The modern life has its pressures and demands. One must use the wifi – the wireless networks in order to be connected, to work, to find work, to chat with friends, to pay bills, to share photos and friendships. What of seeking for the Divine in this day and age? How do we feed our souls when modern line makes so many demands upon us? How do we even come to know about the Divine when the mind flits from one thing to another and we cannot keep it still? Here is one book, the teachings of Swami Shivananda of the Belur Monastery in Western India – he is the leader of the Ramakrishna Order and is giving guidance daily to those who seek it.
Swami Shivananda was the second President of the Ramakrishna Math and resided in Belur Monastery. It is located on the west bank of Hooghly River, Belur, West Bengal, India. He was one of the 15 founders of the Ramakrishna Order, along with Swami Vivekananda. He is within living memory of Sri Ramakrishna, an avatar (incarnation) of the Divine Mother.
Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was the second President (1922-1933) of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. When he took up the task of that onerous office, he had not only to direct the various activities of the Mission, but also to solve the spiritual problems of innumerable disciples and devotees – young and old, lay and monastic. Wherever he might be, after meditation hours in the morning he would receive the members of the monastery who would gather to his room one by one. At that time he would talk informally about many things according to his own mood and also according to the nature of the inquiries of those who went to him.
The topics of conversation varied from the domestic problems of the monastery to high philosophical and spiritual subjects. Sometimes on such occasions, when in a high mood, he would say things which remained indelibly impressed upon the minds of the listeners and afterwards became the sheet anchor of their spiritual lives. But there was no ﬁxed time when he would talk on spiritual problems. At all hours of the day and far into the night anybody could approach him, in private or in company, if he was not otherwise busy, and ask questions pertaining to the inner life. Usually in the afternoon or evening on Sundays and holidays many devotees would sit round him and discuss with him many things. The Swami was never formal; he could make his hearers feel at ease, and that would embolden them to broach very freely any question they liked.
Recalling Swami Shivananda
Mahapurush Swami Shivananda was one of Sri Ramakrishna’s blessed direct disciples who dedicated their lives at the feet of the Master and served as his principal aides in carrying out his divine mission. I came to know the Swami intimately first at Dakshineswar and later in other places. It was in Sri Ramakrishna‘s room at Dakshineswar that I ﬁrst met him, in 1884, fifty-two or fifty-three years ago. Tall and slim, he impressed me as being fearless. The Master said to him: ‘Look here, many people, young and old, come to this place. I seldom ask them anything about their home and family connections. But I feel like making an exception in your case. Tell me where you come from and what your father’s name is.’ In reply, Mahapurush told the Master about his father and family. After hearing him Sri Ramakrishna rejoined : ‘Oh, I see, you are the son of Ram Kanai. I know your father very well. He is a highly developed soul. You will certainly make progress along spiritual lines.’ That day the conversation touched on several other topics as well.
After this incident, owing to a strange combination of circumstances, I did not see Swami Shivananda for a period of several years. Later, in 1897, about forty-one years ago, when I was serving as an engineer, I happened to meet him again. On my way from Bankipore to my place of employment, as I was walking up and down the platform of the Buxar railway station, from a distance I saw a sadhu, intelligent and energetic, who, I thought, might be a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. Coming near I discovered that it was Swami Shivananda. I greeted him. He recognized me and said that he was on his way to Benares where he would be stopping at Banshi Dutt’s place. He asked me to meet him there, which I did. He was very pleased to see me and entertained me in many ways, telling me all about the monastery (the headquarters of the Order).
Some time later, when I joined the monastery at Alambazar, Swami Shivananda was in South India, living as an ascetic. Reticent and restrained in his words, he was known to be of a serious demeanour. Very soon he returned to the monastery at Alambazar.
Stithiprajna – the Person of Steadiness
We live in a time of open access to information. All can access a plethora of information on the internet, any time, any place. We can use our watch, our phone, tablet or desktop computer to gain access. We can chat, exchange information, post photographs, and join like-minded groups using social media. We can access anything. Except the Divine. Where and how do we access the Divine?
Is information about religion the same as accessing the Divine? Do religious practices and rituals bring us closer to the Divine? Do such practices bring us steadiness of mind? Single-pointedness? What do we achieve when we have single-pointedness? Are we more compassionate, are we more caring, are we more loving people? These questions – and more – are important. Is information about the Divine the same as accessing the Divine itself? Many say yes, it is so.
So do you have the time to access the Divine? What do you do when you wake up? Do you check the phone? Do you run to the toilet? Do you lie in bed and think about what is coming for the day? Do you lie in bed obsessed with desires, needs, goals? Do you have the wherewithal? What is the wherewithal to access the Divine? Is it the time? Is it steadiness? Is it mind control?
So many people pull the phone out from under the pillow, so many people are wise in the ways of digital life, Weibo, Snapchat, Wechat, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Reibo, Ren Ren. Is there room for the spirit in the digital life? Or do we just follow iGen, the kids who get depressed using phones as a replacement for human contact, and end up depressed and lacking social skills and good boundaries? Filled with Fear of Missing Out, Fear of No Mobile, Fear of Being Outcompeted by Others. The joys of social media and the digital life. So how do we become wise in the ways of the Spirit, and strike out on the path to the goal of life in the midst of the modern bop?
What is needed is steadiness. Lord Krishna gave a definition of the person with such steadiness in the Bhagavad Gita:
Krishna answers, “Old friend, you should strive to become such a person! This person is called an Illumined One, a Sthithaprajna (literally, one who is established in wisdom). This is the one who abandons all selfish desires, cravings, and torments of the heart; who is satisfied with the True Self (Atma) and wants nothing outside the Self. This one knows that real bliss is only found within. BG 2:55
This quality of Sthithaprajna (literally, one who is established in wisdom) is what is needed today. To obtain this quality, steadiness in thoughts, words and actions are needed. Steadiness in mind management is needed. These desires, cravings, and torments of the heart are what make the mind flit from one thing to the next. Mind management is needed, and to obtain such, we need to slow down, turn the phone off, and take time. We need to take time with discipline, setting aside our time, talents and resources in order to feed the soul. Just as we feed the body three times a day, so also, we should take time to feed and nourish the soul, three times a day.
And the time is important. If we were to wake and establish a simple habit of taking up sacred reading daily, in the same time, same place, then the mind will slowly accept this as routine, nay, even seek this calm and regularity for its peace. So we recommend sacred reading, daily, early in our day. When we awaken, we take our ablutions, and go to a place we have created for ourselves, and take up sacred reading of one kind or another. This book – For Seekers of God – will illuminate that spiritual journey and stir the movement of the soul. Swami Shivananda stays in his room in the Belur Monastery, the spiritual seekers come to him with their questions and queries, the ups and downs of their lives.
A young man seeks the spiritual path:
Inspired by the ideal of renunciation, a young man left home to perform spiritual practice without appearing for his B,A. examination. His guardians brought him home and advised him to carry on his meditations on God at home. Since then he had been carrying on his spiritual practices at home, according to Mahapurushji’s instructions. This young man came to the monastery and saluted the Swami, who inquired; ‘Hello! how are you?’
Young man: ‘My body is all right, Maharaj, but my mind is very restless. I do not have any peace of mind. I am very disturbed mentally.’
Swami: ‘The fact that you have this restlessness of mind shows that the Mother is gracious to you. The earnestness to realize Her and the lack of peace because you have not been able to do so are symptoms of Her grace. As a result of good deeds performed in many incarnations and through the grace of God, one has this desire for liberation. Now sincerely cry and pray: “Mother, reveal Thyself to me. I am weak, devoid of spiritual discipline and devotion! Be gracious and appear to me!” Do not pay heed to anything else and continue calling upon Her. Whether the mind is concentrated or not, do not give up calling upon Her. Be steady and hold to the ideal even as a hereditary farmer. If you do that you will certainly receive Her grace. Therefore, I say, where would you be roaming about? Call upon the Mother staying at home. Right there the Mother will vouchsafe to you the realization of the unreality of the world and will snap your worldly ties.’
Young man: ‘Sometimes I enjoy my meditations; at other times I cannot control the mind at all.’
Swami; ‘That is how the mind behaves. It has a wave-like motion. Haven’t you seen waves? Here comes a high wave followed by a deep hollow, and a wave comes again. The fact that sometimes you lose control over your mind signiﬁes that a big wave will come and you will have great peace. But genuine devotees will not lose their balance because of joy or be depressed by sorrow. Everything depends upon the will of the Mother. Knowing that the Mother is ever merciful, continue to call upon Her. Let the Mother keep you in whatever state She pleases. In this way eventually you will have unmixed bliss and a full vision of the Mother! My boy, do not be disturbed under any circumstances. The Mother has been gracious to you and will be even more gracious, I assure you.
A young woman seeks the spiritual path
The devotee: ‘Father, I have a question to ask. The scriptures declare that one cannot realize God unless one observes strict brahmacharya. The mind does not become pure unless there is brahmacharya. Now, please tell me how I can observe this. Should I be very strict about food and such other things?’
‘No, my daughter, you need not be very strict about these matters. Only use your discrimination a little more when following the usual routine. You may well avoid those things that excite the nerves too much. Food is not meant for the mere gratification of the sense of taste; it is meant for the maintenance of the body. And the maintenance of the body is meant for God-realization. It is better to avoid those kinds of food that create mental disturbance and prevent the mind from concentrating on God. Brahmacharya does not mean the mere control of food. The real brahmacharya is the control of all the sense-organs. Unless one can do that, the realization of divine bliss is a far cry. Is it possible to get the bliss of Brahman unless one can forsake the pleasures of this trifling body? You are in the householder’s stage of life. The Master has made the path of God-realization easy for householder’s. He used to say that after the birth of two or three children, a virtuous couple should live like brother and sister; they should forget their physical relationship, and talk about God, as though they were both servants of God.
‘Life is not meant for the pleasure of the body. Realization of God alone is the goal of life. Now that you have attained this rare human birth, do not allow your life to be spent in vain. Realize the nature of the Self. The Master is your inmost Self ; try to realize him. He is not just a man three and a half cubits in length ; he is God Himself; he is the very Self of all creatures. Once you can realize him, your worldly bondage will be cut asunder for ever; you will not have to undergo the round of birth and death any more. The Gita says : “That is My supreme abode, going whither they return not.” Realize that supreme Being; and then you will be free from this delusion of birth and death, my child. Then only will you attain the highest state. It is only by realizing Him that one gets rid of all passions and desires, attains fullness, and becomes the Self Itself. “Having obtained which, a man regards no other acquisition as superior to that.”’
We commend the steadiness of the Sthithaprajna that Lord Krishna spoke of, above. We commend taking time, turning the smartphone off, we commend taking time daily – as early as possible in one’s daily schedule – for sacred reading. For Seekers of God is a book that will feed the mind, body and spirit – it will stir the soul with sacred aspirations.
Title: For Seekers of God
Subtitle: Spiritual Talks of Mahapurush Swami Shivanand
Publisher: Advaita Ashrama
Type: paperback, 312pp, glossary, INR 95
translators: Swami Vividishananda, Swami Gambhirananda
Print: 11th Reprint, May 2013
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