Woman as mother

Women’s Day programme

A Review by Inderani Basdeo

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With 9th August being National Women’s Day in South Africa, the Ramakrishna Centre held a special programme for women at the Glen Anil Ashram. Despite the damp weather, approximately 100 ladies enthusiastically attended the programme, which specifically catered for the needs of women.

Satsang in progress...
Satsang in progress…

The programme commenced with prayer and the melodious recital in chorus of the Sri Ramakrishna Ashtakam, Sri Sri Sarada Devi Stotram and a hymn to Swami Vivekananda set the tone for the day.  This was followed by reading from the Gospel of Sri Sarada Devi done by Arathie Singh .

The three Talks presented rejuvenated the spirits of the ladies and inspired them to strive to greater heights for themselves and their families.

To evaluate how much Motherliness is manifested

Revered Swami Vimokshananda, the Spiritual Head of the Centre, in a most methodical, yet elegant manner pointed out that a Mother is not only she who has biological children but anyone who displays the qualities of a mother. This would include young girls and even fathers and unwed men too as the qualities of caring and loving are not exclusively for women. This occasion, he added gave an opportunity to evaluate introspectively how much motherliness could be manifested in one’s life.

Revered Maharaj also explained that the vibrations created by the word “ma” play a significant role as opposed to “aunty” in kindling the caring, loving and nurturing qualities of a mother. It is therefore essential that these qualities are instilled and nurtured from childhood and a very effective means of doing so is by addressing every female (from the moment they are born) as “ma”!

Sister Avintha speaking on practice of Japa...
Sister Avintha speaking on practice of Japa…

The Practice of japa an essential element

Sister Avintha of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram lovingly addressed the ladies on the topic,  “Japa – The Repetition of Holy Name according to Sri Sarada Devi”.  She highlighted the importance of practicing Japa, and effectively pointed out that “lack of time” should not be an excuse for not practicing Japa as there is no restriction of time and place for the practice of Japa. She showed us how to give practical application of Holy Mother’s message of doing our duties but keep our minds on God by pointing out that one can easily repeat God’s name whilst engaged in daily activities such as cooking, attending to household chores, traveling or even lying down.

Dangers of “burn out”

Mrs Shireen Dhunraj pointed out the realistic challenges faced by working women and highlighted the importance of having coping skills. She warned of the dangers of “burn out” and stressed the need to maintain a balance in life. She advised that to this end, spiritual practices such as Japa and meditation and attending satsang and keeping holy company, play a significant role.

A DVD on Jayrambati – the birth place of Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, was aired. It was an excellent documentary that immediately transported everyone to Jayrambati through the beautiful narration, music and visuals of Mother’s actual homes, the ponds, rivers and pilgrims.

Question-answer session is on...
Question-answer session is on…

Ask thy shall be given

From the question and answer session it was evident that the ladies were deeply inspired and motivated to implement all that they had learnt. Apart from Swami Vimokshananda, Mrs Sita Gangay, Mrs Shireen Dhunraj and Sister Avintha also answered some questions. The programme ended with closing prayers and followed by prasad in the form of lunch to all.

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Meaningful Morning

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.

a portion of attentive audience…
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.

 

A Report by Shiksha Ramkissoon

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.

Pranavaswaroopini Ma – Mother (the embodiment of AUM) at 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 Chairperson of SSDA, Ms Prakashnee Gengan taking control of the floor

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.

Swami Saradaprabhananda presenting a scholarly Paper…

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.

Swami Vimokshananda delivering a speech interspersed with humour…

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.

Dr Nirmala Balkaran of Ladysmith presenting her charming Paper…

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.

Pravrajika Ishtaprana mataji presenting her illuminating Paper…

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.

Sister Avinta closing the Conference with her mellifluous shanti paath

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!

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Spiritual sojourn

Welcome to South Africa!

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

Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj

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

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

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

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

Early days

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

Stint of service

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

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

Women, Youth and children

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

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

Outer ring Service

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

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

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

New Delhi Centre

Ramakrishna Temple at New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission

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

Activities at a glance:

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

2. A computer training centre with 762 students.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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