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The Inspirer and Present Guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

He has a heart wherein the whole world can live

My Satsangi:

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 life?"
"Do you do wrong?"
"Any addictions?"
"Meat, drinks?"
"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 Angeles
August, 1988
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 temple regularly.
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 air.
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 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 of language: 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 promised.
"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 work..."
* * *
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 with Suresh.
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 to continue."
"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
August, 1993
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 America.
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.

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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