From Gitaprana: About finding inspiration

We hear a lot of teachings and instructions but sometimes the most important ones are simply one sentence.

Some people felt that Swami Swahananda was not specific enough with the instructions he gave to his disciples. He often answered questions about practice by offering a variety of answers and told us to choose. Or, in my case, his main instruction was to exclaim, “Figure it out yourself!” But, he was also a master of the one-liner: a really quick, powerful sentence that had implications for every action, everywhere.

Here is an example that will stay with me until the end of my days:
When I lived in Hollywood I served on a couple of committees. We all know that committees can be exasperating, especially to one without patience like me. One day I made the total mistake of saying (without thinking) to Swami Swahananda, “I think X committee is wrecking my life”. Instantly, within a nano-second, he turned and shouted, “YOU HAVE NO LIFE!!!”

I understood. As a sannyasini, when I performed my own funeral, and took the gerua cloth, I, in effect, gave up my life. The challenge is to identify with the Self, the Divine, the Mother, and to work to eliminate all the mental obstacles that keep me identified with the ego-constructed self. Really, I don’t have “a life”. That is a notion born of believing we are separate beings. And, the individual life that I experience has been given to serve, in the Mother, in Sri Ramakrishna, all sentient beings. That means embracing every experience that arises as coming from the Divine. To me, that’s the essence of renunciation and you don’t have to be a monastic to do it!

Here at Ridgely I have many responsibilities that sometimes seem overwhelming, like a job for some kind of superhuman. To ensure that others find peace and inspiration here, I don’t have a lot of peace. But all I have to do is remember Swami Swahananda shouting, “You have no life!” and I feel inspired again. It reminds me to look at daily events through the Divine lens.

So, one fantastic spiritual practice is to find a memory of a meaningful personal teaching, or even one from a scripture or other book, and use it to reorient yourself whenever you feel life is running crazy without your participation , when your job/family situation is a little complicated or stressful.

From Gitaprana: About Murtis/Images

I want to say something about murtis, or forms of the Divine.Every religious tradition has them. Every person has their own notions, mental forms of the Divine. Hinduism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity share the belief that the form/murti/icon is a window to the Divine, a threshold and a meeting place. The idea is that, somehow, in some unspeakable way, the consciousness of the Divine overshadows the individual image. We are not talking a a general, God -in- everything way. The mystery here is that the One, Infinite Satchidananda, present everywhere, is specifically aware in the murti.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, icons are blessed to give them a living presence. In the Hindu tradition, that process is called prana pratishtha: invoking life in the image. The life has been invoked in virtually all the images you meet in Indian temples. The image becomes a dwelling place for the Divine and is treated as a living being.

Sometimes a temporary image will have the life invoked during the puja and then “returned” to the infinite after the puja is over. At Kali Puja the prana pratishtha ritual is part of the puja. Once the life of the murti is invoked, the Mother Herself is specifically present, aware. It does not matter if the image is large or small, like ours here at Ridgely. Between the Mother and the devotee attending the puja there is darshan/seeing. You see the Mother and, more importantly, the Mother sees you. That is what makes Kali Puja so powerful. The Mother is there and she is Kali, that terrific power of creation and destruction, looking right at you, listening to the music, accepting your offerings. On a more subtle level she touches your inner awareness, that place of silence that has nothing to do with what is going on around you.

And yes, it is also true that all is Brahman, infinite, undivided, formless. The world of the vyavahara, the world of namarupa is filled with paradoxes! For several years I was the one who created the murti for the Hollywood Center’s Kali Puja. I was present when the image was immersed at the very end and I can tell you, the Mother LOVES to return to the formless as much as She loves to take forms.

Retreat Celebrating Ridgely’s 20th Anniversary Nov. 3-4

Swami Vivekananda’s 4 Yogas and How to Practice Them

Swami Sarvadevananda, Swami Tyagananda, Swami Atmajnanananda, Pr. Gitaprana, Pr. Shuddhatmaprana

We are celebrating our 20th year with a 2 day retreat and Indian Music concert as a way of saying thank you to all our friends and donors over the years. All are welcome! You may attend all or part of the retreat.  If you wish to stay overnight, please send in your email application, found in the Visit section, ASAP.

Friday, Nov. 3
10:30 Intro by Gitaprana
11:00-1 Session 1 with Swami Atmajnanananda RAJA YOGA
1:00 Lunch
2:00-4 Panel informal discussion w/ all speakers: HOW WE PRACTICE KARMA YOGA and Q&A from the audience
6:00 Arati
7:00 Satsang
Saturday, Nov. 4
10:30-1:00 Session 3 with Swami Tyagananda JNANA YOGA
1:00 lunch
2:00-4:00 Session 4 with Swami Sarvadevananda BHAKTI YOGA

Kali Puja October 19 10pm

We will be performing our annual Kali Puja, the elaborate ritual worship of the goddess Dakshina Kali, the same form of the Divine worshipped by Sri Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Temple in Kolkata. This is basically an all-night puja that combines elements from both the Vedic and Tantric traditions. During the ritual the goddess is”invoked” several times, in water, fire, the one who performs the ritual and in the little image of Kali who presides over the event. As I wrote in the last newsletter, we perform a prana pratishtha, calling forth the presence of the goddess in the image. Even though the Divine is everywhere and everywhen, once the invocation is performed the awareness of Kali Herself is both everywhere and precisely in the image at the same time, mysteriously present in the room. The best way to attend the worship is to keep in mind that She is present right there in that tiny image and simultaneously everywhere. At the very end of the worship we ‘break the tie’ and She happily returns to the Formless Ocean of Bliss.
You will have a chance to bring special offerings to the Mother. It can be flowers, food, make-up, jewelry, perfume- anything you might give to a beloved and respected Mother. Please remember that the puja restrictions apply: whatever you bring should be first for the Mother. That means it has not been tasted, smelled, overly handled or otherwise enjoyed by you or anyone else. If you are bring a food offering please bring it in new containers. We won’t be allowing anyone in our kitchen except for our designated helpers, so all food offerings must be fully prepared before coming.
There’s another kind of offering that the Mother loves: music! I am inviting any of you who can perform or lead bhajans/kirtan or any other kind of song to come and make an offering.
Here is the rough schedule:
10pm   Gitaprana explains the puja
10:30-1 The main part of the puja
1-2 Homa Fire
2-3 The final ‘returning’ of the Mother to the Ocean
3am  Prasad
As always you may come and go at any time during the night. If you need to rest for a few hours after the puja there will be a place w/o our usual suggested donation.
We really hope you can attend part or all of this wonderful night.

Durga Puja Sept.23 / Retreat with Pravrajika Dayaprana Oct.7-8

Durga Puja

We will be performing our Durga Puja this coming Saturday. The puja begins at 10:30 but you can arrive and leave at any time during the celebration. Here is the rough schedule:

10:30 puja and kirtan
noon homa fire
1pm prasad meal

We are hoping that enough singers will attend so that we can simultaneously perform the puja and a kirtan. The kirtan will be performed for the Mother in memory of Sahaja, our former Ridgely staff member and friend, who was killed in an auto accident earlier this year. If you can lead bhajans and would like to participate, please RSVP.

Anyone can bring offerings/gifts for the Mother to the puja! Please remember that whatever you bring should be untouched. That means the offerings should not have been smelled, tasted, opened (if they are in a package) or put into containers that have been previously used to store leftovers, etc. The idea is that the offerings should be ‘enjoyed’ first by the Mother.If you are planning on bringing food for offering, please bring items that do not need to be heated up or cooked on site. We will not allow anyone but our designated helpers into the kitchen.

We are looking forward to our first celebration of the Mother season. Hope to see you on Saturday!

Upanishad Meditation Retreat with Pravrajika Dayaprana Oct. 7-8

We are happy to announce that Pravrajika Dayaprana, a sister of the Vedanta Society of So. Calif., will be visiting Ridgely for the first time. She will be conducting a meditation retreat in a format she has used many times in Los Angeles and Japan. It will be mostly silent with readings from the Upanishads followed by sessions of meditation. If you look at the schedule below you will see there is even a chance to practice calligraphy in the Japanese style.

What you need to know about Pravrajika Dayaprana is this: she is a multi-talented individual, who, many years ago, courageously left her home country of Japan and came to Los Angeles in order to devote her life to the teachings of Vedanta. She has faced many challenges learning a new language, living in a culture which is very different from the one she left, in addition to all the challenges monastic life offers to all of us who joined. We hope you will come and welcome Dayaprana to Ridgely and participate in this wonderful chance to look deeply into the heart of the Upanishads.

10:30 Introduction
Meditation 1
About “Sun”. Prashna Upanishad 1
About “Prana” Prashna Up 2
About “OM”. Prashna Up 5
1:00 Lunch & Free Time
1:45 Calligraphy (OM)
2:30 Meditation 2
About “OM” Prashna Up 5
About “Purusha”. Prashna Up 6
3:35 Tea Time (Discussion)
4:00 End of Program
6:00 Arati
Part 2
6:00 Meditation
8:00 Walking Meditation (Optional)
Prashna Up 1
9:00 Free Time
10:30 Introduction
Meditation 1
About “Our Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping States”

Prashna Up 4
Meditation on “Purusha”
Prashna Up 6
12:45 The Peace Chant
1:00 End of the Program

September 2-3 Retreat With Swami Yogatmananda “ Daydreaming and Meditation, the Vedantic and Jungian Approach”

We are happy to welcome Swami Yogatmananda back for our Labor Day weekend retreat. As many of you know, he has been conducting retreats here every Labor Day weekend, saving those with hurricanes and other pressing events! This year he will be speaking about daydreaming and meditation. He will look at this topic from both the Vedantic and the Jungian perspective. Sometimes meditators confuse the two! Our schedule will follow our usual format:

Saturday, September 2
10:30-1 first session
1-2 lunch
2-4 second session

Sunday September 3
10:30-1 third session
1pm lunch

All are welcome to attend. If you wish to stay overnight at the retreat please go to and fill out the online application found at the end of the “Visit” section. For those who wish to attend as day visitors, there is no charge for this program but please RSVP so we know how many people will be attending.

Thinking about making a day visit to Ridgely? Please read this:

First of all, we are happy to show people this wonderful place where Swami Vivekananda stayed. If you would like to visit Ridgely, you must schedule a tour at least a day in advance. Right now we have so many day visitors we are asking groups to come at the same time so we can give one tour instead of many. Ridgely is not a museum; it is a private residence and retreat center. We live here and there are usually people on retreat, enjoying the peace and quiet of our shrine room and retreat houses. The same people who give tours are also the people who do most of the interior and exterior work at Ridgely. We are very happy to arrange our schedules to accommodate tours if you call in advance. We always ask people to call us if it is necessary to cancel or if you will be late. Please do this.

When Ridgely is holding an organized retreat or some other program like a meditation day, we do not give tours. You are welcome to attend the program and, if we have time, we usually show people around in a limited way.It all depends on the retreat schedule.

Once in a long while we will tell you that it will not be possible for you to visit on a particular day. It could be that we are all scheduled to attend an event off-site. Or, we know that the weather is going to be dangerous-tornado warnings, snow and ice etc. We do not want to have extra people here when we know there are going to be dangerous conditions. If we ask you not to come, please don’t come anyway! We have had visitors ignore this and drive for 2 hours only to find the place closed and locked.

And, last but not least, please be aware that we live in an area where there are many ticks that carry Lyme Disease. If you are planning to walk on our property, especially the shrine trail, you need to come dressed appropriately-long pants, socks and enclosed shoes. You need to check yourself and your children for ticks when you return home.