Biography

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was born in the village of Kamarpukur in West Bengal. Born to pious parents, Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (as he was named) grew up in the idyllic village settings, surrounded by loving family and friends. He was a cheerful boy with a natural tendency to inspire love and attraction from anyone who met him. He soon endeared himself to the simple villagers of Kamarpukur with his story-telling, singing, dramatics, clay-modeling etc. His formal schooling was limited to the Bengali alphabet, but his education came from his keen insight into the understanding of the ways of the people around him. Early in his teens, he resolved not to waste time on the so-called 'bread-winning education'. Instead his discriminating mind chose the way of self-surrender to the family deity, Raghuvir. He had already chosen to lead a life free from sense enjoyments which he somehow fathomed to be ephemeral, even at that young age.

Entering his 17th year, Gadadhar moved to Calcutta to aid his elder brother, Ramkumar. Soon Gadadhar became the priest of the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar, built by Rani Rasmani on the banks of the Ganges. His dormant spiritual fervour was awakened and he soon dived deep into spiritual practices. His intense sadhana led him to the vision of the Goddess Kali, to whom he stayed as a simple son for the rest of his life.

Not satisfied with his vision of the Mother of the Universe, Sri Ramakrishna soon sought out ways to realize God in different bhavas (moods) such as the mood of a handmaid of God, a servant of the Lord, etc. With his powerful power of concentration, he was able to reach the apex of all these spiritual paths. His experiments continued with his exploration of Advaita Vedanta, Islam and finally with the experience of his spiritual union with Jesus Christ. Drawing from his own strivings, Sri Ramakrishna made a solemn statement: "Jotho mat, tatho path" (As many faiths, so many paths). He was married to Sarada Devi, who grew up to be his spiritual consort. Their pure family life, devoid of any physical relations, continues to inspire thousands of householders. As time passed, she went on to be the support of the fledgling Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.

Many devotees were drawn by his sweet, unfailing words. Many householders lay bare their aching hearts and the soothing words of the Master acted as a balm. He constantly urged them to condemn 'Kamini-Kanchana' (as in lust and money) and to divert one's attention completely to God realization as the only aim of human life. His lively parables and teachings enlivened and illustrated the sublime thoughts enshrined in the hoary Hindu scriptures. Many pure young men such as Narendranath Dutta and Rakhal Ghosh cast themselves in his service and soon were transformed into spiritual giants such as Swamis Vivekananda and Brahmananda.

His words of wisdom were recorded by a devotee and later published as the 'Kathamrita' or 'The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna'. The words of Sri Ramakrishna were in simple Bengali, but disguise the loftiest teachings of religion. People of all walks of life find solace in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna according to their individual capacities.

Words of Sri Ramakrishna

  • More are the names of God and infinite are the forms through which He may be approached. In whatever name and form you worship Him, through them you will realize Him.

  • One should not think, 'My religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.' God can be realized by means of all paths. It is enough to have sincere yearning for God. Infinite are the paths and infinite are the opinions.

  • Water and a bubble on it are one and the same. The bubble has its birth in the water, floats on it, and is ultimately resolved into it. So also the Jivatman (individual soul) and the Paramatman (collective soul) are one and the same, the difference between them being only one of degree. For, one is finite and limited while the other is infinite; one is dependent while the other is independent.

  • Men are like pillow-cases. The colour of one may be red, that of another blue, and that of the third black; but all contain the same cotton within. So it is with man; one is beautiful, another is ugly, a third holy , and a fourth wicked; but the Divine Being dwells in them all.

  • The relation of Brahman to Shakti is that of fire to its burning property.

  • As the cloud covers the sun, so Maya hides God. When the cloud moves away, the sun is seen again, when Maya is removed, God becomes manifest.

  • Rain-water never stands on high ground, but runs down to the lowest level. So also the mercy of God remains in the hearts of the lowly, but drains off from those of the vain and the proud.

  • If you feel proud, let it be in the thought that you are the servant of God, the son of God. Great men have the nature of a child. They are always a child before Him; so they are free from pride. All their strength is of God and not their own. It belongs to Him and comes from Him.

  • As a piece of rope, when burnt, retains its form, but cannot serve to bind, so is the ego which is burnt by the fire of supreme Knowledge.

  • That knowledge which purifies the mind and heart alone is true knowledge, all else is only a negation of knowledge.

  • A boat may stay in water, but water should not stay in boat. A spiritual aspirant may live in the world, but the world should not live within him.

Glimpses of Sri Ramakrishna

Watch out this space for more glimpses!

Sri Ramakrishna's love for humanity

It makes us feel good to learn how much an avatar thinks of his devotees. We find in the Bhagavata that Krishna sent Uddhava to get news of his devotees in Vrindaban and to console them. In the Gospel we find many examples of how Ramakrishna expressed concern for his devotees. This proves that God also thinks of us.

In the Puranas, we find descriptions of devotees’ love and longing for God; but God’s love for the devotees is not mentioned. This is because human beings are incapable of expressing God’s infinite love, and those scriptures were written by human beings. M. (Mahendranath Gupta) once said: “If the Master heard that someone had developed longing for God, he would rush to that person on his own initiative. One dark night the Master hired a carriage and went to a devotees’ house in Calcutta. I was with him. As soon as the devotee learned that the Master had come, he said: ‘Sir, why did you take so much trouble to come to see me in the dark of the night? If you had called for me, I would have come to you.’ The Master told him: ‘Look, in the beginning God becomes the magnet, and the devotee, the needle. But in the end the devotee becomes the magnet, and God the needle. One attains God who has longing.’ ”

Source: How to Live with God by Swami Chetanananda

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Sri Ramakrishna on Prayer

Swami Akhandananda recalls:

Once I spent a night at Dakshineshwar with several other disciples, and the Master has us all sit for meditation. While communing with our Chosen Deities, we often laughed and wept in ecstasy. The pure joy we experienced in those boyhood days cannot be expressed in words. Whenever I approached the Master he would invariably ask me, “Did you shed tears at the time of prayer or meditation?” And one day when I answered yes to this, how happy he was! “Tears of repentance or sorrow flow from the corners of the eyes nearest the nose,” he said, “and those of joy from the outer corners of the eyes.” Suddenly the Master asked me, “Do you know how to pray?” Saying this he flung his hands and feet about restlessly – like a little child impatient for its mother. Then he cried out: “Mother dear, grant me knowledge and devotion. I don’t want anything else. I can’t live without you.” While thus teaching us how to pray, he looked just like a small boy. Profuse tears rolled down his chest, and he passed into deep Samadhi. I was convinced that the Master did that for my sake.

Source: God Lived With Them by Swami Chetanananda

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Sri Ramakrishna's Potent Words

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is a big volume. But whatever the price may be, no price can be put on the value of those words. Ramakrishna had a householder disciple, an ishwarakoti (godlike soul) whose name was Purna Chandra Ghosh. Long after Ramakrishna passed away, there was trouble in Purna’s family and he wanted to commit suicide. He decided first to take his bath, and then go to the shrine to salute his guru before killing himself. He took his bath, then went to the shrine and saluted the Master. But he then thought: “Let me read a little bit of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Taking the beautiful message of the Master, I shall depart from this world.” At random he opened the book and his eyes fell on this sentence: “Purna balak bhakta. Thakur Purner mangal chinta karitechen.” (Purna is a young devotee. The Master was thinking of his welfare.) “What?” cried Purna to himself: “The Master is thinking of me and I shall commit suicide? Impossible! He is thinking of my welfare and I am contemplating killing myself. It cannot be.” He gave up the idea and thus his life was saved. Such is the power of the words of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna!

Source: How to Live with God by Swami Chetanananda

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If God is pleased the whole world becomes pleased

Kali (Swami Abhedananda) recalled:

One day Golap-ma said to the Master: “Dr. Durga Charan of Calcutta is a reputable physician. Perhaps he can find some remedy for you.” Immediately the Master agreed to visit him. That night I stayed at Dakshineshwar. Latu and Golap-ma were also there. The next morning the Master, Golap-ma, Latu, and I went to Calcutta by boat. After landing there, we rented a horse carriage and went to the doctor’s office at Beadon Square. Out of his mercy the Master asked me to sit next to him, and Golap-ma and Latu sat on the opposite seat. The doctor examined the Master’s throat and prescribed some medications. Then we went to the Ahiritola ghat and rented a boat for Dakshineshwar. It was about 1:30 p.m. and none of us had any food. The Master was hungry. He asked the boatman to anchor the boat at Baranagore ghat and then asked me to buy some sweets from a nearby market. Golap-ma had four pice with her which she gave me. I immediately went to the market and bought some chanar murki [small, sweet cheese balls]. The Master took the packet of sweets from my hand and joyfully ate them all. He then threw the empty packet into the Ganges and drank some water from the river with his hands. He showed his satisfaction. The Master knew that the three of us were hungry, but without sharing any sweets he had eaten everything. It was amazing! As soon as his hunger was relieved, our own stomachs felt full. We looked at each other silently. Then the Master smiled and like a boy began to make jokes – which continued all the way to Dakshineshwar. We all got out of the boat, and later the three of us discussed what had happened and realized that it was a miracle.

A similar event occurred when Krishna was alive and enacted his divine play. When the five Pandavas and their wife Draupadi were living in the forest during their exile, the sage Durvasa went to their cottage with his twelve hundred disciples and asked for food. According to the custom guests had to be fed, for otherwise it would be very inauspicious. Durvasa and his disciples went to the river for a bath, and while they were gone, the helpless Draupadi called on Krishna to come to rescue. Krishna came and asked Draupadi for some food. There was nothing but a few particles of rice and a little spinach at the bottom of a cooking vessel. Krishna ate this and drank a glass of water and by doing so, filled the stomachs of Durvasa and his disciples. So it is said, “If God is pleased the whole world becomes pleased.” That day I realized this truth by observing Sri Ramakrishna’s life.

Source: God Lived With Them by Swami Chetanananda

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Come, see Haridwar; see Badrika

The human mind is fastest vehicle in the world. One can visit any place one likes through the mind. M. described an incident that took place one day when he was with the Master: “One day a man was showing pictures through a magic lantern on a sidewalk in Calcutta. He was shouting, ‘Come, see Haridwar; see Badrika’ – two famous holy places in Himalayas. The Master was curious to see that show. He peeped into the box and seeing Badri Narayan, the deity of the Badri temple, he went into samadhi. After a while when he regained outer consciousness, he asked a devotee, ‘Please give this man something.’ The devotee paid six pice to that man. When the Master heard the amount the devotee had given, he said: ‘Wha! This man showed us Badri Narayan, and you have given so little! He should be given one rupee.’ ”

Source: How to Live with God by Swami Chetanananda

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Cracking jokes with devotees

As Sri Ramakrishna finished these words, Bankim and his friends began to whisper in English.
MASTER (smiling, to Bankim and the others): "Well, gentlemen! What are you talking about in English?"
ADHAR: "We are discussing what you have just said, your explanation of Krishna's form."

MASTER (smiling): "That reminds me of a funny story. It makes me want to laugh. Once a barber was shaving a gentleman. The latter was cut slightly by the razor. At once he cried out, 'Damn!' But the barber didn't know the meaning of the word. He put his razor and other shaving articles aside, tucked up his shirt-sleeves-it was winter-, and said: 'You said "damn" to me. Now you must tell me its meaning.' The gentleman said: 'Don't be silly. Go on with your shaving. The word doesn't mean anything in particular; but shave a little more carefully.' But the barber wouldn't let him off so easily. He said, 'If "damn" means something good, then I am a "damn", my father is a "damn", and all my ancestors are "damns". (All laugh.) But if it means something bad, then you are a "damn", your father is a "damn", and all your ancestors are "damns". (All laugh.) They are not only "damns", but "damn-damn-damn-da-damn-damn".'"(Loud laughter.)

Source: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

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Great Thinkers on Sri Ramakrishna

Aldous Huxley

‘The further you go towards the East,’ Sri Ramakrishna was fond of saying, ‘the further you go away from the West.’ This is one of those apparently childish remarks, which we meet with so often among the writings and recorded sayings of religious teachers. But it is an apparent childishness that masks a real profundity. Within this absurd little tautology there lies, in a state of living, seminal latency, a whole metaphysic, a complete programme of action. It is, of course, the same philosophy and the same way of life as were referred to by Jesus in those sayings about the impossibility of serving two masters, and the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God and waiting for all the rest to be added. Egoism and alter-egoism (or the idolatrous service of individuals, groups, and causes with which we identify ourselves so that their success flatters our own ego) cut us off from the knowledge and experience of reality. ... Egoism and alter-egoism advise us to remain firmly ensconced in the West, looking after our own human affairs. But if we do this, our affairs will end by going to pot. ... Whereas if we ignore the counsels of egoism and alter-egoism, and resolutely march toward the divine East, we shall create for ourselves the possibility of receiving the grace of enlightenment and, at the same time, we shall find that existence in our physical, Western home is a great deal more satisfactory than it was when we devoted our attention primarily to the improvement of our human lot.

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Arnold Joseph Toynbee

Sri Ramakrishna’s message was unique in being expressed in action. The message itself was the perennial message of Hinduism. ... In the Hindu view, each of the higher religions is a true vision and a right way, and all of them alike are indispensable to mankind, because each gives a different glimpse of the same truth, and each leads by a different route to the same goal of human endeavours. Each, therefore, has a special spiritual value of its own which is not to be found in any of the others.
To know this is good, but it is not enough. Religion is not just a matter for study ; it is something that has to be experienced and to be lived, and this is the field in which Sri Ramakrishna manifested his uniqueness. He practised successively almost every form of Indian religion and philosophy, and he went on to practise Islam and Christianity as well. His religious activity and experience were, in fact, comprehensive to a degree that had perhaps never before been attained by any other religious genius, in India or elsewhere. His devotion to God in the personal form of the Great Mother did not prevent him from attaining the state of ‘contentless consciousness’— an absolute union with absolute spiritual Reality.

Sri Ramakrishna made his appearance and delivered his message at the time and the place at which he and his message were needed. This message could hardly have been delivered by anyone who had not been brought up in the Hindu religious tradition. Sri Ramakrishna was born in Bengal in 1836. He was born into a world that, in his lifetime, was, for the first time, being united on a literally world-wide scale. Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of the world’s history, but it is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self destruction of the human race. In the present age, the world has been united on the material plane by Western technology. But this Western skill has not only ‘annihilated distance’ ; it has armed the peoples of the world with weapons of devastating power at a time when they have been brought to point-blank range of each other without yet having learnt to know and love each other. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is an Indian way. The Emperor Ashoka’s and the Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna’s testimony to the harmony of religions ; here we have the attitude and the spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family—and, in the Atomic Age, this is the only alternative to destroying ourselves.

In the Atomic Age the whole human race has a utilitarian motive for following this Indian way. No utilitarian motive could be stronger or more respectable in itself. The survival of the human race is at stake. Yet even the strongest and most respectable utilitarian motive is only a secondary reason for taking Ramakrishna’s and Gandhi’s and Ashoka’s teaching to heart and acting on it. The primary reason is that this teaching is right — and is right because it flows from a true vision of spiritual reality.

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Sri Aurobindo

When scepticism had reached its height, the time had come for spirituality to assert itself and establish the reality of the world as a manifestation of the spirit, the secret of the confusion created by the senses, the magnificent possibilities of man and the ineffable beatitude of God. This is the work whose consummation Sri Ramakrishna came to begin and all the development of the previous two thousand years and more since Buddha appeared, has been a preparation for the harmonization of spiritual teaching and experience by the avatàra of Dakshineshwar.

The long ages of discipline which India underwent, are now drawing to an end. A great light is dawning on the East, a light whose first heralding glimpses are already seen on the horizon; a new day is about to break, so glorious that even the last of the avatàras cannot be sufficient to explain it, although without him it would not have come. The perfect expression of Hindu spirituality was the signal for the resurgence of the East. Mankind has long been experimenting with various kinds of thought, different principles of ethics, strange dreams of a perfection to be gained by material means, impossible millenniums and humanitarian hopes. Nowhere has it succeeded in realizing the ultimate secret of life. Nowhere has society or politics helped it to escape from the necessity of sorrow, poverty, strife, dissatisfaction from which it strives for an outlet; for whoever is trying to find one by material means, must inevitably fail. The East alone has some knowledge of the truth, the East alone can teach the West, the East alone can save mankind. Through all these ages Asia has been seeking for a light within, and whenever she has been blessed with a glimpse of what she seeks, a great religion has been born, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Mohammedanism with all their countless sects. But the grand workshop of spiritual experiment, the laboratory of the soul has been India, where thousands of great spirits have been born in every generation who were content to work quietly in their own souls, perfect their knowledge, hand down the results of their experiments to a few disciples and leave the rest to others to complete. They did not hasten to proselytize, were in no way eager to proclaim themselves, but merely added their quota of experience and returned to the source from which they had come. The immense reservoir of spiritual energy stored up by the self-repression was the condition of this birth of avatàras, of men so full of God that they could not be satisfied with silent bliss, but poured it out on the world, not with the idea of proselytizing but because they wished to communicate their own ecstasy of realization to others who were fit to receive it either by previous tapasyà or by the purity of their desires. Of all these souls Sri Ramakrishna was the last and greatest, for while others felt God in a single or limited aspect, he felt Him in His illimitable unity as the sum of an illimitable variety. In him the spiritual experiences of the millions of saints who had gone before were renewed and united. Sri Ramakrishna gave to India the final message of Hinduism to the world. A new era dates from his birth, an era in which the peoples of the earth will be lifted for a while into communion with God and spirituality become the dominant note of spiritual life. What Christianity failed to do, what Mohammedanism strove to accomplish in times as yet unripe, what Buddhism half accomplished for a brief period and among a limited number of men, Hinduism as summed up in the life of Sri Ramakrishna has to attempt for all the world. This is the reason of India’s resurgence, this is why God has breathed life into her once more, why great souls are at work to bring about her salvation, why a sudden change is coming over the hearts of her sons. The movement of which the first outbreak was political, will end in a spiritual consummation.

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Christopher Isherwood

This is the story of a phenomenon. I will begin by calling him simply that, rather than ‘holy man’, ‘mystic’, ‘saint’, or avatàra ; all emotive words with mixed associations which may attract some readers, repel others.

A phenomenon is often something extraordinary and mysterious. Ramakrishna was extraordinary and mysterious; most of all to those who were best fitted to understand him. A phenomenon is always a fact, an object of experience. That is how I shall try to approach Ramakrishna.

Modern advertising has inflated our value-judgements until they are nearly worthless. Every product and person is said by its publicist to be the best. I want to avoid the competitive note here so I will say only this : Ramakrishna’s life, being comparatively recent history, is well documented. In this respect, it has the advantage over the lives of other, earlier phenomena of a like nature. We do not have to rely, here, on fragmentary or glossed manuscripts, dubious witnesses, pious legends. What Ramakrishna was or was not the reader must decide for himself ; but at least his decision can be based on words and deeds Ramakrishna indubitably spoke and did. ...

I myself am a devotee of Ramakrishna ; I believe, or am at least strongly inclined to believe, that he was what his disciples declared that he was : an incarnation of God upon earth. Nevertheless, I am not writing this book primarily for confirmed believers or unbelievers. The sort of reader I am writing for is the one who is not afraid to recognize the marvellous, no matter where he finds it ; the sort of reader who is always on the lookout for a phenomenon.

I only ask you approach Ramakrishna with the same open-minded curiosity you might feel about any highly unusual human being : a Julius Caesar, a Catherine of Siena, a Leonardo da Vinci, an Arthur Rimbaud. Dismiss from your mind, as far as you are able, such categories as holy-unholy, sane-insane, wise foolish, pure-impure, positive-negative, useful-useless. Just say to yourself as you read : this, too, is humanly possible. Then later, if you like, consider the implications of that possibility for the rest of the human species.

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D. S. Sarma

Of all the religious movements that have sprung up in India in recent times, there is none so faithful to our past and so full of possibilities for the future, so rooted in our national consciousness and yet so universal in its outlook, and therefore none so thoroughly representative of the religious spirit of India, as the movement connected with the name of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciple, Swami Vivekananda. In a way, the true starting point of the present Hindu Renaissance may be said to be Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. For his life represents the entire orbit of Hinduism, and not simply a segment of it. ...In fact, Sri Ramakrishna is a unique figure in the history of Hinduism, because, without much education and scholarship, he traversed the entire region of religious experience by his own tapas and confirmed by his own personal testimony the truths of the Hindu scriptures.

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Dalai Lama

Sri Ramakrishna was one of the greatest of India's spiritual adepts of recent times, actively embodying India's profound tradition of plurality. By assimilating the sàdhanàs, customs, and practices of different faiths into his own personal practice, he presented a powerful example of respect for other traditions, even while maintaining a deep fidelity to his own. His transparently pure and well-documented life remains a guide and inspiration to millions on their spiritual path.

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Huston Smith

In my study of the world's religions I have been fortunate in coming upon inspiring firsthand accounts of the world's great spiritual geniuses, including Sri Ramakrishna, India's greatest nineteenth century saint.

During the summer in the 1950s while I was writing the chapter on Hinduism in what was to become my book, The World's Religions, I read and meditated on ten pages of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna each day, and I credit those meditations for the acclaim that has greeted that chapter.

On the heels of [the] dispute over whether we are all saved, there is another. At the end of our journey do we merge with the godhead or enjoy the beatific vision of God forever? Monotheists champion the latter, mystics the former. Ramakrishna, who had a genius for embracing both horns of a dilemma, identifying with both sides, exclaimed in one of his monotheistic mood, 'I want to taste sugar; I don't want to be sugar.' The standard metaphor for the mystics' alternative is : the dewdrop slips into the shining sea.

As pain's intensity is partly due to the fear that accompanies it, the conquest of fear can reduce pain concomitantly. Pain can also be accepted when it has a purpose, as a patient welcomes the return of life and feeling, even painful feeling, to a frozen arm. Again, pain can be overridden by an urgent purpose, as in a football game. In extreme cases of useless pain, it may be possible to anesthetize it through drugs or control of the senses. Ramakrishna, the greatest Hindu saint of the nineteenth century, died of cancer of the throat. A doctor who was examining him in the last stages of the disease probed his degenerating tissue and Ramakrishna flinched in pain. 'Wait a minute', he said; then 'Go ahead', after which the doctor could probe without resistance. The patient had focused his attention to the point where nerve impulses could barely gain access. One way or another it seems possible to rise to a point where physical pain ceases to be a major problem.

[God conceived as with-attributes is called Saguna Brahman], as distinct from the philosophers' more abstract Nirguna Brahman, or God-without-attributes. Nirguna Brahman is the ocean without a ripple; Saguna Brahman the same ocean alive with swells and waves. In the language of theology, the distinction is between personal and transpersonal conceptions of God. Hinduism has included superb champions of each view, notably Shankara for the transpersonal and Ramanuja for the personal; but the conclusion that does most justice to Hinduism as a whole and has its own explicit champions like Sri Ramakrishna is that both are equally correct. At first blush this may look like a glaring violation of the law of the excluded middle. God may be either personal or not, we are likely to insist, but not both. But is this so? What the disjunction forgets, India argues, is the distance our rational minds are from God in the first place. Intrinsically, God may not be capable of being two contradictory things—we say may not because logic itself may melt in the full blaze of the divine incandescence. But concepts of God contain so much alloy to begin with that two contradictory ones may be true, each from a different angle, as both wave and particles may be equally accurate heuristic devices for describing the nature of light. On the whole, India has been content to encourage the devotee to conceive of Brahman as either personal or transpersonal, depending on which carries the most exalted meaning for the mind in question.

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Jawaharlal Nehru

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa obviously was completely outside the run of average humanity. He appears to be in the tradition of the great rishis of India, who have come from time to time to draw our attention to the higher things of life and of the spirit. ... One of the effects of Sri Ramakrishna's life was the peculiar way in which he influenced other people who came in contact with him. Men often scoffed from a distance at this man of no learning, and yet when they came to him, very soon they bowed their heads before this man of God and ceased to scoff and 'remained to pray'.

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Leo Tolstoy

Alexander Shifman, Adviser to the Tolstoy State Museum, in his book Tolstoy and India writes : 'During the last decade of Tolstoy's life Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his pupil Swami Vivekananda occupied his [Tolstoy's] thoughts. ...

'On 13 February 1903, Tolstoy read the journal Theosophischer Wegweister sent to him from Germany and in his copy underlined a number of Ramakrishna's aphorisms. "There is much in common with my conception"—he noted in his diary.'

'Later on, in February 1906, Tolstoy received from his friend and biographer, P.A. Sergeenko, the book Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's Sayings in English published in 1905 in Madras and read it with interest. "Wonderful sayings! Ramakrishna died 50 [20 ?] years ago. A remarkable sage," said Tolstoy to a circle of his intimates and read aloud to them some of those sayings by the Indian philosopher.'

'From the literature about Ramakrishna, Tolstoy selected nearly a hundred sayings and parables which he intended to publish in Russia. However, this publication did not materialise and the writer after carefully working over them included some in his collections of ancient wisdom over which he was working at that time.'

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The story of Ramakrishna Paramahansa's life is a story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face. No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion. Ramakrishna was a living embodiment of godliness. His sayings are not those of a mere learned man but they are pages from the Book of Life. They are revelations of his own experiences. They, therefore, leave on the reader an impression which he cannot resist. In this age of scepticism Ramakrishna presents an example of a bright and living faith which gives solace to thousands of men and women who would otherwise have remained without spiritual light. Ramakrishna's life was an object-lesson in ahimsa.. His love knew no limits, geographical or otherwise. May his divine love be an inspiration to all. ...

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Rabindranath Tagore

To the Paramahansa Ramakrishna Deva
Diverse courses of worship
from varied springs of fulfilment
have mingled in your meditation.
The manifold revelation of the joy of the Infinite
has given form to a shrine of unity in your life;
Where from far and near arrive salutations
to which I join mine own.

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Richard Schiffman

If Krishna was enough for Mira, and Jesus sufficient for Saint Francis, then why did Ramakrishna feel the need to cry out in turn to Kali, to Krishna, to Rama, to Sita, and even ... to Christ and the God of Mohammed? The mystics of the past had gone into the candy shop and made a single selection. Ramakrishna, on the other hand, had exited with hands and mouth and pockets overflowing.

In reflecting upon this mystery, Ramakrishna's disciples would probably say that the Master wanted to demonstrate through his actions that all embodiments of God are great, and that devotion to any one of them ultimately reaches the one Ineffable—God beyond all names and forms, God in all names and forms. This seems reasonable enough. But still, we must wonder whether Ramakrishna was being an intentional and premeditated as all that. Or was he simply driven by a hunger that he would not have tried to rationalize or understand? One thing is certain : the spirit of creedal narrowness that seeks to imprison the Infinite within a single approved symbol for worship was completely alien to his nature. And so was the complacency that tests content with what it already knows. Even in the future, when men gathered at his feet, treasuring his every word, Ramakrishna would ask the newcomer to tell him about God, and, if he spoke from genuine experience, the Master would listen rapt with wonder.

Ramakrishna was, by nature, incapable of holding himself aloof. From the moment a newcomer arrived, the Master would be chatting with a transparent sincerity. Invariably, after the briefest civilities, the conversation would turn to God, and devotion ; everything else seemed insipid to him. It was not unusual that within minutes Ramakrishna would be taking perfect stranger into his confidence, speaking of his most intimate visions and other spiritual experiences in the same easy manner that others talk about the weather ... but always without a hint of pride or boasting. Like the child of God he was, the Master would say, 'Mother showed me this . ... Mother told me . ... Mother revealed. ...'

Ramakrishna's influence on those who lived within his orbit was manifested at every level, from the most mundane to the most metaphysical. His was a flame that burned and enlightened and that melted down the fixed metal of the whole person, only to remould it again in a simpler, truer form.

This transformation of character was Ramakrishna's greatest miracle and his most enduring legacy.

To one and all, Ramakrishna offered a vision of hope. God is not only for the chosen few who become sannyasis, but for anyone who cries out to Him with sincere longing. 'Wherein is the strength of a devotee?' he once asked rhetorically. 'He is a child of God, and his devotional tears are his mightiest weapon.'

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Romain Rolland

Allowing for differences of country and of time, Ramakrishna is the younger brother of our Christ....

I am bringing to Europe, as yet unaware of it, the fruit of a new autumn, a new message of the Soul, the symphony of India, bearing the name of Ramakrishna. It can be shown (and we shall not fail to point out) that this symphony, like those of our classical masters, is built up of a hundred different musical elements emanating from the past. But the sovereign personality concentrating in himself the diversity of these elements and fashioning them into a royal harmony, is always the one who gives his name to the work, though it contains within itself the labour of generations. And with his victorious sign he marks a new era.

The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people. Although he has been dead forty years, his soul animates modern India. He was no hero of action like Gandhi, no genius in art or thought like Goethe or Tagore. He was a little village Brahmin of Bengal, whose outer life was set in a limited frame without striking incident, outside the political and social activities of his time. But his inner life embraced the whole multiplicity of men and Gods. It was a part of the very source of Energy, the Divine Shakti, of whom Vidyapati, the old poet of Mithila, and Ramaprasada of Bengal sing.

Very few go back to the source. The little peasant of Bengal by listening to the message of his heart found his way to the inner Sea. And there he was wedded to it, thus bearing out the words of the Upanishads :

'I am more ancient than the radiant Gods. I am the first-born of the Being. I am the artery of Immortality.'

It is my desire to bring the sound of the beating of that artery to the ears of fever-stricken Europe, which has murdered sleep. I wish to wet its lips with the blood of Immortality.

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Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

While the sayings of Sri Ramakrishna did not penetrate so much into academic circles, they found their way into lonely hearts who have been stranded in their pursuit of pleasure and selfish desires. Under the inspiration of this great teacher there has been a powerful revival of social compassion. ...He has helped to raise from the dust the fallen standard of Hinduism, not in words merely, but in works also.

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Sarojini Naidu

In the garden of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, there stands an empty temple made of stone and one day, when I was giving the Kamala Lectures to the University, the last day it was, I walked with him in his garden. He said to me, 'Have you found the text of today's address?' I said, 'No.' Then he said, 'You will find the text of your address here.' I walked with him and looked at the birds, trees, statues and at last I stood before that empty temple, when he said, 'Poet, have you found your message?' I said, 'I have.' Here is an empty temple in which there is no image because every worshipper must find in the empty temple the knowledge that he creates God in the image of his own soul. That is the message to the world of all great saints and prophets of the world and that was the message of Sri Ramakrishna. For him the temple was always empty, because it was always ready. It was always ready for him to place his deity, no matter whether for a moment he projected himself into the soul of the Mussulman or the Christian or the Confucian or the Zoroastrian or the Sikh or any other faith. He said, 'Here is a temple of humanity and humanity must have a God. Where shall I find Him? Shall I produce Him in my limited individual consciousness? Or God shall be so infinite and so diverse that I shall seek Him in the image of the Infinite as He appears to his children in the deserts of Arabia, or on the mountaintops, in the caves and in the forests of many lands.' And Sri Ramakrishna taught us that the temple remains empty because love alone can create an image of God and with that love, you are not limited, you become a part of the great humanity that worship God by many names.''

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Subhas Chandra Bose

From Vivekananda I turned gradually to his master, Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Vivekananda had made speeches, written letters, and published books which were available to the layman. But Ramakrishna, who was almost an illiterate man, had done nothing of the kind. He had lived his life and had left it to others to explain it. Nevertheless, there were books or diaries published by his disciples which gave the essence of his teachings. ... There was nothing new in his teaching, which is as old as Indian civilization itself, the Upanishads having taught thousands of years ago that through abandonment of worldly desires alone can immortal life be attained. The effectiveness of Ramakrishna's appeal lay, however, in the fact that he had practised what he preached and that...he had reached the acme of spiritual progress.

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Will Durant

[Ramakrishna] taught his followers [that] each [religion] is a way to God or a stage on the way adapted to the heart of the seeker. To be converted from one religion to another is foolishness; one need only continue on his own way, and reach to the essence of his own faith. [He said,] 'All rivers flow to the ocean and let others flow too.' He tolerated sympathetically the polytheism of the people, and accepted humbly the monism of the philosophers, but in his own living faith, God was a spirit incarnated in all men, and the only true worship of God was the loving service of mankind. Many fine souls, rich and poor, Brahmana and pariah, chose him as guru and formed an order and mission in his name.

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William Digby

During the last century the finest fruit of British intellectual eminence was, probably, to be found in Robert Browning and John Ruskin. Yet they are mere gropers in the dark compared with the uncultured and illiterate Ramakrishna of Bengal, who knowing naught of what we term 'learning', spoke as not other man of his age spoke, and revealed God to weary mortals.

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Suggested Books

Life

  • A short Life of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Tejasananda
  • Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Master by Swami Saradananda
  • First Meetings with Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Prabhananda
  • My Master by Swami Vivekananda
  • The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna - Translation by Swami Nikhilananda
  • The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna - Online Version
  • Ramakrishna as We Saw Him by Swami Chetanananda
  • How to Live with God by Swami Chetanananda
  • Sri Ramakrishna: A Biography in Pictures by Swami Smaranananda and Swami Chetanananda
  • Sri Ramakrishna A Prophet for the New Age by Richard Schiffman

Teachings

  • Ramakrishna and His Message by Swami Vivekananda
  • Words of the Master by Swami Brahmananda
  • The Way to God by Swami Lokeswarananda
  • Sri Ramakrishna and His Gospel by Swami Bhuteshananda
  • Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna - A Compilation
  • Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna - A Compilation