[From the speech delivered at the celebration of Sri Ramakrishna’s Birthday, New Delhi, 20 March 1949, published in the Prabuddha Bharata, May 1949.]

Romain Rolland has described Sri Ramakrishna as the fulfilment of the spiritual aspirations of two hundred millions of Hindus for the past two thousand years. He has said, further, that Sri Ramakrishna, was the younger brother of Christ. Thereby he implied no spiritual inferiority but merely indicated the fact that he was born in a later period in history. Sri Ramakrishna represents in our age the spirit of India, which was brought into being by the rishis on the banks of the Indus and Ganges, and which, since then has been sustained by an unbroken line of prophets and saints. Mahatma Gandhi has written that his words are not those of a mere scholar but are pages from the book of life.

What is the spirit of India that found such vivid expression through the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna? The Indian philosophers have given a sacramental and spiritual interpretation of life and the universe, as opposed to the merely mechanistic and secular one. The universe, they declare, is a projection of the Lord Himself. It is an outcome of His thought. A supreme artist, He first conceived the universe in His mind and then projected it outside. The Isha Upanishad says that all things are permeated by the spirit of the Lord; therefore we should enjoy the world, through renunciation of the ego, and not covet other people’s wealth. An illumined soul does not see nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’, nor does he accept ruthless competition as the means to progress. To him cooperation is a higher means of evolution, and consecration or dedication, the highest. Sri Ramakrishna was a living witness of the reality of God. He saw God face to face; he saw Him more tangibly than we see the objects around us in the outside world. To him God was Spirit and Consciousness, a supersensuous and supramental Reality that pervades the universe and transcends it. And that same God, He affirmed, by His own inscrutable power becomes manifest in time and space, assumes various forms, and is worshipped by different religions under such names as the Father in Heaven, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna and Siva. Sri Ramakrishna worshipped God as Kali, the Divine Mother of the universe, whom he affectionately addressed as ‘my Mother.’ It is God who, being the inmost essence of all things, gives them the appearance of reality.

Man is rooted in Spirit. He is an eternal portion of the Divine. The Bhagavad Gita condemns the mechanistic view that the living soul is the outcome of the union of the male and female principles, with lust for its cause. The Upanishad says that man is born of bliss, after being born he is sustained by bliss, and in the end he is absorbed in bliss. It was emphasized by Swami Vivekananda that each soul is potentially divine. Man is primarily Spirit, and he is endowed, with a body; he is not merely a body endowed with a soul. It is this that makes the difference between the spiritual and the secular view of life.

The divinity of the soul is the unshakable foundation of true freedom and of true democracy. Every man is entitled to respect, because he reflects the Godhead, no matter what be the outward mask he wears. Sri Ramakrishna regarded every man and woman as a veritable representation of Narayana. Even the fallen woman” whom society despises as unclean, he regarded as a form of the Divine Mother. Once someone spoke to him about showing kindness to living creatures. Sri Ramakrishna became excited and said that a man’s attitude toward others should be not one of kindness but one of service. He asked Swami Vivekananda to commune with God not only in the depths of meditation but also through service to man – especially the sick, the poor, the ignorant, and the destitute. Later Swami Vivekananda advised his followers to practise work and worship as twin disciplines for the unfoldment of their inner life. Every sannyasin of the Ramakrishna Order takes the two vows of dedicating his life to the liberation of the self from ignorance and to service of humanity. Centuries before him, the great Sankaracharya said that a man should first realize his oneness with Brahman and then look upon all beings as manifestations of that same Brahman. The Hindu ideal of service does not correspond to the vague secular humanism practised in the West. It is the outcome of a direct perception of the Godhead in every living creature.

Sri Ramakrishna experienced the unity of Existence, which is a unique contribution of the Hindu spiritual culture. Scientists and idealistic philosophers find non-duality in the realms of matter and of mind. To Sri Ramakrishna this unity, as Spirit and Consciousness, pervades the whole universe, with all its animate and inanimate creatures. We read in his biography that when two boatmen on the Ganges quarrelled and struck each other, the blows were impressed on his own back. Another day someone happened to walk on the tender green grass of the lawn of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar, and Sri Ramakrishna uttered cries of excruciating pain, his chest becoming red and bruised. His measureless love and compassion for humanity were the logical result of this experience of unity. This experience is the spiritual foundation of the Golden Rule and of all moral precepts. Man should love his neighbour because his neighbour is none other than his own self. Man’s neighbours are not only his kith and kin, or his fellow believers in a common religious faith, but include the whole of humanity, nay, all created beings. He can never be happy or at peace by causing suffering to others, even if they be in a distant part of the world. A single standard of ethics for all mankind is the only effective means of attaining world peace. As long as there remain one standard of justice for the strong and another for the weak, one standard for the white and another for the coloured, one standard for the Brahmins and another for the untouchables, one standard for the Hindus and another for the Moslems, there will be no peace in the world. An illumined person like Sri Ramakrishna regards happiness and unhappiness in others as he regards them in himself.

Another important message of Sri Ramakrishna to a world torn asunder by religious bigotry is the harmony of religions. It was his favourite saying that religions are so many paths to reach the same goal. His was not the theoretical attitude cherished by many religious liberals. He actually practised the disciplines of the various faiths and found God alone to be their ultimate goal. Once he admonished Swami Vivekananda to look upon even a certain cult which indulged in immoral practices as a door to God’s mansion – may be the back door, through which the scavenger entered. A devotee need not see it, but it was a door just the same. God is the centre upon which the radii of the different faiths converge. The farther one is from the centre, the greater is the distance one finds between one radius and another. The farther we move from God, the greater are the differences we find between one religion and another. We quarrel over the empty baskets, while their precious contents have slipped into the ditch. Sri Ramakrishna has taught us to show to other faiths not merely toleration, which carries an undertone of arrogance, but positive respect, which proceeds from the perception of God alone- as the essence of all faiths. Let Hindus, Mussalmans, Christians and Jews be genuine devotees of their respective faiths, and they will surely hail one another as fellow-travellers to the common goal of Truth. We need Sri Ramakrishna’s message of harmony in this world of ours, where there are, alas, enough religions to help men hate one another but not enough religious spirit to promote love and goodwill.

To Sri Ramakrishna religion, was realization. It did not mean simply believing; it meant being and becoming. Knowledge, he said, must be accompanied by actual perception. He was a true scientist in the field of religion. He did not accept anything on blind faith, nor did he ever impose anything on others. He experimented with the injunctions of the scriptures, observed their results, verified them with his own experiences, and finally drew his conclusions. Often he asked God to send him a disciple who would doubt his experiences. Swami Vivekananda was such a disciple. He laughed at the Master’s visions. But Sri Ramakrishna never asked his disciple to accept his words blindly. He met the challenge of Swami Vivekananda’s intellect with a superior intellect. What doubt can remain before actual experience? Many are the people who become agnostics or atheists simply because they do not find in their church or temple an idea of God big enough to satisfy their hearts and their intellects. The true Hindu religion has never asked its devotees to surrender reason. The Upanishads prescribe hearing, reasoning, and contemplation as the three steps to the vision of Truth. The evidence of others, reason, and experience constitute its validity. There is nothing in genuine Hinduism that is opposed to the true scientific method.

Even a casual visitor to Dakshineswar, where Sri Ramakrishna lived, could not but be struck by the joy that the Master radiated. He often prayed to the Divine Mother not to make him cross-grained, pain-hugging sadhu. That religion is an affirmative, joyous experience, and not a negative nonsense, he amply demonstrated. Spiritual bliss is different from sensuous pleasure. The latter is unreal, having a beginning and an end, and is a source of suffering. Spiritual bliss is eternal and real; it is the bestower of peace. Sri Ramakrishna saw everywhere the manifestation of God, who is the embodiment of bliss. The world conceived of as divorced from God is without significance, like a dream. But the Upanishads never say that the world is unreal in the sense that a barren woman’s son is unreal. Where the universe is described as a dream, the implication is only that it is unsubstantial when conceived of as divorced from Brahman. Two important schools of Vedanta, namely Dualism and Qualified Non-dualism, accept the reality of the tangible universe. The non-dualists call it maya. This means simply that between the two orders of experience, namely, the transcendental and the empirical, one cannot establish a logical relationship. Before the transcendental, the empirical is non-existent. Further, the Non-dualists use the theory of maya not to prove the unreality of names and forms, but to demonstrate that the universe is Brahman. ‘Thou art Brahman’ and ‘All that exists is Brahman’ are two of the great conclusions of the Vedantic seers.

Thus one can regard the universe from two standpoints: relative and transcendental. From the relative standpoint, which is the one accepted by the average man, time, space, and causality are real. Good and Evil exist and one must try to eliminate the evil and multiply the good. There are four ends of human life: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Dharma, or righteousness, is the very basis of life and should determine the relationship in society between man and man. Artha, or wealth, serves a very important purpose and is an effective means to express our fellowship with others. Kama, or sense pleasure, is also praiseworthy. By cultivating aesthetic sensitivity one appreciates art, music, and literature. Without it life remains inadequate. Moksha, or the realization of the Infinite, is the culmination of man’s spiritual evolution. There is no real happiness in the finite. Without the ideal of the Infinite, ethics is transformed into an instrument for man’s self-interest, wealth becomes a means to satisfy his greed and his lust for power, and sense-pleasures degenerate into sensuality. The Hindu seers have given a comprehensive view of life. Boyhood should be devoted to the acquisition of knowledge, youth to the enjoyment of material pleasure, old age to the practice of contemplation, and the hour of death to communion with the Godhead.

The illumined soul, on the other hand, views the universe from the transcendental standpoint. He has gone beyond good and evil, pain and pleasure, and all the pairs of opposites. But by no means can he indulge in unethical actions. He is free from the limitations of time and space. For him ego and desires have ceased to exist. To him everything is Brahman. But he is neither a recluse nor misanthrope. The Bhagavad Gita says that he devotes himself to the welfare of others. And to the truth of this statement the lives of Shankara, Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna and Vivekananda bear testimony.

The Indo-Aryan seers called the knowledge of the relative world the apara vidya, or inferior knowledge, and the Knowledge of the Absolute, the para vidya, or Superior Knowledge. Though the Knowledge of the Absolute was the goal, yet the knowledge of the universe was not neglected by them. The Mundaka Upanishad says that both forms of knowledge are to be cultivated. According to the Katha Upanishad, the fetters of the heart are cut asunder and all doubts set at naught when one gains the knowledge of both the Absolute and the universe.

The culture of India has been determined by the religious experiences of her seers and prophets. It is a spiritual culture that proclaims man to be a spiritual entity with a spiritual end. The Hindu view of life is neither pessimistic nor otherworldly. It gives a spiritual interpretation of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the watchwords of modern European culture. The Hindu religion shows man the way to ultimate freedom and bliss through a disciplined enjoyment of the legitimate pleasures and through the fulfilment of just aspirations. The ideal of jivanmukti, freedom while living in the body, is the grandest contribution of the Hindu culture. Man can acquire mastery over his baser passions and attain perfection in this very life. Sri Ramakrishna’s own life shows how the spirit of man can keep body and senses under complete control. It is an effective answer, at the same time, to the charges often made against the Hindu religion that it is anti-social; pessimistic, intolerant, visionary, and opposed to reason and the scientific method.

Since India has attained her freedom, we have been busy making plans for her future reconstruction. Sometimes the heart sinks to think of the mountain-high obstacles that stand in our way. The future becomes blurred to our vision. At such a time, it will be well to remember the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Those who want to see farthest into the future of a nation must look farthest into its past.’ Our past failures should not bewilder us. In the words of Lord Acton, it is a false study of history that emphasizes a nation’s three hundred years failure and overlooks her three thousand years’ achievements.

India has a definite message for the world. Thoughtful people in the West have been realizing the inadequacy of the mechanistic interpretation of life. The resources of science have culminated in the creation of the atom bomb. Technology, which has been promoting the creature comforts of the Western peoples, has not been an unmixed blessing. The emphasis on science and technology has distracted man’s attention from the spiritual value of life and is undermining the moral and spiritual foundation of society. In spite of its many physical amenities, the West is distracted and confused. Many eyes are turned to India for light and vision.

The malady of the world is a spiritual malady. Economic maladjustment, political confusion, and moral disintegration are but the outer symptoms of this deep-seated illness. The world is suffering from greed, lust for power, and sensuality, which Sri Ramakrishna described by the expressive word, kamini-kanchan. Today aggressive evil is abroad. Its challenge can be met only by aggressive goodness. The Hindu view of life has a great deal to suggest for the correcting of the present human situation. The ideals of renunciation and service, set forth by our rishis, are a sure panacea for the ills of the world.

One of the most significant events of our age is the meeting of East and West. The West has been the bearer of a great culture. It has promoted man’s physical well-being. Here in India we desperately need the knowledge of science and technology to remove our ignorance and poverty and our present social stagnation. In their absence, our ideals of the divinity of man and the unity of Existence will remain mere abstractions.

But the spiritual culture of India will serve as the unfailing pole-star to guide our Ship of State through the sea of darkness and confusion. Consciousness of the eternal spirit of India and pride in our matchless religious heritage will give us courage and hope in the present struggle for our national existence. It is true that our Sanatana Dharma has been abused. Heavy encrustations have hidden its shining truth. But the way does not lie through neglecting it or directing our national aspirations into altogether new channels. Let us study the way of our forefathers side by side with the findings of modern science. Whatever of it is unworthy or effete will automatically be discarded. Let us remain loyal to what is eternal in the legacy of our rishis and learn in humility what is healthy in other cultures. Let us remove the ignorance, poverty, and stagnation of the masses through knowledge learnt from the scientific and dynamic West. Thus rejuvenated, India will once more assume her place as the spiritual leader of the world. This is our responsibility; for India is the last great hope of humanity. May we not fail humanity in this hour of its crisis!

From our archives: Published in the Prabuddha Bharata, May 1949

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Swami Nikhilananda

Swami Nikhilananda

Swami Nikhilananda (1895–1973) was born in 1895 in Bangladesh, at the time a part of India, and had his education in the University of Calcutta. As a graduate he chose the profession of journalism. He then joined the Indian freedom movement and was incarcerated for a period in an English prison camp.
As a boy, through his pious parents, he became acquainted with the teachings of Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. These teachings made an indelible impression on his young mind and brought him in touch with the direct disciples of Ramakrishna. He was initiated by Holy Mother. He also met the direct disciples of Ramakrishna, Swamis Brahmananda, Saradananda, Sivananda, Turiyananda, Premananda, Akhandananda, Abhedananda as well as Mahendranath Gupta, the recorder of Kathamrita among others.
In 1933, he founded the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, a branch of Ramakrishna Mission, and remained its head until his death in 1973. An accomplished writer and thinker, Nikhilananda’s greatest contribution was the translation of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita from Bengali into English published under the title The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

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