I happened to visit Asharfi Bhavan, an ashram (hermitage) in Ayodhya. The ashram conducts many activities like teaching Sanskrit, operating two gaushalas (cow sheds), maintaining a temple, serving free food to poor and visitors, etc.
The most impressive activity was that Vedas and Puranas (ancient scriptures and texts of Hinduism) are taught to students in Sanskrit – a language being forgotten soon. In fact, they are creating future teachers and pundits in Sanskrit. The students are given books, clothing, accommodation and food free of cost. To run the operations Guruji went around the country year around to make discourses – a source of valuable donations. Yet, the Ashram was always short of funds and they had to borrow to run the activities.
The Ashram property was in desperate need of repairs, repainting and renovation. The class room roofs had leaks, the students slept in rooms that were almost open to air. In winter, even at a temperature of 5 degrees centigrade, students slept without proper bed or blanket. In rains, they spent more time cleaning up rainfall that came through the ceiling and walls than studying. Some of them did not even have a proper, single layer of clothing whether to protect them from winter or monsoon.
Guruji never asked for donations. I thought it was an opportunity for me to assist. I got the rooms repaired and had some sweaters sent for the students. But that was barely enough. In October 2009, I suggested, “I would like to assist the Ashram in all possible ways, but I have my own limitations. An alternative is to appeal to others for charity. But I am not good at it. Instead, let us provide some service which the devotees want. Whatever savings we make from those services could be used for the requirements of the Ashram.”
Guruji asked, “Do you have any concrete ideas?”
“A pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar (KM) is considered a difficult journey. Many devotees are anxious to accomplish this yatra (journey – in this context a holy journey) at least once in their lifetime. But they are worried as they consider it life-threatening. Visiting KM remained as a dream to most of them. I have been to Mansarovar and have done the Kailash Parikrama in 2004 too (a journey around the mountain). I am aware of some of the major difficulties one would face in that journey – they are manageable. With your blessings, we can convert the dreams of devotees to reality. A group of people can be taken to this journey. With your pravachan (spiritual discourses) and satsang (virtuous company) in the journey, it would be of more interest to them. Savings from this event, could be used to meet some of the problems Ashram is facing.”
Guruji said, “Even I am keen to visit Kailash Mansarovar. Many of the disciples here too. There couldn’t be anything better. But only thing is you will manage everything. I agreed. I made necessary inquiries and it was decided in November 2009 to have the KM yatra in August 2010. The initial target was to take 50 people. I guessed even if we add Rs.10,000 per person as for services and try to save on costs, there could be a net saving of Rs.7-8 lakhs.
The response was excellent. We accepted 100 applicants out of which 90 members joined the 2-week yatra. We then also extended the pilgrimage to Muktinath, another difficult 4 day trip from Kathmandu. There were another 90 applications for Muktinath.
On the way, Guruji gave his discourses wherever possible and a grand Mritunjaya Yagna was performed at the bank of Lake Mansarovar. The next day, the climate deteriorated. The members, except those who went forward for Kailash Parikrama, got a day more to spend at Mansarovar and continued to have Darshan. (There were a few unfortunate events the burden of which I still bear on my heart and soul but will write about it separately)
After completing Kailash-Mansarovar and Muktinath yatra. we presented a cheque of over Rs. 22 lakhs to Guruji the funds saved out of the event. Appreciating the efforts, many offered direct contribution to Guruji These contributions helped the ashram in clearing most of its loans. It also provided for the necessary repairs and completing certain renovations of the ashram premises, which had been long overdue.
This event gave great satisfaction and confirmed that even for charitable purposes, we can collect funds by providing a service (Seva) instead of asking for donations. Seva can serve dual purpose. It can bring in contributions and also meets the needs of served.