By Suma Varughese
Is it possible to see a reflection of the master in his followers, I asked myself, as I sat in the meeting room at the Sadhu Vaswani Mission in Pune, India, waiting to meet its present spiritual head, Dada Jashan Pahlajrai Vaswani. With me sat three of his associates. There was none of that anxiety, fervor or awe that many spiritual masters excite. The ease was explained by the appearance of a little man, dressed plainly in a kurta-pyjama, with a shawl falling over his left shoulder, his salt and pepper hair parted to one side and severely slicked down. His eyebrows are a surprise—bushy, grizzled, and furrowed. This, plus his large sticking-out ears, add a puckish note to an otherwise innocuous face.
A new civilisation will be born’
A precise and articulate use of English, clarity of mind and a fervent heart makes Dada Vaswani, head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, a conversationalist of rare power. Excerpts from an interview with him:How did the Sadhu Vaswani Mission come into being?
It was started in 1931 to assist in the uplift of women, because Sadhu Vaswani believed that there was great shakti (power) in the women of India.
Later, the scope widened to include two more ideals. One is the cultivation of the soul. We do this through Satsangs (communion) held thrice a day, and the practice of silence. Silence is modern man’s greatest need, because he lives in a world of noise. Silence strengthens, purifies, heals. It is in the depths of silence that revelation comes. Apart from meditation, we also advocate prayer, and spiritual thinking, because not everyone can meditate.
Our second ideal is service. Service of the poor is worship of God. All our work, such as our schools and hospitals and Jiv Daya (welfare of birds and animals), is in the realm of service.
Does the world stand on the edge of transformation?
I believe that if you want to transform the world, you must begin with the child. Our system of education is wrong. We must teach the child that life is larger than livelihood, and the means is service and sacrifice. If this were followed, within 30 years, we would have a new India, provided the home environment was also conducive to the change.
Do you believe that mankind is in the throes of a new age?
I believe in the time spirit. Once that changes, the whole world will change. Fifty years ago, people used to laugh at us for advocating vegetarianism. Today, the world is mad about vegetarianism. When the time spirit changes, we will have the splendor of the new sun. The new age is knocking on the door. Let us open it.
Do you see India moving in that direction?
Yes, I do. On the one hand, we have unprecedented corruption; on the other, there is purification. Indian thought is influencing so many people in the West. Our own centers in the West are growing.
What is your dream for India?
Before India can set out on her mission of health and healing, our lives must be rooted in the great ideals our ancestors gave us. Science and spirituality must walk hand-in-hand in the service of suffering humanity. Science is neutral. It is the use we put it to that determines the consequences. If the splitting of the atom were used in the service of humanity, the whole world would have been transformed. We must change the axis of our action. The master word of our age is power. In the new age, it will be service.
Does evil really exist?
We live in a relative world. There is a plane, which is beyond good or evil. This is akin to the fourth dimension of life, where duality disappears. We are crying for the oneness of humanity, but unity is already accomplished. We have to rise to that plane.
At 79, do you have any regrets about the way your life turned out?
No regrets. Everything works according to the divine will. All we need to do is surrender. It is only the ego that stands in between, but through the grace of the guru and of God, it is possible to transcend it and rise to unity. I see myself in them. The Master is by me. The Mother Divine is by me. I am not to fear, not to worry. At one stroke, fears and worries vanish like phantoms, which is what they really are, creatures of the mind.
What is the essence of your philosophy?
I preach the philosophy of acceptance. I don’t mean passive resignation.
How do you feel about death?
Death is the biggest illusion mankind suffers from. What we call death is the dropping of the garment. My beloved Master used to say: ‘The sun appears to set, but it will rise elsewhere. There should be no fear of death. Or grief for the departed ones.’
What is mankind’s most important task?
To cultivate the soul. Man is essentially a soul who has worn the body. This is the fundamental difference between the East and the West. The West thinks that man is a body with a mind and a soul.
What will happen to the Mission after you? He (God) is the one who is doing everything. He will continue to do it. None of us is doing anything.
Eyes sparkling and face lit like a lantern, he approached me and bowed deeply: ‘It’s a real honor to meet you.’
Who, me? Feeling rather as if the tables were turned, I stammered out a feeble response.
Then he turned to greet his followers. The lower they bowed before him, the lower still he bowed, till they backed away good-naturedly, leaving Dada the undisputed winner of the round. His blithe demeanor makes no betrayal of his heart condition, later successfully redressed by a bypass.
At the end of the interview, Dada was up once again, stealing my lines. ‘Thank you, I’ve learnt a lot from you.’
I was baulked, not to mention baffled. What does such exaggerated humility mean? I remembered reading somewhere that when devotees crowd around him for darshan, a sight of him, Dada habitually begs them: ‘Bless me, bless me!’
I was moved by his exaltation of others over himself. Studying him, one saw a man whose sense of self was so minimal that he could really afford to dispense with dignity. A man who honestly experienced no barrier between himself and others. He is, perhaps, that rarest of seers who reveres every sentient being, from flower to animal to human, under the living conviction that they are forms of the Divine. He appears to be not so much a human personality with characteristic foibles and mannerisms, as a container of commitment, joy and selflessness.
None of this is surprising, for when he talks about his mentor and uncle, the founder of the Mission, Sadhu Vaswani, Dada invokes him in words that are uncannily suited to his own self:
‘To be drenched in love, to lose oneself in love is to walk, in Sadhu Vaswani’s meaningful words, the ‘little way’. And to walk the little way is to become as humble as dust.
‘To an age which worships at the altar of greatness, Sadhu Vaswani, in his quiet way, showed what it was to be a ‘little one’.’
At another point, he says of Sadhu Vaswani: ‘If I were asked to express the secret of his life, I would sum it up in two words: humility and love.’
Perhaps no master could have so apt a pupil as Sadhu Vaswani has in Dada J.P. Vaswani. Where one ends and the other begins is hard to say, but there’s little doubt that the inspiration for the Mission’s manifold activities emerges from those two words, love and humility. This and an unfaltering focus on the larger good is the essence of the Mission’s philosophy.
‘The teachings are simplicity itself,’ says Sultani, 74, who has been associated with the movement for over 30 years. ‘They boil down to two things: simran (meditation) and seva (service). Satsangs(communion) thrice a day, an emphasis on silence, prayer and nama japa as well as meditation, these address what Dada calls man’s noblest task—to know himself.’
But it is seva which stands out, reflected as it is in every facet of the Mission’s work. Every morning, the ashram plays host to a snaking queue of some hundred indigents—the ill, the wounded, the unemployed—to whom they serve food. The ashram also sends out food on a rotational basis to a number of charitable organizations within the city.
At one corner of the ashram pigeons peck at a sea of golden grain, reflecting the Mission’s philosophy of reverence for life. ‘Birds and animals are man’s younger brothers and sisters in the one family of life,’ says Dada.
The Mission’s unfaltering commitment to the sanctity of all life is its best-known value. Since 1986, it has been celebrating Sadhu Vaswani’s birthday on November 25 as International Meatless Day. The annals of the Mission are legion with tales of Sadhu Vaswani and Dada buying goats and chickens to prevent them from reaching the slaughterhouse. ‘No price is too great to save a single life,’ said Sadhu Vaswani, who was averse to plucking even flowers, for they too had their families and must not be separated from each other.
This same spirit of seva has created a network of schools and hospitals. Sadhu Vaswani started the first of the schools, which fall under the broad umbrella of Mira Movement, in 1933, while he was still in Sind, Pakistan, primarily for the girl-child. They reflect his conviction that transformation can only begin with the education of the child, particularly the girl, for it is she who will lead society. Within the ashram’s premises is a secondary and primary St Mira’s School, while St Mira’s College for Girls is located in the city. Residential schools for boys are also being planned.
Education is based on what Dada calls ‘a triple training of the head, hand and heart’. Says he: ‘It is essential to develop intellect and to acquire manual skills. But most important is the training of the heart.’
Children are initiated into the spirit of service. Each morning begins with students giving breakfast to leprosy patients who gather by the school grounds. Once a month, they cook and serve a meal for the blind. And no school celebration is complete without an act of service, such as serving breakfast to the children of laborers.
Character-building and developing a moral outlook is an integral part of the St Mira approach. A common feature from the primary to the college level is the Sanctuary period, when students are encouraged to sing devotional songs, recite verses from the world’s holy books, and quote the teachings of the world’s great religious leaders. Typically, both Sadhu Vaswani and his spiritual heir believe in the validity of all religions, and teach respect for all of them. Said Sadhu Vaswani: ‘I am so made as to rejoice in the many and behold the beauty of the One in the many.’
Says the dynamic principal of the school, Meena Kirpalani: ‘No child is beaten or punished. The moment a teacher punishes a child, he leaves the school.’
As for St Mira’s College, says Principal Aruna Jetwani: ‘Boys want to marry St Mira’s girls because of our emphasis on discipline, hardwork, compassion and love through social service’. Says Jyoti Baxani, a student of St Mira’s school: ‘The Sanctuary classes inspire me. This is my second home.’
The Mission has also opened a number of hospitals, including the Inlaks and Budhrani Hospital, built in 1989 at Koregaon Park in Pune, India. Emphasizing the spirit of service here is a large portrait of Sadhu Vaswani on the imposing foyer, with the legend: ‘Every patient is a picture of God.’
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