ONCE, finding it difficult to reconcile the contradictory doctrines of man's free will and God's grace two disciples of the Master went to him for a solution of the same. The Master said, "Why do you talk, of free will? Everything is dependent upon the Lord's will. Our will is tied to the Lord's, like the cow to its tether. No doubt we have a certain amount of freedom even as the cow has, within a prescribed circle. So man thinks that his will is free. But know that his will is dependent on the Lord's."

Disciples: "Is there then no necessity of practising penance, meditation and the rest? For one can as well sit quiet and say, "It is all God's will; whatever is done, is done at His will."

Sri Ramakrishna: Oh! To what effect, if you simply say that in so many words? Any amount of your verbal denial of thorns can never save you from their painful prick when you place your hand on them. Had it been entirely with man to do spiritual practices according to his will, everybody would have done so. But no; everyone can't do it, and why? But there is one thing: If you don't utilise properly the amount of strength He has given you, He never gives more. That is why self-exertion is necessary. And so everyone has to struggle hard even to become fit for the grace of God. By such endeavour, and through His grace, the sufferings of many lives can be worked out in one life. But some self-effort is absolutely necessary. Let me tell you a story.

Once, Vishnu, the Lord of Goloka, cursed Narada, saying that he would be thrown into hell. At this Narada was greatly disturbed in mind; and he prayed to the Lord, singing songs of devotion, and begging Him to show where hell is and how one can go there. Vishnu then drew the map of the universe on the ground with a piece of chalk, representing the exact position of heaven and hell. Then Narada said, pointing to the part marked 'hell', "Is it like this? This is hell then!" So saying he rolled himself on the spot and exclaimed he had undergone all the sufferings of hell. Vishnu smilingly asked, "How is that?" and Narada replied: "Why, Lord, are not heaven and hell Thy creation?

When Thou didst draw the map of the universe Thyself and point out to me the hell in the plan, then that place became a real hell; and as I rolled myself there, my sufferings were intense. So I do say that I have undergone the punishments of hell. "Narada said all this sincerely and so Vishnu was satisfied with the explanation. (92)