Whoever Comes Is Your Guest
Maharaj ji took special care to see that whoever came to Kainchi was given prasad. When I first reached Kainchi, Babaji said, "Dada, whoever comes here is your guest. They come to see Hanuman ji with their love and respect and you have got to welcome them. You must receive them properly and serve prasad to all."
Aside from the day-to-day visitors, there would be many who would stay at the ashram for longer periods of time. They were always provided for fully.
Babaji would see that no one felt neglected or unattended. He made certain that children and many older devotees were provided with cow's milk. Beds had to be soft and pillows provided. Drinking water was kept in the rooms and flashlights were given to those who had none.
The idea was to give the people staying in the ashram all the comforts they were accustomed to getting at home.
It reminded me of the Ramayana, where so many monkeys came before Ram and he made each one feel that he loved him most.
The food for the ashramites was prepared in a separate kitchen by cooks employed for this purpose and was served by the devotees visiting the ashram. Babaji kept close watch on everyone and everything, down to the tiniest detail. He would visit the kitchens to keep people alert. Early in the morning, as soon as the prasad—puris and vegetables or halva—was prepared, he would examine it carefully to see if the right ingredients had been used, if the potatoes were well-cooked, and if the puris were well-fried. He would say that it was of utmost importance to maintain the purity and sanctity of the prasad. On many occasions he blurted out that he had formerly been a "halwai" [confectioner] and he knew how things were to be prepared.
Prasad for the daily visitors was prepared in the kitchen on the back side of the ashram. From there, the puris and vegetables would be brought to the prasad room in the front of the temple and the packets would be prepared and distributed. At five o'clock when the gates of the ashram were closed, the prasad, the buckets and utensils would be removed back to the kitchen and the room would be cleaned. The first year I was at Kainchi I helped in the preparation—packing the prasad and distributing it. The next year, Maharaj ji rebuked me, "Are you going to spend all your time doing those things? This can be easily done by others. You should be supervising."
At Kainchi, huge quantities of food were served every day as prasad, in sufficient amounts as to constitute a full meal for the majority of people. Especially in the countryside, hunger is the bane of a large portion of the population. Maharaj ji would remove the hunger of as many as would come to him. Often he said, "Food is God. Feeding the hungry is actually worship." People are well-acquainted with his statements: "God comes before the hungry as food," and "First bhojan [food] then bhajan [prayer]. "
Sometimes the amount of food prepared seemed to be more than could be distributed, but Babaji always knew how many persons would be visiting and how much prasad was to be served. He would tell me, "Dada, prasad can never be in excess or surplus. It all depends on how you distribute it. There should be no waste or misuse. People give money and provisions to Hanuman ji. The day they are wasted, they will not give to Hanuman ji anymore. This must not be forgotten."
The bhandara would continue openly until five o'clock. Babaji used to make his rounds of the ashram after the gates closed. One day we came to the prasad room and found there was a full basket of puris and two buckets of potatoes that had remained undistributed. The puris could be taken by the ashramites at night, but the potatoes would surely be wasted. The prasad had been distributed by some elderly people. I said, "Couldn't they see by three or four o'clock that they needed to increase the amount of prasad that was distributed?"
Baba looked at me, smiled and said, "Dada, you do not know how very painful it must be to give. They would rather waste and throw away than give to others."
One summer a rich businessman was living in the ashram with his wife and two teenaged children for a month. Seeing how the feeding was done every day, he expressed his interest in feeding sweets to the people visiting the ashram and sought Babaji's permission to do so. He said he would get the required ingredients from the market and the sweets would be prepared in the ashram kitchen. Babaji gave his consent, but he advised me not to get involved.
The laddus were prepared and brought before Hanuman ji's temple in the morning, but the methods of distribution was far from satisfactory. Children were put to various kinds of tests before they were given the sweets. Some were sent to pluck leaves from the forest for serving them. Many children were sent away without any because they were suspected of coming for second or third helpings, no matter how they denied it.
When the day ended and the gates were closed, more than half of the sweets remained undistributed. I told Babaji it was a disgrace for the ashram and he should not have encouraged the project. First he said, "How can I force people to give these things away if they do not want to do so?" I told him that it was entirely against the tradition of the ashram that people should go away without getting prasad. Then he said, "I just wanted to show that it is not easy to do bhandara in the name of Hanuman ji. If you give only to the people of your choice, then the food will remain and go to waste. If you have offered your food to Hanuman ji, it no longer belongs to you. Hanuman ji himself sees that people get their prasad."
He said to make more sweets in the ashram and do another bhandara, preparing a much larger quantity and distributing to everyone in the real tradition of the ashram. Two days later the laddus were prepared, about fifteen mounds in quantity. Since only the regular visitors would be getting the prasad, some felt part of the sweets would surely remain undistributed. But Babaji's ways of getting things done were unpredictable.
When the sweets were being distributed, some old people and the children started eating them right there. Babaji came several times during the distribution. He said that anyone who wanted to eat the laddus here should be given as many helpings as they could eat. "It is Hanuman ji's bhandara. You need not be worried about anybody not receiving prasad."
One old woman began crying, "No one has ever fed me like this before."
By one o'clock the whole supply was exhausted and Babaji went around the ashram shouting, "Dada has distributed the entire prasad!"
Now here was a lesson. If you think that you or I have something, we cannot give. You must think of it as Hanuman ji's—that only he can give. You are only the ladle, the leaf on which it is being given.
Those who lived with him in the ashrams saw for themselves how Babaji used to emphasise giving food to the people and being alert about it. He had his way of pulling up people in case of any lapses. Often he did not tell the person concerned directly about it, but would accuse or rebuke someone else in order to teach others. Dada would be very handy in these cases. When someone was putting more food in the packets than could be consumed, Baba would say, "Dada will squander away everything. He doesn't use his brain, but goes on giving away. There is so much wastage of Hanuman ji's prasad." After seeing dissatisfaction of the faces of people taking prasad, Baba would say, "Dada is becoming excessively greedy. He gives so little prasad."
Once in Allahabad, Ma and Maushi Ma were complaining to Babaji that they never had time to sit with him because they were always so busy in the kitchen, cooking the food and feeding the people. Babaji said, "Ma, I am with you in the house all the time. You are not away from me. The work that you are doing—cooking with your own hands and feeding the people—that is the highest sadhana for the householder. You mustn't think you are missing anything."
In Allahabad we usually got jaleebis in the morning to give out. Maharaj ji would be sitting and waiting, "Jaleebis have not yet come?" They would arrive in a bucket and he would distribute them by handfuls. The problem was that he would be thrusting his hand into the bucket and taking out the sweets to distribute. There had to be water and a towel nearby the wash his hand, otherwise the syrup would be everywhere and Didi would be shrieking.
In Kainchi, jaleebis came from Bhowali every day in the summer. When I distributed, I would go from this side to that side with the bucket. If I did not, they would all be distributed in the front portion of the ashram and the workers in back would not get any. One day someone came and asked, "Where is Dada?"
Babaji said, "Go in back and find the man whom the dogs are following; he is your Dada."
It was said that Purnanand's father, who lived across the road, would watch to see who was coming with what kind of food. When there was something he liked, he would come. One day Babaji said, "Dada gives prasad looking at the faces of the people and gives to his favorites. But I do not do that. I give to everyone."
I said, "You also give to your friends."
"To Purnanand's father. You give him so much of jaleebis."
"Oh, Dada, he is an old man. How long is he going to live? Therefore, I give him so much."
Mangoes were a favorite delicacy of most of the people in Kainchi, but the poorer people could not afford to buy them. Later there was a serious failure of the mango crop and they became hard to get. In 1972 and 1973, Babaji was giving up so many things: "This I do not eat, that I do not eat..." He not only stopped eating sweets, but also many fruits and other delicacies.
In 1973, Inder and his wife came and they had managed to get twenty or thirty choice mangoes. They said, "Dada, take them to Baba."
I said, "Baba will not eat them." But they insisted that I take the mangoes to him. Baba was in his room at nine at night taking a little porridge when I brought the mangoes.
"What do you have, Dada?"
"Dada, I do not eat mangoes anymore."
"Then don't eat them."
"Dada, formerly I used to eat two hundred mangoes! I would go in the garden and the gardeners would feed me. I would eat two hundred mangoes."
"What are you saying? You cannot eat two mangoes and you say you used to eat two hundred?"
"If you do not believe me, what can I do?"
Baba liked a sweet called sandesh, and said it was good for coughs. Since it was hard to obtain, Didi had the sweetmeat seller prepare one kilo of it to give as prasad. She brought it when she returned from her college at five o'clock. As soon as she arrived, Baba came out of his room. "Kamala, what have you brought? What have you brought?"
She told him, "Sandesh," and showed it to him. He took it and ate one piece after another until not a single bite was left.
In 1971, when so many westerners came to Allahabad, they took their meals at our house. Every day Maharaj ji would ask me what food I was going to prepare for them. There had to be ample food for all. When one of the westerners would protest, "No more sweets," Maharaj ji would say, "Feed them! If they fall ill, call the doctor."
There were many occasions when we saw how very painful it was for Baba when someone had to go hungry.
There was a servant named Khemua in the ashram who used to clean the utensils, sweep and dust the rooms and carry logs and wood. He had a very peculiar way of dressing—in pajama pants, a shirt, and a policeman's cap. He was somewhat unusual and the servants in the ashram would tease him. Sometimes he would shout and retaliate if provoked, but he was a harmless sort of fellow.
He was not interested in his clothes or the food or money that was given to him and wore the same tattered clothes until I gave him some new ones. He became very attached to me and would stop and salute when he saw me. Babaji would say, "Dada goes on lighting a cigarette for himself, puts one in Khemua's mouth and both go on smoking."
Once Khemua quarreled with the servants in the kitchen and Babaji said, "Khemua, you go away from here. Get out!"
Khemua replied, "I will not go."
"You must get out!"
"When Hanuman ji's work is finished, then I shall get out."
Babaji said, "What can I do? He will not go."
Later Khemua was transferred from kitchen work to the ashram farm to look after the cattle. Khemua was not allowed to enter the ashram premises. He would come to the ashram at night and wait outside the gate. It was the duty of the kitchen servants to bring his food there.
One night there were many people going here and there, the kirtan party was singing, many things were going on. Usually when Babaji came to his room after giving evening darshan, he would take a little food. That night he didn't take any. Some time after one o'clock I was in my bed and the chaukidar came and said, "Dada, Maharaj ji is calling you."
I went to his room and Siddhi Didi said, "Dada, he has not eaten anything. He is just sitting there like that." Babaji sat with tears flowing from his eyes.
"Dada, Khemua has not taken his food today?"
"Hah, Baba, how did it happen?"
"He was waiting at the gate for a long time, but nobody served his food. The servants must have forgotten. He waited and waited, then he went away."
I said, "Then, Baba, shall we go and take his food to the farm?"
"No, no, we cannot do that. He will not eat this late at night."
The next morning when I came into Baba's room, the Mothers had assembled to do their morning puja and arti to Maharaj ji. This used to be their most enjoyable time, worshipping him and relishing his jokes and sallies. But that day it was different. Everyone was standing quietly and shedding tears. Babaji was talking about how very painful it was to keep people starving. What kind of dharma was it when people failed to attend to those who depended on them?
There is a small roadside temple of Hanuman ji down below Bhowali in Bhumiadhar. The area is mostly inhabited by very poor people belonging to the lower class of untouchables. They did not have any regular source of income, and being illiterate they could not get any desirable employment. The educated and upper classes would not fraternise with them. Only the missionaries visited them sometimes and handed out doles.
Babaji knew their condition very well. Maybe it was to help these people that Babaji built the temple in that location. When he visited the area, the people would always get fed. The educated and upper-class devotees who came to Babaji saw for themselves the pitiable condition of these people and this also resulted in some help for them. Babaji's presence in the temple was a source of hope and expectation for them. Here was someone who loved them and would always be ready to give them help. To him they were not untouchables, and many would surround him when he was there.
One morning Babaji left Kainchi and went to Bhumiadhar. Within a short time many visitors gathered. Since it was a Sunday, many visitors from Nainital, Ranikhet and other places, who had gone to Kainchi to see Maharaj ji, now came to Bhumiadhar. They were all sitting around him, even occupying part of the road. Some Mothers had brought food cooked for him. He was asked to eat, but he did not agree.
While Maharaj ji was talking, a shilpakar [a type of untouchable] came carrying a glass in his hand and stood on the road. The man's clothes were very dirty and the glass and piece of cloth covering it were no better. Babaji beckoned to him and took the glass from his hand when it was offered. Babaji exclaimed, "Dada, this is amrit. You take it."
I had not attained to that height as to feel very enthusiastic about drinking from that dirty glass offered by that dirty man. I did not feel it was nectar. However, taking the glass, I was going to drink it. Babaji snatched the glass away from my hand, saying, "Dada, I must drink some first." He took a few sips and then offered it to me.
I drank the milk, boiled with such care, as indicated by the thick layer of cream on it. Everyone was amazed and sat silently watching. The caste barrier was broken. Baba could do it, but I could not have done it by myself. Did Babaji drink it to teach something to the people looking disparagingly at this man, who had offered the milk with such love and devotion? Was it to resolve the conflict in my mind which was not unknown to him? It was a token of that unbounded grace which flowed spontaneously.
It was also in Bhumiadhar one early morning that some visitors came. There were five in the party—a young man and his wife and three small children. I brought them prasad and they were just leaving when Babaji came out of his room. Seeing Babaji, the wife immediately began to narrate her tale of woe. They belonged to the lower class and her husband had little regular income, most of which he used for drink. For the last three days the children had not eaten and she didn't remember the last time she had seen a whole meal. There was nothing in the house that she could sell or pawn to purchase food for her hungry children. Failing at every door, she had come to him.
While the woman was telling her story, Babaji was visibly moved. He told me to bring more prasad. Not satisfied, he asked me to bring a basket filled with puris. Then he asked me to give them some wheat flour, packed in my bedsheet. But how were they going to cook, as they had no utensils in their house? He said to give them some utensils, a lota, pans, etc. They tied up their things and were ready to go. Suddenly, "Dada, give them some money. Do you have some more? Given them twenty rupees more. They are very poor and helpless. They do not live here. When she saw her children were starving without any help, she came here."
It was a memorable sight. So easily is the calm surface of the deep lake agitated when a small piece of stone is thrown in it.