Sri Ramakrishna was born Gadadhar Chatterjee in 1836 at Kamarpukur about sixty miles from Calcutta. His parents, Khudiram and Chandramani, were poor and made ends meet with great difficulty.
Gadadhar was the pet of the whole village. He was handsome and had a natural
gift for the fine arts. He, however, disliked going to school and when asked
why he did not want to go to school, his reply was: The so-called education is
for earning money only ; I don't care for this kind of education. He loved Nature
and spent his time in fields and fruit gardens outside the village with his friends.
Gadadhar had now attained the age when he should be invested with the sacred thread. When arrangements were nearly complete for this, Gadadhar declared that he would have his first alms as a brahmin from a certain sudra woman of the village. This was something unheard of ! Tradition required that it should be a brahmin and not a sudra who would give him the first alms. This was pointed out to him but he was adamant. He said he had given his word to the lady and if he did not keep his word, what sort of brahmin would he be then ? No argument, no appeal, no amount of tears could budge him from his position. Finally, Ramkumar, his eldest brother and now the head of the family, had to give in.
Meanwhile, the family's financial position worsened everyday. Ramkumar ran a Sanskrit school in Calcutta and also served as priest in some families. What he earned was pitifully small and he could not send any money home regularly. He decided to bring Gadadhar to Calcutta. His plan was to try to make him study Sanskrit. Perhaps he could also do some priestly work and make some money of his own. Gadadhar arrived, but he lost no time in making it clear that he was not going to study. He, however, did not mind doing some priestly work, not for money but for the pleasure of it.
About this time, a rich woman of Calcutta, Rani Rashmoni, founded a temple at Dakshineswar. She approached Ramkumar to serve as priest at the temple of Kali and Ramkumar agreed. After some persuasion, Gadadhar agreed to decorate the deity. When Ramkumar retired, Gadadhar took his place as priest.
When Gadadhar started worshipping the deity, he began to ask himself if he was worshipping a piece of stone or a living Goddess. If he was worshipping a living Goddess, why should she not respond to his worship? This question nagged him day and night. Then, he began to pray to Kali - "Mother, you've been gracious to many devotees in the past and have revealed yourself to them. Why would you not reveal yourself to me, also? Am I not also your son?”
He would weep bitterly and sometimes even cry out loudly while worshipping. At night, he would go into a near-by jungle and spend the whole night praying. One day he was so impatient to see Mother Kali that he decided to end his life. He seized a sword hanging on the wall and was about to strike himself with it when he saw light issuing from the deity in waves and he was soon overwhelmed by those waves. He then fell down unconscious on the floor.
Gadadhar was not, however, content with this. He prayed to Mother Kali for more religious experiences. He specially wanted to know what truths other religious systems taught. Strangely enough, teachers of those systems attired as and when necessary as if directed by some invisible power, and what is more surprising, he reached the goals of those experiments in no time.
Soon word spread about this remarkable man and people of all denominations and all stations of life began to come to him. From now on he came to be known as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, and like a magnet he began to attract real seekers of God. He taught ceaselessly for fifteen years or so through parables, metaphors, songs and above all by his own life the basic truths of religion. He passed away in 1886, leaving behind a devoted band of young disciples headed by the well-known scholar and orator, Swami Vivekananda.
What did Ramakrishna teach?
1. Ramakrishna taught no creed or dogma. His only concern was man's uplift. According to him, there is infinite moral and spiritual potential in man. To develop that potential is man's foremost duty in life. He taught man to strive to develop that potential without wasting time over sense pleasure or religious quibblings.
2. Religions are like so-many paths leading to the same goal, i.e., God. Man reaches his religious goal when he attains his highest moral development.
3. God is both personal and impersonal. It is difficult to conceive an impersonal God, so to begin with, God has to be thought of as a person. Can anyone think of the white color without thinking of a white object? One can look at the morning sun, but not at the midday sun. Similarly, when God is manifest in a person we know what God is like, otherwise God is impersonal and beyond thought and speech.
4. Be in the world but not of it. Perform your duties as well you can, but do not count too much upon the fruits of your action. Rather, surrender them to God. try to feel as if you are only a tool in the hands of God.
5. Religion is an experience. Religion makes no sense unless its truths are experienced. Is your thirst satisfied unless you drink water when you are thirsty?
6. God is everywhere but He is most manifest in man. So serve man as God. That is as good as worshipping God.