Adoration of All-in-one

A happy Krishnashtami namaskars and vanakkam to one and all !

Taught as Teacher

Generally speaking, in all children’s classes of subjects ranging from secular to spiritual, the teachers are adults. Adults teach children. Does an adult also learn from a child? Yes, on innumerable situations, I have found it to be true. Inter-action with children, during our classes on Hinduism, brings great delight in the quick responses from the children. Once when I was watching a religious class for children in our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre, the teacher posed the question: Where is God? Pat came the reply from a child: Where God is not?

A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai
A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai

The child’s reply was apt. “Vyaaptatvaat Vishnuh” – Vishnu is one that permeates. As Narayana, He is everywhere. The fifth verse of the famous Narayana suktam says, “yaccha kinchit jagatyasmin dhrishyate shrooyatepivaa | antar bahishcha tat sarvam vyaapya naaraayana sthitah ||” In this universe whatever heard, whatever seen, Narayana resides inside and outside permeating everything.

When the demoniac dad Hiranyakashipu questioned his Vishnu-devoted son Prahlad in anger, “Where is your Vishnu?” the popular Tamil saying of his reply goes thus: “thoonilum iruppaan, thurumbilum iruppaan” – He remains in this pillar and also in the particle. Whether big or small the Lord is in everything. The Upanishads say proudly “anoraneeyaan, mahato maheeyaan” – minutest of the small and largest of the Big. Prahlad is a shining example of child teaching an adult.

Lord in the largest 

Arjuna asks Lord Krishna how will he meditate on God because he doesn’t know in what several aspects the Lord can be thought of. So he requests Lord to tell him about His yoga power and divine glory. Arjuna knew very well that there is no satiety in listening to the glories of the Immortal Lord. So, answering Arjuna’s question, Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita starts explaining how in different forms the Lord has manifested.

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One such is the plant life. He says “of all trees, I am the aswattha (banyan)” (10.26). A brahma-jnani, a knower of Brahman sees everything pervaded by God. Swami Brahmananda, true to his name, derived bliss in seeing all around Brahman everywhere. His love for beings was unconditional. His compassion for trees, plants, flowers was extraordinary.

Glory of the green Grass

While he fed the dogs of the Belur Monastery, he visited regularly the dairy farm and supervised the seva to cows. He was the first to initiate planting of certain trees and plants in many north-Indian centres with that of grown or seen mostly in south-Indian places. One such tree was Nagalingam flower tree. Usually in the morning hours he was seen going around the garden and instructing monks and brahmacharins how to keep the plants healthy and what type of fertilizers to be used for them and how well they could save from the destructive pests.

The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math
The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math

Once Swami Brahmananda visited the Bose Research Institute. He saw how the plants were sensitive to external stimuli. The whole day his thoughts centred round on the plant life. While talking to Boshi Sen, he said, “There was a time when Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) could not step on the grass, but would jump from one bare spot to another to avoid hurting the grass. At that time, we simply didn’t believe that a grass could be sensitive! From what I saw today, I realized how infallibly true his perceptions were!”

Later, while staying in Bhubaneshwar Math, he said to the monks there: “Trees have life. If you serve them you will feel it. They will never become ungrateful.

He who serves them will receive flowers and fruits in return.” Seeing the striking roses in the Bangalore Lalbaug garden, he remarked, “Look, the celestial maidens are laughing!” Pointing at the green lawn, he would say, “as if the Divine Mother has spread green velvet!”

Ceaseless Cosmic worship

I once asked my revered Gurudev Sri Swami Nirvananandaji maharaj how was his Gurudev Swami Brahmanandaji would view the entire cosmos. He said to me that his Gurudev would ‘feel’ with his mystical eyes that cosmic worship was always on.

He one day, saw a new brahmacharin plucking flowers for Master’s worship. He rebuked him sharply:

“What are you doing? Do you want to make that tree devoid of flowers? You think Sri Ramakrishna is seated only in the shrine and does not come to the garden? Pick those flowers only which are hidden behind the leaves and always leave some flowers outside in each tree.” To Brahmananda Maharaj, those trees also were worshipping the cosmic God with their blossoms!

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Ladysmith Brahmananda 150 Invite

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Swaagatam! Suswaagatam!!

DSC_0353 One coast to the Other

It’s indeed a privilege for our Centre to welcome one of our senior monks of the world-wide Ramakrishna Order today. The Saturday evening Satsang tomorrow would aptly provide an opportunity to extend our warm traditional welcome to the visiting Swami. He is most Revered Swami Gautamanandaji maharaj. The occasion is the 150th Birth Anniversary celebration of Swami Vivekananda in this rainbow nation.

He has come on a 9-day visit to South Africa. He is presently one of the Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission and also holds the position of President of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. In Durban airport this evening he was heartily welcomed by brother Saradaprabhananda, officials and Self. He is accompanied by Swami Atmajnananadaji maharaj who is Secretary to the visiting Swami. They are scheduled to return on the 17th by the afternoon flight to Chennai.

Some bio details

Swami Gautamanandaji joined the Ramakrishna Movement in 1951 and received his early spiritual training under Swami Ranganathanandaji and was ordained as a monk in 1966 by Swami Vireshwaranandaji, the tenth President of the Order.

The Swami worked among the tribal and rural people of Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for 20 years vigorously promoting value-based education. He served as the General and Executive Member of the Central Board of Secondary Education and the National Council for Educational Research and Training, New Delhi, the two major National bodies of the Government of India.

The Swami also worked in the Mission’s Mumbai, Kolkata, Raipur and Narainpur Centres. He was appointed a Trustee of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in 1990. In 1995 he took charge of the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai as its Head (Adhyaksha).

The Swami has organised extensive relief operations in India and is an expert in India’s cultural heritage.  He has lectured extensively both in India and abroad in the East and West to spread the universal message of Sri Ramakrishna in the light of Neo-Vedanta. He is proficient in English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Bengali. He is highly regarded for his thought-provoking lectures and has also contributed a number of articles to leading journals.

In 2011, Swami Gautamanandaji was authorised to give spiritual initiation to devotees in India. This is his second trip to South Africa at the invitation of the Ramakrishna Centre.

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The 150th Jayanti of Swami Brahmanandaji

Screen Shot 2013-02-08 at 2.10.59 PMThe 150th jayanti of Swami Brahmanandaji falls this year on the 12th of this month. Since on that date, several of our centres in India and abroad have scheduled a celebration, we felt that it would be beneficial for the devotees to listen to the visiting Swami on the spiritual teachings of Brahmanandaji. It is pertinent to note here that the visiting Swami is a disciple of Swami Yatishwaranandaji. Swami Yatishwaranandaji was a well-known monk for his erudition and higher spiritual living. His pioneering Vedanta work in Europe is still remembered. He was one of the disciples of Swami Brahmanandaji.

Public Lectures

Swami Gautamanandaji would be travelling to our branches that are located in Ladysmith, Phoenix and Johannesburg. He will be also making a visit to Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban on Monday, the 11th instant. He will be specially interviewed by Smt Veena Lutchman in the Lotus Radio from 5 to 6 pm on Sunday, 10th instant during the Hindu popular program ‘Bhakti Sangeet’. This will be broadcast all over the country.

His public lectures have indeed interesting topics. A list is given below for your information and dear reader, if you are anywhere near the place of our branch centres, I urge you to attend the programs and do not miss the radio interview too!

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Giving unasked…

Fascinating Full Moon shining next to domes of Durban Ramakrishna Temple - courtesy: Kamal

Sri Swami 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.

Belur Math Temple front view
Belur Math Temple front view

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.

Swamiji's House
The rear-side view of Swamiji's House where the balcony is visible...

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?

Sri Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj

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?”

I said, “ Swamiji! I am seeing Sri Ramakrishna temple”.

Belur Math temple rear view
Belur Math temple rear-view

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.”

Master's marble image at Belur Math Temple

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.

Charming Celebration of Krishna Ashtami

Happy Krishna Ashtami !

Last year when I was posted to Durban Centre, I hardly knew how the various celebrations were conducted in South Africa by the Hindus in general and particularly by our Centre. So to my great pleasant surprise, I found our Durban centre and all its affiliates celebrating Rama Navami for 9 days and Krishna Ashtami for 8 days and Navaratri for 10 days contiguously.

Radhakrishna at Temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban
Radhakrishna at Temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban during 8-day Krishna ashtami celebration

Take for instance the Krishna Ashtami celebration that went by at our Durban centre! There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last Ashtami day i.e. for all eight days with clock-wise precision! Satsang had a definite pattern. It consisted many items like kirtans of mahamantra, bhajans on Sri Krishna in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu languages, chanting of selected shlokas from Bhagavad Gita, discourse by monks and lay scholars, readings from Srimad Bhagavatam, deeparati (waving of lights) and prasad distribution. On the evening of the ashtami, Satsang had two sessions.

The Janmashtami day prog starting at 6.00 pm with Puja to Lord Krishna by a devotee couple within the temple, went on to past midnight. Another couple did the last midnight arati. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the prog. The temple was beautifully decorated. A yugal-murti of Radha Rani and Sri Krishna adorned the altar on all days. Finally with arati to BaalaGopaala and offering of flower to Him by every assembled devotee the prog came to an end with distribution of prasad. What new I saw was the keeping of a little cradle wherein a small murti of baby Sri Krishna was kept. And at the end of the prog at about 00.30 am, starting with self, every devotee just rocked the cradle and offered a flower at the holy feet of the baby Lord.

This year Swami Saradananda spoke for four days on the teachings of Sri Krishna as contained in the Gita. On ashtami night, in the first session during my speech, the birth incident as depicted in Srimad Bhagavatam was presented to the packed audience. To my pleasant surprise again, when I completed the chronicling of Lord’s birth, it was midnight 12 in India!   

In India, in no centre of ours, I had witnessed such an elaborate festival! The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourse and songs, well, I was greatly pleased and impressed with a new kind of experience that gave a boost to my devotional practices!

On this auspicious occasion I remembered how Sri Krishna was intimately inter-woven in the life of Swami Brahmananda, the manas-putra (‘mind-born’ son) of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna who recollected one of his visions thus:

“Just a few days before Rakhal’s coming I saw Mother putting a child into my lap and saying, ‘This is your son: I shuddered at the thought and asked her in surprise, ‘What do you mean? I too have a son?’ Then She explained with a smile that it would be a spiritual child, and I was comforted. Shortly after this vision Rakhal came, and I at once recognized him as the boy presented by the Divine Mother.”

Sometime in the middle of 1881, Sri Ramakrishna had another vision. He saw two boys dancing on a full-blown lotus floating on the Ganges. One of the boys was Krishna and the other was the same boy whom the Mother had previously placed on his lap. That very day Rakhal, crossing the Ganges, came to Dakshineswar from Konnagar; the Master immediately recognized him as his spiritual son.

And on the previous day of his departure from this world at 9:00 p.m. a very heart-rending incident occured. This excerpt has been taken from Swami Chetananandaji’s book God Lived with Them.

Swami Brahmananda…..he touched the hand of his attendant, who was seated nearby, and blessed him. A deep silence pervaded the room. The monks and devotees encircling Maharaj were anxious. He opened his eyes again and began to speak: “I am floating on the banyan leaf of faith in the ocean of Brahman. Vivek my Vivek – Vivekananda-dada [brother]! Baburam-da, Baburam-da [Premananda]! Jogen – Jogen [Yogananda]! I see the feet of Sri Ramakrishna!” Thus he was seeing and addressing the deceased disciples of the Master.

In the meantime Saradananda arrived. When Saradananda suggested that he sleep after drinking a little lemonade, Maharaj said: “My mind is in the realm of Brahman. It does not come down. All right, pour lemonade into Brahman!” After sipping a little he said: “Aha-ha, Brahman – the Reality – the vast ocean! aum Parabrahmane namah [salutations to the supreme Brahman]; aum Paramatmane namah [salutations to the supreme Atman]!” When Maharaj described his experience of Brahman, all felt peace and serenity in their hearts. He slowly calmed down. His face was glowing with joy and he gazed without blinking as if he were meditating, or seeing something.

After a while he exclaimed in his sweet voice: “Ah! here is the full moon – Radhakrishna! I want the Krishna of Ramakrishna. I am the cowherd boy of Vrindaban. Put anklets on my feet. I want to dance holding the hand of my Krishna. jhum – jhum – jhum! [It refers to the sound of the anklets.] Krishna, Krishna, Krishna has come. Can’t you see him? You don’t have the eyes. Aha-ha, how beautiful! My Krishna – on the lotus – of Vrindaban! It is not sad-Krishna. My play is over now. Look, the child Krishna is caressing me. He is calling me to come away with him. 1 am coming. . . . Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu! Maharaj greeted Shivananda and Abhedananda who came to see him.Temple of Swami Brahmananda 

Saradananda later said: “This time we shall not be able to keep Maharaj anymore. His vision of Krishna on the lotus, which the Master forbade us to disclose to him, has come out from his own lips.” Ramakrishna’s prophecy about his spiritual son Rakhal proved to be true. At 8:45 p.m. on Monday, 10 April 1922, Swami Brahmananda passed away. The next day his body was carried from Calcutta to Belur Math and cremated on the bank of the Ganges. Later a temple was built on that spot.