Inspiration from Rikhia

Swami Nirmalratna Saraswati

During the years 1992–2000 I lived in the akhara in Rikhia. Some of the inspirational teachings I received are presented here, as I consider them prasad to be shared with all. However, we need to appreciate that although the guru’s presence is compelling and his instructions are tremendously potent, spiritual aspirants do not become enlightened simply by having the opportunity to live in his company. Unless we discover a way to implement the truth and wisdom of the guru’s teachings into our own daily existence, the time living in a sacred environment with him can become simply ‘a grand event’ in one’s life.

Understanding, compassion, surrender, faith

I was called to Rikhia from Ganga Darshan on February 2, 1992. At that time Swami Satyananda was performing his panchagni sadhana. He had recently received a very clear message from God: “As I have given you shelter, you now give to your neighbours.” Sri Swamiji was beginning to fulfil this command by giving his prasad to the villagers of Rikhia panchayat. When I met him on February 3 he was seated cross-legged in front of his dhuni, wearing a black langoti; his left arm was resting on his danda; his eyes were closed. The moment is indelibly embedded upon my memory.

I asked him, “Swamiji, I don’t know what to do with my life. Where should I go? How long do I stay in an ashram? In Sydney, Rome, Athens, America and in India I have seen the beggars in the streets; everywhere people are in need. What to do with my life?”

His long answer continues to inspire the purpose of my daily existence: “You must understand, you must learn, you must see what the people need to get them out of their misery. You must have compassion. Spiritual sadhana, spiritual and religious life without compassion is nothing! Useless! Empty! Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Zoroaster were all great because they were compassionate. They were totally and utterly compassionate, giving and caring.

“Do not increase your sadhana; continue with what you are doing, no more! Your sadhana will be very fruitful if alongside it you develop compassion and understanding for all. You must become a friend to all, without exception. Mitra sadhana – understanding, compassion and caring for all; this is your sadhana now. Be a friend to all. You must be able to consider the whole world as your neighbour. Only a person with a very open mind can do this. Your mind has to be completely open.

“Live here and see how it’s done. Work with the attitude of nishkama and then you’ll know what to do with your life when you leave here. Work with the attitude of nishkama (selflessness), and with this you give yourself to the will of God. Surrender to the will of God, it is the power that does it all. Only God can remove the blocks from your mind. Only He can clear your mind. Only He can do it; I cannot. This can only come from God. Look to Him for guidance. Put your faith in Him. Surrender to the will of God. He is the force behind it all. He is the power behind it all. Have faith in Him, not in me.

“Look at the human body, how beautifully it works. What do we do to assist it? Look at the digestive system, the circulatory system, the mind – all the organs. How magnificently it all works without us doing anything! It is God’s will, His grace, His power. And look outside to nature. Look to the stars, the planets, the whole cosmos. What beauty and grandeur there is. All is His creation. I thought it was my effort that was making all this possible. How wrong I was! Now I know that it was God’s grace, His power that made it happen. Have faith in Him, not in me. What a fool I was to think that I was doing all of this.”

Working in this way will teach you very much

January 1993: Swami Satsangi called me and spoke with me: “You shouldn’t mind that you were not allowed to take the keys to your office this morning. No individualism should exist, can exist, in a spiritual institution if it is to function successfully. That has become the downfall of several capable swamis; they allowed their individual likes and dislikes to interfere with the organization of their ashram and they crumbled, collapsed. Individualism cannot come into the administration of a spiritual organization, into the interaction of thousands of people. All personal likes and dislikes must be put aside.

“You know, we are doing work that we know nothing about. We know nothing about construction work, about laying foundations or mixing cement or the materials involved. We know nothing about electrical or plumbing connections, etc., but it is all happening and we are part of it! This makes us appreciate that here is another force operating. How else could it happen?

“When you are working under these extreme conditions with so many people, so much happening, and so many different things to do and think about every single minute of the day and into the night, you become very sensitive. Working in this way will teach you very much. We don’t learn so comprehensively when everything is set up smoothly, nicely, without any problems. In retrospect you will understand how the mistakes that we are making, and how the experiences we are going through, have taught us so very much. Don’t mind the mistakes either; they teach us what to do, how to cope.”

I knew her words of wisdom were true. In fact, witnessing Swami Satsangi’s dedication to Sri Swamiji during his panchagni sadhana alone is enough to keep the spark of tyaga alight within me for lifetimes. As she administered to every fine detail of Sri Swamiji’s mission, she set before me the finest example of tireless dedication to spiritual life. She is the strongest woman I have ever worked with and I do bow to God for that opportunity to be with her.

Self-effort, forget yourself, one difficulty, sankalpa

One day I was working inside the small office near to Sri Swamij’s vedi. I happened to look out the office window as he walked out from his panchagni sadhana and came to stand just a few metres away outside, immediately in front of me. Sweat was pouring from his golden, bronze coloured body. Slowly, he raised the index finger of his right hand to his forehead and wiped away the beads of sweat. In those silent moments I read the message: “Effort is necessary in order to transform the self.”

Once Sri Swamiji said to a few of us, “A man has a pain in his leg. He has one percent of illness in his body and yet he allows himself to feel so sick; he feels so sorry for himself because he identifies with that one percent. Serve others! Forget yourself! Give not a thought for yourself and your pains! This place is a place of health and happiness. Remember it.”

There was a simple incident where a villager’s signature was required on a voucher. Someone said that it was difficult to get that signature and, therefore, someone else could sign the paper instead instead of trying to find the particular person. Sri Swamiji heard the conversation, came close, and asked what the ‘difficulty’ was. His reply was enlightening: “The only difficulty for man is to know God. Everything else can be managed, or else it’s not important.”

In 1994 the first Guru Poornima was celebrated at the akhara and the twelve of us who were living there had darshan of Sri Swamiji. My diary shows a few excerpts from this darshan:

“Live with nothing! No thought for anything. One in many can manage it!”

“God is something very difficult for the mind. Devotion is very difficult. Fear and passion capture the mind.”

“Sankalpa is not an ordinary thing. It is not just thinking of something you want and doing a little sadhana to achieve it. No! Sankalpa is to be for something that’s virtually impossible to attain in this life. Sankalpa is a science. It is made of the mind and to make it happen the mind must be stronger than matter. Matter captures the mind then rules it. For sankalpa your mind must be more powerful than matter. Remember, Jesus made a sankalpa to always speak the truth; and he died to uphold that.”

“You have to have had an experience before you begin to do sadhana. If you have only seen the light and have not experienced the darkness, you can have no idea of the whole.”

Bear everything if you want to stay in spiritual life

Underlying the splendour of those years in Rikhia, which included Sri Swamiji’s panchagni sadhana, the birth of prasad kutir, the clinic, the housing construction for the villagers, and the first English language classes for the young village girls, was the very real fact that this was the hardest period of my spiritual life. It seemed as though the force of the environment was blasting apart every previous conditioning of my life. I began to fall apart physically, mentally and emotionally. One morning, the intensity of my internal turmoil forced me to walk out the gate.

By chance, Swami Satsangi gave me a grand message: “If you want to leave the institution, do as you want. But, if you realize you have made a mistake then do what you think is best.” And I remembered Sri Swamiji’s words to me earlier that year: “You must bear everything if you want to stay in spiritual life. Bear all the insults and injuries. Bear every ache and pain. Bear all the hardships, and you’ll come through it all.”

I realized that my mind would have to come with me wherever I went and the only solution was to face it; to live the teachings Sri Swamiji had given me. I had to admit that I had made a mistake. Fortunately, I was accepted back.

The most magnificent teaching

Holi 1995: Sri Swamiji was handing me a cup of thandai and as I took the vessel he roared with full voice, and index finger pointed to my head, the most magnificent teaching ever given to me; a mantra that will forever resound through my being:

“Keep you mind positive in every situation! No matter what, keep your mind positive! Stay positive. Do-you-hear-what-I-am-saying-to-you? Wherever you find yourself, in every situation, in everything you do! Keep . . . your . . . mind . . . positive! You must do it! Remember it! Keep your mind positive!”

Give everything of yourself to the work

November 1996: Sri Swamiji stood about three feet in front of me. He slowly turned and, looking straight into my eyes, said, “Give everything of yourself to the work; your time, your money, all your energy; all your passions, emotions, anger and frustrations. Give everything to the work. And you know what, Nirmal? Ha, ha ha haaaaaaaaaa! You’ll get it all back in your meditation practice.”

The teachings of the gurus are always there

Today, as I reflect upon those Rikhia days, I can begin to appreciate why self-transformation requires an enduring commitment to hard, hard work through relentless years of selfless service. It’s a constant swadhyaya, an honest self-analysis within and without, where one becomes aware of every thought, feeling and action. Yes, mind must be absolutely positive to enable surrender to God, and thus cope with whatever life brings.

The teachings of the gurus are always there, but if they remain ‘intellectual experiences’, then our ignorance and misery is not dispelled. It is our very own efforts that count in self-transformation; no one else can do it for us. Through self-effort we are shown the way to surrender to God. Only then, I guess, will we be fortunate enough to experience ‘that’ which dispels the darkness, and to truly live in the guru’s presence. The inspiration offered in every moment of my stay in Rikhia during those years has given a magnificence to my life. It has awoken a strength and faith within which help me every day to overcome the obstacles that arise.