Ram Ram !

Bhagawan Shri Rama and Mother Sita flanked by brothers, rishis and devatas...Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, the Tamil monthly magazine from Chennai Ramkrishna Math
Bhagawan Shri Rama and Mother Sita flanked by brothers, rishis and devatas…Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, the Tamil monthly magazine from Chennai Ramakrishna Math

Ram Ram!” is a religious way of greeting one another generally among the Hindus in all the Hindi-speaking areas in India.  I noticed this when I was living in Kanpur and also while travelling in many places of North India. In this country too, our South African devotees have a way of greeting one another with “Aum Namo Narayanaya!“.

Taking the name of the Lord at the start of every aspect of our activity is indeed a spiritual method well recognised and advocated by our sages and saints. We, as devotees, in spite of our good intentions tend to forget His name. It is in this context that we are advised to utilise the naama as a tool to further our quality of spiritual life. Some reflections here!

On this auspicious Shri Rama Navami period beginning from 31st March to 8th April, my hearty greetings to every one of you : ‘Ram Ram!

Verve and vigour

Yesterday the Rama Navami parv began with all solemnity at the ashram and its branches. The celebration generally continues from the first day that is this year from 31st March and completes on 8th April on the holy navami tithi.

Satsangs here have a definite pattern. Every evening a large number of devotees attend who sing bhajans and kirtans. Selected passages from Sri Ramcharitamanas are recited every day. The temple altar stands decorated beautifully. The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourses and songs.

Tale of Two letters!

In my first-day discourse at the Glen Anil temple the point that such a short two-syllable name ‘Raa Ma‘ has in due course of time acquired a powerful connotation came up for discussion. Speaking on the subject “Ramayana – the Scripture Par excellence”, I explained how the famous saint Tyagaraja has remarkably pointed out the significance of the name “Rama“.

Saint Tyagaraja's love of Lord Rama
Saint Tyagaraja’s love of Lord Rama

In one of his divine songs he says that :

shiva mantramunaku ma-jivamu ; maadhava mantramunaku ra-jivamu

Ma” is the very life of the Shiva mantra,”Ra” is the very life of Vishnu mantra. The Shiva mantra refers to the famous one called panchaakshari (five-lettered) mantra : Aum namasshivaaya. The Vishnu mantra refers to ashtaakshari (eight-lettered) mantra : Aum namo narayanaya. If we think deeply it will be clear that without these two syllables the two respective mantras loose all meaning.

Take out “Ma” – the mantra will read now na shivaaya – nothing auspicious! Take out “Ra” – the mantra will read na ayanaaya – no royal road!

Hence these two syllables “Ra” and “Ma” become the life force of these mantras. They are called beeja (seed) and hence by constantly repeating any of these holy mantras, the beeja would one day start sprouting, which means to say that the significance of the mantra would become clear like daylight. The word ‘Rama‘ therefore represents the power of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu together! Saint Tyagaraja takes delight in telling us that he would salute those great men who understand this detail !

Less is equal to more!

There is another way of looking at the glory of the name Rama. The single word is equal to one thousand names of Lord Vishnu!

Lord Shiva tells Parvati :

Sri Raama Raama Raameti, Rame Raame Manorame |
Sahasranaama tattulyam, Raama Naama Varaanane ||

This verse is explained thus:

“O Varaanana (lovely-faced woman), I chant the holy name of Rama, Rama, Rama and thus constantly enjoy this beautiful sound. This holy name of Ramachandra is equal to one thousand holy names of Lord Vishnu.”

Worthy name without love?

Sri Ramakrishna advises that the name of the Lord is no doubt highly proficient capable of providing Divine realisation. But Master asks, “is it sufficient without Love?”. Master continues, “the soul must hunger for God. What will it avail if I repeat His ‘name’ while I allow my mind to be attached to ‘woman and gold’? Mere muttering of magic incantations will not heal up a scorpion-sting. You must also apply the smoke of burning cow-dung.”

|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||

Master and Mahadeva

A very happy, auspicious Maha Shivaratri to every one here!

A few years back, over a cup of cappuccino, one devotee came to meet me. As usual I asked him who was he! And he went on to give an elaborate reply such as that “firstly, he was a devotee of the latest Incarnation who brought the idea of harmony, love, peace and sacrifice to Society – Sri Ramakrishna”. He added that he also presents “a radio program on Hindvani, an Indian community based Radio station in South Africa”. He “had written a Religious Review on Sri Ram‘s Puja method”.

He in all seriousness continued to say that he was “a schoolteacher by profession – with some thirty years of experience. That is – two generations”. So he proudly announced to me that he has “a fair idea of how the older ones thought, and how the younger ones are thinking now”.

In a striking way he concluded, “That is how most people see me – from the distance. A closer look – how I see myself – Not just a mass of cells, not just a mind-intelligence complex – but a spark of the Divine. My journey of inquiry is still continuing
– who am I?”

Yes, its a treat to discuss with him on many philosophical matters and of course English, the language. He does come often to ashram and is extremely helpful in busy Puja schedule of mine. The other day he quickly brought out the charming similarities between Master and Mahadeva. I thought by placing here the same, our minds would be absorbed in thinking about Shiva and Shambhu on this wonderful Shivaratri night !

“There are many occasions in the life of Sri Ramakrishna that connect him with Lord Shiva.

In the Shiva Purana, Lord Shiva manifested as a column of light when Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu were each proclaiming himself as the greatest among the deities. This particular manifestation of Lord Shiva is known as Lingodbhava-murti.

In Kamarpukur, Chandramani, the mother of Sri Ramakrishna, saw a flood of light emanate from the Shivalinga and enter her body. And she felt that she was with child! Thus, Sri Ramakrishna was born in this age as the lingodbhava, the light of Shiva.

Sri Ramakrishna was born three days after Shivaratri, on 18 February 1836, a few minutes before the sunrise. Just as at the birth of the incarnation of this age, a light spread over the world, so, even today, the light of knowledge is spreading to every corner of the world, dispelling the hordes of darkness in the forms of ignorance.

As soon as the baby Ramakrishna was born, Dhani, the midwife, placed him on the floor to attend to the mother. On turning her attention to the child, she was surprised to find that he had somehow rolled into the fireplace, and was lying there all covered with ashes – like Lord Shiva! If our goal is God, the ashes symbolise the turning away from (or burning of) the sensual, a renunciation of the worldly to attain the spiritual. One Puranic story tells how Lord Shiva burnt to ashes the god of love (that is, sensual delights). Describing Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother said that renunciation was the jewel of Sri Ramakrishna.

Kshudiram, the father of Sri Ramakrishna, named the child ‘Shambhuchandra’, one of the names of Lord Shiva.

Sri Ramakrishna performed various sadhanas and re-affirmed the validity of each. But he realised Lord Shiva without any effort. When he was nine, Sri Ramakrishna was asked to play the role of Lord Shiva in a dramatic performance on the night of Shivaratri. As he was adorned as Lord Shiva, he soared into a divine consciousness. And the devotees themselves were transported, as it were, to the very abode of Lord Shiva. Sri Ramakrishna remained in that ecstatic state for three days!

In the samudra-manthana episode, Lord Shiva took in the poison that emanated from the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons to obtain the nectar of immortality. At the end of his earthly life, Sri Ramakrishna had throat cancer. One viewpoint is that it was the result of Sri Ramakrishna’s swallowing the poison of the karmas of the millions of struggling souls who were seeking his shelter. Both drank the poison and kept it in the throat for the welfare of the world.

Sri Ramakrishna used to say: Jiva is Shiva, and Shiva is jiva. In other words, we ordinary beings are really Shiva but ignorant and bound. Our goal in life should be to reclaim our Shivahood.”


Divine weddings

Aum namash shivaaya

In our Phoenix sub-centre, the gathering of senior citizens on every Tuesday is a big event. More than 500 people assemble – most start trickling into the campus as early as six in the morning. It is a joyful feeling to see them mingling in the crowd and talking to each other  thus creating a fine divine bond of relationship in the name of our Master.

Many a time I do visit to address them for half an hour. It has benefitted me in a variety of ways: to look upon them as varied manifestation of Master and Mother; to enjoy the wonderful smiles on each of them; to engage them in some sort of philosophical thinking; to make them feel free and laugh so as to keep the negative, worrying thoughts at bay.

Today when I stood before them and began my speech, I didn’t know what subject I should talk about. Mahashivaratri is on next Monday night. Why not I speak on Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati, I thought. I started thus: ” I just wonder whether I should greet you all a very happy Valentine’s Day?” That question brought loud laughter amongst the assembled senior citizens.

jagatah pitarau vande paarvati parameshwarau - I bow down to Paarvati and Parameshwar the parents of the Universe

The eternal love between the Divinities has had captured the imagination of very many poets. Puranas excel in retelling the story of wedding of Shiva and Shakti in most enjoyable form of narratives. So I went on to say about Shiva’s wedding with Parvati – one when She was born as a daughter of Daksha and another when she was born to Himavan.

Both the wedding stories are fascinating. I adapted the former story  from Sri Ramacharitamanas of Saint Tulsidas and the latter heard from a katha-kalakshepam done by Kripananda Variyar many, many years back. Both kept the audience on tenterhooks.