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.

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.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Missing what we want because of how we want it - God's dilemma

Seeking the magic of a Divine visit

Among the several magical memories that a Sai-student carries of life at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, a Divine visit to the hostel often ranks very high. When Swami visits the hostel, it feels like the Lord wanted to call all the students for an interview but did not have an interview room as big as His heart! And so, He decides to visit the students in the hostel -  it is like a mass private interview on the largest scale! Such a visit brings many close interactions with Swami. He speaks to the students and the students express their feelings for Him through conversations, talks, short skits and songs. There are momentous materializations and rousing revelations.  A taste of such a visit can be obtained by reading the happenings during one such visit that had taken place in 2003. Each visit is unique and the ‘uncertainty’ about how it will unravel only adds to the anticipation and excitement.
The memorable Divine visit to the hostel in March 2003

Thus, every student of the SSSIHL wishes to be part of at least one Divine visit to the hostel. The students in our batch were no exception!  It is no wonder that we wanted such a repeat of history. But Swami always has His ways of refusing to make such a visit unless the boys plead hard enough. We prepared ourselves for such excuses of the Lord, and went to the mandir armed with a large invitation card. The card had many photos of Swami with the students during many previous hostel visits and the wording was this,
“Swami, our home is empty without you. Please bless it with your loving visit.”

Different gender, same scenes! Swami's visit to the girls' hostel in Anantapur brings thrill to everyone.

It was the 22nd of February in 2005. The clock face in Sai Kulwant Hall proclaimed 4:15 pm when Swami came out on His darshan rounds. As He neared us, we got up on our knees with the card and showed it to Him. He looked at the card and said out aloud,
“Swami, it is empty because You are not there. If You visit our hostel, it will cease to be empty. It will become full!”, we answered.
Swami nodded and told us to go back and sit in our places.

Do we miss what we seek because of how we wish to get it?

There is a popular story that goes as follows.

A town gets flooded and there is water everywhere. A pious man is trapped on the roof of a building and has nowhere to go. The rising flood waters are slowly encircling the building and he has nowhere to go. But he is not at all worried. His faith in God is firm and he simply starts praying. He says,
“Dear God. All my life I have worshipped you and have had steady faith in you. Please come to my rescue.”

Within a few minutes, the waters have risen a few more meters and it is only a matter of 15 more minutes before they swallow the building completely. Presently, a boat comes by and the boatman shouts out,
“Sir! I have place for one more on my boat. Would you care to join?”
“No! You carry on and save someone else. God will save me.”
The boat goes away.

Minutes before the building is completely submerged, a helicopter comes above and, over the megaphone, a shout is heard,
“Sir! Please hold on. We shall rescue you.”

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

God's delays are not denials but gateways to greater joy

“God’s delays are not His denials...”

This is a quote that I have heard a million times. Well, maybe not a million times, but it surely feels like that! It is possibly one of my all-time favorite phrases to be used while consoling someone who is in despair.
“Hey! Don’t worry. Things will sort out. God is there to help. Remember... His delays are not His denials.”
But my attitude towards the quote depends on how life is panning out for me. When things are sunny and fine, I completely trust the quote. When things go bad however, I seem to desperately grab on to the quote with the secret hope in my heart that this is only a delay and not a denial from God. The truth is whether I ‘believe’ in it or not, God definitely has the perfect timing and His delays are only to bring added joy! I know this to be true based on multiple experiences with my Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. One singular experience however, stands out because it reinforces this quote with two simultaneous experiences of delays not being denials.

The Master walks into our life at the perfect time - ALWAYS!
Just like a single story of the charming Lord Krishna gets linked to so many other stories which reveal His divine facets, this incident too shall have its sub-stories. In fact, ‘deviating’ from the main story into sub stories has been termed as ‘Hari-Katha’ in India, a composite form of storytelling with poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy, which often runs for hours! The sub-stories add flavour and spice to the main story. So, here is one such Sai-Katha.

A class teacher’s classy talk

It was the March of the year 2000. I was in XII grade and was preparing furiously for the countrywide Board Examinations. In India, 12th standard is a transition from high school to University and the examinations conducted by the CBSE (Central Board for Secondary Examination) are given paramount importance. For a student in Swami’s school, it was a time of another probable, terrible transition. Since Swami had not started any medical or engineering colleges and courses for chartered accountancy, those wishing to pursue these lucrative and attractive careers had to leave Swami’s physical proximity. Further studies available in the University involved only the pursuit of a Bachelor's degree in pure sciences, commerce or the arts which is considered ‘mediocre’ by many. (This is fast changing in part due to the impressive record of the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning).

In that scenario, an informal talk delivered to us by our ‘class’ teacher, Dr.Sailesh Srivastava was vital in the enlightenment it provided. The talk lasted two hours and was delivered late in the evening in the galleries of the Sri Sathya Sai Hill-View stadium. The next day, we were to travel to Brindavan (Whitefield in Bangalore), as the school’s outgoing batch and seek His blessings.This was the practice - the outgoing students from Puttaparthi, Brindavan and Anantapur would travel to wherever Swami was and hope to elicit an interview or at least padanamaskar. The talk that Sailesh sir gave us was inspirational and full of the divine stories of Swami. He made one particular point that struck us and seemed to get enshrined in every listening heart.

He said, “Whether we stay with Swami or not, is not in our hands. If we are supposed to be away from Swami, even if we perform somersaults to stay on here, it will not be possible. If we are supposed to be here, however hard we try to get away from this place, it will not be possible. So, that is out of our hands. That is destiny. But we can decide what we feel and desire. We can have the intense longing to be with Swami always, irrespective of where life takes us. We can choose to give Swami first priority always. That is self effort. Take care of your feelings and desires which are in your control, life will take care of itself. “

At the end of that talk, everyone was wanting to be with Swami, irrespective of what they had originally desired or what their parents had planned. If fate/destiny would take them away, so be it but they would certainly not want to be away from Swami at any cost.

The rewards of the inspirational talk

Thus it was, that a bunch of highly motivated and charged up students made their way to Brindavan. In the morning, as we all sat for darshan, Swami came and made enquiries into how many of us had come and for what reason we had come. The darshan got over during which we had managed to hand over the bundle of letters that we had all written to Swami. Within a few minutes, we received word that Swami had called us all into Trayee Brindavan, His residence at Whitefield.  With great joy, anticipation and excitement we wended our way into the Trayee compound and entered the hallowed precincts of the building. The Jhoola or swing welcomed us and we sat around it. In a few moments, Swami arrived. As soon as He came into the room, He asked,
“How many doctors here?” 

Nobody raised their hands. Sailesh sir’s speech on the previous evening was obviously showing its effects. Everyone in their hearts was saying,
“Swami, we want to be with you.”