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A Case Study of a Man of God : 1
Sri Ramakrishna was a unique person. As a Yogi and a spiritual aspirant he displayed peculiar changes in his mind and body. His life and teachings are the subjects of research. Luckily detailed, reliable, and faithful records of his sayings about himself, his symptoms, and the physiological changes in him as seen by others are available. Had he been alive to day he would have provided an excellent object/material for investigations to physicians, physiologists, and medical researchers. Therefore a case history of Sri Ramakrishna can be prepared, studied, and analyzed with great benefit.
Sri Ramakrishna, childhood name Gadadhar, was born on 18 February 1836 in the village of Kamarpukur in West Bengal. He was born as a full term normal child and his developmental milestones were normal. His father and mother were both physically and mentally sound. There was no history of any major illness during his childhood.
While worshipping his family deity, meditating, or listening to devotional music he used to go into intense ecstatic moods. During this period various spiritual visions came to him from time to time. His health, however, was never affected. He was normal in his behavior, and was cheerful, alert, intelligent, and efficient. He was very courageous, fearless, and guileless right from early childhood. He had aversion for book learning -mathematics in particular. Otherwise he was efficient in learning languages, music and singing. He showed normal reactions to deaths in the family including loss of his father in the childhood.
State of altered consciousness during childhood
When he was six or seven years of age, one day while passing through a paddy field, he was overwhelmed by a beautiful sight of uniform formation of white cranes seen against the dark monsoon clouds in the sky. The result was dramatic one; he lost consciousness lasting for sometime and was carried home in that condition. On regaining the consciousness, Gadadhar was found to be perfectly normal and there was no evidence of post-epilepsy headache, deep sleep, or state of confusion. Although his parents were worried about the episode, which they thought to be a form of epilepsy, Gadadhar himself maintained that nothing wrong had happened to him. He was shown to a doctor and treated with some medicines.
At another time, while performing the role of Shiva in a play in front of the local villagers, Gadadhar went in a state of trance and became speechless, profuse tears flowing from his eyes. He was in a state of samadhi and the onlookers were speechless to see the beauty and radiance of his countenance, as if he was one with God Shiva. The play was ended and he was carried home in that state.
There was no history of convulsions or seizures anytime in his lifetime, although he lost outer consciousness quite frequently.
At the threshold of entering the adulthood, Gadadhar showed no signs or symptoms of any physical or mental illness. On the contrary, he had a very gifted memory and could remember musical compositions, plays, and songs just by listening once. His voice was very sweet. He could imitate various male and feminine voices with ease. He had a wonderful gift of acting as well. He could act the part of a woman without people even recognizing him in such a role. Every had a great joy and fun in his company. His judgement was sound.
Early Adulthood: 1852 to 1868
In the year 1852, Gadadhar went to Calcutta with his elder brother. As a part of his job, he undertook worship of Mother Kali at Dakshineswar Temple. For twelve years he undertook intense sadhana (spiritual practices) for the realization of God in various forms. During this period he was married to Saradadevi.
At the time of worship he used to get completely absorbed in it and was totally unaware of the surrounding activities. The continuous flow of his mind towards God had its effect on the body, which gave rise to various symptoms. He lost sleep, his appetite was reduced, and his chest used to become red with increased blood flow. Tears used to flow from his eyes while singing, and his mind was seized with apprehension and anxiety. He also suffered from tremors and restlessness. To many, his soaring erratic flights of God intoxication seemed the derangement of brain or symptoms of 'possessions.'
During this period he was also unmindful of his and his hair grew long and matted together. He longed for the vision of Mother Kali (his chosen Ideal) so intensely that he used to cry loudly as if a child is separated from his mother. He felt intense pain as if his heart was wrung as a wet towel. The following account in his own words gives us an idea about his mental state and visions:
'A terrible frenzy seized me at the thought that I might never be blessed with the divine vision. I thought that if that were so then enough of this life! A sword was hanging in the sanctuary of Kali. My eyes seized upon it and thought ran through my brain like a flash of lightening - 'The sword it will help me put an end to it.' I rushed up to it and seized it like a madman... And lo! The whole scene, doors, windows, the temple itself simply vanished. It seemed as if nothing existed anymore. Instead I saw the ocean of the spirit, boundless, dazzling. In whatever direction I turned, great luminous waves were rising. They bore down upon me with a loud roar, as if to swallow me up... I lost all normal consciousness and fell to the ground... How I passed that day and the next I know not, round me rolled an ocean of unspeakable joy such as I had never experienced before.'
He actually saw the letters of sacred Mantras in bright colours in his as well as the Serpent Power (Kundalini) rising from the spinal cord to the head.
He experienced many kinds of visions during these twelve years of sadhana.
We shall now describe a few other changes in his in the following account.
A burning sensation came on the from the beginning of the sadhana. Sri Ramakrishna thought, 'What is this disease?' It increased by degrees and became unbearable. Various kinds of oils prescribed by the physicians were used, but it could by mean be alleviated. One day, while he was sitting under the panchavati (cluster of five trees), he saw that a jet black person with red eyes and a hideous appearance ('Pap-purusha') came reeling out of his and walked before him. He saw again another person of placid mien in ochre-colored dress, with a trident in his hand similarly coming out of his body. He vehemently attacked the first and killed him. The burning sensation in the decreased for a short time after he had that vision. Similar burning sensations came on him again and again during his sadhana of madhur-bhava (attitude of a beloved) that was relieved by application of sandalwood paste and wearing flowers.
Sri Ramakrishna engaged himself in sadhana, assuming Hanuman's (the monkey God) attitude, for the purpose of attaining perfection in the dasya-bhava (servant mood). By thinking of Hanuman incessantly, he forgot altogether for some time his separate existence and individuality. At that time he used to walk, take his food and do all other actions like a monkey. He did not do this of his own accord, but the actions so happened of themselves. His eyes assumed a restless expression like those of animals of that species, and strange to say, the lower end of his backbone (coccyx) lengthened at that time by nearly an inch like a monkey's tail.
One day Sri Ramakrishna felt a creeping sensation in his palate and blood began to gush out of his mouth. He described it as the colour like that of juice of kidney-bean leaves. It was so thick that a portion of it fell away from the mouth.
One more significant change in his body, observed by many people and confirmed by his wife Ma Saradadevi, was the golden hue visible in his body. The was radiant and awe-inspiring. Sri Ramakrishna prayed to the Mother for taking away that celestial beauty and instead asked for the inner beauty of mind, afterwards the great change gradually disappeared.
During the sadhana of madhur-bhava, Sri Ramakrishna used to put on clothes and ornaments proper to a woman, like Sari, skirt, long wig of hair, and gold ornaments. His thoughts, words, and movements resembled those of a woman in every respect. It was observed that blood oozed out from his skin as a result of the extreme anguish due to the sense of separation from the beloved. He became so much absorbed in the constant thought of himself as a woman that he could not look upon himself as one of the other sex even in a dream. His and senses functioned naturally like those of a woman. There was enlargement of the breast also. He thought himself to be Radha and longed for the vision of the beloved, spiritual spouse, Sri Krishna. Sometimes his lay motionless, loose, and unconscious.
About sexual attitudes the following facts need to be mentioned: Sri Ramakrishna used to enter the super-conscious state even on the thought of sexual relation with woman. This aspect was repeatedly confirmed in his life during various situations including tantric sadhana of Hero worship. His married life also was absolutely pure without sex relationship with his wife. Sexual desire was as if an obnoxious stimulus for him from which he used to recoil, as we get away form the burning fire. One instance is given in this regard:
At one time, during his first four years of sadhana, Rani Rasmani and Mathur Babu (well wisher and close associates), thought that Sri Ramakrishna's perfect continence was responsible for what they considered to be his mental derangement and consequent restlessness. Imagining that he might regain his health if his continence was broken, they, with the best of intentions, tried to tempt him through some beautiful harlots with their amorous gestures. Sri Ramakrishna said that he saw the Divine Mother in those women, and after repeating, 'Mother, O Mother', a few times, he lost consciousness. His sex organ became contracted and entered completely into his like the limb of a tortoise.
During the sadhana of Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna tried to transcend all the limitations of mind duality. He landed into the state of highest non-dual consciousness and went into samadhi. For three continuous days Sri Ramakrishna was lost in that state, sitting like a stone -- lifeless to outer world and stimuli. His face was calm, serene, and radiant. Functions of his heart and lungs were examined, but he was dead like a wood to the external stimuli. After three days he gradually regained his normal consciousness.
During all these phases of life his common sense was intact, he was quick to achieve his goal with great intensity, and after each phase there was no evidence of any mental or bodily illness remaining in his person. On the contrary he appeared more and more learned, wise, and respectful. He had clear auditory experiences to remain at the threshold of non-dual consciousness.
In these states, he used to become identified with both living and non-living things, for instance:
Once in an ecstatic mood he identified with the grass in the lawn in front and noticed painful marks on his chest as if trampled by the persons walking over the lawn.
At another time, on the bank of Ganges when there was a fight between two boat workers, he became identified with the weaker of the two. Marks of injury were visible on his when those boatmen had a quarrel and one of them beat the other.
Late Adult Life: 1868 to 1886
After completion of Vedanta sadhana, Sri Ramakrishna having tasted the bliss of absolute consciousness settled down as a calm, collected, wise, and witty man of Dakshineswar. He had burnt all the worldly desires of name and fame, of lust and gold, in the flame of absolute knowledge. Anger, lust, jealousy, egotism, shame, fear, and pride had all vanished from his mind. Instead, qualities and virtues like equanimity, straightforwardness, simplicity, and total unselfishness projected through his personality.
In the later life the aversion to gold (representing money and material possessions) grew to such a great extent that it was not possible for him to touch any metal. His hand used to get twisted if it came in contact with some metal. Once Swami Vivekananda wanted to test the authenticity of this claim. Without anybody's knowledge, he hid a coin below the bed on which Sri Ramakrishna used to sleep. When Sri Ramakrishna sat on that bed, he shouted in pain as if electric shock was applied to his body.
Everyone was impressed with his spiritual knowledge, personality, and behaviour. His flights of divine ecstasy with or without provocation were unbelievable. During these states of altered consciousness, he used to lose outer consciousness, his hair used to stand on their head, tears used to flow from his eyes. He was seen talking with God and also had many mystic visions.
In 1885 the tragic terminal illness occurred as cancer of the throat. He could swallow only some liquid and soon he started losing weight. His got emaciated and thin. But his mind was as alert as before. His supra-human consciousness never left him and he never appeared worried about his illness. He passed away from the mortal bonds in the year 1886.
Medical Examination of God man
During his last illness, a very renowned physician - Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar was engaged to treat Sri Ramakrishna. This doctor was liberal, progressive, and scientific in outlook, a rationalist. He was highly impressed about the state of samadhi and other aspects of Sri Ramakrishna's life. But he was unable to explain the cause for such phenomena. He and other doctors had examined Sri Ramakrishna in his state of samadhi:
'One day the Master was in a deep samadhi, seated on his bed like a wooden statue. He had no outer consciousness. Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar checked his pulse and felt no throbbing. He then put his stethoscope on the Master's heart and did not get heartbeats. Next, the Doctor touched the Master's eyeballs with his finger, but still the Master's outer consciousness did not return. The doctor was dumb-founded. After some time the Master returned to the normal plane of consciousness, and began talking about God with the doctor.'
In the next section we will take up the explanations for these changes on the basis of modern medical science.
C S Shah
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