Vedanta Retreat for Children & Youth

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Vivekananda Weekend

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Set aside suicide

Tragical Trauma

Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 9.53.50 PMDecember known as ‘silly season’ aptly or not, is a month of merry-making with holidayers dotting different places.  Children joyfully look forward to the prospect of school-closing followed by festival-booms. The students who pass out successfully have a whale of a time especially the high-rankers in Matric as media gives lot of attention to the winners. They tire themselves out with routine partying extending to midnight. They are overwhelmed too receiving gifts galore. Amidst the hullabaloo all around, somewhere some child is falling prey to the most detestable act – that of committing suicide. Sri Ramakrishna warns about the result of suicide and terms it ‘heinous’.

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It is of course a cause for great concern for the parents whose son or daughter fails in an examination. The trauma that it has on the remaining members of the house-hold is tragical.

A research project at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in South Africa indicates that suicide is on the rise in the country and that children as young as 10 are dying by suicide.

“Our youth are increasingly attempting or committing suicide as a result of depression,” said Michelle de Sousa, Project Manager of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

When I was ruminating over this easy escape-route of the weaklings, a mail attracted my attention. It was written by MM, a devotee of Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Durban.

She said in her mail that “This morning I read an article in the Jyoti Jul – Sept 2012 issue, on the President’s Page…..Thoughts on Suicide. What gems are in this article! It will be a good idea for Maharaj to Post this article on Maharaj’s blog, so thousands that do visit the blog can help share this message. During this period lots of Children await Matric and University results and suicide is at its peak. With the gems in this article it could help avoid many suicide cases.”

Interestingly I remembered the Conference on Hinduism that was conducted by our Estcourt Satsang Group on the 29th July, 2012. Unfortunately I could not attend due to my ill-health at that time and hence I sent my Benedictory Address to be read out by one of our Exco members there.

I reproduce that Address here for our readers because of its relevance  to some discussion on this sad subject. The below one is the Invite. The programme was inaugurated by VC Maharaj, Superintendent of Education, Northern KZN and attended by about 300 delegates. Interesting Papers were presented by three Panelists.

The official Invite for the Conference on Hinduism held at Estcourt, SA
The official Invite for the Conference on Hinduism held at Estcourt, SA


Benedictory Message by Swami Vimokshananda, the President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa

Aum Namo Narayanaya!

By the grace of Master, the Northern Natal Hinduism Conference, after making its rounds through the various towns, has come once again to Estcourt.

Brother Swami Saradaprabhananda and officials from the HQ join me in extending our heartiest congratulations to all the participants and delegates.

Rest by Roadside inn?

Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj
Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj

I feel that great effort and brainstorming activities must have gone into the choosing of the topics, for they are so topical and so relevant today. It is obvious that by this point of the programme each one of you should understand more clearly what life, what its challenges are, and how we may address them.

Swami Sivananda, the Founder of Divine Light Society, Rishikesh says that “Life is a pilgrimage. The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches direct to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination.”

But during this journey of unfolding and developing, we will find that life is constantly throwing up one difficulty after another, that many a time presents itself before us as insurmountable. We do fall, even a thousand times we fall, but we should, nay, must, rise again.

God’s Gymnasium

For that indeed is the very purpose for which we have been born. The great Swami Vivekananda likens this world to a gymnasium where we have to build and strengthen ourselves. He said he wanted us to have  “muscles of iron and nerves of steel”. As the Upanishad says, Brahman is not for the weak. (na ayam aatma balaheenena labhyaha). Again, Swamiji himself made a religion out of strength. Strength is life, he said, and conversely, he declared, weakness is death. 

Pompeii gymnasium seen from the top of the stadium wall.
Pompeii gymnasium seen from the top of the stadium wall.

We often describe life by such words as ‘progressively stressful’, ‘far too complex’, ‘too fast’, ‘incomprehensible and unfair’. And at some tragic moment we ask that momentous question ‘What am I living for?’ Then we start to deliberate like Hamlet and weigh our options: either to ‘bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, or ‘to die, to sleep’  – that is, to face the world and its troubles head on; or, to give in and end our life.

But suicide has never been an option for the Hindu, nor is it an option in most religions. One of the tenets of Hinduism is the belief in reincarnation. Each birth is a successive opportunity for self-improvement. We continue in one birth where we had left off in the previous one.

Committing suicide is again deplorable because it actually deprives one of an opportunity to improve oneself through this physical body.

Strengthening the Self

nonameThe act of suicide is nothing more than a huge backsliding in our spiritual progress. We will meet in our next birth the same or similar set of circumstances that prompted the suicide in this birth, and we will have to willy-nilly come to terms with that. So ending a life causes not only a personal suffering, but also the pain and anguish that one brings to others in our lives. And that, of course, has it’s own karmic effects.

The very thought of suicide and its implications for oneself and for others, in the present birth and in births to come, is frightening. On the other hand there are heroic tempered ones among us who welcome difficulties.  In that fascinating book by Dr Michael Newton entitled Destiny of Souls, he tells us that many people actually choose to be reborn in difficult situations just to be able to get over that particular hurdle or difficulty. It is a means of strengthening the Self.

Losing the opportunity

There is another view to suicide that we often do not touch upon. While on one level it is a ‘heinous sin’ as Master Sri Ramakrishna said, that is, in reference to the destruction of one’s physical body, it is also the harm and pain that one inflicts on one’s soul by losing the opportunity to perform due sadhana. Not striving for spiritual perfection is a worse type of suicide than the physical suicide.

Those qualities and characteristics that will deter us from the precipice of suicide are to be cultivated by parents and taught at our Hinduism classes. Each child must be taught to be divine. If every teacher can teach every child under his/her care, if every parent, can make every child aware of themselves as ‘potentially divine’, and that they can and must realize that potential divinity, I think both parents and teachers have achieved much. The growing children will work out the details themselves.

Back to Source?

Sri Satya Sai Baba
Sri Satya Sai Baba

Sri Sathya Sai Baba puts it very well when he says: “You have come from God, you are a spark of His Glory; you are a wave of that Ocean of Bliss; you will get peace only when you again merge in Him. See God in every one you meet; see God in every thing you handle. Live together, revere each other, let not the seeds of envy and hate grow and choke the clear stream of Love.”

Every child should know that though there are sharks in the sea, there are safety nets that make sure their safe swimming. That sense of security must be there in their daily lives, but at the same time, they should know that they enjoy greater freedom, that they will fall, that they must rise again; and most of all, they must take responsibility for their own actions. Today we tend to blame our parents and society. Though we may use such fine sounding terms as hereditary factors and socio-economic pressures, it still means that we are putting the blame elsewhere.

In the Gita, Lord says:
“Raise yourself by yourself. Don’t put yourself down, for you alone are your own friend, and you alone are your own enemy.”

But we must help each other. However, we should not become over-enthusiastic like the man who wanted to help the butterfly to break out of its cocoon quickly, but really caused it to die by his untimely interference.

No to Negative

Swami Vivekananda tells us that our minds are great receptors that attract other similar thoughts. Day in and day out, thinking weaker thoughts can only plunge us deeper and deeper into depressive states. On the other hand, positive and creative thoughts will repel such negative vibrations.

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

And that is why such habits as reading good literature (and by this I do not mean only religious/spiritual literature, but anything that will uplift the mind, for instance a good piece of poetry, a discussion on Art, Music etc,) are so essential. Then of course, attending satsangs should become a habit. Like the habit of drinking tea or coffee in the morning – if we don’t have it, we have missed something. Regular sadhana, singing (and other hobbies), recital of or listening to hymns – all contribute towards developing a positive mental attitude.

It is not a sin to feel low in spirits, or feel the weight of the world. It is a sin when we do nothing about it, or take the apparently and foolish way out. Today we have been inspired; we were given such psychological and spiritual tools and the know-how to use them.

For what?

To enable us to face the future boldly, to march on fearlessly, and whenever possible, to lend a helping hand to the fellow traveller.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to all these three learned speakers who in spite of their busy professional schedule could make it convenient to participate in this august Conference.

I wish I were here listening to the elevating thoughts of the speakers.

We hope that this Conference on Hinduism has prompted you to think over a little leisurely, to cogitate much more deeply, and to find some interesting solutions finally.

I deeply appreciate the Chairperson and the members of our Estcourt Satsang group in organizing this Conference successfully.


Implementing ideas

Annual Conference on Hinduism

A Report

by Deveshnie Govender

Religion forms the building blocks of any individual’s life. In the rapidly changing society which is being bombarded with Westernization and technological advancement many of us face the dilemma of deferring from our routes and are faced with the predicament of losing sight of our ultimate goal of life: God Realization. With this in mind the Annual Hinduism Conference attempts to revive our faith and re instill the crucial values of Hinduism and our Religion.

the Hall tastefully decorated with audience

Dundee Sub-centre played the role of hosts to the last year’s Annual Hinduism Conference which proceeded from 9 am till 1 pm on Sunday, 3 September, 2011 at the Dundee Moth hall. Upon entering, the welcoming pictures of the Holy Trio provided for the central attraction and together with a colour co-ordinated tasteful deco, provided a hearty environment for the devotees as well as the esteemed panel of speakers.

I am happy to present here a Report written specially for this Blog by one of our Dundee Sub-centre’s youth members. Ms Deveshnie Govender is presently studying for Bachelor of Accounting Science at Johannesburg in the University of Witwatersrand.

Inaugural address

The proceedings began with Prayer to the Holy Trio. Inauguration of the function was done by Ms R D Bedassi who is the chairperson of the Talana Museum Board of Trustees as well as the Treasurer of the Aryan Benevolent Home in Glencoe as well as the 1860 Legacy Foundation. She is also a member of the Child Welfare of South Africa, Glencoe branch. She is a reputed for her involvement in different community welfare projects.

Being a senior educator in the Northern KZN region Ms Bedassi pointed out the richness of our cultural heritage and emphasised that the greatest threat that we face today is the  challenge of an identity crisis. She discussed the law of Karma, pointing out that good Karma is created through living a dharmic life. She discussed 9 Hindu values which lead to the attainment of moksha.

  • Satyam: Truth. All should lead a life of honesty and compassion.
  • Astheyam: We should guard against greed and selfishness.
  • Daya: We should practise compassion and sympathy, and be kind and merciful.
  • Shanti: Patience, forgiveness and tolerance should be the hallmark in our life.
  • Arjavam: We should practise simplicity and straightforwardness.
  • Madhuryam: Sweetness and disposition should be of prime importance to us.
  • Dama: We should practice self-control and not act upon impulse.
  • Dana: Give, teach, purify and protect.
  • Akalmasham: We should attempt to live a life that is free of sin. This will lead to a positive action resulting in a positive reaction.

She concluded that we should attempt to prevent bad deeds and be non-judgmental. It was with this inspiring inauguration that the function was officially begun.

Key-note address

The first address which could also be classified as the Key-note address was by our Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, the President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA.

He pointed out that many of our Hindu youth are not able to give clear answers when questioned by youths from other religions about our scriptures. It is because Hinduism has many scriptures. Hinduism has delved into every facet of spiritual life and human experience, there is, therefore a great treasure-house of spiritual literature, any one of them passing off as an important Hindu scripture. Generally, the Upanishads are regarded as the umbrella under which they all fall. However, the Vedas also are pivotal. Any sect, new or old, wanting to be regarded as a Hindu sect must be able to justify its principles and teachings on the basis of the teachings of the Upanishads or the Vedas.

Upon analysis, we find that some of the ideas have been lost. However, the Bhagavad Gita is regarded as the very quintessence of Upanishads and Vedas. We find that every saint has brought the Bhagavad Gita into their teachings, thus showing the universality of the Bhagavad Gita. It speaks to all humanity for which Hinduism stands.

Sri Ramakrishna said that the gist of the Gita can be found in the repetition of the
word “gita” ten times, which then becomes tagi, meaning ‘renunciation’. Master
emphasized that more than just reading scriptures, putting the teachings into practice was more essential! Maharaj said that practising five ideas with faith, sincerity and dedication was far more superior than learning off the scriptures by rote.

He further added that we were blessed to have the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as our modern scripture, and doubly blessed that it is available in English. Master is the personification of the Vedas and hence all the scriptures are within him.

Maharaj’s paper was extremely enlightening and uplifting. Maharaj quenched the spiritual thirst among us and managed to pacify the scriptural turmoil within our minds. It was on this high note that the conference broke for Tea and snacks.

Panelist’s presentation on Parenting

The second speaker was Dr HB Parbhoo who is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. He is also the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Dr Parbhoo is also a specialist physician in Durban.

His paper “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”, aimed to resolve the dilemma numerous parents face. He dealt with the theme of protection versus pleasure, guided growth with Self Responsibility. He discussed how the past values (hard work, sacrifice, good habits and education) which were treasured and admired are now being neglected in search for enjoyment and entertainment. He emphasized the fundamental importance of creating a loving, proper environment for children, an environment where children have the opportunity to explore and express themselves. The theme of protection versus pleasure was also discussed whereby the child has to realize their growth is their own responsibility. “My Life”.

If parents do not guide and provide a pertinent role model for their children, they seek for it in the media, and so adopt bad habits. He gave a guideline to parents: provide love in the first five years, then discipline for the next 10 years, when the child reaches 16; the parent should attempt to become their friend. Through performing and completing one task at a time, being ever-vigilant, we will develop mind control and will power. He said that we should not blame others for our faults, that we should mind our own business, make ourselves perfect and others will become perfect in our eyes.

Dr Parbhoo’s paper was higly relevant and intriguing for both parents as well as children.

Panelist’s presentation on Harmony of Four Yogas

The third speaker was Ms Indrani Basdeo who is the Secretary of the Etete Satsung group. She is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. She occupies the career of a legal manager in a financial company.

Ms Basdeo attempted to enlighten us upon the 4 yogas. As humans we are all in an endless search for real peace and happiness. Through the grace of our divine Lord, Swami Vivekananda gave us the nectar of Vedanta; however this gift remained unopened. Yoga is the union of the individual soul with the almighty Lord. In the attainment of this one goal there are various different paths according to our temperaments.

These 4 yogas are: Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Bhakti yoga – Emotional Path, the relationship between the devotee and God.

Jnana Yoga– Intellectual Path, the reading and studying of the scriptures. This involves intellectual discrimination. The necessity for us to discriminate from the real and the unreal leading to spiritual realization, the expansion of our intellect. It was here that Ms Basdeo used a funny story of a camper and doctor for better understanding. They both went camping, when the camper told the doctor to look up and tell him what he saw, the doctor provided a list of stars and planets! When the doctor asked the camper what he saw, he simply replied “our tent has been stolen!”

Karma Yoga – working- This involves selfless service in the spirit of worship. The essence of Karma Yoga is selfless service. “Numerous individuals think, if I help what will happen to me, however a great individual does it for no gain”. It is considered as a spiritual action. The secret of action is purity and serenity of mind.

Raja Yoga – Spiritual Path- This includes the meditation and prayer aspect. By concentrating our mind, it becomes much more powerful thus providing us with a better quality of life. She also used a story to illustrate this and linked it to handling turbulence in our lives such as traffic jams.

It was here that Ms Basdeo posed the question of “How do we train our mind? “  She provided the answer of constant practice and dispassion. Swami Vivekananda says that the 4 yogas are capable of taking us to supreme infinite knowledge and bliss. Many question which is the best to practice? The best is a combination of all four as this results in maximum usage and maximum benefits that will lead us into reaching our goal more rapidly.  The Harmony of the 4 Yogas are best given in the Bhagavad Gita. In conclusion she provided us with an intriguing element called  “sandwich sadhana”!

First slice: Dedicate everything to God in the morning. Filling: Work performed. Other slice: In the night dedicate all your actions to God.

We should attempt to open Swami Vivekananda’s unopened gift thus pursuing peace and happiness. It was a well prepared and presented paper. The stories and parables used definitely made for easier memory.

Panelist’s presentation on Relevance of Rabindranath Tagore

The last paper of the Conference was delivered by Ms Raisha Singh, a member of the Newcastle Sub-centre who also acts as the course co-ordinator of the Faculty of Peace Studies, Spirituality and Culture run by the Ramakrishna Centre. Professionally she occupies the post of the Ladysmith Campus Manager.

She addressed on the Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore‘s message of wisdom and its relevance in today’s society. The following 6 ideas were highlighted:

Peace and Harmony

The Unity of Man

Liberation and emancipation of woman

Divinity within us

Rural Reconstruction:

Inner Turmoil

Ms Raisha Singh highlighted how we are touched by the meaningful enormous literature penned by Rabindranath Tagore, creating a new art of living. He translated the essence of creative impulses into social context. His writing and the wisdom of it surpasses time and space. She emphasized the importance of interpreting Indian philosophy and religion and expanding our horizon of love. In conclusion, Ms R Singh elaborated on Rabindranath Tagore to such an extent that he is well known as an extremely great personality that made him win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The relevance of the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore is especially appropriate in the 150 years celebration of arrival of Indian indentured labourers.

Audience Response

The Conference was concluded with a panel discussion led by our Revered Maharaj. It was here that Maharaj in his inimitable way, summarized the main concepts of the three speakers. He deeply appreciated the time given by the delegates by attending the Conference and listening to the learned panelists. But that was not enough, he added. Maharaj exhorted the audience to ‘implement the ideas’ that have sunk into their minds so that the lives of elders become an example to the youth and children.

Prompted by Maharaj, youth were asked to provide their opinions or observations. Nibha Ramkelawan, a student devotee, provided an exceptional response highlighting the relevance and importance of our organization and the proper moral grounding it provides. She elaborated that in a Christian pre-dominant schools, the youth often faced with various challenges and it was through learning from Conferences, literature and guidance and through the grace of our Master, the Hindu youth overcome these. To other topical questions fielded at the paper presenters, I should confess, that the learned panelists definitely did not lag behind in giving quality responses to them.

In conclusion

This report will not be complete without the mentioning of the Director of Ceremonies, Ms Ashnee Jaggath an eminent educator of Danhauser secondary and devotee of the Dundee Sub-centre. The spirited way she started the programme, vigorous manner she steered the responses and professional control she exercised over the floor and the exceptional dynamism she displayed in directing the programme cannot but be applauded.

And kudos to the Dundee Sub-centre Chairperson Mr Shaiel Chunder and all the members of its Committee for making everyone feel absolutely comfortable.

Through the grace of our divine Master, it was evident that the audience and delegates left the Conference feeling enriched and motivated to deal with challenges and far more knowledgable on certain aspects of Hinduism. The Conference was undoubtedly an incomparable success and definitely an annual event we await with bated breath!

Hari Om tat sat! Jai Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu!