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Sri Ramakrishna The Holy Mother-Sri Sarada Devi Swami Vivekananda

Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna was born on 18 February 1836 in the village of Kamarpukur about sixty miles northwest of Kolkata.  His parents, Kshudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandramani Devi , were poor but very pious and virtuous.  As a child, Ramakrishna (his childhood name was Gadadhar ) was dearly loved by the villagers.  From early days, he was disinclined towards formal education and worldly affairs.  He was, however, a talented boy, and could sing and paint well.  He was fond of serving holy men and listening to their discourses.  He was also very often found to be absorbed in spiritual moods.  At the age of six, he experienced the first ecstasy while watching a flight of white cranes moving against the background of black clouds. This tendency to enter into ecstasy intensified with age.  His father's death when he was seven years old served only to deepen his introspection and increase his detachment from the world.

Following Other Faiths
With his unquenchable thirst for God, Sri Ramakrishna broke the frontiers of Hinduism , glided through the paths of Islam and Christianity , and attained the highest realization through each of them in a short span of time.  He looked upon Jesus and Buddha as incarnations of God, and venerated the ten Sikh Gurus .  He expressed the quintessence of his twelve-year-long spiritual realizations in a simple dictum:  Yato mat, tato path “ As many faiths, so many paths .”  He now habitually lived in an exalted state of consciousness in which he saw God in all beings

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna did not write any book, nor did he deliver public lectures.  Instead, he chose to speak in a simple language using parables and metaphors by way of illustration, drawn from the observation of nature and ordinary things of daily use. His conversations were charming and attracted the cultural elite of Bengal.  These conversations were noted down by his disciple Mahendranath Gupta who published them in the form of a book, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita in Bengali. Its English rendering, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna , was released in 1942; it continues to be increasingly popular to this day on account of its universal appeal and relevance.

Last Days
The intensity of his spiritual life and untiring spiritual ministration to the endless stream of seekers told on Sri Ramakrishna's health. He developed cancer of the throat in 1885. He was shifted to a spacious suburban villa where his young disciples nursed him day and night.  He instilled in them love for one another, and thus laid the foundation for the future monastic brotherhood known as Ramakrishna Math.  In the small hours of 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna gave up his physical body, uttering the name of the Divine Mother, and passed into Eternity.


The Holy Mother - Sri Sarada Devi

Endearingly known as ‘Holy Mother', Sri Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, was born on 22 December 1853 in a poor Brahmin family in Jayrambati, a village adjoining Kamarpukur in West Bengal.  Her father, Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay, was a pious and kind-hearted person, and her mother, Shyama Sundari Devi, was a loving and hard-working woman.

Marriage
As a child Sarada was devoted to God, and spent most of her time helping her mother in various household chores like caring for younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the field.  She had no formal schooling, but managed to learn the Bengali alphabet.  When she was about six years old, she was married to Sri Ramakrishna, according to the custom prevalent in India in those days.  However, after the event, she continued to live with her parents till she was 19-20, while Sri Ramakrishna lived a God-intoxicated life at Dakshineshwar, Kolkata.

Leading the Sangha(Order) after Sri Ramakrishna's passing away
After Sri Ramakrishna's passing away in 1886, Sarada Devi spent some months in pilgrimage, and then went to Kamarpukur where she lived in great privation.  Coming to know of this, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna brought her to Kolkata.  This marked a turning point in her life.  She now began to accept spiritual seekers as her disciples, and became the open portal to immortality for hundreds of people.  Her great universal mother-heart, endowed with boundless love and compassion, embraced all people without any distinction, including many who had lived sinful lives.

When the Western women disciples of Swami Vivekananda came to Kolkata, the Holy Mother accepted them with open arms as her daughters, ignoring the restrictions of the orthodox society of those days.  Although she had grown up in a conservative rural society without any access to modern education, she held progressive views, and whole-heartedly supported Swami Vivekananda in his plans for rejuvenation of India and the uplift of the masses and women.  She was closely associated with the school for girls started by Sister Nivedita.

Simplicity and Forbearance
Although she was highly venerated for her spiritual status, and literally worshipped as the Divine Mother, she continued to live like a simple village mother, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, bringing water from the pond, dressing vegetables, cooking and serving food.  At Jayrambati she lived with her brothers and their families.  They gave her endless troubles but, established as she was in the awareness of God and in Divine Motherhood, she always remained calm and self-possessed, showering love and blessings on all who came into contact with her.  As Sister Nivedita stated, “Her life was one long stillness of prayer.”

Mother of All
In the history of humanity there has never been another woman who looked upon herself as the Mother of all beings, including animals and birds, and spent her whole life in serving them as her children, undergoing unending sacrifice and self-denial.  About her role in the mission of Sri Ramakrishna on earth, she stated: “My son, you know the Master had a maternal attitude ( matri-bhava ) towards every one.  He has left me behind to manifest that Divine Motherhood in the world.”

Ideal Woman
On account of her immaculate purity, extraordinary forbearance, selfless service, unconditional love, wisdom and spiritual illumination, Swami Vivekananda regarded Sri Sarada Devi as the ideal for women in the modern age.  He believed that with the advent of Holy Mother, the spiritual awakening of women in modern times had begun.

Last Days
Under the strain of constant physical work and self-denial and repeated attacks of malaria, her health deteriorated in the closing years of her life, and she left the mortal world on 21 July 1920


Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Narendra Nath Datta, was born in an affluent family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863.  His father, Vishwanath Datta, was a successful attorney with interests in a wide range of subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari Devi, was endowed with deep devotion, strong character and other qualities. A precocious boy, Narendra excelled in music, gymnastics and studies.  By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history.  Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood, and was associated with Brahmo Movement for some time.

With Sri Ramakrishna
At the threshold of youth Narendra had to pass through a period of spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about the existence of God.  It was at that time he first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from one of his English professors at college.  One day in November 1881, Narendra went to meet Sri Ramakrishna who was staying at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar.  He straightaway asked the Master a question which he had put to several others but had received no satisfactory answer: “Sir, have you seen God?”  Without a moment's hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have.  I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intenser sense.”

Apart from removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over through his pure, unselfish love.  Thus began a guru-disciple relationship which is quite unique in the history of spiritual masters.  Narendra now became a frequent visitor to Dakshineshwar and, under the guidance of the Master, made rapid strides on the spiritual path.  At Dakshineshwar, Narendra also met several young men who were devoted to Sri Ramakrishna, and they all became close friends.

Beginnings of a Monastic Brotherhood
Sri Ramakrishna instilled in these young men the spirit of renunciation and brotherly love for one another.  One day he distributed ochre robes among them and sent them out to beg food.  In this way he himself laid the foundation for a new monastic order.  He gave specific instructions to Narendra about the formation of the new monastic Order.  In the small hours of 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna gave up his mortal body.

After the Master's passing, his young disciple began to live together in a dilapidated building at Baranagar in North Kolkata.  Under the leadership of Narendra, they formed a new monastic brotherhood, and in 1887 they took the formal vows of sannyasa (renunciation), thereby assuming new names.  Narendra now became Swami Vivekananda (although this name was actually assumed much later.)

Awareness of Life's Mission
After establishing the new monastic order, Vivekananda heard the inner call for a greater mission in his life.  While most of the followers of Sri Ramakrishna thought of him in relation to their own personal lives, Vivekananda thought of the Master in relation to India and the rest of the world.  As the prophet of the present age, what was Sri Ramakrishna's message to the modern world and to India in particular?  This question and the awareness of his own inherent powers urged Swamiji to go out alone into the wide world.  So in the middle of 1890, after receiving the blessings of Sri Sarada Devi, the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna, known to the world as Holy Mother, who was then staying in Kolkata, Swamiji left Baranagar Math and embarked on a long journey of exploration and discovery of India.

Need for an Organization
One thing became clear to Swamiji: to carry out his plans for the spread of education and for the uplift of the poor masses, and also of women, an efficient organization of dedicated people was needed.  As he said later on, he wanted “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.”  It was to serve as this ‘machinery' that Swamiji founded the Ramakrishna Mission a few years later. 

Decision to attend the Parliament of Religions
It was when these ideas were taking shape in his mind in the course of his wanderings that Swami Vivekananda heard about the World's Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893.  His friends and admirers in India wanted him to attend the Parliament.  He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master's message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swamiji to go to America was to seek financial help for his project of uplifting the masses.

Swamiji, however, wanted to have an inner certitude and divine call regarding his mission.  Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari.  With the funds partly collected by his Chennai disciples and partly provided by the Raja of Khetri, Swami Vivekananda left for America from Mumbai on 31 May 1893.

The Parliament of Religions and After
His speeches at the World's Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right' and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world'.  After the Parliament, Swamiji spent nearly three and a half years spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, mostly in the eastern parts of USA and also in London.

Founding of Ramakrishna Mission
Soon after his return to Kolkata, Swami Vivekananda accomplished another important task of his mission on earth.  He founded on 1 May 1897 a unique type of organization known as Ramakrishna Mission, in which monks and lay people would jointly undertake propagation of Practical Vedanta, and various forms of social service, such as running hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, rural development centres etc, and conducting massive relief and rehabilitation work for victims of earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities, in different parts of India and other countries.

Belur Math
In early 1898 Swami Vivekananda acquired a big plot of land on the western bank of the Ganga at a place called Belur to have a permanent abode for the monastery and monastic Order originally started at Baranagar, and got it registered as Ramakrishna Math after a couple of years.  Here Swamiji established a new, universal pattern of monastic life which adapts ancient monastic ideals to the conditions of modern life, which gives equal importance to personal illumination and social service, and which is open to all men without any distinction of religion, race or caste.

Last Days
In June 1899 he went to the West on a second visit.  This time he spent most of his time in the West coast of USA.  After delivering many lectures there, he returned to Belur Math in December 1900.  The rest of his life was spent in India, inspiring and guiding people, both monastic and lay.  Incessant work, especially giving lectures and inspiring people, told upon Swamiji's health.  His health deteriorated and the end came quietly on the night of 4 July 1902.  Before his Mahasamadhi he had written to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment.  But I shall not cease to work.  I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”

Vivekananda's contributions to World Culture

Making an objective assessment of Swami Vivekananda's contributions to world culture, the eminent British historian A L Basham stated that “in centuries to come, he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world…” Some of the main contributions that Swamiji made to the modern world are mentioned below:

New Understanding of Religion : One of the most significant contributions of Swami Vivekananda to the modern world is his interpretation of religion as a universal experience of transcendent Reality, common to all humanity.  Swamiji met the challenge of modern science by showing that religion is as scientific as science itself; religion is the ‘science of consciousness'.  As such, religion and science are not contradictory to each other but are complementary.

This universal conception frees religion from the hold of superstitions, dogmatism, priestcraft and intolerance, and makes religion the highest and noblest pursuit – the pursuit of supreme Freedom, supreme Knowledge, supreme Happiness.

New View of Man : Vivekananda's concept of ‘potential divinity of the soul' gives a new, ennobling concept of man.  The present age is the age of humanism which holds that man should be the chief concern and centre of all activities and thinking.  Through science and technology man has attained great prosperity and power, and modern methods of communication and travel have converted human society into a ‘global village'.  But the degradation of man has also been going on apace, as witnessed by the enormous increase in broken homes, immorality, violence, crime, etc. in modern society.  Vivekananda's concept of potential divinity of the soul prevents this degradation, divinizes human relationships, and makes life meaningful and worth living.  Swamiji has laid the foundation for ‘spiritual humanism', which is manifesting itself through several neo-humanistic movements and the current interest in meditation, Zen etc all over the world.

New Principle of Morality and Ethics :  The prevalent morality, in both individual life and social life, is mostly based on fear – fear of the police, fear of public ridicule, fear of God's punishment, fear of Karma, and so on.  The current theories of ethics also do not explain why a person should be moral and be good to others.  Vivekananda has given a new theory of ethics and new principle of morality based on the intrinsic purity and oneness of the Atman.  We should be pure because purity is our real nature, our true divine Self or Atman.  Similarly, we should love and serve our neighbours because we are all one in the Supreme Spirit known as Paramatman or Brahman.

Bridge between the East and the West :  Another great contribution of Swami Vivekananda was to build a bridge between Indian culture and Western culture.  He did it by interpreting Hindu scriptures and philosophy and the Hindu way of life and institutions to the Western people in an idiom which they could understand.  He made the Western people realize that they had to learn much from Indian spirituality for their own well-being.  He showed that, in spite of her poverty and backwardness, India had a great contribution to make to world culture.  In this way he was instrumental in ending India's cultural isolation from the rest of the world.  He was India's first great cultural ambassador to the West.

On the other hand, Swamiji's interpretation of ancient Hindu scriptures, philosophy, institutions, etc prepared the mind of Indians to accept and apply in practical life two best elements of Western culture, namely science and technology and humanism.  Swamiji has taught Indians how to master Western science and technology and at the same time develop spiritually.  Swamiji has also taught Indians how to adapt Western humanism (especially the ideas of individual freedom, social equality and justice and respect for women) to Indian ethos.

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