Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Incense becomes Essence

In dedication to Most Revered Srimat Swami Atmastanandaji Maharaj

Gurudev- Pic Google images

The blaring horn does little to interrupt the rackety din of the tuk-tuks as they jerkily manoeuver through the narrow lanes and gullies of the village side. It’s 6.30am but it’s difficult to distinguish noon from night -aside from daylight breaking through the seam of dawn- because the mercury fails to dip below the 38 degree meniscus. The absence of the monsoons is quite evident by the unsettled air teeming with coarse sand particles rising off the unpaved roadways.


Behind the low-roofed thatched homes filed neatly along an eye line… lies many busy courtyards contributing towards the thriving incense home industry. The finest ingredients collected from the length and breadth of the vast woodlands of tribal India are skilfully and efficiently turned into divinely beautiful incense sticks neatly packed into an array of differently decorated boxes waiting to praise a deity in some altar or to just infuse an environment with a lively aromatic scent.


A few hundred miles away in a crowded metropolis pulsing with brisk trade, can be found sophisticated sheened shop fronts, elegantly packed shelves of incense being demonstrated and shown off by eager and perfervid salesman striving to make targets. Standing before such an assortment is indeed a muddled and jumbled experience with the banal use of adjectives failing to accentuate the veracity of the product.


It is only when the overzealous salesman one-by-one exposes your olfactory system to the variety you come across that one scent that gives you confidence, releases your anxiety and gives you an overall sense of wellbeing... hatching sanguine, sublime, sterling thoughts and intentions within.


The great and eminent characteristic of this ordinary looking incense stick is that the scent -although initially only accessible when you are in contact with it- once ignited, the divine fragrance after permeating the sacred altar and prayer room slowly starts to infuse into the entire house and all its contents and eventually even the outer surroundings of the house and road gets engulfed by the cosmic redolence. My mind becomes divinely inspired not only in the prayer room but in the lounge, bedroom, kitchen and even as I take my coat and walk to the car making my daily journey to the office.


Today, it is with a deep and profound sense of sadness that I think back eight years to one of my first blogs written on my Gurudev: Most Revered Srimat Swami Atmastanandaji Maharaj - on the occasion of the ensuing Guru Purnima celebrations. It was with ebullience, euphoria and exuberance that I put pen to paper to describe to the world my Revered Gurudev.  Today, it is 10 days after Gurudev left the body… and my pen flows with grief.


A highly venerated and respected senior Monk of the Order, Most Revered Srimat Swami Atmastanandaji gave impeccable and deific leadership to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. To have the blessed opportunity to take spiritual initiation (mantra diksha) from such a saintly persona was indeed for me a great blessing. Maharaj’s fatherly affection, love and compassion was unwavering and relentless amidst His strained schedule and diary. I recall His letters and responses penned with such endearment and detail even to the most trivial of enquiries. Maharaj’s clarity of though and profound spiritual understanding was vividly reflected in His sage and practical counsel.


Today, our world is in a better place having being propped up by the teachings and legacy of a spiritual giant who has practically and palpably reinforced the wisdom and message of Vedanta. Having come under His spiritual guidance and tutelage… although feeling a tinge of sadness due to the physical separation that has occurred between Maharaj and us… I feel a sense of spiritual emancipation knowing that just nine days ago we lived 8000km apart and today Gurudev permeates every atom of the universe. The incense has become the essence. 


Today, I feel closer and more connected to Gurudev than ever before… feeling His presence in every action, thought and object. Guru Purnima thus offers a very significant and profound message this year. Respect, right action, words and thought are not applicable in front of the Guru only but needs to become integrated with our character and become a part of our being. The Guru is none other than God and is therefore omnipresent… thus we must offer our discipline and service to the world and creation as our Guru and teacher.


The sun never sets on spiritual luminaries like Maharaj and even a few hundred years down the passage of time, the melody of their voices will charm the hearts of millions and the indelible man-making ideas planted in the fertile minds of a few will grow unrestrained in to forests of pure consciousness that will engulf humanity and bring to life Sri Ramakrishna’s ideal of harmony in the world.


I offer my eternal sastanga pranaams to Gurudev and on this occasion of His Maha Samaadhi offer my petals of love, affection and devotion on His all-pervading consciousness.

Jai Guru Dev!!!   My best wishes and prayers to all for the ensuing Guru Purnima celebrations.

I remain yours sincerely,

Yogan Naidoo


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Mother- Ocean of Compassion!!!

Holy Mother(pic Google Images)
Humans are habitual creatures who tend to follow a set norms or practices. Precipitated by the festive season, families throughout the country will look forward to a change of scenery and atmosphere to rejuvenate and rebalance from the year that has passed. The sun will start reclaiming its dominance in the southern hemisphere giving expression through the crusted baked ground and dazzling dancing mirages on the horizons. Summer has arrived in all her glory taking over from the pinch-hitting quasi days that made us feel that we may have shifted continents. 

The great treks have begun and people will become nomads - in search of a place of happiness, joy and fun for a few weeks - before returning to the 'rat race' masked in the euphemism of a better life. The arterial roads of the country have all started to bulge at the seams. Resisting the scorching heat, the traffic jams and the madding crowds... the train of cars will gravitate towards the famous resorts and destinations predominantly located at the coastal areas.

The period under review finds deep resonance with a term coined by the British -the “silly season”- defined by frivolous spending, irrationality and upsurge in the use of intoxicants. This however becomes highly justified under the banner of festive merriment.   

As many people scurry around the market places in search of the best bargains and discounts to attain the maximum out of their holiday bonuses, there is the huge potential and possibility to find in the midst of the silly season... a highly spiritual season if one is prepared to dig a little deeper beyond the festive-fancy-festoons. From a South African perspective, we cannot deny that it was a turbulent year leaving us a bit battered and bruised with deepening anxiety as to whether the year ahead would usher in new tidings to a nation failing to crystalise development in many valleys and hills of the country. We find ourselves at a perilous dichotomy of helplessness and hope.

It is against the backdrop of these multitude of challenges that gnaw at the world that India finds its eternal relevance and status of a comforting Mother with a tonic and balm for the various malaises before us. India has never failed millennia after millennia, age after age, century after century to produce highly evolved and enlightened beings who have refreshed the fatigue and despondency of humanity. The month of December is privileged and blessed to be awarded the singular honour of hosting the birthday of our primordial Shakti: Holy Mother - Sri Sarada Devi.

Arriving to the world in the state of West Bengal in India on 22 December 1853... Mother was instantly yoked with the misery, pain and suffering of the masses of India under colonial British rule. Poverty and hardship entertained the daily life of the majority and conjoined as twins with despondency they displaced the faith, hope and vigour of the people who were being attacked by exploitative missionary forces veiled as saviours of an abandoned and neglected people. It was within this landscape that Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swamiji (Vivekananda) arrived with the mission to reinstate faith in oneself and religion as well as hope and vigour in life.

It was 16th December 2016 - a public holiday in SA. I found myself seated on the banks of the Indian Ocean... my eyes squinting and face frowning as a result of the effulgent reflection from the coruscating waters... I involuntarily gazed up to avoid the annoyance. My eyes caught site of a squabble of seagulls hovering in tune with the melodious winds conducting the symphony of the waves below. Each wave hooded by its foamy edges felicituously bathing and embracing all at the beach indiscriminately. It was a sight to marvel... beholden with such love, peace, compassion and joy. At once, it redirected my thoughts to Holy Mother who in Herself was an ocean of compassion. Mother dispensed Her love and grace indiscriminately with the view that She was the mother of all, the mother of the virtuous and the wicked. 

Mother is to us a towering beacon... a glowing example and ideal of humanness in a world that is fast alienating itself from virtue, character and basic qualities that distinguish us from the animal kingdom. The world has become so transfixed on material wealth accumulation that the simple basic qualities have been polarised from everyday life.

Although Holy Mother was highly venerated for Her spiritual status and literally worshipped as the Divine Mother, She continued to live like a simple village mother - washing clothes, sweeping the floor, bringing water from the pond, dressing vegetables, cooking and serving food. At Jaybrambathi, she lived with her brothers and their families who gave her endless troubles... but, established as she was in the awareness of God and divine Motherhood, she always remained calm and self-possessed... showering love and blessings to all who came into contact with her. Sister Nivedita very succinctly captured Her life as one long stillness of prayer.

Holy Mother's simple yet practical teachings have been able to scaffold humanity out of hardship and suffering with Her grace constantly providing a safety net. We may not know whether there will be everlasting peace in the world, whether the ozone will be replaced or whether there will be equality... but one thing is for sure, we will always have a mother in Holy Mother Sarada Devi.

May Mother's grace bless us all over this festive season and beyond. May peace, joy and bliss inundate the world... is my sincere prayer. Be safe and have a happy and joyous festive season and a Happy New Year.

Joy Ma!!!!!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Determined Diwali!!!!

Aum Namo Narayanaya
Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam

There is no doubt in my mind as I pen this Diwali message, that at some level of cognition all religions and sects that try in some form or another to organise the grand ideas, theories or philosophy of the cumulative experience and realisations  of illumined beings have recognised and connected with the sanguine and prolific impact that light has had on human evolution.

Hindus were never shy to show appreciation and respect to any part of God's creation that has contributed to their own development and progress on the path to self realisation. Although the same values, and teachings  weave through the plethora of festivals and observances, Diwali can claim it's glory as the festival that resonates beyond cultural systems amongst  Hindus and many others with a truly international appeal. It is undeniably the biggest festival in Hinduism celebrated by non-Hindus as well because of its universal message of compassion, love, truth and unity.

Defined broadly as the "festival of lights" - Diwali speaks to a value system and code of good practice that underpin the foundations of the utopian society that all of us are working towards. The Freedom Charter, declarations of the United Nations, Bill of Rights etc. all speak to the ideals of a just society and World... referred to as 'dharma' in Hinduism.

The closest working model of this ideal envisioned by humanity  can be studied and emulated from the life of Lord Rama - eloquently and divinely penned by Sage Valmiki in the Ramayana.

Terms like justice, equality, righteousness, peace, love, compassion,  social cohesion, integrity and the like were transformed from mere narratives of vedic philosophy to living principles by Lord Rama under His rule defined as 'Rama Rajya'.

Not only South Africa,  but the whole of humanity is under seige by forces set to destroy harmony, peace and all that is dharmic for the furtherence of self interests as opposed to collective growth and development.

Sri Ramakrishna said that the darkness that filled a room for a thousand years is at once dispelled by a single stroke of a match. Diwali comes to us as an annual reminder to strike the match of determination to restore our lives to a state of peace and happiness.  To ignite our intellect out of ignorance and our hearts out of selfishness will be the death of bigotry, uncharitable feelings towards others, sectarianism, fanaticism and persecution of each other who are all essentially wending our way to the same goal as explained by Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions.

The message of Diwali is a call to rise against darkness and to defend the profound and treasured values that define us a human being. It's a message to galvanise around our brethren and share so we can prosper together.  It's a message of truth and integrity and most importantly one of hope and faith that we are all children of that immortal bliss with extreme potential to realise our true nature.

On this occasion of the most adorable celebration that speaks to the universal oneness and the supreme divinity that pervades us all... may that all- illuminating light bring strength, courage, and resolve to all of us to walk and act in the path of righteousness is my prayer. Happy Diwali to all. Let peace and light descend everywhere!!!


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Lease of Life


||Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||

 ||Aum Namo Narayanaya||
My Gurudev

The last words playing in my head as I succumbed to the well turned down bed was from my guide saying: “Please arrive by 6am itself Sir, it will be good to see the sun rise over the river”. The words intercepted my brain in a disjointed garble as my priority after the 7 hour journey to Varanasi was sleep. The sudden annoyance of the telephone solicited much irritation because it seemed that no sooner than I put my head to rest, I had to awake. The voice on the other side was Vijay Kumar, the guide - coming across with a chiding tone, like a teacher who was reprimanding me for not following instructions. “Sir we must leave soon or else we will miss out”. I had to restraint the rebel in me in pursuant of a pleasurable day. It didn’t take long before I presented myself all togged up before the tour entourage. Vijay Kumar didn’t seem too pleased and started to innovatively navigate the driver through the unknown gulleys laden under a cloud of falling mist. It was in two ticks that the roaring diesel engine came to a halt near the Dasaswamedh Ghat - the place puranas depict as the stage where Gods and Saints performed many great austerities and rituals. History simultaneously tells us that Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.


At the very point when I alighted from the vehicle I felt nothing… not even a sense of awe, as the stimulus being received was more audio than visual. The rattles, whistles, clanging and chattering announced the start of another day.  I took a deep breath and opened my arms in a wide stretch gazing in the direction of the horizon. There I witnessed night and dawn wrestle for prominence. An audience of chillness revelled as the spectacle of day was about to reveal itself over a city worshipped and revered from time immemorial as the home of Kashi Vishwanatha: ‘the Liberator of Souls’. Without any effort from my part I was whisked onto an oar boat. Four of us were being rowed by one oarsman in competition of many others towards a vantage point from where the miracle of Kashi will be witnessed. The oar struggled against the current and the creaky boat which came across as ancient as the city itself bobbed about on the holy river. Slowly as night started to lose its grip on dawn, an ancient and mystical scene appeared to be painted on the sacrosanct canvas of the most venerated place on the globe.


The muddy waters strewn with garlands and remnants of banana leaves bathed the banks huddled with half naked men busy with their morning cleansing, side by side with woman doing the laundry. In the gaps, devout pilgrims and residents stood transfixed in great concentration toward the Sun holding a gathering of flowers, holy basil and lighted incense contained in a dried leaf bowl. As they slowly one-by-one lowered their offerings into the river as a thanksgiving for the day and life in general… a few feet ahead one- by-one cremated remains were released into the very same waters.  Was this oxymoron the great miracle to be witnessed?


By now, day was gaining strength and life was starting to infuse into the city. There was steam from the chai-stalls and street food vendors dancing to the chime of the bells emanating from the poojas and morning aarthi in the many mandhirs and ashramas around which it seemed the city was developed. It is after this auspicious and important ritual that men and woman -adorned with white ash- make their way to begin their work.  Sadhus, Swamis, ordinary men and women, animals, beggars and death all exist side-by-side without any form of dissent. It then dawned upon me that this place was not a miracle but a great teacher.


Hundreds of thousands make their way to Kashi to breathe their last breath in the hope that they will be liberated from the cycle of birth and death… and attain the heavens. There are also those who work hard against all odds to create a better life by applying their skills at weaving the finest Benares Sarees that will find its way to the world.




Paramahamsa Yogananda said:

Don’t depend on death to liberate you from your imperfections. You are exactly the same after death as you were before. Nothing changes; you only give up the body. If you are a thief or a liar or a cheater before death, you don’t become an angel merely by dying. If such were possible, then let us all go jump into the ocean now and become angels at once! Whatever you have made of yourself thus far, is what you will be hereafter. And when you reincarnate, you will bring that same nature with you. To change, you have to make the effort. The world is the place to do it.


Swami Sumanasananda, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa- Durban gave an inspiring and emotive Keynote Address at the 62nd Annual Children’s Cultural Festival over the past weekend. Maharaj unpacked the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda as the panacea of the malaise that is debilitating our youth and society in general.


In this very city of Varanasi, Swami Vivekananda who was being taunted by a group of monkeys and started to retract from them, was instructed by an illumined sage to “face the brutes!!!!” This pivotal point had an everlasting effect and chiselled the firebrand Vivekananda who shook the world of tamas. In His address, Maharaj highlighted that our lives are full of challenges and we must stand up and face them with great force and vigour. “Arise! Awake!” was the clarion call of Swami Vivekananda.


Swami Vivekananda eloquently drew a parallel between life and a Gymnasium. Swamiji said that the world is a great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves morally and spiritually strong. Swamiji further elaborated from the Upanishads that liberation is jivan mukthi or freedom while living in the body. It is not going to another realm or attaining something new, but realising our true nature. It is not freedom from anything, but being in the midst of everything.


The boatman was signalled by Vijay Kumar to start making his way back to the Ghat. It was quite evident from the expression on his face that he was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms from his morning dose of chai and some fresh puree.  I glanced towards the river as we journeyed back. I realised that the water that passed under our boat shall never touch us again. Time that has passed is time we can never get back.  As I reminisce on the illustrious and glorious life of Swami Vivekananda on His Maha Samadhi day (4 July), we can say that the essence of His life was to work, work and work!!! He will ceaselessly work until each one of us realises that we are one with God. He is truly a voice without form nudging us to awaken from our slumber and use this rare gift of human birth (as mentioned by Swami Tadbashananda in His concluding address at the Festival) to experience the joy of heaven right here in this life.


My earlier annoyance at Vijay Kumar slowly disappeared as I became more appreciative of the great lesson he taught me by dragging me out of bed at the ridiculous hour to experience this miracle and spectacle of Kashi. The Guide had become a Guru. In this month of July on the Purnima, we will offer our great respects and obeisance to our spiritual teachers who row our solitary boats bobbing about aimlessly on the ocean of life towards the safe shores of bliss, joy and fulfilment in life.  In this holy month, I offer my sastanga pranaams to my revered Guru Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj and all the monks of the Ramakrishna order for their guidance and blessings on us always.


All Glories to Master, Mother and Swamiji.  Jai Ma!!!!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Master and Mahadev!!!

6 March 2016: night pronounced itself very prominently in the absence of the moon. It seemed like everything lay siege to the hot and humid condition with the air being hung in lifelessness. There was a tinge of mysticism though as if Mother Nature was taking a gallant bow to Lord Shiva in preparation for the glorious night of Maha Shivaratri which is commemorated around the globe.

As I went to bed my thoughts began circulating around the ideas presented by Swami Sumanasananda (President Ramakrishna Centre SA - Durban and Keynote Speaker) and Swami Tadbasananda (Vice President Ramakrishna Centre of SA – Phoenix) at the 180th birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna hosted by the Phoenix centre. Both Swamis exposed Sri Ramakrishna as the incarnation of harmony and the restorer of faith in God at a time that witnessed its colossal decline.

A great portion of our time and energy is spent on arguments and conflicts over religion and its practices which in my view should be kept personal and utilised as a personal path that helps one to reach one’s spiritual pursuits and goal in life. In my last article, I briefly commented on the conflict between religions and highlighted points from Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the World Parliament of Religions when He appealed to the Congress of religious leaders - that the gathering should herald the death of bigotry, fundamentalism, fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

These ideas are not bequeathed to a mind that is constricted to the shallow, narrow and parochial view of this world, but bestowed upon one who has tapped into the universal spiritual consciousness and has become the knower of Brahman. Sri Ramakrishna said that for one who is the knower of Brahman everything becomes known. In my limited understanding, I believe that it is impractical and useless to expect a harmony amongst religions when we amongst ourselves fail to realise and understand the non-duality or oneness within Hindu Dharma itself.

For many years, India had witnessed rivalry amongst the different dominations within Hinduism eg. the Saivites and the Vaishanavites. Heated debates and even lives were lost on account of whose God was the greatest. Of recent, I read an article on a Ramana Maharishi Forum where an incident was described. A satsangh turned into a heated exchange of words between a scholar and devotee when the scholar discussed a verse which cited Lord Shiva was the primordial God. The Lord Vishnu worshipper took offence and argued that Lord Vishnu was. Understanding where this argument may end up, the presenter eventually agreed with the devotee to restore the devotee’s sense of peace and calm.

When our key principle scriptures, the Vedas, in essence propound that there is only one God and that we appreciate the cosmic consciousness as per our faculties of understanding it then begs the question as to why we need to force our idea of God upon one another. We should develop the tolerance and patience to allow people to adore and glorify their chosen ideals without allowing it to affect us personally.

It was Sri Ramakrishna -the avatar of empirical erudition- that proved all paths are true and ultimately reach the same the goal. In this light, we can conclude that if on the macro level that is true then in the micro (within our own folds) it is true as well.

Giving credence to His words, that supreme consciousness that appeared in the form of Lord Krishna and declared in the Bhagavad Gita that “whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an incline unrighteous, from time to time I manifest myself for the protection of creation". At a time of rising religious intolerance and a massive shift in consciousness from the goal of life towards materialism and sensual gratification, Brahman appeared to humanity as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the West Bengal town of Kamarpukur.

The following hymn penned by Swami Vivekananda about His Master is the most lucid and grand exposition on the advent of Sri Ramakrishna in my view. It extols the purpose and mission of this avatar in the most succinct and befitting manner.

Sthapakaya cha Dharmasya Sarvadharma Svaroopini

Avataraya Varishthraya, Ramakrishnaya te Namah

To the one who came to establish spirituality, the one who is the personification

of all faiths and religions, the one who the greatest embodiment of the divine,

to that Ramakrishna I offer my salutations.

If I had to put it to a staunch Shiva devotee that on the night of Shiva (Maha Shivaratri) I would worship my Master Sri Ramakrishna with deep devotion, He may take offence. His argument may centre on the fact that it is a night dedicated to Lord Shiva. When one reads Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master we find that details around His birth point to a dream by His father that Lord Narayana will take birth as his son. In this context some may call me insane, but is there a difference between Master and Mahadev. Mathematically, I was thought that 3 reasons where sufficient to prove theorems. I will therefore apply this principle to derive at a conclusion that Master and Mahadev are one:

1.      Mahadev was regarded as dirty and unkempt by his father-in–law. He was a great yogi and ascetic who paid no attention to his physical body and surroundings and was always in deep contemplation.

2.      Master was once asked to attend a Brahmo festival by Devendra but was warned to wear a cloth and shawl over his shoulder should someone say something unkind about his unkempt appearance.. Master who was always contemplating on God and entering into Samadhi had no consciousness of his body and appeared unkempt like Lord Shiva. At times he would walk in his room without his cloth while in deep contemplation.

A)     Mahadev will be found in deep meditation on cremation on burial grounds.

B)     Master meditated in the Panchavati which once was a burial ground.

1.      When the halahala poison emerged from the churning of the milky ocean, Lord Shiva swallowed the poison and held it in His throat for the benefit of creation. He was thereafter known as Neelakanta (blue-throat-one).

2.      Master suffered from throat cancer and once said it was this disease that will keep the genuine seekers to him and others to flee. We have thus seen how the direct disciples have been of great value to the creation through spiritual and relief work.

A)     Mahadeva believed in all paths as one and was all merciful, embracing and compassionate. Worshipped by all, He kept the company of sages, kings, ghouls and ghosts highlighting that all of creation comes from that same source and as per our understanding we will eventually reach our goal.

B)     Master was all-embracing, compassionate and was in the company of great scholars, Muslims, Christians and other faiths and did not discriminate against anyone and thought the ideal of universal harmony.

In my mind, there is no difference between Master and Mahadev. Their aims, purpose and lives reflect that one glorious truth that we are all wending our way towards. It is our duty on this glorious dark night to beseech upon Lord Shiva to give us enlightenment so that vast differences that appear to our shallow minds be removed so to perceive that one consciousness that dwells within each of us.

In the words of Master, the thousands of stars on a dark night disappear in the light of the rising sun. In the same way as we educate ourselves and have the realisation of ourselves… the light of wisdom will remove the ignorance and darkness that shows us differences.

May the grace of Master and Mahadev give us illumination to help us live in peace and harmony. I make a special prayer to relieve our country and province from the drought that we are currently gripped in.

With love and prayers always,


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Maha Kumbha Abishegam - Connecting You Within

IIAum Sri Ramakrishna SharanamII
IIAum Namo NarayanayaII

The dust rose, like in the aftermath of a hundred galloping horses, as everybody busied themselves with the final preparation for the Maha Kumbha Abishegam of the Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple. This 100 year old institution prides itself in being relevant and responsive to the needs of the community. With the increasing number of devotees over the years, it was decided on the eve of the Centenary Celebrations to construct a larger Temple according to Indian architecture. This was to be a monument to the pioneering fathers but more importantly to ensure devotees leave inspired after every visit. Elaborately detailed and inscribed artwork depicting various scenes from the puranas flank the walls and speak to the important themes of curbing desires, good over evil and light over darkness.

Temple Domes of the "new" Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple

It finally made sense as to why construction of Temples and Maha Kumbha Abishegams were mainly undertaken by royalty. The accumulative costs from construction to consecration run into the millions. Thankfully by His grace alone many selfless devotees and well-wishers have come forward and donated generously in the name of the festivities. Seven highly experienced and trained Priests were commissioned to turn a stunning structure into a shrine. Sri Girish Hebbar, the Head Priest of the Balaji Temple in Botswana arrived a day before to lead the proceedings. I had met him a few years earlier when I accompanied Swami Vimokshananda to Botswana on a spiritual tour. Beautiful energy and vibrations were created by the chanting of vedic mantras and the ritualistic worship of thekumbhas (brass pots) which were aplenty as they are normally proportional in number according to the deities being installed.

Priests performing the Maha Kumbha Abishegam

To a little extent, it seemed like an anti-climax… with so much of preparations and efforts for a few days of chanting and bathing of the deities with the water thereafter. Was this going to give life to themurthis (deities)? As these questions entertained my mind, I remembered that Swami Vimokshananda once explained to us the spiritual triangle where the two sides consist of the rituals and mythology with the philosophy as the base.  Yes, Yes!!! I rejoiced like having just broken thepinaka dhanush (bow broken by Lord Rama). There must be a philosophy behind this elaborate ceremony that will connect me closer to my divine consciousness. After much contemplation two ideas came to mind. One from recent times and another from way back in time.

Emoto was born in Yokohama, Japan and graduated from Yokohama Municipal University after taking courses in International Relations. In the mid 1990’s, he began studying water in more detail. Emoto believed that water was a "blueprint for our reality" and that emotional "energies" and "vibrations" could change the physical structure of water. Emoto's water crystal experiments consisted of exposing water in glasses to different words, pictures or music, and then freezing and examining the aesthetic properties of the resulting crystals with microscopic photography. Emoto made the claim that water exposed to positive speech and thoughts would result in visually pleasing crystals being formed when that water was frozen, and that negative intention would yield "ugly" frozen crystal formations.

Our gem amongst puranas, the Srimad Bhagavatam tells of a little boy Prahalad, who although being born in an asura family became one of the greatest devotees of Sri Hari. When Hiranyakasipu left his kingdom and went to the mountain known as Mandaracala to execute severe austerities, all the demons scattered. Hiranyakasipu's wife Kayadhu was pregnant at that time, and the devas, mistakenly thinking that she carried another demon in her womb, arrested her. Their plan was that as soon as the child took birth they would kill him. While they were taking Kayadhu to the heavenly planets, they met Narada Muni, who stopped them from taking her away and took her to his ashramauntil Hiranyakasipu's return. In Narada Muni's ashrama, Kayadhu prayed for the protection of the baby in her womb and Narada Muni reassured her and gave her instructions on spiritual knowledge.

The vibrations of the Sage’s voice seeped through the amniotic fluid and left an indelible impression on the infant’s consciousness. As he grew up even in the midst of the most adharmic forces, he was only able to call on his Lord Narayana.

From the above we gather that water is able to transmit and sustain vibrations. The idea of placing the water in a copper kumbha is scientific as copper being a metal is a good conductor of vibrations. Therefore, the primary component of any Kumbha Abishegam is a group of Priests chanting mantras in unison around kumbhas filled with water. The mantras selected from the Vedas are composed to a specific metre and are chanted with much emphasis and force to create the needed vibrations.


After the water is used to bath the deities we term them vigrahas and thus start to offer devotion and praise to them. I believe that the kumbhas filled with water essentially represents our intellect. Our mind is the deities. When the intellect is charged with dharmic and positive ideas it empowers and guides the mind on how to interact with the world in a divine and dharmic manner. Sage Narada had programmed and configured Prahalad’s intellect to dharma, hence even in the midst of the harshest persuasion from his father, his mind could not waver or veer away from the path of righteousness.

As the Priests say the Kumbha Abishegam is a process of giving life to the deities and over a period of time the infant energy grows and becomes more powerful… it is symbolic in our personal development as well. At all times we must try to fortify our intellects with divine and positive ideas and constantly bathe the mind with these inspiring thoughts which then becomes an algorithm against which all stimuli received will be acted upon.

Temple worship is a valuable path to God realisation and should not be denounced as inferior. A great example of its success comes in the life of Sri Ramakrishna who conducted regular pooja to the divine Mother Kali. Through sincere and devout worship, Master was able to translate and internalise His worship to achieve superior results, to the point of becoming a Paramhamsa.

Let us all perform the ritual of turning our body into Bhagwan by regular abishegam of our mind with our charged intellect, is my sincere prayer.

With love and prayers always,

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Living Lotusly!

“Swami Vivekananda is an enduring source of inspiration” said the Honourable Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi, as he together with millions across the world paid respects and remembered this great son of India and inspirer of the world on 4th July, which was Swamiji’s Maha Samadhi Day. How should we view this day? I believe it must be celebrated as a day of victory. It was Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna who said that Naren will leave his body when he had finished his work. Although we all lament His early departure from the earthly planes, Swamiji had “set in motion the machinery” that would develop a new order of beings - more confident, brave, highly progressive, strong and ready to face the world.

The morning broke with much excitement in the Kingdom of the Zulu with the Durban July horse race grasping the attention of many as they pondered upon their attire and obviously on their choice for the winner, in preparation to attend the event. My thoughts however managed to weave past these entirely frivolous distractions and centre on the aim of attending Ashram to offer my respectful obeisance and gratitude to a Saint whose heart cried out to the folly of man in leading an uninspired and aimless life through ignorance of his true nature.

An empyrean vibe accosted the Satsangh Hall which imbued with the essence of sandal incense. The regally adorned altar simply invoked adoration and did not stall in transporting devotees into a realm of supreme tranquillity.  No soon as Kandana Bhava Bandhana (arathi) was sung… my mind was unbounded from the precincts of Durban Ashram and ported to the banks of Belur Math. I could hear the gongs and bells echo in the flamboyant arched halls of the Temple. Tears streamed down the face of devotees as the flames of the arathi flickered and danced for the enjoyment of the seated image of  Master. The concerted and the collective rendition soaked in such sincere devotion drowned out the blaring horn of the nearby jute mill, the foraging crows and the rickety ferries bobbing on the tempestuous Ganga. I pictured Swamiji pacing His veranda with a smoke in His hand, deep in thought, heart bleeding with pain about the condition of humanity. I took solace and comfort knowing that Swamiji will continue to pace His veranda until the work He set in motion -that is to deliver every soul from the abyss of ignorance to the point of understanding it is one with the divine- is realised.

Here in South Africa, the Ramakrishna Mission, through the inspired work of Swami Nischalananda has catalysed and augmented the vision of Swami Vivekananda by channelising youth energy into developing value-based character.

Youth performing at the Childrens' Cultural Festival
Pic Courtesy: SA Devotees
The Childrens' Cultural Festival initiated by Swami Nischalananda show cases the results of immense sacrifice and intense dedication in nurturing and grooming the new order of beings as envisaged by Swamiji. You cannot imagine the delight on the faces of those who watch the cultural feast for the first time, which is completely produced by the youth with the assistance of their Sunday School teachers. For those of us who have attended previously, we are simply stunned by the standards that continuously improve year after year.

It was also heart-warming to see that Swamiji’s instruments - the Monks of the order starting to multiply in South Africa… a definite and clear sign that the spiritual renaissance is going to be given new impetus and vigour over the next few months.  The grace extended through the first President from Belur Math, Swami Vimokshananda, expanded on Saturday when our current President Swami Vishwathmananda returned to South Africa with two new monks who will compliment and intensify the work of Swamiji in South Africa. South Africa is blessed and elated to welcome Swami Sumanasananda and Swami Tadbhasananda to her shores.

Monks of the Ramakrishna Order in attendance at the Childrens' Cultural Festival
Pic Courtesy: SA Devotees

Swami Vivekananda’s life speaks to the search and rescue of the indomitable strength, power and resolve that lies within each one of us.  Swamiji’s life punctuated with its fair share of trials and tribulations resonates amicably with many people who are struggling to keep their head above water in the vast ocean of existence. Struggle has become synonymous with life. Victory comes to those who adopt the correct attitude and temerity to face and resolve the impasses before them.

The burly and authoritative words of Swamiji at once reduces to ashes any smouldering signs of weakness, lethargy, fear and uncertainty flourishing from the root of ignorance. “Face the brutes” - probably one of his most audacious and potent utterances commands immediate fearlessness against challenges that confront us.

The most brilliant and priceless gems emerge out of the confrontation with the cutting-brush. Our inadequacies and inferiority complex has thwarted us from emerging as shining gems against the challenges of life. Our great concern is our youth who have sought the escapist routes of suicide, substance abuse and the life of crime in order to pass the days oblivious of the world.

Youth performing at the Childrens' Cultural Festival
Pic Courtesy: SA  Devotees
Based on the foundations and teachings of Swami Vivekananda, we witness the youth of our Sunday Schools blossoming like the splendid and beautiful lotus in the murky waters of this world. They radiate such confidence and panache and adorn a little smirk of their faces, challenging life to test them.

Positive role models, good literature that develops your intellectual and mental capacity and aligning yourself to values and teachings that help you expose your divine nature is essential for success in this time. I can assure our youth and adults alike that Swami Vivekananda is definitely an enduring source of inspiration and light to you.

May Swamiji, who assured us that he will continue to work 1500 years after He had left His body, guide and help us reach our full potential and lead prosperous lives, is my sincere prayer.

With love and prayers