Hinduism Conference at Glencoe

The following is a short report on the Hinduism Conference held at Glencoe Town Hall on Sunday 7th September, 2008. About 250 delegates from mostly Northern Natal region participated. Kumari Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee from Durban recounts here of the Conference.

On Sunday 7 September from 9h00 to 12h00, a Conference on Hinduism was held at the Glencoe Town Hall. Mrs Shalini Bhudhu of  Sanatana Dharma Sabha delivered the inaugural address in which she discussed Hinduism and Vedanta, according to the Holy Trio.

The first speaker was His Holiness Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj who dealt with the topic of Devotional Practices according to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Revered Swamiji informed the audience that in order to see God everywhere one must apply the kaajal or collyrium of bhakti (devotion) to our eyes just as Radha did.  As always, Maharaj approached the topic from a very practical point of view, listing six devotional practices that Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna spoke about in the Gospel 
  • Shravana – that is, Hearing God’s Name
    Maharaj advised all to read holy books and seek holy company to listen to God’s name.
  • Kirtana – Sing the Glories of God
    Whether it be on a CD or through chanting and singing at satsang, we must always sing the Lord’s praises.  Revered Maharaj recounted Master’s teachings about clapping our hands to rid ourselves of negative qualities.
  • Smarana – Remembrance
    Revered Swamiji reminded us of the importance of introspection. Maharaj advised that just as a cow takes in its food only to regurgitate it and slowly munch on it, we too must slowly munch on all that we have learnt about God.
  • Padasevana – Service to all beings
    A true Bhakta sees Master (or God) in his multifarious forms.  Therefore we must serve all, animal and humans, in the spirit of worshipping God. 
  • Puja – Worship
    Ritualistic worship is necessary at the beginning of Bhakti but Maharaj advised us that rituals are not the be all and end all of devotion.  There is a higher state to be realised and that is the Lord within.
  • Bhava – Relationship with God
    Maharaj pointed out the many relationships we can share with God.  One may adopt the attitude of a beloved, have a mother and child relationship with God, think that you are the servant and God is the Master or have the attitude of a friend towards God.  These various Bhavas help one to cultivate the greatest love towards their Isthadevata (Chosen Ideal). 

Maharaj’s discussion on spiritual practices gave us a clear guide on how to increase our devotion to God according to the path of Bhakti Yoga.   

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The second speaker, Mrs Radidevi Govender, an ardent devotee of the Ladysmith Sub-centre, spoke on the topic of Work as a Spiritual Discipline.  Mrs Govender explained the concept of Karma yoga, which is work done renouncing the fruits of the action. 

She introduced the idea that our character was essentially our combined impressions but warned us against becoming fatalistic.  She advised that we cultivate a will power because we are responsible for who we are.  Just as there is fire in flint, so too is their knowledge in each of our human minds.  Mrs Govender informed the audience that everyone is forcibly made to act under the influence of the three gunas, and rather than allow these actions to tie us down to the world we should,  “work for works sake”. 

Mrs Govender ended in the words of the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi saying, “Everything happens by God’s will, yet man must work because God will through mans actions”

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After the second speaker the conference broke for tea. 

On Returning, Revered Ishtaprana Mataji dealt with the topic of The Role of the Hindu Mother in Instilling Spiritual Values in the Home.  Revered Mataji warned all parents to be mindful of the samskaras (impressions) we expose our children to.  She advised mothers to chant during pregnancy, play devotional music and do positive things. Mataji recounted incidents of the change that ashram has had on young children who attended Sunday classes. 

Mataji gave the example of bhakta Prahalad, who though a demon by birth, was in fact, a great devotee of Bhagavan Sri Vishnu. This was partly because of his kind and pious mother being taken by Sage Narada to an ashrama, where positive vibes were abundant. Mataji further gave the example of Luv and Kush who were lovingly brought up my mother Sita and Sage Valmiki in the sage’s humble ashrama.  The young boys were given love and affection but never spoilt.  Incidents from the life of Holy Mother’s niece were also recounted, thus explaining the need to allow children to perform simple chores.

Mataji went on to explain that children were expert imitators and therefore parents must be positive role models.  Parents were reminded to read holy stories to their young ones and attend satsungs regularly.  Mataji also advised children not to argue or revolt against their parents but rather to look upon their parents as God, “Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam. 

The last topic of the morning was Preserving Hindu Culture for the Young Hindu away from Home, this paper was delivered by Dr H.B. Parbhoo, the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa.     

Dr Parbhoo clearly defined the differences between culture and civilisation, stating that the former was the way of life and values, and the latter, the external manifestation of this.  He then went on to state the problems of today’s youth.  He spoke about the lack of firm judgement due to various different causes.  Dr Parbhoo advised the youth against entering places of Kali, places where gambling and drinking occur as well as slaughterhouses and brothels.  Everything gathered by our senses affect us, therefore we must be careful with the people we surround ourselves with, the food we eat and places we go to.  He reminded how Swami Gahananandaji, the past President of the Ramakrishna Order used to advise us to self analyse, pray, perform japa and meditation as well as selfless service. 

The conference was also introduced to Swami Saradanadaji’s Golden triangle, in which the focus of our lives is school or work, home and ashrama or a place of worship.  Dr Parbhoo dealt heavily with the Taitiriya Upanishad which states that one must have a spiritual home to ground oneself.  He added some form of observable religion, association with Hindu culture and civilization, the ability to still the mind and reach out to the community would be a great help. With this vibrant message to all the delegates, the Conference came to a close.

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.