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The Inspirer and Present Guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

He has a heart wherein the whole world can live

Bettering People, Bettering Society:

"Then as a religious organisation, is it appropriate that you pamper the 'something for nothing' weakness of the people by organising bingo. If religious people like us let people play bingo then youngsters will think that religion has given freedom to gamble."
A devotee from Jamnagar sent a letter to Swamishri who was in Bombay at that time. Swamishri took the letter in his hand. He read it, or to put it another way, he tried to read it. He turned it around a couple of times attempting to decipher what had been scribbled. He passed it on to Dharmacharan Swami who was sitting next to him, "See this... Can you understand any of it?"
Dharmacharan Swami attempted to read the letter, but he too was unable to make head or tail of it. Swamishri gave it one more try but met with no success. He wrote to the devotee in question:
Received your letter... We tried to read it but were unable to understand it. Please rewrite another letter.
A few days later, Swamishri received a neater version from Jamnagar. This time, he was able to read the letter and give appropriate guidance.
Swamishri is determined to help wherever he can. His patience and understanding have uniquely abled him to serve society and God.
* * *
The young man was very angry. He could barely control himself. For some time now he had been having quarrels with his parents. He had had enough he said. Now was the time to act. How much longer was he supposed to tolerate.
Swamishri was in the small town of Vakaner. The young man stood in front of him bristling. "I'm going to teach those people a lesson. I'll become so wayward by drinking and doing other things that it'll open their eyes."
"That's being stupid," replied Swamishri.
"Then am I supposed to tolerate all their outrages silently like a dumb?"
Swamishri remained unmoved. He began to speak, "Listen, what right do you have to punish your parents? To open your parent's eyes you want to drink. Who is to lose though? You yourself will have to suffer the fruits of your actions. And God is there to look to the behaviour of your parents. If you become addicted you yourself will become very miserable. Start a business yourself, do something else but don't take such steps against your mother and father, what face will you show to society?" He continued in a similar vein for a while. The youth calmed down and began to digest Swamishri's words. At the end he accepted the advice. He would tolerate whatever problems his parents caused him and wait for happier days.
Introspection by the young man was necessary. This he could only do if there was a semblance of peace in the house. Swamishri knew this. He also knew that the fault was on both sides. If the son realised his own faults this would help his parents to change.
This was not the first time Swamishri had spent so much time with a family member, hoping that the family would not disintegrate. Family values, he says, are being eroded by a lack of tolerance. When four people get together under one roof there is bound to be friction. With understanding, respect and tolerance there is no family difficulty that cannot be faced and met with success.
A well to do Bombay family was on the verge of collapse. The father had recently passed away and his sons were quarrelling over the inheritance. Many relatives had attempted to intercede but the brothers would trust no one. To them, everybody had a selfish motive. Finally the case was brought to Swamishri. He called the brothers and after two months of negotiations a peaceable sharing of property was agreed upon.
A teacher was plagued by violent outbursts of anger. His young daughter once switched on the radio. He asked her to switch it off. When the girl thought that her father had fallen asleep she again switched the radio on. He was however awake. In reckless fury he jumped up and threw the radio onto the floor, destroying it.
Another time his son was riding his cycle in the yard. When told to sit down and do some schoolwork the boy ignored his father. At once the teacher grabbed the cycle. He turned it over and with a piece of wood began bashing it. Several days later he had to sell it to a salvager.
The family was disturbed by his uncontrollable anger and lived in fear of his violence. Through a friend the family came into contact with several satsangi families. When Swamishri was in Bochasan they went there for darshan.
Teacher: It was the first time I was meeting him. I found myself telling him about my anger and how it terrified everyone. Bapa put his hand on my head and said, "Chant 'Swaminarayan, Swaminarayan', your anger will go." He blessed me. Since then for the past four years my anger has almost disappeared. Swamishri changed my life. I'm indebted to him for life.
An acutely distressed widow sent a message through a devotee to Swamishri, "Please tell Swami to change my Kamal. He has become addicted to beer, keeps company with other addicts, and now cannot remain without drinks. He steals money from the house and beats his wife. When I ask he never hesitates to beat me wildly... What can I do? I see no road ahead. I cannot bear to see the unhappiness of his ten month old child... I'm so worried for the future... I'm so unhappy..."
Swamishri heard the story. He was moved. He had Kamal brought to him and sat him down for a while. The two talked over the problems. Kamal doing most of the listening. He promised to try and change for the better. But Swamishri would not let him return home. To go home would be falling into a trap he said. Friends would be waiting.
"They will take you back to your old habits. The temptation will be too great." Kamal was confused. Swamishri told him to stay with him. He could tour with him for a while under his watchful eye. For the next month Kamal stayed by Swamishri's side. Everyday the two would talk a little. Kamal grew in strength and conviction. His repentance was complete. Swamishri sent him home confident that he could now battle temptation successfully.
Another family had been saved. This pleased Swamishri. This was the way he could help society, by reintegrating fragmented families.
The family is the basic building block of a healthy society. If families are in trouble, society is in trouble. And this was what he saw, read about and heard daily. Over the years Swamishri had come across thousands of cases like this, which he found, with a little help, could be cured.
"Nobody in my family understands," a retiree had complained to Swamishri. He had decided to sue for divorce and live separately from his wife and sons. "My sons don't care for me, so I'll live off my pension. The kids and their mother have ganged up on me and are ready to kill me. I won't stay with them..."
The situation had arisen largely due to his own stubbornness. He had rashly filed divorce papers and naturally his sons had taken sides with their mother.
Swamishri was annoyed with him. In no uncertain words he said, "Why have you gone so far. You should have at least told me first!"
"Bapa, you're antaryami - you know everything!"
"If you really believe that then forget this whole business. When you die are you going to take anything with you? You're old now. It's time to worship God. The children are there to take care of all matters. Just look at the mess caused by your argument. What is the point of your being a satsangi? Are satsangis of Maharaj and Swami like this? Now, forget everything."
"As you say, Swami. You are pleased with me, aren't you?"
"Of course I am. When you're happy I'm happy..."
"Bapa, because you stepped in the problem has been solved, otherwise, there was no way that a solution could have been arrived at," the man said.
Swamishri burst out laughing. He leaned back satisfied that there would be marked improvement in the old man's behaviour. "It's final now. The decision has been taken in God's court, in Akshardham, and that is where we all want to finally go."
After four years of constant bickering the family sat together that night, each civil to the other, content in the knowledge that Swamishri was taking an active interest in their difficulties and could be relied upon as an unbiased counsellor.
* * *
The converted church in Islington had served the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission well for eleven years. However it was too small. A drab warehouse in Neasden had been transformed into a beautiful temple and in 1982 Swamishri was invited to London to reinstall the images that had been removed from Islington.
Swamishri also made the trip to Leicester. The programme was tight. His stay in the UK this time was brief, mainly for the new temple. A lot of other work had also cropped up. It was inevitable, once Swamishri himself was available all problems would be brought to him. During a sabha at Granby Halls one evening, he was catching up on some correspondence. At that time Anandswarup Swami came onto the stage with an Englishman.
"Bapa, this is Frank. He wishes to talk to you," said Anandswarup Swami. Swamishri put his pen down. He was ready to listen and offer a little help if he could. That was why he wrote personal answers to all the letters he received. He wanted to help. Whether a person was a Hindu, Christian or Muslim did not concern him. The human condition was the same everywhere. There was ignorance. If ignorance were removed and replaced by God consciousness there would be supreme joy. Swamishri wanted to teach this truth to everyone. But first he had to attend to problems which the ignorant people experienced to be overwhelming. They were not really problems, just wrong understanding. Correct understanding would make the journey to God all the more feasible. As in school, one had to start from kindergarten.
Swamishri looked at the individual in front of him sitting on the carpet. Yes, he was unhappy, he could see that straight away.
Frank began to speak, "I had a son who was 17 years old. My wife and I thought he needed psychiatric treatment so we took him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist said my son was mentally unstable and should be put into a hospital. We did, but my son was extremely shocked. When we would meet with him he always asked why, and would stamp his feet and say he wasn't mad and why was he locked up in the hospital. We used to comfort him. One day he climbed the seven foot hospital wall and ran away. There was a house nearby, he climbed onto the roof and tied a rope around the chimney. The other end he tied around his neck, he jumped and hanged himself, he committed suicide..." Frank broke off. When he regained his composure he continued, "Since then I've been so unhappy. His mother also has no peace of mind. We don't know what to do. We feel that he killed himself because of us. People say that, 'You didn't fully love him.' We feel guilty. What can we do?"
Swamishri was touched. Frank was sincere and truly distressed. He asked, "Did you give him affection?"
"Yes, Swami, we loved him a lot."
"Did you hold back on his treatment?"
"Not a bit, we were ready to do anything for him."
"Then look, Frank, you have nothing to worry about. Your heart is clear. You are not the reason for his suicide. Believe it to be God's will. Don't bear the burden anymore. If you do you will remain in tension. He has gone and will not come back. Go to your church every Sunday and you will find peace. Pray there. Your son is not to blame and neither are you."
He then told Anandswarup Swami to tell Frank to make a small donation to his church.
As he was leaving the hall a sadhu asked, "How do you feel now, Frank."
"Peace...peace...peace..! All my tension has disappeared. I feel a peace that I have never experienced before," he answered.
Frank told his vicar of his meeting with Swamishri. The vicar was impressed. A Hindu monk had managed to comfort Frank, and he had even told him to give a little something to his church. The vicar asked Frank to relate the whole incident at the next Sunday morning service. Frank and his wife were changed. They soon learned to accept the death circumstances of their son and to continue their own lives. Both became active church goers and just as Swamishri had advised, they began to pray.
* * *
Chandubhai Patel had built up a comfortable life in Uganda. In a letter from Pramukh Swami Maharaj, his brother-in-law had been warned to leave the country as the future held trouble. Both families had gone to London. Chandubhai settled down in Welwyn Garden City. A kindly neighbour, Mr. Stringer, helped them in anyway he could. He was a pensioner and lived alone.
In 1974 Swamishri visited Chandubhai's home. Mr. Stringer was also invited. The Englishman was so impressed he asked Swamishri to grace his house next door. His invitation was accepted. When Swamishri heard of his lonely life he at once commanded Chandubhai to regularly inquire after his neighbour and to care for him in illness.
In 1984, Mr. Stringer again met Swamishri in Neasden. Chandubhai was still taking a keen interest in his welfare. Mr. Stringer thanked Swamishri for his kind gesture and Chandubhai's perseverance.
Parmanandbhai's large house in Bombay had been selected as a suitable resting place for Swamishri to recuperate from his gall bladder removal surgery.
One evening a labourer came for blessings. Swamishri asked his name. He was from Uttar Pradesh and had delivered a basket of mangoes to the house.
"What do you do for a living?" Swamishri asked.
The young labourer hesitated and then said, "I work for a mango merchant."
"What does he pay you?" The labourer's clothes were shoddy and dirty.
"For every one basket I deliver he gives me ten rupees. In a whole day I never get more than two orders."
"Don't you have farming land back home in your village?"
"No. My mother and father are poor. Brother earns but he does not care for them." Tears welled up in his eyes.
"Have you studied?"
"Swamiji, I'm a D.H.M.S." He could practice homeopathic medicine. "Swamiji, I'm poor, even then I saved money here and there and managed to get a degree but now I don't have the money to start a dispensary. I've been here for six months and live in the Vadala ghettos. There's no one as unhappy as me..."
Swamishri felt sorry for this poor boy who had suffered so much. He called Ramcharan Swami, "Ask our Satsangi doctors to help him. He can help as a medicine dispenser." Turning to the boy he said, "Come here tomorrow evening with your certificates."
That evening Swamishri himself requested the doctors to find a job for the boy.
A father was worried about his only son. First he refused to marry. When he did finally agree, he contacted a girl from a newspaper marriages column and after only one meeting decided to marry her.
Swamishri spoke to him. He was concerned for the father and son. Marriage, he said, was not a contract or thing to be taken lightly. The Hindu concept of marriage was different from the western tradition. It was not two people that were coming together, but two families, "It's good that you've at last decided. You've met and talked a little, but I feel if she were satsangi it would be better. She's unknown to you, so it is proper to first check her background. Will she mix with your family, be of help...and of course, will she help care for your father? All this is to be considered as well. Your mother is not present now. Consider everything and do as you think fit. If she has a good background and she can look after your house and father in place of your mother, then I see no problem?"
Swamishri spoke as a relative. He did not show annoyance or bias. His words struck the young man as sensible. He waited a while and soon found that the girl, nice as she was, was not suitable to him as a life partner.
During a youth sabha in London at the Neasden temple, Swamishri cautioned, "Once you are married be careful that you don't divorce. For the extent of your lives you have to look after one another and if the case be, tolerate. Decide firmly on this. Once marriage has been solemnised in the temple there should be no thought of separating. Until death you have to remain together."
He had received many cases of youths who had jumped into marriage and were now saying that it wouldn't work. This was not acceptable to Swami. The grihastha-ashram was based on a loving bond between husband and wife. Together, the two would serve their ailing parents and raise their children to be good Satsangi's and citizens. If the parents were role models the children would learn true virtue and grow up to be responsible, and in turn, nurture responsible kids of their own.
He feared for the future. The institution of marriage was coming apart he said, "Due to our youngsters aping western materialistic values and traditions." If love were to be the basis of marriage why were fifty percent of all marriages in the US failing? Love, he explained, was a vital part of marriage, but it was something that grew between two people who in the confidence of one another's sincerity were working towards a common goal. Quarrels and misunderstandings, hardships and lean days were all part and parcel of marriage. A joint struggle to overcome difficulties was true marriage. Learning to accept the other's weaknesses was critical. It was a give and take process. To find a perfect partner you would have to become perfect yourself. If you wanted a Sita you would have to become a Rama. He said expectations were too high and efforts almost nil. 'I don't like her. She's lazy. Can I divorce?' No! Of course not. Marriage is not a game.
"It would be excellent if a compromise can be sorted out. Usually the fault lies with both, but a satsangi should be able to tolerate hardships. The boy should think, 'What would I do if my sister were in a similar condition?' The mother should also think, 'What would I do if the girl were my own daughter?'
There were one or two cases which due to the gross misbehaviour on the part of the husband or wife even Swamishri opined should be annulled. The person's behaviour was not that of a satsangi's. Harm and torment were being caused to individuals and whole families. Yes, chances should be given for improvement, mistakes could always be rectified and forgiven, but if the behaviour continued with no sign of change then divorce could be the answer.
It would be better to find a true satsangi partner. Swamishri took a very strong stance against infidelity. There was no room for such things in a satsangi family. 'Ek nari sada brahmachari' - the scriptures say that a man who is faithful to his wife is a true celibate.
He had also heard about the astronomical extravagance that marriages had become. The same was true in India. It had now become a case of, 'I can spend more than you.' Swamishri saw the answer in collective weddings. Every year, he decided, "We will organise such weddings, where at a minimum cost, and yet with full Vedic rituals and tradition couples can get married. Whether you marry your boys and girls spending millions of rupees or in the collective wedding, the main goal is to get them married! Because they marry in a collective wedding is their marriage void?"
Senior sadhus insisted that such a wedding would best be organised during Swamishri's birthday celebrations. There would be a big festival, the presence of thousands of devotees and Swamishri himself could grace the wedding area and bless the function. The proposal was enthusiastically taken up by satsangis.
In 1989 the yearly samuh lagna - collective wedding - had been held as part of his 69th birthday celebration in Bharuch. During a sabha Dr. Swami spoke strongly against the practice of dowry. When he finished he asked all those in the sabha who had decided not to take dowry to raise their hands. Several hands rose. Swamishri was writing letters. He looked up and said, "Tell everyone to raise their hands." Dr. Swami repeated this message on the PA system. At once twenty thousand hands shot up, vowing in Swamishri presence not to take dowry.
At the 1990 five-day youth convention in Vidyanagar another twenty thousand youths also promised not to take dowry. In various public assemblies and in private Swamishri has spoken against dowry. He particularly addresses the in-laws to whose house the newly married girl goes. The girl, he says, should be treated as a daughter. She is not a commodity or a money machine. The in-laws should not pressurise their son to ask for money. The practice is not civilised, nor is it becoming of a satsangi.
Lord Swaminarayan as a part of his social uplift work had stopped the rampant practice of dudhpiti. A newly born girl was immersed in milk until she drowned. This was because the parents were afraid that they would not be able to afford her marriage in the future. Swamishri has attacked the new form of dudhpiti with an equal vengeance. Increasingly, couples through sonography and other gender tests are learning the gender of their offspring in the first few week of pregnancy. If the child is not what they want, they have an abortion.
"It is dudhpiti," says Swamishri, "a form of killing. No one has the right to kill another individual, whether born or unborn." To counter this non-Hindu evil practice he has encouraged non-dowry marriages and samuh lagna. He refuses to bless devotees who ask his permission for abortion. To a satsangi, life is sacred, a God given gift.
* * *
Youth development projects have always been a priority with him. Today's youngster will tomorrow be a leader of society. If they are trained correctly, given good character and vision, a bright future for society is ensured. For their education a number of hostels have been set up, where ideal living and studying conditions have been created. The Sanstha has sponsored the building of numerous colleges and schools, including a Rs. 1,250,000 donation to the Charotar Arogya Mandal to help build a medical school in Karamsad, near Vidyanagar.
Today, Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sansthas is hailed as the home of youth creativity, where thousands of morally conscious youngsters have locked hands with spirituality to produce a peaceful revolution for better life.
Weekly meetings are a regular feature. The curriculum concentrates on developing the efficiency of the youth through programmes that nourish talents, sharpen intellect and stimulate creativity. And all these are cushioned in an atmosphere that furnishes moral and spiritual dedication. Perhaps, one of the reasons why more and more youngsters willingly join the Fellowship is that the meetings present and conduct all the various programmes in a scientific and sophisticated manner. This appeals to the modern mind. Lectures, group discussions, seminars, audio-visual presentations, field trips, and research projects satisfy their quest for knowledge. Creative arts are promoted through cultural dances, dramas, yogasanas, sports, historical outings and social work programmes. Courses in Character Development and Effective Leadership have enjoyed remarkable popularity. A culmination of youth energies is often felt in the International Youth Conventions, held every few years, wherein youngsters from America, England and Africa and the tribal villages of India, all come together for healthy competition in talents and creativity.
The youngsters become so morally motivated that they naturally abstain from all the scourges of society and lead a pure, addiction-free life. They lend themselves to help remould society. Almost every youth member is a zealous social worker. From touring to uplift the rural Adivasi areas to holding international festivals of enormous cultural and spiritual importance, the youngsters plan and manage all the activities with sincerity and precision.
Commenting on the volunteerism she saw at the CFI, in America, Dr. Flora Edwards (President of Middlesex County College, NJ) said, "I have witnessed something in the past few months that I would have difficulty telling another colleage in this country because they would never believe me. Two physicians closed down their practices for three months to do this! And then someone took a leave of absence, an unpaid leave of absence from his job. I see young people, lots of young people. They're going to M.I.T., Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers and Stanford. 'What have you been doing with your free time?' 'I have been working on this for months! 'You don't get credit for it! You don't get money for it! That is a concept that is so different in a materialistic society."
President George Bush thanked, "The Cultural Festival of India provides a wonderful opportunity for participants to learn about this fascinating land in South Asia and the unique music, art, craftsmanship, and folklore that Indian Americans have brought to the United States. This month long festival also reflects its organisers hopes of building a better tomorrow... I applaud the many volunteers who have made this event possible."
A unique research facility equipped to study culture and society has been set up as a permanent part of Akshardham. The Akshardham Centre for Applied Research in Social Harmony, AARSH, aims not only to bring out interesting research but to produce leaders equipped with the practical skills to help society in various ways such as de-addiction and safeguarding the environment. Extensive libraries and computer facilities are being provided.
* * *
On the 3 May 1990, Bochasan temple was host to a unique convention, the 'Dalit Mahasammelan.' The convention saw the participation of the Harijan castes, dubbed untouchables by a poisoned orthodox caste system. That the harijans were allowed into the temple and served prasad after the assembly was in itself a revolutionary step. Several other local religious leaders were also invited.
Mahant Baldevdas, a Harijan guru of Jhanjharka Savgunnath, shared the stage with the other leaders. He was invited to lunch with Swamishri. The Harijans represented more than 150 villages scattered across the districts of Kheda, Panchmahal and Vadodara.
In his blessings Swamishri said, "From the very beginning the Hindu religion has not supported discrimination. Hinduism has seen the world as a family. The discrimination we see was a later pollutant. The soul has no family or caste. Every soul has within it the presence of Paramatma. The distinctions of this world are to be forgotten. This is very necessary for the uplift of society and our country. If we work for it we will surely move ahead. You need help but effort will be required on your part. By dropping whatever bad habits you have you will become happy. In God's eyes no one is big or small. These are the beliefs of our mind, not God's. If we are strengthened with dharma then no matter what comes our way we will survive. Lord Swaminarayan did not change the religion of the people but their lives..."
Swamishri's efforts to remove the effects of a delinquent caste system includes educating both the 'higher' castes and the 'lower' castes. The 'higher' must learn to accept the 'lower' on an equal standing, understanding that these humans deserve equal rights. The 'lower' castes must work for their progress. They cannot expect to be accepted by the rest of society if they continue to practice things which modern society regards as obnoxious and primitive.
In this respect he has had unparalleled success. By himself visiting the huts of tribal people - the Adivasis - and speaking to them directly in their homes he has helped them live more sociable lives which are God centred. Swamishri has instructed teams of sadhus and devotees to continually tour the Adivasi areas, in particular Silvassa and Panchmahal, setting up Satsang kendras where the Adivasis can first learn to rid themselves of a primitive life style and then worship God. He has encouraged an academic education and various home industries in their communities.
Several Adivasi and 'lower' caste youths have also accepted initiation as sadhus at Swamishri's hands. These sadhus are on an equal standing with all the others in the Sanstha.
A mini revolution has swept through the areas toured by the Sanstha's sadhus. Christian hostels have started to close down. Conversions have been reduced and hundreds of Adivasis have already been reabsorbed into the Hindu fold. Many have accepted Satsang.
* * *
August, 1988
Mr. R., an American who regularly went to a yoga centre once came for Swamishri's darshan. Swamishri was pleased to learn that Mr. R. had a good knowledge of the Upanishads, and daily practised yoga. He was interested in a spiritual life. On discussion Mr R. admitted that two or three times a week he also ate meat and drank. This was contradictory to his spiritual efforts. Swamishri asked him to stop eating meat and drinking.
"That is something I cannot do. And if I should, with what view should I stop," Mr. R. asked.
"What view? Poison! Do you ever feel like taking poison? We don't smoke or drink and yet we experience unfettered joy."
"I'll try."
"Not try. You have to stop. If there are benefits to smoking and drinking, show me."
Mr. R. could not reply. He began to sweat and breath heavily.
Although Mr. R. did not know it at the time, Swamishri is highly motivated to help de-addict any addict who comes before him. Sometimes he is strong and unremitting, at other times he gives permission to leave off in stages.
Mr. R. was a good man. Swamishri had seen a spiritual light within him and knew that his drinking, smoking and meat eating were holding him back. He would use all arguments in his favour to try and convince Mr. R. to change his living habits.
"You have so much spiritual knowledge and also study the Upanishads and yet you live life like this. What can I say?"
"I'm a slave of my habits and tastes."
"That is why you cannot leave all this. If you listen to what I say you will be able to control your habits. Take a vow. If you continue to smoke and drink you will not move ahead spiritually. You meditate, but such habits disturb meditation. Addiction is attachment. The minutest of thoughts will stop your progress. This obstacle will hurt you everywhere. Drop it."
Again Mr. R. was silent and began to wipe his forehead. He said after a while, "What can I say Swami! I came to you for a drop of compassion and here you are trying to drop me into an ocean."
Swamishri laughed. "If you do stop, what do you think will happen to you?"
"If I stop smoking and drinking. I'll be caught up in fear, tension, unhappiness, worry."
"You're caught up now. You're a coward. You're worried just by the thought of stopping. Convince yourself that nothing is going to happen to you by stopping."
"If I cannot keep my promise, I'll be sinning."
"You drink sin! By calling yourself spiritual and continuing these habits you are sinning."
Mr. R. could not answer. Swamishri continued, "People take drugs, do you approve?"
"You are on your way to drugs. Do you approve?"
"Then stop! Why the delay!" This was the first time in his life that Mr. R. had met someone like Swamishri. He was moved. Swamishri had nothing to gain by being so insistent. When he looked up he saw that Swamishri was smiling, There was no anger, just compassion. He promised to try, and asked for blessings, going down on his knees and touching his head at Swamishri's feet.
"When you succeed, write to me." Swamishri told him.
Once, after breakfast in Sarangpur, Swamishri was meeting with devotees who had gathered for darshan from the surrounding villages.
An elderly man asked for blessings.
"Do you have a bad habit?" Swamishri asked.
"Yes, I smoke bidis, but that is a necessity. I cannot do without them."
"Try and stop now."
"No, if I do my soul will be distressed. I don't want to do that."
"Your addiction is taking you on a wrong road."
"What? Never!"
"Even if you're a devotee an addiction will take you on the wrong road."
"Everybody else maybe, but not me."
"You're defeated and have no strength, that's why you're saying this."
"Since I was very young, ten years old, I have been smoking. Now I'm 62. When I work the water wheel on the well, and I'm resting between work periods I smoke a bidi."
"Do you still work the water wheel?"
"Not anymore. But I still have to keep a stock of bidis. What can I give the labourers. If I give them bidis they work better."
"You'll die of your addiction."
"That's OK. We have to die one day any way."
"Why not try and reduce the number of bidis you smoke. You smoke two bundles everyday. From now onwards smoke five or six bidis a day."
"That's more like it. I'll leave off slowly..."
Swamishri blessed him.
Arvindbhai Patel of Vadodara was a hardened alcohol addict. As he came into closer contact with Swamishri he found a new direction in life and his domestic troubles seemed to disappear out of the window. Not only did he give up alcohol, but he also inspired many of his close friends to do the same. He wrote to Swamishri:
28/3/93...8:00pm... My brother-in-law from America arrived at my house. He had brought some alcohol with him which he offered to me. He tried for half an hour but I refused to drink. He told me that if I didn't have the drink, then he'd never step in my house again for as long as I lived. I replied, 'May Pramukh Swami Bapa's wish prevail.' From 1/2/94 to 20/2/94 he stayed in India and also visited Vadodara...yet he never came to my house... Whatever Bapa wishes.
Seeing Arvindbhai's changed attitude, a friend of his from Bombay had decided to entice him by hook or by crook. He called Arvindbhai to Bombay. There he tried to persuade him but Arvindbhai remained resolute in his conviction, "Whatever you may do...with Pramukh Swami's strength I'll never disgrace myself." Arvindbhai later wrote:
21/2/94... Sarang Disco Bar near Santa Cruz... From 7:30 to 9:30 in the evening, I was made to sit among 14 young females who were serving alcohol and dancing... Disco dancing...the fragrance of intoxicating environment. Apparently they had decided that whoever succeeded in getting me to drink would win a prize of Rs.500 in cash. Anyone who cared to even try would receive Rs.10 on the spot. All the girls present tried their best to convince me, but I remained firm. Even the bar owner tried to entice me by giving me authority to do absolutely anything I wanted to do - free of charge. I told him, 'If you want to give me poison, I'll cheerfully drink it but I'll never fall victim to alcohol or prostitution.' With your grace, victory was mine...
The bar owner asked, 'Who is your guru?'
I replied, 'Pramukh Swami.'
He immediately asked, 'The one from Dadar?' (The Akshar Purushottam temple in Bombay is situated in the area of Dadar)
Those who had witnessed this spectacle talked among themselves, 'If his disciple is such, then how great must the guru be.'... Prior to my transformation, whenever I came to Bombay, I would easily spend 4000 to 5000 rupees at such places...
Mr. B. of Amdavad, a young married man with children, was taken by friends and relatives to Swamishri in Bombay, 1987. He was on drugs and could now not throw the habit. He had lost a number of jobs and had begun to steal and sell household items to feed his heroin addiction. Swamishri talked to him at length comforting and strengthening. Mr. B. had lost all will power and now he was about to lose his family. For the next several months he met Swamishri periodically, slowly kicking his habit. It wasn't easy, Swamishri knew this, and so boosted his confidence. Love and understanding were the rewards he gave. Two years from the first meeting Mr. B. met Swamishri in Sarangpur. He had managed to kick hard drugs but had started opium and mandrake pills. Again in 1990 he met Swamishri in Sarangpur who this time told him to stay. The opium he had brought with him he gave to Swamishri who had it thrown away.
Withdrawal symptoms persisted for four days. He could not eat or sleep. Everyday he met Swamishri who would encourage him and help him strengthen his resolve. After a while he began to eat and started sleeping a little. As with all addicts though, he was crafty and had managed to smuggle bidis into the temple.
This he admitted to Swamishri, "I smoke only three a day now....and now I'll only smoke two."
"There's no need for even two," Swamishri reasoned with him. "Throw this sin away. If you get a really strong desire to take something go and get some cloves from the store room and put it in your mouth." Saying this he took Mr. B. to Shastriji Maharaj's room and stood him before the image. "Touch his feet, pray...from today even the bidis take this rose, if you feel like smoking, eat a petal."
During Swamishri's 40 day stay in Amdavad through January, 1995, Mr B. again met with Swamishri who was walking to his room after morning puja. Mr. B admitted that the habit had begun again! Swamishri talked to him, hoping and praying that Mr. B could find the sense and strength to stop destroying his life and that of others around him. He himself would not give in. He would not allow Mr. B to admit defeat, that was not the way of a sadhu.
As part of the Bicentenary Celebrations of Aksharbrahman Gunatitanand Swami, the International Convention for Better Living was organised in Amdavad in 1985. It was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. The cultural exhibition inspired many to change their lives for the better. One such person was Joseph Muturia, Kenya's Assistant Minister for Lands and Settlements, who had come to the festival at Swamishri's invitation. Before an audience of over 50,000 people, the minister was inspired to declare, "Though, as a Christian, I am allowed to take alcohol, I declare that henceforth, I shall abstain from taking any alcoholic drinks for the rest of my life."
After returning home, he wrote to Swamishri:
My pledge not to take a beer is growing stronger everyday! In fact, I am stronger than ever over this friend of mine called beer. My family is really thankful to the International Convention for Better Living held in India... I feel also very strong at my work, both in my Ministry and my Constituency. I have no time to waste! Thank you once again and please pray for me!
Leaders of an area of Surat city came to Swamishri. Talk turned to the change in living styles and habits. The leaders said that where they lived over one lakh rupees of alcohol was drunk everyday. Swamishri at once urged them to try and do something about it. He said that even if they stopped drinking only on ekadashi it would save them two lakh rupees a month. In a year they would have enough money to build a school, raise a water tank or start a small hospital! The money saved could be used for the benefit of the people. Were not more schools and hospitals needed?
Arvind Dave: Swamishri was in Bangalore in the winter of 1990. I heard he was here and that he was a great spiritual master so I decided to go and meet him. I wasn't a satsangi, and smoked twelve packets a day. Before the first time I met him I had a smoke. He must have smelt my breath but he didn't say a word. He just took my right hand and from a little plastic bottle squeezed some water into my palm, said a mantra and put a kanthi around my neck! "Now that you have a kanthi you are a satsangi." He said. "You have taken shelter of God. You have now to live a life that God likes, one that is pure and without bad habits and extravagance, devoid of bad company. Turn five rosaries chanting 'Swaminarayan Swaminarayan' everyday. You will become happy."
He put his hand on my shoulder and looked straight into my eyes! His voice was captivating. I could say nothing. I felt my addiction being drawn from me! From that day on I have never felt like smoking. It's such a relief! To their last breath my mother and father had tried to stop me, only to fail. Mother had me go on many pilgrimages, to Tirupati, Dwarka, the Himalayas, but even then I could not stop. Swami Bapa saved me.
After lunch at a devotee's house Swamishri was being driven to another house for rest. The Mercedes slowed on a corner. Ahead of the car was a scruffy looking shepherd leisurely walking with a bidi in his mouth.
"That's our Popat Bharvad of Manjipura!" Swamishri exclaimed. He had the car stop while he lowered his side window and shouted over to the astonished shepherd. Who was calling him by name from that strange looking white car? He ambled over, only to see Swamishri smiling up at him.
"Bhagat! Now you're a man of God, a bhagat, you shouldn't be smoking bidi's," Swamishri said. Popat dropped the smoking bidi and asked for blessings. Swamishri had recognised him after so long!
This personal crusade of Swamishri has taken on gigantic proportions. During the mammoth festivals which the Sanstha arranges every few years, special de-addiction centres are set up. Staffed by sadhus and devotees, in front of a yagna vedhi visitors are persuaded to shed addictions, drugs, bad habits and other anti-social behaviour. Symbolically the undesired trait is burnt in the sacrificial fire. Names and addresses are taken for future follow-up work.
17 August, 1984
Swamishri met with Catholic Bishop John Markovisky. He was describing church activities to Swamishri, and mentioned that they ran four high schools, a university and a hospital. This interested Swamishri. The activities were similar to what he himself was doing back in India. As one administrator to another he asked the Bishop how he raised funds.
"We have bingo sessions," replied the Bishop.
"Has the Bible given permission to play bingo," Swamishri asked. He was referring to gambling in general.
"There is no such reference," admitted the Bishop.
"Then as a religious organisation, is it appropriate that you pamper the 'something for nothing' weakness of the people by organising bingo. If religious people like us let people play bingo, then youngsters will think that religion has given freedom to gamble. He may only play a dollar now, but in the future will be tempted to stake more. Then he will be enticed to steal for his purposes."
"Man is after all only a human," the Bishop replied. "He needs some sort of entertainment. And anyway it is mostly the elderly who come to play bingo."
"Can't you organise another form of entertainment. If they want a social life they should get together in church. Let him do whatever he wants to do outside, but on church premises such things should not go on. Religion should turn people away from stealing, gambling and drugs."
"Swamiji! Your teachings are very high. One should live by them," said the Bishop.
* * *
Whenever Swamishri meets the Chief Minister or any other member of the Gujarat Government, he invariably raises the issues of cow slaughter, the fishing industry and alcohol prohibition. When the ban on cow slaughter was passed, Swamishri wrote an eight page letter to the then Chief Minister, Chimanbhai Patel:
24 September 1993
You and your cabinet deserve to be congratulated for imposing a total ban on cow slaughter. You have received blessings for this matter from many sympathisers. To ensure strict enforcement of this law, please educate all the officers, officials and the police department...only then will the ruling be effectively implemented...
To safeguard the sanctity of places of pilgrimage, Swamishri wrote in the same letter:
...Regarding the fishing industry, important sacred places such as Dwarka, Prabhaspatan and Palitana are at present major sites for the industry... We recommend that these operations be moved elsewhere.
Swamishri also mentioned the issue of pollution, subtle as compared to external:
...Another important point, proposal and request... You are taking great care in fighting pollution in Gandhinagar, but as well as combating external environmental pollution, it is just as important to consider internal pollution. Gandhinagar is named after Gandhiji, who was a firm believer in purity and non-violence. He prohibited this matter, please pass some law to enforce the prohibition... That is our humble request... When Gandhinagar becomes pollution-free, externally and internally, its beauty will be enhanced. With that, the thoughts of future politicians will also remain pure and healthy...and peace will prevail in the State.
When Swamishri learnt that the government had granted permission to the McDonalds fast food chain to open branches in India, he immediately wrote an emphatic letter to the President of India. He asserted his views and outlined the consequences of allowing a franchise, which openly advocates cattle slaughter, into the country.
Bombay, 15 March 1993
...shocked and sad to hear of the Government's decision to support and encourage the wholesale slaughter of innocent animals through the commissioning of the McDonalds food chain restaurants in India. The Prime Minister should not only serve and protect the people of India as his subjects, but also the animals - for they too are subjects in their own right...
The Rama Janmabhumi issue, regarding the birth place of Lord Rama in Ayodhya, is probably the most hotly debated question of recent times. Having led to numerous conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, it has not been easy to find a solution to this delicate problem. Many leaders, political and religious, have written to Swamishri regarding this issue. One respected leader wrote a letter expressing his opinions to Swamishri. Swamishri's reply conveys his views and his wish to see a peaceful solution:
In Gujarat and the rest of India, communal rioting is widespread...this is something to be truly ashamed of. But in that, neither Hindus nor Muslims are to be blamed. Communal conflicts have been taking place for some time - even when the question over Ayodhya wasn't with us. Instead of sitting together on one table to solve this problem, the politicians keep it burning and bring up new questions...all to keep themselves in power.
It is not right to blame Hindus or religion for this problem. The sadhus do their work and will continue to do so, but those who have become blind and deaf with power are unable to see or hear. Internal discord will lead to the destruction of the family, society and the country. The cruelties being inflicted on innocent citizens today are a matter of shame for our country.
The Ayodhya question has been dragging on for 40 years now. Not one leader has seriously understood the issue or sincerely tried to tackle the problem. If all the parties concerned came together and worked for a mutual solution, the matter would have been satisfactorily resolved by now...
Sit together and co-operate...but no one wants to do that. They only want to create internal disunity among each other - a means to grab or hold on to political power. In the process, it is the people who suffer. It is a plain black and white. We pray to God that mutual understanding develops and that peace prevails in Bharat (India).
Swamishri firmly asserted his strong views.
The Mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Curt Smoke came to the 1992 Yogiji Maharaj Centennial Celebrations. In his first meeting with Swamishri, the following conversation developed:
Curt Smoke: "At the moment, I'm working on driving out illiteracy from the city of Baltimore."
Swamishri: "That's very good. But do not forget to also teach about God and religion."
Curt Smoke: "That's difficult."
Swamishri: "Difficult but necessary. If he learns to read, but reads bad books, then of what use is it? If he learns to speak, but also learns to swear, then what good has come from it? If he reads, he reads good material. If he speaks, he says nice things."
Curt Smoke: "Politics come in the way."
Swamishri: "You are the Mayor, a politician. It is in your hands. Make a way."
The Mayor was touched by Swamishri's benevolent intentions, and remarked at the end to the interpreter, "You know something? I get this feeling that I've known him for long."
In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake in Maharashtra in 1993, the village of Samudral was one of many villages left totally devastated. Without a moment's hesitation, Swamishri took upon his head, the mammoth task of reconstructing a new village from scratch. During the foundation stone laying ceremony of this project, Swamishri was in Gondal. At the Akshar Deri, he performed the necessary rituals and sent some bricks to Samudral with a letter:
Five bricks have been sanctified at the holy Akshar Deri using the flowers from the consecrated footprints of the Lord. Also, holy water has been sprinkled on these bricks... Use them for the new houses which are to be built in the village. We prayed here at the Deri that good, strong houses are quickly constructed. The donors, the workers, the villagers...may they experience peace...may they foster love for religion...may the village become an ideal one, so that there are no problems for thousands of years.
On a garden wall of the large bungalow close to the Sankari temple were sitting several poor ploughmen. They were passing time in idle gossip and smoking bidis. Swamishri said to them, "All of you should come to the temple everyday for darshan. The temple is not only for Patels but for you as well. Spend a few moments in the temple, sit in the bhajan and your weariness will go. I'd be disappointed if other villagers take benefit of the temple and you don't. We're not asking for your money. To our mind you're donating lakhs of rupees by coming to the temple and just joining hands in prayer."
* * *
Ramsangbapu bowed low to Swamishri. This was a chance in a lifetime. He was a sinner, and he knew that. Now it was a chance to change. Swamishri had accepted his request to grace his house. Villagers must have told him of his atrocities. What would he say?
Swamishri was in the village Odarka. It was not the first time he had visited. The villagers had told him of Ramsangbapu and his crimes. In fact, the entire village was hot blooded. Several families had recently entered Satsang. So it was but natural for Swamishri to accept. He would not discriminate. He said it was his responsibility to try and change people for the better.
Ramsangbapu was notorious. Once he had tied a man to a horse and pulled him through the village. Everybody had gathered together but no one could say a word or lift a finger in protest. He would usually be in a drunken stupor. When not, he would hunt deer and rabbits, and then party with fellow thugs. Sometimes they slaughtered goats that belonged to local shepherds. Whenever there was a crime in the area the police would go to him for information. The matter ended there. People said his friends had committed several murders.
Swamishri entered Ramsangbapu's house and sat down. Ramsang sat opposite. Introductions were given and then Swamishri began to talk. Ramsangbapu accepted whatever he heard and took vartman. A kanthi was tied around his neck, and the vows of a satsangi explained. He was not to eat meat or eggs. Alcohol and intoxicants were also out. Even bidis. He would have to control his violent nature and not bully the villagers. All of this he could not do alone. Swamishri said that years of bad living could only be corrected if God was asked to help. Prayer in the form of 51 daily rosaries was essential, and to build up spiritual knowledge and make sure that he associated with devotees he was to attend the regular Sunday Satsang sabha. Ramsangbapu agreed. He did want to change. It was his luck that Swamishri was prepared to accept the likes of him as a disciple and initiate him into Satsang life. The change was seen by his friends as an attack of short term guilt consciousness. They were proved wrong. Ramsangbapu had changed. He also visited his former friends and convinced them of their wrong doing and to accept Satsang.
"Take Swami Bapa as a guru. He can help you and reintroduce you to normal village life." he advised.
Swamishri was once asked, "Many unsocial elements in society have been observed to change dramatically once they have come into your contact. How do you do this?"
He answered, "It is God's work. The Satpurush is benevolent and is himself pure, without fault and viscious nature. His presence creates a purifying atmosphere. Just by his darshan people change, become peaceful. Everybody wants to change and to that you add the contact of the Satpurush and so change is assured!"
Rishubha of Talaja was similar to Ramsangbapu. He ran a parallel government to the official one in the area. One late night he was walking down a road hopelessly drunk when his eyes caught sight of a discarded bicycle tyre. He thought it was a dead snake.
"Who is the wretch who has insulted naga devta?" He shouted.
His anger and shouts collected a small group of people. He announced that they would all together cremate the 'snake'. Nobody dare tell him that his snake was an old tyre.
"What are you staring at? Bring good ghee from the Vania."
"His shop will be shut at this time," someone ventured.
"Then wake him up!"
The ghee was brought and a small procession carried the 'snake' to the river and cremated it to Rishubha's satisfaction. He commanded everyone to have the customary bath. It was past midnight and winter!
Swamishri visited his house, gave him vartman and kanthi. He said, "You are a darbar. It is your duty to protect the people. Instead of that what have you been doing?"
It was enough. Rishubha became a satsangi, following in Ramsangbapu's footsteps.
Eight hundred years ago Sejakji led his people out of the desert lands of Marwad and settled in Sorath. They were the Gohils, a warrior people, uncouth in their ways and quarrelsome. They picked Ghogha as a suitable site to restart their lives and so they came to be known as the Ghoghari Gohils. Centuries passed and the people split into groups and factions. But the main village remained Odarka. Today it has a population of only 700 people.
At some time a group had split from the Ghoghari Gohils and moved a few kilometres away to found Kukad village.
They called themselves the Govindani Gohils, but due to internal squabbling broke into three factions.
The land between the two villages was hotly fought over. One summer evening as the sun descended a shout went up in Odarka that the Gohils of Kukad were ploughing the debated land. Before all the Ghogaris could get together some of them with swords ran to the trouble spot. A heated argument began. "Why are you ploughing our land?"
"Here then," answered the Govindanis, "everywhere and always causing trouble..." They raised their guns and before the Ghogaris could even raise their swords they were dead. Three other Ghogaris appeared. They were also shot. With that the Govindanis raced away. A little while later the Ghogari's came in force. But they were too late. Six of their people already lay in pools of blood. Just then an innocent vaghari of Govindani passed, they emptied their outrage on him. The poor man didn't have a chance. Later the Govindani Gohils erected a memorial stone for him, where he had died. The Ghogharis also raised memorial stones to Satubha, Motisinh, Nondhabha, Dosabha and his two sons, Bhimsinh and Tapubha.
After the slaughter, hatred between the two villages increased. The enmity also spread to other villages which were related to both. Odarka had thirty three villages in support. Govindani had twelve. The two warring tribes refused to even drink the water of the 'other side'.
The Maharaja of Bhavnagar Krishna Kumarsinh under whose rule the villages fell attempted to father a truce but met with no success. He rehabilitated the Ghogharis in eleven villages in the Bhal area. Fighting and killing continued. The British by imposing laws and punishment could not improve the situation. The villages were left to their fate. After India gained Independence further efforts were made by local governments but to no effect. The animosity was too deeply embedded. The memorial stones were regularly looked after!
A few years ago Ramsangbapu of Odarka became a satsangi. His friend told the story of the feud to Swamishri who at once decided that such a thing had gone too far. He told Janaksinh, Ramsangbapu's son, to begin talking to both sides. He even gave a date. Talks started, they were encouraging. Both villages had been visited by Swamishri and the people knew that he could be trusted to be fair and remain neutral. But internal disputes in the two villages delayed things.
In April 1990, leaders from both sides met with Swamishri in Bhavnagar. He warmly welcomed them both and urged them to come together in peace. "Where there is unity there is wealth. Your ancestors have been liberated, that is certain. God has now come into your lives. Believe that Lord Swaminarayan himself is bringing you together."
The leaders looked on speechless. Swamishri's saintliness glowed. They could not refuse! him.
There days later on 12 April the two parties gathered together where the Ghogharis and the vaghari had been slain. They stood in their groups. With Swamishri in the middle. Panchamrut had been prepared. Swamishri had the memorial stones of the Ghogharis bathed with it. He did not forget the vaghari's stone that lay a little distance away. Sadhus chanted mantras from the Purush Sukta. Both sides were convinced that truly their ancestors were now liberated.
Pots of water that had been brought from the villages were exchanged. Each drank to the other's health, hugging and laughing. Generations of killing had finally come to a halt.
Eighty year old Jijibha was present at the ceremony. His grandfather had been one of those killed two hundred years ago. He had never dreamt that reconciliation was possible.
Jijibha: No one but Pramukh Swami could have done this. There was no way to peace. He took great interest and care. Even the first time he came to Odarka he had mentioned the dispute. At his hands our ancestors have been granted salvation. Until now with every try at reconciliation there would be a split. This time nothing like that happened. This is all Pramukh Swami's power.
* * *
Prof. Raymond Williams, Professor of Religion at Wabash College in the USA, has extensively researched and written on Hinduism, particularly the Swaminarayan Faith. For his research on spiritual counselling, he interviewed Swamishri on 23 July, 1985 in London. He asked Swamishri why he gave advice about matters, such as family and business with which he had no direct contact.
Swamishri replied, "If we display an interest in the activities and affairs of the devotees, this creates a bridge of love, bringing them closer to God. The purpose is not to establish them in business as such, but through love, to draw them closer to God. Only if their problems of family and business are solved will their love develop.
"It is the normal procedure of God and His Sadhu to see that through love of the guru, the devotees give up their attachment to wealth and possessions. The guru destroys the discord within and establishes concord with God. The basic purpose is to lead the person to God and to eradicate attachment to worldly life. This cannot be achieved without love."

Gunatitanand Swami Bhagatji Maharaj Yogiji Maharaj Shastriji Maharaj Pramukh Swami Maharaj Bhagwan Swaminarayan Gunatitanand Swami Bhagatji Maharaj Yogiji Maharaj Shastriji Maharaj Pramukh Swami Maharaj Bhagwan Swaminarayan

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