Many devotees would come to Sri Ramakrishna and confess that they listened to many lectures and discourses, but didn’t seem to benefit spiritually from such efforts. Sri Ramakrishna would patiently point out the fallacy or shortcomings in their understanding.
To drive home the point he would use beautiful analogies from daily life. He would ask, “can one drive a nail into a stone?”. The point of the nail would sooner break than make a dent in the stone. Again, he would point out the absurdity of striking the tough skin of a crocodile with a sword.
He would also cite the example of the Kamandalu, or the water-bowl of Sadhus. The bowl was made from the shell of bitter gourd. Sadhus invariably carried this with them wherever they went. Thus even when they visited the four principal holy places of India or Char Dham as the pilgrimages are called, they would carry the Kamandalu with them. Even after visiting all such holy places, the water-bowl would retain its characteristic bitterness.
Sri Ramakrishna would say that despite holy men giving discourses to the worldly ones, the lives of the latter would not change even if they attended regularly.
He would come to the point explaining that a new born calf cannot stand on its legs immediately. It falls repeatedly before it learns to stand and walk. Hence, there is a need to struggle by oneself, inspite of what others might say.
That is why the Gita says uddhared atmanatmanam i.e. one should rise up by one’s own efforts. While the external factors can help us as catalysts or aids, one should feel the need for a life of Sadhana or spiritual struggle inwardly. Only then can it be possible to progress in spiritual life.