લટકે લગાડી લગની


A mesmerizing gesture from Pramukh Swami Maharaj

A mesmerizing gesture from Pramukh Swami Maharaj on 23rd August, 2014. (C) BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. http://www.baps.org

લટકે લગાડી લગની…લાલ રે

પલમાં પમાડી પ્રીતડી…પ્યાર રે

અંતર્યામીને અંતર લેતા, વાર કહો કેટલી…૧

નજર મારી રહેતી ભટકતી, નેણે તારે પકડી…૨

દિલમે અંધારા જ્યાં હમેશ રહેતા, ત્યાં આજ તારી ચાંદની…૩

સાંભળી વાતો મેં ઘણી વરસતી, (એક) વેણે તારે પલળી…૪

પ્રેમ છે મારો ઘણો ભૂલ ભરીયો, ભાવ જોજે હે હરિ…૫

ચખાડી સાચો આ પ્રેમ શું તારો, જજે ક્યારેય ન છોડી…૬

 

A Gujarati poem inspired by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. At 93 years he still has the power to make millions fall in love with just one hand gesture, one glance. He sparks a new light in dark corners of people’s hearts. His pure life and divinity make his words the aural form of Truth. Having tasted his true love, we pray that he forgive our flawed love and always stay with us.

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A Conversation with A Kirtan



I imagined a struggling modern-day aspirant conversing with Brahmanand Swami through verse. Here’s how it turned out:

climbing-mt.-yonah

You’ve tied the rope to God’s high keep,

I’ve tied it too, to my shaking feet.

You’ve marked the path with bright red flags,

I’ve started to climb these uphill paths.

With every inch, I pain and strain,

But you’re always there promising me gain.

You cheer and cheer for miles and miles more,

But I’ve moved inches; I’m already sore.

You urge to climb, to climb is all,

Swami, I say, it’s easier to fall.

No matter the promise, no matter the call,

Swami, I say, it’s easier to fall.

The time is now, I’ve made my choice.

I choose to fall, to fall is my choice.

Jo Hoi Himat Re Narne Urmahi Bhari,

Dradta joine re, teni madad kare morari…

Bik tajine re, nit himat soto bole,

Mastak maya re sarve trun jevu tole…

And there’s the rope, to pull me back.

Here I hang, like a lifeless sack.

Your voice in my head calling me to climb,

Reminding me how you churned lime.

I place my feet, l set my path,

I rid my fear, and I walk with wrath.

What’s this mountain, Maya her name.

A blade of grass, I’ll put it to shame.

A few more steps, a few more steps,

A few more steps, and things do fade.

It’s the heat this time, I prefer the shade.

The peak is far, the path is hot.

It burns me now, with every ‘not’.

No pleasure, no fame,

No comfort nor dame.

Valley or peak, it’s all the same.

Why should I live so lame.

You still urge “to climb is all”,

Swami, I say, it’s easier to fall.

No matter the promise, no matter the call,

Swami, I say, it’s easier to fall.

The time is now, I’ve made my choice.

I choose to fall, to fall is my choice.

Kesarisinh ne re jem shanka male nahi manma, What?

Kesarisinh ne re jem shanka male nahi manma,

Eka eki re, nirbhe they vichare vanama…

Pande choto re, mota mengalne mare,

Himat vinano re, hathi te joi ne hare…

That’s the roar to give me might.

A breath of life for one more fight.

I’m a lion, with a lion inside.

It’s time for all those lies to hide.

No purs, no whimpers, no crying this time,

Just the roar of a lion, and the lion inside.

Boulders fall, mountains lose face.

Of fear in me, there is no trace.

Bring the heat, bring the cold,

I’ll die on this path, young or old.

Brahmanand kahe re em samje te jan shura,

Tan kari nakhe, guru vachane chure chura

You’ve tied the rope to God’s high keep,

I’ve tied it too, to my firm feet.

This time I’m going to reach the peak,

Not cuz I can, but cuz you speak.

Your thought is my word,

Your word is my life.

This rope that connects us,

Is tied for life.

To Us Life Just Happens…


An interesting thought to help understand the Satpurush:

For Us Birth, Life, and Death are things that just happen to us; all we can do is make the most of them. For God and the Satpurush – the sant who in whom God lives completely – Birth, Life, and Death happen at their will and by their choice.

Every moment that the Satpurush is on this Earth in his present form; every second that he has to suffer an ache, a cold, a surgery, or worse; every breath he takes is a choice. He could simply give up this form and it sufferings to experience nothing more than the joy of his Brahmswarup self but he chooses to stay for us. He could simple live on in the form of the next Satpurush but he keeps the present form because he knows we are attached to it and by our love for him we will grow our love for God. When we fully understand that every breathe he takes is one more breath that he has chosen to take for us, we truly understand his grace and his love for us.

Swaminarayan Charitra


A new first for BAPS! Saturday, Aug. 6,2011, Pramukh Swami Maharaj blessed the first copy of Swaminarayan Charitra – a new animated telling of Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s life. The first episode, titled Ghanshyam and the Storm of Evil, covers a the stories of Ghanshyam’s birth and his defeat of his evil tantric uncle, Kalidatt. The story is a production done in-house at the Swaminarayan Aksharpith Animation Studio and largely a  volunteer effort with very little professional industry involvement. As such the product is quite an achievement for first-timers.

This telling of Ghanshyam’s story is borrows both from imagination as well as the historical account given by H. T. Dave in his biography of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. It adds talking animals to the tale and tries to reconstruct piece by piece what the battle between Kalidatta and Ghanshyam might have looked like.

The main plus points of the films are the dialogues, scripted by Kamlesh Pandey, and the face of baby Ghanshyam. The story as a whole needs some help in flow and development. The animation, while a great first effort, still seems simple and formulaic but I’m sure it will improve as time goes on. After all, they are going to be putting out one episode per year for some time into the future.

So, get to a BAPS mandir book store and buy this historic DVD – if for nothing else, then to support a unique undertaking.

visit: charitra.baps.org

The Role of the Guru


Can’t take credit for what follows. It comes from a friend:

Introduction

There is no one primary source that collects and analyzes the importance of the guru in bhakti yoga. However, in what follows, an effort has been made to quantify and explain the roles the guru plays in an aspirants bhakti based on the words of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the Vachnamrut. In the end, one will discover that the guru is related to the bhakti of spiritual aspirants in six ways:

He introduces the soul to the path of bhakti

He helps one identify, understand, and have faith in God.

He serves as the ideal or epitome of bhakti.

Earning his grace allows the aspirant to master ekantik bhakti.

Gaining a sense of oneness with him makes the aspirant brahmrup

He himself becomes an object of bhakti because God is present on Earth through him.

To better understand these six roles of the Satpurush and fully appreciate the relationship between the bhakta and the guru, it is important to begin by reviewing what devotees believe the guru to be.

The Guru is Aksharbrahma

The term guru most basically signifies a teacher – a person that leads one from ignorance to knowledge. The same word in the context of spirituality and Swaminarayan bhakti has a much greater meaning. For BAPS Swaminarayan followers, the term guru, when used for one’s spiritual teacher, refers to one being – the person who God calls the “Param-Ekantik Sant” in Vartal 3 and the one He says He resides in eternally in Gadh. I – 27. In that same Vachanamrut, he calls that sant “the sustainer of the world.” It is noteworthy that in the entire Vachanamrut there are only two entities considered the sustainers of everything – Aksharbrahma and Parabrahma. Since the sant that is the sustainer in Gadh. I – 27 must be separate from the God that is ‘residing’ in him, for BAPS followers, the sant or satpurush, their guru, is the human manifestation of Aksharbrahma an eternal entity second in greatness only to God – Parabrahma Bhagwan Swaminarayan.

Therefore, to understand who the guru is, one must understand who Aksharbrahma is. In the Vachanamrut, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has spoken extensively on the form, characteristics, duties, and powers of Aksharbrahma. However, as currently the goal is to understand the role of the guru in the context of bhakti, it is prudent and pragmatic to sift through those explanations and, at the expense of philosophical nuance, essentialize those descriptions into a few basic facts about Aksharbrahma.

The Swaminarayan ontological paradigm believes in the existence of five eternal entities: jiva, ishwar, Maya, Brahma, and Parabrahma. In the context of this conversation, the bhaktas or aspirants which are mentioned are all jivas and ishwars who are trying to overcome the barrier of ignorance (Maya) to become liberated and enlightened souls (also referred to as muktas). The only entities eternally aloof from Maya are Brahma and Parabrahma. This is the first characteristic of Brahma that should be noted – it is eternally above Maya.

The second thing to note about Aksharbrahma is that it has four forms:

As chidakash, Aksharbrahma pervades within and outside the infinite brahmands and supports them.

Aksharbrahma is always present inside the abode in divine human-like form as the personal attendant of Parabrahma.

As Akshardham, Aksharbrahma is the abode of Parabrahma and home to Parabrahma, Aksharbrahma’s own form mentioned previously, and the countless muktas (liberated souls).

In human form on earth, serving as the guru.

Thirdly, when one considers the first three forms of Aksharbrahma, he is essentially serving in two ways: firstly being the dwelling place or vessel of God and secondly, being the devout servant of God (even as chidakash and the abode, Akshar still serving God’s will).

Similarly, the fourth form of Aksharbrahma, as the guru, also fulfills both of these services. He is the dwelling place of God, meaning God resides within him completely, in his every part and pore. Bhagwan Swaminarayan makes this clear in Gadh. I – 27 when He states that “it is God who resides in all of the indriyas of such a Sant”. The Sant or Satpurush is also the devout servant or bhakta of Parabrahma and since he has always been free from the impurities of mayic existence, he is the ideal devotee, the ideal bhakta. Indeed, it is because he is the ideal that Bhagwan Swaminarayan, in Vachanamruts like Loya – 12, insists that one must first become like him, Brahmarup, before being worthy of offering true devotion to God. It is also because he is eternally aloof from Maya and its three gunas (sattva, raja, and tam) that the true guru is also called the gunatit guru.

The Six Ways the Guru relates to a Bhakta’s Bhakti

Applying to the path of bhakti, this understanding of what the guru is, and considering Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s teachings in the Vachanamruts crystallizes at least six ways in which the guru relates to a bhakta’s sadhan bhakti, or in other words, a devotee’s efforts to attain sadhya bhakti, i.e. become brahmrup and offer pure devotion to God.

Introducing Souls to the Path of Bhakti

The first and most basic role the guru plays is introducing souls, whether meritorious or unmeritorious, to the path of bhakti. Having any sort of contact with the Satpurush creates samskars or impressions on the soul which turn that soul, whether in this birth or in subsequent births, to the path of bhakti. Bhagwan Swaminarayan explains this role in His own words in Gadh. III – 2: “it appears to me that all samskars one had gathered from previous lives have been attained through association with the Satpurush. Even today, those who obtain samskars do so through association with the Satpurush.” This is a simple but great benefit of the physical presence of the gunatit guru.

Identifying, understanding, and having faith in God

It is, of course, self-evident that it would be impossible to master the highest form of bhakti if one had not even recognized God, the object of that devotion. As such, an important role of the guru is to help the spiritual aspirant recognize God, understand Him, and develop firm faith and conviction in Him. Bhagwan Swaminarayan emphasizes this role in numerous locations in the Vachanamrut – starting from, Gadh. I – 1, where Bhagwan Swaminarayan states that it is “by [the Sant’s] association [that] God’s greatness is fully realized”. This theme continues throughout the Vachanamrut. Paragraph 5 of Kariyani – 12 mentions that it is through the company and words of the Sant that one realizes the form of God. In Gadh. III – 27, Bhagwan Swaminarayan states that “one should develop the conviction of God based on [the Sant’s] words.” Even if one wishes to understand the qualities and greatness of God through scriptures, Bhagwan Swaminarayan makes it clear in Gadh. I – 66 and Loya – 11 that the true meaning of the scriptures can only be understood from the mouth of the satpurush. Not only is God’s greatness realized through the association and words of the guru, but  according to Vartal – 11, love for the satpurush is “also the only means to having the direct realization of God.”

Another reason the gunatit guru necessarily fills this role is that God’s greatness is limitless. In Gadh. II – 67, Bhagwan Swaminarayan says that “God Himself cannot comprehend the limits of His own greatness”. Therefore, God is often best described as simply being “aksharatit” or greater than Aksharbrahma. Bhagwan Swaminarayan himself uses this word in numerous Vachanamruts including Gadh. II – 13. Many times, as in Gadh. I – 64, 72 and 73, this concept is mentioned without using the word. Therefore, if one truly wants to form firm conviction infused with knowledge of God’s greatness, one must first recognize and understand the true greatness of Aksharbrahma. The consequences of the lack of such understanding can be seen in Gadh. II – 42, in which a devotee mistakes the qualities of Aksharbrahma as the qualities of God.

Inspiration, Motivation, Support and Guidance from the Ideal Bhakta

While “everyone wishes to worship God”, it is not as easy as one may presume. If it were, one would not have had to take the innumerable births before this one nor would so many souls become discouraged or anxious on the path of devotion. In fact, in Gadh. II – 59, Bhagwan Swaminarayan speaks of just such anxious souls. It is a great reprieve to such souls that a task performed by the gunatit guru is to remain as a physical ideal of bhakti. His natural devotion has the power to inspire many common souls to perform more perfect devotion themselves. When Pramukh Swami Maharaj is able to build a complex like Akshardham and then give all credit to God and Guru, it inspires devotees too to take their own success with humility and offer thanks to God for providing them the resources, intelligence, and strength required to achieve that success. Seeing one’s guru insist on having darshan on a daily basis even at an old age and in frail health naturally inspires devotees to revalue devotional acts that may seem simple like darshan, arti, and kirtan.

Furthermore, the satpurush as the ideal bhakta provides a devotional compass which shows where true north is in a constantly changing world. In Gadh. II – 66, Swaminarayan Bhagwan gives a practical example and states “if a person has some worldly task to perform, and he wants to accomplish that job extremely well, he should consult some experts. Similarly, such consultation is necessary here as well.” He suggests that to move forward on the spiritual path, one must study the lives of great spiritual beings. Having a present form of the ideal devotee allows for just such a consultation. In Sar. – 11, Maharaj extols the achievements one may make by one’s own endeavors but surely includes the phrase “by the words of the Sadguru” as a qualifier for how those endeavors should be done. Similarly in Gadh. II 51, God states that “only one who follows the commands of the Satpurush is behaving as the atma.” Therefore the agna, wish, and opinion of the pragat form of God, of the gunatit guru are given great emphasis in Swaminarayan bhakti. This is a great boon in a fast and ever-changing world. Years ago there were no open-heart surgeries in super-sterile operation theaters where non-sterile items like the kanthi were banned; there was no international flight that crossed multiple times zones and raised questions about the length of a fast or the performance of morning puja. One becomes confused as to how one might practice devotion in a modern setting or at time when one’s devotional values seem in conflict with a modern situation, seeing how the guru reacts in that same modern world or learning how he wishes for the devotees to act in such situations provides a fresh, relevant, and effective ideal. And, possibly more importantly, provides spiritual confidence and consolation.

In Gadh. I – 54, the satpurush is shown as the nurturer of ekantik dharma (ekantik bhakti). The gunatit guru fosters an environment in which souls are naturally more likely to practice bhakti and separate themselves from worldly distractions and attachments. At times, when souls go astray the gunatit guru is able to intervene, give repentance, and give personalized guidance to move forward on the spiritual path; he can act as a true friend and give even harsh words of advice if need be. Many times, without any words, simply by living out his ideal devotion, he will inspire introspection and correction in a devotee’s devotion.

Earning the Guru’s Grace

A great benefit of having the gunatit guru manifest on earth is that it gives souls the opportunity to serve him and earn his grace and the grace of God – a blessing so powerful that it can take someone destined by karma to suffer the pain of Narak, destroy all of his impure karma and allow him to attain the highest state of enlightenment. Extreme service of the gunatit guru can make a spiritual pauper, a man with no vairagya, become cleansed of his base nature,  ill-desires and worldly attachments – a task that may have taken countless births to complete. Furthermore, truly serving the Sant is the sure way to attain ekantik bhakti (sadhya bhakti) because he is an ekantik bhakta and one can only become ekantik through him.

Makes Souls  Brahmrup

The first part of sadhya bhakti is to become brahmarup. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has explained that a soul can become brahmrup only by attaining a sense of oneness or identity (ekatmapanu) with Aksharbrahma. In Gadh. II – 31, He specifies that one becomes one with Aksharbrahma by constantly contemplating on Aksharbrahma as one’s true form and on Aksharbrahma’s divine characteristics as one’s own characteristics. The presence of the gunatit guru allows for aspirants to progress down this path by having a personable being they may focus their minds on more readily. It is important to remember that the identity trying to be created by this contemplation is not physical but is a spiritual identity of similar characteristics such as being eternal, indivisible, indestructible, compassionate, etc.

An Object of Devotion which Permits the Experience of God’s Bliss

It has already been established that the guru is Aksharbrahma and therefore is a pure vessel of God in whose hand is the hand of God, in whose feet are the feet of God, in whose eyes are the eyes of God. In short, God remains in him unlike He remains in any other being. By His wish, that Sant also receives many of God’s great powers – such as the regulation of the brahmands. The Aksharbrahma Sant’s will carries the power of God’s will. In Gadh. I – 68, God calls the Sant His ninth murti which should be served in the same one that one would serve God. This is not because the gunatit guru is God but because he is a pure vessel in which God resides. Therefore, worship of Aksharbrahma is not worship of him so much as worship of the Supreme Being that fully resides in him. Moreover, in Kar. – 6, God states that, “[He] assumes an avatar for only one reason: Having surrendered Himself to the bhakti of those devotees who have intense love for Him…He then fulfills all of the desires of his devotees.” For this purpose, he takes “whichever form the devotees wish for in order to grant them bliss.” To fulfill this promise and to leave the gateways of liberation open, God stays present in the Satpurush and accepts the love and devotion that devotees offer.

With faith in this principle given by God himself, devotees in BAPS offer devotion to their guru. This devotion includes taking care of his personal health and basic needs, offering him garlands, performing his mansi puja, remembering him throughout the day, singing his praises, and working in accordance to his wishes and commands. Performing such bhakti of the gunatit guru fulfills all four goals of life (dharma, artha, kam, and moksha) and is the equivalent of having attained in life what one wishes for after death.

To fully realize the greatness of the gunatit guru and to see God present in him is such an important principle that Bhagwan Swaminarayan makes two claims in Gadh. II – 21: 1. If a person understands this principle then nothing remains to be understood on the path of liberation and 2. Whether this principle is understood after being told once or a thousand times, whether it is understood today or thousands of years later, “there is no option but to understand it.”

Conclusion

These are the six ways in which the gunatit guru relates to the bhakti of a bhakta. It is important to notice that he is able to fulfill these roles only because he is the manifest form of Aksharbrahma. As such, the place of the gunatit guru in Swaminarayan bhakti is unique and absolutely necessary. One cannot master bhakti without accepting the manifest form of God, i.e. Aksharbrahma – the gunatit guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

God Commits Himself to a Human Form


Powerful, yet short breaths were pumping through her nostrils. Her mouth was gaping slightly, trying to capture any extra air she could. The wind she had been cutting with her speed had given life to her mane. Half the night had passed and she had been galloping at lightning’s pace the whole time. Her every stride sent tremendous amounts of force to every muscle in her body. The drops of perspiration being blown off her coat were leaving a misty jet stream in her wake. At a time when any other horse might have fallen from exhaustion and whined in pain, she ran on. Not even the thought of complaining crossed her mind because for her, this was her destiny. She was carrying the one being she had prayed to serve for births on end. The only thing she wondered was, “What must my rider be thinking? How perplexed must his usually smiling face look tonight?” She had not been raced like this in a long time. He must be in an unusual hurry.

He was the capstone of existence yet here he was, arched over Manki’s back, breathlessly counting every second. To increase his speed he had leaned forward two hours ago and since then had not even thought of leaning back. Sure, his muscles ached; in fact, they screamed for him to let them relax. While he had the power to hear anything, anywhere in the cosmos, tonight he could hear nothing but his white kediyu being whipped by the wind. His lips had never had need to curve into anything other than the most heart-melting smile, but tonight his face was home to a tight-lipped look of urgency. Those eyes that had never mastered squinting or straining were today focused sharp, straight ahead – Jhinabhai was direly in need.

Hundreds saw him that night, dashing 250 km from Panchala to Kheda. He was riding all night to demand garrisons from the British to protect Jhinabhai’s lands. However, as the loose end of his turban streaked past them, only those precious few who truly recognized him thought, “There he goes tonight – Swaminarayan – the master of the universe, but the servant of his devotees.”

Indeed, he was just that. In Akshardham, he was sitting on a divine throne, emanating a peaceful and divine light to infinite galaxies. In all of their heavens, the avatars were worshipping him and waiting eagerly to be graced with his presence. Across the cosmos, devas were waiting to fulfill his every will. Aksharbrahma, the being infinitely more powerful, infinitely greater than any of these others, was his eternal companion and servant. The force of Maya that bound all of creation was simply one of his many incredible strengths. He needed nothing. He wanted nothing. He had no desires of the kind that man is so accustomed to. There was never pain, never stress. There was no worry. Frankly, there were no emotions – other than eternal contentment, peace, and joy. This was why he was the source for every other being’s peace; he was the origin of all happiness. He had heard the prayers of his devotees and he had decided to take birth on this Earth to free them from the pains of Maya and fulfill their every need. From the very pinnacle of existence he had taken on the form, the hardship, the limitation, the pain, the strain of one of the most mundane existences. He did this not because he was compelled. This was his independent choice. While being the master of the universe, he had chosen to enslave himself to the needs and spiritual desires of his devotees.

And he played his part well…

Detachment, Love, and Family


Think about this story. It features a man who is proclaimed to be one of the ideal devotees of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. His name is Gordhanbhai; the townspeople called him Gordhan Gando (Crazy Gordhan). One morning Mrs. Gordhanbhai asked her husband to take the clothes to the river where the dhobi (professional clothes washer) would clean them for the rich landlady. Gordhanbhai took what he thought was the stack of clothes with one hand and flung them over his shoulder. He walked out the door nonchalantly not even noticing that the “clothes” he was carrying were crying and screaming. As he passed his neighbors and townspeople they began to berate with calls of “Oy Gordhon Ganda!!! Stop!! Can’t you hear your child crying on your back!” Gordhanbhai stopped and looked at his right hand. It was only then that he noticed that in his hands were the feet of his little child – not the legs of his lengho. Gordhon apologized to his boy and took back home to the safety of his mother (not as crazy as him in the town’s opinion).

Now hear stories like this all the time and you’d get to thinking that being God’s devotees pretty removes any possibility of healthy relationships in this world. How can you both love your family and be detached from them? How can you be firm in samkhya and yet still have true love for your spouse, children, siblings, or parents? Really is there a balance? Doesn’t seem like it at first glance.

The problems seems to be our misunderstanding of what samkhya vichar, atma vichar, and vairagya are. In particular, samkhya vichar seems problematic. If I’m supposed to constantly remember that the people I love are perishable, not my eternal relatives/lovers, and have the same relationship in eternity as the neighbor’s dog, how can I possibly achieve that fantastically fulfilling love that I crave? So let’s focus on samkhya.

What is samkhya vichar? It is the repeated thought of the fact that all things that are made from Maya (our bodies and any other objects we can think of) will one day perish and return to their composite elements. This does not mean that we should stop all relationship with our bodies or our relatives or other objects – just that we should realize that that love and that relationship is in a context. The other important thing we forget is that samkhya is not an ends of its self. It is a means for our greater end – to become brahmrup and offer loving and humble devotion to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. That is why Gunatitanand Swami calls samkhya, our eyes. They are tools of knowledge that help us achieve what we really wish to achieve – yoga/attachment with God. It is a tool to help the attachments that arise from our false sense of self (aham) and possession (mamatva).

So let’s not get carried away with extreme notions of samkhya and just think of it as a tool for dissolving I-ness and my-ness. Applied to the family what might this mean? I have four thoughts.

  1. My relatives, my wife, my children are not possessions. Not tools that I control. I must look beyond their bodies and realize that they are individual souls.
  2. God lives in each soul. They have a constant relationship with him. As such, not only are they not mine, they are God’s. So, I should love them because they are related to God – not because of their love for me.
  3. In numerous Vachnamruts, Maharaj has give each follower the responsibility of making sure to act in a way that would please God and to help others do the same. We, the souls of the family have been entrusted to each other by God. I should love my family in a way that let’s progress in Satsang.
  4. Samkhya‘s stress on the perishability of our relations and bodies is to help us remember that God and Satpurush’s relationship with us is eternal and not temporary. This knowledge helps us prioritize. Relationships are in the end just levels of priority. We love our friends in much the same way as we love our spouses. But our spouses rank higher because we give them priority. Does that mean we don’t love our friends truly? No, it means that we believe blood is thicker than water. Hopefully, the wife is guaranteed to stay our whole life; friends are here today and maybe less so tomorrow. Similiarly, we love our family truly. It’s just that atma is thicker than blood and so our relationship with God and the Satpurush takes priority.

If you look at samkhya this way, it is not an opposing force to our familial love and harmony but in fact, it may help. Not believing your children and spouse to be your possession might let you stop trying to control them and begin to respect them as individuals. Thinking of them as God’s souls entrusted to you may let you cherish them more as gifts from God while also helping to remember that is God who gave them to you; he is the real cause of your happiness. Like all things in satsang, the actions don’t change, the thoughts and motives must change. That is what detachment’s relationship is to love and family. It is not an opposing force, it is a helping force that gives us clarity of purpose and motivates us to love each other in a genuine and healthy way.

I’ll try to develop this more later.

To Err is Human


Recently it has struck me that this quote, rather what it stands for, has become really pervasive and misused. By accepting this quotation, we’ve made imperfection part of the definition of being human. That’s sounds good when we want to not be hard on ourselves or be more forgiving, but there are negative results as well. If you believe that perfection is unachievable then you stop striving for it; you become complacent about your flaws and stop working to overcome them. So now when sadhus or preachers, parents or teachers tell you to work harder, to make improvements in your habits or lifestyle, you simply ignore them because they’re asking you to move towards a goal that is unattainable. Maybe worse is the fact that due to our belief that being human necessitates imperfection we cannot resist but strive to find the flaws in great people – to lower them from their heights so that we no longer have to keep them as role models. Put those two together and you get a society that devalues positive role models and is content in being mediocre-at-best.

This is a really dangerous situation for a spiritual aspirant and especially a Swaminarayan devotee. As Swaminarayan, God has told us that we are capable of perfection, indeed, that we must become perfect – for what is brahmrup stithi other than perfection? If we fall into the trap of thinking that it’s okay, normal, and part of the definition of human existence to make mistakes and keep imperfections we doing more than being soft on ourselves; we are saying that the mission God gave us, the ultimate principle (siddhant) of becoming Aksharrup and offering Purushottam true devotion is just a big gimic; it’s fake; it’s impossible; God is wrong; our Guru is wrong.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider “to err is human”…

Fearless – Part II


Part II

             It is when we look deeper that we realize that there are more basic fears, almost constant fears that are more painful and more severe than even superstitions. Those fears are the fear of being alone, unloved, or unaccepted – or even worse the fears of being unlovable or unacceptable. From when we’re still little children, we’re begin to try to fulfill society’s definitions – at that age it’s what it means to be a “big boy” or “big girl”. From that age we start measuring ourselves against visions of what we should be and we take our shortcomings hard.

 We call these fears insecurity and most everyone in the world suffers from them. Truly accepting God and Satpurush removes these fears and thus makes us fearless. The paramhansas’ celebration of fearlessness also includes this definition.

 Anathapananu menu utaryu, sada thaya sanath…

The spurs about my being husbandless have fallen away; I am eternally married to my Lord.

 When speaking of attainment, the paramhansas often use the analogy of woman who has finally found a great husband to be her lord. According to the beliefs of that time when a woman married a man, she gained protection, a person who could stand up for her honor and interests. This sense of protection is the cause of the fearlessness we addressed in the first part of this discussion. But a woman gains more than protection in a marriage; she also gains a person who accepts her and loves her as she is, someone who stands by her and supports her progress.

It is when we apply this part of the analogy to our discussion of fearlessness that we attain a deeper understanding of how Maharaj and Swami make us fearless. In attaining Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Pramukh Swami Maharaj we gain someone who accepts us with our flaws and supports and encourages us as we strive to improve. No matter how many mistakes we’ve made, no matter how much we have sinned, he is willing to accept us as his and forgive us. Gunatitanand Swami says, “Bhagwan to jiva gunna samu jotaj nathi, ne jo koi jiv hath jodi ne kahe ke ‘hu gunnegar chhu’ to Bhagwan tena guna maaf kare chhe.” ‘God does not look at the faults of jivas and if a jiva fold his hands and says “I am a sinner”, God forgives him.’ But why such compassion? Because as Swami says in his talks, “We think that we love God, but God and his Sant loves us more.”

All of us experience this on some level. We know our own flaws and Pramukh Swami Maharaj knows them as well. He knows our conscious and unconscious thoughts yet never has he made us feel that he knows. He has never judged us or refused us. We’ve written him thousands of letters confessing our flaws and yet he has written with patience every time and greeted us with a smile at each meeting. When we worry what the world will say about our body, our clothes, our wealth; Swamishri looks past all of that and see us as souls filled with potential divinity. When we don’t believe in ourselves, he does. We never feel unloved or unaccepted in front of him; we never feel unlovable or acceptable in front of him. It is this aspect of fearlessness that makes the paramhansas’ celebration completely relevant even today.

Fearless – Part I


Nirbheni nobat vagiyo re, Madiya mohnarai…

–          Sadguru Nishkulanand Swami

 All across the writings of the paramhansas one finds a celebration of being made fearless by the attainment of God. And I’ve often sung these lines or read these words and pretended to know what they meant but the truth is I have no experience of fears that God’s attainment has removed. What’s more, I don’t think most people living in modern, educated societies understand it either.

The paramhansas are celebrating, among other things, the fact that attaining the Supreme Being removes all fears of other forces and lesser beings. A person in the court of the greatest King would never fear the vassals and lesser lords of the kingdom. Similarly, the paramhansas joyously sing a release from superstition and the fear of devas and shaktis interfering in daily lives. This is a concept that seems so weird and foreign. Most of us no longer fear that little beings or forces are out to make us sick or poor. For most us it is difficult to understand how debilitating and defeating such a fear can be.

Personally, I didn’t quite understand it until I went traveling in the adivasi villages of South Gujarat. One night, after having been traveling for a few days, I was able to get some time to just sit and chat with the locals. We sat for a few hours and I got to learn things about their marriage customs, their collective history, their festivals, etc. It was one of the best nights I had the whole month I was there. One of the interesting details that revealed itself during the marriage conversation was that it was hard to find people willing to serve food during weddings. I was a bit surprised, especially since they had just told me that whole villages emptied out to attend. When I asked why, a man told me, “Everyone is afraid. ‘What if I give a lady a little less rice than she wants; she’ll curse me.’ And if by mistake a person serving falls ill a few days later, they’ll automatically assume it was because of a curse.” I was shocked! Really?! They were afraid that giving someone a little bit less than they wanted would mean they’d be cursed?! No way! But, that’s the truth. The reason that such a thing is so debilitating is that if you think you’re sick or poor because of a curse or because some Shakti is against you, it’ll be hard to pick yourself up and move on. You feel helpless. How can you fight against a horrible curse or a goddess? Some people try to move on but they do so blindly and end up making matters worse. A lady’s daughter ran away with a boy she fell in love with. The girl had not been in touch for days and mother was very worried. She began to feel like the house she lived in was possessed. She believed spirits had, among other things, misguided her daughter to run away. She insisted her husband perform mystical rites to get rid of the spirits and to bring their daughter home. In just the five days that the daughter had been away when I met this family, they had spent more than 50,000 rupees to have sorcerers perform special ceremonies.

This is the stuff that the paramhansas were talking about. And the thing is you see their words proved true in those same regions. You meet Swaminarayan satsangis who have attained Bhagwan Swaminarayan and realized him to be supreme and you see that they have no fear. They are not paralyzed by constantly wondering if their actions will bring on curses. When they are ill, when they face economic obstacles, when their grades are not great, they don’t fear other people’s meddling because they know their Lord is watching after them and that no lesser vassal is going to able to touch them. They get medicine, find solutions, and work harder. They refuse to remain down; they tie their laces, pick up their heads and move on. They are completely unburdened; they feel free and emancipated. This is what the paramhansas are celebrating in their writings.

But if that were all, those lines would have no meaning for us today. And that’s why we must look deeper…

(continued in next edition)