Since the last few years, a whole lot of people are adopting minimalism as a way of life. Minimalism means to live with as few things as possible. Simply put, it means living with the bare minimum. People are making their choices based on minimalist values. Doing so, they are weaning away from materialism. To the extent that, they are even being minimalist in matters of dietary habits and even cutting down on unnessesary spices and condiments in their food.
However, this way of life has been adopted by many people since ages. The Greek philosopher Diogenes possessed a small drinking vessel. Once he saw a dog drinking water with its mouth in a pond. He pondered that if one could drink water directly from the mouth, then what is the need for a vessel? And so, with that thought in mind, he threw away the drinking bowl. When Lord Rama went to the forest, he did not take anything with him. While leaving from Ayodhya, he discarded the royal clothes, ornaments and pomp and wore only valkal clothes (clothes made out of tree bark). Mother Sita and Laxmanji also followed suit. This was not a compulsion but a personal choice.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj always advocated a minimal life style and also lived that way. He used to emphasize on using things that were economical and could be reused as well. His believed in making do with whatever is there at one's disposal. He wouldn't replace anything until and unless they were worn out. Even then, he would try to reuse the worn out things in a new way. As far as possible, he would advice not buying or using anything if there still existed something that still could be reused.
Swamiji was in New York in 1977. As usual, his letter writing work was going on at a hectic pace. It was taking a toll on his eyes and the vision of his spectacles could not keep up with the pace as well. Thus, it created a difficulty in reading and writing. Observing his difficulty, Chandrakantbhai, a satsangi took him to his German friend and eye doctor Shason Hyman. After examining Swamiji, he suggested and even to an extent insisted that Swamiji keep two pairs of glasses, one for near and another for far vision. But Swamiji firmly said, 'Fit both the near and far lenses in the same frame. I don't want to keep two pairs of specs.' Swamiji did not take an extra pair of spectacles despite the persuasion the doctor and everyone else. On one occasion, Swamiji expressed his distaste for new spectacle frames and said, "Do we have to look through the frame? We have to look through the glass, right?' He always held the sentiment for using the least amount of materials in his life. Even if people made a million attempts to persuade him to replace things that could be used or use things that weren't necessary, he would always stay firm. He wouldn't even get swayed by other people's sentiments in this matter.
Similarly, people could observe his immense determination during another occasion in Mumbai. Every night, when Swamiji would be retiring to bed, he would call upon the saints and devotees who gathered in the hall outside the bedroom. One night a child named Manan Manek got up and presented a small alarm clock to Swamiji. Swamiji gave the watch back to him and said: 'You keep it, you will find it useful.' Manan tried to explain its features and usefulness but Swamiji asked him to keep it. Manan said to Swamiji: 'Swamiji ! If you get up early in the morning, by chance! take a look at this clock and go back to sleep.” Swamiji replied: 'You have to do that. Since you have to study, you need to get up early in the morning. So you need a watch more then me.” Manan said: 'I am getting up. We already have one at the home.” Swamiji told him: 'that's ok but keep this too.' Swamiji did not even keep the small alarm clock. He felt relieved as soon as he returned it. Thus, neither did Swamiji keep nor give allowance for keeping even the smallest of things that was unnecessary for his personal use. He was absolutely devoid of any greed or desire. Pramukh Swami Maharaj was an embodiment of detachment.
On another occasion at the Atladara temple, one evening some devotees came to meet Swamiji. They showed him a small silver box. The beautifully carved box was actually meant to hold a few relics of Lord Swaminarayan, which Swamiji worshiped in his morning puja. Swamiji asked, 'What is this?' The devotees said, 'This is a very cheap silver box. We have brought it to preserve the relics of bhagvan swaminarayan in it.' Swamiji did not like the idea and told them slightly fiercely, 'We monks must not keep anything of silver.' Then, as if drawing a metaphorical line of control, he said, 'If you want to change anything in my puja or my work, please ask me first. Do not do anything without asking me first.' Everyone stood frozen. No one could say anything and there was no more argument. Swamiji's Minimalism gave a clear life lesson to everyone. Even, we have witnessed this a number of times. Swamiji does not like to keep anything. He had great distaste for unnecessary things. Seeing the look in his eyes for such unwanted things, devotees do not bring such things even by mistake. For that matter, no one even dares. Once Swamiji was in Mawani village in Gujarat. Here, at Maganbhai Hindocha's bungalow devotees has prepared an Annakut (numerous food items are prepared and beautiful displayed as offering to God). After the food was offered to the God, Swamiji sat down to eat. A big wooden stool was kept in front of swamiji. He immediately called the attendant saint and asked, 'Isn't there a small stool?' They immediately understood and the big stool was removed and replaced with a smaller one.
A guru, who sets an example by living with limited resources can instill high ideals in his followers. Only, a leader who does not believe in collecting things, can keep everybody united forever. Swamiji was one such detached leader, who was ever content in his heart.
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This article is written and submitted to The E Today by Sadhu Amrutvadandas. We thank swamiji for his research and analysis and hope to see the awareness about life and peace being spread ahead to larger mass of our citizens.