Sri Ramakrishna was a famous mystic of 19th century India. His religious school of thought lead to the formation of the Ramkrishna mission by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda. Many of his disciples and devotees believe that he was an avatar or incarnation of God. He is also referred to as "Paramahamsa" by his devotees. Paramahamsa is a Sanskrit religio-theological title of honor applied to Hindu spiritual leaders of lofty status who are regarded to have attained enlightenment. The title may be translated as "Supreme Swan" and is based on the swan being equally at home on land or water. Similarly, a true sage is equally at home in the realms of matter and spirit. The swan is also, according to Indian legend, able to separate milk and water. Thus the swan symbolizes the ability of a Self realized master to separate truth from the insubstantiality of delusion.
Sri Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836 in the interior village of Kamarpukur in the Hooghly district in a pious Brahmin family, on the second lunar day of the bright fortnight of Falgun. Sri Ramakrishna's childhood name was Gadadhar. After learning elementary reading in the primary school, he stayed at home and served the deity of Raghuvira. He himself would pluck the flowers and perform puja daily. In school, the arithmetic book by Shuvankara would confuse him.
He could sing of his own exquisite sweet voice. He could sing almost all songs he heard in yatras (theatrical performances). He was ever cheerful since his childhood. Everybody in the locality, children, men and women, all loved him.
Holy men frequently visited a guest house in the garden of Laha Babus near Gadadhar's house. He would meet them and serve them. When the storytellers read from the Puranas, he would listen to everything with rapt attention. In this way he learnt all the stories of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata.
One day he was passing through a field to to a nearby village. He was eleven then. Ramakrishna himself narrated that he suddenly lost consciousness on seeing a miraculous light. People said he had fainted. Actually he had attained Bhava Samadhi.
After the death of his father, Gadadhar came to Calcutta with his elder brother. He was then 17 or 18 year old. In Calcutta, he spent some days at Nathair Bagan, few days in the house of Govinda Chatterjee in Jhamapukur where he performed puja. In this connection, he performed puja for sometime in the family of the Mittras of Jhamapukur.
Sri Ramkrishna's elder brother, Pundit Ramkumar was appointed the first priest of the Kali Temple dedicated by Rani Rasmani, Gadadhar also used to come here often from Calcutta and after some time he was also appointed for the puja work. As he had been performing puja for sometime, a change came over him. He would remain absorbed and keep sitting beside the image of the Mother.
Soon after his near and dear ones arranged for his marriage in the belief that it might change his state. He was married in 1859 to Sarada Mani Devi who was just 6 years old while Gadadhar was 21 or 22 year old. After his marriage Sri Ramakrishna returned to Dakshineswar Kali Temple but instead of toning down, his spiritual fervour and devotion only increased. To cultivate humility and eliminate the distinction between his own high Brahmin caste and Pariahs belonging to low caste he would clean their quarters with his own hand and long hair.
A wandering monk known as Totapuri, initiated Ramkrishna in Advaitic Vedanta. The initiation took place in the city of Dakshineswar. It is said that after being initiated by Totapuri, Ramakrishna remained in absolute state of meditation, for a period of approximately six months.
In his thirst for the divine, Ramkrishna followed different religious paths including various branches of Hinduism. Not content to stop there, however, he also practiced Islam and later meditated deeply on Christ, experiencing the same divine Reality through these non-Hindu paths. Thus, he came to the conclusion, based on direct experience, that all religions lead to the same goal.
Sri Ramakrishna emphasized God Realization as the supreme goal of all living beings. He taught that kamini-kanchana is an obstacle to God-Realization. Kamini-Kanchana literally translates to "Women and Gold". Ramakrishna looked upon the world as Maya and he explained that Avidya Maya represents the dark force of creation (eg. sensual desire, evil passions, greed, lust and cruelty), which keep the people on lower planes of consciousness. These forces are responsible for human entrapment in the cycle of birth and death, and they much be fought and vanquished. Vidya Maya, on the other hand, represents higher forces of creation (eg. spiritual virtues, enlightening qualities, kindness, purity, love and devotion), which elevates human beings to the higher planes of consciousness. Ramakrishna practices several religions, including Islam and Christianity, and recognized that in spite of differences, all religions are valid and true and they lead to the same ultimate goal - GOD.
End of Worldly Life
In the beginning of 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from Clergyman's throat which eventually developed into throat cancer. He was moved to Shyampukur near Calcutta, where some of the best physicians of the time we engaged. When his condition deteriorated, he was relocated to a large garden house at Cossipore on December 11, 1885.
During his last days, he was looked after by his monastic disciples and Sarada Devi. Ramakrishna was advised by the doctors not to strain his throat at any cost, but ignoring their advice, he incessantly involved in conversations with the visitors. According to the traditional accounts, before his death, Ramkrishna transferred his spiritual powers to Vivekananda and reassured Vivekananda of his avataric status. He asked Vivekananda to take care of his disciples and teach them. Ramakrishna's condition gradually worsened and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at th3 Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi. After the death of their master, the monastic disciples led by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half ruined house at Baranagar near river Ganga, with financial assistance of the household disciples. This became to first Math or monastery of the disciples who constituted the first Ramakrishna Order.
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