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Service in the name of god in every human

Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj, the 15th president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, spoke to STAR Ananda recently on a wide range of topics — from how he joined the order to where the Mission is headed.

Excerpts from the interview:

On his inspiration to become a monk:

I grew up in Dinajpur. My father was a Tarkatirtha, a Sanskrit scholar. I read the Gita and Upanishads early in my life and then devoured Swamiji’s books and biography and also books on Sri Ramakrishna.

While studying philosophy honours at Presidency College I came in touch with Kedarbaba (Swami Achalananda), who encouraged me to join the monastic order.

After my graduation, many people were pressing me to do an MA. But Achalanandaji insisted I join the order right away.

Once he was about to beat me up with a lathi as I was dilly-dallying! It was then that I made up my mind and joined the Mission.

On his family’s reaction to the decision to embrace the monastic order:

They were a little hurt, especially because I was the eldest child. But they didn’t make much of an issue of it.

On reconciling the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda with the contemporary education system:

We need to imbibe Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on renunciation and service to humankind. We also need to assimilate the other teachings of Swamiji.

On the ideal path leading to the deliverance of the modern world:

A combination of Bhakti and Karma Yoga. As monks we should have confined ourselves to japa and meditation. Then why do we take up relief work or other services to humankind? Because the god we worship exists in every human being. This needs to be the ideal of life.

On finding a new direction while society is going through a phase of serious unrest:

We need to study Swamiji’s books which will provide a ray of light to the world. Television and radio channels should spread his ideas more often. A few people will not listen to or understand them but most will be benefited by his teachings. Those who are in business or senior positions in government offices should imbibe Swamiji’s teachings.

On world peace when terrorism is taking its toll almost everywhere:

We have to follow the “man making” ideal of Swamiji and search for god in the human. Whether we go to church or temple or mosque, our most important duty is to serve the living god in the human.

On religious tolerance in the time of communal tension:

We don’t nurture hatred. We don’t ask Christians to convert to Hinduism, we don’t vilify Muslims. Many people are not aware that several Christians come to our Mission and several Muslims have received diksha (spiritual initiation) here. Many Muslims worship Sri Ramakrishna at home.

On the perfect ideal for the present generation:

It has been there for long, created by god.... Many people are living their lives following the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

On relief work undertaken by the Ramakrishna Mission over the years:

We do this from a spiritual realisation. Swamiji had said serving a human and serving god are the same. We are inspired by this idea.

On risks monks face during relief work:

I fell ill several times while on relief missions. But it didn’t matter. Man will die one day but nothing could have been better than dying while serving a fellow human.

On the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission on foreign soil:

I have been to the Mission centres abroad. They are doing good work. I am happy.

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