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Biographies > Ramakrishna Paramahansa - God-Intoxicated Saint

by Peter Holleran

    Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-1886) was perhaps the most famous Indian saint of the nineteenth century. He felt a passion for God from his early boyhood. As a youth he was subject to fits of divine emotion and was frequently lost in contemplation. As a small boy he first went into samadhi while crossing a field and seeing a flock of white geese silhoutetted against a dark sky. He was also known throughout his district for his purity, sense of humor, and talent for mimicry. His father died when he was seven, which profoundly impressed him with the impermanence of life. At the age of sixteen, to help support his family, he became priest of a temple in Dakshineswar, and his devotion and meditation increased to the point that he appeared like a madman. His first vision of universal consciousness came, as is not infrequently the case, after an episode of utter despair:

    ”I felt as if my heart were being squeezed like a wet towel. I was overpowered with a great restlessness and a fear that it might not be my lot to realize Her (the Divine Mother) in this life. I could not bear the separation from Her any longer. Life seemed to be not worth living. Suddenly my glance fell on the sword that was kept in the Mother’s temple. I determined to put an end to my life. When I jumped up like a madman and seized it, suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple and everything else vanished from my sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, infinite Ocean of Consciousness..within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss..” (1)

    Ramakrishna went through alternations of anguish and ecstasy as his divine moods increased. The transformation of his body-mind was marked by numerous physical symptoms: a burning sensation, oozing of blood through his pores, loosening of the joints, and a shutdown of physiological functions. Such changes sometimes occur when the human vehicle is penetrated or infused with divine force. A tangible glow or golden radiance may also be apparent on the body of a yogi passing through the fires of ecstasy. Romain Rolland wrote:

    “The yogis of India constantly note the effect of the great ecstasy caused by an efflux of blood. Ramakrishna could tell as soon as he saw the breast of a religious man, whom he was visiting, whether or not he had passed through the fire of God.” (2)

    Ramakrishna practised the disciplines of many spiritual traditions, testing them and in each case finding that they led to the same goal of divine communion. It was not, however, until he met Totapuri, a wandering sannyasi (renunciate), that he was initiated into the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and in a dramatic episode realized a state beyond duality. He said that he sat for meditation, and when the familiar, gracious form of the Divine Mother (Kali) appeared before him that he used his discrimination like a sword, clove her in two, and “soared” beyond the relative plane, losing himself in samadhi. The language which Ramakrishna used to describe this well-known incident appears to imply that he realized nirvikalpa samadhi (formless, egoless absorption or distraction from the sense of self in the highest reach of ascended meditation), whereas previously his “universal vision”, although cosmic in scope, could be considered savikalpa samadhi (“samadhi with form”, or spiritual consciousness where the subject-object distinction persists).

    Ramakrishna at one stage was in nearly-continuous nirvikalpa samadhi for a period of six months. A friendly sadhu would beat him with a stick to bring him down to normal consciousness so he could eat a little food, then he went back into samadhi. His hair got matted and flies would go into his nose and mouth. After this the Divine Mother told him to remain in bhavamukha (conscious residence somewhere between the sixth and seventh chakras) in order to be able to teach people.

   It seems, as evidenced by communications between Ramakrishna and his devotees, that he may have gone beyond this traditional yogic experience and realized the superior state of sahaj samadhi (the natural state, non-exclusive of the body and the world), even though his personal tendency for mystical ecstasy remained. When Swami Vivekananda requested that Ramakrishna put him in a trance for three days at a time, his Master rebuked him with the words, “You fool...there is a state even higher than that.” (3)   After Swami Turiyananda remarked that he desired to be liberated, Ramakrishna accused him of having a “mean concern” and being “full of fear” for seeking Nirvana for himself. Turiyananda was the devotee of Sri Ramakrishna who most embodied the ascetic ideal, enduring the severest disciples all of his life. Yet this extreme approach to spiritual practise was criticized by the master. When Turiyananda asked Ramakrishna how he could become free of lust, for instance, the sage replied that this was the wrong attitude, and that rather than seeing the vital force as evil one should direct it to God. When the young monk further confessed that he could not stand to even be near a woman, Ramakrishna rebuked him by saying he “talked like a fool,” and that he should see women as manifestations of the Divine Mother. While he was often inclined, despite having undergone a tantric sadhana at one time, to speak negatively of "women and gold", the saint also made the interesting comment that if he gratuitously took away desire from a disciple the latter would then find life insipid.

   Ramana Maharshi once expressed that too much had been made by people of Ramakrishna's exclamation to Vivekananda, "I see God as clearly as I see you," which tended to place emphasis on the idea of God in the third person as an "absolute other", while ignoring God in the first person as the Self in the heart, as he felt the Bhagavad-Gita affirmed. Ramana felt that a primary requirement for sahaj samadhi or the natural state was first to realize God as the ultimate subject rather than the ultimate object as mysticism often seeks. He repeatedly emphasized that to see anything requires a seer, and it is the nature of the seer that one must realize. Once that is done it will become clear that even the mystical experience of perceiving infinite light or seeing everything as God implies a residue of ego, and must be gone beyond for realization of the Self. Please see Talks with Ramana Maharshi for more on this point.   Nevertheless, it is likely that Ramakrishna did not mean 'seeing' in the usual sense. Ramana himself thought highly of Ramakrishna, and, along with Dakshinamurti, had a picture of him in his sitting room. The following anecdote confirms the Maharshi's respect for the great saint:

   "In one article the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung contrasted Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Bhagavan and saw in this succession the progressive advance from bhakti to jnana. On hearing this, Bhagavan promptly sat erect and protested against the comparison, saying: "When one has reached the mountain-top, no matter from which side and by which path, one knows and understands all other paths. What is there that Sri Ramakrishna did not know?" (3a)

    He elsewhere stated:

   “On scrutiny, supreme devotion and jnana are in nature one and the same. To say that one of these two is a means to the other is due to not knowing the nature of either of them. Know that the path of jnana and the path of devotion are interrelated. Follow these inseparable two paths without dividing one from the other.”

   Paul Brunton wrote that Master Mahayasa ("M"), whose diary became The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, privately confessed to Brunton’s friend, Swami Desikananda, that the Gospel only contained elementary and not advanced teachings, and that Ramakrishna stopped disciples from discussing more esoteric subjects like Advaita Vedanta when Mahayasa was near because he knew that the latter was keeping a journal. Swami Lokeswarananda wrote:

   "Because not all of Sri Ramakrishna's teachings are included in the Gospel, it is necessary to read Swami Saradananda's Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master, along with the works of Swami Vivekananda, and the reminiscences compiled by the other monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. One should study all these writings, but particularly those of Swami Vivekananda. The words of Sri Ramakrishna are the scripture; the words of Swamiji are the bhasya, the commentary. If we study both the Gospel and the works of Swamiji, we will be able to have a perfect picture of Sri Ramakrishna." (4)

   V.S. Iyer, an important influence on Brunton, felt that Ramakrishna was indeed a gyani who taught mysticism to those less qualified for the ultimate truth. He also was of the opinion that "M" did not understand advaitic philosophy and, unlike Vivekananda, was among Ramakrishna's mystic devotees:

    "Ramakrishna practiced meditation with yogis, and he said that all these were progressive steps and did not condemn them. Yet with Vivekananda he taught that religion and yoga were not the end, for they can never directly lead to Brahma-gnana. Teachings other than Vedanta are for beginners only. There are stages in comprehending truth. Hence Sri Ramakrishna taught Vedanta--the highest truth--only to Vivekananda. All his other disciples were taught Yoga, mysticism or theology. He kept a Vedanta treatise (Ashtavakra Gita) hidden under his pillow when others came to talk, but when he was alone with Vivekananda he brought the book out and taught him from it." (5)

    Indeed, Ramakrishna himself told Vivekananda that “God could be seen,” yes, but also that the personal and the impersonal God were the same Being, and that the advaita (jnana, absolute monism or non-qualified non-dualism) of Sankara and the vishisht-advaita (bhakti, or qualified non-dualism) of Ramanuja were both true, yet could only be understood through realization. Paul Brunton sums up the paradox nicely:

    "For us who are philosophically minded, the World-Mind truly exists. For us it is God, and for us there is a relationship with it - the relationship of devotion and aspiration, of communion and meditation. All the talk about non-duality may go on, but in the end the talkers must humble themselves before the infinite Being until they are as nothing and until they are lost in the stillness - Its stillness." (6)

    In any case it is likely then that Ramakrishna's reported ideal of the universal oneness of all religions derived from his early sadhana and applied to the more exoteric and not esoteric doctrines. Even so, as evidenced by his unique interaction with each devotee, it was as if the many and varied contemplative practices he himself had engaged during his sixteen years of sadhana were undertaken as a bodhisattva in order to generate the evolutionary energy or facility needed to further the spiritual realization of his intimate companions throughout time. And it was not really true that he always preached a negative asceticism despite his sometimes traditional yogic talk of the dangers of "women and gold." He had, as mentioned, practiced tantra and was in love with the Divine Mother. Lex Hixon, in Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, beautifully relates an episode showing how Ramakrishna really felt:

Visitor: "Honored sage, should we take the way of monastic renunciation after our social and family responsibilities are completed?"

Ramakrishna: "The path of monastic discipline is not necessary for everyone who longs to awaken. The passion for external renunciation is like a bolt of lightning. It may strike at any time. It is not a reasoned choice. But why not renounce all sense of limitation, even the limitation of monastic forms? Why not enjoy all possible dimensions of human experience as already merged in God? Can one get completely inebriated on just a few pennies’ worth of wine? Fill up the whole pitcher!"

This radical response surprises the questioner, who had already tacitly assumed a traditional, pious answer. He gazed, speechless, at the laughing sage, and then asks with astonishment: “A spiritual practitioner should lead a worldly life?”

Ramakrishna: "Why not? What is there to fear or avoid when Divine Reality is know to be all-embracing… Relatively few persons have the destiny to drop social and personal connections entirely in order to enter the external state of sannyasa - wandering aimlessly in the ecstasy of knowledge and love, taking no direct responsibility for educating or serving society in pragmatic ways."

Visitor: "Master, what does it mean to say that a person has reached the end of worldly enjoyments?"

Ramakrishna: "…To come to the end of worldly enjoyments is to EXPERIENCE Divine Bliss flowing through EVERY ACTION, EVERY PERCEPTION."

Visitor: "How can I get rid of sexual passion?"

Ramakrishna: "Why get rid of it? Turn its powerful energy in another direction. Lust is blind, but the Great Delight conferred by the Goddess is ever-pure and resplendent."

The new questioner is also disconcerted by such a radical response delivered with such wonderful laughter. This seeker has been conditioned by the teaching that cultivates liberation by categorically rejecting what ever appears as ignorance, limitation, or bondage. Intrigued by the relaxed, all-embracing tantric attitude of the Goddess-worshiping sage, drawn deep into inquiry by this magnet of Divine Mother’s Knowledge and Love, this visible form of the dancing Kali-the seeker cries in consternation: “Please, most revered Master, why would a benign Deity project the power of ignorance and limitation?”

Ramakrishna melts into laughter, his eyes swimming in ecstasy, his body, like burnished gold, glowing with heavenly light. This response emanates directly from Mother Mahamaya, beyond reason, religion, philosophy. Now our Master is weeping tears of pure love: “It is ALL Her Play, Her delirious Play. OM KALI, OM KALI, OM KALI!”

Visitor: "Beloved Paramahamsa, who is really to blame for sexual obsession and its bondage? Men or women?"

Ramakrishna: "You are male, so I will speak to you about women. To women, I give the same teachings about the spiritual danger and the spiritual potential of men. A women who has awakened in her body and mind the energy of transcendent wisdom, which is the brilliant healing and enlightening presence of the Goddess, can be a tremendous blessing for a male practitioner - as a tantric consort, as consecrated wife, or simply as the inspiring friend of his soul. But a woman who has developed exclusively her biological and social drives is filled with a subtle energy that can be detrimental to the progress of a male aspirant. Eventually - without either person recognizing any danger-she can stifle his aspiration by drowning him in the forces of the limited ego world. Precisely the same facts must be explained to women concerning men...The brilliant feminine energy of wisdom, which incarnates through the bodies and minds of both men and women, cultivates the refined taste for sweet spiritual companionship, for knowledge of oneness, for tears of pure love, for ecstatic union with various revealed forms of Divinity, and for refreshing renunciation of all deceptive, habitual expectations. By contrast, the energy of limitation consists of the random, compulsive play of the mind and senses with their objects - an instinctual drive for experience that lacks both subtlety and harmony and causes the heart to forget the delight of Divine Reality, the communion that is natural to the human soul. But, both currents - the energy of wisdom and the energy of limitation - are simply Mother’s Energy. When only God exists, who is there to praise and whom to blame?”

    Recent books such as Stripping the Gurus by Geoffrey Falk have gone so far as to accuse Ramakrishna of a tendency towards pedophilia, but this seems overdone and disingenuous. Iyer dismissed this issue by tackling it head-on:

    “Sri Ramakrishna when a young man exclusively worshipped the Mother, and showed unconscious sex complex in its most innocent form, of course, but that was the lowest stage which he outgrew later. Psychoanalysis is therefore true to a degree.” (8)

    It can truly be said that Ramakrishna cannot be understood except by realizing that he went through various stages of sadhana and in turn taught at several different levels for different degrees of intellect: devotion for the masses, yoga and mysticism for his intimate disciples, and vedanta only for Vivekananda. Iyer wrote:

    "Master Mahasaya could not understand philosophy (Vedanta), so Ramakrishna made no attempt to teach him Advaita, but told him to go on practicing religion, thus lifting him up along the path fitted to him. This shows the practical wisdom of Ramakrishna." (9)

    Yet it was Master Mahasaya who was to give a young Paramhansa Yogananda a breath-stopping samadhi experience years later, as reported in Autobiography of a Yoga. As Yogananda recalled:

    "I experienced that the Center of the Supreme Heavenly Abode was actually a place deep within myself and that the place of experience within was spawned by the Same. It was as if the entire creation was emanating from my Being and the radiance of an incredibly beautiful Light was spreading through the Sahasrar. 'It is His river of nectar flowing through the world'. A flow of liquid nectar was rushing through body and mind - waves upon waves. I heard the Onkar Sound, the Sound of Brahman - the thunderous Pranava resonance - the First Pulse of the creation of the Universe. Suddenly, my breath came back into the lungs. Oh, if I could only express how my heart was filled with disappointment. I cannot tell you. That Great Being of mine was completely gone. Again I came back and was imprisoned by this insignificant and miniscule physical cage - this thing that cannot contain that Colossal Person of the Atman. Like the prodigal son described in the Bible, I left my Immense Abode of the Cosmos, and again entered this tiny 'pot' of the body."

    If a 'second-tier' disciple of Ramkrishna could do that, one who was not qualified to study advaita, think of the stature of the living sage himself! Think also of the lesson this might demonstrate on the difference between a pure saint with grace-bestowing powers and a sage adept only in self-knowledge, "invisible even to the gods," and "trackless like a fish in water." Swami Vivekananda, considered the most advanced of Ramakrishna's pupils, had no such powers, his 'power' being limited to knowing Truth itself. Of 'M' Brunton wrote:

   "A venerable patriarch has stepped from the pages of the Bible, and a figure from Mosaic times has turned to flesh." (11)

   We might reflect that Ramakrishna, like many sages, spoke in one manner or another depending on whom he was with. Thus, to one pundit he famously said, "I spit on your vedanta!", leading many who heard of this to conclude that he only valued mystic experiences or samadhis, while in private he taught advanced the advaita philosophy to Vivekananda.

   Iyer continues:

    "I admire Ramakrishna as the only Gyana yogi because he had this universal sympathy. His samadhis are no test of his Gnan; they were merely a discipline. This is the final test: do I see everything in me?"

    "I admire Ramakrishna because he said to his God, Mother, "Take Yourself away, I want Truth." That showed he placed truth higher than his concept of it, his God higher than his idea of it."

    "Sri Ramakrishna danced for those who wanted dancing, who could not grasp Vedanta."

    "I justify Sri Ramakrishna's references to his conversations with Mother, God,
[Kali], etc., as due to his adapting his conversation to people around him. In the early stages of his discipline, no doubt he had visions of the Mother, but later they disappeared, but still he found it convenient to refer to her as real because the minds of his hearers could grasp that easily, whereas Non-duality was beyong their brains, except Vivekananda's."

    "Sri Ramakrishna talked of his visions and conversations with the Mother (Deity). This was because the Mother (Shakti) was worshipped in Bengal...He did this in order to help people who came to him, who had to be spoken to in an intellectual language they can understand. This does mean he had psychic visions or conversations internally - he was living in a far higher world than that - but that he deliberately used association of ideas familar to his hearers."

    "Why did Ramakrishna still spend so much time in yoga-trances after he became a Gnani? Reply: If I am a Gnani with a black body, I know that body is only an idea, but he cannot throw it away even then, Similarly, Ramakrishna had the habit of going into trance, and although he became a Gnani he had to continue the habit. It made no difference to him because he knew that samadhis also were Brahman. Therefore a Gnani may practice yoga provided he knows its limited value, knows that per se it does not lead to Brahman but rest." (13)

    "The Upanishads do not say teach many, only a few. Hence Ramakrishna taught only Vivekananda. Do not regard all the other historic disciples as his initiate disciples. They understood his religion, his yoga, or his dancing, not more. They were merely devotees. The higher philossophy falls flat on those who lack the capacity to understand it."

    "It is true that Ramakrishna and Sri Sankara advocated the necessity of taking Sanyas, but they did so in order to make the Sanyasins devote their whole lives to the service of mankind, whereas other advocates of sanyas merely propogate it in order to make selfish ego-centered ascetics who withdraw from society and let it go to the dogs."

    Notably, it was Iyer who had a major influence on monks Nikhilinanda and Siddeswarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission who were responsible for bringing the teachings to New York and Paris. Iyer was court philosopher to the Maharaja of Mysore who funded their mission to the West.

    In an inspired mood "M" once wrote of Ramakrishna:

   "The Master was like a five-year-old boy always running to meet his Mother.
    The Master was like a bonfire from which other lamps were lighted.
    The Master was like a celestial vina always absorbed in singing the glory of the Divine Mother.
    The Master was like a big fish joyfully swimming in calm, clear, blue waters, the Ocean of Satchidananda.
    The Master was like a bird which had left its nest in a storm and then, perched on the threshold of the Infinite,
    was joyfully moving between the two realms, singing the glory of the Infinite."

   Swami Lokeswarananda wrote:

    "Swami Brahmananda said that the Divine Mother has the key to the knowledge of Brahman. The door cannot be opened without the key of Mother's grace. Whether we take the path of knowledge or the path of devotion, we must first propitiate maya. Sri Ramakrishna said, 'One must propitiate the Divine Mother, the Primal Energy, in order to obtain God's grace'.....We should never be egotistical about maya, thinking, 'Maya has no power over me'. We must always remember that if maya is not gracious, we forget God." (16)

   Ramakrishna appreciated the bold approach. He said:

   "You...must force your demand on the Divine Mother. She will come to you without fail." (17)

   "Sri Ramakrishna said to Mother Kali, 'You will not give me your vision? Then I will cut my throat.' The Mother was helpless; what else could she do? she was forced to appear before him...Regarding this, Sri Aurobindo once remarked that Sri Ramakrishna was 'taking, as it were, the Kingdom of heaven by violence.' " (18)

   Bhai Sahib, Sufi guru of Irena Tweedie, agreed:

   “I think it was St. Augustine, if I remember well, who said that the Kingdom of Heaven must be taken by storm. God must be forced; such much be the attitude that he cannot help to grant His Grace to the Devotee.” (19)

   Vivekananda felt Ramakrishna was the incarnation of both Sankara and Chaitanya, having both the mind of the former and the heart of the latter.

   In 1885 Ramakrishna developed cancer of the throat and died one year later. (Swami Nikhilananda went so far as to speculate that this disease was due to his constant ascended samadhis that may have put excessive kundalini pressure on his throat center. Paul Brunton pointed out that it is odd that this was the same logic often given to explain certain forms of spiritual healing). Iyer saw in Ramakrishna's attitude to his throat cancer another example of his universal vision as a true gnani:

    "When Vivekananda asked Sri Ramakrishna to get his ulcerated throat cured, by asking the Mother, so that he could eat again...Ramakrishna did so. She replied, "Why are you thinking of eating in this body alone? Ramakrishna is already eating through millions and millions of mouths." This means that when realizing one mind is in all these bodies, we free ourselves from the separate body limitation." (20)

    Before he died he went through a final period of showering spiritual blessings and samadhis on his devotees. His disciples carried his mission far and wide, establishing monastic orders and teaching centers in many lands. Swami Brahmananda and Swami Vivekananda were most influential in passing on his transmission and teaching, the latter most responsible for the spread of yoga philosophy and vedanta, the former through spiritual initiation of devotees. Iyer wrote:

    "Ramakrishna, whom I regard as the only Gnani in modern times, realizing that he could not travel far through lack of knowing English and education, trained one man - Vivekananda - to go in his place. None of the other pupils were fit for the highest vedanta and were trained for yoga only, etc., but Vivekananda was given the full truth and bidden to go out and spread it." (21).

    Ramakrishna sparked a renaissance of Indian spirituality among his countrymen who were in danger of rejecting their rich heritage due to the influence of modern western education and philosophy.The Ramakrishna order was instrumental in spreading the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta and Yoga and also ecumenicalizing the teachings of Christ for a spirit-starved western world. Of the coming age, Ramakrishna said that many saints would arise, "like grapes in clusters."

    Ramakrishna actually had two principle human spiritual guides. The first was a woman known as the Bhairavi Brahmani (the "Brahman nun"), and the second was Totapuri (the "naked man"). When the Bhairavi Brahmani met Ramakrishna, who had already had many mystical experiences but lacked theoretical and practical knowledge for their steady realization, she burst into tears and greeted him with the words, “My son, I have been looking for you for a long time.” (22) It was she who took him under her wings and taught him various sadhanas, including tantric practices, leading to spiritual-communion. Through her help Ramakrishna gained possession of “the nineteen attitudes” or emotions of the soul in love with its Lord: servant and master, son and mother, friend, lover, husband, and so on. It was also the Bhairavi Brahmani who gained Ramakrishna public recognition as an Avatar through her discussions with the pandits at Dakshineswar, although Ramakrishna, always a simple man ("M" once said "The Master was like a five-year-old boy always running to meet his Mother"), disliked any such attention on him, although in the end he did confess his avataric status to convince a doubting Vivekananda by reading his mind and saying "He who was Rama, and He who was Krishna, is now in this body as Ramakrishna - though not in your Vedantic sense." Along the way he dropped hints here and there, saying, "I'll let the cat out of the bag before I die". He also taught that the avatara was bound to incarnate for the salvation of all. Of himself he said, "I am not free. I will have to come to earth again." (Vivekananda, who at first did not believe in the concept of avatara, and argued somewhat like PB, that the infinite divine can and does not compress itself into a finite man, said: "God is infinite; we cannot even so much as say that the things or persons we perceive are parts of God. How can Infinity have parts? It cannot." The Master refuted these arguments by saying, 'However great and infinite God may be, His Essence can and does manifest itself through man by His mere will." Sri Krishna says, "I am birthless, deathless, and the Lord of all beings; nevertheless, I, by controlling my prakriti, take birth through the power of my maya.") (23)

    For three years the Bhairavi Brahmani guided the young saint, but eventually he required further help which she could not give. The ascetic Totapuri then came to Ramakrishna as a “messenger of the impersonal God.” He purportedly had attained Vedantic realization of non-dual truth after forty years of spiritual practise, yet his young disciple supposedly accomplished this feat in just three day. Whether this was the true non-dualism of sahaj or not is unclear, as it is recorded that Totapuri pressed a piece of glass between Ramakrishna's eyebrows and said "concentrate here!", after which Ramakrishna "soared beyond the relative plane into samadhi," and Totapuri then watched spellbound as Ramakrishna sat for days on end in nirvikalpa samadhi. So perhaps the true realization of advaitic non-dualism or sahaja came later. Totapuri was so greatly impressed, however, that, contrary to his custom of never staying more than three days in one place, he remained in Dakshineswar for eleven months during which time the roles of master and disciple became reversed. It was Totapuri, the proud, viril ascetic, who regarded the Divine illusion or Maya as non-existent, and no match for his indominable will power, who came through the influence of his disciple to see the very same Maya as the Mahashakti or active aspect of Brahman itself. Perhaps equivalent to a 'radical non-dualist' of his day, tears came to his eyes as Ramakrishna sang devotional hymns in his presence, and the divine siddhi activated through Ramakrishna worked a great transformation in the aged master, who it is said left him an enlightened man realizing that Brahman and Shakti are one. A similar story was told about the great Sankara and his encounter with Mother Maya or the supreme power.

    Ramakrishna said:

    “When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive, neither creating, nor preserving, nor destroying, I call him Brahman, or Purusha, the impersonal God. When I think of Him as active, creating, preserving, destroying, I call Him Shakti or Maya or Prakriti, the impersonal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The personal and the impersonal are the same Being, in the same way as milk and its whiteness, or the diamond and its lustre, or the serpent and its undulations. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.” (24)

    ”Find God,” he adds, “that is the only purpose in life.” To this end, moreover, he stressed the need for a living teacher. As Paul Brunton wrote:

    "If "dead" illuminati can help the world as readily as those who are among us in the flesh, I would like to ask those who believe this why Ramakrishna uttered the following pathetic plaint as he lay dying in Cossipore: "Had this body been allowed to last a little longer, many more people would have become spiritually awakened." No, it is more rational to believe that a living illuminate is needed, that one who has flung off the physical body has no further concerns with the physical world, and that he whose consciousness is in the real, uses the world (in the form of a body) to save those whose consciousness is in the world." (25)

    Ramakrishna's lila or love play with his disciples is exemplified in the story of Girish. Indeed, Girish was the least likely to become a disciple of the sage, being an actor with a strong desire for the bottle and little inclination for discipline, yet Ramakrishna won him over by love. Swami Lokeswarananda wrote:

   "Girish used to boast, 'I am Girish Ghosh of Baghbazar. There is no sin that I am not guilty of. If I had known that Sri Ramakrishna would be so gracious as to forgive them all, I would have committed many more.' There is no doubt that Sri Ramakrishna took on the sins committed by Girish, for he once said, 'Because I accepted Girish's sins, I have this disease.' The Master was referring to the throat cancer which eventually took his life." (26)

   As Girish was good hearted but dissolute, Ramakrishna made him a special offer:

   "Girish gradually became a close devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. Slowly he began to understand that Sri Ramakrishna was an avatara, and he surrendered himself completely to him. Sri Ramakrishna offered to bear Girish's entire responsibility, saying that Girish could give him 'the power of attorney'. Girish accepted the offer, thinking that he would no longer have to do anything; Girish thought that Sri Ramakrishna would do everything for him. But as Girish said later of the bargain, 'Now I understand that giving the power of attorney is very difficult. One must think at every step of the way, 'Am I depending completely on Him, or are my actions springing from egotism?' Before giving him power of attorney, I would say God's name once or twice every evening. Now I find that I am always remembering Him.' " (27)

   And that's how it goes when one strikes a bargain with a saint.


(1) Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1977), p.
(2) Romain Rolland,The Life of Ramakrishna (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1979), p. 50
(3) Nikhilananda, op. cit., p. 70
(3a) Laxmi Narain, compiled and edited, Face to Face with Ramana Maharshi (Hyderabad, India: Sri Ramana Kendram, 2007), p. 119
(4) Swami Lokeswarananda, The Way to God As Taught by Sri Ramakrishna (Calcutta, India: The Ramakrishna Institute of Culture, 1992), p. 15
(5) Lights on Advaita: Selected Teachings of V. Subrahmanya Iyer, www.wisdomsgoldenrod.org/, 33.1-33.2
(6) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 14, 8.99; Vol. 16, Part 2, 1.72
(7) Lex Hixon, Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1997), p.
(8) V.S. Iyer, Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. by Mark Scorelle, 1999), p. 204
(9) Ibid, (10). Swami Satyananda Giri, A Collection of Biographies of 4 Kriya Yoga Gurus, (Yoga Niketan, 2004), p. 255
(11) Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret India (India: B.I. Publications, 1974), p. 176
(12) Ibid, p. 205
(13) Ibid, p. 328
(14) Ibid, p. 205
(15) Romain Rolland, op.cit., p. 53
(16) Swami Lokeswarananda, op. cit., p. 79
(17) Ibid, p. 214
(18) Ibid, p. 215
(19) Irena Tweedie, Daughter of Fire (Inverness, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1986), p. 569
(20) V.S. Iyer, op. cit, Vol. 2, 3431
(21) Ibid, 3196
(22) Swami Chetanananda, They Lived With God, Advaita Ashrama), p.
(23) Swami Lokeswarananda, op. cit. p. 350-351
(24) Romain Rolland, op. cit., p. 60-61
(25) The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, 4.209
(26) Swami Lokeswarananda, op. cit., p. 411
(27) Ibid, p. 410