In the previous week’s post we saw that Sri Ramakrishna had achieved his life’s goal and achieved the highest form of consciousness. However he had a vision of a new mission for his life and this required that he return to the plane of consciousness once again.
Sri Ramakrishna’s new mission required that he carry out spiritual exploration. Sri Ramakrishna did this in a manner never attempted before by exploring other faiths. He got initiated into Islam and became a practicing Muslim. He completely banished all Hindu ideas and found no inclination to even visit his favorite Kali temple. After three days he had a vision that convinced him that Islam was an authentic way of attaining Brahman. Seven years later he did a similar experiment with Christianity that once again culminated in a vision that proved to him the authenticity of the Christian path. Sri Ramakrishna similarly spoke highly of the Buddhist, Sikh, and the Jain faith. During this period Sri Ramakrishna also went on a pilgrimage to many holy sites and met some of the most extraordinary spiritual masters belonging to different Hindu sects. After this period of exploration he came to the conclusion that the different Hindu Sects and the different faiths were all authentic but different paths to the same God. He used to say to his disciples, “I have practiced three religions- Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. And I have also followed the paths of different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God towards whom all are directing their steps, though along different path. It is as if a tank of water has many different sides. From one side the Hindus draw water and call it “jal”. From another side the Mohammedans draw water and call it “pani”, and from yet another side the Christians call it “water”. Can we imagine that 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.”
It is unheard for a spiritual stalwart of Sri Ramakrishna’s caliber, belonging to one faith, to have embraced another faith so completely. Not only Sri Ramakrishna do it once but he did it twice. It is indeed unprecedented in the annals of religious history that such a daring experiment was ever carried out. Sri Ramakrishna, having done this experiment, was able to speak not just from an intellectual level but also from a very direct experiential level. His message of unity is hence most extraordinary and authentic. It laid down the groundwork not only of a modern secular India, but also puts forth an extraordinary vision of co-existence of faiths that is yet unfolding before our eyes. It is because of Sri Ramakrishna’s vision that orthodox Hindus have subsequently felt liberty to take the message of Yoga and universalize it so that it can be adopted by all faiths. If your life has been touched by Yoga then you are the direct beneficiary of Sri Ramakrishna’s extraordinary message. If our children and grandchildren will not be involved in religious wars and choose instead to coexist with other faiths it will be because the echo of Sri Ramakrishna’s voice will be still reverberating in their lives.
Having a vision is one thing, but getting it across to every corner of the earth is quite another. Sri Ramakrishna knew that he needed disciples to carry forth his message. A new chapter now began in his life as he earnestly sought disciples.
Sri Ramakrishna was now burning with a tremendous desire to meet his disciples. About this he would say later: “There was no limit to the yearning I had then. During the daytime I managed somehow to control it…every little incident would remind me of them, and thoughts of them, wholly engrossed my mind. When during the evening service the temple rang with the sound of bells and conch-shells, I would climb to the roof of the building in the garden, and writhing in anguish of heart, cry at the top of my voice: Come, my boys! Oh! Where are you? I cannot bear to live without you!”
Soon the disciples started trickling in. What started first as a trickle slowly turned into a torrent. Sri Ramakrishna now devoted his complete energy in meeting them, teaching them, and a select few he inducted them into the monastic order and started providing them with advanced spiritual training. What was extraordinary was that Sri Ramakrishna accepted all kinds of disciples. He had disciples who were householders and bachelors. He had disciples from all castes and many different faiths. He also accepted women as his disciples.
Many of his disciples would go on to become spiritual stalwarts in their own right. The brightest star amongst them all was Sri Ramakrishna’s chosen disciple who came to be known as Swami Vivekananda. It is said that Sri Ramakrishna transmitted his full spiritual powers to Swami Vivekananda just before his passing.
Swami Vivekananda would bring Sri Ramakrishna’s message of spiritual unity to the west. He also laid down the path for opening up the west to the message of yoga. In his footsteps followed many other spiritual teachers and the trickle of gurus coming to the west from the east has now turned into a torrent. The message of yoga and the message of spiritual unity of all faiths are now burning brightly and the light of this message is illuminating the lives of millions of people. In the successful adoption of the message of Sri Ramakrishna in our lives lies the key to our future and the future of our children. The final phase of Sri Ramakrishna’s life is still unfolding before us. If we manage to coexist and live in peace and harmony in spite of our different faiths and practices, then Sri Ramakrishna’s mission would have been fulfilled.
This is the third and concluding post of the three part series on the Life Of Sri Ramakrishna. The first part was about his achieving God Realization. The second part was on his reaching the highest spiritual state.