Al right you little black 'coolie', get yourself back to 3rd class or I'll have you thrown off the train,'' threatened the Ticket Inspector.
'But I have a first class ticket. If you'd just care to check ...'
'I don't give a damn what you have. No 'coolie' sits in first class on my train.'
South Africa, in 1893, was a hostile land for any man with a tanned complexion. The inhuman policy of Apartheid was only in it's infancy, yet prejudice against 'niggers' and 'coolies' was rife. It was in such an antagonistic climate, that a young Indian lawyer decided to try his luck. Mohandas K. Gandhi was ambitious. He had visions of a thriving practice, his sons would grow up as honourable English gentlemen, and he, would be recognised throughout the country as a 'Defender of Justice'. His visions, however, were soon shattered by the harsh reality that South Africa was a white man's world.
'I'm, sorry, but this train doesn't belong to you. And as I have a first class ticket, I refuse to move.''
'If you don't move, I'll have you thrown off at the next station.''
'But you have no right...''
Gandhi spent the rest of the night on the desolate platform of St. Peters Maritzberg station. That night the lawyer was to have a new vision. Until then, he revered the white man for his discipline and etiquette. However, from then onwards, he saw another side, their bigotry. This single incident actuated Gandhi to forget his ambitions of personal success and to become the leader of his people and eventually, a symbol of racial harmony throughout the world.
Great men come from all walks of life. They come as warriors, politicians, priests, kings, lawyers, even farmers! They are often ordinary men who live ordinary lives, and who even desire no such fame. But it is rather due to one or two incidents, that their lives change their course, and their names become imprinted in the history books.
But what if the ticket inspector was a kind man? Then Gandhi would have reached Pretoria and his goals. And the saviour of Indians in South Africa and the liberator of his nation would never have been.
Yet such incidents occur time and again in the lives of great men. One may choose to label such incidents as fate or destiny. Others may call it coincidence. A wise man once said, 'A coincidence is a small miracle where God chooses to remain anonymous.'
Could it be that these incidents are an act of God? In the guru-disciple relationship, as in any other, whenever a spiritual aspirant meets a guru for the first time, he is usually cautious. He needs reassurance that the guru is pure and able to help him experience God. The same is of the guru, he wonders if the disciple is worthy of his teachings. It takes time for a bond of mutual trust and respect to form between them. Beyond which, lies only total surrender.
However, what happens when the aspirant decides to surrender his all upon the first meeting with the guru? Where no words have been spoken, no attempt made to convince him that the guru is authentic. When some inner calling compels him to surge forward and fall at the feet of his Lord or some incident occurs, which gently ushers him into his new role as a Paramhansa. Is it destiny or coincidence? It must be an act of God.
Such incidents, as the one which compelled Gandhi to change his life, can also be seen in the lives of many of the Paramhansas. When Sahajanand Swami was appointed as the spiritual head of the Fellowship, he was only 21 years old. And still, relatively unknown, even amongst his new disciples. It is a wonder, therefore, that men who had never even met him, began to flock to him to be initiated into the fold. Many saw his divine figure only once. There were even those, who, on just hearing about him, hastened to him and unhesitatingly renounced all worldly associations.
Once, a young man was toiling in his field, when his uncle came to meet him. 'I've just come to say goodbye,' said his uncle.
'Why? Where are you going?'
'To a village called Gadhada. To meet an old aquaintance.'
'Who? Anyone I know?''
'No. My relation with him goes back well before you were born.'
'Tell me more about him.'
'I've said enough. If you're really interested, come along and see for yourself.'
The youth was puzzled by his uncle's evasiveness. But inside his heart excitement was bubbling up; it overflowed and he left with his uncle.
Early the next morning, arriving in Gadhada, the pair made their way to Dada Khachar's darbar. A crowd had already gathered there, they were all facing a small doorway.
'He'll be coming out in a moment,' informed a bystander.
'Who?'' asked the youth. But his voice was lost in the stillness.
He grew tense, his heart was throbbing and his knees became weak. He was alone now. The crowd and the 'darbar' had faded into the background, all he could see was the doorway.
Suddenly, a huge roar of 'Sahajanand Swami Maharaj ni Jai' was hurled into the air, followed by an explosion of light, sound and colour. It seemed that everything had come back to life. The youth spotted him amidst all the commotion. He was coming towards him. The youth held his breath. He came close, their eyes met. Just as a river flows into the sea and then loses itself in the vast blue ocean, the youth had lost himself in the eyes of the Lord.
It lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough. His soul captured, the youth returned to his village. But he wasn't really there anymore, he couldn't settle back into daily life again. His family became worried. 'What's wrong?'' asked his father.
'I'm lost, all I can see are his eyes.'
'My son, if you have really found your Lord, then why are you sitting here wasting away your life? Rise up and go forth, return to your maker.''
Aroused from his slumber, he returned to Gadhada. This time it was a one way trip. He was named Swami Siddhanand.
Just once had he seen his master, and it was enough to awaken his soul. A new chapter had been recorded in the annals of Hinduism. Never before had men, so readily renounced the world, for a master whom they did not know.
Sometimes the incident was of a divine nature in which the Lord Himself would play a role.
A businessman was once travelling from one city to another. He decided to take a short cut through a jungle, a rather callous mistake upon his part for in those days, the jungles were infested with thieves and bandits. In due course, one such group of robbers set after him. He ran, but soon he came to a river bank. He couldn't swim, so he was trapped. As most people do in times of trouble he looked towards the heavens and prayed, 'Dear Lord, please save me. These villains will steal all my money and then they'll probably cut me up into pieces. Oh no, why me? What wrong have I ever done? Please, save me Lord.'
The shouts of the bandits grew closer, the man thought about jumping into the river, 'Drowning is surely better than having my hands and feet cut off! And even if I lived, I'd have no money!'
Just then, a group of horsemen appeared along the bank. They were armed. The bandits took one look and suspecting them to be the police, they fled back into the jungle.
'I'm so glad you came. Those men were about to steal my money and kill me. You saved me. Oh, by the way, who are you?'
'Have you heard of Swaminarayan?'' replied the leader of the group.
'Once or twice. People say, he calls himself God. Mind you, I'd have to see it to believe it.'
'Well, now you have seen, for I am Swaminarayan. I have come to answer your prayers.'
'You have! You mean you heard me? You really must be God! I can't believe it. Please Lord, take me with you.''
'You cannot come with us now, but if you wish to meet me, come to Vadtal.'' Before the man could even thank the Lord, the whole group vanished before his very eyes.
He began to walk to Vadtal. On the way he contemplated his life, his family, business and friends. And how close he had come to losing them. He realised that at the end of the day, God decides the fate of every man, regardless of his caste or status. That same God, had saved him, he had given him another life. The only way to thank him, was to give that life back to him. Upon reaching Vadtal, he fell at the feet of the Lord and surrendered. He was named Swami Ramanujanand.
So many were such aspirants, that one could write volumes on them. Often they would be pilgrims who would stop for a rest in a village and there see the Lord. That was all it took. They ended their pilgrimage at his divine feet.
What could they have seen in Sahajanand Swami? There are many references to his appearance. Many say it was radiant, others say it was alluring, all say it was divine. In Vachnamrut Vadtal 13, Shreeji Maharaj compares God's form as a 'huge magnet which attracts everything for miles around.'
Chaitanyanand, Kripanand, Virbhadranand, Dayanand, Yoganand, Shatanand; just to name a few of those who experienced such incidents in their lives, and as a result found their wings and became His Paramhansas.
Sometimes his actions revealed that he knew all along. Once, a 17 year old boy was walking towards Gadhada. He had never been there before and relied on passers-by for directions. In Gadhada, the Lord mounted his horse and rode to the outskirts of the village to receive him. The boy arrived to find a rather large crowd coming towards him. On reaching him, the Lord got off his horse and immediately swept the boy up in a loving embrace as if he had known him for years. No one could guess that Maharaj had never met him before. The Lord presented the boy to the crowd and said, 'This lad was Shukdevji in his previous life. He has taken birth again to be my sadhu.' He was named Shukanand Swami.
A group of saints once made their camp on the edge of a lake. At night they heard a man singing sad songs about how empty his life was. The saints went to see if they could console the poor soul.
'Why are you so depressed?' asked the head saint.
'I feel so alone,'' replied the man.
'Why? Have you lost your wife or children?'
'No, I'm a batchelor. All my life I've been looking for my eternal companion. I have travelled so far and seen so much and yet all I have done is return home, empty and alone. I know not now where to look, who to ask.''
'Don't be so disheartened. We will take you to the Lord. He is manifest on this earth. Come with us and meet your eternal companion - Lord Swaminarayan.'
The name captivated his heart. Though he had never heard of it before, instinctively he knew that his search was over. They reached Gadhada. He was led through a small door, and then, he froze. Before him sat the Lord, he was having lunch. The man's eyes couldn't drink the scene fast enough. He became quite dazed. It was heavy wine for one who had never drunk.
There was a wave of the hand, the Lord beckoned him closer, slowly he shuffled towards the seated figure. He collapsed onto his knees. He bowed his head and as he did so he felt a 'kanthi' being slipped around his neck and then the cool sensation of having sandalwood smeared on his forehead, arms and chest. You shall be known as Nijbodhanand and also Premanand. Go, you have much to do.'' said the Lord and He continued His lunch.
No words were needed, the soul requires no introduction when meeting the Lord. Quite simply, they came, they saw and they surrendered. The baby swans had found their wings.