Satsang at the Vivekananda Kendra, Kodungallur
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Sri M began his address saying ‘Since we are here and, everywhere you see pictures of Swami Vivekananda, today I want to talk about some aspects of Swami Vivekananda himself, an exalted human being who transferred all his spiritual attainments for the benefit of mankind. In India, usually you find two kinds of people - those who have spiritual attainments and are in a cave and those who work for social welfare and have nothing to do with spirituality. Here is a unique combination of someone having reached the heights of spiritual understanding came down and decided to do something for mankind. I think a hundred and odd years after him, much of India’s evolution has been because of Swamiji’s inspiration.’
‘I say that the complete works of Swamiji have to be read for the next hundred years before it makes complete sense and it is not meant for this century alone. All this, he achieved as a wandering monk, who at one time had no place to sleep. This reminds me of Jesus Christ, who in his Sermon on the Mount said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”. Swamiji was wandering throughout India, before he was known as Swami Vivekananda, he changed his name many times - some places Vivekananda, some places Sachidananda - mainly to remain unknown. He had no money, no one to look upto.’
‘Of course, because of his stature, his personality and erudition, in most of the places, maharajas welcomed him – across the length and breadth of this nation. There is a beautiful story about Vivekananda and a Maharaja. The King, whose outlook was westernized and was a believer in a formless God, ridiculed idol worship. He challenged Narendra on this subject at his palace. Swamiji tried to explain to him but to no avail. He then saw a painting hanging on the wall. It was the painting of the King’s deceased father. Swamiji asked him to spit on the painting. The Maharaja became very angry and asked how he could spit on his father. Narendra then pointed out to him that it was just a painting and not his father in person. Having driven the point home, he explained that people who believe in a God with form are actually symbolically worshipping the Supreme Being. This too has its place in the world and needs to be accommodated.’
‘Swami Vivekananda lived a courageous life. There have been many quotes attributed to him, and one of the oft-quoted being “weakness is death”. Questioning anything that piqued his mind, there was an instance of him asking Devendranath Tagore, the leader of Brahmo Samaj, the organization with whom he was associated in his early years, “Sir, have you seen God?” Devendranath Tagore had then said that the scriptures spoke about God.. Swami Viveknanda was not convinced and said, “No, but have you seen Him?” Very few people can really answer this question.’
Sri M continued ‘One day he went to Dakshineshwar and saw Sri Ramakrishna. Before this, he had seen Sri Ramakrishna in a bhajan meeting where Swamiji was playing the tabla. He was a good tabla player. Swami Vivekananda was multi-talented, Sri Ramakrishna on hearing the rendering of the tabla, stood up and danced. Swamiji had then wondered what this ecstasy was. But Swami Vivekananda was not a person who fell for these things, so one day he went to him and repeated the same question, “Have you seen God?” The question was asked in such a way that a clear answer was required. Sri Ramakrishna, an almost unlettered priest of the temple of Kali said, “Yes, I have seen God much more clearly than I see you.” It struck Swamiji like a thunderbolt, wondered whether this is possible, that such a simple man like this can speak in such a way. So he decided to see him more often.’
Sri M went on to mention two incidents that captured the very essence of spirituality and the calling of Swami Vivekananda. ‘When all the other people had left after the day’s prayer meeting, he took Swami Vivekananda behind the screen. If you go to Dakshineshwar, there is a place just outside the temple, part of the temple complex, Sri Ramakrishna’s room. This is the place where he used to sit and sleep and talk. There were 2 beds - one for mediation and one for sleeping, and also the favorite haunt of the local youth who loved to gather and listen to him speak. Most of his teachings were through stories, jokes, having fun, eating rasagollas. In fact, many people complained what is this mad priest doing with these children, they should be at school and they are here eating rasagollas.’
‘Every time I go to Dakshineshwar and go to that room, I really feel that they are all sitting there now and talking and eating. Before I enter, I silently ask for permission - can I join. There is a very tangible presence.’ Continuing the story, he said, ‘So he took Swami Vivekananda and, hugging him, started weeping, asking him,”Why have you come so late? Where were you all this time?” Sri Ramakrishna said all people in Calcutta wanted a materialistic life, not even one wanted to know God and that Swami Vivekananda was Narayana incarnate to teach the world. Swamiji was taken aback by this behaviour and decided not to come back.’
‘Swamiji was a very skeptical person. He thought Sri Ramakrishna was mad and there no point in coming here. But something kept pulling him back. One day he went again. Now there is another story that is linked to this. I am talking about how Swami Vivekananda went back to Sri Ramakrishna. This story concerns M, Mahendranath Gupta.’
Mahendranath Gupta better known as M who recorded his days with Sri Ramakrishna in ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”speaks about his second visit to Dakshineshwar. No sooner had M entered the room than Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) laughed aloud and said to his young audience, ‘There, he has come again’. They all joined him in his laughter. Once M paid his respects and took a seat, Thakur explained the cause of his laughter saying that a man once fed a peacock with some opium at four o’clock in the afternoon. The next day, exactly at the same time, the peacock came back, having felt the intoxicated effect of the drug, had returned just in time to have another dose. M felt it was a very apt illustration as he had been unable to banish the thought of Sri Ramakrishna even for a moment and was counting time till he met him again.
Sri M then reverted to his recounting of Swamiji’s second visit to Dakshineshwar. On this visit which was on a weekday, when Sri Ramakrishna was talking to Swamiji, he suddenly placed his right foot on Narendra’s chest. The young Narendra started feeling strange and felt as if everything around him, the rooms, the walls and the temple garden were vanishing. Scared, he shouted saying ‘What are you doing to me? I have my parents, brothers and sisters at home”. Ramakrishna laughed and moved his foot away.
Continuing he said ‘Swami Vivekananda tested the Guru as he wanted to be sure. But he was respectful, he was respectful to everyone. He had heard that Ramakrishna considered “money” as a hindrance to spiritual progress and that he could not touch or tolerate it. So, he tested Sri Ramakrishna once on this.’ One day when Ramakrishna was not in his room, Narendra put a silver coin under the mattress of his bed. Ramakrishna entered the room without knowing of Narendra's act, then sat on his bed. But immediately he jumped up in pain and asked someone to check his bed. The bed was searched and the coin was found. He said that Swami Vivekananda used to practice and do his sadhana for hours at an end. Sri Ramakrishna would then call him and fed him rasagollas and jalebis.
‘After many years of Sadhana, once Swamiji entered into a deep state of samadhi. This was in Kashipur garden. Swami Vivekananda went into a very deep spiritual experience - nirvikalpa samadhi. He found that he was no more there and he was a very small individual consciousness. He was very happy about it and stayed in that state for a long time. Somebody told Thakur that Narendra has gone in very deep samadhi. Once Narendra came back from this state and went to Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna asked Swamiji what he wanted. He replied saying that I want to be in this state forever. Sri Ramakrishna berated him, calling him a rascal, ruing the fact that his efforts all the while had been to make Swami Vivekananda unselfish but, he has become more selfish. He declared that “I am keeping the key with me, the key will come to you only when all your work is done. You can’t just sit in samadhi.”
Sri M then said ‘I am reminded of my time, please note that I am not comparing myself with Vivekananda. After spending two and a half years with Babaji, life was so wonderful. I told Babaj that I always want to be with you. Babaji said,”I thought I was training you to become less self-centred but you have become so self-centred that you just want to enjoy the Himalayas”. In fact, he told me to get out and lead an ordinary life. So people have some plans and their Masters have some other plans. It is the Masters’ plans that always work.’
He continued, “So we were talking about Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji understood what was to be done and when Sri Ramakrishna passed away, he spent many years wandering, stabilising his spiritual state, meeting people - from the downtrodden to the privileged. At one point, he even thought that since his Guru had passed away and considerable time having passed, it was time he found a new Guru. He went to Gazhipur and met Pavhari Baba. Pavhari Baba was a great yogi who ate so little that people thought that he lived on air. He came out of his cave only once in a while. Swamiji was very attracted and impressed by Baba. Once day he asked Pavhari Baba to become his Guru. Pavhari Baba said I will look into this question, first come into my cave. In the cave there was a small altar. Swami Vivekananda was shocked to see a picture of Sri Ramakrishna on the altar. Pavhari Baba said “this is my God, do you want to get another Guru now?” Swamiji then realised that there is nothing more to be found. He was mainly wandering to find out conditions in India and how things can be improved.’
Sri M continued about the thief who came into Pavhari Baba’s little hermitage to steal whatever he could lay his hands on. ‘The only thing in the hermitage was a kamandalu and a ladle. Both were made of good brass. The thief picked up the kamandalu. Pavhari Baba woke up. The thief started running and he saw the Baba run after him with the ladle. Finally the thief gave up and he fell at his feet and pleaded for mercy. Pavhari Baba said, you fool, I came to gave you this ladle - now there will be no fear of dacoity and I can live in peace.” This was Pavhari Baba. There was nothing that he owned as his own.’
‘After many years, Swamiji was travelling and he landed in Kodangallur. He heard the royal families' ladies converse in Sanskrit and was impressed, and stayed there for a while. But he was very upset by the caste system that prevailed in Thiruvananthapuram at that time. When someone asked him his opinion of Kerala, he said it was “a lunatic asylum”. But he also appreciated the knowledge and learning. He spent some time at the Thiruvananthapuram Club where usually only Europeans were allowed. He then went abroad, Belur Math was built and all Ramakrishna missions started functioning.’
‘Swamiji’s principle was Daridra Narayana Seva. He said the best thing you could do was serve.’ Sri M then narrated an incident in the early days when Belur Math was established. His brother disciples were grumbling about Swamiji’s service to the poor and felt that he was deviating from Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings. Swamiji just got up, went in, took a kaupin and a kamandalu and while walking away, he narrated the story from Sri Ramakrishna’s life when he went on a piligrimage to Deogarh and was appalled to see the people’s sufferings due to a famine. He refused to move away from the place till Rani Rasmoni and her son-in-law brought in food supplies to be distributed. Ramakrishna ate only after the people there were fed. The inmates of the math then begged him to return and become the Head of the Math again.
He then narrated another story which demonstrated how tender Swamiji’s heart was. On being informed about one of his college friend’s death, tears flowed down his cheeks. When somebody commented on how a sanyasin could cry, Swamiji had said that being a sanyasin did not mean being cold or stone-hearted. ‘Swami Vivekananda said that when someone becomes a true devotee, his heart melts at everyone’s sorrow’. He said.
Continuing to talk about Swami Vivekananda, ‘Swamiji went to Amarnath with Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita was an Irish lady who took sanyasa and travelled for some time with Swamiji. On one occasion, he came out of the temple with a red face and red chest, chanting Shivohum, Shivohum'. Sister Nivedita got very worried remembering Sri Ramakrishna’s prophecy that when Vivekananda discovers who he really is, he will not be on this earth for long. Worried, Sister Nivedita asked him “there are so many institutions, who will run them?” Swami Vivekananda had replied ‘Do you think I am doing this? No! It is Kali who was riding on my shoulders, driving me, she was the one doing all this. I did nothing. I am as I am.” Sister Nivedita then knew the time was near and they could not stop him.’
Sri M concluded his satsang with the narration of a humorous story about Swamji and his single-minded focus & attention. After a particularly intense session at San Fransisco, Swamiji was coming back in a horse carriage along with the hostess. He was very quiet throughout the ride and the hostess thought he was in samadhi. As he got down, he exclaimed, ‘the herbs should have been added in the end’. (He was actually thinking about a recipe for a dish).
The gathering then joined him in chanting OM and in silent meditation. Sri M interacted with the children from Kendriya Vidyalaya for about 30 minutes and the morning program ended.
After lunch and some rest, the padayatris walked to the Kurumba Bhagawathy temple which was also the venue for the evening satsang. The temple was 2 kms away from the Kendra.
Satsang at the Kurumba Bhagavati Temple
Kurumba Bhagavati Temple, (alternatively Kodungallur Bhagavati Temple dedicated to the goddess Bhadrakali (popularly known as "Kodungallur Amma"). The idol in the temple is unique as it has eight hands with various attributes. One holds the head of an Asura, another a sword, next an anklet, another a bell, and so on. Kurumba Bhagavati Temple is where Kannaki, heroine of Ilango Adigal's Tamil classic Silappathikaram attained salvation. This again, is a very ancient temple which is reported to have been built by Sage Parasurama and the deity in the temple is Parashakthi herself.
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He began ‘We are in the sacred presence of Kodangallur Bhagwati Temple. According to the Nath tradition, Bhagwati is Sri Vidya and the root of all aishwarya (wealth). Two years back, we had a Satsang at a different venue in Kodangallur and it was about Sri Vidya, so I will not speak about Sri Vidya today and instead I will speak about my Guru, Maheswarnath Babaji.’
‘If you have Gurus like him, any student is bound to benefit by his divine grace. He touched my head for 5 minutes when I was nine years old. Since then, I always had a vision of the Himalayas. Right through my studies and student life. I was assisted by many saints and holy men. At nineteen years I felt like a caged bird, golden though the cage was. The compulsion to break free was so strong that I left without telling anyone.’
‘I had vairagya’ He said and that it was not the ‘monkey vairagya’ which Sri Ramakrishna used to talk about. He went to many ashrams and met many gurus, many of whom were highly learned and spiritually evolved. ‘But I was not satisfied. I still did not realise that I was searching for Maheshwarnath Babaji. I took a train from Haridwar via Rishikesh on my way to Badrinath. At Haridwar, I had only twelve and a half rupees with me. I gave that away, thinking that I will become a true parivraajak. I entered the train without a ticket and found that the train was mostly populated by sadhus and yogis. I got talking to a group of Bairagis who were Vaishnava sadhus. They allayed my fears that I would be caught by the train ticket collector for ticketless traveling saying, 'yeh bhagwan ki gaadi hai!’(this train belongs to God) Yes, a ticket colletor appeared during the journey but he casually went away bowing and chanting 'Ram Ram ji!
‘I stayed at the Shivananda Ashram headed by Chidananda Swami who told me that I would not stay for long, and that my mind was fixed on the Upper Himalayas. He told me to inform him before leaving. After 2 months, I left for Badrinath. There, I met the temple priest, Rawalji. The Rawals of Badrinath are traditionally brahmins from Payyanoor. ‘
‘When I told Rawalji about my intentions he suggested that I return home and pursue my studies as he had not met or heard of such a Guru, the kind I was looking for. For a few days I stayed in a kutir (hut) nearby and had food with Rawalji. Then I decided to go further up and went right up to Mana, the last Indian village near the Tibetan border. There, I saw many Guhas (caves) but none of them were inhabited. Gradually, I started thinking that this body may not be suitable for a pursuit of spiritual evolution and I even thought of ending it all by jumping into the Alakananda. However, I looked up and had a glimpse of the Vyasa Guha, which was by then lit up by a fire burning inside. Sometime back when I had a look at the Guha, there was nothing inside. I walked close to the Guha and felt that there was somebody inside. Yes! There was somebody inside and it was a very tall person. As my eyes fell on him, something clicked inside me and I realised that it was the same person who had appeared before me at Panchyoor when I was nine years old.”
‘He asked me, "Ghoom phirke wapas aa gaye?". I told him that I would like to be with him for a while. "Dekha jayega", he said. Thus started my association with my Guru. I followed him like a faithful dog and we used to walk alone. Very few people would walk with him and he never had any disciples. Villagers would ask me with surprise, "Babaji has finally got a shisya"? During the two and a half years, I learnt many things. He told me that thirteen hours of meditation everyday for thirteen years is of no use if you are not sensitive enough to understand and empathize with the sorrow of a neighbour's child.’
‘I would argue with him about the mystical experiences of sanyasa in solitude. He told me that such experiences are akin to experiences you get under any common drug. Your mind should be cleansed and full of daya (kindness). He said that dhyana should be on one side and peaceful and loving interaction on the other.’
Sri M then touched upon Bhakti Yoga – Chapter Twelve of the Bhagawat Gita where Krishna states the qualities of a true bhakta – a person who has his sense organs withdrawn, have equanimity at all times and who have the welfare of all beings at heart. He said that he clearly remembered the time Babaji explained the twelfth chapter to him at Charanapaduka, at Badrinath. Babaji had then told him that the positive change had to happen in him first, then in his house and only then, it will happen outside.
‘For any progress to happen, some kind of sacrifice is required. Therefore we have undertaken this walk and along with me many people are undertaking a journey of these proportions.’
Sri M spoke about 'samyam indriya '- the need for ensuring control or mastery of the senses. He asked people to pay special attention to the tongue, which could also be considered an indriya (sense organ). “The tongue is involved in talking as well as tasting.” He said. ‘When you talk, be aware before you talk - be aware of what you are talking, whom you are talking to and when and where you are talking.’ He also said not to go by taste alone, ‘There is nothing wrong in eating tasty food but without controlling your indulgence in taste, spritual development becomes difficult. This is also a very good way to cut or quell ahankara (ego) and is an important part of sadhana. I always tell my fellow walkers that the journey is both external and internal. I would like all of us to progress internally as well as we reach Srinagar.’
‘I am merely following my Gurus' advice. Following his advice is the only thing I do. After one and a half years with my Guru, he abruptly asked me to leave. The reason he mentioned at that time was that I was getting very attached to him. I told him that I had come leaving everything and now you are asking me to leave. When he did not relent, I got very angry and packing all my belongings - my cloth bag, a copy of Bhagwad Gita, my chappals and kamandalu, left even without even saying bye to my Guru. On my way from Rishikesh to Uttarakashi, it rained as I walked. I walked in the rain feeling like a true parivraajaka, telling myself that I would get wet in the rain and dry in the sun. Many Sadhus tried making conversation with me but I politely told them that I liked being left alone.’ Sri M then mentioned that many people join the walk as it is a good excuse to talk. Instead of simply walking, they make conversation with anyone ready to listen. ‘Suddenly I felt someone coming from behind,’ he continued, ‘I thought it was another Sadhu eager to make conversation and did not look behind. The steps came closer and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I heard the familiar voice calling out my name, “Madhu”', I turned back and came face to face with the towering figure of my Babaji. He asked me, “where are you going?” You asked me to go, I replied. “If I ask you to return, what will you do, will you come back?” he asked. I was hell bent on saying no, but only Yes came out of my mouth. Like this, the lessons continued.’
Sri M said that Vivekananda’s words about his Guru ‘A speck of dust from Sri Ramakrishna’s feet could create a thousand Vivekandas’ could be easily applied to his Guru too. He then narrated the incident where they, Guru and the disciple had walked a very long distance that day in the Himalayas and the young disciple was very tired. After Sri M had cooked a simple meal and having eaten this, he fell asleep within a very short span of time. After a while, Sri M felt something tugging at his feet and he woke up with a start, only to see Babaji gently massaging them. He immediately sat up protesting. Babaji quietly asked him to relax and go to sleep.
‘With many such experiences,’ he said ‘my mind melted, underwent a change and I turned into what I am now. I am fully convinced that everything is going on as per Babaji’s design.’
‘ This belief” he continued, ‘is strengthened when people come out of their homes during our padayatra and tell me that they had ‘very much wanted to meet me at Madanapalle and here you are’. Similarly people stop their cars on their way, turn around, meet me on the way and are pleasantly surprised to meet me. I am undertaking this journey as per Babajis' instructions and I am not bothered about success or failure.’
On this note, the satsang ended and the padayatris walked back to the Vivekananda Kendra after the customary chanting of OM and meditation.
After their return, there was an informal interaction with Sri M for about 30 minutes. Dinner was served at 8 p.m. and the walkers retired for the night.