By MV Kamath
Sri Ramakrishna: Love That Knows No Limits, M. Sivaramkrishna, Indus Source Books, Mumbai, Pp 281, Rs 275
If there is one country in the entire world that can incontrovertibly be said to be a land of saints, surely it is India that is Bharat. They come in many shapes and forms. Think of Nivratti, Namdeo, Sopana, Muktabai, Eknath, Tukaram, or Meera who sang her way through life, devoting it to the one and only Krishna: mera to giridhara gopala dusar na koi.
Then we had a Ramana Maharshi who even mesmerised Somerset Maugham. Still later we have had Sai Baba of Shirdi and Satya Sai Baba. But towards the end of the 19th century passed one of the most remarkable saints of our times, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. There was never one like him in the past and it is unlikely there ever will be one like him in the future.
Born on February 18, 1836, he passed away on July 16, 1886 when he was hardly fifty. But in those fifty years he made history. If there was no Sri Ramakrishna, there would have been no Swami Vivekananda and if there was no Vivekananda, would there have been a Ramakrishna Mission? Both Ramakrishna’s parents had learnt that the second child they were going to have would have a divine origin. Named Gadhadhar, he grew up in a village and from his very childhood he showed a uniqueness that puzzled everyone around. Gadhadhar was averse to formal education. What the author called “the orality of religious discourses” suited his temperament.
Significantly when Gadhadhar (known by his nickname Gadai) spoke, even at an early age, he had the “marvellous gift of making his listeners hooked to his words”. The author traces the life and life-style of Gadai – and what an infinitely fascinating tale it is! – from his childhood through teen-age and on to adulthood providing amazing insights into the way he turned into “spiritualism”. He could act, sing and react to Nature with total abandon. It is difficult to believe but we learn that Gadai even experienced samadhi when he was barely eleven years old! Walking through a paddy field, Nature stunned him and he was overwhelmed. The experience of ecstatic absorption came naturally to him.
The truth is: Gadai was more than what he appeared to be, one who could overwhelm anyone with his irresistible love and indefineable charisma. Fate led him from his village Kamarpukur to Dakshineshwar where Gadai as priest got dedicated to Bhavatarini. In time Gadai became Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna turned to sadhana and to an intense longing for God. He would get into a situation where everything physical around him vanished from sight and in their stead got immersed into a “limitless, infinite, effluent ocean of consciousness of Spirit”. When he recovered he could only utter one word: Mother, Mother!
It is claimed that for Ramakrishna the first intoxicating, ecstatic vision came to him when he was barely 20 years old. Later, he took to practice tantra and to the surprise of his friends “practiced it and perfected the art of converting the very snakes of sex and its fulfillment into the ladders of tremendous energy”. This disdain towards sex bothered one of his seniors who thought that Ramakrishna was not ‘normal’ and needed to be restored to “normalcy”. Towards that end he was taken to a prostitutes’ home in the hope he would give up his celibacy. But the prostitutes themselves were in for a shock. They could feel the radiance emitting from his childlike face and could only fall at his feet. His elders, in turn got him married when he was 23 and the girl chosen hardly 5 years old! When the time came for her to join him in holy matrimony, Ramakrishna sought to train her, remaining attached to her as a husband but, as her guru detached from the slighted vestige of carnal desire. In due course his wife was to become Sarada Devi, Holy Mother.
Ramakrishna himself had his guru Totapuri who advised him to take to sanyas, give up the traditional insignia of a Brahmin like the sacred thread and the tuft. In due course – and to the surprise to many – Ramakrishna in an intense desire – the author describes it as “raveous appetite” – to experience the essence of all religions and got involved in the study of Christianity and Islam and even had a mystical experience with Jesus – but ultimately returned to his own world of mystic re-union with God.
Those were the times when the Brahmo Samaj was active and Ramakrishna was greatly interested in its activities. Not that he was bothered with social reform. For example he was curious to meet Devendranath Tagore because he was told that Tagore “meditated on God”. Ramakrishna also met Keshab Chandra Sen and even Bankimn Chandra Chatterji. There is a story about Bankim who once watched Ramakrishna getting absorbed in a samadhi. He was listening to a Brahmo Samajist singing when he became completely absorbed. Bankim watched him attentively. He had never seen anyone in such an instant state of unconsciousness. When Ramakrishna regained consciousness he began to dance in an ecstatic mood. For Bankim it was a never-to be-forgotten experience. There was a perceptible change in the anglicised leader. But the one who got thoroughly mesmerised was Narendra Dutta later to be known as Swami Vivekananda.
How Narendra came to know of Ramakrishna is a story in itself. Nobody could have been more different than Ramakrishna than Narendra whose youth has been graphically described by a contemporary. Narendra, it seems, was gifted, sociable, free and unconventional, a good singer, a brilliant conversationalist, somewhat bitter and caustic, sitting in the scorner’s chair “but biding the tenderest hearts under the garb of cynicism”. That such a man should be so totally captivated with Ramakrishna makes one wonder whether it was more an act of God than a matter of personal acquiescence. Sivaramkrishna, the author has done full justice to the Paramahansa. His stature is global and has captured the imagination of even western thinkers, psychologists, sociologists and mythologists – and no wonder.
In a way Ramakrishna symbolises the ultimate in Hindu spiritual practice. That Indus Source Books has brought this study in the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda makes it especially attractive. Was Sri Ramakrishna an incarnation of God? This book provides an answer. Or, perhaps, Narendra Dutta who became Swami Vivekananda, does.