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Did Sri Ramakrishna Worship the True God?

19 September, 2016
Q Brother I want to know how authentic it is and historical proof of Sri Ramkrishna's conversation with goddess Kali... and I read in Wikipedia that "In 1866, Govinda Roy, a Hindu guru who practiced Sufism, initiated Ramakrishna into Islam. Ramakrishna said that he "devoutly repeated the name of Allah, wore a cloth like the Arab Muslims, said their prayer five times daily, and felt disinclined even to see images of the Hindu gods and goddesses, much less worship them—for the Hindu way of thinking had disappeared altogether from my mind." According to Ramakrishna, after three days of practice he had a vision of a "radiant personage with grave countenance and white beard resembling the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and merging with his body". At the end of 1873 he started the practice of Christianity, when his devotee Shambu Charan Mallik read the Bible to him. Ramakrishna said that for several days he was filled with Christian thoughts and no longer thought of going to the Kali temple. Ramakrishna describes of a vision in which the picture of Madonna and Child Jesus became alive and had a vision in which Jesus merged with his body. In his own room amongst other divine pictures was one of Christ, and he burnt incense before it morning and evening. There was also a picture showing Jesus Christ saving St Peter from drowning in the water". My few Hindu friends are saying he was a worshiper of God and he spoke to god Kali and they said these are not myths but facts... but still I can't believe them can you please help me out??

Answer

Salam Dear Mohammed,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) was a great Hindu mystic of India. He was the moving spirit behind the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. He is respected as a great sage of modern India. Although Ramakrishna was a high-caste Brahmin, he came from a poor, low-caste village and had little formal education.

His knowledge of the Vedas, Puranas, and other Hindu Epics was obtained orally in the Bengali language, which was his mother tongue. In spite of this, he managed to imbibe the essence of the Hindu religion and teach it to his numerous disciples in very simple terms.

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He had acquired his vast knowledge of Hindu philosophy as well as of other religions through his contacts with a number of pious men and scholars. From his youth he was associated with the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar in Kolkata, where he developed an intense devotion to the goddess Kali.

He used to spend hours on end in loving adoration of her image, forgetting the rituals of priestly duties assigned to him. We are told that “his intense longing culminated in the vision of Mother Kali as boundless effulgence engulfing everything around him”.

As part of his spiritual quest Ramakrishna had worshiped with Muslims and Christians, and propounded a simple approach to religious tolerance. He said:

“Creeds and sects matter nothing. Let everyone perform with faith the devotions and practices of his creed. Faith is the only clue to get to God.”

The Hindu Vedas have the principle of religious universalism summed up in the statement:

“There is but one Truth, but sages call it by different names”[i]. Probably moved by this spirit of the essential unity of Reality, Sri Ramakrishna became eager to explore some of the alien religions; for with him understanding meant actual experience. Toward the end of 1866 he began to adopt the practices of Islam.

Under the direction of a Sufi teacher he devoted himself to the new discipline. He dressed as a Muslim and performed Islamic prayers and devotions. It is said that during this period, he forgot the Hindu gods and goddesses – including his favorite goddess Kali, whom he calls “Mother”.

He gave up visiting the temples and took up his residence outside the temple precincts. According to Mahendra Nath Gupta a favorite disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, after three days of Muslim worship Sri Ramakrishna had “the vision of a radiant figure, perhaps Mohammed.” He writes:

“This figure gently approached him and finally lost himself in Sri Ramakrishna. Thus he realized the Mussalman God. Thence he passed into communion with Brahman. The mighty river of Islam also led him back to the Ocean of the Absolute.” [ii]

And it is reported that eight years later, “sometime in November 1874, Sri Ramakrishna was seized with an irresistible desire to learn the truth of the Christian religion. He began to listen to readings from the Bible, by Śambhu Charan Mallick, a gentleman of Calcutta and a devotee of the Master.

Sri Ramakrishna became fascinated by the life and teachings of Jesus. One day he was seated in the parlor of Jadu Mallick’s garden house at Dakshineśwar, when his eyes became fixed on a painting of the Madonna and Child. Intently watching it, he became gradually overwhelmed with divine emotion. The figures in the picture took on life, and the rays of light emanating from them entered his soul. The effect of this experience was stronger than that of the vision of Mohammed.

In dismay he cried out, “O Mother! What are You doing to me?” And, breaking through the barriers of creed and religion, he entered a new realm of ecstasy. Christ possessed his soul. For three days he did not set foot in the Kāli temple. On the fourth day, in the afternoon, as he was walking in the Panchavati, he saw coming toward him a person with beautiful large eyes, serene countenance, and fair skin. As the two faced each other, a voice rang out in the depths of Sri Ramakrishna’s soul:

“Behold the Christ who shed His heart’s blood for the redemption of the world, who suffered a sea of anguish for love of men. It is He, the Master Yogi, who is in eternal union with God. It is Jesus, Love Incarnate.”

Sri Ramakrishna realized his identity with Christ, as he had already realized his identity with Kāli, Rāmā, Hanuman, Rādhā, Krishna, Brahman, and Mohammed… Thus he experienced the truth that Christianity, too, was a path leading to God-Consciousness. Till the last moment of his life he believed that Christ was an Incarnation of God. But Christ, for him, was not the only Incarnation; there were others – Buddha, for instance, and Krishna…

Sri Ramakrishna accepted the divinity of Buddha and used to point out the similarity of his teachings to those of the Upanishads. He also showed great respect for the Tirthankarās, who founded Jainism, and for the ten Gurus of Sikhism. But he did not speak of them as Divine Incarnations. He was heard to say that the Gurus of Sikhism were the reincarnations of King Janaka of ancient India. He kept in his room at Dakshineśwar a small statue of Tirthankara Mahāvira and a picture of Christ, before which incense was burnt morning and evening.

Mahendra Nath Gupta writes:

“Without being formally initiated into their doctrines, Sri Ramakrishna thus realized the ideals of religions other than Hinduism. He did not need to follow any doctrine. All barriers were removed by his overwhelming love of God.

So he became a Master who could speak with authority regarding the ideas and ideals of the various religions of the world. “I have practiced”, said he, “all religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity – and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects.

I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths. You must try all beliefs and traverse all the different ways once. Wherever I look, I see men quarreling in the name of religion – Hindus, Mohammedans, Brahmos, Vaishnavās, and the rest. But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also called Śiva, and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus, and Allah as well – the same Rāmā with a thousand names.” [iii]

The foregoing gives the story of Sri Ramakrishna in a nutshell, based on the narrations of his disciples. As caDid Sri Ramakrishna Worship the True God?n be seen from this story, it is clear that Sri Ramakrishna was an ardent devotee of Kali, the dark goddess who according to Hindu scholars symbolizes death as well as life, ugliness as well as motherliness. [iv]

Your Hindu friends confirm that Ramakrishna was a true worshiper of God, and he was able to talk to goddess Kali; and you are confused whether to believe them or not. From the life story given by his disciples, it is clear that Sri Ramakrishna’s followers believe him to be an Incarnation of God. If so, one doesn’t see how an Incarnation of God (i.e. God himself appearing with a body) can worship God, in the first place?

As far as the creeds, beliefs or practices of any person or community are concerned, our assessment as Muslims should certainly be based on the criteria derived from the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). On that basis, we cannot accept idolatry of any kind.

It is true that there are wonderful verses in the Vedas as well as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita that agree with the teachings of Islam. But most Hindus for all practical purposes are devotees of a multiplicity of gods and goddesses; and we have no reason to believe that Ramakrishna was different in this respect.

Also we cannot accept the idea that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) appeared to Sri Ramakrishna in a vision and got lost in him or something of the sort. And most assuredly, an ardent worshiper of the goddess Kali cannot at the same time be a follower of Muhammad, peace be upon him.

In other words, a devotee of Kali worships a god other than the True God. Sri Ramakrishna reportedly learned about Islam and for a short while adopted its practices, but soon returned to idolatry, by worshiping goddess Kali. And we know that any person who wishes to become a Muslim (i.e. one who submits wholeheartedly to the One and Only God of the universe) needs to totally remove from their mind, heart and consciousness every trace of the idea of a god or goddess or idol deserving of worship in the first place; so that they can fully and sincerely embrace the faith in Allah the One and Only God of the universe.

This is what Laa ilaaha ill-Allah – ‘there is no one worthy of worship but Allah’ – means. From what we know of Sri Ramakrishna, this has not happened. At the same time, we have to concede that his devotees who regard him as an Incarnation of God have the right to do so. Because, Allah grants full freedom to all humans to accept any belief they consider valid. Because, there is no question of compelling any one to accept a religious belief, as Allah Almighty says in His Quran:

{There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error…} (Quran 2:256)

So, to your Hindu friends you may explain the teachings of Islam particularly concerning this matter; but if they do not agree with you, you can say: {To you your religion and to me my religion} (Quran 109:6). But you can continue to be good friends too, God willing.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch

References:


[i] Rig Veda: 1.164.46 – In Sanskrit – ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti

[ii] Sri Rāmakrishna Kathāmrita or The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Mahendra Nath Gupta – http://www.belurmath.org/gospel/index.htm accessed on Dec 23, 2013

[iii] Ibid

[iv] “Fierce, black in color, large, shimmering eyes, destructive, triumphantly smiling amidst the slaughter of billions of demons, wearing a necklace of skulls and a skirt of severed arms, glowing effulgently like the full moon in the night sky, holding the head of a demon, a Trident that flashes like lightning and a knife etched with sacred mantras and infused with Divine Shakti, Kali stands peaceful and content, suffused with the fragrances of jasmine, rose and sandalwood!” http://www.vishvarupa.com/print-information-about-kali.html accessed on Dec 23, 2013

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.