No. But it was so when people of different strata of society came in large numbers to many places to bid me farewell on the eve of my departure from South Africa.
Though the oft-repeated customary expression “miss you” – told or untold – was writ large on every face, yet what a joyful feeling that it unmistakably transmitted to me cannot be described. The reason was pure love. Where love is present joy must be there.
Here are a few impressions:
Why sceptic about Farewell?
In any organisation, we find it common nowadays, that an office holder when transferred to another place is given a farewell. I was always sceptic about these farewell functions. So it was natural for me to simply decline any such farewell meeting that people of diverse temperaments offered just before my departure from South Africa. The reason was that those who hold onto microphone and so speak may not be truthful enough and speak a flowery language of praise while harbouring internally inimical thoughts. Whereas the silent majority who may have true feelings of friendliness may not get the chance to voice their feelings!
However I understood within a short time that such deeply devoted people cannot be put off so easily. They invited me on the pretext of a satsang which I am known to be fond of and organised incredible functions without even mentioning the term Farewell !
When I first broke this news of my transfer to our monastic brother Swami Saradaprabhananda sometime in August 2014, I found him seated nonplussed. Slowly managing himself he uttered “I am full of mixed feelings”. He continued, “sad because I shall miss you; glad because Belur Math has decided. It’s Master’s wish. May it be so!”
I was the very first President after the Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math. And it was for me the very first posting in abroad. I came to this country absolutely not familiar with its culture, its people and their mental temperaments while not disconnected from my grooming for 35 long years in “India-Indian” manners.
In spite of my handicaps – real or perceived – brother Saradaprabhananda patiently guided me with utmost reverence on many an issue. I understood his loveable personality shielded completely from the purview of outside world. Only we both knew!
Love that knew no words
The first Satsang and what was innocuously called my last Gospel class, was organised by Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. Once the Gospel class was over, I came out as usual from the shrine hall. By that time to my great surprise, all those devotees who attended just disappeared. While I was wondering what was happening, the Chairman and other officials led me slowly to upstairs.
There, in the hall, all the devotees and friends and admirers stood up in unison and welcomed me with the spiritual greetings Aum Namo Narayanaya ! Surprise after surprise! The hall was tastefully decorated. Round dining tables with chairs covered in bright white colour were occupied by the people. And lo! devotees unmindful of their age started dancing in joy around me. It was a pure, unsullied joy that I saw in every face. No lectures. No words. No tears. It was all one feeling of Love that touched my heart with joy and would remain so for ever.
The second such satsang was organised by Estcourt Satsang Group. The one distinct aspect of Estcourt satsangs that I noticed whenever I was there, was always the participation of all the sects of Hindu community. Hence it was not surprising to see everyone in their best from different faiths in Swami Sahajananda Cultural hall.
The very entrance into that famous hall was heralded with girls standing in rows with diyas in their tiny hands. The Chairman with other officials and distinguished people from the Estcourt society led me in. I was glad to see Anil Bridgelal on the huge stage. He enthralled the audience by rendering soulfully five bhajans (devotional songs). The most surprising event was just to follow after my lecture. The cute children dressed up as the deities that are worshipped in the Maha Gayatri temple began to arrive one by one to the continuous applause of the audience and blessed me. I stood up reverentially to each one starting from Lord Ganesha and finally to Swami Vivekananda.
Straight from the hearts
Another Satsang that stunned me was the farewell function organised by the devotees attached to Chatsworth Sub-centre. The entire program was almost one-to-one in the sense that each and every individual who attended there could come near me and talk to me. Each had the occasion to express himself/herself in no uncertain terms which flowed straight from the hearts. The event ended with of course dance recital from the vibrant youth and the bursting of fire-crackers!
Other organisations too were not exempt from this farewell fever! Notable one was Sree Veerabhoga Emperumal temple in Tongaat that organised a function that struck me as most gorgeous. The devotees of the temple who were enthusiastic about my monthly Tirukkural Class were in the forefront. I couldn’t imagine that I deserved such a grand function. Take the case of reception, or the decoration or the dining or the crowd whatever one can imagine everything was organised so meticulously that it left me speechless.
A solemn meeting was arranged by the local Divine Life Society members who took me round the entire campus and I felt blessed seeing the holy Ganga teerth pond. It was an inspiring moment to think of the long journey that the Holy One Swami Sivananda made from Tamrabarani to Ganga.
Too Numerous to list
I have too numerous to list. But I have spoken here only about a handful few. The other Sub-centres like Phoenix, Ladysmith, Newcastle and also Dundee-Glencoe devotees with their own unique ways made an indelible mark in my heart. Outside KawZulu Natal, devotees from places like Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Clarens, Stanger etc., did not lag behind. Not to mention the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram that welcomed me for a special occasion of Holy Mother’s birthday when Mataji and her devotees fed me sumptuously as a mother would do for her son!
Besides these, I was invited to Home Satsangs by many, many devotees. The Chennai Ramakrishna Math has taken up a project recently to introduce the concept of Home Satsangs which I am proud to feel that the SA Centre has been doing for many years! These Home Satsangs cannot, – as a few misinformed are wont to do – be looked down upon condescendingly at any cost. I always have the presence of a group of devotees who sing and read from the Gospel followed by question-answer discussion. Spending two hours or so in such absorbing satsangs as everyone who has attended could vouchsafe, was indeed elevating. The residents of such homes felt blessed.
One such home was of a student of my Tirukkural class in Tongaat. A few Tamil speaking people came together to learn the meanings and explanations of the Tirukkural verses. It was enjoyable for me to take a class in English on a Tamil classic with overtones of Vedanta as I found during my study that there exists lots of similarities with Vedantic ideas. I met this group also before my departure.
I must confess that many and many more devotees who couldn’t meet me personally sent written encomiums that I went through when a flood of emails arrived. Here too the expression of pure, unalloyed love was quite evident though inextricably laced with the ubiquitous “miss you”.
My heart is full with gratefulness to everyone in South Africa; I am still trying to find suitable words to express! I realise I woefully lack in vocabulary!
Did I ?
In all these farewell fanfare – whether glaringly glittering or solemnly subdued – what did I see?
I did see the external paraphernalia in its best.
I did see the congregation converge with one purpose.
I did see the grace of our Holy Trio flowing through the wishes of devotees.
But more than these I did see and was moved by the genuine love of the people who without any inhibition acknowledged that in some way or other I really “touched” their lives.
“Did I ?”
“Did I ?” was the question that lingered on when I was seated on the plane that left Durban while my mind was savouring the cheerful chant of “Durga, Durga!” that reverberated all along till I fell asleep!
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’.
Diwali is also indeed associated with the worship of Divine Mother in the form of Kali. The famous Sanskrit hymn Sri Durga Saptashati called Sri Sri Chandi in short gave Kali worship a new meaning.
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 ||
I have the honour to receive host of mails from devotees of different parts of the world enquiring how Sri Krishna Janmashtami celebrations were conducted by our Centre in South Africa. Thanks for their well-meant curiosity. I do take delight in expressing in detail an account on the Sri Krishnashtami celebrations here at our headquarters in Durban. There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last ashtami day i.e . for all eight days! Satsang here has a definite pattern.
Themes for Talks
First four days I had vocal rest, as, a week back I had a bad laryngitis. On fifth day morning I addressed Senior Citizens at our Phoenix sub-centre. The point of my address was that the idols or pictures are not to be viewed as mere stones or paper but as a manifestation of the One, supreme Divinity. In the evening I reached Verulam where in the Gopallaala temple I met devotees and spoke on Sri Krishna’s mercy. On the sixth day I had to travel to Stanger, a one-hour distance in the severe cold. There also the Gracious God was the theme. On the seventh day at our HQ Sri Ramakrishna Temple hall, I spoke on Sri Krishna and the Black Cobra. It was the story of poisonous Kaliya and how Sri Krishna tamed it and the spiritual import of this charming story.
On the eighth day, which was the last auspicious ashtami evening, my theme for the discussion was the Divine birth of the Unborn. We had two sessions. In the first session the theory of Incarnation was dealt with. And in the second session the secret of the Unborn Supreme God appearing as baby Krishna to Devaki and Vasudeva was explained.
Brother Saradaprabhananda this year went to Chatsworth branch and gave discourses there for all eight days on the significance of the Fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The first six evening Satsangs at HQ were addressed by our Youth members. I was witness to their speeches. On hearing them speak with confidence, I joined others in the audience in appreciating them for the research they had done on different themes and how they, in simple form, placed the ideas before the public.
Every evening of the Krishnashtami celebration, Satsang attracted a large number of devotees. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the program. Selected passages from Srimad Bhagavad Gita were sung to the traditional tunes every evening satsang. The temple was beautifully decorated. The yugal murti Sri Radha-Krishna bedecked with finery and ornaments dazzled every one. At the stroke of midnight 12, the baby Krishna in a beautiful cradle was brought out to the audience. Finally with arati to Sri Radha-Krishna and offering of flower and rocking the cradle by every assembled devotee the solemn program came to an end with distribution of prasad.
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.
A very happy ‘Sri Ganesha chaturthi’ to every one! It is a joyous occasion always. All our Centres in South Africa celebrate this day in a solemn manner.
Importance is given to japa whereby the wisdom aspect of our personalities is stimulated. The day starts with a special puja to Sri Ganesha in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. In the evening it concludes with a satsang where devotees in chorus sing bhajans and kirtans interspersed with Talks or Readings.
As children we were not only treated with different kinds of sweets during dining time, (note: earlier I wrote about that delicious dish Kozhuk kattai or modakam) but also were trained in lots of traditional practices that were initially appeared as queer but later loved. In igniting the imagination of the child, Ganesha worship would or even now stands supreme. Imagination about what? About creating a living contact between the visible human and the invisible super-human. It leads the growing child in the practice of devotion. This worship acts as a means in giving practical shape to develop a healthy and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.
I am reminded of the allotted duties among the siblings and oh! what verve and vigour the children used to show in fulfilling their arduous(!) tasks like plucking flowers, cutting fruits, arranging durwa grass etc. A sense of camaraderie prevails that brings peace and happiness. May Sri Ganesha resolve all our conflicts!
Worship of Personal God in whatever form has many distinct advantages. Lord Ganesha though He is ever the son of Parvati and Shiva is known as ‘Vighneshwara’ the Lord of Obstacles. Often children (the mustachioed babies too…!) ask how is it that this God is called ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Is it not good to worship those gods who can offer boons instead of those creating obstructions? Late Revered Swami Chidbhavanandaji maharaj (famous for his translation of Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and English – perhaps the very first one in bringing Master’s teachings at relevant places – used to compare this Universe to an automobile. He says in one of his books “Facets of Brahman” which is as delightful as inspiring, explains why and how Lord Ganesha brings good to the devotees :
“In the working of an automobile each mechanism has its particular part to play. The function of one part in it cannot be the function of another.” This means that notwithstanding each part having its own structural and functional individuality the motor car an move only with the combined effect of all of them. So, he concludes that the Universe is a self-projected living and intelligent mechanism. It is the material manifestation of the saguna brahman
While harmony exists in its variation, discord and conflicts are also seen. Thus Nature brings all the beings into existence and provides opportunities ‘to evolve into higher and yet higher order of life’. All levels have their intrinsic two categories called Divine and Demoniac.
This Cosmic Intelligence is symbolically called Ganesha. Those who are honest and strive to lead a peaceful life, thus possessing Divine qualities, He definitely comes to their aid. And he does not neglect those with asuric qualities. By creating obstructions, He brings disappointment in the minds of devotees as what was prayed goes not sanctioned! But in the course of life’s journey, a devotee finds out that seeming obstruction was in one way a blessing in disguise. In short by introducing lesser evils He wards off greater evils of life and Vighneshwara (Vighna – obstacles, Ishwara – Lord) rightly represents this particular aspect of Nature.
How Ganesha came in the practical life through dreams and fulfilled the desires of the devotees is narrated here.
It was sometime in 2005. This happened while I was in Ranchi. Once I received a post parcel that looked very tiny. Well, I just kept it on my study table; I never even ventured to open it. Everyday I was seeing it but somehow had no urge to open the parcel and look what the gift was. Suddenly one fine early morning a devotee rang me up to say that she was indeed frightened by a dream. I asked her what was the dream. She explained that she was entering into our Temple. She saw a small figure of Ganesha slowly emerging from nowhere and becoming crystal clear and was walking towards her. The image was in utter black colour. She asked me whether this dream was inauspicious.
Consoling her with words of sympathy, I told her that seeing Ganesha is considered as most auspicious and who knows that black Ganesha wants to come to her home! Did she not tell me earlier that she wanted to worship Ganesha in some murti? So, I concluded by telling her that she might wait till Ganesha makes some arrangement.
That day while I was just going out, the cleaning boy came and put that tiny parcel into my hands and said that I had not yet opened it as it was lying for many days on the table. I quickly thrusted it into my pocket and went out.
It was a pleasant surprise when on my way back, I met the son of this devotee who insisted that I should visit his home. Since I had some time, I agreed and reached his house. The devotee welcomed me and was talking about her dream; she asked me, ‘Maharaj, when would Ganesha come to my home?’
While the conversation was going on I casually took the parcel and opened it and lo! it was black Ganesha murti! So tiny and cute, I said, “See! here He is!” I placed that Ganesha into her altar under the feet of the Mother Kali image. Well, son got his place again under mother!
A devotee from South Africa, the other day narrated this following incident.
It was in 1997. I was overwhelmed by money and power. I had a successful business and everything was hunky dory in my life. My day used to start quite early, leaving home everyday including Sundays at 7am and returning at 10pm. That meant neglecting my home, children and daily prayer.
This continued for 2 years. Although I was a devotee of the Master from the age of 13 years, somehow at the age of 29, I faltered in my spiritual life. My conscience used to prick me every now and then….. but still I neglected my sadhana.
As the second year was coming to a close, my body and mind was beginning to tire and so were my kids on whom I could sense the effect of neglect. It was late one night while I was asleep, that I had a wonderful dream… or was it real, I will never know that… Lord Ganesha came to me while I lay on the bed and spoke softly to me. He kept telling me ‘arise and offer some fruit and milk’. I could still see Him in His flowing yellow dhoti and with a flower garland around His neck. When I was reluctant to get up, he firmly, at the same time, very lovingly coaxed me to wake up. I lay in my bed wondering at the strange, yet divine dream that I just experienced.
I gazed around to see whether the Gracious Lord was still in the room, was it my imagination, was it a dream, was it real? who knows! After a quick bath and breakfast, just out of curiosity I went to the calendar to check what day it was… I WAS STUNNED TO SEE IT WAS THE AUSPICIOUS DAY OF GANESH CHATURTHI. I immediately went into my shrine and offered milk to the Lord and realised that the Lord is continuously knocking on my door, and He is waiting for me to open. It was on that auspicious day that by the will of the Lord, I quit my job and became a mum to my kids and held on tightly to the Lord’s Feet… Never to let go AGAIN!
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
Hindus all along have, from time immemorial, been worshippers of God in form. We strongly believe that the formless, infinite Ishwara who is nitya (eternal), buddha (awakened), shuddha (ever pure) and mukta (ever free) does alone takes any form out of His compassion for devotees.
Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna used to say that “Many are the names of God and infinite are forms through which he may be approached.”
One of the most essential and distinctive feature of Bhakti-maarga – the path of Devotion – is dependence on grace. The Gita speaks of two kinds of Grace: one is general or impersonal grace available to all people irrespective of whether they are Bhaktas or Jnaanis. (samo’ham sarva bhuteshu, Gita, 9.29). The other is a special, personal grace given only to the true devotee who has surrendered his all to the Avataara and depends on Him alone. Such a devotee’s spiritual and material welfare (yogakshema) God Himself takes care of.
For the first time in the religious history of India—perhaps the whole world—a divine Teacher gave this assurance to mankind:
“I lift up those who depend on me from the ocean of death” (12.7)
“I swear: my devotee, even if he is the worst of sinners, will never perish” (9.31)
“I will liberate you from all sins; don’t worry” (18.66)
The only condition for this otherwise unconditional Grace is prapatti or self-surrender. The type of self-surrender that Gita teaches is not a passive state of inaction which weakens the person. On the contrary prapatti is a dynamic state which gives tremendous strength to the person. Strong in the strength of God, he can face any problem, even fight a battle, with equanimity and calmness of mind (Gita: 3.30)
May we remember that every human body is like a temple wherein the heart of hearts is the chosen spot where God resides. While it is good to propitiate God in stone or marble, it is necessary that we should worship God in the poor, God in the sick and God in the illiterate. The worship of God in man should take the form of seva (service).
Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and devotees of our Centre join me in conveying hearty best wishes for the success of the Krishna ashtami celebration at your home and at your Centre or branches.
May Lord Radhakrishna bless you all with devotion at His lotus feet! On this auspicious Krishna Janmasthami day, may the divine Lord take birth and manifest in our hearts. May He enact all His divine plays for our welfare and that of the world and as He lifted Govardhan for the safety of Vrindavan, may He lift the burdens of our life, so we may continue on our journey in divine bliss.
A devotee who has had long association with monks of the Ramakrishna Order was telling me the other day that the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were unique, each in his own way. He hastened to add that even today, though to a varying lesser degree, the monks are indeed special. Generally, a monk’s life is inward bound, so it is difficult to see externally the gem that each is. But when such monks occupy high positions or undertake such activities as to bring them within the ken of society, their uniqueness is visible to all. Swami Shantatmanandaji is one such monk who recently toured South Africa.
He is the present Head of the Delhi branch of the Ramakrishna Mission; this in itself is a comment on his leadership qualities, his admin abilities, his creativity and resourcefulness.
I used to wonder always when and where he took great interest in learning puja – the detailed methods of worship. In most of our branches daily puja of Master is according to the ten item method. The Special Puja of course consists of not only sixteen items of worship but also a much more expanded one. And what to speak of more specific pujas like Kali puja, Durga puja and Jagaddhatri puja which require besides expertise certain life styles too.
I came close to Shantatmananda in connection with Sri Sri Jagaddhatri puja during my tenure at Ranchi Sanatorium. That was an occasion to know more about the puja matters as he would patiently explain the science and art of many methods of worship to my varied silly questions! Sometimes our discussion would stray into those points pertaining to tantric worship. I was always just amazed at the depth and profundity of his knowledge and his ability to explain the esoteric and intricate processes in a most simple way.
It is little wonder that I looked forward with great expectation for his visit to our Centre here on a 15 day program. Though his days of itinerary were packed with hectic schedule – delivered 18 lectures in 13 days! (a detailed Report appended below) – yet during his stay here, many a post-meal time was spent in being with him thus gaining some memorable moments together leaving me wanting more! When we, monks from different parts of the world meet, (sometimes through skype too!) there is much ‘catching up’ to do. It was wonderful to listen to him about the proposed 150th birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda in 2013 all over the world and he lovingly ‘booked’ me for a program in Delhi! The unique combination of a sincere devotee and a serious academic in him added a lot of ‘masala’ to our discussions.
Contrary to what I had heard of him (that he was in the habit of keeping a distance from devotees etc.), he spoke in a sweet and simple yet enlightening manner, whether at the dining table, in the foyer or at a public lecture with whomsoever he came into contact with. Instantaneously he became a spiritual delight of devotees.
What was his impression about his visit to South Africa and the devotees here? I quote a portion from his email that he wrote after returning to India:
Dear and Revered Maharaj,
What shall I write to you? I am afraid, any attempt to pen down my feelings would fall far short of my true feelings. The South Africa experience is something which only the truly blessed people get once in their lifetime. I have never seen such a wonderful band of sincere, dedicated and devoted devotees anywhere outside India. The officials and members of Exco — they are shouldering enormous responsibilities. Hats off to them. Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji is a truly amazing personality. It is unbelievable how one can be so humble and self-effacing in spite of such capacity and talent. My prayers to Master that he may continue to serve the devotees of South Africa for decades. As for you I sincerely feel that you are the Master’s special gift to the devotees of South Africa. Lord has blessed you with such a loving and affectionate heart and I am sure you are providing healing touch to thousands of devotees there. Please convey my special regards to the Exco members…My special love and best wishes to devotees…My special prayers and best wishes to mothers…With deep love and humble pranams,
Swami Shantatmanandaji arrived in Durban, on 15 July from Mauritius. On 17 July he was given a warm welcome reception that was held at HQ Ramakrishna Temple during Saturday weekly evening satsang where he spoke on Spiritual Life. Earlier in the afternoon he addressed a gathering of Youth members of the Centre on A Life of Purpose, Dedication & Service. His 15-day stay saw meeting with the officials and many devotees of our Centre, addressing different public programs, performing holy home-satsangs and giving interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Gauteng, Dundee, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Estcourt in Northern Natal and Pietermaritzburg, Phoenix and Chatsworth in Southern Natal.
At Gauteng Sub-centre, Swami Shantatmanandaji gave his Keynote address on Glory of Guru on 18 July. From there, the next day, he was driven to Dundee Sub-centre where he gave his Address again on Guru. At Newcastle the officials took him to a few welfare sites where he saw how the humanitarian work being done. On 20 July he addressed a large gathering in Ladysmith Sub-centre where he spoke eloquently on Swami Vivekananda’s Message to the Youth. At Estcourt, on 21 July, the Swami explained the concept of Spiritual Journey.
A special satsang in honour of Swami Shantatmanandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre on 22 July, when he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation on Holy Mother. On 23 July he reached HQ in the morning where a number of lady-members of Sri Sarada Devi Women’s Circle were awaiting his arrival. They listened to him speaking about Women Empowerment and their role as Volunteers. At Chatsworth Sub-centre, in the evening, he gave a lecture on Welfare of the World – Why? & How?
The next day i.e., on 24 July at the evening weekly Satsang, held at HQ, he spoke on Swami Vivekananda as the Universal Preceptor. Earlier in the afternoon the Swami met the beneficiaries of Greenbury Welfare Project and addressed them on Faith in God – the First Step. On 25 July we celebrated Guru Purnima. In the Temple he performed a special worship with sixteen items called ‘shodachopachaar pujaa’. An hour later at the Nischalananda Hall there was a Public Meeting wherein Swami Vimokshanandaji,Swami Saradaprabhanandajiand Shantatmanandaji addressed a large congregation. The visiting Swami spoke on Sri Ramakrishna as Guru. On 26 July at Phoenix Sub-centre he spoke on How to obtain the Grace of God to the assembled devotees. On 27 July in the morning he addressed the Senior Citizen Forum members at the same Phoenix Sub-centre on the topic Aging Gracefully. A Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ in the evening drew lot of appreciation. On 28 July evening he participated in a program organised by three Satsang Groups viz., Verulam, Etete and Tongaat. The venue was the famous Sri Veerabhoga Emperumal Temple at Tongaat. There he delivered a Talk on Religiosity vs Spirituality.
He was taken to Abalindi Home, one of the NGOs with which the Centre is associated for nearly a decade. The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa has used a multi-dimensional approach in all its welfare activities over the last 65 years. This vision and strategy ensures that our support and services reach those in need in all areas of society irrespective of race, gender or creed. The Centre works with many NGOs with similar aims and objectives to provide much needed community services. The Swami was overwhelmed at the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. He was all praise for the Centre’s help to this Home in giving a decent and dignified living just before death.
Being a Nature lover, a special visit was arranged by the officials of the Ladysmith Sub-centre to the world renowned Drakensberg mountains.
That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. So also his lively visit to Lions Park and Zoo and the century old Botanical gardens arranged by the officials of the Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. They also took him to the historical railway station where Mahatma Gandhiji was thrown off the train. That was the place where ‘shivering through the winter night in the waiting room of the station’, Gandhiji made the momentous decision to begin his unique form of protest against racial discrimination called ‘satyagraha’. Visiting Ushaka Marine World to see the Dolphins’ danceand aqua creatures in the undersea ship wreck, the crocodile creek, the South Coast and also the famous Umgeni River Bird Park made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.
On 29 July of his departure day, the Exco officials bid him farewell and thanked the Swami heartily for his brilliant and inspiring lectures. The Swami, in his reply pointed out, his delight with devotees who are serving the Holy Trio with unconditional love and how he was brimming with joy in witnessing the Master’s work being carried out in South Africa so meticulously. He was full of praise of sincere devotees who served the Centre from decorating the altar to dishing out the prasad.
On the afternoon of July 29, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at the Durban International Airport. On his way back to Delhi he would stop for a day in Dubai where he had two programs to attend.
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.
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…
Children like to question. And I appreciate it as an expression of their intense thirst for knowledge. I wrote this given-below dialogue in an easy, conversational style between two children and myself. This is, of course, based partly on an actual discussion with the named children, and later written for Dipika 2009. It is an annual spiritual magazine especially for children, regularly brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban. My grateful thanks go to Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji for according her kind consent to reproduce it here.
After lunch, as usual, I was about to retire to my room and take my noon-day rest. Just then two fresh faced, enthusiastic, devoted boys came into my office, bursting with joy and questions. All thoughts of sleep left me when I sensed their willingness to have a conversation.
An interesting discussion began when I asked the children to state the names of two famous incarnations of God. Rahul immediately mentioned the name of Lord Ram. His little brother Trishul remembered Lord Krishna.
Trishul: Swamiji, why do Hindus believe that God incarnates on earth?
Swamiji:That is a good question! God descends according to the needs of the time, to help us live happily, be peaceful and live spiritual lives.When people start misbehaving, fight with one another and adopt evil ways, then God comes to protect goodness.
Rahul: But some of my friends ridicule us and say that we worship many Gods. Isn’t it true that there is only ONE God, Swamiji?
Swamiji: Undoubtedly, God is ONE. Have you not heard that God is Omnipotent?
Trishul: No! What does that mean?
Swamiji: It means that God is all-powerful. Though there is only ONE God, yet by His divine power He can assume many forms and have many names. Therefore Hindus believe in different incarnations of God. The Sanskrit word for incarnation is Avataar.
Rahul: So we see that God can take many names and forms because He is all-powerful!
Swamiji: Exactly so, Rahul! You do know that there are many people on earth, though we are one as humanity, yet we have different tastes. We are born with our own varied natures. You may not like what I like. Therefore every one should have the freedom to choose the form of God that he or she likes.Each one worships the same God in the form that appeals to him or her, the most. But always remember, no matter what form of God you love and pray to, GOD IS ONE.
Rahul: Why does God manifest Himself in human form?
Swamiji: God wants to help us realise Him. He teaches us the righteous methods of living on His beautiful earth and how to care for all living beings. God loves all living and non-living beings on this earth, because everything has come out of Him alone.
Trishul: Swamiji, but I find it difficult to think of God without a name and a form. Is not God with form more lovable?
Swamiji: Rightly said, Trishul! God in his personal aspect can be loved and served too. You should be able to choose the particular name and form of God, according to your nature.
Rahul: I love Lord Ram. He killed Ravana and brought righteousness back to Lanka. He ruled this earth from Ayodhya.
Swamiji: Oh! that is wonderful. Can you name one great devotee of Lord Ram?
Rahul: Yes Swamiji. Tulsidas! My father and mother read a portion from Tulsidasji’s Ramayana everyday. They say that reading the Ramayana in the morning helps them to cope with the challenges of life.
Swamiji: Excellent!What is the title of the Ramayana that Tulsidasji wrote?
Rahul: Sri Ramacharitamanasa.
Swamiji: Very good, Rahul. Now boys, let me narrate an interesting story about Tulsidas, the author of this great scripture.
Tulsidas loved Sri Ram with all his heart. In the beginning, he did not prefer any other form of God for his personal worship. One day some of his friends decided to go to Brindavan, the playground of Lord Krishna. They requested Tulsidas to accompany them. But Tulsidas was a little hesitant, because he did not want to go to any place that was not connected with Lord Ram.
Rahul: Was he a fanatic, Swamiji?
Swamiji: No Rahul, he was not a fanatic. But he had such deep devotion to the lotus feet of Lord Ram that his mind was not willing to accept any other form of God. When his friends insisted, he accompanied them to Brindavan. However, while entering Sri Krishna’s temple, he closed his eyes. The all-knowing Lord understood Tulsidas’ predicament. Lord Krishna looked at His beloved Radha and said, ‘Look Radha! My sincere devotee has come here. When he opens his eyes he would not like to see me in the present form. So, let us change our forms to satisfy him.’
Trishul: Which form did they take, Swamiji?
Swamiji: When Tulsidas made pranams (prostrations) to the Lord, he assumed that the temple deity was Sri Krishna, so he was unwilling to open his eyes. But his friends asked him to observe the magnificent murti (image) of Sri Krishna, which was decorated so well. Tulsidas opened his eyes slowly and, lo and behold! he saw the lotus feet of His beloved Sri Ram. When he raised his head in wonder he could see the bow and arrows held in Ram’s long, beautiful hands. The Lord’s eyes looked like a freshly blossomed flower. He also saw the serene face of Mother Sita.Tulsidas was stunned and overwhelmed to see Sri Ram. He now realised that Lord Krishna and Lord Ram are ONE and the SAME divine being!
Trishul: So Swamiji, does the word ‘deity’ mean ‘God in His personal aspect’?
Swamiji: You have understood rightly, Trishul! There are many deities and you can choose any one from the hundreds of forms, according to your taste and temperament. The one that you choose is called the ‘ishta-devata’, meaning your chosen deity. By worshipping the ishta-devata, your mind becomes one-pointed and devotion to God grows very easily and quickly. In the beginning of one’s sadhana (spiritual practices), worshipping many deities dissipates one’s energy and may not be conducive to spiritual progress. Therefore our sages have recommended that we have an ishta-devata, a chosen deity.
Rahul: Swamiji, which deity should I choose?
Swamiji: Choose that deity whose form you like the most!
Trishul: Is it not true that Hanumanji also has Sri Ram as his ishta-devata?
Swamiji: Well said.
Srināthe jānakināthe abheda paramātmani|
Tathāpi mama sarvasva rāmah kamala lochanah||
Sri Hanumanji once explained that although there was no difference between the Lord of Lakshmi (Narayana) and the Lord of Janaki (Sri Ram), yet his chosen deity was the lotus-eyed Sri Ram.
So, Rahul and Trishul! What did you understand?
Rahul and Trishul: Swamiji, we understood that having a chosen deity is good for devotion but at the same time, we should not be narrow-minded. We should respect all deities because the ONE God alone has become many.
Swamiji: You both attend Sunday Classes for children. Tell me, can you remember any example that our dear Master Sri Ramakrishna has quoted?
Rahul: Yes, I remember! Master gave the example of a man digging a well. First he dug down to a depth of ten meters. He could not find any trace of water there. Then he selected another spot and dug a little deeper. He found no water there either. So he gave up that spot and dug in yet another place. Again he was unsuccessful. Disgusted at his failure to find water, he finally gave up his efforts.
Trishul: Now, let me complete the story! So, Master said that if that man had patiently dug at one place, he would have found water. The same is the case with anyone who changes his faith continually. By having an ishta-devata one can progress and reach the goal.
Swamiji: I really appreciate you, boys! How I wish all the children would attend our Sunday Classes!
Today begins the nine-day Sri Rama navami celebrations in our Centre culminating in the Navami on 24 March, 2010. A special havan will be performed at the noon. Here is the schedule for my Talks:
Swami Shivanandaji, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once observed: “If you want to achieve anything substantial in spiritual life, visit Belur Math, stay here and do spiritual practices. It is for this purpose alone that Swamiji dedicated his life and founded this Math.”
The spiritual current that flows in Belur Math is carried to all its branches, affiliates, sister-centres and therefore undoubtedly visiting any of them is indeed a pilgrimage.
A bus full of devotees from Ladysmith sub-centre decided to undertake a pilgrimage to three centres in Durban and I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Akshay Mootheeram who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Yushavia‘
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
It was Sunday the 31st of January 2010.
At approximately 05:30, as the crimson sun raised its beautiful head only to reveal but a peak of sunlight amidst the darkness of the early morning, our bus filled with 76 devout and enthusiastic men, women and children alike, from the Ladysmith Sub-Centre set out on an prayerful pilgrimage to Durban.
Pilgrimage to Durban?
Yes, it was certainly a pilgrimage to Durban where we were to visit the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa in Glen Anil, the Phoenix Sub-Centre as well as the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram in Asherville.
Although many of the devotees of Ladysmith Sub-centre had visited these Ashramas at some or other time, it was truly special to travel in unison, as a group with the same frame of mind and moreover, in the greater sense, as a family.
Of course, belonging to an organization of this stature, one can expect only but the best in terms of service, safety and comfort, without any compromise. Therefore, a program was planned for the bus which commenced with the Opening Prayers, which was to be followed by the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa and other kirtans. Although many of the devotees were still dreary from the early morning, everyone joined together in the melodious singing of these kirtans. The atmosphere thus created was serene and calming, soothing the minds of the devotees who were focusing on the great events that were about to unfold.
At approximately 08:30 we arrived at Headquarters. The sight of the majestic Ashram was overwhelming. After being warmly received by the devotees at Headquarters we proceeded to the shrine to offer our pranams to Master, Mother and Swami Vivekananda. We were then briefed in the day’s proceedings and subsequently moved to the Swami Nischalananda Hall where we were served a light, yet refreshing, breakfast. Our Revered President Maharaj, His Holiness, Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, addressed us, both welcoming and blessing all the Devotees. In his short address (because of his prior appointment at Chatsworth Sub-centre), he pointed out the utter usefulness of studying Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature everyday. He added that by such studies, the ever-lasting ideas that the Holy Trio gave out for the world, would slowly sink into our mind and would be conducive for our spiritual sadhana.
Brother Ramesh Ishwarlall, who is the Chairperson of the Centre, then took us all on a grandeur tour of the premises. For many devotees, this was their first exposure to Centre’s Ashram grounds, facilities and buildings. We then reassembled in the shrine to enjoy a blessed satsang and meet His Holiness, Sri Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj who blessed us all. He is a senior monk, South Africa-born, had come from India on a visit. Sadly however, we departed at 09:10 feeling the brief stay, instead of satisfying only kindled our thirst for spending more time. We left for the Phoenix Sub-Centre to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
Once again we were most warmly received not only by the devotees, but by Swamiji Himself. We all then proceeded to the shrine where a 30-minute satsang was held. The ambience in the shrine was phenomenal and left us all speechless, including Swamiji Himself. Next we assembled in the waiting rooms of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa Clinic where we were addressed by Sister Veena Singaram and Advocate Kessie Naidoo, who enlightened us on the activities of the Phoenix Sub-Centre focusing on the program for Youth Development, but moreover, by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who really inspired us all. This was followed by a DVD presentation presented on the breath-taking advancement of the IT industry in India.
The next event was one that everybody anxiously looked forward to…Lunch! Yes, lunch was served with the highest feeling of love and care, we all feasted on the delicious food which was thoroughly prepared by the devotees at Phoenix.
Finally, we concluded the program with a DVD entitled ‘Mind Your Language’ which spread waves of chuckles amongst all present, creating a light-hearted and relaxing atmosphere.
But the highlight of our Phoenix trip was the opportunity to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who spoke to each and every devotee individually. We then left the Ashram, with happiness and peace in our hearts, and proceeded in the early afternoon towards Asherville.
On our arrival at the Sri Sarada Devi Ashrama, yet again without fail, the warmest of welcomes was presented to us.
We immediately proceeded to the shrine for a satsang which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Promptly thereafter we were served refreshments and had the opportunity of spending a few brief moments with Her Holiness Ishtaprana Mataji and Her Holiness Divyanandaprana Mataji. As much as would have liked to stay, unfortunately the time came for us to depart.
There could have been no better way to end our pilgrimage than at Holy Mother’s Ashram. Somehow, the day now felt totally complete and fulfilled.
At 16:00, we boarded the bus and departed from Asherville with complete peace of mind, thanking within, one and all who made the memorable event a truly remarkable. A pilgrimage worth to ponder in a period yonder!