Symbols of the world's religions



William Donkin

The ashram itself had two focal centres, the thatched hut where the masts would gather round Baba once a day to listen to the songs of a professional singer, and the "mast hotel". This "hotel" was a refreshment booth where the masts would be served with tea, cigarettes, beedies, and pan, whenever they asked for them. It was constructed with diligent negligence, everything a trifle awry, with low roof, crooked pillars, and limping tables and benches, and was so planned and executed to make the masts feel themselves in the sort of mean and wretched tea shop that they normally liked to frequent.

Such tea shops are common enough in most Indian cities, and the idea behind this "hotel" was to give the masts as much recompense as possible for the restriction of their freedom while in the ashram. Here, after all, Baba introduced a new rhythm into the lives of the masts, and in order to make their adaptation easier, Baba did all he could to gratify their idiosyncrasies, and the "mast hotel" was one of their chief sources of enjoyment.

We cannot tell, in the first place, what impulse has moved Baba to hunt down these God-intoxicated souls in every nook and cranny of India (now India and Pakistan), nor, in the second place, why Baba himself serves them with a deeper devotion than a father or mother, and more diligence than the most trusty servant.

For the plain fact is that Baba sees to the slightest needs of every mast, shaves, bathes, feeds, and clothes them, doing every service with his own gentle and vivid hands, and he impregnates these domestic tasks with such a tincture of love and humour that the most impassive spectator is moved by the beauty of his utterly selfless service. The pity is that, in our spiritual blindness, we see only the outer shell of his work, and not its inner significance.

In Bangalore, then, Baba spent most of his day working with these special masts, and gave only secondary attention to the mad ashram. The daily routine of the ashram began long before the birds addressed the first green tinge of light in the eastern sky, and went on unabated until the masts went to bed at nine o'clock at night.

Those working with Baba felt it a privilege to be so close to him, and so close to these strange adventurers of the spiritual path; but one should not imagine their task to have been an easy one. It is not very difficult for a healthy man to do a day's work when there is some sort of routine about it, so that body and mind attune themselves to a daily rhythm. But Baba seldom allows a static routine, and no sooner is a programme fixed than it is revised again and again, so that the simplest task becomes as difficult as the most intricate one.

These factors make service in such an ashram, a great test of character, and the masts — who must be given everything they ask, as soon as they ask for it — do not make the work any easier. Thus, those who work in such an ashram must compound in their personalities the strength of Hercules and the patience of Job, and, to remain human, they must lighten these two solid virtues with the leaven of an impregnable sense of humour; for without these three qualities they are likely to fight a losing battle against the sheer dead weight of their physical shortcomings, and particularly perhaps, against the cyclones of their emotional reactions.

THE WAYFARERS, pp. 127-128
1948 © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust


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