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An Interview with Swamiji

An Interview with Swamiji

By Phoenix Devotee

In a quest to better understand the beliefs and virtues of the Ramakrishna Order of India, an interview was conducted with the minister-in-charge of the Vendanta Society of Southern California, Hollywood (vedanta.org). His name is Swami Sarvadevananda and he recently visited Phoenix.

He conducts classes, discourses, and retreats on the principles of Sanatana Dharma (Vedanta) and participates in inter-religious dialogues from coast-to-coast. He visits the Phoenix Center every other month to give classes, provide guidance to spiritual aspirants, and spread the universal message of peace and harmony enshrined in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.

Question: While entangled in today’s fast-paced life, what should be our goal of life?

Swamiji’s Answer: The Goal of life is always to reach perfection, and to reach that place where we will be always in absolute joy—unending joy and unending peace of mind. In other words, the goal of life is God-realization. In modern scientific language, we say the goal is to know who I am. Am I the limited body-mind complex, or do I have a different, greater existence? Am I something more than this physical entity? It matters little whether life is very fast-paced or slow. People cannot live with bread alone. We have to have this spiritual question for intellectual satisfaction. Why are we born, why are we here, and why do we suffer, will we die like that? That’s why our ancient Upanishad declares that life will not end like grain and paddy; rather, life’s goal is to realize who we are. In devotional language, we say knowing God; whereas in scientific language we say knowing our divine heritage or divine consciousness, and knowing the relation of my individual consciousness and the cosmic consciousness outside.

In summary, the goal of life is to attain perfection, peace, joy, unending happiness, and absolute bliss. To reach that, we will have to find some ways and means, even being entangled in everything. The answer to this question should be sought in a scientific way, not in a prejudiced or cultish manner. Swami Vivekananda said, “Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion.”

Question: Is there any soul connection between Guru and Disciple?

Swamiji’s Answer: The Guru is called the representative of God. We don’t see God, but the Guru comes in our life as a guide to connect us with our eternal Self, the cosmic reality called God, Brahman, or Atman. That’s why in the Hindu tradition, we say that Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is Shiva, Guru is Satchidananda. That is the real Guru. The Disciple is one who is seeking that truth or realization. We need a teacher to learn any subject like physics, chemistry, math, or social science. To know this supreme truth, which cannot be seen with the eyes, cannot be heard by the ears, nor perceived using instruments like telescopes and microscopes, we need a teacher. That teacher is called the Guru.

Yes, there is a connection between Guru and Disciple. We don’t believe that the Guru is a mere human being. Rather, the Guru is God. There is a belief that the Guru does not get liberated until his disciples get liberated. Our earthly Guru is a representative of the Divine, who connects us with the Lord. It is the Lord who becomes the Guru. We meditate on the Guru thinking that he is the representative of the Lord, and ultimately, the Guru merges with the Ishtam. Therefore, the connection is there till we realize our chosen ideal, which is God Absolute. It is not a physical connection, but a deep spiritual one.

This connection is said to continue life after life, till the realization of God. As we change our body, the Guru’s body also may change, but it is Satchidananda who comes in the form of the Guru. He appears before us to help us through that particular Guru-form in that particular lifetime, but it is always God who comes. That is the connection.

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Continued: An Interview with Swamiji

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Question: Does food habit (vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian) impact our spiritual growth?

Swamiji’s Answer: Food has an impact on spiritual growth. Food can soothe our body; food can also create irritation in our body. For instance, drinking too much alcohol makes a person inebriated. The Bhagavad Gita suggests that we take food which is pleasing to our body and mind, which makes us Sattvika, which moves us toward God: “The foods which augment vitality, energy, strength, health, cheerfulness, and appetite, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are liked by the Sattvika.” We cannot make a generalized formula that non-vegetarians will realize God or vegetarians only will realize God. One should follow what the body accepts in a scientific manner following medical science. Food that will give us nourishment, not agitate our whole system, which will be congenial for our prayer, meditation, and spiritual life, and keep us peaceful and joyful, is the right type of food.

Sri Ramakrishna said, “blessed is the man who keeps his mind on God even though he eats pork. He will certainly realize God in due time.” Meera Bai said, “Phala mūla khāke, hari mīle to bāndar bādurai—if eating only fruits and roots makes us spiritual, then monkeys and bats will realize God first!” The important point is, what type of food creates love and devotion. We should pay attention to that. True, many find vegetarian food to be sattvika. They should observe that food habit. But we do find examples in every religion of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian God-realized saints.

If our system makes a certain food hard for us and it becomes an obstacle toward our spiritual development or love for God, that food is to be avoided. The Bhagavad Gita also discusses a similar idea—Sattvika, Rajasika and Tamasika—three types of food. What is Sattvika for you may not necessarily be Sattvika for me.

The Ramakrishna-Sarada Vedanta Center of Phoenix is located near ASU-Tempe. Prayer, meditation, reading of Hindu scriptures, singing devotional songs, and annual events are coordinated by Pravrajika Akhandaprana. For additional information, please visit the Center’s website (http://vedantaphx.org/) and/or contact Mataji at 480-656-7230.

This interview is split in two parts. The second part will be published in the August 2015 issue of Valley India Times.

From: http://news.valleyindiatimes.com

Part TWO: An Interview with Swamiji

Part II of an Interview with Swamiji

By Phoenix Devotee

Last month, in the July issue, we shared part one of our interview with the Swamiji Sarvadevananda who is minister-in-charge of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, Hollywood (vedanta.org). To recap, this interview was conducted to better understand the beliefs and virtues of the Ramakrishna Order of India.

He conducts classes, discourses, and retreats on the principles of Sanatana Dharma (Vedanta) and participates in inter-religious dialogues from coast-to-coast. He visits the Phoenix Center every other month to give classes, provide guidance to spiritual aspirants, and spread the universal message of peace and harmony enshrined in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.

Question: When we read Karma Yoga with sincerity, it seems very easy. When we actually try to follow Karma Yoga, it becomes almost impossible. How to resolve this issue in today's context?

Swamiji’s Answer: We need to understand the two terms Karma and Karma Yoga. Karma is equal to force applied into distance moved. Karma means acting against friction, which brings anger, frustration, animosity, etc. Now Karma Yoga, on the other hand, is without friction, which unites us with God through selfless activity dedicated to God out of love. Karma creates reaction in the mind, but Karma Yoga brings joy and peace. In Karma Yoga, as it is done for God alone, we can work harder and offer our best without getting attached to the result or expectation from outside. Therefore, we don’t suffer from any reaction at all that naturally comes while we work in our everyday life. We must understand this distinction and dedicate ourselves to Karma Yoga and not to Karma. No one, even for a moment, can stay without performing Karma—be it physical or mental. But to do Karma Yoga with sincerity, we need to remind ourselves that we are performing the Karma only to please the Lord and get His Blessings. There is not even an expectation of thanks from anyone else. If someone praises or blames, we will not be affected by that because our whole focus was on pleasing the Lord.

To make this Karma Yoga ideal a reality in our lives, we need to develop extreme mindfulness. When the hand is performing action, mind should be aware that we are not doing it to please our earthly boss or our friend or family – but it is for God and God alone. Yes, the outside world will see that we are doing something for them, but internally a Karma Yogi will say: Oh Lord, I am doing it for you. By this way, every action or activity can be transformed into worship. Swami Vivekananda said that there are three stages of development: 1) Work and worship, 2) Work as worship, and finally, 3) Work is worship. There will be no distinction between sacred and mundane, selfless dedicated work and the worship performed in the temple. We will have to start our journey where we stand and then move forward.

Though it is very difficult at the beginning, but by sincere practice, we can reach the goal of Karma Yoga. When the Karma is offered to God, a Karma Yogi should not look back and worry if he is blamed or praised. Everything being offered to God, a great mental peace and satisfaction dawns in his/her mind. Good and bad results do not disturb him/her any more. This is a simple yet verified technique in the path of Karma Yoga. It will free him/her from all entanglements, bonds and ultimately bring peace. By this way he/she can reduce and ultimately free himself/herself from his/her sufferings, pains, agonies, worries, stress and anxiety. Then Karma becomes enjoyable and one can attain the tranquillity that prayer and meditation can bring.

Question: Is there any way to counteract our Prarabdha Karma?

Swamiji’s Answer: Scriptures talk about three types of Karma - Prarabdha, Kriyaman and Sanchita. The cause of my present birth is due to Prarabdha Karma – which is the resultant effect of all my thoughts and actions performed in my last birth. Kriyaman is what I am doing now, good or bad, which will produce its results in the future. Sanchita is the sum total of all the Karmas of our previous lives, residing in the subconscious mind, in a potential form, yet to give their fruits.

Prarabdha started when we left our last thought in our last birth. It is like shooting an arrow. The direction of the arrow is set to a target. Life is moving on with the impulse of the Prarabdha. We cannot change the direction of the arrow now. So, it seems, we cannot change the events of life as is destined to happen. If we shoot the arrow and it is halfway through the air, we cannot change its course. Then, is it meaningless to exercise our energy for doing things good and not bad, as Prarabdha is inevitable and is bringing suffering and joy without my control? No. Our effort to overcome the situation is also a part of Prarabdha.

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Continued:: Part TWO: An Interview with Swamiji

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What can we do then? Though we are engaged in Prarabdha Karma, we can actually do something to create our future. Holy Mother Sarada Devi said that for one who thinks of God, the pain of a plough entering the body may be felt like a pin ****** That means, our Karma, our meditation, our prayer can help us feel lesser amount of pain and suffering which is brought into our life by Prarabdha. So, Prarabdha can give us intense pain and suffering, but if the mind is given to God, we will not feel that much of intensity. That is because our mind is not in the body cent percent. Say, if we keep 80% of the mind on God, then only 20% will be felt by the body.

Though we cannot change our Prarabdha, we can alter the intensity of feeling by focussing our mind on God. Prarabdha should not make us fatalistic. Rather, it should give us the motivation to work more powerfully to make the future bright. We should also think: It is we who have created our present Prarabdha. Therefore, we will be able to easily create our future by performing Karma in the right perspective.

Sri Ramakrishna didn’t feel even the excruciating pain of cancer as His mind was totally absorbed in the Divine. Ordinary body-bound people feel that there is no way out from the pain and suffering of life, and Prarabdha cannot be changed. But its effect can be reduced by keeping the mind at a higher level. Another example: Swami Turiyananda had several carbuncles on his back. His doctor wanted to operate upon them and did so without applying any anaesthesia, as requested by the Swami. The doctor wondered as to how it was possible that the Swami did not experience or express any feeling of pain. When the doctor asked, the Swami said: I took my mind off from my body and placed it on God.

Prarabdha Karma cannot be avoided; it will have its effects. But we can reduce the intensity of pain and suffering caused by Prarabdha by lifting the mind from the body and keeping it in higher consciousness. Devotees normally do this by repeating the name of the Lord, singing His glories and meditating on Him. Mystic poets like Tagore, Rajanikanta, faced these Prarabdha Karmas with great peace and joy by following this technique.

Question: Swamiji, what is your message to today's younger generation?

Swamiji’s Answer: I have no message. I can only talk about the message which Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda had for our younger generation. Sri Ramakrishna had the greatest faith in the youth and special love for them, as they are full of energy and positivity, not stained by impulses of negative thoughts, ideas or habits. The younger generation of today, in the US as well as in India, is confronted with severe crises due to the degeneration of moral and spiritual values in the society. There are so many negative distracting attractions before them like drinking, drugs and many other horrible habits which are affecting their mental and spiritual growth and development.

Younger people should have before them a great role model like Swami Vivekananda, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, etc. so that they can compare the real life with the false one. Then the young people will be careful and not become a victim of any bad habit which takes away their reasoning and spiritual freedom. They will understand that drinking and taking drugs do not make someone great. Rather, it ruins their studies, life and career.

What Swami Vivekananda said is to have faith in oneself so that one can raise his/her character to a lofty level by being the best student, by being a selfless person with dedication to the society and keeping the mind open to scientific and spiritual values. Swami Vivekananda said, “Man-making and character building is my mission”. Character counts most in life. Wealth, name and fame may be necessary in life but that cannot bring peace. One should be empowered with strength of truthfulness, develop noble virtues, power to compete in the outside world, excel in every field of life, learn how to concentrate the mind and analyze things that come before them critically and only accept what seems rational and purposeful to them. They should develop the analytical part of the mind, emotional part of the heart and love for God and humanity.

Swami Vivekananda’s message to the youth may be summed up:

“I am responsible for my fate, I am the bringer of good unto myself, I am the bringer of evil. I am the Pure and Blessed One. We must reject all thoughts that assert to the contrary.” (Complete Works II. 202)

“Strength is goodness, weakness is sin.... the only religion that ought to be taught is the religion of fearlessness.... It is fear that brings misery, it is fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil. And what causes fear? Ignorance of our nature.” (CW III.160)

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Continued:: Part TWO: An Interview with Swamiji

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“Awake, awake, great ones! The world is burning with misery. Can you sleep? Let us call and call till the sleeping Gods awake. Till the God within answers to the call.” (CW VII. 498)

“Every idea that strengthens you must be taken up and every thought that weakens you must be rejected.”

“Whatever you think, that you will be. If you think yourself weak, weak you will be; if you think yourselves strong, strong you will be.”

“Each one of you has a glorious future if you dare believe me. Have a tremendous faith in yourselves.”

“Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the law. It will be, alas for ages to come. The earth’s bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good of many, for the welfare of all. Buddhas by the hundreds are necessary with eternal love and piety.” (CW VII. 498)

“This life is short, the vanities of the world are transient, but they alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” (CW IV. 363)

The first part of this interview was published in the July 2015 issue of Valley India Times.

From: http://news.valleyindiatimes.com