A SPEECH DELIVERED ON 25 NOVEMBER 2004 DURING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY CONVENTION OF THE AKHIL BHARATIYA DARSHAN PARISHAD HELD AT THE SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR, SHAHIBAUG, AMDAVAD. MORE THAN 200 PHILOSOPHERS FROM ALL PARTS OF
INDIA HAD ATTENDED THE CONVENTION..
SANATAN DHARMA IS UNIQUELY DESCRIBED AS A way of life. Its principles are woven into the culture, daily rituals and lives of our people. They are not merely confined to the shastras or in texts and neither are they employed only in thought, dialogue or polemical discussions. Hence, our spirituality and philosophy are not mere contemplation, but believed with conviction, lived and experienced in daily life. The great Indian masters of spirituality who experienced and realised these truths include Ved Vyas, Valmiki, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Narsinh Mehta, Surdas, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Raman Maharshi, the paramhansas of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and many others.
In the Swaminarayan Sampraday, Bhagwan Swaminarayan's choicest disciple was Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami, who was Brahma incarnate. In his spiritual hierarchy today we have Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who is a living tattvadarshi or Satpurush.
Our shastras describe the attributes of tattvadarshis or one who is sthitpragna.
The Shrimad Bhagvad Gita says,
Dukheshu anuvigna-manãhã sukheshu vigat spruhaha,
Vitrãg bhay krodhah sthitadhir munir uchayate
"He whose mind is untroubled in the midst of sorrows and is free from desire amid pleasures, free from passion, fear and anger is called a sage of steady mind." (Bhagvad Gita 2:58)
Further, the Shrimad Bhagvad Gita says:
Vihãy kãmãn yah sarvãn pumãmsh charati nispruhaha
Nirmamo nirahankarah sa shantim adhigachhati
"He who has given up all desires, who lives free from desires, from mineness and egotism attains peace." (Bhagvad Gita 2:71)
So briefly, a sthitpragna is one who is unruffled by the miseries of this world, disinterested in mundane pleasures and free from mineness and egotism.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan in His discourses called the Vachanamrut defines one who is Sthitpragna, Gunatit, Param Ekantik, Satpurush or Guru. He describes that such a Satpurush is unaffected by honour and insult. He remains unruffled if someone throws dust on him, cuts off his ears and nose and sits him on a donkey or honours him on an elephant. He views a beautiful young woman, an ugly woman and an old woman with equality. He treats a heap of gold and a pile of stones with parity, and he possesses countless noble virtues such as dharma, gnan, vairagya and bhakti. God eternally resides in such a Satpurush (Vachanamrut Gadhada I-27).
Bhagwan Swaminarayan also explains four characteristics of the Satpurush who is worthy of being worshipped on par with God. He says:
1. the Satpurush controls the actions of his senses and mind, but is not subdued by them,
2. he only performs activities related to God,
3. he staunchly observes the five moral vows of nishkam, nirlobh, nisswad, nissneh and nirman, and
4. he believes himself to be brahmarup and worships Purushottam Bhagwan.
Such a Satpurush should not be thought to be like other human beings nor believed to be like devas (gods), because such behaviour is not possible for either of them. He is worthy of being worshipped on par with God. And whoever desires for liberation should serve him (Vachanamrut Gadhada III-26 ).
So, the Satpurush is in charge of his senses and mind, performs all his actions with God at the centre, observes a strict moral code and worships God.
With all the glory and attributes sung by the Hindu shastras the Satpurush is a living mass or embodiment of the shastras. The great exponent of the Shrimad Bhagvat, the late Shri Dongre Maharaj, once met Yogiji Maharaj. During their dialogue Yogiji Maharaj expressed his wish to listen to his narration on the Shrimad Bhagvat scripture. The erudite Dongre Maharaj replied, "How can I preach the Bhagvat before the Bhagvat." Yogiji Maharaj was the manifest form of the Shrimad Bhagvat. Chinmayanand Swami, the master exponent of the Shrimad Bhagvad Gita, reflected upon his experience of Yogiji Maharaj by writing, "He was a living mass of what is experienced in the Upanishads."
Today, Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the leader and guru of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. As described by Bhagwan Swaminarayan he is a tattvadarshi who is unruffled in honour and insult. He remains staunchly wedded to his moral and spiritual vows, in mind, action and speech. He is forever anchored to the glory and greatness of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Pramukh Swami Maharaj's life is an eloquent testimony to the definitions and descriptions of a truly realised and God-communion Satpurush.
No amount of philosophical debate can make us immune to the dualities of honour and insult. No amount of scriptural or philosophical knowledge can help us transcend the material attractions and trappings of life.
Here lies the distinction between the tattvavetta - one who knows and debates about philosophy and spirituality - and the absolute tattvadarshi - one who lives the shastras and experiences the absolute bliss of God. Let us now try to understand the virtues of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. We shall try to see how he is above honour and insult, his profound devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, his absolute obedience to his moral vows and finally his equanimity during the terrorist attack in Akshardham.
Above Honour And Insult
In 1985 Pramukh Swami Maharaj was honoured in a grand, festive celebration at the Queens Park Rangers Stadium in London by 20,000 devotees and wellwishers. A giant weighing scale was arranged on stage and Swamishri and Thakorji were weighed with packets of sugar crystals. After Swamishri stepped down, the sugar crystals were weighed against gold. Then the dignitaries and senior sadhus spoke about the glory of Swamishri's saintliness. Finally, in his address to the mammoth assembly Swamishri humbly acknowledged the grace and blessings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and his gurus, Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. The central theme of his address was about God's doership and that he was merely a servant of God.
The very next day, an individual came to see Swamishri at the Swaminarayan Mandir. He vociferously insulted Swamishri. Swamishri saw that he was venting his rage out of misunderstanding. He listened to him calmly. The attendants and devotees were agitated by the affront but Swamishri beckoned them to remain calm and patient. When the individual stopped, Swamishri blessed him and instructed his attendants to make arrangements for his lunch before he left for home.
Swamishri's face was equipoised in both honour and insult. He was neither euphoric about the honour bequeathed upon him by 20,000 people nor agitated by the insult heaped upon him by an ordinary person.
Devotion To God
On 25 January 1974, Pramukh Swami Maharaj departed with nine sadhus amid a joyous farewell for his first Satsang tour abroad since his becoming guru in 1971. The plane took off from Mumbai at 10.15 am and landed in Nairobi at 1.22 pm. All the passengers disembarked but Pramukh Swami Maharaj and the sadhus were ordered to stay aboard. Then at 4.15 pm, without any reason, they were instructed to fly back to Mumbai. Everyone in the group was saddened by the unexpected order to return. When a sadhu gave his diary to Swamishri during their flight back to Mumbai, he wrote, "The wish of Maharaj (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) and Bapa (Yogiji Maharaj) prevails. So, one should remain happy. Accept the ways they desire for you. Do not be pained or become miserable. Become aksharrup and offer devotion to God, then one will not be miserable."
At 2.45 am Swamishri arrived in Mumbai. After reaching the Swaminarayan Mandir he prostrated to the little murti of Thakorji, Shri Harikrishna Maharaj, that he carries with him for worship. Swamishri asked for His forgiveness in not being able to offer Him food (thal) during their return journey to Mumbai. Then Swamishri had a fresh meal prepared at night and offered it to Thakorji while singing thals (devotional songs sung while offering food).
The important thing to note is that Swamishri, though he had to return through no fault of his, was not concerned about the insult and the disrespectful manner of being sent back, but concerned about Thakorji who had not been offered any food. And to offer food in the middle of the night reflects Swamishri's supreme love, care and devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
The next day he discoursed in a happy manner, inspiring laughter and joy in all the sadhus and devotees, thus making them forget the misery of him being sent back.
Wedded To Moral Vows
Despite Pramukh Swami Maharaj's travellings in India and abroad, he has never compromised in the observance of the moral and spiritual commands prescribed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. In consonance with our Hindu shastras, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has prescribed 5 moral vows for His sadhus. And one of those principle vows is eight-fold brahmacharya.
On 26 December 1977, Pramukh Swami Maharaj met the President of Tanzania, Julius Nyarere, at his residence. The president was impressed by Swamiji's profound saintliness and divinity. He asked Swamiji to bless his 90-year-old mother who was ill. Swamishri explained that because of his vow of brahmacharya he could not personally bless his mother but he would pray and bless her from far and his blessings would reach her and make her well. The president was convinced of Swamishri's purity and his blessings.
Many social workers and leaders have requested Pramukh Swami Maharaj to allow his sadhus a little liberty in their vow of celibacy by permitting them to talk to women which would subsequently enhance the spread of the organisation. To this Swamishri answers that he does not believe in the spread of the organisation at the cost of sacrificing their moral vows. If the organisation spreads then it would be well and good and if it doesn't then he would not be worried. He adds that the spread of Satsang lies in the hands of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.
The climax of Swamishri's sthitpragnata - equanimity - is evident through his peaceful response in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Akshardham in Gandhinagar. It was 4.50 pm on 24 September 2002 when the terrorists attacked the Akshardham complex. Their ruthless and merciless killing of innocent civilians was a horrifying and shocking act of atrocity.
At the time Pramukh Swami Maharaj was in Sarangpur, Gujarat, engaged in a meeting discussing the BAPS earthquake rehabilitation programme in Kutch. When Swamishri was informed about the attack, he calmly said, "The terrorists have killed people in Akshardham; let us pray to God that no further people are killed, and the terrorists be caught…"
That night Swamishri issued an appeal asking the people of Gujarat to remain calm and to maintain peace and harmony. The backlash of the attack would have been devastating if Swamishri had not responded with an appeal for peace.
In a letter to the reader's section of The Times of India on 8-10-02, Kaushik Joshi wrote, "In the wake of the attack on Akshardham, Pramukh Swami has shown magnanimity by not indulging in any blame game and imputing motives. Akshardham is his most priceless, splendid and wonderful creation. Yet, he has been calm. His saintliness is very touching. His heart bleeds for the helpless victims of the barbaric act..."
A renowned Jain acharya, Pujya Shri Chandrashekharvijayji, wrote a letter to Swamishri, "An idol of patronage, gem among saints and the highest devotee of God Swamishri Pramukh Swamiji,
"My heart is intensely shocked at the terrible turmoil that broke out in Akshardham. To ask you what pain must have afflicted you is improper because you are a saint who lives on a sthitpragna level. You console devotees who come in tears to offer their condolences. This is the high level of saintliness you have."
Pramukh Swami Maharaj's unwavering steadiness and calmness in the midst of the carnage at Akshardham and his immediate appeal for peace is a living proof in our contemporary times of the highest Hindu wisdom in his life. Many people of all communities hailed Swamishri's response of peace and calmness. Ever since, his response has been hailed as the 'Akshardham Response' which has set a precedence for all humanity.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj is a living philosopher. He breathes and lives the spiritual wisdom of the Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita and Vachanamrut. As we have seen he is steadfast in his morals, he is neither enticed by the glamour of materialism nor affected by honour or insult. He forever remains in communion with Bhagwan Swaminarayan and endeavours for the elevation of all people. He is a sthitpragna who not only enjoys the bliss of Bhagwan Swaminarayan but transforms and transports ordinary souls to the state of eternal freedom and the highest spiritual joy that he is enjoying.