In the mid-morning, a message is sent to all the inmates that Swamiji is calling everyone to discuss the service at the Annakshetra (Dining hall). Swamiji is always very concerned about the manner in which the inmates serve those who dine at the Annakshetra. The action of serving and looking after the needs and comforts of those who are partaking of the food is wholly guided by the attitude with which the person is performing the service. Swamiji wants us to be more attentive to the workings of our minds as we perform even the simplest of duties in the Annakshetra and in other areas of the ashram too. This is another important aspect in our day-to-day sadhana where the mind and body must be harmonised to develop a better personality, to be a better human being.
As the inmates gather at the lower veranda, they read what Swamiji has already written on the black board.
| Our austere standards
Our benevolent attitude
Needs of devotees and visitors
Integration of the above
Swamiji speaks to the assembled inmates about the austere standards of the ashram where waste is abhorred and yet a keen eye is kept on the nutritional requirements of the inmates. Some listeners guiltily acknowledge that when they return home from the ashram, they look healthier than before. This belies the mistaken notion that ashram food is neither delicious, nor filling. Ma and Nutan Swamiji very often consult Swamiji about the items to be served during meals, keeping in mind the preferences of the visitors and inmates. Many a visitor’s heart is filled with wonder and gratitude on discovering that Ma had made arrangements for chapattis to be served for his meals because he does not take rice or she remembers that another likes his coffee a bit strong. The amazement is greater when one thinks of the ever-increasing number of visitors coming through the gates of the ashram at all hours of the day.
A guest once recalled lying in bed on a cold dark dawn and listening to the sound of heavy rain outside. It was very dark and there was a power failure. He was wondering if he could brave the early morning bath in cold water when he heard the sound of the guest-house gate opening and footsteps of someone splashing through the water and moving towards the shed behind the building. About half an hour later there was a knock on his door. The gardener was standing outside with a bucket of hot water! Since there was no electricity, Nutan Swamiji had come from the ashram building in the heavy rain to tell the gardener to light a fire and heat up water for the guests to bathe. Not many householders can claim the same concern and self-less attitude in their interactions with guests in their own homes. The vast expansive minds of the sannyasins enfold each and every individual with equal warmth and concern. That same expansiveness and inclusiveness are the qualities sought in the disciples. They must learn that in every action, no matter how insignificant, personal preferences are not to be given an inch of space. The heart should be filled with concern for the needs and comforts of others. The mind has to be led away from the narrow confines of ‘me & mine’, to escape the chains of blood and societal relations and embrace the wider world of humanity.
Often in the past, Swamiji has been heard giving directions to seekers about how to maintain purity and cleanliness in the kitchen and dining areas. Order and cleanliness around us are closely linked to the purity of the mind. The thoughts coursing through the mind of the one preparing the food affects the quality of the food and thus the physical and mental well being of the one who partakes of it. All actions, be it cutting vegetables in the kitchen or washing the vessels, must be performed with the accompanying thought that it is being done for the Almighty. Even while picking up fruits and vegetables from the market, the seeker must keep in mind that it is for Him he is in the market. This attunement of the mind brings in fresh energy and removes any tiredness or disinterest. Swamiji says that every work we do, even an insignificant everyday chore, is to be done with great attention to the minutest of details. This attention to details also reflects on our ability to perceive the hidden dark corners of our mind. Recognition of the disorder and impurities deep within us is the first essential step in our effort at cleansing our minds. With repeated practice, the mind gradually becomes light and one-pointed, a quality that aids the meditative efforts of the seeker.
To ensure proper service during the meals, some procedures are followed, which have been formulated by Ma. While Swamiji was explaining the need to adhere to the system, an inmate confessed that she was confused and unable to remember all the ‘rules’. Swamiji paused for a while and then told her that a mother’s heart knows only love when she serves her family. It is this love that sweeps away all the confusion and brings in acceptance, concern and benevolence.
At the end of the meeting as the group disperses, every individual is looking within at the working of his mind. Swamiji’s words ring in the ear and there is a fresh resolve to rise to the dimensions expected by the Guru.