IX

TRAVELLING INTO OTHER FAITHS

As a result of the Advaita realization the mind of Sri Ramakrishna had acquired a wonderful breadth, accepting all forms of religion as so many ways of reaching perfection. Towards the end of 1866, soon after his recovery from dysentery, Sri Ramakrishna was attracted by the faith and devotion of a Sufi mystic, Govinda Ray by name, who had embraced Islam and lived at Dakshineswar at this time. Gradually it came to the mind of Sri Ramakrishna that, since Islam was also a means to the realization of God, he would see how the Lord blessed the devotees who worshipped that way. He therefore got the necessary initiation from Govinda. To the practice of this new religion the Master applied himself with his characteristic thoroughness. Thus did he describe his mentality at this period: 'Then I used to repeat the name of Allah, wear my cloth in the fashion of the Mohammedans and recite the Namaz regularly. All Hindu ideas being wholly banished from the mind, not only did I not salute the Hindu gods, but I had no inclination even to visit them.

After three days I realized the goal of that form of devotion.' First of all he saw a radiant Person with a long beard and of grave appearance, and then his mind, passing through the realization of the Brahman with attributes, was finally absorbed in the Brahman without attributes. The very fact that he practised Islam after attaining perfection in the Advaita makes it clear that only through this—the underlying basis of all faiths—can the Hindus and Mohammedans be united with each other.

Seven years later he had a similar realization of Christianity. In 1874 Sri Ramakrishna came into intimate contact with Shambhu Nath Mallick of Calcutta, who had a garden close to the Dak-shineswar Kali temple. Sri Ramakrishna used to spend a good deal of time in this garden-house of Shambhu Mallick, who came to regard the Master with sincere love and esteem, and after Mathur's death gladly supplied all his wants. Though not a Christian, he used to read the Bible to Sri Ramakrishna, who thus came to know about Christ and Christianity. He felt a strong desire to realize the Divine Mother by this new method, and it was fulfilled in a strange way.

One day Sri Ramakrishna was sitting in the parlour of a neighbouring house belonging to Jadulal Mallick, a devotee of the Master. On the walls were many beautiful portraits, one of them being of Christ. Sri Ramakrishna was looking attentively at the picture of the Madonna with the Divine Child and reflecting on the wonderful life of Christ, when he felt as though the picture had become animated, and that rays of light were emanating from the figures of Mary and Christ and entering into him, altogether changing his mental outlook. When he realized that his Hindu ideas were being pushed into a corner by this onrush of new ones, he tried his best to stop them and eagerly prayed to the Divine Mother, 'What is it that Thou art doing to me, Mother?' But in vain. His love and regard for the Hindu gods were swept away by this tidal wave, and in their stead a deep regard for Christ and the Christian church filled his heart and opened to his eyes the vision of Christian devotees burning incense and candles before the figure of Jesus in the churches and offering unto him the eager outpourings of their hearts. For three days those ideas held sway in his mind. On the fourth day, as he was walking in the Panchavati, he saw an extraordinary-looking person of serene aspect approaching him with his gaze intently fixed on him. He knew him at once to be a man of foreign extraction. Sri Ramakrishna was charmed and wondered who he might be. Presently the figure drew near, and from the inmost recesses of Sri Ramakrishna's heart there went up the note: 'This is Christ who poured out his heart's blood for the redemption of mankind and suffered agonies for its sake. It is none else but that Master Yogi Jesus, the embodiment of Love.' Then the Son of Man embraced Sri Ramakrishna and became merged in him. At this the Master went into Samadhi and lost all outward consciousness. Thus was Sri Ramakrishna convinced that Jesus Christ was an Incarnation of the Lord.

It will be worthwhile to note here Sri Rama-krishna's opinion of Buddha and other great founders of religion. About Buddha he shared the general notion of the Hindus that he was an Incarnation of God. He used to offer him his sincere devotion and worship. Once he remarked, 'There is not the least doubt about Lord Buddha's being an Incarnation. There is no difference between his doctrines and those of the Vedic Jnana-kanda.' We have every reason to believe that he spoke thus because of his supernatural insight. About the Tirthankaras who founded the Jain religion, and the ten Sikh Gurus, Sri Ramakrishna heard a good deal in his later life from the lips of representatives of those communities and came to entertain a great regard for them. In his room at Dakshineswar there were a small statue of Tirthankara Mahavira and a portrait of Christ, before which incense was burnt morning and evening. Of the Sikh Gurus, he used to say that they were all incarnations of the saintly king Janaka.

Thus, as a result of his realization through all forms of discipline, he was firmly convinced that all religions were true—that every doctrinal system represented a path to God. The three great system of thought known as Dualism, Qualified Monism and Monism—Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita—he perceived to be but different stages in man's progress towards the goal. He held that they were not contradictory, but complementary, being suited to different mental outlooks.

Thus he used to say to his disciples:

'I have practised all religions—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God towards whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths.

'The tank has several ghats. At one Hindus draw water in pitchers and call it jal; at another Mohammedans draw water in leathern bottles and call it pani; at a third Christians, and call it water. Can we imagine that the water is not jal, but only pani or water? How absurd! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same Substance.

'Every religion of the world is one such ghat. Go direct with a sincere and earnest heart by any of these ghats, and you will reach the water of Eternal Bliss. But say not that your religion is better than that of another.

'Different creeds are but different paths to reach the one God. Diverse are the ways that lead to the temple of Mother Kali at Kalighat in Calcutta. Similarly, various are the paths that take men to the house of the Lord. Every religion is nothing but one of such paths.

'The mind and intellect can comprehend and put in terms of language the range of thought up to the Vishishtadvaita and no further. In its perfection, the Absolute and Manifestation are seen to be equally real. The Lord's name, His abode, and He himself are found to be composed of the one spiritual substance. Everything is spiritual, the variance being only in form.

'The Advaita is the last word in realization. It is something to be felt in Samadhi, for it transcends mind and speech.'

Sri Ramakrishna now became convinced that his extraordinary spiritual struggles and realizations were not for himself, but to usher in a new era of spiritual unfoldment and to show mankind how to overcome the obstacles on the way to God-realization. He looked upon himself as an Incarnation of God, though he disliked any reference to it.