Jaya Guru Datta
Sage Vaisampayana is narrating to King Janamejaya about Dharmaraja’s visit accompanied by his family members and entourage, to the ashrama in the forest to see Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Kunti, and Vidura, who in their old age, renounced all royal pleasures and retired to the jungle to do penance as was the custom in the olden days.
After spending the day exchanging news of mutual welfare, all the visitors spent the night in the forest. It was a wonderful and blissful night where everyone engaged in discussions about God, scriptural stories, Vedanta, and the teachings of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Pandavas ate the same simple food that was taken by Dhritarashtra, such as fruits and root vegetables.
Whenever friends and family get together, time should not be wasted in empty chatter. They must have fruitful discussions about philosophical matters. If people engage in gossip, or speaking ill of others, or random, unimportant matters, those who speak the negative words will incur the sins of those of whom they speak such words. People who speak ill, or speak of the wicked, will be reborn as such individuals.
When an opportunity presents itself to engage in conversations with the near and dear, the talk should be about God, about holy places, about the sacred epics, or the valuable teachings of the elders. Idle chatter about who did what or who said what, what someone posted on Facebook, and political or social trivia should be totally avoided. All the sins committed by the people that one gossips about will get absorbed by the talkers.
Although they were kings, the Pandavas spoke about higher topics of value, and not of mundane things. When people get together, time must be put to good use. One should not engage in negative talk. Mahabharata is teaching us this lesson.
The royal family members rejected all comforts of the palace and slept on the ground, with great affection for their elders. They felt very happy. The sons slept near their mother, Kunti. They had a very restful night. They slept well. In the morning, they woke up and performed all the required duties. Obtaining Dhritarashtra’s permission, the Pandavas, along with all the entourage, including the ladies and servants from the palace, and accompanying priests, took a tour of the forest area which was filled with hundreds of small hermitages.
There were numerous small ashramas, not big buildings, but small thatched huts, where the ascetic lived a very simple, frugal life. There were many such simple structures. What was there to see? There was no Shuka Vana, Bonsai Garden, Vishwam Museum, Nanda Library, or several beautiful temples (as in Mysuru Ashrama). Wherever they went, they heard Vedic chants, and mantras. There were sacred fire pits with homas in progress. There were rituals being performed in all seriousness.
In Mysuru Ashrama, there are buildings and so many different interesting aspects. Is this how an ashram is supposed to be? No. I do not like all this. Do I occupy all those buildings? Do I sleep in all those rooms? No. I sometimes spend time in a small room I have built inside the Shuka Vana. In my opinion, Mekedatu Ashrama is a real ashrama. But why do we have all these facilities here? I have not created this. The devotees have planned and built these. When for major functions, devotees come here, they need a place to sleep, they need bathrooms, they need electricity for lights at night. This is still an Ashrama, a place without shrama/strain. Only once in a while, on special festival days you may get a sumptuous meal with extra items.
An ashrama is not a 5-star hotel. Some people who come here ask if they can have an airconditioned room. They want comfortable beds and fancy meals three times a day.
Here, mostly sick, and aged devotees come. They need a comfortable bed to sleep on. So, I agreed to provide that. Nothing fancy. We serve Uppittu for breakfast, and simple meals like rice and saru (rasam) or sambar. Some people come here and demand comforts like fan and a/c. Devotees must be prepared to sleep on a mat on the floor. They must satisfy themselves with a simple meal to satisfy hunger, just enough to sustain the body.
Some Jain monks were here recently. They were Digambaras. No clothing. They did not use utensils or plates for their meals. They took food in their palm and ate. They cupped their hands to drink water. They slept on the bare floor. Not the masters alone, but even the disciples. Everyone followed the same strict discipline.
Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, all have the right to do rituals and chant mantras. Many have given up the traditional duties, and hence, they suffer. Their children suffer. They think they are now officers and so have no need to follow these spiritual disciplines, that is their downfall. I tell everyone that Agnikarya is a must. People mumble that they do not know how to do those things. It is as simple as lighting a lamp at the home altar. You must do it. It is Agni Karya, a fire ritual. People refuse to do even that little bit. Those who are authorized to do the rituals must do them. By not doing, we suffer.
All the people in the ashramas in the forest were actively engaged in performing their rightful duties. They were making offerings to gods in the homas. Deer and birds were moving about fearlessly.
The birds were singing sweetly. The residents were all living only on fruits and vegetable. They were glowing with spiritual luster. When people eat like gluttons without any reserve, is it not an invitation to lust and rage? Does it not make them lazy? Such behavior is not acceptable in an ashram.
When you go on a pilgrimage, you must adjust to what is available. Adopt a simple lifestyle. Sleep on a mat if required. Eat just enough to ward off hunger. Don’t make demands for comforts and luxuries. Don’t expect multiple fancy meals.
Many people come here with demands and expectations that all their wishes should be granted. Have I written a bond to serve you hand and foot? People have to experience their Karma. Even a doctor can only do his best to cure a patient. But he is not Brahma to keep him alive. Guru is Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara, no doubt, but he is not obligated to serve all fake devotees. Yes, to those who unconditionally surrender to Guru, Guru is there to protect them He is under no requirement to serve each and every person who comes with a list of demands. Guru is not here to serve pretentious people. Guru does not gain anything by your visits here. He is here only help you to follow a good path in life. He does not benefit by your presence. I am not even obliged to continue to stay here. I am free to leave at any time, to go anywhere as I wish. I am ever ready. I remain here only for your sake, only to benefit you.
It is very important that everyone understands this. Translate these words. Let everyone know this truth. When Swamiji gives an opportunity to serve, utilize the chance. Serve to the best of your ability. But do it with a pure mind. Do not corrupt your minds.
The ascetics in the forest used clay pots and utensils. Dharmaraja gave them all golden pots and utensils that be brought from Hastinapura. He gave to the forest dwellers all that they could use. He distributed his wealth freely amongst them to help them with their duties. He gave metal pots, blankets, clothing, and whatever else they could use. Their needs were few. Udhishthira gave them generously all that they could use. They had no expectations or demands. Whatever was asked for, he gave. After giving away everything, Dharmaraja returned.
(It is a lesson for devotees who visit ashrams that when they visit, they should do things to benefit the ashram, by providing materials and services which benefit the residents who normally lead very unostentatious and frugal lives.)