Our Ashram in South Sainik Farms
Poojya Swamiji’s Annual Jñāna Yajña in Delhi began in 1974. From 1975 to 1991, he was hosted by Smt. Meena and Sri Balan Subramanian at their Hauz Khas Enclave residence. During one of the Jñāna Yajñas, perhaps in 1981, a devotee (P) had offered Swamiji a plot of land (about 3 acres then) in South Sainik Farms, known as Deoli village those days. Accepting his offering, Swamiji had asked P to look after the property on his behalf.
Within a few years, when Swamiji’s renunciate disciple Sādhvi Haripriyāji needed some place to lead a secluded spiritual life, some of Swamiji’s devotees, as per his instructions, constructed the compound wall and a small cottage for her stay. Soon thereafter, a few householder devotees of Brahmavidyā Centre (Delhi) constructed five Rajasthani mud-cottages there with a desire to live a life of retreat, occasionally or permanently. But, except Sādhvi Haripriyāji, the others had seldom stayed in the cottages. Due to faulty design and lack of maintenance, soon the mud-cottages were in a very bad shape.
As Smt. Meena and Sri Balan were getting old, and also Swamiji’s activities, duration of stay, as well as the number of devotees were increasing steadily, it became essential to create some common facility to host Swamiji and his Sannyāsin disciples during the Jñāna Yajñas. This was discussed with urgency during Swamiji’s visit in October 1991, and P readily came forward to take up the responsibility of revamping the Ashram in Deoli, South Sainik Farms. By that time Sādhvi Haripriyāji had moved away from the place.
P sold out a small portion of the land to generate the wherewithal, and worked singlehandedly for months to make the place ready by October 1992 for hosting his beloved Gurudev and his disciples. He got the mud cottages repaired, and added one floor to the main building to create a Satsang hall and two rooms, one each for Mā and myself. The ground floor room with kitchen was spruced up for Poojya Swamiji’s stay.
The place was at the foot of the Aravalli Hills, about 15 minutes drive from the Sainik Farm gate, through a mud-road winding past various farm houses with ostentatious palatial buildings. When we arrived with Swamiji in October 1992, the Ashram looked a peaceful austere abode far from the madding crowd of Delhi.
The cottages were renovated by adding brick lining and special reinforcements, keeping intact the austere hermitage look. The red walls with red-tiled sloping roofs, the platforms, cots, shelves, study tables and sinks made of unfinished red-stones, the small wooden doors and windows of antique, rustic design – everything contributed to the ancient ambience of the place.
In addition to the renovated cottages and the inspired devotees, there was a very loyal pedigree dog. Poojya Swamiji christened her “Gārgī” after the famous seeker of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad, who countered great Yājñyavalkya in the learned assembly of King Janaka. Gārgī took up the responsibility of protecting us in that wilderness, by running around and barking in the nights.
Of course, there were monkeys, peacocks, squirrels, birds and rats. To keep our kitchen area safe, every night I used to lay mousetraps, and carry the trapped rodents to the nearby jungle to leave them in exile. After some days Mā started doubting whether I was merrily trapping the same mice again and again everyday. So, to find out the truth, Mā started painting the tails of the trapped ones with black enamel before I took them to the jungle. It was proved that the exiled ones never returned.
During the Jñāna Yajña, some of the devotees stayed in the cottages to serve their Gurudev, leaving their cozy residence in the city. Whoever came there for Satsang was offered food, the number of visitors often crossing hundred during the weekends. Also, whoever wished to stay overnight was accommodated heartily. There were no cooks or paid assistants.
There was a lot of inspiration, austerity and mutuality amongst the devotees. The importance of a ‘public place’ to host a Saint became evident.
A Saint belongs to the universe. People must feel free to come to him, share their heart, and also have the opportunity to serve him in some way or another. And that is possible only in an Ashram setting. Seekers and devotees from all sections of the society started coming freely, and also staying in Gurusannidhi.
Although there was no proper facility for feeding the devotees, arrangement was made in the twin cottage closest to the main Ashram building. By removing a partition wall, a long verandah was created where about fifteen people could be fed at a time. A small verandah attached to the tiny kitchen served as the preparation-cum-pantry area. In spite of all the adaptation and modifications, the space and facility for cooking, dining, and washing remained extremely inadequate.
The number of visitors being generally unpredictable, sometimes we had to cook twice or thrice. Dining and cleaning would go on for hours till late afternoon. All this was managed cheerfully with great dedication and sacrifice, mainly by a few elderly lady devotees with the support of a few youngsters.
In Gurusannidhi, one must grow
It is one thing to worship the Guru from a distance, listen to his talks, and practise meditation. It is altogether different to live and interact with him closely, with the humility and readiness to grow according to his cherished standard of discipline, purity, refinement and large-heartedness. Only in close association of the Guru, working under his direct guidance and observation, the seeker comes to know what is ego-effacement or ego-sublimation, the real sādhanā of expansion and self-transformation.
One interpretation of the word “Guru” is: “One who removes (ru) the impurities (gu)”. Our good qualities as well as impurities come to the fore only through interactions. While we are living and working in his company, the Guru gets an opportunity to correct and purify us. Through the Guru’s responses to various situations, we get a touch of his vision – his love and his dispassion. In receiving his comments and accepting corrections, our ego gets sublimated. In working with the co-disciples and accommodating them lovingly as the Guru does, our minds expand.
The new exposure in Gurusannidhi made many of the seekers re-evaluate their position and aim. Some were amenable to transformation, some others held on to their ego and possessiveness. Some came closer; some others got distanced. But a Saint’s life flows like a river. Those who cannot flow with him, those who fail to grow with his mission embracing larger and larger dimensions, will naturally get distanced. The Saint will certainly feel sad about them. He may miss them, but can only be a helpless witness to Nature. Because, it is the seekers who shut their windows refusing to allow the fresh air in.
That is why Swamiji often says that a Saint’s life is “sinful”! Many of the devotees and disciples, who loved him, served him with great devotion and dedication, had fallen behind because they were not able to transcend their ego and possessiveness, often the devotional ego and possessiveness: the ego of serving their Gurudev well, the possessiveness about being the closest devotee.
The older devotees, unless they grow spiritually to become dispassionate about the narrow worldly sentiments, unless they parent and support the younger seekers lovingly to grow, unless they delight in the growth and excellence of the newcomers, very soon they fall prey to jealousy and competition. One must remember that nobody is indispensable in the great mission of Brahmavidyā. A seeker or a Knower tries to contribute whatever he can in this perennial flow. The stream does not stop or wait for anybody.
From 1994, Poojya Swamiji along with Mā and me started visiting Delhi twice, in March and in October. While the main focus of the October visit continued to be the public discourses, the March visit was particularly meant to provide opportunity for the serious seekers to grow in Gurusannidhi. So, the scope for living in Gurusannidhi increased. Consequently, the purifying process got intensified, exposing inevitably the possessiveness and ambitions lying hidden till then.
For the visiting devotees, maintaining a comfortable distance from Swamiji and the Ashram was not difficult. But in the case of P it was not easy at all, because he was the person looking after everything and taking important decisions.
Seeing the dire need for a proper Annakshetra, some resourceful devotees came forward with the proposal for constructing a new building. But P flatly refused to allow anybody spending money on the property. Some devotees, interested in various infrastructural growth of the Ashram, suggested that the land be registered in the name of Poojya Swamiji, so that they could feel free to contribute. P disagreed.
Swamiji has always been emphasizing that an Ashram should not depend on one person’s contribution. It must necessarily grow out of multiple contributions. Otherwise, it will lose its spiritual freedom and equality, its all-embracing character. Any public cause we take up must be funded by as many well-wishers as possible. P’s possessive attitude was not allowing the Ashram to grow according to this fundamental principle of a free spiritual abode.
It was understood that although P had offered the land to his beloved Gurudev, he could not renounce the ownership. His mind held on to the ego that it was he who had gifted the land, and the activities there must follow his wishes, even if they were in conflict with his Gurudev’s wishes. Of course, such egoistic notes are not uncommon. We have heard the saintly statement: “Gifting is easy, but it is extremely difficult to relinquish from our mind the ego and ownership (abhimāna) about the gift.” Many devotees offer to their Gurudev, but they would like to have a hold on what their Gurudev is doing with their offering.
In many other matters related to programmes, feeding, administration as well as utilization of the facilities, it started becoming clear that it could not any more be considered as Poojya Swamiji’s Ashram; it was but P’s Ashram. Even local people used to refer to the Ashram as his Ashram. Strangely, in his conversations, he used to repeatedly mention about what he wished. Swamiji’s wishes were relegated to the rear benches. Quite often, some of the dedicated devotees used to feel insulted by his behaviour.
The situation was becoming more and more difficult for us. On one hand, P had a very loving personality and all three of us were very fond of him. On the other hand, in spite of Swamiji’s loving persuasion, P’s rigid nature was not allowing him to change. He was becoming more and more possessive about the property.
The meaning of Aniketaḥ
Finally, on 8th March 1997, when we arrived at the Ashram in South Sainik Farms, we found a banner in front announcing a residential Yoga Course being conducted there. When Swamiji asked P about the banner, P forcefully said that it was his wish to utilize the place throughout the year for any good purpose whatsoever. He added that he had also thought of using Swamiji’s cottage for hosting the Yoga teachers if necessary.
As soon as P left the room, the next step was written clearly on Swamiji’s face; ours too. There was no doubt; but there was a soft concern and sadness thinking of P and the impact our step would have on his mind.
Swamiji had on various occasions explained the meaning of “aniketaḥ” as one of the great devotional virtues presented by Sri Krishna in 12th chapter of Bhagavadgeetā. “Aniketaḥ” means “homeless”. When Swamiji was teaching this section of Bhagavadgeetā at our Ashram, a mendicant boy happened to visit the Ashram for a few days’ rest. The second day, after the night Satsang, Swamiji hugged him affectionately and asked him to stay restfully for a few more days. The boy agreed. But the next morning we found that the boy had left without telling anything to anybody. On his table there was a small note written in Hindi: “I am grateful for the care and affection all of you have given. But I must leave, lest I get bound by your love!”
That day, during the Satsang, Mā had asked Swamiji whether “aniketaḥ” meant we were not supposed to have a fixed residence: “Are we to go away from the Ashram to actualize aniketatva?” Swamiji had explained: “To embody the virtue, one does not have to live on the street, but one should be free of any possessiveness or ownership-ego about the place where he is staying. Also, he should have the readiness to leave if and when necessary.”
The occasion was right in front. Swamiji told us: “I think we should leave this place without further thought. Tomorrow morning all devotees will come for the Pāda-poojā. That will be the right time to announce the decision. What do you say?” Both Mā and I agreed wholeheartedly.
Some devotees who came to know of the decision, begged Swamiji to “forgive” P and continue there. They did not understand that the question of “forgiving” or “not forgiving” was not applicable to a Saint. Because, a Saint does not act egoistically; he does only what is harmonious with dharma – Nature’s own auspicious rhythm. Some others suggested: “Let us continue here till we get another place; or at least, let us defer the announcement till October visit.” Only one of the devotees readily agreed with us.
Next morning, 9th March 1997, all the devotees from Delhi had gathered under the Shamiyana put up on the lawn to witness Guru-Pāda-poojā and listen to their Gurudev’s message. Nobody knew that there was a very special message waiting for them that day.
After the Pāda-poojā, Swamiji first appreciated the painstaking effort of P and the austere sacrifice of many devotees that made it possible to host the Jñāna Yajñas for five years. He acknowledged the dedication of the seekers, that helped his visits to grow to this dimension. At the same time, he said, he had no difficulty in leaving the Ashram – “either today or after finishing the programme already announced.”
He said: “Some developments have been taking place in this Ashram, which are not harmonious with the standards of our exclusive Brahmavidyā pursuit as well as the objectives of Narayanashrama Tapovanam. Fundamentally, the place has not been given the much needed “public spiritual character”, as has been emphasized by me all along.
“P is dear to my heart. With great spiritual fondness he had offered this place and made facilities for me and the others to stay here and conduct our activities. But the same mind seems to feel now unduly possessive. Also, his thoughts and plans are apparently quite different from what I feel right and harmonious. Recognizing this new development, it is quite natural that I feel like leaving the place, so that he can carry on with his wishes and plans. I wish him well.
“I am sure, all of you will take the developments in the right devotional spirit. This should not mean any decline in the austerity and fondness you all have for Brahmavidyā mission. Rather, the transition and the circumstances leading to it should only reinforce and inspire your dedication even more. To leave one is always to find another. God’s work cannot stop.
“May the cause of Brahmavidyā, to which our lineage is fully dedicated, be intensified by dint of its own merits. Remember that the guiding force in building up any spiritual institution is the purity and exclusiveness of those connected with it. A long-lasting auspicious growth will take place only when the sādhakas embody this internal soul-enrichment. May the fond and pure wishes of all of you be fulfilled.”
(to be continued)