SRI RAMAKRISHNA by Richard Schiffman


A Prophet for the New Age
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More hagiography than straight biography, this look at the life and legacy of India's greatest saint suffers from unrestrained adulation and florid prose but proves fascinating, nonetheless, thanks in large measure to Ramakrishna's dazzling story. Schiffman shows his colors right from the start, calling Ramakrishna "perhaps the greatest explorer of the inner realm of the Spirit that the world has known." Hyperbolic, perhaps, but Ramakrishna is definitely sui generis, and his extraordinary life (1836-86) speaks for itself. More than any other mystic, he embodied all the great world religions: after a rigorous multi-year period of Hindu study as head priest in the temple of Kali just outside Calcutta, Ramakrishna embraced Islam and then Christianity, practicing impeccably the exoteric and esoteric aspects of each. This unparalled spiritual blossoming brought Ramakrishna countless disciples. Schiffman energetically covers the highlights of Ramakrishna's career: his ecstatic trances (one lasted six months); his sexless marriage to Sarada Devi, whom the sage worshipped as the "Divine Mother"; his empathetic response to religious tales (Schiffman claims that while reveling in tales of the monkey-hero Hanuman, Ramakrishna's coccyx grew by an inch, "forming a kind of impromptu tail"); his marvelous teaching techniques. A great story--almost ruined by Schiffman's overblown prose, which leans heavily on petals and perfumes and explosions of light and other spiritual clichÇs. Of Bengali devotion, for example: "Then, in a spasm of sheer joy, it bursts forth, scattering glowing missiles in all directions, setting great trees ablaze, igniting the air." A saint's life cloaked in heavy incense. Worthwhile but cloying.

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