There are thousands of BAPS women’s activities centres throughout the world for balikas, yuvatis and mahilas wherein separate facilities and activities are managed by them. ‘Premvati’ is a quarterly women’s magazine solely managed by the BAPS women’s wing. Moreover, there are numerous annual women’s conferences organized solely by the women devotees. If Swamishri had been biased towards women, how could he have fostered the women’s activities in BAPS?
Bhagwan Swaminarayan has instructed in the Shikshapatri that when a woman’s life is in danger, at that time a sadhu should talk to her or even help her and save her life. Once in Mumbai, a swami travelling by train saved a woman, who was about to fall from the train, by pulling her to safety. In another life-threatening instance, one swami saved a girl child from drowning in a river in Gondal. In spite of the strict discipline of celibacy enunciated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan for his sadhus, he was never rigid with regards to saving a woman’s life from danger or death.
Swamishri had never disregarded or rejected women. He understood their sentiments and respected them. Swamishri had once visited the State of Bilada in Rajasthan on the invitation of its queen mother. He had also visited Trinidad by honouring the wish of a satsangi lady. Swamishri respected the women devotees and at the same time never transgressed his monastic vow of nishkam dharma.
Following the vow of celibacy has remained a challenge for every spiritual aspirant. Once in Mumbai, an ascetic named Tapasyanand met Swamishri. He was formerly the son of a wealthy family and had voluntarily renounced everything to attain God. However, after many years as an ascetic he was struggling in his spiritual sadhanas; especially in his practice of celibacy.
He said to Swamishri, “I desire only moksha. That is why I took the sannyasi diksha. I have realized that there is no happiness in the worldly life, but lust overwhelms me such that I am unable to control myself and find it difficult to maintain celibacy. I think I will not be able to conquer it without a guru like you, who is observing lifetime celibacy. Kindly guide me.” Swamishri blessed and advised him to abstain from conversing with and touching women.
Whenever a spiritual aspirant transgresses the vow of celibacy, a rationalist or other people in society reprimand him harshly. Conversely, when a person like Swamishri advocates self-control and abstinence, in order to avoid such incidents, again people criticize him. That was why Swamishri prioritized worshipping God by strictly following his commands and ignored all such criticisms.
Kanti Bhatt, the then owner and editor of a weekly magazine, ‘Abhiyan’, asked Swamishri, “Swamiji, have you ever thought that in these modern times your vow of celibacy should be changed? Or do you consider that whatever you staunchly believe and practice is OK?”
Swamishri replied, “The discipline we practise is proper. There is nothing to be changed about it. Many people have remarked to us in this regard, but we do not mind if we are considered to be orthodox for following this code of conduct. People may like it or not, but we are committed to observing this vow prescribed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan. We believe that ultimately truth will prevail.”
Once, Ishwarbhai Petlikar, a leading novelist of Gujarati literature, commentator and social worker, recommended to Swamishri, “Swami, if you want to make the Swaminarayan Sanstha globally famous, then you should allow some relaxations in your practice of eightfold celibacy.”
However, Swamishri was not one to compromise his vow for the sake of the organization’s growth. Thus, he calmly replied, “We do not believe in propagating satsang at the cost of our vows and do not wish to advocate such satsang. Whether our organization flourishes or not is ultimately in Shriji Maharaj’s hands. Many prominent people tell us that you will not make any progress by having such a strict code of conduct. But we tell them that we will carry on till our organization lasts. Ultimately, God’s wish prevails and, if necessary, we will sit in one corner and do God’s bhajan.”
Swamishri’s work and aim were not to publicize the organization or increase its reputation. His principal aim was to liberate people from worldly desires and bondage, and enable them to realize God. This is what he emphasized to his swamis also. He said remember God and obey his injunc-tions. Swamishri elaborated, “Greatness is not ascribed to one’s position or status. It is not achieved by merely delivering discourses or singing devotional songs. If we do what Maharaj wants us to do then we will attain true greatness. Others may press us for relaxing our vows regarding our renun-ciation of women and wealth, but we will never agree to them. We do not wish to do satsang or al-low our satsang to flourish at the cost of our vows. If we put our hand in a bag full of coal, then it will not remain unspoiled. Similarly, we will be of no value if we inspire satsang in millions by relin-quishing our vows. Live in a dignified manner so that the honour of our sampradaya, Bhagwan, and guru remains unsullied. If any other part of one’s body is cut, one can live, but if the head is sev-ered one cannot survive. In the same way, if one wishes to attain Ekantik Dharma and moksha, a sadhu has to renounce wealth and women. There cannot be any lapses in that. Let society be averse, but one should remain resolute. One should never compromise in this matter. The com-mands of Shriji Maharaj are like injunctions from the Vedas. One should never make changes in them. We have to please [Shriji] Maharaj.”
A perfect celibate practises celibacy in mind, speech and action. If someone observes it physically, but nourishes bad thoughts then he is described to be false or foolish in the Bhagavad Gita. Thus, Bhagwan Swaminarayan advocated the practice of deh-daman (austerity for self-control), keeping oneself engrossed in devotion to God (bhagwad bhakti) and contemplating that one is atma (atma vichar) to perfect one’s practice of celibacy.
Swamishri always remained absorbed in God’s bhajan and also inspired others to do so. If one keeps the body and senses under control, then only would the mind remain rooted in God’s bhajan. Hence, Swamishri ensured the observance of eightfold celibacy for his sadhus, despite it seeming strict to others. An aspirant is protected and spiritually nourished by following this vow. The vow of celibacy is equally beneficent to male and female householder devotees alike. For the householder, celibacy is defined as being faithful to one’s spouse.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan says in Vachanamrut Gadhada III 24, “One should not understand the greatness of female devotees in excess. Why? Because under the pretext of realizing their greatness, one may constantly think upon them, leading to them appearing in one’s dreams. So, if one does understand their greatness, one should understand it collectively, by thinking, ‘All of them are devotees of God.’ But, one should not attempt to understand a particular one as being greater and another being lesser. However, if one attempts to understand their greatness to a greater or lesser degree than this, then there is a great danger in that. Similarly, female devotees should also understand the greatness of male devotees collectively. If they don’t realize this, then it is also a great danger for those females.”
Shriji Maharaj states, “In fact, I swear by the lives of the paramhansas that, from the day I was born to this very day, I have never harboured an improper thought regarding women or wealth, either in the waking state or in the dream state.” Shriji Maharaj declares these words by taking an oath. The same observance was manifest in Pramukh Swami Maharaj too.
In Sharjah, while addressing an assembly, Jain Acharya Pushparaj Muni said, “Without looking at which God Pramukh Swami worships or which principles he follows, I look at his conduct. If anyone observes celibacy even for a day, the deities would come to bow their heads at one’s feet. Pramukh Swami has been observing celibacy all his life. It will not be an exaggeration, if I were to give Pramukh Swami the first rank among all the celibates.”