Early in the twentieth century, a young Anglo-Indian named Jim Corbett lived and served in the jungles of the Himalayan foothills. A true kshatriya, he faithfully carried out whatever responsibilities he was given, leading large crews of native workers in the endless struggle to keep the trains running, to keep supplies moving uninterruptedly through a complex network of rail- and waterways, to deal with India’s recurring natural disasters — famine, flood, drought, disease — and to do so righteously, with humility, courage, compassion, and fair-minded justice.
What he experienced in the villagers he employed and came to know inspired an admiration that bordered on reverence. For here he found dharma — spiritual righteousness — in all its purity. The villagers lived on a subsistence level: If they worked a day, they ate; if they could not work, they did not have the wherewithal to buy food for that day. And the massive challenges Yoganandaji describes so poignantly in his poem “My India” were their daily life: fire and flood, famine and pestilence; living as a subject people to a foreign power, enduring the imposition of alien values, societal and religious.
And yet here, permeating the sacred soil of India, was also a pervasive aura of simple goodness, brotherly love, devotion to the Supreme Lord: In Yogananda’s words, “the inspiration God implanted in her soil, inspiring ever a vision of oneness, universality, and brotherhood among all children of our One Father equally.”
There is the story of a loving couple, Harkwar and Kunthi, as impoverished as all their village, yet radiantly happy in toiling day by day to care for their two small children, three-year-old Punwa and two-year-old Putali. The first four years of their married life, the young couple lived and worked near Ranikhet, he as a mason and she as a laborer carrying stones to the building site of a barracks under construction. When this work came to an end, Harkwar and Kunthi, now twenty-two and twenty respectively, carried their two little ones for six days, hoping for work at a canal headworks at Kaladhungi, fifty miles from Ranikhet. Finally arriving, footsore but cheerful, they labored early and late to construct a small hut for their family home. Their meager store of food exhausted by the long trek and the time required to build a shelter, Harkwar and Kunthi went to work — he again as a mason and she cutting grass to sell to shopkeepers for their cattle. And so a normal rhythm of life resumed for the family. Daily the parents returned from their labors to find the children safe in the care of a kindly old crippled woman, their little arms reaching up to embrace the parents they so loved.
All went well in their new life until one evening Harkwar and Kunthi returned to find the children missing. The old woman had not seen them since midday, when they had gone into the forest to play. Here began three days of agony for the parents — and for the whole encampment, for their suffering was shared by everyone there. The forest where the canal workers lived was rife with wildlife of all sorts, many a distinct danger to human beings, especially if alone: tigers, leopards, sloth bears, Himalayan black bears, hyenas, wild dogs, and jackals, as well as pythons, great eagles, and vultures. Also much feared were bands of dacoits (robbers). People travelled through the forest only in the protective company of a large group.
Everyone in the encampment helped in some way — with advice, sympathy, food to tide Harkwar and Kunthi over while they searched. Groups went out seeking the lost children, tramping through the jungle for hours on end. One well-wisher, a man of means, offered a gift of fifty rupees (an unimaginably great sum of money to these poor people) as a reward to whoever might find Punwa and Putali. Each day Harkwar and Kunthi walked more than twenty miles, each in a different direction, and alone, along roads and pathways through the thick forest. The first day Harkwar went north, Kunthi south; the second day, east and west. Tormented by fear that the children had been kidnapped or taken by wild animals, these good people prayed with simple devotion to the gods. At each shrine Harkwar and Kunthi, on their separate lonely journeys, made the offerings allowed to people of their low caste — and where caste prohibitions prevented their entering a temple to make an offering directly, they bowed reverently, clasped hands raised in supplication, as they passed by outside.
The end of the second day found Harkwar and Kunthi exhausted to the point of stupor. The children had given meaning to lives of unremitting toil, and now seemed irretrievably lost. In the evening of the third day, as night descended and all the encampment shared a common grief, there came a gradual stirring of energy, a faint sound of distant voices, and here and there the light of a lamp glimmering through the gathering darkness. Coming directly toward Harkwar and Kunthi’s hut was a procession, headed by a man carrying on his shoulders an indistinct burden. What he carried was the lost children, Punwa and Putali — alive and unharmed.
This man, a buffalo herdsman, had spotted the children as he drove his buffalo through thick forest. Curled up together, so still they seemed dead, Punwa and Putali were deep asleep. All around were the tracks of wild animals, but not a mark on the children. Leaving his buffalo to find their own way home, the herdsman, a Brahmin forbidden to touch such low-caste children, unhesitatingly picked them both up, for they were too weak to walk — and, though himself suffering from malaria and needing to rest frequently, carried them six miles through difficult and often treacherous terrain.
The fifty rupees offered by the benefactor from Kaladhungi would be wealth indeed to the herdsman, for it would buy for him three buffalos or ten cows, and make him independent for life. The herdsman refused the monetary reward, saying that the blessings and thanks showered on him were worth more to him than any amount of rupees. Harkwar and Kunthi also refused the reward as gift or loan. The gods had returned their children; the kind neighbors had brought milk and puris and sweets — food enough for them to regain their strength and begin work again. And so the rupees returned to the generous benefactor, whose reward — like that of the others — was the joy of service, of compassion, of kindness to others, of gratitude to the Giver of all — of that simple goodness and purity of heart that irresistibly draw their possessors into the heavenly realm of the Divine Mercy.
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing