Saturday, 9 December 2017

The easiest way to increase devotion to God - Life experience of Ram Mohan Rao - Part 2

"Test is the taste of the Lord"

The Lord always encourages the devotees’ test. But then, repeated testing is harmful for the devotee! If the mind is allowed to tug at the sapling of faith on a daily basis to check whether the root - God - is there, the sapling may never grow into a mighty tree. Swami had already faced the ‘Hyderabad test’. Now, he had been thrown the ‘Bangalore test’. His love is such that He would definitely respond. But this time, it would involve a ‘Madras test’ for the devotee.

The route to his destination in Odisha involved travelling via the city of Madras (Chennai today). In the Madras railway station, Ram Mohan discovered to his horror that he had lost his tickets! He did not have sufficient money to purchase the tickets afresh. Soon enough, the TC (ticket collector) came and evicted him from the train. Stranded and stuck, he was at his wits end. He closed his eyes and prayed to both the Babas he knew - Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai. The train would be leaving soon and he wondered why had he got into such a predicament. But wait, hadn’t he himself prayed to Swami to demonstrate His divinity?

[If you are wondering when did Ram Mohan make such a prayer, it becomes evident that you missed reading the first part of this article. For better understanding and greater enjoyment, read ahead only after having read the first part which is at the link below:


God recognizes us irrespective of the 'costume' we put on outside. Are we able to recognize when God comes to us in
His many costumes? (Sri Ram Mohan Rao with Swami in Kodaikanal, 1987)
“Ram Mohan Rao... Who is Ram Mohan Rao?”
He turned around to see a couple of gentlemen walking towards him. One was tall, about six and a half feet, while the other was short, about five feet.
“I am Ram Mohan Rao...”
“Ah! There you are. Does this belong to you?”
It was his ticket!
“Thank you so much. You are lifesavers!”
“Words will not suffice sir... Give us our dakshina (an offering made usually to one’s Guru or God only)...”
Ram Mohan had only a few Rupees left on him. He gave them ten and they seemed happy with whatever he gave. Taking his ticket, he managed to board the train just before it’s scheduled departure. But still, making the 3-day journey with barely a few Rupees in pocket was a tough ask.

That was when a gentleman from Masulipatnam, who was sharing the same compartment offered to help. Handing over 30 Rupees (the amount that Ram Mohan said would suffice), the gentleman said,
“You can take this now. But please return the money to me. Here is my address.”
Ram Mohan thanked his godsent saviour and promised to send the money as soon as he was at his destination.

Monday, 4 December 2017

How to get devotion and increase it? - Life experience of Ram Mohan Rao - Part 1

A persistent Presence


The first time that Ram Mohan Rao heard the name of Sathya Sai Baba was in the coastal city of Vishakpatnam. The schoolboy was passing by a photo-framing shop when he chanced upon the image of a man in a saffron robe sporting a thick, curly mop of black hair.
“Who is that?”, he asked the shopkeeper in curiosity.
“That is Sai Baba... He is the living God”, answered the shopkeeper casually.
“God!” Ram Mohan’s jaw dropped down in disbelief. He paused for a moment to take a second look at the ‘Sai Baba’ and then returned home.

Sri Ram Mohan Rao with the love of his life, the meaning of his life and the goal of his life
- his God and Guru, Sri Sathya Sai.


After that day, however, there were at least a dozen occasions before he graduated with honours in English literature when he came across the name and form of Sathya Sai Baba. The most bizarre experience occurred when he left for the sleepy town of Jaleshwar in Odisha, in search of a job as a lecturer in English. When he met Mr. Chittaranjan Sahu, the Principal of the Deena Krishna College, for the interview, the first question almost took Ram Mohan’s breath away.
“Do you know Sathya Sai Baba?” the Principal asked.
“I have heard the name sir and have also seen pictures of him...”
“Have you been to Puttaparthi?”
“I haven’t even heard that name in my life...”
The Principal smiled and said,
“It is He that has prompted you to come here. I am certain of that because today is the 23rd of November - His birthday! You are appointed. Congratulations...”


Ram Mohan was in a daze. What he was hearing seemed so strange. It was as if Sathya Sai Baba was following him ever since he saw Him in that picture-framer’s shop!


During the one year he spent at the DK College in 1971, Ram Mohan learned many things about Baba from the Principal. Mr.Chittaranjan would speak very highly of the discipline and devotion that ‘Swami’ demanded from His students in the newly opened colleges at Bangalore, and Anantapur (The Puttaparthi college had not yet come into existence then). He would want the same kind of discipline at DK College as well.


In 1972, Ram Mohan Rao took up a job as a lecturer at the Science College in the large town of Chhatrapur, in the state of Odisha. Swami followed him there too in an almost shocking manner. Ram Mohan had a very jovial colleague, Prasanna Misra, in the college. He was a happy-go-lucky person whose easygoing nature bordered on the recklessly casual. He was deep into the smoking habit. Thus, though he was a pleasant conversationalist, nobody would want to visit his reeking room. However, Ram Mohan, who was the antithesis of Prasanna Misra, developed a liking for him. That is why they probably say - ‘opposites attract’.


One day in the winter of 1975, Ram Mohan was shocked to see Prasanna early in the morning in the staff room without a cigarette in his mouth for the first time ever!
“Didn’t you sleep at all last night Prasanna?” Ram Mohan could not accept the fact that he had woken up so early.
“I slept like a baby Ram Mohan”, he responded with a serene smile.
What had happened to his colleague? He seemed to exude some ethereal happiness and peace. The thought expressed itself directly.
“What happened to you man?”
“I saw God”, he answered simply.
“You?”, Ram Mohan stared at him in disbelief.
“Yes! Me... With these eyes of mine...” , Prasanna said, “Come home in the evening and I shall tell you everything about it.”


That evening, when Ram Mohan went to Prasanna’s room, he was pleasantly shocked to find it pervaded with the fragrant smoke from incense sticks instead of the usual tobacco smoke. Prasanna was dressed in a silk dhoti and he welcomed Ram Mohan to join him in the evening worship. The altar was filled with pictures of Sathya Sai. It was Swami again!


After the worship, Prasanna explained how he visited Puttaparthi for the golden jubilee Birthday Celebrations of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. What he experienced within was an insatiable thirst for God which was slaked only when Swami gave him two vibhuti packets. From that day, he lost all urge to even pick a cigarette. After narrating his incredible tale of transformation, Prasanna took a tiny pinch of vibhuti from the packet and giving it to Ram Mohan said,
“God has given this to me with His own hands. You eat it. It will surely do you good.”


Holding the pinch of ash gingerly in his palm, Ram Mohan returned to his room. As prescribed by his friend, he ate it and applied a bit to his forehead as Prasanna had done. Then, he went to sleep. The next morning, he made his way to the well in the backyard to draw water for his ablutions. His eyes fell on something shiny beside the well. He picked it up and it was a pair of cymbals! Not knowing what to do with it, he placed it in the room and promptly informed Prasanna about it.


“Ram Mohan, you will surely become a devotee of Swami”, said Prasanna, “because Swami wants you. He sent you these cymbals which are symbolic of Bhakti or devotion. These are His visiting cards.”

Monday, 23 October 2017

When suicidal thoughts arise - SOS to Sai

God is always close

It was the summer of 1957. India, as a country was seeing a great many changes in its internal political map. The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 was in full force now and the boundaries of several states were being redrawn and the states were being reorganised on linguistic lines. It was a time of tremendous change especially for those people who were serving in government offices and administrative roles. A plethora of transfers, promotions, reassignments and marching orders were being issued and a lot of people were getting displaced. Among these thousands was one illustrious government servant who had served India well during the Second World War and the decade following that.


He had given his body and mind, blood and sweat in the service of his country but did not seem to be recognized for the same. Dozens of officers far below him in rank and junior to him in service had been promoted while he had been neglected and relegated to the background. He felt let down and dejected. Adding to his despondency was the fact that he was lonely in his Bhopal home as his wife was away - at her native village along with her parents. It would have been good had he remembered his God or his wife’s God - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba - in such a scenario. But somehow, when one is drowning in a sea of sorrow, one is unable to remember anything or anyone. All one wants is for the comforting embrace of death to get away from the situation! Unable to bear his sorrow, he decided to end his woes by literally biting the bullet! Walking up to his bedroom drawer, he pulled out his service revolver and walked out into the living room. Steadying his grip on the gun, he ensured that it was loaded. Just to ensure that the weapon had the capacity to wipe out all his sorrows he even test fired it. He had no fear about the sound arousing the neighbours. It wouldn’t matter in a few moments anyway. Mentally seeking forgiveness from his wife, he placed the barrel of the gun to his head.
The division of India into states before the reorganization came into effect.

“DON’T SHOOT!”
Swami shouted in His room in Kodaikanal as He collapsed and slumped on the bed. Swami Satchidananda (a monk from Swami Sivananda ashram, the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh) had accompanied Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to Kodaikanal and was witness to this strange incident. Till then, Swami had been reclining comfortably on the bed. He had suddenly stood up and shouted in His native tongue Telugu before collapsing back on the bed. As Satchidananda rushed to His bedside, he noticed that Swami’s body had turned stiff and near-lifeless. From his experience of staying with Bhagawan, he knew that Swami was off on a ‘transcorporeal journey’. But what was the situation this time and which devotee was being saved? Had Swami taken over some calamity on to His body? Only time would tell - that too if He willed it.


The weakness of wanting to commit suicide


Atma Hatya is the Sanskrit term for suicide and it directly translates into “killing of one’s soul (Atma)”. Strange isn’t it? Lord Krishna in the Bhagawad Gita said,
“The Atma cannot be pierced by weapons, burnt by fire, moistened by water or dried by the wind ( नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः ।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः ॥)”
Why then is suicide called Atma Hatya and not Deha Hatya? We find the answer in what Swami once told a devotee who confessed of being plagued by thoughts of committing suicide. (This is recorded by Smt. Karunamba Ramamurthy in her book, Sri Sathya Sai Anandadayi.)


However difficult life is, try to be its master and not its slave. Every human being has a preordained life span. It is like staying in a leased house. Before you actually vacate the house, you have to find another one to move in. Similarly, before leaving one body, God selects another body and a span, depending upon the karmic debts. In case death is inflicted arbitrarily, you are denying yourself a chance to work out your karma as early as possible and reach a permanent abode. In suicide, you are stranded midway. It would be a frightening state of affairs for you. There is no vacant space in nature. God has filled the space with spirits and many other invisible entities. When suicide is committed, they show up and terrorize you.

Friday, 6 October 2017

An ode to a great servitor and devotee - Professor G Venkataraman - on his 85th Birthday

There are two ways to see the sun - directly and in a mirroring surface. Both of them give a measure of its grandeur, glory and majesty. So too, there are two ways to see God - directly and in a person who mirrors Divinity in his/her life. I know for sure that I have been lucky to see God walk on earth in the form of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I am also lucky to have seen a person who mirrors my Swami’s divinity in his life. That person is Prof. G. Venkataraman or ‘GV sir’ as we all call him. And on the occasion of his 85th birthday today, the 6th of October 2017, I would love to share a few thoughts about this beautiful being.

A common sight in the Radiosai studios for a decade and a half - Prof GV at work. Even today, though he has
formally resigned, he continues to be an inspiration and guiding light for Radiosai which he fathered till it attained adulthood.


GV sir has tons of accolades and awards from his brilliant career as a scientist. The Government of India conferred on him the fourth highest civilian award - Padme Shri. But that will not be the subject of this article. This is about how GV sir has guided me personally to stay focussed on the path laid out by my Swami.

GV sir was directly responsible for me joining Radiosai and for that, I shall be grateful to him throughout my life. As a student in Swami’s college, I was incredibly inspired by him as he conducted our Awareness classes with the wisdom of a sage, love of a father and passion of a researcher. But it was only after joining Radiosai that I could get a glimpse of the multi-faceted diamond that GV sir is. On the day of joining, Swami called us, Dhananjay and I, to take padanamaskar. He then instructed us simply and clearly,
“If you want to make Swami happy, make Venkataraman happy.”
That command gave me an idea about the immense faith Swami had in GV sir’s abilities and commitment. When we told this to GV sir, he was frank and straight, camouflaging his humility with his humour
“Look here! I am not an easy person to please. That is why Swami warned you. You may make Him happy but I may still not be happy. I am glad that Swami told you to make me happy! Now, let’s get to work...”


Nothing could swerve his attention from working for Swami. He would often be the first person into the office and the last person out of it. Being three times our age, he also seemed to have three times our energies to do Swami’s work. I was lucky to be a part of multiple projects that GV sir took up, blessed by Bhagawan of course. From Prema Jyoti (an exhibition on Swami’s life and teachings) to Prema Pravaham (the last ever programme of the last ever Birthday Celebrations of Baba in the physical) to the Sri Sathya Sai Archives (an edifice to ensure preservation and propagation in the physical form of the eternal teachings of Swami), GV sir’s attention to detail and hard-working nature were evident.


The Prema Jyoti exhibition was the first project I worked on under his able leadership. When Swami approved his plan for the exhibition to be held during the Guru Poornima of 2007, he dived into the task right from the beginning of the year itself. Summer arrived and Swami was leaving for Kodaikanal. He summoned GV sir and told him to pack up and be ready to leave on the divine odyssey. GV sir requested Swami whether he could stay back and work in Puttaparthi. Swami insisted that he should accompany Him and so, the professor carried all his notes, papers and preparatory ideas along to Kodaikanal. I had seen hundreds who craved to travel with Swami but GV sir was among a rare few whom Swami craved for travelling with Him! On this visit to Kodaikanal, he worked on the exhibition and the next time Swami took him in 2009, he recorded a very detailed and enlightening account of the Kodai festival for all of humanity to enjoy.

Swami honored and blessed GV sir with a car. But that is among the smallest of blessings he has received from God -
the greatest and biggest being his large heart and razor-sharp mind. 


But it was not as if GV sir was a Karma Yogi exclusively. As he brilliantly presented in one of the Awareness classes, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga are three wheels of the tricycle called life. You cannot travel even if one of them is missing. You just have the choice and freedom to determine which should be your front wheel. Karma Yoga was definitely GV sir’s front wheel but it was backed and balanced by the wheels of Bhakti and Jnana.


GV sir believed that any good work is God’s work when done without any selfish interest. Swami, in fact, had told him on one occasion,
“Any good work you wish to do, you have my bountiful blessings.”

Monday, 25 September 2017

Worship of the Guru's feet - a meditation on Paadaseva

It was the year 2004 when all the final year postgraduate students of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning gathered in the bhajan hall at Prashanti Nilayam. They had sought an audience with their Guru and God, Bhagawan Baba, to offer their gratitude before leaving the portals of the glorious University. They had also carved, painted and created a ‘gratitude card’ to offer to Swami. On the card was a beautifully carved ship with a heartfelt poem beside it. Swami blessed the card and, pointed at the ship, mentioned,
“Children sing, Baa Baa black sheep. But this Baba is not a black sheep. Baba is a white ship!”

The Avatar comes as a great White Ship to ferry everyone across the ocean of Samsara or worldly existence.


It was a thrill as everyone present realized the import of the statement.  Gurus are often considered as boats who take their disciples across the ocean of samsara or worldly existence. But when the Jagadguru, the Avatar descends, He becomes a ship ferrying everyone across the same ocean. He is like the ark that saves all in the deluge. This was a reinforcement of what Bhagawan had declared when He announced the Avataric Advent:
Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam Dusthara Bhava Saagara Tharanam.”
{Oh mind! Meditate on the Feet of the Guru. This can take you across the difficult ocean of existence, birth after birth."}


Worshipping the feet of the Guru is considered as one among the 9 forms of Bhakti or devotion. Getting an opportunity to do Paadaseva to one’s Guru is a blessing that has possibly been earned over several lifetimes. The beautiful thing is this Paadaseva need not be done physically alone. A Manasa Pooja (mental worship) is equally effective and redeeming. Based on real-life experience, here is a meditation on Paadaseva which is sure to delight every Bhakta’s heart. The description is set in the Hrudaya Brindavan (garden of one’s heart) where there is a sanctum of the Guru with a Jhoola (swing) for Him to sit on. Read on slowly and picture the entire scene to enjoy the meditation on your Guru or Swami (Master or Lord).

Drink in the picture of your Guru's lotus feet before you begin the meditation.
A meditation on Paada Seva


Swami walks into the sanctum and stands for a brief while in front of the Jhoola. Every cell in your body seems to tremble with the anticipative excitement. In sharp contrast, Swami is so calm. He gently glides into the ornate swing but that is enough to impart a tiny bit of momentum to the Jhoola. There is absolute silence as everyone waits in bated breath for Him to initiate the session. Swami is in no hurry. Sitting close up front, you are able to hear His rhythmic breathing. It is neither light nor forceful but definitely tranquil. It draws your focus to it without the slightest effort on your part. A serene joy erupts within you and the effect is meditative. You want the feeling to go on forever. You are soaking in every bit of the atmosphere so that you can recreate it at will in the future. At that very moment, He looks you in the eyes. Oh my God! What a feeling. You feel that you are completely exposed but there is no sense of vulnerability. Instead, the most positive of feelings seem to gush out from your heart.


His breathing is interrupted by His words. That is what His words are - an extension of His breath. The statement in the song “Truth is My breath” gains a new dimension in meaning as you realize that His words are Truth and His breath is His words. As the ears are gathering the nectar gushing forth from His mouth, your hands have now begun their quest. They set out towards His lotus feet that are hidden from sight by the saffron silk robe. In the lightest way possible, you gently and gingerly raise the robe a few inches and insert your fingers to touch His feet. However, the fingers encounter something rough on another smooth cloth. It is the golden border of the silk dhoti! You look at His face as your fingers ever so gently raise the dhoti. He continues to speak without the slightest disturbance. You are happy because that is the permission to go ahead with the Paadaseva. A moment later, your fingertips touch His toe tips and an electric current of joy seems to course through your entire frame. Salvation!


You gently massage His big toes between the index fingers and thumbs of your hands. That is how your Paadaseva begins.

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.