The Council of Gulls decided to banish Jonathan Livingston Seagull. They accused him of irresponsibility and infringing the cardinal rule that gulls are born to eat and stay alive as long as possible, “From shore to food and food to shore.” Jon in his plea says: “For thousands of years we have scrabbled for fish-heads, but now we have reason to live, learn to discover to be free.” His pleas were to no avail. He was excommunicated.
A hundred and seventy-six years back, in 1829, a young man wanted no part in the monotonous workings of life. He resolved to step out from the shell of human happiness, to warm his wings with effort and scale the skies of eternal happiness. Like Jon, he abborred a life of, “From shore to food and food to shore.” He wanted to be free. He found a guru.
During the initial 3½ years he stomached the toughest of trials and jogged through the roughest of terrains. In spite of his noble services his jealous opponents barred him from the holy community. Like Jon he was excommunicated. But his enthusiasm remained undiluted. There were attempts on his life but he never nursed a grudge against his enemies and to the contrary saw them with a benign heart.
Once, at the bidding of his guru, he ran enthusiastically to call Mt. Girnar! On another occasion, his guru exclaimed, “Why are these mango trees wilting?” He didn’t come back to give an answer but bolted into action. All day long he watered the trees in the scorching heat.
But who was this champion who at the instance of his guru trampled his ego, gagged his personal interests, turned a blind eye to shame and barbered for six months, wielded a blacksmith’s iron and watered the trees?
Who was this spiritual Spartan who performed the temple services for 23 hours of the day and slept a mere hour for 3½ years?
Who was this ascetic who fasted every two days for a year and ate only once the third day?
The champion was Pragji Bhakta or Bhagatji Maharaj. His guru was Gunatitanand Swami. Pragji Bhakta, through his abundant funds of humility and service, won the grace of Gunatitanand Swami. Once Pragji, placing a popcorn, ‘prasad’ given to him by Gunatitanand Swami, in his mouth, asked, “Am I purged of ego?” The Swami replied, “Yes.” Taking the next grain of corn he asked, “Am I free from anger?” The Swami replied affirmatively. The devotees realised that the ‘prasad’ given to Pragji was immensely different to theirs. His selfless service had drawn the abundant blessings of Gunatitanand Swami.
Pragji Bhakta became a fountain of inspiration for pilgrims seeking to earn the grace of their guru. Let us see some more inspiring incidents from his life.
No Care For Sleep
Though he was a mahant of the mandir, Gunatitanand Swami did not spare himself from certain manual work in the mandir. This did not allow him to devote much time to delivering discourses. He felt sorry that he could not concentrate much on preaching. Pragji Bhakta realised Swami’s difficulty and said humbly, “I will do your manual work in the mandir. You sit in the assembly and deliver spiritual discourses.”
When Gunatitanand Swami heard this, he was pleased and told him, “You are already busy and engaged for twenty-three hours. How will you be able to find time to do my work?” However, Pragji Bhakta did not bother about himself because of his love and devotion towards Swami.
Removing A Dead Dog
The construction work of the haveli at the mandir in Junagadh was in progress. Some slabs of stone were lying outside the mandir. And a dead dog lay on top of the slabs. Everybody thought that a scavenger would come and remove the dead dog. Meanwhile, Swami asked Pragji, “Why has the supply of stones from outside stopped?” He went and saw the dead dog lying on the stones. He thought that he should remove the dead dog because Swami had asked him, only then would the work continue. He changed his clothes and removed the dead dog. The supply of stones resumed. Then he took a bath and returned to the mandir.
Gunatitanand Swami was greatly pleased. Some people made faces, while others criticised Pragji for acting as a scavenger. On hearing this, Swami observed, “Every living being is, in a sense, a scavenger. What wrong has been committed by Pragji in helping the work restart by removing the dog? After all, he has acted according to my wishes.”
Sixty-Eight Places of Pilgrimage
Once, after the annakut festival, Pragji was washing the vessels. There was a pit in which dirty water was collected. Swami came there and put his foot on the edge of the pit. The dirty water touched his toes. Instantly Swami asked, “Pragji, where can one find all the sixty-eight places of pilgrimage?”
Pragji Bhakta understood the deeper meaning of Swami’s words and immediately jumped into the pit of dirty water. It was a spiritual bath for him. He knew that the dirty water in which Swami had dipped his toes contained all the sixty-eight holy places. For a while Swami just kept watching. Then he said, “Pragji, come out and wash yourself with clean water.” Such was the intense devotion of Pragji Bhakta!
Once Mana Bhagat said to Gunatitanand Swami, “This poor Pragji has left everything to learn meditation from you. But instead, you make him lift big stones. You are extracting work beyond his capacity.” Mana Bhagat failed to see the divine flame that burnt in Pragji Bhakta’s heart. Swami replied, “I will make him lift stones and realise God.” Mana Bhagat became silent after hearing Swami.
Bhagatji Maharaj – The Satpurush
Although he had been excommunicated from the Satsang for nearly three years, Pragji Bhakta had always impressed everyone by his saintliness, divyabhav towards all and ekantik sthiti. Thus, they all agreed to take him back into the Satsang-fold. Due to his divine spiritual qualities everyone fondly called him ‘Bhagatji’. Now, Bhagatji shifted from Junagadh to Vartal and started accompanying the senior sadhus, Pavitranand Swami, Bhumanand Swami and Shuk Swami on their vicharan. Also, in accordance with the wishes of Acharya Maharaj, he delivered religious discourses during festivals and pleased the devotees.
Girdharbhai, a nephew of Kothari Gordhanbhai of Vartal was a genuine aspirant for salvation. With a view to attaining the brahmic state in this life, he searched within Satsang for the Satpurush described in the Vachanamrut. He lived in the company of renowned sadhus but none could quench his spiritual thirst. Finally, he returned to Vartal and stood on one leg before the murti of Shri Harikrishna Maharaj and started praying for divine enlightenment. After one month, Maharaj was pleased, gave him darshan and said, “This Pragji Bhakta is my most beloved devotee. I remain manifest in the Satsang through him. Go and seek communion with him and I shall dwell forever in your heart.”
Girdharbhai failed to understand the significance of Maharaj’s advice. He thought, “How can a tailor, Pragji Bhakta, be the param ekantik bhakta? No, he can’t be.” He once again started praying to Harikrishna Maharaj.
Maharaj again appeared and instructed Girdharbhai to associate with Pragji Bhakta. And so he went to see Bhagatji. His very first meeting with Bhagatji convinced him and he became his disciple. Gordhanbhai arranged for Girdharbhai to be given bhagwati diksha and he was named as Swami Vignandasji after renunciation.
A ‘Shirt’ For Your Soul
Kothari Bechar Bhagat assisted Gordhanbhai in his work at Vartal. Once, he asked Bhagatji to stitch a shirt for him. To his surprise, even though Bhagatji had not taken any measurements, the shirt was a perfect fit. Bechar Bhagat was pleased with Bhagatji’s skill. Bhagatji said, “This shirt will cover your body but I can prepare a ‘shirt’ for your soul, too. But, for that you will have to come to my seat.” This aroused an air of curiosity in Bechar Bhagat. He went to Bhagatji’s seat and was greatly impressed by Bhagatji’s discourses about atma and Paramatma. His desire for Bhagatji’s company increased and he became his disciple. In this way many pillars of Satsang were drawn towards Bhagatji Maharaj.
Bhagatji Discourses To Pavitranand Swami
Once, Acharya Maharaj and the sadhus had gone to Anand. Every evening after the arti the Swaminarayan dhun was chanted. One evening Pavitranand Swami took objection. He said, “Since the time of Maharaj there has been a practice of chanting ‘Nar Narayan, Swami Narayan’. Why do you break this?” But the younger sadhus did not listen to him and started arguing with him.
Pavitranand Swami could not tolerate the insult. He returned to Vartal and felt disturbed. So, he sent for Bhagatji and asked him to discourse to him. “In Satsang if one does not overcome ego, jealousy and other base instincts and does not become atmarup to offer devotion to God, one is completely exposed. To become atmarup one needs unbroken love for a great Sadhu like Mul Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami.” Bhagatji narrated many such talks on the basis of the Vachanamrut and gave comfort to the greatly disturbed and agitated mind of Pavitranand Swami. He was now convinced that Bhagatji had become one with Gunatitanand Swami and had attained the brahmic state with his blessings. Soon after this, Pavitranand Swami passed away and returned to the abode of God.
Swami Yagnapurushdas Accepts Bhagatji Maharaj As His Guru
In the year V.S. 1939 (1873 CE), Bhagatji had gone to Surat to take part in the murti-pratishtha ceremony of Shri Ghanshyam Maharaj. While preparing a decorative cloth-sheet for the mandir elephant, Bhagatji discoursed to the devotees. Many sadhus and devotees gathered around his seat to listen to his inspiring talks.
Here, Yagnapurushdasji was staying with Vignananand Swami, serving him and studying the scriptures. He was drawn by the darshan and discourses of Bhagatji and was surprised to find him discoursing while stitching at the same time. Bhagatji said, “A gnani has innumerable eyes.” Seeing his brahmic state, Yagnapurushdasji mentally accepted Bhagatji as his guru.
Also, from Bhagatji, he learnt for the first time that Gunatitanand Swami is Akshar – the heavenly abode of Shriji Maharaj and he is forever in the service of Shriji Maharaj. Hearing this, his guru Vignananand Swami, who had met Maharaj in person, endorsed Bhagatji’s views. Yagnapurushdasji was convinced that Shriji Maharaj Himself had revealed this knowledge to the people. He realised the greatness of Bhagatji and became his staunch disciple.
Great sadhus readily identify each other. Bhagatji Maharaj used to say, “He is my beloved son.” Such was the affection Bhagatji had for Yagnapurushdas.
“I Will Give Him The Maker Of The Footprints”
Ramratandasji and Yagnapurushdasji were companion sadhus. Once Ramratandasji requested Bhagatji Maharaj to get him the pair of footprints of Shriji Maharaj Yagnapurushdasji had. Yagnapurushdasji acted according to the wishes of Bhagatji and parted with the holy treasure. When Acharya Maharaj came to know about this he became angry and reprimanded Bhagatji. He told Bhagatji that as Yagnapurushdasji was the leader of the group of sadhus, he was required to have the footprints of Shriji Maharaj with him. Bhagatji Maharaj replied instantly, “I will give him the maker of the footprints – Shriji Maharaj!”
Thus, he revealed his power, as well as his love towards Yagnapurushdasji.
Rapport With Bhagwan Swaminarayan
The sadhus who could not tolerate the increasing fame of Bhagatji started protesting. They wanted to put a ban on Bhagatji’s movements in the Satsang. Bhagatji often said, “I am possessed by Swaminarayan.”
Once a sadhu remarked, “Is God a ghost that He possesses you?”
“If a ghost has the power to possess, doesn’t God also?” explained Bhagatji, “God does not possess just anyone. He possesses only those who have immense faith and love for Him.” Then he described the intense loving devotion of the gopis towards Shri Krishna. He declared, “Due to the blessings of Swami I continually enjoy the divine bliss of Shriji Maharaj’s murti. Those who associate with me are granted that everlasting happiness.”