From the Jacket
The Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a global socio-spiritual organization committed to the moral and spiritual uplift to mankind. It was established in 1907 CE by Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj in consonance with the Vedic teachings propagated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE).
The Sanstha's global network of 9,090 Satsang centres are perennial sources of moral, social, cultural and spiritual activities. The energies of the BAPS volunteer corps of 55,000 youths and over 700 sadhus are channelised towards a variety of philanthropic activities. The BAPS is an NGO in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Its world renowned cultural and spiritual complexes like Akshardham in Gandhinagar and New Delhi and the Swaminarayan Mandirs in London, Houston and Chicago, are some of its epoch-making contributions to society. Under he inspiration and guidance of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, BAPS has earned an endearing and unique place in the hearts of millions throughout the world.
Acclaimed as a unique and rare holy soul of India, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was born on 7 December 1921, in the village of Chansad, Gujarat. He is the fifth successor in the illustrious spiritual tradition of Bhagwan Swaminarayan and the embodiment of the universal Hindu ideals.
In his presence doubts dissolve, confusions clear, hurts heal and the mind finds peace. His selfless love and morality equally soothes and moralises children, youths and the aged; regardless of caste, creed or status.
Out of his compassion for humanity, he has visited over 15,500 villages, towns and cities, sanctified over 250,000 homes, and read and replied to over 500,000 letters. He has ushered a cultural, moral and spiritual renaissance in India and abroad by establishing over 640 mandirs. His divine humanism has provided succour to countless souls in times of natural catastrophe and need. His striking humility. Simplicity and spiritualism have impressed many religious and national leaders. Above all, his profound experience and realisation of God is the essence of his success and divine lustre.
It is a natural things for the youth to emulate and seek to follow the example of great people. This inherent attitude of devotion extends to other age groups as well, touching all of us. We look up to those whom our society honors and automatically strive to be like them. Especially important in this regard are great historical personalities, who represent important discoveries, developments or movements in society. Thought such individuals may have lived many years ago, their lives have become an example for future generations and they continue to be of interest to everyone. Their life stories help raise our own aspiration to a higher level and provide us with insights how to better fulfill our own deeper potential.
It is often said, and rightfully so, that the youth of today have no real role models to follow. The current social and political leaders seldom have any real character or integrity. In the modern media culture, the youth mainly looks up to entertainers, athletes, business executives or other people successful only in the external world. Such individuals may have skill and talent in certain areas but seldom project the model of a fully realized human being in body, mind and spirit. They do not provide us with real examples to follow in life in order to find real peace and happiness. Emulating them only causes us further distraction, frustration and confusion.
Much of this is not the fault of the individuals so honored as the current state of our society and its values. We live in a commercial age in which outer appearance, wealth, power and prestige is given more importance than inner wisdom, strength or integrity. In yogis terms, our current culture and its role models are rajasic (worldly), not sattvic (spiritual).
Modern history books, following mainly a western view of the world, do have their great historical individuals that students are taught to look up to in modern educational programs. But these personages are largely intellectuals, artists, scientists or politicians, not yogis, saints or sadhus. Their contribution is also more to the outer world than to the realm of the spirit or to the higher evolution of humanity beyond the body and ego. While they can demonstrate certain special insights, skills or discoveries, they rarely provide the kind of spiritual role models that we really need.
However, many great spiritual role models do exist in the history of India, which is founded recognizing and honoring the wise. Some of these towering personalities are still living today. They are the great gurus of the country, whose lives and teachings are the very life blood of the Hindu heritage. They remain the appropriate people to serve as cultural role models, particularly for those who want to follow a truly spiritual way of life. Some of them are also great scientists, doctors or musicians, showing how we can be successful in all fields of life without losing our inner equilibrium, but they approached their outer work with a yogic vision that made it something more than personal. They reflected some aspect of divinity into our mortal sphere.
Unfortunately, there is little available today on such great spiritual figures of the ages, particularly in a single book. This keeps the powerful influence of these great souls from reaching us today. The current book, Rishis, Mystics and Heroes of India, Vol. I helps remedy this situation, restoring our connection with this great stream of Hindu teachers. It revives the ancient Hindu literature of honoring great souls and their life stories.
Sadhu Mukundcharandas brings us such important life stories of great rishis, yogis, scientists, bhaktas and even kings of old India, extending to figures up to a few centuries ago. He takes many notable examples in a broad panorama of human types and experiences. His book provides us with true teachers to emulate and significant aspects of their lives to contemplate. As Vol. I only, we can expect that it will be followed by additional volumes ad including those of moral contemporary figures.
Hindu thought tells us that we tend to take on the samskaras or tendencies of the people whom we emulate in our hearts. If we mainly emulate people of rajasic (egoistic) disposition such as most older leaders and famous people are today then we become more rajasic or worldly-minded ourselves. If we mainly emulate people of sattvic (spiritual) disposition such as these great teachers are then we become more sattvic or spiritual ourselves. Emulating the right leaders and guides is an important means of character development, without which our personality is likely to remain unsound. It is a way of connecting to God and the Atma or Divine Self within us.
Contemplating such great personalities is part of the principle of 'Satsang' in Hindu thought, the idea of association with the wise. We tend to become like those whom we associate with. It is important that we choose our associations carefully and consciously, if we want to move our lives in the right direction to reduce our karmas and promote the liberation of the spirit. This is true not only for us individually but for our entire culture and civilization. If our society mainly emulates rajasic people such as it does today then our society as a whole must remain rajasic and lead to suffering, violence, unhappiness or mental agitation. While we cannot always change the people around us at a physical level, we can change those that we follow in our thoughts and actions. To contemplate the lives of noble souls is one way to do this.
India has a wealth of such great people, Mahatmas, and from every generation from the Vedic seers to the Mahabharata period to the modern age. Their lives are good example of how we should live and how we can make our own lives more meaningful. Their teachings remain as a light to guide us forward along our higher path.
Sadhu Mukundcharandas has done a great work bringing the stories of so many great people into a single volume. He has grasped the essence of their experience and presented it to the modern reader for quick and easy understanding. He has covered the ancient rishis of India including in diverse fields as Ayurveda and astronomy. He has gone through the founders of the main philosophical schools of the country, which remain probably the greatest philosophies of all time. He has given an important place to poets and singers as well. He has brought in several important political leaders and Kings, indicating that right action in the outer world was always part of Hindu thought. He has shown the great women of India as well, who have always had their importance as representing the Shakti of Mother India,
Rishis, Mystics and Heroes of India is a good book for the youth to show them a different model of how to make both themselves and the world better. It can be read and studied over a long period of time, a story a day or a week, affording many different facets on how to bring dharma into all that we do. The book is bound to encourage all people to change their lives in a spiritual direction. It affords a deeper vision of the human being and one that is truer to our real purpose in lives, which is to return to the Godhead within all.
I am happy to recommend this inspiring book to all readers, East and West. May the light of all such noble souls awaken in everyone!
A culture's future rests on the strength of its legacy. Preserve this legacy and the future brightens. Destroy it and the future bleakens. Regardless of the present state of affairs the richness of its past can certainly act as a beacon of inspiration both for those in the present and the future. As in other ancient cultures of the world, Bharatvarsh's (India's) firmament has scintillated down the ages with a legacy of eminent personalities. Each has played some role in illuminating this cultural firmament. Rishis, Mystics and Heroes of India will enlighten readers about the sublime contributions of these personalities.
Secondly, it hopes to induce a sense of pride in young NRIs and those distanced from their motherland, about its rich heritage and antiquity. Raised and educated in a western cultural milieu, the young at home and abroad are little aware about their lofty contributions. This presents two grave problems. The first is that demeaning accounts often radically estrange the young from their culture, to the extent that they develop a strong distaste for everything Indian. The second problem is of historical distortion. For example, Western authors give the earliest date of the Rg Veda and Mahabharat as 1500 BCE 500 BC respectively! They quote Maz Mueller as authority, who is turn gave his dates without any convincing evidence.
This problem of dating Sanatan Dharma's shastras is discussed and clarified in Part I, Chapter 1, in 'Bhagawan Veda Vyas', the author of the above texts.
The accounts of rishi scientists offer concrete evidence about their scientific discoveries, centuries before the so-called 'first discoveries' by Western scientists in the past few centuries. The evidence dispels the continuing false information disseminated in schools today. The evidence includes the rishis' first accounts regarding gravity, zero, the atom, the earth's rotation on its axis and spherical nature, astronomy, algebra, mathematics, trigonometry, chemistry, medicine and surgery, music, art, literature, architecture, agriculture and many other fields. Thus young readers may fathom the truth for themselves and remain open-minded about India's original contributions to the world.
The third aim of this book is to provide accounts of characters from the view of dharma and bhakti, rather than just a shallow account based on debabhav - body consciousness - which is often the bane of Western accounts. In this volume, each character's contribution is discussed in enriching, ennobling, expounding or upholding any ideal or belief of Sanatan Dharma over the ages.
In Part II, the details of philosophy will be of special interest to college level readers, who may wish to understand comparative philosophy of the six main schools of thought in a nutshell.
Personalities in Part III include people who have contributed to Sanatan Dharma by their bhakti literature, such as, devotional poems and commentaries, or by their profound saintliness.
The heroes and heroines in Part IV include people who, by their statesmanship and values of dharma, continued the struggle against adharma, to liberate their kingdoms from oppression and instill values of dharma in people.
From time immemorial Bharatvarsh has been graced with sages known as rishis. By performing austerities, meditation and by divine grace they fathomed the secrets of creation. Each rishi gleaned truths of a particular field of knowledge. The rishis imparted two types of knowledge (vidya): para - spiritual and apara - mundane. In this first section we consider nine rishis or rishi-scientists.
Bhagwan Veda Vyas and Yagnavalkya were rishis who fathomed both para and apara vidya in the Vedas. Panini formulated the intricacies of Sanskrit, the language of the devas and rishis. Then follows the three rishi-scientists of Ayurveda; Divodas Dhanvantari, Sushrut and Charak. They revealed to mankind the secrets of longevity, health, medicine revealed to mankind the secrets of longevity, health, medicine and surgery. It is important to realize that these rishis literally 'saw' intuitively and gleaned the truths about the human body, its multiple systems, the medicinal qualities of plants and minerals for treatment and the secrets of holistic health. One who 'sees' intuitively, by his supernormal faculty of vision, is known as a seer and drushta in Sanskrit. The rishis possessed spiritual power and omniscience such that through them the sacred texts and knowledge were revealed to man. Many of their observations defied European physicians of the 18th century and continue to baffle those of the 21st century, as well shall see.
The final three rishi-scientists, namely, Varahamihir, Aryabhatta and Bhaskaracharya (II) were geniuses in astronomy, mathematics and algebra respectively. Their original contributions reflect their immense spiritual enlightenment. Of these, Varahamihir may be considered the supremely versatile. He has cited intricate details about a staggering range of topics; secrets impossible to be fathomed in one lifetime single-handedly.
All such rishis then, perfected their body, mind and atma to serve as a fine-tuned laboratory. Their inner enlightenment and divine grace added the crowning touch.
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