Friday, 18 August 2017

God seeks a devotee as intensely as the devotee seeks God - a dentist's story

The chances of Sindhuja* (name changed to preserve anonymity as wished by the devotee) coming in contact with the Avatar of the Age, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, were very remote. Of course, her paternal grandparents had made a visit to the holy hamlet of Puttaparthi in the 1960s. But that was about it. Her father was just about 5 years old then. So, he had no recollection of Swami. Her mother came from a family of devout Shirdi Baba followers. She found the concept of Sathya Sai being Shirdi Sai as weird. She couldn’t imagine how her Fakir Guru was this afro-haired Swami. In fact, she openly rebelled against the thought and had only negative feelings for Swami. It was in these circumstances that Sindhuja was born in 1978.

Call it fate or destiny, her mother’s elder sister had got married into a family of Sai devotees. The atmosphere at home and a few experiences had made the elder aunt accept Sathya Sai as her Guru. This irritated the younger sister (Sindhuja's mother) whenever she had to visit her elder sister’s home. And she visited often for two reasons:
  1. She was her elder sister.
  2. Her work as a sitting judge in the district court made such travel inevitable.
Thus, Swami seemed to have made a forceful entry into the mother’s life and, indirectly, into Sindhuja’s life as well.

The inexplicable craze

It was the time when Sindhuja was about 8 years old. Her mother was at court, adjudicating a case when she felt an irrepressible urge. She felt that she had to go to Puttaparthi. It was an inner call and an annoyingly persistent one at that! She actually adjourned the court, got up from her seat, applied for a leave of few days and returned home to pack for the travel! To this day, she has no idea why she did what she did but she soon landed in the abode of Supreme Peace. The plan was to spend a day at Prasanthi Nilayam and return to her native town in Karnataka. The plan got extended and it resulted in her staying for a week. The judge returned as a changed woman.
“You have come to believe in the divinity of Swami!”, her sister exclaimed.
“Guilty as charged”, she conceded.

After that, the mother became a regular at Prasanthi Nilayam and so did Sindhuja. For Sindhuja, accepting Swami as God was as natural as accepting Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva or Rama as God. However, this was a living God and Sindhuja seemed to develop an inexplicable craze for Him. He definitely was her first love. In 1994, the budding teenager got the opportunity to spend a dozen days at Prasanthi Nilayam, doing Seva.

Sindhuja had a unique dream darshan where she saw Swami seated in a
golf buggy. The year was 1994!
The peace and joy she experienced during those days was out of the world. She decided that she wanted to serve Swami all her life. Nothing else was as important.

She had an interesting dream in which she saw herself running into Sai Kulwant hall for darshan. When the volunteer tried to stop her, she told her that she was a staff member! She was allowed into the hall. Surprisingly, instead of walking in for darshan, Swami arrived in a vehicle, a golf buggy to be precise, sitting in the back seat. Sindhuja enjoyed the unique darshan. She woke up with an intense desire to become a ‘staff member’ at Prasanthi Nilayam. She wanted to serve Swami. It was around this time that her mother also imparted to her the importance of serving others.
“The noblest thing one can do is Seva”, she told her, “and service is the easiest way into Swami’s heart.”
That would be a life-defining advice for Sindhuja because every decision she made after that seemed to be in alignment with that message.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Let Go and Let God - the life experience of Dr. Vineet Basotia

When the Master decides to step into your life

It was in desperate times that Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba entered the life of Dr. Vineet Basotia. As a teenager, Vineet found it hard to focus on academics due to the pressing financial situation at home and the regular terrorism dangers in his home-state. He had completed a large part of his education in the town of Digboi, the Oil City of Assam where the first oil well in Asia was drilled. He had then moved out to the city of Guwahati for high school education. That move however had not helped him move away from the terrorist problems that Assam constantly faced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When things appeared bleak and hopeless, Amitabh came along and told him about Swami.

"If you need me, you deserve me." Swami entered Vineet's life in the times of his greatest need...

Amitabh had been a student of the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School till grade 10. He joined Vineet’s school at Guwahati in grade 11. Amitabh was a true friend to Vineet for he introduced him to Swami and in turn, to hope and faith. One thing led to another and soon, Vineet had convinced everyone at home that it was probably worth the shot to travel 2700 kilometers from India’s far east to the tiny town of Puttaparthi in the heart of the arid Rayalaseema. The rail journey itself would take more than three days but the financial condition at home was such that Vineet had to travel all alone. It was the May of 1994.

The summer in Puttaparthi is harsh on even it’s seasoned residents. An unsuspecting outsider often gets burnt when he faces it for the first time. Vineet found the heat unbearable. Soon, he fell sick with high fever. He was alone and very far from family at a time when cellphones weren’t even a thought in India. In fact, getting through to his family via STD itself was a herculean task. Burning at 102°F, Vineet slowly trudged his way to the examination hall in the school building at Puttaparthi. He was feeling extremely weak and the continuous bouts of vomiting had made matters worse. Fifteen minutes through the written test, he began to feel giddy as well. He got up, went to the invigilator and submitted his barely-filled test paper.
“I am very sick sir. I cannot do it...”
“This is most unfortunate”, the kind teacher replied, “but I would suggest that you spend 5  minutes and finish this paper. After all, it is only multiple choice questions. Chant ‘Sairam’ and just tick away. You never know what Swami does...”
“Thank you but I am sorry. I don’t think I’ll be able to do even that”, said Vineet as he slowly walked out of the classroom and headed back towards the ashram.

It was an ordeal for Vineet to walk back. He reached the main entrance of the Prasanthi Nilayam and almost collapsed at the Ganesha temple at its entrance. He sat there wondering how he would walk till his shed. That is when something strange happened. He began to suddenly sweat profusely. The sweat also began to cool his body rapidly. In ten minutes, he was feeling the energy return. He was able to stand and start walking. However, he was feeling so strong now that instead of heading towards the shed, he turned back and walked towards the venue of the entrance examination. He reached the classroom and called out to the teacher.
“Ah! You are back?”
“Sir, I will do as you say. If you can give me my answer sheet for 15 minutes, I shall blindly tick away and leave the rest to Swami as you said.”
The teacher smiled and handed Vineet his incomplete answer sheet. The lad went through all the sections in a hurry. He randomly ticked answers without even reading the questions. Handing back the answer sheet, he returned to the shed.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Missing what we want because of how we want it - God's dilemma

Seeking the magic of a Divine visit

Among the several magical memories that a Sai-student carries of life at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, a Divine visit to the hostel often ranks very high. When Swami visits the hostel, it feels like the Lord wanted to call all the students for an interview but did not have an interview room as big as His heart! And so, He decides to visit the students in the hostel -  it is like a mass private interview on the largest scale! Such a visit brings many close interactions with Swami. He speaks to the students and the students express their feelings for Him through conversations, talks, short skits and songs. There are momentous materializations and rousing revelations.  A taste of such a visit can be obtained by reading the happenings during one such visit that had taken place in 2003. Each visit is unique and the ‘uncertainty’ about how it will unravel only adds to the anticipation and excitement.
The memorable Divine visit to the hostel in March 2003

Thus, every student of the SSSIHL wishes to be part of at least one Divine visit to the hostel. The students in our batch were no exception!  It is no wonder that we wanted such a repeat of history. But Swami always has His ways of refusing to make such a visit unless the boys plead hard enough. We prepared ourselves for such excuses of the Lord, and went to the mandir armed with a large invitation card. The card had many photos of Swami with the students during many previous hostel visits and the wording was this,
“Swami, our home is empty without you. Please bless it with your loving visit.”

Different gender, same scenes! Swami's visit to the girls' hostel in Anantapur brings thrill to everyone.

It was the 22nd of February in 2005. The clock face in Sai Kulwant Hall proclaimed 4:15 pm when Swami came out on His darshan rounds. As He neared us, we got up on our knees with the card and showed it to Him. He looked at the card and said out aloud,
“Swami, it is empty because You are not there. If You visit our hostel, it will cease to be empty. It will become full!”, we answered.
Swami nodded and told us to go back and sit in our places.

Do we miss what we seek because of how we wish to get it?

There is a popular story that goes as follows.

A town gets flooded and there is water everywhere. A pious man is trapped on the roof of a building and has nowhere to go. The rising flood waters are slowly encircling the building and he has nowhere to go. But he is not at all worried. His faith in God is firm and he simply starts praying. He says,
“Dear God. All my life I have worshipped you and have had steady faith in you. Please come to my rescue.”

Within a few minutes, the waters have risen a few more meters and it is only a matter of 15 more minutes before they swallow the building completely. Presently, a boat comes by and the boatman shouts out,
“Sir! I have place for one more on my boat. Would you care to join?”
“No! You carry on and save someone else. God will save me.”
The boat goes away.

Minutes before the building is completely submerged, a helicopter comes above and, over the megaphone, a shout is heard,
“Sir! Please hold on. We shall rescue you.”

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

God's delays are not denials but gateways to greater joy

“God’s delays are not His denials...”

This is a quote that I have heard a million times. Well, maybe not a million times, but it surely feels like that! It is possibly one of my all-time favorite phrases to be used while consoling someone who is in despair.
“Hey! Don’t worry. Things will sort out. God is there to help. Remember... His delays are not His denials.”
But my attitude towards the quote depends on how life is panning out for me. When things are sunny and fine, I completely trust the quote. When things go bad however, I seem to desperately grab on to the quote with the secret hope in my heart that this is only a delay and not a denial from God. The truth is whether I ‘believe’ in it or not, God definitely has the perfect timing and His delays are only to bring added joy! I know this to be true based on multiple experiences with my Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. One singular experience however, stands out because it reinforces this quote with two simultaneous experiences of delays not being denials.

The Master walks into our life at the perfect time - ALWAYS!
Just like a single story of the charming Lord Krishna gets linked to so many other stories which reveal His divine facets, this incident too shall have its sub-stories. In fact, ‘deviating’ from the main story into sub stories has been termed as ‘Hari-Katha’ in India, a composite form of storytelling with poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy, which often runs for hours! The sub-stories add flavour and spice to the main story. So, here is one such Sai-Katha.

A class teacher’s classy talk

It was the March of the year 2000. I was in XII grade and was preparing furiously for the countrywide Board Examinations. In India, 12th standard is a transition from high school to University and the examinations conducted by the CBSE (Central Board for Secondary Examination) are given paramount importance. For a student in Swami’s school, it was a time of another probable, terrible transition. Since Swami had not started any medical or engineering colleges and courses for chartered accountancy, those wishing to pursue these lucrative and attractive careers had to leave Swami’s physical proximity. Further studies available in the University involved only the pursuit of a Bachelor's degree in pure sciences, commerce or the arts which is considered ‘mediocre’ by many. (This is fast changing in part due to the impressive record of the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning).

In that scenario, an informal talk delivered to us by our ‘class’ teacher, Dr.Sailesh Srivastava was vital in the enlightenment it provided. The talk lasted two hours and was delivered late in the evening in the galleries of the Sri Sathya Sai Hill-View stadium. The next day, we were to travel to Brindavan (Whitefield in Bangalore), as the school’s outgoing batch and seek His blessings.This was the practice - the outgoing students from Puttaparthi, Brindavan and Anantapur would travel to wherever Swami was and hope to elicit an interview or at least padanamaskar. The talk that Sailesh sir gave us was inspirational and full of the divine stories of Swami. He made one particular point that struck us and seemed to get enshrined in every listening heart.

He said, “Whether we stay with Swami or not, is not in our hands. If we are supposed to be away from Swami, even if we perform somersaults to stay on here, it will not be possible. If we are supposed to be here, however hard we try to get away from this place, it will not be possible. So, that is out of our hands. That is destiny. But we can decide what we feel and desire. We can have the intense longing to be with Swami always, irrespective of where life takes us. We can choose to give Swami first priority always. That is self effort. Take care of your feelings and desires which are in your control, life will take care of itself. “

At the end of that talk, everyone was wanting to be with Swami, irrespective of what they had originally desired or what their parents had planned. If fate/destiny would take them away, so be it but they would certainly not want to be away from Swami at any cost.

The rewards of the inspirational talk

Thus it was, that a bunch of highly motivated and charged up students made their way to Brindavan. In the morning, as we all sat for darshan, Swami came and made enquiries into how many of us had come and for what reason we had come. The darshan got over during which we had managed to hand over the bundle of letters that we had all written to Swami. Within a few minutes, we received word that Swami had called us all into Trayee Brindavan, His residence at Whitefield.  With great joy, anticipation and excitement we wended our way into the Trayee compound and entered the hallowed precincts of the building. The Jhoola or swing welcomed us and we sat around it. In a few moments, Swami arrived. As soon as He came into the room, He asked,
“How many doctors here?” 

Nobody raised their hands. Sailesh sir’s speech on the previous evening was obviously showing its effects. Everyone in their hearts was saying,
“Swami, we want to be with you.”

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Any desire other than God is a distraction at best - Govinda's life story with Sri Sathya Sai

Destiny is another name for God’s arrangements

Govinda had a broad smile on his face as he filled the application form to enroll into the National Defence Academy. Joining the Indian army had been his only dream during the school days and he was just a step away from achieving it. The 12th grade National Board Exams had concluded and Govinda was very confident of repeating his 10th grade Board Exam performance where he had topped his school. But there was only one problem. His father, a temple priest by profession and his mother, a simple housewife, wanted him to study more and gain degrees in accordance to the traditions of the Brahmin caste they belonged to. It was obvious that they had not understood the Bharatiya tradition of caste based on aptitude and not birth. Govinda’s aptitude had always been for physical rigour, discipline and courage. Though he was born to Brahmin parents and carried the surname, Upadhyaya, the ancient Indian tradition would have placed him in the Kshatriya caste with a different surname perhaps!

He had somehow prevailed on his parents and was hurriedly filling the forms before they could change their minds. That is when his friendly neighbour, Gupta uncle walked into the house holding some other forms.
“Govind beta, take this. You should join this college. I have all the necessary forms here.”
Govinda saw the name of the college - Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.
“Thanks uncle but no thanks! I am joining the army...”
“This is like the army and better than it also. You just apply. The entrance exams are in the first week of May in Prasanthi Nilayam.”
“Where is that?”
“Puttaparthi... Andhra Pradesh. That is Sathya Sai’s ashram.”

All these were new words for Govinda. He had not heard the term ‘Sai Baba’ in his life so far. He knew of some Babas near his hometown, Dehradun, and assumed that this Sai Baba also must be a wandering renunciate like them.
“But I have my NDA exams in the first week of May.”
“Just do as I am telling you. This will be the best decision of your life.” Gupta uncle was persistent.
“This is what you should do - study. Please do this instead of becoming a Kshatriya”, the parents pleaded.

Out of respect for the very loving Gupta uncle and to please his parents Govinda agreed to fill the forms. To his surprise, his favourite Mathematics teacher also egged him to apply in the Baba’s college in spite of having no information about him.

For the first time in his life, Govinda decided to step out of his home state of Uttar Pradesh and travel more than 2000 kilometres to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Before he left, Gupta uncle gave him a filled rucksack which contained several pairs of white dresses along with other essentials that he would need for a year! He also gave him Rs. 15,000 before bidding him all the best. His parents gave him an additional Rs. 5,000.  Thus it was that in the first week of May of the millennium-changing year 2000, Govinda found himself in Puttaparthi, to write the entrance examinations for the BSc degree.

A ‘hot’ welcome

Puttaparthi was an immediate put-off for Govinda. It was simply too hot for him in sharp contrast to the cool Dehradun climate. Added to that, it was a ghost-town (as Swami was in Brindavan, Bangalore, in the month of May 2000). He was accommodated along with three others from the states of Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. These three would always have Sai Baba’s name on their lips and would keep studying for the exams. Govinda thought they were crazy. He had decided not to study one bit so that he would flunk the exams and go back home. Little did he know the power of the destiny-strings with which the Lord beckons to a devotee!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

God's PUSH is always for the greater good of the individual

How many times do we go through something in life, wondering why that is happening to us. We are convinced that life would be much better if things proceed in the manner of our thinking. Hours, days, weeks, months or (sometimes) even years may pass. One day, suddenly, looking back on those very same episodes in life, we are grateful for them because they have made us what we are today.

In matters concerning Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, my God, Master and best friend, I always felt that I wasted those ten-odd years of my life during which I did not know Him. I used to wonder how much better life would be if only I had come to Him earlier. Today, in retrospect, I am simply happy because I am convinced of God’s perfect timing which I have experienced and understood multiple times. Of course, there are still those instances where I do not understand why something is happening. I try to tell myself in complete faith that things are happening in the best manner possible - only that I am not yet aware of the significance and beauty of the Lord’s action. That is the secret of surrender.

Let Go... Let God
A big opportunity and an even bigger challenge

In 1994, I had wanted to study in Swami’s school but was not getting admission at Puttaparthi. I was told that I could apply in the Puttaparthi school only for grade 11. Desperate to be in His school at any cost, I had got myself admitted at the Sri Sathya Sai Vidyapeeth in Calicut, Kerala. I was in 8th grade in 1995 when I was presented with an irresistible offer after I won the Hindi elocution competition.
“Would you like to deliver a speech in Hindi for the festival of Onam in Sai Kulwant hall, Prasanthi Nilayam, in Bhagawan’s divine presence?”
I was thrilled. I would have been ready to memorise and deliver a speech in French also if it was in Swami’s immediate presence! I nodded and jumped at the opportunity.

The opportunity was also a big challenge. My Hindi was (and is) at best average. The elocution competition victory was simply an ode to my memorizing skills and definitely not a confirmation of my mastery over India’s national language! So, I decided to use the same technique as the elocution competition for this speech also - I decided to learn it by-heart!

I had two months to prepare and I requested my Hindi teacher to write down the entire speech for me. Then began the act of ‘mugging’, the colloquial term at school for committing something to memory!  Weeks of labour and hundreds of rehearsals later, I had become adept in my speech. In fact, if someone woke me up in my sleep and uttered “Aum Sri Sai Ram” - the first line of my speech - I could simply rattle out in the next 7.5 minutes my entire speech with the voice modulation and body language! I was quite well prepared for Onam in the Divine presence.

In order to justify some of the feelings I went through later, I must give a brief background of the atmosphere in my school which was also called Sri Sailam.

A picture that fills me with nostalgia today - the bust of Swami welcoming everyone into Sri Sailam.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dating and Marriage - insights from a divine drama staged by Sri Sathya Sai Baba

By the love and grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, many opportunities have come my way to address the youth from many countries. It is a great privilege to be able to share thoughts, ideas and ideals with this reservoir of great potential - the reservoir that will be sustaining the society and world in the future days to come. My observation has been that though the themes of the different conferences, meets, study circles and satsanghs may vary greatly, the questions and problems that the youth face fall broadly into just 3 themes. These are:
  1. Relationships
  2. Money and career
  3. Practical Spirituality

Here, in this piece, the idea is to deal with ONLY the first theme - relationships (and that too dating and marriage).
When it comes to relationships (in the youth), the focus is invariably on friendships, dating and marriage. The other relations either are not given that much attention or they come into picture only because they too have a role to play in the “friendship, dating and marriage” theme.

"I shall direct My own drama to leave behind a message for posterity", that is what the Divine Thought seems to be
as He gazes into the future with a smile... 

Imagine my joy when, while flipping through the pages of my personal diary, I came across an unexpected episode that happened on the 2nd of March, 2010, in the direct physical presence of Swami, which provides many insights on this very sensitive theme of dating and marriage! I felt a thrill in my heart because I realized this was Swami’s way of helping me and, in turn, all those that have questions and doubts in this regard. So, with deep gratitude and prayers, I shall take this nostalgic ride down memory lane, to the day when Swami amazed the whole of Sai Kulwant hall with His seemingly childlike actions. Though it is very tempting to fast forward and rush to the Divine delight that drenched the devotees, it is only fair that everyone be allowed to participate in the day as it unfolded. And so, we begin from the beginning.

In the beginning, there was nothing...

That is how the history of the universe begins; that is how the Parthi Yatra (Parthi Pilgrimage) began for the devotees from the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand began. They had come prepared with multiple cultural programmes to be put up the Divine Presence on the occasion of the festival of Holi. Holi was on March 1st but to the great disappointment of the pilgrims, even as the clock showed 06:30 pm and the bhajans were on in full swing, there was no sign of Swami coming. It was a sort of anti-climax because on the previous 5 days, Swami had granted darshan in the mornings as well as evenings. The day ended without even a single darshan. Holi didn’t turn out to be so holy after all!

The Lord has His reasons and those are beyond the comprehension of us mortals. On the morning of the 2nd of March, Swami told the pilgrims that He would see their programme in the evening. The devotees from Bihar and Jharkhand began preparations in right earnest and with sincere prayers. Many cancelled their return tickets to stay an extra day in Prasanthi. Soon, the backdrop was in place and the children were ready in costumes. As was the practice, Veda chanting began at 4:30 pm and concluded at 5:00 pm. But well, as said earlier, in the beginning there was nothing! Nothing in terms of signs of Swami's arrival.

Then there was the Word! The word was with God; the word was God! It was at 6:30pm that there was word of Swami's arrival. And then He came!