Few days back, one ashramite asked the other, “Why do you smell bad?” the latter said, “I am back from my seva.” The former frowned, “I wonder when computers started stinking?” The latter said, “No! Today I got a chance to do a unique seva. You get a chance to do this seva once in 10 years.” And he started explaining. Yes! the bramacharin was referring to ashram septic tank cleaning seva.
After 10 years all the 4 huge tanks are full and they needed immediate action. First, a contractor was approached and he demanded a huge cost. He needed 10 days and 1500 dollars to do the job. Usually, his workers get fully drunk before they start the venture. They needed liquor to forget themselves while doing this most menial job. But, being in the ashram they couldn’t get intoxicated either. Unhappily, 3 men went inside the septic tank and 2 waited outside to transfer the bucket loads into the lorry. Every half an hour, they stopped the work, came out, went outside the ashram to smoke a cigar or chew tobacco. After six hours they cleared one lorry load of filth and they stopped their work.
Soon, this became talk of the ashram. During our dinner, senior ashramites recollected how Amma spearheaded septic tank seva every time. Almost 14 years ago, the night before Amma gave Sanyasa to most of her senior disciples; Amma came out her room and started emptying the septic tank. She summoned all the swamis who had taken up the vow of silence and fasting for the last 3 days. Amma asked them to clean the septic tank. As they started, a small bit fell near the mouth of one of the swamis and she remarked quickly, “Sweet pudding!” and laughed heartily. As the pit from the girl student’s hostel was removed for cleaning, Amma handed over a bucket of filth to one of the swamis and said, “Here is a girl’s beauty.” Her words were pregnant with deep meaning.
These vintage memories prompted bramacharis to undertake the venture by themselves. Next morning, when we announced our decision to the contractor, he refused to believe. He said, “We are happy to quit. But, swami! emptying 4 huge tanks is not a joke. Am sure you will have 12 or 13 lorry loads to clear.” Many bramacharis volunteered themselves for the seva. Actually, not more than dozen men are needed. But, twice the number had volunteered. So, we divided ourselves into 2 groups. One group a day was the deal. Soon, we started chanting the 1000 names and 4 ‘experienced’ bramacharins jumped inside the huge tank which contained deposits for the last 10 years.
What seemed menial for the workers became a celebration for the ashramites.
As the first round of archana ended, we heard, “Ramaha, Ramau, Ramaaha” from inside the tank. Yes! the bramacharis inside had started recollecting their Sanskrit grammar lessons. No! They recollected the most valuable lesson that Amma had taught, “A spiritual seeker needs to go beyond likes and dislikes.”
The bhajans followed sankrit lessons. Those of us who had never sung before, got a chance to show our skills now. Amidst chanting and fun lorry loads of human waste was getting removed from the tank. By the end of the day 5 lorry loads of waste from 2 tanks had been removed.
The next day, after Mandukya Upanishad class the second group started. After listening to the Supreme Upanishad truth for 90 mintues, here we get a wonderful chance to put them into practice.
As the work progressed, the contractor again appeared in the scene to check the progress. He was flabbergasted when he saw bramacharis chanting divine names and emptying the tank. When his men could empty just one lorry load a day, Amma’s children had emptied 5 lorry loads the previous day.
When his men needed to liquor to forget themselves, Amma’s children dosen’t need anything to go beyond themselves. What seemed menial to the former became worship to the latter. He said, “I accept that you guys are trained to accomplish your goals.” How true was his comment!
As we were emptying the 3 rd tank, we were surprised to see a big frog and his family living happily inside the tank. Though we wanted to take them away out of the tank and show them the free world outside, they didn’t want to come out. They reminded us of the material minds which refuse to take glimpses into higher truths that a Guru is willing to show. By the end of the day, all the 4 tanks of human waste had been emptied. So far, 14 lorry loads had been removed. As the unique seva was drawing close, Thumban the ashram dog came running. He waged his tail, lovingly peeped into the tank and said in his own language “Well done!” to those 4 bramacharis still inside the tank. So, two days of festivities ended happily.
– Ram Kumar