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Friday, February 23, 2024

Passing Show: Thoughts on two Sunday talks at Vedanta Society of Providence, Part 2

 By Dr. Tilak Verma

(Continued from Passing Show 1...) I am ready to take the first-ever drag from my just-purchased, "Passing Show" cigarette!  And that’s when I spot him, or should I say, he spots me.

Jindoo Ram! Our pot-bellied, rotund cook, maker of the choicest curries, renowned for his koftas with cashews embedded on the inside and for perfect, evenly cooked, puffed rotis.

“Having fun and enjoying, I see.” He observes and moves on, disappearing into the crowd before I can think of an excuse, offer an explanation, or plead for secrecy.

Oh boy! I fling the Passing Show aside and head home weighing my options, the best being, I decide, the truth. For my confession I choose my aunt. She is smart, lovely, elegant, and educated in the US, Boston, at a prestigious, renowned all-girl’s college, on a full scholarship no less, and at a time when it was unheard of for women to travel overseas for education. She should be favorably inclined, I imagine.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Passing Show: Thoughts on two Sunday talks at Vedanta Society of Providence, Part 1

By Dr. Tilak Verma

Nachiketa, a young boy in search of knowledge and truth is in conversation with Yama, the god of death.

When a person dies, there exists a doubt:
“He still exists,” say some; “he doesn’t not,"
say others. I want you to teach me the truth.

Swami Yogatmananda-ji is speaking on this over two carefully crafted talks entitled, "Much Ado about Nothing" and "Choosing Wisely."

Yama is unmoved.
“This doubt haunted even the gods of old,” he says, adding, "Ask me something else.” He offers, instead, immense wealth, longevity, and even a kingdom to rule over--and all the pleasures of life one can ask for.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Is Sri Ramakrishna an Avatar?

By Charles Feldman (Prana)

I have been involved with the Vedanta Society for about 19 years now. But one thing I have never been able to feel confident about is: How do we know for sure that Sri Ramakrishna is an Avatar?  After all, he is not as well known as Krishna, Buddha, Shankaracharya, or Chaitanya, and some Gurus who are alive now are regarded by their followers as an Avatar. Once I asked someone from India if they had heard of Sri Ramakrishna, and they said they had not. I know that Sri Ramakrishna might in the future become as well known as these others, but I have always asked myself: How do we know for sure? 

I concluded just the other day that I can regard Sri Ramakrishna as a spiritual authority, but I couldn't be sure he is an Avatar. But then, I read an article by Swami Tyagananda in Chicago Calling, the e-magazine from the Vedanta Society of Chicago. Swami Tyagananda had the kind of confidence that Sri Ramakrishna is an Avatar that I wished that I could have. Then a thought occurred to me: If Sri Ramakrishna is not an Avatar, who is? And I realized that I couldn't think of anyone else who could qualify to be an Avatar for today, at least not for me. This thought totally changed my outlook. There is no one I could regard as an Avatar other than Sri Ramakrishna. Now, I can feel confident that Sri Ramakrishna is an Avatar, at least for me, and for others who regard him as such. My qualms have been resolved.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

At Belur Math, Part 2

By Swapna Ray

Oftentimes we have small furrows of conditioning that make us reluctant to accept what is desired of us. So, the gap remains – between what we know and what we follow! But God has His own little ways of making us do what He wants us to!

The moment I completed my breakfast at Belur Math, a strange realization dawned upon me that unknowingly I had broken the convention that I had held on to for so many years – of not having any food prior to my visit to temple! But here I was, succumbing to His wishes without my knowledge! If my Thakur was smiling or not, at having check-mated me in this wonderful way, I wouldn’t know but I did realize for the first time in many years that He shows us what is right when the time comes!
I headed towards the Math not far away from the Guest House. The nearer I approached my destination, the faster became my heartbeat! It was an ethereal feeling mixed with joy unbound, a nameless feeling that can only be felt deep within. Each heartbeat I skipped resonated with the culmination of emotions that had bundled within me in these six years that I hadn't had the chance to come here. The closest I could think of was the feeling that I had experienced years ago when I had my first homecoming from my stay abroad after my marriage. 'Homecoming' would perhaps be the most apt name for this feeling of waves of unbound emotions!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

At Belur Math, Part 1

By Swapna Ray

I know you not; never before
And yet, my soul seeks you.
Within your infinite, I join my dots;
We build our lives anew.

--Rabindranath Tagore

The years 2021 and 2022 have been devastating for most of us. With horror in our eyes and unimaginable grief in our hearts, we have counted the deaths of our most near and dear ones succumbing to COVID! There is this thing about tragedy – that fine line between feeling it and experiencing it – up close, and personal! From miles and miles away, we could only grapple with the feeling of personal losses, with the lump of regret lodged in our throats - of not having the power to embrace the grief with our personal experiences! No wonder I did not feel the urge to return to my roots.  But as luck would have it, I did have to visit my homeland around the end of January 2023 due to some personal work.

My younger sister had come to receive me at the airport. As the car left the gates of the airport and its wheels rolled into the city, I told myself to embrace the new reality and set free the bird that had longingly clung to the memories of a long-lost childhood! So, instead of choosing to head towards my ancestral home, I chose to stay in the empty house of a friend. There were the pictures of Sri Ramakrishna and Ma Sarada Devi placed at my bedside table. Discovering them beside me, within moments, my soul discovered familiarity in the hitherto unknown place. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

A Living Flame--Shape is Gone, Spirit Continues to Shine: Pt. 2

By Swami Yogatmananda

A correction to what has been stated in the first blog: The documented records painstakingly collected and sent to me show that I became acquainted with Father Paul in 2002; and his maiden speech here was on Sept 20, 2003, at our 75th Anniversary Celebration, alongside the late Rev. Swami Swahananda, the then head of our Hollywood Center and the Chief Guest of the 75 Anniversary Celebration. 

Father Paul came to Providence Vedanta and stayed overnight so many times. On many such occasions he would take a train from Boston South Station and myself or someone else from here would pick him up from the train station. Sometimes he preferred to walk uphill – especially when the weather was nice – so that he could get the needed exercise. He had taken up the teaching of Religious French language at Harvard. He was also running his own Church at his Somerville apartment. Occasionally, his student Louis Carlos would accompany him. We spent hours discussing spiritual matters, lives of saints. We both had this common interest: St. John of the Cross. 

He was a wonderful, jovial conversationalist and had a deep sense of humor – the humor that does not put anyone down, nor does it pull the mind down.

Friday, September 29, 2023

A Living Flame--Shape is Gone, Spirit Continues to Shine: Pt. 1

By Swami Yogatmananda

Living Flame- This was part of his email name - Father (then Bishop) Paul livingflame03@yahoo.com. 

If I remember right, it was sometime in 2005 (if not even before) that I got to meet him at the Boston center of Vedanta, introduced by a close devotee from Boston, Srinivas Gandhi. He knew Father Paul since 1999 and admired his sincere approach to religious practice that did not shy away from going beyond the cultish limitations.

The most important point that struck a common chord between myself and Father Paul was the conviction that God can actually be seen/experienced, and various religions are the paths enabling human beings to do that. Father Paul had a tumultuous relationship with the Catholic Church, in which he was initially ordained. I did not ask much about his breakup from it or from another order. We were both interested in moving forward on the path to realize the goal - to see the God.

He had tremendous admiration of Sri Ramakrishna born out of the fact that Sri Ramakrishna actually saw God; nay was ever merged in God. ‘I am convinced that who was born as Jesus was also born as Sri Ramakrishna’ – he declared to me several times and also spoke in lectures/discourses he gave at the Vedanta Society. Soon he became a regular guest speaker here. He had also studied the lives of many Indian and European saints and gave very inspiring speeches on them.