Spirituality Through Service To Humanity

My grandfather Murlidhar Devidas Amte alias Baba Amte, was born in 1914 and was called a 'fearless seeker' by Mahatma Gandhi. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he spent a quarter of his life as the son of a wealthy landlord, owning 4000 acres of land, a pet cheetah, a Singer racing car and a deep pen-friendship with Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. His adult life stunned world leaders like His Holiness Dalai Lama even more. His leadership journey went from light to darkness, bringing others out from the darkness too. He once said to His Holiness, his friend, that he believed in leading a series of lives in one life- and he did precisely that!

In his late 20s, after earning a degree in civil law, he became the municipality commissioner, simultaneously becoming the leader of the scavengers' union. His typical day was to clear human waste from public toilets at 4 am, carrying the obnoxious material in a bucket on his head, to solving the most complex problems of the town as commissioner, handling millions of rupees of tax. This stark contrast in his life led him to experiment more with life, which lead him from being a privileged child to a freedom fighter to a Sadhoo to again an amazingly romantic lover. From a man of tender compassion to a wrestler, his life was a saga. Gandhi was fascinated by him and after his brave act of saving a lady from being raped in a train by soldiers, he called him 'fearless seeker'.

This man, my grandfather, when returning home one stormy night, stumbled upon a piece of human flesh that was lying in a gutter. To his surprise, this rotten mass was a man afflicted with leprosy and maggots and was moving. There was a hole in place of a nose, with two blind eyes begging for help. For the first time in his life, this 'fearless seeker' was frightened and fled that place. After three days of restlessness, to conquer his own fear, Baba went back and soothed the man. The man died in his lap. This was a life changing moment for him and for the 2.6 million others who were ultimately benefited by him.

My grandfather decided to work for the cause of leprosy. There was a time when leprosy patients were isolated on islands and in some regions buried or burnt alive to combat the infection. After finishing a formal degree in leprosy and standing first as the first non-medical man to top the university, my grandfather walked away to ask for a piece of land from the government. After a lot of efforts, he established Anandwan in 1949 with six leprosy patients, a lame cow, 14 rupees, two toddlers, his wife and an unrelenting optimism on barren land. Leprosy was a dreaded disease then that could disfigure the body of a human being to such an extent that society would shun him, leaving him wounded internally, shattering the soul. Baba went on to rehabilitate leprosy patients, not only medically, but also through psycho-social and occupational rehabilitation. His motto was 'work build, charity destroys'. A staunch believer of Christ and Christianity, as well as Buddha and other religious teachers, he lived spirituality through his work. Baba's spirituality was not that of surrendering to God and praying passively. He would always say: 'Work, not worship! Do it what you can do it yourself, do not delegate it to God. God is very busy." He would also say that 'God is my patient. He can hear, he can not speak. He cannot quench the thirst or the hunger in the world. Service to mankind is the real spirituality. God is work'.

Today's Anandwan is a classic representation of the village of Gandhi's dreams. It is a miniature India where unity, peace and harmony reign supreme.  For decades together, these people have been working with a motivation, born out of a sense of belonging to a shared dream, which is very much their own, for which they are collectively responsible. Through a self-sustaining thriving economy, Anandwan produces goods such as cloth, food grains, milk and household items worth 40 million annually. Till now Maharogi Sewa Samiti has qualitatively enriched the lives of about 2.6 million rejected, dejected people through various healthcare, rehabilitation, education, agriculture and economic empowerment. Anandwan is all set to become the first smart village in India.

Today, the spirituality in Anandwan is a different wave that encompasses all the human beings living here. The beauty of Anandwan is that we do not have any quality management system here. Here the system is very people-centric, organic, flexible and adapts to the needs of people. Anandwan is a society free of temples, caste, creed, religion and any barriers. Humanity is the supreme religion here. We have sufficiency for all rather than superfluity for some.

Anandwan has been serving as a nodal centre for human motivation for decades together for those like us who lose hope. Healthy people come here to seek inspiration from these people and change their lives. Many meditation camps that happen here typically revolve around service to humanity. There is a nuclear reaction of goodness that starts with the last unhealthy man in the society who helps the needy from healthy society such as farmers, tribals, and other destitute. Once inside the campus, you 'want' to do good to people. You think about 'purpose in life' over your 'bank balance', you think about 'unity over division', you think about 'happiness over grief'.

His Holiness Dalai Lama has also experienced spirituality at Anandwan and hence visited and stayed here three times. He has also realised and expressed several times that Baba was a living example of the goodness from each religion. He epitomized selfless service. His letter dated 20.01.2004 says that "The work you are engaged in Anandwan there has always commanded my greatest admiration. The sacrifice and dedication in your efforts to serve leprosy patients and others who are less privileged is a great Dharma work and a source of inspiration for me."

To Baba's wife Sadhanatai, he wrote on July 7,2010 that 'Your warm support gives me encouragement in my efforts to promote human values, to foster inter-religious harmony and also to work for the just aspirations of the Tibetan people who place their faith and trust in me."

The secret is the P-A-I-N friendship that they share with each other. The fellowship of pain unites human beings because people empathize with others. You can forget with whom you laughed but you can never forget with whom you cried. It gives rise to love, an aspiration for peace and unity. It binds people.

I was born and brought up in the Anandwan community. I was raised by leprosy survivors. I went to an average school, then studied in medical college and went on to acquire a master's degree in entrepreneurship. However, later, I refused all the alluring jobs and chose to be a part of the community because the work here is very challenging, satisfying and hugely entrepreneurial. I think better, I innovate, I build. It's a free system. The intangible but palpable spirituality here is more infectious that the disease itself. Ours is the third generation of Amtes that is engaged in social service, owing completely to the intense spirituality and satisfaction we experience here.

I always speak about the two halves of human nature, aptly described by Joseph Soloveitchik as Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our nature that competes, innovates and tries to win. Adam I works by economic logic. He transforms the world "into a domain for his power and sovereignty."   Adam I is built by building on your strengths. He works to build his resume.

Adam II is the subtle, moral part of human nature that works on the philosophy of accumulating blessings through giving, forgiveness and redemption. Adam II is built by fighting your weaknesses. Adam II is the "redemptive Adam," bringing a "redemptive interpretation to the meaning of existence". Adam II builds our Eulogy virtues.

These two are in perpetual confrontation with each other. We live in a culture with an Adam I mentality where we're inarticulate about Adam II. At the end of our life, people do not speak how strong our financial condition was, how long our resume was or how many expensive things we accumulated. People speak about how good we were as human beings, how compassionate and loving, how much value we created for humanity.

I believe that, though our education system and the marketplace teaches us only to focus on building our Adam I, no one teaches us to build our eulogy virtues. We need to consciously build our Adam II so as to leave a legacy with serenity, pride and fulfilment. My experience has been that if we shift our focus on building our Adam II, Adam I automatically gets built. (My grandfather Baba Amte did not have a resume, nor a letterhead. However he got the highest awards in any field. The United Nations Human Rights Award, international Gandhi Peace prize, Ambedkar International prize, Ramon Magsaysay award to name a few. )

Taking a break to restructure our life and building our Adam II will transform our life to a significant extent. After all, we all want to be good mothers. A good mother is built, not installed. Building a good mother means building our Adam II, how you build a depth of character.

Anandwan is a place where you can serve to build a strong Adam II. That is precisely why we are here.

-Dr. Sheetal Amte-Karajgi