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India, with her wealth of spiritual tradition, has produced many spiritual giants. One of the greatest was Ramakrishna (1836-1886). His life was a testament to truth, universality, love and purity.

Born in a rural village outside Calcutta, Ramakrishna even as a boy naturally gravitated toward leading a spiritual life. This tendency only intensified as he grew older. When as a young man he became a temple priest, he was seized by an unquenchable thirst for union with God, and he immersed himself in intense meditation and other spiritual practices.

Ramakrishna was constantly absorbed in the thought of God. He would often go into high spiritual states where he would merge with the Infinite Reality. For him, the Vedantic teaching of unity of all existence was more than theory; he literally saw, and knew, this to be true.

In his thirst for the divine, Ramakrishna followed different religious s including various branches of Hinduism. Not content to stop there, however, he also practiced Islam and later meditated deeply on the Christ, experiencing the same divine Reality through these non-Hindu s. Thus, he came to the conclusion, based on his direct experience, that all religions lead to the same goal.

In addition, through his many Sikh devotees, he learned of their faith and its great founders, and he was told of the wonderful life and teachings of the Buddha. This exposure to the Sikh religion and Buddhism further confirmed his experience of the universality of spiritual truth.

Ramakrishna's love for humanity was immense. He often said human beings were the highest manifestations of God. His disciples saw this love firsthand, and the monastic order Ramakrishna inspired achieved the distinction of being the first order in India to serve humanity. Service to God in humankind is one of the foremost ideals of the Ramakrishna Order.


The Dakshineswar temple on the banks of the Ganges,
where Sri Ramakrishna spent most of his life.

 

Ramakrishna's teachings regarding the highest truths of spiritual life were delivered in the simplest language and were punctuated by parables and homely metaphors as illustrations. Many noted writers and philosophers-Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Merton, Arnold Toynbee, Joseph Campbell-have been deeply impressed and influenced by him.

"Different people call on [God] by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it 'jal', others at another place and call it 'pani', and still others at a third place and call it 'water'. The Hindus call it 'jal', the Christians 'water', and the Moslems 'pani'. But it is one and the same thing."


"All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole."


"Once some blind men chanced to come near an animal that someone told them was an elephant. They were asked what the elephant was like. The blind men began to feel its body. One of them said the elephant was like a pillar; he had touched only its leg. Another said it was like a winnowing fan; he had touched only its ear. In this way the others, having touched its tail or belly, gave their different versions of the elephant. Just so, a man who has seen only one aspect of God limits God to that alone. It is his conviction that God cannot be anything else."

For further information, see the books Ramakrishna and His Disciples, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, and Ramakrishna the Great Master. You can also see photographs and paintings of Ramakrishna at our Vedanta Society website.

For information about Sarada Devi, the wife and spiritual consort of Ramakrishna, the Vedanta Society site offers information on her life, and a collection of all the known photographs. Be sure to see the painting of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi by Swami Tadatmananda.

 


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