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Flagler student Kristin Kownacky went to listen to a visiting Hindu Swami in her quest to learn about other religions and came away feeling that religious enlightenment is tied closely to religious tolerance.

By Kristin Kownacky

All eyes were locked on the short, humble-looking man, as we waited for him to reveal his answer. If someone had dropped the proverbial pin, we all would have heard it, here in the hushed presence of a swami. Finally, after what seemed forever, monk Swami Prakashananda spoke.

“People get caught up in words,” he told us. “Our gaze must be turned to the direction the words are pointing.”

Some of us murmured in agreement as though we understood – yet maybe it was just in relief that he had spoken. As I re-read my notes, I felt embarrassed. I had no idea what he meant. But then, I was here to learn, wasn’t I?

Clad in a bright orange robe, in striking contrast against his dark skin and bright smile, this Chinmaya Mission monk was attempting to urge this eager group, as he had many others, to find in their hearts what they may already knew in their minds, or vice-versa.

Founded in 1953 in India, Hindu-based Chinmaya Mission has branches around the world teaching philosophy of Vedanta, the knowledge of the one Reality. In the common vernacular: helping those of any religious or cultural background to find happiness.

Prakashananda, a monk known as a Swamiji, or more commonly “Swami”, was taking a break from mission work on the Caribbean island of Trinidad to visit St. Augustine’s Chinmaya branch.

“[He’s] an excellent teacher, an inspiration to the people,” said Brahmacharini Arpita, the local spiritual leader.

Swamijis, or spiritual teachers, preach the Chinmaya Mission cause, coaxing people onto a journey of reflection whose destination is spiritual happiness and contentment.

As I sat on the floor, I struggled to understand Prakashananda message. I wasn’t here to be converted, just to learn about a different religion. Yet, I was beginning to feel inspired. I did not entirely agree with every one of his messages, but I gave his words a respectful ear.

Looking around at those in search of more than knowledge like me, but contentment, the thought dawned that perhaps it is religion itself that I found so inspiring. Like Marshall McLuhan wrote five decades ago, the medium is the message. In this case, that medium is religion. There is power in religion itself, and that power is transferred to the one who believes.

The audience seemed enthralled by Swami Prakashananda. He exuded wisdom; they yearned for direction. A good match, I thought.
But what about his opening gospel: “Our gaze must be turned to the direction the words are pointing.” Was his message that words have the power to lead someone to a certain path? If that, then, is the core essence of religion, so be it.

I found I was able to make sense of a few other things, finding resonance in my everyday life. Like the idea of “me” and “mine”.

“Some think they came to this world and found things and by some mysterious stroke of imagination, you think it is yours,” he remarked. “Finders keepers”, is what came to mind from my childhood.

In today’s world, he went on, where success tends to be measured in material wealth, the antidote to that measure of one’s worth is its opposite, the spiritualism within. But that, he said, is a personal journey in which others can only assist.

“You cannot change anybody in this world”, Prakashananda said. “You only have access to one heart in the world, yours”.

As the session came to an end, I reflected more on the overall experience of listening to a Swamjii. And my conclusion was that religion can act as a guiding force, and even a saving grace when the journey turns rough.

That being said, many religions offer this prescription for a happier life. Chinmaya Mission is but one. Yet, by studying different religions and beliefs, I think the anthropological may even outweigh the religious. By that, I mean by studying how and why different peoples and cultures embrace a set of religious believes, one walks away from the experience with a greater sense of tolerance and understanding.

Like Swamiji said, when it comes to this search for knowledge, look in the direction the words are pointing.

I think I finally got it.

See it on: http://1565today.com/my-time-with-a-swami/