On Stories

Stories. This one word can mean so many things. Stories are the way we assign meaning to the experience of our life. They can be helpful or destructive. All stories are absorbed and retold by the ego, therefore, in Vedantic terms, they belong to the realm of Maya/delusion. We can sort stories into the categories of Vidyamaya, stories that help us in our spiritual life , and Avidyamaya, stories that hinder us and create suffering. Ultimately, everything we think is a story. We need to have a way of distancing ourselves from those stories and analyzing them. We believe so many stories, in fact, almost everything that pops into our mind, but are all these thoughts true? That is why , in Vedanta, viveka-awareness of thoughts, and vichara-the ability to analyze them, are the main practices. We have to find a method of questioning everything we think and feel. We must learn to question every thought:is this true, is this helpful, is this causing me misery? I know that I am always writing about this; it’s so important! You might say, “I’m a bhakta, a devotee, and I don’t care about this jnani stuff!” I would remind you of the assertion made by Sri Ramakrishna. Paraphrased, it says bhaktas have no use for anything that comes between themselves and God. That implies that there is enough detachment and awareness to actually know what comes between yourself and God! If we don’t practice the questioning of our thoughts, we will surely be in the grip of old destructive patterns at some point, or swept away by someone else’s stories.

Stories can also aid us in our spiritual life. Stories about the lives of the wise can serve as inspiration. I’ve been inspired by the teachings in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna for almost my entire life. Stories told in the scriptures can become the basis for deep reflection. I often return to several of the stories told in the Upanishads.I love Satyakama who learns about Brahman from the natural world, Nachiketa who learns from Death himself and, of course, Yajnavalkya who dares to take away the prize offered by King Janaka to the wisest. Stories are not all destructive. But, friends, please choose carefully!

Two Upcoming Retreats Aug. 3-4 and Aug. 31-Sept. 1


We are happy to welcome 2 sannyasinis from Sri Sarada Math, India to Ridgely in August. Sri Sarada Math is the women’s independent monastic organization founded by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1954. The sisters in the West are not part of Sri Sarada Math but we always have maintained friendly relations and are very happy when sisters from India come to visit and give teachings. This time we have agreed on a collaborative retreat on the Four Yogas of Swami Vivekananda. Over the weekend, each one of us will give a session on one of the four yogas. Here is the tentative schedule:

Saturday, August 3
10:30-12:30 Pravrajika Divyanandaprana: Jnana Yoga
1pm lunch
2:30-4:30 Pravrajika Shuddhatmaprana: Bhakti Yoga

Sunday, August 4
10:30-12:30 Pravrajika Gitaprana : Raja Yoga
1pm lunch
2:30-4:30 Pravrajika Bhavaniprana: Karma Yoga

All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat. There is no fee for day visitors. If you wish to stay overnight SIGN UP NOW! Right now we have 4 spaces in the men’s house and 4 in the women’s house. They will go fast.

We need people who will volunteer to organize and cook lunch for this retreat. This will enable Shuddhatmaprana, who usually cooks for all our retreats, to actually attend the entire program. If you would like to volunteer, please contact her: 845 687-4574.


We are happy to welcome Swami Yoagtmananda, Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of Providence, for his annual retreat here at Ridgely. This year the subject will be the spiritual poetry of Hafiz, the 14th century Persian poet.

Here is the schedule:
Saturday Aug 31
10:30-1 Session 1
1 Lunch
2-4:30 Session 2

Sunday Sept. 1
10:30-1 Session 3
1 Lunch

All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat. The overnight spaces for this retreat have all been reserved. If you wish to be placed on the waiting list for an overnight space, please email or call.

June 13-15 Retreat w/ Swami Sarvadevananda Amritabindu Upanishad

Swami Sarvadevananda, Head Minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California (which also includes Ridgely), will be visiting from June 13 to 15. He will give a retreat on the Amritabindu Upanishad. Here is the schedule:

June 13 7pm satsang
June 14 10:30-4:30 3 sessions on the Amritabindu Upanishad (lunch included)
June 15 10:30-1pm Final sessions on the Upanishad followed by lunch

All are welcome for attend part or all of this retreat. There is no charge to attend as a day visitor. If you wish to stay overnight please apply via the email application on this site. You will find it in the visit section.

May 4: Retreat on the Meaning of Puja/Traditional Ritual with Pravrajika Gitaprana. 10:30-4:30

Ritual plays an important role in every religious and spiritual tradition. It is a way to link the individual seeker with Divine Reality in a particular setting, using an established ritual structure.
In India, the ritual usually is called ‘puja’ and has been practiced in various forms for millennia. Over this vast amount of time puja, in addition to serving as a focus for devotion, has come to include layers of nuanced philosophy and what might be called ‘yogic technology’ for lack of a better term. Puja in the Hindu tradition centers around the idea that the infinite, all-pervading Divine, the source of all being, can choose to appear in one particular place, and image when invoked/requested by the one who performs the puja and the ones who attend.

There are many kinds of puja. In fact, in the wonderfully eclectic and inclusive Indian spiritual tradition, there are many ways of doing the same puja! In this intensive we will be talking about the puja associated with the Divine Mother. We will talk about the power of mantra and the sound universe, the subtle forms of divinity known as yantra/mandala, the 2 very powerful meditations that are part of the puja, and the order and meaning of the parts of the puja. We won’t be teaching you how to do it yourself as that usually requires formal initiation by a qualified teacher. Please come and join us if you are interested in entering into the world of the Divine Mother and her worship.

Here is a more detailed program for the retreat:
Puja Retreat The Play of Form and Formlessness

Each session to begin with a meditation from the puja 1. Dhyana Mantra 2. Bhuta shuddhi 3. Manasa puja

1st session-The Divine Mother the the multiverse-the setting for puja
SRK-Brahman and shakti not different
Emanation from subtle to physical
Mantra, Yantra,Murti: vibration from subtle to physical
Sacred Space and Purity-the concept
Creating sacred space
Mudras/sacred hand “language”

2nd session- As above, so below
The idea that god can be present in a special way-prana pratishtha
The connection between subtle world/forces and the body
The goddess invoked in the altar of the body- chakras and nyasa

3rd session- The Queen of the Universe in heart and home
Invoking Her presence
The actual worship of the Mother
Manasa Puja Worship of the Mother in the heart
Calling the Mother into the Image
The Offerings
She returns to the formless

If you wish to attend this retreat as a day visitor please register by sending an email or calling us. Email: info@ridgely.org Phone: 845 687-4574

If you wish to register as an overnight guest please go to ridgely.org and fill out the overnight application.


As of Monday, March 25, the retreat will is open to day visitors. On April 1 we will resume taking overnight guests. If you are coming as a day visitor you must call us first to make sure we have someone available to give you a tour. This is a residence and a retreat center, not a museum. You need one of us to take you on a tour through the buildings. We are happy to do that. Please be aware that we do most of the work here ourselves and do not have someone always available tours at any hour. We need to work them in with our other responsibilities.Please call us in advance.

If you would like to stay at the retreat overnight, you will find the online application in the Visit section. Please be aware that we do not allow children under the age of 17 to stay overnight at the retreat. Please send us your application or call us to make a reservation at least 5 days in advance.

We look forward to seeing you here at Vivekananda Retreat this year!

On Meditation

Meditation. Is your reaction to that word, “Oh! I can’t meditate!”? Does your mind autoload all the reasons why you feel meditation is difficult? None of them are true! If we feel meditation is hard we might have the wrong idea about what meditation is. Here are some concepts we need to forget before we meditate: 1.If we live in the USA we are probably captured by the huge emphasis on achievement and productivity. Forget it! As my upaguru, Swami Swananda, told me, you don’t achieve anything by meditating. You are already That. Brahman is never the product of any cause. 2.Drop the notion of success/failure. You can’t fail, or, for that matter, succeed. 3.Drop any notions of right/wrong. Don’t ask yourself, “Am I doing it right?” 4. Drop any idea of past/future, i.e. thinking, “Some future date I will be enlightened.” Time is illusory. All there is when you sit is now. If you sit for 1 hour or 5 minutes, there’s only now. 5. Drop comparing and competing. If you compare yourself to Sri Ramakrishna, for instance, you might become mightily discouraged. You aren’t trying to win a meditation competition with anyone else…or yourself! Some days we may be able to easily focus the mind. We might have what we call a ‘good meditation’. Go forward! The next day might be a bust because we are trying to get back the focus of the day before. There are many more tips and hints. You might have your own. The Zen Buddhist tradition famously uses the phrase, “Just sit.” That’s it.

Winter Snow

Snow on the ground here at the retreat. It won’t stay. We want to let you know that we also maintain a Facebook page. You can find it by searching “Vivekananda Retreat,Ridgely page”. Yes, the word’ page’ must be included. We have started an Instagram account: @vivekanandaretreat. Please follow us if you are interested.

A Thought for the New Year

I am wishing everyone a wonderful new year! I decided not to write about new years or Kalpataru Day and instead, think about the word ‘vairagyam’, translated into English as ‘renunciation’. Sri Sarada Devi named renunciation as one of the main messages of Sri Ramakrishna. This concept, vairagyam, is going to mean something a little different for every person in the midst of their own life. The word vairagyam is derived from the Sanskrit root ranj. It has many meanings coming from the original meaning, to color and particularly, to color red. We begin to see the picture it paints by recalling the English saying ‘to see red’. The word ‘passion’ describes this saying, but there are several meanings to this word as well. And that is the source of misunderstanding. Passion can describe an emotion that is almost or completely out of our control. It can also mean a feeling of motivation or enthusiasm. To understand the meaning of vairagyam we need the first definition of passion, NOT the second. The prefix ‘vi’ designates the opposite, so ‘viraga’ means w/o passion. Vairagyam is a noun derived from that verbal root. To renounce, to practice vairagyam, means to be completely without that kind of strong emotion that is out of our control. It does not mean to be disinterested, indifferent or downright aversive! So many people believe that to practice renunciation we need to be indifferent, unconcerned and uninvolved, throwing off everything. I believe what we really need is to install a mental app of discernment (aka viveka), which examines all our experience and asks “ Is this true? Is this important? Is this necessary? Am I acting selfishly?” We may think that vairagyam is for monastics only. Certainly monastics, theoretically, practice a more external kind of renunciation, but the truth is, the same discernment applies to all people in all walks of life. Friends, we can renounce and still care. We can renounce and still help. We can renounce and still be interested in the welfare of every being. In fact, if we ‘take the red out of the mind’ we will be in a much better position to do so!

Winter at Vivekananda Retreat

PLEASE NOTE: We are now in the winter season here at the retreat.During these winter months we do not schedule programs or events. We will remain open for visitors and retreatants until snow and ice make it impossible/unsafe to park or walk on our internal roads. PLEASE CALL AHEAD BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAR TO COME HERE IF YOU WANT TO VISIT.IT’S BETTER TO CALL AT LEAST A DAY IN ADVANCE. We are happy to schedule tours but not when the retreat is closed. Overnight guests need to make reservations at least 5 days in advance. Please go to our Visit page and fill out the overnight retreat form at the end of the section.

Please be aware that we are not a museum.It is not possible to just walk in and see the place without one of us acting as tour guide. We live here as well. We do enjoy giving tours but please be aware that the people here have many other responsibilities and may not be available. That is why we ask you to call ahead to schedule a time that works for all.

We will begin our programs again in the spring as soon as the snow and ice disappear. Our first program of 2019, as of now, will be a retreat given by Swami Sarvapriyananda on April 6. Topic to be announced. If you wish to sign up for our email newsletter, there is a link here on our website.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!