Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Sri Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836, as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay to a poor Bengali Brahmin family in Kamarpukur, Bengal. He had his first spiritual experience at the age of six or seven and entered into trancelike states throughout his childhood. He neglected his studies, preferring to spend his time in solitary meditation, singing, and performing of Hindu stories. For much of his life he served as priest at the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar near Calcutta, living a life of renunciation, but he stopped performing priestly functions when the “divine madness” took over his conscious awareness.
Sri Ramakrishna married Sarada Devi, whom he viewed as the Goddess incarnate; she looked upon her husband as her guru, or spiritual teacher. He did not found a movement or establish an organization, although he was the inspiration of a generation of Indian Hindus. His influence spread throughout the world through the Vedanta Society, founded by his disciple, Swami Vivekananda.
He remained devoted to the goddess Kali throughout his life, and he was also initiated into tantric practice. His teacher Tota Puri taught him Advaita Vedanta and the practice of absorption in the formless, which he quickly achieved. His whole life was an uninterrupted contemplation and union with God. His life and teaching appeal to seekers in all religions, as he taught that the revelation of God can take place at all times and that God-realization is not the monopoly of any one religion or faith. He took up various disciplines associated with other religions, specifically Christianity and Islam, and taught that all paths lead to the same God-realization. His message of the harmony of religions was based on unity in diversity and a fellowship of religions based on their common goal of God-consciousness.
Sri Ramakrishna died on August 16, 1886, in Kolkata.
(From “Encyclopedia of Hinduism” by Constance A. Jones and James D. Ryan)
Ramakrishna often talked about The Divine Mother, his great inspiration:
The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kali temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of Consciousness. The Image was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water-vessels were Consciousness, the door-sill was Consciousness, the marble floor was Consciousness—all was Consciousness.
I found everything inside the room soaked, as it were, in Bliss—the Bliss of Satchidananda. I saw a wicked man in front of the Kali temple; but in him also I saw the Power of the Divine Mother vibrating.
That was why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that the Divine Mother Herself had become everything—even the cat.
Whatever we see or think about is the manifestation of the Mother, of the Primordial Energy, the Primal Consciousness. Creation, preservation, and destruction, living beings and the universe, and further, meditation and the meditator, bhakti [devotion] and prema [divine love]—all these are manifestations of the glory of that Power… .
Brahman, the Godhead, and Shakti, the Primal Energy, are like the snake and its wriggling motion. Thinking of the snake, one must think of its wriggling motion, and thinking of the wriggling motion, one must think of the snake. Or they are like milk and its whiteness. Thinking of milk one has to think of its color, that is, whiteness, and thinking of the whiteness of milk, one has to think of milk itself. Or they are like water and its wetness. Thinking of water, one has to think of its wetness, and thinking of the wetness of water, one has to think of water… .
The Primordial Power is ever at play. She is creating, preserving, and destroying in play, as it were. This power is called Kali. Kali is … Brahman and Brahman is … Kali. It is one and the same Reality. When we think of It as inactive, that is to say, not engaged in the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction, then we call it Brahman. But when It engages in these activities, then we call it Kali or Shakti. The Reality is one and the same; the difference is in name and form…
A man once saw the image of the Divine Mother wearing a sacred thread. He said to the worshiper: “What? You have put the sacred thread on the Mother’s neck!” The worshiper said: “Brother, I see that you have truly known the Mother. But I have not yet been able to find out whether She is male or female; that is why I have put the sacred thread on Her image.”
That which is Shakti is also Brahman. That which has form, again, is without form. That which has attributes, again, has no attributes. Brahman is Shakti; Shakti is Brahman. They are not two. These are only two aspects, male and female, of the same Reality, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.