At the time Gadadhar arrived there lived in Calcutta a rich widow named Rani Rasmani, belonging to the sudra caste. Her son-in-law Mathur Mohan assisted her in the management of her vast property. In 1847 she purchased twenty acres of land at Dakshineswar, a village about four miles north of Calcutta. She created a temple garden and constructed several temples. The main temple was dedicated to Kali, the Divine Mother. Ramkumar was appointed the priest of the Kali temple. Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of the Rani, was very impressed by Sri Ramakrishna and wanted him to participate in the worship at the Kali temple. But Sri Ramakrishna did not want to take up any responsibilities.
One of Sri Ramakrishna’s distant nephews, Hriday, came to Dakshineswar looking for a job. After many requests by Mathur Babu, Sri Ramakrishna entered the temple service on the condition that Hriday would assist him. Later Sri Ramakrishna accepted the office of priest in the Radhakanta temple.
In 1856 Ramkumar breathed his last. Mathur Babu begged Sri Ramakrishna to take charge of the worship in the Kali temple. In the beginning he refused but later he yielded to Mathur’s request and became the priest at the Kali temple. In Mother Kali Sri Ramakrishna found the benign, all-loving Mother. The worship in the temple intensified Sri Ramakrishna’s yearning for a living vision of Mother Kali. During the day whenever he was free from the temple service he used that time for meditation. A deep jungle lay to the north of the temples. In the past this was used as a burial ground. Here Sri Ramakrishna began to spend the whole night in meditation, returning only in the morning with eyes swollen as though from much weeping. While meditating he would lay aside his Brahmin cal thread and his cloth. He once explained this to Hriday: “Don’t Ou know that when one thinks of God one should be free from all ties? From our very birth we have the eight fetters of hatred, shame, lineage, pride of good conduct, fear, secretiveness, caste, and grief. The sacred thread reminds me that I am a Brahmin and therefore superior to all. When calling on the Mother one has to set aside all such ideas.”
As his love for the Mother deepened, he began either to forget or to drop the formalities of worship. Sitting before the image, he would spend hours singing devotional songs of great devotees of the Mother such as Ramprasad. These songs intensified Sri Ramakrishna’s longing. He felt the pangs of a child separated from its mother. Sometimes, in agony, he would rub his face against the ground and weep bitterly. Sometimes, in moments of skepticism, he would cry: “Art Thou true, Mother, or is it all fiction – mere poetry without any reality? If Thou dost exist, why do I not see thee? Is religion a mere fantasy and art Thou only a figment of man’s imagination?” Sometimes he would sit on the prayer carpet for hours like an inert object. He began to behave in an abnormal manner. He almost gave up food and sleep.
He did not have to wait for long. Sri Ramakrishna describes his first vision of Mother Kali thus: “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 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 effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. As far as the eye could see, the shining billows were madly rushing at me from all sides with a terrific noise, to swallow me up! I was panting for breath. I was caught in the rush and collapsed, unconscious. What was happening in the outside world I did not know; but within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother.”
Now Sri Ramakrishna wanted to see the Mother not only during his meditations but also with his eyes open. In the beginning the Divine Mother played hide-and-seek with him. Eventually as his visions became deeper and more intimate Sri Ramakrishna could see the Divine Mother even while retaining consciousness of the outer world. He could see her as tangibly as the temples, the trees, and the people around him. He completely surrendered himself to the will of the Divine Mother. He constantly prayed, “O Mother, I have taken refuge in thee. Teach me what to do and what to say. Thy will is paramount everywhere and is for the good of Thy children. Merge my will in Thy will and make me Thy instrument.”
One day while Sri Ramakrishna was singing at the temple, Rani Rasmani was present She was sorting flowers and thinking of a lawsuit. Sri Ramakrishna sensing her distracted state of mind slapped her. The Rani accepted the punishment as though the Divine Mother Herself had imposed it; but her son-in-law was distressed. He asked Sri Ramakrishna to control his feelings and heed the conventions of the society. He argued that God Himself followed laws and as an example stated that God never permitted flowers of two colors to grow on the same stalk. The next day Sri Ramakrishna presented Mathur with two hibiscus flowers growing on the same stalk, one red and one white.
Sri Ramakrishna’s abnormal activities and indifference to worldly life convinced people that he was going mad. His mother in Kamarpukur heard this and was filled with anguish. She felt that marriage would be a good solution to cure him of his madness. He was married to Saradamani, a little girl of five, who lived in the neighboring village of
Jayrambati.When the child bride Sarada grew up and went to live with her husband, she instantly recognized in him a great soul and accepted him as her guru.
At that time there came to Dakshineswar a Brahmin woman. She was from East Bengal, and was an adept in the Tantrik and Vaishnava methods of worship. She was over fifty years of age and dressed as a nun. Sri Ramakrishna described to her his visions and experiences, and told her that people thought that he had gone mad. At this she replied, “My son, everOne in this world is mad. Some are mad for money, some for creature comforts, some for name and fame; and Ou are mad for God.” She explained to him that he was going through a very rare spiritual experience described in the scriptures as the mahabhava. She proclaimed Sri Ramakrishna an Incarnation of God like Sri Rama, Sri Krishna. With the help of the Brahmani Sri Ramakrishna practiced the various disciplines of the Tantra. He practiced all the sixty-four principal Tantra books, and it took him never more than three days to achieve the result promised in any one of them.
The most remarkable experience that he had during this period was the awakening of the Kundalini Sakti, “Serpent Power”. He actually saw the Power, at first lying asleep at the bottom of the spinal column, then waking up and ascending along the mystic Sushumna canal and pass through the six centers, or lotuses, to the Sahasrara, the thousand-petalled lotus in the top of the head. He further saw that as the Kundalini went upward the different lotuses bloomed. And this phenomenon was accompanied by visions and trances.
After completing the Tantrik sadhana Sri Ramakrishna, with the help of the Brahmani, practiced the disciplines of Vaishnavism. Under the guidance of the Brahmini, Sri Ramakrishna made rapid progress. But to move from the realm of duality with its visions, experiences, and ecstatic dreams, to the experience of the Impersonal Absolute he had to be guided by another teacher. This new teacher turned out to be a wondering monk called Totapuri who had renounced all earthly objects and attachments, including a lion-cloth.
From early Outh Totapuri was trained in the disciplines of the Advaita Vedanta and looked upon the world as an illusion. For forty years he had practiced austere discipline on the bank of the sacred Narmada and finally realized his identity with the Absolute. From then on he moved from place to place clad only in a lion-cloth. He did not stay at any place for more than three days. During his travels he arrived at Dakashineswar temple garden towards the end of 1864. Here he discovered Sri Ramakrishna and was delighted to know that Sri Ramakrishna was interested in becoming a student of Vedanta.
After initiating Sri Ramakrishna into sannyasa, Totapuri began to impart to Sri Ramakrishna the great truths of Vedanta. Describing this event Sri Ramakrishna once said, “After the initiation, Nangta (Sri Ramakrishna called Totapuri Nangta) began to teach me the various conclusions of the Advaita Vedanta and asked me to withdraw the mind completely from all objects and dive deep into the Atman. But in spite of all my attempts I could not altogether cross the realm of name and form and bring my mind to the unconditioned state. I had no difficulty in taking the mind from all the objects of the world. But the radiant and too familiar figure of the Blissful Mother, the Embodiment of the essence of Pure Consciousness, appeared before me as a living reality. Her bewitching smile prevented me from passing into the Great BeOnd. Again and again I tried, but She stood in my way every time. In despair I said to Nangta: ?It is hopeless. I cannot raise my mind to the unconditioned state and come face to face with Atman.’ He grew excited and sharply said: ?What? You can’t do it? But Ou have to.’ He cast his eyes around. Finding a piece of glass he took it up and stuck it between my eyebrows. ?Concentrate the mind on this point!’ he thundered. Then with stern determination I again sat to meditate. As soon as the gracious form of the Divine Mother appeared before me, I used discrimination as a sword and with it clove her in two. The last barrier fell. My spirit at once soared beOnd the relative plane and I lost myself in samadhi.”
Sri Ramakrishna remained completely absorbed in samadhi for three days. Totapuri was astonished. What had taken him forty years to achieve, Sri Ramakrishna had attained in one day. For six months Sri Ramakrishna remained in a state of absolute identity with the Brahman. He said, “For six months at a stretch I remained in that state from which ordinary men can never return; generally the body falls off, after three weeks, like asere leaf. I was not conscious of day and night. Flies would enter my mouth and nostrils just as they do a dead body’s, but I did not feel them. My hair became matted with dust.” Sri Ramakrishna’s body would not have survived had he not been looked after by a monk who happened to be at Dakshineswar at that time and realized that for the good of humanity Sri Ramakrishna’s body must be preserved. Then Sri Ramakrishna received the command from the Divine Mother to remain on the threshold of relative consciousness. Soon after this he had a serious attack of dysentery. Day and night he was in intense pain and this gradually brought his mind down to the physical plane.
This experience of the Brahman convinced Sri Ramakrishna that the gods of different religions are but so many readings of the Absolute, and that the Ultimate Reality could never be expressed by human tongue. He understood that all religions lead their devotees by different paths to one and the same goal. Sri Ramakrishna actually got himself converted to Islam and Christianity for brief whiles, practicing the disciplines rigorously. In three days he passed into the Muslim equivalent of Samadhi, the realization of Haq. When he explored the Christian faith he was so full of the experience of Christ that he would not even go to the temple until he had a strange vision of Jesus.
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