“Somewhere, you guys are super fortunate, distinct, special, unique, and crazy, that you are here today. Somewhere, it’s a defining moment because this 30th November celebration is the last celebration in terms of an event.”
~ Om Swami
On November 27, Sadhvi Vrinda Om, one of Swamiji’s foremost disciples, released Guru Stuti, a heart-wrenchingly beautiful set of poems on divine love and surrender. Holding the black-and-golden book with a magnificent painting of Himself on the front cover, Swamiji spoke about how the book had been a complete surprise for Him. He’d been stunned when He received it.
The book was also significant, He said, for another reason. Why? One suspenseful beat later:
“I’ll tell you on November 30,” He said smilingly.
The ashram, naturally, was abuzz. What was this reason? What change was Swamiji going to bring about now?
If there’s one thing that devotees are now familiar with, it’s that Swamiji operates in unexpected and life-altering ways.
And so it was that the dawn of November 30 brought with it – a chilly breeze, the warmth of the winter sun and fluffy white clouds that floated playfully across blue skies. Nature Herself seemed to be rejoicing as the ashram’s verdant gardens bloomed with many-hued flowers.
Here and there, happy snatches of laughter rang out from people who had come from far and wide to celebrate this joyous day. Music strummed through the sparkling fresh air, as a couple of devotees practised their performance for the evening. The rangoli (an Indian art form where colorful patterns are made on the floor with rice flour, flowers or colorful powders) team worked painstakingly through the afternoon, decorating the entrance to the temple with beautiful drawings of Lord Krishna on His flute.
By 6:00 PM, the hall was packed to the rafters, the mood celebratory and anticipatory. At exactly 6:30 PM, Swamiji made His graceful way in, smiling in His trademark gentle manner. And here was the first surprise of the evening – He was dressed not in black, as He usually was on His birthday, but in his customary ochre robe.
It was a significant gesture, as the devotees soon found out.
A cheerful rendition of Happy Birthday followed by three rousing bhajans later, the musical performances wound to a close. All eyes turned to Swamiji. One could hear a pin drop in the breathless silence. What would His announcement be?
And the announcement, when it came, was both heartbreaking and uplifting. Because, in one simple gesture, Swamiji turned the attention from Himself to the One who stood behind Him in gleaming black stone – Sri Hari.
Here, in Swamiji’s own words, are snippets from one of the most memorable nights the ashram has ever experienced, the last of its kind:
“Rather than just setting aside one day of a year to celebrate my birthday, I’d like to do it every day. Life should be a celebration and not individual days, so to speak.”
“I am not a fan of this extravagance (with reference to celebrating His birthday with cakes and flower petals strewn across His path). It doesn’t help anybody in any way, shape or form.”
“Please don’t bring me any gifts. I am just happy to see you. Everything else just feels like a burden. Nothing is needed. Please, let’s keep this ashram very pure. Nobody should ever have to think, what do I take inside that meeting room. That is how you can help me.”
“Celebrating my birthday is not something I ever wanted to do because all these celebrations on a specific day are not really designed for sadhus and saints. When you have taken sanyasa, then where is the birthday?”
“When I say I love you, I actually mean it. When I imply it with my gestures or smiles and glances, I mean it.
When I meet you people… most are going through a lot. And these are grave issues. How then, can I justify celebrating my birthday? I cannot hold meetings with people one day and the next day, go about celebrating my birthday as though nothing has happened in their lives.”
“Instead, let’s celebrate you. Make every day a celebration by living a compassionate and kind life. Center all your devotion towards doing the right thing in life and praying to Sri Hari. That will take you further faster than anything else.”
“If you help me stay true to my purpose, I can help you much more. And how can you help me? You can help me by just being satvik (moral). By just understanding that I have a reason (for not celebrating my birthday anymore) and by just doing the right thing in your life. That way, I can help you better. That way, I can go really deep into your consciousness and trigger a whole avalanche of transformation. So help me help you.”
“I just want that you walk the path of truth with me. And I am not always walking beside you. Sometimes, I am in front of you. When I feel that something is going to attack you from the front, Om Swami will step in front. Sometimes, I am behind you when I feel something from behind is going to attack you. But from the sides, you have to protect yourselves!”
“To those who ask me for a meeting, tell me, how does giving you a meeting help the world in any way? If you want my time, you have to earn it. When you ask for a meeting, the first thought that comes to me is – what are you doing to make the world a better place? By meeting you, will society benefit? Will the country move forward? Are you doing something special? Because if not, I can do what is needed for you even without meeting you in person.”
“Being engrossed in your own world is not the way to grow or evolve. If one locks themselves in just one room all the time, metaphorically speaking, your small problems will appear huge to you. One way to really dwarf every major problem in your life is to step out and take on a much bigger one.”
“To the ashram residents and my other disciples, I say, if you really want to show your devotion, your love, your discipleship, then get out of this place and do some work. Go out and uphold dharma; go out and do some good for the world. I would rather you help somebody do sadhana, or do something better with their lives or help somebody who is at crossroads.”
“This (focusing just on themselves) is not the way for people who have the potential to lead their lives. Do something amazing with your lives and that is what will move me more. It may be creating employment or spreading dharma or doing something you are good at and helping somebody in the process. That will really take you forward.”
Home truth after home truth – on an evening that nobody would soon forget, Swamiji delivered these hard-hitting statements in His usual gentle and implacably firm manner, causing ripples of discomfort, forcing devotees to examine and question their lives.
In the end, though, He lifted everyone’s spirits, bringing rapture to the temple hall, by sitting down at His keyboard after a whole year and playing two soul-stirring bhajans.
In a sweet turn of events, the paradigm-shifting evening concluded with some unexpected musical performances. A longtime devotee took to the keyboard, playing a moving rendition of a popular film song. A spellbound audience then listened to the impassioned Sufi songs of a trio of devotees, which spoke about love, surrender, and devotion – leading to an encore. Swamiji, too was visibly moved.
Ending on a profound note, Swamiji expounded, “You can play the sport of life like golf or you can play it like tennis. If you are playing it as a golfer, then your only competition is with yourself. Your measure of progress is not how you are doing in comparison to others but how you are doing in comparison to your past. When we treat this life like tennis, then somehow, we always have to respond to the opponent.”
“In golf, it is entirely on us. Nobody is interfering with what we are doing. We just have to play our game well. It doesn’t matter who we are surrounded by, for everybody’s life contains its own kind of beauty.”
“There are only two things a man ought to fear – Lies and God.”
And with this last remark, He stood up, robe swishing gracefully behind Him, and walked out of the temple, acknowledging every declaration of love and reverence that came His way.
The evening, stunning in its revelations, is but a marker of a new era.
“I have put up with it for 11 years, but my vanvasa ends now.”
While there are no answers yet, one thing is certain. In the game of life, we may choose to play either tennis or golf. But in the end, knowing that Swamiji walks the path before us and behind us, holding our hands every step of the way, there can be only one conclusion:
No matter the game, the devotee has already won.