Sri Ramakrishna was born on the eighteenth of February in the year 1836 in the village of Kamarpukur, located approximately sixty miles away from the city of Kolkata. His mother and father, Kshudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandramani Devi, were struggling financially, yet they were both very devout and righteous people. The villagers held a special place in their hearts for Ramakrishna, whose childhood name was Gadadhar. Even though he was a young boy, he had an impressive talent when it came to singing and painting. He had a huge respect for religious individuals and was always keen to serve them and take in their guidance.
It was a common occurrence to find him in a state of meditation, deeply contemplating spiritual musings. Adhering to a variety of spiritual practices from the Hindu customs of Bhakti yoga, Tantra, and Advaita Vedanta as well as from Islam and Christianity, he proclaimed that all of the world's religions can be seen as "various paths leading to the same endpoint", thus affirming the essential unity of religions.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (18th February 1836 - 16th August 1886)
From a young age, Ramakrishna felt spiritual ecstasies, and shortly after he began his spiritual journey, he was appointed as a priest at the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, a temple built by Rani Rashmoni. Not long after, his mystical disposition was widely lauded by the general public, ultimately resulting in him being revered as a Guru, who then drew the attention of numerous religious teachers, prominent figures in society, Bengali elites, and ordinary people. After Ramakrishna passed away, his disciple Swami Vivekananda took it upon himself to spread his teachings and started the Ramakrishna Math to help provide spiritual guidance to monastics and laypeople and the Ramakrishna Mission to help with charity, social work and education.
First spiritual experience
At around the age of six or seven, Ramakrishna experienced a spiritual moment that left him in a trance-like state. As he meandered along the slender ridges of a paddy field, snacking on some puffed rice from a little basket, he caught sight of a multitude of milky white cranes, soaring against the backdrop of inky black clouds, which quickly engulfed the entire sky in rain. His attention was so captivated by the beauty of the sight in front of him that he completely lost himself in it, only to find himself collapsed on the ground with rice spread everywhere.
At the age of nine, he was granted the sacred thread in accordance with the Brahminical tradition, making him eligible to conduct the necessary ritual worship. He would later assist his family in carrying out the rituals and religious ceremonies that honoured their deities. His devoted worship resulted in him entering a state of Bhava-Samadhi or Savikalpa-Samadhi. It is believed that he faced similar situations during his childhood in a few separate incidents, such as when he was offering reverence to the Goddess Vishalakshi and depicting the God Shiva in a play during the Shivaratri festival.
Serving as Dakshineswar Temple Priest
At the age of sixteen, Sri Ramakrishna's brother Ramkumar brought him to Kolkata to help him in the practice of his priestly duties. In the year 1855, Rani Rasmani had the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar constructed and Ramkumar was appointed as the head priest of the temple when it was consecrated. Several months after his death, Ramakrishna was appointed as the priest in his place. Ramakrishna devoted himself to reverently worshipping Mother Kali and spent hours in passionate adoration of her image, neglecting any of his priestly duties. His intense yearning eventually resulted in him seeing Mother Kali, her limitless brilliance surrounding everything that was around him.
In response to Sri Ramakrishna's extreme spiritual state, his relatives from Kamarpukur decided to arrange a marriage for him to Sarada, a girl from the nearby village of Jayrambati. Uninfluenced by the marriage, Sri Ramakrishna devoted himself even more heavily to spiritual exercises. Driven by a powerful inner compulsion to explore the different aspects of God, he embarked upon a spiritual journey with the aid of various Gurus, delving into the various paths described in the Hindu scriptures, eventually achieving God-realization through every one of them.
In 1861 an exceptional woman, Bhairavi Brahmani, who was knowledgeable in scriptures, arrived at Dakshineswar, bringing with her remarkable spiritual aptitude. She assisted Sri Ramakrishna in mastering the various tough disciplines of the Tantrik path, and he ultimately achieved success in all of them. Three years after the monk Totapuri arrived, he provided guidance to Sri Ramakrishna, leading him to the highest spiritual experience of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which is mentioned in the Hindu scriptures.
During the six months of his non-dual state, he was so removed from reality that he had no knowledge of his own body. By following this approach, Sri Ramakrishna was able to embody the spiritual practices of the Hindu religion that have been in existence for three millennia.
Honoring His Wife
When he was nineteen, his wife Sarada travelled from their village to see him in 1872. He warmly welcomed her and instructed her on the various tasks of running a household, while also showing her how to have an incredibly fulfilling spiritual life. At the Dakshineswar temple one night, he showed his reverence and respect for her by worshipping her as the Divine Mother in his own room. Even though Sarada stayed by his side, they both dedicated their lives to living a life of purity and the relationship between them was strictly spiritual.
Sri Ramakrishna had taken the vows of a monk and followed them with perfect discipline which should be acknowledged here. He lived his life as an ordinary person on the outside, displaying humility, love, and possessing an innocent simplicity. Rani Rasmani provided patronage to Sri Ramakrishna during the entirety of his stay at Dakshineswar. Mathur Nath Biswas, his son-in-law, assumed responsibility to meet his needs after her death.
Respecting Other Faiths
His insatiable quest for a deeper understanding of God led Sri Ramakrishna to explore the limits of Hinduism, traverse the paths of both Islam and Christianity, and in a short amount of time, attain the highest form of spiritual realization through each of them. He viewed Jesus and Buddha as manifestations of God, and revered the ten Sikh Gurus. In twelve years of spiritual realizations, he was able to express the core of his beliefs in a simple phrase; Yato mat, tato path, which translates to “As many faiths, so many paths.” His daily life was one of heightened awareness in which he was able to recognize the presence of God in all living creatures.
Interaction with Notables
Sri Ramakrishna was known as an illumined saint. At the peak of its popularity in Bengal was the socio-religious movement known as Brahmo Samaj, which was founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. During his life, Sri Ramakrishna was in contact with many of the leaders and members of the Brahmo Samaj, and his impact on them was profound. People of various religious denominations were drawn to his teachings on harmony between religions, transforming Dakshineswar into a Parliament of Religions.
Devotees and their dedication
Devotees began to arrive in numbers to pay homage to Sri Ramakrishna. He was able to separate them into two distinct groups. The first group of people in the community was composed of householders. He provided them with the knowledge of how to comprehend and appreciate the power of God while they completed their family responsibilities in the world.
He dedicated himself to the training of a group of learned and educated youths from middle class families of Bengal, so that they could become monks and spread his significant message to the world to the other group. Narendranath was the most prominent among them and years later, he became known as Swami Vivekananda and took the teachings of Vedanta to numerous corners of the world, reinvigorating Hinduism and enlivening the soul of India.
Although Sri Ramakrishna did not write any book, he did not provide any public lectures either. He opted to speak in a plain language, by utilizing parables and metaphors to explain and illustrate his point, utilizing stories from nature and from things of common use in everyday life. His conversations were alluring and appealed to the cultural elite of Bengal, who all gathered around him.
Mahendranath Gupta, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, wrote down these conversations and published them as a book called Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita in Bengali. The English translation of Sri Ramakrishna's gospel was released in 1942, and it has been a source of inspiration for many ever since.
Sri Ramakrishna's health was affected by his profound spiritual life and his ceaseless spiritual guidance he offered to the numberless seekers that visited him. In 1885, he was diagnosed with a cancerous growth in his throat. He was moved to a spacious suburban villa, and his devoted disciples attended to him 24 hours a day. Through his teachings, he encouraged them to appreciate and love one another, and this formed the basis for the formation of the Ramakrishna Math, a renowned monastic brotherhood. In the early hours of 16 August 1886, Sri Ramakrishna left his mortal body and passed into eternity, calling out the name of the Divine Mother.
Influence on World
- Spiritual Goal: The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna have had an incredible impact on the modern world, specifically in regards to his re-establishment of the spiritual ideal of reaching divine knowledge and understanding through God realization. In a world that is increasingly under siege by atheism, materialism, and scientific thought, Sri Ramakrishna opened the door to a direct experience of an ultimate transcendent Reality that is beyond the reach of traditional religious teachings. Through his life, thousands of people have found or regained their faith in God and the lasting principles of religion. As Mahatma Gandhi noted, Ramakrishna's life offers us the chance to come face to face with God.
- Unity in Faith: Sri Ramakrishna is renowned across the world for his promotion of harmony between religions and his efforts to unite them. He was adamant that all religions do not share the same set of beliefs and values. Despite the seemingly various beliefs held across various religions, he argued that they all ultimately lead to the same destination and thus, they cannot be deemed invalid nor untrue. The idea of Pluralism, which is widely accepted and known today, is largely attributed to the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.
- Unique View: Unlike many other philosophies based on mere speculation, Sri Ramakrishna's view was unique in that it was founded on direct experience gained through his own practice. As religious strife and the growing trend of religious fundamentalism represent an alarming threat to the peace, wealth, and progress of mankind, the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna advocating for harmony among religions have immense significance in the contemporary world.
- Spirit to Unify Human Race: Arnold Toynbee, an esteemed British historian, wrote about Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna's evidence of the harmony of religions, indicating that this attitude and spirit can make it possible for the human race to become unified as one family and in the Atomic Age, this is the only way to prevent ourselves from destroying each other.
- Bridging the gap between antiquity and modernity: Sri Ramakrishna is the real bridge between the past and the present, linking the ancient to the modern. He illustrated how ancient ideals and experiences could still be fulfilled, even though one is living in the modern world.
- Uplift spirits: The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna have been a great source of inspiration and have provided a significant boost to the moral life of modern times through his emphasis on truthfulness and renunciation of lust and greed. He purified religious life by getting rid of immoral practices, focusing on practical rather than external pomp, and not encouraging miracle mongering.
- Love as a divine power: Sri Ramakrishna was able to elevate love from a mere emotion to an experience of the union of all souls in God, which he referred to as divinization of love. The Upanishads describe the principle of oneness of the Supreme Self and its immanence in all beings as a core concept, however this was not often taken into consideration in day to day life.
- Divine in Everyone: Sri Ramakrishna had an immense capacity for seeing the Divine in everyone, from his beloved wife, to his devoted disciples, as well as in strangers and even in those who had been judged and looked down upon, and he treated them all with the utmost respect. The well-known statement from the New Testament, “God is Love”, was proven to be true by Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna's teaching of the divine nature of love and human relationships is of great significance for the welfare of mankind.
The life of Ramakrishna Paramahansa is a remarkable narrative that reflects his profound devotion to uncovering the deepest spiritual wisdom. His birthplace was a small village in Bengal, and since a young age, he had many spiritual visions and interactions, compelling him to search for various spiritual teachers and paths.
By continually practicing and fully investing himself into his studies, Ramakrishna eventually achieved an enlightenment of the ultimate reality, which he described as an experience of the divine mother Kali. He inspired many followers and disciples, such as Swami Vivekananda, who took his teachings and spread them around the world, by emphasizing the value of direct experience and the unity of all religions.
The biography of Ramakrishna is remarkable as it highlights his immense caring nature for every being, his unique approach to spiritual practice, and his boldness to challenge the norms of both religion and society. He was determined to remain true to spiritual truth and serve humanity despite the difficulties and opposition he faced.
Even to this day, the teachings and values of Ramakrishna Paramahansa are still being upheld and spread through the Ramakrishna Mission and the Vedanta Society, allowing his legacy to live on. His biography is a source of inspiration to those seeking spiritual answers, and a reminder of the strength of faith and dedication in the pursuit of spiritual understanding.