Friday, October 15, 2010

From ‘A Yankee and the Swamis. A Westerner's view of the Ramakrishna Order’ by John Yale (Swami Vidyatmananda)

Anybody brought up to the reassurance of trousers at first feels exposed, undressed in a dhoti. The material is light in weight, and the garment is open to updrafts and likely to fly apart past the knee with each step. But I found a great joy in wearing ‘the cloth’. I admire its simplicity and cleanliness. One washes his clothes every day, just as he bathes every day. Being merely a long piece of yardage, the dhoti can be easily dried in the sun. It dries without a wrinkle, as though ironed. If you want it to look especially nice you may fold it precisely and place it beneath your mattress for further pressing. Putting on your dhoti each day is like wrapping yourself up in fresh air and sunlight.

I do not believe Indians go on pilgrimages with the idea of doing penance. The notions of sin and atonement do not seem to be motives in Hinduism……….I think, the main reason is different…..a reason that one cannot grasp unless he has a conception of the Hindu science of ‘vibrations’………..Different minds have different powers of projection and reception, depending on their relative quality of concentration. Mental atmosphere is thus believed to be transferable from mind to mind. The condition of another will affect me when I am in his presence and my state will affect him. These subtle vibrations are also thought to permeate and remain in gross material objects. You leave a trace of yourself in everything you have had contact with: a piece of work you have done; some article of clothing you have worn; the remainder of food on your plate………One needs to grasp this Hindu science of subtle vibrations if he would hope to understand much of Indian social practice. For example, the unfamiliar notions of darshan and prasad become logical on the basis of this idea……. ‘Darshan in practice is a form of happiness induced among Hindus by being in the presence of some great manifestation of their collective consciousness. It may be a person, place or thing, and may represent past, present or future, so long as it sets up the definite recognizable glow of suprapersonal happiness.’ This is needlessly complex. All we need to say is that darshan is getting good vibrations by being in the presence of them…………….taking Prasad is the same thing carried a step further…..Prasad is an actual relic of someone, which one accommodates to himself, with the object thus of absorbing its vibrations…….Food is considered especially conductive of vibrations. Enjoying food left by an impure person or prepared by a cook whose mind is unclean can affect one adversely, while eating the remainder of food touched by a holy man is believed to be very helpful

Thus, when an Indian goes on a pilgrimage, what he is really trying to do usually is to gather up holy vibrations…….The object of veneration in a temple is believed to be charged with good vibrations. Holy men who have worshipped it have left a residue of holiness……..A sacred place accumulates good vibrations.

……….In the Bhagavad-Gita there is the promise: ‘Howsoever you conceive of Me, if you really desire Me, I will come to you in accordance with your conception.’ Once designated as holy, an object of veneration will thus have the tendency actually to increase in holiness and to become holy. I set up some representation of divinity, I channel my longing, my devotion for God into and through it. Others come and do the same. Holy men also worship there. Vibrations build up and a genuine place of sanctity is established. In time the accumulation of earnest entreaty may even induce the Reality which is being celebrated there to infuse itself fully into the representation. Then the phenomenon appears of what is known as an awakened deity. (Yes, the word deity is used even for a lingam, a natural formation, a holy tree.)……….Most places of national pilgrimage are places where the deity is considered to be awakened.

……..Shaivism as the path of renunciation, austerity. Shaivism teaches the control and sublimation of our humannesses. It is an approach to god though emphasis on the impersonal…………..Vaishnavism stresses the personal, the intimate, and uses these to take us to God………..Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘A man born with an element of Shiva becomes a jnani; his mind is always inclined to the feeling that the world is unreal and Brahman alone is real. But when a man is born with an element of Vishnu he develops an ecstatic love of God. That love can never be destroyed. It may wane a little now and then, when he indulges in philosophical reasoning, but it ultimately returns to him increased a thousand-fold’

……They will ask you all sorts of details about your family, what the original cost was of possessions you have, the state of your digestive tract. But there is nothing insinuating in any of this. The questions are put without guile, innocently as a child would do. You cannot take offence……..I was brought up in the belief that the mark of a gentleman is his ability to keep confidences. But very little is kept a secret by Indians. All news is common property, as in a home.

It has been said laughingly that to the American it doesn’t matter whether something is pure, just so that it is clean; whereas to the Indian if something is pure that makes it clean.

………..eating in hotels and restaurants is rarely done by monastics because of the unhelpful influences likely to reside in the food. Food not prepared with devotion…………devised impersonally for making money by people with their minds full of gross thoughts – can adversely influence your spiritual growth……..Sri Ramakrishna could not even keep on the storage shelf in his room food gifts brought by visitors who were lustful, avaricious, or hopeful of getting some advantage as a result of their devotions.

…..a salagram stone…….just a smooth pebble about the size of a plum, black in colour, with a hole in it, and bearing some white markings. Salagram are natural formations………Sri Ramakrishna, remarking on he fact that the whole world is nothing but materialized spirit, pointed out that God manifests himself, however, more in certain things than in others. The salagram is one of these………..

Sri Ramakrishna compared holy places to bodies of water. ‘You may be sure,’ he said, ‘that there is God’s manifestation in those spots where people have practiced spiritual disciplines a great deal.’………….Yet from another standpoint Sri Ramakrishna made light of pilgrimages. He often said, ‘One who has it here [in the heart] has it there; one who has it not here has it nowhere.’ In other words, if devotion is unfolding, the process will be enhanced by association with holy places; but if it is not, no amount of traipsing about to temples and shrines will do much good

Benaras………..So many of India’s saints have journeyed there to walk in its streets and bathe from its ghats…….that the whole place is alight with faith…….Sri Ramakrishna…….spoke of the city as hardly material at all, but rather as composed of pure sattwa guna, of purity and truth.

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