The Universal Message of Sri Ramakrishna 

Swami Sarvalokananda addressing devotees at the annual function of Ramakrishna Math Aurangabad, in Aril 2016.

ॐ स्थापकाय च धर्मस्य, सर्व धर्म स्वरूपिणे, अवतार वरिष्ठाय, श्री रामकृष्णाय ते नमः

The context of Sri Ramakrishna’s advent
Today we are talking about the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.

All of you are aware that there is a reason why God takes the human form and comes to this earth. It is not purposeless. Sri Krishna has also said in the Bhagavad Gita that an Avatara comes when dharma starts receding.

Many Avataras have come on earth. Sri Ramakrishna came in the 19thcentury. Why did he come?

If we examine the scenario at that time, we will see that there was a great religious crisis (धर्मसंकट). The British ruled India for a long time. The Christian Missionaries were preaching the message that there is no scientific truth in the Hindu Dharma. It is only hearsay religion, filled with negative rituals and practices. Most Hindu intellectual believed in this message of the missionaries. In fact, Karl Marx declared that religion is opium of the masses. They preach that if you want to reach God, it will not be possible through the Hindu religion. You will have to embrace Christianity.

Because of this, Hindus developed distrust and doubt in their own religion. They fell into a dilemma whether to follow or give up their religion and embrace Christianity. Some people held on, while many were converted to Christianity. History is witness to this.

We also see that science and technology progressed tremendously in the 19th century. Many inventions came at that time. People started relying on science for everything. What does science say? That if we should believe anything as true, only when there is a proof. Therefore, people started wanting proof of the scientific truths in Hinduism also.

At that time, India witnessed the rise of many social reformers. They thought that if some rituals and practices would be removed from the religion, people will probably start following Hinduism again. So they first proposed for the abolishment of idol worship from Hinduism. At that time many reforming sects sprung up– like the Brahmasamaj, Theosophical Society, The Arya Samaj of Sri Dayanand Saraswati, The Young Bengal movement in Bengal, etc. All of them tried to add and subtract from Hinduism, so that people would start adopting it again. However, that didn’t come to pass. People became more and more directionless, they wandered even more, asking what is Hinduism, is there a God or not? Etc.

At this critical junction saw the advent of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He didn’t say anything new. He did not establish any new religion or sect. He preached and spread Sanatana Dharma – the Eternal Religion – according to the need of the age.

Each age has different purpose. In the 19th Century, there was a unique purpose. Sri Ramakrishna’s message was not for any particular country or sect. His was a universal message.

Sri Ramakrishna’s Universal Message (1) – Harmony of religions
The need of the age at that time was the harmony of all religions.

There has always been a constant conflict between religions – which one is superior, which inferior, which more powerful. Proponents of every religion have been trying to prove their religion as the best.

You will be aware, Swami Vivekananda participated in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. There was only one objective of that Parliament – to prove all religions as true. Swami Vivekananda went to this Parliament and announced that no religion is superior or inferior to others. All are true. And one can reach the same truth through all religions.

Swami Vivekananda had heard this from his Gurudeva – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.Sri Ramakrishna had asked why this conflict when all are true? He said it was narrow minded to think of any one religion as better than another. He proclaimed that all religions are true, and there is no need to fight among religions.

Sri Ramakrishna declared – যতমতততপথ (jato mat, tatho pat) meaning ‘as many faiths so many paths’. And people can reach the ultimate by following any path. All will reach the same truth – because there cannot be multiple truths, Truth is only one. Paths can be many, but the goal is one – whichever path we take.

For example, you can come to this Ashrama from different routes. Everyone will reach the same place. Can any route be wrong? So in religion also, all the differences are in paths alone.

Sri Ramakrishna didn’t just say this, he also practiced this. No other Avatara before Sri Ramakrishna has practiced all religions in their life. Sri Ramakrishna is the only Avatara who practiced principals of all religions – all branches of Tantras, of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. And only after the practice and realization of all religions, did he declare – as many faiths, so many paths.

What is the harmony of religions?
When we talk of the harmony of religions, it means the peaceful co-existence of all religions. Which is what Sri Ramakrishna declared – that all religions are true. And the same goal can be reached by following any religion. This is a great contribution of Sri Ramakrishna to society.

This message was not for Hindus alone, or for Muslims, or Christians, or Buddhists. It is true for all – for all people of the world – belonging to any caste or sect or followers of any religion.

The conflict between religions has been present for thousands of years. Yes, there has been an increase in the recent years, but it has existed for a long time. It is said that the amount of blood that has been shed in the name of religion, and due to the narrowness of our outlook, has not happened even in the two World Wars! Even today, people are cutting each other throats and killing each other, in the name of a narrow religion. They have been brainwashed to believe that they will go to heaven if they kill believers of other religions. And no real reason is offered for this.This is why Sri Ramakrishna asked us to live harmoniously with people of all religions.

India is a country where followers of all religions can live together in peace. I had gone for a lecture tour to Turkey a few days ago. It is an Islamic country, and 99% of the population is Muslim. I shared with them that India is the one country where people of all religions co-exist in peace and harmony. They applauded and accepted this.

Swami Vivekananda said – Hinduism has one specialty – universal acceptance and universal tolerance. Tolerance means having shraddha towards every religion. This is why Sri Ramakrishna’s advent was necessary at that time.

Sri Ramakrishna’s Universal Message (2) – God Realization is the purpose of life
Why have we taken on the human form? What is the purpose of human life? Sri Ramakrishna asked this question. And his answer is relevant to all – not just to Hindus or Muslims or Christians. It is for all human beings.

I will mention an incident to elaborate this. Sri Ramakrishna had many devotees. One of them was Aadhar Chandra Sen. At that time, he was the Deputy Magistrate – a very influential man. Aadhar Chandra Sen invited Sri Ramakrishna to his house one day. Sri Ramakrishna accepted the invitation. Aadhar Chandra Sen had also invited many friends. One of them was Bankim Chandra Chaterjee. He was also a Deputy Magistrate and a very famous personality. He was also addressed as ‘Sahitya-Samrat’. He has composed our national song – Vande-Mataram.

Aadhar Chandra Sen introduces Bankim Chandra Chaterjee to Sri Ramakrishna, and a conversation ensues. Suddenly Sri Ramakrishna asks Bankim Chandra “Bankim Babu, tell me, what is the purpose of human life?” Bankim Chandra Chaterjee says – The purpose of life is to eat, drink and be merry, and then leave the world. What else? In fact, this is what many of us also believe. To eat, drink and be merry, earn a lot of money, and then leave the world!

When Sri Ramakrishna hears this from Bankim Chandra Chaterjee, he is very sad. He pulls him up and says – ‘You wretched fellow! Such words from you! You are such a great personality. And you say such things!’. Listen. What will happen with money? You will get a house, food and clothes. What else will you get with money? Earning money and to eat, drink, and be merry, cannot be the purpose of human life. The purpose of human life is much higher.

If it was only to eat drink and be merry, then there is no apparent difference between humans and animals. Humans also eat, animals also eat. Humans also rest, animals also rest. And so on..So there is no apparent difference.

However this is not truth. There is a basic, fundamental difference between humans and animals. God has given us a faculty with no other animal or species possesses. This is the faculty of ‘vivekabuddhi’ – the faculty of thought and discrimination. On this planet, only human beings have this faculty of thought and discrimination. This is why it is said – human beings are the best creation of God.

Only human beings can think what is good and not good for them. No animal or creature can think and discriminate. This is god-gifted.

That is why Sri Ramakrishna said – since you have received this faculty, the purpose of your life cannot be eating, drinking and making merry. Over and over again he proclaims in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, that the purpose of human life is God Realization.

We can realize God through internal purity
The question arises – What is God Realization? Is God sitting somewhere outside, that we have to pull and bring inside and acquired? No. God is sitting inside you. You have to realize him.

Swami Vivekananda has also said – that religion is not just about waving lamps and incense. That is the external form of religion. The internal form of religion is realization. It is Self-realization. It is to know oneself. One’s true self. And when we do that, we will attain to God realization.

There is a story of Michelangelo. The sculptures made by this famous sculptor Michelangelo used to be sold for great prices in the world. His friend asked him – how do you make these beautiful idols and statues? He said – I don’t make these statues. I bring a block of stone, and start carving it with a hammer and chisel. I remove the extra stone from the block. As I slowly chisel off the stone, the beautiful statue reveals itself from the block of stone.

Here also (in Ramakrishna Math Aurangabad where this lecture was delivered),there is a lot of stone work going on. A big block of stone is lying here. So many beautiful domes and figurines are being carved out of it. Where are these sculptures coming from? They were all inside the stone itself. I was watching the stone carvers from my room this morning in this campus – the carvers were slowly chiseling off the stone. And from the block of stone, beautiful figurines were emerging.

Similarly, God is residing inside us. Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji say that God dwells in all human beings. We have to see / recognize God. We are unable to recognize and realize God because, within us, there are also many unwanted blocks of stone. Those stones have to be chiseled off.

Sri Ramakrishna says that if we want to realize God, it can be done only by cleaning up the dirt inside us. For example, if there is some dust on a mirror, we will not be able to see our face in it. A dirty mirror will not reflect our image. Once the mirror is cleaned, you can see your reflection. Similarly, the heart has to be cleaned first.

We talk about the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan now-a-days – Clean India Campaign. It is important, but this campaign is about external cleanliness. What is to be done about our inner cleanliness? This is a big challenge. External impurity is not as terrible as inner impurity. All the trouble in the world today is due to this inner impurity.

This is why Sri Ramakrishna said that the only goal of life is God Realization.

Sri Ramakrishna’s Universal Message (3) – Renunciation
One more universal message is that of renunciation.

You will find in the Gospel, that Sri Ramakrishna repeatedly talks about renunciation of kamini-kanchan (‘woman & gold’). We get upset with this teaching. But let us ask why he has referred to this over and over again.

It does not mean neglecting women – our wife, sisters and daughters. Sri Ramakrishna himself worshipped his wife as Shodashi. Therefore it is not possible that he is talking about rejection of women. Kamini-Kanchan means ‘kamana & vasanas’ – desires and passions. He says – if you want peace, then you need to renounce desires and passions.

There is no human being in this universe who doesn’t want peace. Even a wicked/ nasty person wants peace. So if we want peace and happiness, we need to give rein to our desires and passions. If we don’t do this, our mind will be unsettled, and we will not be blessed with ultimate happiness. This is why Sri Ramakrishna asks us to give rein to our desires.

We will ask – is it so easy to renounce desires and passions? We are householders, we need those to go on in life. Yes, we need that. But Sri Ramakrishna says, keep them in check. If you don’t, you will be like a horse without any reins. Such a horse runs wild. And anyone who comes in front of it is destroyed.

This is the same condition that we will be in. Without a check on desires and passions, we will be like a wild horse. And life will be terrible and will break down.

He says – remain happy with what you have. However human nature is not satisfied with what one has. If there is a BMW Car, we are wondering when will we get a Mercedes Benz? And then a Limousine.If there is a 2 BHK, when will there be a 3 BHK and then 4.If the bank balance is 2 crores, how can we have 10 and then 25 crores and so on.. There is no end to this!

That is why Sri Ramakrishna said that desires and passions are unending. There is no end! So don’t crave for things of the world. Give rein to your desires and passions, and live in joy and bliss. This is the meaning for renouncing kamini-kanchan.

What does renunciation mean?
To us, renunciation seems to imply leaving home and hearth and going away from the world – to an Ashrama, or to the forest or cave in the Himalayas. But that is not necessary. Neither did Sri Ramakrishna nor Swami Vivekananda nor Holy Mother say this.

They said that the renunciation has to be of the ego and of attachment. We have to live in the world, in a family, and carry out our responsibilities. All this in an unattached manner.

Conclusion: Why is Sri Ramakrishna’s message Universal?
He advocated of the Eternal Religion and (Sanatana Dharma)– that which has no beginning, no end. He spoke of the universal truth –that truth which is applicable to all. To any country, any human being, any sect.

An example of these teaching include ‘stayamevajayate’ – truth alone shall prevail. This is not some unique and special message for a Muslim or a Hindu, or any other religion. Speak the truth is a universal message. And Sri Ramakrishna preached such truths alone.