Thank You, Dada Vaswani.
Posted by Nipun Mehta on Jul 12, 2018
A monk for 80 years, he had a Sufi background but lived a truly interfaith life. For his millions of followers, he is their link to God. From the Pope to Mother Teresa to Dalai Lama, he was known to practically all of the world's great leaders of his time -- and everyone had a very common refrain about him: this man emanates love.
Love. There's really no other way to describe him. A few years ago, I remember a dialogue he held with the ServiceSpace community in Pune, India. Audrey happened to be in the crowd and later told us, "Right as he walked in, I had tears in my eyes. I don't know why. And they continued for the whole hour, until he left."
That's just what it's like to be around him. Whether you cry or not, your heart starts to sing a song -- that you didn't even realize you knew.
The first time I met him, not knowing absolutely anything about him, I couldn't help but wonder, "Who exactly is this man?!" His bigness lay in his smallness. His silence spoke louder than his words. His emptiness filled up the room with an aura of compassion. Around him, a spontaneous aspiration naturally arises, "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace."
Very vividly, I remember a moment of great reverence, when I asked him, "Dada, how may I be of service?" Without any reflection, in a crisp yet gentle voice, he immediately cupped his frail hands and said words that I have never forgotten: "I seek your tears of compassion."
What a thing to ask for!?! Tears of compassion. Wow. I felt completely humbled. As if that wasn't enough, he fell into a silence and peered deeply into my eyes. No words. No mind. A thick ambiance. A part of me wanted to cry, but I couldn't remember how. A magnanimous blessing.
In a matter of fact way, Dada once told me that we have met many times in the past. His teacher, Sadhu Vaswani, said that if he could utter just one word in his whole life, it would be this: give. Sadhu Vaswani was very close to Gandhi, and almost all of his book contained a tribute to him. When Sadhu Vaswani was 80, Dada had a prophetic dream where he told him, "I want to forsake the heavens even if I hear one cry on Earth."
It all feels so deeply aligned with the ethos of ServiceSpace. And interestingly, right after we first met, he announced to an auditorium filled with his devotees, "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." Almost all our encounters with him were ordained by serendipity, and yet he always was -- and perhaps will continue to be -- incredibly generous to ServiceSpace and its field of affinities.
Most of all, I will remember Dada for showing me the power of humility.
If a genie asked me, "To serve the world, you are granted a boon -- to either become the world's richest man, the world's most powerful person, or an empty vessel like Dada. What would you like to be?" Hands down, emptiness. Knowing Dada is to know that being nothing is really the only way to serve everything.
Couple years ago, I was invited to moderate a dialogue with Dada at a convention center in the heart of Silicon Valley. I asked him some questions to kick off our interaction, and then the audience submitted questions via note cards. While wading through dozens and dozens of note cards, I also had to stay tuned into his words, project into his left ear that could hear more clearly, be in visible distance so he can lip read, manage the clock, engage the crowd and a whole lot more. Add to that the fact that for so many in the audience, just getting a glimpse of Dada ("darshan") was a cause for ecstatic celebration -- so having their question personally answered by him could easily be a moment of a lifetime.
In the middle of all this juggling, and the continuous barrage of wide-ranging questions, I read a question: "Dada, someone is asking, how do you kill the ego? Is it practical?"
"Yes it is," he responded. "I tell you, take homeopathy." Then he turns to one of his assistants, "Gita, what's the name of that one medicine?" She's completely perplexed, like of all of us. Who knew ego could be cured by homeopathy?!?
Then, we discovered that he heard vertigo instead of ego. He was recommending a medicine for vertigo! Of course, it had the whole audience roaring in laughter, but what was truly stunning for me was how he didn't even skip a beat. (You can view the video of his unflinching response, from 16:55 to 18:07.)
That's like running into Mother Teresa and asking her what detergent I should use to clean my kitchen sink. Sure, she might have an answer, but it would reflect my pettiness. Yet for Dada, everything is a play of the divine and nothing is off, even by an inch. If nature wants him to serve with a pharmaceutical recommendation, sure thing. Not even for a moment, did he judge the question, or the questioner, to be beneath him.
It was quite emblematic that Dada had hunched back. You never felt like you were looking up to him, but rather that he humbly kept bending low enough to meet you at your level. Vertigo or Ego, at your service. Give, give, give. Bow, bow, bow.
What a century of generosity.
Dearest Dada, for your bottomless humility, your abundant blessings, and your radiant joy, I am indebted with gratitude. I hope to grow a heart which can truly pay it forward. I remember how we spoke about Boddhisattvas and, with our eyes transfixed in an elevated state of compassion, you shared this part of a Shantideva poem, 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.
Every day, from today, I will recite this prayer -- and remind myself to, one-day, overflow your cupped hands with tears of compassion.
Thank you, Dada Vaswani.