Sincerity comes from desireless-ness
I called it Sincerity. We can as well call it desireless-ness. Sincerity becomes natural and reaches its peak when our actions are no longer motivated by desires.
People often ask: “How can anybody work sincerely and efficiently without desire?” In fact, the reverse is true. Desire makes the mind anxiously indulge in something expected to take place in future, instead of focusing on the present. Naturally it affects attention and performance.
Usually we act motivated by the desire for some personal gain as the end product, which we think will make us happy. But has anybody ever in the world become permanently happy by gaining anything – be it money, power, companion, fame or appreciation? This is the greatest enigma. We think fulfillment of our desires makes us happy, whereas it is the elimination of desires that makes us happy! That is why we experience unprecedented bliss when the mind gets absorbed within and the whole world of likes and dislikes is forgotten.
When some significant desire is fulfilled, the mind remains desireless and peaceful for a while, till another desire agitates it again. It is the undisturbed state of the mind that allows us to feel the placid joy for those few moments – the joy that is always there within, as a natural characteristic of the Soul.
When we speak of vairāgya, mostly it is understood as dispassion – having no interest in anything happening around; almost bordering on eternal idleness. But then, how is it that great Maharshis, who were embodiments of vairāgya, worked tirelessly for the welfare of entire humanity? Their compositions, resulting from their life-long selfless dedication, are undoubtedly the greatest and eternal contribution to human civilization and culture! And what about Krishna, Śaṅkarāchārya, Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, Swami Vivekananda, and so many others, who took the heaven and the world by storm?
Well, initially vairāgya may appear as an absolute indifference towards worldly situations. It is because of the intensity of the enquiry into the transcendental Reality which overwhelms the mind. But, once the initial intense search is over, vairāgya manifests in its supreme dimension: a Godly impersonality and impartiality. The sky-like dimension of the mind – the freedom from preferential clinging, prejudicial intolerance, fear and anxiety of losing what we like or facing what we dislike – enables us to embrace the entire world as it is, and do with utmost sincerity, attention and naturalness whatever is needed to be done for the welfare of the society.
This is the secret of a Knower’s life of action (loka-saṅgraha), his indomitable courage and inspiration, his freedom from elation and depression.
No wonder that Poojya Swamiji, in spite of his loving nature and fondness for everybody, used to find life insipid right from childhood, till he met Baba and was intensely on the path of Self-discovery. It was vairāgya, manifesting as lack of desire for worldly enjoyments. It made him sincere and steadfast in whatever he did, because the mind did not get swayed by the worldly attractions and repulsions. And the same vairāgya, after spiritual fulfillment, assumed its supreme dimension in the form of Godly impersonality and impartiality.
When I look back, coursing through different events and developments during the past twenty-five years of my Ashram life in the association of Poojya Swamiji, it is a blissful revelation to find how this desireless-ness pervades everything in a Saint’s life, how it surrounds him like a halo. In fact, this is the “feel of the Soul”, the touch of Divinity, one gets in the presence of a Saintly Knower. In the association of a Knower, this Soul-dimension permeates the seeker unawares, as if by a process of “osmosis”.
When we first visited the Ashram in June 1986, this spatial aloofness in the ambience, in spite of all the ongoing activities, is what touched me most. It was there in Poojya Swamiji’s gaze, it was there in Mātāji Sulabhā Devi’s voice and austere lifestyle, it was there in all the “hectic” activities related to the socio-religious reformation movements.
During our second visit in December 1986, it was felt much more clearly, particularly through an event that opened before me a new horizon: the sādhana of transcending likes and dislikes, which I have narrated in the first article of this series.
In fact, whether we call it Samatva-buddhi or transcending rāga-dvesha as explained in Bhagavadgeetā, or we call it saraṇāgati (surrender), nirapekshatā (non-expectation), or transcending kartṛ-bhoktṛ-bhāva (doership and enjoyer-ship) as illustrated in Śreemad Bhāgavatam, or we call it vairāgya or brahma-nishṭhā as emphasized in the Upanishads – it is the same when it comes to living the concepts in our interactional life.
When we went back to Kharagpur in January, this “spatial aloofness” had gripped me intensely. I used to “see” my personality walking and working in the Institute not touching me any way, as if I was hovering in the sky. Soon, in May 1987, we left our household life and took refuge at the feet of Swamiji and Mātāji.
It works unawares
The life in the Ashram those days was extremely austere and simple. The main building was essentially a two-roomed mud cottage with clay-tile roof. The simple doors and windows were painted blue years back by Swamiji himself. There were only two chairs (cane chairs, also painted blue) – one for Swamiji and the other for Mātāji – and a table for Swamiji to work with his typewriter.
The leaks in the tiled roof used to be repaired occasionally; but slowly they became irreparable, and we were satisfied placing buckets at five-six places wherever the roof leaked. Never did we forget that when Swamiji started staying in this Ashram, there were no shutters for the doors and windows. Even the roof-work Swamiji had asked the carpenter to stop midway because there was no money to pay.
In fact, reconstructing the Ashram building became crucial when we found that we were not able to print any more books written by Swamiji because there was no storage space, and whatever books we had stored in the lofts, got damaged by water-leakage.
The food was very simple, almost the same throughout the year, except on special occasions. Although there was a gas connection, most of the cooking was done on firewood ovens. Mā as well as I had to learn how to keep the deceptive flame alive while the cooking was on.
It was not that the Ashram did not have enough resources; there was no feeling of need for anything more. The available resources were used for running the publications, the socio-religious reformation movements, supporting in a small way the needy villagers for education, marriages, and medicines, or for making wells and sanitary latrines. None ever felt that part of the resources could be used to improve the Ashram facilities, except whatever was thought essential for functional purposes.
The small gate at the entrance staircase used to be left open at night and the telephone receiver kept on the outer verandah parapet. Swamiji explained to us that this was the only telephone in the village, and therefore we must keep it available for the villagers to call the hospital, taxi or police in an emergency. The mud road in front was too steep, and often hearing the screeching sound of bullock carts, we used to go down to give a helping hand to the heaving bullocks. Much later, the gradient was reduced and the road metalled by the village Panchayat.
During the first rain of the season, there would be fear of waterlogging and consequent landslides. So, whether it was midday or midnight, hearing the rains, Swamiji would come out with a spade and start clearing the rainwater drains, ensuring that the water flowing down from the upper terraces did not get obstructed by fallen leaves or mud. My duty was to helplessly watch the Guru doing the spadework and try to hold the umbrella correctly on his head. Swamiji had told us that long back, before the terracing of the garden was done, water would flow so powerfully with occasional landslides that once a calf was swept away by the rains.
All these so called mundane work Swamiji used to do with joyful ease and involvement, never feeling disturbed that his writing or other so called spiritual works were getting hindered, or feeling lethargic when the body needed rest. Whenever anybody would come to see Swamiji, he would come out leaving whatever he had been doing, and listen to and talk to the visitor or help-seeker with full interest and concern. All along we have been amazed to find this extremely rare but natural, relaxed behaviour of a Knower, described as “sahaja” in the scriptures.
We learnt that it is only because of lethargy and inattention that we leave the telephone and other instruments unclean and uncovered, the lights and fans on, the tower-bolts improperly put, the place around untidy, and the guests and visitors unattended or not properly cared for. Common excuses given by the seekers in such matters – like vairāgya, meditative absorption, “no time” or “listening to Swamiji attentively”– are mostly a self-deception. True vairāgya or lack of selfishness leads to sincere love, attention and concern for everything and everyone around.
Swamiji had told us about his initial days in the Ashram, when he was given to long hours of meditation. One day a villager had come to see him and he was finding it difficult to come out of absorption. That day he decided: “Enough of meditation! If meditation is going to hinder my natural attention to people or work, then I do not need it.” That was the end of his “meditational indulgence”. Thereafter he has only been putting others into meditation.
Soon after we came to the Ashram, once after the day’s hard work, Swamiji was in the front verandah sitting leisurely on his cane-chair. We were on the floor sitting near his feet, listening to his words of wisdom. It was past midnight. Suddenly we could hear a coconut fall on the road. It was not the usual thud of a coconut falling inside the Ashram on the soft soil of the garden. Generally, hearing such sound we would go out and collect the coconut from the road. But, my indulgent mind thought: “It is already midnight. I shall collect it early morning tomorrow.” Within seconds I saw Swamiji running down the thirty-two steps to collect the coconut!
In any such occasion of negligence or inertia overtaking me, I would remember what we had heard from Swamiji about the early days of Ashram life. Sometimes there would not be anything in the kitchen to cook. On one occasion, there was no food for two consecutive days and Swamiji’s body was becoming weak. He thought: “Tomorrow I may not have enough strength to draw water from the well and irrigate the coconut saplings. Let me pour a few more buckets of water tonight so that the plants do not suffer from thirst tomorrow!”
Our life those days
My days used to be occupied with various kinds of Ashram work – like supervising construction, looking after the coconut garden, going to the market (to buy vegetables, groceries, and other items), serving in the Annakshetra, making buttermilk and ghee, occasionally cooking for Swamiji and feeding him (Swamiji used to say that my cooking was better than Mā’s!), helping Swamiji in publication and socio-religious movements, etc.
A routine work I really loved was to look after the animals of the Ashram – the cows and the calves, to which I later added the team of squirrels, birds, cats and kittens. I used to take the cows and the calves for grazing, feed the cats, squirrels and the birds timely everyday, give them names and talk to them lovingly in Bengali. I would teach the mother cats to become universal mothers. The women working in the Ashram used to complain smilingly that I had made the cows Bengali-speaking and they no longer obeyed their orders. Of course, they had no complaint about the other animals who did not have any opportunity to learn Malayalam.
Swamiji used to appreciate my conversation with the animals, perhaps because it was never so loving with the human beings! Swamiji would often ask whether the animals really understood what I said. I had no doubt about the calves and cats and snakes, but about the grown up cows I had some doubts, because they used to kick me when I tried to milk them under Swamiji’s tutelage.
In 1991, when the new Guesthouse in “Kananam” across the road was under construction, we had a calf called Pārvati. Every morning at 8 o’clock I had to go to the site to supervise the construction. I would take Pārvati along, play with her in Kananam for 15 minutes, and then start my work. The game was “catch me not” – Pārvati would run after me and try to hit me from behind. After playing for a while she would happily go alone for grazing.
One day the masons had cast some RCC slabs, which were kept on the ground for curing. That evening Swamiji told me that Pārvati should not be allowed inside Kananam for at least three-four days. I pleaded: “Swamiji, I do agree that Pārvati sometimes likes to pull or chew the masons’ dhoti (cloth) from behind when they are at work; but I am sure she would never spoil any work.” But Swamiji was quite firm.
So, the next morning, with a heavy mind I had to stealthily reach Kananam avoiding Pārvati’s notice. When I came back to the Ashram building after some time, Mā told me that Pārvati had entered my room looking for me. Not finding me there, she had enquiringly appeared in Mā’s room. Hearing Pārvati’s footsteps, Mā got alarmed and chased her out. No one had seen her after that.
I started calling “Pārvati, Pārvati”, but no reply. Usually hearing me she would immediately respond from wherever she was. I looked all around calling her anxiously, but she was nowhere to be seen. Finally I discovered her standing just outside the building under a shed behind the well.
She was standing silently, with her face away from me, hidden in one corner. I patted her consolingly and told her that I did not forget her at all. I tried to explain to her how sad I was in the morning to leave her behind without telling her anything, and also how I could not convince our Swamiji about her gentle nature and intelligence. Finally, she turned her face towards me. There were profuse tears rolling down her cheeks!