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In 1986, Swamishri visited the house of Kanubhai Khachar, a descendant of Dada Khachar in Gadhada. While initiating Kanubhai’s two small children, Swamishri placed a kanthi around their necks and lovingly asked one of the children, “What is your name?” “Surubha,” the child replied. Swamishri blessed him by placing his hand on his head. Then, he asked the second child, “What is your name?” “Devkuba” (a girl’s name). Swamishri remained calm, blessed Kanubhai and left. He instructed the driver to take the car to the River Ghela. There, Swamishri took a bath as per Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s injunction when a sadhu has touched a female. It was already twilight when Swamishri arrived at the Gadhada mandir. The attendant swamis requested him to have dinner. But Swamishri observed a fast according to Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s command. Though Swamishri had inadvertently touched the girl child, he remained firm in his decision to fast. Even at night, he neither drank water nor took his medicines.
Out of the five vows that Bhagwan Swaminarayan prescribed to his sadhu disciples, the vow of celibacy or nishkam dharma, is the most important. It meant that a Swaminarayan sadhu could never talk, touch or associate with women.
This vow was strictly observed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj throughout his whole life. He was always adored by all, within the Sampradaya and outside, as an ideal saint of Bhagwan Swaminarayan due to his unwavering observance of celibacy.
‘Brahmacharya’, i.e. celibacy, is to move in search of Brahma (God) and to conduct oneself accordingly. Shriji Maharaj reestablished the scriptural practice of eightfold celibacy among his sadhus. The purpose was not to discriminate against or reject women. In fact, it is a moral discipline to maintain a sadhu’s character for personal spiritual upliftment. Shriji Maharaj also prescribed the vow of celibacy to safeguard his sadhus’ sadhanas and help conquer their passions to attain moksha. Because, for those who wish to transcend the worldly passions to become brahmarup, they must be wary of the slippery path of worldly desires.
In addition, Bhagwan Swaminarayan championed the cause of women’s dignity and empowerment.
But, why did Pramukh Swami Maharaj, who himself was the incarnation of Aksharbrahma and forever in rapport with Parabrahma, observe the vow of celibacy? Once, in response to such a question from a press reporter, Swamishri revealed that the guru strictly practises the vow to set an example for his disciples. Just like a mother abstains from doing and eating certain things to keep her beloved child healthy, Swamishri observed the vow to inspire and nourish his disciples. On the spiritual path of devotion, aspirants emulate the guru.
In 1977, during Swamishri’s tour of East Africa, the president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, was extremely pleased and impressed on meeting Swamishri. He requested, “Kindly bless my 90-year-old mother for her good.” Swamishri politely instructed the accompanying devotees, “Please tell the president that we observe the vow of celibacy and so cannot personally bless a woman.” The devotees hesitated a little, fearing that the president would be displeased. At that time, Swamishri asserted to the devotees, “Tell the president what I have said! Why are you frightened? Tell him that Swamishri has prayed for his mother, and she will be well.”
When the president heard about Swamishri’s vow of celibacy he willingly acknowledged and expressed his satisfaction that his mother was indeed blessed. Shortly after, Swamishri sent Thakorji to bless the president’s mother.
Knowingly or purposefully giving darshan to women is also a breach of the code of conduct for a Swaminarayan sadhu. In 1977, in London, the devotees who had come from many towns and cities of England for darshan were about to return. Swamishri came outside his room on a volunteer’s request to give darshan to those devotees. At that time, an enthusiastic devotee exclaimed, “Kindly come to give darshan to the women devotees.”
Swamishri suddenly doubted whether he was invited to give darshan to the women devotees under the guise of giving darshan to all the devotees. Swamishri immediately returned to his room and later explained to the devotee who had invited him to give darshan to the women devotees about his vow of celibacy.
In 1980, during the last days of his exhausting spiritual tour of America, Swamishri put his right foot into his left shoe and his left foot into his right shoe. When the attendant swami enquired about this, Swamishri revealed, “Recently, I’ve been facing difficulty in seeing even nearby things.” After Swamishri’s eyes were checked by an eminent ophthalmologist, Dr Hutchinson, in Boston, it became evident that he had advanced cataracts. The doctor advised to get both his eyes operated at the earliest. Swamishri agreed to do so after taking everyone’s consent. Finally, the operation was decided to be performed at the Massachusetts General Hospital, a famous medical institute in Boston. But Swamishri gave instructions about the arrangements for the operation, “Ensure that no lady nurses are present during the operation. Enquire whether our vows will be maintained at the time of the operation and also thereafter.”
The issue was whether it would be possible to make the arrangements for a male nurse in a foreign country? In addition, would the doctor agree to bend the rules of the hospital management?
But Swamishri added with poise, “If such an arrangement is not possible here, I will get the cataracts operated after we reach India. I am not in a hurry.” But the doctor had warned that if the cataract operations was delayed for fifteen more days, it would endanger Swamishri’s sight.
To find a middle way, the doctor suggested to Swamishri, “Do you have any objection if the lady nurse comes into the operating room once you are unconscious?”
Swamishri explained, “I may be unconscious or sleeping, but a lady nurse should not be allowed into the operating theatre.” The chief doctor, looking at the sheer insistence of Swamishri, put aside the rules of the hospital and arranged for male nurses.
Swamishri was then operated, while fully maintaining his vow, in both the eyes at an interval of a few days. When Swamishri was being discharged from the hospital, he had made arrangements for mementos to be sent to the lady nurses and other male nurses. The lady nurses appreciated Swamishri’s observance of celibacy and his respect for them.
Swamishri never attended any public programmes or assemblies where his spiritual disciplines could not be maintained or if they would hurt others’ sentiments. At the Sayaji Hospital in Vadodara, the Blood Donation Committee had organized a programme for felicitating its blood donors. On behalf of the committee, Mr Raval came to invite Swamishri to preside as the chief guest and bless the occasion. Swamishri explained to him, “It is not that I don’t want to come to your event, but due to our moral constraints and God’s orders you will need to change your seating arrangements by making the ladies sit at the rear part of the auditorium. Therefore, in such circumstances your lady participants may feel offended and harbour ill-will later.”
Once, during a discussion on the vows of celibacy with Shri H.M. Patel, the ex-finance minister of India, the latter told Swamishri that he should relax his vow and take the liberty of talking to and blessing women. Swamishri replied frankly, “We have already incorporated all the necessary changes. But, if you say that we sadhus should sit together with women and talk and walk with them; then that will not be possible.”
Generally, people fail to understand the sentiment behind Swamishri’s vow of celibacy and consider it to be an insult to women. Let us consider some of the many incidents which reflect Swamishri’s respect for women.
A youth, sued by his mother, asked Swamishri how he should react. Swamishri advised, “Let the case be. After all, she is your mother. After a year or two, she will understand and make amends. You should not retaliate even if she does anything untowards. Keep calm.” Swamishri thus advised the youth to bear with his mother’s legal proceedings.
Once, Swamishri mildly scolded a youth in Bochasan and said, “How can you harass your mother? You must never quarrel with her. She gave birth to you. In fact, you should serve her because of her age. That is your duty and devotion.”
A youth’s wife left him due to his habit of drinking and returned to her parents’ home. The youth approached Swamishri to seek blessings so that she would come back. Swamishri pacified him, “Everything will be alright. Now that you have, out of your own will, given up drinking there shouldn’t be any trouble. She will observe your behaviour for a month and will return to you if you do not drink. Do not follow the wrong path. Is she your slave? You should both support each other.”
It is clear that Swamishri never harboured  disrespect for women.

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