"It was the ideal placed before me," says Dada Vaswani, spiritual head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission . Dressed in white, a shawl draped around his left shoulder, his gray white hair combed firmly to a side, Dada Vaswani, who turns 87 in August, greeted New York-based principal correspondent Monika Joshi with a red rose and a ready laugh.
Spirituality and service are the objectives of his mission that has centers in India, North and South America, Europe, Africa, and West Asia. It runs hospitals and schools for character building in youth. Dada Vaswani was on the last leg of his US visit, presiding over a three-day Sadhna camp at the Hamilton hotel in New Jersey when he was interviewed.
What makes you smile always?
The secret is that I am never alone. There is an invisible presence with me. When you know you are not alone, whatever be the conditions around you, whatever be the circumstances you are placed in, you smile.
What is your message?
I have no message. I am a simple man. I am a devotee, a disciple of our master. But if there is one word that I would wish to pass on to everyone, it is, spread the light of love. It is love, which the sad world needs. The world does not need your assistance, philosophies and other things. The world needs love.
What is your advice to young people?
My advice to young people is to be simple, be strong. Spend your strength in the service of the surrounding world. People are becoming more and more artificial. What we need is simplicity.
When newly married couples come to me to the sacred shrine in Pune, I tell them to try your very best to avoid the next quarrel. I don't tell them to avoid the first quarrel as they have quarreled already.
I tell them, you must not lose your temper at the same time. Only one should have the privilege of losing his/her temper. The other person's turn will come.
What problems do people in the U.S. face?
People have the same problems wherever I go. God has taken me to five continents. The problem is not outside of you, you are your problem.
The Lord says in the Bhagavad Gita, man is his own friend, man is his own foe. No one outside can do you harm. It depends on your attitude. If your attitude is correct, nobody can upset you. If your attitude is incorrect, in every step and every round of life, you will face problems. Your attitude should be constructive and friendly.
What made you join the Mission?
I was in the second year of college when I felt a pull from my master, Sadhu Vaswani. My thinking pattern changed. I matriculated at 13. They said you will graduate at 17 and will have four years to prepare for the Indian Civil Services examination. I aimed to do that, but felt it was not for me. I would go and surrender to my master.
I came to my master. He said I must finish my education. I did my master's at 19 and sought shelter at the lotus feet of my master.
Was it a tough life?
Very easy, very simple [he laughs]. I used to talk to friends and laugh with them. They used to ask me, why do you laugh? I told them my life is a life of love and laughter.
Where does the humility come from?
My master was humble. He was a learned man, a great writer, philosopher, educationist, the founder of the Mira movement in education [We have Mira schools and colleges in India.] He presided over a big meeting in Mumbai and held a press conference. They asked him, who are you? Are you a poet? Are you an educationist? Are you an author? Are you a saint? He said I am a zero. He paused for a while and added, I'm not the English zero as the English zero occupies space. I am the Sindhi nukta. In Sindhi, zero is written like a point. It was the ideal placed before me.
What are your views on religion?
I don't believe so much in religion as I do in spirituality. Religion divides, creates discord, but spirituality unites. Each one of us is spirit. On the spiritual plane, unity is not to be worked out. It is there. On the plane of religion, we have to work for unity.
In India, we have seen the fundamental face of Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] in recent days.
Religion divides. What we want is a force that brings people together. The task that lies ahead of us is that of building a brave new world, a world without war, a world without want, a world in which every man, whatever his religion be, his caste, his creed, can hold his head high. We must unite and work for it.
What draws Americans to spirituality in India?
India has no church. In the Hindu faith, we are not bound by creed or dogma. You will be surprised that atheism is part of Hindu religion. This freedom will draw people in the coming days.
How is atheism a part of Hinduism?
Atheism was a way to god as the teaching that comes down to us is all we have to do is think of god. How we think is not relevant. We must remember god. You can remember god by loving him, you can remember god by hating him. If you hate god, you become an atheist. If you love god, you become a devotee. Both are ways to god. There are people who, by hating god, have attained god.
Did you switch to soy milk because of cruelty to cows?
My master taught us creation is one family as is humanity. Every man is my brother, every woman my sister. It is man's responsibility to give the love of his heart to younger brothers and sisters and save them from the butcher's cruel knife.
The very first right of every animal is the right to live. As you cannot give life to a dead creature, you do not have the right to take life away from a living one.
The 18th century gave rights to man. In 1786, the French national assembly passed a bill of human rights. The 19th century gave rights to slaves, thanks to Abraham Lincoln, who did not mind facing a civil war. He said slavery is a sin against humanity. The 20th century gave rights to women. The 21st century will give rights to animals.
How do you pass on the message to people in America where there are so many meat eaters?
People are turning toward vegetarianism not on humanitarian grounds but on health grounds. The time and spirit are in favor of vegetarianism.
You are 87.
I will be 87 in August. That is what they tell me. I do not believe it. I tell them I am 8 plus 7.
How do you get the energy to travel and lecture around the world?
The energy is not mine. It is god's. The god who created me, the god who created you. He keeps recreating us every day. What we need to do is keep our mind open to that energy.
What are the Mission's activities in India?
Our emphasis is on the spiritual aspect. Satsang ("company of the true," consisting of meditation, chanting, and discussion) is the focal point of our work. We have three satsangs every day, 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and a bigger one, where hundreds of people, come in the evening. We have meditation centers.
We have educational institutions. Sadhu Vaswani believed a new India will not be built in assemblies and parliaments but in schools and homes. We call our schools Mira schools. The schools we open are known as Sadhu Vaswani schools. When Sadhu Vaswani was alive--he is still alive, but when he was in physically alive--he did not permit any institution to be named after him. Now we have that freedom.
Students are taught subjects that are taught in other schools and colleges but the emphasis is on character building and inculcating the spirit of sympathy and service.
Before they begin the day's work, students go to a place where blind people or lepers wait for them. They give them breakfast, they give them a two rupee note so that they can have a cup of tea.
We have medical institutions--the Budhrani General Hospital, the M. N. Budhrani Cancer Institute, K. K. Eye Institute--serving the poor.
The K. K. Eye Institute was opened last year to eradicate blindness among villagers. Over 6,000 operations were done.
Service departments, groups go to homes for the handicapped and schools for the blind. There are many aids to people who are on our lists. Remittances are sent every month.
Why is satsang important?
Man is a composite creature. He is made up of the body, mind, and soul. The body needs exercise and food, the mind needs education. The body will drop, the mind will go one day, but the soul will remain. Satsang is meant for the soul. Our difficulty is we are beginning with the body, whereas the root is in the soul.
What have been life-changing experiences for you?
By the grace of the guru and god, everyday I feel my life is changing for the better. The path to perfection is long. Every day, we have to become better. I should be better today than I was yesterday, I should be better tomorrow than I am today.
What are your interests?
I am in love. My life is a love story. I am in love with my guru, with my god. That is my interest.