Ramakrishna is one of the most popular indian saints of all times. His teachings were addressed to all religious and social groups, and became popular in all classes of indian society, as well as in the West. Ramakrishna played an important role in the cultural renaissance of the 19th century India, his teachings influenced the development of the indian society till now. And he is still widely known, revered and loved in India.
Ramakrishna was born in a poor brahmin family in a rural Bengal. From the early childhood he was prone to exaltation and experienced uncontrollable ecstasy, especially during the religious ceremonies. In this state he was loosing all connection with the outside world getting totally absorbed in bliss. With time he was going into trance more and more often, and by the end of his life it was happening to him almost every day. As a child he was not much interested in school studies, but readily listened and learned the hindu scriptures, folk stories and myths from the wandering hermits and monks. When Ramakrishna was 19, his brother became a priest in a Kali temple in Calcutta, and invited Ramakrishna to assist him in the temple services. The next year his brother died, Ramakrishna took his place as a priest and stayed in the temple till the end of his life. He was totally absorbed in worshipping Kali, he started seeing her as his mother and the mother of the universe. He was feeding her, talking to her, crying for her. Though his family made him marry, he continued living like a monk, devoting all his time to worship. His spiritual path was very rich, he was one of a few mystics, who tried to experience the divine through many different ways and practices. In different periods of time he was worshipping Rama, then Krishna, for a few years he practiced Tantra, and then learned the philosophy and practice of Advaita Vedanta. Later he was initiated into Islam, and performed all muslim prayers and practices, and stated that “the Hindu way of thinking had disappeared altogether from his mind”. Once somebody was reading the Bible in front of him, and he started practicing Christianity, and no longer thought of going to Kali temple. During all his practices he had strong spiritual experiences and visions. He had a reputation of a spiritual madman, many of the practices he was performing seemed pretty odd in the public opinion, for example for some time he was behaving like a woman, wearing women’s clothes, living with women, and with time forgot completely that he is living in a body of a man. Although the authenticity of his experiences, together with his child-like innocence and complete openness were winning the hearts of people, and more and more visitors were coming to see him and receive spiritual teachings. Ramakrishna was a talkative person and a gifted speaker, his style of teaching was quite unique. He used to teach in rustic Bengali, using numerous stories and parables, describing his own rich spritual life, telling tales, explaining complex philosophical concepts with the simplest mundane illustrations, cracking jokes, singing songs and mimicking all types of people. His extraordinary informal style of teaching helped him to reach the hearts of the most sceptic visitors, among those were many intellectuals and members of political and social elite. His ideas became widely popular only after his death, dye to continuous efforts of his disciples, the most prominent of them was Swami Vivekananda.
The essence of Ramakrishna’s teachings is the oneness of existence. “It has been revealed to me that there exists an Ocean of Consciousness without limit. From It come all things of the relative plane, and in It they merge again.” All religious are different ways to come to the same goal. All of them are valid ways to realize God, and the religious variety exists to suit the needs of many different seekers. “You can eat a cake from the center, or from any of the sides. The sweetness will be the same.” The realization of God is the supreme goal of all living beings. No matter which way you choose, the essencial is your intensity and sincerity. “Can you weep for Him with intense longing of the heart? Men shed a jugful of tears for the sake of their children, for their wives, or for money. But who weeps for God?” If one abstains from distractions like sensual pleasures, and dedicates himself solely to spiritual search, the result is bound to come. “As long as the child remains engrossed with his toys, the mother looks after her cooking and other household duties. But when the child no longer relishes the toys, he throws them aside and yells for his mother. Then the mother takes the rice-pot down from the hearth, runs in haste, and takes the child in her arms.” Ramakrishna taught that serving people is the same as serving God, since he is present in all of them. What is the uniqueness of Ramakrishna’s teachings? They were delivered only in informal conversations and were coming from his authentic inner experience. Here is one of his stories: “A few people were crossing the Ganges in a boat. One passenger, a scholar, asked another: “Do you know Vedanta?” “No, sir.” “Do you know Samkhya and Patanjala?” “No, sir.” “Have you read any philosophy at all?” “No, sir.” Then the great storm arose and the boat was about to sink. The passenger asked the scholar: “Sir, do you know how to swim?” “No.” “I don’t know any philosophy at all, but I can swim.”