Tag: love

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.

Remembering the redeemer

Enchanting eight day function
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.


Satsang Style

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.

Image courtesy: Madhumita, Kolkata

In tune

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.

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Implementing ideas

Annual Conference on Hinduism

A Report

by Deveshnie Govender

Religion forms the building blocks of any individual’s life. In the rapidly changing society which is being bombarded with Westernization and technological advancement many of us face the dilemma of deferring from our routes and are faced with the predicament of losing sight of our ultimate goal of life: God Realization. With this in mind the Annual Hinduism Conference attempts to revive our faith and re instill the crucial values of Hinduism and our Religion.

the Hall tastefully decorated with audience

Dundee Sub-centre played the role of hosts to the last year’s Annual Hinduism Conference which proceeded from 9 am till 1 pm on Sunday, 3 September, 2011 at the Dundee Moth hall. Upon entering, the welcoming pictures of the Holy Trio provided for the central attraction and together with a colour co-ordinated tasteful deco, provided a hearty environment for the devotees as well as the esteemed panel of speakers.

I am happy to present here a Report written specially for this Blog by one of our Dundee Sub-centre’s youth members. Ms Deveshnie Govender is presently studying for Bachelor of Accounting Science at Johannesburg in the University of Witwatersrand.

Inaugural address

The proceedings began with Prayer to the Holy Trio. Inauguration of the function was done by Ms R D Bedassi who is the chairperson of the Talana Museum Board of Trustees as well as the Treasurer of the Aryan Benevolent Home in Glencoe as well as the 1860 Legacy Foundation. She is also a member of the Child Welfare of South Africa, Glencoe branch. She is a reputed for her involvement in different community welfare projects.

Being a senior educator in the Northern KZN region Ms Bedassi pointed out the richness of our cultural heritage and emphasised that the greatest threat that we face today is the  challenge of an identity crisis. She discussed the law of Karma, pointing out that good Karma is created through living a dharmic life. She discussed 9 Hindu values which lead to the attainment of moksha.

  • Satyam: Truth. All should lead a life of honesty and compassion.
  • Astheyam: We should guard against greed and selfishness.
  • Daya: We should practise compassion and sympathy, and be kind and merciful.
  • Shanti: Patience, forgiveness and tolerance should be the hallmark in our life.
  • Arjavam: We should practise simplicity and straightforwardness.
  • Madhuryam: Sweetness and disposition should be of prime importance to us.
  • Dama: We should practice self-control and not act upon impulse.
  • Dana: Give, teach, purify and protect.
  • Akalmasham: We should attempt to live a life that is free of sin. This will lead to a positive action resulting in a positive reaction.

She concluded that we should attempt to prevent bad deeds and be non-judgmental. It was with this inspiring inauguration that the function was officially begun.

Key-note address

The first address which could also be classified as the Key-note address was by our Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, the President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA.

He pointed out that many of our Hindu youth are not able to give clear answers when questioned by youths from other religions about our scriptures. It is because Hinduism has many scriptures. Hinduism has delved into every facet of spiritual life and human experience, there is, therefore a great treasure-house of spiritual literature, any one of them passing off as an important Hindu scripture. Generally, the Upanishads are regarded as the umbrella under which they all fall. However, the Vedas also are pivotal. Any sect, new or old, wanting to be regarded as a Hindu sect must be able to justify its principles and teachings on the basis of the teachings of the Upanishads or the Vedas.

Upon analysis, we find that some of the ideas have been lost. However, the Bhagavad Gita is regarded as the very quintessence of Upanishads and Vedas. We find that every saint has brought the Bhagavad Gita into their teachings, thus showing the universality of the Bhagavad Gita. It speaks to all humanity for which Hinduism stands.

Sri Ramakrishna said that the gist of the Gita can be found in the repetition of the
word “gita” ten times, which then becomes tagi, meaning ‘renunciation’. Master
emphasized that more than just reading scriptures, putting the teachings into practice was more essential! Maharaj said that practising five ideas with faith, sincerity and dedication was far more superior than learning off the scriptures by rote.

He further added that we were blessed to have the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as our modern scripture, and doubly blessed that it is available in English. Master is the personification of the Vedas and hence all the scriptures are within him.

Maharaj’s paper was extremely enlightening and uplifting. Maharaj quenched the spiritual thirst among us and managed to pacify the scriptural turmoil within our minds. It was on this high note that the conference broke for Tea and snacks.

Panelist’s presentation on Parenting

The second speaker was Dr HB Parbhoo who is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. He is also the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Dr Parbhoo is also a specialist physician in Durban.

His paper “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”, aimed to resolve the dilemma numerous parents face. He dealt with the theme of protection versus pleasure, guided growth with Self Responsibility. He discussed how the past values (hard work, sacrifice, good habits and education) which were treasured and admired are now being neglected in search for enjoyment and entertainment. He emphasized the fundamental importance of creating a loving, proper environment for children, an environment where children have the opportunity to explore and express themselves. The theme of protection versus pleasure was also discussed whereby the child has to realize their growth is their own responsibility. “My Life”.

If parents do not guide and provide a pertinent role model for their children, they seek for it in the media, and so adopt bad habits. He gave a guideline to parents: provide love in the first five years, then discipline for the next 10 years, when the child reaches 16; the parent should attempt to become their friend. Through performing and completing one task at a time, being ever-vigilant, we will develop mind control and will power. He said that we should not blame others for our faults, that we should mind our own business, make ourselves perfect and others will become perfect in our eyes.

Dr Parbhoo’s paper was higly relevant and intriguing for both parents as well as children.

Panelist’s presentation on Harmony of Four Yogas

The third speaker was Ms Indrani Basdeo who is the Secretary of the Etete Satsung group. She is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. She occupies the career of a legal manager in a financial company.

Ms Basdeo attempted to enlighten us upon the 4 yogas. As humans we are all in an endless search for real peace and happiness. Through the grace of our divine Lord, Swami Vivekananda gave us the nectar of Vedanta; however this gift remained unopened. Yoga is the union of the individual soul with the almighty Lord. In the attainment of this one goal there are various different paths according to our temperaments.

These 4 yogas are: Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Bhakti yoga – Emotional Path, the relationship between the devotee and God.

Jnana Yoga– Intellectual Path, the reading and studying of the scriptures. This involves intellectual discrimination. The necessity for us to discriminate from the real and the unreal leading to spiritual realization, the expansion of our intellect. It was here that Ms Basdeo used a funny story of a camper and doctor for better understanding. They both went camping, when the camper told the doctor to look up and tell him what he saw, the doctor provided a list of stars and planets! When the doctor asked the camper what he saw, he simply replied “our tent has been stolen!”

Karma Yoga – working- This involves selfless service in the spirit of worship. The essence of Karma Yoga is selfless service. “Numerous individuals think, if I help what will happen to me, however a great individual does it for no gain”. It is considered as a spiritual action. The secret of action is purity and serenity of mind.

Raja Yoga – Spiritual Path- This includes the meditation and prayer aspect. By concentrating our mind, it becomes much more powerful thus providing us with a better quality of life. She also used a story to illustrate this and linked it to handling turbulence in our lives such as traffic jams.

It was here that Ms Basdeo posed the question of “How do we train our mind? “  She provided the answer of constant practice and dispassion. Swami Vivekananda says that the 4 yogas are capable of taking us to supreme infinite knowledge and bliss. Many question which is the best to practice? The best is a combination of all four as this results in maximum usage and maximum benefits that will lead us into reaching our goal more rapidly.  The Harmony of the 4 Yogas are best given in the Bhagavad Gita. In conclusion she provided us with an intriguing element called  “sandwich sadhana”!

First slice: Dedicate everything to God in the morning. Filling: Work performed. Other slice: In the night dedicate all your actions to God.

We should attempt to open Swami Vivekananda’s unopened gift thus pursuing peace and happiness. It was a well prepared and presented paper. The stories and parables used definitely made for easier memory.

Panelist’s presentation on Relevance of Rabindranath Tagore

The last paper of the Conference was delivered by Ms Raisha Singh, a member of the Newcastle Sub-centre who also acts as the course co-ordinator of the Faculty of Peace Studies, Spirituality and Culture run by the Ramakrishna Centre. Professionally she occupies the post of the Ladysmith Campus Manager.

She addressed on the Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore‘s message of wisdom and its relevance in today’s society. The following 6 ideas were highlighted:

Peace and Harmony

The Unity of Man

Liberation and emancipation of woman

Divinity within us

Rural Reconstruction:

Inner Turmoil

Ms Raisha Singh highlighted how we are touched by the meaningful enormous literature penned by Rabindranath Tagore, creating a new art of living. He translated the essence of creative impulses into social context. His writing and the wisdom of it surpasses time and space. She emphasized the importance of interpreting Indian philosophy and religion and expanding our horizon of love. In conclusion, Ms R Singh elaborated on Rabindranath Tagore to such an extent that he is well known as an extremely great personality that made him win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The relevance of the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore is especially appropriate in the 150 years celebration of arrival of Indian indentured labourers.

Audience Response

The Conference was concluded with a panel discussion led by our Revered Maharaj. It was here that Maharaj in his inimitable way, summarized the main concepts of the three speakers. He deeply appreciated the time given by the delegates by attending the Conference and listening to the learned panelists. But that was not enough, he added. Maharaj exhorted the audience to ‘implement the ideas’ that have sunk into their minds so that the lives of elders become an example to the youth and children.

Prompted by Maharaj, youth were asked to provide their opinions or observations. Nibha Ramkelawan, a student devotee, provided an exceptional response highlighting the relevance and importance of our organization and the proper moral grounding it provides. She elaborated that in a Christian pre-dominant schools, the youth often faced with various challenges and it was through learning from Conferences, literature and guidance and through the grace of our Master, the Hindu youth overcome these. To other topical questions fielded at the paper presenters, I should confess, that the learned panelists definitely did not lag behind in giving quality responses to them.

In conclusion

This report will not be complete without the mentioning of the Director of Ceremonies, Ms Ashnee Jaggath an eminent educator of Danhauser secondary and devotee of the Dundee Sub-centre. The spirited way she started the programme, vigorous manner she steered the responses and professional control she exercised over the floor and the exceptional dynamism she displayed in directing the programme cannot but be applauded.

And kudos to the Dundee Sub-centre Chairperson Mr Shaiel Chunder and all the members of its Committee for making everyone feel absolutely comfortable.

Through the grace of our divine Master, it was evident that the audience and delegates left the Conference feeling enriched and motivated to deal with challenges and far more knowledgable on certain aspects of Hinduism. The Conference was undoubtedly an incomparable success and definitely an annual event we await with bated breath!

Hari Om tat sat! Jai Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu!

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Divinity Vs Morality

To any blogger, queries from readers are indeed valuable. ‘Comments’ section in blogs admirably fulfills the need by actually facilitating two-way communication between the writer and the reader. I try to answer many of the queries that come to me as response to what was written earlier in this Blog.

It is not uncommon also to get fresh queries unconnected to any of the Posts that I wrote. Perhaps the reader feels a sort of comfort in asking those questions that are not discussed about but indirectly reading my responses written with a personal touch, is encouraged to ask.

Recently AG, one devotee-reader (?) (because I do not know yet this person!) asked a one-line query:
“Is it true that morality has nothing to do with Divinity?”
Why this question arose in her mind was because she “was told this by another…..on Facebook…”. Fair enough! 

I am giving below what I replied to her.

Dear AG-
According to Vedanta, the Divinity is within us and is pure, untainted, immutable, etc. Therefore, no karma, good or otherwise, will affect it. It is thus easy (most of the times wrongly) to conclude that there can be no connection between morality and the divinity of the soul.

1. From the point of view of sadhana:
Sri Ramakrishna does not tell us so. A man who led an immoral life still said that his soul could not be affected in any way, giving the above principle as defence. Sri Ramakrishna was irritated ‘I spit on that Vedanta that teaches so!’

2. All our great Teachers and spiritual luminaries were men and women of great moral and ethical standing. In fact, one may say that their greatness lay in no small measure upon their moral basis of their existence.

3. It is therefore that we find in the ancient Upanishads, Gita, Ramayana, and the modern scriptures like the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, etc, such an emphasis on right conduct.

4. In the Yoga Sutras of Rishi Patanjali: Yama and Niyama (the do’s and don’ts of spiritual life – the basic moral code of conduct) are presented first, and then only the the other steps (asana, etc ) follow.

5. The recommended steps in any spiritual practice does nothing more than reveal the Divinity that is hidden from us. Just as scum covers the surface of the pool and we cannot see the water, so too ignorance / attachments / desires /actions (good / bad) / egotism, cover the atman. Sadhana is a means of removing ignorance – as much as one sees the clear water only when the scum is removed.

6. The instruments to do this are the very same instruments that will bring about release from the samsara chakra – cycle of births and deaths.
Cf: the chariot image in Katha Upanishad. The soul is the master of the chariot, the body is the chariot, the intellect is the charioteer, the mind, is the rein.
In the ordinary being, as Swami Yatiswarananda says (in Meditation and Spiritual Life – I hope and wish that you must get a copy through RH) that the soul is drunk; intellect, the charioteer, has fallen unconscious; the reins, the mind, have become slack; the horses, the senses, are running wild. And a great disaster awaits .
Unless we do something. That is lead a controlled life based on moral principles.

7. Our natural tendency is for us to revolve towards the world… for gain, name, fame, etc. When we turn away from this tendency, then begins religion and morality (Swami Vivekananda ~ : Non-attachment is complete self abnegation)

8. That which is selfish is immoral, and that which is unselfish is moral.

9. All great teachers and social reformers had this in common — all were unselfish; had turned away from their little self to the rest of the world identifying with the Universal Self.
-Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda

According to the Advaita philosophy, the differentiation of matter hide the real nature of man; but the latter really has not been changed at all. In the lowest worm, as well as in the highest human being, the same divine nature is present. The worm form is the lower form in which the divinity has been more overshadowed by Maya consisting of the three gunas; that is the highest form in which it has been least overshadowed. Behind everything the same divinity is existing, and out of this comes the basis of morality.

“Do not injure another. Love everyone as your own self, because the whole universe is one. In injuring another, I am injuring myself; in loving another, I am loving myself.” From this also springs that principle of Advaita morality which has been summed up in one word – self-abnegation.

The Advaitin says, this little personalised self is the cause of all my misery. This individualised self, which makes me different from all other beings brings hatred and jealousy and misery, struggle and all other evils. And when this idea has been got rid of, all struggle will cease, all misery vanish. So this is to be given up. We must always hold ourselves ready, even to give up our lives for the lowest beings. When a man has become ready even to give up his life for a little insect, he has reached the perfection which the Advaitist wants to attain; and at that moment when he has become thus ready, the veil of ignorance falls away from him, and he will feel his own nature. Even in this life, he will feel that he is one with the universe. For a time, as it were, the whole of this phenomenal world will disappear for him, and he will realise what he is.

All that we call ethics and morality and doing good to others is also but the manifestation of this oneness. There are moments when every man feels that he is one with the universe, and he rushes forth to express it, whether he knows it or not. This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, and it is the basis of all our ethics and morality. This is summed up in the Vedanta philosophy by the celebrated aphorism, Tat Tvam Asi, “Thou art That”.

Lord is pure; therefore those who have this sameness for all, and are pure, are said to be “living in God.” This is the gist of Vedantic morality – this sameness for all.

May Master be with you and bring you peace and prosperity!

With love and best wishes
Swami Vimokshananda

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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Pat for a pet!

Ashram cat Kripa - waiting to enter into the Temple

In 1980, a clinical research project at Brooklyn College, New York, studied heart-disease patients after their discharge from the hospital. Dr. Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., Professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at the College, tracked each survivor, studying their medical histories, lifestyles, families, relationships – every documentable detail. Co-researcher Dr. Aaron Katcher, M.D., reported:

“The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival…not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”

Ashram cat Satwik making 'pranam' in the Temple

The Psychologists clearly spell out Ten Benefits in rearing a pet: While the primary benefits to animals are obvious – to place them in loving homes and keep them from being destroyed – the benefits to elderly persons are ten-fold (versus non-pet owners).

  • Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
  • 21% fewer visits to the doctor
  • Less depression
  • Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
  • Seniors become more active
  • Pets offer affection and unconditional love
  • Pets ease loss of a loved one
  • Pets fight loneliness
  • Seniors take better care of themselves
  • Sense of security

You, readers may just wonder ‘What! pets and Vedanta!

I was pleased when Skendha Singh from New Delhi, India commented that ‘pets seem to gravitate towards our places or seats of meditation’. It is so true! In our Ashram, we have now two pet cats – Kripa and Satwik. Both of them never leave the campus and are fond of being present in the Temple  during mangalarati time as well as evening arati time.

Ashram cat Kripa 'gravitating towards Meditation seat'

Kripa is more amiable and would not mind if any of our devotees just take him in hands and there he would cuddle quietly! And to sleep (or meditation?) he would always select one of the two monks’ aasana (seats) laid out in the Temple! He is also one of my keen students during Gita class, listening to my Talks, sitting on the chair. At meal times, he comes and takes his chair, surveying the whole neatly laid out table with an air of a ‘leader’ and immensely satisfied with just butter to give us ‘company’. Both the cats drink Ganges water from the Catbowl, kept for them inside the Temple. (Of course they have their own bowls at designated spots and regular feeds are provided.)

Ashram temple - fantastic front view of two images of Lion - pets to Durga

Yes, one of the pancha shanti mantra (the famous five peace chants) – tacchaiyn yora vrineemahe – loudly proclaim ‘shanno astu dwipade, sham chatushpade’ “May there be peace to humanity; may peace be to animals” goes back to the ancient Vedic times from when we, the Hindus have inherited the wonderful feeling to take care of not only the ‘two-legged’ but also the ‘four-legged’ ones. Our mythology is abound with creatures beloved to Gods and Goddesses. While Ganesha is fond of His mouse, His brother Murugan delights with peacock. Shiva’s favourite is bull, while Vishnu prides in eagle. Durga’s lion is well-known. Krishna had lovable calves and cows. Shiva’s servant Bhairav has dogs.

Among the beasts and birds, dog as a pet has become the most favoured species among the men and women all over the world. Saints are not excepted. Swami Vivekananda had a dog called Bagha who had been a stray mongrel and picked up from the street as a puppy. This dog became so close to Swamiji that once Swamiji had to caution the monks in Belur Math not to harass him anytime. On the day Swamiji’s body was cremated, Bagha remained close to the funeral pyre and wouldn’t move; he was so overwhelmed by grief that he stayed there for a long time. No one could make him eat or drink on that day!

Swami Shivananda, when he was President of the Order, had two big dogs Kelo and Bhulo. These were pedigree dogs brought from East Bengal. He would have lot of fun with them. While standing upstairs on the balcony of his room, he would sometimes play with the dogs by throwing pieces of bread in the down below courtyard as a treat. And lo! the dogs would jump and catch without fail in the mid-air! Showing his finger to the dogs, Shivanandaji would shout, “See, they are my dogs and I am Sri Ramakrishna’s dog!”

When shall we develop that dogged attitude of dedicating our life at the Master’s feet and lay there to do His bidding? When shall we acquire the ‘pet’-sense of sharanaagati – ‘surrender’?

Highlights from Hinduism Conference – Part II

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Today is September 11. In 1893, on this same date Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, USA. This lecture practically catapulted him as an international figure. The last line of his famous lecture succinctly gives the gist of Hinduism: I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

When the Conference on Hinduism held at Ladysmith Civic Centre on Sunday 6, September, 2009 concluded amidst chanting of vedic mantras as closing prayers, when the delegates started departing in a mood of delight, all of us felt that the ideas that were discussed so forcefully would ever remain etched green in our memory-land and to say in the words of one of our Blog readers from Ladysmith “What a marvellous conference we had! Many thanks are due to the Master for making this occasion possible…There is no doubt that all who attended benefited not simply from the content, but also from the holy company.”
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 II of the Report. I am also thankful to devotee Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.

Report – Part II

DSC_0311Reantha Pillay

The captivating centerpiece of many who attended  the Conference will undoubtedly be the paper delivered by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. He spoke on Reconciling Religious Conflicts in a Family. Maharajji’s focus areas were Inter-Religious marriages and Hindu intra-marriages i.e. marriages between Hindus of different linguistic/faith backgrounds. After Maharajji’s humorous disclaimer that the paper will not bring an end to parental worry nor end the debate on this issue, Maharajji began what was to be an insightful and most interesting paper.

Saradaprabhanandaji presenting his solid views
Saradaprabhanandaji presenting his saintly views

Maharajji established the fact that Inter-belief marriages have occurred since the Rig Veda, that is some 5000 years ago and therefore cannot be said to violate the spirit of Hindu Dharma. Post establishing the social validity of this practice, Maharajji went on to illustrate how it could be generally beset with unending problems. However, Maharajji in a positive note, pointed out that despite its inherent problematic nature, there are inter-religious marriages that  have proven successful and this was dependent entirely on the couple and their genuine love for one another and also their ability to sustain a successful marriage. Maharajji urged parents and the general  members of society to be flexible and cautioned against attempting to break a relationship founded on strong  pure love. At this junction Maharajji warned about the greatest casualty – children and the uncertainty they experience when these marriages begin to  flounder. He also addressed the Inter-sect marriages saying that they were not as problematic and marital success could be assured with little difficulty. His 6 practical tips for parties contemplating such a union are:

  • Premarital counselling
  • Beware of Conversion
  • Acquire negotiating skills to resolve conflict non violently
  • Address the issue of an Identity Crisis
  • Foster Communication Skills
  • Avoid destructive family bigotry

Swami Saradaprabahanadaji concluded in saying that marriage is a means to attain God realisation and a vibrant Hindu marriage can attain this whilst simultaneously bringing peace to a family.

Veena Singaram's visual impact paper
Veena Singaram's visual impact paper

The third paper presented was entitled Leadership qualities and Responsibilities of the Mother and was by Ms Veena Singaram, a lecturer. Ms Singaram looked briefly at the various challenges facing Hindu women, such as the need to balance the roles of a wife, mother and leader. She also briefly looked at various aspects of leadership and identified the key qualities necessary to be a leader.  Ms Singaram drew from the wealth of great Indian women such as Sri Sarada Devi, the epitome of purity and unconditional love, as well as many other historical personalities. She also looked at great men such as Gandhiji, Washington and Lincoln who honoured their mothers. Ms Singaram advised the audience that motherhood in its nature encapsulates leadership as they require similar traits.  She ended on a very practical note providing Hindu mothers with a few important gems of advice namely :

  • Parents must imbibe positive qualities
  • They must attempt to and subsequently gain an understanding of their children.
  • “Practice what they preach”
  • Educate their children on religious and cultural issues.
Naidu presenting his no-nonsense paper
Naidu presenting his no-nonsense paper

The final paper was delivered by Senior Counsel, Advocate H Kessie Naidu, entitled Balancing Hindu values with Westernization.  Advocate Naidu drew from the inspiration of Swami Vivekananda, whose role in modernizing Hinduism and embracing western science cannot be denied. Advocate Naidu acknowledged many aspects of westernization – technology, medicine and the decreasing importance of caste system through constituent democracy. He did, however, caution the audience of the pervasive and persuasive nature of westernization and its effect on our dress, language and lifestyle. He then addressed this issue of Hindu values which lay hidden in the intricacies of our scriptures such as non-violence and the sanctity of life. Advocate Naidu attributed the rise in promiscuity and the death of our vernaculars to mindless attachment to westernization.

He concluded by stating that awareness of the essential values of Hinduism is necessary and thereafter one is required to discern and select the positive aspects of the western world. In this he echoed Swami Vivekananda’s teaching that India should not simply imitate the west but rather absorb and assimilate some western ideals whilst retaining our glorious spiritual heritage. Advocate Naidu’s paper was entertaining and highly relevant given the times we live in.

Professionals in panel discussions
Professionals in panel discussions - Dr Behariram and Rakhi Beekrum

The conference was concluded with a panel discussion that generated great interest. Prompted by the astute questions posed by the members of the audience, the panel consisting of Dr Behariram (Graduated from Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine with a Masters in Family Medicine Degree. Presently manages the Crisis Centre at the Ladysmith Provincial Hospital, working exclusively with survivors of sexual assault especially children) and Rakhi Beekrum (Master of Social Science (Psychology) University of Kwazulu Natal.  Counselling Psychologist at Student Counselling Centre of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and runs a private practice in Durban) handled the queries enthusiastically. Questions were fielded at the paper presenters too who did not lag behind in giving quality responses them.

Veni Govender, the dynamic Director of Ceremonies
Veni Govender, the dynamic Director of Ceremonies

I cannot conclude this Report without mentioning about the Director of Ceremonies for this Conference. She was Veni Govender, an eminent Educator of Ladysmith and also a devotee of the Ramakrishna Centre there. The spirited way she started the program, the vigorous manner she veered the responses, the creditable control that she could exercise over the floor and above all the dynamism that she displayed in directing the program cannot but be applauded.

There can be no denying that audience delegates walked out feeling far more equipped to deal with the challenges facing Hindu families. The Conference was undoubtedly a resounding success which harbours only good for families of the future.

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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…

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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