- Topics & Settings
Satya Balroop in Her Own Voice
Below is a series of excerpts from personal interviews with Satya Balroop, the founder and religious leader of the Minnesota Hindu Milan Mandir, on January 27, 2011 and February 28, 2011. These interviews provide direct insight into the religious motives behind the mandir’s organization as well as personal anecdotes that reveal certain aspects of Mrs. Balroop’s spirituality through easily understandable metaphors. While her comments remain unchanged from the original interview, the excerpts have been spliced together in order to allow for a better narrative flow.
1.) The MN Milan Mandir is a small branch of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha, and here Mrs. Balroop explains that connection. Show Transcription
Could you explain more about that connection? Is it kind of an authority or just a model? Actually, it’s an authority. Because when I moved here, I had a Guru. And the Guru’s request was, start Milan Mandir when we come to Minnesota. This is how the Jagat Guru...This is how he established his organization in India when he started in 1917. First, he gathered devotees, because everyone was scattered and they didnt know heads and tails because they were so suppressed by the British they lost their identity. They didn’t know what path to choose. And so, as a world teacher, the Guru started to gather the people meeting in market squares...under a tree, in the park and so forth, just to get people. And then what happened was, they start making up tents in areas where there wasn’t an existence of a building. But that’s how they started as Milan Mandirs, gathering people. And so this Mandir is a replica of what the Guru, how he started his foundation and once the people were united, they come together to learn about the goal and his mission.
2.) When asked how she adapts her teaching style to a suburban landscape without a vibrant Hindu community, she explains that teaching someone to have a closer understanding with the guru is of the utmost importance, even if it only affects one dedicated devotee. Show Transcription
Because I got the order, and it came from my guru. And he gets his order from the Jagat Guru, I know that that’s an order that has to be carried out. Even once when Swami [Amernam? unsure about pronunciation/spelling here at 0:15] He used to teach music, and we would take our children there. And then one day, my husband found that it was just [my oldest son] who came in for lessons, music lessons. Swami-gi was there. It was bad weather, like now, so people didn’t show up, but we did. We used to live the farthest, by the way, of all the devotees there. We lived in Woodside, which was close to my parents’ house. And everyone lived in Jamaica [Queens]. Yeah, so that was a good way we had to drive. So my husband showed up there with the children. The guru came down. And so there’s the children who came. But you know that my policy is even if one child shows up I will be there to teach. And so what he did is he taught Michael a song by himself. He taped the song for him. And Michael was playing harmony; he was pretty good with the harmonium. And so he would play it but he wouldn’t sing...He would play any tune. And so Swami-gi took the time to write the song down. And I was so impressed...He had Swami-gi for himself, and Swami-gi gave him everything. So it’s the same concept here. When we start Milan Mandir, even if one devotee shows up, the Mandir will open, all the time. Everyone will know that it’s there for the sanctuary, their benefit. We must open, even if one devotee shows up, and it’s the same concept here. So the real gist of the teaching was in a small class...And that’s when I started to go to the class when I got the real understanding of who is a guru. And it helps you to be closer to the guru, for knowledge to start revealing to you. Because when you open up, there is no barrier to prevent that knowledge to keep flowing in you. It was much easier sitting in that pass. And the same thing we are doing here, its the same concept, it’s the same thing that Swami-gi passed onto me. How he kind of draws the people in. I mean, you’re gonna have mass, people will come, and they will just come, but they will come for their own personal benefit. I should say their own personal selfish benefit [laughs]. But the few — and you only find few who are true seekers — and this way, this building here, it kind of helped to weed out the non-true seekers, this building. I look at it that way. The ones who are looking for the limelight and the bright lights and the tall ceilings, they’ll go where that is. And the ones who are sincere looking for where God is, if it’s in this little hut, then they’ll come here. And those are the ones that we are really, really interested in.
3.) Here she reveals the gender tension caused by pandit authority, and how she views herself in the larger organizational structure of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Show Transcription
You mentioned before that the priests back in Guyana were mostly all men, and that the leadership was very patriarchal. What was it like in New York? In New York, too, I didn’t know any female pundits. And this is talking about the pundits, now, they don’t think a female should develop herself in spirituality. They just see the female as, you know, taking care of the household, growing the children, taking care of the children’s education...They should really be the housemaker, they shouldn’t go out there and work, in that old tradition. And so especially taking the seat of a pandit, the pandits, where they feel that a man should dominate that. I have pandits who came here and try to condemn me. I’m like, no, I don’t want that name “pandit” on my name. I’m not a pandit; I’m just a seeker. I’m just a — not even a servant of God; I wouldn’t even think that I am a servant of God yet. I don’t feel that I am a servant of God. So I have a lot more work to do before I even get to that stage as a servant of God; I am just the caretaker here. So that’s how I portrayed myself here, in the beginning to be able to survive here this long. Because I think that if I claimed that I was a pandit, there would be a lot of stones heading my direction. Because I don’t have the monks to be here constantly. You know, Guru Maharaj is here but a lot of the common people, they don’t see him sitting here. They just think it’s a piece of plastic sitting here. And I don’t expect them, either to see it that way. So he’s here, but the walking saints, the ones who are physically able to move, when they come, people do come and just look. It’s what you come for, that’s what you get. If you’re not here to get a better understanding, and wanting to know or seeking something higher, then if you’re just coming to make comments and see if this is real or not, then you’re not going to grow. You’re not going to get anything. When you go to another temple, you’re not going to feel saved. Even though all of the temples there are very big and very posh-looking. But they like coming here. Even if it’s little. They come to be comfortable and they get what they are seeking for. They have a different concept now; they have their true experience, I think. Because when one gets experience, they are not awakened. You have to really continue and be persistent, to seek. And that’s when you get the belief. So it is the persistency. And that’s one of the strengths. That the guru says you cannot be dissuaded that easily. If someone, even God himself, comes down and tries to dissuade you and say no, this is not correct. If the guru tells you this is what you should do, then that’s what you should do. Because it’s all a test.
4.) Several aspects of worship at the MHMM are unconventional by many Guyanese standards. In this excerpt she reveals the difference between her current method of worship and other Hindu practices by explaining that worshipping is not a form of begging, but rather an intimate way to give thanks to the wisdom and guidance of the guru. Show Transcription
Swami-gi was explaining this part to me, also. He says most of the time, when devotees go to the Lord, the are always telling the Lord, “oh Lord, I’m so weak, and I can’t do anything for myself. Please help me, please give, please give.” Whereas this type of aarti, you are thanking the Lord. It’s a reverse. You’re thanking the lord for providing you all these elements. You are showing, look how the energy and the power that you gave me, I can twirl this sword, I’m strong. I’m thankful because of your strength. That I’m you, you’re I. That mantra that we chant...is a very powerful mantra. You are fullness. If you take out “full” from “fullness,” there is still fullness. And therefore, you’re I and I’m you. So our prayers are quite the opposite than what devotees would normally pray, saying I’m weak, I’m needy, I’m hungry, I need this. I need, I need, I need. Whereas here, we are turning and saying we’re so thankful and grateful. And this is how I have become as strong and powerful as you are, here. Just like a young son growing up and going and showing off to the father. When the father sees that, he gets very proud and says oh, this is my son, what can I do for you? You know, just ask me what I can do for you, what I can give you. Because my son has fallen in my footsteps and he is imitating or emulating everything that I am. So it’s quite the reverse.
5.) Mrs. Balroop has had many different teachers in her lifetime, and in this she explains the different needs fulfilled by specific teachers and spiritual teachings styles. Show Transcription
The spiritual one, he is able to tap into that knowledge that’s within you, to bring that self-realization to you. That all this knowledge that we see in the texts is already within you. He is able to open that layering to bring that out. And that’s the layer that I’m working on now. That’s the enlightenment, self-realization stage that I’m working on. So Swami-[??? unsure at 0:41] started the imparting of the knowledge. Guru gi did not sit with me and work with me; he is even higher. And he travels a lot. But it is just so marvelous the way that Guru Maharaj just plans everything. I mean, it’s all his plan. He is the one who is doing it through them. And Swami [same name] has a natural love, as a teacher, to teach. He just has that natural instinct within him. Whereas Guru gi, he also teaches but he does more lecturing. And he does teach key things while he’s here. If I need an explanation of what this line means or that line, he will just belch everything out as if he already knows [laughs]. Whereas Swami [xxx], he will know when his students get it or not. He just will be after you to get it. Whereas Guru gi, he — I’m not going to say he does not have that patience. I will say that style. That style to sit down for hours with you. So he is in that stage of his teaching. Soon he will grow out of that stage, also. Where he will just impart knowledge while he’s just sitting and meditating. That’s the stage Guru Gi is in. Because he mostly will just gather us and he will say, come on, let’s meditate. He does a lot of that. And so while we’re in his presence he imparts that knowledge to us while we are meditating. So we don’t have to open a book, but he sends it into our hearts. So what happens is, realization comes within you. And you’re like, oh, that’s what he meant when he was trying to explain this or that. You start, you know, having that internally. So those are some of the experiences that I have found. Guru Gi imparts his knowledge silently through meditation, whereas Swami [xxx] is in the stage where we want to receive knowledge in a book format.
6.) While there is a hierarchy of gurus who all have different teaching styles and areas of emphasis, Mrs. Balroop explains that there is also a hierarchy among students depending on their level of spiritual development. Show Transcription
Swami [xxx], he is a disciple of Guru Maharaj. And there are different levels of a student. Like when we go to kindergarten we have our kindergarten teacher. Then when we move up to the grade school, we have a different level of teacher to teach you that different level of knowledge. That same way when you’re learning spirituality. There are different levels of spirituality. When I was little, there was this older lady, and she shared the same birthday as me. And everybody called her Munsi-gi. She was a renunciant; left her home, left her family, and she was just wandering from village to village. And that’s how she learned the Hindi language, and she taught it to me. The only problem was she never explained the meaning to me. So what I did was, I just memorized everything in Hindi and Sanskrit that she taught me. So I learned to write it, I learned to pronounce it, I learned to read it. And then eventually — I was still a youngster, a teenager — she would come to me and...She would start a class at our home. And then I am expected now to teach the young kids who would come to her class. And she would go off to another village and start another. And that’s how she used to do it. And she would establish a teacher in each village, and expect that older child...to keep on carrying it on. And then she would come back and check on us, and see that it’s still carrying on. And that’s how I got involved in learning the language.
Was she a disciple too? No. She was not a disciple of Guru Maharaj. She was just a devotee of God and doing her own research. She was fluent in Hindi. And at that time, if you’re fluent in Hindi, you can go baack to the books and read and understand. I could read it but I couldn’t understand it.
So why didn’t she teach you what the words meant? You know, she was thinking of doing that eventually. And the thing is, a student is not supposed to ask questions. No. We’re not. That was called disrespectful or talking back. So I never asked a question to her about why. I know when she gave us the three cents to catch the bus to come to her, we decided to purchase candy with it. Keep the candy and then start walking and then we would get to her class like an hour late. She never knew about that, but as long as we made it there it was fine.
7.) Mrs. Balroop, in following with Swami Maharaj’s teachings, strictly denounced the title of pandit, which implies a spiritual authority, and instead refers to herself as a seeker who is still in search of greater understanding. Her mission, as she understands it, is to help others along the same path through patient teaching, ritual guidance, and also to serve as a spiritual role model on a more practical level. Show Transcription
I would say I just jumped straight from Kindergarten straight into college. Because I kind of studied the grade school and the high school by myself on the internet and did my own research. And you know, when it comes to the spiritual religion. Because starting to study the Bhagavad Gita is like college level. And that’s when Swami [xxx] came into my life. And I guess at that time I didn’t even realize I was ready to do that. In Guyana it was always prohibited to even touch the Bhagavad Gita. It’s the pandits. They were always feeling threatened with their job. And I think that’s one of the reasons why. And that’s still a very major corruption in India today, you know, the pandits trying to take ownership, they don’t want to impart that knowledge to the people. They just want to keep them down and don’t want to give it to them. but thank God for Internet and everything is posted to the Internet and it’s in English. One can go there. And even the scriptures are all written in English, translated. And who brought these things out is the saints, the sages, not the pandits. They took that knowledge. They meditate. They receive that knowledge. And they are making it possible to document everything in the scriptures so that the people can see the real value of it. There was corruption in Guyana also, so when the saints came to Guyana, the pandit council, they opposed them. They did not want them to perform what they came there for. But they persisted and they stayed on and they were able to break bounds. No one can really stop the river from flowing into the ocean, so that’s kind of what happened...That’s why the young generation, they didn’t know the depth about the religion and didn’t even dare to open the scriptures because the pandits, they said you’re not allowed to. It’s only certain persons who can open the Bhagavad Gita, and only certain people who can really explain it to you, and it’s them. And now, it is so common. Like the Rama Krishna, it’s an organization, they did a great job by printing a lot of the Bhagavad Gita and just giving it out free, like you would give the Bible. They did it for Hindus. So they can just pick it up and read it in Guyana. So they went all over the world. They originated in India, but they went from country to country and did this because they saw that this was a barrier. That people were not adopting and knowing much about the religion, so that they can practice it. Because Hinduism is really in its practicality. And if you don’t have that understanding then what are you going to practice? So it’s just some basic mantras that they give you to chant and understand.