Sri Guru Purnima was celebrated on 19 July 2016 at the Singapore Ramakrishna Mission. A special Puja for Sri Ramakrishna was done and a Talk on “Holy Mother as a Guru’ was delivered by Swami Vimokshananda, President of Singapore Mission. In his Talk, the Swami narrated three incidents from the Life of Holy Mother namely how the devotees like Surendranath Sen, Premananda Dasgupta and a porter at Vishnupur railway station received diksha from the Mother. He elaborated the idea of Guru Shakti and how it lives on for the benefits of the disciples. One can listen to the Talk here. Bhajans and chanting on Gurus and Sri Ramakrishna were sung. All the participants offered pushpanjali and they had supper prasad. More than 250 people joined the celebration.
“Ram Ram!” is a religious way of greeting one another generally among the Hindus in all the Hindi-speaking areas in India. I noticed this when I was living in Kanpur and also while travelling in many places of North India. In this country too, our South African devotees have a way of greeting one another with “Aum Namo Narayanaya!“.
Taking the name of the Lord at the start of every aspect of our activity is indeed a spiritual method well recognised and advocated by our sages and saints. We, as devotees, in spite of our good intentions tend to forget His name. It is in this context that we are advised to utilise the naama as a tool to further our quality of spiritual life. Some reflections here!
On this auspicious Shri Rama Navami period beginning from 31st March to 8th April, my hearty greetings to every one of you : ‘Ram Ram!‘
Verve and vigour
Yesterday the Rama Navami parv began with all solemnity at the ashram and its branches. The celebration generally continues from the first day that is this year from 31st March and completes on 8th April on the holy navami tithi.
Satsangs here have a definite pattern. Every evening a large number of devotees attend who sing bhajans and kirtans. Selected passages from Sri Ramcharitamanas are recited every day. The temple altar stands decorated beautifully. 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 discourses and songs.
Tale of Two letters!
In my first-day discourse at the Glen Anil temple the point that such a short two-syllable name ‘Raa Ma‘ has in due course of time acquired a powerful connotation came up for discussion. Speaking on the subject “Ramayana – the Scripture Par excellence”, I explained how the famous saint Tyagaraja has remarkably pointed out the significance of the name “Rama“.
“Ma” is the very life of the Shiva mantra,”Ra” is the very life of Vishnu mantra. The Shiva mantra refers to the famous one called panchaakshari (five-lettered) mantra : Aum namasshivaaya. The Vishnu mantra refers to ashtaakshari (eight-lettered) mantra : Aum namo narayanaya. If we think deeply it will be clear that without these two syllables the two respective mantras loose all meaning.
Take out “Ma” – the mantra will read now na shivaaya – nothing auspicious! Take out “Ra” – the mantra will read na ayanaaya – no royal road!
Hence these two syllables “Ra” and “Ma” become the life force of these mantras. They are called beeja (seed) and hence by constantly repeating any of these holy mantras, the beeja would one day start sprouting, which means to say that the significance of the mantra would become clear like daylight. The word ‘Rama‘ therefore represents the power of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu together! Saint Tyagaraja takes delight in telling us that he would salute those great men who understand this detail !
Less is equal to more!
There is another way of looking at the glory of the name Rama. The single word is equal to one thousand names of Lord Vishnu!
“O Varaanana (lovely-faced woman), I chant the holy name of Rama, Rama, Rama and thus constantly enjoy this beautiful sound. This holy name of Ramachandra is equal to one thousand holy names of Lord Vishnu.”
Worthy name without love?
Sri Ramakrishna advises that the name of the Lord is no doubt highly proficient capable of providing Divine realisation. But Master asks, “is it sufficient without Love?”. Master continues, “the soul must hunger for God. What will it avail if I repeat His ‘name’ while I allow my mind to be attached to ‘woman and gold’? Mere muttering of magic incantations will not heal up a scorpion-sting. You must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”
A very happy ‘Sri Ganesha chaturthi’ to every one! It is a joyous occasion always. All our Centres in South Africa celebrate this day in a solemn manner.
Importance is given to japa whereby the wisdom aspect of our personalities is stimulated. The day starts with a special puja to Sri Ganesha in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. In the evening it concludes with a satsang where devotees in chorus sing bhajans and kirtans interspersed with Talks or Readings.
As children we were not only treated with different kinds of sweets during dining time, (note: earlier I wrote about that delicious dish Kozhuk kattai or modakam) but also were trained in lots of traditional practices that were initially appeared as queer but later loved. In igniting the imagination of the child, Ganesha worship would or even now stands supreme. Imagination about what? About creating a living contact between the visible human and the invisible super-human. It leads the growing child in the practice of devotion. This worship acts as a means in giving practical shape to develop a healthy and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.
I am reminded of the allotted duties among the siblings and oh! what verve and vigour the children used to show in fulfilling their arduous(!) tasks like plucking flowers, cutting fruits, arranging durwa grass etc. A sense of camaraderie prevails that brings peace and happiness. May Sri Ganesha resolve all our conflicts!
Worship of Personal God in whatever form has many distinct advantages. Lord Ganesha though He is ever the son of Parvati and Shiva is known as ‘Vighneshwara’ the Lord of Obstacles. Often children (the mustachioed babies too…!) ask how is it that this God is called ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Is it not good to worship those gods who can offer boons instead of those creating obstructions? Late Revered Swami Chidbhavanandaji maharaj (famous for his translation of Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and English – perhaps the very first one in bringing Master’s teachings at relevant places – used to compare this Universe to an automobile. He says in one of his books “Facets of Brahman” which is as delightful as inspiring, explains why and how Lord Ganesha brings good to the devotees :
“In the working of an automobile each mechanism has its particular part to play. The function of one part in it cannot be the function of another.” This means that notwithstanding each part having its own structural and functional individuality the motor car an move only with the combined effect of all of them. So, he concludes that the Universe is a self-projected living and intelligent mechanism. It is the material manifestation of the saguna brahman
While harmony exists in its variation, discord and conflicts are also seen. Thus Nature brings all the beings into existence and provides opportunities ‘to evolve into higher and yet higher order of life’. All levels have their intrinsic two categories called Divine and Demoniac.
This Cosmic Intelligence is symbolically called Ganesha. Those who are honest and strive to lead a peaceful life, thus possessing Divine qualities, He definitely comes to their aid. And he does not neglect those with asuric qualities. By creating obstructions, He brings disappointment in the minds of devotees as what was prayed goes not sanctioned! But in the course of life’s journey, a devotee finds out that seeming obstruction was in one way a blessing in disguise. In short by introducing lesser evils He wards off greater evils of life and Vighneshwara (Vighna – obstacles, Ishwara – Lord) rightly represents this particular aspect of Nature.
How Ganesha came in the practical life through dreams and fulfilled the desires of the devotees is narrated here.
It was sometime in 2005. This happened while I was in Ranchi. Once I received a post parcel that looked very tiny. Well, I just kept it on my study table; I never even ventured to open it. Everyday I was seeing it but somehow had no urge to open the parcel and look what the gift was. Suddenly one fine early morning a devotee rang me up to say that she was indeed frightened by a dream. I asked her what was the dream. She explained that she was entering into our Temple. She saw a small figure of Ganesha slowly emerging from nowhere and becoming crystal clear and was walking towards her. The image was in utter black colour. She asked me whether this dream was inauspicious.
Consoling her with words of sympathy, I told her that seeing Ganesha is considered as most auspicious and who knows that black Ganesha wants to come to her home! Did she not tell me earlier that she wanted to worship Ganesha in some murti? So, I concluded by telling her that she might wait till Ganesha makes some arrangement.
That day while I was just going out, the cleaning boy came and put that tiny parcel into my hands and said that I had not yet opened it as it was lying for many days on the table. I quickly thrusted it into my pocket and went out.
It was a pleasant surprise when on my way back, I met the son of this devotee who insisted that I should visit his home. Since I had some time, I agreed and reached his house. The devotee welcomed me and was talking about her dream; she asked me, ‘Maharaj, when would Ganesha come to my home?’
While the conversation was going on I casually took the parcel and opened it and lo! it was black Ganesha murti! So tiny and cute, I said, “See! here He is!” I placed that Ganesha into her altar under the feet of the Mother Kali image. Well, son got his place again under mother!
A devotee from South Africa, the other day narrated this following incident.
It was in 1997. I was overwhelmed by money and power. I had a successful business and everything was hunky dory in my life. My day used to start quite early, leaving home everyday including Sundays at 7am and returning at 10pm. That meant neglecting my home, children and daily prayer.
This continued for 2 years. Although I was a devotee of the Master from the age of 13 years, somehow at the age of 29, I faltered in my spiritual life. My conscience used to prick me every now and then….. but still I neglected my sadhana.
As the second year was coming to a close, my body and mind was beginning to tire and so were my kids on whom I could sense the effect of neglect. It was late one night while I was asleep, that I had a wonderful dream… or was it real, I will never know that… Lord Ganesha came to me while I lay on the bed and spoke softly to me. He kept telling me ‘arise and offer some fruit and milk’. I could still see Him in His flowing yellow dhoti and with a flower garland around His neck. When I was reluctant to get up, he firmly, at the same time, very lovingly coaxed me to wake up. I lay in my bed wondering at the strange, yet divine dream that I just experienced.
I gazed around to see whether the Gracious Lord was still in the room, was it my imagination, was it a dream, was it real? who knows! After a quick bath and breakfast, just out of curiosity I went to the calendar to check what day it was… I WAS STUNNED TO SEE IT WAS THE AUSPICIOUS DAY OF GANESH CHATURTHI. I immediately went into my shrine and offered milk to the Lord and realised that the Lord is continuously knocking on my door, and He is waiting for me to open. It was on that auspicious day that by the will of the Lord, I quit my job and became a mum to my kids and held on tightly to the Lord’s Feet… Never to let go AGAIN!
SriSwami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him at our Mumbai Ashram within the sanctum of Holy Mother’s Temple. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to highlight an inspiring incident in my early life – how he guided me, giving me his divine grace unasked.
In 1976, I joined the Training Centre in Belur Math. When I went there, I was quite eager to see my Gurudev who I heard was at that time staying in Belur Math and had just returned from Narendrapur. The first day was a lovely day and we, brahmacharins were getting introduced to many of the traditions of Belur Math. Though I could not contain my curiosity, yet I was not bold enough to ask where and when I can have ‘darshan’ of my Gurudev. Unable to get any clue, that after noon, I decided to roam around the place near the river Ganga.
I saw the rear-side of a two-storey building which, from a distance was shown to us as the building where Swami Vivekananda’s room is situated. There was a flight of steps leading down to Ganga. The fresh breeze that was flowing was mesmerizing and I felt the air to be so pure in contrast to the polluted air of Kanpur from where I had just come. Getting down to Ganga for the first time after reaching Belur Math brought an inexplicable feeling of reverence to mother Ganga. Seeing the flowing waters gushing forth I was happy to murmur a hymn of Adi Shankara in praise of Mother Ganga.
I sprinkled some water on my head, uttering “Om Namah Shivaaya”. A few blissful moments passed in silence. When I turned on the steps I could not believe my eyes: there on the balcony was my Gurudev. I was simply stunned and made my mental prostrations from there itself and straight walked into that building in which Swamiji had lived. My Gurudev seemed to be in a supremely happy mood and I was beside myself with boundless joy.
The last I had seen him was in Varanasi in 1974, four years after He had blessed me with diksha in Bombay. What surprised me most was while I did not expect him to remember any of my home details, but the moment he saw me he smiled and asked, “How are your parents in Bombay?”. I was happy to tell him that by his blessings and the grace of Holy Trio, I could come to Belur Math to undergo proper monastic training and would be there for another two full years. On hearing this, he advised me to stay focused on the studies as well as sadhana and instructed me to come to his place as often as possible.
My Gurudev at that time, had a senior Swami serving as Secretary to him and also one monk and a brahmachari were also attendants to him. The attendant-Swami used to keep ‘sandesh’ prasad for me. This prasad would be taken from the remaining portion of his eating from the plate. He was daily served with two ‘sandesh’ that would come straight from the main Temple after the mangalaarati offerings. My days went on happily at Belur Math.
At the Training Centre we were studying different philosophies. One day in the class there was a stimulating discussion on Incarnations. During the discussion, certain queries posed by some co-brahmacharins raised a doubt in my mind about the validity of worshipping Sri Ramakrishna. If Ramakrishna does NOT exist , ‘the doubt’ told me why at all I should have renounced my hearth and home. Was I not then doing something blindly? How to know? Who would confirm that Sri Ramakrishna still existed?
Two days passed without my getting a proper answer to my doubt. Oh! what a period of painful agony! I could not think well for those two days. On the third day I felt like going and asking my Gurudev in spite of the instructions from authorities not to disturb him as he had ailed for some time. He was indeed a Deva Purusha, shining one because in his presence one could feel a light emanating, as it were, from his body in spite of his old age. Whoever visited him would naturally like to stay a minute with him, so that they could tell him their spiritual problems.
So when I went there that blessed morning and made saashtaanga pranaam to him, I found his eyes half closed while sitting on a settee. No one was there in the room. My touch of his holy feet perhaps brought him to outward consciousness and he looked at me with his benign glance. I entreated him to bless me. When I tried to get up from the floor, he placed his right hand on one of my shoulders, and he also slowly tried to get up from his sitting position. There, standing for a while, he, in his own pace, started walking towards the window. I also accompanied him, and when I stood there, he turned to me and said, “Look through this window? What do you see?”
The rear-view of the temple was clearly visible. Even the staircase – that goes up to the ‘shayan-ghor’ where Sri Ramakrishna’s sleeping bed is kept – was visible. When you come down the steps one can actually without any hindrance enter the ‘shrine-ghor’ where the holy image of Sri Ramakrishna resides.
The methods adopted for worshipping Personal God are, in fact, significant in that it facilitates the devotee to mentally identify the real physical needs of God in line with humans. Therefore, a devotee is able to serve the Master as if he is ever alive in flesh and blood. Standing and looking through the window, my Gurudev told me, “Well, every morning at mangalaarati time, I come and stand here, and see (pointing to his eyes by gesture) through these eyes. I see very clearly Sri Ramakrishna, getting up from his bed, going down the stairs, and coming into the sanctum, ‘garbha-griha’ and merging into the marble image. You know, every day I see His movement.”
Listening to his inspiring words, my ‘doubt ‘ in a moment just vanished. With what doubt I came to him, I did not need to put that question to him, because he knew the question that was troubling me, and gave the answer unasked! That was Srimat Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmanandaji, the ‘mind-born’ son of Sri Ramakrishna.
There are many devotees who seek spiritual guidance through email messages. Some problems are quite tricky in the sense that they are not easily given to satisfactory solutions. Many of the doubts arise, in some cases, due to their inability to understand what their Gurus have instructed. That is why it is always better to keep in the habit of studying the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, books on Holy Mother and Swamiji so that our minds are freed from doubts, further strengthened and fortified with renewed enthusiasm.
One lady devotee wrote to me the other day that her in-laws and husband maintain antipathy to everything connected with the Ramakrishna sangha and their attitude actually hurts her in such a bad way that she was unable even to make visits to Belur Math.
She said that “ …Whatever they are, they are not my problem. Almost four years ago very luckily I’ve got mantra from Sri Sri Swami Gahanananda Maharajji; before having any children I didn’t have any problem to manage time for japa and dhyana. But now the situation is that I’m a mother of two little kids – one is three and half year old and the other is one and half year old.
Now after trying a lot I’m continuously failing to take out any time for japa-dhyana except the bed time. Before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning I try to make it regularly and during daytime work, I try to continue the japa in my mind. But I don’t know why this is making me very restless and I’m feeling very guilty that I’m not following my GURU’s path. Can you please tell me what should I do?”
Yes, one side unsupportive family and the other side the pressing need to take care of the family. Finding not much time, though they are earnest, and with the ever-present criticism against such spiritual practices, they feel despondent. Those devotees who have got this type of situation go through silent sufferings as their conscience prick them in what they consider as ‘neglect’ of their spiritual responsibilities.
The following was my reply to this devotee A.
||Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
…..Though it is unfortunate to learn that the related in-laws’ mental vibrations are not aligning with yours specially with regard to our Thakur, Ma and Swamiji, I dont consider that as an ‘obstruction’ to your spiritual life. Only Master knows why you have stepped into ‘their’ family. It is a two-way learning process : for you to become more intensified i.e., strongly resolved in spite of indifference and to them : to become more aware of your ‘bhakti’ as an example. I am happy that you however, are not unduly disturbed by that and you are carrying your sadhana with full faith.
By Sri Thakur’s grace you have obtained a wonderful Guru in Srimat Swami Gahnanandaji Maharaj. You might have read in my blog my memories about the abiding guidance that I personally received from him. So, I consider you as most fortunate.
Coming to your specific problem of feeling guilty over not being able to follow Guru’s instructions, I have to say that your feeling is misplaced. Revered Maharaj used to tell all his disciples after initiation that they should try to always be aware of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna in their hearts and repeat the mantra mentally while doing their works as far as possible. In many cases, while replying to questions of persons in situation of predicament, Revered Maharaj used to instruct them to get up a little early, before the hassles of daily life start, to do their japam. When there is no separate space for worship, even on the bed after putting a clean bedcover. Many people do not get free time in the evening. In their cases Revered Maharaj used to prescribe the time before bed when one had finished all his/her daily responsibilities.
I think A…, you are following Guru’s advice only but unknowingly. After all, it is said that a Guru looks after his disciple’s welfare and guides him/her even when he is not physically present. I am sure by His grace your doubts would be dispelled. Continue doing your japa before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning. Yes, Try to make it regularly. And during daytime work, continue with your mental japa.
My prayers are with you. I have no doubt that Sri Sri Thakur is ever gracious in taking you by his hand in your spiritual path…..
With best wishes
After a few days I got a response from her thus:
…Your reply has given me a great relief. I was really confused about my daily routines. My kids totally depend on me, I can’t deny that responsibility but on the other hand I should not fail to follow GURU MAHARAJ JI’s instructions. After your kind response I can feel it that may be, Guru Maharaj is not physically present but He is continuously with me and He is driving my way of life, otherwise how could I unknowingly managed to follow his instructions? Now I am happy and almost sure I will acquire the Kripa of Thakur, Maa & Swamiji only because of it that my GURU is with me…
Today is the first night of navaratri which is holy and auspicious to all Hindus. Here in SA, the Divine Mother Goddess Durga is worshipped in Her three aspects as Mahakaali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati, three nights each during this nine-day celebration. Not only Sri Ramakrishna kept in his room several pictures of Gods and Goddesses but also advised devotees to do so. “Divine feeling is awakened through such pictures” he said. Once he went all the way to see a home of a devotee, hearing that he had a large collection of religious pictures! You can also enjoy seeing one hundred ninety-nine ennobling pictures of Hindu Goddesses, one hundred twenty-seven of which especially on Durga at this Flickr site. The Lord of Durga – Neelakantha Shiva has eleven aspects that are called Rudras. The Shiva puraana speaks about the Eleventh Rudra who incarnates as Sri Hanuman. I am thankful to Simon Ram of UK who gave permission to place a rare picture of Hanumanji with Gauri-Shankar which you can find at the bottom of this post.
The drawing and a write-up on Visual Art Work that is displayed in a box down below, is by one 14 year old school student who regularly attends our Sunday School for Children. Presently this boy is schooling at Ladysmith High School and in Gr.9. His name is Yashteel Raj. He attends the Ramakrishna Centre – Ladysmith branch. He also enjoys reading and learning about Hindu religion through stories like the Ramayana, etc. Recently he wrote to me an email which I reproduce here:
Om Namo Narayanaya Swamiji
It was very good to see you on Saturday after such a long time.
I had to make an artwork about my culture this week and I was so inspired by your talk on Sri Hanumanji that I made a drawing of him carrying the Drona Mountain. I wanted to show you how it looks – I hope you like it.
Mom, Dad and Chiara also send their pranams.
Yes, beta Yashteel, I am immensely pleased to see your art work. Congrats! Indeed, your devotion to Sri Hanumanji has brought Hanumanji’s grace to you and you have excelled in it. May He bestow you the three essential things which Tulsidasji, in his mystical prayer hymn, demands from Sri Hanumanji – bala, budhi, vidya!
Arts & Culture:
Visual Artwork Project
What is Culture?
Culture, as I understand it, is a word which describes an individual’s lifestyle. One’s culture is basically their way of life: their social and religious norms, cuisine, literature, and choice of music and art. Culture thus consists of person’s customs and traditions.
What is your Chosen Culture and
Why can it be defined as a Culture?
I have chosen to make my artwork about my own “hybrid” Hindu culture as it would be personal and I already know much about it.
My chosen culture can be described as a culture as it includes all of my social and religious norms. It consists of the food I eat (spicy) and governs, to an extent, the type of literature, art and music I come into contact with. It also consists of all of my customs and traditions.
My religion plays a very important part in my culture, so I chose to make an artwork which is relevant to it. My artistic talent lies in drawing; hence I chose to depict an event from the epic tale, the Ramayana, in this form. Here Lord Hanuman carries the huge Drona Mountain on his shoulders, from the Himalayas to Lanka, as it contains the rare sanjeevani herb required to heal Lakshmana.
What I found Difficult
I faced many difficulties while creating my artwork and tried to overcome them as best I could. These problems were:
My colouring was uneven and looked bad, so I “smudged” or “shaded”.
Some garments blocked vital muscles, so I made them semi-transparent.
I had some trouble drawing Hanuman’s hands and feet, but I got it right in the end.
Lord Hanuman’s ape-like mouth was hard to blend in to the face so I experimented with sfumato.
It was hardest for me to give texture to Lord Hanuman and the mountain. I tried utilizing tonal value to aid me in my plight.
What I Learnt and Enjoyed
I learnt how to draw another type of abdomen and six-pack, which stems from “Hercules-type” animation.
I discovered how to add tonal value to give texture and depth to an artwork.
Shading, in some cases, is more effective than colouring.
If you shade on differently textured surfaces, their texture will be implied on your artwork. This can be a easy way to create texture.
I enjoyed drawing Lord Hanuman and experimenting with different muscle-types and colours, etc.
I really liked making this artwork. Drawing is lots of fun and I really enjoyed expressing my culture in this form.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All the Texts have life-giving morals, values and lessons that are learnt and related with current situations of everyday life. Children are encouraged to practice what they learn. Their Study also includes the learning of mantras and Gita verses along with English meanings.
These Classes are aimed at character building, personality development, and to imbibe morals and values for a modern generation and to equip our youth to face Life’s challenges on the basis of Hinduism. The unique aspect of these classes is the spread of Hinduism in its broadest sense as exemplified and expounded by Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. This year 400 children participated in these classes all over the country and gave examinations.
The day of 7th may reminds me of the departure from this world, a devout venerable monk of our Order, Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj. During my 12 year-stay at the Ranchi Sanatorium centre, I had the privilege of having his wonderful company for a little more than 11 years. Holy men come in different hues and Umeshanandaji was unique in his own way.
Smiling always, bringing cheers to every heavy-hearted soul, Swami Umeshanandaji dedicated his life for the service of TB patients since 1962. He was popularly called Durga Maharaj. He was born in a place near Mangalore of Karnataka State on 20th February 1923.
He left Indian Army service and joined the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math. He was given mantra diksha by the sixth President of the Ramakrishna Order, Srimat Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj. Later in 1959 he was initiated into Sannyasa by the seventh President Srimat Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj.
It is said that Swami Shaswatanandaji Maharaj, the then Assistant Secretary of Belur Math told Durga Maharaj in 1962 “to go to Ranchi and serve the poor tribals and suffering TB patients and die there in harness”. During his long forty-four years of extraordinary service, Durga Maharaj never went outside. He was fully engrossed in the patient matters like admission of patients, preparation of patient files, making ready discharge certificates etc. He knew every patient by his name and address.
Straight forward and simple, Durga Maharaj was indeed highly popular among the local Adivasi (tribal) public. No one would forget to meet this smiling Swami and make pranams to him. His admirers are now spread all over the country who would feel blessed to take his name in the very morning.
He was 84 when he breathed his last, after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease with old age ailments for a few months. Swami Satyeshananda, the ‘doctor maharaj’ informed me of the final end and we, all the monks, devotees, staff and others immediately rushed to his room. His mortal coil was consigned to flames the next day at 9 in the morning. The final rites were performed at “Panchavati” within the Sanatorium campus. On this solemn occasion, Sannyasins and Brahmacharins of Morabadi Ashrama and Sanatorium, Swamijis of Tupudana Advait Swarup Ashram, devotees from Ranchi and local adivasi admirers along with employees of the Sanatorium were present in good number.
As per our monastic tradition, on the 13th day of death, a ‘special worship’ of Sri Ramakrishna is done in the temple and a ‘saadhu bhandaaraa’ would form a special feature. And on that day i.e., Friday, 19th May, prasad feeding to all in-patients, employees and devotees was arranged at Sanatorium Ashrama premises in honour of the departed soul. A Smritisabha (memorial meeting) was also conducted preceding the Bhandara. That Sadhus from Bihar and Jharkhand branch centres of Ramakrishna Mission and also of the other outside organisations with a huge number of devotees attended the Bhandara was a memorable experience.
During my Address in the Memorial Meeting, I narrated how wonderful the Life of this monk was and we always rejoice when a monk leaves his body and do not weep over his passing away. As Tulasidas says in his Hanuman chalisa “antakaala raghuvarapura jaayi, jahaan janma hari bhakta kahaayi” (after death he enters the eternal abode of Sri Rama and remains a devotee of Him, whenever, taking a new birth on earth), we also believe that Durga Maharaj has gone to the Ramakrishnapura, the eternal abode of Sri Ramakrishna.
It was on the birthday of his Guru, Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj,(he was a disciple of Holy Mother; a historic audio recording of his Voice is available here) in the last year, I had to deliver a Talk here in South Africa to the devotees of Durban Central Satsang group. My mind naturally, while talking about the Founder of South African Centre Swami Nischalananda, who was also a disciple of Swami Virajanandaji – reverted towards this devout Durga maharaj and spoke at length my ennobling association with him.
Knowing that Durga Maharaj, in his pre-monastic life, was a Muslim, I naturally could not contain my curiosity and enquired how, he could join this Hindu Order of Monks. He would, always in an forthright manner, say in his loud, sterling voice that it was all due to his Guru’s grace. He had unshakable faith in the Master’s presence. His forthright walking with a shoulderbag consisting of Office keys and in left hand, a lantern became an icon to all patients. One could feel the stillness of the soul when he would sit on the bench outside the parlour room and bless whoever came and touched his feet in obeisance, those unforgettable words of blessings “jeete raho” (may you live long!).
There was never a curse, nor an indignant expression but there was always that charming childlike simplicity with overwhelming concern and affection. Unknown to the outer world, such holy men go finally unsung but unknowingly, many a heart is filled, unseen and unheard, with the fragrance of unbounded love.
Well, the impression that he created in my mind is well imprinted and I pay homage to this great monk.
With these auspicious words, I greeted this monk, on his arrival at Durban airport from India this morning. No, not any new monk from Belur Math, our international HQ in India but our well-known brother Saradananda – the Vice-President of our centre – who has been re-christened with a new name “Swami Saradaprabhananda”!
Henceforth he shall be known in this new name only. In India, he spent a little more than two months recently visiting different centres there.
The new name “Swami Saradaprabhananda”, was bestowed on the holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna on Friday, 27 February, 2009. That was the day he was inducted into the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission as a regular member of the Ramakrishna Order of Monks, when Most Revered President Maharaj – Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji– was pleased to bless him with the “yoga-patta” of the new name.
On his arrival at Durban, Swami Saradaprabhananda was given a befitting welcome reception by the devotees and self at HQ’s Ramakrishna Temple at Glen Anil. In his reply to welcome address, Swami Saradaprabhananda explained his holy tour of Belur Math and other centres of the Ramakrishna Math & Mission in India and thanked everyone who had come to greet him.
It is well-known that the august Ramakrishna Order of monks was started by Sri Ramakrishna himself when he distributed the ochre cloth to his disciples in 1885. Explaining the raison d’être for the change in the name, I spoke about the tradition of this Order, as per which the names of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and the names of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and also the names of the Trustees were not to be used again. As such, the erstwhile name Swami Saradananda, – that was the name of Sharad Maharaj, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – had to be replaced with a new name Swami Saradaprabhananda on his joining this holy Order.
The Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math had accepted the affiliation of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa which was formalized when I was appointed the President on Sri Rama Navami 2007. With the admission of Swami Saradaprabhananda into the Belur Math, the integration of the local Ramakrishna Movement started by Sri Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj in 1942 into the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is complete. This had been the vision and prayer of Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj and his disciple Swami Shivapadanandaji Maharaj. Due to historical reasons this integration was not possible earlier in our history.
I am here reminded of the earnest prayer of the holy saint Swami Shivapadanandaji at thefamous shakti peethaKalighat Kali temple in Kolkata some years back. This was retold by a reliable source which I narrate for those who have not heard of it.
During one of his visits to the temple of Divine Mother Kali, Swami Shivapadanandaji stood silently at the barricade in front of the Mother doing his japa. The plate wherein the puja articles and a garland were placed was being carried by an attendant-devotee. As usual it was terribly a crowded day. Scores of people – men, women, children in their traditional costumes – have been queueing up in front of Mother Kali. Even the mantras uttered by the worshipping pujari (priest) was not audible. The pujari was seen taking the garlands from each and every devotee’s plates and placing them over the shoulder of the Divine Mother.
Swami Shivapadanandaji had only one prayer…that was the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa had to be duly affiliated with Belur Math. When?… was not the question, but, it had to be done. So, when he saw his attendant-devotee taking the garland plate to the pujari, the Swami made a prayer and wanted to know mentally from Mother, whether She had accepted his prayer! He wished in his mind that if the pujari took the garland and kept it at the holy feet of Kali, then, that would be a definite indication that She has granted his prayer. This was not expected as the pujari was wont to place the garland on the neck of the Mother.
But, lo! the Mother confirmed! When the pujari received the Swami’s garland, suddenly he turned and amidst the din and bustle of the crowd, he simply placed the garland at Mother’s feet instead of placing it on Her shoulders. That was enough for Swami Shivapadanandaji. He narrated this incident to Swami Saradaprabhananda and told him to keep up the confidence in Mother’s grace by which one day this Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math would be an accomplished task.
May Mother Kali bless all the devotees here and everywhere!