January First, an Advent of Grace

By Deepa Majumdar

Under conditions of postmodern consciousness, we tend to lasso the infinite expanse of time in petty calendars and schedules that are mainly utilitarian in character … They are not rooted in wisdom. The seasons and festivities that punctuate our daily lives are equally contrived and superficial – often drowning in commercial drivel and shopping riots that stand out as the hallmarks of affluenza. We are no longer capable of intuiting the spiritual depths of the all-shining God given Kairos or special moments of God, through which eternity redeems time. We are no longer capable of selecting festivities for their innate auspiciousness, nor of discerning their spiritual roots in the Almanac that rises to the heavens.

January one, the first day of the Gregorian calendar, is no different. We cannot help but be contrived when we celebrate it as merely the advent of a new year … For, we do not feel the deep roots of this advent in anything uniquely auspicious … unless we understand midnight, December thirty first as a conjunction of the old and the new year, which … like all conjunctions … constitutes an auspicious Moment in the infinite duration of Time.

But since the advent of the Holy Trio – Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda – January first has had a different meaning altogether. To understand what is popularly known as the Kalpateru commemoration of January first, 1886, we must begin by understanding the very nature of the Incarnation – a unique Being, born purely to serve. Vedantic thought asserts that the Divine is the underlying substratum of all that exists. It is the absolute Being or Reality that sustains all that becomes in a relative reality. Therefore the Divine is not just the human essence, but the essence of all that exists … This universal all-shining divine Essence or Atman brings with it the trace of eternity that redeems the temporality of created beings. In this special sense, every entity, whether sentient or not, is an incarnation of God, for the One appears as the many. Moreover, man is a special incarnation, inasmuch as he alone can consciously discover his innate divinity. How then is the Incarnation different from other immanent incarnations of God, especially man? Like every other creature, man is potentially divine. He has to therefore work his way through the rounds of reincarnation to actualize his innate divinity through the nirvanic self-knowing that serves as an awakening out of the slumber of immanence. Unlike man, the Incarnation stands in no need for evolution or improvement. Already perfect, the Incarnation enters human history, motivated by nothing but infinite Mercy. An amphibious being, the Incarnation is at once fully transcendent and therefore also fully immanent, swimming simultaneously in both media. The salvific awakening of nirvana is redundant to the Incarnation who is ever awake and enters the slumber of immanence fully aware of the world bewitching Maya that conjures this Cosmic Illusion. Above all, the Incarnation causes a tidal wave of renewed-refreshed human consciousness, elevating the very purpose of History to an altogether higher level.

It is part of the glorious teleological principles of the history of India that the harbingers of Indian modernity were not simply one, but multiple Incarnations born within a short span in the infinite expanse of Time. For it was not only Sri Ramakrishna and his divine companions, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda, but also Ramana Maharshi who was born to redeem an ailing mankind of the incontinence of affluenza. The invisible impact of the advent of the Incarnation on the collective consciousness can hardly be estimated by historians. Imagine how much more difficult it must be to estimate the impact of the Self-revelation of an Incarnation.

On January first we commemorate something rare in the annals of mysticism world-wide … We honor the rare mystical phenomenon that occurred on January first 1886, when an ailing Ramakrishna strolled among his lay devotees … not the monastics … Beside Himself with overflowing Mercy, He poured forth his blessings on all who were blessed enough to be gathered on that sanctified day in what used to be called the Cossipore Garden House near Kolkata. Like a hemp smoker sharing his addiction with other would-be addicts, so that they all appear mad to the rest of the world, Sri Ramakrishna caused a collective inebriation by his most potent touch – blessing all and sundry unto a wholly unearned spiritual awakening. In the interpretation of Revered Swami Saradananda, a direct disciple, this event was not so much a demonstration of Ramakrishna’s power as the Kalpateru, or wish-fulfilling tree. For he did not grant human wishes, whether good or bad, through his touch on that auspicious day, but rather, caused a veritable spiritual tsunami of collective spiritual inebriation, experienced at the level of each individual then present. In Swami Saradananda’s interpretation, this event was rather Ramakrishna’s Self-revelation … or manifestation of his blazing divinity, in an act of infinite redemptive Grace. This same divinity is latent in us, but to experience it we need to witness it first-hand and to have it awakened in us by the Incarnation who is the veritable fountainhead of Divinity …

If the very advent of an Incarnation brings about a new historical age, inundating the collective consciousness with new thought currents, imagine how much more potent must be the Self-revelation of the Incarnation. It is in this special sense that January first is not merely the advent of the new year … a source of nascence … but the commemoration of an auspicious advent of a new age altogether … the solution to the ills of modernity. It is also in this special sense that India occupies a special position among the nations of the world. This type of noble universalism is something that Hindu fundamentalists will never understand. Nor will Christian fundamentalists understand this mystical pitch of ministry. For the Incarnation neither preaches nor converts. He merely touches the sinner to remove dross and reveal the shining Light within.

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