A devotee who has had long association with monks of the Ramakrishna Order was telling me the other day that the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were unique, each in his own way. He hastened to add that even today, though to a varying lesser degree, the monks are indeed special. Generally, a monk’s life is inward bound, so it is difficult to see externally the gem that each is. But when such monks occupy high positions or undertake such activities as to bring them within the ken of society, their uniqueness is visible to all. Swami Shantatmanandaji is one such monk who recently toured South Africa.
He is the present Head of the Delhi branch of the Ramakrishna Mission; this in itself is a comment on his leadership qualities, his admin abilities, his creativity and resourcefulness.
I used to wonder always when and where he took great interest in learning puja – the detailed methods of worship. In most of our branches daily puja of Master is according to the ten item method. The Special Puja of course consists of not only sixteen items of worship but also a much more expanded one. And what to speak of more specific pujas like Kali puja, Durga puja and Jagaddhatri puja which require besides expertise certain life styles too.
I came close to Shantatmananda in connection with Sri Sri Jagaddhatri puja during my tenure at Ranchi Sanatorium. That was an occasion to know more about the puja matters as he would patiently explain the science and art of many methods of worship to my varied silly questions! Sometimes our discussion would stray into those points pertaining to tantric worship. I was always just amazed at the depth and profundity of his knowledge and his ability to explain the esoteric and intricate processes in a most simple way.
It is little wonder that I looked forward with great expectation for his visit to our Centre here on a 15 day program. Though his days of itinerary were packed with hectic schedule – delivered 18 lectures in 13 days! (a detailed Report appended below) – yet during his stay here, many a post-meal time was spent in being with him thus gaining some memorable moments together leaving me wanting more! When we, monks from different parts of the world meet, (sometimes through skype too!) there is much ‘catching up’ to do. It was wonderful to listen to him about the proposed 150th birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda in 2013 all over the world and he lovingly ‘booked’ me for a program in Delhi! The unique combination of a sincere devotee and a serious academic in him added a lot of ‘masala’ to our discussions.
Contrary to what I had heard of him (that he was in the habit of keeping a distance from devotees etc.), he spoke in a sweet and simple yet enlightening manner, whether at the dining table, in the foyer or at a public lecture with whomsoever he came into contact with. Instantaneously he became a spiritual delight of devotees.
What was his impression about his visit to South Africa and the devotees here? I quote a portion from his email that he wrote after returning to India:
Dear and Revered Maharaj,
What shall I write to you? I am afraid, any attempt to pen down my feelings would fall far short of my true feelings. The South Africa experience is something which only the truly blessed people get once in their lifetime. I have never seen such a wonderful band of sincere, dedicated and devoted devotees anywhere outside India. The officials and members of Exco — they are shouldering enormous responsibilities. Hats off to them. Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji is a truly amazing personality. It is unbelievable how one can be so humble and self-effacing in spite of such capacity and talent. My prayers to Master that he may continue to serve the devotees of South Africa for decades. As for you I sincerely feel that you are the Master’s special gift to the devotees of South Africa. Lord has blessed you with such a loving and affectionate heart and I am sure you are providing healing touch to thousands of devotees there. Please convey my special regards to the Exco members…My special love and best wishes to devotees…My special prayers and best wishes to mothers…With deep love and humble pranams,
Swami Shantatmanandaji arrived in Durban, on 15 July from Mauritius. On 17 July he was given a warm welcome reception that was held at HQ Ramakrishna Temple during Saturday weekly evening satsang where he spoke on Spiritual Life. Earlier in the afternoon he addressed a gathering of Youth members of the Centre on A Life of Purpose, Dedication & Service. His 15-day stay saw meeting with the officials and many devotees of our Centre, addressing different public programs, performing holy home-satsangs and giving interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Gauteng, Dundee, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Estcourt in Northern Natal and Pietermaritzburg, Phoenix and Chatsworth in Southern Natal.
At Gauteng Sub-centre, Swami Shantatmanandaji gave his Keynote address on Glory of Guru on 18 July. From there, the next day, he was driven to Dundee Sub-centre where he gave his Address again on Guru. At Newcastle the officials took him to a few welfare sites where he saw how the humanitarian work being done. On 20 July he addressed a large gathering in Ladysmith Sub-centre where he spoke eloquently on Swami Vivekananda’s Message to the Youth. At Estcourt, on 21 July, the Swami explained the concept of Spiritual Journey.
A special satsang in honour of Swami Shantatmanandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre on 22 July, when he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation on Holy Mother. On 23 July he reached HQ in the morning where a number of lady-members of Sri Sarada Devi Women’s Circle were awaiting his arrival. They listened to him speaking about Women Empowerment and their role as Volunteers. At Chatsworth Sub-centre, in the evening, he gave a lecture on Welfare of the World – Why? & How?
The next day i.e., on 24 July at the evening weekly Satsang, held at HQ, he spoke on Swami Vivekananda as the Universal Preceptor. Earlier in the afternoon the Swami met the beneficiaries of Greenbury Welfare Project and addressed them on Faith in God – the First Step. On 25 July we celebrated Guru Purnima. In the Temple he performed a special worship with sixteen items called ‘shodachopachaar pujaa’. An hour later at the Nischalananda Hall there was a Public Meeting wherein Swami Vimokshanandaji, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and Shantatmanandaji addressed a large congregation. The visiting Swami spoke on Sri Ramakrishna as Guru. On 26 July at Phoenix Sub-centre he spoke on How to obtain the Grace of God to the assembled devotees. On 27 July in the morning he addressed the Senior Citizen Forum members at the same Phoenix Sub-centre on the topic Aging Gracefully. A Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ in the evening drew lot of appreciation. On 28 July evening he participated in a program organised by three Satsang Groups viz., Verulam, Etete and Tongaat. The venue was the famous Sri Veerabhoga Emperumal Temple at Tongaat. There he delivered a Talk on Religiosity vs Spirituality.
He was taken to Abalindi Home, one of the NGOs with which the Centre is associated for nearly a decade. The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa has used a multi-dimensional approach in all its welfare activities over the last 65 years. This vision and strategy ensures that our support and services reach those in need in all areas of society irrespective of race, gender or creed. The Centre works with many NGOs with similar aims and objectives to provide much needed community services. The Swami was overwhelmed at the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. He was all praise for the Centre’s help to this Home in giving a decent and dignified living just before death.
Being a Nature lover, a special visit was arranged by the officials of the Ladysmith Sub-centre to the world renowned Drakensberg mountains.
That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. So also his lively visit to Lions Park and Zoo and the century old Botanical gardens arranged by the officials of the Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. They also took him to the historical railway station where Mahatma Gandhiji was thrown off the train. That was the place where ‘shivering through the winter night in the waiting room of the station’, Gandhiji made the momentous decision to begin his unique form of protest against racial discrimination called ‘satyagraha’. Visiting Ushaka Marine World to see the Dolphins’ dance and aqua creatures in the undersea ship wreck, the crocodile creek, the South Coast and also the famous Umgeni River Bird Park made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.
On 29 July of his departure day, the Exco officials bid him farewell and thanked the Swami heartily for his brilliant and inspiring lectures. The Swami, in his reply pointed out, his delight with devotees who are serving the Holy Trio with unconditional love and how he was brimming with joy in witnessing the Master’s work being carried out in South Africa so meticulously. He was full of praise of sincere devotees who served the Centre from decorating the altar to dishing out the prasad.
On the afternoon of July 29, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at the Durban International Airport. On his way back to Delhi he would stop for a day in Dubai where he had two programs to attend.