Puneet Shroff, M.D.
Ganges (Michigan) holds a special meaning to me and my family dating back to the 1970's and beyond. As the son of immigrant parents who had come from India in the 1960's and 1970's, I did not realize at the time the home away home and refuge it became for them and ultimately me as a child growing up outside of Chicago. More importantly perhaps, I did not realize the foundation it would set for me personally on my spiritual journey as a "North Star," as I know it did for countless others across the US and Canada.
Ganges is a place like no other. Only three hours from the bustling and sprawling city of Chicago, the drive to Ganges was often a spiritual rite of passage in and of itself. Often listening to spiritual bhajans or lectures, we would restlessly settle into the back seat of our car as my father began the voyage towards Ganges. As we passed the bend of Indiana into Michigan a calm would come over us until we were off the highway and on the idyllic road that led into the entrance of the monastery. To this day, that initial entry into the monastery to take the blessings of Maharaj in the shrine remains a gentle stroke of the divine and a cloak of the Mother's love and refuge.
We were already familiar with the Ramakrishna order through the auspices of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, a giant by history and stature in its historic location of Hyde Park, but essentially through the auspices of Swami Bhashananda. One of the other Swamis, Swami Kalikananda had become a staple on the Northern suburbs of Chicago through the Indian Cultural Association. He and his booming voice could always tell what you were thinking even if you didn't quite understand it yourself. In the same vein, Ganges, Michigan is the yin to the yang of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago. It was a "retreat" center but in fact much more than that; it is the place that sadhana and shraddha intersect as the foundation and depth for a blossoming spiritual practice.
As a young boy, I was frequently torn between the spiritual inquiry that was to happen while visiting Ganges in the youth camps and the boisterous atmosphere of being among a new group of school-age friends. Yet, invariably divinity always conquered. I became keen, and then obsessed, to rise early for Morning Arati and say the words of the Sanyasi while surrounded by all the Swami's before dawn. And even as a boy, I would often fall asleep despite my best attempts to the "Khandana Bhava" as what I have now understood as a child who falls asleep because his Mother has lulled him to sleep. I was so attached to the perfect image of the Gods on display that I was frequently jealous when I was not awarded the Pujari responsibilities for the children's own daily prayer ceremony. As I became older, I discovered the library above the shrine where I would read countless stories and books. This boyhood adventure effectively served its purpose: developing spiritual inquiry and growth, particularly as an American born Indian Hindu where I was no longer afraid to understand my faith and instead ready to embrace it.
While these are my simple and childhood memories of Ganges, this is not the end of the story. There are the lectures and retreats that I slowly grew into listening in on and then participating in. These have continued and inspired many from new immigrants to now entrenched Indian Americans and Americans from all walks who desperately and rightfully seek this knowledge. I also came to understand the role of an Ashram from the tireless volunteers in the kitchen to the importance of a functioning and supporting farm and upkeep of the property. Finally, I came to greatly appreciate the Women's Center and their role in the story of Vedanta and the Sarada Matt as integral for equal representation of women in our religion and certainly in the image of God.
We must support the Ganges center now and for the future of Vedanta, Hindu philosophy and discourse. As East moves West through the acceptance of Indian culture and spirituality including yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, the Ganges Center remains like the river of whose name it bears and similarly is the perpetual flow of ideas and faith to unify our common human thread and serve its purpose in understanding the perpetual Maya seen in this world. May it continue to serve this purpose for those of all of all faiths and for all times.