Harmony of religions


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Harmony of religions

  1. 1. Harmony of Religions from the Standpoint of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda SWAMI BHAJANANANDARamakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
  2. 2. Publisher’s Note ‘Harmony of Religions from the Standpoint of SriRamakrishna and Swami Vivekananda’ was originallyone of the papers read at a seminar on ‘ExploringHarmony among Religious Traditions in India’ held atthe Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata,from January 4 to 6, 2007. This paper, presented at theseventh academic session of the seminar on 6 January2007, was included among the proceedings of theseminar published in 2008. Because of the nature of its theme and the warmapplause that this brilliant paper evoked at the seminar,we have decided to publish this paper separately in amonograph form. We hope that this will make itaccessible to a wider circle of readers. It will be possiblefor them to have a bird’s-eye view of such a subject ofvital importance as Sri Ramakrishna’s and SwamiVivekananda’s attitudes to the harmony of religions. Swami Bhajanananda is Assistant Secretary,Ramakrishna Math, Belur.
  3. 3. Published by Swami Sarvabhutananda SecretaryRamakrishna Mission Institute of Culture Gol Park, Kolkata-700 029 First Edition : April 2008 ISBN : 81-87332-62-X Price : Rupees fifteen only Printed atRamakrishna Mission Institute of Culture Gol Park, Kolkata-700 029
  4. 4. Harmony of Religions from the Standpoint of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda One of the main problems about religion is itsplurality or diversity. Not only are there severalreligions but they differ from one another in manyways. Further, each claims to show the right way oflife, each claims to provide supreme peace andfulfilment. The phenomenon of plurality of religions raisesseveral philosophical questions. These questions leadto another field known as ‘Comparative Study ofReligions’, and so they are not discussed here. Diversity of religion, however, is not merely aphilosophical problem. It has immense social,cultural and political consequences. Differencesamong religions have been one of the main causes ofwars and communal riots all through human history.Even in normal, peaceful society, many peopleharbour prejudice and ill will towards followers ofreligions other than their own. More than a hundredyears ago, Swami Vivekananda said: ‘And thus wefind that, though there is nothing that has brought to
  5. 5. Harmony of Religions 2man more blessings than religion, yet at the sametime, there is nothing that has brought more horrorthan religion. Nothing has made more for peace andlove than religion; nothing has engendered fiercerhatred than religion. Nothing has made thebrotherhood of man more tangible than religion;nothing has bred more bitter enmity between man andman than religion. Nothing has built more charitableinstitutions, more hospitals for men and even foranimals, than religion; nothing has deluged the worldwith more blood than religion.’1 It is, however, obvious that diversity in itself isnot sufficient to account for religious conflicts. Forpeople of diverse temperaments are seen to livetogether in peace in most societies. Two points are tobe noted in this context. In the first place, religiousconflicts have intrinsic and external causes. Intrinsiccause is the operation of certain doctrines or customsof one religion which are opposed to those of anotherreligion. External cause is the manipulation ofreligion by vested interests, institutions, politicalparties, etc. Speaking about the harm done by themanipulation of religion by institutions supported bythe State, Swami Vivekananda said: ‘Now, in mylittle experience I have collected this knowledge—that for all the devilry that religion is blamed with,religion is not at all at fault. No religion everpersecuted men, no religion ever burned witches, noreligion ever did any of these things. What then
  6. 6. Harmony of Religions 3incited people to do these things? Politics, but never[true] religion. And if such politics takes the name ofreligion, whose fault is that?’2 Secondly, when we study the history of religiousconflicts, we can see that the nature of conflicts hasundergone much change during the past fewcenturies. These changes have been caused bychanges in the role of religion in human life. Beforethe 18th century religions were almost whollyconcerned with salvation. Most of the religious warsand persecutions that took place in the Middle Ageswere over the question who would go to heaven andwho will go to hell. With the progressivesecularization of religion, which began with FrenchRevolution, Industrial Revolution, etc., religion cameto be identified with humanistic concerns. As aconsequence, religious conflicts in modern times arenot over doctrinal differences, but over social,economic and political issues. India had remained a land of religious harmonyfrom very ancient times till the country attainedindependence. Religious freedom, toleration andharmony have formed the characteristic texture ofIndian ethos. But after independence, especially inrecent years, communal unrest, desecration of placesof worship, assassination of religious leaders, etc.,
  7. 7. Harmony of Religions 4have become quite common. Another controversialchange is the rise of fundamentalism. These events,however, are to be seen as deviations from the Indianethos. These deviations are actually reactions of theIndian psyche to forces acting against the Indian ethos. Since religious conflicts and communaldisharmony have assumed serious proportions inpresent-day India, harmony of religions has becomea most important and vital concern for all people. UNDERSTANDING HARMONY OF RELIGIONSRecognition of differences Harmony of religions should first of all bedistinguished from ‘indifferentism’. Indifferentism isthe view that there is no difference among religionsand that they are all more or less the same. This is aphilosophical concept. There is a similar popularbelief that ‘all religions are the same’, which isprevalent among the common people especially inthe rural areas in India. This kind of simplistic idea isbased on ignorance of other religions, and ignorancecannot be a sound basis for harmony. The starting point for a proper understanding ofharmony of religions is the recognition of differencesamong religions. Each religion has, throughcenturies of development, acquired a distinct profile
  8. 8. Harmony of Religions 5with ever so many unique features which include acomplex philosophical framework, a vast literature,many social customs and rich mystical traditions. Atthe same time, these differences have createdinsuperable barriers among religions, and anydiscussion on harmony of religions has to take intoaccount these barriers.Harmony is different from toleration Harmony of religions should also bedistinguished from religious toleration. Tolerationimplies a certain degree of condescension andrefraining from doing something worse. What SwamiVivekananda said on this point is worth mentioninghere, ‘Not only toleration, for so-called toleration isoften blasphemy, and I do not believe in it. I believein acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Tolerationmeans that I think that you are wrong and I am justallowing you to live. Is it not a blasphemy to thinkthat you and I are allowing others to live?’3Interreligious and Intrareligious Harmony In discussions on harmony of religions we tendto treat each religion as if it were a monolith. Butthe truth is each religion is vertically divided intoseveral major sects and a large number of minorsects. Examples are : Vaiùõava and øaiva sects inHinduism; Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Churchesin Christianity; Sunni, Shia and Ismaili sects in
  9. 9. Harmony of Religions 6Islam; Mahàyàna, Vajrayàna and Theravàda inBuddhism. Very often these sects show greateranimosity towards one another than towards otherreligions. Discussion on harmony of religions shouldinclude harmony within each religion—intrareligiousharmony, as well as harmony among religions—interreligious harmony.Approaches to the Problem of Harmony There are four main approaches to the problemof harmony of religions: political, social, theologicaland mystical. By political approach is meant thepolicy adopted by the government towards religion.In modern times this approach has assumedparamount importance because, without it, the otherapproaches become ineffective. Even in theocraticcountries the government follows a policy ofreligious toleration and takes care to preventcommunal disturbances. In democratic countries likethe USA and India the political approach followed isto declare the State to be secular. Secularism hasbeen much criticized and is often thought to havefailed in India. But it has denied legitimacy tofundamentalism and social injustice in the name ofreligion. Social approach is the one normally followed bythe common people. Left to themselves, commonpeople would live in peace with their neighbours
  10. 10. Harmony of Religions 7whatever be their religion or faith. They createcommunal disturbances only when they are incitedby vested interests. This is the field in whichreligious leaders and voluntary organizations have aleading role to play. Theological approach consists in reinterpretingdoctrines in favour of harmony of religions. In allworld religions most of the doctrines wereformulated many centuries ago. Some of thesedoctrines are against harmony of religions. If thesecannot be changed, they could be reinterpreted to suitthe needs of the present-day world. In Hinduism,scriptures have been classified into two groups: theøruti and the Smçti. The eternal truths and laws of thespiritual world revealed to the ancient çùis constitutethe øruti. It cannot be changed, but it has beeninterpreted in different ways by âcàryas. All othermatters of religion, especially man’s duties and waysof life, constitute the øruti. Smçti can be changed orreinterpreted. In modern times Swami Vivekanandareinterpreted the ancient scriptures in the light of SriRamakrishna’s experiences. His ideas helped toestablish intrareligious harmony within Hinduism,and have given shape to the modern integralHinduism which stresses interreligious harmony as abasic tenet. In this connection it may be mentionedthat it is the theological approach that lies at thebottom of the dialogue movement initiated by
  11. 11. Harmony of Religions 8Christian churches in recent years. Lastly we come to the mystical approach. Thisapproach is based on the principle that, apart fromthe revealed knowledge gained from the scriptures, itis possible to have direct experience(aparokùànubhåti) of the ultimate Reality known asmystical knowledge. This principle is accepted in allthe world religions, and every religion has a richmystical tradition built through many centuries. Onedifficulty in this approach is that regarding thecontent of mystical experience, that is, knowledgegained through mystical experience, there is a greatdeal of variation among the major religions. Theexperiences of Ràbeyà, Mãrà and St Theresa are notthe same, nor are the experiences of Al Ghazzali, StJohn of the Cross and J¤àne÷vara. But, althoughregarding the content of experience there is variation,all mystics agree that direct experience of theUltimate Reality is possible; and this agreement canserve as the basis for the establishment of harmonyof religions. It was this mystical approach that SriRamakrishna followed, and Swami Vivekanandaexpounded. While concluding this section, we would like tosuggest that, for the establishment of harmonyamong religions, a combination of all the fourapproaches would be the ideal approach. SRI RAMAKRISHNA, THE PROPHET OF HARMONY OF RELIGIONS
  12. 12. Harmony of Religions 9 The present-day interest in harmony of religionsin several parts of the world may have beenoccasioned by demographic compulsions and othercauses. But a direct, indirect or even remote influence ofSri Ramakrishna behind it all cannot be ruled out. Hewas the first person in modern times to openlypreach harmony of religions. The conservative condition of the society and theorthodox nature of the family in which he was bornand brought up were most unfavourable for thedevelopment of such a liberal doctrine. In those daysan orthodox Brahmin would not accept food, or evendrink water, from a lower caste Hindu. As for peoplebelonging to other religions, they were all bracketedtogether as mleccha (similar to the term ‘heathen’used in Christianity and ‘kàfir’ used in Islam). Whenwe study the situation in which Sri Ramakrishnaspent his early years, it becomes clear that he did notget the idea of harmony of religions from anyexternal source. Nor did he preach the doctrine of harmony ofreligions with the idea of getting recognition for thator for name and fame. Then what made him preachthis doctrine? The answer has been given by SriSarada Devi, his spiritual spouse. ‘It never struckme’, she once said, ‘that the Master followed the
  13. 13. Harmony of Religions 10paths of different religions with the idea ofestablishing the doctrine of harmony of religions. Hewas a lover of God and wanted to enjoy the bliss ofGod in different ways. This was what made himfollow different spiritual paths.’4 In other words, theidea of harmony of religions came to SriRamakrishna as a direct mystical experience. It cameto him as an inner discovery, a personal revelation. Born in a poor but virtuous and pious Brahminfamily in a remote village (Kamarpukur) in WestBengal, Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) showed signsof mystical temperament even in early boyhood. Hehad just enough schooling to be able to read andwrite. At the age of nineteen he became a priest atthe newly consecrated Kàlã Temple atDakshineshwar. Contrary to what usually happens inthe case of ordinary priests, service to the deity onlyinflamed the innate longing for God in the case ofRamakrishna. He began to spend whole nights incontemplation in a solitary place at Dakshineshwar,but the main method he followed was intenselonging and prayer. At the end of a year he had thewonderful vision of the Divine Mother as a boundlessocean of Light. Normally, illumined souls remain satisfied byfollowing only one path. But Ramakrishna felt an
  14. 14. Harmony of Religions 11insatiable desire to realize God through variouspaths. First he followed the different paths ofHinduism–the Yogic, the Tantric, the Vaiùõava andthe other paths and reached the goal of each of themin an incredibly short period, culminating in theexperience of non-dual Reality through NirvikalpaSamàdhi at the age of 28. The desire to realize God through other religionsbecame strong in him and, two years later in 1866 hebegan to follow the Sufi path of Islam under a Sufiguide. He lived like a Muslim, offering Namaz andrepeating the name of Allah. This sàdhanàculminated in the vision of a radiant Being whofinally merged into the Absolute. Eight years later, the desire to realize Godthrough the spiritual path of Christianity becamestrong in him, and he began to listen to readingsfrom the Bible. Some time in 1874, once when hewas looking at a picture of Madonna with infantJesus, he became completely absorbed in the thoughtof Christ. This inner absorption was so intense thatfor three days he could not go to the temples or thinkof Hindu deities. At the end of this period he had awonderful vision of Jesus Christ which finallymerged in the experience of the Absolute. Here the question may arise as to how Sri
  15. 15. Harmony of Religions 12Ramakrishna could realize God through Islamic andChristian paths in such a short time. The answer isobvious to all those who are familiar with the livesand works of great mystics. Sri Ramakrishna hadthrough year of intense spiritual discipline attainedsuch a total purification of mind and perfection incontemplation that he did not have to pass throughthe different stages of spiritual progress (such asPurgation, Illumination and Union) like ordinarymystics. There are two points in Sri Ramakrishna’sspiritual experiences which deserve special attention.One is that Sri Ramakrishna saw each religionthrough the eyes of its followers. When he followedthe path of any religion, he identified himself totallywith the customs of that religion. The second point isthat, whatever religious path he followed, they allculminated in the experience of the Absolute. It wasfrom this direct experience that he derived hisdoctrine of dharma-samanvaya or ‘harmony ofreligions’ which he described as yata mat tata path. Like all great men, Sri Ramakrishna lived anauthentic life. There were no contradictions betweenhis thought, speech and action. Once he wasconvinced of the truth of harmony of religions, hebegan to speak about it openly because he saw it wasthe need of the hour.
  16. 16. Harmony of Religions 13 Sri Ramakrishna did not merely preach thedoctrine of harmony of religions. He lived what hetaught. The small room in which he lived atDakshineshwar was the meeting place for peoplebelonging to different religions who flocked to himfrom all directions. Sri Ramakrishna did not merelywelcome people belonging to different religions, hewould identify himself with their own views andbecome one among them. Speaking about this aspectof Sri Ramakrishna’s life, Swami Vivekananda oncesaid, ‘Ay, long before ideas of universal religion andbrotherly feeling between different sects were mootedand discussed in any country in the world, here, insight of this city, had been living a man whose wholelife was a Parliament of Religions as it should be.’5 FOUR INTERRELIGIOUS ATTITUDES Conflicts among followers of different religionsare caused by wrong attitudes towards religions otherthan one’s own. A person’s attitude towards otherreligions depends upon several factors. In recentyears most of the religious studies have centred oninterreligious attitudes. Western scholars have recognized three maininterreligious attitudes: Exclusivism, Inclusivism,and Pluralism6. To this we may add SwamiVivekananda’s concept of Universalism as a fourthattitude.
  17. 17. Harmony of Religions 141. Exclusivism Exclusivism is the view that one’s own religionalone is true and all the other religions are false.According to this view, there can be only one truerevelation, and only one true way to salvation. This was the view that prevailed in the West tillthe World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in1893. It is still held by some religions and by somegroups in other religions. In Christianity this viewfound expression in the dogma, Extra ecclesiamnulla salus, ‘outside the Church no salvation’. In theearly decades of the last century the exclusivisticposition was strongly advocated by Karl Barth,Emile Brunner and Hendrik Kraemer. After thesecond Vatican Council and the formation of theWorld Council of Churches, this view seems to be nolonger popular in Christianity. Liberal-mindedpeople in all religions have given up this view. When exclusivism finds aggressive socialexpression, it becomes fundamentalism. The rise offundamentalism in several religions, and theadaptation of extremist and terrorist tactics by somefundamentalist groups, constitute the main threat toglobal peace, friendship and prosperity in the present-day world.2. Inclusivism
  18. 18. Harmony of Religions 15 Inclusivism also holds that one’s own religionalone is true, but it does not hold that other religionsare false, for they are all included in one’s ownreligion. Revelation in one’s own religion is full,perfect and final, whereas revelation in otherreligions is partial, imperfect or preliminary. Otherreligions are only preparations to understand andaccept one’s own religion. Some form of inclusivism may be found in allthe world religions. In Hinduism, ørã Kçùõa’sstatement in the Gãtà, ‘In whatever way a personwants to attain me, I bless him in that way.Everywhere people follow my path’7, is often citedas an example of Inclusivism. The followingstatement of St Augustine anticipated inclusivism inChristianity as early as the 4th century, ‘For thereality itself, which we now call the Christianreligion, was present among the early people, and upto the time of coming of Christ in the flesh, wasnever absent from the beginning of the human race.So the true religion which already existed now beganto be called Christian.’ In modern times Inclusivism as a distinctinterreligious attitude was first formulated by theGerman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner in 1961.According to him, Christ works through all religions,and it is Christ that the followers of other religions
  19. 19. Harmony of Religions 16worship through their sacraments, without beingaware of the fact. Rahner therefore called thefollowers of other religions ‘anonymous Christians’.This line of thinking was supported by Hans Kung,Henri le Saux (Abhishiktananda), Dom BedeGriffiths, Klaus Klostermaier and other theologiansand thinkers.8 Some statements of Swami Vivekananda, such asthe following one, may give the impression thatSwamiji was an inclusivist : ‘All of religion iscontained in the Vedanta, that is, in the three stagesof the Vedanta Philosophy : the Dvaita, theVi÷iùñàdvaita and the Advaita, one comes after theother.’9 But, as we shall see later, Swamiji used theterm Vedanta in a much larger sense and, thereforehe cannot be regarded as an inclusivist.3. Pluralism Pluralism holds that all world religions are true,revelations are many, and there are several paths tosalvation / liberation. Pluralism is a philosophicalterm which means that truth has ultimately more thanone valid construction and that human thinking canapproach those constructions in quite different ways.In the context of world religions Pluralism means, inthe words of Professor John Hick, ‘… the greatreligious traditions are to be regarded as alternative
  20. 20. Harmony of Religions 17soteriological spaces within which, or ways alongwhich, men and women find salvation / liberation /fulfilment.’10 Pluralism is a way of establishing understandingand harmony among religions without ignoring theuniqueness of each. To understand Pluralism weshould first of all distinguish it from Indifferentism(this has already been done at the beginning of thispaper) and Relativism which represents two extremeviews. Pluralism recognizes that differences betweenreligions are real and permanent. This impliesrecognition of the independence, dignity and validityof each religion. As Professor James Michael Lee haspointed out, ‘Genuine religious Pluralism is not amelting pot in which all diverse religions areliquefied into sameness. On the contrary, genuinereligious Pluralism is a mosaic in which all religionsoccupy privileged, autonomous and interactivepositions, thus revealing a picture which displays thefull reality of God less inadequately than any singlereligion, however objectively great, is able to do byitself.’11 It does not, however, mean that the truths ofdifferent religions are wholly different and relative,and there is no absolute truth. If there were noabsolute Truth or Reality, then each religion wouldremain isolated as an island and no interaction
  21. 21. Harmony of Religions 18among religions would be possible at a higher level.In the words of Professor Grant S. Shockley,‘Pluralism is a method of analysis to aid in criticalevaluating, focusing and objectifying. Absolutes,universals and exclusive revelations are valid inthemselves, and they are valid for those who believein them. They are elements of the larger truth or thewhole of truth which by definition is unknowable bya single individual.’12 Pluralism, however, is not a mere theologicalmatter. In fact, in Pluralism practical considerationsare more important than theoretical ones. AsProfessor Shockley says, ‘What is the shape andstyle of the pluralist approach? Essentially, it is onethat seeks an ampler and more functionalunderstanding of the nature and meaning of religionor theology in its situation of diversity—cultural,ethnic, racial, linguistic; seeks ways of enablingpersons to live together more creatively in and withdiversity; and corporately design ways of achievingselected common goals.’13 The idea of religious Pluralism was introduced inWestern thought mainly by Arnold Toynbee, W. E.Hocking, and Ernst Troeltsch. The idea was put on afirm foundation by Paul Tillich, Wilfred CantwellSmith and John Hick. The present pluralistmovement in the West owes much to the bold
  22. 22. Harmony of Religions 19advocacy of religious Pluralism by Professor Hick.He terms his pluralist scheme ‘a Copernicanrevolution’. He stated, ‘And we have to realize theuniverse of faiths centres upon God, and not uponChristianity or upon any other religion. He is theSun, the originative source of life and light, whomall the religions reflect in their own way.’14 Professor James Michael Lee of the University ofAlabama has enunciated eight ‘Basic Principles ofReligious Pluralism’.15 These are given below in anabridged and adapted form : 1. The ultimate Reality is inexhaustible mysterywhich expresses itself through diverse revelations indifferent religions. 2. Each religion represents a distinct socio-cultural response to divine revelation. 3. However, irrespective of the socio-culturalmilieu in which a person has grown, everyoneencounters God in his own personal way. 4. The followers of all religions are to be treatedas equals as far as their religious convictions areconcerned. (This does not, however, imply that allreligions are equal.) 5. It is necessary to understand the tenets andpractices of other religions. 6. Each religion is to be understood through theeyes of its own followers; there should be no
  23. 23. Harmony of Religions 20invidious comparisons. 7. The followers of each religion should interactfreely with the followers of other religions throughdialogue. 8. The follower of each religion should enlargehis religious consciousness by imbibing some of thenoble elements of other religions. In the above discussion we have outlined themain trends in current thinking on Pluralism amongtheologians in the West. In this context three morepoints need consideration. (a) In the first place, Pluralism is no longer amatter to be decided by theologians or Churchauthorities. It has become the concern of thecommon man. The social revolution that sweptthrough America and Europe in the 1960s, the influxof oriental spiritual leaders and ideas into the West,secularization of moral authority and other factorshave weakened the hold of institutional religions onthe minds of Western people. On the other hand, thelarge presence of immigrants professing differentreligions, has made multireligious awareness acompelling reality in Western society. As aconsequence, hundreds of thousands of people nowbelieve in religious pluralism and follow it in theirlives. (b) This has not, however, reduced the
  24. 24. Harmony of Religions 21importance of discussion on religious pluralism.Since the attitudes of people depend to a large extenton the type of education they receive, Pluralism isnow receiving the attention of educationists andgovernments in several countries. Moreover,religious leaders, even if they don’t do much good,can do much harm if they hold exclusivistic views.As a matter of fact, fundamentalism is rising in manycountries, and this menace to social disharmony canbe met only by strengthening the bases of Pluralismin the minds of religious leaders. (c) The type of Pluralism described above is aWestern concept based on Western religious andlogical premises, and does not have much relevanceto the socio-religious situation in India.Indian Socio-religious Outlook Indian socio-religious outlook is derived fromtwo basic factors: one is the Indian ethos and theother is Indian religious consciousness. The Indian ethos (by which is meant the set ofvalues which govern social outlook and interactions)has always been characterized by harmony and non-violence. Even the much maligned caste systemassigned to each group a certain niche in the socialfabric and thereby avoided conflict and competitionto a great extent. People belonging to various
  25. 25. Harmony of Religions 22religious, linguistic and even racial groups could livetogether in peace. It was this attitude of harmony thatenabled Indian society to provide shelter to severalwaves of migrations— Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrianand even Islamic—from the Middle East . Moreover, the overall non-violent nature of theIndian people prevented large-scale religious per-secutions. There were religious dissensions, and evenreligious conflicts no doubt, but these seldomescalated into large-scale pogroms or massacres orburning at stake of innocent people. What was the force which shaped the distinctiveprofile of Indian ethos? The understanding of theimmanence of Divinity. Somehow or other, at somepoint in its ancient history, the Indian mind gasped agreat Truth: God indwells everything in the Universeas an unbroken spiritual continuum. God is not anextra-cosmic Being staying somewhere above, but isimmanent in creation. The whole universe is shotthrough and through with Divinity. This idea of unity of divine immanence gave riseto (a) a sense of harmony with all and (b) a sense ofrespect for all. Not only every person, but also,everything in the universe—trees, rivers, mountains,etc.—is inherently Divine and should be treated withrespect.
  26. 26. Harmony of Religions 23 We now come to the second factor, viz., religiousconsciousness of Indian people. In Indian culture,religion has always been a quest for the ultimateReality or ultimate Truth (and not a mere socialresponse to divine commandments for theestablishment of righteousness in the world). Theancient Indian sages realized that beyond thisuniverse, which is ever changing and transitory, thereis an unchanging, eternal Reality which is of thenature of pure awareness. They simply called it ‘theVast’, Brahman. The dynamic aspect of Brahman isknown as ä÷vara or God. The transcendent and immanent aspects togetherconstitute the total Reality. It is not something inertbut is consciousness itself. It is pictured in the Vedasas a Cosmic Person, the Puruùa, with thousands ofheads, thousands of eyes, thousands of hands andfeet. That aspect which is immanent in the universeconstitutes only one-fourth of the Puruùa, whereas thetranscendent aspect constitutes three-fourth of thePuruùa.16 What this image of the Puruùa implies is that thewhole universe is one single organism. Just as cells,tissues, organs, etc., constitute the body, soeverything in the universe goes to form a cosmicorganism. Everything in the universe is interrelated. Another equally important discovery made inancient India was that, although the ultimate Reality
  27. 27. Harmony of Religions 24is one, the human mind, owing to its diverse nature,comprehends the Reality in diverse ways. As a result,the same Reality appears as several deities. TheVedic sages gave expression to this idea through thedictum: eka§ sat vipràþ bahudhà vadanti, ‘TheReality is one; the sages call it by various names.’ In other words, the principle of unity in diversityunderlies the Indian concept of Pluralism. Unlike theWestern model of Pluralism based on analyticalreasoning, the Indian model of Pluralism is based onholistic, organic intuition.Dialogue in the Indian Tradition This idea of unity in diversity, organic unity andharmony of views of the ultimate Reality, thatcharacterized Vedic thought was to some extent lostwhen the Vedic Age came to an end sometime beforethe beginning of the Christian era. From the secondor third century AD several independent thinkersattempted to systematize Indian thought. As a resultthere arose six systems of Hindu thought known asdar÷anas. Each dar÷ana represents a particular viewof Reality. The six systems are : Mãmà§sà founded byJaiminã, Vai÷eùika founded by Kaõàda, Nyàyafounded by Gautama, Sà§khya founded by Kapila,Yoga founded by Pata¤jali, and Vedanta founded byBàdaràyaõa. At first these systems remained as
  28. 28. Harmony of Religions 25isolated groups, each attracting adherents. A new erain philosophical thinking began when KumàrilaBhañña and Prabhàkara of the Mãmà§sà system andøaïkara of Vedanta system adopted aggressivepolemics to demolish rival views and establish theirown systems as representing the true view of Realityand human destiny. øaïkara’s establishment ofAdvaita School provoked the rise of several schoolswithin Vedanta, such as Vi÷iùñàdvaita, Dvaita, etc.These Vedantic schools did not remain merely asschools of philosophy, but developed into sects, eachwith its own philosophical framework, cult,community, customs and traditions. After theeleventh century, except Vedanta, most of the othersystems ceased to be in vogue, and Vedanta with allits schools remained the dominant system ofphilosophy in India. All the systems and schools of philosophycarried on vigorous polemics. The scholars of eachschool, some of whom may be ranked among themost brilliant thinkers in the world, tried to establishtheir view of Reality and their way to liberation to bethe only true one and tried to prove the invalidity orfalsity of the views of other systems and schools.Since there was an intellectual community spread allover India which used Sanskrit as the lingua franca,the philosophical controversies took the form of anational dialogue. Indeed the principles of dialogue
  29. 29. Harmony of Religions 26were strictly followed. The scholars of each schoolrespected the views of other schools and studiedthem thoroughly before attempting to controvertthem. It is, however, clear that the original pluralisticspirit was lost. Some of the schools were franklyexclusivistic, while some others like øaïkara’sAdvaita School could at best be described asinclusivistic. Apart from the schools of philosophy,there were many sects. Nevertheless, because of thespirit of tolerance, harmony and non-violence naturalto the Indian ethos, all these sects could coexistwithout violent encounters or communaldisturbances. This integral social mosaic ofphilosophical schools and religious sects wasprofoundly disturbed by foreign invasions from the11th to the 18th century and the subsequentsubjugation of India under a Western power. Therewas thus both intrareligious and interreligiousdisharmony in India. The situation worsened by the beginning of the19th century when Indian culture had to face thechallenges of Western culture. The society at firstresponded to these challenges by throwing up reformmovements some of which denied India’s preciousspiritual heritage.
  30. 30. Harmony of Religions 27 It was at this critical juncture that SriRamakrishna and Swami Vivekananda came on thescene. The French savant Romain Rolland hasdescribed Sri Ramakrishna as ‘the consummation oftwo thousand years of spiritual life of three hundredmillion people’. Equally insightful is his statementabout Swami Vivekananda : ‘In the two wordsequilibrium and synthesis Vivekananda’sconstructive genius may be summed up.’17 The greatwork that Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekanandadid was to recover the integral vision of the ultimateReality, the holistic outlook on life, and thepluralistic acceptance of social realities that India hadlost. Sri Ramakrishna is the first great prophet ofreligious pluralism in the modern world. However,the pluralism that he advocated was not the Westernanalytical model but the Indian holistic model. WhatSri Ramakrishna did was to reestablish the ancientIndian view of religious harmony by adapting it tothe needs of modern society.4. Universalism We have discussed three interreligious attitudes,namely, Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism. Wenow come to the fourth one: Universalism.Universalism is the view that there exists a set of
  31. 31. Harmony of Religions 28universally valid religious principles common to orunifying all religions. Whereas Pluralism emphasizesthe differences among religions, Universalismemphasizes the common ground among religions. Sri Ramakrishna laid the foundations ofPluralism, and this is one of his great contributionsto the modern world. Swami Vivekananda tookPluralism one step further by showing that pluralismmust culminate in Universalism. Universalism is oneof Swamiji’s great contributions to the modernworld. Universalism, however, is a muchmisunderstood word; it will be dealt with separatelylater. SRI RAMAKRISHNA’S DOCTRINE OF DHARMA-SAMANVAYA As mentioned above, Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrineof dharma-samanvaya or ‘harmony of religions’ is theIndian version of religious pluralism. Pluralisticoutlook was the common and distinctive religiousattitude of the people in ancient India. This pluralisticvision was to a great extent eclipsed during the MiddleAges and subsequent centuries with the rise of schoolsof philosophy and religious sects.18 Sri Ramakrishna
  32. 32. Harmony of Religions 29revived and re-established the ancient pluralisticattitude of the people. Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of Harmony ofReligions (dharma-samanvaya) was based on certainbasic principles which he followed in his life. Thefirst is the principle of direct experience. SriRamakrishna’s doctrine of harmony was not derivedfrom books or intellectual reasoning, but from hisown direct mystical experience. For him religionmeant direct experience, and not rituals and dogmas.He believed that if a person follows his religion withfaith, sincerity and purity of mind, he is sure to attaindirect spiritual experience. And he wanted everyoneshould follow his own religion and attain the highestfulfilment that it promises. This is what SriRamakrishna meant by harmony of religions. The second principle that Sri Ramakrishnafollowed was to understand each religion through theeyes of its followers. He never attempted to judgeother religions by the standards of the religioustradition in which he was born. This attitude ofseeing religions through the eyes of its followers andsuspending one’s judgment, is known as‘phenomenological method’ in modern times. This is
  33. 33. Harmony of Religions 30not to suggest that Sri Ramakrishna followed thephenomenological method. On the contrary, thephenomenological method seems to be a parody ofwhat Sri Ramakrishna actually did. Sri Ramakrishnaonly authenticated the phenomenological methodwhich the Western scholars seldom followed in theirown personal lives.19 The third principle, which Sri Ramakrishnaobserved all through his life, was not to criticize anyreligion or sect. (For that matter, he nevercondemned any person, for he believed that there ishope for even the worst sinner.) Sri Ramakrishnasaw God’s power working everywhere, and hebelieved that every religion and sect has some placein God’s scheme. In other words, harmony ofreligions was a natural phenomenon for him, notsomething to be artificially created through dogmaticassertions. Although born and brought up in anorthodox Hindu family, he was perfectly at homewith the Brahmos, Vaiùõavas, Christians, Muslimsand Sikhs. The main tenets of Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine ofdharma-samanvaya may now be stated : 1. The ultimate Reality is only one but is known
  34. 34. Harmony of Religions 31by different names in different religions; it isPersonal as well as Impersonal. 2. Realization of the ultimate Reality is the truegoal and purpose of human life. It is also the centralpurpose of all religions. It is this direct transcendentexperience that gives validity to religions, and notbooks. 3. There are several paths to the realization of theultimate Reality. Each religion is such a path. Yatamat tata path, ‘As many faiths, so many paths’. Aspaths to the same ultimate goal, all world religionsare valid and true. 4. But each person should remain steadfast in hisown path in a spirit of iùñaniùñhà, without thinkingthat his path alone is true and perfect. 5. Furthermore, one should show respect to thefounders of all religions as special manifestations ofGod and, knowing that God dwells in all people, oneshould serve all without any distinctions of caste,creed, race, etc. These five tenets constitute the essentials of SriRamakrishna’s doctrine of dharma-samanvaya, orHarmony of Religions. Considering their importance,we discuss them further below. 1. As regards the first point about the ultimate
  35. 35. Harmony of Religions 32Reality, one thing Sri Ramakrishna insisted on wasnot to put any limit to God. God is not whollyunknowable. He can be realized; but the humanmind cannot grasp the whole inexhaustible mystery ofGod. Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘Men often think theyhave understood Brahman fully. Once an ant went toa hill of sugar. One grain filled its stomach. Takinganother grain in its mouth it started homeward. Onthe way it thought, “Next time I shall carry home thewhole hill” … øukadeva and sages like him mayhave been big ants.’20 Sri Ramakrishna held that the true nature ofBrahman cannot be expressed in words. He said,‘What Brahman is cannot be described. All things inthe world—the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras, thesix systems of philosophy—have been defiled, likefood that has been touched by the tongue, for theyhave been read or uttered by the tongue. Only onething has not been defiled in this way and that isBrahman.’21 Sri Ramakrishna also held that the ultimateReality is both Personal and Impersonal and it isknown by different names in different religions. Justas water congeals into ice, so under the coolinginfluence of Bhakta’s love, the Impersonal appears asthe Personal.22 Furthermore, ‘The Reality is one and
  36. 36. Harmony of Religions 33the same; the difference is in name and form. Thereare three or four ghats on a lake. The Hindus, whodrink water at one place, call it jal. The Mussalmansat another place call it pàni. And the English at athird place call it water. All the three denote one andthe same thing, the difference being in the nameonly. In the same way, some address the Reality asAllah, some as God, some as Brahman, some asKàlã, and others by such names as Ràma, Jesus,Durgà, Hari. God is one but His names are many.’23 2. We now come to the second tenet of SriRamakrishna that realization of God is the essentialcore of religion. In all religions the ultimate goal oflife is held to be going back to God. In the mysticalreligions which originated in India, the realization ofGod through direct mystical experience is regardedas possible even in the present birth. In the otherreligions, it is expected to take place after death. ThisGod experience, is a central principle on whichharmony among religions can be established. Rituals,mythology, customs, etc., vary from religion toreligion, and Sri Ramakrishna regarded them as thenon-essentials of religion. He used to say, when yougo to a mango orchard, your primary aim should be
  37. 37. Harmony of Religions 34to eat mangoes and not to count the leaves. In thesame way the primary purpose of religion is toexperience God and enjoy divine bliss.24 3. The third teaching of Sri Ramakrishna onharmony of religions is that, although the ultimateReality is one, it can be realized through severalpaths. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, ‘God can berealized through all paths. All religions are true. Theimportant thing is to reach the roof. You can reach itby stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboosteps or by rope. You can also climb up by a bamboopole.’25 This is Sri Ramakrishna’s well-knowndoctrine of yata mat tata path, ‘As many faiths, somany paths.’ In this connection it should be pointed out thatSri Ramakrishna’s view that all religions are validpaths to the ultimate Reality, refers to the majorreligions of the world. He was aware of the existenceof certain cults, sects and groups which indulged indegenerate practices. He did not condemn them butcompared them to the small back-door in old-fashioned houses in India through which thescavenger enters the house to clean the toilets. Themajor world religions are like the good front door by
  38. 38. Harmony of Religions 35which one should enter the house. 4. Iùñaniùñhà or steadfastness to one’s own chosenideal or path is another principle in SriRamakrishna’s doctrine of harmony. He followeddifferent spiritual paths, no doubt, but that does notmean he wanted or expected everyone to followdifferent religious paths. On the contrary, he wantedeveryone to stick to his own religion or spiritual pathand strive his utmost to realize the supreme goal.Following several paths will deprive the person ofone-pointed attention and intensity which are neededin order to reach the goal. It would be like attemptingto dig a well in several places instead of doing it inone place.26 5. But along with steadfastness to one’s ownreligion, one should also have respect for otherreligions and love and sympathy towards thefollowers of other religions. What Sri Ramakrishnadisapproved most was the closed mindset of adogmatic or fanatic person. The following statementof the Master clearly indicates his view on thesubject. ‘With sincerity and earnestness one canrealize God through all religions. The Vaiùõavas willrealize God, and so will the øàktas, the Vedantists,and the Brahmos. The Mussalmans and Christianswill realize Him too. All will certainly realize God if
  39. 39. Harmony of Religions 36they are earnest and sincere. Some people indulge inquarrels, saying, “One cannot attain anything unlessone worships our Kçùõa”, or “Nothing can be gainedwithout the worship of Kàlã, our Divine Mother”, or“One cannot be saved without accepting theChristian religion”. This is pure dogmatism (matuyàrbuddhi27).’ Sri Ramakrishna never liked to disturbanybody’s faith or devotional attitude. He tried tostrengthen each person’s faith in his own path andencourage him to follow it. VIVEKANANDA’S THREE COROLLARIES Swami Vivekananda carried his Master’smessage of harmony of religions to the West. Hepropounded it first at the famous Chicago Parliamentof Religions and subsequently in different parts ofUSA and England. To Sri Ramakrishna’s fourprinciples of harmony discussed above, Swamiadded three corollaries. These are : Religions of the world are mutuallycomplementary, not contradictory. There is no need to change one’s own religionfor another. The ideal approach is to accept and assimilate
  40. 40. Harmony of Religions 37the best elements of other religions while remainingsteadfast in one’s own religion. Swamiji summed up these ideas in the address hegave at the Final Session of the Chicago Parliamentof Religions as follows: ‘Do I wish that the Christianwould become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish thatHindu or Buddhist would become Christian? Godforbid. … The Christian is not to become a Hindu ora Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become aChristian. But each must assimilate the spirit of theothers and yet preserve his individuality and growaccording to his own law of growth.’28 SWAMI VIVEKANANDA’S DOCTRINE OF UNIVERSAL RELIGION As already stated, Swami Vivekananda took theidea of Pluralism one step further and propounded anew concept of Universalism. The idea of UniversalReligion was presented by Swamiji first at the WorldParliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 andlater in his lectures given in the USA and England. Itis important to note that Swamiji gave a newmeaning to the term ‘Universal Religion’. Before Swamiji came, the term ‘UniversalReligion’ meant any religion which was not limited
  41. 41. Harmony of Religions 38to a particular nation, race or caste, but was open toall people all over the world. George Galloway in hiswell-known book Philosophy of Religion classifiesworld religions into two groups: Ethnic Religionsand Universal Religions. In ethnic religionsmembership is determined by birth. Only those whobelong to a particular race (as in the case of Judaism,Zoroastrianism, Shintoism) or to the caste hierarchy(as in Hinduism) can become members of ethnicreligions. By contrast, in universal religions anybodycan become a member by under-going a simpleritual. Galloway regarded only three religions,namely Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, asuniversal religions. But each of these three religions claims to be theonly true religion in the world, and regards the otherreligions as false. This kind of claim contradicts theuniversality of these religions. The idea of onereligion triumphing over other religion (this isknown as ‘triumphalism’) is crude and outmoded. Regarding this, Swami Vivekananda said : ‘Wefind then that if by the idea of a universal religion itis meant that one set of doctrines should be believedin by all mankind, it is wholly impossible. It cannever be, there can never be a time when all faceswill be the same. Again, if we expect that there will
  42. 42. Harmony of Religions 39be one universal mythology, that is also impossible;it cannot be. Neither can there be one universalritual. Such a state of things can never come intoexistence; if it ever did, the world would bedestroyed, because variety is the first principle oflife.’29 In contrast to the above mentioned narrowconcept of universal religion, Swamiji’s concept is abroad, truly universal concept. Swamiji’s conceptembraces all the religions of the world. It is based onuniversal principles and reconciles the contradictionsfound among religions. It is not, however, widelyknown that Swamiji has given three concepts ofUniversal Religion. SWAMIJI’S FIRST CONCEPT OF UNIVERSAL RELIGION In several of his speeches and writings SwamiVivekananda has spoken of Universal Religion as theone Eternal Religion, representing the religiousconsciousness of humanity, which manifests itself indifferent places as different religions. Just as scienceis one, so also religion is one. In his famous lectureon ‘My Master’, Swamiji said : ‘The second idea that I learnt from my Master,and which is perhaps the most vital, is the wonderfultruth that the religions of the world are not
  43. 43. Harmony of Religions 40contradictory or antagonistic. They are but variousphases of one Eternal Religion. That one EternalReligion is applied to different planes of existence, isapplied to the opinions of various minds and variousraces. There never was my religion or yours…. Oneinfinite Religion existed all through eternity and willever exist, and this religion is expressing itself invarious countries in various ways.’30 It may be mentioned here that social scientistshave also treated religion as a universal phenomenoncommon to all cultures all over the world. E.B.Tylor in his book Primitive Cultures held the viewthat religion is the attempt of the ‘savage mind’ tounderstand natural phenomena, like death, diseases,dreams, etc. Bronislaw Malinowski, Claude Levi-Strauss and others showed that religion is man’sattempt to find meaning in life. George Simmel andEmile Durkeim developed the theory that religion isthe attempt to sanctify human relationships. Although social scientists have treated religion asa universal phenomenon, their conception of religionis very low, being based on mythology, rituals,institutions, etc., Swami Vivekananda has given avery high conception of religion as a universalphenomenon. He identified religion withtranscendental spiritual con-sciousness, man’sstruggle to attain that consciousness and his
  44. 44. Harmony of Religions 41experience of it. It is this universal spiritualconsciousness of humanity that Swamiji calledUniversal Religion. It should be noted that Swamijidid not identify Universal Religion with anyparticular religion like Hinduism (although he madeHinduism a universal religion by throwing open itsdoors to all people all over the world) but withhumanity’s common spiritual heritage. He lookedupon world religions as manifestations of theuniversal spiritual consciousness of humanity. Almost at the time Vivekananda expressed hisviews on Universal Religion, Professor Max M•ller,who was one of the first proponents of ComparativeReligion, wrote : ‘The living kernel of religion canbe found, I believe, in almost every creed, howevermuch the husk may vary. And think what that means!It means that above and beneath and behind allreligions there is one eternal, one universal religion.’ A similar idea was expressed a few years later byA. N. Whitehead, who is regarded as one of thegreatest thinkers of the modern world. In his bookReligion in the Making he wrote, ‘The great rationalreligions are the outcome of the emergence of areligious consciousness which is universal, as distin-guished from tribal or even social. Because it isuniversal, it introduces the note of solitariness.Religion is what the individual does with his
  45. 45. Harmony of Religions 42solitariness.’31 SWAMIJI’S SECOND CONCEPT OF UNIVERSAL RELIGION Swamiji’s second concept is, Universal Religionis the sum total of the existing world religions.Unlike the first concept which regards UniversalReligion as a single, separate, abstract, spiritualentity, the second concept regards Universal Religionas the coexistence of all the religions to form awhole. It is like the United Nations. It is somethingwhich already exists. In a lecture delivered inPasadena, California, on ‘The Way to the Realizationof a Universal Religion’, Swamiji said : ‘And thatuniversal religion about which philosophers andothers have dreamed in every country already exists.It is here …. If the priests and other people that havetaken upon themselves the task of preaching differentreligions simply cease preaching for a few moments,we shall see it is there. They are disturbing it all thetime, because it is to their interest.’32 What are the basic principles on which thissecond concept of Universal Religion is based? 1. The first principle is to recognize and respectthe unique features of each religion and its right to
  46. 46. Harmony of Religions 43retain its individuality. According to SwamiVivekananda, the earlier attempts at actualizing theideal of Universal Religion failed because they didnot show any ‘practical way of bringing them (i.e.,religions) together so as to enable each of them tomaintain its own individuality in the conflux’.33Universal Religion does not mean that all thereligions of the world would fuse together to form analloy. It is more like a garden of different flowers;each religion retains its own unique features, whileall of them together constitute one whole. 2. The second principle is to recognize the factthat the religions of the world are not contradictoryto each other, but complementary. Each religion hascertain good points and certain drawbacks, but whenbrought together under the umbrella of UniversalReligion, they make up their deficiencies. Eachreligion has a certain role to play in the world, and soall religions are necessary. About this Swamiji said,‘I believe that they (i.e., the world religions) are notcontradictory; they are supplementary. Each religion,as it were, takes up one part of the great universaltruth... . It is, therefore, addition, not exclusion. …My idea, therefore, is that all these religions aredifferent forces in the economy of God, working forthe good of mankind… .’34
  47. 47. Harmony of Religions 44 3. The third principle is that Universal Religionis something dynamic. It assumes that religions ofthe world freely interact with one another for thecommon welfare of humanity. In the present-dayidiom, this interaction among religions is known as‘dialogue’. It means Universal Religion is a sort ofpermanent round-table conference; a perpetualinterreligious dialogue, or mutual sharing among thefollowers of different religions, in a spirit ofacceptance. Regarding this Swamiji said : ‘I accept all religions that were in the past, andworship with them all; I worship God with every oneof them, in whatever form they worship Him. I shallgo to the mosque of the Mussalman; I shall enter theChristian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; Ishall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall takerefuge in Buddha and in his law. I shall go into theforest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, whois trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart ofeveryone. Not only shall I do all these, but I shall keepmy heart open for all that may come in the future.’35 The above words uttered by a great seer, thinkerand spiritual teacher of the modern world are sure toreverberate in the corridors of time for centuries tocome. We only hope that Swami Vivekananda’svision of Universal Religion, especially his second
  48. 48. Harmony of Religions 45concept, will be widely understood and put intopractice. SWAMIJI’S THIRD CONCEPT OF UNIVERSAL RELIGION Swamiji’s first two concepts of UniversalReligion were formulated with reference to theexisting world religions. In the first concept, worldreligions are regarded as expressions of one eternalUniversal Religion. In the second concept UniversalReligion is the sum total of all the existing religions.Apart from these, Swami Vivekananda developed athird concept of Universal Religion without anyreference to the existing religions. This third conceptis meant for all humanity without any distinctions ofreligion, race or gender. It represents Swamiji’sintegral view of Life and Reality. In this third concept, religion is looked upon asman’s struggle to transcend his limitations, to findultimate meaning in life, and to attain total freedomand everlasting fulfilment. This means religion is apersonal quest. Hence Swamiji believed that everyperson should have his or her own religion. He said,‘No man is born to any religion; he has a religion inhis own soul.’36 This idea comes close to
  49. 49. Harmony of Religions 46Whitehead’s definition, ‘Religion is what a man doeswith his solitariness.’ Nevertheless, since religion concerns the wholehumanity, it has a collective aspect also. Thecollective side of Vivekananda’s third concept ofUniversal Religion is a five-fold harmony. These fivetypes of harmony are briefly discussed below : (a) Harmony between the sacred and thesecular : Swamiji saw life as one. He removed thedistinction between the sacred and the secular not bysecularizing the sacred, but by sacralizing thesecular, by divinizing the whole life. Divinization oflife is a key concept in Swamiji’s view of religion. (b) Harmony between Science and Religion :Science poses the greatest challenge to religion in themodern world. Swami Vivekananda met thechallenge by integrating science into religion.Swamiji looked upon science and religion as a singlequest of man to know the ultimate Truth; onlyscience conducts the search in the empirical world,whereas religion does it at the transcendental planeof existence. (c) Harmony between love for man and love forGod : Love for fellow beings has been considered tobe bondage and hence an obstacle to love for God in
  50. 50. Harmony of Religions 47Hinduism for centuries. Swamiji unified the twokinds of love (love for man and love for God) byseeing God in man. Man in his true nature (asâtman) is inseparable from God or Paramàtman. So,to love man is to love God. Swamiji looked uponLove as an expression of the spiritual oneness of allhumanity in God. (d) Harmony between contemplative life andactive life : The main purpose of meditation is tomake the mind calm so that one may become awareof the Inner Self or Supreme Self. But by practicethis meditative Self-awareness can be maintainedeven while doing work. In fact this is the centralprinciple of Karma-yoga. When one attains thisstate, the inner distinction between contemplative lifeand active life disappears. Even in the midst ofserious work one can maintain intense innercalmness and spiritual awareness. (e) Harmonious development of personality :Every person is naturally endowed with fourfaculties or capacities. These are: thinking, feeling,willing and work efficiency. For the all-rounddevelopment of personality it is necessary to haveproper development of all these faculties. Thedevelopment of such well-balanced, integratedindividuals is one of the aspects of SwamiVivekananda’s third concept of Universal Religion.
  51. 51. Harmony of Religions 48In a lecture delivered in California on UniversalReligion, Swamiji said, ‘Would to God that all menwere so constituted that in their minds all theseelements of philosophy, mysticism, emotion and ofwork were equally present in full! That is the ideal,my ideal of a perfect man. … To becomeharmoniously balanced in all these four directions ismy ideal of religion.’37 For Swami Vivekananda religion is not merebelief in God, allegiance to a creed, or followingcertain rituals or customs. For him religion involvesthe whole life. It is nothing short of thetransformation of human life into Divine Life. It isthe conversion of every thought, feeling, and actioninto a spiritual discipline. It is the conversion ofone’s whole life into unbroken yoga, and thedeification of man. This deified life can be seen inthe lives of great saints and mystics in all religions. This is Swamiji’s concept of Universal Religion.In these days when science, technology, commerce,political strategies and other forces of globalizationare bringing people all over the world closertogether, this kind of enlightened Universal Religionassumes great importance. HARMONY OF RELIGIONS : A LIVING
  52. 52. Harmony of Religions 49 TRADITION IN THE RAMAKRISHNA MOVEMENT Harmony of religions is a living tradition in theRamakrishna Movement. Sri Ramakrishna andSwami Vivekananda’s principles of harmony whichwe outlined above are being put into practice in morethan 165 centres of Ramakrishna Math and Missionin India and other parts of the world. Harmony of religions finds expression in theRamakrishna Movement in several ways, some ofwhich are discussed below. In the first place, the Ramakrishna Order ofmonks admits people belonging to differentreligions, castes and races. Hindus, Christians,Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, hailing fromdifferent countries, live together in mutual love andcooperation like children of the same parents in themonasteries of the Ramakrishna Order. The lay devotees of the Ramakrishna Movement,who belong to various religious denominations andcountries, also live in peace with their neighboursobserving the principles of harmony of religions.They are not required to give up their allegiance totheir respective religions, and are free to visit theplaces of worship and follow the rites and customs of
  53. 53. Harmony of Religions 50those religions. In all the centres of the Ramakrishna Movementthe birthdays of the great founders of world religionsare celebrated. Ramakrishna Math and Mission publish booksand articles on different religions, their founders andtheir teachings. Novices of the Ramakrishna Order are taughtcomparative religion and the scriptures of differentreligions. The monks of the Order have the freedomto study and derive benefit from the works of thesaints and sages of all religions. Furthermore, speaking ill of other religions andreligious leaders is not allowed within the bounds ofRamakrishna Mission Institutions. Organizing interfaith conferences in whichrepresentatives of different religions speak abouttheir own religions is another way RamakrishnaMath and Mission promote the ideal of harmony ofreligions. Lastly, members of Ramakrishna Mission keepthemselves aloof from fundamentalist groups andfrom involvement in political activity of any kind. We have given above a brief account of the waysin which the ideal of harmony of religions is put intopractice in the Ramakrishna Movement. No one whostudies this Movement can fail to notice certain
  54. 54. Harmony of Religions 51unique features of the way harmony of religions ispractised in the Ramakrishna Movement. In the first place, it is not a new thing. Owing tovarious causes such as the influence of mass media,globalization, the presence of large religiousminorities, etc., there is now a growing awareness ofthe importance of following a pluralistic approach toreligion and culture. Modern youths are developing amulti-religious, multicultural and even amultinational outlook. The practice of harmony ofreligions in the Ramakrishna Movement has nothingto do with these recent trends. It has been in vogue inthe Movement for more than one hundred and fiftyyears. Another characteristic feature of the practice ofharmony of religions in the Ramakrishna Movementis authenticity. The practice of harmony of religionsin the Movement is not a show. It is not a stratagemto attract more people. It is a natural way of life forthe monks and the laity. It is followed because of thefaith that it is the right and true path for the modernpeople shown by Sri Ramakrishna. Thirdly, practice of harmony of religions in theRamakrishna Movement is an expression of SriRamakrishna’s love for humanity. Sri Ramakrishna isone of the greatest lovers of humanity that the worldhas ever seen. His love knew no bounds of caste,
  55. 55. Harmony of Religions 52creed or race. He loved the founders of worldreligions—Kçùõa, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed,Caitanya and others—as if they were his own kithand kin. Naturally, he loved the followers of thesegreat founders. Sri Ramakrishna’s universal,unconditional love for all people is one of the twoprimary forces bonding together the members of theRamakrishna Movement. The other force is the equally universal,unconditional, all-forgiving, all-forbearing love ofSri Sarada Devi, known as the Holy Mother, whowas the spouse of Sri Ramakrishna. She embodied inherself universal motherhood. For centuries humanity has been dreaming ofuniversal brotherhood, but this ideal has not beenrealized. One of the reasons for this is that the bondsthat can hold the society together are maternal, andtherefore the establishment of universal brotherhoodpresupposes the establishment of universalmotherhood. Ground-breaking work done by eminentanthropologists like J. J. Bachofen, L. H. Morgan andothers have shown the important role motherhoodplays in social life. Patriarchal societies tend to beexclusive and divisive, whereas matriarchal andmatrilocal societies tend to be inclusive and
  56. 56. Harmony of Religions 53cohesive. To hold together people belonging todifferent cultures, religions, races and social stratawhat is most needed is a mother-figure as its centre. This is the role that Sri Sarada Devi has playedin the Ramakrishna Movement. By her immaculatepurity, selfless love, endless patience and by herDivine realizations, she transformed herself from anilliterate village maiden to the mother of Hindus,Christians, Muslims, Persians—indeed the mother ofall humanity. Among her ‘sons’ there was a Muslimrobber by name Amjad. Referring to him, HolyMother said : ‘Just as Sharat (Swami Saradananda,the Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and Mission) ismy son, so also is Amjad.’ The success thatRamakrishna Math and Mission has achieved inputting into practice the ideal of harmony ofreligions in its monastic order and among the laity isin no small measure due to the benign, integratingand protective influence that Sri Sarada Deviexerted, and still continues to exert, on the membersof the Movement. LOOKING AHEAD In the above discourse we attempted to give abrief outline of the main teachings of Sri
  57. 57. Harmony of Religions 54Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda on harmonyof religions, and also to show how these teachingsare being put into practice in the Ramakrishna Mathand Mission in different parts of India and the world. Although it is difficult to predict the future ofhumanity, there are enough indications to believethat the relevance and influence of the message of SriRamakrishna and Swami Vivekananda are likely toincrease in the coming decades and centuries. At the dawn of the 21st century we can see fourmajor trends in the human situation all over theworld. One of these is the tremendous influence ofscience and technology on human life. Another is theglobalization of economy. A third trend isenlightened humanism, in the form of awareness ofthe rights of deprived people and protest against allforms of exploitation, injustice, tyranny, cruelty andsuppression. The fourth trend is a gradual awakeningof the spiritual consciousness of humanity. Signs of this spiritual awakening may be seen allover the world in the form of interest in spiritual life,popularity of gurus, yogis, lamas and other types ofspiritual teachers, and the coming into existence ofthousands of spiritual centres and organizations.Developed countries are plagued by an alarmingincrease in social problems such as crime, violence,
  58. 58. Harmony of Religions 55immorality, alcoholism, breakdown of family, etc.,and existential problems such as meaninglessness,loneliness, ennui, neurosis, etc., and there is agrowing awareness that these problems can be solvedonly through spiritual life. Millions of people inthese countries now practice meditation, yoga,Vipàsanà, and other spiritual techniques. One noteworthy feature of this modern spiritualtrend is that it cuts across the boundaries oftraditional religions. Not only that, many of thesespiritual movements are independent of all religionsand do not need even faith in God or in anyscripture. This form of ‘secular spirituality’, as it iscalled, comes close to Swami Vivekananda’s thirdconcept of universal religion we discussed earlier. In the middle of the 19th century the divine voiceof Sri Ramakrishna reminded people that realizationof the ultimate Reality, known by different names, isthe ultimate meaning and purpose of human life andthrough it alone can man attain everlasting fulfilmentand peace. Furthermore, Sri Ramakrishna taughtthat spiritual life is the essential core of all religions.These ideas are now spreading all over the world likea groundswell.
  59. 59. Harmony of Religions 56 Swami Vivekananda believed that SriRamakrishna has awakened the spiritualconsciousness of humanity through his intensespiritual practices and fervent prayers. Swamijiforesaw a future period when humanity as a wholewould have attained such a high level ofconsciousness that ordinary human life would betransmuted into spiritual life or Divine Life. Swamijistated : ‘Religious ideas will have to becomeuniversal, vast, and infinite; and then alone we shallhave the fullest play of religion, for the power ofreligion has only just begun to manifest in the world.It is sometimes said that religions are dying out, thatspiritual ideas are dying out of the world. To me itseems that they have just begun to grow. The powerof religion, broadened and purified, is going topenetrate every part of human life. So long asreligion was in the hands of a chosen few or of abody of priests, it was in temples, churches, books,dogmas, ceremonials, forms, and rituals. But whenwe come to the real, spiritual, universal concept,then, and then alone, religion will become real andliving; it will come into our very nature, live in our
  60. 60. Harmony of Religions 57every movement, penetrate every pore of our society,and be infinitely more a power for good than it hasever been before.’38 These prophetic words of a great seer may not goin vain. They may become a reality, if not in thecoming decades, at least in the coming centuries.And we can be sure that the universal message of SriRamakrishna and Swami Vivekananda would play adominant role in bringing about this gloriousspiritual transformation of humankind. References1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 1993), Vol. 2, p. 3602. ibid., Vol. 4, p. 1253. ibid., Vol. 2, p. 3744. Swami Gambhirananda, Sri Sarada Devi the Holy Mother (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math), p. 4635. Complete Works, Vol. 3, p. 3156. For a detailed discussion on all the three attitudes, see Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism (London: SCM Press, 1993)7. Ye yathà mৠprapadyante …, Gãtà, 4.11