Archive for the ‘spiritual’ Category

Travel to places connected with Sri Ramakrishna

January 7, 2014

For a long time I wanted to go to Kolkata and visit places connected to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Belur math, Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  This became a possibility when a friend called up inviting me for his marriage in Kolkata! I booked tickets but the train was full and I was kept on waiting list (WL).  I could have tried to get the tickets through the emergency booking facility, tatkal but I thought I will leave it to destiny. I will travel only if the tickets get confirmed!  Air travel was possibility but too expensive given my current financial condition. I did not book hotel accommodation thinking that, if at all my train tickets are confirmed, I would stay at an old friend’s house.  I sent a mail to this friend informing of my visit.  This was 21 days before travel.

3 days before travel date my booking status was updated from WL to RAC.  So I could travel but I have to share the berth with another passenger!  There was no mail from my friend with whom I expected to stay in the even that my tickets get booked.  So I call him and tell him that I would be around for 4 days but mostly will be touring places connected to Sri Ramakrishna.  He thinks! and tells me in the most humble way that it will be difficult to accommodate me!   But then he also informs me that Belur math has a guest house and that I could book it.  I did not know about it. There is no information on the Belur Math page about the guest house! I search again but in vain.  He searched and found a page where one could give feedback about the Belur Math website.  In the ‘feedback’ he wrote about my need for a guest room gave my name, email address and phone number.  We decide to wait for a day before taking any other action.  A day later I get a message that my request is forwarded to the Maharaj(Swami) who takes care of matters pertaining to the guest house!  Another day later I get a message from the Maharaj asking me to give arrival and departure details in an attached form.  I am excited. I fill the form. A day left for my travel and no communication from the Maharaj. I consult my friend. We agree that absence of a confirmation mail implies that it is confirmed!  Looking back I can see how optimistically deluded we were.

Location of Belur math guest house

Location of Belur math guest house

The train reached 1 hour late. It is 6:45 in the evening but already dark.  The taxi-wallah takes me to Belur Math and asks where I wanted to be dropped. I had no idea that Belur Math would be such a huge campus.  We went inside the big arch entrance and then I got down thinking I could walk and ask for directions to the guest house.  To my good fortune I crossed a young monk who tells me that if I have not got a confirmation mail then I do not have the guest room.  In fact I am supposed to be carrying a print out of the confirmation! The guest house keeper would not accept me without a printed confirmation letter.  Besides, the procedure is to apply 2 months in advance!

However, since I am single and with only a backpack for luggage the guest house authorities may consider me on compassionate grounds!   The monk takes me to the math office for guest house accommodation.  It is closed. They close at 6:30 pm. Then he takes me to the guest house. It is a small walk outside the math compound on a lane that leads to the ferry ride to Dakshineshwar.  He leaves me at the guest house gate indicating that now it is between me and the guest house keeper.  Here is the google map showing the location of the guest house. It is useful because the guest house building does not have a name board!

As pointed out by the monk, the guest house keeper asked me for a print out of the confirmation e-mail.  I told him I had not received any.  He was visibly unhappy; I did not have a document and I was ignorant of the procedure!  He called up the Maharaj  in-charge of guest house related matters.  I told him I had come from Bangalore, had intimated the math a few days ago about my need for a room, and that I had not received any reply from the math office.  He must have got annoyed,  ‘we also have other works to do’, but quickly recovered and asked me to hand over the phone to the guest house keeper. I was allowed to stay but should vacate the following day.   A single room, probably reserved for monks, was given to me!  I was supremely grateful; I was saved from the trouble of going in search of a guest house that late after 26 hours of train travel. I would have agreed to sleep even in the courtyard!

A board inside the single room accommodation.

Instruction board inside the single room accommodation.

Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. are served in the guest house. In the morning I toured the Belur Math campus: temples, museum, Sw. Vivekananda’s room and the place where remains of several of the first disciples were interned.  When I was back for lunch I was told that I was to meet the Maharaj.  Though, it was closing time for the office the Maharaj agreed to meet me immediately because I had decided to pack off late afternoon.  The Maharaj took down my name, searched Microsoft Outlook and gave me the print out of my mail. Then he took asked me to accompany him to meet another monk, his superior.  I sat outside the office, when he went in and spoke to the senior monk.  The senior monk apparently dismissed it; it was not necessary for me to meet him.  There was more good news for me.  I could come back the day after the marriage and another room in some other place could be arranged for me! I was humbled at his efforts to accommodate me even after I had thrust myself on him, though out of ignorance. Truly grateful.

I was back early next day.  The guest house keeper who had by now become friendly gave me the key to a different single room in the same guest house.  I had no sleep the previous night-the marraige got over by 2:30 a.m.  So I slept. A lot.   The guest house keeper told me meet another Maharaj if I wanted to book the car to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  But before that I wanted to got Dakshineshwar.  However, by the time I came back from Dakshineshwar it was time for the prayer in main temple at Belur Math.  The office closed by the time I was out of prayer hall.   When I returned to the guest house for dinner the keeper was annoyed that I did not meet the Maharaj. How was I to go now? I pleaded. He spoke to the Maharaj and yet again he obliged,  ‘was I ok with joining 3 others in the car to Kamarpukur the next morning?’  Of course, I was. The Maharaj also suggested I stay at Kamarpukur. The accommodation in Kamarpukur could be arranged!

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa source: www.oldindianphotos.in

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
source: http://www.oldindianphotos.in

The car was ready at 7:00 a.m.  The 3 others were a devotee, his mom and nephew from Andhrapradesh. The driver was good at conversation and regaled me with stories related to Sri Ramakrishna’s life.  He was driving devotees since 1974! and knew Ramakrsishna’s life story like the back of his palm.  Among other things he told me the story of Rani Rasmani, which is not in the Gospel (at least not in the English version).  We reached Kamarpukur at 11:00 a.m. after a break for tea-the best tea I had in my 5 day trip, on the way.

The Maharaj in-charge of the Kamarpukur math was happy to note that I had a research background,  ‘more students should pursue science’.  He was aware that the nation highest honour, Bharat Ratna, was conferred upon the leading scientist Prof. CNR Rao.  I informed him that it was possible now to do good research because more funds are allocate for research. ‘Yes, but it is not enough.’ I was surprised.  It is the first time I heard a non-scientist saying that more funds should be allocated for research.  Usually it is the scientists who complain of the lack of funds.  There were others waiting to meet him.  So we decided to meet again but for now I was allotted a room usually reserved for monks!  I was given a special lunch coupon with VIP written on it!  It being a weekend a large number of people would queue for lunch. With the coupon we could skip the queue. It did help me save time.  It was unbelievable. Having a degree in research can also be an advantage. Who could have thought in India!

In Kamarpukur, after seeing the Jogi Shiva temple, Haldarpukur (the pond) and the main temple, which is built in the place where Sri Ramakrishna was born, we went to Jayrambati a few kilometers away.   Holy mother was born here and spent several years after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna.  We attended the evening prayer there and were back before dark to Kamarpukur.  I spent the evening until dinner in the prayer hall where a Maharaj was reading from the Gospel. It was in Bengali language; I tried to follow the language but soon realised that I cannot understand beyond the simple pleasantries in Bengali.

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

The next day we had breakfast and started for Aantpur as suggested by the driver. It was in Aantpur that the idea of starting the Ramakrishan math and misson occurred to Swami Vivekananda.  The Maharaj in-charge of Aantpur math offered us fruits and asked to leave only after having lunch.  We saw Swami Premananda’s house (now belonging to the math) and the dhuni (fire place) where Swami Vivekananda along with other monks decided on the idea of the math and mission.  We then went behind the house to see the pond that was used by Swami Vivekananda.  There seemed to be ponds everywhere and in fact all along from Howrah to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  Having spent my childhood in a relatively dry region of Maharashtra I found this much water beyond imagination.

I was back in Belur by early evening.  There was time enough to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar once more.  But before that I met the Maharaj, who had arranged the car, and paid the car charges.  My stay and food in the guest house at Belur Math and Kamarpukur and food at Aantpur was free!  I donated modest amounts for my own satisfaction in all these places.

  • I have not included descriptions of the places here.  Please read here and here for exhaustive and minimal information, respectively of both the places.
  • There is a private lodge in Kamarpukur.  It looks good though I haven’t checked the rooms. Here are the details: Relax Lodge, Ph. no. 03211 244699
  • On a walk around the Belur Math compound I came across a good lodge near the main gate. The rooms are good. They even have AC. It is called ‘Om Plaza’ , Ph. no.  26540378
  • If you want accommodation in the math guest house please contact the math office 2 months in advance.  The guest house is available for devotees. It helps if you come with a recommendation from a monk. For instance, if you are from Chennai you should have met or known the Maharaj in the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai.

Kanjilal and Sanyasa Diksha

October 27, 2013

Today at Ramakrishna Math, a junior swami gave the lecture.  The following anecdote is from the notes I took during the lecture.

Kanjilal was a householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna and frequented the Belur math.  During those visits he spent time conversing with Swami Brahmananda and other monks.  One day he asked Swami Brahmananda for sanyasa diksha. Swamiji told him that sanyasa was not for him. However, he kept asking time and again for sanyasa. Eventually, Swamiji obliged but told him that he would be given the Kaul Sanyasa diksha and not the Dashnami Sanyasa that the Ramakrishna order follows.

The date for the sanyasa was fixed. It was an amavasya. The time was middle of the night or past midnight.  Someone who knew the procedure was called to perform the rituals.  The time to offer the bali came.  However, when the bali was offered out of nowhere two huge jackals came picked the bali and threw it in the ganges river. This was a bad omen. The bali should not be touched by anyone and here it was thrown into the ganges! So the ritual was called off. Swami Brahmananda remarked to Kanjilal that he had warned him that sanyasa was not for him.

However, later after Swami Brahmananda passed away, he got sanyasa under the grace of Holy mother and Swami Sharadananda.

 

 

Synchronicity with music

January 28, 2013

I check e-mail (gmail) once or twice a day. After going through my mails I often check the tab on Google Reader to see if there are any updates. I have subscribed to the content of several academic journals, magazines, blogs and comic strips. Usually, I read through only one or two of these, so there will always be a huge backlog. But the other day I happened to read a friend’s blog where he mentioned an artist (vocal) of  the Hindustani Classical genre, Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, and linked this article that appreciates him. It caught my interest. I had not heard about this artist as the article rightly pointed out about him being not famous. But now I wanted to listen to his music. I live close by a Univ. campus where music concerts are not uncommon.  So I checked their website and was pleasantly surprised. His concert was due the very next day at a time that was suitable to me! Needless to say, I attended the concert and was impressed. He has an amazing voice and range. Unfortunately, the concert was arranged only for 2 hours.  I dare say that going by traditional concert times he would have just warmed up. There was no doubt in my mind that had it been an all night concert, like a traditional concert would have been, he would have dazzled us with his full potential.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) supported on Tabla by Ravindra Yavagal and on Harmonium by R. Katoti.Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with my mobile.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) with R. Yavagal (to his right) for Tabla &  R. Katoti (left) for Harmonium. Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with mobile camera from my seat.

Those familiar with Julia Cameron’s book Artists Way know that she believes those who undertake the 3 week course experience synchronicity. At the end of every week, in the Tasks or in the Check-In’s we are asked to write down the synchronicity that we experienced. Synchronicity did happen to me on several occasions earlier (for e.g. see here) i.e. before I knew about the Artists Way. Then I use to think about it as a kind of Deja Vu. Music being closer to my heart, the urge to describe this particular synchronicity was greater

This got me thinking and I googled synchronicity to learn more. Interestingly, I came across another word that encapsulates this phenomenon. It is Pratityaya Samutpada (Sanskrit).  Pratityaya means interdependence. Samutpada means co-arising. So Pratityaya Samutpada means interdependent co-arising. It is a concept in Buddhism and in lay terms it means that things arise depending on more than one reason or condition. It makes fascinating reading. Wikipedia has more on this including excerpts from the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. But I leave you with this picture that I took at one of the monasteries in Ladakh.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra. Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra.
Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

The Bhavachakra(Wheel of Life) depicts the twelve chain of causes that lead to other causes: dependent-arising.

Another way to live

June 11, 2011

The picture of a sadhu, with ash smeared face and a large naamam (a U with a line bisecting it arising from the center) on the forehead, on the front cover got my attention to this book.  It is an account of Professor/Dr. Kapur’s experience with yoga and yogi’s. I use the word yogi here synonymously with sadhus swamis and sanyasis. There are extracts and summaries of several of his interviews with yogis. However, in all his travails Dr. Kapur never came across a yogi with powers (siddhis). So there are no stories about magical/supernatural powers or even mind reading. The one sadhu who was shown to him to be a realised soul Dr. Kapur suspects to be schizophrenic! In his interviews he asked the sadhus  why they chose the path.   The answers are varied ranging from “i was on the path from childhood” to “i took it to avoid misfortune” and “it was a way to meet the challenges of old age”!  There are detailed accounts of some of them and they form interesting reading.

Dr. Kapur also joined as an apprentice with a Guru to learn yoga. He narrates his experience during training and also the effects after continuing it when he was back home. These chapters make interesting reading. There is also an account on changes in his behavior at home after and before yoga in his wife’s words.  To quote her ” Having observed my husband’s practice for an year, i came to the conclusion that regular practice of yoga enhanced the positive aspects of his personality and reduced the negative aspects. However, interrupted practice proved to be  more harmful than not practicing at all”.

The comments and guidance from his guru are listed as bullets in a couple of pages. They are real gems. I skipped the parts which dealt with the theory of yoga and details on psyco-analysis.  On the whole this book is a good read.

Sri Ramana Maharshi-The Supreme Guru

March 1, 2011

I prefer to read books on spirituality at the end of the day. I like if the books are thinner, the font size is big enough and space between the lines is reasonable. Ofcourse, the content should do justice to the main story. This biographical book on Sri Ramana Maharshi, by Alan Jacobs, is all the above and more. I had already read (a lot) about Maharshi and yet liked going through his life story. The story of Maharshi preparing his mother for self realisation, about his ability to attend to problems of animals, about the cow Laxmi, about the white peacock are covered.

Visits of westerners and their conversations with Maharshi are also there. I had known about Paul Brunton’s visit but had never read about Somerset Maugham’s visit.  This book recounts both their  experience and includes a question answer session between the former and Maharshi.  There is also a Q&A session between SivaPrakasam Pillai and Maharshi.   Apparently Maugham ‘attempted to ask questions but did not speak.  (to which) Maharshi said  “All finished. Heart talk is all talk. All talk must end in silence only.” ‘ Apparently, in the book ‘The Razor’s edge’ Maugham has modeled the fictional guru on Maharshi.

The book has got plenty of full page length pictures of Maharshi, his surroundings and people who flocked to him. On the whole i enjoyed reading this book. However, i must admit i skipped through the poem by the author and the english translation from the Sanskrit of  the 40 verses in praise of Ramana.

Nisargadatta Maharaj Mandir Mumbai

January 31, 2011

I had been to Mumbai (Bombay) for the weekend. I had arranged with my friend’s family for a visit to Elephanta Caves. (Read here about my trip to Elephanta Caves.) I had also decided to visit Nisargadatta Maharaj Mandir. The same day because i had to leave for Bangalore the next day by noon. I asked a couple of Mumbai-ites about Nisargadatta Maharaj but none of them new about it. I had read literature on him and knew that he had a tobacco shop and lived in Bombay.  I googled for Nisaragadatta Maharaj and after a couple clicks i reached the blog that mentioned about the Nisargadatta Spiritual Center and gave its address as:

“Siddhashram” , Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj Samadhi Mandir, Nisarga Society, Pathare Wadi, Bapu Bhagwe Marg, Dahisar (west), Mumbai-400 068

Books and tapes on Nisargadatta Maharaj are available here. I also came to know from blog-world that the house in which he lived had been sold. The new owners apparently re-modeled the house!

I bought return ticket from CST to Dahisar.   It was around 5 in the evening when i took the local from CST (VT station) to Dadar.  Dadar is on the central line and Dahisar is on the western line. So at Dadar i changed over to the western line to Virar.  However, i discovered later that this was a fast local and that i would have to get down at Borivilli and take a slow local to Dahisar. Dahisar is just one stop away from Borivilli. The total journey from CST to Dahisar lasted  an hour and 45 minutes . At Dahisar I walked out of the station (keeping the west) and asked a cigarette shop wallah for Bapu Barve road and he directed me to a nearby shop owner.  This guy asked me to walk along the road until the road turns left.  At the cross road there was a tailor shop. I asked the lady at the tailor shop for Bapu Barve road and she asked me to follow the road and cross the bridge. This bridge is over a nullah.  I took the left after the bridge and walked a couple of minutes. The Nisarg society is an apartment complex. A young chap at the gate guessed my purpose and showed me to the Nisargadatta Mandir. Its on the first floor. One has to leave the shoes in a rack at the ground floor.

There is a larger than life size idol of Nisargadatta Maharaj in a big hall.  The statue is whitish-must be in marble. There are framed photographs of his guru and several other saints behind the idol. The hall appears to be a part of an apartment. Indeed an old (50 ish) lady and her son take care of the house. There is a book rack on the wall adjacent to the stairs. I picked a book in Marathi on Siddarameshwar Maharaj’s life and a DVD on Nisargadatta Maharaj. I could have bought more but only cash is accepted.

The lady asked me about my whereabouts and then offered me tea!  When i resisted another person nearby asked me take it as prasad.  I took. After what seemed like an hour i took leave.  Tracing the road back to the station was easier. There is another bridge right opposite Nisarga Society.  I crossed the bridge and asked a few people.  The station was a few minutes away.  When i reached the station i realized i had forgotten to take a picture of Maharaj!

Tired of Japa?

February 26, 2010

Japa? …read about it and all. Even if one discards all the magical things that those practising japa are supposed to experience, there is certainly one ‘beneficial’ outcome: concentration. One will have greater clarity of thought. Having a greater focus is equivalent to having a higher resolution. So you can see, hear or feel things more things much better.

A must for those who have very low attention span.  

Here is what Swami Vivekananda had to say on Japa:

Q:Sometimes i get tired of Japa. Should i continue or read a book instead?
Vivekananda: One gets tired of japa for two reasons. Sometimes one’s brain is fatigued, sometimes it is the result of idleness. If the former, then one should give up japa for the time being, for persistence in it at the time results in seeing hallucinations, or in lunacy etc. But if the latter, the mind should be forced to continue japa.

I got this quote from this site on Swami Vivekananda.

However, with the mind being what it is its a tough battle.

Procrastination? or lack of interest

February 22, 2010

When time is available in plenty I end up doing much less than what i would if there was little time. 

When there is no work pressure and when no body cares what I do, I end up doing very little or nothing.

Even the non-academic books that i read, once my hobby, is now more of a way to fall asleep at night. I read so many books that i cant name even the one i read a week ago. The content of book too doesn’t stay in memory. I only remember those that left an impression, i.e. something about the story or the writing lingered in the mind.  Coincidentally, the books that have that lingering effect are the ones written by big shots: Steinbeck, Dorris Lessing, Hemmingway…  These guys must be really good that they leave an impression even in my disinterested reading.

Hiking. I like very much. But now I have to find motivation to hike. The internet and the endless stream of movies and news that it offers hogs my weekends and any or all the spare time i  have.

Possibly no interest lasts forever.

Meditation too depends on mood, surroundings and what not. The ‘happiness’ that comes after meditation is probably a carrot offered by those who themselves were lost and didn’t want to be left alone.  With no signs of ‘benefit’, meditations slips from once a day to once in long while.

When in India i used to think that Indians working abroad with all the free time  and no one to disturb would end up doing so much more. Now i know…

I now believe that a group of like minded people is a must for self improvement. Then, possibly, irrespective of where one stays one would surely utilise the time fruitfully. ‘Satsang’ as the scriptures say seems to be the only way.

the common question

October 16, 2009

most spiritual aspirants doubt if anything indeed is changing in them. any number of Guru’s have been asked this question. The answer lies in belief. Belief in the path chosen and the Guru. What else can be said?…If the destination is ‘realisation’ which can only be realised and not explained…how could one motivate oneself?
Once a spiritual aspirant asked Ramana. “I have been coming to you, Swami, many times, hoping that something will happen and I shall be changed. So far I do not see any change in me. I am as I was: a weakling of a man, an inveterate sinner.”

To which Ramana replied “On this road there are no milestones”. “How can you know which direction you are going? Why don’t you do what the first-class railway passenger does? He tells the guard his destination, locks the doors and goes to sleep. The rest is done by the guard, If you could trust your guru as much as you trust the railway guard, it would be quite enough to make you reach your destination. Your business is to shut the door and windows and sleep. The guard will wake you up at your destination.”  (from this link)
The answer appeals intellectually. However, can one hang on to belief forever ?

In the presence of Sri Sri Ravishankar

October 15, 2009

About 13 years ago i heard of Art of Living and Sri Sri (as he is reverently addressed) while i was still at Bangalore. There was the initial skepticism but soon it turned into reverence and admiration. I got to see him and also hear him in the ‘Science and Spirituality’ meeting in IISc, Bangalore. But i never really got to see and meet him at one to one distance as i did here in Seoul. I even asked him a question after his lecture. Also got to do the half sAshTAng namaskar to him.

It was only his second visit to Seoul. I am indeed fortunate. The meeting was arranged on two days in YMCA, Gangnam. Nearly 200 people turned up. On the first day Sri Sri started with meditation and then gave a short lecture. Before starting meditation he made us do simple exercises like straightening the brows, nose and cheek. He says they are stress relievers. And indeed i felt very fresh after 2-3 minutes of that exercise. He never announced that it was meditation (just close your eyes and let go) but i soon found myself in a state where the number of thoughts were either zero or one. For a moment i even dozed.  And then he said take a deep breath and say OM. This was done 3 times. A little while later he said “now slowly open your eyes”. It was 23 minutes since we had started meditation. Its the first time in years that i experienced this state of mind. There was something nice about it. However, i must admit that when we started chanting OM the mind was disturbed and i opened my eyes. Nevertheless…i felt fresh and happy. He then gave the lecture followed by questions. I asked how i could make myself focus on one thing without the interference of other thoughts. He said something that was a non-answer. My friend asked how he could deal with negative feelings. To which he said “just embrace them”. Not satisfactory but what else can anyone answer. Thats the age old question. If pressed he would most likely say practice Sudarshan Kriya and you will benefit immensely. But we were still in awe of him and the meditation that we had just experienced.

The second day was the basic course which lasted 3 hours. He came an hour late. He took us through the simple exercise routine but this time in some more detail. And then the meditation (for 26 minutes). However, this day my mind was adamant and it was not any different from when i practice on my own. My guess is that the exercise was a bit too much for me. Even before he arrived we had done some exercises. He left soon after-he was scheduled to be in Japan and then in Israel!

Art of Living is yet to really take off in Seoul. Infact an year ago i had to do serious google-search for art of living in Seoul. I found a webpage and a center. With some difficulty i located it. It was the home of Sylvain (a french gentleman) who asked me in and we had a chat. He also offered me Tea! (a courtesy so common in India but rare in Korea-its more than 2 years for me here). But now i learn that they have an office.  The name card of the person who is the contact for the center says,

Hyeon Ju Oh, #205, 547-7, Banpo-Dong, Seocho-Gu,Seoul.  www.artofliving.or.kr


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