परिप्रश्नेन – Ask Pleading Questions
‘परिप्रश्न’ – ‘Pariprashna’ means to enquire. What a superb sequence – ask, but first bow. It is also inspiring to see the disciple thirsting for knowledge humbly presenting himself with unanswered questions. Bowing makes the question sound. It makes knowledge unpolluted. Humility rids the question of enmity and ill will, quarrel and dispute, controversy and difference of opinion, envy and jealousy, and fraud and treachery. Such untainted questions bring forth eagerness and enthusiasm for knowledge within us. Thus, the duo of pranipãta and pariprashna contain the technique to attaining knowledge.
Here, the word ‘pariprashna’ has been used for asking, not just the word ‘prashna’. By using the word ‘pariprashna’ the Gitã scrutinizes the question too. Here the questions are not just questions asked for the sake of asking, but questions on life.
To have questions is but human nature. Life gives rise to one question after another. Questions are continually asked. Some ask for the sake of asking, some ask to impress others, some ask to evaluate the person being asked, some ask to pass time, and some just have a tendency to ask. Thus, there is no end to questions. But, of these, which questions are truly relevant to life is something worth thinking about.
Here, the Gitã calls questions of life ‘pariprashna’. Such questions are cries of despair; they are heartfelt prayers.
Questions asked with a craving for liberation are more profound than those asked from curiosity. The pariprashna of the Gitã are not merely questions asked out of curiosity, but are questions asked with a craving for liberation. To be curious is a good thing, but to become a spiritual aspirant seeking liberation is even greater. By using the word ‘pariprashna’ the Gitã aims to take us beyond curiosity and make us spiritual aspirants.
Let us look at an analogy. The questions asked to a cancer specialist about how to cure a cancer by a student, a fellow passenger on a train journey and a cancer patient may seem the same, but they are different. The student is curious, the passenger is just passing time, and the third is an actual cancer patient. The third is in a different situation all together and so the sincerity of the question is also different. The third is not just curious, but craves to be relieved from cancer, thus the question the patient asks is a pariprashna. It is a cry of despair. The pariprashna of the Gitã refer to such cries of despair. Whatever questions Arjuna has asked in the Gitã are not merely prashna but pariprashna, because he was really in a dilemma and miserable. He was suffering from the burden of attachment, and was therefore enquiring about the means to liberation. We find the same situation applies in Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s Vachanamrut; many questions are asked, but they are all pariprashna. They are not questions asked due to mere curiosity, but are cries of despair and prayers for liberation by spiritual aspirants to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Only such questions can truly change one’s life.
By highlighting this approach of pariprashna, the Gitã has shown us the true guru-disciple relationship of Indian culture. A disciple brought up in the Indian tradition is not a blind follower; he is able to freely and repeatedly ask the guru. In fact, to ask questions is actually believed to be an important means to attaining knowledge. The difference is that these questions commence with a humble bow, are of the calibre of pariprashna and are prayerful.
This is the second step to attaining knowledge. Now let us look at the third.
सेवया – Serving the Guru
Sevã is the third step. Hearing the word sevã, its direct meaning ‘service’ comes to mind – to cook, wash clothes, etc. – are things commonly associated with sevã. That is true, but the word sevã is not limited to this alone. Here sevã means sevan – to regularly associate with or partake. Like one takes food or medicine daily, the Gitã tells us that one should associate with the guru daily. In Vachanamrut Gadhada I 54, Bhagwan Swaminarayan uses the word prasang for such sevan, and the word sadhu instead of guru. Furthermore, In Vachanamrut Gadhada II 31, he speaks of associating with Brahman through contemplation. All of these precepts are directed at sevan of the guru. Sevan of the guru means to associate with him fully, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has given a boon that a disciple who does so will attain the virtues of the guru.
In society we see such sevan as a natural occurrence. Let us look at an example. In India, cricket is very a popular sport. Someone who wants to become a cricketer has some cricketer whom he idolizes. He continuously keeps that idol in mind – he is continuously doing the sevan of his ideal sportsman. No matter what he is doing, he always has that idol in focus. When such sevan reaches its summit, the person begins to speak, walk and act like his idol. You may have seen a young boy walking on the street impersonating the bowling or batting action of a cricketer; he may not even know he is doing this. Years of doing so leads to one attaining skills similar to that of one’s ideal sportsman.
Thus, the word sevan tells us a lot. By sevan of the guru, a disciple is able to closely observe the most subtle actions of the guru. By this, the disciple is able to understand the purpose behind those actions and is able to see the guru’s skilful manner of working. He is able to see the guru’s self-control, confidence, faith in Paramãtmã, devotion to his own guru, and devotion to Paramãtmã, and so learn how to imbibe philosophy into daily life, how to pray and much more. The disciple begins to get a glimpse of the guru’s true glory. He gradually attains the favour of the guru. He begins to change, and finally the guru makes him like himself – gunãtit, brahmarup. Once he is brahmarup, there is nothing else to be known, he has attained the pinnacle of knowledge.
To do the guru’s sevan means to be by the guru’s side. It is said that one who spends time in the Gir region undergoes a complete change; the same applies to one who does sevan of the guru.
Here, we must remember our Gunatit guru parampara. They are not only ideal gurus, but they are also ideal disciples.
Take the example of Bhagatji Maharaj. Although he was Aksharbrahman himself, to establish the ideals of spirituality, he undertook spiritual endeavours in his life. He did sevan of his guru, Aksharmurti Gunatitanand Swami. The guru was at the pinnacle of spirituality and the disciple at the pinnacle of guru sevan, thus the result was also of the highest degree. Bhagatji Maharaj was completely transformed. Once, when he was sleeping, Gunatitanand Swami told Balmukund Swami to wake him. Balmukund Swami tried to wake him by saying, “Bhagatji, wake up! Bhagatji, wake up!” two or three times, but he did not wake up. Balmukund Swami returned to Gunatitanand Swami and explained the situation. Gunatitanand Swami laughed and said, “If you say ‘Gunatit, wake up!’ then he will wake up.” And that is indeed exactly what happened, the words ‘Gunatit, wake up!’ awoke Bhagatji Maharaj instantaneously. This is the utmost state of sevan.
Shastriji Maharaj did the sevan of Bhagatji Maharaj. He would keep him in mind day and night. He had only one incentive, to please Bhagatji Maharaj. Whatever he did – sevã, bhakti, discourses, etc. – was only to please Bhagatji Maharaj.
It is not correct to say that Yogiji Maharaj stayed with Shastriji Maharaj, but it is correct to say that Yogiji Maharaj did the sevan of Shastriji Maharaj. Yogiji Maharaj himself used to say, “I have served such a person that I am constantly at peace within.” This is the echo of true sevan.
Guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj did the sevan of Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. Extraordinarily, even after the passing away to Akshardham of Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj, Pramukh Swami Maharaj continued to do their sevan. In the same manner in which he obeyed their every wish and command in their presence, he continued to do so in their absence. This is the ideal example of sevan that we have seen with our own eyes.
Today, guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj lives such a life. He has done the sevan of Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. He is continuously engrossed in them. He has no other thoughts. He has become our guru, but has not forsaken sevan; he still thinks of himself as a disciple. He continuously remembers Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, without even the slightest effort. He is always immersed in supreme peace. Continuously engrossed in experiencing the divinity of his gurus and their disciples. This is the fruit of true sevan.
If someone merely physically stays near the guru and does not understand the true meaning of sevan as described here, then they are bereft of the priceless and important things in life, they do not attain their goal, they do not attain the virtues of the guru and they are not transformed.
Thus, this shloka describes the best means to attain knowledge. First, surrender to a guru as described in the shastras. Second, bow to him, i.e. surrender one’s own thoughts at his feet. Third, accept his principles and if one cannot understand them then humbly ask. And fourth, do sevan of the guru, i.e. profoundly associate with him. Whoever follows these precepts of the Gitã will attain realization. Thereafter, he knows everything, nothing remains to be understood, to be asked or to be known.
If the guru is himself the confluence of humility, pariprashna and sevã, then what is there in the world can we not achieve!