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