Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa

Religion

Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa

Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa

 (1836-1886)

" .. in the life of Ramakrishna Paramahansa we see a colossal spiritual capacity first driving straight to the divine realization, taking, as it were, the Kingdom of Heaven by violence and then seizing upon one yoga method after another and extracting the substance out of it with an incredible rapidity .... the realization and possess ion of God by the power of love, by the extension of inborn spirituality .... "

 

Swami Ramakrishna is perhaps the best-known saint of nineteenth century India. His contemporaries have referred him as Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa (Ramakrishna the Supreme Swan) as a tribute to his ability to constantly live in an exalted atmosphere of holiness. The swan is reputed in Indian mythology to be able to separate milk from water in which it is mixed, a talent which shows it to be very delicate in discrimination, and not satisfied with anything but the best. People of great spiritual realization are thus called swans, but Ramakrishna was of a class all by himself. He has become a perennial source of interest for study and research by scholars and seekers of truth. This humble man, variously described as a high-souled man, a real mahatma, a remarkable sage, a phenomenon, and the symphony of India. Songs, hymns, poems, plays, long and learned dissertations, large volumes of biography, and philosophical analyses of his teachings, published regularly, point-to the unenviable contributions of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa, who, though almost illiterate has now become an important figure in the world ofletters through his teachings.

 

Ramakrishna was born at Kamarpukur, in the district of Hooghly, West Bengal, on February 18, 1836. As a child, he was named Gadadhar (another name of Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), but he was popularly known by his nickname Gadai. His father, Khudiram Chatterjee, and mother, Chandramani (or Chandra Devi) were both deeply religious. Khudiram spent most of his time in the worship of the family deity, Raghuvir (Ram a) while Chandra Devi took care of the household. The couple had three children. Gadai was the youngest. Before Gadai's birth, the family lived at Dere, a village few miles from Kamarpukur, and owned paddy fields, fish ponds, and fruit gardens. Once Gadai's father, Khudiram, was asked by a rich man to give false evidence in his support in a court case. As Khudiram was pious and virtuous, he declined. The rich man got offended and started a series of false litigations against Khudiram and finally succeeded in ejecting him and his family from the village. Khudirarn had to leave everything and through the help of his friends settled in a village, Kamarpukur. Khudiram and his family were devotees of Rama and all male members of the family had a name that included that of Rama. Though it is not exactly known when the boy was named Ramakrishna it seems that the parents wanted Gadai's name to be Ramakrishna.

 

Ramakrishna had little interest in school or practical things of the world. When he was seven-year-old, his father died. This naturally upset everybody in the family, including Ramakrishna himself. The boy now became thoughtful and serious. He missed his father very much. He became attached to his mother than ever before. He discovered a rest house on the outskirts of Kamarpukur, often used by monks travelling to Puri in Orissa. He came in contact with the monks who told him stories, sang songs, and taught him various aspects of religion. What the boy learned from the monks stood him in good stead later in his life when he began to teach religion himself. One day, the boy returned home dressed like monks. His mother became alarmed on seeing her son in this dress. She had heard' of wandering monks who kidnapped young boys, and asked her son not to see them again. One day, the monks came and begged Ramakrishna's mother to let her son visit them as before, assuring her that they had no evil designs concerning the boy. Chandra Devi agreed, and Ramakrishna resumed his visits to the monks. He was then hardly 17.

 

Ramakrishna found in the monks just what he was looking for-spirituality. On the other hand, the monks found in boy a maturity they had rarely seen elsewhere. Once Ramakrishna had an opportunity to attend a meeting of scholars at Kamarpukur. When the scholars got stuck at a certain point, he intervened and provided the solution. The scholars were amazed at the maturity of the boy and blessed him. Once on Shivaratri day, he had a chance to act in the part of Shiva when all of a sudden the man who was to act originally fell ill. He was a talented actor and knew the whole part very well. The villagers were very happy when he agreed to play the role. As soon as the audience saw Ramakrishna as Shiva, they were thrilled. He virtually looked like Shiva. Thinking of Shiva he was overwhelmed with emotion and became unconscious. He regained consciousness next morning.

 

Surprisingly, the boy had contempt for education. He used to say that what passed as education was no education at all. It was only meant for learning how to earn money. He often skipped school, but his handwriting was beautiful, and he had an extraordinary memory. He knew the epics, folk tales and mythology. No one at home wanted to hurt him by using harsh words, but they were concerned about his future. Ramakrishna worshipped the family deity, Raghuvir, with great care. Most of the time he spent with his friends, laughing, joking, and playing. He took no interest in studying. Therefore, his eldest brother, Ramkumar, took the boy to Calcutta (now, Kolkata) to teach him Sanskrit.

 

In Dakshineswar, a northern suburb of Calcutta, Ramkumar was asked to install the deity in the temple of Mother Kali. In the temple, Mathur Babu felt drawn towards Ramakrishna at first sight, and he wanted him to be associated somehow or other with the worship of the Mother. One day, he saw a beautiful image of Shiva that had been made by Ramakrishna and was struck by its perfection. He was asked to work in the temple, which the boy agreed. He was taught one thing after another regarding the worship. When Ramakrishna started worshipping Mother Kali, he yearned to see her, to talk to her, and to feel her presence. He wanted to be sure that she was not just a piece of stone, but a conscious being. When the formal worship was over, he would remain in the temple and sing one song after another. The songs were those composed by well-known saints. When the temple doors closed, he would retire straight to the wooded area in the temple grounds and would meditate there, perhaps the whole night. He did not eat enough and was steadily losing weight. He was found meditating in the open fully naked.

 

In 1866, Ramakrishna became a priest in a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kali. The temple was located near Calcutta on the Ganges River. It was built by a pious widow, Rani Rasmani. Ramakrishna became a full-time devotee to the goddess spending increasing amounts of time and giving offerings and meditating on her. He meditated in a sacred grove of five trees on the edge of the temple grounds seeking a vision of the goddess Kali. At one point, he became frustrated, feeling that he could not live any longer without seeing Kali. He demanded that the goddess appear to him.

 

He threatened to take his own life with a ritual dagger (normally held in the hand of the Kali statue). He jumped up like a madman and seized a sword and suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple, and everything vanished from his sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead he saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness.

 

Ramakrishna's behaviour became more erratic as time passed and began to worry his family and employer. He would take on ritual and mythical roles identifying with figures

from the Puranas (ancient Indian holy books describing the adventures of gods). His parents found him a wife thinking that his mental instability was a result of his celibacy. At this stage, an elderly holy woman, Bhairavi Brahmani, appeared and determined that Ramakrishna's madness was "spiritual madness" rather than ordinary madness. He was literally made for the vision of God. She convened a group of respected religious leaders who examined Ramakrishna's symptoms. They concluded that this was a case of divine madness similar in nature to that of other famous saints such as Caitanya (a fifteenth-century Bengali saint). Now, people began to treat Ramakrishna with more respect though his unusual behaviour in worship and meditation continued. The holy woman stayed with Ramakrishna for sometime teaching him yogic and tantric meditation techniques. A yogin, named Totapuri, became his mentor. Ramakrishna adopted the role of a renunciate and learned nondualist form of Vedanta philosophy from her. In this system, God is understood to be the formless unmanifest energy that supports the cosmos. He experienced a deep form of trance (nirvilkalpa samadhi) under the guidance of this teacher.

 

Ramakrishna's approach to religion was direct. When he worshipped the Mother, he wanted to feel that the Mother was alive. He would hold a flower and wait till he was sure that the Mother was accepting it from his hand. Sometimes he would cry out in a loud voice: ''Mother, how can you be S0 heartless? Won't you let me see you?" Some people thought that he had gone mad. He was certainly an extraordinary person. One day, in the midst of his worship, he began to cry. He took the sword and was about to strike himself with it when suddenly a stream of light issued from the image of the Divine Mother and filled the room. Ramakrishna was overwhelmed and fell down unconscious. But he was not content with seeing the Mother once. He wanted to see her always and would cry again and again. The way he performed the worship was quite unusual. He would see the Mother before him smiling, bright, clear. He talked to her just as a child talks to its mother. To him, the Mother was a living deity. Once he had some ornaments which had bells on them made for her feet. As she walked, the bells jingled, much to the delight of the wearer. Ramakrishna could be heard laughing and talking. People thought

that he had become abnormal.

 

The news of Ramakrishna's mental aberration was passed on to his mother, Chandra Devi. She sent word asking Ramakrishna to come home immediately, and he did. At home, the mother found that her son was totally indifferent to worldly affairs. He was now 23-year-old, the right age for marriage. Chandra Devi thought that if they could get him to marry, then he might take some interest in the affairs of the world. They started searching a bride for him. When their search did not produce any positive results, Ramakrishna told them that a bride had been earmarked for him. He said that she was the daughter of Ramachandra Mukherjee at Jayrambati. Soon, Ramakrishna was married to Sarada Devi. After the marriage, Ramakrishna stayed for a year and a half at Kamarpukur. He then returned to Dakshineswar, much improved in health.

 

In Dakshineswar, Ramakrishna was back to his old habits: meditation, the same yearning, the same restlessness, beating his chest, crying, losing consciousness, and so on. Ramakrishna took lessons in Tantras from Bhairavi. Bhairavi recognized Ramakrishna's extraordinary powers. Though she taught the Tantras to him, he, in his turn, taught her things she did not know about spiritual life. She learned them from him in all humility. One day, a holy man appeared at Dakshineswar who looked upon Rama as his son. His whole life was centred around Rama. Ramakrishna met this holy man, and they immediately liked each other. Rama or Ramlala as the holy man liked to call him, was their common object of interest. One day, Ramakrishna met a monk who offered to help Ramakrishna in non-dualistic Vedanta. He picked up a piece of glass and pressed it hard against Ramakrishna's forehead, saying, "Fix your mind here". Then Ramakrishna, in a desperate attempt, mentally cut Mother Kali into pieces, and at once his mind plunged into an ocean of Oneness. He was lost in nirvikalpa samadhi, the highest state of Vedanta, and had a prolonged ecstasy. The monk, Tota Puri, taught non-dualism to Ramakrishna, but Ramakrishna, in his turn, taught him aspects of dualism, which had never occurred to him. Ramakrishna often sang and danced in praise of God as Mother. Ramakrishna also pointed out Tota Puri's inconsistencies in his practice of non-dualism.

 

Ramakrishna had realized God by the Hindu paths. Now he wanted to try other paths and see where they led. So, he sought the Mother's help. Soon after, a Sufi came to Dakshineswar and taught him Islam. Ramakrishna practised it with great ardour. He stopped visiting the temples, and instead, went to a mosque nearby. He also said namaz three times a day. He was introduced to Christianity and fell in love with Christ. His Hindu outlook began to be replaced by a Christian outlook. He had visions of Christians 'offering candles and incense to Mother Mary and Christ. These visions gave him great pleasure. Like Jesus Christ, Buddha was, according to Ramakrishna, an incarnation of God and he had great love and respect for him. He also believed Mahavir, the great prophet of Jainism, to be an incarnation of God. Similarly, he had great respect for the Sikh Gurus and considered them to be incarnations of King J anaka. He came to the conclusion that given sincerity, each one of them led to God.

 

In 1868, Ramakrishna accompanied a group of people to some holy places in North India. When the party arrived at Deoghar, they were surrounded by beggars. Famine had hit the place and people were starving. Ramakrishna was moved to see the famished people and insisted that some relief be provided to them. By insisting on the relief, Ramakrishna set an example of the importance of service vis-a-vis religion. In Benaras, Ramakrishna met many holy men and in Vrindavan he saw Krishna everywhere, with thegopis and also with the cowherd boys. All the scenes were living to him, and he went into ecstasy again and again. He brought back to Dakshineswar a handful of dust from Vrindaban and sprinkled it over the place where he had done his spiritual sadhana.

 

One day, Narendra Nath Datta (later, Swami Vivekananda) met Ramakrishna. Naren noticed Ramakrishna's deep love of God, his sincerity, and his renunciation. Ramakrishna spent time training Naren, and Naren spent time practising whatever Ramakrishna taught him. Similarly, a number of other people started coming to Ramakrishna. This humble man now knew more about God than any scholar they had known. Ramakrishna always enjoyed meeting people, specially enlightened people and religious seekers. He talked to them continuously, answering their questions. He taught each according to his or her bent of mind. Slowly, the craze for everything Western began to lose its hold, due to Ramakrishna's quiet influence, and thinking people began to go back to the Indian traditions. Naren and other young disciples led the movement. Many people now found in him the ideal they were seeking. He did not teach any sectarian religion. He taught the essence of religion, which is Truth. He taught them how to meditate, and he kept strict watch over their food habits and ways of life. He obviously wanted to prepare them for monastic life.

 

The summer of 1885 troubled Ramakrishna much because it was so hot. The devotees began bringing him ice. This gave him much relief. He especially liked iced drinks, and he had them several times a day. This went on for about a month. One day, he complained of pain in his throat. A month passed and the pain was still there. He was advised to talk less. But for him it was a difficult task. He would sing and perhaps also dance. This was bad for his health. He was diagnosed to be suffering from cancer and one day he went into long ecstasy. He had to be shifted to Cossipore for better medical facilities. One day, the Master's throat bled profusely. His voice became feeble and his speech indistinct. The Master sent for Naren. Naren sat down before the Master. The Master then fixed his eyes on him and went into ecstasy. Naren felt as if an electric shock had passed through his body, and he also lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness he found the Master in tears. The Master said: "Today I have given you all that I had. Now, I am a faqir. I have nothing .. ." On August 15, his pain was unbearable and he was restless. The Master had breathing difficulties in the evening. Suddenly, he went into ecstasy, his body became stiff, regained consciousness, he uttered the name of Kali three times, and laid down. At 1.00 am on August 16, 1886 a thrill passed through his body and his soul left for heavenly abode.

 

The Master is no more but his Order is growing. It has now around 1,600 monks and 150 branches all over the world. Ramakrishna had taught his disciples:

 

Serve human beings as God. Selfless service is part of the monks' day-to-day spiritual practice. They serve the needy and the distressed, irrespective of caste, creed or country. To them, all are God, though in different forms.

 

The humble and illiterate mystic, Ramakrishna is now loved and respected all over the world for his message of religious harmony and the divinity of man. To him, all religions form the revelation of God in His diverse aspects to satisfy the manifold demands of human minds. Like different photographs of a building taken from different angles, different religions give us the pictures of one truth from different standpoints. They are not contradictory but complementary. He faithfully practised the spiritual disciplines of different religions and came to the realization that all of them lead to the same goal. Thus, he declared, "As many faiths, so many paths". The paths vary, but the goal remains the same. Harmony of religions is not uniformity; it is unity in diversity. It is not a fusion of religions, but a fellowship of religions based on their common goal- communion with God. This harmony is to be realized by deepening our individual God-consciousness, he said. In the present-day world, threatened by nuclear war and torn by religious intolerance, Ramakrishna's message of harmony gives us hope and shows the way.

 

Swami Ramakrishna Paramahansa represented the very core of the spiritual realization of the seers and sages of India. His whole life was literally an uninterrupted contemplation of God. He reached a depth of God-consciousness that transcends all time and place and has a universal appeal. Seekers of God of all religions felt irresistibly drawn to his life and teachings. His was a silent force, influencing the spiritual thought currents of our time. Loving legends and doubtful myths has still not obscured his life and teachings. Through his God-intoxicated life, he proved that the revelation of God takes place at all times and that God realization is not the monopoly of any particular age, country, or people. In him, deepest spirituality and broadest catholicity stood side by side. He did not find any cult, nor did he show a new path to salvation. His message was his God- consciousness. When God-consciousness falls short, traditions become dogmatic and oppressive and religious teachings lose their transforming power. At a time when the very foundation of religion, faith in God, was crumbling under the relentless blows of materialism and scepticism, Ramakrishna, through his burning spiritual realization, demonstrated beyond doubt the reality of God and the validity of the time-honoured teachings of all the prophets and saviours of the past, and restored the falling edifice of religion on a secure foundation. In his tribute to Ramakrishna, Rabindranath Tagore wrote

 

Diverse courses of worship

From varied springs of fulfillment

Have mingled in your meditation.

The manifold revelation of the joy of the Infinite

Has given form to a shrine of unity in your life

Where from far and near arrive salutations

To which I join my own.

 

 

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