Arrival of Totapuri in Dakshineswar
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 became 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 into monkhood by a yogi who was the head of a monastery of the Naga sect at Ludhiana in Punjab. It is said that he practised sadhana in a secluded forest on the banks of the sacred Narmada and attained the Nirvikalpa Samadhi state after rigid discipline extending over forty years. After the passing away of his Guru, Totapuri took over as the head of the monastery.
Asking Mother’s Permission
The bright face of 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.
Initiation Into Advaita
Sri Ramakrishna had to be initiated into the sacred order of Sanyasa, 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. Totapuri agreed to this. 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.
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 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.
The Practise of Islam
As a result of the Advaita realization the mind of Sri Ramakrishna had acquired a wonderful breadth, accepting all forms of religion as the many ways of reaching perfection.
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 about 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 this, the underlying basis of all faiths, can the Hindus and Mohammedans be united with each other.
Illustrations by Smt. Hema Satagopan
- Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master by Swami Saradananda, Translated by Swami Jagadananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai - 600 004
- The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1974)
- The Path Divine, Sathya Sai Balvikas Magazine, Dharmakshetra, Mahakali Caves Road, Andheri (East), Mumbai - 400 093
- A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, published by Swami Tattwavidananda, Adhyaksha, Advaita Ashrama, Uttarkhand, Himalayas from its Publication Department, Kolkata
- The Story of Ramakrishna, Published by Swami Bodhasarananda, Advaitha Ashrama, Uttarkhand, from its Publications Department, Kolkata