So how did it all begin? How come I find myself now in India leaving behind a possibility of a lucrative career in America? Is it a calling or an Illusion? Destiny will reveal it later. All I know now is that we are all living in the world of Illusions, so why not choose our own illusion.
After finishing KHWAAB my first feature film in America, I found myself detached with it and a huge emptiness took over making me ask questions of “Why I wanted to be a story teller” Desperately looking for answers in books and from friends, I forgot for a moment that the highest truth is nowhere outside but deep within our soul. So after 6 months of restless ness, I decided to go on a journey to meet life and ask her more questions. With the help of Meghna, Nipun and other close friends in a family called charity focus.org, an idea was developed to make a documentary series on inspiring people who have chose to become the change they wish to see in the world. People who have applied scientific approach in their spiritual life and dedicated it for humanity.
There is a universal rule that you are always severely tested when you follow your dream. My first test was, I didn’t have a proper camera to document this story. Estimated cost was around 3000 $ and like a classic wannabe artist, I didn’t had money.
There is an old Zen quote “Jump and the net would appear”, so without money I started making plans of my trip. I knew in my heart that this trip is going to happen but how was not clear. Reality used to shake my belief sometimes but then I kept dreaming and then one day, just few days before I was leaving for India, I receive this big packet in my house with meghna and mine name on it. And inside was a beautiful, Canon Gl-2, very high quality video camera with all accessories and NO NAME. Yes, some body just dropped it without any name or address. But he did left his signature, which was a very beautiful card with a smiling face and a quote printed on it from my favorite book Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It said, “ When you really want some thing the whole universe conspires to help you”
I cried feeling the warmth of this love and in complete awe I left for India on 2nd October, (birth date of Mahatma Gandhi) to make a documentary on Dwarkoji, one of the last active disciple of Gandhi ji.
Although knowing that I may not be able to return to America as my visa was expiring after few months, I followed the omens of universe. After spending few days with my family, I setoff for Bodhgaya in Bihar State where dwarko ji has an ashram. Bodhgaya is famous for the mahabodhi tree under which prince Siddhartha got his enlightenment and became Buddha.
Journey had begun; traveling from my hometown Bilaspur to Gaya took 20 hours. Gandhi ji’s autobiography book was a good companion throughout.
I was hoping to take a taxi to Boddh Gaya, which is 13 km’s from Gaya station. I didn’t expected any one as I hadn’t told any one about my travel plans in Ashram except the date I was coming. But as I walked inside the crowded station, I saw Dwarkoji coming in…..he had just dropped in, hoping to see me….in awe I felt the arrangement of life.
It’s very difficult to put in words what heart felt at those moments in ashram, but in order to reflect its true spirit I would like to share my paper journal, which I wrote while I was there. It feels vulnerable to share this so please excuse my naive ness if you find any error in this description.
17th Oct Samanway Ashram
Today it was 2nd day in the Ashram. I got up at 4.30 am with the sound of children prayer from next room. Kids here get up at 4.00 am. Thus I felt guilty of missing morning prayer. I had my bath by 5.30 am, most probably earliest till now in my life. Water was cold but it felt good later. After break fast I got a chance to go to villages and see the basic human problems. The roads we went through were almost close to none. There’s so much to write but I am already feeling tired of today’s journey. Shail didi would be living tomorrow. We became good friends in short time. She showed me a yogasen today that left a good feeling at the end and when I was about to open my eyes in end, for a moment I saw Lord Vishnu and then when I put my hands over my eyes I saw feet of Buddha in each eye. She said it was a good omen and I have good energy.
18th Oct 2004.
Today again I got up at 5.00 am, after prayer I got a chance to talk to Dwarko ji for about 3 hrs. Every moment was blissful. At the age of 83 yrs, his spirit seems indominatable he speaks less yet understand everything, you instantly feel you are before a saint. He believes in action more than talks, meditation for him is moment to moment awareness, rest all is a form of entertainment for rich. At first impression his Ashram seems very basic and simple, Children here are from poorest families of Harijan caste. He meets every one with same love and respect; it doesn’t let you feel that you are sitting before a very important person. He lives his life on what he believes, a true Gandhian. Right now I am sitting before him as I write these words. He is reading newspaper, and he laughs over expenses on Durga pooja. People are coming on and off with their problems. He is no doubt a saint, a true karma yogi.
19th Oct 2004.
It’s 8.00 am, just came from temple. It’s started to get cold. Despite of my mom’s warning I didn’t keep any warm clothes, which I regret now. Heat from sun on my face feels good. Today again I got up with the sound of prayer at about 4.30 am. There is a black cat sitting next to me in ground, it’s funny as when I came here in Ashram 3 days back, she came and sat on my lap. I never liked cats and pets, but when she came I had no option but to pat her and it felt free.
Today again I sat with Dwarko ji after prayer. He asked me “what was my aim in life”. I was bit uncertain to answer and tried to intellectualize my answer to which he explained me: Brahma sat yam, jagat sfurti, jeevnam satya shodhanam.
Which means God is truth, this world is manifestation of God, and our aim should be, to search for truth.
20th Oct. Mahabodhi temple, bodhgaya
It’s 5.15 pm, I am sitting on the steps of “mucalinda lake”. There is a statue of Buddha in centre of lake with sheshnag (a snake) protecting him from storms, wind & rain. It’s a beautiful place for meditation; lake is filled with fish, surrounded by lush green trees and sounds of birds chirping. It’s a tourist place so it’s distracting with constant visitors.
I was suppose to start shooting today but couldn’t. As always start is always difficult. I worked in farms today with other kids in Ashram. Within an hour I was tired but I came closer with kids. They kept asking me my name and were excited to see me working with them. Navratri festival is going on. My eyeglasses just fell down in the lake; luckily it wasn’t far so I could take it out. It’s still not clear where my future is, but as always I am sure there is a reason for me being in bodhgaya and doing this film. There is a pattern which is slowly unfolding.
In patterns of life.
Sitting at the tea shop, around 5pm. I have been restless for some reason for last 2-3 days. Meghna immediately sensed it when I spoke to her today. She has amazing instincts about me. It was overwhelming in ashram. Seems like very few people agree with the principles of dwarkoji. Especially the harijans (schedule caste), he dedicated his life for don’t acknowledge him. As I was writing these lines a gujrati doctor from camp came and sat next to me. He too started talking about the approach of ashram. He boasted that if eye camp weren’t there the ashram would have been closed long back. I smiled at his arrogance and ignorance. Didn’t want to argue but to just listen. Bhaiji (dwarkoji) said the same thing again and again of line of Jesus “ god forgive them as they don’t know what they are doing”. He also suggested the title of film “which way lies the hope” answer to which he confidently replied “Gandhi”.
Few mins back I was in prayer with kids and an idea came. ‘ Why not show this film and other films as my personal diary’. Without making any conclusions, to be just honest and in search. Being a journal it will be honest, personal thus vulnerable.
The more I stay here, more conflicts I see. Amazingly dwarkoji knows all about this, he is aware about what people think about him and his method. He feels their reluctance and negativity yet naively, faithfully and firmly he believes that there is no other way for humanity to survive than Gandhi’s way of non-violence. Not only of actions but also a way of life. He without a doubt believes that gandhiji was 500 years before his time thus a time will come when his ideas will be practiced as there won’t be any other way. Right or wrong I don’t know but I can’t help admiring dwarkoji’s innocent conviction and faith on 3 basic values of life: Love, compassion and truth.
In abiding these values.
29th Oct. 7.15am Ashram
“What is the aim of your life?” Dwarkoji had asked me few days back to write on this and give it to him. I haven’t done it yet. He explained, “search of truth should be the aim and in that process rest (like filmmaking) should happen. Filmmaking or any other work is means towards that ‘end’ which is ‘truth or moksha’
Moksha means destroying of want (moh ka kshay). He also told about ahanta and mamta i.e. we should not be proud and arrogant about any thing at the same time not to be attached to any particular thing. As all have to go one day. This is the supreme truth. Bhagwad Gita says it too that work but don’t desire for its fruit.
When I asked dwarkoji “who is going to take care of your ashram after you” he simply replied, “I don’t know”. I was surprised to realize that here is a person, 83 years old, dedicated 50 years of his life to build this place, this ashram from nothing, and is not bit attached with it.
30th Oct Samanway, Bodh Gaya.
4:10pm, as I write this I can hear children practicing to recite their prayers.
I finished a major part of shoot today of school. Interview of Dwarko ji was done successfully. By now I am good friends with kids, especially I liked one kid Parmanand although I try not to do partial behavior towards any one.
Dwarko ji wanted me to stay in Ashram and take care of all my expenses if I make documentary on the schedule caste tribe, however I feel the urge now to travel. See different point of view and learn more about life. Right or wrong, good or bad should not matter. Every one I meet has its own unique point of view and they try hard to convince me but as an artist or seeker our effort should be open to all, without any conclusions without any self impose idea.
It’s 8 pm now. I was about to go to sleep when I realized in next room, the elder kids were still awake. When I peeped in I saw them reading Stardust (film magazine) and then on my request they started singing their tribal song. It was refreshing to see their free spirit without attached to any rules.
In free spirit
31st Oct Bodh Gaya , Maha bodhi temple, 8 pm.
I am sitting on the shade of the Bodhi tree as I write this. Tree under which Siddhartha become budh (truth). It’s a huge tree and surprisingly it sustained more than 2000 years. How much this tree must have witnessed. What would have been to be this tree? There is a beautiful temple built next to it.
I was looking for a leaf from this tree and I could find none around it as it is kept clean. So I said to myself “If I am lucky and have the blessings of Budh I will get one”, so I sat down to write this page and within few minutes I saw one leaf falling from the bodhi tree in the inner sacred compound, I thought I won’t get it as the doors are locked but when I got up I saw it was very close to the door and I could easily pick it up. It’s in my hands now and will keep it in the same page of my diary.
There are constant visitors here from different countries and you could hear sounds of chanting mixed with birds chirping. It’s fascinating to see the remaining of the temple and to imagine the time when it was built.
16th Nov. 4:45pm, Garden in Bodhi temple
Came back from Diwali vacation yesterday. I was with my parents for 5 days. I had so many stories to share but seemed like nobody was interested. For a while felt stranger in my home. My grand father who is very simple and spiritual person would have been exited to know more, but he was in different village with my uncle. Papa was worried I was turning like my grandfather by bringing my needs low and life simple. Heart is not sad though as I am feeling the infinite love of my family and anyways conflicts are always good as they make stories more interesting.
From tomorrow, eye camp is starting. Approx. 22000 people would be treated during one month, free of cost. Mahesh Bhansali ji who is the main donor of this 15 million rupees project has already came to serve with his team of doctors and 1000 volunteers & staff from Gujarat state. He’s been doing this for last 20 years and had promised Dwarkoji that he will continue it as long Dwarko ji is alive and is done under his supervision. A promise for life.
18th Nov.4: 10pm Saman way Ashram.
I realized that once you have seen the light, it’s difficult then to close your eyes and assume that there’s darkness everywhere. You are no more the same person. Experience has changed you.
I cannot possibly imagine the joy; Dwarkoji is getting with this selfless service. If I were lucky enough to even get a glimpse of it, my life would be changed forever.
Eye camp started yesterday, with no formal speeches, no garlands, no ceremonies and ribbons, but just with prayer sung by children from the Ashram. Mahesh Bhansaliji, who is the main donor of the eye camp and has been doing this 15 million rupees projected for last 20 years, did not even speak anything on this occasion. He was nearly invisible in the crowd. That reminds me of a quote by Vinoba ji told to me by Dwarko ji.
As the 3 blades of ceiling fans becomes invisible when switched on, so thus all the great people who truly dedicate their lives for service. Visibility can be sometimes hindrance in their work.
20th Nov. 10:10 pm. My room, Ashram.
“Mahatma”, it must have been very difficult for Gandhi ji to live with this title. If you achieve greatness, people make you superhuman and then all your mistakes are perceived as a sin.
Some people here do criticize Dwarko ji for being naive and over looking some problems here in ashram, some show lack of trust in his method of teaching, as they don’t find it practical. Everybody has reason to complain but nobody has the conviction and courage to do the work he is doing, to dedicate his life for the poorest and untouchables, to live like a saint and work like a labor, to be detached with his life and yet attached with whole humanity, yes it takes a naive heart to do so, and to believe that one day all humans would rise and become one.
As a lotus blossoms in dirty water, so does all the great people in conflicts. As Jesus, Gandhi ji and many many more were not spared for their beliefs, so does Dwarko ji. But yet he still strives every day to make a heart smile.
21st Nov. 6:05 am, Mahaboddhi temple.
I am leaving for home today. I have completed my shoot, although heart never gets satisfied, as there’s always a possibility to shoot more. Hope I am not missing anything at the same time I know there’s always something left behind to not make it perfect, as that’s what makes us human.As I write this I am sitting in front of Buddha statue inside the main temple.
I had again got up today to take part in Ashram prayer at 5:30 am. Today they sung the prayer “We shall over come..” (In Hindi)
Soft sounds of chanting can be heard as Monks are doing their morning rituals. I have to take some pickup shots in eye camp before I leave. As I was roaming near the bodhi tree, I thought of looking at the leaf I got here. I opened this journal to see it but to my surprise I didn’t find it. It was gone. I was sad for a moment but then I realized that it was a message and the supreme truth from him.
Moksh, not to be attached, simply let go.
Here’s the final Samanvay film on the journey of Dwarko Sundarani ji