Bettering People, Bettering Society:
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"What does he pay you?" The labourer's clothes were shoddy
"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,
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
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.
* * *
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."
"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
"Try and stop now."
"No, if I do my soul will be distressed. I don't want to do
"Your addiction is taking you on a wrong road."
"Even if you're a devotee an addiction will take you on the
"Everybody else maybe, but not me."
"You're defeated and have no strength, that's why you're saying
"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
"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
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
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
perfume...an 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 go...here 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
"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
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
"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
Swamishri also mentioned the issue of pollution, subtle as compared
...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
alcohol...in 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 fact...in 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
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
"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
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
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."