In the Shrimad Bhagavat, the young devotee Prahlad mentions the nine-fold path of bhakti - devotion - as taught to him by the sage Narada.
Shravanam kirtanam Vishnoho smaranam padasevanam|
Archanam vandanam dasyam sakhyam atmanivedanam||
(Shrimad Bhagavatam 7:5/23)
A Novel Experience
"Swami," the doctor said, "you'll have to take this pill."
"Show it to Thakorji first."
Swamishri was visiting Dr. Ghanshyambhai's dispensary in Kisumu, Kenya, to receive a cholera vaccination. To prevent any unwanted reaction, the doctor gave Swamishri a pill which was subsequently held in front of Harikrishna Maharaj for a few moments. Swamishri remarked that the pill was now sanctified. Then popping it into his mouth, he looked straight up, almost at the ceiling and closing his eyes momentarily, he swallowed the medicine.
The doctor was surprised. He knew that whatever Swamishri ate or drank was first offered to Thakorji. He had also heard that objects such as pens, slippers or spectacles, when first brought, were offered to the Lord - but medicine? The experience was a novel one for the doctor and Swamishri had been so natural about it. An accompanying sadhu explained that although it was not proper to offer medicines to Thakorji, Swamishri always insisted that they be shown to the Lord to sanctify them.
Offering one's self to the Lord is a type of devotion referred to in the scriptures as atmanivedanam. A true atmanivedi devotee believes that everything belongs to his Master and thus offers anything that he is to use or consume first to Him, to sanctify prior to using it himself. He surrenders everything to God, and performs his activities only to please Him.
On 11 April 1986, Swamishri underwent an operation at Khambhala Hill Hospital in Mumbai to remove a swelling from his right thigh. As the effect of the anaesthetic wore off, the attending sadhu carefully placed spectacles on Swamishri's face with the intention of showing him the orange-sized tumor that had just been excised. "Here's the tumor," explained the sadhu.
Strangely, Swamishri was not in the least interested, his first response being, "Where's Maharaj?" The sadhus promptly brought the image of Harikrishna Maharaj. Adjusting his glasses, Swamishri enjoyed the darshan of Thakorji. He folded his hands in prayer as if to thank Him for the successful operation. Only then did his attention turn to the tumor.
A Piece Of Cake
London, 15 May 1988. On the occasion of the 96th birth anniversary of Yogiji Maharaj, local women devotees had prepared a huge birthday cake. The cake was displayed before Thakorji and Yogiji Maharaj during the celebration assembly, following which some youths offered the cake to Thakorji before taking it to Swamishri. "Bapa! Please cut the cake," they beckoned. "It's Yogi Bapa's birthday today."
With joy writ over his face, as if drenched with memories of his late Guru, Swamishri ceremoniously cut the cake with care. Then turning round, he instructed, "Offer it to Maharaj."
"But Bapa," Upendra said, "We've already offered it to Thakorji."
"The cake's just been cut. When did you offer it?"
"Just before you cut it..."
Swamishri's subsequent statement is worthy of contemplation. "Can Thakorji possibly eat a whole unsliced cake like this? Now that it has been cut, arrange the pieces in a dish and re-offer it to Maharaj."
Only after this was done, did Swamishri accept a small piece of the cake before distributing the remainder. It is on such occasions that the finer shades of Swamishri's devotion become evident.
A New Pair Of Glasses
October 1980. Following Swamishri's surgery for cataracts, Pravinbhai Patel of Staten Island arrived with a new pair of spectacles for Swamishri. "Present them to Thakorji first to sanctify them, then bring them here," instructed Swamishri. The attendant sadhu soon returned with the sanctified glasses, but Swamishri hesitated. He asked for Thakorji. Only after the Lord's image was placed before him did Swamishri slip on his new glasses. It was his wish that the first image he see with his new glasses would be his dear Lord! It was as if he were saying that he had been gifted with new sight by the Lord, and with his new eyes, he wished to have His darshan first. After having darshan, Swamishri's eyes turned first to the sadhus, then to the devotees.
God Sees Everything
13 May 1988. The 1988 satsang tour on the continent of Europe saw Swamishri in Vienna, Austria on Vaishakh Vad 12, the birth anniversary of Yogiji Maharaj. A few youths from London had also joined Swamishri's touring party to cater for the arrangements. In two days time, a special assembly to celebrate the anniversary had been arranged in London. In the early afternoon, two of the youths came to Swamishri. They explained that as they would be returning to London by car, they would miss the special assembly (Swamishri was to fly to London). Therefore they wished to garland Swamishri in advance. Accepting their hearty request, Swamishri agreed but mysteriously added, "Nothing else except a garland...don't think of placing a crown."
It was obvious that Swamishri had suspected something all along. It turned out that the youths had indeed prepared a small crown of flowers with the intention of placing it on Swamishri's head. The youths tried their best to convince Swamishri. "Yogiji Maharaj also wore this once...so please say yes." (In reality, in Yogiji Maharaj's case, some sadhus had planned that when Yogiji Maharaj was to be garlanded, another sadhu would place a crown of flowers on his head from behind. When this happened, Yogiji Maharaj immediately took the crown off.) Swamishri was firm in this matter. He refused to yield, his voice exclaiming an adamant 'no'. The youths persisted, "But Bapa! We won't mention this matter to anyone. At least allow us to wrap your pagh with decorated threads as a concession."
Swamishri's response was forceful. "Forget anyone else. God sees everything, doesn't He? We do our devotion - not for others to know or not know. God knows everything, sees everything..."
Swamishri's stance was as solid as a rock. During the assembly in Vienna later that day, the youths came with a beautiful garland of roses, which Swamishri gladly accepted after having it offered to Thakorji. To please the youths, he kept it around his neck for a few seconds longer than usual. The youths experienced sheer delight just with this darshan and any disappointment of not being able to crown their Guru was soon forgotten.
Swamishri, in his own right, is the leader of a mammoth religious institution and the spiritual Guru for millions of followers. Yet he never ever dreams of bringing himself forward or 'overtaking' Bhagwan Swaminarayan or his Gurus in receiving the honors - he is an ideal atmanivedi devotee.