The village of children
This sakhi is an adaption of one of Baba Isher Singh jee's audio tape saakhis.
Something about the village graveyard set it apart. During my travels I had seen literally hundreds of graveyards. Usually graveyards are somber and somewhat resigned under the weight of death. But this one was different: besides been well-kept - which in itself was not unusual - it was designed more like a garden of life than a cradle of death.
What set it truly apart was the cheerfulness of its structure. Its' shady trees and sunny flowers seductively invited me in. Graveyards were my favourite resting places. It seemed that as soon as one exited a womb, Maya (worldy attractions) became a human's sole companion until the gates of a graveyard. Perhaps it was the absence of Maya in such places that kept my hopes of enlightenment alive.
I had left home when I had turned twenty. Although I didn't know it then, I had set out to find a place free of illusions. I had travelled to majestic temples, sober ashrams, holy rivers, renowned sadhus and any other religious place I had been told about, yet my mind was as restless as it was when I had first started. The holy places and the holy people at these places were among the most devout followers of Maya. After more than twelve years of searching, I had given up hope and had reluctantly decided to return home and begin a worldly life. It was on my journey home that I came upon this unusual village graveyard.
Although it was only mid-morning, I gave in to the cry of my aching muscles and entered the graveyard through a small wooden door. I put down my knapsack and looked at some of the tombstones. The tombstones entries always reminded me of my transitory place on earth. But this graveyard was full of surprises. There were three entries on each stone: name of the deceased person, the year of birth and instead of the usual 'death of year' the third entry was 'years of life'. Even more peculiar was that the 'years of life' entries were usually well under twenty. Although it took me all morning, I visited each and every tombstone; and to my utter astonishment, I could not find any 'years of life' over thirty. The most common entry was between ten and twelve. And there were quite a few with zero years of life. I was a curious person by nature (otherwise I would not have been here) and I had seen my share of amazing places. But this place truly mystified me. I decided to look up this "village of children".
I walked about a mile to the village gate. I was surprised to see people of all ages in the village courtyard. The villagers were extremely friendly. They came and not unlike children, touched and greeted me, and offered me all sorts of refreshments and foods. I was quite overwhelmed by their attention and love. Almost all of the villager's manners resembled the innocent nature of children. Even their faces were quite smooth and somewhat glowed with purity.
There was a group of elders sitting around an old banyan tree. I decided to ask them about this heavenly place. I approached the men. They greeted me warmly and at an appropriate time I asked: "Respected sirs, I have seen many places and many people. But even at the most holiest of these places I could not find the life and love that pervades this place. Perhaps I am in a dream...", I trailed off. They all smiled. I hurriedly continued, "I would very much like it if you would kindly explain this rather peculiar place. I was also very intrigued by the graveyard at the entrance of the village. Is it where you bury your young ones?"
After a short pause, the most elderly man spoke: "Traveller, you look like a man who would benefit much from the story I will tell you. Listen carefully and it will change your life." All the men around sat attentively. All the villagers within earshot came and sat to hear the old man speak.
He began, "My grandfather was the Kazi of this village. Each morning, well before sunrise, he would call out to the people and to the heavens with his namaaz (muslim call to prayer). One such morning he was in midst of his prayer when he heard music from the outskirts of the village. He was a devout muslim and was quite horrified to hear music at such a holy hour. He immediately sent some of his followers to put an end to this paganism. But to his surprise, none of them came back. The music meanwhile continued. After a long wait he himself decided to put an end to this unholy activity. So, quite angrily, he strode towards the music. But the closer he got, the more he realized that it wasn't his anger that was responsible for his hurried strides, rather it was the exquisite beauty in the music. Finally when he got close enough to see the music makers, not only did his body lose the ability to move, his mind too stopped the madman's dance it had been doing since his birth. He literally stood rooted to a spot for the duration of the recital. The music cast a spell on him. He travelled inwards to subtle places he had read about only in the scriptures. He would often look back at that moment and dreamily acclaimed, "I drank life to the fullest during those hours".
There was a long pause during which the story teller and the story listeners let the stillness of the story enter the depths of their beings. The elderly man continued: "The music makers were the great Guru Nanak and his companion Mardana jee. I am sure you have heard of him." I meekly nodded and mumbled, "I have, but haven't had the grace of meeting any of his followers".
"That is perhaps why, my friend, you are here," the man prophetically said. "At the end of the recital, my grandfather and all the others present simply surrendered themselves to the Guru. This was largely just a symbolic act because the moment each of them had seen the Guru they had lost themselves to him. Guru Nanak graced this village for three days and three nights. My grandfather named those days the "stillness days" because he said it was during those days that he and others learnt about the One found only within the stillness of the mind. We observe those days like others observe their birthdays. Indeed those days were the birthday of the village's inner life." He chuckled, "If you are impressed with the village now, you should see the love of the villagers in those fine days."
"But, as is the nature of the human mind," the elder soberly continued, "it wasn't long after Guru Nanak's departure that the village started returning to its normal numb and dark existence. This greatly troubled my grandfather and others like him who become Guru Nanak's and Guru Nanak's only. They tried very hard, through teaching and preaching, to keep the message of the Guru alive. Finally, after all normal means failed they came up with the following village tradition: Each villager keeps a diary. It is mandatory that each night before sleep, each person make an entry in the diary. Even children and people who cannot read or write have to get this entry made. The entry is simply the amount of time during the day that was spent in simran or in seva. At the end of the person's life, the entries are accumulated and that, my dear traveller, is the 'years of life' entry you see on the tombstones."
The story teller paused to let the magnitude of what he had told me to sink into me. He continued, "It is perhaps that which allows us to be free with our love. We are reminded each and every day what real life is. The time spent in simran or seva is the only life we consider as been worthy of been called life."
I travelled and searched no more. This indeed was the illusion-less place I was seeking.