"After so much austerity, I have understood this as the real truth - God is present in every jiva; there is no other God besides that. "Who serves jiva, serves God indeed." - Swami Vivekananda
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PRABUDDHA BHARATAA Visit to Belur Math | January 1907  

 

 

 

 

         Prabuddha BharataЧ100 years ago



      A Visit to the Belur Math: January 1907

 

 

 

     After having been connected with the Ramakrishna Mission work in America, for the last eight years, it is quite a new experience to find myself in India, an inmate of the Belur Math, the headquarters, from whence all the workers of this great Mission go forth. Е


     As a rule, the monks or Sannyasins in India do not have a fixed place where they reside or are taken care of. The monk in the West, in a certain sense exchanges one home for another. Entering the monastery he is provided for during the rest of his life. But when in India one becomes a Sannyasin, he henceforth begs his food from door to door and he wanders from village to village, resting under shelter or in the open air, as chance may be. And he is cared for only in this sense, that no true Hindu householder, be he ever so poor, will refuse to share his meal, with the religious mendicant.


     Such then was the life of the Swamis belonging to the Ramakrishna Mission, before the Math had been established. But the time came, when their activity should be directed in a different way. Called by their leader to a life of combined action, a nucleus had to be formed and a place to be built where they might meet and prepare themselves for the task before them. The Math was erected and provisions were made for those who wish to live a retired life, as well as for the workers. Room was also provided for Brahmacharis or neophites who assist the Swamis in their work and who receive from them, spiritual instructions.


     It is not strange that we find the life here different from what we picture monastic life in the West. There is much that is good and holy and praiseworthy in all places where sincere men live together, and monasteries at all times and in all places have served to give men an opportunity to approach their God under less difficult conditions, than they would have found elsewhere. But with the thought of loftiness and sublimity there is much in the word monastery that hints at gloom and depression; emaciated features, hushed voices, noiseless movements and severity everywhere. There is very little of that in the Belur Math. Failure, disappointment or fear of future
punishment are not the motives which prompt the Hindu monk to join the holy order. In the West we so often find this to be the case. And the life of austerity and self-denial, instead of bringing freedom to the soul, often creates a being centred in the little self, with a heart devoid of sweetness, mellowness and simplicity.


     In the East it is different. The attempt is not being made to make the imperfect perfect, but by a dwelling in the Divine, a drawing away from the imperfect is brought about; by bringing in the Light, darkness leaves of its own accord; by filling the mind with the sublime, there is no room for what is low. A remembrance of the real Self,
makes [one] forgetful of the little self. A very different process! The heart expands, it includes all, it is filled with love for all that lives. There is no room then for pessimism and morosity in the monastic life here. We find the massive building, white walls and cement floors and extreme simplicity everywhere. But the rooms are full of light
and air; no seclusion in little cells, but everything open and free. The inmates hold one common object, one common purpose and we find very little of Уmine and thineФ amongst them. The association between them is much as we like to see it amongst brothers; easy, free from unnecessary ceremonies and still an appreciation of the good qualities in each one. The Brahmacharis, mostly young lads, serve the older Sannyasins in many little ways. But one is not impressed with the idea of servility. It comes so natural with them, so spontaneous. In their obedience there is no questioning. They love the Swamis, they admire them and that is expressed in their actions. To live with the Swamis is a privilege, which they appreciate.


     To describe the life of the monks here, can be done in a few words. Having realized the divinity within, knowing themselves to be the witness of all that takes place, knowing the mind and the body to act, while the true Self never acts, they offer up whatever is connected with their external and mental life, to the Lord of all and they serve Him through His manifestations in the whole of humanity. In other words, their life has become a life of service, in whatever form that may be. When living in the Math, they may do such work as has to be done there. When called elsewhere, they may answer such call, be it to nurse the sick, bring food to the famine-stricken, instruct those who ask for spiritual advice, give shelter to the destitute, or bring to other nations the glorious teaching of Vedanta of which they stand so much in need. And all this is done without any personal considerations. The question will be discussed whether or not, the help is needed. This being decided in the affirmative, the person best fitted for the work will be selected and then, without further questioning or delay, the work is executed.


     Understanding the life of the Sannyasin, we will then not be disappointed to find their life devoid of much external show of religious sentiment as far as ceremonies are concerned. Religion is to be practised every moment of the day, never to leave our life, no matter in what way we may be occupied. During eating or working or resting or play, nay even during sleep the mind should be fixed on God. Such is the teaching. We need therefore not mistake the cheerful countenance and hearty laugh for a worldly state of mind.

 

     Still, when external practices and means are helpful to bring about the realization of oneТs ideal, such means are not rejected. And an opportunity to satisfy the devotional yearning of the devotee is found in the little chapel, where a simple ceremony is performed every morning and evening. Some flowers gathered in the garden, are offered to the Deity. But the flowers stand only as a symbol, for every act, every thought. So also the food is put on the altar of the Divine. And here God is worshipped not in a sectarian way, but first of all as that All-pervading, Universal Being and then in His different incarnations. And when the worshipper places one of the flowers on his own heart, he meditates on that same Deity as residing in his heart.


     Such then is the life here. There is in it much of grace, much of sweetness; a spirit of gentleness which one meets at all times. How quietly it works, imperceptible, except in its results. A simple, cheerful, holy life - a life of service and devotion, a life of love for God and man. It is then not strange that many flock to this beautiful place on the Ganges side. In easy reach from Calcutta they spend their hours of leisure in the company of the Swamis. And especially on Sundays we may find little groups of men in conversation or singing those beautiful Bengali hymns full of devotion and feeling.


     There may not be so much of austerity here, but there is the constant withdrawing from the little self and a centering in the Divine. And the heart becomes pure and simple and loving. And this is what draws so many to the Belur Math and what fills their hearts with love for the Lord and His holy workers. And they return to their respective duties, strengthened and encouraged and filled with a determination also to reach the goal.


     Vedanta stands for freedom and that principle is carried out in the Math. All are welcome, who are sincere. The meanest, the lowest finds a place in the heart of these monks. And never does one call for help in vain.

 


     - Brahmachari Gurudas


Universe and terrestrial atmospheres. Painting. Rajasthan. c. 18th century A.D.
Universe and terrestrial atmospheres. Painting. Rajasthan. c. 18th century A.D.


 

 

 

 

 


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