A Saint has to live somewhere, and that place or abode will have its own limbs and parts. His residence, the Ashram, thus has some inmates who together must conduct a variety of activities: looking after devotees, seekers and visitors, looking after the paid assistants who come for work, disseminating wisdom and dharma, publishing books and periodicals, attending to correspondence, doing some service for the society, etc.
The devotees or disciples should not foster any sense of superiority about personal services rendered to the Saint and inferiority about any other items of work not so directly related to him. The Saint and his mission consisting of the Ashram and the associated activities, represent a complex aggregate. The whole of this aggregate must be equally loved, respected and served. In fact, such an attitude will also mean cultivation of sama-bhaava (equal vision) – the pinnacle of spiritual saadhana. Each limb of the complex, when served with devotion, becomes clear and wholesome. Any sense of undue preference will be not only wrong but also harmful for the saadhaka himself as well as the Ashram.
A still better note will be to take one's place where many others did not come in; to allow every other person to have his choice and make whatever little or big part which remains available, one's own choice. In Delhi this time, a very elderly quiet seeker started cleaning the bathrooms and toilets which were being used by the visitors but were not being cleaned by anybody. I felt so happy and great about such unassuming and much needed attitude of service!
In doing service, no spirit of competition or intolerance should be fostered. Each person should make himself or herself clear and near to the others around. Once such an approach is adopted, very soon you will find that you gain the confidence of one and all. In fact, it is such an all-embracing heart that will verily render a Saint's life more and more useful every day.
Curiosity, prying into personal matters, trying to push others and get into their places, etc. are traits which should be detected and sublimated. You may ask those who are intimate with you to help you with their observations and comments about your behaviour and traits. There is no end in judging oneself. There are intelligent people who will watch sensitively and understand where each needs polish and refinement.
Receptivity to corrections
One young devotee in our group, who came into my contact years back, was observed keenly by an elderly devotee. This youngster had made all the arrangements on the day of Paadapooja in Delhi Ashram and just before the start of the function, sat prominently right in front. There are many others, elderly men and women, who could have been courteously offered the seat there.
“The manner in which you took the seat in front was not right,” remarked the elderly devotee at the end of the function. “You should have come behind, leaving the more elderly persons to have their places of choice. Was it not equally an important part of the arrangements you had made for the occasion? By that, you would have been liked and appreciated by our group even more,” the elder added. This kind of inter-observation, inter-comments and inter-evaluation amongst devotees is quite necessary. I was very happy to hear about the episode. In fact I have been finding it very difficult to tone down such notes of possessive blindness in devotees.
But the reaction from the young mind was not at all good : “ I sat there because A had asked me to ....” Why go in for any such defence at all? The right response should have been: “Oh, it did not occur to me. I am sorry. Very good that you have pointed out the slip. Please do so again whenever I do things wrongly. I shall be more careful and sensitive hereafter.”
The greater delight
As you grow in intimacy and closeness with a Mahatma, your mind and values should also get elevated. Instead of exclusively enjoying Satsang, listening to what Swamiji speaks, take to the higher level of “enabling others” as much as possible to enjoy Satsang. Remain at the back or the casual area, helping to make the whole affair possible. Maybe you have to deny yourself many benefits. But you will have the double joy of extending these benefits to others. Your joy will be in making others joyous.
This time in Delhi Ashram, we had an elderly devotee from Jamshedpur, who was looking after the task of preparing food and feeding all devotees. She could hardy come to the Satsang Hall and participate in the events. She would come early morning to prostrate before me, that too very briefly, and soon return to her own place in the cottage to take care of her great responsibility. Such a role calls for great patience, devotion and sacrifice. Naturally the resulting fulfillment will also be more.
Hard work becomes inescapable. Unless a few at least work very hard for making and serving food, for receiving visitors, attending telephone, going to the market and attending to various facilities, how can the general sessions go on ? After the first phase of interaction, one should mature into this higher and closer level. As the Saint takes interest in looking after others, the disciples also should grow saintly to fulfill their Guru's wishes!
Most of you must be knowing that I do not take food in any of the homes I visit. This restriction started years back, when my stomach became very delicate in the matter of receiving food. I have to take food at specific times, leaving sufficient interval in between. That does not allow taking anything during visits to homes. Moreover, the variety also does not agree with my system.
The restriction is simply to ensure the health of my body. Devotees have come to accept it and do not insist upon my taking something from their houses. I tell them that whenever I feel like taking something – like fruit or water – I would ask for and take it heartily.
Rarely it happens that an earnest devotee, out of heartiness and love, wishes me to take something. He or she may not be sufficiently exposed to my habits or ways. Due to their earnestness and insistence, I sometimes agree to take some fruit juice or so. But very often it puts me into trouble and suffering. I am generally accompanied by my host family, or in the case of Delhi now, by those who feed me there, particularly Ma and Naya Swamiji. It is natural for any earnest devotee, whose house we are visiting, to have the earnestness to request Ma or others to help them in preparing whatever would suit me. But alas, in some houses, such an earnest and tender note is missing.
Every individual will have a set of habits, ways and behavioural pattern. Depending on his background and foreground, he will be given to some disciplines of life, refinement level or even customs. It is not possible to think of separating these from the individual. An Ashram generally grows around a Saint and those who join him and live and move with him. A set of practices, disciplines and refinements also grow with them in the Ashram. Any good seeker or devotee coming to the Ashram should sensitively strive to know and preserve these with diligence. He may be used to some other habits. But the variance should not be allowed to intercept the process of assimilation. This is very important.
In the Ashram here, the practice right from the beginning, is to enter the kitchen in the morning for cooking only after taking bath. The same routines are supposed to be observed in Delhi Ashram also. But last time it so happened that some of the devotees who stayed there started assisting in the kitchen work before taking bath. Do such lapses occur merely because of lack of sensitivity? Or, lack of proper sraddhaa also is there? Is it not necessary that such inattention and indiscipline be avoided in an Ashram, so that greater purity and harmony are maintained? I think every one should heartily cooperate in the process.
In Delhi Ashram, I stay in a room on the ground floor. For special personal talks, devotees are called to this room. Otherwise, all visitors assemble in the Satsang Hall on the first floor. Before calling any one to the room, the room has to be set ready for the occasion. But if one were to come suddenly at any time, would it be right? I am afraid that visitors are not always careful enough to allow the necessary privacy. Though a very minor point, the sensitiveness is often missed by even intelligent devotees. It is a gap in human behaviour and has to be safeguarded against. Consideration for others is something that cannot be avoided in any human relationship.
Sraddhaa – the indispensable note
The Upanishads teach us how to be graceful in thoughts, deeds and behaviour, before one can become fit for spiritual knowledge. The lessons hold good even today, no less even for people with education, sophistication and success in life. May be some tendencies are inherited by you. You must detect them, understand them and try to outlive them. If you have any difficulty or lack of clarity, discuss the subject openly with the Guru or the Mahatma and seek a solution. Only then the Satsang serves its purpose.
Once I was taken to a house where very good arrangements were made for the Satsang. The decoration, seating arrangement for us as well as the other guests, everything was to a very high standard. But when it came to the concluding part of the function – my giving prasaada to everybody – I found that the fruits, invariably all of them, were defective and substandard! Even now I wonder whether it was just inattention or a sense of neglect and stinginess. I did not say anything because I did not feel the freedom to do so. My remarks would have gone amiss. But the observation and the consequent suffering or pain I felt are even now quite strong in my mind.
The story of Kathopanishad stands before all. Vajasravas, Nachiketa's father, arranged for a Yaaga in all pomp and grandeur. But when the time came for making gifts to Brahmanas – the most important part of the Yaaga – the son found that his father had selected only useless cows and other things for the purpose!
In making any samarpana (offering) to God, Guru or Mahatma, you must have as much sraddhaa as possible. Go yourself to the market if possible, purchase with all care and attention, take it to the 'altar' yourself with fullness of love, respect and humility. The spiritual benefit you get depends entirely on your bhaava.
Sreemad Bhagavata says, “dhanam ca dharmaika-phalam yato vai jnaanam-savijnaanam anuprasaanti…” (Sk.XI Ch.5 V.12) – The sole object of wealth is to acquire dharma. Through dharma one gains knowledge and spiritual enlightenment, from which alone can emerge peace and contentment. Wealth by itself is incapable of winning lasting peace and joy. The mind becomes peaceful only when divested of desires and possessiveness. So, if the acquisition of wealth, comfort and luxuries makes the mind constricted with greed and egotism, then the chance for winning peace and joy gets lost. It will be like Vajasravas who, unable to receive the corrections pointed out by his son, finally became a prey to anger to the extent of banishing his own pious son to Yamaloka.
Suppose you do not have the material means! Has not Geeta said, “Offer a leaf, flower, fruit or simple water”? But, in doing so, smear it with your heartfelt respect and devotion. For this the rich and poor are equally resourceful. A Mahatma or Guru will surely feel, as a matter of observation and evaluations, whether an offering is made with the right dedication, humility and devotion. Whenever such notes are lacking, he is sure to feel the 'lack' in the offerer more than the “worth” of the material offered. Of course, he may not make a mention about the observation except when he feels so close and near to the offerer.
Sat – the real friend and support
A devotee asked, “Swamiji, if the Mahatma does not make his observations known, how will the devotees correct themselves?”
If a Saint were to speak so readily and openly about his evaluation and observation, very few would be there to receive the truth and get benefited by his company. A Knower has to be wise and ignorant, open and reserved, in equal measure. Those who need such evaluation and correction, to them alone he should express his thoughts, and that too in a manner which can be absorbed by the seeker. No extent of caution will be excess in this regard. My finding is that neither do I have the freedom to speak my heart nor is the recipient ready to accept it. Very few are there to say, “Please tell me, Swamiji, where I have to improve.” To such devotees or seekers I do speak.
Many do not know that a Saint is the real friend and well-wisher of theirs. You can trust a Saint or Sadguru more than you can any one else. He is one person who will never blame, devalue or disown you if you express your mental and moral facets openly. His fondness for you will never be lessened. But invariably people have this fear of dis-esteem which constricts their mind. Like many other constrictions this too has to be removed.
The ego of man is very intriguing. To sublimate and soften it is sometimes very difficult. The best for a seeker will be to open his heart and mind before the Guru, come what may. Such open expression and unhindered reception alone will purge the deeper layers in our mind of their kinks and constrictions. That is the way human personality gets straightened up, clarified and integrated.
Often we hear that husband and wife get distanced mentally from each other as they grow in age, although the reverse is what should happen. The children whom you fondled keeping on your lap, get distanced from you as they grow up. You have regular and compulsive interactions with your blood and matrimonial relations, which have their own multifaceted constraints. Where then are you going to shed the deepest tensions, conflicts and disharmonies of your heart and soul? Till these are dropped, will your mind and soul be free?
A devotee seeks God because he needs a fearless abode. From God he expects no resentment or disowning. The devotee feels that God may test and even punish him, but He will never disown him or turn unfriendly. Is it not this note of deepest surety that verily enriches the devotee's heart and mind?
It is in such a background that one should seek a Sadguru. Mind you, the offer, whether you give anything external or not, is basically of the mind and heart. Ultimately there comes a time when the offerer feels that he has nothing to offer. Nothing is left out as his. It is this realization of non-possession that leads to being possessed by the Infinite. The ego drops and fullness dawns.
The devotee's devotion gets crowned that day when he is able to say: “O God, today I have brought nothing as my offer; because I find I am Yours and Yours alone. My body, the air, water and earth on which it subsists, the food and nourishments that sustain my life – all verily belong to you.
“Let me live with this recognition, realization, ever and ever. Hereafter I shall be looking for an all-fold harmony between Yourself and myself, between me and Your world, however conflict-full and contradiction-full the world may appear from time to time. Everything that I do will be as part of this harmony. Whatever I encounter, my focus will be this harmony.”
It is such a supreme harmonious note that makes one a Saint – designates a human as Divine. The option is there for one and all.