By Jamuna Rangachari
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
”It was in August 2007 in Kolkata that I met Dada for the first time, and the first thing that registered in my mind was the blissful smile across his glowing face; it was as pure as a child’s, and I could virtually feel its vibes emanating from the bottom of his heart. It is a smile of love, of compassion, of assurance, and its radiance and infectious nature engulfs you wholly. His smile is inseparable from his persona, and every time I have seen him, I have been enamoured of his million-dollar smile,” says Gautam Ghosh, a writer from Kolkata.
“Though he must be meeting hundreds of people every day, I was amazed that he still remembered my name,” says Sunil Motiani, a businessman in Dubai, recollecting the second time he met Dada Vaswani, a year after he was first introduced to him. His spiritual tutelage under Dada has left him calmer, more composed, and much more accepting of life’s vicissitudes. So much is the change, he admits, that his ‘pre-Dada’ days are just a memory. “Stress-causing habits and attitudes have just vanished without conscious effort,” he affirms joyously.
By the time this article comes to you, Dada Vaswani, the head of the Pune-based Sadhu Vaswani Mission will have turned 90. A formidable age but one that sits lightly on his radiant face, joyous smile and slight frame. Despite having undergone a bypass operation, Dada looks remarkably well preserved. A proof perhaps of the abundant life that is the promise of spirituality. It is easy to see that the lineaments of his face and frame have been honed and sculpted by the undying spirit to which he gave his allegiance at age 21. This is when he became a full-time disciple of his uncle, the late Sadhu Vaswani. Since then, he has lived a life of faultless submission to the laws of life and to his guru. Rarely do you find someone who subordinates his own achievements and accomplishments at the foot of his guru as much as Dada does. Like Vivekananda to Ramakrishna before him, his guru remains a shining star and inspiration and the source of all his own qualities. Little wonder then that he radiates humility and simplicity.
Although dearly loved by his followers, there is no evidence of the cult of personality. They relate to him one on one, as they would with a deeply loved mentor. In every interaction and meeting whether with the rich and famous or with the humble, whether with his people or with strangers, Dada remains his authentic self, so warmly loving and solicitous, so caring and kind, so giving and simple that the heart responds instantly. In Dada’s presence one cannot but be a little more open, a little more simple and a little more authentic – pretensions and false selves fall away. That is perhaps his unique offering to the world in his role of spiritual preceptor.For in his ashram there is no place for special techniques, complicated mantras or miracles. The only ‘miracle’ is that of a man leading his life as he was meant to. Spirituality to him is not a vague, abstract subject but the vital wellspring of every thought, word and action. Little wonder that he is a powerhouse of positivity for the countless lakhs who follow him through the 50 centres of the Mission distributed all over the world.
The good word “Dada has made God a reality in my life,” says Dr Prabha Sampat, a lecturer of St Mira’s college, who admits to feeling privileged to have come in close contact with him. “Repetition of the name of God is the simplest but most effective good habit that Dada has taught all of us,” she adds.“Life has changed…. completely. I have become so much more spiritual, humble, simple … I have had a kind of awakening I could never have imagined before. I have given up many old habits that are detrimental to my body and soul. I have become calm, and I define success differently,” says Ravi Melwani, the CEO of the Bangalore-based Humanitarian Network, an organisation that helps needy people connect with people and organisations that can help alleviate their pain. “To know Dada is to know love,” says Krishna Kumari, bright-eyed and waif-like, whose devotion to Dada is exemplary. She works closely with Dada, writing, collating and administering activities of the Sadhu Vaswani mission. “One great change that I have noticed in myself is that now before I do something or utter a word, I ask myself if it will displease my God. If I get an answer in the affirmative, I do my best to desist from doing so,” says the effervescent and dynamic Gulshan Dudani, who heads the publishing wing of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission. “That the reward for service is more service is something I have realised due to my association with Dada,” says Mrs Heera Rupani from Hyderabad, who feels she has become much more compassionate and loving. She says, “I genuinely feel grateful to those I serve for helping me to add a new dimension to my personality.”
When Shakun Narain Kimatrai, the author of many books on religion, asked Dada for a principle to live by, Dada said “Dil jee dari khol” (Open the window of your heart!). A strikingly simple yet powerful statement that sums up the spiritual journey.
Carrying the torch forward
Apart from being a source of inspiration and guidance to the many millions who look up to him, one of Dada’s most striking contributions is in the field of education. “Instruction and information may be made available through technological advances but teaching in its truest sense is communicating,” Dada says in his book, Teachers are sculptors. With the highest reverence for teachers, he is passionate about ‘education’ as it is here that the future of the world lies.
His guru, Sadhu Vaswani, founded the “Mira Movement In Education” in 1933, but as they were then based in Sindh, Pakistan, the Partition crippled his efforts. Fortunately, this was not a derailment but a temporary setback. The Sadhu Vaswani Mission shifted base to Pune in 1959, and one of the first initiatives undertaken by the Mission was education. St Mira’s College for Girls was founded in 1962. The decision to start a women’s college was a conscious one, as Sadhu Vaswani firmly believed that in the unfolding of India’s destiny, women would have to play an important part. “The woman-soul will lead us upward on! Sadhu Vaswani often remarked, and Dada, at one with his master in this and everything else, has carried on the baton.
Expectedly, the college emphasises education for life, not just for a living. It is known for its strong sense of discipline, insistence on character building, reverence for all life, and the cultivation of spiritual, cultural, social and moral values. Today, the Mira movement includes no less than six educational institutions in Pune, reaching out to over 5,000 students, starting from the pre-primary level and going right up to post-graduate classes. Schools have also been established at Delhi, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Mumbai.
With the food crisis escalating to a serious level all over the world, it makes sense to re-examine our way of life and consumption. “To produce 1 lb of meat, it takes 40 lb of vegetation and many gallons of water,” says Dada. “As in all spiritual laws, becoming vegetarian makes sense for multiple reasons. Ecologically we save rain forests from being eradicated for livestock cultivation, in terms of personal health we become less prone to cholesterol and heart disease, and spiritually our refusal to be party to the killing of beasts for food will elevate us.”
“For me not to love birds and beasts is not to love the Lord,” exhorted Sadhu Vaswani, who strongly advocated a vegetarian diet. Today, by observing November 25, his birthday, as “Meatless Day,” the Mission slowly spreads his message, with peaceful marches, talks on benefits of vegetarianism and satsangs. Certainly there is no disputing that the world over, there is a discernable movement towards vegetarianism so perhaps Dada’s ideal of universal vegetarianism may yet prevail. Not all his followers are vegetarian, though, and neither does Dada insist upon it. “It is not the means but only a means to the end, the end of viewing the One in all,” he states and affirms that a vegetarian is no way ‘superior’ to a nonvegetarian.
Talk less, do more
“Religion? Let us talk of it less, practise more!” urged Sadhu T L Vaswani. In keeping with this tenet, daily feeding of the poor and needy, grains to birds, food to animals, distribution of fruits to poor patients at the Sassoon Hospital, service to inmates of the homes of the aged, the handicapped, the blind and leper colonies, milk and lunch to poor students, form an integral part of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission’s daily service activities in Pune. In Mumbai, open heart surgeries are performed through collaboration with Hinduja hospital, cataract operations are performed and many blood donation camps held regularly. Similarly, in all the centres worldwide, the Mission engages in helping the poor and downtrodden.
Noting this, HH the Dalai Lama, in his foreword to the biography of Dada brought out by his disciples, says, “He (Dada Vaswani) is a living example of how the spirit and practice of our ancient traditions can be purely maintained, even amidst the changes and challenges of this modern age.” Truly, a sense of universal responsibility permeates all Dada’s activities.
Transforming past bitterness into love, Dada is involved in many peace initiatives with Pakistan.Typical of Dada’s style, the initiative does not stop with mere formality and exchange of pleasantries, but has shown its concern through positive action. From 2005 onwards, the Sadhu Vaswani Mission is spearheading the treatment of poor Pakistani children with heart ailments in Nanavati Hospital, funding their passage, stay and treatment. Good begets good, hence the hospital too has reduced its charges, chipping in to help.“We have our roots in Pakistan. We hope the relations between our two countries grow stronger by the day with such gestures of love,” said Ram Mirchandani, a trustee of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, who is overseeing the initiative. At another level, he has spoken on universal peace at the United Nations, a world without wars at the House of Commons, London, and was a keynote speaker at the Centennial Celebrations of the World Parliament of Religions in New York.
The child of doting parents, Pahalrajrai and Krishna Devi, who were both academically and spiritually inclined, Dada Vaswani was a brilliant student, who was given a number of double promotions, which resulted in him passing the BS examination when just 17. A master’s degree and fellowship at a leading college followed and Dada seemed poised on the threshold of a brilliant academic or civil services career.
However, a larger purpose awaited him. He decided to give it all up and follow his paternal uncle and guru, Sadhu TL Vaswani, on the spiritual path. Much like how Dada’s influence works on others, this just ‘happened’, unobtrusively, quietly, suddenly and yet decisively. Today, wearing the mantle of spiritual head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission in Pune, Dada Vaswani is a standing testimony to the Mission’s statement of living for others, inspiring others through his writing, oratory, education and mere presence to come to the realisation of the fact that we all are part of the divine whole.
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A 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 spirituality, 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
An example of Dada’s simple and clear wisdom, based on extracts from his book, Dada Answers, published by Gita Publishing House.
What is the root of anger?
Self-will. This is the root of anger. When we want something done in a particular way and it gets done in a different way, we get angry. If only we can curb self-will and surrender to the Divine will, we will not get angry. Once we realise that whatever happens is according to the will of God and in the will of God lies our highest good, we will conquer anger.
What is character? How can we develop better character through education?
The literal meaning of character is carving and engraving. In education, we need to sow the seeds of simplicity and service, purity and prayer in the minds of the pupils.
What are some simple practical instructions we may follow in daily life to keep our ego in check?
Some simple tips we could follow are:
• When in the midst of people, refrain from pushing yourself forward
• Refrain from too much talk. Don’t try to monopolise the conversation. It is better to remain silent and let others talk
• Even when you wish to be helpful, what helps is not your words but your vibrations. What has the potential to transform is not your lectures but silent prayer. Talk little to those you wish to help but pray for them, again and again.
• Always keep clear of the desire of telling others of your life and achievements
• Never forget that one’s real value lies not in the outer, empirical self but in the inner, imperishable self. This inner self cares not for the applause of others but is firmly rooted in itself. Cultivate friendship with this inner self
• Meditate with a focus on conquering the lower self of cravings and desire
Can a positive attitude influence our health?
Of course, yes. Always be positive in your outlook upon life and expect the best. Plant beautiful thoughts in your mind. Control your anger, and animal appetites. Today, many doctors are drawing a correlation between an individual’s personality and nature of the disease.
In a paper recently published in America, it has been shown that cancer malignancy is caused by a great tendency to hold resentment and a marked inability to forgive. Give and forgive, and live a healthy life.
What is Vedanta? Can you explain it to us in simple terms?
Vedanta is the culmination of all Vedic knowledge. This knowledge can be summed up briefly in these words: there is the One in all. The vision of the One in all is Vedanta. When I see God not only in the good, but in those the world calls bad and evil, then I have attained true knowledge.I quote Swami Vivekananda, to who it was asked, “Tell us what is Vedanta, in a few simple words.” He replied, “In a few simple words, Vedanta is the knowledge that I and my brother are one.” My brother – the beggar, the cripple, the blind man and the criminal – and I are one. This is Vedanta – beholding the One in all.
What exactly is intuition or sixth sense, as we know it?
Intuition is the gift of knowing things, understanding things which the mind does not know or understand. Our knowledge is based on what the senses tell us, and on what the mind decides. But that may not be the whole truth. The senses very often betray us. The mind often jumps to the wrong conclusions. Then it is intuition that takes over. Intuition knows, intuition understands. It is here that women excel men. Men have tuition but they don’t have intuition. They have sight but they don’t have insight.
Sadhu Vaswani, the founder of the Mira movement in education, often said, “The woman- soul will lead us upward on!” Could you elaborate on it? The man-made world is already crumbling beneath the burden of its own weight. For, man has bungled and greatly blundered. Man has believed in physical force – in the atom bomb, nuclear weapons, star wars. A new world is in the making. Of this new world, the builder will not be man, but woman – the true woman, the authentic woman, who will be true to her purpose and being. The French author and politician, Joseph Marie de Maistre, said, “The great fault in women is their desire to be like men.” Woman is the symbol of shakti. Shakti is not physical force, but integration. The woman-soul will rebuild the shattered world through the strength of her intuition, her purity and faith in prayer, her simplicity and sympathy and service, her spiritual aspiration and silent sacrifice.
Gautam Ghosh , “The radiance and infectious nature of Dada’s smile engulfs you wholly.”