Friday, January 1, 2010

Merry New Year!

If you think the title is a mistake, first, shame on you; second, go see Trading Places already.

In the Ramakrishna movement, January 1 is known as Kalpataru Day. According to Hindu tradition, Kalpataru is a wish-fulfilling tree. Of course, no known physical tree has this property, but that's not really the point. In fact, most of the stories about Kalpataru illustrate that people getting what they want does not always truly benefit them.

Anyway, the significance of this date in the Ramakrishna movement is that it was the day in 1886 when Sri Ramakrishna revealed himself to a group of devotees as an avatar, an incarnation of God on earth. He had already been quite ill with throat cancer, and in fact, he passed away later that year on August 16. In most of the days leading up to January 1, Ramakrishna couldn't even get out of bed. But on this particular day, he felt well enough to get up and walk around a bit. Since India was still under British rule at the time, January 1 was a major holiday, so many of his lay devotees had come to see him.

Prior to this, whenever someone called him an avatar, Ramakrishna would ignore such claims. But on this day, he asked one of the devotees, Girish Chandra Ghosh, what made Girish want to tell people that Ramakrishna was an avatar. Girish bowed at Ramakrishna's feet and said that even the authors of great Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana could not sufficiently express the devotion that Girish felt for his guru.

Ramakrishna responded, "What more need I tell you? I bless you all. May you all be illumined!" This was the first time he had embraced these ideas. He went into ecstasy after saying this, and when he came out of it, he touched each of the devotees present, and they had their own ecstatic experiences, including visions of their Chosen Ideals (although Hinduism is famous for its many gods, most Hindus choose one to focus on, which is the Chosen Ideal, or Ishta Devata).

Although the name Kalpataru Day has stuck, most in the movement seem to find it somewhat inaccurate. Notice that these devotees did not receive anything material. But some say that Ramakrishna helped transmit his own fearlessness (which I'll discuss further in a future post) to these devotees. Whether he actually did it by touch or the devotees were just so moved by seeing their guru is irrelevant.

At any rate, this is obviously an important day in the Ramakrishna movement. In fact, the celebration held by the Vedanta Society was at the main Hindu temple, as the Vedanta Society's grounds would not have been able to hold everyone who came.

Brief aside about the Hindu temple: they were having their own event today, a big worship of Ganesha (he is often invoked for beginnings). The temple and parking lot were packed, and I thought, This must be a small taste of what going to India would be like. Crowded, chaotic, and leave your shoes in the lobby. That said, the temple workers were friendly and helpful. I think I got sprinkled with a bit of water from the Ganesha worship on my way out.

No comments:

Post a Comment