Basking Ridge, New Jersey
I grew up in Pune, India. When I was growing up there was no official center of Sri Ramakrishna Math and Mission. I believe, the official center was established around 1984 on the land donated by a long- time devotee. There was a branch of Sri Sarada Math about one km from this location, but I did not know anything about Sri Sarada Math then.
I was an observant child and sensitive to emotions, circumstances, events unfolding around me. Although at the bottom of my heart I never really doubted existence of God, it was pettiness and cruelty of people who practiced so called religion, demanded that I negate His existence. How people who engaged in daily worship and austerities could intentionally hurt and abuse not only their fellow human beings but also their loved ones? People who professed to love god were being dishonest and cruel. People committed atrocities in the name of religion and God. If God really did exist then He and His creation perplexed me. ‘Bad things happening to good people’- their suffering, poverty, oppression, diseases, and deaths made me wonder about life and its meaning. Was there a grand plan behind this existence? I wondered if we all were actors playing under this Omniscient Director and having no control over our lives.
We listened to mythological stories and epics, which were exotic and thrilling. However, many a question remained unanswered. Most stories defied any logic. Our school syllabus couldn’t answer how Sri Ganesh had elephant’s head, goddesses sported eight hands and river Ganges flew from Lord Shiva’s locks. All this seemed improbable and figment of some poet or writer’s fertile imagination. I was not to be taken in by such mythological figures and believe they were gods. I wanted a God who was just like me – with normal human form, with compassionate heart striving to alleviate pain and ignorance of humanity. While numerous gods, goddesses, saints and incarnations leaped out of number of books and temples, I still had not found one God I was looking for. He would make sense of the chaotic world in a language that appealed to me. He would evoke eternal faith and devotion. He would give knowledge and snuff ignorance. I was skeptical of band of new gurus and swamis who seemed to live life that did not reflect ideals of true renunciation and knowledge. I wanted nothing to do with them.
In 1978-79, when I was about 13 years old during the summer holidays, I came across Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga and Raj Yoga. The fiery affirmation of potential divinity of human beings enraptured me completely. I repeatedly read Raj Yoga. I was so consumed with inspirational message of Swamiji that it alarmed my mother. I wanted to find out more about Swamiji. So, it was suggested that I wait and finish my education and then contact Swami’s organization! I continued reading Swamiji. I do not know at the age of 12 or 13 what really I understood but the ways of the Divine are such that when one longs sincerely for higher values, the Divine chooses to respond.
I came across a news article in the local newspaper about Sri Ramakrishna Math branch opening up in our city, Pune, Maharashtra, India around 1986 or around that time. Our home was within 10-15 minutes of walking distance from the Math (Center). In India, the centers are not called Vedanta Centers but they are called Math. They conduct social, educational and spiritual programs for the local communities.
I first came to Sri Ramakrishna Math, Pune, India in 1988. I met Late Swami Bhumanandaji who was the in-charge Swami. He sent me to Sri Sarada Math where the late Pravrajika Yogapranaji kindly received me. I started to spend time at Sri Sarada Math and attending evening vesper service at Ramakrishna Math almost every day. I was initiated by Swami Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj. Over the years I was fortunate to have received much love, support and guidance from many of the swamis and nuns. Their immense affection and blessings have and continue to sustain me.
I have been associated with Sri Ramakrishna Mission and Sri Sarada Math since 1988. I came to the US in 1992 and I have been associated with various Swamis and nuns of different Vedanta Centers around the US.
The teachings of Sri Ramakrishna offer rational, logical explanation to the world we live in as well as show the method how to live in it. Swamiji preached the method through Rajyoga, Karmayoga, Dynanyoga and Bhaktiyoga. All four paths woven together to reach one’s potential and purpose in life. Depending on one’s inherent inclinations, temperament, and interest one can choose the path. If one is initiated in the Ramakrishna tradition, one is fortunate to be guided by genuine teacher in the Order.
The genuine renunciation of the monks and the nuns of the Order, their adherence to the values and rules laid down by the Order validate the trust and affection the devotees feel for the Order. One can trust and appreciate the honesty and integrity of the teachings and lives lived by the monks and nuns.
One needs genuine, authentic role models when one is aspiring to live higher ideals, walking the path of spirituality. The monks and nuns of the Ramakrishna Order and Sri Sarada Math exemplify the ideals of renunciation and service. When one spends time with the monks and nuns one begins to learn Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother’s message of practical Vedanta. Every aspect of Their lives from daily spiritual practice routine to sweeping the floor and keeping the broom in its rightful place shows how the highest and the most mundane action is spiritualized. For an ordinary householder, the daily lives of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, all the direct disciples as well as the generations of monks and nuns who follow them are a textbook on how to live in the world. The path and means are available for every individual aspirant to perform spiritual practices that suit his and her own inclinations, aspirations, and place in life. The devotees are inspired to emulate the teachings and lives lived by the Holy Trinity, the Direct Disciples and many devotees. The message of unity in diversity, renunciation, a yearning for God realization, service and surrender to the Divine resonate with anyone who has sincere longing to live a pure, god-centered life.
The online programs and courses conducted by the Vedanta Centers across the US are immensely helpful to remain focused. They offer constant inspiration imparting enthusiasm to practice. Also, these lectures and the vast literature offer “Sadhusang” and “Satsang’. The online lectures and classes are a spiritual lifeline that keeps us connected to our Spiritual family.