Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Banyan Tree

||Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||


Holy Mother
Aum Namo Narayanaya


2012 has been a bumpy ride with many businesses feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis; people picking up the pieces from the various natural disasters and also from the regular challenges that dissipate our energy and enthusiasm about life. As that may be,  the year end  is a time which is anxiously awaited, where the thoughts of all these mundane activities are shelved for time with the family, friends and merriment.  But for many householders - although unfortunate, the mode for satvic activity definitely resigns to the backburner. 


It therefore stands to reason that many organisations normally don’t schedule activities during this time. However for the deeply spiritual and seekers of truth, the quest for inner peace never ceases... hence there are always programmes and activities at ashrams etc. Many Narayana temples will observe Vaikunta Ekadashi - a night long vigil a few days before Christmas. And to ensure that we do not lose track of our spiritual practices in the midst of the festivities, the Divine Mother in the form of Holy Mother (Sri Sarada Devi) took birth in this month. Many celebrations will be held in Her honour throughout the world.


Coinciding with the demise of 2012, my reading of Bhagavatam currently relates the demise of Kamsa.  It is a very intriguing read to note how Kamsa, despite knowing that all his emissaries were slayed at the hand of Krishna and that He is divine, refused to concede and take refuge at the feet of the Lord... and continues to try fruitlessly to end the Lord’s life (the one who is never born and is eternal).


My work found me in a rural forest recently. As we were almost packing, a blanket of darkness covered the entire region. The air turned to a frosty chill. The silence turned crusty as the leaves started to rustle like a rattle-snake as a wave of gale winds ripped through the trees. We immediately suspended our activity and took shelter in the vehicle. Through the gaze of our windscreen we watched as this spectacle of nature unfolded. The dehydrated carpet of leaves on the forest took flight as the fierce winds battered the trees bare of foliage. The entire forest of trees howled as the storm swept past.


This incident finds correlation in not only Kamsa's behaviour but that of man in general. Rooted to the ground by its intense network of roots, the trees were helpless against the rolling storms. Man who is rooted to the world by his network of activities and attachments also finds himself defeated by the storms of life.


On the Ekadashi day in this month, another very historic and important event took place. The sacred scripture revered by millions across the world was spoken to Arjuna by Krishna Bhagawan. In this divine conversation, the Lord refers in Chapter 15 to a very unusual concept of an upside down banyan tree. This image symbolically projects the idea that whilst man is living in the world, he should be rooted not in materialism but in spiritual consciousness, thus giving one the flexibility to weather the storms of life and also provide shelter and shade to humanity.


A wonderful incident in the life of Swamiji comes to mind. Once, He went to Master who was confined to His bed due to His illness and asked to put Him in nirvikalpa samadhi for three days and nights without a break. But Sri Ramakrishna answered Him with a rebuke saying:“You fool! There is a state much higher than that...I thought you would grow like a huge banyan tree, sheltering thousands from the scorching misery of the world."


It was Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi's life which could be epitomised as the ideal of spiritual motherhood and perfectly fits the ideology of the upside down tree. Her life abounded with selfless love and devotion to Her family, Master and humanity. Her physical comforts never entered the horizon of Her thoughts. Her discipline to duty was unparalleled. [The ground floor of the Nahabat or Concert House was a small low-roofed room of about nine and a half feet by eight, with a verandah four and a quarter-feet-wide surrounding it. If any modern bride was subjected to such accommodation, she will not be able to stay in there for half a day. Besides being Her living room, it served as her provision store, kitchen and reception room as well -- a surprising combination of functions for such a small enclosure. But so patient and stoic She was that what would have been impossible for others was no problem for Her].(from net)


Mother ensured that all who came were fed full to their contentment - a tradition that still continues at Her ashrams to this day. Those that are sincere devotees of the divine seem to also take root in Her pure divine character. I recall one day whilst I was taking the boat trip from Belur to Dakshineswar across the Ganges, two brahmacharins from the Math joined us. As the ferry was approaching the banks of the Kali temple, an old poor devotee of the Holy Mother who had only 30 rupees in his purse, lovingly obliged to pay the fare of the brahmacharins. A thought that never entered many who could afford it that sat nearby.


True peace, love and purity can never be enjoyed if one is rooted in the world. Swamiji  eloquently presents this when He said: "In the absence of spirituality, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct, and in its  place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities... with money as its priest; fraud, force and competition its ceremonies; and the human soul its sacrifice."


Let us all take shelter under this huge spiritual Banyan tree which is Mother, who has given us the assurance: "I am the Mother of the wicked, as I am the Mother of the virtuous. Never fear. Whenever you are in distress, just say to yourself I have a mother." One who visits Belur Math will notice that Her temple is the only temple that faces the Ganges looking over Kolkata - re-enforcing Her statement of being our mother that consoles and comforts us always.


I take this opportunity to wish all readers a blessed Sri Sarada Ma Jayanti, Gita Jayanti, Vaikunta Ekadashi and a safe and wonderful festive season. This will be the last blog for the year. I look forward to interacting with you early in the New Year.


May Mother bless us all is my sincere prayer.


With love and prayers always



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