Om Namo Narayanaya!
O! the year 2011! I bid you adieu as I watched the sun setting yesterday from standing by the side of the main dome of our Temple! It was absolutely scenic but fastest fleeting as I tried to catch the mood with my iPad…the rains came refreshingly in a downpour!
I convey my love and best wishes and also of brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj to every one of you on this happy New Year Day! The officials from headquarters and devotees too join me in wishing you a happy New Year and Blessed Kalpataru day!
Why a New Year Day is important in our lives? Is the novelty of the coming year connected merely with the numbers on the calendar? Or is it something more than a mathematical event? Days after days, months after months and as the Time progresses, finally we wake up to a First Day of the next Year – calling it a New Year. This New Year Day, no doubt makes us feel happy. It brings lot of hopes. It fetches desires to fulfill many aspirations.
Undeniably, this New Year Day is eulogised as ‘Kalpataru Day’ in the Ramakrishna circle of devotees. Below are some excerpts from the Editorial that appeared in Vedanta Kesari of January 1987, throwing some light on the deeper significance of the historical event.
Swami Akhandananda writes, “It is an auspicious day for all of us. Our Master became the Kalpataru to bless his disciples at Cossipore (a Calcutta suburb). Kalpataru is one of the five trees of Heaven or Indra’s Paradise that is supposed to fulfil desires. The other four are Mandaram, Santanam, Harichandanam and Parijatam.”
May this Day train us and make us deserving to receive the boundless grace of the Master!
The first day of January, besides being the New Year day, is of special significance to a Ramakrishna-devotee. This is the day of the Self-revelation of the Great Master Sri Ramakrishna when he became, what is now popularly called, the Kalpataru `the wish-fulfilling tree.’
It happened in 1886 at Kasipur where the Master had been undergoing treatment for his throat cancer. On January 1st, he felt particularly better and came down from his room for a stroll on the spacious lawns of the garden-house. About thirty devotees were present and were scattered here and there in the garden. As soon as they saw the Master, they all came near him and bowed down.
To Girish, the Master said, `Girish, what have you seen that makes you glorify me publicly before one and all?’ Girish at once fell at the Master’s feet and said with folded hands and choked voice, `What more can I say of Him, even a fraction of whose glory Vyasa and Valmiki miserably failed to express in their immortal epics and Puranas?’ Hearing these words of Girish, the Master was deeply charmed and his mind soared to a high plane. Seeing the divinely illumined countenance of the Master, Girish was thrilled and he cried out in great joy, `Glory unto Ramakrishna! Glory unto Ramakrishna!’ and began taking the dust of his feet again and again. The Master looked at all present and said smilingly, `What more shall 1 say to you? May you all be spiritually awakened!’ No sooner had he said these few words than he went into Samadhi. What followed is best described in the words of Swami Saradananda, in his magnum opus ‘Sri Ramakrishna – the Great Master’, who had seen the whole episode from a distance:
“When the devotees heard those words of blessings and protection from fear, they raised repeated cries of joy, exclaiming, `Glory to Ramakrishna.’ some of them saluted him, some showered flowers, some again came and touched his feet.”
The Master touched the devotees in that state of Samadhi and blessed them all. The effect was instantaneous.
How and when can this ‘Kalpataru‘ grace descend in our own life? True, divine grace is unconditional. Yet, in our heart of hearts, we do feel that without some sort of readiness to receive the grace, we make ourselves unfit for it.
That is the significance of the Kalpataru Day celebration on the 1st of January that is observed by the devotees of Ramakrishna.
It is a reminder to every devotee of the unforgettable event at Kasipur and of the redeeming power of the Lord. It is also a gentle hint to a serious spiritual aspirant to look beyond the physical aspect of the episode and to concentrate on its spiritual implications. It is in this sense that the bestowal of the `Kalpataru grace’ is as valid and true today as it was then. And it is to recapture that mood of participation in the inspiring event at Kasipur that the 1st of January holds a special meaning to a Ramakrishna devotee.
||Om hreem Vighneshwaraaya namaha||
A very happy ‘Sri Ganesha chaturthi’ to every one! It is a joyous occasion always. All our Centres in South Africa celebrate this day in a solemn manner.
Importance is given to japa whereby the wisdom aspect of our personalities is stimulated. The day starts with a special puja to Sri Ganesha in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. In the evening it concludes with a satsang where devotees in chorus sing bhajans and kirtans interspersed with Talks or Readings.
As children we were not only treated with different kinds of sweets during dining time, (note: earlier I wrote about that delicious dish Kozhuk kattai or modakam) but also were trained in lots of traditional practices that were initially appeared as queer but later loved. In igniting the imagination of the child, Ganesha worship would or even now stands supreme. Imagination about what? About creating a living contact between the visible human and the invisible super-human. It leads the growing child in the practice of devotion. This worship acts as a means in giving practical shape to develop a healthy and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.
I am reminded of the allotted duties among the siblings and oh! what verve and vigour the children used to show in fulfilling their arduous(!) tasks like plucking flowers, cutting fruits, arranging durwa grass etc. A sense of camaraderie prevails that brings peace and happiness. May Sri Ganesha resolve all our conflicts!
Worship of Personal God in whatever form has many distinct advantages. Lord Ganesha though He is ever the son of Parvati and Shiva is known as ‘Vighneshwara’ the Lord of Obstacles. Often children (the mustachioed babies too…!) ask how is it that this God is called ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Is it not good to worship those gods who can offer boons instead of those creating obstructions? Late Revered Swami Chidbhavanandaji maharaj (famous for his translation of Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and English – perhaps the very first one in bringing Master’s teachings at relevant places – used to compare this Universe to an automobile. He says in one of his books “Facets of Brahman” which is as delightful as inspiring, explains why and how Lord Ganesha brings good to the devotees :
“In the working of an automobile each mechanism has its particular part to play. The function of one part in it cannot be the function of another.” This means that notwithstanding each part having its own structural and functional individuality the motor car an move only with the combined effect of all of them. So, he concludes that the Universe is a self-projected living and intelligent mechanism. It is the material manifestation of the saguna brahman
While harmony exists in its variation, discord and conflicts are also seen. Thus Nature brings all the beings into existence and provides opportunities ‘to evolve into higher and yet higher order of life’. All levels have their intrinsic two categories called Divine and Demoniac.
This Cosmic Intelligence is symbolically called Ganesha. Those who are honest and strive to lead a peaceful life, thus possessing Divine qualities, He definitely comes to their aid. And he does not neglect those with asuric qualities. By creating obstructions, He brings disappointment in the minds of devotees as what was prayed goes not sanctioned! But in the course of life’s journey, a devotee finds out that seeming obstruction was in one way a blessing in disguise. In short by introducing lesser evils He wards off greater evils of life and Vighneshwara (Vighna – obstacles, Ishwara – Lord) rightly represents this particular aspect of Nature.
How Ganesha came in the practical life through dreams and fulfilled the desires of the devotees is narrated here.
It was sometime in 2005. This happened while I was in Ranchi. Once I received a post parcel that looked very tiny. Well, I just kept it on my study table; I never even ventured to open it. Everyday I was seeing it but somehow had no urge to open the parcel and look what the gift was. Suddenly one fine early morning a devotee rang me up to say that she was indeed frightened by a dream. I asked her what was the dream. She explained that she was entering into our Temple. She saw a small figure of Ganesha slowly emerging from nowhere and becoming crystal clear and was walking towards her. The image was in utter black colour. She asked me whether this dream was inauspicious.
Consoling her with words of sympathy, I told her that seeing Ganesha is considered as most auspicious and who knows that black Ganesha wants to come to her home! Did she not tell me earlier that she wanted to worship Ganesha in some murti? So, I concluded by telling her that she might wait till Ganesha makes some arrangement.
That day while I was just going out, the cleaning boy came and put that tiny parcel into my hands and said that I had not yet opened it as it was lying for many days on the table. I quickly thrusted it into my pocket and went out.
It was a pleasant surprise when on my way back, I met the son of this devotee who insisted that I should visit his home. Since I had some time, I agreed and reached his house. The devotee welcomed me and was talking about her dream; she asked me, ‘Maharaj, when would Ganesha come to my home?’
While the conversation was going on I casually took the parcel and opened it and lo! it was black Ganesha murti! So tiny and cute, I said, “See! here He is!” I placed that Ganesha into her altar under the feet of the Mother Kali image. Well, son got his place again under mother!
A devotee from South Africa, the other day narrated this following incident.
It was in 1997. I was overwhelmed by money and power. I had a successful business and everything was hunky dory in my life. My day used to start quite early, leaving home everyday including Sundays at 7am and returning at 10pm. That meant neglecting my home, children and daily prayer.
This continued for 2 years. Although I was a devotee of the Master from the age of 13 years, somehow at the age of 29, I faltered in my spiritual life. My conscience used to prick me every now and then….. but still I neglected my sadhana.
As the second year was coming to a close, my body and mind was beginning to tire and so were my kids on whom I could sense the effect of neglect. It was late one night while I was asleep, that I had a wonderful dream… or was it real, I will never know that… Lord Ganesha came to me while I lay on the bed and spoke softly to me. He kept telling me ‘arise and offer some fruit and milk’. I could still see Him in His flowing yellow dhoti and with a flower garland around His neck. When I was reluctant to get up, he firmly, at the same time, very lovingly coaxed me to wake up. I lay in my bed wondering at the strange, yet divine dream that I just experienced.
I gazed around to see whether the Gracious Lord was still in the room, was it my imagination, was it a dream, was it real? who knows! After a quick bath and breakfast, just out of curiosity I went to the calendar to check what day it was… I WAS STUNNED TO SEE IT WAS THE AUSPICIOUS DAY OF GANESH CHATURTHI. I immediately went into my shrine and offered milk to the Lord and realised that the Lord is continuously knocking on my door, and He is waiting for me to open. It was on that auspicious day that by the will of the Lord, I quit my job and became a mum to my kids and held on tightly to the Lord’s Feet… Never to let go AGAIN!
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
Hindus all along have, from time immemorial, been worshippers of God in form. We strongly believe that the formless, infinite Ishwara who is nitya (eternal), buddha (awakened), shuddha (ever pure) and mukta (ever free) does alone takes any form out of His compassion for devotees.
Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna used to say that “Many are the names of God and infinite are forms through which he may be approached.”
One of the most essential and distinctive feature of Bhakti-maarga – the path of Devotion – is dependence on grace. The Gita speaks of two kinds of Grace: one is general or impersonal grace available to all people irrespective of whether they are Bhaktas or Jnaanis. (samo’ham sarva bhuteshu, Gita, 9.29). The other is a special, personal grace given only to the true devotee who has surrendered his all to the Avataara and depends on Him alone. Such a devotee’s spiritual and material welfare (yogakshema) God Himself takes care of.
For the first time in the religious history of India—perhaps the whole world—a divine Teacher gave this assurance to mankind:
“I lift up those who depend on me from the ocean of death” (12.7)
“I swear: my devotee, even if he is the worst of sinners, will never perish” (9.31)
“I will liberate you from all sins; don’t worry” (18.66)
The only condition for this otherwise unconditional Grace is prapatti or self-surrender. The type of self-surrender that Gita teaches is not a passive state of inaction which weakens the person. On the contrary prapatti is a dynamic state which gives tremendous strength to the person. Strong in the strength of God, he can face any problem, even fight a battle, with equanimity and calmness of mind (Gita: 3.30)
May we remember that every human body is like a temple wherein the heart of hearts is the chosen spot where God resides. While it is good to propitiate God in stone or marble, it is necessary that we should worship God in the poor, God in the sick and God in the illiterate. The worship of God in man should take the form of seva (service).
Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and devotees of our Centre join me in conveying hearty best wishes for the success of the Krishna ashtami celebration at your home and at your Centre or branches.
May Lord Radhakrishna bless you all with devotion at His lotus feet! On this auspicious Krishna Janmasthami day, may the divine Lord take birth and manifest in our hearts. May He enact all His divine plays for our welfare and that of the world and as He lifted Govardhan for the safety of Vrindavan, may He lift the burdens of our life, so we may continue on our journey in divine bliss.
Sri Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him at our Mumbai Ashram within the sanctum of Holy Mother’s Temple. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to highlight an inspiring incident in my early life – how he guided me, giving me his divine grace unasked.
In 1976, I joined the Training Centre in Belur Math. When I went there, I was quite eager to see my Gurudev who I heard was at that time staying in Belur Math and had just returned from Narendrapur. The first day was a lovely day and we, brahmacharins were getting introduced to many of the traditions of Belur Math. Though I could not contain my curiosity, yet I was not bold enough to ask where and when I can have ‘darshan’ of my Gurudev. Unable to get any clue, that after noon, I decided to roam around the place near the river Ganga.
I saw the rear-side of a two-storey building which, from a distance was shown to us as the building where Swami Vivekananda’s room is situated. There was a flight of steps leading down to Ganga. The fresh breeze that was flowing was mesmerizing and I felt the air to be so pure in contrast to the polluted air of Kanpur from where I had just come. Getting down to Ganga for the first time after reaching Belur Math brought an inexplicable feeling of reverence to mother Ganga. Seeing the flowing waters gushing forth I was happy to murmur a hymn of Adi Shankara in praise of Mother Ganga.
I sprinkled some water on my head, uttering “Om Namah Shivaaya”. A few blissful moments passed in silence. When I turned on the steps I could not believe my eyes: there on the balcony was my Gurudev. I was simply stunned and made my mental prostrations from there itself and straight walked into that building in which Swamiji had lived. My Gurudev seemed to be in a supremely happy mood and I was beside myself with boundless joy.
The last I had seen him was in Varanasi in 1974, four years after He had blessed me with diksha in Bombay. What surprised me most was while I did not expect him to remember any of my home details, but the moment he saw me he smiled and asked, “How are your parents in Bombay?”. I was happy to tell him that by his blessings and the grace of Holy Trio, I could come to Belur Math to undergo proper monastic training and would be there for another two full years. On hearing this, he advised me to stay focused on the studies as well as sadhana and instructed me to come to his place as often as possible.
My Gurudev at that time, had a senior Swami serving as Secretary to him and also one monk and a brahmachari were also attendants to him. The attendant-Swami used to keep ‘sandesh’ prasad for me. This prasad would be taken from the remaining portion of his eating from the plate. He was daily served with two ‘sandesh’ that would come straight from the main Temple after the mangalaarati offerings. My days went on happily at Belur Math.
At the Training Centre we were studying different philosophies. One day in the class there was a stimulating discussion on Incarnations. During the discussion, certain queries posed by some co-brahmacharins raised a doubt in my mind about the validity of worshipping Sri Ramakrishna. If Ramakrishna does NOT exist , ‘the doubt’ told me why at all I should have renounced my hearth and home. Was I not then doing something blindly? How to know? Who would confirm that Sri Ramakrishna still existed?
Two days passed without my getting a proper answer to my doubt. Oh! what a period of painful agony! I could not think well for those two days. On the third day I felt like going and asking my Gurudev in spite of the instructions from authorities not to disturb him as he had ailed for some time. He was indeed a Deva Purusha, shining one because in his presence one could feel a light emanating, as it were, from his body in spite of his old age. Whoever visited him would naturally like to stay a minute with him, so that they could tell him their spiritual problems.
So when I went there that blessed morning and made saashtaanga pranaam to him, I found his eyes half closed while sitting on a settee. No one was there in the room. My touch of his holy feet perhaps brought him to outward consciousness and he looked at me with his benign glance. I entreated him to bless me. When I tried to get up from the floor, he placed his right hand on one of my shoulders, and he also slowly tried to get up from his sitting position. There, standing for a while, he, in his own pace, started walking towards the window. I also accompanied him, and when I stood there, he turned to me and said, “Look through this window? What do you see?”
I said, “ Swamiji! I am seeing Sri Ramakrishna temple”.
The rear-view of the temple was clearly visible. Even the staircase – that goes up to the ‘shayan-ghor’ where Sri Ramakrishna’s sleeping bed is kept – was visible. When you come down the steps one can actually without any hindrance enter the ‘shrine-ghor’ where the holy image of Sri Ramakrishna resides.
The methods adopted for worshipping Personal God are, in fact, significant in that it facilitates the devotee to mentally identify the real physical needs of God in line with humans. Therefore, a devotee is able to serve the Master as if he is ever alive in flesh and blood. Standing and looking through the window, my Gurudev told me, “Well, every morning at mangalaarati time, I come and stand here, and see (pointing to his eyes by gesture) through these eyes. I see very clearly Sri Ramakrishna, getting up from his bed, going down the stairs, and coming into the sanctum, ‘garbha-griha’ and merging into the marble image. You know, every day I see His movement.”
Listening to his inspiring words, my ‘doubt ‘ in a moment just vanished. With what doubt I came to him, I did not need to put that question to him, because he knew the question that was troubling me, and gave the answer unasked! That was Srimat Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmanandaji, the ‘mind-born’ son of Sri Ramakrishna.