Ramakrishna was born in the Bengali village of Karmarpukar in 1836. He is believed to have been a living avatar, a divine incarnation. In the village he grew into a happy child who loved to sing and play games. He was gifted with spiritual intuition and showed no interest in school. He preferred to spend his time in the company of wandering monks and sadhus listening to stories from the scriptures. The village folk used to worry about him, for he would sometimes go into ecstatic trances, appearing to lose all outward consciousness.
When still a young man, Ramakrishna took up the position of officiating priest in a newly built Kali temple on the banks of the Ganges. There he spent all his time praying to the divine mother to reveal herself to him. But he always retained the innocence and freshness of a child. If the temple was closed he used to retreat to the forest and meditate, discarding his dhoti and Brahmin cord. He cared only for Kali, and his heart ached for a vision of her. So great was his longing, that one day in the temple, he ran blindly towards a sword on the wall to kill himself. But before the blade pierced his body he collapsed, and his consciousness was flooded by wave upon wave of crystal clear blissful light. Thus the divine mother became alive within him.
People began to think that he was truly mad, for his behaviour became more and more unfitting for an orthodox Brahmin priest. He would offer prasad to Kali and then eat it himself. He decorated his body with sandalwood paste. Sometimes he would sit for puja in the temple and go into an ecstatic trance for hours together.
One evening the owner of the temple, Mathur, was watching Ramakrishna pace up and down outside his room. As he walked one way he took the form of Kali. As he turned and walked back, he assumed the form of Shiva. Mathur fell at Ramakrishna's feet in awe.
Early one morning when Ramakrishna went down to the river's edge to collect flowers, he saw a small boat draw up alongside one of the banks. A holy lady stepped ashore, dressed in ochre robes and carrying a few books. An air of purity and deep peace surrounded her and Ramakrishna believed her to be the divine mother. Her name was Bhairavi and she stayed with Ramakrishna for three years. She accepted him as her son and initiated him into tantric practices.
Ramakrishna also learnt Vedanta from Tota Puri, a sannyasin of the Puri sect. But his teachings were non - dualistic and he could not accept the dualistic worship of Ramakrishna. He told him to separate his consciousness from the vision of the divine mother if he wanted to realise Brahman, but this Ramakrishna could not do. One day Tota Puri became angry and with a sharp piece of glass he struck Ramakrishna's forehead between the eyebrows. Ramakrishna instantly entered into nirvikalpa samadhi for three days. Tota Puri was amazed, for it had taken him many years to attain the same experience. However, Tota Puri still did not fully accept Ramakrishna's worship of Kali.
It happened that Tota Puri contracted dysentery. The illness lasted so long and he felt so ill that he decided to give his body to the Ganges. Wading out into the river, he kept on walking and walking. But the water did not drown him and he reached the other side unharmed. He sat down on the bank and laughed heartily at the power of the divine mother and her play of maya. The next day he went to Ramakrishna and offered obeisance to Kali.
Ramakrishna was so immersed in the spirit of the divine mother that he forgot he was bound to the body. She dwelt within him and he saw everything as her manifestation. During his life he led many people to know and love her, for he would talk to her, laugh with her and obey her as if she were his friend and mother. "In this body there are two people," he said, "Kali and her devotee." Ramakrishna's whole life was a hymn to Kali.
Kali is the shakti or energy of Brahma, the unmanifest essence behind creation. In her eternal play of cosmic action, Kali acts as creator, maintainer and destroyer, always remaining free from the veil of maya which she creates. She is usually depicted as being gruesome, the ruler of the lower passions: greed, lust and anger. At the same time she destroys impurities, bringing the body, mind and soul in tune with the higher self. Thus as her victims fall, so they are liberated. Kali is therefore the mother of compassion and purity. She takes many forms, sometimes old and wise or young, virgin and innocent in her godliness. Kali has an invoking mantra which, as a visible force, manifests to the mind's eye as the accompanying yantra.
The centre point is bindu, pure consciousness, Brahma. The five triangles represent the five jnanendriyas (sense organs): eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin; the five karmendriyas (motor organs or organs of action): feet, hands and genitals; and five pranas: prana, udana, samana, apana and vyana. The eight petals are the eight-fold prakriti: earth, water, fire, air, ether, manas (lower mental mind), buddhi (higher intellect, intuition) and ahamkara (ego, doer). The circle is the symbol of avidya (ignorance). This yantra can be used as a focus in meditation to develop concentration and one - pointedness of mind.