|PAGE AT A GLANCE|
|1) Early Days||7) As many faiths, so many paths|
|2) After the passing away of his father||8) Meeting with Keshab Chandra Sen|
|3) Dakshineswar Temple and Vision of Kali||9) Coming of the Disciples|
|4) Marriage||10) Later part of his life|
|5) God intoxication||11) Teachings|
|6) Other Spiritual Disciplines|
Religion declines when people talk about religion, but do not practice it, or when people use it for their own selfish motives. Religion becomes polluted when hypocrisy and dishonesty, lust and greed, jealousy and hatred, ego and fanaticism are rampant in people’s minds. Krishna declared in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘When religion declines and irreligion prevails, I incarnate myself in every age to establish religion.’ As the same moon rises in the sky again and again, so the same God descends to the earth as a human being in different places and in different times to fulfil the need of the age and to point out the goal of human life. This is not a myth: the lives of Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, Chaitanya, and Sri Ramakrishna attest to the Gita’s statement. Sri Sri Ramakrishna was born on Wednesday, 18February 1836, in Kamarpukur, a small village, 112 km Northwest of Kolkata. In the spring of 1835 his father, Khudiram Chattopadhyay, had gone to visit the holy city of Gaya to perform a rite for his ancestors in the Vishnu Temple. One night in his sleep, Khudiram had a vision. A luminous “being” gazed at him affectionately and then said in a sweet voice: “Khudiram, your great devotion has made me very happy. The time has come for me to be born once again on earth. I shall be born as your son.” Khudiram was filled with joy until he realized that he did not have the means to carry out such a great responsibility. So he said: ‘No, my Lord, I am not fit for this favour. I am too poor to serve you properly.’ “Do not be afraid, Khudiram,” said the Lord. “Whatever you give me to eat, I shall enjoy.”Khudiram awoke, convinced that the Lord of the universe was going to be born into his household. He then left Gaya and returned to Kamarpukur before the end of April.
On Khudiram’s return, his wife, Chandra, told him of an experience she had had in front of the Yogi Shiva Temple next to their house. Chandra said: ‘I saw that the holy image of Lord Shiva inside the shrine was alive! It began to send forth waves of the most beautiful light- slowly at first, then quicker and quicker. They filled the inside of the temple, then they came pouring out - it was like one of those huge flood waves in the river - right towards me! I was going to tell Dhani [a neighbor woman], but then the waves washed over me and swallowed me up, and I felt that marvelous light enter into my body. I fell down on the ground, unconscious. When I came to myself, I told Dhani what had happened, but she did not believe me. She said that I’d had an epileptic fit. That cannot be so, because since then I have been full of joy and my health is better than ever. Only I feel that light is still inside me, and I believe that I am with child.’ Khudiram then told Chandra about his vision, and they rejoiced together. The pious couple waited patiently for the divine child’s birth the following spring. Because of Khudiram’s experience at Gaya, Sri Sri Ramakrishna was named - Gadadhar, meaning Bearer-of-the-Mace, an epithet of Vishnu. Sri Ramakrishna grew up in Kamarpukur. He was sent to school where he learned to read and write, but he soon lost interest in this ‘bread-earning education’ and quit school altogether. However, he continued to constantly learn by watching people in his rural village. He was shrutidhar, which means that whatever he heard once, he never forgot. When he was six or seven years old, he had his first experience of cosmic consciousness. One morning, he recalled in later life, ‘I took some parched rice in a small basket and was eating it while walking along the narrow ridges of the rice fields. In one part of the sky, a beautiful black cloud appeared, heavy with rain. I was watching it and eating the rice. Very soon the cloud covered almost the entire sky. And then a flock of cranes came flying by. They were as white as milk against that black cloud. It was so beautiful that I became absorbed in the sight. Then I lost consciousness of everything outward. I fell down and the rice was scattered over the earth. Some people saw this and came and carried me home.’
Khudiram died in 1843. Sri Ramakrishna keenly felt the loss of his father and became more indrawn and meditative. He began to visit the small village inn where pilgrims and especially monks would stop on their way to Puri. While serving these holy people he learned their songs and prayers. Following the Brahminical tradition, Sri Ramakrishna was invested with the sacred thread when he was nine years old; this allowed him to perform the ritualistic worship for the family deities. He had some friends with whom he would play, sing, and act out religious dramas. Once during Shivaratri (a spring festival of Lord Shiva) he lost outer consciousness while enacting the role of Shiva. On another occasion, while going to worship the Divine Mother in a neighbouring village, he again went into samadhi.
In 1850, Ramkumar, Khudiram’s eldest son, opened a school in Kolkata. As a secondary profession, he performed religious rituals in private homes. It soon became difficult for him to manage both responsibilities, so in 1852 he brought Sri Ramakrishna to assist him in performing the rituals. On 31 May 1855 Ramkumar accepted the responsibility of officiating at the dedication ceremony of the Kali Temple of Dakshineswar that had been founded by Rani Rasmani, a wealthy woman of Kolkata. Sri
Ramakrishna was present on that occasion. Soon afterwards he moved to Dakshineswar and in time became a priest in the temple. Ramkumar died in 1856. Sri Ramakrishna now began his spiritual journey in earnest. While worshipping the Divine Mother, he questioned: ‘Are you true, Mother, or is it all a fiction of the mind, mere poetry without any reality? If you do exist, why can’t I see you? Is religion, then, a fantasy, a mere castle in the air?’ His yearning for God realization became more and more intense day by day. He prayed and meditated almost twenty-four hours a day. Then he had a remarkable experience: “There was an unbearable pain in my heart because I could not see the Mother. Just as a man wrings a towel with all his strength to get the water out of it, so I felt as if my heart and mind were being wrung out. I began to think I should never see Mother. I was dying of despair. In my agony, I said to myself: ‘What’s the use of living this life?’ Suddenly my eyes fell on the sword that hangs in the temple. I decided to end my life with it, then and there. Like a madman, I ran to seize it. And then, I had a marvelous vision of the Mother, and fell down unconscious. It was as if houses, doors, temple and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite, shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However, far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me. They were raging and storming upon me with great speed. Very soon they were upon me; they made me sink down into unknown depths. I panted and struggled and lost consciousness. After this vision it was not possible for Sri Ramakrishna to continue performing the worship in the temple. He entrusted this responsibility to his nephew Hriday, and spent more than two years in a God-intoxicated state.
In 1859, he returned to Kamarpukur and lived with his mother for a year and seven months. During this time, Sri Sri Ramakrishna’s mother arranged his marriage to Sarada Mukhopadhyay, a very young girl from Jayrambati, a few kilometres west of Kamarpukur.
After the marriage, Sri Ramakrishna returned alone to Dakshineswar in 1860. Once at Dakshineswar Sri Ramakrishna was caught up again in a spiritual tempest. He forgot his home, wife, family, body, and surroundings. He described his experiences during that period: ‘No sooner had I passed through one spiritual crisis than another took its place. It was like being in the midst of a whirlwind – even my sacred thread was blown away, and I could seldom keep hold of my dhoti [cloth]. Sometimes, I’d open my mouth, and it would be as if my jaws reached from heaven to the underworld. ‘Mother!’ I’d cry desperately. I felt I had to pull her in, as a fisherman pulls in fish with his dragnet. A prostitute walking the street would appear to me to be Sita going to meet her victorious husband. An English boy standing cross-legged against a tree reminded me of the boy Krishna, and I lost consciousness. Sometimes I would share my food with a dog. My hair became matted. Birds would perch on my head and peck at the grains of rice that had lodged there during the worship. Snakes would crawl over my motionless body. An ordinary man couldn’t have borne a quarter of that tremendous fervour; it would have burnt him up. I had no sleep at all for six long years. My eyes lost the power of winking. I stood in front of a mirror and tried to close my eyelids with my finger – but then, suddenly, I’d be filled with ecstasy. I saw that my body didn’t matter; it was of no importance, a mere trifle. The Mother appeared to me and comforted me and freed me from my fear.’
Other Spiritual Disciplines
In 1861, a nun called BhairaviBrahmani came to Dakshineswar to initiate Sri Ramakrishna into tantric disciplines. The Master practised sixty four methods of Tantra and attained perfection through all of them. He then practised other methods of the Vaishnava tradition, such as vatsalya bhava (the affectionate attitude towards God) and madhura bhava (the lover’s attitude towards the beloved). In 1864, Sri Ramakrishna was initiated into sannyasa by TotaPuri, a Vedanta monk, and attained nirvikalpa samadhi, the highest non-dualistic experience, in only three days. In 1866, Sri Ramakrishna practised Islam under the guidance of a Sufi named Govinda Roy. The Master later mentioned to his disciples: ‘I devoutly repeated the name of Allah, and I said their prayers five times daily. I spent three days in that mood, and I had the full realization of the sadhana of their faith.’
In 1873, Sri Ramakrishna met Shambhu Charan Mallik, who read the Bible to him and spoke to him about Jesus. One day, Sri Ramakrishna visited Jadu Mallik’s garden house, which was adjacent to the Dakshineswar temple. In his living room there was a picture of the Madonna with the child Jesus sitting on her lap. While Sri Ramakrishna was gazing at this picture, he saw that the figures of the mother and child were shining and rays of light were coming forth from them and entering his heart. For the next three days he was absorbed in the thought of Jesus, and at the end of the third day, while walking in the Panchavati, he had a vision of a foreign-looking person with a beautiful face and large eyes of uncommon brilliance. As he pondered who this stranger could be, a voice from within said: ‘This is Jesus Christ, the great yogi, the loving Son of God, who was one with his Father and who shed his heart’s blood and suffered tortures for the salvation of mankind!’ Jesus then embraced Sri Ramakrishna and merged into his body.
As many faiths, so many paths
After realizing God in different religions as well as in different sects of Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna proclaimed: ‘As many faiths, so many paths.’ In this present age, Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings are the antidote to narrowness, bigotry, fanaticism, and intolerance towards different religions. He said: “It is not good to feel that one’s own religion alone is true and all others are false. God is one only, and not two. Different people call on him by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Shiva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. The Hindus call it ‘jal,’ the Christians ‘water,’ and the Muslims ‘pani.”
Meeting with Keshab Chandra Sen
The precious jewels of spirituality that he had gathered through hard struggle during the first three-quarters of his life were now ready to be given to humanity. In 1875, Sri Ramakrishna met Keshab Chandra Sen, a popular Brahmo leader who was considered a spiritual luminary. Keshab and his followers began publishing the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna in their journals, and as a result, many people, especially young Bengalis, came to know about the saint of Dakshineswar.
Coming of the Disciples
Through direct experience Sri Ramakrishna realized that the form of the Divine Mother was the one with the formless Supreme Brahman, like fire and its burning power, like milk and its whiteness. The Divine Mother once said to the Master: ‘You and I are one. Let your life in this world be deep in devotion to me, and pass your days for the good of mankind. The devotees will come.’
As a loving father is anxious to leave his accumulated wealth to his children, so a true guru wants to give his spiritual treasures to his disciples. After his first vision, Sri Ramakrishna had to wait nearly twenty-five years for his disciples and devotees. We can read in the scriptures or in the lives of the mystics about the aspirants’ longing for God, but never about God’s longing for the aspirants. Here is a testimony in Sri Ramakrishna’s own words: There was no limit to the longing I felt at that time. During the day time I somehow managed to control it. The secular talk of the worldly-minded was galling to me, and I would look wistfully to the day when my own beloved companions would come. I hoped to find solace in conversing with them and relating to them my own realizations. Every little incident would remind me of them, and thoughts of them wholly engrossed me. I was already arranging in my mind what I should say to one and give to another, and so on. But when the day would come to a close I would not be able to curb my feelings. The thought that another day had gone by, and they had not come, oppressed me. When during the evening service the temples rang with the sound of bells and conch-shells, I would climb to the roof of the kuthi [bungalow] in the garden and, writhing in anguish of heart, cry at the top of my voice: ‘Come, my children! Oh, where are you? I cannot bear to live without you.’ A mother never longed so intensely for the sight of her child, nor a friend for his companions, nor a lover for his sweetheart, as I longed for them. Oh, it was indescribable!’
Shortly after this period of yearning, the devotees began to come. Sri Ramakrishna’s disciples and devotees arrived between 1879 and 1885, and he became busy training them to carry out his mission. He was an extraordinary teacher. He stirred his disciples’ hearts more by his subtle influence than by actions or words. Sri Ramakrishna trained each disciple according to his own natural aptitude, as he knew everyone’s past, present, and future. He never thrust his ideas upon anyone. To those young men who were destined to be monks he pointed out the steep path of both external and internal renunciation. When teaching the would-be monastic disciples the path of renunciation and discrimination, he would not allow householder devotees to be near them. When the flower blooms, bees come of their own accord. People from all over flocked to Sri Ramakrishna and he would sometimes talk about God as much as twenty hours a day. This continued for years. His intense love of humanity would not allow him to refuse help to anyone. In the middle of 1885, this physical strain resulted in throat cancer. When his disciples tried to stop him from teaching, he said: ‘I do not care. I will give up twenty thousand such bodies to help one man.’
Later part of his life
Sri Ramakrishna was moved from Dakshineswar to Kolkata and later to Cossipore for medical treatment. Towards the end of his life, Sri Ramakrishna distributed ochre cloths (the symbol of monasticism) to some of his young disciples, thus forming his own Order. He made Narendra (later, Swami Vivekananda) their leader, who later went to America to represent Hinduism, or Vedanta, at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He summarized Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world in his lecture ‘My Master’: Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas or sects or churches or temples. They count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality; and the more a man develops it, the more power he has for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one; for all the doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words or names or sects, but that it means spiritual realization.
Sri Ramakrishna passed away on 16 August, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house; his body was cremated on the bank of the Ganges. Sri Ramakrishna revealed his divine nature many times to his disciples. A couple of days before the Master’s passing, while he was suffering from excruciating pain from cancer, Vivekananda was seated near his bed. Seeing Sri Ramakrishna’s emaciated body Vivekananda thought to himself: ’Well, now if you can declare that you are God, then only will I believe you are really God Himself.’ Immediately Sri Ramakrishna looked up towards Vivekananda and said: ‘He who was Rama and he who was Krishna is now Sri Ramakrishna in this body.’
You see many stars at night in the sky but find them not when the sun rises; can you say that there are no stars in the heaven of day? So, O man, because you behold not God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.
God is formless and God is with form too, and He is that which transcends both form and formlessness. He alone can say what else He is.
God is one, but many are His aspects. As one master of the house appears in various aspects, being the father of one, brother to another, and husband to a third, so one God is described and called in various ways according to the particular aspects in which He appears to His particular worshipper.
He is born to no purpose who, having the rare privilege of being born a man, is unable to realize God in this life.
A boat may stay in water, but water should not stay in the boat. An aspirant may live in the world, but the world should not live in him.
A truly religious man should think that other religions also are paths leading to truth. We should always maintain an attitude of respect towards other religions.
Remain always strong and steadfast in your own faith, but eschew all bigotry and intolerance.
That knowledge which purifies the intellect is the true knowledge, everything else is non-knowledge.