Category Archives: Biographies

The Life of Sri Ramakrishna

A fast look at the life of Ramakrishna – February 16, 1836, to August 16, 1886

Early Life

Gadadhar Chatterjee was born in a remote village named Kāmārpukur in West Bengal. It was an area of rice-fields, banyans, palms, a few lakes, and a nearby mango orchard. A road passed through the village to the great temple of Jagannāth at Puri traveled by workers, farmers, holy men, and pilgrims.

As a child, Gadadhar Chatterjee loved listening to stories from Hindu mythology and the epics. Afterward, he could recite them from memory. This brought great joy to the villagers. He also enjoyed painting and molding images of the gods and goddesses. Mathematics was his greatest dislike.

At the age of six or seven Gadādhar had his first experience of spiritual ecstasy while walking between the rice fields. He fell unconscious during the vision and some villagers that found him carried him home.

Gadadhar’s parents were poor Brahmins, the highest rank in the Hindu caste system. He received a simple village education and was a mischievous child, eventually shunning his education. Gadadhar’s father died when he was only seven years old.

Growing up Gadadhar became interested in the wandering monks and pilgrims who stopped at his village on the way to the temple at Puri. At sixteen Gadadhar traveled to Calcutta to assist his eldest brother, Ramkumar, in his duties as a priest. His brother hoped to encourage Gadadhar to complete his education.

The Temple at Dakshineshwar

2013-Kolkata-Dakshineshwar-106
Kali Temple, Dakshineshwar, Kolkata Photo by By Wiki-uk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Within a few years, Ramkumar served at the new temple in the nearby village of Dakshineshwar, a few miles outside of Calcutta, now called Kolkata. Ramkumar became a priest at the temple of Kali, known as the Divine Mother. The temple is still located along the banks of the east bank of the Ganges River or to be technical the distributary known as the Hooghly River.

The temple grounds were purchased by a rich widow named Rani Rasmani. She created a temple garden and constructed the temple of Radhakanta, the Twelve Siva Temples, and the main temple dedicated to Kali, the Divine Mother. The dedication ceremony took place on May 31, 1855.

When Ramkumar died in 1856, Gadadhar assumed the role of the priest to the Divine Mother Kali. He spent long periods of time in meditation, sometimes neglecting his formal duties while lost in ecstatic singing before the temple image of Kali.

Gadadhar also spent whole nights in meditation in the deep jungle north of the temples. The area was thick with underbrush and at one time used as a burial ground. The locals shunned the area, even during daylight, for fear of ghosts. He would stay all night returning to his room in the morning with his eyes swollen from weeping.

It soon became impossible for him to perform his temple duties. The temple manager relieved him of his duties and gave him use of every facility for his spiritual quest. The temple manager was the son in law of Rani Rasmani, who had developed great respect and admiration for Gadadhar.

It was from that setting, the garden at the temple and his solitary spot in the jungle, that Gadadhar Chatterjee transformed into the loved and revered God-loving master known as Sri Ramakrishna.

In 1859 Gadadhar’s mother arranged a marriage for him, hoping to bring him back to an earthlier existence. It did not work. When the bride became of age to join her husband at the temple he remained celibate, eventually worshiping her as a symbol of the deity Kali. Ramakrishna viewed all women as a manifestation of the Divine Mother. His wife was Ma Sarada.

In 1861 a woman Master of Tantra declared Ramakrishna an avatar. The local religious authorities investigated and accepted her claim. Mahendra Gupta quotes the nameless woman as having said to Ramakrishna “My son, everyone in this world is mad. Some are mad for money, some for creature comforts, some for name and fame; and you are mad for God.” Although Mahendra Gupta does not appear to name the women, from the book “The Sayings of Ramakrishna,” I believe her name was Bhairavi Brahmana as the stories from both books converge in 1861.

Over the next few years, he worshiped Rama and Krishna as the formless Brahman of the Vedanta branch of Hinduism. He went on to also find God through Islam, and later by Jesus Christ. His gospel was the gospel of unity and diversity. Ramakrishna is recognized worldwide for his message that all religions are paths to the truth. He taught that The Ultimate Reality is one, but it is personal as well as impersonal and is indicated by different names in different religions This view is known as Pluralism.

Gradually Ramakrishna attracted more public attention as devotees, and visitors flocked to his room in the temple garden overlooking the Ganges River. He attracted a diverse mixture of people including scholars of Sanskrit, educated intellectuals, shop owners, landowners, educators, and common people. Among those who gathered, was also Ramakrishna’s most beloved disciple, Swami Vivekananda.

About the Book – The Gospel of Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna was a simple villager and produced no writings. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna was written in Bengali by Mahendra Gupta, who was a high school headmaster from Calcutta. Mahendra Gupta wrote under the name M. Whenever you are reading of Ramakrishna and see M either speaking or being asked a question, know that is referring to Mahendra Gupta.

It is interesting to note that Mahendra Gupta was also a teacher to the well-known Paramahansa Yogananda, who spoke and wrote quite fondly of M.

The Gospel of Ramakrishnan is an eyewitness account of the Master’s conversations with visitors, devotees, and disciples during the years 1882 -1886. The book is hailed as one of the greatest spiritual classics of the twentieth century, as it was translated into English almost six decades later.

The unabridged book starts chapter one with Mahendra Gupta’s first meeting with Ramakrishna in February of 1882.

The Setting

By this time, the 1800s had already brought the Battle of Waterloo, the first photographs, the California Gold Rush, and the invention of the Typewriter.

Within two years, the Taiping rebellion in China would end with 20 million people dead. The American Civil War was only in its third year. Queen Victoria was on the throne and steamboats had been crossing the Atlantic for nearly 45 years. The Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was still five years from completion.

The Austro-Prussian War was four years away. Cash registers and incandescent light bulbs were not yet in use. There were no telephones. There were no radios. The first commercial movie film wouldn’t debut for another 30 years. The first home refrigerators would not appear for  47 years.

Ramakrishna trance 1879
Ramakrishna in samadhi supported by his nephew Hriday and surrounded by Brahmo devotees. Photograph taken on Sunday, September 21, 1879 at the house of Keshab Chandra Sen, Calcutta.
In this world backdrop, M takes us to what seems like an almost magical time and place in the beautiful gardens at the temples along the Ganges River. It was a different and distant world, in a far more peaceful time. It was as a flower that can never be replicated. The nearby jungle has since been cleared and replaced by a modern city. Nowadays Highway 2 runs practically next door to the temple.

It was on a Sunday in the spring of 1880, that M first arrived at the Dakshineshwar Temple. He and his companion Sidhu arrived at dusk while visiting gardens at Baranagore. They found Ramakrishna sitting on a wooden couch facing east. He smiled as he talked about God to a room full of people totally absorbed in his words.

M was speechless and did not want to leave. Sill, he thought, “Let me see this place first.” Leaving the room, they could hear the music from the temple service, the gongs, bells, and cymbals. He could also hear the music at the south end of the garden. A spring wind blew carrying the fragrance of the flowers and the moon had just appeared.

After visiting the temples, they returned to Sri Ramakrishna’s room finding him alone. The master requested they sit. He asked them “Where do you live? What is your occupation? Why did you come to visit Baranagore?” After some conversation, M saluted the Master to leave.

“Come again,” Sri Ramakrishna said.

It was from this meeting that the book known as The Gospel of Ramakrishna started. Much of what we know of him and his teachings, including his biography, is contained in this book.

(It is interesting to note that early in the book M crosses paths with devotee named Narendranath Datta. Narendranath went on to become Swami Vivekananda.)

 

A Fast Glimpse at Ramakrishna’s Message

Lex Hixon wrote, “Ramakrishna in not a quaint person from and ancient culture, representing a particular religious background, but and Einstein of the planetary civilization of the near future, a greenhouse for the future evolution of humanity.”

Some of Ramakrishna’s teachings include that the goal of human life is the realization of the Ultimate Reality, God, which the only thing that can give man true fulfillment and everlasting peace.

He believed that God, or the Ultimate Reality, can be realized through various paths and that all religions are true in so long as they lead to the same ultimate Goal.

He thought that God dwells in all people but the manifestation of God varies from person to person. In saintly people, there is a greater manifestation of God than in others.

He strongly believed that Women are special manifestations of Divine Mother of the Universe, and so are to be treated with respect.

Helping the needy should be done not out of compassion but rather as humble service to God

God realization is possible for all. The householders need not renounce the world, but they should pray sincerely. God listens to sincere prayer. Intense longing is the secret of success in spiritual life.  Trough spiritual practices, man can overcome his evil tendencies, and divine grace can redeem even the worst sinner.

The Gospel of Ramakrishna Translated

The first English translation was published in 1942 by Swami Nikhilananda. Swami Nikhilananda also produced and abridged version, so keep this in mind if you ever research or purchase.

Both books are long and difficult for those not familiar with either Ramakrishna or any aspects of Hinduism. The best thing for a beginner to do is to get a condensed and annotated version.

I researched and found the Skylight Illumination version as a starting point. I found it easy to read and like all Skylight Illumination books, all foreign words and concepts are annotated in an easy to follow manner. The title is Selections from the Gospel of Ramakrishna. It also includes and index.

Free Links for Ramakrishna Material

Biography only – from The Gospel of Ramakrishna  http://www.belurmath.org/gospel/introduction.htm/

Read or search The Gospel of Ramakrishna free online http://www.belurmath.org/gospel/

Full the text version of The Gospel of Ramakrishna https://archive.org/stream/GospelOfSriRamakrishnaTheMahendranathGupta/TheGospelOfSriRamakrishna_djvu.txt

The Gospel of Ramakrishna  PDF http://www.wearesentience.com/uploads/7/2/9/3/7293936/gospel_srk.pdf

Sayings of Ramakrishna PDF http://estudantedavedanta.net/Sayings%20of%20Sri%20Ramakrishna.pdf

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Ramana Maharshi and Lakshmi

Lakshmi was one of Ramana Maharshi’s most devoted and enlightened devotees. What makes this story so special and interesting is that Lakshmi was no regular devotee. She was a cow.

This story comes from the work of David Godman, who wrote on the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi.  It starts in the middle 1920s when a man called Arunachalam Pillai had a dream instructing him to take a certain calf to Bhagavan. (Bhagavan is the title name of a holy teacher or glorious person.) Arunachalam Pillai did as the dream instructed. It was a long and difficult trip (approximately133km). Bhagavan, however, had a rule, not to accept any animal unless somebody in the ashram volunteered to look after it.

With no volunteers and not wanting the responsibility for himself, Ramana Maharshi tried to convince Arunachalam Pillai to take the mother and the calf back with him. Arunachalam, however, insisted that he had to leave it.  Bhagavan argued that he brought the calf and presented it as the dream demanded, so now with his obligation fulfilled, he could take her and her mother back.

Picture of Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 – April 15, 1950)
That is when Ramanatha Brahmachari, one of Bhagavan’s devotees, who had no experience with animals, felt urged to jump up saying “I’ll look after it, Bhagavan. I’ll look after it!”

Still skeptical, Bhagavan accepted the calf and her mother to live at the ashram. They named the calf Lakshmi because it arrived on a Friday, Lakshmi’s Day, by Hindu tradition. Lakshmi is the Hindu god of wealth.

The cows made a mess of the vegetable garden, but Maharshi sided with the animals insisting it was the fault of Ramanatha Brahmachari for failing to watch them. The two animals devastated the ashram grounds. It was clear Brahmachari could not watch over them so the Ashram gave up the mother and her calf to a man in town named Pasupatti.

Some time later, Pasupatti came out to Ramanashram to have a bath in the tank that adjoins Ramanashram, bringing the mother and the calf with him.  After he had his bath, he brought Lakshmi and her mother to see Bhagavan.

From that day forward, Lakshmi would leave her caretaker in town every morning, come to Ramanashram and sit in the old hall next to Bhagavan, for the entire day. In the evening, she would go back to her stable in town.

Bhagavan would feed her special foods. She liked some of the same food as the human members of the ashram. She even had a favorite food.

Generally, when Lakshmi approached, she didn’t observe human protocols. There are several stories of her being in a very urgent mood to see Bhagavan. She would charge in trampling people who were standing in her way. Sometimes she would defecate in the hall. Still, Bhagavan never allowed anyone to criticize her or chase her away.

The reason Bhagavan said, is the animals that used to live at Ramanashram were the original tenants. They were the rightful owners of the property. “We’re squatting on their land. We have no right to inconvenience them in any way.”

He made it clear to all, that when Lakshmi entered, it was their job to get out of her way. She wasn’t able to negotiate tight spaces well. She would just walk straight to Bhagavan, trampling anyone in her way. He gave her complete free rein to come and go whenever she liked.

Lakshmi became a priority devotee. “When she comes in, give her some space. Let her come. Let her sit next to me.” Bhagavan instructed.

As she grew Lakshmi had nine calves of her own. Somehow she delivered three of her calves on Bhagavan’s Jayanti. That’s the annual celebration of his birthday. Coincidence or not, the author David Godman, does not know. Three calves in a row, for three years, however, is extraordinary.

Ramana Maharshi didn’t regard Lakshmi simply as a favored pet. She caught him with her devotion the same way that a few other devotees caught Bhagavan with their devotion.

Bhagavan seemed to understand and could mentally communicate with Lakshmi.  David Godman mentioned this to establish that Lakshmi could communicate complex notions and ideas to Bhagavan and Bhagavan could reply without spoken words.

One such incident was when the devotees were not feeding Lakshmi her favorite human food. Bhagavan responded by going on a hunger strike. When asked why he would not eat, he said he would not eat until devotees in the kitchen fed Lakshmi her favorite food. From then on she received her ration.

 photo ramana and lakshmi_zps8jk4u2dw.jpg
Ramana Maharshi and Lakshmi

Lakshmi fell in love with Bhagavan as many devotees did. Every evening, it became more and more difficult to make her take the walk back to town. During this time, Pasupatti had some domestic difficulties. Once Pasupatti could no longer take care of the animals, they returned to the ashram as full-time residents.

Throughout the ashram, the members believed Lakshmi was the reincarnation of a woman who used to look after Bhagavan on the hill. Her name was Keerai Patti. The name Keerai Patti translates into English “Greens Grandmother,” greens as in eatable green plants.

“Greens Granny” was living on Arunachala even before Bhagavan came. Bhagavan said he first met her in the 1890s.

Keerai Patti was one of the first people who took it upon herself to collect food for him, cook for him, and serve him. In the early years of Virupaksha Cave, Bhagavan lived in the cave itself and Keerai Patti lived a few hundred feet down the hill.

When Keerai Patti died, she was buried under a tree along the road. Since that time, the local highway department decided that all of those gravestones were encroachments and bulldozed them away. Now, no one knows exactly where she was buried.

Keerai Patti died in the early 1920s and Lakshmi was born three years later.  Coincidentally, the town of Lakshmi’s birth was Gudiyatham, the same town as Keerai Patti’s birth.

Ramana Maharshi would never answer a direct question on whether Lakshmi was Keerai Patti reborn. The devotees who wrote about this said Bhagavan never said it wasn’t Keerai Patti. When books were written claiming Lakshmi was Keerai Patti, Ramana Maharshi always approved them for publication. Lakshmi died in 1948. Ramana Maharshi died on April 14, 1950.

If you liked this story or if you are interested in more detail, I suggest you see David Godman Youtube Video, talks on Sri Ramana Maharshi: Narrated by David Godman – Lakshmi the Cow. It is truly a great historical documentary on Ramana Maharshi.

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A Quick Look at the Story of Ramana Maharshi

picture of Ramana Marharshi

 

Ramana Maharshi was born in 1879 as Venkataraman Iyer, in what is now Tiruchuli, Tamil Nadu, India.  After a near death experience and spiritual awakening in 1896, he had to sneak away from his family because they would not approve of him becoming a sannyasin – one whose life is marked by renunciation of material desires and who detaches from material life. He took a train to Tiruvannamalai and stayed in that area till the end of his life.

[See map below – The lower star is Tiruchuli. the upper star is Tiruvannamalai.]

Early Spiritual Life

Three years later in February 1899, Ramana left the foothills to live on the Arunachala Hill (actually a mountain) eventually taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years.

One of Ramana Maharshi’s first teachings of note was his reply to a series of questions asked by Sri M. Sivaprakasam Pillai about the year 1902.  Pillai was visiting the area representing the Revenue Department of the South Arcot Collectorate.  While there, he went to Virupaksha Cave on Arunachala Hill and met Ramana Maharshi This record of this was first published by Sri Pillai in 1923 and titled Who Am I (Nan Yar?). [ There is a link to free copy at end of article.]

Another slightly longer work, titled Self-Enquiry, was published by Gambhiram Seshayya during the same time period.  Seshayya was the Municipal Overseer at Tiruvannamalai circa 1900. This work, titled Self-Enquiry, came from notes taken between 1900 -1902. Both this work and ‘Who Am I?’ are available for free on the internet.

googlemapTiruchulitoTiruvannamalai
Lower star is Tiruchuli. Upper star is Tiruvannamalai.

Introduction to the west

Other works included a biography of Ramana Maharshi, Self Realisation: The Life and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, written by B. V. Narasimha, published in 1931, and A Search in Secret India, by Paul Brunton. Brunton’s book became a best-seller and it was then that Ramana Maharshi became well-known outside of India.

His Passing

In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana’s arm. The story is that since he was so beloved, he had access to the best medal treatment available but did not take much interest. Ramana gave his medical patch to another suffering man to see if perhaps it would help him. The other man lived, but Ramana Maharshi died on April 14, 1950 at 8:47 P.M. At the same time of his death, a shooting star was seen.

Self-Enquiry

Ramana Maharshi’s teachings recommended self-enquiry as the principal means to remove ignorance and gain self-awareness when combined with bhakti (devotion). Keep in mind that his not the same self-enquiry of modern psychology.  Ramana Maharshi ‘s method of Self-Enquiry consists of the question ‘Who am I?’. Ramana Maharshi taught it is the primary means of gaining happiness and knowing one’s self or true nature.

The answer to “Who Am I’ is not what is commonly given – “I am so-and-so. I have a wife and two kids and work at such-and-such.” Instead, it consists of the stripping away of what you are not. You are not the body. You are not the senses, you are not the organs of speech, movement, etc. You are not the breath. Neither are you nescience.  Neither are you the mind, thoughts or emotions.

What he uncovers is that what remains after all these things or ideas are stripped away is who you are.  You are the awareness that remains, the observer, the one who sees, or the one who watches what the mind thinks.  You are the force that allows all these things to happen. Once who you are departs, they stop.

You will note this runs contrary to some popular western ideas such as, “You are the sum total of all your thoughts,” or that all the above is the compilation of who you are. Which is right? That is for you to decide.

Ramana Maharshi’s teachings say you are that force, spirit, or observer period. You are not a combination of body, mind, and a spirit – you are the spirit. The spirit is a separate entity and all those other things are merely instruments of it. You are the observer and once you realize this and stay in that knowledge your problems begin to crumble.

The method is simple, but carrying it out is difficult.

Article by The Old Dirt Road – Paul Nieto

Free Links for his works:
Self-Enquiry http://selfdefinition.org/ramana/Self-Enquiry.pdf
Who Am I? (Nan Yar?) http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/who_am_I.pdf

Article by The Old Dirt Road – Paul Nieto

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