Chance Encounter With 96-Year-Old Dada Vaswani

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Nov 21, 2014
51326 reads  
I had met him once before. Also by chance.

Last November, I was sick and my body was weak, but Sheetal felt deeply called to have me accept Dada Vaswani's invitation to attend a public program. It meant that I would have to cancel my flight and instead, spend the entire night sleeping sideways on a moving bus. Sheetal, however, is a long-time partner in service, so I went with his intuition.

Our gang of 6 was cordially seated in the front row, with more than a thousand folks behind us. The plan was to attend the gathering, give a short talk, and take the bus by night. Right before the event starts, Dada Vaswani walks in and a devotional fervor grips the room. Someone informs him of the day’s program, and points to me as a guest. He immediately motions organizers to bring another chair and have me sit next to him(!); as I head towards him, he gets up from his chair (which is quite an ordeal since it requires the support of multiple people to lift him up) and gently whispers in my ear, "I’m so grateful to have met you." I was immediately taken by his humility. When he spoke on stage, he whole-heartedly endorsed the work of ServiceSpace: "I just met Mr. Nipun Mehta a couple minutes ago, and their work is what the world needs today. May it continue to grow further and further." In leadership positions, people are told to do extensive background checks before they provide blanket public endorsements. Dada breaks that code in entirety. :) As all of us departed that night, he blessed us again like a loving grandfather.

That short interaction remained one of the highlights of my trip. It was hard to exactly say why, but he touched me deeply.

At the time, I didn't know his story. He graduated from college at 17, and his masters thesis in Physics was reviewed by a Nobel Laureate. By 19, however, he had met his spiritual teacher and became a monk. Until the age of 48, he was in training under his teacher; and in the subsequent 48 years of his life, he has tirelessly promoted oneness, non-violence and compassion. Sadhu Vaswani Mission runs schools and social welfare programs, and Dada is particularly known for his insightful talks and for authoring more than a hundred books. His simple messages reach multitudes. And he emphasizes that, "It is essential to develop intellect and to acquire manual skills, but the most important is the training of the heart. Love and service are what the world needs most now." For his teacher's birthday, he asks the community to go meatless for the day: "The 18th century gave rights to man. The 19th century gave rights to slaves. The 20th century gave rights to women. The 21st century will give rights to animals." Having dialogued with most major religious leaders around the world, and without personally being attached to a particular doctrine, he is an ardent champion of interfaith harmony: "Each one of us is spirit. On the spiritual plane, unity is not to be worked out. It is already there. On the plane of religion, we still have to work it out."

This month, I was in India again. In Pune again. Sheetal felt like visiting again. Except this time, there was no public program, no talk, no appointment with Dada. In fact, there was a chance that Dada might not even be in town. We were just going to stop by and join a group chant, en route to another nearby meeting.

It turned out Dada had fallen sick the day before, had to cancel his travel plans and hence happened to be local. Out of gratitude for many devotees who had convened to chant for his health, Dada came out on a wheelchair to be with them for a couple of minutes.

Being 96 years old, he has limited capacity to interact, and we ended up being the only visitors allowed to meet him privately that day.

No one knew how long our audience would be -- anywhere from a moment to a few minutes was our guess. We were guided to a private room. It was his private room, but with utterly simple plastic furniture and no fanfare whatsoever.

What ensued was a profound dialogue that spanned the next forty-five minutes! Profound not solely because of content, but because of presence. Initially, we just sought his blessings, but when he didn't signal us to leave, I figured I'd make the most of the occasions and seek his wisdom. So I asked some questions. Five or six people from his inner circle were also present. Since the Vaswani Mission routinely uses DailyGood articles, KarmaTube videos and Smile Cards, they readily offered an introduction. And their explanation said a lot about their values: "Dada, they also like to do small, small acts of service in the world."

If I had to encapsulate Dada's personality in one word, it would be humility. His presence felt electric yet effortlessly contained. He didn't leak any energy. What made it all really profound was that he held himself as caretaker, servant and trustee of this sacred resource. That constant experience is what seemed to ground his humility. Next to him, one felt so empowered to take delight in being small, last, nobody.

"My master was humble. He was a very learned man, a great writer, philosopher, and an educationist. Once when he presided over a big meeting in Mumbai and held a press conference, they asked him who he was. 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 dot. So that was the ideal placed before me," Dada once explained. Then, all that remains is to serve all and love all, unconditionally. "My master would joke that the man who gives only to those whom he considers deserving has good reason to pray that the Lord, in judging him, will not follow his example."

I asked him questions that held subtle edges, and he darted back with crystal clear responses.

"Should we focus on internal purification or outer service?" "Both. Ultimately, they're the same." Can we change the world? "No. Yet it is very important that you try." What is more important -- power of one or many? "What seems like many eventually turns into one." Does our Guru and spiritual lineage matter? "Not much." Do we have free will? "Yes, but a wise person will surrender his free will." What's the difference between consciousness and awareness? "Awareness + Ego = Consciousness. We must drop the ego." What will happen to the Mission after you pass away? "That's not my concern. I'm not the one making this happen now, and it won't be me in the future. I just try to be zero."

Dada didn't blink much (perhaps not at all), during our conversation. With a penetrating gaze, he looked at me as if he could see me inside and out. Often, there would be long, silent pauses. I would usually feel compelled to break the silence with a question, but that didn't alter the increasing intensity. During one of those pauses, I thought I'd remind him of our first encounter: "Dada, we met once before, back in November last year." With compassionate confidence, he replied: "We have met many times in the past." He uttered these words in such a way that the devotees behind him found themselves tearing up, and I myself was deeply moved.

Long pause again.

"Dada, what do you think about tears? Sometimes we cry out of emotion but sometimes out of compassion?" I shared how I was tearing up during the chants in the previous hour, particularly moved by the drummer, a young man whom I felt was truly playing from the heart (that man was indeed an unprofessional drummer, who was playing just to serve others). Dada smiled and explained that tears of attachment roll out of the inside of our eyes, while tears of a divine aspiration roll from the outside. Pressing further, I asked him about Boddhisattvas (figuring that he must've spoken about it with the Dalai Lama). At this, he paused a bit, locked his eyes into mine, with the quiet composure of a 96-year-old man sitting with a hunched back, he recited a poem by Shantideva. One deliberate word after another.
May I be a guard for those who need protection,
A guide for those on the path,
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick,
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles;
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I bring sustenance and awakening,
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow,
And all are awakened.

Wow. No words can describe the ambiance. I think everyone in the room must've been in tears, although I had forgotten about the others at this point.

Whenever I get in this state, my heart naturally overflows with gratitude. So I asked him, with whatever limited humility I was capable of, "Dada, I can't pretend to know what your work is, but how may I be of service?"

Then, he did something that blew me away. He cupped his two hands in front of me, as if holding out a begging bowl, and gently said, "I request your tears of compassion."

Long pause. This time, on my account. No questions were arising, no answers were arising. We just looked into each other's eyes.

I really didn't know what to say. Finally, I stumbled out with, "I'll do my best, Dada." I didn't want to cry right then, but I sure felt like it.

None of us, even his coordinators, had anticipated such a long meeting. He still wasn't signaling for it to end, but I felt a bit conscious and initiated our goodbye gratitude. With his vintage humility and grace, he adds, "Please forgive me. I would like to stand up but my old age won't allow me to." To which I replied, "Dada, fortunately for me, I can not only stand up but also bow down."

I touched his feet.

We had many other back-to-back meetings scheduled right after this unplanned interaction, so the show went on. But a part of our minds stayed still that whole day. The next morning, Sheetal shared that he still hadn't recovered from the encounter with Dada. Rajesh, one of Dada's closest coordinators who has been privy to many such meetings, later wrote that it was a meeting that he will never forget for the rest of his life: "I felt like I was being read a holy scripture." A pretty accurate description.

"Spirituality is not taught. It is caught -- by associating with those who are truly spiritual," Dada says. I think I know what he means.

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Comments (39)

  • Zilong wrote ...

    thank you for blowing open my heart's window with this heart-felt account :)

  • Rushabh Gandhi wrote ...

    Rajesh is totally right! It felt like I was reading something out of the holy books.
    Really loved this lines by dada - What will happen to the Mission after you pass away? "That's not my concern. I'm not the one making this happen now, and it won't be me in the future. I just try to be zero. Beautiful!

  • Nazrul Islam wrote ...

    I'm unable to express, how much I am delighted to experience this readout. My deep desire is to connect with your team for the next trip. I'm from Bangladesh, aged on 60+.

  • Chaz wrote ...

    Yes! Love this. Thank you for this brother.

  • Neela wrote ...

    How beautiful! While reading the account, I had forgotten I was reading it. I was there in that space witnessing and learning and bowing down to the abundance of the beauty.

  • Fran wrote ...

    Your encounter with Dada was incredible. I had so many moments while reading it and felt the entire conversation. So amazing. Thanks again for including me in the circle of your sharing. I'm so moved.

  • Audrey wrote ...

    Wow- This story stilled my heart. Thank you and Sheetal for walking into such beautiful moments, and for taking the time to write it down for all of us to experience.

  • Harsh wrote ...

    Wow!!! Just feel blessed now.

  • mindyjourney wrote ...

    So lovely to read and take into dreams tonight. Thank you for sharing with us such an amazing encounter. Especially enjoyed passage about tears, very dear, my friend. With much appreciation. Blessings.

  • Rahul Brown wrote ...

    What a gripping, beautiful encounter!
    Back in 2009, Sheetal took me to a gathering at the Vaswani Mission too, and to say the hall changed when Dada Vaswani walked in would be an understatement. There was a desire in my heart to know him a bit better, and you've fulfilled that wish by sharing this story. Thank you :-)

  • Neeti S W wrote ...

    Thank you Nipun for sharing this, tears rolled down with each word you have put in.

  • Jyoti wrote ...

    Thank you for this beautiful share. Dada gave me a simple prayer that I have used instead of good morning and good night with my son for all his life. It's a beautiful mantra.

    Dina Bandhu Dina Nath, Meri Dori Tere Haath.

    Friend of the weak, Lord of the weak,
    My strings (me as a puppet) are in Your hands !

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    What a blessing to read this! And what a vessel to relay the message! Nipun - whoever reads this in your debt.

  • Amit Dungarani wrote ...

    thank you thank you thank you for sharing this....beautiful insights, blessed experiences and I too hope to have the good fortune as Dada to meet you "many times" :)

  • Mish Premet-Rosen wrote ...

    Grateful for this share & for having been led to this community.

  • Penpa Dolma wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing with us this precious encounter. May all your aspiration come true. And may Guru's life be even longer and may he remain with us for eons and eons. Gratitude.

  • Aryae Coopersmith wrote ...

    Wow, Nipun. Tears of gratitude.

  • Preeta wrote ...

    I was lapping up every single word of this post like a parched plant experiencing rain. My reaction to one who can write for others so meaningfully and touchingly: "Nipun bhai, I can't pretend to know what your work is, but how can I be of service?"

  • Alissa Hauser wrote ...

    Wow. I am in tears reading this. Thank you for sharing the wise words with us in such a beautiful story.

  • Sunaina Chugani wrote ...

    What an incredible story. My family are pretty devout followers of Dada Vaswani. Will share this incredible encounter with them. This is truly heart-centering. Thank you, Nipun! <3

  • Mia Tagano wrote ...

    Gah...tears and full heart. Thank you for taking us along. I felt I was there, called also to a deeper compassion.

  • Nilam Chauhan wrote ...

    Feeling blessed! So much gratitude for connecting all of of us with a noble soul!

  • Bela Shah wrote ...

    This has been sitting with a star in my inbox ever since you posted it and finally had a chance to drink it in very slowly....I'll be sitting with his response, "What seems like many eventually turns into one" for a long time....thank you so much Nipun for constantly sharing your blessings with all of us.

  • Shail wrote ...

    Thanks Nipun! Bro that was just beautiful! Just reading the poem that Dada wrote felt just like it came right from his voice. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Catherine wrote ...

    My throat is tight....I feel so honored and grateful to have the opportunity to read your sharing... is there any word which could really express the beauty of this encounter, the beauty of these messages?... Merci Nipun for being who you are...

  • Aman wrote ...

    I have seen Dada Vaswani's discourse on the Aastha Channel, only a few times and in bits and pieces. Thanks for this really beautiful write-up on your meeting with him. It is very inspiring. And you are equally inspiring on how you manage to juggle so many things so well and yet remain calm, unruffled and relaxed. Need to learn it from you :) God Bless

  • SONY HARISH wrote ...

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful experience......I know exactly what you mean.....being an ex student of St Mira's,had the privilege to be in the Presence of our very Beloved Dadaji.
    I am now living in far off Egypt.But my Beloved Dadaji is always with me.MAY HIS BLESSINGS BE UPON US ALL.DADA SHYAM.

  • harish m. vaswani wrote ...

    Having been blessed to be in Dadaji's presence, quite a few times, your vivid account enables one to relive one's own cherished moments with The MASTER. Truly grateful, brother.
    A very candid question and such a humble answer from The Master.
    A spontaneous recitation of a poem that He may have read years back sums up what He often tells us :
    "Did you meet him on the road ?
    Did you leave him with the load"
    One wishes that the time stops and these Blessed moments never end, alas they do.

  • Pinky wrote ...

    Nipunbhai, ty for writing about this bful meeting of urs with Dada Vaswani and sharing it. I feel composed reading this.

  • Asha wrote ...

    Thank You Nipunbhai. Your humility is also seen in this beautiful reflection.

  • C. L. GURNANI wrote ...


  • rose wrote ...

    i just cant stop my tears from flowing down my face... cant stop crying while reading this amazing encounter... it resonates so much for me and I didnt even know why.... Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Sunder Mirchandani wrote ...

    What a beautiful and truly touching experience!

  • Deepak wrote ...

    I hope to get opportunity like you.

  • Naresh Shah wrote ...

    Dada says spirituality is not taught it is caught.Nipunbhai we find easy to catch it when you cover the event so vividly.Many
    thanks to you

  • A.L.Motwani wrote ...

    Rev Divinr
    After compliments
    I am blessed with reading this holy script as the tears started flowing from my eyes

  • Amarlal wrote ...

    With Gratitude
    Would like to read again and again and get blessed again and again

  • Hansa patel wrote ...

    Very inspiring! Specially the two types of tears and the poem by shantideva. I have not seen vaswaniji but I bow down to him for his contribution in this restless world.

  • Barry Walsh wrote ...

    Beautiful story of two remarkable people. Rock on Nipun.