Conference on “Hinduism – The Way Forward”
Conducting a Conference is beset with certain inherent risks. Scheduling it especially on a Sunday morning when weather is absolutely right for lazying around, you do not know how many would turn up. And if the Conference is on religious matters that does not contain even a single ‘cultural item’ its much worse. Ruminating with some sort of anxiety on these lines, I reached the Westville Campus of UKZN on Sunday, the 30th September 2012 fifteen minutes before the Conference began. What I saw was something unimaginable. The Hall was packed to its capacity!
This Conference entitled “Hinduism – The Way Forward” was convened by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram (SSDA) of Durban. On arrival, I could clearly discern the devotion of the members of the SSDA and how they were working in unison. At various points of the campus, the volunteers were guiding delegates to the parking lots and venue. Reaching nearer to the venue, I could also observe how the lady devotees of the Ashram warmly welcomed every one. They duly directed the speakers and guests to T-Block where, after registration, each delegate was given a Conference pack and led into the lecture theatre.Well, I was thoroughly pleased to get a detailed Report from Ms Shiksha Ramkissoon who is a devotee of SSDA. Professionally she is a Physio-therapist attached to a hospital. Her Report is lucid, presenting a vivid picture of what happened at the Conference. I do hope our reader-devotees enjoy this Report. Images courtesy: Lushen Pillay.
The clear skies and the Durban warmth presented a perfect backdrop for a Sunday morning of discussion on some of Hinduism’s sacred texts. The foyer outside T1, the venue of the Conference, was converted into a small shrine with a beautiful garlanded picture of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi surrounded by plants, bouquets and an artfully created ‘Aum’ symbol made with flowers. It was complemented by a slide show of spiritual quotations on a digital screen above the entrance.
The backdrop at the podium in the hall, was adorned with a stunning banner of an image of the Holy Trio highlighted by a beautiful gold drape around it. By 9 30 am the room was filled with over 700 guests. His Holiness Revered Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order based in Ulsoor, Bangalore, India, graced the Conference with his presence. Also present, were His Holiness Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj and His Holiness Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
The program director was an attorney Ms Prakashnee Gengan, the Chairperson of SSDA. Sister Avinta Badrinath led the congregation in prayer, before Her Holiness Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji lovingly welcomed every delegate including the Revered Swamijis, members of sister organizations and those who had travelled from far and wide to attend the Conference. Ms Gengan elaborated on the theme of the Conference and the topics which were to be presented. They were based on two popular scriptures, viz., the ancient and eternal Ramayana and the modern day Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
The first speaker was Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. whose topic “Crime in the Ramayana – Challenges and Solutions” was discussed in a detailed and scholarly manner. Citing specific incidents in the Ramayana from the perspective of criminology, Swamiji’s talk provided a new perspective on the cause, prevention and management of crime and demonstrated that the scriptures provide the answers not only to our spiritual lives but also to the challenges that we face in our daily lives.
Swamiji began by tracing the cause of crime by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjuna asks Lord Krishna what impels a man to commit sin, as if by force. The Lord replies that it is desire and anger, born of rajas, which are the root causes of this behavior. Swamiji then highlighted the various characters of the Ramayana who committed various crimes, starting from Ratnakar, to others such as Ahalya, Surpanaka, Ravana. These examples enforced the point that unbridled desire indeed is the source of crime.
Swamiji explained that criminal desires are to be managed before they are expressed. For this, the tool of self-control is essential. He identified personalities such as Lord Rama, Mother Sita, sevak Hanuman, Queen Mandodari and others who displayed a great degree of self-control. He added that this should be adopted by Hindus as a means to prevent crime. Characters who displayed poor self-control were Vali, Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Indrajit.
He gave examples of different kinds of graded system of punishment that was meted out in the Ramayana. He identified three dimensions of combating crime, viz., individual goodness, a single individual becoming proactively good on his own and an individual working in a team, a pressure group or organization. All have to be done within the parameters of the law.
Valmiki constructed a complex crime scene in which Sita, who was untrained in self-defence, was abducted by Ravana who used disguise to deceive Her. Sita is initially portrayed as a victim of crime, but Valmiki showed that righteousness eventually prevails and Sita emerges as a survivor of crime. The Ramayana thus has many episodes of crime but eventually proves that criminals are never victorious.
The congregation then adjourned for a refreshment break. The second session saw the remaining three papers being delivered.
The first speaker in this session was Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. who presented his Talks, undoubtedly the highlight of the Conference, on ‘Prayer in Daily Life – According to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’. Maharaj expanded on all points by using examples from daily life, effectively bringing in humour, which left the audience roaring with laughter whilst simultaneously further imprinting the message and concepts into their minds.
Maharaj explained that prayer is a powerful tool found in all religions. In Hinduism, the importance of prayer was forgotten over the years, while other spiritual practices, like self-enquiry, yoga etc., were developed to a great extent. With the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘prayer’, as a fundamental spiritual tool, was highlighted again.
Maharaj defined prayer as the simple act of talking to God. Prayer, as it is usually done, (Maharaj called this the preliminary stage, or a petitionary prayer) begins by asking God for something. There are people who criticise this type of prayer as being materialistic or unnecessary, as God is Omniscient and hence knows our inner desires. Maharaj explained that this type of prayer should not be condemned as, without this, millions of people would not think of God at all. Moreover, the acquisition of material possessions, artha, and fulfilment of desires, kama, (done within the framework of dharma) are legitimate goals of life. Since God is our very own, there is nothing wrong in asking of Him what we want.
Maharaj pointed out that, when praying, we should discriminate between a prayer for a particular need and a prayer for a want. Not all prayers are answered since God will provide what is needed and not necessarily what we want as that which is wanted, is not always good for us or we may not be capable of taking care of it. The manner in which we pray is also important. Since God is our own, our conversation with Him (or Her) should be in our own mother tongue (or the language that we understand), with tears in our eyes and sincerity of heart. Since God is Omniscient and Omnipresent, there is no specific time or place that is set for prayer.
Even though prayer is considered a lower form of spiritual practice, Maharaj emphasised that it is a fundamental practice as it opens our hearts, brings balance to our spiritual life and helps us overcome any difficulties/complications that may arise from other spiritual practices.
As we progress in our spiritual life through the means of prayer, the nature of the prayer itself changes. As our hearts grow, asking for ourselves expands to asking for others – be it wife, children, family, neighbours, country, etc. Finally, as we realise that God provides all our needs, it changes from asking for things to a pure love for God when we continuously think of/communicate with God, just want to be with God and surrender completely to God.
The next paper was presented by Dr Nirmala Balkaran. Her talk entitled “Nurturing children and youth – the Ramayana Way” was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation which had charming pictures of little children, including a stunning cover picture of baby Rama. The core of the speech was the examples of the parenting of King Dasharatha and Mother Sita, the education and nurturing their children received and how these ideals can be implemented in modern society in response to challenges that are faced by parents and teachers today.
She discussed in detail how the sons of King Dasharatha, from a young age, were given a well-balanced secular, vocational, artistic and spiritual education by their father, Guru and other teachers assigned by their father, both directly and indirectly through exposure. The importance of stimulating the child by the reading of religious texts from the foetal stage to adolescence was highlighted.
Dr Balkaran described Mother Sita as a single parent who, even under difficult circumstances, ensured that her children Luv and Kush received a balanced, well-rounded education that catered to their physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual development under the tutelage of sage Valmiki.
In contrast, the current school system merely provides a secular education which is a stepping stone to tertiary institutions that endow one with the necessary skills to earn a livelihood. As important as that is, it is not sufficient for the development of the entire personality of a human being, for as Swami Vivekananda says, education should be “man-making, life giving and character-building”. Hence there is a need for parents to involve their children with organisations that provide programs which offer moral and spiritual education and promote a holistic and balanced development which includes the growth of character and morality.
The final paper entitled “Illuminating Parables on Spirituality from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” was presented by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji. Mataji chose certain tales from the Gospel as told by the Master. These contained deep spiritual truths and guidelines for spiritual life. Mataji’s simple description of the stories and the animated pictures on the PowerPoint presentation made it easy for the audience to relate to the parables.
Mataji described the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as a “scripture which clearly points the way forward”. The popular stories provided insight on topics such as the nature of God, both form and formless; the grace of the Guru; renunciation; causes of conflicts between practitioners of different religions/sects; obstacles in spiritual life; and spiritual practices including concentration of mind. She encouraged all to take the Gospel and read a little daily to imbibe some of the lessons from them.
After each talk, there was a short question and answer segment, which drew brilliant answers from the panel of speakers to the various interesting questions from the audience. There were also some abiding comments and observations from the audience. At the end of the Conference, the speakers were presented with tokens of appreciation by devotees of SSDA. Sister Avinta brought the Conference to a close with her mellifluous shanti paath recital before all proceeded to the foyer where a sumptuous lunch was served.
The general consensus of those present was that the Conference was a ‘major success’ and ‘well organised’. It was indeed a morning well spent! The credit singularly must go to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi whose infinite grace seemed to be over flowing that day!
Jai Sri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu!
Today we, with fondness and reverence, remember Mahatma Gandhi. His prayerful life was a powerful pointer in keeping the name of God in whatever situation one is. Just two days before his assassination, i.e., on 28th January he said: “If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.”
His connection with South Africa as given in History.com runs thus:
Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.
According to him, “prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”
As a sequel to the earlier Post on Master’s manifestation as Kalpataru in fulfilling the prayers of His devotees, I would like to narrate a few real life incidents here.
Many of this Blog’s readers know that the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa has 7 sub-centres and 8 Satsang groups. Some of my visits to certain Sub-centres have become routine: such as Chatsworth – every third Sunday for conducting Gospel class; Pietermaritzburg – every first Sunday for the same purpose. To Phoenix Sub-centre I generally go and address the Senior Citizens’ Forum, if not every month, at least more than 6 times a year.
In my interaction with the devotees I am careful in learning how their spiritual life is strengthened and whether they did have any personal experience to narrate and so on. Its always inspiring to listen to such abiding and unforgetful experience even it be a dream, but ultimately the result is that the devotee stands to gain in making the nascent devotion steadfast to his/her chosen ideal.
A poor old widowed lady approached us at one of our our Sub-Centres requesting assistance with groceries. Upon enquiring about her situation at home, she informed us that she lived alone. Her son lived with his family far from her home. They rarely visited her and seldom they see to her needs. She became depressed and lonely, until she began attending the programs at our Sub-Centre regularly. One day she felt very sad and unhappy. She felt unloved and uncared for. That night she dreamt of Sri Sarada Devi, who spoke to her in Hindi and asked her why she was depressed. The Holy Mother said that she was watching over her and she need not be afraid. The Mother said that she was providing groceries to her every month and mentioned the items by name, – dal, rice, sugar etc – and all her needs were being taken care of, so why must she still worry? The old lady got up startled and felt very peaceful. When we started assisting her with groceries, she felt greatly blessed to have seen and heard the Holy Mother in her dream and she knew for certain her prayers were being heard. Within a short time she developed a deep and abiding faith in fulfilling power of our Holy Trio.
Another old widowed lady, who lives alone, had been informed that she would have to pay a few thousand Rands to have the title deed of her house transferred over to her name. She could not afford this amount and prayed to our Master to help her out of this situation. Within a short time she received a notification that this amount had been waived and the house was transferred onto her name. She became emotional after realizing it was through the grace of the Master as a consequent to her intense prayer that her problem had been resolved.
A frail looking old man who comes to our Sub-Centre regularly, once came with a bandage wrapped around his head. Upon enquiring if he had got hurt, he replied in the affirmative and said he had slipped in the bath-tub and fell, hitting his head. He remembered calling out to Mother Sarada and said it was indeed a miracle that he had not sustained any concussion or broken bones, and the strangest thing was that there was hardly any bleeding. He knew that Mother had protected him.
While ruminating over these faith-bearing incidents, I was reminded of another interesting incident that happened when I was in Ranchi Sanatorium.
A devotee couple P & G used to come to the Ashrama regularly. One day the lady P was found very sad. Naturally I enquired what was the matter that made her so sad. She said that she was staying in the upper storey of the building and every day morning, on getting up from bed, she would look out through the windows and would be glad to see the freshly blossomed flowers. The sadness is due her inability to offer any of these beautiful flowers at the feet of the Master’s photo.
I asked why she could not collect flowers from down below. She replied that she could not because that the garden was maintained by the ground floor police officer’s wife and she was for obvious reasons reluctant to ask favour from her knowing how that lady was not social. Lo! that was terrible for her! I consoled her saying that whenever she sits for her doing sadhana she should pray to Master that He may bless her by providing opportunity to do offering of flowers.
A few days passed. And one fine morning this devotee P came to Ashrama. She was palpably very happy. I could not contain my surprise and I had to ask her what was the reason that she was found in so happy mood! She replied with all enthusiasm, “Maharaj, today I could offer some of those beautiful flowers to Shri Thakur! Thats why I am so happy and came running to tell you.”
I said, “Oh! thats wonderful! Finally Master has listened to your prayer! And you also could muster courage to ask favour from the police officer’s wife”! What she said was surprising to me. P continued, “Maharaj, no I did not go to her at all. This morning I heard some one knocking my door and when I opened it that woman was standing there. I was a little intrigued to find her as she never would even greet when our eyes met. She told me that yesternight she had a dream and in that dream she saw Thakur.”
Obviously one can very well imagine that on hearing this our devotee P was very happy. She narrated what that police officer’s wife told her. “Look, I am not aware of your Thakur whom you worship. Your Thakur appeared in my dream and He was luminous. He ordered me to reach every day a few flowers at your doorstep every morning. He also said that these flowers are required for your daily puja. Thats why I have come to tell you. From now on, my servant will place a packet of flowers every morning. On seeing Shri Ramakrishna, I felt unexplainable peace!”
While narrating this most pleasant incident the devotee P broke into tears and once again she looked very sad. I told her, “See P, you have no reason to be sad now. Thakur has fulfilled your intense prayer. Are these tears, tears of joy or sorrow?”
Her husband G, who was standing nearby replied, ” Maharaj, this is really tears of sorrow.”
I was stunned! P continued, “Why you know Maharaj!, because that lady had never worshipped Thakur even by mistake. I had been a devotee of the Master from my childhood days. See, that she had ‘darshan’ of Thakur and I have never had till now!”
Well, I didn’t know whether to weep or laugh! strange are the ways of Almighty! Inscrutable is His maya!!
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
Hiru MukherjeeI 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spiritual seekers are of many types. Some have unquenchable thirst for knowing about God; some others love to take the name and sing God’s glory. Yet others would like to spend their time and efforts in serving the suffering; and a few would devote their life in contemplation. Whatever path one may follow, no one is exempted from doubts. We are often assailed by doubts that go on and on till they are cleared. One such doubt is about prayers. Do our prayers reach God and whether God listens to our prayers? On this auspicious holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna it is pertinent to inquire.
Regarding this, Sri Ramakrishna says:
“If a son clamors persistently for his share of the property, his parents consult with each other and give it to him even though he is a minor. God will certainly listen to your prayers if you feel restless for Him. He has begotten us, surely we can claim our inheritance from Him. He is our own Father, our own Mother. We can force our demand on Him.”
Here is a mind-grippping account of a devotee about how prayers are fulfilled. Once we had gone to Belur Math, the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math. We met the Vice-President Swami Vishuddhananda and he was talking to us. He loved us like our own father, guide and teacher. He asked us casually, “ Sri Ramakrishna has said, if you pray for three days and three nights, you will get him. Well, do you pray ? What happens to your prayer?” I was young, and I used to talk boldly. I said, “ We have prayed for so many days, yet there is no response. He has not given us his darshan”. He became very serious and said “ what do you mean?”. Do you mean to say that what he has said is not true? I was taken aback. I said “I am not saying that what he has said is untrue. But my own experience is that I have prayed for many days, but nothing has happened.”
Then he narrated an incident. A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, named Ramlal was in Dakshineswar as the Head Priest after the Master’s passing away. Once a sadhu came from Ayodhya to Dakshineswar early in the morning. Ramalal saw this sadhu standing there covered with dust from head to foot. As soon as the man saw Ramalal, he said, “ I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where can I meet him?”.
Ramalal was taken aback and said, “ Now the mangalarati is going to begin. Come inside the temple.” That man did not enter because he was full of dust and he stood faraway in the temple hall. He saw the mangalarati and then recited a beautiful stotra in praise of Mother Goddess. It was full of devotion and it seemed as though the whole temple hall was vibrating with that and the Mother was highly pleased with it.
Ramlal took a long time cleaning the room and so on because he did not want to face the sadhu again.
When he came out, the sadhu was standing in the same place with the same question. “I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where is he?”. Ramlal brought him to the room of Sri Ramakrishna and said, ‘This is the room where he used to stay. This is the small bed where he used to take his nap in the dytime and this is the big bed where he used to sleep’. Ramlal was using the past tense, ‘used to sleep, used to take rest’, so the sadhu said, ‘Why do you talk in this manner? I want to meet him. Where is he?’. Very reluctantly Ramlal had to disclose him that Sri Ramakrishna was no longer alive, ‘Unfortunately you have come seven days late. He passed away a few days ago.’
It was a shock to the man! He later narrated that he was a sadhu doing tapasya in Ayodhya for a very long time. And one day he had the vision of his chosen deity, his Ishtam, who told him, ‘Now go to Dakshineswar. I have come in the person of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Why don’t you come and meet me?’. In the beginning the penniless sadhu did not believe it. He thought that it was his imagination. Later, thrice he had the same vision. Then he decided to go. He walked all the way as he had no money. He took rest at some places asking people on the way about the direction to go to West Bengal. After three months, he arrived at Dakshineswar, believing the words he had heard in his vision. He had reached his destination, and now here was this person saying that the Paramahamsa was no longer alive.
He was simply taken aback, ‘What is this? What do you say? It can not be!’ he exclaimed. Ramlal said, ‘I am very sorry. If you had come even fifteen days earlier you could have met him. He was not here of course. He was ill and was living in the Cossipore garden house and you could have met him there. But unfortunately, he no longer lives’.
The sadhu was crestfallen. He could not believe it. He just rolled on the ground moaning, ‘What is this? Why did you cheat me like this? You could have told me you were’nt going to live, that you were not going to be in the body for more than three months and asked me to come immediately. You should have told me! Why did you deceive me?’. The tremendous blow was too much for him. That continued for some time. Later, it was time for worship in the room. People were coming and the sadhu just went outside and sat on the verandah. He sat there while the day passed and the night came. The sadhu did not move. Ramlal came and tried to console him, ‘Get up and have some rest. Take some food’. The sadhu just snubbed him saying, ‘Get out! I have not come for all that!’. Ramlal was afraid of this very tall and strong sadhu. He went away and did not say anything.
Another day and night passed. The sadhu was sitting in the same position. Sometimes he used to cry, but otherwise, he was quiet and calm. One more day passed, two days passed and third day came. Ramlal was afraid, because he was the person who spoke first with the sadhu. If he were to die there, Ramlal would be blamed. So again Ramlal went to console the sadhu and to make him get up and eat something, but he could not make him budge. The night also passed. It was hot that night. So Ramlal and others who were working in the temple slept outside on the verandah. That early next morning, before four o’clock, suddenly, Ramlal saw the sadhu, coming upto him on the verandah. He shook Ramlal and laughed shouting with great joy, ‘Did you not see him?’. At first Ramlal did not understand. He thought that may be the man had gone mad as he had not eaten for days and tired from travelling.
Then the sadhu said, ‘Did you not hear the sound of his wooden slippers? He came! Look here! He has given me this Payasam. He came from the side of the Panchavati. I heard the sound of his wooden slippers. He came near me and put his hand behind my back and said, ‘ What are you doing? Why are you crying? Where have I gone? See, look at me’. I was simply overwhelmed and looked at him. He embraced me and told me to get up, “Come, you must have a good wash”. He took me to the steps leading to the Ganga and then said, “Put some water in you burning eyes. Let them be cool”. With such loving words, he consoled and said, “Eat, you have not eaten for the last seven days. Eat my dear!” I could not eat. Tears of joy were flowing from my eyes and I was just looking at Sri Ramakrishna. After some time I could not see him any longer, but my heart was full of joy.”
After narrating this incident, Swami Vishuddhananda said, “Now do you believe it or not? You will say, this is just one of those stories”. He told us that even now that earthen pot in which the sadhu got the Payasam is kept at Dakshineswar and continued, “Tell me, how was his intense sorrow removed? How did he feel full of joy? Do you see how prayers are answered!’. Intense longing prayer… “I have come all the way…. and three days and three nights”. That is what the Master has promised in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. So three days and three nights of one constant, longing prayer, brought Sri Ramakrishna down. He had to come. Prayer has that wonderful power to bring the Almighty down to this earth.
Sri Ramakrishna taught the devotees how to call on the Divine Mother…. “I used to pray to Her in this way: ‘O Mother! O Blissful One! Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must!’ Again, I would say to Her: ‘O Lord of the lowly! O Lord of the universe! Surely I am not outside Thy universe. I am bereft of knowledge. I am without discipline. I have no devotion. I know nothing. Thou must be gracious and reveal Thyself to me.’ ”
Sri Swami 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?”
I said, “ Swamiji! I am seeing Sri Ramakrishna temple”.
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…
Swami Shivanandaji, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once observed: “If you want to achieve anything substantial in spiritual life, visit Belur Math, stay here and do spiritual practices. It is for this purpose alone that Swamiji dedicated his life and founded this Math.”
The spiritual current that flows in Belur Math is carried to all its branches, affiliates, sister-centres and therefore undoubtedly visiting any of them is indeed a pilgrimage.
A bus full of devotees from Ladysmith sub-centre decided to undertake a pilgrimage to three centres in Durban and I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Akshay Mootheeram who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Yushavia‘
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
It was Sunday the 31st of January 2010.
At approximately 05:30, as the crimson sun raised its beautiful head only to reveal but a peak of sunlight amidst the darkness of the early morning, our bus filled with 76 devout and enthusiastic men, women and children alike, from the Ladysmith Sub-Centre set out on an prayerful pilgrimage to Durban.
Pilgrimage to Durban?
Yes, it was certainly a pilgrimage to Durban where we were to visit the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa in Glen Anil, the Phoenix Sub-Centre as well as the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram in Asherville.
Although many of the devotees of Ladysmith Sub-centre had visited these Ashramas at some or other time, it was truly special to travel in unison, as a group with the same frame of mind and moreover, in the greater sense, as a family.
Of course, belonging to an organization of this stature, one can expect only but the best in terms of service, safety and comfort, without any compromise. Therefore, a program was planned for the bus which commenced with the Opening Prayers, which was to be followed by the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa and other kirtans. Although many of the devotees were still dreary from the early morning, everyone joined together in the melodious singing of these kirtans. The atmosphere thus created was serene and calming, soothing the minds of the devotees who were focusing on the great events that were about to unfold.
At approximately 08:30 we arrived at Headquarters. The sight of the majestic Ashram was overwhelming. After being warmly received by the devotees at Headquarters we proceeded to the shrine to offer our pranams to Master, Mother and Swami Vivekananda. We were then briefed in the day’s proceedings and subsequently moved to the Swami Nischalananda Hall where we were served a light, yet refreshing, breakfast. Our Revered President Maharaj, His Holiness, Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, addressed us, both welcoming and blessing all the Devotees. In his short address (because of his prior appointment at Chatsworth Sub-centre), he pointed out the utter usefulness of studying Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature everyday. He added that by such studies, the ever-lasting ideas that the Holy Trio gave out for the world, would slowly sink into our mind and would be conducive for our spiritual sadhana.
Brother Ramesh Ishwarlall, who is the Chairperson of the Centre, then took us all on a grandeur tour of the premises. For many devotees, this was their first exposure to Centre’s Ashram grounds, facilities and buildings. We then reassembled in the shrine to enjoy a blessed satsang and meet His Holiness, Sri Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj who blessed us all. He is a senior monk, South Africa-born, had come from India on a visit. Sadly however, we departed at 09:10 feeling the brief stay, instead of satisfying only kindled our thirst for spending more time. We left for the Phoenix Sub-Centre to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
Once again we were most warmly received not only by the devotees, but by Swamiji Himself. We all then proceeded to the shrine where a 30-minute satsang was held. The ambience in the shrine was phenomenal and left us all speechless, including Swamiji Himself. Next we assembled in the waiting rooms of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa Clinic where we were addressed by Sister Veena Singaram and Advocate Kessie Naidoo, who enlightened us on the activities of the Phoenix Sub-Centre focusing on the program for Youth Development, but moreover, by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who really inspired us all. This was followed by a DVD presentation presented on the breath-taking advancement of the IT industry in India.
The next event was one that everybody anxiously looked forward to…Lunch! Yes, lunch was served with the highest feeling of love and care, we all feasted on the delicious food which was thoroughly prepared by the devotees at Phoenix.
Finally, we concluded the program with a DVD entitled ‘Mind Your Language’ which spread waves of chuckles amongst all present, creating a light-hearted and relaxing atmosphere.
But the highlight of our Phoenix trip was the opportunity to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who spoke to each and every devotee individually. We then left the Ashram, with happiness and peace in our hearts, and proceeded in the early afternoon towards Asherville.
On our arrival at the Sri Sarada Devi Ashrama, yet again without fail, the warmest of welcomes was presented to us.
We immediately proceeded to the shrine for a satsang which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Promptly thereafter we were served refreshments and had the opportunity of spending a few brief moments with Her Holiness Ishtaprana Mataji and Her Holiness Divyanandaprana Mataji. As much as would have liked to stay, unfortunately the time came for us to depart.
There could have been no better way to end our pilgrimage than at Holy Mother’s Ashram. Somehow, the day now felt totally complete and fulfilled.
At 16:00, we boarded the bus and departed from Asherville with complete peace of mind, thanking within, one and all who made the memorable event a truly remarkable. A pilgrimage worth to ponder in a period yonder!
Jai Sri Thakur!
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!
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.
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).
(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.
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.