One day when you have time, take the biography of Ramakrishna and read the experiments he made. He practiced several universal religions. He was born Hindu, he was a great worshiper of Kali and realised Kali so that he could be in constant touch with Her. He could talk to Her, seek Her advice and act according to Her advice. This was his first realisation. Kali is real, more real that the things that we see in the world -- that was his conclusion, his experience. Then he practiced many other forms of Hinduism. Kali is only one form of Hindu religion. Hinduism itself is like a banyan tree in which there are so many branches. He realised also what is called Advaita (Advaita means non-dualism. Dvaita means two, A means not). You realise Oneness. When you realise Kali there is a realisation of Kali being separate from you; there is a relationship between the two. But when you have Advaita there is no relationship between one and the other. There is a realisation of identity -- Oneness. That is Advaita. Within a few days of practice of Advaita he realised Advaita. Then he practiced Christianity. He began to go to the church, he especially observed Sunday because it is a part of Christian religion, he practiced everything that is prescribed in Christianity and realised that Jesus is real. Just as he realised that Kali is real he realised that Jesus is real. He is not an imagination he really lives. He is an embodiment of love: he helps, cures your sorrow, uplifts you, he can gives salvation. This was Ramakrishna’s conclusion by experience. He practiced Islam. He began to go to the mosque. He practiced Friday particularly because it is the Muslim holiday. And he came to the conclusion that the message of Prophet Mohammed is valid, is true. He practiced so, even the consciousness of Hanuman for example. You have heard of Hanuman? Hanuman was one of the chiefs of the army by whose help Rama conquered Lanka and could rescue Sita. This Hanuman is supposed to be the most devoted servant of Sri Rama. Ramakrishna in his practice of Yoga realised that Hanuman is real, that he is not a fiction. And his identity with Hanuman was so great that he claimed that a tail began to grow! Even that experience he began to have so much of identity did he experience. If you become the devotee of Hanuman it is as valid as if you become the devotee of Jesus -- just as Jesus is real Hanuman is also real. He practiced even Radha’s Consciousness. He used to wear sari although he was male he used to put on the female dress! People used to call Ramakrishna a mad man but his madness was Divine. Wherever was the Divine he wanted to experiment whether it is real or not. It is like a scientist and a scientist must completely fulfil the conditions of the experiment. He experimented to see if Radha is real or not and he realised that Radha is real.
Thus he declared that as far as all the existing religions are concerned the basic claims are valid, they are not wrong. But if anybody says that one is better than the other -- that he denied. He said everyone leads you to the right path and takes you to the highest which is claimed. This was his experimental conclusion. Not by belief, not by intellectually trying to reconcile the religions. No! He experimented and found that Jesus is real, Krishna is real, Rama is real, Hanuman is real, Radha is real, Prophet Mohammed is real. About Rama and Krishna he said that both are manifested in himself. He emphasised their reality by saying “I am myself Rama and Krishna”, that is why he took a new name: Ramakrishna. He said that both are incarnated in him. Instead of doubting he experienced and realised that he himself embodied Rama and Krishna.
In the history of spiritual life in the world, Ramakrishna stands as it were at the gate of harmony. How to harmonise all the religions not by debate or controversy or comparing one dogma with the other dogma but directly by experiencing, by experimenting and realising in his own life. Now what conclusion therefore do you derive from it? That every religion is valid but no religion is superior to the other religion and that further, if it is appropriate for you to be Radha then for you that path is better than any other path. If it is good for you to be Rama then the path of devotion to Rama is better for you but not for all. So Vivekananda came to the conclusion as a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, and gave this message to the world: Why are you quarrelling saying my religion is better than the other? Why do you want to convert people from one religion to the other? If people are happy with their religion since this religion is valid let them move with that religion. If this religion satisfies you you move on with this religion and realise your own goal. Why do you quarrel? He went farther and he said: Even these religions which are now available are not enough and as you move forward your own religion will be another religion. Every one can have his own religion, so that, in this world that can be as many religions as every human being. This is one of his highest messages that he gave to mankind. That is why Vivekananda and Ramakrishna are the reconcilers. They brought about a great synthesis. But still they spoke the language of religion.
Now what is that characteristic by which religion is called religion, you might say the differentia of religion which is common in all religions? All religions have specific rituals, ceremonies and mechanical acts. And both Ramakrishna and Vivekananda allowed even rituals and ceremonies to be promoted. It is here that there is a distinction between religions and yoga. Yoga also is a method to attain to the highest but not by the method of rituals, ceremonies, dogmas and prescribed acts. This is the speciality of yoga. There are no ceremonies, no rituals, no prescribed acts. In other words true spirituality transcends the limits of religion. It does not condemn ceremonies and rituals. If it is good for you it is alright. But there is another way in which rituals and ceremonies can be all dispensed. Yoga is an explosion of consciousness. There is nothing mechanical or dogmatic in it. There is nothing to do with ceremonies. You take any yoga in which there are no rituals and ceremonies except when as a preliminary method it is admitted to some extent. But when that religious ceremony is over then you are fit for a higher step where ceremonies are no more necessary. But then again in the field of yoga -- there are several of them: Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, etc… -- and there again there is a quarrel. Just as among religions there is a quarrel saying this religion is better than the others even in the yoga there is this malady, this sickness, this illness. The Raja yogi says that Raja Yoga is the best method, jnani says that Jnana Yoga is the best method, bhakta claims that Bhakti Yoga is the best method, even though there are no rituals and ceremonies. But still they maintain that their method is better than the others method and that everyone should do this method. Sri Aurobindo points out that even this is a falsity. You practice every yoga and you arrive at a conclusion and actually you require all the conclusions. It is not as if the realisation of Karma Yoga is enough, you should strive to have the conclusions of all the yogas.