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Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Bangla: রামকৃষ্ণ পরমহংস Ramkṛiṣṇo Pôromôhongśo) (February 18, 1836 - August 16, 1886), born Gadadhar Chattopadhyay (Bangla: গদাধর চট্টোপাধ্যায় Gôdadhor Chôţţopaddhae), was a famous mystic of 19th-century India. His religious school of thought led to the formation of the Ramakrishna Mission by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda - both were influential figures in the Bengali Renaissance as well as the Hindu renaissance during the 19th and 20th centuries. He was considered an avatar or incarnation of God by many of his disciples, and is considered as such by many of his devotees today.

Ramakrishna was born in a poor Brahmin Vaishnava family in rural Bengal. He became a priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Templemarker, dedicated to the goddess Kali, which had the influence of the main strands of Bengali bhakti tradition. His first spiritual teacher was an ascetic woman skilled in Tantra and Vaishnava bhakti. Later an Advaita Vedantin ascetic taught him non-dual meditation, and according to Ramakrishna, he experienced nirvikalpa samadhi under his guidance. Ramakrishna also experimented with other religions, notably Islam and Christianity, and said that they all lead to the same God. Though conventionally uneducated, he attracted attention of the Bengali intelligentsia and middle class.

The Ramakrishna movement was brought to the West by Swami Vivekananda, and has been termed as one of the revitalization movements of India.


Birth and childhood

Ramakrishna was born in 1836, in the village of Kamarpukurmarker, in the Hooghly districtmarker of West Bengalmarker, into a very poor but pious, orthodox brahmin family. Located far from the railroad, Kamarpukur was untouched by the glamour of the city and contained rice fields, tall palms, royal banyans, a few lakes, and two cremation grounds. His parents were Khudiram Chattopâdhyâya and Chandramani Devî. According to traditional accounts, Ramakrishna's parents experienced supernatural incidents, visions before his birth. His father Khudiram had a dream in Gayamarker in which Lord Gadadhara (a form of god Vishnu), said that he would be born as his son. Chandramani Devi is said to have had a vision of light entering her womb from Shiva's temple.

Ramakrishna was a popular figure in the village, with a natural gift for fine arts. Though he attended a village school with some regularity for 12 years, he later rejected the traditional schooling saying that he was not interested in a "bread-winning education". Kamarpukur, being a transit-point in well-established pilgrimage routes to Purimarker, brought him into contact with renunciates and holy men. He became well-versed in the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana, hearing them from wandering monks and the Kathaks—a class of men in ancient India who preached and sang the Purāṇas. He could read and write in Bengali.

Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy at the age of six: while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state. Ramakrishna reportedly had experiences of similar nature a few other times in his childhood—while worshipping the goddess Vishalakshi, and portraying god Shiva in a drama during Shivaratri festival. From his tenth or eleventh year on, the trances became common.

Ramakrishna's father died in 1843, after which time family responsibilities fell on his elder brother Ramkumar. This loss drew him closer to his mother, and he spent his time in household activities and daily worship of the household deities and became more involved in contemplative activities such as reading the sacred epic. When Ramakrishna was in his teens, the family's financial position worsened. Ramkumar started a Sanskrit school in Calcuttamarker and also served as a priest. Ramakrishna moved to Calcutta in 1852 with Ramkumar to assist in the priestly work.

Priest at Dakshineswar Kali Temple

Bhavatārini Kali, the deity that Ramakrishna worshipped.
In 1855 Ramkumar was appointed as the priest of Dakshineswar Kali Templemarker, built by Rani Rashmoni—a rich woman of Calcutta who belonged to the kaivarta community. Ramakrishna, along with his nephew Hriday, became assistants to Ramkumar, with Ramakrishna given the task of decorating the deity. When Ramkumar died in 1856, Ramakrishna took his place as the priest of the Kali temple. The name Ramakrishna is said to have been given him by Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rani Rashmoni.

After Ramkumar's death Ramakrishna became more contemplative. He began to look upon the image of the goddess Kali as his mother and the mother of the universe. He became seized by a desire to have a darshana (vision) of Kali—a direct realization of her reality—and believed the stone image to be living and breathing and taking food out of his hand. At times he would weep bitterly and cry out loudly while worshipping, and would not be comforted, because he could not see his mother Kali as perfectly as he wished. People became divided in their opinions—some held Ramakrishna to be mad, and some took him to be a great lover of God. Ramakrishna was said to become deeply offended when others would not show the same level of devotion for the goddess Kali as he did. He would become angry when others would tell him that he was not really experiencing the presence of Kali. Yet Through his faith, and his spiritual devotion, others would soon begin to believe in not only what Ramakrishna was seeing, but in his teachings as well. One day, brought to the point of suicide by this longing, he had the experience of goddess Kali as the universal Mother, which he described as "... 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 Kamarpukur that Ramakrishna had become unstable as a result of his spiritual exercises at Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna's mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get Ramakrishna married, thinking that marriage would be a good steadying influence upon him—by forcing him to accept responsibility and to keep his attention on normal affairs rather than being obsessed with his spiritual practices and visions. Far from objecting to the marriage, Ramakrishna mentioned that they could find the bride at the house of Ramchandra Mukherjee in Jayrambatimarker, three miles to the north-west of Kamarpukur. The five-year-old bride, Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya was found and the marriage was duly solemnised in 1859. Ramakrishna was 23 at this point, but the age difference was typical for 19th century rural Bengal. They later spent three months together in Kamarpukur. Sarada Devi was fourteen while Ramakrishna was thirty-two. Ramakrishna became a very influential figure in Sarada’s life, and she became a strong follower of his teachings. Their marriage is now seen in India, to be one of the most spiritual and perfect unions between a man and a woman. .After the marriage, Sarada stayed at Jayrambati and joined Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar at the age of 18.

Religious practices and teachers

After his marriage Ramakrishna returned to Calcutta and resumed the charges of the temple again, but instead of toning down, his spiritual fervour and devotion only increased. To cultivate humility and eliminate the distinction between his own high Brahmin caste and pariahs belonging of low caste he would clean their quarters with his own hands and long hair.

He would take gold and silver coins, and mixing them with rubbish, repeat "money is rubbish, money is rubbish". He later said that "I lost all perception of difference between the two in my mind, and threw them both into the Ganges. No wonder people took me for mad." According to Swami Vivekananda, his hatred for money became so instinctive that his body would shrink back convulsively if were touched with a coin, even when asleep.

Many of his religious views were based on traditional Hindu thought and practice. Ramakrishna’s personal and religious views focused on living a traditional life, with Hindu gods at the center. It was very much a philosophy of godly worship and dependence. He believed that everything in life–caste, wealth, family, and personal achievement–was already determined by the gods. Though in regards to other religions, Ramakrishna did not hold traditional biased views. He believed that every religion was welcome, and that worshiping a god in any way was better than not worshiping one at all. He became very known for his views on religious tolerance and was seen as a saintly figure to many because of them. His views of tolerance were also passed on through the Ramakrishna Mission and his followers.

Bhairavi Brahmani and Tantra

In 1861, Bhairavi Brahmani, an orange-robed, middle-aged female ascetic, appeared at Dakshineshwar. She carried with her the Raghuvir Shila, a stone icon representing Ram and all Vaishnava deities. She was thoroughly conversant with the texts of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and practiced Tantra. According to the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna was experiencing phenomena that accompany mahabhava—the supreme attitude of loving devotion towards the divine–and quoting from the bhakti shastras, she said that other religious figures like Radha and Chaitanya had similar experiences.

The Bhairavi initiated Ramakrishna into Tantra. Tantrism focuses on the worship of shakti and the object of Tantric training is to transcend the barriers between the holy and unholy as a means of achieving liberation and to see all aspects of the natural world as manifestations of the divine shakti. Under her guidance, he went through a full course of sixty four major tantric sadhanas which were completed in 1863. He began with mantra rituals such as japa and purascarana and many other rituals designed to purify the mind and establish self-control. He later proceeded towards tantric sadhanas, which generally include a set of heterodox practices called vamachara (left-hand path), which utilize as a means of liberation, activities like eating of parched grain, fish and meat along with drinking of wine and sexual intercourse. According to Ramakrishna and his biographers, Ramakrishna did not directly participate in the last two of those activities, all that he needed was a suggestion of them to produce the desired result. Ramakrishna acknowledged the left-hand tantric path, though it had "undesirable features", as one of the "valid roads to God-realization", he consistently cautioned his devotees and disciples against associating with it.

Ramakrishna took the attitude of a son towards the Bhairavi. The Bhairavi on the other hand looked upon Ramakrishna as an avatara, or incarnation of the divine, and was the first person to openly declare that Ramakrishna was an avatara. The Bhairavi also taught Ramakrishna the kumari-puja, a form of ritual in which the Virgin Goddess is worshiped symbolically in the form of a young girl. Under the tutelage of the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna also became an adept at Kundalini Yoga. The Bhairavi, with the yogic techniques and the tantra played an important part in the initial spiritual development of Ramakrishna.

Vaishnava Bhakti

The Vaishnava Bhakti traditions speak of five different affective essences, referred to as bhāvas—different attitudes that a devotee can take up to express his love for the God. They are: śānta, the serene attitude; dāsya, the attitude of a servant; sakhya, the attitude of a friend; vātsalya, the attitude of a mother toward her child; and madhura, the attitude of a woman towards her lover.

At some point in the period between his vision of Kali and his marriage, Ramakrishna practiced dāsya bhāva. He started worshiping Rama in the attitude of Hanuman, the monkey-god, who is considered to be the ideal devotee and servant of Rama. According to Ramakrishna, towards the end of this sadhana, he had a vision of Sita, the consort of Rama, merging into his body.

In 1864, Ramakrishna practiced vātsalya bhāva under a Vaishnava guru Jatadhari. During this period, he worshipped a metal image of Ramlālā (Rama as a child) in the attitude of a mother. According to Ramakrishna, he could feel the presence of child Rama as a living God in the metal image.

Ramakrishna later engaged in the practice of madhura bhāva— the attitude of Gopis and Radha towards Krishna. During the practise of this bhava, Ramakrishna dressed himself in women's attire for several days and regarded himself as one of the Gopis of Vrindavan. According to the Ramakrishna, madhura bhava is practised to root out the idea of sex, which is seen as an impediment in spiritual life. According to Ramakrishna, towards the end of this sadhana, he attained savikalpa samadhi—vision and union with Krishna.

Ramakrishna visited Nadiamarker, the home of Chaitanya and Nityananda, the 15th-century founders of Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava bhakti. According to Ramakrishna, he had an intense vision of two young boys merging into his body. Earlier, after his vision of Kali, he is said to have cultivated the Santa bhava—the passive "peaceful" attitude — towards Kali.

Totapuri and Vedanta

In 1865, Ramakrishna was initiated into sannyasa by Tota Puri, an itinerant monk who trained Ramakrishna in Advaita Vedanta , the Hindu philosophy which emphasizes non-dualism.

Totapuri first guided Ramakrishna through the rites of sannyasa—renunciation of all ties to the world. Then he instructed him in the teaching of advaita—that "Brahman alone is real, and the world is illusory; I have no separate existence; I am that Brahman alone." Under the guidance of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, which is considered to be the highest state in spiritual realisation.

Totapuri stayed with Ramakrishna for nearly eleven months and instructed him further in the teachings of advaita. After the departure of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly remained for six months in a state of absolute contemplation. Ramakrishna said that this period of nirvikalpa samadhi came to an end when he received a command from the Mother Kali to "remain in Bhavamukha; for the enlightenment of the people". Bhavamukha being a state of existence intermediate between samādhi and normal consciousness.

Islam and Christianity

In 1866, Govinda Roy, a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism, initiated Ramakrishna into Islam. Ramakrishna said that he "devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the Arab Moslems, 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." According to Ramakrishna, after three days of practice he had a vision of a "radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet and merging with his body".

At the end of 1873 he started the practice of Christianity, when his devotee Shambu Charan Mallik read the Bible to him. Ramakrishna said that for several days he was filled with Christian thoughts and no longer thought of going to the Kali temple. According to Ramakrishna, one day when he saw the picture of Madonna and Child Jesus, he felt that the figures became alive and had a vision in which Jesus merged with his body. In his own room amongst other divine pictures was one of Christ, and he burnt incense before it morning and evening. There was also a picture showing Jesus Christ saving St Peter from drowning in the water.

Arrival of followers

Ramakrishna in samadhi at the house of Keshab Chandra Sen.
He is seen supported by his nephew Hriday and surrounded by brahmo devotees.

In 1875, Ramakrishna met the influential Brahmo Samaj leader Keshab Chandra Sen. Keshab had accepted Christianity, and had separated from the Adi Brahmo Samaj. Formerly, Keshab had rejected idolatry, but under the influence of Ramakrishna he accepted Hindu polytheism and established the "New Dispensation" (Nava Vidhan) religious movement, based on Ramakrishna's principles—"Worship of God as Mother", "All religions as true" and "Assimilation of Hindu polytheism into Brahmoism". Keshab also publicized Ramakrishna's teachings in the journals of New Dispensation over a period of several years, which was instrumental in bringing Ramakrishna to the attention of a wider audience, especially the Bhadralok (English-educated classes of Bengal) and the Europeans residing in India.

Following Keshab, other Brahmos such as Vijaykrishna Goswami started to admire Ramakrishna, propagate his ideals and reorient their socio-religious outlook. Many prominent people of Calcutta—Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, Shivanath Shastri and Trailokyanath Sanyal—began visiting him during this time (1871-1885). Mozoomdar wrote the first English biography of Ramakrishna, entitled The Hindu Saint in the Theistic Quarterly Review (1879), which played a vital role in introducing Ramakrishna to Westerners like the German indologist Max Muller. Newspapers reported that Ramakrishna was spreading "Love" and "Devotion" among the educated classes of Calcutta and that he had succeeded in reforming the character of some youths whose morals had been corrupt.

Ramakrishna also had interactions with Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a renowned social worker. He had also met Swami Dayananda. Ramakrishna is considered as one of the main contributors to the Bengali Renaissance. However, some Brahmos like Upadhyay Brahma­bandhab disapproved of his avatarahood and ascetic renunciation and considered Ramakrishna's samadhi as a nervous malady.

Among the Europeans who were influenced by Ramakrishna was Principal Dr. W.W. Hastie of the Scottish Church College, Calcutta. In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem The Excursion by William Wordsworth, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know its "real meaning", they should go to "Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar." This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath Dutta (later Swami Vivekananda), to visit Ramakrishna.

Devotees and disciples

Some Monastic Disciples (L to R): Trigunatitananda, Shivananda, Vivekananda, Turiyananda, Brahmananda.
Below Saradananda.
Most of Ramakrishna's prominent disciples came between 1879-1885, and were influenced by his style of preaching and instructing.

His chief disciples consisted of:
  • Grihastas or The householdersMahendranath Gupta, Girish Chandra Ghosh, Akshay Kumar Sen and others.
  • Monastic disciples who renounced their family and became the earliest monks of the Ramakrishna order—Narendranath Dutta (Swami Vivekananda), Rakhal Chandra Ghosh (Swami Brahmananda), Kaliprasad Chandra (Swami Abhedananda), Taraknath Ghoshal (Swami Shivananda), Sashibhushan Chakravarty (Swami Ramakrishnananda), Saratchandra Chakravarty (Swami Saradananda) and others.
  • A small group of women disciples including Gauri Ma and Yogin Ma. A few of them were initiated into sanyasa through mantra deeksha. Among the women, Ramakrishna emphasized service to other women rather than tapasya (practice of austerities). Gauri-ma founded the Saradesvari Ashrama at Barrackpurmarker, which was dedicated to the education and uplift of women.

As his name spread, an ever-shifting crowd of all classes and castes visited Ramakrishna—"Maharajas and beggars, journalists and pandits, artists and devotees, Brahmos, Christians, and Mohammedans, men of faith, men of action and business, old men, women and children". According to his biographers, Ramakrishna was very talkative and would out-talk the best-known orators of his time. For hours he would reminisce about his own eventful spiritual life, tell tales, explain abstruse Vedantic doctrines with extremely mundane illustrations, raise questions and answer them himself, crack jokes, sing songs, and mimic the ways of all types of worldly people—visitors were kept enthralled. In preparation for monastic life, Ramakrishna ordered his monastic disciples to beg their food from door to door without distinction of caste. He gave them the saffron robe, the sign of the Sanyasin, and initiated them with Mantra Deeksha.

Sarada Devi

Sarada Devi (1853 – 1920)
At the age of eighteen Sarada Devi joined Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. By the time his bride joined him, Ramakrishna had already embraced the monastic life of a sannyasin; as a result, the marriage was never consummated. As a priest Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremony—the Shodashi Puja–where Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of goddess Kali, and worshiped as the Divine mother. Ramakrishna regarded Sarada as the Divine Mother in person, addressing her as the Holy Mother, and it was by this name that she was known to Ramakrishna's disciples. Sarada Devi outlived Ramakrishna by 34 years and played an important role in the nascent religious movement.

Last days

In the beginning of 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from clergyman's throat, which gradually developed into throat cancer. He was moved to Shyampukur near Calcutta, where some of the best physicians of the time, including Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, were engaged. When his condition aggravated he was relocated to a large garden house at Cossiporemarker on December 11, 1885.

During his last days, he was looked after by his monastic disciples and Sarada Devi. Ramakrishna was advised by the doctors to keep the strictest silence, but ignoring their advice, he incessantly conversed with visitors. According to traditional accounts, before his death, Ramakrishna transferred his spiritual powers to Vivekananda and reassured Vivekananda of his avataric status. Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to look after the welfare of the disciples, saying, "keep my boys together" and asked him to "teach them". Ramakrishna also asked other monastic disciples to look upon Vivekananda as their leader. Ramakrishna's condition gradually worsened and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was mahasamadhi. After the death of their master, the monastic disciples lead by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagarmarker near the river Gangamarker, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first Math or monastery of the disciples who constituted the first Ramakrishna Order.

Biographical sources

According to Malcolm Mclean, the principal source for Ramakrishna's teaching is Mahendranath Gupta's sri-sri-ramakrisna-kathamrita. Kripal calls it "the central text of the tradition". The text was published in five volumes from 1902 to 1932. Based on Gupta's diary notes, each of the five volumes purports to document Ramakrishna's life from 1882–1886.

The main translation of the Kathamrita is The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nikhilananda. Nikhilananda's translation rearranged the scenes in the five volumes of the Kathamrita into a linear sequence. Malcolm Mclean and Jeffrey Kripal argue that the translation is unreliable. Philosopher Lex Hixon writes that the Gospel is "spiritually authentic" and "powerful rendering of the Kathamrita"


Ramakrishna's teachings were imparted in rustic Bengali, using stories and parables. These teachings made a powerful impact on Calcutta's intellectuals, despite the fact that his preachings were far removed from issues of modernism or national independence. His spiritual movement indirectly aided nationalism, as it rejected caste distinctions and religious prejudices.

In the Calcutta scene of the mid to late nineteenth century, Ramakrishna was quite opinionated on the subject of Chakri. Chakri can be described as a type of low-paying servitude done by educated men—typically government or commerce-related clerical positions. On a basic level, Ramakrishna saw this system as a corrupt form of European social organization that forced educated men to be servants not only to their bosses at the office but also to their wives at home. What Ramakrishna saw as the primary detriment of Chakri, however, was that it forced workers into a rigid, impersonal clock-based time structure. He saw the imposition of strict adherence to each second on the watch as a roadblock to spirituality. Despite this, however, Ramakrishna demonstrated that Bhakti could be practiced as an inner retreat to experience solace in the face of Western-style discipline and often discrimination in the workplace.

Ramakrishna emphasised God-realisation as the supreme goal of all living beings. Ramakrishna taught that kamini-kanchana is an obstacle to God-realization. Kamini-kanchan literally translates to "women and gold." Carl T. Jackson interprets kamini-kanchana to refer to the idea of sex and the idea of money as delusions which prevent people from realizing God. Jeffrey Kripal translates the phrase as "lover-and-gold" and associates it with Ramakrishna's alleged disgust for women as lovers.

Ramakrishna looked upon the world as Maya and he explained that avidya maya represents dark forces of creation (e.g. sensual desire, evil passions, greed, lust and cruelty), which keep people on lower planes of consciousness. These forces are responsible for human entrapment in the cycle of birth and death, and they must be fought and vanquished. Vidya maya, on the other hand, represents higher forces of creation (e.g. spiritual virtues, enlightening qualities, kindness, purity, love, and devotion), which elevate human beings to the higher planes of consciousness.

Ramakrishna practised several religions, including Islam and Christianity, and recognized that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true and they lead to the same ultimate goal—God. Ramakrishna's proclaimed that jatra jiv tatra Shiv (wherever there is a living being, there is Shiva) which stemmed from his Advaitic perception of Reality. His teaching, "Jive daya noy, Shiv gyane jiv seba" (not kindness to living beings, but serving the living being as Shiva Himself) is considered as the inspiration for the philanthropic work carried out by his chief disciple Vivekananda.


Several organizations have been established in the name of Ramakrishna. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission is one of the main organizations founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897. The Mission conducts extensive work in health care, disaster relief, rural management, tribal welfare, elementary and higher education. The movement is considered as one of the revitalization movements of India. Other organizations include the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society founded by Swami Abhedananda in 1923, the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission formed by Swami Nityananda in 1976, and the Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission founded in 1959 as a sister organization by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.

Ramakrishna was born during a period of social upheaval in Bengal in particular and India in general. During Ramakrishna's time, Hinduism faced a significant intellectual challenge from Westerners and Indians alike. The Hindu practice of Idol worship came under attack especially in Bengal, and many had denounced Hinduism and embraced Christianity or atheism. Ramakrishna and his movement, the Ramakrishna Mission, played a leading role in the modern revival of Hinduism in India, and on modern Indian history. His life and teachings were an important part of the renaissance that Bengal, and later India, experienced in the 19th century. Many great thinkers including Max Muller, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sri Aurobindo, and Leo Tolstoy have acknowledged Ramakrishna's contribution to humanity. Ramakrishna's influence is also seen in the works of artists such as Franz Dvorak (1862–1927) and Philip Glass.

Views and studies

Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 10 December 1881 at the studio of "The Bengal Photographers" in Radhabazar, Calcutta (Kolkata).

Religious school of thought

Several scholars have tried to associate Ramakrishna with a particular religious school of thought—Bhakti, Tantra and Vedanta.

In his influential 1896 essay "A real mahatma: Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa Dev" and his 1899 book Râmakrishna: His Life and Sayings, the German philologist and Orientalist Max Müller portrayed Ramakrishna as "a wonderful mixture of God and man" and as "...a Bhakta, a worshipper or lover of the deity, much more than a Gñânin or a knower."

In London and New York in 1896, Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous address on Ramakrishna entitled "My Master." He said of his master: "this great intellect never learnt even to write his own name, but the most brilliant graduates of our university found in him an intellectual giant." Vivekananda criticized his followers for "brazenly" projecting Ramakrishna as an avatara and miracle-worker. Narasingha Sil has argued that Vivekananda revised and mythologized Ramakrishna's image after Ramakrishna's death. Amiya P. Sen writes that the projection of Ramakrishna as a Vedantin by Vivekananda and his numerous disciples is "testified" by "no less than Ramakrishna himself" and the Kathamrita.

Indologist Heinrich Zimmer was the first Western scholar to interpret Ramakrishna's worship of the Divine Mother as containing specifically Tantric elements. Neeval also argued that tantra played a main role in Ramakrishna's spiritual development.

Philosopher Lex Hixon writes Ramakrishna was an Advaita Vedantin. Postcolonial literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak wrote that Ramakrishna was a "Bengali bhakta visionary" and that as a bhakta, "he turned chiefly towards Kali." Amiya P.Sen writes that "it is really difficult to separate the Tantrik Ramakrishna from the Vedantic", since Vedanta and Tantra "may appear to be differ in some respects", but they also "share some important postulates between them".

Psychoanalysis and Sexuality

Main article : Views_on_Ramakrishna#Religious_Practices_and_Experiences
The dialogue between psychoanalysis and Ramakrishna began in 1927 when Sigmund Freud's friend Romain Rolland wrote to him that he should consider spiritual experiences, or "the oceanic feeling," in his psychological works. Romain Rolland described the mystical states achieved by Ramakrishna and other mystics as an "'oceanic' sentiment," one which Rolland had also experienced. Rolland believed that the universal human religious emotion resembled this "oceanic sense." In his 1929 book La vie de Ramakrishna, Rolland distinguished between the feelings of unity and eternity which Ramakrishna experienced in his mystical states and Ramakrishna's interpretation of those feelings as the goddess Kali.

Some scholars of Indian religion, including Narasingha Sil, Jeffrey Kripal, and Sudhir Kakar, analyze Ramakrishna's mysticism and religious practices using psychoanalysis, arguing that his mystical visions, refusal to comply with ritual copulation in Tantra, Madhura Bhava, criticism of Kamini-Kanchana (women and gold) reflects homosexuality.Jeffrey Kripal's controversial Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna (1995) argued that Ramakrishna rejected Advaita Vedanta in favor of Shakti Tantra. In this psychoanalytic study of Ramakrishna's life, Kripal argued that Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences were symptoms of repressed homoeroticism. Other scholars and psychoanalysts including Romain Rolland, Alan Roland, Kelly Aan Raab, Somnath Bhattacharyya,, J.S. Hawley and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argue that psychoanalysis is unreliable and Ramakrishna's religious practices were in line with Bengali tradition.

Christopher Isherwood who wrote the book Ramakrishna and his Disciples (1965) said in a late interview,"Ramakrishna was completely simple and guileless. He told people whatever came into his mind, like a child. If he had ever been troubled by homosexual desires, if that had ever been a problem he'd have told everybody about them.(...) His thoughts transcended physical love-making. He saw even the mating of two dogs on the street as an expression of the eternal male-female principle in the universe. I think that is always a sign of great spiritual enlightenment."

In his 1991 book The Analyst and the Mystic, Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar saw in Ramakrishna's visions a spontaneous capacity for creative experiencing. Kakar also argued that culturally relative concepts of eroticism and gender have contributed to the Western difficulty in comprehending Ramakrishna. Kakar saw Ramakrishna's seemingly bizarre acts as part of a bhakti path to God.

Postcolonial studies

Postcolonial studies try to locate Ramakrishna in the historical background of Calcutta during the mid-19th Century.

In 1999, postcolonial historian Sumit Sarkar argued that he found in the Kathamrita traces of a binary opposition between unlearned oral wisdom and learned literate knowledge. He argues that all of our information about Ramakrishna, a rustic near-illiterate Brahmin, comes from urban bhadralok devotees, "...whose texts simultaneously illuminate and transform."

Other postcolonial studies have been done by Partha Chaterjee, Amiya P. Sen.


  1. Smart, Ninian The World’s Religions (1998) p.409, Cambridge
  2. Jackson, p. 35.
  3. , p.17
  4. , p.92
  5. , p.17. "During these years, he read widely in Bengali religious texts, committing long portions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata to memory. Though hardly well educated by modern standards, he was no illiterate."
  6. Neevel, Transformation of Sri Ramakrishna, p.70
  7. Neevel, Transformation of Sri Ramakrishna, p.68
  8. , p. 176
  9. Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Advaita Ashrama, Ninth Impression, December 1971, p. 44
  10. Muller, p. 36
  11. Leo Schneiderman, Ramakrishna: Personality and Social Factors in the Growth of a Religious Movement (Blackwell Publishing, 1969) 60-63.
  12. Sil, Divine Dowager, p. 42
  13. Carl T. Jackson, Vedanta for the West, p.18 "Such child marriages were still widespread in nineteenth-century India, despite vehement condemnations by both English authorities and Hind reformers. Analogous to the Western betrothal, child marriage committed the partners to one another, with the actual of living together and assuming family responsibilities delayed until puberty."
  14. Ghanananda, Swami; John Stewart-Wallace (1979). "Sri Sarada Devi". Women Saints of East and West. Vedanta Press. pp. 94-121.
  15. , "Moving Devi", pp.207-208
  16. , p.101
  17. , p.18
  18. Neevel, pp. 74-77
  19. A.P.Sen (2001), Sri Ramakrishna and his Times, p.99
  20. Lex Hixon (1995), Great Swan, p.xliii "The sophisticated culture around nineteenth century Calcutta was somewhat puritanical. They did not have an appreciation for vamacharya, the left handed path of Tantra. They kept trying to get Ramakrishna to condemn those kind of practitioners. He never would condemn them. He would simply remark that there are different doors to enter the same house."
  21. Neevel, Transformation of Sri Ramakrishna, p.70, "Ramakrishna's practice of tantra played an important role in Ramakrishna's transformation from the uncontrollable and self-destructive madman of the early years into the saintly and relatively self-controlled—if eccentric and ecstatic—teacher of the later years."
  22. , p.197
  23. Isherwood, pp. 70–73
  24. A.P.Sen (2001), Sri Ramakrishna and his times, p.138
  25. Isherwood, p. 197–198.
  26. Parama Roy, Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Post-Colonial India Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998
  27. , p.19
  28. The Great Master, p. 255.
  29. Roland, Romain The Life of Ramakrishna (1984), Advaita Ashram
  30. "For six months in a stretch, I [Ramakrishna] remained in that state from which ordinary men can never return; generally the body falls off, after three weeks, like a mere leaf. I was not conscious of day or night. Flies would enter my mouth and nostrils as they do a dead's body, but I did not feel them. My hair became matted with dust." Swami Nikhilananda, Ramakrishna, Prophet of New India, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1942, p. 28.
  31. Beckerlegge (2006), Swami Vivekananda's Legacy of Service, p.27
  32. Amiya.P.Sen(2006), Kathamrita and the Calcutta middle classes, p.172 "the author of the Kathamrita offers information about a great variety of people with very different interests converging at Dakshineswar. There are, for instance, childless widows, young school-boys (K1: 240, 291; K2: 30, 331; K3: 180, 185, 256), aged pensioners (K5: 69-70), Hindu scholars or religious figures (K2: 144, 303; K3: 104, 108, 120; K4: 80, 108, 155, 352), men betrayed by lovers (K1: 319), people with suicidal tendencies (K4: 274-275), small-time businessmen (K4: 244), and, of course, adolescents dreading the grind of samsaric life (K3: 167)."
  33. ,, p.207, "She was married at 5, joined here husband at 18, and then was drawn into celibacy and the circuit of tremendous assembly of male colonial subjects who gave her reverence and worshipped her (...) This remarkable woman outlived Ramakrishna by 34 years. In the course of time, his[Ramakrishna's] 12 young male disciples established her as the advisory head of an organization that became a monastic order devoted to social work."
  35. Malcolm Maclean, A Translation of the sri-sri-ramakrisna-kathamrita with explanatory notes and critical introduction. University of Otago. Dunedin, New Zealand. September, 1983. p vi
  36. , p.3
  37. , p. 4
  38. Malcolm Maclean, A Translation of the sri-sri-ramakrisna-kathamrita with explanatory notes and critical introduction. University of Otago. Dunedin, New Zealand. September, 1983. p i-iv
  39. Great Swan, p.xiv
  40. Sumit Sarkar, “ ‘Kaliyuga’, ‘Chakri’ and ‘Bhakti’: Ramakrishna and His Times,” Economic and Political Weekly 27, 29 (Jul 18, 1992): 1548-1550.
  41. Carl T. Jackson (1994), pp. 20-21.
  42. Kali's Child p 281; 277-287 passim
  43. Neevel, p. 82.
  44. Beckerlegge,Swami Vivekananda's Legacy of Service pp.1-3
  45. John Rosselli, "Sri Ramakrishna and the educated elite of late nineteenth century" Contributions to Indian Sociology 1978; 12; 195 [1]
  46. Friedrich Max Müller, Râmakrishna: His Life and Sayings, pp.93-94, Longmans, Green, 1898
  47. Neevel, Transformation of Sri Ramakrishna, p.85
  48. Sil, 1993 p56
  49. A.P.Sen (2006) "Kathamrita and the Calcutta Middle Classes", p.173
  50. Narasingha P. Sil "Vivekānanda's Rāmakṛṣṇa: An Untold Story of Mythmaking and Propaganda" Numen, Vol. 40, No. 1, (Jan., 1993), pp. 38-62 BRILL
  51. Amiya P. Sen (2001), Three Essays on Sri Ramakrishna and His Times, p.21
  52. Neeval and Hatcher, "Ramakrishna" in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005 p 7613
  53. Carl T. Jackson (1994), p.154
  54. Lex Hixon (1995), Great Swan, p.xv, "My study of Sanskrit and my doctoral dissertation at Columbia University on the Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada, has enabled me to appreciate more deeply the Master's universal Vedantic approach."
  55. Spivak (2007), Other Asias, p.197
  56. Amiya P. Sen (2001), Three Essays on Sri Ramakrishna and His Times, p.22
  57. "Oceanic Feeling" by Henri Vermorel and Madeleline Vermoral in International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis [2]
  58. The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling: Revisioning the Psychoanalytic Theory of Mysticism By William Barclay Parsons, Oxford University Press US, 1999 ISBN 0195115082, p 37
  59. page 12 Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy By Marianna Torgovnick University of Chicago Press, 1998
  60. Parsons 1999, 14
  61. Ramakrishna Revisited (1998)
  62. Kali's Child (1998)
  63. The Analyst and the Mystic (1991)
  64. Parsons 1999, 135-136
  65. Parsons, William B., "Psychology" in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005 p. 7479
  66. Roland, Alan. (2007) The Uses (and Misuses) Of Psychoanalysis in South Asian Studies: Mysticism and Child Development. Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. Delhi, India: Rupa & Co. ISBN 978-8129111821
  67. Invading the Sacred, p.152-168
  68. Spivak (2007), "Moving Devi", Other Asias, pp.195-197
  69. "Christopher Isherwood: An Interview" Carolyn G. Heilbrun and Christopher Isherwood Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 22, No. 3, Christopher Isherwood Issue (Oct., 1976), pp. 253-263 Published by: Hofstra University
  70. Kakar, Sudhir, The Analyst and the Mystic, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p.34
  71. Parsons, 1999 p 133
  72. Sumit Sarkar, "Post-modernism and the Writing of History" Studies in History 1999; 15; 293


  • (reprint, orig. 1965)

Further reading

  • Prosser, Lee. (2001) Isherwood, Bowles, Vedanta, Wicca, and Me. Writers Club: Lincoln, Nebraska. ISBN 0-595-20284-5

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