By Punya Srivastava
Baba Hardev Singh, spiritual head of the Sant Nirankari Mission, which worships the formless God, is committed to the vision of universal brotherhood,says Punya Srivastava
“Dhan Nirankar!”…greeted a gentleman over the phone when I called up Sant Nirankari Mission, Delhi, to inquire about Baba Hardev Singhji’s schedule. These two words which translate into ‘hail the formless God’ illustrate the very foundation of the Nirankari movement. Formally started in 1929, the day Baba Avtar Singh received God-knowledge by Baba Buta Singh, today this mission has followers all across the world.
The Mission’s present guru, Baba Hardev Singhji Maharaj, or just Babaji as he is affectionately addressed, is an epitome of softness. Mostly clad in whites, his soft, round face framed by a short salt and pepper beard and a pristine white turban, 61-year-old Baba Hardev Singh radiates a childlike guilelessness, beautifully complemented by his innate tranquillity. Though a busy man, he is the epitome of composure and calm. Devotees lose themselves when he sings avtarbani in his devotion-dripping, mellifluous voice. An avid mountaineer in his younger days, Babaji formed the Mission’s Youth Forum in 1975. He was made the head of the Mission in 1980 under tragic circumstances when his father and Mission head Baba Gurbachan Singhji fell prey to the bullets of fanatics. Since then, Babaji has pledged his life to the service of the Nirankar through service of humanity. The Mission runs various social programmes, the latest of which is the ambitious Sant Nirankari Health City in Delhi. The foundation was laid on Babaji’s 61st birthday on February 23. The Hospital will offer super-specialist treatment for every disease including cancer, and will be well-staffed by a team of 500 doctors, 5,000 nurses, and about 6,000 other employees.
Following is an email interview with Baba Hardev Singhji.
How would you explain the tremendous evolution and expansion of Sant Nirankari Mission in the past 50 years?
When Baba Buta Singhji started the movement, he was accompanied only by Baba Avtar Singhji, his disciple and companion. But gradually more people joined them. Why? Because what these great saints preached must have touched all those people deep within their hearts. It is the simple yet profound message of the Nirankaris that attracts so many people. Those souls who want to find meaning in their routine lives, those who want to look beyond the mundane come to us. All these followers are addressed as saints because they all are the messengers of peace and brotherhood – through their words and their actions.
What is the vision that drives you?
Universal brotherhood is my vision. After God-realization, one realizes that the world is one family and a common thread of divinity passes through each life form on earth. It is then a prerogative to undertake tasks and actions that serve to respect that divine spark, and based on that build up universal fraternity. This is the vision that drives the lives of all the Nirankaris, including myself.
How would you define your philosophy?
“Yesterday, I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise. So I am changing myself.” This is my philosophy for life. To bring in universal peace and brotherhood, every individual must bring a change within. To bring in that shift within, one must connect with the Nirankar – the formless Almighty.
Why do Nirankaris put such great significance on the necessity of having a satguru in one’s life?
Because to awaken our mental faculties and tune them towards a higher purpose, union with another human being who himself is awakened is needed. A satguru, or true master, enables one to move beyond his or her current plane of operation by sharing his or her own experiences. A satguru holds forth a mirror and tries to bring out the innate beauty that is inherent in every soul. Satsang with a satguru then becomes a prerequisite for maintaining a balanced walk in life.
What role do Satsang, Sewa and Simran ( the act of remembrance) play in a Nirankari’s life?
Satsang means to join with the Truth. However, in this world of Maya, one needs a constant reminder of the reality, and hence, the need to stay in the company of enlightened beings or evolved devotees. Sewa is the purity of intent with which any act of voluntary service is extended towards fellow beings. Simran is a tool that steadies a human being’s wavering monkey mind, and anchors it in the feet of the Divine. All three aspects together create a harmonious environment for a being to connect with the Almighty, and live a peaceful life.
You believe that ‘God is simple and simple is divine’. But the world is divided into complexities called religion. How then do people from various religions find peace under the umbrella of Nirankari Mission?
A child gets conditioned by religious beliefs prevailing in his household, which become entrenched as he or she grows up and becomes a part of mainstream society. However, when one tries to introspect on the true purpose and objective of human life, and seeks true God knowledge, the boundaries of rituals, beliefs and practices start melting away, and the seeker becomes one with the One, seeing all human beings in the light of one Nirankar. Moreover, no separate rituals are required to attain oneness with this Nirankar. Hence soaked in this divine God-realisation, people from various schools of thought find themselves effortlessly becoming one with Nirankari Mission.
You talk about Oneness in the context of inter-faith harmony. How is your Mission working towards promoting inter-faith harmony?
‘Religion unites, never divides’ is a true phenomenon, and Nirankari Mission is always on the forefront to interact with followers of different ethnicities, sects and faith. The fundamental principles of all religions uphold human values and equality. Nirankari Mission upholds and celebrates human values and therefore various religious sects find coherence with the ideology of the Mission. I have shared the dais with representatives of many religious organisations, and it is an enriching experience to celebrate the glory of Nirankar each time.
Around 3,000 Nirankaris came forward during the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ in October last. What other social causes does the Mission support?
The Mission’s aim, since the time of Baba Buta Singhji, has been to take social development forward along with spiritual development. Both are needed to make the world a better place to live. Sant Nirankari Mandal has been running programmes across the country for providing education, healthcare, and basic medicinal facilities. Mission’s voluntary teams (the Sewa Dal), are always ready to extend support and assistance in the time of natural disasters. We also conduct mass marriages, encouraging the practice of austerity.
You run various youth and women empowerment programmes. In what ways do you empower women and youth?
Empowerment is giving an individual confidence to have control over his or her life; to make him or her responsible and powerful so that he or she can think, behave, take action, and be responsible about their life. Our youth empowerment programme started in April 2007, and is specifically aimed towards undergraduate people and those who are about to take the first step towards building their career. Apart from imparting spiritual teachings to them, these programmes also offer personality development, career counselling, interview techniques, communication skills, moral development, and awareness of legal rights and duties to help them lead a balanced life.
For empowering women, the Mission runs around 72 tailoring and embroidery training centres across the country. Project Upkar is another initiative that aims to empower tribal women in 22 tribal villages in Thane district, Maharashtra. We provide skill development, basic medical facilities, and education camps from time to time under this project.
Which is that one teaching that you impart to thousands of devotees who come to the Samagam every year?
Value the human life given to us by the Almighty. Be grateful for it. We have been graced with a status higher than other creatures, and we must avoid wasteful indulgence in harmful tendencies like greed, arrogance, envy and anger. We must adorn out lives with grace and charm, and spread love everywhere. Won’t we then have a world brimming with love and joy, shorn of all the pain and suffering caused by hate and violence?
Looking back, what would you say has been your or your Mission’s unique contribution to spirituality and humankind?
Nirankari Mission has been able to bring people from all walks of life on a common platform to serve humanity, while promoting tolerance and the spirit of oneness. Annual Sant Nirankari Samagam is a testimony of the same where one can see the true epitome of unity in diversity. Lakhs of devotees from all parts of the world, speaking different languages and having different ethnic backgrounds converge for three days and celebrate the spirit of oneness and humanity. Hence promoting tolerance and spirit of oneness amongst human beings irrespective of caste, colour or creed is the Mission’s contribution to society.
What do you hope to leave behind as your single biggest legacy?
We see so much unrest and bloodshed in the name of religion. When my father was targetted by extremist intentions, Nirankaris did not waver from the path of peace and non-violence. The slogan ‘Blood should flow in veins and not in drains’ was induced into their philosophy. Continuing with this philosophy, Nirankari Mission organises blood donation camps where lakhs of Nirankaris donate blood as a service to humanity. This legacy of peace and tolerance is what saints and sages have propagated since ages.
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