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RAMAKRISHNA MISSION SINGAPORE

MICA(P)0003/09/2012 ISSN0218-7183


State of Spiritual enlightenment or illumination. Nirvana releases humans from the cycle of birth, suffering, death and all forms of worldly bondage.

In this issue... As the preparations to mark the 150th Birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda build up to a climax, a rich tribute to his extraordinary mission to the United States comes from the distinguished journalist and author Ann Louise Bardach. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, she traces the Swami’s influence on many American thinkers and intellectuals since the 1890’s. We reproduce the article with the kind permission of Ms. Bardach. Our readers may be interested to know she is now working on a biography of Swami Vivekananda. (P. 3) In Singapore it was the turn of two major cultural organisations to provide some gaiety and colour to the ongoing celebrations. (P. 16) While the topic of Religious Harmony was very much in the air, Singapore’s President Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam warns of the dangers to social cohesion from the mindless use of the increasingly popular social meida (P.21) In our Ramanyana serial, Marichi takes a fatal decision to fall in line with Ravana’s evil design to kidnap Sita , the first step towards eventual doom of the Rakshasa Raksha clan (P :23 )1 clan Cover Page : A portrait of Swami Vivekananda by Sand Artist Lawrence Koh. Courtesy :Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society (See Page 16) 1

Edited and Published by Swami Muktirupananda, President, Ramakrishna Mission, 179 Bartley Road, Singapore 539784 Tel: 6288 9077 Fax: 6288 5798. email: office@ramakrishna.org.sg, Website: www.ramakrishna.org.sg Print Production: EAZI Printing Pte Ltd


Pearls of Wisdom Uddhava Gita

Translated by Swami Madhavananda Śrī bhagavān uvāca Atha te sampravakshyāmi sāmkhyam purvair viniścitam Yad vijnāya pumān sadyo jahnād vaikalpikam bhramam āsid jnānamatho hyardha ekamevāvikalpitam Yadā vivekanipunā ādau krtayuge’yuge Tanmāyāphalarupena kevalam nirvikalpitam Vāngmano’gocaram satyam dvidhā samabhavad brihad The Lord said : Now I shall tell you about the Sankhya system propounded by the ancients (Kapila and others) knowing which a man can immediately give up the error caused by the seeing of multiplicity. Before the origin of the Yugas, the knower and the entire objective universe were verily one and homogeneous. The same was the case in the Satya Yuga, at the beginning of the cycle, when people were skilled in discrimination. That absolute and homogeneous Reality, the Brahman, which transcends mind and speech, became split into two the objective world and thinking subject. (To be continued)

Uddhava Gita, XIX, 1-3

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Editorial

Army of God

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ne of the names of Lord Vishnu is Susenah, it means he has a good army. We know in the olden days kings had armies and today all countries have their own armies to defend any invasion from enemies in order to protect their nations. But God’s kingdom is the whole universe and there are no enemies to invade the universe. Then why has God a good army and to protect what? His unique army consists of his divine companions to assist him. Whenever the Lord incarnates in human form to restore moral order, peace and harmony in the world He needs His eternal associates to help Him in this work. They come down and live an exemplary life and carry His message to the corners of the world. Mere message is not enough to doubting human beings, they want to see at least few who personify it, and live by it. After that only people are convinced. God’s eternal companions do that task and thus draw them to the spiritual life. This is the purpose God’s divine army fulfils. Whenever a messenger appears following his footsteps his intimate disciples gather around him to share his burden and spread his message. Buddha, Christ, Chaitanya and Sri Ramakrishna were accompanied by their companions. The Master and his disciples know each other because they are bound by the eternal bond. Age after age that relationship continues unbroken. The Ramayana tells (yuddha kanda) that Sri Rama was surrounded by the gods who came in the form of monkeys. So the gods came in the disguise of monkeys to help the Lord to fulfil his play on the earth. Same is said of Sri Krishna. The cowherd boys and girls of Brindavana were not ordinary mortals but God’s associates come to play their part in His sport. So God’s army is not to defend any earthly kingdom but to save the mankind from the calamity of unrighteousness and moral decay. Though small it is endowed with tremendous spiritual power.

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On Vivekananda

What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common?

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Ann Louise Bardach

After all, the central, guiding light of Salinger’s spiritual quest was the teachings of Vivekananda, the Calcutta-born monk who popularized Vedanta and yoga in the West at the end of the 19th century.

y the late 1960s, the most famous writer in America had become a recluse, having forsaken his dazzling career. Nevertheless, J.D. Salinger often came to Manhattan, staying at his parents’ sprawling apartment on Park Avenue and 91st Street. While he no longer visited with his editors at “The New Yorker,” he was keen to spend time with his spiritual teacher, Swami Nikhilananda, the founder of the RamakrishnaVivekananda Center, located, then as now, in a townhouse just three blocks away, at 17 East 94th Street.

These days yoga is offered up in classes and studios that have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Vivekananda would have been puzzled, if not somewhat alarmed. “As soon as I think of myself as a little body,” he warned, “I want to preserve it, protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and I become separate.” For Vivekananda, who established the first ever Vedanta Society, in Manhattan in 1894, yoga meant just one thing: “the realization of God.”

Though the iconic author of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey” published his last story in 1965, he did not stop writing. From the early 1950s onward, he maintained a lively correspondence with several Vedanta monks and fellow devotees.

After an initial dalliance in the late 1940s with Zen—a spiritual path without a God—Salin-

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ger discovered Vedanta, which he found infinitely more consoling. “Unlike Zen,” Salinger’s biographer, Kenneth Slawenski, points out, “Vedanta offered a path to a personal relationship with God… [and] a promise that he could obtain a cure for his depression…. and find God, and through God, peace.”

time, Vivekananda promised hope and solace—writing that the “same mind, when subdued and controlled, becomes a most trusted friend and helper, guaranteeing peace and happiness.” It was precisely the consolation that Salinger so desperately sought. And by 1965 he was ready to renounce his once gritty pursuit of literary celebrity.

Finding peace would, however, be a lifelong battle. In 1975, Salinger wrote to another monk at the New York City center about his own daily struggle, citing a text of the eighth-century Indian mystic Shankara as a cautionary tale: “In the forest-tract of sense pleasures there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people who have a longing for Liberation never go there.” Salinger wrote, “I suspect that nothing is truer than that,” confessing despondently, “and yet I allow myself to be mauled by that old tiger almost every wakeful minute of my life.”

Although all but forgotten by America’s 20 million would-be yoginis, clad in their finest Lululemon, Vivekananda was the Bengali monk who introduced the word “yoga” into the national conversation. In 1893, outfitted in a red, flowing turban and yellow robes belted by a scarlet sash, he had delivered a showstopping speech in Chicago. The event was the tony Parliament of Religions, which had been convened as a spiritual complement to the World’s Fair, showcasing the industrial and technological achievements of the age.

It was his daily mauling by the “huge tiger” and his dreaded depressions that led Salinger to abandon his literary ambitions in favor of spiritual ones. Salinger— who appears to have had a nervous breakdown of sorts upon his return from the gruesome front lines of World War II—subscribed to Vivekananda’s view of the mind as a drunken monkey who is stung by a scorpion and then consumed by a demon. At the same

On its opening day, September 11, Vivekananda, who appeared to be meditating onstage, was summoned to speak and did so without notes. “Sisters and Brothers of America,” he began, in a sonorous voice tinged with “a delightful slight Irish brogue,” according to one listener, attributable to his Trinity College–educated professor in India. “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable...”Then some-

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thing unprecedented happened, presaging the phenomenon decades later that greeted the Beatles (one of whom, George Harrison, would become a lifelong Vivekananda devotee). The previously sedate crowd of 4,000-plus attendees rose to their feet and wildly cheered the visiting monk, who, having never before addressed a large gathering, was as shocked as his audience. “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world,” he responded, flushed with emotion. “I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.”

ing eyes, mobile lips, movements swift and abrupt.” The Parliament, she said, was “enraptured; the huge multitude hung upon his words.” When he was done, the convocation rose again and cheered him even more thunderously. Another delegate described “scores of women walking over the benches to get near to him,” prompting one wag to crack wise that if the 30-year-old Vivekananda “can resist that onslaught, [he is] indeed a god.” “No doubt the vast majority of those present hardly knew why they had been so powerfully moved,” Christopher Isherwood wrote a half century later, surmising that a “strange kind of subconscious telepathy” had infected the hall, beginning with Vivekananda’s first words, which have resonated, for some, long after. Asked about the origins of “My Sweet Lord,” George Harrison replied that “the song really came from Swami Vivekananda, who said, ‘If

Annie Besant, a British Theosophist and a conference delegate, described Vivekananda’s impact, writing that he was “a striking figure, clad in yellow and orange, shining like the sun of India in the midst of the heavy atmosphere of Chicago…a lion head, pierc-

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there is a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it.’ “

scendant of 50 generations of lawyers,” as he would say, Ramakrishna was for all intents and purposes illiterate. Born Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, Ramakrishna had not an iota of interest in schooling beyond the study of scripture and prayer. Fortunately, that amply met the job requirements of his post as a priest at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. According to numerous firsthand, contemporaneous accounts, Ramakrishna—who is revered as a saint in much of India and as an avatar by many—spent a good deal of his short life in samadhi, or an ecstatic state. On a daily basis, sitting or standing, he was often observed slipping into a transported state that he described as “God consciousness,” existing with neither food nor sleep. He died in 1886 at age 50.

The teachings of Vedanta are rooted in the Vedas, ancient scriptures going back several thousand years that also inform Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The Vedic texts of the Upanishads enshrine a core belief that God is within and without—that the divine is everywhere. The Bhagavad Gita (Song of God) is another sacred text or gospel, whereas Hinduism is actually a coinage popularized by Vivekananda to describe a faith of diverse and myriad beliefs. Vivekananda’s genius was to simplify Vedantic thought to a few accessible teachings that Westerners found irresistible. God was not the capricious tyrant in the heavens avowed by Bible-thumpers, but rather a power that resided in the human heart. “Each soul is potentially divine,” he promised. “The goal is to manifest that divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.” And to close the deal for the fence-sitters, he punched up Vedanta’s embrace of other faiths and their prophets. Christ and Buddha were incarnations of the divine, he said, no less than Krishna and his own teacher, Ramakrishna.

Though Ramakrishna spoke in a village idiom, invoking homespun local parables, word about the “Bengali saint” spread through the chattering classes of India in the 1870s like a monsoon. Many who flocked to him—and declared him a divine incarnation—were educated as lawyers, doctors and engineers and were often the graduates of British-run Christian schools. His closest and most influential disciple, however, was Vivekananda (born Narendranath Datta in 1863 to an affluent family), whom he charged with carrying the message of Vedanta to

Although Vivekananda was a Western-educated intellectual of encyclopedic erudition, “the de-

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cal twist, one of Emerson’s relatives, Ellen Waldo, became a devotee of Vivekananda, and faithfully transcribed the dictated text of his first book, “Raja Yoga,” in 1895.) Emerson’s student and fellow Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, would study Indian thought even more avidly and crafted his own practice—living as a secular monk, as it were, by Walden Pond. In 1875, Walt Whitman was given a copy of the Gita as a Christmas gift, and it is heard unmistakably in “Leaves of Grass” in lines such as “I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and am not contained between my hat and my boots.” Though the two never met, Vivekananda hailed Whitman as “the San nyasin of America.”

the world. Certainly, a smattering of Eastern thought had already traveled to the West before Vivekananda’s arrival in the U.S. In the 1820s, Ralph Waldo Emerson had snared a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and found himself enchanted. “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita,” Emerson wrote in his journal in 1831. The Gita would inform his Transcendentalist essays, in which he wrote of the “Over-Soul,” that part of the individual that is one with the universe—invoking the Vedantic precepts of the Atman and Brahman. (In a tidy histori-

Walt Whitman

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The Academy, however, was a bit slower to embrace Eastern thought and literature. It wasn’t until after an electrifying lecture by Vivekananda at Har

his colleagues, students and friends to attend Vivekananda’s Harvard lecture. They were not disappointed. “The theory of evolution, and prana [energy] and akasa [space] is exactly what your modern science has,” their exotic visitor blithely informed them. Nor were they unamused. When asked, “Swami, what do you think about food and breathing?” he replied, “I am for both.” The evening ended with the turbaned monk, “dressed in rich dark red robes,” receiving an offer to chair Harvard’s new department. Columbia University promptly made its own bid for Vivekananda— who declined both, noting his vows of renunciation. At a dinner party in his honor the following night, William James and Vivekananda scurried off to a corner by themselves, where they were observed nattering away until midnight. The next morning, James sent word inviting him to dinner at his own home that evening. And over the next week, James would dash into Boston to hear his other lectures.

Willam James

vard’s Graduate Philosophical Club on March 25, 1896, that Eastern Philosophy departments became a staple at Ivy League colleges. Fascinated by the erudite and polyglot monk—who could pass an entire day sitting motionless in silent meditation— the esteemed philosopher William James roped in many of

“He has evidently swept Professor James off his feet,” wrote a Harvard colleague. In-

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deed, the eminent scholar was deferential to a fault with his newfound Bengali friend, referring to him as Master. More important, in his seminal book “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” James relied upon Vivekananda’s “Raja Yoga,” a treatise on the discipline of meditation practice from which he quoted extensively: “All the different steps in yoga are intended to bring us scientifically to the superconscious state, or samadhi.”

Manhattan became standingroom-only affairs attended by the cognoscenti of the day, assorted seekers, and all manner of movers and shakers—from Gertrude Stein, one of James’s students, to John D. Rockefeller. Blessed with “the power of personality,” as Henry James would say, Vivekananda was the ideal missionary to pitch the message of Vedanta.

Unbeknownst to him, Vivekananda had hit the piñata of influence: James was arguably the country’s premier intellectual. And it hardly hurt that his brother was the master novelist Henry James. Along with the James brothers, a half dozen socially prominent and wealthy women immeasurably facilitated the visiting monk—who not infrequently encountered some racism on his U.S. lecture tours. Sara Bull in Cambridge, Josephine MacLeod in New York City, and Margaret Noble in London would set up salons and avidly spread the word—and even followed him to India. With the vast contacts and shrewd networking of these women, his talks in Cambridge and

During his lifetime, Vivekananda had another enthusiast in Leo Tolstoy, the titan of Russian letters. “He is the most brilliant wise man,” Tolstoy gushed after devouring “Raja Yoga” in 1896 in a single sitting and reporting it to be “most

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remarkable… [and] I have received much instruction. The precept of what the true ‘I’ of a man is, is excellent…Yesterday, I read Vivekananda the whole day.”

recognized they had been pondering the same thesis on energy—in different languages. Vivekananda was keenly interested in the science supporting meditation, and Tesla would cite the monk’s contributions in his pioneering research of electricity. “Mr. Tesla was charmed to hear about the Vedantic prana and akasha and the kalpas [time],” Vivekananda wrote to a friend. “He thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy. I am to go to see him next week to get this mathematical demonstration. In that case Vedantic cosmology will be placed on the surest of foundations.” For the monk from Calcutta, there were no inconsistencies between science, evolution and religious belief. Faith, he wrote, must be based upon direct experience, not religious platitudes.

Not long before his death, Tolstoy was still waxing about Vivekananda. “It is doubtful in this age that another man has ever risen above this selfless, spiritual meditation.” Tolstoy and Vivekananda never met, but the opera diva Emma Calvé and the great tragedienne Sarah Bernhardt sought him out and became his lifelong friends. Bernhardt, in fact, introduced him to the electromagnetic scientist Nikola Tesla, who was struck by Vivekananda’s knowledge of physics. Both

More presciently, he warned that India would remain a vanquished, impoverished land until it “elevated” the status of women. And while he admonished Westerners for their preoccupation with the material and the physical, he famously advised a sickly young devotee to toughen himself with athletics: “You will be nearer

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to heaven playing football than studying the Bhagavad Gita.”

Supporting this view were Christopher Isherwood and his friend Aldous Huxley, who wrote the introduction to the 1942 English-language edition of “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,” a firsthand account (originally published in India in 1898) described by Huxley as “the most profound and subtle utterances about the nature of Ultimate Reality.” Nikhilananda, Salinger’s guru, did the translation, with assistance from Huxley, Joseph Campbell and Margaret Wilson, the daughter of the late president. Huxley and Isherwood were introduced to Vedanta in the Hollywood Hills in the late 1930s by their countryman, the writer Gerald Heard. In a fitting counterpart to the New York Center, the Hollywood Vedanta society was likewise run by a scholarly and charismatic monk, Prabhavananda, who initiated the English trio of writers.

Vivekananda’s influence bloomed well into the mid-20th century, infusing the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Carl Jung, George Santayana, Jane Addams, Joseph Campbell and Henry Miller, among assorted luminaries. And then he seemed to go into eclipse in the West. American baby boomers—more disposed to “doing” than “being”—have opted for “hot yoga” classes over meditation. At some point, perhaps in the 1980s, an ancient, profoundly antimaterialist teaching had morphed into a fitness cult with expensive accessories. Moreover, a few American academics have recently taken to scrutinizing Vivekananda and Ramakrishna through a Freudian prism, offering up speculative theories of sexual repression. In turn their critics respond that the two titans from Calcutta are incomprehensible via simplistic Freudian prisms. To understand the unconditional celibacy of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, they argue, requires fluency in 19th-century Bengali and a decidedly non-Western paradigm.

Like Nikhilananda, Prabhavananda was a magnet for the intelligentsia, and his lectures often attracted the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and W. Somerset Maugham (and led to his writing “The Razor’s Edge”). Inspired by Isherwood—who briefly lived at the center as a monk—Greta Garbo asked

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co-translated with Prabhavananda the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s “Yoga Aphorisms” and Shankara’s “Crest Jewel of Discrimination,” and was the author of several books and tracts on Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. Huxley, however, in his final years turned over his spiritual quest to his second wife, Laura, and pharmaceuticals— an unequivocal no-no among Vedantins. Believing he had found a shortcut to samadhi, the great man had his wife inject him with LSD on his deathbed. “Aldous was the most brilliant man I ever met,” sighed one monk, “but he lacked discrimination.”

if she too might move in. Told that a monastery accepts only men, Garbo became testy. “That doesn’t matter!” she thumped. “I’ll put on trousers.” Henry Miller, who made headlines with his torrid and banned “Tropic of Cancer,” visited with Prabhavananda at the Hollywood center, devoured a small library of Vedanta books and settled down in Big Sur in 1944. Throughout his memoir, “The Air Conditioned Nightmare,” Miller invokes Vivekananda as the great sage of the modern age and the consummate messenger to rescue the West from spiritual bankruptcy.

Of all the literary lions captivated by Vivekananda and Vedanta, J.D. Salinger perhaps made the fullest commitment and sacrifices. In 1952, Salinger exhorted his British publisher to pick up the English rights of the Gospel, calling it “the religious book of the century.” At the peak of his fame in 1961, Salinger delivered a warmly inscribed copy of “Franny and Zooey,” which is saturated in Vedantic thought and references, to his guru Nikhilananda,

Isherwood’s commitment to Vedanta, like Salinger’s, was unswerving and lifelong. Over the next 20 years, he

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who by then had formally initiated him as a devotee. Salinger confided to Nikhilananda that he intentionally left a trail of Vedantic clues throughout his work from “Franny and Zooey” onward, hoping to entice

eral of the United Nations, U Thant—Salinger sat front and center at the banquet table. A few weeks later, he published “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction,” two exquisitely wrought novellas in which the suicide of Seymour, arguably Salinger’s alter ego, is the catalyzing event. “I have been reading a miscellany of Vedanta all day,” begins one entry in Seymour’s diary in “Raise High.” In Seymour, the narrator declares, “I tend to regard myself as a fourth-class Karma Yogini, with perhaps a little Jnana Yoga thrown in to spice up the pot.”

readers into deeper study.

In Salinger’s last published work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” in 1965 in “The New Yorker,” Seymour bursts into a manic tribute to Vivekananda. “RajaYoga and Bhakti-Yoga, two heartrending, handy, quite tiny volumes, are perfect for the pockets of any average, mobile boys our age, by Vivekananda of India.”

The two men often met at the 94th Street center, where they would discuss the spiritual challenges of renunciation. Salinger would also embark on “personal retreats” at the Vedanta center in Thousand Island Park in the St. Lawrence River. There he would stay in the cottage where Vivekananda had lived and held retreats in the late 1890s . In January 1963, at the New York celebration of Vivekananda’s 100th birthday—presided over by the secretary-gen-

And then America’s beloved novelist stopped publishing. “Name and fame,” eschewed by Ramakrishna, no longer was the ticket for the increasingly hermetic Salinger. His ferocious literary ambition was

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now supplanted by what appears to have been a diligent, albeit eccentric, spiritual quest for the next four decades—until his death in 2010.

sometimes paranoid Salinger fretted that she might profit from their letters. Unfortunately, Burke proved her fidelity to her friend by burning them.

While Salinger is depicted by many chroniclers and contemporaries as an ornery crank, four letters, approved by Salinger’s estate for use by the New York RamakrishnaVivekananda Center, suggest a man of singular devotion and renunciation: “I read a bit from the Gita every morning before I get out of bed,” he wrote to Nikhilananda’s successor swami at the New York center in 1975.

In between his two treks to the West, Vivekananda returned to India and founded the Ramakrishna Order as both a monastery and a service mission. Today it is among the largest philanthropic organizations in India—providing food, medical assistance and disaster relief to millions. His prescription for his countrymen, however, who had been demoralized by colonialism, was to borrow a page from the West, he said, and instill itself with the “can do” spirit of Americans. “Strength! Strength is my religion!” he exhorted. “Religion is not for the weak!”

Salinger also conducted a long correspondence with Marie Louise Burke, who compiled a six-volume history of Vivekananda’s visits to the West. Burke was as serious a seeker as Salinger and as devoted as a nun: Indeed, she took the monastic name Sister Gargi. Nevertheless, the nervous,

India has scheduled a yearlong party to commemorate

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of science “of science of of keeping keeping the body well and fit. Between extreme indifference to the body and the most extreme and zealous attention to it (Hatha Yoga), there seems to be no useful middle ground whatever.” Salinger went on to express his gratitude to the man who had guided him out of his “long dark night.” “It may be that reading to a devoted group from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is all you do now, as you say, but I imagine the students who are lucky enough to hear you read from the Gospel would put the matter rather differently. Meaning that I’ve forgotten many worthy and important things in my life, but I have never forgotten the way you used to read from, and interpret, the Upanishads, up at Thousand Island Park.”

the 150th anniversary of Vivekananda’s birth, beginning on January 12, 2013. There will be plenty of readings of his four texts on yoga as a spiritual discipline. Nine volumes chronicle his talks, writings and ruminations, from screeds against child marriage to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” to his pet goats and ducks. But if there were a single takeaway line that boils down his teachings to one spiritual bullet point, it would be “You are not your body.” This might be bad news for the yoga-mat crowd. The good news for beleaguered souls like Salinger was Vivekananda’s corollary: “You are not your mind.” In a 1972 letter to the ailing Nikhilananda in the last year ohis life, Salinger seemed to be saying as much.

By then, Salinger had not published in some time. Nor would he again. Nor did he seem to miss it.

‘I sometimes wish that the East had deigned to concentrate some small part of its immeas urable genius to the petty art

Acknowledgement : With permission of Ann Louise Bardach/Wall Street Journal magazine

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Cultural Bouquet - 1

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t was the turn of cultural organizations in Singapore to add a little colour and splendour to the celebrations marking the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. And the results were sparkling.

na. The 18-year old shot his first question at the Sage of Dakshineswar, “Sir, have you seen God?” “Yes, I have seen Him just as I see you here, only more intensely,” was the affirmative reply which at once dispelled the young seeker’s doubts.

The major contribution came from Bhaskar’s Arts Academy whose two-hour dance-drama on 22 July traced the life of the college student Narendranath Dutta, whose rebellious spirit and passion for Truth and God, led him to Sri Ramakrish-

The journey towards fulfillment had begun. Sri Ramakrishna calmed the sceptical mind of his young disciple and led him forth from

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doubt to certainty and from anguish to spiritual bliss.

which are outstanding treatise on Hindu philosophy. The essence of these teachings were skillfully woven into the show.

Aptly captioned “Chakra,” the centres of consciousness in one’s spinal canal, the programme portays Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual development for the next two decades. He travelled all over India, mostly on foot, for six years without a cent in his pocket. Later he took the Hindu message to Europe and the United States, where his appearance and pronouncements at the Chicago Parliament of Religions were highlighted.

He established the Ramakrishna Math to carry out the spiritual ideals practised and taught by Sri Ramakrishna and later the Ramakrishna Mission devoted to social service, particularly to the less fortunate. The talented sand artist Lawrence Koh added a novelty by creating suitable and fast changing images on the big screen which blended harmoniously with the flow of the performance.

During this period the Swami gifted to posterity his four classics – Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga - and numerous other publications

Mr S.R. Nathan, former President of Singapore, was the guest of honour at the function. KSCPillai

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Cultural Bouquet - 2

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iveker Srote was the name of the programme presented by Shrutibritto of Kolkata to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. Invited to Singapore by the Tagore Society of Singapore, the group performed on 27 July. The programme was well conceptualized by Mr Suvadeep Chakraborty and through thoughtfully selected songs and writings by Rabindranath Tagore, sought to convey the essence of Swamiji’s immortal message to mankind.

Paramhansa, the group jubilantly sang: “Kon alote praner prodip jalie tumi dharae aso” (Which is the light that burns bright in your heart even as you descend on the earth?), the lyrics gained a new significance and every word seemed to be a celebration of Sri Ramakrishna’s beatitude as he rapturously contemplated his chosen deity. Viveker Srote worked at more than one spatial and emotional levels – at the more apparent level there was a brief reference to the chronological chain of events that constituted Swami Vivekananda’s life but what was more fascinating were the glimpses of this luminous personality’s emotional journey that the programme offered. This was obviously a part of the intended design for at most times depictions of the inner journey completely subsumed the mere recounting of chronological facts. Worthy of special mention is Ms Malabika Sen’s dance performance to the song: “Mori lo mori, amae bansite dekeche ke” (Who is it that beckons to me with the tunes of his flute?) conveying

Mr Chakraborty and the team of Shrutibritto in this programme, spread over close to two hours, took up the challenge of harnessing the prowess of two great Indian minds – Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. In expressing Swamiji’s thoughts through the delicately nuanced words of Rabindranath’s writings, songs and poems were selected which are frequently heard. And yet the very familiar words gathered new resonance as they were used in a different context. Thus when in reference to Sri Ramakrishna

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Swami Vivekananda’s initial dilemma as he was torn between material and familial duties and the inexorable magnetism of Sri Ramakrishna’s call to join the spiritual order. Swamiji’s quandary soon transcended into conviction even as he surrendered himself to his metaphysical quest: the transformation beautifully portrayed by the more solemn and self assured notes of, “Tomarei koriachi jiboner dhrubotara.” (You are to be the north star of my life’s journey.)

haps the more difficult interpretations of his philosophy of Vedantic Hinduism, the focus was entirely on his humane, universal (and maybe more obvious) appeal. The Swamiji’s impact on the youth of India and his selfless philanthropic work with the poor and the downtrodden were highlighted. But maybe the fact that his Chicago address presented a new India and a reinterpretation of Hinduism to not only the western world but to Indians themselves and marked the beginning of the Indian Renaissance, could have been dealt with in more detail. Also was missed any allusion to the essence of his philosophy which can be crystallized into one word: “So-

Another fairly noticeable fact was the very conscious effort at restricting the message of the recital to the more secular image of Swami Vivekananda. Rather than venturing into per-

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ham”: every human being has the divine in him and religion is all about discovering this “reality” and reaching the inner “whole”. This message which transcends both time and religion, could have added infinite depth to the presentation.

one’s heart, mind and the senses. The sensitivity of Tagore’s songs and the intellectual appeal of Swami Vivekananda’s life and teachings were skillfully rendered by the team, particularly the vocalist, Aditi Gupta and the danseuse, Malabika Sen, the luminosity of their performances left one yearning for more.

Without relying on any props or any elaborate sets, Shrutibritto managed to engage

Nilanjana Sengupta

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Religious Harmony

S

speakers from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths affirmed their commitment to inter-faith endeavours. The theme of the speeches was that people of all the communities will be “pilgrims on a common road seeking common goals.�

ingapore was the first country in the world to set up an organisation to promote Inter-religious harmony, according to available data. The Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) was launched in 1949 at a function attended by a multi-religious audience of some 2000 people where

To mark the occasion, a new

21


IRO building was opened by Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam on 10 July.

commended the peaceful co-existence of different religious communities here.

Speaking at the function, Dr Tan noted that over the years IRO had conducted activities and programmes for its members and the public to propagate the knowledge of different religious customs and practices across the faiths. These activities included inter-faith prayers, fellowships, dialogues and publications.

But he warned that this peaceful co-existence should not be taken for granted. “This ethnic harmony, which is the outcome of very intentional efforts, could easily be compromised if we let our guard down.” Social media, he noted, had cut across physical distances and national boundaries. “Insensitive remarks that hurt the religious feelings of fellow Singaporeans are increasingly being bandied about in social media.” Pointing out that there have been a number of reports in recent months of Singaporeans making callous and disrespectful comments about other races and religions on the Internet, he warned that “this can over time undermine the social cohesion of our society.”

The IRO had also provided platforms for people from different religions to engage one another and interact face- toface to promote inter-faith trust and understanding. Inter-faith groups had participated in voluntary work to help the needy. Dr Tan pointed out that Chinese temples, Hindu temples, churches and mosques functioned harmoniously in the Republic in close proximity to one another. Impressed by this, foreign visitors have

Ramakrishna Mission is a founding member of IRO.

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The Ramayana - 25

Sita snared by the deer

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N.Narandran (Continued from last issue)

when she suddenly noticed the deer standing among the trees. She stared at the exquisitely beautiful deer and it too stared aback at her before prancing here and there.

aricha knew that Ravana’s plan would result in certain death for him too, but he had no choice but to agree to the ludicrous scheme. Ravana was extremely pleased. They boarded Ravana’s chariot and left for the Dandaka forest.

Sita, mesmerized by the beauty of the deer, called out to Rama and Lakshmana to come and look at the lovely creature. They both came out and marvelled at the beautiful creature. However, the more Lakshmana looked at the deer, the more suspicious he became. He finally told Rama that this was no ordinary deer but the rakshasa Maricha in disguise. Sita ignored Lakshmana’s words and requested Rama to capture this deer that had captivated her so that she could have it as a pet and take it back to Ayodhya one day for all to admire. If Rama failed to capture it alive , she would be equally happy to be in possession of its exquisite skin.

After travelling through the air for some time, they spied Rama’s ashrama from a distance and decided to alight. Ravana took Maricha’s hand and told him to do the part he had agreed upon, that is, to transform himself into a deer. Maricha immediately transformed himself into a magnificent golden-hued deer with sparkling silver spots. The deer wandered here and there pausing to nibble at the grass. At times it would prance and disappear into the woods only to reappear once again near the trees surrounding Rama’s ashrama, all with the sole intention of capturing Sita’s attention.

Rama saw Sita’s fascination with the deer and her eagerness to have it for herself. He

Sita was outside the ashrama plucking flowers for prayer

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too fell for its charms. Rama told Lakshmana that if indeed the deer was Maricha in disguise, it was his duty to chase it and kill it and rid the Dandaka forest of yet another rakshasa. He told Lakshmana to bring him his bow and arrows. Before departing to chase and catch the deer, Rama advised Lakshmana to be vigilant and to guard and protect Sita with the help of Jatayu. Rama too felt a sense of foreboding that some misfortune was about to befall them and again reminded Lakshmana to be extra vigilant.

steps and then stop to look at Rama before springing away again. Thus the deer lured Rama far away from his ashrama. Rama’s anger began to grow and when the deer stood still on a patch of land, Rama drew his bow and let loose an arrow that went straight for the deer. It struck the deer and it fell to the ground. As it fell the deer resumed its true form of Maricha and let out a loud yell simulating Rama’s voice, ‘Ah Sita, Ah Lakshamana’. Then it died. Rama knew then that the deer was indeed Maricha.

Rama looked around for the deer but it was prancing about some distance away from his reach. Rama followed it but the deer was shrewd enough to keep its distance from him but still within his sight. It would skip and leap a few

He was proud of Lakshmana for his intuition and was relieved that he was at the ashrama looking after Sita. Still, he could not dismiss the possibility that Sita and Lakshmana could have been deceived

24


Rama not to move away from the ashrama but to guard Sita. He could not disobey Rama.

by Maricha’s agonizing cry. In the meantime, Sita heard Maricha’s cries and she was convinced that Rama was in desperate need for help and she urged Laksmana to go immediately to help Rama. She imagined Rama surrounded by rakshasas and his life in imminent danger. Her eyes filled with tears as she appealed to Lakshmana to go to his aid, but Lakshmana made no attempt to respond to her pleas. Lakshmana remembered Rama’s instructions to him and was not going to disobey him. Seeing Lakshmana unmoved by her pleas, Sita became furious and accused him of being a disloyal brother to Rama who only wanted Rama dead so that he could take her as his wife. He was a scheming imposter with an ulterior motive. If not, why was he not doing anything?

Sita’s fears totally enveloped her and she became irrational, wildly accusing Lakshmana of evil intentions, conspiring with Bharata and pretending to be devoted to Rama. She would never be with Lakshmana or anyone else but would rather die if Rama died. Lakshmana was hurt by these cruel words. He reassured Sita that he had no ulterior motives. She was wrong to suspect him. All he wanted to do was to prevent misfortune befalling her. Sita was neither convinced nor consoled. She screamed and beat her chest like an insane woman. She threatened to kill herself if Lakshmana did not go immediately to help Rama. Finally, Lakshmana seeing how distressed and stubborn Sita was, relented and agreed to do as she wished. Reluctantly he agreed to disobey his brother and leave her alone to go in search of Rama. Before he left he wondered if he would ever see Sita with Rama again.

Lakshmana was grievously hurt by Sita’s stinging words. He reminded Sita that nobody in the universe could hurt Rama and that she should harbour no fears. The voice she heard was that of the rakshasa Maricha who was up to some mischief. He had been instructed by References: 1.Ramayana by Kamala Subramaniam, 2. Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari

(To be continued)

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Oct 2012

Ekadashi Sri Sri Kali Puja (Deepavali) Ekadashi Birthday of Swami Subodhananda Birthday of Swami Vijnanananda

Ekadashi Birthday of Swami Premananda Ekadashi Christmas Eve

Nov 2012 10 Saturday 13 Tuesday 24 Saturday 25 Sunday 27 Tuesday

Dec 2012 09 Sunday 21 Friday 23 Sunday 24 Monday

09 Tuesday Birthday of Swami Abhedananda 11 Thursday Ekadashi 15 Monday Birthday of Swami Akhandananda 21 Sunday Sri Sri Durga Puja Saptami 22 Monday Sri Sri Durga Puja Ashtami 23 Tuesday Sri Sri Durga Puja Navami 24 Wednesday Vijaya Dashami 25 Thursday Ekadashi

FESTIVAL CALENDER (Oct 2012 - Dec 2012)

Saturdays 5.00pm Religious-Bhajan & Cultural Classes For Children (Temple hall – I level) 6.00pm Study of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Satyalokananda (Library) 7.30pm Vedic Chanting & Bhajan Class (Temple) Sundays 9.30am Yoga Class (Sarada Hall) 4.00pm Sanskrit Language Classes (Library) 5.00pm Discourse on “Svetasvatara Upanishad” by Swami Samachittananda (Temple hall – I level) 6.00pm Discourse on “Vishnu Sahasranama” by Swami Muktirupananda (Sarada Hall)

DISCOURSES and CLASSES

Vishnu Sahasranamam Arati followed by Rama-Nama Sankirtanam

Mangalarati Puja Evening Arati & Bhajan

TEMPLE PROGRAMME

6.00am 9.00am 7.00pm Ekadashi 6.15pm 7.00pm

Daily

Nirvana 2012 Oct-Dec Issue 75  

Ramakrishna Mission Singapore Magazine Nrivana Oct- Dec 2102 Issue 75

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