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Monday, February 25, 2013

My Trip to India

by Charlie Feldman

I recently went on a spiritual pilgrimage to India, which was the first trip for which I have needed a passport in 42 years. I went with Ramkrishna Chatterjee, whose parents have a home in Belur. He and his family were very generous with their time, showing me holy sites and even staying at Jayrambati and Kamarpukur, where all four of us traveled together. 

Of the sites I saw, Sri Ramakrishna's room at Dakshineshwar was the highlight of my trip. I was actually sitting in the same room where Thakur spoke with his disciples! I also made a wish when we saw the Kalpataru tree at the Cossipore garden house. At Belur Math, I liked to go sit in Sri Sarada Devi's room at the old Math, where people could meditate for a while. Unlike the main temple, there were usually only one or two other people there, and the sounds of the birds would accompany my meditation. 

At the International Guest House at Belur Math, I met people from South Africa, Japan, the Netherlands, London, Vancouver, Boston, California, and more, showing that this really is an international movement. The main temple at Belur Math always had droves of people coming in and out to give their pranams. 


The brahmacharis at Belur Math sang arati with their beautiful voices. At the Vivekananda Birth Anniversary Celebration, there must have been about 2,000 people present. There were musicians and speakers, including Swami Baneshananda from Germany, who spoke in English. He said that religion thrives in India due to religious freedom, and that while reason can be contradicted by higher reason, and scriptures can be contradicted by higher scriptures, nothing can contradict God-realization.

My two secular goals for my trip were not to get diarrhea and not to get my shoes stolen when I went into a temple, and I was successful in achieving both of those. I did not get to have all the spiritual conversations that I imagined having, as most people spoke Bengali or English that was hard to understand, and the conversation at the International Guest House was mostly light conversation. I thought I would get to talk to the president of the order, but when I went to see him, they sent in five people at a time, and all we could do was make our pranams and leave. I found out later that I would have had to make a special appointment to talk with him. 

Seeing the holy sites and the devotees, and meeting swamis and nuns, is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The Swami at the Baranagore Math was insistent that I should come back again, and he tried to teach me that phrase in Bengali. I don't know if I will make it back again, but this was the trip of a lifetime. 

(The photo accompanying this post is a statue of Swamiji, which I believe was taken outside his ancestral home.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Companionship

by Kaivalyam

In all our life, in every activity, we look for companionship. It can be parents for a baby, a friend for a child, a very intimate person for a youth, spouse when married, children when in parenthood, grand-children in old-age. In professional life, it could be one's fellow-students, employees etc. From time-to-time, we substitute a human companionship by getting engrossed in animals like dog, cat, horse etc. or in inanimate objects like computer, phone, television, etc. Of course, we all choose the company that suits our tastes.

This striving for companionship to suit our temperament is seen in great saints too. There are many notable examples,  such as when Sri Ramakrishna prayed for Keshab Chandra Sen's recovery. Sri Ramakrishna said: "'Mother, please make Keshab well again. If Keshab doesn't live, whom shall I talk with when I go to Calcutta?" [1] His fervent cry to the Mother asking him to send disciples: "In those days there was no limit to my yearning. During the day time, I could keep it under control though the talk of worldly people tormented me. I would yearn for the time when my beloved companions would come to me. I kept thinking what a relief it would be to talk freely and openly to them about my experiences. When the evening worship started, ....I would ... cry at the top of my voice in the anguish of my heart: 'Come to me, my boys! Where are you all? I cannot bear to live without you!'"[2].  Other instances suggest this too, like Shams-e Tabrizi's craving for a worthy companion that led him to Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī and later Rumi's bereavement of Shams' death through his poems Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi.

It always makes me wonder: Why there is this drag of need for companionship? It is so ingrained that we even fail to recognize it. When two friends watch a humorous scene in a movie, they look at each other and then laugh. It is a surprise to see the need to resonate this humor with another person.  The same holds for music concert, sports event or a beautiful scenery etc. With any information that is exciting for one, a need to share it with other is felt - the growing traffic in social forums is a testimony to this. Ironically this blog also fits in as a solution to this need. In any such company, all that the mind is looking for is some reactive impulse from the world for the thoughts and words that are generated within it. Is it possible to create these reactive impulses within one's own mind, thereby obviating the need for any external company? It may sound as though I'm advocating for Multiple Personality Disorder which is characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities that alternately control a person's behavior. But that is not the case.

The saints overcame this affliction of need for company by absorbing themselves in God. Until that state of mind is reached, the need for company does not vanish. Switching back to the examples given above: Sri Ramakrishna, later on in his life, had the company of Divine Mother with whom he could talk to whenever he wanted to. This mental state of his is very different from a personality disorder (or any human relationship for that matter) as this companionship with Mother is always blissful. Rumi also, later in his life, composed this poem after Shams' death:

"Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself!"[3]

There are of course saints who denied all worldly and human connections forcibly like Sri Ramana Maharshi. But for almost all spiritual aspirants, the need for companionship is felt always until the goal of Self/God realization is reached. Hence the advice given to us is to keep holy company so that the thoughts dwell on God rather than on any worldly object. When the bliss from within dawns upon us, the need for a companion is permanently gone.

 References:

[1] The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M. Translation by Swami Nikhilananda
[2] Ramakrishna and His Disciples by Christopher Isherwood
[3] The Essential Rumi. Translations by Coleman Barks