Guru’s Grace

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. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to recollect one wonderful incident in my Guru’s early life – how Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi guided him. Originally published in Sri Sri Mayer padaprante (Vol. III), in Bengali, these reminiscences are translated by Mrs. Maloti Sengupta.

 

Holy Mother – the Guide

by Swami Nirvanananda

It was March or April of the year 1915. I was then engaged in attending on Brahmanandaji Maharaj at Belur Math. I used to notice monks and brahmacharis of my age set out for tapasya with the permission of Maharaj. They would go off to the Himalayas or go elsewhere and spend a year or so there in spiritual practices. One day I too approached Maharaj and asked permission to go for tapasya. At once he said: ‘What else are you doing here? Your serving here is much more effective than tapasya. You don’t need to go anywhere else.’ In spite of these words when I kept pressing him for permission he suggested that I obtain permission from Mahapurush Maharaj. As soon as Mahapurush Maharaj heard my prayer he exclaimed: ‘Are you crazy? Where else will you go for tapasya? Be assured that everything can be gained by just serving Maharaj.’ Still I persisted with my request. At last he said: ‘Well, go to Baburam Maharaj. You may go only if he gives permission. When I went to Baburam Maharaj his response was the same but more vehement. He cried out: ‘Have you really gone mad, Sujji? Don’t you see that Thakur dwells within Maharaj? Will you be in such close proximity to the spiritual son of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna anywhere else?’ Finally he gave in to my pleadings and said: ‘Okay, Mother is now at Udbodhan. If she allows you, then you may go. But at first go to Kalighat and worship Kali there. Then go to Mother for her blessings. Know that she who is in Kalighat and the one who is at Bagh Bazar (Udbodhan), are one and the same.’
     Having visited the temple at Kalighat I reached Udbodhan. I was the last in the queue of devotees desiring darshan of Mother. From afar I observed Mother sitting with her face veiled and blessing everyone who offered pranams to her. Finally all the devotees departed and it was my turn. When I stood up after prostrating at her feet I found that Mother had uncovered her face completely. All smiles, she said: ‘Take this sweet, son, eat it.’ She herself gave me the prasad. I gave her an account of activities at the Math. Lastly I placed my appeal before her. After giving me a patient hearing Mother said: ‘Thakur did not like the practice of going out and indulging in harsh disciplines, my child. Besides, where will you go for tapasya leaving the Math and Rakhal? You are serving Rakhal, isn’t that sufficient?’ But I went on insisting childishly on having her permission and blessings for tapasya. Finding me adamant Mother yielded: ‘Well, you may go for tapasya, but go to Kashi. However, you have to give me word that you will not undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly. If on the way help comes unasked, you will accept it. Even during tapasya at Kashi if anybody offers you anything, you will accept it. You will stay at the Sevashram and if the urge is very strong you may beg your food outside. This will serve both purposes – Kashivas (dwelling in Kashi, a centre for pilgrimage) and tapasya.’ I gave her word that I would abide by her instructions. However, I sought her permission for travelling to Kashi on foot. I did obtain her consent but I was aware that the proposal was not to her liking. After offering my pranams to Mother and receiving her blessings I returned happily to the Math and reported everything to Maharaj, Mahapurush Maharaj and Baburam Maharaj.
     A few months later, having bathed in the Ganga before daybreak I set out for Kashi with only a little cloth-bag. I had a staff in one hand and a kamandal (water pot used for religious purpose) in the other. Being then a brahmachari I was clad in white cloth. I tore the cloth into two pieces, wearing one half around my waist and wrapping the other half round my shoulders. I was on my way to Kashi, alone, along the Grand Trunk Road. It was the month of Bhadra (August-September), the weather, therefore was sultry. As I trudged on I realized that my walking down to Kashi was against Mother’s will. On the way I was rather unwell and grew weak. For two days I had almost nothing to eat. At times I felt a little aggrieved that I was in such a predicament in spite of her blessings. On the third morning I lay exhausted under a large mango tree on the wayside. Silently I complained to Mother about such an outcome of her blessings. A little later a car halted under the tree. A family alighted from the car intending to have their food under the shade of the tree. I lay down as before, not interested in them or their activities. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice: ‘Isn’t it Sujji Maharaj? What brings you here?’ On looking up I saw a well-known face, that of a devotee who was a frequent visitor at the Math. When he heard that my destination was Kashi he said: ‘Come with us in our car. We are going to Madhupur. We’ll take you along as far as we can. I thanked him and said: ‘But I have resolved to walk all the way.’ At that he had food served to me first – some parathas, fruits and sweets from what they had brought and filled my kamandal with water. I ate what he offered but despite their entreaties I neither boarded their car nor accepted their money. When they also had eaten, they departed and I resumed my journey. It seemed to me that I was walking endlessly. Due to walking barefoot, blisters had developed in my feet, and the whole body was aching. I walked mostly at night, because walking during the day was painful. Three more days passed during which I had only a few guavas to eat. It struck me then that those people had wanted to take me along some distance in their car but I had not agreed. Mother had said: ‘Don’t undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly.’ By turning down the devotee’s request I had disobeyed Mother, so my suffering may be due to that. When I asked for alms people mocked me. Being clad in white was perhaps another reason for alms not coming my way. However, I used to walk about 20 miles each day. Travelling in this manner in the evening of the seventh day, I reached a village on the border of Bengal and Bihar, in the district of Hazaribagh.
     The name of the village was Birpur [sic]. After much searching I succeeded in finding a temple of Shiva where I took shelter for the night. The place was swarming with mosquitoes. I realized that it would be impossible to spend the night there. As I sat there warding off the mosquitoes, once again the potency of Mother’s blessings was revealed to me. At about 9 o’clock the priest, a young man, arrived. He took a close look at me and put some questions to me. Then he sat down to worship and when that was over, said to me in Hindi: ‘Come home with me. Bears and other animals come here at night.’ I was about to say ‘No’ but Mother’s words came back to me: ‘don’t undertake austerities intentionally.’ So I accompanied him without further delay. I found a quite well-to-do family. His widowed mother was very pleased to see me. She took me to their shrine to perform my japa etc.

I was startled when I noticed a picture of Sri Ramakrishna amidst those gods and goddesses. I stood there overwhelmed, and tears filled my eyes. How did he come to be there, an obscure village on the border of Bihar and Bengal? I can hardly describe the joy and the faith that surged in my heart. The old lady detained me for three nights with her loving care. She herself prepared khichuri, malpua and so many other things for me to eat. She applied some ointment to the blisters under my feet and smeared a paste of turmeric and lime on my sprained foot to reduce the pain. After three days I felt that I was quite well and could resume walking. The old lady, however, objected. She said: ‘No, my child, you are still weak. You can’t walk alone such a long distance to Kashi and do penance there. Here is your ticket, you will travel by train.’ Remembering Mother’s words this time too I did not refuse. They helped me board a train at a nearby station.
     The old lady and her son recounted to me the story behind the picture of Thakur in their shrine. Once the son had made a trip to Kashi. Seeing the picture of Thakur on a calendar hanging in a shop selling homeopathic medicine he had asked for it and brought it home. I think it must have been M. (Mahesh) Bhatta-charya’s shop. He had learned at the shop itself that the picture was of Sri Ramakrishna – ‘Ramkishan, perhaps some Bengali avatar.’ Both mother and son stated: ‘However, after bringing this picture home everything has taken a turn for the better.’ When I asked the son why he had asked for the picture, he answered: ‘There seemed to be some magic in Ramakrishna’s eyes. His eyes drew me irresistibly, so I asked for the picture. Then I had it framed.’
     I reached Kashi by train. The old lady and her son had wanted me to spend a few more days with them. I somehow succeeded in leaving on the fourth day, much to their disappointment. Till I reached Kashi everything went smoothly. I realized then that after leaving the Math, Mother had been constantly with me.
     Mother had stated: ‘Stay at the Sevashram and if the urge is very strong you may beg your food outside.’ But my impetus for tapasya being excessively strong I decided that the period of my tapasya I would spend outdoors. If I put up at Sevashram the sense of security would affect my tapasya. So I resolved to stay outside and also to beg my food. I found a suitable place in an old garden house near the Ganga and I earnestly devoted my time to meditation, japa and tapasya, while depending on alms for food. The place was not a healthy one. It was infested with insects and mosquitoes which hardly let me be in peace. I understood why Mother had advised me to stay at the Sevashram and to live on alms ‘if the urge was very strong’. The alms in North India, consisting of dal (lentil soup) and chapattis did not suit my constitution. Soon I started to feel quite worn out. I felt my enthusiasm was fast declining. To revive my fervour I visited revered Latu Maharaj (Swami Adbhutananda) who used to dwell on a ghat on the banks of the river. Seeing me he asked very tenderly: ‘Sujji, what has come over you? Why do you look so weak? I fear that begging does not suit you. Well, take these two rupees. Master Mashay (M.) sends the money to me every month to have milk. Take these two rupees and have a little milk everyday.’ As he himself used to practise severe austerities, it hurt me to accept the money. However, Mother’s words: ‘don’t undertake austerities intentionally’ recurred to me. So I was compelled to accept it. This expression of his love brought tears to my eyes.
     My health did not improve, rather it declined further. I contracted dysentery which aggravated due to my living on begged food. One day my condition was so bad that I just lay down in that garden house alone. I had nothing to eat and there were frequent evacuations. Suddenly I heard the sound of some people nearby. The owner of the house – a lady – entered my room. She had come to see the house after several years. At the sight of me, in that state, everything was clear to her. She may have heard about me from the caretaker of the house. Immediately she gave orders for a good room to be fixed up for me and added that rice, vegetables, milk, etc. – everything essential for my diet, should be provided to me. This time too I was about to refuse but remembering Mother’s instructions, I accepted all. It seemed to me that Mother herself had come in the form of that lady and made arrangements for my food and rest.
     In a few days I recovered. By then I had realized that instead of doing tapasya I was accepting service from others. Calling Mother’s instructions to mind, I now took shelter at the Sevashram. After 6 or 7 months had passed in this manner, packing up my scanty belongings, I returned to the Math where Maharaj had been awaiting me with the anxiety of a father. I fell at his feet. That was the end of my desire to leave the Math and engage in tapasya.

Memorable visit – Last Six days

Swami Smarananandaji with Swami Saradanandaji at Newcastle in deep discussion

Sri Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj, one of the Vice-Presidents of the world-wide Ramakrishna Order completed his South African tour on 4th June, 2008. He and his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji left Durban on 5th June morning by a homeward bound SA flight to Mumbai and onto Kolkata. Here is a short Report on his memorable visit – the Last Six days (30th May to 4th June) in South Africa. The holy visit brought about a remarkable enthusiasm among the Ramakrishna devotees and Hindus in general. The spiritual atmosphere was palpable wherever he went. Many sincere spiritual seekers got his invaluable guidance. 

Swami Smarananandaji with his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji and Swami Saradanandaji of Ramakrishna Centre of South AfricaThe morning of 30th May saw the departure for Northern Natal centres. The team – consisting Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj accompanied by Swami Jnanavratanandaji, Swami Saradanandaji, Dr H B Parbhoo, Dr Seebaran and Bhavanesh – arrived at Newcastle by 1 pm. In the evening a special Satsang was arranged in the Centre’s Shrine where to the packed hall, Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj spoke on ‘Peace in Daily Life’. Next day morning after breakfast, the team drove to Ladysmith where the poor children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi Crèche, situated in the Black Settlement Area warmly greeted Revered Maharaj. He distributed packets of breads, biscuits, cakes and juices along with writing materials among the children.

Swami Smarananandaji giving breads etc to the Black children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi CrecheAt 11 am he reached a School premises where more than 500 indigent Black/Indian people gathered. He gave away the hampers and also spoke a few words of consolation first in English and then for a few minutes spoke, to the delight of the aged people assembled there in Tamil and Hindi. In the evening, he visited the Ladysmith Sub-centre and prostrated at the beautiful shrine before the Holy Trio. He met devotees and also the newly initiated disciples and gave them spiritual guidance.

On 1st June, a public Reception Programme had been arranged by the Ladysmith Sub-centre in the famous 115-year old stately Town Hall where Revered Maharaj spoke on ‘Contemplation in Active Life’. The centre’s children-devotees presented an interesting folk dance item.

Swami Smarananandaji at sunrise in DrakensburgIn the evening, he with Jnanavratanandaji left Ladysmith and reached Ramesh Ishwarlaal’s Retreat Home at Drakensberg. The assembled devotees had meditation and Readings from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. 2nd June was spent on discussion on Upanishads, Conversations of Holy Mother and Meditation. In the day time Revered Maharaj and the devotee team went to see the Bird Show in Drakensberg where the well-trained birds like vultures, falcons, owls and also dogs performed to the delight of tourists.Swami Smarananandaji conducting a Retreat in Ladysmith

On 3rd June, Revered Maharaj and the team while returning stopped for an hour at Pietermaritzburg Sub centre. In this beautiful shrine Revered Maharaj was received with arati and traditional welcome with garlands. While speaking to the devotees there he paid homage to Swamis Nischalanandaji and Shivapadanandaji for their endless efforts in spreading ‘Ramakrishna thoughts’ among the public. He added that Ramakrishna has become a ‘permanent citizen’ of this country.

Reaching Durban back at the headquarters centre, he went to Sri Sarada Devi Ashram located at Asherville in the evening. He was accorded a warm reception by Pravrajika Ishtaprana and other nuns and women devotees. He spoke in the beautiful shrine on ‘Katha Upanishad’ underlying the prominent ideas chapter-wise.

There was no outing on the 4th June which was the last day in his itinery. The day of course saw numerous devotees having darshan as well as receiving spiritual guidance from the Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj. His visit will ever remain etched strong in our memories as it gave enormous opportunity for all of us to see, walk and laugh too, besides drawing inspiration in our onward spiritual journey.

Memorable visit – First Nine days

Swami SmarananandaHere is a short Report on the First nine days (21st to 29th May) of a memorable visit of one of the Vice-Presidents of the world-wide Ramakrishna Order, Sri Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj. His arrival – second time in South Africa – saw a surge of joy and enthusiasm among the devotees here. His previous visit in 2002 was in his capacity as the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Order. He reached Durban from Mumbai on 21st May, 2008.

On arrival he, along with his monastic assistant Swami Jnanavratananda, was given a warm and traditional welcome reception at our Temple Hall in the evening. In his Address of Reply, Swami Smarananandaji pointed out the deeper link of this SA Centre with Belur Math and how the continued relationship would be a potent factor in bringing peace and happiness to the people of South Africa.

Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj with Black children of the Ramakrishna Abalindi Home which takes care of the HIV/AIDS affected Black childrenNext day in the morning he was taken to Ramakrishna Abalindi Home at Inanda where he met African people among whom hampers were distributed. Later in the evening he was met by distinguished dignitaries of Durban.
 
On Friday, 23rd May, Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj addressed a gathering of devotees at our Chatsworth Sub-Centre. He explained the advent of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna as a necessity to bring people of all faiths together. On 24th he visited the Ramakrishna Ethembeni Home at Kwa Mashu where he met orphans among whom a few children were affected by HIV/AIDS. In the evening he was given a public reception at our Nischalananda Hall where more than 600 people of all walks of life attended. There was also a cultural programme of Kathak dance recital by the famous Manesh Maharaj.
 
On Monday evening the Vice-President Maharaj addressed a gathering of devotees at our Redhill Satsang Group on the cultivation of devotion to Holy Mother.Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj with a dignitary couple from Black community in their traditional costumes
 
On Tuesday morning, Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj gave initiation (mantra diksha) to 109 devotees at our Temple. In the evening at the Temple Hall he gave a scholarly discourse to the devotees on Srimad Bhagavad Gita and its day-to-day utility. Wednesday was spent on granting interviews to the spiritual aspirants. He and his monastic assistant Swami Jnanavratananda were taken round of the beautiful Botanic gardens in Durban where they enjoyed the varieties of plants and trees including the water birds.

Swami Smarananandaji is waving 'arati' before the Holy Trio at the altar of the Shrine as a mark of inaugurationOn 29th that is on Thursday, Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj blessed 98 devotees with initiation (mantra diksha). Thus in South Africa he has initiated 208 devotees with spiritual guidance. Earlier on Sunday morning, Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj inaugurated the Ramakrishna Shrine at our Phoenix Sub-Centre which was attended by more than a thousand people. A special puja was performed by Swami Saradananda on that auspicious occasion. On Friday morning he and his team left for Northern Natal tour.

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Milk of kindness

Swami Vivekananda on Lord Buddha’s heart
He was the only man who was ever ready to give up his life for animals to stop a sacrifice. He once said to a king, “If the sacrifice of a lamb helps you to go to heaven, sacrificing a man will help you better; so sacrifice me.” The king was astonished. And yet this man was without any motive power. He stands as the perfection of the active type, and the very height to which he attained shows that through the power of work we can also attain to the highest spirituality… I wish I had one infinitesimal part of Buddha’s heart.
…what did Buddha say with his dying breath? “None can help you; help yourself; work out your own salvation.” He said about himself, “Buddha is the name of infinite knowledge, infinite as the sky; I, Gautama, have reached that state; you will all reach that too if you struggle for it.” Bereft of all motive power, he did not want to go to heaven, did not want money; he gave up his throne and everything else and went about begging his bread through the streets of India, preaching for the good of men and animals with a heart as wide as the ocean.
…In Buddha we had the great, universal heart and infinite patience, making religion practical and bringing it to everyone’s door…
Buddha photo courtesy : thusness

During the weekly satsang on last Saturday, in my Talks on Buddha, I dwelt upon the Buddha’s infinite compassion to the suffering beings of this world and how much adoration Swami Vivekananda had for the Buddha’s heart! Today being Buddha Purnima, I want to share with my readers a glimpse of that Buddha’s heart that I witnessed some years ago in our Most Revered President Maharaj, Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji whose birthday happily falls on Buddha Purnima!

It was the year 2002 when the present President Maharaj, most Revered Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj visited Ranchi Sanatorium. His stay during that period coincided with Buddha Purnima, the well-known thrice blessed day due to the fact that on the same purnima tithi falls Buddha’s birthday, His Nirvana day and His Mahaprayan day.That was also a thrice blessed Day indeed for the Sanatorium devotees. In the words of one devotee from Kolkata, Debraj Mitra (thanks Debraj! for the photo courtesy) who was present on that day: “Indeed, May 26 2002 was  a thrice blessed day, as we were privileged to witness three major events on that day. Firstly, in the morning, President Maharaj replaced the old photos of THAKUR, SRI SRI MAA & SWAMIJI  with new ones in the shrine. Secondly, Maharaj released the Commemorative Souvenir on Revered Swami Gambhiranandaji’s Centenary and also all the monks celebrated Maharaj’s birthday. Thirdly, in the evening, Revered Maharaj delivered a lecture on Lord Buddha and then he followed it up with a guided meditation – A  BONUS.”

Revered Atmasthanandaji had worked at this centre as Assistant Secretary way back from 1952 to 58. He knew all about the poverty that surrounds in the neighbouring villages. His keen observation has not missed the malnutrition prevalent among the tribal children. While taking morning walk, during his visit to Sanatorium in 1999, on the road leading to Indoor wards, suddenly he turned to me and said, “Why don’t you start giving milk to the children here? I see your dairy farm has grown in size and the milk is very good indeed.” he continued after a pause, “How much milk we pour on Shivalinga! Just imagine! Shiva will be truly pleased if we can only pour milk in these children’s stomachs!

That was it! Immediately the scheme of feeding milk to 100 Children was started. We would obtain fresh milk from our own Dairy farm within the campus. It was just situated on the back of our Ashrama kitchen. But from where the required money will come? By blessings of the Revered Maharaj the scheme started attracting kind-hearted people all around who began sending their donations. I remember the first donor was my gurubhai Ranjit Sinha who immediately paid the money. Well, the scheme that started with 100 children initially began to grow so fast that it doubled within two years. Now I understand, it caters to 280 children.

It was sight to see the children coming in queue from the Vivekananda Vidyalaya to Ashram first, and after making pranam to the Holy Trio at the shrine, they would march on to the central kitchen where they would be fed with 200 ml of milk with bakery made rusks. On the way if they happen to see me or any other Maharaj, they would all in chorus shout loudly Pranam Maharaj!  Today that sweet sound of the children is reverberating in my ears diffusing the deterrent distance between India and South Africa! 

 

Expansion is Life

ManSwami Vivekanandaju was studying in class VIII or so when she started coming to our ashram. Her village Dungri is not far from Ranchi Sanatorium. Along with the other girls and boys of her village, Manju would also participate in different functions. She had great admiration for Swami Vivekananda. As she grew up her admiration for Swamiji turned into devotion.

It was during one of those days of the severest spell of winter that I went to her village to explore certain welfare activity. On the way while we were walking through the muddy road I saw little Manju standing outside her home. She was visibly pleased. She requested me to come into her house to which I agreed to fulfil her desire on my return trip. When I went to her house I was as usual flocked with elder people of the village. With great happiness writ large on her face, Manju took me first to a room where on a shelf near the window, the photos of Holy Trio were kept. Flowers had been offered. holytrioweb-2.jpgWhen I made my pranams, it occurred to me that I should humbly place before the photos some pranami. In my pocket I had three notes of hundred rupees. After offering the cash there, I returned after taking the tasty milk-free liquor tea.

A week after, Manju came to my office. I asked her just out of curiosity, whether she had kept the three hundred rupee notes safely. She paused for some moments and appeared to be hesitant in replying to my query. I repeated my query. “Ok Manju, so you are not going to tell me.”

Manju replied still hesitantly, “No Maharaj, I do not know how to explain to you.”

“What does that mean? I saw window open next to the shelf. Did the wind carry the money away?”

“No Maharaj, I have spent the money.”

“Oh! it as nice. You see, Manju, money comes for spending only, nothing to feel embarrassed about. Ok, now tell me, what did you spend it for?”

manju.jpgManju was again keeping silent. It is anybody’s guess that what a 14 year old girl would spend the money for. How many things are there that she could purchase bangles, cosmetics and what not.

“Did you spend it on your dress or any such thing?”

“No Maharaj, I did not spend on anything for myself.”

“Then Manju tell me the truth. I am eager to know it.”

What she told me at that juncture simply stunned me. Imagine a little girl like Manju not spending the money on herself but going out of the way in doing something else.

 “Maharaj, you know my neighbour, how poor they are! I saw the three little kids shivering from cold. I could not bear to see their suffering. So I went to the Tupudana Bazaar and purchased three sweaters of hundred rupees each. When I gave the sweaters to them, you know how happy they were!”

Did not Swami Viekananda say, “They alone live who live for others?” I was amazed at Manju’s expansive heart, the centre of which transcended her small body-mind complex and embraced the socalled unrelated ‘others’.

My Mauritius Moods…

On the very first ‘posting’ from India to abroad I was fortunate to visit our Mauritius centre from 20th to 26th March, 2007 on my way to South Africa. The main attraction was of course Revered Krishnarupanandaji, our dear Suresh maharaj of Kanpur days (1971 to 1976).
 
dsc0036360.jpgHe was all cordiality personified. Mauritius is one of the hot tourist spots in the world. Being the Head of tha Centre for quite a long period, naturally he was keen that I should visit our Centre and some other spots. Even before I could plan my trip to South Africa where I was posted as President of the Durban centre, Rev Suresh maharaj was insisting that I should drop down at Mauritius and spend a few days with him. I could hardly say no to his loving call. Only after landing there and staying with him that I realised how badly I would have missed all that wonderful experiences that he so affectionately afforded.
 
On arrival on 20th March last year, I had restful sleep as I had to leave Chennai Math just at midnight of the 19th with no sleep at all the previous day. I had very tight schedule at Chennai. The two Chennai Math brahmacharins – Pravin and Suresh proved a good company as I need to have no worry at all about anything. Sridhar an official from Airport Authority of India joined me in the airport; made me reach the aircraft with utmost comfort. The Air Mauritius flight by which my ticket was booked by M/s Columbus Travels, Mumbai left Chennai airport at 3.45 am. The duration of air travel was though 5 hrs and 45 minutes, yet I reached Mauritius by 8 am, that explained Mauritius time was one and half hrs behind the IST!
 
To my pleasant surprise Revered Suresh maharaj was at the airport to receive me. The security officials completed all immigration formalities without my even knowing what they were and within the time to finish taking a steaming cup of tea. Kishore, a close devotee of the Ashrama and an engineer by profession and one of the top officials of the famous  12-storeyed Cybertower of Mauritius was on the driver’s seat and brought us to the Ashrama smoothly by his comfortable car. There, both the other Swamis – Bhaskar maharaj and Satyakam maharaj received me with bouquet.
 
The Ashrama is in idyllic setup, the temple standing majestically on the right side from the entrance gate, surrounded by lush green lawn meticulously maintained. The overall atmosphere was one of spiritual ambience where everyone who comes in cannot but be drenched with the grace of our Master. Harmony was the key word. It has a small Library and also Vivekananda Study Circle for the children. The devotees who frequent the Ashrama are well placed in their social structure; but it is a sight to see them thoroughly cleaning the lawn, garden, agrofarm and all other places with great verve and vigour in the spirit of seva.
 
The evening prayers are worth attending. Close devotees appear at precision time just before the sandhya arati. After the arati, performed to the singing of khandana… a few namawali bhajans are sung in chorus and reading from a book follows. Surprisingly everyone sits for one hour meditation.
 
On Thursday evening, I was the guest speaker on the usual satsang. As Ramnavami was fast approaching, I dwelt upon the namamahima with illustrative stories from Adbhut Ramayana and Sri Thakur’s approach to it.
 
On Friday evening, I visited St. Julien, a village where a sub-center with a pre-primary school is being run. Lot of villagers had gathered. And I had to do the satsang with Revered Suresh maharaj singing namawalis with devotion and intermittently speaking to the delight of the men, women and children in creole, a local dialect of Mauritius.
 
On Saturday evening, at a distance of about 25 kms, we visited Hoolash family where also a short satsang was arranged. There I got fine dosa which I could not at that time dream of!
 
From 21st onwards all days in the morning hours I was taken around Mauritius usually accompanied by any one of his two monastic assistants – Gauripriyananda (Bhaskar maharaj) or Stavananda (Satyakam maharaj); sometimes himself too. The Gangatalao was memorable in that nearby a huge 108 ft stone structure of Lord Shiva stands. The old temple of Shiva where more than a lakh people assemble on Mahashivaratri was also seen with due puja led by Rev Suresh maharaj.
 
Another day we visited the Apravasi ghat where the indentured labour from many parts of India arrived first, two hundred years ago. Our ancestors faced insurmountable difficulties at the hands of British and a visit would as it were remind everyone of the determination with which they carried on their life. Among the other interesting things that I saw was Botanical Garden and Vivekananda International Conf. Hall, Waterfront, Port Louis, Supermarket, Cybercity Tower etc gave an idea of a western country. It seemed to be a good introduction to understand the way of life of western mores for any one who would visit South Africa for the first time, which I hear from others a nation completely westernised.
 
The photos mostly were taken by one close devotee Rajiv who many times with great love took us by his car. Sunday the last day for me at Mauritius went off briskly with visitors pouring from morning nine. At 4.30 pm the local TV people came and took an interview followed by Sunday Satsang where I talked to the devotees in English. Night spent with Rev Suresh maharaj and other two Mauritian swamis discussing many aspects of our spiritual life.

The next day i.e. on the 26th of March, 2007 I left for Durban.

Why Sun, why Swan and why on earth a Snake?

Why Sun, why Swan and why on earth a Snake? And lotus and waters? Is there any significance for all these symbols? This is what every person who looks at our logo/emblem asks.

emblemfotofixer1.jpgThis emblem adopted by Ramakrishna Mission world-wide was actually conceived and sketched by Swami Vivekananda in 1901. Swamiji cryptically explained his creation with these words: “The wavy waters in the picture are symbolic of Karma; the lotus, of Bhakti; and the rising – sun, of Jnana. The encircling serpent is indicative of Yoga and the awakened Kundalini Shakti, while the sun in the picture stands for the Paramatman (Supreme Self). Therefore the idea of the picture is that by the union of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, and Yoga, the vision of the Paramatman is obtained.”

This he expressed while he was in conversation with Ranada Babu, the Founder and Professor of Jubilee Art Academy, Calcutta in 1901. Read the conversation here.

An interesting explanation of what Swamiji succintly put is discussed in detail that can be read by clicking below “OPEN PUBLICATION”. 

This is an editorial appeared in the Vedanta Kesari , a monthly English Journal of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. One of the oldest English religio-philosophic journals of India, it is devoted to spirituality and culture, and provides a feast of elevating and noble thoughts from all corners of the world. Thousands all over the world have discovered the secret of peace, joy and fulfilment through The Vedanta Kesari. It is a practical guide to successful living for the entire family and is read by an estimated 60,000 people from all over the world.

Mahashivaratri

60cimg4633.jpgFor me this was the very first Mahashivaratri in South Africa. The nostalgic past impressions of Belur Math mahashivaratri festival were humming in my mind. The holy occasion was celebrated on the night of 6 March, 2008 at the Main as well as at all the Sub-centres in South Africa with due solemnity. Nearly 400 devotees participated at the Main centre in Glen Anil, Avoca from 6 pm to next 6 am. Programme included puja to Lord Shiva at every prahar (3 hour per session) thus 4 pujas, bhajankirtan singing, discourse, arati by a couple devotee, hawan etc.

60cimg4711.jpgA Shiva image was arranged in front of the Holy Trio at the altar. Outside the altar there was a stone shivalinga. The entire altar was tastefully decorated with flowers by our women devotee-volunteers. I was pleased to see a huge collection of datura flowers that are said to be the favourite of Lord Shiva.

In the first session after the opening bhajans I was invited to address the gathering. In my Talks, I traced a little of the legend of Shivaratri celebration and how the whole episode could be interpreted in terms that are understandable for a spiritual aspirant. In the second session Saradananda spoke about the symbolism of Shiva and how the worship of Shiva could be brought out in serving the suffering humanity. The rest two sessions by learned devotees – Smt Veena Daya and Sri Pravesh Ramlal highlighted various aspects on Shiva and Swami Vivekananda. 

Before the fourth session ended there was a hawan also. Fasting and night vigil were scrupulously followed. On this occasion I visited Chatsworth Sub-centre which had organised night-long puja and other items of programme. I could see a charming dance recital by a student to the cassette-played song of ‘ambalatharase….‘ In the second session my talks centred on the mythological stories on the glory of Holy ashes. 

60dsc_0462.jpgAsherville Sarada Devi Ashram  in the third session was my next stop and there I addressed the gathering on greatness of Shiva devotees.

I was taken in his car by Pravesh, an Exco member and a long-time devotee of the Centre to visit these centres. On my way back first we halted at the one of the oldest Temple in the town called Umgeni Hindu temple founded in 1883. The entire pilgrims had just come out and we had darshan of shivalinga unhindered.

shivapainting.jpgShiva’s grace! Shiva there was having jala abhisheka (water bath). From there we went to another temple called Sri Ranganadar Temple where we saw a good number of devotees listening to the traditional South Indian karnataka vocal music with the accompanying mridungam. Lord Sriman Narayana who is the presiding deity of this temple was found decorated with beautiful patterns of flower garlands.

We returned to Avoca just before the beginning of the fourth session. The hawan was completed by Saradananda to the delight of all assembled devotees. After every session of course devotees were provided with glasses of milkshake. Mahashivaratri was indeed a soul-satisfying experience. The sacred mantra Om Namah Shivaaya would continue to reverberate in the air for more time to come.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram !

Who can know Shiva in full? And that too except by His grace? But a preliminary idea can be gained from reading a booklet “Lord Shiva” written by Swami Shivapadananda. He was the Second President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. You will appreciate the intrinsic worth of this booklet.

May Shiva bless all!

Holy ashes offered to and accepted as prasada from Lord Shiva can indeed do wonders – from removing obstacles to bringing peace of mind. The following is adapted from the weekly Talks on Gita by Swami Vimokshananda at Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban. 

Aum Namah Shivaya!

This panchakshara – five lettered – mantra is potentially efficacious in warding off evils and bestowing grace and peace of mind. Sages, saints and innumerable devotees of Lord Shiva have chanted this mantra repeatedly all through the ages.

In the life of the Master, Sri Ramakrishna we find his mother Chandradevi used to visit frequently the temple of Jugi Shiva in Kamarpukur. Once she suddenly saw a divine effulgence coming from the holy image (linga) of the great Lord Shiva. This bright light filled the temple and rushed towards her in waves. Engulfing her all of a sudden, the light swiftly entered into her body. Stunned with wonder and initial fear Chandradevi fell down unconscious. After recovery she felt that she was pregnant with a child. The maid Dhani was helping Chandradevi during the pangs of labour. When the baby was born Dhani kept the baby aside and was rendering necessary help to the mother. When Dhani came back she was surprised to find that the baby had disappeared from the place where she had kept it.

In alarm she took a lamp and found to her great surprise that the baby had rolled down the ground into the hollow fireplace. It was simply lying there with its little body fully smeared with ashes like Shiva and still not crying!

the present manikarnika ghat wherein Master witnessed Lord Shiva and Mahakali

Shiva’s ashes had a great charming effect on the mind of the Master. Indeed under the Naga sadhu Tota Puri, Sri Ramakrishna while practising meditation would smear Shiva’s ashes all over his body. At ‘golden’ Varanasi Sri Ramakrishna had the vision of Shiva. In the words of Master, ” I saw a tall white person with tawny matted hair walking with solemn steps to each pyre in the burning-ghat, raising carefully every jiva and imparting into his ear the mantra of supreme Brahman. On the other side of the pyre the all-powerful Mahakali was untying all the knots of bondage, gross, subtle and causal of the jiva produced by past impressions and sending hm to the indivisible sphere by opening with Her own hands the door to liberation.”

In Puranas we find once the great Muni Durvasa while chanting the mantra‘Sarvaatman Shivashankara! Srimaatar Bhuvaneshwari!’– was moving on the sky and came to a halt before Yamaraja. Yamaraja welcomed Durvasa Muni and showed him the entire city which was called Dharmapuri. While discussing with Yamaraja, Durvasa Muni off and on heard noisy sounds of weeping and wailing. Surprised at that Durvasa Muni asked Yamaraja from where these crying sounds were coming.

The dispenser of Justice Lord Yama explained to Durvasa Muni that under his control there were fourteen heavens and twenty-eight hells. The cries that Durvasa Muni heard emanated actually from one of the hells called Kumbhipaka Naraka. People of sinful nature who did not properly respect their elders and ancestors by not offering pinda and udaka (riceballs and water) were the cause of the ancestors’ downfall into Kumbhipaka Naraka.

Hearing the heart rending cries of the ancestors, Durvasa Muni requested Lord Yama to allow him to visit Kumbhipaka Naraka. Accordingly Lord Yama arranged his men who took Durvasa Muni to that hell.

Durvasa Muni was greatly surprised to find that Kumbhipaka Naraka was not looking like a hell. Neither weeping nor wailing! Instead the manes were found cheerfully relaxing on comfortable beds having their drinks and meals, served by host of attendants. The Yama’s men were also taken by surprise.

They immediately rushed back to Lord Yama and informed him of the wonderful sight they had seen in Kumbhipaka Naraka. Yamaraja thereupon informed Indra , the Lord of the Devatas, about the sudden change of the nature of the hell into heaven. Not knowing the reason thereof Indra came to Kumbhipaka Naraka on his airavata (celestial elephant).

On inspection, Indra too got bewildered how the hell could change into a heaven overnight. The Devatas led by Indra approached Brahma, the Lord of Creation. Lord Brahma could not give any answer; so the Devatas turned to Lord Vishnu from whom they could also not elicit any answer.

a marble murti of Shiva, brought from Varanasi sitting majestically at HQ

When finally they approached Lord Shiva for an explanation, Lord Shiva smiled and said that it was the visit of Durvasa Muni to that hell that brought about the wonderful transformation. Surprised at this the Devatas asked Lord Shiva what Durvasa Muni did to enable the change of hell into a heaven.

Lord Shiva proclaimed that Durvasa Muni was indeed a great Shivabakta– devotee of Shiva. Everyday after having bath, Durvasa Muni would smear the holy ashes of Lord Shiva on his forehead and upperbody. Due to Durvasa Muni being jolted on hearing the suffering, particles of the holy ashes fell on the grounds of Kumbhipaka Naraka.

Lord Shiva continued to say that whoever applies holy ash on his body would remember that from ashes came the creation and finally all will be reduced to ashes. By wearing ashes on one’s body, a devotee can develop detachment with his body/mind complex. This would make him realise the Truth behind all these changing phenomena because Shiva is Truth (Satyam). Shiva is also Auspicious (Shivam) and indeed Beauty (Sundaram) itself.

Jai Shiva Shankara! (Hail Victory to Lord Shiva Shankara!)

Aum Namah Shivaya!

A Video on an Address on “Service as Worship of the Divine”

Public Meeting on “Service as Worship of the Divine” held in Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi on the occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebration of Sri Ramakrishna Temple. Here is a video of an address by Swami Vimokshananda given on the above occasion on 18 November 2007. Of course the Address was delivered in Hindi.

After sleep, how can you ‘get up’ before ‘opening eyes’?

Swami Vivekananda in Chicago
Swami Vivekananda in Chicago

During my Northern Natal tour in connection with the Swamiji’s birthday celebration, I had a refreshing meeting with youngsters of Ladysmith Branch of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa on 10th January 2008. All of them along with their parents were volunteers and had worked very hard to organise the next day morning meeting in the Civic hall. A little more than 800 people were expected to attend where my key-note address was scheduled. Though they were eager to continue the discussion in that late night, I felt that I could cut short of my discussion to give them a reprieve from the tiresome work they put up practically the whole day. In order not to disappoint them, I asked them to field questions. All were, unlike the other days, silent (shy? or tired?). So I raised this query and asked them to keep the reply ready when I would meet them on my return trip from Dundee on 14th January.

cimg1082.jpgMy query to the young members was this. One of the oft-quoted line of Swami Vivekananda is ‘Arise! Awake! And Stop not till the Goal is Reached!’. We normally see that after the night sleep, we first ‘wake up‘ – ‘open our eyes’ and then only ‘rise up‘ – ‘get up’ from our bed. But Swamiji strangely calls up first to ‘Arise!’ and later to ‘Awake’. Is it not a contradiction to what we are used to? Would Swamiji, being the ‘nitya siddha’ – the Ever Perfect, make such a silly mistake? No, the youngsters in one voice said, no, it cannot be a mistake. Then, I asked: what does this mean? 

Ladysmith Ramakrishna shrineUnfortunately, on 14th January at the scheduled ‘Thanksgiving Satsang’, we could not take up this question for discussion due to lack of time as I dealt with the topic ‘Divine aspects of Swamiji’. So, I told them to send their replies by email to me. The replies that I received by email were indeed fascinating. Below you will find one of them, written by Nirmala Balkaran from Ladysmith, South Africa  : 


“At the outset… I must honestly and humbly confess that it is not possible to comprehend even a fraction of Swamiji’s profound gospel. It is with this in mind that I offer an attempted response to the question. Swami Vivekanandaji speaks of “awakening” after “arising” because this is not a reference to the kind of physical wakefulness from a state of sleep as we know it. We are all obviously “awake” when we read this quotation by Swamiji; however the kind of wakefulness to which we are exhorted, is a higher awakening of the spirit. This is preceded by the call to “arise” which is a call to action. It is through action and effort that we can arrest the state of sleep into which we have fallen and make possible a spiritual awakening. After having arisen (as we do after a physical awakening), we are still guilty of being asleep, or oblivious of our inherent spiritual nature and the real goal of life, for having arisen we go about our secular duties in a state of spiritual slumber. Hence the need to awaken after arising.”
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