Today morning Pitambar dasa, a 42 year old resident of our ashram and an old friend of mine was enthusiastically serving prasadam, breakfast, to all the other members. We had fasted yesterday for ekadashi; every eleventh day of the waning and waxing moon, spiritualists fast from grains and absorb themselves in chanting, hearing the Lord’s glories, and rendering various devotional services. The following morning they honour breakfast with gusto of a young boy; the hunger of the belly invokes the appetite of youth within them. At such times it’s inspiring to see monks like Pitambar who are content on serving all others and only then eating to satisfy their own hunger. Although the fare was simple- rice, vegetables and a few sour and sweet savouries to spice up the menu-you couldn’t blame one for eating first rather than serve. Pitambar’s mood however is rare; usually I’d enthusiastically serve if I had my own fill first.
His consistency in serving set me thinking of what actually causes happiness in the monastery. How can someone who has given up his home and job live happily in the association of other renunciates? The world is filled with go getters and grabbers; the passion for seeking wealth, women and glory in this world drives men crazy. As renunciates we have externally given up the selfish pursuit of the myriad pleasures that this world promises, yet our minds haven’t yet become completely purified of these desires. Life in monastery can be suffocating for a monk apprentice if he continues to think only of himself while externally being benevolent and selfless. The order of renunciation requires one to render various services but if the monks don’t individually internalize these services as an offering of love and sacrifice, they would soon find the outside world more attractive. In an attempt to train the monks in developing humble service attitude, various monasteries have many services lined up for the residents; over a period of time the sincere monks develop an unassuming, and generous nature.
I remember an incident when I learnt this lesson in a special way. After I joined the ashram my ever concerned mother would get me a dozen mangoes every week. I would relish those mangoes alone in the ashram; although solitude is rare in our monastery, I’d manage to find the time when no one came near my locker where I kept all my belongings. I’d then quietly take out one mango and enjoy it all for myself. One day as I was about to consume the mango, a colleague in the ashram came around and saw me eating. I offered him one mango as an act of courtesy, albeit reluctantly. Soon another monk turned up and I took out another one from the bag. In five minutes we were a group of six to seven monks relishing the mangoes happily.
Later as all dispersed to render their various services I felt a special gush of happiness flooding my heart. I had never felt the same all these days when I was eating the mangoes all alone. I immediately realized it was the act of going beyond the self, of sharing, that made me happier. I could clearly see the contrast in the experiences of quietly seeking to satisfy my own senses and now forsaking my own pleasures, although it was a simple mango eating experience. In life when we relinquish something for a larger good, we emit much positivity and that positive energy bathes our own consciousness with serenity and contentment. As my spiritual teacher Radhanath Swami often says the real disease of the heart is selfishness, and the real cure is selflessness.
I hope I can remember this experience and act on the level of selflessness. Only then I can be truly happy; only then will I find my life worth living in the hermitage. Pitambar dasa has lovingly reminded me today of this priceless principle of happy living. I also ponder over my guru Radhanath Swami’s golden words of wisdom, “Wherever we find the teachings, association, and the inspiration to purify our lives, to lead a life of integrity and humility, and to live in a spirit of selfless service- that’s where we are going to find the deepest experience of God.”