At 72, his capacity to serve the society selflessly is growing stronger. This venerable monk wears multiple hats. Meet Swami Muktinathananda (also called Sujit Maharaj), adhyaksh of the Ramakrishna Math, Lucknow and secretary of the Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences in the state capital. For a good 20 years, he has been spearheading the two diverse centres and keeping pace with the changing times.
EARLY CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
The Swami was born in July 1947, a few weeks before independence, at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. His pre-monastic name was Sujit Kumar Dutta. His father Sachindra Kumar Dutta was a famous lawyer and mother Bela Rani Dutta, a dedicated homemaker.
Both were very religious persons. Both my parents were initiated at an early stage in their marital life by Swami Vishudhananda, also known as Gandho Baba (Perfume Saint) of Varanasi, who was not from any order but had his own followers. I was deeply influenced by the spiritual culture which prevailed in the entire family, Swami Muktinathananda recalled.
IMPRESSIVE ACADEMIC QUALIFICATION
He went to the famous Oriental Seminary School, where Rabindranath Tagore also received his early education in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
He did BE in mechanical engineering and took admission in M Tech course at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur. But he did not complete his studies at IIT. Instead, he went to Canada to pursue masters in applied sciences in industrial engineering and later did PhD in operational research.
ON JOINING THE RAMAKRISHNA ORDER
I was just an ordinary child aspiring for a promising career for which I completed graduation in engineering and went to North America for post graduate studies in industrial engineering and operational research. By the time, I completed my post graduate degree and PhD programme, I had travelled the length and breadth of North America for nearly five years. During that period, I had the opportunity to get a close look at western culture.
In the meantime, I got acquainted with the Vedanta Societies of North America being run under the aegis of the Ramakrishna Mission with its headquarters at Belur Math. I also personally met some of the distinguished monks of the order engaged in different centres of the mission there, he said.
He reminisced, Simultaneously, I studied the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda in depth. I was moved by Swamijis call to the youth of India to sacrifice at least one life for the regeneration of the motherland. I decided to join the Ramakrishna Mission at its Chicago centre. However, the mission authorities opined that Indian nationals should come to India and subsequently, I joined at the Belur Math (near Kolkata), aspiring to dedicate my life to render services to the society as a monk in 1973. I was just 25 years of age then.
After spending a few years in North America, I could see the hollowness of the western society. And so I decided to become a monk, embracing the life of renunciation to service the society as advocated by Swami Vivekananda.
As soon as I sought permission from my parents in India, they vehemently objected and thought it was due to some temporary frustration. My parents set a target to complete the PhD programme to delay my resolve. I took it up as a challenge and completed the PhD programme in just about two years. And then they could not object and gave their approval, seeing the genuineness of my resolve.
EARLIEST MEMORIES OF ASSOCIATION WITH THIS ORDER
My earliest memories of association with this Order dates back to when I was a child and studying in Calcutta (now Kolkata) from where I occasionally visited Belur Math. But my real association with the order started with personal interaction with knowledgeable monks, who were holding leadership positions at different centres in the United States. I found in them, spiritual life and excellence in work beneficial to the society. This inspired me to embrace monasticism.
JOURNEY IN LUCKNOW
This has been very fulfilling and increasingly rewarding since January 2000. Here in Lucknow, I was handed over a newly built magnificent temple of Ramakrishna and also a multi-storied building as a citadel of service for ailing patients at Vivekananda Polyclinic. During these 20 years, it has been possible to make this Universal temple of Sri Ramakrishna into a dynamic centre of spirituality by organising year-round religious and cultural festivals. Simultaneously, a network of branch centres has been formed under the umbrella of Ramakrishna-Vivekanand Bhav Prachar Parishad with headquarters at Belur Math, covering about 50 remote areas of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. As a fallout of this programme, we have already established a full-fledged ashram in Ayodhya as a sub centre of Lucknow, where a charitable dispensary and a child development programme is continuing. A sincere effort has been made to procure a large piece of 7-10 acres of land in Ayodhya for expansion of medical and other activities.
EXPERIENCE AT DIFFERENT CENTRES
From the very beginning of my monastic life, I had the opportunity to directly get involved in various relief and rehab activities of the mission in various parts of the country. These activities gradually brought me to Belur Math, from where I had to organise massive relief services of the Ramakrishna Mission for 18 years between 1982-2000 after having joined the order in 1973. Subsequently, I came to Lucknow.
SPIRITUAL LIFE IN MODERN TIMES
Spiritual life in modern times is becoming increasingly relevant due to the truncated growth of society. Our ancient scriptures always advocated simultaneous development of two branches of our knowledge, namely secular and spiritual, just like a bird cannot fly on one wing alone.
Unfortunately, the utter neglect of our spiritual life for the growth of our achievements is making importance of spirituality felt in modern times.
How the message of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and the Holy Mother can bring peace and harmony in all walks of life?
In view of the present era of selfish competition and disrespect of human values, the message of Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda seems to be an all-out solution which may be applied in every walk of life.
Is it possible to lead a spiritual life without following religious practices?
Yes, definitely. Spiritual life and religious practices are altogether different subjects. Sri Ramakrishna says if a person is engaged in various religious practices, but he is not spiritual, he should be condemned. Whereas a person who is truly spiritual even if he does not involve in any religious practice, he is praiseworthy.
The true meaning of spirituality is not a bunch of beliefs, rituals or traditions but being and becoming and realising the oneness of God, irrespective of any distinction. The goal of this rare human life is to become truly spiritual and realise our own self before departing from this world. We must grow spiritually every day and the growth should be felt inside and it is radiated outside also in three distinct ways:
1) We feel happy spontaneously and make others happy as well
2) We never get tired doing any amount of work, being an instrument in the hands of the divine. And this tireless spirit is transmitted to the people around.
3) Spirituality grows with the increase in concentration of the mind which results in greater proficiency of work as well
Is a harmonious blend of science and spirituality possible?
Of course, yes. They are complementary to each other. Spirituality without science is blind. Science without spirituality is lame. Together, they become useful. They should be blended harmoniously.
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