Ramakrishna Mission has been an integral part of my growing up. My grand parents, uncles and aunts, my parents, my wider family all have been associated with this mission. And singing in front of Ma Kali and slipping into a near trance was quite common back then. While I was growing up, two things happened which are pertinent. The first related to the regular visits to the Mission in Bhopal. At that time, it was in the middle of a vast stony rocky field. A temple of calmness in the midst of a very stark landscape. And you would get a sense of peace as soon as you entered the temple grounds. The teachers over there were wonderful, they wore simple clothes and their laughter was so wonderful. A childlike wonder at the world all the time and infinite patience to deal with zillions of questions. I regret to say that I do not remember their names. Singing the bhajans and the trance like state one would enter while singing to Ma Kali, just wonderful. Even now, it brings a strange sort of peace to myself and tears to the eyes.
The second related aspect was my visit to Vivekananda Rock. If somebody asks me if I have met God, I say in the affirmative and that is one of the places I met him face to face. Strange no? So when I read this paper: Kali's child and Krishna's lover: An anatomy of Ramakrishna's Caritas Divina by Narasingha P Sil of Western Oregon University, published in Journal of Religion, 2008, I felt the tug of memories so badly. I quote the abstract:
The famous 19th-century Bengali saint Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has almost universally been regarded as a Shakta (sometimes confused with Tantrika) devotee of the Mother Goddess Kali. His association with the Kali temple at Daksineshvar, in the northern suburb of Calcutta, has no doubt been a powerful argument behind his Shakta/Tantrika affiliation. This paper argues that Ramakrishna was essentially a bhakta (devotee) in the Vaisnava tradition and his cultural and family inheritance. His idea of the divine and his career and logia as a priest and a saint provide ample justification to consider him essentially a Vaisnava whose spiritual battle-cry was to demand to have dalliance with God.
The paper tries to decompose his feelings and his religious leanings by a variety of references, ranging from references to tantrik aspects to Vedanta to you name it. After reading the rather bewildering variety of references and attempts to decompose his faith, I was lost. But in the middle, the author hits on the precise nature of this wonderful man and I quote:
Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that Bengali folk culture essentializes simple fiducia and that Ramakrishna, an untrained and unread temple priest (although initiated into Shakti or Kali mantra by a professional priest named Kenaram Bhattacharya) cannot be pigeonholed neatly in any one sect formally. In other words, he was basically a lover of god
That is it. You really do not need a full fledged scholarly paper to know what he was, he was a lover of God. He investigated Islam and Christianity, delved into Buddhism and found that at end of the day, all paths lead to the same God. Sometimes, I think we make our relationship with God far too complicated. It is not, it is very simple. She loves us and we just need to love her back. Be like a Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, just love her. It is very difficult to explain this feeling of wanting to be one with God or personally speaking, one with Ma (whether it be Kali or Shakti or Durga, or what have you, they are all the same) but it is an indescribable feeling and I tear up every time I experience it. But still, the article is good, if nothing else for the good discussion on tantric scriptures and practises, Vedanta and Ramakrishna’s life. Oh!, the references are good as well.