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The Inspirer and Present Guru of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha

He has a heart wherein the whole world can live

Panch Vartman:

They saw that the attendant sadhus and devotees loved Swamishri beyond belief. Several elderly patients in the wards had no visitors, even relatives did not come. And here was an Indian monk who was attracting large numbers of well wishers.
During the early stages of Swamishri's 1977 world tour he was in East Africa. In Tanzania he met with President Julius Nyarere at the Presidential palace. Devotees explained to the President the nature of Swamishri's tour of Tanzania. It was spiritual they said. For peace and harmony in society spiritual consciousness must evolve. Swamishri never tires of saying, "If you're a Christian become a better Christian, if you're a Hindu become a true Hindu..." He was working towards not religious conversion but towards a change of heart, life and values.
President Nyarere was impressed. He sensed the deep spirituality nurtured by Swamishri and saw the innocent faces of his disciples. Here was a God conscious person in his very office!
"Swamishri," he asked, "My mother is 90 years old and is very ill. Please grace her room and bless her."
When the President's request was translated for Swamishri he at once told the devotees, "Tell him that because of our vow we cannot go near women."
The devotees hesitated. How could they say no to the President? What would he say? Seeing their reluctance Swamishri again said, this time a little sternly, "Just tell him what I said. Why are you scared? Tell him that Swami has blessed her and the blessings will reach her and she will get well!"
The devotees plucked up the courage and quickly explained the vows all Swaminarayan sadhus have to take when initiated. The President was astonished at the severity of the vow, but was pleased that such souls did exist, those who would not be trapped by the allures of the material world. He was convinced that Swamishri's blessings from a distance were as powerful as those from close up.
Throughout Lord Swaminarayan's teaching is seen a common thread, the disciplined physical and spiritual lives to be led by His sadhu disciples. The rules of conduct for sadhus are known as the panch vartman, the five codes of behaviour. They are nirlobh (devoid of greed), nishkaam (devoid of sexual passion), nisvaad (devoid of weakness for taste), nisneh (devoid of attachment to body and bodily relations), and nirmaan (devoid of ego).
Swamishri's life is in consonance with these teachings.
There are of course critics, who whilst recognising Swamishri's unique stature, say that in today's day and age there is no room for celibacy. The editor of the Gujarati weekly 'Abhiyan' in an interview asked Swamishri, "Swamiji, have you ever considered making a change (in the vow of celibacy) in these modern times? Or do you strictly believe that the vow is appropriate?"
As with so many such questions asked around the world, Swamishri answered, "Whatever vows we have are correct. There is nothing that needs to be changed. Many people have talked to me of this and I'm not concerned that I may be called orthodox. We are determined to safeguard the vows given us by Lord Swaminarayan. People may like it or not. What we have is the truth and it will make itself apparent in the future." Renowned social worker and long time admirer of the Swaminarayan faith and Swamishri, Iswarbhai Petlikar, once suggested that the sadhus be allowed a little freedom from their celibacy. The argument was that this would greatly bolster the spread of Satsang.
He was taken aback by Swamishri's answer, "We do not believe in the spread of Satsang at the cost of our vows. If Satsang spreads all is well and good. If it does not, we are not worried. And whether Satsang spreads or not is in Shriji Maharaj's hands... Many say that because of our strict adherence our movement will not remain for long. To these people I just say that we will run things as long as they will run, and then whatever the Lord's wish...we'll remain in one corner and worship God." As a pastoral counsellor Swamishri routinely has to counsel several family problems daily. His advice shows the respect he has for women.
A recently married young man had become an alcoholic. His tormented spouse had runaway to her parent's home. The young man asked for blessings that his wife might return. Swamishri strongly rebuked him saying it was his drinking that had driven the girl away. How could he expect her to tolerate his abuse. The young man told Swamishri that he had not drunk a drop of alcohol for a month. This pleased Swamishri, but he did not soften up. Whilst he did feel concern for the youth's drinking problem he was more worried about the girl's future. In India's male dominated society she would have little support.
He said, "She will look to your behaviour for a month. If you don't drink she will return. Don't take the wrong road. She is not your slave. Married life means supporting one another..."
It is no small wonder that although Swamishri has no direct contact with women they constitute over fifty percent of Satsang membership. The Sanstha's 1300 women's centres and several hundred girl's forums that cater to youngsters and teens are witness to thriving women's activities. Swamishri has encouraged their growth in diverse fields. He repeatedly instructs devotee co-ordinators that whatever activities the male section undertakes, the women's forum should also consider, and where necessary be provided with all the amenities that would be required for easy functioning.
This has resulted in amongst other things, Premvati, a unique magazine oriented towards the needs of satsangi women, seminars , volunteer corps, cultural dance and music programmes, home industries, health and child care guidance.
Because of Swamishri's interest and guidelines the women's chapter has become a vital part of the Sanstha. Women satsangis regularly organise their own activities, and have even become expert preachers, possessing a depth of understanding and knowledge to match and sometimes supersede that of their male counterparts. Outside observers are fond of saying, "Pramukh Swami has no pocket! He is the master of such a vast Movement and yet he has no money or property to his name!"
This is because Swamishri depends totally on God. Once when he was travelling from Mwanza to Dar-e-Salaam somebody spread a malicious rumour that he and the accompanying sadhus were smuggling diamonds. The airport authorities received Swamishri in Dar-e-Salaam cordially enough but then asked to check all the luggage. Swamishri had nothing to hide and so he readily agreed.
No matter where he travels his basic luggage consists of an ochre coloured potlu. This is the standard 'bag' of Swaminarayan sadhus - a large almost square cloth with its parallel corners sewn together. Dhotis, puja, and sometimes a couple of scriptures are placed in the middle and the potlu is knotted closed. There is no lock or chain for there is nothing of value that a sadhu should personally possess. Coming down a luggage ramp at the world's airports these potlas always draw a curious stare.
The customs people placed the several potlus belonging to the group on a table and opened a knot on one to reveal the simple contents. The dhotis were just long pieces of cloth to them but the puja proved of more interest. They carefully opened the puja bag and found photographic images of Lord Swaminarayan and the guru heirachary, rosary, a sandal paste stick and a small plastic bottle containing red vermilion. There were no diamonds. One after the other all the baggage was meticulously searched.
An apologetic and amazed official said, "Swami, you definitely don't have diamonds, but you don't even have what other travellers always have - at least 75 shillings! This is the first time we have come across such passengers!" Swamishri's vow of poverty is included in the nirlobhi vartman.
Thousands of devotees had gathered in Mahuva, the birth place of Bhagatji Maharaj, guru of Shastriji Maharaj, to celebrate his 150th birthday. The attendant sadhus thought that on such an occasion Swamishri should change his old dhotis for a new set. It was fitting for the event. As a sadhu he would not accept rich silken dhotis, but what was the harm in wearing a new cotton pair?
After much pleading and persuasion Swamishri was pressed into wearing a new dhoti and upper cloth - the gataryu. The freshly coloured cloth looked fine. After the festival the next day he asked for the old dhoti and gataryu. The attendant replied, "I've sent them to Sarangpur." Swamishri did not reply. After several days he went to Sarangpur and after his morning bath asked for his old dhoti. The attendant had offered him the new pair to wear. He asked for the old pair.
This time the attendant replied, "They've still to be properly washed and recoloured." The idea was to prolong giving Swamishri the old dhotis in the hope that he would just accept the new pair and forget about the old.
The next morning when the attendant held out the new dhoti for Swamishri to put on he took his stance saying, "I will wear only my old dhoti." He sat down on his bed resolutely. The old dhotis were quickly brought down.
He frequently explains to disciples that the Sanstha belongs to Harikrishna Maharaj, the temples, land, livestock, books, everything down to the last safety pin. Nothing should be used wastefully. The Sanstha subsists on donations offered to Harikrishna Maharaj by devotees, both rich and poor. How can such sacred wealth be squandered. A sadhu should have no desires of looking good or using the best for his own use. A wealthy person in Bombay heard of the four cattle camps started by the Sanstha during the Gujarat drought in 1987. He approached Swamishri and said, "I'd like to donate
Rs. 100,000 to the cattle camps run by you."
Swamishri replied, "Give the money to cattle camps run by other organisations in Amreli, Gadhada, Botad and elsewhere."
"No, Swamiji, I want to give it to your cattle camps. I have faith in them. Who knows what might happen to my money if I donate it anywhere else!"
But Swamishri persuaded him to send the money to other organisations. He was worried that if most donations were given to the Sanstha what would the other camps do? How would they feed and care for the cattle they had taken in?
* * *
Surat, 1984
Swamishri was dining. Before him on a squat wooden stand rested his pattar - a wooden bowl from which Swamishri eats - and a steel dish with small bowls containing various curried vegetables and soups that had been offered to Harikrishna Maharaj, and which Swamishri was now eating as prasad. An attendant had as usual taken a little food from the plate and placed it in the pattar. A little distance away to one side sat Ashish, the young son of a devotee. He was carefully watching. There were many tasty foods before Swamishri. Which would he eat more he wondered. It was the natural innocent inquisitiveness of a child.
"Bapa, what do you like the most?" Ashish asked.
"Whatever is offered to Thakorji in the thal. What do you like?" Swamishri asked him.
"Your uncle's favourite is ice cream, what's at the top of your list?" asked Swamishri again.
"Ghari!" Ashish was referring to a cake like sweet for which Surat is famous.
Swamishri's nis-swaadi vartman has become almost legendary in Satsang. Over the years, even before Shastriji Maharaj initiated him as a sadhu he was seen as disinterested in enjoying tasty foods. This magnified when he accepted the nis-swaadi vartman along with sadhuhood. As Swamishri was President of the Sanstha and also a very senior sadhu from the point of view of spiritual accomplishment, Yogiji Maharaj always ensured that a capable attendant sadhu was constantly with him, looking after his day to day needs, not that Swamishri had any special needs.
Dharmajivan Swami once made small rotlis for Swamishri. When he served one in his pattar Pramukh Swami asked,
"Where did you bring them from."
"I made them myself."
"For whom?"
"You, Swami."
"Never ever cook anything different for me. Just serve me whatever has been made in the general kitchens for everybody else."
In 1985 he was in Gondal. Mahant Swami was dining with him. Krishnavallabh Swami was serving Swamishri debharas made from dudhi, a cucumber like vegetable. Mahant Swami stopped the attendant from serving debhara to Swamishri as they were extremely salty.
The attendant asked, "Swami, why didn't you say anything?" He had already eaten a fair portion.
"I thought that when you sit down to eat you'd find out anyway," he replied.
In Bahrain it was a similar story. Only when the sadhus themselves sat down to eat did they discover that the curried vegetables were saltless.
That evening the sadhus asked, "The afternoon vegetables had no salt, why didn't you say anything?"
He smiled, and then answered, "You lunched, so you now know. Whatever has been offered to Thakorji should be eaten. What is to be said in that?" His own indifference to eating does not in the slightest prevent him from urging devotees and sadhus to eat as much prasad as they can at special times. Swamishri relishes opportunities when he can serve a popular item. He does not gives them food - he gives prasad. Gandhinagar
December, 1992
During the Yogiji Maharaj Centennial Celebrations, L.K. Advani, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, came to Swamishri. He asked inquisitively, "You have a funny organisation here. I asked the people who is behind this grand festival and they told me it is the volunteers. I meet the volunteers, and they say it is really the sadhus' management. The sadhus all say we have done nothing, it is all Pramukh Swami Maharaj's inspiration. But who really..."
Swamishri finished off the sequence for him. "In fact, it's all God's doing."
L.K. Advani was baffled. Never before had he seen such fabulous work with no one squabbling for the credit.
After the Himalayan Yatra with 450 sadhus and devotees Swamishri received an angry letter from a Mr. Parmar who lived in Romford, London. He accused Swamishri of being selfish and inconsiderate of other pilgrims. He wrote that because of the large sangh his own family had experienced untold of difficulties finding accommodation. Their dates had exactly matched the sangh's schedule. He said his family was extremely unhappy.
...You shouldn't have come with such a big party... We came to visit the holy places...but as your schedule clashed with ours, we couldn't find any decent accommodation... You spoilt our holiday and made our family miserable.
Two months previous to the yatra Swamishri had sent Ishwarcharan Swami to all the sites to be visited, looking at rooms and making arrangements. It had not been an instant pilgrimage, embarked upon on the spur of the moment. The planning had been meticulous. Swamishri was in no way to be blamed. It was sheer coincidence. A devotee would say it was the Lord's will.
In an apologetic answer Swamishri wrote back, "...Sorry for the inconvenience that we may have caused... It was not our intention to cause you distress. If you had told us while you were there, we would most certainly have arranged facilities for you and your family to stay. Please accept our apologies..."
A man from Amdavad had been wondering through the Sarangpur temple complex for two days. He wanted to meet Swamishri but was new and didn't know how. When he finally did he fell at his feet and burst into loud sobbing. Swamishri remained seated, stroking the distressed man's head. When he gained a little composure he began confessing. "I have spited you dreadfully, sinned so much. I have sworn at you behind your back. I called you a cunning businessman. I did all this without any experience or knowing who you were. My friends tried to make me see the truth, but I cursed even them.
"In 1985 in Swaminarayan Nagar (bicentenary of Gunatitanand Swami) I leased a stall. My friends had hung your photo on a wall. I threw it on the ground outside and crushed it under my shoes. In the Nagar I smoked on purpose..."
As the man spoke Swamishri continued to stroke his head. After a while he became quiet. Swamishri then said, "Now that you've accepted Satsang everything will be forgiven. You have taken shelter of God, He will do good for you..."
Early one morning in Amdavad as Swamishri was taking his daily walk, two renunciates of another organisation insisted on seeing him. Swamishri had not bathed as yet, but he agreed all the same. He recognised the two as the ones who had led a vicious propaganda campaign against the Sanstha several years ago. Swamishri did not say a word. They wanted funding for a project. Without a trace of enmity Swamishri agreed and gave the necessary instructions to his attendants. He refused to be intimidated by incidents that had happened in the past. Let bygones be bygones he said, a sadhu should not harbour grudges or grievances.
Bob Kaplan, Member of Parliament, Canada, and once the Solicitor General, had been for several years impressed with Swamishri's work in Canada, especially Toronto. He knew of the Satsang activities and his notable success with the youth. He along with other citizens arranged for Swamishri to visit Parliament where he would be honoured by the MPs sitting in session.
As Swamishri sat in the VIP gallery, Speaker John Fraizer interrupted the proceedings to ask the MPs to look toward the VIP gallery. Swamishri was introduced. The Speaker asked, "Swamishri, please stand up." One hundred twenty-five members of Parliament were watching, T.V. cameras were sending the scene into countless homes. Swamishri remained seated. He told Nirbhayswarup Swami who was holding Harikrishna Maharaj to stand up and let Parliament have the Lord's darshan first. It was He who ought to be honoured. After all, he himself was just a servant of Harikrishna Maharaj. After a few seconds, Swamishri stood up, palms joined together, head slightly bowed in humble greeting.
In a similar ceremony at the Home of Commons in London Swamishri had again insisted that Harikrishna Maharaj be first held up to accept whatever honour the British Parliament desired to bestow.
In 1989 the foundations of a new temple in Mehsana were being dug. Youth volunteers had strung out in a human chain and were quickly passing along large metal basins of earth to be dumped a little distance away.
Swamishri was walking to the sabha, he appeared dazzling and lovable. By his mere presence and glances those around him felt their devotion increasing. He saw the vigorous enthusiasm of the youths and could not resist the temptation. He joined the line and to the dumbfoundment of all began passing basins. After he had delivered over 30 the sadhus and devotees asked him to stop.
Yogi, barely seven years old, was singing a kirtan whilst Swamishri was having breakfast in the 'White House', the white washed house in the New York temple compound. As the boy sang Swamishri listened. All of a sudden, remembering something, he began to talk in a low voice to the sadhu sitting next to him. Yogi stopped singing, and sat down. He was upset.
"Why did you become upset and sit down," Swamishri asked when his conversation finished.
"I was singing, but nobody was listening, they all keep talking."
"Sorry," said Swami, "I made a mistake." The apology was spontaneous and natural. He then asked Yogi to stand up and begin again, pleasing the little devotee no end, encouraging him to learn other kirtans and sing them before the images in the temple and in the sabhas.
Swamishri had once told a devotee, "A sadhu should have no attachment to his birth place. We want to worship God, and that can be done everywhere. After once renouncing the family and if we then still harbour love for them what have we renounced?"
He encourages his sadhus to develop such nis-sneh, "The soul has no family and caste. If after renouncing your family you retain affection for them you become bound. The Sanstha is the effect. Satpurush is the cause. Be tied only to the Satpurush and God. There is nothing worth swallowing in this material world."
Swamishri never talks about his family. At their very mention he stops all conversation. He has never returned to his birth place, Chansad. The only information about his childhood is what has been learned from his mother Diwaliben, and sisters. When he was informed that his father had passed away he immediately bathed, as is required by the Dharmamrit. When Diwaliben passed away he did similarly.
He himself is very reluctant to talk about his life before becoming a sadhu and even afterwards. For the benefit and joy of disciples he at times does reveal fragments of his past.
In Bochasan the sadhus once asked, "When you left home did you feel any unhappiness?"
"No," he replied. "It was not that I was forced to leave home."
This detachment from his family was evident from a young age. As a youngster he was affectionate, obedient and revered his parents. He gave full respect to his brothers and sisters and was always cordial and friendly with other relatives. But his heart he had given to Shastriji Maharaj. He could not love anyone to the degree that he adored his guru.
Carlos Vegas had heard of Swamishri from a friend. He was interested enough to visit Swamishri in Los Angeles. He sat a little distance away from Swamishri who was busy. When he finally had the chance to speak to him Carlos said, "This is the first time I'm experiencing tranquillity, and this, only in your presence. I have a house, car, money, I have everything..."
Before he could finish Swamishri spoke, "I have God." He seemed to be speaking from a world that was his own. His voice carried conviction that came from experience. He continued, "I have no money, I have God, and in that comes everything."


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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