Eternal Moments–A simple offering
Neither charity, nor austerity, neither sacrifice nor purificatory rites and vows can please the Lord. The Lord is pleased only with pure bhakti (loving devotion without any desire).
It was almost seven O clock when I came out in the Ashram verandah. The place was not yet ready for Pushpa-samarpanam. Omana had just finished wiping the floor. Somebody was placing Swamiji’s chair and a foot-mat with a lot of precision. The basket of flowers was kept ready at its usual place. I stood there waiting for the bell to be rung. The two little kids from the village, Rahul and Rashmi – brother and sister, had already reached today. For some days they were coming late. Swamiji used to laugh and remark holding the little girl close to him after she prostrated: “Shininggi (as Swamiji calls her lovingly), is it that you could not get up early today? What a shame! Don’t be late tomorrow. Ok?”
While the thought crossed my mind that today they have reached in time, I found Rahul, the elder of the two, eagerly trying to tell me something. “What?” I asked. “It’s her birthday today,” he said, pointing at his little sister. “She has brought some flowers to be offered to Swamiji”. Little Rashmi was looking up to my face with a shy smile but gleaming eyes.
“Oh! Is it so? Let me see,” I said. Shyly she held up the polythene bag for me to see. Inside in a clean banana leaf was kept a garland of jasmine and some neatly cleaned flower-petals. What a pure lovely sight it was! The flowers and the garland seemed to be the most valuable offering that was ever offered to our dear Lord.
I had almost forgotten what Rashmi’s mother, Kausalya, had mentioned to me a few days back. Kausalya is one of our working girls. She has a special devotion for Swamiji and the Ashram and is of very loving nature. Kausalya narrated to me one day that Rashmi wanted her mother to buy a packet of toffees she wished to offer Poojya Swamiji on her birthday. Knowing their financial difficulties, she had pleaded to her mother saying: “Please, however much difficult it is for you, buy me a packet of toffees.”
“And what was your reply?” I had asked Kausalya. “I have told her,” she said, “that Swamiji is our God. He is the one who gives us whatever is necessary for our living. What is there then we can offer him? There is no necessity also.”
“O mother, why do you say so? Are we not going to the temple with offerings for the Deity?” – was little Rashmi’s reply. When I repeated this conversation to Swamiji, he remarked: “I hope she will remember this statement later.”
Narrating this incident, Kausalya had asked me: “Amme, what should I do?” I suggested that she should explain to Rashmi that it would be best to offer flowers, and Swamiji will be pleased with that. “Pluck some flowers, clean them well with devotion, and let her bring them and offer to Swamiji,” I had told Kausalya. And here was the little girl with her offering.
The flowers were not plucked from their garden, nor from their neighbours’, because such kind is not available in this village. Obviously the poor parents had bought these from the town to satisfy the child’s emotion. The question was now, how best to honour this devotion!
There was no time to think. The usual Pushpa-samarpanam was just about to start. I asked Gudia to bring a small plate in which I arranged the flowers and the garland. Little Rashmi watched me silently. When her turn came for Pushpa-samarpanam, I gave the plate to her. With a shy but fulfilled smile she walked up to Swamiji, her anklets tingling as usual. She held out the plate and Swamiji received it. And at that moment my eyes started shedding profusely.
I looked at this unique offering of love – an offering so simple, so innocent and pure! My thoughts went to the poor parents who must have made sacrifices for an occasion like this. I could feel the happiness and satisfaction of the parents in having been able to bring about this joyful moment in their child’s life.
I remembered Swamiji saying many a time: “A poor man conducting the daughter’s marriage in a poor manner and a rich man in a rich manner – the degree of satisfaction in the mind of both is the same.”
As I tried to continue chanting the Pushpa-samarpanam ślokas, my voice got choked. Tears blurred my vision. I have encountered these tears many a time – whenever my heart has touched purity – through an act or a word or an expression, as pure as the sparkling dew drop on a blade of grass. And the best of purity is touched when we observe or interact with children. For, a child’s mind has not become tainted with the worldly impurities.
The mornings in the Ashram on Sundays offer such a pure scene. Children of all ages – from 3 to 16 – from different parts of the village come running to the Ashram to attend the Sunday class. They all come neatly dressed after bath, with a tilak on their forehead. The very young boys and girls look especially innocent and pure. Most of the small girls have small cute bangles and earrings, beaded garlands and a carefully drawn ‘beauty spot’ on the cheek.
All of them say ‘namaste’ when you look at them. My heart melts and I remember Rabindranath Tagore’s lines (from Ashirvaad):
Bless them, you all
These pure beings, that blossomed on this earth
Carrying the message from the garden of heaven. …
Let not these smiling faces lose their smile
Caught in the darkness of delusion!
Call them close to your heart,
Embrace with all your love,
And bless, bless them you all,
These pure beings. …
Yes, one cannot but bless them: “Oh children! Grow well. Have good health and a beautiful mind – full of love, confidence and selflessness. Know what is right and what is wrong and be good citizens of the country.”
The introduction of the weekly Sunday class in the Ashram for the village children has been one of the best events in the recent years. Our aim is to impart our culture and heritage to the children, to cultivate in their tender minds noble qualities and virtues. Our aim is to teach these children discrimination to understand what is good and proper, and to make them confident and courageous to adhere to truth.
Some children who attend the Sunday class also come for the Pushpa-samarpanam programme everyday early morning when we prostrate at the feet of the Guru one by one amidst the chanting of the Guru-stotras. Rahul and Rashmi come regularly for the programme.
Now, as Rashmi held the plate in front of her Lord, Swamiji took the garland from the plate and wore it on his neck. He gave the plate of flowers back to Rashmi as prasāda. While I watched the little girl walking back slowly, never showing her back to Swamiji, I remembered:
न दानं न तपो नेज्या न शौचं न व्रतानि च ।
प्रीयतेऽमलया भक्त्या हरिरन्यद् विडम्बनम् ॥
na dānaṁ na tapo nejyā
na śaucaṁ na vratāni ca
harir anyad viḍambanam
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.7.52)
“Neither charity, nor austerity, neither sacrifice nor purificatory rites and vows can please the Lord. The Lord is pleased only with pure bhakti (loving devotion without any desire). All other practices are only ostentation.”
After the programme was over, I took the garland from Swamiji and tied it on Rashmi’s head. What a lovely prasāda! The whole day this scene remained imprinted in my mind and I narrated it to whomever I met – not so much the event, but the touch of simple pure devotion that cleanses the mind.
But, is amala-bhakti (pure devotion) to be experienced only during special days and moments? How to cultivate amala-bhakti through day-to-day activities? That day while I was carrying on with the usual chores, the mind was spontaneously looking back – my earlier days in Gurusannidhi. What was my idea about devotion many years back and what it is now? How my days in the company of my Lord has given me the understanding that bhakti is not so much in the worship with flowers, garlands, lamps or incense sticks. Neither it is in chanting His names and praises. It is verily in living and acting according to the wish of the Lord, pleasing Him, imbibing qualities and attitudes that He wants us to imbibe.
With a shy but fulfilled smile she walked up to Swamiji, her anklets tinkling as usual. She held out the plate and Swamiji received it. And at that moment my eyes started shedding profusely.
As Rashmi held the plate in front of her Lord, Swamiji took the garland from the plate and wore it on his neck.