Harmony of Religions
Religious pluralism, toleration of different modes of worship, and respect for the followers and the Prophets of other religions are the constant features of 'Hinduism'. Although a small minority speaks and acts contrary to these generalizations, causing some misgiving and misunderstanding about the tolerant nature of Hinduism, by and large these characteristics hold true. Basically Hinduism spreads by division, creating sect after sects, and assimilating noble ideas suitable for its growth at the particular time and in the given situation. It has never made any attempt to spread or impose itself on others by taking help of or recourse to sword or persecution. Scores of attacks by the believers of alien faith, particularly in the northwest frontiers regions of India, and later the British domination, could not demolish the tenets of Hindu philosophy and practice.
This resilience stems from the accommodative nature of Hindu thought based on the firm belief and knowledge that the ultimate Truth is one, and all the religious denominations are but different paths to reach and realize that Truth. In fact, such an accommodative nature helps in bringing out the best in the religion, for, in the process the unwanted and the transient is removed from the main body of spiritual truth. How far Hinduism has contributed in enriching other religions with which it has come in contact should be left to the Pundits of those religions to decide.
In this age there is a tendency to pass comments and judgments on the basis of immense information available with speedy ease, but without in-depth and sincere study of a particular phenomenon or a religious branch. Such an attitude easily creates misgivings and misunderstanding, bordering on to cynicism, about a particular religion; and even about religion as such! Believers of one denomination easily brush aside the claims of greatness and correctness made by the followers of other denominations. However, no single religion encompasses all the truths, although whatever it represents is true. Any one aspect, like universal brotherhood, solidarity, compassion, transcendence, or devotional pursuit, etc., might be emphasized and given high priority by a particular religion causing confusion about the correctness of its approach. But when related to the totality, one finds that such an emphasis is but a means to reach the goal.
Given such scenario, the beautiful garland of religious cohesion appears fragmented as a heap of flowers, some fresh and other stale. Of course 'mine are always fresh,' and 'yours are the stale ones'! Such a tendency has caused avoidable rift among the peoples of various nations and the ethnic groups taking them to the brink of religious war. The fanaticism breeds and springs from the attitude of intolerance for other faiths based on the inadequacy or the lack of proper and sufficient knowledge of religion itself - both about one's own and of others' as well. In this context it would be worthwhile to study the life, experiences and the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886).
Sri Ramakrishna undertook almost all spiritual disciplines to seek God and in each of these he reached the same state of Divine realization. Self-effort with strong yearning to know the true nature of Mother Kali led him to realize Her through various Visions. Those experiences where he could talk with the Mother proved beyond doubt the existence of God everywhere, including in the stone idol itself.
1. Once Sri Ramakrishna was heard talking to Kali, the Divine Mother of the universe. He said: "Mother, everyone says, 'my watch alone is right.' The Christians, the Brahmos, the Hindus, the Mussalmans, all say, 'My religion alone is true.' But, Mother, the fact is that nobody's watch is right. Who can truly understand Thee!' But if a man prays to Thee with a yearning heart, he can reach Thee, through Thy Grace, by any path."
2. Sri Ramakrishna once explained to his disciples that the same God is called by various names by different people; similarly some people call water as 'pani' and others call the same as 'jal', 'aqua', or 'vari' etc. Until they see the water, they are ready to fight amongst themselves shouting: 'No, no, you are wrong; pani is not water!' But as soon as water is brought in front of them, these 'fighting fanatics' all start dancing: 'Look, this is my aqua; oh, this is my pani,' and realize that the controversy and high temper was unnecessary. Sri Ramakrishna could cite such a parable only because he had experienced the oneness of God, Atman, Hari, Allah, 'Father in the Heaven', etc.
3. Once a Brahmo devotee asked Sri Ramakrishna about the different opinions about the nature of God. He said, "Some say that God has form, while others say that He is formless. Again, those who speak of God with form tell us about different forms. Why all this controversy?"
And to explain, Sri Ramakrishna told a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a chameleon on a tree. He returned and told his friends that he had seen a red chameleon there. The other person went and saw the same animal as green, the third as blue, and the fourth as yellow. All the four started quarreling amongst themselves, each one claiming that the chameleon was of the colour he had noticed. To settle the dispute they all went towards the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked he replied, "Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. And sometimes it has no colour at all."
The Master said, "A devotee thinks of God as he sees Him. In reality there is no confusion about God. God explains all this to the devotee if the devotee only realizes Him somehow. You haven't set your foot in that direction. How can you expect to know all about God?"
c s shah