I came to India from Australia, one of the world's affluent countries and a land which has suffered extensive environmental damage in just 200 years of European settlement. Over the years of involvement in yoga I have sometimes pondered what impact it is having on such pressing global problems as the widening gulf between the haves and have nots and the destruction we are causing to our planet.
When I came to Rikhia for Sita Kalyanam my questions were answered. Paramahamsaji talked at length in the satsangs about the work he is doing to fulfil the command he received to 'help his neighbours'. Any charitable work is admirable but his vision goes way beyond mere good work. In one satsang he compared our fragile Western societies, where the least inconvenience throws everyone into panic, with the robustness of this simple traditional society. And as we commuted each day between Deoghar and Rikhia and passed through villages en route, we were able to witness a way of life which is simple and basic. It has a definite social structure and its methods of working with the earth have stood the test of time. Ecologically sustainable we would say in the West.
In hosting Sita Kalyanam, Paramahamsaji has made himself into a kind of father figure for all the brides of the area and a major event of the final day of the celebration was the presentation of hundreds of bridal kits (what he calls 'good luck kits') to these girls. He invited us to contribute the sarees, jewellery, cosmetics etc. which are the essential items but said that only the best would do as if it were our own daughter or sister. In another satsang he urged us (representing the 'haves' of this world) to extend our family, in other words to extend our giving beyond the small circle of our nearest and dearest. And in so doing to come closer to God. Charity has been said to have a cold face what Paramahamsaji is giving us is an opportunity to open our hearts, and not just our purses. I felt that here was a missing link for those of us who have focused so long on yoga as the solution to man's ills.
I had heard about Sivananda Math but I had to come to Rikhia and see the work for myself in order to be inspired by it. So I got involved in some of the sorting of contributions at the Akhara and then one morning went out on one of the distribution trips. It would have been worthwhile just to see the expectant faces of the village children!
But apart from the obvious pleasure one receives in giving, I felt that we were also having the experience of receiving the privilege of having a little glimpse into the life of these people (and some of the village men went back to threshing their rice even before we'd left). I'm sure this is part of Paramahamsaji's plan for some of this simplicity and connectedness with the earth to rub off on those of us who come from a life of convenience and complication.
We got back to the Akhara in time for the tail end of the satsang and there was Paramahamsaji talking on this very subject. He praised the strength of the traditional Indian matriarchal society, one based on the knowledge that we are all sons and daughters of the earth. But patriarchal societies have forgotten this. He said that he does not give out bridal kits in order to make poor people rich but in order to help sustain and nurture their society. In fact he said that it is only through them the we (affluent Westerners) can learn to survive.
So by giving us the opportunity to help some of these simple-living people to stand on their own feet, Paramahamsaji is helping to bridge the gulf between East and West, poor and rich for what we are learning is probably more significant than what they are receiving. And I like to think that the effect of Paramahamsaji's present work will radiate out into the world in ever widening circles, just as his yoga work has done.