Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The passport to God - recognizing His omnipresence in our lives

An intellectually invigorating ‘awareness’ class

I vividly remember a discussion during the “Awareness” class of my MSc days at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The teacher present was Prof.G.Venkataraman, a highly reputed and accomplished man of science in India. The professor had his unique style of conducting awareness classes. He would force us to think deeply to arrive at answers to profound question. He would stitch together deep spirituality with the practical problems the world faces. He always looked forward to questions because he believed that life is not about getting the correct answers but about asking the right questions.  (In fact, I remembered his inspiring presence in the classroom with excitement when my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba told me to join Radiosai as my place of work. GV as he is popularly called was the director under whom I had to report.)

The discussion in class that day was about the omnipresence of God. It started with a question from the professor.
“What is God?” he asked the whole class.
Among the plethora of answers that came was one which said,
“God is the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient one.”
“Okay”, challenged GV sir, “what do you mean by omnipresent? How is it that God is omnipresent?”
There were no satisfactory answers in the beginning but soon, one boy stood up and answered,
“Sir. God is energy. Energy is God. Since every atom is a storehouse of energy, God is everywhere.”
“Very good”, GV sir was happy, “that is something that everyone recognizes - energy in all matter. In fact, the great Albert Einstein even equated mass with energy with his famous equation. And since everything in the universe has some mass, everything has energy. But that is only one level of God’s omnipresence. He is present in a subtler plane as well. What is that?”

Again, a lot of discussion and thought resulted in the next answer,
“God is life. Life is God. Life is subtler than energy and that is probably why nobody has been able to define what exactly life is. But everyone recognizes life - and when it leaves.”
“Beautiful!” exclaimed the professor, “That is precisely why a son or daughter kneels before the body of the father crying - Father! Why did you leave me? - The body is still there and yet the child knows that the father is gone. Life is sacred. Life is God. Good. But then, there is the subtlest way in which God is present. Do you know that?”

Since there was a muted silence now, the professor threw a hint.
“Everything in the universe is made up of atoms and thus contains energy. However, plants and animals are considered special because they have ‘life’ which the other things of the universe don’t have. Man is considered even more special because he exhibits God present in yet another level. What is that?”
There were no answers and GV sir answered,
“God is present in man as the conscience. No doubt God is present in us as the life force or praana but that alone too would not help to develop awareness; if that was the case, then donkeys and camels would have turned spiritual long ago. Humans alone have that ability because God is present in humans at a third and higher level, as the conscience or the divine voice in our spiritual heart. However, though each human is gifted with the conscience, it is so subtle that one can often get disconnected from it. It is the birthplace of all goodness and nobility in man. Just ensure that you experience God’s omnipresence at all these three levels and you are good to go. That is true awareness - to recognise God’s omnipresence at all these three levels.”

Credit: Musings on Awareness
With that, we can move on to an experience at the passport office that gave me an insight or two about God’s presence in our lives.

A passport to travel

My passport issued in 1997 was a handwritten one (and not a ‘machine-readable passport’ or MRP). The Indian government had released a circular advising all the citizens to upgrade. The brief was as follows:
All handwritten passports with pasted photos earlier issued by Government of India are considered non-MRP passports. Indian citizens residing in India and abroad and holding
handwritten passports as well as 20-year passports with validity beyond the 24th November 2015, should, therefore, apply for re-issue of passports and obtain MRP passports well before the deadline in order to avoid any inconvenience in obtaining foreign visa or in immigration.

Therefore, I decided to go to the excellent and efficient passport site to file an application for re-issue of my passport. Having done that in a matter of minutes, I sought an appointment at the Passport kendra in Begumpet, Hyderabad, for the 18th of July, 2014. That was the beginning of the adventure.

I had heard of horror stories of the difficulties one had to go through to get a passport. But all those that had recently obtained their passports told me that things had been made very easy. I was glad.
“Still, I will need Swami’s grace to get the passport”, I told myself and said a prayer to Him. (‘Swami’ is the term we generally use to refer to Bhagawan Baba.)  I was at the passport office promptly at 9:15am, on Friday the 18th.

The two levels of His omnipresence

I have always sought Swami’s permission and blessings whenever I have had to travel out of the country. And He has been gracious and kind every time so far. His permission and blessings too have always been on three different levels of subtlety. Every time, I was able to realize and fathom two levels and was completely ignorant to the third level. I did not even think that a third level existed. It is the discovery of that third level that has spurred me to share this experience.

Let me first elaborate a little on the first two levels. The first level is the ‘direct’ level which each of us can fathom instantly - You go to Swami and seek His blessings. He smiles and responds positively. That is the go-ahead for you. You are happy that Swami blessed your journey and travel plans. That was what happened when I planned my first trip overseas, to Singapore. Swami showered profuse and direct blessings which brought along with them an unforgettable experience in fearlessness and desirelessness.

A similar blessing arrived even after the so-called ‘Mahasamadhi’ of Baba. This was when I was contemplating a trip to Trinidad & Tobago. I did not know what to do to seek His permission because His physical frame was not present any more. I prayed at my altar and placed before Him the proposal and invitation that I had received. Within hours, I saw the permission being granted along with profuse blessings. Though the circumstances were different, the feelings that arose within me were exactly the same. I could feel His powerful omnipresence in my life.

That was the 'thumping' fashion in which I got permission and blessings to travel to Trinidad & Tobago. It indeed 
turned out to be a 'Good' Friday for me on the 29th of March, 2013. 
Having travelled to these ‘foreign’ nations, I never felt like a foreigner there. And that is the second level of His presence I spoke about. The love, affection, care, attention to detail and the humility of my hosts during these visits just overwhelmed us - me and my wife. It was as if Swami had brought us along with Him to visit these countries. I found no difference in the love and reverence that was showered on these ‘foreign’ trips with my wife and the trips which I had made to Hadshi, Mumbai, Delhi and Shimla with Swami. It was simply overwhelming and we were sure that it was much more than we deserve. But with the Lord, it is only Love that matters - deservedness is conferred!

I had been accustomed to these two levels of His presence in my life. And I was grateful to Him for that. I hadn't even realized that there was the third level too. That I discovered during my trip to the passport office.

The third level of His omnipresence

One has to go through 3 stages in the passport office - Processing, Verification and Granting. I walked to counter 6 of the Processing stage when my token number displayed on the screen in the waiting hall. Since my passport was a ‘re-issue’ case, I just needed to bring some proof of my ‘change in address’. I had checked this on the website.

As my picture was taken and all the details entered into the system, the lady suddenly asked me,
“Sir could I have your marriage certificate?”
Ah! How could I forget? Since the last time I had obtained my passport, I had been married. The website had not shown me the need for the marriage certificate because I had entered that only my address had changed.
“Oops! I am sorry. I don’t have it with me now.”
“Then, I shall put your passport in hold. Please get it on any weekday between 8:30am and 9:30am.”
“Can I get it tomorrow?”
“Saturday is a holiday sir. The earliest you can get is Monday.”
Oh God! I would have to extend my leave. My plans of returning to Puttaparthi by Sunday morning were shattered. I would have to cancel tickets and make rebookings. I sighed and resigned to fate. Little did I realize that all this ‘drama’ was actually a blessing for me to understand the subtlest, third level of Swami’s presence in my life!
“Sir! I would also need your 10th grade marks certificate.”
“This is a minor’s passport. You are not just applying for a passport ‘re-issue’ but you would need an upgrade in status from ‘minor’ to ‘adult’.”

The first page of my 'minor' passport.
She then leafed through the pages of my passport, almost studying the immigration stamps of the different countries. She had a slightly confused look on her face and seemed lost in thought. I was hoping that she had not found any other problems. As she continued to stare at my passport and give a check again, I asked,
“Okay. Anything else?”
“That's it sir", she nodded somewhat hesitantly, "Please go straight to the exit and collect your letter of acknowledgement. That would give you access directly to the ‘Verification’ and ‘Granting’ stages here on any weekday within a year.”
I thanked her and said that I would be back on Monday. I collected my letter from the exit and walked out.

I reached home. Pooja and I had been staying at her cousin’s place in Hyderabad. I recounted with a sad face all that had happened at the passport office.
“Great!”, said her cousin, “you guys will stay on for a couple more days with us.”
I smiled at that - some positive thing about the whole affair. And then came the stunner. Pooja’s cousin Padma, leafing through my old passport said,
“How on earth did you make four foreign trips on an invalid, minor passport?”
My ears perked! Even as Padma spoke on, I realized the reason behind the confused look on the face of the lady at the passport office.

“It is a minor passport but that does not make it invalid. See, the validity in the passport is up to 2017. The Government also released that such handwritten, 20-year validity passports are valid up to 2015.”
“But that is for normal passports. Yours is a minor’s passport!”

A quick Google search revealed the ‘minor’ rules on the immigration help site.
Passports for children up to 18 years of age will be valid for 5 years from date of issue or until the child attains the age of 18 years, whichever is less. If a child is over 17 years but less than 18 years, a normal five-year validity passport will be issued, for a normal fee.

In the best-case scenario, if I had got my minor’s passport when I was 17 (I actually got it when I was 15), it would be valid till I turned 22. And my four foreign trips were all made after I turned 27!

The writing on the wall is very clear!
Gratitude for His presence in life

My jaw dropped as the realization hit me of what ‘I’ had apparently achieved! It became clear that all my trips had been possible not because of Swami’s blessings also but because of Swami’s blessings alone! Technically, it was an invalid passport but does it matter when the greatest validating authority is on your side?

I went to the passport office on Monday and completed the formalities. My father had sent across the necessary certificates through an acquaintance via Saturday’s train to Hyderabad. Though it took 2 hours of waiting, the entire thing went on without any problem. Even as I await the arrival of my new passport, I celebrate the awareness of His presence in our lives.

God is so humble that unlike us, He does not announce or seek acknowledgement for all that He keeps doing, day in and day out, for us. Though He is not bound by any duties, He keeps working for us tirelessly, behind the scenes. A silent worker indeed! And I am grateful to Him that He chose to reveal one such behind-the-scenes working. How blessed it would be if we were able to see His hand in everything that happens in our life, for nothing happens without His hand being in it! Then, we would have truly experienced His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.

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  1. Wow! Beautiful experience you have shared. Indeed, Swami always works so silently. For every one instance where we feel that His grace alone has helped us through in a situation, there are countless where He works behind the scenes. I remember hearing that during the paralysis Bhagawan suffered in 1963 before the Guru Purnima, He took upon the illness that was to come upon some devotee. Later when people tried to find out who this devotee was, Bhagawan laughed and said "That person did not even know the disease was going to attack and even before it could do so, I intervened and saved. Then how can you identify the person?" Such is the magnanimity of the Lord! Let us keep thanking Him daily for all that we are able to directly perceive and thank Him even more for those that we are unable to perceive too as His grace.

    1. That is a perfect recollection here Aarthi. Thank you.

  2. wonderful story - rearrange the letters of VISA and we have V SAI
    Victory to Sai!

  3. Sairam Arvind,
    You are truly a blessed person.It is reasonably possible to believe that there was an oversight by the concerned authorities at the airport on one or two occasion,but to make four trips without any body making out that you are traveling on an invalid passport is impossible without Swami's Grace. Truly Blessed.
    Nagaraj Devur

    1. That was exactly what struck me! 2 visits to Singapore, 1 to Thailand and 1 to the West Indies!

      The only 'logical' explanation is that I wasn't aware of the new rules and my passport originally had a 20-year validity. My confident air didn't arouse suspicions….

      But for all these to have happened, definitely a higher authority has sanctioned! :)

  4. Amazing Grace......Jai Sairam

  5. Thanks for sharing this experience of profound love !
    YES ! we are truely blessed.
    If we see His hand in everything that happens in our life, we would see mirracles happening every moment of our life. We can recognize that nothing happens without His hand being in it! Then, we would have truly experienced His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.
    Regards to your wife.

  6. Wow!!!!thank you Arvind!!!
    Now I know why the Great Ones maintain silence.

  7. fantastic mind blowing pace ..such is pace with which you are catching up immerse in this 3D or 3rd dimension or 3rd level of consciousness for may be say 2 - 3 years completely ..enjoy the bliss that swami had blessed you forever in this level permanently when u have completely fulfilled all your 3D LEVEL...START TRAVELiNG BEYOND.

  8. I have an answer to my question that what will you write when you exhaust all your experiences . Probably you will pen others experiences .....but I was wrong. Swamy will pour more and more experiences!
    God bless you.

  9. Sairam Aravind. excellent piece as usual. Recently,we too had an opportunity to experience Swami's omnipresence. Difficult to put in words, as you so beautifully do. Swami has taken such wonderful care of us in a way only He can do! Sairam and thank you.


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