A towering spiritual Hindu priest, who had also taken initiation into Islam and Christianity, explained Advaita Vedanta in a villager’s idioms
“Have you seen God?” The question was from a clean-shaven youth with wavy hair and large, rather disturbed eyes. The unbelieving youth was Narendranath Dutta, who the world would later know as Swami Vivekananda. It was the year 1884. Narendranath’s father, a rich lawyer till he had lived, had died and the family fell into serious financial troubles.
Having always been interested in spiritualism, and especially in direct intuitive connect with the Supreme, a disturbed Naren, advised by his mentor, Dr William Hastie, principal of Calcutta’s premier college, Scottish Church, had visited Ramakrishna.
Have you seen God? Naren had asked.
The answer came from a person with a scraggly beard, balding slightly, and a peculiar style of wearing his dress. “Of course,” said the saint. “Just as I am seeing you.” The answer was shocking to the young man.
The unbelieving youth then asked, “Can you show him to me?”
Ramakrishna asked, “Do you really want to see?” On Naren’s assurance, Ramakrishna touched him on his chest with his right hand. Immediately, Naren went into a spiritual ecstasy, almost a delirium.
This article not being meant to be one on Vivekananda, why do we narrate this here? Because this perhaps explains most graphically the ideal of Thakur Ramakrishna Paramhansa: Experiential Oneness with the Supreme Being.
Saint in Making
Biographically put, Ramakrishna was born Gadadhar Chattopaddhyay in a penurised family in the Kamarpukur village of Hooghly District in then undivided Bengal on February 18, 1836. Kamarpukur had two features, both conducive to spiritual growth. First, it was till then untouched by Calcutta’s city culture, and was marked by idyllic farms and ponds, orchards and cattle fields. The second remarkable feature was it lay bang on the route of pilgrims and mendicants travelling to Gaya, Varanasi and other holy places, so the little Gadadhar had constant interaction with these holy persons and learnt his Ramayan, Mahabharat and Vedanta, etc, by hearing these roaming scholars.
It is in this milieu in which his elder brother, Ramkumar, left him in search for survival in Calcutta. By that time, Rani Rashmoni, another towering Bengal Renaissance figure and hugely wealthy and powerful widow, had set up the Dakshineshwar Kali Mandir. Ramkumar was employed there was the head priest. He soon brought over Gadadhar, whose esoteric experiences and spiritual ecstasy even as a child had become legend. In this manner, Ramkumar, Gadadhar and their nephew Hriday, settled down in Dakshineshwar. Gadadhar was in charge of dressing the Mother Kali.
When Ramkumar died, Gadadhar was made the chief priest, but was soon plagued by detractors who wanted the ‘mad man’ to be removed from the post of the priest of such a rich temple.
Rashmoni’s second son-in-law, Mathur Biswas, managed Rashmoni’s huge estate.The detractors frequently complained about the ‘insane’ Gadhadhar, also known as Ramakrishna: He has no mind for proper rituals, they griped. Instead of offering the bhog, or ritual food to the Devi, he would be frequently seen talking to her and embracing her to plead her to partake of the meal. And when She did not, Ramakrishna would say: “Oh, you will not have it? So, I will have it,” and he gobbled the food. His relation with the Goddess was one of a demanding child. And though the detractors said Ramakrishna actually wanted to capture the temple wealth, he had no desire for it
Mathur Babu, however, told the detractors that Ramakrishna would alone deal with the temple. But having said that, Mathur Babu secretly went to watch Ramakrishna’s rituals. What he saw left Mathur Babu in a trance. And he came and announced: “Leave him alone… he is no ordinary man!”
In between, Ramakrishna was married to Sharadamoni, but the marriage was never consummated. Instead, he would make her sit in front of her and worship as Mother Goddess.
Despite being a Hindu priest, he had taken initiation into both Christianity and Islam. During his involvement with the two religions, he said he abhorred the worshiping of a deity, and he also said that he had divine sense of merging with Christ and Mohammad. In 1861, Ramakrishna accepted Bhairavi Brahmani, who appeared from nowhere in Dakshineshwar, and requested him to be her disciple. Bhairavi trained him into tantra, whose last rituals would put off any ordinary reader, being so repugnant.
Before his trysts with Islam and Christianity, he had been initiated into Ram Bhakti and Bhaishnava Bhakti. In 1865, Ramakrishna was initiated into sannyasa by Totapuri, who trained Ramakrishna in Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu philosophy which emphasises non-dualism: “Brahman alone is real, and the world is illusory.” Under the guidance of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, which is considered to be the highest state in spiritual realisation.
Ramakrishna’s sayings have been collated by many, but especially “Shri M”, or Dr Mahendra Gupta, and soon the saint was surrounded by the top intellectuals in Bengal, including some erudite Englishmen.
Dr Hastie, teaching English literature and trying to explain the concept or ‘trance’, told his students that if they wanted to know its “real meaning”, they should go to “Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar”.
Interestingly, despite his erudition, Thakur Ramakrishna never dabbled in spiritual riddles. He explained the basics of Vedanta in simple village idioms. For instance, he’d say: “Live like a maid servant who works for someone else, but whose mind and heart are always in her open home.” Or on detachment: “Be like the swan. Come out of the pond and shrug off all the water from your body.” And again, “Live inside a room of kohl, but emerge untouched by the black!”
The depth of such profound spiritual awakening cannot simply pass away with the physical demise of perhaps the greatest saint of modern India.
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