solution of this problem both from the standpoint of philosophy, i.e. the intellectual side and from the standpoint of religion, i.e. the practical side.  He was led to make a living acquaintance with mysticism and religious thought before he came to undertake a deep study of Indian and Western philosophy.  Even after such a study he firmly believed that to come to grips with the attainment of God from the practical point of view was a far greater achievement than to determine the nature of God from the philosophical point of view which would merely plunge us into a bog of intellectual warfare.  Prof Ranade considered philosophy as a barricade to religion, a wire-compound preventing the stray cattle from coming inside.  Morality for him was more than a word; it determined the worth of a man.  And religion was more than an aspiration; it was the elan vital of man’s life.  He had achieved for himself a grand harmony of natural and spiritual life.  His aim was to explain the real nature of religion or life in spirit and bring about a unity of all religions.

Prof. Ranade’s philosophy, be it epistemology, metaphysics, ethics or religion, is characterized by a single unifying principle of God-realization.  It brings all things under the focus of mystical union with God.

Spiritual experience for him is not an ad hoc hypothesis to explain an unintelligible phenomenon but the starting point, the basic reality, for which he wanted to give philosophical justification.  “What we feel, what we realize and what we experience should alone constitute our philosophy,” he exclaims.  What William James said about sensation, Prof. Ranade would have said about spiritual experience: ‘Experience is the mother earth, the anchorage, the stable rock, the first and last units, the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem’ of philosophy.  And this experience is not the sensationalistic experience but the intuitive experience (Anubhuti).  A mystic who so much stresses experience is really an empiricist par excellence.  His empiricism is a transcendental empiricism, if such a term can be used.

Regarding metaphysics, ethics and mysticism, he says an attempt to solve the question what is real would lead a philosopher into the very heart of metaphysics and when a certain intellectual solution is arrived at, the next problem would be how practically to attain to that knowledge, what should be the norm of conduct following which one may hope to appropriate the Godhead.  The culmination of this practical endeavor would come in the mystical attitude which completes the moral endeavor.  Or again, the mystical view of reality alone would enable us to reconcile all the intellectual dogmas which have infested the philosophies of the world.  Theism and pantheism, even though they may be contradictory as philosophical systems can yet be reconciled in a theory of mystic attainment of God.  Forty years of philosophic pursuit, as he himself points out, had given him a point of view which reconciled philosophic, linguistic and other interpretations of a doctrine.  That was the viewpoint of mysticism or the unitive experience of God which gave every doctrine its place in the scheme of the universe.  Such a reconciling attitude would not allow philosophy to remain a splendid record of perpetual conflict of opposite doctrines for real reconciliation is constructive.  Construction requires some fundamental basis and Prof. Ranade’s philosophy has that basis in the spiritual nature of Reality.  And his construction had a purpose, that of appropriating this Reality or realizing the Godhead.

This realization for him is not an event but a process; it is an approximation, a perpetual progressive realization without actually collecting in hand the final goal which might be attained at infinity.  This doctrine of approximation is a distinctive feature of Prof. Ranade’s philosophy.  The doctrine implies that achievement of perfection in any field is a never-ending process.  The best example given in this connection is of asymptotes.  We know from mathematics that the base line and the curve of the hyperbola seem to come near each other.  One may get an impression that they meet nearby.  But they do not meet in the finite space at all and are taken to meet at infinity thus involving approximation to each other.  Any process which may take infinite time to achieve the goal thus becomes approximation.

The doctrine of approximation runs through the whole of Prof. Ranade’s philosophy.  In epistemology, there is approximation to divine self-consciousness as Truth itself, in metaphysics to divine self-consciousness again as Reality itself.  In both the sciences it is the divine self-consciousness which is the goal, divine self-consciousness being an epistemological-metaphysical concept.  Divine self-consciousness alone … constitutes the ultimate Reality as propounded by him.  If it is true that by the knowledge of Brahman or the ultimate reality, one becomes Brahman it is equally true that one has to become Brahman to know Brahman.  None of these is purely a cause and the other purely an effect.  There is reciprocal causality between them.  The more one knows Brahman, the more one becomes it; similarly the more one becomes Brahman, the more one knows it.  In Ethics, man, being morally imperfect, has to strive after moral perfection infinitely long though the process may be.  The same doctrine holds good in the realm of religion where the truth is: not perfection but progress, not realization but approximation.  The attainment of Mukti or liberation is a gradual process.  It may come immediately if there is no impediment.  Otherwise as the Bhagavad-gita says, it may even be a matter of a number of lives.

According to Prof. Ranade, the problem of philosophy is identical all over the world and there is no distinction of country or race in the world of thought.  The kernel of philosophy is not the difficulties or obscurantisms but a metaphysical and moral pith.  It would be a problem for the philosophy of immediate future, he felt, to place mysticism on a truly philosophical basis.  Rational mysticism which had been hitherto a contradiction in terms must now be a truism.  Mysticism transcends philosophy and cares only for the intuitive apprehension of God.  The liberating influence of rational mysticism is that it justifies mysticism as a scientific doctrine by freeing it from rusty chains of mysteriousness, inactivity and occultism to which it was wrongly confined.

Immediate experience of reality is more important than a discursive knowledge about it.  So Prof. Ranade remarks that there is a great deal of difference between the intellectual conviction of God’s omnipresence and a mystical vision of Him.

As McTaggart says: “A Mysticism which ignored the claims of the understanding would no doubt be doomed.  None ever went about to break logic but in the end logic broke him.  But there is a mysticism which starts from the stand-point of the understanding and only departs from it in so far as that standpoint shows itself not to be ultimate but to postulate something beyond itself.  To transcend the lower is not to ignore it.”  In fact such an attitude reconciles intellectualism with mysticism.  Intellect is not outlawed but allowed full sway in the analysis of mystical experience.  It probes into the nature and criteria of mystical experience.  It rules out superstition and blind faith from the field of mysticism.  Mysticism when it takes the help of the intellect – as it must and does take – is not an esoteric doctrine.   It is rational mysticism and in a spirit of thorough experimentalism throws out a challenge to anybody and everybody to test the validity of mystical experience for himself.  One should believe in what one perceives and if one cannot perceive what a mystic perceives one has only oneself to thank.  Otto has given a very significant subtitle to his book: The idea of the Holy.  It runs: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its relation to the Rational.  This is exactly what rational mysticism is.  It is an enquiry (a rational enquiry) into the immediate experience (mystical experience).   It by no means tries to reduce the non-rational or supra-rational element in religion to the rational elements, nor does it limit its enquiry to the sphere of the rational and neglect the supra-rational.

Rational mysticism is an attempt as far as possible to understand this supra-rational element, this overplus of meaning in the mystical experience.  It is the rational analysis, though it is bound to be inadequate to express the ‘extra’ in the religious experience.  Mystical experience may not admit of definition but still it admits of being discussed.  The blind who is not endowed with the faculty of vision still ‘reads’ with the help of Braille and tries to grasp the meaning.  So reason which does not have the intuitive power tries to comprehend mystical experience, though only in the fashion of the blind.  Prof. Ranade has said many times that experience is one thing and expression quite another.  Expression is an attempt to approach the inexpressible.  It is the march of the undaunted reason to take at least a peep into Truth.  Rational mysticism is a theory of mysticism and as such is necessarily one degree removed from mystical experience itself.  Rational mysticism again implies a harmonious development of both reason and intuition.  It is giving to reason what belongs to reason and to intuition what belongs to intuition.  Reason in turn receives illumination from intuition in the form of saving experiences.  Intuition has thus come to fulfill and not to destroy reason.  By undertaking a rational analysis of mystical experience, reason tries to isolate the unnamed.  Something in it, something which does not respond to the call of reason.  But this isolation itself is very important; it makes us aware that beyond the sphere of reason there is a vast arena, by no means untrodden but where reason is forbidden to enter and where intuition is the only guide.  Rational mysticism is a brief for intuition.  But if reason had not done any preliminary work, mysticism, as Otto remarks, would be only unbroken silence.

Another way of understanding rational mysticism is taking Jnana itself as illumination.  By the word Jnana, Prof. Ranade does not mean ordinary discursive knowledge but intuitive knowledge.  Real knowledge is thus very much compatible with devotion.  There is no contradiction between a Jnani and a Bhakta.  “On the other hand , the Bhagavadgita regards a real Jnani as a Bhakta of the highest type”.  Real illumination, he says again, can proceed only from a quality of heart.  It is something like understanding by heart or feeling with intellect, a combination not ordinarily found.

Rational mysticism enquires as to what is the faculty of God-realization, what is its nature, whether it receives material from outside (i.e. peripheral initiation) or whether it spins it from itself (central initiation).  Is self-knowledge possible and if so, how?  What are the criteria of spiritual experience?  How does knowledge of intuition experience percolate into intelligence?

Intuition is a deiform faculty comprising within itself the intellectual, the emotional and the will aspects but not being comprised by them exhaustively.  Intuition with its directness experiences God.  The intellectual aspect involves the knowledge of God, the emotional aspect, love for Him and the will aspect desire for union with Him.  They are not three but one and are not a means to anything outside, for the intuitive apprehension of God is an end in itself.

Prof B. R. Kulkarni concludes “… He is one of the philosophic – mystical luminaries whose fullness and variety of mystical experience and whose manner of systematic exposition of it stand almost unparalleled in the literature of mysticism ….”.

We recommend for a discerning connoisseur a critical study of prof. B.R. Kulkarni book ‘Critical  and constructive aspects of Prof. R.D. Ranade’s philosophy’, no doubt a magnifying glass to be employed for delving unfathomable depths of Prof. Ranade’s monumental works.


The following works have rendered immense material for the present article and we express our indebtedness to their authors.

  • Sociology of Religion (A case study of Nimbargi Sampradaya) – Dr. K.B. Dabade
  • R. D. Ranade and his Spiritual Lineage – Dr. V.H. Date
  • Critical and constructive aspects of Prof. R.D. Ranade’s Philosophy – Prof. B.R. Kulkarni
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