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Swami Vivekananda & Organization

“Why is it that organization is so powerful? Do not say organization is material. Why is it, to take a case in point, that forty millions of Englishmen rule three hundred millions of people here? What is the psychological explanation? These forty millions put their wills together and that means infinite power, and you three hundred millions have a will each separate from the other. Therefore to make a great future India, the whole secret lies in organization, accumulation of power, co-ordination of wills.”

 I begin by quoting this passage from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. This passage appears in his lecture ‘Future of India’ delivered by the great Swami in Chennai on 14th Feb 1897.

We see a few interesting points in the above passage:

The first thing to note is that here we have a spiritual giant of the stature of Swami Vivekananda discussing such a mundane idea as making a nation great! Isn’t that the job of politicians and diplomats? Isn’t that the job of the leaders of political parties? Isn’t that the job of leaders who have legislative power? Should a monk speak or think on these issues?

The second thing to note is – Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really? If so, how and why? Does history mention any such development where the forty million Englishmen of the 19th century came together and decided that they would put their wills together? None of the history books mentions such a development. Why is Swamiji mentioning this here?

The third thing to note is – Swamiji says here ‘Do not say organization is material’. Who said organization is material? Most of us don’t even know what organization means! Some of us perhaps think that organization means corporations, consisting of profit-minded executives; some perhaps even think that it refers to groups of people who come together for a particular cause, such as the organization for blacks’ rights, or organization for the economically deprived. Even if we do understand this word to mean something like that, who amongst us ever felt that organization is ‘material’?

The fourth thing to note is – in order to become a great nation, India needs to do only one thing! There is no need to do many things. Only one thing is necessary, says Swamiji. And that is – ‘Coordinate the wills of the Indians’.

Let us deal with each of these points one by one.

Why is a spiritual man, a monk, and that too, one of the stature of Swami Vivekananda, talking about the future of a nation, about making India great, about organization? Shouldn’t a monk confine himself to spiritual practices, to scriptural study, to rituals and spiritual ministration? Isn’t it wrong for a monk to deal with ideas such as those mentioned in this passage?

Well, traditionally, monks have dealt with such issues. Our country has had a marvelous history.[1] The social power structure has always been managed by the two upper castes – the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas. Between them, they ruled the people of this country. When the Kshatriyas lost touch with the ground reality and became too dictatorial, the Brahmins overthrew the Kshatriyas and took power into their hands. Same thing happened when the Brahmins lost touch with the ground reality and became arrogantly powerful and oppressed the people whom they ruled. It is because of this dipole power structure in India from ancient times that class struggle (so fondly studied by the Communist historians) never arose here.

Over and above the four castes of this unique social structure, there was one more group of people who outlawed themselves from this four-caste structure and stayed outside the society. They were the monks. This group of people were quite objective in their perceptions of society and were sensitive to the tilts in the power balance of the ancient Indian society. Since the monks were self-declared outlaws, they did not need patronage from anyone, neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas. They would boldly point out the flaws in their functioning and warn them to correct themselves or get ready for an upheaval and overthrowing from power. Moreover, since monks themselves were not beneficiaries in the resulting social change, their observations and advices carried a great moral value. Repeatedly, this happened in Indian history. However, the unwritten norm of the Hindu monks has been that the monk could at most point out the flaw and then hands off! The monk would not engage in actually re-structuring the power equations in society. From time immemorial, it was considered one of the activities assigned to monks to point out the corrective measures that society needed to get back on track; and it was simultaneously considered anathema for monks to directly get involved in engaging in the political activities required for bringing about the prescribed social changes.

This is what we see Swamiji do here. He was able to see why Indians lived as slaves to a foreign power. He was able to see why a foreign power was able to enslave the Indians and rule over them. He was able to see how Indians could break themselves from the shackles of such foreign domination. But, he wouldn’t involve himself directly in any political activity required for breaking India free from foreign rule. He however delineated what was required for Indians to become a great nation, which included obtaining political freedom, educational self-reliance and economic superiority in the comity of nations. If we were concerned about our country’s future, we would heed these words of Swamiji and work as directed by him.

Swamiji says that the forty millions of Englishmen put their wills together. Did they, really?

The rise of the Joint Stock Companies in Europe, especially in Britain was a watershed event in the history of mankind. This event fueled the Industrial Revolution as much as the scientific discoveries did, if not more. Man knew a particular type of production until then. Production activity was largely localized. And it was confined to a small group of people who held the technical knowhow as a safely guarded secret. All of a sudden, the British were engaged in a new type of production that required enormous coordination of the activities of an enormous number of people across enormous physical distances. For instance, a large number of people were engaged in one part of the world in growing cotton. Once they had grown the cotton, it was all collected by another large group of people and transported across oceans to huge mills situated in some other part of the globe. Yet another large group of people ran these huge mills. They worked day and night to manufacture standardized cotton threads. These threads were then collected by yet another large group of people who were engaged in manufacturing clothes out of those yarns. One more large group of people then transported those clothes all over the world and handed them over to a different large of people who then sold them to end-users.

This was the main reason behind the rise of the organization in Britain. The cause was economic in nature. More and more number of people joined together in a particular enterprise. Large amounts of money and resources were pooled in. Huge amounts of things were manufactured in a short time. And the things thus manufactured were more often than not, very complex. As long as man confined himself to the old style of manufacturing, all he could produce was a bullock cart, or a horse drawn carriage. Once large number of people came together, as they did in Britain, man was able to produce a motor car. It is impossible to produce a modern motor car in the old style of production.

Whatever be the reason, the British had found out a way to get a large number of people to come together, pool in their money, resources and effort, and consequently multiply their individual strengths while cancelling out their individual weaknesses. This strange form of community activity was later on given the term organization. Thus, the root of the modern organization, as we know it today, is purely economic, purely material.

The point that Swamiji is trying to make here is – granted that the western world’s organization has purely materialistic roots, but, once an organization has been formed, it no longer remains a purely materialistic entity. Why is that so? The objectives of forming an organization may be to earn money, to wage wars and kill people and to conquer new regions. But what exactly is an organization? Is any motley group of people called an organization? If a group of people is to be considered an organization, there are certain important criteria. First, there has to be a group of people, who, amongst them have a wide variety of skills, talents, experiences and abilities. This allows for division of labor amongst them. Secondly, they have jointly agreed upon a common goal, or a common set of goals to be achieved. Thirdly, all of them pool in their resources, energies and time to work together in order to achieve those commonly set goals. Fourthly, their attitudes and behaviors are conditioned by commonly accepted norms. And lastly, all of them recognize that the group has an existence of its own, just as all of the individual members have an existence independent of one another. In other words, the group is considered as a living entity, just as the individual members are. And this existence is recognized in all the individual and collective activities and decisions of the group. These criteria show one very important characteristic: the existence of the organization, therefore, is not temporal. The existence of organization is in the minds of the members. The more the individuals get identified with this mental construct, the stronger that organization becomes. The individual members pour in their life-force into the sustenance and growth of this organization. That organization now develops a life of its own, as it were. It develops individuality, as it were. Long story short, it comes into existence. All that exists has Spirit as its basis. Hence, Swamiji says that we shouldn’t write off organizations as inconsequential by thinking it is a mere material entity.

These ideas that we have explored till now in this article lead to a wonderful theory, which have enormous ramifications on our actions and on our lives. Let us try to analyze that briefly:

Swamiji said to Sister Nivedita once[2], “That is precisely my position about Brahman and the gods! I believe in Brahman and the gods, and not in anything else!”…. You see, I cannot but believe that there is somewhere a great Power that thinks of Herself as feminine, and called Kali, and Mother. And I believe in Brahman too …But is it not always like that? Is it not the multitude of cells in the body that make up the personality, the many brain-centers, not the one, that produce consciousness?… Unity in complexity! Just so! And why should it be different with Brahman? It is Brahman. It is the One. And yet and yet it is the gods too!” Elsewhere he makes a significant statement about God: “….the only God that exists, the only God I believe in, the sum total of all souls[3]” It seems fairly clear to us now that Swamiji saw God as the sum-total of souls, apart from subscribing to the Impersonal aspect. When we extend this idea to an organization, we find that when a group of people come together, putting in their wills together for a common goal, no matter how trivial or mundane that goal be, in effect, there is a spiritual entity, a god, that is created!

This is a very powerful idea.

Our actions here have a repercussion on the spiritual realm! It has always been believed to be the other way around. It has always been held that some entities somewhere in an unapproachable spiritual realm decides that something should occur on earth, in our lives, and then we human beings act out that decision of the gods. This has been the commonly held belief. When we combine these three ideas of Swamiji – first, that organization is a spiritual entity; second, Reality is Personal as well as Impersonal; third, Personal God is the sum total of souls; – we arrive at a totally different conception of human actions. Gods may or may not influence our actions. But it is of much greater importance for us that our actions here influence the spiritual realm! By our actions, we can create new spiritual entities. If we decide to get together and combine our wills, we give rise to a new god! And that god needs to be worshipped. How? By our actions, again. Take an organization such as a factory. The moment you consider yourself a part of that organization, you are in the presence of a new god, the spiritual entity associated with that organization. You will need to worship that new god. Since this new god has a strange form, unlike a stone image, consisting of buildings and machinery and people and processes, your worship will have to be in consonance with this new form. Your so-called ‘work’ in that factory will be nothing but worship that the new god demands.

Some readers may object to the line of thought presented here, saying, I am blowing a simple idea of Swamiji out of all proportions. To answer such objections, let me quote one amazing statement of Swamiji: “Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas.[4]

This brings us to the fourth point: What India needs for a bright and strong future is just this – organization. People living in the geographical confines of India should feel identified with India. That is one organization Swamiji definitely wanted to take shape. All through history, people have populated this particular geographical region but have seldom felt identified with it as a Nation. Our identity has all along been to the religious and cultural mores of the sub-regions rather than to the abstract concept of a Nation.

The historic struggle for freedom from the British Rule in the early 20th century saw the development of national sense in us. The post-independence period in India however has done little to ensure that this national sense grows in the coming generations. The national sense grows along various lines in different cultures. The Civic sense is the basis in most western countries. In India, we do not see much hope along that line. A poor nation, habituated to hunger and squalor cannot be expected to appreciate the civic sense to any decent degree. Our hope lies in spiritualizing the abstract concept of the Nation. Swamiji makes a significant observation in a letter as follows: “But, excuse me if I say that it is sheer ignorance and want of proper understanding to think like that, namely, that our national ideal has been a mistake. First go to other countries and study carefully their manners and conditions with your own eyes – not with others’ – and reflect on them with a thoughtful brain, if you have it: then read your own scriptures, your ancient literature, travel throughout India, and mark the people of her different parts and their ways and habits with the wide-awake eye of an intelligent and keen observer – not with a fool’s eye – and you will see as clear as noonday that the nation is still living intact and its life is surely pulsating. You will find there also that, hidden under the ashes of apparent death, the fire of our national life is yet smoldering and that the life of this nation is religion, its language religion, and its idea religion; and your politics, society, municipality, plague-prevention work, and famine-relief work – all these things will be done as they have been done all along here, viz. only through religion; otherwise all your frantic yelling and bewailing will end in nothing, my friend![5]

India is a living goddess and She demands our worship. Won’t we respond? Extrapolating this idea further, every sub-structure within the nation is also a goddess (or a god, if you will). Every organization constituting the national economy is a living goddess. Let us worship these goddesses with the appropriate form of rituals. While a stone or marble image of a goddess called for the ritualistic dashopachara or shodashopachara puja, these new goddesses call for meaningful, systematic labor of our hands, heads and hearts. Let us please these modern goddesses, which are organizations, and allow our Nation to reach great heights of economic and social development simultaneously achieving our own spiritual unfoldment, ‘Atmano moksha jagaddhitashcha’.

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[1] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Modern India: An essay written for Udbodhan magazine, wherein Swami Vivekananda delineates this history in a masterly fashion, giving ample evidences from Indian history.

[2] Cf: Complete works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-1: Master as I saw him: Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Kolkata: 1967: pg-118

[3] We can recall here the fact that Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Bhava Samadhi whenever he saw a gathering of people assembled for singing the praises of the Lord. Could it be that he perceived a vision in those cases, the vision of the spiritual entity corresponding to that group? See for instance, Cf: Sri Ramakrishna & His divine play: Swami Saradananda: Vedanta Society of St. Louis: 2003: pg 235 & pg 858.

[4] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-7: Epistles: Letter No. XXXII, dated 27th April, 1896, written from Reading, USA to his brother disciples at Alambazar Math

[5] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-5: Writings: Prose and Poems: The East And The West (Translated from Bengali) Chapter-I: Introduction

 

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Rewriting Indian history

Honorable Minister for Culture, Government of India, Sri Mahesh Sharma, recently announced[1] that a committee had been formed comprising of 14 bureaucrats and academic scholars, headed by Sri K N Dikshit, that aimed at rewriting ‘certain portions’ of Indian history. This announcement has stirred a hornet’s nest and reactions have been really sharp and divided in the academic circles.

We believe that the effort is indeed laudable and most urgently needed. However, the agenda for such a momentous task needs to be as broad and comprehensive as this nation itself, if the efforts should not run into a cul-de-sac like the previous myopic attempts at writing Indian history by the various schools of communist, sub-altern, imperialist or nationalist historians.

Isn’t it a happy coincidence that this decision of writing an ‘Indian version’ of Indian history should gain momentum in the very period when we are celebrating Sister Nivedita’s 150th birth anniversary? We cannot fail to point this out to our readers because it was Nivedita who was the first person in recent times to recognize the urgent necessity for such an attempt. Swami Vivekananda had taught her, “…whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation.[2] If a person has a true, undiluted, unbiased, unprejudiced version of one’s national past, it is easier to develop a solid self-image of oneself along national lines.

But let us remind ourselves here that the collection and collation of facts, discerning of the cause and the effect from a study of those facts, and uncovering the historical forces acting on the people of India, must be true, uncolored by biases, uncolored by a hidden agenda of conforming to a pet theory of history, be it the left-wing theory or the right-wing one! That is indeed a mighty task, and calls for great refinement of our faculties.

Anyway, following in Swamiji’s footsteps, Sister Nivedita pointed out that “India herself is the master document[3] which we have to read in order to know Indian history. She wrote, “The country is her own record. She is the history that we must learn to read.[4] This clearly means that learning how to read India is an exercise that involves a specific method. Nivedita wanted aspiring historians to decipher “the Indian idea of India[5]. It is impossible to understand an Indian idea in terms of non-Indian concepts.[6]

 “In all that lies around us…, we may, if our eyes are open, read the story of the past.[7] The proper way of understanding Indian history, according to Nivedita, is through travel: “If India itself be the book of Indian history, it follows that travel is the true means of reading that history.[8] An important component of Nivedita’s historical thinking was the intimate connection she saw between geography and the history of place, especially the layered histories of ancient cities. She said that “History must be viewed geographically, and geography historically”.[9] Once we invoke geography to serve the cause of history, (something which has not been done till now by any school of history), it immediately becomes clear that a notion of territorial and civilizational identity was already present in pre-colonial India. It was a result of stable geographical boundaries, busy pilgrimage routes and destinations spread across the length and breadth of the country, vibrant ancient cities that acted as centers of culture, and great political empires. In other words, the unity of India was not a gift of British rule as many British imperialist historians liked to claim.

One of the key features of Indian nationhood is diversity. A true historian will have to get initiated into the unique dynamics that exist between diversity and unity in the Indian context. Sister Nivedita writes: “…India is and always has been a synthesis. No amount of analysis – racial, lingual, or territorial – will ever amount in the sum to the study of India…all the parts of a whole are not equal to the whole.[10] In other words, India as a nation is not merely the sum of different regions professing separate identities; the whole has a life of its own. There has been a national cohesion—a synthesis—as a result of historical processes. According to Nivedita, the task before the historian is precisely this, “… apart from and above, all the fragments which must be added together to make India, we have to recognize India herself, all-containing, all-dominating, moulding and shaping the destinies and the very nature of the elements out of which she is composed…No Indian province has lived unto itself, pursuing its own development, following its own path, going its way unchallenged and alone.[11]

Nivedita held European treatises on Western History in high regard because of their method — ‘the connectedness of the treatment of each life with others’ is what she appreciated most in these works. But she lamented about the history of India written during her times, “In Indian History, such a point of view is conspicuous by its absence. Some writers are interested in Buddhist India (if indeed we have any right to employ such a term) and some in various stages of Mahratta or Sikh or Indo-Islamic History or what not. But who has caught the palpitation of the Indian heart-beat through one and all of these? It is ‘India’ that makes Indian History glorious.[12]

We hope and pray that this commendable attempt by the present Government of India fulfils these heartfelt expectations of the great Sister Nivedita.

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[1] NDTV Newsdesk (with inputs from Reuters) on 6th March 2018: (web edition)

[2] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Reply to the address of Maharaja of Khetri

[3] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: Some problems on Indian research:

[6] Recall how Swamiji famously said “I would not translate this word Shraddha to you; it would be a mistake.” : Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda:Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply to address of welcome at Calcutta:

[7] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[8] Ibid.

[9] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘The Future Education of the Indian Women’.

[10] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[11] Ibid.

[12] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘A note on historical research’.

Addictive power of digital technology

Have you noticed how our children are getting addicted to smartphones recently? Parents and teachers are at their wits’ end dealing with this growing specter.

Psychologists are conducting researches on the impact of smartphones on teenage brains. Studies have found that a Class-8 student’s risk for depression spikes 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones as the driving force.[1]

Educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, co-authors of the recent book ‘Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber’ observe that, strangely, the two biggest tech figures in recent history – Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – seldom let their kids play with the very products they helped create. What is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don’t? According to a growing body of evidence, it is the addictive power of digital technology.

In 2007, Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. Steve Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple, revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that he prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs had told reporter Nick Bilton.[2]

Clement and Miles make the case that wealthy Silicon Valley parents seem to grasp the addictive powers of smartphones, tablets, and computers more than the general public does – despite the fact that these parents often make a living by creating and investing in that technology. More interestingly, the authors point out that some of the best schools in USA (Waldorf School & Brightworks School) still teach using chalk and pencil, without the deleterious impact of digital technology on their students!

Technology is always disruptive. Training is needed to employ any new technology beneficially.

Consider, for instance, Nuclear Technology. It developed during World War II. USA, UK & Canada formed the Manhattan Project to research nuclear fission. This Project had two outcomes. The 1st outcome was the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima & Nagasaki and ended the 2nd World War. The 2nd outcome was a controlled nuclear reactor. The bomb came in 1945 and the reactor in 1951. The damaging aspect of the technology came 1st and then, slowly mankind learned how to put the technology to beneficial use. Today we have nuclear power generating stations, nuclear powered ships and submarines, and nuclear medicines that can fight Cancer. The same technology that gave us the devastating atomic bombs also helps us fight cancer today! Who is to decide whether nuclear technology is harmful or beneficial, per se?

Unless a new technology is accompanied by sufficient training, it can indeed be harmful. But, with the right kind of training, any new technology can be a great boon. Same holds good for digital technology too.

The marriage of personal computers, mobile telephony and blogging has unleashed unprecedented power into our hands today. Where is the requisite training to go along with it?

In this context, what indeed is the content of training to be imparted to students? Bradley Busch[3], noted psychologist, explains it is ‘Self-control’.

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[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/Bill Gates and Steve Jobs shared a surprising philosophy about tech and it should have been a big red flag/articleshow/61192216.cms

[2] Cf: British online newspaper: ‘The Independent’ on 24th Feb 2016.

[3] Bradley Busch is a Registered Psychologist, Director at Inner-Drive and Author of ‘Release Your Inner Drive’. You can follow Busch @Inner_Drive on Twitter. See his masterly article on ‘Lessons from Research’ in the Feb 2018 issue of The Guardian for more details.

Self-Control & Student Success

Education may be the most important thing in a young person’s life, but, when faced with yet another lecture or homework assignment, nearly all students in one survey said they wished they were doing something else. This, according to a new article in the December issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggests that succeeding at “studenting” may require as much self-control as intelligence, student-freedom and joyful learning.

This study is extremely important since it flies in the face of the ideas of Education we have adopted in India for over a decade now – the idea of making the entire learning process ‘stress-free’ for the child!

Everyone’s been in this situation, where you’ve got this piece of chocolate cake in front of you and you don’t really want to eat it but you’re so compelled to, and I think students feel this way all the time with their work,” said co-author Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania known for her research on “grit” as a pathway to achievement.

In a pair of longitudinal studies following 304 eighth-graders, Duckworth and her colleagues measured students’ self-control through self-reports, questionnaires completed by parents and teachers, and a set of behavioral delay-of-gratification tasks. Based on these scores, they found that, similar to IQ, students who were rated highly for self-control also earned higher grades and standardized test scores. Unlike IQ, however, higher self-control was also predictive of fewer school absences, less procrastination, more time spent studying, and less time spent watching television.

Duckworth, who taught middle school math before becoming a university professor, said these findings aligned with her own time in the classroom.

Kids actually want to do well,” Duckworth said. “I’ve never met a kid who wants to do worse, but not all of them were able to align their behavior with studying, with homework, with paying attention in class.”

On a larger scale, a study of 1,000 students in New Zealand found that ratings of self-control in childhood were just as predictive of a person’s financial security, income, physical and mental health, substance use, and criminal convictions later in life as intelligence or socioeconomic status were.

While self-control can be grouped with conscientiousness, a Big Five personality trait, it also stands as a unique behavioral measure that may contribute to a person’s overall success.

Self-control exists on the timescale of minutes, Duckworth explained, allowing someone to resist the everyday temptations of texting in class or hitting the snooze button in the morning, whereas grit may provide the persevering passion required to accomplish long-term goals such as winning a National Contest or attending your college of choice.

Encouraging conscientious behaviors isn’t as simple as telling students to “just use some self-control,” however. Duckworth said she is most excited about the use of situational modifications that make the temptation to neglect schoolwork less powerful – for example turning off your cellphone, or even leaving it in another room, to avoid distracting texts.

Thinking about ways to avoid these conflicts strategically seems much more efficient and less torturous over time,” she said.

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References

  1. Duckworth, A. L., and M. E. P. Seligman. “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.” Psychological Science, vol. 16, no. 12, Jan. 2005, pp. 939–944.
  1. Duckworth, Angela L., and Martin E. P. Seligman. “The Science and Practice of Self-Control.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 5, 1 Sept. 2017, pp. 715–718.
  1. Galla B. M., Rikoon S. H., Haimm C. A., Duckworth A. (2016). Explaining the phenomenology of self-control conflict. Manuscript in preparation.
  1. Moffitt T. E., Arseneault L., Belsky D., Dickson N., Hancox R. J., Harrington H. L., Caspi A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108, 2693–2698.

 

Pocket Ventilator

We have…to gain a little in material knowledge …in bringing the best results out of the smallest of causes…some sort of materialism, toned down to our own requirements, would be a blessing to many of our brothers who are not yet ripe for the highest truths.”[1]The Western people will…be your Guru regarding practical sciences …for the improvement of material conditions, and the people of our country will be their Guru in everything pertaining to religion.[2]If we are to live at all, we must be a scientific nation.[3] Such was the prophetic vision of Swami Vivekananda.

Recently, a 25-year old Robotic Engineer from Delhi Sri Diwakar Vaish, has developed a ventilator, in collaboration with Dr Deepak Agarwal, Professor of Neuroscience at AIIMS, New Delhi. This ventilator is the smallest, as well as the cheapest one in the world! It is almost 450 times smaller than the conventional ones. It is as small as a cellphone and can slip into one’s pocket. When this pocket device hits the market after clinical trials and approval from Drug Controller General of India, it is estimated to cost between Rs. 15,000 to 20,000.

A traditional ventilator costs Rs. 5 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs. The cheapest portable one available in the market today costs between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh. An FDA-approved disposable ventilator costs between Rs 10,000 and 15,000, but it has a maximum life of four weeks. Most of these presently available ventilators require oxygen cylinders which cost about Rs. 4,000 per day.

This pocket ventilator will run on room air, and not oxygen. Hence the operational costs are close to zero. Traditional ventilators use oxygen cylinders. Disposable ventilators however use room air, but they push it into the lungs at a fixed frequency that does not necessarily match the patient’s breathing pattern, which may cause oxygen saturation. Controlled with an Android App, this device uses an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to adjust and synchronize air supply to normal breathing pattern of a patient.

Thousands of critically-ill patients live in hospitals today in our country, because the family cannot afford to buy a portable ventilator. Presently, India faces a huge shortage of ventilator beds needed to support critically-ill patients who cannot breathe on their own. According to norms, at least 10% of all hospital should have ventilators, but we are way too short of the demand. Nine out of ten patients, barring the ones with severe lung problems, can breathe in the normal atmospheric air because the problem is in their diaphragm, not lungs. For the 10% who need more oxygen, the pocket ventilator can also be hooked to an oxygen-supply system. This device can work on the normal power connection and comes with an additional battery backup for a couple of hours. For remote areas, it will come with additional battery for 12 hours.

It is cheap and affordable for hospitals and individuals. This will reduce shortage of ventilators in hospitals. It can reach the remotest areas for healthcare. People with paralysis can be wheeled with the ventilator. Shortage of oxygen or disruption of oxygen supply will no longer be an issue.

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[1] CW: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply To The Address Of Welcome At Ramnad

[2] CW: Vol-5: Conversations and Dialogues: VI: Shri Priya Nath Sinha

[3] CW: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras: 1892-93

National Policy-making

The most important quality a National Policy-maker needs is Insight; insight into the future. Where will we be 50 years from now, if we implement this policy today? This ability to look into the future is the most valuable asset of a National Policy-maker. When we ourselves don’t have that ability to a marked degree, we may call in those that do have that insight and profit from their super-sense. Introspection is another quality indispensable for Policy-makers. What is promoting a particular idea or option? This idea should constantly echo in the Policy-maker’s mind.

We are talking in particular about India’s plan for all-electric cars by 2030. The Indian Auto Industry was taken by surprise after the Government announced last year that the entire Auto Industry would go electric by the turn of 2030. The announcement came on the heels of the Government skipping one stage in pollution standards, and advancing the introduction of BS-VI fuel by two years.

Mercedes-Benz India MD & CEO Roland Folger was talking to PTI in a freewheeling interaction recently[1], in which he urged the Government “not to rush with the all-electric vehicles push” and thus “foreclose better technological options” for future generations, as the rest of the world is racing to run on hydrogen, and not electricity.

Calling for better and coordinated efforts, Mr Folger said, “Ideally, regulators and policymakers should be totally aligned with what’s happening on the technology front because 5-10 years is a short period in the Auto landscape. The least policymakers can do is to take the Auto Industry into confidence.”

Pointing out that the time frame announced to go all electric is very short, given the very long-term nature of the Auto Industry, he said this would mean that all Auto Companies stop investing in or developing any more products.

“If so what will happen to the investments already made in other technologies? Our planners should know that over the next two decades or so the whole world will be driving hydrogen cars and not electric cars,” Mr Folger said.

On the huge financial burden the plan would be on the nation, he wondered whether the Government has thought about this aspect before arriving at this decision.

“Can the Government invest hundreds of billions of dollars into setting up charging stations and associated infrastructure? If not, then who will foot the bill? Definitely not the private sector! If at all Government manages to raise funds, is it worth the effort in terms of meeting the key objective of bringing down pollution?” he asked.

In fact, Mr Folger thinks that the move would be “more counter-productive in terms of additional power demand, as you are still building and supporting thermal power plants.”

“Yes, with the current coal-based power generation model, this would be more polluting as demand for electricity will jump manifold. Or do we have the finances to upgrade all our old thermal plants? Or can we go completely off polluting coal plants? If yes, what is the cost that such a plan will entail?” he wondered.

As a way out, Mr Folger suggested “plug-in hybrids” as the best option for the country despite such vehicles being costlier than e-cars.

“Yes plug-in hybrids are more costly than e-cars. But if we consider the cumulative cost of putting up nationwide infrastructure in terms of charging stations and other supporting infra for electrification, plug-in hybrids are more affordable,” he said.

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[1] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/mercedes-benz-india-chief-roland-folger-plan-for-all-electric-cars-by-2030-not-viable-1791725#pt0-219865; dated 24th Dec 2017

Community Development through Polytechnics

Respected Prof. Saini, Chairman of the present Evaluation Committee, Govt of India, Prof U C Kumar, NITTTR, Kolkata, Dr Saibal Mukhopadyay, Director, Technical Education, Govt of West Bengal, other distinguished Professors and Directors, I represent Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, Belur Math, an NGO running a premier Polytechnic since 1954.

Elaborating on the wonderful talks given by Prof Saini and Director, Technical Education Dr Saibal Mukhopadyay, I wish to point out a couple of issues that we at Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira have learnt in our long run with technical education. We were a Govt aided Polytechnic till 2007, during which time, we had the Community Polytechnic Scheme also. Our erstwhile Principal, Rev Swami Tattwajnanandaji, was of the opinion that Polytechnic College resources should not, and cannot, be used for running the CP scheme. The reason being – Diploma education is a separate job, while skill development in the community is also a separate, dedicated job. Each needs sufficient dedication and allocation of man power, time and resources. We cannot use the man power, time and resources meant for one to double up for the other. If we do that, both will suffer. Well, at least, one will certainly suffer. We cannot afford to lose focus in this way. Hence, what was done at Shilpamandira was that a separate unit was started as the Community Polytechnic. The machinery was completely different from the ones used for the Polytechnic. The rule is that a workshop cannot have two masters! The lecturers of the Polytechnic, however, helped when required in various respects like up-skilling of the CP instructors, setting the question papers and evaluating the answer sheets, setting up new equipment, etc. But, the Polytechnic and the CP were kept separate right from the beginning. And that is how it is running right now too. We have found this model to be really useful.

Regarding release of funds under the CP scheme, Director of Technical Education said that during the CP scheme days, fund-release was smooth. Now, we found even that scheme was troublesome! The problem we faced was the delay in releasing the funds from MHRD itself. We believe that money has to be paid to the instructor by the end of the month, failing which, we lose our moral power over them to demand efficiency. Whatever be the form the scheme takes, whatever be the form CDTP takes in the future, kindly ensure that funds are released in a phased manner at least twice or more times in a year. Then, timely payment to instructors can be done and the scheme will run smoothly.

We could further think of alternate methods of releasing funds. We could think of following the PMKVY method where the funds are released directly to the trainees and the Training Partners of NSDC. That way, we could entirely eliminate the cumbersome Governmental procedure of MHRD releasing the funds to NITTTR, which then releases it to the DTET, which then releases it to the Principals of CDTPs through the State Treasury. As explained by Director, Technical Education, this obviously has the bottleneck of parking the unutilized funds in the case of CDTPs too.

Regarding aligning the CDTP courses with NSQF, I wish to inform this august assembly that we at Shilpamandira Community Training Center have already done this successfully. It was quite an exercise, but it was worth the effort. All our existing courses were mapped to different trades under at least 7 different sector skill councils of NSDC. This enables the candidates to get a Pan-India certification upon completion of training. Moreover, this aligning with NSDC will allow for up-skilling and scaling up through their credit scheme for the candidates.

One other area where this Committee can give some thought is regarding gainful employment of the candidates who are trained under the CDTP scheme. The Committee can make a recommendation that the Govt of India should mandate all District & Panchayat authorities to allot development work only to CDTP certificate holders. All development activity at the rural and block level should be linked to CDTP scheme in some way. This will ensure that the trainees will get gainful employment and the effort spent in CDTP Training will be beneficial to the society. Unless some such step is taken, our efforts will seem to be shots in the dark.

Finally, regarding Prof Kumar’s query whether Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira will be interested in taking up the CDTP Scheme now, I wish to inform the honorable members of this Committee that we would feel honored to be associated with this Scheme, provided the Govt is ready to make us ‘Non-funded’ Training Partners. We do not want to avail funds from the Govt, while we would like to be allowed to avail certification for our Trainees under the CDTP Scheme.

I thank Prof Saini for giving us an opportunity to participate in this Review Session and express the views of Shilpamandira’s learnings in Community Development Training for the last four decades.

Swami Vedatitananda

Voluntary work in Ramakrishna Math-Mission

Revered Swami Vashishthanandaji Maharaj, Adhyaksha, Ramakrishna Math, Antpur;  Revered Swami Pranaramanandaji Maharaj, Adhyaksha, Ramakrishna Math, Gaurhati; Revered Swami Arunatmanandaji Maharaj; and dear friends: It is a great privilege to be here today to speak to you all about volunteer work. All our Math and Mission Centers have a band of volunteers. So, apart from the monks, devotees and employees, our Centers have yet another category of people called ‘Volunteers’. Who are they and what are they supposed to do? The Revered Swamijis who spoke before me have covered all the important aspects of being a volunteer. So I will speak only about those aspects that I felt were left out. In doing so, I may have to speak a little about myself, for which, I may be pardoned.

Who is a volunteer?

I am today a monk of the most Holy Ramakrishna Order. But I began my journey as a volunteer in Bangalore Ashrama. I was a volunteer for 14 long years, continuously. When I joined the Vivekananda Balaka Sangha, I didn’t know anything about what it meant to be a volunteer. Slowly, as the years rolled by, the full meaning of that word opened up. As my understanding opened up, I got deeper and deeper meanings of this small word, and in the meantime, I found out that my personality itself had become transformed.

My mother took me to Bangalore Ashrama and got me enrolled as a volunteer there. I saw there were many more boys like me. I liked that place. There was even time allotted for games and sports. Then, there was work, and Vedic chanting, and Bhajans, and Library hour, and campus cleaning. You must understand that over time, I would often ask myself why I should spend time working in the Ashrama. The college I studied was just a couple of buildings away. Wouldn’t it be more useful for me if I spent my time in the College Library, instead of this volunteer work? Such questions would come up inside my head now and then.

We were very lucky in the sense that Bangalore Ashrama had a very strong tradition of volunteers, starting right from Revered Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj’s time. He had started Vivekananda Balaka Sangha. He was a very revered Sangha Guru. There was one particular monk during my time who would spend lot of time with us, directing our activities in the Ashrama, discussing with us, clarifying our doubts, making us see clearly what it meant to be a volunteer, thereby silently molding our lives without our knowledge. Over time, unknown to myself, I started getting great clarity about my role as a volunteer. The most important question for all of us is ‘why should I work here in this Math?’ In other words, what will I get? Even a fool doesn’t work if he doesn’t get anything from that work.

We hear time and again that we must not expect anything from our voluntary work in the Math; that we must give and not take! I ask you, is that even possible? Of course, if we hear it again and again, we may stop expressing our desire for something from the Math, but it will remain inside our heart. It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes! And over a period of time, we will introspect and find that this work is taking us nowhere. And we will leave. We will stop coming here. That happens. I have seen dozens of volunteers who started with great enthusiasm and then they stopped. Why? That happened because it was never clear to them ‘why’ they came here, and ‘what’ they were supposed to do here.

Indeed, I ask you, why should you come here to Antpur Math to do volunteer work? And what work is exactly volunteer’s work?

One more question before I begin my deliberation for the day: How is a volunteer different from a devotee? I used to ask this to myself. You see, I used to go to the Ashrama. My mother also used to go there. But I was a volunteer, and she wasn’t. What exactly was the difference?

Karma & Karma Yoga:

I have raised some interesting questions related to our lives as volunteers of Ramakrishna Math – Mission. In order to answer them, we will have to look at Swami Vivekananda. The crux of the answer lies in our understanding of Swamiji’s idea of ‘work’. You see, since time immemorial, India has a rich history of the search for God. Over the centuries, the goal of God realization has been refined to an unparalleled degree here. The path to achieve that goal also has been spelt out in the greatest detail possible. You must have a Guru. You get a mantra and an initiation into the specific spiritual practice from him. Then you become a recluse, go away from society and dive into individualistic spiritual practice for a protracted period of time. That is how God has been realized in our country, all through its recorded history.

Swami Vivekananda came and changed all that. He said that the time-tested method of spiritual practice is not working now, for most of us. The kind of mind we all have, if we try to sit down and do spiritual practice for the whole day, what will happen is – we fall asleep. Try it and you will know. For some days, it seems possible. It even seems very agreeable, to sit without any care, and chant the mantra and dwell on the scriptures. But, it is just for a few days. If we persist for long, we become vegetables, our brain gets heated, and we get mentally deranged! That is what happens if we try to follow the age-old, beaten path of spiritual practice. Swamiji came along and said, ‘Look here, I have started two small organizations around the incarnation of God. Enter into these two organizations. There is a lot of work to be done here. I am leaving detailed instructions about what works to be done. Do them to please our Lord. Work incessantly here, always keeping your mind and heart on our Lord. This is so much better than trying in vain to sit down forcefully and meditate, which is simply not happening. Do this work, as an offering to our Lord. It no longer remains work, it becomes Yoga, and it will lead you to a truly meditative state of mind.

So, it is not work that a volunteer does here. It is a spiritual practice, which looks like work. So, this much is clear. Working in any Ramakrishna Math-Mission center is not volunteer work. Working in any Ramakrishna Math-Mission center in order to realize God is volunteer work. The goal must be clear. The clarity might not come immediately, but gradually, that clarity must come. Else, it is a waste of time and effort.

Now, wait a minute: working for the sake of realizing our divinity – isn’t that the goal of a monk? Is a volunteer a monk then? Is there no difference? Firstly, working for the sake of realizing our divinity is not the monopoly of monks. Monks of Ramakrishna Mission do that, yes. But it is not restricted to these monks alone. Anyone can do it, if he or she is interested in it. A monk can be considered as a special kind of volunteer. That’s all.

A devotee comes to the Math to pray for one’s own salvation. A volunteer comes to the Math to serve the devotees, and by thus serving the people who come to meet the Lord in the Math, the volunteer achieves his own salvation. Prayer and service – these are actually non-different.

In the Ramayana we come across a very interesting conversation between Vibhishana and Hanuman. The battle between Rama and Ravana is over, Vibhishana has been made the King of Lanka, and Sri Ramachandra’s coronation in Ayodhya is also over. That is when this conversation occurs. Vibhishana asks Hanuman ‘You have served Sri Rama all these years. I have observed how you served him. But I must point out that I have never seen you perform Japa. Do you know how powerful Sri Rama’s name is? You live with him day and night, as his shadow, you must certainly be aware of the potency of his name. I wonder why you don’t perform Japa of Sri Rama’s name.’ Hanuman listened and then replied after a while, ‘Look here, Vibhishana. You have done Japa of Sri Rama’s name and have obtained his Kripa, his grace. See how you have become the Lord of Lanka without having to do anything else apart from Japa for that! I, on the other hand, have constantly fixed my attention on the face of Sri Rama, waiting for any hint from him about any service he needed. I have thus served him all these years and I too have obtained something; I now have his Prema, his love.’ That is what a volunteer aims to achieve, obtain the love of his Ishta, by serving in his Ishta’s Ashrama. What does this mean? Ask anyone if they know Narendra Modi, and they will tell they know Modi. Of course, they will know Modi; anyone who can read the papers will know who Modi is; he is the Prime Minister of India. But, does Narendra Modi know you? Well, if Modi knows you, that is something, isn’t it? Similarly, by doing the Lord’s work, daily, week after week, year after year, the Lord will start recognizing you! That is the thing to be gained by doing volunteer work.

The ideal makes a volunteer:

Time and again, this ideal of a volunteer was drilled into our minds in Bangalore Ashrama. The highest ideal however calls for the highest integrity. The quality of work that we did was expected to be of a very high quality. The Swamiji who was in-charge of volunteers would scold us very sharply. So much scolding we got. It was not always love and affection, in the conventional sense of the term. He would correct us mercilessly. We would feel extremely insulted sometimes. But then, the ideal would flash before our mind’s eye and the hope of approximating to it would make us digest that pain of failure. I remember one time. There were about a 1000 devotees in the auditorium that day. The Swamiji in-charge of volunteers was conducting the Saturday evening lecture and I was sitting at the sound system, adjusting the sound. That particular day, I simply couldn’t get the right mix of bass, treble, echo & repeat, and the sound in the hall was very poor. Half way through the program, suddenly I found a small book come flying through the air towards me! The Swamiji had thrown that book at me! Then, on the microphone he called me to the center of the stage. Then he proceeded to inform the 1000+ audience that the sound system was invented by a vijnani (scientist), but that unfortunately, it was being handled by an ajnani (an idiot, i.e. me!). He said this in front of all, showing me to the entire audience. I was in a daze. I went back and sat at the sound system, completely broken inside. I was a studying to be an engineer myself, and I had to listen to this! Later on, after the lecture got over, he called me and said, ‘Look here. You were careless today. Those people have lot of trouble at home; they come here for getting some peace by listening to the words of God (the lecture was on the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna). You spoilt it for them today. That is why I scolded you. Now, try to correct yourself by remaining alert. Don’t stop coming from tomorrow. Again you will get a chance to adjust the sound system next week. Do it properly.’ That was it. No soothing words of love or anything. That is volunteer work!

I sometimes hear volunteers say that a little bit of love and affection from the monks will go a long way in getting a lot done by us. I don’t subscribe to that view. We don’t come here for any monk’s love or appreciation. We have a direct link with our Lord who sits in the Temple. We will please him by our work. If the others praise us and appreciate us, fine; if they scold and shout at us, that is welcome too. How else will we correct ourselves? Moreover, if this monk here couldn’t become happy with our work, there is remote chance that the Lord will be pleased by that work.

So, as I said earlier, the goal of a volunteer is very high. We have to be very, very careful. Sloppiness in work is simply not tolerated in volunteer work. I remember the Swamiji tell one of our friends one day, ‘Look here, the work you do is nothing big. I can pay 1000 rupees and get it done by a paid worker. If I pay a person that much amount, he will do it with great attention. You call yourself a volunteer. Imagine how much more attentive you must be when you work!’ Day after day, the ideal to be reached kept getting clearer and clearer. And the realization of our present state also became clearer and clearer. That was what made us digest all the scolding. Without that development, these things would have seemed like nagging!

Listen to a story. Then you will understand better what I am trying to explain here. This is the story about the time when Buddha had not yet become Buddha. He was then called Siddhartha Gautama. He went about in search of Truth. He would select nice places in the forest and sit for meditation. One day, it was during summer; he saw a beautiful lake. He thought, ‘The water is so clean; it looks so cool; I shall take a bath in these refreshing waters and then sit for meditation.’ Thinking thus, he removed his clothes, carefully kept it on the banks of the lake and entered the lake slowly. He had a very refreshing bath. Just as he was about to come out of the lake, he saw some beautiful lotuses in full bloom at the far end of the lake. He swam there, smelt the beautiful flowers, felt totally refreshed, and came out to dry himself. Just as he was wearing his clothes, all of a sudden, a Yaksha manifested before him. The Yaksha was very angry and started shouting at Gautama, ‘You fool! Who gave you permission to take bath in this lake? Don’t you know that I am the master of this lake? Did you ask my permission? And you also took the liberty of smelling the lotuses! They have all been wasted now, they can’t be offered to God now!’ In this manner he went on berating the hapless young monk. Gautama was stunned. He never expected anything like this. Just at that moment, Gautama heard some hoof sounds. Some King’s man came along on his horse. He too saw the lake. He stopped, tied the horse to a tree, tore his clothes and jumped into the lake. He started playing around in the cool waters. The lake got all dirty. That happens when you agitate the waters. The scum at the bottom of the lake rises to the top. Then, before coming out, the King’s man saw those beautiful lotuses in bloom. He simply plucked a handful of flowers, came out, took his horse and sped away. Gautama was seeing all this spellbound. He thought, ‘I didn’t do anything compared to what this fool is doing and I got such scolding. Perhaps the Yaksha will strike this poor fool dead for what he is doing!’ But, Gautama found that Yaksha didn’t do anything. He then said, ‘Wah, Yaksha! I am a soft guy and you took me to task. But that was a powerful man and you ignored his mistakes!’ The Yaksha said, ‘Ah, but that is not how it, Gautama. You proclaim that you are in search of the Truth. Since your goal is high, the standards against which your actions will be judged are also equally high. That King’s man was a normal person; he didn’t claim to any high goals in life; I am glad he didn’t pass urine in my lake! Given his goal in life, what he has done is quite normal. Not so with you!

Pitfalls to avoid:

During my long period of volunteer work in Bangalore Ashrama, I studied so many of my friends who were volunteers. I studied myself too. I was able to identify some very common problems we face as we continue doing volunteer work in the Math. I wish to highlight a few of them, so that you all can avoid them.

  • Evaluating & judging monks: This was a common problem. In the beginning, everything is fine and dandy. As time passes by, we start to evaluate the monks! Isn’t volunteer work really great? We become so great, having worked in the Ashrama that we can judge all-renouncing monks! Monks come and go. When a new monk comes to our center, we start comparing him to the previous one, and the previous one was always better! The present one is simply not up to the mark in our eyes! We start labelling one monk as a loving person, while another is always grumpy. Then, we start forming groups around the loving monk, and we join other volunteers and dissect every action of the grumpy monks, sometimes leading to character assassination even! Now, this is a terrible thing to do. It erodes the very essence of being a volunteer.
  • Comparing with other volunteers: Another common past-time of volunteers is to get together and keep on evaluating other volunteers. We say, ‘Look at that fellow! Does nothing here, simply does pranams to that monk while we slog here!’ Things like that. I remember I had introduced a boy to become a volunteer in VBS. After some days, I found he was not coming. I asked him. Do you know what he said? He told me, ‘Your Volunteer group is nothing but a wonderful system where the older guys exploit the new comers. I have to do all the donkey work, while you people stand around giving orders!’
  • Gossip: Then, there is the spicy things we get to hear in all Math and Mission centers. We huddle together and say to one another, ‘Hey, did you hear? So-&-so had a big fight with the Mohonto Maharaj, and I heard he is being sent away! Serves him right!’ I do not know how this kind of discussion becomes a part of volunteer work? Gossip takes many forms among volunteers. We sometimes start a smear campaign against some other volunteer. Human relations are complex. And the volunteer group is a very loose knit group where all the forces of complexity come into play. We need to be careful of that.
  • Loss of respect for monks: What happens if we are not careful is that slowly we will start losing respect for monks, for the saffron robe. In many cases, what happens is that volunteers are better than monks when it comes to execution of work. So, time and again, the volunteer starts denigrating the monk’s ‘quality’ in his mind. Over a period of time, he loses all respect for that monk. Then, over a further period of time, that disregard spread to cover all monks! I have seen volunteers like that, who have no regard to any monk! What need to do volunteer work of that sort? If you had remained a devotee, at least you would have retained respect for the institution of monasticism and the saffron robe!
  • Unexpressed expectations: This is another very subtle problem we face. It could range from gross expectations such as ‘I hope Swamiji helps me get a seat for my son in Deoghar Vidyapith’ to extremely subtle ones such as ‘I hope the grumpy Swamiji at least acknowledges the wonderful work I did today.’ I have heard many time people telling me, ‘You know, I really slogged today, and then, not even smile, not even a pat on my back! I tell you, that Swamiji is nuts!’ Then there is the subtle, unexpressed desire for privileges. A new book gets released by the Math and won’t I get a special rebate? I have been a volunteer for so many years? Can’t I get even this much? What sort of place is this? Or, I am going to Delhi for writing an exam. Can’t I and my friends be accommodated in that Delhi Mission? What?! After all these years of slogging for this Math, can’t I expect even this much courtesy? You see, stuff like that.
  • Over-sensitivity to prestige & insults: A very common problem. I have heard many volunteers tell me, ‘Can you imagine? I am an expert helping hand in Puja, and all that Swamiji thinks of is keeping me in the Donation counter!’ No work is demeaning for a volunteer.

I remember a very embarrassing incident from my volunteer life in Bangalore. You see, I always thought of Ashrama as a holy place, and associated it with only the Temple. I didn’t know about the various other activities that exist in an Ashrama such as the shoe-stand, or bookstall or donation counter, or kitchen, etc. So, when I joined the Balaka Sangha, I assumed I will be kept in the Temple, what with my mother being a long-time devotee and all! I think my mother spoke to the Swamiji in-charge and I remember distinctly that I started my volunteer work in the Temple. I joined sometime in December. During Shivaratri celebrations, the Pujari Maharaj & I spent a long time arranging the heavy Rudraksha Mala on the large Shiva photo in the prayer hall. Maharaj was standing behind the photo and I was standing in front of the photo. He was tying up the heavy garland and I was supplying the thread. After it was all over, the Pujari Maharaj came to the front of the photo, saw me and shrieked! What had happened was that I had wound the thread around my neck and was supplying it from there. I was under the impression that the thread shouldn’t touch the ground; I had no clue that we don’t offer things to God that we had used on our person! He simply freaked out and dragged me to the Swamiji in-charge of volunteers and complained loudly about the blunder I had done. Well, the long and short of it is – I was shifted from the Temple duty to Bookstall. I was heartbroken. I stopped going to the Ashrama after that for some time. Then, my mother was contacted and I was taken back. I said I considered working in the bookstall as a ‘demotion’! Yes, today, it all looks so silly, but then, I was in class six or seven and it was a big deal for me. The Swamiji in-charge then said something amazing. He said, ‘Do you know what bookstall work means? It is almost equal to giving mantra-diksha! The books you will be handling are the words of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. They have power to change lives. That is almost like mantra-diksha!’ He had sold me onto it! And I remained a bookstall volunteer till I joined as a monk!

  • Obnoxious behavior towards people coming to Ashrama: Let me tell you a very interesting incident. You see, I worked with Rev Adhyaksha Maharaj in Along, Arunachal Pradesh for over 6 years. He was the Secretary Maharaj there. Once, there was a big program and the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh visited us. All the top officers were there. When the Governor comes, everybody who is somebody comes along, you see. Maharaj was constantly with the Governor. After the program, Maharaj took him and some others inside the Monks Quarters for lunch. I was standing outside with a list that had names of who must be allowed inside. This was a list prepared by the Protocol Dept. of the State Govt. A Govt Doctor called Dr Kena came there. I saw the list and said he cannot be allowed inside. Arrangements were made for food for all others in a Lunch Shed a little distance away and I asked him to go there. I thought the matter ended there. But a few days later, Secretary Maharaj called me and said, ‘Do you know what you have done? Dr Kena was deeply hurt by the way you sent him away that day. He told me he hadn’t taken lunch that day!’ I was shocked. I thought I had done my duty, but that had hurt this man. He was a close friend of the Mission. You see, those days, I had a very sharp tongue. Repeated blows have mellowed me down now!

This is what happens. We think we are doing our duty as a volunteer. But people are sensitive. Was I supposed to allow Dr Kena inside then? Not at all. But I could have said ‘No’ in a better way. Perhaps I could have led him to the Lunch Shed myself and seated him with some other friends. Saying it curtly had damaged the image of the entire Ramakrishna Mission in his eyes. That is the responsibility we all carry as volunteers. The devotees and friends who come here will see us as the face of the entire Math and Mission! So, we need to be extremely cautious.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I wish to tell you a small story that Rev Swami Yatishwaranandaji Maharaj used to tell the VBS boys in its beginning days, a story that has come down as tradition in our Bangalore Ashrama. This is a story about an incident that actually happened. Rev Swamiji was very fond of this story. You see, Tamil Nadu had many saints of the Shaiva Tradition called Nayanars. This story is about one of those Nayanar saints called Pusalar[1].

During the time of this saint, there was a Pallava King called Raja Narasimhavarman. He was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He decided to build a grand temple for his Ishta Deva. In fact, it would be the grandest temple for Lord Shiva on earth; that was his plan. So he called hundreds of sculptors for the job. You must remember that temple construction in those days was done in stone, not brick & mortar, as is done today. Pusalar was one of those sculptors. Now, this Pusalar too was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, and he too had a great desire to build a grand temple for his Lord. But, he was an ordinary stone-cutter. He couldn’t build a temple for the Lord. So he decided that he would build one inside his heart! For, even though our freedom is highly curtailed in the outside world, inside our heart, in the Bhava-rajya, the sphere of our innermost feelings, we have infinite freedom. So, he decided that he would build a grand temple for his Ishta inside his heart. Look at his decision!

Every day he would work on the temple site of Raja Narasimhavarman. Now, being an ordinary stone-cutter, who would guide him in planning the Temple? So, every day, he would gather all the details of that grand temple that Raja was constructing, and incorporate it in the temple he was building inside his heart. Imagine the intensity of his meditation! It took some three & a half years for the temple to get completed.

Then came the time for consecration, the Prana-prathishta. The King consulted some Brahmins and fixed a holy day for consecration of the temple. Great arrangements were made. A few days before the day of consecration, the King had a strange dream. Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and told him to defer the date since he was going to another – greater – temple built by a greater devotee! The King was flabbergasted. Who could have built a greater temple than this one? He asked his ministers to find out the details. A sage with great powers of insight finally found out that Lord Shiva was going to the temple that Pusalar had built! What had happened was – Pusalar was mirroring inside his heart, everything that the King was doing outside in this world. So, when the King announced the date of consecration of the temple, Pusalar too fixed that date as the consecration day of ‘his’ temple, which was now complete inside his heart. Such was the intensity of thought that Pusalar developed as a result of this extended meditation connected with his work, that Shiva listened to his call! Finally, the sage advised Raja Narasimhavarman to request Pusalar to conduct the Prana-prathishta ceremony and thus the Temple was consecrated both outside in this world and inside Pusalar’s heart.

Such is the goal of a volunteer of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.

With these words, I will now bring my lecture to a close. I once again thank Rev Swami Vashishthanandaji for having invited me to share these ideas with you all.

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[1] This story, which appears in Tamil literature, has many versions. In some, Pusalar is a stone-cutter. In some others, he is a Brahmin priest. I have chosen the stone-cutter version.