Tag: children

SingaSpeaks – Roar 72

Roar 72 describes the two major functions – one Sri Krishna Janmashtami held on 14 August 2017 and another – a sequel to this function. The latter one was a Cultural programme where Children from the Hinduism classes participated…

SingaSpeaks – Roar 69

SingaSpeaks – Roar 36

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Worship of Wisdom Goddess

Children’s Retreat

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Ramakrishna Centre takes special care of growing number of students in its congregations. There is a regular weekly class on Hinduism at every Sub-centre and its main centre. Annually all the children come together for staging the most memorable Children’s Cultural Function. Twice in a year the centre conducts a sort of Retreat for these children. These programmes make different aspects of our ancient wisdom and practice familiar to the children and youth.

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Adoration of All-in-one

A happy Krishnashtami namaskars and vanakkam to one and all !

Taught as Teacher

Generally speaking, in all children’s classes of subjects ranging from secular to spiritual, the teachers are adults. Adults teach children. Does an adult also learn from a child? Yes, on innumerable situations, I have found it to be true. Inter-action with children, during our classes on Hinduism, brings great delight in the quick responses from the children. Once when I was watching a religious class for children in our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre, the teacher posed the question: Where is God? Pat came the reply from a child: Where God is not?

A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai
A replica in studded diamonds painting of Narayana as Balaji in Tirupati, the famous vaishnava sacred spot in South India. Courtesy: Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam, Chennai

The child’s reply was apt. “Vyaaptatvaat Vishnuh” – Vishnu is one that permeates. As Narayana, He is everywhere. The fifth verse of the famous Narayana suktam says, “yaccha kinchit jagatyasmin dhrishyate shrooyatepivaa | antar bahishcha tat sarvam vyaapya naaraayana sthitah ||” In this universe whatever heard, whatever seen, Narayana resides inside and outside permeating everything.

When the demoniac dad Hiranyakashipu questioned his Vishnu-devoted son Prahlad in anger, “Where is your Vishnu?” the popular Tamil saying of his reply goes thus: “thoonilum iruppaan, thurumbilum iruppaan” – He remains in this pillar and also in the particle. Whether big or small the Lord is in everything. The Upanishads say proudly “anoraneeyaan, mahato maheeyaan” – minutest of the small and largest of the Big. Prahlad is a shining example of child teaching an adult.

Lord in the largest 

Arjuna asks Lord Krishna how will he meditate on God because he doesn’t know in what several aspects the Lord can be thought of. So he requests Lord to tell him about His yoga power and divine glory. Arjuna knew very well that there is no satiety in listening to the glories of the Immortal Lord. So, answering Arjuna’s question, Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita starts explaining how in different forms the Lord has manifested.

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One such is the plant life. He says “of all trees, I am the aswattha (banyan)” (10.26). A brahma-jnani, a knower of Brahman sees everything pervaded by God. Swami Brahmananda, true to his name, derived bliss in seeing all around Brahman everywhere. His love for beings was unconditional. His compassion for trees, plants, flowers was extraordinary.

Glory of the green Grass

While he fed the dogs of the Belur Monastery, he visited regularly the dairy farm and supervised the seva to cows. He was the first to initiate planting of certain trees and plants in many north-Indian centres with that of grown or seen mostly in south-Indian places. One such tree was Nagalingam flower tree. Usually in the morning hours he was seen going around the garden and instructing monks and brahmacharins how to keep the plants healthy and what type of fertilizers to be used for them and how well they could save from the destructive pests.

The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math
The marble image of Swami Brahmananda in Belur Math

Once Swami Brahmananda visited the Bose Research Institute. He saw how the plants were sensitive to external stimuli. The whole day his thoughts centred round on the plant life. While talking to Boshi Sen, he said, “There was a time when Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) could not step on the grass, but would jump from one bare spot to another to avoid hurting the grass. At that time, we simply didn’t believe that a grass could be sensitive! From what I saw today, I realized how infallibly true his perceptions were!”

Later, while staying in Bhubaneshwar Math, he said to the monks there: “Trees have life. If you serve them you will feel it. They will never become ungrateful.

He who serves them will receive flowers and fruits in return.” Seeing the striking roses in the Bangalore Lalbaug garden, he remarked, “Look, the celestial maidens are laughing!” Pointing at the green lawn, he would say, “as if the Divine Mother has spread green velvet!”

Ceaseless Cosmic worship

I once asked my revered Gurudev Sri Swami Nirvananandaji maharaj how was his Gurudev Swami Brahmanandaji would view the entire cosmos. He said to me that his Gurudev would ‘feel’ with his mystical eyes that cosmic worship was always on.

He one day, saw a new brahmacharin plucking flowers for Master’s worship. He rebuked him sharply:

“What are you doing? Do you want to make that tree devoid of flowers? You think Sri Ramakrishna is seated only in the shrine and does not come to the garden? Pick those flowers only which are hidden behind the leaves and always leave some flowers outside in each tree.” To Brahmananda Maharaj, those trees also were worshipping the cosmic God with their blossoms!

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Vedanta Retreat for Children & Youth

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Meaningful Morning

Conference on “Hinduism – The Way Forward

Conducting a Conference is beset with certain inherent risks. Scheduling it especially on a Sunday morning when weather is absolutely right for lazying around, you do not know how many would turn up. And if the Conference is on religious matters that does not contain even a single ‘cultural item’ its much worse. Ruminating with some sort of anxiety on these lines, I reached the Westville Campus of UKZN on Sunday, the 30th September 2012 fifteen minutes before the Conference began. What I saw was something unimaginable. The Hall was packed to its capacity!

This Conference entitled “Hinduism – The Way Forward” was convened by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram (SSDA) of Durban. On arrival, I could clearly discern the devotion of the members of the SSDA and how they were working in unison. At various points of the campus, the volunteers were guiding delegates to the parking lots and venue.  Reaching nearer to the venue, I could also observe how the lady devotees of the Ashram warmly welcomed every one. They duly  directed the speakers and guests to T-Block where, after registration, each delegate was given a Conference pack and led into the lecture theatre.

a portion of attentive audience…
Well, I was thoroughly pleased to get a detailed Report from Ms Shiksha Ramkissoon who is a devotee of SSDA. Professionally she is a Physio-therapist attached to a hospital. Her Report is lucid, presenting a vivid picture of what happened at the Conference. I do hope our reader-devotees enjoy this Report. Images courtesy: Lushen Pillay.

 

A Report by Shiksha Ramkissoon

The clear skies and the Durban warmth presented a perfect backdrop for a Sunday morning of discussion on some of Hinduism’s sacred texts. The foyer outside T1, the venue of the Conference, was converted into a small shrine with a beautiful garlanded picture of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi surrounded by plants, bouquets and an artfully created ‘Aum’ symbol made with flowers.  It was complemented by a slide show of spiritual quotations on a digital screen above the entrance.

Pranavaswaroopini Ma – Mother (the embodiment of AUM) at the Entrance…

The backdrop at the podium in the hall, was adorned with a stunning banner of an image of the Holy Trio highlighted by a beautiful gold drape around it. By 9 30 am the room was filled with over 700 guests. His Holiness Revered Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order based in Ulsoor, Bangalore, India, graced the Conference with his presence. Also present, were His Holiness Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj and His Holiness Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.

The Chairperson of SSDA, Ms Prakashnee Gengan taking control of the floor

The program director was an attorney Ms Prakashnee Gengan, the Chairperson of SSDA.   Sister Avinta Badrinath led the congregation in prayer, before Her Holiness Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji lovingly welcomed every delegate including the Revered Swamijis, members of sister organizations and those who had travelled from far and wide to attend the Conference. Ms Gengan elaborated on the theme of the Conference and the topics which were to be presented. They were based on two popular scriptures, viz., the ancient and eternal Ramayana and the modern day Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

The first speaker was Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. whose topic “Crime in the Ramayana – Challenges and Solutions” was discussed in a detailed and scholarly manner. Citing specific incidents in the Ramayana from the perspective of criminology, Swamiji’s talk provided a new perspective on the cause, prevention and management of crime and demonstrated that the scriptures provide the answers not only to our spiritual lives but also to the challenges that we face in our daily lives.

Swamiji began by tracing the cause of crime by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita in which Arjuna asks Lord Krishna what impels a man to commit sin, as if by force.  The Lord replies that it is desire and anger, born of rajas, which are the root causes of this behavior. Swamiji then highlighted the various characters of the Ramayana who committed various crimes, starting from Ratnakar, to others such as Ahalya, Surpanaka, Ravana.  These examples enforced the point that unbridled desire indeed is the source of crime.

Swami Saradaprabhananda presenting a scholarly Paper…

Swamiji explained that criminal desires are to be managed before they are expressed.  For this, the tool of self-control is essential.  He identified personalities such as Lord Rama, Mother Sita, sevak Hanuman, Queen Mandodari and others who displayed a great degree of self-control.  He added that this should be adopted by Hindus as a means to prevent crime.  Characters who displayed poor self-control were Vali, Ravana, Kumbhakarna, Indrajit.

He gave examples of different kinds of graded system of punishment that was meted out in the Ramayana.  He identified three dimensions of combating crime, viz., individual goodness, a single individual becoming proactively good on his own and an individual working in a team, a pressure group or organization.  All have to be done within the parameters of the law.

Valmiki constructed a complex crime scene in which Sita, who was untrained in self-defence, was abducted by Ravana who used disguise to deceive Her.  Sita is initially portrayed as a victim of crime, but Valmiki showed that righteousness eventually prevails and Sita emerges as a survivor of crime.  The Ramayana thus has many episodes of crime but eventually proves that criminals are never victorious.

The congregation then adjourned for a refreshment break.  The second session saw the remaining three papers being delivered.

The first speaker in this session was Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of S.A. who presented his Talks, undoubtedly the highlight of the Conference, on ‘Prayer in Daily Life – According to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’.  Maharaj expanded on all points by using examples from daily life, effectively bringing in humour, which left the audience roaring with laughter whilst simultaneously further imprinting the message and concepts into their minds.

Swami Vimokshananda delivering a speech interspersed with humour…

Maharaj explained that prayer is a powerful tool found in all religions. In Hinduism, the importance of  prayer was forgotten over the years, while other spiritual practices, like self-enquiry, yoga etc., were developed to a great extent.  With the advent of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘prayer’, as a fundamental spiritual tool, was highlighted again.

Maharaj defined prayer as the simple act of talking to God.  Prayer, as it is usually done, (Maharaj called this the preliminary stage, or a petitionary prayer) begins by asking God for something.  There are people who criticise this type of prayer as being materialistic or unnecessary, as God is Omniscient and hence knows our inner desires. Maharaj explained that this type of prayer should not be condemned as, without this, millions of people would not think of God at all.  Moreover, the acquisition of material possessions, artha, and fulfilment of desires, kama, (done within the framework of dharma) are legitimate goals of life.  Since God is our very own, there is nothing wrong in asking of Him what we want.

Maharaj pointed out that, when praying, we should discriminate between a prayer for a particular need and a prayer for a want.  Not all prayers are answered since God will provide what is needed and not necessarily what we want as that which is wanted, is not always good for us or we may not be capable of taking care of it. The manner in which we pray is also important. Since God is our own, our conversation with Him (or Her) should be in our own mother tongue (or the language that we understand), with tears in our eyes and sincerity of heart.  Since God is Omniscient and Omnipresent, there is no specific time or place that is set for prayer.

Even though prayer is considered a lower form of spiritual practice, Maharaj emphasised that it is a fundamental practice as it opens our hearts, brings balance to our spiritual life and helps us overcome any difficulties/complications that may arise from other spiritual practices.

As we progress in our spiritual life through the means of prayer, the nature of the prayer itself changes.  As our hearts grow, asking for ourselves expands to asking for others – be it wife, children, family, neighbours, country, etc.  Finally, as we realise that God provides all our needs, it changes from asking for things to a pure love for God when we continuously think of/communicate with God, just want to be with God and surrender completely to God.

Dr Nirmala Balkaran of Ladysmith presenting her charming Paper…

The next paper was presented by Dr Nirmala Balkaran.  Her talk entitled “Nurturing children and youth – the Ramayana Way” was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation which had charming pictures of little children, including a stunning cover picture of baby Rama. The core of the speech was the examples of the parenting of King Dasharatha and Mother Sita, the education and nurturing their children received and how these ideals can be implemented in modern society in response to challenges that are faced by parents and teachers today.

She discussed in detail how the sons of King Dasharatha, from a young age, were given a well-balanced secular, vocational, artistic and spiritual education by their father, Guru and other teachers assigned by their father, both directly and indirectly through exposure.  The importance of stimulating the child by the reading of religious texts from the foetal stage to adolescence was highlighted.

Dr Balkaran described Mother Sita as a single parent who, even under difficult circumstances, ensured that her children Luv and Kush received a balanced, well-rounded education that catered to their physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual development under the tutelage of sage Valmiki.

In contrast, the current school system merely provides a secular education which is a stepping stone to tertiary institutions that endow one with the necessary skills to earn a livelihood.  As important as that is, it is not sufficient for the development of the entire personality of a human being, for as Swami Vivekananda says, education should be “man-making, life giving and character-building”.  Hence there is a need for parents to involve their children with organisations that provide programs which offer moral and spiritual education and promote a holistic and balanced development which includes the growth of character and morality.

Pravrajika Ishtaprana mataji presenting her illuminating Paper…

The final paper entitled “Illuminating Parables on Spirituality from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna” was presented by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji.  Mataji chose certain tales from the Gospel as told by the Master. These contained deep spiritual truths and guidelines for spiritual life. Mataji’s simple description of the stories and the animated pictures on the PowerPoint presentation made it easy for the audience to relate to the parables.

Mataji described the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as a “scripture which clearly points the way forward”.   The popular stories provided insight on topics such as the nature of God, both form and formless; the grace of the Guru; renunciation; causes of conflicts between practitioners of different religions/sects; obstacles in spiritual life; and spiritual practices including concentration of mind. She encouraged all to take the Gospel and read a little daily to imbibe some of the lessons from them.

Sister Avinta closing the Conference with her mellifluous shanti paath

After each talk, there was a short question and answer segment, which drew brilliant answers from the panel of speakers to the various interesting questions from the audience. There were also some abiding comments and observations from the audience. At the end of the Conference, the speakers were presented with tokens of appreciation by devotees of SSDA. Sister Avinta brought the Conference to a close with her mellifluous shanti paath  recital before all proceeded to the foyer where a sumptuous lunch was served.

The general consensus of those present was that the Conference was a ‘major success’ and ‘well organised’.  It was indeed a morning well spent! The credit singularly must go to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi whose infinite grace seemed to be over flowing that day!

Jai Sri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu!

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Points to Ponder

To a practicing ‘mild’ Hindu in our country, modernity presents multifarious challenges. South Africa, being a rainbow nation, is particularly, in a unique position, where society with diverse races and religious beliefs, is trying to balance tumultuous lifestyle changes with the traditional family values. How problematic ‘parenting’ can actually be is anybody’s guess.

The present Post is reproduced from a booklet on ‘Parenting – A Hindu Perspective’, containing articles on many interesting Hindu ideas on parenting skills. It was freely distributed to the delegates who attended a seminar hosted by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville in commemoration of Holy Mother’s 156th birth anniversary celebration at KZN University on Sunday, 13 December 2009. It was a great success with 500 delegates from even distant places attending with enthusiasm. I was given the honour of releasing this booklet on that important occasion. My grateful thanks to Sister Pravrajika Ishtaprana mataji.

Healthy balance?

First let us see the dynamics of parenting with regard to individuals who constitute a ‘family’. The adults in very many cases make themselves the focal point of their attention. Parents who are prisoners of their own predilections such as careers, extra-marital relationships, or just in their own heads all of the time, often have lonely, depressed children who doubt their parents’ love and affection.  Studies have already shown a very high percentage of teens experimenting with drugs and alcohol are from homes where the parents are too self-absorbed to notice or to pay attention to what is happening with their own kids.

On the other hand, let us consider the sacrificing parents whose uppermost aim is the greater good of the family. This dynamics becomes the breeding ground to resentments and underlying tensions found in most households. In their enthusiasm, the adults often give up their dream jobs, drop out of higher education, or stop having a social life outside of the family. Because, at some point along the way, it perfectly seemed to provide the probable answer to some predicament. For whatever reason, there is no time, energy, or money left for the adults even to visit temples and ashrams when all is said and done. The parents unwittingly try to become martyrs to their kids or ‘The Family’.  Indeed, It is very difficult for the parents to find a healthy balance between these two extremes.

Inter-connect disrupted?

Take another scenario. How many times we hear that the children should always come first – at any cost. Well, this has too a negative effect. Children who are raised to be the blue-eyed favorites, grow up to be adults with a firm belief that they have a rightful place as the center of everyone else’s universe too. Is it fair to teach the children that they are more important than everyone else?  Don’t they become self-esteemed monsters and bullies? The world out there is going to teach them a very different lesson. People will not like them no matter how special Mommy and Daddy think they are. What is at stake here is everyone is equal in regards to needs, hopes, dreams, responsibilities, and other aspects of getting along in the world. Madhu’s need to jump, run and play is in no way less than Mommy’s need for mental peace.

Now what happens when families start focusing on each individual’s needs, schedules, etc.? Parents are busy conducting their own lives while the teenagers are living independent lives – dropping by the house to eat and sleep, communicating only through emails or cellphones. And lo! the little ones are so busy with soccer leagues and music lessons and play ‘dates’ with their friends that they have no real sense of what family is all about. Everyone is happy, busy, flourishing individuals, but ‘The Family’ as a unit has almost completely disappeared; the inter-connection among the members of the family is absolutely lost!

Safe and Secure?

Is there any remedy? In comes the Hindu perspective of parenting. Though copious examples can be quoted from the vast scriptural literature, I would in brief, like to stress on the first three verses of the glorious Gita as contained in Chapter 16. These verses give us a behavioral dictum that can make every member of the family enriched with the necessary tools to face the challenge of about-turn modernity versus abiding old values.

Bhagawan Sri Krishna enumerates a total of 26 noble qualities (see box) that can lead each and every one of us to be a responsible citizen of the society. The spiritual view of parenting includes not only the elaborate preparation of wedding, giving birth to children but also the manner in which the children are brought up. Children start learning from the womb. It is essential that would-be-parents adapt their life as per the 26 noble qualities. Then only they would be able to transmit them to their children. These three verses should be read on a daily basis by both parents and children and be given to byheart. Children learn by example, therefore the role of parents is vitally important in their upbringing. A home that radiates love and warmth will automatically make children feel safe and secure.

Pray and stay?

I have seen some parents very reluctant to talk certain religious subjects and make the children feel that these topics are taboo! Healthy discussions amongst children and parents should be the keynote to every family life. Collective living-in should be cultivated and to begin with, a common daily prayer is of utmost importance in every household: A family that prays together stays together as they say.

Parents as devotees of the Ashram must ensure that children take note of the activities and allow their children to be familiar with them. They should be encouraged to assist adults in providing meals, clothing, gifts, medical help, etc to the less privileged. A feeling of compassion with humility, and at the same time an overwhelming sense of joy in serving the poor will contribute to the furtherance of the social fabric that will ultimately lead to universal love.

It is the duty of parents to present a bright and shining example of a morally well-balanced and spiritual living to pave the way for their children to follow.

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The 26 divine qualities that should be cultivated by every one:
sri-bhagavan uvaca
abhayam sattva-samsuddhir jnana-yoga-vyavasthitih |
danam damas ca yajnas ca svadhyayas tapa arjavam ||
ahimsa satyam akrodhas tyagah shantir apaisunam |
daya bhutesvaloluptvam mardavam hrir acapalam ||
tejah ksama dhrtih shaucam adroho nati-manita |
bhavanti sampadam daivim abhijatasya bharata ||

“The Lord said:
1 – Fearlessness;
2 – purification of one’s existence;
3 – cultivation of spiritual knowledge;
4 – charity;
5 – self-control;
6 – performance of sacrifice;
7 – self-study;
8 – austerity;
9 – simplicity;
10 – non-violence;
11 – truthfulness;
12 – free from anger;
13 – renunciation;
14 – tranquillity;
15 – not fault-finding;
16 – compassion for all living beings;
17 – free from covetousness;
18 – gentleness;
19 – modesty;
20 – steady determination;
21 – vigour;
22 – forgiveness;
23 – fortitude;
24 – cleanliness; 
25 – free from envy and
26 – free from the passion for honor —
these divine qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.”

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Why Ganesha ‘Lord of Obstacles’?

||Om hreem Vighneshwaraaya namaha||

A very happy ‘Sri Ganesha chaturthi’ to every one! It is a joyous occasion always. All our Centres in South Africa celebrate this day in a solemn manner.

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

Importance is given to japa whereby the wisdom aspect of our personalities is stimulated. The day starts with a special puja to Sri Ganesha in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. In the evening it concludes with a satsang where devotees in chorus sing bhajans and kirtans interspersed with Talks or Readings.

As children we were not only treated with different kinds of sweets during dining time, (note: earlier I wrote about that delicious dish Kozhuk kattai or modakam) but also were trained in lots of traditional practices that were initially appeared as queer but later loved. In igniting the imagination of the child, Ganesha worship would or even now stands supreme. Imagination about what? About creating a living contact between the visible human and the invisible super-human. It leads the growing child in the practice of devotion. This worship acts as a means in giving practical shape to develop a healthy and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.

I am reminded of the allotted duties among the siblings and oh! what verve and vigour the children used to show in fulfilling their arduous(!) tasks like plucking flowers, cutting fruits,  arranging durwa grass etc. A sense of camaraderie prevails that brings peace and happiness. May Sri Ganesha resolve all our conflicts!

Lord Ganesha, ever the son, with His brother and parents

Worship of Personal God in whatever form has many distinct advantages. Lord Ganesha though He is ever the son of Parvati and Shiva is known as ‘Vighneshwara’ the Lord of Obstacles. Often children (the mustachioed babies too…!) ask how is it that this God is called ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Is it not good to worship those gods who can offer boons instead of those creating obstructions?  Late Revered Swami Chidbhavanandaji maharaj (famous for his translation of Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and English – perhaps the very first one in bringing Master’s teachings at relevant places – used to compare this Universe to an automobile. He says in one of his books “Facets of Brahman” which is as delightful as inspiring, explains why and how Lord Ganesha brings good to the devotees :

“In the working of an automobile each mechanism has its particular part to play. The function of one part in it cannot be the function of another.” This means that notwithstanding each part having its own structural and functional individuality the motor car an move only with the combined effect of all of them. So, he concludes that the Universe is a self-projected living and intelligent mechanism. It is the material manifestation of the saguna brahman

While harmony exists in its variation, discord and conflicts are also seen. Thus Nature brings all the beings into existence and provides opportunities ‘to evolve into higher and yet higher order of life’. All levels have their intrinsic two categories called Divine and Demoniac.

This Cosmic Intelligence is symbolically called Ganesha. Those who are honest and strive to lead a peaceful life, thus possessing Divine qualities, He definitely comes to their aid. And he does not neglect those with asuric qualities. By creating obstructions, He brings disappointment in the minds of devotees as what was prayed goes not sanctioned! But in the course of life’s journey, a devotee finds out that seeming obstruction was in one way a blessing in disguise. In short by introducing lesser evils He wards off greater evils of life and Vighneshwara (Vighna – obstacles, Ishwara – Lord) rightly represents this particular aspect of Nature.

How Ganesha came in the practical life through dreams and fulfilled the desires of the devotees is narrated here.

It was sometime in 2005. This happened while I was in Ranchi. Once I received a post parcel that looked very tiny. Well, I just kept it on my study table; I never even ventured to open it. Everyday I was seeing it but somehow had no urge to open the parcel and look what the gift was. Suddenly one fine early morning a devotee rang me up to say that she was indeed frightened by a dream. I asked her what was the dream. She explained that she was entering into our Temple. She saw a small figure of Ganesha slowly emerging from nowhere and becoming crystal clear and was walking towards her. The image was in utter black colour. She asked me whether this dream was inauspicious.

Consoling her with words of sympathy, I told her that seeing Ganesha is considered as most auspicious and who knows that black Ganesha wants to come to her home! Did she not tell me earlier that she wanted to worship Ganesha in some murti? So, I concluded by telling her that she might wait till Ganesha makes some arrangement.

That day while I was just going out, the cleaning boy came and put that tiny parcel into my hands and said that I had not yet opened it as it was lying for many days on the table. I quickly thrusted it into my pocket and went out.

Lord Ganesha
Image by Swami Stream via Flickr

It was a pleasant surprise when on my way back, I met the son of this devotee who insisted that I should visit his home. Since I had some time, I agreed and reached his house. The devotee welcomed me and was talking about her dream; she asked me, ‘Maharaj, when would Ganesha come to my home?’

While the conversation was going on I casually took the parcel and opened it and lo! it was black Ganesha murti! So tiny and cute, I said, “See! here He is!” I placed that Ganesha into her altar under the feet of the Mother Kali image. Well, son got his place again under mother!

A devotee from South Africa, the other day narrated this following incident.

It was in 1997. I was overwhelmed by money and power. I had a successful business and everything was hunky dory in my life. My day used to start quite early, leaving home everyday including Sundays at 7am and returning at 10pm.  That meant neglecting my home, children and daily prayer.

This continued for 2 years. Although I was a devotee of the Master from the age of 13 years, somehow at the age of 29, I faltered in my spiritual life. My conscience used to prick me every now and then….. but still I neglected my sadhana.

As the second year was coming to a close, my body and mind was beginning to tire and so were my kids on whom I could sense the effect of neglect. It was late one night while I was asleep, that I had a wonderful dream… or was it real, I will never know that… Lord Ganesha came to me while I lay on the bed and spoke softly to me. He kept telling me ‘arise and offer some fruit and milk’. I could still see Him in His flowing yellow dhoti and  with a flower garland around His neck. When I was reluctant to get up, he firmly, at the same time, very lovingly coaxed me to wake up. I lay in my bed wondering at the strange, yet divine dream that I just experienced.

I gazed around to see whether the Gracious Lord was still in the room, was it my imagination, was it a dream, was it real? who knows!  After a quick bath and breakfast, just out of curiosity I went to the calendar to check what day it was… I WAS STUNNED TO SEE IT WAS  THE AUSPICIOUS DAY OF GANESH CHATURTHI. I immediately went into my shrine and offered milk to the Lord and realised that the Lord is continuously knocking on my door, and He is waiting for me to open. It was on that auspicious day that by the will of the Lord, I quit my job and became a mum to my kids and held on tightly to the Lord’s Feet… Never to let go AGAIN!

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Spiritual sojourn

Welcome to South Africa!

Next Thursday night i.e., on July 15, 2010, His Holiness Sri Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission branch will be with us in Durban.

Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj

He is eagerly looking forward to pay a 15-day visit to this Rainbow nation wherein he is scheduled to participate in the functions organised by our Centres. All arrangements to give a warm welcome to him at the King Shaka International Airport by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre are set.

I have fond memories of dear brother Shantatmanandaji’s amiable nature. I had the privileged moments to be with him especially during Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja for long 12 years in Ranchi Sanatorium.  He was the leader of a team of monks and volunteer-devotees who would without fail visit Ranchi in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov), to conduct the renowned Puja. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

While accepting our hearty invitation to make a visit here, he said that he takes “the entire trip as a spiritual journey”.  He further said: “I have very wonderful and pleasant memories of the devotees of South Africa whom I had the occasion to meet in New Delhi during their trips to India.  So, I really look forward to this spiritual journey.”

In a communication to our Chairman Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Swami said: “The South Africa centre is growing from strength to strength every day under the wonderful leadership of your noble self and others.  I am sure it is going to occupy a very high position amongst our centres all over the world.”

Early days

Being a volunteer in the Bangalore Ashram, Shantatmanandaji known popularly as ‘Jaishankar Maharaj’ formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1977 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1986. While in Belur Math, staying for 30 years, he had the blessed opportunity to come into close contact with several luminary-Swamis of the Order.

Stint of service

His expertise in the area of Financial Administration and Fund Management has been the cornerstone of the financial transparency and accountability at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math (Kolkata). During his tenure, the branch centres of the world-wide Ramakrishna Mission received new impetus in streamlining their financial records and policies.

The other areas which continue to relentlessly engage him with Human Development are Disaster Management and Value Education. The Swami is a self-professed advocate of character building and man-making Value Education based on the universal insights, which are common to all spiritual traditions, as presented by  Vivekananda and Vedanta, which he feels should impact our educational structure and policies extensively.

Women, Youth and children

I visited in 2007 Sarada Seva Sangha, an NGO in the suburbs of Kolkata. This is managed by one hundred trained women volunteers. The  leaders of SSS went all the way to receive me and arrange a cultural program in honour of my visit which I shall ever cherish. Swami Shantatmanandaji was a pioneering influence in setting up this Organisation in the field of Women’s Empowerment, which is a developmental area close to his vision of Nation-Building. The Sangha is managed and administered by women and its focus area is the service of women and children.

Swami Shantatmanandaji is very close to youngsters and inspires them towards a life of purpose, dedication and service with a rare passion that is characteristic of the mission of Swami Vivekananda.

Outer ring Service

He is passionately involved in the interfaith dialogue leading to closer understanding between different faiths and is deeply committed to all peace initiatives.

Swamiji conducts regular discourses in English and Bengali as also in Tamil and Hindi in rare occasions.

After he took over charge of the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, Swami Shantatmanandaji has visited Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland on lecture tours, besides visiting many cities in India on invitation to give lectures on different spiritual topics.

New Delhi Centre

Ramakrishna Temple at New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission

This centre was started in 1927 and made a branch of the Mission in 1930.

Activities at a glance:

1. A library with separate sections for children and university students. It had 43,177 general books, and 192 newspapers and periodicals.

2. A computer training centre with 762 students.

3. A free coaching centre for 95 children studying in municipal schools in and around the ashrama.

4. A homoeopathic dispensary, which treated 23,515 cases during the year.

5. A mobile medical unit, which treated 14,788 cases this year.

6. A modern free TB clinic at Karol Bagh, which treated 21,553 outpatient cases this year. Under the home treatment scheme, the clinic extended its medical services to patients unable to attend in person, through their contacts.

7. A medical centre in the TB clinic premises, providing specialist consultancy services. It served 49,083 patients during the year.

8. Religious activities: There were 257 religious discourses on weekdays and Sundays in the ashrama this year. Moreover, 100 occasional lectures were delivered in various cultural institutions and 101 value education programmes conducted in various educational institutions. Regular Sunday classes were held at Delhi University. Besides, the birth anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were celebrated at the ashrama and in other localities in Delhi.

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Fascinating Festival

Marble Image of Sri Ramakrishna installed in HQ Temple

The first Children’s Cultural Festival (CCF) that I saw in Durban was in 2007, three months after I was posted to South Africa. I had attended earlier many such functions in India and had come to the conclusion that too long hours was too much to be my treat. Imagine the severity of the sting of sitting for seven hours! But here the situation was smartly different. I didn’t know how the time went by and it appeared only a few moments had just passed and I was jolted to understand that the function had come to an end!

The all-pervading spirit of Sri Ramakrishna could palpably be felt in all the children who were participating in various items. There were scintillating sketches, trend-setting talks, soulful singing and delightful dances. The quick succession of multi-items moving from one scene to the other on the beautifully decorated stage was indeed mesmerizing. Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the love and devotion the children displayed towards our Holy Trio.

In this connection I saw the tireless efforts of the teacher-devotees who started preparing the children during the vacation. They are verily like the unseen and unsung dew drops which in the small hours of the day fall silently on the buds and make them bloom so that the fragrance can be spread. And of course I cannot forget the devotee-officials who worked hard in arranging the logistics without which the completion of the Festival would not be in order.

From brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and also some of the senior devotees what I hear about the Cultural Festival sounds wonderful. How in those days this Festival would be called ‘Rally’! All the children of the ‘Ramakrishna Children’s Club’ would meet at an Annual Mass Rally. This term ‘Rally’ even today, is used when referred to in elders’ conversations. In years gone by the children with their youth siblings along with elders would assemble in a pre-selected spot and would make a procession through the streets of Durban in the early morning. You can see a few photos of old days by clicking the below links:

Children’s Rally 1

Children’s Rally 2

Who knows you may be marching in one of the photos as a little boy or girl ?!

In their march past, the children would give a ‘wake-up call’ to every Hindu who was ‘asleep’ to his pristine culture (pun intended) with band parties that wielded drum majorettes, bugles, whistles. I further understand that the now ubiquitous vuvuzelas were conspicuous by their absence!

The ingenuity of late Revered Swami Nischalanandaji in organizing ‘Rally’ to awaken the Hindu population to its great glorious past through the medium of children was indeed very productive in that the sustenance of Hindu culture in this country amidst entirely a different variety of culture was made possible.

Here are some more old photos of 4th Annual ‘Mass Rally’:

The old theme of ‘procession’ oriented Festival has in a few years metamorphosed into a stable program, taking from the diverse aspects of the preserved culture to play a role of ‘nation-building, character-making’ among the rising level of modern participation.

Today I am attending the Southern Natal CCF. (Northern Natal branches have their own Cultural Festival day. Earlier once I did write about the 2009 Northern Natal CCF.) The following branches are scheduled to perform: Chatsworth, Durban Central, Etete, Phoenix, Pietermaritzburg, Redhill, Richards Bay, Sydenham, Tongaat, Verulam and Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. I shall try to post the photos later which you may enjoy watching as a slide show.

I take this opportunity of wishing all participating branches every success in their various items. My following Message finds a place in a printed program published on the eve of the CCF, to be handed over to more than a thousand people who have started to throng the venue :

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My dear children, parents and well-wishers,

Om Namo Narayanaya!

This Children’s Cultural Festival now held in its 56th year is undoubtedly one of the great contributions of late Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj, the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. My humble prostrations to him. Propagation and preservation of Hinduism suitable to the Hindu masses and more importantly spreading the non-sectarian and broad-based teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda among the people living in South Africa was the goal he set before himself and he worked tirelessly to that end.

On this joyful occasion, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji  joins me in conveying our heartiest congratulations to all our children for their brilliant performance seen year by year. Notwithstanding the severe school homework and stressful projects, they have put in strenuous rehearsals of their allotted items. This is indeed a commendable achievement. Our  hearty appreciation is due to the unseen hands – especially the voluntary teachers and the the respective branch Committee members – that worked unselfishly “behind the scenes”.

What actually do we aim to achieve by holding the Children’s Cultural Festival?

– an awareness to increase the quality of life

– cultivation of spiritual values

– inculcating faith in God, the One Supreme Power

– developing mutual love and respect

– service to mankind

Though the number of children participating in our Sunday Schools have to our delight, seen a rise in recent years, yet we are painfully aware that vast majority is still remaining untouched. In this respect, the role of parents in coming forward to enrol their children cannot be over emphasized. Neglect by the parents, being the First Teachers of their children, will portend to the perils of the future family system. A happy family is the core unit of peaceful society. Home is definitely the first school.

I, therefore, earnestly urge parents to encourage their children to enlist them in the classes so that these innocent children do not become prey to modern ills. A wholesome, nourishing spiritual food given when they are young will be the source of strength in future when they will be able to face the newer challenges.

May the blessings of the Holy Trio be on all is our  prayer!

Swami Vimokshananda

President

Ramakrishna Centre of S.A.

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Trial and Time

There are many devotees who seek spiritual guidance through email messages. Some problems are quite tricky in the sense that they are not easily given to satisfactory solutions. Many of the doubts arise, in some cases, due to their inability to understand what their Gurus have instructed. That is why it is always better to keep in the habit of studying the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, books on Holy Mother and Swamiji so that our minds are freed from doubts, further strengthened and fortified with renewed enthusiasm.

One lady devotee wrote to me the other day that her in-laws and husband maintain antipathy to everything connected with the Ramakrishna sangha and their attitude actually hurts her in such a bad way that she was unable even to make visits to Belur Math.

She said that “ …Whatever they are, they are not my problem. Almost four years ago very luckily I’ve got mantra from Sri Sri Swami Gahanananda Maharajji; before having any children I didn’t have any problem to manage time for japa and dhyana. But now the situation is that I’m a mother of two little kids – one is three and half year old and the other is one and half year old.

japamala (rosary)
japamala (rosary)

Now after trying a lot I’m continuously failing to take out any time for japa-dhyana except the bed time. Before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning I try to make it regularly and during daytime work, I try to continue the japa in my mind. But I don’t know why this is making me very restless and I’m feeling very guilty that I’m not following my GURU’s path. Can you please tell me what should I do?”

Yes, one side unsupportive family and the other side the pressing need to take care of the family. Finding not much time, though they are earnest, and with the ever-present criticism against such spiritual practices, they feel despondent. Those devotees who have got this type of situation go through silent sufferings as their conscience prick them in what they consider as ‘neglect’ of their spiritual responsibilities.

The following was my reply to this devotee A.

||Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||

Dear A…

…..Though it is unfortunate to learn that the related in-laws’ mental vibrations are not aligning with yours specially with regard to our Thakur, Ma and Swamiji, I dont consider that as an ‘obstruction’ to your spiritual life. Only Master knows why you have stepped into ‘their’ family. It is a two-way learning process : for you to become more intensified i.e., strongly resolved in spite of indifference and to them : to become more aware of your ‘bhakti’ as an example. I am happy that you however, are not unduly disturbed by that and you are carrying your sadhana with full faith.

By Sri Thakur’s grace you have obtained a wonderful Guru in Srimat Swami Gahnanandaji Maharaj. You might have read in my blog my memories about the abiding guidance that I personally received from him. So, I consider you as most fortunate.

Coming to your specific problem of feeling guilty over not being able to follow Guru’s instructions, I have to say that your feeling is misplaced. Revered Maharaj used to tell all his disciples after initiation that they should try to always be aware of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna in their hearts and repeat the mantra mentally while doing their works as far as possible. In many cases, while replying to questions of persons in situation of predicament, Revered Maharaj used to instruct them to get up a little early, before the hassles of daily life start, to do their japam. When there is no separate space for worship, even on the bed after putting a clean bedcover. Many people do not get free time in the evening. In their cases Revered Maharaj used to prescribe the time before bed when one had finished all his/her daily responsibilities.

I think A…, you are following Guru’s advice only but unknowingly. After all, it is said that a Guru looks after his disciple’s welfare and guides him/her even when he is not physically present. I am sure by His grace your doubts would be dispelled. Continue doing your japa before going to bed at night and before leaving the bed at morning. Yes, Try to make it regularly. And during daytime work, continue with your mental japa.

My prayers are with you. I have no doubt that Sri Sri Thakur is ever gracious in taking you by his hand in your spiritual path…..

With best wishes

Swami Vimokshananda

After a few days I got a response from her thus:

…Your reply has given me a great relief. I was really confused about my daily routines. My kids totally depend on me, I can’t deny that responsibility but on the other hand I should not fail to follow GURU MAHARAJ JI’s instructions. After your kind response I can feel it that may be, Guru Maharaj is not physically present but He is continuously with me and He is driving my way of life, otherwise how could I unknowingly managed to follow his instructions? Now I am happy and almost sure I will acquire the Kripa of Thakur, Maa & Swamiji only because of it that my GURU is with me…

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