Today is the 150th glorious birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda – one of the most illustrious sons of India who stood strongly for spiritual universalism.
His Life and Teachings have become a fountain source for drawing inspiration for ever. His ideals have been shaping the minds of sincere people and serious thinkers. Comity of Nations are looking forward to celebrate his anniversary in a much solemn and useful manner. Thousands of young men and hundreds of young women leave their hearth and home in search of a goal that he has fashioned for this new age. What could be better said of his teaching as ultimate is nothing but his own coined aphorism “aatmano mokshaartham jagat hitaaya cha” – For one’s own liberation and the good of the world ? Through this blog, I salute every one who has taken Swamiji’s ideals and tried to implement them in practical lives. May this grand year be an enviable memory in every one’s life!
To be or not to be
A teacher in a Primary School in Durban was asking the pupils the other day what they would like to become in the future. Well, every child has its own aspiration and was giving vent to his/her feelings. The Ma’m was quiet happy to listen to the replies that ran in the expected lines. But one child gave an unusual answer that alarmed her. He said that he would like to become a monk! She instantly contacted the parents and told them that there was something wrong with their child. She wanted to interview the parents as ‘proper grooming’ was not done in the home!
This is a typical reaction of anyone in the world that shows utter surprise if any child wants to become a ‘sannyasin’. Becoming a ‘good devotee’ is fully acceptable in the society but not becoming a ‘renunciate’!
This is in spite of our learning from the scriptures and the hoary Hindu tradition that of the four ashramas, ‘sannyasa ashrama’ is the ultimate. But how many of us believe in that? How many parents actually encourage their child, if he wants to don ochre robes? And it has become so common to think that there are ‘better’ things to do in Life than to become a mere monk.
Song on sannyasa
Herein comes a rare gem from the works of Swami Vivekananda that inspired many to become monk and has been a source of inspiration to many even today. That is a poem ‘The Song of the Sannyasin’. It has 13 verses. These verses came out from his pen in an inspired mood when Swamiji stayed seven weeks in a cottage at Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence River in New York State. He composed this magnificent, eloquent Song paying tribute to the supremacy of the sannyasa ashram.
I remember how when I was a school-goer, how I would intently listen to one of our wonderful teachers, ‘Mandiram Sir‘ as we used to address him, chanting this Song in tune and explain every verse, every word to the great delight of me! This Sir was a veritable encyclopedia on Swamiji who would enchant the listening students to the all-absorbing renunciate ideas of Swamiji. He would always present me and a few other students who would gather around him to learn about Swamiji, other quotes that deeply impressed our young minds.
The Cottage Call
His oft-repeat quote to me was from Sister Nivedita’s famous book “Notes on Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda” wherein she recounts the most inspiring words of Swamiji : “Never forget, to say to yourself, and to teach to your children, as the difference between a firefly and the blazing sun, between the infinite ocean and a little pond, between a mustard-seed and the mountain of Meru, such is the difference between the householder and the Sannyasin.”
Hundreds of monks today acknowledge the wonderful effect of these words on their evolving minds. When I attended the Probationers’ Training Centre in Belur Math, a senior monk took a private class to me and a few ‘selected’ students on this great poem of Swamiji. Its poetic beauty makes a compelling reading, its flowing idea makes radiant impression, its mystical words make a life bloom well. It is said that Swamiji, surprisingly never told anyone about this writing. In 1947 the Cottage where Swamiji stayed went under renovation. Strangely the carpenters who were removing the old wooden walls found a hand-written manuscript, hidden from the world for 52 years after it was penned.
Listen and learn
When Swamiji visited the Park, he was barely 32 years old (or young?). He had already become world celebrity. Two years before he had made that electrifying address in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Newspapers commented that “he is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament.” His whirlwind tour of USA brought him the title ‘cyclonic monk’. Resting at the Park, well-rejuvenated, Swamiji taught 12 students the intricate aspects of spiritual life. His extempore words were noted and transcribed into a book “Inspired Talks”. Swamiji used to say that he was “at his best” in Thousand Island Park. It can be safely concluded that ideas and visions that Swamiji had at this Park later paved the way for his work in India and elsewhere.
The Song undoubtedly is a masterpiece. I listen to this Song intermittently. It is sung so beautifully by Kumuda, an American admirer of Swamiji. She was kind to let me download this Song to my computer. I am glad to reproduce, with her permission of course in this blog, a link which I believe that everyone listening to this song would also joyously learn. Here below is the audio:
A few years ago (2009), one of our close devotees in India, Late Bharat Churiwala while commenting on one of my posts – Boon or Bane? – lamented that he could not get a Hindi translation and its recording though he has listened to the Kannada version sung so beautifully by Late Swami Purushottamanandaji. Another reader Shubhanan desired to listen to this wonderful poem in its Hindi version. Thanks to brother Swami Nityatriptananda of Balaram Mandir, Kolkata, I have received a musical rendering of this great Song sung so melodiously by brother Swami Kripakarananda. Well, Kripakarananda is an accomplished classical musician and I am indebted to him for acceding to my request for composing a fitting tune to this Song in Hindi. Here below is the audio:
The Song is beacon light to the youth especially to those who still wonder whether anything ‘extra’ this life holds for and something ‘more’ that life can unfold. Are you one of the ‘earth’s bravest and best’?
|| Aum tat sat Aum ||
Song of the Sannyasin
composed by Swami Vivekananda
Wake up the note! the song that had its birth Far off, where worldly taint could never reach, In mountain caves and glades of forest deep, Whose calm no sigh for lust or wealth or fame Could ever dare to break; where rolled the stream Of knowledge, truth, and bliss that follows both. Sing high that note, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Strike off thy fetters! bonds that bind thee down, Of shining gold, or darker, baser ore– Love, hate; good, bad; and all the dual throng. Know slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free; For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind. Then off with them, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Let darkness go, the will-o’-the-wisp that leads With blinking light to pile more gloom on gloom. This thirst for life forever quench; it drags From birth to death, and death to birth, the soul. He conquers all who conquers self. Know this and never yield, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
“Who sows must reap,” they say, “and cause must bring The sure effect: good, good; bad, bad; and none Escapes the law. But whoso wears a form Must wear the chain.” Too true; but far beyond Both name and form is âtman, ever free. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
They know not truth who dream such vacant dreams As father, mother, children, wife and friend. The sexless Self–whose father He? whose child? Whose friend, whose foe, is He who is but One? The Self is all in all–none else exists; And thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
There is but One: the Free, the Knower, Self, Without a name, without a form or stain. In Him is mâyâ, dreaming all this dream. The Witness, He appears as nature, soul. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Where seekest thou? That freedom, friend, this world Nor that can give. In books and temples, vain Thy search. Thine only is the hand that holds The rope that drags thee on. Then cease lament. Let go thy hold, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Say, “Peace to all. From me no danger be To aught that lives. In those that dwell on high, In those that lowly creep–I am the Self in all! All life, both here and there, do I renounce, All heavens and earths and hells, all hopes and fears.” Thus cut thy bonds, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Heed then no more how body lives or goes. Its task is done: let karma float it down. Let one put garlands on, another kick This frame: say naught. No praise or blame can be Where praiser, praised, and blamer, blamed, are one. Thus be thou calm, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Truth never comes where lust and fame and greed Of gain reside. No man who thinks of woman As his wife can ever perfect be; Nor he who owns the least of things, nor he Whom anger chains, can ever pass through mâyâ’s gates. So, give these up, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Have thou no home. What home can hold thee, friend? The sky thy roof, the grass thy bed, and food What chance may bring–well cooked or ill, judge not. No food or drink can taint that noble Self Which knows Itself. Like rolling river free Thou ever be, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Few only know the truth. The rest will hate And laugh at thee, great one; but pay no heed. Go thou, the free, from place to place, and help Them out of darkness, mâyâ’s veil. Without The fear of pain or search for pleasure, go Beyond them both, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
Thus day by day, till karma’s power’s spent, Release the soul forever. No more is birth, Nor I, nor thou, nor God, nor man. The “I” Has All become, the All is “I” and Bliss. Know thou art That, sannyâsin bold! Say, “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
SriSwami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him at our Mumbai Ashram within the sanctum of Holy Mother’s Temple. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to highlight an inspiring incident in my early life – how he guided me, giving me his divine grace unasked.
In 1976, I joined the Training Centre in Belur Math. When I went there, I was quite eager to see my Gurudev who I heard was at that time staying in Belur Math and had just returned from Narendrapur. The first day was a lovely day and we, brahmacharins were getting introduced to many of the traditions of Belur Math. Though I could not contain my curiosity, yet I was not bold enough to ask where and when I can have ‘darshan’ of my Gurudev. Unable to get any clue, that after noon, I decided to roam around the place near the river Ganga.
I saw the rear-side of a two-storey building which, from a distance was shown to us as the building where Swami Vivekananda’s room is situated. There was a flight of steps leading down to Ganga. The fresh breeze that was flowing was mesmerizing and I felt the air to be so pure in contrast to the polluted air of Kanpur from where I had just come. Getting down to Ganga for the first time after reaching Belur Math brought an inexplicable feeling of reverence to mother Ganga. Seeing the flowing waters gushing forth I was happy to murmur a hymn of Adi Shankara in praise of Mother Ganga.
I sprinkled some water on my head, uttering “Om Namah Shivaaya”. A few blissful moments passed in silence. When I turned on the steps I could not believe my eyes: there on the balcony was my Gurudev. I was simply stunned and made my mental prostrations from there itself and straight walked into that building in which Swamiji had lived. My Gurudev seemed to be in a supremely happy mood and I was beside myself with boundless joy.
The last I had seen him was in Varanasi in 1974, four years after He had blessed me with diksha in Bombay. What surprised me most was while I did not expect him to remember any of my home details, but the moment he saw me he smiled and asked, “How are your parents in Bombay?”. I was happy to tell him that by his blessings and the grace of Holy Trio, I could come to Belur Math to undergo proper monastic training and would be there for another two full years. On hearing this, he advised me to stay focused on the studies as well as sadhana and instructed me to come to his place as often as possible.
My Gurudev at that time, had a senior Swami serving as Secretary to him and also one monk and a brahmachari were also attendants to him. The attendant-Swami used to keep ‘sandesh’ prasad for me. This prasad would be taken from the remaining portion of his eating from the plate. He was daily served with two ‘sandesh’ that would come straight from the main Temple after the mangalaarati offerings. My days went on happily at Belur Math.
At the Training Centre we were studying different philosophies. One day in the class there was a stimulating discussion on Incarnations. During the discussion, certain queries posed by some co-brahmacharins raised a doubt in my mind about the validity of worshipping Sri Ramakrishna. If Ramakrishna does NOT exist , ‘the doubt’ told me why at all I should have renounced my hearth and home. Was I not then doing something blindly? How to know? Who would confirm that Sri Ramakrishna still existed?
Two days passed without my getting a proper answer to my doubt. Oh! what a period of painful agony! I could not think well for those two days. On the third day I felt like going and asking my Gurudev in spite of the instructions from authorities not to disturb him as he had ailed for some time. He was indeed a Deva Purusha, shining one because in his presence one could feel a light emanating, as it were, from his body in spite of his old age. Whoever visited him would naturally like to stay a minute with him, so that they could tell him their spiritual problems.
So when I went there that blessed morning and made saashtaanga pranaam to him, I found his eyes half closed while sitting on a settee. No one was there in the room. My touch of his holy feet perhaps brought him to outward consciousness and he looked at me with his benign glance. I entreated him to bless me. When I tried to get up from the floor, he placed his right hand on one of my shoulders, and he also slowly tried to get up from his sitting position. There, standing for a while, he, in his own pace, started walking towards the window. I also accompanied him, and when I stood there, he turned to me and said, “Look through this window? What do you see?”
The rear-view of the temple was clearly visible. Even the staircase – that goes up to the ‘shayan-ghor’ where Sri Ramakrishna’s sleeping bed is kept – was visible. When you come down the steps one can actually without any hindrance enter the ‘shrine-ghor’ where the holy image of Sri Ramakrishna resides.
The methods adopted for worshipping Personal God are, in fact, significant in that it facilitates the devotee to mentally identify the real physical needs of God in line with humans. Therefore, a devotee is able to serve the Master as if he is ever alive in flesh and blood. Standing and looking through the window, my Gurudev told me, “Well, every morning at mangalaarati time, I come and stand here, and see (pointing to his eyes by gesture) through these eyes. I see very clearly Sri Ramakrishna, getting up from his bed, going down the stairs, and coming into the sanctum, ‘garbha-griha’ and merging into the marble image. You know, every day I see His movement.”
Listening to his inspiring words, my ‘doubt ‘ in a moment just vanished. With what doubt I came to him, I did not need to put that question to him, because he knew the question that was troubling me, and gave the answer unasked! That was Srimat Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmanandaji, the ‘mind-born’ son of Sri Ramakrishna.
He is eagerly looking forward to pay a 15-day visit to this Rainbow nation wherein he is scheduled to participate in the functions organised by our Centres. All arrangements to give a warm welcome to him at the King Shaka International Airport by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre are set.
I have fond memories of dear brother Shantatmanandaji’s amiable nature. I had the privileged moments to be with him especially during Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja for long 12 years in Ranchi Sanatorium. He was the leader of a team of monks and volunteer-devotees who would without fail visit Ranchi in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov), to conduct the renowned Puja. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.
While accepting our hearty invitation to make a visit here, he said that he takes “the entire trip as a spiritual journey”. He further said: “I have very wonderful and pleasant memories of the devotees of South Africa whom I had the occasion to meet in New Delhi during their trips to India. So, I really look forward to this spiritual journey.”
In a communication to our Chairman Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Swami said: “The South Africa centre is growing from strength to strength every day under the wonderful leadership of your noble self and others. I am sure it is going to occupy a very high position amongst our centres all over the world.”
Being a volunteer in the Bangalore Ashram, Shantatmanandaji known popularly as ‘Jaishankar Maharaj’ formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1977 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1986. While in Belur Math, staying for 30 years, he had the blessed opportunity to come into close contact with several luminary-Swamis of the Order.
Stint of service
His expertise in the area of Financial Administration and Fund Management has been the cornerstone of the financial transparency and accountability at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math (Kolkata). During his tenure, the branch centres of the world-wide Ramakrishna Mission received new impetus in streamlining their financial records and policies.
The other areas which continue to relentlessly engage him with Human Development are Disaster Management and Value Education. The Swami is a self-professed advocate of character building and man-making Value Education based on the universal insights, which are common to all spiritual traditions, as presented by Vivekananda and Vedanta, which he feels should impact our educational structure and policies extensively.
Women, Youth and children
I visited in 2007 Sarada Seva Sangha, an NGO in the suburbs of Kolkata. This is managed by one hundred trained women volunteers. The leaders of SSS went all the way to receive me and arrange a cultural program in honour of my visit which I shall ever cherish. Swami Shantatmanandaji was a pioneering influence in setting up this Organisation in the field of Women’s Empowerment, which is a developmental area close to his vision of Nation-Building. The Sangha is managed and administered by women and its focus area is the service of women and children.
Swami Shantatmanandaji is very close to youngsters and inspires them towards a life of purpose, dedication and service with a rare passion that is characteristic of the mission of Swami Vivekananda.
Outer ring Service
He is passionately involved in the interfaith dialogue leading to closer understanding between different faiths and is deeply committed to all peace initiatives.
Swamiji conducts regular discourses in English and Bengali as also in Tamil and Hindi in rare occasions.
After he took over charge of the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, Swami Shantatmanandaji has visited Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland on lecture tours, besides visiting many cities in India on invitation to give lectures on different spiritual topics.
This centre was started in 1927 and made a branch of the Mission in 1930.
Activities at a glance:
1. A library with separate sections for children and university students. It had 43,177 general books, and 192 newspapers and periodicals.
2. A computer training centre with 762 students.
3. A free coaching centre for 95 children studying in municipal schools in and around the ashrama.
4. A homoeopathic dispensary, which treated 23,515 cases during the year.
5. A mobile medical unit, which treated 14,788 cases this year.
6. A modern free TB clinic at Karol Bagh, which treated 21,553 outpatient cases this year. Under the home treatment scheme, the clinic extended its medical services to patients unable to attend in person, through their contacts.
7. A medical centre in the TB clinic premises, providing specialist consultancy services. It served 49,083 patients during the year.
8. Religious activities: There were 257 religious discourses on weekdays and Sundays in the ashrama this year. Moreover, 100 occasional lectures were delivered in various cultural institutions and 101 value education programmes conducted in various educational institutions. Regular Sunday classes were held at Delhi University. Besides, the birth anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were celebrated at the ashrama and in other localities in Delhi.
The first Children’s Cultural Festival (CCF) that I saw in Durban was in 2007, three months after I was posted to South Africa. I had attended earlier many such functions in India and had come to the conclusion that too long hours was too much to be my treat. Imagine the severity of the sting of sitting for seven hours! But here the situation was smartly different. I didn’t know how the time went by and it appeared only a few moments had just passed and I was jolted to understand that the function had come to an end!
The all-pervading spirit of Sri Ramakrishna could palpably be felt in all the children who were participating in various items. There were scintillating sketches, trend-setting talks, soulful singing and delightful dances. The quick succession of multi-items moving from one scene to the other on the beautifully decorated stage was indeed mesmerizing. Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the love and devotion the children displayed towards our Holy Trio.
In this connection I saw the tireless efforts of the teacher-devotees who started preparing the children during the vacation. They are verily like the unseen and unsung dew drops which in the small hours of the day fall silently on the buds and make them bloom so that the fragrance can be spread. And of course I cannot forget the devotee-officials who worked hard in arranging the logistics without which the completion of the Festival would not be in order.
From brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and also some of the senior devotees what I hear about the Cultural Festival sounds wonderful. How in those days this Festival would be called ‘Rally’! All the children of the ‘Ramakrishna Children’s Club’ would meet at an Annual Mass Rally. This term ‘Rally’ even today, is used when referred to in elders’ conversations. In years gone by the children with their youth siblings along with elders would assemble in a pre-selected spot and would make a procession through the streets of Durban in the early morning. You can see a few photos of old days by clicking the below links:
Who knows you may be marching in one of the photos as a little boy or girl ?!
In their march past, the children would give a ‘wake-up call’ to every Hindu who was ‘asleep’ to his pristine culture (pun intended) with band parties that wielded drum majorettes, bugles, whistles. I further understand that the now ubiquitous vuvuzelas were conspicuous by their absence!
The ingenuity of late Revered Swami Nischalanandaji in organizing ‘Rally’ to awaken the Hindu population to its great glorious past through the medium of children was indeed very productive in that the sustenance of Hindu culture in this country amidst entirely a different variety of culture was made possible.
Here are some more old photos of 4th Annual ‘Mass Rally’:
The old theme of ‘procession’ oriented Festival has in a few years metamorphosed into a stable program, taking from the diverse aspects of the preserved culture to play a role of ‘nation-building, character-making’ among the rising level of modern participation.
Today I am attending the Southern Natal CCF. (Northern Natal branches have their own Cultural Festival day. Earlier once I did write about the 2009 Northern Natal CCF.) The following branches are scheduled to perform: Chatsworth, Durban Central, Etete, Phoenix, Pietermaritzburg, Redhill, Richards Bay, Sydenham, Tongaat, Verulam and Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. I shall try to post the photos later which you may enjoy watching as a slide show.
I take this opportunity of wishing all participating branches every success in their various items. My following Message finds a place in a printed program published on the eve of the CCF, to be handed over to more than a thousand people who have started to throng the venue :
My dear children, parents and well-wishers,
Om Namo Narayanaya!
This Children’s Cultural Festival now held in its 56th year is undoubtedly one of the great contributions of late Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj, the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. My humble prostrations to him. Propagation and preservation of Hinduism suitable to the Hindu masses and more importantly spreading the non-sectarian and broad-based teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda among the people living in South Africa was the goal he set before himself and he worked tirelessly to that end.
On this joyful occasion, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji joins me in conveying our heartiest congratulations to all our children for their brilliant performance seen year by year. Notwithstanding the severe school homework and stressful projects, they have put in strenuous rehearsals of their allotted items. This is indeed a commendable achievement. Our hearty appreciation is due to the unseen hands – especially the voluntary teachers and the the respective branch Committee members – that worked unselfishly “behind the scenes”.
What actually do we aim to achieve by holding the Children’s Cultural Festival?
– an awareness to increase the quality of life
– cultivation of spiritual values
– inculcating faith in God, the One Supreme Power
– developing mutual love and respect
– service to mankind
Though the number of children participating in our Sunday Schools have to our delight, seen a rise in recent years, yet we are painfully aware that vast majority is still remaining untouched. In this respect, the role of parents in coming forward to enrol their children cannot be over emphasized. Neglect by the parents, being the First Teachers of their children, will portend to the perils of the future family system. A happy family is the core unit of peaceful society. Home is definitely the first school.
I, therefore, earnestly urge parents to encourage their children to enlist them in the classes so that these innocent children do not become prey to modern ills. A wholesome, nourishing spiritual food given when they are young will be the source of strength in future when they will be able to face the newer challenges.
May the blessings of the Holy Trio be on all is our prayer!
There are many devotees who seek spiritual guidance through email messages. Some problems are quite tricky in the sense that they are not easily given to satisfactory solutions. Many of the doubts arise, in some cases, due to their inability to understand what their Gurus have instructed. That is why it is always better to keep in the habit of studying the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, books on Holy Mother and Swamiji so that our minds are freed from doubts, further strengthened and fortified with renewed enthusiasm.
One lady devotee wrote to me the other day that her in-laws and husband maintain antipathy to everything connected with the Ramakrishna sangha and their attitude actually hurts her in such a bad way that she was unable even to make visits to Belur Math.
She said that “ …Whatever they are, they are not my problem. Almost four years ago very luckily I’ve got mantra from Sri Sri Swami Gahanananda Maharajji; before having any children I didn’t have any problem to manage time for japa and dhyana. But now the situation is that I’m a mother of two little kids – one is three and half year old and the other is one and half year old.
Now after trying a lot I’m continuously failing to take out any time for japa-dhyana except the bed time. Before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning I try to make it regularly and during daytime work, I try to continue the japa in my mind. But I don’t know why this is making me very restless and I’m feeling very guilty that I’m not following my GURU’s path. Can you please tell me what should I do?”
Yes, one side unsupportive family and the other side the pressing need to take care of the family. Finding not much time, though they are earnest, and with the ever-present criticism against such spiritual practices, they feel despondent. Those devotees who have got this type of situation go through silent sufferings as their conscience prick them in what they consider as ‘neglect’ of their spiritual responsibilities.
The following was my reply to this devotee A.
||Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
…..Though it is unfortunate to learn that the related in-laws’ mental vibrations are not aligning with yours specially with regard to our Thakur, Ma and Swamiji, I dont consider that as an ‘obstruction’ to your spiritual life. Only Master knows why you have stepped into ‘their’ family. It is a two-way learning process : for you to become more intensified i.e., strongly resolved in spite of indifference and to them : to become more aware of your ‘bhakti’ as an example. I am happy that you however, are not unduly disturbed by that and you are carrying your sadhana with full faith.
By Sri Thakur’s grace you have obtained a wonderful Guru in Srimat Swami Gahnanandaji Maharaj. You might have read in my blog my memories about the abiding guidance that I personally received from him. So, I consider you as most fortunate.
Coming to your specific problem of feeling guilty over not being able to follow Guru’s instructions, I have to say that your feeling is misplaced. Revered Maharaj used to tell all his disciples after initiation that they should try to always be aware of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna in their hearts and repeat the mantra mentally while doing their works as far as possible. In many cases, while replying to questions of persons in situation of predicament, Revered Maharaj used to instruct them to get up a little early, before the hassles of daily life start, to do their japam. When there is no separate space for worship, even on the bed after putting a clean bedcover. Many people do not get free time in the evening. In their cases Revered Maharaj used to prescribe the time before bed when one had finished all his/her daily responsibilities.
I think A…, you are following Guru’s advice only but unknowingly. After all, it is said that a Guru looks after his disciple’s welfare and guides him/her even when he is not physically present. I am sure by His grace your doubts would be dispelled. Continue doing your japa before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning. Yes, Try to make it regularly. And during daytime work, continue with your mental japa.
My prayers are with you. I have no doubt that Sri Sri Thakur is ever gracious in taking you by his hand in your spiritual path…..
With best wishes
After a few days I got a response from her thus:
…Your reply has given me a great relief. I was really confused about my daily routines. My kids totally depend on me, I can’t deny that responsibility but on the other hand I should not fail to follow GURU MAHARAJ JI’s instructions. After your kind response I can feel it that may be, Guru Maharaj is not physically present but He is continuously with me and He is driving my way of life, otherwise how could I unknowingly managed to follow his instructions? Now I am happy and almost sure I will acquire the Kripa of Thakur, Maa & Swamiji only because of it that my GURU is with me…
Paarvati devi is my Mother, father is Maheshwara – Shiva.
Relatives are the devotees of Shiva and my own country is all the three worlds.
======================================== Dear Readers
Many thanks for the wonderful words of best wishes! And they have come just a day before and are coming during Mahashivaratri.
May He, the Bholaanaath with the divine mother Bhavaani, residing in every one’s heart, guide us at every step is my earnest prayer to Him.
Shiva means mangal. Auspiciousness. May that quality, by His infinite grace, abide in all of us in abundance!
With love and prayers Swami Vimokshananda
His Holiness Sri Swami Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our Sri Lanka Ramakrishna Mission arrived in Durban today. He was visibly joyful in paying a 10 day visit to this Rainbow nation where in many places he will participate in the 156th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. He was warmly welcomed at the airport by Swamis Brahmarupanandaji, Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre. I cannot but remember Revered Sarvarupanandaji’s amiable nature when he was part of a team of monks who came to Seva Pratishthan to assist the Administrator-monks during service dislocation for a short period. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.
Revered Maharaj started as a volunteer in the Salem Ashram in 1962. He formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1969 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1979.
In 2004 he was appointed the President of the Ooty Math where he served till 2006. In 2006 he was appointed the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Colombo, and continues to serve in this capacity currently.
The Colombo Centre is engaged in a number of ongoing spiritual and welfare programmes to assist the communities of Sri Lanka. These include: spiritual discourses and retreats, medical services, poverty relief, education for youth and personality development, Sunday School for religious education where nearly a 1000 children attend weekly. Of special significance is the work done at times of natural disasters, the most recent being the Tsunami – when 1000’s of families were affected. The Mission adopted a village and built 116 two storey houses to rehabilitate those affected. The Mission is also currently engaged in assisting Internally Displaced People due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. More than 46,000 people are being fed and provided assistance every month.
His public program in South Africa would be as below.
Birth Anniversary Celebration of Sri Sarada Devi
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Conference on “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”(Hosted by the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram)
Time : 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Venue : University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus
Programme at Phoenix Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 17 Foresthaven Drive, Phoenix
Programme at Gauteng Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Eagle Canyon Golf Estate, Club House, Blueberry Street, Honeydew, Johannesburg
Programme at Newcastle Sub-Centre(for all Northern KZN Sub-Centres/ Satsang groups)
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 6.00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, cnr of Centre & Green Streets, Newcastle
Programme at Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple
Topic : “The Glory of Divine Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : 7 Maharaj Street, Gandhi’s Hill, Tongaat
Programme at Chatsworth Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 26 Moorcross Drive, Moorton, Chatsworth
Programme at Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Topic : “Vedanta in Everyday Life”
Time : 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
(Registration for the above programme is essential.
If Sri Ramakrishna was a leaping flame of spiritual realization, Holy Mother was a steady glowing fire of God-consciousness. To the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, she was the goddess of wisdom in human form. To her disciples she was the Divine Mother herself. To her devotees she was a more real mother than their own earthly mother. To the seekers of truth she was the final word, and to sinners she was the last refuge.
Today is the janma tithi of the Holy Mother. On this happy occasion my heartfelt greetings to every one! When I was in India, it was always a special largesse for me to listen to the long-standing devotees who would lovingly explain how they were latched onto the ‘spiritual spell’ of Holy Mother, due to whom their lives got eventually transformed. And South Africa devotees too do not lag behind. Many here, have such wonderful episodes, listening to them is indeed a ‘sadhana’ for me.
One SA devotee, recalling her divine dream says that it makes her hair stand on ends and somewhat emotional …. emotional in the sense that, she longs within – would she ever see Mother face to face any time? I reproduce some excerpts from what she wrote to me:
“In my dream … I was cleaning the altar, and as I was about to clean the Holy Mother’s picture, when lo! and behold! Mother started talking to me! She told me that her head and neck was paining. I asked Mother, if I could perhaps massage Her head and back. When I went close to Mother almost touching Her………… I felt that Her hair was dripping with water.
Mother’s face was real and I was so close to Her… Her face was so motherly, so ordinary and so full of love…yet I saw an indescribable radiance. I could see clearly her long black, slightly wavy hair, I was well pleased! I could clearly mark her forehead, it had a red dot and red sindoor on the middle parting of Her hair. I stared in bewilderment! After a long while, I could see myself telling Mother that … Her hair needs to be dried, (In my dream I am looking for a blow drier). I then saw that I needed to straighten Mother’s back because she was leaning in an awkward way. I gazed at Mother wondering if this is really true!
When I woke up, I was not my normal self, I had mixed emotions…. Is Mother in real pain? Is this some type of message for me? What was that She desired to indicate to me? But I knew IT WAS A DIVINE DREAM. I intuitively decided to go to the ashram immediately to check the picture of Mother. To my great amazement, I saw Mother’s picture leaning way back in such an uncomfortable way. I straightened the picture-frame, and placed it in the proper position. I cherish this dream because not only Mother utilised me as an instrument in Her work but also chose to convey me Her inconvenience.”
Here are some digital delights contributed by Dr S Adhinarayanan from New Delhi, India, who is now at Copenhagen for the Global Summit on Climate Change. Despite his busy schedule, he found time to prepare the below given portraits (I envy! How much his mind would have been involved in the rupa-dhyaana – meditation on form – of Holy Mother!) while readying his presentation – An Approach paper on “Microbial Solutions for a sustainable Global Environment”. We wish him a very successful session!
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.
The 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).
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.”
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
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.
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.)
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’?
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.
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!
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!
A Report by NavillaSomaru 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.
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.
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.
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.