Saturday, March 26, 2011

Globalising Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa


Introduction: This article is based on the book “The Face of Silence” written by one Sri Dhangopal Mukerji in 1926 in America. Just as the book “ A Search in Secret India” written by the English author Paul Brunton in London in 1934 made Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi popular all over the world, similarly “ The Face of Silence” was the first publication in English to carry Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s message to the general public in America and France. It was through this book that the great French intellectual Romain Rolland [1866-1944] learnt first about the greatness of Sri Ramakrishna. The book was chosen by the League of Nations as one of the year’s forty outstanding works to be included in the International Library at Geneva. The book captured the attention of readers around the world.

Early Life: Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was born on 18th February 1836 in a famous Chattopadhyaya Brahmin family of Bengal. At birth he was named Gadadhar. His parents educated him in subjects like Bhagavadgitha, Ramayana, and Mahabharata besides a thorough training in meditation. Even at a young age he developed a fascination for our ancient scriptures and learnt by heart hundreds of ballads and poems that dealt with the lives of sages and saints of Hinduism. In fact there was none else of his age in the village who could recite from memory such a volume of religious poetry.

Since Ramakrishna was so earnestly devoted to matters of religion, his family decided to dedicate him to the service of God by making him take up the profession of a priest. Before he was 16 years, he was made an acolyte in the Kali Temple belonging to Rani Rash Mani who, though a woman, was one of the most able rulers that feudal India had known. By the time Ramakrishna was 18, he was made the chief priest of the Kali Temple by the Rani who by herself was deeply spiritual. Legend has it that Rani and her entire household became aware of their young priest’s spiritual prowess right from the day he came to their temple. They maintained this spirit of reverence to the Master all through the Master’s life. The kindness of the royal household made Ramakrishna feel at home in Dakshineshwar. The Kali Temple stood in the heart of a garden which spread for acres along the river Ganges. Calcutta was only 6 miles down the river. The Panchavati forest was close by and the beautiful tall trees of the forest with their far spreading branches afforded Ramakrishna the necessary solitude for meditation.

With the passage of time, Ramakrishna with his poor family background found that administration of a royal temple with all its fabulous wealth was not his forte. With a view to getting away from the strenuous and intricate task of looking after the administration of the Temple, occasionally he used to skip to the Panchavati Forest for meditation which brought him peace of mind and calmness. One day he suddenly said to himself “This temple is too rich. Its income is fabulous. It wears out the soul of the ministrant priest. It gives no time to meditate on God”. What was expected of him by the surrounding countryside was not holiness and mysticism but elegance, dignity, show and spiritual diplomacy. They expected him to flatter the rich and feed the poor which was against his conviction. That grim image of Goddess Kali whom he worshipped daily drew forth from his soul the man that he really was-- a mystic and not a theologian. Ramakrishna started devoting more time to prayers and meditation than was prescribed by the temple timetable. He paid minimum of attention to rituals by insisting that in the inner shrine stood the Goddess Kali, not as a dead fact but as a living symbol of man’s spiritual experience.

Early in his spiritual life, Ramakrishna had understood the significance of the Upanishadic statement “Sacrifice [Tyaga] alone is the Keynote to Self-realization”. He could not reconcile the pageantry and pomp of the temple rituals with true devotion to Mother Kali. Though not yet out of his teens he understood Mother Kali’s message and set out to shape his sacerdotal duties accordingly. First of all he gave up his silken vestments and gold-embroidered shawls. He refused to eat from plates of gold, waited on by a dozen servants. Finally, he moved from his sumptuously furnished residence into the little room near the servants’ quarters where he lived the rest of his life. Having done that, he set out to simplify some of the most ornamental services of the temple He discarded putting on ceremonial garlands of pearls, expensive silk dhotis and the silk scarf. Instead of pomp and pageantry, he made his appearance as simple as possible and devoted more and more time in the study of scriptures and teaching the congregation the inner meaning of image worship.

Ramakrishna’s gradual disregard for external rituals of the Goddess was noticed by a few influential visitors to the Temple who complained to Rani Rasa Mani about the iconoclastic attitude of the young priest. They wanted the priest to be dismissed. But the Rani who had understood Ramakrishna thoroughly said: “Why should we dismiss him because he worships Kali in his own way. He is a priest and he ought to know what is proper and what is better for the Goddess than us. As long as he wears the garb of industriousness and as long as purity dwells in his speech and morality in his deeds, it is idle to criticize him”. Some respectable and rich devotees in the neighborhood complained to the Rani that the priest had gone mad and should summarily be dismissed. However, the Rani took no notice of them.

Now for about a year or so, Ramakrishna was left alone although he acted as strangely as he pleased. He soon formed the habit of praying to Goddess Kali at unusual hours. At night or during the afternoon siesta when the doors of the sanctum sanctorum [Garbhagudi] were shut and when the deity was supposed to rest, one could hear the young priest crying and praying: “O Mother! Give me wisdom. Make me see your lovely face that you hide under the mask of stone”. With the passage of time, the seemingly strange behaviour of Ramakrishna proved to the outer world that he was too insane to be a priest. He flagrantly neglected his duties as a temple priest. Sometimes he secluded himself for days at a stretch in the forest of Panchavati. Were it not for his nephew Hriday who acted as his substitute, the business of Kali worship at the temple would have collapsed. This happened nearly a dozen times. Now, all the people of Dakshineshwar, with the exception of Rani’s household, were convinced that the priest had really gone mad. A large deputation of devotees waited on the Rani and demanded the dismissal of the priest. Rani, as on earlier occasions, was in no mood to oblige them.

Having failed in all their attempts to have the priest dismissed, some of the disgruntled devotees travelled a hundred miles to meet Ramakrishna’s mother in her village and break the melancholy news that her son had gone mad. On hearing the disturbing news, the lady was least perturbed even though she was a bit puzzled. To sort out the matter, she went to Daksineshwar to meet her son. One look at her son convinced her that he was far from mad. She was, however, afraid that her son might give up the material world and take up Sanyasa, since monastery was the last place where she wished to see him. In order to prevent her son becoming a monk, she urged him to get married. She adopted the same strategy as was in the case of Lord Buddha. Ramakrishna readily agreed for the marriage but with one condition that the girl should be of his choice. He said he would marry that young girl whom the Divine Mother had already shown to him during a vision in his deep meditation. Ramakrishna directed his mother to that girl and gave direction as to how to locate her. She was staying at a place 400 miles away with her parents. There, to the amazement of the match-makers, they found an eligible Brahmin girl as Ramakrishna had said. Her name was Sharada. In proper time and place Ramakrishna was married to Sharada. After the marriage, the bride joined her husband at Dakshineshwar.

Even after marriage, Ramakrishna continued his austerities and meditation. Like a true Hindu wife Sharada was glad and proud to help her husband in his spiritual path. She gladly accepted the path of Renunciation and Holiness. Many times she felt that her life was not full enough. Often she suffered moments of loneliness. It was during one of those moments of loneliness that she approached Ramakrishna and said “My Lord, I want children”. Ramakrishna answered “Your children will be many and they shall come from the ends of earth. I already see them coming to you though some of them speak languages that you do not know!”. The ring of authority was so great in his voice that the ‘Holy Mother’ bowed before it. She went back to her life of prayers and devotion.

About fifty years later when some English and American devotees came to pay their homage to the ‘Holy Mother’ [as she is popular in India], she said aloud “His words have come true. I have children whose language I do not understand”


Article No. 351--Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa---His Early Life
Created: Friday, July 4, 2008 9:41 AM


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