Ramakrishna was born in 1836, in the village of Kamarpukur, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, into a very poor but pious, orthodox brahmin family.Located far from the railroad, Kamarpukur was untouched by the glamour of the city and contained rice fields, tall palms, royal banyans, a few lakes, and two cremation grounds. His parents were Khudiram Chattopâdhyâya and Chandramani Devî. According to traditional accounts, Ramakrishna's parents experienced supernatural incidents, visions before his birth. His father Khudiram had a dream in Gaya in which Lord Gadadhara (a form of god Vishnu), said that he would be born as his son. Chandramani Devi is said to have had a vision of light entering her womb from Shiva's temple.
Ramakrishna was a popular figure in the village, with a natural gift for fine arts. Though he attended a village school with some regularity for 12 years, he later rejected the traditional schooling saying that he was not interested in a "bread-winning education". Kamarpukur, being a transit-point in well-established pilgrimage routes toPuri, brought him into contact with renunciates and holy men. He became well-versed in the Puranas, theRamayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana, hearing them from wandering monks and the Kathaks—a class of men in ancient India who preached and sang the Purāṇas. He could read and write in Bengali.
Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy at the age of six: while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state.Ramakrishna reportedly had experiences of similar nature a few other times in his childhood—while worshipping the goddess Vishalakshi, and portraying god Shiva in a drama during Shivaratri festival. From his tenth or eleventh year on, the trances became common, and by the final years of his life, Ramakrishna's samādhi periods occurred almost daily.
Ramakrishna's father died in 1843, after which time family responsibilities fell on his elder brother Ramkumar. This loss drew him closer to his mother, and he spent his time in household activities and daily worship of the household deities and became more involved in contemplative activities such as reading the sacred epics. When Ramakrishna was in his teens, the family's financial position worsened. Ramkumar started a Sanskrit school in Calcutta and also served as a priest. Ramakrishna moved to Calcutta in 1852 with Ramkumar to assist in the priestly work.
In 1855 Ramkumar was appointed as the priest of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, built by Rani Rashmoni—a rich woman of Calcutta who belonged to the kaivartacommunity. Ramakrishna, along with his nephew Hriday, became assistants to Ramkumar, with Ramakrishna given the task of decorating the deity. When Ramkumar died in 1856, Ramakrishna took his place as the priest of the Kali temple. The name Ramakrishna is said to have been given to him by Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rani Rashmoni.
After Ramkumar's death Ramakrishna became more contemplative. He began to look upon the image of the goddess Kali as his mother and the mother of the universe. He became seized by a desire to have a darshana (vision) of Kali—a direct realization of her reality—and believed the stone image to be living and breathing and taking food out of his hand. At times he would weep bitterly and cry out loudly while worshipping, and would not be comforted, because he could not see his mother Kali as perfectly as he wished. People became divided in their opinions—some held Ramakrishna to be mad, and some took him to be a great lover of God. Ramakrishna was said to become deeply offended when others would not show the same level of devotion for the goddess Kali as he did. He would become angry when others would tell him that he was not really experiencing the presence of Kali. Yet Through his faith, and his spiritual devotion, others would soon begin to believe in not only what Ramakrishna was seeing, but in his teachings as well. One day, brought to the point of suicide by this longing, he had the experience of goddess Kali as the universal Mother, which he described as "... houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However, far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me."
Rumors spread to Kamarpukur that Ramakrishna had become unstable as a result of his spiritual exercises at Dakshineswar. Ramakrishna's mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get Ramakrishna married, thinking that marriage would be a good steadying influence upon him—by forcing him to accept responsibility and to keep his attention on normal affairs rather than being obsessed with his spiritual practices and visions. Far from objecting to the marriage, Ramakrishna mentioned that they could find the bride at the house of Ramchandra Mukherjee in Jayrambati, three miles to the north-west of Kamarpukur. The five-year-old bride, Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya was found and the marriage was duly solemnised in 1859. Ramakrishna was 23 at this point, but the age difference was typical for 19th century rural Bengal. They later spent three months together in Kamarpukur. Sarada Devi was fourteen while Ramakrishna was thirty-two. Ramakrishna became a very influential figure in Sarada’s life, and she became a strong follower of his teachings. Their marriage is now seen in India, to be one of the most spiritual and perfect unions between a man and a woman. . After the marriage, Sarada stayed at Jayrambati and joined Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar at the age of 18.
After his marriage Ramakrishna returned to Calcutta and resumed the charges of the temple again, but instead of toning down, his spiritual fervour and devotion only increased. To cultivate humility and eliminate the distinction between his own high Brahmin caste and pariahs belonging of low caste he would clean their quarters with his own hands and long hair.
He would take gold and silver coins, and mixing them with rubbish, repeat "money is rubbish, money is rubbish". He later said that "I lost all perception of difference between the two in my mind, and threw them both into the Ganges. No wonder people took me for mad." According to Swami Vivekananda, his hatred for money became so instinctive that his body would shrink back convulsively if it were touched with a coin, even when asleep.
Many of his religious views were based on traditional Hindu thought and practice. Ramakrishna’s personal and religious views focused on living a traditional life, with Hindu gods at the center. It was very much a philosophy of godly worship and dependence. He believed that everything in life–caste, wealth, family, and personal achievement–was already determined by the gods. Though in regards to other religions, Ramakrishna did not hold traditional biased views. He believed that every religion was welcome, and that worshiping a god in any way was better than not worshiping one at all. He became very known for his views on religious tolerance and was seen as a saintly figure to many because of them. His views of tolerance were also passed on through the Ramakrishna Mission and his followers.
In 1861, Bhairavi Brahmani, an orange-robed, middle-aged female ascetic, appeared at Dakshineshwar. She carried with her the Raghuvir Shila, a stone icon representing Ram and all Vaishnavadeities. She was thoroughly conversant with the texts of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and practiced Tantra. According to the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna was experiencing phenomena that accompanymahabhava—the supreme attitude of loving devotion towards the divine–and quoting from the bhakti shastras, she said that other religious figures like Radha and Chaitanya had similar experiences.
The Bhairavi initiated Ramakrishna into Tantra. Tantrism focuses on the worship of shakti and the object of Tantric training is to transcend the barriers between the holy and unholy as a means of achieving liberation and to see all aspects of the natural world as manifestations of the divine shakti. Under her guidance, he went through a full course of sixty four major tantric sadhanas which were completed in 1863. He began with mantra rituals such as japa and purascarana and many other rituals designed to purify the mind and establish self-control. He later proceeded towards tantric sadhanas, which generally include a set of heterodox practices called vamachara (left-hand path), which utilize as a means of liberation, activities like eating of parched grain, fish and meat along with drinking of wine and sexual intercourse. According to Ramakrishna and his biographers, Ramakrishna did not directly participate in the last two of those activities, all that he needed was a suggestion of them to produce the desired result. Ramakrishna acknowledged the left-hand tantric path, though it had "undesirable features", as one of the "valid roads to God-realization", he consistently cautioned his devotees and disciples against associating with it.
Ramakrishna took the attitude of a son towards the Bhairavi. The Bhairavi on the other hand looked upon Ramakrishna as an avatara, or incarnation of the divine, and was the first person to openly declare that Ramakrishna was an avatara. The Bhairavi also taught Ramakrishna the kumari-puja, a form of ritual in which the Virgin Goddess is worshiped symbolically in the form of a young girl.Under the tutelage of the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna also became an adept at Kundalini Yoga. The Bhairavi, with the yogic techniques and the tantra played an important part in the initial spiritual development of Ramakrishna.
The Vaishnava Bhakti traditions speak of five different moods, referred to as bhāvas—different attitudes that a devotee can take up to express his love for God. They are: śānta, the serene attitude;dāsya, the attitude of a servant; sakhya, the attitude of a friend; vātsalya, the attitude of a mother toward her child; and madhura, the attitude of a woman towards her lover.
At some point in the period between his vision of Kali and his marriage, Ramakrishna practiced dāsya bhāva. He started worshiping Rama in the attitude of Hanuman, the monkey-god, who is considered to be the ideal devotee and servant of Rama. According to Ramakrishna, towards the end of this sadhana, he had a vision of Sita, the consort of Rama, merging into his body.
In 1864, Ramakrishna practiced vātsalya bhāva under a Vaishnava guru Jatadhari. During this period, he worshipped a metal image of Ramlālā (Rama as a child) in the attitude of a mother. According to Ramakrishna, he could feel the presence of child Rama as a living God in the metal image.
Ramakrishna later engaged in the practice of madhura bhāva— the attitude of the Gopis and Radha towards Krishna. During the practise of this bhava, Ramakrishna dressed himself in women's attire for several days and regarded himself as one of the Gopis of Vrindavan. According to the Ramakrishna, madhura bhava is practised to root out the idea of sex, which is seen as an impediment in spiritual life. According to Ramakrishna, towards the end of this sadhana, he attained savikalpa samadhi—vision and union with Krishna.
Ramakrishna visited Nadia, the home of Chaitanya and Nityananda, the 15th-century founders of Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava bhakti. According to Ramakrishna, he had an intense vision of two young boys merging into his body. Earlier, after his vision of Kali, he is said to have cultivated the Santa bhava—the passive "peaceful" attitude — towards Kali.
Totapuri first guided Ramakrishna through the rites of sannyasa—renunciation of all ties to the world. Then he instructed him in the teaching of advaita—that "Brahman alone is real, and the world is illusory; I have no separate existence; I am that Brahman alone." Under the guidance of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly experienced nirvikalpa samadhi, which is considered to be the highest state in spiritual realisation.
Totapuri stayed with Ramakrishna for nearly eleven months and instructed him further in the teachings of advaita. After the departure of Totapuri, Ramakrishna reportedly remained for six months in a state of absolute contemplation. Ramakrishna said that this period of nirvikalpa samadhi came to an end when he received a command from the Mother Kali to "remain in Bhavamukha; for the enlightenment of the people". Bhavamukha being a state of existence intermediate between samādhi and normal consciousness.
In 1866, Govinda Roy, a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism, initiated Ramakrishna into Islam. Ramakrishna said that he "devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the Arab Moslems, said their prayer five times daily, and felt disinclined even to see images of the Hindu gods and goddesses, much less worship them—for the Hindu way of thinking had disappeared altogether from my mind." According to Ramakrishna, after three days of practice he had a vision of a "radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet and merging with his body".
At the end of 1873 he started the practice of Christianity, when his devotee Shambu Charan Mallik read the Bible to him. Ramakrishna said that for several days he was filled with Christian thoughts and no longer thought of going to the Kali temple. According to Ramakrishna, one day when he saw the picture of Madonna and Child Jesus, he felt that the figures became alive and had a vision in which Jesus merged with his body. In his own room amongst other divine pictures was one of Christ, and he burnt incense before it morning and evening. There was also a picture showing Jesus Christ savingSt Peter from drowning in the water.
In 1875, Ramakrishna met the influential Brahmo Samaj leader Keshab Chandra Sen. Keshab had accepted Christianity, and had separated from theAdi Brahmo Samaj. Formerly, Keshab had rejected idolatry, but under the influence of Ramakrishna he accepted Hindu polytheism and established the "New Dispensation" (Nava Vidhan) religious movement, based on Ramakrishna's principles—"Worship of God as Mother", "All religions as true" and "Assimilation of Hindu polytheism into Brahmoism". Keshab also publicized Ramakrishna's teachings in the journals of New Dispensation over a period of several years, which was instrumental in bringing Ramakrishna to the attention of a wider audience, especially the Bhadralok (English-educated classes of Bengal) and the Europeans residing in India.
Following Keshab, other Brahmos such as Vijaykrishna Goswami started to admire Ramakrishna, propagate his ideals and reorient their socio-religious outlook. Many prominent people of Calcutta—Pratap Chandra Mazumdar, Shivanath Shastri and Trailokyanath Sanyal—began visiting him during this time (1871–1885). Mozoomdar wrote the first English biography of Ramakrishna, entitled The Hindu Saint in the Theistic Quarterly Review (1879), which played a vital role in introducing Ramakrishna to Westerners like the German indologist Max Müller. Newspapers reported that Ramakrishna was spreading "Love" and "Devotion" among the educated classes of Calcutta and that he had succeeded in reforming the character of some youths whose morals had been corrupt.
Ramakrishna also had interactions with Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, a renowned social worker. He had also met Swami Dayananda. Ramakrishna is considered as one of the main contributors to the Bengali Renaissance. However, some Brahmos like Upadhyay Brahmabandhab disapproved of his avatarahood and ascetic renunciation and considered Ramakrishna's samadhi as a nervous malady.
Among the Europeans who were influenced by Ramakrishna was Principal Dr. W.W. Hastie of the Scottish Church College, Calcutta. In the course of explaining the word trance in the poem The Excursion by William Wordsworth, Hastie told his students that if they wanted to know its "real meaning", they should go to "Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar." This prompted some of his students, including Narendranath Dutta (later Swami Vivekananda), to visit Ramakrishna.
Most of Ramakrishna's prominent disciples came between 1879–1885, and were influenced by his style of preaching and instructing.
His chief disciples consisted of:
As his name spread, an ever-shifting crowd of all classes and castes visited Ramakrishna. According to Kathamrita it included, childless widows, young school-boys, aged pensioners, Hindu scholars and religious figures, men betrayed by lovers, people with suicidal tendencies, small-time businessmen, and people "dreading the grind of samsaric life". According to his biographers, Ramakrishna was very talkative and would out-talk the best-known orators of his time. For hours he would reminisce about his own eventful spiritual life, tell tales, explain abstruse Vedantic doctrines with extremely mundane illustrations, raise questions and answer them himself, crack jokes, sing songs, and mimic the ways of all types of worldly people—visitors were kept enthralled. In preparation for monastic life, Ramakrishna ordered his monastic disciples to beg their food from door to door without distinction of caste. He gave them the saffron robe, the sign of the Sanyasi, and initiated them with Mantra Deeksha.
At the age of eighteen Sarada Devi joined Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. By the time his bride joined him, Ramakrishna had already embraced the monastic life of a sannyasi; as a result, the marriage was never consummated. As a priest Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremony—the Shodashi Puja–where Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of goddess Kali, and worshiped as the Divine mother. Ramakrishna regarded Sarada as the Divine Mother in person, addressing her as theHoly Mother, and it was by this name that she was known to Ramakrishna's disciples. Sarada Devi outlived Ramakrishna by 34 years and played an important role in the nascent religious movement.
In the beginning of 1885 Ramakrishna suffered from clergyman's throat, which gradually developed into throat cancer. He was moved to Shyampukur near Calcutta, where some of the best physicians of the time, including Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, were engaged. When his condition aggravated he was relocated to a large garden house at Cossipore on December 11, 1885.
During his last days, he was looked after by his monastic disciples and Sarada Devi. Ramakrishna was advised by the doctors to keep the strictest silence, but ignoring their advice, he incessantly conversed with visitors. According to traditional accounts, before his death, Ramakrishna transferred his spiritual powers to Vivekananda and reassured Vivekananda of his avataric status.Ramakrishna asked Vivekananda to look after the welfare of the disciples, saying, "keep my boys together" and asked him to "teach them".Ramakrishna also asked other monastic disciples to look upon Vivekananda as their leader. Ramakrishna's condition gradually worsened and he expired in the early morning hours of August 16, 1886 at the Cossipore garden house. According to his disciples, this was mahasamadhi. After the death of their master, the monastic disciples lead by Vivekananda formed a fellowship at a half-ruined house at Baranagar near the river Ganga, with the financial assistance of the householder disciples. This became the first Math or monastery of the disciples who constituted the first Ramakrishna Order.
Several scholars have tried to associate Ramakrishna with a particular religious school of thought—Bhakti, Tantra and Vedanta.
In his influential 1896 essay "A real mahatma: Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa Dev" and his 1899 book Râmakrishna: His Life and Sayings, the Germanphilologist and Orientalist Max Müller portrayed Ramakrishna as "a wonderful mixture of God and man" and as "...a Bhakta, a worshipper or lover of the deity, much more than a Gñânin or a knower."
In London and New York in 1896, Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous address on Ramakrishna entitled "My Master." He said of his master: "this great intellect never learnt even to write his own name, but the most brilliant graduates of our university found in him an intellectual giant." Vivekananda criticized his followers for "brazenly" projecting Ramakrishna as an avatara and miracle-worker. Narasingha Sil has argued that Vivekananda revised and mythologized Ramakrishna's image after Ramakrishna's death. Amiya Sen writes that that Vivekananda's "social service gospel" stemmed from direct inspiration from Ramakrishna and rests substantially on the "liminal quality" of the Master's message.
Indologist Heinrich Zimmer was the first Western scholar to interpret Ramakrishna's worship of the Divine Mother as containing specifically Tantricelements. Neeval also argued that tantra played a main role in Ramakrishna's spiritual development.
Philosopher Lex Hixon writes Ramakrishna was an Advaita Vedantin. Postcolonial literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak wrote that Ramakrishna was a "Bengali bhakta visionary" and that as a bhakta, "he turned chiefly towards Kali." Amiya P.Sen writes that "it is really difficult to separate the Tantrik Ramakrishna from the Vedantic", since Vedanta and Tantra "may appear to be differ in some respects", but they also "share some important postulates between them".
Ramakrishna used rustic colloquial Bengali in his conversations. According to contemporary reports, Ramakrishna's linguistic style was unique, even to those who spoke Bengali. It contained obscure local words and idioms from village Bengali, interspersed with philosophical Sanskrit terms and references to the Vedas, Puranas, Tantras. For that reason, according to philosopher Lex Hixon, his speeches cannot be literally translated into English or any other language. Scholar Amiya P. Sen argued that certain terms that Ramakrishna may have used only in a metaphysical sense are being improperly invested with new, contemporaneous meanings.
Ramakrishna was skilled with words and had an extraordinary style of preaching and instructing, conveying to even the most skeptical visitors to the temple. His speeches reportedly revealed a sense of joy and fun, but he was not at a loss when debating with intellectual philosophers. Philosopher Arindam Chakrabarti contrasted Ramakrishna's talkativeness with Buddha's legendary reticence, and compared his teaching style to that of Socrates. 
Ramakrishna's explicitly sexual language shocked 19th-century Westerners, even scholars Max Müller who were otherwise his admirers. Müller wrote that his language was at times "abominably filthy". He admitted however that such direct speech was natural to contemporary hindus, "where certain classes of men walk stark naked", and should not be considered intentional filthiness or obscenity. Citing examples of classical poems like Bhartrihari, the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare, Müller felt that few of the sayings would have to be bowdlerized. .
Ramakrishna's teachings were imparted in rustic Bengali, using stories and parables. These teachings made a powerful impact on Calcutta's intellectuals, despite the fact that his preachings were far removed from issues of modernism or national independence. His spiritual movement indirectly aided nationalism, as it rejected caste distinctions and religious prejudices.
In the Calcutta scene of the mid to late nineteenth century, Ramakrishna was opinionated on the subject of Chakri. Chakri can be described as a type of low-paying servitude done by educated men—typically government or commerce-related clerical positions. On a basic level, Ramakrishna saw this system as a corrupt form of European social organization that forced educated men to be servants not only to their bosses at the office but also to their wives at home. What Ramakrishna saw as the primary detriment of Chakri, however, was that it forced workers into a rigid, impersonal clock-based time structure. He saw the imposition of strict adherence to each second on the watch as a roadblock to spirituality. Despite this, however, Ramakrishna demonstrated that Bhakti could be practiced as an inner retreat to experience solace in the face of Western-style discipline and often discrimination in the workplace.
Ramakrishna emphasised God-realisation as the supreme goal of all living beings. Ramakrishna taught that kamini-kanchana is an obstacle to God-realization. Kamini-kanchan literally translates to "women and gold." Carl T. Jackson interprets kamini-kanchana to refer to the idea of sex and the idea of money as delusions which prevent people from realizing God. Jeffrey Kripal translates the phrase as "lover-and-gold" and associates it with Ramakrishna's alleged disgust for women as lovers.
Ramakrishna looked upon the world as Maya and he explained that avidya maya represents dark forces of creation (e.g. sensual desire, evil passions, greed, lust and cruelty), which keep people on lower planes of consciousness. These forces are responsible for human entrapment in the cycle of birth and death, and they must be fought and vanquished. Vidya maya, on the other hand, represents higher forces of creation (e.g. spiritual virtues, enlightening qualities, kindness, purity, love, and devotion), which elevate human beings to the higher planes of consciousness.
Ramakrishna practised several religions, including Islam and Christianity, and recognized that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true and they lead to the same ultimate goal—God.Ramakrishna's proclaimed that jatra jiv tatra Shiv (wherever there is a living being, there is Shiva) which stemmed from his Advaitic perception of Reality. His teaching, "Jive daya noy, Shiv gyane jiv seba" (not kindness to living beings, but serving the living being as Shiva Himself) is considered as the inspiration for the philanthropic work carried out by his chief disciple Vivekananda.