Upasana: Shastriji Maharaj’s Servitude to Bhagwan Swaminarayan
Upasana – to understand and worship God – is one of the four principles emphasized by Shastriji Maharaj for the harmonious spiritual development of all. The other three are agna, sadbhav and paksh.
In his 49 years on earth, Bhagwan Swaminarayan consecrated six magnificent mandirs at Amdavad (1822), Bhuj (1823), Vartal (1824), Dholera (1826), Junagadh (1828) and Gadhada (1828). Through these mandirs he consolidated the Vedic ideal of offering worship to God and his ideal Devotee, i.e. the upasana of Bhagwan and Bhakta.
In the Vachanamrut Bhagwan Swaminarayan has clearly revealed the upasana of Akshar-Purushottam as the highest of all spiritual doctrines: “When God incarnates for the purpose of granting liberation to the jivas, He is always accompanied by His Akshardham, His attendants – who are formed of chaitanya – and all of His divine powers; but they are not perceived by others.
“A devotee of God should realize that the form of God, along with His Akshardham, is present on this earth, and he should also explain this to others.”
- Vachanamrut Gadhada I-71
The important point to understand and practise in this is that the Bhakta or Akshar – also known as Brahma or Aksharbrahma – is the guide for the genuine spiritual aspirant. He leads the seeker to Bhagwan or Purushottam, to eternally offer highest worship at his holy feet. Thus, the aspirant respects and serves the Bhakta because he is his living guide on the spiritual path. However, ultimately, the aspirant’s worship and servitude is focused entirely on God. This is the true principle revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan as stated by him in the Shikshapatri: Believe oneself as brahmarup, separate from the three bodies – sthul, sukshma and karan – then in that brahmarup state always offer devotion to Parabrahma (116).
Thus, Shastriji Maharaj enshrined this philosophy in the central shrines of five traditional shikharbaddh mandirs at Bochasan (1907), Sarangpur (1916), Gondal (1934), Atladra (1945) and Gadhada (1951). However, he never lost sight of the fact that, ultimately bhakti and seva is offered only at the lotus feet of Parabrahma, Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
This is revealed by Shastriji Maharaj in his teachings: “Upasana is: to understand Shriji Maharaj as the avatari of all avatars, the cause of all causes, the all-doer, and always divine; to believe one’s atma as akshar-rup, behold the murti of God within and always offer upasana as a servant does to his master; to always remember Him while eating-drinking and in all activities, and to engage in this talk day and night; to develop friendship and discuss and discourse with devotees who have this nishtha; and to develop atmabuddhi in them and attach one’s jiva (with them), etc. All this is included in upasana.”
He also stressed: “Without attaining the state of akshar, the highest level of unwavering faith in Purushottam Narayan is not possible. So that one may attain the state of akshar, Maharaj, as described in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-71, has brought His Akshardham with Him. Only if this Dham is realized will the jivas attain kalyan. So, realize Akshar, attain that state and offer upasana to Purushottam Narayan. This is itself pure upasana.”
What Shastriji Maharaj preached was perfectly exemplified in his life, as the following incidents reveal.
One night in Sarangpur, Shastriji Maharaj was resting in the assembly
hall. Just then, some devotees from Africa arrived in the assembly hall.
Swamishri looked at them compassionately. Ranchhodbhai requested Swamishri,
“Swami! Please give some prasad to the devotees of Africa.”
“Give the imprints of your feet (made with kumkum).”
Surprised, Swamishri asked, “Mine?”
“If you want my footprints then cut off my feet! The feet of others,
except Maharaj, must not be worshipped.”
Swamishri’s emphatic reply left no doubt in the minds of the devotees.
After this episode, realizing Swamishri’s servitude to Maharaj,
nobody ever asked for the imprints of Swamishri’s feet.
Chant Only Swaminarayan
Gulzarilal Nanda, who at the time led the Labour Movement (Majur Mahajan) and served later as the Prime Minister of India, once said to Shastriji Maharaj, “I have come into Satsang through you. It is due to you that my life has changed. So, I’ll chant your name when I tell the mala. I will not chant the name of Swaminarayan, whom I do not know. I don’t know Swaminarayan, do I? I only know you.”
Immediately, Shastriji Maharaj replied, “I, too, chant the name
of my ishtadev, Bhagwan Swaminarayan. And if you desire to
attain kalyan, then you, too, should chant His name when turning
the mala.” Nandaji continued to argue, but Shastriji
Maharaj stuck to his stand. In the end, Nandaji accepted. He subsequently
chanted the ‘Swaminarayan’ mantra till his last breath,
while paying deep respects to Shastriji Maharaj’s servitude, upasana
and pure devotion.
Not even in his dreams would Shastriji Maharaj ever accept anything without first offering it to Shriji Maharaj. Devotees would affectionately and enthusiastically approach to perform his pujan and arti. And, every time, Swamishri would point out, “First perform the pujan of Thakorji.”
Despite this, someone deliberately misled Vitthalbhai Brahmabhatt of Nadiad and told him that Shastriji Maharaj himself makes people worship him and disregards God. During this period, Shastriji Maharaj visited Nadiad. To test Swamishri, Vitthalbhai accompanied him on home visits.
Going ahead, Vitthalbhai made arrangements to test Swamishri at a devotee’s house. When Swamishri arrived, the devotee was about to perform Swamishri’s pujan. But, Swamishri held his hand to stop him and said, “First bring a murti of Maharaj and then continue.”
The embarrassed devotee pleaded, “But Swami, I do not have a murti anywhere in my house.” However, the all-knowing Swamishri replied, “Why do you say that? Bring the one you have put away in the trunk.” And only when he brought the murti he had purposefully hidden in the trunk did Swamishri allow the pujan and arti rituals to continue.
Thus those who wanted to put him to the test were themselves tested. But, for Swamishri the important thing was that Shriji Maharaj had not been sidelined.
Only Swaminarayan’s Will Prevails
Many amazing events took place due to Shastriji Maharaj’s divine powers. Those who experienced such occasions with their own eyes would often exclaim, “Swami! Your will prevails everywhere.” Hearing this, Swamishri would sternly rebuke, “Beware! Don’t you ever say that? Do not speak like that again. Those are the words of one who is evil-minded! Since, only the will of Swaminarayan prevails. That Maharaj accepts what we request is due to his great compassion upon us.”
Bhagwan Swaminarayan was the focal point of Swamishri’s life. To disregard him in any way was regarded by Swamishri as an attack by the sword.
If someone came to garland Swamishri and attempted to do so without offering the garland first to Maharaj, Swamishri would refuse the garland. Then how could he ever eat a meal without offering it to Shri Hari! Despite possessing such invincible powers and his perfect God-realized state, Swamishri’s servitude to Shri Hari never faltered.