Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Coping with the physical absence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba - two stories and an experience

The day after which everything changed

For the followers of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the 24th of April 2011 marks the end of an era and (naturally so), the beginning of another. It is a day on which everything changed forever because the Swami that they so dearly loved discarded the lovely form that He had donned for nearly 86 years. Having painstakingly taught them for decades that He would always be in them, around them, beside them and with them, He decided that it was the time for the practical examination. 


When my mind goes back to the period after that, it just becomes numb. It is hard to remember anything 'memorable' after that 24th. Yet, His word can never fail. It is possibly with this faith or maybe hope that I stay on, doing the things that I feel will please my Swami. It is this faith (or hope) that keeps the millions of His devotees going. Lucky are those with that hope; luckier still are those with that faith. But for those like me, who have bouts of doubts and sadness at missing His lovely form, here are a couple of stories that Swami would narrate which give us a solution and thus solace. 

It was the 22nd of August, 2011 - the first Krishnashtami (birthday of Lord Krishna) that we would be celebrating at Prasanthi Nilayam in the physical absence of Swami. I suddenly felt a pinch of emptiness in my heart. My mind raced to the years before when He would feed the animals so lovingly. It especially raced to the the most memorable Krishna Janmashtami of my life when Swami showed me that though He seems to be absent, He knows everything that goes on everywhere and at every time! And soon, there were tears in my eyes. 

This is the irony of life - we laugh remembering the moments we have cried in the past and we cry remembering the moments that we have laughed and been happy in the past!

The form of God can be matched by ONLY one thing

I closed my eyes visualising that beautiful form of Swami. It was so hard to stop the tears. Possibly in a bid to bring some solace to my heart, I began chanting His name - the Sai Gayatri. The solace actually came! Why would it not? Hadn't Swami Himself promised it? Here is the story that He would often narrate to emphasize on remembrance of the Lord's name. It is popularly known as Krishna Tulabhaaram.

Monday, 14 May 2018

The Newsweek (1969) editorial article on Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The picture that accompanied the article on Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the Newsweek,
November 1969. 
Published in New York City from 1933 to 2012, the Newsweek, (according to info on Wikipedia) was a weekly magazine with the second-largest print-edition circulation, only behind the iconic TIME magazine. During its prime, it had a worldwide circulation of over 4 million and it published in Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish, Rioplatense Spanish, Arabic and Turkish other than English. (By the way, December 2012 was the last print-edition of the Newsweek.)

Imagine my joy when somebody forwarded by email, a scanned page of the 'religion' section of this magazine which carried a story about my dear Lord, Master, Best Friend and Guide - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba! I searched for the soft copy of that article everywhere on the world wide web but, sadly, it wasn't there. That is why I decided that I must type out from the image and post it for all to read. The original image of the scanned page is also posted in its full resolution in the article.

The article has been presented below after its scanned image.

Sathya Sai Baba: The God Possessed
When Sathyanarayana Raju was born, his mother recalls, the family tambura twanged of its own accord and a cobra appeared mysteriously beneath his crib.As a child, he showed mystic powers and a love of sacred verse. And one day when he was 13 years old, he returned home from school and told his mother, a well-to-do matron in the village of Puttaparthi: “I am no longer your Sathya, I am Sai Baba. I do not consider myself related to you. My work is waiting. My Bhaktas(devotees) are waiting. Good-by. Worship me every Thursday.”
With that, Baba left home to begin the life of a god-possessed holy man. His mother pleaded with him to come back, but it was too late: throngs of Hindus were already crowding around the youth calling him “tiny prophet”, “mysterious prodigy” and “God on earth.”
Divine:
Such events are not unusual in India, where thousands of self-proclaimed gurus and holy men roam, begging for a living and teaching their faithful. But Baba, the god-possessed is unique. He claims to be “the Lord come in human form,” a reincarnation of Krishna, one of the major Hindu gods. And thousands of devout Hindus believe that the 42-year-old, bushy-haired holy man with flashing eyes, and a voice “like the sound of a bell” can perform miracles, heal the sick and project his mind through time and space. Each November, 50000 Indians trek to Puttaparthi to celebrate his birthday. The former chief scientist in the government’s Ministry of Defence insists that Baba is “beyond the laws of physics and chemistry, a divine phenomenon, an incarnation.”
Since he began leading the life of a holy man, Baba’s miracles have become legend throughout India. A leading lawyer swears that Baba cured him of Parkinson’s disease with a wave of his hand, and Baba is said to have walked along the seashore at Cape Comorin in South India with prayer beads forming magically at his feet after each step. He reportedly produces the Bhagavad-Gita and sandalwood statuettes of Krishna from the sand by magic, and once, when traveling in a car that ran out of gas, is said to have turned a bucketful of water into gasoline. When a murderer appeared at his religious school disguised in a holy garb, the story goes, Baba detected the villain immediately and told him:“Confess your crime. There is no escape.” And Charles Penn, an American pilot insists that Baba miraculously appeared at his side during a crash landing in India.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How God helps in our Karma - the fruits of action.

Fluctuating fortunes

It was the summer of 2002. Like some of the special summers before that, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had decided to conduct the Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality. The venue, as in most cases, was the Whitefield Ashram in Bangalore. It turned out to be a most unforgettable one for me because of an experience it gifted me. Swami used that period to teach me a powerful lesson about Karma and the way Guru/God deals with it. 

For those that are unaware of what a Summer Course with Sri Sathya Sai Baba is, here is a brief description. It had started off as a study of the Indian scriptures and value systems for a period of 15-20 days for the youth from various parts of India. Swami would take active interest in it and would address the students on a daily basis. The students were also blessed to hear talks by many scholars and erudite speakers. As years passed by, attending a Summer Course was made a special privilege of only the students studying in the various educational institutions started by Swami. The format and schedule remained the same. 

It was the 26th of May, 2002 to be precise. The Buddha Poornima celebrations overlapped with the concluding days of the Summer Course that year. The programme was by devotees from Nepal who had filled the Brindavan Ashram. I was part of the audio team that controls and takes care of the sound system during the programmes in Sai Ramesh Hall. As part of my duty, I was seated right in the front of the hall, walkie-talkie in hand, with the bhajan group. I had to give real-time updates and feedback about the microphone volumes to the team.

I also was assigned another job. This was a time when Swami had suffered a fall and had difficulty walking up the stairs. As a result, two lifts had been erected - one on the ladies’ side and one on the gents’ side - for Swami to move up and down.

Those were the days when Swami, at times, would come for Darshan in the golf-car and return by walk...Some days, He chose to walk both ways...
I was told that if Swami used the lift on the gents’ side of the hall to go up the stage, I should send the ladies’ side lift also up, so that both lifts are available for Swami in case He wishes to descend. It had to be done manually as this synchronicity of the lifts had not yet been automated. Swami, on that day, completed His darshan rounds and moved up the lift from the ladies’ side. The lift on the gents’ side stayed down. Over the walkie-talkie I got an instruction,
“Move to the gents’ side and raise the lift up.” 

I was in a dilemma because, as Swami sat on the dais, I was right in front of Him. I also had my Nikon SLR camera in hand. Would it not be conspicuous if I got up and went over to the lift? Would not Swami get upset at my ‘indiscipline’ of moving about during a programme?

Even as I was lost in thoughts, I got another message,
“The warden is here. He says that you better go and raise the lift up. Otherwise, in case Swami wants to go down the gents’ side, He will be made to wait.” Now, the warden of our hostel in Brindavan also happened to be sort of an administrative head of the Brindavan Ashram. He was considered as Swami’s ‘right hand’ to execute various activities. If he was saying, I better do it, I thought. (That is a fatal mistake. To allow anyone, however high or powerful he might be, to come between you and your Guru/God). So, I just got up and walked to the lift. I pressed the green button that took the lift up.

Immediately, I felt a hand pull me down. It was a teacher and he seemed upset. He said, “You fool! Why did you get up and move? Swami was going on seeing you. He does not like such indiscipline. Now, just sit here and don’t do anything foolish.” I sat down at the lift, a little scared about facing Swami’s ‘irritation’. But my attention was on my Nikon 801s camera that was on the floor, right in front of Swami. The bhajans were on and everyone were singing out loud. The Buddhist devotees sitting there were lost in the ecstasy of devotion and I was worried. One swipe of an excited limb and my camera would be history! I sat with bated breath, waiting for the programme to conclude.

One of the few pictures I took before I went over to the lift on the gents' side of Sai Ramesh Hall. 
About half an hour later, Swami gently rose and received Aarthi. Then, He again moved towards the lift on the ladies’ side. As He moved down, in accordance to the policy, I lowered the lift on the gents’ side also. Swami began to walk in the opposite direction towards the ladies’ side exit of the hall. At this time, I got up and rushed back to my placein order to safeguard the camera. 

And then, it happened...

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Lucid dreaming about Sathya Sai Baba? What does it mean?

Lucid Dreams

I met a person in Singapore (let us call her Lakshmi because she doesn’t want her identity revealed) who had a very interesting experience with lucid dreaming. For those that are wondering, in a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware that he/she is dreaming! In many cases, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment. Thus, the dreamer is not just a participant of the dream but also, to an extent,  the controller and decider of the destinies of everyone and everything in the dream. In short, the dreamer is almost the God of the dream!

A lucid dream can allow you to control and also shape your dreams because you 'know' that
you are sleeping!
(Artwork by Johnson Tsang)
I was very keen to know more about her experiences because I felt that lucid dreaming is such a spiritual phenomenon. Vedanta says that life itself is a dream - just that one isn’t aware of it. “What better analogy to find in ‘real life’ about awakening and awareness than lucid dreaming?” I thought.
There were many interesting insights that I got from her but the most striking one was about visiting Prasanthi Nilayam and seeing Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who we lovingly call Swami.

Dream or a nightmare?

Lucid dreaming is something that one can train oneself to do and there are lots of resources on the internet on how to become a lucid dreamer. Lakshmi however, discovered that she had a natural ability to lucid-dream. (Statistics show that about 10-12% of the population has this ability naturally.) The discovery came late in life in an interesting manner.

Lakshmi would dream that she was lying on her bed with her head in the opposite direction of which she had actually slept. She would be paralyzed and stuck. And she would know that it was a dream!
“All that I have to do”, she would tell herself in her dream, “is wake up. Then this paralysis will be gone.”
A normal dreamer can only wonder at how such an experience feels. But for Lakshmi, it was very frustrating. Though she knew that the solution to her paralysis was waking up, she did not know how to wake up!

She discussed her strange plight with her family and close friends. She also received a very interesting solution.
“Lakshmi, you are getting frustrated because you don’t know how to ‘wake up’ though you are aware that you are in a dream. Don’t try to wake up. Just exploit your awareness...”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Lakshmi, a bit confused.
“Well, you know that it is a dream. Thus, you can easily convince yourself that you can walk in it. Spend time walking till you are able to wake up!”

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam - Importance and Significance


A day of celebration or mourning?

The 24th of April every year is significant for those who love or revere Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It is on this day in 2011 that He 'died'. The quotes for that word are because someone who embodied eternal values of Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Love and Non Violence can never 'die'. He continues to live on in the hearts of people who hold Him dear. However, the Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam, as the day is called, often brings pangs of pain and tears of lamentation for many because they miss their Swami in their midst.
Strangely, this anniversary of His ‘passing’ has been termed a 'Mahotsavam' which translates into 'great festival'. Why this irony? Isn't it sprinkling salt on a wound by terming a day of mourning as a day of celebration? What is one expected to do on such a day and how should one celebrate it?
In 2012, exactly one year after that earth-shattering day, I got ready and prepared myself for the solemn ceremony at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi.

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam experience of 2012

Waking up early in the morning, I got dressed in the traditional white shirt and white trousers after a bath. It was already 7:00 am and I had to hurry to mandir. As I served some Semiya (Indian vermicelli) for myself, my mother called out,
“Have you kept breakfast for Swami?”
It had become a practice at home to offer food and water to Swami's photograph in the altar in an attempt to feel His presence at home. So, I took the special silver plate and served vermicelli on to it. As I placed it at the altar, I noticed the silver tumbler there had water from the previous day. I took the consecrated water, poured it into my glass and filled the tumbler with fresh water for Swami. That was when a thought crossed my mind.
When people invited Swami to visit their homes, Swami would often say,
“You want me to be at your home but you do not give me food and water!"
That was His way of reminding people that His was a constant and unseen presence in every home. Desperately hoping to feel that in my home, I told Him in my head,
“Swami, keeping food and water for you is a maintenance job. It is noticed only when it is not done! There is no appreciation if food is kept daily, but if it is missed, You complain!”
I smiled to myself as I said this. Since Puttaparthi summer temperatures get searing, I added half a glass of chilled water, placed the silver tumbler at the altar and said,
“There, cool water for a hot day.”
I then gobbled breakfast and soon, the four of us, my mother, my father, Pooja and I, left for the mandir. The other three planned to have breakfast after the morning programme in the mandir.

Being part of the Radiosai team, the official media coverage unit for the mandir in the Ashram, it was also my professional duty to cover the day’s proceedings. The governor of Andhra Pradesh, Sri E.S.L.Narsimhan was the chief guest for the day which had a ‘Guru Vandana’ music programme by the students and the release of a book titled ‘The Miracle of Pure Love’ authored by Prof.G.Venkatraman scheduled.

The students’ music programme brought copious tears in my eyes. They were singing all of Swami’s favorite songs and there were beautiful visuals of Him on the TVs and giant screens. Seeing it was such nostalgia that one wished to keep one’s eyes fixed only on the screen and forget everything else. But sadly, I could not do that for I was manning a camera! Those beautiful 30 minutes were followed by the book release and then the governor’s speech. His speech took everyone by a storm almost.
He simply discarded the speech paper which had been prepared and spoke straight from the heart. He made it clear that he had not come as the governor but as ‘an admirer of Swami’. He said, “I am ashamed that whole governments are not able to do for the people what a single individual did. Swami is such a positive force that He gave a fantastic meaning even for vices. He said that one must have Kama (desire) for service, Krodha (anger) if one is not able to serve and Lobha (greed) to serve more and Matsarya (jealousy) towards those who are able to serve more!
Shedding tears he recalled how Swami cured someone very dear to him with just one statement, “Don’t worry! Nothing will happen.” And as the governor choked, the ruthless press photographers clicked away, firing flashes into him.
“I am sorry I am getting emotional” the man apologised, “I simply cannot help it.”
I was in tears. I was thinking that Swami is a real silent worker. Without the slightest announcement or advertisement He was transforming and changing lives everywhere. And I missed Him!

I missed Him with all my being. My heart pined and ached for Him. Ah Swami! How much I desire to see you...
And then, the governor said, “Swami should not be seen! He should be experienced!”

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The importance of loyalty to the Guru

Sathyam Shivam Sundaram! Truth Auspiciousness Beauty! 

The vacuum of the Omnipresence compared to the Presence

What happened on the 24th of April, 2011 when Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba left the physical frame is inexplicable for anyone who considered Him as Guru or God, Master or Mentor, parent or pal. All devotees were heart-struck at this act of their Swami. And the question that arose in all was,
“What next now?”

The Bharatiya scriptures have always accorded a very special place for the Guru. It is said that the mother points out the father to the child. The father points out the Guru and the Guru points out the Lord.

The term ‘Guru’ is loosely translated as the ‘preceptor’ for want of a better word just as the term ‘Bharatiya’ is often loosely translated as ‘Indian’ for want of a better word. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says that the term ‘Bharatiya’ is made up of two Sanskrit roots - Bha meaning God and Rathi meaning lover. A person who has love for God is a Bharatiya and the land in which such people reside is Bharat. Since India has been the birthplace of many religions, prophets, men of God and the incarnations of the Lord, it is referred to as Bharat. Thus, when Swami refers to the glorious Bharatiyas in His discourses, He is referring to the people who love God and not exactly to those that reside in the geographical boundaries of India.

In similar vein, Baba says that Guru is made up of two Sanskrit roots - Gu which stands for Gunateeta (beyond attributes) and Ru which stands for Rupavarjita (beyond form). A famous Sanskrit verse says,
“Acharya Devo Bhava” which translates into, “The Guru is God”, because the Guru shows the way to God. In this scenario, one can only imagine the good fortune of having the Lord Himself come as one’s Guru as I strongly believe happened with the advent of Bhagawan Baba.

But having a Master / Lord / Guru in human form has a big disadvantage too as I learned on that fateful day in April. The physical human frame is temporary in its nature and has to go one day even when it is occupied by the Supreme Being. And when that happens, the devotees and followers are totally at a loss as to what to do. The form that they love and adore has departed and they are drowned in sorrow.

And while some decided to wait for Him to take up the promised form as Prema Sai Baba, some decided to seek Him within. Some, in their desperation, began to seek Him in other Gurus, in other objects of faith (like the house of some particular devotee which is ‘specially blessed’ with manifestations of Grace like vibhuti) or in the company of people through whom they believed their Swami 'talks’.

The special blessing and a very significant lesson


I am honestly not waiting for Prema Sai. I am trying to connect with Swami in the form that my heart loves and longs for. This divine hide and seek is a game and I shall not change whom I am seeking simply because He has managed to hide well! My heart races back to an episode during the Ashadi Ekadasi celebrations in 2009, the 4th of July to be precise.

The children of the Bal Vikas programme from Mumbai had put up a drama on the life of a saint, Gajanan Maharaj. Swami was very happy with their performance and as the drama concluded, He decided to move down the stage and grant them group photos with Him. I was seated on the stage, behind Swami, from where I was photographing the drama. As He was wheeled down the stage, He looked at me and said something.

I could not make out what He was saying and so I went close to Him. He was pointing to something behind me. I turned and saw that He was pointing to a cutout which had been placed on the stage. It was a large wooden frame on which there was a collage of all the saints from the land of Maharashtra. The frame had been placed on the main stage as part of the Ashadi Ekadasi decorations.

As He pointed to the frame, Swami asked me,
“Are you sitting along with your Gurus?”

The collage of the various 'Gurus' which had been placed on the stage for Ashadi Ekadasi. 
I turned around, saw the wooden frame with the many masters painted on it and smiled.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Ugadi 2018 Divine Omnipresence of Sathya Sai at Prasanthi Nilayam

The Samvatsara with the name Vilambi arrived on the 18th of March 2018, marking the beginning of a new year in the 60-year cycle. The festival of Ugadi was celebrated by the people of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as the people of Maharashtra celebrated Gudi Padwa and the Parsi people prepared to celebrate Navroz. In Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of highest peace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi, Ugadi is celebrated with great fervour and tradition every year in accordance with the precedent set by Swami Himself. This year was no different. However, it was also quite different in the sense that Bhagawan chose to show His loving omnipresence in a unique manner.

That revelation of His Presence started on note of apparent failure!



The beautifully decorated Sai Sannidhi at Prasanthi Nilayam on the Ugadi day in 2018.
When the discourse went into mute mode...

The morning dawned with the myriad hues and colours of the Ugadi decorations unfolded as the curtains of the Sai Sannidhi were drawn open. The customary Panchanga Shravanam, listening to the annual forecast based on the Panchanga, was delivered by Brahmasri Kuppa Siva Subramanya Avadhani Garu of Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams. The most anticipated part of the proceedings however was reserved for the last. The customary prayer to bless the gathering with His Divine Discourse was made and, as always, the Radiosai team played an appropriate discourse clip that had been prepared almost a fortnight before. It was an audio clip and as Swami and the translator spoke, the text of the message was projected onto the giant screens as well.

A few sentences into the discourse, ‘failure’ struck! The audio suddenly went off and there was absolute silence in the Sai Kulwant Hall. However, the display of the text of the discourse progressed. A few people ran up and down frantically trying to fix the situation as the silence in the hall continued beyond a minute. What had happened was a terrible mistake.

Whenever there is a programme scheduled in Sai Kulwant hall (other than the daily Veda chanting and Bhajans), the systems in the hall are always run on generator power. This is to ensure that the programme goes on smoothly without even the 15-seconds no-power time that is necessary for the generators to kick in. Even on the programme days, to minimize fuel consumption, the generator is put on after the Veda chanting, just before the programme begins. A mix-up or miscommunication had occured because of which the generator-guy had assumed that the programme is beginning at 9 am and had promptly switched the load from raw power to the generator! That had resulted in a downtime when there was no power available for Sai Kulwant Hall. In the meanwhile, the projectors that run on UPS continued to work. Thus, this strange situation cropped up wherein it felt as if the discourse had been ‘muted’.

However, before the blame-game could begin, Swami revealed His masterplan and there were goosebumps instead of annoyance!