On Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s so called universalism

It is often said that he said ‘joto mot toto poth'(As many faiths, so many paths). However,from reading Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita,one of the earliest unbiased records on his life,we find a more nuanced picture than the uncritical universalism a lot of people(secularists of Bengal,Ramakrishna mission monks themselves,etc).

He also says next after that

It’s like going to the Kali temple on different roads. Even so, some paths are pure, while others are dirty. One must take a pure path.cvama

Are paths like Islam or Christianity pure?No. Since they are explicitly vedaviruddha and brAhamaNaviruddha. As nArAyaNa utters in the kUrma purANa:na vedabAhye puruShe puNyalesho’ pi sha~Nkara(kUrma purANa 1.15.109). The kUrma also advises

 

So such paths would squarely fall in the domain of ‘impure’ paths,and by Ramakrishna’s standard,to be avoided for sAdhakas. Even in the domains of Astika sAdhanA,Ramakrishna himself was deprecatory of practices involving miThuna(though he did vAmAchAra sAdhana on a pa~nchamuNDi Asana). He again says

Narendra refers to the Tantrik sects of Ghoshpara, Panchanami and others. Thakur describes their practices and condemns them. He says, “They can’t follow spiritual practices correctly. They just satisfy sensual desires in the name of religion.”

….looking on a woman as one’s mistress, the attitude of a ‘hero,’ is beset with difficulties. Tarak’s father used to practice this rite. It is a very difficult path. It is impossible to maintain the correct spirit in this path.

Many of these people conduct themselves according to the Radha Tantra. They practise spiritual disciplines with the five basic elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether – through the use of excrement, urine, menstrual flow, and semen. It is a very dirty practice, like entering a home through the toilet.

 

…when you come across a wicked person, salute him from a distance. Chaitanya Deva did the same thing. He would restrain his spiritual feelings in the presence of those of a different nature. At Srivas’s home, he forced Srivas’s mother-in-law out of the room, dragging her by the hair.

Note the use of physical force to evict those averse to devotion.

His preferred path as noted elsehwere in the Kathamrita

The path of devotion enjoined by Narada is best suited to this age.

And he truly was an embodiment of that mArga. As seen from quotes like

It(Kashi) brings liberation[10], dear. But I don’t want liberation, I want only love and devotion for God

guNarahitam kAmanArahitam pratikShaNavardhamAnam,,,,says nArada in his sutras. A bhakta does not have even mokSha-kAma,what to speak of worldly kAmas.

I have seen so many faiths, so many paths. Now I don’t like them anymore – they just argue with each other.

This corresponds well with the sutras vAdo nAvalambayaH| and bAhulyAvakAshatvAdaniyatvAt| of the nArada bhakti sutras(The sAdhaka should not take to disputation,for it leads to endless arguments and no certain conclusion).

And when Ramakrishna spoke about ‘harmony between religions’ it was usually situations like this

This book contains beautiful stories of devotees. But the book is dogmatic. It runs down other beliefs.

Is someone who condemns even the mild sectarianism of the bhaktamAla is going to accept the sectarianism inherent in the Mosaic counter-religions exemplified by Islam,etc?

One holy book of the Vaishnavas is the Bhaktamala. It is a beautiful book. It contains nothing but stories about devotees. But it is one-sided. It goes so far in one place as to make the Divine Mother[5] adopt a Vishnu mantra.

“Once I praised Vaishnavcharan a lot and asked Mathur Babu to invite him to his house. Mathur was very hospitable to him – silver plates for the refreshments. And what did Vaishnavcharan say to Mathur Babu but that without a Krishna mantra nothing would help! Now Mathur Babu is a devout worshiper of the Divine Mother of the Universe. His face reddened. I nudged Vaishnavcharan.

“I think you can find such things in the Srimad Bhagavata also. Such as that without a Krishna mantra it is as difficult to cross the ocean of the world as it is to try to cross a mighty ocean by holding a dog’s tail. All sects talk highly of their own sects alone.

“Shaktas also try to disparage Vaishnavas when they say, ‘Sri Krishna is the pilot of the river of the world; he alone can take one across.’ To this Shaktas reply, ‘Of course this is true. Will the supreme Mother, empress of the universe,[6] row one across Herself? She has engaged this Krishna to do the job.’” (All laugh.)

“What arrogance people show because of their beliefs! There are weavers in my village and in Shyambazar and other places, most of them Vaishnavas. They talk very big. They say, ‘Which Vishnu do they worship? The Vishnu who preserves! We don’t touch him.’ Or ‘Which Shiva? We accept Atmarama Shiva, the Atmarameshwar Shiva.’ One of them says, ‘Tell me which Hari you worship.’ Thereupon another says, ‘No, why should we? Let someone else answer.’ They work at weaving and talk so big.”

“Rati’s mother – the attendant of Rani Katyayani, a member of Vaishnavcharan’s group – was a bigoted Vaishnava. She used to visit here frequently. Her devotion for God was unusual. But as soon as she saw me eating Mother Kali’s prasad she ran away.

“He alone is a real person who has harmonized. Most people are single-minded. But I see all these as one. Shaktas, Vaishnavas, and Vedantists worship the same one Reality. He who is formless also has forms. All are only His different forms.

Brahman without attributes is my father, and God with form is my mother.

Whom shall I blame? Whom shall I worship? The pans of the scale are of equal weight.

“The Tantra also speaks of the same Being as the Vedas. The Puranas also speak of the same Being – Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. The Absolute belongs to the same as the phenomenal belongs.

“The Veda says, ‘Om Sat-chit-ananda Brahman.’ The Tantra says, ‘Om Sat-chit-ananda Shiva – Shiva only, only Shiva.’ The Purana says, ‘Om Sat-chit-ananda Krishna.’ The Vedas, the Puranas, and the Tantras talk of the same Sat-chit-ananda. And the Vaishnava scriptures also say that Krishna Himself has become Kali.”

His references to harmony were usually of this nature. Scarcely between even Bauddha upAsanA,let alone hostile counter-religions which seek to uproot our traditions. It points to an immense loss of common sense when Ramakrishna’s remarks are extended beyond their intent(ativyApti-dosha).

As for the alleged practice of Islam and Christianity,I have found no mention of any Christ-centred sAdhanA,and he only repeated Islamic mantras for a few days given by a certain Govind Rai. It’s extremely unseemly to ignore his central legacy(of that of a nAradIya style bhakta to devI bhava-tAriNI,disparaging vAma and other impure paths) and instead paint him as someone who was lacking in discrimination. Shri Ram Swarup deals with this issue better than I could in his book on this affair.

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