Sri Ramakrishna, one of the greatest spiritual personalities of our time, is widely recognized as the Prophet of the Harmony of Religions. After perfecting the practice of several religions-including Christianity, Islam and various traditions of Hinduism – he declared, “As many faiths, so many paths.”
For the first time, two classic biographies – Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s The Face of Silence (1926) and Swami Nikhilananda’s Sri Ramakrishna (1942) – are brought together to provide a fuller understanding of the life and spiritual significance of Sri Ramakrishna as well as the systems of Indian religious thought intimately connected with him. Pairing legend with fact, memory with history, this unique volume – including an Introduction to Sri Ramakrishna’s God-consciousness by Swami Adiswarananda – succeeds in intimately examining the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and conveying the true story of this great mystic, whose leaping flame of spiritual realizastion continues to influence the modern spiritual search.
About the Authors
Swami Nikhilananda (1895-1973), a direct disciple of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, was a distinguished monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India and a major figure in introducing the teachings of Yoga and Vedanta to America. He founded the Ramakrishna – Vivekananda Centre of New York in 1933 and was its spiritual leader until his death in 1973. Among his many notable books are his translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, and Sri Sarada Devi, The Holy Mother: Her Teachings and Conversations.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji (1890-1936) was one of the earliest émigrés from India to America. A prolific writer and lecturer, his poetic biography, The face of Silence, was the first book written in English o introduce Sri Ramakrishna and his teachings to America and the West.
The Face of Silence was the first book written in English to make Sri Ramakrishna known outside India. My father saw it as a follow-up to Swami Vivekananda’s famous visit to America in 1893. A further reason the book was important was more personal. My father’s first literary success had been Caste and Outcast, which told of his arrival in America as a penniless brahmin seeking his destiny. That was followed by My Brother’s Face, which told of his return to India in 1920, with an American wife, only to find a different India, to which he was now an outsider. The only aspect that was unchanged was the loving face of his elder brother. It was Caste and Outcast in reverse.
During the months he and my mother were visiting India, my father was aware that all his life so far had been a search for who he was and where he belonged. In The Face of Silence, the reader shares his discovery that the who and whys of his life have become inextricably enlaced with the glorious name of Ramakrishna. Taken with the two earlier books, The Face of Silence made a trilogy of a man’s search for his soul. It would dominate a life that ended while he was still relatively young, forty-seven, a few days after receiving the ocher cloth from Swami Akhandananda, the president of the Ramakrishna Order.
The Face of Silence has a life of its own. When it appeared in 1926, it was an immediate literary success, encouraging publishers in Europe to translate it for their readers. Victor Attinger, who had presses in France and Switzerland, urged my father to come to Geneva to participate in the translation to French of all three books. This led to a necklace of events. By 1928, Romain Rolland, the 1915 Nobel laureate in literature, was living in Geneva. He had been exiled by his native France for opposing World War I. He was seriously depressed. His solace was to have his sister, Madeleine, read the latest publications aloud to him.
She returned from shopping one day with The Face of Silence in French. On hearing it, he became excited; he told his sister to find out how he could contact the author. She called old man Attinger who was honored, he said, to tell her, “Mukerji is living here in Gena.” That same day, she called my father and begged him to come and see her brother. My father, who considered Romain Rolland to be “a great soul,” was overjoyed to accept.
In Romain Rolland’s famous journal, he tells of my father’s visit. Rolland questioned him about Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Vedanta, the new India. My father put him in touch with the monastery at Belur Math and wrote personal letters of introduction to Swami Shivananda, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and other monks. A few years later, Romain Rolland wrote his great Life of Ramakrishna and Life of Vivekananda, thus bringing them to the attention of his enormous audience.
On July 28, 1936, Josephine Tantine MacLeod, Swami Vivekananda’s devoted follower, wrote from Helsinki to my father’s beloved brother, Jadu, in India, on hearing of my father’s death. She had received the news of Dhan’s death while on her way to Leningrad. She wrote:
Dhan Gopal has gone to join the great ones he so loved.
His nostalgie de Dien [love of God] took him over.... The
Russian government has translated all of Rolland’s
Books into Russian – including his life of Ramakrishna
And Swamiji [Swami Vivekananda]! It was Dhan Gopal’s
Book The Face of Silence that inspired him to write those
Two great lives-bless them both.
May The Face of Silence continue to enlarge our souls.
Nobel laureate Romain Rolland refer to Sri Ramakrishna’s life as nothing less than “the book of life itself”. In Rolland’s words,
It is always the same Book. It is always the same Man— the Son of Man, the Eternal, Our Son, Our God reborn. With each return he reveals himself a little more fully, and more enriched by the universe.... The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.
Writers and thinkers have used many epithets in an attempt to describe Sri Ramakrishna: Prophet for the New Age, Prophet of the Harmony of Religions, God man of Modem India, Spiritual Hero, Savior of the Eternal Religion, the Great Master, a Phenomenon. But perhaps no description is more profound or intriguing than that given by Dhan Gopal Mukerji: the Face of Silence. It was this 1926 biography that was destined to play a key role in introducing the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna to the world.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji was one of the earliest émigrés from India to America, and he achieved a great measure of success as a writer. Nevertheless, at one point in his life, feeling at home neither in India nor America, he faced a crisis of identity—a spiritual crisis that proved to be a turning point in his life It was Josephine MacLeod, the dedicated devotee of Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Dhan Gopal Mukerji to the life of Sri Ramakrishna and paved the way for his visit to the Sri Ramakrishna Monastery at Belur, India. It was there that Mukerji became acquainted with many of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. a transforming experience that inspired him to write The Face of Silence. The book was widely read and found its way into the hands of Romain Rot- land, prompting him to write his Life of Ramakrishna. In the preface, Romain Rolland expresses his “gratitude to ML Dhan Gopal Mukerji, who first revealed Ramakrishna’s existence to me.” Thus, within only a few decades of Sri Ramakrishna’s passing, his name became known throughout Europe, the United States, and other Western countries.
Dhan Gopal Mukerji tells us that in writing The Face of Silence, he was guided not so much to write a factual history of Sri Ramakrishna but rather what he called the “Ramakrishna legend.” Mahendranath Gupta (known as M.), the chronicler of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, encouraged Mukerji in this approach, suggesting that by themselves facts lacked the power to uplift anyone. “Legend,” he said, “is the chalice of truth.” Mukerji sought out and talked with many individuals who actually met Sri Ramakrishna and who recalled their experience of seeing the Master. The Face of Silence is the story of Sri Ramakrishna and, at the same time a poetic interpretation that conveys the deeper spirit within that story—the Ramakrishna legend.
For a long time The Face of Silence has been out of print. In bringing out this new edition, Sky Light Paths Publishing in cooperation with the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York makes available once again a classic work of religious literature that is an important link in the life of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda-Vedanta movement. We are extremely grateful to ML Dhan Gopal Mukerji II, the son of the author, for his dedication to the legacy of his father and for the help and cooperation he has given to this project. His foreword is a most welcome addition to this book.
A second major feature of the present book is the biography of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nikhilananda, originally published in 1942 as an introduction to The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the swami’s monumental English translation of the conversations of Sri Ramakrishna with his disciples, devotees, and visitors. In this biography, the reader will find a historically accurate portrayal of the life of the Master, descriptions of people who came in contact with him, and short explanations of several systems of Indian religious thought intimately connected with Sri Ramakrishna’s life The biography will enable the reader to better understand and appreciate the unusual life of Sri Ramakrishna.
By placing Swami Nikhilananda’s historical portrait of the Master side by side with Dhan Gopal Mukerji’s poetic interpretation of the Ramakrishna legend, we hope to give the reader a fuller understanding of the life and spiritual significance of Sri Ramakrishna, about whom Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “His life enables us to see God face to face.” A prophet for our time, Sri Ramakrishna is a silent force in molding the spiritual destiny of our world.
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