Idol Worship – Rational or Irrational

My urge to write on this topic arose from a small story going around in social media nowadays. The story goes like this…

“…father and his little daughter go to a temple, the little kid looks at the stone lions in the temple facade and gets scared. Father says they are just stones, so don’t get scared. Smart daughter replies, if the stone lion cannot do anything how can the stone gods do any good to us if we pray to them?”

An incredibly simple yet powerful rationale…on the face of it. But before we go gaga about how foolish the ‘conservative’ father’s beliefs are (and by extension the Hindu religion’s idol worshiping is) and how smart present day ‘simple’ children are…it is worth looking at our own understanding of the Sanatan Hindu religion and how we convey its precepts and belief systems to our kids.

There are two things that we need to be aware of:

One, in the Hindu belief system, which is perhaps the most democratic of all religions, monotheism and polytheism (in fact all kinds of isms) exist and are respected in equal measure as means to God or Self realization…thus respecting the natural differences that exist in each and every human being, in terms of ability, nature and inclinations. Idol worship is our sages’ method to give the constantly fluctuating human mind a solid object to concentrate on and march ahead towards ‘Realization’ which ends up in the awareness that the whole universe, including us are but one and the same…the same goal both idol worshipers and non-idol worshipers eventually reach.

Second… simultaneously there is the very real issue of people getting fixated with the rituals alone and not really understanding the deeper concept of God as a “Saakaar” object/form.

We should be careful, when we start ridiculing this belief system and our very own religion, as to what exactly are we making fun of. Let us not use the latter (people’s ignorance & misrepresentation of a practice) to criticize the former (idol worship as a concept).

I’m reminded of a small incident of many years ago. We were doing some extensions to our house in Bhubaneswar and were planning on constructing a room exclusively for Puja, with a “Singhasana/Alter” at one end and space for us to sit and meditate and pray, at the other end, something common in many Hindu homes. All of us, especially my mother, were very excited and intensely thinking about the room and the Singhasana and how it will look etc., associating in our minds the divine nature of the small structure (that was yet to be built). Interestingly the work of actually building the Singhasana fell on a Muslim Raja Mistri (mason). As he was building it he started passing hurtful comments about idol worship and its uselessness, and for a brief moment even had the temerity to put his leg on top of the structure (to prove his point). Unfortunately my mother caught a glimpse of that and spontaneously tears ran down her eyes. The day came to an end and the mason went home. The next day he disappeared. When we tried contacting him…we were told by his relative that he had met with a really bad accident while returning home from our house and had fractured his leg…

Now, some people will say this is proof that the person’s emotion and his/her association is what is more important than the sanctity or divinity of the structure/idols or place. I would say that is partially true. Idol worship is a two way connection. The deep emotion that a person associates to an idol and his/her relationship with the inner living entity (as per worshiper’s belief) forms one part of the connection. The other part is the “Supreme Universal Consciousness/God” omnipresent and omniscient, expressing Itself as a vibrant reality and reaching out to the worshiper to complete the connection, to give the ultimate Truth awareness of the two sides being one and the same, like the relationship between drops of water in an ocean and the ocean itself.

The sacred “Prana Pratistha” that is done when installing idols in temples is not a joke. Mantras, as many who have used them with faith can attest to, have power and efficacy that have the ability to awaken and shake up into subjective consciousness the deepest of secrets of the Universe. And the whole practice of mantraputa Pranapratistha (invoking with mantras) in sacred atmosphere, inculcates life and power into these idols. That is the reason, you feel different in front of an idol inside a temple versus a stone idol kept as a decorative item in a restaurant (or lack thereof). I don’t remember a single time (of my multiple visits to Sri Jagannath Temple in Puri) when my eyes didn’t fill up with tears (for no apparent reason) as I stared at the Lord’s massive eyes with folded hands from behind the Garuda Stambha. Do I feel the same when I see the image of Lord Jagannath in a showpiece by a roadside stall? No.

Sri Adi Shankaracharya, enunciator of the awe-inspiring and mind bending monotheistic philosophy  called “Advaita”, never ever asked the existing temples at the time, to shut their doors or called idol worship a fallacy of the religion. Because he was wise and even from the height of his Realization, he firmly understood the importance and significance of idol worship. Very few have the ability to meditate and contemplate on the “Nirgun/nirakar” right away and get to their goal on the spiritual path. The vast majority of us are beings with some degree of emotion who can connect easily with an objective representation of the infinite consciousness and that is where “Murti puja’s” significance comes in. You don’t teach calculus to a Standard 1 or 2 student (too simplistic a comparison but will suffice for now)

An incident from Swami Vivekananda’s (that hearty proponent of Vedanta and Upanishads and a towering stalwart of rational spiritual thinking) life… Swamiji used to visit a learned and curious Muslim dewan to discuss about secular matters and sometimes on religious matters as well. Stately pictures of the Dewan’s ancestors were hung on the walls of his courtroom. Once the Dewan asked Swamiji…”how do you explain your religion’s rather irrational practice of praying to images and idols?” Swamiji didn’t reply. Instead he got up, walked up to one beautiful image of the Dewan’s grandfather on the wall, pulled it out, put it on the floor and raised his leg to stamp on it. The whole court was aghast and then the Dewan, in a furious tone shouts…Swamiji stop! How dare you do such an act. Don’t you know who he is?”Swamiji stops, picks up the picture, puts it back on the wall and comes and sits down. And says…”so that piece of canvas is your grandfather?” The Dewan goes silent…and Swamiji then continues…”when a Hindu pours water on a Shivling or bows down in reverence before an idol or image, he/she is not praying to the stone but to the consciousness that he has superimposed unto the stone, as being the Divine Reality, just as for you the canvas is not a canvas but the very embodiment of your grandfather and his memories”.

Prahallad & Hiranyakasyapu’s story teaches just that. God is everywhere but if you firmly believe Him to be inside a pillar, He will burst forth into objective form and be a living reality. We might dismiss the story as a myth, but can we dismiss the stories of Mira Bai, Tukaram, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Namdev, Sant Gyaneswar…and so many of others who experienced and reached the supreme God consciousness in their lives, through idol-worship? And certainly my mother is not a myth…

So before we criticize & ridicule our Hindu religion’s idol-worship practice, let’s stop and think exactly why our ancestors prescribed it as a vital part of the religion. Criticize the misrepresentation and ostentatious display that has crept in but not the very concept of idol-worship.

Yes if our faith is strong enough the stone lions too will spring to life…just as those stone idols will listen to our prayers (and they do)

Pratyush

Making of a Monk

“Isavasyamidam sarvam, yat kincha jagatyam jagat, tena tyaktena bhunjitha, ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam”

Introduction

Thus begins the sacred Isavasya Upanishad. “…tyaktena bhunjita…” or Renounce and enjoy. Here lies the seed of vairagya (dispassion) and Sannyasa (renunciation). It is said that the enjoyment that comes by renunciation is more intense than the enjoyment that comes by possession of the things of the world. Why is it so? It is because renunciation is the relinquishment of false values, the abandonment of falsity in our attitude to things, which brings about a spontaneous inflow of God-consciousness and the substance of Reality into our hearts1.

The Sannyasa (Hindu monastic) parampara of India is said to originate from Lord Shankara Himself and the sacred land has managed to keep this tradition alive since ancient times, producing monks of the highest order, in every Age. These fierce warriors of the soul, by their fire of dispassion and depth of soul consciousness, have inspired and kept intact the core precepts of the sacred Sanatan dharma, or Hindu religion as it is commonly called.

Here is the story of one of these ‘soul warriors’, a Sannyasini (or nun, in somewhat equivalent western terminology), narrated by a high school batch-mate of hers… interspersed with her own words and experiences (in italics). A type of story seldom told and rarely heard, the story of a renunciate.

I will henceforth use the word ‘monk or Sannyasi’ in a gender neutral form in this narrative, while referring to her.

Seed and the Banyan Tree

Just as the essence of a lofty banyan tree is present in a tiny seed and slowly grows and takes concrete form, every monk has in him/her the essence or seeds of renunciation inside him/her, from early childhood, waiting to burst forth into subjective consciousness and drive the person towards “The Path”. Along the way, circumstances, events and the Guru (or preceptor) play critical roles in channelling those qualities into the Higher Life that she is meant to lead.

Archana, as we knew her in school, was like any other girl…or so we worldly friends thought! An obedient daughter, normal fun-loving yet shy girl. Yet the signs were there, subtle but sure.

                                                                                                                                           Archana

“I had a strong wish from childhood (or approximately age 14/15) to become Didi (nun) of Ananda Marga as I was connected with Ananda Marga. Ananda Marga is a socio spiritual organization whose founder/ Preceptor is Shrii Shrii Anandamurtijii. My nana (father) was a very sincere and old member of Ananda Marga and a great devotee. I was born & brought up in Ananda Marga environment. Always surrounded by Dadas (monks) & Didis, doing social service activities.

From childhood I was very sincere in prayers, kirtan and meditation. I was doing whatever nana was saying. ‘Baba’ is our Guru, do sadhana, do kirtan, He taught many good things. Sometimes his actions were enough to learn. During those early years, like every child, I followed whatever my father said. But the spiritual urge for deep realization or love & faith on BABA increased when I was 14/15 years old. After attending our big spiritual congregation (held twice a year) I was doing meditation 3 times a day. Many times crying without any particular reason. These feelings came and went…

I was very fussy with food during childhood, will eat this, will not eat that, and so on…but when I went to training centre (later on, before becoming Sannyasini) I never said ‘No’ to anything. Whatever was given, I ate happily.

There was a deep desire from early childhood, to do something for the society, for the poor, for the kids who have lost their parents… this wish came to fruition ultimately by the Grace of my Guru (Baba). Little drops of water fill the pot, so do little acts of sincere service, to help society and its inhabitants. Doesn’t matter how or at what rate the pot is filled up as long as it is getting filled. Every drop counts. For the person who is doing something for the society/for the needy, it may be a little act, but for the receiver, it means the world.

The Pulls

 In the pull between a divine life and a worldly life, it is prarabdha (repository of past karmas) that decides in what direction an individual soul will go. And Archana’s life was also a story of pulls, sometimes being pulled by thoughts of worldly responsibilities and desires, sometimes by the opposite desire of leading a life of self-realization and service to society, and making a difference.

 Filial responsibilities, youthful infatuations, stereotypical life in society…pulled her in one direction. Call of the Higher Self, inspiration from ‘Baba’ and the burning desire to renounce and serve, pulled her in another direction. Ultimately it was the Higher Self that won.

When I was in 11th standard (maybe at age 14-15) the seed of becoming didi was sown and it was with pure mind and heart. An innocent mind not aware of what was going to happen in future. Nobody was aware of it except my nani (sister, Kalpana) who was my best friend always. And another lady working for Ananda Marga for Bhubaneswar area, a local full timer in Ananda Marga.

 In 11th and 12th standard, with all my good and studious school friends I was working very hard that time.

 I had a wish to study in BJB College as it was one of the best colleges that time. But unfortunately I didn’t get in the first list and by the time I got, already my admission was done in Ravenshaw College (Cuttack). Afterwards some of my DM School 1992 batch friends were also with me there who inspired me to stay on. I was often biased by others, so it was a big ok, it’s fine. I was attending lectures only 3-4 times per week. This was the first phase…my wish to become a didi was still in my mind somewhere but frequently changing.

 After I passed 12th I thought let me study more and stand on my feet. I have to take care of my parents. We have no brothers so I decided to change my mind again looking at the condition of my family.  My nana was a very pious honest and moral person. He was very sincere in his work. Nana was retired when I was in 9th class. All four sisters were studying, no brothers, bou was so worried. At the time Nana was telling to Bou “…why are you worried for the children? Whose children are they really! HE will take care of them.

 I was connected to UPSF (Universal Proutist Students Federation, students forum of Ananda Marga). Doing several social activities, busy in movements/rallies, going to slums for awareness, teaching them several good things, collecting funds, etc. At this stage the desire to become a didi was growing very rapidly, yes I like to be in this path. If I become a didi then I can devote more time to all this.

 During college, many times I left home to go to Ananda Marga’s training centre (in Bangalore). Though I was doing a lot of service work with others, travelling alone was not possible for me that time. I didn’t have the courage to travel alone on trains, needed somebody to go with, I did not find anyone, so I would turn back home from the Bhubaneswar railway station. This happened multiple times. But then my mind changed again. Nana is having heart problems, what if something happens because of my decision, what if he can’t tolerate my going away…I should stay on.

 

Archana was 22 when she left home (May 20, 1998). Another sign from early childhood about what path she would eventually take, was her aversion to the idea of a married life. But as age passed, like any other girl, the idea did dance around her mind for a little while during college times (both in form and spirit) but ultimately made an exit…her prarabdhas ruthlessly cutting through these meager thoughts of worldly relationships. Meera Bai, that great lady saint from Rajasthan comes to mind at this juncture… दुनिया वाले लगे थे मीरा को बनाने दुल्हन, लेकिन वो तो बन गई जोगन रे (Society was busy trying to push Meera bai into familial ties, but she ended up being a yogi and Krishna premi)

From childhood, before the thoughts of becoming a didi entered my mind, another thought was in my mind, I’ll never marry, I don’t know why, but the thought was just moving around. My two sisters were already married when I was studying. And we two sisters were still studying, so no pressure was there.

Time has come

 In Hindu theological circles, the Sannyasa Ashram (Renunciate life) is often analyzed and dissected with respect to nature, aim and reasons about why and how certain people take to this path. Apart from the technical classifications of various schools/mathas that give Sannyasa dikshya, there is the more subtle classifications based on inclinations and aim. There is the ‘virakta’ Sannyasi who is said to take to the path due to being temporarily disenchanted with worldly life, then there is the ‘jnani’ Sannyasi who takes to the path due to his ability to differentiate the sreya from preya margas (good and bad), the ‘vairagi’ Sannyasi who enters the path due to his continuous and sustained feeling of disenchantment on account of spiritual knowledge, and so on…with commentators trying to rank them in order of who is greater.

 In reality all who take the path of Sannyasa are at heart ‘virakta’ Sannyasins. They get disenchanted by the falsity of the world and its shenanigans, wishing to rise up beyond names and forms. They realize that, the ethereal nature of this world and the powerful bondage of human relationships are impediments to the attainment of Absolute Consciousness. They are also ones who visualize the benefits of taking Sannyas and being detached from relationships and attachments, to be able to pursue any of the four major types of yogic paths as we commonly know them…bhakti, jnana, karma and raja yogas. It’s not that social service cannot be done while being a householder, but the power of a ‘zero-attached’ mind (the niskama karma yoga that the holy Bhagavad Gita so gloriously propounds) to do social service is immeasurably higher and surer, with much lower risk of a fall or being corrupted.

 As the various pulls and pressures built up over the years, Archana’s path was being molded and defined in time and space, by an unseen force (which she firmly ascribes to her spiritual preceptor, her Gurudev ‘Baba’). It is said that while the relationship of a husband and wife or parents and children, are for one lifetime, the relationship of a Guru (spiritual master) and his Shishya (disciple) lasts across multiple births until the disciple realizes the Infinite Consciousness. In his “Autobiography of a Yogi”, Paramahansa Yogananda narrates a touching conversation between Lahiri Mahasaya and his Guru Babaji, when they first met at Ranikhet, a remote Himalayan town…LM – “As ineffable recollections overwhelmed me, I tearfully embraced my master’s feet”. Babaji – “For more than three decades I have waited for you here, waited for you to return to me! You slipped away and vanished into the tumultuous waves of the life beyond death. The magic wand of your karma touched you, and you were gone! Though you lost sight of me, never did I lose sight of you! I pursued you over the luminescent astral sea where the glorious angels sail. Through gloom, storm, upheaval, and light I followed you, like a mother bird guarding her young. As you lived out your human term of womb-life, and emerged a baby, my eye was ever on you. Patiently, month after month, year after year, I have watched over you, waiting for this perfect day…”2

 खट्टा शब्द होता तो इन्सान,  मीठा तु क्या खाक समझता।

दुख का पलड़ा भारी होतातो सुख की एहमियत कहाँ रहता।

भटका कई बार राह मैंनेपर तुमने भटकने दिया।

जो करना था तुम्हे, तुमने तो कर दिखायाअब कोई गिला हे सिकवा तुमसे प्रभु

असली जिंदगी से तुमने, मुझे रूबरू कराया।

(O man, if there was no harsh word, would you understand the beauty of a sweet word?

If sadness wasn’t heavier on the balance of life, would you be able to appreciate happiness?

I got distracted from my path many times, but You always brought me back,

Whatever You had to do, You did it splendidly.

Now I have no complaints to make of You O Lord,  You made me understand what is real life

after coming face to face with You, via my soul)

Many times I changed my decision as human mind has tremendous desires. But finally by His Divine Grace I was able to come out of my worldly home.

After graduation one year had gone by. I got admission somewhere in personnel management. I left a few weeks before exams.

 One day whole day I was out, went to the Railway station. But ended up not going and came back home. It was in early 1998. All were looking for me, where is she. Nobody was aware what was going on in my mind. Then I came in the evening, closed the door in a room and talked to nana….”I want to go to Training Centre now”. He said he knew I wanted to go to Training Centre but that I was silent after BCom, why again I was changing my mind after getting admission. You know how money comes. If you want to go, then after three years, finish this course (personnel management) and then go. It will help you and you will be able to help the organization. After a long chat he managed to persuade me to stay on. But what is inside will eventually come out, how long will it be suppressed…

 The Lord had something else in mind, He asked where is my daughter getting entangled in this world, how can she do something like this…then He turned the key of life in such a manner that this beloved child of HIS never looked back, and finally decided it was time to leave.

 There was a five days program of our organization where many Dadas and Didis were there. Last day I told one didi and we left before anybody could even smell a thing. This time I was finally successful in coming out of home. We went to Kolkata where I stayed for eight days. Then we went to Bangalore where our training centre is.

 So it was the day 20th May, 1998 that changed my life. This was the last day with all my family members, relatives, whoever was present. Though I left a small family, I knew I was going to join a big family. I realized that day if your desire is strong and you are fully determined then nobody can stop you. Maybe there are commas in our life, but don’t think…my life ends here. So I didn’t give a full stop and started a new life with many commas…

 

Life in Training Centre

While details differ from one Ashram/Organization to another, the formal process of becoming a Sannyasi is extremely demanding…why is that?

A monk (in any religion) has to take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the spiritual teacher. The ideal of selfless service to all mankind, and of renunciation of personal ties and ambitions, leads the majority of Sannyasis to engage actively in humanitarian and educational work in India, or abroad. Ignoring all prejudices of caste, creed, class, colour, sex, or race, a Sannyasi follows the precepts of human brotherhood2.

And in order to deeply ingrain these lofty precepts (of annihilation of individual ego to realize the cosmic Ego) into the very life breath of a Sannyasi, he/she takes to a life of extreme sadhana (spiritual practice), either under the tutelage of his/her Teacher, or by himself/herself, or through a formal rigorous training process, as occurs in Ananda Marga’s training centres for Dadas and Didis, across India and the world (Sweden and Indonesia).

 I spent one and a half years (May 28, 1998 to mid Nov 1999) in the Bangalore training centre. We got training in different things, conduct rules, languages, PROUT (Social Philosophy) & spiritual philosophy. We were also given duties and responsibilities. I was selected as the office-in-charge (after about 6 months) dealing with many things, along with Trainer Didi. It was a big responsibility for me. A Sannyasi is not away from the world. We are not supposed to go somewhere in the Himalayas thinking of ourselves only. Our duty was to go with the society, hand in hand.

 We have to collect grains, vegetables, fruits etc., from the market every week. Before leaving each week for the market, trainer didi always said – “Never react negatively & use bad words to those who are not willing to donate anything. Say Thank you, whether anybody gives or not”. Initially it was difficult…we used to react when people would say…”why are you begging, you seem to be well educated, why has God given you hands and feet, to work and eat”. But slowly we got used to such words and the strength to make them understand, though I don’t remember what exactly we told them. Mind was so pure, so internal always.

 I never felt anger against anybody, nor did I say anything knowingly hurtful. Some gave with a noble mind, some gave with an angry face, but always I used to take the name of the Lord while receiving

Whatever we do, we do in the name of Lord so that we will have love and compassion for all. We think we are just the media and the work is actually done by HIM. In this big stage of the Universe we are just actors, we have to follow what the Director is saying, then the drama goes smoothly.

 Asking for food to eat, is not easy for everybody. Some girls did not like to go out to do such things, saying this kind of work they cannot do. And as the office-in-charge my duty was to push them to do those kinds of works. Send the reluctant ones twice per month, if they feel uncomfortable, send them four times per month. But behind it there was a reason… “if we have come to become Sannyasis, why so much hesitation in begging? This is something we have to do”. It is not necessary we have to beg, but to breakdown our ego and to overcome all superior and inferior complexes we must do that. It is a part of training.

 Many of these girls left after a few years. Life was not easy for those in training centre. Lots of work to do everyday…cleaning, cooking, taking care of cows, toilet tank cleaning, going to Ananda Marga School to teach, Relief work during natural disasters etc…In the 15 years of Sannyasi life I have seen many come and go…

With all this I always felt His Grace showering on me every time. It’s His Grace that He has held me through my journey with firm hands.

 A small interjection is necessary at this point. In the above paragraphs Archana is talking about the training and practice of begging for food and the reactions of people. Sannyasis occupy a very unique place in Hindu society. In a heavily casteist society, Sannyasis are people without any caste. But the Sanatan dharma prescribes that they be the most respected members of society to whom every other caste bows down in reverence. Since Sannyasis cut off their relationships with relatives, it becomes mandatory for the society to take care of their most basic needs of food (& shelter when they ask for it) in return for the selfless service they do. This was well followed in olden days but in recent times, this practice of supporting Sannyasis has largely fallen by the wayside, what with the ‘secular’ mindset that parents bring up their children with nowadays!… and the above derogatory comments that Archana and her fellow trainees used to hear from some local people comes from a fundamental lack of knowledge about the whole institution of monkhood and how it functions.

Another very significant phrase she utters in the above paragraph is… “हमेशा इस्वर का नाम लेकर लाते थे की कहीं किसी तरह का बुरा प्रभाव पड़े”. According to the Theory Of Karma in Eastern Theology (and specifically the Bhagavad Gita) an action that is not performed as an offering to the Lord (or in other words without complete detachment) keeps accumulating in one’s karma depository and the soul keeps on taking birth after birth trying to exhaust those karmas so that it can attain self-realization. So while asking, they just take the ideation he/she (the giver) is a manifestation or expression of That Supreme Being.

Towards the end of the training period, there is a special seven days intense spiritual session. The rules during these seven days are…mouna-vrata (no talking with anyone), only singing His name (Kirtans and Bhajans), one set of cloth, one thin blanket to cover your body (Bangalore is quite a cold place late in the year), cooking by yourself, eating once a day after begging at five homes (at least). Whatever we get during begging, we give to trainer didi and she will give just enough for one time food. Some days she will not give salt, some day no turmeric powder, some day only rice and one carrot…and so on.

We have to make our own chullah (stove) and prepare our own food. When food was ready, some other trainees (outside of the special training) would come and ask for food and you have to give them, no choice to say no. This was a test of your sacrifice, to what extent you can sacrifice without flinching. One day I ended up giving all my food and didn’t eat anything for the whole day (happened with each of the other girls also during one of those 7 days). We were 10 girls in the special training session. Even if we were hungry we had to give away our food.

Those seven days were very special for me. So joyful and gracious feeling. Like…this is the only world I want to live in. I don’t need anything else. “Life is a subjective approach through objective adjustment”…. “आत्मा मोक्षार्थम् जगत हिताय (Self realization and service to Humanity)

 इस दुनिया से दूर हम कहाँ जाये,  यही दुनिया ही तो हे जहाँ हम कुछ कर पाए,

अगर इतना भी कर पाए इस जीवन मेंतो इन्सान का मुखौटा ही पहने हैं बस,

मगर इन्सान तो कभी हम बन ही नहीं पाए।

(Where can we go, away from this world, this is the world where we can do something,

if we cannot do anything in this life, then we are only wearing the mask of a human,

and never became a real human)

 

Spiritual Experiences

It is a commonly known fact in spiritual circles that the more that someone does meditation and service with niskam bhav (without any desire for fruit of action), the purer he/she becomes, and with purity and God Consciousness, miracles and otherwise unusual experiences start happening quite frequently. Archana agreed to reveal just a few incidents from her time as a trainee.

Everyday I heard from fellow trainees that they were dreaming about “Baba”. Somebody was saying something, other something else. Once a thought came in my mind – “O Baba, don’t you love me? Why don’t you come in my dreams? Have I done something bad? I was saying to myself, if He is there, then surely He will come in my dreams”.

This was my thought as I meditated for the night and then went to sleep. And true enough He appeared in my dream – smiling beautifully – saying – “My little daughter why you think I don’t love you? I love you more than anybody else”. It was like a flash, I could feel it, strong and sweet vibration.

From that day onwards, the thought/doubt, “if You are there?” never came in my mind…

It was my foolishness that the thought even came in my mind (or may be as a human being just a rare thought listening to other co-trainees). A very important thing to progress in spiritual path is… never doubt your Guru…

 Before going to training centre, I had seen certain things in my dreams, which later came true, almost to the very letter, after months, sometimes after years.

Whatever dream I had, even the smallest of desires, HE has fulfilled. Its HIS grace only… 

 

Becoming a Sannyasini

 “A real sannyasin is the only mighty potentate on this earth. He/She never takes anything. He/She always gives. It was sannyasins who did glorious work in the past. It is sannyasins who will work wonders in the present and in the future also. It is only bold sannyasins, who have cut off all ties and connections, who are fearless, freed from delusion, passion and selfishness, who can do real service to the world. One real sannyasin can change the destiny of the whole world” 3

The Sannyasa day is a very auspicious day, a day when a person is born into a new life after finally & formally cutting off all links to all old human relationships. In typical process, the person is first ordained as Brahmachari/ini (the one who dwells in the Supreme Brahman) which becomes the base from which the final Sannyasa hood is ultimately given. In both these steps, a new name is given to the individual which becomes his/her permanent names thereafter.

After finishing all the exams at training centre (Bangalore), we (13 in our batch ) went to Kolkata for further training (1 month). We were given special training called ‘Acharya’ Training where senior Dadas and Didis give classes. Then again exam. Then we surrender all our previous attachments, like long hair, colourful dress etc. Mundan (shaving of head) is done. I always had attachment with my long hair as I was learning dance and didn’t cut it for many years. Whatever attachment I had about my long hair, I gave it up. The day was 29th December 1999. It was the day when we got our uniform, the sacred saffron dress for which I was waiting for, for so long. The wish from childhood was finally fulfilled. I was standing in front of the mirror moving around feeling so happy. No words to express my feelings…

We get Ashirbad (blessings) from the Head of the Organization (at Ananda Nagar, the head quarters of Ananda Marga). After that we graduate from the training program and introduced as a new batch in front of hundreds of Dadas and Didis, with our new names (2nd Jan 2000). My new name was “Brahmacharini Anuradha Acharya”, new name, new life.

So content, so graceful. Finally saying…”O BABA, you did it, Thank you so much”

2nd Jan 2000, I got my 1st posting, to Ranchi. No end to my excitement… That time I remember one thing that our trainer didi in Bangalore said, “ the training here you are getting is only 1 percent. The rest 99 percent training you will get when you start working as a Didi. And this is true. In these 15 years I have faced numerous troubles but we learn from our experiences. And there is no end to the learning process. Whole life we learn something from others.

In December 2003, I moved into the final step of being ordained as a Sannyasini and a new permanent name was given…Avadhutika Ananda Anuprabha Acharya

Didi Anuprabha 

The bi-annual Spiritual Congregation (Dharma Maha Sammelan) where we graduated into new Brahmacharinis was held from 30th Dec to 1st Jan, 2000 for three days. All my former family members had come to the congregation. Many people from my family as well as members of Ananda Marga from Bhubaneswar came to see me. Strangely I was not able to recognize many, though I was very close to them before. There was some reason…that only HE knows. Still mysterious, how come I forgot many in just one & half years?

 Whether you are a householder or a Sannyasi, problems are everywhere. Struggle is the essence of life. But I strongly believe that these obstacles are what make us stronger, gives us the feeling that God is there. We cannot blame Him if we get problems. Our samskaras (tendencies from present and past births) we do have to exhaust. Our Master says – “It is action that makes a person great. Be great by your sadhana, service and sacrifice”.

In Sannyasi life, there is a contentment, a different kind of contentment, where no matter how many difficulties come, you are fully charged, there is always an energy and the hand of the Spiritual Master on my head.

 In this physical world it is the attachment for what we get happiness and sorrow, the more we are attached the more pain we get. Nothing is permanent here. We all are here to perform our duties towards everyone but our final goal should be to be one with HIM. And the bridge is devotion.

 In our present human life three things are very important – Honesty, Simplicity & Spiritedness. These three take us always upward. Human beings have so many physical manifestations, psychic desires and longings and also a spiritual thirst which is hidden. This spiritual thirst is the special characteristic of human beings. And there lies the difference between man and animal.

 A Sannyasi may be away from his/her worldly small family but he/she is always connected with this big family called ‘society’.

हर कंटीली झड़ी खराब नहीं होताहर नशा बुरा नहीं होता।

इन्सान में बुराई के साथ अच्छाई भी हैवरना कंटीली झाड़ में गुलाब नहीं होता।

(Every thorny plant is not bad, every addiction is not bad,

A human has good and bad inside, otherwise how can there be a rose flower in the midst of thorns)

 

Conclusion

Didi Ananda Anuprabha’s story is the story of a true renunciate. Such renunciates are the ones who keep the fire of selfless service & deep meditative life, burning, in this world and inspire us to lead a life of inner consciousness.

My objective of writing her story is to bring out into the open, the glorious tradition of monkhood that has existed in India since time immemorial. A tradition that is not appreciated enough by the present generation, who rather criticize and ridicule the institution of Sannyasins and yogis, based on the profligacies of a few pseudo-monks that get prime time news coverage.

Just as the profession of the armed forces should not be questioned due to one single traitor, just as the medical profession should not be doubted about the life saving work doctors do, due to the unscrupulous behavior of a single medical professional, the hallowed Sannyasa/Yogi parampara should never be thrown mud at, due to a few charlatans who creep into it.

For this parampara has given to the world, in all ages, such illumined souls as Sri Adi Sankaracharya, the entire lineage of Advaitic Gurus, Mira Bai, Kabir, Sur Das, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Ramana Maharishi, Sri Ram Krishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Sai Baba, Swami Sivananda, et al and then the countless others who remain anonymous, like Didi Anuprabha, who keep on working tirelessly for society, while leading an incredibly rich inner life and teaching yoga and shastras to the multitude.

Glory to such Sannyasis of India and beyond!

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[Didi Anuprabha, as she is fondly known by all, currently runs New Zealand’s only women’s centre of Ananda Marga, teaching its unique yoga/philosophy to women, families and university students. She has, in the past, served across India in different locations, managing Children’s Homes and actively participating in disaster relief work. She is either fluent or near fluent in at least 8 languages (Odiya, Hindi, Bengali, English, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi and Hadoti- a Rajasthani dialect)]

References:

  1. Commentary on Isavasya Upanishad, by Swami Krishnananda
  2. “Autobiography of a Yogi”, by Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. Commentary on the ‘Glory of Sannyasa Life’, by Swami Sivananda

Prayer

My personal observations about prayer & its efficacy

 

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Introduction

Prayer and faith are two sides of a coin, in the realms of the soul…each sustaining & nourishing the other. Questions and experiments are the realm of the physical world, limited by the boundaries of human intellect and causal parameters. Never the twain shall meet…or do they?

What I write below are my observations and experiences about prayer and trying to explain the limitless within my limited vocabulary and limited intellect. My background…raised in a devout Hindu family, initiated into the sacred Guru Mantra at age 16 and trying to live a somewhat spiritual life in the midst of material pursuits.

Into the depths

Human life is often an endless ride through joys and sorrows, small and large and I’m no stranger to these as well. During some of my (and my friends’/relatives’) darkest hours when, will and skill both fell short of solving an issue, I have often resorted to prayers. Sometimes they worked sometimes they didn’t. Chance and coincidence are often the words used by secular minds in such circumstances…but I don’t take pride in calling myself secular. To me there existed patterns and those patterns seemed to have a startling resemblance to interpretations of many of the sacred scriptures I had read and chanted since childhood.

Over the years, I have resorted to several sacred mantras (the Gayatri, Mahamrityunjay, Mahamantra, Shiva Panchaksri, et al), couplets and verse chapters (Hanuman Chalisa, Aditya Hridayam, Narayana Sukta, Ramayan Sundarkand, et al). Every time I went back and analyzed (which I should not have but what to do!…the damn ever unsatisfied monkey mind of a human being) the situation and my attempts to solve it via prayer…I saw an equation for success (or efficacy), yes an equation

Efficacy of Prayer (in producing results conducive to my desperate ask) =

Degree of desperation (of suffering individual we are praying for)    X    Our own degree of empathy (with the individual we are praying for)   X   1/size of the problem   X   Purity of the individual praying

Degree of desperation:

I noticed this factor very distinctly in situations where the prayer was for myself. I wanted something badly or was in some kind of dire straits and resorted to prayer seeing no resolution through my normal abilities. My prayers were more effective and brought about some degree of relief where the unfulfillment of my prayers would have resulted in either deep physical or psychological injury or would have caused a tragic spiritual dilemma for me. They were totally ineffective where, although I thought my situation was dire…in reality I had another escape option out of the situation that was within the realms of my abilities.

Degree of empathy:

Empathy, that distinct characteristic that enables you to live the pain of the sufferer as if the pain was your own. In most of my prayers for people close to me (or far), this was something that came into play with amazing clarity. About 3-4 years ago, a close relative was in mortal physical danger brought on by certain external factors. As the situation unfolded half way around the world and myself being here unable to do anything, I resorted to one of the most heart-rending marathon prayer sessions I had ever tried in my entire life…lighting a lamp (as is customary in Hindu rituals) and chanting non-stop, the sacred Sundarkand chapter of Ramayan, three times. To keep things in perspective…it used to take me (at that time) about three hours to read it start to end. So 9 hours of non-stop chanting, and by the end of the 3rd time, tears were streaming down my face as I made a last call to the Almighty, for help. Completed the session and then called this individual on phone. She had been miraculously saved.

Size of Problem:

This always seems to have an inverse relationship with efficacy of prayer. I have often prayed, with much hope and fervour for people suffering in wars (be it Syria or Gaza or Iraq) and natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, famine…). Almost always it felt like the needle had moved by just a trifle and positive instantaneous change rarely came. Almost as if my voice was incredibly minute and barely registered in the complaint book of God or as if the strength of the prayer dissipated before the vastness of the tragedy. Whereas if it was an individual the force of the prayer did get focussed and managed to bring about change.

Purity of the individual praying:

In my view, the most important among all factors. My spiritual master was a giant among modern day Hindu saints. A tall lanky figure, Christ like in appearance, he renounced the world at age 20, became a monk of the Saraswati order at age 33 and spent most of his monastic life either personally serving leprosy patients and old sadhus, in Muni-ki-reti town of Uttarakhand or engaging in deep meditation by the banks of holy river Ganga. I have had the immense good fortune to watch his prayers for people and causes, and how sure and quick his prayers yielded results versus my own prayers. A sure sign that purity of thought and action as envisioned in the scriptures (irrespective of religion) is directly proportional to the efficacy of one’s prayers.

Conclusion

In the supreme Advaitic non-dual philosophy of the “Yoga Vasistha” (also called the Maha Ramayan), there is no reality other than the one supreme consciousness or “Brahman” and diversities and Gods and heaven and hell and earths…are all a play of the mind on the surface of the infinite consciousness. From that perspective…there is nothing to pray about, as subject, object and the experience are all one and the same…so who prays for whom?

But the Yoga Vasistha also acknowledges that, in as much as the dream world is real while we are dreaming, this world of duality or multiplicity is real, and given its relative reality, the concomitant necessity of prayers to be able to influence the outcome of situations where we do not have normal physical or mental abilities to affect a change.

Pratyush