By about the end of 1865, Sri Ramakrishna was twenty-nine years old. He had finished his ten years-long sādhanās based on the path of bhakti (devotion) in which the devotee looks upon God as a Person. He had been blessed with innumerable visions and other spiritual experiences. With the highest purity and renunciation, his mind had attained an extraordinary moral and spiritual sensitivity which made it plunge into a divine mood (समाधि) at the slightest spiritual suggestion. Absorbed in one of these moods, Sri Ramakrishna was one day sitting in a corner of the open portico at the bathing ghat of the Dakshineswar temple on the bank of Gangā. Just then a wandering monk, by name Totapuri, suddenly alighted from a boat at the steps of the ghat, and walked up to him. As soon as his eyes fell on Sri Ramakrishna, he felt an instant attraction for this young man and felt a conviction in his heart of hearts that he was not an ordinary. Let us first know about Totapari a little more.
Totapuri himself hailed from Punjab and entered the monastic life in his boyhood. He was endowed with a robust physique and an iron will.Because of his fascination for the impersonal God, the non-dual Brahman, he undertook forty years of unremitting spiritual practice, performed on the banks of sacred Narmada river in Central India, and obtained the fruit of this path of the Advaita, the experience of Nirvikalpa Samādhi.
Having achieved the blessed experience, Totapuri wandered from place to place without any aim or purpose of his own, but fulfilling inscrutable divine purposes. The incomparable strength and freedom behind that wandering gave a glimpse of that in Buddha’s inspiring charge to the enlightened soul.
Realising Brahman as the one Reality, Totapuri spent his life under the canopy of the heaven, alike in storm and sunshine, maintaining himself on alms. His wanderings took him to many a holy place in India, including Gangāsagar in Bengal, where holy Gangā meets the sea. It was on his return journey from there that he went to the Dakshineswar temple had been built because of the piety, generosity, and broad-mindedness of its founder, Rani Rasmani. It was then drawing holy men, ordinary and extraordinary, from all creeds and sects. Sri Ramakrishna was it’s priest then. Some of these enlightened ones, like Jatādhārī and Bhairavī Brāhmanī, had already met Sri Ramakrishna and guided him to realisation through their respective spiritual paths of the bhakti school. Totapuri represented an altogether different path of the impersonal God, the path blazoned by the sages of the Upanishads and the great Buddha.
As soon as Totapuri’s eyes fell on Sri Ramakrishna he recognised in him a fit aspirant for the path of the unconditioned and impersonal Brahman. He asked Sri Ramakrishna whether he would like to learn Vedānta. He told him ‘You seem to be an advanced seeker after truth. Would you like to be initiated in the path of Advaita realisation?’ Sri Ramakrishna felt a divine urge within to agree. Under Totapuri’s directions, Sri Ramakrishna performed the various ceremonies preliminary to the grand ceremony of sanyāsa — total renunciation of the world. One day, about two hours before dawn, both moved to a small hut in a sequestered spot, not far from Sri Ramakrishna’s room. Totapuri administered to Sri Ramakrishna the traditional monastic vows of complete renunciation of all the pleasures of life, both earthly and heavenly, and the holy vow to dedicate all one’s mind and heart to the highest truth of non-dual Brahman, and to be a source of fearlessness to all beings. And in the stillness of that early dawn, the teacher and the disciple re-enacted the momentous drama of tangible spiritual communication which has so often been enacted in India before. Prostrating himself before his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna then took his seat to receive instruction from Totapuri in the philosophy of Brahman.
In the words of Swami Saradananda one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
‘He (Totapuri) said to the Master: “The Brahman, the one substance which alone is eternally pure, eternally awakened, unlimited by time, space and causation, is absolutely real. Through Māyā, which makes the impossible possible, It causes, by virtue of its influence, to seem (sic) that It is divided into names and forms. Brahman is never really so. For at the time of samādhi, not even a drop, so to speak, of time and space, and name and form, produced by Māyā is perceived. Whatever, therefore, within the bounds of name and form can never be absolutely real. Shun it at a good distance. Break the firm cage of name and form with the overpowering strength of a lion and come out of it. Dive deep into the reality of the Self existing in yourself. Be one with It with the help of samādhi. You will then see universe, consisting of name and form, vanish as it were into the void; you will see the consciousness of the little “I” merge in that of the immense “I”, where it ceases to function; and you will have the immediate knowledge of the indivisible Existence-Knowledge-Bliss as yourself. The Brhadāranyaka Upanishad (II. iv. 14) says: ‘The consciousness, with the help of which a person sees another, knows another, or hears another, is little or limited; whatever is limited is worthless; for the supreme bliss is not there; but the knowledge established in which a person becomes devoid of the consciousness of seeing another, knowing another, and hearing another, is the immense or the unlimited one. With the help of that knowledge, one gets identified with the supreme bliss. What mind or intellect is able to know that which exists as Knower in the hearts of all?” ’
After instructing his disciple thus in the central ideas of the jnāna path of Vedānta, Totapuri exhorted Sri Ramakrishna to fix his mind on the unconditioned Brahman. This part of the momentous story is best told in the words of Sri Ramakrishna himself in his ‘Life of Sri Ramakrishna’:
‘After the initiation, Nangta, “the naked one” (this was the appellation which Sri Ramakrishna, out of respect, invariably used for his guru, who being a monk of the Nāgā Order, generally went about naked) began to teach me the various conclusions of the Advaita Vedānta and asked me to withdraw the mind completely from all objects and dive into the Ātman. But in spite of my all attempts I could not cross the realm of name and form and bring my mind to the unconditioned state. I had no difficulty in withdrawing the mind from all other objects except one, the all too familiar form of the blissful Mother—radiant and of the essence of pure Consciousness—which appeared before me as a living form. Again and again I tried to concentrate my mind on the Advaita teachings, but every time the Mother’s form stood in my way. In despair I said to the “the naked one”, “It is hopeless”. I cannot raise my mind to the unconditioned state and come face to face with the Ātman.” He grew exited and sharply said “What?” You can’t do it. But you have to.” He cast his eyes around and finding a piece of glass he took it up and pressing the point between my eyebrows said, “Concentrate the mind on this point.” Then with a stern determination I again sat to meditate, and as soon as the gracious form of the Divine Mother appeared before me. I used my discrimination as a sword and with it severed it in two. There remained no more obstruction to my mind, which at once soared beyond the relative plane, and I lost myself in samādhi.’
Sri Ramakrishna passed into the unconditioned state of the nirvikalpa samādhi; the body became motionless. He had realised Brahman, become one with Brahman, beyond all speech and thought.
Totapuri sat for a long time silently watching his disciple. Finding him still motionless, he left the hut, locking the door from outside lest anyone should intrude without his knowledge; he remained outside awaiting the disciple’s call from within to open the door. The day passed, night came, a second and a third day and a night also passed, and still there was no call. Totapuri was astonished. He opened the door and entered the room. He was speechless with wonder to see Sri Ramakrishna in the very same position in which he had left him. The face was calm, serene, and radiant. In breathless amazement he examined the disciples heart and respiration and touched again and again the disciples almost corpse like body. There was no sign of consciousness. He(Totapari) cried in bewilderment at the miracle of this young man achieving in a single day this highest realisation of nirvikalpa samādhi which had taken him forty years of hard practice to realise.
Totapuri immediately took steps to bring the mind of his disciple down to the world of phenomena. The little room rang with the holy mantra — Hari Om — uttered in a solemn tone by the teacher. Little by little Sri Ramakrishna’s mind came to an awareness of the outer world; and as he opened his eyes, he saw his teacher looking at him with tenderness and admiration. The disciple reverently prostrated himself before the teacher who in turn locked him in warm embrace.
I came across the story in a book of commentary on Kenopanishad by Nirvirakanand.
I read an extension of that today while reading the commentary of the famous Sadhak, famous as Shri. M:
“ Totapuri belonged to that order of sanyasins who do not stay for more than three days in one place because they do not want to get caught up with anything. But Totapuri lived for three months with Sri Ramakrishna because he found that Ramakrishna could achieve the state of nirvikalpa samadhi in three days, something which took Totapuri forty years to achieve! So he stayed, watching him in wonder.
At the end of his stay, he had such a severe stomach ache that he could not concentrate to get into his meditation or samadhi. Being a great Paramahansa who did not care for his body, he said to himself, “If I cannot fix my mind, this body is useless! Let me give it up!’ He walked into Ganga. It is said that however deep into water he went, he could not reach deep enough to drown himself. So he came back, and Ramakrishna said, ‘ If only you could accept the ‘Mother’ as an agent, you might get rid of your problem. You need not accept her as the Supreme Being, but as the link to the Supreme Being’. Finally, Totapuri is believed to have accepted Shakti, and left. Perhaps it was ordained that he should go to Dakshineswar to understand from Sri Ramakrishna that Shakti and Shivam, Prakriti and PURUSHA, are two sides of the same coin, like fire and its power to burn. They are not two things; one cannot separate them.. “