Ramakrishna (1836-1886) was a Hindu “saint” and keeper of the temple of the Goddess Kali in Calcutta. His most famous disciple was Vivekananda who represented the Hindu religion at the first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Ramakrishna was quite a character: a heavy meditator who loved the “Divine Mother,” follower of the Gita scriptures, an ascetic, and maybe a bit of a madman (“touched in the head” we might say). Yet, the collection of his sayings (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) contains some delightful and thought-provoking passages, even for seculars.
I always enjoyed his parables and whimsical wisdom.
I see people who talk about religion constantly quarreling with one another. Hindus, [Muslims], etc, all quarrel with one another. They haven’t the intelligence to understand that He who is called Krishna is also Shiva and the Primal Shakti, and that it is He, again, who is called Jesus and Allah. . . .
Truth is one; only It is called by different names. All people are seeking the same Truth; the variance is due to climate, temperament, and name. A lake has many ghats [steps leading down to the water]. From one ghat the Hindus take water in jars and call it ‘jal’. From another ghat the [Muslims] take water in leather bags and call it ‘pani’. From a third the Christians take the same thing and call it ‘water’. Suppose someone says that the thing is not jal but pani, or that it is not pani but water, or that it is not water but jal. It would indeed be ridiculous. But this very thing is at the root of the friction among sects, their misunderstandings and quarrels. This is why people injure and kill one another, and shed blood, in the name of religion. (quoted in Harvey, The Essential Mystics)
One question I would have for Ramakrishna is,
Why not simply be “devoted” to The Truth? Why give Truth any other name other than Truth? If Religions just get us all divided by Naming the Truth using countless inventive “Holy Names” and Personalities, maybe centering on exploring, discovering and teaching Truth itself, would be better than Religion, wouldn’t it?
Somehow I think I might enjoy hearing the story, the parable, the “gospel” he would use in reply.
Related to my earlier post on “owning Allah,” Ramakrishna has this to say,
“So long as a man calls aloud, ‘Allah Ho! Allah Ho! (O God! O God!), be sure that he has not found God, for he who has found him becomes still.” (Saying 79)