Excerpted from an article by Nipun Mehta, July 7, 2015:
I recently met a 97 year old Sufi saint named Dada Vaswani. He has a great many followers around the world, is highly respected by monks and nuns from various traditions, and radiates a profound sense of peace. I was deeply grateful to meet him. But his first words to me were, “I’m so grateful to have met you.” It wasn’t just a pleasantry, he really meant it. And it wasn’t because he thought I was special — he just knew that everyone is special. Because everyone is connected to everything, and the whole show is sacred.
Dada shared that his own teacher was once asked who he was. “Are you a poet? Are you an educationist? Author? Saint?” He responded with, ‘I am a zero.’ Then he paused for a while and added, ‘I’m not the English zero — the English zero occupies space. I am the Sindhi ‘Nukta’. In Sindhi, zero is written like a dot. So that was the ideal placed before me,” Dada shared.
When we succeed in radically downsizing the ‘I’, we find true expansion. It is when we shrink our preoccupation with self, that far greater energies course through us. We no longer attempt to drive change in the world, but rather to “be” that change we wish to see. St Francis’s prayer was not, “Make me CEO of your peace”. It was make me a channel of your peace. And to be a channel, is to understand the true power of being zero.
To probe into this idea of being an instrument, of being zero, I asked him about Bodhisattvas. Similar to Jinas in Jainism, Buddhists define Bodhisattvas as beings who forsake their own liberation for the sake of others. He paused for moment, locked eyes with mine and recited a poem by Shantideva. One deliberate word after another.
May I be a guard for those who need protection,
A guide for those on the path,
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick,
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles;
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I bring sustenance and awakening,
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow,
And all are awakened.
His voice died into silence, and no words could describe the electric feeling in the room. My heart was overflowing with gratitude. With whatever limited humility I was capable of, I asked, “Dada, how may I be of service to you?” Then, he did something that blew me away. He cupped his two hands in front of me, as if holding out a begging bowl, and gently said, “I request your tears of compassion.”
Long pause. This time, on my account. No questions were arising, no answers were arising. We just gazed into each other’s eyes. Finally I managed to get a few words out, “I’ll do my best, Dada,” I said.
When Dada asked for my tears of compassion, what he was pointing to is the power of zero – that capacity to be an empty vessel, so that compassion’s flood can effortlessly surge through you. And it all begins with the wisdom of humility.