The Lord has declared that whenever religion declined and chaos prevailed He would incarnate to protect the good and destroy the wicked and thus reestablish Dharma. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is one of the greatest Avatars of this Holy land, Bharat. The incarnation of the Lord as Sri Ramakrishna took place at at time when India was passing through a phase of decadence. Various other faiths had seeped in and rebellious youths felt much drawn to other cultures and ideas. The teachings of Vedas, the great Maharishis were ridiculed. Worship of images were decried. The common man was thrown into confusion.
Swami Vivekananda, the spiritual successor and the torch bearer of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings, sitting beside his Master, a couple of days before the latter’s passing away, thought “Well, now if you can declare that you are God, then only will I believe you are really God Himself.”
No sooner had this thought flashed across the Swami’s mind than Sri Ramakrishna looked at him and said, “Oh, my Naren, are you still not convinced? He who in the past was born as Rama and Krishna is now living in this very body as Ramakrishna — but not from the standpoint of your Vedanta (that speaks of every jiva as verily divine) but actually so.”
Khudiram Chattopadhyay had gone on a pilgrimage to Gaya in the spring of 1835 in order to perform rites for his ancestors. While staying there Lord Vishnu appeared to him in a vision and declared that He would be born as his (Khudiram’s) son. Filled with joy at first he suddenly realised his poor means and said to the Lord, “I am a very poor man. How can I take the responsibility of bringing you up?”
The Lord said, “Whatever you give me to eat I shall enjoy.”
At the same time Chandra Devi, his wife, who was at Kamarpukur had a vision in front of Siva Temple through which she learnt the birth of a divine son to her.
Dereypore was the ancestral village of Khudiram. In 1814 his landlord ordered him to bear false witness in court against a neighbour. But the honest Khudiram refused to do so. The wicked landlord deprived Khudiram of his ancestral property through a false case. However, another landlord at Kamapukur offered him land and a dwelling place. So the family shifted to Kamarpukur. It was here that on February 18, 1836, the divine son was born to Khurdiram and Chandra Devi. They named him Gadadhar in memory of the vision that Khudiram had had at Gaya. Gadadhar, who later came to be known as Ramakrishna, had two elder brothers Ramkumar and Rameswar and an elder sister Katyayani. He had a younger sister, too.
Little Gadadhar learned to read and write in the village school. From his father he learnt hymns to gods and goddesses. He loved to listen to discourses on the various Hindu Epics. Quick to grasp and possessed of great memory he would recite to the villagers whatever he had heard. He loved to paint; from the potters he learnt to make images of gods and goddesses.
At the age of six or seven Gadadhar was walking along the narrow ridges of the fields when he had his first experience of samadhi. The sky was filled with dark rain bearing clouds. Just then a flock of cranes, white as milk, flew across. The beauty of the white cranes against the dark clouds filled his heart with such joy that he plunged into samadhi.
His father’s death in 1843 when he was only seven years old made him more indrawn. He mingled with the Sadhus who visited the village and learnt hymns from them. When he turned nine years he was invested with the sacred thread. Gathering his friends he would enact the various scenes from the Epics. Once during the Shivaratri he enacted the role of Lord Siva and lost outer consciousness.
Nothing could persuade young Gadadhar to undertake bread winning education. During his childhood he had seen the hidden India through the lives of the many holy men he came across. The seed of renunciation had been sown even at that early stage of life. From these Holy men he learnt the only purpose of life — to realise God.
Divine will led him to Dakshineswar where, after the death of his brother Ramkumar, he began to officiate as Priest in the Kali Temple established by Rani Rasmani. Rani Rasamani and one of her sons-in-law Mathur Babu were deeply devoted to the young Gadadhar. It is learnt from Ramlal, a nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, that the name Ramakrishna was given to him by Mathur Babu. Dakshnineswar became the stage for the innumerable divine plays of the Lord incarnated as Sri Ramakrishna. It was here that Sri Ramakrishna passed through the God-intoxicated state whence unable to perform the ritual worship in the Temple he handed over the charge to his nephew Hriday. Hriday has played a very important role in the life of Sri Ramakrishna as he was witness to the many spiritual experiences of Sri Ramakrishna which later helped his disciples to draw up his biography.
In 1859 he returned to Kamarpukur where his mother chose Sarada Mukhopadhyay, a little girl of five from the village of Jayarambati, as his bride. Soon after Sri Ramakrishna returned to Dakshineswar where he was once again drowned in high spiritual experiences. Sri Ramakrishna has described this period of deep spiritual experiences. He said that he felt as if caught in the midst of a whirlwind. Everything appeared to him full of Consciousness. Even a prostitute on the street reminded him of the Mother. He shared his food with dogs. His hair was matted where birds would perch and peck at the rice which were thrown on the head during the worship. Snakes would crawl over his motionless body. He had no sleep for six long years and his eyes had lost the power of winking! His eyelids would not close! Sri Ramakrishna said that no ordinary man could have withstood even an iota of the fervour that he underwent during this period. Mother appeared to him and comforted him.
In 1861 Bhairavi Brahmani arrived at Dakshineswar and initiated Sri Ramakrishna into the Tantric disciplines. He practised sixty-four methods of Tantra and attained perfection through all of them. He practised the vairous Bhavas of Bhakti. Later he practised Vedanta under the guidance of Totapuri, a Vedanta monk. Totapuri was stunned to find Sri Ramakrishna attain the goal in just three days, which he himself had attained through years of struggle.
Sri Ramakrishna practised the spiritual disciplines of Islam, Christianity and found that they all led to the same realisation. After realising God through various religions and also through the various sects in the Sanatana Dharma Sri Ramakrishna declared, “As many faiths, so many paths.”Sri Ramakrishna never condemned anyone’s faith.
Later Swami Vivekananda would recall this trait of his Master and weep for having spoken harshly to the western audience.
Sri Ramakrishna visited Kamarpukur where his wife Sarada Devi joined him and enjoyed the bliss of his Holy association. He then returned to Dakshineswar.
In 1872 Sarada Devi, eighteen years old, joined him at Dakshineswar. She had been perturbed by the rumours of his insanity and desired to help him as would a devoted wife. But to her joy and relief she found that all that she had heard were mere rumours and had no iota of truth in them. Sri Ramakrishna taught her everything — household duties to high spiritual practices. He taught her how to judge people’s character, to move with various kinds of people, etc. Though Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi lived together at Dakshineswar their minds soared high above the worldly plane. It was during this period that Sri Ramakrishna performed Shorasi puja whence he worshipped Mother Kali in the person of Sarada Devi.
Keshab Chandra Sen the famous Brahmo leader of the time felt much drawn to this simple villager who had attained the summit of all religions. He published articles about Sri Ramakrishna which brought him to light. Many began to visit the Paramahamsa at Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna was frustrated with worldly talks. He would go up to the rooftop of the kuthi after the evening vesper service and cry out in an agonised voice, “Come to me, Oh, devotees! Where are you? I cannot to bear live without you.”
And, one by one, his inner circle of devotees began to arrive. He began to train the young boys who were later to become monks and spread his message all over the world under the leadership of Naren who came to be known as Swami Vivekananda. He lit the fire of renunciation in them. There were several householder devotees who he taught to remember God even while they performed their duties as a householder.
When the English educated Swami Vivekananda, in search of Truth, asked the humble Bengal villager Sri Ramakrishna, “Have you seen God?” the latter replied, “Yes. I see him just as I see you here, only in a much more intense way.” These words impressed Swami Vivekananda.
Sri Ramakrishna lived in Dakshineswar for most part of his life and just as bees swarm the flower when it blooms, so too, people flocked to him. There was nothing but talk of God in his presence. He refused none. Sri Ramakrishna was afflicted with throat cancer. Even during this period he helped and guided all those who sought him. He attained Mahasamadhi on 16th August 1886 at Cossipore garden house. Part of his relics was installed at Kankurgachi Yogodyana and the rest at Belur Math.
Two or three days before the passing away of the Master he called Narendra (later Swami Vivekananda) to his side and looked steadily at him and passed into samadhi. The Swami said that he felt a subtle force like the electric shock enter into his body and he lost all outer consciousness. On returning to body conciousness he found his Master Sri Ramakrishna in tears who said to him, on being questioned, that he had given his all to him (Naren) and he (Sri Ramakrishna) had become a beggar. That, with that power transferred to him, he had to do much work for the good of the world before he returned.
The parables of Sri Ramakrishna is world famous. With simple day-to-day illustrations he would explain high philosophies.
Mahendra Nath Gupta, the recoder of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, records in his second visit of the Master —
M: “Sir, suppose one believes in God with form. Certainly He is not the clay image!”
Master (interrupting): “But why clay? It is an image of Spirit.”
M. could not quite understand the significance of this “image of Spirit”. “But, sir,” he said to the Master “one should explain to those who worship the clay image that it is not God, and that, while worshipping it, they should have God in view and not the clay image. One should not worship clay.”
Master (sharply); “That’s the one hobby of you Calcutta people — giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others?
“He who is the Lord of the Universe will teach everyone. ……………………..He is our Inner Guide.
“Suppose there is an error in worshipping the clay image; doesn’t God know that through it He alone is being invoked? He will be pleased with that very worship. Why should you get a headache over it? You better try for knowledge and devotion yourself.”
Master: “The thing is that one must love God. Through intense love one attains the vision of Him. The attraction of the husband for the chaste wife, the attraction of the child for its mother, the attraction of worldly possessions for the worldly man–when a man can blend these three into one, and direct it all to God, then he gets the vision of God.” (courtesy: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – Wednesday, January 2, 1884)
Shrish: “It is extremely difficult to proceed toward God while leading the life of a householder.”
Master: “Why so? What about the yoga of practice? At Kamarpukur I have seen the women of the carpenter family selling flattened rice. Let me tell you how alert they are while doing their business. The pestle of the husking-machine that flattens the paddy constantly falls into the hole of the mortar. The woman turns the paddy in the hole with one hand and with the other holds her baby on her lap as she nurses it. In the mean time customers arrive. The machine goes no pounding the paddy, and she carries on her bargains with the customers. She says to them, ‘Pay the few pennies you owe me before you take anything more.’ You see, she has all these things to do at the same time — nurse the baby, turn the paddy as the pestle pounds it, take the flattened rice out of the hole and talk to the buyers. This is called the yoga of practice. Fifteen parts of her mind out of sixteen are fixed on the pestle of the husking-machine, lest it should pound her hand. With only one part of her mind she nurses the baby and talks to the buyers. Likewise, he who leads the life of a householder should devote fifteen part of his mind to God; otherwise he will face ruin and fall into the clutches of Death. He should perform the duties of the world with only one part of his mind. “
(courtesy The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna -Thursday, December 27, 1883])
Master: “Those who are my own will come here even if I scold them.” (courtesy: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishana (Monday, December 24, 1883)
“God sports in the world as man. He incarnates Himself as man — as in the case of Krishna, Rama and Chaitanya. Once I said to Keshab: ‘The greatest manifestation of God is in man. There are small holes in the balk of a field, where crabs and fish accumulate in the rainy season. If you want to find them you must seek them in the holes. If you seek God, you must seek Him in the Incarnations.’
“The Divine Mother of the Universe manifests Herself through this three-and-a-half cubit man. There is a song that says:
O Mother, what a machine is this that Thou has made!
what pranks Thou playest with this toy
Three and a half cubits high!…
“One needs spiritual practice in order to know God and recognise Divine Incarnations. Big fish live in the large lake, but to see them one must throw spiced bait in the water. There is butter in milk, but one must churn the milk to get it. There is oil in mustard-seed, but one must press the seed to extract the oil.”
Master: “Bhakti is the only essential thing. One obtains the love of God by constantly chanting His Name and singing His glories……” (Courtesy: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna — November 1882)
Master: “Triumph and defeat is in the hands of God. We cannot understand His ways. You must have noticed that the green coconut remains high in the tree and is exposed to the sun, but still its milk is cool. On the other hand the paaniphal (a kind of acquatic fruit) remains in the water, but when eaten it heats the body.
“Look at the body of man. The head is the root, and it is at the top.” (Courtesy: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna — Thursday, October 2, 1884)
Bhavanath (humbly): “I feel disturbed if I have a misunderstanding with someone. I feel that in that case I am not able to love all.”
Master: “Try at the outset to talk to him and establish a friendly relationship with him. If you fail in spite of your efforts, then don’t give it another thought. Take refuge in God. Meditate on Him. There is no use in giving up God and feeling depressed from thinking about others.”
Bhavanath: “Great souls, such as Christ and Chaitanya, have admonished us to love all beings.”
Master: “Love you must, because God dwells in all beings. But salute a wicked person from a distance. You speak of Chaitanya? He also used to restrain his spiritual feeling in the presence of unsympathetic people. At Srivas’s house he put Srivas’s mother-in-law out of the room, dragging her out by the hair.”
Bhavanath: “It was not he but others who did it.”
Master: “Could the others have done it without his approval? What can be done? Suppose a man cannot make another love him; must he worry about it day and night? Must I waste my mind, which should be given to God, on useless things? I say, ‘O Mother, I don’t want Narendra, Bhavanath, Rakhal, or anybody. I seek Thee alone. What shall I do with man?'” (Courtesy: Monday, September 29, 1884)
Master: “Hanuman said, ‘I don’t know the position of the stars or the phase of the moon. I only think of Rama.’ ”
“Rama and Lakshmana visited the Pampa lake. Lakshmana saw a crow very eager for water. Again and again it went to the edge of the water but would not drink. Lakshmana asked Rama about it. Rama said, “Brother, this crow is a great devotee of God. Day and night it repeats the name of Rama. Its throat is parched with thirst, but still it won’t drink for fear of missing a repetition of Rama’s name.” (Courtesy: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna November 9, 1884)