In the Vedas, the earliest scriptures of India, we find this truth: “Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti – Truth is one, though sages call it by various names.” Later in the Upanishads, we come across a similar statement: “As different streams coming from various sources ultimately flow into one ocean, so do the many religions of the world, emerging from innumerable sources, at long last mingle in the great ocean of love.” In this present age, we have again been taught by Bhagawan Ramakrishna:”As many religions, so many paths”. All reach one and the same goal. Thus, from the earliest Vedic times up to our modern age this ideal of harmony and universality has been taught to every Hindu.
A Hindu learns to respect every faith and every prophet; but it is impossible for him or her to understand any religion that claims to be unique. This does not mean that Hindus are actively interested in other religions. Rather, it means that they respect them. They respect the beliefs of others and their saints and prophets, though they may not obey their dogmas. For in India, each individual has, as it were, his or her own path to follow. Parents and children may live together collectively, yet individually worship God in different ways. The husband may be ignorant of how the wife worships, and the wife totally unaware of her husband’s beliefs. Every member of the family is given the freedom to approach God in a manner which each finds most suitable to his or her temperament or inclination. It is this sort of freedom that has inspired the Hindu’s respect for Christ.
It is a great life that is the best commentary and revelation of another great life. It is the elephant that understands the strength of the lion, not an ant or a rat. It is the lives of avatars like Ramakrishna and his disciples that are the best commentaries to the lives of Christs and Bhuddhas. Religion is essentially life. It is this life that once sanctified Jerusalem which inspired Ramakrishna and his disciples and still continues to inspire millions of people in the world. As you might know, Sri Ramakrishna was interested in every religion and he followed their particular paths to discover the truth of them. And he found that all of them, like streams, mingled in the great ocean of love.
Shri Sambhuchandra Mallick used to read Bible to Master and then explain it in Bengali. In this way Ramakrishna came to know something of Christianity. It was one day in the year 1874, he visited the garden house of Jadunath Mallick which is situated to the south of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar and he chanced to see a picture of the Madonna and Child. As he was looking at the picture, it suddenly became living to him. His heart was filled with love for Christ. For a period of three days and three nights he stayed in his room, filled with the presence of Jesus. He even refused to go to the Hindu temple or worship any of the Hindu gods or goddesses. Curious to know how the followers of Christ worshipped their Lord, he was granted a vision of devotees kneeling before Jesus and praying to him. On the third day, as he was seated outside his room, Ramakrishna noticed a luminous figure approaching him. At once he knew that this was Christ the Savior. The figure approached and embraced him and entered into his body. And so Ramakrishna came to understand that Jesus was an avatar, a divine incarnation.
About two of his monastic disciples, viz. Shashi Mj and Sharat Mj, Ramakrishna used to say that both of them were the followers of Jesus, the Christ in a former incarnation. Swami Saradananda during his visit to the Basilica of St.Peter in Vatican experienced Bhava Samadhi. Swami Ramakrishnanandaji during his stay in Madras used to visit the St.Thomas Church and spend hours in prayers kneeling down before the altar.
Christmas has some more relevance for the Ramakrishna Order. After Ramakrishna passed away in 1886, his disciples took their final vows of sannyasa on Christmas Eve. 24th December is a red-letter day in the history of Ramakrishna Order. The mother of Baburam Maharaj i.e.Swam Premanandaji, invited these disciples to her village house at Antpur, a few miles north-east of Kolkata. Narendranath, the leader, was of course there in the party which included Baburam Mj, Sharat Mj,Tarak Mj, Kali Mj, Niranjan Mj, Gangadhar Mj and Sarada Mj. In the calm and serene atmosphere of the village, the spiritual fire that had been lighted in their hearts by the Master blazed into a big fire. Naren’s body and mind were filled with the fire of sannyas and the following words came out of his mouth: “Let man-making be the goal of our lives! Let us make this our only spiritual discipline! Away with vain learning! Let not the glamour of the world captivate our minds even for a moment! Realization of God is the one and only thing in life! That is what Sri Ramakrishna’s life represented! We must realize God!” They kept vigil around dhuni fine and talked about the life of Christ and the glories of renunciation. It was later discovered that it happened to be the Christmas Eve – 24th December 1886. Thus it was on that day the monastic order of Ramakrishna came into existence formally at Antpur, a village in Bengal. I mention it as “formally” because in the beginning of the same year, when Ramakrishna was staying in the Cossipore garden-house for the treatment of the cancer of his throat, he himself had informally made Narendra as the leader of his young disciples and given gerua clothes to them. The story of founding of the Ramakrishna Order commences at Cossipore, continues through Baranagore and culminates at Antpur. So we can understand why Christmas Eve is particularly sacred to us, for the Order was really founded on that day.
Swami Vivekananda had great reverential love for Christ all through his life. During the days of his stay in Baranagore Math, when all the brother disciples were struggling even for a morsel of food, Swamiji would beg for funds to buy and distribute some hundreds of copies of Imitation of Christ, authored by a Christian priest of 15th century. This book runs into about two hundred pages and guides one in imbibing the teachings of Jesus Christ into one’s life and in the way leading to complete surrender before him and the pattern of behavior one should keep for this. This book had been approved of by the Christians as next only to the Bible’s New Testament during the last five centuries. The concept of complete surrender to God is explained in this book in short articles of three to four pages each. All the words have come straight from the heart of the author. Complete surrender to Christ is the feeling of devotion of a truly dedicated soul; this point appealed to Narendra and this is a sign of his devotional temperament lying deep and dormant in this heart. Swami Vivekananda always used to keep with him in future this book by Thomas-e-Kempis during his travels. Christ merely peeped into the life of Ramakrishna, who had already attained eminence in the spiritual field. On the contrary, as Swami Vivekananda had to move in the western world, Christ has kept him company for a long time.
In the year 1892 when Swamiji was travelling throughout the length and breadth of India as an unknown wandering monk he visited the southern tip of Indian soil. On reaching Kanyakumari, he swam across a few miles in the ocean and sat upon a rock at the confluence of Indian Ocean, Arabic sea and Bay of Bengal and became, as it were, a condensed India. He resolved not to leave the seat until Goddess Kanyakumari blesses him with a solution to regenerate India. He was absorbed in Samadhi for 3 days and nights and on 4th day he rose up from the seat with renewed energy and a practical solution to elevate the Indian masses. Later it was found that those three days were from Dec 24th to Dec 26th of 1892.
Like all great religious teachers, Christ was a great revolutionary and he got what those who bring revolutions against a moribund established order get – crucifixion.
From that wondrous Cross, Christ lives for ever and ever. From that Cross flowed a tremendous faith in God and uncontainable power of God. Notwithstanding all failures of men, all disregards shown to him and his teachings, Christ is very much here and now. His words—“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.” None can separate Christ from the message of the Cross as a symbol of supreme sacrifice. In the future it will not be any more asked to which religion we belong—but, whether we are pure in heart, whether we love God and man.
May the Lord in heaven and who comes down on earth as and when he chooses to descend be ever gracious towards us all in forgiving all our shortcomings and making our hearts a place for his eternal stay!