Ramakrishna Paramahamsa the Enlightened master who has had the greatest impact on India in the recent times through his disciple Sri Vivekananda who is one of the most well known figures of Hinduism worldwide. Ramakrishna was initiated by his Guru, Mahant Totapuri of the Mahanirvani Akhada.
TOTA PURI, a nineteenth century monk. Little is known about his early life except that he hailed from the Punjab. He was born presumably of a Sikh family. Tota was his monastic name and Puri the name of a sub caste of Dashnami Sampradaya of Shaivite sadhus to which he belonged. Among the Puris, he belonged to the Naga order of militant ascetics who believe in combating their opponents with sastra (weapon) as well as with sastra (scriptural debate). Nagas are organized around several monastic establishments called akharas. Tota Puri belonged to the Mahanirvani Akhara.
He received his initial training in the dera of Baba Raj Puri at Ladana, in Kaithal district of Haryana, where he was trained with great care by Gyan Puri, fifth in spiritual succession from Raj Puri, the founder of the monastery. Recognition came to him when he was elected in 1852, Sri Mahant or head of an executive body of eight mahants for the management of the Mahanirvani Akhara, with its headquarters at Paryag (Allahabad). He was reelected to the office for another term of three years in 1855. In 1858, Tota Puri returned to Ladana and was chosen to be head of the dera after the death of Gyan Puri. In 1861, he set out on a pilgrimage of holy places across the country.
Totapuri was an adept of the formless reality, the cloudless sky of the absolute. He, like Trailanga Swami, was, it has been claimed by some, to be over 250 years old when he died. He regarded the worship of divine forms as childish. Naked and smeared with ashes, Totapuri strolled through Dakshineswar Temple garden and noticed Ramakrishna seated there, clapping his hands ecstatically and chanting the name of Mother Kali. Totapuri recognized at once that Ramakrishna, despite his appearance as a simple devotee of the Goddess, was inwardly prepared to receive initiation into the knowledge of the absolute, in which all forms and all emotions are left behind.
Totapuri approached Ramakrishna with the proposal that he receive initiation into Advaita Vedanta. Ramakrishna replied, “I must ask my Mother Kali.” He entered the temple and received permission from the living divinity that he experienced pulsatiing through the stone image enshrined there. That evening, Toatpuri began instructing him in Formless Meditation. But as Ramakrishna concentrated deeply, the radiant figure of the Goddess appeared to his inner eye. When he reported this to Totapuri, the austere naked monk took a sharp stone and pressed it firmly against Ramakrishna’s forehead, instructing him to concentrate on the pain and assuring him that he could transcend the divine form and merge into the infinite expanse of the absolute. Once more, Ramakrishna meditated and, as he later expressed it, “with the sword of wisdom, I cut through the divine form of Kali.” Her form dissolved, and his individuality completely disappeared into Her formless aspect. For three days Ramakrishna was completely lost to the world in a near state of suspended animation called Nirodha, seated in the small meditation hut, motionless, all breathing and body functions slowed to a standstill.
Totapuri was amazed, because, like the Buddha’s brother or cousin Ananda, Totapuri had practiced for forty years to achieve the same level of experience — nirvikalpa samadhi — the disappearance of individual identity in the Absolute. It occurred to Ramakrishna in a single sitting.
Ramakrishna remained silent for six days and finally, when he opened his eyes he thanked Totapuri saying “If you had not come, I would have lived my whole life with the hallucination. My last barrier has fallen away.” He became Enlightened after he had cut the last barrier.