Totapuri, sometimes Tota Puri, was a parivrajaka, a wandering monk who followed the path of wisdom taught by Advaita Vedanta as well as being the teacher-guru that brought the full fruit of Awakening to Sri Ramakrishna. He was a member of the Naga sect of sannyasins, a highly austere and uncompromising monastic order. Nagas normally live with only “space as clothing” (Digambara), refusing to submit to any comfort the body or mind might enjoy. Totapuri was an adept of the formless reality, the cloudless sky of the absolute. He, like Swami Trailanga, 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 calledNirodha, 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. But even the followers of Ramakrishna don’t mention the incident because it makes the whole effort of worshipping futile.
Totapuri as an orthodox wandering monk never remained more than three days in one location. However, he became so awed by Ramakrishna’s ability in Samadhi to remain ‘rigid as a corpse for days on end’, that he broke his longstanding rule, resulting in him staying eleven months at Dakshineswar hoping to learn from the man who had previously been his disciple. During this long stay he contracted serious dysentery. There was prolonged and severe pain, which was distracting Totapuri during meditation. Since he considered the body just a medium, essentially unnecessary after the realization of the Absolute, he decided to give up his body by drowning in the Ganges.
He walked out into the river, but, even though the river should have been extremely deep, at least in the middle, no matter how far he went the water never got above his knees. He ended up without ever reaching deep water. Eventually he came upon the bank on the far side and when he turned to look back, he saw the Kali temple gleaming in moonlight and experienced a sudden deep Awakening. He recognized sheer divine power and consciousness, moving through all beings and controlling all events, including his own attempt to discard the body. Totapuri thus accepted the manifest universe and its energy as a radiant expression of the Absolute. The demarcation between form and formless no longer existed for him. Although his whole life had been spiritual in nature, Totapuri, without any verbal teaching, had opened beyond he experience of the formless absolute into the continuum of consciousness, from which no divine, human, or natural forms are excluded and to which no particular doctrine exclusively applies.
Totapuri’s full and total Enlightenment transpired AFTER Ramakrishna’s full Awakening when he walked out into the river and saw the Kali temple gleaming in moonlight and experienced a sudden deep Awakening. He recognized sheer divine power and consciousness, moving through all beings and controlling all events, including his own attempt to discard the body. Totapuri thus accepted the manifest universe and its energy as a radiant expression of the Absolute. The demarcation between form and formless no longer existed for him.