जगत-ईशधी-युक्त-सेवनं अष्टमूर्तिभृत् देवपूजनम् | Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi
(Serving the world with the attitude of serving the Lord itself is the greatest worship of the Lord, Who is the Wielder of the eight-fold forms.)
For the one for whom ‘work is worship’, the manifested world with its eight-fold forms (5 elements, the sun, the moon, and the jeevatma) is the Lord. His service to the beings is worship. For him, no ritualistic worship is needed.
This story is about Swami Kalyanananda, a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda.
When Swami Vivekananda gave Sannayasa to Kalyan Maharaj in 1900, he asked, “Well, Kalyan, what have you got to offer to your teacher as Gurudakshina?” Kalyan Maharaj said, “Here I am. I offer myself to you. I am your slave; tell me to do anything and I will do it.”
Swamiji said, “That is what I want. Go to Hardwar. I will give some money. Buy a plot of land, clear the jungle and build some huts. Many pilgrims going to Hardwar suffer and die because they get no medical help. If you find people suffering on the roadside, pick them, bring them to your huts and treat them. Forget Bengal! Don’t come back. Go!”
And so, Kalyan Maharaj went. He purchased five acres of land between Hardwar and Kankhal, by the side of the Ganga canal. With the help of the local people, he made a big hut for the patients and a small hut for himself. Seeing Kalyanji alone, Swami Nischayanandji decided to live with him. Both of them slowly built up the whole hospital enduring very many difficulties. It became popular as Kankhal Sevashrama.
At the hospital, Maharaj made it a point to personally visit 30-40 patients and get to know about their condition, sitting by their side and talking to them with great kindness and love.
One day, looking at the gloomy face of the brahmachari in charge of the hospital, he said, “Look here, you serve in the hospital, where the patients are already ill. You are supposed to cheer them up. How can you do that if you are yourself so gloomy? Therefore go to the shrine and pray first. Then go to the dispensary with a happy, joyous face. How can you brighten them up if you look so sad and sick?”
He would say, “To the temple, you go with fruits and flowers, hymns and mantras. And to the hospital, you go with food and medicine, and a few kind words. Both are exactly the same. What you do in the temple and what you do in the hospital are not two different things.”
One day some people brought a very sick man to the Sevashrama, but it was noon and the hospital was closed. So they left him to his fate on the road outside the hospital. Someone informed the doctor. The doctor, after examining, said, “There is no use taking him in; anyway he is going to die soon.”
The news reached Kalyan Maharaj. He told the brahmachari-in-charge, “Prepare the bed for the patient and bring him in. If he must die, let him die in peace. Ours is a Sevashrama, a place of service. Whether you give him two minutes’ service or two months’ service is beside the point. You have to serve him, that’s all. How can you leave a man to die on the road?”After four hours, the patient died. The dead body was carried to Ganga and the funeral rites were duly performed.
How should we serve? Kalyan Maharaj would say, “Suppose your own brother were in such a condition. What would you not do for him! You must think of others in the same way.”
Most patients who came to the hospital were so poor that they had to work hard for their livelihood. So Maharaj was particular that they be discharged only on fully regaining the health and strength. The reason was that although the doctor might find the patient fit enough to be discharged, his people at home might find it difficult to provide a nourishing diet for him until he became strong enough to work. He would often say with reference to some patient, “Keep him for a couple of days more and feed him well. You may send him home when he is strong enough.” At the time of discharge, the patients were supplied with generous quantities of foodstuffs as well as medicines.
Even in the dead of the night, if Maharaj heard a sound coming from the hospital, he would silently get up and head for the hospital. He would then check the patients without disturbing them, and if they were not sleeping, would ask them if they needed anything. Having made a round of the wards, he would return to his bed. This used to happen 2-3 times every night and Maharaj never told anyone about it. His own health gradually deteriorated from lack of sleep, but he did not mind.
Kalyan Maharaj was a man of imperturbable calmness. He never lost his cool and nothing ever upset him. Once, a patient delirious with typhoid hit Maharaj so hard that he fell down and broke his spectacles. Others nearby rushed to the spot to restrain the man. “Don’t do anything to him. Let him sit down,” said Maharaj, slowly picking himself up. Sitting by the side of the patient, Maharaj put his hand on him, asking sweetly, “Are you alright now?” Then he sent for the doctor to examine him. Others were all agitated but Maharaj showed remarkable composure.
In those days, the local monks of other monasteries called Kalyananandji and Nischayanandji bhangi sadhus (untouchables), because they rendered even menial service to patients. The two swamis had no servants and had to clean the filth at the hospital themselves. So they were never invited to the festival organised by the local monastic community. This was the situation until around 1910. At that time, Dhanaraj Giri, a great monk and abbot of the Kailasa Ashrama (of Shankaracharya Mutt) was in Kankhal for a special function, and all the monks living nearby had gathered for a big feast. Dhanaraj Giri asked the monks, “I had heard that Swami Vivekananda’s disciples are somewhere here. Do you know them?” Someone replied, “Yes, they live close by, but they are no good. They are bhangi sadhus who do all sorts of menial work.”
“Menial work? Where do you go when you become sick? Don’t you go there?” Dhanaraj Giri asked them.
“Yes, we do.”
“So you go to their hospital and receive treatment from them and yet call them bhangi sadhus? Go invite them!” And he sent a monk to bring them.
Kalyanji agreed to go but Nischayji did not yield. So they didn’t go. Twice the messenger was sent back. But Dhanaraj Giri was equally adamant. He commanded his Secretary, “You must bring them at any cost. Tell them that unless they come, there will be no feast here.”
The two monks, at last, decided to go to honour the invitation from the abbot. As they reached the premises, Dhanaraj Giri himself received them at the entrance, embracing them. He even made pranaams to them! The assembled monks were shocked to see this. Dhanaraj Giri then led them inside and made them sit beside him on either side. He told the gathering, “You think you are all great sadhus. If there are any real sadhus here, they are these two. They lead a sterling life, serving the poor according to the ideal of Swami Vivekananda. That is the ideal for the modern age. They serve you when you are sick and yet you consider them to be bhangi sadhus! Are you not ashamed? When you were babies, who cleaned your filth? Your mother did it. Do you call your mother a bhangi for that?” He scolded them severely and said to the two monks, “Forgive me for all the insults heaped on you!”
Kalyan Maharaj cared little about money. Once somebody stole five hundred rupees, he simply said, “Well, I think he needed money.” He never worried about people stealing money.
Once, a devotee had promised to donate some amount but he didn’t turn up. When a brahmachari suggested Maharaj to remind him, he replied, “Why do you worry about that? We will manage with whatever comes. Today you want to make more collections, increase funds and build more things. And what happens? The mind goes towards that and spiritual life vanishes. You have come here to lead a spiritual life. Struggle for that. That is more important. Don’t worry about funds and buildings. Let people donate if they want; if they don’t, it doesn’t matter.”
There were all sorts of people in the Sevashrama. For example, there was a dumb man who did absolutely nothing other than eating and sleeping. There was another who was mentally deranged and a bit violent too. All were fed, all were taken care of. Referring to such people, Maharaj would tell, “Can’t you give them a little food? Why do you want to turn them out? What will they do outside?”Anyone seeking a shelter was certain to find a place there.
Once, a brahmachari who was sent away from three other ashrams came to the Sevashrama. Though Kalyanji knew his past records, he accepted him. When someone objected, he replied, “The boy has told me his whole story. He has promised to be good here. Good boys are anyway good. But if we can convert such boys, well, that is the best thing we can do. They indeed need our help.”
Eventually, that boy was totally transformed and became an asset for the Sevashrama.
Very many newly joined brahmacharis would stay for a few days and would leave. The reason?- they wanted only study and meditation. At the most they were willing to do some temple work or library work, but not hospital work – like scrubbing the floor, cleaning the bedpans etc. Maharaj told them plainly, “If we want to become real monks, we must be prepared to do everything.” And he practised what he preached.
Swami Vivekananda had told Kalyan Maharaj to ‘forget Bengal!’ After arriving at Kankhal, he never even once visited his native (Kolkata). He stayed and served in Kankhal for 37 years with the attitude – ‘Maanava seva itself is Maadhava seva’ – till his death in 1937, keeping his promise to his Master.
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