To see the Taj Ballroom filled to the brim with rotarians was a welcoming sight. As the seats found themselves occupied and the room echoed with excited whispers, a sagely but wide-smiling man took to the stage’s podium.
“I feel grateful for the opportunity to meet you all,” he began. “I have come here to learn from you the right way to serve.” The irony was an awakening to all, as rotarians and guests alike admired none other than Spiritual Head of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, Rev. Dada Vaswani’s modesty and humble attitude before he continued. “How true it is that we are here not to make ourselves rich, but to make the world richer.”
Thus, he commenced what would be a memorable few minutes for everyone in the room as they learned the rules for what Rev. Vaswani considers “the game of life.”
“Much like cricket, football, and hockey are played according to certain rules, in order to play the game of life well, it must also be played according to certain rules.” Many of us may have unboxed this game of life already but disregarded its rules, therefore Rev. Vaswani shared with us his life lessons so we may live our lives to our best ability.
“The very first rule is to never, ever, regard anything as belonging to you,” stated Rev. Vaswani. Should anything truly belong to you, you should be able to carry it with yourself when you make an exit from the world. “When my earthly life comes to an end, I can carry nothing with myself; I often say I came into this world empty-handed, but when I leave this world, I leave my hands behind as well,” he explained. In a world obsessed with material belongings and often succumbing to a greed that seems so ubiquitous in this day and age, his words were refreshing and revitalising. Reminding us all of what truly remains in the end, he ended this point on a poignant note – “I am attached to nothing, I am attached to no one.”
Moving on, he told us a story of Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Japan in 1913. During his visit, a Japanese man asked Tagore to visit his “small house.” When Tagore obliged his request and did in fact make the visit, he noticed how his house was not small at all – it should have been called a “small palace” instead. After seating Tagore upon a palatial gold chair and serving him a variety of refreshments on silver plates, the Japanese man made a small request of the renowned poet: ‘You have taught us to gather treasures of the spirit; bless me, so I may gather some of those treasures.’
Bringing us back to the present, Rev. Vaswani asked, “What may we do to gather these treasures of the spirit?” He suggested, as his second rule of life, developing an intimate and devotional relationship with God. As most us believe ‘God’ is simply a word and are yet to enter a loving relationship with Him, he earnestly requested that we “make Him real in our daily lives,” and once we do, “we will find many of our problems being solved.” Take for example, another anecdote Rev. Vaswani was kind enough to share with us.
One day, when he visited the owner of a well-known company, he was sat in his office. He noticed there were two desks – at one desk, sat the proprietor, while the other remained empty. He noticed that the empty desk was much larger and its accompanying seat much more comfortable, which made him curious. So Rev. Vaswani asked him, “for whom are these bigger table and chair meant?” The owner replied, “they are for my senior partner,” much to his confusion, as he had believed that the owner was the sole managing director of the company. The owner said, “God is my senior partner. Whenever I find myself in a difficult situation, I simply pass on the file to this table, [and] I get the answer within a few days!” As Rev. Vaswani narrated, the audience broke out into wide smiles, understanding all the ways in which “entering into some intimate and devotional relationship with God” could help them find solutions to their problems, but more importantly, peace and harmony.
Then, he introduced us to rule number three: “Everything happens according to the will of the Lord,” and explained this point to us with the story of a furniture merchant. After building his store and products through years of hard work, the merchant decided to take a holiday. Once he returned, he realised that there had been a conflagration, burning everything to shambles in his absence. “He was a man of faith,” said Rev. Vaswani, “he took a bamboo, fixed a cardboard piece to it, and stuck it in the ground, writing the following words on the cardboard – ‘house burnt, shop burnt, furniture burnt, but faith not burnt. Shall restart tomorrow.’” As the audience erupted in applause, it was evident that the power of faith had made an impression on all those who were present.
They then curiously waited for the fourth rule, wondering what Rev. Vaswani would teach them next. Appeasing their inquisitive minds, he stated the next rule is to “never neglect our daily appointment with God; we keep a number of appointments everyday, but we miss out on the most important appointment.” Therefore, everyday, at the same time and place, it is imperative to “engage yourself in an intimate, loving conversation with God, as He is not a distant, far-off figure dwelling on a star.” God may seem like a celestial being, with whom we are incapable of holding friendly or affectionate dialogue with, but “God is wherever we are; he is here, he is now. All we have to do is close our eyes, call him… And here he is, in front us,” explained Rev. Vaswani.
Though our fellow rotarians hoped for time to slow as he imparted his teachings, he quickly moved on to rule five as he noticed his time was rapidly running out. “Rule number five,” he stated, “is to recognise that love is why we are here.” He noted that we quite often ask what the point of life is, and why we are here, born into this world. As we are only human, it is natural to seek answer, purpose, and truth in the vast expanse of life, and Rev. Vaswani delivered all three to us with one simple phrase. “We are here to give and receive love. Love is not just a feeling. In every thought we think, and every word we utter, and every action we perform, let us kindle the light of love.” Perhaps it is accurate to say that love is our greatest gift, and to be able to both receive and give it, is a blessing to us all.
Continuing to the sixth rule, Rev. Vaswani explained that “each one of us must do our duty sincerely, earnestly, honestly, and faithfully, as it is not what we do that matters, but the way we do it.” Though our duties are all varied and different, an honest day’s work can propel us to successes and “portals of perfection” unimaginable to us, despite our backgrounds. Reciting a shloka from the Bhagvad Gita in which Lord Krishna talks with his devotee Arjuna, he quoted, “Arjuna, remember, even if your duty be an ignoble one, and the duty of another be a nobler one, you must not renounce your duty and attend to the duty of another.” To do so, is dangerous, as the great cosmic drama of life unfolds each and everyday, and it is our duty to play our roles in this drama well. Remembering an Annual Day play as a scout from many years ago, Rev. Vaswani narrated a scene in which he played the military leader Napoleon, only to switch roles to a servant in the following scene. In this particular scene, he was sharply told to bring his master a glass of water, when he was tempted to tell him, ‘only five minutes ago, I was an emperor and you were my soldier. Is this any way to speak to your emperor?!’ As the audience burst into laughter, he continued,
“I am happy I did not give in to the temptation, otherwise the whole drama would have been spoiled.” Thereby, he drove his point home. It is in our best interest, both personally and as a community, to play our roles well, to the best of our ability, in order to ensure that the grand play of life remains an Oscar-worthy performance.
Lastly, he explains his final rule for the game of life: “you must develop a sense of humour.” Giggles sprouted across the room like growing buds, faint but understanding, as Rev. Vaswani continued. “Humour is at once a mental, emotional, and spiritual tonic,” he said, demonstrating his point with a comical tale of Adam and Eve. One day, Adam asked God why he made Eve so beautiful. “So that she could love you,” God replied. In response, Adam asked Him why He made her so stupid, and God retorted, “so that she could love you!” The room suddenly overflowed with uproarious laughter, as the rotarians allowed Rev. Vaswani’s memorable teachings become ingrained in their minds.
Concluding his speech, he opened the house to questions from our fellow rotarians, the first of whom asked what we should do during our most stressful times. “Pray,” he responded, “it will make your mind calm. Then, he was asked how he would relate the several religions present today with secularism and one’s individual spirit. “Man likes variety – he is not happy with one choice,” he humorously replied, as the audience burst into laughter once again.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, he was asked why humans continue to kill animals for so many products which we do not really need, despite being so compassionate. “We are not really compassionate,” he answered. “I think, if you were taken to a slaughterhouse, and you see the conditions of the animals about to be slaughtered, you would also give up meat… We don’t think of the cruelty involved.” He then described how students in his schools are taught of the atrocious ways animals are bred for their meat, after which they themselves convert to vegetarianism and influence their parents’ eating habits as well. “It is because we eat meat as a matter of course.”
As Rev. Vaswani’s time with the Rotary Club came to a close, there is no doubt that our fellow rotarians have learned valuable lessons to last their lifetimes and pass on to future generations. It was an honour to have spent a few minutes with the distinguished spiritual leader, and we hope to carry forward his teachings as we continue to play the invigorating game of life.