How to embrace pain…

The story of Dada Vaswani’s remarkable recovery from a string of surgeries

Dada Vaswani

It was a fateful day in the lives of millions who love spiritual guru Dada J P Vaswani. But it was also a day, which underscored Dada’s greatness as he showed remarkable spirit even in the face of physical adversity. It happened like this: Dada was visiting a Sadhana Camp in Panama, USA, on May 7, 2010. He was to participate in a campfire that was a part of the camp’s activities. While stepping out of the elevator, Dada saw some children playing ping-pong [table tennis] and went to join them. Unfortunately, while lobbing one of the shots, he lost his balance and fell full force on the hard floor, damaging the right side of his body.

He was in so much pain that it wasn’t possible to move him until the ambulance arrived. But even as the devotees around him were stressed, Dada maintained his serene smile.

The pain worsened as the paramedics moved him into the ambulance, yet, instead of groaning, Dada would utter Hey Ram. Everyone around knew that it must not be easy on Dada as he had just recovered from a shoulder injury he had sustained in January. Yet, through the entire ordeal a smile never left his face, melting the hearts of those around….

Dada was airlifted in an air-ambulance, equipped with the necessary instruments and medical services. Despite his own pain and acute discomfort, Dada kept enquiring about the comfort of the medical staff, expressing his concern for them. The plane landed safely at Chicago.

Doctors in Chicago revealed that Dada had fractured the right hip [femur bone], the right shoulder [humerus bone] and the right elbow [olecranon].

The first surgery took place on Dada’s hip and shoulder. It was performed by Dr Walter Virkus. A rod and two screws [intramedullary nails] were inserted into the femur bone. A plate and multiple screws were inserted in the humerus bone. As we may well imagine, the levels of pain must have been very high; but Dada, with his patience and perseverance, retained his trade-mark smile.

By God’s grace the operation went off successfully. When he was wheeled out, Dada could see the strained and tense faces of all his devotees. With a gentle smile he constantly recited the words, “Gratitude to Thee, O Lord. Let me bear this for Thy sake. I accept this gift from You gladly. Tere Liye, Tere Liye.

Despite having undergone two painful and traumatic procedures, Dada had a countenance which radiated his inner peace and a demeanour of joyful acceptance. The doctors, nurses and the occupational therapist who attended to Dada marvel at his forbearance even in the face of so much physical suffering. Dada is thankful that the procedures have gone through smoothly. He believes that Divine Grace has turned a mountain into a molehill.

As characteristic of him, Dada’s sense of humour surfaces even during these difficult times, for he never believes in being gloomy and low. When nurse Jill said that she was sorry about Dada’s fall, he replied, “It’s a rise, not a fall. Just as a child rises up after a fall, so too I have risen.”

By God’s grace, on May 17, Dada’s second surgery on his right elbow went well without a hitch. Performed by Dr Mark Cohen, it was a long and complicated procedure, which lasted for over three hours. The hearts of the devotees accompanying Dada beat heavier and faster, but they were shored up with prayers and with trust in the expertise of the surgeons. The doctors emerged from the operation theatre totally satisfied with the way the surgery had proceeded.

Prior to the surgery, the doctors had asked Dada if he was comfortable. Dada replied, “Comfort is made up of two words—‘come’ and ‘fort’. A ‘fort’ is a place of refuge. So, if we ‘come’ and seek refuge at the Lotus Feet of the Lord, we will always be comfortable.”

Dada’s reply left them speechless, but also assured them that their rare and extraordinary patient was in ‘comfort’.

Dada bestowed on all, his blessed and beautiful smile before being wheeled in for the surgery. His countenance, at every stage, has only reflected calm
and peace. Never has a shadow of doubt, sorrow, frustration or despair ever crossed his face.

Dada emerged from the recovery room with a smile still visible on his face, providing everyone with the much-needed assurance. But we did not have much time to sit back and feel complacent, for God’s ways are mysterious and incomprehensible. He had us on our toes immediately with the information that there seemed to be no movement on the left side of Dada’s body.

This alarmed the doctors and had every one of us in shock. Dada’s left side would not respond to any touch or movement. After various tests and several discussions, the doctors diagnosed the problem as a mild stroke, which had affected the left side of Dada’s body.

Word went round the globe and prayers and chants for Dada’s recovery began immediately.

It seemed as though years had passed since the dreaded hour. There had been many frightening and fragile moments, when it had been unbearable to watch Dada in acute pain and distress. Even his limited movements would now be restricted! But it was only we who were devastated; Dada’s radiant smile never left his face.

The smile brought tears to our eyes! How much more pain could he take?

The progress was painfully slow, but Dada’s attitude helped us pass through this traumatic week with dry eyes and unshed tears firmly held back. Dada’s fortitude and endurance were unbelievable, and some of it rubbed off on those who were with him.

Dada had been moved to the physiotherapy unit of the hospital for rehabilitation. Here, his daily programme involved tremendous effort in participating in the physiotherapy and occupation therapy. But fully alert and aware, Dada poured in all his energy, will-power, patience and perseverance in attempting to physically return to normalcy as soon as possible. In fact, on seeing Dada, the therapists exclaim, ‘The Smiling One’ has come.

One day, a therapist told Dada, “You look like a young man.” Dada smilingly corrected, “I am a young man.”

Once a therapist inquired if Dada was tired. Dada replied, “I never get tired as long as there are three things I can do— pray without sleeping, smile all the while and serve as many as I can.”

Again and again in Rush Medical Centre, Chicago, the devotees around Dada kept coming back to the same questions: why do saints suffer? Can karma really bind a saint?

Dada explained that saints often take on their sufferings gladly: one reason for this is that they wish to settle their karmic accounts and become liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth. The second is that they are profoundly compassionate by nature, and so they take on the pain and suffering of others. For them, bodily suffering has no significance. They do suffer, but once it is past, they do not even retain a memory of it. Thus it was that Sri Ramana Maharishi, Sri Ramakrishna and Sadhu Vaswani, underwent great deal of pain and suffering in their last years…

“Do they actually feel all that pain, or do they simply transcend their suffering?” someone wanted to know.

Dada smiled. “Pain is real and actual, for everyone,” he said. “Some of the saints actually suffer far more than the rest, because their bodies are very sensitive and their consciousness is profound. Gurudev Sadhu Vaswani too, suffered on account of the slightest movements and gestures, which perhaps, we would hardly be aware of. Many of us believed that he actually took on the suffering of others.”

“It is tough and demanding to be a saint, or a holy person, is it not, Dada? And how many of us realise or appreciate the fact that a saint is taking on our suffering? Many of us simply live in ignorance, don’t we? Who would want to be holy, if there is so much pain involved?”

Dada smiled and said, “Saints know the value of pain.”

It is unbelievable at times how such a blow has befallen a body that is so delicate, tender and frail! The intensity of the pain suffered has been astronomical, far greater than regular levels of suffering, and yet Dada continued to smile and thank God, the doctors, the nurses and all those who came in contact with him.

Every day, there is a different mantra of gratitude on his lips. On one day it is ‘Thank you, God’; on another it is ‘Hare Ram’. Or at times it is ‘Satnam Mushkul Aasaan’. He holds on to these as to the Sherpherd’s Staff for support, never once complaining or expressing his pain. It makes one wonder at the mettle that our Guru is made of!

Excerpted with permission from How to Embrace Pain: Dada J P Vaswani’s journey to recovery, Sterling Paperbacks [An imprint of Sterling Publishers Pvt ltd], INR 195.

This was first published in the December 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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