"Now that Ramakrishna had become a master, like bees to the flower many earnest religious souls came to receive instructions from him. They came from all walks of life. Social reformers, university students, brahmins, rajahs, artisans, peasants, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims all flocked to Dakshineswar. Many came out of curiosity, but there were some who came to embrace the new religion of the new Teacher.

"After they had conversed with him, his visitors realized that Ramakrishhna had nothing new to say. In fact, what he did say sounded simple to the point of being commonplace. But one and all felt that what he said was nothing compared to what he withheld. 'It was his being,' says one of those visitors, 'that gripped us. His realization was tiger strong. As in the jungle when the tiger goes about, even the leaves stop trembling in his presence, so did we feel in the presence of the Master. And after we had gone home, we realized what he had done to our souls. For days afterward we were not the same human beings.'

"We have already noted that among the visitors to Dakshineswar there were Christians and Muslims. They came to see what 'the heathen Ramakrishna' was like. Of course, many of them saw in him nothing but a religious man. But there was a Christian who perceived in him a great teacher. He went further than that; he said to Ramakrishna, 'You verify to me the teachings of my own religion.'

" 'What is your religion, my son?' asked the Master.

" 'Christianity, my Lord,' answered the gentleman.

"Ramakrishna explained, 'Yes, Yata mat tato path — as many souls, so many pathways to God. But I have never studied your particular religion. Now I will do so.'

"From that day on, for two years Ramakrishna studied Christianity. Since he did not know English, he had the New Testament read to him in translation many times over. Gradually it had such an effect on him that he began to meditate on the Christos. He lived like a Christian anchorite, all alone in the famous woods of Panchavati. Then one day, after many months, he came out and proclaimed, 'I found God at the end of the road of Christianity. So if anyone follows Christ he will reach God. I have verified it.'

"Another time a Muslim visitor said to him, 'You are the most devout Muslim I know!'

"That roused the Master. He decided to spend some time studying Islam. Forthwith he had himself converted to that religion. Again he retired into Panchavati to meditate on what had been taught him from the Qur'an by his Muslim teacher. Months passed. Then he came out of his seclusion and proclaimed, 'That road too leads to the palace of the same King. Religions differ in their appearance, but not in their essence. No matter which path you take it will usher you in the end into his presence: the end of it all! As the many-colored rivers tear and claw their way to the ocean and are lost in its steady emerald level, so all the religions, turgid with dogmatism, lose themselves in the serenity of God. Since religions are but means to finding God, why quarrel about their respective merits and defects? That will take you nowhere.'

"By now the entire countryside became aware that Ramakrishna had become a universal holy man. An English Christian missionary who had heard all kinds of reports came to investigate him. The legend has it that he came with an interpreter. This sun-ripe, red-faced man from Europe had no sooner sat down in the presence of the Master than he was told, 'I salute Lord Jesus Christ as an incarnation.' The abruptness of that statement filled the missionary with embarrassment. He asked, 'What do you know about him?'

"Ramakrishna: 'Why, I have seen him in my meditations. His protection spreads like an umbrella over your head. All you Christians are safe from the sun of materialism and the rain of sin under that umbrella.'

"Missionary: 'Are there others under whom people can be safe? Are there other umbrellas?'

"Ramakrishna: 'No doubt. There are those who are under prophets that went before Christ. There are other incarnations of God who are continually looking after their believers. They are just as real as your Lord.'

"Missionary: 'You are wrong. There is only one Son of God.'

"However, some time later an Indian Christian named Prabhudaya Misra came to see Ramakrishna. Misra was a Christian holy man. His reputation was that of a saint.

"No sooner had he seated himself before Ramakrishna than he propounded, 'It is the Lord who shines through every creature.'

"The Master answered very slowly, 'The Lord is one, but is called by a thousand names.'

" 'But I believe Jesus is God himself.'

" 'Do you see any visions?' questioned Ramakrishna.

"The Christian holy man answered, 'I used to see effulgence. But later I beheld Jesus. No word can describe his beauty. There is no woman, man, or anything else on earth to equal that beauty when the Invisible breaks the folds of the visible and reveals himself.'

"Ramakrishna sat silent. No one spoke. Misra kept as still as the rest.

"After what seemed hours, Misra felt the force of the Master's being. He rose to go. He said, 'I feel the same power behind you as I perceived in my own Savior's face. Can you tell me if there is any difference?'

"Ramakrishna said, 'It is the one flame: eyes of men see it in different colors.

"Misra exclaimed, 'I would like to surrender everything to you, and follow you.'

"Ramakrishna forbade him. 'No, no. Follow your own unique path. The light that you see now will be dimmed by the greater brightness that it will shed further ahead. Go on; stop not till the end is reached.'

"It must be borne in mind that Ramakrishna cannot be identified with any sect. He did not preach a religion. He lived a life that verified the inner reality of all religions. And, what is more important, all people must develop from their own unique heritage a full spiritual life of their own. Though Ramakrishna inherited Hinduism, he developed a unique soul-experience whose magnitude went beyond the limits of one religion. He lived so that by his example a Muslim was heartened to be a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian, and a Buddhist a better Buddhist. This was not the outcome of a wishy-washy eclecticism, but a realization achieved after years of spiritual experiments that he made with all those religions."