The story of the flow of eastern thoughts and ideas to the west is a remarkable one. We have covered the story of Sri Ramakrishna earlier
. Previous week we took up the story of his most remarkable disciple: Swami Vivekanada
who was known as Naren in the early part of his life. After Naren had met Sri Ramakrishna he felt drawn to him though he fought every inch of the way questioning and challenging him all the time.
The years rolled by and gradually Naren’s trust and faith in Sri Ramakrishna took hold. However one day an incident took place that threw everything off kilter. Naren’s father passed away and left the family in huge debt. Naren found his situation suddenly transform from that of carefree wealth to abject poverty. Even shoes became a luxury. His garments were now of the coarsest cloth, and he found that he had to occasionally skip meals and remain hungry as there was no food at home. By now he had graduated from college and was enrolled in a law college. He was on track to become a lawyer like his father. Naren now found himself being pulled in two directions. On one side was his career and responsibilities towards family. On the other side was a spiritual pull of Sri Ramakrishna that beckoned to give up all for the sake of God realization. How could he forsake his family for his own selfish needs? What should he do?
Naren tried to get a job but the only offers that came his way required him to compromise on his values. He would not go there and declined such job offers. Slowly the situation turned increasingly dire and his family continued to suffer. Even his normally God-devoted mother told him bitterly, “You have been crying yourself hoarse for God since your childhood. Tell me what has God done for you?” Naren had no answer and doubts about God’s existence began to creep in his mind too. Continue reading
Rudyard Kipling famously predicted, “East is East and West is West, And never the twain shall meet.” In the late 1800’s a couple of extraordinary people set out to prove this prediction wrong. We covered the story of Sri Ramakrishna earlier
. Now we take up the story of his foremost disciple Swami Vivekananda. In 1893 Swami Vivekananda visited the US. This was a momentous though unlikely journey. It was for the first time in modern history that a self realized master of the caliber of Swami Vivekananda was visiting the west.
But who was Swami Vivekananda and how did he come to be enlightened? The story of his spiritual quest and enlightenment was anything but straightforward and makes for fascinating reading. His story begins in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta with his birth on January 12 1863. The name his parents gave him was Narendranath but he was known as Naren. His father was a wealthy lawyer well versed in English and Persian. His grandfather gave up worldly life at a young age and became a monk. It was later said that Naren was in the mould of his grandfather.
Naren was a brilliant but restless child. He had the intellect of a genius and a photographic memory. All he had to do was glance at a page and he could grasp the key points that the author was trying to make. Enlightenment comes to people of all types from dullards to those with normal intellect. However it is indeed rare that somebody with the intellect as sharp as Naren’s achieves enlightenment. This was indeed fortunate as Naren was able to study all the major religious texts and philosophies of both the East and the West and provide a unifying framework that is unparalleled. This easily makes him the Einstein of the spiritual world.
Growing up Naren was so restless and mischievous that his mom one day remarked, “I prayed to Shiva for a son and he sent me one of his demons!” Naren was always up to some mischief in the classroom yet he was always able to follow along the class. Though he was mischievous, Naren had a strong spiritual bent and his pranks were always harmless with no evil intent. One day he began play-acting that he was a monk and sat in mock meditation. Somehow this put him in such a deep spiritual state that his relatives had to force open the door and shake him to bring him back to normal consciousness. Continue reading
A few years ago I noticed joint stiffness was gradually limiting the range of motion in my shoulders. When the doctor told me that I had osteoarthritis, I could not believe he was actually talking to me. As an active limber person throughout my life, I’d never thought of myself as someone who would suffer from arthritis. It has been a humbling experience.
To date no medication has been found to cure the deterioration of the joints. What has helped me, however, is the stretching & strengthening movements of HotCore Yoga. Yoga is strong but gentle enough to extend the mobility of the spine & shoulder joints without putting undue pressure on them.
Like most of us I sit for long stretches of the day at a desk as well as in the driver’s seat of my car commuting to & from work. That does not allow for much movement of the body. After the spinal exercises during yoga class I can practically feel the knots across my back dissolving & the “chi” flowing. There is a general sense of well-being after a session at Yoga Passion that translates into better sleep & a better immune system. Additionally, regular yoga exercises have put a spring in my step & given me a more youthful appearance.
The staff at Yoga Passion is very knowledgeable & “passionate” about the application & benefits of yoga. Personal experience has convinced me that yoga could benefit many individuals with back & joint ailments without the use of expensive medication & intrusive surgery.
Tina Gibson Georgetown, MA
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In the previous week’s post we saw that Sri Ramakrishna had achieved his life’s goal and achieved the highest form of consciousness
. However he had a vision of a new mission for his life and this required that he return to the plane of consciousness once again.
Sri Ramakrishna’s new mission required that he carry out spiritual exploration. Sri Ramakrishna did this in a manner never attempted before by exploring other faiths. He got initiated into Islam and became a practicing Muslim. He completely banished all Hindu ideas and found no inclination to even visit his favorite Kali temple. After three days he had a vision that convinced him that Islam was an authentic way of attaining Brahman. Seven years later he did a similar experiment with Christianity that once again culminated in a vision that proved to him the authenticity of the Christian path. Sri Ramakrishna similarly spoke highly of the Buddhist, Sikh, and the Jain faith. During this period Sri Ramakrishna also went on a pilgrimage to many holy sites and met some of the most extraordinary spiritual masters belonging to different Hindu sects. After this period of exploration he came to the conclusion that the different Hindu Sects and the different faiths were all authentic but different paths to the same God. He used to say to his disciples, “I have practiced three religions- Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. And I have also followed the paths of different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God towards whom all are directing their steps, though along different path. It is as if a tank of water has many different sides. From one side the Hindus draw water and call it “jal”. From another side the Mohammedans draw water and call it “pani”, and from yet another side the Christians call it “water”. Can we imagine that water is not “jal”, but only “pani” or “water”? How absurd! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same Substance.”
It is unheard for a spiritual stalwart of Sri Ramakrishna’s caliber, belonging to one faith, to have embraced another faith so completely. Not only Sri Ramakrishna do it once but he did it twice. It is indeed unprecedented in the annals of religious history that such a daring experiment was ever carried out. Sri Ramakrishna, having done this experiment, was able to speak not just from an intellectual level but also from a very direct experiential level. His message of unity is hence most extraordinary and authentic. It laid down the groundwork not only of a modern secular India, but also puts forth an extraordinary vision of co-existence of faiths that is yet unfolding before our eyes. It is because of Sri Ramakrishna’s vision that orthodox Hindus have subsequently felt liberty to take the message of Yoga and universalize it so that it can be adopted by all faiths. If your life has been touched by Yoga then you are the direct beneficiary of Sri Ramakrishna’s extraordinary message. If our children and grandchildren will not be involved in religious wars and choose instead to coexist with other faiths it will be because the echo of Sri Ramakrishna’s voice will be still reverberating in their lives. Continue reading
Sri Ramakrishna was a spiritual giant whose life and message continue to have an impact on us even today. To understand this we have to realize that his life had three distinct phases. In the first phase Sri Ramakrishna achieves a form of God realization but had no control over his meditation. He was in danger of losing complete control when he was instructed via a vision to stop and wait for teachers to appear who would guide him further.
Luckily for Sri Ramakrishna the railway line had not yet been built and Dakshineswar, with its location on the banks of the river Ganges, was a stop on the way for monks traveling up and down the Ganges. One day a beautiful middle-aged female monk named Yogeshwari happened to stop over. When she saw Ramakrishna she exclaimed, “My son, you are here! I have been searching for you so long, and now I have found you!”
Yogeshwari established herself a few miles from Dakshineswar and would come down daily to teach Sri Ramakrishna. Thus began the formal spiritual education of Sri Ramakrishna in the proper way of meditation. To Yogeshwari’s surprise Sri Ramakrishna progressed quickly and in a matter of days attained higher and higher spiritual states that are normally considerably difficulty to master. She soon became convinced that Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary soul and convinced Mr. Mathur to convene a meeting of distinguished scholars to examine Sri Ramakrishna. Consequently two imminent scholars were summoned and both of them concurred that Sri Ramakrishna was no ordinary soul and the states he had achieved were indeed rare to be seen in mere mortals. This was the first time the possibility that Sri Ramakrishna was a Divine Incarnation was broached.
In spite of the very high opinion of religious scholars, Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual education was not yet complete. He still had to achieve the highest state of consciousness where he could experience undivided and absolute unity. Many days after Yogeshwari had departed a very advanced monk called Totapuri happened to visit Dakshineswar. When he saw Sri Ramakrishna he was immediately impressed and offered to make him a disciple. Sri Ramakrishna was subsequently initiated and formally became a monk. Continue reading