A Living Memory of Guru’s Compassion for all Creatures
Janardhana Menon, Santhigiri Ashram
However, there were uninvited guests too - pigeons. Perhaps, they too had a right. After all, the compassion of Guru is available not only to human beings but to animals and birds also. The pigeons had their nests all over the thatched roof of the dining hall. And, they had the detestable habit of perching on top and dirtying the place with their droppings. Perhaps, that was the birds’ way of establishing their right of possession. Those who served the food had an additional duty of walking the length and breadth of the dining hall with a long bamboo stick raised to chase away the birds lest they foul up the place during meals.
We all know how the epic Ramayana was born. The seer Valmiki happened to see the wanton destruction of a beautiful product of nature, a pigeon, that too in the presence of its mate. The agonized mind of the seer perhaps travelled back to the atrocities perpetrated on the weak by the strong. The powerful, ten-headed Ravana perhaps is a symbolic representation: he possessed 10 times more strength than Sri Rama - the victim suffering separation from his mate (like the bereaved pigeon). Was the story of Ramayana then a wishful exercise on the part of the saint, portraying the triumph of truth in the face of brute strength?
We see yet another character - the Emperor Shibi. He was at his wits’ end because he wanted to protect, again a pigeon, from the clutches of a vulture. The vulture was preying on the pigeon, which sought protection from the king and was promptly granted asylum. But the vulture too sought justice from the emperor: It was hungry. It could prey only on small birds and animals and it was definitely within its rights to eat the pigeon. The emperor should look after its interest too. The confused emperor, who wanted to be fair to both creatures, offered his own flesh equal to the weight of the pigeon. Surprisingly, the pigeon was heavier than he anticipated. The emperor had to offer his whole body to equal the weight of the pigeon.
I had wondered many times whether justice was done in both cases. Of course, I knew that these were tales glorifying the tests faced by the righteous, but I could never quite see the need for an all-knowing Almighty to conduct a test to confirm the integrity of King Shibi. I kept brooding: what was the retribution for the crime? In both cases, did anyone, as a Brahmajnani should, ever do something to prevent a recurrence and enact retribution too? For that matter, is there anyone who can do both things at one go? I could get the answers only after witnessing an incident at Santhigiri Ashram. I am narrating it below.
It will be difficult for any newcomer to imagine the Santhigiri Ashram of the early 1980s. It was spread over only five acres then. Roughly 15 meters south of the present dining hall and kitchen was a makeshift cooking and dining area at that time. It had a thatched roof and cow dung smeared mud floors, but was kept scrupulously clean. All the inmates used aluminium plates and tumblers, seated on the floor on mats.
However, there were uninvited guests too - pigeons. Perhaps, they too had a right. After all, the compassion of Guru is available not only to human beings but to animals and birds also. The pigeons had their nests all over the thatched roof of the dining hall. And, they had the detestable habit of perching on top and dirtying the place with their droppings. Perhaps, that was the birds’ way of establishing their right of possession. Those who served the food (I was a willing volunteer at lunch time) had an additional duty. They had to walk the length and breadth of the dining hall with a long bamboo stick raised to chase away the birds lest they foul up the place during meals.
One boy, however, had had enough - none but Guruchith, who looks after electrical maintenance now. He managed to get a ladder from somewhere, fixed it in the dining hall and removed one of the nests. Inadvertently, the nest fell with a small pigeon in it. From seemingly nowhere, a cat jumped in, picked up the fallen pigeon and ran away - all in a jiffy. Right then, Guru stepped in. He had witnessed the entire episode.
Everyone was dumbfounded on seeing Guru, who was seething with anger. He shouted at Guruchith and scolded him severely. After a while, all left and forgot the incident – all but Guru. He called Ramanan, the only carpenter in the Ashram in those days. He gave him pointed and precise instructions. About what -- we did not know then.
Two days later, just behind the present Sahakarana Mandiram, we found a nest had been built which could house a lot of pigeons. Curiously, we walked towards it. It was meticulously designed to prevent cats from climbing up. Ramanan said that he had got detailed directions from Guru on how to build the nest.
However, to attract the pigeons to their new abode was another story. At first, they would not come anywhere near it. People tried luring them with food grains and water but to no avail. Then all of a sudden, we found that they flocked there. It appeared that the birds migrated en bloc to the new colony.
Sahakarana Mandiram came up and the pigeons again had to make way. Now this very nest is located in between the Ashram and the guest house—a living memory of the Guru’s compassion for all forms of life.
There is something called a stimulus. Here the stimulus was the death of a pigeon. It was due to an inadvertent mistake committed by one who had no ill will towards the birds. All might have had heartfelt sympathy for the dead bird. But only Guru put His compassion into practical application. At one stroke, He removed the problems of the pigeons and the diners and also provided expiation for a mistake. A lesson not only for the youngster but for all.