Laugh and Learn – 11

“Is there anyone else?”

The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, Minister and the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

This is not a funny story, but it is thought-provoking and we can learn a lot from it.

Mark was an adventurous person from childhood. Whenever he had time, he used to go hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, bungee jumping, diving in the deep ocean, surfing, and other such activities.

Mark also liked to visit newer places and oceans. He had explored many outdoor parks, mountain ranges, oceans, and places to bungee jump and hike. However, he never wanted to walk or travel on the same path, dive deep in the same ocean, or bungee jump from the same location. He always looked for more difficult, challenging, and adventurous activities to partake in. A few times, he was in difficult situations and about to die. Yet, somehow, he survived each time with some help. That did not stop him from looking for more adventurous activities, but rather encouraged him to do so.

Once, Mark found a beautiful place which had both the advantages of the ocean and the mountains. It was one of his dream places. He was excited. He rented a nice place near the foot of the mountain and decided to explore every possible trail of the mountain. After a few days of exciting hiking, it rained for a couple of days. He walked around the city and waited for the rain to stop. As soon as the rain stopped, he woke up early in the morning and began trekking on one of the most difficult and longest mountain trails. He enjoyed the complete silence that prevailed. The trees looked like great Yogis meditating in quietude. Then, the birds woke up and added their melodious chirping. The sun was coming out in the distant horizon. From a little distance, he started to see a glimpse of the ocean. It seemed that he had reached a very high altitude.

At one point, he saw a red ribbon and a red sign that said, “Danger. Do not cross the line.” Mark did not understand the purpose of the line or sign. He saw nice land leading towards the ocean. His adventurous soul urged him to go and check out the “danger” over there. He thought of himself as a good mountain climber and skillful walker, so he thought he was capable of checking out the trail as long as it was good. His plan was to return back after. He crossed the red ribbon and carefully walked further. His heart began pumping faster in anticipation of danger. He thought that the adventurous moment he was looking for was upon him! As he went ahead, he could see the beautiful blue ocean and its waves. It was one of the most scenic places he had ever come across. He came almost to the edge of the mountain and noticed a steep cliff that went down several feet. The waves of the ocean were striking against the cliff, creating a roar which was pleasant yet terror-inciting.

The whole scene was beautiful. Mark thought to himself, “Why was there a ‘Danger’ sign on the way?” He thought of returning. But, another thought came to his mind to go a couple of steps further to have a much better view of the ocean and then return back.

Mark walked one step further and the wet ground started to slip under his feet. He tried to stop himself, but to no avail. As he slipped down the edge of the mountain, the gravitational force continued to increase. He turned around and tried to hold on to anything that could stop him from sliding down into the ocean. He grabbed grass, but it was torn and could not stop him from falling.

Finally, Mark found a twig of a small plant growing on the stiff edge. He held on to this twig for dear life. Now, he found that the twig was the only source of support he had. Below, the ocean was roaring. On the side of the mountain, there was no other support. There were flat stones on the mountain without any holes to rest his feet.

He knew that if the twig broke, his life would end. He screamed loudly a few times, “Is there anyone who can help me?” He heard his own voice echoing back.

Then, Mark looked up in the sky. He thought of God and loudly cried, “Oh God! You are my only savior at this time. Please save me.” After desperately repeating this a couple of times, it seemed that he heard the voice of God. The voice said, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. I am your God. You let go the twig and I will hold you in my two arms.”

Mark was happy to hear God’s voice, but he questioned how he could let go of the twig. He was puzzled. Then, Mark loudly screamed, “Is there anyone else?”

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Lessons Learned from the Story:

I don’t know what I would do in this situation; whether I would have complete faith in God and let go of the twig or wait until God sends someone to pull me out of that situation. Many people have been saved miraculously in various situations, such as falling from a building, tumbling off a mountain, or escaping calamities, like earthquakes, floods, fire, and war.

Complete Surrender and Free Will:

All religions talk about having complete faith in God. Shri Krishna says, “Take refuge in Me alone” (Gita 18.66).

Ultimately, we must realize that our limited identity consists of a limited body and mind. We have some local freedom to do things, but we are limited in the large scale.

Since will comes from a limited body and mind, a human free will is wishful thinking. Only the Ultimate Reality Brahman has free will. With that will, Brahman creates, preserves, and dissolves the universe. When our will merges with Brahman’s will, we feel the power of free will.

Thinking of God as the Universal Mother, Sri Ramakrishna often used to sing the following song:

“O Mother! All is done after Thine’s own sweet will;

Thou art in truth self-willed, Redeemer of mankind!
Thou workest Thine own work; people only call it theirs.

Thou it is that holdest the elephant in the mire;
Thou that helpest the lame person scale the loftiest hill.

On some, Thou dost bestow the Bliss of Brahman.
Yet, on others, Thou dost hurl into this world of delusion.

I am a mere machine and Thou art the Operator of the machine;
I am the house, and Thou art the Indweller;
I am the chariot, and Thou art the Charioteer;
I move alone as Thou, O Mother, movest me.”

For a devotee, this is the ultimate knowledge and the state of God realization. After having this realization, we must continue to work. But, then we do not work for selfish motives and limited worldly pleasures. After attaining the realization of God, we work unselfishly for the good of all and as worship to the Divine Mother.

For a Vedantist, the highest realization is that “Brahman has become everything.” But, at that time, there is no mind left even to feel that Truth. At that time, there is only silence. When, slight body consciousness comes, then the memory of the Truth lingers in the mind and the aforementioned state of the devotee occupies the devotee’s mind.

(Thanks to Pallavi Tatapudy for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)

 

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7: The Path of Knowledge with Realization

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7

The Path of Knowledge with Realization

Shri Krishna said, “O Arjuna! I will tell you how, with your mind attached to Me (Brahman or God), taking refuge in Me, and being constantly engaged in spiritual practices to realize Me, you will know Me completely without any doubt.

I will tell you in complete detail the knowledge that leads to the direct experience of Me. After attaining this knowledge, you will have nothing that remains to be known.

Among thousands of people, one may strive for perfection. Among the people who strive for perfection, one may really know Me completely.

Prakruti (The Power of Brahman):

Know that My (Brahman’s or Purusha’s) Power (Prakruti) is of two kinds: Gross and Subtle.

The Gross Power is an Eight-Fold Power (Ashtadha Prakruti) made out of (1) Earth, (2) Water, (3) Fire, (4) Wind, (5) Space, (6) Mind, (7) Intellect, and (8) Ego.

The Subtle Power is the Indwelling Consciousness by which the whole universe is sustained.

Know that these two Powers (Prakrutis) are the cause of the existence of all beings and thus I (God, the manifested Brahman) am the cause of the creation and the dissolution of the whole universe.

Brahman is everything:

Besides Me (Brahman), there is no other cause of the universe. The whole universe is strung on Me as gems on the thread of a necklace.

The Subtle and the Gross manifestations of the Brahman:

O Arjuna! I am:

(1) the taste of water,

(2) the light of the sun and the moon,

(3) the Pranav (Om) in all the Vedas,

(4) the sound in space,

(5) the strength in all beings,

(6) the divine fragrance in the earth,

(7) the brilliance in fire,

(8) the life in all beings,

(9) the austerity in ascetics,

(10) the eternal seed cause of all beings,

(11) the intellect of all intellectuals,

(12) the heroism of heroic people,

(13) the power of people who are devoid of desires and attachment, and

(14) the legitimate desire in all beings.

Know that whatever states have been created by the three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas – have been created by Me alone. I am not in them, but they are in Me.

Mayathe deluding power of Brahman:

The whole universe is deluded by the states created by the three gunas. That is why they do not know Me (the Imperishable Brahman); I am beyond the three gunas.

It is very difficult to overcome the delusion created by Maya (My divine power called Prakruti) which consists of the three gunas. Only those who take refuge in Me can cross over this delusion.

Deluded people whose knowledge has been destroyed by Maya, who are possessed by demonic nature, who are engaged in evil activities and thus have become the lowest among human beings, do not worship Me.

Four kinds of worshippers:

On the other hand, four kinds of virtuous people worship Me: (1) “Arta,” who are in distress, (2) “Jignyasu,” who are seeking knowledge, (3) “Artharthi,” who are seeking pleasures and (4) “Jnani,” wise people.

Among these four kinds, the “Jnani” who are constantly making efforts to realize Me and have one-pointed devotion for Me are the best. I am the most beloved of the “Jnani” and they are My most beloved.

All four kinds of people are noble. But, a “Jnani” is like my own form because he/she, with the mind focused on Me, remains established in Me as the Supreme Goal.

After many births, a “Jnani,” realizing the truth that ‘Everything is Vasudeva (Brahman),’ worships Me. Such a “Jnani” is truly a great soul. It is very rare to find such a great soul.

Worship for Worldly Desires:

People whose discrimination has been destroyed by their worldly desires worship various deities (the limited aspects of Brahman) following various vows and rituals constrained by their desirous nature.

Whatever may be the form of the deity that a devotee likes to worship with faith, I (Brahman) give the devotee unwavering faith to that form. The devotee then worships that form with faith, and his/her desires are fulfilled by that form. Actually, I (Brahman) fulfill his/her desires through that form.

However, these people are short-sighted because the joy of the fulfillment of their worldly desires is short-lived. Those who worship various deities realize those deities (the finite aspects of Brahman), but those who worship Me (Brahman) ultimately attain Me (realize Brahman).

Foolish people do not know that My true nature is Imperishable and Transcendent. That is why they think that I, the Un-manifest, am endowed with a manifest form.

Due to the veil of My Maya (My Divine Power), I do not reveal Myself to all. People deluded by My Maya do not know Me as birthless and imperishable.

I know all the beings that were in the past, who are in the present and who will be in the future. But, no one knows Me.

Desires and Aversion:

All beings get deluded by the pairs of opposites (like favorable and unfavorable, pleasant and unpleasant, joy and sorrow, and others) which are created by desires and aversion.

But people whose virtuous actions have removed the impurity of their mind worship Me with firm conviction.

Who Knows Me?

Those who take refuge in Me and make efforts to free themselves from the fear and suffering of old age and death will know (1) Brahman, (2) everything about the individual soul and (3) the actions they must perform to know both.

People who know ‘Adhibhuta’ (One that underlies all elements), ‘Adhidaiva’ (One that underlies all the gods), and ‘Adhiyajna’ (One that sustains all the sacrifices) even at the time of their death, being steadfast in Me, know Me. (More elaborate explanations of these terms and the meaning of this sentence has been given in Chapter 8 of the Gita.)

(Thanks to Sonali Tatapudy for editing this post.)

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5: The Path of Renunciation

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5

The Path of Renunciation

Arjuna Asked Shri Krishna, “On one hand you talk about renouncing all worldly actions and adopting the path of knowledge, and on the other hand you praise Karma Yoga, the path to achieving the Supreme Knowledge through performing actions. Please tell me which path is really beneficial to me.”

Shri Krishna said, “Renunciation of all worldly actions and Karma Yoga are both beneficial in attaining the Supreme Knowledge. But, Karma Yoga is definitely preferable for most people than the path of renunciation of all worldly actions.

A True Sanyasi:

Know that a person who desires nothing and hates nothing is a true Sanyasi (a person who has renounced everything). A Karma Yogi, through properly performing actions in the world, goes beyond the pairs of opposites, like attachment and hatred, joy and sorrows, honor and insult, praise and blame, and becomes completely free from all bondages. Thus, s/he becomes a true Sanyasi.

The Path of Knowledge and Karma Yoga lead to the same goal:

Only people with immature and undeveloped intellect think that the path of knowledge and the path of actions are different. If one is established in one path s/he attains the goal of both paths because both the paths lead to the same goal.

Without practicing Karma Yoga, it is difficult for many people to renounce all actions or the doer-ship of all actions.  A Karma Yogi, by performing one’s responsibilities in an unselfish manner, easily realizes Brahman; s/he attains the Supreme Knowledge or the Ultimate Freedom.

How a Karma Yogi attains the Supreme Knowledge:

A Karma Yogi, through performance of unselfish actions purifies one’s mind, gets control over his/her mind and senses, and realizes that Self, his/her true identity, is same Self in all people. As a result, a Karma Yogi does not get deluded or get bound by performing actions.

Such a Karma Yogi realizes that the Self is the support of the body and the mind, and only in the presence of the Self do the body and the mind function. Just as people do various activities in light, which itself is inactive, so too is the Self inactive, but the body and the mind function due to the Self.

A Karma Yogi feels that as Self “I am doing nothing” even though the body and the mind perform activities like seeing, listening, touching, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, talking, emitting, seizing, and opening or closing eyes.

A Karma Yogi working through body, mind, and intellect in a detached spirit, and offering all the results to Brahman (1) purifies oneself, (2) does not get affected by the unpleasant results of the actions just as a lotus leaf is unaffected by the water, (3) attains inner peace within due to the awareness of the Self, and (4) lives happily in the world being established in the Self.

Due to his/her worldly desires, a person who is not a Karma Yogi gets bounded by a chain of results leading to actions, and actions leading to results, and so forth

Brahman as Witness Consciousness:

The Ultimate Reality (Brahman) as a witness consciousness neither creates the doer-ship of action, nor the actions, nor the connection of the action and its results. All the actions are performed by the body-mind complex.

The Brahman as a witness consciousness does not take anyone’s sin or merit. But, the knowledge of this Ultimate Reality has been covered by ignorance. This is why people become deluded and think erroneously.

The Supreme Knowledge of Brahman shines like the sun in the hearts of those who have destroyed this ignorance of ‘I – being a separate identity with a body and mind’. Such people keep their mind and intellect focused on Brahman and makes all efforts to be aware of Brahman. Having completely removed their ignorance, they destroy all their bondages and become free.

The Knowledge of Oneness:

People with the Supreme Knowledge realizes that the same Brahman has become a wise person endowed with knowledge, an ignorant person, and an animal like a cow, or an elephant, or a dog. By remaining established in this Oneness, people with the Supreme Knowledge have conquered the whole world in this life and have attained the Ultimate Freedom.

People with Supreme Knowledge know that the worldly joy and sorrow are limited and therefore they neither get elated by worldly joy nor depressed by sorrow. Attaining this steady wisdom, removing all the delusions, and realizing Brahman, they remain established in Brahman, the highest state that a human being can attain.

Wise people know that the joy obtained by the contact of the senses and the sense-objects are limited and ultimately bring suffering. So, they work only to obtain the Supreme Knowledge and not for worldly joy.

A person who can control before death the powerful urges that arise due to lust, desire, and anger is a true Yogi, and s/he lives happily in the world.

Freedom in Brahman:

Those people who have (1) removed their impurities from their minds, (2) destroyed their doubts about the Ultimate Reality with knowledge, (3) controlled their mind and senses, (4) removed obstacles like lust, desire, anger, jealousy and others, (5) been engaged in selfless service to all, (6) focused their minds on the Self within, (7) realized the Self, enjoy inner bliss, and derive the Ultimate Knowledge which comes from the Self-awareness, become one with Brahman and  attain freedom in Brahman. They are free from all bondages of the world and go beyond the Laws of Nature when their minds are one with Brahman.

Who is always free?

A contemplative person who (1) is devoid of desire, fear, and anger, (2) has achieved control over one’s mind and senses, (3) does not let the sense-pleasures enter in the mind, (4) has intense desire for Self-realization, (5) keeps the eyes focused on the goal of Self-realization, and (6) has obtained a total control on one’s breathing by fully focusing the mind on the Self is always free.

Who attains peace of mind?

A Yogi who realizes Me (an Incarnation of Brahman) as the receiver and dispenser of all spiritual practices, sacrifices, and austerities, the Lord of the universe and a loving friend of all beings, attains everlasting peace.

(Thanks to Sheela Krishnan for editing this post.)

Laugh and Learn – 10

How to live for 100 years?

The following post is based on a story I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

In New York City, many exciting things happen. New York City provides opportunities to all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, one has to read all of the newspapers and magazines published in New York City.

One day the following advertisement appeared in a New York City newspaper:


Do you want to live for 100 years?

 

 Attend this one-on-one meeting with a world-renowned doctor

For a very nominal fees

 In a few minutes, you will learn simple ways to live longer.

No medicine. No gimmicks. No nonsenses.

A very successful and a sure way!

 

**Very limited offer! Many time slots have already been taken.

Only a few slots left!

To reserve your time slot, call (111) 333 – 5555.


Frank Miller lived in New Jersey and every day he commuted to New York for work. While reading a newspaper on the bus, his eyes caught the above advertisement. He started debating whether he should try to make an appointment with this doctor.

Frank had tried all kinds of ways to lose weight, but to no avail. He had tried various kinds of diets, pills, exercises (which he did not like much), Yoga, and other things, and nothing had worked for him. After many attempts, he lost a little weight. However, just as in the ocean a wave is followed by a wave, his weight came back with vengeance and he gained more weight than before. He grew frustrated. His wife had told him that if he does not take care of his weight then he will die early. A couple of his friends at work had collapsed and died at young ages from heart attacks. Outwardly, he would joke about his weight, but he was really worried internally. He decided to set up an appointment with the doctor and thought it would not hurt him to make one more attempt.

Frank called the doctor’s office and found out that he could get a one-hour appointment on Monday next week during his lunch break. He had to pay a non-refundable fee of $100 in advance. Well, with some hesitation, he paid the fee and planned to go to see the doctor on Monday next week.

Monday came and Frank went to the doctor’s office on time. The secretary welcomed him with a big business smile and gave him a pad of paper and a pen to write with. After a few minutes, he was called in. The doctor welcomed him with a warm handshake.

After taking their seats, the doctor started telling Frank about the successful stories of people living longer after following his advice. Then, the doctor told Frank to write down the following on his pad:

From today on,

– No Pizza

– No coke or any soft drink

– Absolutely no alcohol

– No smoking

– No meat

– No dairy products

– No cheese in any form

– No sugar in coffee or tea

– No cookies or crackers

– No chocolate

– No salt in the food

– No late night movies or entertainment

– No greasy food

………

Abruptly Frank got up in the middle of this dictation and started to leave.

The doctor said, “Frank! Why are you leaving? Don’t you want to live for 100 years?”

Frank said, “What for?” 🙂 🙂

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A few thoughts on longevity:

There is a birthday wish in Sanskrit which says

It means that “you live for 100 springs” or 100 years. We all want to live longer, but it is not in our hands. There is a popular saying that “Birth, marriage, and death happen in their own time. We have no control over them.”

In this context, a thought definitely comes to our minds – “What is important, a quantity of life or a quality of life?” Shri Shankaracharya died at the age of 32, Sri Ramakrishna at 49, and Swami Vivekananda at 39. They did not live for 100 years, but they left a positive and deeper impact on humanity. Millions of people were inspired by their lives and teachings and they will continue to inspire for eternity.

One’s life is blessed if one realizes the inner divinity lying within and serves humanity unselfishly. Then, it does not matter whether life was short or long.

Many great personalities had worn out their bodies by working for the good of humanity. Swami Vivekananda said that it is better to wear out than to rust out.

There is a big industry which produces products and ways to help people live longer and healthier. Originally, Yoga was meant for the spiritual upliftment, but now it has become a way of exercise.

For a Yogi who wants spiritual upliftment, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes the way of moderation. In chapter six of the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says, “Yoga is not for the person who eats too much or eats too little. It is not for the person who sleeps too much or too little. Yoga puts an end to the sorrows of a person who is moderate in his/her eating, entertainment, work, and sleep.” (Gita 6. 16 and 6. 17).

(Thanks to Pallavi Tatapudy for editing this post and Sneha Shah for the illustration.)

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17: Three Kinds of Faith

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17

Three Kinds of Faith

Arjuna asked, “O Krishna, Those who disregard the scriptures but worship gods with faith; what is the state of their minds?  Is it Sattvika, Rajasika, or Tamasika?

Shri Krishna said that each individual is endowed with faith.  The faiths generated by the mind-set of human beings are of three kinds: Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika. As is the faith, so is the person.

Three kinds of worship:

Satvika people worship gods and goddesses, rajasika people worship angles and demons, while tamasika people worship ghosts and spirits.

The demonic minded people are filled with pretension and ego and they are motivated by worldly desires and attachment. They perform severe austerities disregarding the scriptural injunctions only to torture their bodies and the Self (Atman) lying within them.

Shri Krishna then described three kinds of aahaara (food), yajna (offering or worship), tapa (austerities) and daana (charity).

Three kinds of food:

Sattvika people like food that improves health and increases appetite, joy, strength, and longevity. Such food is also tasty, not very dry, cooked with balanced spices, nutritious, and pleasing to the heart.

The food rajasika people prefer is extremely bitter, sour, salty, dry, hot in temperature and with the spices that burn the tongue and the body.  Such food causes pain, worries and disease.

Tamasika people like food that is ill-cooked, tasteless, putrid, stale, left-over, and filthy.

Three kinds of Yajna (offering/religious ritual/spiritual practice): Sattvika yajna is one which is performed following the guidelines of scriptures and saints, without any motive of material gain, and with a firm conviction that “I must do this for my spiritual development.”

Rajasika yajna is performed with a clear motive of material gain and just to project oneself as a spiritual person.

Tamasika yajna is performed whimsically without following any guidelines.  Such yajna is performed without faith and without honoring any guide or a guest.

Three kinds of austerities: There are three kinds of austerities, namely, physical, verbal and mental.  Each of these austerities is of three types: sattvika, rajasika, and tamasika.

Physical austerities include worshipping gods & goddesses, honoring spiritual seekers, Guru, and wise people, and practicing purity, simplicity, celibacy and non-violence.

Verbal austerities include study of the scriptures, repeating the name of God, not hurting anyone with speech, and speaking truth sensibly. The truth spoken must be pleasant and beneficial to others.

Mental austerities include the practice of silence, self-control, and serenity, keeping the mind free of agitations and impurities.

Each of these austerities is sattvika if it is performed with supreme faith and for spiritual development only, not for any worldly gain.

The rajasika way of performing austerity is to gain honor, attain higher status, receive reverence from people in the society, and is filled with hypocrisy.  The result of such austerity is uncertain and short-lived.

When a person whimsically and out of stupidity picks up a few ideas and practices them as austerity to torture their own body and mind and simply to harm others, then it is called tamsika austerity.

Three kinds of charity:

                When charity is done with a sense of responsibility and with clear understanding of the noble purpose of the receiver (an individual or an organization), given at a proper time and with proper respect, it is called sattvika charity.

Rajasika charity is done in order to receive a worldly favor and for material gain, and given after inflicting much pain to the receiver.

Charity done whimsically by giving to an unworthy person or an organization, at improper place and time, and given with insults and disrespect is called tamasika charity.

Om, Tat, and Sat:

Om, Tat and Sat are three epithets of Brahman.  By that were created formerly the Brahmanas, the Vedas, and the yajnas. Therefore, the followers of the Vedas always begin all yajnas (offerings/religious rituals/spiritual practices), tapa (austerities), and charity enjoined by the scriptures with the utterance of “Om”.

People seeking liberation, uttering the word “Tat”, perform yajna, tapa, and charity only for spiritual development. Keeping in mind that “Tat” means ‘everything belongs to Brahman,’ they do not seek any worldly gain from the yajna, tapa, and charity.

The word “Sat” is used whenever one refers to the Ultimate Reality or something good or noble. The word “Sat” is also used for an auspicious action. The Sanskrit words like Sabhava, (noble feelings) Sat-jana (a good or noble person), Sat-karma (a noble action) use Sat to indicate good or noble.

Steadfastness in sattvika yajna, tapa, and charity is called “Sat.”  Also, when spiritual practices, austerities, or charity are performed only for spiritual development and by offering their worldly results to God, then they are called “Sat.”

When yajna (spiritual practices), tapa (austerities), and charity are done without any faith, then they are called “Asat,” opposite to “Sat.”   The Asat actions are not beneficial in this life or the next.

(Thanks to Sonali Tatapudy for editing this post.)

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 16: Classification of Divine and Demonic Qualities

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 16

Classification of Divine and Demonic Qualities

The difference between divine and demonic:

Each person is potentially divine and the goal of human life is to manifest that divinity in one’s life.

A person is called divine, when this divinity shines through his/her thoughts, speech and actions. When that divinity gets blocked and non-divine qualities manifest, that same person is called a demonic person.

The qualities which help us manifest this inner divinity are called the divine qualities. These divine qualities free us from all our limitations and bondages. On the other hand, the qualities, which block our divinity, create confusion and ignorance are called the demonic qualities.  These demonic qualities, in turn, lead us toward a miserable life and to our destruction.  Such demonic qualities make us slaves of our weaknesses. In this chapter Shri Krishna clearly defines divine and demonic qualities.

The divine qualities:

The following are the divine qualities or virtues.  These virtues are inter-connected.  If a person practices one of these qualities with proper understanding, then the other qualities follow.

(1) fearlessness, (2) purity of mind, (3) being established in the True Knowledge of the Self and an ability to focus mind on the Self, (4) charity, (5) control on one’s senses, (6) sacrifice or unselfish service (7) study of the scriptures and habit of reflecting upon their teachings in order to practice them, (8) austerities – bearing the pain caused due to spiritual practices (9) being simple minded (lack of crookedness), (10) not to hurt anyone through thought, speech and action, (11) being truthful, (12) devoid of anger, (13) renunciation – ability to renounce what comes in the way of spiritual development (14) peaceful nature, (15) not to think or talk about ills of others, (16) compassion towards all beings, (17) not being greedy, (18) having gentle nature (not being rude), (19) modesty; feeling shame in doing unrighteous things, (20) not restless (21) possessing an aura of divinity (22) forgiveness, (23) ability to hold on to spiritual practices until realization of one’s divinity, (24) purity – external and internal, (25) having no animosity towards anyone and (26) not craving for special honor or respect.

The demonic qualities:

The following are the demonic qualities which conceal the divinity of a person and lead one to ignorance and destruction:

(1) Pretension, (2) Arrogance, (3) Being egotistic, (4) Lack of control on anger, (5) Rudeness, (6) Ignorance, (7) Being confused between “what should be done,” and “what should not be done,” (8) Lacking purity (9) Being unrighteous (10) Being untruthful

(11)  People with demonic qualities think that the world is devoid of truth, has no moral basis, is without God, and it is a creation of combination of male and female element having no other cause except fulfillment of lust. Having such views these lost souls with little understanding and fierce actions rise as the enemies of the world for its destruction.

(12) Being filled with hypocrisy, pride, and arrogance, and giving themselves up to insatiable desires they hold false views through delusion and act with impure resolve.

(13) Living with infinite worries which last till their deaths, and thinking that ‘acquiring pleasures of body and mind is the only goal of life,’ they crave for sense-pleasures.

(14) Being slaves of thousands of hopes of worldly desires and filled with lust and anger, they are busy to collect money for sense pleasures through unethical means.

(15) People with demonic qualities think that, “Today I have gained one thing and later on I will fulfil another longing. This much money I have collected and in future I will collect more. I have killed this enemy and I will kill more in future.  I am the Lord of the Universe.  I enjoy the world.  I am endowed with all the cleverness. I am powerful and I am happy.  I am rich and I am from ‘high family.’  There is no one equal to me.  I give in charity, perform religious rituals, and I will enjoy the world.”  Thus, being deluded by ignorance, caught in the net of ‘attachment’, with messed-up minds, and craving for sense pleasures they fall into a hell, meaning live very low-level human lives.

(16)  Considering them as great, drunken by the wealth and worldly respect these arrogant people perform religious rituals whimsically for their worldly pleasures.  They do not properly follow scriptural injunctions.

(17) Minds being filled with ego, pride of their physical strength, arrogance, worldly desires, anger and jealousy they torture Me (the Self) which lies in themselves and others.

To these demonic minded people, who are cruel, filled with hatred and living low-level human lives, I (meaning the Law of Nature) throw them again and again into an environment which sinks them into lower and lower levels of life without realizing their inner divinity.

Three Doors:

O Arjuna!  Know that the three doors to hell (or to low-level of life) are unethical sense pleasures, anger and greed which bring self-destruction.  Therefore, you should renounce these three doors to hell.

Those who save themselves from these three doors and who engage in their spiritual development, attain the highest state in their lives, meaning acquire the supreme Knowledge, Infinite Bliss and Awareness of their inner Divinity.

Follow the Guidelines of the Scriptures:

Those who disregard the teachings of the scriptures and of Saints and Sages and live whimsically following their own worldly desires, they neither attain any success, nor happiness and nor any higher state in life.

Therefore, you must learn the teachings of the scriptures and of Saints and Sages, make these teachings your guidelines to decide ‘what to do and what not to do’ and then perform actions.

Note:

The Law of Nature is such that sooner or later each being will realize its true identity, which is divine and is called by Vedanta as Atman. Divine qualities help a person to realize one’s divinity lying within.

The divine and demonic qualities are in the mind. If the weaknesses take over the mind, then a divine person can turn into a demonic person. Similarly, if a person’s mind realizes the harm and miseries that demonic qualities bring and he/she makes efforts to acquire divine qualities, then he/she becomes divine. We have an example of the highway man Valio or Ratnakar who was robbing and killing people for a living. However, when he was brought to senses by Sage Narada, he realized that he was doing hideous things.  He then plunged into spiritual practices to realize the divinity within and became Sage Valmiki who wrote the great epic Ramayana.

When a person’s mind is dominated by the divine qualities, he/she will attract people with divine qualities whose company will help strengthen his/her divine qualities. Similarly, when a person’s mind is dominated by the demonic qualities, he/she will attract people with demonic qualities whose company will drag him/her into more demonic qualities. But, in this case, at one point by the sufferings and the fear of complete annihilation, a demonic mind wakes up and starts journey towards one’s true divine nature.

(Thanks to Nina Sivadasan-Nair for editing this post.)

 

Laugh and Learn – 9

“Grandma Knows How to Cook”

The following post is based on two stories I had heard from Swami Adiswarananda who was the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

John was a young boy of seven years old. His mother Jane was raising him with the utmost love and care. As part of this, she made sure that John learned all of the Christian family traditions. John’s father Jack was not as keen on these traditions as his mother. He was more interested in seeing John succeed in his studies and develop an interest in sports.

John’s maternal grandparents lived far away.  He could not go there often, but Jane made sure that she and John visited her parents at least twice a year. John loved his grandparents’ house. He felt lots of freedom there.

Every time they visited, Jane’s mother would remind Jane to make sure that John learns all of the Christian traditions. And whenever Jane found an opportunity, she would show her mother that she was raising John in that tradition.

This year’s summer break had finally come.  Jane had told John earlier that year that they would go to grandma’s house for a week. John was eagerly waiting for those days to come. Now that it was finally here, he was jumping with joy.

After about 10 hours of driving, both John and Jane reached grandma’s house. As soon as Jane parked the car in the driveway, John ran and rang the door-bell a number of times.  Grandma knew who it was.  Since grandpa had passed away, she was the only one in the house to open the door. Grandma remembered grandpa and a couple of tear-drops came up on the corner of her eyes.  But, thinking about John, her heart was filled with joy overcoming all of the sorrowful memories.  She was always excited to see little John and had actually spent the whole day cooking all of John’s favorite dishes and awaiting his arrival.

Grandma opened the door and John jumped to give her a big hug, almost knocking her over.  Jane quickly exclaimed, “John, be careful! Don’t knock your grandma down.”  Overcome with joy, John started telling grandma everything about the trip over, including where they took breaks, what they ate, etc. Jane was almost not in the picture.

As John’s story came to a close, Jane asked her mother how she was doing and inquired about her health and living alone. Meanwhile, John looked around and found all the gifts his grandma had brought for him. He was excited and gave a big hug to his grandma for buying all the things he liked.

John then went into kitchen. To his surprise, John found that grandma had made all the goodies that he liked.

“Oh Grandma! I am hungry,” said John.

“But John, we had meals just couple of hours ago. Are you really hungry?” Jane questioned.

“I am really hungry.”

Jane told John to wash his hands. As he did so, John found that his grandma had already placed his meal into a very special dish. John ran to the dining table, sat down, and started eating. Jane was starting to become annoyed by John’s behavior.

“John, before you eat, what do you say?” she asked.

John continued eating and finally responded, “We say grace before the meal.”

“Then, why did you forget to say your grace?”

John continued to eat and said, “But Ma, grandma knows how to cook!” 🙂 🙂

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Another Story:

 “Please bless the food”

A priest came home in the evening exhausted by the whole day’s work. He was hungry. He washed his hands and sat on the dining chair. His wife brought out some leftovers from the refrigerator, warmed them up in the microwave, and placed them on the dining table.

She sat on the other side of the table with folded hands and head bowed down. She was waiting for her husband to say “Grace.” However, after couple of minutes of silence she looked up to her husband. He was sitting staring at the food expressionless.

His wife then said, “Please bless the food.” The priest said with sad voice, “I have already blessed this food three times.” 🙂 🙂

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Thoughts about blessing food

 Harvest-related festivals and blessing food:

In India and all over the world, we can find that there are festivals at the time of harvest. We find in many countries and languages harvest-related songs and dances. The significance of this theme is the recognition of the people that Mother Nature or God almighty provides us with food, without which we cannot survive.

As with these festivals, in our everyday routine, we should realize that we are lucky to have food on the table. Many do not immediately connect having food with God or Mother Nature, but all over the world there are prayers to bless the food and thank God for providing food.

Advantages of blessing food or praying before meals:

There are many advantages to doing prayer before taking meals or blessing the food.  I can list a few advantages:

  1. Because of prayer, people wait for each other and they eat together. If there is no prayer, whoever gets food first will start eating right away and will not think about other people or the servers. Sometimes when this happens, the servers who had cooked the food may not have anything left to eat.
  1. Prayer reminds us of Mother Nature, or the God Almighty, who is providing us the food.
  1. Prayer also reminds us that God has created the body and the digestive system in order for us to digest our food and turn it into energy. With this energy, we must perform our responsibilities and do good work for the benefit of all.
  1. With prayer, we become aware that so many people have worked for our food. For example, not only the farmers but also the people who transport the food, those who sell the food, those who buy the food, those who cook the food and those who serve the food. We appreciate the efforts of all of these people and in turn show our humility.
  1. Blessing the food gives us an opportunity to think of people who do not have food, friends, and family.
  1. Psychologically, prayer or blessing the food quiets the mind before eating. If we eat our meals with peaceful minds, the food can be easily digested. Eating while rushing and running will not help us to digest the food fully. In rush, we sometimes eat more and sometimes less. Neither is good. Calming the mind down before eating helps us to develop control and restraint with our eating.

Various prayers blessing the food:

In the Hindu religion there are several prayers:

  1. In the Ramakrishna Mission and other places, people recite the following shloka from Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, shloka 24):

While reciting this shloka, one thinks that eating a meal is like performing a Hindu ritual called a “yajna.” In a yajna, one offers ghee and other ingredients of worship into a sacred fire.

The shloka is:

The meaning of the shloka BG 4.24 is:

“In a ‘Yajna’, one who sees that the Brahman is the fire, the oblation, the offering, the person who offers, and who sees thus Brahman in action ultimately becomes one with Brahman.”

(Brahman is the Ultimate Reality of a being or of the universe. One can think of Brahman as the formless God who has become the whole universe.)

Why we recite this shloka:

The food is considered as an offering in the fire of stomach. Thus, eating a meal becomes like a spiritual practice that reminds us how ultimately everything becomes one with Brahman. In this way, during each meal, one connects oneself with the Ultimate Reality.

  1. Many places people recite the chapter 15 of Bhagavad Gita. I think the reason is that the following two shlokas 13th and 14th of Chapter 15 are directly related to the food:

Meaning BG 15.13

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the earth and with My power I sustain all the beings. I become the moon and nourish all the vegetation.”

Meaning BG 15.14:

Lord Sri Krishna said, “I reside in the stomach of all beings as fire (Vaishwanara) and with the help of inhalation and exhalation I digest the four kinds of foods.”

Note: The four kinds of food are: (1) food that is chewed, like bread, etc. (2) food that is swallowed, like milk, etc. (3) food that is licked, like ice cream and (4) food that is sucked in the mouth, like the way many people suck on the pulp of a mango through a hole they create on the top of a mango.

The following are a few more prayers for blessing food:

Children’s Prayer:

God is great, God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands, we are fed.
Let us thank him for our bread.

Humorous Prayers:

“Good food, good sweets, good Lord, let’s eat.”

“Lord, bless this bunch as they munch their lunch.”

A Few more Christian Prayers:

“Without Thy sunshine and Thy rain
We could not have the golden grain;
Without Thy love we’d not be fed;
We thank Thee for our daily bread. Amen.”

“Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to thy service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

“Our Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food. Feed our souls on the bread of life and help us to do our part in kind words and loving deeds. We ask in Jesus’s name.”

“Heavenly Father, bless this food and bless our friends and family who’ve come to dine with us today.”

“God, many hands made this meal possible. Farmers grew it. Truckers drove it. Grocers sold it. We prepared it. Bless all those hands, and help us always remember our dependence on you. Amen.”

(Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Sneha Shah for two illustrations.)

 

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15: The Supreme Self

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15

The Supreme Self

The Universe as a Tree:

Shri Krishna said, “The universe is like the Imperishable ‘Ashwattha’ tree hanging upside down. Its roots are above in the sky (in the Ultimate Reality, the Supreme Self or Brahman), the branches are below, and the leaves are the scriptures.  One who knows the universe as described above is the knower of the Ultimate Reality.

The branches of this tree spread above, below, and all around.  They are nourished by the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas.  Its buds are the sense objects.  In this human world, the cause-effect chains form the tap roots which give rise to ego, attachment, and desires.

What to make of the tree?

One cannot comprehend its true form here. It has no beginning, no end and its present state is uncertain. This tree has been deeply rooted into ego, attachment, and desires. In order to acquire the Supreme Knowledge of the Ultimate Reality, one has to cut down this tree with the powerful weapon of detachment.

Then, one has to search for the Ultimate Reality, the knowledge of which prevents one from becoming deluded again.  One should pray, “I surrender to you, the Ancient Supreme Self, from which streamed forth the whole universe.”

Who attains the Supreme Self?

Those highly evolved people, who have gotten rid of their false pride and delusion, conquered their minds and senses, are ever devoted to the goal of attaining the Supreme Self, are devoid of worldly desires, and do not get disturbed by the pairs of opposites like pain & pleasure and others, attain the Immortal Supreme Self.

This Supreme Self is self-illumined.  Neither the sun, nor the moon, nor fire illumines It. The one who reaches the Abode of the Suprereme Self does not get deluded again.

The Parts of the Supreme Self:

An eternal part of Me (the Supreme Self), called the Atman, attracts the mind and the senses and becomes a being called Jivatma.

As wind takes fragrance from a flower to another place, this Jivatma takes the mind and the senses from one body to another.

This Jivatma, presiding over the senses like the ear, the eye, the organs of touch, taste, and smell, and the mind, enjoys the objects of the senses.

The people with deeper insight realize that the Jivatma endowed with three gunas resides in a body, enjoys the sense-objects, and leaves the body.  People with undeveloped intellect cannot realize this fact.

Yogis who have purified their minds through proper spiritual practices and self-control realize this Atman.  But, people with impure minds and lack of self-control cannot realize this Atman even if they make efforts.

The Power and the Nature of the Supreme Self:

Know that the effulgent light of the sun which illumines the whole world, and the light of the moon and the fire is My (Supreme Self’s) light.

Pervading the earth, I, the Supreme Self, hold all beings and I nourish all vegetation through My light of the moon.

I, the Supreme Self, digest all the four kinds of food (food which is chewed, swallowed, leaked, and sucked) being the fire inside the stomach which is kept alive by the wind of inhalation and exhalation.

I reside in the hearts of all, and through Me alone they have memory, knowledge, and destruction of their doubts.  I am the creator and the knower of the Vedas, and through  the Vedas I am the One to be known.

The Supreme Self:

There are two kinds of selves in the world, the Perishable and the Imperishable.  All the embodied beings of the world are Perishable, while the Unchanging Self within all beings (the Atman) is the Imperishable.

However, there is yet another Self which is beyond the Perishable and the Imperishable.  It is known in the Vedas and the world as the Supreme Self.  It pervades and sustains the whole universe.

Since I am the Supreme, beyond the perishable and the imperishable, I am known in the Vedas as the Supreme Self.  One who knows Me as the Supreme Self has known everything to be known and he/she worships Me with all his/her heart.

O Arjuna!  Thus, I have told you the profound Truth by knowing which one becomes the Knower of the Truth and the blessed soul.”

(Thanks to Sheela Krishnan for editing this post.)

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14:The Classification of the Three Gunas

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14

The Classification of the Three Gunas

The Supreme Knowledge:

Shri Krishna said, “I will again tell you the supreme knowledge, by knowing which sages have attained the highest state a human being can attain.

My power (Prakruti) has created all the matter in the universe and I (as Purusha or Brahman) infuse Consciousness in the matter. That is how all beings come to life.

Prakruti is made out of three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. These three gunas bind the Consciousness (Atman) to the matter (body and mind).

How the Atman is being tied to the Body and the Mind:

Sattva is pure, without modification, and illumined. Sattva ties the Atman to the body and mind through attachment to knowledge and happiness.

Rajas is created by the desires to please the body and mind with worldly pleasures and attachment to worldly objects. It ties the Atman to the body and mind to perform actions to fulfill these worldly desires and keep the attachment to worldly objects.

Tamas is created through ignorance. It deludes all people. Tamas ties the Atman to the body and the mind with inertia, laziness, sleep, and destructive activities.

Rising of each guna:

Each guna rises by dominating the other two gunas.

When the sattva guna rises, there is full awareness of the Atman in the body and mind. When the rajas rises, then greed, desires and activities to fulfill worldly pleasures, and restlessness prevails in the person. When tamas rises, the body and mind are filled with inertia, laziness, delusion and destructive activities.

Results of each guna:

When the sattva guna dominates, a person performs good actions, and the results of these good actions are happiness and an awareness of the Atman (one’s true identity). The results of actions performed under the domination of rajas are suffering and greed. The results of actions performed under the domination of tamas are ignorance and delusion.

The Consciousness of the people in whom sattva dominates most of the time remains in the higher state, which brings knowledge, happiness, and inner peace. The Consciousness of the people in whom rajas dominates most of the time remains in mediocre state which brings suffering, confusion, and attachment to the worldly pleasures and objects. The Consciousness of the people in whom tamas dominates most of the time remains in the lower state which brings ignorance, delusion, inertia, and destruction.

When a person dies living a sattvika-oriented life, he/she takes birth in the family of sattvika people. When a person dies living a rajasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth into a family of rajasika people. When a person dies living a tamasika-oriented life, he/she takes birth as an inert material or a lower species.

How to attain the highest knowledge?

When a person realizes that the body and mind are dominated by the three gunas and he/she, as Atman, is just the Witness Consciousness being unaffected by the three gunas, then the person attains the highest (supreme) knowledge.”

How a person with the highest knowledge behaves in the world?

Arjuna asked, “O Lord Krishna! How can a person go beyond the three gunas and realize that he/she is an Atman, a Witness Consciousness? What are the characteristics of such a person? How does that person behave in the world?

Shri Krishna said, “A person who has gone beyond the three gunas and realized that his/her true identity is the Atman (the Witness Consciousness) will not hate when any guna rises in him/her and does not crave for any guna when it subsides. Such a person remains calm within and observes like an outsider how his/her body and mind function due to the gunas. Such a person realizes that his/her body and mind are constantly changing, but as Atman he/she remains the same.

(The nature of Atman is Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss Absolute. This means that a person as Atman is the eternal Life Force, has all the Awareness or Knowledge, and has a nature that is Infinite Bliss.)

Realizing that his/her true nature is Atman, a person goes beyond the three gunas. The following are a few characteristics of such a person. Such a person (1) remains calm while going through the joyful and sorrowful situations of life, (2) sees no existential difference between dirt, stone and gold, (3) does not become elated when favorable things happen and does not become depressed when unfavorable things happen, (4) always remains fully aware and knowledgeable about all things occurring and keeps complete control on oneself, (5) knows that the praise and blame, honor and insult are temporary and they come together as two sides of a coin, (6) is unbiased towards friends and foes, and (7) does not engage in any selfish (related only to the temporary pleasures of the body and mind) activity.

With the above mentioned characteristics, when a person has an unswerving intense love for Me (meaning has intense passion to realize one’s true identity as Brahman or Atman and makes proper effort for this), goes beyond the three gunas, and becomes one with the Atman (or Brahman).

Remember I (Brahman or Atman) am the abode of Immortality, the True Righteousness, and the Infinite Bliss.”

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Notes:

  1. If we know the characteristics of the three gunas, then we will be aware of the rising of each guna in us and we can understand the cause of our thoughts and behavior. We can also understand the cause of other people’s thoughts and behaviors and treat them the best way we can. This understanding of gunas definitely helps us to know ourselves better and improves our relationship with others.
  2. All three gunas are needed to live a life. Sattva is needed for knowledge, happiness and peace of mind. Rajas is needed to maintain the body and keeping the mind alert. Tamas is needed to rest the body and mind.  These three gunas should be in proper proportions.  In order to attain the supreme knowledge we have to control tamas to its proper proportion by raising rajas and similarly to keep rajas in proper proportion we have to raise sattva. Finally, we have to go beyond the three gunas.
  3. Sri Ramakrishna told an excellent parable that gives a clear picture of these gunas. A person was going through a deep forest. Three robbers came and robbed him and beat him. One robber said, “Let’s kill him, so he cannot tell the police about us.” The second robber said, “There is no need to kill him. Let’s tie him to a tree and leave him to die on his own fate.” They tied him to a tree and left.  The third robber who was quiet and did not initially do anything, came back. He said, “Oh! You have suffered so much and you are in pain. Let me untie you and relieve you from this pain.” He untied the traveler and said, “I know the way out from this forest. Follow me.” The third robber took the traveler out from the forest. But, the robber stayed at the border of the forest and pointed the traveler a path to his home. The traveler said, “You are a very nice person. Please come with me to my home.  My family will like to see you.” The third robber said, “No. I cannot come out of this forest. I am also a robber.”

 The three robbers are three gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas. The robber who was             ready to kill is tamas, the robber which tied the person is rajas, and the robber who       relieved the person and showed him the path leading towards his home is sattva.          Home is our own true identity Atman which is our divine self. In order to realize                 Atman we have to go beyond the three gunas. Sattva is closer to Atman. But, we             should not even have awareness that ‘I am sattvika.’ When we go beyond the three         gunas, we become free from all bondages. Such a person truly lives a life as a master     of oneself and not as a slave.

  1. A person who has gone beyond the three gunas is called a Gunatita. A Gunatita person is not inactive. To the contrary, such a person is intensely active to unselfishly serve all beings seeing the same Atman in all. In the presence of such a person, we feel an unspeakable bliss, peace of mind, a clear understanding of the purpose of life, and derive inspiration to realize Atman and be free from all bondages.

(Thanks to Rushil Desai for editing this post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 13: The classification of the field and the knower of the field

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 13: 

The Classification of the Field and the Knower of the Field

Shrimad Bhagavad Gita

In this chapter, Shri Krishna, with his deep insight, has classified the material and the non-material part of beings and of the universe.

Shri Krishna explains the following: (1) what is the field, (2) who is the knower of the field, (3) the spiritual practices to attain the knowledge of the field, (4) what has to be known, and (5) the view of the Sankhya Philosophy.

Sri Krishna said that according to him, the knowledge of ‘the field and the knower of the field’ is the Supreme Knowledge.

The Field (Body & Universe)

Shri Krishna said that he would briefly describe the field which has been described by the Rishis (the Seers of the Ultimate Truth) and the Upanishads, and which has been logically established by the Brahma Sutras.

The field is made of the following parts:

(1) Five elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.

(2) Ten Senses: Five senses to comprehend the universe, which are represented in the body as ears (hearing), skin (touch), eyes (vision), tongue (taste), and nose (smell), and five senses of action, namely mouth for speech, hands, legs, sense of generation and sense of evacuation.

(3) Five objects of the senses: This includes sound, the objects we know by touch, all forms we perceive through the eyes, all kinds of tastes, and all kinds of smells.

Note:  The items in (1), (2), and (3) are connected and there is an underlying order. In the creation of the universe, first Space was created. Sounds need space. So, to perceive the sound the sense of hearing was created. Then, Air was created.  To perceive air, the sense of touch (i.e. the skin) was created. Air has a sound and touch. Then, Fire was created. Fire has a form. To perceive the form, the sense of sight (i.e. the eyes) was created. Fire also has a sound and it can be perceived through touch. Then, Water was created. Water has a taste. Hence the sense of taste (i.e. the tongue) was created. Water also has a sound, it can be felt by touch, and has a form.  Finally, the Earth was created. It has a smell. For this the sense of smell (i.e. the nose) was created. Earth also has a sound, can be perceived through touch, has a form, and has a taste.

We perceive ourselves and the universe with these senses.

(4) Mind: Our senses perceive when the mind is connected with them.

(5) Intellect: The intellect, which is the analytical part of the mind, classifies all that we have perceived through our mind and senses.

(6) Desire and hatred: Somehow every mind has likes and dislikes. It desires what it likes and hates what it dislikes.

(7) Joy and sorrow: We are happy when we get what we like and sad when we get what we dislike.

(8) Fortitude: The mind makes resolves to obtain what it likes. The stronger our desire for something, the more intense will be our determination to get it.

(9) Physical Body: Our body or the universe is a structure which is needed to hold all of these things.

(10) Consciousness: Nothing is perceived or functions without the consciousness.

(11) The soul: As long as there is a soul in the body, there is consciousness. This soul is un-manifested, meaning it cannot be perceived through our senses.

All these constitute our body. Also, these things constitute the universe. The knowledge of this field is the Supreme Knowledge.

Knower of the Field: Shri Krishna says that the Almighty God (the Creator, the Nourisher, and the Dissolver of the universe residing within us) is the knower of the field.

What is Knowledge?

How do we know if we have that Supreme Knowledge? What are the characteristics of a person who has acquired this Supreme Knowledge? Another way of looking the following is to find out what kind of virtues we acquire or practice to have the supreme knowledge.

(1) Humility (2) Modesty (3) Non-violence: not to hurt anyone with thought, speech, or action (4) Forgiving nature (5) Simple mindedness (6) Giving respect and rendering service to all from whom one has learned something (7) Purity: maintaining internal and external purity (8) Whose mind and intellect are steady (9) Has control of one’s senses and mind (10) Understands that the pleasures of the senses are limited and they are followed by suffering (11) Not egotistic (12) Understands that life has few joys, but it has the unavoidable suffering of birth, disease, old age, and death (13) Understands that family members and wealth have been given by God, and he/she is simply a caretaker of the loved ones and the wealth. (14) Keep the mind balanced in favorable and unfavorable circumstance (15) Realizing that the goal of human life is to realize the God lying within (inner divinity of the Self) and loves God intently (16) Loves to be in solitude to reflect upon the meaning of life and the importance of realizing God (17) Avoids gossip (18) Always keeps focused on and makes efforts to achieve one’s own spiritual development and (19) Understands the essence of the scriptures.

Shri Krishna says that anything other than the virtues described above is a sign of ignorance.

What has to be known?

Shri Krishna says, “I will tell you what has to be known, by knowing which one attains immortality.”

(1) It is the Supreme Brahman which is without beginning and is beyond being and non-being.

(2) It works through all hands, walks through all feet, sees through all eyes, listens through all ears and thinks through all heads. Its existence envelops all.

(3) It shines through the functions of all senses, but It is devoid of senses.

(4) It is unattached, but It nourishes all. It is beyond all three gunas, but It enjoys the gunas. It is inside and outside of all beings. It is movable and also immovable. It is far as well as near. It is Indivisible, but appears as divided in beings. It is subtle. Therefore, It is difficult to comprehend.

(5) This Supreme Brahman is the Light of all lights. It is the Creator, the Nourisher, and the Dissolver of the universe.

(6) It is Knowledge, the object of Knowledge, and attainable through Knowledge. It resides in the hearts of all.

One who knows the field, the knowledge, and the object of knowledge becomes one with Brahman.

View of Sankhya Philosophy:

Know that the Purusha (the Consciousness) and the Prakruti (the matter, the divine power of Purusha) are without beginning and all the modifications and gunas are created by Prakruti.

Know that the Prakruti is the cause of the creation of the body and the sense organs while the Purusha is the cause of the experience of happiness and suffering.

Purusha embodied in Prakruti (as the Jiva who thinks: “I have a body and mind”) experiences the results of actions initiated by the three gunas. As a consequence of the results of these actions, the Jiva takes birth in favorable or unfavorable environments.

Actually, the Jiva without the consciousness of the body and the mind is the Supreme Purusha, the Pure Consciousness or the Absolute Existence which is called Paramatma, the Supreme Self. It is the Brahman, the Nourisher of all. It is the witness consciousness. By Its will, everything happens. It is the cause of all our experiences.

One who knows Purusha and Prakruti along with its three gunas as described above will not get deluded again in this life while performing his/her responsibilities.

How can people get such knowledge?

Some people acquire this knowledge through meditation on the Supreme Purusha residing within. Some acquire this knowledge through Pure Reasoning, while some acquire through unselfish service.

Some people acquire this knowledge through properly listening and following the teachings of the people who had acquired this knowledge.

Know that whatever has been created, whether living or non-living, is the combination of the Field (the Prakruti) and the Knower of the Field (the Purusha).

The Right View:

One who has realized the following has acquired the right understanding:

The Paramatma (the Supreme Self) is abiding alike in all beings and does not perish when the body perishes. Prakruti is the doer of all actions and not the Paramatma who resides in all.

Note:  It is like electricity, which does not do anything, but which allows a fan, heater, or cooker to perform its action when plugged in.

The Paramatma is imperishable, beginning-less, and devoid of the three gunas. That is why it resides in the body, but is not performing any actions and does not get affected by the actions of the body.  As the subtle space is everywhere, but is not affected by the things residing in the space, similarly the Paramatma is not affected by the functions of the body.

As one sun illumines the whole universe, the Paramatma illumines the field, the body, mind, intellect and the universe.

One who realizes that all various beings are in One Brahman (Paramatma, the Supreme Self) and that everything is created by the Brahman, becomes one with Brahman.

With the eye of wisdom, those who perceive the distinction between the field and the knower of the field and know how to be free from the Prakruti become one with the Paramatma, the Supreme Self.

(Thanks to Sonali Tatapudy for editing this post)

 

 

 

 

 

The Essence of Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12: The Path of Devotion

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 12:  The Path of Devotion

Shrimad Bhagavad Gita

 Arjun’s Question:

Arjuna asked Shri Krishna, “There are two kinds of devotees: those who sincerely make efforts to realize God with form and those who contemplate on the Imperishable and the Un-manifested formless God, called Brahman.  Among these two kinds of devotees, who are the better yogis?”

Shri Krishna’s Answer:

Shri Krishna replied, “Those who focus their minds on God with form with supreme faith and constantly make efforts to realize God are better yogis.  However, those who worship Infinite, Immovable, Imperishable, Un-manifested, Omnipresent, and incomprehensible Brahman with total self-control, and serve all beings with their whole heart, considering them as manifestations of Brahman, are also able to reach Me.

People, who cannot comprehend the Self as their true divine identity, which is beyond their body and mind, have greater difficulty in realizing the formless aspect of God.  On the other hand, I (God) immediately lift up the devotees from the ocean of this mortal world who constantly focus their mind on Me (God with form) and offer the results of their actions to Me.

Who Can Realize God?

Shri Krishna says, “If you focus your mind and intellect on Me, then, without a doubt, you will live in Me, meaning you will attain the highest state of divine awareness possible for a human being.”

Alternate Spiritual Practices:

(1) If you cannot focus your mind on Me, then make repeated efforts to focus it by refraining from having other thoughts.

(2) If you cannot make efforts to focus your mind, then perform all actions that help you think of Me, such as performing worship, taking the name of God, or similar practices.

(3) If you cannot perform such actions, then offer the results of all your actions to Me.  One instantly attains supreme peace by renouncing the results of all actions.”

The Characteristics of a Devotee Who is Most Beloved by God:

Shri Krishna then said that his most beloved devotee has the following characteristics.

“My most beloved devotee is one who: (1) hates none (2) is a friend to all (3) is compassionate towards all (4) has nothing of his own (meaning one who considers everything as belonging to God) (5) is egoless (6) remains balanced in pain and pleasure (7) is forgiving (8) is satisfied with whatever he/she gets, after making sincere efforts in any endeavor (9) is constantly engaged in spiritual development (10) has self-control (11) is determined to attain the highest knowledge (12) has given his/her mind and intellect to God, the innermost divine Self (13) does not get disturbed by others, nor becomes the cause of disturbance for others (14) is free from the disturbances created by excessive joy, jealousy, fear, and anxiety (15) has no meaningless expectations (16) is pure (17) is skillful and prompt (18) is unbiased (19) is free from worries  (20) will not get engaged in fruitless selfish activities (21) who does not deviate from a spiritual path in joyful moments (22) does not grieve (23) does not crave for worldly pleasures, as they are limited and are followed by suffering (24) has gone beyond auspicious and un-auspicious  (25) sees the same God in friends and foes (26) remains calm within, whether receiving honor or insults (27) does not deviate from his spiritual path in joys and sorrows or heat and cold—the opposite situations of favorable and unfavorable (28) is unattached, meaning attached to God, who is the Ultimate Reality, and attached to all things of the world through God (29) considers praise and blame to be two sides of a coin, or in other words, knows that both come together (30) is silent, speaks when needed, and is contemplative (31) is happy with whatever he/she has (32) is constantly connected with God and sees that God dwells everywhere (33) has steady intellect and (34) is filled with devotion.

Those who practice the above-mentioned nectar-like characteristics (Dharma) with supreme faith are most beloved by God.

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing this post.)

 

Laugh and Learn – 8

Consultations

This is an age of consultation and counseling.  We seek consulations and couseling for college applications, job search, marriage, divorce, raising children, financial growth, stress, sickness, anxieties, problems related to pats, gracefully aging and dying, and many other things. Many times we learn valuable lessons from funny stories.

The following incident was described in one of Swami Adiswarananda’s discourses.

There was a teacher who was looking for ways to make more money because he was not making enough by just teaching. He wished he would have been a businessman or in the corporate world, but he was not trained for it.

One day, he read an advertisement in a major newspaper of New York about a consulting firm that was offering its services to advise people on how to make more money with nominal fees.  He was very happy and was waiting for the day that the consultations would begin.

On that day, he got up early, got dressed up, and reached the consulting firm on Park Avenue in New York.  He was early, so he walked up and down on Park Avenue and started imagining himself as a rich man with a condo in Midtown Manhattan.   He looked at his watch and saw that it was 9:05 a.m.

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He rushed to the consulting firm’s service door.  To his surprise, he was the only one there.  He expected that there was going to be a big crowd waiting to get in.

With little hesitance, he went inside. Another surprise! There was no secretary to receive him. There was not a single person there.  He looked around.  Then, he heard a voice: “Please register on the computer.”  He went to the computer and filled out the registration form.  The nominal fee was $100.  He paid $100 through his credit card and, as all people do, he clicked “I Accept” without looking at the terms and conditions.

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Then, the computer said, “Proceed to the door on your right.”  He thought this must be a big sophisticated company.

He proceeded through the door and again, to his surprise, he found no one was there.  He looked up and saw two signs.

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The signs read: “If you are earning $500,000 or more, enter through the right door, or if you are earning less than $500,000, enter through the left door.”

He mumbled, “I wish I was making $500,000 or more! I am here to make that kind of money.”  He entered through the left door.

Again, there was no one there, except two doors and two signs.

sneha-image_3of5-12102016He read the signs: “If you are earning between $250,000 and $500,000, then enter through the right door, or if you are making $250,000 or less, then enter through the left door.”

He was annoyed by this in-humane treatment and humiliation created by the divisions of people by their salaries.  Well, he was here to make more money, so he proceeded through the left door. Now, there was a greater surprise waiting for him.

As soon as he walked through a semi-dark passage, he found himself again on the Park Avenue Street!

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Lesson Learned:

Consultation and counseling are good as long as they help us solve our problem. However, many times we unnecessarily run to seek help from outside.  I know someone who takes a handful of aspirins from his big bottle at the slightest headache.  Many times we run to take a heavy dose of medicine to cure our minor bodily discomforts. The body has a mechanism to cure itself, but we do not have the patience to let it do so.

Shri Krishna in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, “Rise yourself to a higher level of Consciousness by yourself. Do not lower yourself.  You are your greatest friend and you are your greatest enemy.” (6.5)

Shri Krishna explains further: “When one has self-control, then one is one’s own friend. When one has no self-control, then one becomes one’s own enemy.” (6.6)

What a wonderful message! Self-control and contentment are great virtues. They bring us success, joy, and satisfaction. In many situations, with patience, self-control, and satisfaction, we can avoid running around for external help. By helping ourselves, we build self-confidence and with that we will start finding solutions from within.

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing this post and Sneha Shah for providing illustrations.)

 

 

Laugh and Learn – 7

The Wise Man’s Skull

The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Minister of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.  This story is not funny, but it has an excellent message.

Let us go back in the past when in India walking was the only way of transportation.  People had to go from one village or town to another on foot, and most of the time, they had to go through forests.

At that time, the environment was not disturbed and one could breathe fresh air, but they had to go through the dangers of being killed by animals and sometimes by the highway men. When someone walked through the forests, the relatives of the person would not know for many days whether their family member was killed or reached the destination. If someone survived out of a group of people who were attacked, then only would their family receive the news about the killing.

This is how one group of people found out that in one particular forest there was a crazy giant. If anyone passed by the forest, he would stop the person and ask a question.  If the person did not give a satisfactory answer, then he would kill the person. So, people avoided that forest.

One day a wandering monk came to a town near that forest.  In the past, in India, wandering monks devoted their mind on God. They would not live at a place for more than three days.  Wherever they went, they would guide people to take the name of God and live a decent human life.  They helped people solve their personal problems and would try to remove their miseries.  In return, people would take care of their basic needs like food and shelter.  This monk helped many people of the town and he was ready to move on.  When people found out that the monk was planning to go through the forest where the crazy giant lived, they all requested him not to go through that forest as the giant had killed many people.  The monk said that he was completely dependent on God and was ready to take on the challenge of the crazy giant. The monk told people not to worry about him.  He started walking on the road going through the forest.  All people said “goodbye” to him with a heavy heart. They all prayed for him.

The fearless monk was walking through the thick forest.  The track was less travelled. So, he had a hard time finding the track, which would hopefully lead him to the next town.  Various kinds of birds were chirping.  Everything was green and beautiful.  He was enjoying the beauty of the nature.  He heard some wild animals. As the monk was completely dependent on God, he continued his journey without any fear, repeating God’s name.

After some time, the road broadened and on the sides of the road, he saw a few bodies of people who were killed savagely.  The monk remembered the story told by the people of a crazy guy living in this forest and killing people.

The monk continued and thought “Whatever is God’s wish is what will happen.” Within a few minutes he saw a huge, terrible-looking guy standing in the middle of the road laughing.

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As the monk went closer to him, the crazy guy said, “Ah!  After a long time I found a victim.” And then he again laughed loudly.  Anyone else would have died by this laughter, but the monk was fearless.  The monk asked him why he was killing innocent people.  The crazy guy said, “Well! I want an answer to my question.  If a person cannot answer my question, he or she has to die. Your fate is not different from them.”

Again, he laughed for a long time.  The monk asked, “What is your question?”  The crazy guy said, “The question is very simple.  Here are three skulls of three people.  Can you tell me which skull is of a wise person?  If you cannot give me a satisfactory answer, then you will die.”

The monk was calm.  He smiled and went to the three skulls.  He took a small pebble and put into the ear-hole of one of the skulls and then he shook it.  The pebble came out from the other ear-hole.  Then, he took the second skull and did the same thing.  The pebble came out from the mouth-hole.  The crazy man sat on his knees and start watching the whole thing.  Finally, the monk put the pebble in the third skull’s ear-hole and shook it.  The pebble did not come out!  The monk smiled and handed the third skull in the hands of the crazy guy and said, “This is the wise man’s skull.”  The crazy guy said that he should explain why this was the wise man’s skull.

The monk said that the first man heard a good thing from his one ear, but it all went out from the other. The good things did not retain in the head. The second man heard good things, but these good things came out from his mouth.  After listening, he gave lectures to others and did not practice them himself.  But, the third person whatever good things he heard, he practiced them and assimilated them into his life.

The crazy guy bowed down to the monk.  He got up, laughed again and with a great speed ran away.  The monk had a sigh of relief and he continued his journey.

Lesson Learned:

I am sure you must have guessed the message after the monk examined the three skulls.

In our scriptures, the following three spiritual practices have been described for a seeker of the Highest Knowledge:

(1) Shravana:  The word means to listen to scriptures from a realized person or a person who is committed to realize the Atman (our True Divine Identity lying within) and who is sincerely making all attempts for the realization.  This person must have understood the essence of the scriptures.  Listening to scriptures from such a person is far better than reading the scriptures by ourselves because by listening we easily get the essence of the scriptures.  Shri Shankaracharya says that the scriptures are like deep forests and people easily get lost in them.  It means that there are various teachings in the scriptures, many of which look contradictory and many may not be applicable to our situations. Thus, listening to scriptures is a very important spiritual practice for a sincere seeker of Truth.

(2) Manana:  This word means reflecting upon what we had listened to and had read from the scriptures.  The real thing to hear from the scriptures is about our True Divine Identity lying within ourselves. This is also described as Atman in Vedanta philosophy.  This Atman is eternal.  That is why It is without birth and death.  It does not change.  Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says that weapons cannot cut the Atman, fire cannot burn It, wind cannot blow It away, and water cannot drown It. This Atman is the support of our existence and because of It our body and mind function.  Its nature is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Knowledge-Bliss absolute). When we go closer to It through reflections and meditation, we feel the divine bliss within, acquire the knowledge of our True identity, and become fearless by realizing Its eternal nature. By realizing Atman, we know our minds (and thereby, all other minds) in and out. We become free from all bondages which tie us with our little selves, consisting our body and mind. We have to reflect upon the nature of Atman and also reflect upon our imaginary identity of body and mind.  The body and mind are constantly changing. They have a beginning and an end. The constantly changing body and mind cannot be our True Identity.

Atman is a part of Brahman, which is the Ultimate Reality of the universe.  There is only one Existence which Vedanta describes as Brahman.  From Brahman the universe has come.  Brahman nourishes the universe and the universe dissolves in Brahman.  Also, what is in the universe is in an atom, just as a whole tree lies within a seed. Thus, Atman is nothing but Brahman.

(3)  Nididhyasana: This means we have to make efforts to realize this Atman within.  The realization of Atman is not an intellectual knowledge. We have to feel within that our true nature or identity is the Atman and our body-mind are like clothes that the Atman is wearing.  Once we realize Atman, we find that it is the same Atman residing in all beings, animals, and all the things of the universe.  With this awareness of unity, we love all and hate none. We always are ready to serve all with unselfish love, without expecting anything in return. We feel that the purpose of our life is fulfilled and all our doubts go away from our mind. Once we attain the Highest Knowledge, we feel that all the basic questions of life have found their answers. Sages and saints are great because they have attained this knowledge.

Thus, the message of the story is to listen to scriptures, reflect upon the essence of the scriptures, practice the essence of the scriptures, and realize our True Identity (Atman).

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Pamela C. Beniwal for providing an illustration.)

Laugh and Learn – 6

The Goat’s Goatee

(The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Minister of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.)

Long before the radio and television were invented, the main principles of the Hindu culture were communicated throughout India by the holy people.  They would wander around telling the stories of the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, and expound on scriptures like Bhagavatam and other puranas. Shrimad Bhagavatam is a great book filled with stories of holy people and the life of Shri Krishna, which help develop love for God.

goatee

In one village of India, one holy man was expounding on Shrimad Bhagavatam.  Usually, this is a seven-day program.  Every day the holy man reads and explains a few pages of Shrimad Bhagavatam.  Village people come and listen to these stories and, at the end, give money or food to the holy man.

One day, the holy man found that one woman was continuously crying while listening to the discourse.  The holy man thought that his explanation was really touching the heart of a devotee.  His heart was very much impressed by the devotion of the woman.  The holy man was greatly encouraged and he went much deeper into the explanation of the book.

After the discourse, he went to the woman and asked her which part of the book touched her heart.  The woman wiping her tears said, “It was not about the book that I was crying.  I had a goat.  It was such an adorable goat and I loved it dearly.  That goat passed away today.  I am sorry to say that when you were talking, your goatee constantly reminded me of my goat!”

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Reflections:

Lesson for the expounders:  Never be over-impressed by the listeners’ reactions or responses. It is hard to find out what is going on in the minds of the listeners.

Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings to expounders are very clear and appropriate.

He said, “There is no harm in teaching others if the preacher has a commission from the Lord…When the lamp is lighted, the moths come in swarms.  They don’t have to be invited.  In the same way, the preacher who has a commission from God need not invite people to hear him. He doesn’t have to announce the time of his lectures. He possesses such irresistible attraction that people come to him of their own accord.” (from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna).

Lesson for the Listeners: When we are listening to discourses, we have to put aside all our unrelated thoughts and focus on the essence of the discourse; then only can we learn something from it.

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Sneha Shah for providing an illustration.)

Laugh and Learn – 5

What is the Solution?

The following post is based on a story I heard from Swami Adiswarananda, the Spiritual Leader of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center in New York from 1973 to 2007.

In the U.S., we see monkeys only in zoos.  Many cannot imagine a group of monkeys wandering around in cities or villages, from place to place, mainly in search of food, and maybe in order to maintain or develop their “jumping” skills.  They climb up on a tree and swing from branch to branch or jump around on the terraces of buildings a few stories high. In India, we see many such groups of monkeys.

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This is the story of one such group of monkeys in search of food.  In India, the weather is mostly sunny, so the windows remain open most of the time.  In order to stop monkeys from entering into houses through the windows, houses have iron window grilles built in. Those people who cannot afford such windows have uninvited monkey guests in the house. I have known a few people who were shockingly surprised to see monkeys in their house. If the windows are without grilles, monkeys simply go to the kitchen, grab food, and jump out of the house.  If windows have grilles and any food is near the window grilles, monkeys extend their hands inside and grab it.

A group of monkeys is made out of a family or a few families. One such group of monkeys was jumping on the terraces of houses looking for food. Among them was a small monkey who was learning all the monkey tricks and ways to get food.  He was jumping around and all of a sudden he saw an apple lying inside a grilled window.  It was a big, red apple.  Any mouth becomes watery by seeing this apple. The little monkey jumped to the window, extended its hand inside the grille, and grabbed the apple.

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Sketch – 1

The monkey was delighted to grab the apple. But, as soon as it tried to bring its hand out with the apple, it found that its hand is not coming out of the grille. The apple was much bigger than the space between the grilles.  It tried grabbing the apple in different ways, but its hand could not come out with the apple.  It seemed that there was no one in the house. The small monkey started screaming for help.  The other monkeys came running to help this little one. They saw the problem and they all started thinking about how to solve it.

One monkey said, “Let us find some sharp object. Then slowly we will cut the grille.” That monkey found a sharp object and started cutting the grille.  One monkey said, “Let us try to pull out the whole window.  Then the little monkey will have to walk around its whole life with a window on its hand.”  That monkey tried to pull out the whole window.  One monkey said, “Let us pray to God.  I am sure God will find a solution.”  It started praying to God.  One monkey said, “Try to think that your hand is not caught by the grille.”  Among all the commotion, one elderly monkey came and told the little monkey, “Just let go of the apple and pull out your hand.”

Lesson learned:  Many times we unnecessarily suffer because we have some desire to fulfill.  If the desire is useless or unneeded, then it is better to give it up.  With that act of giving something up, we may not lose anything. In fact, our mind will be free from hundreds of worries and struggles.

Sri Ramakrishna gave an example of this.  A bird picked up a fish and wanted to eat it.  The bird sat on a branch of a tree to eat the fish.

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But, several crows saw that the bird had a fish.  They all followed the bird with piercing cawing.  The bird tried to run away from the craws and tried to sit on various trees and places.  But, all the crows followed it and started poking it with their beaks.  Finally, the fish fell from the bird’s mouth.  All of the crows followed the fish and left the bird alone.  The bird then peacefully sat on a tree.  Thus, worries and struggles follow a desire.

The question might arise that, knowing this fact, should we give up all desires? It is true that each desire brings worries and problems.  But, as long as we have a body, we will have desires; like desire to live and survive.  So, what we should do?

Well, desires are of various kinds.  The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita says, “I am the desire in all beings that is not contrary to dharma (7.11).” That means God, the Creator of the Universe, has created righteous desires in all beings.  The desires which uplift us from the physical level to the spiritual level, destroy our bondages, and are not harmful to anyone are okay to fulfill.  But, our mind runs around and fills itself up with hundreds of other desires, which make us slaves to our senses and are harmful to us and/or others. Such desires should be shunned.  These useless and harmful desires bring us many worries and frustrations.  Buddha said that the cause of suffering is desires.  In life, we get tired by carrying a baggage of extra desires.  If we want peace of mind, then we have to reduce the desires to a minimum—the desires which free us from all bondages.

Deeper Meaning of the Story:

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Imagine an ocean filled with millions of waves.  The Ultimate Reality (Brahman or Consciousness) is like an ocean.  Each wave is an individual being or an object. All beings and objects appear as waves (as names and forms) for a little time and then merge into the ocean of The Ultimate Reality.  When each wave thinks of itself as a separate entity, then it has conflicts with all other waves and has fears of disappearing as a wave. Similarly, if we think ourselves with our names and forms as separate entities from the Ultimate Reality, then all the problems start.  We think that the whole world is against us, that nature is against us, trying to crush us down, and we have a constant fear of death.  When we give up our separate identity, then all the problems and fears go away.  At that time, keeping in mind ourselves as the Spirit (or Atman, a part of the Ultimate Reality), we just act, like actors/actresses of a play, in the world as separate entities with names and forms.

Notes:  (i)  The photo -1 is from the Bangalore Gallery , India (ii) Photo – 2 is from dreamtime.com and (iii) the sketch -1 is made by Sneha Shah.       

(Thanks to Radha Dhar for editing and Sneha Shah for providing an illustration.)

Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015, Day – 7 Evening at Nilambar’s Garden House and Belur Math Arati

August 9, 2015

(I am very happy to publish today the last post of the series of posts titled “Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015”.  It is a coincidence that exactly one year ago we completed our last trip of the pilgrimage on this day.  All of the 91 people felt that this pilgrimage was a life-long inspiring memory.)

Going to Belur Math:

Around 2:30 p.m. all of the pilgrims gathered, wearing the Vidyapith uniform, at the Hyatt entrance.

At Hyatt -1 At Hyatt -2 At Hyatt -3

We were ready to once again get into the three buses for our last trip of this pilgrimage – going to the Belur Math.  We were all both happy and thankful that everything in our trip had gone according to plan and had worked out successfully.

As the last part of the pilgrimage, all wanted to go to the Belur Math, attend the evening arati, and salute Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. We wanted to take their leave and also to take leave from Revered Manager Maharaj Swami Girishanandaji,Tapas Maharaj and Bhandari Maharaj.  We also wanted to visit Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House, which we could not do it in the earlier visit.

Before we boarded the buses, each group took a picture in front of the Hyatt entrance to keep as a memory.

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The groups in each bus loudly uttered “The Five Jai” – “Jai Shri Guru Maharajjiki Jai,” “Jai   Mahamayiki Jai,” “Jai Swamiji Maharajjiki Jai”, “Jai Gangamayiki Jai, and “Jai Sab Santanaki Jai.” Once again, we were blessed with good weather.  There was no rain.  By this point, the buildings and the roads were more familiar than before as we had traveled this route quite a few times.  During the ride, people were singing, chatting or trying to catch up the sleep.

Since this was our last visit during our trip, our buses were allowed by the Belur Math to park inside the campus, closer to the main building.  Revered Tapas Maharaj had arranged a guide for our final visit.  After getting off the buses, we all went to the Nilambar Mukherjee’s house.  The road leading to the house was very pleasant.  The various kinds of green trees were eye-catching.

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The Ganga was filled with water up to both the sides of its banks.  The waves were gently splashing.  We could see a few boats traveling on the river.  It was a serene atmosphere.

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Holy Mother in Nilambar Mukherjee’s house:

Nilambar's House - 1

Sign - Old math

This place is very special and holy because Holy Mother stayed here.  There is a shrine room of Holy Mother on the second floor.

Sign - Mother's Shrine

When entering, one can feel the serenity and divinity in the environment.  Our group went to the shrine room upstairs in batches.  Each pilgrim quietly offered salutations and did japa.

Holy Mother's shrine in Nilambar Babu's house

Those people who were not in the shrine room, sat outside in the open area of the house and enjoyed the view of the Ganga.

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After we all had offered our salutations, we remembered that the following important events of Holy Mother’s life which took place here.  (Swami Chetanananda’s book “Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play” describes all these events in great detail)

Holy Mother’s First Stay (May 1888 – October 1888):

After Sri Ramakrishna passed away in August 1886, Holy Mother lived in Kamarpukur and Jayarambati.  Upon the request of devotees, Holy Mother came to Kolkata in May 1888.

Holy Mother 002

She stayed in Balaram Babu’s house for a few days.  After this, devotees rented Nilambar Mukherjee’s Gardan House for six months for Holy Mother’s stay.  Holy Mother moved into the Garden House with two women devotees, Yogin-ma and Golap- ma.  Swamis Yogananda and Adbhutananda were taking care of Holy Mother’s needs.  During her stay in the Garden House, Holy Mother’s mind remained in God-consciousness and went into Samadhi quiet often.

  1. Experiencing Nirvikalpa Samadhi:

Yogin-ma recalled, “One evening Holy Mother, Golap-ma, and I were meditating on the roof. When my meditation was over, I noticed that Mother was still absorbed in meditation – motionless in Samadhi.  After a long time, she regained some consciousness and said, ‘Oh Yogin! Where are my hands? Where are my feet? I pressed her limbs and said: ‘Here are your hands and feet.’  It took Holy Mother a long time to regain consciousness of her body.”

  1. Hymn on Holy Mother (Prakrutim Paramam…):

A direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna named Kali (Swami Abhedananda) had composed a hymn on Holy Mother in Sanskrit.  One day, he approached Holy Mother and expressed his desire to recite the hymn to her.  Holy Mother was startled and asked, “What kind of hymn? Whose hymn is it?” Swami Abhedananda humbly replied, “Mother, I composed a hymn on you.” Amazed, Holy Mother asked, “My son, what is the need for composing a hymn on me?” Upon repeated requests, Holy Mother listened to the hymn “Prakritim Paramam…”  Swami Abhedananda said that when he recited the line “Ramakrishna gata pranam” (meaning whose soul is absorbed in Sri Ramakrishna), the Mother’s whole body became motionless as one seats in meditation.  When he recited the lines, “Tan nama shravana priyam” (meaning who loves to hear Sri Ramakrishna’s name), tears of joy and love started rolling out from her eyes.  When Swami Abhedananda recited the lines “Tad bhava ranjitakara” (meaning whose mind being absorbed in Sri Ramakrishna became one with Him), he saw that Holy Mother was completely absorbed in meditation and has become one with Sri Ramakrishna.   Afterwards, Holy Mother blessed Swami Abhedananda saying, “May Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) sit on your tongue.”

Devotees love this hymn and we see that all over the world, wherever there is worship of Holy Mother, they sing this hymn.

  1. The First Chapter of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:

On July 11, 1888 M. (Mahendranath Gupta) read a chapter of the Kathamrita (the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna in Bengali) to Holy Mother.  M. had not told anyone about this chapter.  He wanted to read it to Holy Mother first.  After listening to the chapter, Holy Mother praised M. and encouraged him to write more.

Kathamrita The_Gospel_of_Sri_Ramakrishna

 Holy Mother’s Second Stay (July 1893 – October 1893):

Five years after Holy Mother’s first stay, devotees again rented the same garden house of Nilambar Mukherjee for Holy Mother’s stay.  Holy Mother stayed there with Yogin-ma and Golap-ma.  This time, Swami Trigunatitananda took care of Holy Mother’s needs.  Holy Mother spent most of her time in worship, japa, and meditation.  Swami Trigunatitananda used to pick flowers for Holy Mother’s morning worship. During her stay at this time, two important events took place in the life of Holy Mother.

  1. Panchtapa Austerity:

For various other reasons, including doing some austerity, Holy Mother practiced the “Panchatapa” on the flat roof of this house.

Panchatapa Roof

“Pancha” means five and “Tapa” means austerity.  On the flat roof of the house, four fires were set in a square not too far and not too near to Holy Mother.  Holy Mother set in the middle of these fires from dawn to dusk under the blazing sun (the fifth fire) doing japa and meditation.  This was not easy an easy practice for most people.  This austerity is intended to keep the mind calm under the pressing circumstances.  Holy Mother had kept her calm demeanor during the adverse family and social circumstances in Kamarpukur and Jayrambati for years.  This austerity showed externally how Holy Mother kept her calmness within during all kinds of favorable and unfavorable circumstances.   She later on said, “My child, I went through it for the sake of all of you. Can you practice austerities? This is why I had to do it.”  Mother Sita had gone through the “fire test” when people questioned her purity.  Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “Sa, Sa, Sa,” which had the same pronunciation in Bengali . These “sa’s” refer to the phrase “Sahan Karo” (in Gujarati), or “Shajhya” in Bengali. The phrase suggests that in this world the greatest austerity is to “endure, endure, and endure.”  If we want to remain grounded in our true identity, Our Soul, or Our Atman, and live in the constantly changing world with a steady intellect, we have to learn “endurance.”

  1. Holy Mother’s vision:

It was a moonlit night.  Holy Mother was seated on the steps leading to Ganga.  The soothing light of the full moon illumined everything around her including the river Ganga.  The reflection of the full moon was dancing with the waves of the water.  Suddenly, she saw Sri Ramakrishna come from behind and proceed swiftly towards Ganga.  As soon as he touched the water, his body dissolved in it.  Holy Mother sat in amazement.  Then, from nowhere, Narendra appeared. He went to Ganga and while loudly chanting “Victory unto Ramakrishna!” started to sprinkle the Ganga water on innumerable men and women.  Immediately, these people were liberated.  This vision went so deep into Holy Mother’s mind that she could not bathe in Ganga for several days.  This vision has significance.  Sri Ramakrishna loved the Ganga and his life was pure like the Ganga.  Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) elaborated on Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings and spread them everywhere.  This helped (and is still helping) people attain the Knowledge of Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and destroy their ignorance and bondage.

We were fortunate enough to see the steps leading to Ganga from Nilambar Mukherjee’s house.  Seeing the same house, the same roof, and the same steps, we felt the presence of Holy Mother and deep within we experienced a feeling of blessedness.  Several youngsters later mentioned that by visiting these places, Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda became real to them. They were no longer legends and stories of imagination.

OTHER STAYS AND EVENTS AT THE GARDEN HOUSE

Holy Mother also stayed at this house for one day in April of 1898, one day in November of 1898, and five days in October of 1901.

  1. Monastery at Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House:

In February 1898, the monastery was moved from Alambazar to Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House. It was then that the Belur Math land came into the possession of the Ramakrishna Math. There was a dilapidated building that existed on the northern side of the land, which was renovated under the supervision of Swami Vijnanananda.

Swami Vivekananda (2)

Swami Vivekananda had stayed at the Garden House during this time.  In the morning he used to take bath in Ganga, salute Sri Ramakrishna’s “padukas” (slippers) and then meditate.

  1. Composition of “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…”:

The Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House was also the place where, in February 1898, Swami Vivekananda composed the famous Arati “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” This aarti is sung all over the world in the shrines where Sri Ramakrishna is being worshiped.  In November of 1898, Swami Vivekananda composed “Om Hrim Ritam..” here – a hymn on Sri Ramakrishna which Usually follows by the Arati “Khandan…”

The following are links to the lyrics and meaning of the Arati and hymn:

Khandana Bhava Bandhana

Om Hrim Ritam

Furthermore, Swamiji also composed the following hymn on Sri Ramakrishna in this location:

आचण्डालाप्रतिहतरयो यस्य प्रेमप्रवाहो
लोकातीतोऽप्यहह न जहौ लोककल्याणमार्गम्।

The Garden House was truly a blessed place to have been the setting of such influential moments.

Swamiji’s Mango Tree:

Afterward visiting the Garden House, we were guided to the Belur Math office buildings.

Belur Math Map Modified

During our previous visit, we had seen the Old Math and Swami Vivekananda’s room.  This time, we learned more about the big mango tree in the courtyard.  One of the favorite seats of Swami Vivekananda was under this mango tree.

Swamiji's mango tree 2 Swamiji's mango tree 1

In the morning, he would usually be found seated on a canvas cot under this mango tree. This is where he would attend to his correspondences, write articles, read, or engage in conversation.  Devotees called it “Swamiji’s mango tree.”  There are few striking incidences took place under this tree.  Here are two such incidents.

  1. Gayatri Avahan Mantra:

It was evening.  Swami Vivekananda had just taken a bath in the Ganga and was returning to this place.  On the way back, he chanted, “Gayatri Avahana Mantra” (Ayahi Varade Devi….)*.    Swami Vivekananda’s soul-touching chanting made the surrounding people spellbound.  He then came to the mango tree and stood under it as if he were in Samadhi.  Then, he started pacing back and forth.  With this divine inebriation, his steps faltered.  All of those around him were deeply touched by his divine state and felt uplifted.

Many of us had attended Swami Adiswaranandaji’s talks at Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, New York, USA.  They remembered that Swami Adiswarananda used to recite this Gayatri Avahan Mantra before his talks.

  1. Where will you go to seek God?

One day, Swamiji was sitting on the cot under this tree facing west.  His eyes were luminous and he was filled with spiritual consciousness.  Pointing to the Brahmacharis and Sanyasins, he said, “Where will you go to seek God? He is immanent in all beings.  Here, here is the visible God!”  All around him stopped and became motionless.  At the time, Swami Premananda was coming from Ganga after his bath to go to the shrine for worship.  He heard these words and became overpowered by spiritual consciousness.  He just stood there in front of Swamiji being unconscious to the outer world.  After a while Swami Vivekananda came back to a normal state, so did Swami Premananda.  Swami Vivekananda then asked Swami Premananda to go for his worship.

Special Snack:

Thinking that we would not be at the hotel until late at night and to express their love for us, the Swamis of the Belur Math and Bhandari Maharaj arranged a special snack for all of us. We were guided to a dining area behind the offices. There, we found a small snack including tea, biscuits, dhokla, and chevda. Bhandari Maharaj made sure that all the items were delicious.  We were overwhelmed with the Swamis’ love and enjoyed the treat.

Right next door to the room where we were eating was the Leggett House, which was nothing short of grand, with large pillars and doors.

The evening was descending.  Just a few steps away from our location were the bank of the Ganga, where we could see countless Swamis walking around.

We still had some time before the Aarti began so few of us decided to visit the bookstore to buy books and other things. Others few walked on the grounds of the Belur Math.  As we gathered again, we found that the time before evening aarti was very special at the Belur Math.  Evening was entering.  The rays of the sunset were falling on the Ganga, creating a colorful sight.  Hundreds of birds were chirping.  Many Swamis in ochre clothes were quietly walking around absorbed in the thoughts of God.  Devotees were offering their salutations in the temples. Because the environment in the Belur Math campus was so serene and because it was the weekend, hundreds of families from the neighboring areas were either sitting or walking around enjoying the beauty of the place on the bank of the Ganga.  We too enjoyed this serene environment.

Evening Arati:

As the arati time was nearing, we all went into the main Prayer Hall.  We were again fortunate to have a reserved area just behind the Swamis and Brahmacharis of the Belur Math.  We sat quietly and meditated in silence before the arati. One Swami blew a conch on all sides of the Prayer Hall.  The long, continuous sound of the conch reminded all to think of God.  The tanpuras and other instruments were fine tuned. The Prayer Hall was fully packed with several hundreds of people. The atmosphere in the temple was absolutely captivating. The Swami who was doing arati inside the shrine room stood up with a special lamp to offer arati and began to ring bell. With melodious voices, the leading Swamis started to sing arati “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…”  Hundreds of people joined in the singing. The mridangam and other percussions lifted up the singing into another level.  It was such a spiritually uplifting experience. Most of the Vidyapith people knew the arati by heart. They enjoyed singing with all. The arati was followed by the “Om Hri Ritam..” hymn and the “Sarva mangala mangalye…”hymn. The singing was tuneful, melodious and filled with devotion. Finally, all joined in two Jai’s: “Jai Mahamayiki Jai,” and “Jai Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna Devaki Jai.”

The following are links to the Belur Math Evening Arati:

Khandana Mp3 Link

Om Hrim Ritam Mp3 Link

Sarva Mangala Mangalye Mp3 Link

All of the Swamis and Brahmacharis offered their salutations. We were allowed to offer our salutations before other people. All of us offered our salutations and went out through the doors on the Ganga side. A Swami was giving “batasa” (“Patasa” in Gujarati) as Prasad.  We took Prasad with great respect and went to the Belur Math offices to salute Swami Giritshanandaji and say “Good Bye.”

When we arrived, Revered Swami Girishanandaji came out from his office and blessed us all.  He was very happy to see us.  We all saluted him and took his leave.  He said, “Come again.”  We also saluted Revered Tapas Maharaj and took his leave.  We then started walking towards our buses.  Our minds were thankful to God for making our pilgrimage successful against all the odds of the weather and other unpleasant surprises.

A Surprise Meeting with Swami Tyagananda:

Yet, as we were walking towards our buses, we had another pleasant surprise.  We ran into Swami Tyagananda, spiritual head of the Boston Vedanta Society, USA.  We all knew him very well because he had visited Vivekananda Vidyapith. A few devotees had also visited him at The Boston Vedanta Society. What a coincidence! Among many unfamiliar faces, seeing a familiar face of someone whom we love and respect filled our hearts with great joy. We also saw joy on his face.  He greeted and blessed us and joked about how we are so close in distance to each other in America yet our paths crossed in Belur Math.

After a brief conversation, we made our way back to the buses for our last ride together, a bittersweet moment as we concluded the final excursion of this enlightening trip. We all sat in the bus and recited our five Jai’s.  To maintain the mindsets created by the beautiful aarti, we sang in the bus until our tired voices finally could not sing anymore.  In one of the buses, the air-condition broke down. It was very hot and humid evening. People in that bus opened all the windows, but it was very uncomfortable. All realized that it was a blessing that this did not happened during all our previous travels on this trip. But even in such a circumstance, the pilgrims in that bus happily sang dhoons, bhajans and enjoyed the trip.

A Special Dinner:

Dinner at night

We arrived at the hotel for our last dinner in the Hyatt Hotel. We had yet another pleasant surprise waiting for us. The dinner consisted of many delicious and popular Kolkata dishes including Kati Rolls, Pani Puri, Chaat, and much more.  All of us enjoyed to our hearts’ content.

Thank You and Good Bye:

During the dinner, Krishnan Uncle took the microphone to give a more than well-deserved thank you to Uncle, Aunty, our doctors, and Deba Uncle for making our trip as exciting, educational, and smooth as it was.

As dinner ended, we took a photo of all the students and alumni of Vidyapith.

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After that, a bittersweet series of goodbyes were said as we started to leave to our rooms for packing and to rest before our flights the next day.

Many of us had flights at different times, but the Club7 members took care of the airport transportation for all of our pilgrims with love and great care.

Our trip had ended, with new knowledge in our minds, with a refreshed love for India, with Thakur, Sri Ma, Swamiji in our hearts, and with invaluable spiritual progress for our souls.

(The original report was written by Kanchan Railker and Apurva Shah. Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Deba Saha for providing some important information and photos.)

Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015, Day – 7 Morning Bus Tour and Lunch

August 9, 2015

Club 7, with Deba Uncle’s help, arranged a bus tour that transported us back 200 years in time. We were going to attempt to cover two to three centuries of history in a couple of hours. Our general bus route took us through Chowringhee Road, then through the Maidan, and finally to Dalhousie Square. A map below highlights our bus route. You’ll also find below historical information about each landmark.

Uncle and Deba Uncle reminded us of how Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda must have wandered through some of these very streets, perhaps soaking in similar sites and sounds. Thanks to Mahendranath Gupta, we have an account of some of Shri Ramakrishna’s observations and experiences. With Deba Uncle’s help, we have tried to include some of these relevant conversations; they appear in italics.

* * *

The British ruled India for nearly two centuries. Calcutta was the central backdrop for the Company Raj and British Raj for nearly all of this time. During this period, Calcutta grew to become India’s first modern “metropolitan cosmpolis,” perhaps even the first in Asia. Calcutta was an important commercial center, and also the center of the Bengal Renaissance. The “Bengal Renaissance” referred to a period of revitalization of ancient philosophies and art, a period of social and religious reform and enthusiastic public discourse. Concurrently, western science, reasoning, and methodologies of scholarship highly influenced the Indian educated elite. It was in this social, political, and economic milieu that Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda came to be. In this context, it is rather confounding to understand how Shri Ramakrishna, an “illiterate man” from rural Bengal, found himself continually surrounded by the Calcutta intelligentsia – scholars, zamindars, doctors, lawyers, educationists, etc. Their skepticism and questions mirror ours today. Shri Ramakrishna challenged their worldview and brought them face-to-face with ideas that paradoxically upended their idea of “modernity.” Using simple metaphors and with refreshing humility he spoke of Vedantic ideals in daily practice…

As we explored the historical quarters of the city and drove past beautiful buildings with stately architecture, the scenes of the 19th century came to life before us. The tour not only gave us a glimpse of that time, but it enabled us to better contextualize the phenomenon of Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Timeline of Important Events
1690 – Arrival of British East India Company
1757 – Battle of Plassey
1764 – Battle of Buxar – East India Company attains Diwani and Nizamat (right to collect land revenue and right to exercise criminal jurisdiction respectively).
1772 – 1850 – East India Company Raj
1772 – East India Company appoints Warren Hastings as 1st Gov General
1784 – Asiatic Society of Bengal founded by Sir William Jones
1828 – Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded what later evolved into the Brahmo Samaj
1830 – Foundation of what later became the Scottish Church College (SV’s college)
1836 – Birth of Shri Ramakrishna
1854 – 1st Railway line in India built (Calcutta to Hooghly)
1857 – Sepoy Mutiny/First War of Independence
1858 – End of control by East India Company. Power transferred to British Crown.
1861 – Birth of Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore)
1863 – Birth of Swami Vivekananda (SV)
1869 – Birth of Mahatma Gandhi
1877 – Queen Victoria declares herself “Empress of India”
1881 – SV first meets Shri Ramakrishna
1885 – Foundation of Indian National Congress (INC)
1886 – Shri Ramakrishna attains mahasamadhi
1893 – Swami Vivekananda comes to the US. Gandhi arrives in South Africa.
1902 – Swami Vivekananda attains mahasamadhi
1905 – Partition of Bengal under Lord Curzon’s (viceroy)
1911 – British move their capital to Delhi. Bengal Partition rescinded.
1913 – Tagore receives the Nobel Prize
1915 – Mahatma Gandhi returns to India.

Kolkata Bus Tour Map

Click on this link to open a larger map: Kolkata Bus Tour Map

1. Mother Teresa’s House (Nirmala Shishu Bhavan) – Please see previous post.


2. Rani Rasmani’s Jan Bazar Palace –
Rani Rasmani founded the Dakshineshwar Kali temple, where Shri Ramakrishna served as the priest.

She was an exceptional example of woman leadership in the 19th century. After the death of her husband, a wealthy zamindar and social reformer, Rani Rasmani oversaw and expanded her husband’s business with the help of her son-in-law, Mathur Mohan Biswas (Mathur Babu). She was a philanthropist and an outspoken champion of the poor, often challenging unfair British regulations.

Though a Shudra according to conventional social stratification, Rani Rasmani defied social norms by building the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar. At first, society shunned the temple making it difficult for her to find a priest. Finally, Ramkumar, the eldest brother of Shri Ramakrishna, was appointed as the chief priest. Ramkumar served the temple for several years and eventually brought along his younger brother Gadadhar, later Shri Ramakrishna, to train for the priestly profession. After Ramkumar passed away, Rani Rasmani handed the responsibility of worshipping Mother Kali—the principal deity of the temple complex–to Shri Ramakrishna.

Rani Rasmani’s palatial home still stands in Janbazar.Rani Rasmani's Palace - Photo Credit Lavinia Melwani Kolkata_House_of_Rani_Rashmoni House-of-Rani-Rashmoni-Calcutta-2006 Christoper Taylor

 

3. Metropolitan Building – Built in 1905 on of the busiest intersections of Chowringhee Road, the Metropolitan Building, with its neo-baroque architecture, epitomized fashionable shopping during the British Raj. It once housed Whiteways Laidlaw & Co., then Asia’s largest department store. With the help of World Monuments Fund, the building was restored beginning in 2003 and now is a commercial complex.
6853990114_857849d6d5_b 6018905962_ae7d02f8b7_b


4. Chowringhee Road (now named Jawaharlal Nehru Road)
– In the 18th century, this road was referred to as the “road leading to the Kalighat” and was one of the fifty-one Shaktipeethas. Running through the heart of Kolkata, Chowringhee Road was one of the first modern roads built in the city. Because of its proximity to the Hooghly, the area around Chowringhee Road was referred to as the Esplanade. Most of the Kolkata’s heritage structures are located within the Esplanade, including the Metropolitan Building (described above), which was known as the “Queen of Esplanade Square.”

During British Rule, this “Paris-esque boulevard” became associated with opulent British real estate. The English built grand mansions and stately complexes on Chowringhee, because of which Calcutta was once referred to as the “City of Palaces.” Some of the prominent landmarks that dot Chowringhee Road are: Metropolitan Building, Oberoi Grand Hotel, Indian Museum, Asiatic Society of Bengal, Geological Survey of India, and various heritage Chowringhee Mansions.
esplanade4 c1885 The Esplanade and Government House from Chowringhee - Calcutta (Kolkata) 1865 2161748_f1024 Esplanade


5. Grand Hotel
– The Grand Hotel, is among the oldest luxury hotels in India. It was often known for its lavish parties and elite clientele. During World War II, it was appropriated by the British army and used as a station for British soldiers, housing as many as 4000 soldiers.Grand_hotel 1940s 57371814

 

6. Indian Museum – The Indian Museum is one of the “oldest such foundations in Asia.” In 1796, the Asiatic Society of Bengal announced its intention to found a museum. The Asiatic Society Museum was founded in 1814 within the Society building. Later known as the Imperial Museum, and more commonly the Jadughar or Ajabghar, the museum was moved to a newly constructed building in 1875. It has among its archives, a rich collection of Persian, Mughal, and Rajasthani paintings, status and bronzes from antiquity, and even the Great Rock Edicts of Asoka and pillar inscriptions. It also houses the largest Indian coin collection that date from 5th century BCE to the present day. The Museum has recently partnered with the Google Culture Institute to make its exhibits available for 360-panaromic viewing online.
Indian Museum 7 indianmuseum-02 tumblr_inline_n5i4ejnduj1s2pxze

Shri Ramakrishna had visited the original Kolkata Museum, when it was housed within the Asiatic Society. Here are a few instances during which Shri Ramakrishna referred to the museum:c1906

* * *

MASTER: “Once, a long time ago, I was very ill. I was sitting in the Kāli temple. I felt like praying to the Divine Mother to cure my illness, but couldn’t do so directly in my own name. I said to Her, ‘Mother, Hriday asks me to tell You about my illness.’ I could not proceed any farther. At once there flashed into my mind the Museum of the Asiatic Society, and a human skeleton strung together with wire. I said to Her, ‘Please tighten the wire of my body like that, so that I may go about singing Your name and glories.’ It is impossible for me to ask for occult powers.

In the context of Influence of company: MASTER (to the devotees): “I visited the museum once. I was shown fossils. A whole animal has become stone! Just see what an effect has been produced by company! Likewise, by constantly living in the company of a holy man one verily becomes holy.”

Geological Survey of India – (Located right behind the Museum.) The Geological Survey of India was established in 1851. It was the leading source of earth science information for the government and for industry. The institution can be traced to the 1836 Coal Committee and other organizations that lead coal exploration – coal was needed to power steam transportation in the empire.Geological Survey of India
Asiatic Society – Sir William Jones, the Chief Justice of Bengal and a well known “Oriental scholar” prior to coming to India, founded the Society in 1784. Sir William Jones recorded a memorandum of his plan of study and the subject of scholarship at the Society, “the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; the history of the ancient world; proofs and illustrations of scripture; traditions concerning the deluge; modern politics and geography of Hindusthan; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians; natural products of India; poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia; music of the Eastern nations; the best accounts of Tibet and Kashmir; trade, manufactures, agriculture and commerce of India: Mughal constitution, Marhatta constitution etc.” The Asiatic Society became the first formal institution for “Oriental studies” and a pioneer for research in the field. For instance, “in [Sir William Jones’] 1786 presidential discourse to the Asiatic Society, he postulated the common ancestry of Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek, his findings providing the impetus for the development of comparative linguistics in the early 19th century.”

Some facts: The Asiatic Society library contains many rare archives including texts and manuscripts from Tipu Sultan’s library that the British acquired after they defeated the Mysore ruler. When the Indian Museum was founded, the Asiatic Society donated much of its archives to the Museum.  …It wasn’t until 1829 that Indians were allowed membership. The Tagores were among the first members.

7. Birla Planetarium– The Birla Planetarium in Kolkata is Asia’s largest planetarium and the world’s second largest. It was the first of it’s kind in India and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962. The architecture is loosely based on the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi.birla-planetarium-kolkata

 

8. Victoria Memorial – The Victoria Memorial, which currently sits in the Maidan, was built in memory of Queen Victoria (UK Reign 1837-1901, Declared “Empress of India” in 1876). The memorial was built between 1906-1921.

 The vision for the building was set by Viceroy Lord Curzon. Curzon wanted to build a grand public building, describing the idea as follows:

“Let us, therefore, have a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn, to which all the resident population, European and Native, will flock, where all classes will learn the lessons of history, and see revived before their eyes the marvels of the past.”

The cost of the construction amounted to one crore, five lakh rupees, all of which came from voluntary subscriptions from princes and the people of India. There is some distant resemblance to the Taj Mahal, which earned it the title of “Taj of the Raj.” Some say this was not entirely coincidental given Curzon led the restoration of the Taj Mahal.

Some facts: The memorial has historical artifacts such as a dagger belonging to Tipu Sultan, a cannon used in the Battle of Plassey, manuscripts by the famed Abu Fazal of Akbar’s court, and belongings of Warren Hastings, Dwarkanath Tagore, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Lord Curzon had marble brought from the same Makrana quarries in Rajasthan that supplied Shah Jahan  DSC_0742 Victoria Memorial Victoria Memorial 2

 

9. Kolkata Race Course -The Race Course was laid out in the Maidan in 1812 during the Company Raj, mainly for army officers. Maintained by the Royal Calcutta Turf Club which was founded in 1847, it is one of the largest horse race venues in India. During the British Raj, it became one of the leading horse racing organizations in India, and at one time even served as the governing body for all such sports in the sub-continent. The races, opened by the Viceroy of India, brought together the upper echelons of society and were a major component of the British elite’s social scene.Royal_Calcutta_Turf_Club_Race_Stands_-_Viceroy's_Cup_Day

Fort William – The old Fort William was constructed in 1696 at the site of the General Post Office. It was seized by Shiraj-Ud-Daulah, then the Nawab of Bengal. However, following the murder of Nawab during the Battle of Plassey in 1758, a new fort was constructed under the order of Robert Clive of the British East India Company. The area around the fort was cleared to form the “Maidan.”

* * *

Once Ramakrishna went to see Fort William, the British fort in Calcutta. Just as he arrived by carriage, the Sikh regiment was marching there. When the soldiers saw him, they dropped their rifles on the ground and bowed down to him, shouting, “Victory to the guru!” The British commander‑in‑chief was nonplussed. When he asked the Sikh soldiers about their unusual behavior they replied that it was the custom of their religion to show respect for their guru in that manner. Thus Ramakrishna conquered the British fort by merely siting in his carriage. It was not even necessary for him to step out of the vehicle. This was truly amazing!

For the householders Sri Ramakrishna did not prescribe the hard path of total renunciation. He wanted them to discharge their obligations to their families. Their renunciation was to be mental. Spiritual life could not he acquired by flying away from responsibilities. A married couple should live like brother and sister after the birth of one or two children, devoting their time to spiritual talk and contemplation. He encouraged the householders, saying that their life was, in a way, easier than that of the monk, since it was more advantageous to fight the enemy from inside a fortress than in an open field. He insisted, however, on their repairing into solitude every now and then to strengthen their devotion and faith in God through prayer, japa, and meditation. He prescribed for them the companionship of sādhus. He asked them to perform their worldly duties with one hand, while holding to God with the other, and to pray to God to make their duties fewer and fewer so that in the end they might cling to Him with both hands. He would discourage in both the householders and the celibate youths any lukewarmness in their spiritual struggles. He would not ask them to follow indiscriminately the ideal of non-resistance, which ultimately makes a coward of the unwary.

10. Maidan – Similar to New York’s Central Park, the Maidan is the largest and oldest urban park in Kolkata. It was created by the East India Company military in order to clear the line of view for Fort William’s cannons. The park is located between the Hooghly (on the West) and Chowringhee (now Jawaharlal Nehru) Road.

Fort William, the Raj Bhavan (Governor’s House), Shaheed Minar, the Eden Gardens, Victoria Memorial, and the Kolkata Race Course are all located in the Maidan.maidan-kolkata victoria-memorial-from

* * *

Master at the circus
Sri Ramakrishna, accompanied by Rakhal and several other devotees, came to Calcutta in a carriage and called for M. at the school where he was teaching. Then they all set out for the Maidan. Sri Ramakrishna wanted to see the Wilson Circus. As the carriage rolled along the crowded Chitpore Road, his joy was very great. Like a little child he leaned first out of one side of the carriage and then out of the other, talking to himself as if addressing the passers-by. To M. he said: “I find the attention of the people fixed on earthly things. They are all rushing about for the sake of their stomachs. No one is thinking of God.”

They arrived at the circus. Tickets for the cheapest seats were purchased. The devotees took the Master to a high gallery, and they all sat on a bench. He said joyfully: “Ha! This is a good place. I can see the show well from here.” There were exhibitions of various feats. A horse raced around a circular track over which large iron rings were hung at intervals. The circus rider, an Englishwoman, stood on one foot on the horse’s back, and as the horse passed under the rings, she jumped through them, always alighting on one foot on the horse’s back. The horse raced around the entire circle, and the woman never missed the horse or lost her balance.When the circus was over, the Master and the devotees stood outside in the field, near the carriage. Since it was a cold night he covered his body with his green shawl.

Necessity of spiritual discipline
Sri Ramakrishna said to M: “Did you see how that Englishwoman stood on one foot on her horse, while it ran like lightning? How difficult a feat that must be! She must have practised a long time. The slightest carelessness and she would break her arms or legs; she might even be killed. One faces the same difficulty leading the life of a householder. A few succeed in it through the grace of God and as a result of their spiritual practice. But most people fail. Entering the world, they become more and more involved in it; they drown in worldliness and suffer the agonies of death. A few only, like Janaka, have succeeded, through the power of their austerity, in leading the spiritual life as householders. Therefore spiritual practice is extremely necessary; otherwise one cannot rightly live in the world.”

MASTER (to the devotees): “I shall look upon them as the Blissful Mother Herself. What if one of them acts the part of Chaitanya? An imitation custard-apple reminds one of the real fruit. Once, while going along a road, a devotee of Krishna noticed some babla- trees. Instantly his mind was thrown into ecstasy. He remembered that the wood of babla-trees was used for the handles of the spades that the garden of the temple of Syamasundar was dug with. The trees instantly reminded him of Krishna. I was once taken to the Maidan in Calcutta to see a balloon go up. There I noticed a young English boy leaning against a tree, with his body bent in three places. It at once brought before me the vision of Krishna and I went into samādhi.


11. Red Road (Now Indira Gandhi Sarani) –
The original Red Road was made in the 1720s. The name came from the color of the material that was used for paving. Construction for the current road began in 1820 under Colonel Watson. The road spans between the Raj Bhavan and Fort William. British used this road for state parades. Interestingly, during World War II, the road even served as a landing strip for fighter planes. Mother Teresa’s funeral procession by the Indian government made its way through historic thoroughfares of the city, including Red Road.fort-william-and-red-road-calcutta-1870s Red Road Today

 

12. Shaheed Minar (loosely called the Monument, formerly known as Ochterlony monument) – The 158 ft minar or tower was originally built on the Esplanade by the East India Company in 1828 in memory of major General David Octherlony, the commander of the British East India Company, to commemorate soldiers that defended Delhi from the Marathas and also the British victory in the Anglo-Nepalese War (the result of the latter was that a third of Nepalese land was handed to the British, including present day Sikkim and Darjeeling).

The monument’s design was influenced by Egyptian, Syrian, and Turkish architecture. In 1969, the minar was rededicated to memorialize the Indian Independence Movement. It was then rechristened and called the “Shaheed (martyr) Minar (tower),” which means “martyrs’ monument”.shahid-minar-kolkata

* * *

(To M. and Prankrishna) “Many people talk of Brahmajnāna, but their minds are always preoccupied with lower things: house, buildings, money, name, and sense pleasures. As long as you stand at the foot of the Monument, then so long do you see horses, carriages, Englishmen, and Englishwomen. But when you climb to its top, you behold the sky and the ocean stretching to infinity. Then you do not enjoy buildings, carriages, horses, or men. They look like ants…………………………………….

“The nearer you come to God, the more you feel peace. Peace, peace, peace-supreme peace! The nearer you come to the Ganges, the more you feel its coolness. You will feel completely soothed when you plunge into the river.


13. Akashvani Bhavan (All India Radio)
– “Radio Broadcasting started in India in the early 1920’s. The first programme was broadcast in 1923 by the Radio club of Bombay. This was followed by setting up Broadcasting Services in 1927 with two privately-owned transmitters at Bombay and Calcutta. The Government took over the transmitters in 1930 and started operating them under the name of Indian Broadcasting Service. It was changed to All India Radio (AIR) in 1936 and it came to be known as Akashvani from 1957.” –Know India: Culture and Heritage, India.gov.In Website

It is obvious to us now that state control over all communication systems was certainly advantageous to the colonial government. Radio could also be used to “manufacture an illusion of political consensus.” Yet, just like with the development of the railway, telegraph, and postage system, the radio too played a role in sparking Indian national sentiment, “allowing latent ideas and attitudes to travel and ferment into broader political movements.”  However, the development of the radio in India was deflected by turmoil on the ground and differences among organizing parties.
Radio Station 3 Radio Station - 1st Radio Akashvani Bhavan


14
. Eden Garden & Eden Garden Cricket Stadium – Eden Garden consists of the land between the Hooghly and the Raj Bhavan (Governor General’s House). In the 1840s, it belonged to the then Governor General Lord Auckland. Auckland’s sisters, Emily and Fanny Eden supervised the cleaning of the land, and opened it to the public as a recreational ground in 1841.

The Eden Gardens Stadium, located in Eden Garden, is the largest cricket stadium (in terms of capacity) in India, and the second largest in the world (second only to Melbourne) with a seat capacity of over 65,000.
DSC_0747 9186-200831-mcgaerialj


15. Netaji Indoor Stadium (Eden Garden Cricket Stadium)
– The stadium is the only indoor sports arena in Kolkata. It is a fully air-conditioned stadium and seats 12,000 people.NSCBI_International_airport


16
. Babu Ghat – Babu means Bengali person of aristocracy or higher stratum of society. Babu Ghat was built out of the patronage of Babu Raj Chandra Das, Rani Rashmoni’s huband, in 1830. It is the second oldest ghat in Kolkata. Babu Ghat reminds us of an incident relating to Rani Rashmoni’s dealings with the British. British had imposed a tax on fishing activities on the Hooghly, threatening the livelihood of the local fisherman. The fisherman turned to Rani Rashmoni for help. In protest, the spirited Rani bought some land on the other side of the river and blocked river traffic with iron chains. The British were forced to concede with the Rani’s demands for her people.
babu_ghat 1912 RCAHMS Copyright
Baboo Ghat - Rani Rasmani Baboo Ghat 2 Inaugural_Marble_Plaque_-_Babu_Ghat_-_Kolkata_2014-01-05_5580


17. Howrah Bridge
(Now Rabindra Setu) – As far back as 1862, the Government of Bengal began researching the idea of building a bridge across the Hooghly. The Calcutta Port Trust was thus created in 1870, and the construction of the first bridge was completed in 1874. By 1905, it was evident that this bridge could not handle the load. Construction faced delayed because of WWI and WWII. As a result of WWII, steel that was supposed to be used for the construction was diverted; Tata Steel provided almost 90% of the necessary steel. Bridge construction was finally completed in 1942. The British did not open the bridge with much fun fanfare, fearing bombing by the Japanese. Howrah Bridge marked a engineering feat by the British Raj. The bridge is the 6th longest cantilever truss bridge in the world.Howrah Bridge 3

 

18. High Court – The Calcutta High Courtis the oldest High Court in India. It was preceded by the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, which hosted the judiciary system from 1774 to 1862. The Calcutta High Court, built in 1862, was the first High Court in India and one of the three chartered courts in India (the others were the High Courts of Bombay and Madras). These were the highest courts for all cases in India until the establishment of the Federal Court of India in 1935. The current court building was constructed in 1872 (the prior Court existed on the Esplanade.)
highcourtofcalcuttakolk kolkata-high-court-banner-copySwami Vivekananda, known as Naren in his youth, came from a family of lawyers. Naren’s great grandfather was a “Farsi lawyer” of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William. Naren’s grandfather, Durga Prasad, worked in an Attorney’s office and was to become a partner in his father’s law firm, but he soon took up monasticism. Naren’s first cousin, Tarak Nath used to handle litigations for the famed Jorasankho Tagore family. Naren’s father too had a successful legal practice, and would travel to distant places such as: Lucknow, Lahore, Delhi, Rajputana, and Raipure. Even Naren was to complete his law studies, but was not able to due to the death of his father and the circumstances that this brought to his family.


19.
Town Hall – The Town Hall was constructed in 1814 as a public meeting space for “elite European gatherings.” The ground floor was open to the public to view paintings and sculptures while the second floor was used to host state events for the East India Company along with other receptions and balls.

In 1898, Jagdish Chandra Bose’s famous experiment was carried out at the Town Hall in front of the public. In this experiment, Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using electromagnetic waves. It was the first experiment that demonstrated how communication signals could be sent without wires.

Tagore’s 50th and 70th birthdays were also celebrated at the Town Hall in Tagor’e presence.

Today the library at Town Hall houses rare books, journals, and manuscripts from the colonial period. The Kolkata Museum is located on the ground floor and the first floor hall is often used for lectures, exhibitions, cultural events, etc. The Town Hall [Calcutta] 1865Town Hall 5

 

20. Raj Bhavan – This grandiose structure was formerly known as the Governor’s House, and was the official residence of the Viceroy of India. Today it is the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal.

Construction for Raj Bhavan ran between 1799 and 1803. The Governor’s House was an imposing building, clearly built as a symbol of power and imperial success.
4. Picture used for Thackeray's Guide 1906 4aThis is reflected in the type of social gatherings that took place at the House. The first major event hosted in the Governor’s House was in 1802 during the anniversary of the Battle of Seringapatam, the battle in which Tipu Sultan was defeated. “The Governor General gave a breakfast to ‘above seven hundred of the principal ladies and gentlemen of the settlement’ and ‘on this occasion, the great apartments of the new Government House were opened for the first time.’“ The throne of the aforementioned Tipu Sultan actually sits in a room in Raj Bhavan, aptly named the “Throne Room”. (Below are pictures of the Throne Room and Ballroom, respectively.)
5 Throne Room 1918.jpg 5 Massey Ballroom 1918To understand the importance of the role of the Governor-General of Bengal, it is important to understand the structure of the British Government in India and the appointment of the Governor-General office. In 1851, the British designated four presidencies (provinces):
Bengal – In Calcutta … this was once the largest presidency.
Bombay – In Bombay (Now Mumbai)
Madras – In Madras (Now Chennai)
North-Western Provinces – In Agra

Until 1857, the Director of the East India Company appointed a Governor General. In 1858, after the 1857 uprising, the East India Company territories came under the direct control of the British Crown. As a result, from 1858 to 1914, it was the King of England that appointed the Governor General, henceforth known as the Viceroy of India. A Governor headed each presidency; all Governors were to report to the Viceroy, the chief officer in India. The Viceroy was to report to Parliament. For many years, the Governor of Bengal was concurrently the Viceroy of India.
1. Eastern_Gate_of_Raj_Bhavan,_Kolkata_01 2

* * *

Mani Mallick and Bhavanath referred to the exhibition which was then being held near the Asiatic Museum. They said: “Many maharajas have sent precious articles to the exhibition-gold couches and the like. It is worth seeing.”

MASTER (to the devotees, with a smile): “Yes, you gain much by visiting those things. You realize that those articles of gold and the other things sent by maharajas are mere trash. That is a great gain in itself. When I used to go to Calcutta with Hriday, he would show me the Viceroy’s palace and say: ‘Look, uncle! There is the Viceroy’s palace with the big columns.’ The Mother revealed to me that they were merely clay bricks laid one on top of another.


21. St. John’s Church
– The church, built between 1784 and1787, was one of the first public buildings constructed by the British East India Company. The site of St. John’s Church was originally the burial ground of Calcutta’s “founder” Job Charnock and his family. Maharaj Nabakrishnadeb donated the land to Warren Hastings, who wanted to build St. John’s at this location. Lord Cornwallis* was present at its consecration ceremony. The church contains plaques and tombstones dedicated to prominent people associated with East India Company as well as many interesting memorials that date to the early British colonial period. One of these include the gravestone of the Company doctor, Dr. Hamilton, who saved the Mughal Emperor, as a result of which the emperor granted the Company free trading license.

Trivia – Supposedly the floor of Gaur was made from ruins of Gaur and ancient city in Bengal.

(*Cornwallis, a famous British General in the American War of Independence, was appointed as Governor General of Bengal and Commander in Chief in 1786. He is known not only for his defeat of Tipu Sultan, but also for the many reforms he made in the East India Company operations that solidified British rule in India.St. John's Church Calcutta 1850- 1870 St John's Church - Founder of Kolkata Cemetery Job Charnock index


22.
GPO (General Post Office) – The GPO is notable for its imposing high domed roof (rising over 220 ft or 22 storied building) and tall iconic Corinthian pillars. Located in what was originally a famous British outpost named Fort William, the General Post Office (GPO) is the central post office of both the city of Kolkata and the state of West Bengal. The GPO was constructed in 1868, 91 years after William Hastings introduced the postal system to Kolkata. The GPO signified the coming of age of the postal system – a system that introduced India to large-scale, streamlined mail/parcel delivery – and one that reflected the modernization of India. It was the same system that handled Swamiji’s inspirational letters and important colonial government correspondences among other historic conversations and negotiations. The popular landmark continues to handle most of the city’s inbound and outbound mail and parcels.
gpo 1885 (1) General Post Office


23. BBD Bagh 
– BBD Bagh was once known as Dalhousie Square, named after Lord Dalhousie who served as the Governor General of India from 1847-1856. (Lord Dalhousie was infamous for his “Doctrine of Lapse” which forbid Indian rulers from adopting an heir in the absence of a natural heir. This measure allowed the British to annex the territories of such rulers.)

Dalhousie Square is located at the site of the old Fort William, which was constructed in 1696. The Square surrounds what was locally called the “Lal Dighi” or Red Pool. Lal Dighi was a water tank that was the source of drinking water for the nearby European residents until the 19th century. Its name referred to the reflection of the red bricks of the colonial buildings that were mirrored in the pool.41_bigDalhousie Square was the seat of power during the British Raj. “In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Calcutta was the capital of British India and Dalhousie Square was the city’s financial, social, and political nucleus.”

In and around the square, you’ll find important administrative buildings such as:
Writer’s Building (1777)
St. John’s Church (1787)
Kolkata Town Hall (1814)
Currency Building (1833)
Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1853)
General Post Office/GPO (1868)
Kolkata Port Trust (1870)
Central Telegraph Office/CTO (1876)
East Indian Railway headquarters (1879)
Calcutta Stock Exchange (1908)
Royal Insurance Building (1911)BBD Map 1After India’s independence, the Square was renamed “BBD Bagh” after three the young martyrs Benoy, Badal, and Dinesh that were hung by the British for their protest against the partition of Bengal in 1905.

Many of the original buildings from the Square have been knocked down by developers to create office spaces. Recently, 55 buildings around Dalhousie Square have been declared to be heritage sites by the World Monuments Fund. Many of these offices are important political and commercial offices of Bengal.
BBD Bag - Freedom Fighters Binoy Badal Dinesh kolkata-benoy-badal-dinesh


24. Writer’s Building –
By the time the East India Company arrived in Bengal, it was already in existence for nearly a hundred years and had presence in various cities in India. Under Governor Warren Hastings, the Company underwent many major reforms, one of which included an effort to consolidate the administration and staff. It was in this context that Hastings conceived of the Writer’s Building. By 1778 the building was ready for use.

The Writer’s Building was named after the labor force that essentially became the operating system for colonial rule. Employees of the Company were organized under a very strict layered hierarchical structure. “Writers” ranked just above the lowest position (that of the apprentice). They were junior clerks or scribes, and their job was to keep all the accounts and to correspond with London. It was tedious work to keep all the ledgers organized and updated and creating hand written duplications of important documents. The working conditions weren’t entirely pleasant, yet, there was no dearth of candidates for the job. The Company attracted young men, as young as 16, who saw the job openings as their key up the social and economic ladder. The Writer’s Building served as the training ground for these workers. In 1800, the College of Fort William, founded to train the writers in Persian, Sanskrit, and Hindi, was moved to the Writer’s Building complexes. Initially, the writers were expected to study, live, and work in the building during their probationary period of 5 years, after which they could earn the opportunity to slowly move up the ranks.

The operations conducted in the Writer’s Building, especially after the significant reforms introduced by Hastings, were exemplary of an efficiently managed colonial empire. Hastings laid the foundation for what later evolved into the Indian Civil Service.3. writersbldgs Writer's Building 1912 RCAHMS 2. WRITERS_BUILDING_1545175g 1. DSC01862_

 

25. Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque –Tipu Sultan’s youngest son, Prince Ghulam Mohammand Sultan Khan, built this mosque in 1832 in memory of his father, Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

Tipu Sultan was known for his fierce resistance to the British in the Anglo-Mysore Wars – battles in which Tipu Sultan allied with the French. There are controversial accounts of Tip Sultan’s rule, though modern scholarship attributes this to British historians from that era. In 1799, joint Maratha and British forces defeated Tipu Sultan in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War. After his death, his entire family was exiled. They were later brought to Calcutta by the British in 1806.
miltonlinkspic2dharmatakw6 455_1


26. Bhim Chandra Nag’s Sweet Shop 
– This famous sweet shop dates back to 1826. Shri Ramakrishna especially loved Bhim Chandra Nag’s sandesh sweet.

“According to Haradhan Nag, an aged scion of Kolkata’s oldest sweet shop, Bhim Chandra Nag, [Rani Rashmoni] is said to have bought over a ton of SANDESH from the confectioner, for the celebration of its inauguration. …whenever, Rani Rashmoni, went to Dakshineshwar she invariably bought two big baskets of Bhim Chandra Nag sweets–one for the goddess Kali and other for Ramakrishna who would then apparently share them with his disciples.”

Birth of another Bengali Sweet dessert item “Ledikeni” – Lady Canning was the wife of the Lord Canning, the last Governor General of the East India Company, and later the first Viceroy when the British Crown took over in 1857. On the eve Lady Canning’s birthday, Lord Canning’s men came to Bhim Nag’s shop and ordered a special sweetmeat, which would be entirely different in shape and size than the existing range of sweets and would also outclass them in taste The Nags after pondering over it for days made a new kind of sweetmeat, much above the expectation of Canning’s men. It was partially a ‘Pantua’ and partially a ‘Lancha’. It resembled both to some extent but at the same time, was different from them. From the name of Lady Canning, this sweet came to be known in Bengal as “ledikeni” and is very popular even to this day.

Sources Include

Free Time / Shopping Time:
Many of our 91 pilgrims were coming to Kolkata for the first time. Kolkata is a big city and had many attractive things to offer in terms of shopping, etc. While we had kept no time for shopping as this was strictly a pilgrimage, our bus tour arrived at Hyatt one hour earlier than it was planned. Thus, everyone welcomed an hour of free time before our 12:30 lunch.  People had choices to relax, to go for shopping, or start packing for our departure.

A group of about 20 uncles, aunties, and students went to a street market in Kolkata about 20 minutes away from our hotel to do some afternoon shopping. Surrounded by tea stands, purse vendors, and an array of saree stores to choose from, they walked around like tourists for almost an hour going from shop to shop, collecting bags of new outfits and souvenirs along the way.

Shopping2 Shopping3 Shopping1

Special Thanks to Club7 Members:
During our, once again, wonderful meal at Topaz and Sapphire, Mahendra Uncle came up to the podium  and wished to express his, and our, thanks to Club7 for going above and beyond in making this trip the lifetime memory that it was.

Thanking Club7 Afternoon Meeting 1
Every aspect of Club7’s thorough work was shown during our trip, from the constant water bottles supplied at every corner, to the hotel booking, meal organizations, extremely skillful bus drivers, and comfortable buses. Club7 members expressed their joy for having us and gave us hearty welcome for whenever we wished to come back.

Afternoon Meeting 2 Afternoon Meeting 4 Thanking Club7 2 DSC_0773

After this, we all went to our rooms to get ready to visit Belur Math one last time.

This blog claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it appear on this site, kindly contact us with a link to the said image.

(Thanks to Nisha Parikh for writing this post and Ronak Parikh for editing.  Thanks to Deba Uncle for creating the Bus Tour Map and providing us the information that connected the incidences and conversations from Shri Ramakrishna’s life to the Bus Tour landmarks.)

 

Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015, Day – 7 Morning at Mother Teresa’s Place

August 9, 2015

On our final day of the pilgrimage, we had our breakfast at the Guchhi after getting to sleep in a little more than the previous days. Embarking on our penultimate excursion around 8 am, we boarded the buses and sang our morning prayer, which ended just as we reached our destination.

We arrived at Mother Teresa’s house which consisted of an exhibition, her tomb, and the room she stayed in while in Kolkata.

1 Sign 14 56 6b 

Agnes Bojanxhiu, later known as Mother Teresa, was born on August 26th, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, which at that time was under the Ottoman Empire. Even during her very early years, Agnes was fascinated by the work of Missionaries, especially their service work in Bengal. At the age of 12, she committed herself to a religious life. At 18, she left her home to join the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland with hopes of becoming a missionary. She arrived in Darjeeling in 1929 and learned Bengali while teaching at a schoolhouse named St. Mary’s School. Teresa taught for almost 20 years and also became appointed headmistress of the schoolhouse. It was near the end of this time when Teresa witnessed the intense poverty around her through tragedies such as the Bengal famine and acts of Hindu and Muslim violence.

In 1946, Teresa received her second calling, this time to help the poorest of the poor. She requested the Church for permission to leave the convent and work outside the order. “Rare for any member of the clergy, in 1946 it was unheard of for a nun.” In 1948, after a few months of receiving basic medical training, Mother Teresa began her work in Calcutta’s slums. She was joined by a group of young women. Together, they formed a new religious community to help the poor. Although Mother Teresa’s help was tremendously appreciated by the local authorities, she was offered very little assistance and faced many difficulties early in her work in Calcutta, having to beg for food and supplies. However, Mother Teresa persisted and selflessly served those living in extreme poverty. In 1950, she finally received permission from the Vatican to start what would be the Missionaries of Charity to help the “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” In the 1950s and 1960s, Mother Teresa’s work led to the creation of a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic, and a number of mobile clinics. In the 1970s, she established an American house of charity in New York City and also won the Nobel Peace Prize. In the 1980s, she secretly traveled to Beirut where she served both Christian and Muslim children. Mother Teresa passed away in 1997 – at that time there were more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity with over 610 foundations in 123 countries.

4d4cAs we walked through the house, we saw many aspects of Mother Teresa’s life. In one part of the exhibit, we could view some of her possessions such as combs, brushes, utensils, clothing, and her wheelchair.

motherteresa-06In this room, there were posts of Mother Teresa’s teachings and writing, including The Greatest Injustice.

DSC_0739One of the most wonderful aspects of this exhibit was a voice recording of Mother Teresa herself. The displays here also contained many of her life works and accomplishments, such as the coveted Nobel Peace Prize that she received on December 11, 1979. Near the exit of the room was a notebook filled with pages of notes written by those who wish to convey a message to Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa’s tomb sits within one of the rooms of the the Missionaries of Charity building. Upon entering this room, we felt a serene yet somber atmosphere. Mother’s tomb was adorned with red roses in the shape of her rosary, a set of candles, and a statue of Mother Mary.

11 11a 10a 10a2

On the walls, there were three paintings depicting her life’s work and her image to the world. Each piece of art was paired with a beautiful quote expressing the essence of the work. Mother Teresa’s tombstone read:

“Love one another as I have loved you” ­St. John 15:12

Mother M. Teresa M. C.

26.8.1910­ – 5.9.1997

Our Dearly Beloved Mother Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity

10dNext to her tomb were a few rows of benches where visitors paid their respects to Mother Teresa and her legacy. Many of us sat on these benches and either recited a
prayer or did japa.

On our way out of the room, one of the sisters handed us a photo of Mother Teresa, a specialized pendant, and an informative pamphlet on the Mother’s life.

After visiting her tomb, we walked up a set of narrow stairs to Mother Teresa’s room. The room was narrow and very small. In fact, it was built on top of the kitchen and the room would get very hot. Yet, Mother Teresa never used a fan!

11bID:68531785In the room we caught a glimpse of Mother Teresa’s simple life. We saw a thin cot covered in a plaid blanket, a simple wooden table, and  her desk where Mother Teresa answered letters sent to her. Also kept in the room was a glass case displaying her rosary, first cross, and a pendant.

As we were getting ready to leave, we came to know that Sister Gertrude, a direct Sister-nun to Mother Teresa herself, was present in the house.  We learned of Sister Gertrude’s background much later. Sister Gertrude, an aspiring medical student, met Mother Teresa in 1946, at age 17, when she was a boarding student at Loreto. Soon after, in 1948, Mother Teresa had left the convent to begin Missionaries of Charity. Once Sister Gertrude returned from her medical course, she learned of Mother Teresa’s whereabouts and joined her, becoming the third woman to join Mother Teresa in founding Missionaries of Charity. It was at Mother Teresa’s urging that Sister Gertrude completed her medical studies. She dedicated her life to the Mission, becoming it’s first doctor, and was often said to be Mother Teresa’s “right hand.” She cared for Mother Teresa and was at her side at the time of Mother’s passing. We were so blessed to be in her presence! We quickly walked up the stairs to meet her. She lovingly and humbly received all of us and gave us her good wishes and blessings. A few of us had a small conversation with her about loving all, not discriminating against people of different faiths, and keeping family close to you. As she held our heads to bless us, we could feel the pure love and power behind her.

Visiting Mother Teresa’s house truly put into perspective the universal language that is service. We hurriedly returned to the buses to begin the bus tour of Kolkata.

Here are some of Mother Teresa’s quotes and teachings:

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

“Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.”

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

“The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.”

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

“Spread the love of God through your life but only use words when necessary.”

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

“Prayer in action is love, love in action is service.”

“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.”

“The fruit of Silence is Prayer
The fruit of Prayer is Faith
The fruit of Faith is Love
The fruit of Love is Service
The fruit of Service is Peace”

(Report written by Apurva Shah and Kanchan Railkar, and edited by Ronak Parikh. Thanks to Nisha Parikh for adding photos.)

Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015, Day – 6 Visit to Shantiniketan

August 8, 2015

Memories of Jorasanko:

On August 7th, we visited Jorasankho, the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s house.  He was born in this house and also had left his body here. His father, Debendranath Tagore, his grandfather, Dwarkananth Tagore, and many of his family members were well-known public figures and talented personalities. We were amazed to learn about the Tagore family’s contributions to Indian Culture and to the world.  In this environment, while walking through Jorasankho, we felt that we were touching a part of history.

Today, on August 8th, we were going to visit “Shantiniketan,” the place that brought Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of education and culture to life and practice.  During our visit to Shantiniketan, we thought of the incidents in the lives of the Tagore family that connected them to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Saradadevi, and Swami Vivekananda.

Connections of the Tagore Family and Swami Vivekananda:

Sri Ramakrishna had met Debendranath Tagore.  Swami Vivekananda also met Debendranath Tagore, and as a young boy (Narendra), asked him, “Sir! Have you seen God?”  Debendranath replied that Narendra had the eyes of a “Yogi” and that he should practice meditation.

Narendra was a member of the Brahmo Samaj where he was one of the lead singers in the choir.  Rabindranath Tagore had written a few songs for the Brahmo Samaj and Narendra would go to Jorasanko for musical rehearsals.

Later, Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore’s mission in life took different turns.  However, Rabindranath Tagore showed great respect for Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.  Also, Swami Vivekananda’s disciple, Sister Nivedita, played a crucial role in making Rabindranath Tagore known to the Western World–catapulting him to fame and leading him to becoming the first Asian recipient of the Nobel Prize.

Rabindranath Tagore on Sri Ramakrishna:

Day 6 - Original quote of Tagore on SRK (1)

To the Paramahamsa Ramakrishna Deva

“Diverse courses of worship
from varied springs of fulfillment
have mingled in your meditation.
The manifold revelation of the joy of the Infinite
has given form to a shrine of unity in your life
where from far and near arrive salutations
to which I join my own.”

Rabindranath Tagore on Swami Vivekananda:

  1. Swami Vivekananda’s Gospel:

Day 6 - Tagore's Quote on Swamiji

“Some time ago Vivekananda said that there was the power of Brahman in every man and that Narayana (God) wanted to have our service through the poor. This is what I call real gospel. This gospel showed of infinite from man’s tiny egocentric self beyond the limits of all selfishness. This was no sermon relating to a particular ritual, nor was it a narrow injunction to be imposed upon one’s external life. This naturally contained in it protest against untouchability— not because that would make for political freedom, but because that would do away with the humiliation of man— a curse which in fact puts to shame the self of us all. Vivekananda’s gospel marked the awakening of man in his fullness and that is why it inspired our youth to the diverse course of liberation through work and sacrifice.

 

 

  1. Swami Vivekananda’s Message:

“In India of modern times, it was Vivekananda alone who preached a great message which is not tied to any do’s and don’ts. Addressing one and all in the nation, he said: In every one of you there is the power of Brahman (God); the God in the poor desires you to serve Him. This message has roused the heart of the youths in a most pervasive way. That is why this message has borne fruit in the service of the nation in diverse ways and in diverse forms of sacrifice. This message has, at one and the same time, imparted dignity and respect to man along with energy and power. The strength that this message has imparted to man is not confined to a particular point; nor is it limited to repetitions of some physical movements. It has, indeed, invested his life with a wonderful dynamism in various spheres. There at the source of the adventurous activities of today’s youth of Bengal is the message of Vivekananda—which calls the soul of man, not his fingers.

  1. Study Vivekananda:

Tagore's quote on Swamiji

“If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative.”

Bus Tour to Shantiniketan & a break

Early in the morning, at 5:30 a.m., we began assembling in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in preparation for our departure to the university town of Shantiniketan. Once more, the Club7 staff had graciously put together lunch boxes for each of us to take on the bus ride. Like our visits to Jayrambati and Kamarpukur, the trip to Shantiniketan was a long drive, and we traveled in two big buses instead of our usual three. We left the Hyatt shortly after 6:00 a.m. and sang morning prayers as we drove through Kolkata.

Our BusesWe took a short break along the way.  As a result of some construction, a part of the road was blocked from all sides with huge trucks, buses, vans, cars and other vehicles.  Our bus drivers and their helpers used all of their skills and experience to avoid our delay.  They even drove safely on the opposite side of the road when needed. The helpers stood on the road to stop other vehicles in order to make the way for our buses. The total journey took us four and a half hours. Without the bus drivers’ skills, we would have  probably arrived hours later, in the afternoon.

Traveling in Totos:

At Shantiniketan, the path was inaccessible to our huge buses.  So we boarded around twenty  four-passenger, battery operated toto rickshaws to drive us to our destination.  This was an exciting experience for the young and old.  As we rode down the dirt road in the open totos, we could begin to feel Shantiniketan’s peaceful natural aura.

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Special Lunch:

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After a brief ride, our caravan of totos arrived at the Hotel Camelia Restaurant, where we were greeted with cold bottles of Thums Up and a buffet lunch of mutter paneer, dum aloo, naan, and the famous Bengali rasgulla.  Club7 members had made all the arrangements for our lunch.  The place looked like a royal palace with the impressive red colored furniture and excellent paintings on the walls.

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Chhatimtala:  After lunch, we boarded the totos once more and rode to Chhatimtala.

1. Toto On Way to Amra Kunj

The Chhatim tree is also known as the Devil’s tree. However, in Sanskrit it is called “Sapta Parni,” Sapta means seven and Parni means leaves. The tree has clusters of beautifully arranged 7 leaves.

2. Chatim Leaves 1

Chhatimala is considered the starting point of Shantiniketan. Debendranath, and later Rabindranath, would sit under these Chhatim trees in meditation. It was here, under a tree of Chhatim, that Maharshi Debendranath Tagore found peace of mind and soul.  The original tree is no longer there.  Another such tree has been planted and it is growing well. The green surrounding with the sacred ‘bedi’ made us feel at peace.

Chhatimtala 2 Chhatim tala Chhatimtala

Shantiniketan:

In 1863, on a seven-acre plot at the site of the present institution, Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s father, built a small retreat for meditation, and in 1888 he dedicated the land and buildings towards the establishment of a Brahmavidyalaya and a library.

Shantiniketan Griha– Very near Chatimtala, we find the oldest building where ‘Shantiniketan’ was founded in 1863.  We were fortunate to have the Principal of the school “Patha Bhavan” as our guide.

Shanti Niketan Badi - old Shaniti Niketan-1 Shanti Niketan Badi - old Shaniti Niketan-2 Shanti Niketan Badi - old Shaniti Niketan-3 Shanti Niketan Badi - old Shaniti Niketan-4

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In front of this building, there is a sculpture known as the ‘Anirban Shikha’– made by the genius sculptor Ramkinkar Beij, a renowned ‘Shantinikatani’. The sculpture depicts burning flames of fire. Yet the astonishing thing about this sculpture is that in the early morning light, it generates a shadow of a ‘mother and child’.

Anirban Sikha with Shantiniketan Griha in Vishwa Bharati Campus

Anibarn Shikha Anirban Shikha

Amro-Kunj and Patha-Bhavana – Institute of Primary and Secondary Education:

School Girls in Colorful Saris - 5

Going to Amra Kunj Complex Entrance to AC Entering Paath Bhavan Entering Amra Kunj Complex

Walikng in Amra Kunj ground with Head Mistress of Paath BhavanaShimul - red silk cotton tree Amra Kunj - Mango tree

We learned that Debendranath used to bring young Rabi (as Rabindranath was affectionately called in his young age) here. Rabi loved to immerse himself in the natural beauty of Shantiniketan. He hated traditional book learning and believed that education should be a part of life and carried out in nature instead of separately inside schools. With this ideal in mind, he established a school which later became the Visva Bharati University.

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Near Lili Pond - 2 Bkul flower

Its unique feature is open-air classes. We found a park with many huge mango trees.  This is known as the Amro-Kunj.  Under the mango trees, in this serene environment, we found a teacher’s seat made out of stone and in front of it, circular round stone seating for students.

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The atmosphere adds something to the learning experience that is missed in walled classrooms. Just imagine learning under the shade of a tree instead of sitting at a desk within the confines of a conventional classroom!

Rabindranath’s school Brahmacharyasrama which started functioning formally from December 22, 1901 with no more than five students on the roll, was, in part, a fulfillment of the wishes of his father who was a considerable figure of his time in the field of educational reform. From 1925 this school came to be known as Patha-Bhavana. It is partly a residential co-educational school for elementary and secondary education, preparing students for the School Certificate Examination. Our tour guide informed us that Shantiniketan was the first co-ed school in India, where boys and girls studied the same curriculum.

The teachers among our Vidyapith family were particularly interested in the institution’s progressive curriculum. Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy lives on through the school’s educational program which encourages children to engage in singing, dancing, writing, painting, and various other creative fields. From 9th grade onwards, the university adopts a more traditional curriculum so that students can take standardized exams and seek employment after graduation.

Amra Kunj Complex - 2 AC - 3 - amlaki tree Amra Kunj complex - garden IMG_1510

Visva-Bharati:

Rabindranath founded a school for children at Shantiniketan and it was around this nucleus that the structure of an unconventional university called the Visva-Bharati was developed through careful planning.  On December 23, 1921 Rabindranath formally started the college with proceeds from the Nobel Prize that he received in 1913 for his work, Gitanjali.

After India’s independence, in 1951, the college was given the status of a university and named Visva-Bharati University.  It grew to become one of India’s most renowned places of higher learning. Its list of alumni consists of many renowned personalities including the Nobel Prize Winner economist Amrtya Sen, the world renowned film-maker Satyajit Ray, India’s leading art historian Shri R. Siva Kumar, and others.

The university’s 1,150 students are taught by around 80 teachers with a relatively small class size of approximately 25 students per class. Although few in number, international students from Korea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Spain, Russia and other countries attend this university.  We were told that many Visva-Bharati alumni pursue their careers in research and art.

Rabindranath himself said the following about Visva-Bharati:

Visva-Bharati represents India where she has her wealth of mind which is for all.  Visva-Bharati acknowledges India’s obligation to offer to others the hospitality of her best culture and India’s right to accept from others their best.”

The Entrance of Visva-Bharati:

Singha Sadan Prubo and Paschim Toran

The main gateway to the Visva-Bharati complex is called “New Ghanta Ghar” Or “Simha –Sadan”.  Simha is used to denote the main entrance.  There is a beautiful bell and clock tower on both sides, which regulate the timing of the daily routine for the ashrama inmates. The square-looking gateways flanking the Simha-Sadan are known as the Purva-toran and the Paschim-toran.  The Simha-Sadan was built out of a donation by Satyendra Prasanna Simha of Raipur. It was in this building that Oxford University conferred its honorary doctorate to Rabindranath.

4. Visva Bharati Entrance - Better Resolution

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UTTARAYANA COMPLEX:

The Uttarayana Complex is the enclave of Rabindranath’s own houses, built over the last three decades of his life (1919-1941), where he lived at different times. The entire complex is divided into many buildings with varying architectural styles. Tagore’s five houses inside the Uttarayan Complex are: Konarka, Shamali, Punascha, Udichi, Udayana. 

The gardens of Uttarayana were planned and laid out by the Poet’s son, Rathindranath, a horticulturist by training. He planted exotic plants and trees in the Uttarayan complex and in the surrounding area. The African Tulip from Equatorial Africa, the Sausage tree and Rhodesian Wistaria from Tropical Africa, the Baobab tree from Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean Trumpet tree from Latin America are some of the trees that have survived in Shantiniketan. They are a testament to the ideas and research studies produced by foreign scholars who came to Shantiniketan.

(1) Konark:

Originally a mud house, this was the earliest dwelling that Rabindranath built for his own seclusion from activity and as a place for his own work. It contained an east-facing verandah with rows of pillars used as a stage for plays and dance-dramas composed by the Poet. Natir Puja was first staged here. Since there were no walls in the central large room, nature was the effective backdrop. The Konark verandah was used for poetry readings by the Poet. The Mrinmoyee Patio is a beautiful cemented floor with seating arrangements. This was built on the foundation of the other mud house when it was pulled down. Rabindranath would sit in this open patio and write.

near Lili Pond

(2) Shyamali:

This house was an experiment in mud house construction. Rabindranath wanted to see if instead of a thatched roof, which was always vulnerable to fire hazards, a permanent mud roof could be built. It was to be a low-cost structure and would serve as a model house for villagers. The walls were heavily built so that the weight of the mud roofs could be borne. One of the rooms was constructed by using earthen water-pots arranged inside plaster-casings as its roof and walls.  Rabindranath believed that when hot air would pass through the earthern pots, it would lose some of its heat, and thus keep the rooms cool.  Keeping Rabindranath’s ideas in mind, Surendranath Kar prepared the architectural plan and Nandalal Bose prepared the visual perspective based on the Borobudur style. The entire outside wall was decorated with beautiful relief work by Kala-Bhavana students under the guidance of Nandalal Bose. The Santals on either side of the main door and on the eastern corner were made by Ramkinkar Baiz.  Mahatma Gandhiji and Kasturba stayed as guests in this house. Rabindranath loved this mud roofed house very much. On the wall there are also works of Ramkinkar Baij.

Near Shyamli Gate Way to Shyamali Shyamali-One of Tagors'Five residancies

(3) Punascha:

Punascha means “P.S.” postscript–an afterthought after a letter has been written and signed. The chosen name suggests the Poet’s change of mind.  This house was built on the eastern side of Shyamali. Rabindranath lived in this house for a short time, but it was here that he created most of his paintings.

Punascha

(4) Udichi:

This was the last house built for Rabindranath. He felt claustrophobic, he said, and wanted a room to be constructed on four pillars. However, changes were gradually made according to the owner’s needs. Rabindranath held poetry classes on the ground floor.

Udichi(5) Udayan:

The most imposing house in Uttarayana, is Udayan.

Udayan in Uttarayan complex

Udayan, unlike the other houses, was conceived by Rathindranath, son of Rabindranath. When Rabindranath came to live in Konark, Rathindranath and his wife lived in an outhouse by its side. Starting from these modest and functional rooms, the elaborate structure of Udayan was gradually evolved. Udayan has many suites of rooms─ each on a different level which gives this house its individuality. Distinguished visitors who have stayed here are Stella Kramrisch, Margaret Milward, Sir Maurice Gwyer, S. Radhakrishnan (later, President of India) and Jawaharlal Nehru.

A Special Talk:

We were fortunate that with the help of Club7 we were invited by Dr. Tapati Mukherjee, the Director of Culture and Cultural Relations and Prinicipal (Adhyaksha) of Rabindra-Bhavana, the institute of Tagore Studies and Research, Visva-Bharati. We entered the historical building as a group, and were asked to sit in the main hall.  The main hall was nicely decorated with important photographs and paintings.  It appeared as though this hall was used for major gatherings.

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Dr. Tapati Mukherjee welcomed us and talked to us about the history of the Visva-Bharati and its current programs and activities.  We all felt honored to have been invited to this place and to have the opportunity to listen to one of Visva-Bharati’s top-ranked persons.

Famous Sculptures:

Opposite the Udayan, is the immortal larger-than-life sculpture ‘Santal Family’ by Ramkinkarl Beij (Baij).

Santhal - 3

Scuptor-2

Another famous sculpture in the Udayan complex by Ramkinkarl’s Beij’s student, KS Radhakrishnan:

Scuptor - Womenpower -1 Scuptor - Womenpower -2

Rathindranath’s studio is also known as Guha-ghar/Chitrabhanu:

Within the Uttarayan complex of houses that Rabindranath built for his own work, we visited the Rathindra Museum, which commemorates Rabindranath Tagore’s son Rathindranath. We also visited Chitrabhanu, which was a studio built for Rathindranath’s wife, Pratima Devi, near a beautiful Japanese-style garden with a small pond.

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Rathindranath's Wife's Museum IMG_0844

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The studio or Chitrabhanu was built on a higher level on the ground and later the space below was converted into a room to be used as a workshop for Rathindranath. The workshop is a low-ceiling room; its entrance wall is embedded with rough stones and has  creepers growing over it, giving it the resemblance of a cave-dwelling or Guha-ghar.

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Here is a photograph of Rabindranath Tagore with his son Rathindranath and his daughter-in-law Pratima Devi.

Rabindranath with Rathindranath and Pratima Devi

The attractive gateway below is a part of the Uttarayan complex.

DSC00568 Entrance in Uttarayan Complex -2-wheel of a bullock cart

The Rabindra Bhavan:

Rabindra Bhavana is an Institute of Tagore Studies and Research.  Founded in July 1942, just a year after the Poet’s death, Rabindra Bhavana is an important component of Visva-Bharati. It is, in fact, the focal point of the University. Rabindra Bhavan houses a museum which is called The Bichitra Bhavan.

The Bichitra Bhavan (The Rabindra Bhavan Museum):

In Sanskrit Vaichitra means “diversity”. The diverse collection of Tagore is displayed in The Bichitra Bhavan, including the replica of Tagore’s Nobel Prize medal.  This Bhavana includes among its treasures a very major part of Tagore’s manuscripts, correspondences, paintings, and sketches. It also has the poet’s personal library, various objects used by him, his musical instrument the Esraj, his voice-recordings, and thousands of photographs taken of him at different times and places. Along with these things, the many gifts and honors that he received from different parts of the world enrich the Bhavana’s archival holdings. The following is a photo of one side of the Bichitra Bhavan.

Bichitra (Rabindra Bhavana) the museum designed by Rathindranath Bichitra (Rabindra Bhavana) the museum designed by Rathindranath 2

The following Tagor’s saying engraved on the wall of The Bichitra Bhavan’s (museum’s) wall.

Bichitra the museum Front designed by Rathindranath

Still, every day, the dawn

Brings a blessing

To whatever is growing

Towards the sun.

 

Here, Tagore says that every morning the sun brings a blessing in the direction of all that is still a mere sprout or sapling, growing, not fully grown. A sprout or sapling signifies hope or peace. This is why the tree planting ceremony is of high significance at Shantiniketan.

Rabindranath’s car and a letter-press treadle machine were beside Konark, one of Tagore’s five residences in Shantiniketan.

Tagore's Car -1

9. Shantiniketan Printing Press Tagore's photo near the press

Around Rabindra Bhavana - old printing machine - Tagor's picture

In 1917, the citizens of Lincoln, Nebraska presented to the boys of Shantiniketan, a letter-press treadle machine. The gift initiated the Shantiniketan Press from whIch the Shantiniketan Patrika newsletter was printed.

Upasana Griha

 In 1863, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, Tagore’s father, constructed a Prayer Hall where Bramho prayers were conducted. The prayer hall opens on Wednesdays and for occasional meetings. Prayers at Shantiniketan are non-denominational. Yet, major holidays of various faiths are celebrated here including Christmas and Buddha Jayanti. This concept of harmony of religions along with the ashram style seating arrangement and general open-minded attitude reminded us of our own Vidyapith in many ways.

Road way to Upasana Griha-2 Upasana Griha - Prayer Hall Upasana Griha Upasana Griha Closeup

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7. Upasana Griha - Square YardBeside the Prayer Hall is a massive Banyan tree – it is said Rabindranath loved to sit under this tree.

Banyan TreeBecause we were short on time, we were unable to visit the Kala Bhavan, the Institute of Fine Arts, a noted institution of education and research in visual arts, founded in 1919. It is the home of the Fine Arts faculty of the Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan.

Vriksharopan Celebration (Planting Trees Celebration):

As we made our way back to our totos, we caught a glimpse of Shantiniketan’s school girls dressed in colorful saris. They were assembling for the tree planting ceremony presentations.  Rabindranath Tagore himself had started the “Vriksharopan Celebration” (Planting Trees Celebration).  We could see that this was a major Shantiniketan festival. There were so many nicely dressed students, and people were walking to the ceremony.  The traditional dance makeup, colorful costumes, and classical tones drifting into the air from the direction of the open stage were reminiscent of our own Annual Function.

School Girls in Colorful Saris - 2 School Girls in Colorful Saris - 4

School Girls in Colorful Saris - 8

The girls above are from Santoshalaya, the girls’ hostel. Santoshalaya, a single-story house, is named after Santoshchandra Majumdar, one of the first students of the Santiniketan Vidyalaya. The walls of this house have frescoes prepared by artists of the 1920s. It includes other hostels.

School Girls in Colorful Saris - 7

With a long bus ride back to Kolkata ahead of us, we were not able to stay and watch the program, but we left feeling a resonating sense of familiarity.

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Bus Ride Back:

The bus ride back was filled with devotional singing. Reflecting on the day’s experiences, it was evident that Rabindranath Tagore had created in Shantiniketan, an oasis that upheld the poet’s spiritual and educational ideals. This can be understood from the lines of Poem “Let My Country Awake!” from his most renowned book of poems, Gitanjali (“Song Offerings”):

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action–

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

 

(I would like to thank Sneha Shah for writing the original report, Deba Saha for providing important information and photos and Nisha Parikh for editing the blog.)