Paramacharya and Senthilnathaswami began the journey home after the marvelous adventure with BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha in New Jersey. The day after the special time at the Bharatya Sivashram Sangh and Sri Chinmoy center in Queens, we were met by Kaika and Nilufer Clubwala who generously drove us hither and thither through the boroughs to our meetings, even to the airport for our flight to Chicago (see separate TAKA tale).

On our final night in Queens, we invited 18 good souls to join us for an informal satsang and sharing. The Clubwalas arranged for some snacks and we all talked into the night about the Hindu history film, HAF progress (since Aseem and Suhag Shukla and their two boys joined with other family), monistic theism and Gurudeva's legacy.

We were thrilled that Lavina Melwani came and spoke with her about her next articles for Hinduism Today.

After Chicago we flew into the American desert, to Tucson where we met with Chellappa Deva and Bhanu Devi and Jim and Natalie Levin, and had some amazing short walks under the desert sky, and great conversations about profound matters, our favorite subject.

Next, we flew to Los Angeles, where we were met by Chandran and Sahanadevi Param and their four children who drove us everywhere in this vast city. To get some exercise, we walked on Rodeo Drive.

On our final night on what Paramacharya calls the Very Big Island, we had dinner with just over 20 members and students. Lots of sharing about our paramparai, our mission and days on the East Coast. It was a fitting end to the journey. All hail the kailasa Paramparai. All hail the Infinite Siva. All hail the Satguru! Aum Namasivaya!

Aspiration Ground

Following the visit to Divya Dham and the BSS center in Queens, New York (recently names America's most diverse community), the traveling swamis were taken to a special and hallowed garden. It is called Aspiration Ground, named by Sri Chinmoy who recalled that at school he found joy in the playground and later, as a guru, he found a greater joy here in Queens where his disciples aspired for the Self within.

The space is a flower-rich refuge from the world, which is only meters away, on the other side of green hedges and trees. This is where devotees have made the Samadhi for their Guru, Sri Chinmoy. It is a sacred space where his presence is nurtured and protected, and immediately one could feel this sage from Bengal. It was here, we were told, that he played tennis and afterwards sat for hours with seekers in meditation, giving precious upadeshas. As we sat, a recording of Sri Chinmoy speaking of the Absolute was played, a powerful call to the Within.

Kusumita Pedersen went to the microphone to introduce the guests from Hawaii to the 75 or 80 gathered devotees, who were here from around the world, to attend the annual anniversary of the center's founding. This is their 50th year, so it was a special time.

Kusumita recalled her first faxes in 1988 with Paramacharya and her unforgettable encounter with Gurudeva in Oxford at the Global for for Human Survival in that same year, and the six or seven times she was with him and Sadasivanathaswami in subsequent international conferences, and with Bodhinatha in Melbourne, Australia.

There followed a small choir which sang some angelic mystical poems from Sri Chinmoy, and also offered a delightful little hymn to Hinduism Today! Yes, a choral praise written by Sri Chinmoy and first sung by his disciples in the Media Studio during their 1998 visit to Kauai. Sadasivanathaswami quickly reached for his iPhone to record the last half of it which we will post for all to hear.

Poems were read and then Sadasivanathaswami spoke of our meetings over the years with Sri Chinmoy, including his giving the U Thant Peace Award to Gurudeva at the United Nations in 2000. Paramacharya spoke of the centrality of the guru and how Sri Chinmoy had impressed the monks with his remarkable outpouring of gratitude, an example to all to be thankful for Siva's infinite grace and abundances given.

Paramacharya shared that when he had asked, 15 years back, for a summary of Sri Chinmoy's philosophy, Kusumita sent a small book, no more than 80 pages, called Samadhi, in which the Guru spoke in remarkably profound Paramacharya ended with a quote from Kabir, the mystic and poet: "If all the land were turned to paper and all the seas turned to ink, and all the forests into pens to write with, they would still not suffice to describe the greatness of the guru." Paramaharya shared that this book inspired our own "Self & Samadhi" book gathering together all of Gurudeva's lofty writing of the Ineffable Self within all. He gave the center a copy of that book and also gifted all present with a rudraksha bead from Kauai's Rudraksha Forest.

Senthilnathaswami was called to the microphone and shared his 1998 encounter with Sri Chinmoy which was a moving tribute to how even a brief encounter with a great soul can endure through the years, and even grow stronger.

The guests from Hawaii were then treated to a tour of the heart of Sri Chinmoy's legacy of painting and photographs, kept in a pristine house that is a loving museum of the Guru who had his Mahasamadhi in 2007. The walls are covered with hundreds of photos of the meetings of world leaders and people of rare accomplishment with Sri Chinmoy who knew virtually every notable person you can imaging. A short walk across the street found us seated in a little restaurant, Annam Brama, that the disciples have run for many years, to feast on some amazing dishes.

There is, at Aspiration Ground, a palpable peace and there is in all of his disciples a remarkable Guru Bhakti and dedication to sadhana.

Visiting Divya Dham and BSS in Queens, NY

Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami's and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami's visit to New York included a courtesy call to our dear friend Swami Parameshananda, who participates each year at the Hindu Mandir Executives' Conference, and who participated in the Mauritius Innersearch last month.

Swamiji took us to Divya Dham Jalaram Mandir in Woodside, NY, opened in 1993 by Swami Jagdishwaranand when he brought by land and sea the flames from many of the holy centers of the North of India, combining them into a single flame that burns eternally here. After Swami passed away in 2005, the America Sevashram Sangh (branch of Bharat Sevashram Sangh) accepted his request to take over management of this large temple-museum in two conjoined warehouses in the heart of Queens.

The mandir is focused on Siva and Shakti. There is a giant black granite Sivalinga and many other Lingas, including a wall of 1,008 small Lingas--a curiously familiar concept. There is a Vaishno Devi cave, dozens upon dozens of murtis of all the popular Gods and Goddesses. Upstairs is a huge shrine to the Sakti Peeths, with 51 white marble murtis in individual shrinettes. There is also a scale model of the Himalayan range, including model trains, cars, bridges, temples, ashrams and hotels. Artifacts from across the North of India abound, and it's really quite a lot to take in.

After Divya Dham, Swami Parameshananda took us to his home, the America Sevashram Sangh Ashram in Jamaica, NY. And all along the way we saw mandir after mandir, ashram after ashram. We have known for a long time that Queens is home to many Hindu organizations, but to see them ourselves scattered here and there as we drove throughout the area was a revelation.

Hinduism Today Offers Gifts to BAPS Guru

On the second day of the Mandir Mahotsav in Robbinsville, New Jersey, the BAPS devotees were stunned and delighted with a second public darshan of their guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Though 93 and frail, the guru had been brought on a chartered aircraft from India so he could be here for this amazing event. That he was here was amazing, that he was able to be with them for extended periods was regarded as historic. When devotees around the world heard he was here, they dropped everything, grabbed the next flight and joined in the grand opening of America's largest Hindu religious center.

The second darshan took place on Saturday. Near noon word went out that Swamishri would be coming again to the outdoor stage, something that happens without planning due to his health, and suddenly everyone was running to be present.

It took place in front of their completed buildings on the banks of the small lake in the first photo. Twenty thousand or more were gathered from around the nation and the world. Just before he arrived, the senior swamis spoke eloquently of this historic event, of the great efforts taken by thousands of volunteers and shilpis, of how this was the fulfillment of Pramukh Swami's long-held vision.

We had brought some gifts for the guru from Kauai: a rudraksha mala, a copy of The Guru Chronicles and a mango bowl turned by the monks and filled with 108 special rudraksha beads. Sadasivanathaswami was brought to the stage to present the gifts to Mahant Swami, who would then in turn hand them over to Swamishri, as only a few are permitted to approach him in respect for his health.

Paramacharya presented the gifts on stage and returned to the sadhu area below. Almost immediately Swamishri was brought on stage and the air was filled with joyous voices greeting him. Despite the mid-day heat (several suffered from heat stroke and the rest of us were overheated), men danced and called out his name. It was quite an explosion of guru bhakti.

Swamishri waved to them all, clearly rejoicing at their joint achievements, clearly moved by the ocean of love he was being bathed in. Then the swamis brought the gifts to him and placed them in his hands, wheeling him near Paramacharya and Senthilnathaswami who were asked to stand so Swamishri could see them in the crowd. Hinduism Today was honored by the spokesman who explained the gifts to the crowd in Gujarati and again the crowd cheered, clearly please that their guru was so deeply respected beyond their borders.

The darshan ended as quickly as it had begun, and all headed for shade and shelter, invigorated by a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with one of India's greatest spiritual lights.

Swaminarayan Prana Pratishtha in Robbinsville

On Saturday, August 9, the two swamis from Hawaii joined in the investiture of prana, life, into the murtis of the new BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey. It was the main event we were called to be part of, the central purpose of our travels.

The night before, the marble murtis were installed in their golden shrines, ready to be brought to life. At 9:00am the sadhus and devotees gathered in the temple, with some 20,000 outside watching on giant screens.

Elaborate puja with traditional Vedic mantras filled the equally elaborate chamber. Senior sadhus gathered just before the main sanctum, inviting our Hawaiian swamis to sit among them, offering rice and mantras together.

After about an hour of rites, led with such precision and perfect presence by Mahant Swami, Tyagvallabh Swami and Ishwarcharan Swami, the crowd suddenly stirred. It was announced that Swamishri would now do the all-important abhishekam for the new deities in three shrines.

Prahmukh Swami Maharaj arrived, a clear joy on his face as this was the culmination of seven years of effort by his devotees. He entered the inner sanctum, personally performed abhishekam to a tiny Neelkanth Varni murti on a tray, and then was handed a remote control. Pushing the button, he started the water flowing upon the heads of the deities, one and then another and another.

Afterwards, the senior and then junior sadhus were allowed into the sanctum to pour water onto the deities' feet. Our two swamis from Kauai were lovingly guided into the innermost chamber to do likewise, a rare blessing at this most holy event. Of all the Swaminarayan temple openings to which they have been invited and attended, this is the first at which they had been given this particular, central privilege.

All exited through a special chamber, to emerge at the back of the temple, prostrating there. When we stood and turned to the back of the temple chamber, there, amazingly, was a marble bas-relief showing the very thing we had seen just three minutes earlier--a carving in white marble, inset into the wall, of Prahmukh Swami Maharaj holding a kalash and pouring water on the feet of the murtis.

A remarkable thing it is to be at an event and see what just happened carved in stone moments later!

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