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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Ramakrishna

(1836-1886). One of the best known nineteenth century Hindu saints. He was born as Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya at Ramarpukur in the Hooghly district of Bengal, on February 10, 1836. From an early age he was strongly attracted to the spiritual life and had an experience of spiritual ecstasy when he was but seven years of age. In what was the custom in India, at the age of 23 Ramakrishna was married to a girl of five, Saradamani Devi, but they did not live together until she was grown up. He was a typical Bhakti Yogi, devoting his entire waking hours to intense communion with God without regard to any specific religion. He was equally at home with worship in the fashion of Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. His famous disciple Vivekananda said of him, “It was no new truths that Ramakrishna came to preach, though his advent brought old truths to light.”

Between 1855 and 1864 Ramakrishna practiced intensively a variety of spiritual disciplines and in 1856 he became a priest of a K€l… temple in Dakshineswar just outside Calcutta and at this time had his first vision of the Divine Mother. In 1861 the Bhairavi Brahmani, a wandering nun, and two well-known pandits, proclaimed him an Avatar. The temple in Dakshineswar is now preserved as a shrine to him; visitors are not allowed in his small, simple room, but can view it from outside. The seat beneath a large banyan tree under which he attained Self-realization is maintained.

Ramakrishna’s philosophy is perhaps summed up in this statement by him, “A lover of God prays to the Divine Mother: ‘O Mother, I am very much afraid of selfish actions. Such actions have desires behind them, and if I perform them I shall have to reap their fruit. But it is very difficult to work in a detached spirit. I shall certainly forget Thee, O Mother, if I involve myself in selfish actions. Therefore I have no use for them. May my action, O Divine Mother, be fewer everyday until I attain Thee. May I perform without attachment to the results, only what action is absolutely necessary for me. May I have great love for Thee as I go on with my few duties. May I not entangle myself in new work so long as I do not realize Thee. But I shall perform it if I receive Thy command. Otherwise not’” (The Gospel of Sri RamakishŠa, 1974, p. 423).

Ramakrishna’s influence has been quite significant in popularizing VEDANTA to the Western world, drawing the attention of such people as Aldous Huxley and Christoper Isherwood. His most famous disciple, Swami Vivekananda, traveled to the United States and became a popular teacher of yoga. His disciples formed the Ramakrishna Mission which has centers in various countries.

He died of throat cancer on August 16, 1886. Vivekananda established in his name the Ramakrishna Mission, a monastic order the individual centers (in India, Europe, and the US) of which do social welfare work (famine and flood relief, feeding the needy, education, running dormitories for indigent college students, etc.) as well as giving talks that expound a liberal version of Hinduism.

P.S.H.

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