Tag: heart

Digital Delights

If Sri Ramakrishna was a leaping flame of spiritual realization, Holy Mother was a steady glowing fire of God-consciousness. To the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, she was the goddess of wisdom in human form. To her disciples she was the Divine Mother herself. To her devotees she was a more real mother than their own earthly mother. To the seekers of truth she was the final word, and to sinners she was the last refuge.

Swami Adiswarananda, in his Introduction to the book – SRI SARADA DEVI, THE HOLY MOTHER Her Teachings and Conversations

– Translated by Swami Nikhilananda

Today is the janma tithi of the Holy Mother. On this happy occasion my heartfelt greetings to every one! When I was in India, it was always a special largesse for me to listen to the long-standing devotees who would lovingly explain how they were latched onto the ‘spiritual spell’ of Holy Mother, due to whom their lives got eventually transformed. And South Africa devotees too do not lag behind. Many here, have such wonderful episodes, listening to them is indeed a ‘sadhana’ for me.

One SA devotee, recalling her divine dream says that it makes her hair stand on ends and somewhat emotional …. emotional in the sense that, she longs within – would she ever see Mother face to face any time? I reproduce some excerpts from what she wrote to me:

“In my dream … I was cleaning the altar, and as I was about to clean the Holy Mother’s picture, when lo! and behold! Mother started talking to me! She told me that her head and neck was paining. I asked Mother, if I could perhaps massage Her head and back. When I went close to Mother almost touching Her………… I felt that Her hair was dripping with water.

Mother’s face was real and I was so close to Her… Her face was so motherly, so ordinary and so full of love…yet I saw an indescribable radiance.  I could see clearly her long black, slightly wavy hair, I was well pleased!  I could clearly mark her forehead, it had a red dot and red sindoor on the middle parting of Her hair.  I stared in bewilderment! After a long while, I could see myself telling Mother that … Her hair needs to be dried, (In my dream I am looking for a blow drier). I then saw that I needed to straighten Mother’s back because she was leaning in an awkward way. I gazed at Mother wondering if this is really true!

When I woke up, I was not my normal self, I had mixed emotions…. Is Mother in real pain? Is this some type of message for me? What was that She desired to indicate to me? But I knew IT WAS A DIVINE DREAM. I intuitively decided to go to the ashram immediately to check the picture of Mother. To my great amazement, I saw Mother’s picture leaning way back in such an uncomfortable way. I straightened the picture-frame, and placed it in the proper position. I cherish this dream because not only Mother utilised me as an instrument in Her work but also chose to convey me Her inconvenience.”

Here are some digital delights contributed by Dr S Adhinarayanan from New Delhi, India, who is now at Copenhagen for the Global Summit on Climate Change. Despite his busy schedule, he found time to prepare the below given portraits (I envy! How much his mind would have been involved in the rupa-dhyaana – meditation on form – of Holy Mother!) while readying his presentation – An Approach paper on “Microbial Solutions for a sustainable Global Environment”. We wish him a very successful session!

Sarada Devi

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Sarada Devi

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Sarada Devi

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SARADA DEVI

Be like a Bee!

'Krishnam vande jagadgurum' I bow down to Krishna, the World-Teacher - courtesy: HinduWebGraphics

Today we celebrate Gita jayanti. The Bhagavad Gita forms part of the great Indian Epic, the Mahabharata. The words of this “song celestial” have flowed from the Lord, Sri Krishna Himself. The Gita chanting is generally preceded with what is known as “Gita Dhyanam” – nine introductory verses in praise of Bhagavad Gita. Originally published in our quarterly magazine “JYOTI” of July-September 2007 issue, this article, focussed on seventh verse, was transcribed from the weekly Gita Talks that I deliver on Tuesdays, between 7 and 8 p.m. at the Ramakrishna Centre, Glen Anil.

Let us recollect what Swami Vivekananda says:

Gita is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy – curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work.

May this lotus of the Mahabharata, born in the lake of the words of the son of Parashara (Vyasa), sweet with the fragrance of the meaning of the Gita, with many stories as its stamens, fully opened by the discourses on Hari, the destroyer of the sins of Kali, and drunk joyously day by day by the six-legged bees of good men in the world, become the bestower of good to us.     Gita Dhyanam, 7

It is customary to recite the meditative verses (dhyana shlokas) before beginning the study of Srimad Bhagavad Gita proper.  The poet-devotee, who composed these nine verses, has charmingly explained the purpose, principle and the practice of the Gita in these meditative verses.

Vast and deep

In the above seventh verse, he stresses the utmost importance of the knowledge contained in the Mahabharata.  He says that the Gita is like a full-blown lotus, grown in the vast lake of words dictated by the son of the Sage Parashara, thereby meaning Sri Veda Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata).  The significance of not saying the name of Vyasa but indicating him as son of Parashara lies in the wonderful combination of wisdom of the Rishi with practical sense of a fisher woman, Satyavati who was the mother of Vyasa.  Sage Vyasa, like his father Parashara, had a broad, vast knowledge of the Vedas and like his mother, Satyavati, who would go deep into the river to catch fish, also went deep into the meaning of Vedas.

Petals and fragrance

The full-blown lotus has an extremely sweet fragrance and many soft petals.  The insight of the Gita is said to be the fragrance and the varied stories cum sub-stories that form the elaborate Mahabharata, the petals.  The lotus is full blown by the speech of Lord Sri Krishna, who is verily Hari Himself.

Bee Pic3The poet-devotee further says that in this world noble men joyously drink, day by day meaning again and again, the nectar issuing from the lotus flower like “a six-legged bee”.

The drink and the drunk

A bee continues its unending search for nectar from many flowers.  But it is the flower that is most beautiful and exuberantly filled with sweet honey that attracts it the most.  Likewise, we have a number of scriptures.  Of them, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which forms part of the world’s largest epic, the Mahabharata, contains that nectar which makes the learner go beyond birth and death.

The insight that the Gita provides in controlling our life’s destiny is unparallel.  The Gita gives us wonderful courage to deal with the many challenges that life poses.  In order to gain the rich experience that the Gita enumerates, noblemen – men of character – searching for the true meaning of life come to study the Gita.

The poet-devotee of the meditative verses compares a noble-minded person with the untiring bee.  Bees, unlike other insects or birds, go much deeper into flowers.  They go to the very source.

So it is clear that if we want to obtain the knowledge of the Gita, superficial study is not enough.  Merely chanting the Gita may give us a sense of peace; a little more study may lead us on a good path to enjoy the blessings of a noble life.  But only a deeper study can provide the knowledge of Atman (Soul) which is the real nectar of the Gita.  Like a bee, we must go deep – meditate deeply on each verse of the Gita.  This will light up the lamp of knowledge that is within each of us.  Mahapurush Maharaj, known as Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna once said, “…You must meditate on them.  Then, only will you assimilate them.  Hari Maharaj [Swami Turiyananda] used to meditate on each verse until he had mastered it.”

Legs that lead

Furthermore, the poet-devotee has used the words “six-legged” when describing the bee.  This also has a profound significance.  Merely being noble may not be sufficient to understand the inner meaning of the Gita.  Perhaps the man who is only “two-legged” has to acquire another “4 legs” in order to grasp the inner meaning of the words that flow from Lord Sri Krishna’s lips.

What then, are the “six-legs” that a noble man has to possess?  They are discrimination, detachment, devotion, deep yearning, deliberate effort and divine knowledge,.  Once a person of noble character possesses these “six-legs” he will be able to hold onto the slippery petals and drive himself deep into the nectar of inner meaning.  Therefore, a study once or twice is not enough.  “Again and again” one must devotedly pursue the study so that the bad samskaras – mental impressions – that are gained from birth to birth can be removed by continuous study of the Gita.

Thus the poet-devotee concludes in this verse of Dhyana Shloka on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, propounded by the Lord Himself, is great, bestows welfare and removes all the impurities that are born of this age (Kali Yuga).

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Speaking silently!

A picture is worth a thousand words indeed! So, who would not want to see the pictures speaking silently?

Diwali in Durban was as fascinating as freshly laden fragrance. Its joyful feelings of care and share wafted in the air everywhere. In all the functions that I attended, hamper distribution to poor families was the main item besides bursting fire-works, social gathering and of course sumptuous meals! The hard work that devotees offered in the form of seva to Master hardly escaped my notice.

Here below are some of the photos that can speak thousand words silently…Click the photo for a larger view!

Highlights from Hinduism Conference – Part I

Delightful dawn!
Delightful dawn!

The delightful dawn on the 6th September while driving from Durban, drew us close to one of the historically important town in the Northern part of KwaZulu Natal province, Ladysmith where the Conference on Hinduism was scheduled. A little more than 400 delegates started arriving in batches at the venue, Civic Centre Hall from 7.30 am onwards. The Conference has generated keen interest among the professionals like educators, advocates, social workers, psychologists, doctors and in an equal measure among the common Hindu population. I had said in my previous post that I would try to place a Report on the proceedings of this august Conference. My hearty thanks go to Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee, who has penned this brilliant Report – on the same day, in spite of the long distance to & fro travel – that would, I believe satisfy the curiosity of those who could not attend the Conference. I am giving below the Part I of the Report. I am also thankful to Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.

Report – Part I

Reantha Pillay

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From time immemorial the family has been the foundational unit of Hindu society; however, in today’s fast paced society, the family system of old seems to face obstacles at every corner.  Divorces, domestic abuse, lack of communication and the ever changing role of women – all these factors present serious challenges to Hindu families.  It is with this in mind that the Hinduism Conference for 2009 focussed on Hindu Families – Challenges and Solutions.  The aim of the Conference was to identify the emerging problems and equip the Hindu community to deal with them.

Admirable arrangement in Civic Centre Hall
Admirable arrangement in Civic Centre Hall

Ladysmith Sub-centre played host to this important event held at the Civic Centre from 9 am to 1 pm on Sunday, 6 September, 2009.  The tastefully decorated venue with the centre of stage occupied by the huge portraits of the Holy Trio, the hall, equipped with data projectors and rows of tables catered for the many delegates from all over KZN and allowed a comfortable environment to listen to the esteemed panel of  speakers.  At this stage I must compliment the Ladysmith Sub Centre on a most well-organised and enjoyable, educative conference.

Mellifluous chanting by Mataji
Mellifluous chanting by Mataji

The proceedings began with the Opening Prayer led by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji, Head of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. In her mellifluous voice, Mataji chanted the three most famous pranam-mantras on the Holy Trio. She was accompanied by another nun – Pravrajika Divyanandapranaji – who had recently come from India to stay and serve at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. This was the latter’s first visit to Ladysmith. The Ladysmith Subcentre welcomed her with an offering of flower bouquet.

Reception to the Revered new Mataji
Reception to the Revered new Mataji

Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA, gave his inaugural address.  The address posed the ever relevant question, “Does the Hindu family system have utility in the modern era?” Maharajji brought to the attention of the audience that the traditional family system is still valid and whatever disintegration that our society experiences, needs to be addressed in order to revive old values. Maharajji then looked at some of the challenges facing the Hindu family.

Firstly, Maharajji identified the lack of the extended family unit in modern times.  Here a humorous story about a daughter-in-law not wanting to disturb the “duties of the household” regaled the audience. On a more serious note, Maharajji looked at the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and culture that is being lost with this relinquishment of the extended family model. Secondly, Maharajji addressed the Inter-Religious and Intra-Religious divides that plague our Hindu marriages and highlighted the need to address this issue. Thirdly, Maharajji dealt with the eroding of the key concepts of Dharma and Karma in our family system. He highlighted rebirth as a means for the continuation of traditions and as service to society as well as the importance of self sacrifice for the good of the family, community, country and world at large.

Vimokshanandaji placing his view points
Vimokshanandaji placing his view points

In conclusion, he stressed the important role families play in society in the furtherance of our Hindu tradition and contrasted this to the unitary family system of the West. Hindu families are based on the age-old principle, Vasudeiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family permeated by God. The final message was that we need to urgently address the obstacles that prevent us from achieving this ideal.

Maharajji’s inaugural address set the scene perfectly for the four papers that were to follow. In an email conversation, a Counselling Psychologist had this to say about the Inaugural Address: …it was a pity that it was too short. Maharaj should consider presenting a paper in future. It is amazing that being in South Africa for only a few years that Maharaj has developed such insight into the lifestyles and family problems of people in South Africa. Maharaj has made some very interesting and valid points that I hope will be elaborated on in the future.

The first speaker of the morning was Ms Aruna Chetty, an ardent and long standing devotee of the Ashram as well as a social worker.  She is presently the Director of Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society. Ms Chetty’s topic was Creating Security and Family Stability. She began by outlining this concept of safety and security and focused first on the right ways of upbringing of the children. Ms Chetty advised the audience on four key issues.

Ms Aruna Chetty addressing the audience
Aruna Chetty addressing the audience

Firstly, that there are only two ways to teach your children lasting values and they are intense love and personal example. Secondly, children require a set of routine in order to feel stable and secure. Thirdly, one’s home must create a suitable environment for the child’s development. Here she provided a few simple tips to help improve the home environment such as daily meals together and a designated place to pray. Lastly, she warned busy parents that a child’s love cannot be bought by material goods and that it is important to focus on their moral and spiritual aspects and not merely their secular education. Ms Chetty highlighted commitment, communication and correctional discipline as three key concepts required to make a family safe and secure. Ms Chetty’s paper was highly practical and afforded parents a clear guide to creating stability and security in the home.

After the presentation of this paper the conference broke for tea.

to be continued…

A Hymn to Him!

Happy Sri Ganesh Chaturthi greetings!

Child Ganesha embracing Shiva-linga, Photo Courtesy: Rishi
Divine darling Ganesha embracing Shiva-linga, Photo Courtesy: Rishi

A Hymn to Him? Him, whom the entire Hindu world remembers before beginning anything anew; Him, whom Gauri-shankar, the parents of the universe (jagatah pitarau) praised for His wisdom ; Him, whom all the Gods, Goddesses, humans and other beings bow for removal of obstacles; today is the auspicious Sri Ganesh chaturthi.

Last year I reminisced my childhood days during Ganesh chaturthi celebration (see here). How the wonderful Lord Ganesha, who shines like a freshly risen sun (nava-udita-arka bhaasvaram) enlightened me of a fact of life! And, alongwith, in a lighter vein, I had talked of kozhukattai, the delectable sweet dish. I must confess here that my complaint(!) was well taken as challenge by one of our devotees of Ladysmith sub-centre, who exactly reproduced kozhukattai to my great wonder and delight too, as per the recipe! Ganesha bestowed on her siddhi (success) in her earnest attempt.

The worship of Ganesha was made an integral part of Hindu tradition by Adi Shankaracharya; It tells us about the panchaayatana puja. Five deities – GaneshaVishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Surya – are taken together for daily worship. Skanda that is Lord Murugan is also added bringing a title of great honour viz., shanmata sthapaka – “Founder of six Faiths” for Adi Shankaracharya.

I find our Centre in SA has published a Prayer Book which is very popular among our devotees and even among other organisations too. It has excellent hymns compiled by Swami Shivapadanandaji, the second President of our Centre. Its contents are neatly classified into Prayers, Bhajans and Kirtans, Stotrams and Aratis.

Generally hymns play a vital role in the evolution of spiritual life. As a child you start reciting it again and again along with the elders in the family and without any extra effort the whole hymn becomes byheart. The ideas of the hymn remain in the mind when you grow up. I remember vividly how I used to join the recital of hymns with my mother and other elders in the family, by the process of which several hymns became strongly embedded in memory. One such hymn was Ganesha Pancha-ratnam. The other was some captivating songs from the enchanting Thiruppugazh.

Now let me tell you about the hymn called Ganesha pancha-ratnam – the Gems-five on Ganesha. The author of this exquisite hymn on Ganesha is our eternal Guru Adi Shankaracharya. The metre, language, and the thoughts are exceptionally elevating to our bhakti mood. This poem is composed in a metre called pancha-chaamaram, which has four quarters of sixteen syllables each, and has a scheme of short-long-short-long syllables. The dance experts say that this ‘tadhIm-tadhIm’ gait endows it with a brisk, marching gait (imagine Ganesha walking!). The learned further add that the poets of the past exactly knew how to choose metres, and sounds which conveyed the import of the poem, not just lilting lyric.

This has been sung, creating a soul-satisfying experience, by no other than Karnatic maestro M S Subbulakshmi.

It would be wonderful if our devotees in SA as well as in other countries who do not know this particular hymn on Ganesha, can learn it. In order to get the tune for this hymn, I give below the youtube link for Ganesha pancharatnam. While listening to the tune, one can follow the words of the hymn given hereunder. I am thankful to Chennaionline.com for the English translation of the hymn.

Mudaa karaatha Modakam Sadaa Vimukti Saadhakam

Kalaa dharaava tamsakam Vilaasiloka Rakshakam

Anaaya Kaika Naayakam Vinasitebha Daityakam

Nataasubhaasu Naashakam Namaami Tam Vinaayakam

Meaning: I prostrate before Lord Vinaayaka who joyously holds modaka in His hand, who bestows salvation, who wears the moon as a crown in His head, who is the sole leader of those who lose themselves in the world. The leader of the leaderless who destroyed the elephant demon called Gajaasura and who quickly destroys the sins of those who bow down to Him, I worship such a Lord Ganesh.

Nateta raati Bheekaram Navodi taarka Bhaasvaram

Namat Suraari Nirjaram Nataadhi Kaapa Duddharam

Suresvaram Nidheesvaram Gajesvaram Ganeshvaram

Mahesvaram Samaashraye Paraatparam Nirantaram

Meaning: I meditate eternally on Him, the Lord of the Ganas, who is frightening to those not devoted, who shines like the morning sun, to whom all the Gods and demons bow, who removes the great distress of His devotees and who is the best among the best.

Samasta Loka Shankaram Nirasta Daitya Kunjaram

Dareda rodaram Varam Vare Bhavaktra Maksharam

Krupaa karam Kshamaakaram Mudaakaram Yasaskaram

Manaskaram Namaskrutaam Namaskaromi Bhaasvaram

Meaning: I bow down with my whole mind to the shining Ganapati who brings happiness to all the worlds, who destroyed the demon Gajasura, who has a big belly, beautiful elephant face, who is immortal, who gives mercy, forgiveness and happiness to those who bow to Him and who bestows fame and a well disposed mind.

Akimchanaarti Maarjanam Chirantanokti Bhaajanam

Puraari Poorva Nandanam Suraari Garva Charvanam

Prapancha Naasha Bheeshanam Dhananjayaadi Bhushanam

Kapola Daana Vaaranam Bhajaey Puraana Vaaranam

Meaning: I worship the ancient elephant God who destroys the pains of the poor, who is the abode of Aum, who is the first son of Lord Shiva (Shiva who is the destroyer of triple cities), who destroys the pride of the enemies of the Gods, who is frightening to look at during the time of world’s destruction, who is fierce like an elephant in rut and who wears Dhananjaya and other serpents as his ornaments.

Nitaanta kaanta Dantakaanti Mantakaanta Kaatmajam

Achintya Rupa Mantaheena Mantaraaya Krintanam

Hrudantarey Nirantaram Vasantameva Yoginaam

Tameka Danta Mevatam Vichintayaami Santatam

Meaning: I constantly reflect upon that single tusked God only, whose lustrous tusk is very beautiful, who is the son of Lord Shiva, (Shiva, the God of destruction), whose form is immortal and unknowable, who tears asunder all obstacles, and who dwells forever in the hearts of the Yogis.

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Prodigious Pritida

Sage Veda Vyasa
Veda Vyasa vast-minded

Today is the glorious Guru Purnima! A day to venerate worshipfully the vishaala-buddhi (vast-minded) Sage Veda Vyasa! A day to pay reverence prayerfully to one’s own spiritual preceptor! And all those tireless teachers from whom we learn any training lesson…On this auspicious occasion this is my humble homage to one of our late monks who made me understand the secret of Karma Yoga in a most unconventional manner! Priti Maharaj a man of simple habits was no doubt a real karma yogi whose selfless and weariless work I had seen in close quarters for more than a decade. He joined the Ramakrishna Order at its Karimganj centre (in the state of Assam) in 1951. He was an initiated disciple of Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj and had sannyasa (formal vows of monkhood) from Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj in 1961. He passed away on 10 February 2004 at the age of 73.

Prity Maharaj
Swami Prathamanandaji

It was a crowded shrine hall. Mother Durga glowed magnificently. A tune in kedaar raaga wafted in the air, weaving a melody, working to soothe my wavering mind. Curious to know whose captivating vocal it was, I just peeped in through the window. That was the first time in 1976 at Rahara temple hall where Durga Puja was on, that I saw Revered Prathamanandaji Maharaj who to everyone was dear ‘Pritida’.

His music drew me like a magnet; because so long I have been hearing within the Mission campus only bhajans that are simple and straight. Here was a monk who elaborated a raaga in his inimitable style. The first song that captured my attention was ‘Jaya Shiva Shankara’. When his music ended I was, as if, transported to another world where I could feel the enchanting raaga taking an enticing shape.

Relief and Rehabilitation

Just before the conclusion of my Training Centre period in Belur Math, along with four other brahmacharins, I was, in 1977, deputed to Rajahmundry where a massive relief work was started by the local Ramakrishna Mission centre. First three months went into providing primary relief. The Diviseema area of Andhra Pradesh was devastated beyond recognition by the surging tidal waves. Thousands of houses were washed away. More than 20,000 people died in the sea waters that entered into coastal villages.

Prityda with the celebrity N T Rama Rao at the construction site
Pritida with the cine-celebrity N T Rama Rao at the construction site. Courtesy: Swami Aksharatmananda of Ramakrishna Mission, Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, India

Our Headquarters at Belur Math urgently decided to construct 1100 new houses for the poorest of the poor in 11 villages bordering the sea coast – not a simple structure but cyclone proof shelters. A mammoth rehabilitation work had begun. Therein entered Pritida like a colossus taking the challenge head on, with whom I had the blessed opportunity to be with, day in and day out, month after month and year by year for almost a decade long since. Against insurmountable difficulties Revered Pritida struggled to make the rehabilitation work a great success. In order to get hollow bricks right at the spot, he created a huge brick manufacturing unit at Puligadda camp on the bank of the Krishna river with hundreds of local poor people getting casual employment. Seeing the hard working monk, the great cine-celebrity and later Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh – N T Rama Rao came in with his helping hand of large donations.

a brahmachari performing hawan for the peace of lives lost during tidal wave devastation
a brahmachari performing hawan for the peace of lives lost during tidal wave devastation. Courtesy: Swami Aksharatmananda of Ramakrishna Mission, Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, India

Under the scorching heat of Andhra, at the coastal area, a two-hour drive from Vijayawada, he used to work tirelessly knowing not what the time was or when to eat in the Rehabilitation camp. Meals used to be taken at random – many a time standing on the veranda. Several of his monastic assistants would stare at him in utter disbelief. Available at all time to everyone, oblivious to his personal needs, there he encountered serious stomach problem, which started draining his energy. Before beginning the Rehabilitation work in a massive scale, he gave the idea to perform a hawan for the peace of those thousands of lives lost by the tidal wave devastation and he gave the blessed opportunity to me to do the shodasha upachaara puja (16 item-worship) and hawan which I gladly did on the sea sands amidst fierce winds.

Memorable Medical Work

Once the Andhra work was over, Headquarters asked Pritida to take up the responsibility of running a newly started  medical centre at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. He was appointed the Head of that hospital. He needed one assistant immediately to start the work there and his choice deliberately fell upon me. I did not know whether I would be able to rise to his expectations because the place was absolutely strange to me. People were indigenous tribals. The culture was unknown. The path was unchartered.

Ramakrishna Mission Hospital at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh - planned executed and run by Prityda for more than two decades
Ramakrishna Mission Hospital at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh - planned, executed and run by Pritida for more than two decades

Here at Itanagar under his umbrella cover, I saw before my eyes the blooming of a fresh venture with its own inherent problems. It was a treat to witness how a monk, supposedly innocent of worldly intricacies, tackled from multi various angles one by one troubles galore.

Be it laying the roads, aligning the buildings, fixing the electricals or designing the wards, recruiting and training the staff – from doctors down to sweepers -everything would come  under the scrutinising scan of his sharp eyes.  Here at Itanagar through his watchful eyes I came to know the tips and tricks of ‘man’ management. Pritida was massively brilliant in outwitting the manoeuvre of mischief mongers. Here at Itanagar under his protective wings I was pulled out of my own created cocoon and was exposed to the vast vagaries of people’s mood. It was Pritida who took me in his arms as it were and guided step by step so as to escape unscathed. Here at Itanagar with his able tutelage I had first hand experience in realising that mere outward personality cannot carry anybody farther; only a well balanced interior of mind and heart could sweep the feet off everyone. Revered Pritida was a shining example. He rarely paid attention to his attire. Have I not found my shirts or dhotis missing from the alna (wooden open shelf) only to spot them on his person! Such was his childlike nature that would not fail to charm anyone.

Utterly Unattached

He used to say that his brain functioned so fast that to put the ideas on to paper was almost impossible for him. Even while talking to others, the words from his mouth would flow like a torrent. I received many times his deep appreciation for my secretarial assistance in putting his thoughts in black and white. Many would think that Prityda was restless and could not stay put steadily in one place. Even supposedly enlightened persons viewed him as an enigma. That was not the case. I had seen him lying down on a cot, absolutely carefree, unmindful of any hullabaloo outside and sipping hot tea in a nonchalant manner but seriously hitting on a pleasing solution to a perplexing problem! His involvement in that Centre was total.  Was he attached to the work that he created and cared for, nurtured and nourished? No. At the time of leaving that Centre, on transfer back to Belur Math, he left with a simple bag containing a pair of clothes! Thats all that he possessed!

Ramana Maharishi
Ramana Maharishi

Revered Pritida had enormous admirers among the monks as well as devotees. People flocked to him with their grievances possibly having no method to set right. He took delight in tackling such circumstances. Be it an inter-caste marriage, or falling in penury Revered Pritida was there with ever ready solution in his pocket, always smiling like Ramana Maharishi!

Can I really exhaust about a multifaceted personality? How much have I known about him? Somehow my mind is unable to come to the terms of his termination; rather the thoughts of his traits do create ripples of admiration and astonishment. Slowly and slowly they rise and gather in my lonely moments, whirling into bigger circles like the emergence of smooth flowing air-bubbles, looming large over the head. Prodigious Pritida cannot be forgotten.

When alive he compelled attention, more – when no more.

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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Shiva and Seva

Shivaratri
Courtesy: Dr S Adhinarayanan, India

Happy Maha Shivaratri Greetings to all !

Maha  Shivaratri is a momentous occasion for most of the Hindus in South Africa. It favours a deep fervour to their religious feelings in as much as for long twelve hours in each phase of day and night, devotees not only keep vigil in the night but also follow fasting to ritualistic performances.

Lord Shiva at Ramakrishna Temple HQ
Lord Shiva at Ramakrishna Temple HQ

Our Ramakrishna Centre observes Maha Shivaratri from 6 pm to next 6 am. The period is divided into four sessions of three hours each. And each session has puja, pouring of milk, curd, ghee, honey in respective four sessions, pasting of chandan, offering of vilva leaves, garlanding of flowers etc, arati, discourses, a combination of bhajan and kirtan. After attending initial puja at HQ, I spent my first session at Phoenix sub-centre where more than 400 devotees had assembled.  A large number of devotees had to be accommodated in the adjoining covered space where CCTV had been installed for that occasion. The topic of my Talk was ‘Shiva-shakti’. The second session was at HQ where the theme of my Talk was on Maheshwara and the Monk, comparing the salient features between Lord Shiva and Swami Vivekananda.

Discourse on 'Shiva Panchakshara Stotram'
Discourse on 'Shiva Panchakshara Stotram' at Chatsworth Subcentre

Third session was at our Chatsworth sub-centre where I took up the panchakshara mantra (Five-letter mantra) of Shiva, “Om namah shivaaya” for discussion. This was based on the stotram composed by the great Adishankaracharya. And in the fourth session I was at Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram where I spoke about Master and Shiva. Back at HQ at 5 am and witnessed the havan ceremony where devotees performed the yajna.

Offering holy Vilva leaves to Shivalinga at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram
Offering holy Vilva leaves to Shivalinga at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram

Devotee Pravesh took me by his car to all these places hopping from one to another in quick succession so that everywhere I was present timously.  And the day being spent on fasting and thinking of Lord Shiva, the night spent again in speaking about Him and His glory. Indeed a very soul-fulfilling experience!

Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the pilgrim town Rameshwaram came to my mind when on this Maha Shivaratri holy night I started recollecting my memorable experience in one of the jyotirlinga spots. In that Address, Swamiji clearly spells out the intimate connection of Seva (service) to Shiva.

Swami Vivekananda

 This is the gist of all worship — to be pure and to do good to others. He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak, and in the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image, his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, or creed, or race, or anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.

Let me narrate how a poor woman in one place of pilgrimage, illiterate yet knew what is real worship of Shiva. 

When I went for darshan of the famous jyotirlinga at Bhimashankar in Maharashtra state some years ago, from the bus I could see the distant black clouds hovering the hills. Walking from the bus stand to the temple through the small vendors’ shops and watching the selling of all and sundry items of worship and interest to pilgrims was, as enchanting as drenching in the drizzle.

It was noon by the time I reached the holy temple. After darshan, when I was sitting at the entrance in utter quietness, I saw a lady coming towards me. She briskly asked me, “baba, have you had your meal?” I replied in the negative. Undoubtedly I was indeed hungry but had no inclination to go to the roadside eateries. She then asked me to accompany her to her home which, as she showed, was up in the hills. I was, obviously hesitant – should I go or not? Was it proper to go with an unknown woman? and what dangers might be lurking? – as is known well that the places of pilgrimage do have the usual human perils too.

Yet, finally I decided to go as I felt Master is with me and was confident that no evil shall befall. Reaching her home, in that biting cold and amidst the rains, I found her child playing with her little brother. It was easy for me to establish rapport with those children. Within half an hour the lady served me hot rotis with alu sabji. Did I feel it was nectar like? Yes, the love and affection that beamed in her face while feeding me cannot be forgotten.

After food, she raised some questions about some puranic tales. My answers seemed to be satisfying to her. In my narration, I drew some of the similes spoken by Sri Ramakrishna to her attention and she ran inside her kitchen and brought a small photo of Thakur with great joy! I felt that Master only brought me to her home as He knows where to feed His son! 

And taking leave of her and thanking profusely for her cordial, hearty hospitality, I offered a few Rupees that I had. The unlettered village woman’s face turned sour and she quipped angrily whether I am paying the charges for the meal that she supplied. She scolded me saying, was it not that she served me thinking that Lord Shiva had come to her home as atithi (honoured guest)?  It was quite difficult to convince her of the necessity to have that amount. Finally when I said that she should spend the money on her children’s dress for the ensuing Diwali, she hesitantly relented.

Poor indeed but with what a rich heart;  ever ready to serve a sadhu signifying that Rural India is such that it cannot see a monk in ochre robe go unfed.  India is not a punya bhumi (blessed land) merely on poetical terms…

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Mother’s melting moments

The 155th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi

Living Divine Presence at Ladysmith Subcentre
Living Divine Presence at Ladysmith Subcentre

December is the Month of the Mother! The 155th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi is celebrated all over the world. Here in South Africa our Sub centres and Satsang groups did not lag behind. On 1st December Verulam celebrated; on 7th Glencoe; on 14th Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville; on 16th Ladysmith; on 20th HQ; on 21st Pietermaritzburg where, in all the places, I gave key-note addresses.

This week it was an inspiring trip to Ladysmith in Northern Natal during the celebration. In all the centres, the devotees were enthusiastic, keen and were interested to know more and more. Several sessions of discussions at different devotees’ places were held.

On the tithi puja day, from 6 am to 6 pm a relay japa yajna was joined by families of devotees. After hawan, in the evening, when my turn to speak came, I dwelt on the ever compassionate Mother who was so sympathetic to feed the hungry. Her grace transcended the rules and regulations and embraced the people living in dire poverty as Her own.

I was moved by that anecdote told by Swami Apurvananda in his reminiscences about Holy Mother, an extract of  which I reproduce below:

Franz Dvorak (1862–1927), a painter from Prague, inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna made several paintings of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi
Franz Dvorak (1862–1927), a painter from Prague, inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna made several paintings of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi

In the evening when I went to her again, I found her on the veranda of her mud hut cutting vegetables, with her legs stretched out… We chatted for some time and then she wanted to know how famine relief work was carried out. From her words it was evident that she was much distressed by the plight of the famine-stricken.

I described how we went from door to door distributing coupons among the poor, how we gathered information about their needs and miserable circumstances, how they collected rice in exchange for coupons, adding that women were also given saris sometimes. In this context, I narrated an incident which moved Mother deeply.
I described how one morning, when out on a tour of the villages where relief operations were being carried out, I discovered that none of those receiving rice from us was at home. Obviously, they had gone out to work. Those who worked were not eligible for the dole of rice. So I proceeded to investigate and found most of them sowing paddy in knee-deep slush in a paddy field outside the village.
On advancing in that direction, I noticed from a distance a woman labourer leaving the field and hiding herself behind a pile of paddy saplings. On enquiring from others, I learnt that she had delivered a baby that previous night, it was with that baby she had come to the field to work. Driven by hunger she was sowing paddy, leaving the infant wrapped in a rag in the corner of the field. If it was known that she was working in the field, she would not get rice from us. So having seen me from a distance, she was trying to hide from me.
I was much disturbed thinking of the dire distress that could compel a woman, who had given birth to a child just the night before, to come to work in the field with the newborn. It was a terrible shock. I approached the woman, and in a choked voice, just said,”Do not worry, Mother, I shall not stop your quota of rice.” This helped her muster enough courage to fold her hands and say, “Sir, I’m going through unbearable hardship. That’s why I’ve come to work.” For one days work in the field she would get two seers of paddy.
Mother shuddered with horror on hearing the story. Almost in tears, she exclaimed, “What are you saying! So fresh from childbirth she had come to work in the field! It is not right to stop the dole of rice in such circumstances. Son, you did the right thing. Master will bless you.” Then she prayed to Master, as if hurt, “Master! Can’t you see all this? Such suffering of people! How can people carry on in such miserable conditions! You have to do something for their deliverance!” Her anguished words still seem to ring in my ears. Mother was compassion personified – a fervent prayer incarnate.
Swami Nischalananda, Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA feeding the hungry
Swami Nischalananda feeding the hungry in an organised scale

Feeding the hungry has become part and parcel of our religious Order all over the world. Swami Nischalananda, the late Founder and the First President of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa initiated a much needed Nutrition Program in 1953. This Program did play an important role in alleviating hunger and suffering, not only amongst children, but also adults in all communities. Working in the midst of impoverished communities and a wide range of organisations, the Program has been successfully able to reach the poor, destitute, unemployed, abused and disabled. The Centre and all the sub-centres and satsang groups are engaged in feeding programmes in their respective communties with remarkable precision. The Youth members of the Centre, at HQ and all its branches take pride in assisting this feeding program and perform it as Karma Yoga. The contributions from the willing donors, small or big, have made this Scheme eminently reachable to the unreached.

Hamper distribution
Hamper distribution

On a weekly basis, sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables are distributed in the greater Durban area. Further, cooked nutritious meals are served regularly in these areas. A monthly distribution of 2 tons of rice, 800 kg of dhall and 100 kg of salt is maintained by the Centre and supplemented with assorted vegetables and fruit, canned foods, basic grocery items, lentils etc.

Diwali Hampers

Food Hampers consisting of: rice, dhall, salt (both coarse and fine), cooking oil, canned foods, jam, dried beans, sugar and cake flour are distributed to over 1000 indigent families during Diwali. Several sub-centres and satsang groups of the Centre were provided with grocery to augment their own hampers for distribution in their respective areas. In addition to hampers, cooked meals are served to needy families.

The following are beneficiaries of the Centre’s most popular Nutrition Programme:

  • Abalindi Welfare Centre (incorporating the Abalindi Frail Care Centre, Orphanage and Crèche)
  • Kwa Mashu Ekusizaneni Children’s Home (a home that caters for orphans and children affected by the AIDS pandemic)
  • Verulam Day & Pakco Frail Care Centre
  • Dawncrest Primary School
  • A M Moolla Spes Nova School
  • Phoenix (a school for cerebral palsied children)
  • Phoenix Alcoholic Rehabilitation Centre – Grocery hampers and a selection of vegetables are donated to the Home on a weekly basis
  • Zimisele AIDS Centre – Kwa Mashu
  • Ramakrishna eThembeni Home
  • Thokomala Hospice Association – Effingham Heights
  • Zion Congregational Church of S. A.
  • Redcliff informal settlement – Verulam
  • Welbedacht informal settlement – Chatsworth


Milk of kindness

Swami Vivekananda on Lord Buddha’s heart
He was the only man who was ever ready to give up his life for animals to stop a sacrifice. He once said to a king, “If the sacrifice of a lamb helps you to go to heaven, sacrificing a man will help you better; so sacrifice me.” The king was astonished. And yet this man was without any motive power. He stands as the perfection of the active type, and the very height to which he attained shows that through the power of work we can also attain to the highest spirituality… I wish I had one infinitesimal part of Buddha’s heart.
…what did Buddha say with his dying breath? “None can help you; help yourself; work out your own salvation.” He said about himself, “Buddha is the name of infinite knowledge, infinite as the sky; I, Gautama, have reached that state; you will all reach that too if you struggle for it.” Bereft of all motive power, he did not want to go to heaven, did not want money; he gave up his throne and everything else and went about begging his bread through the streets of India, preaching for the good of men and animals with a heart as wide as the ocean.
…In Buddha we had the great, universal heart and infinite patience, making religion practical and bringing it to everyone’s door…
Buddha photo courtesy : thusness

During the weekly satsang on last Saturday, in my Talks on Buddha, I dwelt upon the Buddha’s infinite compassion to the suffering beings of this world and how much adoration Swami Vivekananda had for the Buddha’s heart! Today being Buddha Purnima, I want to share with my readers a glimpse of that Buddha’s heart that I witnessed some years ago in our Most Revered President Maharaj, Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji whose birthday happily falls on Buddha Purnima!

It was the year 2002 when the present President Maharaj, most Revered Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj visited Ranchi Sanatorium. His stay during that period coincided with Buddha Purnima, the well-known thrice blessed day due to the fact that on the same purnima tithi falls Buddha’s birthday, His Nirvana day and His Mahaprayan day.That was also a thrice blessed Day indeed for the Sanatorium devotees. In the words of one devotee from Kolkata, Debraj Mitra (thanks Debraj! for the photo courtesy) who was present on that day: “Indeed, May 26 2002 was  a thrice blessed day, as we were privileged to witness three major events on that day. Firstly, in the morning, President Maharaj replaced the old photos of THAKUR, SRI SRI MAA & SWAMIJI  with new ones in the shrine. Secondly, Maharaj released the Commemorative Souvenir on Revered Swami Gambhiranandaji’s Centenary and also all the monks celebrated Maharaj’s birthday. Thirdly, in the evening, Revered Maharaj delivered a lecture on Lord Buddha and then he followed it up with a guided meditation – A  BONUS.”

Revered Atmasthanandaji had worked at this centre as Assistant Secretary way back from 1952 to 58. He knew all about the poverty that surrounds in the neighbouring villages. His keen observation has not missed the malnutrition prevalent among the tribal children. While taking morning walk, during his visit to Sanatorium in 1999, on the road leading to Indoor wards, suddenly he turned to me and said, “Why don’t you start giving milk to the children here? I see your dairy farm has grown in size and the milk is very good indeed.” he continued after a pause, “How much milk we pour on Shivalinga! Just imagine! Shiva will be truly pleased if we can only pour milk in these children’s stomachs!

That was it! Immediately the scheme of feeding milk to 100 Children was started. We would obtain fresh milk from our own Dairy farm within the campus. It was just situated on the back of our Ashrama kitchen. But from where the required money will come? By blessings of the Revered Maharaj the scheme started attracting kind-hearted people all around who began sending their donations. I remember the first donor was my gurubhai Ranjit Sinha who immediately paid the money. Well, the scheme that started with 100 children initially began to grow so fast that it doubled within two years. Now I understand, it caters to 280 children.

It was sight to see the children coming in queue from the Vivekananda Vidyalaya to Ashram first, and after making pranam to the Holy Trio at the shrine, they would march on to the central kitchen where they would be fed with 200 ml of milk with bakery made rusks. On the way if they happen to see me or any other Maharaj, they would all in chorus shout loudly Pranam Maharaj!  Today that sweet sound of the children is reverberating in my ears diffusing the deterrent distance between India and South Africa! 

 

A Video on an Address on “Service as Worship of the Divine”

Public Meeting on “Service as Worship of the Divine” held in Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi on the occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebration of Sri Ramakrishna Temple. Here is a video of an address by Swami Vimokshananda given on the above occasion on 18 November 2007. Of course the Address was delivered in Hindi.