Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The messenger ceases to exist once the message is delivered - Sathya Sai's advice on dealing with problems

A visit to a famous shrine

It was to be my second trip to the famous temple of goddess Mookambika at Kollur. My parents and in-laws who had not been there before were quite keen to visit this famous South-Indian shrine. I had been there with my wife during our honeymoon and, frankly speaking, had not been very impressed. Do not get me wrong here. The idol of the goddess and the atmosphere at the sanctum had been wonderful. But, even as I entered the temple, I had been accosted rudely by a person who had asked me to take off my T-shirt before entering the main temple. His tone was not friendly and that made me ‘hate’ to take off my T-shirt though I knew that it was the tradition in many temples that the gents had be bare-bodied on top before entering the sanctum.

And so, when I was asked,
“How is the temple?”
I had replied very casually,
“It is so so. Nothing spectacular about it.”
My mother-in-law tried to prod me into being positive,
“It is not without any reason that thousands throng the temple throughout the year...”
“Thousands?! You must be kidding me. When we visited last time, there were hardly a dozen people.”
“But that was in February - academic examinations time in India - and we visited on a weekday in the mid-afternoon”, reminded my wife.
I refused to budge from my evaluation. The memories of my ego being hurt were enough to make me downgrade the temple’s worth itself.
“Whatever you may say, I really don’t understand what is so fantastic about the temple. It’s okay at best...”

That was the conversation before we got into the jeep that drove us from the magnificent Sai Vishram resort to the Kollur Mookambika temple which was about 35 kms away. (By the way, I must mention that the resort is one of the best-ever. It would have attained 5-star status if not for its firm resolve not to allow alcohol, smoking and meat on its grounds.The management there says that it does not care for the ‘star status’ but for Bhagawan Baba’s values!) Within an hour, we were at the temple. My old grudge returned and so, I took off my T-shirt even before I entered the temple. I had no idea of what I would be facing next.

“Sorry! You are not allowed...”
It was a guard who stopped me rudely. I wondered what on earth was his problem. He would not speak English and I acted as if I didn’t understand the Kannada he spoke. I continued to walk. He stopped me roughly and said,
“Not allowed”, letting the others from my family enter the sanctum. He then pointed to the three-fourths trousers that I was wearing and to a sign that said - Bermuda shorts not allowed inside temple sanctum.
“But these are not Bermuda shorts”, I tried protesting.
“Not allowed”, he repeated again and stopped me from entering. And that was when my heart spoke to me,
“You said that there is nothing special in the temple. It is a so-so shrine. So, the Goddess is stopping you from having her darshan. This security guard is just her messenger.”

I knew that was the Truth.

Messengers come regularly in life

There are several instances in my life, especially with my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, where apparent obstacles have turned out to be messengers from God to me. As long as I see them as obstacles, they irritate and frustrate me. But the moment I see them as messengers and, more importantly, recognise and learn the message they carry, I improve and they vanish! It is indeed true that such a messenger ceases to exist once the message has been delivered. One episode in my life that stands out for its “messenger” qualities took place in 1999, when I was a student of XII grade at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School (SSSHSS).

Under the subhead - Background 2 - in the article, The Shivarathri of my life, I have detailed some ‘sad’ incidents that had happened when I was in school. For those that do not wish to go to that article and read up, I present the necessary lines here:

This part of the background is something that I am definitely not proud of. But the need for mentioning it is vital for the story and so I proceed. In the academic year 1999-2000, in XII grade, I got caught in an indiscipline problem. The result of that was me getting banned from participating in an sports and cultural events and competitions for the academic year. That did not hurt me as much as the other punishment that the warden awarded me - no permission slips to take camera to the mandir (Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanthi Nilayam)! I felt as if my life support was plucked out. Taking pictures of Swami with the camera had become so much a part of my life that I could not think of sustaining without it. And as Shivarathri arrived, I felt that not being allowed to shoot would really become unbearable. I had been eagerly anticipating the Shivarathri with the intention of taking pictures of Lingodbhavam.

The Shivarathri that am speaking about in that paragraph happened in March 2000. But the episode I am speaking about now took place on the 15th of September, 1999, just a fortnight after the mentioned ‘indiscipline’ incident! One can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been for me to get the permission necessary to take my camera to mandir.

Ganesha - the Lord of obstacles

The 13th of September, 1999 was Ganesha Chaturthi. Lord Ganesha is called the ‘lord of obstacles’. Often, people take this to mean that he clears all the obstacles in one’s path. Consider the tusker in the jungle. Wherever he walks, he creates a path, clearing all the bushes, trees and other obstacles. Thus, he is a pathfinder, a trailblazer. But when you accost the same tusker while travelling by road through the Bandipur forest reserve, he becomes an obstacle himself. There is no moving till he walks away from the road. This second aspect is often forgotten by people. Swami reveals in His Ganesh Chaturthi discourse on the 24th of August, 1971,

No worship can succeed unless the heart is pure and the senses are mastered. Ganesa is the God who helps overcome obstacles; but, He will create obstacles when good endeavor is obstructed by bad influences; He will clear the path for the sincere Sadhaka. He is Prasannavadanam, of beneficial looks, when you pray to Him for good ends; but He will not be that, when you seek His help for nefarious stratagems!

As Bhagawan Baba put it, Ganesha also puts obstacles on the path if one’s chosen path is the wrong one! That seemed to precisely be the case here.

For a student in Swami’s school, Ganesh Chaturthi becomes more special because of the unique ‘immersion ceremony’. After 3 days of worship, as per tradition, the clay idols of Lord Ganesha have to be immersed in a lake. In Puttaparthi, where the students take every opportunity to get some interaction with Swami, all the idols from the different hostels are brought in chariots and palanquins to the mandir. Swami often poses for photographs with the children and their respective chariots or palanquins. He then breaks coconuts in front of each of these vehicles of Lord Ganesha before they are flagged off for immersion in the lake. Students sing songs and shout slogans in praise of the Ganesha as they proceed towards the lake. The whole ceremony lasts nearly an hour or more.

The Ganesha immersion ceremony of 1998 had been very memorable for me as I got the chance of spending several minutes in close physical proximity to Swami. But that did not seem to be the case this year as I had been ‘banned’ from all such activities due to my ‘indiscipline problem’! Therefore, as Ganesha Chaturthi arrived, I was enveloped in a pall of gloom, not having anything to look forward too while all my classmates energetically made themselves useful in making a chariot that would carry Lord Ganesha to Lord Sai.
An aerial image of 4 of the 20 odd chariots that wend their way to the Mandir annually during immersion ceremony.

The message

I had been on my best behaviour since that one mistake of my school life at SSSHSS. I had also immersed myself completely in singing bhajans and doing the ritual worship during the 3 days of Ganesh Chaturthi. Even as I did this, I hoped that God would notice my good behaviour, forgive me and give me a chance to shoot photographs in mandir during the Ganesha Immersion day. If not that, I hoped to at least get a chance to accompany my class chariot to the mandir.

As the days passed and the D-Day arrived, there seemed to be no light for me at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly, I was called to the warden’s office regarding some ‘camera’ matter. I hoped for some light. But when I was told specifically by the warden that I should not even dream of carrying a camera to mandir especially during the Ganesha Immersion ceremony, I realized that the light at the end of the tunnel was that of an oncoming train! I was on the verge of tears as I returned to my room. I sat crying in front of Swami’s picture, not knowing what I should do. And then, it struck me!

A realization dawned based on what my inspiring class teacher, ‘Sailesh sir’ had told during a talk. In spite of being a genius in his subject - Physics - and a maestro in playing the harmonium, he had declared,
“I have been brought here by Swami, for Swami. That is most important. People might consider me as a Physics teacher or the in-charge of the bhajan group. But I remind myself that I am here for Swami and nothing else. If getting close to Swami requires me to give up Physics and the harmonium, two things very dear to me, I shall gladly do so because Swami is the MOST IMPORTANT.”
That was the ‘message’ for me. In an instant, I wiped my tears and said,
“Swami, I have joined Your school only to win your love and grace. The chariot procession and my camera are just instruments to achieve them. I shall not forget that and get attached to them.”
And in a Sailesh sir-esque manner, I too declared,
“If getting close to Swami requires me to give up camera and the chance of going with the Ganesha Chaturthi chariot, two things very dear to me, I shall gladly do so because Swami is the MOST IMPORTANT.”
I not only declared it, I meant it in my heart too!

Even as my tears dried up, I was summoned again to the warden’s office. Wondering what it was this time, I went there. Without even uttering a word, the warden wrote a permission slip for me to take the camera to mandir. He merely said,
“Only this one time”, and handed over the chit of paper to me. Even as I returned to my room, I was summoned to my class teacher’s room - Sailesh sir’s room. To my amazement, he told me,
“I know that you have not worked in making the chariot but you have sincerely participated in each and every prayer and bhajan session. So, I feel you should accompany the chariot to the mandir. Here, put on this yellow jacket, tie this ribbon and off you go.”
I could not believe this sudden turn of events! It was as if Ganesha had changed from the maker of obstacles to the breaker of obstacles once the purpose of the obstacle was served. The obstacle seemed to be a ‘messenger’ who dissolved into thin air the minute its ‘message’ was delivered and accepted!

All’s well that ends well
Got a chance to almost bury my face into His
hair as He posed with our chariot. 

And so, I accompanied the class chariot carrying the Ganesha idol to the mandir. Swami came and posed with out group for a photograph and my face was almost buried in His fragrant halo of hair. Immediately after He finished posing with our group, I began to move about with my camera, taking pictures. For almost half an hour, Swami moved around the chariots, blessing the students and breaking coconuts. After that was done, He was flagging the chariots out of the mandir. Destiny had it that I wasn’t with my chariot but right behind Swami as He was flagging it away. I could not move because Swami was right in front of me.

As I knelt there, I began to understand the import of the experience. The whole hall was resounding with different bhajans being sung by student groups at each chariot. Veda chanting was on and victory slogans to Lord Ganesha rented the air. Amidst all these sounds, my heart began to say,
“I love you Swami... I love you Swami...”
The feelings of my heart soon transformed into words from my lips and I began to continuously chant,
“I love you Swami... I love you Swami.”
Though His back was to me, I was sure that Swami would be hearing each and every word that I was saying.
As if in confirmation, as the last few chariots were moving out (there were about 20 of them totally) Swami suddenly threw the handkerchief in His hand, directly into my lap. Immediately, He also turned around, flashed a beautiful smile and told me to keep the handkerchief with me. Then, He moved on. It was simply a confirmation of my priorities. The message had been received and all the ‘problems’ had simply vanished, transforming into blessings galore!
A blurry image that shows how Swami suddenly swiveled around and dropped the handkerchief
on to my lap. I am sitting with a yellow 'jacket' on to Swami's right. 

Therefore, it was not difficult for me to accept this security guard at the Mookambika temple as one such messenger. I looked at my ‘Bermuda’ shorts, stepped back with a smile. I mentally said,
“Dear Goddess! I have been unnecessarily harsh in my criticism of this beautiful shrine. I take back my words. No house of God can ever be so-so because IT IS THE HOUSE OF GOD! I was hasty and stupid and so, I am not being allowed to enter your home. It’s fine. I have realized my mistake.”

It had not been even a second after I finished this mental statement when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was another security guard. He handed me a shining red, silk dhoti (garment for wrapping the lower part of the body). He said,
“Drape this around yourself and enjoy the Goddess’ darshan.”

I knew it! The message had been received and the messenger had disappeared, transforming himself into a blessing. As I walked into the sanctum, my father exclaimed,
“Oh My God! Red is a dear color for the Goddess. Where on earth did you get this dhoti?”

I just smiled and said truthfully,
“I seem to be very dear to the benevolent Goddess and so she gifted it to me.”

(Just as an aside, speaking of Ganesh Chaturthi, do you know why you should not see the moon on the Ganesha Chaturthi day? Read that story involving Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha and the Syamantaka jewel here:

Why you should not see the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi - Story of the Syamantaka gem )

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  1. Enjoyed this immensely. Sai Ram :-)

  2. simply superb! how instantly Baba acknowledges! :)

  3. Wonderful and a poignant lesson. Ganesha puts obstacles to steer us away from the chosen wrong path !! God bless you.

  4. Awesome bro!!! A similar experience that I faced.

    I have this habit of praying to Swami for a Bhajan(that I sang or sing) in the daily Bhajan sessions of Sai Kulwant Hall that are aired on Radio Sai live.

    Whenever I do a wrong thing which displeases Swami, like venting anger on colleagues etc., that day He would not 'make' the singers the song I wanted. This happened almost thrice and almost instantly, I get the message. Then the prayer follows.

    Next session, He would send me the first Bhajan, the Ganesh Bhajan and bless!!!

    Amazing ways, He corrects us!

    1. Wow! That is indeed lovely. All of us are in similar boats if not the same boat... hahahaha

    2. :) That is a compliment for me. :)

    3. Dear Brother Arvind, Sai Ram! i used to pray to Swami during darshan that....... Swami please turn towards me and bless me somewhere in the 5th or 6th line repeatedly without leaving.......... he used to immediately turn towards me and bless with a beautiful smile..... This happened to me several times. Swami immediately responds to what we ask or say. We have a heart to heart relationship.... no intermediaries.

    4. Dear Brother Aravind, Sai Ram! Enjoyed this immensely. Many a times during Darshan, I would pray to Swami from 5th or 6th line that please look at me turn towards me and bless. He would do with a smile and bless............ I Lov eu Swami. Truly, no intermediaries. it is heart to heart relationship with Swami always. Jai Sai Ram!

  5. how simple yet so profound thanks Aravind for reiterating this message, we can easily forget this profound knowledge, when we get into trouble in our daily lives...Jai Sai Ram. A quick note I loved the boys and your singing for the Avatar Declaration. It was a divine incidence that I was watching this as I was writing this to you... Sai Ram..

    1. Thank you. But I think you have mistaken another singer - Ashwath Narayan - for me. We look similar. He sings, I write and very often we have received compliments on behalf of the other... Hahahahaha

  6. Right article at the right time for me.....always enjoy and learn from your write ups, thank you brother Arawind.....Loving Sai Ram

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you :)

  8. Awesome story. I like your take on this experience and the sincerity with which you have written the ego that coils up in all of us at one time or another! Thanks and Sai Ram!

    1. According to Swami, the purpose of human life is just that - to give up identification with the 'i' and start identifying with the 'I'. :)

      Thank you.

  9. Sairam ! Superb article !Thoroughly enjoyed it !

  10. Multiple personal experiences: He will ensure you cry bitterly, remove all the innate bitterness and then will most certainly make you shed tears of bliss and gratitude.

  11. Thank You, Thank You from the bottom of my heart.

  12. Wow !Aravindthis is the second time you have answered my Question.the first time when I visited Pathal Bhuvaneshwar .
    You then wrote about Swami and his connection with Pathaal B.

    Yesterday I was sharing with a friend of mine who was distressed about some problem and how it could be a situation to test her creative skills and today you have posted this is v.well written and articulate.I feel Swami speaking to me through your articles!

    Amazing clarity for one so young!keep going!

    1. Whenever someone writes in like this, saying that it was exactly what they needed to read, I just feel grateful to Swami. I sincerely have no idea why 'I choose' to re-publicise a certain article on a certain day. But, it gives me the opportunity to observe, admire and feel grateful for Swami at work! :)

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and appreciation.

  13. Sairam Aravind,

    One of my friends slightly modifies the popular Ganesh sloka
    Original sloka is 'Vakratunda mahakaaya, suryakoti samaprabha,
    Nirvignam kurume deva, sarva karyeshu sravdaha....

    Modified the last para to:
    Shubha karyeshu sarvada....

    That is to say, please remove the obstacles when I am attempting a shubha karyam only because I am too ignorant to know if I am attempting a shunha krayam or not.. So not sarva karyeshu, but shubha karyeshu.

    Jai Sairam

  14. Raghu Ketharam Iyer27 August 2014 at 12:19

    a nice lesson indeed for all of us to learn. thanks for sharing.

    But, I hope some of the volunteers in Prashanthi Nilayam also know/realise how it would feel to be at receiving end of a rude behaviour.

    Till now, I have come to PuttaParthi only 3-4 times, but to tell you the truth, the visits were not pleasant, mainly due to our good old rude volunteers.

    Just for an instance: once I had come there with my 3-4 years old daughter, for her i had, in a transparent plastic cover, a small bottle of water & a packet of biscuits.

    And I was promptly stopped by one of the volunteers & I was told to leave the transparent plastic bag at the cloak room. He was not prepared to listen to me that it was only some water & biscuits that too for my child.

    I had to go back & leave the plastic bag in the cloak room. then only he allowed me to enter the dharshan hall.

    I felt very bad, not just because I was not allowed to enter with basic things for my child, but, I could see many, especially foreigners, coolly entering the hall with all sorts of bags & seats (could even be called "mini chairs").

    Because of these reasons, I felt better to stay wherever i was & pray to Swami, be with Swami mentally instead of coming to PuttaParthi to be close with Swami, but face such obstacles & be treated rudely.

    But now, after so many years, I don’t feel bad about those incidents, in fact, I thank Swami for "training" me to be close with HIM wherever I am.

    1. You got your messenger and learnt your message. Hopefully the same happened with the volunteer also. I can empathise with you but since I also know how strained a seva dal volunteer is and how strict his regimen has become, I can empathise with him too.

      I really don't know how to separate right from wrong in such cases - there is indeed a rule which forbids plastic bags into the mandir. Also, cushions and seats are allowed. I am sure that if you had got a seat, it would be allowed in too - it has nothing to do with someone being a "foriegner".

      Anyway, as you say, you are beyond these now and that is good to know. It is indeed wonderful that you are "trained" now. :)

    2. Raghu Ketharam Iyer30 August 2014 at 11:06

      the incident that i had mentioned was 18-20 years back
      and i dont think there were any such restrictions
      on usage of plastic then.
      we do understand the stress involved in managing a crowd,
      but i feel, the person who volunteers for such jobs must
      have the temperament to remain calm & pleasing
      to set an example, especially in a place like Prashanthi Nilayam,
      for others/visitors to follow.
      thanks for your empathy, but dont worry,
      Swami Himself had pacified devotees like me long back
      with His jovial remarks on such incidents.

  15. Sai Ram,
    Respected Brother Sri Aravind,
    I really liked your story. I was thinking about the experience of one of our volunteers Reghu above.I actually remembered the case of my Bua(my father's sister). But before sharing my experience I will have to give a background about my Bua. She was the most beautiful woman in our family and I haven't seen a woman as beautiful as she was. She is now with Swami, this is what we know because we all have seen her in our dreams at times with Swami and at times confiding to us that she is in Parthi with Swami. This is a major reason behind my father not picking up courage to visit Parthi. He loved her very much and she died of Cancer. When she passed away my grandfather said that he would visit Sri.Vaishno Devi shrine instead of visiting Parthi and miss out Birthday celebrations that year. He actually did that. Back home( the day my Grandpa reached at Devi's shrine) it so happened that after offering evening Arathi to Swami in the meditation room my Maa came along with us to reach out to Bua via her photo frame hanging at a height in the living room. While we stood with folded hands to offer respect to Bua, Maa lighted incense sticks and when she did that we all were splashed with drops of sweet honey like thing on our foreheads and face. Mind you there was no one at our place.Our main door was locked from inside as my grandfather had left for Sri.Vaishno Devi along with other relatives and family members. When my Maa looked up she realized that Amritam was flowing from Bua's photo frame, there were strings of Amritam as though necklaces. She had not seen such a thing so she got scared. When my grandfather came he himself could see the same but my mother was very scared, she doubted influence of spirits. It was then that Grandpa revealed everyone in the family that he had told Swami if Swami won't inform him anything about whereabouts of his daughter(my Bua) then he would never visit Parthi. He felt that the manner in which Swami made Amritam flow from her photo frame revealed that she was and she is with Swami.
    While she was doing her Research being a Research scholar in Panjab University, she was also a Bal Vikas teacher. When she would go to Parthi she would often come back with good memories but once she faced a problem over there. You see she was very disciplined and uprightly strict. At times when I behave like her my parents and my grandfather compare me with her. It so happened that once when she faced a problem, she talked to other volunteers and they asked her to write a letter to Swami. She did write a letter but Swami didn't accept it. Then while she was with other people she said,"He must accept our letters also and take our care also. Why do we face such unnecessary problems? I will tear off this letter in front of Swami if he won't accept my letter." My grandfather recalls with tears in his eyes that how he and other people feared that might lead to disturbance and they even advised her not to do so. But then she felt calm and said, "Ok! If he loves such people, I have no problems with that... probably they have their own merits but he must take my letter or else I will have to tear it off in front of him." You won't believe the other day Swami came for giving Darshans with a smile on his face and he asked my Bua for her letter and even allowed her to take Padanamaskar. I feel that in some cases it is just the communication gap which at times leads to misunderstandings and as my Bua realized it Swami accepted her letter or whatever you feel. Then other thing is that she never complained again. Also she never faced any such problem. I feel that we must never get thwarted from our experiences and move forward in our journey. Well, I realized this too late but better late then never. Lots of love to all of your family members. Sai Ram.
    With Love and Regards,
    Sai Aanchal

  16. Jaysairam brother Arvind, thanks for this moving artical. It came in time, when we were on and off facing some problems, but than we give up and mentaly say ,"swami please take over, and do what ever is best for us ,and whatever time frame is in your plan, we will wait"and in few hours, our work was done so smoothly we never can image. So now wegot answer for learning and taking as teaching lesson, is the message.....swami always speake through you( all sai students) that's our strong feeling. OMSAIRAM AND NAMASTE

  17. Nice experience.. Beautifully rendered.. thank you very much for sharing this wonderful experience.. Sairam ..May Swamy be with you and guide you always ..

  18. Wow...I feel like this was a message for me as you as Swami's messanger...
    I am doing my graduate studies in Chemical Engineering at University of Maryland. It was a huge difference from my undergrad in india (amrita vishwa vidyapeetham, coimbatore). The classes suddenly felt so much harder...and I didn't do well in the courses and I also failed in one of them..
    Sorry for all this background..just wanted to share the mental state I was the second semester things improved...but I constantly kept thinking of my failure and how I had let swami and my parents down..they had to spend so much money for me again..and on top of that I unlike my other "friends" was not earning any money..
    Despite all this..I never could say no to my friends.. thinking they will feel bad..or they will leave the friendship with me..but this semester I had decided that i cannot waste my time..since it was a do or die situation as I am taking the failed subject again...So this semester I firmly told all the events they were going..and they started terming me as boring..and not fun..and that they cannot understand me..I always get affected by all this..and then just yesterday I remembered your talk that involved you telling about the message and messanger...(the story about you going to Singapore) and then it struck me..that this has been my problem from school..I always had trouble dealing with friends..not the same kind of problem Everytime...but the bottom line was, I get majorly affected by them..and give way too much importance to them even though I do not get the same.importance back in return...
    After that thought, I kind of forgot about it..but today morning I saw my notification..and saw the title of your blog..and I was so surprised.. because just yesterday I was thinking about it..and if a confirmation from Swami..that my train of thought is right..he this blog...
    I am sorry for the long narrative..but I just felt like sharing...
    Thank you so much..please continue uploading videos and blogs..they fuve me a lot of happiness and joy.
    Thank you..
    Om sai ram

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It makes me feel so happy that Swami beautifully connects the dots and makes it a lovely experience for all those involved.

      All the best Aarathi... You defintely have one very special friend - your Swami!


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