Sri Ramakrishna

Sri RamakrishnaThis simple statement – the eternal principle of Hinduism and Vedanta - is the essence of the life of Sri Ramakrishna and permeates his practices and teachings. It is all the more remarkable for Sri Ramakrishna was born at a time when India’s intellectuals aped its foreign rulers, when her religion was being cast aside by so-called rational thinking, when the onslaught of materialism seemed insurmountable.

It was, as the Bhagavad-Gita says, a time ripe for the advent of an avatar.

Thus, on the 18th of February 1836, in Kamarpukur, a small village near Kolkatta, India, a child was born to a poor but pious couple. He was named Gadadhar. The world would know him as Sri Ramakrishna.

As a child, Sri Ramakrishna liked serving visiting sadhus and listening to their spiritual discourses more than he liked formal schooling. At age six, seeing a flight of white cranes against a backdrop of dark clouds, he experienced his first divine ecstasy.

His love for God deepened. By 1855, as chief priest of Mother Kali’s Temple in Dakshineswar, his days were spent in worship and singing devotional songs; nights were plunged in meditation; sleep was altogether abandoned.

So intense was Sri Ramakrishna’s yearning for a living vision of Mother Kali that when overcome by the thought of not seeing Her in this very lifetime, he glanced on Her sword in the temple and seized it with a view to ending his life.

“Suddenly, the blessed Mother revealed Herself. I saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of consciousness.”(The Gospel page no.14,the first vision of Kali) The shining waves rushed at Sri Ramakrishna. He collapsed unconscious. But, within, felt a flow of steady, undiluted bliss.

Later, Sri Ramakrishna would teach the world a simple path to God-realization: “Cry to the Lord with an intensely yearning heart and you will certainly see him.”(Gospel page No.83, Master Mahashay’s second visit to Dakshineswar. – Feb.1882)

At that time, however, his frequent God-intoxicated state lead to behavior the worldly-minded reported as signs of insanity. Its remedy, his relatives in Kamarpukur thought, lay in marriage.

Accordingly, a bride was chosen from Jayrambati, a neighbouring village. Her name was Saradamani. She was just five. So, as was common in the India of that era, the marriage duly performed was more a betrothal. The young bride remained in the village while Sri Ramakrishna returned to Mother Kali’s Temple.

However, at no point, not even when Saradamani (who in the future would be referred to as both Sri Sarada Devi and the Holy Mother by devotees) came as a young woman of eighteen to Dakshineswar to look after Sri Ramakrishna who was still viewed insane, did they live the usual worldly married life.

Quite the contrary, Sri Ramakrishna instructed her in every aspect of spiritual life. In keeping with his complete dedication to God-realization, he worshiped her as Shodashi – another form of Mother Kali. Both went into samadhi. As ever, they soared above the worldly plane.

He perceives clearly that women are but so many aspects of the Divine Mother. He worships them all as the Mother Herself. (Gospel page No.168.)

Sri Ramakrishna’s total absorption with and in God impelled him to test the reality of all the different aspects of Mother Kali, the God he worshipped.

Guided by a series of gurus who initiated him in the various paths described in the Hindu scriptures, Sri Ramakrishna realized God through each. Then following the paths of Islam and Christianity experienced the same realization. He illustrated this truth with a simple dictum: Yato mat, tato path - as many faiths, so many paths.

By this time, Sri Ramakrishna lived in a near-constant state of god-intoxicated ecstasy. Word of his illumined state spread and devotees began arriving in earnest. As priest at the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Rani Rashmoni who had built the temple and Mathur Nath Biswas, her son-in-law were among Sri Ramakrishna’s early and most fervent followers. Well-known pundits and religious scholars of the time came as well and declared him to be an avatar.

Now, came Bengal’s intellectual, westernized elite – starting with members of the popular socio-religious movement, the Brahmo Samaj and their leader, Keshab Chandra Sen who was to hold Sri Ramakrishna in great love and admiration.

But seeing first-hand the influence Western philosophies and modernization had on India’s youth, Sri Ramakrishna yearned for his “own beloved companions” who would follow his teaching which aimed at God-realization in its purest form.

Devotees and disciples began arriving and were of two categories: householders who remained such and young men from Bengal’s educated middle-class who were to become the future monks of the Ramakrishna Order.

Both groups were taught according to their capability and what was required of them to reach the goal of God-realization.

Householders were not asked to totally renounce the world, but to practice discrimination between the Eternal and the temporal, devote time to prayer, japa and meditation, to keep holy company, to repair to solitude every now and then. Those with spouses were advised to live as brother and sister after the birth of one or two children. All were strongly urged to cling to God with intense faith come what may.

Among his householder disciples were Mahendranath Gupta or ‘M’, the author of Kathamrita (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna); Nag Mahashay; Girish Ghosh and Surendra Mitra.

Those who were to be future monks and the torchbearers of his message to mankind were taught the path of renunciation and discrimination and told to give up the world both inwardly and outwardly. They were to take vows of absolute celibacy and totally shun greed and lust. Their lives were to be blemish-free.

Among this group were Narendranath Dutta and Rakhal. The former as Swami Vivekananda would take Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the West, the latter as Swami Brahmananda would be the first President of the Ramakrishna Math. All these outstanding young men were trained to revitalize Hinduism and re-awaken the soul of India.

While he welcomed an endless stream of spiritual seekers, the strain coupled with the intensity of his spiritual practices took a toll on Sri Ramakrishna’s health. By 1885, he developed cancer of the throat.

He was shifted to a home surrounded by a spacious garden in Cossipore, a suburb of Kolkatta where this band of future monks along with the Holy Mother nursed him day and night.

Even as he suffered intense pain, Sri Ramakrishna continued to instruct his young disciples all the while instilling in them love for one another. Thus he laid the foundation of the future monastic brotherhood - the Ramakrishna Math.

The end came in the wee hours of the 16th of August, 1886. Chanting the name of his beloved Mother Kali, Sri Ramakrishna gave up his physical body and passed into Eternity.

“He is born in vain who, having attained human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realize God in this very life.” Sri Ramakrishna. (Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Brahmananda.)

Read Online: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna