When I learned not to invite more Guests without asking the Host – 19 Jan 14

In the beginning of the year 2006, I was staying with a woman and her family in Australia. She had invited me and was organizing my program in the area. I gave lectures and workshops in different places around town and individual sessions in her home. I learned a very valuable lessons while being with her: always ask your host before inviting more guests to his or her home!

Like everywhere I went, I cooked the food for the evening and the family with whom I stayed usually ate along. This family, too, ate the Indian food that I daily prepared and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was mostly dinner, as I worked throughout the day, often giving many individual sessions in a row.

During one of these sessions, a lady was very interested in getting to know more about me, my family, my work and my charity projects. As there was only a limited time scheduled for one session, I could not go into detailed talk with her but as I saw her interest I simply asked ‘Why don’t you come for dinner?’ She was more than happy about this suggestion – obviously, as she would get to taste great Indian food and get a nice conversation and maybe a new, interesting friend – and finally she left.

After my remaining sessions were over, I went back to the main living area where I met my host. I told her that I had invited a woman for dinner and that she would come. The reaction shocked me.

‘You invited someone to dinner, to my home, without even asking me first? What if I didn’t want to have anybody around me tonight? Or if I had other plans?’

When she replied, I realized immediately that I had done a mistake. I had however never thought that this could be a problem! I had done this in Germany before, too – but I understood in that moment that I had usually been more by myself and maybe did not invite guests to other people’s homes. I was cooking there, too, but it was her home, her table, her family. I had obviously just been a bit too naïve.

I apologized in the next second, said sorry and told her that I would immediately make a call and tell this woman not to come, that we had different plans instead. This made her realize herself that her reaction had been a bit too harsh – but we just cancelled the dinner plan.

After a while, when we both had had time to sort out our thoughts, we had a talk and she asked ‘Is it normal for you to invite your friends when you are staying at someone’s home who doesn’t even know them?’

I explained her that I fully understood the point but that she should believe me that I had absolutely not thought of this! In India we have a different way of hospitality. If I have a guest at my home and am invited somewhere else, I can bring along my guests without problem. If you are staying at my home, you are more than welcome to bring anybody along for dinner and I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t tell me before. But I had realized that this was simply a different culture.

In the end, that was all there was. A difference of culture. And an important lesson for the future!

The Formality of an Invitation – and what happens if it was not clearly only a Formality! – 31 Jul 13

When writing about Indian habits, there is one more that came in my mind: the big formality of inviting people to your home.

Whenever you meet someone you know, be that in a wedding, another function or just when you are out on the road, and you are getting into a small conversation, there is a certain pattern to it. It starts with a greeting, you ask each other how you are and give short information to this point. Then you exchange some words about business or common friends or the occasion you are meeting at. Finally, when you have nothing to say to each other anymore, you part but not without giving the other one the obligatory invitation: ‘Oh, but you must come and visit us at home soon!’ and the even better reply: ‘Of course, yes, I will come, I will come!’

The funny part is that both parties know very well that the answering person will never actually show up in the other person’s home. In fact, the asking person already knew this when he invited him. They both knew the question would come, they both knew the answer and they both knew that nevertheless nobody would visit anybody else.

Sometimes however the other person may not be that much aware of this. Let me tell you of one story related to this. I knew a man who was doing the same thing I was doing many years ago – he was a guru. He had an acquaintance, a man from the town he came from, who had shifted to America and had settled there. Once this man came to pay a visit and when they parted, he said ‘You should come to the US, too! It will be great to see you there!’

When the guru had the feeling, some months later, that he would really like to go to America, he just went to the nearest US embassy and stood in line there, as it was common practice in earlier times. After waiting several hours, it was finally his turn to go in and apply for his visa. Obviously he was turned down but they were nice enough to explain him that it didn’t work in this way, that he needed a sponsor, someone to officially invite him, guaranteeing for his financial situation and so forth.

The man thought that should not be a problem, he had been invited after all. So he called the Indian man who lived in America and told him what was required for him to go to the US. This man however was highly surprised: ‘I just said that to be polite! I never meant to really invite you! It was just a formality!’

I have to laugh when I hear such stories about the consequences of common formalities! Nevertheless you can see clearly where this formality comes from: Indians love having guests and they also love being guests! Hospitality is in their blood and so they invite even people whom they don’t know very well to come to their home, have food, drink tea and be together. In many cases it remains a formality – but there are cases in which this formality is the beginning of a deeper relationship.

How a Difference in Culture changes the Definition of being poor – 14 Jun 13

In the past days I compared the needs that children have in the west, according to a study by UNICEF, with the needs of children in India. There are still a few points left:

12. Two pairs of properly fitting shoes (including at least one pair of all-weather shoes)

This is a very important factor and I believe it should really not be underestimated how much this costs the parents. Children’s feet grow quickly and they regularly need new shoes so that they can walk and jump and run properly.

Fortunately the weather in our area in India is so mild that you can run around without shoes most of the year, too, but with the development of streets and the pollution of the whole town it is not anymore so easy or hygienically advisable as it was when I was a child. We provide the children of our school the black school shoes that go with the school uniform and we often see them using those shoes in their free time, too, as they don’t have any other pair. In summer, they obviously prefer taking them off, though. Then there are light and very cheap flip-flops with which the size is quite flexible – so you will see children in much too big and much too small shoes, too. While I would reduce the number to one pair of shoes, I think it is in India, too, a sign of poverty if you really have no pair of shoes at all.

13. The opportunity, from time to time, to invite friends home to play and eat

This is another point where I can tell you that the big majority of Indian children seem to be less poor than children in the rich countries the study was made for. In India, even the poorest of the poor invite their friends over to their home. The children of our school go to each other’s homes regularly and they also eat there. It might be a question of the Indian hospitality that you would offer from what you have, however little that may be, and share it with the ones who are there. Another aspect could be that the poor western parents may be more ashamed of their poverty than the usual Indian family, simply for the fact that there are a lot of poor people in India.

14. The opportunity to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, name days, religious events, etc.

I have met a lot of people who were totally shocked when they heard that most children who come to our school don’t know when their birthday is. Their parents don’t know either, because it is simply not important to them. This is partly due to culture but partly because they cannot afford to do anything special on that day.

Religious events however are very important and everybody, no matter how poor, will celebrate Diwali for example. If they even only light an oil lamp in their own home, make a small pooja and pray for some more financial luck in the next year, they will definitely do a celebration.

I am not too sure about the quality of this criterion because such celebrations can range from a cheap and simple home celebration to super expensive with lots of gifts and a big party. Isn’t a celebration what it is because there is a special atmosphere in the air? Or because the family gets together? Couldn’t that be achieved without money, too?

How difficult a stubborn Indian Mentality can become in the West – 21 Apr 13

As I already told you, I was travelling with a flute player in 2005 who gave my programs a special musical touch which was always very nice and appreciated by all participants. It was a good idea to take a live musician along, as I had lots of program and his flute music created a beautiful atmosphere many times. After spending some time together with this musician however, I got to know that this man’s character and mentality were not really right for doing this kind of journeys and work. It became very clear when Yashendu had a conversation with him about our hosts.

We were three people now and obviously not each of my organizers had enough space to accommodate all of us, so we split up whenever it was not possible. There were always other friends or hospitable people who were happy to have one or two guests for a week. In one town I had a friend of quite some time where I always stayed. My brother Yashendu and our musician were invited by new friends, a very nice couple who had also helped preparing the visa for our musician.

When I stay anywhere, I am usually the one who does the cooking and in this way I like to give back a little bit to my hosts and give them the joy of eating Indian food while having guests from India in their home. Yashendu did the same and it was a kind of habit that those who did not cook did the dishes afterwards. Throughout our travels however, and at this place, too, our musician had no inclination to help – neither in cooking nor in washing the dishes. Washing the dishes is anyway something that many people in India see as ‘lower work’. When we told him that it was normal to help and that he should do the dishes from time to time, too, he replied ‘I am a higher caste person, I will not wash anybody else’s dishes!’ Even though Yashendu answered ‘You are not in India, this wrong thinking doesn’t work here! You are in Germany, everybody is equal here!’ He listened and started washing his own plate – but nothing else.

Well, that was only a small aspect that we got upset about but the real problem with his attitude arose shortly before he was going to leave Germany again. He had his ticket and told Yashendu about the timing of his train. He said ‘So our hosts will drop me off at ten o’clock and then…’. Yashendu interrupted him ‘No, wait, they won’t be able to take you, that is office time, they will be at work. So you will take the taxi.’ Hearing this, our flute player got very upset and started a strange discussion with Yashendu.

‘What do you mean, they won’t even drop me off? What kind of hosts are they? Really, they are not treating their guests right at all! You have to work in their home, have to get to the train on your own… if any of them came to India and in my home, I would show them what hospitality really means!’ He wanted to go on with some more examples but Yashendu again interrupted him, this time already slightly angry and most of all shocked about his thanklessness. ‘Come on, these people are doing everything for you! They sent you an invitation so that you could come to Germany at all! They give you their home, they feed you, they are your friends and come to your program!’

Obviously their conversation went on a bit further but I can spare you the time, you already know what kind of mentality our musician was displaying there! It was incredible and when my brother told me about it, I knew I would never take this man along on my travels again! Unfortunately I have seen a similar, unthankful attitude with other Indians many times on my travels. I guess it is a problem of how they were raised that they have expectations of getting things for free and taking for granted whatever others do for them.

I was happy that our friends did not get to hear all of this and knew that I would always take care to show my thankfulness by being a good friend.

Indian Hospitality also out of India – 22 Jan 09

Today in the evening we were invited by an Indian man to his small restaurant. When I was in Luxembourg the last time he and his wife came to meet me for healing. He was born and grew up in London and met his wife, who is from Portugal, here in Luxembourg. Since ten years they have been living together in Luxembourg. They cooked a very special dinner with much love because I have a special and strict diet. Roger and Mady were also invited to we went together to Luxembourg city. The man who had invited us was very pleased to have us as guests there.

After a great dinner with wonderful food I told a story from the time when I was in Paris. I was walking along the street with one of my friends and we were very hungry. We were searching for a nice restaurant and by chance found an Indian restaurant. I was very happy and so we entered. The owner of this restaurant saw me and greeted me with much respect. I asked him straight away if we can have some food according to my special requirement without onion, garlic and chilli. He said ‘Sure, please sit down and tell me what you would like to have. We will make it fresh for you.’

He lived upstairs with his family and the restaurant was in the ground floor. He went upstairs and asked his wife to cook this special food for me and soon a wonderful meal was ready. After dinner my friend asked him for the bill to pay. But the owner brought his hands together in front of his chest and said ‘I cannot take money for this food. I feel honoured to have Swami ji here. This is my business but I only want a blessing from you, not money.’ Then he even gave me a donation when he got to know about the Ashram and the children charity projects.

I told this story tonight and told that this is Indian custom. A guest is seen and respected as God and in the Indian culture it is a big honour to have a spiritual guest and to feed him. They look for blessing, not for business. The same kind of experience I have had not only in Paris, also in Germany, in England and in Australia.

Surprising Guests – Pilgrims and Indian Customs – 4 Sep 08

Radhashtami, the  birthday of Radha is getting close and in Vrindavan they celebrate this day even more than Krishna’s birthday. From all over India pilgrims come to the town, some making the journey by foot, others by train and many of them take one of the popular coaches which make the journey especially for this day. They arrive here and stay wherever they find a place.

This afternoon Ramona was in the office together with me and wanted to get some water. She went out of the room and was surprised: about ten people she had never seen before were sitting in the entrance hall and, of course, were all looking at her when she came out of the office. It is not unusual though to meet a stranger in the Ashram.

You know that our Ashram is open for everybody who comes with devotion. It lies on the main path of pilgrimage in Vrindavan, the Parikrama Marg and this is how the pilgrims came in and asked if they could stay for a few nights. These pilgrims have very little requirement, just a place to lie down, preferably under the open sky, and some food. During daytime they visit the places of their pilgrimage and in the night they sleep in our courtyard. It is a nice part of the Indian culture to open your heart and your home even for unknown guests. You provide them and welcome them with everything they need without making prior arrangements. 

Truth of Feelings – Guests and Hosts and Expectations – 8 Apr 08

Since I have come back to Europe yesterday I was thinking of a friend that I lost and realized that I am still feeling pain and that I still feel hurt. I was not thinking of it much in the last days but now I am back here.

I called somebody my brother, but I feel that in the western world relations like this are not valued. Many people do not know the love that is there in this kind of connection. I gave this person love in the same way as I do to my brothers Yashendu and Purnendu. The love of a brother. And here many people think that you can finish this relation with one mail, just in one day! It is such a sudden cut and it is still fresh in me. I was made an 'ex-brother'. And how can that be? How can a brother be 'ex'? My real brothers could not even think one thought in this direction!

People here grow up in a culture in which it is normal that a relationship finishes from one day to the other. Then the love is suddenly gone. Whatever was said about being brothers and receiving and feeling so much love is forgotten. There is no value to what is said. Is it just talk? To say that there is love for someone and the next day all contact is over? To say that I should be there at the end of the life and then finish the relation in this way? If you talk without meaning it you will hurt others! There is not enough sensitivity. Suddenly there is no contact anymore. Is this the right way?

And what is the reason why somebody goes from one day to another? Because I cannot fulfill their expectations. When I let people come close to me they develop expectations. I am a sensitive person and that is why I am hurt. And I want to keep this sensitivity. This also makes me special, this is what I am. But you can see that it is difficult to trust when these things happen.

I just compare this with my friendship with Michael or Govind. I know Michael since the first day I set my foot in Germany and I never felt any expectation from him. He is just standing there and sees how one person after the other is coming and going. I know that relations break because of expectations, because I do not entertain the people the way they want me to. And love and expectations do not fit together.

Of course I am hurt and sad when somebody leaves me and especially in this way but on the other hand I am happy when these people leave. If you read the diary in the last time you will remember I was talking about sheep. I do not want to have this kind of people around me anymore! I do not want to have followers! I also do not want to live in the pressure of expectations which followers also keep. Expectations that are not fulfilled turn into disappointment, anger, ego-problems and much more.

I often feel people's expectations when I am staying in their home. I have a very different concept of guests and hosts. Thomas said in the morning that there are unspoken rules for guests and hosts both. The host should invest time to entertain the guest for example by showing him around the area and the guest needs to entertain the host by being a good and interesting person. And in this way pressure grows. You need to act, need to be different than you are. And then the host will be happy when the guests finally leave because it was exhausting to have them there.

I do not live in this way. I come in the houses of people with so much love that I want to create this family feeling in which you can feel well just to be yourself. I do not like to stay in hotels but in families. In hotels and in restaurants people are called guests. They come, eat, stay over night, pay and leave again. And the personnel give their best to entertain them. But I like to create a home far away from home. If I felt like a stranger in every house that I visit then I would be homesick all the time. I am travelling too much for having the feeling of being a guest. I would have to entertain my hosts nine months a year, each week another person.

And when I am home in the Ashram I am a host and people want to come when I am there. I am surrounded by visitors and if I would play the role of a host, a guide, an entertainer I would not feel at ease even in my own home. I invite people and say them to feel free, to feel like home. I cannot be an entertainer for the whole year just because I am always either guest or host. If I had this attitude I would not be Swami Ji anymore but only an entertainer. I cannot adopt this culture, this pressure. My life is like this. I am all the time with others and I want everybody to be natural with each other without expectations. When I am in someone's house I love to be with them when there is not this kind of expectation.

It seems like I get hurt when I give my love so freely. I am not going to stop giving my love. People are attracted by my energy, I am open and I let everybody into my heart. Thomas, with whom I was also sharing my emotions in the morning, said that my beloved ones, like Yashendu, Ramona and he need to protect me from this kind of people. He said he hoped I would not lose my trust in the people here. I do not want to have this doubt or keep distance and I will not.

Why am I writing this today? I write it because there are many people who experience disappointment and pain because someone left and many people who do this in different kinds of relationships. Please do not hurt others by saying what you do not mean! Don't think you can finish relationships from one day to the other! I know in your surrounding this is going on but it will not let you come to peace! I will finish this chapter but I wanted to share this so that not so many people get hurt in the way that I was hurt.