Before I knew it, the days had raced by, and I found myself finally waking up to the last day of the camp! While taking the tea to Gita Mandir that morning, I was softly reprimanded and reminded by Hitesh bhai as well as his kitchen assistant that I hadn’t brought back the tea flask from Reva the other day, which I had missed due to the hurried preparation for SoU visit. Fortunately, he had a backup flask that was given to me to take fresh tea for the day.
Culmination of the shower of pearls
Everyone including me, were eagerly awaiting the climax of the great series of Meditation talks in the camp. When the talks began, it seemed like Śaṅkarācārya ji was giving a loving parting advice to his disciples in Sādhanā Pañcakam. Everything that Swamiji said that day was very deep and required constant mananam from us thereafter, to realise its true purport. Swamiji said that at the seat of Meditation, if you can give up all thoughts and concentrate only on the Self, then you are the highest Sannyāsī (renunciate). Whereas if you hold on to the thoughts, then you are just a samsārī (worldly person)! He added, “Thoughts will come at the seat of Meditation, but we have to show no interest in them and just be a witness – neither liking nor disliking the thoughts (possible through vairāgya).” He said, “Everything in this world that gives rāga (likes) is like a poison – since it leads to repeated births and deaths!”
Describing the problems faced in meditation and the solutions, he said, “A wandering mind indicates lack of vairāgya in us. When we are rich in vairāgya, mind loves Consciousness, intellect respects the Consciousness. Bhakti (love) for God should be developed to such an extent that love for God has eaten up all the other desires for worldly things in us!” His parting advice to us was that scolding from our teachers and Gurus is like bitter nectar – drink it (accept our mistakes and reform ourselves), whereas praise from others is like sweet poison (it can boost our ego, only if the foundational virtues of humility and gratitude to Bhagavān – are not strong in us)!
An unexpected turn of events
After the early morning talk, I made my way to Reva to collect the empty tea flask from the previous day and saw that neither the flask nor the caretaker was present there. I looked for the flask everywhere, but couldn’t find it. The caretaker then came there after a while, but he said that he too hadn’t seen the flask anywhere and if it had been kept in the open, then probably someone may have stolen it! My heart sank quickly as the dreaded thought came to me as to how can I replace it now? Even if I reimbursed the money for it, it would still cause trouble for our caterer Hitesh bhai to go and search for it and purchase from the market. I saw one of the numerous Shiva temples nearby and immediately went there and prostrated to Bhagavān. I said to Him that His bhakta’s respect was now at stake. On second thought, more than loss of respect, I said to Bhagavān that I had caused some unnecessary trouble to the caterer. I also said that, the daily sevā of serving morning tea though done wholeheartedly, now seemed incomplete! After spending some time there, I finally surrendered to His will and thought, ‘Who am I to question it?’!
Chance meeting with two devotees of Bhagavān
Then with a heavy heart, I slowly started walking from Reva towards SK with just the morning tea flask brought back from Gita mandir. I had hardly walked a few meters when I saw Srilatha ammā and Rashmi akkā slowly walking up their way – from Somnath ghat towards me. Both of them looked very tired and famished. On seeing me with the flask in my hand, Lata ammā asked me if I had some tea. I immediately poured her and Rashmi akkā a glass of tea each. I came to know Lata ammā was following Saṅkaṣtī vrata (austerities) that day and had been fasting since morning. Lata ammā and Rashmi akkā were both extremely humble devotees of Bhagavān who did their sevā silently and almost secretly (known only to God and very few). They also did the vrata, where they had their food only after Swamiji completed his food. Once while distributing some Prasada, I observed that even for taking Prasada, Rashmi akkā didn’t come forward and humbly stood in one corner silently – I literally had to search for her and deliver the same! It was my good fortune to be of some service to them again, as I got an opportunity to deliver sugar cane juice, later in the day at lunch time, to the fasting Lata ammā – thereby also allowing Rashmi akkā to eat her lunch peacefully without worrying of rushing back.
I sadly told Lata ammā that I had made a mistake by forgetting to bring back the tea flask the previous day. Then I proceeded to SK and wondered how to face Hitesh bhai now! I saw him in the kitchen and had just started apologizing about the tea flask, when to my great surprise he suddenly said the flask was already with him! He said his person had collected it the previous morning itself from Reva! I wondered how the same Hitesh bhai, who had asked me to bring back the flask today morning, is now saying that it was returned yesterday?! Unable to unravel this puzzle, as it was beyond my understanding, I thanked Bhagavān profusely in my mind, for His grace and for saving His devotee’s self-respect, as well as saving from unnecessary trouble to others. When I met Lata ammā again I informed her about this and said, “Bhagavān has saved His devotee!” Hearing this, she immediately said, “He will never forsake His own.” I later realised that Bhagavān had probably made me take a detour, so as to time my visit from Reva towards SK in order to meet and deliver tea to his two famished devotees!
Late Afternoon talk and My silent Realisations
I had started thinking from the previous day itself about that day’s upcoming Valedictory function. Swamiji had asked us to share any of our divine experiences in the camp, or any benefits that we derived from it. Many thoughts came to my mind and primarily among them was the quote that I remembered reading from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – ‘When puṇya (virtues from good deeds) from several births have been accumulated, only then does one get an opportunity to serve Sat-jan (noble devotees of God).’ I was indeed thankful to Bhagavān for having given me one such golden opportunity! I also wanted to express my gratitude to all the noble sādhaks here, who helped to make the camp successful for all of us. And from whom I had learnt a lot and who had also given me an opportunity to do some small sevā (alila sevā) to them, here and there.
But somehow, I wasn’t satisfied with the above, as the personal connection with me was missing. I found myself subconsciously waiting for further direction from Bhagavān. Then in the morning session talks, the merciful Bhagavān revealed to me some beautiful thoughts! As the initial thoughts came to me, the primary question refreshed in my mind – as to why I was doing daily sevā untiringly to so many of His devotees!? Almost all of whom, except a few, had been total strangers to me before coming to this camp – for which I didn’t have an answer yet! Seeing my predicament, the all merciful Bhagavān revealed something to me that struck me like lightning that day – bringing tears to my eyes and horripilations on my skin! I intuitively realised that most of the sādhaks gathered here must have been my parents in some of the infinite past births that we had taken. Some of them must have been my brothers and sisters, few my teachers and one of them my Guru! I found that my family had suddenly grown very big now! As I pondered more on these beautiful thoughts, I further realised that some sevā from me – due towards them, may have been lacking earlier in my past births. I may have been an arrogant, ignorant, lazy and a useless fellow – not knowing the right thing to be done, at the right time! And I saw signs of these in this birth as well, making me realise that, it must have been true earlier!
Unravelling a bit about the mysterious ways of Bhagavān
Later, a realisation came to me on further mananam (quiet reflection) that God inspires us first, with a simple motivation to do His work and then gives us the right knowledge to perform the same! If we heed his initial inspiration with Śaraṇāgati bhāvanā (total surrender), he then tests us thoroughly and checks whether we follow his inspiration to the best of our ability or not! We have to always try our sincere best, pass the various tests given by Him – all the while trying to please Him! While at the same time, we should seek forgiveness for any mistakes made, or for any failures in any of His tests along the way (which is expected) and then retry again with determination – before He ultimately gives us true realisation! I found this to be true in any subject – material or spiritual, which then keeps continuing in a devotee’s life towards the final test – before He bestows liberation on His chosen few!
In my case, the merciful Bhagavān made it very simple for my manda buddhi (unintelligent mind) to understand. Pleasing Him was the inspiration and motivation, knowledge on how to please Him was the loving service of all around me, the sevā required by the different sādhaks were his different tests! This was followed by the mistakes that I made and consequent confessions to Him and then continuing persistently on the chosen path! Finally, on sincerely performing all His tests to the best of my ability – in order to please Him, He then magnanimously gave me the great realisation that we are all one big family (coined by our great ancestors as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and what was done, was the right thing to do! This was the first time that I intuitively realised the true meaning of the great phrase above and that we are all connected to each other, in some way or the other! My humble prostrations to Bhagavān and to our wise and great ancestors who have given us many such gems to contemplate upon and realise one day!
It seemed that Asmita didi’s keen ear had caught me singing “Om namaḥ Śivāya” the other day. She goaded me on to sing a bhajan that day. Without much time to think, I quickly picked up a bhajan in Kannada and sang – ‘Nānu Nīnu yenna diru, hīna mānavā’ (Don’t say mine or yours, O sinful man) by Dāsaru. Some of the audience not knowing the language, must have wondered what did I really sing about!? But I am thankful that they listened to me patiently, until I completed!
At the Valedictory Function
Slowly wiping away my tears, I parked these wonderful thoughts and started paying my attention back to Swamiji’s ongoing talk! However, later in the day when the Valedictory function started and when my turn came to speak, due to some unknown reason or lack of time, I couldn’t cover all my thoughts and ended up speaking only partially (even though the audience was kind enough to give me an opportunity twice!). I just mentioned a few points about how I was a part-time devotee and how the devotee’s role in me, was always side-lined in front of other roles – when they came up. I said that one of my main learnings from the camp was that a devotee’s role has to always be my primary role and that, all other roles were secondary – while adding that the other roles are also important and must be done (to please Him). I also thanked and offered my gratitude to all the organizers and other sādhaks in the camp.
Few other sādhaks also spoke beautiful words about their experiences in this great camp and all gathered there offered their gratitude to all organizers – by a round of applause, whenever anyone spoke about them! As there was a long list of people to offer gratitude, somehow, I forgot to mention about Sumanth ji’s sevā of teaching early morning yoga. Later, when a few sādhaks pointed it out, I immediately went up to him and apologized for my mistake. Our loving Yoga teacher had mingled with us so much that we considered him more of a friend than a teacher and somehow, we took his efforts for granted. I knew, I needed to make amends somehow. At this time Bhagavān again sent Asmita didi to my rescue, as she also knew what had happened and said to me that she will announce gratitude to Sumanth ji on behalf of us all, since it will not look good if I went to the stage for the third time! That, which I was quietly preparing to do! This simple but noble act of hers really moved my heart! Later I was glad to hear Latha Bhat ammā also thank Sumanth ji. She also whole heartedly expressed her gratitude to all organizers, in her unique jolly and cheerful voice – one that immediately lifts the spirits of all around her! Swamiji then beautifully summed it up by referring from the Gītā and saying that people coming together with Yajña bhāvana (working selflessly for the common greater good) would be automatically blessed by Bhagavān as this pleased Him immensely! He added that our collective Yajña bhāvana had ensured the grand success of our Narmada camp!
“…. Lord is Great; He knows best the purity of every thought, action and their motive. If the surrender be full, dedication complete and motives pure, even ordinary actions become great Yajñas.” – Swami Chinmayananda
A beautiful conversation with a Sādhaka
Later that day, I remember having a beautiful conversation with Sachidananda annā. I saw annā as a quiet contemplative soul, who was extremely humble and did sevā silently wherever required. He also seemed to be a fitness enthusiast and maintained a strong body and enjoyed swimming in Narmada Mātā every day! That day he very kindly shared with me one of his valuable life lessons – one that he constantly practised. It has become one of my favourite topics now – morning habits and about waking up early! He said that he woke up everyday morning without setting any alarm – no matter even if it was 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning! And that when he woke up, he would then simply get up and get ready as usual! He rightly said that if we toss and turn around on the bed instead, in a half sleeping state – it will not do us any good! He went on to add that the compassionate Bhagavān had woken you up for a purpose and had given you valuable time to do your Sādhanā! He accepted this fact unquestioningly. I asked him don’t you feel sleepy or tired later on, to which he said that if the body really needed the sleep, it would take it sometime during the day and that’s fine (since we already have had a head start for the day)! I really marvelled as I listened to him! We then talked a little about Isha Foundation in Coimbatore as I mentioned about my recent visit there. He talked about his Haṭa yoga practice – taking instructions from one of Isha’s instructors in Mangalore. He suggested me to check for such instructors in their Bangalore centre, if I was interested in the same.
Concluding session in the evening
Post the valedictory function in the evening, Rajesh bhai and I proceeded to visit two beautiful Krishna temples built by the queen sisters near Somnath ghat. After returning back to Gita Mandir, I entered the open terrace from the back entrance and was having some water, when I heard one ammā singing a bhajan very beautifully inside the hall – towards the end of the evening bhajan session. Her voice was so melodious and the bhakti bhavana in her bhajan so strong, that it kept repeating in my mind for several days thereafter! When I entered the hall, she was singing the final few lines and I saw it was our Gayatri ammā (who was in our SoU sub-group earlier and whose leg I had pulled a few times!). I didn’t know she had such a beautiful voice! I could remember only the words Guru and kṛpā, along with the tune going on and on in my mind! I was compelled to call her a couple of days later, to check what was the name of that song and who had originally sung it. She said that bhajan is indeed extraordinary and was sung by none other than our Pūjya Guruji Swami Tejomayanandaji and the song was named ‘Gurudeva Tava Mahanīya Kṛpā’ (which I came to know later was also featured in the biopic movie “On a Quest” about Gurudev’s life). She then kindly also sent me a recording of that song, sung in her voice! I then proceeded to learn the song quickly – by singing only that throughout the day, whenever I could!
The late evening concluding session was kept for interactions surrounding any questions between the sādhaks and Swamiji (QnA session). Some very interesting questions were asked by few of the sādhaks, for which Swamiji responded in his usual calm, immaculate way! I too had a question about how to distinguish between our inner voices – as being the voice of Consciousness or the voice of our ego – as both seemed to speak to us sometimes – without us being able to clearly distinguish between them. I also had another question on the benefits of Gītā chanting without understanding the meaning of the ślokas. I was later satisfied with the answers that I got from Swamiji.
Taking blessings from Sādhaks of the Camp
When dinner time came, it was only a few hours left before the sādhaks departed to their respective destinations. I went around the Annakṣetra hall bowing down to the sādhaks and taking their blessings post dinner. I had realised that you truly bless only those who have won your heart and hence winning someone’s heart by our actions is absolutely necessary! I got the kind blessings of many sādhaks without any hesitation. Most of them allowed me to touch their feet too, but some of them refused and a very few refused ardently for some unknown reason! I thought probably it was my failure to have not yet won their heart!
Here, I have to highlight the kindness especially of our ammās and akkās in the camp, as everywhere else. They are so large hearted that they bless you instantly when you bow down to them – most of the times verbally with the choicest of blessings and sometimes silently in their hearts! And some great ones bless even without asking or bowing to them – just by observing our actions! Our appās and elder brothers are generally more restrained. Though some bless wholeheartedly with their words, most are silent – just blessing in their hearts without anyone’s knowledge!
I did some consequent mananam of the actual meaning of bowing down to elders by touching their feet and beautiful thoughts emerged in my mind. The ego of the younger one is actually bowing to the almighty Bhagavān residing in the elder one! Whereas the ego in the elder one (who knows what is right), will simply say, “Bhagavān āpkā bhalā karein (May God bless you)”, being His mere instrument only!
Post dinner it was time to pack and prepare for next day’s travel. Previously Asmita ji, Shankar ji and others had got together in the background and had beautifully planned about the buses, schedule and the groups that were travelling. Shankar ji had planned to move the luggage of the sādhaks departing very early next morning on the Mumbai route from Reva and other places to SK – to save time. Bala annā and myself were called upon for this sevā. We then brought the luggage from different places and kept it in the Annakṣetra hall in SK for the night.
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