These are the utterances of a man of our own times, described by Romaine Rolland as the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million Hindus. For the first time in the world’s history the words of a prophet, who is reverenced in India as belonging in the spiritual line of Krishna and Buddha and who is being recognized in the west as a compeer of Christ, have been presented with almost stenographic accuracy. In their breadth and depth they are unique. Great spiritual truths are here described in simple words and vivid stories. The problems of a personal God and impersonal Reality, the conflict of religion and of religious disciplines, are here solved in the light of direct experience. In these pages seeker of all religions will find courage and faith, hope and illumination. They will feel God to be very real and within reach of all. They will learn that man’s sincere prayer is always answered and that everyone will become perfect, through the grace of God. For these words covey conviction about the inner divinity of man and spiritual foundation of the universe. Sri Ramakrishna stands as the verification not only of the Sanatanadharma the Eternal Religion of the Hindus, but of all religious faiths and creeds. The gospel of the Master is the silent force animating the national life of India.
Born amidst the utter simplicity of a village of Bengal, Sri Ramakrishna felt, from his very boyhood, a passionate yearning for the vision of God. At the age of sixteen he went to Calcutta, but was disgusted by the materialistic ideals of the people of the great metropolises. Refusing to direct his attention to secular studies, he became a priest in the Dakshineswar temple, where god is worshipped as the Mother of the Universe. By dint of intense prayer and longing, and practically without the help of any teacher, he obtained the vision of God. He then desired to realize Him by following the paths laid down in the scriptures. Through the differing in the scriptures. Through the differing disciplines of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam he reached always the single goal, realization of the one God-consciousness. In various ways he taste the bliss of communion with God, sometimes merging himself totally sometimes, as a child of the Divine mother, maintaining an appearance of individuality. There came to him attracted by his irresistible spiritual power, people of all classes-men and women, young and old, educated and illiterate, agnostic and orthodox. All felt the radiation of his spirit and were uplifted in his presence. His love form knew no barriers of race, color or creed, and he gave without stint to all who sought his counsel and blessing He specially trained a small band of young monastic disciples, who at his bidding, took, the vows of God-realization of the one God consciousness. In various ways he tasted the bliss of communion with God, sometimes merging himself totally sometimes, as a child of the Divine Mother, maintaining an appearance of individuality. There came to him, attracted by his irresistible spiritual power, people of all classes- men and women. Young and old, educated and illiterate, agnostic and orthodox. All field the radiation of his spirit and were uplifted in his presence. His love for men knew no barriers of race, colour, or creed, and he gave without stint to all who sought his counsel and blessing. He specially trained a small band of young monastic disciples , who at his bidding, took, the vows of god-realization for themselves and of service to humanity. After their Master’s passing away, they carried his message to distance countries, across lands and oceans.
In the history of the arts genius is a thing of very rare occurrence. Rarer still, however, are the competent reporters and recorders of that genius. The world has had many hundreds of admirable poets and philosophers; but of these hundreds only a very few have had the fortune to attract a Boswell or an Eckermann.
When we leave the field of art for that of spiritual religion, the scarcity of competent reporters becomes even more strongly marked. Of the day-to- day life of the great theocentric saints and contemplatives we know, in the great majority of cases, nothing whatever. Many, it is true, have recorded their doctrines in writing, and a few, such as St Augustine, Suso and St Teresa, have left us autobiographies of the greatest value. But all doctrinal writing is in some measure formal and impersonal, while the autobiographer tends to omit what he regards as trifling matters and suffers from the further disadvantage of being unable to say how he strikes other people and in what way he affects their lives. Moreover, most saints have left neither writings nor self-portraits, and for a knowledge of their lives, their char- acters and their teachings, we are forced to rely upon the records made by their disciples who, in most cases, have proved themselves singularly incom- petent as reporters and biographers. Hence the special interest attaching to this enormously detailed account of the daily life and conversations of Sri Ramakrishna.
"M", as the author modestly styles himself, was peculiarly qualified for his task. To a reverent love for his master, to a deep and experiential knowl- edge of that master's teaching, he added. a prodigious memory for the small happenings of each day and a happy gift for recording them in an interesting and realistic way. Making good use of his natural gifts and of the circum- stances in which he found himself, "M" produced a book unique, so far as my knowledge goes, in the literature of hagiography. 1\'0 other saint has had so able and indefatigable a Boswell. Never have the small events of a con- templative's daily life been described with such a wealth of intimate detail. Never have the casual and unstudied utterances of a great religious teacher been set down with so minute a fidelity. To Western readers, it is true, this fidelity and this wealth of detail are sometimes a trifle disconcerting; for the social, religious and intellectual frames of reference within which Sri Rama- krishna did his thinking and expressed his feelings were entirely Indian. But after the first few surprises and bewilderments, we begin to find something peculiarly stimulating and instructive about the very strangeness and, to our eyes, the eccentricity of the man revealed to us in "M's" narrative. What a scholastic philosopher would call the "accidents" of Ramakrishna's life of spirit
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is the English translation of the Sri sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, the conversations of Sri Ramakrishna with his disciples, devotees, and visitors, recorded by Mahendranath gupta , who wrote the book under the pseudonym of “m”. The conversations in Bengali shortly after M.’s Death in 1932. Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, has published in two volumes an English translation of selected chapters from the monumental Bengali work. I have consulted these while preparing my translation.
M., one of the intimate disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, was present during all the conversations recorded in the main body of the book and noted them down in his diary. They there fore have the value of almost stenographic records. In Appendix are given several conversations which took place in the absence of M., but of which he received a first-hand record from persons concerned. The conversations will bring before the reader’s mind an intimate picture of the Master eventful life March 1882 to April 24, 1886, only a few months before his passing away. During this period he came in contact chiefly with English-educated Bengalis; from among them he selected his disciples and the bearers of his message, and with them he shared his rich spiritual experiences.
I have made a literal translation, omitting only a few pages of no particular interest to English-speaking readers. Often literary grace has been sacrificed for the sake of literal translation. No translation can do full justice to the original. This difficulty is all the more felt in the present work, whose contents are of a deep mystical nature and describe the inner experiences of a great seer. Human language is an altogether inadequate vehicle to express super sensuous perception. Sri Ramakrishna was almost illiterate. He never clothed his thoughts in formal language. His words sought to convey his direct realization of Truth. His conversation was in a village patois. Therein lies its charm, In order to explain to his listeners an abstruse philosophy , he, like Christ before him, used with telling effect homely parables and illustrations, culled from his observation of the daily life around him.
The reader will find mentioned in this work many visions and experiences that fall outside , the ken physical science and even psychology. With development of modern knowledge the border line between the natural and the supernatural is ever shifting its position. Genuine mystical experiences are not as suspect now as they were half a century ago. The words of Sri Ramakrishna have already exerted a tremendous influence in the land of his birth. Savants of Europe have found in his words the ring of universal truth but these words were not the product of intellectual cogitation; they were rooted in direct experience. Hence, to students of religion, psychology, and physical science these experiences of the Master are of immense value for the understanding of religious phenomena in general. No doubt Sri Ramakrishna was a Hindu of the Hindus; yet his experiences transcended the limit of the dogmas and creeds of Hinduism. Mystics of religions other than Hinduism will find in Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences a corroboration of the experience of their own product and seers and this very important today for the resuscitation of religious values. The skeptical reader may pass by the supernatural experiences; he will yet find in the book enough material to provoke his serious thought and solve many of his spiritual problems.
There are repetitions of teachings and parables in the book. I have kept them purposely, they have their charm and usefulness, repeated as they as they were in different settings. Repetition is unavoidable in a work of this kind. In the first place, different seekers come to a religious teacher with questions of more or less identical natural; hence the answer will be of more or less identical pattern. Besides religious teachers of all times and climes have tried. By means of repetition to hammer truths into the stony soil of there calcitrant human mind. Finally, repetition does not seem tedious if the ideas repeated are dear to a man’s heart.
I have thought It necessary to write a rather lengthy Introduction to the book. In it I have given the biography of the Master, descriptions of people who came in contact with him. Short explanation of several system of Indian religious though intimately connected with Sri ramakrishna’s life and other relevant matters which, I hope will enable the reader better to understand and appreciate the unusual contents of this book. It is particularly important that the western reader, unacquainted with Hindu religious though, should first read carefully the introductory chapter, in order that in order that he may fully enjoy these conversations. Many Indian terms and names have been retained in the book for want of suitable English equivalents. Their meaning is given either in the glossary or in the foot-notes. The Glossary also gives explanations of a number of expressions unfamiliar to western readers. The diacritical marks are explained under notes on Pronunciation.
In the Introduction I have drawn much material from the Life of Sri Ramakrishna, published by the Advaita Ashrama, Mayavat, India. I have also consulted the excellent article on Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nirvedananda, in the second volume of the Cultural Heritage of India.
The book contains many songs sung either by the Master or by the devotees. These form an important feature of the spiritual tradition of Bengal and were for the most part written by men of mystical experience. For giving the songs their present form I am grateful to Mr. John Moffitt, Jr.
In the preparation of this manuscript I have received ungrudging help from several friends. Miss Margaret Woodrow Wilson and Mr. Joseph Campbell have worked hard in editing my translation. Mrs. Elizabeth Davidson has typed, more than once, the entire manuscript and rendered other valuable help. Mr. Aldous Huxley has laid me under a debt of gratitude by writing the Foreword. I sincerely thank them all.
In the Spiritual firmament Sri Ramakrishna is a waxing crescent. Within one hundred years of his birth and fifty years of his death his message has spread across land and sea. Roman Rolland has described him as the fulfillment of the spiritual aspirations of the three hundred millions of Hindus for the last two thousand years. Mahatma Gandhi has written: “His life enables us to see God face to face…… Ramakrishna was living embodiment of godliness.” He is being recognized as a compeer of Krishna, Buddha, and Christ.
The life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna have redirected the thoughts of the denationalized Hindus to the spiritual ideals of their forefathers. During the latter part of the nineteenth century his was the time-honored role of Saviors of the Eternal Religion of the Hindus. His teachings played an important part in liberalizing the minds of orthodox pundits and played an important part in liberalizing the mind of orthodox pundits and hermits. Even now he is the silent force that is molding the spiritual destiny of India. His great disciple, Swami Vivekananda, was the first Hindu missionary to preach the message of Indian culture to the enlightened minds of Europe and America. The full consequence of Swami vivekananda’s work is still in the womb of future.
May this translation of the first book of its kind in the religious history of the world, being the record of the direct words of a prophet, help stricken humanity to come nearer to the Eternal Verity of life and remove dissension to grasp the subtle laws of the super sensuous realm, and unfold before man’s restricted vision the spiritual foundation of the universe, the unity of existence, and the divinity of the soul!
Shri Ramakrishna, the God-man modern India, was born at Kamarpukur. This village in the Hooghly District preserved during the last century the idyllic simplicity of rural areas of the Bengal. Situated far from the railway, it was untouched by the glamour of the city. It contained rice-fields, tall palms, royal banyans, a few lakes, and two cremation grounds. South of the village a stream took its leisurely course. A mango orchard dedicated by a neighbouring zemindar to the public use was frequented by the boys for their noonday sports. A highway passed through the village to the great temple of Jagannath at Pur, and the villagers, most of whom were farmers and craftsmen, entertained many passing holy men and pilgrims. The dull round of the rural life was broken by lively festivals, the observance of sacred days, religious singing and other innocent pleasures.
About his parents Sri Ramakrishna once said: “my mother was the personification of rectitude and gentleness. She did not know much about the ways of the world; innocent of the art of concealment, she would say what was in her mind. People loved her for her open-heartedness. My father, an orthodox Brahmin, never accepted gifts from the sudras. He spent much of his time in worship and meditation, and in repeating God’s name and chanting His glories. Whenever in his daily prayers he invoked the Goddess Gayatri, his chest flushed and tears rolled down his cheeks. He spent his leisure hours making garlands for the Family deity, Raghuvir.”
Khudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandra Devi, the parents of Sri Ramakrishna, were married in 1799. At that time Khudiram was living in his ancestral village of Dereypore, not far from Kamarpukur. Their first son, Ramkumar, was born in 1805, and their first daughter , Katyayani, in 1810. In 1814 Khudiram was ordered by his landlord to bear false witness in court against a neigh bout. When he refused to do so, the landlord brought a false case against him and deprived him of ancestral property. Thus dispossessed, he arrived, at the invitation of another landlord, in the quiet village of kamarpukur, where he was given a dwelling and about in acre of fertile land. The crops from this little property were enough to meet his family’s simple needs. Here he lived in simplicity, dignity, and contentment.
Ten years after his coming to Kamarpukur, Khudiram made a pilgrimage on foot to rameswar, at the southern extremity of India, Two years later was born his second son, whom he named Rameswar. Again in 1835, at the age of Sixty, he made pilgrimage, this time to Gaya. Here, from ancient times Hindu have come from the four corners of India to discharge their duties to their departed ancestors by offering them food and drink at the sacred footprint of the Lord Vishnu. At this holy place Khudiram had a dream in which the Lord Vishnu promised to be born as his son. And Chandra Devi, too, in from of the Siva temple at Kamarpukur, had a vision indicating the birth of a divine child. Upon his return the husband found that she had conceived.
It was on February 18, 1836 that the child, to be know afterwards as Ramakrishna, was born. In memory of the dream at Gaya he was given the name of Gadadhar, the “Bearer of the Mace”, an epithet of Vishnu. Three years later a little sister was born.
Gadhadar grew up in to healthy and restless boy, full of fun and sweet mischief. He was intelligent and procociousand endowed with a prodigious memory. On his father’s lap he learnt by heart the names of his ancestors and the hymns to the gods and goddesses, and at the village school he was taught to read and write. But his greatest delight was to listen to recitations of stories from Hindu mythology and the epics. These he would afterwards recount from memory, to the great joy of the villagers. Painting he enjoyed; the art of moulding images of the gods and goddesses he learn from the potters. But arithmetic was his great aversion.
At the age of six or seven Gadadhar had his firs experience of spiritual ecstasy. One day in June or July, when he was walking along a narrow path between paddy-fields eating the puffed rice that he carried in a basket, he looked up at the sky and saw a beautiful, dark thunder-cloud. As it spread, rapidly enveloping the whole sky, a flight of snow-white cranes passed in front of it. The beauty of the contrast overwhelmed the boy. He fell to the ground, unconscious, and the puffed rice went in all directions. Some villagers found him and carried him home in their arms. Gadadhar said later that in that state he had experienced an indescribable joy.
Gadadhar was seven years old when his father died. This incident profoundly affected Him. Fr the first time they boy realized that life on earth was impermanent. Unobserved y others, he began to slip into the mango orchard or into one of the cremation ground, and he spent hours absorbed in his own thoughts. He also became more helpful to his mother in the discharge of her household duties. He gave more attention to reading and hearing the religious stories recorded in the Puranas. And he became interested in the wande4ring monks and pious pilgrims who would stop at kamarpukur on their way to Puri. These holy men, the custodians of India’s the world and all-absorbing love of god, entertained the little boy with stories from the Hindu epics, stories of saints and prophets, and also stories of their own adventures. He on his part, fetched their water and fuel and served them in various ways. Meanwhile, he was observing their meditation and worship.
At the age of nine Gadadhar was invested with the sacred thread. This ceremony conferred upon him the privileges of his Brahmin lineage, including the worship of the Family deity, raghuvir, and imposed upon the many strict disciplines of a brahmin’s life. During the ceremony of investiture he shocked his relatives by accepting a meal cooked boy his nurse, a sudra woman. His father would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. But in a playful mood Gadadhar had once promised this woman that he would eat her food, an now he fulfilled his plighted word. The woman had piety and religious sincerity, and these were more important to the boy than the conventions of society.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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