Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa – The Great Sage of 19th Century

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is one of the greatest saints of the 19th century. His whole life was an undisturbed contemplation of God in the form of Goddess Kali. Seekers from all around the world are very interested in the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.

Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna is a great Indian saint of India and a Mahatma. According to Indian tradition, a person who, having cognized the Absolute as Reality, feels and notices the Divine Essence in all animate and inanimate objects of the universe is Mahatma.

A true mahatma has no attachment to his body or sense of gratification. He is a living God, absolutely free, and the radiant light of Divine wisdom always shines from within his being; his heart is overflowing with Divine love. His body and mind become instruments of the Divine will.

The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa led to the establishment of the Ramakrishna Mission through his student Swami Vivekananda. Both were influential figures in the Bengali and Hindu Renaissance in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The early life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

On February 18, 1936, a son was born to the family of a poor brahmana from the village of Kamarpukur, located one hundred and twenty-two kilometers from Calcutta. He was the fourth of five children of Khudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandramani Devi. Later, the world will know about this Indian boy as a great Ramakrishna.

At birth, Ramakrishna received the name, Gadadhar. At age five, he was sent to a village school, where he learned to read, write, and count. But the boy was not interested in the school curriculum but in the life of the great saints and sages.

One day he was walking a narrow path through a rice field and ate puffed rice as he walked. Suddenly his gaze fell on a flock of snow-white cranes, which flew like a wedge against the background of a dark thundercloud that covered the horizon. This beautiful, contrasting picture caused a state of trance in Gadadhar, and the boy lost consciousness of the outside world.

The villagers found him lying in the field and carried him home. This was probably the first experience of the divine ecstasy of Gadadhar.

Gadadhara’s father died when the boy was seven years old. The elder brother Ramkumar moved to Calcutta and opened a school there. Later in 1852, Gadadhar, already a teenager, moved to Calcutta with his brother to assist him in the priestly works.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa as a priest

At this time, one woman from the Sudras (lower caste), Rani Rasmani, founded a temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess Kali in Dakshineswar, six kilometers on the left bank of the Ganges from Calcutta established by Rani Rashmoni (Queen of Janbazar). It was very difficult for her to find a brahmana who would take on the duties of a temple priest.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Dakshineswar Kali Temple was built under the aegis of Rani Rashmani in 1855. Sri Ramakrishna lived a major part of his life here

Ramkumar went for it in 1855, although his younger brother Gadadhar, who at that time was sensitive to caste issues, found it difficult to put up with this situation. Over time, however, he became more tolerant of this. When Ramkumar passed away the following year, Gadadhar reluctantly agreed to replace him. At this time, he was 20 years old.

Gradually, a desire to see the Divine began to grow in him. This desire so captured the young Brahmin that he could no longer pray or perform the rites of worship. He left the temple and settled in a small grove nearby. He completely forgot about himself, did not notice anything around him, and if it were not for the relative who looked after him, he would have died of exhaustion.

He thought only of Mother-Goddess Kali and constantly invoked her, but to no avail. Despair took possession of him. He decided that he was not giving enough, not showing enough love and that he had to eliminate all prejudices and attachments. Then he destroyed all his small property.

Meeting with Goddess Kali

Ramakrishna Paramahansa risked his life to destroy the invisible barrier between him and the Mother, falling into such deep ecstatic states that the soul could leave the body forever. And then, one day, the whole world drowned for him in the endless ocean of light. Mother Kali appeared before him. Numerous spiritual experiences began to come to him, and wonderful visions appeared.

From that day on, he constantly strove to repeat this state of deep immersion in the Divine consciousness – the state of trance (Samadhi) and plunged into it deeper and deeper. His way of worshiping the Divine Mother became even more non-canonical: for Ramakrishna, Mother was no longer a statue to be worshiped in a strictly prescribed manner. Now She was real, much more real than the world around her.

Deity of Ma Kali of Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Deity of Ma Kali of Dakshineswar Kali Temple

Since then, his nights and days have passed in constant communication with his beloved Mother. It was an endless conversation, uninterrupted, like a river flowing past a temple. Finally, he completely merged with Her. Gradually the light of his inner vision manifested itself outside. People around him could experience his divine presence.

Seeing God in Every Being

He was no longer able to fulfill his duties in the temple. In the ceremony, he would suddenly lose consciousness of the outer world and dwell deep into the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. This continued for six months. His body would have left this world early if his nephew had not been near him, taking care of his basic needs.

 Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
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He was losing weight every day. After a long period, when he started to see God in every person, a period came when he began to transform himself into one God, then into another. So he dressed and became like Kali, Rama, Radha, Sita, and even Hanuman.

When his relatives and well-wishers saw him in this state, they decided to take him to a brothel where young women surrounded Ramakrishna. But he behaved like a child, seeing in them the Divine Mother. The women were ashamed that they wanted to be used to tempt a holy man and fell at his feet.

Marriage of Ramakrishna

In 1859, at 23, Ramakrishna married Sarada Devi, who was six years old. Sounds very unusual, but during that time in Bengal, marriage was seen more like a promise of marriage. So Sarada Devi continued to grow up with her own family and only came to Ramakrishna later (much later); the marriage was never “consummated.

Sri Sarada Devi

Sarada Devi was a devotee of her husband, and she was later venerated as a great saint. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa also worshiped his wife Sarada Devi like a saint; he put her on the altar and performed extensive rituals for her worship and always called her Divine Mother.

Bhairavi Brahmani and Tantra

After returning to Dakshineswara in 1860, Ramakrishna’s divine madness resumed, temporarily ending in Kamarpukur. Burning all over the body began again. Ramakrishna’s aversion to worldly things and his unconventional practices reached new extremes. He wanted to erase from his consciousness any sense of attachment to wealth.

During this period, he had several visions that gave him insight into the deeper aspects of spiritual life. The teachers came to the stage of his life as needed to teach him the methods of their spiritual schools.

Bhairavi Brahmani was the first to arrive. While collecting flowers in the temple garden, Ramakrishna saw an approaching boat, a beautiful middle-aged woman in ochre clothes. When she was escorted to his room, she immediately recognized him as one of her three disciples, whom the Divine Mother had sent her to teach.

Under the guidance of Bhairavi, Shri Ramakrishna practiced the most complex tantric sadhana and strengthened his comprehension of the Divine Mother.

Tantras transform ordinary sensory pleasures into spiritual practices that lead to the union of the Jivatman (individual soul) with the Paramatman (Supreme Soul). Ramakrishna had no difficulty practicing the methods of all sixty-four tantras and attained the Divine through them.

Ramakrishna’s Tantric sadhana was followed by Vaishnava sadhanas. In them, the devotee accepts five different expressions of love of God: he relates to God as a parent to a child or as a child to a parent (Vatsalya), as a friend relates to a friend (Sakhya), as a calm mind to all-encompassing love (Santa), as a servant to the master (Dasya) and loving to the beloved (Madhura).

Ramakrishna meets Totapuri Baba.

Towards the end of 1864, Tota Puri meets Ramakrishna in the Dakshineswar temple. He was an extraordinary ascetic, a follower of the Vedanta, a wandering monk from the Punjab who had reached the highest revelation by forty years of training.

Totapuri Baba
Totapuri Baba (source)

Totapuri Baba was never supposed to stay in one place for more than three days. He saw Ramakrishna sitting on the steps of the Dakshineswar temple. The look of the young priest struck Tota Puri, and he turned to Ramakrishna: My son, I see that you have already advanced far along the path of truth. If you want, I can help you reach the next step. I will teach you Vedanta.

Ramakrishna Paramhansa replied that he first had to ask the permission of Mother (Kali). Permission has been obtained. Then he meekly and with complete confidence surrendered himself to the power of the divine leader.

Tota Puri Baba became his Guru and put his new disciple on the path of monism, initiating him into sanyas, that is, into monasticism, complete renunciation of the world.

He asked Ramakrishna to ascend with the mind to the sphere of the Absolute Brahman, eternally free, abiding outside of time, space, and causality. Ramakrishna immediately freed his mind from all relative thoughts except one — the thought of his Divine Mother.

Totapuri taught him the doctrine of Advaita – that Brahman alone is real and the world is an illusion. I have no separate existence; I am the Brahman alone.

Under the guidance of Totapuri, Ramakrishna allegedly experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi, considered the highest level of spiritual knowledge.

Totapuri stayed with Ramakrishna for almost 11 months and further instructed him in the teachings of Advaita. Ramakrishna said that this Nirvikalpa Samadhi period ended when he received an order from Mother Kali to stay in Bhavamukha to take care of the people’s education.

Bhavamukha is a state of existence between samadhi and normal consciousness.

Islam and Christianity

After the departure of TotaPuri (Late 1865), Ramakrishna continued, straining all his strength, to strive for identity with the Absolute.

God is one, but He has many names. The Substance is one but is worshipped under different names according to the time, place and nationality of His worshippers.⠀When there is true devotion and love, one can reach God by any of the sectarian religions. The Vaishnavas, the worshippers of Krishna, will attain God in the same way as the Saktas, the worshippers of the Divine Mother, or the followers of Vedanta. If you follow any of these paths with intense devotion, you will reach Him. (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)⠀
God is one, but He has many names. The Substance is one but is worshipped under different names according to the time, place, and nationality of His worshippers. When there is true devotion and love, one can reach God through any of the sectarian religions. (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)⠀

In 1866, Govinda Roy (a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism) introduced Sri Ramakrishna to Islam. Ramakrishna said that he reverently repeated the name of Allah, wore a scarf like the Arab Muslims, said their prayer five times a day, and was no longer able to see or pray to the images of the Hindu gods and goddesses.

According to him, after only three days of practice, he had a vision of a radiant personality with a serious expression and a white beard similar to Prophet Muhammad and felt a merging with his body.

He began practicing Christianity at the end of 1873 when one of his devotees, Shambu Charan Mallik, read him the Bible. Ramakrishna said that he was filled with Christian thoughts for several days and no longer went to the Kali Temple.

Ramakrishna describes a vision in which the image of the Madonna and Child Jesus came to life, and Jesus melted into his body. One of the divine images in Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s room showed Jesus Christ. He would light incense before it every morning and evening.

Sri Ramakrishna’s End Days

Ramakrishna’s spiritual sadhanas culminated in June 1872, on the night of Falaharini Amavasya, when he worshiped his consort, Sarada Devi, as a manifestation of the great Divine Mother.

During the worship known as Shodashi-puja, the worshiper and the object of his worship lost their external consciousness. They merged into one in the spiritual consciousness on the transcendental level.

Ramakrishna fell ill with laryngitis in early 1885, which eventually developed into throat cancer. He was transferred to Shyampukur, a location close to Calcutta, where some of the best doctors of that time, including Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, were residing. The date was December 11, 1885, when his health condition got worse. He was relocated to a commodious garden residence in Cossipore.

During his final days, Ramakrishna was taken care of by his disciples and Sarada Devi. Although his doctors advised him to remain completely silent, Ramakrishna disregarded their instructions and continued to converse constantly with his visitors.

The passing of heritage to Swami Vivekananda

According to traditional accounts, Ramakrishna transferred his spiritual powers to his most prominent disciple Swami Vivekananda before his Maha Samadhi. Ramakrishna asked him to look after the students to care for and teach them. Ramakrishna asked other disciples to respect Vivekananda as their guide.

Ramakrishna’s condition gradually deteriorated. He left his body in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886, in the summer house at Cossipore.

After Ramakrishna left his physical body, with the financial support of the Grihastas and under the guidance of Swami Vivekananda, the disciples founded a community in a half-ruined house in Baranagar near the Ganges. This was the first mat camp or monastery of the disciples who founded the first Ramakrishna Order or Ramakrishna Math.

The formation of Ramakrishna Math can be accredited to Swami Vivekanand, Swami Saradananda, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Ramkrishnananda, and Swami Abhedananda.

Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita

Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita is a collection of conversations and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th-century Indian saint, and mystic, compiled by his disciple Mahendranath Gupta, also known as M. The book is also commonly known as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

The conversations in the book took place in the temple garden of Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Kolkata, India, where Sri Ramakrishna lived and taught. The book contains discussions on a wide range of topics, including spiritual practices, the nature of God, different religions, and the experiences of Sri Ramakrishna’s disciples.

The book is highly regarded by followers of Sri Ramakrishna and his teachings, and it has been translated into many languages. It is considered an important text in the Advaita Vedanta tradition and is often studied alongside other Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.

Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

The Man who works for others, without any selfish motive, really does good to himself.
  1. A worldly person who is not sincerely devoted to God should not have any expectations from God in his life.
  2. Always keep praying to God that your attachment to momentary things like money, name, and comfort should become less and less every day.
  3. All religions are the same. The important thing is that to reach the roof; you can use stone stairs, wooden stairs, bamboo stairs, or rope. You can also climb with bamboo poles. Religion is just the way to reach God, just like the stairs to reach the roof can be of different types. Similarly, the religion to reach God can be different, but the goal is to reach GOD.
  4. God is everywhere and in every particle, but He is most manifested in a human being, in which case service of the human being as God is the best worship of God.
  5. If we do karma, it is necessary to have devotion towards our karma; only then can that karma be meaningful.
  6. The boat should always remain in the water, while the water should never be in the boat; in the same way, those who do devotion should remain in this world, but those who do devotion should not have a worldly fascination.
  7. If we have to go in the east direction, then we should never go in the west direction; that is, if we want to go toward success, then we should never go in the opposite direction of success.
  8. The path to truth is very difficult, and when we walk on the path of truth, we should be very focused and humble because only through the truth does one realize God.
When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited.