Women’s Day programme
A Review by Inderani Basdeo
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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!
Welcome to South Africa!
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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!
Continued from previous post…..
Parenting – A Hindu Perspective
Ramola and Sravanthi as guest writers sent me a Report on the Seminar that had the above theme as title and hosted by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville in commemoration of Holy Mother’s 156th birth anniversary celebration at KZN University on Sunday, 13 December 2009. It was a great success with 500 delegates from even distant places attending with enthusiasm. Photos courtesy: Lushen Pillay and Jaya Ramjogi. The 1st Part was posted on 1st Jan, 2010. Here is the 2nd Part!
After refreshments, the second paper was presented by Ms Raisha Singh, Campus Manager, Mnambithi FET College. In presenting her topic ‘Challenges of Parenting’, Ms Singh discussed in detail the various challenges facing parents today. Her description of the growth of a child with the simile of a young plant was apt. To grow into a healthy tree which will provide shade to many, the plant must be carefully nurtured with sufficient water, sunlight, nutrients and love. She also discussed current social concerns like rebellious children, suicide, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and peer pressure. Methods subscribed in coping with these concerns included providing a stable environment in the home which will ensure emotional security, effective and frank communication with children, encouraging attendance at religious institutions, exposure to the finer sides of life like art and music, and lovingly disciplining children.
Thereafter Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President, Ramakrishna Centre of SA, released a booklet on ‘Parenting – A Hindu Perspective’, containing articles by the speakers as well as many interesting ideas on parenting skills. It was freely distributed to the delegates who attended the seminar.
While releasing the booklet Swami Vimokshanandaji drew the attention of the audience to a normally forgotten point that parenting begins with the mutual desire of the parents to have a child and not necessarily only with the birth of a baby. He highlighted the value of prayer and a religious ambience to direct the pre-natal influence of the parents on the child. He also cited from our scriptures giving the incidents of Sita in sage Valmiki’s ashram when Lava and Kusha were still unborn and saint-child Prahlad’s mother at sage Narada’s ashram. Maharaj described the need for providing sincere appreciation and love to children as incentives for their healthy growth. He also stressed the importance of religious education to strengthen character and personality.
The third paper was delivered by Dr HB Parbhoo, a leading medical practitioner as well as the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA. He addressed the issue of ‘Cultivating Harmonious Domestic and Social Skills in the Family’ in a remarkable way. Dr Parbhoo spoke about the traditional Hindu home as being one of warmth and hospitality. Family members were united in a circle of love extending to include grandparents, in-laws and one’s community. This was contrasted with the modern family of today where nuclear families exist in isolation with individualisation of the family members and marginalisation of the elderly. Another pertinent issue he discussed was that of the difficulties that children experience in overcoming the influence of friends and following the right path. He quoted an excerpt from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, dealing with peer pressure. Dr Parbhoo stressed the importance of having appropriate role models, like Swami Vivekananda, as children by nature are hero-worshippers and would otherwise look to morally bereft celebrities to idolise. Dr Parbhoo emphasised the importance of belonging to a religious organisation as it encourages one to broaden one’s horizons and the selfish circle of one’s own immediate family interests, and reach out to others. He extensively quoted from Swami Vivekananda and concluded that the home setting needs to be a spiritual one.
The final speaker, Pravrajika Divyanandaprana Mataji, a nun of the Sri Sarada Math, Dakshineshwar, near Kolkata, India, delivered a paper on ‘Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on Youth Development’. Analysing development according to Swamiji, the Mataji proceeded step by step to uncover the roots of human identity. Man’s identity, she declared, is rooted in his ancestry and anchored in his immediate family. She eloquently compared the parent to a bow and the child to an arrow and said it was the stability and direction of the bow that determined the direction the arrow would take. Further entering the mind of a child, Mataji showed the importance of inculcating proper cultural values and religious education in the sensitive mind of children, drawing appropriate examples from Indian history.
Divyanandaprana mataji also touched upon the conditioning power of love, an inspired self-image and a dynamic work culture that the growing mind requires for character development. However human personality rests on the core truth of man’s inner Being called the Atman in Hindu philosophy. Dwelling on this, Mataji explored the role of the spiritual quotient in balancing the other aspects of the personality namely Intelligent Quotient and Emotional Quotient and how ultimately the SQ was the saving factor. In essence, it was an exemplary paper that exhaustively summarised the eternal principles of Hinduism in creating an enlightened society as envisioned by Swami Vivekananda.
A question and answer session was conducted immediately after the presentation of each paper. These were efficiently and appropriately handled by the speakers. The Director of Ceremonies, Ms Prakashnee Gengan, extended a Vote of Thanks. The programme concluded with closing prayer led by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji.
The Seminar helped to awaken the consciousness of the thinking community in upholding values in order to create a stable, secure and cultured social set-up. All the delegates were served lunch at the conclusion of the seminar.
The Ashram’s ‘Vedanta Bookshop’ sold books covering a wide range of subjects including Vedanta, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature, scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and Tirrukural, Meditation and Children’s books.
For more photos of the Seminar please see the below slideshow.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
A very happy New Year to every one of you! May this Kalpataru Day bring you all blessings!
Parenting – A Hindu Perspective
Ramola and Sravanthi as guest writers sent me a Report on the Seminar that had the above theme as title and hosted by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville in commemoration of Holy Mother’s 156th birth anniversary celebration at KZN University on Sunday, 13 December 2009. It was a great success with 500 delegates from even distant places attending with enthusiasm. Photos courtesy: Lushen Pillay and Jaya Ramjogi
Seminars were never a favourite for me as the few that I was forced to attend turned out to be fantastically tiresome! Oh! how the speakers prominently called ‘panelists’, continue to inflict pain on the disinterested listeners by holding their documents on the lectern and proceed with reading in their scholarly dry and drab tone without the much needed eye-contact! I realized that perhaps, I needed a change in my hard held opinion when I unwittingly was made to participate in a Seminar on Sunday, 13 December 2009.
This Seminar held in order to commemorate the 156th birth anniversary of the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was different; not only it provided a refreshing experience but also proved a treat to thoughtful minds. ‘Parenting – A Hindu Perspective’ was the theme entirely relevant to the modern Hindu practitioners of SA. So, dear visitors! I am happy to present here a Report, faithfully recorded by two youth members of SSDA – Ramola and Sravanthi – for the benefit of all those who could not attend the Seminar. The welcome, the decoration, the orderliness, the spic and span look, and even the drawing of OM on the background, not to mention the dining space – everything was laced with artistic patterns!
My and other Swamis’ along with many of those attendees’ deep appreciation go to the devotee-volunteers who worked tirelessly as part of their Karmayoga for the success of the Seminar and the ‘Powers that be’ who ably guided them!
The year 2009 heralded the Ashram’s Silver Jubilee. 25 years of useful existence, in spite of odds and obstacles is not an ordinary occasion indeed and to celebrate the prestigious occasion four major events were conducted. The seminar was the last that ended with lasting sweet memories. Four monks and two nuns participated in the seminar. An audience of over 500 delegates from all over South Africa, including Durban, Northern Natal and Bloemfontein, attended.
The seminar, which commenced at 9:00 a.m., was held at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Westville Campus. It was a blessing to have the holy presence of Revered Swamis Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj of Ulsoor, Bangalore; Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj of Colombo, Sri Lanka; Vimokshanandaji Maharaj and Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj and Pravrajikas Ishtaprana Mataji and Divyanandaprana Mataji. In accordance with our Hindu tradition, Sister Avinta said the opening prayers after which Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji welcomed the monks of the Ramakrishna Order and every one in the august audience. She also extended a warm welcome to representatives from sister organisations and to delegates who have come from distant places. While thanking all for their presence, she expressed her trust that the delegates would benefit from the day’s discussions.
The seminar was inaugurated by the Chief Guest, Sri Swami Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj, Vice President and Head of the Ramakrishna Mission, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Revered Maharaj highlighted the importance of good parenting, emphasising the need for a moral foundation for the betterment of today’s and tomorrow’s society.
Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President, Ramakrishna Centre of SA, delivered the first paper entitled ‘The Hindu Ideal of Parenting’. It carried the necessary knowledge required to enhance parenting skills, drawing deeply from Hinduism’s timeless heritage and culture. Maharaj analysed the family life cycle and the various stages in the child’s development, from the naming ceremony to marriage.
These different samskaaraas are characteristic of Hinduism and sanctify family and social obligations, facilitating spiritual evolution. Moving from one phase to another creates change, and the family must adapt to these changes. These transition periods are crucial and require understanding and skillful management, as problems occur when the family is unprepared for them. Traditional Hindu ceremonies are important to mark these transition periods and provide the moorings to make them smooth. These can be simplified or adapted to the needs of the modern age but their essence and values must be preserved, added Swami Saradaprabhanandaji.
His paper was followed by a short recess when refreshments were served.
To be continued….
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!
(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.