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The Inspirer and Present Guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

He has a heart wherein the whole world can live


Shastriji Maharaj reminded
Motibhai of this, saying in his own inimitable manner, "I want to exchange a head for a head. The other one came back so in his place give me this one."
It is two decades and a little more into the twentieth century. Just 12 kilometres from the sprawling metropolis of Baroda city lies the small village of Chansad in the Kanam region. The village is neither poor nor wealthy, though nature has lovingly embraced it. The village pond is large and deep. Its water clear, clean and cooling.
The village itself lies on high ground and has two or three temples. One is dedicated to Hanuman and is found overlooking the pond. In this temple a renunciate priest by the name of Haridas served the enshrined deities. His gentle and fatherly nature attracted two teenagers to the small temple every morning and evening. Both were friends, and were named Shantilal! They would go everywhere together; play together and study together. Often they would even eat at each other's houses.
They were inseparable. Since birth both had been brought up in pious atmospheres, and so had in common religious leanings and wishes. Of the two friends, one's father was Motibhai Patel, a strong satsangi of the Swaminarayan faith. This Shantilal's mother, Diwaliben, was also involved deeply in Satsang. Her family had first been influenced by Bhagatji Maharaj. Diwaliben was plump and sweet natured. She religiously performed all the penances and celebrated the festivals. She was careful to instill values and spirituality into her children.
Motibhai was amiable and affectionate. He had raised his family well. They would daily visit the Swaminarayan temple and serve the sadhus who frequented their village.
The other Shantilal grew up in similar circumstances. Whilst other children played games and mischief in general, Shantilal and Shantilal would sit with their school slates and books. Finishing homework they would rush to the Hanuman temple and listen to the discourses of Haridas. He talked of the Ramayan and the greatness of holy men. He described the Himalayas and the holy men who lived there in caves and ashrams. In particular he talked of Haridwar and Rishikesh. Haridas encouraged their spiritual thirst. He even promised, "Once you complete your studies we shall go to Haridwar and Rishikesh and worship God."
This desire, however, remained unfulfilled. The future held something remarkably different. Motibhai's Shantilal remained in Chansad while his friend was taken to Baroda to pursue further studies.
* * *
On 7 Dec., 1921 (Samvat Magshar Sud 8, 1978) the fourth son was born of Motibhai and Diwaliben.
Several days after Shantilal's birth the family was still rejoicing when Shastriji Maharaj graced Chansad. It was a usual visit for Satsang purposes. Motibhai carried the fragile little bundle swathed in woollens to Guru Shastriji Maharaj for blessings. Shastriji Maharaj was pleased. He said, "He is ours. Bestow him to us in the future." Shastriji Maharaj was serious.
Motibhai immediately accepted Shastriji Maharaj's request.
One day when Shantilal was six to seven years old his family and friends were invited to dinner in Rajnagar. It was ekadashi but no farala had been cooked. Shantilal was forced to sit down with everybody else. Not being able to refuse he began to cry. Chhotabhai of Bhadaran village often gave sweets to him and his friends, getting them together and arranging games. He affectionately asked Shantilal why he was crying. "What do you want?"
"Let me do ekadashi." Shantilal managed to say.
Chhotabhai got together some farala and served the little boy who wouldn't break his vow.In Bochasan, when Shantilal was with Ghanshyam Swami and Balmukund Swami as a teenager, during the fifth standard vacation, he was tested by Ghanshyam Swami. "Stay here, and in these very clothes we will make you a sadhu."
Talking of becoming a sadhu was pleasant for Shantilal. It was his goal. But he would not take any step before first consulting guru Shastriji Maharaj. He felt there was no need for uncalled haste. Shastriji Maharaj would shortly be visiting Bochasan for the Guru Purnima Mahotsav. They could discuss the matter then. He would not be led by another.
During Guru Purnima Akshar Swami took up the matter with Shastriji Maharaj. He even took Shantilal to Shastriji Maharaj, and said, "He is a good kid, and can become a sadhu."
Shantilal was also enthusiastic. His lean face glowed as Shastriji Maharaj expressed pleasure. He agreed with the proposal, it had been uppermost in his mind since Shantilal's birth. "...we shall educate him..," he added.
Never one to delay. Shastriji Maharaj tested Shantilal's grasping power and intellect there and then. He gave him a set of Sanskrit noun forms to memorize. That same day Shantilal repeated fluently the difficult Sanskrit. Shastriji Maharaj was delighted. He was convinced Shantilal would live up to all his expectations. He praised, "You have the ability to become a scholar, and you have the ability to become a Shastri. Yes he really is clever!"
The village school in Chansad taught only up to fifth standard. Sixth or higher had not been started for lack of pupils.
If he wanted to study Shantilal would have to travel to Padra. Two friends, Shankarlal and Muljibhai, went to the Padra English school. Shantilal explained his problems to the two and also pronounced his decision of going to Padra. Both youngsters happily agreed to help him. As he didn't have a cycle of his own, Shankarlal and Muljibhai offered to piggy-back him to and from Padra everyday. Shantilal thus eagerly enrolled at school and was placed in the fifth standard - 1st English then.
Of an obliging and helpful nature, he was naturally embarrassed that his friends carried him on their cycles everyday. They of course thought nothing of it, but many a time saw their unassuming friend either walk to Padra, or walk back home, a distance of six kilometres.
His committal to studies was complete. On arriving home he would carefully wash his face, legs and arms, change into house clothes and quietly sit absorbed in homework. He always sat in the same corner. Diwaliben would have to call repeatedly for him to dine. He would often forget whether he had been given a lunch box of puri or dhebra, or whether he had lunched at all. This indifference to food worried his mother. In truth, Shantilal was skinny to say the least, his clothes hung loosely from protruding shoulders and small waist. Diwaliben frequently cajoled and coaxed him into drinking fresh milk as she milked the family cow or buffalo. Mealtimes were a reluctant affair. Despite a full dish he ate sparingly.
Shantilal seemed able to disregard his body at want. Throughout his childhood when assailed by the common ailments of youngsters he remained unaffected. Once he suffered a heavy attack of a particular rash, pus continually oozed from the sores. Dressing would stick to the skin. True to his name, Shantilal silently suffered. He could endure pain to a remarkable degree.
His simple nature held no room for dishonesty or guile. He touched the border of credulous, but remained in every way sensible. The ways of the world bored him and maybe even repelled. His was a calm detachment.
Shastriji Maharaj was not averse to Shantilal's desire, so he replied, "Aksharjivan Swami has also studied two or three standards. He is also to be educated further and so are you. In Vinakyakbhai's school in Amdavad, Khengarjibhai is a teacher. He will come to Ambali Pol to teach you." It may seem strange, but in one area Shantilal joined the people of India. He was partial to cricket!
A distiller, Ramlal, had moved to Chansad. A great fan of cricket, he had brought the game to the village. On his own initiative he had bought a bat and ball and taught the local kids how to play. The kids were soon hitched and played every evening. Shantilal often joined them. One day the cricketers got together and decided, "The bat and ball belong to the distiller. Let's buy our own bat, ball and stumps." Cricket was an expensive sport. Funds would be needed. The youngsters approached village elders. Soon they had collected about 150 rupees.
The needed instruments would have to be bought in Baroda. Chansad catered to no such pastimes. The cricketers collected in the school on the edge of the village. Who would go to Baroda? Sitting on the steps each suggested another's name.
Shantilal was soon suggested. His mild, obliging nature had won the confidence of many. He agreed and said to Shankarlal, "If you come, we'll both go.'' Very soon he would be leaving home, village and friends forever. Maybe this was the last chance he would get to be of help to his friends in a materialistic sense. As the discussion continued, Ravji, a youth from Bhaili, came looking for Shantilal. He saw the group spread over the school steps and hurried across to them.
"I've come from Bhaili. Ghanshyam Swami has sent me," he said quickly. "He sent a letter from Shastriji Maharaj with me. It's for you, Shantilal. I've left the letter at your home. I've come to take you with me. Come home at once."
The group was bemused at the sudden intrusion into their affairs. Shantilal was taken aback. He stood up and began walking home, his pace even and steady, hands gently curved at the elbows and hanging down, slightly swinging in step with his strides.
All thoughts of cricket dissolved into a keen desire to read the sacred letter. The mention of Shastriji Maharaj sent his senses tingling. It must be important, or else why would he write himself, and Ghanshyam Swami sent a special messenger. Shantilal was oblivious of the homes and small shops he passed. Eyes were downcast as in usual habit, occasionally flicking upwards to avoid others. The dirt road crawled up a gentle incline, splitting into two arteries just below the crest. Motibhai's two story wood and stone house was the first in the 'V' so formed.
Motibhai and Diwaliben were waiting. Shastriji Maharaj had instructed that they send their last born to him. He was to become a sadhu. Both were eager and willing. Shantilal had no doubts himself. Shastriji Maharaj was guru, and to live by the guru's command was his goal in life. It was plain and simple. The time to renounce had come. Accepting was effortless.
Shantilal walked through the door into his home of 16 years. The family was waiting. Motibhai and Diwaliben wanted spiritual goals for their son; they felt he should be encouraged to devote his life to Lord Swaminarayan and Guru Shastriji Maharaj. He would gain merely a farmer's plate and family by embracing a householder's life. Instead, why not strive for God consciousness and truly fulfill the purpose of this God gifted life.
It was ekadashi, Tuesday, 7 November 1939 (Aso Vad 11, VS 1995) Motibhai's family had become regular in its observance of the penance. Every ekadashi day they ate only fruits and farala. Diwaliben warmed some milk. The family drank together.
Motibhai held out Shastriji Maharaj's letter. It was self-explanatory. The time had come. Shantilal was to take with him the few clothes he had and from Bhaili go to Bochasan with Ghanshyam Swami.
Both parents blessed him, "Go with goodwill. Swami will be pleased. We bless you much." The others offered words of advice.
Diwaliben added, "Bhai! You are becoming a sadhu, live as a good sadhu. Do as Swami says. Please him. Never think of returning home." To be successful as a sadhu Diwaliben knew that all bridges had to be burnt. Her words were of strength and encouragement, not warnings or threats.
She gave a small parcel of farala into his hands as he walked to the door. She thought it would do if he felt hungry on the short ride to Bhaili. Shantilal sat on the cycle behind Ravji, who pedalled. The cycle wobbled at first but balance was gained and the two teenagers rode down the incline to the dust track the villagers called a road.
A little way ahead Shantilal realised he had forgotten his daily puja piece. He told Ravji to wait while he cycled back. As he walked into his home a very surprised Diwaliben asked, "Why have you come back?"
"I forgot my puja."
He reached up to the shelf where it was tidily kept. Diwaliben quickly made a packet of mamra and chana which she gave him. He hadn't asked. She just thought he might need something. He walked away. Ravji was waiting.
Shantilal was lucky. His farewell had witnessed no scenes of sobbing and anguish. The home was empty of belligerent relatives. There were no protests or confused pleas to stay at home. The family had prepared for this moment ever since Shastriji Maharaj had blessed him at birth. Shantilal himself, was his usual calm and composed self. As with everyday, today, he was fully in command of his emotions.

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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