He had many disciples, whom he trained in the Vedanta philosophy as well as in Atma-vidya, realization of the Self actual direct perception of the Self, mystical realization. He established many monasteries all over India. His four main monasteries in the four corners of India north, south, east, and west are still in existence. He reestablished the old Vedantic monastic order, dividing it into ten sections, which themselves are also still in existence.
He went from one end of India to the other, meeting the founders and the leaders of all kinds of sectarian religions, meeting Buddhist and Jain philosophers, defeating every single one of them in argument, and converting them to his views the condition of debate always being that whoever was defeated must accept the philosophical views of his opponent. And then, having accomplished all those things, he passed away in his thirty-second year.
He was a most extraordinary person. Of course, his greatness lay in his not wanting to give a contemporary emphasis to the ancient teachings of Vedanta; rather, he wanted to present them as they had been presented in ancient times. Some maintain that he was such a monist that when he came across texts which clearly indicate dualistic or qualified nondualistic views he could not do justice to them. Others say no, he gave the right place to everything. Well, let us grant that he may have been a little enthusiastic about his monistic views and may have done some injustice to texts which really indicated other views even so, we have to admit that his interpretation remains unassailed. The dualistic realization, the qualified monistic realization, and the monistic realization are all clearly stated in the Upanishads, and when Shankara says they represent different experiences but that the ultimate experience is the Absolute, I think he does justice to the ancient teachers.
So Shankara, truly speaking, revived Vedantic culture in India, and, as Swami Vivekananda once said, that process of reformation or revival is still going on; Shankara’s work has not yet reached its culmination.
The last prophet of Vedanta I will speak about is Sri Ramakrishna, who lived in the last century; he was born in 1836. Now, Sri Ramakrishna had a unique desire to practise all religions, to follow all the paths as given in the texts and as prescribed by the great teachers, and to come to the ultimate realization by way of each of these paths. It took him about ten to twelve years to accomplish this, and out of his experiences he came to certain conclusions. He found that all these paths all the different sectarian teachings of Hinduism, the teachings of Christianity, and of Mohammedanism all these bring a person to the direct experience of God. He found, also, that in this realization of God there are indeed different stages. In the first realization, which is dualistic, the soul does not feel its unity with God, and yet it perceives God, just as the subject of a king can stand before the throne and see the king but cannot believe that he himself is like one of the royal family. He then found that when the soul becomes more intimate with God, that is to say, when communion becomes deeper and the soul loses a little more of the earthliness which had kept it separate from God, it begins to feel a basic unity between itself and God, though distinction still remains. Afterwards he found that the soul becomes completely lost in God, becomes one with Him, and of that realization nothing can be said. He used to illustrate it by saying that if a salt doll goes to measure the depths of the sea, before it has proceeded even a few steps it melts into the water who, then, would measure the sea? From his own experiences he found these different views of God not contradictory. Dualism is not a contradiction of monism but is only an earlier step. You start with a dualistic realization of God; then you realize the qualified monistic state, which was taught by Ramanuja;5 then afterwards you come to monism; that is to say, you become one with God. This is what Sri Ramakrishna found. He also found that all religions follow certain basic principles: all of them teach that earthliness must go from the soul; all of them teach self-discipline; all of them teach longing for and devotion to God; all of them teach that God is Spirit,