||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.
To think is great, to live is greater and to inspire is the greatest part of philosophy, for: the life of philosophy is philosophy in life.
Philosophy in theory, in its pure form, is amazing and analytical, like a diagnosis of a disease, but cannot cure the illness. While philosophy in practice, in its applied form, is as tough as a treatment, long and complex, it cures and transforms.
But who can take philosophy and give it life? Transmit it to the masses, into the lives of millions who do not have any philosophical outlook or acumen? Someone who is not only enlightened, but one who can also enlighten.
There is a difference between: the enlightened and the enlightener – one who can enlighten; the purified and the purifier – one who can purify.
Emphasising these exclusive transforming and purifying powers of the Satpurush or the enlightened Guru, Bhagwan Swaminarayan gives a beautiful simile in Vachanamrut
Vartal-3: There are four types of spiritual people. One is like a lamp flame, the second is like a blazing torch, the third is like lightning, and the fourth is like the vadvanal fire (volcanic ocean vents). He who is like a lamp flame is extinguished by the breeze of worldly pleasures. He who is like a blazing torch is extinguished by stronger gales of worldly pleasures. He who is like lightning is not extinguished even by heavy rains in the form of maya. While, the vadvanal fire, on the other hand, exists in the ocean without being extinguished by the ocean water; it takes in the sea water and returns it in the form of sweet water; which the clouds carry and shower upon the world. Similarly, the great Purush, like the vadvanal fire, transforms even the ‘salty’ lives who are like the sea water, into ‘sweet’ lives… He who is like the vadvanal fire is known as God’s Param Ekantik Sant, who is perfectly God-realised.”
This scriptural truth is echoed in the experience of Dr. Subramaniam of New York, the world renowned cardiac surgeon who had successfully operated on Pramukh Swami Maharaj in 1998. Himself an agnostic who worshipped work and karma alone, he shared his personal experience of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s enlightening powers with a fellow professional, Dr. Atul Chokshi.
Dr. Subramaniam said, “You read the Gita daily, but today I’ll show you someone who lives the Gita daily, and can help you live it.”
The enlightened Guru ‘can help you live’ the scriptures, primarily because he lives them and philosophically understands their meanings. He is the living link, the live connection between the metaphysical and the material world.
The Kathopanishad (I.3.2) describes such a Guru, who is Akshar, as the bridge to Parabrahma – the Supreme Reality.
Yah seturijãnãnãm aksharam brahma yat param
That Akshar (Guru) is the bridge for those who worship Brahma (i.e. Parabrahma).”
Hence, the enlightened Guru is the bridge between man and God, between earth and heaven, between our inner and outer world, between the spiritual and material world.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Satpurush is the pure, living philosopher, who is free from worldly desires, free from pain and suffering, and is sthitpragna – forever fulfilled, balanced and blissful. And he inspires and instills these inner values, which provide peace, happiness and stability into the lives of all who associate with him. This fully serves and fulfills the purpose of philosophy, which is
For the attainment of bliss and liberation from suffering.
In his book Modern Man in Search of a Soul, psychologist and psychiatrist Dr. Carl G. Jung concludes that a ‘spiritual outlook’ and a ‘real live guru’ are the necessities of our time for inner stability and peace.
Citing his personal experience in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Dr. Jung, who himself had guided and treated thousands, admits: “In my darkness (of mind) I could have wished for nothing better than a real, live guru, someone possessing superior knowledge and ability, who would have disentangled for me the involuntary creations of my imagination.”
With depression predicted to become the second-most common disease by 2020 and looming as one of the biggest threats to civilised society, we may not have long to wait before ‘spiritual outlook’ or a ‘guru’ becomes a biological need for human survival.
Statistics are impossible to hide. A recent survey released in Geneva by WHO shockingly revealed: “Suicide is a tragic global public health problem. Worldwide more people die from suicide than from all homicides and wars combined.”
Billions of dollars are spent in defense, security and police, not just in one country but in all the nations on this earth. And yet what kills us more, is our own mind, our thoughts, our instability, inability to cope with the pressures of our environment. Spirituality and philosophy not only can help, but have helped.
In the Bhagvad Gita it was Bhagwan Krishna’s personality and applied philosophy that rescued Arjun from depression and death, saving society from evil forces.
Similarly, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, as a real live guru who specialises in inspiring and instilling spirituality, has become a limitless source of peace and tranquility to over a million people. The lives of his followers – satsangis – are the living proof of the transmission of philosophy. Nothing could be more authentic than examining the real-life incidents of these satsangis, of how philosophy and spirituality have transformed and elevated their lives and benefited the society they live in.
Their stories are true testimonies to the far-reaching spiritual powers of the Guru in providing emotional stability, moral purity, social responsibility and spiritual continuity.
Swamishri’s philosophical ideal: Paramatma is the all-doer and provider of inner strength to cope with all controllable or uncontrollable, individual or collective crises of life. Whether it be a depressed student or a runaway child, a collapsed businessman or a frustrated wife, a broken marriage or a loss of a job or a death of a loved one, people overcome their emotional trials through Swamishri’s care and counselling.
One historic account is the Ugandan exodus in 1972, when thousands of wealthy, well-settled Indians were slaughtered, uprooted and driven out, penniless with nowhere to run. Sir Charles Cunningham describes in the foreword to Life and Philosophy of Shree Swaminarayan:
“We have seen recently, in a very striking way, how this ability to draw strength from cultural and religious continuity can help in facing the unpredictable trials of modern life. When nearly thirty thousand people were suddenly expelled from Uganda and had to come, often penniless, to start a new life in Great Britain their calmness and dignity, their readiness to accept hardship, the uncomplaining way in which so many of them who had known success and prosperity began again at the bottom of the ladder, impressed us greatly. It was evident that they had been sustained by a deep religious faith which had enabled them to accept adversity and to rise above it.”
Many of these were Swaminarayan devotees. Not only did they survive as refugees, but soon restored their wealth and status, overcame this emotional nightmare, and in 1995 built Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, hailed as the first and the largest traditional Hindu mandir in the West by the Guinness World Records. Though architecturally, this mandir is considered a wonder of the modern world, it is a greater wonder of unflagging spiritual faith; a timeless symbol of the love, devotion and dedication of simple devotees towards their God and Guru, and their miraculous story of resilience and resurgence.
Swamishri’s philosophical ideal: Paramatma is the all-knower generates a conscience of uprightness, honesty and unshakeable integrity. The hallmark of a BAPS Swaminarayan devotee, whether a child, youth or adult, is his or her moral strength.
Incidents abound: A poor boy, Manish Gohil, of Mumbai on his regular round of collecting waste newspapers for BAPS paper re-cycling project discovered a thick bundle of money mistakenly discarded in the heap of newspapers. Without touching a note, not even to count it, he knocked on the owner’s door to return the money. Even the owner couldn’t believe the honesty of the boy who declined to accept any award or recognition. The amount was Rs. 40,000!
From Narsinh Solanki of Ahmedabad, working as a simple electricity meter reader who refused to accept bribe to a devotee girl in Nadiad taking her final secondary exams who declined to cheat and copy despite the fact that the rest of the class was freely copying; one wonders how teenagers like Vipul Patel, studying at Harvard, and students like Amar, Yogen and Sanjay at Oxford, Cambridge and IIT willingly stop watching films and television for life! And how officers like Prakash Mehta in the US Army and many more in multi-national corporations continue to avoid meat and alcohol despite being posted in remote outposts. Or for that matter, why educated young men, of varying backgrounds, intellects and talents are inspired to embrace the most sublime levels of morality in the form of renunciation. The answer they all give – Swamishri’s life!
Swamishri’s philosophical ideal: Paramatma is in everyone and everything.
Focusing on this, Swamishri has groomed his devotees to respect and serve others. To accept and appreciate others. To rise above the differences of personal beliefs and backgrounds, social castes and communities and serve society with dignity and responsibility.
Swamishri has created a committed volunteer force of 55,000 selfless volunteers who serve with devotion, dedication and almost zero administrative cost. Through a worldwide network of 9,000 centres and a million members, BAPS performs over 160 humanitarian services in areas as diverse as environmental, educational, medical, tribal, social, cultural and spiritual. It is one of the select few NGOs of India that are affiliated to the United Nations for its international services.
To cite a recent example: in hours after the Gujarat earthquake on 26 January 2001, Swamishri was amongst the first to send in volunteers and supplies. Over 6,500 volunteers reached 409 affected villages, rescuing victims, distributing hundreds of tonnes of relief supplies, serving 1.8 million hot meals, finally constructing 49 schools for 15,000 students and rehabilitating 15 villages by building and rehabilitating 4,190 houses. Over 91,000 patients were provided free medical treatment while 2,500 were given employment assistance. It is regarded as perhaps the largest and most humane social responsibility shouldered by a socio-spiritual NGO.
Apart from natural disasters, Swamishri’s care has saved society from man-made disasters, more than many times. When two warring clans of Odarka and Kukkad, and its surrounding 44 villages could not make peace for more than two centuries and continued to kill each other with deep hatred, Swamishri camped in these remote villages of Bhavnagar District, counselled and explained to the village chiefs and clans, and finally succeeded in helping them bury their past. These hundreds of warring villagers made peace on 12 April 1990 and since then, not a single person has been killed due to this ancestral enmity in the last 14 years!
One of most magnanimous and exemplary act of restraint and responsibility by Swamishri and his satsangis, was the calm, controlled and peaceful response to the inhuman terrorist attack on Akshardham on 24 September 2002. It helped dissolve fuming hatred, diffused the haunting threat of mass riots and violence and restored peace and equilibrium in Gujarat.
On 2 October 2004, Deepal Trevedie wrote in The Asian Age: “Gujarat Regained: Akshardham has restored Gujarat’s pride in itself. The Swaminarayan sect and the various swamis and sadhus associated with it provided solace in a manner befitting their vocation. Pramukh Swami is an influential figure and everyone, from President Abdul Kalam to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, spoke to him within an hour of the attack… He kept stressing on the need for peace. The Swaminarayan saints stress that philosophy and spiritualism have to be grounded in social realities. They cannot be dogmatic. In retrospect, while the attack was unfortunate, Gujarat has been able to send the right message to the world that it is not vulnerable to fascist forces and that it wants peace... The Akshardham tragedy has instilled a fresh sense of confidence that Gujarat need not burn at every spark that is ignited.”
Speaking of peace and order, Swamishri has placed maximum responsibility upon the family as the building block of society. To strengthen the family, he has successfully introduced a unique concept of Ghar Sabha – Family Assembly – wherein all the members of the family sit together for half an hour everyday, for prayer, daily talk and social time. It has dissolved prejudices, bridged minds and saved marriages. In all, tens of thousands of family assemblies are in practice.
What is more amazing are the philosophical and spiritual values which Swamishri has been able to inspire take care of the complete cycle of life – at all its stages – from children, teenagers and youths to family men and senior citizens. Swamishri not only takes care of life, but also takes care of death! The final moment where only philosophy can penetrate.
Swamishri has created a feeling of spiritual continuity.
Swamishri’s philosophical ideal: I am atma and Paramatma is eternally with me
Realising oneself as atma, which is not born and does not die, and offering devotion to Paramatma creates an exalted spiritual state that is way beyond the common, momentary experiences of meditation, visions, and well-being. Through satsang and spiritual endeavours people rise above worldly desires and fears! Even beyond the fear of death.
Bhagwanji Mandavia, was a dynamic business administrator in Toronto. Active in the Indo-Canada Federation, and guiding the Gujarati community, Bhagwanji was enjoying success at its best. Then in 1985 he was diagnosed as having blood cancer. Not disclosing it to anyone except a close friend or two, he continued with his life. All throughout, his satsang with Swamishri had strengthened him beyond belief. By 1988, he was hospitalised for a bone-marrow transplant. All the pains and pressures of loneliness, illness, depression and death were upon him. Still, his smile never lost its lustre nor did his voice lose its vibrancy. No wonder, while he phoned his friends, almost dying on his bed, they still thought Bhagwanji was in office! His inner strength and stability is spelt in the reply he wrote before his death to his brother in India who had expressed great grief about his terminal illness!
“Physical pain comes to one and all. So one must never worry about disease and death. One must never leave the refuge of a saint like Pramukh Swami Maharaj in whom God resides. Our faith in God and Swamiji should remain unshakeable.”
Among the devotees there is also the comfort of continuity which spirituality alone can provide. Recently, on 31 May 2004, when the only son of Yogendra Parmar, Shriji Parmar, died in a car accident in New Jersey, the father telephoned Swamishri, “Swamiji, my son was yours and God has taken him.” Completely composed, without grieving, Yogendra asked Swamishri’s permission to donate his son’s organs. Soon after performing the final rites, the father returned to serve as a volunteer, saying: “I know what God has willed has happened and my son’s atma is safe in Akshardham, and he would want me to continue with serving others.”
Pramukh Swami Maharaj's Tireless Efforts
Behind such large-scale transformation of countless individuals lies the tireless effort of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Explaining that the guru transforms the devotees through spiritual interaction in three ways, Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami gives a metaphor:
There are three types of birds – those that nurture their eggs through their thoughts, those that do so through their vision and those that do it under their wings.
The guru nurses the followers in all these ways. He sometimes inspires through physical interaction, sometimes through indirect communication and sometimes through inner consciousness. This explains how the women devotees who never come into physical contact or direct communication with Swamishri are inspired to follow a life brimming with devotion and purity, which in many cases surpasses that of the men. It also supports the fact that thousands of young and old BAPS followers, in countries as far as America and Australia, observe strict spiritual codes and feel close to Swamishri on a day-to-day basis.
Swamishri is 84 years old and to this day, he continues to travel from home to home, hut to hut, not resting in one place, meeting, counselling and addressing thousands daily. Also, through schools, hospitals and hundreds of social projects, Swamishri serves humanity day and night.
As rightly described in the Bhagvad Gita, (V.25), he is Sarvabhutahite ratãhãh. "Totally immersed in the good of all creatures." He lives by the words he often speaks, "In the good of others lies our own, in the progress of others lies our own."
He lives for others, not for himself. He lives within this world, and by his personal example and presence, he elevates those who associate with him beyond it, into the realms of highest righteousness. This ability of Pramukh Swami Maharaj to inspire and instill philosophy into the lives of common people and help transform, elevate and enlighten the world around him has been realised and experienced by reputable people, believers and non-believers alike:
In 1980, Bob Kaplan, solicitor-general of Canada, in his letter to Pramukh Swami Maharaj emphasised his importance in this present world, “You are good pious people. If the whole world took you as an example it would be a better place, free of crime, of war and self-destruction. I believe you have valid answers to life’s toughest questions.”
On 8 February 2004, the President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in his public address recounted how Pramukh Swami Maharaj had guided him to include a spiritual component in the five areas of development. Then he narrated his personal experience of meeting Swamishri: “I have met (and visited) in India almost all the religious places and religious leaders. Every religion I visited looked like a beautiful orchard. But when I came out of the religion, from the orchard, I found that the orchards are all like islands. Each orchard, each religion is beautiful but is an island. But, how do we connect the religions? Compassion and love! A bridge we need. When I met Pramukh Swami Maharaj... when I was with him for two hours, I got a feeling, here is a Swamiji, a spiritual soul, who has got compassion and love and spiritual force he was radiating from himself to others.
When the present day President sees Swamishri as a bridge between all religions and all philosophies, the ancient words of the Mundakopanishad (II.2.5) begin to reverberate: Amrutasyaisha setuhu. "He is the immortal bridge."
The bridge that connects man with the Divine. This connection, this power of elevation and transmission is the real measure of a true Guru.
Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami shows a simple, straightforward way of evaluating a spiritual Guru: To know the worth of a Guru, study the life of the Guru, the life of the Guru’s Guru and the lives of the Guru’s disciples. Is he pure? Did he receive his knowledge from a pure Guru? Can he transmit that purity to his followers?
This is what makes Pramukh Swami Maharaj the perfect living philosopher because he is the fifth Guru in the unbroken succession of God-realised Sadhus established by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Before him, were four enlightened Gurus and around him, he has inspired and instilled that same spirituality. He has taken pure philosophy out of the scriptures and put it into the lives of millions.
Remember, philosophy is beautiful in the books, meaningful in the mind, mystical in the heart, but miraculous in life! Philosophy in its pure form has the energy to inspire, and in its applied form has the power to transform. The reward of philosophy lies in its application.
What good are great words, if unheard?
What good are great ideas, if unlived?
The purpose of philosophy is to use it to change our lives.