Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ramakrishna Paramhansa - (1826-1886)


Ramakrishna Parmahamsa is perhaps the best known saint of nineteenth century India. Depite not having the least bit of interest in publicity, people flocked to him hearing that a great saint who has experienced the Divine directly resides in Dakshineshwar. His lucid direct experience of God had a universal appeal, and even the modern Hindus educated in British schools were drawn back into their culture hearing him speak. Sri AUrobindo, another great yogi of Bengal later said: "India became free on the day when arrogant youth who had been to British schools bowed down humbly before the illiterate saint, knowing that he carried within him a greater power."

He was born in a poor Brahman family in 1836, in a small town near Calcutta, West Bengal. As a young man, he was artistic and a popular storyteller and actor.

Young Ramakrishna was prone to experiences of spiritual reverie and temporary loss of consciousness. His early spiritual experiences included going into a state of rapture while watching the flight of a cranes, and loosing consciousness of the outer world while playing the role of the god Shiva in a school play.

Ramakrishna had little interest in school or practical things of the world. In 1866, he became a priest at a recently dedicated temple to the Goddess Kali located near Calcutta on the Ganges River. It was built by a pious widow, Rani Rasmani. Ramakrishna became a full-time devotee to the goddess spending increasing amounts of time giving offerings and meditating on her. He meditated in a sacred grove of five trees on the edge of the temple grounds seeking a vision of the goddess Kali.

At one point he became frustrated, feeling he could not live any longer without seeing Kali. He demanded that the goddess appear to him. He threatened to take his own life with a ritual dagger (normally held in the hand of the Kali statue). At this point, he explained how the goddess appeared to him as an ocean of light:

"When I jumped up like a madman and seized [a sword], suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple, and everything vanished from my sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. As far as the eye could see, the shining billows were madly rushing at me from all sides with a terrific noise, to swallow me up. I was caught in the rush and collapsed, unconscious … within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother."
About this time, an elderly holy women stayed with Ramakrishna for some time teaching him yogic and tantric meditation techniques.

A yogin named Totapuri then became Ramakrishna's mentor. Ramakrishna adopted the role of renunciant and learned a nondualist form of Vedanta philosophy from him. In this system, God is understood to be the formless unmanifest energy that supports the cosmos. Ramakrishna experienced a deep form of trance (nirvilkalpa samadhi) under the guidance of this teacher. This state can be described as complete absorption of the soul into the divine ocean of consciousness.

Ramakrishna did get married to a lady who is known as Sarada Devi, although it was a celibate marriage of a yogic couple. Disciples began to appear at this point in Ramakrishna's life. He embarked on a long period of teaching where he gathered a group of disciples around him. This period of his life is well documented by two sets of books written by his disciples. These references are listed below. Ramakrishna explained on different occasions that god is both formed and formless and can appear to the devotee either way. He often asked visitors whether they conceived of god as having qualities or as being beyond qualities. He then proceeded to teach the devotee according to the way he or she viewed the divine.

The most famous of Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees was a youth who came to him as Narendra Dutt, who is better known to us as Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda went on to create a powerful ripple in the inertia that had gripped Hindus, and significantly changed the way that Hinduism was looked at by the world. He is considered the father of the Western Yoga movement.

Ramakrishna died of cancer of the throat in 1886.

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