Renunciation, that is the flag, the banner of India, floating over the world, the one undying thought which India sends again and again as a warning to dying races, as a warning to all tyranny, as a warning to wickedness in the world. Ay, Hindus, let not your hold of that banner go. Hold it aloft. Even if you are weak and cannot renounce, do not lower the ideal.
Count down begun
The news of my transfer from South African Durban Centre has spread like a wild fire. I have been receiving lots and lots of mails, smses, phone calls and visits from innumerable devotees, friends and admirers of the ashram. The surge of emotion that fills the hearts of so many well-wishers is just overwhelming to say the least. Nonetheless, the time has come and I must announce the final date of departure to every one; yes the count down has begun! It’s just 50 days left for 30th December 2014.
One close devotee in a sad tone remarked the other day that I was a ‘guardian angel’ to her children and they would definitely miss me. I reassured her that the case is not so. We, in the Ramakrishna Order have a wonderful system of passing on the heritage to the next comers and it is this tradition that makes all the difference and also makes the stream of angel’s presence flow uninterruptedly. If one ‘guard’ goes then another ‘guard’ comes in. Who remains is not any more a matter but what sustains is all that one needs.
A whiff of fresh air
So, it was a joyous occasion for all of us to extend a hearty welcome to the new incumbent Revered Swami Vishwatmanandaji Maharaj on the last Saturday special satsang at Sri Ramakrishna Temple in Glen Anil, Durban. I handed over the ‘Charge’ to him one day before that is on the 7 November 2014 in the morning when we had a Trustees’ Meeting. Thus my tenure that lasted for seven years, seven months and seven days came to an end.
Revered Maharaj arrived at Durban from Mumbai on the 5 November which was a holy day – the birth tithi of Swami Vijnananandaji Maharaj, one of the direct disciples of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna. There we two resident Swamis along with Brahmachari Akhilachaitanya and some senior officials received him. It was my honour to garland him and utter ‘swaagatam, suswaagatam‘!
The Satsang function went off very well. In the traditional welcome that was accorded to him, brother Saradaprabhananda garlanded Revered Maharaj. In my Welcome address, I alluded to the oft-repeated question that was put to me : How is the new Swamiji? I answered that every one of the monks was unique and one could never find a carbon copy of another. Swami Vivekananda has strongly recommended us to be ‘original’ and hence no two Swamis will be alike. Yet a thread of unity courses through our veins and breath that gives a ‘holistic’ whole instead of segmented parts. That is called ‘Ramakrishna-sutra’ that binds every one with love, compassion and empathy.
Still the curiosity remains as to know about him. Revered Swami Vishwatmanandaji joined the Ramakrishna Order in 1968. Maharaj has served in various capacities at the Ramakrishna Ashrama (Rajkot), Ramakrishna Mission Higher Secondary Residential School (Arunachal Pradesh) until his posting to the Ramakrishna Mission Hospital, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh in1984. A long stint of 25 years he spent in organising and running the most popular hospital service in the capital city unto 2009.
Here only I came into close contact with Revered Maharaj for nearly four years. The hospital has just started taking its wings of multi-various development. A stern administrator was the need of the hour and he fulfilled his role very admirably.
From 2009 to this year, Maharaj has been the Coordinator of the nationwide (India) humanitarian and educational projects undertaken by the Ramakrishna Mission to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. This work took him all around India to monitor various welfare projects. He is a silent worker. When I think of the enormity of tasks involved in his work, the smooth sailing of his responsibility that he carried on his shoulders without much ado is amazing and it shows how humble he is.
He is an initiated disciple of Swami Vireshwarananda, tenth President of the Ramakrishna Order from whom he also had his monastic vows in 1978. Three years later I also had the blessed opportunity to have sannyasa from the same sangha-guru.
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.
Many countries have their own National Youth Days. In South Africa, National Youth Day is celebrated on 16 June every year. Each country has its own reasons to celebrate it. India has its National Youth Day on 12 January which is the birthday of our illustrious leader Swami Vivekananda. Here in South Africa we, the Ramakrishna devotees, celebrate South African Youth Day on 16 June and in January, we, at HQ, have an half-day Retreat program for the youth in commemoration of Swami Vivekananada’s birth day. In continuation of the 147th birth anniversary celebrations of Swamiji, Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre had arranged a meanigful Youth meet. I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Avthar Sewrathan who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Rishie’
The day had finally arrived! We, the youth members were just awaiting the commemoration of the 147th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda at the Pietermaritzburg Sub-Centre, held on 5 February 2010.
This is one of the most important functions on our Religious calendar as the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda and the ideals for which he lived and worked continue to be a great source of inspiration for the Youth. He will be ever remembered as one of the main architects of the modern world for he brought about a new understanding of Vedanta and bridged the gap between east and west. Accordingly, the youth were eagerly gathered in the shrine and great anticipation was in the air as this function was exclusively planned, co-ordinated and managed by the Youth of the Sub-Centre.
The programme commenced promptly at 19:00 hrs and the devotees were warmly greeted by sister Karistha Singh who was the Programme Director for the evening. After the initial proceedings, brother Akshar Sewrathan extended a cordial welcome to His Holiness Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj by garlanding him. Earlier at the entrance two sisters placed the holy tilak on his forehead in the traditional style.
The first speaker for the evening was sister Sonal Sewrathan, who addressed the congregation on the topic “You are the Creator of Your Own Destiny”. Sister Sonal related the parable of a Pencil Maker, highlighting the fact that we are all created by the Maker who is God, to follow our own destiny by either beautifully designing it OR misshaping it with our thoughts, words and deeds.
She also recounted the famous parable by Sri Ramakrishna on the wish fulfilling Kalpataru tree as of immense significance. ‘Your mind is like the wish-fulfilling tree – whatever you think, sooner or later it is fulfilled irrespective of good or bad results.’ Finally, she challenged us to become the creators of our own destiny by following this simple inner golden rule :
Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.
The second speaker was brother Yashvir Rugbeer, who presented a paper entitled “The Importance of Youth in Society”. He reminded the youth of their role in society. Quoting Sri Swami Vivekananda extensively he emphasised that the sole responsibility of the youth of today rested on the present so that they can suitably mould the future, as it depended only on the efforts of their hands. He added that their values, determination and character ultimately decide the preservation of our world.
Brother Yashvir pointed out also the fact that youth are completely entangled in the superficial world and do not realise the gravity of their actions, primarily due to their ignorance. He highlighted that the essence of true success is what ‘you make of yourself’. ‘It is the conduct of life that you develop, it is the character that you cultivate and it is the type of person that you become.’ He advised the youth to equip themselves with the necessary skills in order to ensure a bright future as success was not measured in terms of what one obtained but in terms of what one could become, how one lived and what actions one performed.
The youth were then treated to a soul stirring rendition of “Ham Honge Kamayab” bhajan led by sister Revathi.
The third speaker for the evening was brother Shivaar Partab, who delivered a paper on “Character and Human Excellence”. He narrated the story of the sculptor who indicated that beautiful figures were not created by him as he merely removed the extra pieces off the stone with his tools, relating this to Human character. ‘Good qualities lie dormant in each one of us and it is our duty to give expression to them and let the evil ones take to their heels. We have to be examples of good values in order to achieve human excellence.’ Brother Shivaar reiterated the three important things, expressed by Swami Vivekananda, to make everyone great, every nation great, namely :
Conviction of the power of goodness;
Absence of jealousy and suspicion; and
Helping those who are trying to be and to do good.
Finally, sister Karistha invited Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj to address the youth. Swamiji is the embodiment of love, compassion and humility and the youth of the Centre were extremely blessed to be in his holy company. Everyone waited with bated breath in order to imbibe the sacred message that Swamiji Maharaj was about to deliver. However, true to form, Swamiji surprised us and introduced an impromptu “Question and Answer” session.
Swamiji encouraged the youth to “be bold” and put forward questions on the papers that were delivered that evening. Discussions centred around the many temptations that the youth are currently faced with, the social evils of electronic media, disciplining of the youth and overcoming injustices faced by the youth.
Swamiji astutely handled all the questions posed by the congregation, offering sound advice based on the teaching of the holy scriptures and also as taught by the lives of the three Divinities, in terms of implementation in our daily lives.
Sadly due to time constraints, the question and answer session had to come to an end. After the performance of arati and concluding Vedic prayers, it was my proud turn to proceed to pass the vote of thanks. Three of our youth members, sisters Kajal, Shriyanthi and Kamiksha presented a gift basket to Swamiji as a token of our appreciation.
This was truly an inspiring evening. This was echoed by one of the devotees, who described the evening as “one of the best functions so far”. The youth offered their pranams to Revered Maharaj, and thereafter partook of prasad, in the form of supper.
Thus concluded an evening of spiritual enlightenment. Everyone present can safely say that they were stimulated and entertained by the thought provoking programme. It provided the youth an opportunity to showcase their knowledge, talents and ideas and it was this that made the event a fitting tribute to the teachings of great Swami Vivekananda.
Hari Om Tat Sat!
Maata mey Paarvati Devi, Pitaa Devo Maheswaraha |
Baandhava Shiva Bhaktaascha Svadesho Bhuvanatrayam ||
Paarvati devi is my Mother, father is Maheshwara – Shiva.
Relatives are the devotees of Shiva and my own country is all the three worlds.
Many thanks for the wonderful words of best wishes! And they have come just a day before and are coming during Mahashivaratri.
May He, the Bholaanaath with the divine mother Bhavaani, residing in every one’s heart, guide us at every step is my earnest prayer to Him.
Shiva means mangal. Auspiciousness. May that quality, by His infinite grace, abide in all of us in abundance!
With love and prayers