Pujya Ishwarcharan Swami, who served as Yogiji Maharaj’s personal attendant
for many years, discourses in Gujarati about Yogiji Maharaj’s
natural desire for fasting and how he motivated the youths to fast
Yogiji Maharaj had a special fervour for inspiring youths to observe fasts. On many occasions Yogiji Maharaj instructed youths to fast. In particular, if youths lapsed in the observance of niyams and dharma, he would direct them to observe a nirjala (waterless) fast as atonement.
In his later years, for youths who served while he bathed, Yogiji Maharaj would tell them to observe a fast in return for that special service opportunity.
In 1968, when Yogiji Maharaj went to Nadiad, after his visit to Kolkata, a parayan sponsored by Ishwarbhai Desai had been arranged. Yogiji Maharaj’s birthday also fell during this period – on Vaishakh vad 12. But a few days earlier, Yogiji Maharaj was intent that all should observe the ekadashi fast. From the first day of the parayan, he initiated a list of names of all who would observe a nirjala fast on the day of ekadashi. In addition to the youths travelling with Yogiji Maharaj, other youths, and men and women devotees from Nadiad and the Kheda district enlisted. Over 1,000 youths, and men and women devotees willingly volunteered to observe the ekadashi fast. Yogiji Maharaj was delighted and said, “This is our Janma Jayanti. As everybody has observed a nirjala, I feel great peace.”
In fact, he had no interest at all in the birthday celebrations. He was only interested that everyone observed a fast on ekadashi.
In 1970, Yogiji Maharaj was in Mombasa for the Ram Navmi celebration. Many devotees from throughout East Africa had come there. He instructed the youths to make a list of the youths and devotees who would observe a nirjala fast on that day. Over 1,000 youths, and men and women devotees observed a fast. He was delighted by this.
So, he was really pleased when so many observed a fast. Throughout his life – for over 40 years – he himself observed a fast every third day; that is, 9 or 10 per month. And he had such eagerness for fasting that one never saw any frustration on his face or physical fatigue or lethargy. He was always joyous and would happily declare, “Today is a fast. So it’s a holiday. No food, no water. Only bhajan and devotion. Today will be really enjoyable.” Throughout the day, his face never even slightly reflected that he was fasting. And he would engage in discourses, bhajan, devotion, seva, padhramanis and everything else. He never stopped that.
In 1960, we went to Aden. We had left by plane from Nairobi at night and arrived in the morning in Aden. In those days, Yogiji Maharaj observed a fast when he travelled, despite all appropriate arrangements being made to ensure that the sadhus’ vows were not infringed.
So, when we arrived in Aden, on the first day, Yogiji Maharaj observed a fast. And it was a very busy day. Swami visited the Jalaram Samaj, some bhajan groups, the haveli of Krishna Bhagwan, and other spiritual and social organizations based there.
In many of the places he discoursed and sang bhajans. Amid all this hectic activity, he observed a nirjala fast. The devotees requested him repeatedly and insisted that he eat some faral because it was so hot – over 45°C. The heat was intolerable. But, Bapa refused. So, the devotees requested him to eat some fruit, if not faral. Again, he refused. They offered him coconut water, which he also declined. He did not take anything at all for the whole day. At night, after a day full of padhramanis, sabhas, discourses and other things, he was very tired. It was hot at night. In those days, there was no AC. We were staying at the home of Girdharbhai Depala. In the room Bapa was staying, for the only time in his life, he himself switched on the fan. The fan setting was on one – a slow speed. For us, it made no difference – it did not allay the heat to cool us. But, he slept under the slowly rotating fan and woke up at 3.00 a.m. He bathed – the water in the taps was also hot. Then, he performed puja. We had prepared lemon water, orange juice and juicy mango slices. Normally, he did not drink anything to break his fast (parna). Only very occasionally would he drink lemon water, but it would be very dilute and without sugar. You could barely taste the lemon in it. And, he would only drink a few sips.
We had gathered fresh oranges from the store to make the juice. But, he did not have any, since he always believed that oranges tasted sour. From the mango slices, he had a couple and the gave the rest to Sant Swami, Balmukund Swami and Pramukh Swami Maharaj. To break his fast, he ate some khichdi with a little buttermilk.
In this way, throughout his life, he had a strong inclination for fasting. And he would encourage youths to fast as well.
Every year, Yogi Bapa celebrated the Guru Purnima festival in Bochasan. Many devotees would come and so he would be busy all day, engaged in discoursing to them in the assembly and in meeting them. When Bapa went to his room, about 50 youths from the Akshar-Purushottam Chhatralaya in Vidyanagar would be present. He would meet them and give them niyams to observe during Chaturmas. He would tell them to fast by observing dharna-parna for one month. He also told them to read shastras, turn an extra 51 malas, and perform 51 dandvats and pradakshinas. In this way, the youths and other devotees fasted, read shastras and performed other devotional rituals.
He also firmly insisted on everyone to daily read the Vachanamrut and Swamini Vato. He would lovingly insist on everyone to observe these instructions.
For the youths who came to serve him, he would instruct them to observe a fast every two, three or four days. He would say, “Today fast. Say you’ll do the fast.”
While he bathed, he instructed youths who came to serve to fast. He would fill a pitcher with water, pour some water into the palms of the youths and make them pledge to observe a fast. Sometimes he said, “Today fast,” and sometimes, “Tomorrow fast.” Such was his insistence on fasting.
If someone had lapsed in observing major niyams, he would tell him to fast. Sometimes, he would tell the youths to observe dharna-parna for a week or 15 days or a month.
Throughout his life, Yogiji Maharaj himself observed intense austerities and also motivated youths to observe austerities.
Also, he would lovingly serve them food whenever there was a feast or during festival celebrations.
In reality, someone who observes such detachment, would make others do likewise; he would not be able to lovingly serve others and feed them. But, Yogiji Maharaj joyously served and fed the youths and devotees and pleased them immensely. He himself practised tremendous restraint, but he would feed the youths and devotees so much that they would remember it with great delight.
So, Yogiji Maharaj was always eager to feed the youths and devotees, and to motivate them to fast.
His life was an ideal of austerity, renunciation and detachment. But he never boasted even slightly about this. He never highlighted that he had observed so many austerities over so many years, and never drew attention to himself.
Often, he would cook the food and then unexpected visitors would arrive. He would happily serve and feed them, and there would be no food left for him. So, he would automatically have to fast, unexpectedly. Still, he was always happy that he could serve the devotees. He really enjoyed that.
Once, in Dangra, someone brought some mangos. So, Yogi Bapa extracted the juice and prepared ras. He served and fed everyone and then sat dawn to eat. Just then, some devotees arrived from Bhavnagar. Without hesitation, he happily served the remaining ras to them. There was none left for him, but he was not disturbed by it or concerned about it. He was just delighted to have served and satisfied the devotees. You could see that joy on his face.
So, for Yogi Bapa to fast was a natural part of his life – just as it is natural for us to eat! For us, having to fast raises many thoughts and frustrations. And we reluctantly observe fasts, but for Yogi Bapa it was the opposite. He had no interest in eating. But on fast days he would be really happy.
When he ate, he ate very little. He ate with only his fingertips. Even on a typical day, he would eat only a couple of puri-sized rotlis, dudhi, and a little rice and dal for lunch. In the morning, he would drink two saucers of ukalo (spiced milk), a couple of small dudhi dhebras. In the evening, he would again eat just a couple of dudhi dhebras. So, essentially, almost every day was like a fast.
He also used to say that to maintain such restraint is itself a great austerity (tapas). If we eat half of what we normally eat that is a form of austerity. Subtle tapas is to eat only till you’re 50% full, and leave 25% for water and 25% for air.
Thus, Yogiji Maharaj’s austerities, renunciation, detachment and self-control were more than Himalayan-like. Yet, he never let others know, but always motivated them. He purified them by encouraging them to observe austerities. That was his pure intention. In this way, we can learn so much from his life.
In Gondal, Yogiji Bapa’s routine was that after the morning discourse, he would assign various tasks to the devotees. He did not like to employ labourers for such duties, since that would mean spending Thakorji’s money. So, he lovingly motivated the devotees to serve.
At that time, between the mandir and kitchen, a big 9ft x 9ft pit had to be dug. So, Krishnabhai of Nadiad and his mandal started digging from the morning. It was a day of fasting. So, all the devotees observed a fast while serving vigorously to dig the pit. Helping them were two young boys. They would run around to supply empty baskets to the adults to fill with soil.
Then, in the afternoon, Yogi Bapa would go to where the devotees were serving to meet them and see the how the work had progressed. He would abundantly encourage and bless all. When Yogi Bapa arrived, Krishnabhai and the others had finished digging the hole. So, Yogi Bapa was delighted and blessed everyone. Then, Krishnabhai told Swami about the two boys who had served tirelessly all day by supplying the empty baskets. And that they had observed a fast. Then, because of the summer heat, Krishnabhai requested Bapa to permit the boys to end their fast and drink some lemon water. But, Bapa replied, “No, let them continue their fast!”
Krishnabhai lovingly insisted several times for permission. Normally, Yogi Bapa would accept his requests, but this time Yogi Bapa firmly refused. Then, Yogi Bapa said, “See, you are looking at their physicial bodies, and I am looking at their jivas. So, let them continue their fast.” A little later, however, Yogi Bapa did permit the boys to drink lemon water. In this way, even for the young, Yogi Bapa insisted on fasts.
In Mumbai, Harikrishna, son of Balubhai TT, had observed nirjala fasts since the age of seven. Whenever Yogi Bapa visited Mumbai, he would make him stand up in the Sunday assembly and say, “See, he is my sample. Such a young boy fasts, so the adults must also fast.”
When youths came to serve Yogi Bapa while he bathed, in the morning and evening, he would instruct them to fast. So, one youth said to Bapa, “This is your upvas [fasting] college, since you instruct everyone to fast.” So, Yogi Bapa said, “No, not just an upvas college, but Yogi Yuvak Upvas College (YYUC).” This is the name Yogi Bapa himself gave and he encouraged youths to fast.
All these examples reveal his deep inclination for austerities.