Ramakrishna Mission

Trip Start Jul 26, 2008
Trip End Sep 27, 2008

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Ramakrisna Mission

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ramakrishna Mission

I am on my last day of my six week trip in India and the last day of a one week visit in Calcutta - staying this week in Calcutta at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture International Guest & Scholar's House - a wonderful place to stay.

The Business portion of my trip to Calcutta seemed to just disappear with a Micro Finance Institution that I had planned three days with was not able to see me - the reason of which is not clear.  The original plan was that Niranjan would join me on this final leg of the trip and circumstances were such that he could not make it - so I was left with a week in Calcutta pretty much on my own - which has turned out to be another amazing and wonderful part of this adventure.

The truth is that I had pretty much gotten burned out on six (including Bali) weeks of very intensive meetings and focus on microfinance, microfranchising, social business, solar lighting and other development programs which are focused on improving the condition of the poor.  As those who have followed my blogs know - I had had an amazing set of meetings and doors opened to me - but I had had little time to learn of India, some of its' great spiritual leaders and to have time to catch a breath.

My next trip I will know to schedule at least one week here at this same guest house.  It is costing me $20 per day including three great meals, access to an incredible library, beautiful landscaping, great meeting halls and classrooms and ability to attend three great seminars from outstanding guest lectures.

While here at the guest house I have studied Gandhi (I have watched the three hour video of his life for the second time and have read small booklets on his life), Sri Ramakrishna for whom this magnificent facility is named and Swami Vivekananda who was Ramakrishna's disciple, carried on his work and became very famous for his lectures and reception at the World Parliament on Religions in Chicago in 1893.  He founded the Vedanta movement.  In Santa Barbara we have a Vedanta Temple which I have enjoyed visiting many times.  I have studied and tried to understand the Indian caste system.  I have met students from all over the world who are staying here in the Guest House and studying at the many Universities in and around Calcutta.  I have visited Mother Teresa's Hospice and her Motherhouse and have blogged on these separately.

My room has been quite clean and comfortable - particularly since moving into an air conditioned room, There is no television here and no Internet access - and cell phones are not allowed in the library (you must check it at the door) and it must be turned off in the dining hall. The clamor of horns outside my room is constant from 8 AM til 11 PM as Indians drive with one hand on the horn and almost constantly blowing it.  I am amazed that I have somehow adapted and have been able to tune out the noise.  The breakfast has been a hearty fixed menu of Corn Flakes, Toast and eggs (cooked as you like) and I have been having non-spicy chicken, potatoes, string beans and carrots and a dessert for both lunch and dinner.  Twice a day I go to a local stall and get one liter of cold mineral water and an ice cream bar.  I have gone to an Internet place twice a day to check my e-mails and keep track of what is going on in the world.

Calcutta is quite different then I had expected.  I had expected to find a city that was the most backward of any of the major cities that I have visited.  To the contrary, I found the roads better than most of the big cities I had visited - they are making major attempts to clean up their trash, it seemed like their were less animals roaming the major highways, etc.  Maybe it was that I just saw and was in a particularly - comparatively - nice area.  I am not sure.

I am told that all of the animals that roam the streets all over India - except the dogs - are owned by someone.  Of particular note was these wild dogs who scavengered off of anything they could find - never came up to anyone trying to get food from them or harrass them in any way.  The people ignore the dogs and the dogs ignore the people.

I have been quite at home with the Indian Spiritual information that I have come in contact with that not only respects each other's beliefs but honors and encourages each other's beliefs.  The people and groups that I have come in contact with want each Hindu to be the best Hindu possible, each Muslim to be the best Muslim possible, each Christian to be the best Christian possible and so on.  This resonates very strongly with my own beliefs and my own interfaith work.  It pleases me that the Interfaith Initiative in Santa Barbara was observing a Ramadan Dinner at the same time I was here learning about the richness of respect and pluralism.  In the library I found quite an interesting book entitled "Problems of Religious Pluralism" by John Hicks, a Presbyterian Minister where he compares religions - particularly Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhism.  He compared the saints of each religion and concluded that they produced similar good for the world.  He compared the bad actions in the name of each of these religions and concluded that they were pretty much equally bad.  He pointed out that despite missionary efforts of particularly Christian and Muslim religions - a very high percentage of people maintain the religion of their parents and the area that they were born.  He compared the texts of each of their holy books and found much positive and similar direction that if followed would help make the world a better place and much text that if followed would make the world a worse place.

I am keenly aware that there have been many Hindu - Muslim wars and there are parts of India where this remains a major problem.   Having watched the Gandhi film I now have a bit of understanding of how - when India got independence from England (I don't know how they ever became subjects of England) the challenges between the Muslims and Hindu's resulted in the creation of Pakistan for the Muslims and that a major tension still goes on today.

The first lecture I attended on Saturday was entitled Multiculturalism & World Citizenship by Professor Indra Nath Choudhuri - a 75 year old retired professor.  I was lucky enough to have a chance meeting and lunch with him where we had a very interesting exchange.  During his presentation he told three things that I had told him over lunch.  Once was the story of Arun Gandhi and his grandfather (Mahatma Gandhi), the second about Micro Franchising and the third about Social Business.  Tuesday late afternoon I attended a lecture entitled "Biodiversity - underlying threads of unity" by Professor A. K. Sharma - and 85 year old retired professor who had been President of the Science work in all of India.  Before the second session started, the moderator came up to me, told me how the first speaker had told her more about me, introduced me to the second speaker and asked that I join her for the lecture.  Not bad for someone who flunked out of college.

Clearly a theme emerges in India of trying to get the oppression of England off their backs (which Gandhi and his followers finally did) and now to get the arrogance and pressure of the United States off of their backs and be allowed to take on their own identity and solve their own problems - while at the same time be willing to learn from others.  India's Prime Minister - which I get the impression is well loved and is quite a good guy - gave a speech on India's moving to become a "Super-power" but in a very different way than the Bush led American way of being a Super-power.
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