Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 – 1886) is considered as one of the most respected spiritual masters of the modern time in India. The story or saying is that he attained the highest ‘nirvikalpa samadhi’, state. He empowered Swami Vivekananda as his most powerful disciple in the 20th century. He experienced ‘trances’ at the age of six. He was born to a poor but pious family in a village in Bengal, India. He never bothered to learn even to write his name, such an implicit ‘illiterate’ he was. Ducked and bunked the ordeals of school learning. He was a true ‘rebel’, but still remained rooted in the tradition of the soil and time. He took over the priesthood profession for his livelihood to worship Goddess Kali. He revolted against the senseless caste and class discriminations, in his own ways. He was initiated to other religions also – Islam, and Christianity. He has no qualms about the religions. Initially he was initiated into ‘tantra’ tradition by Bhairavi Brahmani, an orange-robed, middle-aged female ascetic; later on initiated into non-dual meditation and Vedanta. This is the briefest description that is given here just as a reminder about his holy personality.
Sri Ramakrishna was also known as a ‘tantrik’; he worshiped even his wife Sarada as Goddess. It is not unknown that many a class spiritual masters go eccentric and erratic (or erotic or mystic?) in their utterances, gestures and teachings. It is told that Ramakrishna used the most rustic, colloquial, classic, gross Bengali language to communicate or abuse with his disciples and people – in the larger mission of spreading the spiritual consciousness. He often used filthy, sexy words to convey the message of clarity. These masters or mystics often reveal ‘Vedanta’ in the very ‘vagina’, so to speak. They know not what is holy or unholy. It’s the middle class mortals and minds that drum beat and blow the siren of morals and holiness; and our Gurus make good ‘harvest’ out of it. Otherwise, God knows no bounds of morals or sermons. It seems, the morals are for the mortals, never for the immortal ones.
The teachings of Ramakrishna are preserved in the work called ‘Sri-Sri-Ramakrisna-Kathamrta’ compiled in Bengali by his house-holder devotee, Mahendranath Gupta. This book is more realistic and less filtered, it seems. But the English translation of this book was never a true translation or rather the translation was made to depict the Personality Ramakrishna as an ‘avatar’ and ‘holy’ person; or rather it was impossible to translate the ‘original’ as it is due to the best kept reasons or impulses.
All the above paragraphs I scribbled just after incidentally reading a passage from the book, ‘Stopped in Our Tracks’ (third series, on UG) originally compiled in Telugu by K. Chandrasekhar, a close long associate of UG, (translated in English by Narayana Moorty). There may be several scholarly great books available on UG, but my favorite passion is always, Chandrasekhar’s ‘Lost in Our Tracks’ (First series ; Second series ; and Third series), an informal inner circle open chit-chat or tidbits on UG and in UG’s own informal spontaneous words too. Many instant diamonds of wisdoms we may strike there in the jungle of informal UG journey in these books (first, second, and third series).
The random passage I got in this book (‘Lost in our Tracks: third series’) reads:
“God is in the Vagina” – Sri Ramakrishna
The other day, Guha was reading the Bengali original of Sri Ramakrishna Bodhamrtam, translating it into English for us. “I will remove all my clothes and dance before the women; what do you care about it?” Sri Ramakrishna had scolded one of his disciples. Guha continued, “God is in the vagina. God lets me see him in the copulation of two dogs.” Ramakrishna had used much more obscene and vulgar language [than this] in his conversations. But Nikhilananda, in translating, had corrected all that, changing it so that people would be presented with the image of a holy man to hold in their minds.
And another passage I happened to get from Chandrasekhar’s ‘Stopped in Our Tracks’ (first series) reads:
“The source for both God and sex is the same. As long as you think of God, there is always sex in its shadow,” says U.G. I now understand the value of this saying. But in those days I was very confused. “Why am I so deluding myself? The mind which freed itself from so many attractions, why is it pining so much for such a trifle? Is this a test? O Lord, please give me strength. Please get me out of this mire.” Just as I was praying thus, I felt that I was sinking deeper into the mire.
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.
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.
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 explicitly sexual language shocked 19th-century Westerners, even scholars Max Müller who were otherwise his admirers. Müller wrote that his language was at times “abominably filthy”. He admitted however that such direct speech was natural to contemporary hindus, “where certain classes of men walk stark naked”, and should not be considered intentional filthiness or obscenity. Citing examples of classical poems like Bhartrihari, the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare, Müller felt that few of the sayings would have to be bowdlerized.
Many great thinkers including Max Müller, 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.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.