Monday, August 22, 2016

Living the Interfaith Harmony: Experiences of Sri Ramakrishna

Living the Interfaith Harmony: Experiences of Sri Ramakrishna
By Sunita Singh-Sengupta

Living the Interfaith Harmony: Experiences of Sri Ramakrishna, bySunita Singh-Sengupta

Reprinted with permission from Strategies for Peace (Bruce L. Cook and Maria Cristina Azcona, eds.), Elgin, IL: Cook Communication, 2016)
Sunita Singh Sengupta, Ph.D.
Founder & Honorary Convener

Integrating Spirituality and Organizational Leadership Foundation (India)
Integrating Spirituality and Organizational Leadership Global Foundation (USA)

As many faiths, so many paths." The paths vary, but the goal remains the same. Harmony of religions is not uniformity; it is unity in diversity. It is not a fusion of religions, but a fellowship of religions based on their common goal -- communion with God. This harmony is to be realized by deepening our individual God-consciousness –
Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna, the greatest spiritual leader of 18th century (1836-1886) from India, talked and emphasized oneness of God and advocated harmony in religions.‘God is, one, the ways may be different’ was what he experienced through his different spiritual experiences in Kale’s Temple, Masjid, Gurudwara and church and hence he started emphasizing harmony of religion. According to him it is not the fusion of religions but a fellowship of religions based on their common goal – communion with God. This harmony is to be realized by deepening our individual God - consciousness (Dasgupta, 2001).
Religion always in India, says Sri Aurobindo, precedes natural awakening. Shankaracharya was the beginning of a wave that swept round the whole country culminating in Chaitanya in Bengal, the Sikh Gurus in the Punjab, Shivaji in Maharashtra and Ramanuja and Madhavacharya in the South. Through each of these a people sprang into self-realization, into national energy and consciousness of their own unity. Sri Ramakrishna represents a synthesis, in one person, of all leaders. It follows that the movements of his age will unify and organize the more provincial and fragmentary movements of the past. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is the epitome of the whole. His was the great superconscious life which alone can witness to the infinitude of the current that bears us all oceanwards. He is the proof of the power behind us and the future before us. So great a birth initiates great happenings (Swami Sundarananda, 1986, p. 246).

Sri Ramakrishna is a perfect incarnation of Hindu genius and his greatest contribution to the world of thought is his declaration of the harmony of all religions after actual realization of their highest truths. In one life of 50 years and odd, Sri Ramakrishna lived ‘the five thousand years of national spiritual life, and so raised himself to be an object-lesson for future generations.’ Out of his direct perception of the truths of all the religions, he declared the existence of the one and only supreme Being, and not more than one, who is worshipped as Brahman by the Hindus, Buddha by the Buddhists, Christ by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims just as the same water is named differently in different languages (1986, p. 248).
Sri Aurobindo says:         

The world moves through a new synthesis of religious thought life – free from intolerance, yet full of faith and fervor, accepting all forms of religion, because it was an unshakable faith in One. The religion which embraces science and faith, Theism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism and yet is none of these, is that to which the world spirit moves. It is such a synthesis embracing all life and action in its scope that the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna have been preparing (1986, p. 248).
Mahatma Gandhi said (Courtesy - Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta):       

The story of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa’s life is a story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face-to-face. No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion. Ramakrishna was a living embodiment of godliness. His sayings are not those of a mere learned man but they are pages from the Book of Life. They are the revelations of his own experiences. They therefore leave on the reader an impression which he cannot resist. In this age of skepticism Ramakrishna presents an example of a bright and living faith which gives solace to thousands of men and women who would otherwise have remained without spiritual light. Ramakrishna’s life was an object-lesson in Ahimsa (non-injury). His love knew no limits, geographical or otherwise. May His divine love be an inspiration to all…
M.K. Gandhi
The vast and all–comprehensive synthesis arrived at by Sri Ramakrishna is a spiritual verity. It was not designed, but discovered; it was not reasoned out, but revealed. It has, therefore, all the permanence of a natural law or scientific truth. Why then is our vision of the harmony of religion dimmed. I would like to quote a story from ‘Ramakrishna and His Unique Message” written by Swami Ghananada and published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata in 2005 (p.142):
The story is told of a forester and a lion who were walking together and fell to discussing the inevitable question, Who is stronger - a lion or a man? Finding it utterly impossible to solve the problem to their mutual satisfaction, they continued walking and came suddenly upon a piece of statuary representing a man in the act of throwing a lion. ‘There,’ exclaimed the forester, ‘you see, man is the stronger!’ ‘Ah! Yes,’ replied the lion, ‘but their positions would have been reversed if a lion had been the sculptor.’ Man usually portrays religions other than his own in ugly colours. It is rather as every mother thinks her own child the most beautiful in the world.
Tolerance, reconciliation, cooperation and fellowship of faiths are the graduated steps to be achieved for establishing the harmony of religion. Sri Ramakrishna lived this harmony of religion. Swami Vivekananda proclaimed at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago – ‘Do I wish that the Christian should become a Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist should become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian; but each must assimilate the spirit of others and yet to preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth (Swami Vivekananda, Chicago Address).
It is only through the friendly contact amongst religions that we can pave the way for fellowships amongst cultures and civilizations. Swami Ghanananda writes, “…The unity of purpose and the affinity of aspirations underlying the acceptance of the harmony of religions will diffuse from the plane of religion to the plane of cultural thought, and pave the way for the concord of cultures and symphony of civilizations. Communal and national as well as regional and racial cultures and civilizations will be benefitted by contact between themselves. They will lose the spirit of narrowness and exclusiveness and contribute their share to world culture and world civilization” (2005, p.139).

To Conclude
Sri Ramakrishna’s idea of a Universal Religion was based on the synthesis of sectarian beliefs. He, after practising Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam boldly, declared the oneness of different religions – based on his profound realization of the ultimate reality. He recognized the differences among religions but held the view that in spite of these differences every religion has an essential core of spirituality which constitutes the common ground of all religions. 


Dasgupta, R.K. (2001). Sri Ramakrishna’s Religion. Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. 

Swami Ghanananda (2005). Sri Ramakrishna and His Unique Message. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama.

Swami Sundarananda (1986). Ramakrishna: The Symbol of National Unity. Paper Contributed In the book “Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Prophet of Harmony”. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama.