Sep 24, 2013

"Christian Hospitality" from Sermons in the Stroms

Once, while moving about in Bengal, I met one Mr. Sen of Darjeeling who in the course of his conversation with me spoke to me about one Swami Prakashdevji—who he said was a saint of admirable spiritual attainments, and that I should take advantage of meeting the sage.
For sundry reasons, however, I could not start right away. Before parting, therefore, Mr. Sen gave me his Darjeeling address and requested that I should meet him when convenient by previous intimation and that he would then arrange to bring about my meeting with the said Swamiji.
Sometime in the month of October, 1950, I reached Darjeeling—of course, after hearing from Mr. Sen. As chance would have it, Mr. Sen had to abruptly start on a business trip early that very day and was to be away for at least 5 days. Before leaving, he informed one of his neighbors about my expected arrival and requested him to receive and lodge me at his (Mr. Sen's) house and to look to my needs and comforts till he returned back. For reasons unknown to me, none came to receive me at the station. I walked the distance and traced Mr. Sen's house which was not far. The house was found locked. On enquiry from the neighborhood, I was told that Mr. Sen had left for out-station and that they knew not as to how long he was likely to be away. Perhaps—I tapped the wrong neighbour.

Deciding to stay till Mr. Sen came back, I went to a prominent Vaishnav temple seeking to be lodged there. As I was in ochre robes, I was bluntly refused   accommodation on the ground that I was not a Vaishnav sadhu. The caretakers of the  temple were, however, kind enough to conduct me to a local dharmashala. The old man in-charge of the choultry didn't prove wise enough for his age. For, he took me for  a villain and asked me to furnish references testifying my bona fides. Since I had none, I was curtly refused shelter even there. It was nearing sun-set and with it cold was fast gaining strength. I had to hurry and get myself accommodated somewhere before it was dark and too cold. The only place where I thought I could conveniently spend the night was the Railway station. But then, I instantly realised that excepting a small corrugated tin compartment to serve as a booking office, Darjeeling station had no regular platforms, waiting rooms or halls. Well, there was no alternative and I headed towards the station fully mindful of the physical privations I would have to face by sleeping under the open sky of the winter and that too with scanty clothing.
On the way I sighted a Church and a graceful figure of a Father in white robes standing in its portico. I felt I should approach him with my problem. I entered the Church premises and saluted the Father who after a formal reciprocal very patiently heard me: I told him nothing about the Vaishnav denial—but only entreated him to provide me shelter for the night. He summoned Rodrigues - one of his attendants—and ordered him to suitably lodge me.
On the following morning I felt that I should leave for Calcutta and return back later—if everything went well--after again hearing from Mr. Sen. With that thought in my mind, I went to the Rector (Head of the Church) - thanked him for the night's hospitality and begged leave of him. 'No'—he said. "'YOU CAN'T GO— atleast not before the successful conclusion of the purpose with which you have come to Darjeeling." Proceeding further, he said "dismissing all feelings of estrangement and conventional reserves PLEASE STAY BACK." Every word he uttered was overflowing with sincere and selfless love. I had to yield.
Even after Mr. Sen came back, I was allowed to go and dine with him but twice, When thereafter I planned to leave for Shillong on my way to Swamiji's hermitage, the Rector put in a long distance phone call to the Pastor of the Church there asking him to receive me, lodge me at the Church and to provide me with necessary facilities to reach Swami Prakashdevji's Ashram which was 28 miles from there and access to which could only be had either through walking or riding on a pony.
On reaching Shillong I was received by a representative of the Church there and by one Mr. Banerjee, a friend of Mr. Sen. Once again I found myself lodged in the Church.
Since I wanted to go to the saint all alone, I politely declined acceptance of a pony and a guide so pressingly offered by the Church. All the same, as I had to start very early from my halting place so as to conveniently cover the 28 hill-track miles by the same evening, a brand new 6 cell torch was got for me by the charitable pastor. That was really necessary to guide one through the dark and usual misty October mornings of Shillong.
On my return to Shillong after the memorable 18 hours blissful stay with the mysterious Maharaj, I stayed for 3 days in the Church under the fondful care of its virtuous votaries.
When finally I returned to Darjeeling, I went to my benefactors in the Church there to thank them for all that they did to make my stay at Darjeeling and Shillong   comfortable and  my  trip to Swami Prakashdevji's Ashram easy and tensionless,   I was  greeted  by  them with  broad  and  meaningful smiles of delight. You guessed it right—I was not allowed to leave that day. Next morning seven of them including the pious pastor came to the station to see me off. Parting was   inevitable—and during those heavy moments, from the winsome glow on their faces, I could clearly sense them experiencing the ecstasy springing from the feeling of having properly acted their parts as human beings—the pride of God's creation.
Will our Hindu brethren EVER cross the shameful boundaries of sectarian feelings and freely practice the uplifting Universal virtue of FELLOW FEELING?