n the 19th century, Sri Ramakrishna was India’s great Hindu saint. Born in 1836, he died in 1886. He is regarded as a Vedantist and believed in the unity of religions (Wahdat-e-Addyan).
The disciple of Totapuri, a Vedantist, was Sri Ramakrishna. Vedanta taught him Totapuri. Later, Chaitanya Charitamrit was taught by Bhairavi Brahmani.
He believed in Kali as an incarnation of Brahma, even though he was an ardent devotee of the goddess Kali. His view was that one leads to the realisation of the formless Brahma while considering an image of Kali.
His faith in the Vedanta led him to believe in one Supreme Being called Brahma and to believe that as Brahma dwells in the heart of man, the Supreme truth can be realised within one’s self.
The Vedantic values of Sri Ramakrishna made him a liberal-minded saint and he revered all religions as the way to the same goal———God. He was still keen to hear about other religions’ teachings and philosophy. It was his search for the truth which in 1868, took him closer to Islam. A newly converted Muslim dervish named Wajid Ali Khan came into contact with him. He was originally called Gobind Roy, and he was a Kshatriya. Wajid Ali Khan practised Sufi Islam after converting to Islam, and was possibly a believer in Wahdat ul Wujud’s philosophy. At the Mazar of Ghazi Peer, the famous 13th century Sufi saint, he used to offer Namaz and chant the name of Allah.
The mazar was next to the Kali temple in Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna visited the place on a regular basis and discussed Islam with Wajid Ali Khan. Since Wajid Ali Khan believed in Wahdat ul Wujud, he presented Islam from the viewpoint of Wahdat ul Wujud’s philosophy, which was based on Vedanta’s Advaitavad (Monism). The similarities in the values of Islam and Vedanta struck Sri Ramakrishna and he wanted to be introduced to Islam.He accepted Islam at the hands of Wajid Ali Khan and learnt to offer Namaz and other Islamic practices. After that, he began to give prayers at the Mazar of Ghazi Peer five times and would chant the name of Allah all day long. He wore Muslim clothes and also hired a Muslim cook to make Muslim-style food. He didn’t visit the Kali temple during this time and didn’t give pranam to other Hindu deities. He became in short, a practising Muslim.
Sri Ramakrishna’s biographer Swami Nikhilananda writes that thanks to his intense Islam Sadhana, Sri Ramakrishna had the divine realisation only in three days. He also had a vision of a figure of light. Swami Nikhilanda’s guess is that Prophet Mohammad Pbuh was the figure Sri Ramakrishna had imagined.
Sri Ramakrishna, however, practised Islam for only three days and returned to his Advait sadhana, but his seniority in Islam left a strong impression on his spiritual and theological thinking.
Sri Ramakrishna was again attracted towards Christianity in 1874. He had once learned the Bible from Shambhu Charan Mullick, one of his devotees, at his home. He was impressed by Christianity’s teachings and began to practise Christianity. He became a Christian practitioner and also had a vision of the merging of Jesus Christ in his body. He stopped visiting the Kali temple again during this time. For three days, though, he practised Christianity.
It reflects his attitude to religions. He did not have any aversion to other religions, though he believed in Vedanta and was a Vedantist at heart. By being a veritable practitioner of other religions, he tried to feel the meaning of other religions. All the religious paths lead to God, he believed. Swami Abhedananda wrote about this personality characteristic of Sri Ramakrishna in his Memoirs of Ramakrishna:
“As his divine personality was many-sided, so was his great mission. It was to show the underlying unity in the variety of religions.” He further said:
“Sri Ramakrishna was the embodiment of the highest spiritual ideals of all nations.”
The liberal approach of Sri Ramakrishna to religion and a cosmopolitan outlook greatly influenced Vivekananda, his disciple, and had a profound effect on the Hindus’ collective religious ideas, particularly the Bengali-speaking Hindus of Bengal.