This is about two namaskars, which elevated me and also guided me. I was in the pravas of Odisha. Laxminarayanbhai, our senior Karyakarta, asked me, “Would you like to go to Puri? Actually, Bhagawan is not in Puri at present. He has gone to his Masi Ma’s house (Mother’s Sister) so we can have a darshan there at Gundicha Devi temple where he stays for nine days.” This temple is two miles away from the Puri temple.
During festival time, in the Jagannathji temple or wherever Jagannathji is, either on the roads for Rathayatra or in Gundicha Devi temple, the crowd of devotees would be overwhelming. Earlier during my college days, when once my father had called me to go to the local temple, I told him, ‘Oh… now festival time! It would be crowded so much. We cannot have even proper darshan. We only see heads of the people trying to have darshan. So, I do not want go. I will go peacefully later.’ At that time, my father told me something which got imprinted in my mind permanently. He said, ‘The darshan of the heads of 1000 devotees is like having the darshan of Bhagavan.’ Since then, if I am called to a crowded place for darshan, I do not refuse if I have time. And then what to talk of Jagannathji of Puri? For that, I am always ready.
We reached the place. As expected, it was very crowded. The whole area around the temple of Gundicha Devi was crowded. If we look at such a crowd beyond the forms floating around, it is a flow of great energy. The simple people who had come from far off places went to the temple with contentment that they could make it to see Jagannathji during the Rathayatra period. Then there are shopkeepers, hawkers, and vendors, for whom this is the time that they would earn substantially to take care of expenses of a few months as well as a few big expenses, like marriage, the building of a house, some pending operation for the elderly parents at home. Then there are people from the administration who are trying to manage the whole crowd, the sanitation, the traffic etc., and there are beggars and even some thieves who can manage to steal better way in such a crowd. Also, some great devotees, visible or not so visible, are just lost in the thought of Jagnnathji. Tremendous energy can be experienced.
After darshan, as the group of our Karyakartas got a bit dispersed, some of us were waiting for all to join us. At that time, I noticed a woman with her 10-12-year-old son had come for the darshan and was going towards the temple. Suddenly she stopped, took out a purse hidden in her sari, then carefully counted the money in it and with some thought took some from it, turned and went to a corner where one old woman was sitting quietly if someone gave her money, she would take it. This young woman went to her and gave her the money. Next, what she did, I was touched. She bent down and did a very respectful namaskar to that old woman and left. I was stunned. Doing namaskar to a beggar! What Swami Vivekananda had told Mr John D Rockefeller in America; I saw it literally in action. I felt sanctified, seeing that as sanctified as I had felt by darshan of Jagannathji.
This incident from the life of Swami Vivekananda took place when he was in Chicago. Many times, John D. Rockefeller had heard his friends talking about extraordinary and wonderful Hindu monks, and he had been invited to meet Swamiji, but, for one reason or another, he always refused. At that time, Rockefeller was not yet at the peak of his fortune but was already powerful and strong-willed, very difficult to handle, and a hard man to advise.
But one day, although Rockefeller did not want to meet Swamiji, he was pushed to it by an impulse. He went directly to the house of his friends; he brushed aside the butler who opened the door, saying that he wanted to see the Hindu monk. Rockefeller entered Swamiji’s adjoining study and was much surprised to see Swamiji behind his writing table, not even lifting his eyes to see who had entered.
After a while, Swamiji told Rockefeller that the money he had already accumulated was not his, that he was only a channel and that his duty was to do good to the world – that God had given him all his wealth in order that he might have an opportunity to help and do good to people. Rockefeller was annoyed that anyone dared to talk to him that way and tell him what to do. He left the room in irritation, not even saying goodbye. But about a week after, again without being announced, he entered Swamiji’s study and, finding him the same as before, threw on his desk a paper which told of his plans to donate an enormous sum of money toward the financing of a public institution.
“Well, there you are,” Rockefeller said. “You must be satisfied now, and you can thank me for it.”
Swamiji didn’t even lift his eyes, did not move. Then taking the paper, he quietly read it, saying: “It is for you to thank me.” That was all. This was Rockefeller’s first large donation to the public welfare. Influenced by Swami Vivekananda, later he became a great philanthropist. (From The Life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western disciples)
This is the significance of India that the teachings of the great realized souls are seen in the practice of simple folk. The philosophy in India is not speculative but is practised. The realizations of great souls are seen in the lives of people. Shiva Bhave Jeeva Seva – Serve the God in man. If we are able to help others, it is our great fortune. Thus we should be grateful to them that they accepted our help. There are many great people in our country who teach us and guide us, but it is our society which has lived for thousands of years, that gives us insights into their teachings by practising them. We just need the humility to learn from these simple persons in our society.
The second incident was again in Odisha. I was on Pravas to different branches of Vivekananda Kendra in Odisha on the eve of Swami Vivekananda Jayanti. I think it was in the public program of Brahmapur that it happened. The hall where the program was organized was opened on the inner street of the main road. From the street, one could see the dais if the main door was open. The program was going on, so, of course, the main entrance was open. When I was speaking, I noticed one very old woman walking with a stick in her hand entering the hall. But she did not proceed further to join the audience but stood near the door. Then she slowly started bending down. I was on the dais, so I could easily see her movements. I was wondering what was she going to do. Her body was shaking as she tried to keep her balance while bending down. Gradually, she kept the stick near to the ground and sitting on her knees, she bent down and did Namaskar, Panchang Namaskar. After a few seconds, she lifted her stick and with her very thin and shrivelled body, with a lot of effort, she stood again, maintaining the balance that she was losing while standing up. Then she turned and left. On the stage, as well as on the banner big portrait of Swami Vivekananda was displayed. She might not know who is he. But still, she took all the pains because she knew he was a sanyasi. He must have lived for Ishvara by sacrificing everything, and so he is being respected here, and she also owes a namaskar to him! Or maybe just by seeing saffron clothes, she did namaskar, or maybe she knew Swami Vivekananda. The Sanyasi stands for the sacrifice, and the sacrifice is respected in our society. It was evident from this namaskar.
But her namaskar affected me and motivated me deeply. At that time, I had been suffering from acute knee pain for a few months. And so, I had given up my one practice at Kanyakumari. Whenever at Kanyakumari, after the pooja of Sri Ramakrishna, I used to do Panchang Namaskar. But due to the severe knee pain, I had given it up, saying Sri Ramakrishna understands my difficulty. But seeing that old woman doing namaskar, I thought if she at such old age and with such a frail body can do namaskar, can’t I trouble myself that much to do namaskar to Sri Ramakrishna every day? Shraddha transcends physical limitations. That namaskar was a course correction for me. Though I was giving a speech, her silent action taught me volumes. I was the biggest beneficiary that day.
(The writer is vice president, Vivekananda Kendra)