A prolific writer, orator, educationist, thinker, and above all, spiritual preceptor to millions, Dada Vaswani, the head of the Pune based Sadhu Vaswani mission, turns 90 this month. We pay tribute to a life lived in service to God, Guru and the world
Dada speaks a tete-a-tete with dada vaswaniA small, almost diminutive frame is writing meticulously at his desk, in a suburban flat in Mumbai. Dada frequently comes to Mumbai to record his talks for Sony TV. As I walk in quietly, he looks up with a radiant smile. “The eyes are the mirror of the soul,” it is said, and indeed, Dada Vaswani’s soul is reflected in his luminous eyes, compassion and love radiating from his entire being through his intense yet gentle gaze. At that very instant, as our eyes meet, it seems as if Dada is someone I have known intimately for ages. We begin conversing after he makes sure I am absolutely comfortable. Excerpts from the interview:
With so many options before you, what made you give up all career options and take up spirituality as a full-time mission? Smiles.This happened so naturally that I cannot attribute a single reason or cause. I was propelled powerfully to my guru (Sadhu Vaswani) and was absolutely certain that following his footsteps was what I wished to do.
Today, at one level, there is an increased interest in pirituality, and at another, there is unparalleled greed and corruption. In which direction do you think we are heading? As far as India is concerned, we have been subjugated for many centuries. Naturally, the base element of materialism and greed is surfacing at an unprecedented rate. Still, this is a samudra manthan (churning of the ocean) which will subside, for sure. Pauses and reflects for a while. See, the soul of India is extremely resilient and strong – the entire world is recognising it today. Slowly yet surely we will emerge from this phase with renewed vitality.
You are known to be extremely committed to women’s empowerment. Would you say we are on the threshold of a new era of total equality? Does this augur well for the world?Oh, yes. Certainly. I am very happy with this and yes, this is good for the entire society. I would however, like to add the caveat, that women should not change their identity in this process by neglecting their duties. Women, by far, are more duty-conscious, and I hope this does not change.Indeed, you have often spoken on the need to focus on duties. Are rights not equally important? They are, but only to a limited extent. A reflection of our times is that there is focus only on rights and not on duties. On the other hand, all scriptures and wisdom traditions over the world focus on one’s duties and not rights. Not just scriptures, even educationists and thinkers have recognised this aspect. Andrew Carnegie, the noted educationist, has classified people in three categories – those who never did their duty, those who did just the bare minimum required and those who went much further to do a lot more than their duty. Needless to say, it is the third category who shape the world.If the entire society were to change the focus from rights to duties and perform them well, surely we would live in a better world.
You have been quite vocal in advocating vegetarianism. Is it practical for the entire world populace to turn to vegetarianism? Besides, is there really much difference between ending plant life and animal life for food? I am glad I got an opportunity to answer this question. Firstly, when we pluck fruits and vegetables, we are not ending life but only enjoying nature’s bounty. Further, I would like to make a distinction between animal life and plant life. Though plants also have life, it is a fact that the senses of animals are more active and therefore they experience more pain when we end their life. Therefore, as we have a choice, we should try to adopt a way of life that causes less pain.
As far as practicality is concerned, for a moment, let us view the world as it stands from the viewpoint of the cycles we have faced, especially in the recent past. In the eighteenth century, there was the French Revolution which signalled an era where ‘human rights’ were recognised. Before then, other than the sovereign, there was no recognition of anyone as worthy of any rights. In the next century, slavery was abolished. In the next, women’s rights came to the fore. The coming century is one where surely, we will have to recognise animal rights. Vegetarianism which was unheard of in certain parts of the world is now being adopted more and more all over the world as there is no doubt about the fact that this is an ethical choice both for Mother Earth and for our health and well-being.
So, just as today we cannot imagine a world where human rights as a concept is termed ‘impractical and idealistic’, I do believe animal rights too will be recognised in the full sense, and we will recognise that ‘right to live’ is a fundamental right of all animals. When this happens, a vegetarian diet will become the normal, natural way of life.
You have spoken in the House of Commons on your vision of a world without wars. Do you think this is really feasible?
Why not? Definitely, yes. You see, at the core of every conflict is greed. Greed for power, greed for wealth, greed for territory, greed for control. Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “There is enough in the world for every man’s need but not enough for even one man’s greed.” A day will come when the whole world will realise this and move towards peace. This will, however, take some time as the accumulated negative karma of humanity has to be worked out. Religion is also often the cause of conflict. Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately so. All religions at the core aim to bring goodness to the fore. Yet people fight over minor, inconsequential issues. As I said earlier, it is not about religion but about greed; in this case, greed for power and control.
So, in a sense, religion has failed to curb the base elements in us? It is not religion that has failed us. It is we who have failed religion. If all of us lead our lives as per the tenets of religion, there would be no crisis. Today, we preach and listen to religious scriptures but do not apply them in our thoughts and actions. Integration of word, thought and deed, what we in India call yoga, needs to become the aim of all religious practice.
You have often spoken on the need to surrender to the Divine will. Is this not a fatalistic attitude? No, not really. We must try earnestly for a particular result. However, if what one desires does not happen, accept it as the will of God. This is the true meaning of the edict of the Gita, “Karmanye vaa adhikaraste, ma phaleshu kadachana” (You have the right to action but not to the fruits of the actions). When one practises such active acceptance, one will find that the path specially carved for each one of us opens up, slowly but surely.
You have led a very fulfilling life. With the benefit of hindsight, would you have liked to do anything differently? Yes, I do wish I had spent more time in serving my guru. Apart from that, no regrets. Nothing I would have done differently. Each step I took was a necessary part of the journey of life.
What would you like to be remembered as? I have no desire to be remembered at all. It is my guru’s name that I would want to be remembered. As far as I am concerned, I am a mere speck and would be content with fading into oblivion. People in hushed tones remind Dada about his other engagements for the day. We come to the end of the interview. Dada graciously offers me some prasad, and autographs a recent book of his with fond affection. When I bend to touch his feet, he stops me and reminds me gently that we all are equal, part of the supreme ‘One’. I realise then that my question on his chosen path was like asking what made the Buddha give up his kingdom for spirituality. For me, this is not just an interview but a darshan. A darshan of goodness, compassion and equanimity. “Dada, you may be a speck, but you are a speck of light, a light that has lit and will continue to light many souls for eternity,” I reflect as I step out, with the prasad of his blessings.
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