Alienated from India and her culture, these kids had grown up alone
in the playgrounds and streets while their parents worked the tills.
They barely spoke or understood Gujarati and knew next to nothing
about a spiritual life or the Swaminarayan Movement. A father brought
his teenage son to Swamishri in Bochasan.
There was a complaint. The teen was apprehensive. He hadn't wanted
to come in the first place but his father and mother had almost
dragged him out of the house.
"Bapa, he doesn't believe in God!" complained the father.
Swamishri was not shocked. Many people didn't believe in God. The
youngster stood silently waiting for the verbal whipping he fully
expected. Instead, Swamishri asked, "Do you live an ethical
"Do you do wrong?"
"Then you do believe in God!" Swamishri concluded, and
then added, "Some things we observe because we're afraid of
the government or the community, likewise, in all things we should
do all things conscious that God is watching. Believe that God is
the doer behind all things, this will give you strength and courage."
The teenager bowed his head for a pat on the head. Swamishri's conclusion
and remarks were acceptable to him. Here was a person, he thought,
who really understood him. So different from his own father. Los
Although it was Rakshabandhan waves of traffic on the expressway
rushed past the BSS temple on Pellisser Rd., Whittier. The Americans
weren't interested in Rakshabandhan, not that they even knew of
the festival's existence and meaning. The Hindu community of the
city did, and had decked out in their finest.
The soft pale red carpet lay hidden below the mass of humanity that
overflowed through the doors. Swamishri seemed effulgent sitting
cross-legged on his raised red velvet sinhasan to the right of the
painted marble images of Akshar Purushottam Maharaj.
Hundreds of millions of simple woollen or stylized rakhadis in India
at this time would be adorning the left hands of boys and men, tied
there by affectionate sisters. The rakhadi symbolises the brother
protecting his sister. Migrating Hindus had brought to America their
culture and religion and were not about to relinquish the beauty
of their heritage. Early this morning sisters had tied the rakhadi,
and now as the devotees formed a long disciplined line Swamishri
himself was tying rakhadis. The spiritual master was promising to
protect his disciples for another year!
A young man walked past Swamishri not waiting for the rakhadi. "Hey,
take the rakhadi," called Swamishri. The festival was a joyous
occasion and he was having just as much fun as the rest.
"But Swami, you tied one on my hand in Chicago," the youth
replied. Chicago mandal a few days ago had symbollically celebrated
the festival in Swamishri's presence. The youth did not want to
trouble Swamishri again.
"That's true, but today is the real day," he said. And
then laughed, saying, "I have to be careful, don't I? To tie
you down and make sure you don't wander away!"
The youth held out his wrist.
He was not the first to do so.
* * * The teenagers had in many aspects formed the backbone of the
American CFI. They had been there during the construction stage
and were spread throughtout the various departments during the actual
festival, serving in whatever capacity they could.
Swamishri had attended all three days of the Youth Convention and
had blessed them. He appreciated their seva and understood the hardships
and frustrations they suffered. Most had abandoned summer jobs and
vacation to help out. Swamishri was ready to meet them and discuss
problems or chat a while. Kalpesh and Mihir of Los Angeles both
served in the exhibitions as guides. They were part of a large team
that had attended a crash course in Indian culture, just so they
could serve better. Kalpesh wanted to speak to Swamishri and ask
his blessings for further studies. Mihir tagged along. He had never
met Swamishri privately before and was apprehensive.
Swamishri was taking lunch. Both were allowed to enjoy darshan.
After Swamishri finished, a sadhu escorted the two to him. Kalpesh
introduced himself and received blessings. Mihir was more awkward.
Red in the face he half bent, half knelt. Swamishri took his hand
and shook it.
"How are you?" he asked in English.
"Fine," replied Mihir.
"What is your name?" Swamishri again asked.
Soon Mihir had introduced himself. He felt completely at home. He
received his blessings.
On the lawn outside the trailer the two teens could not contain
their joy. They leaped up into the air shouting, "He met us,
he met us!"
"He shook my hand," shouted Mihir, "he really shook
my hand and spoke to me in English."
Pramukh Swami Maharaj was once walking towards the temple through
the car park of the New York temple when he caught sight of two
teenage brothers standing to one side. They belonged to a respected
satsangi family of many years. Unruly shoulder length hair, patched
jeans and a bored look told of their lack of Satsang. Swamishri
called them over. They gave him their 'who us?' look and strolled
over. Swamishri asked how they were and whether they came to the
He then said, "You should listen to and serve your parents
around the home. Be respectful to them, they have brought you up.
We should not forget their goodness to us, do you understand me?"
He was speaking in Gujarati and wasn't sure whether the message
had got through. It hadn't. Both were casually looking round ignoring
Swamishri. So he shook one by the shoulders and again spoke to them.
The situation was awkward but Swamishri felt it his responsibility
to try and change the brothers. * * *
He once told students, "To look good is modernity, and to become
good is spirituality." In a similar theme he addressed the
students staying at the Akshar Purushottam Chhatralaya in Vidyanagar
(APC). "Self control is disagreeable at this age. To roam freely
and live an open life we see as good. But dharma restrains us. This
is something which is very good for us. Doing puja, reading the
Vachanamritam and the Shikshapatri are all things that we don't
enjoy doing though they are the very activities that improve us.
At this age self-control is a must. The teenage years can throw
a person anywhere.
"When we do something in secret it is our life that we are
spoiling. At present we feel good, later we'll be unhappy. Spiritual
activities are to be started when young. Let it be a little boring
or frustrating. If you pray you will be given strength. Those kids
who do not take care ruin their lives. And then unhappiness and
tension. When older they feel sorry. Niyams are not binding us,
they are good for us..."
Commenting on a youth's TV habit he said doubtfully, "Maybe
sometimes... but learn something good from it...all the characters
portrayed are artificial, the actors become Narsinh Mehta one day
and a crook the next... We should become original..." To Shashank
who wanted to gain merit grade in school Swamishri recommended he
watch no television, not even cricket. "Watch when you're older,"
he explained, "this is the time to study."
13 March, 1995
While Swamishri was taking dinner, Dharmacharan Swami arrived with
a parcel. The parcel contained over 1100 letters written by young
boys and girls from Bombay. These children had decided to cut down
on watching TV, at least until their exams were over. They had written
to inform Swamishri of their intentions and to ask for his blessings.
Dharmacharan Swami showed Swamishri the parcel and explained, "Anandjivan
Swami has written a covering note asking you to sanctify the letters
by your mere drashti as opposed to reading them all."
Swamishri expressed his pleasure at the commitment taken by the
young children and added, "Anandjivan Swami has written this
so as not to cause undue trouble for us...but the kids have put
in a lot of work writing and have all sincerely decided to give
up TV. What effort is there for us in looking through the letters?
Open the parcel later and we'll check the letters out."
In June 1994, Swamishri participated in a convention for children
and youths at a park in Pocono Mts., Pennsylvania. When the youngsters
were playing sports during their break, Swamishri came out to meet
them. He watched them play basketball, baseball and cricket. The
youngsters could not hold back their delight. They were well aware
that as a child, Swamishri had played cricket in his home village
of Chansad. They requested Swamishri to play with them. Seventy-three
year old Swamishri politely refused their offer...once, twice...but
these were young children. They did not want to pass off this opportunity
so easily. Eventually, due to their insistence, Swamishri took a
cricket bat in his hand. The children bowled, Swamishri batted.
To please other youths, Swamishri also tried his hand at baseball.
How could those present ever forget such a divine spectacle? To
please the youngsters, Swamishri played with them as if he were
one of them. The 60 odd year age difference evaporated into thin
About 20 days later, Swamishri mentioned that his right shoulder
was giving him pain. Subsequently, a diagnosis of frozen shoulder,
secondary to a tendon injury was made. The injury had been sustained
during the few batting strokes that Swamishri had made when playing
cricket and baseball. He required intensive physiotherapy for about
11 months. Due to his age, recovery was painfully slow.
Two months following the injury when Swamishri was in Boras, Sweden,
he received a phone call from New Jersey. He was informed that 75
children and youths had taken a vow to stop watching television.
They had felt that their guru had sacrificed so much for them, having
sustained an injury in the process of trying to please them. They
were well aware of Swamishri's dislike of them watching TV and felt
the least they could do was to give that up. Swamishri was immensely
pleased with their devotion. He wrote:
Boras, 11 August 1994
To please Maharaj and Swami and as per Yogiji Maharaj's wishes,
you've all taken pledges not to watch TV. Remain firm in this matter...also
your schoolwork will improve...you will get good grades. Keep up
your determination to follow this niyam. If someone tries to force
you or your mind tries to tempt you, remember Yogiji Maharaj at
that time and engage in devotion...but never ever watch TV. With
blessings. A satsangi teen in Edison, New Jersey, had started eating
meat. Swamishri wanted him to stop. "I've heard you've started
eating hamburgers," he said to the boy sitting before him.
"Please stop now." Swamishri made the request.
The youth didn't want to and so had an argument ready. "A cow
gives milk, and a cow also gives meat. If there is no problem in
drinking milk what is wrong in eating meat," he argued.
"Everything is wrong!" replied Swamishri strongly. "There
is a difference between milk and meat. Taking milk from a cow does
not cause it pain, meat does. Should we do anything that gives a
person pain or should we be doing things that give no pain?"
The question induced the teen to think a while. He concluded that
Swamishri was right and accepted a vow not to eat meat again.
Meat, Swamishri never tires of telling devotees, does not mean just
beef, but includes all types of flesh from all animals. Fish, seafood
and eggs are included in the meat category. God has gifted man with
the earth that is bountiful in fruits, grains, roots and vegetables.
Where is the need to kill an animal for food? Should such himsa
be performed? The western world promotes eating meat in the name
of health! Does this mean that the rest of the world is unhealthy?
Safeguarding heritage has become a critical issue for Indians living
abroad. Within Indian culture lies spirituality and its attendant
morality and family traditions. Language plays an important part,
for it is the mother tongue that most effectively passes on culture
from one generation to another.
During a youth camp in New York July, 1990 Swamishri began his blessings
to the assembled teenagers, "I'll speak in Gujarati. Try and
understand a little. Our mother tongue and culture are entwined.
Culture makes us human, different from animals. Learn Gujarati,
read Gujarati, keep trying, so you can also read our scriptures..."
The kids hanged on to his every word.
Seven year old Priyesh of London sent a letter written in broken
Gujarati. He had asked regarding some personal matter. Swamishri's
reply gave him guidance but also included a reference to his use
...it was a pleasure to read your words written in Gujarati.
* * *
Mukesh Thanki had recently graduated. He had come for darshan and
ask, "Why does my mind waver and my life remain unstable? Why
cannot I remember things?"
Pramukh Swami Maharaj knew Mukesh well as he had stayed at APC,
Vidyanagar and was somewhat an amateur poet. He replied, "Do
you turn the rosary?"
"I've decided to do whatever you say from today," Mukesh
"From the time you stayed in the hostel in Vidyanagar, I've
been saying, 'turn the rosary, do puja, tilak-chandlo, prayer.'
Without these, stability and an unwavering mind will never become
real. You want to become a millionaire in a moment but don't want
to work for it... 'Just give me a pile, God!' How can this be? For
that you have to obey all the commands, involve yourself in bhajan-bhakti
and then the Lord is pleased."
"I don't care for God, to have you is enough..."
Swamishri was startled. The words hurt him. "What was that?
You don't care for God? Without God where would you and I be? This
air, water, food, strength, intelligence, who gives it all? I care
only for God. You should as well and keep faith in Him in all your
* * *
A London devotee was consulting Swamishri about marrying his son
a second time. Swamishri said quite forcefully, "There is nothing
wrong with him marrying again but there are some things you must
understand concerning how you treat the newly arrived girl and how
you help her settle down. Your own wife and both of your daughters
will have their own habits and ways...the new girl should be loved
as a daughter and everything in the home should be done with unity.
If she doesn't know how to do something, teach her. You may be traditional
in your ways and she be modern. How do you expect to get along?
First you must match your habits and ways. You have to let some
things go. If you talk to her with love she will be encouraged.
Some people never show affection. In such an atmosphere will she
then want to stay? Doesn't she need comfort and support?" He
was teaching parenthood and responsibility to a 55 year old, because
it was necessary in his home and so many others around the world.
Suresh was driving Swamishri in his new sports car through Wembley
in London. Swamishri had agreed to sanctify it fulfilling Suresh's
long standing desire. As Suresh steered the car through the busy
thorough fares, Swamishri began telling the rosary and speaking
During the conversation he asked casually, "Do you do puja?"
"No, Swami," Suresh was honest. "After I shower I
chant a little, that's all."
"Please do the puja," Swamishri said, "and only then
go to your shop. Just as you love cars, now also love to worship
God." Suresh agreed at once, persuaded by his guru's mildness,
and devotion to spreading Satsang. Here Swamishri was, sitting in
the front passenger seat of a sleek sports car and he seemed the
least interested in acceleration and comfort. Instead he held a
rosary and was asking him to do puja!
Two friends, Sandeep and Harish living at APC, Vidyanagar, met with
Swamishri. Sandeep still hesitated in smearing his forehead with
the customary tilak and chandlo during his morning puja. Swamishri
was talking to him. "What problem do you have? If someone is
preventing you let's negotiate with him..."
"No, no. Its not like that," said Sandeep. "I myself
feel it is best to do the tilak-chandlo only when I have improved
my life by living by Satsang's dharma-niyam".
"Your life will become ordered when you start applying the
tilak-chandlo. Once you start you will gain the mental strength
"When I go on tour the food always contains powdered onions
and garlic. You just cannot tell. There's no option but to eat,
that's when I feel that I shouldn't wear the tilak-chandlo."
"Does it ever occur to you that you should not eat the food!
When only such food is available you can always fast. Drink milk.
You'll survive. You should be firm in your beliefs. Whether there
are onions in the food or not, we should never eat 'outside' food.
People can live on milk and other things for months. Frankly, because
you have a weakness for such food you eat it, apart from that there
is no other problem."
Swamishri knew Sandeep well and was not about to let him break Satsang
rules. He was a good satsangi at heart and was having difficulties
because of his laxity. This was the time for improvement. Swamishri
would not allow him to hide behind a false modesty.
Sandeep admitted that Swamishri's analysis was correct. "Once
the food is there before me, my mind is tempted."
"The mind has to be controlled. It is not that you cannot resist
the temptation. God helps those who control their minds!" Swamishri
was speaking powerfully. If he had wanted to he could have been
softer, but a stronger approach was in askance here, and he would
not shy from correct teaching. Amdavad
Swamishri's faced showed surprise when he stepped through the wide
swing door that opened into his meeting lounge. The teenagers were
sitting in neat rows and as the door was closed behind Swamishri,
on cue they began to sing Sanskrit verses. Devan and Dhaval from
Florida had the best voices and so they led the singing, holding
the microphones. The verses had been picked from the Upanishads,
Gita, Shikshapatri and Stotra Sindu. Swamishri looked from one to
the other, checking whether each was singing by heart or reading.
Most were singing by heart. Their pronunciations were remarkably
clear. He was pleased. Imagination defied the scene. Just a month
ago these kids had landed at Amdavad Airport, tired and apprehensive.
For some this was their first trip to India. A youth camp had been
organised in Amdavad for them and they weren't sure whether they
would enjoy it or not.
For a few days the sadhus had talked to them about Satsang and Hinduism,
they had gone on picnics and a tour of the Swaminarayan temples,
seen Akshardham learnt some verses and had completed minor research
projects. For the past four to five days they had been giving short
speeches in English and Gujarati.
Mitul had gallantly struggled to finish his Gujarati speech on Shastriji
Maharaj. Swamishri had listened carefully, almost willing him on,
Sagar had also spoken in Gujarati. Kartik spoke on a vegetation
diet in English. Swamishri had watched and listened in a kindly,
fatherly way.These were his spiritual children, trusting him to
lead them into a spiritual life, helping them to retain their Indian
roots and escape the great American melting pot. Swamishri knew
that they would not be able to follow all the rules of a satsangi's
life, though he was hopeful that they would quickly learn. The teens
appeared not much different from any other group of US high schoolers
who might have assembled at any number of happenings; spiritual,
cultural, musical or whatever. The kids in turn watched him curiously.
How would he respond to their singing of Sanskrit verses?
He smiled a ray of appreciation and their hearts beamed back. These
were his boys, his satsangis. In America there were hundreds more
like them, boys and girls. They didn't know much about Satsang,
but wanted to. They were trying. Some had promised to stop watching
television. All had said they wouldn't eat meat. Most already did
a regular puja and attended special sabhas in their temples across
Yes, the future was good. Maharaj had blessed America. These kids
and their friends were not ordinary. Now they had set out on the
road things would be easier. He would still have to spend a lot
of time with them. Yogiji Maharaj's grace would help them. Satsang
would spread throughout the States and these kids would help spearhead.
Maybe some would also become sadhus. Several already had.