It has always happened to me. What I have not wanted, I have had to do and then I have become so absorbed in it that I wonder how I never wanted to do it:-). I didn’t want to attend the training on Constellation's AIDS competence and today I am passionately involved in it. When I met my best friend I thought she disliked me and now…!

Similarly in the recently concluded international Knowledge Fair in Karnataka participants had to join one of the four sub-groups. I made up my mind, I will not join group two whose itinerary included visit to a religious leader, Swamiji. I thought that the Swamiji would preach and what did SALT have to do with religion anyway. I didn’t see any connection. However, we needed a facilitator in that group and Sanghamitra urged me to facilitate the group, he is a modern Swamiji and you will enjoy meeting him and grudgingly I said yes.

Second day of the event, first agenda item to visit Swamiji’s place. I thought that it was a one hour visit and the time would just fly by and we would be soon out. We were greeted by one of the managers who took us right away for lovingly prepared breakfast. We were amazed to know that the ashram served food twenty four hours a day. The spick and span area demonstrated that being clean is a sign of spiritual purity or goodness, Cleanliness is next to Godliness as the proverb goes. So far so good, I said to myself, as I dug my fingers into the delicious upma (food). Bheri, my co-facilitator, smiled at me remembering my initial reluctance for this visit.

Then we met the Swamiji who gave us a warm welcome. A young, dynamic man, Swamiji, oozed oodles of charisma, magnetism and energy. You may visit the temple and then we can sit together he suggested gently. We learned that he was the 18th Swamiji of the temple and had been appointed by the previous Swamiji as his successor at a young age of 23 years when he was studying here.

Highlight of the visit was the meeting with Swamiji, it definitely was. Swamiji said a few things in a very ordinary way and at that time we were not as attentive. It is only later that we realised the depth of his so called simple words. When we appreciated the provision of free meals he said it was a tradition and he was just continuing it, no big deal.

We also learnt that he was well able to influence his followers, but much more than this he was exceptional at connecting with people in a way that moves them. It is no exaggeration to say that Swamiji has played a pivotal role in stimulating thousands of people to respond to the needs of the community from raising funds for food to setting up an Ayurvedic Medical College.

Swamiji stated that stigma against PLHIV is a way of thinking which goes against religious teachings. Religion is not limited to merely reading religious scriptures but is about living it, he stressed. Yes, we realized that
commitment by faith leaders can break down the wall of stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. Leaders like him can restore the dignity and respect of communities affected by HIV.

Last but not the least our visit ended with planting of tree by each member of our team. It would be a memory of your visit to our ashram, said Swamiji affectionately. And then he personally took us for a visit to the Ayurvedic Medical College which has come up as a result of his efforts.

It was later, after a deep reflection, within our team did we realise that our team represented four religions - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. The religious identity had not struck us when we were with the Swamiji. We, at that moment, were all human beings on a spiritual mission.

We went for a SALT visit to Swamiji’s Ashram or did Swamiji do a SALT visit with our team, I wonder!

[ This blog is dedicated to Swamiji and his team, my group team members- JP, Bheri, Joao, Darinji and Taher and of course Sanghamitra and Jean Louis who requested me to join group two and thankfully I listened to them. Swamiji was special but my group made it an exceptional experience because of the time we spent on reflection and discussion. Aristotle describes this beautifuly, "The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival."]

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Comment by Dr. E. Mohamed Rafique on January 27, 2011 at 12:28am

"For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.
For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands"

 Thomas A Kempis in his work of devotion called the 'Imitation of Christ' first mentioned "Man proposes but God disposes"

In relation to this insight that man proposes but God disposes there are several originals in the Bible to chose from:-

Thus in the Book of Proverbs, attributed to Solomon the Wise, we read:-
A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps. Proverbs 16:9

and again in Proverbs 19:21:-
"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."

With these verses we may also compare Jeremiah 10:23:-
O Lord, I know, that the way of a man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

So, in Life our attitude must be to do our best and leave the rest to Providence.

Comment by Nicole Rhonda Cole on November 9, 2010 at 7:39am
A brilliant Narration of your wonderful experience especially the Tree Planting exercise! Yes we are all Human Beings on a Spiritual Mission! Change Rituu is a process that takes time and it varies from person to person. However when Faith Leaders change their way of thinking it could be a "seismic shift" signalling a new beginning!
Comment by Younoussa Diarra on November 8, 2010 at 8:07pm
C'est une bonne expérience de savoir que SALT va au-delà des limites ordinaires fixées par les cultures, les religions, les politiques, les intérêts, etc. Swamiji nous illumine à travers son temple que les personnes vivant avec le VIH ne doivent pas faire l'objet de stigmatisation et de discrimination. Oui nous sommes des êtres humains doués de spiritualité, capables de solidarité et de compassion.
Comment by Bheri M R on November 3, 2010 at 5:35pm
Thank you Rituu for sharing the inspirational story and dedicating it to team ,swamiji isnpired us in many ways his ieas, his way of thinking and ways practicing,he truely belives in communities strenth , so he started to construct free hostel for 2000 pre metric students of this region with barehand as he shared , which is estimated cost is about 10 crores, as constellation belives he is also belives that every person has his own capacity to deak with issues and for that he gives example person having issues or problems will come to us and I (smamiji) stimulate his/her inner strength to deal with issues as catalyst, his one more sentence is very powerfull and that;s why he seems to be different from others " pacticing or following the religious criptures is religion, but we have to think beyond religion,he is been practicing that, as we asked questions he answered, he is very inspirational and influencial person for social change and he is great inspirational asset of karnatak. I think it was great opportunity to be with group two and to wonderful reflections and insights

thanks and regards
Bheri
Comment by YERUVA ANTHONY REDDY on November 3, 2010 at 10:17am
Thanks for sharing this story. One that all the groups missed on the last day was, sharing of experieces across the groups. I was interested to learn from experience of other groups as well. I am impressed by his words 'Religion is not just preaching scriptures but is about living''. I strongly believe that living the way religion preaches is the best way of practising religion.
Comment by Autry Haynes on November 3, 2010 at 4:28am
Dear Rituu, what a remarkable experience! What have I learn from your sharing this experience? That we ALL may be on journeys we may never anticipate the outcome, SO approach life as a human with an open mind, don't try to pre-judge. People on the other side, those we are visiting have their own share of life's experience from whom we can learn and transfer (you just did!)

Behavior Change is indeed a process you are experience and at the same shaping "our way of thinking."

Thank you so much.
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on November 2, 2010 at 8:51pm
Thanks for putting your finger on one of the most important spiritual practices... accepting reality as it is. Letting go of our need to control everything. Trusting that life will bring us where we need to be.
I'm still learning everyday...
Comment by M.L. Prabakar on November 2, 2010 at 8:35pm
Dear Rituu,
Thanks for taking me through your journey. It may have been very short in terms of time but I can see it has been a very deep journey and it still continues i suppose..... I was able to see that Swamiji was relating to each one of you as human beings and not as people belonging to different faith. His efforts and dedication were centered around Human kind his efforts in establishing the Ayurvedic Medical college is a great evidence of it.

Regarding your feelings you had started with.... I have some times felt why should I do this or be in this place... But later I realised that my presence in a particular place had a purpose. But i began to accept it when I read a very a few lines about St. Theresa she is called the saint of little things. She did not do great things but she did small things with great levels of dedication as she strongly believed that where ever she was she always had been in the right place where she was supposed to be. Her way of thinking and responding to situation influenced me. I recollected various stages and incidents in my life I understood that I have also been in the right places and at the right time.... Even in those places or situations which I did not like, or found it difficult to accept, but it had a strong purpose in making me who I am now.
Thanks the sharing,

Warm regards,

Prabakar
Comment by Sanghamitra Iyengar on November 2, 2010 at 8:20pm
Wonderful, Rituu! Very moving! Thanks for transfering that experience and learning

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