Sri Krishna says in the Gita that whenever virtue subsides and vice prevails, Lord takes the form of a human being to re-establish Dharma (righteousness) and to destruct the Adharma (unrighteousness). Thus, He came in different ages as Rama, as Krishna, as as Buddha, as Jesus, as Shankara, as Chaitanya in the present age, He came as Sri Ramakrishna. And when God incarnates, very often He brings with Him, His Shakti. Thus, with Sri Ramachandra came Sita, with Sri Krishna came Radha, with Buddha came Yasodhara and with Chaitanya came Vishnupriya. The same Mahamaya, in the present age came with Sri Ramakrishna as Sarada Devi.
Sri Ramakrishna was born in the early hours of the morning of February 18, 1836 in an out of the way village Kamarpukur in the Hooghly District of West Bengal. His father Sri Khudiram Chattopadhyaya went to a holy place called Gaya and there, in the Vishnu Temple, Lord Vishnu appeared to him in a dream and told that, He would like to be born as his son, as He was very much pleased with his devotion. Khudiram implored Him not to come, lest He should not be taken proper care in bringing him up because of his poverty. But the Lord out of infinite mercy assured him that in whatever way he could serve Him, He would be pleased. When Khudiram came back to Kamarpukur and told his wife about the dream he head at Gaya, his wife also told something about her divine vision. She told him that once as she was standing in front of the Shiva temple along with Dhani, (who reared up Sri Ramakrishna from his very birth) suddenly she saw that the Shiva temple was engulfed with a luminous light. The light rushed towards Chandramani, entered into her womb and she felt that she was with a child. When Chandramani told this to her husband, he said, “Well, we should not divulge this to anybody in the village, lest we should be mistrusted”. In due course, Sri Ramakrishna was born. He was named Gadadhar by his parents.
During the early days at Kamarpukur, there was ample evidence of his spiritual greatness. One day while he was walking along the paddy fields, suddenly the sky was covered with dark thunderclouds and against this background, some white cranes flew across the sky. At this sight, he thought of the fantastic beauty of God and lost himself in ecstasy. He had another trance on the Shivaratri night at Pynes’ house. As the actor who was to enact Lord Shiva’s role could not come for the performance, Gadadhar was requested to play the part. Coming on the stage, he was totally absorbed in the thought of the Lord Shiva so much so that he could not enact the role and passed into deep trance and the performance had to stop. Thus his Kamarpukur day passed and when he was about 16 years old, his elder brother took him to Calcutta.
It was at Dakshineswar Kali temple near Calcutta that the real drama took place. Sri Ramakrishna was then the priest in the Kali temple. He looked at the image of the Goddess verily as an embodiment of the spirit and not merely as a stone image. As a true seeker of the truth, he wanted to know the reality behind the stone image and this one idea filled his mind. Everyday he would weep and pray to Her: “Mother, is it true that Thou exist, or is it all poetry? If you are true, O Mother, why are you so unkind to me by not revealing yourself to me? If you are just a black stone image, what is the use of worshiping Thee? Once, when the desire to see Mother Kali was intensified and he thought that he could no more bear to be without seeing Her, he decided to end his life with the Mother’s sword in the temple. Just then, the Mother revealed Herself to him. In the years that followed, his spiritual austerities intensified and his devotion grew deeper.
Sri Ramakrishna was guided in the Tantric path by the Bhairavi Brahmani who looked after him as her own son. Under another teacher, the monk Jatadhari, Sri Ramakrishna learnt the mysteries of Rama worship and experienced Rama’s visible presence. Further, he communed with God through the divine relationship of father, mother, friend and beloved. A monk, Totapuri by name, who initiated him into Hindu Monasticism, instructed him in the Vedantic Truth of Brahman. In three day’s time, Sri Ramakrishna realized his complete oneness with Brahman, the undifferentiated Absolute, thus achieving the culmination of man’s spiritual endeavour, though Totapuri himself had to struggle for 40 years to realize his identity.Under the guidance of a Sufi, he followed the Islamic path and in three days, had a vision of Prophet Mohammad. One day in Jadu Mallick’s house while looking at the picture of Jesus the Christ with Mother Mary, Sri Ramakrishna fell into a deep ecstasy. Another day at the Panchavati, he had the vision of Jesus, whose form entered into the person of Sri Ramakrishna. Thus on the basis of his own personal experiences and realization of Truth of various religions, he could verify the saying of the ancient Vedic dictum: Truth is one; sages call it by various names”.
During his years of intense sadhana at Dakshineswar as a priest in the Kali Temple, Sri Ramakrishna could hardly take care of his health and sleep had totally left him. He used to behave like a mad person. He would sit for hours together in front of the Mother’s image without the least consciousness of the world. He would laugh, cry and talk with the image. While offering food he would address the image: “What Mother, you want me to eat first?’ Saying so, he would offer the flowers to Mother Kali after touching them with his head, bosom, all his limbs and even his own feet. For such unusual behaviour he was considered mad by all and news reached his poor old mother at the village. She was greatly perturbed by it and at last managed to have him brought to her. Though his health improved a little his mind was always in a different realm. He was as indifferent as ever to all worldly concerns. So, his mother and brother decided to get him married so as to make him interested in household affairs. Unfortunately, no one was ready to give his daughter in marriage to a mad person. On seeing his mother and brother sad at the frustration of all their efforts to find a suitable bride, Sri Ramakrishna himself came to their rescue and said to them in an ecstatic mood: ” Why you search here and there? Go to Jayrambati. There you will find the bride providentially reserved for me in the house of Rama Chandra Mukherjee.” Sri Ramakrishna’s words proved true to the letter. Rama Chandra did have a daughter – Sarada by name. Sarada was barely five years old and Sri Ramakrishna was twenty-three. The marriage took place at Jayrambati.
After the marriage, he came to Dakshineswar and dived headlong into his spiritual austerities again, forgetting all about his baby wife. But as days passed on and as Sarada grew up, the village was full of rumours about the condition of Sri Ramakrishna. Her friends told her, “O Sarada, what a person in Gadai (Ramakrishna) your father chose for you knowingly fully well that he is mad!” No chaste wife would feel happy to hear such remarks about her husband. So Sarada wanted to go to Dakshineswar to verify for herself the truth behind this rumour. But she was too shy to talk on the matter to her father. Coming to know about his daughter’s wish through a friend of hers, her father told her that on a forthcoming auspicious day, he has to leave for Calcutta to have a holy dip in the Ganges and that she could accompany him if she wished to. Sarada was very happy for two reasons. She herself could have a dip in the Ganges which she revered most and also she could meet her husband after many years of separation.
After all these years, when she entered into Sri Ramakrishna’s room, warm and kind words of welcome of her affectionate husband instantly removed all the doubts that had persisted in her mind about his mental state till then, She thought, “Ah my husband is not a mad man. ” Once, Sri Ramakrishna said to her, “As for me, the Mother has shown me that She resides in every woman and so I have learned to look upon every woman as Mother. That is the one idea I can have about you; but if you wish to drag me into the world, as I have been married to you, I am at your service. Tell me what you want”. She was a pure and noble soul and was able to understand her husband’s aspirations and sympathise with them. And so, she said without a moment’s hesitation. “No, why should I drag you to the world? I have come to help you in your chosen path.”
The Mother, too, one day asked Sri Ramakrishna, as she was stroking his feet: “How do you regard me? Sri Ramakrishna said in reply: ” the Mother who is worshipped in the temple and the mother who gave birth to this (pointing to his body) and is now living in the Nahabat – the same Mother is now stroking my feet. Really and truly I always regard you as the embodiment of the blissful Mother of the Universe.” Romain Rolland, while referring to the self-denial on the part of Sri Sarada Devi writes: “It was by the consent of his wife that he was free to follow the life of his choice. Magnanimously she renounced the wife’s binding right over her husband and encouraged in his mission.” Refereeing to his wife’s immaculate purity, Sri Ramakrishna once said to his disciples: ” if she had not been completely pure, if she had lost self-control, then who can say if I too might not have lost self-control and brought my mind down to the physical level.” Judged from this standpoint we can say that Sri Sarda Devi’s greatest contribution to humanity is Ramakrishna himself. Living together for eight months, Ramakrishna was fully convinced of the utterly pure nature of Sarda. He was convinced that her purity was not only physical, but that there was no trace of worldliness in her mind. Thus, on an auspicious day, he worshipped her in place of the Divine Mother and offered all the fruits of his life long austerities at her holy feet with his rosary, looking upon her as the Goddess in person. Thus, from that day onwards she came to be known as Sri Sarda Devi, the Holy Mother, not only to the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, but also to the whole of humanity. The Holy Mother once said; ” The Master (Sri Ramakrishna) used to see the Divine Mother in everyone. He left me behind this time for teaching the motherhood of God to humanity.” Regarding the Holy Mother, Sri Ramakrishna used to say: She is Sarada in very truth, the Goddess Saraswati Herself incarnated for the dissemination of spiritual knowledge. Illumination is in her gift. She is profound in wisdom. Is she an ordinary person? She is my Shakti (Power) indeed. Very few actually know to what extent this divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna was responsible for the phenomenal growth and expansion the great Ramakrishna Order.
When a lotus blooms its fragrance draws bees to it. Similarly with the completion of his spiritual austerities, devotees started coming to him from far and near. Along with the harmony of different religions, he taught many other things. His foremost disciple was Narendranath Dutta, who afterwards became known as the world renowned Swami Vivekananda. He was born in the year 1863 in Calcutta. Visiting Sri Ramakrishna for the first time as a college student, he asked him “Sir, have you seen God?” Sri Ramakrishna told, “Yes, I have seen God, only more tangibly than seeing you. My boy, every one shed jugs of tears for wife and children but not for the love of God. If you want you can also see Him”. Sri Ramakrishna wanted his disciples to see God in all beings and to serve them in a spirit of worship. Thus one day when Narendranath asked Sri Ramakrishna for a boon to remain merged in samadhi for three or four days at a stretch, he took him to task. “Shame on you! You are asking for such an insignificant thing. There is a state higher than that. Don’t you sing that song ‘Oh Lord! Thou art all that exists’? I thought that you would be like a banyan tree and that thousands of people would rest under your shade. But now I see that you are seeking your own liberation.”
Sri Ramakrishna wanted Narendranath to see Brahman with eyes open. He said: “Is it that God exists when your eyes are closed and does not exist when they are open? All that exists is Lord and Lord alone. Try to see Brahman with eyes open. Every jiva is God.” Therefore, from him the world learnt these new doctrines of relationship of jiva and the Eternal Divinity. Thus, we find in Swamiji’s writings, letters and lectures throughout the world, the call to know human beings to be our Gods and that service to them alone is the highest religion. Swamiji wanted that the Advaita Vedanta which was till then confined to the forest retreats and monasteries should be brought into everyday life of the people and to accomplish this, he got the key-note in Sri Ramakrishna’s teaching. “Every Jiva (living being) is Shiva and service to the Jiva is the worship of Shiva” When we go to a place of worship what we usually do is, we worship the image there. But Sri Ramakrishna wants that our worship should not end there. After coming out of the place of worship, we should worship God residing in all beings. That makes our worship complete.
Before Sri Ramakrishna passed away at the cossipore garden house near Calcutta, one day he called Narendranath to his room and transmitted all his powers to him, saying, Naren, today I have given you my all and I have become a fakir (beggar). With this, you will do great good to the world.” It was at this house in August 1886, a few days before he left his mortal coil, something very significant happened. That day Narendranath was sitting near the Master thinking that in the midst of the terrible pain that Sri Ramakrishna was having in his throat, if he can speak out and declare that he is God, then he will surely believe him. No sooner, he thought thus, Sri Ramakrishna said clearly to him: “Well, don’t you believe even now? He who was Rama and He who was Krishna is now Sri Ramakrishna in this body.”
Let us now refer to what Swam Vivekananda said about his Great Master:
“This is the message of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world. 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 spirituality and the more 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, names, or sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those who have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of humanity. They alone are the owners of light. The more such men are produced in a country, the more that country will raised and that country where such men absolutely do not exist is simply doomed, nothing can save it Therefore my Master’s message to mankind is “Be spiritual and realize truth for yourself”. To proclaim and make clear the fundamental unity underlying in all religions was the mission of my Master. Other teachers have taught special religion, which bear their names; but this great teacher of nineteenth century made no claim for himself. He left every religion undisturbed because he had realized that, in reality they are all part and parcel of the one eternal religion.”