In bringing out the present volume, we must at the outset tender our grateful thanks to the great author for affording us an opportunity to know what one of the greatest and most representative minds of modern Europe thinks of the Great Masters, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Such knowledge, in these days of rapidly increasing international co-operation, is, we believe, indispensable for all Indians. We should like to mention that the work was prepared primarily for Western readers, and the subject was conceived and interpreted from a Western point of view. The author's views and interpretations, therefore, have not agree in toto with those of the Ramakrishna Order. This is only natural; for though a true and complete understanding of the Master and his message requires neither a Western nor an Eastern standpoint, but simply a complete identification of life and mind with his own, every man of every race and nation can accept and benefit by whatever in his life and teaching appeals to his own genius. A many-sided life such as that of Sri Ramakrishna makes different appeals to different persons; but all are worthy of respect for all are true as far as they go.
Situated as the author was at such a great distance from India, and as the literature on which he had to depend almost entirely for his material was written in languages not his own, a few inaccuracies have naturally crept into the book. But these are for the most part mere matters of detail and do not substantially detract from the brilliance and excellence of the study presented by our author.
We have added a note of our own on Sri Ramakrishna and Keshab Chandra Sen towards the end of the volume and omitted a few footnotes with the approval of M. Rolland.
In writing these two books I have had constant recourse to the advice of the Ramakrishna Mission, which has been kind enough to place all the requisite documents at my disposal. In particular in owe a great deal to the present venerable head of the Belur Math and superior of the Order, Swami Shivananda, who has been good enough to give me his precious personal memories of the Master; to the Master's pious direct disciple and Evangelist, Mahendra Nath Gupta, whose name is modestly concealed behind the simple initial M; to the young and religious savant, Boshi Sen, a disciple of Sir J. C. Bose and a devotee of Vivekananda, who with her permission communicated to me the unpublished Memoirs of Sister Christine, she who with Sister Nivedita was the most intimate of Vivekananda's Western disciples; to Miss Josephine MacLeod, who was an active and devoted friend of the great Swami; above all to the editor of the Review, Prabuddha Bharata, Swami Ashokananda, who was never wearied of my unwearied questions, but has answered them with the most precise erudition. It was he who gave me the most complete information with regard to the actual position of the Ramakrishna Mission.
I must also express my gratitude to Mr. Dhan Gopal Mukerji, who first revealed Ramakrishna's existence to me, and to my faithful friend, Dr. Kalidas Nag, who has more than once advised and instructed me.
May I have made the best use of so many excellent guides for the service of the India which is dear to us and of the human Spirit!
From the Jacket:
This is a story of a Phenomenon.
'I will begin by calling him simply that, rather than "holy man", "mystic", "saint", or "avatar"; all emotive words with mixed associations which may attract some readers repel others.
'A Phenomenon is often something extraordinary and mysterious, Ramakrishna was extraordinary and mysterious; most of all to those who were best fitted to understand him. A phenomenon is always a fact, an object of experience. That is how I shall try to approach Ramakrishna.'
With these words, Christopher Isherwood introduces the subject of his biography. He does not attempt to interpret the life of Ramakrishna, but is content to state the facts, incorporating all available data. 'His prose is easy and flowing, not a word is wasted, and everything is seen in precise and day-light-clear shape.' His style impresses itself on the reader's mind as expressive of a calm conviction, unmixed with emotion.
Unlike earlier foreign biographers of Ramakrishna - Max Muller and Romain Rolland - Isherwood did not write of him as a distant admirer, but as a devotee who enjoyed an advantage over them; for he had at his disposal more material, collected through a careful study of not only Ramakrishna literature, but also Hindu religion and philosophy, besides two visits to India.
This new Life of Sri Ramakrishna by Mr. Christopher Isherwood, a wnter of world-wide repute, enjoys certain advantages over the other two biographies of Sri Ramakrishna, written by the great Western savants Max Muller in 1898 and Romain Rolland in 1929. In the first place, both of them wrote as distant admirers, whereas Mr. Isherwood has an intimate knowledge of Vedanta and Hindu ways of life and has to his credit a number of books and articles on these subjects. He approaches Sri Ramakrishna with love "and devotion just like any Hindu, and at the same time deals with his subject in the scientific spirit of a Western investigator. He has taken the active help and guidance of two senior monks of the Ramakrishna Order for collecting his materials and verifying their authenticity. And his two visits to India placed him mentally in the actual atmosphere and surroundings in which Sri Ramakrishna lived.
Secondly, he had the complete advantage of possessing the two source books in translation - Swami Saradananda's Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga and M's Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, which were not available at the time of Max Muller and only partially available to Rolland.
Thirdly, the impact of the spiritual genius of Sri Ramakrishna on the modern world is better understood today than when the earlier two wrote on him. Added to these is Mr. Isherwood's inimitably arresting yet simple style and a great number of illustrations, some of them hitherto unpublished, which make the biography really vivid. We do hope that this new publication will receive from the public the enthusiastic welcome it deserves.
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