Ramakrishna, Sri
(1836–1886)
   influential mystic and priest of goddess Kali
   Recognized as one of the greatest spiritual geniuses of modern Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna was influ-ential through his own example and through the work of his disciple Swami VIVEKANANDA.
   Sri Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836, as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay to a poor Bengali BRAHMIN family. He had his first spiritual experience at the age of six or seven and entered into trancelike states throughout his childhood. He neglected his studies, preferring to spend his time in solitary MEDITATION, singing, and perform-ing of Hindu stories. For much of his life he served as priest at the KALI Temple at Dakshinesh-war near Calcutta, living a life of renunciation, but he stopped performing priestly functions when the “divine madness” took over his con-scious awareness.
   Sri Ramakrishna married SARADA DEVI, whom he viewed as the GODDESS incarnate; she looked Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886), Bengali mystic and famous exponent of universal religion (Courtesy Vedanta Society, San Francisco) upon her husband as her GURU, or spiritual teacher. He did not found a movement or establish an organization, although he was the inspiration of a generation of Indian Hindus. His influ-ence spread throughout the world through the VEDANTA SOCIETIES/RAMAKRISHNA MAT H AND MIS-SION, founded by Swami Vivekananda.
   He remained devoted to the goddess Kali throughout his life, and he was also initiated into tantric practice (see TANTRISM). His teacher Tota Puri taught him ADVAITA VEDANTA and the practice of absorption in the formless, which he quickly achieved. His whole life was an uninterrupted contemplation and union with God. His life and teaching appeal to seekers in all religions, as he taught that the revelation of God can take place at all times and that God-realization is not the monopoly of any one religion or faith. He took up various disciplines associated with other religions, specifically Christianity and Islam, and taught that all paths lead to the same God-realization. His message of the harmony of religions was based on unity in diversity and a fellowship of religions based on their common goal of God-conscious-ness. Sri Ramakrishna died on August 16, 1886.
   His famous disciple Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math and Mission at Belur Math, near Calcutta (Kolkata) to propa-gate the teachings of his guru. Sarada Devi, his widow, also began to assert the leadership role that Ramakrishna had specified for her, and she became known as the mother of the movement that Ramakrishna inspired. These missions offer spiritual, medical, and educational services to the people of India. Outside India, in 18 countries on five continents, the same organization is known as the Vedanta Society and is headed by swamis initiated and trained at Belur Math.
   Further reading: Swami Ghanananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Unique Message (London: Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, 1937); Christopher Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples (Calcutta: advaita Ashrama, 1965); Sri Ramakrishna, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Translated by Swami Nikhilananda (New York: Vedanta Society, 1907); Romain Rolland, The Life of Sri Ramakrishna (Calcutta: advaita Ashrama, 1944).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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