‘It is one thing to love and another to experience that love. It is one thing to believe and another to live that belief.’ This would some up my experience at the Ashram this time.
Ashram, sitting amidst a lush green surrounding, infact greener than what I had remembered it to be had always been very close to my heart. A befitting abode of my Lord, it was mysterious and mystical in its own ways. It was the spirituality in my life. I loved staying there when it was just a mud hut accommodating everyone along with our Swamiji and I loved it equally now, when there is just so much comfort the place has to offer.
My last two visits had passed in such a dazed state, first, in April 2013 when I was six plus months into my pregnancy and my sickness at its peak and then in April 2014 when my son was very small. I hadn’t been able to attend any of Swamiji’s discourses, actively participate in the celebrations and sewa or gone around my beautiful Ashram experiencing its tranquility. It left me deeply sad and helpless within. To avoid the hurt and disappointment I decided to stay away for a couple of years till the time Om would grow up and become more self dependent and aware. But what man proposes the Lord calmly disposes and rightly so because only He knows what is right for us.
I was sceptical about my visit for Swamiji’s birthday. What was the point of going if I was going to stay cocooned in a room, I had thought. But everyone around me was going and the pull I felt within was as usual impossible to resist. My husband encouraged me and proposed to look after Om, our son and so I could enjoy a part of the celebrations too. Om almost an year and a half is more independent now.
My trip, right from its planning, to my staying there was full of so many divine experiences that to capture them all here will be impossible because some things are better experienced than explained. Words and expressions wouldn’t do justice to them. All I can say is that there was a protective layer that covered me and kept me with great love and care through out.
Manik shared that he could not leave before the afternoon on the 29th and that meant we would miss any chances of Swamiji’s darshans that day. All those who have been in His presence would understand what it means to miss out on it. I was upset right away and became pensive. How easily the mind sidelines all the positives at the hint of a negative in life. But then something urged me to not give up. I decided to call two devotees living in the town. Both of them had an extra seat to my utmost pleasant surprise. I tagged along with Ismita, my neighbour and a dear friend. Manik would get along all the luggage later in the day and I was to just comfortably carry a baby bag. Infact, Ismita took care of the porters and all, since we had chosen to trek to the Ashram via the old route. Even the tiniest of my concerns were easily taken care of.
Stepping out of the car on the neighboring land of the Ashram brought back memories from the not so old past. There was a time when my visits were pleasingly regular. I was going to trek to Ashram after exactly two years and still nothing felt strange except for the proximity of the dates. I had last trekked there on the 30th of November 2013.
I knew my way well and the bushes and gravel pathways recognized me too, as if. With a smile on my face and heart thumping with over flowing joy I raced towards the Ashram. Om was being carried by, at first the village porters, the ladies who had been called to receive us and later by some devotees. I had no clue where he was and he didn’t miss me either amidst all the attention and loving people.
Swamiji was in the discourse room in private meeting with the devotees when I reached. As I sat outside, close by, catching my breath, the reality of being there, finally sank in. I was so happy within. Even though I hadn’t seen Him yet but just to have Swamiji in such proximity was a joyous moment, beyond words.
I did not meet Swamiji that afternoon. I did not insist on it either. It was late and He was yet to have His meals. I was happy to get His darshans from a distance and bowed in reverence hoping against hope that it would be accepted, not because He dint see me but I am not sure if I am deserving of such grace.
I saw Swamiji at the Mandir for Arti that evening. The conch by Swamiji is the mark of the beginning of the mesmerizing Arti. The devotion with which Swamiji sings, is a lesson in itself. Standing there singing along Him I silently prayed in my heart that someday I could be blessed with such devotion too. The truth is that an unconditional love and utmost surrender that Swamiji exhibits is easy to love but most difficult to cultivate. Only by Grace. Grace.
I was lucky that the weather was good enough to allow me to listen to Swamiji’s discourse sitting outside the mandir. Om kept himself busy with his games while I tried to listen to Swamiji’s divine words. I could see Swamiji from a tiny opening at the door and I truly felt blessed. What more could I have asked for? But the grace had just begun because after the evening discourse Swamiji came out of the door that I was sitting by. I had no clue that there is where He exited from. I did my pranams while Prabhuji walked by. I was a bit sad that I hadn’t been able to meet Him properly but quickly put aside my thoughts scolding myself that at least I got to see Him. A few steps away, Swamiji stopped and turned back and called for me. I went closer and He said that I could see Him in the discourse hall while He signed the books. My surprise and joys knew no bounds. Really!! I could actually sit in His presence, after so long it felt. I ran after Him like a puppy.
I sat there silently as I had numerous other times, all questions dissolved, just happy and content having arrived to my destination. Swamiji left shortly and I got busy once again with family but I slept a gratifying sleep that night.
Next day was the big day. I got up early and in my heart wished Swamiji, as I sat in my bed happy and excited. It was the most important day of my life, my Prabhuji had decided to Grace this Earth with His presence. The lines from His memoir “one of us is coming…a saint, after a long wait!” echoed in me and then I thought ‘What grace!’ What had I done to deserve His presence in my life? I could not figure out one reason.
We were all there, for our love for Him and in our heart of hearts to be heard and noticed by Him in some way like a child tries to grab his mothers attention. And He had so lovingly opened His heart to us. He could have decided to just rest that day or spend it in solitude. But for our sake He would get ready and be at the hall earlier than the usual time because there were more people who awaited His darshans. He rejoiced in our happiness keeping aside any of His wishes. I bowed to His unconditional love and care and then felt so empty.
What did I have to give Him in return? What gift would be befitting for Prabhuji’s birthday. Nothing came to my mind. Material gifts would fall short in their status and my heart, body, soul, desires everything so tainted. Somewhere just so self-centred. Empty. That is how I felt.
That evening the whole Ashram was glittering and the winds singing a divine song of their own. As Prabhu walked into the temple flocked with eager villagers and guests He paused for a minute to handover the walking stick of an old lady that had slipped off her hands in her wonder-struck state. The Compassionate One would not have just walked past her.
Swamiji went into the garba griha for the Arti and as He sang, we followed. The chants generated an energy that left us all mystified and charged. Arti was different that day. The positivity and love from the devotees was resonating at a very high level in the hall, as if. As He took His asan, the cultural programs for the evening began. Almost everyone right from the village children to the visiting devotees from abroad along with the Indian devotees had participated in some offering or the other. There were bhajans that were sung, hymns and poems that were narrated and then a classical dance that was performed. There were even jokes and zillion light moments where even Swamiji participated. The hall would holler with laughter that could be heard till a distance.
Swamiji also acknowledged some villagers who had been doing sewa at the Ashram diligently and then also the volunteers who had been doing sewa in different departments at the onset of the celebrations almost a week before the D- Day. DVDs of Swamiji’s discourses that had been brought by a devotee in abundance were distributed to all the visitors.
The evening ended with the much awaited Kirtan by Swamiji himself. Holding my son in my arms, I was standing at the side when Swamiji got up on His asan to start His Kirtan. An electrifying energy ran all over me as I heard His hand-cymbals. I was attending the Kirtan after eons. Om was in my arms at first but as the Kirtan began I could not carry Him for long. A flow of rapturous energy was taking over the hall, slithering around in a subtle way but in an affirming manner giving goose bumps every now and then. The magic had begun. I was not me in those moments.
My eyes followed Swamiji and I swayed at His tunes. I hysterically ran to and fro the side windows of the garb griha following Him, jumping with Him and sometimes singing and sometimes just moving in ecstasy, sheer bliss and mindlessness took over. Swamiji was now moving into the crowd. Like gopis must have swayed at the ras lila, we all followed Him as He led. As hHe moved deeper in the crowd a point came when Swamiji was surrounded by a thick circle of all the men. I wanted to go close too, I wanted to dance and sing with Swamiji like they were doing. I almost did and then something pulled me back.
I just did not have the guts, the ability, the stature to face Swamiji in His supreme bhav. He was Sri Hari himself gracing his subjects with His presence. I looked His way again and that is who I saw, Sri Hari playing a mystical song while his subjects went hysterical trying to drink up the ecstasy that was oozing out. I could not move in those moments but just stare His way. I was in no position to face His purest form and its presence. I shied away. I could not have survived it. How could I? How could darkness have survived in the Golden, purest Divine light. I stood aside and just thanked Him for such beautiful darshans. On His way back, Swamiji jumped across the fence and entered the garb griha once again. From where I looked it appeared as if He walked through the fence. I know He easily could have but later devotees shared how swiftly He had jumped.
As Swamiji’s chants became slower and deeper, His shivers stronger the reality of my meaningless existence brought me back from the invigorating experience. Meaningless because I wanted such a bhav towards Him. To revere Him and surrender to Him mindlessly, the way He exhibited. He deserves nothing less. But I am so empty that I am devoid of even such simple things to offer to the one I claim to love the most in my life. I just stood hands folded with tears of gratitude swimming in my eyes for making it to the ashram on the wonderful day. Swamiji left shortly without a word to anyone. Prasad was distributed and soon all left for the langar.
I was very tired that night but grateful for His grace because truly no sums of karmas could have gifted me Him if not for His grace alone.
The grace hadn’t yet ended for me. I would soon know and feel it too.
Many Pranams in the Lovely Divine Feet of my Prabhu.
Your Humbled Child…
This post was originally published on Swamiji’s fan club website which no longer exists, to know more about that, refer to my intro part of the archives series here.
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