“I have seen God, more clearly than I see you. I have spoken to God even ……,” such was the simplest reply of Sri Ramakrishna to the then Narendranath Datta (Swami Vivekananda) on his unceasing search of a personage who has experienced God.
Sri Ramakrishna, one of the most prominent religious figures of India during the nineteenth century, represents the soul of the spiritual realizations of the seers and sages of India. His whole life which was literally a ceaseless contemplation of God, reached a depth of God-consciousness that transcends all time and place. His message was his God-consciousness. During 19th century, when the basis of religion, belief in God, was decaying under intense influence of materialism and skepticism, Sri Ramakrishna, manifested the reality of God and the validity of the everlasting teachings of all the prophets and saviors of the past. The greatest contribution of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world is his message of the harmony of religions. This harmony is to be perceived by intensifying our individual God-consciousness. All religions are not contradictory but complementary. Thus he proclaimed, "As many faiths, so many paths." The paths vary, but the goal remains the same.
Birth and childhood
Simplicity, purity, universalism, renunciation – these intrinsic yet unaccustomed traits of human soul were lived in his life by Sri Ramakrishna, the spiritual genius who was born on 18th of February, 1836 in a remote village named Kamarpukur, around 60 miles north-west from the city of Calcutta Presidency, the then capital of the country. He was born of a poor but pious family. His parents Kshudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi were deeply venerated for their holy and virtuous life.
Since his childhood, Gadadhar (childhood name of Sri Ramakrishna) was religiously inclined and loved to be in the auspicious company of saints who halted in the vicinity during their pilgrimage trip to Puri in Orissa. He was fond of serving these holy men and listening to their religious talks. He was attracted to folk and mythological stories which he heard from his mother. In the coveted company of such holy men and sages, he learned Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata and other holy literatures just by hearing. In place of conventional studies, he was deep drawn in performing religious plays with his friends or taking part in religious dramas during festivals held in the village. He was deft in making clay idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and had a natural ability to drawing and singing. From very early age, young Gadadhar used to experience spiritual ecstasies which intensified with age. The sad demise of his father, when Gadadhar was only seven, further escalated his detachment from worldly vanities and leaded to intense introspection.
As a Priest at Dakshineswar Temple
At the age of sixteen, young Gadadhar was sent to Calcutta for assisting his elder brother Ramkumar, who was living in the city after the decease of their father to overcome financial instability. Ramkumar had started a Sanskrit school in the city and also served as a priest. In 1855, Ramkumar became the chief priest of the Kali temple of Dakshineswar, which was established by the celebrated Queen Rani Rashmoni, regarded for her varied philanthropic activities.
In 1856, Ramkumar passed away in an earlier age, and Ramakrishna took his place as the priest of the Kali temple. He became more contemplative now and was intensely devoted to Mother Kali spending hours in her worship and adoration, and often in trance totally unaware of worldly happenings. He looked upon the image of goddess Kali as his own mother and the mother of the universe. He had a fervent desire to have a vision of Mother Kali. Sri Ramakrishna reportedly had a vision of the goddess Kali as the universal Mother, which he described as "... houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shore less sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me."
Spiritual Journey and teachers
Such nonattachment from materialistic world and intense urge for God-realization spread the rumour of his unsound mind to the village of Kamarpukur. His mother and elder members of the family decided to get him wed-locked, hoping that it will have a good stabilizing influence upon him - by compelling him to shoulder responsibilities and be attentive in worldly affairs rather than spiritual practices and austerity.
In 1859, Ramkrishna was twenty three, when he got married to a five year old girl Saradamani, who hailed from a neighboring village, Jayrambati. The newlywed couple stayed apart until Saradamani grew up and joined her husband at the Kali temple of Dakshineswar, at the age of 18. Ramkrishna promulgated her as the embodiment of Divine Mother and performed the Shodashi Puja with her in the seat of Goddess Kali. For her divine nature and high degree of spiritual realization, she was later revered as The Holy Mother and was the pivot around which the Sangha functioned. For her divine nature and high degree of spiritual realization, she was later revered as The Holy Mother and was the pivot around which the Sangha functioned.
He was perhaps the only few Yogis, who experienced Divinity by following different avenues as described in the Hindu scriptures with the guidance of different spiritual Gurus and realized God through each of them. In 1861, the first teacher to arrive at Dakshineswar was a remarkable woman known as Bhairavi Brahmani who was spiritually accomplished. With her help, Sri Ramakrishna practiced difficult disciplines of the Tantrik path, and became success in all of them. Three years hence, a wandering monk by name Totapuri appeared, under whose guidance Sri Ramakrishna attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest spiritual realization, mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. He remained in that state of non-dual existence for six months at a stretch without the least awareness of even his own body. Sri Ramakrishna, thus, relived the entire range of spiritual experiences of more than three thousand years of Hindu religion.
Following Other Faiths & Beliefs
Sri Ramakrishna broke the borders of Hinduism, and also followed the path of Islam and Christianity, and attained highest realization in each of them in a short period. He perceived Jesus and Buddha as incarnations of God, and highly venerated the ten Sikh Gurus. He lived in an exalted state of consciousness in which he saw God in all beings.
Arrival of Devotees
Like bees swarm around a fully blossomed flower, devotees now started gathering around Sri Ramakrishna. He divided them into two categories. The first one consisted of householders or the grihi. He taught them how to realize God while living in the world and discharging their family duties. The other more important category was a band of educated youths, mostly from the middle class families of Bengal, whom he trained to become monks and to be the torchbearers of his message to mankind. The foremost among them was Narendranath, who years later, as Swami Vivekananda, carried the universal message of Vedanta to different parts of the world, revitalized Hinduism, and awakened the soul of India.