The mahaguru was very particular about leading a debt-free life. He did not accept anything he could not afford. He was also cautious about taking or consuming salt or cereals paid for by another since food is a nourisher of the physical body. However, a few stray incidents made me realise that he valued intent above obligation.
Bittu ji shared a first-hand experience of Gurudev travelling from his camp in Himachal Pradesh to Gurgaon via Karnal. The guru’s driver, Kasturi, was uncomfortable driving at night and therefore requested if they could spend the night midway to their destination at a gas station en-route. Kasturi’s relative ran the gas station, and he knew his guru would be comfortable there.
It was 11 p.m. by the time they arrived there, and Gurudev informed everyone they would all depart at 6 a.m. the next morning. About an hour before Gurudev’s scheduled time of departure, the gas station owner’s family arrived with freshly made breakfast of hot puris and fresh sabzi (vegetable dish) along with chai. The snacks were very tempting, but the guru’s disciples resisted since they did not want to be obligated. However, the mahaguru graciously enjoyed the breakfast, making the owner feel appreciated. He knew, to cook this sumptuous spread for a large group, the family must have woken up at 3 a.m. and worked till about 4 a.m., then driven for an hour to arrive in time. He did not pay for the breakfast but certainly reprimanded his disciples for neither honouring devotion nor valuing intention over obligation.
Decades ago, when I finally found my way to the Mungaoli camp (after a roundabout cab ride), I was greeted by Gurudev and some co-disciples as they were finishing dinner. I had carried a packet of pakoras (evening snacks) from the train station. Since the cabbie had ensured that dusk morphed into night before I reached there, I silently kept the pakoras aside. On awaking the next morning, as I headed to the food tent, I ran into Gurudev juggling two pakoras before munching them. Upon greeting him, I told him he had to pay me for those since I had bought them. He replied, “Is that so?” and ate another one as he walked away. The morning antics of a great guru can engulf you in a tornado of thoughts! I had bought the pakoras feeling my guru was buying them, not me. It dawned on me that munching on the cold pakoras was his way of repaying the sentiment of total surrender.
Repayment for thefts, even if petty, came in only one way – punishment! Once as I chatted with Gurudev while he dressed for work, he looked at his wallet and noticed a few bills missing. He mumbled under his breath and casually mentioned the name of the person who probably stole the money. I asked him why he wasn’t calling out the guilty. He said it wasn’t required since that man would lose the benefit of some of his seva. The amount stolen was paltry, but the loss of months, if not years of seva, was substantial!
I’ve personally been a victim of a ‘lost in Gurgaon, found in Mumbai’ experience. It happened like this. I was at the Gurgaon sthan when Gurudev suggested my wife and I fly with him to Hyderabad to attend a wedding. All I had was 6000 rupees in cash, plastic money being uncommon at the time. Since undertaking that journey would have cost far more than I could afford, I sent Gurudev a message requesting him to allow us to travel by train instead. I did not receive an answer from him all day but noticed that my wallet went missing! On approaching him to apologise and seek forgiveness, I saw a mischievous glint in his eyes. He told me I should always do as asked and not analyse his instructions. A few days later, I found 6000 rupees in my blazer’s pocket at home in Mumbai. Aha! The mahaguru could wing any situation at will and even use paper currency as origami!
When Gurudev first came to Delhi from Hariana, he had to struggle to make ends meet. He sold toffees, pens and bus tickets, sometimes making enough to buy two bananas in a day. Despite the adversity, he was clear that money had to be earned and not misappropriated. At the age of twenty, he got employed as a soil surveyor and started spending several months at camps in the hilly interiors of North India. His colleague-cum-devotee, Nagpal ji, says, “He would go to every stretch of land to examine soil samples. Difficult to navigate terrains did not bother him. Unless he had personally analysed the soil sample, he would not write a report on it”. The mahaguru justified his salary and did not compromise on effort. Whoever thinks great gurus have it easy must examine Gurudev’s life!
His painstaking labour got him a meagre salary at the end of every month. His starting base was as low as 150 rupees, yet the mahaguru distributed a significant portion of his salary on payday to those in need. There was no process of selecting such people, but he shared whatever amount he thought would meet their requirements depending on their problems. Other than him, I have not heard of anyone broke on salary day despite having worked tirelessly through the month! However, as the mahaguru’s family grew, his disciples learnt to smuggle at least fifty per cent of his salary to his wife.
Gurudev regarded money as a tool of spirituality and not a measure of materiality. He hardly ever spent money on himself and wanted his disciples to understand its value. When Bittu ji purchased an expensive tray on which food could be served to his guru, he only managed to irritate him. The great guru reprimanded him, saying, “it is not in our disposition to be ostentatious and given to luxury. We must value simplicity and not show off”. Even a simple item like a tray, customarily considered a necessity in household kitchens, was taken as a symbol of luxury by the guru. Frugality took on a whole new meaning in his dictionary.
He always told us, money earned by proper ways would find an outlet for use while that earned by improper means will be squandered in some form or another. When Santlal ji bought two lottery tickets, he offered them to his guru with the selfish aim to get his blessing to win the lottery and enter the draw into the Himgiri Trust created by Gurudev to manage the sthans. The mahaguru tore the tickets in two, saying, “I think of my disciples as my lottery. Whatever seva happens via the Trust will happen by their hard-earned wealth since I have enabled them to earn their seva”.
Whenever he allowed us to spend any money at the sthan, it was always for the seva of others. There was expenditure on days when the public came to see him, and some disciples were allowed to contribute towards that. He organised several marriage ceremonies at his sthan, and while these were simple affairs, he permitted some of us to contribute minimally towards the cost of the weddings. Many affluent people would have been happy to contribute sizable amounts towards public welfare, or for that matter, even Gurudev’s upkeep. But he refused to entertain them and sent them packing. Neither money nor gifts were accepted from people who visited the sthans, but their good wishes were welcome.
His disciples and devotees came from different walks of life and earned differently from each other. Yet, he equated them on spiritual intent and gauged them on a line of future continuity rather than the dot of present existence they measured themselves on. At the sthans, bus drivers and business people were considered alike. When the great guru was constructing the sthan at Sector 10 in Gurgaon, he asked his disciples to contribute towards it. Participating in building a powerful centre for help and healing is akin to a yagya – a sacrifice of devotion. From those permitted to contribute to the construction, the less financially able were asked to contribute 100 rupees each while the rest could contribute slightly more. Even though the contributions were as per affordability, the benefit of the seva was equal.
Once a Sikh gentleman came to meet Gurudev, hoping that his chronic headache would be cured. The mahaguru told him, “Son, I will cure you immediately, but you have to abstain from non-vegetarian food and alcohol from now onwards”. Two weeks later, this man returned, carrying cash worth one lac rupees in a briefcase. He prostrated before the guru and kept the briefcase by his side, imploring him to accept a token of his gratitude. The unaffected guru looked him in the eye and said, “As soon as I touch the briefcase, your headache will return. It is my duty to do seva, not my business”. The sheepish Sikh thanked the mahaguru and returned home with his unopened briefcase.
Greed for money, cheating people of their wealth or baiting them with the lure of business or monetary expectation were habits the mahaguru did not endorse. A senior disciple of Gurudev who had acquired some inherited property was greedy for more and willing to play domestic politics to obtain a larger share from his maternal grandmother. His pettiness was evident in other trivial ways as well. The astute mahaguru was acutely aware of this failing in someone who would years later graduate into becoming one of his most accomplished disciples. He knew the disciple’s habit needed correction and subtly explained the difference between worthiness and worthlessness of wealth. He told his disciple, “Don’t crave for money because I will give you so much spiritual wealth that you will never be short of it.”
Showing off wealth or gambling it away was also taboo in the mahaguru’s playlist of commercial hygiene. During Diwali, when most bet on money, he taught us to respect it, saying it was the gift of barkat from Laxmi Devi (Hindu deity of wealth). Disrespecting money was akin to disobliging the deity.
In his view, the money we spend on ourselves or allow others to spend on us creates a debt, whereas that we spend in the service of others credits us with the benefit accrued from that act. More importantly, money can aid spiritual intent but not substitute it. Utilising 10% to 20% of your monthly earnings on seva was among the mahaguru’s recommendations.