Being with Raghubhai

Bela Shah from US shares her heartfelt volunteer experience with Raghu Bhai in Moved By love, Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” (Lila Watson, from Indicorps website)

Since I have been back from India, many people have asked me one question that has been difficult to answer.  “What did you do while you were there?”  How do I answer this? Throughout the indescribable five weeks that I spent with the Manav Sadhna community at the Gandhi Ashram, I did a lot of being and very little actual doing.  As I have been reflecting on this, I’ve experienced various reactions, ranging from guilt for not doing anything that created tangible results to utter joy from the simplicity of just being.  I wasn’t sure how to process these contradictory emotions.  Recently, a few friends sat down with me and compassionately forced me to think through these feelings (you know who you areJ).  The conversation, guided by deep and present listening, led me to question the standard measuring stick we often apply to our contributions and I’m realizing more everyday that heart-led being creates infinite and immeasurably more ripples than mind-led doing.  This is not to say that we do nothing and just sit back and observe.  Rather, I believe heart-led being is what ultimately creates a doing that is not driven by ego or ambition, but instead, by purity of intention.  And this is what allows for co-creative forces to organically coalesce, contributing to the greater good in distinct, yet equally valuable ways.

So, in a nutshell, I guess this is how I would answer the question that prompted all of this pondering to begin with!  And what ripples have this heart-led being created since I have been back? Infinite and immeasurable ones….and they are still being createdJ.  But this personal reflection has more to do with the being I experienced while in India.  How was I being?  A lot of it was through my heart’s friend, Raghubhai.

“Everyone makes me a hero but I always strive to make myself zero…this is the only way that I can truly connect with people at the heart level.”

Raghubhai has been called many things. Shravan. Love Warrior. Noble Friend. All of these names are fitting, yet no names or words can really capture Raghubhai’s spirit.  For years, he has devoted his time to acting sort of like a “meals on wheels”.  He personally delivers tiffins (Indian lunch boxes) to elderly individuals in the slums that rely on the sympathy of their neighbors for nutritious food.  Raghubhai began serving in this way through the help of a single donation that has replicated itself ever since (mainly through anonymous, unsolicited donations).

After reading all of this, you might be surprised to learn that Raghubhai does all of this without the assistance of his legs.  He lost the ability to walk after contracting polio at the age of three.  But with a smile that lights up the entire street, Raghubhai pedals a hand operated tricycle to maneuver through Ahmedabad’s busy city roads and through the narrow slum alleyways.  In the front of his tricycle, he is able to squeeze in 14 steel tiffins, each with three tiers of food containers.  At the entrance of each tiny room, he hops off his tricycle and walks on his hands to greet each person.  Raghubhai personally delivers these tiffins so that he can spend quality time with each person, hear their struggles, and support them in other ways if possible.  Because his amazing spirit brings out the generosity in everyone around him, nearby neighbors volunteer themselves to carry the tiffins and walk along with Raghubhai through the alleyways.  If you tried to praise Raghubhai’s compassion, his response would be that he is just an instrument through which God is serving those that are most in need.

When I first heard about him through friends that have volunteered at Manav Sadhna, my heart went out to him and I thought, “Wow, what an amazing person…I can’t believe he cannot walk.”  After meeting and delivering tiffins with him, my thoughts have transformed.  Raghubhai’s bright spirit and infinite kindness creates ripples of compassion everywhere he goes.  These ripples manifest themselves externally and internally.  It seems that everyone that crosses his path is inspired to serve with him and something inside is changed by the end of the day.  It might be a quiet and subtle shift but it is a shift nonetheless.  And it seems that this shift spills into everything else in our lives…at least this is what being with Raghubhai has created for me.

I feel that, actually I know, that I went to India in search of spiritual love and belonging.  I desperately wanted to find my purpose and my place.  I wanted to make a tangible contribution that would allow me to feel like my life, my existence mattered.  Almost immediately upon arriving, I grappled with the ethos of Manav Sadhna, which is to create and contribute by being rather than focusing on doing.  How could I just be when I only had five weeks to do?  Would I leave India not having accomplished anything?  What would bemy contribution???  I was excited to meet Raghubhai during my second week…finally, I could help him to deliver food and I could fall asleep happy, knowing that I had done something.  But as I spent more and more time with him, and Raghubhai became my friend, delivering food was just icing on the cake.  What I looked forward to more than anything else was just being with him.  Being in his presence expanded my heart and opened my eyes.  The analysis paralysis of my mind took a break for once.  I didn’t know whether I was being or doing or both but it didn’t matter because I was so content!

As the weeks raced by me and the time for returning to my life in DC approached, fear crept into me.  How could I possibly return in the middle of winter to a city that seems to thrive off of never ending “happy hours” and conversations that revolve around that dreaded question, “What do you do (in your profession)?”  I felt myself clinging to the people and environment around me.  I became convinced that I couldn’t leave. So much so that when I got to the airport, I learned that my domestic flight to Delhi had been canceled, causing me to miss my connecting international flight (Signs from the universe or my stupidity for flying on Air India?)!

Arriving back at the airport in Washington Dulles was tough. All I wanted to do was to get on the next flight back to India.  But the very next day I somehow crawled out of bed and went to work. Nothing had changed….yet everything had changed.  As I have gone about my work/life routine over the past month, I’ve noticed a subtle shift taking place in my outlook, which of course spills into my interactions and decisions.  The more present that I am in my interactions with anyone, judgments and presumptions (even subconscious ones) are replaced by love and acceptance.  Perhaps just being with Raghubhai has helped to create more of a being spirit in my life back here.

One of my most heartwarming memories with Raghubhai was during one of my last nights in Ahemedabad. He had just been gifted a three wheel scooter by a team of love warriors so that he could perform his work more quickly and easily.  (Pedaling a heavy tiffen laden tricycle with your hands is no joke, which I quickly realized the few times I shared a seat with him.)  So there I was sitting on the back of his scooter, zooming through the busy night streets on our way to Seva Cafe, the car lights behind us a blurry mist, and he started singing a spiritual song at the top of his lungs.  Raghubhai has been gifted with a beautiful voice (scroll to the bottom in the “comments” section) perhaps because God knew he would use it to bring light to others.  I looked up at the vast sky above us and smiled in gratitude to the universe.

Reflecting on that evening now as well as Raghubhai’s angelic voice, I am also reminded of a recent note that my friend Rahul Pardasani posted in reference to him.  It was taken from the writings of Kahlil Gibran’s, “The Prophet”, and it said:

“And you receivers… and you are all receivers… assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.

Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;

For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.”

The gratitude that each person feels when they cross paths with Raghubhai has inspired many to fast on Thursdays and donate the money that would have gone towards their lunch or dinner towards Raghubhai’s tiffin fund.  “Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings.”

When I asked Raghubhai about his views on spirituality, he shared with me that he sees God in everyone.  Perhaps this is how he was able to see the need in the elderly when everyone else had forgotten.  Perhaps this is how he is able to bring hope and unity into the homes of families that are experiencing terrible difficulties.  Delivering tiffins by day, Raghubhai also delivers holy tulsi plants by evening.  These plants have a deep symbolic meaning in Hindu tradition and they are meant to bring peace and harmony into our environment.  He sings a special prayer with each plant that is delivered.  After the completion of the tulsi ceremony I felt the beauty of his voice lingering in the air, touching everyone with love.

While growing up as a boy in a small rural town, Raghubhai spent evenings listening to lectures from the Bhagavad Gita.  Something that resonated with him was the teaching about attachment and service.  Do not get attached to the fruits of your labor.  This is what creates expectations and takes away from the purity of your original intention.

“My world has changed ever since I came to Manav Sadhna. From the people here, I started thinking positive all the time.  No matter if I am doing something small, I do my best to help someone by giving compassion and love.  I used to second guess my open emotions and wondered, “Should I show them my love?” But now I love openly. No matter what is happening in the world, I want to continue doing good work.  I can’t become Jayeshbhai but I can learn from his thoughts and his actions and try to be like him.  I pray to continue learning and growing.  He came forward from his karma and I want to come forward from my good karma, from my love.  Everyone makes me a hero but I always strive to make myself zero…this is the only way that I can truly connect with people at the heart level.”

Cultivating selfless, pure love is a journey over many lifetimes.  When I become lost along my path, I know I can always reflect on Raghubhai’s life as a guiding light.

 

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