A Day in the Life of Atmananda
Swami Atmananda Chaitanya was a wandering monk who lived in India a few centuries ago. He never cared about any of his identities and corresponding details such as date of birth, place of birth, name and stature. Many people followed him in his seemingly aimless journeys – some out of curiosity, some out of faith. He never stayed at one place for more than 3 nights and, irrespective of the climate, he always continued his journeys without fail.
During one of his journeys, he reached a city close to a great river revered by many. He and his entourage stayed near a big Shiva temple. In those days, usually outside the temples, there used to be shelters for wandering monks, provided by the local rulers free of cost. They also provided two meals a day.
Many people knew Atmananda because of his constant journeys and presence in many places. So, naturally, many people came to see him to take his blessings. That day, the local magistrate and his wife were visiting the temple for worship. They saw an unusual crowd in front of the temple. The magistrate sent his attendant to check what is going on there. He came back and said “there is a famous saint sitting at the pillar. People have assembled to take his darsan and blessings.” The magistrate and his wife decided to take the blessing of the saint, as it is customary in India to respect saints, even though one may not know their identity or the system they follow. This tradition continues to some extent, even today (This could also be the reason why so many criminals and “un-saintly” people wear the robe of saints and cheat the authorities and people even now. Those who fail in every other areas of life, escape into saffron (the color of the clothes that denote renunciation) too. Many seeming saints are escapists. This is the truth of our society. You may not agree with this point. It does not matter. Kindly read on…) .
The magistrate and his wife came to where Atmananda was sitting, and prostrated at his feet. Atmananda blessed the official and said: “You have prostrated at my feet today. Next year this time, you will come to the same temple with a baby boy.” The magistrate and his wife were surprised at how this Swamiji knew that they were childless, even though they have been married for more than 12 years!!! The magistrate was overwhelmed by this spontaneous prediction. He went and explained that day’s event to the Collector of the City, a British man called Stephen Howard. The top position of the city was that of the Collector. Stephen was a good and kind man. Well educated and full of respect for his foster country and its culture. He wanted to meet the saint and took off to do that, without further ado.
When Stephen reached the temple premises, the crowd had already increased. Being the ruler of the city, he was given way and thus soon arrived in front of the saint. Atmananda looked at Stephen and said: ” Your color belies your inherent nature. An Indian born in England!!!” Stephen did not understand anything. Atmananda explained about Stephen’s past birth in India and his lineage from his past family(the family he was born to in his last life) till the current generation who are alive in the family of his last life. And incidentally, Stephen had met these people whom Atmananda was talking about, after he came to India. And surprisingly, he had felt a strange familiarity and affection towards them, as if he knew them from the past. He gave some of them jobs in government departments and thus ensured their proximity to him. Now, everything made sense to him!!! He was indeed an Indian!!! He still has a heart full of love for India. This was his home!!! He was so fascinated with the British and their ways in his past life, that he took birth in England in this life, but, came back to India with the heart of an Indian. He felt at home in India.
Atmananda asked, with a knowing smile: ”Who are you?” (Stephen had not disclosed his identity as yet)
Stephen replied with extreme humility: “My name is Stephen Howard.”
A: “That is your name. My question is who you are.”
S: I am the Collector of the city. Mine is the highest position in the governance of this city.”
A: “That is your job. My question is, who you are!!!”
S: (Confused) “Well, as you know, I am from England and on deputation to this city, by Her Majesty’s orders.”
Atmananda laughed aloud: “You still do not know who you are!!!”
S: (More Confused) “Well, I am a lawyer by profession. I have B.A in Administration as my qualification. I am the second son of my parents who live in England. I have two brothers and a sister.”
Atmananda laughed until tears came from his eyes:” HA HA HA HA……… You still did not tell me who you are!!!”
Stephen surrendered. He bowed down and requested Atmananda to save him from this embarrassment and give him the answer to the question.
Atmananda said: “You are neither your name, nor your position, nor your qualifications. Neither are you the relationships that you mentioned just now. All these add up in defining your existence in this life. You are beyond all these. Most of the things that you mentioned are transitory and temporary. They are all relative terms. You are trying to understand your existence in relative terms. But, your existence is not that. You are beyond your nationality, color, qualification and position. You are an eternal soul!!! That is what you are!!! You are eternally flowing through many bodies that you have assumed over life times. You are what you are, during your waking time, dreaming time and time during your deep sleep. All that you assume is in relation to something. While in the waking state, you are a husband in relation to your wife, a son in relation to your father, a brother in relation to your sister, etc. All these identifications dissolve completely when you enter your deep sleep state. You are everything and you are nothing. Your whole existence is in relation to something. You have come to me for this understanding. I bless you. Go in Peace.”
Stephen was spellbound. He stood there, literally spell-bound. He felt that something exploded in his spine. A kind of awakening that he had been waiting for, since birth!! Deep gratefulness welled inside him. Tears flowed from his eyes.
Atmananda then turned towards a group of farmers who had come to see him, completely ignoring Stephen. Atmananda had no fancy for power or people of power and position. He had nothing to do with terrestrial hierarchies. He addressed the farmers.
“Ignorance is not a virtue. Learn the ways of the earth. Apply that knowledge for the benefit of all. Respect nature and her subtle expressions, but never timidly surrender to it. Never surrender to silly emotions, nor exploitation. Surrender to the will of God expressed through mother nature. Accept the will of God with extreme humility. Share selflessly with others and survive during tough times. Sow when the climate is favorable. Reap when the fruits are ripe and ready. Follow the seasons. Never cut a tree that has not fully completed its life and willingly ready for the axe. Worship trees as they are great saints. Never destroy them insensitively. They are benevolent to the whole world. Leave the forests alone and do not farm in the forests. Forests are for the birds and animals who inhabit them. Stay away from forests and do not disturb the wildlife. Co-exist in peace and harmony with all the birds and animals. Build your house with matured stones. They can weather storms. Live in peace and harmony and never disturb the nature - ever.”
Many people had offered Atamananda fruits and he distributed some of them to the poor farmers. They departed with a deep feeling of fulfillment. Stephen watched this with amazement.
To the Police officer who had accompanied Stephen, Atmananda said: ” Thieves and robbers should be punished, otherwise, society will move in the path of anarchy and lawlessness. No violence should be entertained. No contamination should be allowed or accepted. Destruction of public property should never be allowed. Nobody has the right to destroy anything. If the law is enforced, without violence towards the people, this country will prosper. Any country or ruler that exploits the helplessness of its people will undoubtedly perish. Exploiting helplessness is a serious crime. Society will crumble. Children will rebel. Prevention of crime as well as preservation of law are serious matters, which require a lot of sensitiveness and dare. It takes a heart of compassion to enforce law. It takes humility and conviction. I bless you with that.” The officer bowed down in extreme humility.
To a prostitute who was in the crowd, Atmananda said: ” Divine woman, you are serving the society. Because of you, your sisters of this city are enjoying peace and security. Because of women like you, other women can walk freely, without fear even at midnight. You are like a candle. You are burning yourself for the society’s well-being. Because of you, lonely men are satisfied. The society trapped you and pushed you into this. You have been sold by your own kin. You are burning inside and you crave for a normal life of a woman, which you cannot. No woman will want to be in your position of such helplessness. Yet, your heart is pure. You mean no harm to anyone. You have no hatred and feeling of revenge against anyone. Your heart brims with kindness and love. I Bless You.
And, the society is satisfied. Because you remove the frustrations of lonely men, the society is cleaner. I bow to you, Divine Woman.” Many could not contain their surprise at these words. Stephen, who was listening to this told to himself: ”How true. The age old profession and how much it is contributing to the balance of the society!!! Mental balance of people will certainly reflect in the balance of the society because society consists of people. This saint is calling a prostitute “Divine” !!! It is time I change my perspectives. Everything in the society is Divine!!!”
A businessman came and prostrated at the feet of Atmananda. While he was getting up, he saw Stephen standing there and naturally gravitated towards him. He tried to bow down to Stephen, who avoided him in embarrassment. Stephen thought: “Even in the presence of the holy man, this fool is commercial-minded. He is trying to make bridges with me, not caring about the saint and His blessings.” Atmananda, as if reading the mind of Stephen, addressed the rich businessman: ” My beloved watchman, I believe you have reached a wrong destination. Are you sure you are at the right place?” Suddenly the rich man pulled his attention from Stephen, looked at the smiling saint and prostrated at his feet again. “Dear Watchman, these feet have no commercial value. I believe you are wasting your time.” The businessman felt embarrassed. He thought that Swamiji has mistaken him for a mere watchman. He told Atmananda: “Swamiji, I am not a watchman. I own the biggest jewelery, restaurant, garment shop ………. and I also feed the poor in the temple.” Atmananda laughed aloud. He laughed and laughed. The businessman became completely white with embarrassment. All people watched with amusement. Laughter brought tears in the eyes of the saint.
Laughter is contagious. It spreads like wild fire. The whole crowd except the businessman started laughing. Even Stephen could not hold his laughter. When the laughter subsided, Atmananda asked the businessman to sit down. “My friend, you have come here because your servants told you that Stephen has come to see me. You have not come out of faith in me. You have come to get closer to Stephen which may increase your business prospects. Then, why are you pretending? You think you can fool me? I can see through you. You are a watchman of your own wealth. You have no freedom. You are over-possessive. You do not give any freedom to your workers either. You are treating everyone as slaves, including your own family members. Even though you have a lot of wealth, you never pay your staff on time. Not only on time, you always deduct from their salaries, blaming them falsely for some mistakes. You do not enjoy your life. You have no peace in heart. You are constantly worried about thieves. Your heart is filled with fear and anxiety. You do not sleep. Money has given you sleeplessness. Even the chicken in your house sleeps better than you, despite the threat that you may kill them any day!!!. You greedy man, your children are also suffering because of you. Your whole family suffers because of you. You think that by paying money to God, by conducting elaborate rituals every year, you can relieve yourself from all the sins that you commit everyday. NEVER. God has nothing to do with your lifestyle. You have alienated yourself from God. You are making your own life miserable and your family is also in chains. They will suffer further. You can get nothing from me. You are a filled-up cup. Empty yourself from your ego and attitude and come to me. I will fill you up with wisdom and understanding. When you empty yourself, your life will begin there and then. You will stop being a watchman of your own wealth and family. Remember, all that you consider as yours will come with you only till your death. You will depart alone. Death will forcefully detach you from everything. The fire will burn your body into ashes. Then, you will be just a handful of ash. A life of greed will ensure an end in grief. Greed, envy, Jealousy, ego and all such terrestrial emotions will lead to sorrows and diseases. Beware.”
After a short pause, while all the others remained speechless, Atmananda continued: “Oh, foolish man. You believe that all are respecting you out of love. Nonsense!! People pretend their respect towards you out of fear, because through money, you have gained connections in high places. NOBODY loves you, including your own family members. They fear you. They pretend love. They are suffering. Even your children will rejoice when you die. They will definitely squander the wealth that you have accumulated through your selfishness, as liberation will create corresponding expressions, which are most likely to be wild expressions of freedom from tyranny!!! Sometimes, people who are chained do not know how to enjoy freedom when they get it. This will be the case with your family members. You will suffer more and more through your family members. Your eldest son is already squandering your hard earned money on prostitutes. Your daughter has many lovers. You will see that happening more and more, unless you shed your ego and attitude, and shift to benevolence and sincere, unconditional love. Move away, I have nothing to give you. Even if I give anything to you, you will not be able to hold it, let alone carry it. What I could possibly give you, is more precious than your whole wealth put together. You will not be able to buy it. This poor woman here is wealthier than you (He pointed towards the young prostitute). She has a rich heart, filled with compassion. She just took home a new born baby girl found abandoned in the waste bin, by her unknown glorious parents. Even though she is poor, she is taking care of this new soul too. Have you ever bought a meal to a poor man? Have you even thought about such an act of kindness? Haven’t you abused beggars and poured hot water on them, and drove them away? Haven’t you let your fearsome dogs on poor garbage pickers? Man, Your money cannot buy what I can offer. Do not waste my time, go away.”
Everyone watched this in pin drop silence. Nobody dared to move. The businessman sat there in awe as if he just saw a fearsome ghost. He was stripped completely in front of the crowd. His ego was annihilated unceremoniously. He fell at the feet of the saint and wept uncontrollably. The saint stood up. It was time for him to take bath and get into worship and meditation. It was already well past the afternoon and close to sunset. It was time to move on. Atmananda distributed all that he received to everyone assembled, and he walked towards the nearby river to take bath. Many followed him to the river. He quietly took bath and went into the temple for worship. A typical day in the life of Atmananda. Live in Peace!!!
Love Always, M