Love is a Verb
Reflections from Dera Beas in the times of Covid-19
This is a story of love, a story told to celebrate how the conscious practice of love can lead to a deeper experience of life and a kinder world with less suffering.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020 in the context of the worldwide spread of Covid-19, India imposed a nationwide lockdown in order to contain the pandemic. Within days, a tsunami of hardship and suffering spread out across the country as hundreds of thousands of people left the cities and their places of daily work to reach their homes. With the possibility of daily wages gone and the specter of a new killer disease, people set out on journeys of sometimes hundreds of miles, on foot, with no back-up funds or food. Where else but at home could they survive?
From RSSB at Dera Beas in Punjab, the response to the crisis was immediate. Under the Master’s instructions, Dera volunteers swung instantly into action. Do you want to be part of a problem or part of a solution, is a question often asked by the present Master at Beas. If your choice is to be part of the solution, then appropriate action is required. At the very least, we can provide food, was the Master’s response.
Work started immediately. Food was to be prepared for anyone hungry and needy, of any community, of any background, wherever they could be reached. RSSB would provide the ingredients. RSSB would prepare the food – rice pilau and a meal of enriched flatbread puris, in ample quantity. Distribution across towns and countryside would be enabled. Shelter would be made available using the RSSB Centres’ large sheds, located mostly near main roads all over the country. Comfort and relief were to be offered in any way the local Centres could provide, and to all, without concern for class, caste, or creed. RSSB got to work. A public commitment was made to the Prime Minister of India, who had called on the nation to help. Apart from this simple commitment, there was no fanfare. That later on, that these relief works were widely broadcast through TV channels and newspapers was a reflection on their impact.
“All hands on deck” is the order of the captain when a ship is in peril. The sailors immediately obey their commander. So here and now the ship of humanity was in peril – our brothers and sisters and children, linked to us in our shared humanity, were suffering on an unbelievable scale. Within three days of the lockdown announcement, meals were on their way to the hungry. Love in action – delicious food, nourishing food, fresh food, cooked daily with loving care and a generous spirit. Such is a doing of love.
For those with hearts to hear, the thought ‘someone has noticed me, someone cares’ enlivens sinking hearts. When you are that down and out, such practical kindness reaches deep. ‘Thank God for these good people’, says the displaced person. ‘I thought I might die.’ And some, indeed, did die as they travelled the long journey home. Thank God for unqualified compassion and a practical heart of pure love. Thank God for clear thinking. Thank God for the leadership of spirit. Within days RSSB Centres in many parts of India engaged with relief work in the same spirit of service.
For an idea of the scale of operations that ensued, both in Dera Beas and RSSB Centres elsewhere, some statistics are shown below. The relief provided was recorded from March 26 over a span of some 57 days and notes several categories of relief: packed free meals; shelter; and arrangements for isolation camps using RSSB facilities. The data is mind-boggling.
- Number of RSSB Centres engaged in the relief work: 372
- Total meals delivered in this period across 18 states and union territories of India: 52,723,226 (5 crore, 27 lakhs, 23 thousand, 2 hundred and 26 meals)
- Shelter provided to migrants during the same period, with overnight stay, bath, and food in eleven states of India: Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgargh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Jammu & Kashmir
- Isolation Camp arrangements at existing RSSB facilities, which were managed by government agencies, provided to the government in seven states: Haryana, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab. This includes sanitary toilet and bathroom facilities for men and women.1
- Scale of largest Covid-19 Isolation Camp arranged: a 4,000-bed facility in Nagpur
What is it, people ask, that enables RSSB to deliver support in such volume and quality, with such timeliness and efficiency? First and foremost, it is love for the power that gives life to all and for the creation born of that one power – love for the Supreme. This is the primary force behind the figures, simple and unadorned. Love for the power of goodness – call it by whatever name you want – is then made fruitful by thousands of hearts and hands. The fact is that the recipients are human beings. It makes no difference whether they are of a particular religion or not of any religion. Each is an individual person, born into the one human family.
Additionally, the culture of Punjab, from where the RSSB Society had its beginnings, may be seen as having three great strengths as a legacy from the 15th-century mystic, Guru Nanak. First is the leadership of the Master, from whom the meaning of mercy and truth is learned. Second is the tradition of langar, the Master’s kitchen and a place of unbounded generosity and solidarity that feeds all who come together to hear the teacher’s message of truth. Third is an embedded tradition of seva of the Master, or selfless service, through which a seeker of truth is privileged to serve his or her fellow human beings.
Time too has played its part. Over the last century the crowds who visit the RSSB Centres have grown steadily, and as a result, the organization has been continuously expanding its capacity to serve visitors with dignity and adequacy. To match the ever-growing numbers, the Society has developed more and more RSSB Centres so that people can come together to learn and to serve.
And lastly, and maybe most important to the context, RSSB can respond to crises with extraordinary results because of the spiritual priorities that inform all the functions of the organization, and its exceptional quality of leadership.
Look around you at Dera Beas and note the diversity of people working together in the relief service. Among the volunteers now in the time of lockdown, while routine activities have been suspended, you find cooks, housewives and mechanics; professors, secretaries and civil servants. Writers, teachers, accountants, retired security guards, business whizzes, and retired management professionals; elderly and young; the wealthy, middle class and poor; and because schools are all closed – from the school located within the township – the school principal, staff, and many students also enrolled. Designated to serve as the packing team for one of the two meals being prepared, some 200 students of all ages signed up to participate. All are volunteers. All see themselves as sevadars, as people serving the Master and the institution. People love to be able to do such service. Some arrive for seva even one or two hours before work starts in the early hours before daybreak to ensure they secure the opportunity. And the hope of all is to secure a place where they will surely see the Master, in case he should come on a tour of the activity.
The way of spirit welcomes all. There is special provision for volunteers who cannot stand for long and cannot work at the customary low-table height of many domestic activities in India. A large section of regular-height tables and chairs provides places and tasks for the elderly and less-mobile to participate. Away from any hustle and bustle, they separate, open, and fold back the small plastic pouches to make them ready for others to fill and pack.
With the spiritual guide as the behind-the-scenes conductor, love in action creates a symphony with its own uplifting tune. Everyone has a part to play and their place in the orchestra. All contribute to the whole. United in the objective of service, the orchestra is greater than the sum of its parts. All want to give their best and all want to please the Master. No part is too small. No part too big. Like spokes in a bicycle wheel, each is integral, none more important, and none less. If a person is disgruntled for some reason, it makes no difference to the music. After all is said and done, we are human beings and we have our ups and downs. All work together and create a symphony of focused action, enthusiasm, and service. And if the conductor, the guide and mentor, turns up in person where the seva is taking place, then delight knows no bounds. After all, it is the conductor who holds the symphony together – who is responsible for its harmony and power.
It is the conductor who makes a symphony of the music. The sevadars are each busy doing their part in the business of love: this is the spirit communicated. We are privileged to be players. Don’t take our service away from us. We’ll be desolate if we lost it. The spirit of seva: the doing of love. Not only does it deliver miracles in the physical world of need and suffering. It builds worshipful space in each person’s inner being, spaces of contentment conducive to spiritual growth.
The choice is ours
Love in action - the response to the present crisis – is not happening only in Punjab or RSSB Centres. Look at the frontline health workers all over the world at present. It is the same humanitarian spirit that drives individuals and communities all over the world to take action at times of need. There are multitudes of people, societies, and organizations that rise in love to respond to national and global crises in the same spirit of service and compassion. Love – spirit’s embodied truth wearing one of its suits of finest clothing – lies at the heart of every human being. The choice is ours, as children of one family, to activate it or not.
The spiritual perspective invites us to recognize our place in the grand scheme of things. From St. Paul’s well-known letter to the Corinthians: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love I am only a resounding cymbal or a clanging bell.” And a saying from the culture of the Sufis advises: “Raise yourself to that level where the Lord himself will say to you ‘Tell me my friend – what is your will?’” From the spiritual perspective, to merge with the Highest, the source of everyone and everything, is the greatest purpose of human life.
As members of the human species we are distinguished from other creatures by our particular power to think, reflect, and choose. We can make informed decisions. Modern life with all its challenges gives us many options. Unlike earlier times, we have access to vast resources of scientific knowledge and we know generally what is good for us and for the material, natural world. Many of us experience an inbuilt longing to worship. If, then, we want to experience more than life’s material dimensions, we can choose to live a life of love in action. If we want to see for ourselves creation in all its spiritual glory, we can search for an adept of spirit who can guide us how to worship what is true. We can choose to train as spiritual lovers with an expanded consciousness, so we can see spirit wherever we look.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to enable deep change. At this moment in the history of humanity the planet’s pause button has been activated. In a manner few could have imagined, humanity’s destructive relationship with the planet has been put on hold. Paused. We are offered a unique chance to reflect as we glimpse our planet-home with sparkling blue skies, birdsong, a quieter world and time to ourselves, which remind us of a less materialistic reality where the air was not polluted, rivers were clean and you could drink from them, forests were abundant, oceans were not filled with plastic, sentient creatures were not bred and slaughtered in their billions as food for humans to eat. And as we hold our breath in the face of many uncertainties, we can see the power of love in action to restore, heal, celebrate, and expand the human capability for goodness.
“Love is the astrolabe of the mysteries of God.2 Whether love is from this earthly side or the heavenly side, in the end it leads us beyond,” says Rumi, the great Persian mystic poet. Caring for God’s creation, respect for our fellow human beings and the living planet that is our earthly home – our human capacity to love beyond the beginnings and ends of the earth – this is programmed into the human heart. It is what and who we are.
Love is a verb not a noun
Not a subject, not an object, not a thing
Not something that just happens to us
Love is the choices we make
Love is the doing of love
The doing of compassion and kindness
The merging of me with the other
The giving of me and mine
Love is the choices I make
Love is the sharing of what life gives to me
Being a part to the whole
Obeying love’s discipline without question
The practice of humility
Being grateful for life’s abundance
Respecting life’s deeper order
Love is the choices I make
Love, it is said, makes the world go round
Love it is said, moves mountains
Life’s first song – love – is all we need
Love is truth and peace and trust
The one who has loved knows God, it is said
The one who knows God, is love
Love is the choices we make
- A point of relevance in the Indian national context is that all RSSB Centres provide well-maintained toilet and bathing facilities in quantity sufficient to meet the needs of the very large crowds that may visit the centres.
- Jalaluddin Rumi, Masnavi, Vol. I. An astrolabe is an instrument and navigational aid that was used to measure the altitude of stars and planets.