“God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true.”
- Sri Ramakrishna
In Sri Ramakrishna, one finds the core of the spiritual realizations of India’s seers and sages. Throughout his God-intoxicated life, Sri Ramakrishna lived and taught that God-realization is not the monopoly of any particular age, country, or people. Seekers of all religions feel drawn to his life and teachings.
Sri Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836 in Kamarpukur, a rural village in Bengal, to a poor, respected Brahmin family. Even as a boy, Ramakrishna (named Gadadhar as a child) gravitated towards leading a spiritual life. He served holy people and listened absorbedly to their discourses.
Talented in singing and painting, he displayed little interest in formal schooling and worldly affairs, later explaining that he was not interested in a “bread-winning education.”
When, as a young man, he became the priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Ramakrishna immersed himself in meditation and spiritual practices. During this time, Ramakrishna’s family thought that marriage would be a good, steadying influence upon him. They married him, per cultural tradition, to a young girl, Sarada Mukherjee. Ramakrishna was not affected and plunged into even more intense sādhanā, spiritual practice. He practiced, with the guidance of a series of Gurus, the various paths described in the Hindu scriptures and realized God through each of them. The first teacher to arrive at Dakshineswar was an ascetic woman known as Bhairavi Brahmani. An advanced spiritual adept, she was well versed in scriptures. With her guidance, Sri Ramakrishna practiced various difficult disciplines of the Tantrik path and attained success in all of them. Three years later, with the help of a wandering monk named Totapuri, Sri Ramakrishna attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest spiritual experience mentioned in the Hindu scriptures.
Ramakrishna broke the frontiers of Hinduism, following the paths of Islam and Christianity, and attained the highest realization through each in a short span of time. He perceived Jesus and Buddha as incarnations of God and venerated the ten Sikh Gurus. He expressed the essence of his spiritual realizations in a simple dictum: “Yato mat, tato path, As many faiths, so many paths.” He lived in an exalted state of consciousness in which he saw God in all beings.
By the time his bride joined him, Ramakrishna had already embraced the monastic life of a sannyasi; as a result, the marriage was never consummated on the physical plane. His wife, Sarada Devi, was a spiritual great in her own right and also renounced worldly life. Ramakrishna worshiped her as the Divine Mother.
As word spread of Ramakrishna’s illumination, spiritual aspirants began to arrive. Many great scholars and holy people were amazed to find that although he had no formal education, Ramakrishna understood the scriptures perfectly. He taught householders how to realize God while living in the world and fulfilling their family duties. He also trained a group of devoted and well-educated Bengali youths to become monks and to be the torchbearers of his message. The foremost among them, Swami Vivekananda, grew up to carry the universal message of Vedanta around the world, revitalize Hinduism, and awaken the soul of India.
Sri Ramakrishna did not write any book, nor deliver public lectures. He chose to speak in a simple, clear language, illustrating with metaphors, parables, and by the example of his life. Ramakrishna’s disciple, Mahendranath Gupta, noted and published his conversations as the book, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita in Bengali. Its English translation, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, was released in 1942. That its popularity continues to increase is a testament to its universal appeal and relevance.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, as he is now known, left his body on August 16, 1886. He demonstrated limitless love for humanity and encouraged selfless service. Today, service to God in humankind is one of the foremost ideals of the Ramakrishna Order. May his life and teachings continue to inspire us all.
Quotes from Sri Ramakrishna
“Truth is one; only It is called by different names."
“God can be realized through all paths. 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 should not feel that your path is the only right path and that other paths are wrong. You mustn’t bear malice toward others.”
“God laughs, ‘The whole universe belongs to Me, but they say they own this portion or that portion.’”
“Knowledge leads to unity; ignorance to diversity.”
“Women are, all of them, the veritable images of Śakti.”
“Lovers of God do not belong to any caste.”
“Unless one always speaks the truth, one cannot find God who is the soul of truth.”
“Everyone is going toward God. They will all realize Him if they have sincerity and longing of heart.
What Others Have Said
“Ramakrishna's life enables us to see God face to face. He was a living embodiment of godliness.”
“When one has reached the mountain-top, no matter from which side and by which path, one knows and understands all other paths. What is there that Ramakrishna did not know?”
—Sri Ramana Maharshi (Spiritual Leader)
“This highly noteworthy document [the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna] conveys the personality of a great mystic in such an intimate, direct, and almost astounding manner that to read it must be an enriching experience for any intellect which is receptive and open to all things human.”
—Thomas Mann (1929 Literature Nobel Laureate)
“It would be hard to overestimate the impact that the life, presence and teaching of Sri Ramakrishna had on the formation of the modern India we know today. It was as if the sleeping giant of Indian culture and spirituality—certainly one of the foremost cultures of the ancient world—had been re-awakened and empowered to take its rightful place in modern times.”
—Philip Glass (American music composer)