Squatting before the seated figure of an elderly Brindaban widow, his face suffused with compassionate concern, his hands gently tending the deep gash of a monkey bite, the young man emanates inner joy, selfless love, reverent self-offering in service to the needs of those he cares for. Preetam is a young devotee from the village of Radhakund, not far from Brindaban.
Even as a child, he was on fire to serve the widows of Brindaban, for centuries a haven for those widows separated from home and family. The tradition goes back to the time of Krishna and the gopis who surrounded him. When Krishna left for Dwarka, the gopis left behind came to be known as the widows of Brindaban, their Lord far away but their hearts and souls always with Him.
The Paramhansa Yogananda Charitable Trust does its work in the spirit of this tradition — honoring the widows of Brindaban by providing nourishment on all levels: food, home, and especially loving attention, opportunities for meaningful service, and an environment spiritually supportive of the life of a devotee. To this noble work are drawn saints in the making: humble devotees who, like Preetam, are ready to set aside worldly pursuits in order to be of service. One young woman volunteer spoke of her life before finding this way of giving herself: how reluctantly she would drag herself out of bed to face each new day. Now she awakes joyful and enthusiastic, a day of divinely loving service beckoning, Krishna’s flute calling.
Preetam’s own nature is cheerful and generous — self-giving, kind, and loving. Such is the magnetism of his service that he has become a role model for the children of the area, and it is the children he is quietly training to carry the work forward. Childlike himself, Preetam always has a plentiful store of ice cream for the children, the widows, whoever comes. In his giving hands a simple cup of ice cream becomes an instrument of blessings, of awakening the spark of divine service in receptive hearts.
As Preetam and his coworkers respond to the life of challenges of those they care for, they train themselves in an ever-expanding variety of skills — nutrition, healing (including Ayurveda), whatever the needs calling for help. Wherever possible the caregivers go to the homes of the widows, often ashram-style group homes, where they can respond to the reality of each unique life. No one is overlooked; each one is above all a child of God, worthy of divine respect.
Cared for by such high souls, the widows flower spiritually, experience healing of emotional and physical trauma, awaken to a renewed sense of spiritual purpose, find everywhere opportunity and fellowship for devotional chanting and worship. From a life of deprivation and neglect, the widows are able to live the true intent of the Fourth Ashram, the stage of life dedicated wholly to God.
Service to the widows is service to Krishna; for some it is also service to Yogananda. In this God-saturated culture the lines between spiritual paths blur, merge into one flow of love for God and Guru.
One of the widows, Gopalina, 100 years old, has been practicing her guru’s teachings since the day, at age 5, she first received his initiation. Her eyes sparkle. Her smile is so wide that it splits her face. Just to look at her photograph is to feel blessed and uplifted by this soul in a constant state of self-giving love and joy. In the dance of giving and receiving that is this mission to the widows of Brindaban, God’s love and joy are flowing ceaselessly between caregiver and care receiver. Here too the lines blur. Who is the giver, and who the receiver? God is serving God.
Writing of his own charitable work at Ranchi — the Lahiri Mahasaya Mission — Yoganandaji bows to the self-sacrificing service and devotion that make the work possible. May we, together with all those serving and sharing Master’s teachings through Ananda Sangha Worldwide, like our brothers and sisters in Brindaban, like Master’s disciples in Ranchi, dedicate our lives, in Master’s words, “to serving humbly, to giving greatly.”
In divine friendship,