Tag Archives: grace

Guru’s Guidance

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Care and concern

Thank You!

Thank You!

Fulfillment Day

Om Namo Narayanaya!

O! the year 2011! I bid you adieu as I watched the sun setting yesterday from standing by the side of the main dome of our Temple! It was absolutely scenic but fastest fleeting as I tried to catch the mood with my iPad…the rains came refreshingly  in a downpour!

I convey my love and best wishes and also of brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj to every one of you on this happy New Year Day! The officials from headquarters and devotees too join me in wishing you a happy New Year and Blessed Kalpataru day!

Why a New Year Day is important in our lives? Is the novelty of the coming year connected merely with the numbers on the calendar? Or is it something more than a mathematical event? Days after days, months after months and as the Time progresses, finally we wake up to a First Day of the next Year – calling it a New Year. This New Year Day, no doubt makes us feel happy. It brings lot of hopes. It fetches desires to fulfill many aspirations.

Undeniably, this New Year Day is eulogised as ‘Kalpataru Day’ in the Ramakrishna circle of devotees. Below are some excerpts from the Editorial that appeared in Vedanta Kesari of January 1987, throwing some light on the deeper significance of the historical event.

Swami Akhandananda writes, “It is an auspicious day for all of us. Our Master became the Kalpataru to bless his disciples at Cossipore (a Calcutta suburb). Kalpataru is one of the five trees of Heaven or Indra’s Paradise that is supposed to fulfil desires. The other four are Mandaram, Santanam, Harichandanam and Parijatam.”

May this Day train us and make us deserving to receive the boundless grace of the Master!

Swami Vimokshananda

The first day of January, besides being the New Year day, is of special significance to a Ramakrishna-devotee. This is the day of the Self-revelation of the Great Master Sri Ramakrishna when he became, what is now popularly called, the Kalpataru `the wish-fulfilling tree.’

It happened in 1886 at Kasipur where the Master had been undergoing treatment for his throat cancer. On January 1st, he felt particularly better and came down from his room for a stroll on the spacious lawns of the garden-house. About thirty devotees were present and were scattered here and there in the garden. As soon as they saw the Master, they all came near him and bowed down.

To Girish, the Master said, `Girish, what have you seen that makes you glorify me publicly before one and all?’ Girish at once fell at the Master’s feet and said with folded hands and choked voice, `What more can I say of Him, even a fraction of whose glory Vyasa and Valmiki miserably failed to express in their immortal epics and Puranas?’ Hearing these words of Girish, the Master was deeply charmed and his mind soared to a high plane. Seeing the divinely illumined countenance of the Master, Girish was thrilled and he cried out in great joy, `Glory unto Ramakrishna! Glory unto Ramakrishna!’ and began taking the dust of his feet again and again. The Master looked at all present and said smilingly, `What more shall 1 say to you? May you all be spiritually awakened!’ No sooner had he said these few words than he went into Samadhi. What followed is best described in the words of Swami Saradananda, in his magnum opus ‘Sri Ramakrishna – the Great Master’, who had seen the whole episode from a distance:

“When the devotees heard those words of blessings and protection from fear, they raised repeated cries of joy, exclaiming, `Glory to Ramakrishna.’ some of them saluted him, some showered flowers, some again came and touched his feet.”

The Master touched the devotees in that state of Samadhi and blessed them all. The effect was instantaneous.

How and when can this ‘Kalpataru‘ grace descend in our own life? True, divine grace is unconditional. Yet, in our heart of hearts, we do feel that without some sort of readiness to receive the grace, we make ourselves unfit for it.

Sri Ramakrishna's marble image - Blessings to all on this New Year's Day!

That is the significance of the Kalpataru Day celebration on the 1st of January that is observed by the devotees of Ramakrishna.

It is a reminder to every devotee of the unforgettable event at Kasipur and of the redeeming power of the Lord. It is also a gentle hint to a serious spiritual aspirant to look beyond the physical aspect of the episode and to concentrate on its spiritual implications. It is in this sense that the bestowal of the `Kalpataru grace’ is as valid and true today as it was then. And it is to recapture that mood of participation in the inspiring event at Kasipur that the 1st of January holds a special meaning to a Ramakrishna devotee.

Here is a latest photo of the Master's room in Cossipore Garden-house. Today stream of devotees are visiting in a seemingly unending queue to witness the beautifully floral bedecked bed where he attained mahasamadhi on 16 August 1886. Image courtesy: Swami Nityatriptananda


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!


Krishna Ashtami greetings!

Dear Devotees

Aum Namo Narayanaya!

Hindus all along have, from time immemorial, been worshippers of God in form. We strongly believe that the formless, infinite
Ishwara who is nitya (eternal), buddha (awakened), shuddha (ever pure) and mukta (ever free) does alone takes any form out of His compassion for devotees.

Sri Ramakrishna in marble image fully bedecked for Sri Krishna Ashtami Celebration...

Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna used to say that “Many are the names of God and infinite are forms through which he may be approached.”

One of the most essential and distinctive feature of Bhakti-maarga – the path of Devotion – is dependence on grace. The Gita speaks of two kinds of Grace: one is general or impersonal grace available to all people irrespective of whether they are Bhaktas or Jnaanis. (samo’ham sarva bhuteshu, Gita, 9.29). The other is a special, personal grace given only to the true devotee who has surrendered his all to the Avataara and depends on Him alone. Such a devotee’s spiritual and material welfare (yogakshema) God Himself takes care of.

For the first time in the religious history of India—perhaps the whole world—a divine Teacher gave this assurance to mankind:

“I lift up those who depend on me from the ocean of death” (12.7)
“I swear: my devotee, even if he is the worst of sinners, will never perish” (9.31)
“I will liberate you from all sins; don’t worry” (18.66)

marble images of Radharani and Lord Krishna after the daily puja...

The only condition for this otherwise unconditional Grace is prapatti or self-surrender. The type of self-surrender that Gita teaches is not a passive state of inaction which weakens the person. On the contrary prapatti is a dynamic state which gives tremendous strength to the person. Strong in the strength of God, he can face any problem, even fight a battle, with equanimity and calmness of mind (Gita: 3.30)

May we remember that every human body is like a temple wherein the heart of hearts is the chosen spot where God resides. While it is good to propitiate God in stone or marble, it is necessary that we should worship God in the poor, God in the sick and God in the illiterate. The worship of God in man should take the form of seva (service).

Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and devotees of our Centre join me in conveying hearty best wishes for the success of the Krishna ashtami celebration at your home and at your Centre or branches.

May Lord Radhakrishna bless you all with devotion at His lotus feet! On this auspicious Krishna Janmasthami day, may the divine Lord take birth and manifest in our hearts. May He enact all His divine plays for our welfare and that of the world and as He lifted Govardhan for the safety of Vrindavan, may He lift the burdens of our life, so we may continue on our journey in divine bliss.

Swami Vimokshananda

Giving unasked…

Fascinating Full Moon shining next to domes of Durban Ramakrishna Temple - courtesy: Kamal

Sri Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him at our Mumbai Ashram within the sanctum of Holy Mother’s Temple. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to highlight an inspiring incident in my early life – how he guided me, giving me his divine grace unasked.

Belur Math Temple front view

Belur Math Temple front view

In 1976, I joined the Training Centre in Belur Math.  When I went there, I was quite eager to see my Gurudev who I heard was at that time staying in Belur Math and had just returned from Narendrapur. The first day was a lovely day and we, brahmacharins were getting introduced to many of the traditions of Belur Math. Though I could not contain my curiosity, yet I was not bold enough to ask where and when I can have ‘darshan’ of my Gurudev. Unable to get any clue, that after noon, I decided to roam around the place near the river Ganga.

Swamiji's House

The rear-side view of Swamiji's House where the balcony is visible...

I saw the rear-side of a two-storey building which, from a distance was shown to us as the building where Swami Vivekananda’s room is situated. There was a flight of steps leading down to Ganga. The fresh breeze that was flowing was mesmerizing and I felt the air to be so pure in contrast to the polluted air of Kanpur from where I had just come. Getting down to Ganga for the first time after reaching Belur Math brought an inexplicable feeling of reverence to mother Ganga. Seeing the flowing waters gushing forth I was happy to murmur a hymn of Adi Shankara in praise of Mother Ganga.

I sprinkled some water on my head, uttering “Om Namah Shivaaya”. A few blissful moments passed in silence. When I turned on the steps I could not believe my eyes: there on the balcony was my Gurudev. I was simply stunned and made my mental prostrations from there itself and straight walked into that building in which Swamiji had lived. My Gurudev seemed to be in a supremely happy mood and I was beside myself with boundless joy.

The last I had seen him was in Varanasi in 1974, four years after He had blessed me with diksha in Bombay. What surprised me most was while I did not expect him to remember any of my home details, but the moment he saw me he smiled and asked, “How are your parents in Bombay?”. I was happy to tell him that by his blessings and the grace of Holy Trio, I could come to Belur Math to undergo proper monastic training and would be there for another two full years. On hearing this, he advised me to stay focused on the studies as well as sadhana and instructed me to come to his place as often as possible.

My Gurudev at that time, had a senior Swami serving as Secretary to him and also one monk and a brahmachari were also attendants to him. The attendant-Swami used to keep ‘sandesh’ prasad for me. This prasad would be taken from the remaining portion of his eating from the plate. He was daily served with two ‘sandesh’ that would come straight from the main Temple after the mangalaarati offerings. My days went on happily at Belur Math.

At the Training Centre we were studying different philosophies. One day in the class there was a stimulating discussion on Incarnations. During the discussion, certain queries posed by some co-brahmacharins raised a doubt in my mind about the validity of worshipping Sri Ramakrishna. If Ramakrishna does NOT exist , ‘the doubt’ told me why at all I should have renounced my hearth and home. Was I not then doing something blindly? How to know? Who would confirm that Sri Ramakrishna still existed?

Sri Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj

Two days passed without my getting a proper answer to my doubt. Oh! what a period of painful agony! I could not think well for those two days. On the third day I felt like going and asking my Gurudev in spite of the instructions from authorities not to disturb him as he had ailed for some time. He was indeed a Deva Purusha, shining one because in his presence one could feel a light emanating, as it were, from his body in spite of his old age. Whoever visited him would naturally like to stay a minute with him, so that they could tell him their spiritual problems.

So when I went there that blessed morning and made saashtaanga pranaam to him, I found his eyes half closed while sitting on a settee. No one was there in the room. My touch of his holy feet perhaps brought him to outward consciousness and he looked at me with his benign glance. I entreated him to bless me. When I tried to get up from the floor, he placed his right hand on one of my shoulders, and he also slowly tried to get up from his sitting position. There, standing for a while, he, in his own pace, started walking towards the window. I also accompanied him, and when I stood there, he turned to me and said, “Look through this window? What do you see?”

I said, “ Swamiji! I am seeing Sri Ramakrishna temple”.

Belur Math temple rear view

Belur Math temple rear-view

The rear-view of the temple was clearly visible. Even the staircase – that goes up to the ‘shayan-ghor’ where Sri Ramakrishna’s sleeping bed is kept – was visible.  When you come down the steps one can actually without any hindrance enter the ‘shrine-ghor’ where the holy image of Sri Ramakrishna resides.

The methods adopted for worshipping Personal God are, in fact, significant in that it facilitates the devotee to mentally identify  the real physical needs of God in line with humans. Therefore, a devotee is able to serve the Master as if he is ever alive in flesh and blood. Standing and looking through the window, my Gurudev told me, “Well, every morning at mangalaarati time, I come and stand here, and see (pointing to his eyes by gesture) through these eyes.  I see very clearly Sri Ramakrishna, getting up from his bed, going down the stairs, and coming into the sanctum, ‘garbha-griha’ and merging into the marble image. You know, every day I see His movement.”

Master's marble image at Belur Math Temple

Listening to his inspiring words, my ‘doubt ‘ in a moment just vanished. With what doubt I came to him, I did not need to put that question to him, because he knew the question that was troubling me, and gave the answer unasked! That was Srimat Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj who was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmanandaji, the ‘mind-born’ son of Sri Ramakrishna.

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…


Digital Delights

If Sri Ramakrishna was a leaping flame of spiritual realization, Holy Mother was a steady glowing fire of God-consciousness. To the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, she was the goddess of wisdom in human form. To her disciples she was the Divine Mother herself. To her devotees she was a more real mother than their own earthly mother. To the seekers of truth she was the final word, and to sinners she was the last refuge.

Swami Adiswarananda, in his Introduction to the book – SRI SARADA DEVI, THE HOLY MOTHER Her Teachings and Conversations

– Translated by Swami Nikhilananda

Today is the janma tithi of the Holy Mother. On this happy occasion my heartfelt greetings to every one! When I was in India, it was always a special largesse for me to listen to the long-standing devotees who would lovingly explain how they were latched onto the ‘spiritual spell’ of Holy Mother, due to whom their lives got eventually transformed. And South Africa devotees too do not lag behind. Many here, have such wonderful episodes, listening to them is indeed a ‘sadhana’ for me.

One SA devotee, recalling her divine dream says that it makes her hair stand on ends and somewhat emotional …. emotional in the sense that, she longs within – would she ever see Mother face to face any time? I reproduce some excerpts from what she wrote to me:

“In my dream … I was cleaning the altar, and as I was about to clean the Holy Mother’s picture, when lo! and behold! Mother started talking to me! She told me that her head and neck was paining. I asked Mother, if I could perhaps massage Her head and back. When I went close to Mother almost touching Her………… I felt that Her hair was dripping with water.

Mother’s face was real and I was so close to Her… Her face was so motherly, so ordinary and so full of love…yet I saw an indescribable radiance.  I could see clearly her long black, slightly wavy hair, I was well pleased!  I could clearly mark her forehead, it had a red dot and red sindoor on the middle parting of Her hair.  I stared in bewilderment! After a long while, I could see myself telling Mother that … Her hair needs to be dried, (In my dream I am looking for a blow drier). I then saw that I needed to straighten Mother’s back because she was leaning in an awkward way. I gazed at Mother wondering if this is really true!

When I woke up, I was not my normal self, I had mixed emotions…. Is Mother in real pain? Is this some type of message for me? What was that She desired to indicate to me? But I knew IT WAS A DIVINE DREAM. I intuitively decided to go to the ashram immediately to check the picture of Mother. To my great amazement, I saw Mother’s picture leaning way back in such an uncomfortable way. I straightened the picture-frame, and placed it in the proper position. I cherish this dream because not only Mother utilised me as an instrument in Her work but also chose to convey me Her inconvenience.”

Here are some digital delights contributed by Dr S Adhinarayanan from New Delhi, India, who is now at Copenhagen for the Global Summit on Climate Change. Despite his busy schedule, he found time to prepare the below given portraits (I envy! How much his mind would have been involved in the rupa-dhyaana – meditation on form – of Holy Mother!) while readying his presentation – An Approach paper on “Microbial Solutions for a sustainable Global Environment”. We wish him a very successful session!

Sarada Devi


Sarada Devi


Sarada Devi



Be like a Bee!

'Krishnam vande jagadgurum' I bow down to Krishna, the World-Teacher - courtesy: HinduWebGraphics

Today we celebrate Gita jayanti. The Bhagavad Gita forms part of the great Indian Epic, the Mahabharata. The words of this “song celestial” have flowed from the Lord, Sri Krishna Himself. The Gita chanting is generally preceded with what is known as “Gita Dhyanam” – nine introductory verses in praise of Bhagavad Gita. Originally published in our quarterly magazine “JYOTI” of July-September 2007 issue, this article, focussed on seventh verse, was transcribed from the weekly Gita Talks that I deliver on Tuesdays, between 7 and 8 p.m. at the Ramakrishna Centre, Glen Anil.

Let us recollect what Swami Vivekananda says:

Gita is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy – curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work.

May this lotus of the Mahabharata, born in the lake of the words of the son of Parashara (Vyasa), sweet with the fragrance of the meaning of the Gita, with many stories as its stamens, fully opened by the discourses on Hari, the destroyer of the sins of Kali, and drunk joyously day by day by the six-legged bees of good men in the world, become the bestower of good to us.     Gita Dhyanam, 7

It is customary to recite the meditative verses (dhyana shlokas) before beginning the study of Srimad Bhagavad Gita proper.  The poet-devotee, who composed these nine verses, has charmingly explained the purpose, principle and the practice of the Gita in these meditative verses.

Vast and deep

In the above seventh verse, he stresses the utmost importance of the knowledge contained in the Mahabharata.  He says that the Gita is like a full-blown lotus, grown in the vast lake of words dictated by the son of the Sage Parashara, thereby meaning Sri Veda Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata).  The significance of not saying the name of Vyasa but indicating him as son of Parashara lies in the wonderful combination of wisdom of the Rishi with practical sense of a fisher woman, Satyavati who was the mother of Vyasa.  Sage Vyasa, like his father Parashara, had a broad, vast knowledge of the Vedas and like his mother, Satyavati, who would go deep into the river to catch fish, also went deep into the meaning of Vedas.

Petals and fragrance

The full-blown lotus has an extremely sweet fragrance and many soft petals.  The insight of the Gita is said to be the fragrance and the varied stories cum sub-stories that form the elaborate Mahabharata, the petals.  The lotus is full blown by the speech of Lord Sri Krishna, who is verily Hari Himself.

Bee Pic3The poet-devotee further says that in this world noble men joyously drink, day by day meaning again and again, the nectar issuing from the lotus flower like “a six-legged bee”.

The drink and the drunk

A bee continues its unending search for nectar from many flowers.  But it is the flower that is most beautiful and exuberantly filled with sweet honey that attracts it the most.  Likewise, we have a number of scriptures.  Of them, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which forms part of the world’s largest epic, the Mahabharata, contains that nectar which makes the learner go beyond birth and death.

The insight that the Gita provides in controlling our life’s destiny is unparallel.  The Gita gives us wonderful courage to deal with the many challenges that life poses.  In order to gain the rich experience that the Gita enumerates, noblemen – men of character – searching for the true meaning of life come to study the Gita.

The poet-devotee of the meditative verses compares a noble-minded person with the untiring bee.  Bees, unlike other insects or birds, go much deeper into flowers.  They go to the very source.

So it is clear that if we want to obtain the knowledge of the Gita, superficial study is not enough.  Merely chanting the Gita may give us a sense of peace; a little more study may lead us on a good path to enjoy the blessings of a noble life.  But only a deeper study can provide the knowledge of Atman (Soul) which is the real nectar of the Gita.  Like a bee, we must go deep – meditate deeply on each verse of the Gita.  This will light up the lamp of knowledge that is within each of us.  Mahapurush Maharaj, known as Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna once said, “…You must meditate on them.  Then, only will you assimilate them.  Hari Maharaj [Swami Turiyananda] used to meditate on each verse until he had mastered it.”

Legs that lead

Furthermore, the poet-devotee has used the words “six-legged” when describing the bee.  This also has a profound significance.  Merely being noble may not be sufficient to understand the inner meaning of the Gita.  Perhaps the man who is only “two-legged” has to acquire another “4 legs” in order to grasp the inner meaning of the words that flow from Lord Sri Krishna’s lips.

What then, are the “six-legs” that a noble man has to possess?  They are discrimination, detachment, devotion, deep yearning, deliberate effort and divine knowledge,.  Once a person of noble character possesses these “six-legs” he will be able to hold onto the slippery petals and drive himself deep into the nectar of inner meaning.  Therefore, a study once or twice is not enough.  “Again and again” one must devotedly pursue the study so that the bad samskaras – mental impressions – that are gained from birth to birth can be removed by continuous study of the Gita.

Thus the poet-devotee concludes in this verse of Dhyana Shloka on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, propounded by the Lord Himself, is great, bestows welfare and removes all the impurities that are born of this age (Kali Yuga).


A Hymn to Him!

Happy Sri Ganesh Chaturthi greetings!

Child Ganesha embracing Shiva-linga, Photo Courtesy: Rishi

Divine darling Ganesha embracing Shiva-linga, Photo Courtesy: Rishi

A Hymn to Him? Him, whom the entire Hindu world remembers before beginning anything anew; Him, whom Gauri-shankar, the parents of the universe (jagatah pitarau) praised for His wisdom ; Him, whom all the Gods, Goddesses, humans and other beings bow for removal of obstacles; today is the auspicious Sri Ganesh chaturthi.

Last year I reminisced my childhood days during Ganesh chaturthi celebration (see here). How the wonderful Lord Ganesha, who shines like a freshly risen sun (nava-udita-arka bhaasvaram) enlightened me of a fact of life! And, alongwith, in a lighter vein, I had talked of kozhukattai, the delectable sweet dish. I must confess here that my complaint(!) was well taken as challenge by one of our devotees of Ladysmith sub-centre, who exactly reproduced kozhukattai to my great wonder and delight too, as per the recipe! Ganesha bestowed on her siddhi (success) in her earnest attempt.

The worship of Ganesha was made an integral part of Hindu tradition by Adi Shankaracharya; It tells us about the panchaayatana puja. Five deities – GaneshaVishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Surya – are taken together for daily worship. Skanda that is Lord Murugan is also added bringing a title of great honour viz., shanmata sthapaka – “Founder of six Faiths” for Adi Shankaracharya.

I find our Centre in SA has published a Prayer Book which is very popular among our devotees and even among other organisations too. It has excellent hymns compiled by Swami Shivapadanandaji, the second President of our Centre. Its contents are neatly classified into Prayers, Bhajans and Kirtans, Stotrams and Aratis.

Generally hymns play a vital role in the evolution of spiritual life. As a child you start reciting it again and again along with the elders in the family and without any extra effort the whole hymn becomes byheart. The ideas of the hymn remain in the mind when you grow up. I remember vividly how I used to join the recital of hymns with my mother and other elders in the family, by the process of which several hymns became strongly embedded in memory. One such hymn was Ganesha Pancha-ratnam. The other was some captivating songs from the enchanting Thiruppugazh.

Now let me tell you about the hymn called Ganesha pancha-ratnam – the Gems-five on Ganesha. The author of this exquisite hymn on Ganesha is our eternal Guru Adi Shankaracharya. The metre, language, and the thoughts are exceptionally elevating to our bhakti mood. This poem is composed in a metre called pancha-chaamaram, which has four quarters of sixteen syllables each, and has a scheme of short-long-short-long syllables. The dance experts say that this ‘tadhIm-tadhIm’ gait endows it with a brisk, marching gait (imagine Ganesha walking!). The learned further add that the poets of the past exactly knew how to choose metres, and sounds which conveyed the import of the poem, not just lilting lyric.

This has been sung, creating a soul-satisfying experience, by no other than Karnatic maestro M S Subbulakshmi.

It would be wonderful if our devotees in SA as well as in other countries who do not know this particular hymn on Ganesha, can learn it. In order to get the tune for this hymn, I give below the youtube link for Ganesha pancharatnam. While listening to the tune, one can follow the words of the hymn given hereunder. I am thankful to Chennaionline.com for the English translation of the hymn.

Mudaa karaatha Modakam Sadaa Vimukti Saadhakam

Kalaa dharaava tamsakam Vilaasiloka Rakshakam

Anaaya Kaika Naayakam Vinasitebha Daityakam

Nataasubhaasu Naashakam Namaami Tam Vinaayakam

Meaning: I prostrate before Lord Vinaayaka who joyously holds modaka in His hand, who bestows salvation, who wears the moon as a crown in His head, who is the sole leader of those who lose themselves in the world. The leader of the leaderless who destroyed the elephant demon called Gajaasura and who quickly destroys the sins of those who bow down to Him, I worship such a Lord Ganesh.

Nateta raati Bheekaram Navodi taarka Bhaasvaram

Namat Suraari Nirjaram Nataadhi Kaapa Duddharam

Suresvaram Nidheesvaram Gajesvaram Ganeshvaram

Mahesvaram Samaashraye Paraatparam Nirantaram

Meaning: I meditate eternally on Him, the Lord of the Ganas, who is frightening to those not devoted, who shines like the morning sun, to whom all the Gods and demons bow, who removes the great distress of His devotees and who is the best among the best.

Samasta Loka Shankaram Nirasta Daitya Kunjaram

Dareda rodaram Varam Vare Bhavaktra Maksharam

Krupaa karam Kshamaakaram Mudaakaram Yasaskaram

Manaskaram Namaskrutaam Namaskaromi Bhaasvaram

Meaning: I bow down with my whole mind to the shining Ganapati who brings happiness to all the worlds, who destroyed the demon Gajasura, who has a big belly, beautiful elephant face, who is immortal, who gives mercy, forgiveness and happiness to those who bow to Him and who bestows fame and a well disposed mind.

Akimchanaarti Maarjanam Chirantanokti Bhaajanam

Puraari Poorva Nandanam Suraari Garva Charvanam

Prapancha Naasha Bheeshanam Dhananjayaadi Bhushanam

Kapola Daana Vaaranam Bhajaey Puraana Vaaranam

Meaning: I worship the ancient elephant God who destroys the pains of the poor, who is the abode of Aum, who is the first son of Lord Shiva (Shiva who is the destroyer of triple cities), who destroys the pride of the enemies of the Gods, who is frightening to look at during the time of world’s destruction, who is fierce like an elephant in rut and who wears Dhananjaya and other serpents as his ornaments.

Nitaanta kaanta Dantakaanti Mantakaanta Kaatmajam

Achintya Rupa Mantaheena Mantaraaya Krintanam

Hrudantarey Nirantaram Vasantameva Yoginaam

Tameka Danta Mevatam Vichintayaami Santatam

Meaning: I constantly reflect upon that single tusked God only, whose lustrous tusk is very beautiful, who is the son of Lord Shiva, (Shiva, the God of destruction), whose form is immortal and unknowable, who tears asunder all obstacles, and who dwells forever in the hearts of the Yogis.


Children’s Cultural Festival

Gurudevji training the children in yogasanas

Gurudevji training the children in yogasanas

Gurudevji training the children in cultural items
Gurudevji training the children in cultural items

The great ‘Gurudev’ Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj was born in Newcastle. At his birthplace, the Children’s Cultural festival of the Northern Natal was celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year. It was not an accident; neither was it planned. But it had come in due course bringing forth how much ‘Gurudev’ loved the children and how much more he was interested in instilling the spiritual values among them. Some of the old devotees still remember how Gurudev used to stand on hours together in training the children in performance of cultural items. He used to personally conduct Yoga Camps especially for children training them in correct postures through practice of yogasanas.

I was pleased to attend the Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival held at Newcastle Richview hall. Branches from Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Glencoe and Dundee participated. The enthusiasm of the children was infectious, each one vying with one another, making efforts in excelling in whatever he/she did. The Festival was an occasion to bring out the best in the child. There were scintillating sketches, soul-filling songs, sterling speeches and delighting dances interspersed with inspiring quotes from the Holy Trio. While I gave the Key-note Address, brother Swami Saradaprabahanandaji gave the Concluding Address. Overall the time from 9 am to 4 pm was well spent in the company of the children. In spite of the inclement weather of speedy winds, the officials did a splendid job in organising the Festival at the venue.

Abiding spiritual values are taught to the children who attend our Sunday School classes. The parents have reported to me that they are immensely benefitted as they could see emergence of the wonderfully shaping of their children’s personality. In my previous post I gave a brief intro about the Sunday School classes and three slideshows on the Certificates Award function.

To see all the photos of the Festival, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then relax and watch!    

Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival


Boon or Bane ?

dipika-2008Children like to question. And I appreciate it as an expression of their intense thirst for knowledge. I wrote this given-below dialogue in an easy, conversational style between an imaginary child and myself. This is, of course, based partly on an actual discussion with a group of children, and later written  for Dipika 2008. It is an annual spiritual magazine especially for children, regularly brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban. My grateful thanks go to Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji for according her kind consent to reproduce it here.

Priyanta: Pranams Swamiji.

Swamiji: Welcome Priyanta, how are you?

Priyanta: I am well, Swamiji. Could you spare some moments to answer my queries?

Swamiji: What are you worrying about? Do you perform regular prayers?

Priyanta: Oh! I wanted to ask you exactly about prayer, Swamiji.

Swamiji: Okay what’s your question?

Priyanta: Swamiji, in prayer if we ask something from God, will God give it to us? Suppose what God gives me turns out to be unsuitable, then what happens?

Swamiji: Indeed, our Master Sri Ramakrishna says that God can hear even the foot steps of an ant. If you pray with diligence, sincerity and love, then God will give you whatever you pray for. It is true that many devotees do not know what to ask God for.

Priyanta: Is that so? I thought people ask for those things that they need!

Swamiji: That’s how it should be. But what they need and what they want are entirely different. Okay, now I will tell you a story from our Puranas.

Priyanta: What are Puranas, Swamiji?

Swamiji: Puranas have the insight of the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, retold for the easy understanding of the common folk. The teachings are primarily taught in a very easy and interesting way. They are given through inspiring stories and parables. Do you know that in total there are eighteen Puranas?

Priyanta: Thanks Swamiji! Do you have an apt story with regard to my question on prayer?

Swamiji: Yes Priyanta. I will tell you the story of an asura (demon) called Bhasmasura. This demon performed severe penances to obtain the favour of Lord Shiva. Pleased with him, Lord Shiva appeared before Bhasmasura and said: ‘Dear devotee! I am pleased with your austerities and therefore I am willing to grant you a boon. What do you want?’ Bhasmasura folded his palms and sang the glory of Lord Shiva. Then he said: ‘O Lord! If I place my hand on someone’s head, that person should be burnt to ashes immediately.’

Priyanta: Oh! What a destructive boon!

Swamiji: Yes, what an ignoble boon did this Bhasmasura ask for! Not only that. He told Lord Shiva that he wanted to test it. He rose from his seat and rushed near Shiva trying to place his hand on the head of Lord Shiva! See what a danger!

Priyanta: Then what did Lord Shiva do, Swamiji?

Swamiji: You see, God is always bound by His devotee’s love. He even becomes a servant of His devotee, just to please him. So, Lord Shiva ran to Lord Vishnu who calmed Lord Shiva and said that he would deal with the demon Bhasmasura. Lord Vishnu then took the form of a beautiful damsel and stood on the pathway of Bhasmasura who was trying to test his boon on Lord Shiva. The demon was charmed at the beauty of the dancing girl. Now, do you know Priyanta, what dance Lord Vishnu performed in the form of Mohini?

Priyanta: Swamiji, is this dance called Mohini-aattam?

Swamiji: Yes, truly so! This Mohini-aattam is very popular in Kerala, in the southern part of India.

Priyanta: Okay. Then Swamiji, what happened?

Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance

Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance...Painting by Raja Ravivarma

Swamiji: Lord Vishnu disguised himself as the world bewitching Mohini and then showed the demon this dance. Bhasmasura, captivated by her beauty and grace, wanted Mohini to be his wife. Mohini informed him that she would marry only that man who could perform the dance as well as she could. So the demon king requested Mohini to teach him the steps of the dance. Mohini then showed him the movements of the hands and, in the heat of the moment, Bhasmasura copied her hand gestures and placed his hand on his own head. Thus see how Bhasmasura was destroyed!

Priyanta: So Swamiji, the boon from God may turn out to be dangerous!

Swamiji: Yes, if you do not know exactly what to ask for. You see, this simple story from the Puranas has many good messages for all of us. Can you tell me a few morals from this story?

Priyanta: Yes Swamiji. Firstly God will definitely give us what we pray for. Secondly, I think that we should not pray to God for anything that is destructive. Thirdly we must know that we should not harm anybody with our prayers.

Swamiji: Well said Priyanta! Suppose you ask your father for a pistol, he will not give it to you. Why? Because, if you should get angry with someone, you might shoot that person with it or you may even accidently hurt yourself. So, if you seek something destructive, you are sure to harm others and yourself too. And finally what is the best form of prayer? Harmless as well as beneficial to everyone is the prayer for auspiciousness, peace, fullness and goodness. Like this one for example:

Om sarveshām svastir bhavatu
sarveshām shāntir bhavatu
sarveshām pūrnam bhavatu
sarveshām mangalam bhavatu

The meaning of this prayer is:

May there be auspiciousness to all
May there be peace to all
May there be fullness to all
May there be good to all.


Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century

Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was born in Kerala, India. At the age of seven he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. The talent of the child was noticed by King Thirunal Maharaja. Most of Ravi Varma’s paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. His illustrations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata became the standard visual representation of the classics. His paintings are famous for vibrant colours and textures as can be conceived in the famous painting depicting Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dancing art.  

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda saw the beauty of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma at the palace of the Gaekword of Baroda. Swamiji noticed the characters coming to life in these paintings and was moved by intense emotion. In 1893 Swamiji met Ravi Varma in America at the famous Chicago exhibition during the Parliament of the World’s Religions held there. Swamiji’s considered views on Art can be read here.

Happy Kalpataru day!

Happy New Year and Holy Kalpataru day!

Swami Sunirmalananda, a brother monk of our Order, graduated in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, came to Brazil in 2004. He gives talks, conducts courses, and presently lives in Curitiba.

He has circulated a thought-provoking essay on Sri Ramakrishna and Santa Claus on the eve of Christmas and New Year occasion. I received this through kind Dr Hiru Mukherjee of UK. A must read for all Ramakrishna devotees!

You can view that essay here. 

Open publication

Bharat Churiwala, Mumbai

Kalpataru wishes! Courtesy: Bharat Churiwala, Mumbai

Mother’s melting moments

The 155th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi

Living Divine Presence at Ladysmith Subcentre

Living Divine Presence at Ladysmith Subcentre

December is the Month of the Mother! The 155th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi is celebrated all over the world. Here in South Africa our Sub centres and Satsang groups did not lag behind. On 1st December Verulam celebrated; on 7th Glencoe; on 14th Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville; on 16th Ladysmith; on 20th HQ; on 21st Pietermaritzburg where, in all the places, I gave key-note addresses.

This week it was an inspiring trip to Ladysmith in Northern Natal during the celebration. In all the centres, the devotees were enthusiastic, keen and were interested to know more and more. Several sessions of discussions at different devotees’ places were held.

On the tithi puja day, from 6 am to 6 pm a relay japa yajna was joined by families of devotees. After hawan, in the evening, when my turn to speak came, I dwelt on the ever compassionate Mother who was so sympathetic to feed the hungry. Her grace transcended the rules and regulations and embraced the people living in dire poverty as Her own.

I was moved by that anecdote told by Swami Apurvananda in his reminiscences about Holy Mother, an extract of  which I reproduce below:

Franz Dvorak (1862–1927), a painter from Prague, inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna made several paintings of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi

Franz Dvorak (1862–1927), a painter from Prague, inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna made several paintings of Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi

In the evening when I went to her again, I found her on the veranda of her mud hut cutting vegetables, with her legs stretched out… We chatted for some time and then she wanted to know how famine relief work was carried out. From her words it was evident that she was much distressed by the plight of the famine-stricken.

I described how we went from door to door distributing coupons among the poor, how we gathered information about their needs and miserable circumstances, how they collected rice in exchange for coupons, adding that women were also given saris sometimes. In this context, I narrated an incident which moved Mother deeply.
I described how one morning, when out on a tour of the villages where relief operations were being carried out, I discovered that none of those receiving rice from us was at home. Obviously, they had gone out to work. Those who worked were not eligible for the dole of rice. So I proceeded to investigate and found most of them sowing paddy in knee-deep slush in a paddy field outside the village.
On advancing in that direction, I noticed from a distance a woman labourer leaving the field and hiding herself behind a pile of paddy saplings. On enquiring from others, I learnt that she had delivered a baby that previous night, it was with that baby she had come to the field to work. Driven by hunger she was sowing paddy, leaving the infant wrapped in a rag in the corner of the field. If it was known that she was working in the field, she would not get rice from us. So having seen me from a distance, she was trying to hide from me.
I was much disturbed thinking of the dire distress that could compel a woman, who had given birth to a child just the night before, to come to work in the field with the newborn. It was a terrible shock. I approached the woman, and in a choked voice, just said,”Do not worry, Mother, I shall not stop your quota of rice.” This helped her muster enough courage to fold her hands and say, “Sir, I’m going through unbearable hardship. That’s why I’ve come to work.” For one days work in the field she would get two seers of paddy.
Mother shuddered with horror on hearing the story. Almost in tears, she exclaimed, “What are you saying! So fresh from childbirth she had come to work in the field! It is not right to stop the dole of rice in such circumstances. Son, you did the right thing. Master will bless you.” Then she prayed to Master, as if hurt, “Master! Can’t you see all this? Such suffering of people! How can people carry on in such miserable conditions! You have to do something for their deliverance!” Her anguished words still seem to ring in my ears. Mother was compassion personified – a fervent prayer incarnate.
Swami Nischalananda, Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA feeding the hungry

Swami Nischalananda feeding the hungry in an organised scale

Feeding the hungry has become part and parcel of our religious Order all over the world. Swami Nischalananda, the late Founder and the First President of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa initiated a much needed Nutrition Program in 1953. This Program did play an important role in alleviating hunger and suffering, not only amongst children, but also adults in all communities. Working in the midst of impoverished communities and a wide range of organisations, the Program has been successfully able to reach the poor, destitute, unemployed, abused and disabled. The Centre and all the sub-centres and satsang groups are engaged in feeding programmes in their respective communties with remarkable precision. The Youth members of the Centre, at HQ and all its branches take pride in assisting this feeding program and perform it as Karma Yoga. The contributions from the willing donors, small or big, have made this Scheme eminently reachable to the unreached.

Hamper distribution

Hamper distribution

On a weekly basis, sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables are distributed in the greater Durban area. Further, cooked nutritious meals are served regularly in these areas. A monthly distribution of 2 tons of rice, 800 kg of dhall and 100 kg of salt is maintained by the Centre and supplemented with assorted vegetables and fruit, canned foods, basic grocery items, lentils etc.

Diwali Hampers

Food Hampers consisting of: rice, dhall, salt (both coarse and fine), cooking oil, canned foods, jam, dried beans, sugar and cake flour are distributed to over 1000 indigent families during Diwali. Several sub-centres and satsang groups of the Centre were provided with grocery to augment their own hampers for distribution in their respective areas. In addition to hampers, cooked meals are served to needy families.

The following are beneficiaries of the Centre’s most popular Nutrition Programme:

  • Abalindi Welfare Centre (incorporating the Abalindi Frail Care Centre, Orphanage and Crèche)
  • Kwa Mashu Ekusizaneni Children’s Home (a home that caters for orphans and children affected by the AIDS pandemic)
  • Verulam Day & Pakco Frail Care Centre
  • Dawncrest Primary School
  • A M Moolla Spes Nova School
  • Phoenix (a school for cerebral palsied children)
  • Phoenix Alcoholic Rehabilitation Centre – Grocery hampers and a selection of vegetables are donated to the Home on a weekly basis
  • Zimisele AIDS Centre – Kwa Mashu
  • Ramakrishna eThembeni Home
  • Thokomala Hospice Association – Effingham Heights
  • Zion Congregational Church of S. A.
  • Redcliff informal settlement – Verulam
  • Welbedacht informal settlement – Chatsworth

Diwali – a Day to light up a life

Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!

Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!

Diwali is indeed, a glorious and colourful festival that is celebrated by all Hindus internationally. How Diwali unites and brings people and families together is a matter of experience of the millions. The beautiful array of clay lamps in all Hindu households creates an atmosphere of love, warmth, sharing, and more importantly, reminds of the existence of God in all beings. Therefore during this auspicious time, we should all try and improve ourselves spiritually. At this point, three important ennobling qualities come to mind: tyaga (sacrifice), seva (service) and prema (love).

Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings! May this Diwali lighten up your life, may it lighten your burden and may it enlighten your path!
Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg

Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg

Diwali has become an occasion for charity of all sorts. If you give love, even if you do not give much of anything else, it does not matter. And however much you may give materially, if it is not done with love, it does not mean much. So it is love that makes all giving meaningful. I would like to relate a story of how love of virtuous deeds brought blessings.

Once upon a time the village of Nagpur in India was experiencing famine. There was such a scarcity of food that many people were starving and dying of hunger. A widow named Kamala and her little daughter, Kanama lived in this village. They were poor and had no means of earning money. The mother fell ill suddenly and she was worried about her little daughter. The little girl assured that she would be fine.

Kanama set out to beg food for her ailing mother. She tried begging at several households with no luck. Exhausted, the little girl finally rested under a tree. In the distance she saw a lady making roti. Kanama ran to her and begged for a piece of roti. So the lady offered her one piece of bread and Kanama accepted the bread gratefully and she said, “O, mother! my mom has not eaten anything for the last week, if only I can get one more piece of bread, I will really be grateful.” The kind lady gave her another piece of bread. Kanama was returning home happily.

The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya

The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya

On the way she saw a hungry dog looking for food. “Oh! what a pity! the dog cannot beg for food!”, so she thought and lovingly offered the dog one piece of bread. The dog ate the bread happily. When Kanama reached home, she narrated the incident to her mother. Kanama’s mother was happy to know her daughter was so compassionate. As they were about to eat the remaining piece of bread, they heard a voice at the door… “O mother! I am dying of hunger, please give me something to eat.” The virtuous Kamala said “someone is suffering from hunger, give away my share”. The compassionate little Kanama said “how can this poor beggar appease his hunger with half a piece of bread? Let me give him my share as well.” The beggar ate with great relish and said to Kanama, “May God bless you, my child.”

When the beggar left, both the mother and daughter fainted from hunger. Then Kamala had a dream in which Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu appeared to her and said, “O Kamala! Even though you and your daughter were starving, both of you lovingly gave away whatever you had to the hungry dog and the famished beggar. It was I, who appeared in these forms to test you. I am very pleased with your loving concern for others. May you have enough wealth and live happily.”

Their meritorious act brought rain to the village. The people of Nagpur were relieved of the sufferings due to the tyaga, seva and prema of the mother-daughter duo. This story shows us all, how God’s grace overflows to those who do sacrifice all in the service of others done in absolute love.  The following is taken from Prabuddha Bharata.

Once a very poor devotee had a strong desire to go to Varanasi to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in Varanasi. He came to know of the devotee’s earnest longing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother Annapurna, and enjoyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj.

Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam

Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam

But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt great mental anguish. After bathing in the Ganga and finishing his worship of Shiva with bel leaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms to mendicants and beggars according to their ability. He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportunity. On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He returned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does it matter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to God and pray, “May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought, ‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute like me. What merit can be derived from it?’ However, the next day the devotee did exactly as he was advised simply to honour the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.

The idea of complete self-sacrifice is illustrated in Mahabharata and narrated by Swami Vivekananda in his Karma Yoga lectures.

After the battle of Kurukshetra the five Pândava brothers performed a great sacrifice and made very large gifts to the poor. All people expressed amazement at the greatness and richness of the sacrifice, and said that such a sacrifice the world had never seen before. But, after the ceremony, there came a little mongoose, half of whose body was golden, and the other half brown; and he began to roll on the floor of the sacrificial hall. He said to those around, “You are all liars; this is no sacrifice.” “What!” they exclaimed, “you say this is no sacrifice; do you not know how money and jewels were poured out to the poor and every one became rich and happy? This was the most wonderful sacrifice any man ever performed.”

Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre, Durban

Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban courtesy Jody Fuchs

But the mongoose said, “There was once a little village, and in it there dwelt a poor Brahmin with his wife, his son, and his son’s wife. They were very poor and lived on small gifts made to them for preaching and teaching. There came in that land a three years’ famine, and the poor Brahmin suffered more than ever. At last when the family had starved for days, the father brought home one morning a little barley flour, which he had been fortunate enough to obtain, and he divided it into four parts, one for each member of the family. They prepared it for their meal, and just as they were about to eat, there was a knock at the door. The father opened it, and there stood a guest.

Now in India a guest is a sacred person; he is as a god for the time being, and must be treated as such. So the poor Brahmin said, ‘Come in, sir; you are welcome,’ He set before the guest his own portion of the food, which the guest quickly ate and said, ‘Oh, sir, you have killed me; I have been starving for ten days, and this little bit has but increased my hunger.’ Then the wife said to her husband, ‘Give him my share,’ but the husband said, ‘Not so.’ The wife however insisted, saying, ‘Here is a poor man, and it is our duty as householders to see that he is fed, and it is my duty as a wife to give him my portion, seeing that you have no more to offer him.’ Then she gave her share to the guest, which he ate, and said he was still burning with hunger. So the son said, ‘Take my portion also; it is the duty of a son to help his father to fulfil his obligations.’ The guest ate that, but remained still unsatisfied; so the son’s wife gave him her portion also. That was sufficient, and the guest departed, blessing them. That night those four people died of starvation.

A few granules of that flour had fallen on the floor; and when I rolled my body on them, half of it became golden, as you see. Since then I have been travelling all over the world, hoping to find another sacrifice like that, but nowhere have I found one; nowhere else has the other half of my body been turned into gold. That is why I say this is no sacrifice.”

It is my fervent prayer that each one of us be blessed with such noble and divine qualities! May the light of the lamp burn brightly in our hearts on this holy occasion of Diwali !

असतो मा सद्गमय | तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय | मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय | ॐ शांति: शांति: शांति: || Om asato ma sat gamaya | Tamaso ma jothir gamaya | Mrityor ma amritam gamaya | Om shanti shanti shanti ||

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.

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