Arun Dada's Stories on Vinoba

Posted by Rahul Mehta on Apr 17, 2015

[Recently, few of us had the privilege of spending some quality time with ArunDada -- and felt blessed by the stories he shared of his teacher, Vinoba.  Below are some of the stories we heard.]

(1) Touchstone of spiritual progress (Mar 17, 2015 : 10 am session at Hridaykunj) :

At one point, Arundada mentioned, that the touchstone of spiritual progress, was whether there was an underlying stream of prassannata (happiness, loosely translated) in our lives. This prassannata meant every-moment acceptance and joy. He was singing the eternal Kabir bhajan 'Haman hain ishq mastana' at Hridaykunj on a pleasant morning - what a space! what a man! what a song! me goosebumps - and this was stated while explaining the beautiful line 'Jo chalna raah naazuk hain, haman sarboj bhaari kya'

(2) Patience, dear friend (Mar 16, 2015 : Breakout session at Maitri Hall) :

While explaining the virtue of patience, Arundada told us a story of him and Meerabaa trekking in the Himalayan terrains. Meerabaa would have difficulty negotiating the inclines. And Arundada would sing this to inspire her in her efforts :

"bai re! jarikaj jo vadhu veTHe
aa rahyu enu makaan DHukDu, aa ahi aagaL tarbheTe
jyaathi taari dheeraj khuTi, tyaathi jarikaj chheTe"

(The crazy cases above is not of a dysfunctional keyboard but to help rightly pronouce the Indian words e.g. ganpati is typed as gaNpati)

loosely translated as

"Dear friend, just a little more if you exert,
His home is just here. At the next crossing...
From the point where you lose your patience, just a little bit ahead of that."
I joked that it takes the likes of Meerabaa to feel encouraged hearing this song. If I was with him, panting on the Himlayan slopes, I would feel irritated that he is building false hopes with me! I guess it takes the likes of Meerabaa to truly appreciate (and deserve) the company of Arundada!

(3) Bheetar ka chor :

One day, a thief robbed a cow from Tukaram's farm. On going back to his house, the guilt of stealing from the home for a saint overcame the thief and he went back to Tukaram to return the cow. True to this saintliness, Tukaram gave the cow back to the thief saying that if the thief felt the need to steal, it must be out of some necessity and he (Tukaram) was happy to chip in. The thief went back home, singing paeans in praise of the saint but Tukaram could not sleep that night. What kept him awake was the thought 'prakruti ka niyam samaandharmion ko ikattha karna hota hain' (It is nature's law to bring together birds of the same feather). Then why did the thief visit his farm in the first place. What brought the thief there? There must surely be something that binds the thief and Tukaram together. Introspecting on this, an insight flashed - no wonder the thief came to their farm as there was a bheetar ka chor in Tukaram (an inner thief). And who was this bheetar ka chor? Well, bhagwan ki gaay, bhagwan ki dharti, bhagwan ki baarish, bhagwan ka ghaas, aur us ghaas ko khaakar jo doodh aaya woh bhi bhagwaan ka hi. Usko mera kehna aur maanna woh chori nahin to aur kya hain? (Everything belongs to God - the earth, the cow, the rains, the grass and the milk which the cow gives after eating the grass. The one who thinks and asserts that the cow and the milk are mine is the inner thief). It is said after this event, Tukaram would minimally consume for his own self and distribute the rest of the produce to whoever would pick it up from his farm.

(4) Vinoba story

During the Bhoodan movement, one of Vinoba's team member Jainendraji was having a difference of opinion over how to take t movement forward. He started articulating his views - not directly to Vinoba but to others in group. Arundada became instrumental in bringing Jainendraji to Vinoba's kutiya (hut) and asked Jainendraji to openly discuss where his views differed. Jainendraji expressed his views in detail. But instead of responding to the viewpoints, Vinoba told him to take up one of the districts and start to implement his (Jainendraji's) ideas in that district. Jainendraji who was probably was more interested in theoritical clarity on the topic, was not impressed. Several times he brought the argument back into the conversation and all the time, Vinoba would prod him to take up one districts of his choice to implement his views. Irritated at this, Jainendraji stormed out of Vinoba's kutiya. Vinoba kept asking him, 'Jainendraji, phir tai kya hua? Kaunse jille se shuruaat karenge?' ('Whats your decision? Which district do you start with?). Once Jainendraji left, Arundada told Vinoba 'Tai yeh hua ki baba ko bolna nahin aata' ('The decision is that Baba does not know how to convince others').

A few days later, at a morning gathering, Vinoba spontaneously took upon himself to respond to each of the criticisms that Jainendraji had expressed, detailing exactly his reasoning behind his precepts. Sound and convincing, while not directing his lecture to Jainendraji, he addressed the group at large. The next occasion when Arundada got an opportunity to meet Vinoba, Vinoba asked Arundada smilingly, 'Kya baba ko bolna aata hain?' (Does Baba know how to convince others?)

(5) Vinoba story -2 (Aparigrahi seva : Non possesional service)

In South Mumbai, there is a building called Mani Bhavan (now quite a landmark for the 'Gandhi tours') where Gandhiji used to stay 1934 onwards whenever he was in Mumbai. After Gandhiji's demise, this was turned into a museum and taken under one of Trusts. Vinoba took up the work of Sarvodaya and Bhoodan subsequently and Vinoba's Mumbai volunteers (Sarvodayi-s) needed some space to function out of. A request was put in to the Mani Bhavan trustees and they gladly offered some office space to these Sarvodayis. A few years later, as Mani Bhavan's work expanded, they needed the space back and the same was conveyed to the Sarvoday team. The Sarvoday team was quite well set at Mani Bhavan by then and real estate being expensive, getting some space on their own was out of question with the meagre resources at hand. Instead of responding to the Mani Bhavan request on their own, the Sarvodayis decided to take up the matter with the old man himself, with the expectation that Mani Bhavan trustees would keep Vinoba's word if he himself requested Mani Bhavan Trustees on behalf of the Sarvoday workers (to retain the office space). To their utter surprise, Vinoba asked the Sarvodayi workers to vacate the place on that very day. They asked him where would they meet to discuss the projects. To this, Vinoba asked them to meet in the public parks around that area. They asked him what about the papers and files and books. Vinoba suggested that those be kept at their homes of the Sarvodayis and brought whenever required. Summing up, he told the group that service should be aparigrahi (non accumulative and non possessional). It should be such that if someone were to ask them to wrap up their wares, they should be able to do it that very moment.

(6) Vinoba story -3 (Aparigrahi seva : Non possesional service)

Arundada related his own example while talking about this. He said he was staying in Bhavnagar and he wanted to cultivate crops and farm the land. Vinoba was a great believer in agriculture (and also, as Arundada says, in agree-culture) and Arundada, in one of his interactions, expressed his desire to cultivate land to Vinoba. Vinoba promptly agreed with the thought. But, asked Arundada to Vinoba, where is the land? I am staying in Bhavnagar town.
Vinoba : "So how far is tillable land from where you stay?"
Arundada : "About 5 km, outwards from the city limits."
Vinoba : "So thats ideal, walk 5 km in the morning to reach the farm, you will get good exercise before you engage in your daily tilling."
Arundada : "But that land, just outside the the town limits, is way too costly. I cannot afford to buy it."
Vinoba : "Who says you have buy or own it?"
Arundada : " "
Vinoba : "Walk 5 km to whoevers farm it is, each morning and start tilling and helping him with whatever needs to be done. Come back after your day's work is done."

(7) Vinoba story -4 (Aparigrahi seva : Non possesional service)

In October 1940, Gandhi selected Vinoba Bhave as the first Satyagrahi (civil resister) for the individual Satyagraha against the British, and Jawaharlal Nehru as the second. Gandhi personally went to Pavnar Ashram to seek Vinoba's consent for this. Incidentally, just as Gandhi was entering the Ashram, he met Vinoba and told him, “The Congress has asked me to launch a struggle against the British Government and has left the mode and time of the movement to me. I propose to begin with individual satyagraha and I have your name in mind as the first satyagrahi.”

“As you deem proper,” was Vinoba’s humble reply.
“Do I take it that you agree to my proposal?”
“Bapu, I do.”
“You must be busy with a variety of activities at your Ashram. I hope you will be able to free yourself from them.”
Vinoba's reply was very characteristic of him. He said: "I carry no load on my head. I am as prepared to obey your call, here and now, even as I would be, if the Yamaraj-God of death-had sent for me." Both Jamnalal Bajaj and Mahadev Desai, who accompanied Gandhiji to Pavnar, were deeply touched.

(8) On another note, on why Arundada prefers soundless clapping (or, rather, flapping)

Those who know Arundada, must have seen him quiver / flap his raised palms instead of clapping at the end of any song or any 'performance.' On being asked why, he referred to a (mostly) Kahlil Gibran quote wherein Gibran stated that even as the music stops, the place still reverberates with its tunes. The song has prepared the ground for these vibes to get into the sub conscious of the audience. Clapping destroys the silence of the moment, which is a prerequisite to take in this zankaar onto the listeners hearts. But etiquette also demands that the singer be honoured/thanked. Hence as a compromise, the shake of the raised palms or - for the want of a better word - flapping :)

(9) Sustainometer

Vinoba was asked several times as to what is the bare minimum requirement for sustaining oneself. On one such occasion, Vinoba went on to give a time-proof prescription for this. Vinoba said that he is targeting an ideal living expenses ratio to be such that 15 annas of a rupee should be spent on food (one rupee at that time had 16 annas). The proportion for the rest of the expenses i.e. non food expenses should be 1:16i.e approximately 6.25%. Which is to say ~93% of your expenses on yourself should be towards (sustenance level) food. Vinoba went on to say that even he himself has not attained this ratio yet and his proportion (at that time) was about 2 annas in a rupee i.e. ~12% on non-food and ~88% on food expenses.

So, thats a rather austere formula for ascetic living from the man himself.

(10) Egometer

During the course of an interaction with Vinoba, Vinoba asked Arundada to do something in a particular timeframe. Arundada expressed regret saying he was going to be in England during that time period. Vinoba calmly asked him to cancel the trip. Arundada reasoned that he (Arundada) had sought his (Vinoba's) views before agreeing to travel to England and only after that, he (Arundada) had confirmed the visit. The visit was to spread the word of Sarvoday/Bhoodan and the organizers had already made preparations for the visit, booked the ticket and it would not be appropriate to call it off at the last moment. Vinoba maintained that Arundada cancel his visit. Arundada, in his wisdom, thought it would right to continue with the visit. However, once he was in England, however, Arundada conveyed to the organizers Vinoba's displeasure with this visit and how he had come despite Vinoba's unwillingness. Hence he requested the organizers to keep it low key, which they readily agreed. Arundada came back after a 2 month long visit, but it was only around 4 months of his return that he got an opportunity to meet with Vinoba again.

Arundada describes the setting of the meeting - "As I was about to enter Vinoba's kutiya (hut) from its west facing entrance, the sun had just risen on the east. The morning sun shone on my face as I entered the kutiya where Vinoba was sitting on my right. Without any bitterness, but with a tinge of sarcasm, Vinoba exclaimed "Sooraj Arun tak jayega ki Arun sooraj tak jayega?" (Will the Sun go to Arun or will Arun go to the Sun?). The name Arun is a synonym of the Sun God. So. the witty sadhu hit Arundada with a (very much) intended pun.

Basically, Vinoba was keeping a check on Arundada's desire to see new places - so what if it was for Sarvoday causes - and whether he was willing to give it up unquestioningly.

On another note, this incident is also indicative of the following : (a) Arundada's belief in himself to stand up against his sadguru (his own satya as he saw it, irrespective of what his guru thought). I know this is slippery territory and one wrong note and your are in ego's clutches. But that fact that he finally went to England against Vinoba's wish says something (b) Vinoba's openmindedness with which he let his disciples be, despite differences and without any bitterness or ego (why did this man defy my desire?) (c) And the mutual maturity of the guru-shisya duo that the relationship showed little strain despite such a matbhed - difference of opinion. Or so I think that it showed little strain - well, let this be a question parked for Arundada for the next retreat :)

(11) Who are we to judge?

Arundada describes that during Bhoodan days, at one occasion, the workers of a major political party of the day, came to Vinoba in Arundada's presence and expressed their desire to work for Bhoodan under the banner of their political party. They asked for Vinoba's blessings which Vinoba readily gave. Arundada felt it was naive of Vinoba to have agreed without knowing their motives fully and whether they truly had the interests of the landless at their heart. The occasion repeatedly itself a few days later when workers of another politically significant party came and asked for his blessings to perform Bhoodan-like activities under the banner of their party. Vinoba, as usual, readily gave his blessings to them.

Seeing this happen for the second successive time, enough was enough for Arundada. At that time, in the early 1950s, Arundada was a energetic youth of early 20s. Full of reverence for his Sadguru on one hand and on the other hand, equally sharp of the mind and sceptical of the others. Once the visitors left and he found an opportunity, Arundada told Vinoba if indeed he (Vinoba) knew the real motives of these political parties and went on to explain what he thought their motives were. With a tint of mischief and black humour in his eye while recalling the incident, Arundada says, "Mujhe laga ki mujhe - Arun Bhatt ko - pata hain ke in party workers ki asli neeyat kya hain, lekin Vinoba bhole hain, unko nahin pata hain kuch - unko mujhe bataana chahiye" (I thought I knew the real intentions of these party workers whereas Vinoba was naive so I should bring it to his notice). Hearing out Arundada, Vinoba raised his hand and shouted out aloud, "Arun antaryaami ho gaya! Arun antaryaami ho gaya" (Here is Arun, the omniscient one!)

(12) Graceful in as you receive/ask

Once, one Mr Chaddha, a leading office bearer of the Sarva Seva Sangh, asked Vinoba a doubt that puzzles a lot of volunteer servers. At Sarva Seva Sangh, Mr Chadhha's work was to appeal for donations for the various projects undertaken by Sarva Seva Sangh. He asked Vinoba, that he finds no problems seeking donations for projects but whenever he seeks donations for paying remunerations for the volunteers, he always hesitates, especially if it involved his own remuneration.

To this, Vinoba responded and Arundada relayed it to us in the words of Vinoba himself, "Dusron ke liye maangne ke liye to sankoch ho sakta hain. Lekin apne liye maangne ke liye kabhi sankoch nahin hona chahiye." (Arguably, you may hesitate a bit when you ask for others' remunerations. But, never when you seek for your own remuneration).

The explanation for this apparently antithetical advice was : "Koi dusra diye hue paiso ka kaise upyog karta hain, yeh tumhein pakka pata na ho - ho sakta hain durupyog bhi karta ho. Lekin hum khud jo maang rahe hain uske baare mein to hamein pakka pata hain ki hum kam se kam jarooraton ke liye maang rahe hain aur apne karya ke liye shat pratishat se jyaada samarpan kar rahe hain." (We are justified in not being 100% certain of how someone else is using the money given to him/her. But for ourselves, where is the chance of a doubt? We have vowed to serve maximum while keeping our needs to the minimum. So, never hesitate to ask for your own self)

Posted by Rahul Mehta on Apr 17, 2015 | permalink

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Previous Comments
  • Nipun wrote ...

    Dear Rahul, thank you for taking time to write these down. So many inspiring tidbits, and it reminds of a few others that I've heard from him as well, like this: (see link) I hope you keep building on this anthology.

  • Smita wrote ...

    Rahul thank you for sharing it so well, just one more important thing on "merit of giving" is giving / ego.... I would have shared but prefer the way you capture the essence so ...

  • birju wrote ...

    i shared these with my family, thank you for sharing!! :)

  • nisha wrote ...

    thank you for these gems.

  • khushmita wrote ...

    beautiful stories written so heartfully :)

  • Amol wrote ...

    Dear Rahul,

    Thanks for sharing...Stories & photograph is deeply touching & inspiring...:) Flapping ! :)