Opening Ceremony of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society
of the Philippines

The Openning Speech | Posted : June 30, 2007

His Excellency Shri Rajit Mitter, Ambassador of India, Mr. Carlo Colombo, President of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines, Mr. Enrico Colombo and other board members of the Society, Attorney Mr. Saklolo Leanyo, my dear devotees from Singapore and Japan, and Filippino sisters and brothers, please accept my heartfelt love and respect.

I feel unspeakable joy to have been able to attend the inauguration ceremony of this Society in the presence of such an august assembly. This momentous occasion with far reaching consequences will be regarded as a landmark in the religious history of this great country and also in the history of the Vedanta Movement. Let me introduce Vedanta and Sri Ramakrishna briefly in whose names the Society has been founded.

The Vedas are one of the most ancient scriptures of the world, which document the spiritual realizations of many sages of ancient India. Vedanta contains the essence of the Vedas and offers a rationalistic, humanistic, harmonistic and universal approach to religion and philosophy.

Vedanta teaches that man's real nature is divine, that the true object of human life is to manifest this divinity. Vedanta believes in one God who has both transcendental and immanent aspects. God vision can be obtained by controlling nature, internal and external, and through paths or Yogas of knowledge, that is Jnana, selfless work, that is Karma, devotion, that is Bhakti, and meditation and psychic control, that is Dhyana Yoga or Raja Yoga.

Vedanta also believes in the law of Karma, that is cause and effect, in reincarnation and final liberation.

Vedanta accepts all the religions of the world and reveres the great prophets and sons of God because it recognizes the same divine inspiration in all. It proclaims 'Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuna Vadanti', that is, Truth is one, though sages express it in various ways.

Vedanta finds unity in diversity. It gives emphasis on the understanding and practice of the deeper aspects of religion, rather than merely performing rituals and attending ceremonies.

Another important characteristic of Vedanta is that it encourages reasoning and understanding - not merely faith. Thus any modern mind that wants first to understand religion and then believe it will feel comfortable with Vedanta. Vedanta transcends reason but does not contradict it.

Vedanta, regarded as the foundation of Indian civilization, has given that civilization such a power of resilience that it could withstand the onslaught of many invading forces and yet maintain its basic character over many centuries.

But Vedanta has still a greater application. Among the various problems that Modern Civilization faces we can identify three major problems which may have a Vedantic solution.

The first one is modern man's emphasis only on the material aspect of life, and neglect of the spiritual aspect - the eternal aspect. The consequent spiritual bankruptcy causes emptiness in our life in spite of our material affluence and makes modern civilization very vulnerable.

To solve this problem, Vedanta says we must combine our material propensity with spiritual illumination. We must have a holistic approach to life and give equal emphasis to our material, moral and spiritual developments.

The second problem is dissensions among religions and religious sects, each one claiming that its brand of religious faith and practice is the only genuine one. If Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad were put in the same room, they would embrace each other. But it is their misled followers, who, if put in one room, would probably fight.

Vedanta solves this problem of religious groups' conflicting claims by proclaiming and practising that 'Truth is One, Sages call it by various names' - all religions are various manifestations of 'The Religion'. His Holiness Pope John Paul II also felt strongly the necessity of reconciliation and cooperation of different religions when he said the following in his message at the World Conference of Religions for Peace in November, 2000. Quote.

"The Roman Catholic Church follows with great interest the work of reconciliation carried out by the World Conference of Religions for Peace in many parts of the world. Faced with the pressing problems of today's global society all religions must feel called to fresh efforts to cooperate in order to promote human life and its dignity."

The third problem is our self centredness. Paradoxically enough, though scientific and technological revolution, especially the latest digital revolution, has brought the whole world to just one room, mankind is becoming increasingly alienated from each other. Lack of judicious use of modern devices, for example television and the internet, tend to become counterproductive.

We are materially connected with each other without having learnt how to know and love each other, as put by the famous historian Arnold Toynbee. As a result, mentally and spiritually we are dissociated from others, giving birth to many stress related problems in individual life and problems of relationships in family and social life. Vedanta solves this problem of alienation by suggesting the establishment of our mental and spiritual connectedness with others.

We are eternally connected with each other through the Divine Spirit, which pervades the whole universe. Thus our welfare depends not only on striving for our own welfare and happiness but also of others. Our peace and joy depend substantially on our power of communication with others with love and understanding. Jesus means the same thing when he advises "Love thy neighbor as thyself." And as you know, Jesus used the word 'neighbor' in a very extended sense.

Thus Vedanta offers a spiritual philosophy which is holistic as well as universal and harmonistic. It includes everyone and excludes none. In it there is a scope for everyone to survive and flourish, and at the same time, to interact with others in a creative and beneficial way.

Sri Ramakrishna, the celebrated saint of India who was born in 1836, his wife and spiritual companion the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, and his chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, who preached his master's message and created a stir in the World Parliament of Religions in the U.S.A in 1893 by his historic speech on harmony of religions are three great exponents of Vedanta in the Modern Age. While Sri Ramakrishna taught the spiritual truths of Vedanta, Swami Vivekananda interpreted them and the Holy Mother demonstrated them in her life.

Not only the common people around the world, but also great thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Frederich Maxmuller, Romain Rolland, Aldous Huxley and Arnold Toynbee were deeply impressed and influenced by the Ramakrishna - Vivekananda ideology. Mahatma Gandhi said about Sri Ramakrishna - "The story of Ramakrishna Paramhansa's life is a story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face. ... Ramakrishna was a living embodiment of Godliness ...

In this age of skepticism Ramakrishna presents an example of a bright and living faith which gives solace ... to thousands of men and women who would otherwise have remained without spiritual light."

Sri Ramakrishna's message of universalism and harmony is especially captivating. He would give simple examples from day to day life to substantiate his message. He said, for example, "Dogmatism is not good ... God reveals Himself in different forms and different ways ...

He has attributes and again he has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can assume various colors and sometimes it remains colorless. Others not knowing the whole truth quarrel among themselves and suffer."

Again, I quote. "Reality is one and the same; the difference is in name and form ... It is like water called in different languages by different names, such as jal, pani and so forth. There are three or four ghats on a lake. The Hindus who drink water at one place call it 'jal'.

The Mussulmans at another place call it 'pani'. And the English at a third place call it 'water'. All three denote one and the same thing, the difference being in the name only. In the same way, some address the Reality as 'Allah', some as 'God' some as 'Brahman', some as 'Kali' and others by such names as 'Rama', 'Jesus', 'Durga', 'Hari' ..."

Swami Vivekananda also highlighted this message of harmony in many of his speeches. He identified himself with the devotees of all religions saying, "I accept all religions that were in the past and worship with them all. I worship God with everyone of them in whatever form they worship him. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian's church and kneel before the crucifix. I shall enter the Buddhistic temple where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his law; I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the Light which enlightens the heart of everyone. Not only shall I do all these but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future."

Holy Mother Sarada Devi also said, 'No one is a stranger - everyone is your own'. And her door was open to rich and poor, saints and sinners, Hindus and non-Hindus, all alike whom she used to serve with the same motherly love and affection.

Swami Vivekananda's Gospel of Strength and Selfless Service has influenced and is still influencing innumerable souls. He proclaimed, "Strength is life, weakness is death. ... All weakness, all bondage is imagination ... Tell your body you are strong, tell your mind you are strong ... The remedy for weakness is not brooding on weakness, but thinking of strength."

Again, I quote. "If you have faith in the three hundred and thirty millions of your mythological gods, and in all gods which foreigners have introduced in your midst, and still have no faith in yourself there is no salvation for you. Have faith in yourself and stand up on that faith."

Then on selfless service and spiritualization of service the great swami said, "Where should you go to seek for God? Are not all the poor, the miserable, the weak, Gods? Why not worship them first? ... Let these people be your God - think of them, work for them, pray for them incessantly - the Lord will show you the way ... " " This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive."

Though Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were born in the Hindu fold, they and their message are by no means the monopoly of the Hindus, as Buddha and his Laws not the monopoly of Buddhists, nor Jesus and the Bible the monopoly of the Christians, nor Muhammad and the Quran the monopoly of the Muslims. All of them are our common spiritual property, our common spiritual heritage.

While firmly rooted in our own faith we should draw inspiration freely from the lives and teachings of the great spiritual leaders and nourish ourselves spiritually. Thus we can become better Buddhists, better Christians, better Hindus and better Muslims, what exactly Vivekananda wants us to be. If for some trifle reasons we do not do that, the loss is ours, not of the prophets.

Thus, Sri Ramakrishna's spiritual instructions and message of universalism and harmony, Holy Mother Sarada's compassionate heart and Vivekananda's gospel of strength and selfless service is the spiritual heritage of everyone, irrespective of one's faith or nationality.

One of my close friends, who is a Catholic priest and a professor in one of the famous universities of Japan, confided to me, "Swami, you have no idea how greatly we like the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and how greatly we draw inspiration from that book." Such things happen not only in Japan but also in America and Europe where the history of Vedanta Movement is rather old, where many devotees professing Christianity visit our Vedanta Centers, actively take part in our programs and get spiritually benefitted.

Right before you are the examples of the Colombo brothers who coming from a Christian background came in contact with a student of Vedanta and then visited our Society in France and became deeply influenced by the teachings of Vedanta and Ramakrishna. You see the outcome of that impact today - starting a Vedanta Society in this country under their leadership. Similarly many Buddhists visit our Center in Japan and Muslims visit our center in Bangladesh.

On our part, our Order deeply believes in the harmony of religions and respects the prophets of all religions and studies their message. In the temples of our Order, we also observe the birthday of Gautam Buddha and Jesus Christ and invite the Buddhist and Christian priests to address our congregation.

We also visit temples of other faiths on certain occasions. Last year during my visit to Italy along with the Colombo brothers, I had got a rare chance to stay at the head quarters of a Catholic Order - the Camilians, in Rome. I enjoyed the stay and was really happy to interact with the resident Christian priests on the issue of harmony of religions.

Swami Vivekananda started an organization in the name of his Master Sri Ramakrishna in 1897 with the twin purposes of 'Atman Mokshartham Jagaddhitaya Cha', that is, spiritual realization and doing good to the world.

One of the main features of this Organization is that it is a sect without sectarianism. There is nothing wrong in the multiplicity of sects - because that gives us a wide choice of believing in a faith according to our aptitude and ability. But what is positively wrong and harmful is sectarianism - loving one's own sect and hating others'. Vivekananda made a specific rule that no one standing on the holy ground of the Ramakrishna Order's head quarters would be allowed to criticize other religions. This organization preaches harmony of religions, about which I have already said, and undertakes a lot of philanthropic works, especially in India.

This Order has its headquarters in India and has more than 155 branch centers around the world. It has also produced a vast literature in many languages. In addition to the official branches, there are also many groups and societies, which though not affiliated to the organization, follow its ideals.

It is a matter of great joy and satisfaction that the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines which has already been registered, has been formally inaugurated today by His Excellency the Ambassador of India. This Society, as already embodied in its constitution, will preach and practice the universal and harmonious spiritual philosophy of Vedanta as exemplified in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda and will be run along the lines of the Ramakrishna Order.

This Society has been established by the persistent efforts of especially the Colombo brothers who have dedicated their time, energy and funds for the promotion of this great cause in this country. Thanks are also due to some of their Filipino colleagues and friends who have become a great support in this noble endeavor.

We earnestly request you all who are present here on this historic occasion to kindly lend your support to this fledging society in every way possible so that the society can rightly serve the people of this country by preaching and practising the elevating message of Vedanta and Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.

Let us humbly pray and fervently hope that this society will grow and become instrumental in bringing immense good and ineffable peace in the lives of the people of this country for many generations to come.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
Thank you all for your patient hearing.

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