"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATAThe Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna according to Ram Chandra Datta  







 The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna according to Ram Chandra Datta




Swami Chetananda




     The Life of Ram Chandra Datta




     Ram Chandra Datta, a householder disciple of the Master, was one of the recorders of Ramakrishna’s gospel. Ram was born in Calcutta on 30 October 1851. From his boyhood Ram was very bold and straightforward in his convictions, and no one could persuade him to act contrary to them. He studied at the General Assembly’s Institution and later was admitted to the Campbell Medical School in Calcutta. Sometime after his graduation he was appointed as an assistant to the Government Quinine Examiner.


     Ram was deeply interested in science and studied chemistry under his English supervisor with great diligence. Having learned this subject thoroughly, Ram extracted from an indigenous medicinal plant an antidote for blood dysentery. This drug was approved by the government and was recommended by leading doctors. As a result, Ram’s fame spread and he was appointed a member of the Chemist Association of England. He was also promoted to the post of Government Chemical Examiner and was asked to teach the military students at the Calcutta Medical College.


     Ram’s great enthusiasm for science and modern knowledge made him an inspiring lecturer, but it also made him an atheist. In his own words: ‘In those days we did not believe in God. We considered that everything happens, changes, or dissolves by the force of nature. We were rank materialists, and we held the view that eating, sleeping, and creature comforts were the summum bonum of life.’ (1) Ram was fond of debating with others about God and religion and found great satisfaction in defeating his opponents. This ardour for atheism lasted five years.


     The death of his young daughter was a terrible shock to Ram, and a great change came over his life. On the evening of Kali Puja, sometime after his daughter’s death, he went up to the roof of his house and observed the houses of Calcutta glittering with lights. Above, the dark, clear sky was studded with twinkling stars. His grief-stricken heart seemed to be searching for something meaningful in that panorama of nature. All of a sudden he noticed some clouds passing overhead, driven by the wind. They quickly disappeared. Ram asked himself: ‘Where do they come from and where do they go? Does God exist? If so, can He be seen?’ (80).


     He started to visit different religious leaders of the Brahmo, Christian, and Hindu faiths, but no one could answer his questions about God and religion. During this time Ram’s family guru came to his house and wanted to initiate him. Ram was forthright. He said: ‘Sir, I don’t believe in God. I have terrible doubts about His existence. Can you tell me the way to realize God?’ The guru kept quiet. He did not know what to say.


     Ram became more and more determined to have his doubts removed and to satisfy his hunger for God. He studied many religious books but could find no satisfactory answers to his questions. At last he came to know about Ramakrishna from the writings of Keshab Chandra Sen, a Brahmo leader of Calcutta.


     On 13 November 1879, Ram went to Dakshineswar with Gopal Chandra Mitra and a cousin, Manomohan Mitra. As soon as they reached the Dakshineswar temple garden, they enquired about Ramakrishna and were directed to his room. But when they reached it they found the door shut, and their Western education made them hesitate to call out or knock. Just then Ramakrishna opened the door himself and asked them to come in. Ram noticed that Ramakrishna did not look like the traditional ochre-clad monk with matted hair and ash-smeared body. On the contrary, the Master was the embodiment of simplicity.


     Ramakrishna saluted them, addressing them as Narayana, and asked them to sit down. Then he smiled at Ram and said: ‘Hello, are you not a doctor? [Pointing to Hriday] He is suffering from fever. Could you check his pulse?’ Ram was astonished that Ramakrishna knew he was a doctor.


     From the very beginning Ramakrishna made Ram his own and would often inquire about his personal life and mental conflicts. Ram was greatly attracted to the Master and started visiting him every Sunday, returning home in the evening. Soon Ram felt bold enough to ask the questions that had been haunting him.



     Ram: ‘Does God exist? How can one see God?’



     Ramakrishna: ‘God really exists. You do not see any stars during the day, but that does not mean that the stars do not exist. There is butter in milk, but can anyone know it merely by sight? In order to get the butter you must churn the milk in a cool place before sunrise. If you want to catch fish in a pond, you have to learn the art of fishing from those who know it, and then you must sit patiently with a fishing rod, throwing the line into the water. Gradually the fish will grab your bait. Then, as soon as the float sinks, you can pull the fish to the shore. Similarly, you cannot realize God by a mere wish. Have faith in the instructions of a holy man. Make your mind like a fishing rod and your prana, or life-force, like a hook. Your devotion and japa are like the bait. Eventually you will be blessed by the vision of God.’ (81)


     Ram had recently been connected with the Brahmo Samaj, whose members did not believe in a God with form, so he was wondering how one could see a formless God. The Master read his mind and said: ‘Yes, God can be seen. Can God, whose creation is so beautiful and enchanting, be imperceptible?’



     Ram: ‘Is it possible to realize God in this life?’


     Ramakrishna: ‘You get what you desire. Faith alone is the key to success. … The more you advance in one direction, the more you leave behind the opposite direction. If you move ten steps towards the east, you move ten steps away from the west.’


     Ram: ‘But one must have tangible proof. Unless we have direct experience of God, how can our weak and doubting minds have faith in His existence?’



     Ramakrishna: ‘A typhoid patient in a delirious state clamours to take gallons of water and heaps of rice. But the physician pays no heed to these entreaties, nor does he prescribe medicine at the patient’s dictation. He knows what he is doing’ (81-2).


     Ram was very moved; he was impressed by Ramakrishna’s simple, convincing answers. He became so intoxicated listening to these divine discourses that he was reluctant to return home. Whenever he visited the Master, he would forget all about the world, his family, and his duties.


     As the days went by, Ram saw more and more of Ramakrishna’s extraordinary spiritual powers, and his scepticism was replaced by faith.


     Quite often the devotees of Ramakrishna would arrange festivals in their homes and would invite the Master and other devotees to attend. At these gatherings the Master would talk about God and sing and dance in ecstasy, filling the whole house with an intense atmosphere of spirituality. The host generally bore all the expenses of the feast, including paying the Master’s carriage fare and sometimes hiring a musician. Now, Ram was known for his miserliness, and when he started to calculate the expenses involved in hosting such a festival, he hesitated. But when Ramakrishna set a date to visit his home, Ram had a change of heart and gladly began to make the necessary preparations.


     On Saturday, 2 June 1883, the full moon day of the Bengali month of Vaishakh, Ramakrishna went to Ram’s house. Ram felt so blessed on this occasion that afterwards he would arrange a festival every year to celebrate that auspicious day. After this, Ram invited the Master to his house many times and became so expert in festival management that other devotees would consult him before inviting the Master to their homes.


     A true disciple carries out his teacher’s instructions to the letter, proving thereby his love for the teacher. The Master had said, ‘Those who serve the devotees, serve me.’ Ram strictly observed this commandment of the Master, serving the followers of Ramakri­shna with great devotion until the end of his life. He used to say, ‘He who calls on Ramakrishna is my nearest relative.’ His wife, Krishna­preyasi, was also very devout, and she cheerfully helped her husband in his spiritual path. Ram, furthermore, had heard the Master cautioning the devotees about money: ‘Just as water under a bridge is constantly flowing and as a result it never becomes stagnant and foul, so also the money earned by a real devotee should be spent for a noble cause rather than be accumulated. The desire for accumulation breeds the poison of attachment’ (86). Ram, therefore, did not save his earnings, but spent money freely for the good of others - especially for the poor, the needy, and the afflicted. He helped many students financially, even to the extent of providing free board and lodging in his own home. But Ram’s main interest was in arranging kirtan every evening in his home and feeding the thirty or so participants.


     Spiritual life is not always smooth. Ram and the other devotees would be absorbed in their singing until the late hours of the night, and this naturally caused much disturbance. Soon Ram’s neighbours began to complain. He then decided to buy a secluded garden house where he could hold kirtans and practise spiritual disciplines. When he informed the Master of his intention, Ramakrishna advised, ‘Buy such a solitary garden house that if a hundred murders were committed there no one would know it’ (ibid.). Accordingly, in the middle of 1883 Ram purchased a garden house at Kankurgachhi, a suburb just east of Calcutta.


     After a few months the Master said to Ram: ‘How is it that you have not yet taken me to the new garden you have purchased for holding kirtan? Let us go one day to your garden to see what it is like’ (ibid.). Ram was exuberant. Immediately he arranged everything for the Master’s visit. On 26 December 1883 the Master visited Ram’s garden house (Yogodyan). That visit is recorded in M’s Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.


     In September 1885 Ramakrishna moved to Shyampukur, in the northern section of Calcutta, for his cancer treatment. Ram took an active part in the arrangements that were made for the Master’s care. The stuffy and polluted atmosphere of Calcutta aggravated Ramakrishna’s illness. In accordance with his doctor’s advice, the devotees moved him to a garden house in Cossipore, a suburb north of Calcutta. Ram, as usual, took the managerial role there, and he also contributed money towards the Master’s living expenses according to his means.


     On 1 January 1886, Ramakrishna went into an extraordinary spiritual mood and blessed many devotees, saying, ‘Be illumined.’ Ram was one of those present on that occasion. Later he celebrated that day every year as ‘Kalpataru Day’ (Wish-fulfilling Day) at his garden house.


     On 17 January 1899, at 10:45 p.m., Ram breathed his last. His body was cremated on the bank of the Ganges and the relics were placed next to Ramakrishna’s temple at Yog­odyan. Before he passed away he told his disciples: ‘When I die please bury a little of the ashes of my body at the entrance to Yogodyan. Whoever enters this place will walk over my head, and thus I shall get the touch of the Master’s devotees’ feet forever.’




     Ramakrishna’s First Biography




     In 1885 when the Master heard that Ram was writing something about him, he cautioned Ram, saying: ‘Do not publish my biography now. If you do, my body will not last long.’ Ram honoured this request. But in July 1890, four years after the Master’s passing away, he wrote the first biography of Ramakrishna: Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsadever Jivanvrittanta.


     In the introduction to the biography Ram wrote:



     Whatever I have written in this book about Paramahamsadeva is based on some incidents I have witnessed myself, some I have heard directly from the Master, and some on information sent by Hridayram Mukhopadhyay, the Master’s nephew. I verified some incidents of the Master’s early life supplied by Hriday through Manomohan Mitra, who went to Kam­arpukur and compared them with the statements of the local people. (2)


     Ram further wrote:



     I had a keen desire to write a chronological biography of Paramahamsadeva, but failed because only the Master knew what he had done and none else. Even Hriday did not know everything about him although he constantly lived with him. I asked questions of the elderly people of Dakshineswar, but they also could not give any information about the Master. When the Master talked, he did not say anything about the date, month, or year. He only told us the chronology of his practising sadhana that we have recorded accordingly (ibid.).


     Ram’s biography of Ramakrishna is 240 pages long, with twenty-two chapters and an appendix. He describes the Master’s birth and early life, his coming to Calcutta and accepting the post of priest at the Kali temple of Dakshineswar, his vision of Kali, his various sadhanas, his marriage, his practising Christianity and Islam, his pilgrimage, his meeting with the great people of India, the coming of his devotees, the training of his disciples, and his passing away. Although this biography has tremendous historical value, it seems that Ram wrote and interpreted it according to his understanding.








     Ram was so moved by the teachings of Ramakrishna that he would go to Dakshin­eswar with paper and pencil to write down the Master’s immortal words. Seeing him taking notes, the Master said to Ram: ‘Why are you writing all these things? You will see, later your mind will be your guru.’ However, in May 1885 Ram compiled some of Ramakrishna’s important teachings that he had noted down and brought them out in a Bengali book entitled Tattwasara. A few of the devotees objected to this and they reported it to the Master. Ramakrishna called Ram aside one day and said: ‘Look here, some devotees informed me that you were publishing a book. What have you written?’ Ram replied that he had collected some of his teachings and put them together in a book. Ram then read some of it to the Master, who said: ‘Oh, you have written those teachings? Very good. Listen, if you think that you have written them you will get very little response from others; but if you think that the Lord is working through you then it will be in great demand.’ (3)


     Ram wrote in the introduction to his version of the Master’s gospel:




     The goal of Tattwasara is to spread the teachings of a holy man. It would be nice if a wise pandit would take over this task, but I am sorry to say that no one came forward. However, I have given a start and I believe that henceforth some competent people will write many books based on the teachings of Paramahamsadeva like Tattwasara and spread many profound truths of the spiritual realm.


     Finally, I should say that it is extremely difficult to express fully the words and ideas of the Master. For that reason, I suggest that those who want to attain true knowledge should go to Paramahamsadeva at the Kali temple of Dak­shineswar. Once in an ecstatic mood the Master said: ‘Those who come here with simple faith for pure knowledge and God realization, their desires will certainly be fulfilled.’ (4)



     There are six chapters in Tattwasara: God; The Nature of God, with Form and without Form; Brahman and Shakti; Methods of Sadhana; How to Attain God; and Necessity of Practising Sadhana. Ram included his own commentaries on Ramakrishna’s teachings in this book.




     Tattwa-prakashika, or Teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa




     In 1886 Ram collected more of the Master’s teachings, which he published in three volumes in 1886 and 1887 under the title Tattwa-prakashika, or Teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. This 460-page book includes 300 teachings. It should be noted that the gospel Ram recorded is different from other gospels. He wrote commentaries on the Master’s teachings according to his knowledge and comprehension, and elaborated them based on science, philosophy, folklore, and scripture.


     Ram wrote in the preface to this book:



     The gems of my heart are now published in the form of Tattwaprakashika for bringing happiness to humanity. The gems I received from the Master are undecaying and infinite. No thieves or robbers can steal them. None can have them until I offer them willingly. Previously I published some of these gems [in Tattwasara], and many people were eager to have more, so I have published this book in an enlarged form.



     As rainwater falls from above and takes form according to the container, so the Master’s teachings have been understood by people according to their capacity. I interpreted his teachings according to my knowledge. Some people think that material science, mental science, and spiritual science are contradictory; but the Master’s teachings harmonize all three sciences. (5)


     Like the gospel according to Girish Chandra Sen, the teachings of Ramakrishna in these books are recorded in Ram’s own language. In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, however, M tried to preserve the Master’s language in his record. In Tattwa-prakashika Ram included 300 of the Master’s teachings, with his own interpretations, in ten chapters: God; Difference between Brahman and Shakti; Nature of God, with Form and Formless; Maya; Place for Sadhana; Methods of Sadhana; Guru; God realization; Who is a True Spiritual Aspirant? and General Teachings: to the Monks and the Householders.


     It is noteworthy that Ram was the first person to publish a biography of Ramakri­shna, the first to build a temple for the worship of the Master’s relics, and the first to preach publicly that Ramakrishna was an avatara. His burning faith, devotion, renunciation, erudition, and his power to convince people made him an ideal evangelist. And more important, he had the blessings of his guru, Ramakrishna.


     From 1893 to 1897, Ram gave eighteen lectures on Ramakrishna’s life and teachings at the Star, City, and Minerva theatres. These lectures created a sensation in Calcutta. At first some of Ramakrishna’s devotees objected to these lectures, but Ram would not listen to them. He gave his first lecture on Good Friday in 1893, entitled ‘Is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa an Avatara?’ Ram substantiated his belief that Ramakrishna was an avatara through scriptural quotations, reasoning, empirical evidence, and incidents from his own personal experience. Ram’s writings and lectures about Ramakrishna are written in Bengali and have not been translated.








     1. Swami Chetanananda, They Lived with God (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1991), 79-80.

     2. Ram Chandra Datta, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsadever Jivan-vrittanta (Calcutta: Yog­odyan, 1950), iii.

     3. They Lived with God, 89.

     4. Ram Chandra Datta, Tattwasara, ed. Apurva Kumar Mukhopadhyay (Calcutta: Shashadhar Prakashani, 1983), i-ii.

     5. Ram Chandra Datta, Tattwa-prakashika (Calcutta: Yogodyan, 1891), i-ii.



International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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