Over 150 children enjoy spiritual nurturance at Vanamali Ashram
Vanamali Ashram is a small ashram situated in Rishikesh (North India).
We have been helping the poor children of our locality for more than thirty years.
Vanamali Ashram has taken this scriptural injunction as their
motto for their work with the poor.
"Manava Seva - Madhava Seva".
"Service to humanity is equivalent to service to God".
Hence we never miss an opportunity to do what we can for the less fortunate
in our society both in Rishikesh and in a little village called Gajja in the
Garwal Himalayas. we consider ourselves most fortunate in being in a place
where such service is urgently needed.
We are able to do this only through
the generosity of our friends, relatives and
Vanamali devotees all over the world.
“Seva” is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service” or work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. It is very similar to Nishkama Karma or Karma Yoga which is the advice given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Sreemad Bhagavad Gita. He tells Arjuna about the great benefits to be got from doing things for others without any hope of personal gain. “Karmanye adhikarastu ma phaleshu kadhachana”, is what he says. “You have a right to do action but you have no right to ask for the fruits of the action.” This may seem to be a strange thing to say but the fact is that there is a law which operates in the whole of the universe which controls the effects or end product of any action. We have no control over it even though we fully believe that everything is in our control.
The whole world runs on the wheel of “cause and effect”. Every cause must have an effect. This is the Law of Karma which is only the third Law of Motion in Physics which says that “every action has its equal and opposite reaction”. In each of our actions we are starting a “cause” which must have an effect but though the “cause” is in our hands the “effect” is not. Of course the “effect” would normally depend on the “cause” but in the case of the human being this need not necessarily be so. The reason for this is that the effect depends on our intention and attitude and not on the actual performance of the action. A nurse serves a man in the hospital and his wife also serves him. The attitude of both is quite different. The nurse does it as some work which she is forced to do in order to get the pay; the wife does it with love with no hope of any remuneration. Though the work is the same, the attitude of seva is missing in the work which is done by the nurse.
On Sundays children arrive at Vanamali ashram freshly washed
to sing bhajans and enjoy milk & cookies.
This is why Lord Krishna insists that we have only a right to do our duty and we have no right to demand our dues!! In any case the dues are not in our hands but in the hands of a cosmic power which of course is extremely fair. All of us can be certain that we will get our just dues, neither more nor less even though we may not agree that we get what we deserve. We always think we deserve more than we get! Thus “seva” is the art of blessed action in which the act is a gift to everyone involved. It helps our own spiritual growth and contributes to the welfare of the person or community for whose sake the seva has been done. Our Puranas extol the axiom, “manava seva, Madhava seva” service of our fellow beings is equal to worship of God. Hence Lord Krishna’s advice while doing any seva or any action, is to do it as an offering to God, who is lodged in the person. This is the right attitude by which any seva is to be done. If it is done with this attitude there will be no disappointments since our duty is only to serve God in the person and not to ask for anything in return. Whatever we get in return will be considered as “Prasad” or something holy. “Prasad” means the remains of something which has been offered to God.
Very often we do so much for someone or for the society yet we feel that our efforts have not been given due recognition and that we deserve something better. This feeling of frustration is only caused by the fact that we have great expectations. Consider yourself to be an instrument in the hands of God, is another of Lord Krishna’s comments. When we do or give anything to anyone this fact must be clearly remembered that we have come to the world with empty hands and will leave with empty hands and if at this moment we have something in our hands which we are able to give to someone, it should be given with the attitude that, “I am not the donor. Anything that I give, any service that I might render is only given to me by God. Thus I have no right to demand or even expect any return from the other party, “NOT EVEN GRATITUDE”. If seva is done with this attitude, there will be no disappointments and whatever we get will bring us only happiness.
Feeding the members of the Tapovan Leper Colony
Tapovan Leper Colony
Hinduism gives another angle to the doing of seva. We should be grateful to God for having given us an opportunity to serve others. Not everyone gets this type of opportunities. When we do something for another we should be grateful to that person for accepting our service. They are the ones who have done a service to us and not the other way round. Both “dana” – charity and seva should be done with this attitude.
The Taittiriya Upanishad says, "Give. Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give with sensitivity. Give with a feeling of abundance. Give with right understanding."
The Hindu worldview holds that all beings are interconnected as God dwells within all beings. “Vasudeva Kudumbam”, is another great axiom in Hinduism. This means that the whole world belongs to one family and that is the family of God. If we see anyone suffering in our family it is our duty and our joy to help them without any thought of reward. Every person in our family should be given the same consideration that we give to ourselves. To see the suffering of another as something separate from oneself, or as "someone else's problem," is to move away from this great dictum. Nobody is alien to us. We are all inter-connected in some way or other to everything else in this universe. Nothing in this world is really our own, the ego is the veil that keeps us from perceiving the true nature of existence as One.
Mataji distributing food and shawls to poor children at a school near Rishikesh
Therefore, any help you render to others is actually another way of helping ourselves to grow spiritually. Disinterested service of humanity is the greatest “puja” or worship of God.
Sometimes people are fired with the ambition to change the world and to make a mark on humanity through the charitable deeds that they might perform. But it is well to remember that it is virtually impossible to change the world in one fell swoop. Many avatars and many reformers and saints have come but none of them have been able to change the whole world. But this need not be considered as a failure. It is far better for you to concentrate on the community around you, the town or village in which you live, the relationships you have created, and the lives of those you're able to touch. There is nothing great or small in the eyes of God. The slightest effort on our part to help anyone is seen in its true perspective by God. Even pouring water over a dried plant or giving something to a hungry animal can be considered as a great seva.
God does not ask you to do something which is of great national or international importance. All that is expected of you is to give as much as you can as long as you can. This type of seva is a gift which serves others without even spending a thought on what we might gain from such a gift. Our only thought is for the receiver of the gift. To serve endlessly and effortlessly is the very essence of seva. Anything done with great effort and the feeling that we are doing something great, cannot be considered as seva. In order to stop us from getting too egoistic about our altruism, Lord Krishna advises us in the Bhagavad Gita to perform action for the sake of action, for the sake of the divine that is lodged in every living creature with no expectation of personal reward or recognition. The seva is to be done without grudging the amount of time or money or effort which we expend on it. Humility is the greatest of all attitudes. However wonderful your actions and however great your gifts to people, they will all be null and void in the eyes of God if it is done with the attitude that you are indeed a great soul. Seva done with the attitude that you are only an instrument of God will bring untold benefits to all concerned even though you may not even be aware of it. This is the highest type of seva and will purify both the donor and the receiver.
Hari Aum Tat Sat
Paramhansa Yogananda Trust
Report on Assessment Trip to Mataji Devi Vanamali’s Giridhari Ashram in Gaja
23-27 May 2015
Mr Mohanji of Vanamali Ashram accompanied Manjunath to Rishikesh and later to Gaja (in Tehri district) to share the details of the community service programs the Ashram is involved in since the year 1985. The community outreach program grew organically which started Mata Devi Vanamali’s (lovingly and respectfully called Mataji) love for children and various group activities organized for them.
Manjunath of Paramhansa Yogananda Trust, facilitated this joint assessment in consultation with Mataji and Mohanji (Mataji’s brother). The methods of assessment included: interview with founding school teachers, interaction with widowed Women, community visits and interactions, interaction with an NGO representative and community volunteer.
Over years Mataji felt that Rishikesh is getting crowded and becoming too hot during summer. Hence, she decided to move to Gaja, a hill town north of Rishikesh at a distance of 65 km. Mataji’s son helped them to buy a property and construct a house and develop a farm that is named as Giridhari Ashram. Mataji spends close of six months of the year from April-October in Gaja performing her sadhana, writing, preparing for discourses and lectures.
Ever since Mataji has moved to Gaja, she has always reached out to the needy through social service and spiritual counseling to help them with material and spiritual development. The current community service program in Gaja has grown from Mataji’s natural response to the needs of local community. Mr Mohanji (Mataji’s brother) has been directly overseeing these service programs and takes care of executing the work and overseeing the finances.
Brief detail on the programs carried out Giridhari Ashram in Gaja:
Children at school for handicapped doing Yoga.
Support to Shikhar Scholars Academy: Ashram supports Shikhar Scholars Academy, a private school in Gaja with volunteers, conducting special classes on Gita, moral values and other life skills. Recently, Mataji has mobilized Rs.20 lacs to construct a new building for senior wing along with necessary infrastructure such as lab, play ground and class rooms. This school is doing extremely well with close to 375 children (average no. of children in other schools is 25). With the additional infrastructure in place, the school will seek CBSE affiliation to add IX and X grade. The school is run by three qualified, committed, enthusiastic and bright youth from the nearby villages. Though, school collects fee of Rs.300/month, they are unable to pay a salary that is attractive enough for the teachers. Most of the teachers employed get far less than what they can get in a government school.
Ration and Pension support to widows: Currently, 42 widowed women are getting monthly ration supply of which 17 women are also getting monthly pension of Rs.1000/- The monthly ration supply provided includes: Rice-5kg, Sugar-1kg, Dal-500gms, Tea powder – 150gms costing an average of Rs.220/person/month. This program is currently supported by Mataji’s sister (many other programs too). In the last two weeks, following telephone conversation with Cecilia of Paramhansa Yogananda Trust, Mataji and Mohan have spread the word around asking more needy widows to register for the monthly ration. As a result, another 51 widowed women have enrolled. This number is expected to increase through word of mouth. Mohanji checks the credentials of the women seeking support through their bank statement (it should reflect that they are getting widow pension of Rs.800/month from government), and reference check through village heads, school teachers and other leaders.
Amar Jyoti School
Provision of Tin Sheets for roofing: Tin sheet are provided to replace and improve the houses with collapsed roots with Patali (slate stone slabs). This is provided to about 20 households. This is done with physical verification of the houses and after assessing the economic condition of the householder. Each house gets to improve only one room.
Income generation program for Women: A program was started to involve women in greeting cards making using dry flowers and leaves and jute products. About 25 women came forward to participate and this was successfully run for about 3 years. Later, this couldn’t be sustained due to lack of market and inadequate returns. Women too slowly lost interest as they were asked to work on peace rate basis instead of daily wages. Two local women received training and were coordinating this program and lacked motivation to sustain the work.
Distribution of clothes: Several of Mataji’s relatives and friends collect used clothes and send them for distribution. Most of the clothes distributed include ones for the women and children.
Organization arrangements: All the work is managed by Mohanji with Mataji’s support. Funding for these activities is mainly from Mataji’s sister, son, daughter and other few close friends and devotees. The accounting is kept to basic without any requirements for audits and returns. Few community members help in identification of the needy and reference check. Mataji and Mohanji have build trust and rapport amongst several such community members who could be considered for increased responsibilities with some honorarium.
It was heartening to note the respect and gratitude the villagers express towards Mataji and Mohan. They have built a very strong and trusting relationship with villagers in Gaja and several other villages around Gaja.
Nine little girls are clothed and treated like goddesses
during the Kannya Puja of the Navaratri festival
at Vanamali Ashram.
Main Action Points:
Extend the ration distribution to as many widowed women as possible: It was realized that the food items provided through ration helps the women to cope with the basic nutrition needs of families. Several widowed women came to register for this service and many more are expected to come. It was agreed that the ration distribution can be extended to more widowed women. At his point more than 51 additional women were registered and more are expected. All these women will receive ration from June onwards. Mohanji will verify and register women and also will make arrangement for ration distribution through a local shop. It was also agreed that, all women will get the revised package of Rs.360 from June.
Increase the items and quantity of food: It was found that the quantity of food provided lasts for about 10 days. Also, there are few other essential items that will help the women to have a more complete package. It was agreed that a small change will be made to the current quantities along with inclusion of three more items. This will be reviewed after 2-3 months for a more comprehensive list of items. However, a more efficient way of distribution and monitoring method needs to be developed to manage this increased number and quantity.
Mataji feeding the poor at Badrinath
Appoint full-time staff to conduct field level assessment and evolve a need-based program: It was found that there is need and scope for conducting a detailed assessment before planning activities to address income generation, women empowerment, employment generation, and gender sensitization programs. There is heavy outward migration, domestic violence and exploitation of women, alcoholism amongst men, unemployment, unsustainable agricultural practices, etc.. Mohanji expressed that at this point it is not possible to expand the program, especially ones involving community visits, mobilization and ongoing monitoring. It was felt necessary to appoint two or to begin with even one full-time staff to manage and conduct this assessment. This can lead to more comprehensive community based program addressing the needs of widowed women and other issues around women empowerment in Gaja and surrounding villages. This team needs to be supported to conduct the assessment and evolve their own program. They can also consider net-working with other NGOs to augment their services. One such NGO with which the Ashram is already networking is Ekta Vikas Samiti, which has just started forming self-help groups (SHGs) of women and exploring few income generation activities. They are also thinking of appointing a community level staff to mobilize and support women SHGs.
Offer scholarship and mid-day meal to support enrollment and retention of girls and other poor students at Shikhar Scholars Academy: The academy offers quality education as against poor and failing quality in government. Hence, it is necessary to support the poor girls and other students to be able to enroll and avail education in this school. Discussion with school team revealed that though they are struggling with financial viability, they are already offering 100% scholarship to 32 students. Many deserving students are not able to enroll as they can’t pay monthly fees. Hence, it is suggested to support the school with funds to provide scholarship to needy that is based on Mataji and Mohanji’s recommendation. Preferably these students/children will be from families that they are working with. Also, consider providing mid-day meal to several students who walk long distances (up to 2hrs climbing hills). This can be started immediately in consultation with the school team.
Vanamali Ashram donation of bed, mattress and blankets to the local govt hospital (for women) Gajja, UR
Start an old age home in Rishikesh: As per Mataji and Mohan’s assessment there is no such facility and very much needed in Rishikesh. One of Mataji’s long cherished dream was to develop a residential facility to for old and destitute, especially widowed women, sick and dying. Some of Mataji’s friends were willing to support but this project did not took off due to lack of dedicated team. While discussing, Mataji expressed that now that the Paramhansa Yogananda Trust has a clear focus on supporting the old and widowed women, she feels confident of setting up a home in Rishikesh. Mataji named few devotees (Susan, Anjali, Gita and Bhavesh) who have already expressed desire to come and live in Rishikesh. Also, resources and funds can be generated through existing network of devotees, friends and supporters. Setting up such facility for the old, will be at one end of the overall focus of the program on supporting the old and widowed women in Gaja and surrounding villages. It is suggested to have more discussion on this as it involves setting up and running an institution with a long-term perspective along with a big capital cost. But, it was found quite necessary and feasible considering Mataji’s conviction. Mataji and Mohanji could detail out some basic steps and costs to begin with and trust can provide appropriate support.
Vanamali Ashram Seva Includes:
- Providing monthly ration of rice, wheatflour, daal, sugar, tea etc
to about 50 very poor families, mostly widows and disabled.
- Providing roofing sheets and tarpaulins to about 50 Families.
- Providing furniture to 4 village schools.
- Providing School uniforms for chilldren in 14 villlage schools. (This was indeed the most challenging job for me to get the right size and right colour uniforms ordered and supplied!!)
- Distributing notebooks, pencils, school bags etc to deserving school students.
- Providing drinking water to Gaja and Jaikot villages through tankers
during the acute water shortage period of summer.
Apart from these help is extended to individuals
on a need based basis with whatever resources we have.
|Miracle at Vanamali