A true sadhu, or an ideal saint, is not determined by external appearances. The virtues and internal qualities in a sadhu characterize a perfect sant. The Shrimad Bhagvat shastra, written by Ved Vyasji, describes the 39 virtues of a true sadhu. Pramukh Swami Maharaj naturally possessed all 39 qualities and lived them throughout his life. We will focus primarily on three fundamental traits that define an ideal saint: compassion, forgiveness and equality. Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s compassion, forgiveness and sense of equality had no limitations, because he saw God in all.
Compassion, Forgiveness and Equality
You’re driving down the highway with your friend. A few minutes later, the car suddenly breaks down. You pull over on the shoulder and your friend gives you an outrageous solution – repaint the car. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? It is. Because it’s the engine that gives life to the car. No matter how attractive the exterior is, the car is meaningless without an engine.
Similarly, an ideal sadhu cannot be determined by external appearance. Ravan came disguised in the orange robes of a sage to kidnap Sitaji. But he was not a sadhu because he lacked the virtues and internal qualities that define an ideal saint.
In the Shrimad Bhagvat, Mother Earth describes the 39 virtues of God to Dharma (1.16.26–8). A sadhu who possesses these 39 virtues is considered an ideal saint and is revered like God. Pramukh Swami Maharaj (Swamishri), the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, embodied all 39 virtues in his life.
Daya, or compassion, is listed as one of the primary virtues of a true sadhu in the 11th chapter of the Shrimad Bhagvat. Aksharbrahma Gunatitanand Swami has stated, “God is the root of compassion. It is from him that all compassion is born.” It is that very God who lives through the Satpurush. So just like the rain falls for all, Swamishri’s compassion had no boundaries.
In 1990, Swamishri was in London. One night, at 2:00 a.m., the attendant sadhu woke up to witness something very surprising. Swamishri was sitting in bed, chanting something under his breath. The attendant sadhu observed him for some time. Finally, he gently touched Swamishri and asked him what he was doing. Swamishri explained that he was praying for the drought to end in Gujarat. On further enquiry by the attendant, Swamishri revealed that he had been praying for several nights consecutively.
Have we ever prayed for someone by forsaking our sleep? Have we ever prayed for even ourselves in the middle of the night? Swamishri’s heart was always connected to people throughout the world. But his compassion was not limited only to humans. Bhagwan and the Satpurush are compassionate on all forms of life.
In 1987, a severe famine gripped Gujarat. Swamishri was visiting a government-operated cattle camp in Ratanpura, a small town near Rajkot. There were about 5,000 calves trying to survive the drought. Swamishri noticed that several of the calves started following him. One of the volunteers explained that no rain meant no water to drink and no fresh grass to eat. The calves had been starving for the past three days!
Swamishri’s heart was shaken. His eyes welled up with tears. With a strong impression left on his mind, Swamishri arrived in Gondal. He immediately summoned Jnanprasad Swami and said, “The way those calves in Ratanpura were trailing behind me was unbearable. So, arrange to send some trucks full of fodder there right away.”
In the days following, Swamishri, even during his routine activities, would become lost in deep thought: “I can’t think of anything else right now. I really feel for the people and their livestock who are suffering because of the drought. In everything that I do, I think of the rain.”
His compassion gave birth to a project that would change the lives of hundreds of farmers and thousands of cattle in Gujarat. Swamishri stopped all the farmers from selling their livestock. He organized cattle camps in several locations. These facilities provided complete care for the animals until their owners were prepared to take them back.
“In the joy of others, lies our own,” is born from Swamishri’s compassion. On 30 April 2004 in London, Swamishri read a long letter and sighed, “There is not one happy letter. Only letters describing pain and misery… Hearing about them causes [me] much pain.” Swamishri’s happiness or sadness was directly correlated with the well-being of others.