Stories from Paradise, Gobind Sadan GOBIND SADAN’S PRACTICES OF COMPASSION – Mary Pat Fisher | Stories from Paradise, Gobind Sadan

GOBIND SADAN’S PRACTICES OF COMPASSION – Mary Pat Fisher

The compassionate practices of Gobind Sadan are based on the teachings of Guru Nanak, the First Sikh Guru, and also on Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture which Guru Gobind Singh (the Tenth Guru) set as the Eternal Guru for Sikhs. Guru Nanak taught a simple threefold path to God: Work hard to support yourself by honest means, from what you earn share with others, and always remember God. He sang,

Nanak seeks the company of those who are of low caste,

Among the lowly, nay, rather, the lowest of the low.

Why should he rival the lofty? Where the poor are looked after,

There does rain the look of Thy grace, O Lord! [1]

Guru Granth Sahib, the great compilation of inspired hymns of Sikh Gurus and also Hindu and Muslim saints, teaches us to live in the world, helping others, but to be inwardly detached from worldly things and attached only to God. Without self-interest, we are to be concerned for others’ needs and difficulties. “Chinta parai—Worry for others,” taught the Gurus.

Early in his life, Baba Virsa Singh, founder of Gobind Sadan, became imbued with these teachings and began to develop practical means of supporting himself and his followers and sharing with others. Being a farmer, from a family of farmers, he took a small piece of seemingly worthless barren land on the outskirts of Delhi and began trying to turn it into a productive farm. With very hard work and great faith in God, he and his followers pulled out rocks and dug wells by hand, leveled fields, developed gravity-fed irrigation channels, built a dairy, and began planting crops. They themselves lived very simply in bare shelters and ate and shared from their own produce. From that base, Babaji then developed other larger farms in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The largest of these, Shiv Sadan, arose on a huge alkaline, flood-prone wasteland on the banks of the Ganges River. Again the extremely hard work and faith in God of Babaji and his devotees turned that poor area into flourishing fields whose income helped to provide food, medical services, and education for the poor people of the surrounding area. Seeing that the land was being productively developed, the government at last began to provide some basic services, too, including brick roads to replace the old mud cart-tracks, bus service five times a day, and telephone connections.

Babaji explained,

People have to eat. If you look at an area which is barren, an alkaline wasteland, and you see that the people of the area are poor and hungry, if that land can be farmed, then people will have food, and if they come and work they will receive an income as well. We look at it as a way to serve those in need, not just as development. If we cultivate the land, then people will be fed. We will give them fees for school and also help them come closer to God.

Working for people is a great thing. We feel that all we have is for the poor, for the weak. Then we can feed whoever comes. We don’t expect people to give us anything in order to stay with us. We say, “Even if you have nothing, we will feed you and give you a place to sleep.” This also plays a role in Dharma: serving people, feeding people, giving them clothes and medicine. But you are only able to give if you have earned the money yourself. So we have been very successful cultivating wasteland and using the income to help others. [2]

Babaji taught that “Compassion is the mother of Dharma.” Without compassion, he said, there is no foundation for spiritual practices. But he did not approve of giving to people who sit idle and beg. He always said that we should help those who work hard but still cannot meet their basic needs.

Gobind Sadan continues its dedication to serving those in need, without resort to fund-raising or government aid. Although Baba Virsa Singh left his physical body in 2007, compassionate services he inspired are ongoing, with help from voluntary donations by devotees from their own hard work. A free school for poor children has been created in Babaji’s name in Gobind Sadan’s Delhi campus. It now serves 102 students from pre-nursery to fifth grades. Although the children’s parents are mostly illiterate in any language, the children are getting high-quality instruction in English to prepare them for good jobs. Since the parents cannot help them with their homework, most are also receiving supplementary tuition so that they can handle the challenging curriculum. The teachers take a loving, supportive approach, trying sincerely to help the children learn. Poor children of older grades are also given financial assistance with school fees, uniforms, books, transportation, and tutoring so that they can do well in higher-level schools. The children are highly motivated to learn so that some day they can earn and help to support their parents, most of whom are manual workers. Educational counseling and motivational sessions with older children and their parents are organized to help them move toward a better material future, with aid in accessing government-subsidized educational and medical support programmes for those below the poverty line or of minority communities.

Illiterate adults in the area are also offered adult literacy classes in Hindi and English by a compassionate, helpful teacher. They are learning so well that they themselves are proud and amazed. Among their “texts” are sacred scriptures from various religions, so their sincere spirituality coupled with their native intelligence and desire to learn are helping them to advance very quickly.

Citizens of India as well as visiting foreigners have been inspired to share their used clothing with the poor, so Gobind Sadan volunteers are frequently engaged in sorting and distributing the donated clothes to those in need. Many poor men of the area thus proudly wear t-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the logos of Western universities and other organizations, and many children are nicely turned out in sweet clothes previously worn by Swedish children.

Medical care is often beyond the means of poor Indians, so Gobind Sadan offers free medicines and also takes people to doctors and hospitals and arranges for their care. It is very heartening to see that when someone needs an emergency blood transfusion, those who are willing to give blood include people who are not their relatives, nor are they of the same religion, but they have compassion for others as if they were their own brothers or sisters. Such health services offered by Gobind Sadan have saved many lives over the years. But when people have died, whether from old age or sickness, their survivors receive great support from other members of the community who are not their blood relations. Many members of the community pitch in to help with cremation and memorial arrangements, share in the grieving, and console the survivors.

Malnutrition is a great problem among the poor of India. To help alleviate this scourge, Gobind Sadan sponsors many feeding programmes, including weekly distribution of nutritious sweet bread (rot), sweet rice, and black grams. Langar (free kitchen) is being run constantly to provide three hot meals plus tea daily to the volunteers, working staff, and visitors. A programme is also being initiated to provide a mineral supplement that should help to prevent stunted development, weakness, and frequent illnesses among small children and their nursing mothers.

In addition to support for the materially needy, Gobind Sadan offers support to the spiritually needy. Many people come or write email requests for prayers and spiritual practices to help overcome their depression, anger, fears, family problems, financial difficulties, educational challenges, legal problems, and the like. They are encouraged to share their resources with others in order to improve their own karma, so they often help to sponsor feeding programmes or bring fresh fruits to distribute to the poor. One volunteer has been blessed by Babaji to pray for people every hour, twenty-four hours a day. Another has been given the duty of praying for people of all religions every evening before a compassionate statue of Jesus. Miracle stories and cases of personal transformation are quite common following these prayers and offerings.

Gobind Sadan’s compassionate services are inclusive. Everyone of all castes, religions, and genders is invited to partake, and everyone is included in serving, as all are considered fellow members of one human family. From the elderly to teenagers and toddlers, the feeble-minded as well as the highly educated are all involved in seva (volunteer service) as respected members of the community. Gobind Sadan serves as a refuge for many differently-abled or rejected people who cannot survive in the outside society, and all are given some useful seva to do.

Not only the people but also the plants and creatures are treated compassionately in Gobind Sadan. The young men who serve in the dairy give very loving care to the cows and buffalos, and the animals respond by being peaceful and easily manageable and giving delicious milk. The ox who pulls the cart is huge, but he sweetly steps into the traces and lowers his head for the harness whenever he is needed. Vegetables and flowers respond very positively to the organic methods and tender care of the gardeners, and trees planted on the rocky hillside have formed their own natural jungle to help preserve the environment.

These practical services have never been trumpeted or even mentioned on Gobind Sadan’s website. They are a constant feature of Gobind Sadan life, but services go on quietly, naturally, with no fanfare. Baba Virsa Singh advised his devotees to just keep serving without self-interest, never expecting any praise or reward. “Just do and keep moving ahead,” he said. “Every person has to work and help others, for this is God’s hukam (divine command). One who simply sits idle and meditates will not find favor in God’s court, and because he is not helping people, he will not find favor in the world either.” [3]

 

 

Endnotes: 1. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15

2. Baba Virsa Singh, “What is Dharma and True Spirituality?” – His Holiness Baba Virsa Singh’s Message to the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Capetown, South Africa, 1999, www.gobindsadan.org

3. Baba Virsa Singh, Loving God, 3rd edition, 2006, New Delhi: Sterling Publishing, pp. 69-70. [Article for Contemplative Seminar on Practices of Compassion, Hyderabad, India, 27 to 31 January, 2016, organized by the World Buddhist Culture Trust and the Henry Martyn Institute]