A remarkable portrait of a most remarkable spiritual teacher. Though little known in the West, Ramakrishna (1836-86) is generally revered in India as a direct incarnation of God, similar in some ways to Christ. Rather than write a standard biography of this Hindu mystic who embraced and, reportedly, embodied the essence of all major world religions—a biography like Richard Schiffman's Sri Ramakrishna (1989)—Hixon (Coming Home, 1978) here attempts a more daunting task: to re-create the experience of observing, over the course of years, a man who ``has attained the goal of spiritual evolution.'' To do this, the author draws on numerous eyewitness accounts of the sage, smoothly blending them into the voice of a disciple who observes his ``Master'' lecturing, conversing, playing, singing, dancing, and slipping into profound mystical ecstasies. There is no skepticism in this devotional telling but, rather, a pervasive sense of wonder and even rapture that Hixon makes concrete through tight physical detail, as in this deathbed scene: ``Ramakrishna's charming smile and the fresh white cloth around his waist shine in the flickering lamplight. His honey-colored skin, dulled by illness, seems to regain its extraordinary luster....The room is being filled with light....It is like a lightning flash, prolonged for several minutes. The pressure is unbearable....'' There is also much inspired exposition by Ramakrishna of religious principles and practices, making this account of great interest to those spiritually inclined but occasionally a tough go for those more interested in Ramakrishna's incandescent character than in his teachings. You don't have to share Hixon's conviction in order to appreciate his achievement in evoking—artfully and with considerable emotional power—what it might be like to encounter, as Ramakrishna put it, ``a human emanation of Divine Reality.''
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