Navaratri – II

Last Five days

Shrine at Pietermaritzburg Centre
Mother Durga at Pietermaritzburg Centre Shrine

Continued from Navaratri – I

On Sunday, the 5th October the car drive took just one hour to Escourt. The MahaGayatri temple, there, was tastefully decorated for the sixth night of Navaratri festival. The devotees of Estcourt included devotees of other Hindu organisations as well like Divine Life Society, Satya Sai Sangh etc . With common prayers the function started that included my sixth night Talks. Here I spoke on ‘Devi and Her Splendour’. The devotees would not let me go after supper as they all sat with me in the adjoining hall where till eleven past interesting discussions took place.

From Estcourt I reached Pietermaritzburg by midnight. How I wished the next day would go off quietly with sufficient rest! But Mother had other plans, it seemed. The almost continuous incoming telephonic or otherwise messages on the sixth October did not allow me to forget my birthday, which I badly wanted. And when the evening came, I was taken to Pietermaritzburg centre. The program on the seventh night pleasantly included, among the set pattern, extra two items of dance on the bharatanatyam style by two school girls who performed exceptionally well. Here being the seventh night of Navaratri which was inter alia the first night of worship of Mother Saraswati, I dwelt upon Mother Sarada as the embodiment and imparter of knowledge.

Next day, by seven in the morning I was back at HQ. At Nischalananda Hall arrangements for Chandi yajna or Durga Hawan have been made in a huge scale. The chanting of entire scripture of Durga Saptashati was done followed by hawan with the mantra – ‘Aum Aim Hrim Klim Chaamundaayai Vichhe’  which was joined by all the assembled devotees. Cooked prasad was distributed thereafter. On the same eighth night, to a packed audience at the Ramakrishna Temple I spoke on the Devi Mahatmyam. Especially the meaning of ‘Aim, Hrim and Klim’ bija mantras. 

Mother Durga at Chatsworth centre
Mother Durga at Chatsworth centre

On the ninth night of Navaratri, Chatsworth centre had my penultimate Talks during which I narrated the three interesting stories and their significance as contained in Sri Sri Chandi.

The morning of the tenth day at HQ started with silent meditation and a short satsang. This was joined by all other centres in around Durban. The Durga images from Asherville, Chatsworth and Pietermaritzburg by the time arrived at the HQ and all the images were carried to sea for immersion. After a brief visarjan puja the images one by one, were immersed which was witnessed by a huge assembly of devotees. While Mother’s clay image floated on the sea waters, the devotees felt Her luminous image remained in their hearts never to leave. In his blessings to all devotees, our Most Revered President Maharaj, Swami Atmasthanandaji quotes an incident from the Life of Swami Vijnanananda, one of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna:

 
Shrine in the Ramakrishna Temple at HQ
Mother Durga at HQ Ramakrishna Temple

“Revered Vijnan Maharaj is staying at the Math. Everyday, the priest starts the worship after offering pranam to him. Vijnan Maharaj asks him, ‘What is next?’  The priest describes… On the day of Navami, Maharaj asked, ‘What is there tomorrow?’ The priest replied, ‘After a brief dashopachar puja (worship with ten articles) in the morning, there will be darpan-visarjan (immersion in the mirror). And in the evening there will be immersion of the image.’ Maharaj asked again, ‘Where will you immerse the Mother?’ The priest replied, ‘Why, in the Ganges?’ Maharaj asked again, ‘In the Ganges?’ The priest replied, ‘Yes Maharaj, as is the practice every year.’ He (Swami Vijnananandaji Maharaj) said solemnly, ‘Mother is to be immersed in the heart only’. ”
[The Life and Teachings of Swami Vijnanananda, p.32]

And Navaratri concluded in a grand and unforgettable way on the Vijaya dashami night with my Talks centering around Devi Saraswati during the night satsang.

Navaratri – I

First Five days

My Vijaya greetings to all of you! Trust by the grace of Divine Mother, the Durga Puja or Navaratri at your place, as usual, would have been a spiritually stimulating and enjoyable experience.

Mother Durga at Asherville Sarada Devi Ashram
Mother Durga at Asherville Sarada Devi Ashram

Here of course, Mother made me travel (felt blessed) all the centres in Northern Natal. I left HQ on the very first evening of Navaratri for Talks at Asherville where Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is situated. The vibrant atmosphere there enlivened my Talks on Durga and Her manifold Names.

Next day I reached Newcastle for the noon lunch. The Navaratri second night was spent there. The program there included Puja, bhajans and my Talks. ‘Mahakali – Her Aspects’ was my pet theme that I dwelt upon. After supper, the devotees of Newcastle sat with me when we had lively discussion on religious life. Next day individual appointments were granted to devotees from morning 8 to 11.

Mother Sarada at our Newcastle Centre
Mother Sarada at our Newcastle Centre

My third night stay was at Dundee. The program at the Dundee shrine which is indeed so beautiful was in the set pattern including my Talks. Here I took up the subject of ‘Grace of Kali’. Next day again from morning 8 to 11 devotees of Dundee met me in groups and we had lively discussion on interesting subjects. Albeit tucked away from the mainstream land, living as if in a seclusion, the devotees of Holy Trio have undeniably kept up the spirit of love and service. The keen interest that the growing children of Dundee devotees took during discussions eminently suggested to me that they are really ‘thirsty’ for the right kind of knowledge about Hinduism.

Mother Durga at Dundee Centre
Mother Durga at Dundee Centre

I reached Glencoe by noon. My thinking that I would have a quiet lunch was taken a back seat when I found that old devoted lady had invited almost all the devotees of Glencoe! The evening program was held at the only Hindu Temple wherein a big cut-out of Devi Amba was kept in front of the presiding five deities – Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Vishnu, Ram. Here also the usual satsang pattern was adopted that included my Talks on ‘Three Functions of Energy’.

Mother Durga at Glencoe
Mother Durga at Glencoe

The children and devotees of Glencoe were always fascinating to me as their faces would instantly light up with devotion unbelievably. The post supper discussion went on and on till we realised that the time was fifteen minutes to one in the night and I rose for the rest! Next day from morning 8 to 11 the devotees and their children from Glencoe as well as Dundee assembled. The discussion continued till I got ready for departure for Ladysmith. They saw me off; and the parting was indeed so heart-rending especially when the children could not contain their tears!

Shrine of Ladysmith Centre
Shrine of Ladysmith Centre

Reached Ladysmith for the lunch. Selected devotees were there who all joined me in the sumptuous lunch that was served lovingly to all of us. Post-afternoon rest, I was taken to Ladysmith Centre where a strikingly enchanting shrine is there. Here also the usual pattern of satsang was followed with my Talks juxtaposed in between the items of program on the fifth night. ‘Mother’s Protection’ was the theme I chose to deal with. About 250 devotees who attended were served with supper in the nearby Civic Hall. Next day morning I went to the Centre where the Sunday School for children was in progress. I met all the different class students from kids level to adult level. I felt satisfied in witnessing the loving efforts put up by the voluntary teachers in imparting the cherished Hindu values through study of religious books.

Continued…

Ayyappa in Africa

Guru purnima at Lenasia branch
Guru purnima at Lenasia branch

The fist time I had chance to go by road to Johannesburg was to attend the Guru Purnima celebration at our Lenasia branch on 2nd August, 2008. It was a memorable occasion as I was not alone. The car was ably driven by Sunil, the Chairperson of Pietermaritzburg Subcentre and accompanied by a group of devotees that included Avinash, Jaya and his two dear children Adhikar and Vidal, Anupama and Avitha.

The travel was on a leisurely pace as I wanted to see the rural South Africa. The excellent road leading to Joburg was a treat to ride by a car. On and off whenever we would sight a spot beautiful, we would stop and enjoy the beauty of the place.

with the visiting devotees
with the visiting devotees

We all stayed at Sugendrie’s place where with her husband Amith, she was wonderfully hospitable to all the guests. Despite my sore throat, the function at the branch went off well. Next day came with a great surprise as Naresh, the Chaiperson of Lenasia branch took all of us to a Temple at Erasmia, near Pretoria. This temple is situated in a beautiful spot, ‘Hennoys’ river too running around and the architecture, a typical South Indian style. It is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. He is a popular deity in Kerala, the south-western State of India.

Dr Kollappan of the Pretoria Bhajanai Mandram received me and other guests at the temple entrance. The inside hall space can take about 400 people and the garbha griham (sanctum santorum) was adorned by a gold plated pancha-dhatu vigraham (image of five elements) of Lord Ayyappa. The vibrations that I experienced were unmatched as from the moment that I entered the precincts, I was, as it were transported to a new world where the troubling sore throat and body ache just vanished. Dr Kollappan’s selection of song and the way he sang was inimitable. The loud chanting of “Swamiye sharanam, sharanam Ayyappa”  by all inside resonated in the hearts of all. After long many years I could listen in person to a Tamil devotional song being sung in a temple and that too in South Africa! The atmosphere was enthralling, to say the least.

Dr Kollappan with Vimokshananda
Dr Kollappan with Vimokshananda

In my Talks to the assembled devotees I expressed my gratitude to Lord Ayyappa without whose Grace that I would not have had the opportunity to visit. I explained that how every Hindu from childhood is trained to adore three devatas – one grama devata – the village God, then the kula devata – the family God and finally the ishta devata – the Chosen deity – and how Lord Ayyappa was intimately familiar to me from my childhood as our pre-monastic family’s kula devata. My talks centred around Lord Ayyappa, His sports with the devotees and the famous Shabarimala in Kerala and finally how devotion to God could enable a person to cope up with the everyday new challenges of this modern era.

Dr Kollappan while speaking about how the conceived idea of building a Temple for Lord Ayyappa came about, narrated the wonderful incidents that brought its fruition ultimately. He was visibly moved and we too, when we learnt that the White gentleman who sold his plot of land had a dream earlier that a Temple would be built there. if you can read Tamil, you can find an article that appeared in Kumudam.

Hinduism Conference at Glencoe

The following is a short report on the Hinduism Conference held at Glencoe Town Hall on Sunday 7th September, 2008. About 250 delegates from mostly Northern Natal region participated. Kumari Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee from Durban recounts here of the Conference.

On Sunday 7 September from 9h00 to 12h00, a Conference on Hinduism was held at the Glencoe Town Hall. Mrs Shalini Bhudhu of  Sanatana Dharma Sabha delivered the inaugural address in which she discussed Hinduism and Vedanta, according to the Holy Trio.

The first speaker was His Holiness Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj who dealt with the topic of Devotional Practices according to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Revered Swamiji informed the audience that in order to see God everywhere one must apply the kaajal or collyrium of bhakti (devotion) to our eyes just as Radha did.  As always, Maharaj approached the topic from a very practical point of view, listing six devotional practices that Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna spoke about in the Gospel 
  • Shravana – that is, Hearing God’s Name
    Maharaj advised all to read holy books and seek holy company to listen to God’s name.
  • Kirtana – Sing the Glories of God
    Whether it be on a CD or through chanting and singing at satsang, we must always sing the Lord’s praises.  Revered Maharaj recounted Master’s teachings about clapping our hands to rid ourselves of negative qualities.
  • Smarana – Remembrance
    Revered Swamiji reminded us of the importance of introspection. Maharaj advised that just as a cow takes in its food only to regurgitate it and slowly munch on it, we too must slowly munch on all that we have learnt about God.
  • Padasevana – Service to all beings
    A true Bhakta sees Master (or God) in his multifarious forms.  Therefore we must serve all, animal and humans, in the spirit of worshipping God. 
  • Puja – Worship
    Ritualistic worship is necessary at the beginning of Bhakti but Maharaj advised us that rituals are not the be all and end all of devotion.  There is a higher state to be realised and that is the Lord within.
  • Bhava – Relationship with God
    Maharaj pointed out the many relationships we can share with God.  One may adopt the attitude of a beloved, have a mother and child relationship with God, think that you are the servant and God is the Master or have the attitude of a friend towards God.  These various Bhavas help one to cultivate the greatest love towards their Isthadevata (Chosen Ideal). 

Maharaj’s discussion on spiritual practices gave us a clear guide on how to increase our devotion to God according to the path of Bhakti Yoga.   

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The second speaker, Mrs Radidevi Govender, an ardent devotee of the Ladysmith Sub-centre, spoke on the topic of Work as a Spiritual Discipline.  Mrs Govender explained the concept of Karma yoga, which is work done renouncing the fruits of the action. 

She introduced the idea that our character was essentially our combined impressions but warned us against becoming fatalistic.  She advised that we cultivate a will power because we are responsible for who we are.  Just as there is fire in flint, so too is their knowledge in each of our human minds.  Mrs Govender informed the audience that everyone is forcibly made to act under the influence of the three gunas, and rather than allow these actions to tie us down to the world we should,  “work for works sake”. 

Mrs Govender ended in the words of the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi saying, “Everything happens by God’s will, yet man must work because God will through mans actions”

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After the second speaker the conference broke for tea. 

On Returning, Revered Ishtaprana Mataji dealt with the topic of The Role of the Hindu Mother in Instilling Spiritual Values in the Home.  Revered Mataji warned all parents to be mindful of the samskaras (impressions) we expose our children to.  She advised mothers to chant during pregnancy, play devotional music and do positive things. Mataji recounted incidents of the change that ashram has had on young children who attended Sunday classes. 

Mataji gave the example of bhakta Prahalad, who though a demon by birth, was in fact, a great devotee of Bhagavan Sri Vishnu. This was partly because of his kind and pious mother being taken by Sage Narada to an ashrama, where positive vibes were abundant. Mataji further gave the example of Luv and Kush who were lovingly brought up my mother Sita and Sage Valmiki in the sage’s humble ashrama.  The young boys were given love and affection but never spoilt.  Incidents from the life of Holy Mother’s niece were also recounted, thus explaining the need to allow children to perform simple chores.

Mataji went on to explain that children were expert imitators and therefore parents must be positive role models.  Parents were reminded to read holy stories to their young ones and attend satsungs regularly.  Mataji also advised children not to argue or revolt against their parents but rather to look upon their parents as God, “Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam. 

The last topic of the morning was Preserving Hindu Culture for the Young Hindu away from Home, this paper was delivered by Dr H.B. Parbhoo, the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa.     

Dr Parbhoo clearly defined the differences between culture and civilisation, stating that the former was the way of life and values, and the latter, the external manifestation of this.  He then went on to state the problems of today’s youth.  He spoke about the lack of firm judgement due to various different causes.  Dr Parbhoo advised the youth against entering places of Kali, places where gambling and drinking occur as well as slaughterhouses and brothels.  Everything gathered by our senses affect us, therefore we must be careful with the people we surround ourselves with, the food we eat and places we go to.  He reminded how Swami Gahananandaji, the past President of the Ramakrishna Order used to advise us to self analyse, pray, perform japa and meditation as well as selfless service. 

The conference was also introduced to Swami Saradanadaji’s Golden triangle, in which the focus of our lives is school or work, home and ashrama or a place of worship.  Dr Parbhoo dealt heavily with the Taitiriya Upanishad which states that one must have a spiritual home to ground oneself.  He added some form of observable religion, association with Hindu culture and civilization, the ability to still the mind and reach out to the community would be a great help. With this vibrant message to all the delegates, the Conference came to a close.

Ganesha – the Giver

||Om hrim vighneshwaraaya namaha||

Ganesha at the temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban
Ganesha at the temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban

Today we observe Sri Ganesh Chaturthi. The wonderful Bengali song, “Giri Ganesha aamaar shubhokaari” ends with this line “Suresha kumaar Ganesha aamaar | taader naa dekhile jhore noyona baari ” is being sung in the beginning of Durga Puja. “Ganesha be my auspicious. Ganesha is mine, Kartik, the son of Shiva is mine; If I dont see them, tears flow from my eyes.”

The day started with a special puja to Sri Ganesh in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner.  After the Puja, my mind started munching albeit nostalgically the childhood days when we would bring the image of Ganesh from the market the earlier evening. Oh! What an enthusiasm in holding Him, as Ganesh, in that small idol, appearing so cute and everyone in the family vie for each other in having Him in their hands.

Sweet Kozhuk kattai
Sweet Kozhuk kattai

We, as children would eagerly await the completion of puja so that we are served with tasty modakam, in Tamil, Kozhuk kattai stuffed with purnam. There used to be two varieties one sweet and the other savoury (ellu and usili ). After leaving Madras in 1970, I have not had the taste of it as I went on moving in North and Eastern India. And now in South Africa, Tamil devotees have not even heard of this term, not to speak of its preparation!

In Ranchi where I was stayput for long 12 years (a yuga, in local parlance), Ganesh Chaturthi was uneventful. However, I used to relish the news of the Puja getting extremely popular all over India in the last two decades and I remember how a Maharashtrian family once invited me for lunch on the Puja day and to our hearts’ content, besides the sumptuous meals, we discussed the importance of Ganesh Puja and how the veteran freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak began. 

This happened in Ranchi. On one Ganesh chaturthi day during the noon break, I went strolling towards our school called ‘Vivekananda Vidyalaya’. The school was in recess and I found groups of pupils sitting together and enjoying their tiffin. I came near to one group of girls, studying in class IV. Among them one girl, a poor Munda Tribal, was not eating anything though the tiffin box was lying in front of her. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I enquired her why she had not been eating while all others students were taking their tiffins. 

She kept mum as these tribal girls do not speak out immediately. One trait I noticed with them was that to get an answer one had to repeat the question while with the non-tribals, you just ask once and you get ten answers! The tribals by nature are very timid. 

I enquired whether somebody – one of the bullies – has eaten away her food. She nodded her head briskly to indicate that no such thing has happened. Then, what was the matter, why she was not eating, I persisted.

She stood up shyly and said that she herself had given to one of her friends. Why, I demanded to know, stating that how in the early morning, her mother had prepared so lovingly a tiffin for her and by giving away that to someone, would it not have hurt her mother’s feelings?

How foolish I was!

Sri Ganesha, in all His grace, wanted to give me the wisdom. 

The child now spoke with determination: “Maharaj, my friend had not eaten anything in the morning before coming to school. Her mother is sick and her dad went out for work. But, I did have something to eat. So, I gave her my noon lunch so that at least my friend does no go empty stomach.”

It was hard for me to control my tears. That small girl has such a vast heart! How many of us can think of ‘others’, denying the comfort to ourselves? Did she not go out of her little ‘being’ and spread out to reach for her friend? If this is not Vedanta in practice, then what?

May Sri Ganesha give us all the ‘feeling’ for others!

Ethics always says, “Not I, but thou.” Its motto is, “Not self, but non-self.” The vain ideas of individualism, to which man clings when he is trying to find that Infinite Power or that Infinite Pleasure through the senses, have to be given up–say the laws of ethics. You have to put yourself last, and others before you. The senses say, “Myself first.” Ethics says, “I must hold myself last.” Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane.

Swami Vivekananda

My prayer…

 

Swami Vimokshananda

A big Thank you!

Today this blog, by the grace of Holy Trio, has exceeded 10,000 hits!

A big THANK YOU to all devotees, friends and other interested people who made this possible within seven months.

The varied comments that the posts are eliciting from diverse people –  from school students to senior citizens – are creating a lot of interest in me to learn that the blog, a tech tool, can be also usefully employed in disseminating the ideas and ideals of our Master, Mother and Swamiji and vedanta in particular as practised by these savants.

May the blessings of them be on all of you is my earnest prayer!

Charming Celebration of Krishna Ashtami

Happy Krishna Ashtami !

Last year when I was posted to Durban Centre, I hardly knew how the various celebrations were conducted in South Africa by the Hindus in general and particularly by our Centre. So to my great pleasant surprise, I found our Durban centre and all its affiliates celebrating Rama Navami for 9 days and Krishna Ashtami for 8 days and Navaratri for 10 days contiguously.

Radhakrishna at Temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban
Radhakrishna at Temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban during 8-day Krishna ashtami celebration

Take for instance the Krishna Ashtami celebration that went by at our Durban centre! There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last Ashtami day i.e. for all eight days with clock-wise precision! Satsang had a definite pattern. It consisted many items like kirtans of mahamantra, bhajans on Sri Krishna in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu languages, chanting of selected shlokas from Bhagavad Gita, discourse by monks and lay scholars, readings from Srimad Bhagavatam, deeparati (waving of lights) and prasad distribution. On the evening of the ashtami, Satsang had two sessions.

The Janmashtami day prog starting at 6.00 pm with Puja to Lord Krishna by a devotee couple within the temple, went on to past midnight. Another couple did the last midnight arati. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the prog. The temple was beautifully decorated. A yugal-murti of Radha Rani and Sri Krishna adorned the altar on all days. Finally with arati to BaalaGopaala and offering of flower to Him by every assembled devotee the prog came to an end with distribution of prasad. What new I saw was the keeping of a little cradle wherein a small murti of baby Sri Krishna was kept. And at the end of the prog at about 00.30 am, starting with self, every devotee just rocked the cradle and offered a flower at the holy feet of the baby Lord.

This year Swami Saradananda spoke for four days on the teachings of Sri Krishna as contained in the Gita. On ashtami night, in the first session during my speech, the birth incident as depicted in Srimad Bhagavatam was presented to the packed audience. To my pleasant surprise again, when I completed the chronicling of Lord’s birth, it was midnight 12 in India!   

In India, in no centre of ours, I had witnessed such an elaborate festival! The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourse and songs, well, I was greatly pleased and impressed with a new kind of experience that gave a boost to my devotional practices!

On this auspicious occasion I remembered how Sri Krishna was intimately inter-woven in the life of Swami Brahmananda, the manas-putra (‘mind-born’ son) of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna who recollected one of his visions thus:

“Just a few days before Rakhal’s coming I saw Mother putting a child into my lap and saying, ‘This is your son: I shuddered at the thought and asked her in surprise, ‘What do you mean? I too have a son?’ Then She explained with a smile that it would be a spiritual child, and I was comforted. Shortly after this vision Rakhal came, and I at once recognized him as the boy presented by the Divine Mother.”

Sometime in the middle of 1881, Sri Ramakrishna had another vision. He saw two boys dancing on a full-blown lotus floating on the Ganges. One of the boys was Krishna and the other was the same boy whom the Mother had previously placed on his lap. That very day Rakhal, crossing the Ganges, came to Dakshineswar from Konnagar; the Master immediately recognized him as his spiritual son.

And on the previous day of his departure from this world at 9:00 p.m. a very heart-rending incident occured. This excerpt has been taken from Swami Chetananandaji’s book God Lived with Them.

Swami Brahmananda…..he touched the hand of his attendant, who was seated nearby, and blessed him. A deep silence pervaded the room. The monks and devotees encircling Maharaj were anxious. He opened his eyes again and began to speak: “I am floating on the banyan leaf of faith in the ocean of Brahman. Vivek my Vivek – Vivekananda-dada [brother]! Baburam-da, Baburam-da [Premananda]! Jogen – Jogen [Yogananda]! I see the feet of Sri Ramakrishna!” Thus he was seeing and addressing the deceased disciples of the Master.

In the meantime Saradananda arrived. When Saradananda suggested that he sleep after drinking a little lemonade, Maharaj said: “My mind is in the realm of Brahman. It does not come down. All right, pour lemonade into Brahman!” After sipping a little he said: “Aha-ha, Brahman – the Reality – the vast ocean! aum Parabrahmane namah [salutations to the supreme Brahman]; aum Paramatmane namah [salutations to the supreme Atman]!” When Maharaj described his experience of Brahman, all felt peace and serenity in their hearts. He slowly calmed down. His face was glowing with joy and he gazed without blinking as if he were meditating, or seeing something.

After a while he exclaimed in his sweet voice: “Ah! here is the full moon – Radhakrishna! I want the Krishna of Ramakrishna. I am the cowherd boy of Vrindaban. Put anklets on my feet. I want to dance holding the hand of my Krishna. jhum – jhum – jhum! [It refers to the sound of the anklets.] Krishna, Krishna, Krishna has come. Can’t you see him? You don’t have the eyes. Aha-ha, how beautiful! My Krishna – on the lotus – of Vrindaban! It is not sad-Krishna. My play is over now. Look, the child Krishna is caressing me. He is calling me to come away with him. 1 am coming. . . . Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu! Maharaj greeted Shivananda and Abhedananda who came to see him.Temple of Swami Brahmananda 

Saradananda later said: “This time we shall not be able to keep Maharaj anymore. His vision of Krishna on the lotus, which the Master forbade us to disclose to him, has come out from his own lips.” Ramakrishna’s prophecy about his spiritual son Rakhal proved to be true. At 8:45 p.m. on Monday, 10 April 1922, Swami Brahmananda passed away. The next day his body was carried from Calcutta to Belur Math and cremated on the bank of the Ganges. Later a temple was built on that spot.

 

Bespoken behind

In criticising another, we always foolishly take one especially brilliant point as the whole of our life and compare that with the dark ones in the life of another. Thus we make mistakes in judging individuals.

 – Swami Vivekananda in Notes from a lecture on Bhakti Yoga 

Swami Akhandananda "Baba Maharaj", a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
Swami Akhandananda

 How many of us can refrain from critisizing others in spite of reading again and again the wonderful precept of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi who advises ‘not to find fault with others’? Most Revered Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji Maharaj was once the butt of criticism and of all persons, the ‘fault’ was reported to no less than a direct disciple of the Master, Sri Ramakrishna. He was Swami Akhandanandaji, the popular ‘Baba’, known otherwise ‘Gangadhar Maharaj’ (Swamiji named him ‘Ganges’). He was childlike and was quick to correct himself when his actions ran contrary to the definite words of Swami Vivekananda, even when pointed out by junior monks. He bore great love for Swamiji. The following reminiscences by Swami Vireswaranandaji are indeed interesting and instructive, and bear testimony to “Baba” Maharaj’s love of Swamiji. Swami Vireswaranandaji was the Tenth President of the Ramakrishna Order and my holy sannyasa Guru. These excerpts were taken from the new book “Swami Akhandananda – As We Saw Him” published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

Bespoken behind does, it gives pain but also seems to do some good to the receiver of criticism! When ‘wounded to his depths’ which means deeply hurt because someone spoke wrong things in your back, how does a man reacts? Let’s hear what Swamiji wrote to “a dear one”:

 “the whole of life is only a swan song! Never forget those lines:

The lion when stricken to the heart, gives out his mightiest roar.

When smitten on the head, the cobra lifts its hood.

And the majesty of the soul comes forth,

only when a man is wounded to his depths!

written by Swami Vireswarananda

I shall now recount one or two incidents to illustrate the Swami’s deep love and reverence for Swami Vivekananda. Once when I was staying at the Advaita Ashrama, Gangadhar Maharaj was for some time at the Kolkata residence of the Rani of Puntia, whose grandsons were the disciples of Swami Saradananda. A devotee who was staying for one or two days at Advaita Ashrama, spent a little money and fed the monastics with rasagollas and green coconuts during the noon-meal. As we finished our meal, a monk arrived from the Udbodhan. He too had a share of sweets and coconuts.

Later he met Gangadhar Maharaj and said to him, ‘Maharaj, today there was a sumptuous feast at the Advaita Ashrama. There were plenty of rasagollas, what to speak of green coconuts!’ And then he added, ‘Maharaj, you are here and there was such a big feast at Advaita Ashrama, and they did not invite you?’

On hearing this, the Swami said like a boy, ‘How strange! I am here so near, and Prabhu did not invite me? Wait, let him come!’

The monk came back and said to me, ‘I have lodged a big complaint with Maharaj against you. Wait, when you meet him this time, you will see the fun.’

A few days later, I went to visit Gangadhar Maharaj. After I saluted him and sat at his feet, the grandchildren of the Rani of Puntia and one or two monks – among whom was the one who had reported against me – all sat down there, eager to see what would transpire. Gangadhar Maharaj sat very grave, uttering not a word. I too kept mum.

After a while he said, shaking his index finger at me, ‘I have something to say against you.’

‘I too have something to say against you,’ I replied.

‘What have you got to say against me?’

‘Please tell me first what you have to say. After looking into your charge-sheet, I shall speak out what I have to say.’

‘Then fix up a judge,’ said Gangadhar Maharaj, like a little boy.

‘You will be the best judge,’ I said.

‘How can I be the judge when I have brought an accusation against you?’

‘I have faith in you only, rather than in anyone else present here.’

 ‘Well, then, let it be so.’

Then he said, ‘You had such a big feast over there and I am staying so near. Yet you did not care to invite me?’ ‘It was not really a feast, Maharaj,’ I said. And then I explained the whole matter to him. Finally I added, ‘This monk here has, for nothing, reported to you against me. And you too expressed a grievance without enquiring from me what actually had happened.

Swamiji has said, ‘If anyone is at fault, call him and speak to him; don’t tell anything to anyone else.” But, Maharaj, you have acted differently.’

No sooner did I refer to Swamiji than Gangadhar Maharaj declared, ‘You have spoken rightly. It was my mistake.’ Saying this he pointed to the monk who had lodged the complaint and said, ‘This fellow has created all the rumpus.’ And everybody began to laugh.

Two things are to be marked in this episode: firstly, the profundity of Gangadhar Maharaj’s reverence and devotion to Swamiji; and secondly the trait of a great soul manifest in him – that is, acknowledging his mistake to a junior brother like me. None of us would have acted like that.

Then I said to him, ‘Maharaj, I have won the case. Now I will have to claim damages from you.’

‘All right, tell me what you want as damages.’

‘You have to pay a visit to the Advaita Ashrama. There you will have to take your lunch, take some rest, and then after having your afternoon tea, return before the evening.’

‘All right, I’ll go,’ Maharaj agreed. Thus, one day he came to the Advaita Ashrama in the morning and stayed on. But just after his lunch he said, ‘Now I shall leave.’ It was summer time. In those days there were no taxis as there are nowadays. The entire distance from Wellington Lane to Shyambazar he would have to cover by horse-cab. Realizing that it would be very hard for him to go in that scorching sun, I said, ‘The agreement was, Maharaj, that you would go back towards evening, after taking your afternoon tea here. You can’t possibly leave now.’ ‘No no, I must go right now,’ he said.

In order to hold him back, I felt compelled to say, ‘Maharaj, kindly stay on. If you do, I’ll feed you with a new thing you have never tasted before.’ ‘What new thing can you feed me, boy? I was the guest of so many kings and wealthy persons. I have travelled in so many lands, eaten many a variety of food. What new thing can you possibly give me to eat or drink?’

‘Whatever you may say, the thing I am going to offer you has surely never been tasted by you before.’

‘Well, let me see what you are going to give me. I am staying on.’

I felt much relieved thinking that, at all events I could at least stop his trip in this hot sun. As soon as it struck four, Maharaj called out to me, ‘Where is the new thing you promised? Bring it quick.’ After he had gone for his rest, I had prepared some coffee and kept it on ice to cool it. In those days, there were neither coffeehouses nor refrigerators in Kolkata. I offered him glassful of that cold coffee. He drank it and was very glad. He said, ‘Really, such a thing I had never tasted before.

With Pupils at a Phoenix School

Grade XI Learners attending Motivation Class conducted by Swami Vimokshananda
Grade XI Learners attending Motivation Class conducted by Swami Vimokshananda

I expected it to be an interesting experience when I accepted the invitation from Ferndale Combined School at Phoenix to conduct a ‘Motivation class’ on Self-confidence. It turned out much more than that. It was held in the School’s auditorium on Monday, 21 July, 2008 between 1 and 2 pm for the Grade XI learners.

111 students assembled there to whom I talked in an inter-active style. 20 of them were of Indian origin and the rest 91 were African Black children. A number of Educators were also present. There were students from other communities like Muslims and Christians, besides Hindus.

Quoting Nelson Mandela’s strong determination to free this great country from the shackles of apartheid, I explained how much ‘self confidence’ in one man could turn the course of the history of a country. I narrated what kind of hardships he had to face at Robben Island prison for long 27 years and how he tackled every adverse circumstance into a positive one. His 90th birthday was recently celebrated by all his admirers throughout the world.

Swami Vimokshananda addressing the Pupils and Educators
Swami Vimokshananda addressing the Pupils and Educators

Then I dwelt on the great Saint of India, Swami Vivekananda who instilled the confidence in self, humanity and God as indispensible for the progress of the individual and the society. Inspiring incidents from his life were explained.  I also spoke of the Jesus’ saying and an incident from Mohammed’s life. I could not but admire deeply the high discipline that the pupils exhibited during the course of the class.

Thereafter Pastor Dixon, a member of the Governing Body of the School and also the Head of Ecclesia Family Church in Phoenix spoke.

The Dy Principal Mrs Naidoo gave a vote of thanks while the students honoured the guests with flowers. At the end of the class, students recited Vedic, Bilblical, Koranic and Zulu prayers.

One of the Educators later distributed “Deepika” the Children’s spiritual magazine to the interested students. This is an annual magazine brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville.

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.

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