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Ramakrishna, Sri

Sri Ramakrishna

Born: February 18, 1833
Kamapukur, India
Died: August 16, 1886
Calcutta, India

Indian religious leader and mystic

Sri Ramakrishna was an Indian mystic (one whose religious beliefs are based on spirituality and practices outside of traditional religion), reformer, and saint who, in his own lifetime, came to be hailed by people of all classes as a spiritual embodiment (taking on the physical form) of God.

Childhood

Born in a rural Bengal village in India, Sri Ramakrishna was the fourth of five children. His parents were simple but traditional Brahmins (Hindu religion) deeply committed to the maintenance of traditional religious piety, or religious devotion. Legend has it that when Ramakrishna's father, Khudiram, made a pilgrimage (religious journey) to the holy place of Gaya, he had a vision of the Hindu god Vishnu, who told Khudiram he would be reincarnated (take the form) of his next son. Likewise, Ramakrishna's mother, Chandra Devi, had visions that her next born would be a divine (god-like) child. Shortly afterwards, Chandra Devi gave birth to Sri Ramakrishna.

As a child, Ramakrishna did not like routine schoolwork and never learned to read or write. Instead, he began to demonstrate spiritual qualities well beyond his years, which included experiencing intensely joyful experiences, long periods of thought, and spiritual absorption in the sacred (holy) and traditional Indian plays, especially with the roles of the gods Shiva and Krishna. During his formal initiation ceremony into the Brahmin caste (an Indian social class), he shocked his high-caste relatives by openly accepting a ritual meal cooked by a woman of low caste.

Though Ramakrishna resisted traditional priestly studies, at the age of sixteen he went to Calcutta, India, to assist his brother, who was serving as a priest for a number of local families. He was disturbed by the gross business practices and inhumanity of the city environment. However, when his brother was asked to become a priest at a large temple complex at Dakshineswar near the Ganges River outside Calcutta, Ramakrishna found a new and ultimately permanent environment for his spiritual growth and teaching.

Spiritual struggles

That temple complexone of the most impressive in the areahad been built by a wealthy widow of low caste whose spiritual ideal (standard) was the mother goddess Kali. This great deity (god) traditionally combines the terror of death and destruction with universal motherly security and is often represented in a statue of ferocious appearance. She represents an immense variety of religious and human emotions, from the most primitive to the highest forms, and therefore has a symbolic universality not easily contained within traditional religious forms.

Ramakrishna was selected to serve as priest in the Kali temple, and it was here that he had a series of important religious experiences in which he felt that Kali was calling him to a universal spiritual mission for India and all mankind. His untraditional and often bizarre behavior during this period of spiritual transformation was interpreted by many as a sign of madness. However, it clearly represented his struggles to free himself from routine religious patterns and to achieve a new and deeper spirituality. He imitated the actions of the god-monkey Hanuman (a sign of humility and service); he fed animals from the same food prepared for Kali (a disrespect to the traditionalists); he cleaned an outcaste's hovel (the shack of a person expelled from his or her caste) with his hair, a terrible insult for a Brahmin; he sang and danced wildly when the spirit moved; and he rejected his Brahminical status, believing that caste superiority lowered the character of his spirituality. All of these acts symbolized his inward spiritual transformation.

Spiritual maturity

When Ramakrishna was twenty-eight his emotional confusion eased, and he began to study a wide variety of traditional religious teachings. His teachers were impressed with his ability to learn, his amazing memory, and his remarkable talent for spiritual skill. He was openly hailed as a supreme sage, one who is regarded for his wisdom and experience. At the age of thirty-three he began to study Muslim tradition, and after a short period of instruction he had a vision of a "radiant figure"interpreted as the founder of Islam Mohammed (c. 570632) himself, which solidified his universal religious calling.

In 1868 Ramakrishna undertook an extensive pilgrimage; but despite the honors given to him he was saddened by the poverty (extremely poor conditions) of the masses and began living with outcaste groups to bring awareness to their situation, insisting that his rich patrons (supporters) make formal efforts to improve their condition. He was always a man of the people: simple, full of warmth, and without snobbishness or religious dogma (system of beliefs).

World mission

By now Ramakrishna had a wide following from all classes and groups. He was not merely a great teacher; he was regarded as a physical form of the sacred source of Indian religious tradition and of the universal ideals toward which all men strive. His spiritual energies and attractive personality were combined with a sharp sense of humoroften aimed at himself or his disciples (followers) when the hazards of pride and self-satisfaction seemed impossible to avoid.

During the last decade of his life, one of the most important events was the conversion of his disciple Vivekananda (18631902), who was destined to organize and promote Ramakrishna's teachings throughout India, Europe, and the United States. In 1886, when Ramakrishna was near death, he formally designated Vivekananda his spiritual heir, or one who takes over his teachings.

Ramakrishna's teachings do not appear in any clear form. He wrote nothing. His disciples recorded his words only in the context of the spiritual force of his personality, and therefore in collected form these sayings have the character of a gospela message of salvation centered in the spiritual teachings of his own life. He rejected all efforts to worship him personally; rather, he suggested that his presentation of man's spiritual potential serve as a guide and inspiration to others. Above all, Ramakrishna had a "grass-roots" appeal equaled by few others in any religious tradition, marked by his love of all men and his enthusiasm for all forms of spirituality.

For More Information

Hixon, Lee. Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna. Boston: Shambhala, 1992.

Kripal, Jeffrey John. Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Müller, Friedrich Max. Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1899. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1975.

Nikhilananda, Swami, trans. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942.

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Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna (1833-1886) was an Indian mystic, reformer, and saint who, in his own lifetime, came to be revered by people of all classes as a spiritual incarnation of God.

Born in a rural Bengal village, Ramakrishna was the fourth of five children. His parents were simple but orthodox Brahmins deeply committed to the maintenance of traditional religious piety. As a child, he did not like routine schoolwork and never learned to read or write. Instead, he began to exhibit precocious spiritual qualities, which included ecstatic experiences, long periods of contemplation, and mystical absorption in the sacred plays of the Indian epic tradition, especially with the roles of the gods Shiva and Krishna. During his formal initiation ceremony into the Brahmin caste, he shocked his highcaste relatives by openly accepting a ritual meal cooked by a woman of low caste.

Though Ramakrishna resisted orthodox priestly studies, at the age of 16 he went to Calcutta to assist his brother, who was serving as a priest for a number of local families. He was disturbed by the gross commercialism, spiritual drabness, and inhumanity of the urban environment. However, when his brother was asked to become a priest at a large temple complex at Dakshineswar near the Ganges outside Calcutta, Ramakrishna found a new and ultimately permanent environment for his spiritual maturation and teaching.

Spiritual Struggles

That temple complex—one of the most impressive in the area—had been built by a wealthy widow of low caste whose spiritual ideal was the mother goddess Kali. This great deity traditionally combines the terror of death and destruction with universal motherly reassurance and is often embodied in a statue of ferocious appearance. She represents an immense spectrum of religious and human emotions, from the most primitive to the most exalted, and consequently has a symbolic universality not easily contained within conventional religious forms.

Ramakrishna was selected to serve as priest in the Kali temple, and it was in this context that he had a series of crucial religious experiences in which he felt that Kali was calling him to a universal spiritual mission for India and all mankind. His ecstatic, unorthodox, and often bizarre behavior during this period of spiritual transformation was interpreted by many as a sign of madness; but it clearly represents an aspect of his struggles to free himself from routine religious patterns and achieve a new and more profound spirituality: he imitated the actions of the god-monkey Hanuman (a sign of humility and service); he fed animals from the same food prepared for Kali (a blasphemy to the orthodox); he cleaned an outcaste's hovel with his hair (a terrible defilement for a Brahmin); he sang and danced wildly when the spirit moved; he rejected his Brahminical status, asserting that caste superiority was spiritually debasing—all of this symbolizing his inward spiritual transformation.

Spiritual Maturity

When Ramakrishna was 28, his emotional confusion subsided, and he began studying a wide variety of traditional religious teachings. His teachers were astounded at his powers of assimilation, prodigious memory, and innate spiritual skill. He was openly proclaimed a supreme sage. At the age of 33 he began to study Moslem tradition, and after a short period of instruction he had a vision of a "radiant figure"—interpreted as Mohammed himself, which confirmed his universal religious calling.

In 1868 Ramakrishna undertook an extensive pilgrimage; but despite the honors accorded him he was saddened by the poverty of the masses and took up residence with outcaste groups to dramatize their plight, insisting that his rich patrons make formal efforts to alleviate their condition. He was always a man of the people, simple, full of affective warmth, and without artificial intellectualism or religious dogma.

World Mission

By now Ramakrishna had a wide following from all classes and groups. He was not merely a great teacher; he was regarded as an embodiment of the sacred source of Indian religious tradition and of the universal ideals toward which all men strive. His spiritual vitality and magnetism were combined with a sharp sense of humor—often aimed at himself or his disciples when the hazards of pride and self-satisfaction seemed imminent.

During the last decade of his life, one of the most important events was the conversion of his disciple Vivekananda, who was destined to organize and promote Ramakrishna's teachings throughout India, Europe, and the United States. In 1886, when Ramakrishna was near death, he formally designated Vivekananda his spiritual heir.

Ramakrishna's teachings do not appear in systematic form. He wrote nothing. His disciples recorded his words only in the context of the spiritual force of his personality, and consequently in collected form these sayings have the character of a gospel—a message of salvation centered in the spiritual paradigm of his own life. He rejected all efforts to worship him personally; rather, he suggested that his presentation of man's spiritual potentialities serve as a guide and inspiration to others. Above all, Ramakrishna had a "grass-roots" appeal equaled by few others in any religious tradition, marked by his love of all men and his enthusiasm for all forms of spirituality.

Further Reading

The sayings of Ramakrishna are available in several editions, such as The Gospel of Ramakrishna (1907) and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated and introduced by Swami Nikhilananda (1942). Among the many works devoted to Ramakrishna's life and influence are Friedrich Max Mueller, Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings (1898); Romain Rolland, The Life of Ramakrishna (trans. 1931); Christopher Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples (1965); and Nalini Devdas, Sri Ramakrishna (1966). □

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Ramakrishna, Sri (1836-1886)

Ramakrishna, Sri (1836-1886)

An important Indian spiritual teacher on Vedanta and mystic of the nineteenth-century Hindu Renaissance. He was born February 18, 1836, in a village in Bengal, after the divine hero Sri Rama had appeared in a vision to an old Brahmin named Khudiram, saying that he would be reborn as his son. In due course, the boy was born and named Gadadhar. He grew up to worship the goddess Kali, the great mother, and even when he was obliged to marry, he directed his veneration toward his bride, identifying her with Kali. At the age of eighteen, Gadadhar was taken to Calcutta by his brother Ramkumar, whom he assisted as a teacher.

He settled in a temple at Dakshineswar, where he became known as "Ramakrishna," and after a period of intense spiritual discipline had ecstatic visions and trances. He was virtually intoxicated with the bliss of samadhi or divine trance, and a number of miracles were credited to him. A group of young spiritual seekers informally gathered around him. One of these, Swami Vivekananda, went to the United States in 1893 to speak to the World's Parliament of Religions. Given the strong public response to his presentation, he stayed on and in 1894 founded the Vedanta Society of New York, the first of a number of similar centers now present in the west. Upon his return to India he organized the followers of Ramakrishna into the Ramakrishna Order, which continues to spread the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda worldwide.

Sri Ramakrishna passed into the mahasamadhi (great sleep) of death August 16, 1886. The Ramakrishna Order is today the largest and most widely known monastic order in India, with colleges, schools, hospitals, relief projects, and publishing houses. Publications and information are available from Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras 4, India, or from the American branches: Vedanta Press & Book Shop, 1946 Vedanta Pl., Hollywood, CA 90028; Vedanta Society, 2323 Vallejo St., San Francisco, CA 94123; Vedanta Society, 34 W. 71 St., New York, NY 10023.

Sources:

Gambhrananda, Swami. History of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Calcutta, India: Advaita Ashraam, 1957.

Isherwood, Christopher. Ramakrishna and His Disciples, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965.

Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991.

Ramakrishna, Sri. The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Boston: Beacon Press, 1947.

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"Ramakrishna, Sri (1836-1886)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ramakrishna-sri-1836-1886