Virabhadranandaji’s Visit

Swami Virabhadranandaji
Swami Virabhadranandaji

Swami Virabhadranandaji is the Head of Ramakrishna Mission’s Malaysia branch. His visit to South Africa was memorable in many ways.

He arrived in Durban, on 10 June from Kuala Lumpur. On his arrival he was given a welcome reception held at HQ on Saturday weekly satsang. During his 15-day stay, he met the officials of our Centre, had meetings with many devotees, addressed different public programs, conducted inspiring Meditation Classes, performed holy home-satsangs and gave interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Ladysmith, Newcastle and Dundee in Northern Natal.

At Ladysmith Sub-centre, Swami Virabhadranandaji gave his Keynote address on 16 June which is a National Youth Day in South Africa. More than 250 youth members participated. A special satsang in honour of Swami Virabhadranandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg sub-centre, where he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation. At Chatsworth sub-centre he participated in the half-day Vedanta Retreat wherein he gave his keynote Address.

Earlier the Swami addressed a Satsang meeting held in Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville. In HQ, he spoke to the members of the Sarada Devi Women’s Circle. At Phoenix sub-centre he gave Talks to the Senior Citizen Forum members. The Meditation classes conducted by him including the Vedantic meditation and Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ, drew lot of appreciation.

The visiting Swami Virabhadanndaji with Swami Saradaprabhanandaji at Abandi Home talking to a terminally ill patient
The visiting Swami Virabhadranandaji with Swami Saradaprabhanandaji at Abalindi Home talking to a terminally ill patient

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 moved to tears when he saw the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. But he was happy that with our Centre’s help, the Home is giving a decent and dignified living just before death.

Dolphins' dance at Ushak Sea World
Dolphins' dance at UShaka Sea World

The divergent flora and fauna of South Africa delighted him.  A special visit was arranged at one of the Drakensberg Resorts for a night’s halt on 19 June. That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. The rural beauty of this country, with rolling hills and rising valleys, fascinating freeways, expansive open spaces of the country side with enticing autumn gold trees in the horizon and a vast vista of waves of mountains vying with each other in meeting the skyline, made a deep impression on him. Visiting Ushaka Marine World to see the Dolphins’ dance and aqua creatures in the undersea ship wreck, the crocodile creek, the South Coast and also the Botanical gardens made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.

He evinced keen interest in the local Zulu culture and enjoyed the Zulu people’s hospitality with their feet tapping music and dance. He visited Valley of Thousand Hills where he interacted with many Zulu people.

The visiting Swami with the resident Swami
The visiting Swami with the resident Swami

On 25 June, 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 morning of June 26, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at Durban Airport. On his way back to Kuala Lampur he would stop for a short while in Mauritius branch of the Ramakrishna Mission too.

Children’s Cultural Festival

Gurudevji training the children in yogasanas
Gurudevji training the children in yogasanas
Gurudevji training the children in cultural items
Gurudevji training the children in cultural items

The great ‘Gurudev’ Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj was born in Newcastle. At his birthplace, the Children’s Cultural festival of the Northern Natal was celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year. It was not an accident; neither was it planned. But it had come in due course bringing forth how much ‘Gurudev’ loved the children and how much more he was interested in instilling the spiritual values among them. Some of the old devotees still remember how Gurudev used to stand on hours together in training the children in performance of cultural items. He used to personally conduct Yoga Camps especially for children training them in correct postures through practice of yogasanas.

I was pleased to attend the Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival held at Newcastle Richview hall. Branches from Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Glencoe and Dundee participated. The enthusiasm of the children was infectious, each one vying with one another, making efforts in excelling in whatever he/she did. The Festival was an occasion to bring out the best in the child. There were scintillating sketches, soul-filling songs, sterling speeches and delighting dances interspersed with inspiring quotes from the Holy Trio. While I gave the Key-note Address, brother Swami Saradaprabahanandaji gave the Concluding Address. Overall the time from 9 am to 4 pm was well spent in the company of the children. In spite of the inclement weather of speedy winds, the officials did a splendid job in organising the Festival at the venue.

Abiding spiritual values are taught to the children who attend our Sunday School classes. The parents have reported to me that they are immensely benefitted as they could see emergence of the wonderfully shaping of their children’s personality. In my previous post I gave a brief intro about the Sunday School classes and three slideshows on the Certificates Award function.

To see all the photos of the Festival, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then relax and watch!    

Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival

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Navaratri – I

First Five days

My Vijaya greetings to all of you! Trust by the grace of Divine Mother, the Durga Puja or Navaratri at your place, as usual, would have been a spiritually stimulating and enjoyable experience.

Mother Durga at Asherville Sarada Devi Ashram
Mother Durga at Asherville Sarada Devi Ashram

Here of course, Mother made me travel (felt blessed) all the centres in Northern Natal. I left HQ on the very first evening of Navaratri for Talks at Asherville where Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is situated. The vibrant atmosphere there enlivened my Talks on Durga and Her manifold Names.

Next day I reached Newcastle for the noon lunch. The Navaratri second night was spent there. The program there included Puja, bhajans and my Talks. ‘Mahakali – Her Aspects’ was my pet theme that I dwelt upon. After supper, the devotees of Newcastle sat with me when we had lively discussion on religious life. Next day individual appointments were granted to devotees from morning 8 to 11.

Mother Sarada at our Newcastle Centre
Mother Sarada at our Newcastle Centre

My third night stay was at Dundee. The program at the Dundee shrine which is indeed so beautiful was in the set pattern including my Talks. Here I took up the subject of ‘Grace of Kali’. Next day again from morning 8 to 11 devotees of Dundee met me in groups and we had lively discussion on interesting subjects. Albeit tucked away from the mainstream land, living as if in a seclusion, the devotees of Holy Trio have undeniably kept up the spirit of love and service. The keen interest that the growing children of Dundee devotees took during discussions eminently suggested to me that they are really ‘thirsty’ for the right kind of knowledge about Hinduism.

Mother Durga at Dundee Centre
Mother Durga at Dundee Centre

I reached Glencoe by noon. My thinking that I would have a quiet lunch was taken a back seat when I found that old devoted lady had invited almost all the devotees of Glencoe! The evening program was held at the only Hindu Temple wherein a big cut-out of Devi Amba was kept in front of the presiding five deities – Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Vishnu, Ram. Here also the usual satsang pattern was adopted that included my Talks on ‘Three Functions of Energy’.

Mother Durga at Glencoe
Mother Durga at Glencoe

The children and devotees of Glencoe were always fascinating to me as their faces would instantly light up with devotion unbelievably. The post supper discussion went on and on till we realised that the time was fifteen minutes to one in the night and I rose for the rest! Next day from morning 8 to 11 the devotees and their children from Glencoe as well as Dundee assembled. The discussion continued till I got ready for departure for Ladysmith. They saw me off; and the parting was indeed so heart-rending especially when the children could not contain their tears!

Shrine of Ladysmith Centre
Shrine of Ladysmith Centre

Reached Ladysmith for the lunch. Selected devotees were there who all joined me in the sumptuous lunch that was served lovingly to all of us. Post-afternoon rest, I was taken to Ladysmith Centre where a strikingly enchanting shrine is there. Here also the usual pattern of satsang was followed with my Talks juxtaposed in between the items of program on the fifth night. ‘Mother’s Protection’ was the theme I chose to deal with. About 250 devotees who attended were served with supper in the nearby Civic Hall. Next day morning I went to the Centre where the Sunday School for children was in progress. I met all the different class students from kids level to adult level. I felt satisfied in witnessing the loving efforts put up by the voluntary teachers in imparting the cherished Hindu values through study of religious books.

Continued…

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.

Added 3 Slide shows…

Glimpses of Swamiji’s birthday celebration held at Glencoe, Ladysmith Satsang and Phoenix are placed here in the ‘child’ pages of ‘parent’ page “Slide Shows”. For viewing them please click the ‘child’ pages enumerated at the right sidebar!