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Coronation of HH Swami Vidyadhishananda

The coronation ceremony of HH Swami Vidyadhishananda celebrating His Holiness’s ascension as Head Pontiff of Sri Paramananda Ashram Trust Consortium (SriPAT) took place on Thursday, 23 February 2023 at the Sri Paramananda Maṭha campus, among the oldest institutions in the holy city of Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Monks and pontiffs from local ashrams, temples, monasteries and maṭha (monastically led schools with a Sanskrit curriculum) along with leaders from many esteemed institutions of other distant cities came together for this resplendent function to honour His Holiness and offered their obeisance.

This ceremony represents the culmination of the transition of leadership following the untimely passage of revered monk and head pontiff HH Swami Sharadananda Giri.

Collective prayers at the samadhi shrine of HH Swami Sharadananda

In attendance during the at-capacity event were Vedic school students, Vedic priests, scholars, professors, governmental heads, and an international delegation of pilgrims (representing 12 countries).

There were 42 monks, saints, and heads of institutions who draped His Holiness with their ceremonial-shawls to honour the coronation. More than 1100 guests including over 250 local community members partook of a full meal at the end of the ceremony and more than 800 of the guests were felicitated with gifts by the ashram.

Monks light lamp on stage

Our beloved His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda is now ceremonially installed as the head pontiff and president of a consortium of five institutions in addition to being the President of both Hansavedas in the USA and its direct sister institution, Vedanidhi in India.

In this role as a head pontiff and a spiritual advisor of dharma, His Holiness represents our entire international sangha to various other institutions of academic repute and spiritual antiquity.

News coverage of the event has circulated widely. You are welcome to view this video news coverage with highlights of the 6-hour long proceedings which lasted from 8 am to 2 pm. You can appreciate the long-standing tradition by seeing the attending monks conferring ordination shawls to the successor monk, His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda, during the ceremony.

Synchronized chanting while sprinkling of holy water

Draped in coronation shawls

Called pattabishekam, this was the high point of the ceremony along with the sprinkling of holy water taken from the sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna near the ashram which was further energized ceremonially. This confluence is the setting for the world’s largest spiritual gathering attracting some 50 to 70 million pilgrims once every few years to Prayagraj. The next Kumbha-mela will take place here in February 2025.

During Kumbha-mela, the Paramananda Ashram prepares food for over 2000 pilgrims every day for a month. On the day before the coronation, a Bhandara team (expert cooks who were hired for mass feeding) were working late into the night to prepare food for a gathering of 1200 guests. Students from the school and helpers served the multitude of guests who lined the courtyards and corridors of the ashram after the ceremony.

Bhandara feeding of 1200 devotees

Reflections from pilgrims who were there

It was a lifetime experience to see Gurudeva’s Coronation and in the presence of other monks, it was blissful.

Infinite gratitude to our beloved Satguru for gracing us with this most sublime and inspiring experience.

It was really a blissful experience to be in such a rare pilgrimage to witness the Coronation of His Holiness.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this extraordinary and moving experience.

I will forever be grateful to Gurudeva for the opportunity to attend and participate in such a divine and once-in-a-lifetime coronation ceremony.

I feel blessed to have attended the coronation of Gurudeva with devotees from other parts of the world. It was a divine experience.

It was an honour and privilege to witness and participate in the auspicious coronation of Gurudeva. He continues to enlighten the noble path with a clear vision of truth.

Discourse at the coronation delivers message on dharma

A series of speeches in honour of His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda were made by visiting dignitaries and the monks in attendance at the coronation ceremony. When the speeches were over, His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda first gave a message from the podium in Hindi in which he paid tribute to his brother monk HH Swami Sharadananda, telling how they first met and how they built up a close rapport and collaboration.

Thereafter he delivered the following message in English to the devotees from 12 different countries who had come to the coronation:

“The word dharma cannot really be translated as religion, and dharma is not necessarily a faith-based religion or faith-based practice. Dharma means vision of truth and our Rishis or Sages gave the vision of truth for everything; not just one thing but everything.

In India, even the Supreme Court is not able to understand the definition to dharma. The judges are saying it is a way of life. However, Sanatana dharma does not mean a way of life. The way of life is a means to sustain the vision of truth, which is given by the sages of yore.

We are not a tradition of faith – we are a tradition of knowledge. A teacher or great master will declare to the student: “I have seen God and I can make you see God too.” Nowhere else in the world does such a tradition exist. Nowhere else in the world has any one heard that the teacher is saying: “I have seen God and I can make you see God too.” This is not possible anywhere else. This is the strength of the Vedic education system in India. This is the vision of truth. This is the vision given to us by the sages.

So no such question and answer session is possible in the rest of the world. If a student asks: “Have you seen God?”, the teacher may not be able to answer. But in India, the teacher will say: “I have seen God and I can also make you see God.” What an incredible achievement of the education system.

So, this is a knowledge tradition. Dharma is not a way of life. A way of life is a means to sustain the vision of truth. Dharma is the vision of truth.

Bilingual discourse showering grace

Now my comment to all the visitors from 12 different countries from around the world. The way we learn in this knowledge tradition is summed up in a single word which is very important: honour. You honour the teacher. You honour the knowledge.

There are erudite monks who head the Veda and Sanskrit schools – experts who are able to write commentary on Veda mantra. Then there are the Vedcharya who teach the Veda and then finally it comes down to those who teach the regular subjects. So there is a nested hierarchy within the knowledge tradition. The professor is highly ordained and then there are additional hierarchies below the highest level – through which the students are able to learn.

There are guard rails. Those guard rails define the principles of dharma. You see the students bowing all the time. By honouring the teacher, they acquire knowledge from within the nested hierarchy. It’s a hierarchy, not a flat system. But the students gather knowledge by honouring every teacher in that nested hierarchy and they learn in this tradition of knowledge.

In the rest of the world, they have made it very flat and further there is no guard rail. The meaning of “guard rail” is the reins that you hold to learn – learning values and learning principles. We are here to honour, which automatically implies that the values and principles are learnt in a respectful manner and that allows the students to almost soak up knowledge like a sponge. This is the beauty of this knowledge tradition.

Just remember, dharma is a vision of truth sustained by a way of life which includes following certain guard rails and codes of conduct which are honourable. India is not just about external worship. India has an incredible vision of worship at different levels. Ultimately, it is all about internal worship. So, temples are an immense inspiration but that’s only a miniscule part of India. India is all about the ultimate search for truth – the vision of truth. This is my message to all the visitors who have come from all the different countries. Thank you very much for your presence.”

Portion of the devotees in attendance numbering over 1100

Coronation constellation in the night sky

As a long day of celebration ended and darkness fell over Paramananda Ashram on 23 February 2023, there was a spectacular sight to behold. One could look up at the clear night sky and witness three celestial bodies in a perfect vertical line: the benefic planets Jupiter and Venus were in precise alignment with a crescent moon in the constellation of Pisces. According to the science of Jyotisha (Vedic astrology), Jupiter, the planet of the Guru and the teacher, was in its own sign while Venus was exalted in Pisces, both reinforcing the influence of the moon. This particular Thursday was indeed an auspicious day chosen for the coronation ceremony.

Jupiter and Venus in precise alignment with a crescent moon in the constellation of Pisces on the night of the Coronation Ceremony.

Homage to a sleepless saint

Our lives are forever changed by the immense void created from the departure of a Sanskrit adept and a living institution, His Holiness Swami Sharadananda. The erstwhile head monk of our monastic council and the leader of our consortium of sister institutions closed his earthly life on 30 June 2021.

His palpable divinity radiated well beyond his direct company, and a simple remembrance of his kind presence would evoke such a sweet feeling. Known to many as the sleepless saint, His Holiness Swami Sharadananda was a realized monk with humble mannerisms and quiet demeanour, keeping his sharp and profound wisdom reserved for the right forum.

His Holiness Swami Sharadananda was a pillar of strength and inspiration for all of us who abide by the principles and tradition of Vedic Sanskrit heritage. He was awarded Dharmalankara by the Kashi Vidwat-Parishad and the accolades of Vedantacharya and Sankhyayogacharya by the Sampurnananda University, Varanasi.

Even with such extraordinary credentials, he was childlike among all the animals who thronged to him for his conquest of ahinsa nonviolence. He fed the animals, birds and children before he touched his one meal of the day. A compassionate monk will now be absent from those who cannot express in words and only understand the language of love.

Vespers offered to the Ashram’s Guru Altar

Global mission anchored in two main institutions

Wisdom teachings from the Sanskrit heritage guide the seeker towards a daily meditation practice that transcends the barriers of emotional remnants from performing prescribed duties and voluntary activities. Herein, meditation mends the mind by overcoming emotional and physical disturbances. However, the greater virtue of meditation lies in the continuous purification of the chitta (mind, ego and intellect) in the subtle heart. Sanskrit texts define this subtle heart as the soul, which can be seen in deep meditation (seeing without the use of subtle sense organs).

Practising daily mindfulness with breath awareness brings about an understanding of the entrapments from expanding the experience of the world. Anchoring oneself in one’s own daily meditation practices defined by structured techniques manifests the highest purification of internal tendencies and latent impressions lodged in the mind (chitta-suddhi).

Thereafter, a pure-hearted mind beholds the ultimate knowledge or realization of being that transcends subtle feelings and the thoughtless void. While the journey is outlined clearly in extant Sanskrit philosophical literature, it is helpful to know that our affirmations towards the goal become more meaningful when we synchronize them closely with a certain cosmic time-space coordinate based on a proven dynamic calendar from our ancient heritage.

Affirmations, spiritual vows and daily meditation based on this greater synchronization are necessary until living liberation is attained. Those joining the path of inner awakening or just starting on this journey of mindfulness often wonder how the liberated souls or enlightened beings can remain silent for so long or do not get bored without doing something or other. Most who cannot relate to the validity of spiritual discipline and the transcendental states of being attained thereafter may even conceive of God as being occupied with puny activities.

A liberated being has no sense of time to feel bored. Moreover, by anchoring in the inner silence, they become mighty performers and a noble wish in such a case fructifies easily. Such free beings do not cultivate ‘wishful thinking’ or get unnecessarily busy with the world. Virtues cling to them on account of their tranquil mind. If voluntary action (purushakāra) is guided towards a profound meditation practice, a seeker may obtain liberation in a single birth. Such is the promise of Sanskrit wisdom.

Priests make offerings to the fire for purification of the environment in Varanasi, India. 2019.

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