On the 18th of February 1836, Sri Ramakrishna was born of poor Brahmin parents in Kamarpukur, one of the remote villages of Bengal, India. Even in poverty, his parents served themselves for others and earned respect and admiration of the villages for their charity and kindness. Both of them had a vision before the birth of Sri Ramakrishna that they would be blessed with a divine child. Of them, Sri Ramakrishna was born; and he was a peculiar child from very boyhood. He remembered his past from his birth, and was conscious for what purpose he came into the world. He often passed into deep trance or lost consciousness in ecstasy, which caused great anxiety to his parents and relatives.
He was sent to school, however, he was unmindful in his school studies. Instead, he spent great portion of his time in reading holy books. In 1843, his father died which brought a great economical burden to his family. His eldest brother, Ramkumar worried about his youngest brother's education and took him to Calcutta. However still, his aversion to academic education increased as days rolled on. Soon the idea dawned on him that he was destined to fulfil some great mission in life. The realization of God was to him the only purpose worthy of consideration and he resolved to give up study and devote himself solely to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. At that time, a rich widow of great piety named Rani Rasmani spent a fortune to found a temple to the great goddess Kali on the eastern bank of the Ganga at Dakshineswar. As she being a Shudra by caste, she was looking for a Brahmin to worship for a Shudrabefore the installation of the image of the Kali. She succeeded in getting Ramkumar as the priest of her temple; and Sri Ramakrishna also began to live with his brother there and became a priest.
In the temple, there was an image of the "Divine Mother". A thought captured him-"Is the Blissful Mother an imagination of poets and misguided people, or is there such a Reality?" This thought-whether God can be seen-which was uppermost in his mind gained in strength every day until he could think of nothing else. Days and nights passed. He had heard that the Mother never came until everything had been given up for Her. He threw away all the little property he had, and took a vow that he would never touch money. Any idea of material possession produced a terrible pain in his mind and body.The other idea that came into his mind was that lust was the other enemy. Man is a soul, and soul is sexless, neither man nor woman-"Every woman represents the Mother; how can I think of woman in mere sex relation?" He worshipped women and found the Blissful Mother in every woman. According to the custom, he had to marry at his young age to a girl-wife, Sarada Devi, who herself became one of the most sincere devotees of him and later became known as the 'Holy Mother' to the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna.
During the continuous struggling of finding the Truth, although many people thought he had gone mad, two Sannyasinis (religious teachers) came to teach him about the religions of India, the different practices of Yoga, and the philosophy of the Vedas. He studied about the various religions and sects genuinely and realized that the goal of every religion is the same and they are only quarrelling for their own purposes-they were not anxious about the Truth, but about "my name" and "your name". He also started serving for the Pariahs (a member of a very low social class in India), wiping and cleaning their place with his long hair-"Oh, my Mother, make me the servant of the Pariah, make me feel that I am even lower than the Pariah".
This rigorous, unsullied purity granted him jewels of spirituality; and he could finally feel the presence of the Divine Mother.He began his mission and went on preaching thousands of people with his intense love for mankind. He answered questions of them, twenty-four hours a day for months and months even when he was ill. When the news spread that his body was about to pass away, thousands of people gathered around him. OnAugust 16, 1886, he entered into Samadhi while repeating the most sacred word of the Vedas. His teachings and messages were spread out all over India by his disciples.
Some of his distinguished devotees are: NarendraNathDutta (or Swami Vivekananda, who established the Ramakrishna Order of monks, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission); DurgaCharan Nag or Nag Mahashay; Latu (Swami Adbhutananda); Rakhal Chandra Ghosh (or Swami Brahmananda, who became the first President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission); GopalGhosh (Swami Advaitananda); TarakNathGhoshal (or Swami Shivananda, who became the second President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission); BaburamGhosh (or Swami Premananda); YogindraNath Roy Chowdhury (or Swami Yogananda); Sharat Chandra Chakravarti (or Swami Saradananda, who became the first Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission); ShashibhushanChakravarti (or Swami Ramakrishnananda); HariNathChatterjee (or Swami Turiyananda); GangadharGhatak (or Swami Akhandananda, who became President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission after Swami Shivananda); HariPrasannaChatterjee (or Swami Vijnanananda, who became President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission after Swami Akhandananda); Kali Prasad Chandra (or Swami Abhedananda); Subodh Chandra Ghosh (or Swami Subodhananda); SaradaPrasannaMitra (or Swami Trigunatitananda, who organized the Udbodhan, the Bengali organ of the Ramakrishna Order).
His principle was, first form character, first earn spirituality, and results will come of themselves:
"When the lotus opens, the bees come of their own accord to seek the honey; so let the lotus of your character be full-blown and the results will follow."
First one has to be spiritual, have something to give, know the Truth for oneself and then stand before the world and give it. Religion is not talk, or doctrines or theories; nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies as it is the relation between the soul and God.
The second teaching is that the religions of the world are not contradictory or antagonistic. They are but various phases of one eternal religion. They are one. Therefore we must respect all religions and try to accept them all as far as we can:
"Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas, or sects, or churches or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man, which is spirituality; and the more that this is developed in a man, the more powerful is he for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words, or names, or sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those that have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of mankind. They alone are the powers of light."
"The tank has several ghats [(or series of steps leading down to the bank of a river, usually a holy river)]. At one Hindus draw water in pitchers and call it jal; at another Mohammedans draw water in leathern bottles and call it pani; at a third Christians, and call it water. Can we imagine that water is nojal, but only pani or water? How absurd! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same Substance. Every religion of the world is one such ghat. Go direct with a sincere and earnest heart by any of these ghats, and you will reach the water of Eternal Bliss. But say not that your religion is better than that of another."
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