Could a renunciate be a billionaire? Celibate monks (brahmacharis) live in an ashram (also known as brahmachari ashram) and have minimum possessions. All that they have fits into a thirty inch locker. No brahmachari keeps a bank account or earns any money; he embraces poverty voluntarily. His life is an exclusive dedication for the service of God and society.
Yet brahmacharis could be immensely wealthy; their wealth is the inner connection to God, Krishna, expressed through sincere chanting of the Holy Names and dedicated service to others. This service attitude is the real wealth of a brahmachari; thus some could be poverty stricken while others could be billionaires. The more wealth of this kind that a brahmachari earns, the happier he is.
I know a few brahmacharis who are immensely wealthy. They spend their whole day and night for others; hence their contentment and bliss is radiating on their faces. While some could be really struggling to remain happy due to cultivation of negative thoughts or trying to cut corners in their services, almost all happy celibate monks share the secret of genuine service attitude. Besides, this alone keeps one sane in the ashram.
I know one monk in particular who’s been in the ashram for over two decades now and does plenty of menial services. It’s not that he can’t do anything better; he’s one of the presidents of our ashram and is renowned for his classes that are filled with impeccable logic, spontaneous humour and rich wisdom. Yet he cleans the temple hall early morning, and washes all the thousand plus dining plates after the Sunday festival, while also resolving conflicts, chairing the management body and writing editorials for the monthly periodicals and magazines. No wonder he’s one of the most respected and trusted leaders, for he leads from the front.
Once he had an urgent meeting to attend and missed the Sunday plate washing. The next morning, a junior employee, part of the temple maintenance team, demanded an explanation for missing his services. I was amazed to see the leader unperturbed at the audacity of a new member to reprimand one who’s holding a prominent leadership position in the community. What amazed me more was his excitement later; he joyfully exclaimed to me that his service is now successful because he’s at last been treated also like a servant which he claimed is his real position.
While appreciating him for deeply internalizing the principles of selfless service, I recollected Radhanath Swami’s description of Ghanshyam Baba in his memoir, ‘Journey Home’. Radhanath Swami found his heart irresistibly drawn towards Ghanshyam, a small thin man in his seventies whose life and soul was to serve God and devotees twenty four hours a day. He would offer everything he had to serve young Richard (Radhanath Swami’s pre monkhood name) while constantly saying, “I am your obedient servant.” Ghanshyam insisted on serving his rotis (flat bread) to Richard, while himself starving. With palms folded in prayer he begged that the only thing he possessed was his service to all and wished he isn’t deprived of this chance. He gave away his blanket so that Richard could sleep comfortably in the winter of Vrindavan. He loved to serve everyone he met and Radhanath Swami writes that his heart was deeply affected by this devotee who lived in obscurity. Ghanshyam wasn’t a learned scholar, a famous guru or a mystic yogi. But he was a true saint, his humility an expression of his love for God.
While celebrating the fortune of a wealthy ashram mate who echoes similar sentiments, I am resisting the temptation of revealing his identity; he would be deeply annoyed with me. I also can’t help imagining how if I hadn’t been in this ashram, I’d have found the whole thing strange; someone so highly qualified materially, prefers to be in the background while the world craves for fame and glory.