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Saint who stressed on quality of life

A Princess from far-off Greece is as much devoted to him as the school girl in Andhra Pradesh. K. VEDAMURTHY's tribute to the Sage of Kanchi whose Maha Aradhana was observed yesterday.

A GIRL student from an Andhra school gets a prize amount of more than a thousand rupees for her brilliant academic performance and one Telugu teenager chooses to send the entire amount to Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathrubootheswarar Trust (SSMM Trust) in Kotturpuram, Chennai, to go towards their Orirukkai Satabhdi Manimantapam construction expenses.

She writes she was inspired to make the contribution as a token of her own loving reverence for the centenarian Sage of Kanchi about whom elders in her family have told her so much!

A lad of 25, Ph.D. when landing a lucrative job, sent the first month's salary in full, as a token of his and his dear parents' homage to the revered Acharya. An NRI who kept a dollar aside every day during puja and sent $365 (Rs. 17,000) last year, when he came to Chennai to see his aged parents last month, made it to the Kotturpuram office of the SSSMM Trust to contribute another sum of $500 (Rs. 24,000). A devotee who sends Rs. 10 every month by Money Order from a mofussil place is sad beyond words that his monthly contribution cannot be continued after he breathes his last!

Visitor's books kept in the site of the Manimantapam in Orirukkai (according to a perceptive correspondent who went there to report about the progress of the work since her last visit two years ago) ``overflow with the joy of the devotees, of the work taking shape.''

Princess Irene of Greece was one such visitor who calls the project ``a fitting tribute to a saint who spent his entire life for the welfare of humanity."

Who is this saint to whom a princess from a far off land and culture is as much devoted as that teenaged girl from Andhra born and bred in the religion of the saint himself? Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Sankara Matam, who attained Mahasamaadhi on January 8, 1994, (just a few months before he completed 100 years of age) continues to inspire young and old, Indian and non-Indian devotees alike to this day, as the daily throng of visitors to his Adhishtanam in the Kanchi Sankara Matam and to the site of the Satabdhi Manimantapam in Orirukkai on the banks of river Palar in Kancheepuram eloquently testify.

Years ago, Arthur Koestler was asked by the Sage of Kanchi what the purpose of his visit to India then was. ``Is it merely to observe the country and the people, or is it to guide them in some healthy manner?'' When the writer said he had come to see and learn and with no other purpose, His Holiness observed: ''One's own passive interest, too, exerts an influence. Even without any specific activity, the angle from which you approach a problem or country produces shakti an active force.''

When Koestler said he was sorry it should be so, and added but nobody could avoid throwing a shadow", pat came the response from the Sage of Kanchi: ``But one's sincere sympathy thrusts its own radiance". Koestler records: ``And as the Sage said that, a smile transformed his face into that of a child. I had never seen a comparable smile or expression; it had an extraordinary charm and sweetness.''

Milton Singer, from the University of Chicago, recalls that the Sage's intellectual vigour and coherent views of the problem of poverty in India, and of the future of Hinduism and its relation to industrialisation made a deep impression on him.

Says Milton Singer: ``The Swami did not think that the popular criticism of caste, ritualism and other-worldliness was historically accurate or realistic. Indians, His Holiness said, have always been an active and practical people, who have fought many wars and developed numerous arts. The doctrine of the unreality of the world is an abstract theory which refers to `a higher level of experience' and does not discourage practice and activity.

``We do not stop eating because we believe in the atomic theory of matter! As far as his own lifestyle was concerned, the Sage said that a simple diet of leaves, fruit and milk was sufficient and healthy for him. Who will doubt this at the celebration of the Swami's Centenary?" asks Milton Singer! (He wrote it in 1993).

Another famous English writes and journalist, Paul Brunton (who wrote ``A Search in Secret India'' later) was told by the Sage of Kanchi that the inward transformation of a man was the precondition for a better world. ``Oh! You must have transformation from within... If you scrap your battleships and let your cannon rust, that will not stop war. People will continue to fight even if they have to use sticks... Nothing but spiritual understanding between one nation and another and between the rich and the poor will produce goodwill and thus bring real peace and prosperity.'' How pertinent in our present global context!

Then the Sage was asked by Brunton: ``Is it your opinion then, Swamiji, that men are becoming more degraded?'' Replied Swamiji: ``No, I do not think so. There is an indwelling divine soul in man which in the end must bring him back to God. Do not blame the people so much as you have to blame the environment into which they are born. Their surroundings and circumstances force them to become worse than they really are. This is time of both the East and the West. Society must be brought into tune with the higher purpose.'' Hence the repeated calls of the Sage to focus on the ``quality of life", rather than on the so-called ``standard of living."

His Holiness was hardly 13 when he was installed as the 68th Pontiff of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam on February 13, 1907. The circumstances in which Swaminathan (as he was named by his parents who belonged to the Hoysala Karnataka Smarta family) came to be called Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati was narrated in an article, ``What life has taught me'' in the Bhavan's Journal by His Holiness himself thus:

``My mother desired to see and console her sister whose only child had become an ascetic (by being installed as the 67th Acharya of the Peetam)... We travelled by rail to Kanchipuram and halted at the Sankaracharya Math. There I had my ablution at the Karuara-Koshta-Tirtha. A carriage of the Math had come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the Maha Puja on the 10th day after the passing away of the Acharya Guru (the 66th Acharya). But one of them, a hereditary maistry of the Math asked me to accompany him. A separate cart was engaged for the rest of the family to follow me.

``During our journey, the maistry hinted to me that I might not return home and that the rest of my life might have to be spent in the Math itself! At first I thought that my elder cousin, having become the head of the Math, it might have been his wish that I was to live with him. I was then only thirteen years of age and so I wondered what use I might be to him in the Institution.

``But the maistry gradually began to clarify as miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin in the purvasrama, had fever which developed into a delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai. I was stunned with this unexpected turn of events. I remained in the kneeling posture in the cart itself, shocked as I was, repeating Rama Rama, the only spiritual prayer I knew, during the rest of my journey.

``My mother and the other children came sometime later only to find that instead of her mission of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled by someone else!"

The 87 long years of his reign as the 68th Sankaracharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam form a glorious chapter by itself in the history of Hinduism and that of our own country. It will be in the fitness of things to conclude this tribute to the centenarian sage of Kanchi by recalling ``Maitreem Bhajata" the Benediction specially given by His Holiness and sung by M.S. Subbulakshmi at the United Nations General Assembly on October 23, 1963:

``Cultivate friendship which will conquer all hearts.

Look upon others as thyself.

Renounce war; forswear competition.

Give up aggression on others which is wrong.

Wide Mother Earth, our Mother is here ready to give us all our desires.

We have the Lord, our Father, compassionate to all.

Ye peoples of the World!

Restrain yourselves, Give, Be kind.

May all people be happy and prosperous".

Shreyo bhooyat Sakala Janaanaam!

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