Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (February 18, 1836 - August 16, 1886), born Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya, is a famous mystic of nineteenth century India. His religious school of thought led to the formation of the Ramakrishna Mission by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda—both were influential figures in the Bengali Renaissance and the Hindu renaissance during 19th and 20th century. He was considered an avatar or incarnation of God by many of his disciples, and is considered as such by many of his devotees today.
Ramakrishna was born into a poor Brahmin Vaishnava family in rural Bengal. He became the priest at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, dedicated to Mother Kali, which had the influence of the main strands of Bengali and Indian bhakti. His first spiritual teacher was an ascetic woman skilled in Tantra and vaishnava bhakti. Later an Advaita Vedantin ascetic taught him non-dual meditation, under whom Ramakrishna experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Ramakrishna also experimented with other religions, notably Islam and Christianity, and said that they all lead to the same God. He had wide popular appeal, speaking in rustic Bengali, making use of many stories and parables. Though conventionally uneducated, he attracted attention among the Bengali intelligentsia and middle classes. By the mid-1870s Ramakrishna had become the focal point of a resurgence of Hinduism, particularly among Westernized intellectuals. He eventually gathered and organized a group of followers, led by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda, who continued his work as a monk following Ramakrishna's death in 1886.
Ramakrishna's ideas were spread to the West by Swami Vivekananda, beginning in 1893 as the spokesman for Hinduism at the first Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago. There Vivekananda's message of universalism was well received and he attracted widespread support. He eventually established the Vedanta Society to spread the universal truths of Hindu philosophy in America and in India he founded the Ramakrishna Mission—a monastic society that promotes Ramakrishna's ideas of religious pluralism and carries out social service. The Ramakrishna movement has been termed as one of the revitalization movements of India. As of 2008, Ramakrishna Mission has 166 branch centers all over India and in different parts of the world and the headquarters is located at the Belur Math.
Birth and childhood
The small house at Kamarpukur where Ramakrishna lived (centre). The family shrine is on the left, birthplace temple on the rightRamakrishna was born in 1836, in the village of Kamarpukur, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, into a very poor but pious, orthodox brahmin family. His parents were Khudiram Chattopâdhyâya, and Chandramani Devî. It is reported that Ramakrishna's parents experienced various supernatural incidents, visions before his birth. It is said that Ramakrishna was named Gadadhar in response to a dream Khudiram had in Gaya before Ramakrishna’s birth, in which Lord Gadadhara, the form of Vishnu worshipped at Gaya, appeared to him and told him he would be born as his son. Chandramani Devi is said to have had a vision of light entering her womb before Ramakrishna was born. Ramakrishna was born as the fourth and last child to his parents.
Gadadhar, as Ramakrishna was known in his early days, was an extremely popular figure in his village. He had a natural gift for the fine arts like drawing and clay modelling. However, he disliked attending school, and rejected his schooling saying that he was not interested in mere "bread winning education". Though Ramakrishna shunned the traditional school system, he showed great desire and ability to learn. He easily mastered the songs, tales and dramas which were based on the religious scriptures. At a very early age he was well versed in the Purāṇas, the Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, hearing them from wandering monks and the Kathaks — a class of men in ancient India who preached and sang the Purāṇas for the uneducated masses. He learned to read and write in Bengali and was able to follow Sanskrit even though he could not speak the language. He would serve wandering monks who stopped in Kamarpukur on their way to Puri and listen to their religious debates with rapt attention.
At the age of six or seven, Ramakrishna described an intense experience of spiritual ecstasy. He was walking along the paddy fields and suddenly looked up to find a flock of white cranes flying with dark thunder-clouds as a background. He became so absorbed that he lost consciousness of everything outward. He later said that in that state he had experienced an indescribable joy. Ramakrishna had experiences of similar nature a few other times in his childhood—while worshipping the goddess Vishalakshi, and portraying Shiva in a drama during Shivaratri festival. From his tenth or eleventh year on, trances became common.
Ramakrishna's father died in 1843, after which the responsibilities of the family were handled by his elder brother Ramkumar. This event had a profound effect on the boy and is considered as one of the determinative points in Ramakrishna's religious life. This loss drew him closer to his mother, and he spent his time in household activities, including the daily worship of the household deities. He also became more involved in contemplative activities such as reading the sacred epics.
When Ramakrishna was into his teens, the family's financial position worsened. Ramkumar started a Sanskrit school in Calcutta and also served as a purohit priest. Ramakrishna moved to Calcutta in the year 1852 and started assisting his elder brother in the priestly work.
The Kali Temple of Dakshineswar
Priest at Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Dakshineswar Kāli Temple, where Ramakrishna spent a major portion of his adult life.In 1855 Ramkumar was appointed as the priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, built by Rani Rashmoni—a rich woman of Calcutta who belonged to the untouchable kaivarta community. Ramakrishna moved in with his brother only after some persuasion, since the temple was constructed by a low caste woman. Ramakrishna, along with his nephew Hriday, became assistants to Ramkumar, with Ramakrishna given the task of decorating the deity. When Ramkumar passed away in 1856, Ramakrishna took his place as the priest of the Kali temple. He was allotted a room in the northwestern corner of the temple courtyard, where he spent the rest of his life. The name Ramakrishna is said to have been given him by Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rani Rasmani.
Bhavatārini Kali, the deity that Ramakrishna worshipped.After Ramkumar's death Ramakrishna became more contemplative. He began to look upon the image of the goddess Kali as his mother and the mother of the universe. He became seized by a desire to have a vision of Kali—a direct realization of her reality—and believed the stone image to be living and breathing and taking food out of his hand. At times he would weep bitterly and cry out loudly while worshiping, and would not be comforted, because he could not see his mother Kali as perfectly as he wished. At night, he would go into a nearby jungle and spend the entire night meditating on God, without any consciousness of even his clothes falling off. People became divided in their opinions—some held Ramakrishna to be mad, and some took him to be a great lover of God.
One day, he was so impatient to see Mother Kali that he decided to end his life. Seizing a sword hanging on the wall, he was about to strike himself with it, when he is reported to have seen light issuing from the deity in waves. Ramakrishna describes his first vision of Kali as follows:
I had a marvelous vision of the Mother, and fell down unconscious.…It was as if houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me.
… 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.
After the vision, Ramakrishna surrendered himself to Kali. Childlike, he obeyed what he called the will of the Mother Kali in everything, no matter how trivial or philosophical. Although Rani Rasmani and her son-in-law Mathur Babu had faith in Ramakrishna and left him free do whatever he liked, they thought that Ramakrishna was suffering from the effects of unduly prolonged continence. So Mathur arranged for prostitutes to visit Ramakrishna, but their attempts to seduce Ramakrishna only failed. He took the prostitutes to be forms of Divine Mother herself.
Rumors spread to Kamarpukur that Ramakrishna had gone mad as a result of his over-taxing spiritual exercises at Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna's mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get Ramakrishna married, thinking that marriage would be a good steadying influence upon him—by forcing him to accept responsibility and to keep his attention on normal affairs rather than being obsessed with his spiritual practices and visions. Far from objecting to the marriage, Ramakrishna mentioned that they could find the bride at the house of Ramchandra Mukherjee in Jayrambati, three miles to the north-west of Kamarpukur. The five-year-old bride, Sarada was found and the marriage was duly solemnised in 1859. Ramakrishna was 23 at this point, but the age difference was typical for 19th century rural Bengal. Ramakrishna left Sarada in December 1860 and did not return until May 1867.
Religious Practices and Teachers
After his marriage Ramakrishna returned to Calcutta and took upon himself the charges of the temple again, but instead of toning down, his spiritual fervour and devotion only increased. To get rid of the thought that he belonged to a higher brahmanical caste, he would eat food cooked by the lowest classes and serve the Pariahs—servants and cleaners who belonged to the lowest caste.
Similarly, he would take gold and silver coins, and mixing them with rubbish, repeat "money is rubbish, money is rubbish". He later said that "I lost all perception of difference between the two in my mind, and threw them both into the Ganges. No wonder people took me for mad." It is said that he had become so instinctive that his body would shrink back convulsively if were touched with a coin, even when asleep. He was unable to attend to any external duties, he suffered from sleeplessness, and burning sensations throughout his body. Physicians were consulted, and one of them told, "It seems to me that the patient's condition is due to some kind of spiritual excitement—medicine won't cure him."
Bhairavi Brahmani and Tantra
In 1861, Bhairavi Brahmani, an orange robed female ascetic appeared at Dakshineshwar. Her real name was Yogeshwari and she was in her late thirties. Other details about her life before her arrival in Dakshineswar are unknown. She was well versed in scriptures and was adept in Tantric and Vaishnava methods of worship.
Ramakrishna described the Bhairavi about his spiritual experiences and his seemingly abnormal physical conditions. The Bhairavi assured him that he was not mad but was experiencing phenomena that accompany mahabhava—the supreme attitude of loving devotion towards the divine and quoting from the bhakti shastras, said that other religious figures like Radha and Chaitanya had similar experiences. The Bhairavi also recommended the cure for Ramakrishna's physical ailments.
The Bhairavi initiated Ramakrishna into the tantric practices, which expose the sense and spirit to all the disturbances of the flesh and imaginations, so that these may be transcended. Under her guidance, he went through a full course of sixty four major tantric sadhanas. He began with mantra rituals such as japa and purascarana and many other rituals designed to purify the mind and establish self-control. The tantric sadhanas generally include a set of heteredox practices called vamachara (left-hand path), which utilize as a means of liberation, activities like eating of parched grain, fish and meat along with drinking of wine and sexual intercourse. According Ramakrishna and his biographers, Ramakrishna did not directly participate in the last two of those activities, that all he needed was a suggestion of them to produce the desired result. Though Ramakrishna acknowledged the left-hand tantric path as another means of spiritual enlightenment, he did not recommend it to anybody. Later, when Ramakrishna's chief disciple Vivekananda asked him about the left-hand path, he would say, "It is not a good path. It is very difficult and often brings about the downfall of the aspirant."
The Bhairavi also taught Ramakrishna the kumari-puja, a form of ritual in which the Virgin Goddess is worshiped symbolically in the form of a young girl. Under the tutelage of the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna also became an adept at Kundalini Yoga. Ramakrishna completed his tantric sadhana in 1863.
Ramakrishna took the attitude of a son towards the Bhairavi. The Bhairavi on the other hand looked upon Ramakrishna as an avatara, or incarnation of the divine, and was the first person to openly declare that Ramakrishna was an avatara. But Ramakrishna was indifferent and unconcerned about people calling him an incarnation. The Bhairavi, with the yogic techniques and the tantra played an important part in the initial spiritual development of Ramakrishna.
The Vaishnava Bhakti traditions speak of five different bhāvas—different attitudes that a devotee can take up in order to express his love for the God. They are: śānta , the serene attitude; dāsya, the attitude of a servant; sakhya, the attitude of a friend; vātsalya, the attitude of a mother toward her child; and madhura, the attitude of a woman towards her lover. Ramakrishna is known to have practised some of these bhavas
At some point in the period between his vision of Kali and his marriage, Ramakrishna practiced dāsya bhāva—the attitude of a servant towards his master. He started worshiping Rama in the attitude of Hanuman, the monkey-god, who is considered to be the ideal devotee and servant of Rama. In doing so, Ramakrishna completely identified himself with Hanuman, he ate and walked like a monkey, spent much of his time in trees and his eyes got a restless look like the eyes of a monkey. According to Ramakrishna and his biographers, there was even a small growth in the lower part of his spine resembling the tail of a monkey. As a climax to his dāsya experiment, Ramakrishna had a vision of Sita, the consort of Rama, merging into his body.
In 1864, Ramakrishna practiced vātsalya bhāva, the attitude of a mother towards God. During this period, he worshipped a metal image of Ramlālā (Rama as a child) in the attitude of a mother. Accroding to Ramakrishna, while he was observing this bhava, his character became filled with motherly tenderness, and he began to regard himself as a woman and even his speech and gestures changed to that of a woman. Ramakrishna further narrates that, he could actually feel the presence of child Rama as a living God in the metal image.
Ramakrishna later engaged in the practice of madhura bhāva— the attitude of Gopis and Radha towards their lover, Krishna. Ramakrishna, in order to realise this love, dressed himself in women's attire for several days and regarded himself as one of the Gopis of Vrindavan. At the end of this sadhana, he attained savikalpa samadhi—vision and union with Krishna.
At some point, Ramakrishna visited Nadia, the home of Chaitanya and Nityananda, the 15th-century founders of Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava bhakti. He had an intense vision of two young boys merging into his body.
Earlier, after his vision of Kali, he is said to have cultivated the Santa bhava — the passive "peaceful" attitude — towards Kali.
Totapuri and Vedanta
The Panchavati and the hut where Ramakrishna performed his advaitic sadhana. The mud hut has been replaced by a brick one.In 1864, Ramakrishna was initiated into sanyassa by a vedantic ascetic, a wandering monk named Totapuri. Ramakrishna described Totapuri as "a teacher of masculine strength, a sterner mien, a gnarled physique, and a virile voice". He addressed Totapuri as Nangta or Langta ("Naked One"), because it was considered unorthodox to address one's guru by name and also as a wandering monk of the Naga sect he did not wear any clothing. Totapuri looked at the world as illusory and the worship of Gods and Godesses as fantasies of the deluded mind. Instead, he believed in formless Brahman.
Totapuri first guided Ramakrishna through the rites of sannyasa—renunciation of all ties to the world. Then he instructed him in the teaching of advaita—that "Brahman alone is real, and the world is illusory; I have no separate existence; I am that Brahman alone." Under the guidance of Totapuri, Ramakrishna experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi which is considered to be the highest state in spiritual realisation.
Totapuri stayed with Ramakrishna for nearly eleven months and instructed him further in the teachings of advaita. After the departure of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly remained for six months in a state of absolute contemplation. Ramakrishna said that this period of nirvikalpa samadhi came to an end when he received a command from the Mother Kali, "Remain in Bhavamukha; for the enlightenment of the people, remain in Bhavamukha", referring to a state of existence intermediate between samadhi and normal consciousness.
Islam and Christianity
In 1866, Govinda Roy, a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism, initiated Ramakrishna into Islam. Ramakrishna said:
I devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the Arab Moslems, said their prayer five times daily, and felt disinclined even to see images of the Hindu gods and goddesses, much less worship them—for the Hindu way of thinking had disappeared altogether from my mind.
After three days of practice he had a vision of a "radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet and merging with his body".
At the end of 1873 he started the practice of Christianity, when his devotee Shambu Charan Mallik read the Bible to him. Ramakrishna said that for several days he was filled with Christian thoughts and no longer thought of going to the Kali temple. One day when Ramakrishna saw the picture of Madonna and Child Jesus, he felt that the figures became alive and had a vision in which Jesus merged with his body. In his own room amongst other divine pictures was one of Christ, and he burnt incense before it morning and evening. There was also a picture showing Jesus Christ saving St.Peter from drowning in the water.
Sarada Devi (1853 – 1920)According to the customs of that time, when the child bride Sarada Devi attained the age of seventeen or eighteen, it was her duty to join her husband, Ramakrishna. She had heard rumours that her husband had become mad, and was in deep grief. She also heard reports that he had become a great religious man.
As a priest Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremonies—the Shodashi Puja (the adoration of womanhood)—and considered Sarada Devi as the Divine Mother. Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of Kali, and worshiped with flowers and incense. Ramakrishna said that his view of woman as Mother was not limited to his companion Sarada Devi and he recognised the mother even in the most degraded prostitutes. The marriage was never consummated because he regarded Sarada as the Divine Mother in person.
Regarding Ramakrishna's treatment of her, Sarada Devi said, "I was married to a husband who never addressed me as 'tui.'(you) Ah! How he treated me! Not even once did he tell me a harsh word or wound my feelings." Sarada Devi is considered as his first disciple. Ramakrishna referred to his wife as the Holy Mother, and it was by this name that she was known to his disciples. After Ramakrishna's death, Sarada Devi continued to play an important role in the nascent religious movement.
Influence on Keshab Chandra Sen
Ramakrishna in samadhi at the house of Keshab Chandra Sen. He is seen supported by his nephew Hriday and surrounded by brahmo devotees.In 1875, Ramakrishna met the influential Brahmo Samaj leader Keshab Chandra Sen. Keshab had accepted Christianity, and had separated from the Adi Brahmo Samaj. Formerly, Keshab had rejected Idoltary, but under the influence of Ramakrishna he accepted Hindu polytheism and established the "New Dispensation" (Nava Vidhan) religious movement, based on Ramakrishna's principles—"Worship of God as Mother", "All religions as true" and "Assimilation of Hindu polytheism into Brahmoism". Keshab also publicized Ramakrishna's teachings in the journals of New Dispensation over a period of several years, which was instrumental in bringing Ramakrishna to the attention of a wider audience, especially the Bhadralok (English-educated classes of Bengal) and the Europeans residing in India.
Following Keshab, other Brahmos such as Vijaykrishna Goswami started to admire Ramakrishna, propagate his ideals and reorient their socio-religious outlook. Many prominent people of Calcutta—Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, Shivanath Shastri and Trailokyanath Sanyal—began visiting him during this time (1871-1885). Mozoomdar wrote the first English biography of Ramakrishna, entitled The Hindu Saint in the Theistic Quarterly Review (1879), which played a vital role in introducing Ramakrishna to Westerners like the German indologist Max Muller. Some former Brahmos proclaimed Ramakrishna's message to the educated public of Bengal through their speeches and writings, published in several newspapers and journals. Newspapers reported that Ramakrishna was spreading "Love" and "Devotion" among the educated classes of Calcutta and that he had succeeded in reforming the character of some youths whose morals had been corrupt.
Ramakrishna also had interactions with Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a renowned social worker. He had also met Swami Dayananda. Not all Brahmos were uncritical admirers of Ramakrishna. Some disapproved of his ascetic renunciation. They measured him according to their own deals of the householder's life. Some could not understand his Samadhi and considered it to be a nervous malady. Upadhyay Brahmabandhab was originally a critic of Ramakrishna and refused to recognize him as an avatara.
Ramakrishna's influence was not confined only to the elite educated class of Calcutta. During his lifetime his ideas and influence spread beyond the intelligentsia to other sections of Bengali society, including the Bauls and the Kartabhajas, and beyond Bengal itself. While he was alive, however, there was little of an active movement. Ramakrishna played an important role in the Bengali Renaissance as the link between the Brahmo Samaj and the emergence of the Hindu Revival Movement.
Among the Europeans who were influenced by Ramakrishna was Principal Dr. W.W. Hastie of the Scottish Church College, Calcutta. In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem The Excursion by William Wordsworth, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know the real meaning of it, they should go to Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar. This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath Dutta (later Swami Vivekananda), to visit Ramakrishna.
The monastic disciples
Devotees and Disciples
Some Monastic Disciples: Trigunatitananda, Shivananda, Vivekananda, Turiyananda, Brahmananda. Below Saradananda.
Mahendranath Gupta, a householder devotee and the author of Sri-Sri-Ramakrisna-kathamrta.Most of his prominent disciples came between 1879-1885. Many were highly educated, and included atheists and a few who came just out of curiosity. However, they were deeply influenced by Ramakrishna's teachings and a few became his ardent disciples. Devotees like Surendranath Mitra, a confirmed libertine, first approached Ramakrishna with an intent to "twist his ears" (a gesture of insult), only to end up as an inveterate follower. Ramakrishna had an extraordinary style of preaching and instructing, convincing even the most skeptical visitors.
Hriday, his nephew
Mathur Mohan Biswas
Sambhu Chandra Mallick
Aghoramani Devi, 'Gopala's Ma'
Girish Chandra Ghosh
Keshab Chandra Sen and his disciples of the Brahmo Samaj
Purna Chandra Ghosh
Vijay Krishna Goswami
Mahendranath Goupta, 'M'
The householder devotees
His chief disciples consisted of:
Grihastas or The householders—Mahendranath Gupta, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Akshay Kumar Sen and others.
Monastic disciples who renounced their family and became the earliest monks of the Ramakrishna order—Narendranath Dutta (Swami Vivekananda), Rakhal Chandra Ghosh (Swami Brahmananda), Kaliprasad Chandra (Swami Abhedananda), Taraknath Ghoshal (Swami Shivananda), Sashibhushan Chakravarty (Swami Ramakrishnananda), Saratchandra Chakravarty (Swami Saradananda) and others.
A small group of women disciples including Gauri Ma and Yogin Ma. A few of them were initiated into sanyasa through mantra deeksha. Among the women, Ramakrishna emphasized service to other women rather than tapasya.
As his name spread, an ever shifting crowd of all classes and castes visited Ramakrishna—"Maharajas and beggars, journalists and pandits, artists and devotees, Brahmos, Christians, and Mohammedans, men of faith, men of action and business, old men, women and children". According to his biographers, Ramakrishna was very talkative and would out-talk the best-known orators of his time. For hours he would reminisce about his own eventful spiritual life, tell tales, explain abstruse Vedantic doctrines with extremely mundane illustrations, raise questions and answer them himself, crack jokes, sing songs, and mimic the ways of all types of worldly people—visitors were kept enthralled.
Even though he had a band of dedicated renunciates, he never asked householders to renounce their family life. In preparation for monastic life, Ramakrishna ordered his monastic disciples to beg their food from door to door without distinction of caste. He gave them the saffron robe, the sign of the Sanyasin, and initiated them with Mantra Deeksha.
The Last Days
The Disciples and Devotees at Ramakrishna's funeralIn the beginning of 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from clergyman's throat, which gradually developed into throat cancer. He was moved to Shyampukur near Calcutta, where some of the best physicians of the time, including Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, were engaged. When his condition aggravated he was relocated to a large garden house at Cossipore on December 11, 1885.
Cossipore garden house
During his last days, he was looked after by his disciples and Sarada Devi. Ramakrishna was advised by the doctors to keep the strictest silence, but ignoring the advise, he incessantly conversed with visitors. Before his death, it is reported that Ramakrishna said to Vivekananda, "Today I have given you my all and am now only a poor fakir, possessing nothing. By this power you will do immense good in the world and not until it is accomplished will you return to the absolute." It is reported that when Vivekananda, doubted Ramakrishna's claim of avatara, Ramakrishna said, "He who was Rama, He who was Krishna, He himself is now Ramakrishna in this body." During his final days, Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to take care of other monastic disciples and asked them to looked upon Vivekananda as their leader.
His condition worsened gradually and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was Mahasamadhi. After the death of their master, the monastic disciples lead by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagar near the river Ganga, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first Math or monastery of the disciples who consistuted the first Ramakrishna Order.
Ramakrishna was a teacher of popular appeal, speaking in rustic Bengali, freely using stories and parables. He emphasised God-realisation as the supreme goal of all living beings. According to Ramakrishna, the idea of sex and the idea of money were the two main delusions that prevent people from realizing God, and that god-realization can be acheived by renouncing Kama-Kanchana (lust and gold). Ramakrishna looked upon the world as Maya and he explained that avidya maya represents dark forces of creation (e.g. sensual desire, evil passions, greed, lust and cruelty), which keep people on lower planes of consciousness. These forces are responsible for human entrapment in the cycle of birth and death, and they must be fought and vanquished. Vidya maya, on the other hand, represents higher forces of creation (e.g. spiritual virtues, enlightening qualities, kindness, purity, love, and devotion), which elevate human beings to the higher planes of consciousness.
Ramakrishna practised several religions, including Islam and Christianity, and recognized that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true and they lead to the same ultimate goal—God. Ramakrishna's proclaimed that jatra jiv tatra Shiv (wherever there is a living being, there is Shiva) which stemmed from his Advaitic perception of Reality. His teaching, "Jive daya noy, Shiv gyane jiv seba" (not kindness to living beings, but serving the living being as Shiva Himself) is considered as the inspiration for the philanthropic work carried out by his chief disciple Vivekananda.
Ramakrishna was born during a period of social upheaval in Bengal in particular and India in general. During Ramakrishna's time, Hinduism faced a signficant intellectual challenge from Westerners and Indians alike. The Hindu practice of Idol worship came under attack especially in Bengal, and many had denounced Hinduism and embraced Christianity or atheism. Ramakrishna and his movement, the Ramakrishna Mission, played a leading role in the modern revival of Hinduism in India, and on modern Indian history. His life and teachings were an important part of the renaissance that Bengal, and later India, experienced in the 19th century. Many great thinkers including Max Muller, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sri Aurobindo, Leo Tolstoy have acknowledged Ramakrishna's contribution to humanity. Ramakrishna's influence is also seen in the works of the artists like Franz Dvorak and Philip Glass.
The Ramakrishna Mission was founded on his principles by Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The Mission conducts extensive work in health care, disaster relief, rural management, tribal welfare, elementary and higher education. The movement is considered as one of the revitalization movements of India.
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