By Suma Varughese
Dada Vaswani, head of the Pune-based Sadhu Vaswani Mission, is the embodiment of simplicity, humility, wisdom and goodness, and a living inspiration, says Suma Varughese
I first interviewed Dada Vaswani for Life Positive some time in 1998. Dada, tiny, sweet, smiling and as fresh as a daisy, had just been diagnosed with a serious heart condition that called for a major surgery. And yet, there was no trace of fear or anxiety on that sublime face. “The mother is near, why should I fear?” he asked. Over the years, I have been deeply privileged to meet Dada off and on in Mumbai when he came down to record his TV programmes aired on Sony TV. The more I got to know Dada, the more I appreciated his simplicity, humility, wisdom and goodness. Unlike other gurus who travel with large entourages that deny you access, Dada merely has about three or four women who travel with him everywhere. Devoted to him, they would easily sacrifice their right hands to spare him a moment of pain, but I have never seen them being obsequious before him as other disciples are before their gurus. The relationship is more that of a loved parent or uncle. Laughter flows easily and there is no brittle air of being around some sacred figure before whom you cannot be yourself. Dada is also a wonderful writer, with around 200 books written in English, Sindhi and Hindi. under his belt. His books in English are each a gem of wisdom and knowledge, written flawlessly. His spoken English too, is unusually pure, and requires little or no editing. For this interview I travelled to Pune to meet him at the beautiful white colonial building which is his ashram. Dada was laid in bed with a bad back pain, but as usual there was nothing but serenity and peace on his face. Excerpts from the interview:
Dada, at 95, you have lived a long life. How would you sum it up?
The grace of my guru and God. That sums up my whole life.
What are the significant events in your life that shifted and changed you?
I put forth no efforts. It all came naturally. When I was a college student, I had my own dreams. I had received four double promotions, so I matriculated at the age of 13. I was supposed to graduate at 17. In my days, the ICS examination was what everyone aspired to. When I was in the intermediate class, second of the four-year degree course, I felt drawn to my beloved master. The course of my life completely changed.
Looking back, would you say your life has been a happening?
Yes, we plan and scheme, but whatever is to happen, happens. And it happens for the best. There is something that I will for myself, but there is something else that God wills for me. What God wills for me is always better than what I will for myself.
What is the legacy you would like to leave behind?
Do not worry. Do not be anxious. Do not fret. Do not fume. There is a plan that has already been fixed for you. Just surrender.
But this surrender. That is difficult. How are we to wear down the ego?
The ego has a place in life. The ego has not to be completely vanquished. But the ego passing through many experiences learns to surrender itself. For the ego then finds that in surrender is the true joy of life. All the ego wants is to be happy. The ego itself is in quest of happiness. The sooner it finds that true happiness belongs to the ego that has surrendered, it surrenders very easily. There was a holy man. On his lips were always the words. ‘Yes, father, yes and always yes’, because he realised that God’s plans for him was always better than what he planned for himself. When I was a boy, I used to go by tram to school. And I found that the tram driver was always moving up and down in the tram without paying for his ticket. I said I want to grow to be a tram driver. I feel grateful that the plan did not work out (laughs). When I was in the fourth standard, one of my friends who could not study well, appeared for the Dufferin examinations and got admission. It was a streamer, where they gave nautical training. The sea was my first love. Every Saturday and Sunday, I would sit on a rock in the midst of the sea and just watch the waves. So I said, this man is going to be in the sea for 24 hours, why not me? When I placed the plan before my mother, she said, ‘Dufferin is for duffers! It is not meant for students like you.’ I prayed. I fasted. I did many things, but the plan did not work out. Finally, my mother said, ‘You put it to your uncle, Sadhu Vaswani. Let him take the decision. I shall accept it.’ Sadhu Vaswani said, ‘ No, Dufferin is not for you.’
We plan for ourselves and we think that if only these plans worked out, we would be supremely happy. But that is not so. There is a higher plan for everyone of us. The earlier we surrender, the better for us. When I was 24, I remember there was a man who had retired from government service. He met Gurudev, and he asked him to write a few words which he would take as the mantra for his life. Sadhu Vaswani wrote these few words. ‘Plan nothing, win everything.’ That is you cooperate with the will of the Lord to work out your will. And from that day onward, I took it to be the mantra for my life too.
Dada what have been some of the toughest challenges that God has given you which you have won?
Nothing apart from the training that Sadhu Vaswani gave me. At that time, I did not think he was training me. I thought he did not… I don’t know what words to use. Otherwise, he was so loving, so kind, so compassionate. But there were periods when he would withdraw. It was as if he did not know me at all. It was very, very painful. More than once, I tried to run away from him. But I found that I could not live without him.
Why would that behavior be necessary?
I believe he felt that I should not be under the influence of my ego. My ego should learn to surrender itself. I remember that they were having the first meeting of the UNESCO in Hyderabad, Sindh. And they asked Sadhu Vaswani to preside over the meeting. The fortnight before the meeting, almost everyday, Sadhu Vaswan would say ‘I will take only Jashan (myself) for this meeting. Nobody else will be able to understand it.’ That puffed up my pride. On the day of the meeting he asked almost every member of the ashram to get into the horse-ridden carriages we used in Sindh. Only I was left behind. The others actually told him, ‘What about Jashan? You said you would take only Jashan.’ I could hear those words, but he showed as if he did not. I cried and cried.
And supposing he wanted to write a book about Kabir. He would start dictating. And suddenly, one day, he would not ask you to come and take the dictation. He would ask someone else. Then there were messages he wrote on green cards. He would invariably ask me to read them out to the fellowship and also explain to them. Suddenly for a number of days, he would not ask me. They were like scorpion bites. You won’t show it, but you really felt quite…
But then I realised that this was the way he wanted to train me.
Is this something you also do in your role as teacher and mentor?
No, no. I am one of their fellow disciples. This kind of training only the guru can do. He knows when and where to do it. He has the art.
Apart from this what were the other tough challenges?
I don’t think I had other tough challenges, except that twice I had to stay away from the master for a number of days. I had finished my work for my Master’s degree, because Sadhu Vaswani had said I must complete my education before joining him. At that time, M.Sc was the highest degree. One of my teachers, a demonstrator, told me. ‘You have done your work, for which you can easily get a post-graduate degree, which you will not use. Why don’t you give me your work?’ He was an old-fashioned physicist. He had no hope of getting a degree. Promotion had stopped. I said, ‘Yes. You can take it.’ I just didn’t think about it. Then this man went to Sadhu Vaswani. He said, ‘Your boy has been so kind, he has given me his work.’ Sadhu Vaswani immediately called me. He said, ‘Go home. Go back home and don’t stay with me until you have fully finished your work and submitted it to the university. Then you can, if you like, come back to me. This is not right, what you have done.’
I did the typing, everything, on my own – it took me only a fortnight which otherwise would have taken me quite a number of days.
And the second time was when a common friend of the family came and told Sadhu Vaswani that my mother had met him and said ‘I educated my child and now my brother has taken him away.’ He immediately told me, to pack up and serve my mother. He was in Hyderabad, Sindh, and my mother was in Karachi. I went back to Karachi. I was with her for four days. On the fourth day in the morning she came to my room. ‘My child, I think you will not be happy if you are with us. I think you had better go back.’ That was a great sacrifice on the part of my mother. Because I was the eldest, the male child of the family. But I told her ‘Now my master will not accept me.’ So she wrote a letter saying that she was very happy to permit me to stay with him. That letter Sadhu Vaswani kept till the end of his life. Those were two difficult occasions for me. But I am happy that I immediately obeyed. There was no resistance.
What did Sadhu Vaswani mean to you?
He is my all in all. I live for him. I breathe for him. For me there is nothing else
in the world. All of them (pointing to his disciples) try to do something for me, but I say, don’t do for me, do for the master. Glorify the master, not the disciple.
Are you not a master too?
Not when I think of Sadhu Vaswani. I am a pygmy in comparison. He was great in every sense of the term. He was an all-rounder. When I finished my studies and came to him, I remember at our first meeting, I thought he knew very little about science, which had evolved in those days considerably. And the very first thing he spoke was about Einstein. And I was nonplussed. How did he know about Einstein and the Theory of Relativity?
How do you cope with physical pain and the problems of old age?
Every dart of pain I regard as a call from the Divine. That you must now be prepared to put off this outer covering. It fills me with a rapture. Sometimes I hear the words, ‘We are waiting for you, when are you coming?’
Who is ‘we’?
‘We’ are those entities who have always helped me on the path.
Every dart of pain I regard as a call from the Divine. That I must now be prepared to put off this outer covering. It fills me with a rapture.
So what lies for us over there?
There is work to be done. There are angels specially in charge of children. Children need to be protected. Then there are angels who come and save you from a hair’s breadth inch of an accident. There are people who are murdered here. They need comfort and consolation. So there are different types of angels. In fact, there is nothing but work there – there is no sleeping, no eating.
What is your view of death?
There is no death. It is very much like moving from one room to another. Actually there is an incident in the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa in the night between 15th and 16th August, 1886. At around the hour of midnight, he uttered the name of the mother three times and then entered eternal sleep. His wife, Sharadabehn, who also is revered as a saint, said, ‘I have become a widow. I have no right to wear these bangles.’ She had worn those bangles since the age of seven. But the wrists had since grown bigger and do what she will, she could not take them off. They were ivory bangles and she tried to take a hammer to break them. Then she heard a voice. And the voice said, ‘Sharada, Sharada.’ It was the voice of Ramakrishna. She looked up and found Ramakrishna standing before her. He said, ‘What are you doing? I have only moved on from one room to another.’ So death is only a movement of one room to another.
Do you fear death?
On the contrary, it is something to be welcomed. It is like you are studying in a class for over a year, and now the examination takes place. And you are going to be announced as a topper of the class.
What is the examination?
It is the examination of life. Every time I speak a falsehood, I fail. Everytime that I turn away a poor man with a rough word, I fail Every time I get an impure thought, I fail. Every time I get an emotion of lust or of greed, I fail.
Dada, could you sum up your understanding of life?
My understanding of life is that we who appear to be separate are not separate. We are one. And the thread that unites us is the thread of love. What animates us is love. Life without love is dry as a desert. Therefore, give love to all. There are no enemies. Only friends and friends to be. We all are one. Keep on smiling at everyone you meet.
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