Sri Ramakrishna would often caution his devotees about religious bigotry. He would wonder as to how people pursuing a spiritual goal exhibit intolerance towards others traversing a similar path. In this connection, he used to tell a funny story.

Once, there was a man who was a great worshipper of Shiva, but who would hate all other deities. One day Shiva appeared in his dream as Harihara, a form in which one half is Shiva and the other Vishnu, to impress upon him the need to respect all forms of god. The devotee laid offerings on the side representing Shiva, but nothing on the other side representing Vishnu. Shiva was very much displeased and again appeared in his dream and scolded him for his bigotry. He said that by assuming a dual aspect I tried to convince you that all gods and goddesses are but the various aspects of the one eternal being, but you have not been able to learn the right lesson.

After some years the man who had grown old, retired to a village. He had developed a great hatred for Vishnu. On coming to know about his bigotry the children of the village began to tease him by uttering the name of Vishnu. To counter this the man hung two bells through his ears and when the boys cried out Vishnu, he would ring the bells violently so that the name of Vishnu might not be audible and thus he came to be known by the name Ghantakarna or bell-eared.

Thus Sri Ramakrishna would draw the attention of the devotees to the troubles and sufferings brought about by religious bigotry. True spiritual aspirants or sadhakas should focus their minds on their chosen ideals and pursue their goal vigorously. At the same time they should be liberal enough to understand and appreciate that other aspirants following different paths are also equally sincere in their pursuit of their goals.

-by Swami Shantatmananda, Sunday Guardian, 25th Jan 2014