Dera: Love in Action
If you want to see how by living a positive life we can transform our physical landscape, take a stroll around Dera Baba Jaimal Singh in Beas, India. The Dera is a community that reflects the spiritual values of love and service – values taught by the five spiritual Masters who have lived and taught there over a period of more than one hundred years. Walk around the Dera with your eyes and heart open and you’ll see the miracle that happens when the human instinct to love, and the creativity it naturally generates, is directed to selfless service, cooperation, hospitality, and compassion. You’ll see what humanity looks like when they pursue one goal – to please their Master – to pursue peace, working for one another to honour the spirit of God within them. You’ll see people from every walk of life working side by side to serve the highest values they know, treating one another as one family.
Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh quoted the Great Master (Maharaj Sawan Singh) as saying that “the foundation[s] of the Dera [are] love, humility, seva and meditation”. These are the qualities that have transformed what was once a barren inhospitable wilderness of sandy soil and deep ravines next to the Beas River into a thriving human settlement.
Some of the visible, physical aspects of the Dera inspire awe. The entire colony is built from the resources of its community, donated freely by all to the common good of all. In this context, nothing is wasted, nothing undervalued – frugality and optimum returns in the interests of everyone are among the uppermost considerations. Human effort, ingenuity, and skillful engineering allow the colony to design and manufacture many of their own materials: bricks, tiles, and paint are made on site to construct new buildings; cooking equipment, storage facilities, and management systems for many functions have been specifically designed for the Dera to meet its very specific needs. Housing for permanent sevadars is provided to a high standard for everyone. Sensitivity to the environment generates organic farming and the recycling of water. Sewage is converted to fertilizer for the flowering trees and shrubs.
The Dera provides free food and shelter every weekend for as many as hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see the master – Maharaj Gurinder Singh – and to perform seva, or service. They in turn are cared for by volunteers, some of whom live at the Dera full-time.
Care and companionship are given to elderly residents. Tutoring and recreational facilities, including cricket and soccer fields, are provided for the children who live in the colony. Resident volunteers pay for only their food and utilities. All property belongs to the community through a charitable society.
But it is not just the place and its operation that make the Dera so impressive. What is astonishing is how much good will one encounters – and the many smiles one sees! The graciousness and commitment of the community, the way that people who enter the colony are treated with respect and dignity, the belief that all human beings have equal worth as children of one loving power – this one experiences in every corner of the Dera.
The Master recently said that the Dera works because people are given a good roof over their heads and food and a purpose in life. They emanate that sense of purpose as they serve a good greater than themselves by helping others. And when people are given the opportunity to serve, it seems that there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.
Feed 400,000 guests lunch and dinner? No problem. From 9,000 to 12,000 volunteers serve the meals in the langar, or free kitchen. The chapatti preparation begins at 2:30 a.m. in order for the ladies to hand cook the roughly 1,100,000 pieces of bread that are required on any given day. Fifty thousand guests are served at one time, and they are given some twenty minutes to eat their meal. Everyone wants to attend morning satsang? No problem. The shed that currently seats 500,000 is equipped with 26 jumbo screens, and 90 high-quality speakers. And because the crowds are increasing, the shed will be expanded to accommodate an additional 170,000. (The long-term plan is to be able to seat 2.1 million.)
The statistics are doubtless impressive, but the Dera is not about statistics. It is about people working to create a community where selfless service, love, harmony, and meditation are primary. At the Dera, one has the opportunity to learn the meaning of selfless service. One can see what can be achieved when selfless love is the guiding principle. And one can see some of that love and hear some of that joy when people sing their much-loved hymns while they work. Does bread cooked with love taste better? Do bricks formed with care make more beautiful buildings? The clean bathrooms, the swept lawns and streets, the lovely trees and flowers everywhere, all appear to say “yes.”
There are many ways to take up a broom and sweep the floor. You can do it mindlessly. You can see it as just a necessary chore. You can do it with resentment, wishing someone else had to do the task. Or you can relish the task and be grateful for the opportunity to serve.
The Dera is not a perfect place – it is, after all inhabited by human beings, with all their frailties, aspirations, and shortcomings. But it is a place where everyone, no matter how poor or wealthy, skilled or unskilled, healthy or infirm, can contribute to the common good. Everyone can offer their time and energy in service.
The spirit of the Dera is not contained inside its walls. We can carry its spirit of love with us. Wherever we live, and whatever we do, every person is being given the opportunity to serve. We just have to see it. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
The Dera is not built of mortar and bricks. It is built on seva and love and devotion and humility and meditation. And we have to build our whole life on these principles.…
Wherever there is a sangat, there is a Dera. A Dera is not a place made of bricks. It is made up of devotees, of the lovers of the Lord, of the seekers of the Father…. The Dera is just your love, your harmony, your affection, your understanding and your cooperation with one another. That is the Dera.…
Our attitude should always be to help and to be a source of strength to people, and to be loving and kind to everybody.…Is there any place where the Lord doesn’t walk? … The real Dera is within you.
The only way to strengthen love is by meditation. There’s no other way, because the love which we get by experience cannot be compared to any other type of love
… and for that experience, meditation is necessary.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live