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Suresh Parmar: Building Village Intelligence

Magic Of Heart - Touching Conversation With Sureshbhai

The heart has its reasons which the mind knows nothing of.”  

As I learned to work in teams, to develop deeper relationships with family and friends, I have felt the ways of heart and this quote from Blaise Pascal. 

When I read in Sureshbhai’s introduction for Awakin call – the idea of intelligence that leads with the heart and then brings hands and head in the service - it intrigued me. I listened to his talk during our weekly Awakin call. I got a whole new meaning to heart.

I feel honored and humbled to transcribe the conversation our Awakin moderator Audrey Lin had with Sureshbhai Parmar.

Here is the transcript.

Audrey: Sureshbhai, welcome to our call. I have had the opportunity to see you very closely. You make everyone around you feel so special. When you give me a hug, it hits me very deeply; I feel your heart and the child inside of you. Will you share with us a little bit of your journey?

Sureshbhai: First of all, let me express deep gratitude for all the people in my life – people like Gopaldada, Ishwarkaka, Jayeshbhai, and a number of noble people like you from all around the world. I have learned so much from my time with them.

When I think of the journey of my life, Guru Nanak’s message comes to me: “Bin Gun Kithe Bhakti Na Hoy” – what it means to me…if you don’t have the right virtues, if your heart isn’t in the right place – all of your efforts and worship are of no use. How do I nurture good values in myself? How do I learn from all the people around me?

One saying from our Indian folklore is very close to my heart…“Na Kisi Abhav me, Na Kisi Prabhav Me, Rahna He Hame Hamare Swabhav Me” … I don’t want to act because something is lacking in my life; I don’t want to act because I am under the influence of something or someone. I simply want to be true to my natural self. I want to connect with the child that is inside of me.

I always like to ask myself, “How can I devote myself to the task at hand? How can I feel one with it?” This devotion makes my every act a “Bhakti” – worship. A number of noble people like Gopaldata, Ishwarkaka, Jayeshbhai inspired me to strive for this devotion to my work.

Audrey: How touching! Would you share a story or two about your mentors whom you speak so highly of?”

Sureshbhai: Let me tell you something about Gopaldada. I got to spend time with him while working at “Ranapir no Tekro,” the biggest slum in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India. We were part of Manav Sadhna, an initiative from the Environmental Sanitation Institute (ESI), of Sabarmati Ashram.

First of all, Gopaldada had amazing patience. He always acted as if he had all the time in the world while helping others. Gopaldada always strove to see universal goodness in every small act. He would always ask himself, “How do I contribute to the world while doing this? How do I connect to my true inner self while working on the task at hand?”
Gopaldata also strongly believed in “Swa Gun Vardhan” – try to nurture your good part, your good values. As they get stronger, so does your ability to act.

I always ask myself, “How can I spread and expand upon what I learned from Gopaldata?” With Gopaldada, we would go to slum areas where it was difficult even to pass by because of the strong smell. He would simply go there and start cleaning up, start helping others. Initially, we would ask Gopaldada, “Don’t you feel disgusted? Don’t you feel like staying away from it? How do you keep repeating your act when so many times those people aren’t trying to understand and change?” And Gopaldada’s answer was, “For me, this act of cleaning is an act of worship. People worship god. I worship living beings – look at the god inside of those people.

He would start talking and helping even if there were only a few people, or even one person. He used to quote Sanskrit saying, “Karmnyeva Adhikareste, Ma Faleshu Kadachan.” - “I want to focus on what I am doing; I don’t want to worry about what returns I would get for that.”

People would naturally gravitate to him, listen to him, seek his advice.

Audrey: Beautiful! You drive the Nandini Van, and go to different places to educate people. It never seems like a work; you make it look so fun and easy. Would share with us your experience with the Nandini Van?

Sureshbhai: I learned to drive with the Nandini Van. I didn’t know how to drive before that. The Nandini Van was Ishwarkaka’s brain child. I learned about sanitation from Ishwarkaka. He wanted to spread his message to all the villages with the vision of the Nandini Van. Go to villages, talk to people, educate them, support them.

When I go driving the Nandini Van to different villages, I go there to learn, not to teach. In India, we say “Gram Devta Dhyo Namah” – there is so much goodness in the villages. I truly believe in that goodness - it is like a god. I try to connect with that god.

I simply go, talk, and mingle with people.

Audrey: Would you share a little bit with us about how you were when you started? What were your values, views, opinions, and how they changed over time?

Sureshbhai: I think every human being has compassion, kindness inside. I had it, too, from the beginning. Because of the opportunity I got to connect with so many noble people, the kindness and compassion inside of me got chance to flow – my values from inside got their expression. There is a child inside of you, wake him up. That child will connect you with what is close to your heart. The child inside of you will help you with “Chitta Shuddhi” – purifying yourself by getting close to your soul. The connection with my inner child simplified my life. “Mera Jeevan Saralta or Samaj Ka Samanvay Hai” – The understanding of my life I have now is a combination of simplicity in daily life and connection with wisdom that I got from within.

When I started, I wanted to get my degree, I wanted to get a good job, earn money, and take care of my family. I loved wearing fashionable clothes. As I got chance to connect with a number of very noble people like Gopaldata and Ishawarkaka, they connected me to that compassion and kindness that was always inside of me.

Question from one of the participants on call, Bela: What is the role of your family in your life? How did it impact your life not only growing up, but also now?

Sureshbhai: I think everything that I have in my life - I owe it all to my family. It’s all theirs not mine.

When I was young, my mom and dad taught me that it’s a blessing to be a human being – god has given us a lot. Learn to give, share it with others. It could be small acts of kindness – doesn’t have to be big – find ways help others.

Lakshmi, my wife, has an invisible hand behind all that I do. All is possible in my life because of her support. I am so overcome with emotions while talking about her. When she learned about what I wanted to do, her response was, “You dedicate yourself to the society and what you want to do, and I will take care of our family.” I go home after days, some time even weeks. So many times, I would call her to let her know, “I will be home tonight.” But, then something comes up and I can’t go home. Even then, Lakshmi simply wants to understand me without any complaints. She listens to me so patiently. That patience is her service to family, that patience is her worship of everyone in the universe.

She always tells all her friends, “Suresh is always with me in my thoughts. That is all that matters to me.”

Question from Ram: What are the challenges that you see in villages today?

Sureshbhai: I think there are issues; there are problems to be solved. However, I wouldn’t think of them as challenges. It’s matter of understanding people and connecting to their hearts.

For example, our sanitation work isn’t just about constructing toilets. It’s about changing people’s thinking. I can think of examples where there are clean people in unclean countries. People keep themselves clean, but they create garbage that someone else would need to clean up. That to me isn’t sanitation even if people are clean. The basic understanding isn’t there. Sanitation is all about mindset – a way of life.

There are issues sometimes with people’s addiction to liquor or smoking. Don’t look at the issue; look at the human beings behind it. “Insaan Ko Sadhna Ki Tarah Dekho” – See the universal conscience, the god inside every human being. When you look at it that way, the issue becomes a learning process. It teaches us. Genuinely try to understand the person. When people see you doing that, they feel encouraged to understand their inner self. Once that happens, the issues get resolved automatically.

Once you make heart-to-heart connection, every problem is so easy to solve. When you look at it that way, I don’t think there are any challenges.

Question from Matt: Where I live, quite a few families don’t have a man at home – because he is in jail or somewhere else. Kids grow up without a father figure, and it’s a challenge. How do we keep the village together with this situation?

Sureshbhai: Think of how to make your village a family. And the key to that, I think, is action. What I suggest is look for very small issues – there will be quite a few small things here and there. Look for small issues and not big ones – small is beautiful. Look for small acts of kindness, and start doing them. People will think about your action, and gradually they will start looking up to you. They will start asking questions. I think that is important – now, it’s more about them wanting to learn instead of you trying to preach/teach.

Listen to their questions and try to find answers together with them. Master to me, means “Ma Ster” – in Gujarati, “Ma” means “mother” and “Ster” means “level” – help them with heart of a mother.

So Matt, I would start with small actions. That will help you connect their hearts.

Audrey: Sureshbhai, in everything that you said today, it seems it cut across the child inside of you. Is there anything that we can do for you?

Sureshbhai: “Dil Jodta Hai, Dimag Todta Hai. Siddhi Ki Aur Na Jaye, Shuddhi Ki Aur Jao” – Your heart connects, your logic of trying to justify everything breaks. Strive for purifying yourself rather than chasing materialistic achievements.

When we purify ourselves - will create ecology where we will be able to give something nice to universe. If you would like to do something for me, how about joining hands in purifying your heart?

Kanchan: Sureshbhai, a lot of people call you Surya – which means “the sun” in India. You are Surya to all of us – you are showing us how to live our lives.

Sureshabhi: I think that, actually, we are all Surya for the universe – that divine is inside all of us.
Sureshbhai concluded with a poem that resonates so well with his message. Here it is -

There is a god in the ‘soul temple’ inside of us.
There is a god in the ‘soul temple’ inside of us.
This deep secret only a few of us know.
When you act selflessly – you connect with this ‘soul temple.’
There is a god in the ‘soul temple‘ inside of us.
There is a light inside that is shining brightly.
Once you discover that you feel relaxed and at home.
There is peace, quiet, an eternal happiness in your ’soul temple.’
There is peace, quiet, an eternal happiness in your ‘soul temple.’
The pilgrimage to all religious places is right there in your ‘soul temple.’
There is a god in the ‘soul temple’ inside of us.

Here is a link to Lavanya's post on it (Song from Today's Awakin Call (March 30th) - it has the audio and Lavanya's own touching translation...

My concluding note:

The sweet melodious voice of Sureshbhai is still ringing in my ears and heart. I encourage you to listen to that in this audio podcast or in Lavanya's post.

Sureshbhai’s voice, his compassion, his love, his sincerity, his clarity, his simplicity, his transparency in this conversation is so priceless – I have tried my best to capture the essence of it.

Nipun quoted Mahatma Gandhiji in his speech: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I felt deeply that Sureshbhai is becoming that change every day of his life. I believe in the Universal Consciousness or the god or the Higher Self – the one that is inside all of us and the one that connects all of us as one. In Sureshbhai’s words and actions, I saw a way to connect with that. When I think of Andrew Weil’s work with the holistic approach to healing, when I think of Ekhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Life’s Purpose, when I think of Swami Chinmayananda’s Self Unfoldment, when I think of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, when I think of Nipun’s message of generosity and giftivism, when I think of Jon Kabbatzin’s work on meditation and mindfulness, when I think of what I have learned from Pranayam and Yoga, when I think of what I read in Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, when I think of Scott Peck’s Road Less Travelled ...Their message simply feels right because it connects with my inner conscience. Only if I had wisdom, blessing, and inner drive to live by that connection every day of my life. How inspiring to learn about Sureshbhai! He is doing that every day of his life with his noble acts that connect hearts.

I found Sureshbhai’s message touching, healing, soothing, enlightening, fun, simple, wise…and I think the most importantly, true to the child inside of him.

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