April 15th 1865 - President of the U.S.A. - Liberator of Slaves,
Abraham Lincoln - shot dead in Washington.
January 30th 1948 - Father of India - Champion of India's Independance,
Mohandas K. Gandhi - shot dead in Delhi.
November 22nd 1963 - President of the U.S.A. - Youngest man ever in office,
John F. Kennedy - shot dead in Dallas.
April 4th 1968 - Black Civil rights campaigner - Freedom Fighter,
Martin Luther King. Jr. - shot dead in Memphis. The headlines tell the story of great men, their achievements, and how they were savagely cut down by their enemies. It was an unjust conclusion to their lives. For each had dedicated his all to help his fellow brothers live as free and happy men. Each propounded that man should love all men, regardless of caste, colour or creed. And that tolerance, not violence, was the way to change people's minds and overcome those who opposed them. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye only succeeds in making the whole world blind."
It is disturbing that such men who symbolized goodness and truth, who in the words of Lincoln, harboured "Malice toward none', had their fate determined by the same violence they were trying to eradicate. How did they manage to stir up so much hatred in the hearts of their opponents. So much that it incited them to kill?
Lord Swaminarayan incarnated upon this earth with a mission. To redeem the human race and reform society so that future generations could live happy and content lives. However, unlike his predecessors, he didn't waste his time trying to change laws, or lobbying politicians. He began at the root of the problem.
In every man's heart there is good and evil. How he manages these instincts determines his actions. If one can learn to bring out the good and eradicate the evil, he will be able to live in peace and harmony with himself and all others around him.
The Lord realised this and imparted his knowledge to his saints and directed them to go into the heart of society and to begin the change.
However, there were those who did not want to change. Those who had succumbed to their evil instincts and led indecent and immoral lives. They saw the new saints moving around, preaching and guiding. At first they took no notice. But as the saints began to have an impact and the changes became more apparent, they were forced to take notice. Naturally their response became of a more sinister nature.
Lord Swaminarayan faced his first confrontation. The outcome of which would determine the success or failure of his mission. The climate became grave, birds no longer sang their merry songs, clouds of blood filled the skies above Gujarat.
This was no ordinary confrontation, there were no warriors, only saints and ascetics. No battlefield, only villages. And only one side was armed, for while the ascetics carried spears, knives and chains, the Paramhansas were sworn to non-violence.
The Lord preached love and mercy towards all men, but this time he was forced to fight. So tense was the situation that an armed guard of fifty horsemen accompanied him wherever he went. Still, he never allowed them to attack or even fight back. He kept them only as a deterrent. The real damage, however, was inflicted upon the helpless saints. The odds were stacked against them, alone and unarmed, they stood no chance against the marauding bands of ascetics. The consequences were obvious and horrifying.
One evening, a saint named Hiradas came to a village. He settled himself under a tree and began to meditate. Nearby sat a group of ascetics, they were smoking and by their gestures they had obviously been drinking.The saint thought nothing of it, why should they harass him? He was minding his own business. He closed his eyes and began to chant the Lord's name. "Swaminarayan, Swaminarayan..." One of the ascetics saw him and walked over, "Hey! Are you one of Jivanmukta's disciple?"
"Yes, I am a Swaminarayan saint," replied the saint humbly.
"We don't like Jivanmukta, or his sadhus. So you'd better quit chanting his name or else you'll be in trouble! Understand?"
The saint remained unruffled, in fact he felt somewhat relieved. Usually such ascetics didn't issue warnings, they'd set upon a saint as soon as they saw one. He himself was not unaccustomed to such abuse. "Very well. I will not chant loudly."
Just then one of the other ascetics shouted, "Quick, come here. Look at these!" The ascetic turned round and saw a group of young girls on their way to the river. Immediately he re-joined his friends and began to tease the girls.
Meanwhile, the saint had regained his meditation posture and began to remember the Lord. But how could his lips not flutter upon the very thought of his beloved. How could he suppress the surge of emotion thrusting upwards from his heart. His lips slowly began to move, though no sound emerged.
The girls had run off, so the ascetics' attention fell on the saint. They walked over and saw his lips moving. "I thought I warned you! Now you will suffer for your insolence!"
Hiradas didn't even hear him. His mind was far away in Gadhada, enjoying the company of his master. First the ascetics began to punch and kick him. They groped around for his kanthi, janoi and pooja, but there was none. They had been snatched away long ago. Then one of the ascetics emerged holding a pair of iron rods. They were red-hot. The rest is for the imagination. There were screams, laughters, swearing and then, silence.
Thinking him dead, they left him a crumpled heap on the floor. However, dead he was not. He eventually got to his feet and painfully began to stagger in the direction of Gadhada. His time was short and his energy low. But the desire to see his master once more, drove him onwards.
The Lord was seated in a congregation when he arrived. Before he entered, he covered his wounds. He did not want the Lord to experience any distress upon seeing him. He slowly walked in and then collapsed at the Lord's feet. As he did so his upper cloth fell off, revealing a terrible sight. Where there had once been skin, there was now only burnt flesh. The Lord lifted his head in his hands, tears were streaming down his face. He was speechless. Hiradas looked into the eyes of his master, "Lord," he began in a weak tone. Maharaj bent forward to hear, "Lord. I have only one prayer to ask. That is either you leave my heart, or give me strength to tolerate such abuse."
The Lord held his head in his lap and gently caressed his beloved sadhu. He called Mulji Brahmachari and instructed him, "Make sure that this saint is well looked after. In fact, I want you to put his bed next to mine in Akshar Ordi." Maharaj decided to personally tend to the saint's needs. He felt it was the least he could do.
What made the ascetics hate such pure and innocent saints? What drove them to commit such acts of barbarianism?
Quite simply it was fear. The same fear that haunted the murderers of Gandhi and King. Fear that these saints were becoming so popular that people wouldn't follow them anymore. Fear that even after violent beatings they could not break the saints' resolve. Fear, that they would finally be exposed.
Their fear was justified. The people had long suffered at the hands of the ascetics. Once, the highest, most respected order of men had now degenerated into half naked men, who wandered from village to village. Intoxicated with drugs and lust they demanded food, water, money and women. If their demands were not met they would ransack the whole village and even kidnap the children. People accepted them out of fear, not respect.
In contrast people would see the Paramhansas meditating, singing and preaching. They became heartened by their pure and simple conduct, and naturally began to drift towards them. The ascetics tried everything, threats, bullying people, even violence, but slowly they were losing. The Paramhansas never hit back, but still they were loosening the evil grip on the people.
Once, a group of saints led by Anandanand Swami was travelling in the Dhrangadhra region of West Gujarat. On the road they encountered some ascetics, who needless to say, wasted no time in harassing the saints. However in this group was Advaitanand Swami (Magniram). He knew powers and was himself very strongly built. He had suffered such abuse on many occasions but this time his patience wore thin. As the blows rained, his blood began to boil. He grabbed his aggressor and with one hand lifted him off the floor, "Anand Swami. Just once, allow me to teach these wimps a lesson."
"No, Sadhuram. That is not our dharma. We can never strike others, even in self-defence. Now, put him down, you realise if you continue your aggression you cannot remain in these clothes." Advaitanand calmly obeyed and he placed the ascetic on the ground.
It would have been easy to allow Advaitanand to beat the ascetics, but instead they held fast to their code of conduct. It was by seeing such tolerance and discipline that people began to realise that these saints were real sadhus. As a result, public opinion began to go against the ascetics.
Outwardly, they experienced tremendous suffering. But inside their hearts they experienced the bliss of the Lord. He was the power behind them.
The battle was at its peak and though the Paramhansas were making progress, it was, albeit, slow and costly. Something more was required. The Lord summoned all his saints to Kalvani. That night he saw their broken bodies. Some were limping, others had to be carried. Some he noticed, didn't make it. It was all too much for Him. Tears filled His eyes, but now His resolve was stronger than ever.
Then He carried out one of his most radical changes ever. He instructed the saints to remove their kanthis, janois, even took away their pooja. They were to dress as "Sanyasins' so that no one would be able to recognise them as Swaminarayan saints. They were still to observe their code of conduct regarding women and wealth, but all other rules were relaxed. Worship was to be offered mentally. With that he sent them back, this time they were undercover.
His parting message was, "Go forth and take on the demons in society. I am proud of you as my saints. Compassion will be your sword, patience will be your shield and through your silence you will destroy the demons. Your armour of saintly qualities will glimmer in the dark face of evil. And only your saintliness will strengthen the foundations of our eternal culture."
Whenever the Lord heard of saints being attacked he felt great pain. He loved them dearly, and sometimes even his patience was severely tested.
Four saints, Yoganand, Chidrupanand, Kalyaananand and Arihantranand were going for a bath in the lake at Kankariya (near Ahmedabad). Some ascetics saw them and began to beat them. They slashed them with knives and then locked them up in their hut as prisoners. A few days later a devotee came to hear about the incident. He managed to persuade the ascetics to release the saints.
He was appalled when he saw the condition of the saints. They were covered in blood and were too weak to move as they hadn't been given any food or water.
The devotee took them straight to Maharaj. When Maharaj saw their injuries he rose up and his face went a deep crimson. He clenched his fists and stamped the floor, "Today, I feel like destroying the demons who did this. Who do they think they are to harm my sadhus in such a way?"
The saints had never seen the Lord so angry. They folded their hands and prayed, "Lord. Please do not be angry. Forgive them. You are the supreme Godhead. If you unleash your power, we're afraid that the whole earth will be destroyed. Have mercy on them." The Lord cooled down. The demons were saved from the wrath of God. But not for long.
The same day, the leader of the ascetics, Lolangar, decided to kill Maharaj. He led his band of followers to the place where Maharaj was staying. It so happened that Maharaj wasn't there, he had gone to a devotee's house for lunch. However, Muktanand Swami was holding a discourse at the time. They charged the congregation and captured Muktanand Swami. They beat him so badly that blood flowed from his eyes!
When Maharaj came to know of the incident he was furious, "You say they attacked Muktanand Swami? But he is saintliness personified. He wouldn't even hurt an ant. How could anyone strike him?"
Rage built up in the Lord, "Very well, enough is enough. Lolangar has gone too far. We will avenge the beating of Muktanand Swami."
That night the Lord sent all the saints to Surat where they would be safe. The next morning he called together his Kathi devotees and, to their joy and amazement, he set them loose onto the ascetics. Needless to say the ascetics received their due rewards.
But this was one isolated incident. The Lord could have physically fought back many times. But that was not his objective, he wanted to demonstrate the power of tolerance and mercy.
However, victory had its toll - some 500 Paramhansas were killed in such attacks. They were the martyrs of their culture.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "When I despair, I look back in history and remember, that there have been demons and tyrants. And for a while they may seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall, always, always...."