Sri (1836-86) was a multifaceted and mystifying figure. To some he remains a madman; to many others, a . In my opinion he was both. Indeed, the most intriguing question about his life and spiritual pilgrimage was how he was transformed from the one into the other, from the "madman" of his early years into the saintly teacher of the later years. He struggled through loss, despair and self-destructive frenzy to emerge as a sensitive and wise man, and as an incarnation of all that is held sacred by millions of persons within and elsewhere. The primary purpose of this essay is to seek an understanding of this transformation, for far beyond its healing and renewing effects upon one individual it has had wide-spread and enduring influence upon the religious life of India. The integrity and authenticity of what he came to personify became a central factor in the modern renewal of the Hindu religious tradition, inspiring in his followers both a conviction as to the vitality of their tradition and a capacity to nurture and develop that vitality. However, the very dynamism of the renewed tradition that sprang from Sri Ramakrishna, while making dramatically clear his greatness and significance, at the same time poses obstacles to any attempt to understand the precise nature of his spiritual development. All living traditions naturally and inevitably reinterpret the sources of their inspiration as their contexts and concerns change. In these reinterpretations, certain aspects are highlighted while others are de-emphasized, leading to an obscuration of the particular nature of the original inspiration. The intent in a healthy tradition, of course, is not to obscure or distort the original, but rather to continue and extend its beneficial influence in the new circumstances. The effects of this inevitable reinterpretation were especially dramatic in the case of Sri Ramakrishna because his greatest disciple, , almost immediately projected on a world-wide

* This essay was written in 1964 at Yale Divinity School under the guidance of Professor Norvin J. Hein. The writer owes a debt of gratitude to Professor Hein for his encouragement and his assistance in the final editing. 54 WALTER G. NEEVEL, JR. scale the message of his Master, the paramahal?Jsa of Dakshindwar who had never been out of India and only rarely out of his native . To his world-wide audience, Swami Vivekananda quite naturally emphasized his Master's teaching of the "truth" within all ; and it is with this "" that Sri Ramakrishna and the , which Swami Vivekananda founded, are most commonly associated. While this universal aspect is certainly there in his teachings, it is not to my mind the most appropriate focal point for an understanding of Sri Ramakrishna himself. Indeed, his most striking characteristic was his "particularity." He was consumately Hindu-in 's phrasing, " ... the con• sumation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people." 1 Sri Ramakrishna had only the most cursory ac• quaintance with anything outside of Hindu and culture; and his universality developed out of the widely inclusive nature of his particularity. If we are to understand him adequately, our focus must be on the latter rather than the former. A second shift of focus that poses an obstacle to our task was caused by the fact that Swami Vivekananda and the later Mission have presented their Master's life and teachings in terms of a systematic philosophy generally called "Neo-V edanta" or "Neo-Advaita," indicating that it is a reinterpretation of the classical Advaita of the great philosopher Sankaracarya. However, when one turns from the later systematic and biographical writings to the well-attested sayings of Sri Ramakrishna himself, one finds oneself in a confusion of unsystematic and seemingly conflicting materials, a confusion that is at first only heightened, and not resolved, by the contrasting clarity of the later presentations. While Sri Rama• krishna was an intelligent person capable of subtle speculation, his dialogues clearly reveal him to have been a mystic and bhakta who disparaged the power of the intellect, denied the possibility and necessity of rational understanding of the Divine, and held in small honor those who were preoccupied with philosophical and theological considerations. He often broke into song with words such as these:

Who is there that can understand what Mother Killi is? Even the six darSanas are powerless to reveal her ...2

1 Romain Rolland, Prophets of the New India (N. Y., Albert and Charles Boni, 1930), p. xxvi. 2 , trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (N. Y., Rama• krishna-Vivekananda Center, 1952), p. 618.