Once a young sadhu went on parivrajaka. He walked tall and he walked slowly, repeating his mantra every step of the way. As he walked he practised bhoochari mudra (gazing into the space immediately in front of the open eyes, thus cutting off distractions from external objects), until he came to a village wherein lived a wealthy woman. This woman used her wealth in serving the poor and the sadhus who passed through the village, and through this service she had grown very wise.
O, sadhu, where are you bound, with your staff and kaupeen (loincloth) and kamandalu (water pot)? asked the wise woman.
I heard a voice from within telling me to go into isolation and practise my yoga sadhana, for my mind is fixed on attaining God, he replied, still gazing into nothingness.
I shall build a hut for you near the bank of the river, said the wise woman, and there you can perform your yoga abhyasa.
And so the wise woman had a beautiful wooden hut made with a roof of straw, eight foot by eight foot, no more. From time to time she provided him with enough rice, pulse and vegetables to last for many days. Every morning and evening he bathed in the river, and at night his Om chanting could be heard far and wide, for he had a powerful pair of lungs. And thus his tapasya continued without a break.
In this way the years passed, until one day the wise woman decided to test his progress. For this she selected three of the poor villagers whom she had helped out of difficulty in former days. Instructing them in what to do, she told them to report to her the reactions of the sadhu, and then she waited.
In the morning a small child came knocking at the door of the hut.
O, sadhu, he cried, Open up your door. My mother is sick and we two are alone in the wide world. Kindly help me, for I know not what to do, and I am hungry.
I am in the middle of my one hundred and eight rounds of surya namaskara which I must perform every morning before breakfast, replied the sadhu. Go away child and do not disturb me now.
In the afternoon an old man came knocking at the door of the hut.
O sadhu, he pleaded. Open up your door. My cow is ailing and she is all I have to live by. Give me a mantra that will cure her, so I will have some milk in my old age.
You and your cow are just an illusion, retorted the sadhu, annoyed at being disturbed for the second time in one day. Have faith in God, and give me peace to do my bhastrika pranayama. I have to complete two thousand rounds before lunch.
In the evening a fresh young maiden came knocking at the door of the hut.
O sadhu, she called. Open up your door and let me in, for I have loved you these long years ever since I first saw you enter the village, and now my heart is in torment. What am I to do?
The sadhu could stand it no longer; three times he had been interrupted in one day. His anger broke and he flung open the door, You have interrupted my meditation, he shouted, red in the face. Do you not know that sadhus are not even supposed to look upon the face of a woman? Be gone from here! With that he slammed and bolted his door, and sat again for his meditation.
The very next morning, having heard the story from the three petitioners who had asked the sadhu for help, she went with them to the sadhus hut, carrying a fire-brand in her hand. The sadhu, seeing the smoke from the river where he was taking his early morning bath, rushed breathless to the hut, just in time to see it collapse into the dust.
What are you doing?! he demanded of the wise woman, seeing her for the first time, now that he had forgotten his bhoochari mudra.
I heard a voice from within, she answered, telling me that this sadhu has wasted seven years in selfish sadhana, thinking he can realize God while the whole world around him is on fire. Still his heart has not begun to open. Burn down his hut!
The woman was indeed wise, for she knew that yoga without seva is incomplete. She taught the sadhu the practical lesson he needed to learn in order to progress in his sadhana. Yoga can take you half way to God, but combined with compassion for the suffering of others and seva, it will take you to the end of the road! For how can anyone, sadhu or householder, sit back behind a closed door when the whole world is burning?