An address of Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji Maharaj, given on the occasion of the release of the souvenir ‘The Ramakrishna Movement’ on 30 December 1979, at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi.
I shall mention a few of the main ideals that have been cherished and put into practice by the Ramakrishna Mission.
The first one is the harmony of religions. Sri Ramakrishna practised the ideals preached by different religions and by different sects in Hinduism and came to the conclusion that all religions led to the same goal, to God-realization. This was not a new ideal in this country. As early as the Rg-Vedic times the Rsis expressed the idea thus—ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (‘Truth is one, sages call It by various names’). And from that era it has come down to the present day and has been reiterated several times in the history of this nation. Sri Krishna taught the same truth through the Gita. Shankara also harmonized all the different sects in Hinduism that were prevalent in his time by starting the tradition of pancodevata-upasana (worship of the five deities) before worshipping any deity. In this modern age Sri Ramakrishna has given a practical demonstration of this great ideal. This is one of the greatest ideals which the modern age requires, not only in India but all over the world. He has proved it in a scientific way, by actually practicing the different religious ideas and proving that all religions finally lead to the same goal, to God-realization. This is the scientific proof that is required in this age, and he has given it.
Any other idea which is discordant to this great ideal, which this country has cherished for centuries, will only retard the progress of this nation and bring about disunity and disintegration of its life. However, it will not be able to do any permanent harm, but will in due course go down with the great upsurge of the nation’s true ideal of harmony. We can be sure that the present note of disharmony will not be able to do any great mischief. Ultimately, in this age such discordant notes will get drowned in this great upsurge of the harmony of religions.
Another idea that Sri Ramakrishna held before the nations of the world was the oneness of humanity. Behind everyone, every individual, there was the same Atman. To whatever creed, race or caste one belonged, whether one was educated or illiterate, whether one was rich or poor, behind every one there was the same Atman. From this angle of vision, he found that humanity was one and that there was no need for any discordant feeling of animosity among nations, races, different classes or castes. With this idea he also wanted us to work for the social uplift of the poorer and backward sections of humanity. In our country particularly we have to raise the backward people, give them education and raise their economic standard. This kind of social work he asked us to do according to the great ideal he gave to the world, ‘Serve Jiva as Siva’. If we serve people with the idea of serving Siva, with the idea that in everyone there is the same Atman, we will not only be doing social good, but will also be helping ourselves towards God-realization. Through such an attitude social service will be raised to the standard of upasana or puja. If we can realize God by worshipping Him in a stone image, by inspiring divinity in it, through the ritual of prana-pratishta, can we not attain God-realization by worshipping Him as already manifested in human beings? There is no need for prana-pratistha. He is already present in every human being. Only if we change our angle of vision and do service, it will help us also to attain God-realization.
That is the twofold ideal which Swami Vivekananda has held before this organization— atmano mokshartham jagad hitaya ca (‘For one’s own liberation and the welfare of the world’). This great ideal is required today in our country to uplift the backward people, to give them education, to give them the culture which they have been denied by the higher castes, or by the higher strata of society. The backwardness of the masses has been a great weakness in our nation. And Swamiji particularly wanted that the masses be raised, and he has given his own plan to raise their economic condition which is very necessary. Swamiji wrote, ‘Did not our Gurudeva say, “An empty stomach is no good for religion”?’ And he also wrote, ‘I do not believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow’s tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan’s mouth.’ That shows that we must do something to raise the condition of the vast masses of poor people in our country, for their good, for our own good, and for the good of the nation.
In this respect I shall tell you of an incident in the life of Swamiji. When he was in America, he was staying with a gentleman who happened to be a friend of the multimillionaire John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller had heard much about Swamiji from his friend; but he had never called on Swamiji to see him nor had he attended his lectures. But one morning suddenly he came to the place where Swamiji was living and, without waiting to be announced, went straight to Swamiji’s room. Swamiji was then writing a letter. After some talk, Swamiji told him ultimately, ‘The money that you earned is not yours. You are only a trustee. The money belongs to the poor, and you are merely a trustee of that money.’ But Rockefeller was not a man to listen to advice from anybody. He suddenly left the room in a huff and went away.
But something happened. After about a week he came again. Swamiji was in the same room, writing letters as before. Rockefeller put before Swamiji a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous amount of money to finance some orphanage or other charitable public institution, and said, ‘Well, there you are. You must be satisfied now, and you can thank me for it.’ But Swamiji coolly replied without even raising his head, ‘It is for you to thank me.’ Rockefeller left the room suddenly without further talk. So this idea was put into the great millionaire, and it worked in him, and all the Foundations created by him were more or less inspired by this personal touch with Swamiji. He has not mentioned Swamiji’s name, but he has admitted that he was inspired by this kind of idea.
I would like on this occasion to appeal to all our people, especially to our industrialists in this country, to rise to the occasion and try to improve the condition of backward people, remembering Swamiji’s idea that they are also trustees of the money which they have earned and that they hold it for the benefit of the poor. I shall not say that they should spend their whole income but that at least some part of it should be spent for the backward classes. It will be of great benefit not only to the nation and to the poor, but ultimately also to themselves. If the common people, who form a large section of the nation, are left in poverty, it is sure to affect the whole nation including all the business people indirectly. Blood must circulate throughout the whole body. If it does not, then that part of the body where the blood does not flow gets withered and gangrene may set in, endangering the life of the whole person. Similarly, wealth should flow throughout the body-politic of the nation. Otherwise, if any part of the nation is left out, then it will jeopardize the life of the whole nation. So this idea should not be forgotten by the rich, for their own sake, even from a selfish standpoint.
In this connection I would like to tell you one small incident. The Ramakrishna Mission did relief work in Andhra Pradesh after the dreadful cyclone. It took up rehabilitation and constructed many houses for the poor whose houses had been destroyed. After that, a few of the rich people of the locality and from Hyderabad got together and are now busy helping the poor sections to improve their lot under a scheme called ‘Grama-shree’. That is a very good and healthy sign. If this inspires people all over the country, then the economic uplift of the country will be achieved in no time.
As you find from the souvenir The Ramakrishna Movement, the Ramakrishna Mission has been doing some kind of work in this direction, both in the remote backward villages and in the urban areas. But from the standpoint of the great and vast need of the nation, what the Ramakrishna Mission has achieved, I would say in all humility, is only microscopic. This slow progress will not be very helpful unless it is quickened by people from all strata of life. Everyone must try to build up the nation. The Ramakrishna Mission might have at best shown the way. That is all. But to achieve the goal, the whole nation will have to take it up. There will be hope for this nation only when various societies, organizations and people from various strata of life take to this kind of work of reconstruction of the country on a national basis as preached by Swamiji. So I again appeal to all the rich people in this country to come forward and help raise the backward people, for the good of the nation, and ultimately for their own good.
May Sri Ramakrishna help us in realizing this ideal is my great prayer to Him.