The Inevitable Journey to Himalayas
When the two visitors left the old saint, they were in complete awe. They did not speak to each other for a long time. They were lost in their own thoughts. The saint subtly invoked in them an inspiration to follow their own dharma, stick to one path to attain spiritual progress, and he performed, in front of them, great siddhis without any pretension, pomp or splendor. It was obvious that there was no effort from his side to impress them, nor did he expect anything from them. All the attractions from the material world which they could possibly offer, were of no interest to this semi-naked saint. Is he a Saint of the Navnath tradition? Well, it really did not matter which path he followed. It only mattered where he has reached!!! And he has indeed reached “HOME” or was very close to it.
They managed to find a place to stay, took bath in the “tapt kund” or the spring of warm water, and attended the evening prayers. Everything happened in a semi-conscious state. Their mind was elsewhere. They felt as if they have found the teacher they have been searching for, since life times. Many thoughts cropped up in their minds. They mused… Will he accept them as his disciples? Are they eligible? And what about their family back home? It is not easy to detach. Mind wants to, but responsibilities compel one to stay put. Everyone cannot be a “siddharth” to abandon his family, eh? Is abandonment perhaps better than emotional divorce and pretentious co-existence, just to avoid a separation due to whatever reasons?. Not at all. Well, In many cases, usually mind is wandering elsewhere while body is right here! Plastic friendships. Plastic relationships! For those people, everything happens mechanically at home. No love. No feelings. Just fulfilling their duties. Just co-existence based on some fear, or just “tamas” or inertia! This is bad indeed, while abandoning one’s duty or responsibility is not a good idea either. Life is not easy; isn’t it? Everyone has a bit of escapism in them. Everyone wants to run away from something. But, situations compel them to stay back. Some break free. Escapism amounts to only postponement and it is never a completion of anything. It is never ever recommended in spiritual path. It is extremely important to watch every thought, word and action, because each moment we are carving our own destiny. Relationships are certainly quite a binding force, in the aspect of liberation, as abandonment or escapism is not a solution. Entering into a relationship is very easy, while fulfilling them is not.
Somehow, the visitors slept for a few hours. Overwhelming thoughts were bothering them. Despite the serious cold atmosphere, and strange environment, they felt they were still very energetic and not hungry or thirsty. What a magic! They did not know when they finally fell asleep. At around 4AM, they heard sounds from outside the door of their small room, sounds of people walking and chanting. So, they too got up, brushed their teeth in icy cold water – which was not quite enjoyable , took a dip in tapt kund (warm spring) again and felt much better. Then they went to the temple for the early morning worship.
After the worship, as the day broke, they could not resist themselves and started walking towards the direction of the saint’s abode. When they arrived, he was chanting some manthras and performing “homa” or fire ceremony. They waited till he completed. After the rituals, the saint invited them to sit around the fire, to ease the cold and purify themselves in the proximity of fire. They bowed down to the fire place, took some sacred ash from it and reverentially applied it on their forehead.They were keen to hear the saint’s journey from the south of India to the icy cold Badrinath and pick up the pearls of his wisdom.
To break the ice of silence and initiate a conversation, they asked: “Swamiji, during winter, when Badrinath is usually covered in ice, do you still stay here, or do you go down to the lower regions of Himalayas?”
Swamiji laughed, “What have I got to do with the elements? Why will they bother me? I go nowhere. I am an old man. I stay here. How can any ice dampen my fire?” He pointed at the fire in front of them. They understood the hidden meaning. The fire that he meant was the fire of spirituality. Ice for him is distraction from his path. No distractions can conquer his single pointed, dedicated spiritual life indeed, because the single force that creates all distractions, THE MIND, does not exist in him!!! He is always in a “No Mind State”. So, Maya or delusion cannot exist either. He is in total control of himself and the external elements. It was obvious that distractions have no room in his life. They thought “How many people are chasing rainbows still. When they get closer, there is only water vapor!!!. They fall in the trap of mirages through generations! And here is a saint, who has nothing to do with illusions, distractions, delusions, rainbows…. and sits here in his old body like a rock or pillar in the path of spirituality, laughing at those who chase images and words and get themselves totally lost when both images and words decay and perish!!! What a world of pomposity; And wasted lives!!! How many lifetimes have we chased rainbows and stayed ignorant of our own folly!!! God only knows!
They asked “Swamiji, how did you reach here?”
Swamiji laughed again, briefly, and said “How does it matter to you? Everyone has a story, like you yourself have. And no two stories are alike. All stories are insignificant as every life is inimitable, distinct, unique and lives keep flowing through time into eternity. The past of this body has no value for me nor you, just like your past. If you can carry something from me now, this moment, do so. I am here to give. And, this moment is your only reality”.
They did not know how to carry on, or what to carry, as they did not know their capacities or their requirements. They mused “What a situation! A saint who is capable of giving us everything we would ever need is asking what we would want from him and we do not know what we want! If Lord Badrinath Himself comes in front of us and offers a boon, what will we request? This is the naked truth of our existence. We do not know what we need!!!” Finally, they said: “Bless us, Swamiji, so that we do not fall into the traps of spiritual path”.
Swamiji said ” Tathasthu!” (So Be It) and continued: “Abandon dependency on siddhis (spiritual powers), as if they do not exist at all; As you may gain them, when you progress spiritually. Respect siddhis and live without any attachment towards them. Then you will stay liberated. Siddhis often bind a person and prevent his spiritual elevation. The lure of siddhis can also instigate, in your mind, the presence of the six most powerful and extremely dangerous enemies of human existence, and especially so in the path of spirituality. Those are: kama (Desire, Lust), krodha (Anger), lobha (Greed), moha (Delusion, Attachment), mada (egoistic pride) and matsarya (jealousy/envy). They are like invisible cancer that usually binds and destroys human beings from within themselves. Always beware of these enemies. Always stay rooted in the TRUTH and non-violence in all aspects of your life, with supreme FAITH.”
They met Swamiji many times during their stay in Badrinath. They conversed a lot during those days. They collected fragments of Swamiji’s story, which he uttered randomly. He did not narrate his story, ever, but, alluded to many incidents of his past, as examples to prove some point during their conversation. This was good enough to get a general idea about his life and journey. The biggest surprise was that Swamiji was born in 1600!!! He was almost 370 years old!!! What follows is the story….
“GO TO THE NORTH. DO NOT LOOK BACK”
February 23rd 1600, on the banks of the elegant river Nila in the southern part of India, in a small house, around midnight, a baby boy was born. He was called Raman. His parents were poor brahmins. He became their only child. Raman’s father was a priest in a nearby temple. It was a small temple and his income was mostly nothing more than a meal a day or a few coins, which the worshippers gave away in abandon. Mostly, he had to satisfy himself and his family with very little food and no money. He had a house, one mango tree and two coconut trees in his small property. They managed their life with that, as Raman grew up. Raman had never been exposed to any luxuries, which the neighborhood feudal lords of their own community enjoyed. Raman’s mother used to visit the rich families during celebrations or festivals, as it was more or less customary, and they used to give her food and clothing.
Being a true and satwic Brahmin, Raman’s father would get up at 3AM every morning and, after a dip in the nearby river, go to the temple in wet clothes to preserve sanctity of the temple and its deity. The temple was not far away from his house. A narrow lane brought him to the temple. On one such morning, while he was climbing the stone steps from the river, he felt a slight pain in his chest. He ignored it and continued towards the temple. Before he could enter the temple, he collapsed and breathed his last, due to a massive heart attack. Since it was too early in the morning, there were none around to support him or take him to the local physician.
That day’s sun rose in the village with the news of the death of the noble priest. Raman was three years and a few months old when his father died. He knew that something terribly wrong has happened in his house, but did not quite understand the depth of the tragedy. He saw his father “sleeping” on the floor, watched by many. He could not understand why his father was sleeping during day time, which he has never seen before. He also could not understand why all of them were watching his father, as he slept. For him, it meant nothing, because his father sleeps every night, just like he does, and nobody was quite concerned about it so far.
It was quite different for his mother. The sole bread winner of their household has left forever! She did not know what to do next. Raman saw that his mother was crying. She looked inconsolable. He slowly went and touched her hand. She hugged him and cried more. She kept repeating: “Your father has gone forever. He has left us alone!!!”
Little did Raman know that this was the beginning of a life grossly uncertain and insensitively tragic for both of them. His father looked peaceful in his sleep. They had kept his body on the verandah of their house. Some priests came and took the body of his father away from home, put it on some wood that they cut from the mango tree, bathed Raman, made him do some ritual and finally burnt his father’s body in the fire. Raman watched all this without knowing anything in particular. He was quite disturbed when he saw his father’s body being burnt. He could not understand why his father, who was only sleeping, was being burnt!!! A deep sorrow welled inside him and he burst out crying, even though he was too young to digest the depth of the matter. Many uncles and aunts who came during funeral tried to console him and his mother, and expressed a lot of love before they left for their own homes. They invited him and his mother to come to their places, after the usual mourning time was over.
Soon after the death of his father, he and his mother started experiencing poverty. There was no food at home. Being a brahmin (priestly caste) woman, it was difficult for Raman’s mother to find a job, as social conditions allowed her to work only in houses of people of her community. It was not easy. At that time, caste system was severely controlling and quite obscene in India. Brahmin women were not allowed to be seen in public, let alone work outside their homes. Likewise, those of the other castes, especially those who consume meat and fish, were not allowed to come near brahmins, who chanted manthras and performed poojas or systematic worship of the deities, in their own homes as well as temples. The sacred fire was kept alive in their houses through generations.
The initial reason for this system of un-touch-ability between castes was, that flesh of animals are dead organisms or dead bodies without any prana. Temples have deities or idols that are installed with sacred rituals that ensured live praana exists in them, and its power had to be maintained. The prescribed methods of worship and manthras were made to maintain and enhance the power of the deities. Dead organisms were contradictory to manthras and hence against this purpose. That is why they kept themselves away from all the people who consumed flesh and fish. It goes without saying that some people were not even allowed to enter into temples, because of the same reason. Rigid systems were made to ensure sanctity and power of deities in temples, and priests who were well educated in the proper worship pattern were chosen to perform daily worships, which usually started during Brahma Muhurtha or the time between 3AM and 6AM. Brahma Muhurtha is considered as the heavenly time. Priests were also expected to maintain purity. Later, systems were abused and un-touch-ability became caste based and discriminatory.
Raman’s mother did not know what to do. Being born a brahmin became a curse for her. Those of other castes did not have any problem to get a job, in the paddy fields or as household maids at the houses of Feudal Lords. She did not know how to lead the rest of her life and bring up a small child. She visited their relatives who lived in their neighborhood. None really showed any concern and any sincere intention to help, except allowing them to join in for a meal, if the time was appropriate. After a few visits, she stopped doing that; as it did not do them any good, and it amounted to more humiliation. Especially, she was worried about Raman and how he would feel. It was obvious that none were sincere enough to help them. All their offers for help during the funeral were false and it became clear to her that they actually never meant it.
She still maintained some hope and tried to contact her own and her husband’s relatives who lived near and far through a paddy field worker (like a farmer) who lived in their neighborhood. This man was loyal, but, being born in a different caste, he had his limitations. He was not even allowed to look at her or talk to her face to face. As was customary, she always hid behind the door or wall while conversing with him. He was quite sincere and always carried her notes and letters to her relatives and also got her replies from them. None really wanted to help. Everyone gave one excuse or another, for not being in a position to help her and her son. A few sympathetically sent her some food or old clothes. This was surely a one time assistance. But, life had to go on…
The paddy field worker always brought Raman a fruit or a sweet whenever he came to their house. Even though it was not allowed to eat the food prepared or touched by a person of another caste, Raman and his mother did not care, because they were hungry and helpless. His sincerity and love was unconditional and unmistakable, and they were deeply touched by that.
A few weeks after her husband’s death, a distant aunt came to visit them. She was kind of a wandering monk who did not stay at one place for long. She was reasonably respected by the society. She was far away when Raman’s father died, and when she heard the news, she decided to visit them at once. She was saddened at the plight of this family. And she was deeply disappointed that all their other relatives kept a blind eye on them, and avoided them. She promptly took initiative, discussed with a nearby rich family and got Raman’s mother a job in their house, as a domestic help or, in other words, a house maid. Raman’s mother started working there immediately since the rich family was from her own community and it was thus acceptable.
Raman also accompanied his mother to her workplace, as she could not leave the small boy alone in their own house. There were many people in the house, and many children too. They were good and kind people. Raman and his mother were treated well by all. They got sufficient food at all times, and none bothered or interfered in their freedom. When his mother involved herself in the household chores such as cooking food, washing or cleaning, Raman played with other children of the house. They even shared their goodies with him. So, Raman and his mother finally found peace and happiness and it was a big relief for them, from the serious uncertainties that they faced after Raman’s father’s death.
One day, the lady of the house announced to all the maids and servants that her daughter’s marriage is finalized and they must prepare themselves for the big event. She distributed new clothes to all of them, as a token of happiness associated with the big event and asked them to wear it on the day of the event. All were happy and quite chirpy. Raman also got new clothes. He was thrilled. He came running to his mother to show his new proud possessions to her. She hugged him and shed tears of joy. Little did she know that this event would be a turning point in both her and her son’s life.
As the date of the event neared, guests started flowing in. Workload increased tremendously. One day, as Raman’s mother was cleaning the rooms on the first floor of the huge building, the mother of the bride asked her to come inside her bedroom and have a look at the gold and precious stone jewelery that they had bought for the occasion. This was the first time Raman’s mother was seeing such splendor of richness. Mother of the bride gave a necklace studded with diamonds in her hand to see. She marveled at its beauty and splendor, looked at it, appreciated it and gave it back to her. Not even once did she feel that she too should have some ornaments like that. Raman’s mother was a pious and level headed lady. She knew where she stood in the society. She never craved for earthly richness. Soon, she went away to complete her work.
Soon after lunch, she heard a big commotion in the house. People were running up and down. Someone told her, “The necklace is stolen!!!”. She had touched and felt it. So she knew that it was quite an expensive one. They searched the entire house. They called the police and they questioned everybody, especially the domestic helps and servants. They even took some of them to the police station and beat them up to get the truth. They took Raman’s mother too, as the mother of the bride told the police that Raman’s mother has seen and held the ornament. She tried her best to convince everyone that she has not taken it. They checked her thoroughly. They checked her house. She was threatened, abused and humiliated to bring out the truth as to where she has hidden the stolen material. She cried and cried. She begged to them to believe her words. The necklace was not found. Finally, all were frustrated and gave up. But, they never stopped suspecting her. One day before the marriage, she and Raman were asked to leave the house. She lost her job! She could not believe her fate! Raman could not understand what was going on, but, understood that his mother is in terrible distress. His innocent mind thought that she was crying because she had no gold jewelery on her. He tried to console her as best as he could, telling her that when he grows up, he will work hard and buy lots of gold for her. This made her cry more. It was not gold that she was after, it was just two meals a day for Raman. That is all what she wanted in life. She never cared for herself. How can she tell this to Raman? How could she make this small child understand? She refused to sadden the young child’s heart and pretended happiness.
After the marriage, the elders of the community who supported the feudal lords decided to punish Raman’s mother for stealing the jewelry, as they firmly believed that she still has it. They issued an order “Nobody should give her a job, food or any other support. Nobody should give her medicines or clothing. No physician should treat her. She is completely excommunicated from the society”. The day she was thus excommunicated by the society, Raman’s mother wanted to commit suicide. All hopes had vanished. But, she could not think of killing the then 6 year old Raman. She decided to survive and keep him alive. An excommunicated woman will not be assisted anybody in the village, or else they will also get excommunicated. If someone is seen helping her, that person also will be excommunicated. Fearing the order of the powerful Feudal lords, none dared to even offer them a glass of water, let alone allow her to work in their farms or houses. Day by day, she started becoming weak. She and Raman survived on whatever was available in their own little property. They had no money and no support. Nobody even looked at them. This was more torture than imprisonment for them.
The neighborhood farmer who used to help them also could not help them any further because of the excommunication order. He felt too helpless and angry. But, he had his own family and he was afraid that his bold actions could adversely affect his own wife and children. Everyone stayed away from them. Steadily, Raman’s mother fell sick. Since no physician would treat her, she could not gather any medicine. Still she tried to collect fallen seeds and fruits from their yard and make at least one small meal for Raman everyday. Raman also helped her as best as he could. In a few days, her health deteriorated further and she became more and more weak. She could not even stand on her own legs. She crawled from one room to the other. Raman was too small to lift her. Yet, he tried his best to help his ailing mother. Raman’s mother knew that she will not live for long.
One night, she called Raman to her side. Raman saw tears running down her cheeks. She hugged him and said: “My son, I will leave you soon. I am sorry. I cannot stay in this body any longer. I am going to where your father has gone. But, I cannot take you now. I have always taken you where ever I went. Now, I must go alone. I will die soon. When I die, you alone will not be able to burn my body, as you and our relatives did, when your father died. You are too small. You have no money and nobody will help you. If you could, drag my body till the edge of the yard, (which was about 20 feet away from their door), push my body into the pit there and throw some soil on it. If you cannot do that, just leave my body here, take this stick and this cloth sack and walk towards north.”
“GO TO THE NORTH. DO NOT LOOK BACK.“. Those were the last words of that poor, innocent and pious lady. She closed her eyes. Raman hugged her and put her head on his lap. He rested his head on her face. An hour or two went like that. He started feeling that her face was slowly becoming cold. Her breath was stopping. He poured some water into her mouth. She drank a little and the rest spilled out of her mouth. She looked at his face one last time, as if blessing him, and she passed away.
Raman sat next to her body, hugging his mother till the day break. He did not know what to do. Suddenly he had become an orphan. There was nobody in his life anymore. He got up and sat on the veranda looking outside. Birds were chirping in the yard outside. Grazing animals looked at him. Did they comprehend his sorrow? He hoped and wished that someone would look at him. Nobody looked at him or even at his house. He cried and cried. Nobody cared. He went back inside. He saw his mother’s body again. Again, a wave of sorrow overwhelmed him. He hugged her and cried. Finally, he decided to do what his mother asked him to do. With great difficulty, he dragged the body of his mother, which was very stiff and dry by then, to the edge of the door. Somehow, he dragged it out of the door and into the sand outside. He was sobbing and crying too. When he was trying to drag the body of his mother through the sand, the farmer who used to help them in the past, saw this. He could not believe what he saw. He was shocked to see this small boy dragging the body of his dead mother through the yard. He was terribly agonized when he suddenly realized that the pious woman, his neighbor, whom he always respected, has passed away!!. The agony tore through his heart along with a deep guilt of not being able to help them, when they needed it the most. Now it is too late. He told himself: “Let the lords excommunicate me or kill me. I just don’t care. I must help this poor child”. He came running and helped Raman to move the body of his mother to the pit that she had mentioned. He brought a pick axe and covered her body with soil and wet mud. Both him and Raman sat there looking at the grave yard for a while. Soon, Raman got up, went inside their house, took the stick and the cloth sack that his mother had entrusted him with. He opened the cloth sack. He cried again, when he saw that his mother had packed some raw rice, a few coins and a few loin clothes for her son, despite their deep poverty!!! This was her only savings!!!. Finally, Raman wiped his tears and came out. The farmer was waiting outside. He said: “Come with me. I will look after you. I will take you home”. Raman thanked him and told him what his mother had asked him to do. The farmer listened to Raman’s words with tears in his eyes. He knew that he cannot change Raman’s mind. He loved his mother so much. He will not do anything contrary to her wish or command. As Raman took two steps towards the border of their yard, one messenger came running to him and asked: “”Where is your mother? Her Lordship wants her back in her household. They finally found the missing necklace. It had fallen between two large beds and when they took the beds out for cleaning, they found the necklace. The Lords have removed her ban and excommunication. She is now welcomed back to their household. You are welcome too.” Raman stared at him and gently smiled. He pointed towards the grave yard of his mother and without any emotions, said: “There she is. She cannot come back to their house anymore. She has gone forever.”
Raman looked one last time at their small house. He bowed down at the grave of his mother and walked towards “North”. He never ever looked back. That small boy Raman was the 370 year old saint sitting in front of the visitors to Badrinath!!!
God willing, I shall narrate his journey in the next part of this trilogy.
Love and respect all beings. Every being feels, just like we do. Sensitiveness is a real virtue. Have plenty of it. Have plenty of Love within. Let LOVE overflow yourself all the time. Love all and Serve all – your life will become total and complete! Remain Blessed!
Love You Always