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July 2022

All spiritual practices are to help us accomplish steady equipoise for meditation.

What is the greatest goal of life?
Firm abidance in the Self.

Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi says:
हृत्स्थले मन:स्वस्थता क्रिया भक्तियोगबोधाश्च निश्चितम् ॥
(The purpose of all spiritual practices – Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Jnana Yoga – is to abide in the Self.)

In the language of devotion, abidance in the Self means remembrance of the Lord.
Hence Bhagavatham says: 
एतावत् साङ्ख्ययोगाभ्यां स्वधर्मपरिनिष्ठया । जन्मलाभ: परं पुंसां अन्ते नारायणस्मृति: ॥
(The purpose of all Yogas – be it Jnana, Karma or any other Yoga is this – remembrance of the Lord at the time of death. This is the greatest attainment in human life.)

Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi, and the man behind the Bhoodan Movement, considered his mother as his role model. Here is what he says about his mother:

There is nothing to equal the part my mother played in shaping my mind. I have spent time in the company of many good men, and I have read the books of many great ones, filled with the wisdom of experience. But if I were to put all that in one pan of the scales, and in the other what I learned from my mother of practical devotion, that second pan would carry the greater weight of value.

My mother was a great devotee. She would serve everyone in the house with their food, and finish all her other household work, and then before eating her own meal she would seat herself before the Lord and carry out the ritual of worship, offering the lights and flowers in the customary way, just like everyone else. But the devotion in her heart was revealed when she made her obeisance to the Lord at the end of the puja. Bowing before Lord she would grasp both her ears and pray aloud:

“O Lord of this boundless universe, forgive me my faults,” while tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

Such tears are not produced at will. They can come only from a heart overflowing with devotion. Of course, it is common for us ordinary folk to shed tears on special occasions, but I have watched her tears flowing every day, at the ordinary daily puja, in a way impossible without a heart filled with devotion. Of all my treasured memories of my mother, this is the most precious.

Mother was an ordinary housewife, busy all day long with her work, but her mind dwelt continually on the Lord. She was in the world, but the world was neither in her mind nor on her lips, and we never heard her utter a harsh word. From the moment she rose in the morning she would be repeating the Name; as she sat grinding the grain she would sing hymns to the Lord. All her songs were songs of worship, and she sang them with wonderful love and devotion. She had a very sweet voice, and she would become completely absorbed in her singing.

I said to her once: “Mother, you must sing a new song every day. It won’t do to have yesterday’s song today or today’s song tomorrow!” So for six months, she sang a new song for me every day, so many did she know. She was from Karnataka where her family still lived, and she knew Kannada songs also, besides Marathi.

Whatever mother was doing, whether bathing or cooking, she would be inwardly absorbed in some devotional chorus or other, so much so that one of the dishes occasionally got salted twice over. She would never eat until everyone else had finished and she had completed her puja. I was usually the first to sit down for the meal, but I paid very little attention to the food. I simply ate whatever was set before me and then went off. Then my father would come and say that there was too much salt in the vegetables.
In the evening mother would tackle me: “Why didn’t you tell me that the vegetables were over-salted?”
“Why didn’t you taste them and find out for yourself?” I would reply.
But that would never have seemed right to her. How could she possibly taste food until she had finished her worship and made her offerings!

Every evening mother would set the milk for curd, invoking the Lord as she did so.
“Where was the need,” I once asked her, “to bring God into the business? This is pure science!”
“Look, my son,” she answered, “of course, we on our part do everything we can, but all the same the curd will only set well by God’s grace.” She knew that there is a place for both human effort and Divine Grace.

Mother insisted, when I was a child, that I must water the tulsi (basil) plant every day. One day after my bath I came straight to the kitchen and sat down for my meal.
“Have you watered the tulsi?” asked Mother.
“No,” I said.
“Then go and do it now. I will only give you your food when it’s done.”
That was her lasting gift to me. She gave me everything – milk to drink, food to eat, and stayed up night after night to care for me when I was sick; but this training in right human conduct was the greatest gift of all.

There was a jackfruit tree in our courtyard at Gagode. I was only a small child then, and as soon as I saw a fruit beginning to grow I would start asking when I could eat it. When at last it was ripe, my mother would cut it down and fill a lot of leaf-cups with segments of the fruit. Then she told me to take these as gifts to every house in the neighbourhood. When they had all been distributed she would seat me at her side and give me some of the sweet segments to eat.
“Vinya,” she would say, “we must first give, and afterwards eat.”
She was teaching me some of the deepest truths of philosophy, but she made it into a little rhyme: Giving is God-like, hoarding is hell.
This teaching of hers made such an impression on me that without it, I must admit, I might never have had the inspiration to start the Bhoodan Movement.

If any of our women neighbours fell ill, mother would go to the house and cook for the family. At such times she would first finish the cooking for our own household and then go to the other house.
“That’s selfish, mother,” I said one day. “You take care of your own children and your own home first, and the other family comes second!”
Mother began to laugh. “That is not true.” She said, “Our food is cooked too soon, so it gets cold. I want those people to have their food fresh and hot, so I go there and cook it at the proper time. That’s not selfish, it’s unselfish!”

When I was little I was afraid of ghosts. Mother explained to me that ghosts would never harass the devotees of God. “But if you feel frightened just take a lantern with you and go on repeating the name of God. Whatever ghosts happen to be there will soon run away.”

If a beggar came to our door mother would never allow him to go away empty-handed. One day a very sturdy-looking beggar came, and my mother gave him alms. I protested. “Mother,” I said, “that man looks perfectly fit. To give to such people is to encourage laziness. Does not the Gita tell us to do charity at the right place at the right time to a worthy person?”
Mother listened, and then said very quietly: “Vinya, who are we to judge who is worthy and who is unworthy! All we can do is to regard everyone who comes to the door as God, and offer what is in our power. Who am I to judge him?”
To this argument of my mother’s, I have not to this day been able to find a convincing reply.

My father often had a needy student living with us in the house. When cold food was left over from a previous meal, mother would eat it herself, and if there was too much for her she would serve some to me. For the student, however, she always served fresh hot food. This went on day after day, and finally, I spoke to her about it.

“Mother,” I said, “you tell us that we ought to regard everyone as equal, but you are still making distinctions yourself. You never give that boy cold food; you always give it to me. You are not treating us as equals, are you?”

Mother answered at once: “Yes, you are right. I do treat you differently from other people. I am attached to you; I am partial to you, because I still look upon you as my son, whereas I look upon that other boy as God in human form. When I can see you too in that way, these distinctions will disappear.”

There is a custom of setting aside a small portion of food at every meal as an offering to God. One day I omitted to do this, and my mother asked if I had forgotten.
“No,” I said, “I have not forgotten, but I’ve been thinking. Five of these portions make about a quarter tola (1 tola=12 grams) of rice, so that in a month of thirty days it adds up to about seven tolas. There are about thirty million Brahmins in India, and that means that in the course of a year about thirty million seers (1 seer=1.25 Kg) of rice go to waste. It’s not right to throw away all that rice when there are so many poor people in the country.”

“All right,” mother replied. “You are a learned fellow and I’ve no doubt your calculations are correct. But my way of reckoning is different. If you put that scrap of rice by the side of your plate, the flies sit on that and not on the food that you are eating. The flies get something to eat. It’s a service to other living creatures.”
I often reflected on the meaning of what she said.

One day I was idly swinging a stick, striking the wooden columns of the veranda. Mother stopped me. “Why are you doing that?” she asked. “They are an image of God, why do you hurt them?”
I stopped at once. In India, the feeling that even a wooden pillar should not be needlessly hurt is in the very air we breathe. This reverence for all the creatures of God is something my mother taught me from my earliest childhood.
As a child, I was often sick and under medical treatment. When my mother gave me the medicine she used to make me recite a Sanskrit verse, and one day I asked her what it meant. She said: “It means, look upon the doctor as God, and upon his medicine as Ganges water.”
“Might it not equally well mean that God is the true healer and Ganges water the true medicine?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “that is also a correct interpretation, but one has to be fit for it; for the present, you had better look upon the doctor as God.”
Two alternative lines of thought, and truth in both of them.

Mother was not well-read but she was familiar with the stories of the saints in such books as Bhakti-Vijay. One day I commented, “Saints like these were to be found only in ancient times; there were none such today.”
Mother replied, “Such saints are alive even in our times, but we do not know about them. If there were no saintly spirits to give the world the strength of their austerities, how could it survive?”
That was her faith, and on the basis of that faith, she taught me things that have been of value to me throughout my life.

All her three sons became brahmacharis. “Vinya,” she would say, “a virtuous life as a householder brings salvation to one generation, but the life of brahmacharya at its highest brings salvation to forty-two generations.”
When she was thirty-six years old, at her earnest desire, she and my father took a vow of celibacy, as father himself told me after she had died.

Mother died at the age of forty-two, on 14 October 1915, at the same age as Tukaram, whose devotional hymns she so often read. I was with her when she died, and it seemed to me that she was in great peace.
I had asked her, “Do you feel at peace?”
“Completely at peace,” she had replied. “For one thing, you are grown up, and I have no anxiety either about you or about your brothers, for you will look after them. For another thing, I had the vision of the Lord. As I am leaving the body I feel His constant presence and I feel completely fulfilled.”

Some of my mother’s words have had such an influence on me that I have included them in my book Vichar Pothi (Random Reflections):
“Vinya, don’t ask for big helpings. Remember, small is sweet, much is mischief.”
“Give ear to nothing other than the words of the wise, of God, and of saints.”

O, mother, you have given me what no one else has given. I need no other proof of the immortality of the soul. To this day you are with me; you are an abiding part of my life…

The above are the words of Acharya Vinoba Bhave regarding his mother.

Her life is the greatest proof that performance of even worldly duties with God-centeredness can become an ideal spiritual practice and can lift us to the highest meditation and God-realisation. 

O    M         T    A    T         S    A    T

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June 2022

When the mind is calm, serene and pure, it is contemplative. This contemplation gives birth to Rama in you, the Reality.  – Chinmaya

Treta Yuga was in progress. In those days, the caste system was strictly followed in society. In the forest of Dandakaranya, the chanting of the Veda mantras reverberated the Ashrams and the clouds of smoke arising from the sacrificial fires enveloped the sky. A lady born to a low caste lived all alone in that forest. Her name was Shabari.

Seeing the ascetics engaged in Vedic rituals, Shabari longed to serve them. She firmly believed that serving these mahatmas was a sure way to bless oneself. But she was also scared that the service of a low-born woman would not be acceptable for these ascetics.

Hence she decided to serve them without their knowledge. She made a small hut for herself not far from the Ashrams of the Rishis. She would get up early in the morning and sweep and clean the path in the jungle and the Ashram premises. She would collect the dry sticks and neatly arrange them in bundles near the sacrificial place.

Every day, early in the morning, when the ascetics saw cleanliness everywhere and the sacrificial wood arranged neatly for their ritual, they were amazed. Remaining awake during the wee hours, they finally caught Shabari coming to clean the Ashram. She was taken to Matanga Rishi.

As Shabari trembled in fear, Matanga Rishi asked, “Who are you? Why do you do this?”
Shabari said: “O Lord! My name is Shabari. As I am well aware that, being born in a low caste, I am unfit for any other service to the mahatmas like you, I have taken up this task. It is only to gain your grace and blessings that I do this. Please forgive my transgression.”

Seeing her humility, faith and devotion, Matanga Muni’s heart melted in compassion. He said to her: “Noble lady, you have a pure heart. You may stay here in the Ashram without any fear. Chant the name of the Lord uninterruptedly and make your service itself a worship of the Lord.”
Thus Shabari stayed in the ashram serving all in constant remembrance of the Lord.

Many of the ascetics did not like this. They made it clear to Matanga Rishi, “You have given place for a low caste woman. Hence we don’t want to have any relationship with this Ashram.”
Matanga Rishi did not pay any attention to these criticisms. On the other hand, seeing the surrender and humility of Shabari, he wholeheartedly encouraged and guided her in her spiritual sadhana.

Many years passed by. Matanga Rishi, who had by then grown very old, was on his death bed. When he decided to leave the body, his disciples gathered around him. Shabari was inconsolable. With tear-filled eyes, she said: “O Lord! I can’t even think of staying in this world without you. Please allow me to come with you.”

The compassionate Rishi said: “Shabari, give up this sorrow and insistence. The Supreme Lord, the Self of all beings, has taken Avatar as Shree Ramchandraji in Ayodhya and He is at present in Chitrakoot. He is the Lord Himself in human form. Chant His name and wait for Him. He will bless you with the ultimate State of liberation.”

Thus blessing Shabari, Matanga Rishi left his body. Shabari spent her time constantly chanting the name of the Lord as instructed by her Guru. As the days passed by, her longing to meet the Lord became very intense. She thought of nothing but the Lord alone. The mind was so much occupied with the Lord that even the slightest sound, say, the sound of a dry leaf falling from a tree, was enough for her to rush out of her hut. She would ask the creepers and the trees, the plants, the birds and the animals: “Have any of you seen my Lord, Shree Rama? Is He on the way? When will my eyes be blessed with His vision?”

She would sweep the path every day fearing that the Lord should not hurt His lotus feet due to stones and thorns.

She would plaster the house and the surroundings with cow dung to welcome the Lord in the best possible way. She would separate the best fruits – the juicy, sweet, and the fresh ones – and would keep them aside for the Lord.

One day, some children came running to her hut and shouted in joy: “Amma! Lord Rama is coming!”
Shabari could not believe her ears! She ran to bring water from the nearby river. In hurry, she unknowingly touched an ascetic who was returning from the river after his bath. The ascetic fumed in anger. He retorted: “Untouchable one! How dare you defile us! May you be ruined!”

But Shabari was hardly aware of what was happening around her. She took water from the river in her pot and returned in haste.
Cursing the lady all along, the ascetic returned to the river to purify himself with a second bath. As soon as he entered the river, it became filled with worms and blood-red in colour.

Here, to everyone’s surprise, the Lord went straight to the hut of Shabari. While walking, the Lord said to Lakshmana, “Brother, I am being pulled towards this direction by an unknown force. I have no control over myself!”
The ascetics who were proud of their intense austerities and who were expecting the Lord to enter their Ashrams first were disappointed by this gesture of the Lord.

Seeing the Lord coming to her hut, Shabari could not contain her joy. She danced and sang in ecstasy. She was so immersed in her dance that she was not even aware that her upper garment had fallen in the process. The Lord was touched seeing her devotion.

After some time, Lakshmana interrupted and said: “Shabari! The Lord is standing for such a long time and you are going on dancing! Won’t you receive the Lord, make Him sit and serve Him?”

Shabari came back to her senses. She fell at His feet and made the Lord sit on a beautiful seat. Then she washed their feet with great devotion and sprinkled that water on herself. She then worshipped the Lord according to the scriptural injunctions, offering sweet-smelling flowers at His feet.
Then she offered the choicest nectar-like fruits to the Lord.

In Padma Purana Bhagavan Veda Vyasa writes:
फलानि च सुपक्वानि मूलानि मधुराणि च । स्वयमास्वाद्य माधुर्यं परीक्ष्य परिभक्ष्य च ॥
पश्चान्निवेदयामास राघवाभ्यां दृढव्रता । फलान्यास्वाद्य काकुस्थ: तस्यै मुक्तिं परां ददौ॥

Shabari tasted the ripe sweet fruits herself and gave the best ones to the Lord. The Lord enjoyed eating those fruits and blessed her with liberation.

With folded palms, looking at the Lord with extreme devotion, Shabari said: “O Lord! I am an ignorant and a low-born woman. I have not the qualification to be the servant of Your servants at the hundredth remove. What then to speak of my qualification to serve You! I am not even able to praise You with a hymn. What am I to do?”

The Lord said: “O noble lady! Listen to Me. I only believe in one relationship – the relationship of love. The one who loves Me, I am his, and he is Mine. A person may have all these – intelligence, wealth, beauty, virtues, high caste and noble family – but if he does not have devotion, then he is like the clouds without water.”

यज्ञदानतपोभिर्वा वेदाध्ययनकर्मभि: । नैव द्रष्टुमहं शक्यो मद्भक्तिविमुखै: सदा ॥
“Through rituals, charity, austerity and the study of the scriptures, a person cannot attain Me if he does not have devotion for Me.”

The Lord said: “Now I will tell you the nine steps through which devotion can be developed towards Me.
“The first and foremost of these is the association with holy men. The second is the recital of accounts of Me. The third is the singing of My glories. The fourth is the hearing and exposition of My teachings. The fifth is the sincere and devoted service of the teacher seeing Me in him. The sixth is the cultivation of noble virtues, the control of the inner senses, the observance of external rules of purity and devoted ceremonial worship of Me. The seventh, chanting My name devotedly. The eight, serving all, seeing My presence in all beings. The ninth, the contemplation upon My nature as one’s own Self.”

The Lord continued: “Whoever is endowed with these disciplines, whether it be woman, man or brute creation, that person will have Bhakti characterised by intense love. When such Bhakti is generated, the truth about My nature will dawn upon him. Realising Me in that way, as one’s own Self, one attains Mukti in this very birth. Shabari, you have practised all these disciplines perfectly. Hence you are the dearest to Me.”

The ascetics who had gathered there were astonished by these words of praise of the Lord for Shabari. They could not believe that this low-born untouchable ignorant woman had reached that highest state which the celestials and ascetics could only dream about.

Someone complained: “O Lord! The water in the river has become bloody in colour and has been infested with worms. Please bless us.”

Lakshmana laughed and said:
मातङ्गमुनिविद्वेषात् रामभक्तावमानत: । जलमेतादृशं जातं भवतामभिमानत: ॥
“You have hatred feelings towards the great Rishi Matanga, you have insulted a great devotee like Shabari and you have the ego of knowledge. Because of all these reasons, the river has become polluted. This noble lady Shabari alone can bring the river back to its pure state.”

And lo! When Shabari touched the river water, it became pure as before! The ascetics sincerely apologised for all their misdeeds and recognising the divinity of Shabari, prostrated to her.

In total humility, Shabari said: “O Lord, You have become one with me as my own Self. Now I find Your presence alone in me. Please allow me to cast off this old dilapidated body, as the purpose of this instrument has been served.”

With the permission of the Lord, Shabari burnt her body into ashes in the fire of Yoga as the ascetics watched on with disbelief and wonderment.


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May 2022

When we strive to identify with our real nature, that is Vaikuntham – Chinmaya

A very common question asked by the seekers is:
“In the Upanishads, the description of the highest state is Sat-Chit-Ananda which is the essential nature of our own Self. But in the Puranas, it is mentioned that Vaikuntha is the highest state to be reached. How can we reconcile the two contradicting statements?”

To answer this question, we have to understand the helpless state of Veda Vyasa who had written these Puranas.
Vyasacharya had a very difficult task at hand. His aim was to attract everyone to spirituality in some way or the other. Hence he had to write a scripture that would be appealing to all cross-sections of people in the society – the evolved and the unevolved… the beginners and the advanced in spirituality… the tamasic, rajasic and the sattvic… the cultured and the uncultured… children, youth and the old… men and women… the uneducated and the scholarly… the emotional and the intellectual… the aarta, arthaarthee bhaktas and the jijnaasu and jnani bhaktas… the high caste and the low caste… the orthodox and the modern…
It is just impossible to satisfy all classes of people of all generations at the same time.
But Veda Vyasa achieved the impossible. How? Through the Puranas.

Vyasacharya, the master psychologist knew that the one way to grab the attention of everyone – the young or the old, the educated or the illiterate, the ignorant or the wise, the materialist or the spiritualist – is to tell soul-captivating stories. Hence, Vyasacharya used this technique in the Puranas to explain the highest philosophies of life.

The unevolved and the immature ones rejoiced in the mind-blowing divine stories of the Lord, while the advanced seekers who were in search of answers to serious questions of life, who were the seekers of Reality, found the Vedantic message hidden in it. Everyone found their needs fulfilled in Puranas, thus making these Puranas popular among all sections of people at all times.

Here is a sample of the storytelling of Vyasacharya. This story comes in the second canto of Srimad Bhagavatham.

Brahma, the first of all beings, found himself all alone, seated in a lotus, in the infinite Cosmic Waters. Utterly confused, not knowing who he is, where he is, and what his purpose in life is, he tried to solve the riddle of his life. He tried to find the source of the lotus but in vain. At last, totally dejected and depressed, he sat not knowing what to do. He then heard a thundering divine voice, “Tapa, tapa” – which meant “Perform austerity.”

Brahma sat for meditation for 1000 divine years and attained great purity and concentration of mind following this advice. In such a prepared mind, he gained the vision of the Lord. The Lord came in the shankha-chakra-gadaa-padma form and took him to Vaikuntha.

Vaikuntha is described in the Puranas as the abode of Lord Mahavishnu. In this abode, the three gunas – rajas, tamas, and sattva – do not operate. This abode is untouched by Maya. All the denizens of that realm are blue in colour, radiant, endowed with eyes like lotus petals, dressed in yellow robes, extremely attractive and handsome, having four arms, bedecked with brilliant gem-studded necklaces, ear-rings, diadems and wreaths.

There, Mahalakshmi, possessed of unimaginable beauty, adores the feet of the Lord with rare and invaluable ingredients. The abode is described as a place abundant in all luxuries, riches, and comforts. There the Lord is seated and served by His attendants. He is ever ready to bless the devotees.

The Lord took Brahma to Vaikuntha and made clear to him his purpose in life. The Lord said, “My dear son, you are going to be the Brahma of the next creation. So, therefore, now that you have to engage yourself in this activity, you will need the most important knowledge, the Self-knowledge. Without this knowledge, if you enter into this activity of creation, you will bind yourself with ahankara and mamakara.

“When you create, you will get attached to the creation and you will say ‘it is my creation.’ This is mamakara. After creation, you will have the arrogance and pride that ‘I did the creation.’ This is called ahankara. The sense of doership and the sense of possessiveness – these are the two major dangers of this world. These two will lead you to repeated births and deaths, not allowing you to get liberated. Hence Self-knowledge is a must.”

The Lord’s teaching to Brahma is for all of us also, because our condition is also not different from Brahma. Just like Brahma, we also don’t know who we are, where we have come from, and what our purpose in life is. Like Brahma, we are also given certain responsibilities in life. Action being a double-edged weapon, it can bind us or liberate us. Hence like Brahma, we are also faced with the threat of ahankara, mamakara, and transmigration. Hence the knowledge of the Self is equally useful to all of us.

The Lord gave this knowledge of the Self in just 4 verses. These verses are famously known as Chatushloki Bhagavatham.

The blessed Lord said:
अहमेवासमेवाग्रे नान्यत् यत् सदसत् परम् । पश्चादहं यदेतच्च योऽवशिष्येत सोऽस्म्यहम् ||2.9.32||
“I am that which is beyond cause and effect. In the beginning, before creation, I alone was. During the existence of creation also I alone am. After the dissolution of creation also I alone will be.
In short, there is nothing other than Me.”

Brahma: “Lord, if You alone exists, then why am I seeing this creation?”

The Lord answers:
ऋतेऽर्थं यत् प्रतीयेत न प्रतीयेत चात्मनि । तद्विद्यात् आत्मनो मायां यथाऽऽभासो यथा तम:||2.9.33||
“You see this world due to My Maya. This Maya has two powers:
1. Maya projects that which is not there (vikshepa). For example, like the reflection in the mirror. We see things and beings in the mirror, but they don’t really exist.
2. Maya covers that which exists (aavarana). For example, like darkness. In the darkness, though the things exist, they are not seen.
Maya firstly projects the illusory world and the ego as real. Secondly, it hides Me, the Self of all beings, and makes Me appear non-existent.”

Brahma: “O Lord, how to come out of this Maya, the source of all miseries, the cause of transmigration?”

The Lord answers:
यथा महान्ति भूतानि भूतेषूच्चावचेष्वनु । प्रविष्टान्यप्रविष्टानि तथा तेषु न तेष्वहम् ||2.9.34||
“When we ignore the reality and get attached to the illusion, we get caught up in Maya. An example will make it clear.
Consider the physical body. What is this body? It is nothing but the 5 elements. These 5 elements alone are the reality. Why? It is so because these 5 elements exist before the formation of the body, after the formation of the body, and after the death and destruction of the body. Hence the reality of the body is that they are 5 elements only. But instead of paying attention to reality, we get attached to the form of the body. This identification with the illusory body causes all problems in life.”

“The body exists in the 5 elements. But the 5 elements are not affected by the body’s presence or absence. So too, the whole creation exists in Me, the Supreme Self, but I am not affected by the creation.
Hence all suffering is because of Maya. Under the influence of Maya, one attaches to the illusory world and ignores Me, his real Self.”

“Hence the solution to all problems is this: pay attention to the reality. Never ignore the Self. The root cause of all suffering is Self-ignorance – ignoring the Self.”

The Lord concluded His teachings and said:
एतावद् एव जिज्ञास्यं तत्त्वजिज्ञासुनाऽऽत्मन: । अन्वयव्यतिरेकाभ्यां यत्स्यात् सर्वत्र सर्वदा ||2.9.35||
“The Supreme Self is the support and substratum of everything in this world. In its presence, everything is present. In its absence, everything is absent. The illusions come and go, but the reality always exists everywhere, at all times. Hence for a sincere seeker of truth, the only thing to be done is to enquire into the nature of the Self.”

एतन्मतं समातिष्ठ परमेण समाधिना । भवान् कल्पविकल्पेषु न विमुह्यति कर्हिचित् ||2.9.36||
“This is the one thing to be practised with supreme care and concentration – abidance in the Self. Remember Me, your own Self, the ultimate Reality, the only existing thing in this world. If you do this then you will never get deluded.”

From the above discussion, it is clear what Vaikuntha is. It is not some outer place to travel and reach. Vaikuntha is our own true Self. We reach there by knowing the Self, by abiding in the Self.

Q= If this is true, then why did Vyasacharya describe Vaikuntha as a beautiful world?
A= It is only for the uninvolved and the immature ones who don’t have the mental purity and intellectual subtlety to understand the Self.

Q= Why can’t we consider Vaikuntha as a divine world?
A=If we consider Vaikuntha as a world to reach in outer space, we will have many logical fallacies. Some of them are mentioned here.

1. If karma takes us to Vaikuntha, then return from Vaikuntha is guaranteed because every action can give only a limited result, says Bhagavan Shankaracharya. Hence liberation can never become permanent. We will have to come back from Vaikuntha once the Punya is exhausted. If liberation is impermanent, then that is no liberation at all.

2. If we assume that Vishnu is different from us, then we can never love Vishnu infinitely and unconditionally because infinite conditional love is possible only towards the Self.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says:
आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति | Everything is dear to us only because of the love for the Self.
Since we love the Self infinitely and unconditionally, the love for the Lord can become infinite and unconditional only if the Lord is our own Self.

3. If we exist as individual entities in Vaikuntha, then we remain eternally limited and conditioned by our subtle and causal bodies.

4. Spatial existence of Vaikuntha cannot be accepted because time and space are illusions projected by Maya, experienced in the illusory mind.

Hence due to all these reasons, Vaikuntha cannot be an external world. It has to be the Self alone, as rightly pointed out in the quote, as unambiguously experienced by the seekers of all times.


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April 2022

It is the Lord Himself who gives His faithful devotee the experience of His absolute, unchanging Truth.

– Chinmaya

Who is a faithful devotee?
The one who has total faith in the doings of the Lord is called a faithful devotee. Such a devotee surrenders unto the will of the Lord without questioning, without complaining.

The Lord in turn takes care of everything of such a devotee – whether worldly botheration or spiritual liberation.

This is the story of Jayadeva, famous for his work Gita Govindam.

Jayadeva was born in the 12th century in Bengal in a village called Kendubilva. He lost his parents even when he was a child. He earned his livelihood by singing the glories of the Lord going house to house.

Niranjan, a Brahmin in his village, decided to deceive this poor boy. He made a false document, approached Jayadeva and said: “Your father had taken a huge sum of money from me. Either give me the money with interest, or sign this document so that your house and land becomes mine.”
Jayadeva signed the papers without a murmur. For him, everything happened by the will of the Lord. A vicious smile dawned on Niranjan’s face. But the smile was short-lived.

No soon than these papers were signed, Niranjan’s little girl came running to him and cried out: “Father! Hurry up! Our house is on fire!”
Even before Niranjan could digest the news and run to his house, Jayadeva ran! Anybody in Jayadeva’s place would have cursed: “He deserved it for his villainous action.” But Jayadeva’s heart was so pure that he wished for the welfare of even his enemies.

Seeing the house burning, Jayadeva entered into the house engulfed in blazing fire. And lo! The moment he walked into it, the flames disappeared.
Niranjan at once understood the greatness of Jayadeva. He tore off the documents and with tears running down his cheeks, he fell prostrate before Jayadeva and said: “Please forgive me. I have wilfully cheated you by being greedy. You saved my house. You are indeed a divine soul protected by Lord Himself! Please bless me!”
This incident transformed Niranjan and he spent his remaining life in spiritual pursuits.

This miraculous incident melted the heart of Jayadeva and he wept thinking how much the Lord loves His devotees. He decided to go to Puri Jagannath temple along with his brahmin friend Parashara and live a sannyasi’s life.

Without any money, with the Lord in his heart and the name of the Lord on his lips, he kept on walking. It was mid-summer. The heat was unbearable and there was no trace of water in the vicinity. Jayadeva, unable to bear the heat, fainted and fell on the way.

How can the Lord allow His beloved devotee to perish! A cowherd boy saw Jayadeva fall. He came running and offered them water and milk. He guided him and his friend to Puri. The minute they reached Puri, the boy disappeared. Till then, neither Jayadeva nor his friend could realise that the boy was none other than the Lord Himself! They searched Him everywhere, but in vain.

In Puri, Jayadeva lived the life of an ascetic. He had no permanent abode. He spent his time in prayer, meditation and chanting. He begged alms for his living.

There was a pious brahmin named Sudeva in Puri who had a daughter. The Lord came in his dream and advised him to perform his daughter’s marriage with Jayadeva.
Accordingly, Sudeva and his wife went in search of Jayadeva and found him. He told him of God’s wish. Jayadeva refused to marry since he was leading the life of a sannyasi and hence unfit for grhasthashrama. But Sudeva refused firmly and said: “It is the commandment of the Lord. Who are we to go against His orders?”
Surrendering unto the will of the Lord, Jayadeva married Padmavati and came back to his village Kendubilva.

After sometime, Jayadeva went on a pilgrimage. On his way back, a king was very much impressed with him and he forced Jayadeva to take a huge amount of money. Jayadeva tried to advise him: “O king, wealth makes a person arrogant, greedy and cruel. Hence for a seeker of God, wealth is poison.” But the King would not listen. Hence, just to please the king, Jayadeva took some money from him and proceeded back to his native.

In a lonely place, four robbers attacked Jayadeva from behind, cut off his hands and feet and threw him into a nearby well. They took away his wealth and fled.
Fortunately, there was no water in the well. Jayadeva escaped unhurt. On a stone, he comfortably sat and continued chanting the name of the Lord. Jayadeva prayed for the wellbeing of those robbers. He considered even the robbers as manifestations of Lord Himself!

After a short while, a king named Lakshmanasena of Gouda passed by that way along with his retinue. Hearing keertans from the well, he sent his servants and took Jayadeva out. The king brought him to his kingdom and treated him back to health. The king inquired about the details of the robbers. But Jayadeva refused to speak a word about them.

When Jayadeva was cured of his wounds, the king, seeing his knowledge and devotion, made him the Rajaguru of his court. After a few days, Padmavati too joined him. The king showered the couple with lots of wealth but Jayadeva took only as much as he needed to lead a simple life.

One day the king organised a grand festival in the kingdom and many beggars, guests, brahmins and sadhus were invited. The four thieves who harmed Jayadeva came in the guise of sadhus, but they were shocked to see Jayadeva on the seat of prominence. They could not believe that he was still alive.

Before they could escape, Jayadeva saw them and was very much delighted. He did not have even the least bit of ill-feeling towards them. He felt: “These people harmed me only because they were badly in need of wealth. The king is ready to shower me with money. Why not I make him donate that to these people!”
The robbers shuddered when they were called. They thought this was the end of their lives. Jayadeva introduced them to the king and said: “These people I consider them as my own. Please be charitable to them.”
The king was only happy to give them lots and lots of wealth. The thieves couldn’t believe their eyes. They were honoured and sumptuously fed. For their safe return, the king sent an officer and four soldiers for their protection en route.

While returning, the officer, out of curiosity, asked the robbers: “How is it that you are so close to a saint like Jayadeva?”
The thieves spun a wicked story against Jayadeva. They said: “‘Jayadeva and we worked under a king. We were officers there and he was our servant. For some crime of his, the king wanted us to behead him. In the forest, he pleaded for his life. So we let him go. Hence he is grateful to us.”

The minute the thieves spoke these words, the earth under their feet cracked open with a thundering noise and all four robbers were buried underneath. The officer was stunned! He went back with the treasure and narrated the story to the king. The king went to Jayadeva and informed him of the same. Jayadeva was deeply pained hearing their demise.
When the king requested to solve this mystery, Jayadeva narrated the whole story and said: “O King, I am an unlucky soul. I am responsible for their tragic death. In spite of knowing the ill effects of money, I carried it with me. It was my mistake that I created greed in them and forced them to do the sinful act. Again, I wanted them to be free from this ignoble profession of robbery. Hence I made you donate some wealth to them. I am the cause of their suffering and death. May God bless them!”

Bhagavad Geeta says: अद्वेष्टा सर्वभूतानां मैत्र: करुण एव च | = “The one who has no hatred, but who is friendly and compassionate to all beings is dearest to Me,” says the Lord.

The next moment a wonder happened. Jayadeva’s feet and hands grew and he came back to his normal physique! The king and the courtiers were wonderstruck.
Realising Jayadeva to be an embodiment of divinity and an ocean of compassion and goodness, the king became his disciple.

Jayadeva’s wife, Padmavati, a highly spiritual lady, treated her husband as God. She spent her leisure hours discussing spiritual matters with other ladies in the court. The queen too was one of her disciples.
One day, Padmavati was discussing Sati-dharma. She opined: “Whoever dies on her husband’s funeral pyre is not a great lady. A true wife breathes her last the moment she hears of her husband’s demise.” The queen felt this was impossible. She decided to test Padmavati.

One day Jayadeva had gone out with the king. Considering this as the right time, the queen came to Padmavati with a sad face, and with tears in her eyes, lamented: “ Your husband has been killed by a lion.”
The moment the queen uttered these words, Padmavati fell dead, chanting, “Krishna! Krishna!!” The queen was shocked. She became extremely repentant. The king was plunged in sorrow.
Jayadeva came to know the matter from the servant maids. He told them: “Tell the queen not to worry at all. If the news of my death caused Padmavati’s death, the news of my being alive will surely enliven her.”
He wanted his wife back alive, not because he was attached to her, but because he wanted to free the king and the queen from their sorrow and guilt which would otherwise ruin their life.

Keertan started. Jayadeva wept and prayed from the depth of his heart seeking Divine intervention. The Lord, who is the Servant of His devotees, had no other go. The prayer was heard. Padmavati woke up as if from sleep. The queen’s joy knew no bounds and everybody was thrilled at the devotion of Jayadeva and the pious nature of Padmavati.

After some time, Jayadeva came back to his village. He decided to compose Gita Govindam there. One day while he was composing it, he was stuck in the line:
स्मरगरल खण्डनं मम शिरसि मण्डनम् | He struggled in vain to compose the next line. Padmavati advised him to go for his bath and prayer. Jayadeva welcomed the idea and left for the Ganges.

But he came back in a few minutes and called: “Padma, get me the palm leaves. On the way, I got some wonderful lines, and so I came back.”
She brought the palm leaves, the ink and the pen. He completed the line as:
देहि मे पादपल्लवमुदारम् |
He made Padmavati arrange water for his bath. Then he had his bath, his prayer, and had food which was offered to the Lord as Prasad. He then dozed off comfortably on his bed.

As usual, Padmavati began to eat the remnants, but she was surprised to see Jayadeva standing before her. Jayadeva was more than surprised. He questioned her “What’s wrong with you today? Have you ever dined before offering food to the Lord or before I had my food? I have never seen such a thing before!”

Padmavati was even more shocked: “Lord! You came back halfway from your trip, completed the poem, had your bath and food, and you were relaxing inside. I am not able to understand anything!”

Jayadeva rushed to his bedroom but nobody was there. He asked Padmavati to bring the palm leaves. There was a new line not written by him. Jayadeva realised – the Lord himself had come down in his form to complete his poem!
He grabbed the food from Padmavati’s leaf against her wish and had the Prasad since it was the food left by the Lord Himself!

After this incident, Jayadeva completed Gita Govindam with renewed vigour. He believed that it was the Lord Himself who was composing these verses sitting in his heart. Hence when he sang those verses he would get immersed in devotion and would lose his body consciousness.

Jayadeva left the body in Vrindavan with his mind single-pointedly fixed upon the lotus feet of the Lord.

Even to this day, on Shankranti day, people come in lakhs to the village Kendubilva to offer their respect to Jayadeva, one of the dearest devotees of the Lord.


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March 2022

Train your mind to keep one ideal in it and work towards it – the mind becomes single-pointed. – Chinmaya

Nothing is impossible for a single-pointed mind which is inspired by a noble goal.

This is the story of Bhaktivedanta Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness).
He was born in Calcutta in 1896. His parents named him Abhay Charan and the boy was brilliant in his studies. He got his degree from Scottish Church College, a reputed institute of those times. He was actively involved in the non-cooperation movement started by Gandhiji during India’s freedom struggle.

But the turning point in his life came in 1922 when he met his spiritual master Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, a great devotee of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He told Abhay, “Educated youth like you who have an inclination towards the scriptures must take this spiritual knowledge to the West.”
Abhay, in all humility, asked, “Swamiji, but who will listen to our message? We are a foreign-dominated nation.” Swamiji said, “Dependence and independence – they are temporary. We are concerned about the eternal welfare of mankind.”

Just a fortnight before passing away, in 1936, his Guru Maharaj again wrote to him, “You must preach this gospel among people who are conversant with the English language. I know you can do it.” Those last words of his Guru moved his heart. He decided to take these words of his spiritual master as the very mission of life.

In 1958, Abhay Charan took sannyasa and retired from the active worldly life. His new name was Bhaktivedanta swami. He translated Bhagavad Geeta and Shreemad Bhagavatham to English. He tried various means to spread the knowledge of spirituality among the masses in India, but all seemed to be in vain. No one was showing interest. At last, he decided, “Indians are aping the West. We do only what the foreigners do. So I must start my work in the so-called ‘best country’. I must go to America.”
In the year 1966, he boarded the ship ‘Jaladoota’ to America. He was already 70 years of age at that time. He had only 7 dollars and a few books. Twenty-two days of sea travel made him sea-sick. He miraculously survived two severe heart attacks while travelling.

When Prabhupada reached America, he wrote in his diary:
“My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul but I do not know why You have brought me here. Most of the population here is absorbed in material life. How will I make them understand Your message? I can simply repeat Your words, and if You like, You can make my power of speaking suitable for their understanding. I have no devotion, nor do I have any knowledge but I have strong faith in the sankalpa (resolve) of my Master and in Your holy name. I have been named as Bhaktivedanta – ‘devotion with knowledge’, and now if You like, You can fulfil the real purport of Bhaktivedanta.”
And he signed – “the most unfortunate, insignificant beggar – A.C Bhaktivedanta swami.”

About his early days in America, Prabhupada described later: “The life was difficult in the initial days. I would sell my books and the revenue helped me to pay the rent and meet my expenses. But within three months, my typewriter and tape recorder were stolen. I was extremely dejected. I came to America risking my life. I was physically unfit and at the fag end of my life. Sometimes I did not know what to do and where to go. I was not used to severe cold weather. I had even decided to return back to India. But I couldn’t. Though I was alone, I never felt I was alone. I always felt the presence of my spiritual master. This kept my enthusiasm despite all difficulties.”

Prabhupada started his mission from Tompkins Square Park, New York, considered the best city from a materialistic standpoint. Those days, America was engaged in war with Vietnam. Youngsters, with no one to guide them, were getting attracted to ‘hippie culture.’ Hippies were those who would lie down on the roads naked, had illicit sex and drugs. They believed that true happiness came from total freedom. They were defiling the image of America all over the world and the Government did not know what to do with them.

Prabhupada thought, “Why not start with them?” He did something unimaginable. He decided to reform the hippies. He called all of them and started doing keertan. But they never listened to him. They ridiculed him, humiliated him, made fun of him, and disrespected him. They puffed cigarette smoke on his face. His things were stolen.

But Prabhupada was very kind and compassionate. He would feed them, and tell stories of Shreemad Bhagavatham to them. He accepted all and rejected none, in spite of all their imperfections and addictions.
One day Prabhupada asked them, “Why do you take drugs?”
They said, “We want to stay high!”
Prabhupad said, “I will give you such a drug which will keep you high forever!”

His loving, forgiving and caring nature, his soul-captivating chanting, his devotion-filled stories from Bhagavatham, his child-like innocence, his undisturbed peace – soon the hippies realised that there was a way out from all miseries of life and here was a man who demonstrated the way through his life.
The goodness of Prabhupada prevailed over them, and they started to follow his instructions on divine life and worked hard on self-reformation. They started enjoying the keertans and took active participation in it.

Just like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Prabhupad would do nagara sankeertan – taking his disciples round the cities and loudly chanting the name of the Lord with the accompaniment of musical instruments:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare |
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare ||
It was an amazing sight to see. The very same people who were addicted to drinks and drugs were now seen addicted to the name of the Lord and dancing on the streets. The curious onlookers soon joined and became a part of the Hare Krishna Movement. The newspapers carried photos and articles about this unknown swami who was working wonders with the hippies!

Seeing that the Hare Krishna Movement was gathering momentum in every city and town of America, the Government officials came to meet Swamiji and said, “Sir, we are indeed grateful to you. You have indeed made these hippies happy and cultured!”

Prabhupada made almost 10,000 disciples and the movement gained momentum day by day. He then gradually trained these disciples in the time-honoured tradition of deity worship to help them advance spiritually. He won their hearts through love and trust, through his purity and devotion. These disciples were willing to do anything for their master who gave everything to them.

These disciples, who had now tasted the inner joy of Atmic bliss, became the trusted messengers of peace and happiness, and they were sent to Europe, South Africa, Australia, Russia, India etc., to spread the Hare Krishna Movement.

Prabhupada travelled all around the world 14 times and established 108 temples in 6 continents – and that too in a matter of just 12 years of his remaining life! He had written around 10, 000 letters guiding and inspiring his disciples to continue the work of spreading the message of Geeta and Bhagavatham.

To meet the expenses of running an organisation, Prabhupada taught his disciples how to make agarbattis. In three years they had a revenue of one million dollars!
The Bhagavad Geeta was translated into 28 different languages by his disciples and almost 5.5 crore books were sold throughout the world which also significantly contributed to the fundraising. With these funds, temples were constructed.
It is worth mentioning that ISKON has 12 temples even in Pakistan where ceremonial worship happens and the Bhagavad Geeta is taught daily to the devotees.

The popularity of Hare Krishna Movement gained further momentum when George Harrison, the lead guitarist of the famous English Rock Band, the Beatles, became an ardent devotee of Prabhupada. He released a song chanting Hare Krishna mantra and donated his 70 acres of farm to ISKCON.

Thanks to the organisations like ISKCON, today Bhagavad Geeta has been made compulsory in famous universities like the University of Cambridge, because the foreigners have realised that Bhagavad Geeta is not a mere religious book, but a character-building manual absolutely necessary to bring peace and harmony in the society.

Once, Prabhupada took some of his foreign devotees to India to show them the Jagannath Puri festival. But foreigners were denied permission into the temple. Unhappy with this, Prabhupada told the priest class there, “If you don’t allow the foreign devotees to have the darshan of Lord Jagannath, I will take Lord Jagannath to the whole world!”
Today rath yatra happens all over the world in the ISKCON temples!

In 1972, ‘bhojan’ also got included in their ‘bhajan’ program. Thousands of devotees were fed on Sundays after the mahamangala arati. In one of the talks given at Stanford University, Steve Jobs, the Apple founder, makes a mention: “There was a time when I had no money. I used to go walking 7 miles to Hare Krishna Temple to have a sumptuous meal every Sunday.”
Today, ISKCON is running the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which is the world’s largest NGO run school meal program, providing mid-day meals for around 14 lakh children all over India.

To revive the ancient tradition in full richness, Prabhupada envisioned God-centred self-sufficient communities based on the principles of plain living and high thinking. The first such community began on 133 acres on the hills of West Virginia. It was named “New Vrindavana.”

Prabhupada also started a primary school in ancient Gurukula tradition in Texas to teach children, keeping in mind their spiritual growth along with academic study. Prabhupada believed that small children have a pure heart and when teachers of sterling character train these children, it makes a big impact upon the young impressionable minds.

In his final days, Prabhupada was seen making use of every moment of his life in serving others. He slept only two hours and worked for 22 hours. As writing or typing was time-consuming, he would record his talks on a tape recorder and would assign his disciples to transcribe them. Even during his morning walks, he would give lectures while walking, and his talks would be recorded by his disciples. Even on his deathbed, with his body shrunk to half its size, and the body reduced to mere skin and bones, he was seen recording talks! He squeezed out every moment from the dying body in the service of others.

The great master left this earthly plane on 14th November 1977 but by then, in just 12 years, ISKCON had grown to become a worldwide organisation.

What is the secret of Prabhupada’s success?
His single-pointed mind focussed on fulfilling the desire of his Guru.

The law of life is – wherever there is single-pointed attention coupled with God’s grace, success is guaranteed.


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February 2022

Every day is bursting with opportunities for us to do and to serve, to act and to express, to love and to live.          – Chinmaya

Actions of the past decided our present. Actions of the present decide our future.
If this is the law, why not make use of every moment in the present to chisel and shape a noble future?
The wise ones hence convert every situation to give, to love, to serve and to sacrifice.

This was the time when India was already independent. Babu Shreeram Singh, who had worked in the ministry as a stenographer, had great reverence for Gita and Ramayana. To spread the message of Gita, he had established a school in Lucknow.

It was decided to invite Smt. Sarojini Naidu, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, as the Guest of Honour to inaugurate the annual function of the school which she kindly agreed. Singhji also wanted a person on the stage who could speak on Gita with authority. Hence it was decided to invite Shri Hanuman Prasad Poddarji (Trustee of Gita Press Gorakhpur) as the Chief Guest.

Everything went according to plan. On the previous day of the function, a pandal was set up, the stage was decorated, and the chairs and the tables were properly placed. By evening all arrangements were made for receiving the dignitaries in a grand way.

Unfortunately, there was heavy rain in the late night, and it went on for hours. The ground became wet and soggy. Pools of water got collected in various places. In the storm, some of the bamboo poles fell and the pandal collapsed. The chairs became wet, misplaced and soiled. The stage was flooded with water. The rain continued till early morning.

The function was supposed to start at 11 am. The train in which Poddarji was travelling from Gorakhpur, being four hours late, arrived at Lucknow station at 10 am instead of the scheduled 6 am. Poddarji went straight to the venue and reached there at 10.30 am. He saw that the whole venue was in a mess and those gathered were wondering what to do.

Without wasting time, Poddarji quickly sprang up into action. He called all people who were present there – the teachers, the students, the staff, the workers etc. and said, “ This is neither the time to blame anyone nor the to sit and relax. We still have half an hour time. Let us all unite together and do what we can. Together we all can set things right. Now come on…”

People present there were divided into groups and each group was given a task to finish.
Within minutes, chairs and tables were cleaned and properly placed, the poles were fixed, the pandal was set right, the flooded stage was soaked dry, the stage was broomed clean, and everything got over in 20 minutes!

Poddarji’s inspiration and perspiration became contagious, and everyone joined hands wholeheartedly in setting things right. Maybe this was the only function where the Chief Guest was seen wiping the chairs and sweeping the venue!

In the third chapter of the Gita, Karma Yoga, the Lord says: “When people come together in a spirit of sacrifice, pouring out their best for the welfare of all, without ego and egocentric desires, then success is sure and guaranteed.”
This situation became a wonderful opportunity in the hands of Poddarji to give this valuable lesson to the students and the teachers. In the hands of the masters, every calamity is but an opportunity to teach something profound and valuable!

Smt. Naidu arrived at 10.55 am. She could hardly make out that the whole stage was arranged just ten minutes back! She was accompanied to the stage along with other dignitaries. After the formal inaugural ceremonies, Poddarji stood to speak.

He gave a brilliant discourse on Gita. Those who witnessed Poddarji as a Karma Yogi a few minutes back, now saw in him the expression of a Jnani steeped in the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita.

In his short speech of just 15 minutes, Poddarji emphasised that Gita was not a book for the renunciates and the retired, but the manual of right living for everyone who was battling the challenges of day-to-day life. He blessed all the students saying that they were indeed fortunate to get this knowledge at a very young age.
The talk ended with thundering applause from the audience. For many of them, this talk was a life-transforming one.

As soon as Poddarji finished, Smt. Naidu rose to speak. It was not her turn according to the list of events, but she could not contain herself!
She expressed her heartfelt appreciation for Poddarji and exclaimed that the joy she felt while listening to Poddarji was so much that she was reminded of the discourses of Mahatma Gandhiji in Sabarmati Ashram. She said that those who lived the life of selfless service preached by Gita had in their words a special attraction and power to transform the masses.

A beautiful quote from Rabindranath Tagore says: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

A letter from a village in the state of Himachal Pradesh came to the Ministry of Defence.
The writer introduced himself as a school teacher and put forward a request:

“Sir, my only son has died a heroic death in the Kargil war on 7th July 1999. The first death anniversary will come in a few days. As that day is very special for me and my wife, we would like to visit the place, the spot where he breathed his last.
If you think that this wish can’t be fulfilled due to security reasons, I am alright with it and I withdraw this request.”

The Department Officer who read this letter called his subordinate and said, “We must see that the desire of this father is fulfilled, to bring the teacher and his wife to the place where their boy had died. I am ready to bear the expense if the Department refuses to pay it. Do the needful immediately.”
The order was acted upon accordingly.

On the day of remembrance of the deceased hero, the elderly couple was brought to the narrow mountain range in Kargil with due respect. When they were taken near the place where their son died, the soldiers who were on duty there stood erect and saluted.

One soldier did something which no one expected.
He came forward with a handful of flowers and offered it at the feet of the teacher and prostrated unto him. Controlling his tears, he stepped back, stood straight and offered his military salute.

The teacher was stunned. He said: “Sir, you are a military officer. Please don’t touch my feet. I don’t deserve this.”

The officer said politely: “Sir, there is a reason for this. I was with your son. We were in the same regiment and we fought the Pakistanis together on this mountain ridge. I am the one who had seen the heroism of your son live on the field…”
His voice got choked with emotion. He paused.

The teacher went near him, held his hand and humbly requested, “Please, sir, please tell me the whole story. I promise you, I will not cry. I will not break down.”

The officer said: “Sir, you may not cry, but I may find it difficult.”

Controlling himself, the soldier pointed to a mountain range and continued: “That’s where the Pakistanis were shooting from their bunker hundreds of bullets from their HMG (Heavy Machine gun). Five of us advanced. We were hiding behind a rock, just 30 feet away from the Pakistani bunker.”

With a sigh, the officer continued: “I told the group, ‘They will keep shooting. No point in wasting time waiting here. I am going to do the death-charge. I am going to take the bullets on me. I will run to their bunker and throw the grenade. Once they are killed, you all can come to the bunker and capture it.’ And I was getting ready for it.”

“That is when your son looked at me and said: ‘Are you crazy? You have your wife and children to look after. I am still unmarried. I will do the death-charge and you capture the bunker.’ So saying, even without waiting for my reply, taking the grenade forcibly from my hand he charged towards the enemies.”

“Bullets showered on him from the Pakistanis and your son dogged over and reached the bunker. He took the pin out of the grenade and threw it right into the bunker. Thirteen Pakistanis died on the spot. HMGs were paralysed and there was total silence from the bunker. The area came under our control.”

“I was the first to lift and evacuate your son’s body. There were 42 bullets all over his body. Sir, I placed his head in my hand. Only then did he breathe his last. I asked my superior to give me the responsibility of bringing the coffin to your village. But I was refused permission because of some other responsibility.”

“Had I had the privilege of lifting the coffin, I would have put these flowers at his feet. I couldn’t. But now I have the privilege of putting at your feet sir.”
The teacher’s wife broke down, but with great dignity controlled herself, covering her face with her saree.

The teacher controlled his tears. From his shoulder bag, he took a package and handed it over to the officer and said: “I had brought a shirt for my son expecting him to come for vacation. But he did not come. Then came the news of his heroic death….
I had brought it to keep it where he died, but now I know who is to wear this shirt. Please don’t refuse. Please take this…”
Tears rolled down his cheeks as the officer received the package.

The Kargil war hero was none other than Captain Vikram Batra who was posthumously awarded the Param Veer Chakra, India’s highest and the most prestigious award for valour.

The world is bursting with opportunities.
The majority misuse them to complain and to quarrel.
A very few employ them to love, to serve and to sacrifice.

O   M         T   A   T         S   A   T

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January 2022

Human greatness is not muscular strength, but the greatness of character.   – Chinmaya

Once, in Europe, a man came to Swami Vivekananda and, ridiculing his ochre robe, said, “Why can’t you dress up like a gentleman?”
Swami Vivekananda said, “In your country tailors make you gentlemen; in our country character makes us gentlemen.”

True strength is the strength of character.

This incident happened when the freedom struggle movement was at its peak in India.
The procession, seeking independence from British rule, kept marching on. It included children, youth and old alike. Carrying flags, banners and placards, they loudly chanted ‘Vande Mataram!’ and marched ahead.

A group of policemen were posted on the crossroads to stop the procession from proceeding further.
The police officer, Birbal Singh, came on his horse in front of the procession, and announced: “ You have no permission to go further.”
Ibrahim Ali, the elderly leader of the procession and a staunch Gandhian, came forward and said: “I promise you, there won’t be any riots of any kind. Ours is a peaceful and non-violent procession. We are not here to loot the shops or burn the vehicles. We have a higher purpose.”
Birbal Singh: “I have to obey the orders of my superiors.”
Ibrahim Ali: “Why don’t you consult your higher officers?”
Birbal: “I don’t think it is necessary.”
Ibrahim: “In that case, we will sit here.”
Birbal: “You don’t have the permission to sit here. You must disperse.”
Ibrahim: “You may stop us, but you can’t send us back. What a tragedy! Educated Indians like you have become the enemies of our country. When will that day come when our brothers in a spirit of oneness fight this battle together!”

Birbal, hearing these words, felt greatly embarrassed. It was then that he saw DSP, his higher officer,  monitoring the scene. This was a golden opportunity, he felt, to prove his superiors his loyalty, skill and efficiency.
He charged the horse towards the procession, and with great force, hit Ibrahim’s head with his baton. The elderly man, holding his profusely bleeding head, fell on the ground, unable to stand. Birbal raised the front hooves of his horse and stamped on Ibrahim.

The old man, being trampled by the horse, became unconscious. The onlookers could not bear this heartbreaking scene. They plunged into action. With two bamboo poles and tying some spare clothes,  a stretcher was made and the old man was taken away to safety.  
But the incident created a commotion among the masses. Soon a heavy lathi charge followed.

The activists, by their sheer numbers, could have done away with these policemen. But their path was the path of non-violence, not the path of revenge and bloodshed.
Inspired by their leader, Mahatma Gandhi, these freedom fighters received all blows without retaliation. Soon many had their heads, hands and legs broken, swollen and bleeding.

Gandhiji was clear, “Unless we touch the conscience of the people, we can never make this independence struggle a mass movement. And to do this, we need men of character who would die, but never deviate from the path of virtue.”
Gandhiji had himself led the path umpteen number of times. There were times when he was knocked off, bleeding and unconscious, but he never raised his hand in protest or even for self-protection. He firmly believed that the Lord would take care of his devotees who have completely surrendered unto Him.

And this was exactly what happened here too.
The activists were non-violent but firm, peaceful but unyielding, humble yet uncompromising.  Even when beaten ruthlessly, they received these blows without fear, without stepping back, without a grumble, without retaliation. The onlookers on the roadsides, who were passive till then, were unable to watch this heart-rending scene. Their hearts swelled in pride yet melted in love and sympathy for their self-sacrificing fellowmen. Their conscience did not allow them to be mere onlookers and they too stepped in, in support of the righteous cause of the freedom fighters. It soon became a mass movement.

Three days passed by. At home, Birbal could never be at peace. Tremendous guilt ate him from within.
When his wife, Mittan Bai, came to know from others what her husband had done to the activists,  she could not control herself. She stormed in front of him and spoke to him firmly: “I never knew you are such a coward.”
Birbal: “You don’t understand my situation.”
Mittan Bai: “I know very well your purpose of hitting that elderly man. You wanted to impress that DSP who was watching you from behind. You may thus enter in his good books, and may possibly get a promotion.”

Birbal: “True. If I had not acted, it would be a black mark on my performance, and I would be replaced by someone else. But I am sure, DSP sir must have noted my act and my loyalty towards the Government. My promotion cannot be far off.”
Mittan Bai: “This promotion is not a reward to be proud of, but a bribe to be ashamed of. A promotion gained by staining your hands with the blood of these innocent and helpless ones – you think it is praiseworthy? Shame on you!”

Her words pierced his heart and he had no answer to give. He had never seen her so firm and ferocious. Morally broke, he was crumbling from within.

It was then that he got the news from his superiors that a huge procession was marching through the streets. He quickly wore his uniform, got his revolver, put on his hat and mounted the horse. He quickly got his police troops ready to face any untoward incident.

The procession was a mourning one. Ibrahim Ali, who was badly injured in the lathi charge, had passed away, and the whole village was plunged in sorrow.
Hundreds gathered to offer their prostrations at the feet of this saintly man –  a man of values, a staunch devotee of Mahatma Gandhi, a selfless patriot.

At the time of death, as a dying wish, Ibrahim had expressed the desire that his body should be buried after bathing it in Ganga, and that a tri-colour flag must be fixed above his body on the burial ground.
The procession was proceeding to give a ceremonial bath to his deceased body in Ganga. As the procession marched forward the crowd roared ‘Vande Mataram!’ in unison.

Birbal kept patrolling the procession. To his shock, he saw a familiar face in the procession – his wife, Mittan Bai! She turned her face away seeing him. Her face reflected how much contempt and disregard she had for him.

As he moved along with the procession, a lady shouted pointing at Birbal: “He is the one who killed this noble man.”
An old lady, hearing this, looked at Birbal and screamed: “If you were to be born as my son, I would have killed you from the very birth itself.”

People had gathered on both the sides of the roads, on the terrace, on the balconies etc., to get a last glimpse of this great leader. It was indeed a wonder to watch how a single man, through his spirit of non-violence, had inspired hundreds to dedicate their life to freedom struggle.  

As the ceremonial bath was given to the body of Ibrahim Ali,  Birbal came near to get a final glance. The baton-mark – turned dark due to blood-clot –  was clearly visible on the calm lifeless face of Ali. Birbal’s whole being trembled, and his conscience did not allow him to gaze at that face for long.

The body was bathed in the Ganges. By 2 pm the procession returned.

Mittal Bai did not want to return to her husband’s house. She did not want to live with a person who had done such a heinous act. But where will she go? At that moment she remembered the old childless widow of Ibrahim Ali. “Poor lady! She must be sitting alone, weeping and wailing, having none to console her. From now on, I will serve her the rest of my life. Only then my soul will have peace.”

Passing through a narrow lane, amidst the huts of the poor, Mittan Bai found Ibrahim Ali’s house. Outside the old tattered house, on a cot, this old widow of Ali was seated. Next to her was a young man in a simple dress, holding her hand and talking to her.

Mittan Bai casually glanced at this man. She was shocked. He was Birbal!

She asked in a serious tone: “Why are you here?”
Birbal controlled his emotions. After a brief silence, he said: “I have come to seek forgiveness and to wash away my sins. I have resigned from my job. God willing, may I walk the path shown by this great man and dedicate my life to the cause of these freedom fighters.”

Mittan Bai felt as though a great burden was removed from her heart.

Gandhiji created very many ‘Ibrahim Ali’s all over India. Such was the influence of this Mahatma that many eminent personalities in the British Government became his ardent devotees and supported the cause of India’s independence. 

The world-famous scientist and the man who paved the way for nuclear bombs, Albert Einstein described Gandhiji thus: “The future generations may not even believe that such a person walked upon this earth in flesh and blood!”

What was the strength of men like Gandhiji and Ibrahim Ali?
Not the strength of money-power, muscle-power, or man-power, but the strength of their character.

O   M         T   A   T         S   A   T

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The Sadhana Camp – Day 7

I woke up quite early next morning as Shankar ji had requested me to come for sevā, when the sādhaks departed for the train to Mumbai. Bala annā and I started taking the luggage from Annakṣetra towards the bus and finished loading the same. After ensuring all had boarded the bus safely, everyone chanted “Har Har Mahadev” and “Narmade Har!” I then got down and made my way towards SK. A short while later, I went to DA to help with the luggage for the sādhaks on the Mangalore route. After assembling the luggage at one point, I went to Swamiji’s room to bow to him and take his blessings. Vinod ji lovingly asked Swamiji to visit the Ashram again and said that his room would always be kept ready for Swamiji’s use!

Then while loading the luggage, I met Bhakta ji inside the bus and I bowed down to touch his feet. I couldn’t get the good fortune of spending time with him at the camp, but had heard from others that he had done lot of sevā activities in his younger days. Once everyone assembled at DA and got into the bus, they then made their way towards SK – to unite with a few others waiting there with their luggage.

My final visit to Narmada Mātā and Gita Mandir

Asmita didi, Srilatha ammā and myself started walking down the road from DA towards our Narmada Mātā’s temple on the way to SK. My heart longed to see Narmada Mātā one final time before leaving from here and to splash her holy waters on my head. But I hadn’t got time since early morning, due to back-to-back sevā activities for the departing sādhaks. Narmada Mātā must have divined this desire in my heart! All of a sudden and to my surprise, Asmita didi pointed to a stray dog walking nearby and simply said, “You have to follow him!”. It took me a few seconds to understand why she said that. Then I observed that the dog was moving towards the path leading to Somnath ghat steps! I immediately said to Asmita didi about the desire in my heart, but didn’t know whether to go or not – since I thought some sevā may still be required, to board the remaining sādhaks at SK on the bus to Mangalore. To this, Asmita didi without a second thought asked me to go to Narmada – if that desire had come to see Her! Srilatha ammā also asked me to go and said it would do me good!

I then immediately made my way down Somnath ghat and saw Narmada Mātā waiting there for me! A strange peace continued to fill my heart entirely as I reached the bank. I respectfully bowed to Her, dipped my feet in and then splashed the waters on my head and offered Tarpaṇ to the Gods and elders. Then for some strange reason, I wet my head completely and also my face and neck with Her waters and my hands and feet were also wet by now. My heart filled with joy seeing the various fish swimming in Narmada (like little children playing with their mother!). Then I realised that I was yet to have my bath and breakfast before our group departed for Bangalore. I did a final bow to my Narmada Mātā and then heard an inner voice quite clearly – ‘I’ll always be with you!’. Joyfully thanking Her, I then made my way up the slope of the ghat – while at the same time collecting some trash fallen there as a small service to Her and later disposing it off.

When I reached the top, my heart desired to see the deities at Gita Mandir one last time and I also wanted to take their photos – but I knew I hadn’t taken a formal bath yet and how do I now enter the temple? I thought let me see them from a distance at least, standing outside at the doorstep. When I reached Gita Mandir, by Bhagavān’s grace, Swami Omkaranandaji was standing near the entrance talking to someone. I respectfully did my pranāms to him. He asked if we were leaving that day – to which I answered in the affirmative. Standing there at the doorstep, my heart longed to see the deities – Gītā Mātā and others from a closer distance! I asked him if I could go inside but immediately added that I hadn’t taken a bath – hence, I probably couldn’t go, to which he simply nodded. Then I remembered that unknowingly, I had almost taken a bath in Narmada Mātā earlier! I once again asked him if I could enter and this time, said that, I had splashed the waters of Narmada Mātā on my body and if I could go inside. To my great joy, he gave me permission to enter and also to take photographs. I then made my way to the deities and prostrated to all of them gratefully. I also prostrated to the Gita Mandir hall itself, which was a hallowed building – with so many Satsaṅgas and spiritual talks having happened there by now. When I stood in front of the Lakshmi and Narayana mūrtīs, my inner voice clearly asked me to sing a couple of bhajans for Him. I sat down and started singing with tears of joy and gratitude in my eyes, thanking Bhagavān for having given me another chance to see Him up close. Then I bowed one final time and left, with sweet memories of this place and the various deities imprinted firmly in my heart!

Unexpected visit to the famous Peepal tree again

I then proceeded to Kuber Bhandari temple to have a simple but wonderful breakfast of pohā (flattened rice) and ginger tea made from jaggery (one of the tastiest teas that I have ever had!) and then quickly had a darśan. When I reached SK, I saw the sādhaks already assembled there waiting for the bus and ready for departure – but the bus was nowhere in sight! At that time, Vinod ji asked me to show the way to the peepal tree to a couple of ammās, who wanted to visit it, but hadn’t got a chance earlier and didn’t know the way. I nodded and immediately made my way there, closely followed by them and we reached our destination after a brisk walk. I asked them to return shortly as people would otherwise have to wait for them and then made my way back to the camp when I saw a board of Gītā Guphā (cave) on the way. I hurriedly went inside and down the cave to a small shrine where photos of Mahātmās were kept. I bowed to them and then saw a board with wise sayings and took a picture of it to read later (some sādhaks had already mentioned about it). As I exited, I saw the two ammās making their way in. I reminded them again to come soon and then rushed back to the camp. I hurriedly packed the last few items and brought my bags down and we all left the camp on time as planned.

Shopping for loved ones

Since our flight to Bangalore was in the evening, we had planned to reach Vadodara and do some shopping, have lunch and then depart for the airport. We had a scrumptious lunch in a nice restaurant called ‘Saasu maa’ – recommended by Kirit bhai. After lunch, Asmita didi asked me if I would like to buy something for my wife. Since I didn’t know where it was available and was also not very good at choosing dresses, I hadn’t thought about it earlier. But when she mentioned this, I immediately agreed and asked for her and a few other akkās’ help to choose.

Unexpectedly, Asmita didi again did me a very good service! I found her to be a very caring person, while also being an effective leader! She was also very practical and courageous enough to do the right thing while taking any decisions for the group and didn’t just take the easy option of following the majority! Also, she had been like my reins on occasions, when I was running around like a young horse in my eagerness to do sevā! She had then guided my energies in the right direction!

We then entered one shop, from where she had bought some dresses for herself earlier, before lunch. We selected a couple of clothes for my mother and wife and I along with Asmita didi were looking for one more dress to buy for my wife – but couldn’t find any that we liked for what seemed like a really long time! Then finally, out of desperation, I exclaimed, “Where is Shalini ji?” – one akkā in our group who seemed to be quite knowledgeable in clothes – thinking that she could spot something that we couldn’t. My action may have unknowingly hurt Asmita didi a bit, as she immediately said in a jesting sort of a way, “So I am of no help at all!” I instantly said, “No, it’s not like that.” I didn’t know how else to console her. I later repented and apologized to her for my seeming ingratitude, though done unknowingly. She was the one who had always stood by my side, helping and guiding me – just like Krishna did always for Arjuna! The life lesson I learnt here is, not to search for experts – when there are noble hands already willing to help you!

Later on, I found what I was looking for in another shop, where I was helped by Shreenivas Phani Sir. He has been associated with the Mission for a long time and I was fortunate to have his company during the trip. He was a quiet, contemplative sādhaka and was always cheerful and humorous. His humility and silent observation of events around him, along with great practical and timely solutions to problems, pleased me immensely. I couldn’t find any shops with something to buy for my children. We then proceeded towards the airport, dropping a few sādhaks on the way and then boarded the flight and finally reached Bangalore and home on time that night!


The strange condition

After returning from the camp, it seemed to me like I had taken a re-birth and lived an entire short lifetime in that camp and trip! Memories of the camp kept coming back to me after reaching home, not giving me any peace to focus on other matters that needed my attention. I later understood why the merciful Bhagavān doesn’t give us memories of our past lifetimes – else our mind would keep going back there and simply forget the present! My mind had become so used to the camp activities that nothing seemed to interest me anymore at home, other than thoughts of the camp or thoughts of Bhagavān! It felt like He had made me incapable of doing anything else! I couldn’t focus on office work as well and didn’t know what exactly was happening to me! Finally, I decided to talk to Swamiji and explain to him the current strange state of my mind!

I found out from Roopa ammā, when would be a convenient time and then called up Swamiji. After listening to me patiently for a couple of minutes, Swamiji quickly understood my situation. He said that he had seen the same thing happening to other sādhaks as well! This instantly gave me some relief that mine was not a unique case! He jovially said that my situation seemed like a plane that had taken off earlier, but was yet to land properly! He then went on to say that what I was experiencing was nothing but ‘soda-bottle’ inspiration, as aptly put by him – a phenomenon generally experienced by mostly first-time campers. Just like a good doctor who knows his profession well, Swamiji said this condition in me would last for probably two to three days and then gradually disappear!

The practical remedy

He then very kindly gave me a very practical solution by asking me to do some Japa (repetition of a mantra or a divine name) in order to bring back the focus and single pointedness in my mind towards the present everyday tasks. He asked me to take a saṅkalpa (resolve to focus on a specific goal) in front of Bhagavān to complete a pre-defined number of Japa mālās while praying to Bhagavān each time “to give me focus and single pointedness”. He asked me to spend relatively less time on work – only on that day – and more on Japa to complete my saṅkalpa. He then wonderfully described the glory of Japa, which is just like a parachute brake used by fighter jets to land quickly and smoothly! I then proceeded to do exactly as instructed by Swamiji. I realised that as I did more and more Japa, my focus slowly started returning to me!

That evening after our daily ārati to Bhagavān, I sang one bhajan and then got up from my prayer seat. I then saw my wife looking at me, with slightly fearful eyes like I was a stranger to her! She had seen me doing Japa multiple times that day and was probably thinking, ‘What has really happened to him?!’ She then calmed down after I told her about my conversation with Swamiji and my subsequent saṅkalpa. That night after dinner, I completed the last Japa mālā as per my saṅkalpa and feeling fully satisfied, then retired to bed.

Inspiration to write this blog

That day I had also heard my inner voice, clearly inspiring me to write a blog about the camp – describing the events that I had seen and heard there. I was also inspired to glorify Bhagavān and his devotees in this blog. I immediately bowed to His wish and then made up my mind to start on this endeavour! Once I made a start, I resolved this would be my single pointed sādhanā, temporarily giving up all other sādhanās like Japa, Meditation, etc, till this work was completed – in order to please Him. Later, I also thought that penning down my different thoughts of the camp on paper, will free my mind and give me some peace!

The very next day, I remembered Bhagavān and my Gurus and then started writing this blog. On doing some mananam (quiet reflection), I understood why glorification of the Lord’s devotees is absolutely necessary. This is not to be mistaken as glorifying their ego! Actually, its glorifying none other than the almighty Bhagavān Himself – who clearly manifests Himself, only through his devotees! His true devotees also know this, as they consider themselves insignificant in their own eyes! Also, there’s a great amount of learning, from the day-to-day life activities of the devotees of Bhagavān – for all those who have not yet become His devotees, or who are His part-time devotees or even those who are His full-time devotees! I remembered that I hadn’t got an opportunity yet, to read the detailed life stories of great devotees of Bhagavān – like Tukārām, Jñānesvara, etc. – though I had desired the same. But now, I considered myself really fortunate to have learnt first-hand from so many of His devotees, and that too, in such a short time!

I realised the true value of time and that I needed to spend my time very carefully from now on – in order to complete the blog on time, while also performing my other duties. I also found that my earlier focus and single-pointedness returned to me by the grace of the merciful Bhagavān, as I could now do all my household and office duties with focus and peace of mind.

Offering sincere gratitude

I offer my sincere gratitude to Bhagavān, to Pujya Gurudev, to my Guru – Swami Aparajitananda, to Narmada Mātā and all deities of Gita Mandir, Swami Omkaranandaji and to all sādhaks from the camp for having given me these divine experiences! The moments captured in this blog, are as seen and heard with my two tiny eyes and ears and as felt by my tiny heart! Except for Swamiji’s talks, I had not taken any other notes and what is written here is purely out of recollections from my memory of the camp and as guided by Him. Please forgive me if I have hurt anyone’s feelings, which is completely unintentional.

Drawing from my learnings, I humbly and sincerely urge all sādhaks to involve themselves in the loving service of all around you, thereby serving Him alone – no matter where you are today and wherever His will takes you in future! Let another near you, breathe easier – because He sent you there! My greatest learning of life is the aforesaid, which is one of the simplest and best ways to purify one’s mind and to quickly win the grace of Bhagavān! And when His grace is won, is there really a need for anything else to be achieved!? Bhagavān will then make sure we achieve everything that we need from life!

I sincerely pray to Bhagavān and Pūjya Gurudev, seeking early Liberation for all the sincere seekers who are constantly trying to please Him, with one of the ways being – doing the loving service of all around them. May we always learn to observe the Bhakti and Sevā bhāvana of all the true devotees of Bhagavān, scattered around us like hidden gems and learn valuable life lessons from them!

My humble gratitude again to Pūjya Gurudev, my Guru – Swami Aparajitananda and the entire Guru paramparā for their boundless compassion to impart this divine Knowledge about right living and Meditation to us ignorant ones from time immemorial!

My humble gratitude to all who helped me to bring this blog to reality. My gratitude to Swamiji for his encouragement, to Jital ben for her excellent work in proofreading this blog, adding Sanskrit transliteration and useful suggestions, to Asmita didi for her valuable suggestions and inputs, to Nayana akkā and other sadhaks for providing beautiful photos and to Roopa amma for technical assistance to publish it.

– Krishna Dāsa

|| Om Tat Sat ||

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The Sadhana Camp – Day 6

Before I knew it, the days had raced by, and I found myself finally waking up to the last day of the camp! While taking the tea to Gita Mandir that morning, I was softly reprimanded and reminded by Hitesh bhai as well as his kitchen assistant that I hadn’t brought back the tea flask from Reva the other day, which I had missed due to the hurried preparation for SoU visit. Fortunately, he had a backup flask that was given to me to take fresh tea for the day.

Culmination of the shower of pearls

Everyone including me, were eagerly awaiting the climax of the great series of Meditation talks in the camp. When the talks began, it seemed like Śaṅkarācārya ji was giving a loving parting advice to his disciples in Sādhanā Pañcakam. Everything that Swamiji said that day was very deep and required constant mananam from us thereafter, to realise its true purport. Swamiji said that at the seat of Meditation, if you can give up all thoughts and concentrate only on the Self, then you are the highest Sannyāsī (renunciate). Whereas if you hold on to the thoughts, then you are just a samsārī (worldly person)! He added, “Thoughts will come at the seat of Meditation, but we have to show no interest in them and just be a witness – neither liking nor disliking the thoughts (possible through vairāgya).” He said, “Everything in this world that gives rāga (likes) is like a poison – since it leads to repeated births and deaths!”

Describing the problems faced in meditation and the solutions, he said, “A wandering mind indicates lack of vairāgya in us. When we are rich in vairāgya, mind loves Consciousness, intellect respects the Consciousness. Bhakti (love) for God should be developed to such an extent that love for God has eaten up all the other desires for worldly things in us!” His parting advice to us was that scolding from our teachers and Gurus is like bitter nectar – drink it (accept our mistakes and reform ourselves), whereas praise from others is like sweet poison (it can boost our ego, only if the foundational virtues of humility and gratitude to Bhagavān – are not strong in us)!

An unexpected turn of events

After the early morning talk, I made my way to Reva to collect the empty tea flask from the previous day and saw that neither the flask nor the caretaker was present there. I looked for the flask everywhere, but couldn’t find it. The caretaker then came there after a while, but he said that he too hadn’t seen the flask anywhere and if it had been kept in the open, then probably someone may have stolen it! My heart sank quickly as the dreaded thought came to me as to how can I replace it now? Even if I reimbursed the money for it, it would still cause trouble for our caterer Hitesh bhai to go and search for it and purchase from the market. I saw one of the numerous Shiva temples nearby and immediately went there and prostrated to Bhagavān. I said to Him that His bhakta’s respect was now at stake. On second thought, more than loss of respect, I said to Bhagavān that I had caused some unnecessary trouble to the caterer. I also said that, the daily sevā of serving morning tea though done wholeheartedly, now seemed incomplete! After spending some time there, I finally surrendered to His will and thought, ‘Who am I to question it?’!

Chance meeting with two devotees of Bhagavān

Then with a heavy heart, I slowly started walking from Reva towards SK with just the morning tea flask brought back from Gita mandir. I had hardly walked a few meters when I saw Srilatha ammā and Rashmi akkā slowly walking up their way – from Somnath ghat towards me. Both of them looked very tired and famished. On seeing me with the flask in my hand, Lata ammā asked me if I had some tea. I immediately poured her and Rashmi akkā a glass of tea each. I came to know Lata ammā was following Saṅkaṣtī vrata (austerities) that day and had been fasting since morning. Lata ammā and Rashmi akkā were both extremely humble devotees of Bhagavān who did their sevā silently and almost secretly (known only to God and very few). They also did the vrata, where they had their food only after Swamiji completed his food. Once while distributing some Prasada, I observed that even for taking Prasada, Rashmi akkā didn’t come forward and humbly stood in one corner silently – I literally had to search for her and deliver the same! It was my good fortune to be of some service to them again, as I got an opportunity to deliver sugar cane juice, later in the day at lunch time, to the fasting Lata ammā – thereby also allowing Rashmi akkā to eat her lunch peacefully without worrying of rushing back.

I sadly told Lata ammā that I had made a mistake by forgetting to bring back the tea flask the previous day. Then I proceeded to SK and wondered how to face Hitesh bhai now! I saw him in the kitchen and had just started apologizing about the tea flask, when to my great surprise he suddenly said the flask was already with him! He said his person had collected it the previous morning itself from Reva! I wondered how the same Hitesh bhai, who had asked me to bring back the flask today morning, is now saying that it was returned yesterday?! Unable to unravel this puzzle, as it was beyond my understanding, I thanked Bhagavān profusely in my mind, for His grace and for saving His devotee’s self-respect, as well as saving from unnecessary trouble to others. When I met Lata ammā again I informed her about this and said, “Bhagavān has saved His devotee!” Hearing this, she immediately said, “He will never forsake His own.” I later realised that Bhagavān had probably made me take a detour, so as to time my visit from Reva towards SK in order to meet and deliver tea to his two famished devotees!

Late Afternoon talk and My silent Realisations

I had started thinking from the previous day itself about that day’s upcoming Valedictory function. Swamiji had asked us to share any of our divine experiences in the camp, or any benefits that we derived from it. Many thoughts came to my mind and primarily among them was the quote that I remembered reading from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – ‘When puṇya (virtues from good deeds) from several births have been accumulated, only then does one get an opportunity to serve Sat-jan (noble devotees of God).’ I was indeed thankful to Bhagavān for having given me one such golden opportunity! I also wanted to express my gratitude to all the noble sādhaks here, who helped to make the camp successful for all of us. And from whom I had learnt a lot and who had also given me an opportunity to do some small sevā (alila sevā) to them, here and there.

But somehow, I wasn’t satisfied with the above, as the personal connection with me was missing. I found myself subconsciously waiting for further direction from Bhagavān. Then in the morning session talks, the merciful Bhagavān revealed to me some beautiful thoughts! As the initial thoughts came to me, the primary question refreshed in my mind – as to why I was doing daily sevā untiringly to so many of His devotees!? Almost all of whom, except a few, had been total strangers to me before coming to this camp – for which I didn’t have an answer yet! Seeing my predicament, the all merciful Bhagavān revealed something to me that struck me like lightning that day – bringing tears to my eyes and horripilations on my skin! I intuitively realised that most of the sādhaks gathered here must have been my parents in some of the infinite past births that we had taken. Some of them must have been my brothers and sisters, few my teachers and one of them my Guru! I found that my family had suddenly grown very big now! As I pondered more on these beautiful thoughts, I further realised that some sevā from me – due towards them, may have been lacking earlier in my past births. I may have been an arrogant, ignorant, lazy and a useless fellow – not knowing the right thing to be done, at the right time! And I saw signs of these in this birth as well, making me realise that, it must have been true earlier!

Unravelling a bit about the mysterious ways of Bhagavān

Later, a realisation came to me on further mananam (quiet reflection) that God inspires us first, with a simple motivation to do His work and then gives us the right knowledge to perform the same! If we heed his initial inspiration with Śaraṇāgati bhāvanā (total surrender), he then tests us thoroughly and checks whether we follow his inspiration to the best of our ability or not! We have to always try our sincere best, pass the various tests given by Him – all the while trying to please Him! While at the same time, we should seek forgiveness for any mistakes made, or for any failures in any of His tests along the way (which is expected) and then retry again with determination – before He ultimately gives us true realisation! I found this to be true in any subject – material or spiritual, which then keeps continuing in a devotee’s life towards the final test – before He bestows liberation on His chosen few!

In my case, the merciful Bhagavān made it very simple for my manda buddhi (unintelligent mind) to understand. Pleasing Him was the inspiration and motivation, knowledge on how to please Him was the loving service of all around me, the sevā required by the different sādhaks were his different tests! This was followed by the mistakes that I made and consequent confessions to Him and then continuing persistently on the chosen path! Finally, on sincerely performing all His tests to the best of my ability – in order to please Him, He then magnanimously gave me the great realisation that we are all one big family (coined by our great ancestors as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and what was done, was the right thing to do! This was the first time that I intuitively realised the true meaning of the great phrase above and that we are all connected to each other, in some way or the other! My humble prostrations to Bhagavān and to our wise and great ancestors who have given us many such gems to contemplate upon and realise one day!

It seemed that Asmita didi’s keen ear had caught me singing “Om namaḥ Śivāya” the other day. She goaded me on to sing a bhajan that day. Without much time to think, I quickly picked up a bhajan in Kannada and sang – ‘Nānu Nīnu yenna diru, hīna mānavā’ (Don’t say mine or yours, O sinful man) by Dāsaru. Some of the audience not knowing the language, must have wondered what did I really sing about!? But I am thankful that they listened to me patiently, until I completed!

At the Valedictory Function

Swamiji being honoured on concluding day of the Camp

Slowly wiping away my tears, I parked these wonderful thoughts and started paying my attention back to Swamiji’s ongoing talk! However, later in the day when the Valedictory function started and when my turn came to speak, due to some unknown reason or lack of time, I couldn’t cover all my thoughts and ended up speaking only partially (even though the audience was kind enough to give me an opportunity twice!). I just mentioned a few points about how I was a part-time devotee and how the devotee’s role in me, was always side-lined in front of other roles – when they came up. I said that one of my main learnings from the camp was that a devotee’s role has to always be my primary role and that, all other roles were secondary – while adding that the other roles are also important and must be done (to please Him). I also thanked and offered my gratitude to all the organizers and other sādhaks in the camp.

Few other sādhaks also spoke beautiful words about their experiences in this great camp and all gathered there offered their gratitude to all organizers – by a round of applause, whenever anyone spoke about them! As there was a long list of people to offer gratitude, somehow, I forgot to mention about Sumanth ji’s sevā of teaching early morning yoga. Later, when a few sādhaks pointed it out, I immediately went up to him and apologized for my mistake. Our loving Yoga teacher had mingled with us so much that we considered him more of a friend than a teacher and somehow, we took his efforts for granted. I knew, I needed to make amends somehow. At this time Bhagavān again sent Asmita didi to my rescue, as she also knew what had happened and said to me that she will announce gratitude to Sumanth ji on behalf of us all, since it will not look good if I went to the stage for the third time! That, which I was quietly preparing to do! This simple but noble act of hers really moved my heart! Later I was glad to hear Latha Bhat ammā also thank Sumanth ji. She also whole heartedly expressed her gratitude to all organizers, in her unique jolly and cheerful voice – one that immediately lifts the spirits of all around her! Swamiji then beautifully summed it up by referring from the Gītā and saying that people coming together with Yajña bhāvana (working selflessly for the common greater good) would be automatically blessed by Bhagavān as this pleased Him immensely! He added that our collective Yajña bhāvana had ensured the grand success of our Narmada camp!

“…. Lord is Great; He knows best the purity of every thought, action and their motive. If the surrender be full, dedication complete and motives pure, even ordinary actions become great Yajñas.– Swami Chinmayananda

A beautiful conversation with a Sādhaka

Later that day, I remember having a beautiful conversation with Sachidananda annā. I saw annā as a quiet contemplative soul, who was extremely humble and did sevā silently wherever required. He also seemed to be a fitness enthusiast and maintained a strong body and enjoyed swimming in Narmada Mātā every day! That day he very kindly shared with me one of his valuable life lessons – one that he constantly practised. It has become one of my favourite topics now – morning habits and about waking up early! He said that he woke up everyday morning without setting any alarm – no matter even if it was 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning! And that when he woke up, he would then simply get up and get ready as usual! He rightly said that if we toss and turn around on the bed instead, in a half sleeping state – it will not do us any good! He went on to add that the compassionate Bhagavān had woken you up for a purpose and had given you valuable time to do your Sādhanā! He accepted this fact unquestioningly. I asked him don’t you feel sleepy or tired later on, to which he said that if the body really needed the sleep, it would take it sometime during the day and that’s fine (since we already have had a head start for the day)! I really marvelled as I listened to him! We then talked a little about Isha Foundation in Coimbatore as I mentioned about my recent visit there. He talked about his Haṭa yoga practice – taking instructions from one of Isha’s instructors in Mangalore. He suggested me to check for such instructors in their Bangalore centre, if I was interested in the same.

Concluding session in the evening

Happy Campers of Narmada Sadhana Camp

Post the valedictory function in the evening, Rajesh bhai and I proceeded to visit two beautiful Krishna temples built by the queen sisters near Somnath ghat. After returning back to Gita Mandir, I entered the open terrace from the back entrance and was having some water, when I heard one ammā singing a bhajan very beautifully inside the hall – towards the end of the evening bhajan session. Her voice was so melodious and the bhakti bhavana in her bhajan so strong, that it kept repeating in my mind for several days thereafter! When I entered the hall, she was singing the final few lines and I saw it was our Gayatri ammā (who was in our SoU sub-group earlier and whose leg I had pulled a few times!). I didn’t know she had such a beautiful voice! I could remember only the words Guru and kṛpā, along with the tune going on and on in my mind! I was compelled to call her a couple of days later, to check what was the name of that song and who had originally sung it. She said that bhajan is indeed extraordinary and was sung by none other than our Pūjya Guruji Swami Tejomayanandaji and the song was named ‘Gurudeva Tava Mahanīya Kṛpā’ (which I came to know later was also featured in the biopic movie “On a Quest” about Gurudev’s life). She then kindly also sent me a recording of that song, sung in her voice! I then proceeded to learn the song quickly – by singing only that throughout the day, whenever I could!

The late evening concluding session was kept for interactions surrounding any questions between the sādhaks and Swamiji (QnA session). Some very interesting questions were asked by few of the sādhaks, for which Swamiji responded in his usual calm, immaculate way! I too had a question about how to distinguish between our inner voices – as being the voice of Consciousness or the voice of our ego – as both seemed to speak to us sometimes – without us being able to clearly distinguish between them. I also had another question on the benefits of Gītā chanting without understanding the meaning of the ślokas. I was later satisfied with the answers that I got from Swamiji.

Taking blessings from Sādhaks of the Camp

When dinner time came, it was only a few hours left before the sādhaks departed to their respective destinations. I went around the Annakṣetra hall bowing down to the sādhaks and taking their blessings post dinner. I had realised that you truly bless only those who have won your heart and hence winning someone’s heart by our actions is absolutely necessary! I got the kind blessings of many sādhaks without any hesitation. Most of them allowed me to touch their feet too, but some of them refused and a very few refused ardently for some unknown reason! I thought probably it was my failure to have not yet won their heart!

Here, I have to highlight the kindness especially of our ammās and akkās in the camp, as everywhere else. They are so large hearted that they bless you instantly when you bow down to them – most of the times verbally with the choicest of blessings and sometimes silently in their hearts! And some great ones bless even without asking or bowing to them – just by observing our actions! Our appās and elder brothers are generally more restrained. Though some bless wholeheartedly with their words, most are silent – just blessing in their hearts without anyone’s knowledge!

I did some consequent mananam of the actual meaning of bowing down to elders by touching their feet and beautiful thoughts emerged in my mind. The ego of the younger one is actually bowing to the almighty Bhagavān residing in the elder one! Whereas the ego in the elder one (who knows what is right), will simply say, “Bhagavān āpkā bhalā karein (May God bless you)”, being His mere instrument only!

Post dinner it was time to pack and prepare for next day’s travel. Previously Asmita ji, Shankar ji and others had got together in the background and had beautifully planned about the buses, schedule and the groups that were travelling. Shankar ji had planned to move the luggage of the sādhaks departing very early next morning on the Mumbai route from Reva and other places to SK – to save time. Bala annā and myself were called upon for this sevā. We then brought the luggage from different places and kept it in the Annakṣetra hall in SK for the night.

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The Sadhana Camp – Day 5

Game Thoughts

I had always been fond of playing as well as organizing different kind of games that were usually enjoyed by all. Knowing this, the compassionate Bhagavan may have decided to use this talent given by Him, for the amusement of His devotees! The dawn arrived that day with a flood of thoughts entering my mind, while I was still half awake! I realised that the compassionate Bhagavan was communicating with me – asking me to do something for Him. I was seeing thoughts about organizing a spirituality-based game session for the sādhaks, to utilize the time for some Satsaṅga – while travelling in the bus for our outing that day. Thought after thought connected to the game were flowing, including its rules and possible pitfalls to avoid (I was kindly warned about its dangers too!). After organizing all these thoughts, I made up my mind to inform the group about it when the time came and check if they would like to play!

A beautiful Ārati at Gita Mandir

Since there was no morning yoga class organized for that day, I decided to reach Gita Mandir early and do some meditation there. I had forgotten about the morning ārati in the Mandir daily at 6:30 a.m. I found Jital ben had already reached there well ahead of time, before the early morning talk probably to see the beautiful aarati. Jital ben was a quiet and a very humble devotee of Bhagavan, who silently and almost secretly did the seva of others – with most of them not even realizing it! She had found a beautiful way to gracefully avoid all attention towards her – showing her deep humility.

I had really cherished those moments of the ārati earlier at Gita Mandir when Swami Omkarananda ji went about doing the ārati of Gita Devī and other deities – all the time singing Devī’s stotrams (hymn of praise), while forgetting the entire world around him! During the ārati, I thanked Gita Mātā for the great knowledge she had given us and to Krishna Bhagavān for delivering the same! While the ārati of Lakshmi Narayana and Parvati Shiva was going on, suddenly some of my past sins flashed in my mind, for which I had repented many times in the past. But some traces of those were still left in my mind. This time with tears in my eyes, I prayed to Bhagavān from the bottom of my heart saying that I had done those sins in the past, only out of my ignorance and to please forgive me. The merciful Bhagavān very shortly forgave me, as I could instantly feel the lightness in my mind – with those sins now being completely washed away in tears of true repentance!

Beautiful Daily Ārati at Gita Mandir

There was just one session of Swamiji’s talks that day, in which he spoke about the important Vijñanamaya koṣa (sheath of wisdom or right understanding of truth). This koṣa is just one step below the Self (since Ānandamaya koṣa is at every level). He said, “We should think of ourselves as – ‘I am a spiritual being with human experience’, and make it a habit to always remain in Consciousness. Every (bad) habit must be corrected by instead practicing a (good) anti-habit.”

Post the early morning talk, I was in a hurry to depart for our outing to the Statue of Unity (SoU) and forgot to collect the tea flask kept in Reva guest house that day, instead of Gita mandir, and to return it to Hitesh bhai – our caterer at SK. I came to know that, the visit to SoU was previously researched very exhaustively by Jital ben, including booking the tickets for fifty plus people in advance – so that our valuable time and effort is saved later at the venue! It was then led beautifully by Shankar ji and supported equally well by others. Jital ben had organized us into eight groups of about six to nine people each aligned to eight respective group leaders, who were responsible for keeping their group members together – I found myself to be one of them. Post breakfast, about fifty odd people assembled near the Śivaliṅga at SK and we then proceeded together – towards our bus. Once everyone was seated, we started on our journey with chants of “Sadgurunāth Mahārāj kī Jai!” and “Har Har Mahādev!”

Playing a spiritual game!

On our way, we saw beautiful fields of cotton and wheat on either side with crops growing aplenty. Some of the sādhaks in the front seats started chanting Margabandhu stotram and other stotrams. Thereafter, Bhakta ji got all minds together by leading the soulful chanting of “Śrīman Nārayaṇa Nārayaṇa, Hari Hari”. After covering some distance, sensing that, the time had come, I got up and walked to the middle of the bus and asked if anyone wanted to play a game! Many of the sādhaks agreed and I started to explain about the game. I said, “Since we are all sādhaks, we will play a spirituality-based game called – ‘Guess the verse or śloka”. Explaining the game rules, I said the verse had to be a popular one – either from our scriptures like Bhagavad Gītā or from compositions of Mahātmās like Śaṅkarācārya, Ramana Maharshi, Sant Kabir, DVG (Dr. D. V. Gundappa – a great philosopher and poet from Karnataka), etc. The verse should be about 2 to 4 lines only and one team should chant the first line and the other team should guess the rest of the lines, which I explained with a simple example verse from our Bhaja Govindam – ‘Bālastāvat krīdā saktaḥ…’. If the guessing team could also translate it in English / say the brief meaning of the verse, then they would get an extra point! In case the guessing team couldn’t guess the verse then the puzzle-setting team should themselves complete it and could also say its meaning for a bonus point. I emphasized another important rule that the translation/ meaning of the verse, as said by someone from either team, would be their understanding of that verse and we had to respect that – even if it didn’t match with our understanding! Completing the rules, I finally said, “Let us all learn something new and have fun while doing it!”

One side of the bus was designated as team A and other side as team B. Once everyone understood the set of rules, we started the game. Most players gave popular ślokas from Bhagavad Gītā and some from Mankuthimmana Kagga (a literary work by DVG and considered by many as Kannada Bhagavad Gita) and few others from the Upaniṣads and the Vedas. I found that Bhagavān had somehow evenly matched both teams, even though the seating seemed completely random to us – with one paṇdita emerging from each team – Savita ammā and Geethanjali ammā – and rest of their team supporting them! The sādhaks seemed to enjoy the game, with rounds being conducted alternatively at the front and the back of the bus as we didn’t have a mike, and everyone couldn’t hear at the far end. Some sādhaks like Latha Bhat ammā, played the role of repeating the verses heard at the front, for the benefit of those at the back of the bus and vice versa.

At the Statue of Unity (SoU)

After playing the game for some time, few of the sādhaks asked Sumanth ji to take laughter yoga class and we all then laughed and laughed! As we approached SoU, the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was visible from quite a distance away! We reached SoU and found a world class structure built there, matching, or exceeding similar sites abroad! We made our way inside where a lot of exhibits depicting the history about Vallabhbhai ji were displayed, along with the culture, flora and fauna of Gujarat. Even while being there, among a comfortable centralized AC environment and with pleasant things all around us, somehow my mind was not finding any joy there and instead was now and then going towards the camp’s Satsaṅgas and Swamiji’s talks. We then had our lunch at the food court and even though I found my favourite food – pizza, I did not find much joy eating it – remembering the wholesome food at the camp! Later some of us proceeded to a place called the Valley of Flowers, while others made our way to the Cafes near the parking lot. We finally gathered everyone and then boarded our bus to bid adieu to SoU!

Later we proceeded towards Neelkanthdham Swaminarayan temple located on the other bank of Narmada, bang opposite Karnali, in a village called Poicha. All of us were exhausted. Balakrishna annā then went to the front of the bus and started distributing bananas, that we had carried from SK for our group. Bala annā had a very cheerful and humorous demeanour – especially while doing sevā. I found later that he as well as his wife Nayana akkā, had immense compassion towards all animals. I later saw him feeding cucumbers to bulls and cows and indeed treating them like our younger brothers and sisters – as Swamiji says! Later, we saw a glorious Rathotsav of Bhagavān at the magnificent Neelkanthdham temple, before returning back to our camp after sunset.

That night after dinner, a few of us were chatting in the Annakṣetra, when Bela ji, sitting next to us, enquired about how to make a start in serious spirituality. We discussed about Swamiji’s Mangalore Mission YouTube channel (Chinmaya Mission Mangaluru) and she also asked us and noted few of the books written by him. She said that she planned to visit the Mangalore centre soon and spend some time with Swamiji. Seeing her humility, child-like innocence and eagerness to learn, I understood that she had indeed started on the right path!

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