Published on Thursday, Sept 02, 2010 at 1230 Hrs. IST
In the backdrop of "Sevaamrutham", the function organised to honour those who are engaged in service in the ashram, it would be appropriate to recall what Bhagawan had envisioned about the concept of service in Prasanthi Nilayam.
In 1965, the year which saw the 40th Birthday celebrations of the Advent of the Sai Avatar, the small township of Prasanthi Nilayam was teeming with pilgrims. The Sevadal volunteers, as always, had a huge role to play to ensure that all the celebrations are conducted with ease and efficiency. And Swami in that year personally gave the volunteer badges to every chosen member. Not only this, He also delivered two exclusive discourses to guide these inspired men and women so that they tread on this sacred path of service in the right manner. Here are excerpts from those two divine discourses, one of which was delivered in the month of February and the other in November.
I have called all of you here today so that I may tell you something about the attitude you must cultivate while doing volunteer service at Prasanthi Nilayam. I Myself have selected you for this and that itself is a rare privilege. There are so many who are pleading with all their heart to be given the chance; but you have caught My eye and you alone have been picked. I must tell you that volunteering is not just a momentary spurt of interest to do service; it can never be done well without deep discipline, long training and humility. You cannot be ready for that role, all of a sudden, as soon as the badge is pinned on your vesture.
Aajna and Prema – Two Necessary Virtues for a Volunteer
First, you must be conscious of the value of aajna (command), which so far as I am concerned, is more a Direction, than an Order. The Geetha was the aajna of Krishna, though Lord Krishna supplemented it with copious explanations of the why and the wherefore. Arjuna admitted that he was a prapanna, one who had surrendered to His will. So, there was no need for Krishna to argue with him or convince him about the correctness of His Command. Still, in order that Arjuna might fight with a full heart, He gave him the reasons which supported the course He laid down for him. Likewise, I too want you to know why I desire that you should act in a particular way and also why I do not like you to behave in another manner.
Next, you must develop prema (Love) for all. Do not think that a volunteer is a superior person, more devoted than the rest. Do not look down upon the others as disturbances and nuisances. If you have prema towards Me, you will have prema towards all, since Sai is in everyone. During bhajans, you sing Anthaa Sayi maayam; ee jagamantha Sayi mayam – “Everything is full of Sai; this world is filled with Sai.” Then, how can you have love for this Sai alone? On the walls of this Prayer Hall there are many pictures of Swami. You revere these photos and take each of them to be Me. You stand before these pictures and exclaim in joy, “O, Swami!” If someone speaks unfavourably about any of them you do not like it. Remember every human being is My picture; why, every being is Me - Anthaa Sayi mayam. So, when you treat anyone harshly, you are being discourteous to Me; when you insult anyone, you are ridiculing Me.
“Prasanthi Nilayam is Your Home” - Swami
This is your home and all those who have gathered for these festivals are atithis (guests) or your kith and kin. There are six duties that every grihastha (householder) has to perform every day: snaana, sandhya, japa, homa, puja and atithi sathkaara, that is, take shower, venerate the Lord in the morning, noon and evening, recite the Name of the Divine, present sacred oblations to the sacrificial fire, worship God ritualistically, and offer hospitality to guests. It is in this spirit that the guests are to be served. You are a sevaka, one dedicated to service. Whether the people whom you serve thank you or traduce you, you must gladly do the task allotted to you. For, remember you are serving yourselves, not them. Be it bouquets or brickbats, receive them with equal calm. It is only those who identify themselves with the body who experience exultation or pain. You must feel that you are the dehi (the Self or the Indweller) and not the deha (the body); this will give you the strength to serve best.
When you are performing your work do not argue about a particular task being in your jurisdiction and the other being not. Do not be sticklers for boundaries and limits. Support and supplement each other in joyful co-operation so that everyone is strengthened. Act like an ideal satsang (spiritual community), where each one infuses energy and enthusiasm into another. This however does not mean that you should carry a greater load than that is allotted to you. Do not interfere without reason with the work of the other person or sullenly criticise. Be worthy of the status of persons associated with Prasanthi Nilayam. There should be no place in your hearts for malice, envy or even competition. Spread around you the atmosphere of Prasanthi, that is, tranquility. Do not be in haste and create accidents or discover faults where there are none; this is misdirected enthusiasm.
The Rules of Prasanthi Nilayam are Sacrosanct
Do nothing to disturb the calm of others. For, you know how valuable peace and quietness are in your own case; I hope you recognise this. Behave towards others as you would wish them to behave with you; this is the measure of your Love. Seek out the old, those sitting under the sun or in darkness, outside the auditorium, for they are too weak to push themselves to the lines in the front. Look out for those who are visually or aurally challenged, bring them gently near the dais and ask younger persons to vacate their seats and make room for these people. You should not claim any special privilege for your badges in the Bhajan Hall or at the Auditorium. Those who come early have the first chance; there is no need to argue and create a scene. Let people sit quietly wherever seats are available. When they arrive, each must earn their place and claim it, not in the Auditorium, but in My heart. Do not assert for it in these brick and mortar halls.
In the rules of Prasanthi Nilayam, it is laid down that those who come after the bhajan or discourse begins, must not distract the focus of those who are immersed in it by striding up to the front lines or striving to occupy some empty space near the dais. Please see that this is strictly observed. Nothing should be done by anyone to disturb attention once the programme starts. You have come here, away from kith and kin, eager to uplift yourself and progress on the spiritual path. Then, why should you slide into old habits that breed egoism and hatred?
Seek the Opportunities to Serve
Volunteers must not wait for chances of service to come to them. They must be on the lookout for them, always alert and ready. Then, they can find them all around. It is the heart of stone that blinds the eye to the pain that others endure.
I have directed all residents of the ashram to enquire of their neighbours if they are well; this is the first task of the day. And it should not just be a courtesy call, but a genuine act of Love. Among the thousands who have gathered here, there are many who would be thankful for some help - someone kind enough who will lead them to food or shelter, the river or the Mandir, the auditorium or the hospital. Speak to them gently and offer to be of use to them.
Do you not see Me and hear Me when I move among them? I speak softly and endearingly, for, I Love them ardently in spite of all their faults. Then, why should you be harsh and rude? There is no kinship as dear as the bond forged by spiritual ties. Family relationships are not so firmly based on commonality of aims and likeness of effort. You are bound by links that are more long-standing and pleasant. Let these people return home and exult in the discovery that at Prasanthi Nilayam they have a close associate who respects and loves them as no relative has done so far.
Volunteers Should Forsake a Life of Pleasure and Possessions
You must realise now that this badge which I gave you is not a passport for easy life; it means strenuous routine, the foregoing of comfort, and the acceptance of hard toil, sleeplessness and sacrifice. If you are accustomed to a soft life you are of little use as a volunteer or for anything else for that matter. Reduce your wants to the minimum. Examine your room, table, wardrobe, and so on, and find out how many superfluous things you have accumulated. You have acquired them because you saw someone having them and felt that unless you too possessed them you will look small in their company.
A foolish desire to be esteemed as up-to-date and in tune with fashion has made you gather habits and articles that are unnecessary. Man can be happy with much less assets than you seem to think as essential. Once an object is with you for a while, you feel it is indispensable; you do not know how to live without it. Like the silkworm, you weave a cocoon for yourself out of your fancy. Therefore, do not allow for the growth of expensive habits in you; they are costly from the monetary as well as spiritual point of view. Watch your likes and dislikes with a vigilant eye and discard anything that threatens to encumber your path.
Volunteer's Role is a Call for Personal Improvement
Detachment is generally called vairagya, or the absence of raaga. It is a precious spiritual quality, which, if it must sustain you must be based on jnaana or wisdom. You have here this silver image of Shirdi Sai Baba. Looking at the statue, when you think of the silver - its fineness, cost, quality, etc., there is no Sai in it for you. On the other hand, when you dwell on Sai – His leela and mahima (Divine play, power and glory), there is no silver!
At Tirupati, when you stand before the idol, if you think about the stone - its colour, geological structure, weight, etc., you will have no thought of Lord Venkateswara in your mind. On the contrary, fill yourself with the sacred glory of the Lord of the Seven Hills, and then, there is no stone before you! In exactly the same manner, see everywhere – in this carpet, towel, vessel, wall, and so on – the basic Brahman (the Eternal Absolute), and you will be filled with knowledge or jnaana. You will experience no attachment; this is the state of Sarvam Brahmamayam (All is filled with Brahman) - the finale of all sadhana (spiritual practices). Do not despair; practise this from now on, one step at a time. At least see everything as His; offer everything to Him. Do everything as for Him and leave everything to Him. Be an instrument – a tool has no likes and dislikes; just be a tool but an efficient one.
Spread joy at all times. Do not pour into others ears your tales of woe and worry. Carry a smile on your face so that everyone who sees you can catch the exhilaration. When you tell others of your success, your purpose is to create envy in them. You must not only love others, but also be so good that others too love you. Try to console, encourage, strengthen and enlighten those who are miserable, down-hearted, weak or ill-informed. Get yourselves equipped for this role. This is the role into which you are ushered in now. This chance that I have given you, to move about as a volunteer here, is a call for personal improvement and sadhana. When thousands are thirsty for this chance, imagine how lucky you are and how great is the responsibility!
When you assist some eager aspirant to do meditation undisturbed, you earn not only gratitude, but also even a share of the merit. For example, a mother may hasten into the hall when the bell strikes at 4:30 a.m. for the pranava (Om) recital leaving her child sleeping in the shed. If the little one wakes up in the meanwhile and starts crying and screaming, a lady volunteer, without calling the mother out, can herself take the child on her lap and pacify it with a soft lullaby until the mother arrives. Serve others gladly. Do not help with an air of superiority or the sour face of disgust. Let people know that you are genuinely happy at the chance to help.
Prasanthi Nilayam is a Workshop
Do not pretend or patronise. If you simply say, “Do not talk loudly” or give some other such blank direction, you are patronising and treating people with disdain. They deserve to be told why. Tell them that silence is the very first rung in the ladder of sadhana; that it is
the hallmark of Prashanthi Nilayam; that they must learn to make every place where they are, a Prashanthi Nilayam; that loud talk disturbs those who practise Naamasmarana (remembrance of Lord's name) or dhyana (meditation) or japam (recitation); that noise breeds further noise. This is a workshop where damaged minds and hearts come for repair or overhaul. In such a place, there will be the din of hammer, the clang of wheel, the whir of engine and the clatter of chains. However in this workshop there must be heard only the whisper of the Name of God. With replaced parts and fresh coats of paint, cars emerge out of the garage as good as new and run smoothly, without trouble, for miles together. People must find this place too as an overhaul cell for persons who are travel-worn, weary, or are about to undertake a long journey.
The Sacrifice a Volunteer Should Make
You as volunteers have to forgo your comforts and even chances to have darshan or listen to My discourses when service calls you somewhere else. This tyaga or renunciation gladly undertaken is a very important qualification for the sadhaka. If you feel the urge, “My need is first, the other person's is later” then, what you perform is not seva, it is strategy. Give up your seat to someone who is older or infirm, or more deserving, this is seva; not, sticking to it when there are people desperate for space and accommodation.
You will earn My grace more by such service and sacrifice than by sitting in the front line and nodding to whatever I say. Do not push or pull people. Speak softly and sweetly. I have known many volunteers who reel off the excuse, “Swami, they won't obey if we speak softly. They are used to only rough treatment.” I will never pardon such sevaks. The fault is always in their manner of speaking, the way in which they explain their actions, their temper, attitude, and approach.
The Unique Prospect to be Prasanthi Nilayam Representatives
Have you reflected on the responsibility which is now being endowed on you? You are being invested with the chance to be Prashanthi Nilayam Representatives entrusted with the traditional duty of extending hospitality towards your brethren who arrive to this holy town. Therefore, you must have Prasanthi in your hearts and not be agitated, worried, angry or upset. Conduct in keeping with the dignity conferred on you. When guests come to the house, does the wife tell the husband, “We shall feed them after we have eaten”? Their needs take precedence, and they have to be attended to with care and consideration. It is the same here too. The men and women who have come are to be met with love and care, irrespective of your convenience and comfort. That is the way to please Me and win My grace.
You must have not merely enthusiasm to serve, but also the intelligence and the skill. Only then can you be efficient and useful. Enthusiasm without efficiency is often a source of loss and grief. You must do the seva that is delegated to you intelligently and to a successful finish. It does not matter if the recipient is not fully satisfied. You must have done your best, without hesitation or favour.
What is the use of hurrying along the ranks of persons who are sitting for meals with a basket of laddus shouting, “Laddus, laddus, who wants laddus?” without pausing and serving even one laddu on the plate of a single person? The diners in this case have the benefit of only the name, not the substance. Nowadays, service has become more talk and less deed. But the Lord cannot be deceived; He is vigilant and all-knowing.
Sai Himself Serves so that We May Learn
Observe Me. What benefit can I derive from all My activity when it is I who assigns the rewards to all actions according to what they deserve? But yet, you will find Me busy from dawn to dusk, night and day. I finish My lunch or dinner within minutes so that I can teach you the value of time; I attend to the smallest detail of all the various items of work, for I try to set an example for you, in meticulous attention to, and careful anticipation of, all contingencies. I know many of you idle away hours on end, wasting precious time in gossip, purposeless talk and debate. When you practise the attitude that God is everywhere as the witness of every act of yours; that God is in every being you meet and serve, then you will certainly be rewarded by a Vision of the Lord.
The Blessed Chance of a Lifetime
When you have the brilliant chance, do not let it go through ignorance or negligence. Grasp the opportunity and advance! The best way to win Grace is to obey instructions, to follow the advice and submit to the controls exercised with lots of Love. I am worried that people are not benefiting from Me as much as I would like to confer. In the lotus pond there are many frogs. The bees coming from afar partake the nectar of the lotus blooms but the frogs do not seem to realise the value of what is there in their midst.
Seva done lovingly and well to the people who gather here to have darshan and to listen to the discourses is a great opportunity for you to acquire discrimination and non-attachment, to widen and deepen your bhakthi, and to realise how Sai is the Inner Motivator of all beings. I wish you well. Be humble, sweet and sincere.