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