Sri Rama navami celebrations are nearing completion…
Here are a few photos of Sri Ramakrishna altar at Glen Anil Main centre
“Ram Ram!” is a religious way of greeting one another generally among the Hindus in all the Hindi-speaking areas in India. I noticed this when I was living in Kanpur and also while travelling in many places of North India. In this country too, our South African devotees have a way of greeting one another with “Aum Namo Narayanaya!“.
Taking the name of the Lord at the start of every aspect of our activity is indeed a spiritual method well recognised and advocated by our sages and saints. We, as devotees, in spite of our good intentions tend to forget His name. It is in this context that we are advised to utilise the naama as a tool to further our quality of spiritual life. Some reflections here!
On this auspicious Shri Rama Navami period beginning from 31st March to 8th April, my hearty greetings to every one of you : ‘Ram Ram!‘
Verve and vigour
Yesterday the Rama Navami parv began with all solemnity at the ashram and its branches. The celebration generally continues from the first day that is this year from 31st March and completes on 8th April on the holy navami tithi.
Satsangs here have a definite pattern. Every evening a large number of devotees attend who sing bhajans and kirtans. Selected passages from Sri Ramcharitamanas are recited every day. The temple altar stands decorated beautifully. 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 discourses and songs.
Tale of Two letters!
In my first-day discourse at the Glen Anil temple the point that such a short two-syllable name ‘Raa Ma‘ has in due course of time acquired a powerful connotation came up for discussion. Speaking on the subject “Ramayana – the Scripture Par excellence”, I explained how the famous saint Tyagaraja has remarkably pointed out the significance of the name “Rama“.
In one of his divine songs he says that :
shiva mantramunaku ma-jivamu ; maadhava mantramunaku ra-jivamu
“Ma” is the very life of the Shiva mantra,”Ra” is the very life of Vishnu mantra. The Shiva mantra refers to the famous one called panchaakshari (five-lettered) mantra : Aum namasshivaaya. The Vishnu mantra refers to ashtaakshari (eight-lettered) mantra : Aum namo narayanaya. If we think deeply it will be clear that without these two syllables the two respective mantras loose all meaning.
Take out “Ma” – the mantra will read now na shivaaya – nothing auspicious! Take out “Ra” – the mantra will read na ayanaaya – no royal road!
Hence these two syllables “Ra” and “Ma” become the life force of these mantras. They are called beeja (seed) and hence by constantly repeating any of these holy mantras, the beeja would one day start sprouting, which means to say that the significance of the mantra would become clear like daylight. The word ‘Rama‘ therefore represents the power of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu together! Saint Tyagaraja takes delight in telling us that he would salute those great men who understand this detail !
Less is equal to more!
There is another way of looking at the glory of the name Rama. The single word is equal to one thousand names of Lord Vishnu!
Lord Shiva tells Parvati :
Sri Raama Raama Raameti, Rame Raame Manorame |
Sahasranaama tattulyam, Raama Naama Varaanane ||
“O Varaanana (lovely-faced woman), I chant the holy name of Rama, Rama, Rama and thus constantly enjoy this beautiful sound. This holy name of Ramachandra is equal to one thousand holy names of Lord Vishnu.”
Worthy name without love?
Sri Ramakrishna advises that the name of the Lord is no doubt highly proficient capable of providing Divine realisation. But Master asks, “is it sufficient without Love?”. Master continues, “the soul must hunger for God. What will it avail if I repeat His ‘name’ while I allow my mind to be attached to ‘woman and gold’? Mere muttering of magic incantations will not heal up a scorpion-sting. You must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”
|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings! May this Diwali brighten up your life, may it lighten your burden and may it enlighten your path!
Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials from Headquarters and all devotees here join me in wishing you all a wonderful Diwali !
Ray of hope?
Our world today is at the crossroads. While charity to help the poor and needy is increasing, it is disconcerting to see the rise of violence – domestic or national, crime, obscenity, corruption and other expressions of ill-gotten wealth. Serious people devoted to God and godly means of living are indeed worrying about the future prospects of their children. Is there, among the gloomy cloudiness, any shiny ray of hope?
It is in this context that the various celebrations that have come to us from time immemorial from the spiritual land of Bharat hold the clue. One of the most loved celebration of all the Hindus the world over, is the Festival of Lights – Diwali, also called Deepavali. This ‘Five-day Festival’, as I explained in my last year Diwali post, traces the spiritual expansion of human growth culminating in the gaining of knowledge of God.
Diwali signifies lighting of lamps in every household on the Amavasya night that follows the bright fortnight after Vijaya Dashami. No doubt this occasion marks joy and merriment. On the Diwali Day, rows of lamps decorate the houses and presents are exchanged. Diwali, in the north of India, is associated with the coronation of Lord Sri Rama when he returned to Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) after vanquishing the demon King of Ceylon, Ravana on the day of Dasshera. Sri Ram had been in exile for fourteen years and the people were pleased to see his return to Ayodhya.
We get a graphic description of how the people of Ayodhya welcomed Sri Rama, Mother Sita and others in Sri Ramacharitamanasa written by the great saint Tulasidas.
He says that “when the information reached the citizens, men and women all ran out in their joy (to meet their Lord). With gold plates containing curds, Durva grass, the sacred yellow pigment known by the name of Gorocana, fruits and flowers and young leaves of the sacred Tulasi (basil) plant, the root of all blessings, ladies sallied forth with the stately gait of an elephant, singing as they went.
All ran out just as they happened to be and did not take children or old folk with them. People asked one another: “Brother, did you see the gracious Lord of the Raghus?” Having come to know of the Lord’s advent, the city of Ayodhya became a mine of all beauty. A delightful breeze breathed soft, cool and fragrant. The Sarayu rolled down crystal clear water.
Again continuing to explain the warmth of reception accorded to Sri Rama, saint Tulasidas says that “the citizens were transported with joy at the sight of the Lord. All the woes begotten of their separation from the Lord now ended.
“Seeing all the people impatient in their love to meet the Lord, the All-merciful Slayer of Khara wrought a miracle. He forthwith appeared in countless forms and in this way the gracious Lord met everybody in an appropriate manner.
“amita rupa pragate tehi kala, jatha joga mile sabahi kripala”
Saint Tulasidas just wonders how the mystery of Sri Rama in taking many forms and meeting each citizen could not be comprehended by anyone! Here in the words of Sri Ramakrishna, God became the ‘needle’ and the bhakta, the ‘magnet’.
When the Devi Chandika battles with different demons, there emanates from Her forehead the awesome and ferocious Kali. As Her origin is associated with the third eye, called ajna chakra in the yogic parlance, She represents the intellectual and intuitive faculties. Kali seeks out and destroys the little lower self (which is ruled by rajas and tamas) so that it will obtain progressively higher levels of knowledge. This chakra denotes the silence of a soundless state when the true knowledge dawns.
The worship of the Divine Mother Sri Sri Kali at Belur Math on 13 November 2012, will be LIVE webcast at http://www.belurmath.tv
Lamp of knowledge
This festival gives us, Hindus, an opportunity to go beyond the external extravaganza. It offers an opportunity to dive deep into one’s heart and search for all types of demoniac qualities residing inside. Thus, the need is felt to clear the darkness from the heart. To drive away the darkness we have to light the lamp thus let the Light of knowledge in.
Sri Krishna encountered the demon Narakasura, who before his death entreated the Lord to celebrate with lighting of diya and burning firecrackers. We all do the latter part but do not pay attention in removing the darkness. As Swami Vivekananda says, darkness in a sealed room over one thousand years will instantly vanish the moment a matchstick is lighted. Knowledge of God is light. When a lamp is lit on Diwali, just pray to your chosen ideal that the darkness of ignorance be removed from your heart.
Destroying the darkness
It is in the Gita that ultimately the philosophy of Diwali emerges. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says that out of compassion for the devotees, He, residing within their hearts, certainly destroys the darkness born of ignorance with the radiant lamp of knowledge. (Ch X.11). In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, we find Master singing melodiously this song:
“Light up O Mind! Light up! True wisdom’s shining lamp and let it burn with steady flame unceasingly in your heart”
Hence, while celebrating Diwali, let us pray to the Divinity (in whatever form one may believe in) to bestow the right knowledge by which we can lead a peaceful and prosperous life with service to the poor and needy.
It is my fervent prayer that each one of us be blessed with such noble and divine qualities! May the light of the lamp burn brightly in our hearts on this holy occasion of Diwali !
असतो मा सद्गमय | तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय | मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय | ॐ शांति: शांति: शांति: || Om asato ma sat gamaya | Tamaso ma jotir gamaya | Mrityor ma amritam gamaya | Om shanti shanti shantihi ||
Conference on “Hinduism – The Way Forward”
Conducting a Conference is beset with certain inherent risks. Scheduling it especially on a Sunday morning when weather is absolutely right for lazying around, you do not know how many would turn up. And if the Conference is on religious matters that does not contain even a single ‘cultural item’ its much worse. Ruminating with some sort of anxiety on these lines, I reached the Westville Campus of UKZN on Sunday, the 30th September 2012 fifteen minutes before the Conference began. What I saw was something unimaginable. The Hall was packed to its capacity!
This Conference entitled “Hinduism – The Way Forward” was convened by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram (SSDA) of Durban. On arrival, I could clearly discern the devotion of the members of the SSDA and how they were working in unison. At various points of the campus, the volunteers were guiding delegates to the parking lots and venue. Reaching nearer to the venue, I could also observe how the lady devotees of the Ashram warmly welcomed every one. They duly directed the speakers and guests to T-Block where, after registration, each delegate was given a Conference pack and led into the lecture theatre.Well, I was thoroughly pleased to get a detailed Report from Ms Shiksha Ramkissoon who is a devotee of SSDA. Professionally she is a Physio-therapist attached to a hospital. Her Report is lucid, presenting a vivid picture of what happened at the Conference. I do hope our reader-devotees enjoy this Report. Images courtesy: Lushen Pillay.
The clear skies and the Durban warmth presented a perfect backdrop for a Sunday morning of discussion on some of Hinduism’s sacred texts. The foyer outside T1, the venue of the Conference, was converted into a small shrine with a beautiful garlanded picture of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi surrounded by plants, bouquets and an artfully created ‘Aum’ symbol made with flowers. It was complemented by a slide show of spiritual quotations on a digital screen above the entrance.
The backdrop at the podium in the hall, was adorned with a stunning banner of an image of the Holy Trio highlighted by a beautiful gold drape around it. By 9 30 am the room was filled with over 700 guests. His Holiness Revered Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order based in Ulsoor, Bangalore, India, graced the Conference with his presence. Also present, were His Holiness Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj and His Holiness Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
The program director was an attorney Ms Prakashnee Gengan, the Chairperson of SSDA. Sister Avinta Badrinath led the congregation in prayer, before Her Holiness Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji lovingly welcomed every delegate including the Revered Swamijis, members of sister organizations and those who had travelled from far and wide to attend the Conference. Ms Gengan elaborated on the theme of the Conference and the topics which were to be presented. They were based on two popular scriptures, viz., the ancient and eternal Ramayana and the modern day Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
The first speaker was Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. whose topic “Crime in the Ramayana – Challenges and Solutions” was discussed in a detailed and scholarly manner. Citing specific incidents in the Ramayana from the perspective of criminology, Swamiji’s talk provided a new perspective on the cause, prevention and management of crime and demonstrated that the scriptures provide the answers not only to our spiritual lives but also to the challenges that we face in our daily lives.
Swamiji began by tracing the cause of crime by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjuna asks Lord Krishna what impels a man to commit sin, as if by force. The Lord replies that it is desire and anger, born of rajas, which are the root causes of this behavior. Swamiji then highlighted the various characters of the Ramayana who committed various crimes, starting from Ratnakar, to others such as Ahalya, Surpanaka, Ravana. These examples enforced the point that unbridled desire indeed is the source of crime.
Swamiji explained that criminal desires are to be managed before they are expressed. For this, the tool of self-control is essential. He identified personalities such as Lord Rama, Mother Sita, sevak Hanuman, Queen Mandodari and others who displayed a great degree of self-control. He added that this should be adopted by Hindus as a means to prevent crime. Characters who displayed poor self-control were Vali, Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Indrajit.
He gave examples of different kinds of graded system of punishment that was meted out in the Ramayana. He identified three dimensions of combating crime, viz., individual goodness, a single individual becoming proactively good on his own and an individual working in a team, a pressure group or organization. All have to be done within the parameters of the law.
Valmiki constructed a complex crime scene in which Sita, who was untrained in self-defence, was abducted by Ravana who used disguise to deceive Her. Sita is initially portrayed as a victim of crime, but Valmiki showed that righteousness eventually prevails and Sita emerges as a survivor of crime. The Ramayana thus has many episodes of crime but eventually proves that criminals are never victorious.
The congregation then adjourned for a refreshment break. The second session saw the remaining three papers being delivered.
The first speaker in this session was Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. who presented his Talks, undoubtedly the highlight of the Conference, on ‘Prayer in Daily Life – According to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’. Maharaj expanded on all points by using examples from daily life, effectively bringing in humour, which left the audience roaring with laughter whilst simultaneously further imprinting the message and concepts into their minds.
Maharaj explained that prayer is a powerful tool found in all religions. In Hinduism, the importance of prayer was forgotten over the years, while other spiritual practices, like self-enquiry, yoga etc., were developed to a great extent. With the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘prayer’, as a fundamental spiritual tool, was highlighted again.
Maharaj defined prayer as the simple act of talking to God. Prayer, as it is usually done, (Maharaj called this the preliminary stage, or a petitionary prayer) begins by asking God for something. There are people who criticise this type of prayer as being materialistic or unnecessary, as God is Omniscient and hence knows our inner desires. Maharaj explained that this type of prayer should not be condemned as, without this, millions of people would not think of God at all. Moreover, the acquisition of material possessions, artha, and fulfilment of desires, kama, (done within the framework of dharma) are legitimate goals of life. Since God is our very own, there is nothing wrong in asking of Him what we want.
Maharaj pointed out that, when praying, we should discriminate between a prayer for a particular need and a prayer for a want. Not all prayers are answered since God will provide what is needed and not necessarily what we want as that which is wanted, is not always good for us or we may not be capable of taking care of it. The manner in which we pray is also important. Since God is our own, our conversation with Him (or Her) should be in our own mother tongue (or the language that we understand), with tears in our eyes and sincerity of heart. Since God is Omniscient and Omnipresent, there is no specific time or place that is set for prayer.
Even though prayer is considered a lower form of spiritual practice, Maharaj emphasised that it is a fundamental practice as it opens our hearts, brings balance to our spiritual life and helps us overcome any difficulties/complications that may arise from other spiritual practices.
As we progress in our spiritual life through the means of prayer, the nature of the prayer itself changes. As our hearts grow, asking for ourselves expands to asking for others – be it wife, children, family, neighbours, country, etc. Finally, as we realise that God provides all our needs, it changes from asking for things to a pure love for God when we continuously think of/communicate with God, just want to be with God and surrender completely to God.
The next paper was presented by Dr Nirmala Balkaran. Her talk entitled “Nurturing children and youth – the Ramayana Way” was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation which had charming pictures of little children, including a stunning cover picture of baby Rama. The core of the speech was the examples of the parenting of King Dasharatha and Mother Sita, the education and nurturing their children received and how these ideals can be implemented in modern society in response to challenges that are faced by parents and teachers today.
She discussed in detail how the sons of King Dasharatha, from a young age, were given a well-balanced secular, vocational, artistic and spiritual education by their father, Guru and other teachers assigned by their father, both directly and indirectly through exposure. The importance of stimulating the child by the reading of religious texts from the foetal stage to adolescence was highlighted.
Dr Balkaran described Mother Sita as a single parent who, even under difficult circumstances, ensured that her children Luv and Kush received a balanced, well-rounded education that catered to their physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual development under the tutelage of sage Valmiki.
In contrast, the current school system merely provides a secular education which is a stepping stone to tertiary institutions that endow one with the necessary skills to earn a livelihood. As important as that is, it is not sufficient for the development of the entire personality of a human being, for as Swami Vivekananda says, education should be “man-making, life giving and character-building”. Hence there is a need for parents to involve their children with organisations that provide programs which offer moral and spiritual education and promote a holistic and balanced development which includes the growth of character and morality.
The final paper entitled “Illuminating Parables on Spirituality from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” was presented by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji. Mataji chose certain tales from the Gospel as told by the Master. These contained deep spiritual truths and guidelines for spiritual life. Mataji’s simple description of the stories and the animated pictures on the PowerPoint presentation made it easy for the audience to relate to the parables.
Mataji described the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as a “scripture which clearly points the way forward”. The popular stories provided insight on topics such as the nature of God, both form and formless; the grace of the Guru; renunciation; causes of conflicts between practitioners of different religions/sects; obstacles in spiritual life; and spiritual practices including concentration of mind. She encouraged all to take the Gospel and read a little daily to imbibe some of the lessons from them.
After each talk, there was a short question and answer segment, which drew brilliant answers from the panel of speakers to the various interesting questions from the audience. There were also some abiding comments and observations from the audience. At the end of the Conference, the speakers were presented with tokens of appreciation by devotees of SSDA. Sister Avinta brought the Conference to a close with her mellifluous shanti paath recital before all proceeded to the foyer where a sumptuous lunch was served.
The general consensus of those present was that the Conference was a ‘major success’ and ‘well organised’. It was indeed a morning well spent! The credit singularly must go to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi whose infinite grace seemed to be over flowing that day!
Jai Sri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu!