The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
according to Suresh Chandra Datta
Life of Suresh Chandra Datta
Chandra Datta, one of the recorders of Ramakrishna’s gospel,
was born in west Calcutta in 1850. From his boyhood Suresh
was honest, humble, simple, and self-reliant. He was a highly
educated and talented man. From time to time Suresh would
attend Keshab Chandra Sen’s lectures with Durgacharan Nag,
a neighbour. At night they would meditate with Keshab’s devotees
on the bank of the Ganges. Durgacharan longed for God and
sought a guru to guide him.
evening Suresh went to Durgacharan’s house to discuss religion.
Suresh was a staunch follower of Keshab’s Brahmo Samaj, which
advocated belief in God without form. Like Christians, Brahmos
considered God as formless but full of divine qualities: God
is omnipotent and omniscient, merciful and forgiving, kind
and loving, and so on. Durgacharan, however, was an orthodox
Hindu who obeyed every scriptural injunction. The two men
had heated religious discussions every evening, but their
different views were never reconciled. During one of their
friendly squabbles, Durgacharan said to Suresh: ‘The gods
and goddesses of the Hindus as well as the formless Brahman
are all true. But attaining Brahman is so difficult, I doubt
whether one or two in a million can ever reach this stage.
Hence arises the necessity of believing in the various gods
and goddesses of Hinduism. Do you think that the Vedas, Puranas,
Tantras, and mantras are all false?’ Suresh retorted: ‘Uncle,
set aside your scriptures. I have no faith in them.’
during one of his visits to the Brahmo Samaj, Suresh happened
to hear about Ramakrishna, the saint of Dakshineswar. He
waited for two months before he suggested to Durgacharan that
they visit the Master. After lunch that very day, they left
was a hot summer day in April or May, probably in 1883. They
arrived at Dakshineswar at 2:00 p.m. Both men were delighted
by the panoramic view of the temple garden, and they enjoyed
its peaceful atmosphere. Ramakrishna received them graciously
and asked them to sit down. He talked to them for some time.
In the course of conversation, Ramakrishna said: ‘Live in
this world like a mudfish. There is nothing wrong in staying
at home. The mudfish lives in the mud but is not soiled by
it. Similarly, live in this world but never be contaminated
by its evils.’ (1) Then Ramakrishna sent them to the Panchavati
grove to meditate. After half an hour they returned to the
Master’s room, and Ramakrishna took them round to the various
temples in the Dakshineswar compound. He first walked to the
twelve Shiva temples and prostrated before each deity, circumambulating
their respective shrines. Durgacharan followed the Master’s
example, but Suresh merely looked on, for he had no faith
in Hindu gods and goddesses.
next took them to the Krishna and Kali temples. Both Suresh
and Durgacharan were astonished by the ecstatic mood that
came over the Master when he entered the Kali temple. As a
restless child holds on to the hem of its mother’s garment
and moves around her, so the Master went round the image of
Kali and prostrated before Her. About 5:00 p.m., after returning
to the Master’s room, Suresh and Durgacharan took their leave.
Ramakrishna gave them this parting advice: ‘Come again. Our
acquaintance will grow deeper if you keep coming regularly
for some time.’
experience of that first meeting left an indelible impression
on their minds, and they could not help but talk about Ramakrishna.
The next week they both visited the Master again. On seeing
these two sincere seekers, Ramakrishna exclaimed in an ecstatic
mood: ‘You have done well in coming again. I have been waiting
here for you for a long time.’ The Master once again asked
them to meditate in the Panchavati grove.
visited the Master eight or nine times with Durgacharan. Undoubtedly
he must have visited Ramakrishna many more times alone or
with others, otherwise he could not have collected so many
of the Master’s teachings. He published these teachings in
a book during Ramakrishna’s lifetime. Suresh was not the first
to record and publish Ramkrishna’s teachings, but the second.
1885, during the Afghan War, Suresh was given a job in a military
department that paid a monthly salary of two hundred rupees.
He was assigned to Quetta, in the north-western part of India.
Before his departure from Calcutta, Durgacharan urged Suresh
to receive initiation from the Master. But Suresh had no faith
in mantras or in God with form. After a prolonged discussion
with Durgacharan on this point, they agreed that Suresh should
abide by the Master’s wishes.
next day both men went to Dakshineswar, and Durgacharan raised
the question of initiation. ‘Yes, Durgacharan is right,’ Ramakrishna
said to Suresh. ‘A person should practise spiritual disciplines
under the direction of a guru. What prevents you from admitting
this?’ ‘Sir, I have no faith in mantras,’ replied Suresh humbly.
‘All right,’ said the Master. ‘Don’t worry about it now. Everything
will come in time’ (235).
Quetta it was not long before Suresh began to feel the need
for initiation very keenly. He continued his spiritual disciplines
as usual. During this time an ugly incident tested his strength
of character. Suresh was extremely honest. His manager tried
to embezzle some money, and he asked Suresh to sign false
bills. Suresh refused, and as a result he was forced to resign
and return to Calcutta.
day in 1886 Suresh went to see Ramakrishna at the Cossipore
garden house. The Master was then bedridden because of his
illness. He asked Suresh: ‘Where is your doctor friend [Durgacharan]?
He is said to be a good physician. Tell him to come here sometime
soon’ (236). Seeing the Master’s fragile condition, Suresh
could not bring himself to ask for initiation. Instead, he
went home and informed Durgacharan that the Master wanted
to see him.
the Master’s passing on 16 August 1886, Suresh regretted not
having followed his friend’s advice about asking for initiation.
He lamented his poor decision and passed his nights in prayer
and meditation on the bank of the Ganges. One night he fell
asleep while crying to God on the riverbank. Sometime before
daybreak the next morning he dreamt that Ramakrishna had come
out of the water and approached him, and then uttered a mantra
in his ear. As Suresh was about to take the dust of Ramakrishna’s
feet, he disappeared. At this point, Suresh’s life changed
and he became an ardent devotee of the Master.
Brief Biography of Ramakrishna
Chandra Datta wrote a small biography (2) as an introduction
to his collection of the Master’s teachings, Sri Sri Ramakrishnadever
Upadesh. In this biography he published some wonderful
stories about the Master. I present some of these stories
here. Kshudiram’s vision: Before Ramakrishna was born,
his father, Kshudiram, had a vision of Vishnu in which the
god said He would be born as his son.
early days in Dakshineswar: The Master had a wonderful
relationship with Rani Rasmani, the founder of the Kali temple,
and her son-in-law Mathur. Ramakrishna practised Tantra, Vedanta,
and various other spiritual disciplines. He eventually realized
God by practising different spiritual disciplines and religions.
Due to his intense longing, he had his first vision of the
renunciation: To test his purity, Mathur once took the
Master to visit some alluring young women. But the Master
had renounced lust. As soon as the Master saw the women, he
addressed them as ‘Oh, my blissful mothers,’ and then went
into samadhi. They were embarrassed and begged forgiveness
from the Master, asking him to bless them. Ramakrishna had
also given up money; he could not even touch it. Saying ‘Money
is clay and clay is money,’ he threw a rupee and a clod of
dirt into the Ganges. When Mathur offered money and property
to him, the Master was so angry that he almost hit Mathur.
childlike nature: The Master was a true paramahamsa, so
his nature was childlike. Once in ecstasy, while trying to
embrace Lord Krishna, he fell and broke his right arm. He
cried like a boy and was deeply distressed. But he had the
faith of a child. During that time a man came from Calcutta
and said, ‘Sir, your hand will be all right. It will heal.’
The Master was immediately relieved. He told his visitors:
‘Look, this man has come from Calcutta and says that my hand
will be all right. So I will be all right.’
he saw steamers passing on the Ganges, and a desire arose
to see a steamer up close and find out how its engine made
that jhak jhak sound. He was a real paramahamsa; so
his nature was childlike.
Master’s Vaishnava sadhana: When Ramakrishna was practising
spiritual disciplines in the mood of Radha, he dressed and
acted like a woman. When he practised the servant attitude
towards Ramachandra, he behaved like Hanuman. While practising
humility, he cleaned the privy at the Dakshineswar temple
garden. Although he was a brahmin priest, he did not consider
himself to be higher than the untouchable sweeper.
Master as an avatara: In the course of time, Ramakrishna
became known among Calcutta people through Keshab Chandra
Sen, Vijaykrishna Goswami, and other Brahmo leaders. The famous
scholars Pandit Vaishnavcharan, Pandit Gauri, and Pandit Padmalochan
all recognized him as an avatara.
a great scholar visited Dakshineswar to evaluate Ramakrishna’s
spirituality. The Master was in his room, surrounded by his
devotees. The scholar entered the room and asked: ‘Are you
a paramahamsa?’ He found the Master seated on a soft bed,
with a bolster at his back. He saw the Master’s shoes and
other articles in his room. He then sat on the Master’s bed
and told the devotees: ‘You have come from Calcutta to see
a paramahamsa! You are all deceived by this man. I have read
the scriptures and I know the signs of a paramahamsa.’ He
then quoted the scripture where the signs of a paramahamsa
are mentioned. Disgusted, the scholar left the room; he had
expected Ramakrishna to be an austere hermit. The scholar
went to the bank of the Ganges to practise his evening meditation.
While he was concentrating on his Chosen Ideal, he had a vision.
He immediately rushed to the Master and found him in samadhi.
The scholar stood in front of Ramakrishna and exclaimed with
folded hands: ‘You are God!’ (75-77).
he talked about God, the Master would merge into samadhi.
He lost consciousness of the outside world, his face would
beam with a sweet smile, and tears would trickle from his
eyes. Only after hearing the Lord’s name would he become normal
again. Pointing to his picture, Ramakrishna said: ‘In the
future, I will be worshipped in many homes.’
Sri Ramakrishnadever Upadesh
mentioned earlier, Suresh met Ramakrishna in 1883. After associating
with him for a couple of years, he discovered that the Master’s
teachings were more precious than gems and jewels. He felt
that the words of the Master must be recorded. He had heard
many sermons at the Brahmo Samaj and had read its literature.
Ramakrishna’s simple, convincing words and examples, stories
and parables made a deep impression on his mind. He asked
some of the Master’s close disciples who lived with him to
record his teachings. But the disciples were too absorbed
in the bliss of the Master’s holy presence and overwhelmed
by his personality to do such a thing at that time.
driven by evangelical inspiration, Suresh began recording
the teachings of the Master that he heard directly from him.
Haramohan Mitra, another householder disciple of the Master,
had some experience in publishing. He came forward to help
Suresh, and in December 1884 he published 100 of the Master’s
teachings while Ramakrishna was still alive. The second part,
which comprised another 100 teachings, came out in 1886. Inspired,
Suresh started collecting even more of the Master’s teachings
from other disciples who had heard them directly from the
Master. Thus Suresh collected 600 teachings. In 1894 he combined
all of the teachings he had collected and added a biography
of the Master. Thus Sri Sri Ramakrishnadever Upadesh
came into existence. The rapid sale of the book inspired both
Haramohan and Suresh. Over time, Suresh added to his collection;
the book now contains 950 teachings. (3) These wonderful teachings
of Ramakrishna have not yet been translated into English in
their entirety. Some stories and teachings appear in different
forms in Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna (published by
Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata) and Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna
(published by Ramakrishna Math, Chennai).
wrote in the introduction that if anybody could prove that
any of the teachings or stories in his collection were not
true, or distorted or exaggerated, he would make corrections
in the next edition. He did not accept any second-hand information.
Moreover, he verified the information that he collected by
checking with at least one other source. He did not interpret
the Master’s teachings because he wanted to let the readers
understand Ramakrishna in their own way.
died in 1912.
Teachings from Sri Sri Ramakrishnadever Upadesh
You see many stars in the sky at night, but not when the sun
rises. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the
heavens during the day? O human beings, because you do not
find God in your ignorance, say not that there is no God.
God dwells in all beings, but all beings do not identify themselves
with God, so they suffer.
Some people shed a jugful of tears to have children; some
cry for money and property; but who longs to see God? Those
who want God, find Him.
In this Kaliyuga a human being can attain perfection in three
days. Those who cry with a longing heart for God day and night
Question: ‘How can one ascertain the state of perfection?’
‘As potatoes and eggplants become soft when they are boiled,
so people become very soft or humble when they attain perfection.
Their egos dissolve completely.’
A room may be dark for a thousand years, but it is lighted
instantly as soon as a lamp is lit. Similarly, one glance
of God’s grace can wipe away sins accumulated in thousands
If one drops a salt doll, a cloth doll, and a stone doll in
the ocean, the salt doll melts instantly and loses its individual
existence. The cloth doll becomes soaked with water; it does
not become one with it, and it maintains its own separate
existence. Water does not enter into the stone doll at all.
A free soul is like the salt doll, a worldly soul is like
the cloth doll, and a bound soul is like the stone doll.
The sun may shine equally everywhere, but it reflects more
clearly in clean water, mirrors, and other transparent objects.
Similarly, God may dwell in every heart, but He manifests
more completely in the hearts of holy people.
Tears of repentance and tears of joy come out from opposite
corners of the eyes: the former from the inner corner and
the latter from the outer corner.
Question: ‘Nowadays many preachers are preaching religion.
What do you think of them?’
Answer: ‘It is like a man who has food for one person, but
he has invited one hundred. After practising a little sadhana,
he has started to make money by initiating disciples like
a professional guru.’
Question: ‘What is real preaching?’
‘Real preaching requires that one be absorbed in God before
preaching spirituality to others. He who tries to make himself
free, preaches well. Hundreds of people from all directions
come to one who is free and they ask for instruction. When
the flowers bloom, bees come of their own accord.’
Let the boat be in the water, but not water in the boat. Let
a spiritual aspirant live in the world, but let not worldliness
enter inside him.
The same God manifested here as Krishna and manifested there
God laughs twice. When two brothers divide the land, saying,
‘This part is mine and that part is yours,’ God laughs. He
says to Himself, ‘The whole universe belongs to Me, but they
say they own this portion or that portion.’ When the physician
says to a patient’s mother, ‘Don’t be afraid, mother; I shall
certainly cure your boy,’ God laughs. He says to Himself,
‘I am going to take his life, and this man says he will save
When shall I be free? When ‘I’ ceases to be. If ‘I’ wants
to remain, let it stay as a servant-I of God.
Neither sin nor mercury can be hidden.
One who eats radish belches radish; one who eats cucumber
belches cucumber. What is inside a person comes out through
his or her speech.
One cannot see God without renouncing lust and gold.
Question: ‘What should I do with bad thoughts?’
Answer: ‘Let bad thoughts arise in the mind; they cannot
do any harm until you do something wrong.’
Once the Master said, ‘If you want to understand after hearing
one sentence, come to me. And if you want to understand after
hearing a million sentences, go to Keshab Chandra Sen.’ A
man asked him, ‘Please give me knowledge in one sentence.’
He said, ‘Jagat mithya brahma satya; This world is
impermanent and Brahman is real.’
One cannot achieve anything if there is any theft in the chamber
of the heart [meaning hypocrisy].
Friend, as long as I live so long do I learn.
As many faiths, so many paths. Have steadfast devotion to
your path, but never hate or criticize the paths of others.
God loves simplicity. Call on Him with a simple and pure mind.
You will then surely find Him (21-208).
Swami Chetanananda, They Lived with God (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1991), 232.
Suresh Chandra Datta, Ramakrishna Paramahamsadever Jivani
o Upadesh (Calcutta, 1908), 1-82.
Sri Sri Ramakrishnadever Upadesh, comp. Suresh Chandra
Datta (Calcutta: Haramohan Publishing, 1968).