It was my last day volunteering at Manav Sadhna, a non-profit partner organization of the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India. With the simple mission: “Love All, Serve All,” the organization serves thousands of slumdwellers through 38 health, hygiene education and employment projects. I had spent several months there, teaching yoga in schools, shelters and orphanages. I was sad to go. I shared this with one of the organization’s founders, Jayeshbhai, as we sat on the kitchen floor, having one last meal together.
From the first time I met him, Jayeshbhai touched me with his wisdom and compassion. “When the ego dies, the soul awakens,” he had shared during that first brief encounter two years before. An awakened soul, Jayeshbhai always has a smile on his face and insists upon having meaningful interactions with every person he meets. He greets each person with the kind of tenderness that parents display for their own children. Indeed, this man truly sees the whole world as his family.
“Whenever I want to meet you,” Jayeshbhai now spoke, “I just close my eyes, and see your beautiful face: patient, quiet, loving. I always think of four things when I think of you: your patience, love, passion and presence. You have a strong, peaceful vibration. It is very powerful.”
Though I did not believe I deserved such high compliments from a man I regard as a living saint, Jayeshbhai speaks with such sincerity and compassion that I was sure motivated to develop these qualities.
Jayeshbhai said the work of teaching yoga is an ‘invisible service,’ and how powerful it is, as it puts people in touch with God. He then told me about an 80-year-old artist who has made many amazing sculptures. “This man is also a yogi,” he shared. Jayeshbhai compared the work of creating art and teaching yoga, pointing out how both require tremendous patience and humility. “Dadaji [the sculptor] is a true artist because he creates without thought of reward. I think it would inspire you to meet him. I hope you will join us as a way to remember me when you go.” I went. It did.
A few weeks back, Jayeshbhai gave me a beautiful card with a black-and-white photograph of Gandhiji hard at work on the charka (spinning wheel). Inside was written:
Gandhiji said in ‘Service Before Self’ about YOGI – TRUE,
‘He who feels neither happiness nor misery, he who rises above both happiness and misery has achieved Yoga. Yoga means absence of suffering, never feeling miserable. If anyone abuses us, we should lay the abuse at God’s feet. Likewise, if anyone praises us, the praise too, we should lay at His feet. He is a yogi who cultivates such a state of mind and feels himself as light as a flower.
Only that person who has reduced himself to a cipher, has completely shed his egoism, can claim to be a yogi. He alone may be said to be such a person who has dedicated his all to God.”
No signature because Jayeshbhai is egoless, one of India’s many ‘true yogis’, who are such without ever having practiced asanas (yoga postures). I had the opportunity to meet another such person in a sculptor who simply goes by ‘Dada’ (‘Dada’ means grandfather; we add ‘ji’ to convey respect). After picking fresh fruits off the generous trees of his Shilpa Bhavan ashram, Jayeshbhai, a few other volunteers and I were warmly greeted by Dadaji.
I was moved by the depth of compassion of Dadaji’s presence and the youthful twinkle in his eyes that contrasted his wispy white hair and old age. We slowly walked around the large room, awestruck by the beauty of the sculptures. As I walked around, I recognized one statue, then another and another.
The most striking statue was of Gandhiji with a walking stick. I remember being startled by this statue every time I saw it in New York City’s Union Square while attending college. The peaceful vibration of the statue and Gandhiji’s presence in the midst of the city always bore such a sharp contrast to the intensity and cut-throat, competitive nature of New York. And yet, that was where it was most needed, as a beautiful reminder of what’s truly important.
The presence of this beautiful, anonymous Dadaji sculptors’ work provided me with such comfort in a world I didn’t always completely feel a part of. Seeing it again here, I felt as though I already knew Dadaji and was reconnecting with him after a long period of separation.
Like he straightens the crooked places of clay to create great beauty in his sculptures, so, too, does Dadaji straighten out the egos of students who seek his guidance, providing people access to what is beautiful and pure within ourselves.
Dadaji shared what he believes was Gandhiji’s greatest teaching, about trusteeship. The Bhagavad Gita describes trusteeship as karma yoga in the second chapter, verse 47:
“Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor let this attachment be to inaction.”
We are given physical bodies to work in, yet we are not our bodies. Dadaji is a beautiful example of being an instrument for a higher, divine power to work through. If you were to ask him how many statues he has created, he will tell you he does not know. Unlike other artists, Dadaji does not even sign his work. He is aligned with the fact that he is not the “doer” of his work, but rather a co-creator with the Divine; he takes every opportunity to redirect the spotlight from himself to this larger force.
Dadaji’s sculptures have been honored, commissioned and installed in public places in Georgetown, Guiana, Jersey City, London, Milan, Nairobi, New York and throughout India. He has the largest sculpture studio for bronze casting in Asia. And yet he lives in a simple room that curves into a kitchen on one side and into a bathroom on the other. He has a guest room and a meditation room. Dadaji does not have hot water, an oven, phone, television, or refrigerator. Simplicity is the hallmark of his life. All of his clothes are hand-woven, hand-spun khadi cloth, which were bought to support self-sustaining cottage industries Gandhiji advocated. Dadaji owns four sets of plain white cotton shirts and pants he designed himself. He does his own cooking.
Dadaji’s humility and simplicity reminded me of a description Paramahamsa Yogananda gave to Luther Burbank, a man Yogananada referred to as “A Saint Amid the Roses” in chapter 38 of “Autobiography of a Yogi:
“’Behold a man,’ Yogananda paraphrased, ‘in whom is no guile.’ His heart was fathomlessly deep, long acquainted with humility, patience, sacrifice. His little home amid the roses was austerely simple; he knew the worthlessness of luxury, the joy of few possessions. The modesty with which he wore his fame repeatedly reminded me of the trees that bend low with the burden of ripening fruits; it is the barren tree that lifts its head high in an empty boast.”
Though I can no longer taste the flavor of the fresh fruits Dadaji’s trees provided us that day, the fruits of his wisdom and art continue to ripen and satisfy the hunger of my soul.