[From ‘My Experiences’]
In the fit of intense desire for renunciation, I left home one night in 1953 with only a rupee and a quarter in hand. Yes, literally in hand, because I did not have sewn clothes on. And only a rupee and a quarter because I had taken a vow not to touch money after buying a train ticket with it and to go as away as the ticket fare could take me. But how would I buy the ticket? One of my acquaintances was at the ticket window. I was in the guise of sadhu. If I were recognized, people would gather and I might miss the train and consequently my aim too. I had two options before me: either to travel without ticket or to return and wait until the next train arrived.
The second alternative was not palatable to me because I had left home after an intense mental struggle for six months. My belongings were already distributed among friends and relatives. All my accounts were settled. I had informed all my debtors that they need not return my money as I considered all accounts as settled. People suspected that I would probably turn a sadhu. But I did not tell anyone about it, nor did anyone discuss the matter with me directly.
I had two letters to post. I had written them the night before, to give instructions about my deposits. One of the letters was addressed to the manager of the institution where I had deposited the money. The other to the person who was to receive that amount. All the money that I had was thrown away in my room. Any one was free to take it away.
I had only a rupee and a quarter with me now. Swami Rama Krishna’s teachings had a great impact on me. He chiefly preached about detachment from wealth and women.
One who had no experience of the intense sense of renunciation cannot appreciate this. But once a person develops the sense of renunciation he finds the strongest bonds of the world, wealth and woman, as worthless. I secretly left home all alone in the dark night. I had only a pair of clothes in my bag. I did not even care to close the door of my house. My joy knew no bounds because the moment I had eagerly awaited for, during the past six months, had arrived at last. The anticipation of this day had made it difficult for me to eat well. Like anxiety and fear, excessive joy also can take away our appetite.
I was used to four meals a day. Naturally a young man of twenty would need that much food. In fact, it was a hurdle in my way of becoming a sadhu. I was doubtful about meals four times a day! I had no attachment for any other thing in the world except this. But I did not know how to get rid of this habit. The Jain sadhus need not worry about this problem, because, their community has devised a dignified method of feeding them. But there is no such arrangement in the Hindu Society. On one hand the religious minded people have little commitment and on the other the sadhus too are not disciplined. We find among them various class distinctions and loose conduct. Since all types of people found among them, it is not possible to devise a method as found in the Jain community. And, there’s hardly any organization among the Hindus. Everything is chaotic as there are numerous scriptures, numerous gods and numerous gurus. What else can be expected of this community except chaos?
Very often I was dispirited because of my meal habits. But a true Vairagi has to shake off such weaknesses. I was torn between the sense of renunciation and the worry about my meals. I said to myself “No, no – never think of becoming a sadhu. Who will serve you food four times a day? What’s wrong here?” but day by day the sense of renunciation grew stronger and at last the sense of renunciation won. I resolved, “Come what may! I’ll surely be a sadhu”. A venture is not possible without strong desire of whim and the whimsical are not considered wise. Yet, many a time, great deeds are accomplished by the whimsical persons only.
A practical man can, at the most, only successfully look after his family and business affairs, but he can never create history.
I had no experience of the life of sadhus or of the sadhu community. My ignorance was such that I did not even know that one should not put on the dress of a sadhu without taking diksha (the vow of renunciation). I did not know about the various creeds or where to take diksha. I had only a strong desire for renunciation and this urge gave me to wander through three fourth of India in search of a guru without any money in hand.
I had already left home and it was impossible to go back. Retreat was cowardice. I thought: Oh, what can I do? That man does not turn away from the ticket window. The hissing train has already arrived at the platform and it will soon move away. Then I will be stranded here like a shuttle.
Finally, I decided to travel without ticket. I deals do seek compromise with circumstances. Those who do not compromise are either worshiped as gods or ridiculed as impractical fools.
With fear in my heart I entered the compartment next to the engine, I entered the platform not through the main gate but through the broken fence, broken by the needy, (chiefly the railway staff). I had two kinds of fear: the fear of traveling without ticket and the fear of being recognized by someone known to me.
As soon as I entered the compartment, a beggar took me for a saint and bowed to me saying, “Bapji, Namo Narayan!”
I was startled at this but soon composed. I did not realize that I was now a sadhu or looked like a sadhu. I simply smiled and gave away the rupee and a quarter I had, to that beggar. The beggar must have been happy but I was happier thinking “Ah! Now I have got rid of the wealth”.
Now I had only a few clothes for general use, some books like the Gita, and a jug. I had voluntarily shunned my belongings. That gave me great joy.
There was some room on the last birth. The passengers were kind enough to accommodate me. I stealthily looked around to see if there was any known person, and was relieved as I found none. But the passengers watched me closely, perhaps because of my young age, handsome figure, new clothes, new bag, new jug, and shaven head. These things were enough to make anyone curious but none asked me any questions.
Around 12:30 the train arrived at Surat. I was to get down there and go to the Kumbhmela of Prayagraj via Taptivalley Railway line. I got down and proceeded towards the gate with fear in my mind, ‘What shall I say if the ticket collector asks for the ticket?” To my surprise, the ticket collector bowed down to me and made way for me to pass. What respect do the saints command in this country, even in the chaotic condition of today?
I went to the waiting room. I did not know where to spend the rest of the night. I asked a local person, “Brother, is there any inn nearby?”
He pointed at a distant inn. When a person becomes wealthy, he develops a sense of generosity and wishes to do some good deeds with the help of his wealth. Some, inspired by saints or parents, builds inns. Thus they provide shelter to numerous souls. It is true that bad elements may misuse them. The misuse could be because of mismanagement too. With good management also misuse might happen. Those who abstain from charity under the pretext of probable misuse will never be able to do any good deeds. Like smoke in fire, every good deed has some limitation. In doing good deeds one must ignore the minor limitations and concentrate on the major benefits.
I reached that inn. What an inn it was ! it was a large, dirty shed without doors. No body looked after it. It was a veritable hell sheltering the beggars of the whole city. Our cities are usually dirty, and the old Surat is typical example of it. Then, what to talk about such inns?
I thought of turning away from the inn, but where to go at one o’clock at night? I smiled and released my nostrils which were held tightly blocked. I said to myself to consider this place a regal mansion. Surely, good sense prevailed and I was soon composed. Vir Savarkar was locked up in a lavatory of the steamer when he was being transported. He endured the bad smell until he reached Andaman.
I found some space to lie down amidst the beggars. I cleaned it and rested there. This was my first night after renunciation, and I was passing it here on a carpet in the company of bugs, mosquitoes, foul smell of beggars, abuses, beggars’ curses to cold, and tobacco smell. Fortunately, it being the night time, there were only a few beggars to take note of my arrival. The municipal lamp at a distance provided dim light in the shed. So, none took note of me. And, as such, who would care to look at others at such an odd hour?
I did lie down but soon found the covering was inadequate to protect me against cold. There was no escape now. A thought flashed across my mind: it would have been better if I had taken some more coverings at the time of departure. I had to smile and say to myself, “it would have been still better if I had not left home”. I remembered a verse of poet Pritam.
“The way to God is for the brave and not for the coward. Get ready to sacrifice your life first and then take his name.”
I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, but I could not. My hungry stomach revolted the hunger of the past thirteen days. Now that my great desire of renunciation was accomplished, hunger had its full sway. I did not know where to turn for food. When I had enough food I could not eat but now when I was penniless the belly revolted.
The mosquitoes and bed bugs attacked me as though I was a new variety of food for them. The cold too was oppressive. I managed to lie down till four, counting the strokes of the tower clock and scratching my body incessantly. In the midst of all these physical discomforts my mind was full of joy at the thought of renunciation. This was the first day only. The future course was simply a matter of speculation. But now I was free from fear and anxiety. My firm faith in God and my readiness to even lay down my life for my goal filled my heart with joy.
I left he bed at four. Some of the mendicants had kept awake the whole night because they had no sheets to cover their bodies. A few were psychologically disturbed while some others were brought here by their miseries. Each one had a different story. Who cares for them? The wealthy would throw a coin and get rid of their filthy and ugly figures. The gentle housewife would throw the leftover into their earthen bowls and derive great satisfaction from that charitable act. They were alive in spite of hatred, disgust and dislike from all. May god bless the soul who built this inn without doors or manager so that these wretches could find shelter here. If the inn had doors and a manager to look after it, only the wealthy could benefit. The old greedy manager would be flattering the rich in expectation of a good ‘tip’. It would not have remained an inn in the true sense of gratitude for the builder of this inn and with tender feelings for the beggars I went to the railway station to take bath.
The problem of beggars is acute even today. You find thousands of them everywhere in India. They are a source of crowding, dirt, disease, disgust and indiscipline in pilgrim places, temples and holy rivers. Even some anti-social elements have entered their ranks. Though some healthy persons also have resorted to this course of life, I have feelings for them. What they have achieved in life? They are homeless, jobless and penniless! They have nothing with them. They have been turned into beggars by the helpless condition of their health or their nature. They expect only a piece of loaf and normally they get it, not from the rich but from the poor. What do they have except the sky above and the earth below? They are not angels from whom we can expect good conduct and nobility. They are full of limitations but so are we! Money can hide all kinds of limitations. While we hide our weakness with money, even the small limitations of the poor appear big blemishes.
They are not worse than the wealthy businessmen who adulterate vegetable ghee with animal fat worth crores of rupees. They are not worse than those who trade in national secrets. They are not worse than those officers who thrive on corruption. They are not worse than the hypocrites who boast about their power to secure heaven for us.
Once in a TV interview in America I was asked about the mendicants of India. My reply was, “If your country stops all the welfare schemes today, crores of people might die of starvation. As your government has accepted the responsibility of social security people get unemployment allowance, old age pension and other kinds of aid to keep them alive. We do not have such schemes in our country, yet people do live. It is because the poor give away some part of their bread to the luckless people and help them live.”
God must have given me this experience to make me understand the beggars’ problems and develop sympathy for them. It is rightly said “Man comes on the right track after facing sufferings, as the Henna gets its fast color when it is crushed heavily with the stone.”