Adoration of All-in-one

A happy Krishnashtami namaskars and vanakkam to one and all !

Taught as Teacher

Generally speaking, in all children’s classes of subjects ranging from secular to spiritual, the teachers are adults. Adults teach children. Does an adult also learn from a child? Yes, on innumerable situations, I have found it to be true. Inter-action with children, during our classes on Hinduism, brings great delight in the quick responses from the children. Once when I was watching a religious class for children in our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre, the teacher posed the question: Where is God? Pat came the reply from a child: Where God is not?

A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai
A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai

The child’s reply was apt. “Vyaaptatvaat Vishnuh” – Vishnu is one that permeates. As Narayana, He is everywhere. The fifth verse of the famous Narayana suktam says, “yaccha kinchit jagatyasmin dhrishyate shrooyatepivaa | antar bahishcha tat sarvam vyaapya naaraayana sthitah ||” In this universe whatever heard, whatever seen, Narayana resides inside and outside permeating everything.

When the demoniac dad Hiranyakashipu questioned his Vishnu-devoted son Prahlad in anger, “Where is your Vishnu?” the popular Tamil saying of his reply goes thus: “thoonilum iruppaan, thurumbilum iruppaan” – He remains in this pillar and also in the particle. Whether big or small the Lord is in everything. The Upanishads say proudly “anoraneeyaan, mahato maheeyaan” – minutest of the small and largest of the Big. Prahlad is a shining example of child teaching an adult.

Lord in the largest 

Arjuna asks Lord Krishna how will he meditate on God because he doesn’t know in what several aspects the Lord can be thought of. So he requests Lord to tell him about His yoga power and divine glory. Arjuna knew very well that there is no satiety in listening to the glories of the Immortal Lord. So, answering Arjuna’s question, Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita starts explaining how in different forms the Lord has manifested.

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One such is the plant life. He says “of all trees, I am the aswattha (banyan)” (10.26). A brahma-jnani, a knower of Brahman sees everything pervaded by God. Swami Brahmananda, true to his name, derived bliss in seeing all around Brahman everywhere. His love for beings was unconditional. His compassion for trees, plants, flowers was extraordinary.

Glory of the green Grass

While he fed the dogs of the Belur Monastery, he visited regularly the dairy farm and supervised the seva to cows. He was the first to initiate planting of certain trees and plants in many north-Indian centres with that of grown or seen mostly in south-Indian places. One such tree was Nagalingam flower tree. Usually in the morning hours he was seen going around the garden and instructing monks and brahmacharins how to keep the plants healthy and what type of fertilizers to be used for them and how well they could save from the destructive pests.

The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math
The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math

Once Swami Brahmananda visited the Bose Research Institute. He saw how the plants were sensitive to external stimuli. The whole day his thoughts centred round on the plant life. While talking to Boshi Sen, he said, “There was a time when Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) could not step on the grass, but would jump from one bare spot to another to avoid hurting the grass. At that time, we simply didn’t believe that a grass could be sensitive! From what I saw today, I realized how infallibly true his perceptions were!”

Later, while staying in Bhubaneshwar Math, he said to the monks there: “Trees have life. If you serve them you will feel it. They will never become ungrateful.

He who serves them will receive flowers and fruits in return.” Seeing the striking roses in the Bangalore Lalbaug garden, he remarked, “Look, the celestial maidens are laughing!” Pointing at the green lawn, he would say, “as if the Divine Mother has spread green velvet!”

Ceaseless Cosmic worship

I once asked my revered Gurudev Sri Swami Nirvananandaji maharaj how was his Gurudev Swami Brahmanandaji would view the entire cosmos. He said to me that his Gurudev would ‘feel’ with his mystical eyes that cosmic worship was always on.

He one day, saw a new brahmacharin plucking flowers for Master’s worship. He rebuked him sharply:

“What are you doing? Do you want to make that tree devoid of flowers? You think Sri Ramakrishna is seated only in the shrine and does not come to the garden? Pick those flowers only which are hidden behind the leaves and always leave some flowers outside in each tree.” To Brahmananda Maharaj, those trees also were worshipping the cosmic God with their blossoms!

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Boon or Bane ?

dipika-2008Children like to question. And I appreciate it as an expression of their intense thirst for knowledge. I wrote this given-below dialogue in an easy, conversational style between an imaginary child and myself. This is, of course, based partly on an actual discussion with a group of children, and later written  for Dipika 2008. It is an annual spiritual magazine especially for children, regularly brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban. My grateful thanks go to Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji for according her kind consent to reproduce it here.

Priyanta: Pranams Swamiji.

Swamiji: Welcome Priyanta, how are you?

Priyanta: I am well, Swamiji. Could you spare some moments to answer my queries?

Swamiji: What are you worrying about? Do you perform regular prayers?

Priyanta: Oh! I wanted to ask you exactly about prayer, Swamiji.

Swamiji: Okay what’s your question?

Priyanta: Swamiji, in prayer if we ask something from God, will God give it to us? Suppose what God gives me turns out to be unsuitable, then what happens?

Swamiji: Indeed, our Master Sri Ramakrishna says that God can hear even the foot steps of an ant. If you pray with diligence, sincerity and love, then God will give you whatever you pray for. It is true that many devotees do not know what to ask God for.

Priyanta: Is that so? I thought people ask for those things that they need!

Swamiji: That’s how it should be. But what they need and what they want are entirely different. Okay, now I will tell you a story from our Puranas.

Priyanta: What are Puranas, Swamiji?

Swamiji: Puranas have the insight of the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, retold for the easy understanding of the common folk. The teachings are primarily taught in a very easy and interesting way. They are given through inspiring stories and parables. Do you know that in total there are eighteen Puranas?

Priyanta: Thanks Swamiji! Do you have an apt story with regard to my question on prayer?

Swamiji: Yes Priyanta. I will tell you the story of an asura (demon) called Bhasmasura. This demon performed severe penances to obtain the favour of Lord Shiva. Pleased with him, Lord Shiva appeared before Bhasmasura and said: ‘Dear devotee! I am pleased with your austerities and therefore I am willing to grant you a boon. What do you want?’ Bhasmasura folded his palms and sang the glory of Lord Shiva. Then he said: ‘O Lord! If I place my hand on someone’s head, that person should be burnt to ashes immediately.’

Priyanta: Oh! What a destructive boon!

Swamiji: Yes, what an ignoble boon did this Bhasmasura ask for! Not only that. He told Lord Shiva that he wanted to test it. He rose from his seat and rushed near Shiva trying to place his hand on the head of Lord Shiva! See what a danger!

Priyanta: Then what did Lord Shiva do, Swamiji?

Swamiji: You see, God is always bound by His devotee’s love. He even becomes a servant of His devotee, just to please him. So, Lord Shiva ran to Lord Vishnu who calmed Lord Shiva and said that he would deal with the demon Bhasmasura. Lord Vishnu then took the form of a beautiful damsel and stood on the pathway of Bhasmasura who was trying to test his boon on Lord Shiva. The demon was charmed at the beauty of the dancing girl. Now, do you know Priyanta, what dance Lord Vishnu performed in the form of Mohini?

Priyanta: Swamiji, is this dance called Mohini-aattam?

Swamiji: Yes, truly so! This Mohini-aattam is very popular in Kerala, in the southern part of India.

Priyanta: Okay. Then Swamiji, what happened?

Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance
Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance...Painting by Raja Ravivarma

Swamiji: Lord Vishnu disguised himself as the world bewitching Mohini and then showed the demon this dance. Bhasmasura, captivated by her beauty and grace, wanted Mohini to be his wife. Mohini informed him that she would marry only that man who could perform the dance as well as she could. So the demon king requested Mohini to teach him the steps of the dance. Mohini then showed him the movements of the hands and, in the heat of the moment, Bhasmasura copied her hand gestures and placed his hand on his own head. Thus see how Bhasmasura was destroyed!

Priyanta: So Swamiji, the boon from God may turn out to be dangerous!

Swamiji: Yes, if you do not know exactly what to ask for. You see, this simple story from the Puranas has many good messages for all of us. Can you tell me a few morals from this story?

Priyanta: Yes Swamiji. Firstly God will definitely give us what we pray for. Secondly, I think that we should not pray to God for anything that is destructive. Thirdly we must know that we should not harm anybody with our prayers.

Swamiji: Well said Priyanta! Suppose you ask your father for a pistol, he will not give it to you. Why? Because, if you should get angry with someone, you might shoot that person with it or you may even accidently hurt yourself. So, if you seek something destructive, you are sure to harm others and yourself too. And finally what is the best form of prayer? Harmless as well as beneficial to everyone is the prayer for auspiciousness, peace, fullness and goodness. Like this one for example:

Om sarveshām svastir bhavatu
sarveshām shāntir bhavatu
sarveshām pūrnam bhavatu
sarveshām mangalam bhavatu

The meaning of this prayer is:

May there be auspiciousness to all
May there be peace to all
May there be fullness to all
May there be good to all.


Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century
Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was born in Kerala, India. At the age of seven he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. The talent of the child was noticed by King Thirunal Maharaja. Most of Ravi Varma’s paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. His illustrations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata became the standard visual representation of the classics. His paintings are famous for vibrant colours and textures as can be conceived in the famous painting depicting Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dancing art.  

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda saw the beauty of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma at the palace of the Gaekword of Baroda. Swamiji noticed the characters coming to life in these paintings and was moved by intense emotion. In 1893 Swamiji met Ravi Varma in America at the famous Chicago exhibition during the Parliament of the World’s Religions held there. Swamiji’s considered views on Art can be read here.