Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa | His Legacy & Path To Enlightenment

Photo of author
Written by
Published:

Today, we will talk about Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, an Indian guru and mystic. His followers also believe he is an avatar1 Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Avatar. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar, an incarnation of God.

Ramakrishna followed practices from various religions in his life, including Hindu traditions like Vaishnavism and Advaita Vedanta, and Western religions like Christianity and Islam.

In the end, he moved away from religion saying all these paths are here to reach the same goal.

We will talk about that and other ideas by Ramakrishna Paramahansa in this article, we will specifically cover his:

Let’s dive into it!

Ramakrishna Paramahansa meditating in front of an orange circle

Ramakrishna’s Childhood & Education

Ramakrishna Paramahansa was born in 1936 in the small village of Kamarpukur2 Wikipedia. (2023). Kamarpukur. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamarpukur [Accessed 29 Dec. 2023]. in West Bengal, India to a poor Bengali brahmin family, and he was the youngest child.

According to his parents, they experienced supernatural things as soon as he was born.

Even before conception, his father had dreamt Lord Vishnu (in the form of Bhagwan Gadadhar) who told him he would be born as his son. His mother had a vision of light entering her womb, and later, when Ramakrishna was born, she saw a tall man lying in the bed instead of the baby. 

Ramakrishna’s spiritual experiences also started early.

He first experienced a state of trance when he was six, seeing a flock of white cranes and black clouds that covered the sky. This image was so beautiful, that he got mesmerized, lost his consciousness, and was carried home by some villagers.

He started helping his parents in performing worship when he was nine and soon experienced deep states of meditation and samadhi, connection with God.

In school, he wasn’t great at maths but rather enjoyed reading religious books. He also enjoyed acting and painting, so he started a drama group when he was 14. He left school early and practically had no official education.

He started meeting local saints and monks and became well-versed in sacred texts, Puranas.

He also persuaded the local scholar that women should also be able to listen to these sacred texts and recited them to the local women, believing they can only be protected through knowledge and devotion to God. 

Ramakrishna moved to Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1952 to help his brother with priestly work in his Sanskrit school. 

There he met Rani Rasmani, a revered wealthy woman who had a large impact on his life. She had a vision of Goddess Kali and founded the Dakshineswar Kali Temple3 Wikipedia. (2022). Dakshineswar Kali Temple. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakshineswar_Kali_Temple

His brother Ramkumar told Ramakrishna he became a priest in this temple, and invited him to stay. At first, Ramakrishna refused, because lower castes also had access to the temple, and joining their ceremonies was against the belief of their, now-deceased, father. 

His brother and his friend Mathur Babu persuaded him in the end, and he was appointed the task of dressing the figure of Kali.

Statue of Goddess Kali
Statue of Goddess Kali

Ramakrishna’s Spiritual Awakening

Ramkumar began teaching Ramakrishna the service of worship. A Brahman called Kenaram Bhattacharya initiated him and was impressed by Ramakrishna, seeing him entering a state of ecstasy when hearing the mantra.

His brother passed away, but Ramakrishna Paramahansa continued to worship Kali and prayed for a vision.

He was desperate not getting an answer. Then at one point suddenly, he saw a huge blissful light he described as a vision of Kali. From that point on, he continued to see the visions of the Goddess and other deities. 

Then, he began practicing various other traditions, including Vaishnavism, Tantrism, Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, and Christianity. 

After these practices, Ramakrishna Paramahansa said each had brought him to the same experience of God, the supreme reality. That is the root of his later teachings, where he said that all traditions are merely different paths to the same goal. 

Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his Wife

Today we awe at the spiritual experiences of Ramakrishna, but at the time, some deemed him unstable. 

Hearing that, his mother and other brother decided to get him married, believing marriage could stabilize him.

Ramakrishna then told them exactly where they would find the bride, who is now also seen as a guru and known as Sarada Devi. The age difference between the two was huge – he was twenty-three and she was five. But in rural India at this point, this was nothing unusual.

Sarada Devi followed Ramakrishna Paramahansa as her guru and joined him in the temple when she was 18.

At this point, Ramakrishna was already a monk, sannyasi, and they never consummated the marriage in a typical way; among other things, he was celibate.

Ramakrishna Paramahansa worshipped his wife as the Divine Mother Kali in person.

He admitted the marriage had a great impact on his spiritual growth, and their relationship proved husband and wife can become spiritual companions.

Let’s end this account with one of the first lessons Ramakrishna Paramahansa gave to Sarada Devi:

“God is everybody’s Beloved, just as the moon is dear to every child. Everyone has the same right to pray to Him. Out of His grace, He reveals Himself to all who call upon Him. You too will see Him if you but pray to Him.”

Ramakrishna
Sarada Devi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa's wife against a pink lotus background
Sarada Devi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s wife

Notable Disciples

Ramakrishna Paramahansa had many disciples, among which the most famous is Swami Vivekananda. 

He helped Ramakrishna establish his philosophy globally and carried out his visions which dealt with serving society.

Other notable disciples who were crucial for promoting Ramakrishna’s teaching in India and worldwide were Swami Abhedananda, Swami Ramakrishnananda, Swami Brahmananda, and Swami Saradananda. 

He also had a great impact on Sri Kesham Chandra Sen, a prominent leader from the rigid Brahmo Samaj path. He moved away from the order and propagated Ramakrishna’s teaching instead. 

Other well-known Ramakrishna’s students were a renowned poet and theatre director Girish Chandra Ghosh, a family man called Mahendranath Gupta, one of the best-known homeopathic doctors at the time – Mahendra Lal Sarkara, and a saint called Akshay Kumar Sen. 

Black and white photo of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahansa's student.
Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s student.

Teachings

One Substance – Different Names

Ramakrishna Paramahansa has practiced rituals from a variety of religions and had mystical experiences through all of them.

Through that he found that all traditions lead to the same goal but also, that none of them expresses the entirety of bliss and truth.

However, he wasn’t against these practices, saying each of them can express a certain aspect of truth.

In this way, he is different from those who are entirely against religion, he believed them all to be valid and leading to truth.

Instead, he taught the harmony of different religions, believing people can grow together into a single family, rather than dispersing into so many paths. 

Here are his words about the topic: 

“I have practiced all religions—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity—and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths. You must try all beliefs and traverse all the different ways once. Wherever I look, I see men quarreling in the name of religion—Hindus, Mohammedans, Brahmos, Vaishnavas, and the rest. But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Siva, and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus, and Allah as well—the same Rama with a thousand names. (…)The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will surely realize Him.”

Ramakrishna
7 religious symbols with outstretched hands

Kama-Kanchana

Ramakrishna spoke to his disciples to be aware of the two main bondages in human life – Kama and Kanchana. These translate to lust and gold. 

He thought that one could renunciate the attachment to lust and gold through discipline and practice.

Through practice, you gain the power of your mind and can let go of the attachments. We can control them.

He taught the same to both men and women, which is where he is different from many Brahmans who principally geared their message to men.

In fact, Gauri Ma, one of his female disciples said:

“Ramakrishna Paramahansa has uttered this note of warning, against gold and sensuality, against a life of enjoyment, but surely not against women. Just as he advised the ascetic-minded men to guard themselves against women’s charms, so also did he caution pious women against men’s company. The Master’s whole life abounds with proofs to show that he had not the slightest contempt or aversion for women; rather he had intense sympathy and profound regard for them.”

Gauri Ma

Avidyamaya and vidyamaya

Ramakrishna Paramahansa also had a deep understanding and had taught the two sides of Maya, or illusion.

He called them avidyamaya and vidyamaya. 

Avidyamaya represents the dark side of creation, including greed, cruelty, desire, and passion, which keep human beings at a lower plane of consciousness. People get entangled in these forces and therefore, they go through an endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Vidyamaya represents the higher, good side of creation, such as devotion, love, enlightenment, spiritual virtues, kindness, and purity. Dedicating to these lifts us to higher planes of consciousness, and we can finally step out of the cycles of reincarnation. 

Jiva is Shiva

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa proclaimed “jatra jiv tatra Shiv”, which means that wherever there is a living being, there is Shiva.

This comes from the Advaita teachings, and through this, he told the students that whenever they serve a living being, they serve Shiva

Other than these main teachings, he also had a grasp of more complex concepts, such as multiple universes, which are all a part of Brahman, the supreme consciousness.

a purple spiritual psychedelic mage of ego death

Ramakrishna’s Legacy

1. The Ramakrishna Order

Founded in the nineteenth-century (1886), the Ramakrishna Order started when Ramakrishna Paramahansa gave tan ochre cloth of renunciation to 12 of his closest disciples.

This monastic order gave rise to the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna mission.

2. The Ramakrishna Mission

Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) is a religious, spiritual and philanthropic organization founded by Sri Ramakrishna’s disciple Swami Vivekananda in his guru’s name.

The mission has its headquarters in Belur Math, West Bengal, India.

The Ramakrishna Mission teaches Advaita Vedanta, and Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, and Raja yogic ideals.

The mission is based on spiritual practices to “Worship of God in man”.

Notably, Swami Nikhilananda founded the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York which was a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission. He translated The Gospel Of Sri Ramakrishna fro Bengali to English.

3. Vedanta Society

The Vedanta Society is the American brach of the Ramakrishna Society. It is made of multiple groups concerned with the study of the idea of Advaita Vedanta and how we can live a spiritual life.

We can trace Vedanta in the west back to Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the Parliament of Religions in 1893.

Parables

Ramakrishna Paramahansa often shared his teachings through parables. 

One of the most famous parables is the one of the Greatest Devotee.

The story goes like this. Narada was a devotee, who became a narcissist, believing there was no other devotee greater than himself.

God saw this and told him to go to a place where a great devotee lives and to meet him, as he is the one whose devotion is dear to him.

Narada went to the place and found a farmer who woke early in the morning, pronounced God’s name “Hari” only once, and then went to the field where he worked all day. 

At the end of the day, he pronounced God’s name once more and went to sleep.

Narada started thinking, how can this villager love God, when he is only engaged in worldly work and doesn’t show any signs of devotion? He shared this thought with God.

God told him to take a cup of oil, walk around the city, and come back with it, but that he must make sure not to spill even a drop. 

Narada listened to the Lord, and once he came back, God asked him how many times did he think of him while walking around the city. “Not even once”, Narada answered, explaining that he couldn’t think of him as he had to watch for his oil not to get spilled.

The Lord answered: “This one cup of oil did so divert your attention that even you did forget me altogether. But look at that rustic, who, though carrying the heavy burden of a family, still remembers me twice every day.”

If this story was interesting, maybe you’ll enjoy some of our other guru profiles:

Photo of author
Sara lives in Croatia, near the sea, with her dog. She enjoys exploring nature, and making art. She is currently developing a series of children’s/YA stories and comics in her native language, which she feels complements her work and allows her to live her dream life – having yoga, writing, art, and nature in her every day.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.