Lives of Saints: Sri Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna was a simple and humble man, often lost in divine ecstasy, whose intense love for the Divine Mother and her creation inspired spiritual seekers from all around regardless of caste and position in life to seek a relationship with the Divine and to be of service to God. His teachings did not come from book knowledge but from lived experience and he taught his many dedicated followers through experience as well.

 

 

Sri Ramakrishna

Written by: KrishnaPriya

Ramakrishna was a great guru and saint who dedicated his life to the service of the Divine Mother. Even as a small child, he displayed a longing for spiritual life. He learned first from his eldest brother who had assumed the position of the priest in a Kali temple. While his brother served Kali directly, Ramakrishna acted as his assistant and devoted his time to caring for the other deities of the temple. Later, when his brother died, Ramakrishna took the role of the head priest and took over the care of Kali himself. Kali Ma is the form Ramakrishna would worship for the remainder of his life - often becoming like a child in the arms of the Mother during moments of intense bhava and bliss. 

But that first period after the death of his brother left Ramakrishna overwhelmed with grief. He would spend hours and sometimes even all night praying to Kali, weeping, and begging her to show him a vision of her. His ardent prayer left him sick and unwell and he contemplated death until Kali graced him with a vision of her.

Full of joy, he left the temple and continued the pursuit of his spiritual path under the guidance of various teachers, including one who taught tantra, and so Ramakrishna learned to see Kali in all things. Later, he found a teacher of Advaita Vedanta who taught him to worship the formless God.

Paramahamsa Vishwananda tells this story in a satsang saying, ‘You can see that in so many great devotees, where they worship and then they come to a point where they are guided to meditate on the formless for some time. Everybody tries that. And then through grace, the Lord reveals Himself again. Ramakrishna is one example where through the grace of the Mother he could experience God in the form and God in the formless state. Then Mother said to him, “Which one do you feel? Which one you think is right for you?” When he went to Totapuri, Totapuri showed him and taught him how to enter into the formless state. At the end, he said, “No, I don’t want that! That’s not everything. What I can experience, that connection I have with Mother, I can’t have this relationship in the formless state. In that state of formless, I can’t love Her.” When Bhagavan Krishna said to Arjuna, “This form which I am showing you, even the yogis have never perceived that form.” The yogis were always meditating upon a form. They have always revealed a certain aspect. So, by the grace of the Lord, those bhaktas who are surrendered to the Master and the Master reveals to them the worship of the Supreme Lord, they are indeed the most blessed.’

Throughout his life, he had various mystical experiences of Christ and Allah, leading him to conclude that there are many paths that will lead to liberation. These experiences became the basis of his teachings but his bhakti remained fully dedicated to Kali Ma.

Ramakrishna married Sarada Devi - a pious woman who became known as the Holy Mother to their respective disciples.  Paramahamsa Vishwananda says of their relationship, ‘Sarada Devi was worshipping Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was worshipping Sarada Devi. They would see the full divinity in each other. When Sri Ramakrishna was worshipping Sarada Devi, he would see that Sarada Devi was an incarnation of Mother Kali. The same happened when Sarada Devi would worship her husband, Sri Ramakrishna. She would see the full divinity in front of her. Our culture, the Hindu culture, is based on seeing in your partner the Divine. It reminds you that the Divine resides within the heart of each person.’

Ramakrishna was a simple and humble man, often lost in divine ecstasy, whose intense love for the Divine Mother and her creation inspired spiritual seekers from all around regardless of caste and position in life to seek a relationship with the Divine and to be of service to God. His teachings did not come from book knowledge but from lived experience and he taught his many dedicated followers through experience as well.  

In the year leading up to his death, he continued to teach and provide guidance to his devotees, becoming ever more like a child in the arms of his Mother. As he provided for his devotees spiritually, they cared for his physical body and being throughout his last days. Even after the doctors ordered him to keep strict silence, Ramakrishna continued to converse with his devotees, setting them up to continue to serve God and spread His mission. 

Ramakrishna died in 1886 leaving Swami Vivekananda to take his place and spread his teachings throughout India and the world.