Gadadhar was born in the village of Kamarpukur, Bengal, India into a very poor but very pious orthodox Brahmin family named Chattopadhyaya (more familiarly known as Chatterjee). His father Khudiram Chattopadhyaya was aged 60 at the time, and both he and his mother, Chandramani Devi, were forewarned, the former in a vision of Lord Vishnu who said that “I am about to be reborn for the salvation of the world” (see Max Muller: Ramala-isitna, His Life and Sayings, 1898), when Khudiram was on his 2nd great pilgrimage; this time to Gaya. The event occurred on 18 February 1836 (for a description of the birth see ref.1, p.13-14).
A Genealogical table (ref.1) gives the descendants of Khudiram's father Manik Ram Chatterjee.
As a little boy, the 4th of their 5 children - Ramkumar, Rameswar, Katyayani, Gadadhar, and Sarvamangala - he was “full of life and fun, mischievous and charming, with a feminine grace, which lasted throughout his life” (see Rolland, 1928). By the age of five his father was amazed at Gadadhar's "wonderful intelligence and [retentive] memory" (ref.1, p.2), so he sent him to the village school. He also had an usual power of attraction towards other people, whilst religious books and beautiful scenery had a strong influence over him.
When he was six years old, in 1842, he was filled with ecstasy, the first of many times to come, when he saw the contrast between dark black clouds over the rice fields that he was walking between and a flight of snow-white cranes flying overhead. He was a born artist, a passionate lover of music and poetry, and by the age of eight already had a following of children of his age, having another ecstatic experience while acting the role of Lord Shiva while playing with them.
His father died from chronic dysentery in 1843 when he was only seven years old, which affected him greatly.
Gadadhar took a great interest in the wandering Sadhus [holy men who had renounced the world] who travelled through Kamarpukur on their way to Puri, spending time with them, "giving evidence of the transcendental nature of his mind" (ref.1, p.24), signifying awakening.
When aged nine he was invested with the holy thread at a sacred ceremony and became a Brahmin, so he could worship the family god Raghuvir. A year later, aged about ten, some Brahmin scholars were invited to another house in the village, where Gadadhar went and gave an answer to a question they were puzzling over, which they accepted, much as Jesus had aged 12 in the Temple with the Rabbis of Jerusalem, again signifying an awakened state of consciousness, spending many hours in worship and meditation. Indeed, Paramahansa Yogananda Ghosh-44 referred to him as 'the Christlike master' (Yogananda, 1946, p.542).
Gadadhar was incredibly talented in many ways, at such a young age, in the arts, including acting, painting and clay modelling, pointing out errors to masters though he had no special training, but used his powers of concentration and intuition.
Ramkumar, the eldest son (c.1805, ref.1) had had prophetic visions (ref.1, p.9). One of which was that his wife would die after giving birth to their child, which happened in 1849, and coincided with a drastic decline in his financial affairs. So, Ramkumar went to Calcutta to open a school (Tol) there, and also earn some income as a family priest. In 1852, after a home visit he took Gadadhar back with him to help him in his daily work, giving him the family priest duties, at which he was a great success, and give his youngest brother more schooling. However, Gadadhar was "filled with the urge of his inner life and quite undisciplined, refused to learn" (Rolland, 1928). He was also by this time quite "disgusted with the world" (ref.1, p.34). In contrast, "his brother's experience had somewhat reconciled him to selfishness of this world" (op.cit., p.44). Even so, financially, matters got steadily worse.
Before he went to Calcutta, Gadadhar had spent a lot of time with the village women, of all ages, and was treated with great respect, for his kindness and wisdom, often dreaming that he was one of them so he could worship Sri Krishna in that way.
In India, "true religion is a private affair; its temple is each individual soul" (Rolland, 1928). But when the paid job of Priest became available at Dakshineswar, on the east bank of the Ganga, the Holy Ganges, only 4 miles north of Calcutta, in a temple founded by a rich woman, Rani Rasmani, devoted to the Great Goddess, the Divine Mother, Kali, and she could not get a Brahmin for the position, Ramkumar decided to accept her offer for the opening ceremony of consecration on 31 May 1855. Gadadhar was much against it to begin with, on strict Brahmin grounds, even though a condition was that the Temple be given to Ramkumar, with sufficient funds endowed for it's maintenance. It was much more complex than needs to be described here (ref.1, pp.49-51). After Rasmani's desires had been fulfilled, Ramkumar accepted her request for him to become the permanent Priest for the Temple. Gadadhar was greatly disappointed in his brother, who had broken his family's Brahmin traditions, but when he could not dissuade him, decided to stay with him at Dakshineswar, so neither returned to the Calcutta Tol.
From that time on, Gadadhar took the name Ramakrishna, probably given to him by Rani Rasmani's son-in-law Mathur Babu, who had been involved in getting Ramkumar to come to the Temple in the first place.
Mathur was attracted to Ramakrishna but was dissuaded by Ramkumar from offering him a job at the temple, as his brother knew he disliked routine work. Mathur was further impressed when he learnt that a statue of Shiva had been modelled by Ramakrishna. When a Priest at the temple accidentally dropped and broke a statue and was dismissed Ramakrishna was finally persuaded to take the position assisted by a young nephew Hriday Ram, and was given the task of decorating the deity.
In the following year of 1856, Ramkumar died, which came as a great shock to Ramakrishna, who was aged 20, and believed that all that mattered was the search for the 'Real' through God-realisation. However, he was asked to conduct the services for Kali, the Divine Mother, who became his favourite Deity, which he did for the next 10 years. He regarded Her as the only true guide in darkness and confusion and offered Her whole-hearted devotion. He became deeply and seemingly excessively contemplative, with suggestions that he had become unstable. Hriday loved his uncle and took great care of him. Like Ramana Maharshi Lyer-2, his body would not have survived without that care and attention.
Eventually, he was successful and described a vision of Kali that he had in the following way: "... houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me." (Isherwood, Christopher, 1980, p.65). Romain Rolland (1928, p.39) put it this way: "My own view, if I may be pardoned the presumption, is that he saw nothing, but that he was, aware of Her all-permeating presence! He called the Ocean by Her name. ... the mind attaches the name of the being filling its thoughts to quite a different form".
Mahendranath Gupta (14 July 1854 – 4 June 1932), one of Ramakrishna's disciples, whom Paramahansa Yogananda referred to respectfully as 'Master Mahasaya', not to be confused with Lahiri Mahasaya his parents Guru, asked him to intercede with the Divine Mother on his behalf, having lost his own mother, Gyana Ghosh Bose-82 on 24 April 1904. Later that same evening at home, after meditating, he had a "wondrous vision. Haloed in splendor, the Divine stood before me. Her face, tenderly smiling, was beauty itself. "Always have I loved thee! Ever shall I love thee!" ... [Then] she disappeared." (Yogananda, 1946, p.89). M.M. was not Yogananda's Guru, but had lost his mother at an early age, and had been "consumed by an unsophisticated passion for the the Divine Mother (Yogananda, 1946, p.90). Together they went on many pilgrimages to Dakshineswar.
Later in his Autobiography (Ch.22, p.241), Yogananda wrote that "In answer to Ramakrishna Paramahansa's anguished demands, the stone image [statue of Goddess Kali] had often taken a living form and conversed with him".
"Rumors spread to Kamarpukur that Ramakrishna had become unstable as a result of his spiritual practices at Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna's mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get Ramakrishna married, thinking that marriage would be a good steadying influence upon him". It was Ramakrishna who told them where to find the 5-year old bride to be by name of Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya, later to be known as Sarada Devi. The marriage was solemnised in 1859 when Ramakrishna was aged 23. Sarada stayed at her home village until 1872, when she was aged 18 and went to join him. They had spent 3 months together at Kamarpukur when she was aged 14, willingly consenting to him continuing his chosen path (Rolland, 1928, p.94), and became a strong follower of his teachings. By the time she joined him, Ramakrishna had already embraced the monastic life of a sannyasi - the life stage of renunciation - so there were to be no children from the marriage.
He continued is desire to dress as a female that he had had in his youth, stating "How can a man conquer passion? He should assume the attitude of a woman" (ref.6).
From the time of his vision of Kali, he practised many different Hindu teachings and methods towards God-realisation under the guidance of different teachers, culminating in 1865 with his initiation "into sannyasa by Totapuri, an itinerant monk who trained Ramakrishna in Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu philosophy which emphasises non-dualism" (ref.6). Totapuri became his Guru with Ramakrishna attaining the highest state of Samadhi, Nirvikalpa Samadhi, in one day that Totapuri had taken 40 years to reach (Rolland, 1928, pp.62-63); their roles were reversed.
It is well to remember that although Ramakrishna loved religious books when he was a child, and went to 2 schools, Master Mahasaya told Paul Brunton that "Ramakrishna was a simple man, illiterate and uneducated – he was so illiterate that he could not even sign his name, let alone write a letter".
Continuing in the same way, in 1866 he had an Indian Guru who had studied Sufism, and whom he had "perceived through the outward shell of his prostrate body that this man through Islam had also “realised” God" (Rolland,1928, p.85) to teach him, so he moved outside the temple precinct. After three days of practice he had a vision of a "radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet and merging with his body" (op. cit.).
At the end of 1873 (Rolland has November, 1874) he started the practice of Christianity, when a devotee read the Bible to him. He described a vision in which a picture of the Madonna and Child became alive and he had a vision in which Jesus merged with his body (ref.6). "He was lost in ecstasy." ... "for him Christ was not the only Incarnation. Buddha and Krishna were others." He believed, not through knowledge, but through love (Rolland, pp.87 & 88).
During the years 1871 to 1885 many prominent people from Calcutta came to visit with him, and he was introduced to English speaking people when the first Biography of him was published in 1879. He also also had interactions with Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore-1, a poet, musician and artist, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a renowned social worker. (op.cit.).
Most of Ramakrishna's prominent disciples came between 1879–1885. Amongst them was the most famous, Narendranath Datta-20, who became known as Swami Vivekananda. Ramakrishna tells of how one day when in Samadhi - a complete state of concentration resulting in enlightenment - 'his mind was soaring along a luminous path beyond the stellar universe, entered a subtler region of ideas, then higher to an outer region with images of gods and goddesses on both sides, to a luminous barrier, which separated the sphere of relative existence from that of the Absolute, the transcendental realm where no corporal being was visible' (Life of Sri Ramakrishna, 1948, p.336). In the next moment he saw seven venerable sages seated in Samadhi, and then a portion of the undifferentiated luminous region condensed into the form of a divine child who lovingly put his arms around the neck of one of the sages to bring him back from his superconscious state. The child spoke to him and said, 'I am going down. You too must go with me'. Then a fragment of his body and mind descended on the earth in a bright light (op.cit.pp.336-7). The child was Ramakrishna and the sage, also in Samadhi, Narendranath!
At the beginning of 1885 Ramakrishna was suffering from 'clergymans's throat', which was diagnosed throat cancer, following hemorrhaging. He had been moved into Calcutta under the care and attention of Dr. Mahendra Lai Sarkar, and looked after by his wife Sarada Devi and his monastic disciples (Rolland, 1928, pp.297-299). Some of the time he was in ecstasy. But in December 1885 Dr. Sarkar had him moved out of Calcutta to the countryside at Cossipore, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and where he was to spend the last 8 months of his mortal life.
One of his disciples, Ramakrishnananda - a former disciple of Jesus Christ (Rolland, 1928, p.316, note 2), was to say in Ramakrishna's last few days, "He never lost his cheerfulness. He always said he was well and happy.’’ And yet his body was so terribly wasted and ravaged by the disease. The sight was unbearable. He had been unable to eat for some time (op.cit.p.311).
His last day was Sunday 15 August 1886, but he went into his final ecstasy the next morning until noon (op.cit.p.313).
“Ramakrishna has gone, but as you travel through India you will see something of the social, philanthropic, medical and educational work being done throughout the country under the inspiration of those early disciples of his, most of whom, alas! have now passed away too. What you will not see so easily is the number of changed hearts and changed lives primarily due to this wonderful man. For his message has been handed down from disciple to disciple, who have spread it as widely as they could. And I have been privileged to take down many of his sayings in Bengali; the published record has entered almost every household in Bengal, while translations have also gone into other parts of India. So you see how Ramakrishna’s influence has spread far beyond the immediate circle of his little group of disciples.” (ref.8). This was expanded on in the Epilogue to Romain Rolland's story, in which he mentions that Ramakrishna's disciple Vivekananda had spread his Word around the world.
Although included in Richard Maurice Bucke's magnum opus of 1901 on "Cosmic Consciousness", he could not come to a conclusion as to whether Ramakrishna Paramahansa should be included in that family or not, as he did not have the sources below that were published later. Furthermore, Ramakrishna was the only one of the Hindu faith, initially, whom he did include.
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