Friday, 27 June 2014

Playing the harmonium for Sai's bhajans - student S.V.Satheesh's experiences_ PART 1

S.V.Satheesh with his dear harmonium during a programme in Brindavan,
A long cherished dream gets fulfilled

In the summer of 2002, S.V.Satheesh sat in the tiny room with extreme exhaustion. It was nearly 3 am and the whole night had been one of great effort for him. For almost a week now, he had been recording what could possibly become his first ever musical album. And today, he had just completed recording the last piece. Though he was feeling fatigued, he was also feeling fulfilled! This was a long-cherished dream come true - a dream that had formed in his student days at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

Satheesh was ‘just another’ student who got enrolled for BSc in the college at Prasanthi Nilayam in 1992. His bonding with his Swami was almost instantaneous and he decided that he wanted to occupy a special place in His heart - just as He had occupied a special place in his! When he was wondering how should go about achieving his desire, Swami’s statement in several discourses struck him - “God is a lover of music. Lord Narayana told sage Narada that wherever a devotee sings his glory, He will install Himself there.”

And so, with a prayer to play for Him, Satheesh started learning the harmonium, practicing for almost 3-4 hours every day. He had no idea how he would get his first chance to play for Swami, but he just persevered and practiced rigorously. It was the beginning of a life-long saga.

Today, Satheesh has almost mastered several musical instruments - the harmonium, the accordion, the saxophone, the tabla, the mridangam, the violin and the santoor! By virtue of his ability to play the electronic  keyboard, he can surely claim to be able to play another hundred instruments at least - he just has to press the right buttons! It was either the harmonium, accordion or keyboard that he had played throughout his student-life at the Institute. That is why, today he was feeling fulfilled - because he had just completed a music album, playing the Indian santoor!

Satheesh felt an immense surge of gratitude towards his Swami. And in that flow of gratitude, he recollected how he had got his first ever chance to play the harmonium in Swami’s presence.

The wait and the big break

There is a magical thing about diligence that even skill and talent cannot match - longevity. One’s skills and talents may fade away one day but the results of hard work are always here to stay. Satheesh’s persistent practice ensured that he was soon playing the harmonium during the bhajan sessions in the hostel and the college. However, he was constantly aiming for that big break - to play in Swami’s physical presence. But then, there were stalwart harmonium players already - Sailesh sir, Arunesh and Anand Punjabi to name a few. How was he to get his chance? Satheesh waited patiently and worked diligently with faith. After all, faith is believing in what one cannot see which ultimately leads one to see what one believes in!

It was the January of 1993 and the practice for the drama, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, was in full swing. This was the drama that had been presented in Swami’s presence during the previous year’s convocation (22nd November 1992) and Bhagawan wanted the drama to be re-enacted for a Cardiology conference being held in the SSSIHMS in January. S.Ravikumar was playing the lead role in that drama. Well, his experiences with Swami are beautiful and touching and they have been detailed in other blogs. The point is that the drama was almost a musical and thus involved the entire music group. And since the practice sessions (which Swami attended) were in the Institute auditorium, the music group would also be assembled there everyday. This was essential because in the 1990s, there was nothing like background recording and all the dramas in the divine presence went on with live dialogues and live singing!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Kumaon Himalayas - the divine land where everyone seems to be aware of Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The ‘Himalayan people’ have a high spiritual quotient

One of the first things that strike you when you travel to the Himalayan regions is the unbelievable grandeur and beauty of nature. I have made two such trips so far - once to the Garhwal Himalayas and the other to the Kumaon Himalayas - and on both the trips, my breath has been taken away by the mesmerising sights. There is another thing that strikes you with equal force when you undertake such a journey, though it might not hit you right in the beginning. That, in my opinion, is the main reason why this place, Uttarakhand, is called Daivabhoomi (the divine land). And therefore the amazingly high spiritual quotient of the people here.

The beautiful temple-complex at Jageshwar where it is believed that the central shrine houses a Jyotirlinga. 
“Hey! Hold on there”, you will ask me, “how do you know that? Do you know a way to measure the spiritual quotient of people?”
No! I do not have any means to actually measure the spiritual quotient of people, though the 12 symptoms of spiritual awakening are good indicators of the same. Based on those ‘symptoms’ I have a personal rule-of-the-thumb which I use for my judgement. I know that I am myself guilty of violating the ‘10th symptom’ (i.e. A loss of interest in judging others) when I use my thumb-rule.

But anyway, here is my personal thumb rule. Whenever people who are hitherto unknown to me ask me about Swami (my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba), I try to see through the tone of their questions. Also, when I speak about Swami to these people, I try to gauge their openness. In my opinion, the more open, the more appreciative, the more spontaneous, the less conflicting, the less critical and the less judgemental they are, the higher is their spiritual quotient. (And I hope that you are open and appreciative towards this thumb-rule and not critical and judgemental about it! Hehehehe)

A rare photo of the Jotirlinga at Jageshwar which the priest allowed me to take
Coming back to the spiritual quotient of the people in these Himalayan regions, it is amazing how open, friendly and inquisitive they are. They do not disbelieve others opinions and faith. They accept all paths because spirituality, for them, consists of multiple paths leading to the single, same peak of Self-discovery. And so, each interaction regarding Swami with any hitherto unknown person in this region has left me wiser, happier and more thrilled. As we travel through some beautiful places now, it will be my endeavour to share two such wonderful interactions.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Being of squirrel service to the Lord - Arun Kharidehal's experience

When Lord Rama removed His garb of Maya for a moment

Hanuman, the mighty, had returned from his adventure in Lanka and confirmed to his Lord Rama that Sita had indeed been kept prisoner in Ravana's island nation. It did not take much time for the Lord to decide on the next course of action. But, as always, He consults with his brother Lakshmana and with the chiefs of the vanara and bear forces, Sugriva and Jambavan respectively.

The collective decision is that a plea be made to the Ocean God so that He may give way for Rama's armies to get to Lanka from the tip of the Indian sub-continent.  And so, Rama prepares to worship and seek the blessings of the ocean. Really? Does Rama, the Lord incarnate, need to do that? He doesn’t but He too becomes an actor when He descends on the world stage. As an actor, He too puts on Maya.

Maya or delusion is inextricably intertwined with the world or creation. While it is not the subject of this article to delve on what Maya is, this much can certainly be stated that overcoming this Maya is what God-realization/nirvana/liberation/fulfilment of the soul is all about. Since Maya is the nature of the dual world, it is said that even God, when He/She descends to earth, comes wrapped in Maya. A practical meaning of Maya can be derived from a beautiful statement of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba,
"Man knows little but he acts as though he knows everything; God knows everything but He acts as though He knows little."

Maya is that which makes man behave all-wise and that which makes God behave all-ignorant. However there is a difference here - while Maya controls man, God controls Maya. God allows Maya to seem as if it is in control so that man can feel kinship with Him. That kinship then grows into devotion which finally leads to the realization of oneness with the Creator. Then, there is no more Maya because there is just One! And so, blessed are those moments in History when the devotee is humble and when the Lord is majestic because these are moments when the veil of Maya has been parted.

The Ocean God humbly submits to lord Rama
One such moment occurs when the ocean does not seem to relent. Rama picks up his bow and announces,
“With a single arrow, I shall dry up this entire ocean.”
The Rama that the monkey and bear hordes see now is a totally different one from what they had seen a few moments before. This is Rama, the supreme divinity, bearing the brilliance of the sun when the covering clouds have been blown away. All are in awe and are completely convinced that once the arrow leaves the Kodanda, Rama’s mighty bow, the ocean will be a thing of the past. It is precisely at this moment that the Ocean-God appears and prays to Rama,
“Oh Lord! Please do not get upset with me. I am just following the rules that you have assigned for my existence. Please cross over me by building a bridge. I shall help support that bridge to the best of my ability.”

Rama seems to calm down and He agrees that it is a good idea. But now, His army is charged up. They have got a glimpse of Rama’s capability and they are sure that with His grace, a bridge can easily be built! When God clears the veil of Maya, it is to enthuse the devotees and grant them faith by clearing doubts. That is precisely what Krishna did on the battlefield of Kurukshetra when He granted a doubting Arjuna the Vishwa Viraata Swaroopa.

Participating in the Maya with awareness

Living with God is true education it is said. That was the education that Arun Kharidehal was blessed with for several years of his life when he got the chance to serve his God, his Swami,  Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He would spend almost his entire day with Swami almost be among the privileged few who would almost live with Him in the name of security! During those few years, he had ample opportunities to witness both - Maya and it’s parting. The few moments when Swami decided to tear the veil and reveal His true identity were enough to keep Arun on his toes always. He kept reminding himself of the Being in whose presence he was spending each day.
“This is not an ordinary presence; it is an omnipresence”, he told himself regularly.
Such awareness helped him enjoy and be part of his Lord’s Maya as well.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future - Part 2

Dissatisfaction is the nature of the world

In the art of storytelling, it is important to know where detailed descriptions have to be given and where they should be avoided. The story should be long enough to cover all points but short enough to keep it interesting. Having gone into all the details of that momentous single day of Mohammad’s life in Part 1 of this story,  I shall avoid the mundane details of the next 3 months. But there is one detail that has to be narrated because it inspires interest and also conveys a lesson. And that is the fact that Mohammad, in those 3 months, often kept thinking about his benefactor at the Arabian sea. As he thought more and more about him and the episode, he began to realize more and more that  there was no peace or joy in the world that he was acquainted with.

There is a feeling of emptiness. A sense of dissatisfaction that engulfs us without exception. It rises and ebbs, perhaps, depending on the phase of life we are in. I doubt if this hollowness will ever be filled. It was there when we were born and it continues to grow as we age. Filling this emptiness, this dissatisfaction is possible only by spiritual means.
Though he began to make a decent living catching fish in the new motor boat, his inner world was in total turmoil. He now began to smoke even more than before in search of an escape from his mundane existence. But whatever he did, a strange sense of dissatisfaction plagued him. He remembered his fakir friend so much that he got an irrepressible urge to meet him. He decided to undertake another journey to Bombay and seek him out.

If one makes a close enquiry, one will notice that at some point in everyone's life, a sense of dissatisfaction sets in. The actual point of this dissatisfaction setting in might vary but this definitely happens irrespective of one's wealth, position, relationship status and age. This is a dissatisfaction that can be 'cured' only by spiritual means because true happiness lies only in union with God. That union can come about only when one drops one's desires and one's false sense of identification with one's body. That is precisely the reason why when anybody asked Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, "I want peace", His reply was,
"Drop the 'I' and drop the 'want'. You have peace automatically."

These statements are not only high in literary  value. They are profound spiritual truths packed in a very concise manner. In that sense,  though not in Sanskrit, they are mantras indeed.

The address that the fakir had given lead Mohammad to a temple in Bombay.  

[Note: The building indicated by the fakir friend was a Shirdi Sai Temple known as Shri Sai Dhaam Mandir located near Congress House on Vithalbhai Patel Road in Girgaum. A Christian lady, Mrs Valentine, sold the house to the Trustees of Sai Dhaam for Rs.50,000/-. The house was then remodelled as a temple for another Rs.20,000/- and was inaugurated on Gudi Padwa day in 1960 by Shri Yeshawantrao Chavan, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The statue of Baba, in sitting posture, was carved by Shri Balaji Wasant Talim]

Not finding any house, he began to make enquiries about the fakir's whereabouts. He regretted that he had not asked the fakir his name which made the task of finding him very difficult. He had to go around describing him to the people there. Finally, somebody directed him to go into the temple. (Mr. Venkatesh Prithviraj, the narrator and witness to whom Mohammad told his remarkable story, personally visited this Shirdi Baba temple in the later years.) Mohammad had never entered a temple in his life. But today, nothing would stop him from doing so. Strangely, nobody seemed to be surprised to see a Muslim enter a temple. It was as if that was normal! Walking in, Mohammad got a shock of his life. He fell on his knees and began to sob uncontrollably.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future - Part 1

A story of Himalayan proportions

It was Oscar Wilde who said,
"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
For long, it was the story of Kalpagiri stood testimony to the truth in this statement for me. After I became a student at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, I came to know of many more such stories. Among the hundreds of stories of Swami’s grace and love that I had heard in my student days, one story stuck in my heart for its uniqueness. And that story brought new meaning to the Oscar Wilde quote. It showed that there are instances where even a sinner has a glorious past. But that glorious past is forgotten due to complete indulgence in the world. The soul starts blundering and floundering in life till God's compassion descends and reveals the Truth.

A file photograph of Sanjay Sahni speaking in the Divine
Presence at Brindavan, Bengaluru.
I first heard of this experience in Swami’s presence, in Trayee Brindavan, narrated by lecturer Sri.Sanjay Sahni who is the principal of the Brindavan campus of SSSIHL as on the date of writing of this article. Listening to the incident and seeing Baba’s rapt attention was such an experience in itself. I again heard this incident narrated in Prasanthi Nilayam a few years later, this time by another lecturer, Sri Ruchir Desai. His was a 15-minute speech and so he didn’t go into the details the way Sahni sir had done in his 45-minute talk. But since then, the incident was etched in me and what a wonderful opportunity it was to hear about it from the protagonist-witness himself! The first-hand narrative from Mr.Prithviraj is definitely a story of Himalayan proportions.

Mr. Prithviraj was an advocate from the Indian state of Orissa and he had prospered well in his career to soon find himself serving at the apex court in India. As an advocate of the Supreme Court of India, he had a very busy and fulfilling life. The fulfilling part came from his devotion to his God and master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and his annual service at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi. He came face to face with the most fantastic and thrilling story of his life during one such visit to the abode of highest peace (that is what Prasanthi Nilayam translates into) as a member of the Seva Dal (the service corps of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization).

It was the year 1989 and as always, he was serving at the South Indian canteen of the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram. He was accosted with great familiarity by a man in a white shirt and a white pant.
“Sairam sir, do you remember me?”, he asked with a gentle smile, “you had given me tea.”
Having tea with strangers in order to extract their story with Swami was nothing new to Prithviraj and so, he was unable to recollect this face.
“I am Mohammad... remember? The cigarettes...”
In a flash, he remembered everything. A quick travel down memory lane brought before his mind’s eye everything about Mohammad and his extraordinary life. The time was about five years ago, in 1984.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Patal Bhuvaneshwar - A heaven under earth and its Sathya Sai connection

The Himalayas are possibly the only place on earth where you find all kinds of 'climates' of the world!
Himalayan beauty is a joy forever

The glorious Himalayas are the youngest mountains and mountain chains on the face of the earth. However, they are the abode to some of the most timeless treasures too. The mesmerizing beauty of nature, the almost-infinite variety in the flora and fauna and the millions of waterfalls formed by the thousands of streams and rivers draw a gasp of awe, wonder and joy from any visitor. While the senses indulge in this sublime beauty, the mind is surprisingly stilled with great ease. The peace that the mind immerses in brings the best out of poets, writers, singers, painters, photographers, scientists, doctors - you just name the vocation! But the impact of the Himalayas is not restricted just to the body and mind. While the immediate impact influences the peripherals of the being, the greatest impact is on the deepest recesses of the human complex - the spirit or the soul.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “You are not one but three - the one you think you are; the one that the others think you are; the one that you really are.”