For twenty years I was a farmer’s son. My family had fifteen hundred acres of land plus one thousand acres of forest acquired through a deed of gift. We had no right to dispose of it according to the land laws prevalent in the Kumaon division of Uttar Pradesh. The ownership and the title of the property went to the eldest son. The property could not be divided. So we were cultivators.
On weekdays we would go to town to pursue our studies. We had a small house in the town also. On Saturday we would return to our village by pony and stay at home on Saturday and Sunday to look after the domestic work. We had a large number of oxen and cows and five hundred sheep from which we procured wool. The sheep used to roam freely in the forest. Besides this we had twelve large dogs, which we had purchased from Tibet. These dogs took care of the sheep in the forest and protected them from fierce animals. The forests were very dense and infested with lions and tigers. I used to wander about in the forest and enjoy the forest life.
When I came home on holidays, I would play sport. I was fond of cricket, but I hardly ever played cricket because it is a whole day affair and took up too much time. I was a farmer’s son and if I wasted my whole day playing cricket, then who would supervise the domestic work? Cricket is the passion of those who have too much money. It is a luxury. Football is the ideal game for India. You finish the game in one hour and can then attend to your domestic work. Who can afford to play for the whole day? Only those with money, who do not have to go out and earn a living. Only the white collared babus can afford to do it.
I wish to emphasize that I too come from the same class as the villagers. For twenty years I also used to go to the fields with a tin pot. Then I spent twelve years in my guru’s ashram and I led a much harder life there. In the ashram I had no place of my own to sleep. I had no plate. I had to beg in the villages for rotis to eat. There was no money to purchase food. The only mission was to serve my guru, and this service to Guruji opened the doors to my fortune.
Whatever I had learnt at school was of no use in the ashram. I did not remember the names of Aurangzeb’s or Akbar’s wives and sons. Suddenly the names of Shankaracharya, Lord Buddha, Mahavir, Tulsidas, Kabirdas, Surdas, Meera, Keshavdas and other saints and ascetics flashed into my mind. I forgot Akbar, Jehangir and Aurangzeb and Noor Jehan. These names will not serve any purpose for you either. Even if you have committed them to memory, it won’t help you in life. The sayings of sadhus and mahatmas may help you. The words and discourses of scholarly and saintly persons like Meera, Tulsidas and Shankaracharya will come to your rescue. The sayings of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita will help you to fashion your life. These things helped me a great deal to work out the course of my life.
During my twelve-year sojourn in my guru’s ashram, I toiled very hard. I worked so hard that my bones were visible and could be counted. I became so lean and thin that people used to ask if I ever got anything to eat in the ashram. One gentleman asked, “What kind of brahmachari are you? All your bones are visible?” He thought that a brahmachari should look plump. I retorted, “No, a brahmachari should not be plump; he should be light and slim, not pot-bellied!” As Yogi Gorakhnath has said in Gorakh Vani, “If a disciple is fat and flabby, it means he has not encountered the right guru.”
16 December 2001, Rikhiapeeth, published in Bhakti Yoga Sagar Volume Seven