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Neovedanta of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

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Religion of Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in his lifetime (1836-1886) proved many religious doctrines, including beliefs of various Hindu sects, to be true. His practice of Vedanta, Tantra, Vaishnava, Shakta and many more Hindu religious beliefs, and additionally Christian and Muslim faiths, are but a few proofs for such a claim. He distinctly had similar experiences and realizations of Divinity and Truth in each one of them, and therefore, he led great emphasis on spiritual practice for the realization of higher truths. Hence, although Sri Ramakrishna did not 'establish' any new religion in the sense most of us tend to understand that word, his contribution in enabling the modern mind to comprehend the true meaning of religion is immense.

Here the subject, Religion of Sri Ramakrishna, is being introduced by trying to establish the necessity and reasons for giving a separate name to the teachings and sayings of Sri Ramakrishna that has made substantial contributions in the realm of religion and spirituality. Such a nomenclature is justified because Swami Vivekananda used the expression 'Sri Ramakrishna's Religion' as he discerned something unique in Ramakrishna's religious ideas. It is necessary to pinpoint these unique features of spiritual importance in the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.

Sri Ramakrishna has reconciled the differing Eternal religious thought currents by deepening, refining, and widening them without establishing a new religion or a new sect. On the basis of certain books like 'The Gospel' and 'Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master' that contain authentic records of sayings and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, we can decipher much meaning about his religion. One important factor that can be highlighted is the solution one gets from his life and teachings concerning the paradox of Dvaita and Advaita. The two coexisted in him as two different modes of spiritual expressions. Such highest manifestations of all phases of Vedanta were rarely seen in modern times. Therefore, it was easy for him to accommodate all modes of worship - from gross idol worship to refined meditation on Self, and to emphasize the need for spiritual growth with assimilation rather than rejection of the past practices and beliefs. Secondly, his improved concept of bhakti as the means to realize the same highest consciousness as achieved by way of Jnana is another such unique contribution.

One can rightly term Sri Ramakrishna's religion as neo-Vedanta or new Vedanta where one can find new insights and discoveries that give a new life, a new fragrance to Vedanta without rejecting its basic principles. In Ramakrishna-Vivekananda's neovedanta one has something that one does not find in any Vedantic system including that of Shankara or Ramanuja although it incorporates their doctrines, but the synthesis has its own newness and freshness. It becomes qualitatively different and suitable to the modern mind in the context of prevailing intellectual culture. Sri Ramakrishna could experience newer truths unexplored till now in the history of spirituality. His myriads visions, bhava, and in particular the state of 'Bhavamukha' made it possible for him to comment about newness and subtleties in spirituality as easily as a seasoned politician or an economist could talk about nuances of politics or economics. Practice and efforts to realize our spiritual consciousness forms the basis of Sri Ramakrishna's religion.

As Sri Ramakrishna says: "Only he who constantly thinks of God can know His real Nature. He alone knows that God reveals Himself in different forms and different ways, that He has attributes and, again, He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can assume various colours and sometimes it remains colourless. Others, not knowing the whole truth, quarrel among themselves and suffer."

Additionally, out of compassion, he also helped others to realize these principles. One case in point is of Tota Puri, his Guru who initiated him as a sannyasin for the sadhana of Advaita Vedanta. As it happened this great and highly advanced soul, Tota Puri, had crossed the limitations of body-mind, and could establish himself in Nirvikalpa Samadhi at will by his total control over the mind. But his approach and understanding was one-sided, for he rejected the world as illusion, and did not accept lower forms of spiritual disciplines like worship and devotional recitation of God's name. He rejected the notion of personal God as coming under the purview of Maya, and thus worship of Mother Kali was scoffed at.

One day as it happened Tota Puri suffered from severe abdominal pain and diarrhea. His mind was constantly drawn to his body because of the continued pain. He could not control his mind to reach the transcendental state. Therefore, thinking that 'now it was useless to live in this body', he decided to drown himself in the deep waters of nearby Ganges. That night he walked into the river to end his life, but to his wonder and astonishment he could not find the level of the water above his waist! Surely the Ganges in Calcutta must be hundreds feet deep! Tota Puri found himself safe and on the other side of the bank of the river, and soon realized this all to be the Play (Lila) of Mother Goddess. The teaching of Sri Ramakrishna flashed in his mind as one aspect of Truth, and since then he started believing in both the personal and impersonal aspects of Godhood.

Through such and many more stories, anecdotes, and parables, based on his real life experiences, Sri Ramakrishna taught us about the many-sidedness of Vedanta and spirituality. He maintained that the aim or purpose of life is to realize at least one aspect of these religious truths as the manifestation of One Truth.

Further one can visualize the influence of Sri Ramakrishna on Max Muller and other renowned European scholars and philosophers. The history of nineteenth century European thought reveals how Max Muller's understanding of Vedanta was influenced, enriched and fructified by the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. The same thing can be said about the contribution of Romain Rolland, Christopher Isherwood, and many others, who were imbibed and influenced by Vedantic teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, and in turn, were instrumental in spreading his thoughts and teachings all over Europe and the world through their writings. All such genuine contributions give authenticity and originality to the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and lay the foundation for studying Sri Ramakrishna and his religion in a historical perspective.
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