[Presidential address delivered by C. Rajagopalachari, at the Birthday Celebration of Sri Ramakrishna at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi in March 1947.]
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many great men have devoted themselves to explaining our Hindu religion to people. Their particular problem has been to explain the beauties and the truths of Hindu religion at a time when it was rather down in luck. For various reasons Hinduism was in bad luck during the nineteenth century and many people came to save Hinduism from the attacks of modern times. Almost all of them had to put Hinduism into clothes of other religions. They had to invoke the assistance of other religions in order to explain the truths of Hinduism in the nineteenth century. I need hardly take up your time explaining that. It is enough if I say that the Brahma Samaj put Hinduism, so to say, in Christian bottle in order to make you people drink Hinduism as good medicine. In order to serve Ayurvedic medicine these days, you know they have put it in glass bottles as modern medicines are served. Otherwise, if it is given in the form of pills or choornams wrapped in brown paper or palm leaf or plantain bark, you would not accept it. In the same manner Hinduism was served out during the 19th Century by many great men who have been sent down, if I may be permitted to use a Hindu phrase, in order to save Hinduism, and they had to appeal or make use of foreign religions in order to make us understand the truth or the beauty of our own religion. Brahma Samaj uses Christianity. Other people use some other religion in order to make Hinduism presentable. Theosophy came to help and tried to present Hinduism in terms of modern mysticism and modern science and to some extent in terms of world religion. In fact we had, so to say, to make Rama and Krishna do apprenticeship under Christ in order that people may accept them. I am putting these things in an amusing way: but it was a great thing to do. It was appropriate for the times. Christianity and modern science and what has been loosely called free thought, all these came in to attack Hinduism and therefore, these methods had necessarily to be employed. But the greatness, the uniqueness, if I may say so, of Sree Ramakrishna was this, that he was a cent per cent Hindu. He had nothing to draw from other religions. He found no necessity. He did not adopt that method of presenting our religion and succeeded no less. Of course he did not think of it as a preacher or as an adventurer. I am simply describing what has happened. He was truly a cent per cent Hindu, or if I may use a Northern Indian phraseology, a sixteen anna in the rupee Hindu. That is the uniqueness of Sree Ramakrishna’s Work and service to us. Even in the sixteen anna Hinduism there is a great deal of difference, He was not one who presented Hinduism as a great logician or scholar. He was not a Vedantist, or a philosopher that is to say, he did not present himself like that. There are some things which become 19 Carat gold without knowing about it, and he was like that. He did not pose as a philosopher or a scholar. He did not go about lecturing on the comparative greatness of Hindu philosophy as against other philosophies. He was a common Hindu. He did not say, ‘I do not believe in idol Worship. I am a Vedantin.’ He did not say, ‘I do not believe in going to temples. I believe only in the Upanishadic form of Hindu religion.’ He did not make any statement like that. He was simply like a blade of grass, like any other blade of grass in this country. We are all Hindus, very common Hindus. We bow down before idols. We perform poojas and partake in festivals. We dance and think that if we make sweetmeats on a particular day and offer it to the deity we attain merit-some particular kind of merit. We follow all the common practices, and we are like one another. We are like grass growing everywhere on the soil and there is no distinction between the grass growing in the Himalayas or the Cape Comorin, or if you go still further south, even in Ceylon. It is the same grass everywhere. We are all Hindus in that sense and we are all alike in that sense. Now, Sree Ramakrishna was just one blade of grass like any other blade of grass. There was nothing different about him from the rest and he did not, so to say, assume the air of ‘I am not the blade of grass, I am a mango tree or I am a coconut tree’ or something like that. He was like the grass that grows on earth, not distinct from any other grass, but like the rice plant which is also a grass but which yields rice. Sree Ramakrishna was the type of grass which yielded fruit and food in the form of true religion. He was truly a rice plant. May we grow more and more of grass of that variety in our country, and yet more of them.
Then, there is another thing, He did not write himself down. He read no books. Other people wrote down what he thought and what he said, and we have got record of them. There was a previous example of that. But there is no need to search for examples. He did not think of that precedent either. The Hero of the New Testament, the great Jesus Christ, did not write any book. He did not have any printer to publish what he taught. But there were people round about him who did it for him and left a record of what he thought and what he did. Similarly, without knowing and without thinking about it, I am sure Sree Ramakrishna lived a life and thought and said things which people have recorded people who were with him and who lived in an atmosphere which made them feel that they must record these things for other people and we have these records. I refer to this for this reason. Often people have come to me and asked me for something to help them to become good people. ‘I want to become good. What shall I do? What shall I read?’ Foreigners have asked me, ‘What shall I read which will give me an insight into the doctrines of Hinduism,’ and many of our own people have asked me for something which will enable them to become good, which will enable them to improve in their life, and I have after much thinking, told all of them, both the foreigners who wanted to understand the doctrines of Hinduism and the many Hindu friends and relations who wished to become better men, ‘I could not find anything better than this: go and get from, the Ramakrishna Mission a book called Sayings of Sree Ramakrishna, and whether it is in English, Tamil or any other language you like, read that and you will understand Hinduism and you will become a better man,’ I have told them all this. I thought of it today, I did not know then that I would be asked to speak to you today, I had done so unconsciously and without any thought about it. I have seen many books. I have read some of them and understood a few of them. I have tried to read others and understand them, but failed. There are many books on Hinduism, both ancient and modern, books like the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. But they would be books for the scholars. You may read them and be benefited. But nothing explains the true core of Hinduism so well as the written records of the sayings of Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. In fact if you want a good commentary on the Upanishads or Bhagavad Gita I would say to you ‘try to read the Sayings of Sree Ramakrishna.’ Do not try to read Shankaracharya’s commentaries. You are not learned enough for that. We may not benefit much by that. If you have not much time or leisure, read only the text and keep quiet. Do not argue about it, and you may be benefited. But if you really want an understandable commentary you have to read Sree Ramakrishna’s sayings, and you will find that the whole book from page one to the last page is a living commentary of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. There is no need to read anything else.
Why is this? It is because he is so completely representative of Hinduism that unconsciously he becomes a commentary on the doctrines of the great classics of Hinduism, and a record of his sayings becomes the best exposition of the Hinduism we all love. It is the best commentary we have in modern times. I want all of you who are here to remember and also persuade others to remember what I have said and to read this book and not merely attend this anniversary function. Read it, and I need not say, love it. I am not big enough to ask you to do that. I am not a great saint in order to tell you to live this way or that way. But if you read that book I am certain you will improve in life and that is why I recommend you friends, to read that book. It is not a very big book, and you can accomplish the task of reading it from the beginning to end, without pretending about it but really read it, and it will do you a lot of good. Tell your friends about it and persuade them to read it. Of course it is not a book which will teach you how to write good English, if it is the English book that you read. It is not meant for the purpose. But it is a book which will teach you how to think properly and how to live properly, and that is what we all wish for in these days. Now I am a politician. Most of the people, I must say, all the people who spoke to you to-day are politicians including Swami Sìdheswarananda himself, otherwise why should he go to Paris? There is some politics in it. He wants to carry the greatness of India to foreign places and explain it to the people there. He wants to make them understand about the greatness of India. He is therefore a politician. And as for the rest, I need hardly say they are all seasoned, experienced and eminent politicians. Prof. Humayun Kabir may not be a Member of the Legislative Assembly; but he is Secretary to Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. Now I am also a politician, and we all want to raise India through politics. But though I am a politician, let me tell you, my friends, we are not going to save India through politics. We are not going to make India happy through politics. We are not going to free India through politics. If we have any chance of making India free in the true sense, it is only if we all become good men; and if we want to become good men and women, the only way is to worship Sree Ramakrishna, worship him in the full sense of that English word.
Worship does not mean falling down before an idol with a coconut or plantain in your hand. That is only the technical manner of worship as we understand it. The true and correct manner of worship is a mental approach, which is expressed by leaving shoes behind and goingwith flowers or fruit in your hand to a person or an idea. To approach God with that frame of mind is worship. That is the approach to one from whom you really hope to benefit, the approach of a child to its mother. That is the worshipful attitude, of love and reverence and all such things combined. When you combine respect with love you may get something behind the word ‘worship’. Now if you approach Sree Ramakrishna’s memory and personality in that frame of mind, that is, if you go to him cleansing yourself of your dust as you go to a temple, leaving behind your shoes – and after all what do shoes stand for but suspicion, doubt, half-heartedness and such things?-if you go to him with loving respect, you can surely live a better life. You should go with loving respect, not fearful respect, not the respect with which you go to a police officer or a judge who dispenses justice rightly. You approach them with fearful respect. They may be angry. The judge may be just, but his decision may go against you. I do not mean respect that way. You should go with loving respect, and if you do that, when you open your book with that attitude, you will have no doubt, you will have no desire to criticise or compare and contrast it with something else. The child approaches its mother not with the thoughts of comparing her with its grandmother. It goes to its mother with full belief and faith, not blindly, but with a purpose. Similarly if you approach Sree Ramakrishna’s sayings in a worshipful and loving attitude, then you will see a new meaning and a new practicality in everything that he says.
Do not listen to me merely because this is the first time you are hearing me and are curious about it. What I wish to tell you is something very important and you should all try to understand it in that very way in which I see it. It is this: There is nothing more practical than religion. Do not imagine that religion or philosophy is unpractical and unworldly. If you try to understand religion in that attitude, you will gain nothing from it, you will only become a pedant. You may become a scholar and deliver lectures on the subject to other people. You may draw a salary of Rs. 1000 or pass some examinations on the subject. But you will not really become a man who serves others, nor would you benefit by it. But if you take it up with the frame of mind that religion is practical and is an easy thing, then alone you will benefit by studying the sayings of Sree Ramakrishna. I do not want you to read any Mimamsas in order to understand religion. I want you to read the very easily understood sayings of Sree Ramakrishna, which he told to his friends and his disciples and which they understood at once and easily, and which they recorded. There is nothing abstruse in it; and if there was anything abstruse they have left them out. So it is quite easy and capable of common understanding. You read these sayings, and take it from me that they are all practical common-sense, and you will benefit by it. Religion, if approached in this way, is not abstruse philosophy but a practical way of living which we should and could understand. I will give you one example.
It is commonly said that we should not be jealous of other people, that you should not be envious of other people. But to follow this precept is very difficult. You may be thinking, ‘It is alright in principle, but how can I help being jealous of others? I could save only one lakh of rupees while the other man has saved ten lakhs. I cannot help being jealous. It is not practicable.’ Or you may be thinking, ‘I have got only one hundred rupees while the other man has got one hundred and fifty rupees and he has got it without the merit which I certainly possess. How can I help not being jealous? That is the problem of a large number of people. But let me ask you, what do you want to attain?’ You want to be happy through one hundred rupees or through ten lakhs. Now to be jealous of another man is the most unpractical way of being happy. You cannot be happy by that method. Whereas if you read the sayings of Sree Ramakrishna, even if you are drawing only one hundred rupees with dearness allowance, etc.,-and to read his sayings you need not be a beggar or a saint or a Sanskrit scholar-I say, you will find a way to be happy. That is a surer way of being happy than by trying and trying to get a salary which some other man is drawing and which you will not get. It will only make you more unhappy if you do that. I have only given you one example. You will find innumerable examples like that in Sree Ramakrishna’s sayings. You will find whether you are old or young, how practical and easy it is to attain happiness through religion, and that is the reason why I recommend the book to you even though I am a politician: and it is only if we do that, if we follow the way of life as taught by Sree Ramakrishna then and then only can we free India. It is only then can we raise India. Then only can we make India free. We can of course get some Acts passed in the Parliament or in the Constituent Assembly or somewhere else. We can somehow make them agree or deceive them or persuade them in giving you what you want. These are all different processes, and as far as they go they are right: that is how we can live in this world. As explained by Seth Gobind Das, it is not through violence but only through persuasion that we can attain happiness in society in this world. Violence cannot bring happiness to us. It is only by acting on men’s minds without violence that we can get people to live happily together. That is true. But it is not by persuading others to accept a charter that we will be free. We can be free only if we become good men. That is the only way of living together and being happy. One man can be good somehow or other. But when lots of people have got to live together, millions of people, and many of them belonging to different religions and different ways of life, if we have to be happy, we can be so only if we Hindus understand true Hinduism and try to follow the plain and simple teachings of Sree Ramakrishna.
There is another thing, another example, which I wish to tell you and illustrate the uniqueness of his message. Nowadays it is fashionable among so-called educated Hindus to believe and to preach that animal sacrifices are bad and that true Hinduism does not want it, and therefore you should not have it. That is a right and very good feeling. But if you look down upon a Hindu who goes through a form of religion which involves some of these crude practices, then you are not a Hindu in the true sense of the term. If you think that you have risen above the other man and that you are a superior person and you look down upon that man, I say you are not a true Hindu. Never did Sree Ramakrishna do that. He could understand every variety of Hindu life. He could sympathize with every variety of Hindu life. He could enter into the correct feelings of the other man. When, therefore, a peasant in a village in the south goes to the Mariyaman temple, which is but the temple of another form of the very Kali whom you all revere, if he goes there and takes a goat with him-poor man he does not think of the feelings of the goat-and with a sixteen anna worshipful attitude he goes through the form of worship which he was taught by his father and mother or grandfather and grandmother, takes the poor goat’s body home as prasad from the Mother and eats it, as many others do. Without going through this form of worship, we have no right to look down upon such a man. He does not go to the temple simply to kill and eat the goat. He could as well do it without going to the temple. He does not eat it as we eat a plantain or a coconut. He says, ‘I must first offer it to the Mother in the temple and then take it home.’ That is Hinduism. If anyone says it is not Hinduism and looks down upon such a man, I shall say to him, ‘My dear man, you are a fighter, you are a reformer, you are a soldier, but you are not a religious man.’ Sree Ramakrishna approached Hinduism in that catholic Way. By Catholicism I do not mean Roman Catholicism but Catholicism with a small ‘c’ and not a capital. Whether you worship an idol, whether you worship a principle, whether you worship God with a coconut or a plantain or with food or rice, or with betel leaves or bel leaves-, or if you are a Vedantin you remain at home and close your nostrils and restrain your breath and try to achieve superior forms of thought by suppression of your desires or by regulation and so on, or if you are a Vaishnava, you go about dancing in joy, in joy, mind you, not through misery, not through tears as some people try to do by weeping and wailing-you cannot attain God through that, for God is the personification of joy and if you want extra stimulus by going in for that, by getting thirty or more persons to join you in your dancing, by getting the aid of music and noise and stimulating your ecstasy, all this is Hinduism. And if there was one great Saint and Seer who gave us this message without changing Hinduism, without trying to put it into new clothes and without excluding any form of worship such as is known and practised in India, it was Sree Ramakrishna.
So, my dear friends, I am very fond of this great teacher. This is what makes me fond of him. Of course I cannot claim to be his disciple or missionary or anything of that but I take great pleasure in describing him in this simple form. I take great pleasure in describing him to you, – a common man. The Swamis who have devoted their lives to the service of others, to the spreading of the message and gospel of Sree Ramakrishna know much more about his teachings than I do. But this is what I have learnt from him, and since they were good enough to ask me to preside on this occasion, I must do it in my own way. I am what I am and I have great affection and worshipful regard for Sree Ramakrishna as one of the modern rishis of our country. In the olden days we read in the book of many rishis and our idea of rishis of those days is that they had long beards and that they used to live in jungles and forests. They were all so powerful that if they said ‘Brahma come down’, Brahma came down, or ‘Vishnu come down,’ and Vishnu came down. But they have gone into legend now. There is nobody like that in our times. That is our difficulty. If we want to know about them we have to open some book and try to find some illustration and these illustrations have now got into the cinemas and we go and see the cinemas where the various rishis go about in their various dresses. But Sree Ramakrishha was a real rishi of our times, in our own time a rishi came and lived with us. There is no doubt about this. So hereafter too some rishis may come if we are all good people or very bad people. For if we are all good people, any one of us will become a rishi, and if we are all bad people, a rishi will come to save us. So there is hope for our country and we have a precedent here.
Sree Ramakrishna was really a great who was actually seen by many, and seen by men whom I have seen and touched. I may tell you, though I do not deserve it, that I am a lucky man in that I have actually seen and touched the great Swami Vivekananda and the great Swami Ramakrishnananda when they came to Madras. I was then a student of the Law College, an impertinent Law College student thinking I was very clever and all that. It was then that Swami Vivekananda came to Madras returning from Chicago and I was in that company when addresses were being drafted, and Swamiji wanted to start a Math here and another one there. I was a young man then as most of you now are. When I was a student of the Arts College in the last flicker of the nineteenth century, the last decade in fact, Max Muller the great Sanskrit scholar wrote an article ‘A True Mahatma’ in the Nineteenth Century. At that time the theosophists had a chequered career. Some of them had got into disfavour and doubts were expressed about some of them. The word Mahatma was not in use then. Gandhiji was not yet a Mahatma then. At that time Max Muller wrote an article ‘A True Mahatma’. I read that article in the Nineteenth Century. He Wrote about Sree Ramakrishna and he wrote of him as a true Mahatma, and I had just an inkling of Sree Ramakrishna’s life even then. But that did not tell me anything. It was only later when Swami Vivekananda came and we all met him and the gospel of service was preached by him and the Sree Ramakrishna Mission was established and his sayings were published that I really saw what it was and what it meant. I tell you, my dear friends, after I had gone through all the politics and seen the troubles of the country and listened to many others about the sufferings in our country I have definitely come to the conclusion that we cannot improve the lot of our country unless we really become good Hindus, that is, unless Hindus become good Hindus, Muslims become good Muslims and Christians become good Christians, we cannot save our country, and to become good Hindus or Muslims or Christians there is no better way than to follow the teachings of Sree Ramakrishna.
You cannot understand another man’s religion: that is quite clear, and that was explained very ably by the first speaker Swami Siddheswarananda. He explained very clearly how difficult it is to understand the other man’s religion. So it is no use attempting to change his religion. Let us not talk about it. Sometimes changes come on account of various reasons. Most people change on account of circumstances. Do you mean to say that people have changed by persuasion? Some king has changed his religion and so all or many of his subjects too changed their religion. How did England become a Christian country? Some king became a Christian and so all the people also embraced Christianity. It was not forcible conversion in the modern way, but some force, process or public opinion, and so on. Everybody is a Hindu and so let me also become a Hindu. All this is no use. We cannot understand the other man’s religion. But that was not what Sree Ramakrishna did. He wanted to live the other man’s religion and to understand the other man’s religion. And so in order to understand the truth of the religion of the Muslims he lived like a Muslim, even dressing like one. So I say if you want to understand about Christianity, you cannot understand it by reading the Bible, I promise you that. You will only understand how to criticise Christianity, that is all; even as you cannot understand how I live in my house by looking through a window of the house from the outside. You will see a few things, but you can never understand how I exactly live. You will go with a wrong impression. Similar is the case if you try to understand other people’s religions. Unless you live that religion; live in that culture, not one generation but two or more, if you can manage it, until then, I say you cannot understand the other man’s religion. So let us not worry about other people’s religions, neither better nor worse. It is no use thinking in this strain. To a Hindu, Hinduism is the best religion; to a Christian, Christianity is the best religion, and to a Muslim, Islam is the best religion. As soon as a Christian hears the name of Jesus it simply transforms him. He becomes a new person altogether. The Word Rama means nothing to him. You may tell him that Rama is the name of God, Rama is the name of God many times; the feeling raised in his mind is quite different from that which is raised in your mind. The word Allah raises different feelings in Prof. Humayun Kabir’s mind from what it raises in your mind. Therefore, friends, do not compare and contrast religions. Let us understand and live our own religion and we will be better men and women and that is what Sree Ramakrishna asks us to do. Swami Siddheswarananda gave you his technique very correctly as he is a true disciple of Sree Ramakrishna. He told you his technique of trying to understand their religion and to live among them. That is the best way of making them understand our religion. He was wrong in one respect; in that he tried to explain it in one speech. It should be a series of lectures on the subject. How to understand other people’s minds and how to live among them: that is the problem that he is actually solving. We must learn to do that in our own country. We have here in India a job of that kind. Our job is not simply to compliment Swami Siddheswarananda and send him back to Paris. We have to live among men of different religions in our own country and we must try to learn and understand the other man’s religion. We must, therefore, fully absorb that understanding which is called tolerance. Tolerance as I tolerate trouble is not real tolerance. I tolerate a lot of trouble; a boy is making noise and I tolerate him. That is not real toleration and understanding. Why does the boy go about making noise while I am trying to sleep? Because he is not sleepy and it is his nature to move about and make noise. Therefore he must be allowed to play and make noise while you must try to sleep in spite of that. We must try to understand everybody else around us; that is true toleration. If we understand that, everything follows thereafter. It is when we do not understand that that all the trouble arises. If we understand that, everything is easy in this country. And you can understand this best by reading Sree Ramakrishna’s sayings. Therefore, friends, I recommend you to read his sayings.
From our archives: Published in the Prabuddha Bharata, May 1947 as ‘Sri Ramakrishna and the problems of Modern India’. It was also published as ‘The way Sri Ramakrishna showed us’ by the Vedanta Kesari, May 1947. This was republished in the Vedanta Kesari, Aug 2007.
Bharat Ratna Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (1878-1972), or Rajaji, was the second Governor-General of independent India. Later he became the Chief Minister of Madras State. He was a keen statesman, writer and known for his saintly character. This article is based on his (he was then a Member for Industries) Presidential address delivered at the Birthday Celebration of Sri Ramakrishna at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi in March 1947.