“I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand and the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love,” wrote Brian Andreas. As a matter of fact, we humans have coined many words in our exploration of love, from ‘adoration’ and ‘ardor’ to ‘zeal’ and ‘zest’. Of all these words, which best describes the sacred love between the disciple and his guru? Is it playful, like the way we treat our friends, or reverential, like the way we respect our elders? Should it be dynamic, with surges of passion, or a constant, with restrained emotions? The relationship between the disciple and guru is unique, and no single word could do it justice. Fortunately for us, Shriji Maharaj elucidates this relationship in the Vachnamrut, and Pramukh Swami Maharaj exemplified it.
The handsome knight slayed the evil dragon, rescued the princess, and they lived happily ever after. Or, at least, they do according to most children’s fairy tales. But the loose ends in life rarely tie up so neatly. Take, for example, the epic Ramayan. Bhagwan Ram, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshman were journeying through a forest during their exile, when Ravan, the king of Lanka, deceived and abducted Sita. With the aid of Hanuman and his army of monkeys, Ram and Lakshman overwhelmed Lanka’s superior defences, defeated Ravan, and rescued Sita. After the epic battle, the trio returned to their kingdom of Ayodhya and were welcomed by joyful citizens, who lit candles to celebrate the victory of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance, and started what we now call Diwali. Here, the story could have ended, with Ram and Sita living happily ever after, except that there was a problem. Some of the citizens of Ayodhya were suspicious of Sita’s long captivity in Ravan’s kingdom and thought Ram should reject her for having stayed with another man. To prove her fidelity, Sita passed the ‘fire test’, stepping into a raging fire and emerging unharmed. Still, some citizens refused to accept her as their queen. Ram’s love for and trust in Sita was absolute, but facing disrespect from his citizens, he was unjustly forced to exile Sita. Sita was sent away from Ayodhya, never to return again.
Sita had many reasons to be upset: she was robbed of the comforts of her palace, forced to leave her beloved Ram, and condemned to struggle in the wilderness. But these reasons, however reasonable, belie the depth of Sita’s love for Ram. In Vachanamrut Gadhada III 11, Shriji Maharaj reveals the real reason she was upset: “When Sita was exiled to the forest by Ram, she began to lament. Lakshman was very sorrowful at that time as well. But then Sita explained to Lakshman, ‘I am not crying because of my own grief; I am crying for the grief of Ramchandraji. Because Raghunathji is extremely compassionate, and since he has exiled me to the forest out of fear of public accusation, he must be thinking, ‘I have sent Sita to the forest without any fault of her own.’ Knowing this and being compassionate, he must be experiencing severe grief in his mind. So please tell Ramchandraji, “Sita is not distressed; she will go to Valmiki Rishi’s hermitage and happily engage in your worship there. So do not feel any remorse on account of Sita’s distress.”’ Sita sent this message with Lakshman, but in no way did she perceive faults in Ram.” Such is the love, Shriji Maharaj instructs, one should have for one’s guru and God. Furthermore, Shriji Maharaj asks: Who is a better devotee, one who has such love but faltering vairagya and dharma, or one who has intense vairagya and dharma, but lacks the love? Surprisingly, it is love that triumphs. The love between a devotee and his guru and God is so critical that Maharaj revisits it again and again, in Vachanamruts Karyani 11, Gadhada I 44, and Sarangpur 2, and others.
Like Sitaji, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was the epitome of the love one should have for guru and God. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was also the epitome of the love a guru has for his devotees. “I love you all,” he said at the 1996 National Kishore Convention in Catskill, New York State, words that still echo in the minds of those who were there. Then again, who doesn’t love children? What distinguishes Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s love for us? For one, his love was constant and present even when we let him down.
In October 1980, some youths in London succumbed to peer pressure and attended the last day of a local Navratri festival. At that time Pramukh Swami Maharaj was in America. However, a few weeks later, Swamishri arrived in London. Coincidentally, the Observer newspaper of 23 November 1980, carried a story of the Navratri celebrations organized by various Hindu communities the previous month. And, by chance, one of the photos they printed was of the youths who had attended due to the insistence of their friends. The youths were shocked that their transgression had been captured and documented for all to see. So, they decided to meet Swamishri, admit their mistake, seek forgiveness and atone for their lapse as per Swamishri’s wish.
Remorseful, they confessed to Pramukh Swami Maharaj and asked for his forgiveness. Pramukh Swami Maharaj heard their plea, and simply asked, “Why did you go out in the first place?” The yuvaks answered, “We didn’t really want to go, but our friends insisted.” Pramukh Swami Maharaj simply asked, “So, they are your friends, but I am not? When they pull you away from our niyams, you give in, but when I try to bring you closer, you hold back?” The yuvaks were speechless. Seeing their surrender, Pramukh Swami Maharaj forgave them and asked that they exercise stronger discipline in the future. Many years later, these yuvaks who had become older, wiser and staunch devotees, reflected on their mistake, saying, “Our garba friends have long since abandoned us; we have no idea where they are or what they are doing. But Pramukh Swami Maharaj has never once left our side.” Even when most would resort to anger, Pramukh Swami Maharaj showed us love and compassion, and in doing so, won our hearts.
In the verse “Narayanswarupdas gunine, sneheja vandu aho”, we acknowledge the virtuosity of Pramukh Swami Maharaj and bow down to him with sneha, or love. However, we must examine the love we offer him. Can it be reduced to one of the numerous words we have coined to describe love? Or is it more complex, with the depth and quality of Sita’s love for Ram or Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s love for us? There are certain aspects of our religion that are difficult, but loving Pramukh Swami Maharaj is not one of them. By appreciating his virtues and awakening to his love for us, we can develop a deep love for Pramukh Swami Maharaj, one that will carry us through thick and thin, and eventually to Akshardham.