||Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
Aum Namo Narayanaya
So here I was... my feet making contact with the soil that once supported the feet of Gods and Goddesses and made fertile by the balmy waters of the Ganga. Having just landed a few hours ago, I came to confront the tranquillity of the Ganges as She coursed Her way down Kolkata into the Bay of Bengal. Stretching my arms and whisking in gulps of the fresh air seemed to ease the fatigue and erase the discomfort of the 12 odd hours in the air, en-route to Belur.
The sun lazily straddled the horizon and sank into the bosom of the icy waters that started to reflect the blue halo of the moon which was almost reaching its fullness. It was playtime for the crows as they drowned even the blaring horn of the Jute mill across the bank. Swiping low as if to attack, they seemed to veer people in the direction of the main temple as the hour assembled for the evening arthi.
Hesitation or slow movements will find you defending yourself against the biting cold as the hall filled up within seconds. Hundreds of devotees brimming with hope and sincerity eagerly watch as the Swamiji waves the brilliant lamp illuminating the face of Thakur Sri Ramakrishna. A glance at His subtle and fatherly countenance reassures the assembled - all will be well. Even the winter chill transforms into divine warmth by His mercy.
Leaving the temple, one enjoys a lovely view of three temples against the backdrop of the river: Swami Brahmananda, Holy Mother and Swamiji (Vivekananda). Owing to the 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Swamiji, His temple is exquisitely decorated with ferry lights and a bright orange pandal that is in the process of being constructed in order to perform the specific poojas.
Snugly togged up with my scarf, beanie and jacket, I strolled parallel to the river toward my quarters and admired how a light cloud of mist hovered over the chilled waters. The howling dogs accompanied her dance as she tinkled against the muddy banks. At once, I felt warmth unconventional radiating from the emerald waters as I walked passed Swamiji's temple, mentally hearing His footsteps and His voice which resonated with the melodious tempura yet thundered like a damaru to awaken the world. It was at this juncture that I paused before His marble image... my gaze fixed upon Him I asked: "so why did you bring me here Swamiji?"
The air vigorously condensing into a mist as it left my nostrils signalled a hastened retreat to my room. After evening japa and with still some time before supper, I lay amidst the dim light on my cot, when one of Newton's theories abruptly intruded my mind - a body will continue in a state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by a resultant force. It felt unusually odd at first, until I realised it was Swamiji answering my question.
We seem to have created comfort zones in our lives, exhaustively working to make them cosy and so attractive that we relent to move from them thinking them to be everything like the frog in the well which thinks that the well is the universe. Being constantly hammered and tempered by the world - our mind, body and consciousness bends and shapes to the world. Taking nutrition from the world, there is little thought of spirituality, God or others.
Thus Swamiji comes as the resultant force to knock you off your worldly rails and equip you with wings of spirituality. Staying at Belur, I was able to witness first-hand Swamiji's machinery in action. A sea of selfless monks busy executing the instructions of worshipping God in the sick, hungry and poor; the hundreds of thousands of students who are educated through schools, colleges and universities; the infirm and sick who receive speedy treatment at the clinics and hospitals; and the thousands who are fed daily through the Mission's kitchens.
Atmano mokshartham jagat hitaya cha: For one's own salvation and for the welfare of the world.
It is through the welfare of the world that salvation is at all possible. That is the essence of Swamiji's vedanta. Until every soul is free, there is no freedom for anyone. So long as we live in silos and cocoons feathering our own nests we shall never smell even the aroma of freedom. We must work, work and selflessly work raising the fallen... then only shall we be worthy to call ourselves human beings. It is then and then alone that we can start to manifest the divinity within, which is the sole purpose of this existence.
Each of us in our own country has plenty of work to do to serve and worship God in a practical way. There is a place where one can come and be inspired by the ingenious mechanism put into place by a Swami, who having felt the pain of the masses - being guided and inspired by Sri Ramakrishna - literally shows and translates the high philosophies of the scriptures into practical, achievable goals.
Thus this journey through India started with a flush of inspiration and rejuvenation of my will to preach and perpetuate Vivekananda’s practical vedanta in my home country - to ensure that we can achieve results now and not post mortem. Over the next few weeks, I shall try to unpack some spiritual ideas that I have gleaned through my visits to other important spiritual centres in India.
May we all strive to live up to our human birth is my sincere prayer.
With love and prayers always