About the Book:
No account of the religious and philosophical tradition of India would be complete without reference to the contribution of Sri Ramanuja (A.D. 1017-1137). For eight centuries and more he has been the life-philosopher and spiritual guide of millions of Hindus, who have looked upon him as their pathfinder here and hereafter. In innumerable homes and temples of India, especially in the Sough, deities are worshipped, festivals are held, and the daily found of duty is gone through according to his writ. From his life and teachings, wave upon wave of inspiration has flowed, influencing many religious movements in this vast and ancient land. After the wane of Buddhism, if India rediscovered her Vadic spiritual self, it was not a little because of Sri Ramanuja. He provided the love of God with an enduring philosophy, and philosophy with an abiding love of God. A traditionalist by conviction, he was none the less a benign revolutionary who ventured to make creative departures from the beaten track for the greater good of mankind.
About the Author:
Was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna noted for his holiness, spiritual insight, vast learning and zeal in the service of man and God. His importance in the tradition of the Ramakrishna order was recognized by his co-disciple and leader Swami Vavekananda when he described him as "the main pillar of the Math". He came to Madras in 1897, at Swami Vivekananda's behest, to pioneer the Ramakrishna movement in the South. With Madras as his head quarters, he worked for fourteen years to spread the liberating and redeeming gospel of Vedanta as taught by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. His life, which was lived under the most difficult circumstances, was one of such austerity that he fell a prey to consumption and died prematurely in 1911. An illumined soul, original thinker, accomplished scholar and great teacher, he not only interpreted and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna to the people of the South, but also expounded through his writings the spiritual message of the religious teachers of the South to the people of Bengal. The Life of Sri Ramanuja is one of the fruits of these latter endeavours.
On March 11, 1885, when Girishchandra and Narendranath (later Swami Vivekananda) were engaged in Sri Rama-krishna’s presence in a heated discussion as to whether God assumes a human body or He is ‘beyond word and thought’ and also ‘If God is infinity, how He could have parts’, the Master said to M. (the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna):
‘I do not enjoy these discussions. Why should I argue at all? I clearly see that God is everything; He himself has become all. I see that whatever is, is God. He is every- thing; again, He is beyond everything. I have come to a state in which my mind and intellect merge in the indivisible. . . . I cannot utter a word unless I come at least two steps from the plane of Samadhi. Sankara's nondualistic explanation is true, and so is the qualified nondualistic interpretation of Ramanuja.’
Many years later while describing the ‘reaction movements’ of resurgent Hinduism that followed the decadence of Buddhism in India, Swami Vivekananda wrote in a paper entitled The Historical Evolution of India.
‘. . . . The movement of Sankara forced its way through its high intellectuality, but it could be of little service to the masses, because of its adherence to strict caste laws, very small scope for ordinary emotion, and making Sanskrit the only vehicle of communication. Ramanuja, on the other hand, with a most practical philosophy, a great appeal to the emotions, an entire denial of birthrights before spiritual attainments and appeals through the popular tongue, completely succeeded in bringing the masses back to the Vedic religion.’
When, with this background of knowledge and experience, Swami Ramakrishnananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, came in March 1897 to live in the South and saw and felt the tremendous living influence of Sri Ramanuja on the spiritual and philosophical heritage of India, he almost felt an anguish-the impression of which can be seen in his own forceful introduction to the book-that in the Bengal of his time people unfortunately knew so little about this great Acharya. Notwithstanding great hardships imposed on him by his very trying circumstances, he kept on studying Ramanuja's life from all available sources, and from February 1899 began to write this life serially from the fourth issue of the Udbodhan, the newly started Bengali Journal of the Ramakrishna Order. And the writing continued for nearly eight years, providing delight and inspiration to earnest readers. Subsequently these articles were published in a book entitled Sri Ramanuja-charita.
The book which he so painstakingly wrote for the enlightenment of the people of Bengal had been all the time serving a great purpose, being perhaps the best available life of Sri Ramanuja in Bengali. What was given from the South specially to the people of Bengal, is today through this translation presented to all the English knowing people of the world.
To be sure, this book will not give the reader any information on Sri Ramanuja's life which is not already available in some book or other. But it will surely communicate the transforming power-and who can say we do not require it so urgently today in this distracted world of ours-of the great life of a mighty magnanimous world-teacher written by an illustrious apostle of another great world-teacher.
Whether one belongs to the ranks of orthodox followers or to those of the heterodox, in the pages of this book one will surely feel the faith as well as the fervour of the writer who was, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, 'more orthodox than the most orthodox man of the South and at the same time unique and unsurpassed in his worship of God and meditation on Him.'
At a time when a detailed English biography of Sri Ramanuja is not easily available, this book, we hope and trust, will meet a felt need of the reading public, and help serve the cause of Bhakti movement in the world.
The life-story of Sri Ramanuja, the great saint and teacher, was almost unknown to the common people of Bengal a few years ago. Once in a while during the course of discussion on the Brahma-sutras, some students of scriptures would come to know his name and of the Sribhashya written by him. And they would be content with the general notion "that the doctrine of Visishtadvaita, preached by Sri Ramanuja, is a rival one to Advaita as propounded by the great Sri Sankara." In recent times it was Acharya Swami Vivekananda alone who in his speeches made clear references to Sri Ramanuja and the quintessence of his doctrine and thus drew to them the attention of the common people. And it was Swami Ramakrishnananda, the writer of this book, that for the first time wrote serially in the Udbodhan for the enlightenment of the common people of Bengal a detailed account of the wonderful life, teachings and activities of the Acharya. Staying as he was for a long time in Madras, the birth-place of the Acharya, he was in a position to consult the necessary source-books for the purpose.
This fairly big book was published serially in the Udbodhan for eight long years beginning from the month of Phalgum of 1305 (Bengali Era) to the month of Kartik of 1313. And the readers of the Udbodhan are not had the idea of presenting to the readers this book which was the fruit of the selfless labour of Swami Rama-krishnananda in the lifetime of its author. But the publication of the book was delayed owing to adverse circumstances, especially the passing away of the author on August 21, 1911 (4th Bhadra, 1318), leaving incomplete the work of correcting the manuscripts.
Swami Ramakrishnananda, the highly accomplished President of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, attained Mahasamadhi at 1-10 p.m. on August 21, 1911. Himself whole-heartedly dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, the Swami was one of the pioneer preachers of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Born in 1863, he lived only for forty-nine years with us here on earth. But he has left a deep impression behind. On the one hand, his supreme devotion to the Guru, fixity of purpose, absorption in service, blazing renunciation and devotion to God made the winsome Swami an ideal to the devotees; on the other hand, his learning, discernment, humility, knowledge of scriptures, sympathy and generosity made him a haven of hope and peace for the people scorched by the miseries of the world.
While yet a student, first at the Olbert College and then at the Metropolitan College, a fervent yearning for spiritual attainment was noticed in Swami Ramakrishnananda. By witnessing his attachment to ritualistic worship in boyhood, his subsequent study of such books as the Bible, the Chaitanya Charitamrita, etc., and his enthusiastic attendance at religious lectures and the prayer-chapel of Keshab Chandra, the great Brahmo preacher, one could understand how keen that yearning was in his heart! This yearning reached its final consummation in October 1833, when, yet a student, he came to the feet of Sri Ramakrishna, where he found eternal peace.
Thought his contact had brought about a complete transformation in his life, he continued to live at home, frequently visiting Sri Guru. Then he renounced his home and came to stay at the residence of the Sri Guru in the Cossipore garden house. And, at last, after the passing away of Sri Guru in 1886, he lived for about twelve years in the Baranagore Math with the sole preoccupation of serving and worshipping his Sripaduka (holy sandals).
After his great work in the West, the most revered Acharya Swami Vivekananda returned for the first time to the Math in the beginning of 1897 and with the help of his brother-disciples, established various welfare projects for the good of the people. In obedience to the command of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramakrishnananda went to Madras in March 1897 with a view to establishing there a centre of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. And for about fourteen years, from 1897 to 1911, he lived there and, following the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda, taught the people of South India the transcendent message of Sri Guru which reconciles all sects.
As a result of the divine life lived and self-immolating labours done by Swami Ramakrishnananda, a veritable hero among those who had found shelter at the feet of Sri Guru, many noble deeds came to be performed in Madras and in South India generally. Great was the grief of the people of madras and South India at his passing away. Even today his memory is cherished by them with reverence and gratitude.
Few in Bengal know about Bhagavan Sri Ramanuja. This is so because here there are very few who follow the doctrines of that Mahatma and belong to what is known as Sri-sampradaya. But their influence is paramount in South India. It is time that people of this part of the country knew what religious doctrine he preached and on the basis of what philosophical conclusions (Siddhanta); whether this doctrine was in vogue prior to his time; why his followers are known as Sri-sampradayis; and whether there is any agreement between his and Bhagavan Sri Sankaracharya's doctrine of non-duality. It is sheer short-sightedness to remain ignorant of the life and teachings of that great soul, who is worshipped by his followers as the manifestation of Sri Lakshmana, the prince among devotees; whose loving heart is the refuge of one and all, right from Brahma to a blade of grass; and whose incisive and well-reasoned arguments stand arrayed to meet the impregnable Advaitic doctrines of Bhagavan Sri Sankaracharya of immeasurable intellectual powers. He is still a great influence among the followers of his school whom his teachings have enabled to withstand the materialism and atheism of the present century and to reflect, even in spite of all the changes that have come over their mode of life, a little of that overflowing love of his Rishi-heart in their pure vegetarian habits, which is a token of their acceptance of the principle that it is a heinous sin to slaughter fellow living beings for the upkeep of this corrupt body of ours.
The lives of the great ones are always consecrated to the good of the many. They descend on earth for no selfish ends of their own. They are ever preoccupied with the thought how to remove the afflictions of the lowly, the indigent and the helpless. This is why searching and thorough study of their lives is immensely beneficial. By knowing and following the path discovered by these great ones by their deep and constant meditation on the good of all living beings, one can live one's life here on earth in supreme happiness and, what is more, can find one's way to heavenly bliss or liberation hereafter. Is it not the paramount duty of all intelligent people to drink, from the life-stories of the great ones, the elixir which brings good in this world and the next.
Supremely glorious and large-hearted, Sri Ramanuja is among the foremost of such Mahatmas. The path shown by him is established on Sattva. Not being unsteady and fleeting like those resting on Rajas and Tamas, it yields everlasting results. All who aspire to share in ever-abiding supreme bliss should follow in the footsteps of the magnanimous ones like Bhagavan Sri Ramanuja. "There is no other way but this." The rich and the poor, the erudite the path shown by this Mahatma with great ease and much benefit.
One word more. It is more profitable to study the lives of the great ones than to repeat parrot-wise hard and abstruse homilies. When the maxims - which, being abstract, are difficult to grasp - find concrete expression in the lives of the great ones, they can be easily comprehended and followed by average people. By even unthinkingly following in their footsteps, men advance in the path of virtue, gradually overcome animal impulses, and become fit to find refuge in the Divine. From one's very boyhood, one continually hears it said that to tell the truth is one's duty. But after witnessing the systematic violation of truth wherever one may turn one's eyes, one gets almost convinced that the maxims about truthfulness can at best adorn the pages of books of ethics and that in practice speaking of unalloyed truth is an utter impossibility. Such an idea would have established itself in the human mind, like the immovable and unshakable Mount Sumeru, had there not been born in this world those noble ones who are veritable images of truth itself.
God, the all-powerful Father of all, out of infinite compassion for His children, comes into this world, assuming the forms of holy men, to resuscitate religion and help men forward in the path which leads to good here and hereafter. Is it not then the duty of every one to study the lives of such holy personages?
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