Santhigiri Ashram: A Labour of Love
P. D. Pradeep, Idukki
Great souls go through difficulties so that everyone should realize about God’s love. Guru wanted everyone to have a mind to work hard and face difficulties for the prosperity of the world. Guru insisted that everyone live for others and work hard for others. Everyone should give importance to the welfare of others. By doing so we are serving God and earning merit. We should lead a life without jealousy; have a pure heart and an open mind. Guru planted the seeds of goodness and these are now flourishing in Santhigiri Ashram.
I was 14 years when I first came to Guru. I have understood from Guru’s life that when one stands for the Truth and tries to actualise it in one’s life, a lot of hardships have to be faced. I have experienced Guru’s love and compassion. I have heard Guru’s advice, suggestions and arguments and received his punishments. I have also seen and understood Guru’s patience, perseverance, tolerance, divine will, will power, generosity and determination. I have seen his ability to withstand any crisis as strong and stable as a mountain. The love, concern, compassion, sincerity and knowledge that Guru gave to the world, is a known truth and an inspiration for every person’s life and growth. Guru’s words have influenced and brought changes to their lives. Those who have listened to Guru’s advice have been ashore. Those who disobeyed and went against his way have had their own difficulties. The proof of this fact lies in our lives.
Guru gave us love, respect and goodness so that we have a better life. Our goodness and the world’s prosperity were his aims and he worked for them. He wished goodness for all those who came before him and whoever he had seen. Guru made them realize the deficiency in their soul and their mistakes through his good deeds and not through scholarly books like the Vedas or Puranas or through stories. Guru showed the deficit in our soul, behaviour and knowledge and he did this by being an open book and sharing his personal experiences. Guru didn’t have anything to hide from us. Guru lived as one amongst us. Guru laughed, had food, and did his duties, with us. He enjoyed our fancies but also scolded us if we ever crossed any limit. Guru loved us more than our parents, family and friends. In fact, he immersed us in his never ending love and became a permanent idol of love in our hearts. Our bond with Guru, and his with us, became inseparable.
It did hurt Guru when we made mistakes. Guru got upset when we lied, became uncomfortable when we disobeyed. Our sorrows became his sorrows, and our happiness was his happiness. Guru did not have any happiness or sorrow different from ours. In fact, we ourselves were his happiness and sadness. When our ingrained traits come to the fore, Guru rectifies them. If we do not get corrected, Guru gets hurt. This has happened more than once in my case itself, though it was never deliberate. I felt an unexplainable love and affection towards Guru. I lived in a very rough and rustic manner. I was born and brought up in a high range place known as Thannypaara, in Idukki, about ten kilometers south of Kallaar and closer to Tamil Nadu. I worked hard, ate, cut wood and sold ash (made out of burnt wood) to Tamil Nadu and earned money.
My mother had an illness. Her nose used to bleed all the time. We did treatment and conjurations but nothing changed the situation. One day, my grandfather (known to everyone in the Ashram as Bhanu uncle) brought Guru, who had come to Kallaar, to our house. At that time, we lived in a grass thatched hut. Guru got down at Kambham and walked about 20 km down the hill to come to our house. Other than my grandfather, Suma (now Sathwika Janani) and Babu Swami (who used to be with Guru before) came along with Guru. By the time Guru reached our house, he was tired. Guru had tapioca curry and black tea, made by my mother. When Guru heard about my mother’s illness, he said, “I can’t do much about it right now. I will call later. It’s the sin of the land that you live in.” While Guru was sitting on the porch he had seen my mother washing the vessels. Guru corrected her and advised her to wash them a bit aside. We only had that much knowledge and manners at that time. I was studying in third or fourth standard then.
Later, mother and I went to meet Guru at Kallaar. My father did not come with us because he did not approve of Guru. Later on, my father accepted Guru and became a good devotee. Guru was at the house of my uncle Vijayadas. Even though it was a small house with little comforts, it never mattered to Guru. Guru’s will power, perseverance and readiness to face hardships were that strong. I came to know that Guru often stayed with them. He received us and other children with utmost love and affection. He filled our hands with fruits and sweets. We used to be enthusiastic to get sweets and hence we visited Guru often with our parents. Since we started praying to Guru, my mother’s illness reduced and later it got cured completely. This is how my father accepted Guru.
During vacations, I used to go to Pothencode to meet Guru. That is when I got closer to Guru and came to know more about him. There were only a few people at the ashram then. They slept either on the floor of the prayer hall (Prarthanalayam), that was waxed with cow dung, in the kitchen or where the food was served. The morning bell would ring at 4 a.m. The elders would wake up and get busy with various duties. We (children) also would wake up somewhat early. Guru would wake up those who were lazy. There were times when Guru would poke us and then hide behind the door. We used to wonder who did it and murmur. Suddenly we would hear someone humming. On turning around, we would find Guru!
We would panic, get anxious with fear and devotion and run away taking our mattresses along. That day, we would tremble while going near Guru. “What if Guru questions or scolds us?” But Guru would say nothing. In fact, he would show us extreme love and affection. At other times, when we did some jobs well, we would go to meet Guru thinking he will approve of us. However, just the opposite would happen. Guru would become angry and scold, making us anxious and baffled about what was happening. Guru’s concern, affection, anger and punishment were all born out of his love for us and those were the moments when we experienced it. When we used to play, Guru would come near us and ask, “Can I join you,” and smile. When we got frightened, Guru would give us his token of blessing.
I was young when I came to stay with Guru, and had no idea about devotion. I was just thrilled about making the journey from the high range to the Ashram all by myself. On the way, I would stop to watch movies. On one occasion, when I reached the ashram, it was close to noon and I felt hungry. I thought of going to the kitchen to eat something. But then I asked myself how to eat without doing some work. People bring items, as a token of their dedication to Guru. After prayers, these very items are used to cook food at the ashram. These items would have other people’s meditations and prayers in them and if we eat the food made out of these, would we partake in those prayers and ‘sankalpams’ too, I wondered. If we do not earn the right to eat the food by doing some work dedicated to Guru, would not those prayers affect us too, I thought. I saw Satyan uncle doing some digging work next to the prayer hall. I joined him and dug sand, after which I washed my hands and legs, and had food.
During those days, Guru spoke to people for hours. Guru would sit on the small mats that were available for sitting. Being limited in number, mats were given to those who came first and the rest had to sit on the floor. However, they did not have any problem sitting on the cow dung daubed floor. There was a strong bond of love between the people and Guru. Later on, Guru sat on a chair when it became difficult for him to sit on the floor and then a table was put in front.
Guru shared his experiences with us, his hardships and sorrows, and spoke about the difficulties of other great souls, their sacrifices and the torments they faced. Why did they go through these difficulties? It is for the prosperity of the world and goodness of the human beings. They suffered so that everyone should realize about God’s love. Guru wanted everyone to have a mind to work hard and face difficulties for the prosperity of the world. Guru insisted that everyone live for others and work hard for others. Everyone should give importance to the goodness of others and by doing so serve God and earn merit. We should lead a life without jealousy; have a pure heart and an open mind. Guru planted the seeds of goodness and these are flourishing today at Santhigiri Ashram, testifying to the hardships taken by Guru for this purpose.
I had gone to the Ashram after my 9th standard final exams. At the end of my visit, I went to meet Guru to seek his permission to leave. He said, “Leave by 6 a.m. When you reach Kallaar, go straight to the ashram. Don’t go here and there. After visiting the ashram, go straight home.” Guru gave the oil and medications for my mother, sweets and holy ash (Bhasmam, made from the camphor used during prayers). Being ignorant and young, I disobeyed all that Guru advised. It was 6:30-6:45 a.m. by the time I left the Ashram. I pre-calculated that I needed to go to Kambham and watch two or three movies. I knew every single place in Kambham and most people from there knew my parents. When I reached Kumili, instead of going through Kallaar, I went to Kambham. It was a Saturday and the bus was more crowded than usual. The route was through forests and hills and we could see animals roaming around. I was standing two to three seats behind the driver’s seat. I had a gut feeling that the bus might fall over and an accident might occur. I prayed, “Guru, please do keep me safe”. Within moments, the brakes failed and the driver found it difficult to stop the bus. On one side was an abyss and on the other a dense forest. If the bus fell into the abyss, then nothing much would be left. I prayed with all my heart, “Oh God! Oh Guru! ” The bus was out of control. The driver hit the bus onto a granite cutting and due to the impact the bus skidded and then stopped. I was watching all this as if it were a scene on television. The commotion was horrible. People were crying, moaning, and struggling for their life. I removed the seat cushions that had fallen on top of me and tried to get out of the bus, but I could not find the doors since that side was underneath. I broke through the glass and got out. I could see that most of the passengers were struggling with pain and some were under the wheels of the bus. I did not have even a scratch on my body. I searched for Guru’s token of blessing, the sweet he had given me, and finally found it. I lost one of the shoes while getting out of the bus, but later found that as well, and started walking.
I later came to know that 12 people were killed in that accident, several were seriously injured. I wrote a letter to Guru, describing what all had happened. This was Guru’s reply, “These are the ways we experience God’s love towards us- your own Swami.” This incident made me feel closer to Guru. I wanted to be with Guru more and see him more often. I was sure that I would fail in my tenth standard exams, and if that did happen, how would I face the people, I wondered. Prompted by feelings of shame on the one hand and devotion to the Guru on the other, I came to the ashram right after my exams and that was the starting point of my life at the ashram.
The amenities at ashram were minimal at that time. The well at the ashram provided sufficient water only for Guru’s needs and for pooja. For other needs, we had to carry water from another well which was half a kilometer away from the ashram. We used to fill tin cans with water, tie them on both sides of a bamboo stem and carry them all the way to the ashram. We had to go some distance to perform our daily ablutions and wash clothes. It used to be more difficult at the time of Kumbha Mela and other festivities. To make arrangements for the people who came from distant places was even more difficult. Money was the biggest problem. A lot of work needed to be done and there were never sufficient funds. We used to get more upset on seeing Guru worried. What else could we do other than work hard? I have seen a lot of situations that used to upset Guru. I remember an incident.
It was the initial stage of the Santhigiri Vidhyabhavan. Children had just started to come to stay over. We had to arrange for their basic needs. We needed to cast a closet on a slab. There was enough sand, metal and cement but not even a single iron bar. There was no money to buy the bars and we had already exhausted all the sources from where we could borrow. We were worried wondering what we could do and Guru got upset seeing us in such a situation. Guru called us near him and asked, “Are there any bamboo stems available?” “Yes there are,” we replied. “Then cut and join them as iron bars and cast them. These will remain for a while.” We got a new insight from what Guru told us to do. We did accordingly and the slab lasted for a while. At the time of the concreting of the building where the provisions store is functioning at present, Guru said, “This would be the smallest building in Santhigiri”. How true!
I was talking about the festivity days. Guru was concerned that the basic needs of the guests and devotees, who arrived for the functions, should be met. Guru would call each one of us and assign various duties. He would oversee carefully that everything was done properly. He would be around us so that the things would not go wrong. Coconut thatched sheds would be made and covered with white cloth. We would carry tables and chairs on our heads from nearby places so that people coming from other countries could relax. There were no big vessels at the ashram then. We would borrow these from outside. People brought vessels from their homes. These were dipped in water and then washed a couple of times and used at the ashram. Guru took special care that food was served according to the people’s taste, especially for those who were coming from outside Kerala. Guru was attentive about each and every thing.
During festival days and special events, scarcity of water would become a big issue. Four or five of us would fetch water and get little sleep or rest during those days. Only a few of us were there and we had to do almost everything. The most important among all the duties was to keep the surroundings neat and clean. Velayudhan (Velayudhan Chettiar who works at the Ayurveda center) was the best person to do this job. He would set out with a spade and clean everywhere. Guru appreciated his work a lot and he always assigned Velayudhan for this job. During one of the Kumbha Melas, we had an idea. We thought of connecting a motor to the well and pumping water to a big brass cauldron and then using a diesel pump to supply water everywhere. Everyone liked the idea. Under Narayanan Sir’s (Dharmananda Swami today) leadership, we started work to implement it. Even though we worked hard for three or four days, through day and night, there was no result. At times the pipe would break or the motor would fail. On the fourth day, everyone got fed up. While three or four of us kept on working on this, the others got engaged in other work. The night before the Kumbha Mela, we got tired and slept off. I could not get any sleep as I was upset that the work we had set out to do did not turn out well. I was hungry on top of that. None of us had had much food.
I woke up at the first light of dawn. So what if the motor did not work? We still needed to pump water. I woke up the rest. One person got upset with this and started a fight. Even I got angry. We continued arguing for a while. Then we realized the seriousness of the situation and tried to figure out a solution for it. We got dressed up and when we were about to set out for work, we saw Guru in front of the Parnasala. He had been watching us as we were standing there wondering what to do. He looked at us with a smile filled with love and called us towards him. When we reached near him, he went inside the Parnasala and brought out a bunch of bananas. He gave it to us and smiled at us with all his heart. We cried literally, in front of his love. While we were sobbing, Guru said to us, “Children, we are working for goodness and when we do such a thing, there would be difficulties. No one would see this and there will be people to find mistakes and make comments. But God sees everything and His love is above all.”
On listening to Guru, there was this light that filled our souls and minds. Our hearts were filled with joy. Guru stood in front of us with a smile that never faded. How can I forget this? The love of Guru! This love should belong to the entire world; this is my prayer to Guru - the God of the entire world.
(Translated from the original Malayalam by Miss Anjana, USA)