Ramakrishna: A Mystic’s Journey

Ramakrishna: A Mystic’s Journey

Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, one of the top 10 spiritual gurus of Bengal and a towering religious figure of 19th century India, emerged from humble beginnings in rural Bengal in 1836. Despite his simple upbringing, he became renowned as a mystic and yogi, renowned for his ability to explain intricate spiritual ideas in simple terms. Throughout his life, Ramakrishna pursued the Divine in various forms, believing in the presence of the Supreme Being within every individual. Many saw him as a modern-day incarnation of Lord Vishnu, embodying spiritual salvation for those from all walks of life.


During a time of spiritual crisis in Bengal, Ramakrishna played a crucial role in revitalizing Hinduism. As Brahmoism and Christianity gained traction, particularly among young Bengalis, his teachings provided solace and guidance. His impact extended far beyond his lifetime, as his foremost disciple, Swami Vivekananda, continued to spread his philosophy through the Ramakrishna Mission. Despite being deeply rooted in tradition, Ramakrishna’s teachings remain relevant and accessible, transcending time and resonating with contemporary audiences across generations.

Early Life of Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836, in the Kamarpukur village of the Hoogly district in Bengal Presidency, India. His parents, Khudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi, were from a poor Brahmin family.

As a young boy, Ramakrishna, then known as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, attended the village school to learn Sanskrit, but he was often reluctant and would skip classes. Instead, he found joy in painting and crafting clay models of Hindu deities. He was captivated by the folk tales and mythological stories narrated to him by his mother.

Despite his aversion to formal schooling, Ramakrishna had a remarkable memory. He absorbed the teachings of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and other sacred texts simply by listening to priests and sages recite them. His deep love for nature led him to spend much of his time in orchards and by the riverbanks, where he felt a profound connection to the natural world.

From an early age, Ramakrishna showed a strong inclination towards spirituality. He experienced moments of spiritual ecstasy triggered by ordinary events. During rituals or while watching religious performances, he would sometimes enter deep trance-like states, indicating his deep spiritual sensitivity even as a young boy.

Arrival at Dakshineshwar and Priesthood

In 1855, the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar was founded by Rani Rashmoni, a renowned philanthropist known as the Queen of Janbazar in Calcutta. Despite her noble intentions, finding a priest for the temple proved challenging due to her family’s Kaibarta clan background, considered lower caste in Bengali society at the time. Eventually, her son-in-law, Mathurbabu, discovered Ramkumar in Calcutta and invited him to become the head priest at the temple.

Ramkumar accepted the offer and called for Gadadhar to assist him in the temple’s daily rituals. Gadadhar arrived at Dakshineshwar and took on the responsibility of adorning the deity. Unfortunately, Ramkumar passed away in 1856, leaving Gadadhar to assume the role of head priest. Thus, Gadadhar’s journey into priesthood began.

Legend has it that Mathurbabu, impressed by Gadadhar’s devotion and witnessing certain supernatural occurrences, bestowed upon him the name Ramakrishna. From then on, Ramakrishna’s tenure as the head priest at Dakshineshwar temple commenced, marking the start of his illustrious spiritual journey.

Religious Exploration and Spiritual Practices

Ramakrishna, a devout follower of Goddess Kali, was known as a ‘Shakto,’ but his spiritual journey was not confined to one path. He explored various avenues of spirituality with great enthusiasm, learning from different gurus and embracing diverse philosophies.

During 1861-1863, he delved into Tantra Sadhana under the guidance of Bhairavi Brahmani, mastering all 64 sadhanas, including Kundalini Yoga. Subsequently, he immersed himself in the Vaishnava faith, studying under Guru Jatadhari in 1864. Here, he practiced Batshalya Bhava, embodying the maternal attitude towards Lord Vishnu, and Madhura Bhava, reflecting the love of Radha for Krishna. He even had a vision of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu merging into his being during a visit to Nadia.

In 1865, Ramakrishna received initiation into Sanyaas from Monk Totapuri, who taught him the principles of Advaita Vedanta, emphasizing the non-dualism of spirit and the significance of Brahman. It was through Totapuri’s guidance that Ramakrishna reached his highest spiritual realization.

Later, he explored Islam, meticulously observing its rituals, and even had a vision of a radiant white-bearded figure. His encounter with Christianity occurred in 1873 when a devotee read The Bible to him, leading him to deeply contemplate the teachings of Christ. He experienced visions of Madonna and Child and of Jesus himself, further enriching his spiritual journey with diverse perspectives.

Teachings and Influence on Society

Sri Ramakrishna, revered as one of the most renowned mystics in history, possessed a remarkable ability to convey profound spiritual truths through simple parables, stories, and anecdotes. Despite his deep spiritual insight, he maintained a humble demeanor, often displaying childlike enthusiasm in his teachings. Central to his philosophy was the concept of God-realization, which he believed to be the ultimate goal for every individual.

What set Sri Ramakrishna apart was his willingness to explore and embrace various religious paths, including Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. He saw these different paths as diverse routes leading to the same destination – union with the Divine. This inclusive approach to spirituality reflected his belief in the underlying unity of all religions.

Recorded by his devoted disciple Mahendranath Gupta, Sri Ramakrishna’s conversations with his followers were compiled into the influential work known as Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, or The Nectar of Sri Ramakrishna’s Words. Through this collection, his teachings continue to inspire and guide spiritual seekers around the world.

Despite being born into a higher Brahmanical caste, Sri Ramakrishna actively sought to break down barriers of caste discrimination by partaking in meals cooked by individuals from lower castes. His actions demonstrated a profound commitment to equality and inclusivity, transcending social divides.

Sri Ramakrishna’s influence extended across all levels of society, as he welcomed people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs into his fold. His ability to connect with skeptics and win them over with his genuine warmth and love further solidified his reputation as a unifying force.

In nineteenth-century Bengal, Sri Ramakrishna played a pivotal role in revitalizing Hinduism, which was facing challenges and decay. His teachings not only rejuvenated the Hindu faith but also had a significant impact on other religious movements, such as Brahmoism, prompting them to re-examine their beliefs in light of his insights.

Notable Disciples of Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna, a revered spiritual figure, had numerous disciples who played pivotal roles in spreading his teachings far and wide. Swami Vivekananda stands out as one of his foremost disciples, instrumental in introducing Ramakrishna’s philosophy to the global stage. In 1897, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission to actualize his Guru’s vision, dedicating it to serving society.

Alongside Vivekananda, other disciples renounced familial ties and collaborated in establishing the Ramakrishna Math. Notable among them were Kaliprasad Chandra (Swami Abhedananda), Sashibhushan Chakravarty (Swami Ramakrishnananda), Rakhal Chandra Ghosh (Swami Brahmananda), and Sarat Chandra Chakravarty (Swami Saradananda), among others. Together, they propagated Ramakrishna’s teachings globally and upheld his vision of service.

Ramakrishna’s Legacy and Influence

Ramakrishna’s influence extended beyond his direct disciples. He profoundly impacted influential figures like Sri Keshab Chandra Sen, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj. Sen, initially attached to Brahmo ideals, was swayed by Ramakrishna’s teachings, leading him to reject rigidity and embrace polytheism. He championed Ramakrishna’s ideology through the Naba Bidhan movement, disseminating it widely among the Bengali elite through his publications.

Additionally, Ramakrishna’s circle included diverse individuals like Mahendranath Gupta, who despite familial obligations, remained devoted to his Guru, and Girish Chandra Ghosh, a renowned poet, playwright, and actor. Mahendra Lal Sarkar, a highly successful homeopath doctor, and Akshay Kumar Sen, a mystic and saint, also found inspiration in Ramakrishna’s teachings, contributing to his legacy in various ways.

Ramakrishna’s Passing: End of an Era

In 1885, Ramakrishna fell ill with throat cancer. His followers, wanting to ensure he received the best medical care, moved him to a devotee’s residence in Shyampukur, Calcutta. As his health continued to decline, he was later relocated to a spacious house in Cossipore. Despite efforts to improve his condition, Ramakrishna’s health deteriorated further. Tragically, on August 16, 1886, he breathed his last breath at the Cossipore garden house, surrounded by his disciples and loved ones.

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