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Religious pluralism is the coexistence of various religions with cooperation and respect with each other. Apparently, religions seem to clash and more especially in war times. There has been much blame on the state of Arab nations to the Muslim religion. This has mainly been highlighted by media sources. Every religion is fighting for supremacy and the faithfuls want to present their religion as the only acceptable faith. However, a person like the 19th century Hindu scholar Ramakrishna defends religious pluralism. Thus, this essay seeks to explain his position by reference to the principal religious writings of Hinduism namely: the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Sri Ramakrishna did not establish any cult. He was not even a spiritual leader to show a new way to salvation. However, he represented the very fundamental spiritual realizations as established by the sages and seers of India. In the various disciplines of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, Ramakrishna obtained God’s vision and came to the realization that there is only one God-Consciousness. Ramakrishna then tasted the communication bliss with God. He was intoxicated in the ecstasy of feeling and seeing God and was consequently able to prove that God’s revelation occurs every other time and that the realization cannot be regarded as a monopoly of a certain people, country or age.
The position held by Ramakrishna presents a mistaken identity among believers of various religions. Ramakrishna asserted that there can never be any case of duality. The same truth applies for each and every conscious being. The awareness principle, the soul (atman) does not engage in any activity. However, the principle of awareness is the source of the luminous, insubstantial and transparent universe. According to Ramakrishna, all religions and human beings are guided by same principles despite the different affiliations. He gives an example of when a practitioner has been identified through a conscious process. He says that so happens with the principle of awareness and not having an awareness expression. Therefore, there is no logic of being involved intrinsically with such polarities as those of evil and good, vice and virtue, self and other, non-existence and existence among others. All the same, an individual identifies with activity instead of principle, showing off an ego that alleges to generate different chains of activities, and then the nervousness between the specific polar opposites split the individual’s consciousness. This creates different forms of subtle and obvious suffering.
Ramakrishna concurs with a non-dual knowledge which can be likened to a calmly falling from a tree. He asserts that the calmly does so and remains aware even without experiencing tension from any muscle or any form of anxiety. Thus after realization of God, the same reality is encountered as all facets of being and also as the dimensionless source of being. This is the open space of an unconditional awareness. Therefore, every being that is conscious we stumble upon is then viewed as God. According to this belief, the inanimate structures are also God. However, the most absolute and divine manifestation although might appear surprising is the reality of human beings, the delicate nervous system.
Another subject that emerges is the mystery of evil. Finding explanations for naturally occurring human viciousness, misery and pervasive unhappiness is a question that many people would want to know its solution. Ramakrishna believes that these are kinds of suffering. Every individual thus strives to overcome. They are encountered through the awareness of the individual although not by the very awareness principle. The principle of awareness is ever blissful and free. There is an analogy given that there is poison in the snake that may cause death in people although could be used as medicine. All the same, the substance cannot be medicine or poison to the snake. This analogy is used in this context to bring out the mystery of evil.
Ramakrishna postulates that there is no need to cover the world with leather while we could wear shoes. When the mind is happy, the entire world will become happy. It is not the body alone which will have such happiness. It is thus important to discover ourselves before we reform the world. Otherwise, it will be like making an effort to cover the entire world with leather to avoid the pain of trampling over thorns and stones. Now, the point of religious practices helps us have a self-realization. There is need to abstain from regarding unreal things real. In his support of religious pluralism, Ramakrishna says that reality is always with us. People are always seeking reality from something they think could be hiding it.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, the ultimate goal in life is to liberate the mind and mental power from their complex nature and to direct them on self glory through the dedication of the actions of the individual to the divine. These sentiments shared in Bhagavad Gita relate closely with Ramakrishna’s belief. To begin with, all religions according to Ramakrishna are God’s revelation which he gives to people in his diverse dimensions. These revelations are given to gratify the manifold demands of the minds of human beings. Thus, religious pluralism, tolerance with all worship modes and the respect for the faithfuls and leaders of other religions is a paramount according to Ramakrishna. He believed that religious teachings lose the power of transformation when the consciousness of God starts to wane.
The Katha Upanishad says that there is only one supreme ruler, the innermost self in all beings. This ruler takes various forms. Only the wise have the eternal happiness. The wise perceive this supreme ruler within them. Ramakrishna firmly holds onto such issues a described here and looks like he is advocating for unity of all religions. There could be a variety of faiths but the divine self being is the same. Liberation will only come through self knowledge. All the same, this kind of liberation does not only end suffering and sorrow but also is a positive happiness. Ending sorrow is not happiness by itself. Something else is required. Having a taste of the overpowering happiness of the self, the freed soul (atman) surpasses all suffering and sorrow.
Self discipline and living exemplary lives were the foundational pillars of any form of religion as explained by Ramakrishna. Through this, Ramakrishna promoted the harmony of all kinds of religions. To further explain this, Ramakrishna said that men can be compared to pillow cases. Pillow cases may be of different colors from on another although they have the same cotton inside. Therefore, it is with man. People could be different in appearance, color, form, spiritual status but they both have divine beings inside them. This affirms the nature of the diversity of the revelations that God has given to human beings. They may advocate for diverse things but be united by the divinity of their beings. It is undoubtedly that Ramakrishna demonstrated God’s reality and the soundness of the time-honored doctrines of all saviors and prophets of ancient times. With this, Ramakrishna wanted to prove that people must not suffer unending miseries which normally are occasioned by their egoism. They in the end blame God for whatever calamity befalls them. According to Ramakrishna, holding on to reality and principles will be fundamental in uniting all religions.
In relation with Vedantic non-dualism, Ramakrishna says that the aspects and forms of God are non-existence when an individual discriminates based on the philosophy of Vedanata. The last thing in this kind of discrimination would be that Brahman on its own is authentic and also the world of forms and names illusory. Ramakrishna says that it is possible for an individual to see the nature of God or even to thing as a human being in the consciousness that he is a devotee. According to Ramakrishna, it is this discrimination standpoint that keeps the individual a little further from God.
Ramakrishna says that the sky is apparently blue from a distance. However, when we draw close, it has no color. Such an analogy along with others as discussed by Ramakrishna are put together to explain the concept of religion. Thus, with regards to Vedantic reasoning Brahman does not attribute to anything. The actual nature of Brahman cannot have a description. What matters is the reality in an individual and the world. Therefore, the forms of God vary. The same applies to the feeling that God is actually a person. The Vedas talks of seven planes in which the mind dwells and that the mind dwells in the three lower planes when immersed in worldliness. These are the naval, the generation organ and the evacuation organ. In such a state, the mind does not have its higher visions. When the mind dwells at the fourth plane, the heart, an individual gets the first glimpse of the consciousness of spirit. Therefore, as the mind advances to higher planes, there is much seriousness realized with what he or she encounters with.
Generally, Ramakrishna did an experiment with the devotional practices of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism to unearth important issues pertinent to religion. The conviction that came out of the experiment was that all the regions in the world come from the same source. He highlighted the ignorance that people had lived with and the belief that they had that God was outside people and that he lived at a distant. He was able to clearly state that God was within us through his own self experiment. When a person has the true knowledge and information and comes to know that God is within all kinds of beings, then we can never hear of such concepts like “apostate”, “heretic”, and “infidel.” Therefore, religion does not refer to a particular people, age or background. There are neither aliens nor foreigners who cannot belong to the religion. There is forgiveness for everyone and unconditional love for everybody.