You are the stone. You are the chisel. You are the maker of your own happiness.
At Swaminarayan Akshardham in New Delhi, the sculpture in the first exhibition hall profoundly states, “Man is the maker of his own happiness” to highlight a quintessential concept: self-improvement. Both the sculpture and its message serve as a constant reminder to visitors that individuals have the capacity to mould themselves and improve their lives.
Philosophers have contemplated upon self-improvement throughout history, each coming up with a unique definition. Greek philosopher Aristotle believed, “We are what we repeatedly do.” He believed in the idea that people are the product of their own actions. American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes opined, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” Self-improvement is founded in the idea that success stems from personal development and positive attitude.
Self-improvement is essential in every aspect of life. It is necessary in our personal relationships, our careers, and most importantly, our personal satsang. Self-improvement is a process that requires inspiration, introspection, and implementation. It involves change and personal resolution. Change is simple and even welcome when it involves external factors. Positive internal change, however, proves to be the most difficult journey.
Self-improvement requires mental resolution and determination. One may ask, “How can I possibly even start this Sisyphean task of improving myself? After all, I am only human.”
Tool 1: Antardrashti (Introspection)
Gunãtitam gurum prãpya,
Vibhãvya dãsa bhãvena,
In Satsang, the root of self-improvement begins with the concept that we are not merely human. Every morning in puja, we affirm: “I am atma, I am like Brahman, I am not this body.” Puja is a powerful tool to connect with Bhagwan on a daily basis and move forward on the path to becoming an ideal devotee. Each day starts with introspection upon our true identity.
Introspection is the most valuable tool to embark upon the process of personal change because it helps identify immediate and long-term steps essential to reach a goal. Understanding where we stand is crucial in determining where we need to go.
“How exactly does one practice antardrashti?”
Tool 2: Look to the Satpurush as a Role Model
The aforementioned shloka stresses the importance of finding a Gunatit Guru and fully surrendering one’s self to him. Through the guru’s guidance and grace, an aspirant can realize the beauty and bliss of the atma.
In the 116th shloka of the Shikshapatri, Bhagwan Swaminarayan states that one must become brahmarup to truly worship Bhagwan.
What does it mean to be brahmarup and how can an aspirant attain this state?
The answer is simple. The Ekantik Satpurush serves as an ideal example for us to emulate. Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the living form of an ideal devotee and the Gunatit Guru. Through his life and actions we can attain personal and spiritual guidance.
The Shrimad Bhagvat describes the 39 virtues of God. During Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s lifetime, he exemplified these 39 virtues as described in the shastras. In order to continually inspire aspirants, Bhagwan Swaminarayan established a spiritual lineage of gurus who exemplified these virtues.
Therefore, if we recognize the Gunatit Sadhu and imbibe his qualities, we can overcome our personal shortcomings and move closer towards becoming brahmarup.
The Gunatit Sadhu exemplifies many virtues. He is the ideal listener. When he listens, we feel as though he is our best friend attending to our every need. If we become ideal listeners, we can learn so much. The people around us have a great amount to teach us about life, school, and work. To some degree, we can learn through others’ experiences, regardless of their age and background. Through their experiences we can gauge what may or may not be right for us. Many satsangis have gone through hardships while still maintaining their personal faith. If we listen to their experiences of various situations, we may be able to use their techniques for ourselves, and in that manner, we may be able to progress in Satsang. Shrirang Swami experienced Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s ability as an ideal listener:
“In 1975, Swamishri told us youths to memorize Vachanamuts, Swamini Vatos, kirtans and verses from the Bhaktachintamani. When I heard that chapter two of the Bhaktachintamani was Swamishri’s favourite, I memorized it. Then, when I came to Atladra for the Vasant Panchmi festival I recited chapter two, which describes the greatness and qualities of a true Sadhu, in Swamishri’s puja. The verse, ‘Kãm dravya ne mãn chhe teha...’ – ‘Lust, ego and greed...’, came up, but try as I might I couldn’t recall the next line. So I sang the first half of the verse in the hope that I could jog my memory. I sang it three times but I still couldn’t remember it. Swamishri looked at me and realizing my difficulty, he completed the line: ‘Teha sãru nathi dharyo deha, jnãn vairãgya ane ãshesh, eva Sant ne nãmu hu shish...’ – ‘Are not what we have been born for...’. I couldn’t believe it! Despite all the work and responsibility of running the Sanstha, he was still able to remember such a verse. I understood the meaning of the line, ‘Shrutvãn mã sauthi saresh...’ – ‘One who listens attentively is the best of all listeners...’.”
Pramukh Swami Marahaj has the ability to make people feel as though they are being heard. Because of this incredibly unique quality, people feel as though they can trust him in any situation. When we feel like we have someone trustworthy by our side, we do not have a reason to turn away from him. Being a good listener allows us to be better people and by listening attentively, we can improve who we are.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is also an ideal supporter, where if we continuously turn to him, we will constantly obtain his support. With his support, we should feel like we are able to accomplish anything. He is also our ideal leader. Pramukh Swami Maharaj goes through great lengths to support his devotees, regardless of how young or old they may be:
A young, poor boy had been in an accident in Valsad in December 1999. He was hospitalized at the Mahavir General Hospital in Surat. A week later, when Pramukh Swami Maharaj arrived in Surat, he remembered the ailing boy. Swamishri expressed his wish to visit the boy. Immediately, transport arrangements to the hospital were made. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was driven to the hospital, but both sides of the road to the hospital had been excavated for a new water line. Because of the narrow road, the car was unable to make it all the way to the hospital. Subsequently, Pramukh Swami Maharaj walked the distance of about 150 metres during the busy, morning hours. He walked along the narrow, uneven path, between the shops and the excavated road. With the support of attendant sadhus, he leapt over the 2.5 ft-wide excavated trench to reach the hospital.
When he arrived at the boy’s bedside in the ICU ward of the hospital, he saw that the boy’s head was bandaged and IV fluids were being supplied through a tube in his arm. Pramukh Swami Maharaj gently placed his hand on the boy’s head and greeted him, “Prashant, Jai Swaminarayan...” Then he garlanded the boy and also placed sanctified flowers on his chest and head. He prayed for Prashant’s quick recovery. Pramukh Swami Maharaj reassured Shantilal, Prashant’s father, not to hesitate in asking for any help required. After coming out of the hospital, Pramukh Swami Maharaj again jumped across the trench and returned to the car. Disregarding the frailties of old age, Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s empathy and compassion reached out to a poor, ailing boy.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj shows that he is there for everyone and does anything in his power to show his support. We can progress in Satsang only when we have support through difficult times.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the perfect leader because he never asks us to do something that he is not already doing. Sometimes we feel that our teachers, bosses and parents ask us to do things that they do not do. On the other hand, whatever Pramukh Swami Maharaj asks us to do is something he already does, and would benefit us if we did it. No battle is won without sacrifice and hardships; if we are willing to face then, we will come out on top. Nikhilesh Swami had a firsthand experience of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s ability to be a great leader:
“In 1992 the final preparations for Yogi Shatabdi were in full swing. But there was so much left to do with so little time. Everywhere one looked, there were volunteers, craftsmen and labourers toiling away at a frantic pace. Yet, in my mind I was doubtful if we could finish the work on time. Swamishri was staying in Gandhinagar at the home of Gordhanbhai Patel in Sector 29. However, I didn’t have the courage to go and face him. If I went, he’d ask, ‘How much work has been completed?’ Obviously I’d have to give him a full report and reveal how much work was really left. And with only one week remaining before the opening ceremony, I was certain that he wouldn’t be too pleased. Some of the sadhus were discussing possible solutions on how to finish the work on time. We weren’t making much progress, so we thought that we may as well go and have darshan of Swamishri and then we’d sit down and think afterwards.
“Swamishri was having breakfast when we arrived. We prostrated before him and sat down. Since there were no visitors that morning he smiled at us and said, ‘Come, sit closer...’ Before we could say anything, a sadhu said, ‘Nikhilesh Swami is tense about whether or not the work will be finished on time.’ I tried to defend myself, ‘Obviously, at this stage there’s going to be tension. All day all I think about is, ‘Will the work be completed or not?’
“Calmly, Swamishri said, ‘There’s no need to worry. Understand that God will work through you and everything will be completed.’
“I said, ‘But I’m not going to be able to do everything on my own, am I?’
“Swamishri encouraged, ‘God will work through everyone 100 percent. Who are we to be able to complete such a great task? Put the entire burden on his shoulders.’ Then he advised us, ‘Look, just because we begin the festival, it doesn’t mean that absolutely everything is ready. Just finish off what is necessary for the opening ceremony, and you can finish the rest of the work later. Keep Maharaj with you and keep going. It’s Yogi Bapa’s festival. He’ll take care of everything.’
“Swamishri spoke so calmly that all our tension seemed to just melt away. Hearing his words, we were inspired. Working day and night, we got the work finished. In such situations, any other leader would have been under great stress. And thus he would put even greater pressure on his men to get the job done. But Swamishri remained as calm and light as a spring breeze. True to his words he put the strength of God in all of us.”
Good leaders provide people with the basic trust and understanding that they are reliable. Swamishri is reliable and dependable in all situations. He knows how to lead even in the most stressful of situations. We tend to trust people with such characteristics as they help us progress in Satsang.
Tool 3: Strive to Imbibe the Qualities of the Satpurush
Pramukh Swami Maharaj inspires and transforms thousands just by his life. His words, actions and personality nurture and guide individuals to better their lives and attain spiritual bliss.
From education and professional aspirations to spiritual endeavours, Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s incidents apply to all aspects of life. These few cases remind us that living life is human, but living inspired is divine.
To live like and attain the virtues of the Gunatit Sadhu is the ultimate goal of this life. Even living one moment like Swamishri invites infinite happiness and peace. If we want to live a meaningful life, then we need to do the things that bring us ultimate happiness. Ultimate happiness is not achieved through the luxuries, but through continually improving oneself towards the ideal of spirituality – Pramukh Swami Maharaj.