Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Bhakti, Prem and Puja – The Guiding Light
In a conversation with your mother, we came to the sad but true conclusion that we hadn’t done very well to inspire your dedication to “Bhakti, Prem and Puja” of our Guru Maharaj, Shri Shri Mohanananda Brahmachari. I began to doubt the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” For the longest time I can remember since we began to visit Maharaj on our annual visits to Du Quoin, Il, to his more recent visit and stay in our house, we saw you participate in our daily Arati where we sang “Om Jai Jagadish O Hare”. Then when you received your “dikshas” from Guru Maharaj and we accompanied you in your daily recitations of your “Guru Mantra”. Even as we each left home to go to school or work or play, we said “Joy Guru” and “Dugga, Dugga” to each each other invoking the watchful blessings of Guru Maharaj. To college both of you brought along images of Saraswati, Goddess of Learning. When you were home for “Satyanarayan Puja” you sat through the recitation of “Satyanaryan’s Katha”. Of course eating, or should I say devouring of “sinni”, the offering of a mixture of flour, milk, honey with nuts and raisins, has remained your favorite part of “Satyanarayan Puja”.
So here I am left wondering how to re-instill our Hindu values, sentiments and practices to return you to the path of “Bhakti, Prem and Puja”. “Prem” will be the logical starting place since you know it stands for love which we happily have enough of and then some more. The entry for “prem” in the “Samsad Bengali-English Dictionary” reads – n. love, amour, universal love, affection, attachment, friendliness, amiability, cordiality, devotion. The entry for “love” in the Merriam Webster’s reads – n 1 a (1) strong affection for another rising out of kinship or personal ties, and so forth. Then in 2, warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion. And in 4 a: unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another; and in 4 b: a person’s adoration of God. When I started writing this message, I naturally picked on love as the starting point to somehow use our love to convince you about the love of God, aka Guru Maharaj. Luckily both dictionaries came to my help.
Our family foundation rests on love; love of parents, love of children, love of family, love of friends, love for the unfortunates, AND LOVE OF GOD. Love is so deeply entwined with God that even two languages two worlds apart when trying to explain a simple, everyday word as “love” turn to devotion and adoration of God. Our deep love for you is concerned that God may not have a place in your love. It is difficult to feel and know God’s love because he is not somebody like mother, father, sister, or husband whom you can hug and kiss or rest a tired head upon. Yet God is by your side picking up where you left of loving him. In the Bhagavad Gita Arjuna wonders if men or women are lost when they turn away from God, aka Lord Krishna. It is nice that Arjuna is on the lookout for everybody, friend, family and foe. Lord Krishna understanding Arjuna’s love of mankind reassures him so – “Arjuna, know that no one devoted to me is lost. If they rely on me, Arjuna, women, commoners, men of low rank, even men born in the womb of evil, reach the highest way.” You probably know that your mother and I are devout followers of Shri Krishna and have been reading the Bhagavad Gita several years. My retirement has allowed me the luxury of reading, reflecting and writing commentaries in my edition of the Bhagavad Gita. I read Barbara Stoler Miller’s edition of “The Bhagavad Gita”. Recently when your mother handed me the copy of my mother’s Bengali edition of the Bhagavad Gita I started reading that too. It helps with my quest to master Bengali.
In one of my recent commentaries I wrote this – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Gayna Yoga, Verse 11, “As they seek refuge in me, I devote myself to them; Arjuna, men retrace my path in every way.”(Barbara Stoler Miller, The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in the Time of War). Lord Krishna stands by the wayside waiting for me to seek refuge in him. It’s so amazing and wonderful that when I do seek his refuge, he, Lord Krishna, devotes himself to me. What a loving and caring God! I only wish and pray that I remember and recall him always, all the time, with every living breath. Not ONLY when I am down and needy. I have a whole lifetime to work on making myself worthy of Lord Krishna. Rabindranath Tagore writes in his song, “Hey Moro Debota”, – “I am his vessel. He pours his nectar in me, so he can drink, celebrate and rejoice with his creation.” (Gitabitan, Puja, #85)
I hope and pray that love which you have for each other, for us, for mankind, especially those in distress, will also embrace and return God’s love through “bhakti” and devotion to our Guru Maharaj.
“Prem” leads to “Bhakti”, devotion, which is manifested in “Puja”, worship. I turn again to the Bhagavad Gita again for help. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Karma Yoga, Verse 10 – “When creating living beings and sacrifice, Prajapati, the primordial creator said: ‘By sacrifice will you procreate! Let it be your wish-granting cow!’”
“Puja” as you have seen it in our household is always accompanied by offerings, or “prasad”. We do not sacrifice in the old sense of the word or practice anymore, such as Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb. Our sacrifice is giving our best effort in the worship of God which is service to mankind. I know how you are committed to serving mankind, especially the oppressed and the distressed. Let your love and service for others also be filled with love and service for God that he may in turn join your efforts to bring peace, happiness and joy to everyone.
In this context I will bring up an ancient Sanskrit prayer. “Lokah Samasta Sukhenu Bhabantu.” In English the prayer means – “I pray for the peace, happiness and joy of all men and women, especially those in distress. And I pray that my words, thoughts and actions contribute to that peace, happiness and joy.” There couldn’t be a better sacrifice or service. Let “Bhakti, Prem and Puja” be your guiding light.