Baba Virsa Singh, whom his devotees adore and worship, never asked to be worshipped. He refused to allow us to use labels like Saint or Guru for him. He said, “I’m just trying to be a better human being.”
This is a great understatement, but nonetheless we can take a clue from it: To truly follow Maharaj ji, we can take him as our model for becoming better human beings.
What are His qualities that we can try to emulate? He has so many wonderful facets, but I’ll try to mention a few, with examples from my own experiences with him.
One of his great qualities was his hiding his greatness. Unlike other people who get a little bit of spiritual power and then advertise themselves, Maharaj ji didn’t call himself a Guru—He said, “I’m just a farmer.” He would only allow me to call him a teacher.
I always tried to record visible evidence of His great Power, but I couldn’t, because He hid it so well. One time Major Brar had surgery for throat cancer. Afterward, his relatives brought him from Punjab to take blessings from Maharaj for his recovery. He was very weak, so he sat on a charpoy in the Shiv Sadan dera and waited for Maharaj to come. I waited with him, because I expected Maharaj to do something miraculous and I wanted to photograph that. Finally Maharaj appeared during his rounds of the whole farm. Major Brar struggled to his feet. Maharaj walked past and barely stopped to say, “How are you?” I was standing about 20 feet away, waiting with my camera. All of a sudden, a tremendous current of power came through the ground. Major Brar bowed his head and said to Maharaj, “Thanks. I needed that.” Maharaj walked away as though nothing had happened. There was nothing I could photograph—no visible evidence of the great blessing he had given to his faithful disciple.
Maharaj ji never claimed to do any miracles, though they happened all the time around Him. He simply said, “Wherever God is continuously remembered, miracles will happen automatically.”
Then there was his Unshakeability –
As Guru Gobind Singh wrote in Jaap Sahib, God is Adhoot – Unshakeable. Maharaj, as a Messenger of God, was the same. He is so calm, so centered in God that none of our worldly dramas fazed him.
Once Maharaj ji was addressing the sangat at Shiv Sadan. He was sitting in a thatch-roofed pavilion in the dera; the sangat was sitting under a sort of tent that had been set up next to the pavilion. Suddenly the tent collapsed on top of the sangat. I was very alarmed and expected everyone to go into emergency mode to save the people. Maharaj didn’t bat an eye. He just kept giving his talk, without a break. A few of his sevadars lifted up the tent, and re-rigged it over the people. Taking their cue from Maharaj, the people also didn’t panic. They also just kept sitting and listening to his precious talk.
In Gurbani it is written, “Gur hive kar”—The Guru is as cool as a mountain of ice.
Another of his great qualities was his Obedience to God’s will.
Many people suggested plans for Maharaj but he never acted until He got hukam to do so. One exception that proves the rule was when the entire UP government, under the urging of Dr. Rai Singh, was calling him to give them darshan in Lucknow. Maharaj rather reluctantly agreed, so a lot of us set out in cars to accompany him to Lucknow. We got part way through Delhi and then his car stopped—his trusty 1984 Ford Bronco. The driver jumped out, did something to the engine, started the car again, and off we went. After a few metres, the Bronco stopped again. Again Balwant Singh and other drivers opened the hood of the Bronco, did something, and then started again. Again the Bronco stopped after a short distance. This scene was repeated 8 times, until at last Maharaj said, “It is clear that there is no hukam for us to go to Lucknow. I knew there was no hukam, but we tried since they were calling us with such love. We shall turn back.” Maharaj got into a different car and two of our young men were sent to get the Bronco fixed. They set off at great speed, stopped for juice on the way, and reached Gobind Sadan before the rest of us. There was nothing wrong with the Bronco. Even Maharaj’s car obeyed the hukam.
Another exception that illustrates the rule was a time when Maharaj got hukam from Guru Gobind Singh not to give audience that day in his sitting room with glass window walls in Dubai kothi. He called Giani Ji to ask him to check the hukam. Giani JI said, “I don’t see anything wrong. Go ahead and sit there.” So Maharaj sat on the sofa and was giving audience when smoke began coming from the circuit breaker box behind his head. Ralph Singh jumped up, opened the door, and found the box full of fire and smoke. He blew on it, as one would blow out candles on a birthday cake, and the fire stopped. Maharaj calmly got up and said, “There is no hukam to sit here. Today we will sit inside.”
Another of Maharaj’s great qualities was his patience. We people wanted things to happen quickly, but Maharaj often said to us, “Kali na pao”—Don’t be in a hurry.
By his example, Maharaj taught us not to push ahead with our own small plans, but rather to wait for things to unfold according to God’s plans. He said, “Timing is very important.”
Another of his wonderful qualities was his joy. We loved to see him laugh. He had a great sense of humour, and when something struck him as being funny, he laughed so hard that he bounced up and down on his cushion, with tears running down his cheeks.
His laughter was also a teaching. By his example, he taught us not to take the dramas of our lives so seriously. He told us, “Kush rao—be happy even if you don’t feel like it.” Reciting the Nam he gave us helps us to be happy and emotionally comfortable in the midst of difficulties. Even when people came to Him very sad from death of a loved one, by the end of their audience with Him, He had them not only accepting the death, but even smiling and happy.
By seeing Maharaj ji’s detachment and joy, we could learn not to get bogged down in our own self-pitying emotions, but rather to move closer to God in difficult times—God who is never discouraged, never upset, God who–as we read in Jaap Sahib–revels in all of His Creation.
In so many ways, Maharaj ji set an example for us of great love for God. He was always teaching us to love God as the Gurus and saints loved God. So many of the stories He told illustrated this deep love.
Once he told me, “The only way to realize God is through love, and there cannot be any method for love. Wherever you sit with love, God will come and find you.”
Maharaj was also a great example of love for the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh was his Beloved, and when Maharaj ji sang, he poured out this love in song. “If I forget You even for a moment, I will die,” he sang.
He had keen appreciation for the importance of the Guru’s mission. He said, “The meaning of Guru Gobind Singh’s coming on earth is this: That whenever there is fear, casteism, self-interest, crime, and corruption rampant in the world, a great being like Guru Gobind Singh takes birth to give strength to the people and empower justice.”
Maharaj ji also said, “Every religion has emphasized that a disciple will not become enlightened until he or she respects the Master. Whoever respects their Master’s commandments and tries to act according to them will receive strength, willpower, and determination to follow truth.”
Maharaj ji understood that it was Guru Nanak’s hukam that one should work hard to earn one’s own living, and from that, share with others. Thus, hard work was another one of his signature qualities. He used to work very hard himself and urged his followers to do the same. In the early days of Gobind Sadan, Maharaj ji himself worked hard in the fields alongside his devotees for the sake of economic self-sufficiency and sharing with the poor. By the time I began living here in 1991, he had developed a huge farm on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, called Shiv Sadan, and he used to walk up to 20 kilometres a day through those fields and kaccha roads to supervise every detail of the farming.
Maharaj ji taught us not to waste anything. This wasn’t just a nice theory. Once someone mixed two different varieties of wheat in the same bags, making them unsalable. When Maharaj learned of this, he told a group of us women to separate the two kinds of grain. The two varieties looked almost the same. Under Maharaj’s hukam, 8 or 10 of us sat day after day for an entire week, carefully picking through the mixed grains one at a time to separate the two different kinds.
Even when Maharaj ji wasn’t physically present at the farms he had developed, he was running them very well at long distance. I asked him how this was possible—what was his management strategy? He said, “I choose good people and then don’t interfere in their work.”
Having worked so hard to produce Gobind Sadan’s own income, Maharaj was the soul of generosity. He loved to feed people. Often he personally stood for long stretches overseeing the langar, making sure that everyone was fed. When he gave us Prasad from his own hands, he gave us so much that our two hands were not enough to receive the gift—we had to stretch out our chunis to receive it. It was his hukam to eat it all, and so we did, and received great blessings from it.
Maharaj was also a great example of equality—of Guru Nanak’s ideal of sanjiwalta. He made no difference between the nation’s top political figures and the poorest farmers. Neither did he garland the Prime Ministers who came for his blessings and guidance, nor did he show anything less than full respect to the most illiterate farmers. If anything, he had a special fondness for the hardworking poor. Thanks to his blessings, the poor people who did such hard seva in the early days of Shiv Sadan have now become prosperous farmers and live in large houses. He sometimes referred to our malis as saints, and indeed some of them now are carrying on spiritual duties at Gobind Sadan very sincerely. He called the gardeners “Mali Sahib.” He often referred to Guru Gobind Singh’s statement that the best way to help the poor is to help them find their inner strength.
Maharaj was very wise. His was not worldly wisdom learned from books. He was illiterate, but highly educated people used to sit at his feet to benefit from his enlightened wisdom. He could communicate directly with crops and soil to find out what they needed. He was also trikal darshi—He could see the distant past, present, and future, so his guidance was based in omniscient wisdom. When he went to Punjab for 21 days in 1994, whole villages came to him to help settle lethal disputes that had disrupted their lives for decades. He invited the two sides to come together, and for days they each poured out their hatred for and complaints about each other. He just listened quietly, and then at last pronounced a verdict that was so just, fair, and wise that both sides agreed and found peace at last.
When Maharaj ji gave a spiritual discourse, he mixed together stories and teachings from all the prophets quite naturally. He thus taught us to respect the truth found in all religions, without reference to the walls that have been created by humans to divide them.
He never spoke from theory. The source of his wisdom was Truth itself. He spoke in simple, sweet, down-to-earth village Punjabi, thus clearing away the confusions in our own thinking. Once when Gurdev Singh and I were walking with him through the fields, I innocently said to him, “Maharaj ji, I think if everyone in the world had enough to eat, there would be no more wars.” He looked at me kindly, as one looks at a child, and said, “People will always want more.”
I have been speaking of Maharaj ji as if his qualities were those of a human being. But in fact, he was superhuman. He was blessed with tremendous spiritual power. I got a small taste of that Power once when I was standing behind him when he was praying in front of his chair before sitting in it. Presumably he was asking God to speak through him. Whatever he was praying, the Power that I felt was like a great train rumbling, roaring through, with tremendous vibrations.
We often saw that Maharaj ji could control the weather if he so chose. Once when we had been working in a field all day under direct sun, my sensitive skin was getting skin poisoning. I prayed inwardly to Maharaj to please save me. As soon as I did so, a little cloud appeared right over the field where we were working. It stayed there for the rest of the day, giving us very welcome shade.
Another time Maharaj was sitting in his garden on the hill at Gobind Sadan, giving audience to the sangat during a mela. They had been sitting there for a long time listening to him, and it was time for the audience to finish. Maharaj dismissed them with his blessings, but they did not leave. His staff begged the people to leave and go have their langar, but they kept sitting. Suddenly, out of the blue, a torrential rainstorm blew in, sending the sangat running down to the langar. We scrambled to bring all the PA equipment in under the shelter of Maharaj’s pavilion. Maharaj just kept sitting there quietly. Once all the sangat had gone, the wind and rain abruptly stopped.
Maharaj was so great, and he is still unspeakably great, managing everything in his mission. He knows all our weaknesses. But like God, he keeps forgiving and blessing us so that the work can continue.
May He bless us to keep trying to be better human beings.
(for Maharaj’s birthday seminar February 20, 2019)