His spirit to serve was monumental. Whatever the seva at whatever
hour of night or day, Yogiji Maharaj was always ready and happy to serve.
His name became a synonym for ideal service.
Yogiji Maharaj was an embodiment of service. No matter how trifling it may appear to the world, it was his heartthrob of life. It ranged from washing the clothes of sadhus to preparing food for devotees at all sorts of odd hours. Nothing would put him off. He considered it an honor and a privilege to serve others.
Essence of Greatness
Once Yogiji Maharaj was travelling by train to Bochasan. At every station devotees flocked to his compartment to greet him and receive his blessings. A young man who was travelling in a first class compartment was curious to know the qualities which made him such a respected figure. He came to Yogiji Maharaj and offered his respects. Yogiji Maharaj asked him, "Who are you?"
The youth replied, "I am a resident of Palanpur and am presently in Calcutta where we have a tea business. I am going to London for higher studies." After introducing himself the young man said, "Everybody is attracted towards you. What makes you such a charismatic personality?"
The youth thought Swamiji would rattle off a list of qualities of head and heart which made him so popular. Imagine his surprise when Yogiji Maharaj replied, "I acquired this quality by scrubbing utensils and through the grace of my guru Shastriji Maharaj."
It is but proper to credit one's greatness to the grace of one's guru. But what has cleaning of utensils got to do with acquisition of greatness? It will come as a surprise to those who are not familiar with Yogiji Maharaj's life. Cleaning utensils may appear an ordinary thing for outsiders. But it had great meaning for Yogiji Maharaj's philosophy of life. The simple action (of cleaning utensils) typified seva dharma or service which was essential for the spiritual elevation of a sadhu's life.
Role Models of Service
Yogi Bapa kept before his eyes the lives of Shriji Maharaj, Gunatitanand Swami, Bhagatji Maharaj, Shastriji Maharaj and other senior sadhus and devotees as examples of service whose model had to be followed. He would say, "Parvatbhai agreed to become a servant of Dada Khachar. Rajabhai ploughed Parvatbhai's fields. Muktanand Swami drove the plough of Mulubha. Gunatitanand Swami was passing through the district of Bhal with a group of 30 sadhus. It started raining and the sadhus' shoes became wet and bogged down in mud. Gunatitanand Swami collected the shoes from the sadhus and wrapped them into two bundles. He placed the luggage, weighing 40kg, on his head and walked 7½ miles. Shastriji Maharaj walked 90 miles to get mesur (a kind of sweet) for Bhagatji Maharaj. He trekked from Dholera to Navda in pouring rain in chest-deep water and reached Gadhada. If he had written a letter would not a sweetmeat dealer have made the sweet? But he said, 'I have to get it so that he can eat it.' This is total dedication. If we understand that our guru has walked 90 miles then would we feel any discomfort in walking?
"Shriji Maharaj used to wash the kaupins of sadhus. Muktanand Swami would render service and used to visit the neighboring places of Loj to beg for alms. Maharaj would make chapattis for sadhus.
"Once the Mahant of Tarnetar Mandir came to Junagadh for Gunatitanand Swami's darshan. Swami was engaged in sweeping the mandir courtyard. The Mahant, who expected Gunatitanand Swami to be sitting on a high seat, took him to be an ordinary sadhu and asked him where he could find the Mahant. 'Go to the assembly. He will come there,' was the reply. Imagine the surprise of the Tarnetar Mahant when Gunatitanand Swami washed his hands and feet and came to receive the visitor.
"The Mahant of Tarnetar asked, 'Were you not the one who was sweeping the courtyard just now?'
"'Yes, in our scheme of things he who serves is great.'"
A Night Call
At Sarangpur mandir all the devotees were fast asleep on a certain night. Shastriji Maharaj, who was sleeping on a cot, woke up. He found a group of about 75 devotees before him.
"Welcome," said Shastriji Maharaj sitting up on the bed. "Where have you come from?"
"The bus which was bound for Kariyani broke down. We would like to spend the night here."
"Good. Make yourselves at home. This is your mandir. Have you eaten?"
"No, but why give you trouble at this odd hour?"
Shastriji Maharaj smiled, "What trouble do we sadhus have? This is a service which we would perform gladly." Then Shastriji Maharaj thought, "Nobody will be prepared to cook food for 75 devotees at this hour. Most of the sadhus have retired after a day's hard work." Then he suddenly remembered Yogiji Maharaj. A beaming Shastriji Maharaj searched for Yogiji Maharaj's sleeping place. When he approached, Bhagvatswarupdas was awakened by a faint noise and asked, "Who's that?"
"I am looking for Yogi Swami to prepare food for some newly-arrived devotees."
Bhagvatswarupdas recognised Shastriji Maharaj's voice and said, "Merciful guru, he was telling beads till 1 a.m. and slept thereafter. He gets up at 3 a.m. and does not sleep during the day. It is good if he is allowed to sleep undisturbed for some time."
"But Bhagvatswarup Swami, barring Yogi who will do what I say now?" There was a tinge of softness in his tone. He said, "Only Yogi will save my face. Let me wake him."
"What if the devotees are fed in the morning?" Bhagvatswarupdas suggested.
Yogiji Maharaj was a light sleeper. When so much talk was going on it was not possible for him to still lie sleeping. He got up and stood before Shastriji Maharaj with folded hands. The guru was overjoyed when he saw his disciple and said, "Yogi. Come. You have to cook food."
"I am ready, Swami..." And Yogiji Maharaj happily got up for another round of service. He prepared food and served the devotees. When he finished at 3 a.m. his joy was unabated.
Joy in Service
Younger people were the special charge of Yogiji Maharaj. He would mix with them freely and do things in such a manner that they would be inspired to follow his example. Once he was visiting East Africa. He went inside the bathroom in the mandir in Dar-es-Salaam. On seeing a pile of clothes belonging to some youths he locked the bathroom and happily started washing them. It was only when he came out that everyone realised that Swami had washed the youths' clothes.
In a matter-of-fact manner he recounted his experiences in the field of seva to a night assembly on 3 June 1959. He told the young men among the audience, "I have served 40 sadgurus. When I was serving at Sarangpur mandir devotees would come from Navagam, Mojidad, etc. They had to leave early in the morning so I had to prepare food packets for them. I would get up at 2.30 a.m., prepare 100 to 150 rotlas. Normally provisions from the store were issued in the morning. But I would collect gor and pickles the previous day so that I would not have to wake up the storekeeper early. By 4 a.m. I would prepare packets of 10 or 15 rotlas with gor and tie them in cloth. Today if you ask me I can prepare food for 50 people, serve them all and still would not get tired one bit." When he gave this talk Yogiji Maharaj was around 70 years old.
On another occasion he said, "Serving food. How can one get such a beneficial opportunity! I have been serving food for 40 years. I have never eaten first. I ate dal or whatever that was left after serving others. And then have my meal at night. You will be immensely blessed if you serve food."
Glory of Service
Once Yogiji Maharaj went with some sadhus and devotees to bathe at Narayan Ghat in Amdavad. At that time Kothari Babubhai was changing his dhoti after bathing. Yogiji Maharaj got hold of the wet dhoti lying down and said, "Let me wash your clothes." Babubhai was taken aback by the offer. He took hold of his dhoti and interjected, "How can you wash it!" But no service was beyond Yogiji Maharaj. When something had to be done he would put his shoulder to the wheel. Yogi Bapa humbly replied, "How can I have the privilege of serving a blessed mahamukta like you who was devoted to Shastriji Maharaj?"
In the Service of Devotees
The 85th birth anniversary of Shastriji Maharaj was being celebrated at Atladara. A lot of people had come from different places and finding a place to sleep was a problem. At 11 p.m. C.T. Patel, who had come from Mombasa, was looking for a spot to sleep. The clock struck 12 midnight and he could not find an inch of space to lie down. He then reached the kitchen where he found Yogiji Maharaj sitting and telling beads. As he went up to him Yogi Bapa asked, "Have you not slept?"
"It is all right, but why are you awake? You look tired and yet why are you staying up late?"
Yogiji Maharaj smiled and said, "You see we are celebrating a festival. And devotees may come late at night, so one has to serve them." Saying this he got up and found a place for C.T. Patel to sleep.
Happy to Serve
On another occasion Yogiji Maharaj went to Ramod at the invitation of devotees. As it was a special occasion because of Yogiji Maharaj's presence, the devotees decided to include ladus in the menu. Matam Swami started the preparations. Yogiji Maharaj was delivering a discourse.
A lot of smoke was being produced in the kitchen because of wet firewood. To make matters worse there was no proper ventilation. Matam Swami could not stand the smoke which began to irritate his eyes. He left the kitchen, went up, wrapped himself in a blanket and went to sleep. After completing his discourse Yogiji Maharaj went into the kitchen to see how things were. He was surprised not to see Matam Swami, who was supposed to have finished cooking. Yogiji Maharaj went up and found Matam Swami sleeping. He woke him up and asked him as to why he was sleeping instead of cooking.
"I will not cook! The smoke is too much for me," he replied. Then Yogiji Maharaj asked with affection, "What about Thakorji's thal? We have to offer Him food on time."
Matam Swami replied in an angry tone, "If you want to offer thal to Thakorji then you can do the cooking. I shall not enter the kitchen." Without a word Yogi Bapa plunged into work after washing his hands and feet. In no time delicacies like ladus, rice and vegetables were prepared. Then a devotee of Ramod, Mohanbhai, came to the kitchen and on seeing Yogiji Maharaj preparing the food asked, "Where is Matam Swami?"
Yogiji Maharaj was fighting smoke. His eyes had become red. But still in his usual cheerful mood he said, "After a long time I got an opportunity to prepare Thakorji's thal. I am grateful to Matam Swami who with great affection has offered me an opportunity to serve."
Passion for Service
The ardent desire to serve grew with advancing age as this incident from Gondal shows. Swamiji was then 76. It was 3 p.m. All his attendants were sleeping. Swamiji was awake in his bed. He quietly got up from his bed and came out of the room. He noticed two things. Things in the kitchen were lying uncovered and the tap was not properly closed. He restored order. Then he carefully stepped down the kitchen steps and found that the garden was littered with leaves. He got hold of a broom and collected the mango peel and then attended to the litter under the almond tree. When the Guru was going about his self-appointed task he saw to it that there was no noise. But a sudden noise awoke the servants. They looked for Swamishri in his room, but he was not there. Then they traced him to the garden and found him gathering leaves. They rushed out and caught hold of Yogiji Bapa's hands and said, "Bapa! Don't do this." Yogiji Maharaj responded, "I am eager to do service, but nobody lets me serve."
He found that his exalted status as guru came in the way of service. "Before, I was a chela (disciple). Then I became a guru - this is one degree higher. Now I would like to become a chela so that I can scrub utensils and serve. There is no charm in being a guru..."
At 74 his exertions took their toll on his body. He was suffering from several diseases. But it was business as usual for him where seva was concerned. One day he suddenly got up from sleep and declared he wanted to wash dishes. Those around assured that the dishes were being washed. He went back to sleep. After a while he got up again and said, "I want to go and wash dishes. Take me there now. When can I get the opportunity to wash the devotees' dishes?"
Dreams of Seva
Such was his passion for service that he often dreamt of it. On 1 January 1969 he had one such dream which he narrated while eating, "I went into the kitchen. There was nobody there. I thought it was 10 o'clock and nobody had cooked food. I thought 'Why hasn't anybody cooked?' So I prepared 10 kg of chapattis on two pans in half an hour. Balmukund Swami helped me. Then I suddenly woke up." The urge to serve would not desert him even when he was sleeping.
On another occasion he dreamt he was at Junagadh Mandir. "I visited Jaga Swami's room and had his darshan. Krishnaji Ada was engaged in a spiritual discussion and I had his darshan, too. Then I came to Gondal and I, Daji Bapu and Jayanti (Jr.) went to the gaushala (cowshed). It had not been cleaned for three or four days. I said to Daji Bapu, 'Let's clean it.' And he replied, 'I shall get it done by some people.' 'Why go in search of another man. I shall do it!' I said. After that Jayanti (Jr.) and I got hold of two baskets and filled two cartloads of dung and emptied it in a refuse heap. We cleaned the cowshed until it shone like silver. Then we spread wheat husk so that it would not look wet. Then the cows came and sat down. When the devotees came and saw the place they asked, 'Who has cleaned it?' I said, 'The gods came have cleaned it - Indra, Brahma and others.'
"Then I saw Daji Bapu going out with a basketful of dried-up unused neem sticks (datan) for dumping in the refuse heap. I told him, "Don't throw away the neem sticks. We can use them a second or third time. One day when I was fasting I went to a house on the fifth floor in Mumbai. As was customary with such visits the devotees donated Rs.1.25. This is how we get money. So you can't afford to throw away neem sticks like this. You should get fresh ones for Thakorji whereas for us dip them in water so that we can use them for two to three days."
He had another dream about which he spoke on 9 January 1970. "I dreamt that Mota Swami had kneaded 5 kg of wheat flour at Chansad. After that he went to sleep. When I entered the kitchen I saw the dough ready. I asked Mota Swami as to why nobody was attending to it. 'I am running a temperature,' he said. Then I prepared 5 kg of chapattis and 10 kg of vegetables."
It is no wonder after reading all this the picture of Yogiji Maharaj that comes before one's mind is that of dedicated service, service to please Shriji Maharaj, his guru Shastriji Maharaj and the devotees.