Shantilal didn’t have the wind blowing behind his back. It blew against him. He was born in a village insignificant on the Indian map, let alone the global map, even today. His father was a farmer of average means and they lived in a humble home with simple belongings. Moreover, he was born in colonial India.
In these circumstances, Shantilal was destined to become another poor farmer paying burdensome taxes to the British or perhaps a meagrely paid clerk in the British ‘Raj’. He did have access to some education, but good schools were far and few. Besides, his father could barely afford to buy him a bicycle to ride to school, let alone pay for a university education.
But none of this mattered to this boy. He saw no obstructions, only stepping stones. He saw no limitations, only possibilities. Liberated from preconceptions, prejudice and preconditioning, he was prepared to serve the world.
How? Three thoughts remained with him at all times: “I am not my body or mind, I am Akshar.” “Shastriji Maharaj is with me.” And “I never want to hurt anyone”.
These beliefs about a deeper self, a guru by your side and altruism are positive forces. They are enablers. They lead to psychological empowerment and multidimensional growth.
More than anything else that may thwart your future plans, despite your university education, is your mind. The thoughts that swirl within your head. The decisions you take. The mindset you build.
Shantilal’s worldview energized him. His self-confidence didn’t depend on certificates, awards or praises. He was free from self-doubt through self-validation: “I am Akshar.” It’s a condition of joy, exhilaration and true enlightenment.
Self-validation has additional benefits. You validate others. You encourage them and give credit. Your fragile ego is replaced by an indestructible spirit. It divinizes you. It makes you likeable, indeed, loveable.
Shantilal was one of the nicest people you could meet. On his way to school every day he often sat on his friend’s cycle. The school was about 6 km away. Whenever they went uphill, he asked his friend, Ambalalbhai, to sit while he pushed.
It became emblematic of his entire life. Whenever people’s lives went uphill, Shantilal, Shanti Bhagat, Narayanswarupdas, Narayandas, Pramukh Swami, Bapa – as his name progressively evolved – came to push. For 95 years, till his final moments, he was always there for everyone. He was only a phone call or letter away. You were his family. Your problem was his problem. Your success was his. Thousands of people spoke to him or received recorded messages via WhatsApp, email and letters.
“Whatever problem you face,” he told everyone, “remember you are akshar and there will be a solution.”
Self-validate and burst out of self-doubt and self-limiting beliefs. Never give up. Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep asking. Keep helping. Keep praying.
Shantilal, in his youth, wasn’t a know-it-all. He had to learn on the fly and sometimes made errors. He couldn’t draw water from a well, a presumably standard task for kids in those days. Most homes didn’t have running taps like modern homes today. You had to fill pots from the village well and carry them home. But Shantilal always learned.
“I always involved everyone and asked for their advice,” he said many years later. “So why would there be any problems? I was new, so what was wrong with asking for their advice on how to do things better? They appreciated it when I asked them. They liked it when I got involved in the work with them. I asked them to teach me. I never acted as though I was bigger or superior to them.”
Indeed, during the building of Gadhada mandir, Shastriji Maharaj sent Narayanswarup Swami (Pramukh Swami) to bring marble from deep quarries far away in Makrana, Rajasthan. He had never travelled to another province, let alone to such a distant town where people spoke a different language.
It was a desertous land, poor and extremely hot. There were few trees for shade or places to stay. Wells were 200 feet deep! Water was scarce. Newcomers dropped a large bucket into a well. After drawing it up 100 feet they would drop it back. Lifting it was exhausting. Wiser workers lowered a smaller bucket, but had to subsist on that much water for the whole day. It was a catch 22.
For the first time in his life, in that blazing sun-parched land and paucity of water, Pramukh Swami worked with labourers to identify good marble, cut it out and transport it safely back to Gadhada.
“I never asked Shastriji Maharaj how or what to do,” said Pramukh Swami to an overheated and dehydrated sadhu who went with him to Makrana on a later visit. “I never brought up the water and food problems, or the 200-feet wells. Shastriji Maharaj said I will experience the same peace as he.” The flustered sadhu calmed down.
Courageously taking the bull by the horns and living in those inhospitable conditions is an example of being truly self-confident and self-sufficient. Shantilal needed next to nothing to survive. He improvised and thrived. He always adjusted to the situation, no matter how uncomfortable.
Instead of changing the situation, he changed himself. In doing so, he changed the world. It’s an example of how changing oneself can do more to transform others than preaching or teaching.
Shantilal made his fair share of mistakes and endured numerous obstacles. But he never let them define him. He was always positive, no matter what.
“They (obstacles) are rocks of gold,” said Mahant Swami in a letter to yuvaks and yuvatis in London, UK. “All obstacles will cease to be obstacles. They will turn into gold. Imagine all rocks (say obstacles) turning into gold. That is what is going to happen. Abe Lincoln said, ‘I love difficulties, they are gems to me. I cannot do without them.’
This was the stuff which Shastriji Maharaj was made of.”
If mistakes weigh you down, they become obstacles. If a mistake is the last thing you do, it defines you. It becomes your legacy. If a mistake inspires and educates you, it becomes an asset. Success follows.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In theory. In practice, staying positive even during small losses and errors is difficult. Ever been over-billed by a few pennies!
How did Shantilal kindle his powerful mindset? It didn’t appear from a vacuum. It emerged from the company he kept, especially the person he loved the most: guru Shastriji Maharaj. It matters who you love. It determines how you think and who you become.
Before, and especially after, he became a sadhu, Shastriji Maharaj coached and mentored Narayanswarupdas Swami personally. When he wasn’t in town, he often wrote letters of counsel and blessings to Narayanswarupdas Swami, who always wrote back. After Shastriji Maharaj went to Dham, he prayed to him and put everything on his shoulders. No setback demoralized or undermined his drive. In his heart there was no room for negativity, hate or self-pity. He helped others, exuded positivity and took responsibility for his future.
Do you run the same algorithm? It remained Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s even after he was unceremoniously sent back from Kenya to India in 1974. After England revoked his permission to build a temple in Harrow in 1987. And after Gandhinagar Akshardham was attacked in 2002. Nothing deflated his enthusiasm. Whatever people threw at him made him stronger, more determined, more convinced that Shastriji Maharaj was with him, testing him, moulding him, guiding him. He believed in his guru. He believed in himself.
So should you. Do not let your mistakes or failures define you, no matter how many you make. You are akshar. From this knowledge invested in you by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, climb the mountain of life and help others along the way. Indeed, your inner identity will become so large, the mountain will have to climb you.