Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was born on 17 February 1836 to Khudiram Chattopadhyay, his father and Chandramani Devi, his mother. His family was an orthodox Brahmin family. His birthplace was Kamarpukur village, Hoogli, West Bengal, India. His birth name was Gadadhar Chatterjee. He had elder brothers named Ramkumar and Rameswar.
Visions before birth
According to Swami Ramakrishna’s followers, his parents had visions about his birth. According to them, his father saw Lord Gadadhara (a form of Lord Vishnu) saying that he will born as his son and his mother saw light entering from Shiva’s temple into her womb.
As the village Kamarpukur was at criss-cross to different routes to Hindu’s holy pilgrimage Jagannath Puri, it made him contact with sannyasins, monks and renunciates on regular basis. Due to this, he got well-versed in Epic Ramayana, Mahabharta and Puranas, few of the most popular Hindu texts.
His first spiritual experience: The Ecstasy
According to Sri Ramakrishna, at the age of six, while he wa swalking along the paddy fields in his village, he got fixed on a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds. He got so absorbed by the scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state. He was deep in meditativeness for the first time.
Death of his father
In 1843, when Swami Ramakrishna was 7 years old, his father died.
More drops of Ecstasy
After the incident, he is said to have experienced similar state of ecstasy during worshipping Goddess Vishalakshi and during festival of Shivaratri when he was portraying Lord Shiva.
From the age of 10-11, occurances of this state became regular.
Sri Ramakrishna went to village school for 12 years but later on rejected traditional schooling saying that he is not interested in “bread-winning education”. He could read and write in Bengali.
Moved to Kolkata
After the death of his father, the poor family’s condition got worsened. The responsible head of the family was Ramakumar, his elder brother. To make the family conditions better, Ramkumar started a Sanskrit school in Kolkata (name was Calcutta at that time) and also served as priest in a temple.
In 1852, at the age of 16, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa moved to Kolkata to help his brother in priestly work.
In 1855, Ramakumar was given the job of priest at Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Sri Ramakrishna’s job was to decorate the diety in the temple, as his brother’s assistant.
In 1856, his brother Ramakumar died and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa took place of him as priest of the temple.
After the death of his brother, he started looking image of Goddess Kali as Universal mother.
Description of Goddess Kali as universal mother, according to Ramakrishna:
“… 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.”
Rumors spread to his village that due to his spiritual practices, Ramakrishna has become unstable. After hearing this, his mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get him married so that he become a householder. This will bring him a sense of responsibility and will keep him away from such spiritual practices and visions.
Upon hearing this, Ramakrishna himself mentioned the groom saying that you will find her at Ramchandra Mukherjee’s house, 3 miles from Kamarpukur.
This was 1859, when Ramakrishna Paramakamsa was 23 years of age and Ramchandra Mukherjee’s daughter Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya was just 5 years old, an age difference of 18 years, marriage ceremony was done. This was common during those days.
Sarada Devi joined Sri Ramakrishna at she was 18 years old. By this time, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was aleady into Sannyas. The marriage was never consummated.
Sri Ramakrishna regarded his wife as Divine mother and called her as Holy mother. His disciples followed her with that name. During the pooja ceremony of Goddess Kali, he would make her sit in the lap of mother Kali and worshipped her.
After the marriage, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa started practicing dasya bhava (servant emotion) . Here servant is not as Servant as such, rather a devotee. For this, he worshipped Lord Rama with an attitude of Hanuman, the ideal devotee of Rama.
According to Sri Ramakrishna, towards the end of practice, he had a vision of Sita (wife of Lord Rama) merging into his body.
In 1861, at age 25, Ramakrishna accepted Bhairavi Brahmani, a middle-aged female waring orage rob, as his teacher and Bhairavi Brahmani initiated Ramakrishna into Tantra. Bhairavi was a tantra practitioner and well-versed with Gaudiya Vaishnavism . She used to carry an idol of Lord Rama with her.
Under her tutelage, Sri Ramakrishna went through 64 different tantric practices for 2 years. The practices included Mantra repititions (Japa), purascarana, left-hand path (vamachara) and Kumari Puja etc. He also learnt Kundalini Meditation under her guidance.
Although Left-Hand path includes the practice of eating parched gain, meat, fish, and having intercourse, but according to Ramakrishna and his biographers, he abstained from the last two.
His stance on Left-Hand path was that although it had certain “undesirable features” but it is still a “valid path to God-realizaiton”. Again still he suggested his disciples to not get associated with it.
The object of Tantric practice is to see all aspects of the natural world as manifestations of the divine shakti and to transcend the barriers between the holy and unholy as a means of achieving liberation.
Kumari Puja is worshipping of Virgin Goddess in the form of Young girl.
Child Rama Bhakti
In 1864, at age 28, he practiced vātsalya bhāva (Motherly emotion). For this, he worshipped a mental image of Child Rama with an attitude of a mother.
According to Sri Ramakrishna, he could feel the child Rama as living God in the mental image.
Afterwards, Swami Ramakrishna practiced madhura bhāva. For this, he would dress himself in women attire for several days and treated Krishna with an attitude of Gopis.
According to him, at the end of this practice, he attained savikalpa samadhi – union with Krishna.
According to Sri Ramakrishna, the objective of madhura bhāva is to root out the sexual desire.
Afterwards, he visited the home of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda Prabhu. According to him, he had an intense vision of two young boys merging into his body.
In 1865, at age 29, Totapuri initiated Sri Ramakrishna to Advaita Vedanta, a non-dual philosophy. Monk Totapuri stayed with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa for a period of 11 months. Under his tutelage, Ramakrishna experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, which is considered to be the highest state in spiritual realisation.
His experiences of Nirvikalpa Samadhi came to an end when he got command from mother Kali to “remain in Bhavamukha; for the enlightenment of the people”. Bhavamukha is an intermediate state between Samadhi and normal consciousness.
In 1866, aged 30, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa got initiated into Islam by a Hindu, Govinda Roy.
According to him:
he “devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the ArabMuslims, 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:
“radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet and merging with his body”
In 1873, aged 37, Swami Ramakrishna started practicing Christianity. or several days he was filled with christian thoughts and could no longer thought of going to Kali Temple.
According to him, a vision occured in which picture of Madonna and Child became alive and Jesus merged with his body.
After 1871, aged 35, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was visited by many prominent people of Kolkata.
In 1875, aged 39, Ramakrishna met Keshav Chandra Sen, an influential ex-Bhramo Samaj activist. For next several years, Keshav Chandra published his works in the New Dispensation journal.
In 1879, aged 41, his biography, The Hindu Saint, got published. It was authored by Pratap Chandra Mazumdar.
In 1881, aged 43, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa met Swami Vivekananda (Narendra Dutt), which would soon to become his most popular disciple disseminating his teaching throughout the world. Till 1885, Sri Ramakrishna accepted many people as his disciple.
In 1885, aged 47, Ramakrishna got sufferef from clergyman’s throat which grew to throat cancer. To treat this, he moved to Shyampukur.
After his condition got worsened at Shyampukur, he moved to Cossipore on 11 December 1885.
Last words to Vivekananda
It is said that he transferred all his spiritual powers to Swami Vivekananda and asked him to look after his disciples, saying “Keep my boys together”. He aksed his disciple to look upon Vivekananda as their teacher from now on and asked Vivekananda to “Teach them”.
On 16 August 1886, aged 50, in early morning hours, he left his body at Cossipore Garden House.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Gender Identity
Sri Ramakrishna proved that gender identity could be conquered. In his own words:
How can a man conquer passion? He should assume the attitude of a woman. I spent many days as the handmaid of God. I dressed myself in women’s clothes, put on ornaments and covered the upper part of my body with a scarf, just like a woman. With the scarf on I used to perform the evening worship before the image. Otherwise how could I have kept my wife with me for eight months? Both of us behaved as if we were the handmaid of the Divine Mother.