Sri Ramakrishna was a spiritual giant whose life and message continue to have an impact on us even today. To understand this we have to realize that his life had three distinct phases. In the first phase Sri Ramakrishna achieves a form of God realization but had no control over his meditation. He was in danger of losing complete control when he was instructed via a vision to stop and wait for teachers to appear who would guide him further.
Luckily for Sri Ramakrishna the railway line had not yet been built and Dakshineswar, with its location on the banks of the river Ganges, was a stop on the way for monks traveling up and down the Ganges. One day a beautiful middle-aged female monk named Yogeshwari happened to stop over. When she saw Ramakrishna she exclaimed, “My son, you are here! I have been searching for you so long, and now I have found you!”
Yogeshwari established herself a few miles from Dakshineswar and would come down daily to teach Sri Ramakrishna. Thus began the formal spiritual education of Sri Ramakrishna in the proper way of meditation. To Yogeshwari’s surprise Sri Ramakrishna progressed quickly and in a matter of days attained higher and higher spiritual states that are normally considerably difficulty to master. She soon became convinced that Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary soul and convinced Mr. Mathur to convene a meeting of distinguished scholars to examine Sri Ramakrishna. Consequently two imminent scholars were summoned and both of them concurred that Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary soul and the states he had achieved were indeed rare to be seen in mere mortals. This was the first time the possibility that Sri Ramakrishna was a Divine Incarnation was broached.
In spite of the very high opinion of religious scholars, Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual education was not yet complete. He still had to achieve the highest state of consciousness where he could experience undivided and absolute unity. Many days after Yogeshwari had departed a very advanced monk called Totapuri happened to visit Dakshineswar. When he saw Sri Ramakrishna he was immediately impressed and offered to make him a disciple. Sri Ramakrishna was subsequently initiated and formally became a monk.
Soon Totapuri was teaching him to meditate and reach the highest state. Unfortunately for Sri Ramakrishna, though he was able to get into higher spiritual states he was finding it difficult to go beyond the relative realm. “I was readily able to attain the familiar form of the Blissful Mother- radiant and of the essence of Pure Consciousness- which appeared before me as a living Reality preventing me from passing beyond the realm of name and form.” On seeing this Totapuri got agitated and picked up a piece of glass that was lying nearby and pressed the point between the eyebrows and said, “Concentrate the mind on this point!” What happened next is related in Sri Ramakrishna’s own words: “With stern determination I again sat to meditate and soon the familiar form of Divine Mother appeared before me. But this time I used my discrimination as a sword and severed it into two. There remained no more obstruction to my mind, which at once soared beyond the relative plane, and I lost myself in Samadhi!”
Totapuri sat for a long time, silently watching his disciple. Finding him perfectly motionless, he locked the door and went out of the room. Three days passed, and still there was no call. In utter surprise Totapuri opened the door and found Sri Ramakrishna sitting in the very same position in which he had left him. With breathless wonder Totapuri stood before this august spectacle. “Is it really true?” he said to himself, “Is it possible that this man has attained in the course of a single day that which took me forty years of strenuous practice to achieve?” Impelled by doubt, he made a searching examination. In joyous bewilderment he cried out, “Great God, it is nothing short of a miracle!” It was undoubtedly a case of “Nirvikalpa Samadhi” the culmination of the Advaita practice! Totapuri immediately took steps to bring the mind of Sri Ramakrishna down to the world of phenomena. Normally Totapuri would not stay for long at any given location but given the extraordinary nature of his disciple, he stayed behind for 11 more months, making sure that Sri Ramakrishna was firmly established in his meditation practice.
Once Totapuri left Sri Ramakrishna once again entered the highest form of Samadhi. But now he had no reason to come back. Three weeks passed and he became thin and gaunt. His hair became matted with accretions of dust. Flies and insects began to enter his mouth and nostrils just as they would do in a dead body. There was no chance for the body to survive if he continued this way and surely he would have perished had not a monk who stayed in Dakshineswar taken it upon himself to minister to his needs. He would bring food and sit patiently next to Sri Ramakrishna batting away the flies and insects. When he would find Sri Ramakrishna wafting down to lower consciousness he would press some food to his lips. Some odd bits did make it to Sri Ramakrishna’s stomach and kept him alive. Six months passed this way and eventually Sri Ramakrishna got a vision that that told him to come back to relative consciousness and fulfill a new mission for the sake of humanity. This prompted Sri Ramakrishna to give up his Samadhi and come back to relative consciousness.
A new and final phase was about to begin in his life that will be covered next week. In this final phase Sri Ramakrishna will conduct a daring spiritual experiment never attempted before. The result of which has a direct bearing on our lives and will have an impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren.
This is the second of a three part series on the life of Sri Ramakrishna. You can find the first part here. The third and concluding story of Sri Ramakrishna’s daring spiritual experiments, you will find here.