'We need new types of spiritual disciplines'
By Viren Mayani
?Dada? is a title that has many connotations. Dada in Sindhi and Marathi means elder brother or a person who has earned respect; in Hindi and Gujarati it means grandfather, and in colloquial usage it also refers to someone who has acquired respect through intimidation of some and protection of the meek? no matter how you look at it, the term suggests a person who is elevated and empowered ?and in the current context it also encompasses the adjective ?enlightened?.
Dada J. P. Vaswani is popularly revered as Dada Shyam. I was blessed to have been invited to share his presence during his recent visit to Atlanta. Following are excerpts from Dada?s discourse with Khabar.
I am intrigued by your stress on ?satsang? (group discourse) and ?simran? (meditation). What are their true relevance and importance?
Dada Shyam: The literal meaning of satsang is fellowship with truth. We spend our entire day in chasing illusions: power, position, pleasure, possessions, people. We are always surrounded by all these different noises. We need to withdraw from this and enjoy and test the pleasure of silence. There is a great doctor by the name of Deborah Bright who is an authority on stress. She claims that two sessions of PQT (Personal Quiet Time), twenty minutes twice a day will relieve one entirely of tension and stress. Satsang is only an invitation to people to come together and enjoy the happiness of silence.
Silence is like a river, it keeps on flowing. Several years ago, a great Christian mystic, Mr. Thomas Martin, wrote a wonderful book with a very significant title ? ?The Waters of Silence?. We need to take dips into these waters, again and again. Just as there are particles of dirt that cling to our clothes and need to be washed away with soap and water, there are particles of noise that cling to our mind, heart and soul ? we must wash them in the waters of silence. They must be cleansed. . Satsang provides that very important need in the life of the human.
A question about family values. People often lament that it is increasingly difficult to maintain both, our ethnicity and the expressive cultural freedom our children enjoy here. How should parents ensure the best of both?
Dada Shyam: What seems lacking to me most of all, is the spirit of reverence. Without this spirit, all efforts are useless. If only we can inculcate this one ideal of reverence for all in the hearts and minds of our children! The great German poet Goethe, one of the greatest poets of the 19th century, says of reverence: reverence for what is above us, reverence for what is around us and reverence for what is beneath us. ?Above us? stands for God and the great cosmos, ?around us? for our fellow human beings and ?beneath us? for all the broken ones, birds, animals, other forms of life. If only we can have one spirit of reverence, I think our children will not be without roots as they are today. They have no reverence for their parents, their teachers; this spirit is lacking in this otherwise great culture.
Can you suggest some simple steps to start such processes?
Dada Shyam: You should start when the child is very small. At a later stage it is more difficult to change and the opportunity is lost. You begin by teaching them reverence for mother earth, reverence for father sky, for sister moon, and brother sun. Reverence for everything around us. Be like the tree ? it is bound to earth, yet it seeks the sky. But it has never asked the question why?
I remember all too well, once when I was going for a walk with my beloved Master, I kicked a stone from the path to preempt the possibility of it hurting the Master or of his tripping over it. His hand immediately reached for his heart. I sensed that I must have done something wrong and asked him if that was so. He replied in Sindhi: ?Je pothiye mein Parmeshwar tah pathar mein kauna vyo?? (If there is God in the scripture then who is there in stone?) The stone is also God we must not kick it. Pick it up if you will and move it aside if you must, but do it with reverence.
Today however, there is a ?don?t care? attitude. That is why our homes are breaking, families are being shattered. Once the children enter their teens, they do not care for the parents. But India?s culture is deeply rooted in reverence. If only we could bring reverence here it would be wonderful for our children. It is out of reverence that the spirit of service comes. If I have reverence for a poor man, or an animal, than I will be inclined to do service for them ? to ease their suffering.
Today most people are faced with a ?no time? syndrome. We have no time for satsang, for simran, for our children, for our families, we have no time for PQT ? we just do not have time hence we are in the ?quick fix? mode all the time. We let something happen and then we want a quick fix to it, in the shortest possible time with shortest possible energy devoted to it. How does one inject spirituality to address this?
Dada Shyam: We need a new type of spirituality ? an instant one. People do not want unending aartis and discourses, they want instant spirituality. Therefore we need new types of spiritual disciplines.
One that I recommend most is this: when you get up in the morning and open your eyes, repeat to yourself a small text of any scripture that you like. All scriptures come from the same fountain of inspiration, the same sources. Recite whatever motivates you. It could be the utterances of a sadhu, fakir or dervish ? it could be anything motivational. Just begin the day with it. Repeat it ten times and then get out of bed. Then anytime during the day remind yourself of any one line of what you have read. If you do not recall any, recite this: ?Din-a-bandhu, Din-a-nath, meri dori, tere haath?. It takes three seconds to say that. The first few times it may seem repetitious, but over time you will see that it will come from your heart. This is a simple step to instant spirituality. It is recommended that you do this as soon as you get up in the morning and just before you drop off to sleep at night, because that is the time your subconscious is active and takes orders from you. Once this becomes a part of your subconscious, then you will not have to do things for spiritual quick fixes ? things will just happen automatically. There could be several other things like this that are practical and achievable.
How can spirituality be awakened?
Spiritual awareness can be awakened very simply ? Lord Krishna says in the Bhagwad Gita speaking to a devoted disciple Shulskapath: whatever you eat, whatever you give in charity, whatever austerity you practice, whatever you do ? do it in the name of God. If we are washing dishes at home or writing letters to someone, whatever it is we are doing, do it in His name. When we work for wages there is always a struggle ? it becomes boring. But when you work for the love of God and for the sake of humanity, then you are not working for wages at all. Mind you, such work also brings wages ? they are the two sides of the same coin. When you work for wages they will fall into your lap, but when you work for the love of God, you get wages too, but they come as a surprise ? unaccounted, unconditional and unlimited. Surprises come with joy.
There are many ways of working just as there are many ways of driving a car. Some are right and some are wrong, but there is only one way which is the best and I must do it the best way and offer it to the Lord. Life will come to blossom, a rose without thorns.
What is your message about vegetarianism and meat eating?
Dada Shyam: I repeat we must have reverence for all lives. Life is a gift of God, and only he can take it away. I cannot take away what I cannot give. Since I cannot give life to a dead creature, I do not have the right to take its life. Many are not aware of the cruelty that animals face. Day after day in the slaughterhouses, animal lives are plundered. An average human consumes a thousand creatures, big and small in one lifetime. Over a thousand creatures, every one of whom loves life, as much as those who eat them. I believe the time has come for us to recognize once and for all the moral individuality of humans and non-humans. I often say: just as blacks do not exist as resources for whites, women do not exist as resources for men, even animals do not exist as resources for humans.
The time has come for us to get together and formulate a charter for animal rights and the duties of humans towards animals. All animals have certain fundamental rights, the first and foremost being the right to live. And as I say, if we cannot give life to a dead creature, we have no right to kill a living one. Men won their rights in the eighteenth century ? till then kings could do whatever they liked. It was the French National Assembly that, towards the close of the century, passed the bill of human rights! The nineteenth century gave rights to slaves ? otherwise slaves were treated as pieces of furniture. You could break them, tear them or even kill them ? they had virtually no rights at all. This ended thanks to that great saint who later became the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The twentieth century has given rights to women. The twenty-first century I believe will give rights to animals. That will be a great moment in history.
I have been requested to ask you a money-related question as well. I have heard that you are against ?satta? or gambling on the stock market. In the current economic crisis, many individuals have lost their lifetime earnings from their 401K plans ? what can these people do? How should they plan for their old age? Do you have any advice?
Dada Shyam: I am not against anything. Certain people may have to go through these experiences to learn their own lessons. Take care of your children so much so that the children take care of you when you grow old. That is how societies were built. Give time to your children, give all to your children to make them understand that we are a part of you. Do not send them away to faraway colleges and universities ? it is breaking families up ? how long can such fragmented societies last? If they must go, then you relocate as well.
It is not just telling them about taking care, but showing how you take care of your old people so that they learn to take care of you likewise. Once there was a family where the man was throwing out his own father ? telling him that he was now old and useless and that he would be left on the street. ?I will give you a pillow, a bed sheet and a blanket so that you can look after yourself,? he said. The man?s son said, ?I too will go with you to buy these for grandfather.? In the store the young son suggested not to give away the entire pillow, sheet and blanket to grandpa ?Why?? asked dad. The boy replied, ?Well I will need the other half when you grow older.? That was enough to change everything! The man realized his mistake and said to his father, we will take you home and worship you for the rest of your life for giving us your best.
You may have given your best to your children, but you have not given yourselves to your children. Whatever it is that you are giving, give a bit of yourself and notice the change.
How can spirituality address deeply institutionalized ills such as corruption?
Dada Shyam: I believe that today?s corruption is only a phase. India was enslaved for 12 centuries and achieved freedom only 55 years ago. This is also something that our country will have to pass through. But corruption will exhaust itself; it does not have strength of its own. The soul of our country is great and it will assert itself. Something will happen and it will give rise to that change ? glorification for all will be achieved..
Today the world faces the threat of nuclear and chemical weapon, and of mass genocide?everywhere you look. Why is this so?why do we have to suffer such humiliation of mankind before its glorification?
Dada Shyam: I think that man?s spirit does not yet favor that peaceful era in which human torture will end. The wounded soul of humanity will continue to pass from generation to generation till the time that the spirit shifts in favor of peace. After which it will be a wonderful thing for the world. Until then each one of us has to keep the little lights burning, do as much as we can for peace. I believe that one of the greatest mistakes men make is in thinking that if they contribute only very little to humanity then they have not contributed at all. Yet, if we continue to keep the small candles within us burning, then at the time that the spirit becomes favorable, all our flames will be united to match the splendor of the new morning sun. It is no use, as the Chinese say, cursing the darkness.
We have lived through the loss of lives on 9/11 and the horrors of communal violence and terrorism in Gujarat. What causes humans to go on such rampages? How do we approach such extreme conflicts to curb such brutality, such hostility? How does one truly console the wounded for the loss of their loved ones?
Dada Shyam: Violence seems to be increasing. It is as though an old age is passing away and a new age is knocking at the door. All old accounts that remain open need to be settled and as they are being settled, the balance sheet will even out to close the books and start afresh. Thoughts are a material force and prayer is a great power. Every thought charts a course ? if we send out one great thought a day and if each one of us offers a prayer everyday for peace to prevail on earth it would be tremendous. When events of the magnitude you are referring to occur, they impair our thoughts, change them, and we stray off course. Therefore we must recondition our thoughts and change course to come back on track. It can be done. We have done it so many times in our lives.
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