Introduction



Introduction

The history of a nation is not made in a day. It is the result of centuries of silent working of manifold creative forces. It is in this way that the distinctive culture of a nation is formed. The history of India proves that a nation which stands loyal to its cultural traditions can never die.

Religion is the backbone of Indian national life. From the hoary past India has passed through numberless vicissitudes. That she has survived them is due to the fact that the nation has remained true to its spiritual instinct. At every time of spiritual crisis in Indian national life there has been born a saint or a prophet who has saved the nation from the impending danger. Sri Krishna, Buddha, Shankara, Nanak, Chaitanya.each fulfilled a great demand of the age in which he was born.

The nineteenth century saw India faced with a great crisis. With the British conquest of India came the invasion of Western civilization upon the country. Awed by the material power of the conquering nation, Indians hailed everything Western as a thing to be welcomed.

At this psychological moment appeared Sri Ramakrishna, the embodiment of the spirit of India’s culture and religion. He opened the eyes of the Indians to the beauty, grandeur, and strength of Hinduism at a time when their faith in it had greatly slackened. His life stood as a bulwark against those alien forces which attempted to undermine the spirit of Indian civilization.

Sri Ramakrishna was born not only to save Hinduism from a dire calamity, but also, as it were, to resuscitate all faiths. As a result of his having practised other religions besides his own and directly experiencing all to be true, any man belonging to any religion will find his faith in his own system strengthened. As such Sri Ramakrishna’s life is sure to stem the tide of the general disbelief in religion all the world over.

Parentage

Towards the middle of the eighteenth century there lived in the village of Derepore in the District of Hooghly, Bengal, a Brahmin family of which Manik Ram Chattopadhyaya was the head. He was a pious and kind-hearted man. With fifty acres of land at his disposal, he was able to meet the needs of his family as also to lend a helping hand to the poor and distressed of the village in times of calamity. In about 1775 he was blessed with a son who was named Khudiram. Two other sons and a daughter were also subsequently born to him. After the death of Manik Ram, the entire charge of the family devolved on his eldest son, Khudiram, who, trained in the family traditions of an orthodox house, was eminently fitted to attend to the manifold religious and secular duties of the household.

Both Khudiram and his wife, Srimati Chandramani, were exceptionally devoted to their tutelary deity Sri Ramachandra, and soon earned the love, respect, and admiration of the villagers for their charity, truthfulness, and kindness.

In 1814 an incident of the great importance occurred in the life of Khudiram. He was called upon by the local zamindar to give false evidence in support of a case which the latter had brought against one of his tenants. But so fearless was Khudiram.s integrity that he was prepared to stake his all rather than deviate an inch from the path of truth and rectitude. His stout refusal to comply with the request of the landlord entailed on him in its turn a heavy persecution which ultimately led him to leave his ancestral house for good. Penniless and homeless, Khudiram bade adieu to Derepore and made his new home in a neighbouring village named Kamarpukur, where, through the benevolence of one of his friends, he got half an acre of very fertile land, which supplied the simple needs of the family.Khudiram began his life anew in the midst of the quiet and peaceful surroundings of this village, and soon attracted the notice and gained the respect of his neighbours.

One day, while returning from a neighbouring village, Khudiram strangely came into possession of the emblem of his tutelary deity Raghuvir (Salagram) in a paddy field. He took it home and began to worship it as his own Ishta. Both Khudiram and Chandra made a profound impression upon the villagers by their exemplary life and unswerving spirit of devotion to their beloved deity as also by their overflowing kindness to all who came to their door for help and succour. Thus though the home of Khudiram never smiled in affluence, it was a source of great solace to many an aching heart.

After six years. residence in Kamarpukur, Khudiram got his son and daughter married. Ramkumar, which was the name of the son, in the meanwhile had become quite proficient in Hindu lore, and was able to relieve, to a certain extent, his father’s family burden by earning something. So Khudiram had now more time at his disposal to devote himself to religious practices. In the year 1824 he went on foot on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram in South India, which lasted about a year. Twelve months later, in 1826, his wife Chandra gave birth to her second son, who was named Rameshwar.

About eleven years later, in 1835, Khudiram went on another pilgrimage, this time to Gaya. Here, after the performance of the sacred rites, he had a strange vision at night. He dreamt that he was in the temple of Vishnu, where his forefathers were feasting on the sacred offerings he had made. Suddenly a flood of celestial light filled the holy precincts of the shrine, and the spirits of the departed fell on their kness to pay homage to a Divine Presence seated on a throne. The effulgent One beckoned to Khudiram, who, coming near, prostrated himself before Him and heard the luminous Person saying, “I am well pleased at your sincere devotion. I shall be born in your cottage and accept you as my father”. Khudiram awoke with his heart thrilled with joy. He understood that a Divine Being would bless his house very soon.

About the same time Chandra Devi was also having strange visions at Kamarpukur. One night she dreamt that a luminous person exactly like her husband was lying by her side. Another day, while standing with Dhani (a village blacksmith woman) before the Shiva temple adjacent to her house, Chandra saw a bright beam of divine effulgence dart from the image of Lord Shiva and enter her. Chandra was overpowered, and fell unconscious on the ground. Dhani nursed her back to consciousness, but from that time Chandra began to feel as if she were quick with child. On Khudiram.s return to Kamarpukur, Chandra narrated this event to her husband with her characteristic candour and simplicity. But Khudiram, who had already had the strange vision at Gaya, was now completely convinced that they were soon to be blessed with a divine child. He advised her not to speak of her visions to any one. Chandra was greatly consoled, and passed her days in complete resignation to the will of Raghuvir.

Birth and Boyhood

The blessed hour for which Khudiram and Chandra were anxiously waiting at last drew near. In the early hours of the morning of February 18, 1836, Chandra gave birth to a boy whom the world was to know afterwards by the name of Sri Ramakrishna. Learned astrologers predicted a great future for the child, and Khudiram was overjoyed that the prospective greatness of his son confirmed his previous vision and the experience of Chandra.

He named him ‘Gadadhar’ in memory of his wonderful dream at Gaya. Since his very birth Gadadhar cast a spell of fascination not only over his parents and relatives but also over his neighbours, who could not help paying visit to Khudiram’s house whenever possible just to have a look at ‘Gadai’as he was lovingly called.

The years rolled on, and Gadadhar was now five years old. He began to show wonderful intelligence and memory even at this early age. The precocious boy learnt by heart the names of his ancestors, the hymns to various gods and goddesses, and tales from the great national epics.

As he grew to be very restless, Khudiram sent him to the village school. At school Gadadhar made fair progress, but he showed great distaste for mathematics. He directed all his attention to the study of the lives and characters of spiritual heroes. Constant study of those subjects often made him forgetful of the world and threw him into deep meditation. As he grew older, he began to have trances whenever his religious feelings were roused. Soon it was found that not only religious subjects but beautiful scenery or some touching incident was also sufficient to make him lose himself. Once an occurrence of this kind caused great anxiety to his parents and relatives. Sri Ramakrishna in later years narrated this incident to his devotees in the following way:

“ In that part of the country (that is, Kamarpukur) the boys are given puffed rice for snack. This they carry in small wicker baskets, or, if they are too poor, in a corner of their cloth. Then they go out for play on the roads or in the fields. One day in June or July, when I was six or seven years old, I was walking along a narrow path separating paddy fields, eating some of the puffed rice which I was carrying in a basket. Looking up at the sky I saw a beautiful sombre thunder cloud. As it spread rapidly enveloping the whole sky, a flock of snow white cranes flew overhead across it. It presented such a beautiful contrast that my mind wandered to far-off regions. Lost to outward sense, I fell down, and the puffed rice was scattered in all directions. Some people found me in that plight and carried me home in their arms. That was the first time I completely lost consciousness in ecstasy..”

But this was not the only time he had such an experience. On two other occasions also in his boyhood.once while accompanying a group of elderly ladies of the village who were going for the worship of a deity(Goddess Visalakshi) in a neighbouring village, and again, while playing the role of Shiva in the village dramatic performance on a Shivaratri night.the boy Gadadhar passed into deep trance, and it was with great difficulty that he could be brought back to the plane of normal consciousness.

In the year 1843 Khudiram died, and the entire burden of the family fell upon the shoulders of Ramkumar, his eldest son. The death of Khudiram brought a great change in the mind of Gadadhar, who now began to feel poignantly the loss of his affectionate father as also the transitoriness of earthly life. Though very young, he began to frequent the neighbouring mango-grove or the cremation ground in the vicinity and pass long hours there absorbed in thought. But he did not forget his duty to his loving mother. He became less exacting in his importunities, and tried every means to lessen the burden of his mother’s grief, and to infuse into her melancholy life whatever joy and consolation he could.

Gadadhar soon found a new source of pleasure in the company of wandering monks who used to stay for a day or two in the rest-house built by the neighbouring Laha family for wayfarers. One day Chandra was startled to find her dear boy appear before her with his whole body smeared with ashes and with pieces of cloth put on like a wandering holy man. Association with these itinerant monks and listening to their readings from the scriptures inclined the naturally emotional mind of the boy more and more to meditation and kindled in him the latent spirit of dispassion for all worldly concerns.

Gadadhar was now nine, and it was time to invest him with the holy thread. A curious incident happened in this connection. It is the traditional custom in a Brahmin family that just after the investiture, the newly initiated should accept his first alms from some relative or at least from a Brahmin of the same social standing. But Dhani, the blacksmith woman who had tended the child in the lying-in room, had long ago prayed to Gadadhar to allow her the privilege of giving him the first Bhiksha (alms), and the boy, moved by her genuine love, had agreed. After the investiture ceremony was over, Gadadhar, in spite of the repeated objections of other members of the house, kept his promise and accepted his first alms from this Shudra woman in contravention of the time honoured custom of his Brahmin family. But the event, however trifling, is not without significance. This unyielding love of truth and rising above social convention at this tender age reflected in no small measure Gadadhar’s latent spiritual potentiality and foresight and disclosed the real stuff the boy was made of. It showed that true love and devotion were more to him than social restrictions.

Gadadhar’s inborn qualities of head and heart became manifest on more than one occasion at this time. Shortly after the thread ceremony an incident occurred bringing him for the first time before the villagers as a teacher. He was then only ten years old. One day he was listening with rapt attention to an animated discussion held by certain scholars on some subtle point in the house of the local zamindar. The boy, understanding their difficulty in arriving at the proper solution, made a suggestion to one of the Pandits and asked whether such might not be the answer. The solution of Gadadhar was so appropriate and pertinent to the point under discussion that the scholars were amazed at such mental maturity in one so young.

But from now on the boy’s aversion for school increased. He often played truant in the company of other boys of the school, and passed a great portion of the day in various sports. Gadadhar trained a number of young boys in the histrionic art and held performances in the neighbouring mango orchard. Gadadhar’s favourite themes were the various incidents in the life of Sri Krishna. The boy, with his fair complexion and flowing hair, a garland about his neck and a flute to his lips, would often play the part of Sri Krishna. Overwhelmed with the emotion associated with these themes, he would fall into frequent trances. At times the whole mango-grove would ring with the loud Sankirtanas which the boys sang in chorus. Thus, deeply absorbed in these divine sports, Gadadhar lost all taste for school education and engaged himself more and more in the study of the epics, Puranas, and other sacred books, which gave him ample spiritual stimulus. But this other-worldly attitude of the boy caused a great deal of anxiety to his elder brothers.

Soon another misfortune overtook the family. The wife of Ramkumar died, leaving an infant son behind to be taken care of by the aged grandmother. At this time Ramkumar’s income also unexpectedly diminished, and being forced into debt, he went to Calcutta and opened a Tol (school for the study of Sanskrit) at Jhamapukur in the central part of the city to earn some money to meet the financial needs of the family. The management of the house naturally fell on Rameshwar. But as before, Gadadhar was unmindful of his school studies. He spent a great portion of his time in worshipping Raghuvir or in reading passages from the holy books, and in helping his aged mother in her domestic duties. As days rolled on, his aversion to academic education became more pronounced. And soon the idea dawned on him that he was destined to fulfil some great mission in life, though he did not know what. The realization of God was to him the only purpose worthy of consideration. Much as he would have liked to have taken up the begging bowl and renounced everything for the Lord’s sake, the thought of the plight of his unprovided mother and brothers made him forgo his desire. In the struggle between the two ideas he was powerless to decide, and could do nothing but resign himself to the guidance of Raghuvir, fully believing that He would show him the way out of this distressing situation.

Meanwhile, Ramkumar began to experience great difficulty in managing alone all his duties in Calcutta. On one of his visits to Kamarpukur he noticed Gadadhar’s peculiar indifference towards school, and when he learned that Gadadhar had given up his friends and playmates, he decided to take him to Calcutta, where he might supervise Gadadhar’s studies and have him help in his manifold works. Gadadhar readily agreed to this proposal, and on an auspicious day set out for Calcutta with the blessings of Raghuvir and his mother.

When Gadadhar came to Calcutta, he was entrusted with the duties of a priest, which he was glad to discharge. Here too by his simplicity, integrity of character, and winning manners he soon formed a circle of friends and admirers, all belonging to respectable families. But when, after some months, Gadadhar still showed no interest in his studies, Ramkumar naturally got annoyed, and one day took the boy aside and admonished him for his apathy towards education and his general indifference. “Brother, what shall I do with a mere bread-winning education?..was the spirited reply of the boy.”I would rather acquire that wisdom which will illumine my heart and getting which one is satisfied for ever.” Ramkumar could hardly understand the full import of this laconic answer, as he was quite ignorant of the phenomenal mental transformation of this wonderful boy, who now more than ever, realized that he was born for purposes different from those of the ordinary run of men. So Ramkumar was puzzled to hear the straight and pointed reply from his youngest brother. All his arguments to prevail upon the boy to pursue his studies with zeal and enthusiasm proved fruitless. He had therefore no alternative but to leave everything to the will of Raghuvir, until a new event, with far-reaching consequences in the life of young Gadadhar, came to pass in a most unexpected manner.

In the temple-Garden of dakshineswar

At that time there was living in Calcutta a rich widow of great piety named ‘Rani Rasmani’. In 1847 she spent a fortune to found a temple to the great goddess Kali on the eastern bank of the Ganga at Dakshineswar, which is four miles to the north of Calcutta.

The date for the installation of the image of the goddess Kali was fixed for May 31, 1855. The Rani was eager to spend any amount to make this function a splendid success; but, unfortunately, she being a Shudra by caste, no orthodox Brahmin could be procured to officiate as her priest or partake of the sacramental food in her temple; for, according to the orthodox custom of the time, it was derogatory to a Brahmin to worship for a Shudra or to accept gifts from such. The Rani made frantic efforts to collect the opinions of renowned Pandits in her favour on this matter, but none of the answers were acceptable, except that which came from the Tol of Jhamapukur. Ramkumar informed the Rani that if she made a gift of the Kali temple to a Brahmin, endowing it with adequate funds for maintenance, it would be quite in keeping with the injunctions of the scriptures, and no Brahmin would be considered degraded by acting as a priest or partaking of the food offered there. The solution came to the Rani as a god send in the hours of her greatest mental agony and despair, and she eventually succeeded in getting Ramkumar himself as the priest in the temple of the goddess Kali. The temple was consecrated with great pomp to the unbounded joy and relief of the pious-hearted Rani.

After a few days, Gadadhar also began to live with his brother in the sacred temple-garden of Dakshineswar, in the calm and congenial atmosphere where he felt quite at home and found greater opportunities to pursue his spiritual practices.

It was at this time that Hriday, a young man destined to be a close companion of Sri Ramakrishna for twenty-five years and a faithful attendant during the stormy days of his Sadhana appeared on the scene. He was the nephew of Gadadhar. His presence at Dakshineswar delighted Gadadhar.s heart beyond measure as he found in him a trustworthy associate to whom he could open his heart in moments of trouble and difficulty.

Soon the eyes of Mathuranath Biswas, the sonin-in- law of Rani Rasmani, fell on young Gadadhar, whom he persuaded to take charge of decorating the image of Kali with flowers, leaves and sandal paste in the morning, and costly jewellery and clothes in the evening. Thus entrusted with work quite suitable to his temperament, Gadadhar gave himself heart and soul to the task, and in leisure hours entertained the goddess with devotional songs which kept everybody enthralled and spellbound.

Shortly after his appointment in the Kali temple, an incident occurred which enhanced the worth of Sri Ramakrishna in the eyes of Rani Rasmani and Mathur. One day the priest of the Radha-kanta temple, while taking the image of Krishna to the retiring room, suddenly slipped, and one leg of the image was broken. This gave rise to a great commotion in the temple, and the priest was summarily dismissed from service for his carelessness. The Pandits, who were called to advise the Rani as to what should be done under the circumstances, unanimously came to the decision that the image should be thrown into the Ganga and a new one installed in its place, as it was contrary to the scriptures to worship the Lord in a broken image. This decision did not appeal to the pious Rani, who, at the suggestion of Mathur, sought the opinion of Sri Ramakrishna on the matter. After hearing the whole story, he exclaimed in an exalted mood, “Their solution is ridiculous. If a son-in-law of the Rani fractured his leg, would she discard him and put another in his stead? Would she not rather arrange for his treatment? Why not do the same thing here? Let the image be repaired and worshipped as before.” The Pandits were puzzled to learn the ruling of the young priest. It did not satisfy the scholars at first, but they finally had to accept it. The joy of the Rani knew no bounds. Sri Ramakrishna, who was an adept in modelling, undertook to repair the limb at the request of the Rani and did it so adroitly that even careful scrutiny did not reveal where the break had been.

Sri Ramakrishna was now made the priest of the Radha-kanta temple, and Hriday was appointed to assist Ramkumar in dressing and decorating the image of Kali.

The Divine mother

Sri Ramakrishna adapted himself to his new station and forgot everything else. Ramkumar, being troubled by Sri Ramakrishna.s love for solitude and growing indifference to the world, resolved to teach him the elaborate procedure of the worship of Kali, so that, later, he might assume the task quite efficiently. As it is not considered advisable to undertake the worship of Shakti, or Kali, without being properly initiated, Sri Ramakrishna, at the advice of his elder brother, got the necessary initiation from a Brahmin in Calcutta named Kenaram Bhattacharya who was noted for his devotion and experience. It is said that as soon as the sacred Mantra was uttered in his ears, Sri Ramakrishna, overwhelmed with religious fervour, gave a shout and plunged into deep concentration, which greatly astonished the Guru.

From this time forward Ramakumar asked his brother now and then to take over the worship of the Divine Mother, while he himself worshipped at the altar of Radha-kanta instead. Ramkumar was now aged and decided to go home for a change. Sri Ramakrishna was therefore permanently put in charge of the worship of Kali. But Ramkumar was not destined to see his home again for he breathed his last at a place a few miles north of Calcutta. His death came to the young priest as a great shock and a revelation. It occurred at a time when he was fast realizing the transitoriness of the world, and all his energies were now given to the search for something that was real and imperishable. While those about him were wasting time in all sorts of frivolity, he was burning day and night with a consuming thirst for God.

To Sri Ramakrishna the image of Kali was not an inert stone but the Mother Herself. The realization of God became the one absorbing passion of the young aspirant. He would shed profuse tears like a child at being denied the vision of the Mother and would burst out crying .

Owing to this intensity of religious fervour he could no longer conduct the worship regularly. He would sit before the image like a statue. While meditating in the course of worship, he would put a flower on his head and sit silent for a couple of hours, or while offering the food he would gaze at the Mother as if She were actually partaking of it. He was ridiculed at first for such strange acts, but his steady devotion ended by commanding respect and admiration, though some still regarded him as unbalanced. Mathur was charmed to see the God intoxication of the young priest and his ecstatic absorption in the divine service. Sri Ramakrishna was perfectly indifferent to what people thought, and directed all his energies to the realization of the goal he had set for himself. At last, when he was at the limit of physical endurance, the veil was lifted, and he was blessed with the vision of the Divine Mother. Sri Ramakrishna described his first experience to his disciples afterwards as follows:

“I was then suffering from excruciating pain, because I had not been blessed with a vision of the Mother. I felt as if my heart were being wrung like a wet towel. I was overpowered by a great restlessness and a fear that it might not be my lot to realize Her in this life. I could not bear the separation any longer; life did not seem worth living. Suddenly my eyes fell on the sword that was kept in the Mother.s temple. Determined to put an end to my life, I jumped up like a madman and seized it, when suddenly the blessed Mother revealed Herself to me, and I fell unconscious on the floor. What exactly happened after that, or how that day or the next passed, I do not know, but within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother..”

Since then, his constant prayer was to have a repetition of this divine vision. He would cry so bitterly that people gathered about him to watch.

Formerly he regarded the stone image of Kali as possessed of consciousness, now the image disappeared, and in its stead there stood the Living Mother Herself, smiling and blessing him.

Taking flowers and Bel leaves in his hand, he would touch his own head, chest, in fact, the whole body, including the feet, and then offer them at the feet of Kali. At other times, with eyes and chest flushed, he would move like a drunkard with tottering steps from his seat to the throne of the goddess, touch her chin as a sign of endearment, and begin to sing, talk, joke, or laugh, or even dance, taking the image by the hand!! Sometimes he would approach the throne with a morsel of food in his hand and putting it to Her lips, entreat Her to eat..Again, at the time of worship he would become so deeply absorbed in meditation that there would be no sign of external consciousness.

God-Intoxication

All these but confirmed the belief of the temple officials that Sri Ramakrishna must be mad. So they sent a detailed report about these things to Mathur at Calcutta. Soon after this, Mathur paid a surprise visit to the temple, and he was struck with wonder at what he saw. It did not take Mathur long to decide that Sri Ramakrishna.s method of worship was the outcome of a genuine and profound love for the Divine Mother, the like of which is seldom encountered. Convinced that the object of building and maintaining the temple had been attained, he returned to his home and sent an order the next day to the temple Superintendent that the young priest was to have complete freedom to worship in any way he chose, and that he was not to be interfered with.

Rani Rasmani was greatly attracted to Sri Ramakrishna, for she felt that his strange behaviour bespoke the fullness of devotion rather than any mental derangement. One day she came to Dakshineswar and after bathing in the Ganga entered the temple to worship and meditate. She later requested Sri Ramakrishna to sing some songs to the Mother. Slowly the music arose from the heart of the devotee; like a fountain of heavenly bliss it bathed his whole being with ecstasy. After a time, the Rani began thinking of some important lawsuit. Noticing her inattentiveness, Sri Ramakrishna gave her a sharp rebuke. At this the Rani.s heart was filled with remorse that worldly thoughts could so influence her mind as to turn it away from the divine bliss which the young priest was lavishly showering on her. Rasmani retired to her room. When her attendants complained of Sri Ramakrishna.s insolence towards her, she answered, .You do not understand; the Divine Mother Herself punished me and thus illumined my heart.

Sri Ramakrishna had a catholic spirit from the very beginning. He made no distinction between one form of God and another. The realization of one aspect of the Reality inspired him to take up another and to follow it with unflinching devotion till that aspect of Truth revealed itself. He now felt a strong urge to realize Sri Rama, who is regarded as an Incarnation of the Lord Himself. He therefore took upon himself the task of reproducing as faithfully as possible the attitude of Hanuman towards Rama.that of the faithful servant towards the master.

At the end of this Sadhana (spiritual endeavour) he had a wonderful vision, so exceedingly vivid and so different from any of his previous ones that it remained long in his memory. One day while he was seated in the Panchavati, a luminous female figure of exquisite grace slowly advanced from the north towards him, looking graciously on him all the while. The idea soon flashed within him that she must be Sita whose whole life had been centred in Rama. She suddenly entered into Sri Ramakrishna.s body with the significant remark that she bequeathed the smile on her lips unto him. This was the first vision Sri Ramakrishna had with eyes wide open, without meditating on anything. Ultimately this Sadhana was crowned with the realization of Rama as an Incarnation of God.

Stories travelled to the people at Kamarpukur that Sri Ramakrishna had gone completely mad. Naturally this news made his mother Chandra as well as Rameshwar extremely anxious. Chandra repeatedly wrote to Dakshineswar asking her God-intoxicated son to come to Kamarpukur, where under her maternal care and in the salubrious climate of the country his strained nerves might be soothed and his health regained. Sri Ramakrishna obeyed the call and found himself once again in the midst of the calm and peaceful surroundings of his native village. But even here, notwithstanding all the tender care of the affectionate mother and other relations, Sri Ramakrishna was at times overwhelmed with the same feelings as those of the Dakshineswar days when he was struggling to obtain a vision of the Divine Mother. There were two cremation grounds at Kamarpukur. Sri Ramakrishna intended to practise stern Tapasya (austerity); and choosing one of those places for this purpose, he began to spend the whole day and a great part of every night there in worship and meditation. However, a few months. stay at Kamarpukur did him much good, and he soon recovered his normal state of mind to the great relief and joy of his aged mother.

Sri Ramakrishna was now twenty-three years of age, and he was as indifferent as ever to allnworldly concerns. His mother and brother wanted to get him married so as to interest him in domestic affairs, and began to search for a suitable bride. The search was vigorously made but with no definite result. Sri Ramakrishna, finding his mother and brother in a dejected state, said to them in a semiconscious mood, “It is useless to try here and there. Go to Jayrambati (a village three miles to the northwest of Kamarpukur) and there you will find the bride providentially reserved for me in the house of Ram Chandra Mukhopadhyaya.” His prophetic words proved true to the letter. A girl was found there who was just five years and a few months old. But Chandra Devi agreed to accept the girl as no other bride was available, and the happy nuptial ceremony was performed without delay. After his marriage Sri Ramakrishna stayed at Kamarpukur for about a year and a half, as Chandra Devi would not allow him to leave her until he was completely cured. Then taking leave of his mother and brother Sri Ramakrishna returned to Dakshineswar.

On his return to Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna resumed his office, but after a few days he was seized anew with the madness of Godrealization.

Bhairavi brahmani and a vaishnava saint

One morning in 1861 Sri Ramakrishna was plucking flowers in the garden of Dakshineswar when he saw a country-boat coming towards the smaller bathing ghat of the temple. A middle-aged, beautiful Bhairavi Sannyasini with long dishevelled hair stepped out of the boat. Though nearly forty years of age, she looked much younger. Sri Ramakrishna calling Hriday asked him to bring her from the Chandni (the roofed court which is the main entrance to the temple compound) to his presence.

As soon as the Bhairavi met Sri Ramakrishna, she burst into tears of joy and surprise and said in a tender voice, .My son, you are here! I have been searching for you so long, and now I have found you.How could you know about me, mother? asked Sri Ramakrishna. She replied, Through the grace of the Divine Mother I had come to know that I was to meet three of you. Two (Chandra and Girija) I have already met in East Bengal, and today I have found you.. She spoke with emotion, as though she had found her long-lost treasure at last.

Sri Ramakrishna too was visibly moved. After a while she told all about herself. She was born in a Brahmin family in the District of Jessore (Bengal), and was well versed in Vaishnava and Tantrika literature. She was a Vaishnava devotee of a high order. Her intense spiritual practices had bestowed on her wonderful realizations, which prompted her to find out a suitable aspirant to whom she could deliver all her attainments for his spiritual illumination. Sri Ramakrishna, like a boy, sat close by her and opened his heart to this Bhairavi, Yogeshwari by name, and related to her every incident of his Sadhana. He further said that people looked upon him as insane, because his actions differed so widely from those of the common run of men. Full of motherly tenderness, she consoled him again and again: .Who calls you mad, my son? This is not insanity. Your state is what is called Mahabhava (extraordinary state of religious ecstasy) in the Shastras. Sri Radha experienced this state and so did Sri Gauranga. All these are recorded in the texts of the Bhakti (devotion) schools. I shall show you from books that whoever has sincerely yearned for God has experienced this state, and every one doing so must pass through it.. These words reassured Sri Ramakrishna. The relation of mother and son which sprang up between them from their very first meeting deepened as they became better acquainted. After some time the Bhairavi Brahmani fixed her abode at Ariadaha, a couple of miles north of the Dakshineswar temple. From there she used to come almost daily and instruct her God-intoxicated spiritual child. Every day she saw him go into a trance as they talked on spiritual matters, and she observed a strange similarity between the life of Sri Chaitanya and that of Sri Ramakrishna.

Another incident happening at this time confirmed her belief that the Lord was incarnated again in the person of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna had been suffering for a long time from a burning sensation all over his body. Though experts and laymen all ascribed this malady to some internal disorder, the Brahmani found quite a different cause for it. She diagnosed it as the effect of his strong yearning for God. On scriptural authority, she prescribed a curious remedy. The patient had only to wear a garland of fragrant flowers and paint his body with sandal paste. Great was the astonishment when under this treatment Sri Ramakrishna completely recovered in three days.

The Brahmani was now prepared to meet any scholar to prove her contention that Sri Ramakrishna was an Incarnation of God. Mathur, partly to satisfy his own curiosity and settle his own doubts and partly to humour Sri Ramakrishna, called a meeting of the distinguished scholars of the time. Vaishnava Charan, who was one of the leaders of the Vaishnava society and reputed for his Knowledge of various philosophies and devotional scriptures, and Gauri Kanta Tarkabhushana of Indesh in the District of Bankura, who was a farfamed scholar and a great Sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) of the Tantrika school, also came to Dakshineswar on invitation. The result of the meeting was that Vaishnava Charan subscribed heartily to all the conclusions of the Brahmani. And Gauri also felt in his heart of hearts that Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary saint. He gravely replied,”I am firmly convinced that you are that mine of infinite Spiritual Power, only a small fraction of which appears in the world from time to time in the form of Incarnations.” Thus the two great scholars and Sadhakas who came to test Sri Ramakrishna ended by surrendering themselves at his feet.

Bhairavi Brahmani from the very beginning, bore a motherly affection towards Sri Ramakrishna, and she never forgot the divine mandate she had received to deliver her message to him, and she did her best to act as a spiritual guide to Sri Ramakrishna. He, on his part, undertook the course of Tantrika Sadhana under her guidance with the zeal characteristic of him.

The Brahmani put him through all the exercises mentioned in the sixty-four principal Tantra books. Most of these were extremely difficult Sadhanas.some of them so dangerous that they often cause the devotee to lose his footing and sink into moral turpitude. But the infinite grace of the Mother carried him through them unscathed.

The many fiery ordeals through which he passed during this period enabled him to become firmly established on the highest level of spirituality. The Brahmani declared that her divine disciple had attained perfection in this system of Yoga and had passed through its extreme tests successfully.a thing which very few Sadhakas indeed could do. The most remarkable feature about Sri Ramakrishna’s Tantrika Sadhana was that he attained perfection in every course in an incredibly short time.three days being sufficient. Not only was Sri Ramakrishna.s perfection in this Sadhana unique and unprecedented, but to him also was due the restoration of the purity of the ancient Tantrika practices at the present age.

The Kali temple of Dakshineswar was a favourite resort of devotees and Sadhus because of its seclusion and holy association, as well as of Rani Rasmani’s liberality. They would stop there for a few days on their way to Gangasagar or to Puri. The meeting of these different classes of monks and devotees with Sri Ramakrishna was of great significance. The ideas of practical spirituality which originated with the prophet of Dakshineswar were disseminated through these Sadhus to their own disciples andfollowers. Even those fortunate persons whom he accepted as teachers were also greatly benefited by their close association with the Master. Among the many devotees and scholars who came in contact with him at different periods, some took initiation from him and others were influenced by him in various ways, as we have seen in the cases of Vaishnava Charan and Gauri Kanta. About this time other great distinguished savants also, such as Pandit Narayana Shastri of Rajputana, Pandit Padmalochan Tarkalankara, the court Pandit of the Maharaja of Burdwan, and the like, were greatly attracted towards Sri Ramakrishna, and received spiritual inspiration from the Master.

Jatadhari

It was probably about the year 1864 that one great Vaishnava devotee, Jatadhari by name, came to Dakshineswar. He was a wandering monk and a devotee of Sri Rama. Ramlala, or the .Child Rama. was his favourite Deity. By long meditation and worship Jatadhari had made great spiritual progress, and had been blessed with a wonderful vision of Rama.the effulgent form of young Rama then became a living presence to him. He nursed him, fed and played with him, and even put him to bed.

Sri Ramakrishna understood Jatadhari’s state and his love for Ramalala though Jatadhari had told none about it; for Sri Ramakrishna could himself see the divine play of Ramlala. Slowly, Ramlala became intimate with Sri Ramakrishna too. He would stay most of the time in his room and play with him.

Jatadhari stayed at Dakshineshwar for many months, for Ramlala was not willing to leave Sri Ramakrishna and go with him. One day he came to Sri Ramakrishna with tears in his eyes and said, “Ramlala has fulfilled my wish and given me his Darshan. He is happy in your company; and I am happy when he is happy. So I shall leave him with you and go my way.”

Ramlala was with Sri Ramakrishna during the rest of his life. Even many years later, devotees who went to Dakshineshwar found the Ramlala image there.

One with the absolute:(Advaitha Sadhana Under Totapuri)

Sri Ramakrishna had by now practised all the different phases of devotion laid down in the scriptures of Bhakti, namely, Shanta(the placid attitude of mind towards Divinity), Dasya(the relation of servant to master), Sakhya(the attitude of friendship), Vatsalya(the relation of parent and child), and Madhura( the highest relation between two lovers), and realized the same goal through each one of them.

His spiritual experience, hitherto gathered, had many forms. He would commune with invisible beings.forms of the Divinity or Divine Incarnations of the past. Such visions, however, belong to the domain of personality, which is not the last word in spiritual experiences. He was yet to reach a state where knowledge, knower, and known become one indivisible Consciousness.

The soul after a final struggle leaps over the last barrier of relative existence, shatters its prison of matter, and merges in the infinite glory of Brahman. This is called the Nirvikalpa Samadhi,the highest flight of Advaita philosophy. This is the crowning glory of man’s spiritual exercises.the last word in his evolution. Then there is no more birth, no more death, nor any further identification with the changes of the body. He leaves behind all the modifications of relativity like a cast-off garment. He realizes his identity with the Eternal Brahman, the One without a second. There is no doubt Sri Ramakrishna was the fittest person to realize this state. The field was ready ploughed, and waited only for the sowing of the seed.

At this time there came to the garden of Dakshineswar a wonderful monk, ‘Totapuri’ by name. He was a Punjabi by birth and had renounced the world while quite young. He had been initiated by a Yogi who was the head of a monastery of the Naga sect at Ludhiana in the Punjab. It is said that he practised Sadhana in a secluded forest on the banks of the sacred Narmada and attained to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi after rigid discipline extending over forty years. After the passing away of his Guru, Totapuri took his place as the head of the monastery.

The bright face of the Sri Ramakrishna at once arrested the attention of Totapuri, who came to understand that Sri Ramakrishna was a highly advanced seeker after truth. Greatly impressed by him Totapuri asked, “Would you like to learn Vedanta?”

“I do not know. It all depends on my Mother. I can agree to your proposal only if She approves of it,” was the quiet answer of Sri Ramakrishna.

“All right,go and ask your mother. I shall not be here long.” said the monk.

Sri Ramakrishna went into the Kali temple and spoke of the matter to the Mother and in a state of trance heard Her command. “Yes, my boy, go and learn of him. It is for this purpose that he has come here.” In a state of semiconsciousness and with a beaming countenance, Sri Ramakrishna returned and said to Totapuri that he had his Mother’s permission. Totapuri could not help smiling at his apparent superstition in addressing the image in the temple as Mother, for, as a Vedantist, he looked upon Shakti.the kinetic state of Brahman, which Sri Ramakrishna worshipped as Mother as nothing but an illusion. However, he said nothing to Sri Ramakrishna on this point, thinking that under his training the disciple would soon learn the truth and spontaneously brush aside all superstitions.

Sri Ramakrishna had to be initiated into the sacred order of Sannyasa, before he could commence studying the truths of Vedanta. He said that he had no objection provided he could do so in private, for it would be too much for his aged mother, who was living at that time in the sacred precincts of the Dakshineswar Temple, to see her son shave his head and take the monk’s vow. To this Totapuri agreed. When the auspicious day arrived, Totapuri asked his disciple to perform the preliminary ceremonies. He went through all these exactly as he was told. The night was almost spent. The teacher and the disciple entered the meditation room. The Guru chanted the holy Mantras, which the disciple repeated as he put oblations one after another into the sacred fire, renouncing, as he did so, all desire for enjoyments, here and hereafter.

Prostrating himself before his Guru, Sri Ramakrishna took his seat to receive his instructions in Advaita (monistic) Vedanta. Totapuri asked him to meditate on the Formless God. Sri Ramakrishna tried, but each time the blissful form of the Divine Mother came and stood before him. Totapuri was impatient. He said, “ What? You can’t meditate on the Formless! But you must.” Sri Ramakrishna tried again. This time his mind went beyond all forms and merged into the Formless God.

Totapuri sat for a long time, silently watching his disciple. Finding him perfectly motionless, he locked the door and went out of the room. Three days passed, and still there was no call. In utter surprise Totapuri opened the door and found Sri Ramakrishna sitting in the very same position in which he had left him. With breathless wonder Totapuri stood before this august spectacle.Is it really true?. he said to himself,Is it possible that this man has attained in the course of a single day that which it took me forty years of strenuous practice to achieve?. Impelled by doubt, he made a searching examination. In joyous bewilderment he cried out, .Great God, it is nothing short of a miracle!. It was undoubtedly a case of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.the culmination of the Advaita practice! Totapuri immediately took steps to bring the mind of Sri Ramakrishna down to the world of phenomena. Little by little he came to the consciousness of the outside universe. He opened his eyes and saw his Guru looking at him with tenderness and admiration. The Guru answered the worthy disciple.s prostration by locking him in a warm embrace.

Totapuri usually did not stay at any one place for more than three days. But he wished to establish his wonderful new disciple firmly on the lofty pinnacle of Advaita. So he remained eleven months in the garden of Dakshineswar. During this time Totapuri also underwent some mental transformation. We have seen how he looked upon Sri Ramakrishna.s praying to the Divine Mother as a superstition. But circumstances compelled Totapuri to believe in the existence of the Divine Mother. Before he left Dakshineswar he realized that Brahman and Shakti are one and the same thing, the two aspects of the same entity.

Travelling into other faiths

As a result of the Advaita realization the mind of Sri Ramakrishna had acquired a wonderful breadth, accepting all forms of religion as so many ways of reaching perfection.

THE PRACTICE OF ISLAM:

Towards the end of 1866, soon after ,Sri Ramakrishna was attracted by the faith and devotion of a Sufi mystic, Govinda Ray by name, who had embraced Islam and lived at Dakshineswar at this time. Gradually it came to the mind of Sri Ramakrishna that, since Islam was also a means to the realization of God, he would see how the Lord blessed the devotees who worshipped that way. He therefore got the necessary initiation from Govinda. To the practice of this new religion the Master applied himself with his characteristic thoroughness. Then for three days, he forgot all abot his Divine Mother, and stopped going to the Kali temple. He went on repeating ‘Allah’ and recited the ‘Namaz’ (Islamic Prayers) regularly. He dressed and ate like a Muslim. After three days, he had a vision of a venerable person with a long beard and bright countenance, and this led him on the highest spiritual experience. The very fact that he practised Islam after attaining perfection in the Advaita makes it clear that only through thi, the underlying basis of all faiths, can the Hindus and Mohammedans be united with each other.

VISION OF JESUS CHRIST:

Seven years later he had a similar realization of Christianity. In 1874 Sri Ramakrishna came into intimate contact with Shambhu Nath Mallick of Calcutta, who had a garden close to the Dakshineswar Kali temple. Sri Ramakrishna used to spend a good deal of time in this garden-house of Shambhu Mallick, who came to regard Sri Ramakrishna with sincere love and esteem.Though not a Christian, he used to read the Bible to Sri Ramakrishna, who thus came to know about Christ and Christianity. He felt a strong desire to realize the Divine Mother by this new method, and it was fulfilled in a strange way.

One day Sri Ramakrishna was sitting in the parlour of a neighbouring house belonging to Jadulal Mallick, a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna. On the walls were many beautiful portraits, one of them being of Christ. Sri Ramakrishna was looking attentively at the picture of the Madonna with the Divine Child and reflecting on the wonderful life of Christ, when he felt as though the picture had become animated, and that rays of light were emanating from the figures of Mary and Christ and entering into him, altogether changing his mental outlook. With that, his mind became filled with thoughts of Christ. For three days, Sri Ramakrishna was in that condition. Even though he had returned to Dakshineshwar, he did not visit the Kali temple for those three days. On the fourth day, when he was walking near the Panchavati, he found a wonderful person of serene countenance coming towards him. Sri Ramakrishna wondered who he could be, when he heard an inner voice, “This is Christ who poured out his heart’s blood to save manking.” Then the glorious figure embraced him. At this Sri Ramakrishna went into Samadhi and lost all outward consciousness. Thus was Sri Ramakrishna convinced that Jesus Christ was an incarnation of the Lord.

It will be worthwhile to note here Sri Ramakrishna’s opinion of Buddha and other great founders of religion.

About Buddha he shared the general notion of the Hindus that he was an Incarnation of God. He used to offer him his sincere devotion and worship. Once he remarked,”There is not the least doubt about Lord Buddha being an Incarnation. There is no difference between his doctrines and those of the Vedic Jnanakanda.

About the Tirthankaras who founded the Jain religion, and the ten Sikh Gurus, Sri Ramakrishna heard a good deal in his later life from the lips of representatives of those communities and came to entertain a great regard for them. In his room at Dakshineswar there were a small statue of Tirthankara Mahavira and a portrait of Christ, before which incense was burnt morning and evening.

Of the Sikh Gurus, he used to say that they were all incarnations of the saintly king Janaka.

Thus, as a result of his realization through all forms of discipline, he was firmly convinced that all religions were true and that every doctrinal system represented a path to God. The three great system of thought known as Dualism, Qualified Monism and Monism.Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita, he perceived to be but different stages in man’s progress towards the goal. He held that they were not contradictory, but complementary, being suited to different mental outlooks.

Thus he used to say to his disciples: “I have practised all religions.Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God towards whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths.

The tank has several ghats. At one Hindus draw water in pitchers and call it jal; at another Mohammedans draw water in leathern bottles and call it pani; at a third Christians, and call it water. Can we imagine that the water is not jal, but only pani or water? How absurd! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same Substance. Every religion of the world is one such ghat. Go direct with a sincere and earnest heart by any of these ghats, and you will reach the water of Eternal Bliss. But say not that your religion is better than that of another. Different creeds are but different paths to reach the one God. Diverse are the ways that lead to the temple of Mother Kali at Kalighat in Calcutta. Similarly, various are the paths that take men to the house of the Lord. Every religion is nothing but one of such paths”.

Sri Ramakrishna now became convinced that his extraordinary spiritual struggles and realizations were not for himself, but to usher in a new era of spiritual unfoldment and to show mankind how to overcome the obstacles on the way to God-realization. He looked upon himself as an Incarnation of God, though he disliked any reference to it.

Finding Divinity in the wife

About the month of May in the year 1867 he started for Kamarpukur accompanied by Hriday and Bhairavi Brahmani for a change. Sri Ramakrishna stayed at Kamarpukur for six or seven months. It was a great relaxation for him to enter into the joys and sorrows of the simple village folk after the stormy days of Sadhana at Dakshineswar. Sarada Devi, his girl wife, was then staying with her father at Jayrambati.

Shortly after Sri Ramakrishna.s arrival, she was sent for. So Sarada Devi, or the Holy Mother as she became known later to the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, arrived at Kamarpukur.

Here was a chance for Sri Ramakrishna to test his realizations. By allowing the rightful privileges of her position to his wife, who was then a girl of fourteen, he subjected himself to an ordeal from which he emerged brighter than ever. He took special care that she had an all-round training in the discharge of her household duties. The Holy Mother was charmed with the ideal of pure and selfless love that was shown to her by her saintly husband; she was content to worship him as her Ishtadeva and by following in his footsteps to develop her own character. Sri Ramakrishna trained her not only in spiritual things but also in mundane matters that would make her an ideal mistress of the household.

But the Bhairavi Brahmani did not take kindly to the idea of Sri Ramakrishna.s doing his duty towards his wife. Perhaps she feared that this would endanger his celibate life. But the Master would not listen to her remonstrances. He remained unruffled and revered her as much as ever. The Brahmani was seized with a sense of false pride; and despite her attainments, she could not control herself. But subsequently she came to realize her mistakes. She one day approached Sri Ramakrishna with sandal paste and garlands of flowers which she had taken great pains to prepare, and with these adorned him as an Incarnation of Sri Chaitanya. She implored his forgiveness and bade farewell to Kamarpukur.

Sri Ramakrishna regained his former health as a result of his prolonged stay in the peaceful environs of his native village, and afterwards returned with Hriday to Dakshineswar.

The holy association of Saradamani with her God-intoxicated husband at Kamarpukur filled her pure heart with unspeakable delight. Referring to this joy, she said later on, “I used to feel always as if a pitcher full of bliss was placed in my heart.the joy was ineffable”.

Four years passed after that, and she was now a young woman of eighteen. Wild rumours reached her to the effect that her saintly husband had gone mad. After much thought she decided to go to Dakshineswar to see for herself, and reached the place in March 1872, in the company of her father. Sri Ramakrishna bestowed on her as much love and care as he had done previously. He sent her to live in the concert-room with his mother, who had already come there to spend the last days of her life by the side of the Ganga. Convinced after a few days. stay at Dakshineswar that Sri Ramakrishna was unchanged in his attitude towards her, Sarada Devi decided to remain there and give herself over to the service of Sri Ramakrishna and his mother.

Sri Ramakrishna now resumed his old task of teaching his wife, testing at the same time his own realization and discharging his duties as a husband. His teaching covered a wide range of subjects fromhousekeeping to the knowledge of Brahman. Not content with merely giving instructions, he took particular care to see that she carried them out, lovingly correcting any mistake.

A couple of months after the Holy Mother’s arrival, there arose a curious desire in Ramakrishna’s mind, which he lost no time in fulfilling.

It was the new moon of June 5, 1872, an auspicious night for the worship of Kali, and Sri Ramakrishna made special arrangements for it in his own room, instructing the Holy Mother to be present. She went there at 9 p.m. Sri Ramakrishna took the seat of the priest. After the preliminaries were over, he beckoned the Holy Mother to the seat which was reserved for the Goddess. Sarada Devi was in a semiconscious state. Sri Ramakrishna went through the regular form of worship in which the Holy Mother took the place of the Deity. During the ceremony she passed into Samadhi. Sri Ramakrishna too, when he had finished the Mantras, went into the super-conscious state. Priest and Goddess were joined in a transcendental union in the Self. At dead of night the Master partially recovered consciousness; then with the appropriate Mantra he surrendered himself and the fruits of his lifelong Sadhana,together with his rosary, at the feet of the Holy Mother and saluted her. With this sacred ceremony, called in the Tantras the ‘Shodashi- Puja’, or the worship of the Divine Mother Tripurasundari, was finished the long series of Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual practices.

One day Sarada Devi, as she was stroking the Master’s feet asked him, .What do you think of me? Quick came the answer, “The Mother who is worshipped in the temple is the mother who has given birth to this body and is now living in the concert-room, and she again is stroking my feet at this moment. Verily I always look upon you as the visible representation of the Blissful Mother.”

Months passed in this way, but not once did the minds of the divine couple come down to the sense-plane. This was possible, because both husband and wife had their minds attuned to the Infinite. In later days Sri Ramakrishna complimented Sarada Devi in unequivocal terms. He used to say: “After marriage I anxiously prayed to the Divine Mother to root out all sense of physical enjoyment from her mind. That my prayer had been granted I knew from my contact with her during this period.”

The Coming of the devotees

Sri Ramakrishna was now burning with a tremendous desire to meet his devotees, the favoured children of the Divine Mother.to whom he might pass his realizations for the good of humanity and the world.

About this time, Sri Ramakrishna came to be acquainted with Keshab Chandra Sen, the leader of BrahmoSamaj. He was a highly respected person and had many followers. A good number of them became devoted to Sri Ramakrishna. Besides, many people from the nearby city of Calcutta became attracted to Sri Ramakrishna. They were charmed at his kindness, for such cordiality and sympathy at first sight they had never experienced before. Sri Ramakrishna.s love seemed so new and so genuine to them, because it was selfless. From this time on, their lives took a different turn.

On Sundays, many of them would gather in his room at Dakshineshwar.Such occasions were full of joy. There would be group singing of devotional songs, and Sri Ramakrishna would join in and sing in his heavenly voice. Full of divine joy, he would dance and the devotees would dance around him in circle. Sometimes while dancing, Sri Ramakrishna would suddenly stop motionless, absorbed in God. The devotees would hold their breath and watch him in amazement. Many were the days that passed in Dakshineshwar in this way.

These devotees became acquainted with one another, and those who were practising religious exercises under the guidance of the Master formed themselves into a sort of spiritual brotherhood.Now and then Sri Ramakrishna would accept invitations from Calcutta to visit devotees, and these meetings gradually took the shape of little festivals.

Hundreds of such sincere devotees clustered round Sri Ramakrishna, whose pregnant utterances and magnetic personality completely changed the course of their lives and made them blessed.

Monastic disciples

The vision of Sri Ramakrishna that a galaxy of pure and earnest souls imbued with the lofty spirit of renunciation and service would receive his message of universal love and harmony and carry it to humanity soon came to be materialized. One by one these heroic souls who were subsequently transformed into mighty spiritual figures by the magic touch of the Master gathered round him.

This batch of disciples consisted mostly of ardent young men who afterwards left their hearth and home and embraced monastic life.

Among the college students who came to Sri Ramakrishna, was a remarkable youth whose name was Narendranath Datta. He had a strong physique and fine large eyes. He could sing beautifully in a melodious voice. He had a very sharp intellect. So keen was his memory that he could remember things read only once. He was good at games too, and a natural leader. With all this, he was pure in heart and longed for the knowledge of God.

He had visited a number of great men of Calcutta and had asked them about God and religon. They could not givve him replies that satisfied him. At last, one day he heard from one of his professors about Sri Ramakrishna. Thus it was that one day he went to meet Sri Ramakrishna.

As soon as Narendra entered his room, Sri Ramakrishna received him as if he were an old acquaintance. Narendra asked the question wich he had been asking each great man he had met, “Sir, have you seen God?”

Promptly came Sri Ramakrishna’s answer, “ Yes, I see Him just as I see you here, only more intensely.” And he continued, “God can be realised and seen and talked to. but who cares? People cry and weep for money and enjoyment, but who weeps for God?”

This impressed Narendra tremendously. For the first time here was a man who said he saw God. Further he met with so much love from Sri Ramakrishna. No wonder he developed a great respect for him.

As time went on, this relation matured into that of a Guru and disciple – the disciple being none other than the famous Swami Vivekananda, who spread Sri Ramakrishna’s message throughout the world!

Last days

Dakshineswar, once a silent and solitary retreat, was now the resort of hundreds of earnest souls who crowded his small room from morning till night to receive spiritual guidance. Sri Ramakrishna, without the least consideration for his personal comfort or convenience, always ministered to the spiritual needs of these eager aspirants with his usual alacrity and zeal.

Sometimes his small room would remain packed with devotees for hours together, and he could hardly get a moment’s respite for meals as also for giving relaxation to his overtaxed physical frame. His heart beat with every throb of all the hearts that ached, known and unknown, and he gave out his whole being unto them in the fullness of love and compassion. He often inspired the hearts of these sincere souls with his devotional songs and illuminating gospel as also with the narration of his own spiritual struggles and realizations.

Sometimes his room would ring with the swelling cadence of songs sung with unspeakable fervour by the assembled devotees. The whole atmosphere remained surcharged with spirituality, and everyone that came into intimate touch with the Master felt a maddening enthusiasm for God-realization. There is a saying that when the flower blooms, bees come uninvited to suck the honey therefrom. This was exactly the case with Sri Ramakrishna. Attracted by Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual life, persons of all denominations and stations of life began to flock to him.

But his feeble health began to break down under the stress of constant ecstasies and frequent religious discourses to numerous devotees.

But in spite of this tremendous physical exertion, he did not in the least relax his effort to give spiritual comfort to the distressed souls, even if they came to him at odd hours. He never turned anybody away. His temporary sense of bodily weakness was swept away by the spirit of his infinite compassion for ignorant and suffering humanity.

He would burst out saying, “Let me be condemned to be born over and over again even in the form of a dog. If by doing so I can be of help to a single soul. I would give up twenty thousand such bodies to help one man. It is glorious to help even one man.”

So deep was his solicitude for all that he sometimes blamed himself for falling into trances, as they absorbed much of the time that could otherwise have been utilized for the spiritual benefit of others.

During the sultry months of the year 1885, Sri Ramakrishna suffered a great deal from the terrible heat, which was alleviated by the taking of ice the devotees brought to him daily. But this frequent use of ice produced a pain in the throat which was at first so trifling as to pass unnoticed. But in a month it became so aggravated that the disciples grew alarmed and called in a specialist in diseases of the throat. Notwithstanding the prescription of various remedies, his condition did not show any sign of improvement. On days of the full and the new moon, the pain became more acute; it was impossible for him to eat solid food. The doctors diagnosed the disease as ‘Clergyman’s sore throat’.

Sri Ramakrishna carried out the doctors’ injunctions faithfully, except on two points, namely checking the divine ecstasies and giving rest to the vocal organs. As soon as he spoke of God, he lost all consciousness of the body and fell into Samadhi. Nor would he stop speaking to people who, afflicted by the world, came to him for solace. No wonder his health broke down.

The disease proved more and more obstinate. A house was soon engaged at Shyampukur in Calcutta, and in the beginning of October 1885, Sri Ramakrishna was removed to the new premises to provide better facilities for medical care. Dr. Mahendra Lal Sarkar, the then veteran homoeopath and the founder of the Association for the Cultivation of Science, was entrusted with the treatment of Sri Ramakrishna. When Dr. Sarkar learnt that the devotees who had brought the Master to Calcutta for treatment were defraying all expenses, he offered his services free as a labour of love.

The devotees now keenly felt the necessity of securing able hands to prepare Sri Ramakrishna’s food and to nurse him by night as well as by day. It could be done only through the combined efforts of the Holy Mother and the young devotees. News was accordingly sent to the Holy Mother at Dakshineswar. Thus when the question of preparing the diet was settled, attention was given to the matter of night duty. Narendra Nath took this charge upon himself and began to pass the night at Shyampukur. Fired by his example, a few sturdy youths lent their aid. Narendra’s sacrifice for the sake of the Master, his inspiring talks and association with them made an indelible impression upon their minds; and banishing all selfishness, they resolved to consecrate their lives to the noble ideal of service unto the Guru and realization of God. It is interesting to note that though only four or five were attracted to this service of love at its initial stage at Shyampakur, the number of such workers was almost quadrupled towards the last.

The guardians of the boys, seeing them neglect their studies and stay with the Master, grew alarmed and had recourse to various means to bring them back to their homes. But the boys, with the glorious object lesson of Narendra Nath before them, stood firm as rocks. The selfless enthusiasm of the devotees centred on a common object of adoration, immediately binding them together; and the Ramakrishna Brotherhood, though it had its origin at Dakshineswar, owed most of its growth to the holy associations of Shyampukur and the Cossipore garden.

Dr. Mahendra Lal Sarkar took up in right earnest the task of treating the Master. After the examination was over he would spend hours with Sri Ramakrishna in various religious discourses. Thus by degrees Dr. Sarkar became more and more attached to the Master. As a result of this intimate relationship established between the Master and Dr. Sarkar, the latter’s admiration for the former soon ripened into a kind of worship.

More than two months passed, but there was no sign of improvement. On the contrary the condition of the Master was gradually going from bad to worse. When treatment proved ineffectual, Dr. Sarkar advised a change to some garden-house outside the city.

Accordingly a spacious gardenhouse at Cossipore was hired. In the afternoon of the 11th of December 1885, Sri Ramakrishna was removed to the new premises.

At the Cossipore garden was played the last act of Sri Ramakrishna’s life on the physical plane. On the eve of his exit from the arena of the world, Sri Ramakrishna showed himself at his highest, and making Narendra Nath the fit instrument for the propagation of his ideas, entrusted to him the charge of his flock.

Soon after coming, the boys divided among themselves the task of cooking, marketing and other household duties. The Holy Mother had the charge of preparing the food as well as of feeding the Master.

Narendra was the leader of the young disciples. When they were not occupied in the service of the Master, he would bring them together and engage them in meditation, study, discussion, or songs. Thus busied they were always in a delightful atmosphere, and time passed unnoticed. Though the number of these sacrificing youths did not exceed twelve, yet every one of them, by the consecration of his life to the service of the Guru, appeared a tower of strength.

At this time occurred an event of great importance; showing Sri Ramakrishna’s wonderful love for his devotees and his extraordinary spiritual power. It was the 1st of January 1886. Sri Ramakrishna felt much better and wished to take a walk in the garden. lt was about three in the afternoon. As it was a holiday, about thirty lay disciples were present, some in the hall and others under the trees. When Sri Ramakrishna came down, those in the hall saluted him and followed him at a distance as he walked slowly towards the gate. Sri Ramakrishna suddenly said to Girish Chandra Ghosh, (one of his ardent devotees ) “Well, Girish, what have you found in me that you proclaim me before all as an Incarnation?” Girish, not at all taken aback by the question, knelt before him with folded hands and said in a voice shaken with emotion, .What can an insignificant creature like me say about One whose glory even sages like Vyasa and Valmiki could not measure?. Hearing these words, spoken with the greatest intensity, Sri Ramakrishna was deeply moved and said: “What more shall I say? I bless you all! Be illumined!” Saying this he fell into a state of semi-consciousness. The devotees heard these solemn words and became mad with joy. Overwhelmed with emotion they moved forward to take the dust of his feet and saluted him. At this manifestation of devotion, Sri Ramakrishna.s mercy overstepped its bounds and he touched them all, one by one, with appropriate blessings. This powerful touch revolutionized their minds, and the devotees, so blessed by the Master, had wonderful spiritual experiences. They, upon coming down from that state of spiritual exaltation, realized that, like a ‘Kalpataru’ (the celestial wishfulfilling tree) Sri Ramakrishna was showering his grace upon all without distinction.

Sri Ramakrishna, knowing his end to be very near, was busy preparing his chief disciple, Narendra Nath, for the great task which was later to be his. One day Sri Ramakrishna expressly commissioned him to look after the young devotees, saying, “I leave them in your care. See that they practise spiritual exercises and do not return home”. He was thus silently training them for the monastic life; and one day he asked Narendra and other young men to beg their food in the streets. They all went out with begging bowls in hand. Sri Ramakrishna was overjoyed to think that before long these young men, clad in the ochre robe of the Sannyasin, would go out into the world, begging their food from door to door, and confer upon humanity the highest blessings of religion.

One day, a devotee expressed his desire to Sri Ramakrishna to distribute ochre cloths and Rudraksha rosaries among Sannyasins. Pointing to his young disciples, Sri Ramakrishna answered, “You won’t find better monks than these anywhere. Give your clothes and things to them”. The devotee placed a bundle of ochre clothes before the Master, who distributed them among his young disciples. One evening Sri Ramakrishna made them go through a ceremony and permitted them to receive food from the houses of all irrespective of caste. Thus it was that the disciples were initiated into the monastic order by Sri Ramakrishna himself, and the foundation of the future Ramakrishna Order was laid.

In the meanwhile Sri Ramakrishna was sinking daily; his body was worn to a skeleton, and his diet was reduced to a minimum. All this grieved the devotees. They knew now that they were going to lose the great mainstay of their lives. When the pain was excruciating, Sri Ramakrishna would only whisper with a smile, “Let the body and its pain take care of each other, thou, my mind, be always in bliss!”

The devotees, however, begged him to ask the Divine Mother to make his body last; but he gazed at them tenderly and said, “How can I ask Her for anything when my will is entirely merged in Hers?” In spite of failing strength the Master continued his spiritual work.

About eight or nine days before his passing, Sri Ramakrishna asked one of his disciples,Yogin, to read to him from the Bengali almanac the dates from the twenty-fifth Shravana (9th August) onwards. Yogin read until he came to the last day(15th August) of the month. Sri Ramakrishna then made a sign that he did not want to hear any more.

Four or five days after this, Sri Ramakrishna called Narendra to his side. There was nobody else in the room. He made Narendra sit before him and gazing at him fell into Samadhi. Narendra felt a subtle force like an electric shock penetrating his body. Gradually he too lost outward consciousness. He did not remember how long he sat there. When he came to normal consciousness, he found Sri Ramakrishna in tears. The Master said to him, “Today I have given you all and have become a Fakir ! Through this power you will do immense good to the world, and then only shall you go back”. In this way Sri Ramakrishna passed on his powers to Narendra; henceforth the Master and the disciple became one soul.

A couple of days later the idea entered Narendra’s mind of testing Sri Ramakrishna.s statement that he was an Incarnation. He said to himself, “If in the midst of this dreadful physical pain he can declare his Godhead, then I shall believe him”. Strange to say, the moment this thought came to him, Sri Ramakrishna summoning all his energy said distinctly, “He who was Rama and Krishna, is now Ramakrishna in this body,but not in your Vedantic sense!” Narendra was stricken with shame and remorse for having doubted his Master even after so many revelations.

At last the eventful day arrived, a day of intense grief for the devotees. It was Sunday, August 15, 1886, the last day of Shravana. Sri Ramakrishna’s suffering was at its highest. The devotees wept in grief. They stood by the bed-side of their Master. In the evening he suddenly fell into Samadhi. The body became stiff. There was something about this Samadhi which struck them as unusual, and he began to weep. After midnight Sri Ramakrishna regained consciousness.

Then Sri Ramakrishna in a clear voice uttered thrice the name of Kali and gently lay down. Suddenly at two minutes past one, a thrill passed through his divine body, making the hair stand on end. The eyes became fixed on the tip of the nose and the face was lit up with a smile. Sri Ramakrishna entered into Mahasamadhi. Thus in the early hours of Monday, the 16th of August 1886, Sri Ramakrishna departed from the world, leaving behind a host of grief-stricken devotees and admirers.

At five p.m. the sacred body was brought down and laid on a cot. It was dressed in ochre cloth and decorated with sandal-paste and flowers. An hour later, the body was carried to the burning ghat at Cossipore, to the accompaniment of devotional music. Spectators shed tears as they saw the solemn procession pass. The body was placed on the funeral pyre, and within a couple of hours everything was finished.

A calm resignation came to the devotees as they prepared to leave the cremation ground, for they all realized Sri Ramakrishna’s eternal presence within. He, their Lord, was the same in the disembodied state as in the physical life. According to his own words, he had passed from one chamber to another, that was all. They put the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna’s body into an urn and returned to the Cossipore garden, shouting

"Jai Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna Dev Ki"

(Victory to Bhagavan Ramakrishna!”)

APPENDIX-I
World Thinkers on Sri Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is the epitome of the whole. His was the great super-conscious life which alone can witness to the infinitude of the current that bears us all oceanwards. He is the proof of the Power behind us, and the future before us.

-Sri Aurobindo

Ramakrishna was a living embodiment of godliness. His sayings are not those of a mere learned man but they are pages from the Book of Life. They are revelations of his own experiences. They therefore leave on the reader an impression which he cannot resist. In this age of skepticism Ramakrishna presents an example of a bright and living faith which gives solace to thousands of men and women who would otherwise have remained without spiritual light. Ramakrishna's life was an object-lesson in Ahimsa. His love knew no limits, geographical or otherwise. May his divine love be an inspiration to all.

-Mahatma Gandhi

The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people. Although he has been dead forty years, his soul animates modern India. He was no hero of action like Gandhi, no genius in art or thought like Gandhi or Tagore. He was a little village Brahmin of Bengal whose outer life was set in a limited frame without striking incident, outside the social and political activity of the time. But his inner life embraced the whole multiplicity of men and Gods. It was a part of the very source of Energy, the Divine Shakti.

-Romain Rolland

To the Paramahamsa Deva,

"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.

-Rabindranath Tagore

The fervent love of God, nay, the sense of complete absorption in Godhead, has nowhere found a stronger and more eloquent expression than in the utterances of Ramakrishna. They show the exalted nature of his faith. How deep he has seen into the mysteries of knowledge and love of God we see from his sayings... These utterances of Ramakrishna reveal to us not only his own thoughts, but the faith and hope of millions of human beings.. .This constant sense of the presence of God is indeed the common ground on which we may hope that in time not too distant, the great temple of the future will be erected, in which the Hindus and non-Hindus may join hands and hearts in worshipping the same Supreme Spirit -- who is not far from every one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being.

-Max Muller

Sri Ramakrishna was completely beyond the average run of men. He appears rather to belong to the tradition of the great rishis of India, who have come from time to time to turn our attention to the higher things of life and of the spirit.

-Jawaharlal Nehru

This is the story of a phenomenon. I will begin by calling him simply that rather than 'holy man,' 'mystic,' 'saint,' or 'avatar;' all emotive words with mixed associations which may attract some readers, repel others. A phenomenon is often something extraordinary and mysterious. Ramakrishna was extraordinary and mysterious; most of all to those who were best fitted to understand him. A phenomenon is always a fact, an object of experience. That is how I shall try to approach Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna's life, being comparatively recent history, is well documented. In this respect, it has the advantage over the lives of other earlier phenomena of a like nature. I believe, or am at least strongly inclined to believe, that he was what his disciples declared that he was: an incarnation of God upon earth.

-Christopher Isherwood