Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Making God our first resort - an experience with Sri Sathya Sai

The first resort - God

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but I think God wants it to be our first line of defense. To better understand that, we rewind the beautiful story of the sweet relationship between Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) and His students right to the very beginning. It was in the late sixties and Swami would spend most of the year at His ashram in Bengaluru (Bangalore then), in Brindavan, Whitefield. The reason for that was obvious - on 9th June 1969, a men's’ college had been started at Brindavan and Swami had decided to spend more than 75 percent of His time with the students in whom He placed His faith for the building of the golden Sai era.

The old Brindavan was a haven of divine proximity for Swami's students. 
Like the spring which is the beginning of every great river, the Sathya Sai educational mission too began in a small and humble manner. The classrooms were small and cramped and the shed beside Swami’s bungalow served as the hostel for the boys. Swami lived so close by that He would often walk into the ‘hostel’ on surprise visits and spend time shaping and chiseling the heart and minds of the boys. On many occasions, He would Himself walk amidst the sleeping boys and wake them up for Suprabhatam (early morning prayers) and guide them in everything - from tending to cows and rolling chapaties in the kitchen to gardening and taking care of the deer in the compound.

The number of boys enrolled was very small but it began to grow soon. Who would not want to live with the Master of masters? The classrooms and hostel became woefully inadequate and Swami decided to get a college building built. Once Swami makes a will, nothing ever changes it. Soon, a magnificent edifice shaped like a gigantic dam, probably symbolic of the potential it held within its walls, came up in months. It was late Col. Joga Rao, an ardent devotee and a retired civil engineer, who supervised the construction.

This is the setting for our current story.

Prayer is NOT a sign of weakness

A little detour from our main story in order to delve on the theme of this essay!

When a patient is in admitted to the hospital, the doctor examines him, finds out the problem, offers a solution and even gives a timeframe for the recovery. But then, things always do not go along the timeline - they go awry. How often have we come across situations where the same doctors raise their hands helplessly and say,
“We have done everything possible. Now its all left to God!”

A wise doctor knows from the beginning that he only gives medicines while it is God who heals. That humility makes him turn to God right in the beginning and he himself functions simply as an instrument. He chooses God as the first resort rather than the last one! While it is easy to understand the doctors’ example in terms of how they turn to God as the last resort, we do not realize that we often commit the same blunder in our lives too.

Whether it is the decision of making a financial investment or choosing a relationship; picking the right career or dealing with an illness we consider it as a sign of strength to march ahead without seeking help. We do this without realizing that when we seek God’s help, we are actually tapping into an infinite resource within ourselves. Prayer is definitely not a sign of weakness. It need not be the last resort. And yet, time and again, we turn to God after every effort made has failed. It is akin to offering the leftovers of a feast to the Lord where the food is comparable to our skills, talents, energies and finances. No wonder then that Swami always has taught us to do Brahmaarpanam (food prayer) before partaking any meal.

Please do not mistake me. I am not in the least suggesting that we do not put in our effort. Rather, the focus is on the attitude behind the effort!

The magnificent, dam-shaped, college building that was constructed to serve the students at Brindavan.
A heartfelt plea from a student

Now I continue where I had left off. Swami got the college building constructed and instructed the same engineer to come up with a proposal for a hostel building also. Col. Joga Rao implicitly obeyed the instructions and drew up all the plans for the construction of the hostel building. The shed in which the boys were staying was too small and right next to it was a huge water tank. The only possible place where the hostel could be constructed was in an empty plot of land adjacent to the new college building. Having made all the plans, he approached Swami and sought a date for the laying of the foundation stone.

The evening before the actual ‘ground-breaking’ ceremony could take place, Swami arrived at the shed where the boys were staying. He informed them about a new hostel coming up with all the comforts and conveniences. There would now be ample space to stay for each student. Even as Swami told all this with sparkling eyes and a heart that rejoiced at the fact that the boys would become comfortable, the boys themselves were downcast - a new hostel near the college building would mean that they would be staying at least 300 meters away from the beloved Swami. That would reduce the frequency of all the sudden Divine visits they now enjoyed.

But what could be done? There was no other space available for construction and the shed was indeed getting crowded. One of the boys promptly wrote a letter to Swami, pouring out his heart. Swami accepted the letter from him and even as He read it, He looked at the boy and asked him,
“Shall I read out this letter to the boys assembled here?”
“Swami it is all your wish.”
And so, Bhagawan read out the letter. The spirit of the letter is outlined below:

Swami, we do not want any new hostel. We can always adjust in this space as long as we are assured of proximity to you. If we go to the new Hostel, we would be far away from Swami’s home. We just do not want to go away from Swami! If Swami is so particular about the new hostel building planned next to the College, then Swami should have a new home constructed right next to the proposed new hostel.

Among the thousands of letters Swami receives, there are a few that have changed the course of 'His'tory! 
Swami looked at the principal, Sri Narendar and asked him what he thought about the letter. He replied that Swami knows the hearts of the boys. They had left their parents and had come only to be with Swami.

A decision was then made on the spot. Swami sent for Col. Joga Rao. He then asked him,
“Joga Rao! The boys want to stay near Swami. They do not want to go away. Can the new hostel be built next to the mandir here?”
“That is impossible Swami! There is a huge ground tank here. How can we build anything here?”

God, though allergic to the word ‘impossible’, merely smiles at those who use it. Swami simply said that a hostel could easily be built in place of the tank that existed there! He then went on to explain to an amazed Joga Rao as to how the construction should proceed.

And today, the hostel stands over the same land where a huge tank existed. And Swami has visited the boys at the Brindavan hostel on a number of times!

With God as the first resort, there is no need to resort to anyone or anything else!

An aerial view of the hostel that stands right next to the darshan hall in Brindavan. The hostel has a huge basement floor, a reminder of the tank on which it has been built. 

Concluding thoughts

Prayer is not something that is to be made only in times of trouble or distress. There is the story of a ship captain who used to pray daily as he steered his ship. Everyone often wondered as to why the captain used to pray so much when the sailing was so smooth. The captain said nothing but continued his practice of regular prayer.

And then, one day, there was a huge storm at sea. So terrifying and deadly it was that everyone on the ship got on their knees to pray. In the middle of all this chaos, the only person not praying was the captain! The surprised passengers on the ship asked him to join them in their prayers. The captain’s reply was,
“This is not my time to pray. I have a job at hand. The prayers I make when the sailing is smooth gives me the strength and mental calm to steer the ship in these times.”

A person who has got the priorities right prays in times of joy, comfort and peace. The prayer then gives the same joy, comfort and peace in troubled times. This is what the message of Kabir Das is when he asks the rhetorical question:

Dukh Mein Sumiran Sab Karein; Sukh Mein Karein Na Koi.
Jo Sukh Mein Sumiran Karein; Dukh Kahe Ko Hoi?

(Everyone thinks of the Lord in difficult times while none think of Him in time of joy. Those that think of Him in times of joy, why will they ever have difficult times?)

Making God the first resort is possible only through humility and surrender. And this is because though things seem to be under our control, in life everything is ultimately in God’s hands. Why don’t we follow what Swami tells us in this most beautiful ‘Prayer of Surrender’? (See video below.)



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Monday, 4 February 2019

The best gift to seek from God

The PC session (as narrated by Sri Ashok Sundaresan - 1st batch MFM 1993-1995)


A picture of a Poornachandra Session in progress in the 1990s. 
It was sometime in the year 1994 or 1995. All the students in the Institute boys’ hostel were excited. Swami, as they lovingly called Sri Sathya Sai Baba, had agreed to grant them all a “PC session.” The term PC stands for “Poorna Chandra”, the auditorium (one of the largest pillarless ones in Asia) at Prasanthi Nilayam ashram. The PC session, like the Trayee session, was a special session which Swami granted only for the students and teachers of the University. And just like in the Trayee session, many interesting things would happen in a PC session and Swami would speak ‘informally’. 

That PC session turned out to be unforgettable in terms of the lessons it provided.

As the boys entered the auditorium, they saw multiple piles of so many things heaped up. They quickly took their places to sit on the carpets spread on the floor. And then began the excited talk. Apparently, Swami had decided to gift all the boys with something. Everyone was discussing about what the gifts probably might be. 

Swami arrived on the dais and there was a hush that fell on the entire gathering. He gently glided to the end of the stage and descended. Moving to the first pile, He picked up the first thing that His hand could get hold of and threw it to the boy nearby. It was a canister of shaving foam. Then, He summoned some boys and told them to simply give away one each of the items to all the boys gathered. 

The heaps of objects turned out to be toiletries and each boy was getting something at total random. While one got a toothbrush, one got a shampoo while yet another got a deodorant stick. The ‘luckier’ ones got perfume bottles and electric shavers. Within moments, the silence was gone and there was loud murmur that developed in the auditorium as each student looked at what the other got and compared gifts. 

Naturally, those that got ‘mere toothbrushes’ envied those that got the electric shavers. But those boys too were not free of envy - they longed for the perfumes. It was not as if those that got perfumes were happy. The bottles were only 100 ml and would soon get exhausted. So, they had gifts which they could not use if they wanted to preserve the memory. In short, though all were happy in some way or the other, all were sad too in a way!