Be like a Bee!

'Krishnam vande jagadgurum' I bow down to Krishna, the World-Teacher - courtesy: HinduWebGraphics

Today we celebrate Gita jayanti. The Bhagavad Gita forms part of the great Indian Epic, the Mahabharata. The words of this “song celestial” have flowed from the Lord, Sri Krishna Himself. The Gita chanting is generally preceded with what is known as “Gita Dhyanam” – nine introductory verses in praise of Bhagavad Gita. Originally published in our quarterly magazine “JYOTI” of July-September 2007 issue, this article, focussed on seventh verse, was transcribed from the weekly Gita Talks that I deliver on Tuesdays, between 7 and 8 p.m. at the Ramakrishna Centre, Glen Anil.

Let us recollect what Swami Vivekananda says:

Gita is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy – curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work.

May this lotus of the Mahabharata, born in the lake of the words of the son of Parashara (Vyasa), sweet with the fragrance of the meaning of the Gita, with many stories as its stamens, fully opened by the discourses on Hari, the destroyer of the sins of Kali, and drunk joyously day by day by the six-legged bees of good men in the world, become the bestower of good to us.     Gita Dhyanam, 7

It is customary to recite the meditative verses (dhyana shlokas) before beginning the study of Srimad Bhagavad Gita proper.  The poet-devotee, who composed these nine verses, has charmingly explained the purpose, principle and the practice of the Gita in these meditative verses.

Vast and deep

In the above seventh verse, he stresses the utmost importance of the knowledge contained in the Mahabharata.  He says that the Gita is like a full-blown lotus, grown in the vast lake of words dictated by the son of the Sage Parashara, thereby meaning Sri Veda Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata).  The significance of not saying the name of Vyasa but indicating him as son of Parashara lies in the wonderful combination of wisdom of the Rishi with practical sense of a fisher woman, Satyavati who was the mother of Vyasa.  Sage Vyasa, like his father Parashara, had a broad, vast knowledge of the Vedas and like his mother, Satyavati, who would go deep into the river to catch fish, also went deep into the meaning of Vedas.

Petals and fragrance

The full-blown lotus has an extremely sweet fragrance and many soft petals.  The insight of the Gita is said to be the fragrance and the varied stories cum sub-stories that form the elaborate Mahabharata, the petals.  The lotus is full blown by the speech of Lord Sri Krishna, who is verily Hari Himself.

Bee Pic3The poet-devotee further says that in this world noble men joyously drink, day by day meaning again and again, the nectar issuing from the lotus flower like “a six-legged bee”.

The drink and the drunk

A bee continues its unending search for nectar from many flowers.  But it is the flower that is most beautiful and exuberantly filled with sweet honey that attracts it the most.  Likewise, we have a number of scriptures.  Of them, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which forms part of the world’s largest epic, the Mahabharata, contains that nectar which makes the learner go beyond birth and death.

The insight that the Gita provides in controlling our life’s destiny is unparallel.  The Gita gives us wonderful courage to deal with the many challenges that life poses.  In order to gain the rich experience that the Gita enumerates, noblemen – men of character – searching for the true meaning of life come to study the Gita.

The poet-devotee of the meditative verses compares a noble-minded person with the untiring bee.  Bees, unlike other insects or birds, go much deeper into flowers.  They go to the very source.

So it is clear that if we want to obtain the knowledge of the Gita, superficial study is not enough.  Merely chanting the Gita may give us a sense of peace; a little more study may lead us on a good path to enjoy the blessings of a noble life.  But only a deeper study can provide the knowledge of Atman (Soul) which is the real nectar of the Gita.  Like a bee, we must go deep – meditate deeply on each verse of the Gita.  This will light up the lamp of knowledge that is within each of us.  Mahapurush Maharaj, known as Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna once said, “…You must meditate on them.  Then, only will you assimilate them.  Hari Maharaj [Swami Turiyananda] used to meditate on each verse until he had mastered it.”

Legs that lead

Furthermore, the poet-devotee has used the words “six-legged” when describing the bee.  This also has a profound significance.  Merely being noble may not be sufficient to understand the inner meaning of the Gita.  Perhaps the man who is only “two-legged” has to acquire another “4 legs” in order to grasp the inner meaning of the words that flow from Lord Sri Krishna’s lips.

What then, are the “six-legs” that a noble man has to possess?  They are discrimination, detachment, devotion, deep yearning, deliberate effort and divine knowledge,.  Once a person of noble character possesses these “six-legs” he will be able to hold onto the slippery petals and drive himself deep into the nectar of inner meaning.  Therefore, a study once or twice is not enough.  “Again and again” one must devotedly pursue the study so that the bad samskaras – mental impressions – that are gained from birth to birth can be removed by continuous study of the Gita.

Thus the poet-devotee concludes in this verse of Dhyana Shloka on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, propounded by the Lord Himself, is great, bestows welfare and removes all the impurities that are born of this age (Kali Yuga).

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Pat for a pet!

Ashram cat Kripa - waiting to enter into the Temple

In 1980, a clinical research project at Brooklyn College, New York, studied heart-disease patients after their discharge from the hospital. Dr. Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., Professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at the College, tracked each survivor, studying their medical histories, lifestyles, families, relationships – every documentable detail. Co-researcher Dr. Aaron Katcher, M.D., reported:

“The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival…not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”

Ashram cat Satwik making 'pranam' in the Temple

The Psychologists clearly spell out Ten Benefits in rearing a pet: While the primary benefits to animals are obvious – to place them in loving homes and keep them from being destroyed – the benefits to elderly persons are ten-fold (versus non-pet owners).

  • Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
  • 21% fewer visits to the doctor
  • Less depression
  • Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
  • Seniors become more active
  • Pets offer affection and unconditional love
  • Pets ease loss of a loved one
  • Pets fight loneliness
  • Seniors take better care of themselves
  • Sense of security

You, readers may just wonder ‘What! pets and Vedanta!

I was pleased when Skendha Singh from New Delhi, India commented that ‘pets seem to gravitate towards our places or seats of meditation’. It is so true! In our Ashram, we have now two pet cats – Kripa and Satwik. Both of them never leave the campus and are fond of being present in the Temple  during mangalarati time as well as evening arati time.

Ashram cat Kripa 'gravitating towards Meditation seat'

Kripa is more amiable and would not mind if any of our devotees just take him in hands and there he would cuddle quietly! And to sleep (or meditation?) he would always select one of the two monks’ aasana (seats) laid out in the Temple! He is also one of my keen students during Gita class, listening to my Talks, sitting on the chair. At meal times, he comes and takes his chair, surveying the whole neatly laid out table with an air of a ‘leader’ and immensely satisfied with just butter to give us ‘company’. Both the cats drink Ganges water from the Catbowl, kept for them inside the Temple. (Of course they have their own bowls at designated spots and regular feeds are provided.)

Ashram temple - fantastic front view of two images of Lion - pets to Durga

Yes, one of the pancha shanti mantra (the famous five peace chants) – tacchaiyn yora vrineemahe – loudly proclaim ‘shanno astu dwipade, sham chatushpade’ “May there be peace to humanity; may peace be to animals” goes back to the ancient Vedic times from when we, the Hindus have inherited the wonderful feeling to take care of not only the ‘two-legged’ but also the ‘four-legged’ ones. Our mythology is abound with creatures beloved to Gods and Goddesses. While Ganesha is fond of His mouse, His brother Murugan delights with peacock. Shiva’s favourite is bull, while Vishnu prides in eagle. Durga’s lion is well-known. Krishna had lovable calves and cows. Shiva’s servant Bhairav has dogs.

Among the beasts and birds, dog as a pet has become the most favoured species among the men and women all over the world. Saints are not excepted. Swami Vivekananda had a dog called Bagha who had been a stray mongrel and picked up from the street as a puppy. This dog became so close to Swamiji that once Swamiji had to caution the monks in Belur Math not to harass him anytime. On the day Swamiji’s body was cremated, Bagha remained close to the funeral pyre and wouldn’t move; he was so overwhelmed by grief that he stayed there for a long time. No one could make him eat or drink on that day!

Swami Shivananda, when he was President of the Order, had two big dogs Kelo and Bhulo. These were pedigree dogs brought from East Bengal. He would have lot of fun with them. While standing upstairs on the balcony of his room, he would sometimes play with the dogs by throwing pieces of bread in the down below courtyard as a treat. And lo! the dogs would jump and catch without fail in the mid-air! Showing his finger to the dogs, Shivanandaji would shout, “See, they are my dogs and I am Sri Ramakrishna’s dog!”

When shall we develop that dogged attitude of dedicating our life at the Master’s feet and lay there to do His bidding? When shall we acquire the ‘pet’-sense of sharanaagati – ‘surrender’?

BFN (up)Beat!

It cannot be gainsaid that going to Bloemfontein was devoid of gathering spiritual benefits either to me or to the Hindu devotees there. To me it was a learning experience in life as this was my very first visit to Free State Province in South Africa.

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Roses are not Rosy but Green...! Found in the City of Roses!

This Town is generally regarded as a Judicial Capital of SA. BFN, short for Bloemfontein is popularly and poetically known as “the city of roses”, owing to the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there. I had a good chance to see and savour the blooming roses and it was for the very first time that I was glad to glance through ‘green’ roses too.

There are a dozen denominations of the miniscule Hindu population who, I was delighted to note, unlike in other places, love to meet at a central point under the banner ‘Bloemfontein Hindu Association’. A devotee had allotted his fully furnished Conference Hall for this purpose and it was here the inter-active sessions for two days were held.

One devotee put it to me thus: The heart beats of the Hindus of BFN had gone upbeat in relishing simple, universal truths of Vedanta as propounded by Sri Ramakrishna. Another devotee wrote his feelings to Yash who accompanied me in this travel and made my travel utterly interesting and comfortable, thus: I want to thank you and Swami Vimokshanandaji from the very bottom of my heart for coming to us. Not one of those present is left unchanged by your presence! The place is abuzz with devotees wanting to register for the Hindu studies course and improve their spiritual life. This is living proof that association with holy company will improve one’s yearning for God, repeatedly told to us by the Master!

BFN is, of course famous for Cheetahs – the name taken by the Rugby sportsmen who have the colour Orange. On the day I landed there, I could see plenty of BFNners – men and women alike – wearing ‘orange’ TShirts gathering with verve and vigour to witness the choice Rugby match scheduled on that day. It is something like ‘cricket fever’ in India! Seeing me in full orange dress it was amusing for many to see a ‘Cheetah supporter’ direct from India!

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Pretty pets pivoted to me...!

A Short Report on my visit, duly given below, was penned by our devotee Navilla Somaru who is the Chief Prosecutor – WELKOM Cluster. With the limited resources, the arrangements made by her and husband Bishun and the care taken by this wonderful family is memorable indeed – not to forget of those pretty pets who remained pivoted to me!

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Navilla Somaru


A Report by Navilla Somaru from Bloemfontein, SA

 

BLOEMFONTEIN HINDU ASSOCIATION SPECIAL PROGRAMME

SPIRITUAL RETREAT CONDUCTED BY HIS HOLINESS SWAMI VIMOKSHANANDAJI MAHARAJ

1. During April 2009, the Bloemfontein Hindu Association (BHA) extended an invitation to His Holiness Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President, Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, to conduct a spiritual retreat in Bloemfontein. Pursuant thereto, the dates of 31 October (Saturday) and 1 November 2009 (Sunday) were arranged. A programme of both days’ events is attached hereto for ease of reference.

2. Revered Swamiji arrived in Bloemfontein at approximately 13h00 on 31 October 2009.

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A section of serious seekers

The programme commenced at 17h00 at our new shrine which was previously a conference room at the Taj Guest House in Bainsvlei, a smallholding just outside Bloemfontein.  We were all very surprised to have more than a hundred people in the congregation, mostly Hindus but also some members of the Christian faith, black and white alike.

3. The programme began with the chanting of mantras at 16h45.

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Meditation practice

The satsangh commenced exactly at 17h00 and included prayers to Sri Ramakrishna, singing of devotional songs, Hanuman Chalisa, Bhavani Ashthakam, Revered Maharaj’s special address, a lengthy and lively question and answer session, a guided meditation, arati and the concluding prayers.

4. Revered Maharaj’s address was profound, to say the least. It was very well received with amazing positive input forthcoming from most members of the congregation.  Revered Maharaj’s address was eloquent, yet simple and covered very relevant and pertinent issues on spirituality and Vedanta. Revered Maharaj expounded the need for all of us  to live simply, take God’s name at every opportunity, to chant AUM every morning, elevate ourselves from religiosity to spirituality as well as to perform service to the under privileged in the immediate community and to  protect our animals.

5. The programme concluded at 20h00 with Revered Swamiji meeting all members of the congregation and partaking of supper with those present. Many families requested personal interviews with Maharaj, which was held in the shrine and the office.  Swamiji retired at 22h30.

6. The programme for the next day began at 10h00 and was conducted by the children of the Bloemfontein Hindu Association.

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lovely children!

We are happy to state that the children organised the entire programme, which included prayers, devotional songs, cultural items and the vote of thanks. The tiny tots recited a poem on the glory of Diwali and an action packed version of “The love of Krishna”. The 9 to15 years old performed a garba dance in honour of the Divine Mother.

7. Revered Swamiji brilliantly directed his address to the children by way of questions and answers enabling the children to participate actively. There was also an animated DVD presentation on the Life of Swami Vivekananda which was sent by Revered Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji from the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Durban. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and felt inspired. We extend our sincerest gratitude to Revered Mataji, not only for the DVD but also for the assistance and encouragement received to initiate the children’s Hinduism classes which we conduct under her guidance and direction, on Sundays.

8. Sunday’s programme concluded with lunch being served to all present. Thereafter, at the request of individuals and families, Revered Maharaj held private counselling sessions for two hours.

9. On both days, the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram held a bookshop which stocked books on Vedanta, the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature, Meditation and children’s books. Mr Yash Govender arranged and managed the bookshop, which was very well supported.

10.The Bloemfontein Hindu Association takes this opportunity of conveying our very humble, sincere and grateful thanks to Revered Maharaj for his time. We appreciate his efforts in making a journey to Bloemfontein, which is 650km from Durban, to conduct the spiritual retreat with us. The presence of Revered Maharaj meant a lot to the spiritually starved members of our fledgling association. We pray that Maharaj bestows his grace upon us by more frequent visits in future.  This will be of great benefit to the Hindu community here, as well as to the many youth we have in the community as well as at our University who are in dire need of constant spiritual education.

Yours in the service of Sri Ramakrishna

Navilla Somaru

Committee Member

Bloemfontein Hindu Association

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Speaking silently!

A picture is worth a thousand words indeed! So, who would not want to see the pictures speaking silently?

Diwali in Durban was as fascinating as freshly laden fragrance. Its joyful feelings of care and share wafted in the air everywhere. In all the functions that I attended, hamper distribution to poor families was the main item besides bursting fire-works, social gathering and of course sumptuous meals! The hard work that devotees offered in the form of seva to Master hardly escaped my notice.

Here below are some of the photos that can speak thousand words silently…Click the photo for a larger view!