Ramakrishna: His life and sayings
Râmakrishna, we are told, was born in the village of Kamârpukar, in the Zillah Hugli, situated about four miles to the west of the Jahânâbad subdivision, and thirty-two miles south of Burdwan. His life on earth began on the 20th of February, 1833, and ended the 16th of August, 1886, 1 a.m. 1 The village in which he was born was inhabited chiefly by people of the lower castes, mostly blacksmiths, Karmakars, or in familiar abbreviation, Kamars, and hence called Kamârpukar, with some sprinkling of carpenters, cowherds (Gowalas), husbandmen (Kaivartas), and oilmen (Telis). His father was the head
of the only Brâhmanic family settled in the village. Though very poor, he would rather starve than stray from the strictest path of Brâhmanical orthodoxy. The original name given to his child was Gadâdhara, a name of Vishnu, which means one who holds the club, and it was given him, we are told, on account of a prophetic dream of his father, to whom, while on a pilgrimage to Gya, Vishnu appeared, telling him that he, the deity, would be born as his son. It was later in life that he began to be called Râmakrishna. We are told, and we could hardly have expected anything else, that his father, whose name was Khudiram Chattopâdhyâya, was a great lover of God, a man pure in mind, handsome of figure, straightforward and independent. Rumour says--and what is rumour but another name for the Dialogic Process of which we spoke--that he possessed supernatural powers, particularly what is called Vâk-siddhi, power of speech, which means that everything he told, good or bad, of anybody, would always come to pass. He was highly reverenced by all the people of his village, who stood up whenever they saw him coming, and saluted him, nay who would never talk frivolity in his presence.
It could hardly have been otherwise than that his mother also, Chandramani Devî, was a pattern of simplicity and kindness. We are told that Mathurâ Nâth, the rich and devoted disciple of her son, came to her once and pressed her to accept a present of a few thousand rupees, but to his astonishment she declined the offer.
The father proved his independence while still living at
[paragraph continues] Dere, on his own ancestral property. The Zemindar of the village wanted him to appear as a witness on his side, threatening him with confiscation of his property and expulsion from his village, if he refused. Khudiram refused, left his village, and migrated to Kâmârpur, a village two or three miles east of Dere. There, through the help of some true friends, he managed to make a poor living, and yet he was always profusely generous to the poor and hospitable to everybody, living chiefly in the company of religious men, performing every kind of worship, and trying to realise religion to its fullest extent.
There is a story that Râmakrishna's father was going to pay a visit to his daughter one day, some twelve or fourteen miles from the place where he lived. After travelling more than half the way, he came across a Bel-tree, beautifully covered with new-grown green leaves. These leaves are very sacred to a Hindu, and they, use them in worshipping the god Siva. It was spring-time. The Bel-trees were casting off their old leaves, and the man had not recently been able to find any good leaves to offer to Siva. On finding these, he at once climbed up the tree, gathered as many leaves as he could carry, and returned home to worship Siva, without going to see his daughter. He was a great lover of Râma, and his tutelary deity was the pure and divine Srî Râmakandra. He had a little plot of land outside the village, and in the sowing time, after getting a man to plough the field, he would go himself, put a few grains of rice in the name of Raghuvîra on the ground first, and then order the labourers to finish
the work. It is said that that little plot of land produced enough, as long as he lived, to maintain the whole of the family. He ever depended upon his Raghuvîra, or the hero of the race of Raghu, the divine Râma, and never cared for the morrow. His son Râmakrishna, we are told, had something in him which attracted everybody and made people love him, as if he were of their own kith and kin, even at the first appearance.
The young child used to repeat the whole of the religious operas and dramas, the acting, the music, and everything, after hearing them once. He had a very good musical voice and a taste for music. He was a very good judge of the merits and defects of the statues or images of gods or goddesses, and his judgment was held as final by the old people of the village, even from his childhood. He could draw and make images of gods himself. One of the broken stone images of Srî Krishna, which he repaired in later days, is still to be seen in the temple of Dakshinesvara of Râni Râsmoni, about four miles to the north of Calcutta. After hearing a religious drama, e. g. the doings of Srî Krishna, he would gather his playmates, teach them the different parts, and enact it in the fields, under the trees. Sometimes he would build an image of the god Siva, and worship it with his companions. At the age of six he was well versed in the Purânas, likewise in the Râmâyana, the Mahâbhârata, and the Srîmad Bhâgavata, by hearing them from the Kathaks, a class of men who preach and read these Purânas for the enlightenment of the uneducated masses all over India. (His knowledge of
the Purânas, the Mahâbhârata, the Râmâyana, and the Bhâgavata must have been in Bengâli, as he never, according to Mozoomdar, who was his friend, knew a word of Sanskrit.)
The pilgrim road to Purî passes through the outskirts of the village where he lived, and very often a whole host of ascetics and religious men would come and take shelter in the Dharmasâlâ or pilgrim-house, built by the Lâhâ family, the Zemindar of the village. Râmakrishna used to go there very often, talk to them on religious subjects, mark their habits, and hear their tales of travel.
It is the custom in India to gather all the learned pandits or professors of the neighbourhood at a funeral ceremony. In one of these gatherings in the house of the Lâhâ family, a question arose about some intricate points of theology, and the professors could not come to a conclusion. The boy Râmakrishna went to them and decided it quickly with his simple language, and all present were astonished. (This might be taken from any Evangelium infantiae.)
Before he reached his teens, he was walking in the fields one day. The sky was very clear and blue, and he saw a flight of white cranes moving along it. The contrast of colours was so very beautiful and dazzling to his imagination, and produced such thoughts in him, that he fell down in a trance. (This would admit of a very natural pathological explanation, and may therefore be perfectly true, though it would easily lend itself to further poetical expansion.)
He was the youngest child of a family of three sons and two daughters. His eldest brother, Râmkumâr Chattopâdhyâya,
was a very learned professor of the old school. He had his own school at Calcutta. At the age of sixteen Râmakrishna, having been invested by his own father with the sacred Brâhmanic thread, was taken to this school, but what was his disgust to find that after all their high talk on being and non-being, on Brahman and Mâyâ, on how the soul is liberated by the realisation of Âtman, they would never dream of practising these precepts in their own lives, but run after lust and gold, after name and fame. He told his brother plainly he would never care for that kind of learning, the sole aim of which was to gain a few pieces of silver, or a few maunds of rice and vegetables. He yearned to learn something which would raise him above all these, and give him as a recompense God Himself. From that time he kept aloof from the school.
The temple of the goddess Kâlî at Dakshinesvara, about five miles to the north of Calcutta, was established in 1853 A.D. It stands on the side of the Ganges, and is one of the finest temples in India. The temple deeds were drawn in the name of the Guru, or spiritual director of Râni Râsmoni, for she being of a lower caste, none of the higher castes would come to the temple and take food there if she drew the deeds in her own name. The eldest brother of Srî Râmakrishna was appointed as priest to the temple. The two brothers came on the day when the temple was first opened and established, but such were the caste prejudices of Râmakrishna at that time that he protested vehemently against his brother's taking service under a Sûdra woman, or one of the lowest caste, and would not take any cooked food in
the temple precincts, because it was forbidden in the Sâstras. So, amidst all the rejoicings of the day, in which some fifteen to twenty thousand people were sumptuously entertained, he was the only man who kept his fast. At night he went to the grocer's close by, took a pice-worth of fried paddy, and returned to Calcutta. But after a week his love for his brother made him return again, and at his entreaty he consented to live there, on condition, however, that he should be allowed to cook his own meals by the side of the Ganges, which is the holiest place according to the Hindus. A few months afterwards his brother became incapable of conducting the services through illness, and requested Râmakrishna to take charge of the duties. He consented at last, and became a recognised worshipper of the goddess Kâlî.
Sincere as he always was, he could do nothing from mercenary motives, nor did he ever do anything which he did not 'thoroughly believe. He now began to look upon the image of the goddess Kâlî as his mother and the mother of the universe. He believed it to be living and breathing and taking food out of his hand. After the regular forms of worship he would sit there for hours and hours, singing hymns and talking and praying to her as a child to his mother, till he lost all consciousness of the outward world. Sometimes he would weep for hours, and would not be comforted, because he could not see his mother as perfectly as he wished. People became divided in their opinions regarding him. Some held the young priest to be mad, and some took him to be a great lover of God, and all this
outward madness as the manifestation of that love. His mother and brothers, thinking that his imagination would calm down when he had a young wife and a family of his own to look after, took him to his native village and married him to the daughter of Râma Chandra Mukhopâdhyâya, who was then five years of age, Srîmatî Sârodâ Devî or Saradamani Devî by name. It is said when his mother and brothers were looking after a suitable bride for him, he himself told them that the daughter of such and such a man was destined to be joined to him in marriage, and that she was endowed with all the qualities of a goddess or Devî, and they went and found the bride.
He used to hold that some women were born with all the qualities of a Devî, and some with the opposite qualities--the Âsurî, or the demoniacal. The former would help their husbands in becoming religious, and would never lead them to lust and sensuality, and he could distinguish them by their mere appearance. A woman, a perfect stranger to him, came to see him once at Dakshinesvara many years afterwards. She was of a noble family, the wife of a gentleman, and mother of five or six children, yet looked still very young and beautiful. Râmakrishna told his disciples at once that she had the qualities of a Devî in her, and he would prove it to them. He ordered them to burn some incense before her, and taking some flowers, placed them on her feet and addressed her as 'mother.' And the lady who never knew anything before of meditation, or Samâdhi, and had never seen him before, fell into a deep trance with her hands lifted as in the act of blessing. That trance did not
leave her for some hours, and he got frightened at the thought that her husband would accuse him of some black magic. He began, therefore, to pray to his mother Kâlî (the goddess) to bring her back to her senses. By-and-by she came to herself, and when she opened her eyes they were quite red, and she looked as if she were quite drunk. Her attendants had to support her while she got into a carriage, then she drove back home. This is one of many instances of the same kind (evidently cases of hypnosis).
Of men he used to tell the same. In his later days, when crowds of men and boys came to him to learn, he would select and point out some who, he said, would realise religion in this life, and of the rest he would say that they must enjoy life a little longer before they would have a sincere desire for religion. He used to say, 'That man who had been an emperor in his former birth, who had enjoyed the highest pleasures the world can give, and who had seen the vanities of them all, would attain to perfection in this life on earth.'
After his marriage he returned to Calcutta and took upon himself the charges of the temple again, but instead of toning down, his fervour and devotion increased a thousand-fold. His whole soul, as it were, melted into one flood of tears, and he appealed to the goddess to have mercy on him and reveal herself to him. No mother ever shed such burning tears over the death-bed of her only child. Crowds assembled round him and tried to console him, when the blowing of the conch-shells proclaimed the death of another day, and he gave vent to his sorrow, saying, 'Mother, oh my
mother, another day has gone, and still I have not found thee.' People thought he was mad, or that he was suffering from some acute pain, for how was it possible for them, devoted as they were to lust and gold, to name and fame, to imagine that a man could love his God or Goddess Mother with as much intensity as they loved their wives and children? The son-in-law of Râni Râsmoni, Babu Mathurânâth, who had always had a love for this young Brahman took him to the best physicians in Calcutta to get him cured of his madness. But all their skill was of no avail. Only one physician of Dacca told them that this man was a great Yogin or ascetic, and that all their pharmacopoeia was useless for curing his disease, if indeed it were a disease at all. So his friends gave him up as lost.
Meanwhile he increased in love and devotion day by day. One day as he was feeling his separation from Devî very keenly, and thinking of putting an end to himself; as he could not bear his loneliness any longer, he lost all outward sensation, and saw his mother (Kâlî) in a vision. These visions came to him again and again, and then he became calmer. Sometimes he doubted whether these visions were really true, and then he would say, 'I would believe them true, if such and such a thing happened,' and it would invariably happen, even at the very hour he expected. For instance, he said one day, 'I could believe them true, and not resulting from a disease of my brain, if the two young daughters of Râni Râsmoni, who never once came to this temple, would come under the big banyan-tree this afternoon, and would speak to me,' though he was
a perfect stranger to them. And what was his astonishment when he saw them standing under the tree at the exact hour, and calling him by name, and telling him to be consoled, for the Mother Kâlî would surely have mercy on him. These ladies of the Zenana had never come to a public place, especially when young, but somehow or other they got a strong desire to see that temple that very day, and they got permission to go there.
These visions grew more and more, and his trances became longer and longer in duration, till every one saw it was no longer possible for him to perform his daily course of duties. For instance, it is prescribed in the Sâstras that a man should put a flower over his own head and think of himself as the very god or goddess he is going to worship, and Râmakrishna, as he put the flower, and thought himself as identified with his mother, would get entranced, and would remain in that state for hours. Then again, from time to time, he would entirely lose his own identity, so much so as to appropriate to himself the offerings brought for the goddess. Sometimes forgetting to adorn the image, he would adorn himself with the flowers. Mathurânâth at first objected to this, but shortly after-wards, it is said, he saw the body of Râmakrishna transfigured into that of the god Siva, and from that day forward he looked upon him as God Himself, and addressed him always as Father whenever he spoke to him. He appointed the nephew of Râmakrishna to conduct the regular services, and left him free to do whatever he liked.
The ardent soul of Râmakrishna could not remain quiet with these frequent visions, but ran eagerly to attain perfection and realisation of God in all His different aspects. He thus began the twelve years of unheard-of tapasya, or ascetic exercises. Looking back to these years of self-torture in his later days, he said, 'that a great religious tornado, as it were, raged within him during these years and made everything topsy-turvy.' He had no idea then that it lasted for so long a time. He never had a wink of sound sleep during these years, could not even doze, but his eyes would remain always open and fixed. He thought some-times that he was seriously ill, and holding a looking-glass before him, he put his finger within the sockets of the eye, that the lids might close, but they would not. In his despair he cried out, 'Mother, oh! my mother, is this the result of calling upon thee and believing in thee?' And anon a sweet voice would come, and a sweeter smiling face, and said, 'My son! how could you hope to realise the highest truth, if you don't give up the love of your body and of your little self?' 'A torrent of spiritual light,' he said, 'would come then, deluging my mind and urging me forward. I used to tell my mother, "Mother! I could never learn from these erring men; but I will learn from thee, and thee alone," and the same voice would say, "Yea, my son!"' 'I did not once,' he continued, 'look to the preservation of my body. My hair grew till it became matted, and I had no idea of it. My nephew, Hridaya, used to bring me some food daily, and some days succeeded and some days did not succeed in forcing a few mouthfuls
down my throat, though I had no idea of it. Sometimes I used to go to the closet of the servants and sweepers and clean it with my own hands, and prayed, "Mother! destroy in me all idea that I am great, and that I am a Brahman, and that they are low and pariahs, for who are they but Thou in so many forms?"'
'Sometimes,' he said, 'I would sit by the Ganges, with some gold and silver coins and a heap of rubbish by my side, and taking some coins in my right hand and a handful of rubbish in the left, I would tell my soul, "My soul! this is what the world calls money, impressed with the queen's face. It has the power of bringing you rice and vegetables, of feeding the poor, of building houses, and doing all that the world calls great, but it can never help thee to realise the ever-existent knowledge and bliss, the Brahman. Regard it, therefore, as rubbish." Then mixing the coins and the rubbish in my hands, while repeating all the time, "money is rubbish, money is rubbish," I lost all perception of difference between the two in my mind, and threw them both into the Ganges. No wonder people took me for mad.' About this time Mathurânâtha, who was very devoted to him, one day put a shawl fringed with gold round him, which cost about 1,500 Rs. At first he seemed to be pleased with it. But what was the astonishment of Mathurânâtha when the next moment Râmakrishna threw it on the ground, trampled and spat on it, and began to cleanse the floor of the room with it, saying, 'It increases vanity, but it can never help to realise the ever-existent knowledge and bliss
[paragraph continues] (Sat-kit-ânanda), and therefore is no better than a piece of torn rag.'
'About this time,' he said, 'I felt such a burning sensation all over my body; I used to stand in the waters of the Ganges, with my body immersed up to the shoulders and a wet towel over my head all through the day, for it was insufferable. Then a Brahman lady came and cured me of it in three days. She smeared my body with sandal-wood paste and put garlands on my neck, and the pain vanished in three days.'
Now this Brahman lady was, we are told, an extraordinary Bengâli woman. She was versed in the philosophies and mythologies of India, and could recite book after book from memory. She could hold her ground in argument with the best pandits of the country. Tall and graceful, she combined in herself all the physical and intellectual qualities that would raise any man or woman high above ordinary mortals. She had a fine voice and was well versed in music. She had given up the world, practised Yoga (ascetics), attained to some wonderful Yogic powers, and was roaming all over India in the red garb of a Samnyâsin. Nobody knew anything of her birth or family or name even, and nobody could induce her to say anything about them. She was as if some goddess had come to this earth to help men to perfection, moved by the sorrows and sins of this wicked world. She seemed to have known full well that she was destined to help three particular personages, who were very advanced in attaining perfection. Râmakrishna had been informed by his divine
mother that she would come and teach him the certain way to attain perfection. He recognised her at once, and she recognised him and said, 'I have found out the other two, and have been searching for thee for a long, long time, and to-day I have found thee.' Up to this time Râmakrishna had not found a single soul who could understand his superhuman devotion and perfect purity, and the arrival of this woman was therefore a great relief to him. His devotion and love knew no bounds.
All people were astonished at the wonderful learning of this Brahman lady, but they could not understand how she could sympathise and place even above herself this half-crazed Râmakrishna they took him for. To prove that he was not mad, the lady mentioned some Vaishnava scriptures, got the manuscripts from some learned pandits, and quoted passage after passage, showing that all these physical manifestations come to an ardent lover of God. It was recorded in these books that all these states physical and mental did happen to the great religious reformer of Bengal, Srî Chaitanya, four hundred years back, and the remedies were given, too, by which he overcame them. For instance, this burning sensation, as if all the body were in flames, from which Srî Râmakrishna was suffering at the time, was mentioned in these Vaishnava scriptures as having happened to the shepherdess of Braja, to the stainless Srî Râdhâ, the beloved of Krishna, centuries before, and again in later times to Srî Chaitanya, when both of them felt deeply the pain of separation from their beloved (God). In both these cases relief came by smearing the body with sandalwood
paste and wearing garlands of sweet-scented flowers. The lady held it to be no real disease, but a state of physical disturbance, which would come to all who arrive at that stage of Bhakti, or love of God. She applied the same remedies for three days, and the trouble passed away.
At another time during her stay he suffered much from an insatiable appetite. However much he might eat, the appetite was there, preying upon him as if he had taken nothing. The Brahman lady assured him that the same had happened to Chaitanya and other Yogins, and ordered all sorts of dishes to be put into his room on every side, day and night. This practice was continued for a few days, and the sight of so much food gradually acted upon the mind, and the false sensation passed away.
The lady lived there for some years, and made her friend practise all the different sorts of Yoga which make a man complete master of his body and mind, render his passions subservient to his reason, and produce a thorough and deep concentration of thought, and, above all, the fearless and unbiased disposition which is essential to everybody who desires to know the truth and the whole truth.
About this time Râmakrishna began to practise Yoga, or the physical discipline, which makes the body strong and enduring. He began by regulating his breath, and went through the eight-fold methods prescribed by Patañgali. His teachers were astonished at the short time in which he came to the realisation and attained the end of all these ascetic practices. One night, when he was practising Yoga, he was very much frightened at two strings of clotted blood
coming out of his mouth. The temple services were then in the hands of one of his cousins, Haladhâri, a man of great learning and purity and possessed of certain psychical powers, such as Vâk-siddhi, power of speech. A few days before, Râmakrishna had offended him by pointing out to him certain defects of his character, so much so that his cousin cursed him and said that blood should come out of his mouth. So Râmakrishna was frightened, but a great Yogin who was living there at the time came to his help, and after inquiring into his case assured him that it was very good that the blood had come out that way. It was because he had to teach many men, and to do good to them, that he was not permitted to enter into that Samâdhi (trance) from which nobody returns. He explained to him that when a man has attained to the perfection of this Yoga his blood rushes to his brain, and he becomes absorbed in Samâdhi, perceives his identity with the Supreme Self, and never returns any more to speak of his religious experiences to others. Only a few returned, namely, those who by the will of God were born to be the great teachers of mankind. In their case the blood rushes to the brain, and they feel the identity for some time, but after that the blood flows out again and they are able to teach.
By this time Râmakrishna had learnt all that the Brahman lady could teach, but he was still hankering after higher truths, when a Gñânîn (a true philosopher) came and initiated him into the truths of the Vedânta. This was a Samnyâsin named Totâ-puri, tall, muscular, and powerful. He had taken the vow of the order from his
very boyhood, and after a hard struggle had succeeded in realising the highest truths of the Vedânta. He wore no clothes whatever, and never rested under a roof. When the doors of palaces might have been opened to him if he had only wished, he passed the night always under a tree or the blue canopy of the heavens, even in winter and in the rainy season, never remaining more than three days in any place, and never caring to ask for food from anybody. Free as the wind, he was roaming all over the country, teaching and exhorting wherever he could find a sincere soul, and helping them to attain to that perfection which he had himself reached. He was a living illustration of the truth that Vedânta, when properly realised, can become a practical rule of life. On seeing Srî Râmakrishna sitting on the border of the Ganges, he at once recognised in him a great Yogin and a perfectly-prepared ground for the reception of the seeds of the highest truths of religion. He addressed him at once and said, 'My son! do you want to learn the way to perfect freedom? Come, then, and I will teach it to you.' Râmakrishna, who never did anything without first asking his mother (the goddess Kâlî), said that he did not know what he should do, but he would go and ask his mother. He came back in a few minutes and told the Samnyâsin that he was ready. Totâ-puri made him take the vow, and told .him how he was to meditate and how to realise unity. After three days of practice he attained to the highest, the Nirvikalpa stage of Samâdhi, where there is no longer any perception of the subject or of the object. The Samnyâsin was perfectly bewildered at the
rapid progress of his protégé, and said, 'My boy! what I realised after forty years of hard struggle, you have arrived at in three days. I dare not call you my disciple; henceforth I will address you as my friend.' And such was the love of this holy man for Srî Râmakrishna that he stayed with him for eleven months, and in his turn learnt many things from his own disciple. There is a story told of the Samnyâsin. He always kept a fire and regarded it as very holy. One day as he was sitting by this fire and talking to Srî Râmakrishna, a man came and lighted his pipe out of the same fire. The Samnyâsin felt enraged at this sacrilege, when a gentle scolding came from his disciple, who said, 'Is this the way that you look upon everything as Brahman? Is not the man himself Brahman as well as the fire? What is high and what is low in the sight of a Gñânîn?' The Samnyâsin was brought to his senses, and said, 'Brother, you are right. From this day forth you shall never find me angry again,' and he kept his word. He could never understand, however, Râmakrishna's love for his Mother (the goddess Kâlî). He would talk of it as mere superstition, and ridicule it, when Râmakrishna made him understand that in the Absolute there is no thou, nor I, nor God, nay, that it is beyond all speech or thought. As long, however, as there is the least grain of relativity left, the Absolute is within thought and speech and within the limits of the mind, which mind is subservient to the universal mind and consciousness; and this omniscient, universal consciousness was to him his mother and God.
After the departure of Totâ-puri, Râmakrishna himself tried to remain always in union with the absolute Brahman and in the Nirvikalpa state. Looking back to this period of his life in his later days, he said, 'I remained for six months in that state of perfect union which people seldom reach, and if they reach it, they cannot return to their individual consciousness again. Their bodies and minds could never bear it. But this my body is made up of Sattwa particles (pure elements) and can bear much strain. In those days I was quite unconscious of the outer world. My body would have died for want of nourishment, but for a Sâdhu (an advanced religious ascetic) who came at that time and stayed there for three days for my sake. He recognised my state of Samâdhi, and took much interest to preserve this body, while I was unconscious of its very existence. He used to bring some food every day, and when all methods failed to restore sensation or consciousness to this body of mine, he would even strike me with a heavy club, so that the pain might bring me back to consciousness. Sometimes he succeeded in awakening a sort of partial consciousness in me, and he would immediately force down one or two mouthfuls of food before I was lost again in deep Samâdhi. Some days when he could not produce any response, even after a severe beating, he was very sorrowful.' After six months the body gave way under these severe irregularities, and Râmakrishna was laid up with dysentery. This disease, he said, did much in bringing him back to consciousness, slowly and gently, in a month or two. When the native physicians had cured him, his
deep religious zeal took another turn. He began to practise and realise the Vaishnava ideal of love for God. This love, according to the Vaishnavas, becomes manifested practically in any one of the following relations--the relation of a servant to his master, of a friend to his friend, of a child to his parents, or vice versa, and a wife to her husband. The highest point of love is reached when the human soul can love his God as a wife loves her husband. The shepherdess of Braja had this sort of love towards the divine Krishna, and there was no thought of any carnal relationship. No man, they say, can understand this love of Srî Râdhâ and Srî Krishna until he is perfectly free from all carnal desires. They even prohibit ordinary men to read the books which treat of this love of Râdhâ and Krishna, because they are still under the sway of passion. Râmakrishna, in order to realise this love, dressed himself in women's attire for several days, thought of himself as a woman, and at last succeeded in gaining his ideal. He saw the beautiful form of Srî Krishna in a trance, and was satisfied. After having thus devoted himself to Vaishnavism, he practised in turn many other religions prevalent in India, even Mohammedanism, always arriving at an understanding of their highest purposes in an incredibly short time. Whenever he wished to learn and practise the doctrines of any faith, he always found a good and learned man of that faith coming to him and advising him how to do it. This is one out of many wonderful things that happened in his life. They may be explained as happy coincidences, which is much the same as to say they were
wonderful, and cannot be explained. To give another such instance. At the time when he perceived the desire of practising and realising religion, he was sitting one day under the big banyan-tree (called the Pancha-vatî, or the place of the five banyans) to the north of the temple. He found the place very secluded and fit for carrying out his religious practices without disturbance. He was thinking of building a little thatched hut in the place, when the tide came up the river and brought along with it all that was necessary to make a little hut--the bamboos, the sticks, the rope and all--and dropped them just a few yards off the place where he was sitting. He took the materials joyfully, and with the help of the gardener built his little hut, where he practised his Yoga.
In his later days he was thinking of practising the tenets of Christianity. He had seen Jesus in a vision, and for three days he could think of nothing and speak of nothing but Jesus and His love. There was this peculiarity in all his visions--that he always saw them outside himself, but when they vanished they seemed to have entered into him. This was true of Râma, of Siva, of Kâlî, of Krishna, of Jesus, and of every other god or goddess or prophet.
After all these visions and his realisations of different religions he came to the conclusion that all religions are true, though each of them takes account of one aspect only of the Akhanda Sakkhidânanda, i.e. the undivided and eternal existence, knowledge, and bliss. Each of these different religions seemed to him a way to arrive at that One.
During all these years he forgot entirely that he had been married, which was not unnatural for one who had lost all idea of the existence even of his own body. The girl had in the meantime attained the age of seventeen or eighteen. She had heard rumours that her husband had become mad, and was in deep grief. Then again she heard that he had become a great religious man. She determined therefore to find him and to learn her fate from himself. Having obtained permission from her mother, she walked all the way, about thirty or forty miles, to the Dakshinesvara temple. Râmakrishna received her very kindly, but told her that the old Râmakrishna was dead, and that the new one could never look upon any woman as his wife. He said that even then he saw his mother, the Goddess Kâlî, in her, and however much he might try he could never see anything else. He addressed her as his mother, worshipped her with flowers and incense, asked her blessings, as a child does from his mother, and then became lost in a deep trance. The wife, who was fully worthy of such a hero, told him she wanted nothing from him as her husband, but that he would teach her how to realise God, and allow her to remain near him and cook his meals and do what little she could for his health and comfort. From that day forward she lived within the temple compound, and began to practise whatever her husband taught her. Mathurânâtha offered her the sum of 10,000 Rs., but she declined, saying that her husband had attained perfection by renouncing gold and all pleasures, and she did not care for any, as she was determined to follow him. She is living
still, revered by all for her purity and strength of character, helping others of her sex to religion and perfection, looking upon her husband as an incarnation of God Himself, and trying to forward the work her husband began.
Though Râmakrishna had no proper education, he had such a wonderful memory that he never forgot what he once heard. In his later days he had a desire to hear the Adhyâtma Râmâyana, and he requested one of his disciples to read it to him in the original verse. As he was hearing, another of his disciples came and asked him whether he was understanding the original verses. He said he had heard the book before, with an explanation of it, and therefore knew all of it, but he wanted to hear it again because the book was so beautiful, and he repeated at once the purport of some of the verses which followed, and which were about to be read.
He had attained to great Yoga powers, but he never cared to display these marvellous powers to anybody. He told his disciples that all these powers would come to a man as he advanced, but he warned them never to take any heed of the opinions of men. They had not to please men, but to try to attain the highest perfection, that is, unity with Brahman. The power of working miracles was rather a hindrance in the way to perfection, inasmuch as it diverted the attention of man from his highest goal. But persons who went to him have found abundant proofs of his possessing such powers as thought-reading, predicting future events, seeing things at a distance, and healing a disease by simply willing. The one great power of
which he made most use, and which was by far the most wonderful, was that he was able to change a man's thoughts by simply touching his body. In some this touch produced immediate Samâdhi, in which they saw visions of gods and goddesses, and lost for some hours all sensation of the out-ward world. In others it produced no outward changes, but they felt that their thoughts had received a new direction and a new impetus, by which they could easily travel in the path of progress in religion. The carnally minded, for instance, would feel that their thoughts never ran after carnal pleasures afterwards, the miser would find that he did not love his gold, and so on.
About that time Mathurânâtha and his family went on a pilgrimage, and took Râmakrishna with them. They visited all the sacred places of the Hindus as far as Brindâbana, and Râmakrishna took the opportunity not only of seeing the temples, but of forming acquaintances with all the religious men, and with the Samnyâsins who were living in these places, such as the famous Tailanga Swâmin of Benares and Gangâ Mâtâ of Brindabana. These Sâdhus assigned to him a very high position, and regarded him not only as a Brâhmagñânin, but as a great religious teacher (Âchârya), nay, as an incarnation of God Himself. At Brindabana he was so much struck by the natural scenery and associations of the place, that he nearly made up his mind to reside there for ever. But the memory of his old mother made him return home. On his way back he was so much struck by the poverty of a village near Vaidyanâth, that he wept bitterly, and would not go from
the place without seeing them happy. So Mathurânâtha fed the whole village for several days, gave proper clothing and some money to each of the villagers, and departed with Râmakrishna contented.
'When the rose is blown, and sheds its fragrance all around, the bees come of themselves. The bees seek the full-blown rose, and not the rose the bees.' This saying of Srî Râmakrishna has been verified often and often in his own life. Numbers of earnest men, of all sects and creeds, began to flock to him to receive instruction and to drink the waters of life. From day-dawn to night-fall he had no leisure to eat or drink, so engaged was he in teaching, exhorting, and ministering to the wants of these hungry and thirsty millions. Men possessed of wonderful Yoga powers and great learning came to learn from this illiterate Paramahamsa of Dakshinesvara, and in their turn acknowledged him as their spiritual director (Guru), touched as they were by the wonderful purity, the childlike simplicity, the perfect unselfishness, and by the simple language in which he propounded the highest truths of religion and philosophy. But the people of Calcutta knew him not till Babu Keshub Chunder Son went to him and wrote about him. Râmakrishna's interview with Keshub was brought about in this way. It was in the year 1866 that Keshub was leading a life of prayer and seclusion in a garden house at Belgharia, about two miles from the temple of Dakshinesvara. Râmakrishna heard of him, and went to see him. Keshub was so much impressed with the simple words, full of the highest knowledge, the
wonderful love of God, and the deep trances of Srî Râmakrishna, that he began to come often and often to him. He would sit for hours at the feet of Râmakrishna and listen with rapture to the wonderful sayings on religion of that wonderful man. From time to time Râmakrishna would be lost in a deep Samâdhi, and Keshub would gently touch his feet that he might thereby be purified. Sometimes he would invite the Paramahamsa to his house, or would take him in a boat and proceed a few miles up and down the river. He then used to question him on some points of religion to clear away his own doubts. A strong and deep love grew up between the two, and Keshub's whole life became changed, till, a few years later, he proclaimed his views of religion as the New Dispensation, which was nothing but a partial representation of the truths which Râmakrishna had taught for a long time.
A brief sketch of the teachings of Râmakrishna, and a few of his sayings, which Keshub published, were sufficient to rouse a wide interest in the Paramahamsa, and numbers of highly-educated men of Calcutta and women of noble family began to pour in to receive instruction from this wonderful Yogin. Râmakrishna began to teach them and talk to them from morn till evening. At night, too, he had no rest, for some of the more earnest would remain and spend the night with him. He then forgot his sleep, and talked to them incessantly about Bhakti (devotion) or Gñâna (knowledge) and his own experiences, and how he arrived at them. Though this incessant labour
began at last to tell upon him, yet he would not rest. In the meanwhile the crowds of men and women began to increase daily, and he went on as before. When pressed to take rest, he would say, 'I would suffer willingly all sorts of bodily pains, and death also, a hundred thousand times, if by so doing I could bring one single soul to freedom. and salvation.'
In the beginning of 1885 he suffered from what is known as 'the clergyman's throat,' which by-and-by developed into cancer. He was removed to Calcutta, and the best physicians were engaged, such as Babu Mohindra Lal Sircar, &c., who advised him to keep the strictest silence; but the advice was to no effect. Crowds of men and women gathered wherever he went, and waited patiently to hear a single word from his mouth, and he, out of compassion for them, would not remain silent. Many a time he would be lost in a Samâdhi, losing all consciousness of his body and of his disease, and coming back he would talk incessantly as before. Even when the passage of his throat became so constricted that he could not swallow even liquid food, he would never stop his efforts. He was undaunted and remained as cheerful as ever, till on August 16, 1886, at 10 o'clock in the night, he entered into Samâdhi, from which he never returned. His disciples took it at first to be an ordinary Samâdhi, such as he used to have every day, during which the best doctors even could not find any pulsation or beating of the heart; but, alas, they were mistaken.
Râmakrishna felt such an aversion to gold and silver
that he could not even touch them, and a simple touch, even when he was asleep, would produce physical contortions. His breath would stop, and his fingers would become contorted and paralysed for a few minutes, even when the metal had been removed. In his later days he could touch no metals, not even iron.
He was a wonderful mixture of God and man. In his ordinary state he would talk of himself as servant of all men and women. He looked upon them all as God. He himself would never be addressed as Guru, or teacher. Never would he claim for himself any high position. He would touch the ground reverently where his disciples had trodden. But every now and then strange fits of God-consciousness came upon him. He then became changed into a different being altogether. He then spoke of himself as being able to do and know everything. He spoke as if he had the power of giving anything to anybody. He would speak of himself as the same soul that had been born before as Râma, as Krishna, as Jesus, or as Buddha, born again as Râmakrishna. He told Mathurânâtha, long before anybody knew him, that he had many disciples who would come to him shortly, and he knew all of them. He said that he was free from all eternity, and the practices and struggles after religion which he went through were only meant to show the people the way to salvation. He had done all for them alone. He would say he was a Nitya-mukta, or eternally free, and an incarnation of God Himself. 'The fruit of the pumpkin,' he said, 'comes out first, and then the flowers; so it is with the Nitya-muktas,
or those who are free from all eternity, but come down for the good of others.'
During the state of Samâdhi he was totally unconscious of himself and of the outward world. At one time he fell down upon a piece of live coal during this state. It burned deep into his flesh, but he did not know for hours, and the surgeon had to come in to extract the coal, when he came back to consciousness, and felt the wound.
At another time his foot slipped, and he broke his hand. The surgeon carne and bound it up and advised him not to use it till it was quite cured. But it was impossible. As soon as anybody spoke anything of religion or on God, he went straight into the state of Samâdhi, and his hands became straight and stiff, and the injured hand had to be bound up again. This went on for months, and it took six months or more to cure that simple fracture.
Mathurânâtha proposed again and again to hand over to him the temple of Dakshinesvara and a property yielding an income of 25,000 Rs. a year, but he declined the proposal, and added that he would have to fly away from the place if Mathurânâtha pressed his gift upon him. At another time another gentleman made an offer of some 25,000 Rs. to him, with the same result.
30:1 Even dates are inaccurate in the biographical notices of Râmakrishna, as published in various Indian papers immediately after his death.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.