Four Classes of People (Entangled & Liberated) – by Sri Ramakrishna


Purpose of this evergreen article by Sri Ramakrishna is to help us discover how to get out of our own created samsara.

People may be divided into four classes: (1) Bound by the entanglements of the world, (2) seekers after liberation, (3) the liberated, and (4) the ever-free.

Sri Ramakrishna (guru of Swami Vivekananda) will demonstrates four types using various examples below found in Sri Ramakrishna Kathamarita (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna).

“In short” commentaries added by Andre, help clarify some statements.


March, 1882

“In this creation of God there is a variety of things: men, animals, trees, plants. Among the animals some are good, some bad. There are ferocious animals like the tiger. Some trees bear fruit sweet as nectar, and others bear fruit that is poisonous. Likewise, among human beings, there are the good and the wicked, the holy and the unholy. There are some who are devoted to God, and others who are attached to the world.

In Short: Īśvara's (God) infinite nature means infinite names/forms to describe it's infinite variety. However Īśvara is not affected by the names/forms. Therefore Īśvara is neither “good” nor “bad”. Just like paper is neither “good” nor “bad”. What the ink wishes to write on paper, does not define the paper. Paper is a substratum onto which world of ink gets to express itself.

Men may be divided into four classes: those bound by the fetters (entanglements) of the world, the seekers after liberation, the liberated, and the ever-free.

“Among the ever-free we may count sages like Nārada. They live in the world for the good of others, to teach men spiritual truth.

“Those in bondage are sunk in worldliness and forgetful of God. Not even by mistake do they think of God.

“The seekers after liberation want to free themselves from attachment to the world. Some of them succeed (in this lifetime) and others do not.

“The liberated souls, such as the sādhus and mahātmas, are not entangled in the world, in ‘woman and gold'. Their minds are free from worldliness. Besides, they always meditate on the Lotus Feet of God.

In Short: Woman is desire. It does NOT refer to female gender. Desire is symbol of female gender owning to it's beauty. And gold is money.

“Suppose a net has been cast into a lake to catch fish. Some fish are so clever that they are never caught in the net. They are like the ever-free. But most of the fish are entangled in the net.

Some of them try to free themselves from it, and they are like those who seek liberation. But not all the fish that struggle succeed. A very few do jump out of the net, making a big splash in the water. Then the fishermen shout, ‘Look! There goes a big one!'

But most of the fish caught in the net cannot escape, nor do they make any effort to get out. On the contrary, they burrow into the mud with the net in their mouths and lie there quietly, thinking, ‘We need not fear any more; we are quite safe here.' But the poor things do not know that the fishermen will drag them out with the net. These are like the men bound to the world.

“The bound souls are tied to the world by the fetters of ‘woman and gold'. They are bound hand-and-foot. Thinking that ‘woman and gold' will make them happy and give them security, they do not realize that it will lead them to annihilation.

When a man thus bound to the world is about to die, his wife asks, ‘You are about to go, but what have you done for me?' Again, such is his attachment to the things of the world that, when he sees the lamp burning brightly, he says: ‘Dim the light. Too much oil is being used.' And he is on his death-bed!

“The bound souls never think of God. If they get any leisure they indulge in idle gossip and foolish talk, or they engage in fruitless work. If you ask one of them the reason, he answers, ‘Oh, I cannot keep still, so I am making a hedge,' When time hangs heavy on their hands they perhaps start playing cards.”

In Short: Lazyness is man's worst enemy. It justifies staying in saṃsāra (desire/money). That's why Krishna said to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā: “Get up and fight!”. This statement is an evergreen message for all woman/mankind. In other words, get out of the fish net of entanglements by your own freewill. And then claim your right to eternal liberation.

October 28, 1882

“Sometimes I find that the devotees of God are accompanied by worthless people. Their companions are immersed in gross worldliness and don't enjoy spiritual talk at all. Since the devotees keep on, for a long time, talking with me about God, the others become restless.

Finding it impossible to sit there any longer, they whisper to their devotee friends: ‘When shall we be going? How long will you stay here?'

The devotees say: ‘Wait a bit. We shall go after a little while.' Then the worldly people say in a disgusted tone: ‘Well then, you can talk. We shall wait for you in the boat.'

In Short: It's more comfortable and secure in the boat, with rest of the fish. All to be soon gobbled up by the fisherman (māyā). And the types who often pull you back to the boat are the closest to you. No wonder saṃsāra is challenging to conquer.

November 15, 1882

Speaking of householders entangled in worldliness, the Master said:

“They are like the silk-worm. They can come out of the cocoon of their worldly life if they wish. But they can't bear to… for they themselves have built the cocoon with great love and care. So they die there.

Or they are like the fish in a trap. They can come out of it by the way they entered, but they sport inside the trap with other fish and hear the sweet sound of the murmuring water and forget everything else.

They don't even make an effort to free themselves from the trap. The lisping of children is the murmur of the water, and the other fish are relatives and friends.

Only one or two make good their escape by running away. They are the liberated souls.”

In Short: “Escape” does not mean necessarily physical distancing. In fact today, it's unrealistic and not necessary. But an attitude change amidst the world. What kind of attitude? “Only way to liberation is with 100% dedication. And for that I'll need to re-prioritize my life. Some will get less attention, some more.”

December 14, 1882

“A bound creature (like fish caught in net who choose not to jump out) is immersed in worldliness, in ‘woman and gold', having gone deep into the mire of degradation. But still he believes he is quite happy and secure.

The liberated, and the seekers after liberation, look on the world as a deep well. They do not enjoy it. Therefore, after the attainment of Knowledge, the realization of God, some give up their bodies. But such a thing is rare indeed.

In Short: And this is 1800's in India, without technology distractions, marketing banners, products. Thus we conclude that liberation is rare indeed in past, present and future… irrespective of what nation you're born in.

“The bound creatures, entangled in worldliness, will not come to their senses at all. They suffer so much misery and agony, they face so many dangers, and yet they will not wake up.”

“The camel loves to eat thorny bushes. The more it eats the thorns, the more the blood gushes from its mouth. Still it must eat thorny plants and will never give them up. The man of worldly nature suffers so much sorrow and affliction, but he/she forgets it all in a few days and begins his old life over again. Suppose a man has lost his wife or she has turned unfaithful. What does he do? He marries again.

“Or take the instance of a mother: her son dies and she suffers bitter grief; but after a few days/years she forgets all about it. The mother, so overwhelmed with sorrow a few days before, now attends to her toilet and puts on her jewelry.

A father becomes bankrupt through the marriage of his daughters, yet he goes on having children year after year. People are ruined by litigation, yet they go to court all the same. There are men who cannot feed the children they have, who cannot clothe them or provide decent shelter for them… yet they have more children every year.

In Short: This example is seen frequently throughout African poor nations. Truly no food, and then parents say on “We can't feed our 3, 4, 5, 6 children”.

“Again, the worldly man is like a snake trying to swallow a mole. The snake can neither swallow the mole nor give it up. The bound soul may have realized that there is no substance to the world — that the world is like a hog plum, only stone and skin — but still he cannot give it up and turn his mind to God.”

“I once met a man fifty years old. He was playing cards. As if the time had not yet come for him to think of God!”

“There is another characteristic of the bound soul. If you remove him from his worldly surroundings to a spiritual environment, he will pine away. The worm that grows in filth feels very happy there. It thrives in filth. It will die if you put it in a pot of rice.”

In Short: Even after removing oneself from world, person continues entertaining desires as one always did. Why is this? Because he/she hasn't been educated the meaning of life from a teacher. So he/she takes “meaning of life” to mean: Happiness by means of self-gratification.

March 9, 1883

About nine o'clock in the morning the Master was seated in his room with few devotees. It was the day of the new moon.

Sri Ramakrishna said to the devotees: “God alone exists, and all else is unreal. The Divine Mother has kept all deluded by Her māyā. Look at men. Most of them are entangled in worldliness. They suffer so much, but still they have the same attachment to ‘woman and gold'.

The camel eats thorny shrubs, and blood gushes from its mouth; still it will eat thorns. While suffering pain at the time of delivery, a woman says, ‘Ah' I shall never go to my husband again.' But afterwards she forgets.

“The truth is that no one seeks God. There are people who eat the prickly leaves of the pineapple and not the fruit.”

In Short: Man fools himself into thinking “I am pursuing God”. How can you accurately pursue that which you don't know what it is. Most are told God is a wish-fulfiller or similar. Thus we only seek God in form of our wishes. This is NOT seeking God, but seeking Him in form of a limited wish. Second interpretation: One can't seek God because there is ONLY God. To seek is to say it is away from me.

April 8, 1883

“They are indeed bound souls who constantly dwell with ‘woman and gold' and do not think of God even for a moment. How can you expect noble deeds of them? They are like mangoes pecked by a crow, which may not be offered to the Deity in the temple, and which even men hesitate to eat.

“Bound souls, worldly people, are like silk-worms. The worms can cut through their cocoons if they want, but having woven the cocoons themselves, they are too much attached to them to leave them. And so they die there.

In Short: How many lifetimes has any individual reincarnated (include you, the reader)? Beginingless. How is one more lifetime of worldy-comfort going to make any difference? Only children refuse to let go of toys when mother takes them away for child's own good.

Free souls (jñānis) are not under the control of ‘woman and gold'. There are some silk-worms that cut through the cocoon they have made with such great care. But they are few and far between.

“It is maya that deludes. Only a few become spiritually awakened and are not deluded by the spell of maya. They do not come under the control of ‘woman and gold'.

“There are two classes of perfect souls: those who attain perfection through spiritual practice, and those who attain it through the grace of God. Some farmers irrigate their fields with great labour. Only then can they grow crops. But there are some who do not have to irrigate at all; their fields are flooded by rain. They don't have to go to the trouble of drawing water. One must practice spiritual discipline laboriously, in order to avoid the clutches of māyā.

Those who attain liberation through the grace of God do not have to labour. But they are few indeed.

“Then there is the class of the ever-perfect. They are born in each life with their spiritual consciousness already awakened. Think of a spring whose outlet is obstructed. While looking after various things in the garden, the plumber accidentally clears it and the water gushes out. Yet people are amazed to see the first manifestations of an ever-perfect soul's zeal for God.

In Short: Perfection by spiritual perfection comes to one who recently made decision to attain liberation. For example, a young aspiring woman reads a book on financial self-independence. She is inspired and decides to open a niche fashion store. By her HARD labour and persistance, she succeeds.

Whereas perfection by grace of God comes due to previous puṇya-karma. Thus one finds the subject matter effortless. With few more spiritual pointers, such person easily attains liberation.

June 15, 1883

“All men are by no means on the same level. It is said that there are four classes of men: the bound, the struggling, the liberated, and the ever-free. It is also NOT a fact that all men have to practice spiritual discipline. There are the ever-free and those who achieve perfection through spiritual discipline. Some realize God after much spiritual austerity, and some are perfect from their very birth. Prahlada is an example of the ever-free.

“Eternally perfect sages like Prahlada also practise meditation and prayer. But they have realized the fruit, God-vision, even before their spiritual practice. They are like gourds and pumpkins, which grow fruit first and then flowers.

“Even though an eternally perfect soul is born in a low family, still he retains his innate perfection. He cannot do anything else. A pea germinating in a heap of cow-dung still grows into a pea-plant.”

In Short: What conditions you're born in is irrelevant. Owning to every human's freewill, you have no right to make excuses for your “unfortunate situation”. A blind person would do anything for vision. Yet person with eyes wastes vision on woman and gold. Rather be blind and be not distracted by them.

October 19, 1884

“There are still other classes and kinds of people. For instance, there are those who are eternally free, those who have attained liberation, those struggling for liberation, and those entangled in the world. So many varieties of men!

Sages like Narada and Sukadeva are eternally free. They are like a steamship, which not only crosses the ocean but can carry big animals, even an elephant. Such sages are also like superintendent of an estate. After bringing one part of the estate under control, he goes to another.

In Short: Only duty of jñāni (liberated one) is to be of service to those whom are genuinely in exact need of their skills. They bring the state (mind) under control of the seeker, then move on.

Those struggling for liberation strive heart and soul to free themselves from the net of the world. One or two of them may get out of the net. They are called the liberated. The souls that are eternally free are like clever fish; they are never caught in the net.

“But the souls that are entangled, involved in worldliness, never come to their senses. They lie in the net but are not even conscious that they are entangled. If you speak of God before them, they at once leave the place. They say: ‘Why God now? We shall think of Him in the hour of death.'

But when they lie on their death-beds, they say to their wives or children; ‘Why have you put so many wicks in the lamp? Use only one wick. Otherwise too much oil will be burnt.' While dying they think of their wives and children, and weep, ‘Alas! What will happen to them after my death?'

‘The entangled souls repeat those very actions that make them suffer so much. They are like the camel, which eats thorny bushes till the blood streams from its mouth, but still will not give them up.

Such a man may have lost his son and be stricken with grief, but still he will have children year after year. He may ruin himself by his daughter's marriage, but still he will go on having daughters every year. And he says: ‘What can I do? It's just my luck!'

When he goes to a holy place he doesn't have any time to think of God. He almost kills himself carrying bundles for his wife. Entering the temple, he is very eager to give his child the holy water to drink or make him roll on the floor; but he has no time for his own devotions.

These bound creatures slave for their masters to earn food for themselves and their families; and they earn money by lying, cheating, flattery. They laugh at those who think of God and meditate on Him, and call them lunatics.

A BRAHMO DEVOTEE: “Sir, suppose a man has thought of God at other times during his life, but at the time of his death forgets Him. Would he, on that account, come back to this world of sorrow and suffering? Why should it be so? He certainly thought of God some time during his life.”

MASTER: “A man thinks of God, no doubt, but he has no faith in Him. Again and again he forgets God and becomes attached to the world. It is like giving the elephant a bath. Afterwards elephant covers his body with mud and dirt again. ‘The mind is a mad elephant.' But if you can make the elephant go into the stable immediately after bathing him, then he stays clean. Just so, if a man thinks of God in the hour of death, then his mind becomes pure and it gets no more opportunity to become attached to ‘woman and gold'.


Conclusion: This article is example of what all sages of all time from any country have been attempting to communicate to man/womankind. Some have been crucified like Jesus, some tortured, some ignored, some criticized. The cycle of alluring saṃsāra is eternal. How many more lifetimes you wish to participate and pretend like you're making any real difference – is up to you.

Only one fact is definitive throughout all ages. Every individual eventually comes to the same conclusion: I am now ready to seek God (eternity, immortality). When toddler gets bored playing with his toys, he has nowhere to go but to mommy (love, fullness).

Finished Reading? Test Your Knowledge

  1. What do bound souls do when they get any leisure time?
  2. What is man's worst enemy according to the text?
  3. How does the Master describe householders entangled in worldliness?
  4. According to the text, what happens to a camel when it eats thorny plants?
  5. What is the example given in the text to illustrate how people forget their sorrows quickly?
  6. What is the truth according to Sri Ramakrishna?
  7. What is the example given in the text to illustrate how bound souls are like silk-worms?
  8. What are the two classes of perfect souls?
  9. What is the difference between perfection by spiritual practice and perfection by grace of God?
  10. What is the duty of a jñāni?
  11. What are the four classes of men?
  12. What do people think about when they are dying?
  13. What happens to a man's mind if he thinks of God in the hour of death?

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