In the latter half of the 18th century when George Washington was appointed as the first President of the United States of America, when France lurched and buckled under a devastating revolution, when Darwin’s Origin of Species stirred a furious controversy, when Beethoven entertained the halls and courts of Vienna with his wondrous music and Charles Dickens rose to the pinnacle of literary fame and immortality; the unassuming Gunatitanand Swami was enlightening, pacifying, and immortalising countless souls in Gujarat, India, with the magic of his spiritual wisdom and God-communion life.
His renunciation of home, initiation, vigil in the rain for a glimpse of Maharaj, suffering of persecution at the hands of his detractors without a murmur, routine rounds for bhiksha despite insults, steadfastness to truth, service to ailing sadhus and bringing of relief to suffering humanity were a reflection of his character as a sadhu of the first rank.
He demonstrated his conviction for Bhagwan Swaminarayan, courage and desire to help others, genuine love for all people and a steadfastness through his saintliness.
Gunatitanand Swami was born on 28 September 1784 (Aso sud Punam, AS. 1841) in a small village named Bhadra, on the west coast of Gujarat. His father, Bholanath Sharma, and mother, Sakarba, were pious Brahmins. From his childhood, he showed an extraordinary inclination for spirituality. Many times his parents and relatives were perplexed by his mystic utterings and subtle questions.
Once, Mulji, his childhood name, asked a mahant of a group of wandering sadhus, “What is ‘cause’ and what is ‘effect’?” The mahant and the rest of the audience were dumbfounded by his question. Seeing that no one could answer him, Mulji replied, “God is the ultimate cause and this world is God’s creation – an effect.”
His talent for presenting lofty ideas through simple examples was a hallmark of his spiritual genius. Once, while he was going to his farm with his friends, they all rushed to a nearby well. The water was covered with moss and algae. Mulji dropped a stone and his friends joined in the game. Soon, the layer of algae and moss parted and the children saw their faces. They were excited and happy. Mulji explained, “When the surface was covered it seemed there was no water. Similarly, the layer of ‘bad habits’ prevents us from seeing God. Once that is removed our joy will be multiplied a hundredfold.”
This was not the first time that Mulji’s friends had heard him speak about God. Once, one of his friends, out of curiosity asked, “You always talk about God, but tell me have you seen God?”
Mulji replied, “I see God all the time.”
And it was to bless countless with this vision that Mulji left home to become a sadhu. He renounced home at the age of twenty-five and was initiated into the sadhu order by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in Dabhan and named Gunatitanand Swami.
HIS LOVE FOR MAHARAJ
Gunatitanand Swami had a deep attachment for Bhagwan Swaminarayan. A love so profound and eternal that he never allowed an opportunity for his darshan slip by. Once, he stood late in the night drenched in rain to catch a glimpse of him. On another occasion he ran backwards all the way from one town to another to have darshan of Maharaj travelling on horseback. Gunatitanand Swami thus never missed an opportunity of having his darshan.
Swami’s profound love for Maharaj was once revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (Shriji Maharaj) to his sadhus and devotees, “He is my eternal abode, and dearest to me. His supreme love for me is not of this life alone. He is eternally in loving communion with me.” And Maharaj spoke at length on Swami’s greatness as Aksharbrahman.
As a mark of Gunatitanand Swami’s love for Maharaj, we find many instances where he personally volunteered when no one was ready to fulfil Maharaj’s wishes. On one occasion, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, with a large group of sadhus, was on his way to a big festival in Vartal. Midway, nineteen sadhus were taken ill. Shriji Maharaj assembled all the sadhus and asked if anyone was prepared to stay behind and nurse the ailing sadhus. There was silence. Everyone was eager to go with him to the festival. At this point, Gunatitanand Swami stood up and said that he would stay behind. Maharaj was immensely pleased.
Gunatitanand Swami tirelessly nursed the nineteen sadhus with care and patience. Within a few days the sadhus recovered. With no further need of him, Gunatitanand Swami left for the festival. On arriving at the Vartal mandir, Maharaj welcomed him with a warm embrace for his service and obedience.
HIS SPIRITUAL DISCOURSES
In 1827, Bhagwan Swaminarayan appointed Gunatitanand Swami as the head of the Swaminarayan Mandir in Junagadh. Three years later, when Bhagwan Swaminarayan passed away, Gunatitanand Swami succeeded him and took Shriji Maharaj’s mission forward. His life and discourses inspired thousands on the path of spiritual living. People flocked to see him and to hear his wonderful homilies. He used the layman’s language, interspersed with simple examples and thought-provoking answers.
On one occasion, a devotee hosted Gunatitanand Swami during a visit to his village. The next day, while Swami was addressing an assembly, about two hundred people from a neighbouring village thronged to the assembly. They had come to the village on business, but having some time to spare, they decided to come and listen to Swami’s discourses. “If you want to go and settle in another town,” Swami, looking at the newcomers, asked, “would you just pack your belongings and go or would you first make arrangements for a home and livelihood?” One of the newcomers who had made all the arrangements for a night’s stay replied, “I would never set out for even a night without making any prearrangements.”
“But when you leave this mortal body, where will you stay? Have you made any preparations?” Swami asked.
The man and all the newcomers remained silent.
Gunatitanand Swami revealed, “Satsang will strengthen you and prepare you for the eternal home.”
During his discourses Swami also emphasized the importance of spiritual association with the holy sadhus (satsang) as a panacea to life’s grave problems. Most actions in daily life are not merely a response to physical objects outside us but also a result of our desires that operate from within. Spiritual association with sadhus (satsang) make us aware of this and reinforce our spirit to overcome them. Swami spoke on the significance of this aspect with a simple example. “Once during a rat-infested year,” Swami began, “a barn was teeming with rats. The barn became a feasting ground for a snake. Each day he would feed upon the rats. Many months passed in this way and the snake grew in size and strength. But the day arrived when there were no more rats left. Finding no food, he became more ferocious, biting anyone who entered the barn. Now, tell me, would any of you enter the barn? Similarly, when one feeds one’s desires they fatten and grow in strength. But if they are not satisfied one’s craving increases and like the hungry snake pounces upon any available opportunity. If however, one decapitates the snake, which is similar to severing the base desires, one is freed from its tyranny. This, however, is only possible through disciplining oneself under the guidance and blessings of a holy guru.”
Tulsibhai, a witness to the good effects of discipline always found his pious son happy and equipoised in all his activities. He believed it was all due to the blessings of his guru, Gunatitanand Swami. When Swami came to his village he took the opportunity of asking him to bless him just as he had blessed his son. Swami told him to attend his discourses. But Tulsibhai had little time for this; he would go to his business every morning and return late in the evening. To sit and listen to Swami’s discourses was something he was not used to. On the last day of his stay Gunatitanand Swami called Tulsibhai.
“How old are you?” Swami asked gently.
“Seventy-two,” replied Tulsibhai.
“Tell me Tulsibhai, would a few bucketfuls of water suffice to cool a giant red hot plate?” Swami asked.
“No,” replied Tulsibhai.
“Then how can you hope to experience peace when your heart has been boiling with worldly desires for seventy-two years? Tell me, will a few hours of listening to my spiritual discourses fill you with inner tranquillity? Come and stay at Junagadh and I shall bless you with the peace and happiness your son is experiencing.”
A couple of weeks later Tulsibhai went to the Junagadh mandir. And in the course of time Tulsibhai, who served in the mandir and listened to the Swami’s discourses, was blessed with eternal bliss. Like him many prospered spiritually from Swami’s divine company.