Tag: monks

SingaSpeaks – Roar 21

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The Polite PM

The Polite PM
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It was indeed a pleasant meeting with the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Sri Narendra Modi at INA Marker, Singapore on the afternoon of 24 Nov. 2015. He met the INA veterans and their descendants. There was also a small selected group of invitees from different organisations in Singapore.
What surprised me was his utter simplicity in meeting with everyone!
Simply speaking a few words and enquiring about everything brought immense joy to all! Seeing his walking straight on the red carpet with brilliant strides brought to my memory the ancient Sanskrit line “pinjaraadiva keshari” – like a lion striding out of a cage! Perhaps my stay now in Singapore evoked the Singa – lion simile in my thoughts! Along with me Swamis Satyalokananda and Jitamanasananda from our Singapore Ashram were present at Netaji Memorial.
I thanked him for unveiling the 12 ft statue of Swami Vivekananda in Kuala Lumpur Ramakrishna Mission branch on Sunday, 22 Nov. in Malaysia.
I give below a slideshow of a few snaps at INA Memorial Marker taken by Bala. One photo was downloaded from this site of Sri N Modi. For your reference that photo is the last listed photo in that website page, taken by one of the India cameramen who accompanied Sri Modiji.
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The Guru who knew God

Dr Hiru Mukherjee, a resident in UK met me in Patna once during one of his pilgrimage trips to India. Indeed a very amiable personality. He left a deep mark in my mind as a person with serious spiritual quest. Later coming to South Africa, I continue to have intermittent email contact with him. His every mail, as is his wont, speak always about the grace of Master, Mother and Swamiji. And also of many other sagely monks of our Order. He was initiated into spiritual life by Swami Vishuddhanandaji Maharaj whose birthday is TODAY. On June 6, 2011 he wrote to me thus:

Param Pujaniya Maharaj,

Please accept my sastanger pronam. Hope you are keeping well. I have not heard from you for a long time. This is causing some anxiety to me. Please reply.

My gurudev’s birthday is on 9 June . Please accept my pronam. Life is a continuous struggle, Maharaj. Path is so slippery Maharaj. It is a continuous battle between one step forward & then ten steps backward. Need sadhu sangha always, Maharaj

Pranams

Hiru Mukherjee

I felt an uncontrollable urge to read about Vishuddhanandaji today and found to my surprise a wonderful article on this Guru who knew God well. It makes interesting reading as the author, late Swami Lokeshwaranandaji Maharaj has intermixed his personal experiences with the sage’s life incidents. Hence I am happy to share this article with all avid readers of this blog. This article was originally published in Vedanta Kesari of May, 1971 and I am grateful to Swami Atmashraddhanandaji, the present dynamic Editor for making it available from the archives.

SWAMI VISUDDHANANDA: AN APOSTLE OF GOD·AWARENESS

SWAMI LOKESWARANANDA

Swami Lokeswaranandaji Maharaj, the author of this article

I do not remember when I first saw Swami Visuddhananda – it was, I think, sometime in the late twenties. Long before I saw him I had been hearing people refer to him as a great contemplative. Being young I liked men of action and thought rather poorly of a contemplative. Why should a man spend all his time thinking of God? I would argue, why should he not do something for the good of society also? Did not Swamiji preach service to man as a kind of worship?’ Yet I found people refer to Swami Visuddhananda with great respect and admiration. This rather puzzled me. How could people be so much enamoured of a man who was a mere contemplative’?

I did not have to wait long for my answer, for I soon came to know Swami Visuddhananda personally and having once known him, had no difficulty in discovering the secret of his charm. I remember the first time I saw him. He was then head of the centre at Ranchi and had just come down to the Math to attend a meeting. Without knowing who he was, I felt drawn towards him at first sight. It was his fine chiselled face, auburn complexion and poise that attracted me. He was not imposing, not even striking by any standard, but there was an aura of sweetness around him which one could not but notice.

When I was introduced to him, I was a bit nervous, but he soon put me at ease by treating me with utmost affection and by speaking to me as if he had known me a long time. He was a soft-spoken man who knew also the real art of conversation, for he never spoke much himself, but made others speak as much as they wanted to speak, himself putting in a word or two when he must. Having known him once I began to watch him closely, for I wanted to know what exactly was the distinctive quality he had that made him the object of universal love and respect. The first and most distinctive among all the qualities he possessed, as I observed, was that he led an organised and well-regulated life. Nothing could happen that would make him deviate from his well-thought-out routine which included, among other things, three-hours’ meditation in the morning and evening. I also noticed how tip-top everything in his room was. Not only was there not a speck of dust there, but the few articles he bad in his room – his clothes, books, bottles of medicines, one or two pieces of furniture, etc., all were well arranged. I also liked the way he dressed. There was a distinctive taste which was unmistakable. Another striking thing was his disinclination to talk about mundane affairs.

The famous modern scripture for all spiritual

He would gladly discuss a religious topic, but if the topic was non-religious, he would probably refrain from making any comments. It was also interesting to note that whenever he talked about religion, he would talk about it from the practical point of view and not so much about its theories. He would make religious experience seem not only the most desirable thing in life, but also a thing easy of attainment, as if even you and I could have it if only we tried. In his religious talks there would always be a fair sprinkling of quotations from popular religious books, specially the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna and anecdotes from the lives of saints of all religions, so that it was always interesting to listen to him. He would disclaim any pretension to being a good speaker, but, in reality, he was a very interesting speaker, always to the point, brief and inspiring. He never made any attempt at oratory; he in fact spoke as if he was talking to a group of friends across the table. He spoke from the heart and his simple words, backed by conviction, appealed to monks and laymen alike.

II

Swami Vishuddhanandaji Maharaj

Swami Visuddhananda was born at a village in Hooghly District about 50 miles from Calcutta in the year 1883. Having lost both his parents at an early age he was brought up by the relations of his mother. As a boy he was quiet, introspective and deeply religious. The question that often troubled him was: ‘What is the purpose of life?’ The question became more and more pressing as he grew in years. When he finished his school education in 1900 he became quite restless looking for an answer to this question. He often spent the whole day at what was then known as the Imperial Library (now known as the National Library) rummaging among books for what he thought might provide the answer he was looking for. The British Librarian, John McFarlance, struck by the young man’s seriousness of purpose, often helped him choose the sort of books that would help in his quest. It is not known if he directed him to it, but once Swami Visudhhananda came upon Maxmuller’s Ramakrishna – His Life and Sayings and this proved a turning point in his life. He went through the book with bated breath. He was elated to discover that Dakshineswar, the place where Shri Ramakrishna lived, was only 4 miles to the north of Calcutta. He lost no time to visit Dakshineswar and kept visiting it again and again. The place, hallowed by its associations with Shri Ramakrishna filled him with inspiration. Every time he went there he spent the whole day thinking of God. He soon came to know Ramlal, Shri Ramakrishna’s nephew, who was then the Chief Priest at Dakshineswar, Ramlal’s company gave him much impetus in his religious endeavours. Not long after this he came to know also M, the compiler of the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna, when the latter came on a visit to Dakshineswar. M, in his inimitable way, talked to him about Shri Ramakrishna, adding further to the intensity of his longing for God. Previously, he used to have his meals at the temple of Dakshineswar, but M pointed out that it was wrong that he should thus tax the hospitality of the temple authorities. From then on the only food he would have was a one-anna worth of meal consisting of some flattened rice mixed with sugar and lemon-juice. While Swami Visuddhananda was once on a visit to Dakshineswar, Sarat Chakravarty, the disciple of Swami Vivekananda who compiled the book Swami-Shishya Samvad i.e., conversations between Swami and Disciple came there. Ramlal Chatterjee introduced Swami Visuddhananda to Sarat Chakravarty and the latter held him spell-bound by telling him stories about Swamiji.

Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi's marble image at the Temple sanctum sanctorum of Jayrambati Sri Matri Mandir ashram

Once while he was thus talking to him, Sarat Chakravaty turned to Ramlal and asked him, ‘How is Mother? ‘ This led Swami Visuddhananda to enquire who this Mother was and when he discovered that this was Sarada Devi, he at once resolved to take the earliest opportunity to visit her at Jayrambati to pay his respects to her. So one day, not long after this, he started for Jayrambati following the route via Burdwan, walking most of the way. When, travelweary and dust-laden, he finally arrived at Jayrambati, Mother received him as if he was her dear child whom she was long expecting. She asked, ‘How are you, my child? Has the journey been very difficult?’ The warmth with which Mother said these words was a balm to his body and mind. He had never known Mother’s affection, but now he felt as if he had found the Mother he had lost as a child. He spent a happy week with Mother and then returned to Calcutta. Before he left Jayrambati, Mother graciously initiated him.

The initiation increased his longing for God-realisation tenfold. It now became an all-consuming passion with him. He decided to leave home in search of God, but felt he must have Mother’s blessings before he did so. He, therefore, returned to Jayrambati for Mother’s consent within a few months. This time he walked the whole distance and had two friends with him who later came to be known as Swamis Girijananda and Shantananda. Mother was as warm as before, but when they declared that it was their firm resolve to live the lives of wandering monks depending upon what chance brought them, she firmly ruled it out. At their request, she, however, gave them Gerua cloth, but directed them to go to Varanasi to have their monastic names from Swami Shivananda who was then there. She handed them a letter introducing them to him and asking him to look after them. This was in 1907.

Armed with her blessings they started for Varanasi walking the whole distance. It took them three months to reach Varanasi. Swami Shivananda welcomed them and they stayed there almost a year. It may be mentioned here that Swami Visuddhananda had his formal monastic vows from Swami Brahmananda at Varanasi in 1921.

Sometime in 1908 he proceeded to Madras to assist Swami Ramakrishnananda in his work. Later he worked at Bangalore also for some years. In 1916 he was transferred to Mayavati where he served for nearly four years. While at Mayavati he was in charge of accounts for some time. Referring to his work as accountant Swami Madhavananda once remarked, ‘He had a wonderful power of concentration. He totalled up figures without ever making a mistake; he would get the correct total at the very first attempt. He was so sure of himself that he would not care to check a second time.’ After a brief interlude in Calcutta when he lived in close touch with Swami Brahmananda and when he was appointed a member of the Governing Body of the Mission and a trustee, he was again sent to South India for some years. After a year’s stay at Bhuvaneswar as the head of the monastery there, he was posted to Ranchi where he served continuously for a quarter century from 1927 to 1952.

The Temple at Morabadi Ranchi Ashram where Swami Vishuddhanandaji Maharaj lived a life of solitude for long years

His life at Ranchi was the life of a recluse. He seldom, if ever at all, left the monastery or received visitors. Only one or two select devotees could come once in a while to read with him the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna. Most of the time he would keep himself immersed in meditation and study. There are people living who bear witness to the austerity of his life and the state of God-consciousness in which he lived there. Some of them feel blessed that they knew him then and refer to those days with joy and gratitude as if they themselves were privy to the religious experience of this great soul. A road bears his name as a tribute of the people of Ranchi to his memory.

From 1952 onwards a marked change was discernible in Swami Visuddhananda. He was appointed Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission this year and in that capacity, he had many responsibilities, chief of them being to meet people and attend to their spiritual needs. Gone were the happy days of seclusion for him! From now on he spent at least a couple of hours daily meeting people and replying to their religious questions. Hundreds of people came to him, people of all ages and all communities. He was patient to all and his answers were simple, straightforward and convincing, Once a person came to see him he would come back again and again, very often with friends and relations. Soon his reputation as a religious teacher spread. He was in demand all over the country and he in his turn, travelled far and wide ministering to the religious needs of the people. It was at this time that an Indian barrister-at-law who also happens to be an all-India political leader once declared in a public speech, ‘I deem Swami Visuddhananda to be the greatest saint in India today.’ When this was reported to Swami Visuddhananda he was embarrassed and visibly annoyed. He said, ‘What does he know of saints?’

Swami Visuddhananda visited Assam more times than any President or Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission before him did. Mentioning this with pride many people in Assam claim that their State occupied a special place in the heart of Swami Visuddhananda. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that his visits created a religious ferment in both Bengali and Assamese populations, large sections of whom flocked to him as if drawn by a magnet. People who saw him then still remember him as if he was a symbol of a great experience. If there are today a large number of Ramakrishna Ashramas throughout Assam, it may be attributed largely to the influence of Swami Visuddhananda. He set in motion the powerful Ramakrishna Movement which is now sweeping through Assam and its neighbouring States in the Eastern Region.

Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna's marble Image at Belur Math sanctum sanctorum

In the year 1962 Swami Visuddhananda succeeded as President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission following the death of Swami Sankarananda. He was already eighty and his health was indifferent, yet when the call came to him. to shoulder the responsibilities of the office of President, he did not demur. As President he stayed mostly at Varanasi where he had begun his monastic career sixty years earlier. He was now at the zenith of his monastic virtues. As usual he had many visitors every day. However taxing it might be for him to talk to them in his feeble health, he never turned away anybody. He continued to exhort people to try to realise God. So inspiring were his talks and so kind and affectionate he himself was that many people visited Varanasi from Calcutta and other far-off places merely to see him and listen to his talks.

For some years he had been having trouble with his urinary system and doctors had advised an operation. At first he was unwilling to have the operation, but when the trouble persisted he decided in favour of it. He came down to Belurmath and soon entered a nursing home. Before leaving for the nursing home he approached almost everybody at Belurmath with folded hands and begged for forgiveness for any offence he might have given him. The behaviour was unusual, but no one thought that this was his final leave-taking. On June 13, 1962, he had his operation performed by the best surgeons of Calcutta. Contrary to everybody’s expectations his condition began to deteriorate from the midnight of the 15th and on the 16th morning he passed away. His lips were seen moving and his hands were joined together across his chest. Even his last moments were marked by his God-awareness.

Two incidents may be mentioned here which serve as a pointer to what made Swami Visuddhananda the man he was.

Once a vain young man who had atheistic leanings asked him, ‘Sir, have you seen God?’ Swami Visuddhananda, instead of giving him a direct answer, told him that since religious men of all countries and all ages had claimed that God existed and He could also be seen, it was wrong to have any doubt about His existence. The young man was not satisfied with this, but asked, ‘I want to know, Sir, if you yourself have seen Him.’ Again Swami Visuddhananda spoke at some length about how God answered one’s prayers, if one was earnest enough and how if one sincerely wanted to see Him, one could surely have His vision. Swami Visuddhananda thus parried the question a few times, but the young man was insistent and kept asking if he himself had seen God. At this impertinence of the young man, the atmosphere became tense and people present held their breath, worried about how Swami Visuddhananda was going to react. As people looked, they were amazed to see a great change slowly come over Swami Visuddhananda; he looked as if a halo surrounded his body. In words ringing with conviction he said, ‘I have seen God as I see my own limbs.’ A hush fell over the awed audience. The cheeky young man sat speechless. Without a further word, Swami Visuddhananda retired to his room and was not seen for the rest of that evening. People returned home with a sense of having experienced something breath-taking.

The next incident happened when Swami Visuddhananda was staying at Varanasi towards the close of his life. A leading surgeon of the town happened to lose his son, and this so upset the surgeon that he was no longer able to attend to his patients. He in fact was so distraught with grief that he was not even his normal self. Everybody in the town felt distressed at this because the surgeon was extremely popular. Also, there was nobody in the town who could match his skill as a surgeon which meant that the entire population in the town felt helpless without his services. Swami Visuddhananda who knew the surgeon felt sorry that the surgeon should thus suffer and with him also the citizens of Varanasi. He was so moved that he declared that he would gladly forgo the fruits of his life-long prayers if that would make the surgeon normal and enable him to serve the community as before. Strangely enough, the surgeon began to show signs of recovery soon after this and within a week be was able to resume his work. One day he appeared before Swami Visuddhananda and said, ‘Sir, I have just completed a very difficult operation and I think it is going to be successful.’ He came to give him this news as if he knew that his recovery was due to Swami Visuddhananda. The happiest man on hearing this news was Swami Visuddhananda.

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Selfless action and Siddhis

What is Siddhi?

It is not uncommon that some true aspirants who are leading a sincere spiritual life do get some siddhis. A few readers of my Blog have sent queries about ‘siddhis’. They want to know whether it is eventually good to possess these siddhis, if they come unasked. Or, are siddhis positively harmful?

What is Siddhi? In plain Sanskrit it means ‘success’. Siddhi also means ‘perfection’. In spiritual world, ‘siddhi’ connotes mystical Powers.

Sri Hanumanji as worshipped in homes

Saint Tulsidas, in his famous ‘Hanuman Chalisa’, praises Sri Hanuman as the ‘giver of eight kinds of ‘siddhi’ (mystical Powers) and nine kinds of ‘nidhi’ (wealth)’. What are they? One authoritative source to know about siddhis is definitely Rishi Patanjali’s Yogasutras. Swami Vivekananda’s lucid exposition of these sutras is indeed popular throughout the world.

According to a traditional view contained in Mahabharata, Siddhis are in eight in number and they are:

anima, mahima, laghima, garima, prapti, prakamya, istava and vasitva. These are the eight powers that one gains by a control one acquires over the elements.

Anima is the power by which one becomes very small. Mahima is the power by which one becomes very big. Laghima is the power by which one becomes very light. Garima is the power by which one becomes very heavy. Prapti is the power by which one can contact anything anywhere, whatever be the distance of that object. Prakamya is the capacity to fulfil any wish that is in the mind. Isatva is the capacity to bring anyone under one’s subjection. And vasitva is the mastery over the whole universe. These are the powers, says Rishi Patanjali, that one can get by ‘samyama’ (absolute concentration) on the five elements.

In his famous lecture on The Vedanta in all its Phases, delivered in Calcutta, Swamiji says: All powers and all purity and all greatness — everything is in the soul. The Yogi would tell you that the Siddhis – Animâ, Laghimâ, and so on — that he wants to attain to are not to be attained, in the proper sense of the word, but are already there in the soul; the work is to make them manifest. Patanjali, for instance, would tell you that even in the lowest worm that crawls under your feet, all the eightfold Yogi’s powers are already existing. The difference has been made by the body. As soon as it gets a better body, the powers will become manifest, but they are there.

How much helpful?

Are these Siddhis really helpful in one’s spiritual life? Yes, they are indeed helpful provided – the Powers are used for the good of others and if Guru’s permission to use them is obtained.

boats anchored in Midmar Dam in South Africa

But every saint true to his salt, has warned us from using these Powers as they can easily promote egoism and then make us fall from the chosen spiritual path. Some times the Powers are so useless in one’s spiritual development; Sri Ramakrishna would ridicule in gaining these Powers after much penance. He once remarked about a monk returned to meet his brother. When the brother questioned about what had he got after leaving the home and practicing strenuous tapasya, the monk proudly answered, “Look, I can walk on the river waters”. And he actually showed his brother how he could walk on the waters! The brother exclaimed, “Oh! Only for ‘walking on the waters’ you spent 12 long years! See by paying to the boatman half a rupee I can cross this river!”

The Mahabharata episode

Nevertheless, Siddhis have captured the minds of aspirants from ancient time and by following any or in combination of all the four yogas namely, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, the siddhis can be obtained. One illustrative story that we find in Mahabharata is about an ascetic who meditates in a forest. Once he was doing his sadhana when a bird’s droppings fell on his shaven head. Utterly disturbed and consequently irritated, he cursed that the bird be burnt to death. And lo! The bird immediately fell from the tree dead. The ascetic understood that he has already developed a siddhi and became proud of it.

an ideal householder

When the time came for taking alms, he ventured into a nearby village. It is an ancient practice in India that the renunciates stand in front of homes and call loudly the mother of the house to give them the required alms. A few minutes passed and there was no response from that home. Again he knocked at the door and called a little more loudly. Still there was no response. The third time he called with disgust and became angry. He was aware that he had got ‘siddhi’ the mystical power and hence thought would use that same power that he had used in the morning in a forest. At that juncture, a sweet voice of the house lady came through the still closed-door. She in a warning note, replied from inside, “Look! My boy! Don’t ever think that I am that bird which you burnt it to death! Hold on! I am coming now!”.

Obviously the ascetic was dumb founded as the morning incident of his burning a bird in that forest was not known to any one. How could this house lady who was in a distant village knew what happened earlier. Now, more than alms, he was curious to know about her. She opened the door and welcomed him in her home. While giving this ascetic boy the meals, she explained the cause for the delay in her response.

She showed him how her ailing husband was in the bed and he needed all services that she lovingly rendered to him. The knowledge of knowing about this ascetic was part of gaining a siddhi. She further informed him that such mystical powers could be obtained not only by meditation but also by performing one’s duties with love, respect and dedication.

Selfless action and Siddhis?

30 kms south of Kangra valley in the lap of Shivalik range and 56 kms from Dharamshala, the Jwalamukhi temple is dedicated to the "GODDESS OF LIGHT". One of its own kinds of temples, there is no idol in it. An eternally burning and shining blue flame emanating from a rock sanctum is only worshipped here as a manifestation of the goddess. Dedicated to the deity of Flaming Mouth or goddess Jwalamukhi, the temple is one of the 51 power spots or Shaktipeethas of India. One of the most revered temples of the Hindus, the temple possesses a golden dome, gifted by Mughal Emperor Akbar. The temple is at its best during Navratri festival in early April and mid October.

Once during my three-month ‘wanderings’ in North India, I reached Jwalamukhi, a place of pilgrimage in Himachal Pradesh where Divine Mother is worshipped in flames of fire. It was about evening. Getting down from the bus, I sauntered in that small sleepy town searching for one night accommodation. I saw a guest house run by Gita Bhavan. The receptionist gladly welcomed me and gave a key and two blankets. He showed me a spot in the verandah of the upper floor where there was a cupboard in which I could keep my bag and even lock it. I spread the blanket on the clean floor.  Locking the cupboard, I went down to take bath before proceeding to mandir for darshan.

I found several common bathrooms and toilets in the corner of the buildings. There was a huge well. A small bucket has been tied with a rope. By throwing the small bucket in the well, one can easily draw water and pour it in a bigger bucket and use it for bath and other purposes. While I was taking the small one in my hands, readying to place it in the well by sending it down, someone came to me and forcibly took the ropes in his hand, saying sweetly, “Baba! Please don’t! I am here to serve you! I shall fill this bucket with water and place it in a bath room. Please wait!”.

I thought why at all I should take the help of another person when drawing water from a well was not a difficult task. I looked at the person who offered help to me. He was a middle-aged man, robust in health and having a turban on his head signifying that he belonged to the Sikh faith. So quickly that the Sardarji drew water I had to accept his seva willy-nilly as I was getting late for the evening arati in the temple and had no time to argue with him.

Karma Yoga - selfless service

Once the temple arati was over, I returned to Gita Bhavan. That  Sardarji was still there near the well and I was surprised to see him, drawing water from the well for everyone else too. One after another the pilgrims were served by him. I do not know how many buckets of water he must have filled in serving all those who came there!

When he became free, he slowly came to me and sat with me to converse. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, he told that he was very happy to meet me. I too expressed my happiness for his unasked seva. He strangely told me was I not coming down from the Himalayas? Did I not stay with a highly evolved monk for a few weeks? Did I not learn such and such things from him?

To say the least I was indeed surprised. I thought how he could exactly point out even what I had studied under a monk and where I was in past weeks. Naturally I enquired with a tinge of suspicion, how did he know about me. In a most disarming way, the Sardarji replied that once he saw any one, he could instantly come to know of all personal details about that person. What was striking about him was his utter humility. In sweet intonation, he described how he had undertaken the seva to pilgrims in that holy town several years before. He had a small shop for his income to take care of his family. Once the shop hours were over, he spends his time at this guesthouse where hundreds of pilgrims come and go. He continued further to say that it was his privilege to serve them in a spirit of Karma Yoga!

Each is great in his own place?

All spiritual aspirants are familiar with karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is a plan of action for betterment. It provides certain values in our life. It makes us pure by stripping off our selfish motives. It has such wonderful practices that make us work for others in a spirit of service. Self-sacrifice becomes inherent and it elevates the individual who is attuned to it. In short Karma Yoga contributes for the making of a man to an elevated spiritual being.

One of the doctrines of Karma Yoga is activity. Performance of action must be according to one’s own nature and occupation. Whatever be the social status, whether a person is a monk or householder, the duties that has befallen on his status must be carried out.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda, in one of his famous lectures on Karma Yoga, entitled “Each is Great in his own Place” points out very admirably the importance of performing one’s duties. He says that the Karma Yoga “does not say that this duty is lowering and the other elevating. Each duty has its own place, and according to the circumstances in which we are placed, must we perform our duties.”

He continues to caution us by saying that “If a man retires from the world to worship God, he must not think that those who live in the world and work for the good of the world are not worshipping God; neither must those who live in the world for wife and children think that those who give up the world are low vagabonds. Each is great in his own place.”

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Delight of Devotees

A devotee who has had long association with monks of the Ramakrishna Order was telling me the other day that the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were unique, each in his own way. He hastened to add that even today, though to a varying lesser degree, the monks are indeed special. Generally, a monk’s life is inward bound, so it is difficult to see externally the gem that each is. But when such monks occupy high positions or undertake such activities as to bring them within the ken of society, their uniqueness is visible to all. Swami Shantatmanandaji is one such monk who recently toured South Africa.

the soothing smile of Swami Shantatmanandaji...photo courtesy: Kavish

He is the present Head of the Delhi branch of the Ramakrishna Mission; this in itself is a comment on his leadership qualities, his admin abilities, his creativity and resourcefulness.

I used to wonder always when and where he took great interest in learning puja – the detailed methods of worship. In most of our branches daily puja of Master is according to the ten item method. The Special Puja of course consists of not only sixteen items of worship but also a much more expanded one. And what to speak of more specific pujas like Kali puja, Durga puja and Jagaddhatri puja which require besides expertise certain life styles too.

I came close to Shantatmananda in connection with Sri Sri Jagaddhatri puja during my tenure at Ranchi Sanatorium. That was an occasion to know more about the puja matters as he would patiently explain the science and art of many methods of worship to my varied silly questions! Sometimes our discussion would stray into those points pertaining to tantric worship. I was always just amazed at the depth and profundity of his knowledge and his ability to explain the esoteric and intricate processes in a most simple way.

It is little wonder that I looked forward with great expectation for his visit to our Centre here on a 15 day program. Though his days of itinerary were packed with hectic schedule – delivered 18 lectures in 13 days! (a detailed Report appended below) – yet during his stay here, many a post-meal time was spent in being with him thus gaining some memorable moments together leaving me wanting more! When we, monks from different parts of the world meet, (sometimes through skype too!) there is much ‘catching up’ to do. It was wonderful to listen to him about the proposed 150th birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda in 2013 all over the world and he lovingly ‘booked’ me for a program in Delhi! The unique combination of a sincere devotee and a serious  academic in him added a lot of ‘masala’ to our discussions.

Contrary to what I had heard of him (that he was in the habit of keeping a distance from devotees etc.), he spoke in a sweet and simple yet enlightening manner, whether at the dining table, in the foyer or at a public lecture with whomsoever he came into contact with. Instantaneously he became a spiritual delight of devotees.

What was his impression about his visit to South Africa and the devotees here? I quote a portion from his email that he wrote after returning to India:

Dear and Revered Maharaj,

What shall I write to you?  I am afraid, any attempt to pen down my feelings would fall far short of my true feelings.  The South Africa experience is something which only the truly blessed people get once in their lifetime.  I have never seen such a wonderful band of sincere, dedicated and devoted devotees anywhere outside India.  The officials and members of Exco — they are shouldering enormous responsibilities.  Hats off to them.  Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji is a truly amazing personality.  It is unbelievable how one can be so humble and self-effacing in spite of such capacity and talent.  My prayers to Master that he may continue to serve the devotees of South Africa for decades.  As for you I sincerely feel that you are the Master’s special gift to the devotees of South Africa.  Lord has blessed you with such a loving and affectionate heart and I am sure you are providing healing touch to thousands of devotees there.  Please convey my special regards to the Exco members…My special love and best wishes to devotees…My special prayers and best wishes to mothers…With deep love and humble pranams,

Yours affectionately,

Shantatmananda

Swami Shantatmanandaji arrived in Durban, on 15 July from Mauritius. On 17 July he was given a warm welcome reception that was held at HQ Ramakrishna Temple during Saturday weekly evening satsang where he spoke on Spiritual Life. Earlier in the afternoon he addressed a gathering of Youth members of the Centre on A Life of Purpose, Dedication & Service. His 15-day stay saw meeting with the officials and many devotees of our Centre, addressing different public programs, performing holy home-satsangs and giving interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Gauteng, Dundee, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Estcourt in Northern Natal and Pietermaritzburg, Phoenix and Chatsworth in Southern Natal.

At Gauteng Sub-centre, Swami Shantatmanandaji gave his Keynote address on Glory of Guru on 18 July. From there, the next day, he was driven to Dundee Sub-centre where he gave his Address again on Guru. At Newcastle the officials took him to a few welfare sites where he saw how the humanitarian work being done. On 20 July he addressed a large gathering in Ladysmith Sub-centre where he spoke eloquently on Swami Vivekananda’s Message to the Youth. At Estcourt, on 21 July, the Swami explained the concept of Spiritual Journey.

A special satsang in honour of Swami Shantatmanandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre on 22 July, when he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation on Holy Mother. On 23 July he reached HQ in the morning where a number of lady-members of Sri Sarada Devi Women’s Circle were awaiting his arrival. They listened to him speaking about Women Empowerment and their role as Volunteers. At Chatsworth Sub-centre, in the evening, he gave a lecture on Welfare of the World – Why? & How?

The next day i.e., on 24 July at the evening weekly Satsang, held at HQ, he spoke on Swami Vivekananda as the Universal Preceptor. Earlier in the afternoon the Swami met the beneficiaries of Greenbury Welfare Project and addressed them on Faith in God – the First Step. On 25 July we celebrated Guru Purnima. In the Temple he performed a special worship with sixteen items called ‘shodachopachaar pujaa’. An hour later at the Nischalananda Hall there was a Public Meeting wherein Swami Vimokshanandaji, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and Shantatmanandaji addressed a large congregation. The visiting Swami spoke on Sri Ramakrishna as Guru. On 26 July at Phoenix Sub-centre he spoke on How to obtain the Grace of God to the assembled devotees. On 27 July in the morning he addressed the Senior Citizen Forum members at the same Phoenix Sub-centre on the topic Aging Gracefully. A Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ in the evening drew lot of appreciation. On 28 July evening he participated in a program organised by three Satsang Groups viz., Verulam, Etete and Tongaat. The venue was the famous Sri Veerabhoga Emperumal Temple at Tongaat. There he delivered a Talk on Religiosity vs Spirituality.

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 overwhelmed at the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. He was all praise for the Centre’s help to this Home in giving a decent and dignified living just before death.

Being a Nature lover, a special visit was arranged by the officials of the Ladysmith Sub-centre to the world renowned Drakensberg mountains.

reading the incident of Gandhiji inscribed on a stone at PMB Station...photo courtesy: Rishie

That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. So also his lively visit to Lions Park and Zoo and the century old Botanical gardens arranged by the officials of the Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. They also took him to the historical railway station where Mahatma Gandhiji was thrown off the train. That was the place where ‘shivering through the winter night in the waiting room of the station’, Gandhiji made the momentous decision to begin his unique form of protest against racial discrimination called ‘satyagraha’. 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 famous Umgeni River Bird Park made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.

On 29 July of his departure day, 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 afternoon of July 29, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at the Durban International Airport. On his way back to Delhi he would stop for a day in Dubai where he had two programs to attend.

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Spiritual sojourn

Welcome to South Africa!

Next Thursday night i.e., on July 15, 2010, His Holiness Sri Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission branch will be with us in Durban.

Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj

He is eagerly looking forward to pay a 15-day visit to this Rainbow nation wherein he is scheduled to participate in the functions organised by our Centres. All arrangements to give a warm welcome to him at the King Shaka International Airport by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre are set.

I have fond memories of dear brother Shantatmanandaji’s amiable nature. I had the privileged moments to be with him especially during Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja for long 12 years in Ranchi Sanatorium.  He was the leader of a team of monks and volunteer-devotees who would without fail visit Ranchi in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov), to conduct the renowned Puja. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

While accepting our hearty invitation to make a visit here, he said that he takes “the entire trip as a spiritual journey”.  He further said: “I have very wonderful and pleasant memories of the devotees of South Africa whom I had the occasion to meet in New Delhi during their trips to India.  So, I really look forward to this spiritual journey.”

In a communication to our Chairman Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Swami said: “The South Africa centre is growing from strength to strength every day under the wonderful leadership of your noble self and others.  I am sure it is going to occupy a very high position amongst our centres all over the world.”

Early days

Being a volunteer in the Bangalore Ashram, Shantatmanandaji known popularly as ‘Jaishankar Maharaj’ formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1977 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1986. While in Belur Math, staying for 30 years, he had the blessed opportunity to come into close contact with several luminary-Swamis of the Order.

Stint of service

His expertise in the area of Financial Administration and Fund Management has been the cornerstone of the financial transparency and accountability at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math (Kolkata). During his tenure, the branch centres of the world-wide Ramakrishna Mission received new impetus in streamlining their financial records and policies.

The other areas which continue to relentlessly engage him with Human Development are Disaster Management and Value Education. The Swami is a self-professed advocate of character building and man-making Value Education based on the universal insights, which are common to all spiritual traditions, as presented by  Vivekananda and Vedanta, which he feels should impact our educational structure and policies extensively.

Women, Youth and children

I visited in 2007 Sarada Seva Sangha, an NGO in the suburbs of Kolkata. This is managed by one hundred trained women volunteers. The  leaders of SSS went all the way to receive me and arrange a cultural program in honour of my visit which I shall ever cherish. Swami Shantatmanandaji was a pioneering influence in setting up this Organisation in the field of Women’s Empowerment, which is a developmental area close to his vision of Nation-Building. The Sangha is managed and administered by women and its focus area is the service of women and children.

Swami Shantatmanandaji is very close to youngsters and inspires them towards a life of purpose, dedication and service with a rare passion that is characteristic of the mission of Swami Vivekananda.

Outer ring Service

He is passionately involved in the interfaith dialogue leading to closer understanding between different faiths and is deeply committed to all peace initiatives.

Swamiji conducts regular discourses in English and Bengali as also in Tamil and Hindi in rare occasions.

After he took over charge of the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, Swami Shantatmanandaji has visited Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland on lecture tours, besides visiting many cities in India on invitation to give lectures on different spiritual topics.

New Delhi Centre

Ramakrishna Temple at New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission

This centre was started in 1927 and made a branch of the Mission in 1930.

Activities at a glance:

1. A library with separate sections for children and university students. It had 43,177 general books, and 192 newspapers and periodicals.

2. A computer training centre with 762 students.

3. A free coaching centre for 95 children studying in municipal schools in and around the ashrama.

4. A homoeopathic dispensary, which treated 23,515 cases during the year.

5. A mobile medical unit, which treated 14,788 cases this year.

6. A modern free TB clinic at Karol Bagh, which treated 21,553 outpatient cases this year. Under the home treatment scheme, the clinic extended its medical services to patients unable to attend in person, through their contacts.

7. A medical centre in the TB clinic premises, providing specialist consultancy services. It served 49,083 patients during the year.

8. Religious activities: There were 257 religious discourses on weekdays and Sundays in the ashrama this year. Moreover, 100 occasional lectures were delivered in various cultural institutions and 101 value education programmes conducted in various educational institutions. Regular Sunday classes were held at Delhi University. Besides, the birth anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were celebrated at the ashrama and in other localities in Delhi.

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Swami from Sri Lanka


Welcome to South Africa!

His Holiness Sri Swami Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our  Sri Lanka Ramakrishna Mission arrived in Durban today. He was visibly joyful in paying a 10 day visit to this Rainbow nation where in many places he will participate in the 156th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. He was warmly welcomed at the airport by Swamis Brahmarupanandaji, Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre. I cannot but remember Revered Sarvarupanandaji’s amiable nature when he was part of a team of monks who came to Seva Pratishthan to assist the Administrator-monks during service dislocation for a short period. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

Swami Sarvarupanandaji

Early days

Revered Maharaj started as a volunteer in the Salem Ashram in 1962. He formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1969 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1979.

Stint of service

He has served extensively in many of the Ramakrishna Branches starting at the Salem Ashram from 1969 to 1982, at the Singapore Ashram from 1983 to 1991 and a short period at the Sevaprathistan Hospital. From 1991 to 1998 he served at the Madurai Math, and 1998 to 2004 at the Coimbatore Vidyalaya.

In 2004 he was appointed the President of the Ooty Math where he served till 2006. In 2006 he was appointed the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Colombo, and continues to serve in this capacity currently.

Colombo Centre

The Colombo Centre is engaged in a number of ongoing spiritual and welfare  programmes to assist the communities of Sri Lanka. These include: spiritual discourses and retreats, medical services, poverty relief, education for youth and personality development, Sunday School for religious education where nearly a 1000 children attend weekly. Of special significance is the work done at times of natural disasters, the most recent being the Tsunami – when  1000’s of families were affected. The Mission adopted a village and built 116 two storey houses to rehabilitate those affected. The Mission is also currently engaged in assisting Internally Displaced People due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. More than 46,000 people are being fed and provided assistance every month.

His public program in South Africa would be as below.

DATE PROGRAMME
Saturday,12 December Birth Anniversary Celebration of Sri Sarada Devi
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Sunday,13 December Conference on “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”(Hosted by the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram)
Time : 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Venue  : University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus
Monday,14 December Programme at Phoenix Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 17 Foresthaven Drive, Phoenix
Tuesday,15 December Programme at Gauteng Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue  : Eagle Canyon Golf Estate, Club House, Blueberry Street, Honeydew, Johannesburg
Wednesday,16 December Programme at Newcastle Sub-Centre(for all Northern KZN Sub-Centres/ Satsang groups)
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 6.00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, cnr of Centre & Green Streets, Newcastle
Thursday,17 December Programme at Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple
Topic   : “The Glory of Divine Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : 7 Maharaj Street, Gandhi’s Hill, Tongaat
Friday,18 December Programme at Chatsworth Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 26 Moorcross Drive, Moorton, Chatsworth
Saturday,19 December Programme at Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Sunday,20 December Vedanta Retreat
Topic   : “Vedanta in Everyday Life”
Time : 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil

(Registration for the above programme is essential.

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’?

Magnanimous Mother

Sri Sri Jagaddhatri
Jagaddhatri in full regalia - clay image used for worship at Ranchi Ramakrishna Mission TB Sanatorium

From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

(To M.) “One must accept the forms of God.  Do you know the meaning of the image of Jagaddhatri? She is the Bearer of the Universe.  Without her support and protection the universe would fall from its place and be destroyed.  The Divine Mother, Jagaddhatri, reveals Herself in the heart of one who can control the mind, which may be compared to an elephant.”

RĀKHĀL : “The mind is a mad elephant.”

MASTER: “Therefore the lion, the carrier of the Divine Mother, keeps it under control.”

Today is Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja! I cannot escape from indulging in a little nostalgia with regard to this most important Puja of the Ranchi Sanatorium in India where I was blessed to witness for  12 long years. The enthusiasm and exuberance that expressed in different forms in staff of the hospital, devotees of the Ashram and the tribal public of the neighbouring villages and also well-wishers from distant towns are something not explainable! it was a puja fever under the spell of which we all came to our great delight.

I remember to have written a small piece in Wikipedia in 2005 which I reproduce below:

The formal difference between Durga and Jagaddhatri occurs in ‘Mayatantra’ and Jagaddhatri is mentioned with reference to Durga in Krishnananda’s ‘Tantrasaar’. The special puja of the Goddess on the ninth lunar day of the light fortnight in the month of Kartick has been referred in ‘Krityatattarnab’ by Srinath Acharyachudamoni of the 15th-16th century.

As per ancient pauranik lore of the Hindu scriptures, soon after the victory over Mahishasur the Devatas became highly egoistic. They thought because of lending to Durga their instruments the mighty asuras were vanquished. To make them understand that the primordial power is alone behind every action, the Brahman appeared before the Devatas in the form of effulgent Yaksha. Bewildered by its presence one by one the Devatas approached Yaksha. First the god of wind Vayu. The Yaksha asked him what he could do. The Vayu replied that he could throw away huge trees, tumble high mountains. The Yaksha then placed a small grass and asked him to move it. The Vayu utilised all his powers but lo! he could not even displace it. So also the god of fire Agni, could not even burn it. Likewise one by one the Devatas failed. And it dawned on them that their powers are in reality not their own but derived from the supreme power who as protecting mother holds the entire creation and therefore called Jagaddhatri. Anybody who worships Jagaddhatri becomes absolutely egoless and a true servant of the world which is nothing but a manifestation of the Brahman.

While thinking of Ma Jagaddhatri, some readers may wonder how this Puja was started in a TB Sanatorium which may seem unconnected. But I want to share a true incident that I heard from the eye-witnesses.

It is pertinent that this memorable puja was indeed started by one in-patient of this Sanatorium in 1958. He was late Bhupati Bose from Howrah. It is said that he had a divine aadesh in dream one day for doing Devi Puja. The then Secretary Maharaj late Swami Vedantanandaji rejected his offer saying that doing Durga Puja in a hospital set up is not a joke. But Bhupati, distressed at the decision, prayed to the Mother and sought excuse for his inability to carry out Her wish. Who can eventually stop the Divine Will? He again dreamt of the Mother who said that there was one-day Puja also available! On hearing about the second dream, Vedantanandaji was ready to reconsider his decision and acceded to the patient’s request for Jagaddhatri worship. Bhupati himself prepared the image beautifully for consecutive two years. The entire staff and all the in-patients stood together in completing the one-day Puja with great devotion.

JPUJAimmersion
Image of the Divine Mother taken in procession for Immersion

Sri Lalita Sahasranama in its 173 verse speaks of Tripurasundari as Jagaddhatri .

Vishvamata jagaddhatri vishalakshi viragini

Pragalbha paramodara paramoda manomayi .. 173

Vishvamata: Who is the Mother of the Universe.
Jagaddhatri: Who is the holder of the universe.
Vishalakshi: Who has large eyes.
Viragini: Who is utterly passionless.
Pragalbha: Who is surprisingly daring
Paramodara: Who is supremely generous.
Manomayi: Who is all mentation.

Speaking silently!

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

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

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